Friday, February 6, 2015

I Swear We Are Normal

“So there he was dropping the F bomb at a party,” my friend was telling me, over a cup of coffee, about her son, my sons best friend. “We gave him a choice:  Tabasco or soap. He chose Tabasco.”

I looked at her and nodded in approval. I was the supportive parent/friend as she was putting it out there. Clearly she had reached her limit, and it was time to lay down the law. Music to my ears, of course. Im all for extreme punishment. Alpha and I are old school: we spank our kids when the circumstances warrant it.  It's always a challenge matching the punishment to the crime and I'm certain the kids would argue we've erred on the side of being too severe.

But there is a particular rub with the whole swearing thing. “I thought it was something you would do,” she smiled at me, “You inspire me Mara, really.”

That is when my eyes started to shift. It was hard to look  her in the eyes. I took a gulp of my coffee hoping that the conversation would change. Because the swearing in my house has hit all-time highs. And whats even worse? Its with my full support; in fact, I'm the ring leader.

It all started in Schatzle class. We had killed ourselves, burned our buns, sprinted around the block, done an insane number of sit-ups and lunged until there was no way to lunge another lunge. Beet red in the face and tired as hell Jenny put that microphone on and started to lecture us about positivity.

Wake up in the morning, she advised us, jump out of bed and start your day right. So as we closed class we did a few inhales and exhales and I thought we were bringing it into prayer position for a Namaste when she shouted out, “FUCK IT ALL, I AM GOING TO HAVE A GREAT DAY.

That night, over dinner, it came up. Schatzle, positivity and well, FUCK IT ALL I AM GOING TO HAVE A GREAT DAY.  The kids jaws dropped to the floor as they listened to the story. Laughter ensued and all of us jumped from the table a little lighter.

“Guys, I have an idea…”I started in at clean up. “Why dont we try that every morning and see if it works?”

“You mean using that word?” my kindergartener asked me. “The one that we are not supposed to use?”

“Yes, the F word. Use it every morning when you jump out of bed and tell me if it makes you feel better,” I said, throwing all caution to the wind.

The next morning, Alpha and I were fast asleep when we heard the rallying cry ring across the house. “FUCK IT ALL I AM GOING TO HAVE A GREAT DAY!!!” Alpha, who had missed the dinner session sat bolt upright in bed. “Did you hear that?” he asked me.

I started to giggle as we heard it repeated from each child. And then the laughter. That was last week. Now it has become the new morning ritual at the Peters house.

Over pancakes just this morning, a tired Olivia walked into the kitchen and quietly sat down at the table. “fuckitallIamgoingtohaveagreatday,” she mumbled in an unenergetic whisper.

“Where is the Tabasco sauce?” I asked Alpha. “Someone just used the F word in this house.” She quickly snapped her head up from her plate, shocked. She looked at my insistent face, and it registered quickly. Shouting at the top of her lungs, “FUCKITALLIAMGOINGTOHAVEAGREATDAY!” she burst into a huge smile.

“Thats better Liv,” I told her. “Dont get me wrong here, you are lucky and privileged to be able to use the F word every morning. Treat it with respect.”

I couldnt help but catch Alphas eye. The eyebrows were raised. Indeed, we are in unchartered waters. But one thing I know for sure. If we are going to do something, we do it well.

“We have to set some standards in the house,” I simply stated, flipping the pancakes.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Setting the Table

If you are a helicopter parent, you already know this. Statistics prove that sitting down and eating with your kids at dinner ensures they will be successful and smart people. Hands down. They learn manners, the ability to speak and communicate and it fosters a strong relationship with parents.

I cant tell you how many New Years have come and gone with my annual resolution to have family dinners, EVERY night, home made, nutritious and peaceful. But it wouldnt take long before I would flame out (my record is around a week). Charlie's early years were the worst.  He would huck food from the high chair and the other three  would rapidly lose interest  after two bites at which point theyd start doing laps around the table. Alpha and I would sit in front of our food shouting to each other about our day trying to hear above the din.

It was torture, far more effective than anything the CIA comes up with. I willingly went against the stats, fed them early and put them to bed many times before Alpha even got home. (7pm was really my limit.) And although I felt a tinge of guilt when my husband and I sat down for a civilized meal that we werent producing the communicative, successful kids I should, I got over it pretty quickly.

Like most things in parenting, it's a slow evolution that you dont notice until you hit a serious milestone step that grabs your attention. It was New Year's Eve, around 7pm. Teddy had taken pride in setting the table. Liv had poured the drinks and we were eating Alpha's specially made chicken fajitas. Talking about our New Year's Resolutions.

Liv kicked it off with something thoughtful. I want to get 1% better at water polo every time I practice, she said. Alpha and I caught each others eyes, both surprised. That would be one of our resolutions. Olivia went on to tell us about an inspirational woman who spoke to her 6th grade class. She opted to play mens baseball and had to push herself to get 1% better each time she played so she could successfully compete with the boys. Olivia, always offering gems to the family, set a remarkable tone for the table.

Charlie, the food hucker, went next. I want to get better at skiing, he offered up. Now Charlie had just torn up the slopes at Mammoth Mountain. Leaving his two older siblings in the dust. How about bike riding? I challenged him. That could use some work. (Three days prior, our fourth child (age five) had dragged his bike out of the shed, pumped the tires and nagged Alpha to no end to teach him to ride it without training wheels. When he couldnt get his Dads attention, Jackson took him out and taught him the basic concept.) Oh yes! I will be an amazing bike rider this year! he smiled at us.

Jackson announced he wanted to lose weight which made the whole table crack up. I laughed the hardest because this kid has really arrived to the adult world. The fact that he even knows most people resolve to go to the gym more on New Year's is a wild thing for me to comprehend. Once he had everyones attention, he raised his skinny arms and said something about lacrosse (its always lacrosse) and his training. But I couldnt help staring at my oldest, at the other end of the table, growing up.

Teddy was last. No matter how much we told him we wanted something serious, he laughed and giggled and couldnt figure out one thing to talk about. We spoon fed him answers about his writing, math even the piano. Ultimately, because he couldnt take the exercise seriously he was assigned KP duty and required to clear the table and wash all the dishes.

And it was there, on the coach, that I realized how amazing 2014 really was. The dinner ritual of setting the table, having a conversation and cleaning up after was not such a lost cause in the Peters house any more. The New Year's conversation was a long one -- we even had lingered well after the food was cold. There were no laps around the table. It was all so good.

A few minutes later, Teddy, poking his head from the galley, asked me, Mom, you didnt give us your resolution. What is yours?

Teddy, dont you know? I dont do resolutions because you never keep them! I told him. He looked at me in surprise, burst out laughing and went back to washing dishes.

Sometimes you just have to resolve to let things happen on their own time.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

I Refuse to Get Scrooged

“I am not sure why you choose to go down that path every time. You knew this was all coming,” my best friend was telling me. “Just get a cake at the bakery and call it a day.”

I was frantically mixing the flour with the eggs at the time. You see, I was in the midst of a moment. Jackson was turning 13 tomorrow and I needed to finish his birthday cake; Alphas mom had just landed from Savannah to see Olivia and Teddy in tonights variety show; I had scheduled a visit to the dentist a year ago and today, of all days, was the day all four had to get their teeth cleaned. (God forbid you cancel, no appointment is available until mid-July.)  To add to the day's planned chaos, there was the unplanned.  Teddy woke up complaining about itchy head. Leaving no room for any variables (we had four notices from school, lice was going around), I promptly shaved his head with the buzzer before 8am.

The signs were all there.  It must be December.  I can only function in check lists. Christmas card. Check. Teachers' gifts. Check. Birthday. Check. Trip to the Post Office. Check. Christmas Tree. Check. Variety Show. Check. Christmas Sing. Check. Another trip to Post Office. Check. Office Party. Check. Lice. Crap. Check. Happy F---ing Holidays. Check.

“You bring this all on yourself,” that friend was telling me. “I really question why you arent looking to make things easier. Stop making the cake from scratch, believe me, no one notices, least of all the kids.”

I am not Scrooge. I want the holidays to mean something. When my kids race to see what kind of cake I have made for them for their birthday before they reach for presents, I know I've done something right, something that leaves them with a memory the gifts won't. If I am going to make the effort and send a card out to our closest friends around the world, I want it to be reflective of our year not just a regurgitation of Facebook posts. If school is going to have a talent show, the kids need to rehearse, practice and work hard to get it right.

I know my view  doesnt solve for the overwhelming and frenetic days of the holiday season. That, in truth, it does make things more complicated.  I always have the best intentions to simplify -- not get trapped in the stress of it. To resist making my life a check list. Every year I have lofty ambitions until I get into the thick of it and go wilding.

“I am making this cake, because I have always made a cake,” I told my friend. “My kid is becoming a teenager. By making this cake from scratch, I can process what that means and reflect on how I got here.”

“Right. Before or after you carpet bomb Teddys head with lice shampoo?” she asked sarcastically.


I could cut corners. I could not do half the things I set  out to do. But then the holidays wouldnt feel like the holidays. In short, maybe my reality is December is one giant marathon  and I just need to go into it knowing the only objective is to survive.  It's true just finishing is a win.

Soon enough, I will kick back on the sofa with my eggnog, chomping on the sugar cookies I had made with the kids for Santa and realize that we have made it through another amazing year. My oldest is on his way to adulthood as my youngest looks for Santas footprints in the soot of the fireplace. The carrots will be out, the presents will arrive under the tree and all will be right with my world.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

I Have Multiples

It was right before yoga class. I was waiting for the instructor and small talking. I had casually asked someone how things were going when the answer came right back at me, Chaos. Total chaos. You know what it is like to have multiples…”

Call it an Ebola-state-of-mind, but I heard multiples like it was some disease, taking over my life. As I moved on with my day I couldnt shut off my racing thoughts. You see the symptoms are obvious and the virus is rampant in our household. Having made the choice to have four kids, its become clear Alpha and I parent in a way that nobody, especially those with singles, understands.  Of course, others with the same disease might recognize some warning signs

YOU OUTSOUCE: Club sports are hard. As matter of fact, they are down right impossible for multiples. Tournaments, every weekend, all over the state are fun on occasion. The kids get to cram into a double queen hotel room. One ultimately sleeps on a chair, another on the floor. We suffer in the sun, and the relentlessness of the sport together, as a family. Call it quality time. But recently, we had an epiphany – it was time to outsource. When a family with one child offered to take Olivia to water polo tournaments I told them they could adopt her on weekends. “Call her Scarlett even,” I advised them, so appreciative that the travel torture might actually end. “Im not attached to the name Olivia.”

THERE ARE NO SPECIAL MOMENTS: “Do the kids need some one-on-one, you know, special time together?” a parent asked me the other night when she didnt want her child to crash a play date. Here is the thing. There is no special time. Never has been, never will be. Once you get past that, the pressure is off. You cant create the perfect environment for children of multiples. They have to claw, yell, and fight to get anything done for them. Ultimately, they make the right decision. Best to do things for themselves.

THE OLDEST IS STUNTED: Yes, he was forced to go to bed at 7pm until the end of 6th grade. Rarely is he out past dark as his siblings are complete lock-ins. While his friends start to navigate the world, he is now our official babysitter so we can go out. He may never be out at 10:00pm until college.

THE YOUNGEST KNOWS TOO MUCH: My favorite song on the planet is Eminems Headlights. (There is a nice message about moms in it.) After parenting for 12 years, I am beyond tired of listening to age appropriate songs in the car. So when the cussing and swearing starts to fly I tell Charlie to self regulate and cover his ears. And I wonder why no first time parent in kindergarten is asking for a play date at our house or letting Charlie come to theirs.

THURSDAY FOLDERS AND HOMEWORK SUCK: I try. I really do. To stay on top of school news, check homework before Friday and read to them every night. But multiples kills you in those areas.  The perfect storm hits right before parent teacher conferences, the homework is monsooning on us. As Im working with Teddy on his essay, Charlie is tugging on my arm, desperate to know which color he needs to use to fill in a triangle. Olivia is twirling in the living area wearing a dress she is designing for the talent show (talent show, was that in the Thursday folder?).  Lastly, Jackson is shouting from his room I have to sign a form right away. Uncle.

When I decided how many kids I wanted none of the above were even considerations.  It never dawned on me that my future held the logistical impossibility of having four kids in club sports or five hours a night of homework. (I certainly never contemplated the fact that close proximity in their ages would result in three kids in college at the same time.)

Multiples was not supposed to be a disease.

In my naïve moments of family planning, I really had only one thought - my Thanksgiving table. I wanted to look around the room and have it full, not empty.  A brood. Loud and noisy. And most importantly, happy. I do get that for 24 hours. On Turkey Day. That feeling that I got exactly what I wanted.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Perfect Path is Not So Perfect

“I have something to tell you and youre not going to like it,” Alpha started in.   I hate it when our conversations start off that way.  "Just spit it out," I told him.

“OK, but before I tell you,” he continued, “I just want you to keep in mind, that in the 7th grade I was lighting fires in the woods behind my house with Mike Hipp.”

Im in the car, waiting for my oldest to come out of junior high. The other kids are tucked in the back, doing homework. Im feeling increasingly irritated about where the conversation is headed.

“The assistant principal just called. Jackson was in his office because he had burned a kid with a pistachio shell. Kids were heating up the nuts under their shoes at recess. They determined that it was not bullying. It was not malicious but he had to be called in because the kid went to the nurse to get a band aid.  It's just part of the new rules.”


Junior High. We had been warned about it. The big step. Kids are a little too mature. Major attitude. A parent who'd already been down this road warned me the junior high years were by far the worst.  So, having braced myself for all of it, the first month turned out to be quite a pleasant surprise. Jax went into an enormous school ensconced in a great group of friends, surrounded by 100 other students from his elementary class, plus numerous sports acquaintances. He came home euphoric over the freedom -- walking in the hallways unsupervised, switching classes every period.

It was all proceeding so smoothly.

Hanging up the phone with Alpha, I watched him approach the car. His body slumped, his face crestfallen. All the tween ‘tude was gone. As he slid into the car, it was clear he was devastated. My oldest, the rule followerer. The kid, literal to his core, who worked really well inside the box, was completely out of sorts.

He was in trouble for the first time in his life.  Looking at him, it killed me.  I'd never seen him so down on himself.  I had to stop myself from hugging him.

On the way home, I glared and yelled a little for show. “What were you thinking? I didnt raise a son to end up in the principals office,” came out a couple of times.  His head hung lower with each barrage.  The other kids, aghast, listened intently as their older brother repeated over and over how stupid he was.

But inside, I was replaying my conversation that I just had with Alpha. At his age, I was lighting fires in the woods. We have marveled that our kids do follow the rules as much as they do. They dont light fires, they rarely talk back; they produce for us on demand. It makes us proud for sure. But that rebellious spirit that Alpha has described about himself led him to be an entrepreneur. Made him brave enough to take on incredible risk. To move his family to Santa Barbara; choose a path that was not the norm for a kid growing up in Westchester County, New York.

Do we want kids to be compliant, produce perfect grades, never test their boundaries or look for chances to stretch, even break, the rules? Excel in all they decide to do but never experience failure? It truly sounds intoxicating, doesn’t it? But the reality is its not preparing them for life. For real success.

If I intuitively know that, where is there room to waffle? In school? Where the stakes are so high one misstep could jeopardize a college ticket. (On a side note, when I was growing up it never occurred to me to think about college in 7th grade. I get to hear about it all the time in carpool.)  On the sports field? Where club sports are demanding more out of our kids than ever before. One false move and they can land on the B team.

Who cares? You could ask. And that is where the answer lies. I care. Probably too much. Because when I see my kids excelling, in a way, it is a measure of my own success. All the effort Apha and I have put into them. They are living results of all our hard work. But, as I write this column, seeing it in print, my own kidspath is so clearly not about me. It is about them. They have to develop their own expectations for themselves. Not mine. Not Alpha's. In a more holistic way.

Once home, I stormed into my room with Jackson in tow leaving the rest of the tribe huddled in the kitchen wondering what punishment was about to befall their brother. I slammed the door for effect and listened to him apologize. And then I told him point blank. “Jackson, part of being in 7th grade means you're going to do stupid things,” I told him. “How are you going to learn if you do everything right?”

Stupid is just starting, I told him. Even more stupid was going to a party in high school, drinking, then getting into a car and driving friends home. Maybe you get home okay. Or maybe you get in an accident and no one survives. “How are you going to learn that if you dont make enough wrong decisions to learn the right ones?”

As he left the room, I could tell that was not the conversation he was expecting. But we are now in junior high. Where there is a lot more gray than black and white. And he may do things that surprise me. But, in turn, I will parent him in a way that may surprise both of us. Because, at the end of the day, we are all just trying to figure it out.