a proposal at a gas station

I was in a rush a few days ago.  A never-ending rush of driving kids, placating kids, getting food, picking up clothes/trash/toys/books/mail-we-haven’t opened.  I pulled into a gas station after dropping one of the three kids off at a gymastics class.  The other two were in the car.

Mommy, what are we doing?

Mommy, why are you getting out?

Mommy, I’m hunngrryyy….

Ugh. I’m getting gas. Be right back. Play with your toys.

As I got out of the car, a large black man started to approach me from behind.  “Ma’am, excuse me?”

I steeled myself. Immediately.  I didn’t waver. I steeled myself against this large black man whom I didn’t know at the gas station.

And do you know why I became defensive?  I had read that it was common for people to come to gas stations to steal purses from cars.  To ask for money.  Mostly because the gas stations are located so close to the highway.  Who knows if it’s true or not.  As such, I had made it a habit to lock my car and grab my purse when I was pumping gas.  But my kids were in the car, so my car was open and my purse was in plain sight.   I was in a rush.

“Excuse me, ma’am?”

“Uh-huh.” My response was negligible.  A verbal non-response.

“I’m trying to propose to my girlfriend, Jasmine, on the phone here,” he held up his face-time phone in view of me, “and she has asked that someone witness my proposal.  Will you watch me propose to my girlfriend? I’m going to get on one knee”.  He got on one knee on the concrete right next to my gas pump.

“Jasmine, you are the light of my life.  I can’t imagine living without you, will you marry me?”

I couldn’t hear her response, but I assumed it was yes by the joy on his face.  By that time, my mouth had dropped, I had muttered a congratulations, and my hand had fallen flaccidly off the gas handle.  My eyes wandered between the numbers on the gas tank, his face and his phone.

“Thanks, ma’am. I’m getting married!”  He walked back off to his van.  I watched him walk away from me.  He was a driver for a food company.  He hopped back into his food truck van and went on his way.  I stood there, paralyzed, my eyes drifting back towards the gas tank.

The tank was half filled, but I was filled with a vast void of shame and emptiness inside me.  With a little bit of selfish happiness that I got to experience the proposal of Jasmine and the black man at the gas station.

I looked around.  Did anybody else see what I just saw? No.  No one else was around me.

I got back in the car and sat there for a bit.  My eldest daughter asked me, “mommy, what did that man want?”

“Well, honey, it was the most wonderful thing.  He was proposing to his girlfriend.  Right here at the gas station.  And he wanted me to witness it.”

“What was her name?”

“Jasmine”

“Jasmine, like the PRINCESS?”

“Yes, like the princess.”

I can’t tell you how many times over the past few weeks I’ve thought of those 45 seconds.  About my defensive reaction to a large black man approaching me from behind at a gas station.  About his simple and joyous request for me to witness his marriage proposal.  About my shame, my complete and total emptiness.

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Blowing out the butterflies

Yesterday, we sent two out of our three kids off to the first day of school.  It felt for me – and for all you parents out there – like I was sending my heart out into the world.  And it was all I could do from wrapping my kids in bubble wrap.  At least in bubble wrap, the words, the hurt, the fear…all of the baggage that comes with growing up wouldn’t hurt my girls.  But alas.  I didn’t bubble wrap them.   I sent them out with a smile and excitement on my face, and anxiousness in my stomach.

Our girls have had a lot of change lately.  For my oldest, this will be her third school in two years.  She has taken it like a champ.   She is a smart kid, but suffers from a strong case of the nerves (like her mama).  So  – anytime we go anywhere new – we blow out the butterflies from our tummy.  We take a deep breath.  Both of us. Together. And we blow them out.  And we count how many came out.  And what color they are.  And then we figure out if there are still any more inside of us.  If so, we do it again.  And again.  And again.

Kids are remarkably resilient.  It’s amazing.  I’ve seen from the various military communities we have been privileged to be a part of how fast kids adapt to new situations and new surroundings.   Their parents are often far less accommodating.   It’s so hard for us to get accustomed to new friends, new places, new routines.  It takes months – years even – to adjust as we get older and more settled.  But the fact remains that the ability for all of us to be resilient (and teach our kids to be) is key to successful life transitions.

The night before the first day of school, I had a dream.  I was walking around the grocery store and the kids were at the bottom of the grocery cart – like beneath where the groceries go.  During this dream, the kids fell out.   And I panicked. For some reason, I couldn’t get them back in the cart.   I had left them behind.

Isn’t that – to some degree – what we all feel?  We are worried we don’t have the ability to thrive in new situations?  We feel like we (or our kids) are being left behind, as everyone else moves forward?

The new year is approaching and I worry that in this BIG NEW WORLD that my kids won’t be able to navigate the cognitive, emotional, and developmental pitfalls that await them.   So this year, we will keep blowing out the butterflies, and I’ll keep the bubble wrap in the pantry just in case.

eating crow on helicopter parenting

I’m going to eat some crow here.  A year and a half ago I posted a blog on raising children.    In it, I attacked our generation of parenting, specifically the tendency to resort to helicopter parenting.  I argued that we should allow children to take “reasonable risks to gain experience that builds confidence.”  I still believe that.   But how much risk is too much risk for a young child?

We moved to a lovely child-filled street in Houston.  Each house has a kid under the age of eight.  Mostly boys, but some girls too.  To my astonishment, they play smack dab in the street with their scooters, bicycles, and whatever-the-new-electronic-fad-thingy is.  And most days, they play unsupervised.   There are two girls, both age five, who flock daily to our house, since we have the girl house now.  They ring our doorbell and ask to play with our girls.  I have never met their parents.  I have never even SEEN their parents. I don’t even know where one girl lives.  These children play on their scooters in the neighborhoods, often without shoes and helmets, for hours in the afternoon.  And no, they are not sisters.  They come from two different homes on two different ends of the street.

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Lest you think we live in a bad part of town, let me debunk that theory.  We live in one of the nicest areas of the city.  And no, we don’t live on a cul-de-sac.  We live on a quiet street, but still a cross street.

Do parents abdicate their responsibilities because they have a false sense of security about their neighborhood? Do they trust that all will be well because we have nicely groomed bushes and fancy cars?  Because they think someone else will watch out for their five year old child when they shoot across the road without looking?   Do parent think that schools will teach children responsibility? Social-emotional learning? How to deal with strangers, other adults or older children?

Is this true for your neighborhood?

I went out and got one of those bright green plastic “kids” to place in the middle of the road.  If not for my kids sake, than for the sake of all the kids whose caregivers are not around.  I hunker down and spend time outside the front of our house watching my daughters play.  They plead with me to go just a little bit farther.  Just a little bit longer.  To push the boundaries just a little bit more.  I’ve found myself becoming the parent I hoped I wouldn’t have to be.  The one that hovers, that listens, that watches constantly.  The helicopter parent.  Because, precisely, other adults are not there.

 

 

 

well, hello, from Texas.

Well, Hello.  From Texas.

Boy. I never thought I would write that phrase.  But hello.  From Houston, Texas.

We have arrived in our new home. All six of us have survived the journey from Washington, DC to Houston, Texas. Intact. Exhausted. Excited. Sad. and Ready.

But this blog isn’t about Texas. This blog is about getting to Texas. Literally. Getting here with two adults, three kids and a dog.   Has no one on earth ever travelled with three kids and a dog before?  That thought crossed my mind a few times when I tried to book an above average (say better than Motel 6 Hotel) for our cross-country road trip for four days.  I sat down at my computer, pulled up my ever trusty tripadvisor.com and typed in each city we would be staying in (Knoxville, Birmingham, Baton rouge and Houston).  Granted, these aren’t huge metropolises, but I thought we would be able to find a decent array of accommodations to choose from.  Then I had to check the number of persons boxes (number is five) and amenities (pets allowed).  Well, our vast array of choices went down to a small handful (if that).

Now, I’ll caveat this by saying I am a bit of a hotel snob.  I have a few criteria by which I judge hotels.

#1) The last time it was renovated.  If it has that carpet. You know that kind. The one that smells like the 70s. It’s not the hotel for me.

#2)  It doesn’t offer free conditioner.  Maybe this is a small thing to all the men out there; but I don’t know a woman who doesn’t use conditioner.  And all-in-one shampoo conditioner doesn’t count.  I need to brush my hair the next day.

#3) It has one bed in one room.  I’m sorry but my 5-person-family can’t fit in one bed in one room.  Even if we put the baby in the closet (and I’m not above that) we still can’t do it.  We need space.  And not the living-room or kitchen type space.  We need the bed-type space.

So, even with my above average hotel snobbery, it was tough to find hotels between Washington, DC and Houston, Texas.  It was mostly due to the dog/large family combo.  I’m sure if we had one or the other, it would have been easier.  But the dual whammy made it trickier.  Luckily the Homewood Suites in each city came to our rescue.  And my personal hotel diva got a touch of her inner love in Houston at Hotel Zaza (which, if you are ever in Houston, is absolutely, positively worth a visit).

Zaza

Hotel Zaza view of Houston (kid and pet friendly)

I guess what I’m saying is I get why Airbnb is so popular.  Hotel people, get with the program.

 

 

 

hard questions from the little people

The kids and I were in the car.  We pull up next to a stop light.  NPR on the radio.  Quiet girl banter in the backseat of my mini-van.  I’m zoning out.  Thinking about tomorrow’s dinner, or this weekend’s schedule, or something – anything – other than what’s going on outside my car.

From the backseat, A. loudly begs for my attention.  Pulling me away from my afternoon daze.

A: “Mommy, MOMMY! WHY is that man standing on the street with a sign?”

Panhandling

Me: “What?” Noticing for the first time panhandler standing next to our stopped car with a sign asking for money.

Me: “Well, he is asking people for money.”

A: “Why? Does he need money to buy a house?”

Me: “I don’t know. But I’m guessing he needs money to buy food.  Some people don’t have enough money to buy food every day.”

A. thought for a while. A: “Did you have to stand on the side of the street with a sign to get money to buy our house?”

Me: “No.”

A: “Why not?”

A series of thoughts crossed through my head.  Because I grew up in a good community; a good family?  Because I was fortunate enough to get good jobs? Because I worked? Because I saved enough? Because my husband worked? Because interest rates were low? Because we waited until we were 34 to buy our first house?   All of these were part of the answer, but none of them were the correct answer.

Me: “Well, because we were lucky.  And mommy and daddy went to a LOT of school.  That helps when you want to buy a house. ”

A. was unsatisfied with that answer.  She couldn’t understand what school had to do with buying a house.   She couldn’t understand why someone would stand by the side of the road to ask for money.  So I tried to convince her that more school meant a better chance of being able to do whatever you want in your life.  And oftentimes, that meant making more money to be able to afford whatever you want.  That may be a house, or a car, or to be able to travel to different parts of the world.

She relented and went back to singing in the back seat.

But, man, her question was hard.  Her question made me uncomfortable and I didn’t know how best to answer.  I know it’s important, because I remember being her same age.  So it counts.  It matters how I answer.

Her question also made me think that is not only what I say, but what I do.   If I want to raise a child with empathy and compassion, I need to display those acts myself.  Daily.  Even if sometimes it’s hard, or uncomfortable.  So the next time I drive by I promised myself I would bring a granola bar, or a bottle of water for the guy with the sign.

on how to raise the mysterious middle child

When we welcomed our third baby into the world two months ago, we finally became outnumbered by our children.  But probably more importantly, C. went from our baby to our middle child.   And I’ve spent the last two months trying to decide which event has rocked our house more.

Man, oh man. Middle children are no joke, and I can’t seem to find a good parenting blueprint for how to help her and me.  So here is mine, for anyone who is trying to parent a middle child, or deciding to have one.

The paradox of the middle child is that they are so influenced by their older sibling.   In our case, our first-born patrols the whole house like a military trooper.  A. regularly tells C. to go into “time out” for straying from the rules;  unloads the dishwasher and cleans up her play space, and routinely breastfeeds, dresses and bathes her dolls.

In all honesty, our first-born is a better version of her mother.  Yes, me.

So our mysterious middle child is naturally the opposite of our first-born: funny, mischievous, sweet and wholly disobedient.   In one hour, she will ask thirty or more times if she can have a snack, or watch TV, or wear her favorite dress – completely ignoring my “no”, or any variation thereof.    She doesn’t like rules, or being told what to do.   C. will have us laughing one minute and the next minute cutting her sister’s hair with kitchen sheers.   C. is mix of personalities, because of the simple fact she is very influenced by her older sister.

According to most experts, middle children get (sadly) less attention – in both life and research.   This is partially due to the fact that of all the birth order positions, “middlessness” is the most difficult to define.   Middle children were born too late to get the special treatment of first borns, but too early to have the benefit that last borns enjoy – having parents lighten up on discipline.  Middles’ temperament is also highly influenced by their gender, and their siblings gender, as well as how many years separate them.

Middle children can – quite simply – can get lost in the fray.

middle child mischief

middle child mischief

So, if you are thinking of turning your baby into a middle child, I have some advice.

1) Spend quality one-on-one time.  Middle children will rarely ask for it, but they need quality individual attention.  C. thrives when I spend time with her alone.  Her tantrums subside and she listens to my rules.  In return for my undivided (and technology free) time, she gives me her happy, funny personality.

2) Take pictures.  A few weeks ago my mother told me that she had hundreds of pictures of A, a bunch of pictures of C. and no pictures of the new baby.  It’s hard. I get it. But snap a few of just the younger kids alone.  It will be worth it at their wedding for the embarrassing slide-shows.

3) Not everything is for sharing.  This past winter we went to Disneyworld.  We bought each girl a present, and C. picked out a big stuffed animal “Lady”.  She loves this thing.  She drags this thing everywhere.  So “Lady” is for C. alone – no sibling sharing.   Similarly, while hand-me-downs are a beautiful thing, C. deserves some new clothes, too.   Not everything is for sharing.

4) Notice them amongst the chaos.  At least a few times a day, C. yells at the top of her lungs, “LOOK AT MEEEEE!!!”  I resist the urge to say “Inside voice!” and instead say, “Yes, C. what a nice dress!”  Middle children often go to the extreme to get attention, which in our case is why C. often yells inside.  So put the baby down, and find the positive in what they are doing.

And if nothing else, consider this.  Perhaps the grit and determination of the middle child leads to great success later in life.  After all the tantrums, the chaos, and the sibling rivalries, the middle-children are the best children at finding their voice and individuality.

After all, Donald Trump is a middle child.

 

Dear Mickey Mouse: I’m sorry, but I’m just not that into you

Dear Mickey Mouse,

Sometime about a year and a half ago, around the time of a C-section/hormone induced haze, I promised my then two year old that we would come and see you.  The two year old would have to be four years old, and the infant would have to be two years old.  It seemed so far off then.  Lightyears.  Time goes so fast.  And kids have memories; really freaking good ones.  Especially when it comes to you, Mickey.

So my precious children who adore you, and my husband who also is openly and enthusiastically into you, forced me to keep my promise and come see you in Orlando, Florida.  32 weeks pregnant with a preschooler and toddler in tow.

I’ll let you down easy, Mickey.  Let’s start at what I like about you.  I really like the fact my kids (and husband) love you.  They way they glow when they look you (especially the 4 year old), and all your princesses, and characters.  Your magic, dancing and singing.  I gotta hand it to you, with the parades and the dress-up; the castles and the rides.  I definitely find myself even humming along to your songs.  You run a fine tuned machine.  I even think the way we can now plan our vacations whizzing straight through your parks with this “fast pass” in advance is pretty ingenious.  If only I could fast pass it through the parking lot, across the lake and straight into Cinderella’s castle for a nice glass of wine and a good book, and a pool.

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But see, there is the rub, Mickey.  For a mere $15 I can get a keepsake photo of my daughter with Elsa that I stood in line for 90 minutes next to 250 of my closest friends with two small children to take.  Let’s think about this.

Let’s start at the $15 for one photo part.  Mickey, you are really freaking expensive (and you just raised ticket prices).   Plus, you aren’t in one place, you are in four! So you want me to take my kids to four different theme parks to see you and all your friends?  If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were taking over all over Orlando.  And let’s be honest with ourselves; if my daughter really loves Elsa, I can ask Elsa pretty politely to come to my house for her birthday. I know people who know people.

And then there are the lines.  Lines for the bathroom.  Lines for the rides.  Lines for food.  Lines for character experiences.  There are lines because there are lots of lots of people.  Mickey, I’m sorry, but I just don’t like being around lots of people.  Like most women, this is exacerbated when I’m pregnant.  Plus, my kids aren’t so patient.  Shocking, I know.

Finally, and most sincerely, while I love the fact my kids adore you and all your friends, I want them to have organic experiences.  Mickey, you construct British cottages and pubs; but let’s face it, Mickey, you live in Orlando, not England.  I want my daughter to go back to England to see where she was born.  Cinderella’s castle is beautiful, but it doesn’t hold a candle to Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany, where I have memories of trekking up when our daughter was one years old.  And maybe, fundamentally, that’s why I’m just not that into you.

So thanks for making us smile and laugh.  That’s the most important thing to me.  But I don’t think you are the happiest place on earth (sorry in advance to all the Mickey Mouse fans out there).  I’m pretty sure we will laugh and smile at the beach this summer too (maybe with an Elsa doll or two in tow).

Most sincerely,

K

finding gratitude in the gritty

This week, my wonderful, lovely, compliant and helpful 4-year old has been overtaken by a whiney, sassy, determined and ungrateful pre-teenager.   I don’t know where she came from.  She just walked down the stairs on Tuesday and decided to stay for a while.  Unfortunately for me, her visit also happens to coincide with one of my single-parenting weeks, and right in the midst of potty training C.

I’m trying positive parenting.  I’ve never taken a class, but I’ve seen the phrase and I think it sounds really inspirational.  After all, it’s got to be better than the alternative, right?  Let’s be positive!  So, I’ve taken it to mean that I try to stay positive while my daughter tells me “no” – constantly and unyieldingly.  I bite my tongue when she tells me that she hates what I prepare for dinner, and she swims away from her swim teacher at her private swim class.   I can go on, but I’m guessing you get my drift.   What parent hasn’t had power struggles with their kids?

And then my other daughter literally poops in her pants.

It’s been an awesome week.  And I can’t even have a glass of wine at the end – you know – being 25 weeks pregnant and all.

So in the grittiness of parenting young children, often solo, I’ve been trying to reflect on one of my new years resolutions.  Being intentionally grateful.  And Lordy, sometimes, it’s really hard.

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A friend recently asked me to close my eyes and try and embrace gratitude.  Just sit with it.  Try and feel it.  Open your hearts and hands to it, and in the new year try and find one thing to be grateful for.

Well, if you ever have tried to intentionally sit with gratitude for a few minutes, it’s not so simple.  It’s like meditation.  Your mind wanders.  You think of all the things that are good in your life, and then probably (if you are like me) all the things you would like to change.  It’s very difficult to sit quietly and embrace this one idea of total thankfulness.  After all, we are human.  How many times a day are we totally and completely thankful?

Um, a few?  Once?  Not at all?  Overwhelmingly and embarrassingly, I think about what I’d like to change over what I’m really thankful for.  So today – I’m grateful for very healthy children, including a 25 week baby boy, the sun that shined today and no snow.  And I’m super grateful that in 30 minutes, my house will be totally quiet and I can read a book, or stand on my head, or whatever I darn well please. 

What are you grateful for today?