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What To Do When Your Sister Is Kind of a Jerk

Yes, back in the day my sisters and I had plenty of sit-on-each other moments. Probably some hair-pulling. Maybe some name-calling.

I probably got what I deserved. I was super stingy with sharing whatever clothes happened to be exclusively mine (there really weren’t many) and didn’t do much to get out of their hair. Instead, I was the pesky tag-a-long sister who really doesn’t see that an age gap is much cooler for the younger kid who gets to hang out with the older ones than the other way around.

In fact, as a teenager, I wanted very little more than to distinguish myself in some way. To be different. To have my own clothes and my own room and my own identity. I didn’t want to drive my siblings around, I didn’t want to play the same instruments, I didn’t want to be part of the pack.

And then there was that one time when it seemed as though all my hopes and dreams had been rudely snatched from my hands. Life can be beastly at times, and the beast reared its head at the end of my senior year when school acceptances and scholarship notifications were making their way to many of my friends’ mailboxes. Mine, too. Only when I opened what I expected to be a happy letter turned out to be a strangely harsh one that left me questioning all my hopes and dreams.

I cried for days. And days. And days. I made it through school in a haze and went home and cried some more.

One day, there was a knock at my bedroom door. I opened it to find a plate of freshly baked cookies and a note from my sisters letting me know they loved me and wanted me to be happy.

I don’t know if that was a turning point, exactly, but it helped. (As did a letter my mom wrote which led to the discovery that my application had been misfiled and that everything was coming up roses after all . . . . )

I kind of think that experience is emblematic of what sisterhood is. Yeah, sure, you’re kind of a jerk and pretty imperfect. But sisters are willing to cut you some slack and pass you the chocolate chip cookies.

Gotta love them.

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Sisterhood in Motherhood

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I have four biological sisters. Eight sisters-in-law. A handful of friends who have honorary sister-status in my mind and heart. And dozens and dozens of others who are my sisters in motherhood.

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We have cried and fought, borrowed clothes and lent baby supplies, shared secrets and shames. We’ve looked after each other’s kids, spent hours talking on the phone, stayed up too late laughing, and then brushed it off to spend another day doing laundry, making meals, cheering for first steps, and teaching to read.

 

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These are women who have my back, whose advice and judgment I trust, who are beyond mom-shaming and cat fighting.

This month I’m celebrating sisterhood here on Mother Runner—from the big ways my sisters in motherhood have supported and inspired me to the day-to-day words and acts that sometimes get me to bedtime without breaking down.

 

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Some of these relationships have grown and matured over decades (my sister no longer sits on me and demands that I name the top 10 cutest boys in my class) while others, though younger, skipped the superficial stages of friendship and went straight to the heart sisterhood from our very first meeting.

 

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I would love to spend the next month in a weeks-long Girls Night Out with all my girls (or GNOFF—pronounced “guh-noff” as my sisters and I call it) reminiscing and recounting and eating too much chocolate, but I can’t. Everyone has too much to do. Kids and husbands and life and all.

But I’m pretty sure that sister month on Mother Runner is the next best thing. Or close enough, anyway.

 

If you have a story about sisterhood to share, let me know! lizzie@motherrunner.com

Commentary, Here and Elsewhere

I honestly didn’t know when I wrote my last post that I would be “expanding my reach” so soon. I pitched Motherlode a month ago and had been thinking it was time to move on and shop my essay around elsewhere when I found out they wanted to run it. You can read it here. Along with the commentary. Oh, yes, the commentary!

That’s something I’m learning to deal with. The questions. The insinuations. The declarations of disgust. Not just on my writing, but on my life in general. I admit that I bring it on myself because I do live my life relatively publicly—via my writing and my cycling/running/walking. I—and my family—are often out in the open. We’re not cocooned in a car with the radio turned up, deaf to whatever anyone else may be saying about us. It’s hard for me to not want to respond to everybody. I really want to get the last word, to clear up misconceptions, to give the whole story, not just the little bit I am able to share in 750-1000 words.

Mostly, I don’t read the comments on my essays. Mostly. But that doesn’t mean I can’t hear what people say. Today, as I loaded up the bike with all my purchases from Costco (yes, I rode my bike to Costco), some lady walked by mumbling something about the crazy lady with her bike. Mumbling about me. Just loud enough for me to hear her. Some other women had walked by earlier and mentioned how brave I was. I know the line between ‘brave’ and ‘crazy’ is sometimes a thin one, and it’s probably true that I am often dancing all over it. I don’t mind. I think other people are crazy and/or brave for the way they choose to live their lives, too. So I tried to shrug it off as I rode steadily and surely back home.

Which, I suppose, is the best anyone can do in the face of criticism, whether thoughtful or off-the-cuff. Sift out the bad and hold onto the good. It’s clearly something on my mind because last week when my friend Koseli asked me to contribute to her new blog, Bored Moms, the best thing I could come up with was this: that it’s worth dealing with the criticism to be part of the community—and I mean both the physical community we encounter riding around on a bike and the virtual community we encounter when I share my experiences online.

I hope that the net result of sharing, of being seen, of living my life authentically and boldly, is positive. For me and my family, of course, but for those who take the time to notice and engage and comment, too.

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Second Guessing

So, this aired today:

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(It looks like it got cut off. Sorry about that!)

You know, I thought I knew what I wanted. I thought I knew what I was doing. I thought I wanted to be a mom who taught her kids, who gave them opportunities to learn and grow. I hope that by doing so, they’ll become strong, self-reliant, capable adults.

And I also thought I wanted to be a writer. I thought I wanted to write about life and motherhood and marriage, about continually finding happiness and joy in the most mundane and repetitive of circumstances.

But experiences like this bring all things into question. Like, am I raising my kids well? Am I endangering them by either giving them too much freedom, or by writing about them, or by not giving them as much credit and responsibility as they can handle?

Obviously, having people question my parenting choices would cause me to question them as well. I think that’s a good thing to do. I hope that I am always looking for ways to improve, looking for holes I didn’t see, looking for paths and tools and ideas for how to help my kids become the best they can be. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t want to get too comfortable in my motherhood, to think that I know anything. I want to be teachable and to be open to the idea that there are better ways that I currently know.

So that’s that. I’m grateful that I’ve been able to be part of this discussion. I hope it has been as enriching for others as it has been for me.

On the other hand, I’ve also had to question whether or not what I really want is to sit quietly and write about my life as a wife and mother. So I’ve questioned it and decided that it is what I really want in life. Really and truly. I find a lot of joy and value in it. And it seemed a good fit for me. I’ve joked that I have a face for radio and a voice for print, so writing is probably where I belong.

But then, I never expected to have the opportunity to try anything else out —to actually do live radio or live television, to speak on camera without a script. I can hardly say what I’m thinking in a normal conversation, so why would I even consider one in which I was sitting under stage lights, wearing a mic, with cameras rolling?

But I had the chance to consider it. To try it out. To do it. And now that I’ve done it, I feel like maybe I should question that, too. Just to see if maybe there is another way for me to say the things I want to say.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get there again, if I’ll ever be able to do anything but peck at a keyboard. But at least now I know that the keyboard isn’t my only tool. If I want to, I can reach for something else.

My Cup Runneth Over

20140912-232146-84106104.jpgEverything is a song these days. And we’re singing it out. Whether it’s “Can You Hear the People Sing” from Les Mis or the cheer the boys came up with to celebrate the occasion of finding a license plate from one of their favorite states (Ohio!), we’re belting it out and it makes my heart sing right along with them. Even after hours. Sometimes, after we’ve put the kids to bed, we hear what sounds like Manchild singing the triumphant national anthem of a distant country. Where did he learn that? Oh, right. It’s the national anthem of Paraparaparaparafeetland, a strange and funny country which Micah has been telling the boys about at random times over the past few months. Each addition to the story leaves Manchild red in the face and nearly doubled over with laughter. Micah knows just what buttons to push to get that kid rolling in the aisles — or singing in the top bunk. Neither of which are bad places to be.

But if we’re not singing, we’re talking. Mostly Little Miss, who seems determined to get this speaking thing down. She follows along when I read stories to her, saying what I say, testing out the words. Micah and I can’t help but say what she says right back at her. Her little voice is irresistible and begs to be heard again and again — even if our efforts are a poor imitation. It’s especially amusing to hear her talk about Pokemon or Shaun the Sheep — two of her brother’s favorite things. Sure, they fight and argue and wrestle and drive me nuts, but they are also really happy to be together and share things with each other.
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With school starting, however, Little Miss is a bit on the outs. Sometimes she cries when the boys leave in the morning without her. But she and I have been spending more time together and that’s a treat. We’re learning the ABCs, matching mama animals to their babies, and chanting, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can,” (well, she chants, I man the controls) as we ride the bike to pick the boys up after school. And at pickup she isn’t afraid to lay her claim: last week she practically chased Squish’s class down and invited herself to be part of it. Squish held her hand as the class walked down the ramp to the meeting spot. Heart bursting

The start of school also means more running. The kids and I managed to get out about once a week during the summer: Little Miss and Squish rode along in the stroller, Manchild pedaled his own bike. We stopped at playgrounds and took water breaks. It was hot and hard and slow and not frequent enough for me. But it worked for the summer, and now it’s just me and Little Miss, cruising around almost as much as I please. We can get more miles in and do it faster and I’m starting to feel like running is part of my life again after a 3-month lull.

And here’s one last thing to share before I wish you a happy weekend: I loved this story by Peter Sagal about what to do if you’re going through hell. Give it a listen. I think there’s something to it. ;)

Collecting My Kids, Collecting Myself

Just the other day I was riding the kids around on the bike. All day long. Picking up shoes and socks for soccer practice after school. Rushing Squish across the bridge to get to kindergarten on time. Pedaling all three back to Brooklyn in the blazing heat — and wondering why some random guy decided he needed to pick on me and call me a “f#*%ing whore” several times. Apparently having kids on my bike was extremely offensive to him.

It was lonely work. I was so focused on getting to our first day of soccer on time that I didn’t hear a single thing the kids said the whole trip. Well, right up until Squish wondered why we were in the park instead of at home and I just about died because hadn’t I already told them half a dozen times that we were on our way to soccer practice?! And then after soccer we were back on the bike, slugging through the heat and up yet another hill.

I had thought that the loneliest years of motherhood were the early ones, the ones in which you spend all day waiting for a baby who can’t speak to wake up so you can go outside and make sure the world is still spinning. It felt very lonely for me, anyway. I imagined that once the kids got older, learned to speak, and were more mobile I’d have plenty of company.

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But I was wrong. Or maybe I’m doing it wrong? I’ve just noticed so many times lately that I’m on the outs, not able to join in the fun. Micah and the kids will be watching a show, playing a game, relaxing. And I’m making dinner, catching up on e-mails, rushing around, hovering on the outskirts — not really there.

It’s tricky though. I mean, we do need to eat. Chores need to be done. When I see a little block of time in which nobody is going to climb into my lap and steal my pen or co-opt my phone or keyboard, I have a hard time not taking advantage of it. I’m almost always planning events, checking schedules, putting the stars in alignment — and then moving on to the next thing while the plans go off without me. There’s not a moment to lose, after all, when I’m managing everybody else’s life as well as my own. It’s hard not to feel detached and unconnected at times like that. Like Mom is always around, but she’s never really there.

A few weeks ago I read a great book, Hold On To Your Kids by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate. The authors talk about why it’s important to build a strong relationship with your kids — so that you are the person they are attaching to and trying to be like — and how to do it. One of the simplest things to do is to “collect” your kids after you have been apart, like when they wake up or get home from school or even when they’ve been angry with you and you’ve been emotionally distanced. I’ve been working on it: giving my kids hugs, looking in their faces, getting them to smile or interact with me for just a second.

Another time to “collect” is when you are pulling them away from something else. Moving them from reading to dinner, from tv to homework. Instead of calling from the other room to tell them dinner is ready, you go and sit next to them, figure out what is going on, engage them in what they are doing before telling them it’s time to do something else. I’ve been working on that, too, and I’ve noticed a difference in how responsive they are when I come to them first, before asking them to come with me.

As I’ve taken those few moments to “collect” the kids — to sit down with them and watch the show while sitting next to them, rather than from behind them while I make dinner, or to get them to smile first thing in the morning — I have felt a difference in how smoothly these transitions go, and how responsive they are when I ask them to do something.

But as important as these little “collections” are to keep them attached to me, I think they may be even more important for me to be attached to them. When I sit down and watch the show for a minute, when I step into their world instead of acting so much like the puppet master — distant, alone, unable to see things from their perspective — I’m not so lonely any more. I don’t feel like I’m missing out on all the fun, or that I have to be the responsible one while everybody else gets to play. I’m part of the team again, out on the field, seeing what they see and enjoying it.

Last week, as we finally pulled up to our building after riding around the brutally humid streets of New York, I was in that lonely, separate place. We hadn’t even discussed the mean man who had cussed me out on the bridge and I wondered if the kids had noticed. What I really wanted, if I was going to feel so lonely, was to actually be alone. To read a book, to do what I wanted to do without having to take care of everybody — or anybody — else. But then I saw the ice cream truck and thought that if there was ever a time to chase him down and make memories, now was it. I signaled the driver and he pulled over. Three cherry dipped cones, please, and then we sat on the steps — together — and licked and dripped and followed Micah’s progress on my phone as he rode home from work.

I didn’t sit back and watch them. I didn’t retreat a few steps up to observe. I was on their level, engaged in what was happening, excited about what they were excited about. I even licked their cones when they were about to drip so no calories were wasted.

It worked. I wasn’t lonely any more, and I didn’t want to be alone. I was with my people. I’d collected them. Or maybe they’d collected me.

Unapologetic Delight — On an Airplane

Manchild, on the plane back to Brooklyn, sat laughing loudly, spontaneously, and completely unselfconsciously at the movies playing from the seat-back screen in front of him — oblivious to those sitting around us who might not care to be interrupted by his full, untempered delight.

I sat next to him, glancing around occasionally, holding tears back, willing myself not to feel or make a fuss over the movie playing from the seat-back screen in front of me. It’s just a movie, just a story, I told myself.

Yet even while I struggled to remain stoic, my heart swelled to see him so overflowing with joy. I love to see that fullness of emotion in anyone else — to know and see and feel that they are touched, delighted, pierced, moved. I feel closer, safer, knowing that they are not afraid of being open and alive and vulnerable.

When my movie ends, I turn to watch Manchild instead. He is chewing his arm, biting his fingers, jumping, wiggling, giggling along with the show. He is fully immersed. I can’t help but reach out and touch him, smile, and enjoy his enjoyment.

When we hit some rough air, he looks out the airplane window, curious but unalarmed. He wants to see the plane going through the clouds. I, on the other hand, look away, look in, try to ignore the pitching of my stomach along with the pitching of the plane. Again, I admire his fearlessness. Or is it ignorance? Youth? Inexperience? Perhaps a cleaner, more direct view of the world? Should I be envious?

But as I watch, I wonder why I guard myself so heavily, why I fight so hard to not be seen. Wouldn’t it be nice to be more open, so that people, when they see my emotions written all over my face, connect and see a real person — not just another stoic, expressionless face?

How would it be to immerse myself so fully and unapologetically in life’s emotions and experiences? To feel like a child: unhurt, unscarred, unblemished, unrepentant, undisguised, perfectly amused and amazed. Full to overflowing so that other passengers on the flight can’t help but turn and look — and smile or scowl as their own hearts dictate.

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Partying Under Pressure

I’m somewhat paralyzed by the task of writing anything these days. I’m afraid of saying the wrong thing. I’m afraid of saying nothing. I’m afraid of saying too much. I’m afraid what I write will not do justice to what is happening in my mind and my heart.
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But then again, I have so much to say that I might as well just spill.

So, here it goes: I’ve been really stressed about all the interest and attention I’ve gotten because of my essay about Manchild. Obviously. Nobody expects that kind of reaction. And I’m sure I’m not the only person who has been caught deer-in-the-headlights when something like this comes barreling out of nowhere.
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I’ve cried about it, I’ve joked about it, and Micah and I have talked a lot about it. Our conclusion is that we should have fun with it. Have fun with the TV interviews, anyway. Don’t worry about what they may or may not do for my career. Just go and say what I need to say, enjoy the experience, remember it for the family history. But then really go for it with the writing.
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The first part has been pretty easy. I’ve done two more interviews, a live one at 3am last Wednesday morning for The Lorraine Show in the UK. Micah and I went up to the studio while my sister slept on our couch in case the kids woke up. I sat in a tiny room, looked into the camera with a microphone clipped to my dress and a speaker in my ear, and talked about how I felt that I was empowering, not endangering, my child. (Here’s a link to the clip. I haven’t gotten the video to play, but let me know if you do!)

The second was for the CBS show The Doctors. Manchild and I flew out to LA for the taping. He wound up sitting in the dressing room at Paramount while I went through wardrobe, hair and make-up, and a couple of pep talks to hold my own and feel free to jump in and speak my piece. Which I did and it felt good. Maybe that’s what a pair of borrowed shiny black heels will do for you. (Ha!) The show won’t air until later in September, so watch this space for details.
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So that’s it for the fun. I don’t have any more interviews lined up. However, we are staying with my sister for the weekend, so maybe there is still fun to be had until Monday.

After that, no pressure, but I really want to write something good.

My Cup Runneth Over

The magic is in the noticing, I read recently. Having enough is in being with what you have. Happiness comes from being happy, not in what happens to you. So this is me, filling my cup with whatever joy and happiness and love I can find.

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*****

Last week, when all this craziness over my essay about Manchild being able to stay home alone for short periods of time was just beginning and I was having a hard time seeing past the nose on my face, my friend Amy grabbed me by the hand and took me shopping so at least I’d have something to wear when I was on Good Morning America.

Amy — who has three kids of her own,  who just moved to a new apartment, who is hoping to go back to school and finish her education, and who tirelessly finds opportunities to share her talents and solve problems with everyone she meets. I am humbled and blessed to know her and to call her my friend.

She’s been a mentor and inspiration to me since we met nearly 7 years ago. And I hope with all my heart that she gets to go back to school, finish her education, and share her talents with even more people. (Check out her video here, help her out if you can!)

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And then there was Sharra, who first invited us over for cake and ice cream on Monday night, putting an end to my “case of the Mondays” and then reminded me that Tuesday is a great day to get up early and go for a run.

She’s right. There are few things better than slipping out the door before the kids are awake and running in the sun before it gets too hot. Sharing it with a friend is one of those things.

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Yesterday we went to the carousel at Prospect Park. It’s free for kids on Thursdays this month, so we rode it twice. Squish was adamant that he didn’t want a horse that went up and down. Little Miss waved at her adoring fans (me) for half the ride. And Manchild kept an eye on his sister as he rode the horse next to her. It was the first time all week that I’d been there, where my kids were, seeing and enjoying and loving.

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This morning, Little Miss drew all over herself with marker. Arms, face, feet. She took a cheese stick from fridge without asking and ate it ostentatiously in front of me. She spilled a newly-opened quart of maple syrup on the floor. She climbed on Manchild’s bed and tried to raid his treat box. She took 63 photos and videos with my phone. And then she asked to be put down for a nap. I can’t help but feel lucky that she’s mine — even after everything she’s done to me. Maybe because of everything she’s done to me.

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It’s been a hard week. I can’t pretend it hasn’t been. But I also can’t pretend that there’s a lot to be happy about and a lot to be grateful for. My cup runneth over.

“How Young Is Too Young to Stay Home Alone” on GMA

As promised, here’s the link to the Good Morning America spot. I thought my family did a great job and we really enjoyed working with the film crew and GMA co-host Paula Faris. We had a great conversation, Manchild was extremely poised and articulate, and I was surprised at how at-ease I felt sitting in the hot seat with the cameras rolling.

However, I can’t say I’m not a little disappointed in the final product.

I knew going in, of course, that I might not come out looking great, especially since we knew it was only going to be a couple of minutes, but I was hopeful that they would have a real discussion about giving kids more responsibility and helping them learn to navigate this world we live in. Instead, all we got was “Seven seems too young.” I would have loved to rebut their “parenting expert,” Ericka Souter, who, as far as I can tell, is actually a journalist who specializes in celebrity news.

And since this is my blog, maybe I will take a minute to do just that. 

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First: Souter suggests that my style is the “other extreme” of the helicopter parent. Is teaching your child independence and responsibility really an “extreme”? On the other end of “helicopter”? I am really surprised to hear that because I thought on the other end of being hyper-involved, hyper-vigilant was neglect and apathy and abandonment. If my parenting style is extreme, I fear for the state of our nation.

Second: She says a child should be able to take care of other children before you can leave him alone. This is silly. A child should be able to take care of himself before he can take care of other children. I think that either she had it backward or she didn’t explain herself very well.

Third: The shock and awe that only 3 states tell their residents when they can leave their kids home alone. And no comment on either the fact that in Oregon it is age 8 (which is not much older than 7!) or that in Illinois it is 14 (which is ridiculous — Micah pointed out that he could practically build a simple cabin at age 14). I wonder how many families in Illinois are in violation of that law. Probably all of them?

Fourth: There were no allowances that maybe parents actually do know best, or that there are children who can be trusted to not set the house on fire. The final word that “seven seems too young” was much too definitive and, I thought, closed off the much more important discussion of why and how we can teach our kids to be safe but also responsible and independent members of society.

Finally: She mentioned that people have been doing this forever but doesn’t go into any reasons why that changed, or why our era is exempted from teaching our kids how to be by themselves.

I do wish that at the very least Paula Faris could have been at the table to say, “Hey, actually, I met this kid and I spent time with his family and you might be surprised what a 7-year-old is capable of.” That’s all.

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