Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Photo Essay of a Work-Outside-of-the-Home-Mom

I'm not going to lie, times have been tough lately. Dave got a job in Frankfort - over an hour a way. Yay for the job! Boo for the commute. I work in Bullitt County, anywhere from half an hour to 45 minutes (even an hour) away, depending on traffic. We have two kids who go to two different schools to drop off and pick up. One of those kids sees an occupational therapist every Thursday and goes to Girl Scouts every other Tuesday and has swim lessons every Sunday.

Even on days when I'm not whisking Stella off to an after-school activity, my afternoons are NUTS. I've always been good at multi-tasking, every teacher has to be, but this is IN-FREAKING-SANE. Ridiculous. Really.

Wednesdays are days I relish. No after-school activities, no after-work meetings. I allow myself to leave work around 3:30pm on Wednesdays, pick up my kids, come on home, and chill for a bit. But that's not quite how today worked out.

First off, Stella has a "Family Art Project" due this week. These pop up once a month, usually on a holiday theme, and I suppose they are fun for families that have at least one parent who isn't working an insane schedule. For us, they usually end up causing us frustration and headaches when we look at the calendar and realize the blasted thing is due the next day. This time, it's a leprechaun trap for St. Patrick's Day. After schlepping 500 bags (containing all my pump equipment plus Sam's stuff from school plus Stella's stuff from school plus MY stuff from school) and Sam in his carrier into the house, I quickly got Stella set up to work on her trap. Keep in mind with this and all photographs two things: 1. I never claimed to be a decent photographer. 2. I only had access to my ancient and broken iPhone at the time.

At first, it seemed that Sam would be cooperative and hang out in the exersaucer.

Alas, this is usually his witching hour. Because I pick him up right when he'd normally want a nap, and because he can't seem to get that nap unless the circumstances are perfect, there comes a time - usually when I'm helping Stella with homework or trying to get dinner on the table - that he wants to be picked up and walked around.

I tried to distract him with food, something that usually works well in our family. I gave him a peeled pear to hold and suck and a bowl of organic baby oatmeal to eat with a spoon. We do a mixture of hippy baby led weaning (letting him eat hold foods with his own hands) and old-school spooned mushy foods because he has a crazy appetite and doesn't like the subtlety of sucking on foods. Yet he likes the control of holding it in his hands. He's stubborn. Like his parents.

All the while Stella was working on that trap, and doing a great job. I had to open jars of paint for her, and help her clean her paint brush, and hot glue something or another here or there. But for a brief moment, it seemed it would all work out OK.


Sam was done. DONE. He wanted to be picked up at that instant. And so I did. Getting food all over both of us. At this point, the exhaustion of the day was just too much for me. Sam woke up around 2:30am and never really settled back down. I went to work at 6:45am, managing 120 kids at the height of their puberty all day, with barely a moment to eat or use the restroom. I'd battled traffic to pick up my two kids from their two different schools, and I'd rushed right into the house to get started on a kindergarten art project and feed a baby. I. WAS. OVER. IT.

Stella, seemingly oblivious to the drama that just went down with Sam, was still begging for my help with her rainbow. But I know my limits, or least I'm trying to know and honor them, so I told her we needed to take a little TV break. And she was all too happy to oblige.

"Jake and the Neverland Pirates." Our go-to. Sam nursed a little bit, but fussed a lot more. I got him Mister Monkey, his pacifier/lovey, and he started to doze. I took a deep breath. I let go of my frustration, and started to see the situation for what it was. We were all tired. We were all over-worked. We all needed a break. And I was happy to be with my babies.

Stella snapped a silly picture of me in the sunlight, I snapped a silly photo of her. Then I looked down, and saw Sam was passed out.

Dave came home, and I was certain I could hear angels singing. It was only 6:30pm, but when Sam started to stir again, I could tell he was ready for bed. I know, I know. 6:30pm is crazy, but if I don't put him to bed then, he just screams until I do. And the longer I wait, the harder it is to get him to settle down. But when I tried to change his diaper, he kept flipping over and fussing like crazy. And I was just too bleeping tired. So Dave came and rescued me, and Stella and I finished her leprechaun trap.

I stood and supervised Stella while scarfing down the hamburger and fries Dave managed to cook up in ten minutes before he took over Sam duty. Then I made Stella at least attempt to eat her dinner, despite the fact that it wasn't plain pasta or black bean quesadillas - the only two dinners she wants to eat these days. 

Here's the finished product. Keep in mind that, in addition to NOT being a photographer, I also don't claim to be crafty:

That's a pot of gold and jewels under a rainbow, in case you can't tell.

Dave was a saint and got both kids in bed for me tonight, so I could deprogram the only way I know how: with a Guiness and some blogging.

I am so grateful for my job and my kids. But I'm not going to lie. Trying to juggle time for my babies with an out-of-town job, a job that has no down-time and a huge emotional investment, all while my spouse also works out of town - it's a bit much. I don't always handle it well.

But I did OK today. Not great. Definitely not terrible. OK. And I'm learning to be OK with OK. I think.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

What SPD Looks Like

Sometimes, this is what it looks like. Yes, adorable.

Sensory Processing Disorder is still one of those diagnoses that is little known and largely misunderstood. People sometimes assume it's another way of saying autism (it isn't). People think it's a made up disorder, born of a generation of neurotic helicopter parents always looking for a problem (it isn't). People find it hard to believe that such a sweet, normal-looking kid like Stella has it (she does).

I've spoken before about how we came to this diagnosis with Stella, how it exhibited itself when she was a baby (although we didn't know that's what it was) and as a toddler, when her wonderful preschool teachers alerted us to it. But I haven't talked much about what it looks like now that she's an almost 6-year-old.

Honestly, I sometimes don't know the difference between regular kindergarten behavior and signs of SPD. I'm used to teaching older kids and am all-too-familiar with their adolescent quirks. But with the help of parents of similar-aged kids and Stella's teachers, I've been able to identify which behaviors stand out. Here's a random sampling:

  • Needing food to be ice cold before she'll eat it
  • Taking a very long time to eat a meal - sometimes over an hour
  • Making a huge mess while eating
  • Refusing to eat a lot of foods because they're too spicy, including many spaghetti/pizza sauces
  • Taking a bath only in very cold water (even on frigid winter days)
  • She's finally - just recently - able to dress herself, but she still can't snap the snap on her pants because it hurts her fingers.
  • Not being able to buckle her own seat belt
  • Stopping in the doorway of any place she enters, refusing to budge, especially if it's new, even if I'm right behind her carrying 4,000 heavy bags
  • Hating any place that's loud (like the sing-along I tried to take us to today to escape the house on my 15th snow day)
  • Throwing scary fits, screaming and flailing, refusing for sometimes over an hour to calm down, over the slightest change in routine (examples: the time she couldn't use the glue she wanted to at Girl Scouts and the time her after school program replaced the markers with different ones)
  • Wanting to repeat pleasurable experiences, like eating the same exact food day in and day out, wanting to watch the same episode of the same show, wanting me to tell her the exact same bedtime story, etc.
  • Getting hyper-active in certain situations, especially when there's a lot going on - singing a song over and over, hopping on and off couches, etc.
  • Not being able to play by herself - at all, really. Sometimes we get five minutes here and there, but she craves human interaction. (Yes, I'm taking frequent breaks from blogging to play with her right now. In fact, she's leaning over my shoulder, sucking on a squeezable apple sauce, finding sight words in my entry. And yelling each one loudly in my ear.)
  • Not being able to make friends - she doesn't like how she can't control their play, doesn't like the spontaneous touching and loud noises, doesn't like it when she finds herself in a group of more than three
  • Having issues with voice volume - yelling like a banshee when it's just the two of us in the bathroom (her brother sleeping just feet away), whispering while in the backseat of the car over the sounds of the engine, other cars, and her brother crying
  • Not being able to handle strong smells - like her brother's poop, vinegar, or the way I smelled while pregnant ("Mommy, I love you, but you smell funny.")
  • Losing her mind when the sun gets in her eyes (this can even cause her to cry)
  • Getting so easily distracted by any sight, sound, or smell imaginable. Sometimes it can take forever just to get from the house to the car, because we heard a bird, saw a squirrel, and smell dog poop.
  • Needing a white noise and a dark room in order to sleep
SPD is different for every kid. Some kids seek sensory experiences constantly, some run from them like the plague. Some are a mixture, like Stella. All kids struggle to integrate the senses in the world around them in a way those who don't have SPD will never understand.

I wish I were the kind of mother who knew that this is not any of Stella's fault, and therefore maintained my patience 100% of the time. But I'm not. I'm flawed and riddled with issues, and sometimes (like this morning), I just lose it a little. I just find it to be a little too much for me. Which is pretty darn hypocritical, considering I'm pretty sure I've always had a mild version of it myself.

Stella sees an occupational therapist one time per week and we're seeing some improvement. But I worry about her - mostly when it comes to making friends and succeeding in school. And I worry about us, because I don't like how I can get annoyed with these quirks, I don't like how they can sometimes come between what is otherwise a lovely, amazing bond between us. I'm working on my empathy, I'm working on acceptance, and most of the time I think I'm doing OK. But some days, as politically incorrect and generally crappy as this is, I just find myself thinking, "Why can't you just be normal?" And that, my friends, is completely my problem. Not Stella's.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

I Hate Thank You Cards

If I haven't lost my Southern card yet, I'm going to lose it today. Unlike the good Southern Belle I am perceived to be (ha!), I hate writing thank you cards. I mean HATE. With a passion. God it feels good to get this off my chest.

It's not that I'm not grateful. We are blessed with incredibly generous friends and family. Generous with actual, physical gifts, but also generous with time and patience and support. I can't tell you the kind gestures we've received in years past. The time my entire family jumped to our aid when Dave landed in the hospital with septic staph. How our friends made us meals and offered childcare during that turbulent time. Lovely tokens and cards at my and Dave's birthday shindigs. Amazingly beautiful clothes and toys and books for our kids. My sister and mom cleaning our entire house and stocking our fridge with food when Sam was born. The many lovely dinner parties we've attended. The list goes on and on and on. The gratitude in my heart is boundless.

But have I written thank you cards for each and every gesture? I'm ashamed to say no. I haven't. I've meant to. I've reminded myself to. But I know I haven't.

What I'm about to say will sound like an elaborate and childish excuse, much like those my students give for why they can't complete the scant homework I assign. But I implore you to hear me out.

Writing something out by hand is excruciating to me. I get maybe one sentence out before my hand starts to cramp. As a teacher, I've come to realize I have an undiagnosed graphomotor dysfunction. I struggled to write all my life, until I discovered computers. Sure, I did it - making straight-A's was important to me. But the quality of my handwriting was constantly criticized by my teachers and my hand ached. God how it ached.

Typing? I can type all day. I can type until the cows come home. But somebody in their infinite ridiculousness decided that thank you cards have to be hand-written. Why? To torture people like me? Probably. But I know that if I could type or even (GASP) email thank you cards, I'd never miss a beat.

I also hate the formality of it. How there's a formula to follow. Mention the gift. Mention one specific way you plan to use the gift. Go into detail about how the gift will enrich your daily life. Discuss how you look forward to seeing the giver of the gift soon. Do this even if the giver is a friend of your mom's whom you haven't seen in a decade, or if the gift was a duplicate from your registry that you plan to return. I'm all about gratitude, but I have a really hard time with what I perceive to be shallow gestures. I have a hard time with formulaic etiquette.*

And one final complaint - why is always the woman in a relationship who writes the thank you cards? Somehow it's just assumed that I'll write them - not just by Dave, but by those around us. Nobody every got angry at Dave for being late with our wedding gift thank yous. Or baby shower thank yous. Or kids' birthday gift thank yous. But I got stink eye after stink eye after stink eye. And, in Dave's defense, he'll write them if I implore him. But I must remind him frequently, and his handwriting is nearly as illegible as mine, so it's just a constant disaster for us.

I'm a polite person. Generally well-liked. But my aversion to thank you cards has caused more than my fair share of strife. My mother-in-law nearly disowned me when I didn't get thank you cards out for our wedding gifts immediately following our honeymoon. I read somewhere (or maybe made up in my mind) that we had up until a year to get those out, but she insisted I was wrong. So I took time away from wedded bliss to torture my hands and curse the universe.

I know that some of my friendships have been strained when we neglect to send out thank you cards. I can feel it in our interactions. And then I hit this weird zone - do I send a thank you card out for a gift we received a REALLY long time ago? Is it worth it at that point or just weird? I just never know. And I hate it.

It's gotten so bad that when we receive thank you cards from others for something we've done, Dave and I both let out a sigh. A deep, deep sigh of discontent. This person is awesome at thank you cards. We suck at them. We suck we suck we suck.

Maybe I can blame my upbringing? In my family, we never write thank you cards. It's just never been a thing with us. But what we do - consistently - is make sure the giver sees us enjoying the gift. We wear the sweater our aunt gave us when we go to visit. We play with the toy Mamaw got us when she comes over. We take out the wine glasses the friends gave us when they're over for dinner. We mention how much it meant to us to have a clean house and homemade food when the baby was born. We mention it a lot. We mean it every time.

And I'm adamant about telling people that they don't need to send me thank you cards - especially new moms with too much else to think about. I usually write it on the card - PLEASE DO NOT SEND ME A THANK YOU CARD. YOU HAVE ENOUGH ON YOUR PLATE. Most of them don't listen, but I want them to know how I feel. And honestly, Dave and I couldn't tell you who's sent us thank you cards and who hasn't. I have zero recollection. But what I do remember is that last time I saw my niece McKinsey, she was wearing the shirt we bought her for her birthday. And that just delighted me.

I fully expect people to get angry and defend the practice of thank you cards. I agree - I think they are an incredibly nice gesture, and I wish I were better about it (despite an entire blog entry spent rationalizing why I'm not). Look - we've changed a lot of old traditions. Many brides no longer throw bouquets, many women no longer take their husband's name, several people send out new baby notices via the internet. Why can't we move to electronic forms of thanks so I no longer feel like a terrible person?

Anyway, like exercising and eating more whole foods, I'll add being better about writing thank you cards to my growing and often neglected list of things I need to do to be a better person. And if you are one of the many who's hurt by this character flaw, I hope you know that I'm sorry. Sorry and so so grateful for any and all kind gestures you may extend.

*Keep in mind, I never feel this way when reading the thank you cards I receive, only when I write them myself. I fear that this paragraph is the one that will cause the most anger from my readers...

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Why I Don't Like "Things You Should Never Say" Lists

One day on Facebook I posted a list called "6 Stupid Things People Say About Natural Childbirth." I had heard nearly every item on the list and I guess I found it important to share that with the world. But my dear friend Alex, a straight-shooting New Yorker, challenged me. She asked, "How often did this really come up?"

Now, honestly, it came up quite often, though usually not the way you, or she, might assume. It wasn't as if people saw my swelling belly and said, "Are you going to have an epidural, or are you one of those natural birth freaks?" No, what really happened is people would ask if I was going to get induced, because I was miserable and my due date was approaching. Or people might assume I was having a c-section, for whatever reason. Or they might say something about how scared I probably was to have to go through all this again. And since I have a loud mouth and feel VERY strongly about the state of maternal care in this country (which I won't go into in this entry, you'll be relieved to hear), I usually shared that I had an unmedicated birth with my daughter, how wonderful it was, and how I planned (and eventually succeeded) to have a second unmedicated birth with my son. THEN, then they would say the six stupid things on that list.

But when Alex challenged me, it made me think. Is it really so bad if people ask a question about unmedicated birth? Shouldn't I - the teacher - look at that as a teachable moment, an opportunity to share my passion for birth choices and my belief that a woman is entitled to a positive birth experience, whatever that means for her? Isn't informed dialogue a passion of mine, and something I think is sorely lacking from American culture today?

So I started thinking about other lists. And there are many.

5 Things You Should Never Say to a New Mom

13 Things You Should Never Say to a Working Mom

9 Things You Should Never Say to a Stay at Home Mom

8 Things Never to Say to Moms of Multiples

10 Things Not to Say to Moms of Preemies

There are lists that have nothing to do with motherhood, of course.

9 Things Never to Say to Your Husband

9 Things You Should Never Say to Teachers

10 Things to Never Say to a Nurse

The list of lists goes on and on and on.

I don't disagree with the sentiment of these lists. Quite the opposite. Their intent is to educate people, to encourage people to be empathetic and compassionate to others. Unfortunately, though, your average Joe isn't going to seek these lists out. When we repost them on Facebook (or whatever you young kids are using on the InterWebs today), the people most likely to read them are the people who identify with the list themselves. I'll read the ones about plump moms or teachers or natural birth or working moms or people from Kentucky or what have you. I might read the ones about other types of moms - stay at home moms or moms who've experienced c-sections or moms who formula feed - if I have extra time. But will I read "Top Ten Things Never to Say to an Aviator?" Probably not.

My point is while the lists contain a lot of truth, they will most likely never fulfill their intended purposes. These lists alone will not teach people to be more compassionate or open-minded or educated about a topic or what have you. We post these lists and hope people will read them. But when someone says something on the list to us, rather than call them out, we say nothing, then run home and lick our wounds. Honestly, this is passive aggressive.

Instead of posting all the things people should never say to us, why don't we start brainstorming "Ways to Respond if Someone Says Something Offensive about Being ____________ ?" For example, someone might say to me, "Doesn't it kill you that other people are raising your baby?" Sure, it stings, but here's my chance to educate them. Here's my chance to tell them about how the idea that one mom raising all her kids alone is a relatively new concept in the history of humankind. How traditionally extended families and tribes shared the responsibility of child-rearing, and when you find a daycare as fabulous as mine, that's just an extension of that idea. I might also tell them how bad it was for my mental health to stay at home all day with my first kid, that we're all wired differently and I need outside-of-the-mom-gig stimulation. I might even add that I love my job and I like contributing to society as a whole by teaching future generations. I might go on so long that the person really, truly regrets ever making the comment to me in the first place.

Maybe the person made the ignorant comment to hurt me - that's possible - but I find it far more likely that they just need to hear my point of view. And now that they've heard it, maybe they'll think about moms who work outside of the home a little differently.

This is our chance. Our chance to engage in dialogue with people who might view important issues differently than us. This is our chance to educate them about why we've made the choices we've made or why a remark that they barely considered can be so hurtful. This is our chance to stand up for ourselves as women because, yes, nearly all of these lists concern women. Because women still, in the year 2014, find it hard to tell others what they think if they think others don't want to hear it.

Let's stop hiding behind our computers and start telling people what they need to hear. That's how we're going to create a more empathetic and informed society.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Only Way Out is Through

There will come a time when I won't recall today. When I'll find it hard to fathom I made it through.

There will be days worse than this. Much worse. Days I can't let myself think about for fear I'll lose my mind.

But someday, there will also be days that are much easier. And I'll forget. I'll forget like I've somehow forgotten the throws of labor, though I swore those sensations would be burned on my brain for eternity.

I'll forget waking up every hour on the hour to a crying baby. Nursing all night long.

I'll forget dragging myself out of bed for good at 5:45am. Getting myself dressed, so groggy I could barely see straight. Waking up an angry and uncooperative Stella. Prompting her to get dressed while Dave dressed Sam in the other room.

I'll forget packing all our bags, our living room looking like we're going on a vacation.

I'll forget how I cried for ten minutes on the way to work, so sad to leave my babies.

I'll forget getting stuck behind a school bus, getting in later than I like, shutting and locking my classroom door frantically, looking at a video of Sam to help my letdown so I could pump.

I'll forget pulling 7th and 8th graders in the hall for individual conferences to see why she's crying, why he won't answer a question, why this one called me that awful name, why the other one has an F.

I'll forget pumping and working all during my planning period, scarfing my lunch down in less than three minutes.

I'll forget the kid who shares the story about something personal that makes me cry. That crushing feeling that I'm not doing enough for those students. That feeling that I want to save them all from anything that could hurt them.

I'll forget pumping a third time after work. Pouring the milk into bags. Labeling the bags. Making sure my hands are clean. Wiping off my pump parts in between. Hoping it'll be enough for Sam the next day. Hoping that if it isn't, there will be enough left in my freezer stash so he'll have plenty to eat.

I'll forget I had a staff meeting after school. Checking my watch while trying to pay attention, overwhelmed that while my work day is coming to an end, I'm still miles away from any kind of rest.

I'll forget rushing to Sam's daycare, dodging aggressive cars on the interstate, nursing him when I get there to try to boost my suddenly diminishing milk supply, packing our stuff and getting us in the car.

I'll forget running to Stella's parent teacher conference, Sam blissfully napping long enough for me to talk to her. I'll forget my concern over Stella's Sensory Processing Disorder and how it's getting in the way of her enjoying school. I'll probably remember, though, that she's in the top group in reading. Because moms like to remember that stuff.

I'll forget rushing to meet Stella in her extended day program, bringing her a bag dinner because just moments later she'd have her Girl Scouts meeting in the same room.

I'll forget how Sam woke up and started to fuss, like he does every day around 5 - 6pm, and how I had to walk around with him the whole time.

I'll forget how Stella had a meltdown over the type of glue they had to use. A five-alarm meltdown - screaming and flailing and general misery. I'll forget being grateful that Dave was there - stopping by after work and on his way out for the evening. I'll forget how embarrassed I was that my kid was loosing it while the others weren't.

I'll forget buying disgusting fast food for dinner, because I didn't know how else I'd get to eat. I'll forget getting two bites in before Sam went insane again, screaming to indicate he was ready for bed.

I'll forget letting Stella watch TV while I spent 45 minutes trying to get Sam to sleep. I'll forget how he's in that frustrating stage where he's getting ready to crawl, so he flips on his stomach then gets angry that he's on his stomach but is too tired to flip back.

I'll forget how I decided to leave him to his screaming while I got Stella ready for bed. I'll forget how she didn't turn off the TV when I told her to, how she gave me attitude about bedtime, how I got really angry with her and immediately felt guilty about it.

I'll forget how I spent another 45 minutes after getting her down trying to get Sam to sleep again. I'll forget how I begged him to just sleep, how I cried, how I prayed for some relief.

I'll forget how once he got quiet, I ran downstairs and scarfed down the rest of my food. I'll forget how I threw my pump parts in warm, soapy water to soak, and how I started making a mental list of all the other stuff I needed to get ready for tomorrow.

I'll forget getting pissed off that I forget to set out our dirty cloth diapers for our diaper service in the morning like I'm supposed to every Tuesday. I'll forget how that realization almost sent me over the edge.

I'll forget taking precious time to write a blog entry, amidst Sam's periodic grunts of unhappiness over the monitor. I'll forget how all I wanted to do was drink a beer and watch that ESPN Netflix video about Tanya Harding, but that I knew that writing it down was good therapy for me.

I'll forget being peeved that Dave was out, leaving me to do all this alone, yet knowing that I was going to do the same thing to him in a few days, so it was only fair.

It's good that I'll forget this. Forget how tough it is. Because today serves a larger purpose. Today will not break me. I am no victim. Today was tough. But I can handle tough. I can put in some work now, some selfless, never-ending, back-breaking work now, because I know what kind of dividends this will yield.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014


I don't feel like telling Stella that Valentine's Day is over. Would you?

I'm a teacher. I'm a mom. Both jobs are described as "thankless." Both jobs can feel that way sometimes.

That moment when you ask the students to create a play in small groups - little skits to show why people joined certain movements in the '60's. A way of responding to an article that seems more interesting than "write a summary." Yet the kids squander the time, very few finish, and many proclaim, "This is stupid!"

The students are sad that a teacher quit mid-year. They internalize it and get upset. So you give them a quick pep talk about how much you love working with them, how amazing you think they are, how you brag on them all the time. And a girl says, "Well, why do you constantly get on our butts about everything then?"

You put your infant in the exersaucer to make dinner - some rice and teriyaki chicken. The baby fusses the whole time, you feel rushed and stressed, but you want to make a nice dinner for your family. You set it out and your daughter says, "I HATE teriyaki chicken!"

Your baby is tired. So you change his clothes to get him ready for bed. He screams and cries and kicks and pinches you the whole time out of frustration.

Your daughter asks to watch TV. You say OK, both as a reward for doing a nice job on something as a way of keeping her entertained while you make dinner (see above). When the show is over, you ask her to turn it off. She yells at you about how unfair it is that she NEVER gets to watch TV.

So then you have a choice. You can wallow. You can feel sorry for yourself. You can wonder why on earth you chose these two thankless professions. Or you can switch your focus.

Think about that one amazing student - the one who pushes himself to succeed, despite many setbacks and personal challenges. Think about how he's read every book in the library and is thirsting for more. Think about how grateful he looked when you handed him some short stories by Philip K. Dick that came from your home library.

Think about how when the students asked who their new teacher was going to be, you joked, "Me. I'm going to teach all your subjects from now all" Think about how that one kid said, "Yay! You're my favorite teacher! I'd love that!"

Think about how many kids show your their writing between classes - stuff that's not required, not for a grade, stuff they wrote because you helped them discover that love of writing.

Think about your baby and that contented sigh he makes after gets his first taste of mother's milk when you come to pick him up from daycare.

Think about the ever-growing number of beautiful valentines your daughter makes you - even though Valentine's Day is over.

Think about how your daughter tells you she loves you every single day. Multiple times a day.

Think about how your husband just packed your lunch for tomorrow.

Think about the lullaby your daughter wrote in the car when the baby cried.

I love water parks.
There's so much you can do.
But I don't love water parks
As much I love you.
I love you Sammy.
I love you Sammy.

And you realize you get plenty of thanks. Just not always in the form of a "thank you."

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Her Gentle Soul

Sam has no idea how lucky he is to have Stella as a big sister.

So, something happened that really depresses me. Yes, I'm probably overreacting.

Stella went to the JCC Parent's Night Out event last night - a great (affordable) childcare option where she got to swim, play, and watch a movie in her PJ's. Overall, she  had a great time.

But this morning, she told me that she didn't get any popcorn during the movie. "They forgot to give me some," she said, playing with her mini-Lalaloopsy.

"But honey, I smelled popcorn on your breath last night," I said.

"That's because I ate some off the floor."

My heart sank. My kid ate popcorn off the floor. Because she was too shy to ask for what was rightfully hers. What the hell is this? Oliver Twist?

This isn't the first time this has happened. A kid gave out cookies for the 100th day of school recently, and forgot to give one to Stella. When I asked her why she didn't tell the kid that she forgot her, Stella said, "I didn't want to hurt her feelings." She didn't want to hurt the feelings of the kid who passed her over, even though Stella's own feelings were hurt.

I love having such a gentle soul for a daughter. Unlike me at her age, she has never once lashed out at her baby brother (I was not so kind to my little sister - just ask her). Even when he pulls her hair and swats at her face, she says, "Oh, Sam, that hurts!" Then she gently pulls his hands off of her.

As a baby, she never once hurt our cats. I was expecting that phase where she pulled their tails or picked them up or what have you, but it never came. She petted them gently, kissing them and snuggling with them occasionally. But never did she hurt them.

On the playground, she's the kid who waits patiently at the top of the slide while the toddlers goof off on the bottom. She's waited so long that I've implored her to just go ahead and slide. I tell her the little guys will move when they see her coming. But she will have none of that.

Last year, she was bullied by another kid in her class. Yes, her preschool class. This kid got two other kids to refuse to play with her, to make fun of her, to treat her like absolute crap. Being the hot-headed Southerner I am, I went off in the car one day, saying something to the effect of, "You need to tell that little brat that you don't want to play with her - that you only play with nice girls!" Stella's eyes welled up with tears and she said, "But Mommy, that would hurt her feelings!"

Stella is a special kid. With that type of overwhelming empathy and love for her fellow humans, I wouldn't be surprised if she moved mountains one day. But for right now, my heart breaks. It breaks to see her refuse to stand up for herself, to lose out on fun things, to stand at the fringe while the other kids have so much fun.

I always swore I'd accept my kids just as they are. I've planned out the loving speech I'll give them should either come out as gay. Or Republican. I swore never to be a stage mother, never to get too involved in grades, never to push my kids to go to Centre College (although that's going to be a tough one for me).

But I didn't expect to have to accept my kid for being reserved. And quiet. And amazingly passive when it comes to standing up for herself. She's a happy kid. She enjoys her life. Me butting in will solve nothing. But it hurts to see this mini-human whom I love more than I can even stand let herself get treated worse than she'd ever treat someone else. When I figure out how to reconcile all these conflicting emotions - I'll let you know. As for today, I plan to hug her extra tight and pop her her own bag of popcorn.