Riding the Storm Out

tornadoDark skies loomed in the west as we drove home from camp yesterday. Halfway home, big drops hit the windshield and I switched the wipers from intermittent to fast. The radio was on and I heard the staccato attention signal of the Emergency Broadcast System. I looked at my radio, wondering why it wasn’t issuing a warning. Then I realized the attention signal was coming from my phone. (I know. I’m dating myself here.)

When we got to a red light, I grabbed my phone and looked at the alert. “Tornado Warning in your area,” it said, “Take shelter immediately.”

“Tornado? Shit,” I murmured. We were five minutes from home and I had workmen there waiting for a check. I kept driving. By the time we got home, dark skies cloaked the neighborhood. I gave my six-year-old daughter the house key and told her to get her little brother inside. The workmen were waiting in their truck at the end of my driveway. I went out to talk to them. read more

Hanging Tough

I used to be tough. A long time ago — before therapy and marriage(s) and children. Back in high school, every move I made, everyone I befriended or didn’t, everything I wore was part of an attempt to be tough. And I succeeded. I was pretty tough in high school. So was my crowd.

But I grew up – my whole crowd did. And as we did, we shed those protective layers. As we surrounded ourselves with safe people, we shed the need for the protection that was once so vital.

read more

Resource Utilization: Maximizing Mom Time

I work; I’ve got two small children and I’m writing a book. I don’t get a lot of down time. My husband works all the time, so I don’t ask him to babysit much. My moments of “Mommy Time” are precious, but until now, my resource utilization was sub-par.

I live for nap time. Rose naps every afternoon, and, lucky for me, Christian’s afternoon nap usually overlaps hers by an hour. Right after I had Christian, I would use that time for my own nap. I must admit, between recovering from the pregnancy, midnight feedings and early a.m. wakeups, it was months before I could go without that mid-day nap. Even now I still nap if I’m tired enough. Sleeping is one of my favorite things, and I always feel better when I’m rested; so I never feel I’ve wasted my time. But I still had that nagging feeling that I was missing something.

So on the days when I was awake, I’d spend my time watching “All in the Family” on TV. I love the show, but I still had a niggling feeling that my mom time could be better spent. Then I discovered reading an actual grownup book. Before that, reading books was my treat at the gym. But a quiet naptime was the perfect time to read a book. And sometimes I’d just close the book and revel in the quiet.

But I didn’t discover the best use of my time until now. Last week, while both kids were asleep, I realized I still needed a shower, but I wanted to lie in bed and meditate, watching the trees dance in the wind out the window. It was the only chance I’d have for a shower, so I opted for a long, hot, luxurious shower, then I put on my soft terry robe and laid down on the bed to watch the woods. Ahhh, now this is what it’s all about, I thought. I feel like I’m at a spa.

A couple of days later, I’d already showered by naptime and didn’t want to get wet again, so I thought, What would be luxurious enough to feel like spa time? I decided to crawl into bed, read my book and eat Lindt chocolates. And it was good.

Over the weekend, my husband and I had one naptime free, and we went down to the man cave so the kids couldn’t hear us. We cuddled on the couch a while, then we played darts. We had so much fun that it felt like a real date. We almost cracked open a beer, but Christian woke up and it was over. But in the absence of a babysitter, we discovered a new way to use our alone time.

I have a close friend who’s been caring for ailing parents for almost a year, and dealing with a lot of stress. Before she started to crack, I tried to convince her to take time for herself. She was spending all of her time working or running errands for her parents or taking them to doctors, so she argued that she didn’t have time. Once she did crack, she listened to me. She used the spa gift card I’d sent her; she made plans with her friends and now she’s planning a vacation. But even when she “didn’t have time” for herself, we discussed things she could do. All she needed was 20 minutes for a bath, 40 minutes to make cookies, or 45 to sit outside and read a book. Even 10 minutes spent with a coloring book would have relieved a lot of stress.

One thing I discovered from all of this is that everyone has time to take care of themselves. The other thing I learned is that with some creativity, I can make better use of my down time. I will continue to “play spa.” My friend will keep taking time for herself and my husband and I will think of mini-dates when we’ve got a few minutes. No excuses. And I hope that sharing our discoveries will inspire more people to take better care of themselves. If you get creative with your down time, please share your experience. I, and everyone else, I bet, would love to hear all about it and steal a few ideas.

One Kid, Two Kids

This was my morning: My husband woke me at 5 a.m. to tell me that the baby needed comfort – he’d already eaten and burped but wouldn’t sleep. I got up. I took the baby to the living room and sat on the couch holding him until we both fell asleep.

I woke at 6:45 when Rose yelled “Mommy! Mommy? Mommy! Mommy?” from her room. I got her out of bed and she said “I want you to put Christian down!” Attempting distraction, I led her to the kitchen where she opened the fridge and pulled out the bowl of grapes I’d placed on her shelf. The bowl dropped, and grapes shot in all directions like billiard balls.

“Ro-ose!” I whined as I picked up the remaining bunches. Wait. What the hell was I doing? “Rose, pick up the grapes and put them in this bowl,” I said, handing it off.

“Can I eat them?” she asked.

“Sure, after you get them all in the bowl, you can eat them,” I said, rationalizing the germs as an immunity boost. We went in the living room where I fell asleep on the couch holding Christian as Rose ate grapes and dissected her brother’s diaper bag. Matt stumbled in and woke me.

“Are you ok?” he mumbled, peering through slit eyelids.

“I guess so,” I mumbled back. No, Of course I’m not ok. I can’t stay awake to take care of your offspring. “Ok,” he said, heading back to the bedroom.

Two kids! What was I thinking?

I know what I was thinking. I was thinking that I love Rose so much that I couldn’t let her be an only child. Oh, I know there are lots of arguments for only children these days. Hell, they made the cover of Time. But there are also arguments for refusing vaccinations, and I don’t give much credence to either.

I grew up an only child. Every child’s dream, right? It sucked. There’s only so much time for friends and when they leave, you’re alone again. Just me and my parents. Just me against my parents. This is how we rolled: Spilled milk? My fault; Rug stain? My fault; Hacksaw on the kitchen table? My fault. No one ever asked what a little girl would want with a hacksaw. I was the child, so I was to blame. To this day, I still feel like everything’s my fault. Seriously. Global warming? I used too much hairspray in the 80s. Infertility? Payback for promiscuity in the 80s. Recession? Didn’t spend enough money.

I was always by myself. I spent most of my time in my room, reading, writing or pretending I was Pinky Tuscadero. Even when we watched TV at night, family time for most people, I’d watch “Happy Days” in my room, my mom would watch “Carol Burnett” in the living room and my dad would watch “Bob Newhart” downstairs.

Not every family is like mine, I know. My current family is nothing like the one I grew up in. Nevertheless, speaking as an only child, I believe some things are universal. Loneliness is one. If you’re a kid living in an adult world, you’re bound to be lonely. No matter how playful your parents are, they can’t substitute for another kid.

Difficulty socializing is another universal only child issue. Even though your parents were once kids, they can’t teach you to fit in with the other kids. They just can’t. As Rose’s mom, I do my best to teach her to deal with other kids, but she needs practice with real kids and all the playdates in the world can’t compare to a live-in sparring partner.

So we had Christian for Rose mostly, but we had him for ourselves too. We were so in love with Rose that we wanted to fall in love again and get to know a new kid. And both of us wanted a whole family. We were a unit as a couple. We were a family as a threesome. But a Mommy, a Daddy, a sister and a brother made us the whole family we’d dreamed of. My husband’s family was missing the Daddy. Mine was missing the sibling. We both had empty spaces to fill.

But perhaps the biggest reason we had Christian is that we’d seen siblings play together and most importantly, keep each other occupied. This is not the case right now. With everyone in this house clamoring for my attention, I feel like one of those huge sows with 13 piglets hanging off of her teats, and I’m not even breast feeding. A sow gets to lie there, at least. I have to warm bottles and burp and change diapers.

Is it worth it? Until now, we had help with Christian. My girlfriend stayed with us for three weeks to help with him. Less than a week after she left, my birth mother spent a long weekend with us. In between us getting acquainted, she held Christian and played with Rose. Now we’re by ourselves for the first time. It’s different, that’s for sure. No matter how ornery Rose got with me before her brother was born, she was only one kid. Now if Christian cries too much, Rose starts crying. If I’m holding him, she climbs on my lap. As soon as she falls asleep, he wakes up. And vice-versa.

And that’s not all. As an only child, the logistical challenges of having two kids baffle me. Do I use two diaper bags or one? How should I get them both in and out of the car? How do I give them a bath? Together? One at a time? They’re not even fighting yet. I have no idea how I’ll handle that. And I can forget compulsive planning and keeping regular work hours for the next 15 years, at least.

But as Ol’ Blue Eyes said, “I know a thing.” Raising Rose for almost three years has taught me the Golden Rule of parenting: Everything is a phase. Christian won’t always need as much attention as he does right now. And although Rose will try to kill him once or twice, eventually she’ll get used to him. And when he gets old enough, they will play together, and they will keep each other occupied.

I’ve just got to get through this phase to get to the next. Things will change, and conditions may not be ideal, but they’ll be different. And I’ll adapt. Then I’ll adapt again. That’s what parents do. And in the end, our hearts will be fuller. And that’s what it’s all about.

Book Excerpt: The Stick Game

That’s it! The gold glow rising from the green depths – my quarry. I hold my nose and jump in. I hear two more splashes behind me, but I’m the first one down. Where is it? All I can see is green. Oh, wait, there it is! I reach out, feel its smooth wood. Got it! Clutching it like the Olympic torch, my fist breaks the surface before I do, but everyone sees. I got the stick!

I swim around to the ladder, climb up on the dock, dripping on the turf rug, and we start again. This time I get to take it down. Hmm, dive or pin drop? Pin drops take you deeper. Standing at the edge of the dock, facing the beach, I hold the stick in one hand, plaster my hands to my thighs for optimum aquadynamics, and drop, pointing my toes straight down. I feel the bubbles around me and when the water feels coldest, I let go. I float up and hang on the dock, looking up at the row of expectant faces. I pull myself to the ladder and climb up. It’s my turn to watch.

Donna’s whole body twitches. She spots it, dives; a few more kids jump after her, and she’s got it. Donna’s the best swimmer in our lake. She always beat me when we raced on Family Day, and I always admired how strong and swift she was in the water. The lake goes right up to her backyard, so she swims all the time, without a lifeguard. We live across the street from the lake. My mom always tells my dad we should have gotten a house on the lake, and he says “Oh, Viki, please, you know how expensive that would be?” and waves her away.

Everyone goes to the beach anyway. We walk down the road in our flip-flops, rolling my big inner tube in front of us, past Donna’s house, past Karen’s, past the people who live next to the beach but never go. We see the whole neighborhood there, grownups and all. Donna and her sisters, Cynthia, Rob, Alison, Dan. Cathi and I get there and we wade to our knees and then jump into the cold. But it’s not cold for long, and with the sun warming our faces, it always feels good to be in the water. When my cousins visit and we take them down here, they blow air out their noses and say the lake smells. It does. It smells like lake. Green, cool, and wet. We like it.

And then we swim out to the dock and play The Stick Game. We use an ice cream stick or an Italian Ice spoon, someone takes it down, and we go after it. Whoever gets it takes it down next. We play all day, or until we hear the bells.

“Jing Jing! Jing Jing!” Everyone runs for the edge, the front of the dock dips almost to the water but then everyone dives in and heads toward the beach. White wakes can’t catch up with us as we race for shore. We ransack our pockets or beg our parents and run up the ramp to wait outside the white truck on the sizzling pavement. We’re pretty cool from swimming but sometimes someone will order a Bomb Pop, Fun Dip, Bottle Caps, a Snow Cone and a Chocolate Éclair and the water under our feet will get hot, burn off and then we all jump from foot to foot, waiting for our Toasted Almond or Strawberry Shortcake and candy.

One by one, we walk down the paved sandy ramp, hands clutching bundles of ice cream and candy, we sit on our towels to eat. No one swims while the ice cream man visits or for a half hour after, because we’ll get cramps and drown. That’s when the moms put their babies in the water, in front of the yellow rope with the blue and white floats. Sometimes the grownups swim then. My dad swims across the lake and back. But we all sit on the beach, in twos and threes, licking orange push ups until we see that plastic Fred Flintstone or Yogi Bear or bite the chocolate off Nutty Buddies as we drip dry.

When our ice cream’s gone, we open our candy. Candy doesn’t count toward our half hour out of the water, so we eat while we wait. I have a purple ring pop and Cathi’s got giant Sweet tarts – the chewy kind. Chews

“What days are you going to the fair?”

“I think Thursday and Saturday. My dad wants to go to the movies on Friday.”

“We’re going Saturday too. Maybe you can come with us.”

“I’ll ask.”

At the fair, it’ll be me and Cathi or me and Alison, Rob will walk around with his friends, Cynthia with the stuck-up pretty girls, Donna and Corinne with their sisters. Same thing at school, except for Donna and Corinne. They’re in different grades, so they split up at school.

Then our half hour’s over. One by one, two by two, we throw our trash in the can and head straight for the water. When we get to the dock, Rob says he had a cherry Italian Ice, so we’ve got a new stick, stained pink. Spoons are the best sticks — fat and easiest to see. It’s his stick, so he dives off the dock and takes it down.