In Comparison…

I hate the concept of “keeping up with the Jones-es-es”.  It’s ridiculous.  Maybe it’s the fact that I’m totally non-competitive.  Maybe it’s that I’m a little lazy. Who are these Jones anyway?  And what makes them so great?  

I just read an article that my bestie posted on Facebook.  It is entitled “What Should A 4 Year Old Know?”  I thought, “I have a 4 year old, I guess I should read this.”  It was not what I expected.  I assumed it would be a list of all of the academic knowledge my big girl should have already acquired.  Stuff like counting, letters, writing skills, reading War and Peace, ya know, the usual.  Instead, it delved deeper than I had imagined it would.

This article stemmed from an internet conversation on a parenting forum.  One mother’s nervous question lead to a series of my-kid-can one-uppers that probably perpetuated this mom’s anxiety.  With all of my nervousness, academia is not something I’m fretting about.  They will eventually know the same things everyone else does and if they don’t, I will help them.  But, it’s what they should know about themselves that’s most important, and their self worth or inherent values should not be derived in comparison to those of their peers.

The article outlined five things that 4 year olds should know, but then five things that parents should know, too.  Parents are often so concerned with comparing their child to another, that they can lose sight of what makes their own child different and therefore, special.  In some ways, I did it, but not really in a “Dick, Jane, and Mack are all walking.  Why isn’t my Susie even crawling yet?”  It was more, “Oh crap, Susie won’t get her legs up underneath her.  She has a gross motor skill delay.  I better call an occupational therapist and get her evaluated, STAT!”  Sounds like me, right?

Turns out, not every kid has to crawl before they can walk.  My big girl taught me that (after the OT said, “She’s fine.”).  Today, she runs, she climbs, she is a spectacular ballerina (as far as I’m concerned).  She was going to do it her own way, not necessarily the way I did it or thought she was going to do it.  She and I are different and that’s a good thing.  As her parent, I need to focus on her individuality and help it develop so she can feel her own self worth, know that she is incredible as she is, and that her mom is her number one supporter and advocate.  

Even within one family, competitiveness can rear its ugly head.  I think this is just innate in some, but I sincerely hope to avoid this within my own little family unit. I can already tell that my girls are two completely different beings, which I hope will help in fostering a supportive relationship between them instead of a competitive one. I love watching them play, sometimes together enjoying the same thing and sometimes doing their own things. One seemed to be born with a paintbrush in her hand and a ballet slipper on her foot.  The other loves building legos and bouncing off the furniture (or climbing up a wall, she literally tried to climb a wall yesterday).  I never want to compare them, but of course, I just did, didn’t I?  

I hope that their differences, and those of their peers, will make them stand out when they want to, teach them that unique is a good thing, and that above all else, being kind to one another is way more important than who knows more, who can jump higher, or who achieves their goal faster. My favorite quote from this article summed it up for me. “That being the smartest or most accomplished kid in class has never had any bearing on being the happiest.”  

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D-D-D-Defense!

I was Captain of my high school cheerleading team.  I say that with a spoonful of humility, an ounce of humor and a dash of pride.  Yesterday, I was trying to find music videos on the TV for my big girl to see positive female role models of musicians who can play guitar, violin or piano.  I was thinking the Dixie Chicks, Alicia Keys, maybe a little Taylor Swift?  Instead we found Kidz Bop!

This band of teeny-boppers (seriously, they can be described as nothing else) performs group versions of hot songs with kid friendly faces and dance moves.  In one of these videos, the kids were singing Sean Kingston’s “Fire Burning” (which begged the question from my 4 year old, “Why is the dance floor on fire?  That’s dangerous!”).  These youngsters were pretending to be high school archetypes: the jocks, the cheerleaders, the band members, etc.  Of course, my daughter sees the head cheerleader and immediately says, “I want to be that girl.”  Instinctively, I cringed.

But why?  Am I that ashamed that I was a cheerleader?  No. Do I see value in being a cheerleader?  Yes.  Then why is my reaction so negative when it comes to my hopes for her?  Competitive cheerleading is a big deal in some parts of the country.  Girls (and guys, alike) are in near Olympic shape and doing stunts and tumbling passes that you’d only see on your TV every 4 years, being broadcast from a country we used to be at war with.  As a team sport, you learn to rely on your teammates for your safety, you learn to control the timing of your voice and your body to be in sync with theirs, and you lift the spirits of all of those around you.  In the same vein, just like doing ballet, you learn respect for your body and what it’s capable of, musicality, rhythm, and the colors and mascots of all the other high schools in your county. Ok, so that’s not that important, but it’s exercising the mind and memory, right?

I suppose I don’t want my little girl pigeon-holed into the vision that our society has of a cheerleader.  People think they’re all just blonde, bouncy-boobed, and dumb as a doorknob.  Like so many other stereotypes, in my experience, this couldn’t be farther from the truth.  My fellow cheerleaders have gone on to be doctors, lawyers, engineers (toot toot: my own horn or a train’s, whichever you prefer), entrepreneurs, executives, and the list goes on and on.  For the majority, we were scholar athletes, but seldom felt that respect as we were also baking goodies for the football players on game days, hanging sparkly signs around the school with their names on them, and shouting “Go, Fight, Win!” from the sidelines.  The five steps backward we took in the women’s lib movement are the parts I’d like to erase from the job we had as cheerleaders.  I hope it’s not still like that today.  And if my girls want to be cheerleaders, I’m going to encourage them to fight the good fight and resist doing all of those things for the boys and instead, once in a while, ask those boys to cheer them on when they get benched during the game.  Instead of shouting to the defense, “Push ’em back, push ’em back, waaaaay back!”  I want those boys shouting to the cheerleaders: the sturdy bases to the high flying stunts and the school’s spirit, “Push ’em up, push ’em up, waaaaay up!”  Ugh, crap, of course that’ll just make them think about boobs again!

(For the record: my mom wanted me to fight the good fight too, but I just loved baking too much!)

Risky Business

On Sunday night, my best friend and I went to see Maroon 5 in concert. She lives in California now and as a birthday present, her husband surprised her by scoring us tickets. We were beyond excited at the prospect of a night out just the two of us while she visits East from West, awesome music, and of course, Adam Levine crooning with his shirt off. Unfortunately, it wasn’t hot enough for him to go topless, but we were satisfied with his white tank top and tatt-ed, chiseled arms displayed on the megatrons in front of our seats. It was a fantastic night!

Of course, one of the not-so-awesome things about going to concerts are the lines for the ladies’ rooms. There is no justice for us, ladies. I don’t know why they can’t build a stadium with twice the number of female pit stops as male. There’s never a line for the guys. Yes, I understand that their process is, well… quicker and washing hands often seems optional, but they never have to wait. So forgive us when we saw a few women start to take over a mens’ room that night and we, fortuitously, joined our sisters in line to stick it to the man. The two male event staffers who were gallantly blocking doors to allow us to use this restroom shall be met with excellent karma for days to come. We assured the young man, who sat on top of a garbage can to block a doorway, that he would be “gettin’ some” from his girlfriend or maybe a random concert goer to repay him for this good deed.

I am pretty sure I was the one who lead our charge to buck authority (or at least common social guidelines) and enter the men’s room, but my bestie turned to me and said, “Are you ok with this?” I said, “Of course, why not?” and she replied, “So I guess it is just with the kids that you get anxious over stuff like this and germs, etc.” I hadn’t really thought about it being so delineated, but it’s true. I used to occasionally throw caution to the wind when I was younger. I look back and think how stupid I was and marvel at how I wasn’t scared of some of the less than bright things I have done. I’ve been cliff jumping (not in an approved spot for such an activity), ice climbing on a glacier that had mysterious and cavernous crevasses, and I used to wait in the Albany bus-stop at 1am for my boyfriend (now husband) to pick me up after taking an 11 hour Greyhound at 18 years old. Dumb, Dumb, and Dumber.

Yes, some of those activities made me nervous, but I don’t remember feeling the same crippling fear that I get when I am watching my girls climb on a jungle gym. Most of my friends who I have talked to about my fear of flying have confessed that since they became mothers, they, too, feel uneasy or anxious on flights. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but that lioness roars in all of us when our little cubs’ safety and security is at stake. I wasn’t as scared when I went into my own surgeries as I was when my girls went into theirs. I’ve been told by many a seasoned mom that once you have kids, you will never sleep the same. This makes me really sad… I LOVE to sleep. I never understood it, but now I do.
I have to remind myself that I did these young, stupid things and I will have to brace myself for my little dare devil telling me that she wants to bungee jump. While I’d like to forbid her from doing these things, it’s a bit hypocritical. If I had had the chance, I kind of think I would have done it, too. There will be a time when they will want to explore and be adventurous. It was once good for my soul, spirit, and self-confidence and perhaps it will be for theirs, too. I just might have to tether myself to them while they’re doing it (and take 3 extra Xanax). And no, this doesn’t mean I’m going to stop freaking out when they’re climbing the jungle gym. I know myself too well.

No More Nips?

One of my biggest parenting challenges has been easing the wee ones off the nipples; whether it was my own, the bottle’s or the binky’s.  When the big girl was 13.5 months old, I successfully got her off my boobs.  Since she wasn’t bottle fed, the next step was to rid her of the pacifier.  That sucked, but we got it done.  Now that the little one has been on the bottle since she was 6 months old, we are way overdue to wean her.
I think it’s a general rule of thumb to get your baby off of a bottle when they can start to have milk at one year old, but I had tons of excuses lined up to avoid it.  I had the double mastectomy a month after her first birthday.  Then it was the holiday season and the craziness that comes with it, then family vacation, my next surgery, her surgery, and lastly, our “grown up” vacation.  

So last week, I bit the bullet.  My husband broke a wine glass while unloading the dishwasher and we made a big to-do out of cleaning every facet of each surface in the kitchen.  We were afraid a shard or two may have gotten in or around her clean bottles drying on the counter, so we told her we had to get rid of all of the bottles.  She was pissed when she couldn’t have her bottle in the afternoon or to fall asleep at night.  She wasn’t thrilled in the following days either, but she is getting used it and tells everyone that her “baba’s broken”.
I’m always shocked at how adaptable kids are.  I stress over every change I make to their routines and I’m always pleasantly surprised at how they handle it and how quickly they get used to something new. I shock myself sometimes, too, in the same regard.  You’d think that my own lack of nipples would have had more of an effect on me after having them for the 30 years prior.  Yet, I find myself debating whether or not I should get new nipples at all.  I’m already so accustomed to not having them.  I never have to worry about them inappropriately making an appearance, but then again, I don’t fill out the tips of my bras.  

No matter what I decide, my boobs will not look normal with these proud battle scars that run through their centers. I’m perfectly fine with that. So why add a decorative nipple? It won’t serve a purpose. It won’t feed a child or offer me any sensation. It might, instead, embarrass me or limit what I’m finally able to wear. I’m rarely one to take the path less taken, but in this instance, I just can’t decide if I want to replace the missing part. It won’t make me whole again, because I don’t feel broken. 

Summer Vacation

As a kid, summer vacation was hailed as the best time of year.  How many songs have they made about it?  “Summer Lovin'” from Grease, “School’s Out” by Alice Cooper, “Hot Fun in the Summertime” by Sly and the Family Stone; clearly, this is an age old sentiment.  As an adult, it can be a little different.  For my husband, the summer is typically spent in the cold confines of his air-conditioned office. He lives for the weekends of splashing in the pool with our girls.  48 hours out of a 65+ hour work week just doesn’t cut it. So, we have tried our best to make a grown up summer vacation happen almost every year.  If kids need a refreshing break from their responsibilities during the summer, so do adults.
With the tremendous help of my parents, my mother-in-law and several babysitters, my husband and I got a serious summer vacation last week.  We went to Spain with a group of friends and laid by the pool, explored new towns, ate amazing food and even went to Morocco for a day.  It was sensory overload in the best way and a much appreciated break from reality.
I won’t dive into the depths of my anxieties (of which there were many, shocker!) throughout the week.  To focus on them would taint the impeccable memories of everyone enjoying themselves and making it through the week unscathed.  As always, I feared that my girls wouldn’t be happy or safe without my watchful eye and motherly love; and as always, I’m proved wrong.  My surgeries and our summer vacations have helped show me how resilient they are and despite my constant concerns of the contrary, they are well-adjusted.  I haven’t fucked them up so far (pats on back). Hopefully, a summer vacation every year will keep us all looking forward to hitting the refresh button of life and teaching us lessons we could only learn by pushing the boundaries of fear and comfort.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Sometimes, I feel like a crazy person.  My everyday anxieties are at an all time high.  I keep hovering over the kids.  I have a pit in my stomach if I leave them with anyone, worried something will happen while I’m gone.  I don’t have a degree in psychology, but I’m almost certifiable.
I haven’t let it hold us back from doing things and I think I’ve been managing it fairly well, so far.  Until yesterday, I hadn’t really thought about the underlying reasons behind this recent uptick of insanity.  There was a tornado warning where we live and my mother and mother-in-law were texting me about it while I was doing errands and the kids were home with a babysitter.  I immediately turned the car around and tried to get home as quickly as possible (despite the fact that the warning had already expired by 30 minutes). (Side note: tornadoes are one of my biggest fears.  Snakes, tornadoes, and tsunamis… I know, it’s weird, but I’ve had recurring nightmares about all three since I was a child.  Actually, the tornado one is kind of cool.  The tornado, itself, bursts into flames and then starts dancing like the broom in the Disney classic, Fantasia. Talk about a vivid imagination.)
It occurred to me that perhaps this increased anxiety actually has something to do with the whole BRCA ordeal.  I’m in a lull of post and pre-op purgatory right now.  Having postponed my next surgery, I’ve lost my momentum.  Before, I felt strong like I was in the moment and facing adversity.  I just had to buck up and deal.  Now that I don’t really have to worry about such a major medical issue and the planning for myself and my family in preparation for another surgery, I’m at a weird crossroads.  All of the pent up anxiety seems to have been released and is now spreading its destruction like the tsunamis of my nightmares.  It’s trickling down to everyday things like running after my little one if she’s in my bathroom, wondering if she’s going to trip on a bath mat and land on the marble riser that separates the shower from the floor.  It’s never happened before, but I can picture it in unfortunate detail. I think it’s somewhat normal for all moms to play these scenarios of what-if’s in their heads, but at what point is it not normal?
I should probably consult a mental health professional, but I’m being a little lazy and very cheap about it.  I justify my nonsense by thinking that I’ve been through something pretty rattling in the past year.  It’s not like this is just typical stuff, but is it?  It seems like everyone has something crazy going on in their lives.  A loved one who is sick, a child who has issues, or a mortgage they can’t pay.  Stress is in everyone’s life. Managing it and its manifestations is the challenge we all face.

Artiste Amor

It is clear, even at such a young age, that my big girl is an artist.  Undoubtedly, she will have a love of the arts, forever.  It’s in her blood.  She’s a ballerina, a painter (well, a crayon-er right now), and I’m pretty sure she will be a musician.

When she was a baby, she would willingly give up her toys to other kids.  She was never fazed when another child grabbed something from her.  The only exception was if it was a musical instrument.  She would go ballistic if someone took her harmonica, her drum or her fake saxophone.  For her second birthday we got her a small acoustic guitar.  Subsequent birthdays and holidays have added to her collection: a ukelele, a banjo, a violin and several small pianos.  She is going to turn 4 next week and we decided instead of buying her more instruments, it was time to explore legit lessons.
I don’t want her to feel pressure to play, but I also see that those who are truly great at something have usually started at a young age.  Yo Yo Ma started playing the cello at age 4.  Tiger Woods was putting on TV with Bob Hope at 2 years old.  It is said that Mozart began composing when he was 5.  Clearly, she’s behind the ball here and we better get started (kidding, sort of).  
On Saturday morning, I took her to a music school that teaches the Suzuki method.  We observed two young violinists during their group lesson (they couldn’t have been more than 5 and 7 years old, respectively).  They were amazing and my big girl loved watching them.  I thought the lesson seemed boring, but she said she liked it.  
I’m torn, because I don’t think this method of teaching will intrigue my little creative soul.  It seems too rigid for her, but is this just conjecture on my part?  Am I letting my own feelings about the lesson we saw overshadow what might actually be interesting for her?  The lessons are a big commitment: monetarily, yes, but time and effort, as well.  The parents have to sit in on the twice weekly lessons and practice with the children at home.  This would mean I would have to find a babysitter for the little one during the lessons (that are at least a 20 minute drive from our house).  I want to encourage her as much as possible and give her the opportunity to explore this passion.  Yet, I feel a little guilty that perhaps I’m letting my future inconvenience (and my guilt over leaving the little one) play a part in this decision.  But then again, aren’t a lot of worthwhile activities in life a bit of an inconvenience?  That’s a lesson I have definitely learned in the past year. Her life may be fuller if we go out of our way now, and I just have to take that chance.