When You Wish Upon a Star

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ImageIt’s Spring and that means one thing around my house – baseball! With two boys playing ball, one in “Select” league, it also means that I’m lucky if I’m home two nights during the work week. It also means that CareerMom, who works out of the house, is stuck doing the bulk of the schlepping back and forth. She called me yesterday and–you know how this works–asked if I planned on going to my son’s game last night. I could tell by the sound of her voice that there was an undercurrent of hope that I would not.

What happened was that we had an early game last night, which meant getting there really early (coach wants them there 45 mins early), which meant my wife had to either pick my daughter from DayCare early and be late to the game, OR drop off my son at his game,  and then drive ALLLL the way back to get my daughter.

I made it easy on my wife and skipped the game and picked up my daughter and went home. Throughout the evening, my wife kept me updated via text messages, so I got all the benefits of being there, with little of the nervousness.

But a great thing came out of that–I got to spend quality time with Baby Girl. She’s four now and she’s a talkative spirit. After she fell asleep on the couch and then woke up again around 7:45, we spent 45 wonderful minutes on the back porch, under a blanket, watching the stars and airplanes, and making wishes. With three kids (did I mention my friend has five?) that kind of quality time doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, you have to squeeze every moment out of it.

When we found out we were having our third child, one of my fears was this very issue of spending quality time with that many different children, plus keeping a marriage healthy, plus keeping my career going. I wish I could say that I was wrong and it’s easy to do, but it’s not. Then again, maybe it depends on your definitions of sucess. All I know is that last night was a success. The first thing she said to me this morning was, “Daddy, do you remember making wishes on the wishing star last night?

I sure do Baby Girl. I sure do.



Thanks for the memories

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A bit more than eight years ago, CareerMom and I bought this crib. We went to Toys-R-Us, Babies-R-Us and every other R-Us derivative you can imagine. I think we ended up about 15 miles north of our house in some suburb of the suburbs, in a no-name strip mall containing a high-end baby store.

And thus the Bonavita “Carla” crib came into our home.

Two weeks ago, I dismantled it. Eight years and three kids later it’s finally done. And other than some dried, crusty milk between the vertical slats, it’s in pristine condition. None of my kids “teethed” on the rails. It’s bittersweet letting it go, but it was time Baby-Girl got her own big-girl bed.

Government safety laws prohibit the donation of cribs manufactured prior to 2010 due to some issue with drop-sides on pre-2010 cribs and even though ours doesn’t have a drop-side, we still can’t donate it. Which is a shame. You spend $1200 on a crib, you want to see it not end up in a dumpster somewhere. But I think we have a taker for it (for free). Hope it goes to another good home.

Gen X – The Guilt Generation?

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ImageIt seems that every generation gets a label these days. Kids in the early 20s now are called “Gen Y’ers” and they are the social media age. Apparently, they don’t have the same sense of entitlement that we Gen X’ers supposedly have, though I’m really not sure where that “entitlement” label came from. Gen Y’ers are also supposed to be more driven, crave positive feedback and generally don’t feel the need to slave 50 hours a week at a meaningless job (bully for them!). Interestingly, they also seem less familial-inclined, which is a stark departure from my generation.

But even though my world revolves around my family, I struggle with the line between parent and play-buddy. On the one hand, I look back on my own childhood–one where I was generally an only child and if there was playing to be done, it was usually done alone. My parents just weren’t involved.  On the other hand, I don’t want the same for my own children, so I DO try to do things with them frequently and when you add in Career-Mom’s near-constant need to get out of the house and do something, it seems like we’re always on the go.

I struggle with this balance. For example today…we played outside with the kids for about an hour, then we took them down to the science museum. When we got home, they wanted me to ride bikes with them. Really? After everything we JUST did…?

So back to my quandry…I want to be with my kids and I don’t want them to look back on THEIR childhood–like I do mine–and feel like all their dad ever did was work around the house, but at the same time, I HAD my childhood already. Can I just enjoy my adulthood a bit? And can’t that mean that I don’t have to play with my kids and when I don’t, can I do it without guilt?

I’ll let you know how that works out. So far, I’m riddled with guilt.

Raised On Demand

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There is a part of me that is both horrified, and gratified, by the knowledge that television is a big part of my kids’ lives. I honestly don’t know what my kids would do at the end of a long day without it…or what I would do without it. Image

There are days, that one or more of my children will come home from school or daycare, and pretty much watch TV from the moment we come in, through dinner, and until we put them to bed. Now granted, often that’s really only like, two hours, but still…right?

And as much as it makes me want to gag admitting this, there are many a day when I’m more than happy to relegate my parental obligations to our 46” family friend. He’s a good friend.

But I don’t know…Lord, I watched a lot of TV when I was a kid and I’m pretty OK. I get as much exercise as my schedule will allow. I don’t eschew my job, family or other responsibilities in favor of watching “my show.” So I don’t know…I guess as long as your kids aren’t lard-arses and when you do pull them away from the tube to interact with other people, they aren’t complete Asbergers, then it’s OK?

Moving on!

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A month later, I get a phone call.

“Hi Chris. I was hoping a could get a couple minutes of your time and then I’ll let you go.”
“I wanted to say I’m sorry for what I said to you when I was there. I’ve never meant to hurt you now or in the past and I just want to ask your forgiveness and then, it’s up to you what you do with it. “
“Well, I appreciate your calling and saying that and I can forgive you for what you said, but I …I can’t forget it. It was very hurtful.”
“Well, I understand that. I just wanted to have the opportunity to say that and ask for your forgiveness.”
“OK, thank you.”

…and that was it. As I’m sure we all do with these things, I’ve run the tape through my head dozens of times looking for nuances or meaning that probably aren’t there. But regardless, even if I just take what she said, I’m left with a feeling of, “That’s it?  You tell me I’m a horrible father and husband and all you ask for is my forgiveness?”

It’s as if she called and said what she did because she felt her spirituality required it of her; not because in her heart she knew she’d said some hateful and hurtful things and wanted to make it right.
And as my wife pointed out, now, if I never “fix” things, it’s on me. She can go off and tell everyone that she tried and I didn’t want to hear it and that I just don’t want anything to do with her. She’s assuaged her conscience and anything from here on out is on me.

So be it. I can live that. Outside of her and her husband, the only contact I ever have with her family is when we’re all physically in the same spot. I send them all Christmas cards, and never get them back. I respond to their posts on FB, and never get any in return. I wonder what the loss would really be.

Someone asked me, “What are you going to do?” and I really don’t know. Truthfully, there is a part of me that is relieved it’s over—which makes me look even further. Have I been keeping up this relationship because I want or need it, or just because I feel a responsibility to her and to my kids to keep her in my life. A little of both I hope, but more of the latter I think.

I’ve known other people who have gone through things like this and I’ve often wondered what happened that is so unforgivable. I mean, they’re family right? What could someone from your family ever do or say that’s so bad. Now I know. Doesn’t mean I understand it any better, but at least I have context.

I’m going to take this on my timeline. I’m going to let this rest through the holiday; not because I’m being mean or holding a grudge, but because I don’t want to deal with whatever happens. Even if all were forgiven tomorrow, the holidays would still be tense. Just not worth it.

Ultimately, maybe that’s the answer I’ve been looking for.

Burning bridges

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(This is a really long, self-serving bit of cathartic writing. Feel free to ignore)

Many of you, who have kept up with me over these past few years, know that my family background is…diverse. Having been adopted at the age of 2 into a marriage that ended in divorce a handful of years later, only to have yet a new “mother” in my life by age 6…well…that gets messy eventually. All told, there are three women in my life who hold the moniker “mom” or “mother” in some way, shape or form. Add in a doting foster mother and it makes four.

Thankfully, there is only one person whom I call “dad.”
For years, the woman who generally raised me from age 6, has been my go-to mom, both out of respect and love. To keep things simple, let’s call her Mom #3. She has been there for me when I was hurt, both physically and mentally and I know that at any time I could call on her, and she would be there. But none of us are perfect. I’m certainly not and I’ll be happy to provide anyone who asks, with a litany of my shortcomings.

Despite my love and respect for my “mom,” it has not been an easy relationship. Since day one, I’ve had to deal with her jealousy of other “women.” As a child, if my brother and I spent a weekend with our adopted mom (who divorced us a few years after our adoption), more often than not when we returned home, we’d be greeted with silence from Mom #3. Her method of dealing with things was to walk away from it—just push it away until she could come to terms. This was also how she dealt with misbehavior from my brother and me, as well as her marital disappointment with my dad. I remember one especially bad spell when I was younger. It had been about a week since we’d gotten any meaningful communication from Mom #3. I don’t remember what happened, but whatever it was, it didn’t warrant such a protracted silent treatment. And much like my older son, I was a very emotionally sensitive child. Something happened at school and I just broke down and ended up in the Counselor’s office where I just remember blubbering about what was going on at home. They called my brother in to corroborate and when he did, I remember them talking in hushed tones about calling our house. Both my brother and I flipped out and begged them not to. They said they wouldn’t, but as I look back, I would imagine they had a duty to and probably did anyway.

This cycle of behavior extended in my early adulthood. When I got married, my soon-to-be bride and her mother spent endless cycles trying to figure out how to seat all my different “moms” in the church just so Mom #3 wouldn’t get upset. They didn’t do the typical groom dance with the mother for fear of offending anyone and Mom #3 in particular. At the one bridal event that Mom #2 was invited to, Mom #3 got up and walked out. Couldn’t even be in the same room with her. And that’s how it’s been.

Mom #3 lives about 3.5 hours away, so going up and seeing her is not exactly a weekend trip you want to make with three kids too often. When we do go, CareerMom and I do pretty much the same thing we do at home, which is constantly watch the kids. Only, we do it without much help from the Grandparents. She never plans anything for the kids. She never cooks anything special for the kids. She never buys “gifts” for the kids outside of birthday or Christmas. In short, she treats them much like she treated me…kids should be seen, and not heard. When she does play with them, it’s forced and more often than not, as she’s trying to hold them and force them to be “lovey” with her, they end up crying and clawing their way out of her reach.

Things began coming to a head this past summer when we invited them to spend a week with us in a condo at the beach. The plan was for us all to arrive on Tuesday and stay until Saturday. Most of Mom #3’s family is down around Mobile near the beach, so they went on early and did the family round-robin and joined us Tuesday evening. That evening and most of the next day CareerMom and I spent with the kids—alternating between the pool and the beach. Mom #3 appeared sporadically, never really joining us, only watching from afar. Late Wednesday afternoon, an aunt came by and everyone got in the pool together. Mom #3 alternated between whispering with her sister and grabbing at my youngest son and trying to make him play with her. He finally began yelling at her to leave him alone and it got so bad that CareerMom finally had to step in and tell her to “Let go!”

Things went downhill from there.

I headed upstairs to start dinner. Mom #3 came up later and locked herself in her room-her husband clearly mad, banged on the door for her to let him in, which she finally did. An hour later, dinner was ready and they were still in their room, so my family began eating. A few minutes into dinner, Mom #3 appears with her bags packed and announced, “We’re leaving.” I followed them to the door in shock to see what was going on and was told, “We’re having problems and we don’t want to ruin ya’ll’s vacation.” And with that, she left. Didn’t hug the kids…didn’t even tell them “we had a great time and we love you.” Just walked away. I called her the next day, because they’d left with our camera, and expressed my displeasure, which was met with more of the same martyr-like speak I’d come to expect and we both hung up.

Fast forward to three weeks ago, acting as if nothing had happened over the summer, Mom #3 calls out of the blue and asked if they could come down. Trying to just “let it go” I heartily welcomed them. It was her birthday on Saturday, so I got a cake; the kids made a card; really, I was trying to make her comfortable and happy.

They came in this past Friday night and everyone acted civilly—no problems. Saturday, we all went to my older son’s football game and Saturday night, I bought VIP tickets to the Stone Mountain Laser Show. The VIP tickets allowed us all to sit in seats rather than on blankets on the ground like the rest of the masses. Both Mom #3 and her husband have health issues and I was hoping to make it all more comfortable. We were seated down a short hill and Mom #3 mentioned to me that she’d left her Asthma inhaler at home (along with her purse/phone) and that when we left, she was going to be really slow coming up the hill so that we should all just go on. Around 9:40 p.m., we all decided to head back to the car a bit early. Both my youngest son and daughter were asleep anyway and literally, there were probably 10K people there and if we didn’t leave early, we’d get stuck in traffic and get home at midnight. I carried my son and CareerMom grabbed my daughter and some bags, leaving just a cooler and a blanket for Mom #3. We headed up the hill and I looked back a couple of times to make sure they were OK, which they were. So CareerMom and I headed back to the car, which was a straight-shot walk from where we were seated. Arriving at the car, we got everyone settled and I stepped out to look for Mom and her husband. They never showed. For the next hour, I walked all around the park, back and forth three times from our car to our seats, looking for them. I called my aunt hoping she’d be able to give me Mom’s husband’s cell, but she wasn’t home. I finally found them wandering around a parking lot around 10:30.

Obviously, I was frustrated at this point, but upon seeing them, I walked up, took the cooler from her husband and said, “Well, at least you’re OK!” We’d seen a couple of ambulances go roaring past, and not having any way to communicate with them, had no idea if they were OK or not. Now, when I get aggravated, I get quiet, and I remained quiet on the ride home. When we did get home around 11:30, we all piled out of the car, CareerMom and me carrying sleeping children to bed. When we came back downstairs, Mom and her husband had retired to their room.

Sunday morning, my family was up, as usual early. Mom #3 came upstairs around 8 a.m. and sat, stone-faced, on the couch. I offered coffee, which she refused, stating, “No, we’ll get some on the road.” She got up off the couch and started walking to the door. I followed and said, “Come on, you’re going to leave?” And she said, “Well it’s obvious we’re not wanted here.” I replied, “So, when things get hard, you’re just going to leave, like you did at the beach? You’re going to let your being upset with me, get in the way of you spending time with the kids?”  She said, “Well, they didn’t want to spend time with me at the beach, and they haven’t here either. I asked Ethan yesterday who I was to him and he didn’t know. I asked him who his grandmother was and he said, “Not you!”

The conversation followed with me getting more and more incredulous. I finally said, “You can’t expect to have a relationship with them when you spend 24 hours with them every 4 months!” To which she replied, “Well, you never come see me! You give everything to everyone else, but I get nothing.” I stood there just aghast, groping at what to say next when she continued her tirade. I tried to interrupt and couldn’t until finally, I said loudly, “Can I talk?”

Oh no…

She then said, “Don’t you raise your voice at me and treat me like one of your kids. You treat your wife and kids like shit and I wouldn’t talk to anyone like you do them!”
I quietly said, “You need to leave. Right now.”

“I am leaving,” she said and as she walked out, she continued, “I’m not going to let you talk bad about me and make me feel bad like you did your father.” And with that, she left. I returned to the living room where her husband and my family sat, listening and I told her husband, “I’ve asked her to leave.” He hopped up and started walking out and I said, “Can I talk to you for a second” hoping to have a second and tell him that I appreciated him and that the kids loved him like a grandfather and that I hoped he remembered that in years to come, but he wouldn’t stop and talk to me. He just said goodbye and left.

I stood there just devasted. Not because she’d left, but because of what she said. I walked back to where my wife sat and asked her to come up to our room to talk. She’d not heard the full conversation, only when I’d raised my voice. I told her what my mom had said and she too was shocked.

For the next day and a half, we would both re-run the weekend through our heads and tried to figure out where all this hate and vitriol came from. At no point had I raised my voice at my kids over the weekend and beyond just telling them to “stop this” or “stop that,” I’d said nothing bad to them. And certainly, my wife and I hadn’t had any back and forth that would have contributed to my “treating her badly.”

I later called my dad and asked if there was any validity to what she’d said about me and him and he was incredulous as well, saying that it was quite to the contrary. He finished his comment up by saying, “And anyway, how would she know?” (Mom #3 divorced my dad a few months after I graduated from high school and joined the military. Before the divorce was over, she was bringing her current husband to family functions.)
I have done everything I can think of to make sure there isn’t a grain of truth to Mom #3’s accusations. I know I’m not perfect. I have yelled at my kids. When I get angry, the kids know to get out of my way, but not because I’ve ever hit them…only because when I get angry and my voice gets deep, I can seem larger than life. Most of us could say the same of our own fathers.

Even today, I’m at a loss. How something so hateful can come out of a person who preaches God and love, is both appalling and cliche’ at the same time. What I think is most surprising to me, is how her husband acted on the way out. Maybe he was just supporting her, or maybe she’s filled his head with her nonsense too. If so, I feel awful. I’m sure, as time goes by, the aunts, uncles and cousins that I grew up with, will all be spoon-fed her side of the story and that I will become the black-sheep—never knowing how much more to the story there really is.

But when it is all said and done, it makes you stop and evaluate all of your relationships. Maybe I’ll be a little more patient with my kids in an attempt at preventing a self-fulfilling criticism. Maybe I’ll cut Mom #2 a bit more slack because after all, despite the things my brother and I endured during her time, she has changed and she, more than any other, makes an effort. She remembers birthdays, anniversaries and sometimes “just becauses.” We’re going to see my dad in a few weeks and I’m sure I will cherish our relationship all the more for it.

But for Mom #3, there is no coming back from what she said. I can forgive, but I won’t forget. I won’t let her poison my kids, my marriage or my thoughts. The loss, is hers. She has no other children, or grandchildren. She has only her miserable work and her husband. The rest of her family is 500 miles away. I don’t wish her ill, but I hope she woke up today and realized the horror of what she’s done.

Hooked on Phonics, Worked for me!

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reading Those of you without children may want to pass this post up. It’s likely to bore the pants off you (which is cool as long as you’re A) female and B) willing to send pictures).  Plus, simply by clicking here, you boosted my stats which is all any of us really care about.

Oh, did I let the cat out of the bag? Phewww, sorry! (kidding)

Anyway, MLI is coming up on five years old and is therefore, in pre-K. In addition to the twice-weekly Spanish classes (spanish at 5 years old?), they are also learning how to read. Each night he comes home with this little sheet of words that he is working on and last week, he even came home with a rhyme that he read–something to the effect of, “Nan pats the cat. The Cat can pat Nan.” etc. It didn’t get much more difficult.

Thing is, they are learning to read by learning the sight of words. So, they learn that “STOP” reads “Stop.” They are not learning to sound the word out, “Sssss…ta…ta…ah…pa…pa…SssTaPa…STOP!”

We had a small debate over at CareerMom’s parent’s house the other night as to the appropriateness of this method of teaching. CareerMom’s mother is a teacher, and sitting around the table were several highly educated people, who each thought he or she knew better than the other which way of teaching a child to read was better.

It was my MIL who postulated that the child isn’t really learning to read this way; while one of her daughters (who went to a very expensive private university, then transferred out west to get a Masters in Music and who is now doing a Jr. level job at a pharma company), claimed, “Well, once you’re older, aren’t you reading by recognizing the words anyway?”

A good point to be sure, but I’m of the opinion that a child should learn to add manually before using a calculator. However, being the “outlaw” at the table, and one who understands the value of a free, home-cooked meal, I kept my mouth shut.

Last night while trying to come up with a low-key way to kill the last 30 minutes before the kid’s bedtime, I sat down with MLI and asked him to read me “Go Dog Go.” Doesn’t everyone know this book?

Well, he knew the first couple of pages…by heart. Once we got past his “sight words” vocabulary, it was a frustrating thing for him to sound the words out. This cemented my belief that learning to read by sight words is a waste of time! I mean, if a kid has a photographic memory, then fine. Eventually, the kid can read Webster’s and be good to go, but for the rest of us, we really need to learn how to figure things out on our own.

Unfortunately, patience does not run on my side of the family (Bio-mom excluded), and MLI quickly became frustrated with my attempts at helping him. And to my credit, I think I was very patient! (Yaah me!).  All in all, I’m not too worried about him reading or not reading right now. In Kindergarten, I was in the “Remedial Reading Group” until I figured it out and then I was into it like gangbusters. I still spend a substantial amount of money each year on books and I have no doubt that my kids will follow suit.

But, for you parents out there with school-age kids; what did you/do you have to do to help your kids read? And how did they learn? Did the “sight word” method work for you?