How To Break Your Heart in an Afternoon

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Drag your family to San Francisco’s MOMA for one of your infamous Forced Family Fun Days.

Endure eye rolls from your daughter who is running on two hours of sleep thanks to a slumber party the night before.

Give your son the stink eye as he wanders from gallery to gallery stating loudly, “THAT is not art.”

Gasp as your son mistakes a ledge with a sculpture on it for a bench, and almost sits on the art.

Apologize profusely to the museum security guard.

Snap a photo of your daughter, long legs, waterfall of hair, and realize she is the most radiant piece of art in the room. Feel a lump in your throat as you see her, perhaps for the first time, as the young woman she is becoming instead of the child she once was.

Watch your son masterfully create a photo at the art kiosk and know that, despite complaining, he is enjoying your adventure. Smile as he hands you a printout of his creation for safe keeping. Feel grateful he still trusts you with his treasures.

Convince your kids that the giant rust-colored sculpture on the ground floor is entitled “Cinnamon Roll.” Wander through the spiral labyrinth laughing, losing your family along the way. Remain confident that if you keep going, you all will find a way back to each other. Cross your fingers and hope that’s true forever.

Walk outside and spot the tapas bar that was your old hangout when you lived in the city. Realize that you and your husband started meeting there after work almost 20 years ago. Tell the kids that you’ve changed your lunch plans and lead the way into the restaurant.

Feel a pang of nostalgia when the sangria and patatas bravas are just as good as you remember. Watch your kids adventurously taste everything you order. Feel pride that they like to cook and eat and try new things as much as you do.

Think back 20 years to your old job and your old colleagues who’d gather at the restaurant’s long bar after a long day. Remember the good times you had drinking pitchers of beer while playing darts. Question the wisdom of combining beer and darts.

Remember how much you complained about your job back in the day. Realize that you were lucky to be doing interesting work with great people. Understand that petty annoyances are quickly forgotten while memories of the good times endure.

Acknowledge the same thing is true for parenting.

Forgive the eye rolls, the endless bickering, the declaration that, “I’d rather be shopping.”

Recall how 20 years have passed in the blink of an eye – a blur of exciting days and wasted days and heartbreaking days and joyful days. Fear that the next 20 years will slip away even more quickly. Vow to pay attention, focus on the good, appreciate moments of happiness, write it all down. Smile at the three people you love the most in the world and start planning your next Forced Family Fun Day.

New Favorite Song

He flopped into the car, exhausted and sweaty from a late-night basketball practice. It was the last stretch of my inane day where I seemed to do nothing but chauffeur kids, run errands and burn almost a half tank of gas in the process. Both of us too tired to talk, I flipped through stations on the radio.

The opening riff of a song caught our attention.

“This is my new favorite song,” I confessed, turning it up.

“Me too!”

I smiled and glanced over at him, watching his face as the realization hit: mom and I like the same song. He was trying to figure out if his musical taste was lame or if mine was cool – the only two possible explanations for this newly discovered commonality in our Venn diagram.

Undaunted, I started to sing along, catching only one out of every three words:

Mmm and lied, mmm mmm so bad
La la la vow, never get mad

He laughed, knowing he could do better. Too tired to be self-conscious and protected by 8pm darkness where no one could see in the car windows, he joined in.

I nudged the volume up a bit and added steering wheel drums. He cringed – nothing is more embarrassing than my steering wheel drums — but he kept singing.

There comes a time, in a short life
Turn it around, get a rewrite

The song ended, as did our spontaneous moment of musical bonding.

Anyone who hangs out with me knows that I spend a lot of time grumbling about the pace of life with big kids. They’re old enough to have talents and interests and a desire to pursue them. But they’re not old enough to drive themselves to the never-ending practices and games that take place in far-flung locations at all hours of the day.

It’s insane. But just when I’m ready to crack, life offers a crystalized moment of raw love: a connection over a song while driving home from practice; a good talk after a disappointing loss; a sweaty bear hug after a game-winning shot. It’s all there, tucked into the pockets of quiet within this loud, busy life we’ve created.

There comes a time, in a short life
Turn it around, get a rewrite

 Message received.

I know I’m lucky beyond words. I know this time is short and that in a few years they’ll be independent and I’ll miss all those miles on roads to kids’ activities. I’ve always known these things but sometimes it helps to be reminded. Recharged and refocused, I’m changing my tune… but keeping the steering wheel drum solo.

Payback

A thank you note I should have written 30 years ago…

Dear Mom,

Thank you for all the times you took me shopping, especially back to school shopping.

Thank you for enduring the underage dance clubs masquerading as clothing stores, complete with nonexistent lighting, migraine-inducing music and sales girls who serve as bouncers deciding if you’re cool enough to wear their employer’s clothes.

Thank you for resisting the urge to say things like, “Oh my God, I can’t believe denim overalls (or MC Hammer pants or crop tops) are back in style. I wore those when I was your age.”

Similarly, thank you for not buying yourself a pair of shoes just like the ones I picked out because they really are both cute and comfortable.

Thank you for enduring hours in dressing rooms buried under piles of rejected clothes that needed to be hung up and put back on the racks.

Thank you for not ordering a shot of tequila when we finally took a lunch break.

Thank you for biting your tongue and letting me choose my “signature look” which unsurprisingly, resembled every other kid hoping to fit in at middle school.

I know that after a day of shopping, I would breezily offer a “thanks mom” while shuttling bags of new loot up to my room, but it wasn’t until this weekend that I fully understood the patience, love and emotional energy that went into a day at the stores – I guess they call it retail therapy for a reason.

So today I say thank you — for everything — as well as start my own 30-year countdown until my daughter can do the same.

Let It Go

I didn’t snap until May, which is damn impressive considering the movie and its earworm of a soundtrack had been out for six months.  Despite the fact that my own kids weren’t that enamored with Frozen, the rest of the country was, and so we suffered.  All of us.  Until inspiration struck during a car ride on Mother’s Day.

We weren’t even listening to the Disney Channel or KidzBop or any other station that panders to pint-sized tyrants with horrible taste in music.  And yet, the familiar opening notes of Let It Go started to fill the car.  I groaned.  And then impulsively blurted out:

“Hey kids, here’s a fun fact.  Did you know that this song is really about farting?”

They looked at me, horrified yet curious.  “Just listen,” I told them.

The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside
Couldn’t keep it in, heaven knows I tried!

I heard giggles from the back seat.

Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know
Well, now they know!

 Bigger laughs fill the car.  By the time we got to the chorus, they were roaring.

 Let it go, let it go
Can’t hold it back anymore
Let it go, let it go
Turn away and slam the door!

The song finished, cementing another bond within our family: a juvenile, gross inside joke.  I made them promise not to repeat it and made my son pinky swear to keep it together when his teacher plays the Frozen soundtrack during free choice time at school.  They agreed, and considering that I didn’t receive any phone calls from the teachers, I think they kept their word.

I frequently lament the fact that time with my kids has passed way too quickly.  I miss the details about life with little ones: footie pajamas, counting to “eleventeen,” the smell of baby shampoo.  Predictably, I’ve turned into the weird lady at Target who grins way too enthusiastically at anyone under the age of two.

But as much as I miss the baby stage, big kids have their advantages.  Aside from the obvious stuff like not pooping on themselves and knowing how to start the coffee maker for me in the morning, it’s also been fun to give them a glimpse of me as a person, not just me as a mom.

They’re old enough to be able to handle (and perhaps even appreciate) that I have a dry sense of humor and a fondness for the occasional, well-placed curse word.  It’s time for them to understand that I cry shamelessly at all happy, sad and sappy occasions. Especially the sappy occasions.  And they need to know that I will never, ever be a morning person.

It’s kind of a relief to outgrow my role of angelic caretaker and become more of a camp counselor – still in charge but also able to bend the rules occasionally.  I don’t think I’ll ever get over longing for the baby days, but when I’m feeling nostalgic I’ll try and remember that toddlers never would have laughed with me about poor flatulent Elsa encouraging little girls everywhere to just let it go.

Lefty

It’s wrong to say that my daughter played baseball like a girl, mostly because girls are fully capable of excelling at baseball.  It’s more accurate to say that my daughter swung a bat like a stoned T-Rex: sloooow timing and short little arms.

I did not understand how a girl who was capable of serving a volleyball hard enough to tattoo “Mizuno” across an unsuspecting opponent’s forehead could not manage to connect bat and ball.  She could dance gracefully across a stage, swim athletically through the water and even hike to the top of a volcano.  The kid’s got game – with one glaring exception.  She simply could not hit a baseball.

It wasn’t for lack of trying.  She spent hours with her dad swinging wildly at gentle pitches.  She was told to keep her eye on the ball, to just let the ball hit the bat and to not give up.  For months, nothing worked.  But then, while goofing around outside with her brother, everything changed.

“Mom, mom, mom, mommmmmmm, come outside – she’s a lefty!”

I hurried out the door, only slightly worried that a freak accident had instantly earned her the nickname “lefty.”

Much to my relief I saw my daughter, digits intact, standing over the manhole cover that doubled as home plate, taking a left-handed batting stance.  My son pitched, she swung and sent the ball flying down the street.

Turns out, the kid who does everything right-handed (including swinging a golf club and a tennis racquet) is a lefty batter.  It makes no sense.  But it worked.  And it got me thinking.

How many parenting problems could be solved if I was open-minded enough to consider solutions that fall into the “it makes no sense” category?

It makes no sense to skip breakfast.  Unless the kid isn’t hungry when he first wakes up and can eat a big morning snack at school instead.

It makes no sense to do homework the morning it’s due.  Unless the kid can happily pop out of bed early, alert and ready to focus.  A morning person?  In our family?  I have no idea how that gene snuck into our pool.  But instead of fretting, I’m starting to shrug and declare, “It works for us.”

My kids are much better than I am at considering all options, both traditional and unconventional.   They skip breakfast, confident they won’t be hungry until later.  They sleep peacefully, knowing homework will be finished in the morning.  And occasionally, a kid will step up to the plate as a lefty, surprising us all as she hits a home run.  Sometimes, we don’t need to force everything to make sense.  Sometimes, all we need to do is get out of the way and cheer.

Fly

Ten years ago, when my daughter was drooling on books instead of reading them, I scoured eBay for an ancient collection of Disney stories for young readers.  I had to buy several lots to ensure that I ended up with all my obscure favorites, including Goofy and the Miller, The Princess Who Never Laughed, and of course, Dumbo.

My kids eventually loved the books as much as I did, especially Dumbo.  There’s a point in the story where Dumbo is at the top of a (fake) burning building as part of a circus act.  The clowns and the crowd start yelling, “Jump!” but Dumbo’s friend Timothy – the only one who knows about Dumbo’s hidden talent – tells his pal it’s time to fly.

I’m finding that as my kids get older, I’m playing the role of Timothy more than any other.  Without shoelaces to tie and bottoms to wipe, most of what’s left to do is simply encourage them to fly while providing a soft place to land.

As kids grow up, focus shifts to the less tangible but still critical life skills: the confidence that we can do hard things; the knowledge that compassion is crucial in this world; and the realization that the effort of doing something can be more satisfying than the end result.

I’m also learning that you never reach a stage in parenting where you simply exhale, relax and put it in cruise control.  Having kids, no matter their ages, means that there’s always something pinging on your mom radar.

This week, the mom radar was lit up with the school’s student council election.  My daughter wanted to run for vice president.  Fighting that twinge of “what if things don’t go her way,” we told her to go for it.

She came up with her campaign slogan and designed posters. She wrote her own speech and persistently ignored my suggestions.  This was her race to run, and she was doing it on her terms.  Just as it should be.

Today was speech day.  She woke up nervous and with a sore throat.  I did what little I could to help her feel supported.  I tucked my lucky charm in her pocket, loaning her my prized possession for the day.  I made hot water with lemon and honey to soothe her throat and then scrounged up a handful of cough drops to stash in her backpack in case of a vocal emergency.  I sent her off to school with an, “I love you, good luck, and I think it is so awesome that you’re trying this.”

Parents were invited to watch the speeches, and despite feeling slightly helicopter-y, this opportunity was too good to pass up.

The fourth and fifth grade classes filed in to the amphitheater and one by one, the candidates gave their speeches.  My daughter was the very last to go.  She walked to the podium, fumbled with her papers, cleared her scratchy throat and began to speak into the microphone, timid at first but quickly finding her voice.

She finished her speech, locked eyes with me across the crowd and flashed a huge grin.  I gave her a thumbs up, thinking of that one simple word: fly.  

Drama Momma

TINY A**HOLE: A SCREENPLAY BY CONNIE PALTROW

FADE IN: Afternoon in a suburban house, tastefully decorated and impeccably clean.

DAUGHTER and SON are standing on a stairway cluttered with the detritus of the school day: a cello, two sweatshirts, six books and a pair of dirty socks.  MOM is off camera, presumably in the kitchen doing dishes.  The kids start to bicker, then:

SON
Hey Mom, Daughter called me an asshole.

ENTER MOM, breathtakingly beautiful.  Although weary from the day, she has Connie Britton hair and a Gwyneth Paltrow body.  Without thinking, Mom casually blurts

MOM
Well, are you being an asshole?

Daughter and Son are shocked to hear their sweet mother use the a-word so brazenly

DAUGHTER and SON (in unison)
Mommmmm, you said –

Mom, sensing this is very very wrong, goes with it anyway

MOM
Don’t blame me.  We have a declaration of asshole.  I’m just the asshole investigator.  Now tell me what happened.

DAUGHTER
We are both going upstairs and I need to take all my stuff up to my room.  Son isn’t carrying anything so I asked him to help me with my stuff.

MOM
Son, is this true?

Son nods defiantly.

MOM
Well Son, I can’t force you to help your sister, but it does make you a tiny asshole if you don’t.  Not a huge one.  But you really should think about helping your sister.  Also, don’t say that word.  It’s vulgar.

EXIT MOM.  Kids continue to bicker in hushed tones.  The only decipherable word repeated throughout the conversation is “asshole.”

ENTER MOM.

MOM
Alright, we’re done with this.  The next person to say “asshole” is grounded.

SON and DAUGHTER (in unison, laughing)
Mom!  You said it!

MOM
Aw, geez.  You’re right.  I did.  Guess I’m grounded.

EXIT MOM with a smug smile on her face, presumably headed to her bedroom.  Sound of door closing.  Kids stare at each other, bewildered.

DAUGHTER
Um, what just happened?

SON
I have no idea.  Here, let me help you get this stuff upstairs.

Fade Out.

THE END