“Is It Hard to Be a Mom?”

This is the question Flora asked me yesterday as she set the table.

“Is it hard to be a mom?” I repeated.

“Yeah.”

I sighed. I hadn’t had the best day. I was noticeably weary when I picked my children up from Dan’s office. Kate had commented on it. “You sound tired,” she said. “I feel tired,” I answered.

“It’s not hard to be a mom,” I said to Flora. “It was harder when you were babies.” I decided to leave it at that.

“Oh, good,” she said. “I think I want to have two children.”

I could’ve said so much more.

Is it hard to me a mom?

It’s not hard to be a mom. It’s a delight to be a mom! If all I had to do was mother, I’d be golden.

F and K goofing

What could possibly be hard about being a mom to these two goofballs?

It is hard to be a mom, and be a cook, maid, chauffeur, and disciplinarian. That’s pretty tricky.

It’s hard to be a mom, and work 40 hours outside the home at a job that is unpleasant (at best) and occasionally makes you cry.

It’s hard to be a mom, and still prioritize your marriage in the right way. Being a good wife isn’t about the ’50’s model of a good housewife, but my still marriage has to come first. Part of being a good parent *is* being a good spouse and partner. But sometimes, that’s hard to remember. Sometimes you want to take out your frustrations on the person you’ve joined your life to instead of solving problems with him or her.

Dan and M in hammock

Why are you laying down?

It’s hard to be a mom and be a volunteer at school, show up for the activities, cheer from the sidelines, sit through the beginning band concert. It’s hard to be a school mom and fill out the approximately 4,632 forms and turn them in on time. It’s hard to be a mom when you worry if you can re-enroll your children in the school they have come to love and you realize you may need to explore a different option.

It’s hard to be a mom and pay all the bills in an organized fashion.

Mom pen

Because I’m looking for this pen half the time.

It’s hard to be a mom and be patient enough to ask the children again to do the thing you have asked them to do three, five, ten times already. It’s hard to be a mom and repeat the same thing on different days.

It’s hard to be a mom and teach the children to do chores.

it’s hard to be a mom and cobble together dinner every single night. Sometimes you just want to go out for pizza, you know?

It’s hard to be a mom and sweep the kitchen floor at 10 p.m. at night.

It’s hard to be a mom and try to figure out how to launch the next phase of your career, figure out when you are going to write and what, tack hours onto an already too full week so you can move on and earn a little extra scratch.

Being a mom is easier now, now that they are 10 and 8 and 4, and *can* do chores even though they don’t want to, and they can have conversations even though they still goof off at the dinner table, now that they can entertain themselves even if that’s a little more screen time than you originally hoped to expose them to.

I usually like being a mom now. I usually like the mom I am now.

But, yeah, it’s still a little hard being a mom when I mostly want to polish my toenails and sit on the couch reading a book.

It is hard to be a mom (or dad)?

Surgery: A Year Later

Remember this?

Right before surgery.

Dan was brave enough to walk Kate into surgery.

Hoo boy, that was a tough 10+ days.

Even though recovery was challenging, Dan and I would make the decision again. M and Kate have done so well since their surgeries. Random fevers and viruses are way down. Snoring has all but disappeared from the household. Antibiotic use, likewise, is way down due to many fewer ear infections. I think M did have one in the past year.

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M still remembers his visit to Children’s Hospital after his surgery. He asks sometimes if his tonsils have grown back, which makes me laugh.

Kate still has issues with behavior, but I think it’s just due to her strong-willed personality. And middle-child syndrome.

Also, we are a reactive household. I have to rein that in — we all do.

For the most part, Kate *still* doesn’t like to go upstairs or downstairs alone. But she is getting a little better. With some one-on-one attention, she quiets herself.

They sleep through the night much better now. It’s not 100% — M woke me up just a few nights ago — but it’s not weeks of interrupted sleep.

What decision did you make a year ago? Would you do it again?

Stop Apologizing!*

*unless it’s actually your fault.

I’ve noticed something recently that that bugging the hell out of me.

When I am walking somewhere, and need to go by someone, as I pass them, sometimes they say, “Sorry!”

They aren’t even necessarily in my way. I may have to take one step to the side or something, but if they were blocking me, I would simply say, “Excuse me”, smile, and go on by.

Usually, the person saying sorry is a woman.

My response to this unnecessary sorry is usually a bright, “Nope!” by which I mean to convey, “You have no reason to apologize to me. Please carry on.”

Ladies, stop saying sorry for things you don’t need to be sorry for. (Here’s a helpful list.) When an apology is the first thing out of your mouth, the listener is already discounting what comes after it.

“I’m sorry, but could you please review this copy so I can make my deadline?” Is it that person’s job to review your copy? You don’t need to apologize for asking him/her to do his/her job.

“I’m sorry, but I really think the marketing message should be about our excellent service.” If you feel strongly about it, why the hell are you apologizing?

“I’m sorry I mistakenly ate your yogurt. I thought it was mine.” That you can apologize for. You didn’t mean to steal someone’s food; you made an honest mistake.

“I’m sorry I ate that donut.” Are you really sorry you ate that donut? Did you want it? Did it taste delicious? Are you apologizing because you are socialized to believe that women should not eat delicious fattening food, especially in public? Knock that shit off. Enjoy the donut.

“I’m sorry you feel that way.” This is a tricky one. If you are not sorry for what you did, but do feel bad that someone is upset, this can be a legitimate apology. For example, you choose blue sheets because you think they will look nice in the guest room, but your partner hates them. However, if you’ve actually been an ass, you should try to own up to it. Like if you chose the blue sheets even though you know your partner hates them.

If I walk into the ladies’ room, and you are washing your hands, you do not automatically have to say, “Sorry!” I’m probably not headed right to the sink anyway. I probably have other business first. But even if I am going to use the sink first, if I have to brush my teeth for example, you still don’t have to apologize. You were here first. I can wait. It’s no big deal.

Now, if I’m walking into the ladies’ room, and you open the door at exactly the same time I’m pushing on the door, and we startle each other, we can both say “sorry!” That’s always polite.

If this is you, please think before you say, “Sorry, but…”. Do you actually need to be sorry? Have you committed a grievous error that in the future you will try not to commit?

Otherwise, your “sorry” belittles you, makes you seem smaller and less important. Don’t do that to yourself. You feelings are legitimate; your opinions are important. You are an agent in the world.

Don’t be sorry for that.

Two Steps Forward, You Know The Rest

Last night at bath time, Michael declared, “I’m going to start washing my own body.”

I nodded along. I remain highly skeptical.

Make no mistake, children learning to bathe themselves is a huge milestone (and overlooked in childhood development books, as far as I’m concerned). I think Flora took her first solo shower when she was 7, and Kate was not far behind.

It is incredibly freeing.

They needed help at first to make sure their hair was getting washed and rinsed sufficiently. Then Kate especially needed to be reminded why she was in the shower (hint: not to play), and to not mislead me about the state of her hair (hint: wet is not washed). And, now, of course, they fight me about taking a daily shower, even though they only have to wash their hair every other day.

Now Flora is a fully independent shower-taker (and modest; she prizes her privacy at shower time, which Kate does not seem to understand yet). Kate still needs some supervision and the occasional nudge toward actually cleaning herself.

Michael doesn’t even like the shower. Bath time to him means playtime. Dan is trying to move him away from a bath to a shower; I tend to be a little more flexible — my baby! But there are some nights where I focus on bath and bed, and speed is more vital than playtime.

But, hey, sure. He’ll start washing his own body. Probably in a bath, and after I’ve soaped up a bath sponge for him. I’ll take it.

M after shower

“I brushed my own hair. Do I look handsome?” You do, buddy. How about some button pants?

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The weekend of Mother’s Day, Michael declared he wanted to start wearing buttons.

I was utterly taken off guard, and somewhat excited.

Buttons! This would open a whole new realm of sartorial possibilities!

M stopped wearing buttons around 2, which many of my mom friends assured me was not unusual for boys. He didn’t like buttons on shirts OR pants, and he didn’t even like jeans very much. He’s been wearing a lot of tee shirts, “soft pants”, and shorts with elastic waists.

And then Mother’s Day weekend, he requested a shirt with buttons. Specifically, a polo shirt.

And that Sunday, he even wanted pants with buttons!

Which was a problem, because he doesn’t own pants with buttons, because buttons. He had a meltdown, and I promised to get him pants with buttons.

I unearthed shorts with buttons this past weekend, and guess what??

He doesn’t want pants or shorts with buttons.

Or *rather*, he wants buttons on his pants (or shorts), but only if they are SHIRT buttons.

Which makes sense to my 4-year-old boy’s mind, but not to mine.

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What milestones do you look forward to that childhood development books overlook?

Laying Down the Law

This weekend, I had to say the following sentence to my children:

“We will have no talk of slavery in this house.”

Once more, we were fighting about chores. I am one of those mean mommies who make their children do chores — clean their rooms, strip and make their beds, pick up the front room and vacuum, empty the dishwasher, set the table, clear the table, and rinse dishes and put them in the dishwasher. I make them pack their own lunches. I make them shower — this seems to be a big problem, the daily shower.

I sat them down on Sunday afternoon. Dan was present to show solidarity. This is what I told them (paraphrasing myself).

1. You are not allowed to tell me “no.” If I am asking you to do something that is within your physical capabilities, that will not cause you harm or harm to someone else, you do it.

2. I ask for about an hour of your time on a daily basis (maybe a little more on the weekend). You can give that to me. I don’t limit what else you are allowed to do on the weekends — although I am going to have to rein in screen time. On Saturday you spent nearly 6 hours on screens. That can’t keep happening. An hour to help me and your daddy around the house is not too much to ask.

3. You will not use the words “slave” or “slavery” in this house. The United States has a long and shameful history of real slavery, of people driven and tortured because they were viewed as lesser beings. That’s not what is happening when I ask you to do chores. You are part of a team, not someone used and abused for labor. So knock it off with the hyperbole.

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My MIL comes over once a week (sometimes twice) to help the girls put their clean laundry away, and to help them clean up their room.

And by help, I mean that she tells them what to do and they do it.

When this happens, I do not hear whinging from the girls’ room. I do not hear the word, “No.” She guides them through what they are supposed to do, they do it, and in about a half hour or so, they are done.

I don’t know how she does it. Maybe she threatens them. Maybe she bribes them. Maybe she just tells them, “This is how you are a good citizen in this house.” No idea. I’m usually in the kitchen finishing the dishes (the girls are not yet adept at washing the dishes by hand).

I am grateful for this help from my MIL. I don’t know what I would do without her. I sincerely hope the girls are internalizing her guidance so they know and understand how to clean their rooms *without* someone standing over them telling them what to do.

My girls like when their room is neat. They are proud of themselves for making it look that way. So why do they do it for Bella, and not for me?

Bella and Kate

They clean their room for her!

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I get *so tired* of fighting the fight, I really do. I understand parents who pick up after their children. It’s faster, and gets done “right”. Believe me, I am the OCD parent of three children, and as much as I want things to be “just so”, I have started settling for “good enough”. As long as the floor is clear, and the vacuum can be run, and things are where they are supposed to live, I’m good. The dishes aren’t always put away perfectly, or put in the dishwasher the way I would load it, but I don’t care. It’s something I didn’t have to do.

And that’s a big deal.

Children and me.

Deceptively adorable.

Do your children have chores? Do you still fight with them about doing them?

Random Thoughts: Mother’s Day Edition

1. After the incredible high of LTYM, I came back to reality Saturday morning, wrangling three children and one dog off to a 10 a.m. soccer game. Already, the day was steaming up, our central air wasn’t working, I had a headache, and was running on an adrenaline high and only about 5 hours of sleep.

Additionally, my parents and my sister were in town; they had come in for the show and for Mother’s Day. My sister had brought her dog with her.

Oscar, our foster dog for a week, it turns out, does not play well with other dogs. Oy, the barking.

2. Kate acted up, which is never good, but when she mouthed off to my parents — well, this was unacceptable. She lost Minecraft for the weekend.

3. Thank goodness for naps. I crashed for about an hour on Saturday. Which was good, because we had to go to dinner to celebrate Mother’s Day with my mom and Dr. Sis. We had a delightful and delicious dinner at Serafina’s in Crafton. Turns out Kate and Michael really like polenta, and all three of the children enjoy gnocchi. Who knew?

4. Dr. Sis is pregnant for the first time (due in September; please keep her and baby G in prayers — healthy pregnancy, good labor, healthy baby). At the soccer game as we were wrangling children and dogs, chatting about LTYM, and watching the soccer game, Dr. Sis observed that when I was a teenager, I said I was never having children.

While I do not recall declaring this, it certainly seems that it is possible that there was some point that I did not want children. I didn’t like to babysit, like, at all. I wasn’t fond of children in general — although are teenagers fond of children? I suppose some must be.

It is not out of the realm of possibility that I said I would never have children.

Having them now, though? Wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Family portrait

I mean, c’mon. Not only do we have a good time together, we’re a pretty good-looking family!

5. Thanks to everyone who commented on my last post, and my FB and Twitter, about LTYM. I cannot wait to share the video with those of you who missed it.

6. Chicago vacation is OFFICIALLY BOOKED. That is the next thing that I have to look forward to! It’s good to always have something.

What are you looking forward to?

Listen to Your Mother Pittsburgh Knocks It Out of the Park

Ladies in Red: Britt, Jen, me (duh), and Tina

Ladies in Red: Britt, Jen, me (duh), and Tina

I have had some good nights, and some good weekends, and some truly amazing — amazing — blessings in my life.

Aside from my wedding day, and each of the times I delivered a child (in the words of one of the directors, Stephanie Jankowski), “out of my vagina — Like. A. Boss” — Listen to Your Mother tops them all.

It was, hands down, one of the most amazing things I have ever had the privilege to do.

Amanda Mushro (the other director), Stephanie, and producer Jennifer Hicks, did an incredible job, and maybe got a teensy bit lucky, putting this show together. The stories on the stage that night fit together like it was planned before auditions, with 13 women all telling about their experience of motherhood. All different and yet all with a kernel in the middle that was the same. The kernel of motherhood.

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Amanda in peach, Jen in red, Stephanie (on the floor in yellow)... and cast member Ilene.

Amanda in peach, Jen in red, Stephanie (on the floor in yellow)… and cast member Ilene.

We thanked our directors and producer A LOT in the weeks leading to the show, in emails, on Facebook, in person, at each reading. And each time they told US: This show is you. You make this. Your story. We are the privileged ones.

And they are right. I believed them. But we cast were right too. We could not have done it without each other. We needed them to bring this show to Pittsburgh, and they needed us to do this show in Pittsburgh.

No, thank you!

No, thank you!

++

If you didn’t get to see the show, in about a month or so, I’ll be bugging you to go and watch the videos on YouTube — and don’t just watch mine. Watch them all.

I posted on FB here, and borrowed from cast member Britt Reints who summed up each story succinctly. I’m quite flattered that her daughter liked my story enough to call it her favorite. At the cast party, I know I heard the most about Mother Hen and Unplanned Parenthood. Erika Fricke was missed at the cast party, I’ll tell you that! I had to let people know about the outcome of her story.

I understand. After the first read through, I walked up to Erika and said, “WELL?”

Watch the video. You’ll see.

++

While I was nervous in the days leading up to the show, especially once I got Kate’s communion party out of the way and had to focus on the next thing, I felt like I was handling everything okay. As the show got closer, I just took each day hour by hour. Friday, that probably became every half hour by half hour.

And I was mostly fine until Stephanie got up to read her piece — during the actual show. I had eaten a little something so I wouldn’t have a sugar crash, and I was drinking water, but not too much because I didn’t want to have to urgently pee in the middle of the show. But Stephanie was sitting back down, and I realized I felt a lightheaded, and had a bit of a headache. “Oh no,” I thought. “What is happening?”

And then I realized I was holding my breath.

++

I’ll tell you as much as all of us women made the show — and we all did, we all NAILED our pieces — the energy from the audience gave us the impetus to read like we had never read before. As soon as Natalie delivered her first laugh line, and the audience responded, I thought, “WE HAVE THEM.” That audience was ours. They listened to us! They responded to us! I heard gasps of fear, groans of pain, sniffling of tears.

And laughter. Oh, the laughter.

Because that’s motherhood, isn’t it? Fear and pain and tears — and joy and love and laughs.

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And you know what I am most excited about? It’s going to happen again. I got a text yesterday from a friend who said, “I have an idea for an LTYM essay.” I responded, “WRITE IT DOWN.” Jen, Amanda, and Stephanie have started something great, something that Pittsburgh will love and embrace and be good at, and I can’t wait until next year.

If you have a story about motherhood — and who doesn’t — think about sharing it. You don’t have to be a mother. You don’t even have to be a woman. Tell a story. Be authentic.

Thanks to everyone who supports this show, from Pittsburgh and beyond.

See you next year.

Flowers from my parents. Thanks, guys!

Flowers from my parents. Thanks, guys!

Conversations We Are Not Having

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Although I have been following developments in Baltimore, I haven’t said very much.

I’ve also been following the SCOTUS arguments about gay marriage, but I haven’t said much about that, either.

First of all, I’m having a little bit a deja vu about both situations — haven’t we been here before?

Secondly, and more importantly, it’s not for me to speak up about these things. If you read this blog, you know where I stand on these issues.

Black lives matter.

Love is love.

Especially in the case of what is going on in Baltimore — a city I am quite fond of, BTW — it’s not my story and MY voice that are needed.

It’s up to me to sit and listen. Really listen. Not pretend to listen until it’s my turn to speak.

Just listen.

++

Dan came back from his trip to Memphis. He said the Civil Rights Museum was incredibly moving. And he also said that he has one question for people who talk about Baltimore.

“What are you doing to help? What are you doing to make it better?”

What are you doing to change things?

I think it starts with listening, instead of talking. Hear the pain and the anger. Stand witness.

I don’t know what my next steps are, personally. Find a way to be a better advocate somehow.

Sometimes I feel like President Bartlett from The West Wing.

“What’s next?”

Conversations We’re Having

As the girls and I got settled in the car after pickup yesterday, I started:

“Okay, Flora and Kate, we need to talk because…”
“Daddy’s out of town.” This was Flora.
“Well, yes, and I’m going to need –”
“Lots of help.”
“Yes, and you two need to –”
“Listen and do what you ask.”
“I — did Daddy talk to you before he left?”
“No, not really.”
“Is this a conversation we have a lot?”
“Yeah, when Daddy’s not around. You get stressed out.”

All righty then.

I don’t recall my mother showing any cracks. Of course, my mother was perfect. Maybe I’m sharing a little too much in front of the kids.

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There’s this, vis-a-vis the Bruce Jenner “news”.

My answer, “No. She needs surgery for that.”

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Kate’s spelling grade is atrociously bad. If you looked at the rest of her report card, you would never suspect how low it is. It has me (and her teacher) quite flummoxed. We practice every week. We read together — she is a good reader herself.

But spelling. BAD.

Also, we fight nearly every week about practicing her spelling. She hates it. She will procrastinate as long as possible on Thursday nights to avoid sitting down to do a practice test. She can’t find a pencil; she has to go to the bathroom; she has to see what Flora is doing. She throws a tantrum because she’s JUST BAD AT SPELLING, AND IT’S NEVER GONNA CHANGE, MOM!

So we went through it last night, and she finally did it, and she actually got them all right (this week’s list is all contractions). Although she made her ‘d’ backwards on ‘don’t’.

I said, “We need a trick to help you remember which way to make your ‘d’s and ‘b’s.”

“Can I show you something?”

“Sure.”

“This is how I think of it. If you draw a big b” I drew a B ” and then a little b…”

I saw where she was going and wrote this: D d B b.

“The little b is mad, and doesn’t like her mother; but the ‘d’s love each other.”

I started laughing helplessly. “Kate!” I said. “I love it! What a good way to remember.”

That girl has an interesting little mind on her.

It’s true, I don’t know what else to do to help her with spelling. I can see when words are spelled wrong — I don’t know if it’s a lifetime of reading or what. I mentioned this to Kate.

Then she said, “Sometimes I write the word, and it looks wrong, so I write it again. And it turns out I was right the first time.”

Hm. Interesting.

“Well,” I said, “maybe instead of doubting yourself, just leave it the first time you write it. I would say that your first guess is going to be the right one. That happens a lot, not just in spelling.”

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Later, as I tucked Kate in, I said, “Are you a b or a d?”
“A d,” she said.
“Yeah, me too.”

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M's picture of him in my belly

“I drawed a picture of you. And I drew me in your belly.”

Dan has recently told M about how he was in a transverse lie when he was getting ready to be borne. M remembers EVERYTHING.

“Mommy, remember when I was sideways in your belly?”
“I do, little man.”
“So, did I come out of your mouth? Or out of your foot?”
Shades of Flora, this one.
“You came out of my vagina, Michael.”
“Okay.” Off he went to play.

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What conversations are you having?

Lone Wolf

If I were to measure day-to-day parenting between Dan and me on a balancing scale, it would probably dip lower on my side. I don’t know how much lower — after all, three days a week, the girls are at his office after school, and he’s always there at night, in the morning, and on the weekends. I do more meal-making, to be sure, and run the children around more. I guess I do more of the logistical legwork than he does.

And that’s okay. It’s how it works in our two-working-parents household. And he is always there to step up when his schedule allows. He doesn’t shirk in his duties. Although, he does like to let the girls stay up with him a little bit. He really misses them during the week.

But now he’s going to Memphis with one of his uncles for four days.

He won’t be there tonight. Or tomorrow morning. Or the next two nights and mornings after that.

I will be 100% parent-on-duty until sometime on Sunday evening.

And we’re dog sitting.

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I think I would feel a little better about lone wolfing if I were not so very stressed at work. Dan’s the one I can cry with on the phone in the parking lot (yesterday’s joyful moment!) telling him how much I hate this job.

I would never compare myself to a single parent. I have my husband’s full financial, physical, and emotional support. He is there, and he is an active participant in our household, from parenting to housework.

So: pray for me and the children. The in-laws are close by, although I don’t have very ambitious plans for the weekend. Putz around; clean what I can when I can; make sure everyone eats; maybe a little food shopping. Make sure the dog is fed, watered, and walked (this is the girls’ job — dollars are on the line!). I’ve gotten Flora a ride to her soccer game Sunday; M, Kate, and I will be attending a communion lunch for Kate’s BFF.

And, of course, plenty of this and SOA to get me through my lonely evenings!

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How do you survive lone wolfing?

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