"The most wasted of all days is one without laughter." ~e e cummings

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Strawberry Shitcake

It was a special dinner. Special because Uncle Will and David were joining us and special because, for the first time ever today, I found dairy-free whipped cream in a can. I brought it home and gave Evan his first-ever mouthful of straight-from-the-can whipped cream and, after a thoughtful moment, he reported: "That's pretty good! I like it!" And so, it was decided:

Strawberry shortcake for dessert!

We made it through dinner, barely. The kids were hyped up because we had company, overtired from a busy and nap-less weekend, and (one of them was) grumpy because the chicken was grilled, which He Does Not Prefer. But, everyone tried a bite of everything on their plates and we were ready for dessert.

Max was the most excited. Being a Future Baker, he loves all things sweet and delicious. But "Strawberry Shortcake?" In addition to being a tasty treat, that's also the name of one of the berry cutest girls in all of Netflix! He was eager to help me plate and serve the desserts.

As he waited for me to top the second shortcake with whipped cream, he started to become overly excited. Uncontrollably excited. In an ill-fated effort to contain all of the anticipation of deliciousness that was bursting from him, he began sing-babbling:

"Shortcake, shortcake, strawberry shortcake!" he began, practically dancing in place as he watched me spoon the sugared strawberries onto the next shortcake.

"Short-shit-shortcake, strawberry shortcake!" he continued. As I sprayed a nice heaping dollop of whipped cream on top, I wondered, did he just.....? But when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Will and David exchange Did You Hear That? glances, I knew that he had, in fact said what I thought he did.

But I didn't say anything. He was, after all, just babbling.

Until...
"Short, short, shitcake, strawberry shitcake!"
I bent down low so our eyes met "Shortcake," I corrected, hiding my smile. "Strawberry shortcake." Over his head, I could see David stifling a laugh. Will's back was to me, but I knew he was, too.

"SHITcake!" he said again, with emphasis.
"SHORTcake," I, again, corrected, before immediately turning my back to him to hide my laughter.

"Mommy, what is shitcake?" he asked, wondering why I kept correcting him.
"That's not a nice word, Max," I said.
"What? Shit? Shit's not a nice word? Why isn't shit a nice word?"

I tried. I tried really hard. But there's something really hilarious about an earnest little kid, looking you straight in the eye and saying shit over and over and over again....

Biting the side of my cheek to keep from laughing, and seeing Will and David's shoulders shudder with silent, "hidden" laughter, I tried to be the adult in the room: "It's just not something we say. If someone outside of our family and outside of this house heard you say it, they might think you were using a disrespectful word."

"Oh, okay," my sweet boy said. "Are you...? Are you crying, Mommy?"
I was. I was crying because it was so damn hard not to burst out laughing, right in his face.
"No, baby. I'm just [snort!]...it's just [cough!]...it's just not something we should say..."

"But why?" chimed in a voice from behind me. Evan, always tuned in, was curious.

"It's a..." I didn't want to call it a "bad word." I didn't want to over-hype its intrigue. But clearly, from my laughter-repressing tears, to my inability to form words without choking back a guffaw, I was doing a terrible job. So, without a second thought, I just threw it out there: "It's a disrespectful way to say 'poop,' and if other people outside of our home heard you use it, they might be offended."

There was a brief moment when both boys just looked at me, with a twinkle in their eye, a little surprised to hear their mom say "poop" while spooning strawberry shortcake onto dessert plates.

Then...

"SHIT."

Evan thought he might as well try it out, seeing as how Max got to.

And we all lost it.

It wasn't funny.

But it was so, so funny.

David excused himself to gain control in another room.

Will bent his head low to the table to unsuccessfully hide his fit of hilarity.

I turned my back as I regained my composure.

As I turned back to face him, wiping a tear from my eye, he said, "But we're inside our home! What? Are you offended?"

Lesson Learned:

So I guess I didn't handle our first official "Appropriate Words" conversation very well.

But, man, that strawberry shitcake was delicious.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Evan is Ev-EIGHT

Exactly a year ago, my dad greeted a certain birthday boy with a rousing cheer of 
"Evan is Seven! Evan is Seven!"

It was a chorus repeated often in the past year.

Well, new year, new cheer..."Evan is Ev-EIGHT!"

(I think Pop had been waiting a whole year to use that one.)
(It went over really well with the second-grade and under crowd.)

***

Evan, I can't believe you're eight. 
But you must be, because when I asked if you still wanted that Minecraft-themed birthday party we had talked about a few months ago (and that I had been mentally planning every day since), you said, "Uh, no, Mom." And when I said, "Oh, so maybe Star Wars or...." (mind-racing, reaching for my Pinterest app), you replied:

"Mom, I don't want a birthday party this year."
"Oh. Really? No party?" [heart, breaking just a little]
"Nope. Well, maybe just a family party."
"Definitely! But...no party with friends? How about just a play date with a few buddies?"
"Fine. But just three friends. And no decorations."
"Oh. Okay. How about a special snack or something?"
"Okay, but no fancy matching plates or anything."

So there it is. We'll celebrate your birthday...your EIGHT years...YOU...but I promise not to use matching plates.

***

You're starting to figure You out, buddy, and you're doing a great job. You're starting to understand your limits and also where you can push yourself to stretch a bit. You're figuring out how to meet your social and emotional needs on your own terms. 

I'm so proud of you.

One of the things you've discovered during this year of Figuring You Out, has been Reading. You've been reading since kindergarten, but now you're Reading to try to quench an insatiable thirst...you're constantly seeking more books and chapters and pages and words. 
(And I get it, buddy, I'm the same way...)


On the first day of spring break, I agreed to a Jammies Day. (You insisted upon it.) No schedule, no agenda, no boxes checked on our Spring Break Bucket List. You cuddled up in the little nest you've created for yourself in the space between your bed and the wall. You brought a stack of books and you disappeared.  We ended up having a very laid back spring break. 
(I tossed the bucket list.)

It was just what you needed. 
Reading is just what you needed.


Reading gives you space. Reading gives you a retreat. Reading gives your active imagination a work-out...and it gives us so much to talk, wonder, and think about...together  (which may be my very favorite part, selfish as that sounds...). 

You are such a Reader.
(And I so get that.)


You devoured Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, which ignited a fascination with Greek mythology. I pulled out my old copy of D'Aulaires Book of Greek Myths and Enid Blyton's Tales of Ancient Greece, then you rounded out your collection with Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson's Greek Gods. You know all of their stories and strengths and weaknesses and family ties. You learned everything you could...but you were still hungry for more.

So we moved from Ancient Greece to Ancient Egypt. You started with, again, Rick Riordan. His Kane Chronicles series introduced you to the Egyptian gods and your ability to keep them straight (along with all of the Olympians) blows my mind. You know their powers, their weapons, their duties, their domains, and which animal head they possess. 

But you've always been an information seeker, a Fact Keeper.

And I get that.


You are So Much like me.

But, as I was reminded by "Sarah" during my recent binge-watching of the show, Parenthood: 
"as much as you seem so much like me, you're NOT me. You're not even an extension of me. 
You're you."

I need to remind myself of that from time to time because there are things about you that are So You...and sometimes those things are hard for me to understand because they're so Not Me. 

For instance...

You are a military-, weapons-, and war-obsessed kid right now. You've checked out every Eyewitness Book on the subject from your school library over the last few months. (Gone are the days of Henry and Mudge, I'm afraid...) You've memorized which weapons were used by which soldiers during which wars. You've asked questions about the Civil War, Vietnam, and the Nazis. You collect "army guys" and your pretend play scenarios all include battles and fighting and warfare. 

And I hate it. 

But I love you, and you look so stinkin' cute in your army gear...

 

So I'll allow this phase to run its course and (hopefully) pass. 
Then, I'll patiently await your next obsession.
(Poetry writing? Bird Watching? Wetland conservation? International Peace Keeping? Memorization of the entire Beatles discography? A pacifist Mommy can dream, right?)



I love that...

You're a helper.
(Usually when you've finagled a compensation of some sort...)

"I'll put away dishes if that means you'll be ready to play WWI Army Squadrons with me sooner!"

You know how to get a laugh.


You stand up to the dark side.


But you still look so sweet and innocent when you sleep.


Rather than delay gratification, you head straight for the best part first.

Pun intended.

Because you know what you like.
And you go after it.


I love everything about you. 
(Yes, even the fact that you elicit stronger emotions out of me than anyone else. You know how to make me so crazy and can split me wide open with such pride and joy.)

Sometimes, just standing back and watching you makes me kind of choke up. 
You made me a Mommy. 

How'd you get so big?



I'll stand by you as you keep figuring You out.

There's such a peace to self-awareness. I can't wait for you to have that.

In the meantime, we have each other.

And I'm so glad these two have you. 
They're lucky to have you (even if Max doesn't always realize it...you CAN be kind of a Boss) and you're lucky to have them (even if you don't always realize it...Molly sure does love to "just go see what Evan's doing in his room"). But Dad and I are the luckiest of all to get to see the three of you grow up together.


Evan, never forget that you have a big, supportive family who have your back.

Sometimes literally...


Because you're awesome.


Even if Birthday Parties, suddenly, are not.
[sniff]

Lesson Learned:
Eight. That sounds so big. That sounds so official. He is. He's officially Big. And I love being a Big Kid mom. It's hard, though. It's so much harder than being a Mommy to babies. (Not that any current Mommy of Babies would believe me...) Sure, back then I was overwhelmed and exhausted and I thought my life had never been, nor would ever be Harder than it was Right Then. But the stuff we're dealing with now? The Real Life stuff...the friend stuff...the school stuff...the "safe choices" stuff...it feels like a Very Big Deal. Right now, we have a captive audience with him. I hope we always do...but in case we someday don't, I'm trying to squeeze it all in now...all of the important Life Lessons that he Needs To Know....I'm trying to plant those tiny seeds in his brain now so that, when he's bigger and farther from us and he needs them, they'll be ready for him to harvest. 

But I also know that someday I'll look back on This time, when he was *only* eight, and I'll think "Man, I didn't realize how easy it was back then...."

This shit just keeps getting harder. But it's a good hard. 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

we're where we need to be....even more than I already thought....

A couple months ago, I wrote about our meeting with what will be Max's school next year. During the meeting with the principal and the guidance counselor, we introduced Max's gender-nonconformity and discussed some of the issues that may arise that concern us. I wrote about how well our conversation (and our little boy) were received by the school administration and how that, among other things, leads me to know that we're where we need to be.

I was chatting with a friend of mine, a preschool mom from Max's class, at a birthday party last weekend. She asked how things with Max were going and I told her about our very positive conversation with the school.

"Do you know Megan Thomas*?" she asked. I didn't.
"She lives in our neighborhood. You should know her. She's a therapist who works with a primarily pediatric patient list. She has experience working with kids like Max...kids who are gender-nonconforming, even kids who have transitioned. You should know her."

I couldn't agree more. So, I reached out to her (via Facebook, of course, like a true scaredy-cat introvert) and I told her a little bit about Max. I asked if she would be willing to meet....with me, not Max. I don't want Max to see a therapist right now. Max, right now, is fine. He's happy, he's comfortable, he's expressing himself fully. Max doesn't need a therapist...right now. And neither do I, really...but, with Kindergarten looming so big and near and anxiety-inducing-ly on the horizon, I have some questions. I wanted to know if we are on the right track.

Megan immediately wrote back and offered to meet this very week.

Friday morning, after I dropped Happy Max off at preschool, I dropped Molly off at Sam's office (she makes an excellent office assistant for a 3-year old). Then I headed to the coffee shop. I arrived a few minutes early and sat there willing myself not to start crying as soon as I started talking to Megan. Talking about Max sometimes makes me do that...it's not out of shame or because I wish things were different...it's out of fear. Like any parent, I just want my baby to be safe and happy.

As soon as Megan walked in, though, I breathed a little sigh of relief...she seemed very warm and open. Once we started talking, I knew I'd be okay. She was very reassuring.

I started by talking a bit about Max's timeline with gender-creativity and how happy, safe, and accepted he is in his current school. I told her that my only concern, truly, is that he continue to feel so happy, safe, and accepted in his big, new school next year. She asked if he has had any negative social interactions related to his dress-wearing. He has had a few difficult moments in our neighborhood, but we've worked through them and given him words to use in situations where someone makes him feel uncomfortable for dressing as he does. Megan affirmed that providing words, a script, will be important.

She then told me that he will, at some point in his life, encounter a Mean Kid. Someone who will pick on him. Someone who will try to get a rise out of him. Someone who will be unkind. But, she made it a point to remind me that most kids, not just the gender-creative kids, will. Some kids will be teased because of their clothes, some for a physical attribute, some for their family make-up, some for their academic ability. "Those kids who are unkind to Max," she said, "are most likely being unkind to other kids for other reasons, too. It's not Max's problem, the problem is with the kid who is being mean."

That's so true. And so important to remember. If Max comes home from school upset about what a kid in the hallway said to him, I should tell Max that I'm sorry that that child feels like he has to be mean....I'm not sorry that Max's skirt provoked him. It's not the skirt. It's not Max. It's the other kid.

It feels very freeing to hear that. Like I'm not sending my gender-creative kid into a Lion's Den to be ridiculed and bullied. I'm just sending my Kid to School. We will deal with any Mean Kid in the same way that we will deal with a kid who is ever unkind to Evan or Molly.

Similarly, Megan gave me some good talking points to use with Max's kindergarten teacher. If a situation were to arise in which Max is being teased about his skirt, the teacher should not say, "We don't tease Max about wearing a skirt. Max can wear whatever Max wants to wear." That makes the *skirt* the issue, when it is the *teasing* that should be the issue. Instead, the teacher should simply say, "We do not tease people in this school." Max is no different than any other kid.

I needed to hear that.

I also needed to hear how we can keep Evan happy and safe and comfortable next year. For some reason, I'm actually more worried about him than Max. Aside from some curious questions, I'm not sure Max will get any negative comments directly to his face. Most kids know better. But what I can see happening, is other kids, bigger kids, asking Evan why his brother wears a dress. I want Evan to stick up for Max, of course, because we're a family...that's what families do.

Megan agreed that Evan should have a script, too. Something that he can say to deflect or diffuse the situation if it arises. She suggested he can say something funny (bordering on snarky, without being mean) like, "Wow. I'm not sure why you think I'm in charge of Max's clothes. Or why you seem to want to be." I can't really see Evan being able to say something like this, though, so Megan said that he can recite our current script: In our house, we wear what we like. Then, if the questioning continues, he should direct the kid to his teacher: "You know what? I'm done talking about this, but you can ask the teacher, she knows all about it." [She suggested that I notify Evan's teacher, as well as the administration/support staff/resource teachers about Max so that everyone will be ready to step in.]

An important thing to remember, though, is that it's not Evan's job to defend Max. He can support his brother without feeling the pressure of needing to keep him safe. That's not a Brother Job....that's a Grown Up Job. Megan suggested that we encourage Evan to say exactly how the situation makes him feel (to us; he doesn't need to say it to Max) and to validate his feelings, whatever they may be. No feelings are Wrong Feelings, and we can help Evan to work though the difficult ones if and when they come up.

Finally, we talked a bit about Megan's experience working with kids who have transitioned at a young age. I don't know what Max's future holds. I don't need to know....but I want to be ready for anything. Megan said that, in her experience, the children who have transitioned at a very young age are those who have been "in conflict" since the age of 2 or 3. Children who retaliate against the notion of being called or encouraged to behave in a way that conforms to their sex. Children who are adamant about the fact that "I am NOT a BOY!" We're not there right now. Right now, Max calls himself a boy...a boy who likes girl things.

But we'll keep our ears open. Our hearts are already.

Lesson Learned:

We're where we need to be. We're surrounded by the right people. We have access to the right information and resources. We're going to be just fine.

I just need to remember, every now and again, to breathe.


*For privacy reasons, this name has been changed.

Friday, March 27, 2015

commercialism

"Mom!" he practically screamed from his car seat on the way to preschool this morning. "Do we have Clorlox?"

"Clorlox? You mean Clorox?"

"Yeah! Do we?"

"Um. Why do you need Clorox? I'm kind of afraid to know, actually..."

"No, I don't need it now. Just in case. Did you know that if you get a huge spaghetti stain on a perfectly white tee shirt and you put it in a washer with Clorox and...well, actually, you need two perfectly white shirts with spaghetti on them 'cause then you put one in a washer with Oxi-Clean and, Mommy! THE CLOROX GETS THE SHIRT PERFECTLY WHITE AGAIN. The Oxi-Clean shirt still has a yellow circle of a stain on it!"

"I see. Have you been watching commercials, Max?"

"Yes. But do we have it?"

"We do."

"Oh, great! So we have the best one! And, Mommy, do you know why we still need Oxi-Clean?"

"Why, Max?"

"Because it's best for dishes.....but I learned that on a different commercial."



Lesson Learned:

It's working, Ad People. He's buying it hook, line, and... stain-remover.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

the school book sale

Every year our school has a Used Book Sale, where donated books are sold as a fundraiser for the PTO. Tonight was the night and, just before dinner, I told the kids "If you're going to want to buy books tonight, don't forget to bring some money. The books are 50 cents each."

While the boys ran up to their rooms, Molly sat on the couch reading books.

Evan came downstairs with a gold dollar coin. "I'm saving my dollars, but I've been collecting these gold coins from Pop and the tooth fairy. This one's from Pop. I'm only going to want to buy two books tonight."

Max called down for some assistance from Sam: "I need help opening up my piggy bank!" He, eventually, brought down a handful of quarters. "I'm going to buy every single Rainbow Magic book there is!"

Molly sat on the couch, still reading books, but now with her Elsa and Anna purse by her side.

When it was time to leave, I reminded them to grab their coins from the counter before putting on their shoes. Molly went to the mudroom and put on her red cowgirl boots. She was holding her Elsa and Anna purse like a little granny, in the crook of her elbow.

"Are you bringing your purse to school?" I asked her.

"Yes, for buying my books," she said.

"Oh! Of course!" I replied, "Let me just hold it for a minute while I help you put on your sweater."

As I took the purse from her, I noticed some heft to the otherwise near-weightless purse. I opened it up to find six pennies inside.

I don't know why, but I nearly cried.

"Oh, Molly! Is this your money to buy books?"

"Yes," she said, with a grin so big it threatened to turn her inside out.

"And you found this money all by yourself and put it in your purse?!"

"Yes! And Imma buy LOTS of new books!"

***

She bought her books, and proudly showed them to every person we passed in the hallways.

Lesson Learned:

This girl. I swear. She kills me, every day.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

signs-of-SPRING mission: accepted

I've been lecturing. Raising my voice. Losing my cool....a lot lately. One of my kids, who shall not be named, has been going through a tough time. He's testing me. He pushing boundaries. He's yelling. He's being unkind. This is not something we have not been through before. It seems every six to nine months or so, Evan just Can Not Deal. (Whoops. Looks like I named him. But you were going to figure out which one it was anyway in just a minute...)

Sam and I have slowly come to realize (over and over and over again, yet somehow, it seems as though for the first time every time) that Evan needs to be in control of his world...and that's pretty hard when you're only seven and people are telling you what to do all the damn day. 

So, control we will give him...when we can (non-negotiables, of course, will include school, health/hygiene, safety, and how he treats others). We're not really going to be giving him more control, because we already run a pretty loose ship around here when it comes to the little stuff. But we're going to be making all of those little choices he does make every day blatantly overt: "Evan, where would you like to sit to eat breakfast?" (Even though he's sat in the same damn stool at the counter for breakfast Every. Single. Day. since we've lived in this house.) "Evan, what clothes do you want to wear tomorrow?" (Even though he picks out his own clothes every day anyway.) "Evan, would you like to do your homework first or play Minecraft?" (Um? Hmmm....I wonder...)

And, so far, it seems to be working. 

It's working so well, in fact, that today, when we were outside enjoying this glorious spring day, hanging out with our wonderful friends and neighbors, I did something that I don't always do: When he came up to me (though I was just about to engage in a long-overdue catch-up chat with my friend) and asked, "Mommy? Will you play Crusades or Viking Warriors with me?" I said "Yes."

[I mean. Seriously. Could the kid have picked a WORSE game for me? I don't even know what the Crusades were except for the fact that it somehow involved King Richard...and I only know that from Robin Hood (animated version, naturally). And war games? Ugh. Fake battles and shouts of "Man down!" and "Get my artillery guys up here, stat!" I mean, what? Where does he even learn this shit?]

Yes, Love. We shall play Crusades. I would be happy to. Unless...........maybe I could distract him from the Crusades with a different, even MORE awesome idea!

"Or, buddy...Do you want to go on a mission? Take my phone and explore the whole yard in search of signs of spring! Take pictures of every sign of spring you see and report back to headquarters!"

"Um. No. I want to play Crusades."

"I want to go on a Signs of Spring Mission!" piped up Max, from across the yard.
"Yeah, I want to, too!" said his sweet friend.
"And me!" chimed in me-too Molly.

Well, looks like those three will be occupied....I guess Crusades it is.

After a solid 20 minutes (though it felt much, much longer...you know what they say, Playing War is Endless. They say that, right? Never mind. Playing War is Endless TM. There, now it's a thing.), Max and the Spring Sleuths came back with their findings...and they're awesome.

Unfiltered, un-retouched, un-photoshopped...these are Max's original Spring Mission Photos:

  





...and then about 30 more, too. Which, I think, confirms it: Spring Has Sprung.

Thank god.

Oh, and the Vikings won the Crusades. But they got help from some back-up troops (the Americans, the Italian Alliance, the French, and the Romans). So...you know. God Bless the Church of England. Or whatever.

Lesson Learned:
Breathe deeply. Say Yes. The kids will be alright. 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

runaway

I'm ready for spring.

Have I made that abundantly clear?


*****


My family has had a lot of togetherness lately. It's wonderful, of course, until it isn't. Snow days as bookends on either side of a family vacation have meant that the kids and I have endured nearly two weeks spent in very, very close quarters.

This is not difficult because I don't want to be with my kids. This is not difficult because I don't know how to keep my kids happily occupied at home. This is not difficult because we haven't had outside time (although we desperately need more that will come with spring). This is not difficult because my kids don't get along (although sometimes they don't). This is not difficult because my kids are little shits (although they certainly have their moments).

This is difficult because I am an introvert.

I need alone time.

I try to carve moments out of the day here and there....though I haven't had a true nap time lately, we do have daily Quiet Time, during which we non-nappers each have some time apart; reading, writing, or playing independently. When Sam comes home, I disappear behind my closed bedroom door for half an hour to write or do some yoga. But I needed more. By yesterday afternoon, after a particularly difficult day (and a particularly shitty attitude of a certain 5-year old...), I couldn't breathe.

"I'm going away tomorrow," I greeted Sam as he walked in from work. "I don't know where I'm going but I'll be out all morning."

"Stay out all day!" Sam countered, "We'll see you at dinner."

So I went.

I took the long way to town, blaring Sirius as I drove, singing (terribly) along with every song that came on. It's amazing that, with Mommy Brain affecting my ability to string sentences together, I have such solid lyric recall for so many mid-nineties hits. When I arrived, I walked through a couple of stores...taking my time more than I can with my toddler tagalong in tow. I browsed.

I'm at a cafe now and I just ate a lunch that I didn't prepare--a whole lunch! Not the leftovers from my kids' plates. I ate sitting down. I'm not going to wipe any hands or mouths, other than my own, and I won't have to finish chewing a bite while assisting a 3-year old on the potty in an Emergency Potty Situation.

It's been a great morning.

But I'm ready to go home. Sam took the kids to the library and I want to find out if Evan was able to find the third book in Rick Riordan's Kane Chronicle series. Did Max find some fairy books in the Rainbow Magic series that he hasn't read yet?

I miss them.

How strange.

Lesson Learned:

An introvert needs space. But this one doesn't need too much: Just an occasional morning runaway, then I'm craving their stories and snuggles. I think I'll linger here at this cafe just long enough to enjoy an uninterrupted cup of tea...and then it'll be time to run back home.