Eight Arms: Summer of the Cephalopod Mollusc

“I’m not an octopus, Mom!”

That was then four year-old son’s yell to me when I told him to help bring groceries from the car.

Do you ever feel like yelling that at someone? Your spouse? Your boss? Yourself? You simply cannot schedule or go to one more thing.

I know the feeling. I just got done looking at what I want to do and what son at home wants to do and what we need to do, and I’m already asking, “Where’d summer go?”

For all of the hype about summer being the season where everything slows down, I see a lot of people ramping up. Kids’ baseball games. Summer camps. Community activities. Camping with the kids. Outdoor concerts. Beach house week with the in-laws. And the ever-present cloud of pressure to RELAX AND ENJOY YOURSELF, DAMMIT.

octopus-photos-ramboSure, it’s supposed to be a more relaxed, more laid back season, but it doesn’t always feel like that. Summer can quickly devolve into “Well, shit, let’s go so we can get home.” To add insult to injury: colleagues take summer vacation which creates slack to be picked up at the office. Or you’re a teacher with “your summers off” – yeah right. Neighbors ask you to watch yards, houses, and pets while they go on a trip. Yep, calendars and obligations can be feel greater in the summer than during other parts of the year.

A few days ago eldest son asked me what my sisters and I did in the summers when we were kids. We rode bikes. We played in the neighborhood. We went swimming. We hung out. I did not feel like I had eight things going on today and eight more tomorrow. I want to reclaim that. I reject the octopus.

Graduations are happening. Weddings are scheduled. Vacations are looming. It’s going to be a great summer – just don’t overdo it.

Do one thing at a time.

Enjoy the times. The people.

Remember, you’re not an octopus.

 

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In the Middle

Monday my middle schooler had the day off from school. He watched “The Magic School Bus,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” and “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” He cleaned his room. He made his own lunch. He snap chatted that lunch. He played with the dog. He did his homework.  He made a mess in his room.

Middle schoolers are a much maligned population. They are awkward and often unattractive. Middle school kids are frequently sexually inappropriate. They still like bathroom humor. Their hormones rage; their mouths operate before their brains have booted up. Organization? Forget about it. Tidiness? Rare. Good ideas? Maybe once a year.

But, here’s the beautiful thing about middle school kids: yes, they are at an in between age, and that in between age is actually quite beautiful and balanced.

They can watch cartoons as easily as a documentary about water access in Africa. They can Legos-1make food as easily as they can order out. They can be silly and serious. My son can still rock some Legos just as easily as the latest Xbox game. Tweens and early teens can eloquently discuss both presidential politics and the possibility of the existence of magic. Although middle schoolers are best friends one day and enemies the next, those best friend days are fierce; and, they roll around way more often than the enemy days. These kids have no guilt about all-day TV or three bags of microwave popcorn, but they also eat vegetables willingly.  Middle schoolers will argue their throats raw, and then snuggle with you on the couch.

Middle schoolers have not yet forgotten the freedom of childhood, and they have only an inkling of the responsibility of adulthood. It’s a great place to be, really.
Phineas-and-Ferb-pictures-7.jpgWhen we are too busy being grown-up (you know, paying bills, getting the car serviced, planning healthful meals), it is easy to forget to have fun. Seriousness is not all it’s cracked up to be. So, when life gets too grim, we might all do well to spend time embracing our inner middle schooler. Watch cartoons; eat too much sugar; be caring; snapchat your breakfast; and, make gross jokes.

It’s actually a fun place to visit – and, you don’t have to live there.

 

You Can’t Do That

You cannot be anything you want.

I learned this decades ago when my mother pointed out to my twelve year-old self that I did not have the aptitude nor the body to be a ballerina. Always practical, mom went on to say that there were lots of other things I could do, but dancing, while fun, would never pay the bills for me.

Fast forward five years: I wanted to be a doctor. Then, I took anatomy in high school. Nope. That fetal pig did me in, not to mention all the earthworms and frogs.

Fast forward another five years: Professor Weber asked me to apply for a teaching scholarship that I had already twice been rejected from. I was in the midst of interviewing with the government; I wanted to be a spy. The army even called me regularly to try to recruit my Russian speaking self.

Fast forward five more years: I was a Russian teacher outside of Chicago with one kid, two dogs, a cat, and a stay-at-home husband.

How did this happen?

Seriously, how the fuck did that happen?

Any number of explanations might be offered, but that’s really not the point.

As the requisite spring recitals, graduations, and weddings point us into the future and cause us to reminisce, we might do well to remember that despite all of our planning, we don’t really know what we are doing. Plans get cancelled; the world changes; curve balls get thrown; and there are hairpin turns in almost every road.

images-2We can grow into our lives if we are fair-minded, accepting, and supportive. Oh sure, there are hundreds of other qualities you might suggest to add to this list, but I’ll say: if you can be fair-minded, accepting, and supportive to yourself and others, you might not become anything you want. But, those are qualities that can take you from the dance studio to the operating room to the farm yard to the boardroom to the classroom.

You might not be able to become anything you want, but you can become who you want to be.

What To Do

One of my children came out to me with a cookie cake. Another one made a pronouncement while I was in the midst of berating his brother about incomplete homework. The last one continues to tell me important stuff via snapchat, cookie cake, and occasional dance shows.

Lately, an inordinate amount of controversy, mud-slinging, conversation, hatred, and general being an asshole has surrounded gay marriage, restroom use, and other various and sundry social topics.

I don’t know about everything, but I can tell you what to do when your child comes out to you. But first, a quick primer: coming out can mean any number of things. Your child may come out as gay, transgender, or other labels that we have to put on people to define them so we feel comfortable. Your child may come out as a football fan, a curling aficionado, a surfer, a pizza maker, or even . . . wait for it . . . a Chicago Cubs fan.

Whatever your child identifies as, you have ONE job as a parent: love your kid.

That’s it. Easy.

It was easy enough for you when the blob emerged from the cut-open uterus or slithered out of your partner’s vagina or cuddled up to you in the orphanage lounge or caught your heart through foster care.

Why is it hard when the person you would give your life for defines his/her/their personhood? Why is it hard when your child does what you have always taught him/her/them to do: think for themselves?

Love your kid.

Your child may grow up to be similar to you. He/She/They might not.

It does not matter.

He/She/They are a person. Love your kid.

I am continually stunned by the number of otherwise normally reasonable adults who believe their children should be mini-mes. Maybe – just maybe – that worked in another generation – maybe, but I doubt it. Regardless, your job is to love your kid.

You might not understand everything. Love your kid. You might have trouble with pronouns. Love your kid. You might have objections. Love your kid.

Seriously. That’s all there is to it: love your kid.

 

hearts

 

 

 

Momming

“You won’t leave me; you can’t take care of two kids on your own. You can’t handle it.”

cartoon-airplane-89967That was what husband number one told me days before I left him, one and three year-olds in tow, in Riga, Latvia. We took flights to Sweden, New Jersey, Chicago, and finally Des Moines. From the time I left to the moment I fell asleep at the kitchen table at my parents’ house, I had been awake for 56 hours.

Since those first long strides away from dual-parenting, I have been a single parent. Sure, some would argue that my second marriage doesn’t count as being a single parent because I gave birth to another child – clearly not a single person undertaking – and, I did, very technically, have a husband for nine years before I moved out. Those who might argue that would need to have a peek inside that marriage to know that one can be married and still be a single parent.

It has not been easy. Making decisions – from where to live to which job to accept; giving advice – from dating to college acceptance; doing daily life – from mowing the lawn to buying a new water heater: all of these things are the things I couldn’t do, according to husband number one.

Now, I will be the first to say that between throwing the bread loaf across the kitchen in aopT56dpiB supper making frustration and dealing with first son’s post-high school rejection to coaching youngest son through the perils of two new schools in two years have not all been my finest moments. I certainly would do some things differently.

However, at the core of how I have and am parenting/guiding my sons is: imperfection.

They have taken turns over the years pointing out the abundance of my imperfections.

I have not done anything perfectly. In the early days of independent momming, I beat myself up for not meeting a set of mythical, invisible, unobtainable standards that seemed to flit around my conscious. Like the carpenter bees that dive bombed our front porch in Georgia, these standards came out of nowhere and served no real purpose other than to exacerbate the effects of the self-flagellation that every parent – single or no – goes through.

For years I fought this imperfection by trying to replicate the happy parts of my childhood. This proved impossible because even at his lowest salary, I’m pretty sure my dad made more money (relatively speaking) that I do now, at my highest salary. This proved impossible because even on the days when she had the least amount of time, I’m pretty sure my mom somehow had more time than I do on my most unfilled days.

The stress of trying to create a version of parenting perfection lead to things like the aforementioned bread loaf toss. This also lead to some resentment and sadness and stress for me and for the boys. But, gradually it occurred to me that I was, in fact, not only handling being a single mom, my imperfection had somehow helped us make a life where my sons were able to become creative and intelligent human beings despite my singleness and (hopefully) because of the environment we created together.

Somehow my sons have had some really great moments like when elder two sons had set up a war scene all over the living room with the little green plastic army men. Not being thrilled with war games, I asked what they were fighting for. Eldest son responded, “These guys are fighting so that girls can go to school in Afghanistan.” Parenting win number one.army_men_header Another time all three boys – trapped inside on a rainy day – got out stuffed animals and created a farm. But not just any farm: they created animal farm from which Farmer Jones was banished and on which all the animals were treated fairly – their own spin on how the novel should have gone. Parenting win number two. But really, there have been so many more: on the soccer field, directing musicals, on the dance stage, in classrooms, around the world, in the community, and on jobs.  We never really get to see the true achievements of our momming because they happen in our absence.

In considering everything, I realize that I wasn’t really single parenting; I had the love and support of three amazing young men. The teachers, friends, coaches, and family members that provided love and support throughout the years made single-parenting a contradiction in terms.

So, yes, husband number one: I can handle it. I did handle it. I am handling it.