My first post on Ravishly!

ravishlyI am so excited that the cool new site Ravishly has published a new post of mine! Ravishly celebrates “the mess of being human” and offers a diverse array of voices on just about any topic. Please take a look!

10 things I’ve learned being a sudden stay-at-home mom

And here’s the post.

10 things I’ve learned from being a sudden stay-at-home mom

I have always been a working mom. Until I suddenly wasn’t working. Balancing the needs and activities of a young son and a demanding job was always tricky. Some days, I felt like Supermom and others I felt like the smartest woman at work. But usually not both on the same day.

Once I wasn’t commuting and working 50 or so hours a week, I admit I had no idea what to do with myself. But as my family has eased into this new normal and found our rhythm, and I’ve figured out a few things.

Quality time all the time is a fairy tale.

Because my routine had always had to revolve around my career, I had no idea how to schedule these days that didn’t involve work. It was easier in the summer when this was brand new to me and we had free days for outings and kept busy with swim meets and tennis matches and meeting up with other moms also looking for ways to occupy their kids.

Once school and the rainy, dark days began, it was more of a challenge. Where before I had to squeeze homework, dinner, bath, and quality time into a couple of hours, now we have lots of time after school. My son always want to do something or go somewhere. I have to remind him it’s not a nonstop party just because I’m home with him. Sometimes we paint canvases, play games, and head outside, and other times we just need to chill. Sometimes that involves my Kindle and his Xbox.

I am just not a good housekeeper.

I always blamed my dirty floors and cluttered countertops on my crazy busy schedule and the fact that I didn’t want to spend what little family time we had cleaning the house. But I have a lot more time now, and I don’t spend much of it dusting. I really should be scrubbing the toilet right now instead of writing this. I get no joy from making my stainless steel shine, and I don’t see that changing.

This cooking thing is overrated.

When I was working, I was always scrambling to pick my son up 30 seconds before the afterschool program closed, then rushing home to make a healthy dinner everyone would eat as fast as possible (or stopping at Papa Murphy’s) or running to sports practice. We were lucky to be done with dinner by 8.

Now I have time to grocery shop in the morning, plan meals, and experiment with recipes. I impressed my family by making my first-ever apple pie (no I did not make the crust, are you crazy?) but spending hours in the kitchen is not my thing. Plus, when you put time and effort into making homemade chicken tetrazzini and your kid still asks for a hot dog, the thrill is gone.

I understand why SAHMs put their kids to bed so early.

I have friends who routinely put their kids to bed at 7:30 or 8. I always thought it was crazy, because if I did that, I would hardly ever see my son. We’re still kind of a late night gang around here, but I understand the need for a little downtime in the evening after bedtime. I don’t get that time, but I understand it.

I have to get out of the house.

I always dreamed of just one day alone in my house – just one day. Now I am sick of being home with only the dog for company. I enjoy the uninterrupted time to write and focus on my burgeoning freelance and consulting career, but getting out – whether walking the dog, lunching with friends or meeting with clients at coffee shops — keeps me sane.

Beware the dangers of day drinking.

I love being able to meet my friends who don’t work for lunch during the school day, especially when it involves a nice glass of chardonnay. But just because I don’t have to head back to work doesn’t mean the drinks can keep coming, as learned after a couple foggy afternoons. I still have to get home (safely, I must add) and be a mom.

It’s a lot easier to get to know other moms.

When you’re dropping your kid at the curb in front of the school and picking him up at daycare, it’s pretty hard to know parents at school. Now I meet the bus, chat with the other moms outside, and get to volunteer and see what goes on inside those walls. Plus, it’s nice to be the one receiving a text asking me to pick up another kid when her mom is running late instead of always being the one asking for help.

I pay closer attention to our budget.  

When you’re not bringing home the same bacon, you can’t bring home the same bacon.

My kid and I can annoy each other.

Yes, it has been a joy to spend so much time with my son. We have always been close and he consistently cracks me up. But we have also gotten on each other’s nerves like never before. When our time together was limited, I never wanted a cross word. Now I recognize that it’s normal to get a little sick of each other once in a while.

I actually like this.

There is no perfect situation. My friends and I always debate the pros of cons of working. But this formerly ambitious but continually exhausted career woman is pleasantly surprised to find myself enjoying this situation. I may go back to a full-time job – I might find something perfect or have no choice financially – but I’ll be sure it’s something that fits into my life, rather than fitting my life in around my job.

 

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.

 

(If you liked this post, please share it with your friends.)

 

 

 

The many loves of Valentine’s Day

You are loved2Years ago, when I was single and lonely and living miles away from any of my fellow non-attached girlfriends, I dreaded Valentine’s Day. That was when this holiday seemed to me a magical day reserved only for the coupled, who would undoubtedly spend a blissful day enraptured by each other, leaving the rest of us feeling alone and worthless.

I was surprised when a delivery man appeared in the newsroom and called my name. “These are for you,” he said, handing me a huge bouquet of balloons, the centerpiece being an enormous red heart-shaped Mylar balloon proclaiming “I love you!”

Baffled, my single heart beating, I opened the card. Everyone oohed and aahed and asked who they were from. For a split second I thought of manufacturing a secret lover, but I sheepishly replied, “They’re from my mom.”

She meant well and was so thoughtful, but it somehow magnified my lack of romantic prospects. I called her to thank her and told she’d made my day. Then I called my sister and said, “Don’t ever let her do that again.”

But of course I remember her loving gesture every Valentine’s Day with gratitude. This silly so-called holiday should be about love, after all, not romance.

Years later on Valentine’s Day, I was happily in love and preparing for a needed weekend getaway with my boyfriend, even with the loss of my mom three weeks earlier weighing heavily on my mind. A gorgeous bouquet of roses appeared on my office desk. This time the card read: “Love, Dad.”

I was so touched that he sent them, in the midst of his great grief, on his first Valentine’s Day without her. See, it’s about love.

That night, my boyfriend and I headed out of town, checked into a ritzy hotel, and went to dinner. He seemed standoffish to me as we walked the streets of this romantic city with his hand in his pocket rather than holding mine. The restaurant wasn’t very good, and he seemed inordinately disappointed about the chicken cordon bleu. We walked wordlessly back to our hotel for a nightcap and dessert.

He was so fidgety and uncomfortable, it made me nervous. Until I found out the reason for his nerves.

“So I have a question,” he said.

And he offered me my mother’s engagement ring, which she had told my sister was to go to him with her blessing. He had been carrying it in his pocket and was petrified he would lose it, so he kept his hand firmly gripped around it.

I told him about the balloons, and how she was happy that I was happy, that I had found this man to spend my life with, that she had known him, and loved him too.

A few years ago, my Valentine was a poem written by my then 6-year-old.

Roses are red,
violets are blue.
I really love you!”

Oh, the love again.

This morning, my husband let me stay in bed and surprised me with French toast. The doorbell rang a little later – an unexpected delivery of dangerously delicious chocolate-covered strawberries from my husby.

Over breakfast, we reminded our son about why February 14 is important to us, how it was the beginning of our family with him and his sister.

“Some people believe Valentine’s Day is just created by greeting card companies to get more money,” my 9-year-old said. “Is that true?”

Pretty much, I said. And it makes some people feel bad for no reason. It doesn’t matter if you have a boyfriend or girlfriend, it’s just a day for telling people we love them – even if we shouldn’t need a designated day for that.

It’s just a day, whether you have balloons and roses, or you shirk the whole V Day thing and enjoy too many shots with your friends, or spend the night home alone with a bowl of ice cream and bottle of wine, or are chasing after kids hyped up on candy while dreaming of peace and quiet rather than romance.

Whatever kind of Valentine’s Day you have, I hope you know you are loved.

 

 

Finding acceptance at the dog park

dogs.

Everyone is welcome at the dog park.

Our energetic year-old puppy loves to play with other dogs, so when our city opened an off-leash park a few blocks away from us, she was in heaven. She has little interest in running after a ball there. She just wants to play – with each and every one of the dogs she finds.

This whole dog thing is still pretty new to me. (Ask my friends how many of them thought I would ever be writing about my dog, and the answer would be a big zero). I was wary of the crowds of canines when we first started going to the park, but we’re regulars now.

This morning, she dragged me as fast as she could toward the gate leading to her freedom. Sensing a new playmate, other dogs raced up to meet her. One of them was a pit bull. I have always been a little afraid of these dogs, so I was nervous as I opened the latch on the gate.

Our excitable Borador (black lab-border collie mix) and the pit bull sniffed each other out for a millisecond before they ran off together. They were joined by a docile cocker spaniel, two boisterous golden retrievers and a little Westy with a face right off a can of dog food.

Our last visit, she ran around with a chipper Chihuahua, a stately Siberian husky, and a rambunctious Rottweiler. When she was just a tiny puppy, a huge Bernese mountain dog approached her and I was terrified, only to see that mammoth dog cuddle up to her and place a protective paw on her back.

At the dog park, black, brown and white dogs run around with abandon. I’ve seen dogs with three legs, dogs with one eye, purebreds and mixed breeds mingle without a thought. If a dog misbehaves, he is removed by his owner and likely won’t be back.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we were so accepting of those not like us?

Imagine if we didn’t judge people based on the color of the skin or their ethnic background. If we didn’t make assumptions based on their short skirts or hoodies or hijabs or tattoos. If we didn’t care who they love or how they worship or what they do for a living. If we didn’t prejudge an entire group based on the bad actions of a few of its members.

I was scared of pit bulls because I’ve seen horror stories about attacks by these dogs. But the one my dog made friends with today was nothing like I’d imagined. When it was time for him to leave, my dog followed him up the hill and watched longingly as he walked away with his owner.

Yes, I know I’m oversimplifying, and I am in no way comparing any human being to a dog. I just would love to live in a world in which everyone is welcome, where newcomers are greeted at the door without prejudice. I think when we open our minds to those who are different than us and get to know them, we discover that we have a lot in common. Most of us just want to be accepted for who we are and judged on our behavior rather than any preconceived notions or the actions of another.

I hope that pit bull is back again tomorrow. He taught me a lot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How do you stick to your guns when it comes to video games?

I have been arguing with my 9-year-old son for weeks about why we won’t let him play Grand Theft Auto. I kind of blame myself.

He was at an older friend’s birthday party where they were playing games he knows we don’t allow. He texted me from his iPod: “I feel left out because everyone is playing video games I can’t play.”

I was proud of him for being honest and following the rules, so I told him it was OK to try them out with his friends. I didn’t expect him to like them so much. Up until now, our biggest challenge had been pulling him away from Minecraft, which is pretty universally praised as an educational game that encourages creativity and critical thinking.

He had tucked his Christmas cash into his homemade duct-tape wallet, and my son was determined to spend that money on GTA, a game that “EVERYONE plays.”

He kept telling me he doesn’t want to do all that bad crime stuff, he just likes to drive around and play tennis and stuff. Are there really scenic byways and recreational facilities in this violent virtual world that I heard mostly consists of bank robbers, guns, hookers, and drug dealers?

For weeks, he’s been alternating between sweet talking us and screaming at us about why he should get GTA.  He has negotiated and promised, and we have threatened and researched. I don’t like video games and detest guns, so these allure of these games is lost on me. But I read the online reviews from other parents. I watched YouTube videos. I talked to friends who do and don’t let their kids play GTA. And I came to my conclusion: No way.

“Mom, it is not as bad as you think,” my son insisted. “And I know right from wrong. It’s not like I’m going to go out and rob a bank or steal a car.”

He has written too many persuasive essays in third grade, this kid.

My son, like seemingly all boys, likes video games. But he also swims, plays basketball, baseball, soccer and tennis. He’s active. He’s a good student. He likes art and music and jumping on the trampoline. Like all moms, I wonder how much screen time is too much? How damaging are these games to his precious psyche?

Finally, he wore me down. My husband and I took him to Game Stop to ask about the game. The first salesclerk warned me about the mature themes. I asked him about this “just driving around” thing, and he said you really can’t do that for very long.

Then the clerk told us if you buy a used game, you can return it in seven days if you don’t like it or decide it’s a mistake. That sounded like a reasonable option. We went over the ground rules, and our son said he understood that if Dad or I objected to it in any way, we would take the game back with no backtalk. Against my better judgment, I told him he could try it out under close supervision.

Beaming, my son walked up to counter with the GTA case in his hand. A different clerk was there and looked at me with raised eyebrows. “You sure this is OK?” he asked.

The conversation began again with this employee. He told us it’s pretty much impossible to avoid the violence, sex, and profanity.  “It’s really the worst game out there for kids,” he said, confirming my fears.

This conscientious clerk directed us toward another game we’d never heard of that he said was just as fun, without the inappropriate language and crime sprees. He backed us up, without knowing how much we needed it.

These guys are the experts, I told our son. They are super gamers. It’s their job to sell games, and they are encouraging us NOT to buy this one.

I reneged on our agreement. I knew I was in trouble. We’re all about keeping our word in our family, and our kiddo was not happy that I broke mine. But I also knew I was right.

Thank you, Game Stop guys for making this mom stick to her guns.

My mom’s last words

My mom was a woman of words.

She taught us the words to “Jesus Loves Me,” and she told me what menstruation meant.

When I was 8, she gave me a blank book, with an inscription: “To Katherine, for your poems.”

A former English teacher, my mom taught me the meaning of “colloquial” when I was reading my favorite book, “To Kill a Mockingbird.” I used it in an essay on the book for my 9th grade Honors English class. I got an A.

Her final words, uttered 13 years ago today, were perhaps her most important. I feel fortunate my Dad and I were in the hospital room to hear them. Not all families have this opportunity, I know. I wish my sister and brother had been there too.

She had been quiet and unresponsive for several hours when we noticed her struggling to speak.

“I want to say that I love you,” she told my Dad, in a stronger voice than we expected.  “And I love the kids.”

Thank you, Mom, for the words.

 

 

Don’t stumble over what’s behind you

Don't stumble over something behind you with link.jpgYou know that cliché, “It hit me like a rock”?

That happened to me last year. And among all the amazing, wonderful, beautiful moments and people that surrounded me, I had a hard time getting over the sudden, startling change in my life.

I kept looking back, reliving the moment, the words that were said and unsaid. Overanalyzing, asking the same questions in my mind over and over and over and over again and expecting an answer that was never going to come. It shook my confidence, broke my trust, and left me staggering.

Stumbling over the past kept me from finding sure footing in the present. Sometimes it still does. Yesterday it was a phone call that that brought it all back. Dammit, I thought I was past this.

Don’t we all do this sometimes?

Sometime it’s a grating tiny pebble in your shoe that keeps you off balance until you remove it. Sometimes it’s a chunk of broken concrete that trips us, sending us crashing to the ground. It hurts, but we get up and limp for a bit before regaining our full stride.

And sometimes it’s a boulder barreling full speed that smashes into us, flattening us, leaving us battered and broken.

I have always thought of myself as an optimist, and I still do. I am grateful for those who let me lean on them, whose laughter and love and belief in me kept me upright. I embrace the opportunities this abrupt change presents. And yet, pieces of that blasted boulder still break off and hit me in the back, causing me to look over my shoulder and trip over the past.

We all carry an unavoidable load of loss and pain that can weigh us down, slowing our steps. Looking back is good. Remembering, and grieving, can be healing and cathartic. Stumbling over what’s behind me is not productive.

The road ahead leads me to beautiful new places, full of possibility — and inevitably, a few cracks in the pavement along the way that have the potential to cause another spill.

There will always be missteps, times we wish we could go back and start over or change what happened.

And when we can’t, we must face forward and skip over the stones that appear in our path.

 

New Year’s Realizations

My New Year’s resolutions are always the same: get in shape, be smarter financially, be more organized. Drink less wine and eat more kale, yada yada yada.

I still want to do all those things, but I’m taking a different approach to 2016. Last year brought a lot of big changes in my life, and I’ve had some time to think about what really makes me happy, what fuels me. Some of it has surprised me, and it’s exciting for me to discover that I am still learning and growing.

As I was thinking about the New Year and the many facets that can lead to happiness, the “4 Cs” kept popping into my head. My summer job during college was working at a jewelry store, where I learned a little about the 4Cs of diamonds: cut, color, clarity, and carat.

So here are my 4C realizations (not resolutions) for 2016:

I need to create. Whether it’s a few words on this blog, working on the novel I really will finish writing,  a professional project that fulfills my creative side or a cool experiment with my son, using my imagination inspires me. I will devote more time to it this year. (But don’t expect anything too crafty.)

I need to contribute. Whether volunteering at school, collecting pennies for uncompensated children’s hospital care, sending toys to Syrian refugees or buying groceries for someone who has less than me, these small gifts mean more to me than the recipient and teach my son compassion. Giving back rewards me, and being part of something bigger than myself grounds me. I will find new ways for my family to give this year.

I need to crack up. I love laughing out loud. My friends are hilarious. My family makes me giggle. I need more of those laughing to tears, side-aching, sore cheek moments in between the rushing, the working, the worrying.

I need to connect. I value my longtime friendships with my most trusted friends, and I’m grateful for growing connections with fellow moms. I need to make time for coffee dates and happy hours and family gatherings and date nights with my husby. Having people in your life you can truly count on, who you can fully support, makes all the difference.

I know that when I’m pursuing these core beliefs, other good stuff follows. I’m even craving spinach right now instead of chocolate. At least that’s what my creative self is trying to tell me.

What are your New Year’s Realizations?

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.

 

Moments of kindness that moved me

You know those moments- like  when someone cuts you off in traffic or a stranger makes a condescending comment -that instantly change your mood?

My husband saw a woman throw a conniption at the pizza place over the amount of cheese on her extra cheese pizza. The other day, a woman berated my sweet barista because she couldn’t charge just 1 cent on her loyalty card so the customer could earn a star toward a free drink.

Now, when you’re nice to your barista, you get surprises like this:

cup

In a world so often uncertain, filled with hatred and violence and sadness, small interactions have a profound effect on our moods. We never know what a stranger is dealing with, and no one knows what you might be going through. How lovely to encounter and share kindness.

Here are a few small moments this year that turned my day around, made me smile, and restored my faith in humanity.

The soccer-playing cabbie

taxi

I was rushing to the airport to reach one of my best friends whose mother had just died. I was scrambling to cover all the responsibilities and activities in my absence. One friend was picking my son up for soccer practice while I was waiting for a cab to the airport. The cab driver arrived first and had to wait for a few minutes. Instead of starting the meter, he got out of the cab and played soccer in the street with my son. Instantly eased my stress and made our goodbye much easier. I wish I had gotten his name.

The forgiving parking attendant

lost ticket

When I picked my dad up from the airport, I paid for the parking and walked a short distance to the car. I have a system for keeping track of those parking tickets, but this day, the system broke down. Somehow between paying my $3 at the self-pay machine and reaching the car, the ticket had disappeared. I dug through every nook and cranny in my purse, retraced my steps, and resigned myself that the parking was going to cost an arm and a leg. The cashier took pity on me and let me leave without paying. Bless her.

The conscientious key-finder

truck.JPG

After my brother got home from a Thanksgiving trip, he couldn’t find his keys. Searched everywhere and called people in two states trying to track them down until a friend saw a post on Facebook. Turns out someone found the keys near the truck where it had been parked. Not only didn’t he steal the truck, he made efforts to find the owner. Good for him.

The nurse with the big heart

Just be kind

I was at the doctor recently, and the kindest nurse checked me in. She was wearing hot pink scrubs and a bright smile. As she prepared to check my blood pressure (after asking in a gentle voice if was ok for her to do so) she put a stethoscope shaped like a heart on my arm. I commented on her warm demeanor and told her I could tell she was a caring person.

“There’s so much going on in the world, people are on edge,” she said. “It’s important to spread kindness.”

Amen.