Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Super Heroes

     One week from today, the streets will be crawling with miniature Spidermen, Batmen, Thors and Hulks.  They will invade your homes.  They will take your candy.  They will eat that candy and the resultant sugar high will send teachers running for the hills.  Toothpaste sales will go up.  Candy collected will sit in drawers until Easter, when it is finally thrown out and replaced by pastel marshmallow bunnies.  Super heroes will transform back into rambunctious kindergartners who whine about homework and occasionally still wet the bed.  The magic of Halloween will come and go in a day, as it does every year.  I loved Halloween as a kid.  For weeks I would plan the perfect costume.  My mouth would water as I anticipated the pounds and pounds of tooth-rotting sugary sweets I would acquire.  On Halloween night, my parents would drive us from neighborhood to neighborhood as we filled pillowcases with our loot.  I still love Halloween.  I don't usually don a costume, but I do love to deck our house out in spooky decor (part of my Halloween "decor" includes not dusting- it's the one month dust and cobwebs can be considered decorating- just go with it).  I make ghost in the graveyard cakes and jackolantern sugar cookies and read my kids spooky poems and stories.  On a quiet afternoon, I will read a little Edgar Allen Poe as the smell of cider fills the house.  I might even throw a little Hitchcock in one evening for a good old fashioned scare.
     Last week, my daughter brought home a Halloween drawing she had completed at school.  It was a drawing of a smiling Jackolantern.  She informed me that her teacher had instructed the class to draw things that were not too scary.  She had explained to them that there were already enough scary things in the world.  Of course, every parent knows all too well how right this teacher's statement was.  Every day we hear another news story about some horrible, previously unimaginable thing happening to an innocent child.  Sometimes it's enough to make us want to lock the doors and never let our precious ones leave the house.  We try to shield our children as much as possible from the truly ghastly things that go on every day.  But children inherently know that this world is full of monsters.  They may visualize them a little differently than we do.  They hear the word "monster" and imagine something huge and hulking with razor sharp teeth hiding under their bed or in the closet.  We hear the word "monster", and an image of Jerry Sandusky comes to our minds.  Yes, children may see monsters differently than we do, but they know they're out there.  So they sleep with night lights and pull the blankets up over their heads, trying to hide from the nameless fear of the unexplained darkness that the monsters of this world project.
     My little boy is very tender hearted.  He is compassionate toward living things.  If ever I have a child who grows up to be a vegetarian, it will be my Hyrum.  Often when we eat meat for dinner, he is very concerned by what has happened to whatever poor creature has ended up on our plates.  He worries for days after hearing a story of another child who has suffered because of disease, bullying, abuse or neglect.  He tells me he loves me at least five times a day and hugs me at least ten.  To an outside observer, however, Hyrum may seem just the opposite.  He has what I have heard called "little dog syndrome".  Hyrum is in fact very small for his age.  Because of his size and his tender heart, he presents a tough exterior.  He's like the tiny tea cup chihuahua who growls and bares it's teeth at the Great Dane across the fence.  I see similar behaviors in so many little boys.  They feel they have to be tough in a tough world.  I have recently come to the conclusion that this is why little boys love super heroes.  In them, they see a force that can single handedly combat all of the bad guys that haunt their dreams.  It gives them hope that if Thor can beat down the bullies of the world, maybe they can too.
     This world needs more super heroes.  I'm not suggesting that middle-aged men with beer guts start parading around the street in blue and red spandex.  But, we need more real super heroes; more men who will open a door, carry a bag of groceries; more men who aren't afraid to show affection and tenderness; more teachers who speak up for the child with no voice, more teenagers who say no to drugs, more coaches who let every team member leave the bench and play; more men who live their lives based on principles of respect, decency and kindness.  Boys do not need to be shown how to be tough.  They need to be taught how to be tender; to respect their own feelings and the feelings of others.  Morgan's teacher was right.  This world is full of scary things.  Perhaps if our boys see more real super heroes start to emerge, the nameless and hopeless fear they feel will begin to dissipate.  Maybe they will feel safe enough to be themselves, whether straight or gay, jock or magician, muscular or lanky.
     One week from today, the streets will be crawling with miniature super heroes.  I long for the day when more of the doors they knock will be opened by real life super heroes than by monsters.        

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


     You read the word and immediately conjured up in your mind an image of a well-endowed, leggy blond with too tan skin and Crest white teeth, didn't you?  You imagined a girl with an I.Q. that's as small as her skirt is short.  This is the image that used to appear in my mind when I heard the word "cheerleader."  Before I continue any further, I must make a confession:  I was a cheerleader once.  It was seventh grade.  Several of my closest friends back in Richmond, VA, were planning to try out for the cheerleading squad.  Seeing as how we did absolutely everything together, I decided I had better join them.  The day of the tryouts, I put on cute purple shorts and some vibrant 90's printed t-shirt.  My mom curled my hair.  When it was my turn before the panel of judges, I jumped and smiled and bobbed my head until I thought it might fall off.  Thankfully, it did not, and by the end of the day, I was thrilled to find my name on the list of girls who had made the squad.  For the rest of the year, every time there was a Brooklyn Middle School sporting event, I donned my blue and white and shook my pom poms with pride.  I have to admit it;  being a cheerleader was a lot of fun.  The next year my family moved to Idaho.  I did not try out for the the cheerleading squad.  All of the cheerleaders at my new school were well-endowed leggy blonds with too tan skin and Crest white teeth who had I.Q.'s as small as their skirts were short.  I was in the middle of some adolescent, angst-filled, "why did my parents make me leave all my friends and move to potato town" identity crisis.  Cheerleaders were the enemy.  They were peppy and perky and nauseating.  They were each a Barbie to a football jock's Ken.   I was aware that just one short year ago, I myself had been a cheerleader, but I was never, ever like them.
     Cheerleaders have got to be one of the most stereotyped groups around.  Rarely in any form of media is a cheerleader portrayed as a kind, intelligent girl who likes to show her school spirit.  In books, movies and tv, the cheerleaders are the mean girls, the stupid girls, and often even the slutty girls. Chances are if you weren't a cheerleader in high school, you hated cheerleaders in high school.  They were those plastic leggy blonds who got asked to the prom by no less than four of the most popular guys in school while you played the part of the shy wallflower in the corner.  Or maybe you were the band nerd or the yearbook editor, too concerned with "serious things" to be involved with such frivolity.  I was the drama nerd who hung out in the drama teacher's classroom at lunch.  Recently, I have had to look back on my high school days with new perspective; with the perspective of a parent who now has a daughter that is a cheeleader.  That's right.  My sweet little bookworm of a girl informed me last Spring that she would really like to try cheerleading this year.  My brain immediately started concocting a variety of plans to dissuade her.  It is not all too difficult to sway the opinion of an eight year old.  I asked her if she was sure she wouldn't rather try dance another year.  She hadn't tried clogging or hip-hop yet, after all.  Was she sure she didn't want to stick with gymnastics for one more year?  I assured her that it got much easier after the first year.  "Girl Scouts would be fun!  I was a Brownie myself when I was about your age. We could have lots of cookies! Ever considered under water basket weaving?  I'm sure there's a class somewhere around here."  In all my pandering, I somehow forgot that my daughter came into this world with a will of iron (not to mention lungs of steel) and that when her mind was set on something, it was set in impenetrable stone.  She looked at me and said matter-of-factly, "I want to be a cheerleader.  I want to hold pom-poms and be on a float in the parade."  Well, that was that.  Shortly after this conversation, I felt ashamed.  I realized I had tried to steer my daughter away from something she really wanted to pursue because I didn't think it was worthy of her.  I was stereotyping cheerleaders.  Having been one myself, you'd think I would have known better.  But what was far worse; I was stereotyping my own daughter.  She was the bookworm.  She was witty, artistic and musical.  She should have a brush or a violin and bow in hand, not a set of pom poms.
     Was I ever wrong!  Not about my daughter being witty, artistic and musical.  She is all of those things.  But she is also a cheerleader.  The day I watched her in the Shelley Spud Day parade I knew it.  My daughter was a cheerleader, and a darn good one at that.  My little girl, who for years had been painfully shy and who had struggled through basic dance and gymnastics steps, looked like she had been born with pom poms in her hands.  She stood straight and confident as she yelled out the Shelley fight song.  I had never seen her so sure of herself.  After that day, a new understanding began to dawn on me as a parent.  I have always said I would let my children try out whatever they wanted to (within reason of course).   I had never realized how hard that decision would be to uphold when my children came to me with dreams I never imagined for them.  And that's when I realized;  I have dreams for my children.  Of course I do.  I dream that Morgan will one day put her wit, warmth and humor to good use as a writer and that Hyrum will be the architect who designs the world's tallest building.  Ryan will of course be the next Nolan Ryan, seeing as how he can hurl his binky a country mile.  I have never dreamed that Morgan would grow up to wear a midriff shirt and be known for having the best high kick around.  And I don't think that she will.  But, if that is her dream, if that is where she ends up and it is what makes her truly happy, I will be on the sidelines for every single game I can make it to.  I guess it's my job to be the cheerleader.  Of course I am still a parent first and foremost, and I will try to gently steer my children toward things that will bring them lasting happiness, like having faith and pursuing a good education.  But I have vowed, since Morgan's decision, to no longer try to steer my children away from activities that I may not have foreseen them taking part in.  I may cringe inside and have to bite my tongue, but I will not offer alternatives.  I will simply show up,  cheering them on every step of the way; watching in amazement as they achieve remarkable feats I could never have planned for them.  My daughter is a cheerleader.  She is also one of the brightest, most compassionate, eloquent, warm and funny people I have had the pleasure of knowing.  "Rah, rah, rah.....goooooooooo Morgan!"  

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Because Good Moms Don't Throw Tantrums

     I threw a  tantrum this morning.  I took a stuffed animal out of my baby's crib and hurled it with mighty force across the room, almost knocking the lamp off of the boys' dresser. This brief tantrum was followed by a ten minute sobbing session.  I made sure that both of these incidents occurred out of view of my children.  Wouldn't want them thinking their mom was emotionally unstable or anything.  But the truth is, today I am.  Perhaps emotionally exhausted would be a better term for it.  I finally made it to the end of my fraying rope and am now clinging onto the rapidly unraveling end for dear life.  As I sit here, my house is relatively calm.  The only sound is the whirring of the dishwasher.  Ryan is sleeping.  Hyrum is parked in front of the TV (a much better place for him today than with me, believe me) and Morgan is actually in Disneyland with her grandma.  So, what exactly is it that has brought me to the point of unleashing my anger on an innocent stuffed teddy?  I am trying to process the cause of my emotional meltdown through writing, because good moms don't throw tantrums.  Good moms don't scream into pillows.  They don't leave the dishes piled in the sink because they just plain don't care that day.  They don't use the tv as a babysitter. And they definitely don't throw stuffed animals.  Today, I have done all but one of the above.  Today is not my best mom day.  I get sick of moms posting only their most glorious parenting and homemaking moments online.  Today I am getting down to the knitty gritty.  Today I am airing the dirty laundry that I think a lot of mothers have.  Today I am flying the white flag.  I recently watched the movie What to Expect When Your Expecting.  When a pregnancy expert finally becomes pregnant herself after years of infertility struggles, she suffers through the most miserable pregnancy ever.  It all culminates in a scene where she she tells a group of moms to be who are gathered at a parenting expo that she is calling BS on the whole "pregnancy is bliss" thing.  Well today I am calling BS on the whole motherhood is bliss thing.  I have had many blissful mothering moments.  Occasionally their are blissful mothering days involving an empty schedule and a stack of library books.  But in the interest of full disclosure, I also have days when I want to pack a suitcase and head for the hills.  Sometimes being a parent just plain stinks.
     I believe that my emotional meltdown, as 99% of emotional meltdowns do, began with lack of sleep.  I have been burning the candle at both ends for so long that there are really no ends left.....more like a giant puddle of melted wax.  Yesterday I was up for nearly 24 hours before my head finally hit my pillow like a lead weight.  After a day of the usual hustle and bustle, I went out shopping last night. I needed to buy groceries and to pick up a few things for my daughter's upcoming baptism.  I was also hoping to find some new church clothes for the boys.  After searching about half the stores in the city of Idaho Falls, I determined that church clothes for toddler boys are only sold around Christmas and Easter.  I began shopping for groceries at about 10:30.  There were two cashiers at Walmart and about ten customers waiting to check out when I finished my shopping about 11:30.  By the time I checked out, drove the 20 minutes back to Shelley and put all the groceries away, it was about 12:30.  I was asleep by about 1:30.  I had been awake since 4:00am.  This morning I went online and paid $93.00 for two church outfits plus shipping.  I think this may have been the beginning of the breakdown.  My already teetering emotional state was pushed over the edge by a birthday party and a giant stuffed bear. (teddy bears are no friend of mine today).  I thought about naming this post "Bearly Hanging On", but then I was just too peeved to be cutesy or punny. It was the annual Winnie the Pooh birthday party at the North Bingham County library.  As I knew this would be the last year Hyrum could attend (it's for kids 5 and younger), I decided to take the boys over.  What ever caused me to believe that taking Ryan to a library party where children were expected to sit quietly and listen to stories was a good idea I am not sure.  The party was also right in the middle of his usual nap time.  The library reading stage was decked out with Winnie the Pooh books and stuffed animals, none of which Ryan could touch.  He was not happy about this.  I spent the majority of the party pulling him away from the toys while he made very loud protests which elicited irritated stares from all the other moms in the room.  Hyrum was sitting contentedly listening to the stories.  I wanted to yell, "my other son is over there!  Look how nicely he is sitting!  The only reason we are here is for him!"  I wanted to, but I didn't.  I stared briefly at the other mothers, many of whom had children Ryan's age who were sitting still on their mother's laps.  I scooped Ryan up by one leg and carried him out while all the good little children stared in wide eyed horror.  I took him to the toy table, which he immediately began climbing on top of.  Each time I would pull him off the table, he would throw himself on the floor in a fit of hysterics that would have worn Richard Simmons out.  The older siblings of the party patrons who were trying to enjoy some quiet reading time glared at me.  I took Ryan to the this instance meaning the four foot square area between the outside and inside glass doors of the library.  He screamed and pounded on the door while I stood indifferently reading each and every flier plastering the wall.  One of the older librarians looked out at me with a smile and a little gleam in her eye that made me think she must have had a Ryan of her own many years ago.  I reentered the library when I saw a girl walk by with a piece of cake.  I should here insert that when we first arrived at the party, I had sat down by a friend of mine.  When I returned for the cake, my seat had been taken by a woman whom I recognized as the mother of one of Hyrum's school friends.  We had talked briefly at the bus stop.  "Hi there"......I began.......and then I heard a "No, no" followed by a blood curdling scream that sounded all too familiar.  Ryan had ventured up to the stage in the two seconds I had turned to greet my friend.  The woman in the giant Winnie the Pooh costume who had been reading the stories had picked him up.  He had had the same reaction that many small children have the first time they sit on Santa's lap.  I rescued him from the scary bear and stuffed some cake in his mouth.  I sat down in the row behind my friends, who were now deep in conversation.  Ryan shoved me off my chair, climbed into it and looked at me expectantly.  Did he want me to bring out the palm fronds and peeled grapes?  I sat on the floor behind my oblivious friends with my unwashed hair in my Bear Lake hooded sweatshirt and soccer mom jeans and shoes.  They sat in front of me with their silent cherubic children in their perfectly coordinated fall boots and scarves, laughing and exchanging phone  numbers.  It was all too much.  The second Hyrum finished his cake, we were out the door.  The drive home from the library was only about two minutes long, but it was long enough for the emotion I was experiencing to build to boiling point.  I will happily here insert that I did not yell at my children.  I have before, but I did not today.  I grabbed a bottle, filled it with milk and threw it in the microwave, stormed off to Ryan's room to get him a fresh diaper.  This is where I discovered that his animals were still in his crib.  He likes his crib to himself, so I had to remove the intruding furry friends, though perhaps not as forcefully as I did.  I must have been a sight to behold; a frumpy soccer mom hurling stuffed animals across the room.  I gave Ryan his bottle, told Hyrum I was going downstairs to the bathroom, and down I went.  I did not actually go to the bathroom.  I curled up in a ball on the couch and sobbed.  
     At that moment I felt lower than low.  I had been running myself ragged for weeks trying to do and be everything for everyone.  Suddenly I felt like no one.  I was completely alone.  I was failing at everything.  I was exhausted and I looked like Cathy Bates from Misery.  Slowly, I emerged from the couch, wiped my eyes and put one foot in front of the other.  I made soup in the crockpot so it would be done by dinner time.  I began going through the mundane motions of daily life.  I took little pleasure in what I was doing.  I did it because it had to be done.  And I guess that's the point.  Life is not always fun and neither is parenthood.  In fact, sometimes it's downright miserable.  But we run around the block, eat a pint of Ben and Jerry's, or maybe throw a teddy bear.  And then we wipe our eyes, dust off our shoes and take a step forward.  The trouble is when we start running so fast that we loose our footing.  As a chronic perfectionist, I do this all the time.  I run and run and run until I hit a brick wall.  Today was a wall day.  This cycle is nothing new for me.  Perhaps it's time I wisen up and start having more realistic expectations for myself.  My only goal for tomorrow is to make it through the day without throwing any of my childrens' playthings.