The Good Dinosaur and The Chicken Whisperer.

My older son Silas and I had just returned home from my Zumba class on Tuesday evenings.  Since my husband and younger son were off at hockey practice, he had the choice to hang around the rink for two hours, or hang out with his good friend Payton while her mother taught class and I desperately tried to keep up with her.   Pulling into our driveway just before 8:00pm, Payton and her mom dropped us off and headed back to their house right next door.

As we headed toward the house, the wind was so strong I had to re-gain my balance.   It was also completely dark outside, being almost 8:00 at night.  The trees along the small woods that surrounded our house on three sides were swaying back and forth and I had to yell in order to be heard.

“Si!  We have to let the chickens in!”.  We had let the chickens out earlier that afternoon and needed to make sure they were all back in their coop for the night.  I motioned for Silas to follow me to the backyard and down to the edge of our woods where our coop sat, but he stood at the corner of our garage, still on the black top.

“But mom, it’s so windy!  Is it a hurricane?  Is it a tornado?”.

Silas has always been more afraid than my younger son, Sam.  I can remember nursing Silas when he was just weeks old, looking down at him peacefully eating.  Almost sleeping.  I sneezed once and the poor kid practically jumped out of his skin.  His arms flailed way out to the side and he screamed for several minutes until my rocking him and kissing him and cooing him had calmed him down enough.  He was also my first-born.  I had no idea what I was doing and so was cautious and over-protective myself.  His already-amped-up nervous system combined with my Newbie mom skills has supplied him with a good dose of anxiety.   He is terrified of thunder and storm clouds and is obsessed with the scene in The Wizard of Oz when the twister comes.

Pushing myself against the wind as I made my way to the chicken coop, I yelled back, my voice probably lost in the wind, “No honey, it’s not a tornado! It’s just windy!!”.

But he wasn’t moving.  “But mom…..”.  I saw his silhouette against the kitchen light of the house, just standing there.

Down by the coop, I took my phone flashlight and shone it near the hen-house my husband had built and noticed that all of our chickens were huddled on top of the mesh fencing, bracing themselves against the wind and trying to stay warm.  Their door to the coop was shut for some reason, so they couldn’t get in.  I hollered back to Si that the chickens were locked out and that we were going to need to pick them up and carry them back in to the coop.  But, he wasn’t behind me and I couldn’t hear him or see him.  I’d guessed he retreated to the house, which is what Dorothy’s whole family did when the tornado hit Kansas.

The thing was, Silas was “The Chicken Whisperer”.  He had a way with animals and was able to coral them back to the coop whenever.  I’d often find him sitting out back of our house, in the grass, just hanging with the chickens, talking to them, always holding at least one in his arms.

I stood there trying to figure out what to do.  I didn’t want to have to pick them up.  They squawked and made a fuss and their wings felt gross to me and I was nervous around them.  How was I going to get them in there??

But, before I even had to decide, Silas came up from behind me and I heard him yelling so as to be heard over the wind:

“Mom!  In the movie The Good Dinosaur, Arlo’s father says, ‘Face your Fears!!'”

And with that, he marched over to the chickens, his jacket flapping wildly in the wind, leaves and small twigs blowing haphazardly all around us, and he picked them up one by one, talking to them gently and putting them back in their coop.

Arlo reminds me very much of my son Silas, and I am so proud of him for already working hard to push through his fears and see the beauty on the other side.  He’s an inspiration to me.  God, I love that kid.

 

So, do you think “DJ Bizzy Mom” has a nice ring to it?

It was only 7:45pm but I was already fantasizing about my pillow.  I’d had a hectic day of dropping the boys off at archery camp, clients, doctor’s office calls about the burn on my son’s foot, picking them back up, and our regular Tuesday evening hockey practice.  I was tired, and I had just inhaled two and a half pieces of pizza.

Oprah said never to eat after 7:00pm.

As I sat in the passenger seat of my husband’s truck, burping onion and mushroom pizza in between yawns, I casually looked to my right just in time to see a car-full of teenage-ish girls pull up right next to us.  There were four of them.  Sun-kissed with long blonde hair they all kept flipping back and forth with their hands.  Their windows were all down, music pulsing, and their bright white teeth sparkling as they laughed and looked up at me.  Surely, they’d seen my husband’s F-150 truck and assumed it would be carrying young, strapping sun-kissed boys.  I am assuming they were marginally disappointed to, instead, be met with an over-tired mom 20 years their senior who was about to unbutton the top button on her shorts.

I discreetly alerted my husband to the flock of beauties in such a way that my boys would not pick up on my shallow and vapid comments about the gaggle of giggling girls next to us:

” Hey…….honey, 3:00.  Check out the Talent over here”.  He gingerly leaned forward in his seat a bit, “Yeah, you’re right….that is a nice car”.

To be perfectly honest, they all looked exactly the same.  Tanned.  Bleach-blonde long hair.  Make-up.  Skimpy clothing.  I was less intrigued by their youthful looks and much more keen on the beautiful, naive look in their eyes.  A look we all had when we were on summer break from college, with our BFF’s while it was 88 degrees outside in mid-July.  That time in life when we’re still financially coddled by our parents, but have enough independence to spread our wings a bit more.  The perfect and safe balance of still being a kid, but thinking we’re adults.

Looking at them through my $8.99 pair of sunglasses that I bought at the local Jolley near my house, a big smile spread across my face.  I couldn’t contain it.  Yes, they may have all looked like clones of Malibu Barbie, but you could tell they were having So.  Much.  Damn.  Fun.

What I envied was the fact that they were at the point in their lives where they could go in a thousand different directions.  They had a million choices.  Their lives were still filled with more questions than answers:  “What do you want to study at college?  Which college do you want to go to?  Are you gonna hook up with Andy tonight?  Are you coming with us to Cancun next Spring?  Where are you gonna work this summer?  A time in their lives when their futures were still wide, wide open.

As any parent knows, when you decide to settle down with someone and have children, the decision greatly decreases the plethora of different paths you may have taken.  Of course, that is exactly why many of us chose to have children:  because we were sick of ourselves.  Sick of only thinking of us. We wanted to create and foster another life and love someone in a way we’ve never known.  And we would never want our lives any other way.

However…..

I’ve been daydreaming of learning how to become a DJ the last few months (does anyone know of any classes around Franklin County Vermont by the way?).  In Junior High I used to compose songs on my Yamaha keyboard, and overlay pre-recorded melodies with other melodies using my boombox and then call up Tami on the phone and torture her by making her listen to them.  (I love you Tami).

I’m also toying with the idea of a subtle, yet tasteful tattoo (okay, okay, it would be of my sons’ names, but hey, I’d still be slinging ink).

I want to write a book, and dye my hair and I want to wear my Converse sneakers to work sometimes and I’d love more than anything to go stay in a tiny cottage in Scotland for a while and learn how to shear sheep by an old, cranky, drunk farmer named Seamus (I know he’s out there waiting for me).

It’s a tricky balance, parenthood.  A tricky balance between sacrifice for your kids and your family, which you feel good doing most of the time, and which fulfills you in so many ways…… and an incessant desire to also indulge your own needs and wants as a human being, separate from making everyone’s favorite meal and making sure they packed their cleats.

I will be 40 in a few months and most people might say I’m having some kind of quasi-mid-life crisis, which I really don’t agree with at all.  I look at it more as me tipping the scales; balancing out the last decade of my life.   I spent my twenties indulging in my every whim and my thirties having babies and focusing on their all-consuming needs.  Now that my boys are older and don’t need me nearly as urgently and constantly as they once did, I’m hoping my 40’s will be more of a better balance for myself.  A new era that may or may not include me trying to pull a Maya Jane Coles.  Although I’ll really need to work on being able to stay up past 8:45pm.

As the car-full of shiny, laughing girls pulled away off into the sunset I yawned, keenly aware of the fact that at 8:00 my day would be ending and theirs would just be starting and I was happy for them and happy for me.  As much as I may miss the freedom that being an almost-adult can bring, I really wouldn’t want to be 19 again.

Okay maybe just for a day.  Or a week.

A month at the very most.

 

 

Fear is the path to the dark side. And Deet. And Carbs. And Eucalyptus. Oh, and non-organic strawberries too.

At the time, I felt like a rock star mom.

It was winter and both of my boys (ages 6 and 8) had chest colds.  I had bathed them, cleaned out their noses, rubbed Vicks Vapo Rub on their chests and on the bottoms of their feet, put Kleenex next to their beds and put some drops of Eucalyptus in their humidifier.  Kissing their foreheads goodnight, I felt assured that I had done all I could to make them feel their most comfortable while they slept.  Their whole room smelled pure and fresh from the eucalyptus and I felt at ease knowing they might breathe a little better, and sleep more soundly, as I shut their bedroom door 3/4 of the way–enough for some quiet, but also enough so that I could hear them during the night.

I felt like a good mom.  A good mom who had taken all the right steps to help them feel better.  And so, every time they had colds, that is what I did:  bathed them, smeared Vicks Vapo Rub all over their chest and feet and infused their room with the purifying aroma of Eucalyptus.

Until of course, I ran across an article 6 months later, explaining that using Eucalyptus for children under the age of 10 was “dangerous”.  A hazard to their health.  Something to be avoided.  That if you had essential oils just lying haphazardly around the house, that you should promptly lock them up to protect your children from accidental poisoning.

WTF!?!?!?!?

Are they essential oils, or used heroin needles?

On a dime, the comforting memories I had of a constant mist of  healing Eucalyptus filling up my boys’ bedroom, morphed into the horrifying realization that I was actually slowly and repetitively poisoning them every time they were sick.  Kicking them when they were down.   That, in actuality, I was forcing them to inhale deadly toxins as I stood there, over their beds, smiling and patting myself on the back as my two sweet, innocent boys lay there oblivious to the fact that their mother was slowly killing them.

How on earth can Eucalyptus be dangerous?  It’s an oil.  It’s an herb.  It’s a plant.  I closed out the article on my computer and became flooded with all of the other thousands of decisions I had made in the past that haunted me:

I vaccinated my kids.

I fed them strawberries from the supermarket.  The one fruit that contains the highest levels of pesticides out of ALL fruits.  What moron of a mother would do that to their kids?

I put sunscreen on them too.  Sunscreen that causes cancer.

And then some days, out of fear of giving them cancer from the sunscreen, I didn’t put it on, exposing them to the deadly UV rays.  That cause cancer.

Did I scold Sam too harshly when he antagonized his brother?

Crap, I let them both eat raw cookie dough the other day.

The boys forgot to wash their hands the other day when they picked up the chickens.

Should I hold my son back a grade or push him forward?

I let my kids have fluoride treatments!!??

Are they traumatized from hearing me and my husband argue about lacrosse practice?

What about that time Sam got a tick at lacrosse practice?  Should I have demanded an antibiotic at the time?  What if has Lyme disease now?

Should I stop buying strawberries?  I could just give them fruit cups in their lunches.  But wait no, fruit cups contain High Fructose Corn Syrup.  I can’t do that.  Maybe I’ll just pack them some water and crackers.  But wait no, crackers are carbs.   Oh, and maybe I should stop making sandwiches because they eat sandwiches everyday.  That’s a lot of bread.  That’s a lot of carbs.  Carbs are bad.  My kids are going to be overweight.  They’re going to grow up overweight and get diabetes and it will be all of my fault because I didn’t listen and I let them eat carbs and fruit cups!!

Is it any wonder we parents have so much anxiety?  Everywhere I turn, I’ve done something wrong to cause harm to my kids.  I am so exhausted from worrying about how I may be inadvertently causing my boys’ premature death.  Will it have been from the strawberries, or the sunscreen, or the chickens or the vaccines?  I’m living in a cesspool of fear where everyone thinks they are right and have ample studies to show me to back up their claims.  Was it always like this?  During The Great Depression, as families traveled miles upon miles in their jalopies, did they worry about these kinds of things?  Or, are many of us so privileged in our current times that we’re able to focus all of our energy into these ridiculous antics?

I try so hard to radiate a sense of knowing and steadiness for my boys.  I want to be someone they can rely on and depend on and have faith in, especially when they’re shaky.  But I fear that my incessant worries about the Deet in the bug spray I just sprayed on them are betraying me, and that they will grow up to feel just as afraid and unsure as I do.

Three nights ago, on a muggy Saturday evening, I told the boys that because it wasn’t a school night, we could have a slumber party in my room, and watch a little Gilligan’s Island and stay up a little later than usual.  We all got into our summer jammies and huddled in my bed.  The box fan we bought at Wal-Mart (what am I teaching them buying from Wal-Mart?  Should I stop buying from Wal-Mart?) provided a cool breeze for us as we lay on top of the covers.  I had each one of my arms wrapped around each one of my boys as we laid there, with the windows open and the fan gently blowing over our bare legs and arms, and talked about our Favorite Part of the Day and our Hard Part of the Day.  In these rare moments, with both of them in my arms and the three of us murmuring about our days, I get a reprieve from all of the fear and anxiety that so often fills my days.  It’s almost always My Favorite Part of the Day.

We quieted after a while and in the middle of the quiet, Sam my younger son said to me:

“Mama, I feel so safe with you.  It feels like nothing can get to me.  It’s kind of like you’re my Force Field”.

I’m not sure I have ever heard sweeter words than those in my whole life as a mother.  I squeezed him a little bit closer to me and kissed his forehead, telling him how happy it makes me that he feels safe with me, repressing the part of me that feels as if maybe I’ve fooled him somehow.  How could he feel so safe with me when it feels like, so often, I question everything I do?  Every decision I make?

It is not easy living in a culture, where at every corner you turn, there is an Expert waiting for you, arms crossed, shaking their head at the Pop-Tart you just gave your son on a Sunday morning while he watches “Teen Titans Go!” as they “tsk, tsk, tsk” you for your horrible decision-making.

“Teen Titans Go!” AND Pop-Tarts?  I may as well enroll them in military school now since I have already started them on the path of self-destruction.

It’s not easy living in a culture where you’re told if you vaccinate your kids you could very likely do them harm, and if you don’t vaccinate your kids you’ll very likely do them harm.  It’s not easy living in a culture that so blatantly deters you from using your intuition as a parent, which is our most invaluable asset above everything else.

I know that one day soon, my cape and mask will fall away, my superhero status will dissipate, and my sons will both see that I’m merely another flawed human trying her best, and not the indestructible Force Field they see me as today.

To all you parents out there who are doing their best to do right by their kids in this fear-mongering world in which we live, keep fighting the good fight.

And may The Force be with you.

Embracing the bully

“How was your day at school today?”

“Bad”.

“Why?”

“Because of Raymond again.”

“What did Raymond do today?”

“He grabbed my library book out of my hand and threw it on the floor!”.  My younger son looked tired.   I had noticed lately that he was coming home from school saying he’d had a bad day almost everyday.  He even said at one point, that he didn’t want to go to school because of Raymond.   I had also recently noticed him taking frequent deep breaths, even as he sat dormant on the couch watching Mountain Men.  I recognized that chronic panicky feeling and frequent deep breaths in myself when I was feeling particularly anxious, and assumed he was doing it for the same reasons.

“He punched me in the back because I wouldn’t play with him.”

“He stomped on my foot in line at recess.”

“He threw my lunchbox off the table because I wouldn’t sit with him.”

“He won’t leave me alone, even when I tell him I don’t want to sit next to him.”

Everyday, it was something different, but always the same child.  At first, I tried to help him problem-solve and give him some suggestions of what he could say to Raymond.  Then, I tried to talk to him about compassion and trying to have more patience and understanding for someone struggling so much, but when I started seeing his breathing change and his demeanor change, I started feeling angry.  I knew that  feeling, and the sanctimonious part of me vehemently believed that my 7-year-old shouldn’t be that stressed out in life already.

I taught 4-winds for Sam’s class and so I knew Raymond, had experienced him myself.   He wasn’t just a child I heard about.  He was energetic and excitable most of the time.  Always calling out instead of raising his hand.  Running everywhere instead of walking.  Sometimes unable to follow directions.     Whenever I walked into the classroom, he came up to me, always trying to take my hand, asking to be in my group, hugging me, wanting to be near me.  He was so much in need of affection.  I couldn’t understand why he took to me so quickly.  Or, maybe he took to everyone that way.  But, it sometimes annoyed me.  His neediness.  His eagerness to be so close to me all the time, especially knowing that just the day before he had punched my son.  Sam would sometimes act a bit jealous about this and I would need to hug him or hold his hand and reassure him.  Raymond would ask to be in my group and  I would brusquely respond, “I don’t know what groups there will be Raymond, please have a seat and we will see”.  Or, I would half-heartedly give him a hug back and then quickly tell him to “please sit and wait for the puppet show to start”.

When I would show up at the school to have lunch with my boys, Raymond would spot me in the hall and immediately ask why I was there and if he could also have lunch with us.  Knowing how stressed my son seemed around him, I would say something like, “I’m not sure if you can, you might have to ask your teacher”, and then continue on my way.  I rationalized that I wasn’t being mean.  He really did need to check with his teacher.  But nonetheless, I felt badly about it.  I had a nagging in the back of my head that reprimanded me for pushing him aside.

One morning just a few weeks ago, as my son was getting ready for school, he started talking about Raymond as he tied his shoes.  “He was mean to me on Friday and wouldn’t leave me alone and kept asking me to play with him and so I told him……’my mom doesn’t want me playing with you'”.

At the sound of those words, as I stood above him watching him fiddle with his laces, in my work clothes and dress coat with my purse in one hand and carrying my laptop in the other,  a rush of shame and guilt crept up into my chest,  up my neck and face and ears, coloring me red.   I immediately put myself in Raymond’s shoes.  What must it have felt like to have someone you so much wanted to be friends with say something like that?  I could only imagine the hurt he felt at hearing those words about himself.   I wondered if he felt the same kind of shame and guilt that I was feeling at that moment.

The truth was, I had guessed a while ago that maybe Raymond’s life was quite different from my boys’ life.  My boys were rich with love.  Rich with stability.  Rich with two parents who were extremely present in their lives along with a slew of extended family.  Rich with routine and dependability and familiarity and affection.  I had guessed that, possibly, Raymond’s life was not so abundant with these things.  I had spoken to my boys about having some compassion for other people who weren’t as fortunate as we were in those ways before, but somehow, in some way, I had conveyed something vastly different to my son, who let Raymond know, “my mom doesn’t want me playing with you”.

Part of me didn’t.  The last thing that I want to do is help mold someone into a bully by ostracizing them, by reinforcing the idea that they are somehow not accepted or worthy or loved.   But how do you protect your own child without destroying another?  How do you teach your child compassion for someone else, but not allow that person to physically hurt you just because they’ve had been dealt a hard hand?  I didn’t want my son to be getting hurt at school, or to feel so much anxiety, but I also don’t want to squash another child’s spirit in the process.

That morning, I vowed to try to set a better example for my boys, knowing that what I do will have a much bigger impact on them  than what I tell them to do.  I had been working under the premise “Do as I say and not as I do” and hadn’t even realized it.

On Friday morning a few weeks later, as I wheeled the loud, squeaky 4-winds bin-on-wheels down the hall to the classroom, I went over the science lesson in my mind:  “Daunting Defenses”.  The lesson for this month focused on the natural defense mechanism of plants and animals.  The skunk and his stinky smell; the porcupine and his quills; the salamander and her bright colors and poisonous-tasting skin; the slimy worms and their slippery secretions that make it hard to hold on to them; even the raspberry bushes and her prickly brambles.  Every living thing has some kind of defense to try to keep themselves safe-even if it has to hurt the person trying to get to them.  It’s not right or wrong, it’s just how we learn to survive.  Sometimes it’s a small boy and his fists.

As I entered the classroom, the children were loud and boisterous having just been dropped off by the buses.  10 first graders packed the cubby area, hanging their coats and back packs, taking out their folders.  A group of boys huddled in one corner of the room checking out each others’ Pokemon cards.  A few girls sat at their desks reading from their Book Boxes and talking about who will play with who at recess. Pulling the rickety bin by a long string,  I had to weave in and out of chairs and desks and children to get to the front of the classroom to begin setting up for the puppet show.

Before I even had a chance to get my coat off, Raymond came running over to me, wrapped his little 1st grade arms around my waist and pressed the side of his head into my stomach.

“I missed you Mrs. Spaulding” he said, looking up at me with his hazel eyes, his arms grabbing me tightly.

I dropped my bag and coffee mug wrapped my own arms around his shoulders, hugged him back with a newfound appreciation and said, “I missed you too”.