Brace yourself!


wired for service

Life moves quickly. I woke up the other day to the stark realization that my baby had turned 8 years old. I’m not complaining, mind you. I appreciate my kids more and more with each passing day. I wasn’t big into the baby and toddler thing. I know that’s not something you’re supposed to say. But I like being able to talk to my kids, to hear how they feel, to watch their logic develop and unfold. It’s way more fun to play Backgammon with Eli, who at 8 is already a formidable opponent, than to mull away endless hours watching him screech wildly in a bouncy seat while systematically hurling teething toys across the room.

Babies are cute, especially other people’s. They’re nice to snuggle with too, every once in a while. But I prefer more verbal clarity in my communication, and with boys who are 8 and 11, that’s exactly what I get. Of course I’m well aware that all that might change once puberty hits. But right now that still feels like a lifetime away, kind of like braces did until yesterday.

I didn’t prepare Eli very well for the orthodontic surprise 8th birthday present he received this week. I’m not entirely sure why I so acutely ignored my maternal responsibility to prompt and prepare my child for this pending traumatic milestone. I may actually have been in a slight state of denial. “Am I getting braces today?” Eli asked point blank while he shoveled in a handful of French fries at lunch. “No honey,” I calmly replied. “I think the doctor just wants to check the expander progress and schedule the braces for a few months from now.” I wasn’t lying. That’s honestly what I thought.

I was every bit as shocked when our warm and welcoming orthodontist pulled out the shiny silver metal tool kit and began attaching the metal brackets to Eli’s front four teeth. OMG, I thought. He’s getting braces TODAY! I tried to act calm. Eli seemed to be rolling unflappably with the unexpected event. Meanwhile I started texting everyone I knew with my pithy, yet painful observations about time’s fleeting passage. It’s not that I didn’t know this was coming down the pipeline, I just wasn’t expecting it today. And consequently, I had done a really lousy job preparing myself and my little guy for it.

I would never have made this error with Levi, his older brother. For Levi, everything had to be spelled out, thoroughly explained, even rehearsed, sometimes for weeks prior to a new event. I remember preparing levi for school with pre-classroom tours, early meetings with teachers and hours of re-reading “Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten.” With Eli, I woke him up one day and happily chirped that today was his first day of kindergarten, and off we went.

I can’t pinpoint how or when I knew that Eli would have an easier time adapting to new situations than his older brother. Giving myself the benefit of the doubt, maybe my maternal intuition led me to trust that Eli could better manage these kinds of surprises to his psyche. Or, perhaps I was just more preoccupied and less attentive to the daily details of life once he came along and I found myself inundated with two kids, a busy work schedule, and a bustling household to manage.

The ironic thing here is that while I’m usually fairly laid back when it comes to major lifestyle shifts, I find myself a bit overwhelmed by the monumental realization that my youngest is growing up — fast. The braces just kind of pushed me over the edge.

But what can you do? Life marches on, whether you’re ready for it or not. So happy birthday, my dear and lovable little man. Thank you for your adaptability in the face of chaos, your humor amidst our daily disasters, and your heart-melting smile, that with or without metallic appliances, warms my soul and soothes my spirit.

That was a cold swish!

My son Eli is going to be 8 in February. He’s a fanatical sports fan and passionate practical joker. If ever there was a kid more destined to adore the Harlem Globetrotters, it would be him.

So for his birthday party this year, we proposed taking him and a few friends to see the Globetrotters at U.S. Airways Center. They’re coming the weekend of his birthday which magically fits into our busy birthday schedule. But, since he’s never heard of them, he prefers to play a scrimmage football game with a few pals in a park near our house and have lunch at Wolflies, a local sports bar in our area. Certainly lunch and football in the park will cost less, require less work, and necessitate far less planning and energy. So why can’t we simply go for the party he wants?

Because something is deeply flawed within our psyches and we simply cannot choose the easier path.

“But Eli,” I find myself arguing, “Papa first took me to see the Globetrotters when I was your age and it was one of the greatest days ever! One that I never forgot.”

“Well,” he reasoned, “Do they play in the NBA?”

“No,” My husband, Mark, explained. “They’re kind of in a league of their own.”

“No thanks,” he politely announced. “I want to play in the park.”

“But, Eli,” I went on, “You can play in the park any day. The Harlem Globetrotters don’t come to Phoenix very often and it’s an amazing coincidence that they’re coming on your birthday. We really think you’ll love them.”

“Hmmmm….” he thought for a moment, “But I really like the grilled cheese at Wolflies. I don’t think so.”

Now my husband and I were shifting into hard sell mode. We whipped out my lap top and pulled up a U-tube of Hacksaw and Hammer effortlessly spinning basketballs on their fingers and balancing them on their noses. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words. It took about 20 seconds and one particularly humorous play in which Flip loses his shirt and shorts and powers down the court in his underwear before Eli was hooked.

“This is the greatest!” Eli shouted. “Please, please, please can we go?”

Mark and I smiled at each other, content with our victory, and assured our youngest that we would get to work planning the event.

It was only then that I realized the error of our ways. Why, when it would have been exponentially less costly and time-consuming to do what Eli wanted, did we feel compelled to push him towards our idea of what his birthday should entail? It’s like as parents we simply can’t ever leave well enough alone. We strive to expose our kids to everything, to expand their horizons on a daily basis, to always encourage them to try new things and experience different opportunities. That’s not a bad thing. But sometimes it feels slightly foolish. Especially when “well enough” would have been a perfectly fine alternative.

The makings of a meltdown.

Stop me before I lose total control!I really did it this time. I imploded. We were late for school — again. I was half-dressed with 8 e-mails left to send. My youngest son refused to change out of pajamas. My eldest boy announced that we needed to stop at Fry’s on the way to school to score a few end-of-the-year gifts for his four most beloved teachers. And over the edge I leapt.

Now, let’s analyze the components that led to my completely inappropriate public melt down.

1.) I am late for everything. This is a flaw that I seem unable to overcome. I feel badly about myself for my tardiness. But when it negatively impacts my children, I feel even worse. Translated, the message I get in this type of situation is:

2.) I cannot control my impish 7-year-old son who, regardless of my nagging, begging and haranguing, moves at his own pace and refuses to follow even the simplest of my directions. This child behaves as if he is truly the center of the universe and all of us, merely a collection of disparate space junk. The message here?

3.) End of the year gifts for teachers that have loved, supported, and respected my kid for an entire school year. Um…hello? How did I manage to space this out?
Message #3:

Individually, each of these incidences was troubling. But as a combined lot, the frustration, self-loathing, and personal shame became too much to bare. So I flipped. “Get in the car,” I shouted, “We’re already late, and now we’re gonna be even later because once again Levi sprung something on me at the last minute…” As my irritation grew, so did my volume.

“Just say no,” my husband calmly advised, making me feel more like a raving lunatic than I already did. “He should’ve thought of this days ago. You are not obligated to take him at the last minute.”

But, as is often the case with my eldest, he just wants to do something kind and admirable and I feel badly telling him no. It’s like I’d be preventing him from doing a mitzvah (good deed). That feels wrong in every sense of the word.

By the time we got to Fry’s I was embarrassed and ashamed of my behavior. The kids were stiff and silent. I stood in the parking lot sobbing and holding onto them for dear life. “I’m so sorry,” I stammered. “Mommy’s just not right today.” And that’s when it happened,the giant “AHA” moment.

My older son hugged me tightly and said not to worry, that we all have bad days, that families always forgive each other. My younger son threw his arms around my waist, held on snugly and said, in the sweetest, most compassionate voice I’d ever heard, “Don’t cry anymore, Mommy. You can handle this. Just take a deep breath and remember that we love you and that you’re the best mommy anyone could ever have.”

As I strode down the aisles with these two tender, considerate, caring young men by my side, it suddenly dawned on me that maybe I wasn’t doing such a bad job parenting after all.

Happy Birthday to me.


“Want to go to your friend Jake’s birthday party next month?” I casually asked Eli, my just-turned-7-year-old son, as I perused a stack of overdue bills and snailmail invitations. “It’s a magic party.”

Making your kid attend a festive event looking like Eeyore on Benzies just doesn't quite feel right.

“I don’t really like magic,” he countered.

“But Jake is a really good friend. He came to your party, and I know he’s not that into sports.” I calmly reasoned.

“Whatever,” he seemed to concede. “Can I go outside and play football, mom?” and just like that, he was off, bounding around the backyard, tossing himself buttonhooks, streaks and his very own version of a “hail Mary.”

I quickly emailed our RSVP to my friend, tacked the invite onto the bulletin board and entered the event in my iCal. As a recovering scatterbrain, I need to follow this type of rigid protocol to keep my life and my family in some semblance of order.

Fast forward to the day of the party.

Eli is ready. Gift is wrapped. I have my GPS set to the birthday location. All signs seem to be a go. “I don’t want to go,” says Eli.

“Well, the party starts in half an hour. You already said you would go. You cannot back out on a commitment,” I answered unwaveringly.

“But I don’t like magic,” he added.

“Well, you should have thought of that when you agreed to go in the first place. Come on, let’s get in the car.” I felt I had adequately squelched potential rebellion and Eli and I drove across town to the party.

When we pulled into the parking lot, Eli, becoming more insistent, said, “I really don’t want to go, mom. Please. Can we just go home?”

I’d already eyed and acknowledged the birthday boy’s father at the front door, greeting guests. “Eli,” I firmly stated, “We said we would go to this party. Please get out of the car and let’s go in.”

His dejected, slumped stance as he exited the vehicle was heartbreaking. Was I doing the right thing? Jake was a friend, and sometimes you have to do things for your friends. Wasn’t that a valuable lesson? But making him attend a festive event looking like Eeyore on Benzodiazepines? It just didn’t feel right.

As usual, I told that still, small voice shouting inside my head to just be quiet and I escorted Eli into the party. There were tons of perky, playful youngsters all giggling gleefully as we entered. Jake saw Eli and came rushing up with a big hug and a hello. By this time, Eli was sobbing into my side while desperately clutching onto my leg.

“Please mom, I don’t feel right being here. I want to go home.”

Jake’s mom approached and offered a plate of Eli’s favorites, (fresh strawberries and grapes), and suggested we sit out in the hallway for a few minutes to help Eli regain composure. We followed her advice. When the last berry was gone, Eli asked for more fruit. “We can only have more fruit if we go back into the party,” I quietly asserted. Eli loves fruit more than anything in the universe. I thought maybe this would get us over the hurdle.

He slowly stood up, dumped his plastic birthday plate in the trash, and said, “Can we please go home now?”

There’s always a point in childrearing where the parent comes to the sad realization that whatever battle she is waging is simply not worth the energy she’s expending. This was my moment.

I held out my hand. Eli grasped it tightly. We left the building and headed for the car. “I’m sorry, mom,” he said with heartfelt sadness. “But I don’t like magic and I didn’t want to go.”

Suddenly the memory of my asking him about attending the party grew hazy. Had I asked him? Had he told me he didn’t want to go? Had I simply ignored him and followed my own wishes without his consent? It all seemed blurry and vague to me.

“Are you mad at me?” he asked as we pulled out and headed towards home.

“No,sweetie,” I answered. “I think I’m just…mad at me.”

Birthday blunder

Not at all the gift he'd imagined.

I really blew it tonight. It’s the eve of Levi’s birthday. Tomorrow he will be 10 years old. I wanted so much to make it the perfect birthday. But instead, I reverted to being a 10 year old myself and almost ruined everything.

This is hard to write about. Most of the time I’m okay belittling myself. I make mistakes. I allow my emotions to get the best of me. I act, in numerous occasions, less like a parent and more like a tantrum-tossing toddler. But I always admit the error of my ways. And I usually manage to learn a good, heart-felt lesson from my less than perfect parenting. But tonight takes the cake.

Levi isn’t your typical kid. He’s never been into stuff the way other kids are. He’d honestly rather build castles in his imagination than an entire aerospace propulsion system out of legos. If you ask him what he wants for his birthday, he’ll tell you he’d like to go out to lunch with you and just talk about what’s going on in your life. He’s definitely what many would label, “an old soul.”

But this year, he told me he wanted some Harry Potter action figures for his birthday. I was excited. Finally he was acting like a normal kid which gave me the opportunity to act like a normal parent. Maybe for once I could get him some stuff that would make him happy, even if it was only a fleeting happiness. I told everyone what he wanted. I not only told everyone, I went ahead and ordered more than $300 worth of hard to find, collectible, Harry Potter action figures from several obscure toy websites on the internet.

When the box came, I offered the various figures to different relatives (at cost of course) so that they too could finally feel victorious by for once giving my son something he really wanted. I had no trouble selling the figures to friends and family. I even wrapped them all individually and made the cards so that no one had to lift a finger to make my boy happy this year. It was my pleasure and I was thrilled to be able to do it.

But as luck would have it, tonight when my mother gave him the first pre-birthday pack of Harry Potter and Serious Black action figures, there was the same dull apathy that always greeted our birthday selections. I was beside myself. After all, there were still $250 worth of figures wrapped up in my closet waiting to be opened tomorrow on his actual birthday. How could I have gotten this wrong.

Levi, I said, I thought you wanted these action figures.

I did, mom. But I wanted the small ones. These are kind of like Barbie size. They’re too big.

But the small ones are just cheap pieces of plastic. I ordered the rare, collectible versions with the hand-painted faces that cost four times as much.

“Oh well,” he tossed it off,”no biggie.”

“What do you mean?” I shouted after him. “Levi, I went to a lot of trouble to find these for you. I mean, that’s all I have for you — from everyone. I thought that’s what you wanted.” I was beginning to sound pathetic.

“Stop it,” my husband chastised. “You’re making him feel bad.”

“Well, I’m sorry,” I snorted as I became increasingly unglued. “I guess I just can’t do anything right, can I?”

“You are acting like a child,” my husband chided. .

“Yeah, well, maybe if he acted like a child once in a while I wouldn’t have to.”

This was ridiculous. I was fully aware of my idiotic behavior. But it was like I couldn’t stop. I kept imagining my son the following day, opening present after present and feeling more and more disappointment with each gift. I really screwed this up. I wanted to cry. Why is it so hard to make a 10 year old boy’s dreams come true?

Meanwhile, Levi was in his room sulking. Every once in a while he’d say something like “Mom, really. They’re fine. I’ll just keep them.” and I’d counter that no, we were sending them back, all of them and getting the shitty little plastic ones. After all, he could probably afford a whole town of those mini Harry Potter people in exchange for the ones I’d bought.

“Will you please stop it and go talk to him. He feels awful,” my husband pleaded.

I went into Levi’s room. We both had tears in our eyes. I sat down on the floor and said, “Levi, I am so sorry to be acting like this. I’m really having a hard time being a grown up right now. Here’s the thing, I so wanted to make your birthday perfect. I searched high and low for some of these figures. That’s pretty much all your getting from everyone. And when I saw that they weren’t the figures you wanted, I felt so horrible that I acted really badly. I want you to understand that I think you’re the greatest and I just wanted you to know how much I and everyone else loves you and wants to make you happy. That’s what this is about. You didn’t do anything wrong. This one’s all me, buddy. I hope you can forgive me for acting like a jerk.”

“Mom, all I care about is that you wanted my birthday to be perfect. The fact that you and all my family and friends tried really hard to get me what you thought I wanted is way more important than whatever the present is. I didn’t mean to make you feel bad.”

“No baby, you didn’t make me feel bad,” I countered almost instantaneously, “I made me feel bad. And I am ashamed of acting like that. Sometimes even mommies get overwhelmed with their emotions and do really dumb things. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

“Of course, mom,” he smiled and threw his arms around my neck. “But don’t worry about it. Nobody’s perfect. All we can do is try. Isn’t that what you always tell me?”

“Yeah, Leves, I guess it is,” I stammered, more amazed by him than ever. “I guess we both need to remember that lesson.”