Monday, November 19, 2012

Attack of the Mombies

I was talking to my husband this morning - well, whining at him, really - about how erratic the childrens' sleep schedules are, how much energy they require, how tired I always am.  We've been watching The Walking Dead at night when we manage to get both kids to sleep in their own room, so I've got zombies on the brain too, as well as starting to resemble them more and more.

We've decided I have become one of the ambulatory undead.  That's right, somehow in the last 2.5 years I turned into a Mombie.  Part dedicated and loving mom, part falling-apart grotesquerie with dead soulless eyes.  Instead of hungering for brains, though, all I really want is sleep.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Some of you have little people, and  you are parenting them in a way that makes me glad I can't remember 1997-2000 clearly.  You're doing such an awesome job, and I tip my hat to you.

But most of you don't have teenagers yet. While you all know my biological son just turned 15, my "other son", the young man who is always here,  is 17.  These boys have been, as a duo, a constant in my life for five years now, and as always I've learned things the hard way.

If I could go back, and I mean that as a thought experiment because dear God don't make me parent little people ever again,  I would do some things differently:

  1. Go for a long walk every Sunday afternoon, after or instead of religious services.  Right now your littles run everywhere, but unless you're raising an athlete, couch time for video games and TV time gets FAR more appealing.  Tiring them out will make bedtime before the school week starts much easier.
  2. Have a full sit down, hot-food, everybody there dinner at least once a week. I like Sunday, but any regular, un-rushed day works.   Have everyone help make dinner.  Decorate the table, even if only with simple arts and crafts and flowers from the garden or local field  Once sitting, turn off anything that plugs in. Light candles.  Life gets busy, having this as a solid ritual is good.
  3. Once your kids are able to wield a butter knife without inevitable self-injury, assign each kid a night to make dinner once a week. If for the first five years of this you have peanut butter and jam sandwiches and whole apples with frenzies for dessert every tuesday, it's a win. They get a sense of power and responsibility, you get a night off cooking. Use the 'MyFoodGuide' to learn about food groups. As they grow teach them cooking stuff to replace the simple food.
  4. Learn to play at least one video game they like.  I'm never going to play Black Ops or Modern Warfare, but having Minecraft in common is REALLY helpful  We're getting Myst for the PS3 and will solve it together.  I may not play war games but I know what a 360, no-scope-crossmap hitmarker is enough to understand why they just went (happily) berserk over it.
  5. Don't ask them how their day was, because the answer will be "Fine."  Ask them the most interesting/challenging/weird part of their day, and let them know they can think about the answer and tell you before bedtime.  They will talk to you, it's like magic.
  6. When the dishes overwhelm you, reduce the dishes in your house to one plate, one bowl, one cup, one fork, one knife, one spoon each for the number of humans normally home.  Put the rest in a box, very tall shelf or (ideally lockable) hutch.  When teenagers are helping themselves to snacks they will use a new plate or cup every single time, leading to a catastrophic level of dish-washing greeting you on coming home.  If there are limited available cups/plates/cutlery etc they will actually wash something to use it again for something different.  I swear.
  7. Sit with them for at least 5 minutes every night at bedtime.  Tell them a story about when they were young. Tell them one (of the many) reasons they are awesome.   Yes, even teenagers need to hear that stuff, even if they pretend to be the most nonchalant  cooler-than-anybody human on the planet.  Once you say goodnight to them, take away their phone and ignore them unless you smell fire.
  8. Have allowance be contingent on, if nothing else, successful completion of daily showers.  Teenage boy goat smell is. . . . undesirable, and it's like they get afraid of water at 13.  Conversely, once you get them into the shower, have cheap extra towels to mop up the swamp that they'll leave on the floor.
  9. Knock before you enter their room, and respect their privacy. If it needs to be cleaned, clean it with them. If you need to enter, ask them first. They will respect your privacy once they realize how much they like theirs.
  10. Have a board game you both like, play it together. Compete. With my son and I now it's Settlers of Cattan, but when he was little it was Rummoli and when he was really small it was Fruit Salad and Sneaky Snake and Memory.
  11. Ask for hugs in public.  9/10 they are going to say no, 'cause a hug from mom in public will end the world, but keep asking. Sometimes they will let you. There is little so awesome as the feel of your little boy resting his chin on the top of your head. (My 'little boy' is now 6'0") 
  12. When you most want to freak out, don't freak out.  I know, it's hard, but SO worth it. How I handled the 'caught shoplifting' thing  is something I credit with a lot of the very frank conversations we have about a lot of stuff here. I used a lot of 'I" statements, expressed disappointment, talked about the consequences of starting on that kind of path, and expressed a strong conviction that my boys would learn from their mistake and go on to make me very proud. (I then made the punishment fit the crime)
  13. Reward good grades with cash money.  My mom and I set the bar every year - This year it's a minimum of 70% in every class, and a dollar for every point above that, for each class. My mom is talking about doubling it for marks in the 80s and tripling it for marks in the 90s.  (Keep in mind that my son is in an appropriate stream for his abilities, goes to tutoring twice a week and has an IEP in place, and gets support at home with organization and homework)  If  one grade is temporarily low but the teacher gives a glowing account of effort, that counts for a special bonus of some kind. They way we explained it, the workforce rewards diligent work with better opportunities and higher pay.  If you don't work to excel to the best of your abilities they stop paying you.  I want that to sink in  before he gets there.  
That's about the sum total of my learned-the-hard-way advice. 

Well, other than "wear shoes 'cause lego, plastic army guys and marbles hurt like hell to step on" 


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Mommy Wars: Swim Win

I owe you a couple of updates on the mommy wars, which are held up by a lack of pictures.  I decided to go ahead and trust that my audience doesn't need shiny stuff to keep reading.

I took the baby to his first swimming lesson recently.  This might not seem newsworthy, but I would like to point out two factors; first, that I am heavy (the BMI calculation labels me "obese"), and second, that I have a water phobia.  Being in a bathing suit in a public place, and being near (never mind in) more than a teapot full of water, are two things that I generally work pretty hard to avoid.

There were also minor annoyances; having missed the first class, feeling like we were already behind and wouldn't know the routine, and being ten minutes late for no good reason other than I was probably subconsciously trying to sabotage the whole thing.

The thing is, though, once we were finally there and suited up and in the pool and introduced... the baby LOVED it.  He didn't cry once.  He floated on his back and on his front, and splashed with his hands.  He loved the other baby who was his age, and the toddler who insisted in kissing him, and the "big" boy and girl who could kick and push off from the edge.  I didn't love it quite so much, but I managed to stay in the water the whole 20 minutes of the class.

The best part was in the last few minutes of class, when the ladies started arriving on deck for their shallow-water Aquafit class.  They were in their 70s and 80s, I would guess.  Some were in Speedos, some in sexy ruched glamour suits, and all unself-consciously chatting away to their friends.  The best was the little old lady who waited for someone to open the change-room door, so she could push her walker out onto the pool deck and right up to the edge of the water.  I watched these fabulous women and felt tears pricking my eyes.  I wanted to be them when I grow up.  Hell, I want to start being them now; comfortable in their skins and their swimsuits, at the pool just because they love it.  And since all of this is happening in my head, I can control (or at least affect) it, and I'm going to try to do it.

This isn't really a "Mommy Wars" win, since I didn't take him to one of the low-chlorine, special baby-friendly swimming pools.  But it's a perfect example of how doing something that's good for him is good for me too.  Now I'm off to research Adult Learn-To-Swim classes and buy one of those Speedos...

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A Little Time-Change Miracle

Everyone seems to love to talk about the extra hour of sleep you get when the clock goes back in the fall.  I don't know why, because there are plenty of people with little kids in the world, and those people all know that you are not getting an extra hour of sleep.

What you are really getting is Junior waking up at 5:30am instead of 6:30am, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and ready to start his day.  My oldest, who is almost 15, has an incredible circadian clock.  He has woken up at 6:30am pretty much every morning of his life; time changes and jet lag throw him off for a few days, but he adjusts quickly.  I'm not proud of this, but I taught him how to go on the computer in my bedroom and play his games (back in the "Pajama Sam" days) when he was about three, just so I could stay in bed a little longer.

I've been dreading this time change.  Our little foster baby is nine months old, and he has just learned to pull himself up to standing.  The crib is a perfect place to practice that.  As a result, the past week has been a no-nap nightmare.  Yesterday, for instance, he woke up at 7:30am.  At about 9am I spent an hour and a half putting him down for his morning nap.  He slept for an hour.  At about 2:30pm I spent two and a half hours putting him down for an afternoon nap.  At that point he was so exhausted that he slept for three hours, waking up at the time he would usually be going to bed.  We didn't mind too much because we were going to a 50th birthday party next door, so we took him along for a couple of hours until he was sleepy, then my husband brought him home and put him to bed.

Did I mention he's still up twice a night as well?

By 10:30 this morning it was time to try for a nap.  I offered to start the process if my husband would go to McDonalds to pick up a hangover cure, which he obligingly did.  I fed the baby, and realized his eyes were fluttering closed.  I put him in the crib; he rolled over and grabbed his blanket.  I thought... could this be it?  No, he dragged himself up to standing and gave me a big wrinkled-nose grin.  I laid him back down, on the verge of tears, thinking that like yesterday, I'd be repeating the process for the next hour and a half.  And, much to my surprise... he went to sleep.  I thought my breakfast would be stone cold before I got to eat it, and instead it was still on its way.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Why I eat @ trashy fastfood joints

If you're a parent, and you go out to eat with your younglings, you probably understand me a little already.  If you have a baby or toddler and you're still going to the nice sit-down thai restaurant or that sweet downtown pub, and everyone is well-behaved and quiet and no one is infringing upon the grown-up Peace and Quiet (capitals are well-deserved!) and all of your friends etc. think it's totally cool and appropriate for you to have brought said younglings, well, you're as imaginary as my justification for this run-on sentence.

The term 'Family Friendly' exists for a reason.  It's not just another case of a buzzword being created by an industry that wants to keep us fat and complacent.  It is a secret code-word, a word of Power.
Family Friendly tells us we're allowed to bring small humans who occasionally yell or throw tiny packets of jam or demand to SEE DEM FISHES AGAIN, MUMMA!  This lovely double-F lets us know that there will be a child's menu for you to optimistically order from (while your child eats half of your grilled cheese, instead) and boosterseats and possibly those placemats with mazes that come with crayons to colour with. Weapons to keep the child-boredom-rage at bay.

But of course the most important thing is that you won't be the only one with a child there.  You will be quietly assigned to the Child-Heavy Quarter of the restaurant, and your child will stare/yell at/dance for/gape quietly at all the other children.  And your hackles and sense of parents-in-public guilt won't immediately jump up every time your youngling shouts "Bear!" or starts kicking the table leg or starts singing Doddlebops tunes in an off-key fake mexican accent. 

Family Friendly means just that, but more: it really means Wee-Child and Overtaxed Parents Friendly.  It means you can let your child be him or herself for half an hour while you consume four thousand calories one-handed, wthout spending the whole time trying to monitor and correct behaviours that really aren't bad - not expressions of aggression or petulance or spite, just little sparks of boredom and adventurousness.  You're allowed to have a new baby that sometimes cries, a toddler that demands everyone SEE and WORSHIP her, and you're allowed to eat something resembling food, something that doesn't come in powerbar or instant-packet form.
To me, that's worth the cultural embarrassment I feel for this horrible downgrade in my Fine Dining.  It makes up for the facts that these burgers are only 35% as tasty as the ones I could get at a pub, that we don't get the option of wine with dinner ever again, that napkins shall evermore be paper, amen.

I go to these places now because I want tasty food that I didn't cook, no mater how classless that food is, and I want to be forgiven, for the duration of that meal, for bringing a source of random and ceaseless Noise (or in my case, two) into the world.
Also, I go there for the fries.