This Month's Topic: Focus on Finance

What Comes After Why

“Leave that bush alone, Brayden.” 

“Why?”

“I just saw three bees fly out of it. I don’t want you to get stung.”

“Why do bees sting?”

“To protect themselves if they think they’re being attacked.”

“Why would they think they were being attacked?”

“If you swat at them or go stomping into a bush where they’re looking for flowers, they might think you were attacking them.”

“Why do they look for flowers?”

(In lieu of answering, at this point I usually announce there will be no more questions and try to change the subject.)

Brayden asks a lot of questions. Always has. And most of his questions begin with “why.” Overall, it’s a good thing. I love that he loves to learn, and I love that he’s found such an easy way to do it. Ask a question, get an answer. Realize the answer leads to more questions, and get more answers by asking them. Simple enough.

If I had more patience, Brayden would probably know more than the first few books in the Encyclopedia Britannica set by now. (Do those still exist?)

Then Anna came along.

“Don’t jump off the couch, Anna.”

“What?”

“Don’t jump off the couch.”

Or:

IMG_0509“Do you remember when we met Cinderella and ate dinner at her castle?”

“What?”

“When we went to Disney World and met Cinderella and ate at her castle. Do you remember?”

“What dinner was it?”

Or, my personal favorite:

“Do you know who’s my favorite little girl?”

“What’s a favorite little girl?”

(You might think she’s hard of hearing, but she’s not. We had her tested.)

I think the best, though, is when Brayden gets in on the action:

Me: “OK, guys, we’re going to leave the pool and stop at the library on our way home to get some books.

Anna: “What?”IMG_0511

Me: “We’re leaving the pool and stopping at the library.”

Brayden: “Why?”

Me: “To get some books.”

Brayden: “Why are we getting books?”

Me: “Because I thought you might like them to read.”

Anna: “What books?”

Me: “Whichever books you want. You can choose.”

Brayden: “Why aren’t you going to pick, Mom?”

Me: “Because I thought you would like to pick out your own books.”

Brayden: “Why aren’t you getting a book?”

Me: “I’ll pick out my own book after you pick out your books.”

Brayden: “Why not first?”

Me: “I don’t know! Do you want me to go first? I can go first and pick out a book. I’d be happy to do that.”

Anna: “What book?”

Why I don’t turn the car around and head for home – or a bar – after some of these conversations is beyond me.

 

Inching Toward Joy

I held my breath and shifted in my seat. The girl was talking to Anna again. I watched as the older girl with the swinging ponytail and black leotard jabbed at the air with her finger, indicating Anna should get out of her way. Again.

Anna stared at the girl and retreated on the balance beam a bit, visibly shrinking, mouth closed tight. I swung my foot back and forth on the cold bleacher where I could only watch from afar and wish that I could will my only daughter courage, and more than a little confidence.

IMG_0453It was Anna’s third gymnastics class. She loved it. She ran, she somersaulted, she jumped, she slid, and she smiled. Oh, she smiled. For a girl who’s only recently begun to smile more often than frown, watching Anna’s joy at gymnastics has been one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. So why was she letting this girl get her down?

I looked across the gym at Brayden, running, jumping and playing with his own class of similarly aged boys. Brayden’s dimpled grin and sweat-mopped brow were on full display as he grabbed a rope and launched himself – “American Ninja Warrior”-style – from one block to another. Sticking the landing, he laughed and clapped hands with another boy standing nearby. He probably didn’t even know his name.

What was the difference, I thought from my perch on the other side of the glass partition. How can he be so unshackled and devil-may-care, so sure that these other boys are friends? I thought back to my own childhood, my own painful shyness in which one less-than-completely-kind word could leave me shattered. I knew Anna came by her timidity honestly, but what could I do to help her?

IMG_0435If only I could harness Brayden’s sociability, I thought. If only I could show her how much better the coming years would be for her if she could face them head-on and fearless. That there’s really nothing to fear. If you believe the people around you are your friends, that’s exactly what they’ll be.

It took me years, of course, to come to that realization myself. Years of self-doubt that crippled me. I would do anything in my power to take away those years for Anna and replace them with years filled with the joy she’s starting to learn from only three classes of gymnastics.

How can I help her?

Fight through it, Anna, I urged from my place at the sidelines, frustrated that my place will increasingly be at the sidelines for Anna in social situations such as these. Don’t let her take your joy.

Slowly, Anna started inching forward again, still not responding to the girl with the swinging ponytail, but moving forward nonetheless. I watched my daughter’s focus, one inch at a time, and I knew her path ahead wasn’t going to be an easy one, but I finally felt able to exhale.

 

Living in the Valleys

I’ve always loved the mountains. If given the choice between a mountain or a beach vacation, I’ll always choose mountain, no hesitation. For me, mountains are synonymous with adventure, with wilderness, with freedom. They make me think of Maria von Trapp singing “The Hills are Alive” and of miles and miles of quiet beauty.

But lately, I’m starting to appreciate the valleys more.

On vacation recently, we were driving through the mountains when I found myself explaining to my son what a valley is.

DSC_0434“See, down there,” I said to him, pointing to the house-dotted landscape, “is where the people live.”

“Why don’t they live in the mountains?” He asked.

“Because most people don’t live in the mountains. Mountains are for exploring, for climbing, for visiting, really. Valleys are where you live.”

We’re in a valley right now with our daughter, but we just came down from a mountain. The mountain delivered everything mountains are supposed to deliver: frequent bursts of adrenaline, breathless momentum and a healthy dose of fear. It was an enthralling place to visit, but now we’re back in the valley, and I’m relieved.

On the mountain, there were many times when I couldn’t reach Anna. Too often, she ran too far from my grasp, past the point of reason and of turning back. She left me scattered, shaking, determined we’d never make it out the other side.

In the valley, Anna is reachable. I can grasp her hand, look her in the eye and know she’s come back from the mountain, that we’ve made it to the clearing after all.

You can’t live on a mountain. Or, at least, most of us can’t. Not for long. Not for the day-to-day.

But that doesn’t mean we won’t return. There are going to be more times when I can’t reach Anna, when I’m once more afraid she’s gone too far to come back and I’m left helpless, wringing my hands and calling out for someone to save us when no one can hear. But we’ve climbed so many mountains already, some higher than others, and always, always come back to the valley.

Valleys couldn’t exist without mountains, after all, but valleys are where you live.

 

 

 

 

 

If there’s a secret moms’ society, I want in

I have a confession: There are moms at my kids’ preschool I envy.

You probably know who they are. They’re the moms wearing the trendy clothes, the perfectly done hair that spent all morning in hot rollers. The makeup, the knee-high boots every day. They’re the moms toting two or three kids behind them but somehow don’t seem to be hurrying them along, who have time to smile a “hello” at the people they pass and, generally, look happy to start the morning.

I’m not saying I never make an effort. Sometimes, I do. And I’m not saying I’m never happy in the mornings. Sometimes, I am. But to maintain that level of execution every day just leaves me in awe. On the days I do put myself together before drop-off, I feel more at ease walking the kids into school, more friendly, and slower in my steps.

Most mornings, though, I feel a little manic. It feels like I’ve climbed Mt. Everest just getting the kids up, clothed, fed, brushed, jacket-ed and out IMG_0306the door without missing a step, or without falling into the minefield of tantrums or last-minute potty announcements along the way. And then, once we’re finally careening into the parking lot (and, no, I’m not actually careening into the parking lot… most of the time), I’m calling reminders over my shoulder to the kids, instructing Brayden to unfasten his seatbelt once I put the car in park, rushing out the door to get the kids out, hurrying Anna into her coat, making sure the kids’ backpacks are on their backs, grabbing hands and rushing toward the school. I’m too embarrassed to make eye contact with the put-together moms leisurely walking out of school, who’ve already done everything I’ve done but have somehow managed to do it faster, better and while looking great, too.

How do these moms do it? I wonder. EVERY day?

I have a theory: I’ve decided there must be a secret society, complete with handshakes and off-the-radar meeting places, where these moms swap best practices. I imagine it going a little something like this when they’re meeting with new initiates:

“No, Kelly, you don’t have to get up at 5 a.m. Silly! Who’s ever heard of such a thing! Why, then you’ll just be exhausted by 3 p.m.!”

(Much giggling among current members here at initiate’s naïveté)

Or,

“You want your kids to look like they just stepped out of a catalog every day, too? Oh, honey, piece of cake!”

(Many knowing smiles exchanged here and nodding among the current members)

“The secret is…”

WHAT? What is the secret?

That’s what I want to know. There must be some way to make it all look so effortless. That, or the beautiful, effortless girls from my school days have followed me to mom-hood and are still making me feel inferior… . Yeah, that’s probably it, actually.

But I’m not giving up on my theory that there’s a secret society, and, to whoever runs it, please know, I’m not trying to call you out, I just want in!

No, seriously.

My Forever Friends

It was a recipe for disaster: My husband, dad and brothers-in-law left for a ski trip to Vail Wednesday morning (yes, the morning of New Year’s Eve) and weren’t coming home until Sunday. My sisters and I were gearing up for a long five days (and a long four nights) with our very young children alone.

IMG_3800

Our New Year’s Eve “party”

We were determined to do things together, so we wouldn’t feel lonely and crazy from a lack of adult interaction, but we were scared of what that might look like. Four adults (my mom graciously offered to help anyone and everyone who needed it) and six kids 4 and under promised to ruin any chance for a meaningful conversation or, really, any chance for a second without someone screaming.

Now, though, roughly 24 hours before the guys come home, I’m surprised to discover that while, yes, someone has always been screaming, opportunities for conversation haven’t been lacking.

My mom and sisters and I have always been close. I don’t know if it’s because my mom only had girls, my sisters and I are close in age or some unknown variable I’ve yet to discover, but when we’re together, it’s like the song, “We don’t even have to try, it’s always a good time.” Corny, but true.

If we’re out together without the kids on a girls’ trip or girls’ dinner – trust me, we snuck in a girls’ dinner before the guys left and are already planning a summer girls’ trip to NYC to make up for this Vail bull**** – we commiserate with one another, we bare our souls, and we laugh. A lot.

IMG_3816

Another New Year’s Eve “party” picture

When we’re with the kids and in the thick of it, and one of us is yelling to the other to help because a kid just sneezed and has green snot dripping down her face, someone’s kid is screaming because her mom just walked out of the room (how dare she?), or someone’s kid just barreled into another kid and stood up, unfazed, asking, “Why is she crying?,” we laugh. A lot.

You might think it’s because if you don’t laugh you might cry, and that’s true to some extent, but, really, we sincerely enjoy one another’s company. We can say anything without worrying about whether someone’s judging us (because they are, just loudly and jokingly), we know everything about one another – the good, the bad and the ugly – and we can quote movie lines until the cows come home and laugh just as hard each time.

I’m not saying there aren’t times when too much togetherness causes some harsh words or hurt feelings, but those times are swept under the rug, forgiven and forgotten.

These past few days, we’ve complained, we’ve chased kids, we’ve yelled at kids, we’ve cried some ourselves, we’ve discussed hard-to-discuss topics about potential problems with our children, and we’ve still managed to laugh. Because if you can’t laugh you might cry, and because we’re happy we’re together.

There has been frustration, there has been sadness, there has been humor and there has been beauty, but I can honestly say that there has been no loneliness.

As Sarah said in her post last week, the best gift you can give your child is a sibling, and I’m so grateful my parents gave me mine.

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Jill and I trying to fit in during our last girls’ trip to L.A.

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The four of us at a girls’ dinner

 

The True Meaning of Christmas

On Monday, Brayden found Elvis (our Elf on the Shelf) on our hallway banister. It had been a year since the two had last seen each other, a year Elvis had spent resting on a sun-drenched beach somewhere (at least that’s what I’d like to imagine he’d been doing instead of collecting dust in a box downstairs somewhere) and a year Brayden had spent doing something much more painstaking.

It was evident in the question.

At first, Brayden shouted in excitement when he spotted Elvis, but then he turned to me, confused: “Why does he look like a stuffed toy?”

I took some time to collect my thoughts. “He only looks like a toy, Brayden. Remember? He’s magic.”

Over the weekend, we watched our first Christmas movie together as a family: Ron Howard’s 2000 adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”

Brayden didn’t understand why the other kids were mean to the Grinch at the beginning of the movie, then he felt sorry for the young Grinch because they were meWeinkamSibs_4an to him and understood why he had chosen to go live at the top of Mt. Crumpit by himself. In fact, Brayden was following the story line so well that, at the end, when the Grinch stole everyone’s presents and the people of Whoville chose to be glad instead of sad, I felt inspired to use the opportunity as a teachable moment.

“You see, Brayden, Christmas isn’t about presents and toys. It’s about being with family and friends. It’s about love.”

When the Grinch returned the presents, Brayden looked at me: “It’s good he gave the presents back, but Christmas is about love so it was OK before.”

Today, when I read the kids a Christmas story about Dumbo before nap time, Brayden, as usual, had many questions. In the story, Timothy Mouse teaches Dumbo the true meaning of Christmas by flying toys to needy children.

I closed the book and announced it was nap time, but Brayden had one more question.

“Why couldn’t Santa bring the toys?”

I should have seen it coming, but I was caught off-guard. I stumbled for a minute before finally settling on, “Not every kid has parents to write Santa a letter about what he or she wants for Christmas.”

Brayden’s little face scrunched. “Everyone has a mom and a dad…” Then his face lit up. “Oh, it’s just in the story. Everyone in real life has a mom and a dad, Mommy.” He smiled at me, I smiled back at him without responding and shut the door. “Everyone in real life has a mom and a dad, Mommy,” he called after me again.

He wanted me to confirm it for him, and I so desperately wanted to, but, again, I didn’t respond.

My baby boy is growing up. I know that. He wants to learn and understand everything there is to learn and understand, and I want that for him. But the magic of Christmas has everything to do with the innocence of youth, and I’m just not ready to deprive him of that yet. I want him to learn the truth, but only in its beauty. I want him to learn compassion, but only through generosity.

At least for now.

My hope is that by teaching my son truth in beauty, he’ll also someday find “the strength of ten Grinches… plus two” to bear the weight of the rest.

 

 

 

 

A Lesson in Stillness

Over the weekend, we were hiking through some woods in Asheville, North Carolina, the golden leaves above us forming a kind of halo against the crisp November air. It felt wonderful to walk, to feel the crunch of rocks and sticks and leaves beneath our feet and to feel unfettered, completely free of schedules and plans.

For the beginning of the hike, Anna was clambering to keep up with her big brother at the front of the pack but, after awhile, she fell back, and I found myself holding her hand, bringing up the rear of our meandering little train.

Anna and I would walk a few feet, then she’d notice a shiny rock on the forest floor or an interestingly shaped stick or a giant leaf and stop, examine her treasure and decide whether or not it was worth keeping. She’d smile at me as she jammed another stone into her coat pocket and ask me to hold her stick while she checked out something “sparkly.”DSC_0157

At first, I felt compelled to hurry Anna’s dallying along. The other people in our group were getting farther and farther away, until I could only just make out a jacket or swish of hair. But then I’d feel Anna tugging at my hand and calmly explaining something to me about a fallen tree, and I’d grow still.

Why did I have to hurry her?

There was nothing we had to rush to after our hike; no plans at all, in fact. And wasn’t that the reason we’d come? To have a change of scene, break up the daily grind, spend time with family?

And it was there, when Anna and I were still together, contemplating something as mundane as the uneven path we were walking, that I realized something about my daughter: She likes stillness. She likes the calm. She likes to go slowly.

She eats her meals slowly, carefully. She talks quietly. She notices things and wants to discuss them in a serious way.

There in the woods under the leafy canopy, I wondered how it felt for her, having a brother who speaks loudly and constantly, who, I swear, came out of the womb running. To have a mother always ushering her and her high-energy brother toward the next item on a never-ending to-do list.

No wonder she throws fits, I thought, when I’m trying to move her along faster than she’s ready to go, when she’s trying to tell me something and I can’t understand. She doesn’t adapt like her brother does. That’s his personality, after all, but that doesn’t mean it’s hers.

I grasped her hand a little tighter and listened to the trees rustling, the leaves crunching and swirling around us and didn’t hear any of it. We might have only been lagging behind for a few minutes, but it was long enough to teach me something about stillness and something about a personality I’d puzzled over but had yet to piece together.

Maybe it won’t make “all the difference,” but I do believe I left those woods wiser than when I entered them.

Am I Doing the Right Thing for My Daughter?

I was one of those weird kids who always liked getting a grade. I liked knowing how well (or how poorly) I was doing. I liked having a barometer to go by.

It’s no secret that real life doesn’t usually come with grades, or stickers, or anyone to tell you how well or not well you’re doing. I miss that sometimes more than others, but no time in my adult live have I missed it more than I have in the past year and a half.

Life with a toddler with epilepsy, although minor in the grand scheme of things, is tough. Really tough. Medicating my daughter to control the seizures brings on some terrible behavioral changes. And that’s tough, too. What’s even tougher, though, is the knowledge that I’m the one who’s deciding my daughter’s fate through all of this. Although my husband is, of course, behind me through everything, the truth is, I’m the one with her most of the time, I’m the one who sees the majority of her “episodes,” I’m the one who decides that they warrant a call to her doctor’s office – knowing full well that I’ll likely be told to increase her medicine, and I’m the one who, for the most part, has to deal with the side effects of those increases.

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I don’t like it. I know I’m her mother, and I understand the doctors can’t do much more than they’re doing right now because they haven’t actually monitored Anna having a seizure, but I don’t want to be the one in charge through all of this. I want someone to tell me, definitively, “Yes, these are seizures. You’re doing the right thing.”

The truth is, I hate to see her mood swings, her tantrums that turn into fits of rage without any reason. Fits that I can’t bring her back from until I can get her to take a drink of something, anything. But the truth also is that I hate to see her unresponsive stares, her limp neck, her eyes rolled up in her head. Those periods, like the fits, feel like eternity.

I guess, the truth is, I just want someone to tell me I’m doing the right thing.

That’s why, when I spoke to Anna’s nurse on the phone a few weeks ago, crying because of episodes Anna had had that past weekend, I couldn’t help it. The nurse, Melissa, had always been kind and sympathetic, so I put the question to her.

“Am I doing the right thing here? Would you medicate her if she was your own child?”

“Yes,” she said simply. “I would.”

There was more to the conversation than that; more tears, too, I’m sure, but that answer alone was enough for me. I had posed it to Anna’s neurologist at her August appointment, and he’d avoided answering, giving me statistics and “most likely(s)” instead.

I’m grateful for Melissa, and I’m grateful for my husband, family and friends. They believe I’m doing the right thing for my daughter. And the truth is, that really helps.

 

Is September Too Soon for Santa?

Santa had better get ready.

About three weeks ago, I pulled him out of his well-deserved sabbatical to help me field my 4-year-old son’s constant requests for new Legos.

“Yep, we can ask Santa for those,” I say whenever Brayden shoves yet another advertisement for superhero/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle/Star Wars Legos under my nose.

“OK, I want these… and these… and… these,” Brayden replies earnestly, pointing at every box on the page.

Legos 1Every few days when we have to go to Target for… something (how is it every few days? I don’t understand the magnetic power that store has over me!) Brayden politely but firmly requests that we go down the Lego aisle, just so he can see what he might want to add to his list for Santa. I usually time him, telling him he only has “one more minute,” or “that’s about it, buddy,” but he pushes for every stray second, “Just a little bit longer, Mom, please. I just need to make sure I don’t already have this one.” He studies the rows of way-overpriced Legos intently one more time, then confidently points at the $50 box of TMNT Legos and declares, “That’s the one I want.” (I knew I would miss the days when I could appease him with a $1 Matchbox car!)

“Perfect,” I reply, promptly steering him out of the aisle. “Santa can certainly bring you those Legos.”

He then looks at me, brows all furrowed in confusion. “Not just those, Mom. Those and the other ones I already showed you.”

I sigh. Santa just might be in trouble this year. No way is he going to have pockets deep enough for all these Legos. Legos which, I might add, Brayden usuallyLegos 2 puts together in a half hour or less before promptly forgetting about them (leaving me to scour the carpets, steps and couch crevices for strewn Legos and then deposit them in the three already-overflowing boxes of Legos he has in his room).

So, there’s that. And I do already feel a great deal of shame for using Santa when it’s still 80 degrees outside. But in the past week or so, I’ve really taken the shamefulness up a notch. That’s right, I’ve already started the “You’d-better-be-good-because-Santa’s-watching” fun.

Whenever the words start to come out of my mouth, I want to stop them with a hand or run away, but I stay the course and mumble through the threat because toddlers can smell weakness… I mean, because I have to appear steadfast in what I tell my children.

Brayden’s eyes grow wide and he cries, “I’ll be good! I promise! I’ll be good! I want Santa to come!”

Sometimes, if I’m feeling a little power-trippy, I’ll dangle the carrot a little longer. “I don’t know, Brayden. You’re not acting very nicely right now. Santa only brings Legos to the houses of nice little boys.”

Then, as Brayden’s face starts to scrunch with tears, I remember that Santa isn’t coming for more than 100 days, and I start to cry a little, too.

 

10 Ways to Make the Daddy Crutch Work for You

Usually, I can tackle most things my kids throw at me:

“You want your milk? No problem.”

“You have to go potty? Let’s go.”

“You want me to kiss your boo-boo? Of course.”

But, alas, there are some things I simply cannot tackle:

“Your sister threw your Lego down the vent? That’s tough. We’ll have to see if Daddy can find it when he gets home.”

“You want to build a super-duper high Lego tower? Darn, Daddy is really the best at building super-duper high Lego towers. Shoot. I guess we’ll have to ask him to help you when he gets home.”

“You got a knot in your princess necklace? Ooh, looks like a big one. Better have Daddy look at it when he gets home.”

I’ll admit it: I like to use “Daddy” sometimes as my get-out-of-jail-free card. I feed the line to my kids and they buy it hook, line and sinker. Maybe I should feel guilty about it, but I don’t. I think it’s a necessary survival technique at times, and the fact that the kids don’t question it is the icing on the cake.

Here are 10 examples of how you can make the “daddy crutch” work for you (not at all borrowing from personal experiences, of course):IMG_4702

1) “No, I have no idea where your ridiculously high princess shoes are that are an accident waiting to happen. Maybe Daddy took them. We’ll ask him when he gets home.”

2) “You want to go outside and play in this 30-degree weather? Hmm. Good idea, but I think Daddy really wanted to play outside with you when he gets home. I’d hate to disappoint him, so we’ll just wait until he gets home and you can play outside with him.”

3) “You want a bagel after I just finished making you a dinner you didn’t touch and I just sat on the couch for the first time all day? Sure. Whatever you want, honey. Daddy will be home any minute, and I know he’d love to get it for you.”

4)  “As much as I’d love to read that dinosaur book that we’ve read every day for the past month to you again, I think Daddy’s feeling a little left out. Let’s let him read it to you tonight.”

5) “Yes, playing with worms in puddles outside sounds like SO much fun. But Daddy’s really the best at playing with worms.”

6) “I understand that you want to watch ‘Sofia the First’ and you want to watch ‘Jake and the Never Land Pirates,’ but since we can’t agree, we’ll just have to let Daddy decide which he’d rather watch when he gets home.”

7) “Good question about where babies come from. You know who would be really good at explaining that to you? Daddy.”

8) “You did a really good job of ‘hiding’ that miniature gun Lego in the grass, yes! Very impressive! Oh, you want me to help you find it now? That’s too bad. We have to go inside now so Mommy can make dinner, but I bet Daddy would like to help you look for it later.”

9) “I think going to see a NASCAR race would be ‘the best thing ever,’ too, but Daddy loves NASCAR. We should really let him take you.”

10) “Putting on your Aurora costume for the tenth time today sounds like a great idea, but darn, Daddy will be home any minute, so it will be time to eat dinner. After we eat, why don’t you ask him if you can put it on again?”

Blessedly, I’m not completely screwing over my husband. By the time he gets home, 99 percent of the time, the kids have completely forgotten what we were supposed to talk to Daddy about, so it’s a win-win! Plus, you can make substitutions as necessary, à la, “Nana’s coming over soon, and I know she really wants to read that dinosaur book with you, so let’s wait until she gets here.” You see, you can’t lose!