Thursday, May 30, 2019

Getting My Hands Dirty

I have made five batches of homemade slime with my daughter since May 18th.  But it hasn't exactly been a "team effort."  Her contribution has been selecting the color and adding the glue to the bowl.  The bulk of the work has been mine. No matter how much I encourage her... I'm the one who has to put my hands in the goop.

As I worked on a bright pink batch the other morning, it occurred to me that this slime-making process feels a lot like parenting feels lately.

I'm the one who has to kneed it, and determine if we need more shaving cream or contact solution.

I'm the one who has to touch it before it's perfected and ends up with the sticky gunk under my fingernails.

I'm the one who has to put in the time, and make it "acceptable" enough for my daughter to want to play with it. 

Parenting is hard, and while I'm very grateful that I'm getting helpful "ingredients" from outside sources (my husband, my parents, my sisters, my friends) it feels like a lot of it falls on my shoulders. And on the really bad days, it feels like I'm tackling these messy parts alone. 

I guess what really made the connection in my head between parenting and slime-making is that I'M putting the work in, but I'm ultimately doing it for SOMEONE else. 

The things that I teach my daughter about respect and responsibility are going to (hopefully) make things easier for her future teachers.  The things I show her about kindness and empathy are going to help make her a more loving person toward her future friends/partners.  The things I preach to her about working hard and not giving up are going to help her future employers know they can trust her with the big projects and that she deserves that raise. 

So the next time I'm sticky, covered in slime, and muttering under my breath... I'm going to try to remember why I'm *really* getting my hands dirty in the first place. 

Friday, May 24, 2019

Romanticizing the Past

My husband and I celebrated our wedding anniversary earlier this week by going out to dinner.  We'd been given a gift certificate a while back to a nice Italian restaurant, but never managed to make the time to use it.  Not only I was exhilarated at the thought of a "kid free" meal, but I was also excited because I hadn't been to this particular establishment in almost 15 years.

The one (and only) time I was there was on a first date. (NOT with my husband, in case you were curious. Ha!) I remember the food being great, and I remember it was the first time I had calamari as an appetizer. It was also one of the nicest places I'd ever been taken on a date.  I'd been talking this place up to my husband for a while.  He's a bit of a foodie, and I was pretty sure he'd like it. 

We got there, and the food was... just okay. Hmm.

I think I may have romanticized my first experience with this restaurant in my head.

Don't get me wrong, the food wasn't horrible.  But will we make the time to go back there again in the near future?  Probably not.

The whole experience got me wondering how often I'm guilty of this whole "romanticizing the past" thing.

Were Saturday morning cartoons *really* better in the 1990s than they are today? Or was I just viewing them through a different "lens" than I view cartoons now?

What about TV?  Were those shows I grew up with actually better than what's on today? Or do I just have fond memories of watching TGIF on Friday nights and SNICK on Saturday nights because they felt like more of a "treat" than watching television does now?

And don't get me started on music.  I'm convinced that many people feel the best decade for music was whatever time period they were in high school/their early 20s. I read a study once that said the majority of people actually STOP seeking out new music/artists once they hit their 30s.  I know I'm guilty of this one.  You're going to hear "PopRocks" (1990s and 2000s pop and rock) on the satellite radio whenever I'm in control of the dial.

While I've only been a parent for 7.5 years, I know I'm going to be having wistful thoughts about the past when it comes to raising my kids.  My first grader is already talking about how much she wants a cell phone when she's a teenager.  (Kid, I didn't have my own phone until COLLEGE.  Calm down.)

So is all this romanticizing harmful?  I don't know.  So far, I don't think I've hurt anyone with my rose-colored views of certain past experiences.  Will I be able to to stop?  I don't know that either.  But maybe I should try.

If nothing else... perhaps we'll be able to have a tastier anniversary dinner next year.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Big Kids at the Playground

I took my kids to my daughter's school (after hours) recently to play on the playground equipment.  At the same time we pulled up, so did a car of three teenagers.  I didn't really pay much attention, as my youngest is a "runner" and diverted my attention away from them pretty quickly.

My daughter noticed them though.

I'm doing that "mom trick" where you're trying to keep one eye on each kid, and I can see her circling them.  She's giving them a wide berth, but it's obvious to me what she's doing.  And I think it's obvious to them too.

This playground has a triple slide, and each of the teens is sitting in a bedway.  Finally I hear my daughter speak.  "You guys just going to sit there?" They laugh.  "Are you too scared to go DOWN the slide?" she continues.  They laugh again.  She climbs to the top and one of the teens immediately moves so she can go down.  She turns around and gives them a look that seems to say, "See? It's not that hard!" before she runs over to another section of the playground.

I'm taking in the whole scene and laughing to myself.  I know that some parents are bothered when older kids hang out at playgrounds, but these three seem pretty non-threatening.  Or maybe it doesn't bother me... because I'VE been the big kid on the playground.

I have memories of hanging out at parks and playgrounds with my friends when I was in high school.  I feel like we usually went at NIGHT, but I could be mistaken.  I don't know if I can pinpoint why we chose to hang out there. Was there really nothing else to do in our small town?  I know I had at least one friend who was vocal about how much she loved to swing.  Maybe we were just going along with her.  Or maybe it was more than that.

Maybe even at 17, we were trying to go back to something familiar. Something easier. You know, playground rules. No pushing.  No cutting in line.  No throwing the sand/woodchips.  No bad words. Maybe we just wanted to pretend we had the ability to temporarily escape the drama of high school.

I like to think that's what those three kids were doing.  I can't imagine being a teenager in today's social media world. It was bad enough to find out on Monday morning that your friends hung out over the weekend and didn't invite you... it would be WAY worse to see it playing out in "real time" on Instagram.

I'm not sure how old those teens were, but maybe they were seniors.  Maybe they are graduating high school in a couple of weeks and are on the precipice of some big life changes.  Maybe as much as they "can't WAIT to be done," they are also a little nervous about the next chapter. 

So if they want to linger a little bit longer in childhood while they still can... that's fine with me.

Just go DOWN the slide so my first grader leaves you alone, okay?   

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Dear Bunny

Dear Bunny,

I am so sorry.  You didn't sign up for any of this.

Someone gifted you to my daughter when she was about 3, I think.  It seems kind of rude to tell you, but you were never her favorite.  You lived a quiet life in the toy box. You only ventured out for special occasions like "Stuffed Animal Tea Party" or "How Many Bunnies Do I Have, Mom?"

Just before she turned 4, and I found out I was pregnant with her little brother, I instructed her to empty her toy box.  I asked her to pick a handful of things that she would be willing to give to the new baby.  You got picked.

I've been trying to imagine how that felt for you.  Were you happy for a new assignment?  Were you sad she was willing to give you up so easily?  Were you just excited to get sprung from the toy box for a new adventure/some fresh air?

My son took to you right away.  His "B."  You've been sucked on.  You've been thrown into the toilet.  You've been tied up in a pillowcase and tossed into the washing machine. You've been used (many, many times) as a surrogate Kleenex. You've been loved.

And that "love" has taken it's toll.  You don't look like you used to.  Your fur isn't as soft.  You've completely lost your blue bow.  And most recently, your right ear split open.  I promise I'll fix that, but I'm not a doctor and you're probably going to have a scar.

What do you see when you look in the mirror?  Do you focus on the flaws? Do you see the scratched up eyes, the worn fur, the spot where the bow used to be?  Are you tired?  It's exhausting to be so needed.  Trust me, I know.  To be pulled and thrown and stepped on.  To be covered in someone else's germs.  To just want to be left alone (and not touched) for 5 minutes.

When you look in the mirror, do you see the bunny you USED to be?  Because I hope you can focus on the love. I hope you can see that you are so much realer than those toys shoved in the bottom of my daughter's toy box.  I hope you can see that your beauty isn't tied to your appearance.  Your beauty, your value, is in all those messy moments you shared with my son.

You will never be the same bunny you were before you met my kids.  And that's okay.

You're living a life you couldn't have imagined when you were "born" in that toy factory in China.

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.” 

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit. 

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.” 

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?” 

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

- The Velveteen Rabbit, Margery Williams

Want to read more of my work?  Check out my essay "Mrs. Norton's Daughter" in WILL WORK FOR APPLES, the latest in the New York Times best-selling I JUST WANT TO PEE ALONE anthology series.  

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