Archive for the ‘Moments of Clarity’ Category

My 3-year old son Will is testing his yelling skills these days. Usually the hollering starts over something simple, like, how I put on his pants. He’ll fuss with the waistband, look at me disapprovingly and say, “I don’t want the pants this way! I want them this way!” And he’ll tug them a little to the left. To manage his frustrations, I offer the usual parenting advice—use your nice words, your inside voice, your manners, etc. But after awhile, the yelling, paired with a fingers-on-the-chalkboard whine, had me rattled. I fought the urge to shout back, then one day, something altogether surprising came out of my mouth:

“Spell it, don’t yell it.”

I could have shot flowers out of my nose. Will was remarkably silent.

“If you want to me to help you,” I said. “Please don’t yell at me. Spell pants instead.” Again, silence. Now don’t get me wrong, I know a preschooler can’t spell pants, unless he’s taken a crash course in Your Baby Can Read, but asking him to spell pants piqued his curiosity.

“Momma, can you spell it for me?” he asked.


He repeated the spelling back, smiled and returned to the floor to play with his Star Wars figures. I was beyond pleased.

Of course now, like anything that’s too good to be believed, Will is asking me to spell everything. New Jersey. Underwear. Pneumonia. The last of which tripped me up. Seriously. Try spelling pneumonia out loud.

But I’m not complaining. R-e-a-l-l-y. It’s a lot quieter in my house. And my son is learning, which is so much better than yelling.

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The summer brought a series of milestones for my young son Will. He potty-trained during a 2,500-mile road trip, successfully scaled his crib, celebrated his third birthday and experienced a growth spurt that changed him from a baby-faced toddler to a little boy. Since I’m 95% certain he is my last child, you would think these milestones would be bittersweet. But somehow, I managed them all with aplomb, especially bidding adieu to diapers once and for all (although now I have probably jinxed us for sure).

To cap off Will’s season ’o change, Ted dismantled the crib. Will was spending more nights in big sister Lauren’s bed anyway, and it seemed the two slept better together. Ted suggested moving the kids into the same room. After weighing the pros (uninterrupted sleep) and cons (the domino effect of changing rooms), I decided to give Ted’s idea a try. We purchased new beds for the kids and spent a full day moving Will’s things into Lauren’s room.

I felt myself feeling anxious, my emotions whirring around like clothes in a dryer. Will’s empty room made me nostalgic for my infant children. His room had been Lauren’s first, and I recall myself nearly 9 months pregnant, regarding the freshly painted walls, new furniture and the quilt made by her grandmother. I remember thinking; soon, there will be a newborn baby here, my baby.

When Lauren outgrew her room, Will took her place, and I never predicted he would leave. I couldn’t imagine a time when he wouldn’t be my baby. But here he was, after a summer of changes, leaving his crib behind and moving into a big boy bed.

While the kids were helping Ted locate his tools, I tried to make sense of this new space. Everything was out of sorts—there were books stacked in piles on the floor, scratches on walls where furniture used to be, dents in the carpet plus a bedside table, bookshelf and armoire that no longer had a place here. I started to blubber like a child, missing the way things were.

That evening, I kept Ted up with a crazy list of to dos: painting shelves, removing old furniture, and shopping for organizational supplies. But nothing would keep my children from growing up. Someday they’ll want their own rooms again and I’ll feel nostalgic for their preschool years. Until then, I’ll tuck them in at night—Will sleeping beside his cars, Lauren clutching her favorite blanket— and take my time with the rest.

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At ages three and four, my children get along 85% of the time. I’m amazed by the small kindnesses they pay each other. Will, ever the charmer, regularly tells his sister how beautiful she looks. I have also spotted Lauren helping her brother remove his jacket, or offering him a toy that’s out of reach. During moments like these, I’m proud of my duo. I actually feel as though I must be doing something right.

Still, they do fight and tease each other during play. The insults range from, “You’re a Bad Hat,” a name inspired by the book, Madeline, or “You’re a baby.” When the teasing happens, they argue until someone ends up crying and running to me for help. “Mom, Sissy called me a baby! Tell her I am not a baby!”

Usually, I make the Instigator apologize to the Teased and if that doesn’t work, the Instigator gets a time out. Though lately I’ve been hoping the two will find a way to resolve their own conflicts. Maybe I’m expecting too much, but I figure, they’re going to get teased outside of the house eventually, and I want them to be ready. So, I bestowed upon them some advice: when someone teases, tell that person, “I don’t agree with you.”

Most of the time, my crazy ideas don’t pan out, but in this case, the “I don’t agree with you line” works wonders. And it makes me laugh when I hear Lauren or Will use this method, although sometimes they need reminding:

Lauren: You are a baby.

Will: No, I’m not.

Lauren: Yes you are!

Me: (While folding laundry in the next room) Will, what do you say when someone’s teasing you?

Will: Sissy, I don’t agree with you.

And then… glorious silence! My guess is that kids, upon hearing this declaration, don’t know what to say. With all power defused, the Instigator can no longer continue the argument. Then play time, laundry folding and all other household matters can go on peacefully.

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Last week I made it a personal challenge to get more sleep: an experiment that failed miserably. The call of mindless downtime continues to be my weakness. For example, when my husband asked me if I wanted to eat Ghirardelli brownies and watch Lost on our comfy couch, how could I refuse? My hope was to be in bed by 10:30 p.m., but most nights, I didn’t make it upstairs until 11:00 p.m.

Late night temptation #1

Addictive TV show = less sleep for this momma

Somehow, though, being conscious of my bedtime led to good things, like remembering to take my vitamins, carving out time for appointments, drinking more water and minding my caffeine intake. Surprisingly, simple changes like these have made a big difference in my energy level.

Which is good news, right? Though now I see how my late nights have led to a series of bad habits. My downward spiral started with lack of sleep, then skipped showers to get the kids ready and out the door, which naturally led to getting dressed with little effort (wearing the same jeans 4-days a week), followed by downing ungodly amounts of caffeine.  I took a long look in the mirror and thought, shit. I’m looking tired. I’m looking pale. And is that a gray hair on my head?

The thing is, I don’t want to become a cliché…. a harried, over-caffeinated parent in sweatpants. Instead I’m going to remind myself, daily, to take better care. I might fall off the wagon now and then. Or I might have a late night (or two… okay three). But the point is I’m making an effort – even if it’s in baby steps.

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A scene from The Polar Express

I was watching The Polar Express with Ted and the kids, and thinking how I could relate to the main character­–a boy whose belief is restored in Santa Claus after he’s given a bell that only true believers can hear. He’s thrilled by this gift, but on the return trip home, when he reaches inside his pocket to retrieve the bell, he finds a gaping hole instead. His shoulders slump. There’s a look of shock and disappointment on his face. Then there’s me, a grown woman, sobbing in the corner of our sectional, wondering like him, what could I have done differently? Or was my loss out of my control?

My bell came in the form of an assignment from a popular, online parenting magazine. The story pitch required work, time and perseverance, and the pay wasn’t great, but it didn’t matter. The opportunity could lead to wonderful possibilities: exposure for my blog, more assignments, new readers, etc, but the fear of screwing up scared me to death. What if the editor didn’t like the finished piece? And worse, what if the magazine decided not to go through with publishing the essay?

I was filled with self-doubt, or as my father calls it, over-analysis paralysis. I drove Ted crazy, endlessly discussing my concerns, worrying that the piece didn’t hold up against other essays on the site. And like any supportive husband, he assured me that my story was good, better than good, and that I was being too hard on myself.

I had a reoccurring feeling, though, and it was this: something was missing in the essay. So I worked on the story, re-wrote it a number of times and then finally, it felt complete. Over-analysis paralysis be damned! I had beaten this thing, and Ted had to be right, everything would turn out okay.

Except it didn’t. Call it negative energy, bad karma, my stars not being aligned, whatever… four days after sending the piece, I learned from an editorial assistant that the story was being killed. Apparently the magazine had a lot of great content for December, and a new editorial team decided less was more. I read the email at least five times before the message sank in. Then I imagined a crazy, murderous editor, stabbing my essay over and over again in her New York office, shouting, “Kill this thing! It’s the worst I’ve seen in all my years of editing.”

Of course I’ll never know if it was the content, staff changes or a little of both that changed the fate of my original acceptance. And of course, the not knowing is driving me nuts. It’s like someone you’re crazy about breaking up with you, and never learning the reason why. And all along, the relationship seemed great: lots of good communication, only a few days between emails and then wham! You’re on the outs.

So in a nutshell, I lost my bell. I don’t know when or how long it will take before I get it back. In The Polar Express, the boy wakes up Christmas morning to find a small box under the tree. He opens the package and discovers the bell is safely inside. And in an instant, all is right with the world.

But The Polar Express is a movie, not life. I want to be hopeful, and my friends and family have assured me that I’ll get another opportunity. I want to believe them. Really, I do. Right now, though, I feel like I’ve been left with a great big hole in my pocket.

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il_430xN.70809577Since I decided to leave the 9-5 and work from home part-time, my daily routine has become easier. I can spend more time with Lauren and Will in the morning without feeling rushed. I can visit my daughter’s nursery school and not worry about missing a meeting. And although I’m tired by 5:00 p.m., I don’t feel brain dead when I pick the kids up from daycare.

So what’s the problem? These days it’s my inability to shut off the two sides of my brain, not right and left, but the mom side and the work side. When I’m writing, I’m rarely distracted by other thoughts. It’s as though I get lost in some strange vortex, but the moment I take a break, my mind starts to wander. Lately, for example, I’ve been worried about Lauren’s mysterious 2-1/2 week outbreak of hives. What’s causing them? Will the hives be gone by the time we go to the allergist? And if they do, will he know how to help her? Then my thoughts turn to the kids’ winter wardrobe, meals, house projects—the slippery slope of the to do list. When I can, I’ll divide my day in half, spending the morning writing, and the afternoon tackling the list, but that’s becoming increasingly harder to do. I lose track of time when I’m working on a writing project. I’ll look at the clock and it will be 3:30 p.m., giving me only an hour and a half to tackle any household demands.

I’ve made a promise to myself (and the kids) to focus on them when they’re home with me. If Will is taking a nap, and Lauren is immersed in a craft project, I’ll check email or fold laundry, but overall I’ve held to my promise. Once they’re in bed for the night, my mind returns to work. This never happened when I worked full-time. I could leave the office and rarely give it a second thought once I arrived home. That’s changed, too. I love what I do now, and so I am constantly thinking about story ideas, what’s worked, what hasn’t and what I should be doing to get ahead. Sometimes I can’t sleep. It’s not so bad that I’m up until 2:00 a.m. thinking about work, but it takes at least an hour for me to shut down.

I’m not complaining, though. It’s good to be busy, to spend more time with the little people and feel challenged. I thought I’d have more balance working this way, but now I wonder if balance is possible. I’m starting to think it’s more about finding what works on a daily basis, and being inordinately flexible when life gets in the way—whether it’s the hives, a new project or my thoughts sending me in another direction. The truth is, whether a mom stays home, works in an office or does a little of each, both sides of her brain are always buzzing.

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Friends have asked if I have regrets leaving work, if I’m finding it hard staying home and if I’m busy. Lauren and Will try my patience daily, whether it be the refusal to put on pants or not replying when I ask a question three times over. And lately, Will is up nights, almost as if he’s a newborn again. I’m tired most of the time, and I’m drinking more coffee than I ever did at my full-time job.

That being said, I wouldn’t change a thing (well, maybe the late nights). I love my days with the kids. It’s been wonderful to deliver Lauren to preschool and not have to rush anywhere. Will can stay and play for a bit, and when it’s time to leave the classroom, the two of us run errands together, play baseball in the driveway or hang out at the local coffee shop. One day, while strolling down Main Street, he declared, “Mommy, we are happy!” He couldn’t have said it better.

Will takes long naps in the afternoon, so that’s when Lauren and I spend time together. She’s tired and cranky after school, which is never fun, but post lunch, she’s ready for anything. We’ve been doing a lot of baking lately. I have to remind Lauren not to put her fingers in the batter, or lick the sugar off the table, but generally, she keeps herself in check. She also likes to do arts and crafts. I’ve found I have a flair for making construction paper people and figures, so that’s what we create most of the time. This week we made a movie star version of Lauren’s aunt, two delivery trucks and a Thomas the Tank Engine for Will, which I’m particularly proud of.

Thomas the Tank Engine by Yours Truly

Thomas the Tank Engine by Yours Truly

Lauren's ice cream delivery truck

Lauren's ice cream delivery truck

When the kids are not at home, I’ve been diving into work. I feel guilty because I accepted a copywriting job, which I said I would not do. But I feel better knowing I’m contributing in some way, and as far as copywriting gigs go, this one is as good as it gets. My client is flexible and I can tell him up front when I’m having a crazy week. And he pays on time, which is a rare treat for a writer.

I’ve made a promise to myself to pitch at least two stories a week to magazines, and I’m hoping an assignment will come. Next week I’m headed to Boston to talk with some writing peers and a former boston.com editor about pitch letters in general. Sending a story idea to a magazine is similar to drafting a cover letter for a job—the process is time consuming but necessary. And like applying for a job, you never know if or when you’ll hear back. I figure the more I put out there, the more chance I have of something happening.

So do I have regrets? Not yet. I miss clothes shopping in Freeport during lunch. I miss seeing some of my friends. And I still worry about being poor and on the street. But for the most part, as my son would say, we are happy.

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