Category Archives: kids

My son’s longing for a new pet brought back memories of my own hamster. It’s not a happy story. 

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Coookie, the newest member of the family.

So my son wanted a hamster. I mean like really wanted one.

Over the course of several weeks, my 10-year-old washed the windows and cleaned the litter box to prove his responsibility. He even sold some of his Legos at a kids’ consignment story in our neighborhood to raise money to buy it himself. He wrote me a persuasive letter complete with his own hashtag, which my friends repeated on Facebook when I posted his amusing plea.

This formerly avowed  no-pets mom remembered how much I wanted a hamster when I was his age. But I wasn’t sure I was ready to add one to our existing menagerie of a dog, cat, and fish. Worn down by my son’s unrelenting requests (and those dimples and eyes that work to his benefit) we went to the pet store just to look. We browsed the habitats and toys and asked questions about the different breeds.

“We can’t guarantee their age, but we can guarantee they’re male,” the clerk told us.

You sure about that?

See, I can’t think of hamsters without remembering the dearly departed pet of my childhood. I was a little older than him when I too realized my life would not be complete without a hamster. I begged my parents, worked to earn the privilege, and waited impatiently for my visit to the pet store. My mom insisted on a male, and I fell in love with the cutest caramel-colored critter. I named him Dr. Pepper.

A few days later, I noticed these tiny hairless little nubs all around him and promptly freaked out. My parents confirmed that indeed Dr. Pepper – or Mrs. Pepper as perhaps he/she should have been known – had given birth to a litter of pups.

I was more thrilled than my parents with this happy surprise. I instantly started naming them – Pepsi, Coca Cola, Tab,7-UP —  (you get the idea) and promising them to my friends and cousins, who immediately started lobbying their parents for hamsters too.

We didn’t know a thing about raising a litter of hamster babies (no Google back then), but I thought the whole thing was pretty exciting and we did the best we could. A few days later I went into my room to check on the new little family and discovered there were no longer any live offspring in the cage. Turns out, hamster mamas sometimes eat their young, usually because she doesn’t have an adequate food supply to nourish them or she senses something is wrong.

Since we had no idea Dr. Pepper was expecting (the whole “it’s a male” thing, you know) we didn’t provide the kind of prenatal care that she needed, and nursing all those pups was too much for her. We laugh about it now, but it was traumatic at the time. And I was dramatic. “What kind of mother would do that?” I wailed.

It wasn’t the last weird pet experience I had.

When I was in college, I had a cute little goldfish my dad bought me during a visit. Little Nermal swam happily in his glass bowl in my dorm room for most of the school year. When it was time to fly home for the summer, I asked one of my aforementioned cousins who lived near campus to keep him over the break. When I picked him up in the fall, I thought he looked a little different, but didn’t give it much thought, until he turned around that it became obvious that this fish only had ONE EYE.

I wouldn’t have blamed her had she just told me he didn’t survive the summer, but in her haste to replace my late fish, she somehow overlooked this little detail. We still laugh about it, and it made for a good story.

Just like the tale of Dr. Pepper’s unplanned pregnancy. I don’t remember how Dr./Mrs. Pepper  went to hamster Heaven – I must have blocked that out after the miracle birth and subsequent infanticide – but he/she was not with us for long. But I do remember how happy I was to have that cuddly companion while I did.

So of course I relented and took my son back to the pet store to choose his hamster. After much consideration, he settled on a friendly dark brown and white one he named Cookie. It has been fun watching him play with his “very own pet.” We lie on his bed and laugh as Cookie’s tiny feet scramble on his wheel, and my son cuddles him in his arms and talks to him.

“He’s kind of chubby,” he said. last night. “You don’t think there are any babies in there, do you?”

Of course not, I said. He’s just fluffy.

Right?

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A toast to the moms and the motherless

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On the last Mother’s Day I spent with my mom, I gave her a keepsake box, with a Maya Angelou quote on top:

“We spend precious hours fearing the inevitable. It would be wise to use that time adoring our families, cherishing our friends, and living our lives.”

That box now sits on my dresser, holding some of my most precious mementos: photo of my kids, my mom’s charm bracelet, the hair clips my stepdaughter and I wore at my wedding.

On Mother’s Day 10 years ago, my husband gave me a jar of baby food. We had just learned that I was pregnant a few days earlier. Yesterday that little baby scored a couple runs at his baseball game and a touchdown at flag football. Today he gave me a handmade card:

“Thank you for being so supportive of me, caring for me, and giving me so many opportunities though my years so far. I know how hard it is to take care of a kid, so I just wanted to say thank you for everything you have done.”

That one’s going in the box.

And my beautiful stepdaughter is about to have a daughter herself. She was the first one to make me a mom when she came into my life 15 years ago, and soon she will make me a grandma.

That Maya Angelou quote is fitting for this holiday, which is wrapped in so many memories and emotions. On this day reserved for Moms – who, let’s face it – will still be doing laundry or changing diapers, packing lunches and checking homework – we all have reasons to celebrate, and reasons to mourn.

Many of my friends are without their moms today too, some for the first time. And there are the heartbroken moms who have lost their children and women who long for babies of their own.

This Mother’s Day, I had brunch with my husband and son. They toasted me and gave me flowers, and I felt their appreciation. Thanks, guys. I love you.

And I thought about my mom, of course, because so much of who I am today I owe to her, and I will always miss her. I thought about all the strong women in my life who are mothers, daughters, sisters, grandmothers, stepmothers, mothers-in-law, aunts, single moms, nieces, cousins.

As we make our way through this life, becoming mothers and motherless, I will take Maya’s words to heart.

I adore you. I cherish you.

 

 

First crushes and being crushed

1 A girl has a bigtime crush on my 9-year-old son. She is cute, smart, and funny, with a bit of attitude and a bold streak. She has not been subtle about her feelings for him.

She has recited a poem to him, rushes to sit with him on the bus, and talks to their classmates about how cute my boy is. Other times she chases him around the playground and they pretend to hate each other, because, well, they’re third-graders.

I admire her confidence and find the whole thing pretty adorable. I’ve known this girl for a couple of years and her mom for much longer. I like this girl. My son likes her. But he is not ready for this talk about “liking” someone.

“We are in elementary school!” he says emphatically when the subject comes up. “El-e-men-tar-y school.”

I agree with him. I’m glad he can be friends with girls and boys, and I told him no matter how he feels, to always be nice to her. (“Obviously, Mom!”) I don’t want her feelings hurt. Kids aren’t always kind, and boys don’t always express their emotions in the best way. I think my son has a good handle on the situation, and I predict they’ll be friends for a long time.

But I remember how those crushes go. Don’t we all? Even as adults who have survived actual heartbreak and real relationships, we remember those childhood hurts.

The boy I was in love with when I was 9 presented me with a palm branch at church on Palm Sunday and asked me to marry him. I was over the moon. I kept that branch, that token of his undying devotion, until it was brittle and brown. We flirted off and on for a few years, but as childhood romances go, nothing else ever happened and I was crushed when his crush subsided.

(I’m happy to report that we are still friends all these years later and he is happily married to his husband.)

I remember those feelings that you don’t really understand but that you can’t avoid when you’re just a kid. Palm branch boy broke my heart for a minute, and I did the same thing to another boy.

He was a bit of a nerd, super smart with curly hair and rosy cheeks. He always wore turtlenecks and his favorite thing to do was study ancient Egypt. He was intelligent, nice, and made no secret of how much he liked me.

He wrote me notes and complimented me. One year he drew my name for a class holiday gift exchange and I remember him literally squealing with delight. He gave me a perfume and powder set. The powder came in a bright green plastic apple and the perfume in a bottle shaped like a turtle. It was a much nicer present than kids usually exchanged.

Our school took an annual trip to the roller rink, which was a highlight of the year. And there was always the “snowball dance,” when they would dim the lights, turn on the disco ball, and skaters would make their way around the rink holding hands. (I know this would never happen in elementary school today, but it was the ‘70s.)

The boy approached me in front of all my friends and asked me to skate with him. I was interested in this hand-holding idea, but I wasn’t so sure about doing it with him.

I said no.

He looked grief-stricken. It took him a lot of guts to come up and ask me, and I rejected him. My friends giggled as he walked away. I have felt bad about it for decades.

After that, we didn’t talk much, and the next year we went to separate schools. I saw him again when I was a senior in high school when we shared a class together. I said hi, but neither of us initiated any more conversation. I feel bad about that too. It seems like it was up to me.

Who knows if he even remembers me or this slight that haunts me. I have Googled him a few times – he has a distinctive name, so I thought he’d be easy to find somewhere. But I have never located him. I don’t know what became of him and his life, but I imagine he’s successful, and I hope he’s happy.

I’d like to tell him thanks for asking me to skate. Thank you for the gift and the notes. Thanks for thinking I was special. I’m sorry I hurt your feelings.

But you know, we were in elementary school.

(Do you have a story about a childhood crush? I’d love to hear it in the comments. And if you liked this post, feel free to share it.)

 

 

Please stop calling our kids assholes

My kid is not an asshole.

There’s this trend lately – that apparently a lot of people find pretty damn hilarious – for parents to talk about what big assholes their kids are. I’ve seen columns, blogs, memes, Instagram photos, entire Facebook groups full of parents throwing around the term about their little darlings.

Look, I get the idea. I understand the sentiment behind it. We all have our days, our trying days, when our kids drive us to the brink – or to drink. But what’s with the name calling? A 2-year-old throwing a tantrum might be exhausting. But he’s a 2-year-old. Not an asshole.

My son is generally good natured and adorable, but he can work my nerves pretty good on occasion. But I teach him not to call people nasty names or label them with derogatory terms. We don’t call people fat, stupid, or weird.  Would I permit him to refer to another kid as an asshole or a dick?  Hell, no.

So why would it be OK for me to do it? I don’t think it is. I’m not a prude when it comes to language, believe me, but I don’t find it amusing to see a photo of a beautiful sleeping baby with overlaid type declaring, “I was an asshole today.”

Let’s save those choice words for people who willingly hurt or betray us, not a child who is testing his boundaries or learning a better way to communicate which shoes she wants to wear. I think these little wonders we create and are raising deserve better. I remember the time I screamed at my then 3-year-old to stop being such a pill and he ran to his room crying. Pained and angry at myself for losing my cool, I followed him. He wrapped his arms around my neck, and tearfully said, “Mommy, I’m sorry for being a pillow.”

Nothing assholeish about that.

I’m sure these parents don’t intentionally call their children assholes to their faces. But if the word is in our minds, if it’s repeated with such regularity, kids sense it. And it would be a whole lot easier to let it slip in one of those moments when our heads are about to explode when they just won’t put on their socks or go to sleep.

When my daughter was going through a rough patch with a friend, she was dropped off early after being out with her. She burst through the door in tears and went straight to her room. My husband went out to talk to the friend’s dad to see if he could sort out what happened between the girls.

The dad shrugged and said of his 11-year-old daughter: “She’s just being a little bitch.”

We were stunned. Who calls their little girl a bitch? To another father?

While I’m on the subject, can we do something about the incessant use about that word too?

“Bitch” has worked its way into our vernacular in a way that more than unsettles me. I find the word offensive because of the venom with which it has been used against women for decades. I hate the way women now use it as a term of endearment. “My bitches!” women exclaim on Instagram photos with their girlfriends dressed up on a night out. It’s all over TV now, with women greeting each other, “Heya bitches!”

We wouldn’t accept being called a bitch by our male partners or a boss. So why is it OK to use it with each other? I can only think of one time in my life when I have referred to someone as a bitch – and it wasn’t to her face. (And believe me, she deserved it.)

Words carry weight. I think we should use them judiciously.

I have to believe other parents agree with me. I’m sure a lot of them won’t, thinking I should just lighten up.

Maybe I am too sensitive.

Or maybe I’m just an asshole.

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He’s 9, and he’s fine. But what about me?

My 9-year-old son walked to school by himself for the first time today.

He goes to a school that’s a 10-minute drive away, not within walking distance, but he can catch the bus at the school in our neighborhood just a few blocks away from our house. His school has a late start, and he usually wants to have extra time at home in the morning and prefers I drive him to school. My flexible schedule allows me to do that.

Today, he wanted to walk to the bus. Alone. For the first time.

While he typically dawdles through the morning routine, he practically raced through it this morning, preparing himself for the day. I said I would walk him down to the corner. You can literally see the school three blocks away from that corner. He declined my offer.

“I am fine!” he insisted.

I watched him walk away, his heavy backpack not slowing his steps at all.

I know it’s the first of many times I will watch him leave. Soon he’ll be asking for the car keys, and after that, going to college. Realistically, I know there are many years before that, but it also feels like yesterday I was carrying him on my hip. It goes so fast, we all say. Because it simply does. I remember last week — or 10 years ago — when my stepdaughter decided she wanted to ride her scooter to school at about the same age. Now she’s expecting her own child.

As soon as he turned the corner, I got in the car, thinking about driving to meet him. I sat there for a minute. “I am not a helicopter parent,” I told myself. “Don’t I always say my goal is to raise independent, self-sufficient children? He’s a smart, strong kid. He is 9. He is fine.”

But I still started the ignition. I drove the opposite way, and reached the back of the school, where I saw him proudly walking toward the waiting area for the bus. See, I just wanted to congratulate him, to tell him I am proud of how he’s growing up. Yeah, that’s it. That’s the same reason I followed my stepdaughter that day on her scooter.

I gave him a high-five and a big hug, told him to have a great day, and walked back toward the car.

“Sometimes it’s hard to leave them,” another mom kindly said to me.

It sure is.

 

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Searching for a needle in a junk drawer

My son pulled a button off the (brand new) shirt he planned to wear to Christmas Eve services and dinner.

No problem. I’ll just head to my organized sewing room and… Everyone who knows me is laughing out loud right now. No such room has ever existed.

But I know I have teensy tiny travel sewing kit here somewhere purchased precisely for moments like this. Medicine cabinet? Nope. Desk? No luck. Aha! The junk drawer(s).

I scrounged through every drawer – you know, through batteries and paperclips and toothpicks and box tops labels I really will bring to school some day and sticky lip gloss with no lids and Christmas ornament hangers – THERE they are! I did find an unused iTunes gift card, some melted Easter candy, and a 9-year-old pacifier, but alas, no needle and thread. (Note to self: Add organizing drawers to resolution list.)

How is possible I can’t find the supplies in my entire house to sew on one button? I had not planned on going to the store on Christmas Eve, but we have time, and H has his heart set on that purple shirt and black bow tie a family friend gave him. I’ll just run out quickly.

Where do you even buy thread besides the fabric store? Because I’m seriously not going there.

I’m delighted to discover your neighborhood grocery store has a small sewing section for people like me. (I am not completely alone in my uselessness!) White thread…check. Needle…who knew there were so many sizes? I’ll take the assortment.

Home again with the provisions, I tackle the project. Of course, these buttons have four holes and are all attached in crisscross pattern, so see I have to replicate that design. Ow, these needles are sharp! How are you supposed to tell where those four little button holes are?

I know my strengths. I know better my weaknesses. My aunt turns out beautiful blankets for every person in our family at Christmas. I have handmade napkins for every occasion, and all the kids have special pillow cases. My mother-in-law made baby clothes for her kids and grandkids.

Me? I took a sewing class my senior year of high school because I needed an easy first period class my last semester. I made a sweatshirt, a skirt, and a blouse. It took me four months.

So I am not one of those wives and mothers who bakes cakes from scratch or hand stitches Halloween costumes. Sometimes I wish I was, but usually I think my family is generally happy with my other cool talents. Right now, what I am is a mom determined to see my handsome son in that shirt. I worked laboriously and managed to mend the shirt without getting any droplets of blood on it. I cannot believe how proud of myself I am.

“You did it, Mom!” my son exclaims.

Yes, honey. Now let’s just carefully slide it over your head without undoing this particular button. There. Perfect. Well, perfect-ish. Whew.

Just a few more gifts to wrap, a stocking to fill, and I’ll have this Christmas all sewn up.

 

Appreciating the beauty of individuality

The  T-shirts were identical.

A sea of kids wore the shirts, which declared them members of the DREAM team at their school’s fun run. They made their way around a track lined with orange cones as they sang along to Taylor Swift and Bruno Mars. In these 30 minute blocks with their classes, they were all in it together, running to raise money for playground equipment and field trips and musical instruments.

But those shirts were all they had in common.

There were the superstars who ran lap after lap with ease and got lots of high-fives. Some struggled to keep up (the chubby kid in me related to them) and received lots of encouragement. A few stumbled, and their classmates reached out to help them up. Two kids from a special needs class tightly held hands the whole time, guiding each other through rowdy mob. One boy happily  jogged along in heavy winter boots.

Sadly but surely, some of them will have an easier time in life than others. I wondered how many of them have people in their lives with the resources to make pledges so they could win highly coveted prizes like a screaming flying chicken and how many of their families don’t have a credit card, checking account, or address. How many excel in school and how many of them can’t read?

All these kids, from diverse background and experiences, are learning who they are, what they are good at, where they fit in, how to stand apart.

They whizzed by me, stopping briefly as I marked each lap on the backs of their shirts,  and I delighted in their exuberance and individuality. I gained even greater appreciation for the teachers who work with these distinct personalities all day. (And I realized some of these boys need deodorant at a much younger age.) I wished for each of them, no matter their circumstances, the same opportunities and a bright future.

The other parents and I predictably cooed, “They are sooo cute!” But oh, these extraordinary human beings are so much more.

They are athletic and awkward
Witty and wise
Shy and shameless
Friendly and ferocious
Caring and crazy
Lovely and lonely
Outgoing and optimistic
Tender and tortured
Clumsy and cool
Polite and precocious
Determined and dramatic
Gregarious and gentle
Fearless and fragile
Wounded and wry
Respectful and ridiculous
Silly and sweet
Charming and courageous
Intelligent and indignant
Angry and adorable.

Each of them beautiful. All of them worthy.

Dream on, kids. The world awaits your unique gifts.