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. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Goodbye, Orlando!

You know that feeling when you're having so much fun at Disney World and it's time to leave? That's exactly how I am feeling as we prepare our move to Louisiana. We have practically been living at Disney for the past three years, and oh how magical it has been.

We have been lucky to call the town of Celebration home, the town that was actually built by the Walt Disney Company. We walk to parks, pools and restaurants. At Christmas, snow falls from the Florida sky--exactly four times nightly on the hour. On more than one occasion I've left the car door open (as in wide open), all night or the keys in the front door.



In the mornings on the way to school, we often see hot air balloons over the golf course. And at night, I can tell you the exact time by the sound of fireworks. 8:30 Hollywood Studios. 9:00 Epcot. 10:00 ... boys, you better get to bed RIGHT NOW because I can hear the Magic Kingdom fireworks!


Bryan's and my favorite date-night place was Epcot. "Tonight, let's go to Italy then France!" Or, "I want to do Mexico then Morocco!" As for the kids ... wow, have ours been spoiled. Where else can you watch the movie Toy Story in the morning, then dance with Woody and Jessie in the streets by noon? Or hop on an African safari or become a Jedi for the day?


While we have been to Disney World well over 100 times, the kids have had their normal childhood experiences, too. In the last three years, Anders learned to ride a bike without training wheels. He lost his first tooth, and he learned to read. William went from our sweet blonde baby to our spunky brown-haired boy who knows every word of the Moana soundtrack.


I became friends with people I never imagined I'd love so much, from exotic places like Brazil, Venezuela, England, Greece and even New Jersey and Indiana. Celebration life taught me it's not where you're from, how you talk, how you dress, or even what you believe ... it's the person inside that makes a good friend. Well, that, and a really high tolerance of your children.

I've had the most fun job, where I got to "research" and "review" the most exciting places around town. I will miss my coworkers, fellow writers and colleagues who are smarter and wittier than I am. It has been the coolest little club of people.


Two different friends, who are both wise and kind, told me the same thing when they heard our news: You'll grow where you are planted. And while part of me wants to kick and scream like a child leaving Disney World, I'm also really excited about our new opportunities and adventures. I've been from Fairhope, Alabama to Tuscaloosa, Atlanta, Huntsville, Nashville, Pensacola, Florence, Orlando and now to Lafayette. With every move, our lives have been enriched by new jobs, new experiences and new relationships. We have gained so much from the people in these places, and we wouldn't dare take a different path.

Goodbye, Orlando.

Hello, Louisiana!


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Realities of Moving

The last 60 days at the Lee house have been a roller coaster of emotions and drama--it's been like a series of reality shows. 



February was "The Bachelor." Bryan and I took a secret rendezvous to Lafayette, Louisiana for his interview at the hospital there. On our hometown visit, they put us up in a fantasy suite, where we found a generous gift basket and a handwritten note. We liked them, and we knew they liked us, but would Bryan get the final rose? We didn't know how they really felt because they were courting two candidates. It really is a nerve wracking feeling...the not knowing. Finally, three painful weeks, no fingernails, and a teenager-like acne breakout later, I got the news. Bryan called me at work to tell me he had gotten the job!



March became that Jimmy Kimmel segment where the kids get bad presents at Christmas. After all that waiting and secrecy, we suddenly had lots to do...put our house on the market, quit our current jobs, and tell the boys. Nothing steals the bravado of landing an impressive CEO job like the tears and pleas of an almost 7 year old. "This is our house! I want to go to first grade here! I want my room and my tree house! No thank you! No thank you! No thank you! No thank you!" Anders also wanted to make sure there was nothing dangerous there...like tornadoes or earthquakes or floods. Instead of answering, "2 out of 3 ain't bad," I promised him we would always keep him safe.

Talk about heart wrenching. 

Then William, through feigned tears, just trying to emulate his brother, said, "But I don't want to wash our clothes in a laundry mat!"

We have no idea why this thought popped into his head. "Stop pretending to cry. They have appliances in Louisiana."

I tried explaining to the boys that home is where the heart is and our hearts were with our family. They didn't buy it.

Apparently home is where your toys are, and William ran off happily when he realized we could take them all with us. Anders said his heart was with Pokémon Go. Bryan's new cell phone already has the app, and Anders is now excited about catching some Cajun Pokémon on the river.

Bring on "Love It or List It." Getting your house in mint condition with disgusting 4 and 6-year-old boys, who pee on the seat, leave dried spit in the sink, and throw Legos everywhere, is a joke. A really really sick mean joke. (And please tell me that smear on the floor is Nutella!) 

You have the impossible task of getting your house spotless, hiding your everyday items and pretending you don't use things like hair dryers, makeup, toothbrushes, computers, printers, cutting boards, or toys. And you basically just have to lock the kids in the car because as soon as you get one room organized, you enter the room where you left the kids to find a complete disaster. Seriously, how has any mother anywhere managed to sell her home?!



There definitely needs to be a House Hunters Temporary Housing for Families Edition. I'm on the phone with the realtor in Louisiana and William keeps interrupting.

"William, I am trying to figure out where we are going to live!"

He answers just as agitated, yet much louder. "And I am trying to figure out WHO is going to TIE MY SHOE!"

When we finally get to Louisiana, we are all crammed in the realtor's Buick Encore, who insisted against her better judgment on driving all of us in her car. The boys sat in the back seat opening and closing her DVD player over and over again and as soon we walked into the first apartment, they both went number two. (Really, kids? Really?! Not at the hotel, but here?) The second apartment was very depressing, and the third was too far outside of town. Will the Lees choose the Poo Poo Palace, Might be Suicidal, or Summer in Isolation? 



Bryan and I luckily see eye to eye when it comes to big important life stuff, but when it comes to the little things, we might need a little mediation. Enter "The People's Court." If you Google "life's biggest stressors," new job and moving are two of the top. They don't even mention with kids.  A few of our irreconcilable differences are: Whether or not to spend five nights painting the garage floor before putting the house on the market. Whether or not the wooden Easter bunny of my childhood should stay on the front porch during showings. Which one of us dropped the ball on calling the sprinkler company. Big fights,
people. BIG!

And ladies, no matter how busy you've been taking care of two sick kids, working 40 hours, cleaning the entire house for showings, and then packing for three people for a scouting trip in your new town, do not, I repeat, do not paint your fingernails in the car on the way to the airport. 



Saturday, February 4, 2017

Great Expectations for Kindergarten

As you can tell from the adorable and hilarious photos of 100-year-old kids on Facebook, we are 100 days into kindergarten. First grade seems right around the corner, and boy am I feeling the pressure.

Anders attends a Montessori school but goes to speech and occupational therapy for three sessions a week at the public K8 school. The OT, who's supposed to be helping him improve mechanical skills, like the proper way to hold a pencil, shamed me this week by saying he should be writing sentences by now. "What has he been doing at that other school?" She was clearly exasperated.

My girlfriend, whose son is in kindergarten at public school, got a note home last week from the teacher saying, "He doesn't know ANY sight words." (Oh I have a sight word for her all right!) I had never even heard of a sight word until a month ago. Memorizing a bunch of words increases test scores, of course. What happened to phonics and sounding words out? (Hooked on phonics worked for me!) I read an article recently about Finland having the best school system and they don't start reading and writing until age 7. Instead, they focus on play, lots of outdoor time, and practical life skills. They know how to get out of the woods using a compass. Getting boys to sit down to read and write for hours is completely against their nature.

I admit I was a perfect student, the teacher's dream from kindergarten through college. Then my brother came along two years later to prove he was the complete opposite. His third grade teacher made him sit next to her, in a seat of shame, all year long. Today, he has two master's degrees to my none and makes a lot more money.

When Anders still couldn't walk at 15 months, my husband reassured me with the obvious fact that he wasn't going to kindergarten scooting around on his bottom. I know Anders is not going into middle school illiterate. He's going to read. He's going to be successful. He's just going to do it in his own time.

But here in America, moms stand around the playground spouting off their child's IQ score and reading level like a bunch of middle school boys in the locker room pulling down their pants. Just why are we competing? We should be encouraging one another and calling out the strengths of our friends' children, to let them know they're doing a great job.

I actually did have Anders' IQ tested because I was hoping for some answers with other challenges he's faced. The night before the test, I lay in bed fantasizing that his IQ was 160. My inner defensive mama bear cried out, "That will show everybody! He's just a genius. Take that all you dumb day cares that kicked him out!"

His IQ score was inconclusive. He refused to participate on several of the sections, and at one point he ran out of the room crying as if he were fleeing a torture chamber. He loved the puzzles and math, then on the vocabulary he played coy. "Anders, what does the word 'obey' mean?" Anders with a big shit-eating grin answered, "I have never heard that word before in my entire life."

Speaking of obey, we just hired a behavioral coach a few days a week at school. I resisted doing it for so long but it's been wonderful for him to have an in-classroom advocate helping him focus and correcting his missteps. His "shadow" never punishes him. She simply takes away his reward and then gives him the opportunity to earn it back by correcting his behavior. He has responded so well to it. I have been using negative reinforcement all along, and it's been, well, negative for us all.

Instead of talking about what level everybody's on or revealing test scores for a child's capacity to learn, let's talk about what they're actually learning. Yes, my six-and-a-half-year-old is illiterate. His speech isn't that great either. He still has trouble controlling his emotions. But he's learning so much about the world. He's getting the big picture.
Anders can't spell or write "Venezuela," but he can tell you all about it. 
This shy, sometimes socially awkward introvert, got on stage today and sang two songs in Spanish in front of a crowd!

Anders can master climbing a tree. He's completely absorbed in math, science, and engineering, proving he is completely different than me. But lately what I'm most proud of is that he's learning how to be kind, how to be empathetic, and how to get along better with others, no matter what they look like or where they're from. And that's worth bragging about.





Thursday, January 26, 2017

A Day in the Life

Do you remember reading "Our Town" in high school? I remember it because it was sooooo boring, that town of Grover's Corners, where everyone was just going through the motions of everyday life. Lately, that's exactly how I've been feeling. The holidays are over, and it's just work, school, dinner and bedtime; work, school, dinner and bedtime; over and over again. Same shit, different day. #SSDD.

Routines can be comforting, yes, but they can also be grueling. For instance, Anders insists that we go to the Pokemon fan club each and every Tuesday night at the library. Under my breath I'm like, "Learn to read already, son, so I don't have to tell you what's on these damn Pokemon cards myself!"

Every night, it's the same old struggle to get the boys to eat, take a bath, then get out of the bath, get dressed, pee, brush their teeth, read books, then pee again, get back in bed, get a sip of water ... Sometimes at the end of the day when they're finally asleep, there's nothing but crap on TV, Bryan's working late, and I'm stuck with a dirty kitchen, I wonder if this is what life is really all about. (Maybe I just need a good, made-for-TV drama?)

Then came my birthday, on a Wednesday, right in the middle of our monotonous week. William kicked off the day by singing at 5:30 am, Anders gave me the biggest bear hug, and Bryan took the boys to school. I was showered with phone calls, texts and Facebook posts from people who represent every stage of my life from childhood, college, my first job, and all the cities we've lived in. My co-workers brought me flowers and took me to lunch. Bryan came home early to reveal some surprises he and the boys had been working on.


While Bryan got the kids bathed and ready for bed, I felt like Mary from Downton Abbey, having chocolate cake and wine in the dining room while my children were attended to. (No other gifts necessary!) They came out all clean and fresh in their pjs, and Anders recruited William to sing a duet.

"We celebrate your birthday and your place on the Earth. May the sun, moon, and stars bring peace where you are. Happy birthday, dear Mommy, happy birthday to you. The Earth goes around the sun, the Earth goes around the sun. It takes 365 days, the Earth goes around the sun."

(William actually said 355 days, but that just makes me a whole year younger!)

Hearing their sweet voices singing together, I had a moment. One of those moments where your face erupts in a big, goofy grin, your eyes moisten, and your heart is full.

Life can be so mundane. But it's also so, so sweet. Celebrating a birthday, especially with friends and family far and wide, near and dear, really puts a spotlight on your life—well, that or the 37 candles.

Today, we're back to normal, unexciting life with car repairs, haircuts for the boys and a trip to the store before cooking dinner. There will be bathtub struggles, remote-control fights, and bedtime rebellion. I will get annoyed. I will lose my patience. I will probably be a little bored. But through it all, I will hold that birthday moment close, and I will feel the outpouring of love from friends and family who are part of my life, past and present. These relationships are what life is all about, and with every passing year, they will continue to shine more brightly.

Friday, December 30, 2016

My New Year's Resolutions

This fall, my work/life balance was just not working, so I quit my job. Exactly two months after walking out of my office, I returned to the same job, but under my terms. I feel a little bit like the office boomerang, but caring less about what people think is another resolution of mine. Besides, the break was just what I needed to take a breath and really think about what I want out of life, for my family and my career. (If only all mothers could take another maternity leave when their kids are 4 and 6!) Here are a few things I learned that I hope to take with me into the new year:

The Grass Isn't Greener ...
I had the unique opportunity of experiencing both sides in a short span, and I'll tell you this: Being a working mom and a stay-at-home mom are equally challenging. I think we both want what the other has because life with kids is just plain hard, and there must be an easier way. Driving to work in the mornings, I envied the moms going to exercise, meeting up at Starbucks or leisurely strolling their kids to the playground. But when I stayed at home in "the uniform" of black spandex workout pants, a tank top and ponytail, by the afternoons I longed for a faster pace. Before, I dreaded my morning commute downtown, but now I appreciate 45 minutes of NPR and peace and quiet. Well, not exactly peace and quiet. My first week going back to work I was rear-ended on the interstate. Damn I-4!

Just Speak Up
I am such a people-pleaser to a fault. I'm a horrible negotiator, cheerfully saying yes, yes, yes, yes until one last straw and I'm completely exhausted and resentful. One week after leaving my job, our magazine got a new publisher who began implementing some positive changes. When he called me to ask if I wanted my job back, I hesitantly agreed to a meeting. It took having nothing to lose to give me the nerve to ask for what I wanted, which was being able to work from home and having more flexibility with the kids. He said yes.
Finding that perfect balance ...
Shed the Mom Guilt
When I wasn't working, taking Anders on field trips and to his speech and occupational therapies were very gratifying, as was spending one-on-one time with William each afternoon. We spent a lot of time at the playground, and my stay-at-home mom friends taught me that it's okay to have grown-up conversations and not entertain them the entire time, which is something I felt obligated to do when I worked. I learned that spending too much time with them wasn't necessarily advantageous. When I have a break, I'm more fun and more patient with the kids.

I also had a little wake-up call with Anders. One of the many voices in my head told me staying at home would solve all of his problems. But after I quit my job, his bad behavior actually flared up again. We were called into teacher-parent meetings, and his teacher greeted me every afternoon with negative reports. They didn't know where it was coming from. It turned out, Anders was resentful I was picking up William at noon while he stayed until 3:15 with the other kindergartners. I think he actually likes the routine of a babysitter, and it's good for him to deal with challenges without me. He must learn that I have needs and wants, too, and understanding that will only help his personal growth.

If I Don't Want to Do It, Say No
This one is so hard for me, but it's so important. I am a perfectionist, and setting high expectations for myself has gotten me in trouble all my life. I cannot be all things to all people all the time and give it my best. My husband has a work dinner and spouses are invited, a friend is hosting a party selling Product X, there's a social hour for the parents at school, the kids want to go to the park after dinner, classmates are exchanging Christmas gifts, there are work events two nights in a row ... if I'm feeling tired or stretched thin, I say no. Because if I'm not careful, I lose that valuable balance, and I fail at everything.

Gators at the office ... hang gliding for the first time, my job presents me with pretty awesome adventures.

It's Okay to Do What I Love
I really had to explain myself to the boys when I quit work and then decided to go back in such a short span of time. I told them the magazine needed my help and my new boss was really nice, was going to pay me more than $1,000 (they were impressed!), and didn't want me to miss their field trips (even more impressed!). I also tried to explain to them that I need to do something for me, and it's one of the reasons I went to school all those years. I love writing, trying new things, and giving people great ideas when they come to Orlando on vacation. I also started writing for our sister publication Orlando Magazine as their columnist, so if you have the time, take a look at this link and let my editor know what you think in the comments.

I owe this new opportunity to you, the readers of my blog. You gave me the confidence to share my ever-so-personal stories to a larger audience of complete and utter strangers! I am sincerely touched you take the time to read about our family and my two hot messes, and I wish all of you the best for 2017.

Laura writes a monthly column for Orlando Magazine.