Anatomy of a Playdate

I came home today to find my son’s cousins had come over to play for the afternoon. With my son suitably entertained for the time being and my husband on kid patrol, I comfortably settled in at my desk with a cup of hazelnut coffee and a croissant slathered in Nutella (what else?) and topped with apricot preserves, door tightly shut (should I lock it?), hoping to get some work done. My husband is supposed to be keeping the kids from killing each other watching the kids but I can hear that they are just about to begin a sword battle and I know that no good can come of this.  When it’s two 11 year olds against a 7 year old (or is it the other way around?) there’s bound to be bloodshed, or tears at least.

“Ow, that hurts!” I hear one of them cry out, I can’t tell which one.  I don’t hear my husband.  I hear the playing continue.  I hear a little body slamming, some running, jumping, banging, yelping and more sword clanging.  Still no husband.   I wonder if he’s fallen asleep on the couch.  I refuse to get up and check to see what’s going on.  I refuse to let my coffee get cold, and I’ve only eaten half my croissant.

I sit and listen, trying to discern whose voice is whose.  I hear some yelling, but can’t really make out what they’re saying. . . Uh  oh.  Now it’s quiet.  Too quiet.  I start to push back my chair. . .

Now they’re laughing.  Laughing is good, right?  Unless they’ve found something inappropriate on the internet (is that why they were so quiet?) and are now cackling hysterically over something that’s really funny or that they don’t understand – or both.

Good.  The sword clanging has resumed.  “I’m not kidding!  Stop!  Stop it!!” one of them bellows.  Still no reaction from my husband.  For goodness’ sake, what is he doing????

I am not getting up.  I can hear feet scurrying.  I hear rapid clicking sounds.  I wonder if my husband’s still in the house.

I take a sip of my coffee – still warm.  And then the crying begins.

It’s the 7 year old.  From what I gather about the melee occurring outside my door, he got pelted between the eyes with a Nerf gun bullet and didn’t like it.  When I came home I noticed at least five Nerf guns out and enough ammo to take out a small (Lego) village, with the younger one sporting multiple weapons, dispatching foam balls and bullets at the hapless two older kids.  Turnabout is fair play, little man.

“All right guys, that’s it!” I hear my husband parenting (finally!)  He tells one of the kids to put down the shield (?) and for everybody to sit down and watch TV.

It’s quiet again.

I polish off my croissant.  The doorbell rings – it’s the boys’ dad come to pick them up.  I can hear them all talking and saying goodbye.  I don’t move.  I finish this post.  And my coffee.

Photos courtesy of Google Images and Mom Meets Blog

The Birds, the Bees & Bye Bye Birdie

Last week we went to see the 7th & 8th grade production of Bye Bye Birdie at my son’s middle school.  I am particularly fond of this piece because, back in the day, I was one of the “screaming girls” in my 8th grade’s production of the musical.  I remember how much fun all my friends and I had singing the songs during rehearsals, and how exciting the performances were.  I felt that my son would also enjoy the play because, although it is set in the late 1950s, the themes still ring true today – bewildered parents, their hormone driven teenagers, and the maniacal worship of teen idols (paging Justin Bieber – or is it One Direction now?  Kids!).  My son absolutely roared with laughter at one point when, during a frustrating encounter with his children, the Harry MacAfee character sputters, “I didn’t know what puberty was until I was almost past it!”  I think he found that funny because there’s been so much puberty talk at school lately (it’s one of the units of study this semester) that he couldn’t imagine anyone actually missing it!

As I was helping my son study for a test on that subject one evening, I could tell by my husband’s bemused expression that, like Harry MacAfee, he didn’t quite know what to make of it all.  Certainly our respective parents never quizzed us on the term for “the spurting out of semen from the penis” or the name of “the entire outside genital area of a female”.  In my experience, “the period talk” consisted of receiving an informative book and a box of pads courtesy of Kimberly-Clark, and where babies came from (and how they got there in the first place) was not a topic parents discussed with their children.  But there I sat, discussing testicles, vaginas, and nocturnal emissions with my son as though we were chatting about what he had for lunch in the cafeteria that afternoon, while my husband busied himself in the kitchen so as not to get involved disturb us.  I knew he felt uncomfortable, but he would have to get over that, and fast.

I will say that talking about puberty and the changes that both boys’ and girls’ bodies undergo in such a matter-of-fact way has so normalized this conversation that I feel it has opened the door for a kind of closeness that I’m sure many of us didn’t experience with our folks when we were growing up.  I want my son to know that he can talk to me about this or anything else that comes his way.  I certainly welcome and feel very comfortable with this new chapter in our relationship.  I remember reading about a Details  magazine article where The Avengers  star Chris Evans revealed that his mom was the first person he told when he lost his virginity.  I wonder if I will be privy to that information.  I mean, the kid just gave me a surprisingly accurate explanation of the process of menstruation and he’s figured out why mommy has a “stomachache” every month, so I guess anything is possible.

While I was making breakfast on the morning of the test, my son asked my husband to quiz him on the material one last time.  I held my breath for a second to see if he was going to lob this one over to me or whether he would bite the bullet and jump on the puberty bandwagon.  Without skipping a beat my husband said “Sure” and they sat down together for a final review.  And with that we all entered a brave new world.

Oh, and the test?  My son came home proudly waving it around yesterday.  He got a 95.  :)

Check out “What’s the Matter with Kids Today” from the 1963 film version of Bye Bye Birdie

Photos courtesy of Wikipedia and Barnes & Noble

Boy Meets Italy

Dad gets slimed. . .

Last summer my husband, son and I went to Italy.  After two summers of vacationing with Spongebob Squarepants – one year on the Nickelodeon Cruise, and the next year at the Nick Resort in Orlando – I felt the need to plan a vacation that didn’t include cartoon character breakfasts, poolside shaving cream fights, and getting slimed (ok, my husband took the hit for the team and endured the majority of  the slime).  I wanted to stroll along ancient streets, marvel at sights I’d only read about or seen on television, dine on delicious food al fresco, and unwind with an authentic cappuccino and biscotti after a day of shopping in Rome.  In short, I wanted – no, needed – to have a grown up vacation, and prayed that my then- 10 year old might enjoy it too.  After taking him to see the Pompeii exhibit at Discovery Times Square, my son was intrigued enough to have a go at Rome, as long as we planned a day trip to Pompeii.  With the extra assurance that he could indeed get Lego minifigures outside of the United States and watch Spongebob Squarepants on TV (in Italian, of course) I booked the trip and we were on our way.  I’ve assembled a photo journal of our trip through my son’s 10 year old eyes (and sometimes smart mouth):

Rome Cavalieri Hotel

“Well, it’s not the Nick Resort, but this hotel’s okay. . .”

Barcaccia Fountain

“This water tastes awesome. . . and I can drink from any fountain????”

Spanish Steps

“Wait, we have to walk up all these steps???”

Colosseum

“That Colosseum was kind of cool. . .”

“Too much walking and talking at the Vatican. . . “

“Lacoonte” – Vatican Museum

“But that snake biting the guy statue  is pretty cool. . .”

“These bumpy streets are hurting my feet. . .”

Lighting candles. . .

“There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home. . .”

A final resting place. . .

“Wait, somebody’s buried in the floor???  AWESOME!!”

Pompeii

“Ok, I have to admit. . . “

More Pompeii. . .

“Pompeii was REALLY cool. . . “

“Shopping???   NOOOOO!!!!”

Delizioso!

“The food is pretty good too. . .”

“Alright guys, Italy wasn’t so bad, but next year we’re going back to the Nick Resort. . . um, can I have another gelato?”

All photos are the personal property of Mom Meets Blog 

Welcome to Nike Town!

Okay, so my 11-year-old son’s feet grew.  A lot.

He’s been wearing the same pair of sneakers for the last 7 months.  I kept asking him if they felt too tight or if he was uncomfortable, and he kept telling me they felt fine.  I’ve offered several times to buy him a new pair of sneakers, but he’s declined.  Being a creature of habit, he likes to wear the same things over and over again, especially his shoes.  Plus, he hates any kind of shopping.  And with the mild winter we’ve had, there was no need to go out and buy new boots, so I hadn’t had his foot measured since the beginning of the school year.

Until today.  He measured in at a size four.  The sneakers he’s been wearing are a size two.  “Why didn’t you tell me your sneakers felt too small?”  I questioned my son.  He just shrugged his shoulders.  “Don’t worry about it,” the clerk at Modell’s said.  “Their old sneakers stretch as their feet grow, he probably didn’t feel any difference.”

Maybe he didn’t feel any difference, but I felt like the most horrible mom on earth.  Who takes their kid’s word for it that their shoes fit?  Who doesn’t get their kid’s foot measured more regularly?  Why don’t I have a Brannock device at home???

We looked around the store for a new pair of sneakers.  I managed to talk him out of a high-top basketball shoe; he doesn’t play basketball and I could hear the complaints that they were bothering his ankles already.  And for the price, I wasn’t taking a chance that it was something he would decide felt uncomfortable in 3 days’ time.  He didn’t see anything he liked, so we headed on over to Foot Locker, with its clerks dressed in striped ref shirts, questionable rap music blaring over the speakers, and boys drooling over the latest overpriced kicks – a pre-teen boy’s footwear mecca.  No more Skechers.  No more Stride Rite.  Straight into Nike town.

And then the sticker shock set in – $65, $85, $100 and more!  Am I that out of touch?  I’d heard the rumors of boys’ sneakers costing as much as a month’s worth of groceries, but I thought that was an urban legend.  These are sneakers, after all, not Jimmy Choo‘s, which as everyone knows are an investment, or so I’ve read (but how would I fit them into my portfolio?).  These shoes are likely to be outgrown and forgotten in 6 months.  Hoping to cut my losses, I grabbed a pair of $65 Nike Air Max shoes and asked the clerk to bring me a size four.  My son slipped his feet into them and immediately felt the difference (damn you, clerk at Modell’s!) – he said they weren’t tight, and the side of his foot wasn’t hurting anymore (what??).  “Do you like them?” I asked, before he could look at anything else.  “Yeah, they’re cool,” he pronounced.  I threw the old ones in the new sneaker box and headed for the register, happy to be getting out of there for less than a hundred bucks.

At check out the cashier informed me that the total was $99.16.  “What?  No, the price on this shoe is $65, I saw it on the floor,” I exclaimed.  “Yes, that’s for size 3 and under; size four starts at $95,” the cashier explained.  Considering that the sneakers were already on my son’s feet and factoring in his pain and suffering at wearing sneakers two sizes too small for God knows how long, I handed over my credit card.

What was I complaining about?  I was, after all, getting out of there for under $100.

Are you as clueless as I am about pre-teen boy’s sneakers?  Are they really overpriced, or am I just out of touch?  What else do I have to look out for?  Will I ever own a pair of Jimmy Choo’s?  If you have answers to any of these questions, please, let me know!

Some photos courtesy of Google images

A Well Visit Wake Up

courtesy of Google images

I recently took my 11 year old son for his yearly well visit with the pediatrician.  At the end of the appointment, and after being assured all was indeed well, the doctor handed me a nifty little printout detailing the visit.  The first page listed current height and weight, any labs and tests ordered, results from vision and hearing screening, and any follow up appointments that needed scheduling.  How nice to have all that information neatly summarized on one page for easy reference – thank you, electronic medical records.

Then I turned the page.

The next page was captioned “11-14 Year Old Adolescent Visit”.  Adolescent?  My visceral reaction to reading this was “Holy sh*tballs! For reals?  Where did that come from?” I was just getting used to the term tween.  Tween is cute.  Last week he was still 10 years old.  This week he’s 11 and suddenly the word adolescent is being bandied about?  That just has a clinical ring to it I’m not sure I’m ready for.

And “11” is light years away from “14”.  In my inner panic all I could picture was a sullen, monosyllabic sleeping and eating machine who is six inches taller than me, at risk for trigger thumb from too much texting and suddenly interested in commercials for Axe deodorant.  This is a far cry from my sweet little boy who still reaches for my hand whenever we cross a busy street (if no one’s looking, of course).

I don’t know why I was so floored.  From infant to toddler to preschooler to big kid to tween (and technically I think I can still hold on to that one), my son’s new identifier as “11-14 Year Old Adolescent” is just the next step, right?  But there it was in black and white, mocking me as if to say “ready or not, here I come!”

The document went on to list information and guidelines about topics such as school performance, immunizations, testing, nutrition and oral health, physical, social and emotional development, and talking to your newly minted adolsecent about “risk behaviors” – you can just imagine what that’s about.

“Doctor,” I said, “Don’t get me wrong, I think this handout is great, but that ‘11-14 Year Old Adolescent’ thing kind of grabbed me by the throat.”  This man, who has been my son’s pediatrician for 10 years, laughed and said, “Yes, I know it’s a shock, but it’s here.”

And the hormone talk, like spring, must be in the air.  A few days later as I was looking over the curriculum topics to be covered in his class after the spring break, I noticed that “Puberty” was nestled in there between the Latin American Unit, Rocks and Minerals, and Essays and Fiction Writing.

I turned to my son and asked him if he knew what puberty was.  “I don’t know”, he shrugged “something about growing up, I guess”.

I have this tucked away. . .

Like the doctor said, it’s here.

It’s really here.

Have you had “the talk” with your kids yet?  How did you handle it?  What’s in store?  I really want to know!

Beyond “Stranger Danger”

It’s a sensitive subject and one any parent prays they will never have to confront – what if someone tries to hurt my child?  How do I protect and yet inform him or her about the reality that there is evil in this world?  And worse yet, what if that sexual predator turns out to be a beloved teacher, coach or neighbor?  It seems you can’t turn on a news program without hearing about some grossly inappropriate behavior being perpetrated by a trusted member of the community.  My husband and I just recently completed a 30-hour course to become foster parents where this topic was discussed at length, as many of these children have been violated by those who were supposed to protect them the most.

Even though I have discussed this topic with my 11-year-old son, the following article from blogger Cori Linder at ModernMom.com gives practical tips and advice on discussing this subject with your kids that  I will be mindful of the next time I “check in” with my son (and, hopefully soon, with our child in care).

Protecting Kids From Sexual Abuse | ModernMom.com.

Have you had this conversation with your kids yet?  How did you handle it?  How  did they?

The Party Boy

My son loves a good birthday party, and from a kid’s perspective, what’s not to love?  He’s had all types of parties – bowling parties, Star Wars parties, karate parties, even a birthday party at Stew Leonard’s (a popular local food market – yes, they do parties!).  For him, parties are all about fun, friends, games, and presents.  Especially presents.  As much as he loves being the life of the party, I believe it’s the mountain of presents he receives that drives him to ask for a birthday bash every year, complete with balloons, custom cake, decorations, goody bags, the works.  And with anywhere from 15 to 25 guests (not including family), the gift haul was a considerable motivation to keep the party train going.  I have happily  hosted these parties for him (his delight at dancing the Limbo with Wow the Cow is priceless), but after 10 years of party planning I felt it was time to pull that train into the station.  So, I informed him that last year’s 10th birthday party was to be the final one.

Then in January, he began lobbying for a party for his 11th birthday in March (“really Mom, the last one!”).  He’s nothing if not persistent.  The fact that we’re not Jewish hasn’t stopped him from asking us to celebrate Hanukkah (more presents), and a bar mitzvah request down the road wouldn’t surprise me in the least.  And, pushover that I am, I agreed (to the 11th birthday party, not the bar mitzvah).  After all, it’s really going to be the last one.  But no big deal this time – a handful of friends and family at the local arcade for Lazer tag and pizza.  A small ice cream cake.  No balloons.  No decorations.  Call it party rehab.  A “non-party” party.

Presents?  Significantly scaled back.

“Awwww!” was the reply.  But he agreed.

And he had a great time.  He was a little disappointed about not having a lot of presents to open, but when he discovered that those few birthday cards contained cash and gift cards. . . maybe the “non-party” party isn’t such a bad deal after all.  But handwritten thank-you notes are still required.

“Awwww!”   :)

6th birthday party

Have you decided that it’s time for a birthday party intervention?  Or are you still in the throes of  kiddie  party planning?  I’d love to know!

Tips to Streamline Those Hectic Mornings

What mom hasn’t gotten that frantic phone call from their kid at school – “Mom, I forgot my ________!”  You can fill in the blank with any variety of items – homework, lunch, violin, lacrosse stick, glasses -whatever can get left behind usually does at one point or another.

If the same crazy chaos keeps happening day after day, like “Groundhog Day” for the school set, planning ahead and establishing some routines can streamline those manic mornings and help to better organize the day.  Get the kids to assist in the prep work – let them “earn points” redeemable for extra computer time or whatever else might motivate them to take part in setting up a plan of attack and sticking to it.  It’s just as easy to love a good routine as it is a bad one, so check out some tips to help you get started:

  • Pack it up the night before – as soon as homework is completed, pack up all papers, books, folders, etc. into the back pack, zip it up and leave it in a centralized location (by the door, in the kitchen) every evening so it’s easy to locate in the morning.
  • Lay out clothes the night before.  It’s easier to let your child have a say in this the night before than fighting about it 5 minutes before you have to head out the door.  Everyday items like a watch or jewelry, wallet, or cellphone should also be included with the wardrobe.  And how many times have I heard “where are my glasses”?  Check out this cute glasses holder from The Container Store.  My son hasn’t misplaced his glasses since I put this on a shelf by his bed a few months ago.
  • Breakfast hassles? While multigrain cereal or some whole fruit are nutritious options, some mornings my son likes a hot breakfast.  He loves pancakes, so I make a batch on Sunday, freeze them, and then microwave them during the week for a hot, homemade breakfast any time.  Since I’m making my own, I can add bananas, walnuts, flax seeds - it’s healthier and less expensive than the frozen store-bought kind.
  • A calendar outlining activities and events for each day (math test, sports and club activities, music lessons, etc.) is a visual reminder of what items are needed to complete daily tasks – and gather them ahead of time.  It’s also a good place for writing down a to do list – charge cellphone, get lunch money, etc.  If kids can see what’s coming, it’s less overwhelming and easier to manage for everyone.  I use this erasable calendar decal from PBTeen.

These methods have cut down on my morning chaos and have helped my son stay organized – what strategies do you use to reign in the madness?  I’d love to hear about them and learn something new!

Too Much Television!

It’s the question that all mothers ask at some point or another – how much television is too much? When I was pregnant with my son, I was determined that television was going to have a supporting role – maybe even a walk-on part – not a starring role in my son’s life.  I was the mom who played Baby Needs More Mozart and read Dr. Seuss to my baby in utero.  Books lined the shelves in his nursery, little soldiers waiting to be deployed in the battle against too much television.

Then the real world came crashing in.  At first, there was Sesame Street and a few select educational videos, and that was it.  Through friends and playgroups, Blues Clues and Dora the Explorer arrived on the scene, and he was enthralled with his little “Thinking Chair”-shaped notepad and crayon, “writing” down clues everywhere we went.

Around the 1st grade, he came home asking about Spongebob Squarepants.  All the other kids were watching it, and he wanted to watch it too.  At this point, I didn’t allow TV watching during the week, only on weekends.  So one Saturday afternoon we took a journey to a pineapple under the sea and met the denizens of Bikini Bottom.  Once again, he was hooked.  Me, not so much.  After a while, though, that little yellow sponge and his friends got the better of me, so much so that one summer we boarded the Nickelodeon Cruise to the Bahamas with Spongebob and all his friends.  I have to admit, we had a blast, with dad getting slimed in the process.

Fast forward to middle school.  The television watching rules during the week have been relaxed, as long as all homework and other responsibilities have been met.  And here is where I Iook for . . . balance.  Glazed eyes and slurred speech are a dead giveaway, of course, but if whatever’s flashing on the flat screen is taking away from something else, it’s time to act.  For example, if my son’s not showing off his newest Lego creation or the latest installment in a comic book he’s writing, or if we’re not engaging in a good old “well, what do you think?” session, that means there’s too much television.  Putting off going bike riding because there’s something on TV?  Too much.  Family time compromised (and this applies to all of us)?  Too much.  If a day or two goes by and I haven’t seen a book in his hand because of some can’t-miss TV show?  Too much.

These days when everything can be DVR’d or viewed on Netflix, television can take a back seat.  There are only so many hours in the day to engage in other pursuits and connect with each other; I don’t want my family giving that up to television.  Although, Wednesday night is “The Middle” night. . . .

 How do you balance television viewing in your family?  What’s your tipping point?

Blog Dare 2012: What’s Something You Need Daily?

What couldn’t I get through the day without (aside from a shower, of course?)  As I thought about this question posed  as part of the Blog Dare 2012 on bloggymoms.com,  I came to the conclusion that it’s something I sometimes take for granted and would miss terribly if it wasn’t there:  Connection.

Whether listening to my son relate a hilarious story about lunch room hijinks, or commiserating (or celebrating!) with a friend over a cinnamon-scented cappuccino, or sharing details of the day with my husband – that human connection is the thread that weaves its way through my life daily.  While those moments of solitude, especially as a mom, are necessary and downright precious, it’s those connections that propel me forward.  What would I do without them?   What would you do?