Saturday, March 10, 2018

A Mother's Instinct

Being a mother gives us magical powers. We have a God-given instinct to protect our children, a sixth sense to know when they’re in danger or simply just need us. Bears are famously known for their mother’s instinct, and there are some astonishing stories about gorillas, cheetahs, penguins and even mean ugly crocodiles that are kind and gentle with their babies. 

A mother's power to empathize is great. When one of my kids is sick with the stomach flu, I swear I get nauseous too. When they have strep throat, my throat immediately feels a little itchy. When they've done something really wrong, I actually feel their shame and their disappointment, that hot-cold flash that plunges from my chest to the pit of my stomach. When Anders is anxious in the morning, I can’t help but feel that way all day long. When William blocks a goal in soccer or when Anders does well on a math test and they look so proud of themselves, my chest absolutely bursts with pride. And when Anders and William laugh, really laugh about something, I feel pure joy.

My intuition has definitely been wrong before, and when that happens I'm embarrassed and guilt-ridden. Just last week I sent William to school sick. For three days he complained of various ailments. First, he was too sleepy for school, then all his teeth hurt (yes, that's right, each and every one!). By Friday, he said his belly felt a little weird. I gave him some saltines, Sprite, and a Tums and sent him on his way, even making a point to tell his teacher how dramatic he had been all week. 

A few hours later, he threw up in the middle of the classroom. I was across town, and it took me 45 minutes to get to my baby, my body jittery with impatience in stand-still traffic, each red light punishment for my indiscretion. I admitted to his teacher, who's taught for over 25 years and is now a grandmother, that my instincts had failed me and I felt like a bad mom. She confessed the time she sent her daughter to school with a concussion. We don't get it right every time, and that's okay. 

A big OOPS!

Other times my mother's instinct is so powerful, like a compass leading me straight to the problem. One such event was in February when our family was snow skiing in Utah. With Anders’ anxiety, shyness, and need to be in control, I was extremely nervous to drop him off at ski school from 9 - 3. He was with his older cousin, which gave him confidence, and therefore gave me confidence, and he seemed to do just fine. My husband Bryan and I spent the next four hours blissfully skiing all by ourselves, taking in the amazing scenery, and exploring the far side of the mountain. But around 1:00, I felt a strong longing to get close to the resort base where the boys were. Bryan thought I was being silly and wanted me to relax and enjoy myself, but nonetheless, he helped me plan our route back, taking a gondola to a blue run down to a chair lift that would take us back up the mountain to the Homerun trail leading to the base. 

We got 75 percent of the way down, rounded a corner to a steep, wide drop in the slope, and I saw him. Anders’ yellow ski pants, camouflage jacket, and red ski-school vest. He was completely frozen on the mountain, exhausted and terrified with his very patient, but dumbstruck ski instructor. We skied over and while the instructor was relieved to see us, Anders hardly noticed us, only focusing on the daunting mountain below. I've never seen him so scared or paralyzed with fear. Bryan stayed back to help our nephew and the other two students in the ski-school group, while I coaxed Anders down the next run with the help of his instructor. He had done so well all day, the instructor said, and then just hit a wall. We had arrived at that exact moment.

Hitting the Slopes

After a dramatic sled rescue down the rest of the mountain, Anders sat in my lap and I     held him in my arms, not caring that my butt was turning into ice. Later, he said he wanted to try skiing again and he did, the following day. We were so proud of his determination and courage, and I felt immensely grateful we happened to be there for him, right when he needed us most. 

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Another Snow Day?!

I love my children, but spending three unplanned days with them inside in January is testing this love by the hour. It's the coldest winter for Louisiana in decades, and of course our first winter away from sunny Orlando where we went swimming on Super Bowl Sunday.

Our magical Louisiana snow day in December
Back in December, we had a legit snow day. Glorious white snow greeted us on a Friday morning. I pulled back the curtains, and snowflakes danced outside my window. A three-day weekend! I was just as excited as the kids. Instead of making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and doing carpool duty, I put on my ski gear and headed outside with Anders and William to make snow angels and snowmen. Inside, we warmed up with hot chocolate and s'mores in the fireplace.

But after another winter storm this week leading to three snow days on top of a three-day weekend, the magic is long gone. So this is what it feels like when hell freezes over.

Just Monday, I was sitting in my living room on the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday with some girlfriends as our children played happily outside. We were all excited to get back to our routines for the week--getting back to work, getting to the gym, having alone time with a newborn baby. Then BING! Our phones all went off. "School will be closed on Tuesday." A collective sigh.

Tuesday came, and while my friends in other parts of the Southeast posted beautiful snow pictures, their smiles jubilant, we sat inside in boredom watching icy rain. My parenting has been as bizarre and erratic as the weather. No more junk food! Wanna make brownies? No more TV! Wanna go to Redbox?

On Monday, I told the kids they couldn't watch any television. Then Tuesday, we watched three movies and binged on Netflix. (If you really want to see how bad you are at parenting, Netflix keeps a log of every episode watched. Our number is appalling.)

I checked Wednesday's weather and saw the temperature would hover between 17 and 30 all day. The teens?! In Louisiana?! Here in the South, they don't have the right equipment or large amounts of salt for the roads since ice is such a rare event. (One piece of firewood costs $2 and the stores run out!) There's a general fear of cold weather among Southerners. Sure, let the little kids play outdoor sports in the 100-degree heat with smothering humidity. Then, we'll cram into a concrete stadium for four hours with 100,000 other people on an August afternoon. A hurricane is coming! Let's host a party! But whatever you do, don't go outside when it's cold. Someone might get hurt!

BING! "School will be closed on Wednesday."

Ice Ice Baby
Wednesday morning, I told the kids we had seen too many movies, and I forced them outside. William broke up ice in our fountain for a solid hour, the boys slid around on the trampoline until their clothes were soaking wet, then I put them inside to run on the treadmill. Around 2:00, the walls started closing in--the boys' arguments, the annoying video game sounds, and the Japanimation battle scenes on Netflix were all echoing around in my head. "Only get out on the roads today if you absolutely have to," the news warned. Well, I have to!!! "We're going to the movies," I announced. We drove the short mile, only to find the movie theater was closed. Closed?!!! The movie theater is closed?! We drove down a little farther to find the bowling alley was open! Hurray!

Last night, we got a text that school would reopen on Thursday. I lit a fire, poured some wine, and felt a warm glow of affection return for my sons. "Let's make s'mores after dinner," I told them. Instead of feeling guilty about all the television and dwelling on the fact my boys fight ALL THE TIME, I thought about the good stuff. Anders reading his hardest book yet. William dancing to Michael Jackson. The bubble baths. The pillow fights. I cleaned out their closets, I made a family photo album, I cooked every day, I didn't kill anyone ...

That feeling ran out faster than the marshmallows when BING!

"Please disregard the last text message. School will be closed on Thursday."

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Carpool Confessions

I have reached a new stage in motherhood: the carpool years. I drive 20 miles a day, one mile at a time, back and forth and back and forth. I spend at least three hours a day shuttling my sons around, between two schools with two drop-off times and two pick-up times, as well as karate and soccer practice, which are on different days and at varying times respectively. Veteran moms, I listened, but I didn't quite understand how cumbersome this job is! And my kids are only in first grade and PreK!

Once when asked what my mom did for a living, my little brother said "she sits." He was mostly right. My mom never missed an activity; she was always there for us, sitting. She sat on the side of our bed each morning and night. She sat in the car, she sat on the bleachers, she sat in doctor's office waiting rooms, in parent-teacher conferences and at the dinner table every night with a homemade meal ... I am spending a lot of time myself these days sitting.

First Day of School!
Like most multitasking moms, I’ve come up with dozens of ways to be productive in carpool: scheduling doctors' appointments, working on my laptop, going through mail, paying bills, making mobile deposits, scrolling Facebook and Instagram, pushing back my cuticles, painting my nails, checking email, deleting my cookies, cleaning out my purse, cleaning out my car, catching up with friends, chatting with my mom, blogging, reading, jamming out, sitting in quiet contemplation ... the phone rings and Bryan asks what I'm doing.

I pick up William first in the afternoons, and we have an hour to kill before getting Anders at 3:10. The first few months of school, I wanted to get there early so William and I would sit in my car and wait and wait. (I have since slacked off!) Many days, he would nap--the only place this energetic early bird will nap is when held down physically by his car seat. Other days, he'd grow restless. One week, we went through Hamilton, then Shrek the Musical, then all my favorite Michael Jackson tunes. He can now recite the first verse and chorus to "I'm Bad" and "Beat It," with some pretty good dance moves and vocal effects. On pretty days, he opens the sun roof and peers his head out. We've brought the ball and played hot potato in the carpool line. Once he had to pee so badly that I was forced to give him an empty Tervis Tumbler. (Never drink lemonade when the cup is warm.) Another day, my air conditioning was broken, so we went to the drive-thru Cajun snowball place and devoured the cotton-candy flavored ice. My car remains a little sticky.

He's a little trooper...most of the time!
Earlier this fall, I got in a wreck (nobody was hurt!), and my car spent five weeks in the body shop. During that time, I borrowed Bryan's car, who is pretty particular and doesn't allow snowballs, for instance. At pick-up one day, William's teacher asked, "Did you wreck your husband's car, too?" I had no idea what she was talking about. I pulled over, walked around to the passenger side, and noticed a big piece of Bryan's car was missing. WTF! I didn't remember hitting anything. Surely I would know. Or would I? I was filled with self-doubt and utterly perplexed when it came to me: the carwash! I had gotten Bryan's car cleaned as a nice surprise. (Surprise, I broke your car too, honey!) Sure enough, the carwash still had the piece, they profusely apologized, and they fixed it immediately. I planned a fool-proof cover-up scheme which lasted the whole of 48 hours when William confessed everything to his daddy. BUSTED. At school the following week, William's chapel lesson was about honesty and always telling the truth. BUSTED AGAIN.

Waiting to be dropped off
With all this time in the car, it's a wonder not more has happened. Some days in the car are so incredibly boring and mundane, and others are completely maddening as the boys constantly bicker and fight, spill and destroy. But we're in a brand-new town with new schools and lots of changes, and I am their constant. Now that I'm working from home, I get to be the one who takes them to school every morning and who picks them up every afternoon. I get to witness how eagerly Anders runs down the first-grade sidewalk into the building to start his day. I get to be the first in the afternoon to hear the song William learned at school. No matter how their days went, here I am with a smile and an open door--and hopefully all the pieces to the car.

A Prayer For Carpooling Moms & Dads
A nun who works with Bryan at the hospital gave me a St. Christopher key chain after my wreck. It reads: Protect me, my passengers and all who pass by with a steady hand and a watchful eye.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Butterfly

After years of challenges and questions, our seven-year-old son, Anders, has radically transformed. He is happy and thriving, and it seemingly happened overnight. This first-grade year, he's made all As, he's reading, he's made new friends, and he's dedicated to karate and soccer, despite the fact the other kids are much more athletic.

Our Karate Kid

When Anders was 2 and we were living in Alabama, we noticed he was behind, in speech as well as physical and emotional development. We started therapy, and shortly after William was born, he got kicked out of his first preschool for biting and temper tantrums. They had "never seen a child quite like Anders before." At age 4 in Orlando, he was kicked out of another school, again for behavior and lack of impulse control. Parents whispered, "Is he autistic? What's wrong with him?" Others were angry, called him a bully, and wanted him sent to a school "for bad kids." We hired a childhood psychologist to help us with behavior, and around that same time, he was diagnosed with Cyclical Vomiting Syndrome, an anxiety-based disorder that made him vomit incessantly in stressful situations, including family vacations and holidays. We decided to give him a long break from school and hold him back a year. At age 5 at a Montessori school, the director discovered he had Sensory Processing Disorder, a condition in which his brain has trouble organizing all the stimuli in the world around him. We added occupational therapy to his speech therapy and behavior therapy. Yet, his frustration level was so high and his impulse control so low, he continued having severe meltdowns at school, at home and in public. One day in May, he knocked over a bookcase and hit his teacher. He was completely devastated that he couldn't attend the field trip. While he was rightfully punished, he felt horrible about his actions. He was remorseful and overwhelmed with emotions. He admitted the fact he couldn't control the "bad Anders that comes out sometimes." All the while, the school and my amazing friends showed him constant love and unfaltering support.

As we were moving from Orlando to Louisiana, two private schools indicated that, while Anders was one of the smarter kids they had interviewed, they were either not willing or able to work with our son. This was another painful blow in a town where I wished for a fresh start. 

So we bought a house in the best public school district--closing a mere day before school registration. And we sought more tools for Anders. We invested in an expensive psych exam and a genetic screening to determine the best ADHD medicine, to help control his impulses. 

As it's turned out, we haven't needed any of that.

Because when Anders started first grade, something clicked. He has made an A in conduct every single day but two, and on those days he was "excessively talking" to a new friend. (We couldn't help but be proud of that!) After nine weeks he got a reward for making his reading goal, completing his homework every night, and behaving almost perfectly. He went from barely reading this summer to now a level D. He must be on reading level J to move on to second grade, but he has set his goal higher.

He even asked his teacher for more challenging books to read at home. One night, he threw them on the floor in frustration. He cried for a minute, then he picked them up again. "If I can't be the best reader in my class, then I'll at least be the best one in my reading group!"

Note this week from his teacher!
We could not wish for more in life than for Anders to be kind, willing to help others, and work hard.
Anders is not out of the woods yet. He's still highly emotional, and while he's controlling his frustrations, anxiety, and disappointments much better, he's had a few big breakdowns at karate as well as at school because we got there one minute after the bell rang. And although his vocabulary is excellent and he has many ideas to share, he's still on a 3-year-old level of speech articulation. We have work left to do.

I bare my soul to you in these blogs because I see other kids like Anders and I see other parents like us who struggle. Some kids are birds, kids like our five-year-old William, who are born ready to spread their wings and fly. But others are stuck in a cocoon, and we must endure dark, dark times. We wait and we wait and we wait. We continue therapy, we continue research, we continue to nurture, and nothing happens. We wait. Every day, we surround our child with friends, teachers, therapists and family members who wrap them in love, so much love. And one day, one fine day, they emerge as butterflies. 

Friday, October 13, 2017

Louisiana Livin'

On this Friday the 13th, I’ve realized moving to Louisiana wasn’t so scary. We’ve been here just shy of five months and are settling in very well, thanks to an abundance of friendly people and barbecue shrimp. 

Laying down roots
We are back in the South, and it turns out living in Louisiana is a lot like living in Alabama…but with a lagniappe of Cajun culture. 

At the farmers market shortly after moving here, an older lady shouted “Sha!” at William three times. I thought she must be a Wiccan straight out of “True Blood” until my friend informed me she was saying “Cher,” which means precious and cute. Now William proudly owns a shirt with Cher Bébé across the front.

Being in the South again (I love Orlando, but it is not the South), means we are one connection away from every single person we meet. “Oh I know so-and-so from your home town of Fairhope…they went to LSU law school with my brother-in-law.” At one dinner with two other couples, we discovered one guy works with my old high school boyfriend, while the other’s goddaughter babysat Anders in Pensacola. One of my new friends grew up three blocks away from me, went to my same high school and college—yet we just met here in Lafayette. The good ol’ Southern connections go on...

My favorite things to do in a new town are meeting the people and exploring the area. Luckily for us in Acadiana, both have plenty of personality and a profound sense of place. 

Not one, but four of our neighbors, including the 80-year-old next door, brought us meals when we moved in, from crawfish pies to gumbo—made with chicken and sausage—not with okra and tomatoes. Our sweet Lafayette friends with Fairhope ties, Abigail and Gaye, brought us their favorite Louisiana products, from their canned spicy pickles and Zapp's potato chips to Swamp Pop soda and Abita beer. 

We've been to our first Fais Do-Do (a Cajun dance party). We've learned to play the card game Bourré. We've eaten boudin balls, crawfish enchiladas and duck gumbo. We've ventured out on a swamp tour and learned about Rougarou, the Cajun swamp monster. We've taken trips to New Orleans, one of our all-time favorite cities and learned the words to "Audubon Zoo." We've been the only Nick Saban fans and the only Protestants in the room. We've had an intimate dinner with two nuns and a Catholic bishop. And I committed the ultimate sin in Alabama: I've hit up the drive-thru daiquiri stand and have bought hard liquor at Target. 

Cutest kids either side of the Mississippi
There are lots more updates and future blog possibilities, starting with "How to Make New Friends Without Looking Like a Stalker," "How in the Hell Does Baton Rouge Have Worse Traffic Than Orlando," "Why Do They Listen at Karate but Not to Mom" and "How Your Marriage Can Survive an Extensive Home Renovation."

Two weeks before moving in!

Instead of diving into those now, I'll quickly mention one more thing. We couldn’t have dreamt up a better start for the boys at school. Subject A is at public school, and subject William is at private, but both are thriving in their environments. Something has taken over Anders' body, and he's behaving, doing homework, and working hard at reading. He even wants to please his teacher! We don't know what's happened, so maybe it's just some good Louisiana voodoo. I am becoming a believer. 

Friday, August 11, 2017

Passport to Freedom

If summer vacation has taught us anything, it's that we moms no longer belong to ourselves. For the past three months, we've met the demanding daily needs of high-maintenance miniature people whom we voluntarily brought forth into the world. Now that school has started again (HALLELUJAH!), we can finally take a breath, slowly sip a cup of coffee, remember to pay the credit card bill and take a shower without hearing the word "mom" 137 times a minute.

This summer I've been completely physically and emotionally consumed with my family. On Memorial Day, we moved from Orlando, Florida to Lafayette, Louisiana for my husband to start a new job. Sensitive to making my two boys happy in our new home, I've given in to their every request. I went to Chuck E. Cheese's, the trampoline park, the go-kart track, the god-forsaken arcade and even a roadside dinosaur park à la "Pee-Wee Herman's Big Adventure." In a span of weeks, we found a house and a school; found a babysitter, a pediatrician, a dentist and a speech therapist; and on the fifth attempt, we found a grocery store that sells the "right" kind of cottage cheese, per Anders. Without a job and without a permanent home, I've spent most of my days in an animal print-themed furnished condo entertaining the boys and keeping them from killing one another.  

But last weekend I got to escape all that. I went on a trip to Mexico with one of my very best friends-- my roommate from college--and we got to be Laura and Jennifer for three days. 

Even being in the airport alone with a book and a Starbucks was bliss. The flight attendant only interrupted my in-flight movie 16 times, which was at least a third of what the boys typically do. (When my friend Virginia stayed with me once, it took us three nights to watch "Straight Outta Compton.")

In Isla Mujeres, appropriately meaning "Island of Women," Jen and I sat in knee-deep, clear aqua water where the only thing pulling on us were the waves. I brought Jennifer coffee, she fetched me a beer, and other than that, we got our own shit. She didn't ask me to carry anything. I didn't help her get dressed. She didn't do any cannonballs and ruin my eye makeup or make me watch mediocre "tricks" in the pool. 

A highlight of our trip was renting a golf cart for the day and riding around the entire island, the wind in our hair, free as birds. Hey, a zip line! Wanna do it? Look, a hiking trail down a rocky cliff, let's check it out! A fun-looking dive bar that doesn't allow kids! (We had just enough Pesos for a couple of margaritas but had to split the tacos.) We did whatever we pleased. We laughed and laughed and laughed, so hard we almost wet our pants because nobody bothered to bring the Poise pads. We remembered what it was like way before kids and realized our fun, free-spirited selves never really left. We'd been there all along, and just needed to give ourselves permission to come out and play. 

By the third morning, news of a tropical storm made us extra anxious to get home. We couldn't wait for snuggles with our boys. Even after our taste of freedom, we were ready to get back to our ball-and-chains. Our little guys are life-size magnets so powerful, they can pull us from postcard-perfect beaches back into mundane worlds at home. No matter how hard kids are, how whiny and how difficult, these little guys make our lives more meaningful. They are the anchor in the ebb and flow of life. 

Saturday, June 17, 2017

18 Summers of Hell

Many of my friends shared the sentimental essay on Facebook about only having 18 summers with your children. In the comments, they even admitted to crying. I, too, cried. You mean I have to endure this summer after summer? Time stand still? My 4-year-old wakes with the birds at 5 am and goes to bed with the sun at 9 pm. They are the longest, most excruciating days of my life. Oh for the love of God, let's get this next school year started already.

When William is tired, he becomes a crazy-hyper, uncontrollable drunk monkey.

Cramping My Style
We recently moved from a house in Disney World to a temporary condo in Louisiana where it rained the first 10 days after we arrived. This is the definition of torture, people. Coop up a mother with her two sons, who apparently hate each other, inside a small space in a brand-new environment. I felt like a Ragin' Cajun constantly yelling at my kids. Lord knows what our neighbors above, beside, and below us think about that "nice family from Florida" now.

If You Tell Me You're Bored One More Time ....
What do you mean you're bored? What about all your toys? Your iPad, your new DVDs? The bikes we miraculously managed to fit in our car for the 770-mile drive? What about the condo elevator you just had to ride all day yesterday? The two playgrounds within walking distance? The basketball court and the soccer goal and the pool we have free access to this summer? I'll show you bored, you spoiled brats! Don't make me go 19th century on your asses!  

When Mom Is Not a Happy Camper
I didn't bite on the inexpensive early-bird rates for summer camps. I won't need them, I thought, blissfully naive as I daydreamed about a summer full of adventure and flexibility. Of course this daydreaming was when I was at a full-time job in Orlando and the boys were in school and still acted normal. Here I am mid-June desperately scrambling to find anything they're willing to do then gladly paying double. Well played, summer camps. Well played. 

Karate all summer? Let's do it! Overpriced swim lessons? Sign us up! Critter Camp? Great! VBS at a church with questionable religious beliefs? It's free? Well that's certainly a fine option!

Mom, you are getting on my nerves. (long pause) What are nerves, Mom?

Endless Summers
The truth is we have many more summers than 18. I still spend time every summer with my parents and my brother.  My mother can tell you the second 18 summers with me was way better than the first. I don't run around the house naked because I don't feel like putting on my bathing suit. I don't lie down on the floor in Target and cry because I can't buy something. At the movies, I don't have to pee four times during the feature film. I don't have to poop at every single store and restaurant I go in. I don't hit my mother in the face because I have to wear Crocs to the beach instead of tennis shoes. I don't mow family members over with my bike because I didn't get my way at the pool. 

I know our family will have good times this summerand many summers aheadbecause I'm determined to make that happen. There will be beach trips, boat rides, swamp tours, and ice-cream dinners. There will be beach-towel snuggles and wet-from-the-pool kisses and spontaneous laughter from inside jokes only we share, not even with daddy. And when those short moments arise, I would have earned every single second with every ounce of my being.