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The Enforcer, or I Can’t Believe it’s Come to This, or I’m Mad as Hell

Children amaze me. They are known as the world’s pickiest eaters. Yet, if there was sugar involved that they could potentially obtain, they could gnaw through a cardboard box in about 28.2 seconds.

My kids are no exception to this rule. They ate very well as babies. It brought tears to my eyes when they finished their tiny baby food jars of spinach, green beans, and squash. Things that even made me queasy to think about. They ate them up and wanted more. I really thought I was the luckiest parent in the world. I couldn’t wait to brag about their healthy food choices at family gatherings and play dates galore. Not that they really had a choice back then, but they didn’t exactly refuse it either.

When their little teeth started showing up, so did their change in attitude. No longer did they want the delicious dark green vegetable-like pudding I’d been serving them without complaint all the while before. I upgraded them to toddler style vegetables. “Cool,” I thought. “This is what all the hip kids at the sandbox are eating. Don’t you want to be like them? It even has wagon wheel pasta!” My kids were unimpressed. One bite and both of them spit it out. I knew it was going to be a long, bumpy road to the teenage years. And one with limited vegetable intake.

Being ultra open-minded and forgiving about differences in palates, I tried many different ways to serve vegetables: squashed, boiled, minced, raw, cooked, strained, frozen, fresh. Time and time again, the responses were the same: “Yuck,” “boo,” no,” “stinky poo poo,” “barf,” “no no,” “blech,” “ick!”

It made me cry inside when my sister would casually mention how her young daughters loved salad. “SALAD?!?I would scream in my head, in a therapeutic and cleansing way. “SALAD?!?” I would scream as I punched a pillow in my sleep. “Salad,” I would sigh as I stirred my coffee, watching my kids staring at their plates full of food. “Salad.” I would say, defeated, as I watched commercials on TV about kids loving to eat their vegetables. “Must be that they’re girls,” I would cheer myself up with. My boys don’t like vegetables. Must be a gender issue.

Now let me get something straight. It’s not like my kids won’t eat any vegetables. They only eat certain vegetables. I will list the vegetables my kids will eat, as follows:

1. Candy Corn

2. Jelly Beans

Sigh. My recent approach to vegetable intake on the junior level is that I will prepare vegetables to make myself feel better. I serve them on the side of their entrees, more of a colorful garnish rather than an expected nutritional component of their daily vitamin and mineral allowance. For that we supplement with good old fashioned Flintstones vitamins. Occasionally, one of my kids might eat a kernel of corn. Likely, because it was stuck onto something else they were actually trying to ingest. Still, it makes my heart go pitter pat. I beam as I calculate the vitamins they just enhanced their diet with. I block out all realizations it’s more likely just sugar. I rationalize that even if it’s fiber, it is still a healthy thing to eat.

This morning I had a new attitude. As my youngest son sat staring at his delicious plate of hard boiled egg and yummy toast, I realized I’d had enough. I strongly encouraged him to eat his healthy breakfast, but all he would do was have a few bites of toast…..the part of the toast that didn’t include the crust that is. It then dawned on me that this was a kid who could tear through Jolly Ranchers, Laffy Taffy and probably chew a door off our kitchen cupboards if he knew there were marshmallows hiding within. Something in me generated a frustration like TV news anchorman Howard Beale when he goes off the deep end in the famous movie “Network” and says, “I’m a human being, god damn it! My life has value! And I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

So I did something that surprised even me. I had a secret weapon I’d been drinking for years. Something that could be used in the war against picky eaters. I sat down a large bottle of V8 Juice next to my son’s plate. I told him, calmly, that if he didn’t eat his egg and toast he was going to have to drink a glass of vegetable juice to make sure he was getting a healthy breakfast. My son thought I was kidding at first. But I sat down next to him, and the bottle, and stared at him until he ate his food. I was amazed at how quickly this simple trick worked. Within minutes he’d eaten half his breakfast.

For the first time ever I can now see how vegetables will improve my kid’s nutrition – not by my children actually eating them, but by my threatening that my kids will have to eat them! I hated the fact that I had to make vegetables the bad guy, but you can’t argue with success. And who knows? Maybe someday my kids will actually want to eat vegetables. But until then, at least I can truthfully say vegetables are an important part of my children’s nutrition. And, yes, now I can finally boast at family functions and play dates galore that my children are always eager to eat a healthy breakfast.

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Na.No.Wri.Slo

This November a yearly writing journey begins for thousands of aspiring novelists. National Novel Writing Month, or “NaNoWriMo” was created years ago as a way for struggling writers to finally put a time limit on their dreams and commits them to finishing a novel in an international group effort.  Ideally, this would be one of the fabled Great American Novels. But, as any true writer knows, just having a completed manuscript is worth all the gold in the world. The goal is to write a 50,000 word novel in  the span of one month: November. That breaks down to about 1600 words a day. Sounds simple enough, right?

The writers that I’ve heard about who are able to work on this project literally start the day with a pot of coffee at Starbucks and sit in front of their laptops writing and writing and writing themselves insane. They take brief bathroom breaks, I believe. But not too long as to avoid any procrastination with buying more coffee. Or eaves dropping on another writer. Or doubting their work. Or wondering where their plot lines are going. Or wondering if they really have plot lines. Or plot points. Or becoming unsure if their work is a science fiction romance or a simple down home cookbook.

For years I always dreamed of writing a book. I mean, how romantic would it be to be part of a creative wave of writing energy, inspired by the dedication others around you have with pushing themselves forward to completion? Thinking this was the push I finally needed, since we all know writing in solitude can be tortuous, I went so far as to sign up for local chapters of NaNoWriMo a few different times in the past. Why not? A) It’s a global event B) that is free (just the right price for writers) and 3) it gives people the opportunity to get caught up in the creative updraft of a million pounding keyboards. Destiny? Finished book.Reality? Hmmmm….the idea looks good on paper.

Sadly, the furthest I’ve ever made it into NaNoWriMo was the actual signing with my local chapter before the event begins. Usually it is in September or October that I convince myself “This Is The Year I Will Write That Damned Book!” Must be the changing of the seasons, or the back to school mode, or Fall is just so darn inspiring. Anyway, as the days got closer to the November First start date every year, my email inbox would start to explode with emails of NaNoWriMo deadlines, inspiration, encouragement and tales of other’s writing success.

Let me explain that the idea of a writer toiling away in a creative frenzy doesn’t include the actual reality of many writers: Family. Jobs. Commitments. The day-to-day grind of washing dishes, preparing meals, keeping your loved ones clean, and who can ignore the daily “must do’s” of scrubbing the floors and curling up into a fetal position and crying? Please. And so on. These are the necessities of keeping life functioning and moving forward. Unless you are young and not married or without kids or are in a position to be able to dedicate thirty days to doing nothing other than writing, drinking coffee, writing, going to the bathroom, hallucinating. Not that there is anything wrong with this. This is my dream life if I ever win the lottery. No doubt.

But, back to reality. I am encouraged that so many aspiring authors are able to partake in this NaNoWriMo journey. However, I’m feeling the pain of the aspiring authors who aspire to be able to participate in NaNoWriMo one day. Sitting down to the keyboard is a luxury I treasure between breaking up fights among my kids, washing dishes, doing laundry, working, paying bills and staring out my front window onto the bounty that is my cul-de-sac in the middle of nowhere.

So, this year I’ve decided this year to expand on the idea of NaNoWriMo….I am starting an offshoot program called NaNoWriSlo. Yes, it is the National Novel Writers (who write) Slowly club. Our goal is also to produce a 50,000 word novel, but it is at a more practical pace – between five to eighty-two words a day/week. At this rate your novel will be complete in about maybe a couple a years or so? It depends.  You might not finish it at all. And that is also ok. This group will be very supportive, and encouraging, but also very realistic. A daily schedule for the first day might go something like this:

  • Morning: Make coffee, sit down at key board. Enjoy sitting down for a minute. Time to check email.
  • Mid morning: Update Facebook status: “Just started NaNoWriSlo…WOOOO! Don’t count me out John Steinbeck!”
  • Late Morning: Clean bathroom and start dishes.
  • Lunch: lunch
  • Early Afternoon: Refreshed and ready to go! Start typing outline. After seeing what that crash was from upstairs.
  • Mid Afternoon: Call Plumber to fix toilet damaged earlier when book shelf fell onto it somehow. Or that’s the story your kids are going with.
  • Late Afternoon: Coffee time! Also time to go to the store to get food for dinner.
  • Homework: Plan to start Outline tomorrow, first thing. For real this time.

So, our group will start around November first-ish, and go on until you think you’ve finished your work, whatever form that may be in. No pressure. At all. Or not even. We’re mellow like that. And if you do manage to finish something following the strict guidelines above, you will become the face of the NaNoWriSlo international campaign I will start-up. Just as soon as I can get up from this nice comfortable chair.

Killed by the Sandwich

I’m among a generation of other people caught up in the middle of caring for children and parents simultaneously. This generation has become known as “The Sandwich Generation.” Much like those pieces of turkey and cheese, I am being squashed by those two pieces of bread.

It seems like things were easier long ago, when families lived closer to each other in the same towns. Back in the day you would have the support of cousins, aunts, uncles, in-laws, which greatly helped relieve the stresses of people who were taking care of multiple loved ones. Long ago it seemed like neighbors cared more for each other, and communities and families supported each other and were willing to pitch in when times were rough.

My elderly mother’s recent stroke really highlighted the fact that I am all alone in her care. My siblings live in other cities and states. A phone call once a week from them to me or my mother doesn’t do much in the way of relieving the stresses my mother and I both encounter while trying to make sure she is safe, happy and living her golden years in the most fulfilling way possible. Living with the stress and fear that her health and well-being is all on my shoulders alone makes me terrified.

Finding the services and support to care for our elderly in a way that they can stay independent in their homes is an area that is severely lacking in our society. I recently learned that assisted living facilities begin at $2,500 a month. And they don’t take insurance, so this is needed in cash. Some places make you prove your finances ahead of time to show you can pay for two years worth of this cost before they will even consider admitting the elderly person. Medicare facilities, which would pay that cost for the elderly person, are few and far between. And I’m sure the waiting list is incredibly long.

It makes me outraged that the fate of every person will end this way….you work until you retire – if you can afford to do so. Then, you use up the rest of your money living as modestly as you can, and when there is nothing left then you go on Medicare – and hope you can get into a facility that is a decent enough place to live out the rest of your years. It is a sad state of affairs that our golden years ahead may not be so golden after all.

In addition to caring for my mom, I am also raising young kids. They are still at the age where they need me to be there for them for just about everything. And of course I give 150% of myself to them, because I love them and because I am their mother. They do not know how thinly stretched I am also trying to also take care of their grandmother, as well. My elderly mother knows I am her only family member in the area, and she knows I would do as much as I can for her also. But these two forces are pulling in opposite directions making me feel stretched to my limits in the middle.

I know I’m not alone in this struggle of trying to do it all for every family member.  It seems like there are a million silent Generation X’er’s in this same situation. So, where can the Sandwich Generation go for support? We are all quietly struggling to hold our families as close as possible for as long as possible. Considering how many of us there are out here, I’m really surprised this hasn’t received more coverage in the media.

It must be the nurse in me, but I really think there needs to be a way to unite the Sandwich Generation. If our communities and families can’t give us the support we need, perhaps we can give this support to each other. It is amazing how wonderful it can feel just knowing that someone else is out there to listen, support or offer advice or wisdom to you from their own experiences.

And now back to your regularly scheduled sink full of dirty dishes…

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Well my vacation is over and now I’m back to the regular world. The real world. The world I must fight my way through with dish soap, a dustpan and garbage bags. The dishes I didn’t have a chance to finish washing before we left our house at the crack of dawn waited patiently in the sink for my return. After a few days of housekeeping I was half expecting to come home and find my house freshly cleaned, vacuumed and gleaming. Was there a “Service Please” sign I needed to hang on our front door knob? With the high taxes I pay I think daily housekeeping service is the least my village can do for my neighborhood. If that is too much to ask, then they can at least just do it for my house. With the constant state of chaos around here, I think providing me with a housekeeping service could only benefit the community. I’ll start making a few phone calls and see what I can come up with.

The day after vacation is two-fold. In one way, it is a great relief to finally be finished navigating unfamiliar roads, feeling like a stranger, preparing for the unexpected and spending endless amounts of money. On the other hand, it is a let down in the way that waking up from a really great dream to find that you are only napping on the couch with piles of unfolded laundry around you is. Not that I ever have time for a nap (or folding laundry) but I imagine this stark transition from bliss to chores could be startling at best.

Returning home reminds me of the bills I need to pay, endless housework that needs to be done, preparing for the fast-approaching school year, and the many responsibilities I have. While I was gone my work called and left me a message asking if I can work an extra shift in the next few days. I need to look after my mother, deal with stresses in the lives of my kids and so on. I’m already longing for the peaceful beach full of crashing waves, where the only concerns are adequate sun screen coverage and cold beverages.

Everything went so well on our vacation…barring the near-tornado we drove through to get there. My kids had the time of their lives. I feel successful in that I’ve given them some great memories from this summer, as well as something they can cherish in their adult years as well.

My vacation also taught me a few things about prioritizing things in life. I can’t worry that the housework is never caught up on. There is more to the world and enjoyment of life than a gleaming set of dishes. I can’t keep comparing my life to other people’s lives, because it is only my perception of their lives. I need to work on my priorities, and my kids will always be my number one. As long as I do everything I can to make their lives safe, happy, and healthy so they can live up to their potential as good human beings then my work here is done. But second on my list is getting the village to take a small amount of my tax dollars to provide a housekeeping service to stop by here every day. Seriously.

Finally, I’d like to clear the air. The picture at the top of this post is not me. It isn’t even an artist’s rendition of what I might look like. This lady is so happy she’s cleaned her pans, it’s almost like she’s finally realized her life’s purpose. She is showing a joy that I wouldn’t even know how to locate in my soul if I accomplished the very same task on a set of gold pans. And look at her husband….he’s cleaning a fancy new car! They are both so happy, that I want the recipe for what they’ve been sipping on.

I must say though that I’ve always loved diamond cut window panes. In fact, I would love to live in this house because I think there is nothing cooler than 1950’s – 1960’s retro architecture. Enjoying a spotless Formica lifestyle with organically shaped furniture while my handsome husband happily washes the car that is the envy of the neighborhood while I beam in the kitchen with my eighteen inch waist and rocking a smart Eva Gabor wig would be one of my dreams come true. Thank you, and that is all.

Time Warp Vacation with Sprinkles and Extra Napkins

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So here we are on a vacation I’ve been dreaming about for eighteen years. I haven’t been back to Cape Cod since I was just out of college. At that time I was carefree and wandering and wondering where my life would take me. I swam in the bay with my mother on that last day and we enjoyed an unhurried morning where there was no one else in the world but us. Suddenly, a freak accident landed me in the emergency room and I had to get numerous stitches in my leg after being cut by a seashell while out on a swim.

I don’t hold it against that seashell, but that shock, pain, fear, regret and vulnerability were the last experiences I had on Cape Cod before taking a hiatus from vacations, and carefreeness and wandering and wondering for many years to come. For the next eighteen years, I worked in a few corporate jobs, relocated several times, got married, went back to school, started a second career and had a few kids. This was the summer I planned to catch up where I left off before that sunny morning ended up going so bad.

Prior to that day, all my previous memories of Cape Cod were happy ones. I associated Cape Cod with an escape from reality. My serious concerns of the day were which shorts to wear, how long I’d go for a swim and what flavor ice cream cone to try. Those are the kind of major decisions my life has been lacking in recent times. Lately I’ve been too caught up in the grown up realities of mortgages, debt, family stress, work stress, dreams deferred, and growing older. If I were wealthy it might be called a “midlife crisis” – something easily resolved with buying a convertible and a toupee. But I can’t afford a convertible, and I’d look ridiculous wearing a toupee on top of the hair I still have. I’m sure everyone goes through this at some point in their lives, but retreating to a time in my life where happiness was never-changing is pure genius. It seems like something I should have thought of years ago.

My own kids have never been on a real vacation, either. This is their first time out-of-state. I was so worried how they’d tolerate a half-day car ride that I went overboard with every possible amusement they could need. I was so eager to show them all the places I went to as a kid, and tell them about the things I did for fun, what I saw and where I went. My kids are happy beyond belief with everything we’ve done so far. So many firsts for them: first time seeing the ocean, first time swimming in salt water, first time climbing a sand dune, first time running from a wave. I see my own childhood in their excitement and wonder. They have already asked me where we are going to stay when we come up here again next year. One of my kids even said he is going to bring his own kids here someday. I am so happy to know that my own childhood dreams, happiness and memories are now somehow passed over to my kids so they can start building their own on top of them.

But, it’s kind of funny being here as an “adult.” Now I’m the responsible one, the driver, the planner, the coordinator. I’m the one who budgets the money, decides when we will go and where. I break up the squabbles and decide what souvenirs my kids should buy. For the first time ever I’ve driven in a town where I used to walk everywhere. Something I never considered before…the crazy traffic and problems with parking. Making sure the kids are quiet in the motel so the neighbors won’t complain about the noise. Making sure we don’t go through all our clothes before the end of our stay. Trying to do the most we can even when the weather is straight rain for days on end. Realizing that many people up here on vacation don’t seem as concerned as I am with money. Such is life.

I’m also learning that returning to a childhood haunt as an adult can have some sadness to it as well. Ghosts of people in my life that aren’t around anymore – who we used to spend our summers with – have haunted me these past few days. People taken by old age, distance, and one tragically taken too soon. I realized I’ve been subconsciously looking for them in the crowds. I could see their faces in some of the other people I’d see here on the beach or waiting outside a store. Their memory is still with me. Good memories that I cherish.

You can’t go back in time, I know. But that eighteen year gap really froze everything in my mind. This was the summer the memories started to grow up again. Going back to an amazing sand dune that had our close family friend’s home was next to is now all grown over with trees, grass and an unsightly new McMansion sitting directly on top of it. With permission, we were able to climb up a path on the dune so my kids could have the empowering experience of standing on  top of a mountain of sand. They had a great time, but I quietly felt the end of the chapter on a wondrous memory of mine.

One good thing that hasn’t changed is the town pier. My favorite ice cream, chocolate soft serve with chocolate sprinkles in a cake cone, tasted just as I remembered. And the warm wind melting it faster than I could eat it so ice cream and sprinkles were blown all over the table – to the horror of my family and the surrounding patrons – was just as comforting as I remembered it to be. But this time I’m the adult – and I prepared ahead with plenty of napkins and indifference. We all ate our ice cream cones and went out onto the beach – collecting shells and enjoying the day as if time had stopped and there was no one in the world but us.

Interstate Family Road Trip: From My Past to My Children’s Present

Well the countdown has begun. This week my family and I are going on our first ever interstate road trip. I have been preparing for months, thinking of every possible weather condition we need to dress for, any ailment that might occur, every boredom that might attack.  We are packed to the top of our minivan with goggles, antacids, Nintendo DS games, crayons, band aids and snack foods galore. Yet I remain confident there is something I’ve overlooked. What if the surf shoes cause blisters? Did I pack lip balm incase of sunburn? How many drink boxes do we need? Probably three dozen more than I’ve packed.

My kids have never seen the ocean before. They have no idea what it feels like to swim in salt water. Or how salty it really is. They have no idea how cold the ocean can be. I can’t wait to see their faces when they realize how vast the ocean is, how big the waves are. They are used to swimming in tiny ponds and indoor college swimming pools. This trip is going to be one that they will remember all their lives. I am excited to tears at how important this trip is in the childhood memory-making department.

When I was a kid we were very poor.  My mom was raising three kids by herself. Every family on our street was married with kids. One time one of our neighbors decided to take up a canned goods drive for us, unbeknownst to my mom. This neighbor went up and down our whole street and asked all our neighbors if they would donate food for us. My mom was extremely embarrassed by it. She was a very proud person who worked full-time and did the best she could to provide for us: we were clean, healthy, fed, went to church every Sunday and education held in the highest regard. And every summer I felt like a rich kid. We had a yearly tradition of spending a week at Cape Cod. Not at all because we were rich, but more by a chance occurrence.

A decade before I was born my mom rented out a room to a woman from Massachusetts. This woman was wealthy, but not at all in a showy way. It was discreet family money. Her family lived very frugally. I remember watching her mother rinse out orange juice cans and tin foil to save.  I always thought that was one of the secrets of the wealthy.  Actually, she had lived through the Great Depression. Some things stay with you no matter where your life ends up.

This roommate, and eventual close family friend to this day, had a home on Cape Cod. Her wonderful family kindly took my mom under their wing, and every year they would generously invite her to visit them at Cape Cod in the summer. This became a yearly tradition for my mom, and eventually, for my siblings and I as well.  Even now, I can still vividly remember cramming into our old Ford Maverick, full of rust and a bad patching job, and off we’d go to our week in heaven.

Kids live in the moment. I don’t think I ever realized how fortunate we were to go to Cape Cod every summer. It was just something we did. Something wonderful and comforting to look forward to. Something that would make me feel like we were a regular family. It was a time when we were truly happy and carefree. We didn’t worry about bills. Or dealing with my father’s wife. Or feeling like the neighborhood misfits because we were the kids with the divorced parents.

Cape Cod for us was like Christmas in July. Literally. Everything was magic. We’d swim all day and after dinner we’d walk on the pier as we tried finishing our chocolate soft-serve ice cream cones before they melted all over us. Lying on the sand dunes at night we’d look out into the sky monitoring for satellites, possible UFO’s and discuss where the planes heading out over the ocean could be landing next. I would practice taking mental notes of every moment we spent collecting horse shoe crabs, or rolling down the sand dunes, or floating on the bay or traveling to Provincetown to see the art galleries. Even the smell of the sweet scrub pine trees was catalogued in my mind as part of a living dream so I could recall it again and again throughout the following school year.

It has now been eighteen years since my last trip to the Cape. I hope that some things in this world don’t change. The first night there  I’m going to go to the top of that very sand dune to look for those satellites again – but this time I’ll be showing them to my kids. I hope this vacation gives my children some memories they can recall and enjoy their whole lives. Maybe we can make it a yearly tradition. Perhaps they might want to return to Cape Cod again someday with their own families. Maybe that very sand dune will still be there for them to climb to the top of so they can look out for those satellites. Or airplanes. Or UFO’s.

Camp Horse Fly

Well it’s hard to believe that the summer is nearly two-thirds through. The end of July has come much quicker than it seems like it has in years past. Every summer in recent memory I’ve led a panicked life of worrying my kids were missing out on some of the best things in life because we couldn’t afford to take them to Disney World. Like everyone else on earth seems to be able to comfortably do. Multiple times over.

This year I sent my kids to “Camp Horse Fly.” Well, that’s what I call it – but I think it works. It is a simple day camp in an out-of-the-way rural area. The focus is on a limited assortment of non-computer game or TV related activities. This focus has enabled my kids to see what they’d heard about for years – “the outdoors.” That sounds like a good start to me.

My husband chaperoned my kids on this great outdoor adventure, which has been going on this whole week. It is wonderful to have my kids and husband outside all day, because in today’s age “outside” seems like “outer space” to a generation that needs special “gaming” chairs to sit in front of their televisions and play their Wii. Sigh.

When I was growing up we spent the entire summer outside. Not because we were a hardy lot, but because there was nothing to do indoors. TV was black and white, which was unusual for the time – but we were poor. That was ok with us. We had the entire summer planned at the public pool: swim lessons, swim team, diving, synchronized swimming. Then we’d have  our friends over for lunch and played outdoor games for hours.  When the pool opened up in the early afternoon we went back and stayed until dinner time. Every day. All summer. We were tanned beyond belief and fit as could be. I wish I could do that today. But being a responsible adult allows no time for enjoying the outdoors on an all-day basis.

So my kids are now like aliens new to the world of “outside”. I don’t think prior to “Camp Horse Fly” they spent more than 20 minute stretches outdoors. And even that was broken up by popsicle breaks, bathroom breaks, random indoor searches for miscellaneous items, and of course searching for mom to referee occasional skirmishes.

I love that my kids are coming home looking healthy, glowing, tan, and smelling like a sweaty mix of bug spray, suntan lotion and chlorine. I wish “Camp Horse Fly” went on for three months. They seem to really love the many daily activities: archery, crafts, swimming, nature walks. The only down side is that one of my sons has since developed a severe phobia of bugs. Apparently something called a “caterpillar” was crawling on him the other day. Hard to imagine their own mother used to collect potato bugs! Hopefully this phobia will pass and not intrude on next years session at “Camp Horse Fly.” Perhaps their own mother should go as well.

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