Friday, June 29, 2012

As parents we quickly learn that some of the most important milestones happen at night

As parents we quickly learn that some of the most important milestones happen at night. The first night after your baby is born, the first night home from the hospital, the first time they sleep through the night, and the first time they sleep past 5:00 a.m. Other nighttime adventures such as staying dry all night during potty training and sleepwalking sneak in just when the unsuspecting parent thinks they are home-free.

 I recently discovered another milestone; the backyard camping trip.

 My children decided, around 8:30 last night that they wanted to inaugurate their Daddy-Bryan’s new one-man tent. My husband was thrilled. He said the kids needed to do “kid things” in the backyard and I that needed to relax. Oh is that right? My daughter’s wrist is in a cast from time she spent in a backyard doing “kid things” last week. Also, she is violently allergic to the grass that was knee-high in the backyard. My son will still occasionally sleepwalk and he usually hates the Great Outdoors strictly on principle. What if he, by some miracle, was able to work the zipper on the tent-flap and get out? He could trip over the landscaping stones or wander into the part of the yard which has been taken over by poison ivy. I didn’t think he could open one of the gates and get out but anything is possible to a Mommy in full panic mode.

 I won’t even state the obvious; these two can’t share a living room without fighting. My daughter has actually gotten angry because her little brother was “breathing her air.” They were now proposing to share a one-man tent for an entire night… in the backyard… where Mommy can’t hear your whispered threats.

All of this raced through my head faster than Vin Diesel with a load of contraband across the border. I listened as my daughter and husband playfully teased each other about the value of actually reading the directions before putting up the tent. I had a glimmer of hope when I suggested they could put up the tent in the living room. But then my husband asked the question that ended all indoor versus outdoor camping debate; “Do you want me to put on the top or leave it just mesh so you can see the stars?” Both of the kids have had a fascination with the night sky since they were toddlers; my daughter because she wants to be an astronaut and my son because of the Star Wars Trilogy. That was it. They were backyard bound.

To follow is a timeline of the first backyard camping trip:

9:00 pm:          Tent is set up in the backyard. The Thermacell lantern and Off fan are activated. Sleeping bags, lantern, books, Nintendo 3DS, and two children are in the tent.

9:05 pm:          Dog is sent back into the house.

9:10 pm:          I panic as it is determined that my daughter’s cell phone does not have a charged battery. The tent’s location is close enough to the house for the cordless phone to work so it is sent into the tent with the children.

9:12 pm:          Daddy-Bryan calls the cordless phone to make sure the lines of communication are open and functional. I stand at the French doors watching the children in the tent. The children see me and wave while making faces.

9:20 pm:          The little brother comes into the house. He said that the older sister suggested that he may want a bottle of water during the night. The little brother is also getting the older sister a bottle of water, since he is already getting one for himself. Bryan and I admire this move on the older sister’s part and decide that she will make a very good wife one day.

9:35 pm:          I go into backyard to check on the children. The four steps from the patio to the tent are very painful on my bare feet as I manage to find EVERY pinecone on the ground but these are the sacrifices mothers must make for their children. Leaning over the mesh of the tent I whisper, “Why did you turn off your lantern? So you can see the stars better?” My daughter whispers back, “You are blocking my view.” Feeling full of love, I lurch the four steps back to the patio, fussing about pinecones, eventually making it into the house to report that the children are “doing fine.”

9:35-9:45 pm: I watch the children from the living room without wanting to admit that I am actually watching the children. Mother and children are now locked in a silent battle of wills. I am determined that the children will eventually come to their senses and come into the house to go to sleep and children are going to prove that they can spend an entire night OUTSIDE in a tent. Their Daddy-Bryan is incredibly happy that they are interested in something that isn’t a videogame or a science experiment but knows better than to say this to me.

9:55 pm:          Exhaustion is starting to take its toll on me and I announce that I will go to bed. I lurch back out to the tent to “tuck in” the children and say bedtime prayers through the mesh then Quasimodo my way back to the house. My husband, absolutely jubilant, opens the blinds in our room so the tent can be visually monitored.

10:10 pm:        The little brother is observed in a tormented struggle with the tent’s zipper followed by a sprint into the house. He loudly announces that he needs a bathroom as he blows through. It seems that a bear may poop in the woods but little boys do not. I admire that he is wearing shoes to avoid the pain of the pinecones. It is this kind of wilderness know-how that may allow him to actually make it the entire night in the backyard. I feel a little better about actually lying down and closing my eyes.

10:30 pm:        My daughter comes into our room. She is very congested. She announces that she will sleep on the couch in the living room because her nose is “a little runny.” She says that the little brother will remain in the tent. It is important to note here that I did NOT say anything close to “I told you so.” It should also be noted that I just let my daughter go to sleep without a full inspection or a call to urgent care. I settled down to rest, very smug in the knowledge that her little brother would soon feel that he had proven his point and would also come inside. Maybe I could get some sleep tonight after all. My husband quietly said that the boy was on a mission to prove that he is now a man and he will stay out all night. He then put a glass of ice water on my night stand and said something about my daughter learning everything she knew from me or something like that. I’m not sure. I just thought that he might have wanted a glass of ice water before he went to bed. I really was thinking about him.

11:00 pm:        The boy is STILL out in the tent reading. This cannot go on much longer.

Midnight:        HE HAS TURNED OFF HIS LANTERN! WHAT IS HE DOING? Is he actually trying to make me think he is going to go to sleep, in that tent, in the backyard, all alone? I am so sleepy. I cannot stay awake anymore. Here’s hoping that no random packs of wild dogs pick tonight to start roaming our neighborhood in this very developed and populated part of town.

4:ish am:         I snap wide awake. “Where is my child? Is he still in the tent? Yes, and he just kind of moved. That means he is still breathing.” I fall back asleep.

6:00 am:          In a kind of half-awake stupor I suddenly think about the black widow spider that was found in the backyard twelve years ago. Was it actually a black widow spider or did we decide it was something else? I can’t remember. No time for that now. Convinced he has been bitten and is suffering all alone in the tent, I run through the house. When I get to the porch I throw on the lights and run out to the tent…in bare feet… never even feeling a single pinecone.

A small boy blinks up at me through the mesh of the tent and smiles. He is absolutely perfect.

“Good morning, son.”

“G’mornin’, mommy.”

“I love you.”

“I love you, too, mommy.” He pulls the sleeping bag over his head and goes back to sleep. I stagger back to the house. Without an adrenaline rush I notice that there are a lot of frigging pinecones on the ground that hurt my bare feet.

7:30 am:          My son comes into my room to report that he has “cleaned out the tent and brought everything inside.” Gone is the glimpse of the little boy from earlier this morning; he is again the miniature man I see more and more often these days. He doesn’t even comment on last night’s adventure.

This one snuck up on me. The full impact of what last night meant to my son didn’t hit home until later in the day. To me, it was an anxiety ridden sleepless night like so many I have had in my years as a mom. To him, he was indeed proving that he was no longer my baby boy but a young man who was fully capable of spending an entire night yards away from home. He is an amazing person and I am incredibly proud he is my son.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Conversations with a Middle School Kid

My daughter has always been very certain about two things; what she wants and the fact that her mother is an idiot.  These two firmly held convictions have fostered an unbreakable bond between us; a bond which cannot be broken.  Mainly because she knows that she is dependent upon her favorite idiot.

This school year has been filled with debates on whether or not my children need to actually attend school when a child has decided that he or she doesn’t “need” to.  Don’t misunderstand me, they enjoy school and make excellent grades.  They are both very smart.  They have even been labeled as “gifted” by school administrators and several tests.  This doesn’t help my cause when it comes to school attendance. 

I had the following conversation with my daughter, who is in middle school, while we were in the throes of end of year finals:

J:          I don’t need to go to school next Tuesday.

M:        Ummm, are they closing up shop early?  I kind of thought you were having two finals that day.

J:          Funny story.  We had the final in civics today.  I didn’t know about it but it is ok because I was wearing my medal from yesterday and it is a lucky medal now.  So I think I did ok.  It was easy.  So since I exempted out of my Earth & Space Science final I don’t need to be at school at all next Tuesday.

M:        How could you not know when you were having a final?  Did you do ok?

J:          I guess he told us yesterday when we were at the Duke thing.  And I was absent.

M:        That’s why it is important to go to school.  Except for when you are accepting scholastic awards from a university.

J:          So can I skip on Tuesday?  There is going to be a sub and we are watching a movie or something for extra credit.

M:        No.  You go to school. 

J:          (Whining) I don’t WANT to go.  I don’t HAVE to go.  I can’t even USE the extra credit.  I already have an A in the class. 

M:        I’m thinking you need to go.  I don’t understand what is happening right now.  No final during finals and you are watching a movie?

J:          (Heavy sigh, rolling of eyes, and using Regis Philbin hands) I.  DON’T.  WANT.  TO.  GO.  I.  DON’T.  NEED.  TO.  GO.

M:        I tell you what.  You bring to me, IN WRITING, something that states you don’t “need” to go to your final exam in civics and I will let you stay home.  Your science teacher sent something home, right?

J:          Ok then.

It should have made me nervous that she not only dropped it but dropped it and smiled.

I had forgotten all about this exchange until I received an email the following day.  Below is the actual email I received.  The names have been changed to protect the innocent… teacher.

Subject: Julia next Tuesday

We are watching “A Bug’s Life” and answering economic and government related questions for extra credit on the final exam. Julia requires no extra credit. She requested that I let you know that she does not necessarily need to be present in my class next Tuesday.
Mr. Patient Teacher

She requested?

Mr. Patient Teacher is the school’s gifted and talented coordinator and has known my daughter for two years.  He is, himself, a gifted and talented teacher who knows how to reach his students and gain their respect.  He is totally awesome.  He is e-mailing a copy of the worksheet to me in order for my little sunshine to complete it while she watches our very own copy of “A Bug’s Life.”
She will have the “A-est” A that ever graced a report card.

The little girl did great.  She was somewhat surprised when I said that Mr. Patient Teacher would e-mail the worksheet to me for her to work on at home.  When I spoke to her that afternoon, she said that she had finished studying for her Algebra final and she had finished watching “A Bug’s Life” and had already e-mailed the worksheet to Mr. Patient Teacher.  I asked her about studying for another final and she replied, “Ummm, I kind of want to take a break from the thinking thing.”

Me, too.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Under Attack

Yesterday afternoon I was attacked during what is usually a very peaceful walk to my office from my parking garage.
I felt something land on my neck so I brushed at it with my hand.  It landed in my cleavage.  And then it stung me.  I looked down and saw a bug of some sort.  I am pretty sure it was a spider.  I’m thinking Brown Recluse.   Oh yeah, squirmies in my bra.  By now I was standing at the corner waiting for the light to change so I could cross the busiest street in the downtown area.  I was talking on my cell phone and had to grab my own breast in an attempt to stop the beast from a) continuing to sting me, and b) from getting to third base. 
I am certain I looked the epitome of today’s business woman.  I was all dressed up in a cute skirt and blouse; wearing heels that make one sympathize with Chinese women who were victims of foot-binding, and talking on my cell phone.  People driving by (and there were plenty during the lunch rush on the busiest street in the downtown area) were probably thinking, “Wow.  Now there is a woman who has it together.  She is probably balancing career and motherhood without any difficulties or self-doubt.  Why, she even has a reusable grocery bag over her shoulder!  She is eating healthy food at work, saving money for her family’s household budget, and saving the environment all at the same time.  Wait.  Did she just grab her own breast?  What the heck?  What kind of mother grabs her own breast at the busiest street corner in town during the lunch rush?”
A mother who is under attack, that’s who.  The little monster had stung me near my heart and was moving further south!
The light finally changed and I lurched across the street in, what I am sure was, a calm and dignified manner.  I could feel little squirmies all over my belly so I fanned my blouse in an attempt to shake it out.  I hoped that I looked like someone who was balancing career and motherhood without any difficulties or self-doubt and, whew, it was making me hot!
The final count was four.  Four angry red marks on me.  Why yes, I did have “After Bite” in my purse.  It was right next to the antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizer.  As I treated the bites I day-dreamed about the super powers I would have in the morning.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Once you are a mother you are always a mother.

I cannot stop telling my almost thirteen year old to look both ways before she crosses the street.  I cannot stop telling my ten year old to make sure he stands in front of the "potty long enough to make sure" he is really and truly all done.  I always tell the kids to wear a jacket, "because I am cold."

I almost had myself convinced that this was a smother issue and I needed to just let the kids grow up and, gasp, maybe even back off a little.  That was until my grandmother called my father before he visited her in January.  She told him that the weather was cold and he needed to pack warm clothes.

HA!  My dad is a GRANDFATHER and his MOM is still telling him how cold it is outside.  My dad has two Bachelor's, a Master's, and a Ph.D.  He is a freakin' scientist and his mom told him it was cold outside and to pack warm clothes.

I wonder if, when my dad was visiting them and he went to the bathroom, she told him to make sure he was in the potty long enough to make sure he was really done.

And don't forget to wash your hands.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Black Hole

Our dear mouse, Galaxy, has gone on to a better place. 
We are very sad by our loss but realize that it was his time. He died in his sleep, an old man, who served the lab at the middle school well by fathering TWO litters for the genetic studies project. There will be grave side services this evening with light refreshments and refusal to do homework to follow. Services will be at the new cemetery in the side yard. The backyard cemetery was closed due to constant vandalism from the dog.

To my blackbelt

This is the speech that I read to my daughter at the awards banquet during which she was awarded her black belt in taekwondo...


Your Daddy Bryan, little brother, and I are very proud of you.  You have reached a major accomplishment and you have most definitely earned the black belt which you will now wear.

When you were two, I did what many mommies of little girls do; I enrolled you in a ballet school.  Although I did not have the fierce conviction held by the other mothers that ballet was essential to raising a little girl; I did think ballet would teach you grace, strength, and confidence.  Ballet was a learning experience.  It taught me that you already knew who you were and you would stay true to who you were.  Being only two, this was expressed by opposition to participation in any activity in which you were required to wear “pink legs.”  I knew you would find a passion, outside of academics, which would allow you to express who you were.  What I did not know, however; is that this would be in the form of taekwondo lessons.

WHAT?  I had spent so much of my energy keeping you OUT of harm’s way!  (I think now is a good time to thank all of the amazing instructors at the TKD studio for their patience in dealing with the most protective mother who has ever come through their doors.  With their help and gentle understanding, I was able to overcome my fears as you enthusiastically studied the disciplines of board breaking and sparring.)

I knew you loved it from the beginning; the tenets themselves are who you are (except the humility one.)  As for being in harm’s way, it has been quite the opposite.  Your training has served you well and KEPT you out of harm’s way.  Through your journey to black belt, I have watched you become not only physically stronger but mentally and emotionally stronger (but still not strong enough to tolerate the color pink.) 

Julia, you now radiate more grace, more strength, and more confidence than many girls I know who have worn their “pink legs” for years. 

I am honored to be your mom and I love you very much.

I thought it would get easier

I have spent my entire mothering life going to incredible extremes to protect my children.

While I was pregnant, I was the one who purchased EVERY safety item on the safety item aisle in every baby store I entered.  That isn't fair to say.  The safety item fetish did not end after the babies were born; it intensified!  As an added bonus, each safety item purchase came with a free nightmare scenario.

What?  I need something to clamp the toilet lid closed?  True. True. They could slam their precious little fingers between the lid and seat.  It could fall on their head.  What if they tried to crawl in and fell head first into the bowl...?  

The chest tightens, I can't breathe, I buy two for each toilet.

The children have safely made it out of infancy, toddler-hood, preschool, and I have even had my first-born actually not only make it out of elementary school but she  is successfully navigating through her first year and a half of middle school and my second is almost through elementary school.

I have faith that my children belong to God and He will keep them and protect them.  I also know that of all the things which have kept me awake at night and all of the things which have kept me in a state of turmoil are not usually the things which have happened.  I have been absolutely blind-sided by the unexpected.  I think this God's way of trying to remind me that they are His children and He is in control.