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Oh My Gourd! The Things We Do for Our Kids

October 20, 2014

At the end of kindergarten last year, my oldest daughter Anna (known around here as Anna Banana, or "AB") brought home a biology project: a little plastic cup half-full of dirt with a few tiny leaves poking through. She told me she had planted a pumpkin seed and – to my shock and dismay – the damn thing had actually started to show signs of life. I dismissively told her we could plant it in our garden, fully expecting it to die. When planting day finally arrived, AB lovingly transferred her little seedling to the far corner of the garden where it wouldn’t interfere with the real vegetables.

I learned quickly that a pumpkin vine is quite a commitment.

Over the course of the summer, AB’s pumpkin went from adorable seedling to Little Shop of Horrors vine-from-hell that slowly took over our little garden. First, we redirected it around the other plants, and then out of the garden entirely and into the yard, where its tacky leaves began to crawl toward the back door. Every day we would check the garden, and every day this menacing vine would be just a teeny bit closer to the house. Uncomfortably close. I fully expected to wake up one morning and find this damn plant enjoying a cup of coffee in my living room.

After three months of terrorizing our yard, this monstrous plant produced a grand total of one (1) fruit, which made my little girl squeal with delight when we finally hacked it free. She insisted – nay, demanded – we do something with it. “Let’s make pumpkin pie!” she exclaimed.

If left to my own devices I would have just yanked the thing up and thrown it out. But I’m a mom and this is my precious baby’s stupid plant she brought home from kindergarten and I can’t just throw it away because motherhood. AB ran to the garden almost every day to dote on that orange ball and if I just threw it out, I would be callously discarding her hopes and dreams. Only a lazy asshole would do that.

So I Googled it and, sure as my toddler drinks his own bathwater, that is a thing you can do with a real pumpkin. That cattle-ranch chick on Food Network gave idiot proof instructions, akin to roasting a winter squash, and it will only take an hour, start to finish!

Carving pumpkins is one of the few operations my husband performs, so I am not trained in gourd surgery. I stabbed my sharpest kitchen knife into this thing and blissfully tried to wiggle it sideways. As any pumpkin-carver knows, this is an utter exercise in futility. Once you knife a pumpkin, it grabs a hold of your weapon and will not let go. It’s like there’s a tiny gnome in the center playing tug-of-war with your blade. I hacked away at this impenetrable pumpkin for a good half-hour and narrowly avoided amputating several of my fingers. When I finally got the thing quartered, my reward was scooping and scraping seeds and pulp out of this f*#%ing fruit until my arms were numb up to my elbows.

This chore reminded me of conversation I had with my mother-in-law over the summer. She grew up on a farm in Iowa and has sobering stories of how she spent her childhood: snapping buckets full of beans for hours so her family could eat in the winter; drinking unpasteurized, warm, straight-from-the-teat milk; plucking feathers from boiled chickens that her own mother had just decapitated on a stump in the backyard. No microwaves! A wringer-washer (whatever that is)! Being literally henpecked while gathering eggs from the coop! Outdoor plumbing!

Perspective.

The Great Pumpkin Experience of 2014 seemed manageable by comparison. I always tell my kids they have to manage their own morale, and now it was my turn. Once I finished scooping and scraping and got the pieces into the oven, I went about looking up recipes and formulating a game plan for what to do with this thing. First up was pureeing, which is easy when you have a souped-up food processor with the torque of a riding lawnmower. Then I set to work on no less than three different recipes.

My husband and kids checked on me regularly throughout the weekend and occasionally threw me some food while I converted this one pumpkin into two pies, four loaves of bread, and 60 delicious muffins. Oh, and, just because I love my husband, I raked the seeds from the pulp, washed them, dried them, stared affectionately at them for twenty-four hours and then roasted the shit out of them.

It took me a sweet forever – or two full days – to move this gourd through the circle of life. At some point my husband asked how much the equivalent amount of canned pumpkin costs. I guesstimated that I had harvested about sixty ounces of pumpkin puree, or about five bucks’ worth. Obviously, this wasn’t a money-saving exercise.

I had this rather grandiose fantasy that my little girl and I would do this together. We would wear aprons and lovingly share tasks and I would let her crack all of the eggs and work the mixer and scoop the batter and she would beg me over and over to lick the beater and I would tell her no until the very end when I would hand it to her (along with a raw egg disclaimer) and send her off to slobber all over it as her reward for being mommy’s little helper and she wouldn’t drive me absolutely bat-shit crazy in the kitchen.

The truth is that she ditched me to binge-watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But that was okay, because once I finished baking all this shit, she proudly reminded us that we were eating her pumpkin, and wasn’t it delicious and weren’t we so happy that she brought that little plant home so we could have all this wonderful food that she made?

Um. Excuse me, what?

Mackenzie is a SAHM to five beautiful, albeit annoying, kids. She worked so super hard in her twenties to get an MBA only to retire and become her kids’ bitch. She spends her days dashing into the fray and taking power naps. You can catch her ranting and swearing on her blog, Mommy Needs a Swear Jar and Facebook. She’s still trying to figure out Twitter.

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Spending Date Night Lamenting Your Youth

October 19, 2014

I’m in a flurry. I’ve put on Madeline for my three year old while I sit at my vanity so that I can apply eye shadow and lipstick. I give myself an asthma attack spraying on drugstore perfume that I’ve purchased because it claims to be French. I’ve just returned from a mad dash to Walgreens in which I’ve also picked up some sort of “blurring” cream that is supposed to erase 20 years of hard living and make me ready for photos (the paparazzi forever plagues me) because oh my god, I have a date tonight!

My three year old has a party to go to tonight. It is from 6 to 8 pm, and it involves singing, dancing, pizza and cake. We almost never have a sitter and this is an opportunity that has fallen from the sky like a platinum-encrusted spaceship that will deliver our child to toddler paradise and my husband and me to a table for two.

It’s Friday night at 6:01. My husband and I emerge onto the avenue and… well… we haven’t really thought this through.

I want to go to an old-time New York diner. It’s homey and it makes me think of 1980s movies and the food is good and reasonably priced and they even have wine. My husband looks murderous when I suggest it.

He wants to go on a date. He wants to go to a dimly lit bar where you hear the murmur of people trying to get into each other’s pants and you feel very young and not at all like tired parents there. Besides, he says, the diner’s clientele is all old people leaving lipstick marks on the napkins and yelling about Israel. I couldn’t choose a less romantic spot if I had tried, he protests.

So we do what we always do when a rare opportunity for time alone presents itself. We wander and argue like an old couple about how to spend our time like a young couple. I accuse him of thinking I am a boring old hen for choosing the cozy diner; he tells me that on the contrary, he thinks I look far too pretty and smell too nice not to be wined and dined at a fancy restaurant. I tell him I am an old hen and my hearing hasn’t been good since they took my adenoids out when I was three so the background noise at a bar would prevent me from hearing him try to get into my pants, anyway.

He asks me to walk two more blocks. Maybe we will spot just the right place. I tell him I am the oldest young person he will ever meet and he knew that when he married me. He tells me I am selling myself short. I tell him I am not, that in fact, I think highly of myself and besides I get a kick out of the old people with lipstick on their teeth arguing about Israel.

It is now 6:30. We have perused a few menus along Columbus Avenue. Wow, we forgot how expensive a Friday night in Manhattan can be. We get nostalgic about a time in our lives when we could wander for an hour until we found the right place. Now the clock is ticking. We are hungry and cold. No one is going to win tonight. If we go to the diner, my husband will be annoyed. If we persist in our quest for a romantic, candle-filled bar, it could be pick-up time before we have a chance to order our food.

Two hours. Two hours. It seemed like so much time.

My husband says, “Let’s go to the diner this week and next time we will find a romantic place where you don’t fit in and you can’t hear anything and the candles are covered with paper bags and the appetizers cost so much that we have to split an entrée."

“Will you secretly resent me for ending up at a diner tonight?” I ask.

“No," my husband assures me. “Not secretly.”

We go to the diner. The bartender is out tonight and the man standing in for him doesn’t know how to make a Sea Breeze. My husband looks up the ingredients: vodka, cranberry juice and grapefruit juice.

The man says, “Sorry, I can’t make that.”

Man, I really screwed up date night. Blur cream, fake French perfume, little black dress and here we are at a diner. “I’m sorry,” I mouth to my husband.

He asks the substitute bartender to mix orange juice and vodka. I glug half a glass. It’s been a while. The walls begin to swirl in a nice way.

It’s 7:30. We wander out onto the street and my husband puts his leather jacket over my shoulders because I am cold and I fall down on the sidewalk, my knees weakened by laughter because he said something funny and I am drunk. I am wearing his leather jacket, I am wearing snazzy boots and hairspray and I am drunk and laughing inappropriately and falling into my husband’s arms on the sidewalk.

We’re back!

It’s been so long. And just like that, we’re back. I knew we were in there somewhere. Now we never sleep and I am always promising roast vegetables and vacuumed floors and household perfection but we usually end up with pizza from the local shop with a side of peas (for guilt maintenance) and more often than not those crumbs on the floor go one more day because getting a vacuum cleaner out of a Manhattan closet is like wrestling a T-Rex and anyway, vacuuming is boring.

It is 7:45. We sit outside with the other parents awaiting their kids. I look forward to the look in her eyes when our daughter sees us. I can’t wait for the leap. The toddler leap is one of complete trust: of course Mommy and Daddy will catch me.

It is 8:00. There she is! Her face is illuminated with the joy of reunion after her prison sentence of pizza and trampoline jumping.

“Why did you leave me there,” she asks. “Why is Mommy so fancy tonight?”

“We didn’t go anywhere fancy, love,” my husband says, “We just ate some mashed potatoes at a diner.”

I knew there was a good reason to pick the diner. We don’t have to tell the kid we do “fancy” things only when she isn’t around. Someday, when she is older, she will be fine with this, but our child is still at the stage where she is mystified by her exclusion from anything we do.

We pile into a cab as she tells us they bobbed for apples at the party. I look at my handsome husband. He is smiling at our daughter.

Next time, we’ll be returning from a romantic corner booth in a dimly lit bar. But I doubt we could have any more fun than we did arguing over every little thing tonight.

Leslie Kendall Dye is an actor living in New York City. She was a nanny for a decade before having a child of her own, who is now nearly three. She writes (of course!) at her blog Hungry Little Animal.

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Your Daughter Might Be a Mean Girl If...

October 18, 2014

While talking to a friend the other night, she told me a heart-wrenching story about how a group of 7th grade girls got up from a lunch table and moved when her daughter sat down. They certainly had a good reason to do it… after all, an 8th grade hottie asked her daughter to the dance and (gasp) she said yes.

Unbeknownst to my friend’s daughter, the boy was verbally taken and off-limits. Yes, I know this sounds like Mean Girls, Part Deux but in fact it wasn’t. It’s just another day in a garden variety middle school in a small New York town.

As much as the girls’ vile behavior upset me, it’s what my friend told me next that really got my blood pressure boiling. When my friend called one of the girls’ moms — someone she has known for more than a decade — the response was this: “Oh, I don’t think it was a big deal. I just don’t think they are as close anymore. I’m sure it was just a misunderstanding.”

Um, what the what what?

I get it. It is a hard thing to imagine that your sweet little girl can also be Regina George but are we really that naive? Are we so blinded by the love we feel for our kids that we refuse to believe they are capable of unkind behavior towards someone else’s child, someone else’s little girl?

I worry sometimes about my own three girls. Although I know their hearts are kind, I wonder, are their minds strong enough to know right from wrong in a moment of weakness, jealousy or rage? Or when they see someone they admire acting cruel, will they have the courage to act appropriately? It’s a lot to ask of a young girl, and it’s crazy to think they won’t make mistakes.

To be clear, I do not believe that one bad incident does a mean girl make. There is a difference between a child who makes a bad judgment call, and one who out-and-out torments another kid. But, I do believe the more excuses we make for our children, the more likely they are to do it again. And again. And again.

I read somewhere that children need to be raised not managed. This is so true. If you hear yourself uttering one of these phrases below, ask yourself, is this how I really want my child to act?

Then take a moment to close your eyes and imagine it’s your child, your little girl. How would you want another parent to respond? How would you feel if your child was ostracized and one of the following was the excuses you received:

  • “Your daughter doesn’t seem to be interested in being part of the group anymore, so my daughter and the rest of the girls just don’t talk to her as much. Not everyone has to be best friends.” Oh, the classic passive aggressive, “it’s not me, it’s you” defense. That will work well when she grows up and is expected to actually get along with people “outside of her group.”
  • “My daughter said it really wasn’t that big of a deal, and really, shouldn’t the girls work it out on their own?” What if the police said that to Charlie Manson’s cult? “I know Charlie is a little crazy, but really, can’t you guys just figure out how to get along with him?” Seriously, when did we get so lazy as parents that we can’t take 15 minutes to talk to our kids about the difference between right and wrong? Why will we drive them hours across state lines to sports tournaments but we can’t spend 10 minutes to sort out bad behavior? Yes, kids need to learn to work it out, but there are also times when parents need to step in and course correct. All it takes is one parent to be brave enough to actually, well, parent their kid. It can make a huge difference.
  • “It’s not my daughter’s fault your daughter is so sensitive.” Seriously?!? There are millions of documented incidents of girls out-and-out traumatizing other girls — some of which are supposed to be their best friends! Don’t automatically blame the other girl. Make your daughter take at least a small portion of responsibility. Reflecting on one’s behavior, and understanding your role in a situation, is a pretty important life skill.
  • “It wasn’t really my daughter being mean, it was her friends.” The innocent bystander excuse. Lovely. Because as long as you don’t participate, you’re not really doing anything wrong.
  • “Girls will be girls.” This is the one that really gets my pants on fire. Since the dawn of time we have been saying girls will be girls. As women, are we not tired of this? As parents, haven’t we all had enough? Wouldn’t it be nice to take the negative connotation off of this phrase and turn it into a positive? This phrase should be abolished. Sometimes a girl is just mean, but most mean girls are created, not born that way. We should never use this excuse for bad behavior.

My friend’s daughter will be okay. Fortunately she had other friends to fall back on, and she learned a tough lesson early on in life. But that doesn’t mean every girl treated poorly will have the same happy ending.

Let’s stop making excuses for our girls. Let’s start raising them up by not accepting excuses for putting others down.

It starts with one brave parent.

Whitney is the mom to three tween-ish daughters, a communications consultant and blogger at Playdates on Fridays. She is trying to break out of the mold of being a typical suburban mom despite that she is often seen driving her minivan to soccer tournaments or volunteering for the PTA. Follow her on Facebook or on twitter.

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Double the Kids, Quadruple the Guilt

October 17, 2014

I never want this feeling to end – being needed by my baby – the smell of her freshly washed hair, her baby soft skin cuddled next to me, the sound of her whispering, “lay down with me” at bedtime. But time is moving at warp speed, and in another month she will turn three. No longer a baby, but a little girl.

It hit me hard in a massive way today, that mom guilt that never disappears fully. It felt like it was suffocating my heart as I realized that I haven’t spent enough time with our second daughter. That happens to most parents I suppose, double the responsibilities equals half of the attention. But for some reason today it became clear that in nearly three full years, I haven’t been fully present with Emylia. At least not as much as I was with our first child.

Am I working more? Maybe. Do I have more housework? Sure. Am I feeling well? Not really. Am I doing the best I can to keep us all fed, healthy, happy and alive? Absolutely! But these are really just excuses…

We decided to go for a nature walk this afternoon and saw all sorts of beauty and oddities; a mother duck and her ducklings, beautiful yellow butterflies, and a crotchety old man shooting at iguanas with his air rifle. (Don’t ask.) As we came to a tree she asked me “why does the tree have arms?” I told her those were called branches. And then I taught her about the trunk, leaves, and the trees roots… and I showed her that you can climb it. I couldn’t believe that I’d never talked to her about trees before! She was full of joy as she tried to climb as well.

Then we went into the backyard and my mind started to wander. I had emails to respond to, dinner to prep, and an article due… but then Emy said, “listen to the birdie mama, isn’t it pretty?” I never even heard it until she brought me back to the present.

“It sure is – what do you think she’s saying?”

Emy said, “It’s a baby birdie and she’s a little hungry.” Then we went on to imagine all the things the bird did that day. We observed woodpeckers and blue jays, found caterpillars, and felt the wind blow in our hair.

This is what all children need… time. Time to play and absorb the world around them, and time and attention from their parents. I just wish I’d given her more these past years…

With our first daughter I didn’t work as much, I used a play-based, home-school, preschool curriculum, and we had planned activities most days. With baby number two… it’s been parenting by the seat of our pants. She didn’t respond well to the curriculum and now I fear I haven’t taught her enough, or played with her enough, and the guilt just plain sucks.

As we ponder if she’s ready for preschool, or if I should start that next work project, I really am owning this and trying to prioritize what’s important for our family. I’ve always believed that you should decide what’s important and build your life around that… and for me that’s our kids.

I will most likely continue to indulge her at bedtime, and savor those late night cuddles… because in just a few short years she won’t need her mommy. Maybe I need her more than she needs me.

Kristen Hewitt is an Emmy Award Winning Television Producer and Reporter for Fox Sports Florida and the Miami HEAT. Her favorite job though is raising her two daughters, and she chronicles her misadventures in sports and mommyhood on her blog mommy in SPORTS. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, but warning…she’s currently obsessed with Instagram!

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Homework - To Nag or Not to Nag?

October 16, 2014

It was 10pm last Sunday night and I knew where my children were, two already asleep, and my 12 year-old on the verge.

I went in to say goodnight and found my boy warm and mushy and wanting of hugs; which was perfect because I was exhausted, layered in my comfy pajamas and wanting to hug. I had just enough ounces of energy left to rub his back, almost ready for bed myself when he said, “Uh, I just remembered. I have homework and I might have a test tomorrow.”

Immediately I went from a sleeping dog to one who senses danger. I’m at attention, ears perked, heart pounding. As usual, I had reminded him about his homework at least half a dozen times; more, if you counted the silent but overt raised brow directed at his untouched backpack. In response, I had been ignored, grunted at and eye-rolled.

My bright goodnight smile darkened and my arm tickling sweet circles on his back halted. “Are you kidding?” I asked, although clearly it was a rhetorical question. He was not kidding.

And the mad scramble began…

The next morning when all that was left of the insanity was a harried overtired mom and a cranky child; we had a discussion on time management, his responsibility to his work and of not making me the nag. It was brief, as the circumstances seemed to speak for themselves.

Waiting ’till the last minute is something I have a hard time understanding. When I have an assignment, I’m at it the first chance I get. How else could I double check, edit or revise? How could I even sleep with the ‘assignment’ looming over my head?

The answer is that I can’t. Which is why, barring a special circumstance, my children do their homework when they come home. This worked fine through elementary school, but now that my oldest is in middle school, the same rules don’t apply.

First off, he doesn’t always come home right after school. He plays on the school soccer team. He also plays in a basketball league and of course there’s his year round baseball training. On top of that he attends Hebrew school two days a week and has just started guitar lessons. I’m sure it seems like a lot but he loves and manages it all, and if something has to give, it gives. As long as it’s not his schoolwork.

Thankfully he’s a good student, but weekends are especially challenging and I admit to tossing semi-constant reminders very subtly his way – ‘What would you like for lunch? Hey, did you do your homework? Okay, grilled cheese’.

But this weekend, I vowed not to be the nag and to make him responsible. So I reminded him on Friday evening and told him he was on his own. Then I watched the hours and days pass with mounting anxiety.

Would he forget? Could I let him go into school unprepared? I really didn’t know if I could, even if ultimately the lesson was to his benefit.

Thankfully, I wasn’t put to the test. Sunday evening I found him sitting in his room, his book bag flattened, an explosion of binders and books strewn about. He caught my eye and gave me a self-satisfied smile.

At bedtime, as we were saying goodnight, wrapped in our warm sleepy hug, he whispered, “Mama, don’t stop reminding me to do my homework. It’s good.”

Nothing better than knowing your nag isn’t a nag.

It’s appreciated.

Alisa is a SAHM with three delicious boys who she eats up day and night, except when they go bad, then she eats ice cream instead. On any given day she can be found throwing baseballs on the lawn, burning cupcakes and being dragged with her kids by her crazy husband on some fakakta adventure. Follow her at Ice Scream Mama or on Facebook or Twitter.

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