Monday, September 29, 2008

"Your kids are nice to have for a visit, but I wouldn't want to raise them!"

Ever felt like saying that to the parents of your children's friends?
The problem is that while you can choose your own friends, your children will become old enough to choose their own friends.
And, all kids go through a phase where their choices are completely indiscriminate. Ah, the innocence of childhood! At least, the innocence of your child's childhood.

What prompted this particular subject today? Another one of my readers' suggestions: "Do you dare discipline the neighbor's child? How about offering discipline advice to the kid's parents? Do you let them know their child is bad influence on your kid? Should I just pack up and move?"

And, although I haven't had this exact experience (our neighbor's kids who are playmates to my kids are wonderful!), I can imagine the situation becomes even more sticky with a neighbor.
Probably due to the fact that you can't hide from your neighbors, and you can't distract your kids' from asking to play with kids whom they see all the time.
How do you use the "usual" excuse of "oh, we're busy", or "we'll be out of town", or "my family is coming over", when it would be blatantly obvious to them that you are sitting home alone?
My thoughts exactly.

So, because you can't put a cloak of invisibility over your house, let's address the first question: "Do you dare discipline the neighbor's child?".
In a word, "yes".
Then again, I dare to do a lot of things that most people wouldn't. (Tongue-in-cheek, people!)
The way that I look at it:
My kids are not always perfect little angels, even when they are in someone else's home. At certain points, they are going to misbehave while they're on a play date. I'm not going to be there to discipline them, so it's going to have to fall to the adult that is there. I hope that adult treats my child with firm kindness, and I'll try to do the same for her child.
Here's how I try to handle things:
If it's a small infraction (i.e. burping the alphabet), it's totally appropriate for the adult present to say, "Wow, Freddy, that was really rude. In our house, we always try to be polite. Can you say, 'excuse me'?".
If it's a mid-sized infraction (i.e. calling another child a "dummy-jerk" and taking a toy away), an explanation similar to the one above, along with the reminder that the play date will be over immediately if it happens again is usually sufficient.
Now, for my favorite: a BIG offense! Let's see.... a good example would be something like an unprovoked violent physical act. That is an automatic "game over". Child goes home immediately. Let the child know that, in your home, this kind of behavior is completely unacceptable. When he goes home, give his parent a very brief, unapologetic explanation and let it fall to the child to give the details.
This accomplishes two things:
1) It lets the child know that while he may or may not be able to act like this at home, that
kind of behavior will never be tolerated in your home.
2) It sends an virtually unspoken message to the child's parents which says, "Kids will be kids,
but I will not allow any child under my care to be harmed; even if it's your child."

So, I guess that answers part 2 of my reader's question: "Should you offer discipline advice to the neighbor's child?"
I've noticed that setting the tone in your own home from the beginning, lets the child know what is acceptable behavior, and he, in turn, communicates this to his parents. Also, most people tend to observe you more closely when they see that your kids are (mostly) behaving well. They even ask questions sometimes!

Always, always encourage the good things that those parents are doing. Believe me, you can almost always find a positive trait ("I love the way you encourage Sally's creativity!") with which to begin a conversation. My grandmother always said, "you catch more flies with honey, than you do with vinegar!", and it's true. Buttering people up works.
Another great "trick" is to use personal examples.
"I remember when my Larry was younger and he had such a hard time controlling his temper. It could be so frustrating and embarrassing for me. One of the things that helped us both avoid scenes was remembering that he needed to eat a protein-filled snack every 2-3 hours. Made a huge difference."
This lets the other parent know that you and your kids have had your bad moments, and that you learned from them. Hey, nobody is perfect.

And, always try to remember that your children go out into the world, into other people's homes. You hope that they behave, and represent your child-rearing techniques well. But, they're not perfect, either, so prepare to be disappointed once in a while. And, hope that the parent in charge handles your child the way you'd want him to be handled. It's much easier to be the injured party than it is to be the party doing the injuring. The bully's mother has a much more difficult time holding her head up, than does the mother of the victim.
One day you may be the mother of the bully. It happens to the best of us. Call it "karma" or "Murphy's Law" or "God's revenge", but it happens.

So, please don't pack up and move. Situations are sometimes resolved more simply than you think. And, despite what you do think, you can take a little break from your neighbor's children. It's perfectly honest and acceptable to say to your neighbor, "My kids are really feeling overwhelmed with school and extra-curricular activities, so I'm trying to limit their other activities for a few weeks.".

And, just remember this: when you feel like strangling someone else's child, go and hug your own child.
There's nothing like other people's kids to make you appreciate your own even more!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Oh, Their Aching Heads!

***Before I begin, let me profusely apologize for the long time in between posts! I have spent some time trying to help my wonderful husband recuperate from a back injury. Thankfully, he's on the mend and has left me with some "blogging time" on my hands! Thanks, Honey! I love you!***

I would like to thank everyone who posted or emailed suggestions for future posts; what GREAT ideas!! And, I am going to try to address each one in the order that I received them. So, here's the first one (just for you, Cyndi!)!

Idea: "How about addressing the issue of sick sick is too sick to go to school? what are the acceptable degrees of a running nose to take your child out in public? why can't all the kids get sick at the same time? why must I spend the next 21 days at home taking care of one sick kid after another?"

My Opinion: Maybe a better question is, "how badly do you need your child to go to school?".
I jest. Sort of.
Serious answer?
Well, it depends on the symptoms (and each school varies slightly in which symptoms are "not acceptable"): is a fever present, bad cough, constantly runny nose, vomiting? Those are all pretty obvious reasons to keep your child home; for the safety of the other children and because your child's weakened immune system can't fight off any new germs.
Also, age is a factor.
What do I mean?
Well, a 5-year-old with a persistent (and noticeable) cough and a runny nose is probably too sick for a day at school, but a 13-year-old with the same symptoms can probably take some cold medicine (I am not giving medical advice!!!!) and get through the day fairly normally.
Only YOU know how your child is, so your opinion counts for the most.

As for going out in public, well..... Again, I wouldn't want to take a vomiting child out in public; too much risk of gross embarrassment! But, sometimes you absolutely have to make a quick trip to the store (as in, you need more decongestant and tissues!), and running a sick kid in and out of a smallish store is perfectly OK. Now, if we're talking a lengthy trip to the library followed by a romp at the McDonald's playland.... Uh, no way. And, for those of you who regularly do that sort of thing: thanks for getting my kids sick!

Why can't all your kids get sick at the same time? Well, they CAN! But, that stinks, too! There are only so many "puke bowls" (my kids' term for vomit buckets) in one house, and only one Mama to get them under the right chin at the right time!
Passing a flu-bug from kid to kid is no picnic, either, I know. And, whether it's scientific fact or not, the bug seems to worsen with each kid! With five kids, I have indeed spent the better part of many "Octobers through Aprils" locked in my home.

Two things to look forward to? These "bad years" seem to go in cycles, and the more germs the older kids bring home the sooner the younger ones build up a formidable immune system. Also, starting at 2nd grade, it seems that kids just get sick less often; probably due to the fact that their immune systems have now been exposed to most things and because they have grown out of the disgusting lick-their-hands-and-everything-else phase.

Tired of seeing the same four walls for two straight seasons in a row? Me too! Cheer up, here are some nifty things to do with all that time:

- decorate/personalize each child's "puke bowl". Makes the whole experience more fun!

- Begin, or add on to, your husband's HoneyDo List.

- Scan the travel websites for the cheapest airfare to Marco Island.

- On the coldest day of winter, open all your windows and bleach EVERYTHING in your
home to kill all the germs (and to give your kids something new to complain about!).

- Match up all the socks in your sock basket. Don't look at me like that! We ALL have a
family sock basket.

- Start a running "illness" tab for each child. Include every dollar spent on medicines,
tissues, thermometers, Vick's VapoRub, etc. As soon as each child is hired for his/her first
post-college job, present him/her with a bill. (This is a fun AND practical idea!)

I'm sure I've only given you more grist for your mill with these opinions and ideas, but at least you are now aware that you are not alone!

With the virtual world becoming more normal and more available to Americans, I can honestly suggest that someone should start a Webcam Playgroup for Moms Stuck At Home With Sick Kids (WPMSAHWSK is not the coolest acronym, but whatever.).
It would be nice to see and hear (most of the time, anyway!) that other moms are losing their minds trying to cope with their sick kids, wouldn't it?

At the very least, you can always check back here and re-read this post, if only for ideas on how to make the most of your "sick days"!

Friday, September 12, 2008


OK, I'll admit that Zumba class was actually a lot of fun. Painful, but fun.
So, while I'm recovering from my "healthy lifestyle", I thought I'd ask you, my dear readers, for ideas for future postings.

What would you like me to blog about?

Any burning questions you need answered?

Any hot topics that I haven't commented on yet?

Want my favorite meatloaf recipe?

Post a comment to this blog and let me know!

Also, click on the "Faithful Friends" link to the right...... I'm feeling neglected.


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

THIS is Healthy?!?

So, I'm taking a couple of exercise classes at our village's recreation center this Fall. Namely, a muscle conditioning class and a Zumba class. Sounds fun, right? That's what I thought when I signed up for them.
I also was under the (still-to-be-proven) impression that by taking these classes, I would be improving my health.

Weight loss? Good thing.

Improved cardiovascular system? Wonderful thing.

Muscles turned into a painful kind of cement? Bad, bad thing.

My first class, muscle conditioning, was last night. I followed all the regulations stated in the class's description: gym shoes, comfortable clothes, exercise mat, and 5 pound hand weights. (Side note: are you aware how heavy ten pounds in a gym bag can be?) So, I felt pretty proud of myself when I arrived at the class with everything I needed. I huddled in a back corner of the gym with the other newcomers, as the instructor shimmied over.

"Hi, I'm Rosemary. You guys are new to the class? Do you have mats? What size weights did you bring?"

When I smugly answered that I brought 5-pounders, she quickly replied, "OK, that's not gonna be enough weight."

Me: "Uh, yeah, that is gonna be enough weight. One, because that's what was in the course description, and, two, because I've never done this before."

Rosemary: "OK, well, you're still gonna hafta go buy some bigger weights."

You want to see bigger weights, Rosemary? Right now, I'm using a permanent marker to turn the "5" on my weights, into an "8". Voila! Bigger weights

A little background on Rosemary, solely based on my observations and assumptions:
--middle-aged woman who "doesn't need a man" because they "are all scum who treat you
--teaches several different kinds of exercise classes, so she can "help" (punish) other
middle-age women learn their "self-worth" (learn their tolerance for pain), and take
out her anger at all the men who have ever wronged her.
--is an "expert" on everything, just like my 10-year-old son.

OK, back to class...

Along with my fellow newbies, I remain in the back of the gym so I won't look like a completely uncoordinated idiot. Warm-ups begin at an alarming pace. I immediately fall off my "step", which ends up being a good thing because my momentum knocks me into the lady next to me and prevents her from falling on her bottom.

The pace and intensity increases and I begin to get the swing of things. Oh, wait, I'm forgetting to breathe.

When we break at the 1/2-hour point (yep, it's a one hour class!), I am beginning to hate all the men who ever wronged Rosemary almost as much as she does. The lady behind me is packing up her gym bag, because she thinks we're all done. When I tell her it's just a break, she looks longingly at her pack of cigarettes and a tear rolls down her cheek. Minus the cigarettes, I know how she feels. If I hadn't just sweat out all the liquid from my body, I'd cry too.

Rosemary: "Ready to get serious, Ladies? How're we feeling?" Um, dead, Rosemary. Feeling dead.

The second half of class passed by in a blur, mostly because the sweat was stinging my eyes. There was something about keeping our stomachs in (if I could do that, Rosemary, I wouldn't be here), using our "tension tubes" (I used the yellow ones for senior citizens), and "cooling down" (must've missed that part).

Then, the lovely Rosemary (now glistening) set us free. I almost asked her if I could just leave my weights there until next class, because I was certain I could not carry them to the car. Whatever.

As I passed Rosemary on my way out, she cheerily informed me, "Wednesday's Zumba class will give you an even better workout! See you then." It took every ounce of self-control I possess not to say, "Shut up, Rosemary."

So, here I am. Typing with the one finger that isn't completely crippled by last night's body-into-pretzel class. Looking forward to tomorrow's Zumba class, if I can find a physician to prescribe ibuprofen-1000s for me.

So, if you don't see a posting here for a while, it was the Zumba that did me in.

Remind me again... how is all of this good for my body??

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The More We Get Together...

...the happier we'll be?????

I guess it depends on who is getting together, where they are congregating, and for how long.

What do I mean? Please, let me tell you!

As my family has grown over the years, I have seen a shift in my own feelings on this subject. Whether that shift was a natural evolution, a conscious choice, or a little bit of both those things, I am not sure.

What I am sure of is this: I can only congregate with a large group of people for so long, before I lose my grip on my emotions and my sanity.

You would like some specific examples? Geez....

Let me ask you a question: remember family vacations when you were a child? The anticipation, the packing, the day of travel, the arrival? You thought your head would explode with the sheer excitement of it all! You probably have many happy memories of the actual vacation, as well. And, you have relegated the aggravating moments to funny family stories shared at Thanksgiving. A neat little package, tied with a bow.

Here is a follow-up question: in your adulthood, have you ever vacationed with your parents and siblings? Have you taken it a step further and added your own children and spouse? Less excitement, more aggravating moments that are not really referred to during Thanksgiving dinner (unless someone has had too much wine!).

A little-talked-about "trick" to living in a big family (and an even bigger extended family), is taking everyone and everything in small doses. Family weddings are great examples of this (and I'm not just saying this because we have one coming up in my family!). The actual day of the wedding is usually a complete blast; good food, great friends and family members, lots of love. The lead-up to the Big Day is generally not-so-much fun; too many parties, too much money spent, stressed out bridal couple. Have you ever noticed that the more time you spend beforehand with the people who you will be whooping-it-up with at the actual wedding, the less fun you have with them? Do you find yourself shopping for clothes to wear to one or more of the nuptial events, all the time muttering, "I hope no one else in this family gets married for a long time."? It's not that you aren't happy for the bride and groom or that you aren't excited to be a part of it all, it's just that you can't keep up that level of excitement and adrenaline for months on end.

Let's admit it... it takes a lot of patience and energy to deal with the people you love. That's why as wonderful as it is to welcome a new baby into your family, all members are emotionally and physically drained during those first few months. It's not "wrong", it's just the way it is.

As a married couple, my husband and I have learned (the hard way!) that in order to be functioning parents, we have to re-charge ourselves as a couple and as individuals. We have to take 5 to 10 minutes before dinner to go into our room, shut the door (get your mind out of the gutter!) and discuss the days events without little ears listening/little mouths interrupting. As individuals, we have to take 10-20 minutes every few days to go for a solitary walk, soak in a bath, or go for a run. It's not a huge amount of time spent away from the family, it's just enough to breathe and re-group. No need for an annual vacation to the Bahamas, although it would be nice.

As a household, we enjoy spending time with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. But there are certain times of the year when all this togetherness makes for crabby kids and grumpy parents. Time for a break! It's really nice to have a few family dinners at our own table. It's even better to take a weekend away together as a family.

The above-mentioned "alone" times allow individuals and families to become grounded again. Grounded in what's important to them, grounded in who they are, grounded in love (for themselves and others). It teaches us all to re-define the reasons that we do get together, in the first place!

So, take it from me: take your necessary medicine and vitamins in small, healthy doses!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Sarah Palin Question

Last Friday, John McCain announced Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his choice for his vice presidential running mate. Old news today, right?
A good friend of mine asked me, as a mother to five rambunctious children, what I thought of another mother of five in the role of (possible) Vice President.
Very interesting question, I thought to myself.

A small disclaimer should be included at this point: I know as much about Sarah Palin as the next average American does. Which is, to say, not very much at all. (Although the last 24 hours has proved to be very eye-opening, indeed.) So, my answer to my friend's question is based solely on my experiences and observations, and not on Mrs. Palin's qualifications.

First off, it has long been my opinion that if I were in charge of the Free World, it would be a much quieter and lovelier place to live. Don't we all think that... at least, all of us women?

In all seriousness, I have done more (way more!) than my fair share of volunteer work over the years, and have come to the unscientific conclusion that mothers of large families are better at organizing, um, everything. By "everything", I mean that one mother may be excellent at organizing a school office in record time, while another mother may be a superior fundraiser chairperson. Very few women are good at all things, but most are really great at one or two things, in particular.
And, it is a learned skill. I know that from personal experience.
It's called "on-the-job-training".

What do I mean? Here is a personal example:
Before I had children I was organized... an "organized mess". If there were 72 stacks of my college papers in my room and I needed the syllabus for my English class, I could go exactly to the correct stack of papers, and pull out my English class syllabus. And, that was the extent of my organizational skills. I couldn't remember when half of my exams were, and I frequently forgot to mail my student credit card payment. And, those were my only responsibilities. Ah...the good ol' days!
Fast forward a few years to when I had a mere three kids. There were (almost) no paper stacks of any kind in my home, because they were had to be safely stored where toddlers could not shred them. I had learned of a magical item called a "dry-erase board", which enabled me to coordinate bill payments, doctors' appointments, school meetings, and soccer games in one swift movement. I had an entire cookbook's worth of recipes stored in my head, along with birthdates, and birth weights/heights and current weights/heights of all my children. That was only the tip of the iceberg.

Who taught me all of these skills? My kids taught me. Oh, and I made LOTS and LOTS of mistakes along the way.

Secondly, motherhood has taught me humility and compassion, tempered by firmness of conviction. Characteristics which are sorely lacking in government today.
I learned early on, that as soon as I pointed out a flaw in someone else's child's behavior, karma would administer a huge dose of humility by causing my child to exhibit the same behavior, only on a much larger scale.

My experiences with birth, illness, and death have given me a much deeper understanding of other people's personality quirks and the reasons behind those quirks. I try to adopt an attitude of discernment, rather than judgement, when it comes to others. ("Try" being the operative word.)

When I become too empathetic, especially with regards to my children, I have learned to pull back and ask myself if my actions, based in empathy, are within my moral framework. By doing that, I avoid making too many bad decisions out of "mommy guilt".

I know, I know... You are now screaming in fury and frustration at your computer screen: "These are all traits that come with maturity and life experiences in every one's life!".
I do not disagree with you.

However, with more children comes even more opportunities to learn and practice these skills. My and my husband's openness to children and God's plan for us, has "forced" us to be open to different ways of doing things, "forced" us to slow down and listen, "forced" us to recognize and choose those things that are the most important for us. Lack of "luxury" has led us to have a very "luxurious" life, indeed! What some call "tunnel vision", I prefer to call "clarity"!

Thirdly... HELLO MULTI-TASKING! What mother of a large family does NOT use this skill on a daily basis? Most of the time, without realizing it.
I know I am not alone in the ability to hold a baby on my hip, while stirring a pot of spaghetti sauce, and re-scheduling the Brownie troop's meeting via speakerphone. These kind of things occur multiple times each day, 365 days a year. I'm pretty sure this kind of constant multi-layered use of my brain will ward off any hint of Alzheimer's disease in my senior years.

Of course, I know that there are exceptions to the above generalizations. Certainly, there are mothers of small families who are organizational whizzes, oozing sympathy, while running the parish rummage sale. Just as there are mothers of large families, who cannot organize their flatware, let alone their households. But, that's what "generalizations" are....
Generally, I have seen most of my anecdotal evidence prove itself over and over.

So, what do I think of Sarah Palin as the United States' Vice President, being "just a heartbeat away from the Presidency"?

Well.... I have just one question regarding qualifications for Mrs. Palin:

"Do you have a dry-erase board?"