Sunday, June 3, 2007


Last night, before I went to bed, I left a note for W on the dining room table. The note said:

W - please do not wake me up until 8:00.
We came home late. I need to sleep.
Love, Mommy

And guess what? He came to wake me up at 8:01. And proceeded to read me my note.

I think I started to cry. (I'm not sure, because I was still half asleep.)

Friday, June 1, 2007

Is it time for the nail clippers yet?

This morning in the car E said, "Hey Mom, guess what? I think I've been biting my nails less lately."

I have been trying to ignore this habit of his, but it's hard. Since he was three he has been gnawing on his nails constantly. I believe entire months went by in his sixth and seventh years when his fingers did not leave his lips except to eat.

It struck me, this morning, that E started biting his nails the very day he started on the gymnastics team.

Gymnastics = nail-biting. No gymnastics = less nail-biting.

Anyone else see a pattern here?

I just know it -- it's going to turn out that the five years of gymnastics team, which I thought were so good for him, caused enough stress to set him up for heart disease and an ulcer.

Navy blue

The kids are happy as clams.

However, two days ago I woke up in a dark, dark mood. I'm assuming it's hormonal and it will lift on its own, so I've been pushing through. Self-medicating with chocolate, knitting and reruns of "Law & Order."

It is not the first time this has happened. It usually lasts for a few days. But it is the very first time I have been so aware of how my mood is affecting my interactions with the kids.

I do not want my children to say, years down the line, that Mommy was always in a bad mood. That Mommy yelled a lot. That Mommy had no patience.

And most of the time I can control my reactions to them, at least in part. Not this time.

Yesterday I picked them up at their schools planning to take them to the park. They negotiated a pre-park stop at Starbucks. Fine. But as we drove down the freeway from E's school, the kids started bickering and yelling at each other. I warned them. And then something happened -- no memory of the specifics -- and W kicked the back of the driver's seat, so hard it actually hurt my back.

And I snapped. No Starbucks. No park. Straight home. They were furious, and so was I. They tried to blame each other. I told them they were both responsible.

Once we got home they whipped themselves into shape. Chastised, I guess. E apologized. They started playing nicely together. Normal moms, I think, would have softened, at least, if not melted.

I wanted to. But I was still furious, couldn't let go of my anger. I'm not even sure at what I was angry. At them for being kids, which seems completely unreasonable now, although it felt logical yesterday.

They wanted me to go outside to play baseball with them. And I couldn't. Couldn't move from the sink, where I was trimming yellow wax beans for dinner. I knew I should have been able to. And I couldn't.

For a long time.

Maybe 15 minutes -- well, it felt like forever. And then finally I forced myself to go outside to play with them. But my heart wasn't in it, and there were no smiles on my face, and anyway my too-much-tennis shoulder hurt when I threw the ball, so I told them I had to stop. And we all went inside.

The rest of the evening was unremarkable, and in fact M commented that the kids seemed very happy when he came home. I think maybe they were happy that Daddy was there to save them from Crabby Mommy. Neither kid wanted me to stay for the lights-out-before-sleep cuddling, which is a time from which I am rarely excused. Daddy got it all last night.

And it was my own damn fault, no?

Now, lest you think I am being too hard on myself, reread the second paragraph of this entry. Hormonal. Chemical. Beyond my control. I know that. It feels completely unavoidable and was sparked by nothing more than Wednesday morning's alarm clock.

But I can still flog myself for letting it trickle down.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

For your listening pleasure

W, at five, is very picky about what we listen to while driving. He has his favorites among the kid CDs, but the passion of the moment is a five-song mini-album by The Naked Brothers Band, a group of grade-school boys with a show on Nickelodeon. Even I like that one. However, I like it much less after hearing it every day five or six times through. So sometimes I put my foot down, tell him it's my turn to choose, and try to sneak in some grownup music.

This morning, when it was definitely my turn to choose, we compromised on the radio, some classic-rock station. Classic rock seems to have evolved from Led Zeppelin and The Who to mainstream early 80s stuff. Fleetwood Mac. The Pretenders. At one point we heard Blondie.

And I would not have remembered that at all, except that W has been running around the house this afternoon singing, over and over again, "One way...or another...I'm gonna getcha getcha getcha getcha...."

(In the right key, might I add.)

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


A few weeks ago, E and I decided together that it was time for him to leave his gymnastics team.

When I say "together," I mean that I suggested it, and after thinking about it for a few days, he agreed.

I am having very, very mixed feelings about this decision. E too.

On the one hand: E has been doing gymnastics continuously for five years. He is not anywhere near the best one on his team. He is never going to the Olympics.

But he loves the sport and it has been so good for him. Good for his body, certainly, but also good for his mind and his heart. Most things come so easily to him. Gymnastics, not so much. He has had to work for months, even years, to get some of the more complicated tricks. But once he gets a trick, it's his. Progress is measurable and highly visible. E has learned that if you work hard and push yourself, eventually it pays off. In my opinion, he will not learn this lesson so graphically in any other arena, especially at this age.

Plus, in the competitions, he has absorbed the right lessons. He cared little about his teammates' scores; he cared very, very much about his own, but only with respect to how they compared to his previous scores. He looked only for markers of his own improvement. The first meet where he got no white ribbons (the lowest score category) I had to peel him off the ceiling. And the smiles -- four hours, continuously, at each meet. He clearly loved being there, loved showing us the end result of his years of hard work.

On the other hand: Three full afternoons a week at the gym has precluded E from doing many other interesting things. For example, the after-hours enrichment classes at his school. Playdates. Going to the park. Simply hanging out at home, something which until recently E found difficult but which he now craves.

Three full afternoons a week at the gym also costs the family. Mostly time -- W's many extra hours in the car, M's hours driving to and from the gym to pick E up when no other option exists. Also goodwill, for lack of a better term. I am definitely in a worse mood on afternoons when I have been in the car for three and a half hours driving among schools, gymnastics and home.

But these things we've been handling. The final straw was the homework. And this is why I have such mixed feelings.

Should an eight-year-old have to give up an outside activity he has loved for five years because he can't get his homework done? Absolutely not.

But these are the requirements of his school, a private school for the highly gifted. This is what he has to do if he stays there (which is not an "if" for us at all). We love the school. It is the right place for him. It is, I am convinced, the only place we could have chosen for a child who in any other environment would have been a complete oddball. In his spare time, E is writing an atlas. This is considered normal -- even cherished and certainly appreciated -- behavior at his school. He is happy and secure and confident and popular. No, the school stays. And if the school stays, so stays the homework.

I hear it gets worse for the next two years, then better in middle school.

So, while I resent the fact that at eight years old E had to choose homework over gymnastics, so it needs to be. Also I have to admit that E has seemed much less stressed in the past two weeks. Yesterday he came home, had a snack, whipped off his homework (less than usual, admittedly), played outside, and still had several hours to spend working on his atlas. He went to bed happy. He woke up happy. And I feel much less stressed too.

Now the only challenges are 1) making sure E gets enough exercise and 2) helping him adjust his eating habits to account for the decrease in activity. As many of you reading this know, E loves his food.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Sorry, dear husband

I had an interesting discussion with E's school psychologist today, sparked by the homework battles detailed in posts past. Her take -- and she admits that she is pretty much alone among the faculty -- is that homework for eight-year-olds is crap. Ridiculous. Completely unnecessary.

I love this woman with all my heart.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Pride and panic

W has overcome his fear of swimming and now, in a fashion, can swim across the pool. We signed him up for an intensive 10-lesson program. In the first lesson he consented to putting his whole head underwater. By the third lesson he was "swimming" across the pool. I use quotation marks because he's still doing a modified, thrashing doggie paddle, with very audible bubble-blowing. It's pretty hysterical and mostly functional.

You know, I didn't cry when my kids started school. I didn't cry at the first sleepover. I cried when E learned to swim three years ago, and I cried last week when W did the same. (Also, I cried when E lost his first tooth, but I get the feeling that's more mainstream.)

Anyway, I am so thrilled and proud that W beat back his fear. However, he is now in the stage where he thinks he is more capable than he actually is. Which means, I think, that his potential for drowning has increased exponentially, at least for the next six months or a year. Bummer for me and my blood pressure.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Healthy breakfast - NOT

This morning when I got up I found W at the dining room table with 1) a bowl of milk and 2) an overflowing bowl of those ABC cookies from Costco that come in the huge barrel. Not sure how many had already gone down the hatch, but there were at least 50 in the bowl awaiting consumption. He was furious when I explained that one cannot eat so many cookies for breakfast and be a healthy person.

He is a kid who wants what he wants.

Query: If I let my kid eat cookies for breakfast, will the Mommy Police show up at my door?

On the other hand, he got it himself, instead of waking me up at 5am demanding food. Hmm, cookies for breakfast sound great!

Thursday, May 3, 2007

How many more weeks of homework?

Please tell me that summer vacation is right around the corner. Because I am completely ready for this homework crap to end.

No, I am not doing E's homework for him. No, I am not doing E's homework with him. But how far am I supposed to go to prod, cause, encourage, coax, remind, bribe him to do his f***ing homework?

I am having a lot of trouble figuring out this particular parenting skill. I've tried it lots of ways. At first it was no problem. In fact, he was the model homework child. I got cocky. An eight-year-old who loves homework, can't wait to do it, goes into his room and happily works until it's done!

What a fool I was.

Maybe it's the restlessness of spring, or burnout, or knowing that the end of the year is around the corner. And, admittedly, he is getting a lot more homework at eight than I did at, oh, probably 18. I don't ever remember doing much homework.

But things that should be taking him half an hour are stretching to two or three. Things that should be taking 10 minutes last an hour. It's as though his work is expanding to fill the time available. If there are four hours between when we get home from school and bedtime, minus an hour for snack/dinner/shower, then homework will take three hours, no matter how much or how little. Well, not completely true -- if it's a lot, it just won't get done before bedtime, so either he stays up late or it goes unfinished.

And that's after I've spent the entire three hours saying, at least once every five minutes, "E, go do your work" or some variation thereof. He breaks to talk with his brother. I walk by his room and find him reading Captain Underpants. He hangs around the kitchen whining about dinner. Anything and everything. I start out firm. I end up screaming. I hate it.

It's been a particularly bad day on top of a particularly bad week where this homework stuff is concerned. I am trying hard to control my rage and avoid the expletives, so please bear with me.

I'm preparing for a tearful showdown at the moment, which is perhaps why my anxiety level is high. I tried a new tactic today. I told E that I was not going to say a word to him about his homework this afternoon, was not going to remind him or get him back on task. I told him when bedtime was and that 10 minutes before bedtime he would have to stop working, brush his teeth, wash up, etc. And I stuck to it.

And now it's bedtime, and he didn't finish, and he's angling to stay up late, and I'm saying no and he's yelling and crying. He's in bed with the lights out, crying. We talked it over, but he's still devastated. And it's just going to get worse. Will he actually get the sleep he needs? No, because he'll be so upset that he won't fall asleep. I bet he'll be out every 10 minutes until 10pm. Did his work get done? No.

Why is this making me so upset? I don't know.

I don't actually have any intellectual problem with letting him suffer the consequences of going to school with his work undone. I think he should. Certainly this would be a good time in his educational career to learn this lesson. He's eight. I don't think undone homework will affect his ability to get into a good college.

But somehow I feel that I'm failing to teach him an important lesson: Make hay while the sun shines. Don't put off until get the point.

His teachers say this is all developmentally appropriate. But I wonder. He's always been ultra-distractable. He rarely sticks with the same project, game, book, etc. for more than a few minutes. The exceptions have been projects he has devised himself, and which clearly he finds exceptionally interesting: Mapquesting the entire school roster, so he can visualize where everyone (all 300 students) lives. Transposing his favorite classical melodies on the piano into every available key. Writing a world atlas -- no, I'm not kidding. These things he can do for hours at a time.

When I was in his room just now, trying to calm him and explaining why, in his words, I have been "mean to him" for the past three days, he protested through his tears that he is "just too easily distracted." Is this an excuse for laziness? Or does he recognize something in himself, something clinical and diagnosable? I hate to think of my kid as a diagnosis, a label, but when I read the descriptions of ADD it sounds like him exactly. Or does it sound like every eight-year-old kid?

Another point to make: Maybe eight-year-olds shouldn't have to get hours of work to do outside school every week. He's in school seven hours a day. Isn't that enough? I doubt I'll be changing the school system anytime soon, even at E's posh and parent-influenced private school. But it never hurts to dream.

Meantime, how do I handle this? I do not want my child to think that I hate him. I tried to explain that sometimes teaching your children life lessons means being strict. Maybe he heard that. I cuddled with him and kissed him all over his face. Will that make up for the Mean Mommy week? Can anything?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Dinner from leftovers

Have I mentioned that I like to cook? I do. A lot.

If you're ever faced with leftover salmon, try this:

Greek Salmon Cakes

Mix together leftover cooked salmon (baked, roasted, poached, whatever), chopped scallions, chopped dill, crumbled feta cheese, a squeeze of lemon juice, some breadcrumbs, an egg, and a dollop of mayonnaise.

Form into patties with your hands. Coat the patties with more breadcrumbs. Put on a plate in the refrigerator for an hour or more. (This keeps the patties from falling apart when you saute them. I often do this in the morning for that night's dinner.)

Just before dinnertime, saute the salmon cakes in olive oil until golden brown. Serve with a lemon- and dill-spiked mayonnaise or thick yogurt.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Spilled milk (or juice)

Why, oh why do I have such a problem with spilled drinks?

I know that the rational reaction when a five-year-old topples a cup of juice is a resigned "Oh well." And yet -- despite myself, before I even realize it -- I say something that clearly shows my exasperation and, I'm sure, makes W feel like crap for having knocked over his cup.

Bad mommy. Bad, bad Crabby Mommy.

Even worse, over the weekend W and I were baking, and when he sailed the bowl of dry ingredients -- which he had carefully measured and dumped in and whisked -- onto the floor, I actually screamed at him. He cowered and cried and took off for his room. And my husband was furious with me. I felt pretty bad too. I cleaned it up (between the Dustbuster and a wet sponge it took all of two minutes) and then went to apologize to W, and we finished the baking without incident. But I felt like shit for making my kid cry.

When, actually, can one expect a kid not to knock over cups and bowls with regularity? How old? I myself haven't done it more than once or twice in the past decade, so yes, I feel confident that we do outgrow the tendency eventually. E, at eight, hasn't knocked anything over in -- well -- okay, I don't think he's ever done it. He's just not that kind of kid. He's a careful one. Also not a good frame of reference for me. I think W pays for E's off-the-curve behavior in more ways than this, because I am not properly conditioned. My expectations have not been set appropriately. That's really the problem.

My brother always complained that I didn't do enough to break our parents in when I was a teenager. Maybe this is similar. I can hear it in W's therapy 20 years from now: "My goddamn goody-two-shoes brother. He never spilled his milk, so every time I did it -- I was five, for chrissakes! -- my mom made me feel like an idiot."

So the problem here is clear. Must learn to control reactions with respect to spilled drinks. How to do? Some thoughts:

1) Spill a few myself on purpose, just to even things out.

2) Time cleanup -- why get worked up over something that takes a mere 15 seconds to swab?

3) Figure out a canned speech for the moment of distress: Wow, the floor/counter/chair/table must be hungry/thirsty!

4) Maybe I should start doing affirmations. I will not yell at my kids for spilling milk. I will breathe deeply when the flour flies. I will not give my kids any more reasons to hold their shortcomings against me. I will start saving for their therapy funds tomorrow.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

First words from the Crabby Mommy

It's a little of a misnomer. I'm not always crabby.

But more often than I'd prefer, these days.

I thought perhaps if I spent a little more time reflecting I'd have less time for the actual crabbiness. And less inclination. I find that crabby becomes a habit, and it's a habit I'd like to break.

Today was an ultra-crabby day, at least until about 2pm. More on that later. Now, think about the good things, focus on the good things.

Friday was a near-perfect day with my kids. In the morning, an inspiring Multicultural Day at my eight-year-old E's school, where each kid in his grade chose a country, dressed up as a child from that country, prepared a poster and other audiovisual materials, and memorized a five-minute speech touting the country's highlights.

"Hi, my name is Blake," began E's presentation. "I am from Ireland, and I live in the capital, Dublin." He went on to list the leader's of Ireland's government, natural resources, major religions, popular foods, a complete encyclopedia entry. Around him his friends were doing Russian folk dances, reciting French poetry, that sort of thing, dressed in costumes ranging from the extremely authentic (India, Turkey) to the extremely creative (the orange bath towel for the Thai monk). Despite the fact that it was sunny and windy and dry, and the kids had to stand there and recite their reports in a continuous loop for two hours, they were unflappable and absolutely enthusiastic.

I went from that to a really idyllic afternoon with W, who is five and alternately fantastic and infuriating. I never know which kid I will get at the end of the day. But on Friday we went from school to the nursery near our house to buy plants for our summer vegetable garden. He was so into it, the whole process, soup to nuts. He picked out all the plants himself, insisted on putting them all in the cart. He helped me carry them from the car to the backyard. We only had 45 minutes until his t-ball practice, but he said we absolutely had to get started on the planting, and he was efficient and effective: picked the spot, dug the holes, gently removed the plants from the plastic pots, broke up the roots, put the plants in the ground, held them with one hand while he filled in the hole with soil, tamped down the dirt, put the stakes in so we'd remember what we planted. We worked in parallel, which I never expect with a child this age.

And then we went to t-ball practice, where he had fun, no whining, got me out on the field chasing balls, which I suppose was good for my chemistry, emotional as well as physical. After which we went home and he forewent (?) dinner to finish the planting. Dad and E came home from E's gymnastics workout and they brought their dinner outside to keep W and me company while we finished in the garden. The plants were growing, the sun setting, the day and week ending, and I was in a better mood at bedtime than I had been for weeks.

So why aren't there more days like that? And even if there haven't been in the past, how can I create more days like that?