Archive | February 2014

A Good Jew

I’m Jewish.  I formally converted almost five years ago, under a Conservative rabbi and before a Conservative Beit Din.  I studied for almost a year, and that was after close to seven years of independent study on my own.  I’m an active member of the synagogue, President of the Sisterhood, an accomplished chicken soup with matzoh balls maker, and I’ve got four loaves of challah rising at this very moment.  My eleven year old is carrying around books on how to make her bat mitzvah more spiritual and meaningful, my seven year old has his own yamulke that I crocheted for him, and my three year old has been reciting the blessings for Shabbat dinner for over a year now.

That being said… sometimes I’m pretty sure I’m not a good Jew.  Organized religion is still hard for me, and probably always will be.  I’m incredibly uncomfortable with the concept of the Jewish people as a “tribe” because that means that if I’m a member of this tribe, I’m not a member of a different one.  That my children are members of this tribe, and not the tribe that I grew up in.  Even putting aside the issues around intermarriage, and the need to define the kids as Jewish and only Jewish – I’m still… not really there.

There is so much about Judaism that I love.  The concept of humans created in God’s image, and thus having a little bit of the Divine within us, the foundation principal that my job, as a Jew, is to argue with God, to develop a deep and personal relationship.  The concepts of mitzvah – of rules in place to follow, honor your parents, visit the sick, help those in need.  Lovingkindness, keeping kosher, sanctification of everyday events – all of that, I’m completely on board with.   I celebrate all of the holidays, springtime has come to mean Passover for me, and I prefer Hanukkah to Christmas (but that’s a whole other endless series of blog posts…).

And yet… I still feel like I’m not sure I WANT to be a part of the club.  I’m not sure that I’m doing it with the right frame of mind, and I push back automatically.   I’m not good with the separation – the idea of Jews being different from Christians being different from Muslim being different from atheists.  The idea of a “people” separate from other “people” doesn’t make sense to me.  I don’t know if it just a side effect from growing up feeling so very disconnected from any organized religion, or if it’s a natural part of conversion – after all, I am the same person post-mikvah as I was before.  Julie is not fundamentally any different from Jessica, because she was born post-conversion, and thus Jewish from birth, instead of having to go to the mikvah as a five year old.

I was having this sort of existential crisis earlier, partly because I LIKE thinking about these things, and partly because I just finished reading the new book Burquas, Baseball and Apple Pie by Ranya Tabar Idliby.  She also wrote The Faith Club, about her relationship with a Christian mom and a Jewish mom.   And Marc reacted very differently to the book, or to my discussion of the book, than I did.  He had an immediate and visceral reaction, as a Jew, and I… didn’t.  I don’t think of her story as fundamentally any different from mine.  We’re both just moms.  The fact that she’s raising Muslims in post 9/11 United States makes her story challenging in ways that mine aren’t.  But I was able to read her story, find it compelling and interesting, and not instantly respond as  Jew.  Why is that?  Why do I react so differently?

So that set me on this whole soul searching debate – maybe I’m not a very good Jew.  But I do love Judaism, and when it’s just me, I think I’m really good at it.  It’s when I run into the Jewish community that I start to stumble.   It’s when I join the club – that’s when I start questioning.  Because, as Marc pointed out, playing Uno with one of my best friend’s husband is too difficult for me because he likes to follow the rules.  Absolutely and without question or flexibility.  I require flexibility.  “If the rules for Uno are too rigid for you, then, yeah, any kind of organized religion is a stretch.”

I don’t like doing ANYTHING because it’s “the rules,” and I instinctively try to opt out of any exclusive group.  Even when I’m actually pretty happy about everything the group does, and I even really like being in a leadership position within the group.  Because I love being the President of the Sisterhood, and thinking up new programs to get more people involved.  I want lots of involvement, and more and more people.  Because if I’m going to be in a club (or religion), I want to make it open and inviting and get more and more people involved.  Break down the barriers.  Make it a club that everyone can be a part of – all you have to do is want it.  That’s why I put such an emphasis on interfaith and welcoming Jew-by-choice members.   And that may be at odds with Judaism at times – but… they let me in.  A group of rabbis sat me down, questioned me thoroughly, and said okay.   So even if I don’t always feel like I’m the best Jew – even if I don’t always know for sure and for certain that I want to be better at it – this is club that I’m in.  It’s not always comfortable or easy – but it’s mine.

Awards :-)

My friend Chris from http://chriselmes2.wordpress.com/ nominated me for two blog awards.  First of all, you should totally check out her blog, because it’s lovely.  And second – thank you so much Chris, for the nominations :-)

Starting with the ABC award – the rules are as follows:

  • Download the award logo and add it to your acceptance post.
  • Take each letter of the alphabet and use it to tell something about yourself.

A – Aware… I try to pay attention to things.  Small things that might get missed, like the sunrise in the first window in my dining room, or the way that Jessie’s hair falls on her sweater and is so very pretty.  How Sam takes care of Julie, or how Julie snuggles up next to Marc.  There’s so much beauty there, and I always wonder about what I’m missing by not paying attention.

B – Blessed – because I truly, truly am so grateful for all that I have.  I try very hard to never lose sight of how incredibly fortunate I am.

C – Content – this sort of goes along with the first.  When I was younger, I wanted this.  I wanted a happy marriage (but didn’t think it was possible), kids (I’d wanted to be a mother for as long as I could remember) and I wanted to write.  I have those things.  My goals and dreams are mostly just for more of this.

D – Dreamer – which may seem to contradict the last one.  But I day dream and drift off a lot.

E – Extroverted.  I score almost perfectly in the middle on the myers/briggs scale – between the introvert and the extrovert.  I like to share and communicate and be around lots of people and activity.

F – Fun.  Because I am.  Dammit.  I’m wicked fun.

G – Gastronomically-challenged.  I’m not a “foody.”  I prefer kit kats to godivas, cheap frozen pizza from the grocery store to a gourmet meal.  This bothers me not at all.

H – Happy.  I am.  Even if I’m not always day to day happy, I’m happier than most, and think it’s my job to stay that way.  If I’m not happy, it’s up to me to fix it.

I – Introverted – because I really do get very shy – and incredibly nervous before any kind public speaking.

J – Jessica and Julianna.  Because it’s tough to describe me without talking about my daughters.  They’re a big part of who I am – their mother.

K – Kind.  It’s one of the virtues that I really work at instilling in my kids.  Be kind.  I say it all the time.

L – Late.  I just am.  All the time.  I hate it.

M – Mother – because it’s tough to know me without also knowing my mother.  I am who I am, in large part, because of her.  And Marc.  Because he’s awesome.   And marriage – because it’s one of the biggest surprises of my life – how much I genuinely LIKE being married, how easy it is, and how lost I’d be without him.

N – Nasty – because it’s the flipside to Kind – and one of the things I try really hard to not be.

O – Oblivious – because I don’t always pay attention to what’s going on.

P – Processing – I need time to process stuff.  A lot of time, I need to think and ponder and think and ponder some more before I can come to a decision.  And then I like to think and ponder a little extra, just in case.

Q – quick.  The family lore is that if you want it done perfectly, go to Daddy.  It will certainly take a LOT longer than you think it will, but it will be perfect.  If you want it done FAST – go to Mama.  Because it won’t be perfect, and it might be wrong, but it’ll be fast.

R – Ruminating.  I like to really OVERTHINK things.  A lot.

S – Sam, my boy.  Being his mother is such a huge part of who I am.

T – Telling – because I like to tell.  I like to listen to other people tell me.  Whatever.  I like stories, whatever they are.  I like to share what’s happening with me, and I like to hear about other’s stories too.

U – Unsure – because I’m nowhere near as sure of stuff as I’d like to be.  I can almost always talk myself into or out of a situation.  I’ve just learned that sometimes you have to pretend that you know what you’re doing and fake it.

V – Volunteering – more and more, as the kids get older, I’m doing a lot of volunteering.  I volunteered to be the Sisterhood President at my synagogue, despite having serious qualms about my qualifications.  I’ve only been Jewish for a few years, and I still feel completely uncomfortable during services.  But I love planning events, and thinking about ways to get more people involved, and figure this is one of those situation where you fake it until you make it.

W – Writer – because it’s a title I’ve recently claimed as my own, and I now define myself as one.  Very liberating.

X – Exasperated – because let’s face it, I’m a mom with three kids.  I get exasperated a lot.

Y – Yelling – I’m a yeller.  I don’t even think it’s a bad thing – I don’t yell obscenities or anything mean, but I come from a long line of yellers and I holler at my kids, to my kids, about my kids a lot.

Z  – ZZZZZZZ – sleep.  I never, ever get enough.  I no longer even hope to – I just figure I’ll catch up with all the kids are older.

Now for the Sunshine Blogger Award

Image

I have to write 11 facts about myself.

1 – I’m a crappy driver.  I mean, I’m functional, and don’t hit stuff, mostly.  But I don’t like it, I’d always rather be driven than drive, and really hate driving in the winter.  And please don’t ask me to parallel park.

2 – I love to read.  It’s my thing – I’ve always got a book with me, probably more than one.  I’ve got stacks and stacks that I pick up every week at the library, and literally get bitchy and unpleasant when I don’t have anything to read.

3 – I haven’t taken the trash out, more than a few times, since I got married.  I make Marc do it every single week.  I figure it’s only fair, I don’t think the man knows how to turn on the washing machine.

4 – I’ve only recently (within the last week) gotten all three kid to sleep in their rooms.  Jessie bounced back and forth between her room and ours until Sam was born, and Sam shared a room with us until after Julie was born.  We just moved Julie’s bed into Jessie’s room, and I’m enchanted every night that nobody else is in our bedroom.

5 – I thought extended breastfeeding was insane until I had Sam.  And then I swore I wouldn’t do it with Julie – but she’s actually nursed longer than he did.

6 – I hold grudges against kids who are mean to mine.  There are a couple of fifth graders that I think mean thoughts about whenever I see them.  Long after she’s moved on. I don’t say anything to them, I just think hostile thoughts their way.

7 – I don’t read fiction any more.  Not really.  Nora Roberts/JD Robb, Anne Rivers Siddens, Robert B. Parker, Sharon Shinn – I always read their new stuff, and I’ll reread their old stuff, but rarely try new fiction authors anymore.  I love nonfiction, memoirs, political books, biographies, etc.

8 – I don’t wear a winter coat.  I have one, and reluctantly will drag it out when the temps dip below zero (which happens far too often) but I hate being all bundled up.

9 – I’m a crappy crocheter and knitter.  But not for lack of trying.

10.  Clutter makes me nuts.  And every couple of months, I start to suspect that I’m turning into a hoarder and have to throw a bunch of stuff out.

11.  I haven’t used an alarm clock in years, I just set a mental alarm clock, by repeating the time I have to get up three or four times before I fall asleep and really focusing on it – and it works.  I’m not sure why everyone doesn’t do that.

Parenting Fails

I’m not the parent I thought I’d be.  I had big plans, BIG plans before having kids.   I was going to be endlessly patient, I wasn’t ever going to yell.  I wouldn’t swear under my breath (on a good day).  My kids would be HAPPY.   They would be well adjusted, content.  Polite, confident.  Neat.  Clean.  My kids were going to be living proof that I was a good parent.

Because somewhere along the line, I totally got the message that good parents have good kids.  And kids who have problems have bad parents.   I don’t know where – it’s not even something I intellectually believe.  But on some level that I can’t quite access and certainly can’t consciously change – I believe that if I was a better parent, my kids would never have any problems.  They’d never cry, or throw temper tantrums.  They’d never be rude, or get a bad grade, or walk around with hair looks like it was brushed some time last week (I brushed it earlier, I SWEAR).

It doesn’t work that way.  I hope it doesn’t work that way, maybe I’m just trying to convince myself of that.   Kids are who they are from the moment they’re born.  I can look at all three of my kids, and trace back their dominant personality traits right back to their first days.    And I wouldn’t change them, even if I could.  Because their hardest struggles go hand in hand with my favorite things about them.

I remember Jessie’s first days, spent snuggled up in my arms – endlessly content and peaceful just to be with me.  But the struggles were there, the need to fight, fight, fight before she’d go to sleep, the desire to self soothe with a pacifier instead of nursing.  She was mine, but she was her own self right from the beginning.  And my Sammy – he was born with an intense, overwhelming attachment to me.  He knew, from the very first moment, who I was and when he wasn’t with me, all hell was going to break loose.  My Julie – she was, from the very first second, exactly who she was.  The center of the family – the much adored, and doted upon little one, with definite ideas and opinions.  About everything.

I love these three so much – and I fail them all the time.  Because I’m not the parent I hoped I’d be.  I yell.  A lot.  I forget to give them chores and then complain because they don’t help out around the house.  I alternate between giving them too much responsibility and then forgetting that they’re old enough to zip their own coat.   I nurture more than I should and try to tough it out when I shouldn’t.  Should of, could of – isn’t that the mother’s mantra?  Because looking back, I can see so many ways that I could have done better.

And I’m not even close to done with this parenting thing.  I’m a good fifteen years away from my youngest turning 18 – and after eleven years of being a mother, the one thing I’m certain of is that none of us are really good at this.  All of us screw it up, over and over again – and the worst part is that we don’t even know we’re doing it.  So many times, we think we’re doing the right thing, and we’re not.   We can read all the books (and believe me, I’ve read ALL the books) and listen to all the advice, and at the end of the day – none of us know what we’re doing.

This sounds like a vaguely depressed post, and I’m not depressed.  Because I think, now, that this is what it’s supposed to be.  Think about it – how many of us know how to love someone?  Even with Marc – I screw up the whole “devoted wife” thing a lot.  Being a partner doesn’t come easy to me, and I get aggravated and impatient and frustrated when I should be more open and communicative and responsive.    And we’ve got a really strong, happy marriage.  Despite the failures.

In the end, we’re going to fail.  All the time.  As parents, as spouses.  As daughters and sisters and friends.  I’m nowhere near as good at this as I’d like to be.  But I want to be – and I guess that’s why I’m still vaguely optimistic.  Because I’m a better mother today than I was yesterday.  I know a lot more now, as a mom with eleven years of experience, than I did as a girl with only a day or two.  Even when I fail my kids, which I’ve done in the past, and I’m sure I will in the future, I still love them with all that I am. And if my kids remember that – if they learn that even when I was failing, I was still loving them and trying so hard to give them the best start, then maybe the failures won’t matter as much.

Broken

Jessie with her broken wrist from a few years ago

Jessie with her broken wrist from a few years ago

I have three kids.  Sam has never, ever been hurt or injured, with the exception of a concussion when Jessie accidentally shut his head in the car door.  Julianna has never ever been hurt or injured.  Neither one has ever been sick enough to require an antibiotic, other than Julianna’s horrible, horrible thrush infection when she was a few weeks old.  They are paragons of health.  Julie may be walking around with fifteen band-aids on her at any one time, but those are imagined injuries.  I point this out, not for the purposes of bragging (although I totally credit extended nursing – Jessie stopped nursing before she was a year, both Sam and Julie nursed well into toddlerhood).  But to contrast those two to Jessie – my poor girl was on amoxicillin for chronic ear infections so often when she was tiny, she started asking for “bubble gum syrup” because she grew to love the taste.  And she’s had more x-rays than I can count, one broken wrist, strained her knee, sprained her finger, her wrist, had stitches twice on her pretty little face, and a concussion.

Did I mention that she broke her foot last week?

My poor girl – I feel so badly for her.  Because crutches suck.  Even if you’re a girl who enjoys mostly sedentary activities (she loves reading, Food Network, and trashy Lifetime reality shows), it still sucks.  And she wasn’t even really doing anything – she was twirling in the kitchen, in socks.  And slipped exactly the wrong way.  It’s just a hairline fracture and it’s more than likely NOT thru a growth plate (we’ve got an appt with the podiatrist next week), so she won’t be on them for long.   And I’ve bling-ed them out, as much as I could.  I duct taped with pretty cupcake tape, and used rainbow duct tape for additional pizzazz.   Then we got a small canvas bag, and puffy fabric paint so she could decorate it, and we’ll attach it to the crutch so that she can carry a book or a little notebook with her.  We went shopping at Barnes and Nobles, and she got four new books to read, and then bought all kinds of cute slipper socks to wear as well.

But as pretty as the crutches are, she still hurts, and it’s hard.  The crutches hurt far worse than the foot at this point, because she’s got that immobilized in a foot boot.  But her arms hurt, her other foot hurts, her whole body aches and she’s miserable.  I can tell when the motrin wears off, because she just starts crying – and it breaks my heart.

And it’s not at all easy, to be the only parent home with a broken Jessie and two other kids.  I’ve been wishing for a clone, or two.  One to clean (because that’s what I should be doing, instead of blogging), one to keep Jessie company and bring her stuff, like food and drinks and tissues, one to play with and read to Julie and Sam.  And while I’m dreaming here – I’d also like another one to fold the mountain of clean laundry in front of my washing machine, because I seriously don’t have time for that.  Marc’s off at work for the morning, and heading to the gym this afternoon.  Sam’s playing on Wii sports, which I”m grateful for, because it’ll burn off some energy.  Julie has kept herself busy all morning by carrying stuff around – taking nail polish from the dining room into Jessie’s room, and Sam’s weapons into his bedroom.   Jessie is in her bedroom, with projects, books, a kindle loaded with games and netflix, and a phone so she can call people.

It’s a quiet day at home, with the snow piled up outside and the house smells like chocolate cake (because Jessie baked earlier this morning).  Our vacation plans are pretty tame this year, because Jessie really can’t do an awful lot of walking or wandering about.  Tomorrow, she’s going up to pick up her best friend Glennys for the week, and that’ll help more than anything else I’ve come up with to make her happy.  And I keep reminding her that at least it’s not summer, when she’d want to be running and swimming and playing outside all the time.  She’s got a week to get good at the crutches before taking them to school with her.  But all the look on the bright side chats don’t change the fact that being on crutches is no fun at all.

Spring (and healthy, unbroken limbs and appendages) can’t come soon enough…

This is what 12 years of marriage looks like

It’s not always sleeping in the same bed – partly because our kids love to fall asleep next to us, and partly because we’re so damn tired all the time that sometimes we fall asleep before they do, and then the other one just sleeps in a different bed.

It’s Marc making the pot of coffee the night before, every night, because he knows I’m too groggy to be measuring teaspoons and cups of water first thing in the morning.

It’s me doing all the laundry and folding it, but putting away only mine and the kids.  Not because I don’t like Marc, but because proper placement of clean clothes matters so much more to him than it does to me.  My blatant disregard for where the socks go as compared to the underwear is more than our marriage can handle at times.  So I fold with love, and leave it on the dryer for him to put away.

It’s Marc, resignedly handing over his set of keys because I can’t find mine.  Again.  And then not saying anything when I discover them at the bottom of my pocketbook.  Again.

It’s Marc always filling the car up with gas, so I never have to drive with the car on empty.

It’s me cutting up a whole mess of celery for the chicken soup, even though I hate everything about celery, because it’s his favorite.

It’s him pouring me coffee.  All the time.  And then bringing it to me again when I put it down somewhere and forget about it.

It’s me making sure that Marc doesn’t do Jessie’s science project for her, because he could, and wants to – but knows that I’m right and consciously steps back so she can do it by herself.

It’s him telling me to sit down and let him deal with an eleven year old who wants so badly to grow up that she can’t help herself from screaming at me.

It’s him, doing the dishes with sports radio on in the background because he knows I hate doing dishes.

 

It’s me taking a sobbing temper tantrum filled Sam away from him and carrying him into the bedroom to give them both space.

It’s the blue hoodie that’s technically his, and I’ve been wearing it since October.

It’s me deciding to bring home a whole chicken, and making him do all the yucky work, like taking the skin off and then pulling all the meat off the bones for soup.

It’s him, happily doing it, and grateful that I wanted to make matzoh ball soup on a snowy day.

It’s him taking Jessica out for dinner once a week, because spending one on one time with her is so critical, and she’s blossomed with the added attention.

It’s me realizing that Sam will happily do his homework, as long as I sit on the floor and keep him company.

It’s the three way hug that Julie insists on before one of us leaves.  Because an individual Julie/parent hug is nowhere near as good for her.

It’s us, curled up together on the couch, a laptop in front of him and a book in my hands.

It’s us, dancing in the dining room to music that nobody else can hear.

It’s us – as it has been for twelve years now.   He’s my best friend, my husband, my other half.  I wouldn’t be the person I am today without him.

Happy anniversary, Marc.  There aren’t enough words to express it, but know that I love you with all that I am.  You are my happily ever after, and it’s nicer than I ever imagined it would be.

Trip to the mall

We have a tradition in our family – the birthday girl/boy gets to choose the restaurant for the birthday dinner.  For the past several years, Jessie has chosen the food court at the mall as her favorite restaurant.  Neither Marc nor I like to shop, and it’s not unusual for months to go by and we don’t ever go to the mall.

Jessie adores the mall.  Any mall, really.  She’s not picky, she loves every little bit of every mall she’s ever been to.  She likes the free samples handed out in the food court, the different perfumes that she can smell and experiment with.  She likes to buy headbands and hair bows, and shop for pretty dresses and new shoes.  I think she just likes the energy of being “at the mall.”   Her birthday was last Friday, and Friday night, we all went to the Auburn Mall.

We picked up my oldest stepdaughter Lilli on the way, and got to the mall around five-ish.  My younger stepdaughter, Sarah, had dance class and met us there around seven with my in-laws.  For the first hour and a half, we split up.  Marc took the two older girls and walked around the mall and I took the two little ones to the play area with a book.

And it was delightful.  Marc had the BEST time, walking around with his girls.  Carrying their bags and watching them shop together.  Kids grow up all the time, but every now and again, you realize that they’ve grown up – a lot – when you weren’t really paying attention.  Last year, we also went to the mall for Jessie’s birthday, and my dominant memory is of taking all five kids on the carosel at the Solomon Pond Mall.   This year, Lilli and Jessie shopped.  Independently.  Marc was there, but he wasn’t necessary, they didn’t need supervision.  They’re old enough to go to the mall.

Meanwhile, I got the little ones.  The ones who are decidedly not big enough to wander around independently.  What they are, though, is best friends and perfect playmates.  Julie is almost four and Sam is seven, and they play together so well.   They spent the entire time rolling and climbing and jumping around the little play area.  I sat in the corner with my book, and had the nicest little break.

We all had dinner, once Sarah and my in-laws got there.  The older kids mostly got chinese (I think Lilli got pizza – and Sam and Sarah ended up finishing it for her).  Julie had chicken nuggets and sat right beside me at the adult table, we put the four older kids at one of those big tall tables.  Then we got them all frozen yogurt.

It wasn’t so much what we did, as how we did it. How they’ve all grown up, so fast.  It really wasn’t that long ago that we were toting around two diaper bags, because both Jessie and Sarah weren’t potty trained, pushing a big double stroller packed with girls and sippie cups and special blankets.  Then we had Sam, constantly in the sling because he hated the carriage, and by the time he was mobile, we were still pushing a carriage just to carry all the STUFF.  This time, we had no stuff.  I had my pocketbook, but that was it.  No diaper bag, no sippie cups.  And the girls were perfectly capable of being without us, there was little “parenting” that they needed.  We didn’t need to remind anyone to use a napkin, or to stop crawling under the table during dinner.

I thought I’d be more wistful, and I am.  But mostly – I love having big kids.  I love how EASY everything is now, and how comfortable and relaxed we all are with each other.  I love the dynamic between my Jessie and her big sisters – because she’s very much the little one in that trio, and they adore her.  I love how Sam and Julie form their own unit, but easily go back and forth between that and the larger one of all five kids.  I love how delighted Marc was at how much he enjoyed shopping with his daughters, and how grateful I am, for the way we all are together.

Nothing starts the day like a puking boy

(One of my favorite pics of Sammy – when he was feeling a whole lot better than today)

Marc had to work this morning at six.   I stumbled out of bed, only to find the boy child on the couch.    Never a good sign, and it got worse when he ran for the potty a few minutes afterwards.  He’s thrown up twice so far, and the poor little guy is just lying there, on the couch, watching Big Bang reruns and moaning.  I’ll keep Julianna home today, because Marc has the car until around 10:30.  Jessica will go into school late, and I’ll cancel all Sam’s after school stuff and reschedule Jessie’s to allow for an earlier night.

And on the upside, I’m up in time to see this beautiful sunrise.   And I don’t have to pack lunches so all in in all, with the exception of the vomit, win/win for Mama.

I’ve announced that Jessie is now in charge of packing her own lunch.  I know I’ve blithely announced this before, and I always end up taking over again.  But she’s so difficult to feed, on a good day, and because there’s no real way to succeed at it, I’m better off transferring the power over to her.   Last week, she adored greek yogurt with chocolate malt balls to mix in (I know, it sounds gross to me too).  But yesterday, the lunch box came home full, and when I asked her why, she told me that she hated that, it didn’t taste good, and why did I keep packing her food she doesn’t like?  It’s not that she’s super picky (although it kind of is), it’s that what she likes is very specific and ever changing.  So last week’s favorite lunch is this week’s least favorite, and there’s no logical way to know what she wants now.  Easier overall to just make it her problem – and she was perfectly happy when I told her that it was now her job.  We’ll get her what she wants (as long as it’s not just cupcakes), but she has to make the decisions, and take responsibility to tell us and pack it.

And I’ve got a whole day to snuggle my sick boy, the one curled up next to me, clutching a bucket and watching reruns.  We’ll read and (please God) nap, and I’ll dispense ginger ale and popsicles.  Hopefully it’ll pass quickly, and won’t infect the girls as well.

My Jessie

I always wanted a daughter.  I suppose it’s only natural, I am one, after all.  And I was going to name her Jessica Mary from the time I was her age now.  She was going to be beautiful, with big brown eyes and soft brown curls.  I dreamed of baking cookies with her, watching her twirl around in ballet class, and walking her to school.   I wanted to be a mother, her mother, for as long as I can remember.

The reality is so much better than I could have imagined.  Eleven years ago tonight, I was hugely pregnant, over due with a baby that had been breech until they scheduled the c-section.  Then she flipped around.  Then she was so late, we scheduled the induction for Feb. 10.  I didn’t really think she’d ever come, I couldn’t imagine that I wouldn’t always be pregnant.

But she did.  The contractions started at 6:28 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 7 – the start of a storm that eventually dumped a whole lot of snow on New England.  We drove to the hospital thru the snow, with Marc on the cell to his dad, and me terrified of slipping and baffled that I was actually in labor.  Back labor.  I had no idea what I was doing.  My mother had fallen earlier, and was at the ER already with a knee injury, she hobbled up to labor and delivery afterwards.   My OB was not available, her husband had fallen in the ice and broken his leg.  Jessie was born (in an emergency C-section) exactly twelve hours and four minutes after I felt that first contraction.  And from that very first moment, she’s held my heart in her hands.

It’s hard to talk about Jessie without also talking about motherhood – because she’s my teacher.  I learn from the other two, of course, but with Jessie, everything is new.  I was prepared for being with a baby, I had a zillion nieces and nephews, and I spent a ridiculous amount of time with them.  I had been peed on and puked on, walked a fussy baby in circles around the dining room table, and had definite opinions about how I’d parent.  I was completely unprepared for how she’d change my life.  How suddenly, all of my priorities would change.   How suddenly, I didn’t feel right until I could see her, or hold her.  She became my world, instantly, and the past almost eleven years have been the happiest, richest, heartbreakingly intense and stunningly beautiful ones of my life.

Jessie is the catalyst that changed my life.  She’s the reason I am who I am today.  Not the only one, but you couldn’t tell my story without her.  She’s my mini-me, she’s me with no impulse control.  At eleven years old, she’s smart and funny.  Maternal with her sister, and brilliant in all things academic.  She’s a writer and a reader, a thinker and a baker.  She loves taking care of people, she mentors kindergarten kids on her lunch break, and walks her little brother to class every morning.  Even when she doesn’t like him.  She still does it.   She’s structured and analytical, messy and disorganized.  She’s hugely empathetic, intensely emotional, and sometimes her heart is so vulnerable, I ache for her.  The world is hard for my daughter at times, because everything is important, and she sees thing in black and white.

When I dreamed of having a daughter, I had no idea how incredibly lovely it would be.  How incredibly hard it would be.  Because she can make me angrier than anyone else, and I laugh more with her than anyone else.  When she hurts, it breaks my heart, and I’ve had to stop myself from heading down to school and beating down a fifth grader who didn’t invite her to her birthday party.

Happy birthday to my Jessica Mary.  You made my world so much brighter, so much richer.  I can’t imagine my life without you in it, and the day you were born is one that will forever be one of my favorites.

Click on these links if you’d like to read other birthday posts for my girl (and I’m hugely sad that I didn’t start this blog until she was five years old) –

http://www.melissaannecohen.com/ten-years/,

http://www.melissaannecohen.com/the-number-nine-candle/, 

http://www.melissaannecohen.com/my-beautiful-brilliant-jessica/,

http://www.melissaannecohen.com/jessies-seventh-birthday/,

http://www.melissaannecohen.com/jessica-mary-carruth-cohen/,

http://www.melissaannecohen.com/happy-birthday-jessica-mary/

 

 

Snowmen, sledding and why I really wish I liked winter

 

I don’t like winter.  I don’t like being cold, being wet or shoveling.  I dislike winter coats, hats make my hair fuzzy and I can’t ever find my gloves.

And my poor kids pay the price.  Because I hated sledding, I’ve never taken them.  My dominant sledding memories are walking all the way up to the Maynard Golf Course with my cousin Becky, cold, wet, dragging along a sled.  Sure, there was that momentary thrill of winging down the hill, but then you had to lug the damn sled back up and hope nobody sledded into you.  And then there was the time that my aunt Cathy put me and little Mandi on a sled and pushed us off down a hill.  Into a lake.

It’s snowing.  Again.  And my kids are restless and need to go outside.  I know this.  I tried, valiantly, last time to get them to go outside by themselves.  Build a snowman, I told them.  As though it was intuitive – they would just know what to do and how to do it.  It lasted all of ten minutes before Jessie stormed back in, fuming at her brother.  Another five before little icy Julie crept back in, crying because her cheeks were so cold.  Sam went the longest – and actually got some nice shoveling done before the cold got to him.

I know I have to take them out there.  I know that building a snowman is fun, in theory.  I know it’ll make lovely memories, and that they’ll be all happy and content, when they get to come home and see how cute he is.

I’m just working up the energy.  And praying for spring to come.  I like spring.  Summer, I flat out adore summer.  But winter – winter is just guilt layered over frigid temps on top of icy cold fingers and toes.

 

Discipline – and why I think it has enormous value

MassMoms.com posted a link on their facebook page to an article that really made me think.  The premise of the article is that everything we think we know about discipline is wrong, and that only by setting a good example, by exhibiting self control and self discipline, we set an example that our children will naturally follow.

I think the author is wrong.  For me, for my kids.  All my own self-discipline in the world doesn’t help them learn self control.

My kids aren’t any different from most kids – they’re, of course, brilliant, gorgeous and kind.  They are also super emotional, empathetic to an unhealthy degree, and prone to temper tantrums when tired.  Or hungry.  Or bored.  Or on Tuesdays.  They need discipline.  They need self-control, and they have no idea how to get it on their own.  Left to their own devices, as an example, last night, Julianna threw herself on the floor and sobbed because Jessie flushed her own floss.  Julie had wanted to flush it.  And the injustice of it all was too much for my overtired three year old.  So she dropped to the ground and sobbed.  Jessie offered to re-floss, but that wouldn’t work.  I offered to just take her in and put her to bed, come snuggle with me, and she was in no mood.  She wanted to scream and kick and cry.

So I let her.  I asked that she shut off the light and meet me in the bedroom when she was ready and walked away.  Was I disciplining her?  Yes.  She was in her own little time out, essentially.  Dropping to the ground and sobbing over a missed flushing opportunity isn’t a path to success.  Did I love listening to my baby girl sob and scream my name?  No.  But I also didn’t love her behavior either, and if I don’t teach her that it’s wrong, then who will?

For what it’s worth, the time out worked perfectly.  She screamed and cried, and when she realized that it wasn’t going to result in getting her any attention, she got up, shut off the light and came into the bedroom.  I snuggled her to sleep and she was fine.   But the article claims that when most parents talk about discipline,  “If they are really honest, they say something to the effect of, “I want a way to control them” or “I am pissed off at my kids and they are going to pay for it,”or “I am so frustrated because I cannot change how they behave.”  And this, I reveal to them, is the reason why disciplinary strategies with our children backfire. We say we want to teach our children proper behavior and help them develop self-discipline. Yet instead, we have adopted strategies that are the direct opposite of teaching and instead are just clever guises of manipulation and control.”

I’m not a perfect parent.  Believe me.  I’m not even close to a perfect parent.   But I love my kids, and I really put a lot of thought and effort into parenting.  I think it’s okay to say that I want to control them.  I don’t want the opposite – which is kids who are totally out of control.  Until they are old enough to control themselves – it’s my job to teach them that.  To provide control when they can’t.  Because being out of control happens.

I’ve got kids who can throw down with a temper tantrum that is absolutely out of control.  And until they’re emotionally ready, they aren’t capable of assuming control of it.  I think assuming that kids can do it on their own is foolish – it’s my job, as their parent, to take control when they can’t.   Because to not do that – to let them spiral out of control with emotions that are too strong for them to process and handle on their own – that’s not parenting.   Kids are not adults – and I don’t say that because I think they are less worthy or less important.  But I do think that kids have parents for reasons.   I do think that a toddler will stop a temper tantrum because a parent says to knock it off or you can sit in time out.   If a parent won’t discipline, because they’re hoping that their child will learn self control by observation – that’s a kid who’s at the mercy of their emotions, and that’s really hard – for everyone, including the child.  If I can prevent that, if I can get that child to stop before reaching the point where he/she is on the floor kicking and screaming – everyone wins.  Mostly – the kid wins.  Because that’s a child who is learning self control.

I discipline my children.   I don’t dispense punishments to manipulate or control, but to give a negative consequence to bad behavior.  In the real world, there are negative consequences to bad behavior.  If I’m in a bad mood, and I can’t control myself from screaming at my co-workers, I’m going to lose my job.  If somebody disagrees with me and I respond by hitting her, that’s assault.  Kids don’t stay kids – they grow up.  I’d much rather they learn these lessons when the consequence is losing their kindle for a few days, or writing on essay on why we should not treat our mothers like crap (two punishments that I’ve used in the past week).   My job isn’t just to model good behavior and hope for the best – it’s to teach my kids how to live in this world, how to be kind, and thoughtful and polite.  How to stand up for what they want and believe in, in ways that will get results.

And there is one thing that the author of the article and I agree on.  Discipline comes from the word disciple.  Which means learner.  When I discipline my children, I’m doing it with the intent that they learn.  Learn that bugging your sister by echoing back everything she says in a singsong voice is not a good use of your time.  Learn that screaming and crying doesn’t get results.  That lying about who made the mess isn’t a smart choice.   I want them to learn, and it’s my job to teach them.