Friday, December 30, 2016

Momiversity: Why Diets Make Us Fat

If you are like most Americans, December 31st becomes the day you re-commit to a diet.


Instead, commit to reading this book by neuroscientist Sandra Aamodt that just came out in 2016.

She writes in an easy, accessible style about the science behind why dieting is actually counter-productive. She explores cultural values of body image and also delves into her own personal backstory of constant extreme dieting and how she finally freed herself from that, ironically as part of a New Year's resolution NOT to diet in 2010. (Just to clarify, she does promote eating healthy and exercise. She uses the term "diet" to mean drastic reduction in calories for the sole purpose of losing weight).

Her pitch is this, in a nutshell - your body has a metabolic set-point within a 10-15 pound range. If you starve yourself to lose a lot of weight, your body will just lower your metabolism to quickly pack on the pounds again. Conversely, if you over-eat and put on a lot of weight, your body will raise your metabolism to get you back to your original weight.

BUT...if you are over-weight for a very long time, your metabolic set-point resets itself to that higher weight, sadly. Thus, you should try your best not to over-eat.

And if you plunge into an extreme diet and lose a ton of weight (a la Biggest Losers on the reality show), you will be fighting your metabolism and brain chemistry tooth and nail to try to maintain your loss, and ultimately, you will lose. Maybe you will "keep it off" for 6 months, or if you're ultra-disciplined, 6 years, but eventually, you will lose. And you'll find yourself on that horrible roller coaster well-known to all dieters, yo-yo-ing back and forth and perpetually trying to lose that last 20 pounds. Starving, binging, starving, binging, starving, binging...all the while shooting your metabolism to hell.

My favorite part of the book is when she writes about how girls on the island of Fiji got brainwashed into thinking that being thin is good. Traditionally, Fijian culture valued being thick and saying "you've lost weight" is a major insult. But as soon as they started watching Western TV shows in the early 90's (like Baywatch and Beverly Hills 90210) that all changed.

Now there are very high instances of eating disorders among Fiji girls, the first ever to occur in their society. The NYT wrote about it here: Study Finds TV Alters Fiji Girls View of Body

So what about us, on the great island of the Americas? Maybe it's time to get "un-brainwashed" and question our cultural aesthetic norms. Maybe some of us were made to be thicker and some were not. In the animal kingdom, variety of adiposity abounds (think: giraffes v. hippos). Why not for people groups?

There is a new movement that is trying to shatter the assumption that Fat = Unhealthy. Indeed studies have shown that "over-weight" people who eat well and exercise regularly can be much healthier than thin people who don't.

So let's just try to take good care of ourselves, without regard to our clothing size. Be good to your body and let the chips fall where they may, when it comes to the number on the scale.

It may be too late for some of us, steeped in the lore of Baywatch and 90210...but parents and aunts and uncles, let's at least try to save the children.

Our girls are watching us.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Surprised by Joy

Well, that most heralded of holidays has come and gone.

By Dec. 3rd, the kids had already littered the tree with their homemade presents.

There is so much anticipation and lead-up and preparation for Christmas Day it almost feels like you've lost a loved one the day it's over. Actually, you probably have since many loved ones travel to be together for that one time of year.

So lucky to have these wonderful aunties and uncles (and little cousin) in our lives!

My entire life history of Christmas has been more humbug than falalala, with massive feelings of let down every year on that long awaited day, particularly after the gifts have been opened. I'm not sure why. Was I subconsciously hoping to unwrap something marvelous...far more marvelous than a reasonable amount of money could buy...?

Judah was extraordinarily proud of his first "gingerbread house"

But seriously, you can literally go through my back log of Christmas post-mortem posts and witness the gloom analysis each year, without fail.

Until now, that is.

For some strange reason, that inevitable mild depression never materialized this year. Christmas was finally...not a disappointment!

Noah was extraordinarily proud of his lipstick red Rudolph nose

I guess it takes until you're in your late thirties to finally, finally, FINALLY get a good grip on reality. And to accept it...and even muster up gratitude.

The gingerbread cookie tradition continues...note to self - must ban sprinkles for next year.

Maybe being a mom for six years has finally helped me lower my expectations enough such that any day in which I'm not driven mad by 6+ hours of nonconsecutive crying and demanding that my tired bones hold a 25+ pound clinging toddler is considered a gosh darn day.

So even though we were all sick and didn't eat any fabulous feasts or engage in any particularly festive activities, it was enough. It was more than enough.

The Christmas Day hike tradition also continues, thank you sunny California!

We were together and we love one another.

The gifts each kid chose for the other - spot on!

And a baby was born to make healing flow far as the curse is found.

And perhaps most salient, no one needs to nap, nurse, or wear diapers any more.

Life just doesn't get any better than that.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Dear Santa

This note cracks me up on so many levels.

First, the grammar and spelling errors. Laundry is spelled "lojry" and Judah likes to invert his b's and d's so he asked for a "rodot" hahahahaha.

Also, what the heck is going on with the first letter of your last name? Lower case AND inverted.

I love how at the end of the letter, he tells Santa to "chos onw" - a very humble request to 'choose one' toy since asking for more than one is clearly too bold.

It also cracks me up how he claims to help me with laundry. That kid has folded maybe 3 hand towels in his ENTIRE life and sorted 6 socks into the right pile - 6 individual socks, mind you, not pairs. If this puts you on the "good" list, then I'm set for life after just a single day of housework.

Lastly, it's funny to me that Judah wrote this all while not believing in Santa. Since he was about 2, he asked if Santa was real and we just didn't have the heart to lie to him in the name of fun. So he wrote this for me. Knowing that I know how little laundry he actually does. Bold.

Oh my dear child. Your entire Christmas experience is unmerited grace, however blind you are to it. Indeed, your whole life. Indeed, mine.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

How do you solve a problem like Noah?

Noah is my problem child.

Okay, so this photo is totally staged, but it gets my point across pretty effectively.

In absolute terms, I guess Noah is just your average naughty kid, but in comparison with his older brother, Noah is like the devil.

Sure Judah was a colicky fussy baby, but ever since he turned 3.5 he magically morphed into an angel child. All the opposition and annoying whining truly was just a toddler phase that he grew out of. And even when he was in the midst of the terrible two's his meltdowns were pretty minor.

I would have never appreciated how easy-going and truly eager to please Judah is without the foil of his devil brother. Judah, in his heart of hearts, in the very core of who he is, truly just wants to be a good person and for everyone to be happy. He is goodness personified, people-pleasing to a fault, and the epitome of cooperation. Which is not to say he doesn't have his own moral flaws - he absolutely does - but none of them make me tense up in stress and pull my hair out in frustration by 9:30 AM.

Noah on the other hand...

Noah will turn 4 in January and it is abundantly clear that his annoying whining and opposition is not going away. This isn't a phase, it's just him.

He behaves so disobediently it even makes Judah suck in his breath with disbelief and awe. Almost as soon as I issue a command - Noah don't stand up on your chair - he has to do the exact opposite.

To gently correct him - Noah, don't color on your brother's homework - is to invite him to hurl verbal and emotional abuse upon you - You're so mean mommy! You make me sad! I'm going to be sad forever! You can't come in my room anymore! You can't come to my birthday party! You're the meanest mom ever! And the comment he thinks will hurt me the most - No more hugs and kisses for you!!!

Once I told him that we were out of the granola bars he wanted and he had these colorful remarks to say - I'm so mad at you mommy! I'm going to cut your head off! I'm going to get the big scissors, the one you keep in the special drawer that we're not supposed to play with - the big scissors - not the little ones that you let us use. And I'm going to hold them the safe way, by the handle, not by the sharp part, the safe way like daddy showed us. And cut your head off with the sharp part!

It was not unlike how a serial murderer might meticulously plot to skin his victims and sew a coat with them...

But on a brighter note, I'm so glad he listens when we talk to him about safely handling sharp objects!

But beyond his hair trigger anger, he also delights in dirty jokes. Judah never cared for 'potty-mouth' language but Noah lets it rip all the time and soon the two of them descend into the most annoying silliness. It's literally just them repeating to each other words like:

Poopy-lon hahahahahahahaha
Buttcheek hahahahahahahahaha
Poopy baby hahahahahahaha
Boobs hahahahahahaha
literally, ad nauseum (my nauseum)

Noah begged me to take a picture of this in RiteAid

Noah even goes as far as drawing boobs and butts all over the place. They both look like two tangential circles, but you know it's a butt if it has a dribble of poop coming out of the middle. He once painted some giant ones on his art easel and told me to hang it up in the house. I politely declined.

So last night, as we were snuggling before bedtime, I decided to have a heart-to-heart talk with him about his rampant disobedience.

Noah, you make Mommy so sad when you disobey me. You need to work on obeying your parents.

Noah burst into tears and instantly accused us of not loving him and rejecting him and even said that we think his name is stupid (we've often said that it's a common name, unlike his brother's more rare name). All his insecurities gushed out in a flood of angry fear.

I tried to reassure him that we love him unconditionally and that we all have areas that need work. And again it amazed me how non-intuitive grace and unconditional acceptance really is.

This morning on our drive to preschool, Noah told me how he really does want to obey us more. He wanted it so much that he prayed about it on the spot:

Dear God, Please help me obey my parents. And when they tell me 'no' help me to accept it. In Jesus name, Amen.

If ever there was a prayer that was heard, I hope it was that.

Indeed, it is the very baby-step, tiny seed evidence of it.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Thankful It's Over

Last week, the week of Thanksgiving, the kids had the entire week off school. I had been bracing myself for too-much-time-with-the-kids burn out, but was pleasantly surprised it never really happened.

Usually, if I'm alone with the kids for 2 days, I'm burnt toast. But this week we had lots of fun play dates and parties to attend so the kids and I had lots of good breathing space away from each other.

This is something I never realized until I had kids - interacting with them too much is a BIG problem. It never occurred to me that being with a 3 year old for more than 5 hours a day would make me loose my mind - until I did.


Because their attention span is like a gnat's.
Because they can't do a single thing for themselves.
Because they are prone to melting down (when hungry, when tired, when over-stimulated, when under-stimulated, when told 'no', as in, no you can't run around with a knife, no you can't eat candy for breakfast, no you can't go outside without pants, etc.)
Because their idea of fun is mind-numbingly boring to an adult.
Because, I've been told, they ask 386 questions a day on average.

This guy - like so many things in life - only good in moderation

So instead of getting annoyed at each other, we did the following:

Took walks when it wasn't raining. There's nothing more therapeutic for kids (and probably adults) than to be in the great outdoors.

Judah is inspired to take a photo on the edge of glory

Ran errands whilst looking like weirdos and freaking out checkout cashiers.

The Trader Bros strike again

Had some great play dates at friend's homes. This one in particular had some epic hot chocolate marshmallows.

Never so thankful for friends as on Thanksgiving break!

Had some great cousin time. Is it just me, or do all cousins get along terrifically know...DNA?

Happy goofiness, it's in our genes

And of course, decorated for Christmas - the most wonderful time of year...

But something I'm totally dreading as the kids both have 2.5 weeks off school. O Lord have mercy.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

His Voice

As a mom, I've learned to live in two distinct time zones at all times - the present, and the faraway future.

In the land of faraway future, I view everything my kids are doing through a lens of being an old lady squinting at photographs, reminiscing about what they used to do. And feeling like my heart is being ripped out of my chest with longing.

One day I'll look back on this picture and bawl my eyes out.

I know this feeling because I already do it with pictures of baby Judah. Six years ago I held this colicky, fussy infant in my arms and cursed the heavens often. But when I look back on those pictures, I'm filled with wistfulness...though I definitely wouldn't choose to go back in time.

So because of this double-vision living, I already know that one of things I'll miss the most, is Noah's voice.

I really can't explain the allure of it. But even Judah will sometimes stop in the middle of conversation and exclaim, "Noah, I just love the way you say that word! It's so cute. Say it again."

Noah's voice is intoxicating because he talks with the grammar and vocabulary of a much older child but in the babyish voice of a much younger child. Often strangers can not make out what he's saying at all, so gibberish sounding is his little voice.

But what makes it even more delicious, is the weird and wonderful content of his speech. Some of my favorites:

To express that something is exactly the same (like I gave him and Judah the exact same amount and color of M&M's because I'm totally pwned like that) he'll sing-say:
Same, same
Double same!

He likes to spell out words so he often calls me:
And I have to respond to him with:
Double U-Aych-Ay-Tee, En-Oh-Ay-Aych?

I also love when he adds a "second verse" to songs. For example, he likes the "bad boys" song that he picked up from Judah - Bad boys, bad boys, watcha gonna do when they come for you?

His new verse goes - Good girls, good girls, watch gonna do when you go to church?


Pastor's kid.

And then there's just delightful displays of the wonderful and weird logic of a child, like when he mused to himself in the middle of washing his hands one day, in a pensive voice:
Mommy, mommy, your penis is a vagina...
But our butts are the same!

Hmmmm...indeed they are, my love.

Not sure if I'll be cherishing that thought for years to come.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Life, hurtling toward the end

Every year around this time I realize I've entered the outer limits of a vortex of crazy.

With Thanksgiving right around the corner (shockingly near actually), I start to panic about the 2.5 weeks of vacation my kids will both be having from school over Christmas. WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO?! I'M SO SCREWED!

And then there's all the end of year stuff that needs to get done - gift buying, party attending, party planning and throwing, decorating, Christmas card sending, calendar making, etc. etc. etc.

Actually, the panic starts to set in around Halloween, which came and went so quickly I forgot to blog about it.

So from here until 2017, I'm pretty sure every post will just be like this - photo dump with longish captions!

(1) Noah in front of his preschool. This school has saved my life. So much better than the nightmare place he was at last year (that changed his teacher FOUR TIMES in the course of 9 months).

(2) Oh how I love when my kids bring home holiday-themed art and crafts. Except for that ugly troll mask Noah insisted I put up along with the other tasteful items. I really can't be blamed for any decor decisions whilst having kids.

(3) The witch, black panther, and Chris Kratt turned into a cheetah with creature power. I know, nobody who didn't have boys ages 4-7 understood what their costumes were.

(4) On our way to Judah's school Halloween festival. It was a loooooong-weekend of candy/cavities!

(5) Randomly, Judah pet this homeless man's bunny at the food kitchen, touched his eyes, and freaked out when his eyes swelled shut to the size of golf balls. Wow, crazy allergic reaction. That was a first.

(6) Most of our weekends look like this: errands and the kids hanging out. I call this composition: Trader Bros. They always wait for me like this while I get rung up. Every so often, this is where I realize I forgot my wallet at home and curse the heavens. Mom brain.

They're really into drawing and coloring lately and as always, play really well together. They have moments of squabbling of course, but by in large, they entertain each other (and leave me blessedly alone).

During this particular art session, I overheard Judah saying to himself, a la Bob Ross (my favorite TV show personality and person to which my kids have been subjected to for hours and hours), Now I'm going to put a happy little mountain here...

And I thought, it just doesn't get any better than this.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Momiversity: The Collapse of Parenting

I picked up this book because a friend had mentioned it and because Leonard Sax is a well-known author of parenting books, and well, I'm kind of a parenting book junkie.

In this book that just came out this year, Sax, a family doctor, psychologist and father, tackles pretty much everything all at once. It was like a giant manifesto of his parenting philosophy and it felt like he was verbally vomiting all the things he wanted to tell the parents he saw during his decades of medical practice.

And I quite enjoyed it.

The first half of the book is dedicated to the most common "problems" he sees with kids today. The first is what he calls the "culture of disrespect". He kind of sounds like an old grandpa that starts every sentence with "In my day...[insert example of how kids never disrespected their elders or complained about working hard, etc.]"

His general point was that kids now care more about what their peers think than what their parents think. This he attributes to the dislocation of a child's primary attachment from parent to peers. He has observed this happening as early as 8 or 9 years old. "For the first time in history," Sax quotes another author saying, "young people are turning for instruction, modeling and guidance not to mothers, fathers, teachers, and other responsible adults but to people whom nature never intended to place in a parenting role--their own peers."

And how does this happen? Sax believes it's because many parents abdicate their roles as authorities over their children. Instead of taking their rightful role as limit-setter, giver of firm commands, and makers of the law, parents are misguided into thinking it's best to give their kids "independence" and let them choose their own values with which to guide themselves. Alternatively it may happen if the parent is simply afraid to anger the child and lose the child's affections.

The next "problem" he notes is kids being overweight. Again, the grandpa voice - in 1970 only 4 percent of American children 5 to 11 were obese. In 2008 almost 20 percent were obese.

The reasons for this are pretty cut and dry to Sax:
(1) kids eat too much junk,
(2) kids don't do enough physical activity (because screen time), and
(3) kids don't sleep enough

And underlying all of this is again, parent abdicating authority and not setting proper limits for their kids.

The next "problem" Sad addresses is why so many kids are on medication. Kids are being treated for bipolar disorder and ADHD at record rates and Sax has some compelling data to show that it is indeed an over-diagnosis that had its origins in faulty research data propagated by scientists that were financially incentivized by pharmaceutical companies.

Sax believes the real problem is excessive video-game playing, severe sleep deprivation, and again, permissive parenting that fails to set firm limits for behavior.

The last "problem" Sax addresses is why kids are so fragile. They seem to crumple at the mere touch of criticism. One failed quiz and some kids seem to despair of life itself. Sax attributes this to kids valuing the opinions of peers or their own self-constructed self-concept more than they care about the good regard of their parents and other adults. This creates a "cult of success" because success is the easiest way to impress your peers and yourself.

The solution? Kids need to feel secure in the unconditional acceptance of their parents, and obviously they need to respect their parent's opinions in the first place. Not the most satisfying answer to me, but at least it gives you somewhere to begin.

In the second half of the book Sax rolls out his 3-part solution to all of the problems facing kids today. And it's totally not what you'd expect.

Unlike the vast majority of parenting advice out there, Sax's solutions are a sucker-punch to the Kantian/Enlightenment categories we've all come to unconsciously accept in polite secular society. Instead of sticking with "scientific facts" in the acceptable public sphere of discourse, Sax reaches right into the private sphere of socially constructed "values". Sacred bleu!

Sax recommends that parents:
(1) Teach humility,
(2) Enjoy their kids, and
(3) Teach them the meaning of life


Most unscientific advice ever...but it has the ring of moral intuitive truth to it...but maybe that's just because it's borrowing constructs from a post-Judeo-Christian society...

Either way, this is how Sax proposes a parent does each of the 3 prescriptions:

(1) How to teach humility - give your kids menial chores to do. Strongly limit their time on social media to keep them out of a culture of self-absorption. And spend lots of time in nature so the vastness of creation can give your kid perspective of his relative smallness.

(2) How to enjoy your kids - Don't overschedule your kids in activities. Spend time doing fun stuff with them.

(3) How to teach kids the meaning of life - First, some parenting tenets to AVOID...

Do NOT have the mentality of the common American Dream - the point of life is to (1) work hard in school to get into a top college; (2) go to a top college to get a lucrative job; and (3) get a lucrative job to make a good living and thereby be happy.

Sax notes that all 3 of those assumptions are FALSE. Just because you work hard, doesn't mean you'll get into a good college. And just because you go to a good college doesn't mean you'll end up making high six figures. And just because you make high six figures doesn't mean you'll be happy and fulfilled at all.

Here's another common American tenet to avoid - making personal success the highest goal for your child. Life should not be about what you DO (accomplishments), but who you ARE (character).

So what is the point of everything? Why work hard in school? Why get good grades?

Sax offers these 3 reasons:
1. meaningful work
2. a person to love, and
3. a cause to embrace

Is that the secret sauce to human flourishing?

If so, our culture is really failing our kids.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Our First Date

A few weeks ago I had a mild panic attack as I considered how long it had been since I actually had some quality one-on-one time with Judah. A year ago? Over a year ago? Basically ever since Noah stopped napping.

At this rate, my panicked head calculated, he will become a teenager before I've had the chance to develop strong relational bonds with him, and then he'll prefer the company of his peers over mine, and I'll lose whatever influence I could've ever hoped to have had over him, and he'll fall down a pit of depression and addiction and/or video gaming and drugs! AAAAAAAAAHHHHH!

So after I got my heart rate back down to normal, I told the Spouse I wanted to institute special one-on-one times with the kids. We'll each take a kid once a week or so and hang out with them for about 2 hours. No chores. No errands. Just being together.

And so that's just what we did.

We told the kids about the upcoming "dates" and Judah especially was happily anticipating it. Just to see him looking forward to it so much made me feel already that (a) this was a good thing to do and (b) long over due.  Noah was like, meh, whatever.

Judah looks so happy to not have Noah around, ha!

I decided to take Judah hiking since he loves nature and becomes much more unguarded in the woods. We talked about school and he told me how everything was going well except that it was hard for him to find play mates during recess.

He asked why nobody wanted to play with him. Why some kids were popular but he was not. He shared how bad he feels when everyone walks back to class in groups of twos and threes while he faces the long walk of shame alone.

Once he asked his classmates to wait for him so that he could go back and get his water bottle but no one waited. He described that incident with a rhetorical flourish I will always remember with pride - Mommy, today, I felt like dust. Dust!

Great simile son!

I asked Judah what things I could do to make him feel more loved. He seems so different from my familiar toddler/preschooler who loved huggle snuggles and asked incessantly for me to play with him. He asks for so little now, I don't really know what he needs anymore.

But much to my surprise he replied, Hugs and kisses!

Well, I guess somethings don't change all that quickly. I guess what I interpreted as a diminished need for physical affection was really just a big kid feeling like his mom was too busy to sit and hug for awhile. Which wouldn't be wrong. But should be fixed.

After our walk, I let him chose where to eat and he predictably chose his favorite "restaurant" - Starbucks, and ordered his favorite "meal" - cream cheese and bagel and a chocolate croissant. Our kids are on the opposite of the low-carb diet, obviously.

The entire time, he was aglow in a way that I haven't seen for a long time. He was happy. Really, really happy. Beaming, actually.

And even after our date, the after-glow continued for several days. He was much more affectionate than usual and called me his "date-buddy" frequently. It's a little weird, but also very sweet.

I was surprised when sometime in the middle of our date, he did something he hadn't done for over a year--stooped down to pick a flower for me.

I thought we were done with that phase. The phase where he showers me with love scribbles and flowering weeds and loves me to the moon and back and needs lots of assurance that I feel the same way.

But no, we're not. And I'm so glad for it...and to have found that out before it was too late.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Momiversity: Your Six Year Old, Loving and Defiant

I picked up this book for obvious reasons - I have a six year old. But I didn't find it to be that helpful. It's full of very broad generalities that didn't really resonate with my observations of Judah and in the end I feel like I read about everything and nothing.

But I'm going to blog about it ANYWAY because otherwise it feels like I just wasted 5 hours of my life.

So...random snippets:

--"Five was lovable...early Six was handful...Six and a half can be truly gorgeous. What makes him so much fun? His lively intellectuality for one thing. Intellectual tasks are now a challenge. He loves to count for you, loves to say his ABCs..."

Uh, my THREE year old loves to count for me and say his ABC's. I really don't see how this just pertains to Six and a half year olds...

--"Five may think you're perfect. Seven won't be quite sure. But the Six and a half year old child likes you and you like him. No question. There is a warmth at this age quite unlike anything seen at most other ages."

Uh, what does that even mean? We like each other...okay...

--"Parents...looking back, remember their Six year old as argumentative, oppositional, violent, tantrumy, difficult. And then they think of Seven as silent, withdrawn, suspicious, complaining."

Uh, I remember my TWO year old as argumentative, oppositional, violent, tantrumy and difficult. Again, how does this really just pertain to 6 year olds? And wow, get ready for those moody 7 year olds!

One chapter of the book I did think was helpful, was regarding "Techniques" to handle your kid:

--Praise! If your kid is being a monster, a word of praise (however difficult to dig up) can work miracles in turning the ship around.

--Chances. If your kid blatantly resists your instruction, tell him he has 3 chances to comply. A face-saving way to preserve his autonomy and your authority.

--Counting. Let's see if you can do _____ before I count to 10. Judah responds really quickly to this because it sounds like a challenge - and he hates to lose challenges. But it also makes him surly because deep down he can't help but feel coerced, which truly he is.

--Bargain. If you do this, I'll give you that. The authors acknowledge this is basically bribing your kid to comply, and warns that it shouldn't always be used. But it works! I save my bribes, er, bargains, for only the most crucial and onerous tasks, which for Judah, is practicing his Chinese lessons.

--The remaining techniques - Give in, isolation, and ignoring - speak for themselves. In general, the authors counsel you to just let things go. Don't sweat the small stuff. Six year olds have atrocious table manners and zero awareness of the giant messes they make. Pick your battles.

My favorite part of the book, and the only one that made me glad to have read it, came at the Q&A part in the end. The authors reply to various letters sent in by parents and one of them addressed the biggest problem I've had with Judah ever since he was born - and something that exploited my greatest insecurity - feeling like I'm a bad mom because my kid doesn't think I love him.

I feel like I could've written this letter:

Dear Doctors:

My son, Frank, is Six and a half years old. He is a normal child in every way and is also a very good child...The problem is he says I don't love him. Even when he is just sitting around, all of a sudden he will say, "I love you but you don't love me." I tell him this is not true, but he insists it is...

The authors replied:

It is natural and reasonable (i.e., feeling that he is not loved as much as he loves) but you should not take it too seriously. You can talk with him about it to a certain extent. Tell him this is the way lots of children feel and that usually (and especially in his own case) it is not true. You do love him....

Chances are he just wants a little special reassurance....Going-to-bed time, with a Six year old, is a specially good time for a little snuggling and affectionate talk. In the daytime, when he makes his complaint just take him on your lap and talk about what a good little boy he is and how glad you are that you have him. Tell him how much you and his dad think of him....

Above all, try not to feel hurt that he talks this way. It is, with most children, just a part of growing up.

Thank you doctors! It's just such a relief to know I'm not the only one.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Small, Grey, and Bright-eyed

Small, grey and bright-eyed.

Small, grey and bright-eyed, he repeated on the drive home from preschool.

Mommy, what does bright-eyed mean? means like happy and healthy.

Oh. You are big, peach and bright-eyed Mommy.

Uh...thanks Noah.

Another day, another flower from Noah to tuck behind my ear.

And you my love, are the reason why I am bright-eyed much of the time. Noah, for all his fussiness and inflexibility is still ridiculously delicious and charming to me.

He is a master of communication (as demonstrated above for his love of new words and phrases) and I often find myself adopting his own made-up conventions. In particular, he invented a way to express EXTREME approval - the Four Thumbs Up - in which you give two thumbs up twice.

Simple and effective, no?

I also often adopt his thumb-to-the-side convention to signify moderate approval. As in, Noah, do you like the new noodles I cooked for you?

I like it [side-thumb] medium, Mommy.

And it isn't just me. On the rare occasions Judah and I are alone, Judah often asks me - Mommy, tell me what Noah says. I want to hear more about him. What does he tell you?

Such is the ridiculous delight that issues forth from Noah's little mouth.

Aside from his creative expressions, he also delights me daily with flowers. Practically every day Noah will grab a dandelion or daisy off some green field and present it to me as a token of his love. Some days I have giant handfuls. Other days I have bright fuschia blooms from a neighbor's prized bush - sorry neighbors!

It never fails to remind me of his older brother, who used to do the exact same thing, but hasn't done it for over a year.

Six year olds are just not as obsessed with their mothers as 3 year olds, alas. When I get home from an outing Judah barely lifts his head in acknowledgement whereas Noah will stop, drop and barrel down the stairs to me, giggling and chortling the whole way.

Oh how quickly the window closes for me to feel like a rock star to my kids.

And so, with a relish that I didn't have with Judah, I embrace his fierce embrace. I know how precious and truly short-lived it is now.

And how it will never, ever, ever be quite like this again.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Stuff of Nightmares

Today I realized I am literally my child's worst nightmare.

When Judah awoke this morning, I asked him, as I usually do, how his sleep was and if he had any dreams.

I had a nightmare mommy. You were really mad and yelling at me.

Uh, maybe that's because I AM always yelling at him. But not really because I'm mad at him. It's mostly because Noah is causing great disruption and WE ARE LATE!!!! And I'm flustered and annoyed at Noah, but everyone gets a taste of my scattershot wrath.

Judah endures yet another unpleasant trip - you and me, both kid.

But Judah's nightmare recounting really sobered me up.

I realize I yell at the kids all day, every day.




Actually, you can substitute any variety time-sensitive events for "school" - church, Chinese lessons, doctor appointments, etc.

If we need to be somewhere at a definite time, there's one thing the kids can count on - Mom will be yelling.

I really really REALLY need to plan more margin into our departure times. But as someone who loves efficiency, it totally offends me that I have to allot 10 minutes to the mere putting on of socks and shoes and a jacket. I'm not even exaggerating just a little bit!

Ten minutes! For what normal people can do in 30 seconds!!!! But the alternative is, apparently, a nightmare.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Reign of King Noah

Recently, Noah's been obsessed with being a king.

It started a few weeks ago when I mentioned that kings have a lot of treasure and instantly something clicked inside him. Now he often tells me he wants to be a king when he grows up and will elaborate in great detail:

When I'm king, I'll sleep in a...giant king bed.
And in the day time I'll sit in a...king chair.
Everything will be soft and cushiony, my king bed, my king chair, and even the floor and ceiling of my palace.

You can bring me green jewels.
And Judah can bring me silver jewels.
And daddy can bring me gold jewels.

And I'm going to be a good king.
I'll keep some money for myself.
And I'll give a little bit to the children.
And I'll give a little bit to the poor - small jewels, not my silver and gold ones.

And there you have, the benevolent reign of Noah.

But in reality, being with Noah is more like being under a reign of terror.

Noah on his king bed - well, actually my king bed - contemplating a cushy life

Noah has entered a very inflexible and grumpy phase of his life. Everything displeases him and his displeasure lasts for hours.

Just yesterday he dropped a sticker in the toilet while he was pooping and insisted that I get it back for him. When I explained that it was soiled and that I would absolutely not get it back for him, he exploded in rage.

A few days before that, he asked me to hand him his breakfast bar. I opened the wrapper and handed it to him and he immediately melted down in rage. No! No! No! I didn't want you to open the wrapper!!!!! he screamed while I stood there annoyed and perplexed.

But don't you want to eat it? I asked.

No! I wanted to just hold it! And NOW I want to eat.

Okay, well just eat it now.

No! You opened the wrapper too soon!!!!!!

Somehow that extra 30 seconds of exposure to the elements rendered that bar unfit to eat for King Noah. Noah promptly asked me for a new one. In horror, I realized that that was the last bar in the box and told him so.

For the next 5 hours, I kid you not, Noah repeatedly demanded that I go to the store and buy him a new box of the exact same kind of breakfast bar, refusing any substitute food. The kid would NOT let it go.

When Noah kvetches about something, which he does many times a day, he has a standard script that goes something like this:

I'm sad Mommy. I'm going to be sad forever. Even in God's new world, I'll still be sad. My whole day is sad. (repeat on endless loop).

And so, when I found myself near a drugstore later that day, I popped in with Noah to buy him his stupid breakfast bar. Of course the little 'good parenting' voice inside my head was telling me - don't do this! You're giving into bad behavior! You're reinforcing that whining works! You're creating a monster!

But all the other parts of my brain were saying - oh good grief! LET IT JUST END!!!!!

And so I bought him his bar. He asked for me to hand it to him. I gingerly handed it over like a live grenade - WITH the wrapper still intact.

He asked me to open the wrapper for him.

I double-checked and confirmed that indeed - you want me to open the wrapper for you? Right now? Or later?

Right now, he said.

And even then, I tensed my shoulders and sucked in my breath post-traumatically as I tore open the wrapper.

He smiled and reached for the bar and ate a few bites.

And I lived to serve another day.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Momiversity: Girls and Sex

I recently read Peggy Orenstein's fantastic journalistic book on the sex culture of girls between 15 - 20 years old.

At first it seems completely random that I would pick this book up since (a) I don't have girls and (b) I don't have teens. But it actually makes sense when you consider that I'm officially old. And as an old-timer, I want to understand the younger generation. What are those whipper-snappers up to?

I want to be informed about youth culture since that's the missing link between me and my kids, and since I hate youtube and instagram and twitter and being on the internet in general, I have to get my data from good ol' fashioned books - harrumph! Back in my day, we read books! Real books with pages. That you flipped. One by one. Dang it!

And so I picked up this fabulous book that just came out a few months ago. Orenstein is a prominent journalist for publications like the New York Times Magazine and has written broadly about girls and culture. She interviewed 70+ girls, mostly from wealthy Bay Area neighborhoods, and includes all facets of sexuality in her book - views on sex, sexual experiences, assault and rape, coming out as gay, etc.

It was...informative.


And...I'm just a little bit glad I don't have girls.

There's no way I can sum up this weighty book in a single post, but here's my top 3 takeaways:

(1) Looking Hot
Orenstein shows how prevalent and pervasive and all-consuming the cultural message is for girls - your value is significantly based on how hot you look (hot as defined by Victoria Secret models). Whether you are a teen, a young adult, a senator, a business woman, a scientist, a presidential candidate - your hotness is always up for evaluation.

The girls in Orenstein's book will say, matter of factly, that they're having a good day because they feel like they look hot that day. Or they were having a bad day because they felt insecure about their looks that day.

This is not a surprising insight. Nor is it a new revelation. It's just...really, really sad.

(2) Porn
Porn is pervasive. Most teenage boys consume so much porn that there is now an epidemic of porn-induced erectile dysfunction due to the inability to feel any sexual stimulation outside of watching porn.

But what was most disturbing to me was Orenstein's very graphic description of the typical content of porn. I always, in my completely innocent head, imagined it was just a very long extended version of the stuff I see in regular movies. Nope. Wrong. Totally wrong.

It is, in a nutshell, degradation of women as titillation. The more degrading, the more titillating.

This may not be surprising or novel. But it is, again...really, really sad. Especially when you consider how this form of media automatically becomes a social script for young men.

(3) College
Apparently the run of the mill female college experience goes like this on the weekends:
Drink 3-4 shots with your friends before going to a frat party (aka pre-gaming).
Drink 3-4 more shots at the frat party.
Dance, make-out, fool around at the frat party.
Drink more shots.
Lose track of how many shots you've had.
Lose track of everything.
Wake up the next day feeling not great (best case scenario) or like you had non-consensual sex (one of the worse case scenarios).

This also is probably not surprising, but again, very heartbreaking.

And there you have it.
Girls and sex.

Hide your daughters.

Actually, Orenstein advocates the opposite of hiding. She thinks one of the main contributors to this broken culture is the lack of parental guidance and instruction on sex. Most parents, whether conservative or liberal (yes! they have one thing in common when it comes to sex!) do not tell their daughters anything about sex or their bodies beyond the typical 5 minute spiel about waiting until you feel ready, being safe, using a form of birth control, etc.

And so girls are left adrift to find out and explore for themselves.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Six Year Old Version

Judah recently turned the big SIX and I'm still reeling at the thought.

Almost every day concludes with me staring at this tall lanky boy and wondering - did I ever cradle you in my arms? (yes) Were you ever ridiculously chubby? (yes) How can you be such a fully formed human being when for so long you were just a sweet little blob?

As a baby and toddler Judah was incredibly demanding, constantly talking, wanting to be interacted with, eschewing all toys for PEOPLE. REAL PEOPLE ONLY! Okay, actually, it was more like MOMMY. MOMMY ONLY. ALL THE TIME.

I used to despair that I would ever get more than 10 seconds of breathing space from him. No seriously, I often Googled "emotionally needy child" in search of relief.

And now. Now, he is my flexible, easy-going, mellow, compassionate, eager to please guy who is happy to spend long hours doing his own thing. I don't even know this guy. Seriously, some aliens came in the night and replaced him.

So here he is at Six!

See the resemblance? The night you turned six, in the blink of an eye.

At the beginning of his 5th year Judah was sure he wanted to be a ninja assassin and therefore would not get married as to not risk leaving his poor wife bereaved, you know, an assassin being such a dangerous line of work.

Judah and sweet friends at his much belated party

And then, all of a sudden, in the middle of his 5th year, Judah declared he was going to be a home-stay dad (he means stay-at-home dad), a throw-back to his aspirations from his 4 year old self. Just like that, he wanted a life of domesticity and care-taking.

And then, just a few weeks ago, Judah announced that his one goal in life was to be a jungle survivalist. He wants to learn how to live by himself in the wild - hunt, build fires, make camp, forage for food, etc. I have to say, this last career change has really caught me by surprise.

And I'm a little sad that he so badly seeks isolation. So I asked if I could accompany him on his jungle adventures and he said, yes. But only me.

And then I remembered how I wanted to be a cowgirl and live 3 hours away from civilization on a remote homestead in which I grew my own food and raised and butchered my own livestock and suddenly, Judah's aspirations aren't seeming so weird to me anymore.

Noah takes out all his jealous rage on Judah's pinata - he still claims it was his "worsest" day ever.

It makes even more sense when I realize that Judah, like me, is extremely sensitive to other people's feelings. Judah will often do things that he doesn't innately want to because he's worried the other person will be mad at him. He is a classic people-pleaser and will avoid conflict at all cost.

This makes it extremely easy for Judah to make friends and get along with pretty much anyone. Even in the most heightened competitive situations (which happens often with 5 year old boys who will turn everything into a "race") Judah will purposely let the other party win out of pity and concern for that person's feelings.

But it's exhausting. You feel like you're never free. Always beholden. Constantly on alert. Though Judah got along well with all his kindergarten classmates, he never considered anyone a safe place to land. A haven of free expression. A let-it-all-hang-out, come-just-as-you-are, just-be-yourself kind of friend.

I feel for him. Cuz I know all too well. It's a long lonely road for the likes of us.

And a shy road. Judah loves singing and praying but he will rarely do it in front of us. He will share his most silly or non-personal songs, but the most heartfelt ones about loving Jesus and caring for the poor, he reserves.

I find the best way to get Judah to open up about his personal life is to go for a walk. Something about stretching our legs towards a stretched out world loosens the jaw and vise-like grip he constantly has on his heart. I can see a lot of hiking in our future.

Because I can sense that Judah is slowly walling himself off. Self-consciously editing. Already he is critical of his own natural self.

He tells me he hates the shape of his face. He wishes it were rounder, not so long and sharp. Rounder like me and Noah.

He tells me he hates his dark skin tone. He wishes it were lighter. Peach toned, like me and Noah.

He is ashamed that he can't do the monkey bars and can't swim yet. So ashamed he told me he never wants to set foot near a pool again, although he absolutely loves playing in the water.

And of course it breaks my heart, but at least he tells me.

At least, for now, he tells me.

I wonder how much longer he'll permit me to accompany him on his lone survivalist wanderings.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Stick a Fork in Me

We are at the tail end of Summer and I'm feeling the burn.

Seriously, I think my skin is actually crawling and itching every time I look around my chaotic house where nothing is in the right place and no cabinets are in order (just crammed to the gills with junk). And the garage. Oh, don't even get me started on that sinkhole.

Although Judah has started 1st grade last week, Noah has yet to begin. I have one more week doing childcare duties 24-7 and honestly, that may just be one week too long. It may just break me.

After being a mom for 6 long years, I finally know where I stand when it comes to time with the kids. Some moms thrive on being with kids all day every day. And I used to think something was really wrong with me for not feeling the same way. But now I get it. I'm a "less is more," "good things in moderate doses," "I can't be with the kids more than 6 hours a day and still feel sane" kind of person.

Unfortunately, I've learned this too late to do much about it and so things like a loooooooong Summer with the kids are just about killing me. Kill. Ing. Me.

But one more week. One week more! I am counting down the days until I get more than 10 minutes of uninterrupted time. Oh the bliss of that glorious thought!

Meanwhile, Judah's had a good start to first grade. At first he was really nervous about being in school a "full" day instead of just the 3.5 hours of kindergarten, but he now realizes the time goes by pleasantly enough. He was also worried about bullies and having to do work that was too hard for him.

I now fully realize that Judah is an anxious child and that he confronts all new situations in his life with worry and fear. He's a classic Nervous Nelly. Exactly like his mom.

Poor little guy. You got a long road of fear and dread ahead of you, my friend. I know all too well.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Cleveland, You Really Do Rock

Just a few days ago we came back from a 7-day "vacation" in Ohio.

I know, right? There's at least two reasons why I put vacation in quotes.

First - Both my kids were there. Enough said.

Second - Ohio.

Noah - ruining family photos even in the Midwest

When one imagines a trip destination, several major cities may spring to mind - Honolulu, Maui, Miami, NYC, LA, Chicago even...but a suburb near Cleveland? Nope.

Cleveland Rocks! But we didn't go to this famed hall of rock and roll because our family does not rock.

We did go to the Space and Science Museum next door - because: nerds.

And on top of the "non-destination-ness" was layered the fact that we caught the tail end of a month long heat wave that welcomed us with 90+ degree heat and 90+ percent humidity, and of course an A/C unit that was broken and wouldn't be fixed for an indefinite period since other suburban Ohians all discovered simultaneously that they all had the same problem.

How to sleep during a nasty heat wave (with windows open and fans blasting of course)

And yet, it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable 7 days I've had in a long time (gotta love how parenthood drastically lowers all your set points!).

At the Natural History Museum - they just liked looking at all the butts. Yes we are in that phase. Send wine.

We love Lucy!

Noah takes his place in the family tree - might I say he hasn't ventured far...

We escaped the heat every day by seeking out air-conditioned places, enjoyed a lot of really great museums in Cleveland, libraries, indoor pools, and best of all, had the great pleasure of spending lots of time with the Spouse's mom and step-dad.

They are two of the most loving, thoughtful, and pleasant human beings there could be (yes, I totally won the MIL lottery) and Judah especially reveled in their love and attention like a flower opening to the sun. On the last day of our trip I told Judah we were leaving and his face instantly crumpled and tears filled his eyes, poor guy.

Judah and two of his favorite people (and the brother he tolerates)

Noah, on the other hand, asked to leave every day, hahahahaha. But mostly it was because he wanted to go to Target to buy Hot Wheels, which he now assumes he will get every time we walk through those hallowed automatic sliding doors (but that's another post).

Enjoying the indoor pool at the community rec center - never had this in Cali!

For me, it was truly enjoyable - I sincerely enjoy my MIL's company and always find out so much fascinating family history (which I always can't believe my Spouse hasn't told me at all about for the last 18+ years since I've known him!!!!) and she made food - lots and lots and lots of unending rivers of food. As a domestic-slave (otherwise known as SAHM), my appreciation for someone ELSE doing food prep is unbounded.

Captain Noah and his (sea) monster mom - not too far from reality.

This is why you need a selfie stick - some strangers don't assume you'd want everyone's full face in the pic

Two of the most weird and wonderful creatures - I'm referring to the kids.

The awesome shark tank at the end - wasted entirely on tired kids.

And on top of all that, the kids are at an age where they can actually play with each other and entertain themselves for a good chunk of time each day. Not NEARLY as much as I would like, but enough for me to have conversations with adults and even read a few pages of a book! Oh how giddy I am for just 10 minutes of non-kiddie time.

All I can say is that this local public library SAVED OUR LIVES

Brothers make the best sidekicks (and occasional arch enemies)

One of the great highlights of this trip was celebrating Judah's actual birthday with Grandma and Grandpa Neil - not least of all because Grandpa Neil baked FROM SCRATCH the most delicious chocolate cake I have ever had. Oh. My. HEAVENS. That cake (and especially the icing) should be called "Some things are worth getting diabetes for" Cake.

What's a birthday without festive head gear?

Man, I love you SO MUCH, oh yeah, and you too Judah

But my favorite part of the trip was probably a very special single hour (special because it's so rare), in which the Spouse and I got to escape our kids and take a walk through the Cleveland Greenbelt (a chain of hiking trails) to celebrate our 13th anniversary (thank you Grandma and Grandpa Neil!).

We talked, we laughed, we snorted and chortled. We marveled at how "old" we've become. How can this guy that I started dating when we were both undergrads now be turning FORTY next year? When did this all happen? In the blink of an eye.

In the blink of an eye, our babies are no longer babies. We have mortgages and property taxes. Thinning hair and achy joints. Our vision and hearing grow worse by the year.

And all this life we've lived.

Soaking in the ubiquitous greenery in the great Midwest

And all this life we have yet to live.

Words of wisdom at the Space and Science Museum

And all this with a person that makes us feel unreservedly safe, irrepressibly happy, and unconditionally loved.