Back to school roller derby

Who will be the next School Supply Roller Derby Queen?

Lace up your skates, moms. It’s time to hit the aisles and go for the gold. If you’re fast and tough, you might actually secure that Justice League lunch box and water bottle your kid’s been pining for all year. Show no mercy. It’s back to school time.

God help me I hate school supply shopping. I hate everything associated with school supply shopping. I hate hordes of people fighting over number 2 pencils, I hate trying to find wide-ruled notebook paper amidst piles and piles of college lined loose leaf. I hate having to buy 4 large glue sticks when they always come 3 to a pack. I hate that despite the fact that every school in the world insists on kids bringing ziploc baggies and disinfectant wipes, they never put that stuff with the school supplies and you have to traipse through the entire store with a million other people to get to the cleaning supply and home storage areas before they run out of the items you need to complete your list.

Argh!!!! It’s awful. It was better this year because I took each boy separately. Trying to navigate two supply lists while maneuvering a shopping cart and corralling two young tykes was nearly impossible last year. At least I wised up a bit.

But the whole process is so utterly angst producing. I’m not even sure why. I love shopping, for almost everything. But this is…just…not fun. I spent over $300 for both boys. That sounds like a lot to me. I mean, that doesn’t even include text books or any real type of learning material.

I saw this one woman, who looked equally distraught, and she said that at her school you can pay extra money and they’ll do your school supply shopping for you. Unfortunately, she had flaked and missed the deadline this year. “Rest assured,” she bemoaned, “that wont happen again.” For a moment I wished our school did that.

But then, in some weird masochistic side of my brain, I heard a voice saying, “but you’d miss such a meaningful mom-son experience if you didn’t go school supply shopping each year.” The fact is, given the choice to abdicate all school related shopping excursions, I probably wouldn’t take it. Because even if I tell myself that instead of the crowded Target aisles, we could go to the water park or the movies or somewhere equally fun and carefree, something else would come up and we’d miss that time together and then it would feel just like every other missed moment I feel guilty and forlorn over.

So, I’ll keep body-checking 12 year-olds to get the last package of yellow highlighters and pushing distracted moms’ carts out of the way to retrieve that one Yoda pencil box that my son simply cannot live without. I will do this year after year after year. Because I’m a mom. And that’s just what we do.

Kids say the darndest things.

Maybe stationary and writing utensils should be verboten at camp!

I stood there for a long time looking at the letter. It felt so light. I thought that was funny. How something as weighty as what could be inside could feel so…flimsy and insubstantial. I had just returned from the gym where one swollen-eyed mom had shared her devastating sleep-away camp story to a gaggle of us who hadn’t heard from our own kids since they jetted off to overnight camp for the summer. What could be inside this envelope? I was almost too fearful to open it. “Maybe I’ll wait till my husband comes home from work,” I thought. That was too 1950s subservient housewife for me though. No. The letter was to me. I needed to open it by myself.

Images of my 9 year old self flooded my memory. My first summer at sleep-away camp was devastating. I wasn’t ready to leave home for 8 weeks. But, that’s what upper middle class families in the Midwest did back then. Moms needed a break so kids were shipped off to camps in the North Woods of Wisconsin and Michigan and parents got two months of time off from parenting.

And some kids did great for those two months. Unfortunately, I wasn’t one of them. I wrote treatises to my folks, promising to do all the chores I could think of around the house, and agreeing to let overbearing relatives with boundary issues cuddle and kiss me without complaint. If only they would come and take me home. The letters must have been heart-breaking. I never once thought about how they would affect my parents. Until now.

What if Levi, my 10 year old, was lonely? What if he was sad? What if he hadn’t made any friends and cried himself to sleep? What if he wanted to come home? I couldn’t bear to think of him so far away and so unhappy.

I also wondered if there really was some kind of karmic poetic justice in life. My gut-wrenching camp letters coming back to haunt me as an adult. I did have a moment of levity, however, recalling the second year I returned to camp and copied letters from Art Linkletter’s book “Letters From Camp.” I plagiarized the wackiest pages of that book and sent ‘em home, signed by me. I never imagined my mom would actually believe the ridiculous scenarios I created in print. I hope Levi never saw that book.

I took a deep breath and opened the letter. It was short but moderately legible. He was happy. He loves camp. He’s got friends. He’s got great counselors. Hooray! This was a good thing. No tear stains. No pleas to come home. He did say he missed me. That felt kind of nice. But my boy is doing well on his own. He’s only there for 12 days. I think that’s plenty of time for now. If he wants to go for longer in a few years, I’ll be okay with that.

But for now, I can rest easy, knowing that my young man is safe, happy and not trying to torment me with colorful letters from someone else’s imagination. Btw, mom, I’m sorry I scared you by copying Art Linkletter’s books. I was just trying to make you laugh. Honest.

Deathly Hallows II or Hundred Acres?

They say the definition of insanity is repeating the same behavior, all the while expecting a different outcome. Argh. When will I learn?

My youngest son, Eli, who is now 7, had a serious cinematic phobia until about a year ago. We had finally conquered his fear of flicks on TV and the mini-dvd player. As long as he could run out of the room during the opening credits, he could usually manage to sit through a whole movie. Of course the film itself had to be entirely happy and without a shred of violence, fighting or insurmountable obstacles for the hero of the story. But walk him into a Harkins or United Artist’s and he went berserk. The last movie I tried taking him to was Toy Story 3 over a year ago. As soon as it started to look bleak for Woody, he freaked and we were out of there in a flash. So my 10 year old son, Levi, is totally into Harry Potter. He read all the books and has seen all the movies. Eli has also watched most of the movies at home with his dad and brother.

So when “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II” came out last week, we made a family date to go to the Cine Capri and watch the film. Both boys were super excited. I tried to prime Eli that it might be scary, hoping that maybe he’d opt out before I had to plink down 7 bucks and swelter alfresco in a long line of muggles outside the theatre. But he was insistent. He was a big boy and he wanted to go.

Once we finally got into the theatre, settled into our reclining seats, and dove into our healthy fruit salads that I’d smuggled past the ticket-taking teen in the lobby, the previews began. Now I have issues with previews to begin with. They tell the whole story and ruin the movie. They last too long. They’re often violent and inappropriate for kids, even in G an PG rated movies. They’re too friggin’ loud. I could go on. But it’s sort of beside the point. Anyway, we made it through a slew of gory “coming soons” and Eli, who was snuggled into his daddy, looked like he might be losing his resolve.

“We don’t have to stay, sweetie,” I said secretly hoping he’d “man-up” and tough this one out. OK, I admit it. I wanted to see the silly picture. “I’m not leaving,” he said with a slightly annoyed lilt. Then he sunk back into his dad’s shoulder, half covering his eyes with his still small hand that reminded me, bravado aside, he was still just a sweet, scared little boy.

The movie started, the music roared, and the dark energy enveloped us. “I do want to leave!” He screamed grabbing my hand and yanking me out of my chair. “Please! Take me home! I don’t want to see this, mommy!”

I gathered our stuff and we exited in one fluid movement within milliseconds. Safely ensconsed in the lobby, I suggested we stop and see if there was another movie he might enjoy watching while we waited two and a half hours for his dad and brother to come out. He adamantly refused. “Shit,” I thought, “The phobia is back with a vengeance.” I persuaded him though, and we paused at guest services where they happily exchanged our tickets for tickets to the new Winnie the Pooh movie.

Eli reluctantly agreed to watch Winnie with me. But once inside the theatre, Eli’s entire persona shifted. He was joyful, open and giggling at each and every cartoon preview. He gleefully watched Piglet, Rabbit and Pooh as they formed a posse to locate Christopher Robin who’d been stolen by a treacherous “Backson.” Watching his eyes sparkle and his wide grin filled me with happiness. “He loves this,” I thought to myself. Why did I even suggest Harry Potter as a family outing? This is who he is. This is what he loves. He’s still unbelievably sweet, gentle and naive, even though he tries incredibly hard to seem otherwise. Why do I keep forgetting this?

So we watched a delightful little film, with no real villains, no dangerous chase scenes, and no dead family members. And it was really, really nice. Just me and my little boy. Oh Eli, I don’t need you to grow up so quickly. I’m sorry that I keep being fooled by your big boy facade. You’re still my little man and I will try harder to remember that.

The “Backson” btw, was Pooh’s misunderstanding of Christopher Robin’s note that he’d be “back soon.” Oh, I’m so sorry. I just totally spoiled the ending for you.

I’m gonna make it after all…really?

Imagine Mary with two boys, a husband and endless loads of laundry.

Note to self: when vacationing without children, do not go anywhere particularly kid-friendly. I say this because I’m out in Jackson Hole, Wyoming with my husband enjoying some seriously needed down time. Not much to do. Nowhere to be. Simple pleasures of hiking, biking, moose-watching, and so on. But there are kids everywhere. And each one is cuter than the next. Why? Because they’re not mine. And on top of that, the whole “absence makes the heart grow fonder” stuff is definitely true. I miss my kids.

I miss them so much it hurts. That seems weird to me. Because most of the time that I’m with them I spend fantasizing about being away from them. Don’t get me wrong. I adore my children. But trying to manage a home, pursue a meaningful career, and take care of two young boys is more than overwhelming to me. I want to be the June Cleaver of sitcom fame. But I’m not. I’m more a child-laden version of Mary Richards from the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Imagine me, in the middle of a snowy Minnesota roadway, tossing my infamous beret into the air and trying to catch it victoriously while also reigning in two impish little creatures who think it’s just fun to dart into the street between racing taxi cabs. It’s really not a workable scenario.

I really am torn between being a full-time mother and using my time on the planet to create meaning for myself personally. It’s a conundrum in which many of us find ourselves. We gave up lucrative and often fulfilling professions to be moms. We don’t regret it exactly. We know, deep in our souls, that bringing precious life into this world and raising it with care, love and respect, is clearly our highest calling. But that doesn’t help get us through the daily monotony that clouds our psyches and makes us question the reason for our very existence.

This vacation was supposed to help me relax. Help me stop struggling with the big issues that harass me on a daily basis. But seeing all these kids and happy families makes me feel selfish and more like a maternal failure than ever before. Why am I here alone, without my kids, when everyone else seems to be managing exceedingly well with their children in tow. None of these mommies needed “alone” time. They all look perfectly well adjusted, capable and happy. What is wrong with me?

Maybe next year I’ll go somewhere where they don’t allow kids. “Out of sight out of mind” as they say. Perhaps I’ll find a nice all-inclusive adult-only resort somewhere in the Bahamas where I wont feel bad about myself for being there. Of course, there’ll probably be tons of childless women there who wont have c-section scars or cellulite. That might highlight a whole different class of personal flaws for me. I guess maybe I just can’t win.

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:
I SUCK AS A MOTHER!!!!

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?
I HAVE FAILED MISERABLY AS A PARENT!!!!

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:
I AM AN INSENSITIVE SLOB WHO NEGLECTS TO REPAY THE MULTITUDE OF KINDNESSES AFFORDED MY LOVED ONES.

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.

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.”

What’s in a name? Everything!

Serious question: Is it okay to call your spouse “mom” or “dad” or any derivation thereof? I’m not judging. It just seems weird to me. I admit that sometimes I refer to myself as “mommy.” Like when I say to my kids, “Mommy is tired right now and needs a few more sips of her Grey Goose Martini. I’ll join you in a few minutes…” And there are plenty of times when I say things like, “Why don’t you go and ask Daddy to help you open that ridiculously packaged toy that even a safe-cracker would have trouble unhinging.”

But I consciously try very hard not to call my husband “daddy.” That just seems so…so…Oedipal or Electra or whatever you call it. But I’ve noticed that lots of parents do that. So I’m wondering, is it just me or is this a little demented? I mean, are there statistics on couples who call each other parental names? Do they end up divorced more frequently? Or more likely, do they find themselves in safe but frigid marriages that are more based on codependency than mutual respect and attraction?

Every once in a while my husband will slip and call me “mom.” Boy does my ire-o-meter go off. “First of all, I am not your mother,” I immediately bite back, “I don’t want that job and frankly you couldn’t pay me enough to take on that responsibility.” (Note to readers, my hubbie’s mom is a lovely woman whom I happen to adore. Still, I don’t really know how she managed to allow my husband to grow into adulthood without turning to drugs, alcohol or cutting out his tongue.)

But the bigger question is, “Doesn’t calling your wife ‘mommy’ somehow destroy the passion in your physical relationship?” I mean the connotations are just…just…icky. I can’t be the only person who notes this and is bothered by it. Can I?

Please, tell me the truth. If you call your husband “daddy,” are you secretly wishing he’d pull you into his strong arms and tickle you till you puked as opposed to enfolding you into a romantic embrace that leads to a different kind of ecstasy? Is the whole “mommy” thing proof that you no longer see your wife as the lustful, erotic goddess she once was, and have now relegated her to the lowly position of chief cook, laundress and child-care provider?

I am troubled by this. Set me straight.