Category Archives: sons

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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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.

 

 

 

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.)

 

 

GTA? N-O

I’m back on Ravishly today talking about the challenges of  boys and video games:

No, I will not allow my child to play Grand Theft Auto. Please check it out!

And if you’re not reading Ravishly, you should be. There’s so much great stuff there — a little bit for everyone.

 

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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