the changes are coming

The other day I was walking past Noah’s bedroom and I heard a grown man on the other side of the door. A bit shocked and curious, I opened the door.

“Who are you playing with??”

He gestured towards the monitor and was equally confused by my shock.

“It’s Joe, momma.” (Not his real name – “Joe” is a longtime friend of Noah’s who I hadn’t laid eyes on since the end of this past school year).

“Why does his voice sound like that?”

Noah shrugged. I shrugged. What had happened to Joe? Most of Noah’s closest buddies still have that crackly in-between voice that’s not quite boy and not quite man. Joe sounded like he drove a one-ton pickup and had killed his own breakfast that morning.

More than any kid I’ve ever met, Noah definitely has his finger on the pulse of puberty and body changes. A good friend of mine thinks he’s headed for the field of obstetrics and gynecology. She’s convinced he will be the most knowledgeable and compassionate male ob/gyn ever. Fortunately, at this age, he is still thinking about paleontology and geology, not vaginas. He is truly a cool kid when it comes to these conversations. I can talk to a lot of people about a lot of things, but when it comes to the topic of puberty or sex, I imagine I look like most of Noah’s peers when their mother brings up those things. My eyes get wide, I start stuttering and I freeze up. Reference my responses to the 69 questions:

“It’s a year. A Bryan Adams song. From the 1900s. Ying Yang symbol. Some weird math in a new song by Ariana Grande. No, I have no idea why your friends are talking about it.”

One day as we were driving back from school, Noah shared that he found his uncles disturbing.

“Momma, I know what happens when babies are made. I’m so disturbed that Uncle X, Y and Z have kids. Do you know how those kids happened?”

“Yes, I do. Isn’t that wonderful that your momma didn’t have to do that disturbing thing to have you?” I felt very undisturbing for the moment in his eyes. One benefit of the donor process. Noah wouldn’t have to associate that disturbing event with his existence.

“Yeah. Sheesh. Wow,” he says.

Not long after that conversation, one of his friend’s mothers asked me if Noah was bringing home any school work from their reproduction classes. She said she had been interrogating her own son and he refused to share anything with her. I asked Noah. He disappeared into this room then returned, displaying large color drawings of the male and female reproductive systems, with correctly labeled anatomy (the child can’t spell “didn’t” but he knocked “fallopian tubes” and “clitoris” right out of the park).

“Do you mean these momma?” He asked proudly.

I shook my head and rolled my eyes. Who knew my son would be a reproduction system nerd? “Yes. Those.”

Seriously, this has been great. Most of my work is done on the technical education piece. We watched puberty videos together. I preferred the ones made in India. Very modest and general, focused on hair growth and the Adam’s Apple. All of this is still very scientific to him, with no shame and embarrassment. I consider myself very fortunate because I ended up not being that cool mom who can talk about anything.

spa day love overwhelm

My child worked so hard this evening to get my attention in order to give me a “hand spa day.” It was so sweet. I kept putting her off in an attempt to complete the never ending list of things that I needed to get done. First it was stopping by the pharmacy to pick up prescriptions, then getting dinner together, doing dishes, watering the yard, weeding the yard, clipping some small weird trees that are popping up, and tying up loose ends in my consulting work. By the time I was ready, it was 9:30 at night, my son had been on the phone with his best friend for an hour, and my daughter was standing next to a sink filled with now cold water, bordered by towels, nail tools, polish, and lotion, waiting so patiently. She asked me to sit down and place my hands in the sink and relax. Then she proceeded to chat with me like I was at a spa and she was just making conversation.

“Did you know it’s stingray season in Florida? Yeah. They hide under the sand and you step on them then ZAP! they sting you. So there’s a special stingray shuffle you do to avoid stepping on them. Like this.” She demonstrated the shuffle.

Then:

“How have you been staying busy lately?”

Then:

“Did you know Elon Musk is not going to buy Twitter now? I think they are still making him pay a billion dollars though because he decided not to do it.”

(I was thinking that the daily current event assignment I had given them for the summer was really paying off).

“Did you know that cats have spiky tongues? That’s why they never lick you.”

From my room, my son paused on his Nintendo Switch and said, “A cat licked me once. It was weird.”

“Noah, cats don’t lick you.”

I threw in. “Actually I think cats do lick you. My business partner’s cat was licking her face non-stop on camera the other day during our meeting.”

And so the banter continued, with my son popping in now and then when something peaked his interest.

This whole experience brought to mind a post I saw on Facebook recently in my single moms group. A mom was sharing that she had just had her second child, her hormones were out of control and she was crying all the time. She asked: does this get any easier, and could the group please provide some encouragement. I paused after reading that post and thought – no, it doesn’t get any easier. Raising children is hard with a partner, but it feels nearly impossible on your own. You will never stop crying, not knowing what to say or do, and feeling overwhelmed, lonely and afraid. But I wanted to say something kind and encouraging and not depress her further.

I wish I could have seen ahead to this evening’s activities and shared them with her via some type of experiential telepathy: the spa, the conversation, my son laying on my bed in the room next to us, chatting in randomly, my daughter telling news stories. How this all felt, and the special bond we have created, first launched by the decision twelve years ago to have a child in an unconventional way. So hard, and so many tears, and craziness and stress and it doesn’t stop, it never has. People have always tells me it gets easier in some ways but harder in other ways. You spend less money on daycare and more money on sports and other activities. They rely on you less for assistance with every day stuff but it get tougher with emotional stuff and bigger decisions.

It doesn’t get easier. Balancing the tough stuff with the profound feeling of gratitude from the bond we share and the love we have and the gift of all that – that eases the “does it get easier” question. Maybe that’s not the right question. I’m not sure what is. Maybe that’s just always the first question in those moments when you feel like you’re drowning. I am wishing for my fellow single mom that spa day love overwhelm energy.

Things Our Family Loves to Do Together

When you think about it, it is often the small things or seemingly mundane activities that bring us the most joy. Our little family is no different. I’ve compiled a list of things that we like to do together. The first seven are things we loved to do in 2015, when I first drafted this post (and never published it). Items 8-11 are current day. Take some time to think about the small rituals or activities that you enjoy doing with your family, it is grounding.

1. Drink chai and eat cookies in the morning. In 2022, this is still a favorite for Noah and me. Although I’ve traded out chai for coffee and he has traded chai for chocolate milk. Now we have arguments over who makes it. He swears that I have some magic touch as a mother to know how to get the proportion of chocolate to milk just perfect. I suspect he is being lazy.

2. Build a fire in our backyard. In a fire pit of course. While this is still a favorite, we don’t do it that often because I am fire challenged. We stayed in a cabin with a sauna and no running water in the woods of northern Minnesota a couple of years ago, and whether or not we could bathe depended on my luck with starting a fire in the sauna each night. Let’s just say I will never serve time in prison for arson.

3. Cuddle in bed in the morning. This activity caused me to run late to work more than I’d like to admit. There was nothing like a 4- and 5-year old who woke up in a happy mood and wanted to hug and kiss you. They smelled so good at that age. I needed to take advantage of this time before their feet and breath and pits started to smell and they didn’t want to be anywhere near me, and especially not in my bed. Surprisingly in 2022, they still love to sleep with me. Except now they are huge and like to sleep sideways with their feet in my gut. Which has its upsides: the smelliest parts of them are farthest away as long as their feet are covered.

4. Walk to Walmart to buy popsicles and chocolate milk. I don’t always feel right admitting that I patronize Walmart. It is within walking distance of my house so it just makes sense most of the time for our crazy lifestyle. Or when we wanted to buy popsicles and chocolate milk while riding around the store in a wagon that we pulled over from home. These days, I still mostly frequent Walmart, but I do pickup instead from the mass shooting incident Walmart. I just don’t have the patience for crowds anymore and the Walmart near my house is the sketchiest I’ve ever seen it. It is the sketch magnet for the area. It says something when you choose the mass shooting Walmart over the neighborhood market Walmart.

5. Floss our teeth. We don’t really love doing this together, but I thought if I added it to the list, we might start believing that we do and floss more often. Nowadays, I floss my teeth regularly due to the generous amounts of guilt served to me by my dental hygienist. I need a hygienist at home to guilt my kids about tons of different things since it worked so well for me. Neelah brushes all the time and flosses once in awhile. Noah brushes less often than we’d like to acknowledge, and never flosses. I guess we didn’t manifest that activity even though I wrote it down.

6. Paint our nails. Everyone used to get in on this one. I had to buy shades of white, gray, blue, and black sparkly nail polish for my son. Some people I associated with at the time believed that if you painted a boy’s nails, this would automatically turn him into a girl. While I didn’t agree, I tried to be sensitive to their superstitions with “boy” colors. Now, in 2022, Noah refuses to wear nail polish on his fingers or toes, even though it is really in vogue for boys and men now.

7. Visit (and use) public bathrooms. This was an early obsession of Noah’s. I have heard this is not unusual though. The good news is that while he will use a public bathroom if he has to, he would prefer to use the facilities at home. So my exposure to public bathrooms and their inspiring decor has been limited in recent years. My bathroom at home remains half painted and lacking in thought-provoking art.

8. Watch YouTube, TikTok, and play video games for hours and hours. I need to get over the guilt of this. The kids do learn some interesting things: how to avoid creepy people, the oldest chess piece on record and how much it sold for, how to do fun crafts with Jolly Ranchers, etc. They also play games with each other and with friends, which is the socially acceptable way to connect these days. I can’t really say we do these things together because I am usually cleaning or working or telling them they need to get off their devices.

9. Go through the drive-through at McDonalds. This is a deeply-rooted tradition that goes back years, and Friday night is our typical night. I have watched the cost of meals slowly creep up as the kids get older and eat more. We have thrown away landfills full of happy meal toys. Sorry, environment. It’s McDonalds’ fault.

10. Netflix and chill. Apparently this means something different than it did a few years ago. We truly just stare at the screen and chill out. Noah’s favorite show is Grizzly and Lemmings, Neelah loves Supergirl, and I have seen Jungle Cruise at least 5 times in the past few months because I “like” Dwayne Johnson. Sometimes we can find a series that we all enjoy and is appropriate for their age. I also like to watch Bosch on Amazon Prime, but I have a friend who watches it with me and criticize every move the cops make as “not realistic.” Never watch cop shows with cops. They totally ruin them. You probably already knew this.

11. Talk about reproduction and puberty. Just kidding. Noah is the only one who enjoys this activity.

It’s interesting that I sat at the end of this post for quite awhile, staring at the screen and trying to figure out what else we liked to do together. I couldn’t come up with much else. I guess as kids head into their teenage years, the list grows smaller. I’ve heard that in most cases, kids come back around. We’ll circle back on this in another 7 years.

If Bedtime Sucks One More Time, I Will Eat Your Ears, One More Time

I posted the following back in 2016. As I scroll through my early posts, I’m reminded how much I used to laugh and how (almost) everything the kids did had some hilarious quality to it. We all seem more serious these days, we laugh a little less and a little less hard. My daughter will probably be taller than me within a year, and my son, who refuses to eat anything beyond lentil soup and fruit snacks, may not be. But they are both getting older, and quite honestly, we are all less funny. I’m just as lame now as I was back then with dealing out consequences. Along with giving everyone -including my children- too many chances, I’ve also convinced myself that everyone -including my children- is good at heart and has my best interests in mind and would never try to pull one over on me. Not true. This post brought back great memories though, and made me laugh hard tonight. _______________________________________________________________________________________

I am a sucker for second chances, third chances, fourth chances… In every aspect of my life. Naturally, my kids had this figured out in the first 48 hours they were on Earth. And instead of decreasing my tolerance for chance giving, I choose to stress out and create more ridiculous consequences in my mind, hoping one will resonate with them. This has resulted in the generation of outlandish and creative consequences by my children as well, particularly my daughter. Recently, our conversation went like this while returning home from school.

From the backseat: “Momma, I want chocolate milk.”

“Sweetie, I don’t have any chocolate milk with me. You will have to wait until we get home.”

“Momma, if you don’t give me chocolate milk right now, I will chew off your face and poop in your eye.”

Our conversations often go like this. She makes her request. I decline the request. Some possible responses I will hear:

“If I don’t have my bapu (pacifier) right now, I will throw up.”

“If you don’t let me go outside right now, I will eat your ears and then leave you forever.”

“If I can’t have candy right now, I will freak out and you will be sad.”

I have begun to realize that she is randomly compiling the stuff she hears from me when I am at my wit’s end, and she is rearranging it, adding her own flair. As I get more tired, more exasperated, my responses to bad behavior start to deflate, and resort to primal, animal-like responses. I don’t recall threatening to chew off her face, but I might have used some combination of these words? My chances go on, I don’t nip things in the bud, and now I’ve created a little girl who will threaten to poop in your eye if you don’t give her what she wants. 

As I write this, I look over at her lying on the bed, laying there, watching me, sucking intently on her bapu, with a calculated look in her eyes. If I give her more than a furtive glance, she will try to woo me like a siren at sea, breaking into “You are My Sunshine.” We are at the close of an extremely long bedtime saga this evening. Lots of stuff has gone down. My son brushed the dog with his toothbrush. My daughter announced and cheerfully made two trips to the bathroom where she made faces at herself in the mirror, lifted the toilet seat cover up and down several times and flushed, all without actually going potty. There were several incidents of pinching. Noah practiced counting up to 100 and backwards to 1 while Neelah belted out “Jesus Loves Me.”

I issued several verbal warnings. The warnings started out promising. “I will separate you.” “You will lose TV in the morning.” But the kids’ violations just didn’t seem that serious, not serious enough to follow through on with real consequences, and so I just kept throwing more stuff out there and I got more tired of reminding them to quiet down and go to sleep. I figured that I might outlast them and they might tire themselves out. And they finally did. There is probably a better way. I keep telling myself I have to choose my battles and their bedtime behavior isn’t really that bad. *Sigh.* There will probably come a day when there is a showdown, and the one who leaves with his or her face intact will be the winner.

I Love Hot Moms

My son and I toured a potential school for him recently. I had been trying to prepare him in the days leading up to the tour and took another swing at it about an hour before we left.

“What questions do you have for the school counselor?”

“None.”

“I don’t think you’ll be able to make a great decision without more information about this school. Let’s think of some questions.”

“Do they have to take showers after PE? Do I have to wear a gym uniform? Can I wear my shorts to PE or do I have to change them? How big is their gym?”

Wow. Bottom line for this kid: All that matters is that he can go to PE year round.

“You know, I’m not sure how much PE will prepare you for a career once you’re done with school.” I was starting to sound like my parents.

“Do they have recess? How long will I get to eat lunch?”

We arrived at the school at our scheduled time and he decided to wear his mask. He really wears it everywhere, even on individual outings with his mentor. Normally it’s fine, except that he already speaks quietly when he’s not in a shouting match with his friends during video games and so the mask makes him impossible to understand.

“Blurgh fum ruf foo worpurun moor?” He asked as we pulled up, driving into the school entrance going the wrong way, per the counselor’s instructions. I turned and glared at him. He pulled down his mask.

“Can we go in another door? There are too many kids at that door.”

Buddy, get used to it. The seventh grade here is about 6 times bigger than your current class. We trudged into the school, announced our arrival, and waited for the counselor. All the staff in the office lobby had little signs on the edge of their desks saying “Yo hablo Espanol.” The woman we checked in with tried to make conversation with Noah.

“What’s your name?”

“Mowah.”

“What grade will you be in next fall?”

“Zebeth.”

She smiled, she was so nice and trying so hard. I really admire school staff everywhere I go these days. They are certainly a lot friendlier and try a lot harder than I remember back when I was in school. The counselor came out and introduced herself to us and we started the tour.

The first thing we passed were lockers. Which I knew was a criteria for Noah. If a school had lockers, he was already partially won over. Lockers and year-round PE pretty much sealed the deal. Jerry Maguire – you had me at hello. Noah had probably already decided he wanted to go to this school less than 60 seconds into the tour. We were both impressed by the size of the school. He was certainly going to get his steps in. The highlights of the tour were the band room and woodshop. The band room was more of a highlight for me.

“Is he interested in band? What instrument does he play?” The counselor and band teacher looked at us, curious. I did the very thing I’ve been trying not to do lately and spoke on Noah’s behalf.

“He has an expensive trumpet at home so he’s interested and he’s going to join band.” Wow. I’m awesome. Noah smiled under his mask. Yup. I just committed 50% of his available electives time. In woodshop they were making miniature pool tables and Noah decided then and there that woodshop was going to be an elective for him. We finally made our way back up to the office where we passed two eighth graders. A cheerful girl in a gym uniform and a boy wearing a black hoodie that read “I love hot moms.” I was already making a list of people in my life that I could get that sweatshirt for as a joke. I laughed out loud. The counselor smiled and gave me a sheepish look. “We have to choose our battles here.”

By the time we left, Noah felt pretty certain that this was his future school. I even felt some peace about it. He even managed to ask his question about showers after gym, to which the counselor responded that the showers are currently storage for tables and they use lots of deodorant there. Sure, it was going to add about half hour to my already long drive time every morning, but it seemed worth it, year-round PE and all. Unfortunately, he wasn’t feeling well by the end of the tour so we went home and he stayed in his room all day, doing origami. I had a snake in a box, a parrot, and two cell phone holders made by the end of the day. Sweet.

sensitive conversations

If I had a dollar for every time my kids asked me what 69 means over the past year, I would have at least 69 dollars. At least. You would think that they both attend school with several sex-crazed pre-teens. Or perhaps just kids with older siblings who keep them in the loop on such issues. My daughter is the worst because I can always anticipate when these conversations are going to happen: when we are going somewhere in the car alone together. My son just randomly popcorns sex into conversations.

“Momma, do you want to hear a fun fact about penises during puberty?”

He loves the reproductive system. He was his 5th grade classroom’s best pupil and he always wowed other parents with his openness to discuss puberty and reproductive issues while their own children froze with a pleading look in their eyes whenever the topic came up. All I can say is that I’m glad he always initiates these conversations, because I’m not the cool parent I’d thought I would be in conversations about sex. But that’s another post for another day.

My daughter on the other hand – I squirm. Because she doesn’t provide fun facts or tell me why baby boys get boners when they get their diapers changed, she asks tons of questions. For the purposes of this post, I will use the name “Jane” for female classmates and “Fred” for male classmates. I would use Dick (i.e. Dick and Jane? Remember them?), but that might get confused with content somewhere.

“Mommy. Fred moans in class all the time and the teacher tells him it’s inappropriate. Why does she say that?”

Me: “Well, what kind of moan is it?”

“I don’t know.”

I run through a handful of different moans. None of them are exactly quite right.

Me: “Well, I’m not sure then. But if your teacher thinks it’s inappropriate, then he shouldn’t be doing it.”

“Fred and his friends always asks me if I have any cookies. Jane tells me I should tell him no, otherwise he is going to bug me all day. I don’t like it when they do that. It’s annoying. What are cookies?”

I’m really not sure about this one. I’m assuming it’s inappropriate since it’s coming on the heels of 69 and moaning and that these boys are not looking for baked goods.

Me: “Are you friends with these boys? Maybe you should stop hanging around them unless they behave more appropriately and you feel comfortable. I don’t think a friend would ask you those questions.”

(Well, I might not have been that objective and articulate. I’m sure I wasn’t. Probably more along the lines of “I don’t know what they mean but they are gross. Stop hanging around them.”)

There were other words, slang terms, that came up. Ones that I’m even too modest to utter publicly, and having been based for several years in a police department for work, I can say a lot of things without shame.

Soon, I’m going to resort to some sort of question box like my son had in his classroom, and both me and my daughter can write our questions on pieces of paper, fold them up, and stick them in the box and my son can answer the questions once a week.

it’s exactly 4 o’clock!

My daughter has developed this habit lately of randomly announcing the time. In the car, at home, at night when she’s in bed, while she’s watching TV, playing a game on her tablet or in class. It’s a compulsion. She used to only announce the time on the hour. Now she announces any time that pops up when she has eyes on a digital clock of any kind. She also spouts out random math problems related to the time; it’s a bonus when two of the 3 or 4 digits are factors of the third or if the time has just changed and there are no seconds into the hour yet.

“It’s exactly 12:34! 3 times 4 is 12! 12 divided by 3 is 4!”

“It’s exactly 4 o’clock no seconds! The time just changed and no seconds! Exactly 4 o’clock! 4 times 0 is 0! 4 plus 0 is 4!

It’s mind boggling. She thinks so quickly. We’ve teased her and tried to mimic her, but we are too slow, as if we can’t really transition to do simple math that quickly. She yells at us and tells us we have to find our own “thing.” The other day she told my son he has to keep track of license plates or cars when we are driving, but he can’t yell out the time. A friend of mine likes to yell out the time on the hour and stretch the word seconds about 3 seconds so we’ve officially moved into the next hour. “It’s exactly 7 o’clock no secooonnnnnndddsss!” It drives her crazy.

The other day when we were driving, she asked me to put my hand over the clock at 4:58 to block it because she “couldn’t help herself.” As we were coming up on the hour, she pushed my hand away and yelled “It’s exactly 5 o’clock! No seconds! The time just changed!” I just shook my head.

I asked her a couple of months ago if she does it at school. She says she has and sometimes she gets in trouble. I told her that maybe she is disrupting the class and that’s why she gets in trouble. She told me that she has done it when other students are talking. She said that one time a boy was sharing a sad story about his grandfather dying and she interrupted, yelling “It’s exactly 2 o’clock!”

“I just can’t help it, Mommy.”

It might be that upon reading this, one of you messages me and tells me she has some rare disorder that involves yelling out the time, and that other people do it too. Maybe it’s a quirk that she will grow out of. But for now, I will just have to get used to that random outburst that comes out of the darkness after she has gone to bed and I’m assuming, has fallen fast asleep – “It’s exactly 11 o’clock!”

Grilled Cheese Is Out

Can anyone relate to the madness of a 9-year old girl and her eating habits?

Store-bought chicken nuggets are out (McDonald’s #6 meal = IN). Macaroni and cheese is out (cilantro on plain noodles = IN). Hot dogs are out (grassfed free-range -no nitrates or nitrites- hardwood smoked sausage at $6.99 per four pieces=IN). Peanut butter and jelly is out (nothing remotely related = IN). Grilled cheese is out because momma can’t achieve the right shade of brown on toasted bread. Club crackers are out (gluten-free cheddar cheese nut thins = IN). Sliced cheese is out (grated cheese = IN). Red apples are out (green apples = IN). Lemonade Capri Suns are IN, Lemonade in an economy-size bottle is OUT.

Pho is IN. Every night. Until it’s out. $20 for a week’s supply from a local Vietnamese restaurant. Saving a ton on useless meal items from the grocery store.

Throwback Thursday: Swimming: “F*cking Sh*t” Momma

Here is another oldie but goodie to kick off the summer of 2020 – although we might not see in the inside of a public pool for awhile yet…

I came up out of the water and wiped my eyes off so I could scan the pool. Treading water in the deep end of the rec center pool, I tried to locate my daughter as the waves grew larger. Kids on inner tubes bounced above increasingly larger mountains of water created by the pool’s wave system. It took me a minute to locate her in the shallow end of the pool, bobbing crazily in a red life jacket, her head poking out above a clear, over-inflated inner tube. Our eyes met.

“Fucking shit,” her sweet little mouth formed the words as she glared at me.

Not the last time I would hear those words over the course of the two hours we were at the pool. They have become my daughter’s new favorite way to irk me when I’m not doing what she wants me to do. I’ve discovered that the only ways to reduce her use of these new words is to surprise her with random outbursts of the words in conversation and ignore her when she uses the words. Slowly, their attractiveness as one more way of naughty-making is becoming less appealing.

“Hey Momma! If you don’t come over here and carry me, I’m going to say F-u-c-k,” she announced from the pool stairs.

I swam small laps, as some strange little 6-year old sat on the pool stairs repeating “fuck” over and over. Whose child was that? What a weirdo.

Eventually, the cursing died down and I swam over to her. She hopped on my back and we floated around together. “Momma, I love you more than anything in the world,” she whispered in my ear.

Sigh…

Solo Mama: Thought for the Day

“Don’t say anything while we are in the store. Otherwise I will explode into flames with frustration.”

This was directed to me from the back seat as we pulled into Walmart by you know who (the fiesty child). She muttered in all the way into the store while holding my hand, like a horror movie demon. That and the matted hair made it even a bit more frightening. Of course I talked most of the time we were in the store. She’s still the most gorgeous little girl I’ve ever seen.