Category: kids (page 1 of 24)

Homegirl

horseandcartSomeone called me homegirl last week. Not that I’m not the “homegirl” type, but, well, it surprised me a bit. Turns out this guy sees me a lot, riding my bike with my kids. He was telling another cyclist how “homegirl here picks up her kids from school every day. Every single day!”

I may have blushed a little.

I do pick up my kids every single day. And I often do it on my bike. The bike that seats five people. An open-air minivan on two wheels. A clown car of sorts. It’s a novelty, a monstrosity, and a life line.

Physically, it is pretty draining. Not so much now as when I first started riding, and even less since I stopped counting the miles and anticipating the hard parts. Now I just go. I just do it and don’t think about how hard it is. Thinking about how hard it is makes it harder. A lot harder.

But the thing is, putting myself out there—in the arena—working for every meter up the bridge and on the roads, I get a lot of support. Mostly, “Whoa!” and “Supermom!” and “That’s amazing!” and “You’re my hero!” and “Strong mama!” and things like that. I get thumbs ups as well. And once, someone even pushed the back of the bike to give me an extra boost. I appreciated the thought even if it did take me by surprise. And then there are the photos. Lots of photos. Sometimes people ask. Sometimes they just take it. Sometimes they try to be covert about it. It makes me smile, even if I am dripping with sweat and looking like a mess.

It’s been a couple of years since I got any negativity. There was the guy who sped past me on the Manhattan Bridge, questioning my sanity for putting my kids in danger like that. He didn’t love it when I asked him where his helmet was. Touche. And then there was the guy who, as he was driving by, creeped into the bike lane, so he could get close enough to tell me that what I was doing was dangerous. Ugh. HE WAS THE DANGER!!!!

The comments, the give and take, the sharing of our lives on the open road: it’s one of the things I love about living in the city. We can’t hide. We don’t hide. We hardly even have our own space. We share all kinds of things with everyone around us.hudsonbikes

We share our thumping bumping and jumping with the neighbors downstairs.

We share our yelling and crying and music and laughing with the rest of the hallway.

We share our “backyard” with everyone else who hangs out in Prospect Park.

We share our travels with anyone who happens to be in the same train at the same time.

We share our quirks with all those people who think that 4 kids on a bike is just the nuttiest/greatest/weirdest/craziest thing they’ve ever seen.

And with that sharing comes connection. We see each other. We talk. We listen. We hear. We smile and nod and we are aware of each other.

It isn’t always easy to do. I still get nervous about what people are going to say to me. I wonder if I’ll get a comment that will fill my bucket or drain it. (And to be honest, sometimes, even the most well-meaning, supportive people are annoying on days when I just want to be left alone. Because, I’m actually working here. As much as it looks like a clown car, we are not messing around. We’ve got places to go and people to meet.)

Sometimes I think about what it would be like to hide. In a car. With tinted windows. To be the anonymous driver.

Sometimes I wonder about a backyard. To watch the kids play from the kitchen window. To not make a production about getting out the bikes and the balls and the jump ropes. To send the kids outside when I need some space and to know they’re still contained and protected.

More often these days I imagine our future home. I see peonies and rose bushes, a wraparound porch, fruit trees in the backyard, and a vegetable garden where vegetables can grow big and strong.

By the time we get there, our kids may have already grown big and strong. Big because that is what kids do, and strong (I hope) because of how much we have given and received as we have lived our lives out in the open of the big city.oliverbikes

We don’t really have a “home”—just a small apartment we rent—nor do we have a lot of family support close by. Instead we make ourselves at home here in this city and rely on our friends and neighbors and strangers for support. It’s a bit risky, but I feel dividends. A little support from my fellow New Yorkers is as good as cold hard cash any day of the week.

So I guess I am someone’s “homegirl.” Maybe a lot of people’s. And I appreciate that we can be at home here in this city together, riding bikes and looking out for each other. Every single day.

I’m Making Everyone Happy

I’m not really making everyone happy. Not right now, immediately. I don’t really think I can. Happiness is so complicated, sometimes unpredictable, and subjective. Right?

So, how to even approach it?

It takes a long time to grow into happiness. To realize that it is not getting everything you want. Happiness takes sacrifice. Happiness is selflessness and fearlessness. It’s finding joy in difficult circumstances. It’s gratitude and giving.thelastbeachday

Am I right?

So that’s why we encourage our kiddos to work hard and take pride in their accomplishments. Even if that accomplishment is putting away 5,305 stuffed animals before bedtime.

We do things that are uncomfortable. Push our limits so that we know where they are. Limits like riding 30 miles on a bike when we are 5 years old.

We take a bite of food that is unfamiliar, and then a couple more just to be 100% sure we don’t like it before we give up. And we never spit it back out.

We do things to help people. Even if it means sitting out in the hot hot sun selling cookies to passersby on a holiday when we could be at the beach.

bakesaleAre we having fun yet? Are we happy? We’re happy, right?

 

Right?

 

Then why are we whining?

Okay, fine. I get it. It takes a while to learn. Happiness is a choice we get to make every hour of every day. Even in the hardest of times. Even when dinner contains ginger and/or curry powder. It doesn’t feel like it, but you actually do have a choice.

(They are usually not happy to hear that.)
So no, I’m not making everyone happy. Not right now.

Because I can’t. It’s impossible. I can lead these little ponies to water, but I cannot make them drink.

prayingboyAnd then one day this summer we came home from somewhere and needed some cold refreshment. Little Miss took charge, opened the freezer, pulled out the freeze pops and exclaimed (for real, it was a real exclamation), “I’m making everyone happy!”

And I thought, Oh my goodness, she’s right! Maybe I’m over-thinking this. Maybe I just need to throw them a bone, a cookie, a popsicle every now and then. Maybe that wouldn’t derail anyone’s life. 

Maybe I can make everyone happy. Just a little bit. Now . . . and forever.theyloveeachother

 

Sometimes You’re the Kite, Sometimes You’re the Anchor

It’s really not fair. Anyone can see that.

It’s not fair that Micah gets to go to work each day, that it matters what he wears or if he has bedhead. It’s not fair that he gets to sit in meetings where he shares ideas and people listen, that they appreciate his expertise, that they will take his advice.

He doesn’t live his life with a capricious and mischievous two-year-old as a constant companion, a little being who can turn a simple trip to the grocery store into an epic battle of wills. He can have insightful conversations with the people he spends his days with. He doesn’t have to remind his co-workers 7 times in a hour to sit and do their work, or revoke various privileges when they once again lose focus and start chasing each other and fighting over a stuffed monkey.

It must be nice, I think, to be compensated and appreciated. To be able to be promoted. To switch jobs if necessary.
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But then again, it’s really not fair and anyone can see that.

It’s not fair that I can wear my pjs all day and it would be totally appropriate. It’s not fair that I can sit and watch “Clifford The Big Red Dog” in the name of quality bonding time. It’s not fair that I can write whatever I want and work on whatever projects interest me the most.

I don’t have to worry about making enough money to take care of the family. I don’t have to set my own ideas aside or refashion my creative impulses to fit somebody else’s vision. I don’t have the pressure of so many deadlines or the worry of what could happen if I didn’t make them.

And I’m sure he thinks it must be nice to have the best hours of the day open to whatever I want: a run in the park, a get-together with friends, a lazy day of reading and playing make-believe.

Sometimes it feels like I am the anchor to Micah’s kite, letting him soar up above the trees where he can see spectacular views and feel the rush of the wind in his hair. It feels like I’m stuck on the ground, nothing to see, nothing to do but watch and wonder what it’s like up there.

But other times, I feel like I am the kite: flying, diving, tossed about. Beautiful views, yes, and exhilarating speed. But a bit unsteady and unsure. It must be nice, I think, to be on solid ground and surrounded by people and things, to be able to sit and relax for a bit, instead of always being pushed around.

The truth is that sometimes I am the kite, and sometimes I’m the anchor. And sometimes Micah is the anchor and sometimes he’s the kite. Sometimes we are a little bit of both. And sometimes it feels like we are both caught in the tree, tangled and trapped without any feet on the ground or any heads in the sky.

But that is the price of marriage and family and love and life. And it’s boring and it’s crazy and it’s a drag and it’s a party. And I’ll take it any day of the week. (null)

Slow Down, You Move Too Fast

I know October ended, like, almost two weeks ago, but let’s be honest: October! I’m still recovering.

Birthdays! Halloween! School stuff! But we survived. We survived!

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And having survived, I am now moving slowly, seeing the world with new eyes, experiencing life with heightened sensation.

Or trying to, anyway.

At night, I lie with each of the kids before they go to sleep.

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Little Miss wants me to sing “Let It Go.” She’s starting to sing along with me and it is, perhaps, the cutest thing ever. I know I’ve never said anything like that in regard to my children, so you’ll take that very seriously.

Squish’s request is “On My Own.” From Les Mis. I don’t know it very well, but he doesn’t care. He helps me out and we patch together a passable version.

And Manchild takes me through one of his imagination games. “Pokemon Fun” or something. The past few nights we’ve made our way across the country from North Carolina to Hawaii, employing the powers of various wild animals. We dove into the lava flow in a special ship. We created a special filter and saved all the monk seals. Tonight, we flew in a special Pokeball all the way to ancient Egypt. I was a scarab beetle. I flew on the outside.

After school, we stay and play on the playground if the weather is good. At dinner, I read to them while they finish their food. And during the day, when Little Miss and I are out for a run or running errands, we’ll stop and watch the ducks at the pond or swing on the swings.

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I’m new to this. It feels a little weird. I’m not used to sitting still or sitting back. It’s a bit disorienting to not have a list of a million things to do before the end of the day. But then again. Weird is good. Disorienting is . . . reorienting. And slow is a welcome change of pace.

“Chores” Doesn’t Have to Be a Dirty Word

I’ve been accused of not letting people help me out enough. And I’ll own up to it. Sometimes it seems like it’s just easier to go ahead and do whatever needs to be done rather than ask/teach someone else to do it. But even I could see that things couldn’t go on forever like that — especially since I have a growing labor force in my very own apartment. It makes no sense for me to feel overwhelmed by needing to pick up clothes, do the dishes, and sweep the floor when I could simply do one of them and give someone else a chance to feel useful and capable and like a contributing member of the family.

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Of course, I may never have taken the time to teach it if I weren’t also writing about it. And in the process of teaching it, I realized a lot of things: foremost among them is that it only takes a few minutes to save myself a lot of frantic pin-balling around the apartment as I bump from one task to another hoping that I hit everything before I collapse.

Here are the other things I learned as I passed off some of my homemaking/housecleaning expertise to the Manchild:

It’s Time For My 7-year-old To Make His Own Lunch

I’ve been really happy that, so far, there hasn’t been much whining and griping. At least no more than our usual Saturday chores elicits. In fact, the boy seems happy to help and pleased that he is being given more responsibility — for the moment, anyway. And while I do sometimes feel a little bad that he is often asked so often to help when his siblings are running wild, I’m coming to terms with the fact that people actually do want to help. Even if they are my own kids, and even if it is “chores.”

Friends. Pals. Buddies. Besties.

He falls. Skins his knee, scrapes his elbow. I run to help him, give him a hug, inspect the damage, tell him he’ll be alright. And he lets me — but just for a minute. Then he turns and looks around, Where is she?

She’s coming, running, ready to do her job. He jumps up, runs the rest of the way to her. Both have arms open wide for the healing hug that only she can give.

It happens again and again. The two of them know their roles perfectly. He trips, she hugs. All better. Best friends.

******
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At night, it starts with a giggle. Some rustling, a laugh. We hear them talking, telling stories, playing games. Manchild is telling them about his favorite Pokemon, or about how Calvin (and Hobbes) is so funny. Squish is pulling off some sort of physical humor (probably hitting his own head over and over again) while his siblings laugh. Little Miss wows her brothers with the fearlessness with which she breaks the “no climbing on the top bunk” rule.

It’s music and it’s magic and I listen in disbelief. It’s actually happening. They are friends. Pals. Buddies. Allies.

Sometimes it ends with a knock on the door (which we’ve locked so they’ll actually stay put and go to sleep). Someone isn’t in her own bed. Someone is keeping someone else awake. Someone needs to use the bathroom. The spell is broken as the parents intervene.

But when the door closes again, the music starts back up.

******

It sounds like a fight. Raised voices. Demands. Ultimatums. Sometimes there are tears. But I try to listen carefully to what’s going on in the back seat as we ride around on the bike and hear instead, “I like you. I want to play with you. You’re my favorite. I think you’re funny. Let’s play!”

It’s hard to hear sometimes, but it’s there. And it’s worth putting up with the crying and the whining and the occasional wrestling match because sometimes even best friends fight.

******

When all is calm and dark and quiet, and it’s time for us to finally head to bed, too, we crack the door, tiptoe in, scan the beds to see who is where. Sometimes it’ll take a few seconds to locate them all.

I’ll have a hard time finding Little Miss amidst the stuffed animals as big as she is.

Squish will be lost under the blankets — even with the blazing heat of summer.

And Manchild has surprised us once or twice by having descended from the top bunk to join his buddies in the fray down below.

******

Thick as thieves, partners in crime, they egg each other on and have each other’s backs.

Forever and for always. In day time and in dreams. 20140710-225223-82343162.jpg

Boys Can Be Pretty, Too

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“What about these ones?” Manchild held up a box of running shoes. They were bright blue with hot pink accents. There may have been hearts on them. Clearly a pair of shoes made for a girl. Except, he didn’t know that and I didn’t have the heart to tell him. Or maybe I didn’t have the guts? Maybe I just didn’t know how.

After all, a color is just a color, right? He already has hot pink swimming trunks. He uses a pink plate or bowl and cup at nearly every meal. He likes pink. And that’s fine. Pink is just a color. I try to be neutral about such things, but I was grateful to have a reason to say no: “Those are cool. But they’re running shoes and you already have a pair of those. We’re looking for warm shoes for winter.”

He put them back on the shelf and we found a pair of brown boots with red laces instead.

That was back in November and I still think about it frequently. Not the event itself, but the question and answer that it brings to mind:

Why can’t you have the shoes with the pink hearts?

Because you’re a boy.

Boys can’t wear pink because it’s girly. Boys don’t play princesses. Boys don’t cry.

This seems unfair and hypocritical to me. Especially now that I have a girl. A girl who can do anything. Wear pink or blue. Be a doctor or a nurse. Play ball or be a ballerina.

Is it just me or does it feel like boys’ worlds get smaller as girls’ get bigger? How can I explain that to my boys? My boys who have no problem prancing around in princess dresses at their friend’s house? Who would rather be “bunnies” for Halloween than muscled superheroes? Who name their cars and airplanes things like Lilly, Amy, and Ella? How can I break it to them that, you know, they might get beat up, made fun of, teased to tears if they wear shoes with hot pink hearts of them?

I’ve been trying to figure it out for months. Do I tell them what could happen? Do I just draw a line at “cultural norms” and simply say, “Boys on this side, girls on that?” Do I let them feel it out for themselves?

And then, a week or so ago, this happened: Manchild was home sick from school. In an attempt to do something “fun” with our day, I pulled a bottle of nail polish from the bathroom cabinet. Within 5 minutes, both Little Miss and Squish had magenta toenails, and Squish was on his way to see if Manchild was interested as well.

I knew, of course, that he would be. And I knew that this was going to be a “teaching moment,” though I didn’t know who or what was going to be taught. Or how. But when Manchild walked in looking for the nail polish party, I opened my mouth, “Now, I don’t have any problem painting your toenails, but before I do, I want you to know that some people think that it is girly to have your nails painted, and if one of those people saw your nails when you are at swimming lessons, they might make fun of you or say mean things. So now I need to know: if someone said something to you about your toenails, what would you say to them?”

He hardly needed to think at all: “Well, I don’t want that to happen.”

End of discussion.

And beginning of an awakening. For me and my boys. And it kind of stinks. The world is closing in on us — on them, mostly. No pink nails. No shoes with hearts. Pretty soon there will be no more princess dress-ups, no hot pink swim shorts. Part of me wishes I’d just painted his nails, gotten the shoes, let him live it up while he can — until he comes home in tears wondering why I didn’t tell him, warn him, protect him from what he didn’t know.

I shudder at the thought.

And then I hope that as they “grow out” of their child-like and innocent games and interests and loves and into more traditionally “boyish” pursuits, they don’t also grow out of their sensitivity and sweetness — that being cut off from “cute” and “pink” and “pretty” doesn’t leave an angry scar.

A Song For the Road

Yesterday was Squish’s birthday. He’s 4 now, and so excited about it. (Little does he know the plans we have to exploit that: “Four-year-olds don’t need help getting their shoes on. Four-year-olds wipe their own bums. Four-year-olds eat green things.”)

It was fun to let him be in charge of the day. He wanted to go for a run. Which means he wanted me to push him in the stroller. And Little Miss, of course. I didn’t mind a bit. How could I, when the sky is so blue, the leaves are so red and orange and yellow, the air so light and . . . airy?

So we went. Happy Birthday to Squish!

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He’s been wanting to go running a lot lately, actually. And not always just to ride. Sometimes he runs, too. Not too far and not too fast, but he tries. He tries to run far and fast, but he also tries my patience. Because sometimes I just want to get to where I’m going as quickly as I can. You know? And he’s more of a “run 10 yards and then stop to play on the bicycle rack” kind of runner. He hasn’t yet developed the razor sharp focus necessary to get from one end of a block to another. So when he’s determined to “run” and I’m ready to pick him up and sit his little booty back in the stroller, I try to compromise, and I sing a song instead.

It’s a little ditty I made up, inspired by a tune from Cinderella, and it goes something like this:

You can do it, you can do it, you can do it, you can do it. There’s really nothing to it. You really can do it. 

(I should write songs for a living, I know.)

And then I cheer and call his name and tell him he’s looking good and not to give up. It usually gets him halfway down a block, if I’m lucky. But he loves it and it’s fun.

And it’s only fair that if I insist he cheer me on, I cheer him on as well. And I will. I will cheer him on so much this year. Every time he “needs help” getting his shoes on, or he can’t eat dinner, or he “can’t pronounce” that word he’s reading . . . I’ll be there with a song and a cheer.

Happy Birthday Squish!

Power to the Mom

Squish is a dad’s boy. He likes his dad more than anyone else. He wants to sit by him at mealtimes. He will only ride on the bike Dad is driving, if given a choice. And he’s very loyal to his dad. He’s careful never to admit that he may just have the nicest, prettiest, strongest, smartest mom in the whole world because, well, Dad is actually the best of everything.

It’s a good thing, and a good stage to go through. It’s fun to see his attachment. And funny to see how far he can take it. Okay, and maybe it is just a little tiny bit frustrating, in the same way it’s a little tiny bit frustrating that despite my sincerest efforts, I cannot get the boys to cheer me on as I’m pedaling up the hills. Or in the way they are quick to say that they don’t like the dinner I’ve made before I’ve even finished putting it on the table. Or in the way I sometimes hear in their voices that they don’t think I know what I’m talking about.

I’m feeling a little bit like I’m a piece of furniture, or a handy tool to have a round that they are free to ignore when convenient. This is despite Micah’s best efforts to remind them that their mom is awesome and amazing and deserves their respect.

For a while now, I haven’t really known how to handle it. I tend to sit back silently and let Micah do the talking. After all, shouldn’t they learn from their dad how to treat women? I also have this strange idea that demanding their respect will, somehow, make me even more of the enemy. I envision the irate, irritated mother yelling at her kids that they will respect her, and as she does I feel the fear in those children growing and the respect shrinking. They may obey her, they may acquiesce, but I doubt they will look to her for guidance. Not if they have any other choices.

bestmomever

So I’ve hesitated to step in. But recently it occurred to me that “demanding” respect doesn’t have to sound like giving orders. Asking for encouragement and recognition can be done humbly and in ways that make them feel as good as it makes me feel. It doesn’t have to sound egotistical when I say, “Don’t you feel lucky to have a mom who will sit and blow-dry your homework pages for you?” Or, “Isn’t it great that your mom magically does all the laundry so you have clean clothes to wear?” Or, “Wasn’t that nice that I let you watch weather channel videos on my phone for 10 minutes?”

After all, being the mom is often an isolating pursuit. After school, when the homework is finished, and the boys are given their hour of screen time, I’m in the kitchen making dinner. When Micah comes home he can play along with them, but I’m still manning the stove. And while I’d like to get the chance to join in the game and be part of the team, in on the secrets, beating the bad guys, the kids still need to eat. And bathed. And put to bed. More often than not, it’s me that’s putting the pressure on to find a good stopping place so we can move on to the next thing. I’m working hard for them, to give them a happy and healthy life, but all they see is that I’m not playing with them. All they know is that I can’t keep up with their games any more.

It’s fair then, I think, to let them see that I am working for them, even if I’m not playing with them. It’s fair to let them know that I’m supporting them more than anyone else. And it’s fair for me to tell them they have the nicest, prettiest, strongest, smartest mom in the whole world – even if I’m not the best at everything.

Give A Little Respect

“Come on boys! Cheer me on!”

Silence.

“Tell me I can do it! Tell me I’ve got this hill!”

Silence.

“Really boys, don’t you think I’m doing a good job?”

Silence.

Finally, Squish speaks: “Well, I think Dad is the best and I like riding on the bike with him.”

Oh. Right. Thanks a lot.

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It’s a silly thing. I know it is. Wanting them to encourage me as I pedal them up the hills. I can get up them just fine. It’s hard, but not impossible. And I’ve done it – and am doing it – enough that it’s becoming easier and easier.

It’s more the principle of the thing. We’re a team here. Some of us are sitting on the bench, and some of us are giving it all we’ve got. And it irks me, just a bit, when the bench sitters are daydreaming while their teammates are laying it all out. (Not that I think they have to be fully invested all the time. But it would nice if they showed a little interest when I’m actually struggling. And asking for encouragement.)

But there’s a deeper level than that as well. I’m their mom. I birthed them. I bathe them and feed them and wash their clothes. I’m the first person they come to when they are hurt or in need. And I don’t ask a whole lot in return. To eat dinner with as little fuss as possible. To get dressed when asked. To not push each other off the couch. And to cheer me on when I’m pedaling up the hills.

Because we’re a team. We respect each other. We love each other. We work together. And we encourage each other on.

Or we will. Someday.

I hope.

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