As I posted last week, summer is not always the easiest time of year for me.  While I love that our summers are mostly unstructured, and that the kids get to relax and we get to do all kinds of activities and day trips and other adventures, the downside to all that free time is a whole lot of time that they can spend squabbling with each other.   The weekend was a good example of why I love summer.  Friday, we went to Edaville Railroad.   The day was busy and fun, and nobody argued even once.  We picked up Sarah on our way home, and Saturday, we spent with our friends David and Aviva at their pool.  Sunday was more swimming and fun with Auntie Becky and Abby-with-a-bow.

But today was our day at home.  A day to catch up on laundry, Marc had some maintenance to do on the car (turns out that my brilliant husband can do maintenance on the car, replacing the brake pads and saving us a lot of money).  The kids were home.  Bored.  It was smoking hot and sticky outside, and Glennys (everyone’s best friend down from NH) was leaving today.  Both my older kids were upset (nobody likes it when she leaves) and taking it out by sniping at each other.

It’s days like this when I’m driven to making lists of ways to survive the summer – here’s what I’ve got so far…

1 – Coffee.  Specifically, iced coffee.  I’ve started freezing ice cubes of coffee to make my afternoon coffee that much better.   Yes, I do get massive and intense migraines when I forget to have it, but it’s well worth the price.   A well caffeinated mama is a happy mama.  Happy realization today – when I run out of sugar, I just mix a little chocolate syrup in and make iced mocha.  Life is just easier when I’ve got iced coffee.

2 – A hose.   A sprinkler is nice, but in a pinch, just having a hose will work.   Bonus points if you go out and get wet with the kids.  My kids can spend hours outside, hosing each other down, playing games where they race thru the water, they lying out in the sun, drying off and doing it all over again.

3 – A Dollar Tree store within easy proximity.  Squirt guns, water balloons, glow sticks, coloring books, crayons – even ice cream bars are only a dollar.  This store has saved my life on several occasions.

4 – Say “yes” as often as possible.  Can we wash the car?  YES.  Can we go for a walk?  YES.  Can we have all the sponges so that we can have a sponge war?  YES.

5 – Poster board.  For some reason, poster board is way cooler than regular paper.   Useful for making up your own game boards, advertising lemonade stands and writing up a big list of chores and daily responsibilities for kids to follow.

6 – Stick to a routine, specifically a bedtime routine.  When so much of our schedule is flexible and haphazard, it’s easy to fall into a pattern of just letting the kids conk out whenever.   But nobody wins when everyone is overtired and worn out, so it’s better to stick to a regular bedtime as much as possible.

7 – Rules.   I took my little piece of poster board and wrote out the rules.  There aren’t many – and all of them are self-evident (to me, at least).   But somehow, having them written down makes it easier to follow.  At least twice tonight, I’ve stopped myself from nagging and just said simply “You know the rules…” and the kid in question would immediately acquiesce.   It’s magic.

8 – Daily responsibilities.  Confession time – I’m utter crap at giving my kids chores.  But I’m not doing anyone any favors, including myself.  I made up four chores for each kid, trying to make them age appropriate but still vaguely equal.  I left space on the chart to draw stars for completed chores (my kids do stuff for handwritten stars – I hinted that there might be some sort of reward to be determined later when the whole space is filled with tiny stars).   I also stressed that chores aren’t done for a reward – they’re done because we’re a team, and we all work together in this family.

How does summer work at your house?   I’d love it if you’d comment and let me know what works for your family.


I was so smug.  I admit it.  I was cocky, and smug about how my kids were going to be having a completely unstructured summer.   They were going to be relaxing, playing with the hose, and swimming in the pool.  Making lemonade stands and writing in their journals.  Exploring the woods and bike riding.  They were going to have the summers that everyone keeps writing about – the chase-the-ice-cream-truck-daydream-and-explore sort of summer that’s in vogue these days.  Granted, I may have been forced into that decision because summer camp is so super expensive, and since they have a stay at home parent anyway – might as well reap the benefits and be able to have the summer that everyone keeps saying kids should be able to enjoy.

In reality, they spent yesterday at each other’s throats, and by the end of the day, both Jessie and Sam had been sent (dragged, whatever) into their rooms, sobbing and raging about how much they hated each other.

Because “unstructured” can also mean “lots of time for your younger brother/older sister to torment you”, apparently.

It wasn’t all bad.  Not all day.  It’s hard to remember that, because the screaming fights tend to color my memories of the day.  But there were times when everyone was happy.  When the hose was running, and the army guys were set up.  When Sarah and Jessie were outside, working on their Piknesian culture (not just a religion, it’s a people – a TRIBE, if you will), and Sam and Harrison were tearing around the side yard, waving water guns and happy.  When everyone smelled like sunblock, and my only interaction with them was doling out ice cream cones – not because I didn’t want to talk to them, but because they were all happy and playing and busy and didn’t need any parental involvement.

But when it went bad, it went spectacularly bad.

I’m at a loss as to how to make encourage them to get along.  I’m reduced to googling (because that’s how I parent, I google when times get tough).  I’m reading all sorts of helpful tips to start them off right – to have a present “from the new baby” at the hospital for the first visit after birth, to encourage the older sibling to be the “helper” and get diapers and wipes.  Make them feel included.  All of  which I did, by the way.  Doesn’t appear to have a lasting impact.

I’m thinking behavior modification charts, stickers earned for nice behavior towards each other.  Penalties for snarkiness, name-calling or eye rolling.  Rewards for cumulative days of not whacking each other.   I can take away computer privileges, whisk away the kindles and the Wii controllers.  Maybe a marble jar – a marble for every time they do something kind.  When the jar is filled – family trip to Dairy Queen.

Tell me I’m not the only mom who deals with this – tell me my kids aren’t the only ones who declare war on each other, and at times, literally despise each other.  Please, remind me that we all survive fights with our siblings, and come out the other side still talking to each other.   What works for you?  Any advice, encouragement or even just stories of how you fought constantly with your brother when you were a kid but love him to death today – I’d love to hear it.


I went to my hometown yesterday.  I lived for the first thirty years of my life in a small town about forty five minutes east of Worcester.  Maynard was a part of me, my parents had both grown up there, my great grandfather was a fire chief, my grandfather worked at the high school.  Everyone knew someone in my family, and at times, it was hard to define my identity outside of my relationship to others.  I was forever known as Mandi’s older sister, or Mary’s daughter, or Earl’s granddaughter, or Cathy’s niece.

But since moving… I only seem to go back now for funerals.   I was struck by how pretty Maynard is.  It’s just genuinely a pretty little town.  The hills are all gentle (as compared to some of the incredibly steep hills that Worcester has), the schools are all beautiful and surrounded by grass. The sidewalks were all big, the streets were wide, and it was such a beautiful day.

Even with all of the prettiness, I was still… sad.  Just sad.  I was there for another funeral, and the day reminded me so much of the day my grandfather died.  He died four years ago this August.  I drove down to Emerson Hospital to see him, but was too late.  He had died when I was in the elevator going up to the fourth floor.   In the end, he was my connection to Maynard.   And he’s gone.

I drove down, on roads that I had learned to drive on.  Past houses I used to babysit at, down streets that my friends lived on.  Past ice cream stands and stores and little roadside farms that I had visited all the time.  Past my elementary school, my high school, the store I worked at when I was in high school.  I drove to the cemetery, of course.  Down the hill, next to the pond, and pulled up alongside the headstone.  I got out of the car, and immediately burst into tears.

I don’t like to think of him as gone.  I suppose, on a real level, I never really processed that he was gone.  I think of him as traveling.  Somewhere overseas, Europe.  I miss him, but I think he’s happy, doing what he loved.   With my grandmother.   But he’s not.  And seeing his headstone there was harder than I anticipated it would be.  It was more than just the loss of my grandfather – I think yesterday, I was mourning the loss of who I used to be.  Thinking about how very much things have changed, and how so much of what I used to value is no longer a part of who I am.

I’m incredibly different now, in so many ways.  The past ten years have brought enormous changes in my life.  A husband, three children, a new town, a new religion.  A dramatically different way of defining myself.  There are very few people left who define me by my relation to my siblings and parents.  I’m Mrs. Jessie’s Mom, or Sam’s mom, or Marc’s Beautiful Wife (Julie doesn’t have any friends yet who aren’t also close family friends – so I’m not known as Julie’s mom, but I know it’ll come).  And more and more, I’m known as myself.  A volunteer, a friend, a writer.

After going to the funeral, I got coffee.  Of course.  And lunch, and it occurred to me that there was no better place to have it then to have it with my grandfather.   I took my coffee and my lunch, and I parked in the shade.  I pulled out my book, because nobody loved reading like my grandfather did.  I felt so much better, being there.   And I realized that even though I was different, even though I could barely recognize my life now when I remembered what my life had been like, I was still his granddaughter.  I was still the girl who loved to read a book next to him, and he would have been proud of the changes.   He used to tell me that he wanted to dance at Sam’s bar mitzvah, and I know that who I am now would have made him happy.  He wanted me happy.  He wanted me to be who I am.  He saw this potential me, long before I did.

I haven’t lost who I used to be.  I’ve just added to it.

And I really need to start visiting my hometown for more than just funerals.  Because after lunch with my grandfather, I stopped at Ericson’s for ice cream, and it was awesome.

I found this list of questions on a blog that I love (, and since they were good questions, I’m suffering from a bit of writer’s block, and I’m waiting for some bread dough to rise before I can make dinner…

1. Which author’s voice is most compelling to you?

I don’t have an answer for this one.  I like too many different authors to pick just one.  Some writers are so great that I just list them instead of books they’ve written when I’m thinking of my favorites.  JD Robb, Nora Roberts, Anne Rivers Siddens, Robert B. Parker, Maeve Binchy, Tova Mirvis, and Sharon Shinn are some of my go-to fiction writers, but I read a lot more non-fiction these days.

2. Where and how do you get your books – amazon, independent bookstores, library, etc.?

I’m a library girl.  Have to be – there’s no way I’d be able to afford to buy all the books I read.  I can’t justify spending the money on a book I can borrow when it could be going to pay for dance class or a new pair of shoes for a kid.   I love the library, I love wandering around, knowing that I can take out as many books as I want (or up to fifty, and I’ve hit the limit several times).

3. Where and when do you read? How long or how often do you read?

I read all the time.  Just – all the time.  I’ve always got a book with me, usually one in the car, one in the bedroom, one in the bathroom, and a stack on the bookshelf waiting.  I’m a fast reader, but I’m also really good at snatching a few minutes here and a few more there to get it done.  It’s what I do – I don’t knit or crochet (although I try every winter), I’m always behind in folding laundry, and I very reluctantly don’t allow myself to read at stop-lights when I’m driving.

4. What genres interest you most? Why?

When I was younger, I read fiction almost exclusively.  Except for biographies, I’ve always loved biographies.  I remember systematically reading every book on the biography shelf in my junior high library.  I love memoirs, political analysis, books about interfaith and Jewish conversion.  Actually any book about religion is probably one that I’ll pick up and explore.  I’ve read, I think, pretty much every parenting book out there.  Adoption, special needs, I read a lot about childhood anxiety.   I read a lot of blogs too.  Mostly parenting ones, and I tend to gravitate to those that are really honest and sincere.

5. Do you gravitate toward or shy away from difficult and heavy themes, like death, violence, trauma, difficult moral decisions, etc.?

I avoid violent books.   My stepdaughter tried to get me to read Hunger Games, and while I finished the first one, I really hated it and couldn’t get thru the second one in the trilogy.  Maybe it’s more violent suspense, I don’t like to be scared, in life or in literature.

6. Knowing what you know now, what book would you recommend to your 20-something-year-old self? to your 30-something-year-old self?

I think for my twenties – I wish I had read Harold Kushner’s “To Life” – it was one of the books that made me want to be Jewish, and I do wish that I had found it sooner.  I think I was searching for Judaism for a long time before I found it, and that book would have sped up the process.  For my thirties – Lenore Skenazy’s “Free Range Kids.”  That book has probably impacted my parenting more than any other one.

7. What reading rituals, habits, lessons, etc. have you shared with or taught your child?

I have a policy that I’ll always stop what I’m doing and read a book to my kids.  I try to send the message that reading is a vital part of life, and it’s something we do all the time.  I also really encourage them to do it when they’re upset or stressed or anxious.  Reading is my coping mechanism, calms me down faster than anything, and I really would love it if my kids could have that as a tool for making life easier.

8. Is your husband a reader? Does that matter to you?

My husband is definitely a reader.  And it completely matters.  I know there are  many different kinds of intelligence, but I really respect and appreciate intellectualism, and his intelligence is one of my favorite things about my husband.  He reads on-line mostly – but I get books for him at the library and recommend them to him.   He’s much more into economics blogs than I am, but we both read all the time.

9. Have you ever belonged to a book club? If so, what was that experience like?

I haven’t.  I’ve been to a few meetings, but I’m greedy – I don’t like sharing books.  Not the physical book – as an active library patron, I’m used to not owning books.  But I don’t like sharing the experience of reading, if that makes sense.  It’s too private, somehow.  It’s hard to explain, but it’s hard for me to discuss a book, because my experience of reading it is mine.

10. What are you most excited to read from your TBR pile this summer?

I actually don’t have a TBR pile.  I go to the library once every few weeks and stock up – and I’m on my last book.  Planning on going to the library tomorrow morning – I like to go without kids when I’m looking for books for me, that way I can wander to my heart’s content.

11. Do you own and collect books, or do you prefer not to have them pile up in your home?

I would love to own and collect – but I really can’t justify the money or the space with three active kids who tend to be hoarders.


Today’s my last day without the kids.  I dropped Jessica and Sam off this morning, it was the last time I’ll ever drop them off at the same school again.  Even if they both end up going to Goddard, by the time Sam gets into high school, Jessie will be dancing off to college.  Julianna is still sound asleep, she’s on a new schedule where she’s up until eleven and sleeps twelve hours.  Right amount of sleep for a kid her age, but totally the wrong hours.  I’m hoping she’ll straighten out once the other two are home for the summer, for sure and for certain, it’s going to be a whole lot louder around here in the mornings after today.

Looking back, I’m pleased by this year.  Sam has blossomed, in ways that still sort of surprise me.  I’m very gradually starting to think of his separation/social anxiety as a thing of the past.  He gets a little anxious now and again, but it’s so much more typical to what other kids experience and oceans easier to handle.   He can talk to me now and talk himself down before it gets overwhelming.  Yesterday, we went to SkyZone, which is a crazy trampoline place in Westboro.  We were there with the girl scout troop, and siblings were invited.  There are several girls with little brothers, so I thought Sam would have friends, but alas, he was the only boy there.  And he and Julie were clearly younger than most of the kids there, and totally overwhelmed.  A year ago, that would have been a recipe for disaster for my boy.  A million strangers, totally loud and chaotic and completely out of his comfort zone.   Instead, it was easy.  He started to get a little tense, but when I suggested that we go food shopping at the store in the same little strip mall, he was fine.  It was so.much.easier.  No temper tantrum, he wasn’t freaking out – he was uncomfortable, told me, accepted the easy solution and ended up having a lovely afternoon.  First grade has been wonderful for him, and I’m very much looking forward to second grade for him.

My Jessie – I worry about her.  I actually don’t worry about her future, I’m doing retroactive worrying, which is the very definition of stupid.  Now that she’s going to another school, she’s a lot more open about how miserable she was at Flagg.   I wonder how much of it I missed, because she was trying so hard to convince herself that it wasn’t that bad.   And being Jessie – there’s a possibility that she’s looking back on it trying to convince herself that she was really unhappy at the school so that she’ll be that much happier at Goddard.  She’s complicated, my girl.  Which is what I love about her, but it does make it challenging to figure out what’s actually reality and what’s just her perception on reality, and subject to change.  I do think she’ll love her new school, and she’s so much more confident and self-assured about her abilities now that she knows she’s going to GSA.

Julianna Ruth – she’s still little to me.  She’s going thru a rough patch, but I think that has more to do with being four and the youngest.  She was only in preschool for five hours a week, and she’s only going for two half days next year.   I’m not at all looking forward to sending my baby to kindergarten, and am very grateful that I’ll have her home again with me next year  I’d like to sign her up for some activities, she’d like to take karate (which amuses me for some reason), and possibly dance.  Maybe she’s just bored.

I’m really looking forward to summer.  I like having my kids home with me, and I’m hoping to fit in a lot  more fun day trips.  I’d like to hit the ocean a few times, maybe even drag myself camping with them.  I want to take them to Concord and Lexington, and exploring Boston.  Glennys will be here for a lot of the summer, hopefully, and I’m really going to try and concentrate on getting more time with my stepdaughters.  As much as I’d like to see them, my kids want desperately to get more time with them, so that’s definitely on the priority list.


This made me cry… (end of the year project)

Where I’m From

I’m from an old apartment building on the other side of town, 
Just a staircase away from my very best friend.
With a driveway covered in chalk doodles and sleepovers every night
Until she moved away, and I moved too
I’m from the three Cohen girls, in our long skirts, 
Going to shull.
Stealing candy, exploring unknown places and 
Eating brownies before kiddush
I’m from Me’ir, and Cindy, Charlotte and Mrs. Ring
Mrs. Renzoni, Mr. L, Mrs. Belisle, Mrs. Grilla, Mr. C
Ziva, Moura Audrey, Miss Corey, Miss Lindsey, Auntie Beth
My mom and dad
They made me who I am and taught me well. 
How could I forget Mrs. Brothers, Mrs. O’Malley and Miss Melissa?
I’m from my sweet loving mother, and my flat out brilliant father.
They gave me my little princess Julianna, the apple of my eye.
I only spoil her a little bit, maybe a lot.
And Sam, he drives me crazy but I still love him.  
Lilli, I adore, my big sister and my role model
And Sarah, not just my sister, but my family and my friend.
I’m from Erikson’s ice cream, so many flavors.
Peppermint, peanut butter, cotton candy and bubble gum galore
Everything from dog treats and dropped ice cream and
Mocha chip on your wedding day.
I’m from cookies and cakes, glumkeys, jello pie
Raw stuffing, and putting the turkey in the oven, only to realize it was on low
Breaking three potato peelers in one day, and exploding pie plates 
(Don’t ask how we did it)
I’m from Thanksgiving and Christmas, 
Winter Solstice and Hanukkah.  
Trays of what my mother calls “straight sugar” 
Out on the dining table at Grammy’s house
I’m from old eighties rock songs, the blues
Bye Bye Miss American Pie and the Twilight Zone
I hate them, but I couldn’t live without them, 
No matter how hard I try
I’m from the plan I made when I was nine
Go to Yale, share a dorm with my best friend
Marry a man like my dad.
Have four children, open a cafe using my mother’s recipes
And travel the world, writing every book imaginable.
I’m from the pixie forest, deer, princesses, elves
Red breasted robins in my grandmother’s back yard.
That child-like spirit that I haven’t lost yet, and
Don’t intend to any time soon.
I’m from huge Worcester snowstorms
When Lilli and Sarah spend the night.
We play Apples to Apples and Quelf
We watch movies on our kindles and 
Sneak chocolate under our shirts.
We stay up all night telling secrets
I’m from the Dixie Chicks and Jimmy Buffett
Sugarland, Martina McBricde and more
No matter what song is playing, 
I always know the words
I’m from dancing like nobody’s watching
Singing like nobody is listening
I’m from places I’ve been
Things I’ve seen, things I’ve heard
I’m from 
Love and Happiness, 
Joy and Peace.

The kids are almost done with school.  Two more days, and then we’ll be liberated for the summer.  I can’t wait.  Don’t get me wrong, I know I’ll be tearing my hair out and frustrated by the squabbling and bickering.  My house will be even more of a mess than it is now, and I’ll have a zillion kids tearing in and out of the house all the time.  But I still can’t wait.  I’d always rather have the kids home here with me than out somewhere else.

This has been a really, really good year for us.  All three kids have grown so much, in ways that I couldn’t have predicted back in September.

Julianna had her first year of preschool.  It wasn’t an easy one, not all the time.  She spent most of the first few months sitting up in the loft, watching the activities.  After the first week or so, she didn’t really cry at drop off, but she was still incredibly shy and unsure of herself.   But even though she was sequestering herself while she was at preschool, she was incredibly proud of herself for going.  She’d relate stories to me and anyone who’d listen, about what they did in school, songs they learned, and kids she played with.  Because even though she wasn’t actually participating, she was observing EVERYTHING and it felt, to her, like she was a part of it.  In December, I asked that we start to discourage the loft, and it was a relatively easy transition for her.  She was always a bit wistful at drop off, sometime actually crying, sometimes not looking back at all – but she played with the kids, she loved her teachers, and now, two weeks after school has ended, she’s even asked once or twice if she can go back.

Samuel Earl has made the most growth, I think.  From where he was three years ago, at the beginning of kindergarten to where he is today, as an almost second grade boy – the changes have been more than I could have imagined.  So much of his social and separation anxiety is in the past.  It’s not that he’s a different kid, exactly – it’s that he’s so much more of himself now.  He’s just Sammy – happy-go-lucky, laid back, relaxed, goofy, happy Sammy.  Not scared and anxious, not fighting and raging, not insecure and afraid to try new things.  He’s just happy.   He’s got a ton of friends, and interacts with all kinds of kids.  He’s got his own little group of immediate friends, and then a much bigger circle of kids that he interacts with all the time.

My Jessica is finishing up her last year at Flagg Street.  She’ll be in middle school next year, and she’s about eight months away from her bat mitzvah.  She’s growing up, faster and faster.  I’m almost used to it.  She spent her lunch periods down in the kindergarten classrooms, mentoring five and six year olds.  Her grades went from average to stellar, and it coincided with the arrangement to have her start helping out Mrs. Gravel.  I think because she is one of those people who thrives on being NEEDED – and she was so much happier that everything got easier for her, academics, socially, emotionally.  She really seems to have an affinity for younger kids – to the point where I’m a little concerned about having her lose out on that next year.  Her schedule is filling up already – she wants to take four dance classes, in addition to religious school and preparing for her bat mitzvah.  I’m researching volunteer opportunities for her, because I’d hate to have her miss out on that part of her life.   I don’t know when she’ll fit it in, though.  My girl has somehow become this incredibly overscheduled girl, and I’m not sure what to do about that.  But that’s a whole other blog post :-).

All in all, this year has been a tremendous success.  I’m really proud of all three of my kids – and I’m so ready for summer vacation so I can have my cherubs back home with me all the time 🙂

Alternate title – What it’s really like having a tween-aged daughter

This is Jessie’s last year in elementary school. Starting in September, she’ll be attending the Goddard Scholars Academy, starting junior high (or middle school, as I like to call it because it sounds less grown up) a year earlier than she would if she was going to the same school as the rest of her class. She’s less than a year away from her bat mitzvah, which is a pretty significant step on the path to adulthood. She’s putting on lip gloss every morning, and has her first official pair of heels.

I bought a box of Polly Pockets at a yard sale on Saturday. I hate Polly Pockets, really. I managed to miss them entirely when Jessie was a little girl, because I convinced her that it was too dangerous with baby Sammy toddling around. I was also lucky enough to have Jessie’s best friend (an only child) living right upstairs on the third floor apartment, so Jessie was able to play with them without me having to deal with a zillion tiny shoes and rubber dresses floating around. This box didn’t look like Polly Pockets, and Jessie was tricky, telling me that they were “figurines,” so I bought it.

I naively assumed that the dollhouses and assorted accessories would be for Julianna. I was wrong. So, so wrong. Because ever since Saturday, those stupid Polly Pockets have been in constant play at my house, and Julianna, as the littlest one, is completely overruled. Everyone plays with them, even poor Sam who gets forced into dollhouse play because it’s the only activity going on here. Yesterday, he dragged out his little army guys and had them playing alongside Cinderella and the other princesses.

Jessie really seems to completely embrace the whole “tween” conundrum. Is she a big kid, with responsibilities like Torah portions to memorize, massive and major summer reading projects and a dresser littered with lip gloss and hair care products? Or is she a little kid, with Polly Pockets and dollhouses and snuggling up to me at night before she falls asleep? The truth is that she’s both. She’s not just experimenting with growing up, she’s growing up. The studying, the homework and the make-up are a part of her, just like the American Girl dolls she still likes to dress and hairstyle, and the crappy Polly Pockets that she’ll fight to the death to play with.

It’s actually a lovely way to grow up, because just when I start to panic that she’s getting too big too fast, and that my little girl is disappearing into adolescence – she’ll bring out Rebecca Rubin with a pretty new hairstyle for my approval, or snuggle up next to me watch Gilmore Girls reruns.

We split along gender lines this weekend.  Marc is taking Sam to the Chuck Wagon Derby today, and sleeping there tonight.  I told Jessica and Julianna down to my mother’s house, spent the morning and early afternoon at the Clinton Town Wide yardsale, and then hung out at my mom’s and sister’s this afternoon.

Before I left, I had diligently packed Sam’s backpack, with warmer clothes, extra socks, the new Harry Potter book (new to him – they’re reading their way thru the series and are about to start Book 6) and a book light.  I put a flashlight in there, bug stuff, and clean underwear.

They left it here.

So my men are off, in the wilds of Paxton, with nary a clean pair of underwear between them.  I’m almost 100% certain that I’ll pick them up tomorrow, grubby, smelly, bug-bitten and wearing the same clothes I left them in this morning.   I’m trying to be all zen about it, whatever will be, will be.  It’s not like I can or should do anything about it…. I could pack up my girls, load up the car with Sam’s stuff (and what appears to be the top of the grill, I think they might need that…) and go bomb around Paxton, hoping to find them.  In the dark.

More than likely, they’re totally fine, happy, grubby and I’ll just have to hose them off before letting them in the house.

It’s an odd experience, with only two kids.  Especially only these two kids – generally, when I’ve got two, it’s Sam and Julie.  There’s more than seven years difference between them, and you can tell.  They aren’t peers.  At all.  They don’t play together.  Jessie can babysit for Julie, function as an almost quasi-adult when she’s with her.  But Julie bugs her.  On purpose, sometimes, and sometimes just by being four years old.  She touches everything, wants whatever Jessie is working on or doing.  She wants to BE Jessie, she wants to be cool like her, able to dress Polly Pockets by herself (I HATE Polly), and fix the toy car when the door breaks off.  But she can’t – and so has to resort to screaming at Jessie to redeem herself.

It’s been, at times, kind of challenging, today.

But when it wasn’t challenging, it was a lovely day.  The weather was great, and I love having my kids spend time with my mom and sister.    They gardened, harvesting fresh broccoli and huge leaves of lettuce from my sister’s garden.  They ate their grandfather’s chocolate ice cream and shared potato chips and ketchup and conversation while I mowed the lawn for them.  We finished up with dinner at the Chinese buffet (one quick way to cut down on Jessie spending all of her yard sale profit on more little knick knacks to clutter up her room is to offer a trip out for dinner with our profits).

When Sam started kindergarten, he wouldn’t sit on the rug.  Our elementary school favors spotted rugs, with giant polka dots scattered over it, and each child sits on a dot.  Two years ago, just getting Sam into the classroom was more than we could handle some days, and the only way he’d sit with the class was at the desk right next to the rug.  He couldn’t sit with them.  He needed the illusion of safety that came with a desk between him and everyone else.  It was months before he relaxed enough to sit on the rug with his classmates.

Looking back now, it’s hard to describe what it’s like to have a child with separation anxiety disorder.   He was terrified to be without me.  Terrified to try new things, afraid to meet new people.  Didn’t like eye contact, never talked to other adults.  When he was at home, he was the happiest, busiest little boy.  Social and funny, sweet and tender, but when we’d go out… he was glued to my side, reluctant to smile or connect with anyone else.  His fight/flight/freeze reactions were extreme – if he couldn’t escape, he’d freeze.  And if that didn’t work – he’d rage.  He was terrified, a lot of the time, and I still don’t really have the words to describe what that was like.

I can’t describe anxiety as it was for Sam.  I can only share what it was like for me, as his mother.  I can tell you that childhood anxiety is unbelievable common, one website calls it the most common mental health problem facing children today.   The good news is that it’s treatable, and early intervention can make a huge difference.  We’re incredibly fortunate that we had the resources to get Sam the help he needed.   An amazing teacher, who held my hand and wrestled my son, and showed me a path to get through.  A pediatrician who was open and honest about her own children’s struggles, and how she felt, as a mother, about getting help.  And a therapist who made all the difference for him.

Yesterday, Sam sat on the rug.  Which is still something that I don’t take for granted.  It was Sam’s Author’s Tea, a celebration in the first grade classroom.  In a room full of strangers, crowded with moms and dads, siblings and grandparents, my son got up, sat on a chair with everyone looking at him, and read out loud from a book that he’d written.  He was comfortable and relaxed, laughing along with the crowd when one of the toddlers broke into applause in the middle of the reading.  He was gorgeous and brave and I’ll never, ever forget how beautiful it was to see my boy, my little guy, being himself, in front of so many people.  The road to get there was so long, and there were many, many days when I blamed myself, searching for things I had done wrong as a mom because if I could change it, then he’d get better.  There were stacks and stacks of books I had read, searching for answers, and hours of conferences and discussions.    Yesterday, Sam was like every other kid in the classroom.    I’m grateful for all that led to this point, and in awe of how far he’s come.