Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Follow your instincts

I've been thinking a lot lately about when, exactly, I developed the confidence to follow my instincts. Or in which ways I have.

I was talking to a new parent a few weeks ago who was clearly feeling shaky, new baby in arms, sleep a distant memory, questioning every hiccup and twitch. I couldn't remember whether I felt that way. I must have, but I had the benefit of a pediatrician father (mine, I mean) and experienced mamas all around offering advice. I was lucky and had babies who were easily soothed, so I equated whatever I was doing - instinct - with success, and thus my confidence grew.

When W got really, really sick in the spring just after he turned two, it was instinct that told me: This time is different. This is not okay. Danger, danger, danger. I took him to the hospital once, twice, three times in three days. In the end, it was clear to everyone he needed to stay, and he did. Only the strongest of drugs dripped into his little veins for weeks on end cleared the infection. But it took several days for the doctors, and even W's dad, to catch up with what I already knew and would not release: danger, danger, danger.

As E and W get older, I feel my confidence slipping. The issues are different. The problems confuse me, cause conflict within and without. How do I know whether enforcing bedtime for an 11-year-old is right or wrong? How do I know whether the benefits of consistency, in which I believe strongly as a parenting maxim, are undercut, wiped out, bye-bye, by one lazy night, or two, or a dozen? I have instincts, still, but they seem watery, wavy, translucent instead of solid. My husband points out my inconsistencies, and I'm glad. My kids point them out, too, and I wonder whether to stand my ground or admit my waffle.

On Yom Kippur this year, I was in one of those states of consummate confusion. I heard my mother's voice in my head: It's the holiest day of the year! You can't go shopping! No playdates! No TV! But now, in my house and my life and my family, we are thoughtful but unobservant - aware of our heritage, yet careless of custom. To my children, it's another day. Why can't they watch TV? Why can't they have a playdate? We're not in temple, we're not religious, we've talked about the meaning of the day. For them, that's enough.

But I was all conflict. When they asked if they could watch TV, I couldn't say no, and I couldn't say yes. When W asked to play with his friend around the corner, I couldn't say no, and I couldn't say yes. Wisely, I think, I finally said to my husband: Nothing is working properly in my head right now. I cannot make logical decisions. You need to be in charge of the kid decisions today. I'm not capable. And so he took over, and there was TV, and there were playdates, and I continued to feel guilty and conflicted. Whatever instincts I had about that day, they were off. Soured. Dissonant. Ineffective.

I'm hoping my instincts will right themselves sometime soon. But I'm not sure how to help that happen. I say "help" instead of "make" because one thing I know for certain: I can't make much happen these days. Things happen. The best case scenario is that, as they do, I will be strong enough to listen to my gut to deal with whatever comes along.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The meaning of bad dreams

Last night, for the first time in a while, I had a nightmare in which one of my children was in trouble and I couldn't get to him to help.

When my boys were very small, I had a recurring dream in which one of them was underwater, drowning, and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't reach him. I would wake up crying, screaming sometimes, heart racing, and there was no way I could get back to sleep.

I talked to a few friends and even a therapist about the dreams. The friends were sympathetic. The therapist told me the dreams expressed my feelings of inadequacy as a mother, my worry that I would not be able to protect them from the evils of the world as they grew.

I, on the other hand, was pretty sure that the dreams were about drowning. And, coincidentally, they went away the day that my younger son learned to swim.

Last night's dream was similar - W, now a feisty and extremely independent seven and a half, went missing at the beach, and despite my frantic shouts I heard nothing. When I did hear him crying (still in the dream - he slept peacefully all night, unlike his mother), he was stuck on some kind of rusted steel beams, caught by a thread on his jacket, and trying not to fall into a big ditch behind him. In the dream, just as I got close enough to see the panic on his face, he slipped into the hole and disappeared.

And I woke up crying, heart racing, unable to settle down for a good long while.

While my earlier dreams were, I think, truly about my fear that the kids would drown before they learned to swim (southern California is full of swimming pools and oceans, you know), this time I thought again of the therapist's comments.

At camp this week, W had a run-in with a slightly older and much tougher boy who reacted to an accidental backpack-tromping with fists and rage. It all ended fine - a counselor stepped in, W wasn't really hurt, my sensible husband talked with the camp director. But the rage I felt was overwhelming. How could this child have tried to hurt my baby? What consequences would the boy suffer? And, most of all, how could I not have been there to make him feel safe and protected?

W, as I think I've mentioned, is not the kind of kid who likes to talk about things gone wrong in his life. I got no details directly from him until a full 24 hours after the incident, and even then they were sketchy. So here I was, home from work at last, having missed the whole thing, and all I wanted to do was comfort him. And he wanted no part of that, no part of me.

How I felt: useless. Dismissed. Inadequate. Absent.

How he handled the whole thing: stoically. Bravely. Maturely. Capably.

What I needed to do: Get over it.

But the dream - there, I guess, is where those useless-dismissed-inadequate-absent feelings bubbled up after I shoved them down and away.

What kinds of dreams do you have about your kids?

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

How to look for a job after spending time as a full-time mother: Helpful hints

I've been back at work almost three months now. And I'm a little surprised to say that I'm really happy. Truthfully, I thought it would be harder settling into a full-time job - and into the role of Working Mom - after eight years as a full-time at-home parent.

But it's been remarkably smooth, this transition. It's like riding a bike: I remember how to get up, take a shower, and go to an office. I remember how to talk intelligently with grownups I don't know very well. I remember how to problem-solve collaboratively and state my opinion authoritatively. It's a daily deja vu: I feel more like my pre-children 20-something self than I have in years. My kids are great and all, but I like the way this feels.

But getting a job - well, there I was lucky, and I realize it. In the early 1990s, I accidentally fell into what is now the hottest growth sector (social media) of one of the only growth industries (the Internet business) in the world. Looking for a job in January 2009 was laughable for most people. Me, I saw new jobs listed in my sweet spot every day.

Even so, there were things I learned during my job search that I wish I had known before getting back on the market. If you know women who've been at home caring for their children and are thinking about going back to work, please send them this link. I'd love to hear from them.

So - things every mom should do when looking for a job after a period at home full-time:

1. Sign up for LinkedIn (if you haven't already), or update your current LinkedIn profile. Recruiters in every industry look for candidates on LinkedIn. Even if they find a candidate through another channel, they look on LinkedIn to cross-check what's on the person's resume. Paper resumes are out; electronic "social media" resumes are hot, hot, hot, and not just when you're looking for Internet jobs. Maintaining your online presence tells employers you're modern, current and forward-thinking - especially important when you've taken time off from work and have to fight the perception that you're a dinosaur who thinks about nothing but diapers.

2. Clean up your Facebook page. Yes, recruiters will check there too. It's fine for your Facebook page to be personal, but make sure there's nothing embarrassing.

3. Find all the blogs related to your industry or area of expertise, and spend a week just reading them and following the links within them. The blogosphere is the best way to get a handle on what's going on in any corner of the business world these days. If you read something interesting, leave a comment, and link your name back to your LinkedIn public profile. That way, when something you've said catches someone's eye, they'll be able to click through to read more about you.

4. Start a blog related to your area of professional expertise. You don't have to be a professional journalist. You don't have to be ready to write a book. But you do have to prove to potential employers that you are smart; you are thoughtful about your professional niche; and you are a take-charge go-getter. It's easy to say you're an expert on your resume; it's harder, but much more valuable, to prove you're an expert by actually saying smart things in a place where people can read them. Once you have a blog and have written in it at least three or four times a week for a month, use that link when you comment on other people's blogs.

5. Join Twitter, if you haven't already, and follow all the people in your industry you can find. When you find one interesting person in your business to follow, look at the people he or she is following for more good follow ideas. Spend a few days just reading other people's Tweets. Don't worry if no one is following you back; if you like social media, by all means start tweeting, retweeting, sending @ messages, etc. But if not, you can still learn a lot from Twitter as a passive "listener."

6. Go back to your resume and your LinkedIn profile and add your blog. I had no current work experience, but a very wise woman suggested I put my blogs (I have three) front and center on my work history. That was, indeed, what I had been doing most recently - the fact that I wasn't getting paid for them made no difference.

7. For that matter, make sure your LinkedIn profile and your resume include all the volunteer jobs you were no doubt doing while at home with your children. Chairing a fundraising committee and organizing beach cleanups for the third grade are work, and you can make them sound professional. Be sure to include results. Volunteer work is still work.

8. Make a list of all the people you've ever worked with, and find them. I know this sounds daunting, but it's worth it. If you were good at your job, people will remember you and will be happy to hear from you. I had been dormant professionally for eight years, and between Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, my personal email address book, and mining friend-of-friend contacts, I had resurrected my entire professional network within two weeks.

9. Once you've found all those people, reach out to them. Don't use a form email, but it's fine to send everyone a few paragraphs saying hi, was thinking about you, been at home for X years, now it's time for me to re-enter the working world, would love to catch up. Again, if you were good at your job, the people you used to work with will be happy to hear from you and will likely be generous about making introductions, offering advice, and, in the best case, putting you in touch with the hiring manager at their firm. Don't discount anyone - you never know who knows whom. And accept all offers of help. You never know where they'll lead. Also, don't forget that the people who used to be below you organizationally may not have taken time off and thus may now be in a position to hire you.

10. Go on every interview that comes up. Ask for informational interviews - most companies are happy to take half an hour to tell you about their businesses, even if they have no open positions right that moment. Meet former colleagues for coffee. Don't be shy about talking about your dream job. And don't forget to tell the other moms you know that you're looking - they may be at home at the moment, but they have professional networks too.

11. Here, I think is the most important thing, and it's about attitude, not action. Do not discount your own experience, ability, or worth in the marketplace. Do not start every other sentence with "Well, I know I haven't been working for the past X years, but I think..." I did this. What's worse, I did it more after starting my job than during the job search process. After my second week at work, the kind, wise friend who brought me into the company took me to lunch and said: You have to stop. Get over it. You're here, you're smart, and we all know you've been out for a while. It's fine. Your opinion is just as valuable as anyone else's. Get over it. And that very moment, I did.

I hope this helps others out there. What did I forget? What helped you? Please leave a comment below - this is a topic that needs way more discussion.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Crabby Mommy has returned, with a vengeance

So I'm almost two months into my job, and it couldn't be going better. The work is interesting, stimulating, challenging. The people are smart, fun, gracious and welcoming. I ride my bike to work. I'm home in time to make dinner for my family most nights. And I'm getting paid.

Unfortunately, I believe I have been a bit of a beast to my family.

Today W, my seven-year-old, attacked me at the door when I came home because he couldn't wait for me to read his book report, which he'd finished in one day. Clearly he'd been working intently on it. I sat down to read it, and the first words out of my mouth were: Okay, you guess.

"Wow, honey, what a terrific job you've done!" Nope, wrong.

"This is very well-written. I can't believe you did all this in one afternoon!" I wish.

No, the first three thoughts came out of my mouth something like this:

"Does Popper's [the title of the book is Mr. Popper's Penguins] have an apostrophe in it? I think it does."

And then: "This part needs to be a complete sentence."

And finally: "What word is this supposed to be? Check your spelling."

What a jerk of a mom, huh? And of course W did what any sensible seven-year-old would do. He ripped it out of my hands and ran to his room, shouting "No one gets to read this EVER AGAIN!"

In case you were wondering, by the way:
  1. I felt horrible.
  2. I tried to apologize, several times.
  3. He did not forgive me, and in fact started to tear up every time I tried to apologize.
  4. I still haven't read the rest of it, because he hid it from me.
Bad Crabby Mommy. Bad, bad Crabby Mommy.

Fatigue? Partly. Distraction? Partly. Feelings of being overwhelmed, overcommitted, overloaded? A bit. Lack of exercise, yes. Lack of girl time, yes, although I'm trying to protect that by convincing friends to come meet me for lunch.

I think I need to start meditating on all the positive things this change in my life is bringing me. Intellectual gratification. Free lunch on Mondays and Wednesdays. A paycheck. The opportunity to learn new skills and hone existing ones. New friends. New habits. And, if I meditate on these things long enough, a new attitude, I hope.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

And now I have a new title: Working Mom

I. Am. So. Tired.

Considering that a) I like my job a lot so far, b) the commute is less than two miles, c) my husband has taken on many of the child-and-dinner duties that previously belonged to me, and d) I've been sleeping okay, I have been surprised at my level of exhaustion by the end of the day over these past few weeks since I started my first full-time job after eight years at home with my kids.

Why should this be so hard? All I've done, I think to myself, is trade one set of activities for another. Bye-bye to driving the carpool, buying the groceries, making the Costco runs, picking up around the house. Howdy to biking or walking to work, talking with grownups, absorbing complicated user-experience flowcharts, learning to use new helpful software tools, sitting in meetings, figuring out the complexities of my new employer's business model. Howdy also to being on my best behavior eight or nine hours a day, trying not to say anything stupid, trying to be funny so people will like me. That's one thing you don't really have to do as a full-time parent, actually - I never got into the habit of trying to impress other moms. They liked me or they didn't, and I didn't much care. But at a job things are different. You need people to like you if you want to be effective.

Maybe all the mental energy and heavy thinking are tiring me out. Maybe as I feel more comfortable with the job and the business and the people I won't come home so exhausted I can barely sit at the dinner table without melting. Maybe next week. I hope so, because my children, I think, are beginning to wonder if this is all the Mommy they're going to get from now on. And I would hate for the answer to be yes.

To be clear, I really like the job so far. And I really like the people. It's not about them. It's an adjustment, that's all. A period of transition and acclimation. I knew there would be some. It's just hitting me harder than I thought.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Two things that made me laugh today

Somehow, my kids knew that today was a good day to make me laugh.

First, this morning: E, 10, has been in a musical theater mood lately. We were sitting at our side-by-side computers at the desk in the kitchen, and he was humming to himself. Do you know Hair? Yes, lots of kid-inappropriate material for sure, but I can't deny my child "Aquarius" or "Let the Sun Shine" in good conscience. I figure the racy stuff will go over his head.

And so he's humming "Initials" from Hair, which goes like this:

LBJ took the IRT
Down to 4th street, USA
When he got there, what did he see?
The youth of America on LSD.

But what does E sing?

...When he got there, what did he see?
The youth of America on MSG.

And I laughed.

Then at bedtime, W, 7, took a turn cracking me up. I'm starting a new job tomorrow, my first full-time job in more than 10 years, and I was telling W that I'm a little nervous.

"It's like the first day of school," I told him. "Lots of people I don't know, a new desk, new work to do. It's scary."

"Don't worry, Mommy," he said sweetly and sleepily. "You'll make lots of new friends."

And, again, I laughed. Tomorrow, when I'm nervously moving through my first day in my new job, trying to adjust to my new role as Working Mom, I will think about MSG and making new friends, and I'll feel better.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The guilt of having sick kids

My younger son's nose was running when I picked him up at school today. What do you think my first thought was?

For those of you who guessed "Oh, you poor baby" -- nope. Try again.

What's that? You think it was "What can I do to help this boy feel better soon?" Uh, no.

Oh, so you say it must have been: "Wow, I hope he's better in time for our trip to Mexico this Saturday. It would be so miserable for him to fly with a cold."

Unfortunately, my first thought was none of these. Instead, it was: "Crap, he'd better not give it to the rest of us."

And my second was equally unsympathetic: "Don't touch me, kid. I know those fingers have been near your nose. I can't afford to get sick now."

I wish I were the kind of mom who cuddled her kids when they felt sick, got into bed with them to pass the day watching movies, hugged and kissed them to help them through the misery of their illness. Instead, I treat them as though they've got the plague, and I touch them as little as possible. I wash and Purell my hands every few minutes to get rid of their cooties. I won't let them use my cell phone or help set the table. GET AWAY, GET AWAY, I'm thinking constantly.

To be fair, if there are germs in the house, they always settle on me, and as some of you know, I never get a little bit sick. I get a lot sick. A small cold for everyone else turns into a major ordeal for me. Such is the burden of asthma. Still and all, I hate the fact that I treat my kids like lepers when they're sniffly, and I wonder if they're going to remember it.

Now that I've gotten that off my chest, I've got to go wash my hands.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Thanksgiving in March

I would like to say thank you to my unbelievable husband M, for:
  1. Teaching E to play the cello. I never thought it would work for father to take son on as a student. It never would have worked if I'd been the parent doing the teaching.
  2. Having the patience to practice with E almost every day for the past three years. E is not always the perfect student (well, what kid is?), and because his teacher is his dad, E sometimes takes more liberties than he'd be able to with a non-family-member teacher. M has stuck with it through some snits and snarky phases that certainly would have taken me out of the game.
  3. Pushing E, even when he is no longer willing to be pushed.
  4. Giving E the first few bars of the Bach G major suite, a piece every violist and cellist plays at some point. Hearing E working on those opening arpeggios literally made me cry. I was older than E when I first played it, and I doubt my teacher realized that learning that piece was a defining moment in my musical education. Hearing E working on it brought me to my knees.
M, in case I don't say it enough - you are amazing for doing this, and doing it so well. Thank you for being a father our boys will want to emulate.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

I am one conflicted mommy

After eight years at home with my kids, I am going back to work.

The decision itself wasn't a hard one; things changed in our family, and it was necessary. And, truthfully, I feel like Cinderella at the ball, because the job I'm going to start in a few weeks will be terrific. I'll discuss the specifics another time, but the high points are:
  1. It's directly in my area of expertise - developing new online products that showcase user-generated content.
  2. I've liked every single person I've met at this company so far.
  3. It's been voted one of the best places to work in Los Angeles several times by the LA Business Journal.
  4. It's less than two miles from my house.
So, as you can imagine, there are a lot of things to be excited about. And I am excited. But I'm also nervous, and most of that is about the changes this will mean for my kids and my relationship with them.

I thought I'd make a list for you, so you can easily see the breadth of my feelings on the matter:

I'm excited because...
  • It's been a long time since the business-oriented part of my brain has gotten a decent workout. The job search process reawakened it, and that felt great. Stimulating.
  • I've always been really good at my job, and this time, I know, will be the same. In fact, I may be better for having been away for so long - I have definitely learned a lot in the past eight years about time management, people management, selling my ideas to skeptics, harnessing creativity, and resilience.
  • My kids already seem to see me differently, with more respect. In the past, whenever I brought up my past career, they reacted with a combination of amazement and disbelief ("You had a JOB? in an OFFICE? No, Mom, your job is to stay home and take care of US"). Time for them to learn that women are equally capable of bringing home the bacon (not the kind from the grocery store).
  • I like earning money.
  • I think working will make me a more interesting person.
  • I really like feeling like I'm on the cutting edge, and when you work in product development for an Internet company, you are.
  • I'll be motivated to wear nicer clothes.
  • I'll get to meet smart new people.
  • The money thing.
But I'm nervous because...
  • I will have less time with my kids. Now, if it works out the way I think (hope) it's going to, most of my office time will coincide with their school day. The hours I'll miss are in the 3-6pm range, give or take. That's carpool time, snack time, homework time. Which I have really enjoyed. But their dad will be with them, and he deserves a turn to enjoy it too.
  • I won't have as much time to exercise, which is bound to have an effect on my body (and possibly my disposition). On the other hand, many days I'll be able to walk or bike to work, which is something, at least.
  • I'm worried that my kids will decide they like spending the afternoons with their dad more than they enjoyed spending them with me. Juvenile, yes, I know. Still.
  • Have I mentioned that I haven't worked for eight years? I wonder if I even know how to have a job anymore. My mom friends who've already made this transition assure me it's like riding a bike.
And I feel guilty because...
  • I don't think I'm actually going to miss driving on the 405 freeway in the afternoons.
  • I don't think I'm actually going to miss volunteering at school (although I will miss the other women I volunteered with, for sure).
  • I don't think I'm actually going to miss my kids that much. They're gone most of the day anyway.
  • I know I'm not going to miss homework hour.
  • I worry that my husband will equate being happy to go back to work with not feeling grateful for the years I was able to spend at home - and I am (grateful).
I know all these feelings, excited and nervous and guilty, are normal. That doesn't make them any less real.

Anyone out there who's been there, done that: Please post a comment and tell me how you dealt with all of these things. I need chatter.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Like a virgin

Had a very interesting conversation with E the other day about the definition of "virgin." He was quite sure he knew what it meant, but about three sentences into our talk I had my doubts. So I asked him to define it, and he said, "It's someone who's never been married."

Uh-huh. Sort of. Kinda on the right track. Right?

We've had the sex talk before, at an age-appropriate level, about a year ago. At the end of that talk, he asked a very wise question: Do people do it when they're not trying to make a baby? To which I said, well, yes, sometimes. Why? he asked. Because it feels good, I answered. I'm not going to lie to the kid. I put it in the proper context (grownups who love each other and are in a longterm, committed relationship).

So this time, in the car last Sunday, I explained that technically a virgin is someone who's never had sex. "Oh," he said. And then, a beat later: "So I'm a virgin, right?"

"You bet," I said. "And I hope you'll stay that way for a long, long time."

Another beat. "So ___ [single 40ish female friend] is a virgin too, right?"

This time I was the one who took a pause. And then I said, "What makes you think she's a virgin?"

"Because..." and he said the next part slowly, as if he kind of knew it wasn't really right: "Because she isn't married and doesn't have kids?"

At which point I reminded him of the earlier birds-and-bees talk. Grownups do mostly have sex, I said. Because it feels good. For adults who love each other. In longterm, committed relationships.

He changed the subject shortly thereafter. Hasn't brought it up since. I'd really like to know whether it sank in, or which part sank in, anyway. And what he thinks about it all.

Of course, since he's a regular reader of this blog, I bet he'll tell me. And possibly you.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Santa Monica, the land of the eternal optimist

E's reaction to his school basketball team's loss to another local private school earlier this week:

"It was great! We only lost by 16 points! We held them to 18 points! [Do the math: This means they lost 18-2.] We lost by a lot less than our first game!"

Gotta give him credit for a great attitude.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

The birds, the bees and the imaginary video game creatures

Guess what I learned today?

Pokemon characters breed. Just what we needed in our house - Pokemon sex.

My husband assures me it's done in a PG-rated way. According to E, you put the boy Pokemon and the girl Pokemon you want to procreate in the day care center, and they grow levels (whatever that means - I think it has to do with power). Finally, you get an egg, even if the two mating Pokemon are of different species. Then you run a certain number of steps and the egg hatches into a level 1 Pokemon.

Pass out the cigars, folks.

Does this make it an educational game? Which would, of course, assuage my guilt for allowing my children to spend so much time playing it....

Monday, January 19, 2009

A question

When my boys have pimples and underarm hair and body odor, will I love their physical beings as much as I do now, when they are smooth and silky and sweet-smelling?

Friday, January 16, 2009

The moment

Last night I spent 10 minutes with 10-year-old E before he went to sleep, massaging his arms and shoulders, playing with his hair, and tracing the lines of his eyebrows over and over. So relaxing for him. So relaxing for me. He was almost asleep when I left, but just awake enough to smile with his eyes closed and melt me with a soft "I love you, Mommy."

As I closed his door, my first thought was: Why don't I have the patience to do that more often?

By the time he's bedding down it's normally 8:30pm or a little later. I'm tired. I'm cranky. I want to wash my face, get into bed and watch mindless reruns of Law & Order: SVU until I fall asleep myself. Understandable, since I get up with the kids early and am usually going, going, going all day.

But would it kill me to give my kid 10 minutes? It would make him so happy. And how much longer, really, is he even going to want me in his room at bedtime?

Must carpe diem. Must try to stave off collapse long enough to play with child's hair before sleep. Must try to remember just how pleasant it was last night, touching his soft skin and silky hair. Must think of it as something good for both of us.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The invisible son

Should I worry that my seven-year-old doesn't seem to want to come home anymore?

Let me start by telling you how lucky we are (he is). One of his best friends from school lives around the corner. Literally. Around the corner. Three houses down, one house over. So close that when W needs to be picked up I can send E by himself to get him. This is ideal for impromptu playdates, carpool, and trading kids on non-school days.

Most of the time, however, W goes to his friend's house, rather than the opposite. For one thing, W's friend has a two-year-old brother, who is greatly amused and occupied when W is there. The two seven-year-olds can entertain the two-year-old long enough that the mom can make dinner, return a few phone calls, and possibly even catch a nap. She tells me it's much easier for her when W goes there. And for another thing, W prefers to go there. Always.

Two problems with this. One, I feel guilty for pawning off my kid (even though she prefers it that way - guilt just shows up, whether it's justified or not). And two, this means that there are at least a few days a week when W doesn't get home until 6:30pm, at which point he practices the violin, takes a shower, plays a little Pokemon on his DS, and goes to bed.

I kind of miss him. But I remember how important it was to spend time with my friends when I was a kid. I certainly don't want to deprive him of that.

Is he going to grow up and say "You never wanted me around - that's why I spent so much time at X's house"? Really hope not.

Monday, January 12, 2009

My 10-year-old gourmand

E, who turned 10 yesterday, is often ruled by his appetite, as I think I've mentioned once or twice before. And so, when he declared that he wanted to celebrate his birthday this year with a dinner party for a handful of his friends, I wasn't really surprised. He likes to eat, thus he assumes his friends like to eat, and what better way to celebrate a momentous occasion than - to eat?

He was very methodical. He and a friend took out one of his favorite cookbooks, Small Bites: Tapas, sushi, mezze, antipasti, and other finger foods by Jennifer Joyce, and went through it methodically. They came back to me, very excited, with a list of more than 20 - I kid you not - "small plates" they wanted to include on the menu. For 10 10-year-olds.

Now, I consider myself a good mom. And a good cook. And I was willing to indulge him in the dinner party idea. But 20 dishes? No. Too many.

We pared it down and ended up with 11, plus a birthday cake. Of the 11, three were bought rather than homemade. And I took a few shortcuts. But the upshot is that I spent two days shopping, cooking and serving an elaborate dinner for a group of fifth-graders.

And you know what? I loved every minute of it. The kids were wildly appreciative and ate everything. Tasted everything, even saffron-coconut soup with edamame-shrimp dumplings, tandoori chicken skewers, and crispy pork larb in wonton cups. Loved sitting down to a table set with china and crystal and candles and place cards and menus. Toasted my son, who beamed with satisfaction that his friends were enjoying the dining experience as much as he was.

And, as my husband pointed out, it was a lot more personal than taking a bunch of kids ice skating or to the laser tag place.

So will I do it again next year? Probably. But I'll try to factor in more time for E to help me in the kitchen. Doing it together has to be more fun than doing it alone.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Not in the zone

Lately I have been feeling very guilty for being a bad listener.

I know it's because I'm distracted by other, larger things - the economy and its effect on our personal pocketbooks, my recent push to find a paying job, health issues. That isn't an excuse, though. It's just wrong that one of my kids starts talking and I find myself nodding and saying "Yep, uh-huh, really!" and I have no idea what he's been saying two minutes later because I Just. Wasn't. Focused. On. Him.

I might have noted in the past that my mother, despite any differences we might have had then or might have now or in the future, is pretty much my ideal parenting role model. Wracked with guilt, I've been scouring my memories to see if I can find any times when I remember her paying less than full attention to whatever I was blathering on about as a kid. I can't remember a single one. I remember her looking me in the eye, paying attention to whatever I said, responding in kind, making me feel like what I said was important. Idealized, maybe, and I'm sure she'd agree that my memories are rose-colored. But it's about perception, right? And I perceived her as always having been listening.

Why can't I do this?

A few years ago my New Year's resolution was to try to be more "in the moment" with my kids. Apparently it didn't stick. I find myself very often completely out of the moment - and then, when the moment passes and E walks away frustrated because he's been trying to tell me about the funny quote on his daily calendar and I've shooed him away and shut him up, I feel horrible.

Well, E, if you're reading this (and I know you are), please know that I don't mean to shut you up and shoo you away. I want to hear everything you have to say. Because I know that if I listen to you now, when you're 10, then maybe you'll still want to tell me what's on your mind when you're 12 and 15 and 17 and the issues are more weighty.

I just have to try harder. I need a mantra. I will listen when my kids talk to me. I will listen when my kids talk to me. I will listen....