Archive for the ‘The X Factor’ Category

My best of times, worst of times Mother’s Day.

May 15, 2017

Mother’s Day is never an easy day for me.

I’m filled with gratitude for this amazing village that surrounds me, helping me to be the best me – as they step in to designate hit for me when needed – and helping to raise my girlies for me. I have great sisters (birth sisters and accumulated sisters), cousins, friends, and the best dang stepmom I could have dreamed of. So many people help keep us upright and I am blessed!

But even with all of that happy, there’s the reality of my own mom. Mother’s Day goes in both directions. And my mom is…not how I remember my mom. But I still need to honor Mom as she is. I called her and let her talk for as long as she could. I talked to her about what was going on with us, and she didn’t have much to add from her end. But I know it meant a lot to her to hear from us. Kim and Rhi were there, so I felt like I was, too. Talking – even when she’s obviously having a bad spell – is good for her.

But it wrecked me. Seeing Mom be Not-Mom is always a gutpunch. On Mother’s Day, even more so.

So.

But let’s rewind. The girls and I were having an epic, wonderful weekend. We had a dance party on Friday night, and then after we wore ourselves out with wii-dancing, we played board games and talked and talked and talked. Everyone got along and it was great!

Saturday was the same. The girls went on errands with me without complaining, we went summer clothes shopping for Gracie (who has outgrown all of her clothes since spring), and Bee found a thing or two. She had more that she had picked out, but when I would point out that they wanted $20 for a tank top, she decided herself that it was ridiculous. Watching her carefully weight wants and needs, and the spending of my money, it was glorious!

After shopping, Bee knocked out her project and did it with minimal fuss. Gracie ran out grocery shopping with me, like she does, and I only had minimal grumbling when I made her. She put away the groceries when I got back while I helped Bee finish her project. Bee even wielded the hot glue gun all by herself! And the project was AMAZING:

Bee made the house and lined up the cotton and grapes. It was my idea to do a beginning, middle, and end slide on a rolling paper background, wrapped around two pencils to wind and unwind the paper scenes. (I am so frickin proud of my idea to mount the pencils on push pins that I super-glued to the base. The pencils went onto the push pins with the eraser. That way the bottom was attached firmly, but the pencils could still twirl. Genius, right?!) And then Saturday night the girls kept asking to do something as a family! Something as a family! Please? So we watched movies and had make-up tutorials that we re-enacted on ourselves. Don’t ask me how late I let them stay up! Because they weren’t arguing and we were having fun all together.

And then actual Mother’s Day showed up. Bee decorated all my usual seats with scarves, to make it fancy. The girls got ready for church and gave me a million hugs and told me how much they loved me. It was lovely.

After church, they came home and we opened cards and…no gifts. The cards were nice – don’t get me wrong! But – and here’s where I feel like a horrible person who’s a little materialistic, but let me explain how it’s not – I know I shouldn’t take how my Ex sees my value as a mom by him helping the girls get me a gift for Mother’s Day, but I do. I know he appreciates me – we get along so much better now and we’re honest to god friends, like I was at one point afraid we never would be. I’m close with his new wife, the girls’ stepmom. We call ourselves sister wives! ha! But I can’t say the lack of gifts didn’t hurt a little. I felt like I wasn’t worth the effort. My sister Kim helped the girls get me something, just in case, and it was lovely. Bee picked out a season of Victoria, that she and I could bond over together. (Kim’s right – time period costuming is definitely in our future!) And Gracie got me a bouquet of roses that she arranged.

But, after Gracie arranged the flowers and I got big hugs after church….everything went downhill in a hurry. The girls bickered all afternoon. They entrenched themselves in the living room and turned into zombies, playing Minecraft. I had to do laundry. I had to load the dishwasher. No one wanted to do anything fun with me. My afternoon of watching Victoria wasn’t realized. They were busy. No one wanted anything to do with me. I had my heartbreaking conversation with my mom and the girls had their turns talking with her. And then they went back to…not me. Which, I could have handled in small portions. I don’t expect every single moment to be devoted to me. I just wanted some sort of acknowledgment that it was Mother’s Day and I mattered. That they liked spending time with me. Without me asking. Just one activity together. Like the rest of the weekend!

Dinner was more of the same. Bee asked if she had to make dinner. Why couldn’t I do it. (Sigh.) They watched me set the table. I finished first and rather sit and talk to them at the table while they ate, I just got up and left. I shut my door. You’d think they’d realize I was hurt. They definitely got it when I came out, hours later, and was crying. I had to clear up the leftovers. The girls went right back to Minecrafting in the same seats they had been in since they got home from church. I told them through tears how hurt I was and how they had ruined my day, since they only came to talk to me when they were complaining and tattling about their sister.

So, no. Mother’s Day wasn’t my favorite. So many things went wrong. And no one took any trouble to make it right.

I could have kept quiet. I could have just sighed and hoped next year would be better. But I decided to write about it because this is the truth of what happened. It might hurt some people’s feelings. I don’t mean it to. I just needed to write it out, to purge my hurt feelings.

And maybe things will be better.

Teenagerhood is coming. It is coming.

January 18, 2017

<….sound of goblin drums…>

<Oooh, wait…maybe of Twister violins….>

Because it’s already here!

Yes, go ahead and ask me how my day was yesterday. Oh, I’m so glad you asked! My ex-husband called last night. On the home phone, no less. We never use the home phone any more. The only peeps who use that are my parents and telemarketers, neither of whom usually call that late. (It wasn’t that late, maybe 8ish?) I don’t know what made me look at the home phone, because I never do that any more either. But I did. And it was my Ex. So I answered.

Gracie was insisting she had to bring her lunch to school the next day (today). Did I know anything about that? Uh, no. But yesterday was her first day back to school since the weekend. So maybe something popped up? Oh, but she was refusing to tell him why.

Oh, yes – you read that right. Refusing to tell him why. REFUSING.

You can see why steam was pouring out of my ears.

Anger wasn’t even my first response though. I was so happy my Ex had called! I love this whole Pull Together, Win Together thing. It bodes well for the next few years. You know, the Tough Teenagery Years that were suddenly dumped right in our laps.

After I cheered a little in my head, I moved right on to confusion. Because Gracie hasn’t once ever pulled anything like that. She’s a goody two-shoes. She might whine when she’s in A Mood. And yeah, there was the whole “lying about texting her friends” thing. But one bump in all the tween years we’ve braved so far? Not bad. So what was with the sudden obstinence? And how the heck were we going to deal with it?!

I told my Ex that I would call her (he was out with Bee), and see if she would talk to me, and get back to him. So I called Gracie-girl, who sounded as confused at a late-night call (I never call either – we’re a texting family) as I was. I explained what was going on, using my best concerned voice, and she still sounded confused. And maybe a little whiny. She had told Dad, she said. She hadn’t refused, she said. She told him she wanted to take her lunch to school, just because. Not that she needed to take it.

I don’t know what happened. I don’t know if she just kept saying she needed stuff from the store to take for her lunch, and when pressed for a reason she said just because, and the manner in which it was delivered came across as less than straight. Or if her version of what happened was completely different from what actually happened. I have no idea. And that’s between my Ex and Gracie.

However: I explained to Gracie that she can’t ever not answer, if that’s what happened. I patiently explained to her that her dad must have been so worried and concerned if he called me. She seemed to understand. I told her that if it’s a want, not a need (language we use frequently at home), that she can’t expect her dad to drop everything to go to the store if he doesn’t want to. That it’s selfish to even get whiny about it. She could negotiate it, ask nicely, trade chores, whatever, but it’s not something he has to do. And that she probably owed him an apology when he got home. That they needed to talk it out.

I called my Ex back and told him what I had found out. He said he would talk to that Gracie-girl of ours.

And I spent much of the night texting my bestie whose (amazing) daughter is a senior in high school. They have had a very similar relationship as Gracie and I. I knew she would have ninja mom answers for my new teenagery kiddo issues. She not only had all the answers I needed, but she immediately asked the obvious question that I had completely overlooked: was Gracie feeling left out, or was she being teased for buying her lunch? Which, dude, would explain so many things. Kathy gave me the best advice, talked me off the ledge (with a later assist from my sister Rhi), and made sure I was able to sleep instead of mulling over the problem all night long. AND Kathy did it all in the late hours of Eastern Standard Time, and I know she’s not a night-time person. Because I needed my friend. And my sister finished up our talk with the magic good-night tradition – a magical incantation she would say to everyone every night before bed when she was a teeny tiny toddler. Those magic words actually were just what I needed to hear before bed, and I didn’t even know until I heard them. My village is awesome, you guys!

So, I guess Gracie and I will be having a conversation tonight. I don’t care if she takes her lunch every day or some days or whatever – as long as I’m not making it! All that matters to me is that she eats, and not just junk food. If she’s being teased for buying her lunch because she’s the only one, then she can take it. That’s never been an issue. I just want her to be honest with us. And for sure she needs to answer when we ask questions. Or some poor pitiful penguin with be without a phone for a certain length of time. Not answering is a no-go.

The teenagery years. I thought I had more time. But at least I know I’ll have a lot of help as I muck my way through them!

Growing up is hard to do.

September 20, 2016

Does it seem to anyone else as if our children grew up all of a sudden? Like they were Lost Boys and Girls and the spell was cast and all of a sudden we have tweens in our houses? One day Gracie’s living it up in large sweaters and size 12 jeans off the rack; by the end of the summer, Miss Thang is all hips and stuff and we’re having to try on every pair of pants from the juniors section because she needs a different size in every brand. (Welcome to our world, sweetheart! It sucks!) Oh, and she’s buying shirts and dresses in the Women’s section. I’m not ready for that!! (But I did it anyway, because the alternative was for Gracie to walk around sans clothing. Clothing is good.)

Gracie’s in junior high now and everything is changing, not just the clothes. Although I am glad that she’s all about shopping now instead of “Just grab me something!” while she lounges at home. I am not interested in going back six times to find pants that fit. So there’s the shopping need that suddenly appeared, and the social butterfly aspect to joining ALL THE THINGS!!! (Ugh. Which means all the driving for the parentals.) She hangs out with all of her friends, and if she isn’t at their house, it’s a good bet that she’s Facetiming with them. Jeff grumbles from time to time that she’s getting unlimited technology time, but I see it as being on the phone. Most of us were spending oodles of time on the phone with our friends when we were in junior high. I’m glad it took so long for it to finally hit her, but here it is. She’s starting to explore the mall with her pack of buddies, without the parents being right there with them, and it delighted her. She was still surprised when she tentatively asked if she could go to the movies with some friends without grown-ups and I told her of course she could – she was in junior high. As long as she stayed in one place, that was more than okay. All the freedom! Okay, not really – a little bit of freedom to start teaching her how to do it responsibly.

Which brings us to the make-up dilemma.

Let me first say that I am not a big make-up person. My mom never wore any make-up ever. Naturally, she didn’t teach me anything about it – the little I learned, I learned from my friends. I didn’t have older sisters or cousins who could teach me. I never thought to ask my aunts. So my friends were there. And even still, I’m very basic. A minimum amount of eyeliner, mascara, and some concealer under my eyes. Done! I can teach Gracie and Bee the basics, but the plan all along was to take them to Ulta or a spa or somewhere to get makeup lessons. And Gracie gets it already – she shows me pictures on her phone of twelve-year-olds (or younger) all done up ridiculously and scoffs at them. She rolls her eyes at people trying to be who they’re not. And Gracie is very basic. I don’t have to worry about her right now. She’s pretty basic herself. She’s part (mostly?) tomboy. She’s not gonna go overboard yet. Maybe I’ll have to worry later, but she’s fine right now. And she wants to wear mascara.

The question came more as, “Mom, when can I wear make–up?” I had been thinking about the question because I knew it was going to come up soon. She is in junior high. Even my conservative dad let me wear make-up (mascara and lip gloss) in junior high. So I asked Gracie if her bestie Millie wore any. Millie’s mom has very similar parenting styles to ours, but is a leetle bit more conservative. Millie can’t sit in the front seat and has stricter policies about when she needs to be home with her family. I get it, it’s all cool, I just wanted to see where she stood on the make-up front. If she was letting Millie wear mascara, I was probably correct in leaning towards saying Gracie could.

And here’s why – light mascara makes very little difference. Yes, Gracie could pile it on, but we’d see that. (Unless she took it off. And if we’re going down that path, we have to admit if we say no, she could put it on and take it all off before we see her. So…) You can’t see mascara really unless you wear eyeliner behind it to make it pop. I think it’s a good stepping stone for Gracie. Like training wheels. She’ll feel more confident about herself without big, scary results.

The problem is that her dad isn’t really fond of the plan. In fact, he shut it down cold. He thinks it would be better to wait for Gracie’s birthday. He said he could live with it if she was thirteen. And I get that argument – it does sound bad if you look at it like 12 year olds wearing makeup. But if you think of it as a junior high kid wearing make-up, it doesn’t sound as bad. And that’s what she is. I didn’t turn thirteen until the end of the summer after 7th grade, and I got mascara.

I presented Gracie’s dad with my reasons why I think she should be allowed. I let Gracie try it on and took a picture to show how little difference it makes. It will really just make Gracie feel better. More grown up. More confident. More like she belongs. Yes, deciding to allow make-up so Gracie feels like she belongs might seem like a silly reason, but it’s monumental to her. And junior high is so crazy to begin with. I want to save my “no”s for bigger, more important things.

What do you guys think? Should the measuring stick be set at junior high? Or 13? Or something else entirely?

In which we make our hair hijinx come true.

May 31, 2016

If you’ll remember, one of the things we planned to do over our Memorial Day weekend was to dip dye Gracie’s hair, and oh by the way, her friends were coming over to take part in our adventures, too.Eesh!

I was a little unsure at first, and so I tried to scuttle our plans: I made Gracie research school policies, thinking her ambitions would be thwarted by the conservative school system. Nope. Hair had to be neat and presentable and not a distraction in the classroom. (You know – for the last half-day of school that her hair would be dyed.) Then I made her thoroughly research what we would need to do, and what we would need to buy. And that is how the Kool-Aid dip dying system was planned. All we needed was Kool-Aid…and maybe some lemon juice to lighten Gracie’s hair. I also made Gracie inform her friends that their moms had to text me their permission to dye their hair – I wasn’t gonna get in trouble because someone forgot to ask! After that, we were Go for launch.

One friend wasn’t able to come over after Bee’s swim party (Gracie got to bring two friends), so it was down to Gracie and her bestie. We stopped to grab Kool-Aid packets in the colors they wanted, and set about making this happen.

Hair

First, we boiled three cups of water for four packets of Kool-aid. We added the color after the water was boiling, waited for it to dissolve, and then shut the water off and waited for it to cool. Gracie set the table with piles of old towels, just in case we made a mess, and found two bowls the girls could use to soak their ends.

Hair2

The girls created a tower of buckets to prop up their phone, on which they watched video after video while soaking their hair. 50 minutes later, Audrey had bright red ends (from her purple packets!!), and Gracie had…nothing.

The girls did some quick research and we tried soaking Gracie’s hair in lemon juice and one tablespoon vegetable oil for 30 minutes, and then 30 more minutes in the kool-aid, this time in the purple. Still nothing. I swear I had a picture of the After shots for Audrey, at least, but I think we were so busy that I forgot to have Gracie send me one.

Gracie spent that night researching other options, which mostly ended in her whining and asking to have her hair professionally colored. And nope. That would cost a hundred million dollars all for vanity hair ends. She didn’t have enough money for that and I certainly wasn’t paying for it. Auntie Rhi came to the rescue and said there was hair chalk at Ulta that might work. Gracie was afraid that it would be temporary and only last one day, but it was something.

So Sunday we trucked out to Ulta and got hair chalk and the wonderful assistant there showed us Splat hair dye. In alllllll the colors. And you guys – only ten dollars! Totally doable! The girls each picked out a hair chalk (in case the dye didn’t work) and a hair dye. Gracie went with purple (probably she thought that would result in some color after seeing what happened to Audrey), and Bee went with red.

So! Sunday afternoon was Take 2!! (You guys, I am an awesome mom. I really wasn’t planning on spending my entire weekend doing everyone’s hair.)

The kits came with bleach to help strip dark hair. Another reason I was glad we were just dip dying the ends – if all else failed and we ruined it, we could always cut them off! I mixed the bleach and applied to Gracie’s hair. It said it could take up to 50 minutes before it “took”, but after just 10 minutes, we had this:

Hair5

It was working! The next step was rinsing, and then blow drying her hair. Here’s where I missed Audrey – the girls had had so much fun helping each other and tending to each other’s hair the night before. On Sunday, I was the one who was doing all the rinsing! Although Gracie managed the hair drying:

Hair10

Then we had to actually apply color and let that sit for 30 minutes. Which we did, and I decided not enough color had set. After 20 more minutes, we rinsed her hair (ugh, ultimate mess!!) and ta da!

Hair6

I won all the mama awards! Gracie-girl was SOOOOOO happy! She flounced and pranced and studied herself in the mirror all afternoon. She now has colored hair to match her bestie for the last day of school!

Then it was Miss Bee’s turn. She wasn’t as easy to color – she kept complaining that her neck was cramping and started crying and really wasn’t as sold on the “It hurts to be beautiful” mantra that Gracie had wholly bought into. But after just 30 minutes of color (and a lot more hassle rinsing), we had this:

Hair8

Yeah, that’s what happens when you convince your mama to dip dye your entire pony tail – a girl on fire!

I loved the results as much as the girls did, but I did have one awful, terrible moment that filled my insides with ice water while I was blow drying Bee’s hair – I forgot to run the dip dye scheme past their dad. Shit. I would have been pretty upset if he did this without checking with me, and here I had done the same thing. I was so worried about whether the schools would allow it that I had forgotten to check with their dad! Not okay. Thankfully, after I texted a very sincere apology, he was okay. But seriously – the most almost-trouble I’ve been in in awhile. Silly Katie.

Other than that scare, I think the girls’ hair adventures came out wonderfully! We’ll see how long the dye lasts. I’m sure I’ll get requests again as soon as it’s gone. My girls love love love their colorful hair!

If one more thing gets scheduled…

December 4, 2014

That’s it – everybody freeze. I had a near meltdown last night, panicking as I went through papers in the girls’ backpacks, trying to figure out how in the world I’m going to get through the next few weeks. Teachers, educators, planners, friends, everyone – STOP SCHEDULING THINGS FOR THE NEXT FEW WEEKS!

This week Gracie-girl has a field trip today to show off her talents at the Gifted and Talented symposium downtown. The school (bless their hearts) is at least shuffling them down there and back. Although I did need to pack Gracie a lunch on top of everything else. That was fine. I mean, I had 800,000 things to do last night, and Gracie couldn’t help because HER WRIST, but whatever. What wasn’t quite so fine was Gracie remembering last minute that she had to wear a school spirit shirt this morning.

Bee has a field trip tomorrow, but does not need a bagged lunch. Gracie has a field trip next Friday to…I don’t know where. And then another one to the local university where her dad works the Friday after that. BECAUSE WHO DOESN’T NEED A FIELD TRIP ON THE FRIDAY BEFORE CHRISTMAS BREAK. Her dad is chaperoning that field trip because how cool to a) bring your dad on a field trip and b) bring your dad who works there and has inside information?!

The Ex gets mad props for splitting duties during this mad, mad month. The week that he’s chaperoning the field trip on Friday, he also is taking Gracie to the Optimist Club/Student Council breakfast at 7 a.m. on Thursday (siblings not allowed, so I will be taking Bee to school in the middle of said breakfast. Really, planners?), and going to the Dad’s & Donuts & Discovery breakfast on Tuesday.

Then that same Tuesday night, Gracie and Bee are in one of three holiday concerts. I understand one, Crackhead Choir Director, but THREE?! These kids are in third through fifth grade! Eight through eleven years old! That is TOO MUCH! I knew they were both in the holiday concert on the 16th (for which I sent in money for choir shirts), but I didn’t know that both children were performing in the concert at an area rec center next Tuesday because Bee didn’t bring home any information, and the wording on the info sheet to parents said the Honors Choir would be performing the 9th, and the Honors Choir, Afterschool Kids, and 3rd Grade Choir would be performing on the 16th. Doesn’t that make it sound like there are three separate choirs?! But, oh no – both kids. And they won’t be done until 8p that night, so they will be out of the house from 6:30a until 8:30p that night. Tell me how that’s fair, school planners? Especially with everything else you’ve given them.

And that’s before you even consider the projects that have been rained down upon their heads because, you know, it’s a quiet time of year that should be good for those assignments. They came home with information over Thanksgiving break that Invention Convention projects are due the 15th. Granted, they’re technically optional, but you try telling that to my kids. We do have ideas picked out, but getting the projects done? WHEN? And then Bee-girl came home yesterday with a research project that’s also due the 15th. She has to create a topographical map, brochure, rap/song/poem, PowerPoint, or poster board made with the research and data sheets they’ve been working on in class. I could kiss the teacher on the mouth for making them research their state in class, but ZOMG!

And then there’s gymnastics, a baby shower, a holiday photo session, putting up the tree and Christmas decorations, church with Grandma, stopping to get copies of Gracie’s x-rays for her ortho appointment next week, and everything else we were supposed to get done this weekend, and when are we supposed to get those Invention Convention and state projects done this weekend?!

(Oh, and the Ex is out of town next week on an unplanned business trip, so I also have the girls all week. No rest for me, but I do have extra time with the girls to make them do stuff. At least Stepmom is dropping them off at school each morning, or else I really would breakdown and cry.)

It’s enough to drive a mama crazy.

Then, because I wasn’t stressed enough, after I finished scribbling events and deadlines into my planner, Gracie-girl went and fell in the shower last night, re-injuring her broken wrist.

Eighteen people (slight exaggeration) called last night, and I’m very sorry I haven’t gotten back to you yet – I was a little busy. I can pencil in return calls…mid-January, right after I get out of the looney-bin.

A happy, ordinary, candy-filled Halloween.

November 4, 2014

Those are the best kinds, you know – the ones that are happy and lovely and so perfectly ordinary that perhaps nothing really stands out. But I’ll remember it as The Year Nothing Went Wrong. And aren’t those lovely years?

The girls went easy on costumes this year. We had decided rather early on an old-timey cop and robber. Gracie was going to be the cop, with the old-fashioned handlebar mustache and a bobby cap and maybe – maybe – a night stick. (Problem was I kept thinking of it as a beatin’ stick in my mind, and don’t you know that’s how it would have played out. Bee was going to be the robber, with the black-and-white stripe prison garb and a ball-and-chain attached to her ankle, and a pillow case with a money sign on the front to carry her loot – her pretend cash and her Halloween candy. I swear to god that oversized bag to carry all that candy was the entire reason Bee wanted to be a robber. But hey, whatever works.

So we were set rather early on. Except then Gracie decided she wanted to be a biker/rock chick instead of a cop. Bee still wanted to be a robber (because candy), so that was okay. I picked up some leggings for Gracie that had rhinestones all down the size and some hair dye (pink and purple) and quite possibly a faux leather jacket that was on sale. [In the Women’s Section! It’s a small, and the arms are still a bit too large, but still! My baby is wearing real clothes! Wah! I’m not ready for her to grow up!] We went out on an adventure to find Bee her costume, and then we happened to walk by a kimono and that is exactly how that robber thing got left in the dust. All over, buh-bye. I was kind of upset – this is the first year either of the girls have had a costume I didn’t either make from scratch or cobble together – but when I saw Bee all put together, she looked so stunning that I forgave her. Bee’s superior fashion sense strikes again!

Bee Molly

The night of Halloween, the girls showed up with their dad and stepmom, and also their stepsister and Niecey! Not only was this the first year in forever that Stepmom didn’t have to work, but I was so glad Stepsis and Niecey got to come, too! It’s great that even though the holiday fell on the Ex’s weekend, they still opted to walk around our neighborhood. The girls love getting to Trick-or-Treat with their best friends, and our neighborhood is just the right size – about 100 houses, all in a small grid, relatively safe. Everyone dresses up and most neighbors participate – some houses even go all out, not with the customary few decorations, but an entire yard’s worth! One guy hands out candy for the kiddos and hot dogs straight off the grill for whoever wants one. Hot dog, bun, toppings – all right there. How awesome is that?

Halloween4So John, Corrie, the Ex, Stepmom, Stepsis, and Grammy (Corrie’s mom) all visited while the girlies trick-or-treated. Niecey trick-or-treated with the kids sometimes (with a grown-up to help her) or else she just laughed and chattered and kept the grown-ups entertained. It was lovely.

Two hours later, the girls had topped off their pumpkins. The grown-ups split off to their own houses and our group hung out for a bit, chatting and trading candy and relaxing. It was a pretty laid back Halloween – but sometimes those are the very best ones.

Group

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And it’s not even my house.

October 29, 2014

The craziest thing happened yesterday. I got an email mid-morning asking me if I had heard about the break-in at my Ex’s. Uh…what?! My sister, all the way from Connecticut, happened to see a social media post from the girls’ step-sister venting about the thugs who broke in to her parents’ house. With a little online investigating, I quickly recognized the Ex’s house and texted him to make sure everyone was okay.

Because it wasn’t clear when exactly this had all gone down. Was it at night when everyone was asleep? The thought alone sent shivers up my spine; being woken by the security alarm is one of my greatest fears. Did the break-in occur during the day? Stepmom works from home – did that mean that she had scared them off? Was there a confrontation? What the man?!?!

The good news is that everyone is indeed okay. The Ex and Stepmom were out at a doctor’s appointment and came home to find a strange car parked next door. They walked into the house and interrupted the burglary in progress. Bee said the perp then flew out the back window he had smashed in. They made off with just a few things – jewelry, passports, kindles, etc. – but hadn’t yet gathered up everything they wanted. How in the world they managed to gather up anything is kind of crazy – there are four dogs at the Ex’s house! Thankfully all of the furries are okay, They thought Bee’s kitty was missing, but she was eventually found cowering under Gracie’s bed.

I’m so thankful that Stepmom wasn’t working from home when the idiots decided to smash-and-grab. I’m thankful the police responded as quickly as they did, and that the Ex had the presence of mind to snap pics of their car and license plate. I’m glad the girlies weren’t more affected by events. I was prepared for 1,001 questions last night. Bee, especially, still has trouble from time to time feeling secure at night, alone in her bed, when the house has gone dark and quiet. I remind her that we live in a brick house (a holdover from The Three Little Pigs), that we have a security system, that we have a dog who will bark if a stranger approaches the house, that we have strong locks on our doors and good neighbors who are always out in their front yards, keeping an eye on things. I remind her that bad guys want an easy house to break into – not a house like ours with so many systems in place designed to keep them out. The thing is, her dad had all of those same protections. So I was very much dreading how I was going to soothe Bee and make her feel safe again. (Gracie was easy – I was just going to use statistics and BAM! it would’ve worked.) Thankfully, the girls were just adorably outraged, not afraid. I’ll take indignant any day!

Hopefully the thugs will be caught soon and this horrible sense of being violated will disappear quickly. Feeling this vulnerable is horrible. Placing your faith in the unseen, the Universe, that things will work out and be okay, it can be terribly daunting at times. But some days, it’s just what you have to do.

I choose to widen the definition.

May 13, 2014

Happy belated Mothers’ Day, you guys!

Truth: That exclamation point costs me a lot of effort. Mothers’ Day isn’t the easiest holiday for me. Oh, sometimes I can shut my brain off for five minutes in a row and I can simplify it – Mothers’ Day can be simple and lovely and a tool with which I get my minions childrens to do whatever I want! Clean their rooms, do chores, stop bickering, let the dog in without complaint…

But when my brain is whirling, I start feeling all the feels. The past few years I thought it was because the girls were at their dad’s for his weekend. True, I could have invoked Mothers’ Day and asked for them for the day, and he would have gladly handed them over. But I let him enjoy his time with them and then we had a lovely Mothers’ Day feast each year. One that I cooked myself, true, but a lovely meal, all the same. So everyone won. This year Mothers’ Day fell on my weekend for the first time in years. And I was still feeling all the feels.

It’s my mom. Usually I can disassociate who my mom is now with my real mom, the mom I grew up with. Turns out not so much on Mothers’ Day. I called her and planned to spend as much time as I could with her; I set aside a nice big chunk of time with so many cheery stories. Only my mom wasn’t having a good day. She doesn’t like to talk on the phone much anymore, the Parkinson’s has made even that difficult for her. She has trouble following conversations, especially on bad days.

That could have sunk my day right there, all the feelings that brought to the surface, all the should-have-been scenarios floating through my damn imagination. But then all of my stupid friends came to the rescue being all stupid and…stupid and stuff.

See, my friends kept texting me and messaging me and emailing me to wish me a happy Mothers’ Day. I’d make up my mind to be all glum and then one of my friends would crack just the right joke to make me laugh. Or be sincere and honest enough that I couldn’t roll my eyes. Or tell me about the post that the girls’ stepmom wrote that made me cry (good tears!) and realize how lucky I am to be surrounded by such strong, wonderful, caring women. I realized how many moms I have in my life, holding me up and helping parent my girlies.

The girls’ stepmom, who is kind and patient and always trying to do the right thing, who pushes to keep blending our family in all the best ways. It takes an amazing woman to step into a newly fractured family and let them figure out new roles without upsetting the balance. She saw where we wanted to be – friends and co-parents – and helped the family get there. I know I beat this phrase to death, you guys, but I really did win the step-family lottery. She is an amazing mother to my girls, and her daughter is a terrific big sister to Gracie and Bee.

My sisters, who are always there for my daughters when they need a fairy godmother to come to the rescue. They listen to confessions, keep secrets, devise strategies (with me and the girls), buy them clothes, spoil them rotten, and all other manner mama duties.

Kim G., our favorite second-mama at school, who comes to the rescue when Gracie’s shoes don’t fit (and lends her her flip flops for the day), provides counsel when there’s frenemy drama, lets me panic over tornado warnings during school hours and assures me she’ll gather my children and keep them with her, signs permission slips when I forget, administers medicine when I can’t break away from work, and reassures me that the girls are with someone who loves them after every school tragedy pops up in the news. There is something to be said for having one of your best friends teach at your children’s school!

Corrie, my partner in crime, who sees my girlies nearly as much as I do! Knowing there is someone to swoop in at a moment’s notice to watch or feed or tend to my girlies is a panic button I could not do without. My girlies consider her family to be their family, and our girls feel just as comfortable at each others’ house as they do at their own. Any one of the girls call “Mama?” and Corrie and I both pop our heads up and and shout back “WHAT!” Awww – it’s the start of my mommune, isn’t it?

And to my aunts who are like my second moms – I wouldn’t be the person I am without you. Thank you for throwing cookouts when I come home, for driving me to school and CCD classes when my mom couldn’t, for always stopping by to visit, for always treating me like a grown-up when I was a kid (and a kid when I was a grown-up), for always conveniently going out for a night when I needed babysitting money, and creating such a safe space for me to be me. Thank you for creating such a wonderful definition of family.

Mothers’ Day isn’t just about bio moms. It’s about all kinds of moms. Stepmoms, foster moms, kickass aunts, second-mamas, fairy godmothers, friends and anyone else who steps in and helps raise these wonderful kiddos of ours. That reminder helped lift my spirit Sunday when I really needed it. Thank you to everyone in my village for that.

Letting go one step at a time.

February 4, 2014

It seemed so much easier when we were younger. For a rather protected child, it seemed like I had all the freedom in the world. My cousin and I would walk next door to the pizza place to pick up our order when we were just 6 and 4. A year or so later, we were allowed to walk along a fairly busy road to the supermarket that was a couple blocks away. All through our childhood we were allowed to ride our bikes through the neighborhood or play in the woods for as long as we liked, just as long as we let our mom know what we were doing. We didn’t have to check in, we didn’t have to be back by a certain time (other than “by dinner”).

But now that I’m trying to figure out how to handle the same issue with my own daughters, the idea of trusting them alone – and trusting the world we now live in to behave itself – seems so much trickier! Today’s world isn’t the same as the culture I grew up in. Unfortunately, the reality is that we worry about letting our nine-year-olds walk through our neighborhood alone to a friend’s house. (It wasn’t just me – the friend’s mom had the same reservation.) I don’t let the girls go alone to the bathroom in certain stores because it would be so easy to snatch them when the front doors are right there. It’s tricky – you have to learn as a parent how to walk the fine line between being cautious and being too controlling and paranoid.

The Ex and Stepmom and I have talked a lot about the subject this past year. Gracie will be ten and is certainly ready for a bit more independence. Bee will be eight – not a baby, certainly, but her temperament is very different from her sister’s. She isn’t as focused and mature as her sister. She’s fabulous and quirky in all the best ways, don’t get me wrong; Bee just isn’t as ready as her sister. If you dropped them both off in the middle of downtown and told them to find their way home, Gracie would be home before I knew it, completely unscarred. Bee would chase a butterfly, get distracted by a shoe sale, lose her sweater (and her homework) somewhere, and convince a live band on a patio to let her play the guitar. And then I would hear for the rest of her life about the time I was mean and “abandoned” her, even though she had the time of her life. You know…in the pretend scenario that is somewhat off-track now. Ahem. The point was that the grown-ups all agree that the girls are ready to start learning to be a bit more independent, but to also make sure we’re not forcing anything on the girls that they aren’t ready for just because we are.

So what does that mean? It means that I’ll keep doing what I have been doing – leaving the girls home alone when I run across the street for short visits. I let Bee decide whether she wants to wait in the car when I run inside to pick up Gracie from her after-school program. I let the girls visit different sections of the store, as long as they tell me where they’re going to be.

And there will be new levels of independence – like leaving Gracie at home yesterday for the 20 minutes it took me to go get Bee from daycare. (In full disclosure, that decision was helped along by the fact that Gracie was still throwing up from the stomach bug. So.) But Gracie’s the easy one. She’s the one who excels at problem-solving and stays calm in a crisis. Bee…she’s going to need some coaching. I mean, she can’t even keep our cell phone numbers straight yet. (Scattered, but dazzling – that’s our Bee.) So on Friday afternoon, I decided Bee was ready for a small step. We were home because Bee had been sick the night before with the stomach bug, but she had been fine since mid-morning. I told Bee I was going to go for a run and she would be home alone for about 40 minutes. I went over the safety precautions – don’t open the door for anyone, only answer the phone if she knew who it was, and to call me if there were any problems. I wrote my cell phone number on a piece of paper and showed her where it was.

And then I changed, told her I was leaving, and walked out the front door. Just like that.

Halfway through my run, my playlist stopped and a call came through on the cell phone. Bee wanted to know if she could have a snack. I told her she could have crackers and water, made sure she was okay, and told her I’d be home in ten minutes. I knew the call wasn’t really about a snack – it was Bee making sure she could call me. I liked that. I like that she (er, um, and I) saw that our system worked just like we said it would. I finished my run, showered, and that was that.

Small steps. Baby steps. And so many other, bigger steps in front of us. But that’s how you have to deal with this parenting thing, I think – prying one finger at a time off the illusion of control. Otherwise I’ll end up with two very needy adults living in my house long after they’re grown, still expecting me to drive them everywhere. If that’s not the perfect motivator, I don’t know what is!

 

 

 

In which there are no good solutions.

May 13, 2013

So many times these past few weeks, I’ve given myself little motivational pep talks that all seem to come down to the same thing: “Just get through it. It’s May, you’re all busy, just push through this last month. One more month, Katie, and then it will be summer break and things will be easier. Just push through it. One more month, Katie, just get it done. Just May. Push. Do it.” Last weekend was Mayfest and Gracie’s dance competition. Next weekend is Gracie’s University Interscholastic Learning day-long geekapalooza competition. This Saturday was supposed to be the girls’ bridging ceremony for Girls Scouts before that got cancelled. And in between is Mother’s Day. Rather than ask for the girls basically all weekend (the bridging thing didn’t get cancelled until practically last minute), or try to swap weekends with everything going on, I figured it would be easier to take a day for myself on Mother’s Day to relax, enjoy the peace and quiet, and then have a big celebratory dinner and presents after the girls’ got back from their dad’s house. That was the plan.

Okay, now, in the middle of all of this – performances and weekends and Mothers’ Day – Gracie was assigned her big project for the semester: choose a project to go along with their James and the Giant Peach section. They could create a peach-themed word search, re-enact a scene in a skit, create a commercial for the book which could be filmed and emailed to the teacher, or make an illustrated cookbook with at least 20 recipes. Go ahead and guess which one my over-achiever picked. No, not the commercial. (That’s what I would have guessed.) She chose the cookbook. With all the recipes. Do you have any idea how long it takes a 9-year-old to copy down a recipe?! A VERY LONG TIME! In fact, after she got exactly one single recipe copied in an hour, I texted her dad and warned him that Gracie had this project, that it was due a week from Thursday, which meant she would have to get most of it done on the weekend. His weekend. Because she was only getting one recipe done per school night.

Gracie was happy to do the work. I helped her get what she needed – she started researching recipes while I stitched together the inside pages of her cookbook. (If we were going to “publish” this, we were doing it right!) I helped Gracie plan out her page layouts and then I got her set up at the kitchen table so I could remind her to focus. She got two more recipes copied Wednesday night, and another one done after she got back from dinner at her dad’s house on Thursday. Three days and only four recipes copied down and illustrated. Oy.

I reminded Gracie on Friday morning that she would need to get it done at her dad’s that weekend. It was the only weekend she had to work on the project. I resisted reminding her dad about it because, you know, we had already talked about it.

Sunday afternoon. I had a big roast beef dinner cooking. (Hey, I could either cook for myself or fight the crowds at the restaurants. I would rather cook for myself and clean the kitchen myself and not spend the night waiting around with fidgety children.) I get a text from Gracie, who has apparently hijacked the Ex’s cell phone. “Can I just do 10? And do the rest there?” She had only finished six recipes. Not finished at least copying all the recipes like she was supposed to. She had all weekend, there was an hour left, and what the heck?! I told her I was sorry that she wanted to go outside and play with the kids, but she was supposed to be done – she would need to keep working on it until she was finished. Then her dad took the phone back. He said Gracie had worked on it “all day and yesterday too.” When I asked if she had really only done nine recipes all weekend, when she had done four the three nights previously, he said he guessed that was it, but it wasn’t for lack of effort. The girls walked in the door a few minutes after that.

I am just… I don’t even know. Mind-boggled. Just…at a loss. I somehow got Gracie to plan and sew together book pages, create page layouts and get 4 recipes completed in the two hours that I had her on Tuesday and Thursday night after her dinner with dad, and the 2 1/2 hours that I had her after school on Wednesday night. Her dad, in the two days and a night that he had her, only made her do 9 more recipes. I asked Gracie how long she spent on it Friday (none), and Saturday (an hour or two before going to the neighbors). The Ex didn’t feel compelled to make her do more than that. He didn’t come up with a plan of how he expects Gracie to finish her very important project – more than half of it – in the two nights that I have her after school, or the one night after her dinner with him. You know – in addition to dinner and showers and her usual homework. Sure, she’s nine; she is old enough to know what she has to do. But he is also the parent, and part of a parent’s job is to make sure your child is getting things done and to teach your child to budget their time. What lesson did the Ex think he was teaching Gracie when he didn’t make her focus on her schoolwork? That schoolwork is only for mom’s house? That she can do what she wants (within reason) when she’s there? That weekends are for fun, and it’s more important to play on the weekends, even if it means staying up late and losing hours of sleep during the school week? I have no idea because he didn’t say communicate anything, other than he guessed she only got nine recipes done, but it wasn’t from lack of effort.

So what do I do with that? Usually we have a really good co-parenting relationship. He drills Bee on spelling words, and has them do their homework on nights when they have dinner with him, most of the time. But I just don’t know what to do with this. I clearly communicated that Gracie had to do her project this weekend because it was the only weekend she had, and she could only get one recipe written on school nights. And he…didn’t care? Thought it was more important to have fun? Forgot? I feel like he does stuff like this, that he is treating me like the safety net. Oh, I don’t have to make my kids do this or learn this because Kate will do it. I feel like wants to be treated as an equal co-parent, but without all of the responsibilities. Why else not care about her whether she did her homework, or come up with and communicate a plan of how it would get done?

What do I do with any of that? If I let Gracie hand in her project unfinished and get a bad grade, is that fair to show her that she can’t rely on her dad? Is it fair to Gracie that I force her to stay up 1-2 hours late each night because her dad didn’t make her do the work on the weekend? Is it fair to do that without making her work on it every available minute after school? I can’t make her skip afterschool because I can’t miss work. There aren’t any other activities that I could cut from her schedule this week.

I was still trying to figure out how to handle the situation when the girls walked in trilling “Happy Mother’s Day!” I was carving the roast beef, hoping to rescue my mood. “Go put your cards and your gift on the fireplace,” I told them. Except, no cards. Or gift. No acknowledgement whatsoever from the Ex about Mother’s Day at all. This is the message he’s teaching the girls about homework and responsibility and Mother’s Day. By doing nothing, he’s showing them that it’s not that important.

Happy Mother’s Day to me.