Monday, September 26, 2016

Sweet and Seven

Let's call this period of time "Ego Week".  It's actually 16 days to be accurate-- the day after Graham's birthday to the day before Cael's, during which time Graham is only one year younger and still riding the high of new presents.

For such a sensitive and sweet boy, he knows how to milk an advantage.

Graham's birthday is always a bit of a challenge.  When asked for gift ideas, he makes suggestions for cheap, meaningless items like "bubbles and balloons" or for things that don't exist, like "Nikes that are purple but say 'BOY' on them so people know they're not girl's shoes".  In short, it's up to me to find things that he will enjoy and make the experience special for him independent of the gifts themselves.

That was my biggest challenge this year.

I did get the bubbles and balloons.  I also got a some books and art stuff, a couple of small Lego sets, some fun bike accessories, and passed on a few ideas to my family.

And then it was time to make a cake.

You guys, I had the hardest time mustering up any motivation this year.  Perhaps it was because Graham had requested a Minecraft cake and I was not particularly excited or inspired by the subject matter, but from the moment I started baking, I just couldn't get invested, and that really hurt me in the long run.  Only Adler was really in the game.

All of the example photos on Pinterest looked largely the same, so I tried to copy my favorite parts from each and combine them into one confection, but my lackluster attention caused me to make a lot of mistakes, like attempting a square cake that was much larger and thinner than I expected and forcing me to bake three layers instead of two, using a whipped chocolate frosting instead of something firmer that would support the fondant, not making my own fondant and using dry store bought stuff, and just not caring sufficiently.  For the first time, I found myself wishing I'd just bought a grocery store cake.

To be fair, it was 3:30am and I had stared, unblinking, at the cake for 40 minutes without doing anything.  Eventually I stuck a creeper and a pig on it and gave up.

But my sweet Graham was so excited and grateful, despite the fact that he HAD to recognize it was not as detailed or as polished as I would normally expect.

And he loved his new shoes even though they were green, because his birthday was first.

Happy Birthday, Bubba.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

(DIM) Do-It-Myself

Last week, Cael came home with the instructions for his very first official school project.  He was tasked with making a "habitat diorama" for an animal of his choice.  The students could use a shoebox or something similar as the framework for their environment, and it should include anything the chosen animal needs to survive.

Cael's choice?  A bald eagle.

That's my patriotic boy.

The only problem is that Cael, while pretty artistically gifted, is also somewhat artistically unmotivated.  I asked him what ideas he had.

"I don't know."

I asked him what an eagle would need to survive.

"I don't know."

I asked him if he wanted a smoothie or grilled beef tongue for his afternoon snack.

"I don't know."

Yeah, I thought he wasn't listening.

Once he had done his research and was able to focus on his project, he made some legitimate suggestions.  He wanted to put a nest in a tree where his eagle would roost.  He wanted a lake or river with fish for his bird to eat.  He wanted grass and mountains, because "mountains rock".  (I see what he did there.)  And lastly, he wanted to paint the entire box so that you couldn't see any cardboard anywhere.

Immediately, I could see the end result.  Not his, but mine-- the project I would have made if I were in his place and had chosen something obscure like the Jesus Lizard.  I'd create a shoebox Amazon rainforest with fourteen different textured plants from my yard, and utilize a discreetly placed spray bottle to mimic the ever present moisture of the canopy.  Then, a complex patchwork of strings and pulleys would guide my lizard over the surface of my poured acrylic "water" as he danced across the surface.

Photo credit here.

But I guess an eagle is okay, too.  And I may have a problem with perfectionism.

Every time we discussed the project, and later when we actually began to assemble it, I had to remind myself to refrain from imposing my ideas and taking over.

This is Cael's project.
This is not my project.
This is Cael's project.

This became my mantra.  And I swear, I did my best to stay out of it.  But after he'd drawn his fresh water fish and finished painting, (by himself, for the record) the time came to create and erect a tree structure.  He liked the idea of the branch being off the ground but lacked the strength or coordination to punch through the box, so I had to take on the task.

In order to affix the grass, rocks, etc., we would have to use the hot glue gun, and I have learned from extensive experience with our log cabin project that my leaky glue gun should require licensure and come equipped with burn cream and a injury waiver, so I would have to do that part, too.  I had Cael lay out the landscaping where he would like, and I glued everything down before starting in on the river.

And here's where I couldn't help myself.

He did a great job painting the river.  But wouldn't the river be even cooler if we covered it with solidified hot glue so that it would look glossy and wet?  He agreed.  And wouldn't the glue river look even more realistic if it tumbled down a rocky waterfall?  He was excited.  And wouldn't the real pièce de résistance be a cobblestone bridge at the edge of the shoebox where there was already a domed cutout?  He was... annoyed.

"No, Mom.  And eagle doesn't need a bridge!"  

I don't need a log cabin assembled with twigs from my backyard, either, but people without rampant perfectionism don't always know what's best for them, DO THEY?

I respected his wishes, however, and handed over the rocks and paint so that Cael could build the waterfall.  I coated it in dropping hot glue, and called it good.

This is Cael's project.  
This is not my project. 
This is Cael's project.

When it was done and I stepped back to look at it, I felt a twinge of regret.  The entire project was his inspiration, and while he did do much of the work, the habitat diorama in front of me didn't look like it was crafted by an eight year-old.

It looked like it was crafted by a glue-gun-wielding stay-at-home-mom who'd had too much coffee that day.  But Cael loves it, and what was done was done.

As we enter this phase of my kids' schooling, I'm going to have to learn to take a step back and let the boys be 100% responsible for their own work.  And if that is the only lesson learned from this project, it should be considered a success.

But you know that next time there will be a bridge...

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

In Defense of The Bad Gal

I eavesdropped on an interesting conversation last night.

As I was taking some boxes to the recycling bin, I could hear Graham chatting with a couple of neighbor boys as he told them he couldn't play any more last night.

"Yeah, we've got to have some family time."
"Your Mom never lets you and Cael play!  You need 'friend' time, not family time."
"I know.  It's always family time."

My first instinct was to run out to the driveway and defend my parental position on this one, but I decided to respect Graham's privacy and go back in the house while I reevaluated every decision I've made for the last 2-3 months.

And in the end, I decided that I'm still right.  Sorry, boys.

With the exception of an affinity for new technology and my unwillingness to get a bob haircut, Joel and I are pretty traditional and old-fashioned in our parenting beliefs.  I drive a mini-van, for goodness sake.  But as time goes by, I realize more and more than our style doesn't align with that of many parents in our generation.

After school, my boys are free to play with the exception of a couple of days when I have their day care friends over, and feel it would be disrespectful for them both to leave.  But Thursday or Friday (or any day after 4:45pm, send your kid on over.  The Foreman boys are ready to play.

That invitation doesn't extend forever, though.  At some point we will eat dinner, and that usually signals the end of (neighborhood) play time.  After dinner we do homework, we clean up, and we take showers.

**Please note that I am using the royal "we" here, as my children seem to have developed a phobia and/or life-threatening allergy about cleaning their bodies.  Thus far, no one has succumbed to anaphylactic shock, but studies are ongoing.**

If there is time left over, we spend it together.  We read a book, we play Old Maid, we sit together on the couch and I pretend to care about the score of a baseball game.  But not every minute or even every day is for friends.  That's what the weekend is for.

This issue, more than any other, has made me the bad guy... or gal.

There are so many others, though.  I've had to establish a firmer stance as a mother than I ever expected because these boys are more stubborn and unyielding than a brick wall, and I've learned that the only defense against masonry is more structure.

If you make a mess, you clean it up.  I don't expect perfection, but cleaning up your Legos is not properly achieved by cramming them all into a dirty sock and then jamming said sock into your dirty clothes basket.  When 647 loose Legos explode inside my dryer, I will not dance beneath them as though they were confetti on New Year's Eve.

If I tell you to do something, you do it.  Not later and not partially.  If you try to pull a fast one over on me, you may discover that the trip to Dairy Queen we planned ends up happening later... or maybe I'll just fill up a Dairy Queen cup with some greek yogurt from the fridge.

Use your best judgment.  If I got angry about you showing your friends one of my bras, I probably won't respond well to a fashion show of my various pairs of underwear.

If I cook you a meal and your first words upon seeing asparagus are "you've got to be kidding me!", you won't get to eat.  Someday, God willing, another family might invite you to eat with them, and I don't want you to respond to liver and onions as if they were, well, liver and onions.  Be respectful.  Plus, the rest of us are sick of green beans.

If you hit your brother and he hits you back, don't come crying to me.  Work out your problems with each other.  Someday I will be dead and he will be the only other person on the planet with whom you can commiserate about that time Mom wouldn't let you play outside after dinner.

For the love of God, calm down.  When you come home from school and explode with unrestrained energy, I find myself huddling fearfully in the middle of a tornado of light sabers and farts.  No one deserves that, especially the woman that actively chose a belly of stretch marks in order to have you around.  If you must, do it outside.

Do not mix the Play-Doh colors.  This is non-negotiable.

If you ask me a question, don't fight with me about the answer.  I may not be a lawyer or an astrophysicist, but I'm a smart gal and I know a few things.  If I don't know an answer, I know how to help you find one.

If you misbehave when friends are over, I will send them home.  If your friends misbehave when they are over, I might send them home too.  It depends on the kid.  Are their parents bad guys, too?

There are a lot of new-age parenting ideas floating around out there, and while I don't agree with a lot of them, I don't begrudge a parent their right to raise their own children in whatever way they feel is best.  But if your son or daughter complains that the Foreman boys are never allowed out of the house, please set them straight.

Then serve them some asparagus.  We all need to be the bad gal sometimes.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Radical Remembrance

I'm writing this post on Sunday, September 11th, and if there were ever a day meant for remembering, this would be it.

I've never written a 9/11 post, message, or even Facebook update, because I have always felt that those sentiments should be left for the people whose lives were more directly impacted by those events.  I was just a shiny new college student, ready for class on a beautiful Tuesday morning with no idea of how things would change.

I didn't lose anyone.  I didn't even know anyone who lived in New York or DC.  But for me personally, I was already operating at a deficit because that beautiful September morning would have been my mother's birthday, if she hadn't been gone for almost seven years.

She would have hated that her birthday, which should have been a lighthearted event-- a sunny promise of autumn leaves and cool breezes, became a memorial for tragedy, a reminder of the evil in the world.

The interesting thing is that she was the exact opposite of what that day would later represent.  Mom was quiet and she was kind.  She embraced people with hugs and "I love yous" and sticky coffee cake, and would never, despite any opposing ideology, think of lashing out at others.

Radical kindness.  Radically gentle.

Mom's been gone for twenty-two years now, and that fresh hurt of her loss has passed.  She comes to mind every single day, but in moments when I give Adler eskimo kisses like she shared with me, or when I laugh about how she couldn't curl her tongue in the bathroom mirror.  And as I watch coverage of the 9/11 anniversary, I just hope and pray that for those who were directly affected, the fresh hurt can pass for you too, and you can remember the happy moments with your loved ones and the sunshine on that Tuesday morning.

Photo credit here.

Thursday, September 8, 2016


This is happening right now.

While Adler enjoys a little "Thomas the Train" on the iPad during his very first potty attempt, I can't help but be enamored with his cuteness.

I also can't help but wonder if I am helping to craft him into the 32-year-old he will someday be, enjoying a private moment on the toilet with his trusty mobile device.

Or more realistically, seventeen private moments and counting.

Good luck, Adler.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Flaws and Futures

I'm struggling today.

Even though the kids are at school and Adler is enjoying an episode of "Super Why" which gives me approximately 23 minutes to reacquaint myself with a cup of coffee and a quiet house, I'm still feeling that bone-deep stress that only a parent can understand.

For the last month or so, I have felt like I don't even know my boys.  They have been so defiant, argumentative, and often rude that I can no longer excuse their behaviors away.

In short, I love them, but I haven't liked them a lot lately.

And when I say "them", I really mean Cael.

I am trying to choose my words carefully, because he is aware of this blog and I know that a day will come when he wants to read it.  I've always been honest here, and nothing I say will come as a surprise to him because he is whip-smart and quite self-aware, but I also don't want to hurt his feelings in an effort to try to be funny.  So for both our sake's, let's try it this way.

This is Cael.

He is a few weeks away from nine years old, and he's amazing.  But like all of us, he is flawed.

Cael is stubborn, but he is smart.  When he's been told to stop arguing, he can't help but continue because it is important to him to make sure his opinion is heard.  I get that.

When I feel like I have figured out all of his moves, he finds new ways of defying me, but that's probably because he is so creative.  The kid can make something artistic out of almost anything.

When we've had a tough day with one another, I feel exhausted and devoid of energy, but Cael never seems to run out of reserves.  When I think of it, though, I'd rather have an energetic kid than one that has no spark.

I'm a pretty sensitive person, and I try to think of other people's feelings before my own, but that concept eludes Cael.  He can't seem to see or think beyond his own orbit, but he is also only eight.  And my way of thinking often leaves me disappointed... at least Cael is looking out for himself.

I get frustrated with how Cael sees things in such extremes.  If he doesn't like where we are going to dinner, he won't eat.  If Graham won't play a certain game, Cael won't speak to him.  But when he's thirty, maybe that conviction will push him to go for that promotion he's been wanting, or will help him win that court case he's trying.

Lastly, I find that Cael (and the other boys, too, for that matter) save the worst of their behavior for me.  Babysitters and teachers sing their praises, and then when I enter the room, they run wild and lose that respect that should frame their interactions.  But what if they need to "let down" each day?  If their brains need that release, I would certainly rather them do it with me than at school or at church, or when they are older, at work.

So yeah, today I'm struggling.  But I need to remember that for each of their flaws, there is also a strength that I may be helping to create in the men they will become.

And for six more minutes, there's coffee and silence.