Category Archives: SAHM

The Lonely Middle Years of Parenting

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The Lonely Middle Years of Parenting

Parenting kids in middle and high school is such a complicated and lonely space to be in. When our kids are little we tend to share a lot about them. Holiday cards, social media posts, small playgroups, sports teams and parent clubs. The little cherubs happily pose for the camera without a whiff of self consciousness.

Somewhere around 5th grade things start to shift. The kids no longer want you to go public with what you think is cute. Concerns about privacy, social status and damage control start to creep into your thoughts. The kids disappear from your social media feed and you keep things under lock and key. The difficult stuff is whispered to your closest friends, a very limited set of eyes and ears. Even with those confidants the experiences are exhausting and isolating at times.

I’ve had days this past month that have absolutely gutted me. Pain for my child which housed a kaleidoscope of emotions; profound sadness, love, pit of my stomach fear, impatience and resignation. Fortunately the low points have been transient, replaced with more hopeful experiences, it goes in and out like the tide. I can only imagine the despair of families that reside in the muck for extended periods of time. I’m sure those parents are around me, they just aren’t talking about it.

The why of the reasons for not discussing things openly are a complicated stew of ego, protection, shame and insecurity. Shame that maybe we failed as a parent somehow – gave too much or too little. We were too involved or not vigilant enough. We haven’t properly adjusted the sails, we hit the gas when we should have braked and now we are spinning out of control.

The first inclination is protection. Protect the child at all costs from labels, embarrassment, bullies, the boogeyman, mistakes or misunderstandings that can negatively impact their future. That’s a tall order and some days I feel so small, minuscule, a speck of dust, insignificant. At this phase in their lives, your kids generally care more about friendships than family, at least temporarily. Another jagged pill to swallow, the person you want to help most in the world doesn’t necessarily want your assistance or your opinion. They will however, happily relieve you of $20. or the car keys when they start to drive.

Insecurity is the ghost that haunts us all whether we care to admit it or not. Insecurity is married to shame maybe not officially but they are at a minimum shacked up together. If I’m honest, this is the piece of parenthood I feared the most before we had kids. Knowing that I would make mistakes as all humans do. I also knew that making mistakes as a parent would cause me intense pain. Mind you I haven’t had colossal failures, just the usual varieties; having a more impatient tone than intended (this is called yelling), being a few months behind on the dental check up, and not being a constant shadow on their social media.

I’m sure some parents and kids skate through this phase without a pimple or a tear shed, I think those are the unicorns. Most of us take a deep breath and remind ourselves to have a friendly tone when we knock on our child’s bedroom door. We worry about over/under scheduling, setting reasonable expectations that neither diminish goals nor create neurotic overachievers. I’m still searching for that sweet spot of challenging my kids so they can bend without breaking.

 

Teacher Appreciation

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Teacher Appreciation

Hi Friends,

I submitted this essay for consideration for an anthology. It got rejected 😦 in the nicest possible way. To be fair, they did request that actual teachers submit so there’s that. Names have been changed to protect the guilty, hope you like it.

Bryce

Teacher Appreciation

I’m not a teacher nor do I play one on TV. I’m a parent of two humans, one dog, a crested gecko and carnival goldfish. Raising humans has caused me to interact with the people that are brave and kind enough to become teachers.

My first introduction to teachers as a parent was preschool which both of my kids entered at age 2 ½. I was a sleep deprived, mentally exhausted stay at home mom and I couldn’t wait to get my kids out of the house for three hours, four days a week. It felt like time off for good behavior (not that I’m personally familiar with that). I practically ran across the parking lot in my haste to get to the gym and unload the dishwasher undisturbed, (inhales deep) aaaaah, the sweet scent of freedom.

I have so much fondness for those early days of learning and structured play. Miss Colleen, Miss Cheryl, two Miss Beths and Ms. Tami, they saved my sanity and laid down the first layer of bricks, which began the educational foundation for my children. Before you can say, “pass the Capri Sun” that phase is over and you register your kid for Kindergarten.

When my oldest started Kindergarten I entered the “Zealot Phase” of parenting. I took everything way too seriously and thought that the school would improve greatly if they just followed some of my suggestions. The fact that I have no experience as a public educator did not deter me from speaking my mind (often & to anyone that would listen, mostly other neurotic moms).

My first issue was class size. There were 25 kids assigned to my son’s Kindergarten class. I lost my ever lovin’ mind. I spoke out about it at school board meetings and wrote letters, so many letters. Then I found out my son’s teacher was pregnant and would go on maternity leave mid year (Oh FFS are you kidding). At one point there were rumors of the beloved elementary school shutting down and I went full on crazy and started a petition on Change.org (Oh yes I did). I may or may not have been interviewed by the local press.

When my daughter went to Kindergarten the following year, I was panicked when I received a call from her teacher. My first thought was, well here’s where it all goes of the rails, what did she do, turns out I was selected to be Class Mom. I got to spend a good amount of time in the classroom and on school trips. Mrs. G was a tough teacher but she was also kind.

There is something so beautiful and miraculous about watching children learn to read. Some of my daughter’s classmates were ESL students; their parents couldn’t read English. By the end of that school year, each one of those kids was ready to enter first grade as a proficient reader. Mrs. G did that for thousands of kids over the course of her teaching career. What a positive impact to have on the world.

There was another standout teacher in elementary school, Mr. M, he taught first grade. He was the rock star teacher that parents prayed their kids would get. My friend Tina’s son had him and the following year my daughter landed in his class. He was worth the hype and then some. Unfortunately, Tina had cancer and the prognosis was grim. She hired Mr. M to tutor her son, Rob, who did not need any extra help. It was clear she wanted to continue the bond between Mr. M and Rob. It worked, after she passed away, Mr. M remained a close friend to the family.

I feel that I must pause here a moment to reflect on Tina’s passing. She had two children, a daughter, Cathy, who was in high school and Rob, who was in 5th grade when she died. It was of course excruciating for everyone. There was a memorial gathering for Tina in her family’s home. Half the district teachers were there as well as some of the school principals.

Mr. O was Rob’s teacher that year and my son was in the same class. He honored the family’s request to not approach the subject of death unless Rob brought it up. Instead, Mr. O hosted small lunches with Rob and a few of his close friends. He kept tabs on Rob to make sure he was OK while respecting his space. A year and a half after Tina passed, her daughter graduated high school as Valedictorian. No doubt the teachers and staff that were within their orbit helped to get the family through the most difficult of times.

My son always did well academically in school. Socially things started to get tricky in middle school. He took a lot of heat for being a JETS fan in EAGLES territory. One time he made a bet with his 6th grade science teacher. Whichever team lost, the losing fan would have to wear the opposing team jersey. The JETS managed to pull off a win and Mrs. H wore the JETS jersey as promised. She texted me a picture of herself wearing it standing next to my son, who had a huge grin on his face. It was an act of kindness that meant the world to me. I knew then that my son had someone looking out for him. She saw beyond the honor roll student, she saw a quiet kid who needed to be a part of the social fabric.

After my brief zealot phase when the kids started public school, I decided to show my appreciation and volunteer. I became the parent that signed up for every volunteer post known to mankind. Several years ago the State of Pennsylvania made it a total pain in the ass to donate your time. Here’s a checklist for people that volunteer in PA schools:

  • Criminal History Request
  • Child Abuse Clearance
  • FBI Fingerprints
  • School Personnel Health Record – TB test & physical for those volunteering 10 or more hours a week
  • Arrest/Conviction Report & Certification
  • Blood of a Unicorn

Only one of those is false. Those that go through the trouble to get their clearances are rewarded with being able to plan class parties, facilitate school clubs, attend field trips and chaperone dances. I had a pretty good run of it up through middle school, which is when your kids start to get embarrassed and don’t want to see you anymore (sigh).

Field trips are the best way to acquire some teacher appreciation. I’ve been on quite a few; apple orchard, pumpkin farm, minor league baseball games, museums, a walking tour of Philadelphia and the Renaissance Faire. I’ve done many of the trips two consecutive years because my kids are one grade apart.

Nothing puts fear in you like being responsible for five kids off the leash in Philly. I chaperoned my daughter and four of her friends a couple of years ago on a scavenger hunt of historical artifacts. Participants were encouraged to use their cellphones to take selfies in front of historical landmarks. We were on track the first hour until they saw a Starbucks then thoughts of Betsy Ross were replaced by cravings for Butterbeer Frappuccino.

The Renaissance Faire makes the Philly field trip seem like kittens and rainbows. You have to meet at the school and get on the bus at 6:50am for a two-hour drive to CrAzY Town. Once we arrived, chaperones were told that students weren’t allowed to purchase weapons, that’s a clue that you may be in for a rough day.

Once again you get a group of students to chaperone basically, someone else’s kids that you have to keep alive and not lose for several hours. Not an easy task when you have to mind five 13 year old boys in a place which is overrun with sharp objects; hatchet throwing, knife throwing, archery and the obligatory joust. I had to pry one kid away from a stand that let you throw glass bottles against a wall for an exorbitant amount of money. I plan to open a booth like that in my basement, college tuition is just around the corner.

This is one place where you definitely want to pack a lunch or you will spend a small fortune on a dried out turkey leg which, you will need to wash down with some bee-magnet cider. Everyone that works at the faire is in character and they make the Philly Revolutionary War reenactors seem mainstream. This is a 14-hour day and it is intense.

I’m physically and mentally exhausted after these trips and it makes me truly appreciate teachers. I get to go home after these events, maybe warm up some leftovers and call it a day. The teachers go home to their own family situations and whatever work they need to catch up on because they were out of the classroom all day.

I don’t interact with teachers as much as I used to, my kids are in high school. I see them from time to time at back to school night or the occasional school event. I do see the groundskeeper, Mr. D, monitoring car line which, is a hot mess every morning.

Last year after the Parkland shooting, I paused when I saw Mr. D standing by the cones at his post. It was the first day back at school after that dreadful day and like most parents in America, I was nervous about sending my kids to school. I wondered if Mr. D would take a bullet for my kids, notice a threat, sound the alarm in time. The next instant I felt guilty because he didn’t sign up for combat duty and he has two kids of his own.

America, we are asking too much of our teachers and giving far too little in return. Teachers went into their profession with a curious mind and a full heart, excited to share their passion and help our children learn. Now they are confined to teaching to standardized tests and worrying if they will cross paths with an active shooter and become a human shield.

I have a deep appreciation for everything educators do for our children. Thank you teachers everywhere for being on the front lines of learning, for noticing the shy kids, for quietly purchasing a book for the broke kid at the book fair, for knowing when to apply pressure and when to back off for each student. I know there are times when you sacrifice being there for your own children so you can care of mine. I see you and I appreciate you.

Volunteering

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Volunteering

Geezus it’s getting hard to give your time away for free these days. I’ve been a frequent volunteer in my kids school: class mom, chaperone, field trips, book drives, food drives, Secret Santa, Daisies, Brownies, Cub Scouts, soccer coach (psst, totally not qualified) and various fundraising efforts. Some of the activities were for a day or during a brief trial of a new activity.

A few years ago the State of Pennsylvania made it a total pain in the ass to volunteer. Here’s a checklist for people that volunteer in PA schools:

  • Criminal History Request
  • Child Abuse Clearance
  • FBI Fingerprints
  • School Personnel Health Record – TB test & physical for those volunteering 10 or more hours a week
  • Arrest/Conviction Report & Certification
  • Blood of a Unicorn

Only one of those is false. Not only do you have to pay some fees to fulfill these requirements, it’s also a time suck. Our closest FBI fingerprint office is a 30 minute drive away. Between scheduling, transportation and processing – I’m looking at 2 ½ hours just to get my fingerprints. Good luck finding people to do that.

One of my more substantial efforts has been volunteering for an education fund. It’s an organization that pays for teacher-led grants in our school district. It is one of those rare efforts which is all positive, no controversy – money for teachers, YAY!!! Sunshine, lollipops and rainbows for everyone!

I hate to break it to you but the idea of an all positive, no BS, everyone stands in a circle singing “Kumbaya” organization that deals with the public is a myth (OK, LIE, it’s a freakin’ lie). There are a handful of us that volunteer for this non-profit. A few of us came onboard several years ago to try and revive the ed fund which had been neglected for some time.

We determined that we would revive “Ed” by hosting community wide fundraising events that would promote awareness and earn some cash. In the past three years we put on variety shows, held food truck events, a paint nite, a 5K and couple of barn bashes which featured a silent auction. We try to keep the “fun” in FUNdraising (I just smacked myself so you don’t have to). For the most part our efforts have been well received by the community and some fun has been had by all. There have been some exceptions.

It’s like planning a wedding. You have to be considerate of the majority of the attendees, smile politely when people want ridiculous accommodations and contribute more time and money then you ever anticipated. And in the end someone will always complain that the chicken was dry or the music was too loud.

 

 

 

 

 

Moms Club

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Moms Club

We were living in a shore town in central New Jersey when I had my son. I purchased the house five years prior when I was single and wasn’t worried about the school district or extra storage space. It was two blocks from the beach with easy access to New York City. That was the selling point; location, location, location. Now that our family was growing our priorities shifted.

We found a house in Pennsylvania which was just over border from New Jersey. Still a reasonable drive for relatives, better property taxes, an excellent school district and closets galore. We kept the beach house because we thought we could rent it out and we weren’t ready to sell it.

At this time our son was seven months old and I was still struggling to find my groove as a mom. I made a few mom friends at the beach house but I knew we were moving so I kept it casual. I missed the camaraderie of working friends, adult conversation…some shred of personal identity. When we moved to Pennsylvania, I was determined to join a Moms Club and get involved.

Within a week of moving I was scheduled to go to my first meeting. I hoped the desperation didn’t ooze out of me like sweat, I was in dire straights. I’m sure I spent more time figuring out what to wear than some people spend getting ready for the prom. This was important. So for the first time in months I wore makeup, did my hair and dressed like someone who could pass for an adult.

There were only a few moms in attendance. In my mind, they were all smarter, prettier, better educated and had gobs more confidence than me. Two of them became close friends, Amy and Trish. Amy had a daughter and Trish had a son – all three of our babies were born within a week of each other. We spent the better part of the next two years together. We got ourselves through that crunch time before preschool when, unless you have “help” your kid is glued to you all day, every day. (I didn’t have a lot of help)

When our babies were turning one, Amy announced that she was pregnant. I congratulated her and promptly said something cringey – “Better you than me sistah!” Amy laughed, her angel baby slept through the night. I was still dreaming of Tylenol PM and four straight hours of sleep.

About a week later and several discussions about how stressful Amy’s life would get once Baby #2 arrived, I found out I was pregnant. This was not in the PLAN! My husband and I weren’t against having another baby, it was just risky business given how scary the first delivery was… and I still wasn’t sleeping on the regular.

I gained almost 50 pounds in my first pregnancy and on my son’s first birthday, I was within 3 pounds of my pre-pregnancy weight. I’m not going to lie, I was pretty excited about that, it took A LOT of work. Prior to becoming pregnant I was the skinny chick. I always exercised regularly and ate well, so it wasn’t some genetic gift and I was afraid of getting huge again.

The trio of moms with babies took turns hosting play-dates. I would always bust my ass to keep the house in some kind of presentable order when they were coming over. My natural tendencies lean toward hoarder meets a tornado, so it took effort. We would all put out snacks for ourselves and the kids. I had an old greyhound at the time named Scooby. I remember one time in particular, I was hosting when Trish busted Scooby eating from the cheese tray.

I also took my son to weekly activities including, a variation of mommy & me music. It consisted of sitting in a large circle with other moms and their babies. We would sing awful songs, play toy instruments (Jimmy Fallon style except we sucked)  and humiliate ourselves through some form of interpretive dance.

Dear Gawd I don’t know how many hours I lost to this activity. I was desperate for company and my son seemed to like it. One time I was running late and got a speeding ticket. Here I am visibly pregnant with a toddler in the back seat getting pulled over for speeding. What kind of a weirdo is so desperate to get to mommy & me music that they get a speeding ticket. Um, me. To add insult to injury I needed to haul my pregnant ass into traffic court to get the fine reduced (speeding points are the devil).

At some point I switched from music class to an activity at the YMCA. I was in the beginning of my second trimester and I waddled around the gym floor trying to keep pace with my son.This is where I made a new friend named Kristy. Her son was a couple of months older than mine. Her family had recently moved from New York. She was soon folded into our little mom club and our trio of moms became a quartet.

What a gift it was to have these women in my life. Such a comfort to have friends I could depend on, peers for my son to play with and memories to be made. We had many adventures together in that early phase of parenthood. Sometimes it was a walk in town or along the canal. Other days we would meet at a destination like the zoo, the beach or a children’s museum. These people saved me from a postpartum depressive spiral and I don’t think I could ever properly thank them for that.

An Accidental Stay at Home Mom

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An Accidental Stay at Home Mom

My plan, our plan, THE plan was that I would go back to work after our son was born. I took three months maternity leave and after two weeks of being back on the job, I got laid off. I worked for a software company at the time and all of the Project Managers were “let go.” Wow that was a lot to wrap my head around, now what??? I never intended to be a stay-at-home mom (SAHM).

Honestly, I was scared. Financially we could swing it (thank you husband) but mentally the idea of not working was completely foreign to me. I hadn’t considered it before, it wasn’t in the plan. This wasn’t a choice, it was an unexpected circumstance. I worked most of my life up to that point, from the time I was 16 until I got laid off at 35 and there were several years that I worked multiple jobs. Before I was legally old enough to work, I worked.  I raked leaves, shoveled snow, cleaned, weeded, babysat…I hustled.

 

 

I was raised by a single mom and we were broke. I worked because I needed to if I wanted anything beyond the absolute necessities. Through observation, I took in many lessons from my single mother. She always said things like “don’t become a secretary” and the not always verbal but always present and paramount life lesson – don’t depend on a man. Well damn, now I have a 3 month old baby and no J-O-B and a husband OK with me staying home.

The medical complications of my pregnancy and necessary follow up also had a profound effect on me. Part of me was just happy to be alive. I had to talk myself through the not working thing. I questioned myself, if this was my last day on earth, how would I want to spend it? Working some random job or taking care of my baby.Truth be told I did send out some resumes but it was a half-hearted attempt. I could not justify making a choice to work and leaving child care up to someone else a big chunk of the time, simply because I HAD a choice. It’s a different game entirely if it isn’t a choice, I get that.

It didn’t take long to see some hostility between SAHM and working moms…my theory is guilt. Only my theory based on my own experience not a universal truth so calm down…your theory may kick my theory’s ass at recess…I don’t really care.  I had guilt as a SAHM because I was used to being financially independent and I had to constantly tell myself it’s OK, it’s best for the family (and it was best for us).

It was still hard to shake the guilt because of the lessons my mom taught me growing up. I was falling short by depending on a man. I think working moms feel guilt because they don’t see their kids as much. It’s just a hard frickan’ job whether or not you work outside the home.

I had to step away from my practical, always working self and do something completely different from what I had carefully planned. Sorry atheists…but for me being a SAHM was an act of faith. You see at that time between the health issues, unexpected unemployment, moving and other changes…I really felt like the universe was telling me to stay home, so I did. Honestly it is not something I did gracefully. It was out of necessity and circumstances that were bigger than me.

A week or so after my son’s first birthday, I took a pregnancy test and it was positive. This was unexpected. After the complications of my first delivery, my husband and I were a little scared. We “planned” on having one child. We were wrong. So one and done became two and through with lots of monitoring of my high-risk pregnancy.

Knowing what to look out for in the second pregnancy was helpful but it didn’t alleviate all of my fears. There were weeks when my husband traveled internationally and it was just me and our son. My fear was that I would throw a blood clot which would incapacitate me and my son would be the only one around. It was not an irrational fear.

Late in my second pregnancy, we were having a New Year’s Day dinner at my mother and father in-laws house. My sister in-law and her family were there as well. My husband was joking about some minor health issue he had. I laughingly said something like – “Sure you get a man cold, meanwhile, I’m throwing blood clots like a pitcher in the Major Leagues” – something stupid and yet (cue the the creepy music) prophetic.

The next day I felt that familiar dull ache behind my knee and I called my OBGYN. This time she had me go directly to the Maternity Ward at the hospital and did the ultrasound there. Sure enough I had another blood clot behind my knee. This granted me a 5 day stay in the hospital with an IV of blood thinners and mandatory bed rest.

When I was released from the hospital, I had instructions to inject myself in the abdomen twice a day with a blood thinner. Say whaaaaat? Every twelve hours I had to psych myself up to jab a needle into my very pregnant belly. Dare I say, super cringey stuff.

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We decided to temporarily move back to New Jersey to be near the hospital and closer to family. I injected myself twice a day for a month before the Hematologist and the OBGYN got together and decided it was time to schedule a C-section. They were both afraid of a bad outcome (fatalities really mess with their malpractice insurance and I think they liked me). I had another retractable filter inserted. This time I demanded a mild sedative for the procedure, much better.

At 35 weeks/6 days of my second pregnancy our daughter was born via C-section. Me, my husband and our trusted doctors, all decided it was best to perform a tubal ligation after the C-section. Apparently I suck at being pregnant. I was 36 and survived two high-risk pregnancies. We had one healthy boy and one healthy girl, no need to get greedy.

Our second baby was so much easier. Perhaps because we knew the drill and our expectations were not as regimented so we could relax more. We knew we couldn’t “plan” every aspect of things so we just rolled with it. Bonus this baby wasn’t colicky and slept a reasonable amount from a very early age. (You mean they don’t all scream for several hours continuously and wake up 4 times a night…for years?)

Fast forward many years and I can see how being a SAHM served me. If I am honest, I got the perks and the liabilities in good measure. The perks are obvious, I haven’t missed a thing with my kids. First steps, first tooth, first haircut, first day of anything – I was there for all of it. We had so many special day trips that wouldn’t have been possible if I worked outside the home. They don’t remember most of them. I do, and I suspect they are the days I will reflect on in old age.

When I walk into my kids school, I know half the faculty, the school board and at least 60% of the kids by name.  I have created a network of go-to moms that can get me through to the finish line or at least high school graduation. I have volunteered for just about everything in the district (exception: I refused to get on the school board, that is just bat sh*t crazy).

The liabilities are pretty stacked too thankfully some of them have passed.  My first born was a colicky baby who had night terrors and did not sleep through the night for FOUR years (4 mofo years). My kids are about 20 months apart and (aside from my hospital stays) I got up with both of them every single time. Every. Single. Time. During those years I fantasized about being alone with a fist full of Tylenol PM in a dark quiet hotel room. Sleep was like trying to catch vapor in those early years of motherhood.

Being a SAHM was great but I had no time to myself. I thought it would be good to get away from the littles few hours a day, I couldn’t. I looked forward to medical appointments to get some “me time.” Some days it was easier to have the blood drawn than to be home. And sometimes I had to take two kids with me to those appointments. When they were toddlers I would play hide and seek just to get a few minutes to myself in the kitchen pantry (there may have been Oreos in there).

 

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Sketch by Lisa McMillen http://www.cicalisadesigns.com/

Being out of the workforce for a decade didn’t do me any favors career-wise. This may be the biggest hit that a SAHM takes. That and the guilt about doing anything for yourself because you get to stay home. What saved my ass was a small group of women in a Moms Club. Unlike me, they “planned” to be SAHM and their friendships have had a huge impact on me.

 

 

 

Stayed tuned for future installments of #SuperCringe