Thursday, August 26, 2010

I Want What I Want When I Want It -- the 7-year-old version

Conversation between me and T1 at our niece's Bat Mitzvah this past weekend:

Me:  Oh look, honey, you get to sit at a table with all kids; you don't have to sit with your parents.  Won't that be fun?

T1:  Okay.  I want to sit with G (cousin) and all the other boys.

Me:  Let's see.  Oh, you're at the (Broadway-themed) "Hairspray" table and G is at the "Fiddler on the Roof" table.

T1:  No!  I don't want to sit at the "Hairspray" table.  It's a bunch of girls!!  I want to sit with G!

Me:  But his table is full.  There are already nine 10-year-old boys at that table.  Your at the table with the littler kids.


(Tantrum escalating--speeches ensuing from the stage--7-year-old voice carrying with amazing range in the auditorium acoustics--me beginning to feel heads turning and eyes glaring)

Me:  Calm down, honey.  There's nothing I can do about it.  (My voice starting to raise too as I pull him by the hand into the bathroom).


Me: (virtual steam rising from my ears.....voice in my head saying, "oh suck it up, little guy.  It's just a dinner.  My God! but actually saying:)  How about you sit with Daddy and me?  There are other cousins at our table.

T1: I want to sit with G!

Me: There are no seats there.  You CAN'T sit there.  Want Daddy and me to sit with you at the "Hairspray" table?

T1:  Nooooooo.  I won't do it!!!!!

Me: (exasperated) I'm guessing this situation is making you feel left out.  Like you don't belong where you've been put.  How would you like this situation to be?  How can you solve this problem?

T1:  I want you to ask Aunt B to put another chair at G's table.  Just go ask her.

Me:  (wanting so badly to rectify this "gross injustice" as I figure this MUST feel to my son.  Wanting to swoop in and stop the tantrum, the disappointment, the frustration, but knowing that doing so will cripple my son in the future when he must manage any and all situations when he doesn't get what he wants when he wants it)

Me:  No. . . .   I can't do that.  

T1:  Pleeeeeessssee, Mommy?   (gasp, sob)

Me:  What can YOU do?

T1:  Can I ask G to put another chair at his table?

Me:  That may be a good plan.  Why don't you try it.

(T1 runs off to consult with G about all things boy that, I was beginning to quickly learn, include being sat at the right table.  I hold my breath, watching over the ballroom as the exchange goes on.  I try not to look.  I don't want to see the tear-stained face return, crest fallen because I know what's going to happen next.  He's gone.  He doesn't come back.  I reluctantly sit down to my own dinner, anxious.  Where is he?  What happened?  Should I go look for him?  Is he okay?  Is he crying somewhere in a corner?  Is he at G's table?  I spy him.  He's got a plate of food; he's headed for G's table.  A chair is waiting for him.  Wow, he did it, I say to myself.)

We are so much alike, T1 and I.  Every milestone he makes over his sensitivity and social awkwardness is a triumph for me.  It's something I struggled with so much in my childhood and want so badly for him not to have to feel.  But I know it's going to happen.  Can I sit on my hands and let him have his moments?  Even the disappointing ones?  I'm going to have to.  That's my job.

Remind me to call my mom and tell her I appreciate all the anguish she must have endured raising us.  Think I'm going to go get her a medal....

Thursday, August 19, 2010

And the Camp Mom Award for Engaged Kids goes to Team Twins!

One of the best benefits of my job as a professor is having summers off (mostly--I usually have to work for 6 weeks of it) with my kids.  It means that I don't have to scramble to find some stimulating activity for them from the 3rd week in June until September 1st.  Here's where it gets complicated though.  Since I do have to work a little in the summer AND my semester begins at the wildly inconvenient time of the 3rd week in August, I do have to put the kids in some kind of part-time summer activity day camp.  This year, they did summer school and camp through the local school district and seemed to have a really good time.

Summer is almost over and the kids will be heading back to school with what I hope are sweet memories of our travels, fun days at summer day camp, and time at home with each other and me.  As a working mom, I always look forward to the time I get at home with them.  I get to be a stay-at-home mom for a sweet month.  And I always dream that this time will be filled with crafts and art projects, baking and swimming and card-playing.  Instead, I'm distracted by my own desire to read or sew or edit photos--write a blog, maybe.  It's mind boggling how I can want to be with them so badly, and when we are together for a day, I struggle with giving them my undivided attention.

Cut to 7-year-old twins being silly, ramping each other up, getting critical about who is getting what turn, and then, ultimately, trying to kill each other from the togetherness.  Quick, Mom, do something!!!! It's time to engage (like Elastigirl says to Mr. Incredible).

Enter Camp Mom.  I thought if I could replicate all the fun of camp at home and give the kiddies some purpose for the time together, we'd all have a better summer.  I came up with a schedule of activities for the whole day.  Campers had to tidy up their "cabins" (rooms), pick a team mascot (stuffed animal), and create a team song to perform during the night time "campfire."  We had a scooter race, obstacle course, scavenger hunt (otherwise know as shopping at Trader Joe's).  They created cards for their grandfather, something I had begged them to do for days, that they were finally willing to do under the guise of the "Bon Voyage Boat Craft" at Camp Mom.

At the end of Camp Mom, teams were awarded "Trophies" that they had helped design.

There were a few teachable moments during the day.  The team competitions really had them in a frenzy over fairness.  Having points awarded based on being the fastest or jumping the farthest taught them about sportsmanship (after a considerable amount of crying).  Creativity points were awarded to the most thoughtful mascot decoration or "cabin" arrangement, presenting them with a stronger sense of perseverance and attention to detail. T1 said at one point, "I was having so much fun that I forgot that I hadn't played my DS!" Really?  You mean I can get your face out of that machine by providing you with a creative endeavor that speaks to your sense of competition?  Why had I never tried this before?

More than the success of Camp Mom as far as the kids were concerned, (trophies! field trips! treats!) was the complete sense of engagement with each other.  I got what I had been looking for all summer. While I know that this wasn't rocket science, and that creative moms do stuff like this everyday, for me, it was a triumph over the anxiety that sometimes takes over when I try to figure out how I'm going to be with my kids and accomplish all the things that fulfill me at the same time.  I gave myself over completely to the nurturing of these children, without the distraction of the work that I wanted to get done, for this one day, and it felt right.

While we were at the park, me orchestrating an obstacle course race, another parent commented on what we were doing.  "That's quite a system you've got going there.  Have you been doing this all summer?"  I laughed.  "Are you kidding?" I said, "we've only been doing this for today!"  But for that one day, we were a unit--like a real camp.  We had a common goal--to have fun together--and that we did. 

Think I should put together Camp Mom for this fall?  Hmmmm.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Romance Revisited -- With Kids!

Ten years ago, I went on a trip to Michigan with my then boyfriend to visit his family and see where he grew up.  We traveled to Mackinac Island and stayed at the Grand Hotel where he proposed in the Rosalind Carter suite.

My life changed so much in that moment.  I was already pushing middle age, and thought that marriage and kids were just not going to be for me.  I had begun to wrap my head around the fact that I'd "mother" all my students and that would be enough.  But in that moment when that ring went on my finger, I felt a sense of serenity, hope, and home that comes from knowing that you are truly loved, unconditionally, and that someone wants YOU to be the one to share life's biggest moments.  We held hands at dinner that night and contemplated our future.

Ahh new love--just engaged and looking kinda scared.
DG said that night, "Someday, we'll bring our kids here."  Swoon.  This was exactly what I wanted--to have a family to make memories with.  When we left the island, we swore that we'd return and show our kids the enchanting, horse-drawn, "somewhere in time" place that was the setting of one of the most memorable times in our lives.

So fast forward 10 years.  With twins.  It's like this:  Romantic Island + kids - 10 married-life years = a decidedly different experience.

BEFORE -- Romantic Dinner in the Grand Hotel Dining Room when we could dream about our future and gaze lovingly at each other in the beautiful surroundings.

AFTER -- Okay, we still got to do this one.  They have a Kid's Club at the Grand Hotel where they have a children's activity from 6 to 9 in the evening, allowing Mom and Dad to go to the dining room sans ones who will make them sticky.

Quite a bit older now, huh?  

BEFORE -- We took a leisurely bike ride the 8.2 miles around the island and took in the sites.  The island is home to several spectacular, Victorian mansions, known as summer "cottages" that were used by wealthy families in the late 1800s as summer homes away from the midwest.  The shore of the lake and the view of the Mackinac Bridge to the west are beautiful.  I looked out and saw Arch Rock and horse-drawn carriages, and other romantic couples gazing at each other from atop bikes that slowly meandered around the road.

AFTER -- Our kids have been practicing riding 2-wheelers since last summer in preparation for this bike ride.  And they were ready.  We set out at 9 am.  By 9:05, the whining had ensued.  "I'm hot, pedaling's hard, let's take a break."  When we got rolling again, there was no stopping them.  Gone was the scenery.  My eyes were glued to the kid in front of me who weaved back and forth across the road, barely missing on-coming traffic, which was sometimes a carriage pulled by a Clydesdale.  DG and I were constantly harping ahead of us, "Slow down! Stay to the right! Watch out for people! Let your sister be in front for a while!"

BEFORE --We visited the quaint downtown area of Mackinac Island and admired the work of local artisans.  Mostly paintings of the Grand Hotel or the bridge.  We carefully touched whatever we wanted and engaged gallery owners in conversations about the island's charms.

AFTER -- I saw every visit to an art gallery as an exercise in hovering--hovering to make sure the blown glass didn't get knocked over when T2 started practicing her dance moves; hovering to keep T1's grubby little hands from man-handling and smudging; hovering and herding them through the stores, like an Australian Shepherd.  I had to decide which tacky piece of Mackinac swag I was willing to pay $18 for--the hard, plastic horse with carmelly velvet glued to its body that T2 promptly christened "Goldie" or the caricature t-shirt that says, "Mackinac Island--Powered by Horse Poop!"  "But Mom," T1 says, "It's funny, get it?"

BEFORE -- Mackinac Island is known for its sweet shops, particularly fudge.  The fudge from the island is famous, and it's in a million shops all along the main boulevard.  We wandered in and out of each one, sampling "exotic" flavors like toffee peanut butter and raspberry dream.  We bought a pound, carefully wrapped it up and had a tiny taste each day of the trip.

AFTER -- The candy pushers stand in the front of each shop luring in unsuspecting kids with promises of candy beyond their wildest dreams.  The whole of downtown has a wafting odor of chocolate, with a little manure cloying for good measure.  The kids had fudge, salt-water taffy and ice cream all in the course of an hour.  Then we asked them to calm down and get dressed in their "fancy" clothes for dinner in the Grand Hotel, which requires its guests to dress formally in the lobby after 6 pm.  Jackets and ties for the gentleman and dresses for the ladies.  Trying to get kids to dress when they're hopped up on sugar is a feat like wrestling tigers--I kid you not!

BEFORE -- Ahh, after the 5-course meal, a long stroll through the lazy town at dusk is exactly what the romance doctor ordered with a tailor made sunset to solidify the deal.


So was it different coming back to Mackinac with the kids that we'd dreamed of 10 years before? Absolutely. Traveling with kids is hard.  Raising kids is hard.  Working is hard.  And at the end of the day, I get to have the beautiful vacation, and the home, and the career that I love.  I sometimes forget in the whirlwind that is my life to remember how lucky I am that I get to have all of this.  It's different, but light years better than what I had before.  And I wouldn't change a thing.