Sunday, November 16, 2014

Just Give Me a Sign

Parenting is a long-range deal.  An all embracing endeavor.  A game-changer.  A slow and steady sport, if you will.  One where perpetual fatigue leads you to make way too many bad analogies.   Regardless, it's a journey where you fumble your way through the fog, facing humility like you've never known, wondering how the hell you're going to make it successfully through without falling off a cliff.  Being human and all, you enter survival mode, clinging to anything and everything that might help you get through this seemingly thankless mission.

So, you look for a sign.

A sign, any, sign that you're not completely fucking it up.

Every so often, your child gives you such a sign.  It's the big ones people usually talk about.  The time a child chose to donate money instead of keeping it, the time they gave up recess to help their friends find something they lost, the time they didn't quit even when they wanted to, the time they stood up and faced a bully to protect a classmate, the time they stood up for themselves, both with kids and teachers.

But let's face it, how often do these things really happen?  If we only looked for the big signs we'd be pretty darn miserable most of the time, because with the "goal" 18+ years away, there's no way to know whether we're guiding our kids towards an independent and happy adulthood, or towards lunacy.  And sadly, despite pathetic fantasies that run on a loop over and over in our head, parent teacher conferences do not begin with "your kid is ok! you're not fucking it up! hooray! let's have some tequila!"

Wouldn't a sign like this be amazeballs?

So, we look for the small signs, and we hold on to them like nobody's business.  Today we got such a sign.  Easy there.  We know this is shocking to you given the buildup. We'll pause to let you process.

Pause.

See, yesterday our kid did one of those things they're not usually supposed to do: she went to a party and ate our favorite lunch and overindulged in oreos, marshmallows and chocolate for two hours.  This is of course awesome, but there's still that gnawing feeling of knowing you're giving in to treats waaaaaay too often.  This of course reminds you that crap, you're giving in to a lot of things waaay too often.  And then your mind starts racing through all the little things you screwed up that morning alone.

So when we stopped at a supermarket on the way home from said party, we swooned when mini  declared "I can't look at one more chocolate!" and proceeded to walk to one of those healthy aisles, you know, the ones on the "perimeter" of the grocery store that you're supposed to do all your shopping from but never actually do.

She stopped when she reached the cucumbers, stared intently, and began to speak.  And then, in what we're sure was sparked by her intellectual brilliance and excellent parenting, she spoke, in her best possible Homer Simpson voice: "mmmmm........vegetables......" and requested soup for dinner.

DO YOU KNOW WHAT THIS MEANS, PEOPLE!!!???

A child asking for vegetables on her own is clearly a sign.  It must be.  It has to be.

This means that whatever awaits us on this cold Monday, we will have a fantastic day, because yesterday, we got a sign that we're not completely fucking it up.  And that's enough to keep going for one more thankless week.

Vegetables, yo.  Who knew?




Monday, July 14, 2014

Rockets and Roaches and Beaches

It occurred to me (aka several people said I had to) that perhaps I should write about the experience I just had as an American resident traveling in Israel this past week.  As background, note that this 10 day trip outside of the US would be the longest solo trip this single mom has taken since...well....momhood, and with visits to three countries planned in 10 days the idea was to get away and have a little adventure.

I sure got it.

The trip started inauspiciously enough.  After a lovely day spent in Amsterdam (shout out to the fabulous Mieke, who gave an entire free day to show a total stranger around her city) but two nights of flying and no sleep, I was hoping for a relaxing first couple of days enjoying Shabbat meals with family and close family friends.  Instead I got my iphone stolen in shuk hacarmel, no new phone since everything was closing for Shabbat, spotty wi-fi that worked maybe 15% of the time at best, no air conditioning, single-ply toilet paper, and I had to kill a giant tropical flying cockroach all by myself in the "shower".  Yep, I was back in Israel!   

A few days later after overcoming the dreaded "stomach day" I experience once each visit, I was rewarded for the literal buckets of sweat with an upgrade at a lovely hotel where I had finagled three free nights.  I enjoyed the sea view immensely while eating my free chocolates.  The chocolates are the most important part of the story, people.   


A gorgeous view of my favorite beach
I had one tough but exciting day ahead, and the reward for this day was a relaxing day at the beach.  So I set my alarm for 4:45am and proceeded to get to the local airport by 5:30 to catch a short flight to Eilat.  Two hours later, I was crossing the border into Jordan, right about the same time that Israel and Hamas  went to war.  Of course, I didn't know this at the time.  What I did know was that the old Israeli man driving me to the border yelled at me in Hebrew ("...now, listen to me young lady very carefully.  You don't speak a word of Hebrew, understand! Not a word!")  I nodded in stunned submission.  

Right after that, I was attempting to take a selfie at the border (I mean really, people, would you expect any less?) only to get yelled at by one of the men working on the Jordanian side of the border.  "Put that away! Do you want us to think it's a weapon!".  I complied, feeling a little nervous now.  Why was everyone so on edge?  Once we crossed the border and I realized our little group of five had an entourage of a driver, "tour guide" and an armed guard from the Jordanian police to accompany us on our three hour drive each way through the empty Arab desert, I started to get more than a little nervous.  I sucked it up, knowing that a great day was ahead.

And a great day it was.  I went to Petra, one of the wonders of the world, and thanks to my stupidity brilliant planning I practically had the place to myself.  You'd think after I'd heard the sentence "Normally we have 2-3 thousand visitors a day here, but today only about 100!" that would have finally tipped me off to what was going on, but nope, nothing but blissful ignorance here. 


Me and my ignorant Jew-girl ass, stupidly traipsing 'round
an Arab country as war breaks out in Israel.  Ah, good times. 
12 hours later, having had no access to wi-fi the whole time, I crossed the border back into Israel only to receive more than a few frantic emails, WhatsApp texts, and Facebook messages.   Whoopsie.

At that point, all I could think about was the nice long warm shower I was going to take back at the hotel to wash all the dirt, dust, and sweat off from my long hike in the desert heat. This was to be followed by a lovely night's sleep in air conditioning and clean, bug-free sheets.  Silly me.

Reality had me taking about a two minute shower because I was alone and terrified I wouldn't hear the air raid siren going off in there (sorry to disappoint you single peeps but apparently the threat of air raid sirens leads to unshaved legs...you heard it here first).  The lovely sleep I had imagined was ruined for the same reason (what if I don't wake up the first 90 seconds?!).  So I stayed up, cursing the irony of not enjoying the luxury hotel I had so brilliantly procured for myself.  Here I must pause to give a shoutout to a good friend back in New York who patiently played words with friends with me to distract me all night, and to another friend who stayed on WhatsApp, enduring the battery drain and my nerves and reassuring me I'd hear the siren.  Eventually, my all-too-human body gave out after days of no sleep, constant adrenaline, and a rather strenuous hike, and I passed out around 6am.

Two hours later I awoke to the unmistakable sound of an air raid siren. Fortunately, like many people in Tel Aviv that night, I was sleeping fully clothed and at the ready to walk to the door, grab my bag, and head to the shelter in the 90 seconds I supposedly had.  I was shocked by how calmly I was able to do this so must give a shoutout to the hotel staff who spent hours the day before making sure every guest knew where the shelters were and what to do.  After a while, they sounded the all clear at which point clearly the only option was to go to the rather empty beach, where I engaged in my usual ritual of choosing a chair/umbrella closest based on proximity to the sea a shelter.  Wait a minute, that doesn't sound usual at all.....

I particularly enjoyed the directions I received on how to crouch down on the floor and cover my head if I can't make it in time and found myself wondering how I made it twenty-nine years (stop snickering) without knowing this very useful tidbit.   At this point, I decided to pretend I hadn't spent the night before up like a pathetic little scaredy-cat, and assumed an air of bravada.  FUCK THE ROCKETS!  I was going to enjoy my day, dammit!  Beach it was, so what if it was empty?  I was even going to go swimming!! Take that, terrorists! 

After chatting with other Americans on the beach of all ages (Toronto! DC! Boston!) and engaging in the requisite "so where were you when you heard the sirens" traveler convo, I began to relax and worry about the greater and more real threat of jellyfish stinging others near me in the water and the Middle Eastern noon sun turning my back a shade of pink I've not yet seen.  Then after a swim I went out to a lovely breakfast, all the while making sure I knew where the shelter was, just in case.

I missed a visit to my first cousin, who was stuck home with her kids for days because their camp/day care was closed due to insufficient shelter in those places. Sadly it was also decided the train I'd need to take to get there wasn't the best idea.  At that point, I had to figure out what to do that afternoon.

After much debate with family, fellow travelers, and hotel staff about which city is safer ("Jerusalem! Tel Aviv! Jerusalem! Tel Aviv!"), I decided to check out of my lovely free hotel in lieu of not having to worry about not hearing the siren if showering or sleeping alone. The calculation process was very interesting as people weighed the risk of rocket attack (lower in Jerusalem) vs the risk of riots or suicide bombs (lower in Tel Aviv).  While this seems a dangerously inexact science to me, somehow Jerusalem came out on top.  So I checked out of the hotel and headed to my friends' place where, I was told, I should relax and enjoy Jerusalem.  

You know...as long as I didn't go anywhere crowded like the old city where I wanted to go.  And as long as I didn't go to any holy sites where riots might break out.  And as long as I stayed off buses.  And as long as I stayed away from buses while walking.  And as long as I didn't walk around by myself too much.  And as long as I didn't take transportation except to Jerusalem and to the airport so that I could get to shelter in 90 seconds if I need to.   And as long as I made sure that I asked for a Jewish cab driver.  And as long as I cancelled the sunrise hike I had planned at Masada along with requisite visit to the Dead Sea.  

Now all this kind of threw a kink into things, but I decided to focus on the silver lining.  My Hebrew was getting much better!  I now knew the Hebrew words for "rocket", "siren", "iron dome", "bomb shelter" and "safe room"!

That night, after hearing the post-evening meal fireworks that accompany staying in Jerusalem during Ramadan, the streets were eerily quiet.  This allowed all three of us to jump at every motorcycle rev, every ambulance siren, and every icemaker gearing up, thinking it was a siren.  Fortunately the real siren didn't come until the next afternoon, but in the quiet dark, everything sounded like one.  Stop laughing.  I already told you I was a scaredy-cat in the dark.


Israelis running inside during the air raid siren, calling loved ones
Of course, in daytime, everything was much less scary, even as we ran for cover inside the Aroma, looking through the window to see Iron Dome intercept the rockets right over our heads and hearing the loud BOOM! right above us.  

Iron Dome intercepting a rocket.  Thank you, Iron Dome!
Photo taken by....someone across the street. 
That night I ate, drank, and made merry with new friends, and the next morning two of us went right back to that cafe to have a lovely breakfast as a giant fuck-you to the terrorists.  Also, we were hungry.

Reality later hit home as I enjoyed a Shabbat picnic dinner in a local playground with a few families but had to look for the bomb shelter first.  The kids were then all told "if you hear the siren, here's where you go quickly and quietly" and had to confirm understanding before they could play.  But then they played, seemingly without a care.

Of course, the terrorists had the last laugh as they chose the morning before my flight to threaten to hit the airport, and strongly advise foreign airlines to stop flying.  The 31 bomb shelter signs I counted in the very empty airport (many visitors had already left) between check in and gate suggested that people kinda took that seriously.  The fighter jets accompanying our plane out of the airspace as we took off kinda supported that theory too.

All of this brings me to one very important question.  Was I better off with the heat and cockroaches but without rockets? You tell me.  All I can say is that I only screamed out loud at one of those things, and it wasn't the rockets.  DON'T JUDGE ME!!!!

Meanwhile, I'd be remiss not to point out the real tragedy that occurred during this time.  That's right, my beloved Crumbs was going out of business, shutting down all stores effective immediately.  You didn't think I'd let that one just slip by, did you?  And if you don't understand the gravity of that situation, well....clearly you've never had a s'mores cupcake. 




Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Mommy Nostalgia

We've talked before about how motherhood turns you into a sentimental sap, and never is that more true than at the end of a school year.

One night, a week or two ago, we were talking to a friend wondering why we were such a mess and for the first time it hit us just how emotional we get every June.  While we've often talked about the annual nightmare that is September, we didn't realize that June came a close second until this year.  The end of year concerts, parties, notes to write, camps to plan for, and in the midst of it all.....the undeniable fact staring at you in the face that your child is getting older no matter what you do.

Yes, we suppose this is a good thing, but there's something about finishing yet another grade in school that reminds us that it's a year we'll never get back. And we realize that other things we've loved for years, like holding their little hand when we cross the street, getting a running hug from an excited child when we come home from work...well, these things will soon be replaced with headphones and eyerolls and requests not to sing in public (sadly, the latter has already begun).

3rd grade.  THIRD grade is over today.  Mini is now way past the initial stage of superhero status that parents enjoy in their tiny children's eyes, and has now entered a more speedy descent that ends with the dreaded "drop me off at the corner so no one sees you" stage (more on these stages here).

And (gasp! we can't even say it) fourth grade means....well, only two years to middle school.  Middle school, peeps!! And then before you know it there'll be sleep away camp and college and no kid in the home anymore.

It ain't fair, we tell ya.  We wipe their butts and their noses and feed them and dress them and think about their every waking moment and then finally - finally when we get it right, if we've done our jobs well enough, they move on.  How is this fair, we ask?

Now, lest you think we are on an isolated soapbox an informal but super scientific poll of mothers at drop off over the past few weeks shows unanimous results: mommy nostalgia is real and it's rampant.  So rampant, in fact, that even though we've spent the past two weeks patting ourselves on the back for making up such an accurate phrase to capture it, turns out someone else beat us to it.  Yep, mommy nostalgia has already been documented.  While kids and teachers are eager to yell "school's out!," moms everywhere are watching yet another little piece of childhood passing them by.

So if you see a mother this week and she seems just a wee bit more crazy sensitive than usual, have some compassion.  It ain't easy, peeps.  Even the good parts.




Friday, June 6, 2014

Seriously, please stop feeding your kid's class

But...but...but we ALWAYS use M&Ms for this math unit!
We simply must! And they're not the peanut ones! 
We've wanted to write this for a while and ironically haven't found the words.  Stop snickering, people, it's true.  Just because we make it look easy and fabulous to constantly get on our soapbox doesn't mean we don't get nerves too!

It's hard to be *that* parent.  The buzzkill.  The one who stays at drop-off birthday parties.  The one who always has sleepovers at her place because it's too complicated to try and figure out what you'd feed our kid.  The one who has to grill every teacher and counselor on when and how to use an epipen, and remind them to always carry them around, including bonus reminders when field trips come up.  It's hard to be the one who has to say no to kind offers of playdates because we don't know your babysitter and whether or not they'd be able to give mini an Epipen should she get a reaction.  We feel awkward telling you this but you know something's up when we're always suggesting our babysitter pick up your kid instead.  It's like putting a kid in a moving vehicle without a seat belt.  You really want to, it'd be so damn convenient, but you know you just can't do it.

Hard as it is, we're about to get even more annoying.  See, we'd like to guilt you out of feeding our child.  No, really.

Caroline over at Grateful foodie wrote a beautiful post with words she wishes she'd said to her food-allergic child's teacher.  Worth a read, really.  We couldn't have said it better ourselves.  When every time you're at school at 7pm and still see your child's teacher there, it's really hard to know that you're intentionally adding to their plate.

But one thing we've been wanting to say to other parents for a long long time is simple:  please don't send food to school.  No, really, there are so many reasons this is bad it's just not worth it anymore.  Think about this.  Statistically, in a class of 25 kids*:
  • Peter and Sam, like mini, will have life-threatening food allergies and chances are they can't eat what you're sending your child with because of some random cross-contact risk you wouldn't have known to think of even though those licorice strips seem so innocuous and "safe".
  • Stella has diabetes and she can't eat anything without going to the nurse to check her blood sugar first and maybe even getting a shot.
  • Jade has celiac and that shit ain't gluten-free
  • Joe and Coy have a mother that doesn't believe in sugar, and there's no way they can eat it without getting themselves into serious trouble and dealing with their mom calling the school to complain about sugary treats in class.  They'll probably choose to eat the snack, enjoy it with guilt, and then lie by omission to their parents in order to feel normal without causing any kind of annoying scene.
  • Kenny wants three of them!  His mom might be the least happy about this because Kenny is now in the 95th percentile for weight and she has been struggling for 6 months to get him down to one treat a day max without complaints and this is a big setback. 
  • Annie has no reason that she knows of not to eat it, so she'll enjoy, but her mom and dad, having figured out way too late that eliminating sugar nearly cures her of her all ADHD symptoms, are really fucking pissed when they get home and see the state she's in.  They don't have to ask her to know what happened.
While some of these scenarios may seem trivial, and they're obviously exaggerated for effect, they're not really exaggerated peeps.  And it really is a number of kids that you're affecting, more than you realize because people don't want to air their issues if they don't have to.

The other thing none of the above takes into account is that you are putting the child's teacher in an awkward position.  If the policy is no treats, you're making them choose between being the policy police and pissing you off, or letting it go and giving it to the kids, and pissing of other parents if they find out, not to mention knowingly excluding the kids they know of that can't eat it.  That's not really fair to the teacher.  So here's what happens why you think to yourself, oh, wouldn't it be nice if we could bring just one little treat for the class to share something from our winter vacation.  Or a little gift bag for an extra treat to celebrate the holiday.  It's harmless, really.

In the case of our child, even if treats are allowed and the policy supports it, and you bring in "something for the allergy kid" you're still making teachers choose between seriously excluding her, or making a judgement call as to whether or not it's safe for her to eat (ps it's not safe for someone else's kid just because you said so!)  But hey, it's only a potentially life-threatening judgement call.  It's not like that doesn't scare the crap out of them or anything.  Plus, there's always option c, which is a frantic last minute phone call to the parents to find out if it's safe.  This option is loads of fun for everyone.  And by loads of fun we mean wanting to tear your hair out if you have to step out of a meeting for yet another last minute "can she eat x...." call when x shouldn't have even been brought in without notice anyway.

Should this wonderful teacher be spending her time calling a parent to determine if a snack another parent wasn't supposed to bring but did anyway, worrying about who can have it and who can't, and then dealing with angry parents when they find out?  We'll give you a strong hint: the answer is NO! They shouldn't.

They should be.......

(it's coming).........

(wait for it)...........


TEACHING!

Food is distracting.  You may have nostalgic memories about how fun it was to get treats in school, but guess what?  It ain't 1983 anymore.  Another woman had nostalgic memories about being able to leave her kids for a few minutes in a safe and cool vehicle under her watchful eye from afar and guess what happened to her?  No? Don't wanna guess? We'll sum it up for you:  she found out IT'S NOT FUCKING 1983 ANYMORE.

Times are different, peeps.  Yes, we swapped our lunches and fed all the kids, and yes it was great, and yes it'd be lovely if we could all help our kids get a simpler childhood.  But things are different now.  We don't care if everyone you know with an allergy outgrew it, the reality is that allergies, intolerances, and serious diseases like obesity and diabetes are a fact of life today, and in many cases we don't know why the incidence is so much higher than it used to be.  But it's there and it's not going away even if you choose to ignore it.

Now, we realize that eating different food at lunch, parties, whatever is a fact of her life and when we tell you how she has accepted that without complaining in a way that's way more mature than she should have to be at her age, we mean it.  But the unexpected situations are what gets us -- especially when unnecessary.  It seems like not a week goes by when our child doesn't come home from a supposedly food-free classroom or from camp in tears because she had to sit and watch everyone else eat a yummy treat while she looked down on a pretzel or a stale cookie from her safe stash in the closet.  Yes, she got something too, and there are workarounds, but they don't work very well in reality.  And it's really bad when it's something that smells delicious, like pizza, which was brought in last minute as a treat and your kid describes in agonizing detail what it felt like to smell that delicious pizza and stare down at some plain cold pasta instead.  And you know what hasn't changed since 1983?  It's STILL really hard to be different when you're a kid.  And mini (and Annie and Joe and Peter) don't want to come home from school feeling excluded, or guilty, or sad any more than your kids want to.  And we don't want to lie awake at night, wondering if the teacher will remember to clean the counter from that snack so that if our child touched the counter later and rubbed her eye she wouldn't get a reaction.  Ok, ok, so we're lucky to be in a school where at least her allergens aren't allowed to that degree, but if she were allergic to dairy (very common in children) it'd be a whole different ball game.  And, as we're trying to point out here, it's not just about one kid, is it?  All these kids need our help.  All these kids deserve to enjoy school without obstacles to learning.  All these kids deserve their teacher's time fully focused on their learning and not distracted by food.

So please, we are begging.  Yes, schools are finally starting to get the message, but while we wait for schools to slooooooooowly adopt and even more slowly enforce food-free classroom policies, help out your kids' peers, will you?  Next time you want to bring just a little harmless treat for all the kids in the class, think twice and at least reconsider.  Bring in a food-free treat if you really want to.  Or just nothing at all.  You can be the change.  You can begin the momentum.  You can make this better.

We promise you the teachers and at least half the parents in the class will thank you for not bringing in food.  Us especially.

And, if you're still not sold, you know what you're doing for YOUR child when you do this? You're explaining why they have to choose something else and talking to them about seeing things from another point of view.  You're teaching them respect for their classmates.  You're teaching them compassion for others.

Now, while we're the first ones to admit there's almost nothing better than a cupcake, in this case, it it really worth it?  Wouldn't all our children be better off with more compassion and a few extra recess minutes instead?** 


 
*Names are made up for effect.  Duh.
**The answer is yes.  It's rhetorical, peeps.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Why you want to host kids with food allergies

Not-so-fun Fact
Have you heard?

It's National Food Allergy Awareness Week.  This means we can write a blog post about food allergies and rather than getting dismissed, it will be one of umpteen articles about food allergies that will be dismissed.  Hooray!

Of course it's also National women's health week, National hospital week, National nursing home week, National Police week, National women's poker week and National Salvation Army week, but then there's no limit to how many special things a week can be, is there?  Plus we made one of those up.


Now that we've gotten the requisite cynicism out of the way, we wanted to take a moment to make people aware of the huge impact that a NON-food allergic parent can have on a family's life.

See, we're pains in the ass.  We know this.  Having us over for dinner means getting quizzed by a neurotic mom about ingredients well in advance, worrying about what might have touched what in your kitchen when you actually cook, and making what was intended to be a friendly dinner invite into a ridiculously inconvenient proposition altogether.

We know this.  We get it.  Every day of our lives is filled with having to decide if that restaurant is doable, fielding questions from teachers or other parents on what she can eat for yet another school activity involving food that didn't need food at all, and dealing with the school cafeteria on a nearly-daily basis to check ingredients and confirm safe lunch options for that day.  It's seriously exhausting.  Scary Mommy painted a good picture on what it's like to parent a child with food allergies here.

We know you omit us with a pang of guilt from parties and dinner invites etc. just because well...you want to....you feel you should....you'd like to have us over.....but...it's so...damned....annoying.  And you're afraid to mess it up.  We get it.  It sucks, but we get it.

So when another parent invites us and goes out of their way to accommodate, so that mini can come over to someone's home and reject all the healthy delicious food they eat and declare it "disgusting", just like any other picky kid would, while you are feeling deflated and silently cursing us for making you spend all this time and effort making accommodations for a kid who wouldn't eat anything anyway, we want to make out with you.

No, seriously, we want to make out with you.
That's disgusting!! 

All your hard work was not for nothing.  It helped mini have a social occasion that (finally!) had nothing to do with the food, and let her mom have a normal dinner with a kid who could eat (or not eat) based on choice and what mood she was in, and not based on what might be potentially life-threatening.  And her mom actually got to eat without worrying about whether or not her child might react to something.

So to all of you (and we are so fortunate there are many!) that have made this effort, please know even if mini doesn't so much as lick it, you have done a very, very, good thing.

Please do it again.

To the rest of you, if you ever see us walking around randomly kissing other parents, now you'll know why.

And next time you're on the fence about whether it's worth it, just cook for us, yo! Pretty please?