Archive for the ‘There’s no exam to be a parent’ Category

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Jonniker is someone I follow on twitter. She’s funny and wry and clearly is smarter than the baby fog I think she’s sometimes trapped in. Good lord, we have all been there, right?

So when she posted this, I found myself nodding so vigorously I got a neck cramp.

I struggle with the idea that I have had the world at my feet. I went to an excellent university, and blew off my mom’s advice about taking a well-rounded curriculum in favor of not one, but two, utterly useless degrees. I could have been anything I wanted! But I didn’t feel smart enough to get through chem lab. I didn’t feel motivated enough to really apply myself, because I couldn’t imagine what would make me jump out of bed in the morning, desperate to go to work. Unless it was reading books for a living, which…fresh out of careers there.

(I am unsure that my mom ever got over that she broke out of the nurse-social worker-teacher mold, and then I sat on my sorry ass whining, “I don’t know what I want to do with my life!” Luckily, my brother is off being international and fabulous and exotic and gainfully employed. So, one out of two isn’t bad.)

Although I found it so difficult in a lot of ways, I am thrilled that I got to stay home with my kids. But now I am 37 and trying to make a career. Part-time, of course, because these people? Still need full time parenting. I still wonder what will be in 10 years, when they don’t want to talk to me, like ever, and I hypothetically will need to dress like a grownup and talk to grownups about grownup things. Scary.

I am ok with not making headlines, being comfortable, being content in my little corner of the universe.

Of course, where I diverge from Jonniker is that my daughter could not be more different. She has been charting her course since age 2 at least. She wants no lessons in being average and happy with her lot. She believes she was born to be extraordinary and believes that the world will bend to her will. (Where is the Disney princess who gets taken down a peg for that?) She’s not bitchy about it–yet–but is so steadfast in her belief that she will be famous and fabulous. I hope she makes it; I’ll support her as long as she’s not running over anyone in the process. But I am going to chalk this one up to NATURE, not NUTURE. Because where the hell did that come from?

Got me.


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My children are not particularly deceptive creatures. Or sometimes they try to be, but they’re not all that good at it. Miss M has been known to try to sneak books or other things by hiding them in the waistband of her skirt and then walking like Quasimodo. It’s actually rather amusing. For me, anyway. Not her, because she gets busted.

AM has a hard time not looking guilty, then gets extremely animated and defensive when questioned. Rather adorable: big blue eyes, opened wide to proclaim his innocence, gesticulating hands, the works.

So while they are sometimes mischevious, they are rarely devious, because that requires longer term deception and planning. So I suppose it’s rather good that I’m not raising people with pathological behaviors. (That would be a whole other blog post, no?)

But every once in a while, I just wonder…where their heads are.

Last Shabbat morning, I asked them to go brush their teeth. They didn’t right away, of course, because without my cajoling and/or threatening nothing gets done right away on Shabbat morning. There are books to read! Siblings to poke in the ribs!

(Heaven forbid I should get to shul before Torah reading starts–I mean, what would I do with myself?)

I finally decided to put toothpaste on their toothbrushes for them. Let’s get this party started!

Except: both toothpastes–yes, they each have a favorite–were liquidy. Diluted. What? I started interrogations.

So, tearful confessions; “I don’t want to lie to you, Ema, but I don’t want to get in trouble.”

Meanwhile, I can barely wrap my head around what they did. This is what comes of letting them have a Friday night sleepover, where they’re giggly and stupid and nonsensical. Also, I must bear some of the responsibility for this, as they’ve reached the ages of 6 and 8 and have no idea how toothpaste works. Because it’s not going to work if it doesn’t stay on the toothbrush. Toothpaste = water = useless.

So we had a nice little lecture about the price of toothpaste (AM’s Shrek-decorated Colgate for Kids is ridiculously expensive; no Target bargain bin here!), and how diluting it is the equivalent of diluting sunscreen (a concept they understood). And we were much later to shul then I intended.

But in the end? Before I could replace the toothpastes, yet another toothbrushing time rolled around. They sampled “grown up” toothpastes without the usual drama (crying “Oooh, it’s so SPICY!”) and each picked a favorite type. And, well, I’ll be. We’re back to being a two-toothpaste family. This was not the route to normal mint flavoring that I expected; I thought we were years and many bargaining sessions away.

Never a straight line, this parenting gig.

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We had Miss M in one-on-one therapy this year for several months to try to get to the bottom of what, exactly, her attention-slash-social deficits are.

What she received was another adult who got to know her very well. She loved the one-on-one attention and got to creatively express herself. Over the course of months, things seemed to smooth out at school, but I wouldn’t necessarily attribute that to the therapy. Although who really knows?

Taxman and I also had a few meetings with the therapist. I was hoping to get a point-by-point plan to get her on to the “children would be best-advised to listen to their parents” notion, but what I got were two inquiries as to whether she had been tested for giftedness (lo and behold, she was later tested, through the national Dept. of Education, and she is). Also encouragement that we are doing the right things with her, being strict and repetitive and full of rules and constantly dragging her out from her fun little bubble of books to meet the rest of the world, replete with table manners and social cues and train schedules.

But, wow, I’m sick of it. I’m tired of the sound of my own voice. I’m tired of a five-minute task being dragged out to one hour. I’m tired of the morning song-and-dance. I’m tired of the threats to take away stuff. I’m tired of negotiating showers. I am tired of her not seeing the big picture–that if she will just put down her book for 10 damn minutes and play with AM that he will stop whining and I will back her up for having made an effort.

Apparently there is no evidence that Einstein said “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” but nevertheless I really want to try to apply that what I’m doing here, because Plan A (or B or C or whatever the hell plan we’re on) isn’t working.

I kind of want to just let go of everything, let her dishes pile up at her place at the table, let her laundry pile up on the floor, let her dirty socks and papers and dust bunnies populate her room, not enforce bedtime, let her go to school without putting on sunscreen (although this would cause me guilt in extremis–it is like the surface of the sun out there lately).

I want her to be easy. Just to see what that would be like. I mean, I’d probably think she was now a zombie or a Stepford Wife, but it might be pleasant. And not attract the attention of the neighbors with all the yelling all the time.

So…let us see if I can, just a smidge, let go.


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…at my house.

This isn’t quite true. Friday night is Shabbat, and while we occassionaly do something CRAZY, like eat fish or lasagna or tofu fried rice or (if I am feeling particularly ambitious) Moosewood’s eggplant parmesan, we haven’t ever, to my recollection, had pancakes.

Saturday night is “Oh, Lord, why do you need to eat again?” night. It’s amazing. No matter how stuffed full they are at lunch (admittedly, there are times when the fusspots only eat challah, cucumbers, and rice because they reject what I or someone else makes for that meal). Despite the 4:30 Shabbat snack. Regardless of noshing or treats at the park. They will still want to eat. During the summer it’s usually sandwiches or something out of the fridge (yogurt or cottage cheese); during the winter I empty the hot water urn into a pot and make pasta.

Sunday night is YOU WILL EAT SHABBAT LEFTOVERS AND YOU WILL LIKE IT night. Unless we’ve been away or invited out over Shabbat. In that case it is panic night, because I usually grocery shop on Monday or Tuesday, not Sunday. Oops.

But pretty much any other night is fair game for pancake night. Sometimes even twice a week, because that is how crazy people do things. And by “crazy” I mean I only want to make one meal that my two children will eat without complaining. Twice, because then they eat the leftovers for breakfast. (I have been making an effort to get away from so much cold cereal–first of all, it’s not terribly healthy; secondly, it’s outrageously expensive. I actually spent a few minutes muttering to myself in the grocery store yesterday, refusing to pay what I considered highway robbery for Honey Nut Cheerios. No, thank you, Shufersal Deal!)

I make the pancakes from scratch, with whole wheat flour. Sometimes there’s pumpkin or banana or sweet potato included. Sometimes I even separate eggs; AM whips the whites, then scolds me for stirring instead of folding them into the batter. He ladles and flips. I sprinkle with powdered sugar.

I’ve convinced myself that pancakes are healthier than pasta. I don’t know that this is the case, just that I can stave off some whining by involving the kids in the cooking process (unlike making pasta, which is just “sit and wait”).

I am hoping that some day things will evolve, palates will expand, and we’ll push dinnertime a little bit later and include Taxman in some percentage of the evening meals.

In the meantime, you’re invited for pancakes. Probably soon.


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For a while now, AM has been into games. He wavers between playing fairly and some rat-like cheating, depending on his opponent and his mood. Mancala, pickup sticks, Monopoly, rummy, Rummikub, war, checkers–the usual suspects.

But of late he’s fallen in with a group of older boys at our synagogue. (“Older” = older than Miss M…so 3rd grade?) They gather on a strip of grass outside the building, trying to flip cheap cards made from flimsy cardboard and doing some complicated hand gesture-y thing that reminds me of “Rock, Paper, Scissors.”

I find the whole thing odd. The game, his obsession with it, and especially the other boys’ willingness to include him, a kindergartener. He holds his own in the game–whatever that means–so he’s not being used as a patsy. Do they need a fourth player? Do they appreciate that he won’t cry if he loses (I mean, usually)? I am kind of afraid to ask–not that I could possibly come up with something to say to them, even if my Hebrew or their English were better.

At least he’s not running into the street, I tell myself. Not that I haven’t trusted him not to do that for a long time. But it makes me a little crazy that this is his motivation to go to synagogue now–to the exclusion of all regular synagogue activities, like, you know, praying. Of course, saying this out loud makes me sound like an uptight ass: he’s 6; he can barely read; there’s time to learn how to sit and to read the prayers and to get familiar with the tunes.

But I’d at least like the level of interest he had a month ago! (The children’s service on Saturday; the melodic parts of Friday night’s service.)

By now, though, I’m pretty comfortable with my role as the parent who is “strict” and demands a certain amount of age-appropriate participation in…whatever. Synagogue services, housekeeping, table manners, etc. It’s a long list. This is how you learn!

So now I have to figure out some sort of bribe-reward system for how much tefila is required before he is allowed to play craps in the alley. As it were.

As for the 3rd grade boys who dress for Shabbat but never actually cross the threshold of the synagogue? It’s totally not my business, other than to try to inspire my kindergartener to make room in his busy schedule for games and for prayers.

You mess with the bull, you get the horns–you know what I’m sayin’?


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I’ve been One Tired Ema for six years today. In truth, I’ve been a tired ema for seven and a half years, but my slightly cooler and snarkier on-line presence is but six.

I feel torn about what I’m doing here, now. So much of what was on my mind at the beginning, deep in the woods of toddlerhood and pregnancy and nursing and babywearing, feels very far away from the children I have now–and therefore the mothering I am doing. At the same time, people (if WordPress metrics are to be believed) find me by searching on terms like “tired breastfeeding” and similar phrases. So…am I helping anyone?

The truth is that a lot of the past three or four years (except for the fun of uprooting our entire lives from one country and moving it across the Atlantic) has fallen out of bloggable range. In the past year and a half I’ve been working more, which means I have less time to blog but also less to blog about, because I’m not going to talk about work itself…and Life At Computer: Home vs. Coffeehouses isn’t exactly scintillating. Also I’ve never been a blogger who throws open her entire life, so as there have been fewer surprises with the kids–their drama these days is very much lather, rinse, repeat–I have less to say.

But at the same time, I really love what I’ve built here, this bizarre baby book + peanut gallery (I mean that in the nicest way). I’ve met so many bloggers and commenters (and Twitter people) in real life, and this blog has been a conduit for me to find so many of my people. The ones who are wry and raw and funny and smart and don’t try to whitewash things or paint rainbows everywhere. Except when it’s necessary–because sometimes it is. Rainbows are pretty awesome.

I got the best compliment the other day. It wasn’t exactly a compliment, but I took it as such. A family that we met who made aliyah this summer, with their two little kids, invited us for Shabbat lunch. We had hosted them during Sukkot, and they are just really nice people. They go to our synagogue, and they took over the lease of our rental place, so we’ve seen them quite a bit over the past four months. During lunch, the mom said to me, “I remember when you said to me, ‘It will get better. It won’t always be like this.'” Which, yes, all true. When your kids are 1.5 and 3.5, you are in the weeds. When you are four months into remaking your life from scratch, ditto.

I don’t think I’m an oracle, by any means, but I’m all for the truth. This other mother found my comments refreshing because she knew so many other moms whose cheerful Facebook feeds, twice-annual family portraits, marathon running, and perfectly kept houses belied the fact that they were holding themselves together with Xanax and wrapping paper. I guess that’s a nice difference–now that the kids are so much older (“older”), I don’t know anyone who tries to be perfect. Something’s got to give when you have a third kid (or fourth), or your spouse works insane hours or travels all the time, or you can’t squeeze into your favorite skirt anymore.

My whole goal in starting this blog was to shed my shiny happy mommy facade and, to borrow a phrase, watch what happened. Or happens. I think I achieved that.

I don’t quite know what I’m saying here, other than I’m not giving up if you’re not. I’m just evolving. Slowly. Though I still haven’t a clue what I want to be when I grow up.


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I am submitting this post to be part of PhD in Parenting’s Carnival of Toddlers.

On the morning of AM’s second birthday, he woke up next to me and asked to nurse. Taxman, Miss M, and I sang “Happy Birthday” and gave him a wrapped gift. “Book,” he said, as he tore off the paper.

“What do you think it’s about?” I asked him.

He inspected the cover slowly. “Dog!” he said excitedly.

“That’s right, a doggie,” I told him.

Except that’s not exactly how it happened. He had a speech delay and, at age two, he could not pronounce any consonants. But we had conversations—he even made funny comments—because he used sign language. Asking to nurse and talking about books and dogs was all in sign language.

We had started signing with Miss M, because we thought it was cool. She accumulated a vocabulary of over 150 words before her speech caught up with her hands. Fears that it would delay her spoken vocabulary were completely and utterly unfounded. But for a full year, from about 10 months to 22 months, it was an amazing window into her universe.

(We used the Signing Time series of videos. I used to think that using real ASL was important, but in retrospect it’s such as short time of their lives that “baby signs” or something invented serves just as well. On the other hand, ASL will save any embarrassment–made up signs have been known to indicate something vulgar or unintended.)

I loved signing with my kids because I felt like I was doing something totally right.

When I had so many other first-time-parenting doubts, signing was the knot at the end of my rope. I knew exactly what my child wanted! Even if I couldn’t, or didn’t, give it to her, I didn’t have to guess as much. I could offer her choices, as limited as they were: eat an apple or banana; take a bath now or read a book now; put on shoes first or coat first. What toddler doesn’t want a modicum of control over her life? What person doesn’t?

Of course there was a lot of disagreement. She was a toddler. But it’s easier to play the game when you know the rules, so to speak.

Besides giving her choices and giving voice to her opinions, signing offered us the chance to talk about what she wanted to talk about, what made her excited and what she saw. Flowers and birds at the botanical gardens; monkeys at the zoo. The moon in the sky—during the day!

AM took longer to sign back to us. For a while he did a lot of pointing with his index finger—I called it The Index Finger of Doom, because woe unto you if you guessed incorrectly about where it was aimed. Thankfully he picked up signing too. It was our lifeline. It may have contributed to his disqualification from Early Intervention, but I wasn’t sorry we had a way to talk to each other. (We found our own way to speech therapy. He had his opinions about that too.)

Over 200 signs later, he began to really use words. Now we have conversations about the difference between nocturnal and crepuscular* animals, and I kind of miss him looking out the window of our building lobby and telling me if he was seeing buses or cars.

I wish there were a magic bullet to help me overcome my children’s slights toward each other, their hot tempers and eye-rollingly self-aggrandizing statements. But I’ll keep them as they are. Having a toddler was hard! I just miss that parenting confidence that came with nursing and signing, when, at the end of the day, I was so sure that I was doing something right. Though it was unconventional among my neighborhood peers–more common, I discovered, among Ask Moxie moms–signing was something kick-ass, really good for my kids, and a true help.

*Ha! Not my fault! E.B. White, The Trumpet of the Swan


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