Monday, April 30, 2012

The Twins, They've 'Come of Age'

Okay, here are the deets on why I've been in cone of blogging silence in this space: I've been super-busy helping The Eldest Boy and The Girl prepare for their Coming of Age ceremony -- and their accompanying service projects -- at our local Unitarian Universalist church. In the Unitarian Universalist (UU) church, the Coming of Age ceremony is like a low-key confirmation or a waaaay extremely mellow bat/bar mitzvah when the kids reach at 13, although the ceremony only happens once a year, regardless of the dates of the kids' birthdays.

What did this "Coming of Age" stuff entail? Each kid had to select one of the seven Unitarian Universalist principles that resonated with him or her then design a public service project to go along with it and write a speech to be delivered in front of the congregation. Mommy got to be alongside them through it all with the exception of prepping the Power Point presentations, which The Spouse handled.

The Girl immediately seized upon the principle related to the "interdependent web" of life and decided to research and support no-kill animal shelters. Our resident animal lover used our rescue dog Max (see above when he was a puppy), whose litter was originally found in the trash, as her inspiration.

We twice visited Buddy Dog, a local animal shelter that's been in operation for decades, for the first time on Valentine's Day. The Girl interviewed Buddy Dog's director, gathered info about shelters in general and toured the facility. She then organized a pet supply drive through our church to benefit the shelter. It was during our second visit when, while dropping off donations that we saw the puppy that we very nearly adopted but alas, did not. (I'm not dropping the second dog subject though, especially now that Coming of Age is over.) Thus supporting no-kill rescue shelters to help dogs and cats who've been abandoned through no fault of their own became the theme of The Girl's Coming of Age speech.

The Eldest Boy selected the second principle about "justice, equity and compassion in human relations." Inspired by an extremely sad image he'd seen of a malnourished Kenyan toddler in the Wall Street Journal (see above), he decided that he wanted to do something to help hungry children in Africa. He became quite passionate about the subject.

So we, the Picket Fence Post family trekked down to New York City to the Unitarian Universalist Association's United Nation's office during the February school vacation and met with the man who runs the Unitarian Universalist Association's program, Every Child is Our Child, that helps orphaned children in Ghana with food, clothing, health care and an education. Thus The Eldest Son became an advocate to our congregation for this program, which became the focal point of his Coming of Age essay. (The kid wrote a compelling plea for donations. He's got a way with persuasive writing I tell ya, though I'm not always keen on him training his persuasive arguments on me.)

Prior to the kids' speeches, The Spouse and I had to "introduce" them to the congregation. We divided the duties with The Spouse introducing The Eldest Boy and me introducing The Girl. Our goal was to try to not get too emotional because, in the past, I've teared up watching other parents present their children and I didn't want to start blubbering. (I was stressed out so starting to blubber was a distinct possibility when you're talking about your child entering youth adulthood.) The Spouse and I made it through our speeches dry-eyed, but our relatives later told us that they were grabbing for tissues. (I didn't notice that because I was trying not to drop the microphone or flub my lines.)

Couple the public service component and the speeches with preparing a tri-fold display board for each child which photographically traced The Eldest Boy and The Girl's 13 years (this is where I needed my tissues, both for the passage of time AND for the fact that I suddenly realized that I hadn't printed out any family photos since 2009 and had to pay a rush shipping fee to get hard copies of the photos) and feeding our immediate family at our house afterward and the past week was kind of a blur.

Today I had planned on decompressing from all the excitement and actually working on some writing, but those plans were thwarted by a medical issue with my other child (the one who has asked me to refrain from writing about him on the internet). Suffice is to say that it's been very dramatic here.

Nonetheless, with the Coming of Age projects and ceremony behind us, I'm hoping to resume my regular blogging schedule, that and to actually exhale. I can't even imagine how stressful it must be for parents of children having a bar or bat mitzvah. The twins have been to a couple of them already and they were both very well done. (The Pajama Diaries comic has recently featured a humorous storyline about bat mitzvah planning.) Luckily, the UU Coming of Age isn't as involved as all of that.

Image credit for second photo: Rebecca Blackwell for the Associated Press via Wall Street Journal.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Quick Hits: Clothes Shopping Hell, Oodles of Braces & No Second Dog (Yet)

Clothes Shopping Hell

The Picket Fence Post kids keep doing this growing this, lately in giant, sudden spurts. The amount of time in which they have to wear their clothes before they turn into high-waters or become so tight that they look like something the Hulk might wear seems to be shrinking. It seems like we're buying new shoes and cleats constantly. The boys' pants aren't worn enough to get rips in the knees.

Thus I took the three kids to Old Navy this week in order to pick up some inexpensive shirts and sports shorts, given that they said, "Nothing fits anymore!" It proved to be bad timing. Did every other mother with kids home for spring vacation have the same idea? The place was mobbed. Between following my offspring around to make sure they picked out the right sizes and nothing too expensive (or inappropriate, like 2-inch long shorts that the store was peddling to girls), it got chaotic, prompting me to start sweating and my patience to evaporate, which is why I think was of the kids who shall remain nameless, was able to sneak in a Lakers shirt without me realizing it. I'm not much of a shopper anyway, so having to go clothes shopping with three children in a packed store . . . well, let's say I'd rather have my teeth cleaned.

The spring shopping excursion then led to another one of my least favorite tasks, one I avoid as much as possible: Going through the kids' clothing to find items that no longer fit, determining which items can be passed down to someone else and making the kids try on certain items, even when they swear that they didn't fit when, in reality, they're just trying to get rid of the unwanted item so I can no longer bug them about why they don't wear it any more. (When I make them take the item back, they resort to cramming it in the back of a drawer hoping I won't see it until another clothing purge session.)

And we didn't even have an open bottle of wine in the house.

By the time all the sorting and shouting was completed, and after I'd uttered my version of "money doesn't grow on trees" and "do you know how much these clothes cost?" parenting classics, we all so needed the laughs that Modern Family afforded us. I love Manny.

Braces, We've Got Braces

Adding insult to the whole shopping debacle was the fact that The Eldest Boy got braces on his lower teeth before our Old Navy trip. Plus, his top braces were tightened. The kid was in some serious pain. And Tylenol didn't really help.

The Girl, meanwhile, was informed that in two months' time the palate expander on the roof of her mouth -- which has been pushing her teeth outward to make more space -- will be removed and replaced with a full set of braces on the upper and lower teeth. Cue the groaning and teenage complaining. Times two.

This ought to be fun: Two pubescents enduring frequent pain in their teeth, begging for milkshakes, soft food and Tylenol. I think I'd better buy the Tylenol by the gross.

No Dog #2 (For Now)

This searching for a second dog is stressing me out.

We've tried several times in the past month to adopt rescue dogs I've seen on PetFinder -- dogs the Picket Fence Post family thinks will fit in nicely and get along with our 3-year-old, 25-pound Max -- but our efforts have thus far been fruitless. We came close last week to getting an adorable Havanese puppy mix (Max is a Havanese/Wheaten mix), but alas, we submitted our application after another nice family who eventually adopted the little guy.

A few days ago, I scared the pants off of The Spouse when, after bringing some donations to a local dog shelter with The Girl, I wound up placing a $25 deposit on a puppy with whom The Girl absolutely fell in love. She'd insisted on returning to the puppy area multiple times, after I said it was time to go, and snuggled with this one adorable, silken puppy. Although I can now admit that the puppy, whose lineage is unknown, would grow to be a fairly large dog, larger than what The Spouse and I had agreed upon, I was in a vulnerable place having lost out on the other puppy last week. I foolishly acceded to The Girl's request to put a 24-hour hold on the puppy and even allowed myself to begin thinking of names for her.

However when I showed The Spouse photos and a video of the dog, he said aloud what I was thinking but didn't want to admit: The cuddly dog would be bigger than we wanted. I sheepishly followed The Spouse up to The Girl's bedroom and informed her that we wouldn't be adopting the puppy. I think I took it harder than she did.

I've decided to stop trolling the PetFinder web site for a while. I need a break.

Image credit: PetFinder.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Finally . . . We've Finished Reading 'The Half-Blood Prince.' Now Onto 'Deathly Hallows.'

*Warning -- If you haven't read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, don't read any more of this post unless you want the book's ending spoiled for you.*

It has taken The Spouse and I more than a year to read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince aloud to The Youngest Boy (who, by the way, gave me special permission to write about him in this post). We finally finished the 652-page opus last night all the way to its sad and dreary conclusion. Harry Potter, the boy whose parents were killed when he was just a baby (his mother while putting her body in front of his), had to watch as his mentor, his fierce protector, was killed. It was only a little more than a year after his godfather, who he was just getting to know, was also murdered in front of his eyes.

Dumbledore's funeral, the lump in Harry's throat, that dread that was weighing on the boy's chest as he broke up with Ginny in order to protect her and his realization that he was embarking on a quest that could very well lead to his own death, all of it was so very bleak. Black hole kind of bleak.

The Youngest Boy was, as one might well imagine, quite melancholy and surprisingly muted when I asked him what he thought about how the book ended. When I first read it, not having known ahead of time what happened to Dumbledore, I shed tears, mostly for Harry who had already suffered so many losses and was really truly alone, with the exception of his teenage besties, Ron and Hermione.

I'm curious as to how The Youngest Boy will react when he sees the film's version of this tale (the weakest of all the Potter films) and sees Dumbledore die. (The Girl fled the movie theater when that happened, so tearful was she. It broke my heart.) Watching that movie is on our "To Do" list for the school vacation week.

As we prepare to embark upon the journey of the 784 pages that constitute Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I'm likewise wondering how The Youngest Boy will perceive the darkness that saturates this final book, the long periods of despair and loneliness our fearless trio faces as they attempt to locate and destroy the remaining Horcruxes before Harry attempts to slay Voldemort.

For those of you who are keeping track at home -- or keeping tabs on my Harry Potter: Reading Out Loud Project page -- between The Spouse and I, we've read 3,395 pages of this series aloud to The Youngest Boy. Wonder if it'll take us another year to tackle the last installment.

Image credits: Amazon.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Quick Hits: Sexism in Sports, 'Miss Representation' DVD & Dog #2?

Women Athletes Should Get Paid More, So Says The Girl

I'm so proud of my burgeoning feminist gal. She was recently assigned to write a persuasive essay for her Language Arts class. The Girl selected a topic near and dear to her heart: Women's sports.

In particularly, she wants to make the argument that female professional athletes, as well as those who coach them, should get paid more money and get more media attention. She settled on her topic days after we watched the NCAA basketball championship when Baylor beat Notre Dame and she was ticked to find that the following day, there was hardly any media attention paid to the women's championship as compared to the amount of coverage devoted to the men's championship.

After I gave her a recent New York Times article about the appalling, yawning gap between the financial compensation for coaches of men's NCAA hoop teams versus women's teams, she was all fired up to write her essay. Can't wait to read it.

'Miss Representation' DVD

Speaking of feminism . . . remember a while back when I wrote a post about the disturbing documentary Miss Representation about the damaging impact of media sexism on girls? Well it has now been released on DVD.

I've ordered a copy for The Picket Fence Post house and plan to watch it with The Girl. I'll report back here on her reaction. Given her anger over how women's sports are trivialized in comparison to men's sports, the documentary will likely galvanize her.

Dog #2?

I've submitted an application for the Picket Fence Post family to adopt a rescue dog who's 3-4 months old. Everyone -- even the reluctant Spouse who thinks adding a second dog is lunacy but has nonetheless given his blessing to this endeavor -- fell in love with the little guy after we saw a video of him online.

However we're second in line behind another family who submitted their application before us. We should know this week if The Picket Fence Post family is about to be catapulted into swift action in preparation for a new arrival, or whether the pup will find happiness in a different home. We shall see.

Image credit: Amazon.

American Parenting Requires 'Redefining Fun,' Being Okay with Missing Stuff

The New York Times' parenting blogger had it right when she wrote that, in order for American parents to have "fun" during their non-working hours, they need to redefine the word as we're seeing large hunks of our time commandeered by our children's extracurricular activities. Naming travel hockey tournaments, "Family Art Night" at school and team parties as activities in which her family partakes, KJ Dell'Antonia wrote, "This is what we signed up for, with our big, boisterous family."

She pointed to a recent essay by a mother who started raising her children in Europe but, upon moving to the United States, was gob-smacked to discover that the contemporary American parenting culture is completely child-centered. (The writer, Jennifer Conlin was commenting on the "French parents are better" conversation we've been having lately in the wake of the pro-Parisian parenting book Bringing Up Bebe.)

"Now our entire adult life revolves around the children's activities," Conlin wrote in the New York Times. As she detailed a crazy-busy set of weekends when her children were participating in musicals, softball, ensemble competitions, a forensics tournament (?!), baseball and a Science Olympiad, Conlin said, "It's easier to preach benign parenting from one's pretty perch in Paris than it is to import those traits to the trenches of America."

However Dell'Antonia said this all-in brand of contemporary parenting is "as fun as we make it" and again reminds us -- chastises us actually -- that "this . . . is what we have signed up for." I, respectfully, disagree. I didn't sign up for having my weekends sucked up in the vortex of children's activities. I didn't dictate (a la the Tiger Mom) what activities the Picket Fence Post children should or shouldn't do other than to limit them to one sport per season. I've allowed them to choose their activities and then tried to shoehorn those activities into a family life with two working parents, two 13-year-olds, a 10-year-old and a dog. But the shoehorning can be messy business.

My life is currently one big logistical nightmare as all three of my children play sports (soccer, hockey, basketball, lacrosse), two are in bands (one plays in three bands), one is on the Student Council, one belongs to a monthly book club, two take additional once-weekly math classes and one is going to start reffing soccer this spring. And that doesn't include the events they have at school like Colonial Days, talent shows, Art Nights, etc.

My biggest fear, aside from forgetting to bring a kid to some practice or event (The Spouse and I mistakenly missed a tryout session for our son's 2012/13 hockey team . . . whoops!), is that I'll accidentally strand someone somewhere. Leave no kid behind, that's my number one priority.

However there are many occasions when, if I can't get a kid to an activity because, shockingly enough, The Spouse and I actually have something of our own that conflicts with their stuff or we happen to want to do something other than a kid-centric activity. (For example, we had scheduled a St. Patrick's Day dinner at another family's home when a hockey game was rescheduled, with little notice, for that night. We went to the dinner.) The children just have to be okay with missing that activity from time to time. Our family, we tell them, is comprised of five people and sometimes, Mom and Dad or the family unit as a whole, comes first. We can't do everything, we tell them, and if they miss 25 percent of some activity, well, that's the price of being part of a team, the family team. Contrary to Dell'Antonia's assertion, I'm not at all content to surrender all my free time to trying to pretend that a picnic on the sidelines of a kids' soccer game is as good as enjoying a sparkling conversation with The Spouse about politics and current events at a nice restaurant that doesn't have paper placemats. We need date nights every once and a while.

It has taken quite some time for me to be okay with our approach, to not be wracked with guilt if we miss something, to not feel badly that I'm not enjoying all the child-centered events as much as other parents claim they do. I've had to try not to beat myself up if I mistakenly forget something. I can only do what I can do, as long as I don't leave a kid behind. (Have I mentioned that I'm paranoid that I'll do that?)

That being said, I still get resentful when a coach or the head of a particular activity acts as though his or her gig is the only one on a child's plate and exacts a punishment on the child should he or she be late or miss an activity because sometimes a parent simply can't get the kid there. Frankly, it's impossible for me to divide myself into thirds and deliver everyone everywhere simultaneously. I likewise don't cotton to attempts to lay guilt upon parents for missing events when there are a freakin' bazillion of them; they're not all litmus tests on our fitness and attentiveness as mothers and fathers.

I realize, as parents of older children have told me repeatedly, that this insanely, jam-packed period of my life has an expiration date. Sooner than I'd like to think, all three kids will be off to college and the house will suddenly be eerily quiet. I won't be worrying about leaving anyone behind on a soccer field because they will have left the home to start a new chapter of their lives. I'm trying to keep all of this in mind when I caffeinatealways choose the kid thing. I can't put my life on the shelf until the kids are in college. There's got to be some kind of balance . . . and a whole lotta coffee

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Quick Hits: Scary Mommy Manifesto, B'Day Goodness & Gram's Bread

Scary Mommy Manifesto

Saw this 12-step pledge for moms, written by blogger "Scary Mommy" -- Jill Smokler -- on the Huffington Post this morning. Loved it. Well worth your time, unless you're a helicopter parent. Actually, if you're a helicopter parent, perhaps you should read it . . . and take heed.

A couple of items in the pledge:

"I shall not judge the mother in the grocery store who, upon entering, hits the candy aisle and doles out M&Ms to her screaming toddler. It is simply a survival mechanism.

. . . I shall not question the mother who is wearing the same yoga pants, flip-flops and T-shirt she wore to school pickup the day before. She has a good reason."

B'Day Goodness

The Picket Fence Post family, along with other friends and family members, kindly celebrated my birthday with me yesterday. Here are the highlights:

I was kidding around with a nephew of mine on the phone after he asked me how old I was. I told him I was 100. When he balked, I said, "Okay, I'm 101." Then I mentioned that I, along with his father, had a great grandfather who lived to age 99. The pre-schooler responded by asking, "When are you going to die?"

I got to spend the evening with the family -- after enjoying a homemade meal of pan-seared scallops, salad, rice and wine followed up by a mint chocolate brownie sundae (thanks to The Spouse) -- watching the NCAA championship game between Baylor and Notre Dame. We all marveled at the athletic prowess of Baylor's Brittney Griner and the unparalleled success of the Baylor team, the first NCAA hoop team to go 40-0 in a season.

The Girl printed out and colored, a la Andy Warhol, an image of Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, with the words, "Great Comedian Figures." The image was taped to my bedroom door and greeted me when I woke up.

This from The Eldest Boy's homemade card: On the front, there was a drawing of me, "What you look like," which was a garden variety woman in a T-shirt (albeit with a sarcastic saying) and jeans. On the inside, there was another drawing of me as "Super Mom" (complete with a cape) with quotes beneath the image such as, "Deals with two teens and a tween without breaking a sweat" and "Her super yell can make anyone deaf," to "Washes dishes, does laundry, writes multiple columns and a novel, cooks dinner, drives kids to places and watched the dog all in a day!" (*big smile*)

Gram's Bread

I am so setting myself up for failure here, especially by writing about this subject in this venue . . . Why? Because I may attempt to make my grandmother Liv's -- Gram's -- Easter bread. (Actually, when I was looking through her recipe boxes, I found two recipes for Easter breads, one where you make the bread dough from scratch and one where you use frozen dough. Even though Gram once had me over to her house and spent hours schooling me on how to make the bread from scratch, if I do this thing I'm going with option two. I seriously don't have a whole day to devote to bread.)

Every year when Gram was with us, she'd proudly present a giant loaf of bread laden with layers upon layers of tangy meats. As it would land on my parents' kitchen counter with a hefty caloric thud, the bread would become a central focus of our Easter meal, giving the ham a serious run for its money. It was a big deal, the unveiling of this culinary masterpiece. And, as with many things Gram did, the bread was larger than life, about the size of an infant it was. Everything seemed bigger when my grandmother was around.

So for me, the lowly griping chef whose will to cook has been beaten into submission by my resident picky eaters no matter how many times I watch Julie & Julia, to even suggest that I'm thinking about attempting to make "Gram's bread" is a feat of enormous ego. I'm hardly a larger-than-life kinda gal. Snarky, dark and twisty, yes, larger-than-life, no.

Will I actually make the bread? It depends. Maybe. I'm making no promises. The Picket Fence Post family will also be hosting a Passover dinner for The Spouse's family this weekend so if I get the chance, I will work on the bread. If I don't get the opportunity, maybe I'll take a stab at making Gram's bread on a less auspicious occasion, like Arbor Day.