Category Archives: motherhood

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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Why I won’t have “The Talk” with my preteen son

During a family Scattergories game a few years ago, the category was parts of the body. The letter was F. You know the drill – you have to come up with an answer no one else writes down in order to get a point. Finger, foot, femur. They were all repeated.

My son – who was about 6 and insisted on playing by himself, without a partner, for the first time – proudly announced that he had a word no one else had thought of.

“Fagina!” he exclaimed, sending his parents, sister, cousins, and grandpa into gales of laughter.

“It’s a word!” he said.

“Yes, but it starts with a V,” I told him, stifling my giggles at his innocent spelling mistake. “The word is vagina.”

Which sort of embarrassed some people at the table, but I figure you have to take those moments when they come. We’ve been doing that for the past few years, answering questions, sometimes honestly, sometimes with those kid-friendly explanations that don’t tell the whole story.

My son kind of knew what sex was. Sort of knew where babies come from. I didn’t really think he needed to know, you know, everything. But now that he’s approaching 10, topics related to sex and puberty are coming up more often, so I thought we’d better prepare for “The Talk.” It seems a little trickier with my son than my older daughter, so I signed up for a “Moms of Boys” workshop with some friends. And I bought him a book, of course. I figured my husband and/or I would read it with him, then we’d sit down and answer all his questions and that would be it.

It didn’t quite go as planned.

He wanted to read the book. Alone. And then he didn’t say a word about it. I asked later what he thought and tried to start a conversation.

“That book is NOT just about puberty,” he said. “And I do NOT want to talk about it.”

I know a lot of parents struggle with how to have these uncomfortable conversations. My friends and I have talked – and laughed – about our boys’ questions and the approaches to them. Some of them laid it all out there for their sons early on. Others insist their sons still don’t know the difference between boys and girls. (Love you, ladies, but give me a break.)

So when I was asked to write an article about how to talk to your kids about sex, I jumped at the chance. Here are some of the main points all the experts told me:

  • Talk about it early and often. One sex ed expert recommends children know the usual way babies are made by the time they’re 5. You decide if your kids are ready for that.
  • Use anatomical terms for body parts. Penis and vagina are just words, like eyelash and belly button.
  • Reinforce respect: for your own body, and for others. Teach them that our bodies are our own, and no one should touch them without permission.
  • You, parents and guardians, are the primary sex health educator of your children. Not the school health teacher, not a book or a class you attend. There are lots of great resources out there you can rely on, but it’s our responsibility to make sure our kids are educated.
  • Don’t take this so seriously. Use humor if it helps (always does for me). I mean fagina, that’s funny. And we tell that story a lot.
  • Don’t assume you kids are clueless. You don’t know what they know unless you tell them. (And trust me, they know more than you think.—some of it completely wrong.)
  • Don’t wait for questions to arise, but answer them – succinctly — when they do. You don’t have to spend hours on the question “What is French kissing?” Just answer the question, and move on.
  • Number one? Don’t save it all up for a huge sit-down. Have lots of small conversations when life presents opportunities for them. Keep that conversation going over time.

All this expert advice in hand, I casually brought up the book again. I told my son we didn’t need to have some big talk, but I needed to make sure he understood what he had read and see if he had any questions. I told him he could always ask us anything – even if it seems embarrassing. He assured me he’d let me know. (I also told my husband he’ll talk about wet dreams and spontaneous erections, because I seriously don’t get how those things have a mind of their own.)

So when my son found an in-case-of-emergency tampon in middle console of the car and asked what exactly women use those things for anyway, I didn’t put him off. I gave him a straightforward answer about periods and how all girls and women have them.

“Ewwww,” he said, his hands flying up to cover his reddened face. “I was afraid it had something to do with blood.”

“Well, now you know for sure,” I said matter-of-factly. “Just let me know if you have any other questions.”

And we moved on.

There are so many chances to introduce such brief but educational conversations, like when you hear suggestive lyrics on pop radio, or see grownups kissing on TV, or someone becomes pregnant or gives birth. Or when you’re playing a game.

Like our latest round of Scattergories the other day.  (Yeah, we like that game.) The category was toiletries or cosmetics. The letter was C.

Again, my son came up with an answer unlike anyone else’s: Condom. My husband I looked at each other with raised eyebrows, then asked if he knew what those were for.

“Yep, it’s in that book you gave me,” he said with a shrug.

Perfect opportunity for another quick conversation.

We don’t need The Talk. Because we’re talking all the time.

This post originally appeared on Ravishly. Check them out.

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Remembering my pantsuit-wearing mom on this historic Election Day

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Look at these powerful pantsuit-wearing women of the’70s. My mom is second from right.

I chose my first presidential candidate when I was in 4th grade. My dad told me if I watched the news and read the newspaper he would vote for whoever I told him to. He called me from his office and told me he was on his way to the polls and asked for my recommendation.

“Jimmy Carter!!” I screamed.

I might not have imagined then I would have the chance to vote for a woman running for the highest office, but my mom probably did. Were she alive today, my mom would be a couple of years older than Hillary Clinton, and she would have no doubt have campaigned for her – and voiced her opinions about what she should have done differently.

Growing up in Alaska in the ’70s and ‘80s, we talked about politics and current events a lot in our house. My mom was committed to making sure women were involved in the process – and on the ballot. When my sister and I were young, she lobbied for the Equal Rights Amendment and was an officer in the League of Women Voters. She and other strong women had raucous conversations in our home and worked hard on the issues and for candidates they believed in.

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My  mom made the news when she was elected president of the Anchorage League of Women Voters.

My mom ran campaigns and enlisted our help going through rolodexes and making phone calls. She helped elect school board members and state lawmakers, and she also campaigned for candidates who would have brought about real change but didn’t win. She volunteered at polling places, let us go behind the red, white, and blue curtain with her, and even took us to some election night parties.

Alaska is a small state, and Anchorage was a tight-knit community in those days, so many of these people were our friends. I babysat for the former mayor and governor’s kids, went to sleepovers with the daughters of legislators, and greeted many past and present lawmakers at my mom’s memorial service.

My mom was always trying to show us what women could accomplish. When I had to write a report on a historical figure in 6th grade, she suggested I research Golda Meir, who was Israel’s first (and only) woman prime minister. I did.

I remember my mom and her friends cheering when Geraldine Ferraro was chosen to be Walter Mondale’s vice presidential running mate in 1984. They were crushed in the election, of course, but the progressive women who surrounded and influenced me over the years considered it progress that a woman would be nominated for such a high office. Even though she would have disagreed with her politics, my mom might have even felt the same about fellow Alaskan Sarah Palin.

We talk some politics around our house too. My 9-year-old son helped me fill out my ballot (mail-in state that we are – it’s just not the same. I want my sticker!) He formed his own strong opinions throughout these prolonged campaigns about who he wanted to see in the White House.

“It seem strange that a woman has never been president,” he told me recently. “I always thought they were the most intelligent.”

The grandma you never met, my dear, would be proud.It looks tonight as though my son’s statement remains true and we won’t have a woman president. Still, though disappointed and shocked at the results I saw unfold tonight, I raise a glass to my mom and the many women of her generation who fought so hard to make a difference that led to Clinton’s historic run.

I completely lost my freaking mind in front of my kid and his friends

My son loves to have his friends over, and I usually plan some kind of outing when I can. But sometimes when we do this, he goes a little cray-cray.

Like the day just before school started when I was driving with three hyper boys and our excitable dog in the car. We were listening to pop radio on way home from the park. I spent 40 bucks on lunch they didn’t eat and let them run wild while I played with the dog. I was taking them home to change so we could head to the pool. Awesome mom, right? So fun, so chill.

Suddenly, the car door my son was sitting by flew open. I panicked, slammed on the brakes, and turned around to see him sheepishly trying to pull the door closed. Then I noticed he wasn’t wearing his seatbelt.

“What the hell is wrong with you?”  I screamed, as his friends looked at me with mouths agape. “You opened the door of a moving car and you don’t even have your damn seatbelt on?”

And then I saw his smirk, and my rage reached a new level. When my quite bright son told me with a straight face that door “accidentally” came open, I completely lost it.

“Do not try to tell me you did not do that on purpose! You do not have to act like an IDIOT when you are with your friends. You are not impressing anyone! If this is how you’re going to behave you can play BY YOURSELF the rest of your life! I can’t believe you would do something SO STUPID!”

I mean, this kid is 9 1/2. I thought I was past the point of cheerfully saying, “Buckle up!”  when we get in the car. Apparently not. And maybe we’re not even over those child locks. Seriously?

Yelling, swearing, name calling, idle threats. Not my proudest mom moment, but I know a lot of you have been there too. When I told this story to my friends later that night – over wine of course – they laughed out loud, told me to give myself a break for losing my cool, and toasted to the fact that I got through the whole episode with dropping any f bombs. They got it.

And they understood too that behind my total freak out was fear: Fear that this son of mine, this confident, smart, funny, talented kid, could be hurt, not by accident, but by his own foolishness. Instantly my mind filled with thoughts of his brains splattered on the pavement, his legs mangled, he and the dog tangled in the leash, run over by my own car. I was literally shaking. Tears filled my eyes as I tried to calm down.

There are enough things to worry about when raising kids – especially daredevil boys like mine who start swordfights with sharp objects, wrestle like they’re part of WWE, and walk across the top of the monkey bars and jump down, ignoring warnings of “That’s too high!”

There are a million ways for these boys to hurt themselves, and only so much we can prevent. I mean, kids get shot in elementary schools and movie theaters these days, and babies get sick for no reason. That random violence and heartache we have no control over, but don’t we all try to avert needless danger where we can?

My son wants to play tackle football and I’m like hell no, you could get hurt. I make him wear his helmet over his protests when he’s riding his bike and his electric scooter. I teach him not to open the door to strangers or touch a hot stove and look three ways before crossing the street. But he opens the freaking door of a moving car?

I want him to push himself, to be brave, to be fearless. I don’t want to be overprotective or overreact. I want him to be independent. I want him to be bold. But I also want him to be smart, to avoid intentionally putting himself in harm’s way.

I was able to explain this to him later that night when he was getting ready for bed. He said he’d never seen me so mad before.

“Sorry for losing my temper, especially in front of your friends,” I told him. “But you really scared me.”

I told him he’s the most important thing to me, and keeping him safe is my job. There will be a lot of things you will confront as you get older that can be bad for you, I said, so you might as well start now with making the right choices.

“I’m sorry, Mom,” he murmured.

And then I laid down beside my growing-up-way-too-fast-but-still-little boy, kissed him and hugged him.

And he let me.

This post originally appeared on Ravishly. Check out their site.

 

 

 

I missed my son’s playoff game to make music

Hey kiddo. I’m sorry I missed your big baseball playoff game the other day. It was your best game yet, and your huge hit helped send your team to the championship. I wasn’t there because I was at my high school — a place I hadn’t been for 30 years — singing with other former choir students in preparation for a reunion concert to honor the director who inspired and influenced countless students over her career.

During a break from our rehearsals, I checked my text messages, and Dad had been keeping me up to date on the game. I let out a “Whohoo!” and told everyone around me about your great success. We all cheered for you and your team.

Then we headed back on stage to keep singing, which was where I really needed to be that night. It was a big decision to go on this trip during this incredibly busy end-of-the-school year rush. I felt guilty about leaving Dad and you, about buying a plane ticket, asking my friends to help shuttle you to your activities (thanks to my mom tribe, who totally got why I wanted to be there).  I told you there would be a lot of games in your life, but this reunion concert was a once-in-a-lifetime event, and I really wanted to be part of it.

Once I was standing on the risers under the lights, sharing harmonies with singers who I had known for decades, I knew I had made the right decision.

I haven’t gone to my class reunions because our family had other things going on. But being at this reunion was important for me, and it turned out it was even more meaningful than I expected. I stayed at Grandpa’s house with two of my best friends from high school. When we all piled into the car, parked at our high school and walked into the auditorium for rehearsal, it felt like no time had passed. We had made that same trip hundreds of times during high school.

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The Hee Haw Honeys, from our yearbook. Two of these silly girls were at the reunion with me.

I spent endless hours in that auditorium over four years, rehearsing for concerts, learning songs from “The Messiah,” and practicing for musicals like “Hello Dolly” and “The Music Man.” One year, my friends and I went on stage for a special number, dressed in robes with  bandanas and curlers in our hair and sang a song called, “We’re Not Ones to Go Round Spreading Rumors” that was made famous by an old TV show you’ve never heard of. We made up our own lyrics about classmates and teachers and we brought down the house. I hadn’t thought of that for a long time.

There’s a lot of stuff about high school I’d rather forget. But being in choir was the best part. Music does bring people together, and it was magical to reconnect with classmates and others who were just as moved as I was to sing together again under the direction of a woman who was a big part of our lives at a time when we were learning who we were. This time around, people were older, some grayer or balding, some heavier, some gorgeous as ever. But the voices were the same, and I felt sheer joy sharing the stage with them all. Our conversations picked up like we had been there yesterday, like we were all still the teenagers we once were trying to get our songs pitch-perfect.

When we weren’t rehearsing or reminiscing, our conversations revolved around what had happened since then, our families, our careers, and our real lives that started after we left high school and our parents. We have all lived through a lot, survived blows more crushing than not being asked to prom, and had moments much bigger than high school graduation. No one can tell us that things that seem like the end of the world at 16 won’t matter one bit when we’re holding our grandchildren.

See, this is who I was long before your dad or sister or you came along. Just a teenage girl who loved singing, worked on the school newspaper, hand-wrote papers for class, went to parties, and worried about whether any boy would ever like me. We giggled with our friends on phones mounted on the wall and met up at McDonald’s to see what was going on that night. We laughed, we cried, we sang. So many memories flooded me as we went through seven poignant songs in that auditorium that was so strangely familiar.

My family will always be my priority. You guys are my heart, my present (my gift) and my future. But my past, experiences like those I relived last week, shaped who I am and made me the person I became that led me to you all. It’s important to maintain those relationships, to nurture the parts of me that are all mine, so I can help you become the person you want to be.

I’ll probably be humming, “How Can I Stop from Singing,” and “Thank You for the Music,” for a while, as I recall this special time with longtime friends. But I’ll be in the stands for that championship game this week, uplifted from my time away.

 

 

 

 

 

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.)