Monday, September 24, 2007

Keeping Up with your Dog

It all started with a fellow lap swimmer with whom I share the locker room first thing most work day mornings.

“So what are you doing here this late?” she asked, as I was past my normal out-of-the-pool-by-7-AM-and-into-the-primping-routine schedule.

“Oh, my dog needs to go to the groomers today and they don’t open ‘til 8:30,” I answered.

This led to “where do you take your dog?” to “what kind of dog do you have?” to “how often do you go?” to “how much do you pay each time?” to “do you tip the groomer?”

When we both admitted the extent to which our dogs received grooming attention, I laughed: “My dog gets better grooming than I do!” to which she responded: “Oh, not mine! I take really good care of myself!”

Well….it wasn’t as if I was neglecting my personal hygiene, but a quick “So where do you get your hair cut and your nails done?” revealed that my locker roommate was on par with our dogs while I was in the discount department on both counts. And the frequency with which I attend to my nails, was, well, horrifying, especially as of late.

I need to keep up with my dog.

OK. So, how about we look at our dogs’ grooming and diet and exercise regimens and see how we stack up:

Do you eat a balanced diet? And take your vitamins. My Bichon, Isa, eats an organic mix of wet and dry food that contains no fillers, preservatives, colorings or junk. And she gets a daily dose of vitamins, designed to keep her coat shiny, her eyes bright, her bones healthy and her step bouncy. This leaves little room in a people diet for Doritos, double espressos and ice cream cones with chocolate chips. Nor excuses to skip the daily vitamins either. The evidence: shiny hair, smooth and strong nails, muscular flexibility and overall cheerfulness.

Do you practice portion control? Isa eats small portions, measured out with a scoop so we know exactly how much food she’s getting. Portion consciousness goes a long way in keeping the fat off your tummy and thighs and bum. Otherwise, how will you really know if you’re eating 4 ounces of meat…or 6 or 8? One bowl of cereal…or three?

Do you go for a daily morning walk? And an evening one, too? Isa goes out first thing in the morning, and again at midday and at bedtime. Few things make us feel better than a walk in the fresh outside air. And our bodies need the vitamins from the sun, too. A walk everyday after dinner has been proven to fight excess pounds from creeping onto our middles.

Do you brush your hair? And keep your nails groomed? Few of us do the same daily hair brushing that our grandmothers did. And yet we use bleach, straighteners, perms and hot blow dryers, all of wreak havoc on our heads. We should all be getting those natural oils circulating. What’s the rule? One hundred strokes a day!

Do you take a nap when you’re tired? And do a full-body stretch when you wake up? Ahhh. The life of a dog. Fewer things energize your mind and body more than an afternoon snooze. Never feel guilty about getting your batteries re-charged. Even twenty minutes can be enormously satisfying.

Do you get a back scratch when you’re achy and exhausted? Heck, my dog gets a scratch just for showing up! It’s great to give those nerve endings and muscles a good work-out. Get a massage…even if it’s only when you’re getting your nails done.

Do you get a treat for being a good girl? My dog gets a treat for doing her business outside or for coming when called or for sitting still while we brush her. You certainly deserve a chocolate bar for doing your family’s laundry, driving your kids across town and taking care of them when they’re sick in bed. Good grief…..

Finally, do you wag your tail when you see your master? Or your spouse? Or your kids? Few things put a smile on my face more than seeing my dog’s tail go crazy when I come home from work at the end of the day…or even from a quick errand. Perhaps we can all be more mindful to give those whom we love more than anyone else in the world a “tail wag” when they cross our thresholds too. Hugs and kisses.

Keeping up with your dog. Now there’s a concept.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Ruling Your Roost

I received a request for this Newsletter topic from a fellow rocket mom…love those requests. Keep them coming! Your input and requests help me to keep a finger on the pulse of what’s going on in the different verses of the motherhood dance. (And I admit to sometimes finding difficulty in thinking up forty different newsletter topics in any given year, too…so to be thrown a topic releases me of that burden!)

This particular request came after one mom’s sometimes frustrating attempts at communicating her own “house rules” to other parents who did not necessarily share her version of things. Those of us rocket moms (and dads!) who have clear ideas—and distinct roadmaps—of how we’d like to nurture, guide and train our kids…indeed, we’ve proactively planned and thought about the kinds of childhoods we want our kids to have…will sometimes be at seemingly complete odds with others who either have different visions…or who have not yet taken the time to sort out parenting’s many, distinct nuances in the various cycles of the job.

I have found in my own parenting experiences, that through these many different stages of the cycle, and through distinct homes and neighborhoods and schools and states in which we found ourselves, that families everywhere do things vastly different than the way we do them around here. That family traditions vary and that lifestyles carry diversity and that values range and that physical closeness and emotional investment come in different degrees and colors from one home to the next. That not only are many surface issues decidedly distinct: one family allows TV during school nights (ours does not); one allows eating meals in bed while watching cartoons (ditto for “not”); and others permit junior to scream at mom and dad when the spirit strikes him (good heavens…..”NOT!”) that deeper issues hold vastly different resolutions with more serious implications for family life in the long term. And that even though most families profess love for each other that is stronger than that for life itself—a universal sentiment hard-wired into the DNA of mothers and fathers for their offspring—that the daily roadmaps for forging these bonds take twists and turns and backroads that can be either comforting—or nerve-wracking—depending on where we find ourselves.

That said, and following the request of the reader, here are some of our own “house rules.” They are not necessarily ironclad; we have made plenty of mistakes during our more than twenty years of parenting and try to admit when we err and make changes as needed. And what was a firm rule last year might have fuzzy lines drawn around it this year. But, for the most part, my husband and I have followed these “rules” with some success.

1) Follow your own gut. Even if it makes you look like a bird. When my oldest child, Nick, was turning three, our second child was a newborn. My gut told me to keep Nick home, but most of my friends advised me to send him to pre-school, for if he didn’t get into the right pre-school at age three, they claimed, he would never track correctly for elementary school and yada yada through college. Well, Nick dealt with a lot of childhood allergies, as well as childhood asthma, and he was also a bright kid. I never seriously worried about his ability to “track” well; I worried instead that exposure to lots of pre-school kids would wreak havoc on his health. Turned out, I was right. The pre-school class housed a bird (which I didn’t know about until weeks after the fact) and Nick was overly allergic to feathers. He spent most of that three-year-old pre-school year on antibiotics for allergy-induced bronchitis. I pulled him out of pre-school and schooled him myself for a few years…along with his little brother and the next two siblings who came along. My friends thought I was wacky. Completely out of the mainstream. Bohemian. A weird duck. I didn’t care. I stood by my gut and boldly followed through doing what I thought was in the best interest of my own family. Years later, I look back on those homeschooling years as “the golden years.” They were the years when I followed my own schedule, when we read the classics snuggled up on the sofa together, and when we made chocolate chip cookies whenever the spirit moved us. A far cry from my day-to-day reality now… glad I did what I sensed I should do.

2) Feel free to declare your “rules” to other kids and parents. It doesn’t matter if they get it, agree with it or want to “obey” them. They’re your rules and your kids and your spouse and your house, so let them figure out how to deal with them. We have a house rule, for example, that says that our kids cannot talk on the phone during the week until their homework is finished and chores and extracurricular responsibilities completed. That translates to no yakking until homework, reading, violin, football, laundry, room pick-up and garbage take-out is done. My daughter still gets calls every night (and I do admit to relaxing this one somewhat now that she’s older)…and so I jump in night after night as the nasty policewoman who gets the lovely little job of telling her friends that they need to limit the chat because it breaks our rules. Some of her friends dig this rule more than others. I could care less if her friends think I’m mean or unfriendly or overly strict; her friends are not going to be held personally responsible for ensuring my daughter’s health, well-being and development into mature adulthood. Engaging in parenthood does not—thank goodness—require enrolling in a popularity contest. So drop any notions of caring about what your kids’ friends, and their parents, think of you.

3) Stick to your guns. Only you were entrusted with your child. And you are responsible for securing his best interests. For his physical health, emotional development and happiness quotient. And for putting into place those rituals or lessons or traditions that will lead you and your child to these ends. If you believe, as we do, that nothing will develop your child’s brain more than learning to play a musical instrument, pooey to those who think you’re nuts. You don’t need to shove a white paper in neuromusicology in their faces; just stick to your guns, provide the lessons and make sure that your kid practices. Easier said than done, for sure. I have heard over the past sixteen years of “making” my kids play the violin that a kid should only do what he wants to do. What he’s passionate about. That you shouldn’t force a kid to do something that he doesn’t want to do. Heard it and don’t buy it. My kids are going to play the violin because it’s good for them. They can thank me in twenty years. And I can easily blow off the parents who think I need to lighten up. Again: they’re my kids and not yours. Do whatever the heck you want to develop your own kid’s brain.

4) Insist on both quality and quantity time. For years, we were sold the bill of goods that stated that quality time mattered so much more than quantity time, and so we could enjoy personal pursuits at the expense of our kids. Now before you get all huffy, I’m not indicting anyone. But the research is in clear agreement on this: quantity counts, too. So if that translates in your family that weekend nights need to spent as a family—together—on the sofa reading the classics together or watching a movie or visiting the aunts and uncles or playing tennis together, then your friends and their families will have to deal with that. Standing where I am with four kids at various places in and out of the nest, I can assure you that you will have no regrets about spending quality and quantity time with your kids. They really will be gone before you know it. That’s not a cliché. That’s the reality. Watch the updated version of “Father of the Bride” and cry your eyes out. Your kid will be walking down the aisle before you know it.

5) Maintain a sense of decorum. I remember when my kids were really really small, some friends coming over for dinner…their kids were mostly grown…and the oldest son commenting on how he couldn’t do something (I forget what) because I had a “high sense of decorum. ” Now, I hardly live in a museum (indeed, a far far cry from one), yet I have always yearned for an orderly and clean environment. Having kids—and boys in particular (we have three of them)—is no excuse for letting it all hang out. Neanderthal-style does not ring “best seller” in the interior design section of your local bookseller. Never has never will. Neatness has always counted. So our house rules dictate that: if you take something out, put it back; if you dirty something up, clean it; if you borrow something, put I back; and if you break something, confess it. It helps to have a high tolerance for chaos in this parenting gig. But chaos and orderliness can happily co-habit the same house.

6) If you screw up, apologize and ask for forgiveness. Messing up hundreds of times over the years has required many humbling moments before our kids. When things get ugly, when we are out of line or clearly wrong, or when we simply get in a foul mood, we are quite faithful to just stop, apologize, and ask for forgiveness. Likewise, if our kids mess up, they have been taught to do the same thing. And we have taught our kids that when one does mess up, it is right to look the offended person in the eye and make sure that he looks back. And that the question “Will you please forgive me?” needs to be asked with a spirit of true contrition. And that, once asked, the offender is released of the burden; that it is up to the offended to either forgive or not.

7) Have a decent attitude. We expect our kids to say “please,” “thank you,” “yes,” and “no.” If they can manage a “m’am” or “sir,” all the better. We don’t tolerate ill-mannered “yeah” or “huh,” especially when greeting visitors or answering the phone (one of my biggest pet peeves is to call someone and have a nasty, poorly-trained kid answer on the other end with a dull or goofy “huh”…poor parenting indeed…..We also expect an overall attitude of gratefulness. If I pick my kid up from football practice and he is just foul (“Mom, you’re late!” or “I told you to…” or “Why didn’t you…”), then he is grounded until he’s had an attitude adjustment. If someone in our family uses the resources of time, energy or money to do something nice for someone else, a grateful attitude is expected. We insist on a respectful and loving way of treating members of our family…and of friends and visitors as well.

In the end, only we are responsible for the well-being and nurturing of our kids. Whether or not our kids will have happy childhoods will rest largely upon our own square shoulders. For creating happy childhoods happens with lots of thoughtful planning and preparation. And yes, some rules, too.

I have always found it fascinating that as we go through the parenting years, we, as parents, think that we are raising our kids…which of course we do. Yet in the end, it is they who raise us. Our children raise us up. They make us become better individuals. As you rule your roost, try to make it one in which your kids will remember fondly once out of it….and one in which they will want to make frequent stops once their wings are strong enough to fly on their own.


Monday, September 10, 2007

Beating the Back-to-School Blues

More than the start of a New Year, the beginning of the school year causes me pause. And anxiety. Letters of instruction pour in from every angle: the principal, PTSA president, school nurse, sports coaches, booster club president, music instructors, orchestra directors, homeroom teachers and guidance counselors. Each one gives me to-do lists, opportunities for service, mandatory meeting schedules—and invoices.

And that’s just in the first week.

My husband’s work gears up, too, as does my own day job. Back from time at the beach, workers return with sunburned feet yet with boots on the ground. Computers hum and workloads pile up. The demands are palpable. Anxiety hits full force and I physically feel it: my chest pounds, palms sweat, stomach flip flops. And while I don’t personally get into a full-blown funk, I always feel the blues to one degree or another.

Coping Mechanisms

Exercise and chocolate have always been my addictions of choice. A strenuous bike ride or an hour of tennis does wonders for one’s body and mind. More than ever, taking time out to exercise amidst the stress of back-to-school integration is vital to keeping your sanity. Keep a few bars of your favorite dark chocolate stashed where kids and spouse cannot find them. Indulge as needed. And if coffee is your thing (as it is mine, too), and an afternoon latte seems to generally help the day go more smoothly, don’t sweat it. I could think of worse things used to de-stress.

Pass the torch. I used to feel that I would always work with kids…because for what seemed like forever I always had elementary-aged kids. And then my kids grew up. And I slowly lost my appetite for dealing with kids in this age group. I desired to work with pre-schoolers. The 3, 4 and 5-year-old set. Leading cherub choir. And with fellow moms (in the Rocket Mom Society). Feel free to pass the torch if your passion has dried up. You are not obligated to continue volunteering in areas that you have mentally outgrown. Toss up those years to exciting challenges…and then move on. Map a completely different course. Take a risk. Grow in an area in which you’ve always had a deep-seated desire. Find something which brings you joy. Makes you happy. Write a book. Take up painting. Work at the soup kitchen. Everyone else in your family is—in one way or another—growing independently of you. Give yourself the freedom to expand your own horizons.

Build in personal time. Yeah yeah. We hear this all the time. Bubble baths and manicures. But make sure you take time out for yourself lest you become the world’s most insufferable martyr. If that means nightly grooming rituals or long cups of tea sipped by yourself in your closet, give yourself some daily private time so that you are emotionally and physically equipped to take care of those in your charge.

Re-assess priorities. Do you really need to be doing the same things you’ve been doing these last few years? Can you teach the kids how to do their own laundry? Ask your sitter to help start dinner or go to the grocery store for you? Can you train your kids to start picking up some of the slack around the house? Should you be re-arranging your schedule this year? Exercising in the morning rather than at night? Doing the laundry twice a week instead of everyday? Is it time for you to back out of the workforce? Or re-enter it? Spend time in personal reflection over the course of this week as to how you believe you should best spend your days.

Just as the first few weeks of school throw me in to a tizzy, they force me to stop and think about what I’m really trying to do in all of the various roles in which I find myself. I look forward to exploring this next year together with you. Hang in there. I’m sending you all my best,