Monday, December 27, 2010

Why I'm singing the minivan blues

I bought a mini-van kicking and screaming.

I was eight months pregnant with my second child, so I was already hormonal. I loved my Nissan Pathfinder SUV, but was tired of hitting my 3-year old's head every time I hiked him into the back seat. I'm sure he was getting a bit weary of it as well. So after much research, we said goodbye to our last connection to pre-parenthoodness and bought a 2001 Honda Odyssey.

I have never felt so uncool in all my life.

I pulled into our neighborhood, tears in my eyes, belly nudging the steering wheel of this torpedo-shaped, 8-passenger beast; Aerosmith blaring on the sound system in my desperate attempt to regain some semblance of self.

It didn't help.

Begrudgingly, I came to embrace the van and all it's conveniences. The power doors were nice when my hands were full of kids or groceries. It was ridiculously easy to pile both kids into it, plus diaper bags, baseball equipment, lawn chairs and everything that comes with children as they get older.

I became "One of Them"... one of the myriad of vans in the school parking lot, emblazoned with two school magnets so everyone would know "my van". A cross of plastic beads made by my son in Vacation Bible School hung from the rearview mirror. It was easy to do that "Hi, Neighbor" wave as I passed other parents in their vans dropping their kids off at school.

No longer did I hang my head in shame, but deep down, I never felt like a member of the Club.

Today, nearly 10 years later, I have reached the day I thought I had been waiting for. The day I am no longer a "Van Mom".

And I must admit, I'm a little sad.

For all my resentment toward vandom, as I called it, that minivan certainly was good to me. It didn't mind when I sideswiped the big rock that idiots put on the corner so you won't drive on the grass when you take the turn. It didn't seem to care when the bicycles somehow careened out of control and into its side panel. And it didn't bat a headlight when I surreptitiously closed the garage door and popped out that dent with a toilet plunger.

It never failed to start for me - ever. It always gave me these lovely, bright courtesy warning lights to alert me that something was wrong, so it wouldn't leave me high and dry on the side of the road somewhere. I never had a flat tire. I never had an accident. I never had a dead battery. I never had not enough room, even when we piled four kids and all their luggage in it and trekked 2000 miles to South Dakota and back last summer.

That's when we hit 100,000 miles. It was a melancholy moment.

I know I could go another 100,000 with this van of mine. I also know that I'm doing a lot more driving now, and I'm not one to tempt fate.

So this week, I'm trading in my wonderful van and going back to my roots, an SUV. As carefully researched as our van selection was 10 years ago, I think I'm making the right decision. It has all the room of a van, is a newer car, and even has a third row seat, so I can transport as many of my kids' friends that I could before. I should be ecstatic.

Ironically, I'm a little sad. I feel as if I'm betraying my van. It was so good to me, and here I am, giving it up to some stranger who will do who-knows-what with it. Most likely, it will sit at auction, being bid on like some piece of... of... steel and fiberglass.

I'm sure I'll get over this. I'm sure I'll enjoy my new ride, and will feel much "cooler" tooling around in it than a silly old van. But I just want it to know that it was very good to me, it served its purpose, and it's one of the few things that has been consistent in my life for the past 10 years.

Thanks, van. I'll always remember ya.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Don't mess with Momma Bear.

There's a reason why women "bear" children.

We bear them for the rest of their lives.

I never imagined the instinctual protective nature that would seize me the moment my sons came into this world. I never imagined the fierce determination that would come over me when advocating for my child's benefit. I never realized that I had an intuition - a gut feeling - and that 95% of the time that I had that feeling, it was right.

It took me awhile to get comfortable in my thick coat of Momma Bear fur - I'm not sure that I'm quite there yet. But I'm filling it out now better than I ever have before.

Today, several years of struggle and hard work and angst and concern and bewilderment and helplessness and hopefulness was finally worth it. Oh, it didn't alleviate it. But today, I got people to listen. And make a plan. To help my child. Because at first I thought he needed it. Then I knew he needed it. And I was the only one who was going to make it happen.

Today, more than two years of emails and phone calls and conferences and research and trial and error all came together as if to say, "We get it now. Thanks for bringing that to our attention."

And the situation itself aside, I sit back, mentally and physically exhausted to the bone and think, "Should it really be this hard?" and "Why didn't I just give up?"

Then I remember the Momma Bear. According to National Geographic, "Mother bears are notoriously protective of their young, and can be dangerous to humans, particularly if surprised or if another person gets between the mother and her cub." For the past few years, I've felt as if I have to protect my young. Not to shelter them from life, disappointment, hardship and pain, but to advocate for them - to champion for them - to make sure that they get what they need - not what they WANT - but what they NEED to succeed. And until my son is a father, he will never know the depths to which he will go to do the same thing for his child.

Yesterday, someone gave my son a speech that made me burst into tears. It was essentially what I now refer to as the "Momma Bear" speech. I can't remember exactly what he said, but in essence he told my son, "You think your mom's an idiot. You think she doesn't know you. You think she's hard on you. That she doesn't like you. She yells at you. She makes rules you don't want to follow. She disciplines you. She makes you do your homework. What you DON'T know is that she can't sleep at night worrying about you. What you DON'T know is that she's desperate to help you when you can't help yourself. What you DON'T know is that when you're asleep, she comes into your room and gazes at you lying in your bed and THANKS GOD for you."

This is a tough world that our kids are growing up in, full of pressures and technology and temptations and a whole lot of adults with not a lot of time to do what they were put on this earth to do - raise their children. Sometimes it makes it harder for the Momma Bears in the world to do their job - protect their young and see to it that they grow up to become big, healthy bears themselves. But I beg of you all - never stop trying for your kids. Never stop listening to them. Or advocating for them. Or fighting for what you think is right and necessary.

Like I tell my son, "No matter what - at the end of the day, I'm your biggest fan."

And I will always be his Momma Bear.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Whoever said "Today is a gift; that's why they call it the present" must have lived in a guilt-ridden world

I'm a giver.

And I'm not saying that in a martyr-ish sort of way. It's as much a curse as it is a blessing.

I love to do nice things for people. It's nothing I really "plan" per-se. If I hear that someone I know has had a long week and no time to grocery shop, I may make a casserole or a pot of soup. No biggie. It's an excuse to cook something I wouldn't normally make. If someone has helped me out - picked up my kids, watched my house when I'm out of town, shoveled my driveway... I make sure they know I'm appreciative, either by reciprocating or by giving them a token of my thanks. And if I've been blessed in a way I can't return, I try to pay it forward to someone I find in a similar situation.

Again, I'm not saying this to pat myself on the back and let you know how thoughtful I am. I'd like to think that I do it because I'm a good Christian who was raised with decent morals and values. But I know better.

I do it out of guilt.

First of all, I hate "owing" people. When someone does something nice for me, they're automatically "up one" on my tally sheet. In my head, now it's MY turn, and I am SURE that they are sitting at home thinking I am some kind of selfish yahoo that just TAKES and TAKES and TAKES.

Which is why I'm so bad at receiving gifts. Any gifts. Because I know what it means. TAG - I'M IT.


Now of course, the logical part of me knows that my sweet neighbor is not sitting at home tonight wondering when I am going to bring her a hot, steaming plate of beignets right after I shovel her driveway (gifts from her and her husband just today.) But the "me" part of me is thinking, SHOOT. What am I going to do for them NOW?

That's the other thing. I'm lousy at RECEIVING gifts. Occasions such as Christmas and my birthday make me as uncomfortable as my grade school piano recitals. All eyes are on me (as I sit perfectly straight on the hard piano bench). I slowly tear open the wrapping paper (painfully trying not to miss any arpeggios). Finally - the reveal (as my final chord resonates in the quiet room). They wait for my reaction (I stand to bow). Is it everything they thought it would be? (Is it everything they thought it would be?)

Then it gets worse. I feel guilty for receiving the gift. I'm not worthy. Whatever I did was not enough to deserve such a gift. Really, it was nothing. Shoe on the other foot? I'm tripping all over myself to make sure that anyone who tells me I look thinner has a gift certificate by day's end.

It's a double-edged sword, this gift giving. I'd certainly rather give than receive. It's just how I am. Because then... I'm one up on you.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

What NOT to say

Have you ever said something then immediately wished you could take it back? Yeah, me too. So before you say something stupid again, read this quick and dirty guide from Real Simple and think before you open your yap.

18 Common Phrases to Avoid in Conversation

A few more I should add:

Question: Have you been crying?
Answer: Um, probably YES, and having to tell you WHY will only make me start boo-hooing all over again, thank you.

Question: Have you found a job yet?
Answer: Seriously? Have you found your tact yet?

Question: What did your kid get on his report card?
Answer: All A's. (no matter what he/she got. That's the answer.)

Question: Did you get your hair colored?
Answer: No, I just got my face lightened.

Question: What did you do all day?
Answer: More than most men do in a week.

If you have any other good retorts to stupid questions, sarcastic or otherwise, please feel free to post them below. It's always good to have an arsenal of appropriate answers to those quirky questions.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Cold + Snow + Winter + Stress + Holidays = SAD

For those who are predisposed to what some call "the blues", others call "stress" and professionals may refer to as "a depressive state", the frigid temperatures, sun-less days and mounting holiday to-do lists are enough to send even the cheeriest of individuals over the edge.

I have to say, from the first frost until the last flake of dirty March snow melts, I'm in kind of a funk. Sure, there's something to be said for cozy nights by the fire, blankets, and "staying in", but too much of a good thing for me can lead to fatigue, weight gain, and an overall feeling of sluggish "Idontwannagetupinthemorning-itis".

I make light of it, but it's a heavy subject, and it's called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD for short.

Cute, huh? Wonder what happy-go-lucky researcher came up with that one?

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression that occurs around the same time every year - usually starting in the fall and continuing through the winter months.

Here are some of the possible symptoms:
* Depression
* Hopelessness
* Anxiety
* Loss of energy
* Social withdrawal
* Oversleeping
* Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
* Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
* Weight gain
* Difficulty concentrating and processing information.

There are all kinds of theories on the causes of SAD. One is that the decreased amounts of light we get during this time of year screws with our internal clock, as well as certain chemical and hormonal levels.

One of the treatments for SAD is light therapy, where you basically sit near a special lamp that mimics natural outdoor light. This is supposed to affect certain brain chemicals that are linked to mood, regulate your sleep patterns, and "reset your clock". I've never tried it myself, but I know people who swear by its effectiveness.

There's also the medication route, which I support if regulated. It took me a long time to realize that seeking treatment or medication for "mental" issues is no different than seeing a doctor and getting a prescription for your high blood pressure. Better to bite the bullet (or the pill) than to live in a sad, helpless existence. Like my pediatrician used to say, "Whatever you need to do to get you through the day." But always go through your physician, and realize that you may have to try several meds and dosages before you find the one that works best for you.

Aside from these more technical means, there are some techniques that I have learned over the years that have helped me to survive the winter blues. The thing is, you have to implement them early, before you settle in for your long winter's nap and throw in the towel. Here are some suggestions:

1) Have a plan. Know that this happens to you, rather than think, "Well, maybe this time it won't." If you never feel the need to implement your strategy, no harm done. If you do and the symptoms never even materialize or are lessened, then pat yourself on the back and call the day a success.

2) Set a time to exercise. I recently heard a quote that is oh, so true for me: "The longer you wait in the day to exercise, the less likely you will." Now, if you're on a strict schedule and go to the gym three days a week immediately after work then you've got your plan in place. But if you're like me and work out at home, it's easy to get distracted by laundry, bills, TV and curling up in the fetal position in your bed. I have a set time each morning that I exercise. Sometimes it's only 20 minutes, but it's something - every day. And it helps.

3) Try to get outside. No, getting the mail doesn't count. Remember when we were younger and could stay outside in bitter temperatures for hours without feeling cold? Well, we were MOVING. Now we adults go outside and stand there and chat with each other while we watch our kids play. GET INVOLVED. Pull them around in the sled. Make a snowman with them. Throw a snowball. Heck, throw a frisbee. Just get out there and get moving. BONUS: It counts as your exercise!

4) Watch the carbs. It might just be me, but it seems like in the winter I crave the warm comfort of foods like bread and chips. While they may taste good going down, they do nothing for my winter metabolism that seems to have come to a screeching halt. Make sure you eat balanced meals - low-fat, comfort soups, fruits and veggies and whole grains. Oh, and advice I should take myself: DRINK WATER. The air is dry and your skin is sucking every little morsel of moisture it can. That cracking noise? That's your body saying, "WATER ME."

5) Have something to look forward to. This is probably one of the most important things for me in getting through this time of year. If I see nothing ahead but an endless instruction manual of "Work. Kids. Bed. Later. Rinse. Repeat." then I'm more likely to sink into the depressive quicksand. If I can mix my calendar up a little with, say, a weekend trip to Chicago with friends, or indoor rock climbing with the kids on a day off, or maybe hosting a Superbowl party, then it shifts my focus a little. Have something on the horizon that you can count the days until and you'll be more likely to muddle through the interim.

There's a lot more I could say on this subject. I don't want to minimize Seasonal Affective Disorder, nor do I want to give the impression that there aren't many people out there who suffer from types of depression that are much more serious than SAD. While this blog may be a good read for them, they need to seek professional help just like they would for any serious physical ailment. But for those of us who are pretty confident that SAD is just that - a seasonal thing - then the suggestions listed above just might make you smile.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

5 Things I HATE

Nice, negative headline for the season that's supposed to be filled with such joy and good cheer, right?

Ho freakin' ho.

In my continued struggle to bring up my kids with what apparently seems to be Amish-ish (is that a word?), completely archaic and unrealistic abandon, I have compiled a list of things - no - EVIL THINGS that continuously push my button of "WTF!" (Believe me, if my Staples Easy button said, "WTF?" when I punched it, it'd get a lot more play around my house.)

So without further ado, here's my list.

1) Video games. HATE, HATE, HATE. I don't care if you can prove to me that they are beneficial for cognitive skills, fine motor skills, or bowhunting skills (insert Napoleon Dynamite reference here). Anything that has a warning that it could potentially cause SEIZURES, no matter that it induces my children into an electronic COMA, is the DEVIL to me.

2) PG-13 rated movies. Thank you, Motion Picture Association of America, for going to the trouble to separate the movies into G, PG, PG-13 and R. Some of the PG movies are fine, but who decided that lewd humor about farts and boobies and kids getting punched in the nuts is great cinematography? I know, I know. PARENTAL GUIDANCE. And don't get me started on PG-13. My son is 13, and after researching and/or viewing the selection of PG-13 movies out there, I may as well throw out my plans for that sex talk and just give him money for popcorn.

3) Commercials. I'm in advertising, so yes, I know they're necessary. But cripes, some of these commercials prey on kids like that creepy white van that circles your neighborhood. The action figures never perform the way they do on TV, the Nerf guns break when you try to do what the cool SWAT-team-looking dudes do with them in some dark alley on a Saturday night, and hello, Ironman? Why make a toy for ages 3 and up if your damn movie isn't supposed to be viewed by anyone under 13????

4) Candy at the checkout. Again, I get it. Advertising. Product placement. Yadda-yadda. But really, I don't know that there is a mom in America who doesn't wish for a no-candy checkout lane. Oh, and while we're at it, can we ditch the magazines featuring half-naked women having so-and-so's baby? Because my kids can read, and between the PG movies and the checkout lane, they'll clep out of that sex-ed class.

5) Guns. Real guns, toy guns, TV shows that feature guns, water guns, Nerf guns, sticks in the shape of guns, Lego guns... get the picture? Hate them. They make me sick to my stomach. I know kids will play with toy guns, and even if you forbid them in your home (which I did for a very long time), one day you will look over at your son eating lunch and he will have nibbled his Kraft American cheese slice into a Colt .45.

I could go on, but I feel as if I'm being a bit of a downer as we go full throttle into this wonderful season of good will and happy, happy, joy, joy. But my point is, you try to raise your kids according to what you think is best, but sometimes, no matter how hard you try and how good your intentions are, the world just continually sucker-punches you with all this negative crap, but in such overwhelming measure that it is suddenly accepted as "how it is these days".


And if you don't agree with my list (as I'm sure many won't), don't be a hater. Just let me live in my own little world. They all like me here.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

10 things your teen won't tell you

Like manna from heaven, an article was delivered to my inbox today that at least gave me a little insight into the teenage brain.

Hopefully it will help some of you. Much of it is common sense, but it brings to light the way teens think, how they process what you say, and what is important to them in this stage of life.

Click on the link below to see the full article:

10 Things Your Teenager Won't Tell You