It's like looking in a mirror...
It’s like looking in a mirror…

 

I like to think I’m a pretty good parent. I love those three kids more than anything in the world. I have spent the better part of 14 years doing all the things for them. You know, all the mom things. They are pretty lucky little shits if you ask me.

And I tell them that all the time. They are damn lucky to have me. I’m a pretty cool mom. And all the cool moms announce their coolness to their kids all the time, right? I’m pretty laid back. I really don’t sweat the little things. I don’t run my house like a Drill Instructor during Hell Week. We keep it simple. Do the basics, get good grades, work hard, do your chores, be nice. That’s it. Pretty cool, right?

But sometimes I screw up. Sometimes I do all the wrong things. Sometimes I feel bad about it. Not always, but sometimes. Because I like to keep it real with you guys, I’m going to peel back the curtain of this seemingly perfect little life I have and show you the real seedy underbelly that is MomsIsALittleCrayCray.

1. F Bombs and other awful things little ears shouldn’t hear. I say them.  Not ALL the time. But I don’t really practice self-editing. I’m not a complete potty mouth or anything, but let’s face it, there are frequent and varied occasions where the words just fly out of your mouth. When you run into a doorway. When you back into your husband’s car. When you show up just in time for the game and realize you’re at the wrong ball field. And your kid is starting pitcher. And it’s rush hour. Anyways, the point is I’m human and such situations elicit some choice verbiage. But they know the rules. I can curse, they can’t. I also exhibit tact and class and don’t curse in front of strangers or other children (at least not on purpose). I’m just saying that they’ve been exposed and some of their fist words were “Shit” and “Dammit.”

2. I have favorites. And I tell them. I will loudly whisper to one of my kids when the others are acting up “You know you’re my favorite.” I do this fairly and evenly. They each get a turn being mom’s angel. I like to keep them guessing and vying for favorite status. Nah, not really…  I’m simply trying to entertain myself with their expressions when they hear me say it to their sibling. It’s pretty damn funny. If you’ve never tried it with your kids I totally recommend it. It usually squashes whatever beef the other kids were fighting over and they become united in their hatred of you. In the meantime, the current favorite is giving you all kinds of cuddles with a smug look on their face and that makes you feel like an awesome mom.

3. I lie to them. Just on occasion. Usually just for fun. Sometimes for totally acceptable practical reasons (ex: “we’re all out of chocolate” as you hide a package of Reese’s cups in the freezer.) But I have a few on-going lies I tell my kids. One is that I used to be a famous pop star in Europe before they were born. I have embellished this one over the years to include my appearance on Top of the Pops and being hounded by the paparazzi. Recently, as I was belting out Rosanna (Toto, circa 1982) in the car, I responded to my daughter’s eye roll with “People used to pay good money to hear me sing!” I tell them I gave it all up to get married and have kids (a little martyrdom is always useful in parenting). The best part of this lie is that I have the worst singing voice ever. Like, my babies have cried when I would sing them lullabies. My husband has threatened to divorce me when I sing in the car. But they all kind of bought in to the lie at some point. You know how kids believe everything their parents tell them? I was just having a little bit of fun with that power.

4. They look like homeless kids. I try. I really do. But I don’t put a ton of emphasis on what they look like. I could care less if my kids look like they just walked off of a GapKids ad. But it would be nice if they didn’t look like they lived in a hovel. My teen wears basketball shorts and a pullover hoodie every day. He doesn’t take the hoodie off, so I’m sure his teachers think he has one shirt. Just yesterday I insisted that he wear jeans to school since it was like -80 degrees outside. (Kidding. I live in the SouthEast, it was more like 35 degrees. But still, soooo cold.) It was a battle but I won. He ended up going to school in jeans that were two inches too short. Oops. I just bought them a month ago and he grew out of them. Sorry kid. A little bullying about your high-waters will just build character.

Also, yesterday my five year old decided to pull out her hair bow in carpool line because she wanted to “fixth it and make it pretty.” My daughter wakes up every day with hair like Nick Nolte’s mug shot. It takes a lot of work to tame it. Guess who she went to school looking like yesterday? I don’t think it was “Dress Up Like Washed Up Druggie Actor” Day, so… yeah.

***

So, before you all start clamoring for me to write a book on the art of parenting, I’ll run down a quick list of other not completely awful but not exactly June Cleaver moments: I refuse to do the whole Elf on the Shelf thing, I don’t go eat lunch with them at school (when did this become a thing? I eat every other meal with them!), I let them play video games, I introduced them to the classic Schweddyy Balls bit on SNL, we have watched this over and over, I force them to adopt a British cockney accent when they want something from me, I have forced them to follow up a request with “Please beautiful Mommy” and I frequently and lovingly refer to them as “little shits.”

And because I feel the need to counter all these flaws, lest you think I’m Mommy Dearest, let me assure you my kids are loved and are ridiculously showered with affection. Some might say they are a little spoiled. My husband and I are hard on them when it comes to the important stuff like school and respect and hard work. But other than that? We try to have fun with our kids. We laugh a lot. They seem to want to be around us all the time. (Seriously, aren’t kids supposed to want to be far, far away from their parents? Stay tuned for a future post about Helicopter Kids…)

What I’m saying is we’re not perfect, but who wants perfect parents? Kids need something to complain about. I’m doing them a favor by embracing my flaws and allowing some imperfection to creep into what is otherwise pretty stellar parenting. You’re welcome, kids. I can’t wait to rock this tee this Mother’s Day…

awesome_mom_tee

Are you an awesome parent too? What mean/crazy/silly things do you to your kids? Are you totally singing Rosanna to yourself right now? Should I be saving for their future therapy? Tell me what you REALLY think…

 “And you can tell everybody this is your song
It may be quite simple but now that it’s done
I hope you don’t mind
I hope you don’t mind that I put down in words
How wonderful life is while you’re in the world”

-Elton John, Your Song

My brother died 10 days before my wedding. I was caught between suffocating despair and the happy prospect of marrying the man I love. But I didn’t think I’d ever feel pure joy again. I couldn’t imagine joy in a world without my brother.

Six months later we lost my Grandfather. My big strong Grandpa. The Purple Heart Marine with the big booming voice. I will always believe that he died of a broken heart after the loss of my brother. A few weeks later I found out I was pregnant.

The sun started to peek through the darkness, just a little.

Nine months later my beautiful baby boy was born. He came into the world wailing and thrashing. “Feisty” was the word that came to mind. Barrel chested and dark hair. He was strong and vibrant and ready to take on life.

I was scared out of my mind. I had spent my high school years babysitting, but I felt like I didn’t know how to do this, being a parent. I was responsible for this other person and I felt inept and inadequate.

I was scared I wasn’t feeding him enough. I was scared that he would stop breathing in his sleep. I was scared that he was in a pain and I didn’t know it. I was scared that there was something wrong with him that I was missing. I was scared that I was screwing it all up. I was scared that he knew that I had no clue.

I was scared that he would get sick and die. The impossible such a real possibility to my family.

Fear dominated the first few months of my son’s life. Every doubt about myself magnified in the face of motherhood. Every fear I had after watching my brother suffer intensified as a possible threat. Could it happen to him, my baby?

And I worried that he could sense my fear. I didn’t want to put that on him. I didn’t want him to grow up neurotic. I didn’t want my stuff to affect him, to change him. Another thing to worry about.

As the months went on, he proved me wrong. He defied all of my worries and fears. He was thriving. He was full of life and provided endless hours of entertainment for me and my husband. I would look at him in awe. He was a part of me. I couldn’t’ believe that something so beautiful and amazing came from me. I mentally attributed it all to my husband.

Now my son is fourteen years old. I’m watching him grow into an amazing young man. He’s compassionate and smart and funny and good. He’s good. He seems unscathed by those early years when his mom was fighting anxiety and fear. He’s happy and confident.

I watch him play with his little sister and I see a glimpse of the father he will be. A loving, nurturing dad. Like my husband. I see him smile and laugh with his friends and I  see the natural charisma that his father carries. I watch him run, swim, play and I see the natural athlete that is my husband. I see him crack a joke, his dry subtle wit reminiscent of the humor that made me fall in love with my husband.

I listen to my son ask questions when we’re in the car. Questions about world events. I listen as he talks about Syria. And Egypt. And North Korea. Israel and Palestine. He wants to talk about Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown and Eric Garner. He wants to watch the morning news and catch up on what’s going on in the world. I listen to him as he gets mad, I see his frustration and anger towards people that hate. He doesn’t understand. And I see a little bit of me.

I see the look he gives me when I’m fishing in my purse for a dollar for a man with a sign on the corner. He takes the ten dollar bill out of my wallet and hands it to me. His look says it all. He needs it more than you, mom. On another occasion I watch with overwhelming emotion and pride as he pulls a few dollars out of his own pocket when I am out of cash and a homeless veteran is standing at the stop light.

I watch as he insists on buying a small toy for his little sister. Even though I know he wants to save up for the latest video game, he’s willing to hold off a little longer to bring a smile to her face.

I watch all of this and I feel more joy than I ever thought possible. My son opened up my heart again fourteen years ago. He proved me wrong. The pain of losing my brother isn’t gone, but I’ve learned that the pain doesn’t eclipse the joy. The two can co-exist.

I watch all of this and I feel pride. My son’s a good kid. I think he’ll grow up to be an amazing person. One who works hard and who cares. Cares about those he loves and about those he doesn’t even know. I look at him and I know that I did some things right. I know that along with my husband we’re raising a good person. And I realize now that our raising him isn’t the remarkable thing.

We raised him for the last 14 years, but more importantly, he raised us.

I’ve grown in to motherhood. My husband has grown into fatherhood. All on my son’s dime. He had to endure our learning curve. His burden similar to that of many first borns. His siblings owe him a debt of gratitude for him teaching us how to be parents.

As I look back on the past fourteen years, I see how far my husband and I have come. How much we’ve gone through, how much we’ve navigated. As I look back I realize that the credit isn’t ours alone.

Thank you, my sweet beautiful boy. You’ve been patient and you’ve navigated this path with us.

Thank you for taking our lessons, for enduring our long lectures. For humoring us when we think we’re cool. Thank you for still letting me into your world. For sharing your thoughts with me. Thank you.

Thank you for allowing me to feel joy again.

Thank you for raising some pretty o.k. parents.

Thank you for being you.

Because who you are couldn’t make me any prouder.

 

 

 

 

A little over a year ago I met Kelly of Are You Finished Yet. She was one of the first bloggers I started engaging with in my blogging infancy. She allowed me to sit at the “cool table” and made me feel included and not at all stupid or out of my league. Since then I’ve gotten to know Kelly much better. I’m a huge fan of her writing, but I’m an even bigger fan of her spirit which shines through her writing. But who knew that in addition to writing for her award-winning blog and raising her children that she was cooking up something else?

9780692311011.MAIN (1)That’s what. In all her ample spare time she’s been writing and illustrating a book! Meanwhile, I’m still trying to figure out how to change my blog header. Ahem, anyways, this book you guys. It’s awesome. It’s a story your kids will love. One you will love. And the pictures? I pause in the middle of reading it to my five year old just to study the pictures! There’s so much detail and character and life in these drawings.

So to celebrate this new it’s-awesome-and-should-be-on-your-kids’-shelves book, I got the opportunity to interview Kelly! It was almost like having a real life conversation with her, which is so cool. Especially since as I read her answers I was giggling and talking out loud. To myself. *evidence of my crazy will be in italics after Kelly’s answers*

Enjoy!

***

Is “mayhem” a term used often in your family? Should we assume that come Friday the Suellentrop household is one big party?

Absolutely. In fact, weekends at our house is where I got the title for the book. My husband started referring to that time as Absolute Mayhem, because it meant we were all home and weren’t as dictated by a schedule. Mostly it meant he had more time to have fun with the kids. To this day, when he gets home from work on Fridays, he opens the door and says “Absoluuuuuute… ” and the kids yell, “MAYHEM!”    

*Aw, your husband sound like such a fun dad! I want to be at your house on a Friday sometime to yell out “Mayhem!” I’ll even do a cheer or a cartwheel or somethin’, ok?*

What sparked the idea for this book?

Like I said, it all came from this little tradition my husband started. Now to be clear, the mayhem at our house  isn’t quite what it is for Lulu and Milo. Like, my kids get to have soda and we have movie nights or something. But I loved the idea of how even mundane things can feel special when you are able to break out of the routine of the week. Everyone looks forward to the weekend for one reason or another. And I wanted to capture that little feeling of anticipation and magic we can feel in our everyday lives, while still honoring the hard work and responsibilities that make us appreciate the times we get to have fun.

*I LOVE movie night! And I get what you mean, everything is more fun on the weekends! Except for laundry.*

I love the illustrations! How did you hone your drawing skills? Did you have any formal art education?

Drawing has always been one of my creative outlets, even as a kid. I used to spend hours in my bedroom listening to music and drawing people out of my teen magazines. I took art all throughout high school and some in college. I wanted to minor in art, but as an English major, I had a hard time keeping up with all the time-intensive art projects on top of the copious amounts of reading I had to do. So you could say my formal art education ended there. But I have never really put down my drawing tools, and I have spent  a lot of time over the last few years studying the work of other children’s book illustrators, as well as playing around with my own characters until I came up with Lulu and Milo.

*I was an English major too! That is so rare in the blogging world, right?*

Where and when and how do you write?

I keep myself on a schedule with my blog, Are You Finished Yet. I post every Tuesday, so that forces me to keep writing even when life gets busy. Now that both of my kids are in school all day, it is much easier to find the time. I have come to treat it like you would any other job. I drop my kids off at school, come home, get some breakfast and tea, and go to my office. (My husband and kids converted our extra bedroom into an office/art studio for me this past Mother’s Day, and that really helped me get into the mindset that I am now writing for a living.) I spend most of the day there working on things related to the book and writing upcoming blog posts until it’s time to get the kids. But you know, even though I have time during the day, I do find that I often get most inspired late at night. Sometimes I stay up late and run with it, and sometimes I will simply jot down notes and tackle it the next day.

*Schedule? Hmm… interesting concept… And what is it about writing in the wee hours? Is it the quiet or just our creative time? Whatever it is I blame it for my puffy eyes and my morning disposition.*

What advice or words of wisdom do you have as a bonafide published author?

That just sounds weird. Because I always thought of authors as eccentric, super-smart people who pounded on typewriters in front of sun-filled windows and hung out at coffee shops with other eccentric, super-smart people. And now I’m an author. But I write in between loads of laundry, hang out in carpool lines, forget what I went in to the kitchen for, and have trains of thought interrupted  when I realize I need to run to Walmart for toilet paper and spaghetti sauce. I mean, like, I’m just a person. But maybe that’s the wisdom here. We’re all just people. Like, Oprah’s just a person. And that means if you’re a person you can become a bonafide published author… or Oprah.

Oh, and patience, hard work and faith are probably good things to have as well.

*Ooh! Ooh! I want to be Oprah! Can I be Oprah? That sounds like fun! Plus, she’s a bonafide published author too! See, two birds… wait… sorry. Forgot to turn on the dryer… damn you laundry!*

Do you have more mayhem brewing? Will we get to see more of Lulu and Milo in the future?

Well, I live with two sources of constant inspiration: my kids. I wrote Aboslute Mayhem with the intention of it being the first in a series of Lulu and Milo stories, and I have the beginnings of about three more manuscripts floating around at the moment. The question right now is, which will become book #2.

*As long as we get to see more of Hippo too. He’s my favorite.*

***

Isn’t Kelly awesome? I know you’ll love her book. So will your kids and nieces and nephews and cousins… And one of you will get to win one right here! Just leave a comment or question and I will randomly choose the winner! Easy! And if you don’t win? No worries! You can go here: http://www.amazon.com/Absolute-Mayhem-Kelly-Suellentrop/dp/0692311017/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1415717713&sr=8-2&keywords=absolute+mayhem

and here: http://kellysuellentrop.com/

So, speak to me people! Do you think we should all show up at Kelly’s house on Friday? What do you look forward to on the weekends? Are you dying to know who Hippo is?

 

unhappy-little-boy

“Hanging on, You’re all that’s left to hold on to.”

-U2, Red Hill Mining Town

I hit my son.

Something I never thought I would do. I had never been hit as a child. Not spanked. Not “popped.” Nothing. My mom was able to raise three kids without laying a hand on any of us.

But I hit my son. I did it out of frustration and helplessness. And yes, anger.

My oldest, my son, was strong-willed. Feisty. Spirited. All the positive spin-words we could think of to describe his behavior and temperament. He was also a beautiful, sweet boy who filled my heart with more love and joy than I ever thought possible.

But he was not an easy kid. He tried me every day. From the age of two until he was about five years old.

He would throw fits in restaurants and have me dragging him out the door before the food had even arrived.

He would wake up from naps and scream and cry for over an hour. It was more than a tantrum, he was unreachable, enraged. I would carefully step around his flailing body to carry books and toys out of his room so that he wouldn’t throw them or hurt himself with them. I would stand outside his door with tears burning my eyes, the contents of his room lined up in the hallway, waiting for it to pass. I even recorded these fits of rage in case I needed to show them do his Pediatrician.

One day when he was three years old, he flipped out after we left a play date. He screamed and kicked my seat continuously as I was driving. I tried calming him down. I tried turning up the radio to drown out his screams. At one point I pulled over and parked on a side street. I felt like I was going to lose it. He screamed and kicked while I leaned my forehead on the steering wheel and took deep breaths. I sat there for a few minutes until the person who lived in a nearby house came out on their front porch to see what was wrong. They had heard his screaming from inside their house and were understandably concerned. I gave a small wave to acknowledge them and slowly drove away. He screamed the whole way home.

Often, in order to leave a park or a play date, I would have to hoist him up like a giant sack of potatoes, one arm clamped over his arms with my other arm clamped over his legs. He would kick and scream and hit. I would wrestle him to the car, re-adjusting and trying to keep my grip, all while getting hit and kicked.  He was almost stronger than me. He was a big kid, at four he was the size of most six year olds.

Most days I felt beaten down and exhausted. I dreaded him waking up from his naps and the impending tantrum. I worried about what was wrong with him. I worried about the issues that may be lurking. Anger issues. Psychological problems. I worried about when he would be too big for me to wrestle into the car. What would I do then?

I cried on the phone to my mom on many afternoons. I asked her how to get him to respect me. I needed words of wisdom and some secret mommy tip that would help me, that would give me some control over my son. All she had were words of support. Encouragement that I was doing everything right. Assurances that if I kept doing everything right that he would respect me and that I wouldn’t always have to wrestle him into the car. I wanted to believe her, but I wasn’t sure.

Then one day I hit him. I “popped” him on the leg. He was bucking like a bronco refusing to let me strap him into his carseat. I spent the better part of 15 minutes trying to strap him in. Nothing was working. Exhausted and sweaty, I lost it and I hit his thigh and yelled at him in my ugliest voice. I’m sure my “pop” stung. I’m sure my words cut.

He paused briefly in shock and I watched his face change from defiance to sorrow. I saw his eyes speak of betrayal and shock. I knew I hadn’t physically harmed him. I knew the sting of my slap was momentary. But I had hurt him nonetheless. He started crying tears of sadness. I felt indescribably horrible.

I numbly climbed into the front seat to buckle in and drive. I felt sick to my stomach. I was appalled with myself. I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong. I knew I did what many parents would have done. But it didn’t matter. The tears being shed in hurt and defeat from the backseat were all the incrimination I needed.

This isn’t what I had wanted. This is not how I wanted to parent. It didn’t matter what was “normal” or “acceptable.” It didn’t feel right to me. At all. I didn’t want my son to behave or listen because he feared he would get hit or “popped.” I wanted him to do it because it was right. Because I’m his mother and he needed to listen to me.

I don’t want to rule with an iron fist. I don’t want to control my kids. I don’t want them to fear me.

I don’t want them to ever feel shame.

No good has ever come from shame.

I want to guide my kids. Teach them. I want them to learn self-control. Not control at the hands of a parent.

My son is 13 years old now. He’s a good kid. No, he’s a great kid. He makes mistakes. But he studies hard. He works hard. He’s considerate and respectful. He has not once, in 11 years of schooling, had a behavior issue. I’ve had other parents tell me that they hope their young boys turn out like him. He has a happy, easy-going nature and tons of friends who love him.

I know I’m lucky.

I’ve forgotten how scary and trying those early years were. As I write this, I’m so grateful there wasn’t a bigger issue lurking behind those screams and tantrums. Now, all these years later, I have an idea of what was causing his behavior. He was diagnosed with pretty bad allergies. Allergies that kept him stuffy and miserable year round. He also had some speech delays early on a learning disability that was stymying his communication. Once we started him on allergy shots and speech therapy and specialized tutoring, his behavior problems disappeared. Dramatically.

Knowing what I know now, I would be riddled with guilt if corporal punishment had been  part of our parenting.

Knowing what I know now, I wonder if it would have changed him. Would he be different? Would he be the sweet boy with the easy smile? Would he be the boy who carries himself with confidence?

I don’t know. I will never know. But I am glad I didn’t risk who he was, who he is.

Knowing what I know now, I’m grateful. Parenting is hard. Every kid is different. Different challenges. Different issues. Who’s to say the right way to handle each situation. But knowing what I know now, I’m not glad that I hit my son. But I am glad that was only once.

halloweensandy

“All I wanna do is have some fun, I gotta feeling I’m not the only one”

-Sheryl Crow, All I Wanna Do 

Can we not suck the fun out of Halloween?

Can we have one day? One day where it’s just about having fun and there are no guidelines or parameters or judgement or rules?

I’ve been hearing plenty of grumbling on both mainstream and social media. Things that annoy people about Halloween. “Rules” for trick or treating.

There’s been an abundance of people who seem to have a stick up their candy bowl.

They have been lamenting the kids who trample their grass, don’t ask politely for candy. The ones who take the candy and don’t say thank you. People who wonder at the wisdom of giving candy when more kids are overweight. Remember the lady who handed out fat shaming letters to trick or treaters? And there are people who think it’s their job to determine how old is too old for trick or treating.

As a public service and as a person who loves this holiday, I am going to share some thoughts.

Halloween is supposed to be the bad-ass holiday. It’s about being scary. It’s about being scared. It’s about running around in the dark. It’s about playing pranks, having fun. It’s supposed to be harmless mayhem. I don’t want to see Halloween morph into some nauseating Elf On the Shelf type of watered-down cuteness. I don’t want the pre-planned manufactured fun borne of Martha Stewart and Pinterest. Let’s not ruin Halloween.

On behalf of those who like this holiday and aren’t mean fun-sucking candy haters, I’d like to share a few of my “rules.”

1. Turn Off the Lights This one’s really simple, you don’t have to participate. You can turn off your porch light. In fact, if kids and their seeking of candy really bother you, I’m going to ask that you turn off your lights, close your blinds and go to bed because it sounds like you could really use a good night’s sleep.

2. This Ain’t No Disco. And It Ain’t No Country Club. And it’s not a dog and pony show. This is not an exhibition in which kids curtsy and look cute and act proper and display their good grooming and well-appointed manners. It’s not a test in ettiquete or in ANYTHING. Even the most well-disciplined well mannered kids will possibly- nay probably- forget a “Thank you” in their haste and excitement to run off to the next house. Don’t take it personally. Really, it’s not about you. They’re just excited, mkay?

3. You Can’t Guess No One’s Age So Don’t Even Try. Don’t be coy. You know what I’m talking about. The big kids. You know, the ones with a five o’clock shadow and awkward gangly limbs? They travel in packs. They mumble. They look at the ground when talking to you. They look like they might be too old for such childish antics. I’m going to try to appeal to your sympathies as someone who once went through this yourself. Please understand that the kid with the mustache might only be 13. The girl with the ample bosom may only be 12. Kids this age are impossible to identify by age. I dare you to go to any middle school or high school and try.

They are going through the most confusing and awkward period of adolescence. Their brains are sucked dry by the hormones that are running roughshod over their whole existence. They are uncomfortable in their own skin and they probably debated about even going trick or treating. They are at that stage where they still want to be a kid and have fun, but know it might not be cool. So don’t make them feel completely uncool by sneering or asking their age or refusing them candy. Even if they’re not dressed up. They may not have planned on going trick or treating. They may have had their friends knock on their door at the last minute pulling them out of the house. Let them have this. That kid that looks like he could be changing the oil on your car may be still watching Sponge Bob and cuddling on the couch with his parents. Don’t make him think he’s too old for any of it.

4. Kids From Other Neighborhoods ARE Allowed. I honestly can’t believe I have to even say this….

But we cannot segregate Halloween and trick or treating by class or by race or by neighborhood.

If you are bothered by “others” encroaching on your precious ‘hood, then I am going to politely point out that you might be an asshole.

And by this I mean that your head is so far up your McMansion that you may need to seek professional help.

I live in a neighborhood with sidewalks and houses close together. Around our ‘hood? It’s largely rural. We have carloads and vans that drop their kids off to trick or treat. From (gasp!) other neighborhoods. We have to buy insane amounts of candy to give out. I’ve heard grumbles from some. But those grumbles are drowned out by the rest of us. By most of us. You know, the ones having fun. The ones who don’t care where a kid is from. Those elitist whiners are muffled by the all of the houses that put on interactive displays in their front yards. By the neighbors that go to a lot of trouble and time and expense to put on haunted houses in their garages. By the parents that sit at the end of their driveway and chat with the adults passing by. Sometimes handing a cold one to a weary parent. By the people that want others to enjoy the holiday, no matter where they’re from. If all of this welcoming and camaraderie is disturbing to you, please see Rule # 1.

5. There Are No Rules. Yes. There are no rules. Other than the basic rules of conduct. Like no vandalism or stealing. Rules that don’t even need to be stated because they should be an intrinsic part of being a decent human being. Rules like don’t judge parents or kids based on where they’re from and if they belong on your doorstep. Rules like don’t be mean to a growing kid. Basic civility and decorum. Try it. Try having no expectations and just go with it. Have fun. Laugh with the kids. Laugh and chat with the adults. You may find yourself enjoying Halloween more than ever.

Me? I love Halloween. I’ll be painting my kids’ faces, helping them with their costumes. I’ll be managing a sleepover of 4 teen age boys who want to play video games and watch horror movies. And I’ll be scrambling to help them piece together last minute costumes when they decide to go out to “just a few houses.” I’ll be lecturing them about being respectful and letting the little ones go first. I’ll be holding my breath hoping that ALL of my kids, younger and older, listen to their Mama and do right.

I’ll be enjoying all of the adorable kids, younger and older, who end up on my doorstep. I’ll visit a few of the haunted houses in my ‘hood. At some point I’ll put a giant bowl of candy on my porch with a little sign asking the kids to take just two. And I’ll do this knowing that some kid’s going to dump the whole bowl in their bag. That’s ok. I’m not gonna sweat it.

I’ll be down at my neighbor’s. I heard they’re passing out cold ones.

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“You are the most beautiful thing, I’ve ever seen. You shine just like sunlight rays on a winter snow.

I just had to tell you so. 

Your eyes sparkle as the sun, like the moon they glow. Your smile could light the world on fire, or did you know? 

Your mind’s full of everything that I wanna know,

I just had to let you know.

You’re my butterfly… Fly High… Fly Fly Fly…”

-Lenny Kravits, Butterfly

I get nostalgic and weepy on my kids’ birthdays. I remember every stage of labor…  This time, 11 years ago, my water broke. I watch the clock and think about that day. I drive my kids nuts with my reminiscing. Because I don’t say these things in my head. I say them out loud. To my kids. All day. Every year. They don’t love it.

But this is what moms do, right? We relive moments and cling to our babies at the very moment that we should be letting them go. Because my baby is actually not a baby. She’s 11 years old as of yesterday.

And she’s almost taller than I am.

So I guess I can’t call her a baby anymore. (Though I will. I always will. But that one I’ll do silently in my head.) The little girl who’s turning into a young woman in front of my very eyes. In spite of my holding on for dear life, she’s growing up.

***

She was born an old soul. We could just tell. They laid her on the scale and she stared silently into my husband’s eyes. He still gets emotional if he talks about that moment. The nurse swaddled her up and brought her to me. I wiped my eyes of the tears that were a combination of joy and pain. I held her and started to meet her. Examining her tiny hands, her sweet lips, her intense eyes. They gazed at me in studied  concentration. Searching my eyes. Holding my gaze. She was meeting me. She was checking me out.

She rarely cried. She was a content baby, easy to please. She would wake up in the morning and just hang out in her crib until I would hear her cooing and gurgling over the baby monitor. Her older brother would clamor into her room with me and greet her with his marble mouthed “Hello sunshine.”

I loved her with everything I had. But I didn’t feel like I knew her. She was a mystery to me. I would stare at her, watching her, trying to figure out what was going on inside her head. I had a sense that there was more going on than was obvious to the rest of us. I spent those first few months nursing her, playing with her, singing her songs. Trying desperately to understand her.

This may sound a little crazy. But I need to know my kids. I need to understand them. I knew how my son’s brain worked. I just knew him from the moment he was born. I was struggling with the fact that it didn’t come as easy with my daughter.

At three months old she got sick. It started as a cold and developed into something worse. I couldn’t sleep because I was worried. Something didn’t seem right. She was still smiling, still happy, but her breathing seem labored. One afternoon I watched as her breathing became more raspy. “She’s wheezing!” I yelled to my husband. I packed her in the car and headed to the pediatrician’s office. My heart was starting to race and I was on the verge of panicking. I drove, watching her in the rearview mirror. She looked blue to me. Her breathing was getting worse. Much worse. I made a sharp u-turn and pulled into an Urgent Care.

I ran into the building clutching her baby carrier “I need help, I don’t think my baby’s breathing.” The receptionist stood up to peer over her counter and took one look at my daughter and called the nurses to come get her. As the nurses whisked her into the examining room, I followed in a state of disbelief. I was worried, that’s why I’d brought her here after all. But seeing the concerned look on the nurse’s faces was freaking me out even more. As the doctor whipped past me to assess her, I pulled on his sleeve. “Is she going to be ok? Is my baby going to be ok?”

Her oxygen levels were low but not dangerously so. They wanted to send us to the hospital for chest X-rays and a flu test. They wanted her to stay overnight and be monitored. They offered to have an ambulance transport us but I told them I would drive. They admitted that the ambulance was more for me. They were worried that I was too upset to drive.

X-Rays, tubes down her nose to extract fluid, blood taken. My calm, serene baby was now screaming and flailing, fighting to break free. I held her arms by her head and whispered words of comfort to her.

Soon we were in our hospital room, waiting on a diagnosis. All of the scary tests came back negative. The diagnosis was R.S.V. A respiratory infection. She would be ok. The told me she’d need breathing treatments with a nebulizer. OK. That we could do. They told me that each time she got a cold we would likely have to do the treatments. OK. They said it was not serious and she would outgrow it. Thank god. Relief flooded me.

The doctor and nurse left us to rest. I finally let myself relax a little. I started to come down off of high alert. I was breathing again after holding my breath for hours. I felt the fear start to drain out of me, exhaustion taking up residence where adrenaline had been.

As I was unpacking the diaper bag I heard a noise. I looked up and my daughter was staring at me. Looking me steadily in the eyes, she was struggling to form words. I could hear her little voice, for the first time. Beyond the coos and the gurgles. I could hear her experiment with sounds as she rolled her tongue around and moved her lips. She was trying to talk. She had a look of amusement in her eyes. My three month old baby stared at me and babbled for 10 minutes.

I started to laugh. I walked over to her and caressed her head with both hands as she continued to stare at me and babble. I was laughing and crying with relief. I was weak with gratitude. I responded to her through salty tears. Urging her voice and kissing her forehead. I felt like we had been through a battle together. Just the two of us. We had just experienced some scary moments. And we came through it together.

I cried and laughed. I felt different. All of the questions, all of the searching for the last three months, trying to figure out my daughter. None of that mattered. I knew that she was a part of me. She had a hold on my heart and that was unbreakable. I didn’t need to understand everything about her in that moment. I just needed to know that she was ok. I needed her to know that I would stop searching and would just be. I would let her be and grow into whomever she was supposed to be. I was ok not knowing how that was going to play out. All that mattered was that she was ok and that we would go through the journey together.

***

My daughter just turned 11 yesterday. I’m still trying to figure her out. She’s still a little bit of a mystery to me. I have to be patient with that. She’s brilliant and beautiful and funny and creative. She’s so much more than I ever imagined her being. She’s who I want to be when I grow up. She’s her own person and she doesn’t need me to “get it.” She just needs me to love her. To support her. To be there to guide her when she needs it. And to back off when she doesn’t need it. And to be patient. To be patient with the fact that I’m still figuring her out. She knows that. She watches me. And every once in a while I get that intense soul gazing stare. When I “get her,” when I understand something about her, she gives me that look. It’s her way of saying thank you. It’s her, knowing that I understand one more piece of her that I didn’t get before.

I’m ok with not knowing everything about how her mind works. I don’t think I’m supposed to. I’m just walking through life with her – now just one step behind – letting her make her own way. But I’m watching. Closely. I’m still studying and still trying to figure her out. Only now with more patience. With a little more understanding than yesterday. Some things you have to wait for. Some things, often the best things, you have to wait for. I’ll be waiting and watching and guiding. And I’ll never stop.

Happy birthday to my artist, to my old soul, my pajama pant wearing, book devouring daughter. My “I’m not a princess, I’m an artist”, “I don’t have time to brush my hair”, my laugh at any thing with the word “balls”, dry humored,  crazy girl. My beautiful spirit, my sweet girl, my baby. I love you.

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“Boy, you’re gonna carry that weight.

Carry that weight a long time…”

-The Beatles, Carry That Weight

Boys are getting a bad rap.

They are being reduced to the lowest common denominator.

They are suffering the permissibility of low expectations.

They have no self control. They have violent urges. They have uncontainable sexual tendencies.

Boys will be boys.

What does this oft cited phrase even mean? Does it mean that because they were born with the Y chromosome that they are inherently impulsive and helpless to their own actions? Does it mean that it is natural for them to be more violent, more sexual?

Or is it an excuse trotted out to dismiss unsavory behavior?

Is it an antiquated notion that keeps boys boxed into a hyper-masculine role while putting the burden on girls to keep order and civility intact?

I know a few boys.

I am a sister, a wife, a mother, a daughter. I’ve been blessed with some amazing boys and men in my life. Most of the boys I have known and encountered have been sensitive, intelligent, thoughtful people. Very much in control of their own actions. Yes, I have known some jerks. But they truly are the exception in my life, not the rule.

I love men.

I always have. I grew up having more guy friends than girl friends. I sometimes felt more comfortable and at ease with my guy friends. I love masculine, strong men and I love sensitive, artistic men and I love that these traits aren’t exclusive of each other. I don’t look at men as adversaries. I don’t view them as opposition. I view them as friends, as neighbors, as fellow parents-  as people full of good and sometimes a little bad but mostly just human and trying to do their best.

Let’s stop saying it…

Let’s stop saying “Boys will be boys.” It is said when little boys fight on the play ground. Instead of breaking up the fight and teaching them that there are other ways to problem solve, some people use this phrase as an excuse. Let them get out their anger, let them blow off some steam. It’ll toughen them up. Does this not seem an antiquated notion? Doesn’t it send messages that are hard to undo? Hurt and damage young boys who don’t necessarily enjoy fighting?

Let’s stop using it as an excuse for boys to grope girls. To say demeaning things to girls. Let’s not speak this phrase to imply that boys cannot control their urges around girls. To imply that it’s natural for boys to be misogynistic. It’s not. Misogyny is taught.

Let’s stop saying it when enforcing a dress code that is mostly thrust upon girls. Shorts must be a certain length. Skirts must be a certain length. No spaghetti strap shirts. Why? The reasons I’ve heard all seem to point to a few disturbing notions. Either that little girls will be viewed as too sultry or sexual when wearing shorts or tank tops or that it will put boys in the uncomfortable and impossible position of having to control their sexual urges. They will be too distracted by the show of flesh. So girls are all sultry sirens of the sea luring poor dimwitted boys to jump in the ocean, devoid of any self control?

Let’s stop saying it when men make lewd or inappropriate comments towards women. When men make crude and laviscious cat calls at a woman walking down the street.

And, dear god, let’s stop saying it when a boy sexually assaults a girl.

‘Cause here’s the thing…

Not all boys or men do these things. These are not behaviors inherent in the male species. Not all boys are violent. Not all boys are lustful. Not all boys view girls as objects. Not all boys are distracted by an exposed shoulder or an extra inch of thigh. Not all boys want to demean girls. Not all boys believe that they have rights to a girl’s body and privacy and sense of safety.

I don’t think any boy is born with these tendencies. They will have more testosterone, yes. And surges in testosterone can lead to feelings of anger or sexual urges. (And let’s start admitting that girls have sexual urges too.)  Boys can be taught how to deal with these feelings.  They are beyond animalistic instincts to act without regard to others or themselves. They are more evolved than that. To dismiss bad behavior with “boys will be boys” implies they have no control. It implies that they are subject to their worst impulses.

It is insulting.

The line of thinking that goes along with the “boys will be boys” mentality is an insult to boys. It is just as insulting as assuming that women are uncontrollably emotional and irrational because their bodies produce more estrogen. It only teaches boys that not only is bad behavior ok, it is expected of them. That it is evidence of masculinity. This is ridiculous. You know what’s masculine? Being honest about your feelings, showing emotion. Being respectful of others. Honoring other’s rights and needs. Understanding those around you.

I believe in setting high expectations, not shrugging away boorishness.

I believe that most boys don’t want to have to fight on the playground.

I believe that boys are completely capable of self control.

I believe my son doesn’t need to “prove” his masculinity any more than my daughters need to “prove” their femininity.

I believe that boys are capable of functioning around girls, even scantily clad girls, without succumbing to hormonal fueled hysteria.

I believe that if we stop dismissing behaviors and excusing them and expecting them, that we will raise strong, masculine men who respect themselves. Who respect women. Who want to be productive and not destructive. I believe that we can raise boys who won’t grow up to grope women. To make insulting cat calls. Who won’t say misogynistic things to women, to female senators. Who won’t assume rights or ownership to a woman’s body. I know it’s possible. I know many of these men. Many of whom grew up to be great men in spite of society’s banal accommodation of “boys will be boys.”

So let’s give boys some credit. Let’s assume they are capable of the best. Let’s expect more and in doing so imply that we know that they are more than able to do more. Let’s allow them to be who they are, not what society deems as masculine.

And once and for all, let’s stop saying “Boys will be boys.”