Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Silver Linings

Sunrise this morning:

Sometimes you just have to appreciate the beauty of things.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Links and Passages

I got a call this morning telling me that someone from my old life, someone very special to me, passed away this weekend. She was the mother of my first husband's best friend. They were like a second family to my first husband, and consequently became like a surrogate family to me as well during the years I was married to Kelly. When he and I split up, and then he died shortly thereafter, that family never wavered in their support and love for me. They understood that Kelly had struggled with demons for years and years, and unlike my own family, never held me responsible for his downward spiral or his death. Marsha, the mom, celebrated my new marriage, along with all our other loved ones, at Michael's and my wedding reception, and she was never anything but genuinely happy that I had found happiness. Before I lost touch with her, she told me more than once to "thank Michael for me for being so good to you and to Kevin."

But as these things often go, we gradually lost touch over the years. She and I used to periodically talk on the phone, and I think as I moved on with my life, I made an effort to put my old life, and all its trappings, behind me. The phone calls petered out, though I did continue to send Christmas cards with letters, updating her on our goings-on and asking her for news on her end. But after a while, the responses stopped coming.

After several years of no contact, I found one of her daughters on Facebook, and she put me back in touch with her mom. I got a surprise phone call from Marsha one night this past May, and she and I spent over an hour catching up. It was wonderful to talk to her again.

Sadly, though, she had been battling pancreatic cancer for the last couple of years. In a rare ocurrence, she actually went into remission for a while (pancreatic cancer is extremely aggressive and usually terminal). When I spoke to her in May, she was in remission. After catching up, we promised to stay in touch and to get together when the stars aligned properly. But we never did.

And this morning I got a phone call from her other daughter. I haven't talked to her in ten years, probably, but as soon as she said who it was, I knew what she was calling about.

I don't feel like I'm really entitled to grieve; this wasn't my family, and I failed to make a better effort to stay in touch. And yet I feel very, very sad. A person who gives of themselves, who offers kindness and love and encouragement without judgment, without strings, is an extremely rare person in my experience. Marsha was one of those rare people.

They are having a memorial service for her in a couple of weeks which I and my little family have been welcomed to. I have very mixed feelings about it. Am I prepared to handle all the emotions it will bring up, these people being such a strong tie to the past I've tried so hard to put behind me? Particularly my first husband's best friend, one of Marsha's sons, who for many years was like a brother to me. I just don't know. It's putting my stomach in knots just thinking about it.

I don't know what I'm going to do. But I do feel like the world is now absent a really wonderful person.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Liberated Woman? Tracing the Path of My Life

This month's selection for my book club was When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present (which I reviewed here). I loved this book. It sets forth an engagingly written history of the women's movement, and consequently has had me examining my own life's path as a woman - as a modern woman. At the heart of this mental analysis I've found myself undertaking of my life is the question: have I lived up to everything the women who fought so hard for women's rights wanted? More specifically, have I let them down by deciding to be "just" a housewife, a fate so many of those women of the previous generation fought against?

A Brief History of How I Got Where I Am

At my book's club's discussion of When Everything Changed one evening this last week, our members were invited to bring along their mothers; these are the women who belong to the generation that lived through the women's movement as adults, whereas most of our book club members (the daughters) were only babies or young children through most of it and so have no actual experience of having lived on both sides of it. It was fascinating and wonderful to hear these older women's experiences and perspectives.

Were I not estranged from my own mother, it certainly would be interesting to pick her brain about these issues and her experiences. Her experience was much different, I think, than most of the members' mothers who were present at our book club discussion. Most of those women were college educated and had pursued some kind of career before settling down to raise families. My mother is a bit younger than most of the mothers there that night - she was born in 1946 and I'm guessing graduated high school in '64. She never went to college (neither of my parents did; they both came from blue collar families, and I don't believe any of my grandparents went to college either). Instead, she went to beauty school and was a beautician for a year or so out of high school, then got knocked up by my dad (at a time when getting pregnant out of wedlock was still very shameful) and had a shotgun wedding. I'm pretty sure my mother never aspired to anything beyond getting married and having kids anyway; it was just the expected path. So she and my dad were very young when they got married - my dad was 18 and my mom 19, they had three kids in three years. They had very little money, and my mother ended up going into the workforce when I was 4, out of necessity. She started in an entry-level position for an insurance company and was able to work her way up over the years, despite having no college education. She and my dad were divorced by the time my mom was 26. They were part of that explosion of the divorce rate of the early '70s, and suddenly my mother was a single mother raising three kids. What I remember growing up is that she always felt she was nothing without a man - this was a constant theme, and one she openly lamented about. After she and my dad split up, she very quickly got a boyfriend and moved us all in with him - within a year of her splitting up with my dad. And that, of course, didn't work out in the long run, so we were always moving around, she and my dad got back together for a while, then split up again, then my mom got remarried to some other guy for a short time - eh. Always looking for happiness and thinking some man was going to provide it for her. So in some ways, although my mother did enter the professional field and did well, I don't think she ever had the mindset of a "liberated" woman.

So, raised in that environment, I don't think any aspirations were ever instilled in me. My mother always seemed to be in survival mode and looking for her own happiness, mostly in the wrong places and at the expense of her kids. The subject of college was never brought up, but my brothers and I were told from a very young age that once we turned 18, we were expected to either move out or start paying rent to live at home. I somehow did develop my own aspirations, but I think they were more influenced by my peers having aspirations than anything that was instilled in me by my parents. I very much wanted, and fully intended, to go to college. I enjoyed school and did well (until I started drinking and smoking pot, that is). I had big dreams! For a while I wanted to be a veterinarian, and eventually I started dreaming of being a doctor (which makes me almost laugh and almost cry when I think back on it; it seems so lofty and nearly ridiculous now). But my life took a series of detours, which I take full responsibility for, and I never made it to college. Instead, in a desperate attempt to escape the unhappiness and abuse I lived with at home, I dropped out of high school in my senior year and ran away from home at the age of 17, leaving the state with the first boyfriend I ever had. In a big way, my mother all over again: looking for happiness and salvation in a man (really, a boy). So at the age of 17 I left my dreams of higher education behind and set up housekeeping and got a job.

I followed my mother's example of getting married very young, too. That boyfriend and I got married when I was 19 and he was 21, though not because I was pregnant (in fact, we didn't have a child until we had been married for nearly ten years). Eventually I did home study and earned my high school diploma, but my dream of going to college seemed long gone. Working full time and bringing in money to pay the bills was a necessity.

After a series of transitional jobs, including cashier at a Greek restaurant, microfilm camera operator, receptionist, and manicurist, I went to a vocational college for a year and got my paralegal certificate and landed a job in a small law firm. Finally, a bona fide career! Still, thoughts of having a family of my own were always on my mind, and as the years passed (and my then-husband and I were faced with fertility issues) I became more and more desperate to have a baby.

Finally it happened, and everything changed for me. I saw the world through a whole new lens, and suddenly everything I did outside of taking care of this little creature who had grown inside me seemed meaningless. I had to return to work when Kevin was nine weeks old - I had no choice, we depended on two incomes to pay the bills. I will never forget how hard I cried when I had to drop Kevin, practically still a newborn, off at a babysitter's house so I could go back to my job with the law firm, which suddenly seemed utterly unimportant and trivial. I was a mother now, for god's sake! Who cared who was suing whom or for what? And I found myself suddenly caught in this awful tug-of-war, with a boss who was generally pretty unsympathetic to my new status as a mother and who still expected me to give the 110% of myself I had been giving before having a baby, and these horrible feelings of desperately missing my baby and feeling like a limb had been severed or something. I remember I cried every day for months after I returned to work, my inner voice screaming, "THIS ISN'T RIGHT! IT ISN'T NATURAL TO GROW A BABY FOR NINE MONTHS, GIVE BIRTH TO HIM, AND THEN HAND HIM OVER TO SOMEONE ELSE TO TAKE CARE OF!"

Still, I continued working until Kevin was 5 1/2 years old - until a few weeks before Joey was born. Somewhere in there, my first marriage, founded on abuse, lies, alcoholism and drug addiction, finally imploded, and I eventually got married again, to Michael (and the rest, as they say, is history). I worked as a paralegal for 11 years before I quit to stay home with my ever-growing family. And I was really good at what I did working for that law firm.

When I left on maternity leave with Joey's birth approaching, my intention was only to take an extended leave. Michael and I scrimped and saved to fund a six-month leave of absence, but during that time, with Michael getting a raise and our refinancing our house, we discovered that we actually could make it on Michael's income alone. I remember when I officially told my boss I wasn't going to return, he told me that he'd have a place for me in a year or two when I got bored at home. I remember it bothered me - he clearly looked down upon my deciding to be "just a housewife."

And Here I Am

And here I am, eight years out of the workforce now, and with a whole house full of kids. I never dreamed I'd end up with six kids, but I found I had a hard time stopping. I don't think it takes any kind of expert to figure out that under it all, I've tried (and succeeded, I think) to build the family I never had. Maybe not the best reason to have kids, but there seem to be all kinds of reasons people have kids, and who knows which are the right ones and which aren't?

Growing up, I never pictured myself one day being a stay-at-home mother. It was instilled in me from a very young age that You Have To Get A Job And Work To Earn A Paycheck. So, although I wasn't sure exactly how I was going to achieve that, I never questioned that having a job of some sort outside the home was my fate. And truthfully, until I had my first baby, I quietly ridiculed women who stayed home to be mothers. It seemed like they were copping out in some way, taking the easy way out. (And I don't think I was alone in having those feelings; I think there's been an almost complete reversal of the old standards. What used to be expected of women - to stay home and be mothers and wives - is now held in pretty low regard among a large part of today's society.) Then I had my first baby and suddenly wanted nothing more than to be able to stay home and take care of him. And until I actually quit working to stay home, I had no idea how hard it really is to be a stay-at-home-mother. I'm sure I don't have to tell anyone reading this that being a mother is a 24-hour a day, 365-day a year job. You may love it, and you may find the ultimate fulfillment in it (or not), but it is grueling, often tedious, lonely, and almost completely thankless.

And to a large degree, I feel like I've lost, or sacrificed, a big part of myself. "Mother" has become almost my whole identity and sense of self. I'm not sure anymore who Lisa is outside of being a mother. I try to nurture some of my own interests, like my book club, and writing, that have nothing to do with my kids in order to not completely lose myself, but I often feel a distant feeling of panic when I think about all of my kids one day leaving the nest. I fear that I will be one of those women who goes off the deep end when all her kids are grown and gone, living their own lives. I adore my husband and truly enjoy his company, but I honestly have a very difficult time picturing it being just me and him.

And then there's the issue of work. Will I or won't I return to the workforce in some capacity eventually? Michael has remarked plenty of times about my going back to work part-time when all the kids are in school, and this calls up feelings of fear and resentment in me. With at least a couple more years before all the kids are in school, I will by that time have been out of the workforce for at least ten years - what the hell will I be qualified for? And even when all the kids are in school, there's still after school to consider, and summer breaks and winter breaks and spring breaks, and sick kids, and doctor appointments, and . . . what kind of job does he think I'm going to get that will accommodate all of that? And to be perfectly frank, I've become very comfortable, with all its pitfalls and downsides, being a stay-at-home-mother. I like being my own boss - that's one of the best perks of the whole deal!

Anyway, I think this is something many people don't think about when a mother quits working to stay home and raise a family. How long will she stay home? Will she be qualified to go back into the workforce at some point? Will it be practical for her to do so, even if it becomes necessary? I know we certainly didn't ask ourselves any of those questions.

Back to my original questions: have I lived up to everything the women who fought so hard for women's rights wanted? More specifically, have I let them down by deciding to be "just" a housewife, a fate so many of those women of the previous generation fought against?

I guess it all boils down to having choices, which previous generations of women did not have. They stayed home and raised families because they had very few alternatives. If they needed or wanted any kind of career, it was most likely as a nurse, a teacher, or a secretary, and even in those jobs, once a woman got married, and certainly when she got pregnant, she was let go. Today, women have choices. They can pursue higher education at the same schools as their male counterparts; the professional field is wide open to women, and women can now expect equal pay for equal work. Women can choose to have children or choose not to, they can choose how large or small their family will be, they can choose to work outside the home while raising their families, and they can choose to stay home to raise their families based on their individual circumstances and desires, and not on what society expects or allows.

I have chosen to stay home to raise my family not because women belong at home raising families, but because it's where I feel I belong. I had a career while raising a child for a number of years (and that was only with one child!), and it didn't work for me; I couldn't do it all - not without great cost. I couldn't give my best to anyone - not my family or my employer - and it cost me a lot of happiness. I believe my kids benefit from having a mother who is here at home with them. And despite my sense that I've lost a part of my identity in immersing myself almost solely in motherhood, I nevertheless believe that I'm finding more happiness and fulfillment in staying home to raise my kids than trying to maintain a job outside the home as well as raising my family. I feel that I'm doing the right thing for myself and for my family; but this is a personal choice, not something foisted on me. Therein lies the difference.

What do I hope to instill in my own kids? I'd like my kids to expect to go to college. I'd like to instill in my kids that they can be anything they aspire to be with hard work and determination, regardless of their gender. I hope that being raised by a stay-at-home-mother does not instill in my daughters that they shouldn't aspire to anything else, though if they themselves become SAHMs, that's a fine life to choose if it works for them. I'd like to instill in all of my kids, boys and girls alike, that although it's wonderful to have a partner to share one's life with, they shouldn't expect someone else to provide their happiness and meaning to their life, that those things need to be found and nurtured within themselves. I'd like to instill in my kids enough confidence, self-respect, and love for themselves that they'll never tolerate abusive relationships.

Sometimes I wonder what my life would be like had I made different choices. What if I had gone to college? Where would I be now? Sometimes I feel like I passed up what might have been a really wonderful and enlightening experience, but mostly I don't have regrets. All the choices I've made have led me to where I'm at now, and I'm pretty content with where I've landed. And thankful to have had choices to make.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Friday, September 17, 2010

Alone With My Thoughts

Sometimes it's easier to sit on my ass. Today I chose to get moving instead. Even though it takes extra effort to put on my running walking shoes, load the jogging stroller with Finn, water and cell phone, and even though as I'm doing the getting-ready stuff I'm thinking of all the things I could do if I stayed home, once I get out and walking it feels good.

I wouldn't call it a real workout by the standards of anyone who actually works out, but I push myself to walk at a brisk pace, get the heart pumping and the sweat flowing. And while I'm doing this for my body, I'm always reminded how good it is for my mind, too.

With no distractions except the forward motion of my feet, I am alone with my thoughts. I replay conversations in my head, often seeing them in a new light. I play out conversations I'd like to have but probably never will. I unravel things that have been bothering me, and although I can't say I necessarily come to any resolution, I often see things with a new clarity. I think about things I am especially thankful about. I make lists and resolutions, and forgive myself for not succeeding at all the resolutions I set for myself the last time (like walking at least four times a week!). And every so often I pass someone else out walking, and a friendly nod or smile or "Morning" passes between us, and there's that feeling of goodwill that's so nice.

I need to do this more often.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Observe: My Skin Is So Thin

I periodically submit things I've written to I don't think they're especially picky about what they accept for publication on their site (everything I've submitted has been accepted), and there's no pay involved, but it's a way to gain visibility for my blog, and in the bigger picture, it's a way to gauge a larger audience's reaction to things I write. Because I have this niggling fantasy (that I've yet to really pursue, mostly because I'm afraid, and also because, let's be honest, I'm already juggling 89 plates at any given time) of being a real writer. You know, a freelance writer for parenting publications. Don't laugh.

Anyway, so most of the stuff I've submitted to Mamapedia, and which they in turn have published on their site, has gotten mostly positive feedback. Which boosts my confidence, naturally. Then there was my most recent submission, The Princess and the Hot Dog Bun, which I originally posted here on my blog, and which Mamapedia published on their site recently here. Look at all the comments! And the vast majority of them are positive, I-can-relate-type comments.

Isn't it funny, though, how the less-than-positive comments, no matter how few, tend to stick out far more than the positive ones?

Several commenters found themselves up in arms over my referring to my daughter as "Princess." Really? And quite a few seemed to take away from my little anecdote that I have accomplished nothing but teaching my daughter to throw a tantrum in order to get what she wants. Wow. And one commenter critiqued my word-usage in my bio. Geez.

Anyway, I guess I feel compelled to assure anyone who might wonder that I'm not raising a little diva. I do, in fact, on occasion, address Lilah as "Princess Lilah" because it makes her giggle. This in no way reflects an intention to raise a daughter who will sit back helplessly awaiting the arrival of Prince Charming. I'm actually fairly nauseated by all the Disney Princess crap, but I figure my girls will outgrow it soon enough. And tantrums in our house usually land the offender in his or her room by her- or himself to think things over and cool down. Isn't it obvious that I embellished my little story a little in order to make it amusing and relatable? My point was that sometimes I just get stuck in the "rules" as a parent, and that particular morning, I had something of an epiphany: who made up these rules anyway? Why can't she have a hot dog bun for breakfast? And who says that a parent should never back down when they realize they're sticking to their guns just for the sake of sticking to their guns, even if it's unreasonable?

And really, why do I care so much what other people think? Ahh, the insecurities of motherhood. Do we ever feel we're doing a good enough job? Do we ever feel immune from the judgmental eyes of other mothers?

The truth is, though - and I realize this - is that I need to grow a thicker skin. If I'm going to put stuff out there, I have to be able to take the good with the bad, right?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Kids At Upscale Restaurants?

Friday night Michael and I went out for a post-birthday celebratory dinner at one of our favorite restaurants.

Let me just say that we make a point of going out on fairly regular "dates" sans kids - at least on a monthly basis. When Michael and I are able to corral a sitter and go out, just the two of us, we generally like to do it up nice, meaning we like to get a bit dressed up and go eat at a nice place - someplace we wouldn't ordinarily go to (i.e., with the kids). Someplace with a view of some sort, a full bar, and servers who wear bow ties. We do go out to dinner with the kids, too, fairly often, but in those instances, we go to "kid-friendly" places - places that serve chicken strips and give out crayons and paper activity menus.

So we went to one of our favorite restaurants Friday night - a place on top of a hill with a gorgeous view of the city lights below, a place with a full bar and servers wearing bow ties. And I was, not for the first time, very surprised to see quite a few families there. With kids. Little kids. There was one couple who came in with an infant in a stroller (this is most definitely not a stroller-friendly restaurant).

It's not that it bothers me to be in the company of kids (when I've gone to such effort and expense to get away from my own for an evening!); all of the kids who were there seemed very well-behaved. It's really that it just baffles me. Why would anyone want to bring their kids to a place like that? A place where they don't even have a kid's menu, and where there's nothing on the menu under $25. And so late! Our dinner reservations were at 8:30, and by the time we were served our food (after a delicious appetizer of calamari and a round of cocktails), it was around 9:30. Who has their kids up that late eating dinner? It baffles me.

I'm curious, though, where do you stand on this? Feel free to comment or respond to the poll in the sidebar.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Remembering 9/11/01

Everyone's talking about it today. All over Facebook you see "I'll never forget," and "What were you doing on 9/11/01?"

As for me, on September 11, 2001 I was scheduled to have surgery to repair a hernia. I remember waking up very early that morning to get ready to go to the hospital. When I came out of the bathroom, Michael had the TV in our bedroom turned on and the news was replaying a scene of a jet crashing into a skyscraper. It was confusing - I remember thinking at first that it was fake; was it a special effect scene from a movie or something? Then somehow it registered that it was real, but of course then, for those few brief moments, we, like everyone else, thought it was a horrible accident. Then we watched on the television screen as the second plane flew right into the second tower. And it was really difficult to wrap your head around it. What . . . ?? Another accident?? What a horrible coincidence, two planes flying into two buildings, one right after the other . . . ??

The details are murky, but of course it wasn't long before everyone realized that it was no accident, and talk of terrorism took root. And even though it was all happening way on the other side of the country, it suddenly felt very unsafe even to be 3,000 miles from it.

We still had to go to the hospital, and I remember lying on a gurney in pre-op where there was a small television mounted from the ceiling, and of course that's all that was on every channel - news about the terrorist attacks, the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, the mass death and destruction.

The surgery was awful - or rather, the recovery was. It was an outpatient surgery, so I was sent home that afternoon with a three-inch incision in my sternum and a drainage tube snaking out of my abdomen. I was in terrible pain, and for a week all I could do was lie on the couch or in bed watching TV, and all that was on TV was post-attack footage and news. It was completely surreal. All planes were grounded and the airspace closed - across the entire nation! - and it was one of those weird things where the absence of something is palpably noticeable. For days, you didn't hear the faint drone of an airplane or helicopter - sounds that were so mundane that you barely registered them in their presence - and the silence was eerie. Occasionally there would be the distant roar of a military aircraft, which added to the feeling of unease.

And now every year on the anniversary, people talk about it, they remember. It's one of those horrific bookmarks in time that seem to come along every generation: while people from my parents' generation will forever remember where they were when President Kennedy was shot - and feel they were changed by the event - my generation will always remember where they were when the Twin Towers went down, and feel that they were changed by the event.

Have we changed, though? I think people would like to believe so, in order to make such a catastrophic tragedy mean something. It's hard to accept that it was utterly senseless. I'm sure good has come out of the events of 9/11 on a personal level for many people - surely those who were there, or who lost loved ones, or who had loved ones who made it out alive - have been profoundly affected. But those are individuals. Has the world changed? Has humanity as a whole learned anything from it worth knowing, and applied that new knowledge in ways that make the world a better place?

I don't see it.

At the heart of it is an inability and/or unwillingness to accept and love our fellow human beings. The attacks of 9/11 that left so many dead, wounded, widowed, and orphaned, were orchestrated and carried out by religious zealots, written off by most "rational" people as nut-jobs. Yes, they were extremists, but everyday people carry out attacks on their fellow human beings every day on a smaller, but insidious, scale, born out of their beliefs. Regular people sit in judgment of other people, deeming them destined for eternal damnation, actively seeking to strip them of basic rights, judging them morally inferior, unworthy of common decency and kindness, all the time. All in the name of religion and faith.

No, aside from beefing up security and making it more of a pain in the ass to get anywhere by plane, I don't think the world has changed much since 9/11. And as for End Times? Yeah, it'll come at some point, but at our own hand, not the hand of some omnipresent figure.

Bill Maher says it better than I ever could.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Ruminations of an Aging Birthday Girl

Well, here we are again, another year passed, and me sitting here wondering how the hell I got to be the age I am now. Geez. I swear I was just 18, like, last week. Okay, maybe not 18, but 34 (which is the age I've settled on to stay, in case anyone's counting). The funny thing about getting older is that in your head, you really kind of remain the same. I mean, sure, you (hopefully) gain wisdom and maturity as you get older, but I haven't found that I feel much differently than I did when I was . . . younger.

It's the body that changes, the body that sort of screws you over. It used to be that I could eat anything I wanted, and as much of it as I cared to, and I was still lucky enough to remain svelte. That all changed when I hit my 40s, though. Not that I'm overweight, but now I can't seem to lose that last five pounds that's been stubbornly sticking to me since I lost most of the pregnancy weight from Finn. Now I actually have to watch what I eat. Up until three or four years ago, people would be shocked when I told them how old I was, and they'd insist that they really thought I was several years younger. People aren't shocked anymore when I tell them how old I am! The sagging and bulging continues to progress (I want a tummy tuck . . . I desperately want a tummy tuck), I'm not as limber as I used to be, I have stress incontinence, and the other day I sneezed and my back went into spasms!

Every time I look in the mirror
All these lines on my face getting clearer
The past is gone
It goes by, like dusk to dawn
Isn't that the way

Everybody's got their dues in life to pay


I have to say I'm not loving being in my 40s so much. That's not to say that I'm not happy with my life (I am!), or that I sit here and think, "Wow, I really thought I would have done such and such by now, and I haven't." It's more just this sadness at knowing such a large part of my life is behind me now instead of in front of me.

I woke up this morning bright and early at 5:45, and Joey came bounding into my room, threw his arms around me and said, "Happy birthday, Mom." That was wonderful to wake up to - man, I love that kid. That was followed by hugs and birthday wishes (and demands for cake) by all the other kids. Michael wished me a happy birthday, kissed me, and said, "You don't look forty-three." It must be the gigantic zit that has been sprouting on my chin for the last several days. What is up with that, anyway? Wrinkles and zits? It humbles me.

Facebook has a wonderful way of making your birthday seem like The Most Important Day of The Year. I've gotten about a million birthday wishes from my FB friends, which is very, very cool. One of my best friends sent me the sweetest card yesterday (thanks, Jen!), and this morning my friend Caryl presented me with two jars of homemade jam and a Starbucks gift card :) Caryl is also Daisy and Annabelle's first-grade teacher, and she gave me a copy of yesterday's Morning Announcements:

Anyway, no big plans today. The older you get, the less of a party birthdays are. On today's agenda is just the usual stuff. I think I'll order pizza tonight so I don't have to cook, though. Tomorrow night Michael and I will go out to dinner.

Happy birthday to me!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Life Lessons: Teaching Kids the Value of a Dollar

I'm no financial wiz or guru, but I have some very definite opinions about the values we, as parents, instill in our kids about money - and therefore, about a lot of other things.

I grew up not having much in the way of material things. My mother was a young, single mother supporting three kids on what I'm sure in that day and age was a paltry income, as well as the paltry child support from my dad. We got basic necessities and very few extras. Although my brothers both played Little League, that was the extent of our extra-curricular activities; there were no music lessons, no dance, no trips (with the exception of a cross-country drive to Illinois when I was 8 for my dad's brother's wedding), and no trendy clothes. My brothers and I all desperately needed braces on our teeth, but we didn't get them until long after most of the other kids our age had gotten them - not until my mother married her second husband who had insurance through his employer that would pay for orthodontia.

All this has led to a consciousness on my part as a parent of all the things I did without as a kid, and a tendency to want to make up for that in the way of overcompensating. It's a tendency I've worked hard to resist, though, because I've seen the effects of kids who grew up not ever experiencing much deprivation. I can completely understand the desire, as a parent, to grant our kids instant gratification. Of course we want to make them happy, and if a new Dora doll, or a new pack of Pokemon cards is going to make them happy, what's the harm?

The harm is that kids who are handed everything they want - and worse, who even as adults are allowed or encouraged to see their parents as safety nets they can fall back on when the going gets rough - become adults who still expect instant gratification, who tend to never feel they have enough, who have very little self-restraint when it comes to acquiring things, who are selfish and irresponsible. In the long run, these qualities do not make for a happy adulthood.

I am very glad that I am in a much better financial position raising my kids than my parents were in when they were raising me and my brothers. I'm glad that we are able to provide our kids with enriching activities and experiences like sports, music lessons, and dance. When Kevin got braces on his teeth at 10 years old, I cried because I remembered how I longed for braces as a kid and had to wait so long for them, and it felt really good to be able to provide my kid with something so basic and necessary.

That said, I feel very strongly about my kids learning that money doesn't grow on trees, and that there are certain things they might want that they will have to find ways to pay for themselves. When Kevin was 9, he wanted a Nintendo DS. Santa had already brought him a Gameboy a couple years before that, so I told him if he wanted a DS, then he'd have to save his money and buy it himself. And he did. For a year, he saved his allowance as well as birthday money, and he bought that DS himself, and I am convinced that he values it much more for having done that (he still plays it at age 13, and pays for any new games he wants for it). I am happy to buy books for the kids if they are enriching, but "junk" books they want, they have to buy themselves. Even Kevin's upcoming eighth grade class trip to Washington DC we expect him to help pay for - and over the summer, through allowance, babysitting, tutoring, and a couple of lemonade stands, he raised well over the amount of money we told him he had to contribute to the cost of that trip.

I have no plans to run out and buy any of my kids a car when they turn 16 (and I am fiercely leaning towards making them wait to get their drivers' licenses anyway, as I just don't think 16-year-olds belong on the road); I don't intend to pay for any expensive weddings (I'd rather impart to my kids that it's the quality of the marriage that counts, not the wedding - elope for goodness sake!); and here's a shocking confession: we're not saving for our kids' college educations. We have retirement to worry about; I see nothing wrong with their working their way through college, taking out student loans, and/or striving for scholarships.

Giving your kids everything without ever teaching them what it feels like to work for something they want, to wait for something they want - while that may put a smile on their shining little faces now, it really only enables them to become irresponsible grown-ups. Likewise, agreeing to be your adult child's financial safety net may make you feel good, but it only enables them to remain in a stunted, immature state of never really taking full responsibility for themselves. It's one thing to be there for your kid in times of hard luck, but to repeatedly bail them out of their own bad choices doesn't do them any favors in the long run.

And that's all I have to say about that.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Product Review: Petsafe Bark Control Collar

I was serious about getting a shock collar for Twinkle in an attempt to curb her sometimes incessant barking. The Bark Off was a joke; I suspected that if I had taken it apart, I would have found it to be nothing but an empty plastic box. However, I tossed it in the garbage before I ever got around to proving what a scam that product is. Oh well, live and learn.

Anyway, her barking is a problem. Since she's an inside dog, it doesn't bother the neighbors as far as I know, but it drives us crazy. She barks when she wants attention, she barks when she hears a car outside, she barks when we're trying to have a conversation anywhere in her vicinity, and she barks nonstop when someone comes to the front door. The thought of a shock collar seems a little cruel, but I've had friends report quick success with them, so I decided to shell out the $60 and try this Petsafe Bark Control Collar, which purports to use "static correction," which supposedly feels like an "annoying tingle." They told me at Petsmart that I could return it if it didn't work, so really, I had nothing to lose.

Here's our trial run today:

As with the Bark Off, we tested it by having Joey go ring the doorbell, because she usually goes nuts when someone rings the doorbell.

It's definitely working. Interestingly, there seems to be an added bonus to this besides curbing her barking: it seems to be making her more calm overall. The truth is that at a year old, she still spends the majority of her time gated in the kitchen because she's so hyper and destructive. After she had been wearing the shock collar for a while this afternoon, I let her out of the kitchen and she has been playing with the kids out in the living room for about an hour without being a complete maniac or destroying anything. I think we've effectively broken her spirit!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Thank You

Every once in a while, someone leaves a comment here that deserves responding to by me. I read somewhere recently something about the comments left on a blog being what makes a blog a dialogue and not a monologue, and that really resonated with me. I guess that's what it all boils down to for me, this need to write publicly about the ups and downs of my humble life, and the sometimes mundane, sometimes crazy, shit that goes on in my head. It's about connecting to other people, you know? So the comments make me feel like someone's listening, someone out there can relate on some level.

When a comment is left that really strikes some chord with me, I look for a way to respond directly to the commenter, usually by clicking on their profile and seeing if they have a blog or an email address. Often, there is neither, just an anonymous profile with no mode of direct contact. I always feel slightly deflated when that happens, because I'd really sometimes like to just say a quick "Thank you!" or "Wow, you said some really meaningful things, let's talk about this some more." But if you don't have contact info listed, I can't do that.

Right now I am thinking of "Mumofone." Thank you so much for the comment you left yesterday regarding cancer. I wish I could talk to you about your experience more. I really appreciate everything you said, and thank you for your kind words.

I'd also just like to say a general thank you to everyone who reads my humble little blog and, for whatever crazy reason, is interested in the stuff I write. Thanks!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


As time goes on, Michael's cancer and the whole nightmare of treatment last year become more and more of a distant memory, ever more removed from our present reality. It's difficult to look at Michael now - who is probably in the best shape, and the best health he's ever been in - and reconcile the knowledge that last year, he was literally fighting for his life.

For all intents and purposes, we've moved on; we've put it behind us. Yes, there are still lingering effects from the cancer itself and the treatment that have become a part of his, and therefore our, daily lives - none of them especially pleasant. Still, we live in a state of relief and gratitude, and we dare to dream about the future, take it for granted even.

But sometimes it all creeps back in, the fear, the knowledge that this is all really out of our hands. Hardly a day goes by that I don't hear about cancer touching someone's life in some way. It almost seems as though there is no getting away from it. Michael has been bringing stories to me lately of people he became acquainted with on an online cancer support message board - people with the same type of cancer he had who have had a recurrence. People who have suddenly died.

People die from cancer. Even in this day and age of wildly advanced medicine and technology, people die from cancer.

It stops me cold. My insides seize up and I feel panic set in. It is such a completely helpless feeling, knowing that there is really no rhyme or reason to it, no justice. It doesn't matter how much "bad" you've already had in your life. It doesn't matter how good or bad a person you are. There are no checks and balances when it comes to cancer. And really, my husband's life is in the hands of medical professionals whom we have no choice but to trust.

Sometimes I become superstitious despite myself and I wonder if we are tempting fate by moving on and embracing life. Living in fear is no way to live, to be sure, but sometimes I picture the Cancer Gods (who look like horrific monsters in my mind) watching us and deciding to take us down a notch or two by spreading a little cancer dust on our family again.

The truth is, it never really goes away, not completely.