Saturday, August 7, 2010

Moving Day.

I am moving my blog here.

Hope you'll come with me!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Lonely Only

Imagine my delight and surprise when, at the supermarket, I stumbled across a Time magazine cover with the title "The Only Child Myth." (click on the link for a truncated, online version of the article) Being the parent of an only child, I was intrigued.

I have to say - reading this article was like finally breathing a sigh of relief. The Only Child Myth - that only children are spoiled and maladjusted - is alive and well today, despite virtually no evidence to support it. Even though the number of families with only children is steadily on the rise, it's still so unusual that people feel free to criticize parents that just stop at one. "I'm just balancing out the average," I joke to people who are dumbfounded that we do not plan to have any more children. "You know - 2.5 is average, so - someone needs to bring the average down," I tell the mother of 4.

According to the article, "The image of the lonely only was the work of one man, Granville Stanley Hall. About 120 years ago, Hall established one of the first American psychology-research labs. But what he is most known for today is supervising the 1896 study "Of Peculiar and Exceptional Children," which described a series of only-child oddballs as permanent misfits. For decades, academics and advice columnists alike disseminated his conclusion that an only child could not be expected to go through life with the same capacity for adjustment that children with siblings possessed." The funny thing is, Hall had virtually no knowledge of how to actually conduct a credible study...yet his teachings were hailed far and wide. Today, plenty of studies have been conducted that have proven that there is no discernible difference - emotionally or intellectually speaking - between "only children" and children with many siblings.

Granted, I am a little concerned about my mother's lament that it is lonely and tough being an only child as your parents age and pass on - she is an only child, and had to care for my grandfather until he passed away a few years ago, then deal with his estate after he passed. She had no brother or sister to lean on, no one to share the grief in the same way when her mother passed away 30 years ago. I worry that when our time comes, Malcolm will wish he had a brother or sister to help carry the grief and the burden of responsibility. However, if there's one thing we have made up for, it's definitely any lack of family. We have taught Malcolm to live as part of a community, to love others, and that relationships with the people around us can create ties as deep as a family's.

And I think that is a lesson he has learned - after all, we're talking about a kid who handed me a 40-person invitation list for his birthday party, only 15 of whom were children. A child who makes no distinction between "mommy and daddy's friends" and "his friends." A child who told me the other day that he "loves everybody in the world."

I am grateful that - G-d willing - "only" is not a word that will be of concern for my child.

Except, that is, when there's "only" one pudding left in the refrigerator.

Monday, July 5, 2010

How Fred the Lion Made Me a Better Mom

As usually happens, I've gotten behind in my posting. It seems to be a continual issue for me - I just can't seem to balance work/home/writing with much ease. I tend to be a workaholic, and so when I get caught up at work, everything else falls by the wayside.

So here we are, the first week in July, and I'm attempting - again - to reinvigorate my posting. Because I'm currently nursing a not-fun toothache and can't think very straight, I am copping out by posting something I wrote a few months ago. Partially because I would like your input.

As I work to make some progress - any progress! - on my books, I have decided to try to write some articles to "get my name out there." (Yes, indeed I said "books," as I have split my thoughts into two books, because I'm just THAT big a glutton for punishment.) I don't really know how to market myself, or draw attention to a blog, or try to get any sort of following that might help me get published. So, I thought that perhaps submitting some articles to magazines and, hopefully, getting published that way might be a good beginning.

So, that said, I would very much appreciate your feedback on the following - an article I would like to submit to some "parenting magazines" for publication. Please let me know what you think!

Imaginary friends are a fundamental part of childhood. My son, Malcolm, has had many - including his right hand, who he has named...well, "Hand." Don't fret over my son's lack of imagination in picking a name. After all, we discovered one day that Hand has a twin brother (naturally), whose name is BobRocketGeorge. Hand and BobRocketGeorge have provided hours of entertainment, but my very favorite of Malcolm's imaginary friends was Fred the Lion.

Around the time that Fred joined our family, I was struggling with my role as a mother. I was a very task-oriented person, and would get caught up in things like work and laundry and dishes, and not focus on the important things - like spending time with family. I recognized this as a detriment, but was struggling to overcome it. The difficulty in this was a pretty basic road block: Malcolm's interests were fairly typical for a 4 year old boy: cars, trains, Star Wars. I couldn't have been LESS interested in these things. We connected over Disney movies and the Zoo, but you can only go do those activities so many times. I needed to find a way to engage my son on a regular basis.

For a lot of moms, this probably seems like a no-brainer. Many moms I know simply have that "mom-gene" imbedded from the moment of conception, and they know how to figure these things out. But I felt like I had missed out on that gene. I was feeling like a whopping failure of a Mom - someone who couldn't stay in the moment with her own child, without thoughts wandering to the crisis at work that day or the pile of laundry waiting to be folded. I could never quite live in the moment, and appreciate my son for who he is, and who we are together.

Until Fred.

Malcolm "discovered" Fred one day while in the bathroom. When Malcolm excitedly reported he had spotted a lion in the sink, I saw an opportunity, and responded with great enthusiasm. "REALLY!?!" I responded with the appropriate amount of wonder and awe. Malcolm peered up at me, a mixture of excitement and a bit of confusion on his face. I pushed past the deep pain that bubbled up upon recognition that my son was surprised at me being engaged, and plodded forward with all kinds of questions about who Fred was and how he got there. Turns out Fred is a lion who lives in our pipes and follows Malcolm around whenever he can - but he can't climb out of the sink, because he's too big to get out of the holes. So, basically, we can only see Fred in sinks and bathtubs, basically relegating him to a morning and nighttime ritual of greeting.

In the days following Fred's arrival, I continued to be excited about our new found friend, encouraging Malcolm to say good night to Fred every night, asking him questions about Fred...I was so excited to connect with Malcolm in such a fun way. After Malcolm was done brushing his teeth at night, he would pour a little water down the sink for Fred to drink, and encourage me to do the same. (I had to draw the line at the peanut butter and jelly sandwich.)

One day, we were at the book store, and an idea struck me.

"Malcolm!" I exclaimed. "Why don't we see if we can find Fred?"

His eyes brightened. "Yeah!"

So we run toward the bathroom, and as we were passing the water fountains, he peers in. "Nope," he keeps saying, matter-of-factly, until he's checked every water fountain and sink. "He must be sleeping." Well, that never occurred to me. I guess Fred does need to sleep.

As we were walking back by the water fountain, Malcolm exclaims, "THERE he is! He's awake now!" His whole body is lit up with excitement.

"Hi Fred!" I wave happily. Malcolm beams and tells me that Fred says "hi" back. We exchange pleasantries with the Great Lion of the Pipes, then return to our shopping.

This is such a simple thing that is probably second nature for many mothers. But for me, this was a revelation. I had been so caught up in the demands of modern life that I had forgotten how to be a mother to my child.

Moving forward, I knew I had to do something to retain our connection. I started to purposefully pursue activities we could both enjoy; because, to be honest, I knew I would not keep up a habit of playing trains or Star Wars. We started with coloring - a task I had to force myself to do at first, but now I find it strangely calming. So we colored, played games, and sometimes, we just talked. Just like many other things, Fred is something forgotten over time, but my connection with Malcolm remains, stronger than ever. We still do puzzles and doodle and color, have Nerf gun battles and go for walks in the park. I even play some Star Wars games with him - they're surprisingly fun!

The last time we saw Fred the Lion was at the beach in Orlando. I was extremely impressed that he had navigated the pipes all the way there, but Malcolm explained that he had learned in "Finding Nemo" that all pipes lead to the ocean - so naturally, it was no great difficulty for Fred to join us on vacation. Even though Fred is gone, I will forever be grateful to the Great Lion of the Pipes for teaching me about the wonders of childhood, and giving me a deeper connection with my son.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Doggy Daddy

Not too long after Malcolm was born, I started getting the questions from others about having another child. While these questions have continued for years, they have died out recently, I'm guessing because Malcolm is turning 7 next month. The "natural, usual" gap between first and second child has long passed.

A few months ago, Don and I had a serious talk about having a baby. We ultimately decided against it, and opted for a dog instead. (That's a fair swap, right?) We adopted June (a now 9-month-old Puggle) from the Toledo Animal Shelter about a month ago. Silly me, I thought getting a puppy would be a lot simpler than having another baby. Granted, you can't lock a baby up in a crate all day (well, you COULD...but you shouldn't). But I swear that dog chews on more things than Malcolm ever did, and we suddenly find ourselves with baby gates again. Joy.

In all seriousness, we love our new puppy. She is absolutely ADORABLE. A pain in the butt, yes...but those big black eyes and the late-evening cuddling make up for it. We've lost sleep, some socks, a pair of flip flops, a cup, a few toys and a chunk out of the ottoman...but it's all good. She's a part of the family now.

What's amazing about this whole puppy experience is the characteristics we've seen come out in Malcolm. He has quite taken to being a "Doggy Daddy." He feeds her, helps bathe her, cleans up after her, plays with her. He helps to discipline her and train her. And in some ways, having the puppy IS like having another child - I have to break up their fights, and listen to Malcolm whine about June taking his toys. But overall, Malcolm behaves more around June like a responsible parent, rather than a combative sibling. It's pretty awesome.

The way he interacts with June has also been eye-opening to me about how he must perceive us as parents. Any time he interacts with her in a way I don't think is nice, I have to stop and examine, and figure out where he learned that behavior. Is it because it's how we've treated him? Sometimes, it is. Sometimes, he TELLS us that it is. And then, I find myself being the one who is being "disciplined." It's just another way in which my child holds a mirror up to me, forcing me into self-examination. And growth.

As painful as it can sometimes be, discovering these self-reflective moments is rewarding and wonderful, because it helps me to become a better person. I believe that the puppy ownership experience will create a lot of them, as we work with Malcolm on his "Doggy Daddy" moments. I truly look forward to these reflections of me.

Except today, when Malcolm told June to "shut her pie hole." That, my friends, was a reflection of Don.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Kudos for Dad

One of the great things about parenthood is that it reveals some wonderful traits about your spouse...things you never saw before.

In honor of Father's Day, I wanted to post some things about Malcolm's amazing father, my wonderful husband Don. Trust me, I already knew about the compassion and goodness in this man, but the role of Father revealed so much more.

My hope is that most women experience the same things I did in those first hours after giving birth - a man who suddenly, despite whatever level of macho he usually has, finds himself wrapped around the little finger of a tiny person. Don instantly went into caregiver mode - in fact, he got up more often in the middle of the night than I did! (Partially because it takes some serious noise to rouse me from sleep!) Bottles, burping, dirty diapers - the man did it all, and then some. In fact, there's a running joke about how he got all the "bad poop days" - including the day that Malcolm decided to take off his diaper (which was full) and use the contents to paint himself, the walls, and the crib (which, oh-so-wonderfully, had a spindle design with lots of nooks and crannies). I never came home to a mess waiting for me because it was "my job" or "too much for him to handle." I never had to fight to get him to do this stuff - he just did.

As Malcolm has gotten older, Don has just gotten better. He is my guide for discipline, rules, and love. He is indeed the authority figure (the one that can make the kid listen), yet he is not scary or overbearing. He guides Malcolm lovingly with equal parts discipline and praise. He is goofy, fun, adventurous - all the things a kid loves. And stern, loving, and guiding - all the things a kid needs.

He never makes me feel like him watching Malcolm is "babysitting" or a "favor to me." I never had to beg for time away, or a night with the girls. I am extremely grateful that I do not feel like one of those mothers who has to do everything with the "occasional help" of the father. It is truly an equal partnership - in fact, if anything, he is the harder working, more intuitive parent.

This Father's Day, I am extremely grateful that my son has such a wonderful father. Not just because it is helpful for me, but because it means so much more for my son, and how he will grow.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Love Your Neighbor As Yourself

Every night, Malcolm and I (or Malcolm and Daddy) recite the Shema. If you're unfamiliar with it, it goes like this:

Hear, Oh Israel!
The Lord is our G-d!
The Lord alone!
LOVE the Lord your G-d
with all your heart
with all your soul
and with all your might.
And love your neighbor as yourself.

The first part is in Deuteronomy, the last bit was added by that dude Jesus during His ministry. He seems to have been a pretty smart cookie.

So, we get done reciting Shema tonight, and I say, just to be funny, "you should love Mommy the most!" Malcolm responded, "No, silly, I love you, Daddy, and me ALL THE SAME!" I replied, "You love yourself?" and he said "YES!" And so I asked him to list all the things he likes about himself, and reaffirmed those things.

I know it is in children's nature to love themselves and be fairly confident at this age...but I really hope we can keep up the self-love. So much hurt in this world comes out of self-loathing. And think about's a commandment from G-d: Love your neighbor AS yourself. Wouldn't that indicate that in order to love others, you first need to love yourself? It's not "love your neighbor even if you don't love yourself" or "love your neighbor in spite of yourself."
I told Malcolm that I was very happy he loves himself. He looked at me like "why wouldn't I?" I explained that there are some people who don't love themselves. When he asked why, I said it was because at some point along the way, someone told them bad things about them and made them sad. He pondered that for a bit, and he said he hoped all people would love themselves.

Of all the things that will change about him as he grows older, I hope this is not one of them. And I pray that all of you who are finding it easier to love your neighbor than to even consider loving yourself can reach back in time, and fnd that inner 6-year-old...and revel in your own awesomeness!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Why Brokenness

There are a number of "Mom" books out there. Some are focused on the idea of motherhood as a battlefield, while others are focused on fun and fluff. I'm trying to be somewhere in the middle of this - recognizing the pain and sorrow that can accompany this important "job" while reveling in the joy.

So why am I focusing on "brokenness"? It is so very important for us to seek to be whole and healthy people. Broken, unhealthy people beget more broken and unhealthy people.

I attended a meeting this morning which was an overview of the Philip Project, created by Cherry Street Mission's very own Dan Rogers. Cherry Street will seek to be a partner with churches and church leaders to help transform the parent-child relationship. It's very exciting stuff!

Dan said something that stuck with me this morning, but first you need a little background to understand it. When we talk about the "downstream" of life - which he at Cherry Street and I at Food For Thought deal with on a daily basis - we are referring to the image of a "river of life." The upstream is the point of the river that makes a difference. If that point is damaging - think of the image of a broken bridge - bodies start falling in the water. When someone is broken, damaged, hurt...that's the downstream. In our daily jobs, Dan and I are the ones at the downstream, pulling people out of the river and trying to heal them. But something we share is a desire to help the upstream, to keep bodies from falling in the water in the first place. This is where the phrase "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" comes in handy. It's a heck of lot more effective to fix the bridge than it is to keep pulling bodies out of the river downstream.

So, this morning, Dan said, "there is no greater upstream than parents." How true! We are constantly healing people's brokenness, which largely takes place at the hand of their parents. Yes, there are a variety of other factors, but parents are - as Dan put it - the greatest upstream.

Which is why I'm working on this book and why I talk about brokenness. In order to fix that bridge for our children - or keep the bridge from breaking in the first place - we need to wade back upstream and figure out how to fix that bridge for ourselves. To some that may seem selfish - to spend so much time focusing on ourselves instead of our children. No, it is anything but! It is the greatest form of care and love for your child - to heal the parts of you that may damage parts of them.

Good luck as you head upstream...