Saturday, November 28, 2015

Play Nicely With Your Brother

*Originally published on Mamalode

Like my mother used to say to me, so I say to my son: “If you’re going to sit around and read on such a nice day, at least take the book outside!”

This kid is a reader. He surprised us all by teaching himself to read by age five. He went in to kindergarten reading chapter books and finished kindergarten tearing through anthologies... of Calvin and Hobbes. (I immediately realized allowing him to read those books was either absolutely brilliant or completely idiotic of me.)

But he doesn’t move much. He doesn’t decide to go outside on his own much. So when I shoo him out he rises without looking up at all. He’ll keep his book at eye level and stand up, walk to the door (sometimes tripping over a toy or bumping into someone or thing) and resume his reclined position on a chair outside, having never skipped a word.

Sometimes just being outside with the book is enough to appease me. Other times it’s not, so I tell him it’s time to put it down and actually be active and interact with people. One day last summer was one of those days. I told him he could help me weed the vegetable garden or he could go play.

Then while I was weeding by myself, I could I overhear him playing with his two younger brothers in the yard. Now those two boys never have to be sent outside. Athletic and active, they are in the yard as long as the sun is out, kicking, throwing, climbing, riding.  Just as their older brother was always drawn to books, these two have always been attracted to action. “Mommy, tell me ALL the sports,” E said at age 4. “I want to play ALL of the sports.”

Despite their differences, they still admire many things about their nerdy-cool older brother: his book smarts, his drawing abilities and his superhero knowledge in particular. As I worked, I could hear G leading them in a rollicking game of pretend “laser-saber” fights and the younger boys were eating it up. “See?” I thought to myself, “Wasn’t it so smart of me to force him to play?”

Later they set up the sprinkler and I could hear the three boys having fun together while getting wet and muddy. My always-inquisitive six year old Z asked how the sprinkler worked. G, my knowledgeable twelve year old, began explaining. I smiled, once again congratulating myself for getting the geek and the jocks happily interacting. I know G’s patience level with the younger guys can be pretty low sometimes so I felt proud of him for taking the time to explain things for them. I tuned back into their conversation and heard, “And then, when the water travels from the hose to the top of the sprinkler, the pressure causes the hamster inside to start running in circles and . . .”

“MOM???” Z called.

“NO,” I answered, anticipating his question.

“I was going to ask if you if there’s a hamster---“

“I know. No.”

Despite G’s temporary foray into playing the role of Calvin’s Dad (I knew letting him read those books was going to come back to haunt me), the boys continued to play really nicely together all afternoon. They even began filming their own superhero movie. As I was making dinner, I heard a costumed Z run into the dining room and fall down, hard. I cringed, waiting for the crying—and instead heard G help him up and ask, “Are you okay?” I peeked into the dining room to see his reaction.

He brushed himself off, sniffed and nodded.

“The upside is that the shot looked really cool because you actually fell!” G enthused. It was exactly what Z needed to hear to shake it off and get back to filming.

This time I pat myself on the back without regret. Sure, my geek-child will someday look back with fondness at the time that he was able to wile away so many summer hours lost in a book and my jock-boys will reminisce the same way about hours of unadulterated outside play. But those won’t be the times they’ll reminisce about together at holidays as adults. Those won’t be the stories they tell their own children about. These times that they played together, the geek and the jocks, afternoons filled with teasing, filth, joy, injury and encouragement... those are the experiences that shape a childhood and strengthen the bonds of brotherhood.

Ten Things To Know if You Have a Child Starting Kindergarten

*Originally published on Sammiches & Psych Meds

Have a Child Starting Kindergarten this Fall?
Ten Things You Need to Know Now

1.   My kid is going to teach your child a bad word. Maybe not of the four letter variety but she’s sort of an expert at stringing together verbs and body parts until she gets a combination that gets a charge out of her four older siblings and will probably make the teacher suspect we’ve let her watch porn.

2.   Frankly, she might also impart some of the four-letter variety. Forgive her; her mother’s got a mouth like a truck driver.

3.   Your kid will report that everyone else* has cookies and juice boxes  (or whatever it is you don’t pack) for lunch (*Except for that one kid with the filthy mouth. She’s the fifth kid. Her mother’s too tired for that shit.)

4.   Some other kids will be able to read already. The teachers know what they’re doing. Your kid will get there; relax.

5.   Maybe your kid is the one that can read already. Oh yeah?  Great. Can s/he ride a two-wheeler? I didn’t think so.

6.   Starting in the very first week, your child is going to meet and want to bring home a wide variety of exciting new germs and viruses. Resistance is futile.

7.   Accept now that you’re going to forget something. Sneakers on gym day, crazy hair day, lunch money, book money, library books, permission slips. Try to limit these moments to once a month or less unless what you are forgetting is to pick up said child from school. That can really only happen once a school year or so lest you give the kid a complex.

8.   Befriend other parents on Facebook or your preferred social media crack of choice as soon as possible. You’re going to be expected to remember the names of a lot of parents and kids all of a sudden. This is much easier if you start to get to see their names online frequently. Plus you can do a little stalking to see if that one kid has older siblings to explain the foul mouth or if it’s just shitty parenting.

9.   Take it easy with the play dates, sports and clubs those first few months. Even if your child has been going to full day daycare for five years or five day a week preschool for two, a full day of kindergarten just might wipe them out for the first month or two. Your child will probably not start napping again, instead s/he will opt for transforming into a whining, sobbing, disagreeable monster between the hours of whatever time you get them from school o’clock and bed time. It, too, shall pass.

10.                 Lastly, hope that your child’s teacher subscribes to the same theory my first child’s kindergarten teacher did: She promised us parents that she’d only believe half of what the kids told her what happened at home--if we promised to do the same about what they said happened at school.

Why I Don't Care That We Can't Have Cupcakes at School

*Originally published on Sammiches & Psych Meds

Our school has what some may refer to as insanely strict (while others may call incredibly progressive) food policy for classroom parties. The rules go something like this:

In a nutshell—no, wait, can’t have nuts, Sophia B. is allergic—um, basically: just don’t have it, people. Please. Don’t send cupcakes in on your kid’s birthday, we’ll sing to them and give them a pencil or paper crown instead.

If there is food at the parties it has to meet the stringent health guidelines, sending nutrition labels in to the nurse in advance for approval and whatnot. More teachers are just opting out of food at parties altogether.

Personally, I’m fine with the policy. There are so many food allergies and sensitivities, gluten-free diets, vegetarian/vegan lifestyles, diabetics and plain old picky eaters, why would I want to put myself or anyone else in charge of feeding another person’s child and take the risk of harming or excluding them? It’s been this way for so many years, the kids don’t even think anything is wrong—they’re just so happy to get the chance stop working and actually have fun at school that it never occurs to them (unless a certain parent puts in their head I suppose) that anything is missing.

Additionally, since the parties celebrate holidays, I’m pretty sure the kids are getting enough sweets outside of school around that time. For example, the school Halloween party falls in the month in which my children consume enough sugar, fat and calories to tide them over until Christmas. When they’re 47.

So if they don’t also get junk food in the classroom that day? I think they’re going to be all right.

Apparently I’m the odd man out.

In a school district where mothers post things on our town’s Facebook page like, “WHOLE WHEAT pizza crust at lunch this year? My kids will never eat that. Thanks a lot, NOW I HAVE TO BUY LUNCHABLES,” nutrition doesn’t seem like a really high priority. Michelle Obama is personally blamed (hey, Barack can’t take the heat all the time).

I did have one friend on my side.

She moved.

So now it feels like me versus every other parent in the district so I don’t really speak up about it. Once in awhile I shoot an email to the principal to tell him that not everyone hates the food policy.

The school year is back in full swing so the “our kids deserve junk food at school!” argument is cropping up again. This time, since I know nobody agrees with me, I keep my mouth shut.  These people clearly don’t agree with me on this one.

But a new angle occurred to me recently: Mothers. Fathers. Listen to me. WHY WOULD YOU PURPOSEFULLY PUT ONE MORE THING ON YOUR PLATE? You know what happens when cupcakes are allowed in to school on your kids’ birthday? Yeah, yeah, besides the diabetic vegan kid sulking in the corner while everyone else licks the frosting off their cupcakes and throws the cake part away . . . you know what happens? You somehow survive a weekend of two soccer tournaments, three birthday parties, one exploding pipe in the basement and a cat vomiting all over the house to wake up and remember you didn’t bake any cupcakes for your kid to bring to school. What kind of monster are you anyway?

When there’s junk food allowed at parties that means there are classroom parents having to not only plan the games, stories and activities but then be in charge of reaching out to the other parents to arrange who is going to bring what food, follow up with reminders the week and day before, confirm that the food has no allergens for those particular kindergarteners, have a last minute freak out when a parent spaces regardless of the reminders, get it together last minute to present a beautiful high calorie spread in Mrs. Miller’s classroom only to realize there are absolutely no plastic utensils, plates or napkins.

Now 24 kids get to sulk in the corner with their diabetic vegan friend. Nice job, Ma.

Ask yourself: do you really want more to juggle? If you have one kid or if you have ten kids, you’re busy. You’re keeping track of the important things. You manage to feed them and yourself several times a day, whether it be gourmet cooked from scratch meals or no-whole-wheat-involved lunchables. You do the laundry pay the bills clean the house go to work coach the teams leave the tooth fairy notes read the books help with the homework comfort the sickies carpool vacuum food shop apply bandages email the teacher go to the meetings flush the goldfish break up the fights hug the criers kiss the boo boos make their childhoods magic and all before 9 am.  Why purposefully add more to your to-do list??

Do yourself a favor and realize this:  the school is cutting you a break here. Embrace the no food at parties policy.

You can always still give them that shit at home.

As long as you don’t forget.

Ten Hand Signals All Moms Know

*Originally published on In The Powder Room

You know what I’m really good at? Talking. I mean, I don’t mean to brag or anything . . . but goddamn I sure can talk. I can chitchat with a three year old in a waiting room or converse with a senior citizen in a checkout line. I have spoken to a room full of second graders and have addressed the entire Rutgers football team at once. I’ve been interviewed on radio shows and podcasts and have been told I  “give good radio.” I never tell my kids “we don’t talk to strangers” because I do. All the time.

But the ad nauseum spoken repetition of the rules around here--from general hygiene to basic courtesy—can lead even a professional level gabber like me to mumble at 9:37 on a Tuesday morning five weeks into summer vacation, “jesuschrist I’m just so freaking tired of talking.”

Recently I was telling someone (let’s be honest, it was probably a stranger) about how I tend to get laryngitis when I am sick and then need to rely on all sorts of hand clapping and wild gesticulating to get my kids’ attention. That got me thinking about how we used sign language when they were babies. We only ever mastered three signs—milk, food and more—and since the only thing they ever asked for “more” of was “food” that was a bit redundant. I wondered why did we ever stop? Why don’t we use sign language with our bigger kids? Then I realized I do have signs I use at certain times, like when I’ve lost my voice, that I could use on those days that I just don’t feel like talking any more.

Here are my top ten signs and other non-verbal communication methods that we use with our non-babies. I’m going to start using them more often.

1. This one has been stolen directly from my Grandmother: Raise your hand on an angle as if you’re about to swap someone’s dupa* effectively conveys “Enough with the fresh mouth.”
*tuchus, heinie, tushy, coolie, derriere, or whichever word your own Grandma used for rear end.

2. Hand to the neck with one quick slashing motion across it means “Cut it out now before I knock your block off” OR, depending on context, can also mean, “No, really, stop now before there’s an accidental beheading. You guys know I let you try a lot of crazy stunts but this one is getting to be a little too much.”

3. One hand raised in the car signifies “I farted. Prepare to open your window.” (I don’t know, my husband made that one up.)

4. Another useful one in the car is to take the rearview mirror and swiftly tilt it down. This communicates to the child in the way back that just because they’re furthest away from you doesn’t mean you’re not wise to their shenanigans.

5. Flat hand extended towards child means “Hand it over. Now.”

6. Similarly, dominant hand raised over your head with found object (for example, bey blade that you just tripped on) says, “See this toy? Mine now.”

7. Loud sniffing indicates child needs to remember to excuse him/herself or go take a shower. Possibly both.

8. Bent index finger tapped on temple three times conveys “Use.Your.Brain.”

9. Brows furrowed as deeply as possible says to child, “We are in public so I am not going to lose my shit but believe me, small person, inside my head right now I am addressing you by first, middle and last name in my scariest voice.”

10. Arms outstretched towards child while repeatedly opening and closing both hands is used to say, “Oooh you’re so cute even though you’re not a baby anymore and sass talk me entirely too much! Come humor me with a hug.”

“You’re not nearly as cute as you were when baby and you sass talk me entirely too much but I still want snuggles. Come humor your mother with a hug.”


Letter to My Son's Future Partner

*Originally published on Ten to Twenty Parenting

The summer of my son’s 13th year I really had trouble liking him.

Too soon? It’s that summer now while I’m trying to write this so probably is too soon to say such a thing, right? Also it’s not entirely true. It’s not that I’m having trouble liking him per say, it’s just that he’s driving me crazy. Let me try to start over.

Dear Future Partner of My Son G,

I’m sorry.

I’m trying. I really am.  But I’m beginning to suspect this absent minded professor thing is neither an act nor something he’s going to outgrow. The other day at the lake I handed him a bag full of water bottles saying, “I need you to make sure this bag stays upright so the water bottles don’t leak.”

Two minutes later I found him sitting on a bench, under which the bag was laying on its side, dripping water. “I couldn’t make the bag stay up,” he explained. I will admit I found myself once again wishing he were just a really dumb person so I could justify these sort of actions, being able to sigh to my friends, “well you can’t blame him. He’s just always been kind of stupid.”

But that’s not the case.  He’s brilliant when it comes to things that he cares about. He might not remember which of his frequently seen cousins is which but he could answer Star War trivia so obscure it would baffle George Lucas. He can astound comic book shopkeepers with his arcane superhero knowledge but once forgot how old he was when he was still in the single digits.  I don’t recall ever having to assist him with his homework. He spends a few minutes on it and night and then makes the honor roll.

At the end of that lake visit, I asked him to show his younger brother where the changing area was in the men’s restroom. “Actually,” I said, “don’t just show him. Please stay with him.” When I emerged from the women’s room, I was immediately informed that he did not stay with his younger brother. “I didn’t hear you,” he insisted. Nor, of course, did it occur to him that perhaps a child who isn’t allowed to go into a public restroom by himself yet should maybe not be left alone to undress in front of strangers.

Later at the library I ran into a friend, a teacher of gifted students. I complained to her about his behaviors that day. “Gina,” she said, “that’s what all of the gifted boys in my class are like.”  “What can I do?” I whined. “Can you try giving him more responsibility?” she asked.

The funny thing is that was the approach I had already been considering. So the rest of that week he was put to work: weeding, picking vegetables and walking the dog. I made him repeat instructions to me ensure he really heard me. It’s exhausting to have to keep treating him this way, the way I treat a much smaller child, especially because I do still have three other smaller children at home.  But for you, his Future Partner (okay and fine, for the rest of the years he lives with me), I will continue to treat him this way.

His older sister never needed this kind of handholding. She, too, sails through her homework on her own, but she’s always knew which cousin was which. At the start of last school year, I asked them both if they’d signed up for Newspaper Club. My daughter had--for both of them. And had gotten two permission slips for me to sign. “Stop it!” I told her. “You’ll be at high school next year and then what is he going to do??”

That night they asked if they could “Futuramen” together, which is their preferred shared activity of eating ramen noodles and watching Futurama on Netflix. My husband is disgusted by how frequently I let them eat ramen and I admit it’s a bit out of character—the mom who swaps organic garden-grown spinach for local eggs to bake her kids granola bars allowing frequent consumption of these 6 for $1.00 hypertension noodles—but I just love that they bond this way.

G insists he cannot figure out how to make them and my daughter gets so frustrated trying to explain it to him she just does it herself. I get it, I once talked him through making a box of macaroni and cheese and it was the most difficult thing the two of us had been through together since I had pushed him through the birth canal. So I understand her actions, but of course that does you, Future Partner, no favors whatsoever.

What I’m trying to say to you is: please, don’t blame me.  I’m harping on his sister to stop enabling him (blame her!). I’m trying, every day, to get him to stop being so dependent and oblivious. He’s been doing his own laundry and making his bed for over a year now. I hold on to hope that one day he’ll be able to master making macaroni and cheese.

Because here’s the thing, Future Partner: I really want you to exist. He has a sharp wit, a great smile, an astounding love of babies, is an amazing cartoonist and an excellent writer. I want him to have a full and happy life. I love him so much--and I don’t want him to live with me forever.

Future Partner, I’m trying. But if he still has shortcomings when he’s grown, I hope you can learn to live with them and love him for the wonderful person that he is.

And always remember to not blame his Mother.

She tried.

Twenty Years Ago I Put A Man in Jail

*Originally published under the title  "I Put My Rapist in Jail 20 Years Ago And I Am Considering Visiting Him Before He Gets Out" on xojane

Twenty years ago I put a man in jail.

It wasn’t what I had set out to do that night; it started out as pretty typical night of bar hopping for a 21-year-old college student who had been raped at knifepoint six weeks before. I was determined to prove to the world and myself just how okay I was by picking up right where I left off; so when some old friends asked me if I wanted to go out, I went out.

I had never been to that bar before but my friends had; they recognized people and dispersed throughout the crowd. A boy started talking to me. I started talking back with an accent and told him I was a Spanish exchange student at Rutgers for the semester; he complimented me on my English. After a drink’s worth of maintaining my ruse, he asked me to dance. So we made our way out onto the dance floor and now it was my turn to recognize someone. A man that was so out of place in that college bar: a little too old, a little too rough.  It was the second time in my life that I’d seen him; the first being when he broke into my off-campus apartment and repeatedly raped and threatened to kill me.

I announced, in perfect English, “I have to go call 911” and pushed my way to the pay phone.

Throngs of Police Officers answered my call but they weren’t able to find him. He had recognized me, too, and took off. An hour later they caught up to him. Two Officers held him while another shone a light in his face so he couldn’t see me as I was driven slowly past in a cruiser. I could see him, though, for the third time in my life, and confirm his identity.

I saw him one more time, months later at the sentencing. I wasn’t sure if I was going to want to make a statement or not, so I sat with my family in the crowded courtroom. The rapist stood in front of the room, handcuffed, and called me by my name. I remember my Mother crying, “how dare he,” and I remember ignoring her so that I could listen. The prosecutor looked to me next and I nodded. I would stand up to him, publicly, and speak my mind.

Since that day, I haven’t seen him face-to-face. I’ve written about him: in my blog, for Crisis Center newletters, to the Parole Board every few years. I’ve spoken about him: in performances with my social justice theatre troupe, at high schools, colleges, once to the entire Rutgers football team. You know how everyone told me that his face would be seared in my memory forever? Turns out it that wasn’t true and when I was able to see his current photo on the Department of Corrections website, I wasn’t sure that I’d have recognized him on the street.

I’ve known for a long time now when his sentence would max out. I knew which year he’d be released, then which season and then which month. But when a recorded phone call informed me of the exact date three weeks away, it hit me hard.  For years I wondered what my reaction would be upon his release and every time I’d tell myself, “I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.”

Suddenly that bridge became imminent, and it was immediately apparent that there was work that needed to be done. The mental work, which seemed so much more physically exhausting than when I was twenty-one. There was the reconciliation of my desire to be independent and accepting that it’d be okay to ask for help if I needed it.  The practical work of figuring out if I need to do anything to protect myself and my family; he did have access to my name and then I had to go and not change it when I got married. I started writing, performing and shamelessly self-promoting and then the Internet happened! Finding me couldn’t be easier.

There was the dusting off of my old fears, the remembrance of my former coping mechanisms and the renaissance of one of my crazier ideas: maybe I should go see him before he’s released.

Should I? Could I? Why would I? I seemed to have this thought that if I could just see him face-to-face I would be able to ascertain what the odds are of him seeking revenge. That if only I could look into his eyes, I’d somehow instinctively know if he wanted to hurt me again.

I thought about it for a week and a day (and twenty years). Was I even allowed to have contact with him? Really, why would I want to? What was wrong with me? Would visiting someone in jail you might need a restraining order against a good idea? What could that conversation possibly look like? What if he was threatening, and I just showed him what I currently look like and provided him with my name again (I think it’s needed to visit and who knows, maybe he had forgotten it by now.)

But what if I regretted not going? Where was my magic 8 ball of adulting that gave me all the answers to the hard questions? I joined a Facebook group for survivors; maybe they’d have some insight. They suggested getting a big, mean dog and they shared inspirational memes.

 I quit.

It made me realize that just like in my first go ‘round of post-rape survival, I was going to draw the most strength and solace from the people that know ME intimately as opposed to the people that know my situation intimately.

My best friend from college, who was asleep in the other room the night of the break-in and later left there alone after I was taken to the hospital, was my fiercest advocate in those days when I needed one. Two decades later, she still was, giving me permission to feel scared but not weak.

My husband, who had been one of my closest friends at the time and still holds that title today, understood when I told him “I want you to drive around the block before you go out tonight to see if the creepy guy the neighbor said was walking around is still there” that I wanted him to do JUST that and absolutely not skip his plans for me. Without question, just steadfast understanding and support.

My children, who weren’t born when it happened, but I brought up on that day I spoke in court anyway. They were years away from existence but my ability to be strong for them was paramount. It still is.

There was so much more I said to the rapist that day, first out loud and then in the copy of my journal entries I had submitted as my statement and then gave permission to be given to him. Thinking of all those words, all that I’ve said to him already, I realized: I don’t need to talk to him again. I’ve said everything I need to say.  He has nothing to offer me in my journey of finding my security and peace. My strength and supports are right here, surrounding me, just like they always were.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Five On Friday: Gingerbread 2015

Dude. I totally forgot about Five on Friday! It feels like Saturday! So here's an easy-peasy pic-heavy list of pictures of our epic Gingerbread creation. 
Who ya' gonna call?






 If you'd like our recipe and tips, see my article on the Farmers' Almanac:

Friday, November 20, 2015

Five On Friday: Five Random Things My Five Year Old REALLY Wants For Christmas

Please Santa? PRETTY PLEASE!!!!

1. Hanukkah cards. Santa probably has plenty of those in stock.

2. Sort of terrifying hippo mask. 

3. Thumbtacks. What kid doesn't want those?

4. Sequined pitchfork. If Santa has the same sense of humor as your mother (and I have strong feeling he does) you will probably find this one under the tree.

5. The same can be said for this one.