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July 2017 entries

What They Never Tell You about Parenting

When I first discovered I was pregnant 13 years ago, I sought out every resource about having a baby and becoming a parent available.  From the classic What to Expect series to the hip, modern apps that told me about how the baby was growing from the size of a pea to a peach pit -- I read it all, twice.  

Now that I am a mother to 12-year-old, a 10-year-old, and a 6-year-old, and an almost-step-mother to a 23-year-old, a 20-year-old, and a 17-year-old, I look back at my nerdy self and laugh.  (Full disclosure: I am still a nerd. No cause for alarm, folks.)  Sure, I survived breastfeeding, teething, minor illnesses, and toilet training, but I had no real idea of what was in store for me.  

(This is the part where we all know that in a few years, I will be re-writing this same blog, lamenting how little I knew when I was 36 . . . it's a shape-shifter, parenting.) 

So for your Friday enjoyment, here is my unofficial and incomplete list (I am feverishly writing this while the children sleep, after all, and that spell could be broken at any moment) of What They Never Tell You about Parenting

When you have more than one child, you will feel like a referee more often than not.  I once left a bucolic room filled with happy children for 30 seconds, only to hear a blood-curdling scream.  Running back into the room, I asked, "What's wrong?"  The reply?  "He touched me."  Take that scenario and multiply it by 58 and you've got a typical morning.  

You will erroneously think that saying something once is enough, especially as the child gets older and appears to have mastered listening.  This is laughably false.  We think, "Sure, we have to tell the baby, 'No,' repeatedly, but that's because he's a baby, and by definition, is well...sort of dumb.  I mean, developing!" This tricks us into thinking, "Hey!  This kid is older.  He goes to school alone and functions all day without me.  He's got this!"  And then you find yourself saying, "Please put your dishes in the dishwasher," every single night after dinner, as if the dishwasher were installed that very morning.  Get used to it.  

By the way, it is a universal truth that a dishwasher with clean dishes in it is rendered useless, and therefore, all dishes must be stacked in the sink until they reach perilous heights.  

You will also assume that your children will notice and (pause for effect) APPRECIATE everything you do for them on a daily basis.  

[Hold on, still laughing at my naive self who once thought this possible...]

OK, so it goes like this.  You will plan out and do approximately 900 things for your children per day -- including making meals, washing clothes, doing dishes, buying them food/clothes/toys, inviting friends over, installing a swimming pool, driving them everywhere, making more meals, doing more dishes, pouring drinks, cleaning up messes, refereeing (see above).  The children might, and I stress MIGHT, notice the installation of the pool and say thank you.  The rest, they file under "Stuff My Mom is Supposed to Do While Also Working Full Time, Managing our Household Bills, Maintaining All Family and Friend Connections, and Somehow Reaching Society's Unreasonable Expectations of Weight and Beauty" -- or, "Stuff My Mom Supposed to Do," for short.  

Oh -- and here's what else happens.  On the day you plan out something special, like a trip to an amusement park, the children will become overtired monsters who may even exclaim, "I hate you, Mommy!" when you mention it may possibly be time to go home.  This, you will learn, can be translated to, "Thank you for taking me to the amusement park," if you so choose.  

This goes along with appreciation, but you will assume that because you worked hard to earn the money for something, your child will take pride in it and take care of it.  You remodel a bedroom, you invest in new furniture, you spend money on some new gadget that your child is really into.  They HAVE to have it for Christmas, it's the only thing they want.   They've grown out of the little kid wallpaper, so you repaint the room to be more mature.  You think, "Wow, I put a lot of time, effort, and money into this.  Surely they will take care of it because they wanted it so badly."

Fast forward two weeks.  The room looks like a bomb went off.  The prized possession's location is either unknown, or it is buried under a pile of clothes/toys/books/dust.  You will then stupidly think that telling your child to clean it up or take care of it once will be enough (see above...again). 

And when you decide to learn from this lesson and tell your child the next time they ask for something which would require time/effort/money, "No, not this time.  I bought that _____ that you wanted and you don't take care of it," you will be met with, "That's not fair!" or "I promise to keep it clean this time!"  Chances are, you will be gullible enough to fall for this more than once.  

When you have more than one child, they believe their job title is "Mini Parent."  I lost track of the number of times I was interrupted by one of my children while addressing an issue with another child yesterday.  I routinely have to remind them that I am in the room and in full possession of my mental faculties, and therefore I would not be in need of an understudy.  This is particularly noticeable the older the child is, and it seems to be more prominent in my girl child.  Named "Mini Mom" by her brothers, my daughter loves to tell them, "It's time for bed," or "Please push in your chair when you get up from the table."  While she is clearly exhibiting behaviors that will make her an excellent -- and exhausted -- mother one day, her brothers find it taxing.  

*** It looks like we are out of time for today, folks.  I hear children stirring, and this is my favorite time of day, when they are well-rested and still love me.  I will leave you with one final thought: 

What they don't tell you is even though you will feel like you ran a marathon every single day while actually gaining 3 lbs due to lack of time to exercise, being a parent is the most rewarding (and important!) job we can ever have.  

Slow Down, Notice More

Ten years ago, after I gave birth to Gabrielle, I began to develop lower back problems.  After seeing a physical therapist/chiropractor, I discovered I had a bulging disc in the lumbar region.  Thus began a lengthy process of treatments (including a machine I affectionately called "The Rack" because it essentially pulled my upper body in one direction while simultaneously pulling my lower body in the opposite direction).  I eventually reached the "Maintenance" phase, which meant I came in every 6-8 weeks for a chiropractic adjustment.  

My insurance paid for the therapy part, but the maintenance which would prevent future injuries?  Naw, they weren't having that.  What was I thinking, trying to stay healthy?  As the years passed, my out-of-pocket expense for adjustments grew.  These appointments last about 5-10 minutes, and while I felt better after it was over, I couldn't justify the cost for what seemed to be an unnecessary procedure -- after all, I rarely had any pain in my lower back any more.  

(Yes, I realize this is because the adjustments were actually working and preventing injury.  But, I was thinking like a single mom who really hates to spend money on herself.)

This spring, I committed myself to running in the mornings more often, and when summer came, I was easily logging 4 miles each day.  I also began to notice a nagging ache in my lower back.  I bought new shoes, I alternated biking and running and walking.  And then I called my chiropractor.  

I don't have the bulging disc issue (yet), but my muscles were very tight and my spine needed to be adjusted.  I dutifully scheduled regular check-ups.  I had a massage, and took a bit of break from the high impact of running.  

Last week, I decided to try a yoga class.  I used to take yoga (among other classes) when we had a Y membership, and I thought the gentle stretching might be good for my back.  I loved the class so much that I took Gabrielle to one the following Sunday.  

During the first class I took, my instructor led us through a series of movements for one leg, and when we brought it back down to the mat, she said, "You may find that this leg feels longer than the other one now."  Surprisingly, this was true.  She led us through the same movements for the other leg, and then led us through some breathing exercises, asking us to slow down, to concentrate on our breath, to become fully aware of our bodies and how we feel.  

"When we slow down, we notice more," she said.

While this statement obviously applies to the practice of yoga, its simple truth applies to every aspect of our lives.  We live in a loud, fast-paced world -- Gene and I have 6 children between the two of us, and if you think that doesn't get loud, you are welcome to come over for dinner some night.  In our jobs, we are increasingly asked to do more than was ever expected of one person.  In our personal lives, we are expected to be constantly available via text or call.  

How many times have you tried to have a conversation with someone whose face was in a screen?  How many times are you that person in the screen, telling yourself that you are able to carry on two (or usually more!) conversations at once while still being present in each of them?  

If we slow down -- to write in a journal, to meditate, to take a walk -- we appear to be slacking off in some way.  (By the way, "slowing down" doesn't mean binge-watching Netflix for hours.  That is escapism, if we are honest with ourselves.  That is mindlessness, not mindfulness.)

When we slow down, we notice more.  We notice facial expressions, we notice nature, we notice the messages our own bodies are trying to tell us.  I wasn't listening to my body when I was running; I was often listening to an audiobook or music, and ignoring the pain in my back creeping in.  Many people confess to emotional eating or other harmful behaviors that could be prevented by simply slowing down and facing the stressor. When we aren't paying attention, an entire bag of chips can disappear without us noticing, which then makes us feel ashamed, and the cycle repeats itself.  

I am not saying, by any means, that slowing down in our culture is easy.  I am not an expert at all.  In fact, I am writing about this because I've been convicted by the statement made by my yoga instructor -- I need to slow down, to notice more.  It isn't easy, but like most challenges, it will be worth it.   

A New Adventure

I am pleased and excited to announce that I have been accepted into Immaculata University's graduate program, and I will begin working toward my Doctorate in Educational Leadership this fall!  

I first heard about the program when I contacted a friend who has had a similar career path -- a soprano with an English degree who directed and performed in theatre -- and who has moved from the classroom to administrative work, earning her doctorate all while raising her child with her husband locally.  I have always wanted to pursue my PhD, but I refuse to drive to Penn State (the only University near us which such a program) several days a week while my children are so young and active in school.  I learned that this friend participated in a cohort through Immaculata and that a new one would be starting near me.  

After talking it over with Gene, who was incredibly supportive, I decided to apply.  I had to submit an application, references from my principals, a statement of intent/beliefs, and transcripts.  After they reviewed my materials, they invited me to an interview, and about a week later, the acceptance letter arrived in the mail.

The program is teacher-friendly: I will take one class at a time, one night a week, for a total of 2 per semester.  All courses are taught by professors and professionals in the field (School Law by an experience attorney, for example) at a nearby school district.  I have the option to take summer courses online, which I will do for some prerequisites that I need, but otherwise, the instruction is in real life.  After three years of courses, I will begin my dissertation.  At this time, I think I will add the principal and supervisory certifications, but those specifics may take a different shape as I advance through the curriculum.  

I've always loved a challenge, and I expect juggling graduate work, a full-time teaching job, three children, and the theatre program to afford me all the challenges I will want and more over the next few years.  For now, I am beyond excited to begin a new adventure, with Gene and the kids enthusiastically cheering me on. 


Going Strong in July!

I am still pretty serious about taking July off -- from the county fair with our kids to kayaking down Pine Creek to four-wheeling with my parents, Gene and I have managed to carve out a lot of time for the things we love and the people we love to do them with! 






Rainy Day Thoughts about Fatherhood

I've spent a lovely day with my nieces -- making zucchini bread, going to the mall, having lunch at Cracker Barrel -- and now, while they are napping, I am listening to the steady beat of rain outside the window.  It seems like the perfect time to blog, doesn't it?

Because my nieces' car seats are a pain to move from one vehicle to another, their father left his truck for me to use to transport the girls today.  When we climbed in to go to the mall, the eldest asked me, "Do you even know how to drive my daddy's truck, Aunt Denise?"  And littlest chimed in, "Yeah, Anna Niece, do you even know how?" 

(Clearly, these illiterate girls do not follow my blog, or else they would have known that I have a Ford F-150 with a Coyote 5.0 at home, but alas!  Kids these days just don't read like they should.)

Throughout our day, the girls chattered happily, telling me stories about their mom and dad.   Their dad and I are running a 5-K tomorrow morning, and they predict he will be "faster because he is just stronger."  It is abundantly clear that these ladies adore both of their parents, but I was thinking today about the impact their dad will have on them.  After all, a father is the first man a girl falls in love with.  She learns how to see herself through his eyes, how to be treated through his actions, how to love through his words.  

We live in an unprecedented age.  We have more diversity and freedom in our relationships than any other generation.  If I were my grandmother, I would still be miserably married, believing I couldn't change my life or the lives of my children.  But, now, as I tell my kids all the time, families come in lots of shapes and sizes, and as long as there is love, safety, and peace -- the labels don't really matter.  

We so often hear that we are living in an age with a "fatherhood crisis."  Lots of men bring babies into the world, but they don't step up to raise them.  Recently, two people very close to me have gone through a re-shaping of families, and I have noticed a different kind of fatherhood crisis.  Men who bring babies into the world and want to raise them are being prevented from doing so by controlling and manipulative women who would prefer to play the role of "victim" instead of the role of "co-parent."  These men want to see their children, to impact their lives they way my nieces' father is impacting theirs.  Instead, they are told they "can't" see their child -- or that they can "visit" their child.

From the two examples I have seen, what I have observed is that these women are narcissists who thrive on drama.  If there aren't problems, they will create them.  They love to put on a public face of being "independent" and "strong single moms" but then they turn around and tell their exes they need money from them.  They then use that money to act like they are single-handedly taking care of their children, all the while ignoring his requests for more time with the children.  

One person that is going through this explained it best:  "She is bitter and upset because he moved on and is truly happy now.  She can't bear the thought of him being happy with someone else, so she will use their child as a means to cause distress for him." As a mother, I simply cannot stomach the idea that a woman would use a child as leverage -- yet I know it happens all the time.  From trapping a man in a relationship with a pregnancy to trapping him into thinking he can't leave a controlling, emotionally abusive woman because of a child, women use their children as pawns in petty wars against their exes.  It's sickening for sure.  

What is also sickening is the way the legal system shows preferential treatment to mothers.  Perhaps this is because of the deadbeat dads out there who aren't involved in their children's lives.  Let me be clear -- I think it is important to help mothers out when a man neglects his responsibility as a father.  Nevertheless, it makes things a lot harder for those dads who do want to be involved in the lives of their children.  A woman can make a completely unsubstantiated claim about a man, and law enforcement is more likely to believe it and side with her.  A man must fight twice as hard for the right to be a father -- all while society complains that he's not doing enough to be a father. 

Naturally, I try to make sense of these women.  How can they bash these men for not being involved, as the men are actively seeking to be involved?  I have always been fascinated with psychology and human behavior.  What is it that makes people tick, to act as they do?  Can it be traced to some event in their childhood?  Can it be the result of their upbringing in general?  Is it a genetic disposition?  Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in the middle, in the many shades of gray that make up each of our stories.  

And instead of rain, I hear the pitter-patter of little feet, so I suppose these problems must wait for another day.  

Start Your Engines!

This weekend, the kids and I joined Gene and his family on their long-standing tradition of attending the 4x4 National Jamboree in Bloomsburg.  Now, since that meant absolutely nothing to me a year ago, I'll explain what it is for my fellow naive readers out there.  People from all over the country register their trucks,  Jeeps, Broncos, Scouts -- you get the idea.  Anything that is a 4-wheel drive.  They park them -- washed, waxed, ready to be admired -- all over the Bloomsburg fairgrounds, while people walk or cruise around looking at them.  The owners talk about how they've rebuilt or modified their vehicles.  Of course, there are vendors and food and events like races and my personal favorite, monster trucks.  

Those of you who have read my blog for years now (aka my mom) know that Liam has loved monster trucks practically since birth.  We used to shake our heads in wonder at how the kid even heard about monster trucks from his English-teacher mother and music-teacher father.  But, somewhere along the line, Liam discovered a documentary about Bigfoot and its creator, Bob Chandler, on Netflix.  And we had to watch it ad nauseam.  When the Dodge Raminator came to Muncy, we took him there . . . twice.  His grandparents took him to watch the trucks.  His godmother bought him "Grave Digger" bedsheets.  

So, maybe it's clear that Liam was in heaven this weekend.  Actually, the kids all had a blast.  Gene and I were slightly worried that our future bug-scientist Aidan would be bored at the show, but it was completely the opposite.  Aside from fighting some sort of fever/stomach bug during the weekend, Aidan had a blast. He kept asking Gene questions about the trucks:  What year is that one?  What kind of engine is that? Why would they make it look like that?  He truly enjoyed himself.  So did Ellie.  She liked the camping aspect (we took the camper to the campground that Gene has been going to since he was a kid with his dad), and she loved playing with her cousins, who came to the show with their parents.  


We always have fun with this crazy crew, that's for sure.  



My favorite part of the show was the racing and freestyle of the monster trucks.  When you are a kid, you watch big trucks jumping and driving over other cars, and you think, "That's cool!"  When you are an adult with a driver's license, even if you know next-to-nothing about truck engines (aka me),  the driving is much more impressive.  These drivers are highly skilled -- the Broadway stars of driving, if you will.  ;)  Can you honestly imagine driving a vehicle with 66-inch tires, let alone driving that vehicle over jumps and other cars?  No freaking way.  



Maybe this is the last place you could imagine me being, let alone having a good time.  I admit I would not have attended a 3-day truck show if it weren't for the fact that it is something that Gene loves, and I love him.  It's the same reason I watched the Bigfoot documentary and even remember the name Bob Chandler -- because Liam loved it, and I love him.   What I also love is that if you remain open to different experiences that this world has to offer, you can continuously learn new things, and you might even find yourself telling a random guy who is admiring your truck that the engine is a Coyote 5.0 and sort of know what that means.  

Live life to the fullest, my friends, and try things you wouldn't normally do.  You might just surprise yourself by having a blast with people you love.  




Blink . . . and it's July!

As cliche as it sounds, I really do feel as though the school year ended just yesterday.  But here we are, a whirlwind of concerts, recitals, vacation and a college visit later and it's July!  Our summer dance card has been so full that we have been struggling to find time to visit the family farm and carve out a weekend to visit some dear friends a few hours away.  But, I think we have been striking a nice balance between activity (yay!  I have time to run again!) and relaxation (three beaches in one week!).  We are home for a few days before we leave for the annual truck show that Gene and his family have attended for the past 25 years (every day is an adventure!).  

Cue the seemingly endless piles of laundry from our beach trip and some remodeling of the utility room into an office space.  No, Gene and I do not sit still well.  It's one of the many things I love about him.  Instead of being criticized for being on the go, for doing a lot of things, I have a partner working by my side, creating or exploring with me.  And it's great.  

I suppose at some point, I will need to start thinking about next school year and about our family plans.  But, for now . . . it's July!  We were explicitly ordered by our superintendent to take July off at our end-of-the-year meeting, and I intend to follow those instructions to the letter.  She said to rediscover ourselves and what we love, to spend time with those we love, including ourselves.  

One of the things I love to do is write, and while I've been writing for the newspaper and in my personal journal, I haven't been too faithful to writing this blog over the past month.  So, in July, I plan to write at least 2 times a week.  And because I like to experience what my students do in my classroom from time to time, I think I will find some writing prompts and make myself answer them.  (That can't be considered "working," right?  If it's something I love to do?)  

So, here's to July!  Make the most of it, friends.