Tag Archives: parenting

Thirty-five years

If you read my post on Saturday, you know that today is the 35th anniversary of my mother’s death.  She died a few weeks before she turned 35, so she has now been dead longer than she was alive.

She missed half a lifetime.

She got the part where she grew up and went to school and got married (to an asshole) and had children.  But she missed the part where they grew up and went to school and got married (to nice men) and had children.

“How do you memorialize that anniversary?” a friend asked.

Well, I took Benjamin to camp at the Y this morning without having to yell at him (OK, just once, but it was a tiny reprimand because he was dropping sofa cushions on his sister).  On the way there, he called out over the music, “Mommy!”

“Yes, Benjamin?”

“I love you.”

“I love you, too.”


“Yes, Benjamin?”

“I still love you.”

“I still love you, too.”

I brought him into his group rather than doing curbside drop-off, as his sister had swimming right after drop-off.  He kissed me goodbye then scampered to his friends.  Then I took Lilah to the pool, which is her natural habitat.

I held her in the water while she squeezed out the plastic fishie, laughing with delight at the spray it shot out.  I tossed her in the air, held her while she kicked, and giggled with her.

I spent the morning in the moment.  That’s how I memorialized the anniversary.

Now, go.  Go squeeze a plastic fishie with someone you love.


My first clue that perhaps Zachary was having a rough adjustment to summer camp came last Tuesday – the second day – when I arrived to pick him up.  He was sobbing.

“What’s wrong?” I asked him.

“It’s not fair,” Zach moaned.

The teacher, crouched down in front of him, held a worm made of colorful buttons all strung together.  “He left early,” she was explaining.  “He probably just didn’t look at the nametag and took the wrong one.  We can get it for you tomorrow.”

Zach began to wail.  “I’m never coming back here!”

Next to him at the snack table, a little boy looked on with contempt.  “Why does he always do that?”

It turns out that Zach had actually melted down two other times over the course of the day, once over a ball game and another time because some kid had put the brush for the yellow into the red paint.  Frankly, the paint-induced meltdown clearly was the other child’s fault.  Who would do such a thing?

On the way out, Zach rallied and began showing me the posters of different animals that he had visited on a safari with his group that day.  We’re sending him to this academic camp in hopes he’ll find other like-minded kids who prefer to spend their summers building rockets and learning about gazelles, rather than playing kickball.  This is a kid whose least favorite school subject is recess.  He’d be miserable at a camp focused around athletics.

Of course, at that moment, it pretty much seemed he was miserable even here.


Midday Wednesday, I picked Benjamin up from his half-day camp at the Y.  It stands to reason that the very things that made us reject the Y camp for Zach are precisely what makes Ben so ecstatic to be there.  When I pick him up, he tries to tell me absolutely everything he did that day all in one breath: “MommyImadeapolarbearandwenttotheplaygroundandIwanttomakeapolarbearvillageathome.”  The counselor loading him into the car meanwhile is trying to nudge him into his seat so that the next car can pull up.

We had several hours before I had to get Zachary, and a babysitter was home to mind Lilah during her long afternoon nap.  I have hired regular babysitters for the summer so that I can take Ben out on adventures while his sister sleeps.  He’s feeling neglected lately.  Actually, he feels neglected all the time.  He’s a middle child.

This is the summer to set things right with the kids.  Zach is getting a break from his school peers, hopefully to reduce the social pressure he feels when amongst them.  He has a few weeks when he’ll have no camp but Ben will be at the Y, and he’ll get some focused time then.  Lilah is reveling in her mornings with Mommy, courtesy of her brothers’ camps.  And Benjamin is getting three afternoons a week to party with his mother.

This particular afternoon, I had slated a visit to our local working historical farm.  It has old-fashioned plows and farm animals and whatnot.  It goes without saying that we are members.

Ben rushed forward with verve, first to milk the wooden cow (don’t ask), and then to churn some butter.  Next, he rushed over to the washboard and basins, where he happily spent fifteen minutes washing little squares of cloth and then hanging them on the line.

By this time, it was time to crack corn and then feed the chickens.

Then, we had some time to kill before the highlight of the afternoon – the egg-gathering.  I wanted to go see how big the piglets had gotten since our last visit, but Ben wanted to go over to the giant workhorses.  The horses were standing in the shade next to one another, not moving except for an occasional flick of a fly.  I am pretty sure they were asleep.

“Do you want to go look at the pigs?” I asked after a few minutes.

Ben shook his head and pointed at the horses, uncharacteristically moved beyond words.  He leaned his body up against me and put his arms around my leg.  Most of him has lost the baby fat; he is, after all, on the cusp of four years old.  But his cheeks are still full and butter-soft, and I reached down to stroke one.  We stood there together.  Eventually, we sat down in the grass, him between my legs, leaning against me, watching the horses sleep.

Please, when he is sixteen and I catch him drinking and he shouts at me that he hates me, please, please, let me remember the day my baby boy sat with me at the working historical farm.  Let me remember the feel of his body and the firmness of his baby cheeks.


After the egg-gathering, we had to leave to collect Zachary at his camp.  When we walked into the building, Zach was eating snack and chattering away.  “How was his day?” I asked the teacher.

“Wonderful,” she replied.

“Yeah, I figured he had turned a corner,” I told her.  “He woke up this morning excited to come here.”

Zach was sporting a giraffe visor he had made for the next day’s trip to the Bronx Zoo. He was in such a good mood, he didn’t even bother to smack his brother for the crime of coming with me to pick him up.


Thursday morning, after we had dispensed with her brothers, Lilah and I went to the local children’s zoo.  She was interested in the peacock and charmed by the gibbons, but it was the cougars who really caught her eye.  She was much taken with them as they paced and wrestled right in front of her.

“Hi, cat!” she kept singing, waving at them.  We stood there for twenty minutes, just watching the giant cats go about their business.  Finally, the cougars got tired and we went off to ogle the little waterfall.  We tried for a pony ride, but she was too young.  Instead, we went over to the petting zoo where – you guessed it – we stood and watched a horse sleep.

The miniature train was our last stop of the morning.  It was late, and Lilah was tired.  She patiently stood in line, not getting upset when we didn’t make the first train because she had no idea she was actually going to be allowed to ride on the train.  When our turn came, she toddled over and wiggled herself onto the seat beside me.  The train began to move through the woods.

All the other children were shouting and exclaiming, but Lilah – ever the lady – sat quietly beside me as we drove past a lake and around a loop.  She leaned into me, the curves of her arms soft against me.

At this moment, on this day, in fact on these two days, all three of the children were happy.  No one was falling apart, no one was anxious or worried or destroying personal property or clamoring for attention.  We were all healthy.

I looked down, watching her perfect baby cheeks curve towards those eyes that intently drank in the passing scenery, willing myself to appreciate these few days, to store them up because synchronicity should be taken for the gift that it is.

Please, when I am ninety-eight years old and I cannot remember what I had for breakfast or where I put my teeth, please, please let me remember sitting on the train with my baby girl at the children’s zoo, watching the woods slide by.  Let me remember the feel of her body and the firmness of her baby cheeks.


I love that people are leaving me comments with the things they want to remember.  Please leave a comment with the memories you are hoping to preserve.

Little Auction on the Internet

It’s late at night, and I ought to be going to sleep.  But I am up, haunting Ebay.

I am not one of those Ebay junkies, you must understand.  In fact, only tonight have I even registered on the site.  It is my very first visit to the place.  I have heard of it for years, of course, but I never really wanted anything badly enough to bother.

So, what has brought me here tonight?  Why am I eschewing sleep to spend forty-five minutes competing for items on this website?

I am looking for a Little House on the Prairie dollhouse for my son, who wants one for his sixth birthday.  Now, mind you, he also wants a wii, but we’ve made it clear we do not think that is an appropriate item for a small child.  So, instead, I am trying to find a Little House dollhouse.

I cannot find one, unfortunately, although there are some fantastic other items.  I bid on a Little House calendar for his wall, but I have no idea how the site works and am unlikely to check back in a few days from now to see if I need to up my bid.  Then I see them.  Trading cards.  Little House trading cards.  For sale, not auction.  Of course, they are in Spanish, but no matter.  He won’t care, and he will likely spend hours in his tiny little room, arranging and rearranging those cards on his bedspread.  I doubt I’ll be able to wait till his birthday to give them to him, and they’ll probably be his next sticker chart reward.

I think we’ve dodged the wii bullet for at least a few more months.

Kiss me and smile for me

Long-time readers – which means anyone who has been here longer than three weeks – will recall that we moved here from Los Angeles in order to slow our lives down and find some peace.  My husband was travelling constantly, the kids didn’t see him, he was exhausted, and I was stressed.  J found a new job in a new place.

Surprisingly, it has worked.  My husband is home for dinner.  In the mornings, we take turns working out.  He is a present father and a happier man.  I am getting a little time to work, and the children are clearly feeling more secure, despite the stress of moving.

Unfortunately, J did have three week-long business trips over the course of May and June.  That’s it for the summer, which is a drastic improvement over the days when he was gone five days a week.

Zach has never been particularly fazed by his father’s travel.  He misses his father, but he has always invested most of his emotional capital into me.  Both boys grew up with Daddy travelling constantly, and Zach’s response has been to simply rely on Mommy.

Benjamin’s response has always been to fall apart.  Which he did continually back when J travelled all the time.

These three trips have been so hard on Ben, who feels things deeply. He refuses to talk to his father on the phone.  He hits me.  He gets out of bed at night, looking for reassurance.  I can’t get him back to sleep.  After two nights of this, I equipped him with a picture of his father to sleep with.

I try to keep my temper, but his emotional outbursts are very difficult to deal with, and it doesn’t help that I’m constantly changing sheets because Daddy’s absence seems to equal bedwetting.

Last night, putting him to bed, I stroked his hair.  “Do you think you can be a good boy for me and try to settle down nicely tonight?”  Translation: please don’t flail about, kick the wall, throw things at your sister, and play with the blinds.  To be honest, he does those things when his father is not travelling, as well.

“I know you miss Daddy,” I told him.  “I miss Daddy, too.”  He lay there silently, but after a minute, I saw a very quiet tear coming down his almost-four-year-old nose.

“Oh, sweetie, are you crying?”  He nodded and then the tears started coming faster.  “Baby, he misses you so much too.  He looks at pictures of you all the time and wants to be here with you.  He’ll be back in a few more days, and then he won’t have any more trips for a long time.”  At this point, the child was openly weeping, head in pillow, sobbing for his Daddy.

I sat there for a time, stroking Ben’s head, until he slowed down.  “Where’s my little flashlight?” he asked.

I found the flashlight on the dresser and handed it to him.  “Just please don’t flash it in Lilah’s eyes, OK?”

He nodded, slid his giraffie blankie in his mouth, and then rolled over to fall asleep, holding the flashlight in one hand and the picture of his father in the other.

All aboard!

I love trains.  I love everything about trains.  I love that they arrive on time (usually), sliding into the station in a manner that is both unassuming and grand, as if to say, “Being this impressive is simply a daily activity for me.”  I love how strangers get on a train, spend the ride quietly checking each other out from behind their newspapers, and then get off without saying a word to each other but somehow having come together as a community.

And then there are the people you do talk to on the train.  Once, on a long train ride from D.C. to New York, I held my exhausted and crying ten-month-old, trying desperately to get him to sleep.  By the time we pulled into Penn Station, every adult on our car had given a sympathetic nod or a completely useless piece of advice.

I used to take the train from the edges of Philadelphia into Thirtieth Street Station.  I was working at Penn at the time, and I often worked on the train, leading to a remarkably high proportion of train metaphors in my writing.  Zachary was just a year old.  He quickly flunked out of day care and we got an au pair who would walk me to the train every morning.  As the train pulled into the Wyndmoor stop, Zachary’s little arm and legs would start flailing with excitement, much to the amusement of the other passengers.  He never cared that he was saying goodbye to me because there was a train to watch.

About a month into this arrangement, I found myself walking from Thirtieth Street Station to Penn with a young man.  We started chatting and I introduced myself.  “You’re the one whose son loves the train,” he commented.  That, in case you were wondering, is how I would most like to be identified – “The One Whose Son Loves the Train.”

Alas, it is not to be.  Because, while Zach became a train fanatic and spent one entire year playing with nothing but his Thomas set, my second son has only a normal enjoyment of trains.  Fount of testosterone that he is, Benjamin’s third word was “truck,” and he quickly developed a passion for motor vehicles with giant carbon footprints.

Imagine the dismay of his mother, who would like nothing better than to never again set foot in an automobile and instead spend her life riding the rails.

Around this time we made a friend who worked for London’s Transport Authority.  I was pretty much an instant groupie and worked hard to tone down my hero worship lest I scare her away.  I kept pretending my excitement was only on behalf of my children, when really I figured only the coolest of the cool got to work in public transportation.

We were taking a lot of busses then, which might explain why Ben became more interested in automobiles than trains.  Busses were simply easier with the stroller.  We did, however, have special occasions when we used the Tube, and I loved that uriney rush of air that accompanied a train’s arrival into a tube stop.

I do think that the lack of daily train exposure in his life is part of why Ben has developed what I can only characterize as an unhealthy fondness for cars and trucks.

I was determined to avoid a repeat of that situation with Lilah.  Unfortunately, the trains here in New Jersey run only at rush hour, which is also rush hour for us.  They run outside my house, and we can see them from our window, but I’m having a hard time nailing down exactly when they go by.  Usually, I grab her and lift her to the window to catch just the tail end of the train.

We also live right next to the heating oil company, and their trucks go by all the time.  Hence, Lilah has mastered “Guck!!” but cannot yet say “train.”

One day, I took her to the Lionel store and was gratified to discover her enthusiasm for model trains.  I would have loved to have given her a house with a train running through the kitchen, but as I am sure you could have predicted, that house has fallen through already.  (You like how at this point a house falling through doesn’t even warrant its own post?)

A couple of weeks ago, I took Lilah to the station, but it turned out that I had gotten the schedule wrong.  When we turned to leave without actually seeing a train, she burst into tears, making me terribly proud.

In the last few days, I’ve noticed a change in my daughter.  When trucks drive by, she has stopped shouting “Guck!” with quite the enthusiasm she used to muster.  Instead, whenever she hears a long, distinctive rumble slowly getting louder and the accompanying whistle, her head tilts up, she breaks out into a smile, and her little arms start gesticulating towards the train track while she says something completely unintelligible.  It sounds like “ackghabacabaga.”

But I know exactly what she is saying.

Play date FAIL

The play date was going fine until Zach’s friend wanted to go outside.

Zach’s friend, you must understand, is a very talented athlete.  Zach, on the other hand, is not.  While he has agility and stamina, he is almost six years old and weighs in at a whopping thirty-five pounds soaking wet.  He simply cannot keep up with the other kids in strength and speed.

So, we went outside.  Talented Athlete wanted to play ball.  Zach did not.  Zach used to like to play ball, but lately he has figured out that he is not able to do the things the other kids can do.  Anything that involves strength, speed, and eye-hand coordination immediately puts him on the defensive.  Which is to say he goes on the offensive.  He gets nasty and dramatic, crying and accusing the other kid of cheating.

Frankly, I was relieved when Talented Athlete asked me to pitch him the ball while Zach decided to color on his chalk board.  I am not much of a pitcher, you must understand, but I don’t care about my ineptitude, so I was more than happy to fill in instead of dealing with Zach’s dramatic performance.

I played ball with Zach’s friend for a few minutes, then went to get something from the porch.  I glanced over and saw that Zach was writing and solving math problems on the chalk board.

I just don’t even know how to respond to the fact that my kid opts out by doing math problems instead of playing ball on a play date.

Make no mistake, he was opting out.  He wanted to fit in with the other child, but he gave up before it even began.  His friend wanted to play with him, but Zach was so afraid of being a weak athlete that he accused his friend of playing unfair, flopped about on the ground, and even hit him.

I don’t give a shit that he isn’t good at sports.  I wish he didn’t give such a shit.  I wish he would play – like he clearly wants to – without turning it into a dramatic performance.  Or that he wouldn’t play and would invite his friend to do something else nicely, instead of bossing the kid around.

We put him in t-ball to give him a chance to learn a sport.  He didn’t like it but he stuck it out, and I was proud of him for that.  We try to balance giving him a chance to shine and also trying new things that will be hard for him.  But every time he encounters an obstacle, he turns into a drama queen and refuses to even try, then gets angry about not being capable.

He was supposed to do lacrosse camp for the next four mornings, just to have something to do, but frankly, I don’t want to send him someplace that will just make him feel like shit about himself.  I gave him the option, and he doesn’t want to go.  Fine — it was cheap and I don’t mind letting it go.

I just wish I knew what we did to give him such low self-esteem that instead of realizing he has strengths, all he can see is the ways he fails.  There is a lot of pain in store for him if he spends the next fifteen years learning that he doesn’t have to give up on himself every time he feels awkward socially.

I ought to know.  I was the teenager who opted out of uncomfortable social situations by writing stories.

Because the universe recognized I couldn’t handle another difficult child

Lilah – as part of her effort to be the easiest child in New Jersey – has started potty training at twenty-one months.  As you may guess, that means we spend a great deal of time sitting in the bathroom.  Actually, she spends a great deal of time sitting in the bathroom; the adults take a shower, go fold laundry, or reply to a few emails.  She wouldn’t want to be a bother.

She was having some trouble distinguishing between farting and pooping, being quite convinced she had pooped when in fact she had just passed a little gas.  Every time she did it on the toilet, she’d look alarmed.  “Just a little fart!” I’d tell her, until she began to realize what she was doing.

Now, every time she toots on the toilet, she smiles delightedly and announces “Fa!”

We were cooking together on Sunday morning, when I smelled something from her diaper.  “Did you poop?” I asked her.

“Es!” she replied.

“OK, let’s go change your diaper.  Go lie down.”  She scampered over and lay down on the floor.  It turned out, however, that she once again had confused gas with a bowel movement.  “Oh, sweetie.  You didn’t poop.  Just a fart!”

She shook her head and grinned.  “No fa; mama fa!”

Her very first sentence was a fart joke.  Daddy is so proud.

But it was a fart joke that required a semi-colon, so she’s still Mama’s little girl.

The center cannot hold

I’m sitting on the floor in the hallway outside my son’s therapist’s office, and I’m crying.

I’m on the phone with my mother-in-law, telling her that Zachary is completely imploding.  He has been lashing out at his parents, his siblings, and his friends.  Earlier this week, we had a friend over and Zach kept yelling at him to stay where he had put him because otherwise he would cheat at some game they were playing.  Zach called his friend “rude,” which is astonishing because this is – and I say this having had a great deal of experience with kids in many different places – the nicest child in the Western hemisphere.

Yes, the nicest child in the Western hemisphere wants to be friends with my son, and Zach shat all over that gift.

Then, today, I pick him up at school, only to have the aide in the classroom inform me that Zach spent the morning telling kids he hates them and hitting.  She’s standing there, no sympathy in her voice, rattling off his list of offenses.  The teacher isn’t in, and so it has fallen to her to tell me that Zach has been having problems for a week.  A task she seems to delight in, by the way.

“Pouting!” she says.  “Like that.  See that?” pointing to him.  Because maybe I don’t know what my kid pouting looks like.

So, I’m sitting on the floor in the hallway outside my son’s therapist’s office, and I’m crying.

My husband doesn’t think this therapist is doing Zach very much good, and perhaps he is right.  After all, Zach is still just as anxious as when he started six months ago.  We are seeing no improvement in his behavior or his self-esteem.  Because it is all about low self-esteem.  He’s off-the-charts smart, and I mean truly off the charts, but all Zach can see is that for some reason he doesn’t fit in with his peers.  He doesn’t know why, so he figures it’s because there is something wrong with him.

Or maybe them.  Maybe there’s something wrong with them?  Yeah, that’s it!  If I don’t feel like I fit in with my peers, let’s blame THEM.  That oughta make me feel better.

I have a call in to a new therapist.  I am hoping she can get in to observe him before the school year ends, because he only exhibits these problems with other children, so she needs to see him in his native element.  In the meantime, the uncertainty of the end of the year is killing this kid.  We still haven’t found a house, creating more uncertainty, and since he has been moved so much, Zach puts no stock in our assurances that we are only looking for houses right here in town, near his friends.

If he keeps any friends.

I can’t figure out how to help him.  We get him therapists, we talk to him, we shower him with positive attention, we create boundaries – we do all the right things.  But sometimes – in moments when I am being honest with myself – I recognize that we are just chasing our tails.  Because we can’t help him.  He’s going to have to learn to fit in on his own terms, and we can’t show him how to do it.

Which is why I’m sitting on the floor in the hallway outside my son’s therapist’s office, and I’m crying.

Spirit of it

It is Spirit Week at my son’s school, which means that each day there is a theme and the kids are supposed to come in costume, a fact I registered and then completely forgot until we were walking up to the kindergarten line on Monday morning and noticed that several of his classmates were wearing tie-dye for “Hippie Day.”  No matter – I ran back to the car, grabbed some Burt’s Bees colored lip balm, and put peace signs on his cheeks, mumbling something under my breath about  how peace signs are not particular to an era and maybe something else about how being a hippie is a state of mind, not a fashion statement.

Tuesday was mixed-up crazy day, but Zach is a first child and therefore could not possibly wear his clothes backwards or inside out.  Hell, I’d be lucky if I could get him to wear gold and silver together or white before Memorial Day.  He decided to tie a sock around his wrist.  Whoa, there kiddo.  Don’t get too out of hand.

Wednesday, however, was a snap.  Wednesday was advertised as “Earth Day – Go Green, Recycle.”  That one I had covered, although I’m not sure the mother whose SUV idles outside the school for half-hour every single afternoon had any clue what to do.

We walked up to the kindergarten line this morning, and Zachary started to pout.  “I’m not wearing anything green,” he complained, looking at his friends.

“Zach, the theme is Earth Day – Go green, Recycle.  You are wearing a Scrap Kins shirt.  They live in a recycling center.”

“Yes, but trees help too,” he told me, looking at a girl with paper leaves glues onto her pants.  Paper she will most likely need to throw away this afternoon.

“Your shirt is organic cotton, and it is about recycling.  It is a small, locally owned business, and it was shipped to us from New York, so it has a small carbon footprint.  Your pants are organic cotton, made by a company with socially responsible business practices.  Your underpants are also organic cotton, also made by Hanna Andersson.  In fact, with the possible exception of your socks, everything you are wearing is ethically produced.  You are the most ethically dressed kid here.  Possibly in New Jersey.”

He looked unconvinced, sighing with envy as a child ran by covered in cotton balls, shouting “I’m a cloud for Earth Day.”


You ever have one of those mornings where the kids are hitting each other and you are trying to get them ready and they are yelling at one another and you start yelling at them that they shouldn’t be yelling and everyone is out the door in time to walk to school when the middle one decides he needs Cookie and Skunky to come to school with him and you are starting to leave when the older one realizes he forgot his show and tell and you send him back in for it and he starts wailing from inside the house because it’s not where he left it and you go back in and grab him by the hand and march him up to his room where it’s sitting on his nightstand and you are furious with him and snarling that he can’t just lose it over every little thing and shouting that maybe if he kept his temper we’d be out of here by now and you know how ridiculous that sounds and realize the windows are open and the neighbor is walking his dog?

You ever have two of those mornings in a row?

You ever have one of those afternoons where the middle one is so tired that he starts wailing every time his brother looks at him which makes his brother look at him more and the older one kicks his brother when you try to get them out of the house and they get into a wrestling match in the middle of the road right in front of the house and you realize this is even worse than yelling at them with the windows open but at least you haven’t yourself exhibited any horrific parenting so you figure this is actually a win?

You ever wonder if you can send them to their rooms for two weeks?

Your kid’s kindergarten teacher ever tell you that your son has a low tolerance for frustration and loses it quickly and your other kid’s preschool teacher ever tell you he has trouble keeping his temper and you stand there nodding but you really want to scream out who do you think he learns it from and frankly she lives down the street from you and has a dog so really she probably heard the yelling this morning?

You ever feel like there’s just not enough fair-trade chocolate in the world?