Entries categorized "Children"

This Thanksgiving, I'll Just Have Seconds on the Hugs

I've witnessed some incredible Heathrow Moments in my life. They occur when I'm alone in an airport, waiting for a flight. Most often I'm surrounded by crumpled napkins, a slice of pizza slice and a glossy magazine filled with shock and awe: celebs wearing no make up.

And then it happens.

I look up and spot someone running with flailing arms and a beaming smile toward an arriving passenger. As I watch the two greet, hug, and laugh, the positive energy from their reunion has a ripple effect, as if love is contagious. 

Those are Heathrow Moments.

If you've seen the holiday movie Love Actually, you may understand why. In the movie's opening scene, loved ones greet one another with hugs, kisses, and laughter at the arrivals gate of London's Heathrow Airport. Hugh Grant narrates:

"Whenever I get gloomy with the state of world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion's starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don't see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often it's not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it's always there - fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the twin towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge - they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I've got a sneaky feeling you'll find that love actually is all around. "

Some things are better seen for oneself. Here's the one minute clip:

 

 

 

This week I experienced my own perfect Heathrow Moment. It wasn't glamorous like in the movies. It was rainy. It was cold. Moreover, I was at Midway in Chicago, not exactly Heathrow.

I waited, and I waited. I paced, unable to stand still. My 15 year-old son, away at school since August 31, was headed home for Thanksgiving break. I'd been counting the days until his return.

Boys at midwayWhen I spotted him at the back of the barrage of arriving passengers, I lost all composure. I was no longer the cool, blend-in-to-the-crowd, casual mom. I jumped up and down. My eyebrows went through the roof, and according to my younger sons, I made embarrassing pointing gestures. Although surrounded by just a few people, I waved frantically as if I might get lost in a sea of travelers, worried he might never find me. My whole body trembled and tears came to my eyes. In that moment, I became completely oblivious to everything in the world. 

This particular moment was larger than a Thanksgiving homecoming. Over the few weeks, the world has suffered countless losses as a result of terrorist attacks and madmen with guns. In a flash, loved ones have met violent deaths. The stuff we think will never happen to us, has happened to them. Those families will never be the same. As a result, I found myself uttering unimaginable phrases to my children: 

"If you can't get to an exit, play dead."

"If you see something, say something."

"If you can run, try to run in a zig zag, you'll be harder to hit."

"Only show your American passport when absolutely necessary, otherwise keep it hidden in your pocket."

"Say you're Canadian."

Although I was uttering unimaginable phrases, since my son was flying out of New York's LaGuardia airport, I knew in my heart these were no longer unimaginable scenarios, flights of fancy, or the result of an overactive imagination. 

It sounds trite, but it's still true that we just don't know how much time we have on this earth. Thanksgiving could not have come at a better time. The deaths of so many innocent people remind us of the fragility of our own lives. So many flowers offered. So many tears shed. So many stories shared. So many hugs given.

Augie and mom at midwayThus, I felt an overwhelming sense of urgency to be with all three of my children. I raced to Midway Airport. I paced through the multiple delays. And as my oldest came through the arrivals gate at 12:30 am, I needed to touch him. I needed to look him in the eye and know he was okay. I needed us to be together. We had a group hug on the spot.

 

This year, Thanksgiving wasn't about the food. It wasn't about the football. (As a Packer fan, I've just committed sacrilege.) Thanksgiving was about the hugs. It was about the exchange of positive energy, the connection, the unspoken message: hey, you mean a lot to me.  I have hugged almost everyone I've seen over the last ten days. In these tragic times, I feel an overwhelming need to connect with others. Even the football fans felt it. You can't tell me your eyes were dry as Brett Favre and Bart Starr hugged. Generations across the nation connected in that moment.

The holiday is over. My son has returned to school. The week wasn't perfect-- it was gray, the Packers lost, and 24 hour news cycle continues to jar me. However, the hugs were just right.  

  

 

 

Sending you peace and love through the holiday season!


8 Things I Wish I Could've Given My Kids This Christmas

Christmas letter

Dear kids,

I know you're excited. You've been awake since 5:55 AM. I tried my hardest not to hear you playing Minecraft on the floor outside my bedroom. Thank you for not opening my door until the sun came up.

In a few moments, you'll open your Christmas gifts. The wrapping paper will fly, a mug of hot chocolate will hit the floor, and Styrofoam peanuts will cling to the dog's butt all day.

IMG_7927
However, while I have your undivided, yet toe-tapping, impatient, attention this singular moment of the year, I have something to share with you. Quit the eye-rolls. It's Christmas. I have the floor. I'll be short and sweet. 
I need to tell you the truth about the presents you're about to receive. You see, I wasn't able to buy the gifts I wanted this year. I couldn't.

I know you'll smile and nod politely when you open that new snowboard, remote control car, or electronic device. I'm grateful you'll be magnanimous. Magnanimous means- oh forget it, I know you're barely listening at this point, so I'll be quick. These are the things I'd give you this Christmas:

1. I'd give you a strong sense of individualism: the courage to forge new paths, speak up to right a wrong, and avoid following the crowd. The "in" group is not important. Having a clear conscience when closing your eyes at night is.

2. I'd give you a sense of wanderlust, a thirst to see different countries, and an appreciation of their cultures. I'd encourage you to toss aside laminated itineraries and experience the thrill of discovery. Don't let stuff get in the way of experiences. Put down the devices and participate. Notice the crisp air. Breathe in the fresh pine. Be present.

3. I'd box up a lifelong supply of questions so you'd never run out. I hope you ask as many questions at age 20, 30, 40 and 65, as you do now. And if you ever hear: "The answer to your question is, 'Because we've always done it this way,'" Be curious and challenge outdated traditions and thoughts.

4. I wish I could wrap and give you the urge to always be kind, especially to each other. With the exception of your mother, no one's got your back like a brother. I can't stick up for you if some jerk is hassling you in the boys' locker room, but a brother can. There's nothing like a band of brothers. Be there for one another.

5. You may not understand yet, but I want to give you the gift of serenity from living a spiritual life. I'm not talking about religion. Don't worry about people or things you can't change. Have faith in a higher power and embrace what you have, not what you don't. You are not God. Sorry. You are not the center of the universe. Sorry. I'm still wrapping my head around these facts, too. But I don't want you to think you've got to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. You don't. That's why I'd give you faith if I could.

6. You've already been given the gift of a sense of humor. I hope you'll be generous with your smiles, your laughter, and your hugs. Be the first to offer your hand, and radiate positivity and hope. Don't take yourself too seriously. The folks who do are so boring.

7. I'd love to give you the desire to be a lifelong learner. Stay teachable. Accept help and keep an open mind. The world is much cooler when you can look at it from different perspectives. Being stuck sucks.

8. No matter where you are, I'll be there for you, um, except in the boys' locker room...although don't put it past me. I am your rock. I am your North. I am your mom. You are my most precious gifts.

Merry Christmas!

xoxo

Mom

Yes...now you can open that other junk under the tree.

 

If you enjoyed the post above, please SHARE it through Facebook, Twitter, email, fax, snail mail, tack it on doors at Wal-Mart, read it aloud on an airplane, leave it in the bathroom at work. I'm not picky. You get the picture. Thank you!

 


Have Cowboys. Will Travel

I woke up this morning and realized my three sons are on three different continents. 

I shuffled out of bed, let the dogs out, and sat on the lawn. It was eerily quiet. Signs of the boys were everywhere: an arrow stuck in the lawn which had missed its target by a long shot. Olive, our little Sheltie, was chewing on a faded soccer ball. And one, lone, white sock, partially covered in mulch, peeked out from under the boxwood, because..., well, just because. 

And then I cried. I mean, I really cried. I cried tears of relief because each had made it safely to his destination. I cried messy, happy tears because each of my boys was doing his own thing, taking the world by storm. And then I cried out of fear because this has been one helluva violent summer. And my babies are out there. 

IMG_2841The oldest, 16, is in Beijing through SYA on a language immersion program. My 13 year-old is doing a student exchange with our sister city in Esslingen, Germany through our chapter of the People to People organization. And my youngest, 12, is in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (feels like a separate continent) on the shores of Lake Superior at Michigan Tech's amazing hockey camp. 

Plans for our summer of 2016 began last October with applications, interviews, grant forms, webinars, essay questions, and a lot of check writing for program deposits. 

Then Malaysian Flight 17 was shot down and suicide bombers attacked a train station in Turkey.

In November, Paris suffered a massive attack and chaos ensued.

Over the holidays people asked, "Are you sure you want to let your kids travel with all that's going on in the world?"

We continued with our planning. My son applied for his visa, the scholarship form was finalized, and we went to the bank to set up teen checking accounts and debit cards.


HugonjulianIn January, the mass shooting in San Bernardino made it abundantly clear that no safe havens were left in today's world.

In spring, the bombings at the Brussels airport and a metro station shook me to the core. 

With tears streaming down my face, I made plane reservations for the boys anyway. 

We picked out adapters, journals, good walking shoes and continued to check things off our lists.

We didn't avoid the news. Together we watched the coverage of Orlando. 

We said "I love you" a lot. In fact, the act of saying "I love you" began to feel like our five seconds of safe haven. We said it before bed, getting out of the car for school, getting dropped at soccer practice, before meals, and basically all the time. When we weren't together, we texted it. "I love you" became our daily armor to protect us from whatever unimaginable tragedy was going to strike next. 

The police shootings in Dallas and the Bastille Day attack in Nice followed. It was clear the world had gone utterly mad. 

We discussed these events. We mourned the dead. And we kept saying  "I love you."

On Friday we packed the suitcases, hockey gear, and  went shopping for travel snacks. 

When we deposited checks from grandma and grandpa at the boys' bank, an employee said, "I would never let my child go to Europe or Germany or any of those places."  Um, honey, oh...forget it.


IMG_3008I got defensive, "What should we do? Stay home for the rest of our lives? My child could get hit by a car tomorrow right outside our front door." We live in a cul-de-sac and that would never happen, but she didn't know that.

"Well," she said, "I don't think you should go lookin' for trouble." 

"I promise you, bank-teller-lady, no one here is lookin' for trouble. Let me guess, you spend your time on your Cheeto-stained couch watching reality TV repeats: shows of other people doing stuff that they already did."

Ok, I didn't actually say that out loud. I just said it in my head, but it was still quite satisfying.

The insinuation that I was careless with my children's lives stung. And it stung hard.

Do we have to stop wandering? Do we just put our heads down and try to get by? Do we have to give up our dreams? I bet that woman has never tried ceviche, rolled the dice in Vegas, or stood in a city center with a map and a thirst for knowledge. 

That woman didn't realize she's the one who is really in danger. 

As soon as we stop learning, we begin to die.

 

 

 

 

 


Parents: Start Laboring Now for a Seemingly Labor-less Labor Day


DSC08554Labor Day weekend, the last glimpse of summer, is right around the corner. For control freaks like me, Labor Day weekend actually requires a great deal of labor to appear labor-less for the broods we love. It's an iconic American holiday marking the end of summer, so there’s serious pressure to have the most family fun EVER. I’m talking idyllic, Norman-Rockwell-painting-fun. Kennedy-Camelot-football-tossing-fun. Corn-on-the-cob-lobster-salad-and-peach-pie-buffets-appearing-out-of-thin-air-fun. You get the picture.

This very minute, tightly-wired moms are maneuvering grocery carts at dangerously high speeds and ticking items off their iPhone list faster than the average man could read it. Coolers, koozies and kites are loaded for their final summer outing, while school shoes and soccer cleats rest quietly in the corner 'til Tuesday.

Concerned not enough fun is planned for the weekend, or worried too many Uno cards are missing from the deck, anxious parents scurry to purchase last minute Mad Libs and Bananagrams for the road trips, and insanely fork out cash for that unsightly PVC pipe game involving nunchuck golf balls.

True perfectionists desperately Google Martha Stewart articles regarding not only how to pack the perfect picnic, but how to embellish it as well, because nothing says family fun like a blingy, decoupaged, origami picnic basket.

On a previous Labor Day getaway to Chicago as a single parent, I left nothing to chance. I created a detailed itinerary to maximize fun for my three sons: the John Hancock Building, Shedd Aquarium, Navy Pier, Chicago-style pizza, Nike on Michigan Avenue, a steakhouse, shopping at 900 Michigan and tickets to Mary Poppins.

IMG_0055Sure, my boys thought some initial sights were interesting, but beyond the bullet-proof divider in an old taxi, they weren’t wowed. I began to think they were a tough crowd to please. However, just when I thought the trip was a fail, they began to show enthusiasm for the magic of the city.

On the quaint carriage ride back to our hotel after Mary Poppins, the boys oohed and ahhed over the horse’s steamy dump. Ten minutes before, Mary Poppins had flown over our heads in a twinkling starlit theater. I mean, she seriously flew, umbrella in hand, and all. The boys gave flying Mary Poppins a raised eyebrow and nod. Splattered horse shit on a city street received a standing ovation, an obnoxious “Yeah, baby” and a “We love you, Chicago!”

In the Nike store I lost all three. Filled with panic, I hoped I’d see them, around each corner, arms heavy with merchandise. Instead, I spotted my boys two stories up, riding the escalators. “Hey-“ I shouted, “if you guys aren’t gonna try on any shoes, let’s move on to the next thing on my list.” Only to hear in response, “Mom! Escalators! We’re on an escalator! This is awesome! Can we ride a little longer?” I quietly mumbled, "Yeah, we don't git to the city often" and covered my “Appalachia is for Families” t-shirt. 

At the top of the John Hancock Tower, my youngest son announced, “You guys GOTTA check out the urinals in this bathroom. Come on!” They admired the Chicago skyline for three minutes and the public restrooms for ten.

Mary PoppinsThe pricey steakhouse did impress. “Mom, you picked a great place. The restroom is awesome. Huge peppermints are floating in the urinals. Did you know you can even pay a guy to watch you pee here? Seriously. They have combs you can keep.” Yes, well, along with the free matches, that’s why the guidebook recommended it, boys.

To parents who want to provide a memorable Labor Day weekend for your children, I wish you well. After you vacuum the minivan, drop the dog at the kennel, and hunt down one damn DVD that isn’t scratched to death, you might want to toss out your laminated itinerary, bedazzle your noise-reducing headphones and prepare for Plan B. 

In the meantime, I’ll be at home charting our next family vacation: the Public Restroom Tour of America. 

 

 

Liesl Testwuide, publisher of the website Hairpin Turns Ahead, uses humor and humility to write about navigating life’s twists, turns, and inevitable changes.  A divorced mom of three, she has come to accept that even though her white-picket-fence life blew up in her face, it was the best thing to happen to her.  Follow Liesl on FacebookPinterest,and Twitter.


Even Goo-Be-Gone Can't Destroy This Bond: Happy Mother's Day!

Mom and Mrs. BeasleyMy mother and I were born opposites. She's a Felix and I'm an Oscar. She's OCD. I'm ADD. Her passport is filed under "P" and mine...well, mine is around here somewhere.

Growing up, I'd purposely do the opposite of what Mom suggested. If she said, "Boy Liesl, your natural hair color is so pretty," I'd dye it darker and darker. If Mom said, "You know, Liesl, you so look nice with long hair,"  I'd cut it short. And then even shorter. I went way too far with the asymmetrical cut in the 80's.  

When Mom would mention, "Skirts are so flattering," I'd wear the Guess jeans with pockets up and down each leg. I could fit 9 beers in those jeans. And when Mom said, "Liesl, if you'd wear a bit of a heel, it'll give you a nice, long, slimming leg,"  I'd put on my coveted hiking boots with the bright red laces. 

As the female Felix Unger, she speaks a language that is foreign to me. Recently smiling, she said the words, "Just for fun, why don't you and I wash all the crystal in the dining room." I have no idea what that sentence means.  

Hiking bootsAlthough I give her a hard time, Mom has been quite a role model for being organized and keeping a clean house. Every piece of paper brought into her home is filed within a minimum of 90 seconds. She regularly bleaches the cleaning rags. She's on her 17th label maker. The last one died while labeling the light bulb cabinet shelves. It made a fizzing sound and broke into seven pieces just as she was starting on the 30-70-100 watt three-ways. 

I didn't inherit that clean gene.  

When Mother visited me in San Francisco, she asked where I kept the scissors in my apartment.

Without blinking I said in a tone, like duh, "Under the sofa." 

"How can you possibly be my daughter?" she said. "Most people keep a scissors in the kitchen or maybe in an office or laundry room."

"Yup, but I keep mine right under the couch. That way you don't even have to get up."

On the same visit, I accidentally dropped a bag of flour on the carpet. 

"No problem," said Mom. "Just get the vacuum. It'll take two minutes to clean up."

"Right...the vacuum cleaner," I said casually.

Mom, Liesl and boysPanicked, I scoured four closets until I found the damn thing. Out of breath, I plugged the machine into the walI. Like a hawk, Mom watched my every move as if she doubted my vacuuming prowess. I nonchalantly kicked my foot around the sides and corners of the thing with no luck. Then I patted my hands along the handle but nothing happened. I unzipped and then rezipped the bag part. I unplugged and replugged the machine.


About to pull out her hair and transform into Mr. Clean right before my very eyes, Mother Unger exclaimed,
"Oh my God! You don't know how to turn on your vacuum cleaner, do you, Liesl Margaret?"

"Yeah, um...well, no. I usually just get out a lint roller."

But at 27 when my boyfriend dumped me while the rest of my friends were tying the knot like a row of dominoes, I called my mom.

When I woke up July 21, 2004 and needed help with my drinking problem, I called my mom.

When I knew my spirit was dying and it was time to file for divorce, I called Mom. 

Gaga Augie meSo although I give my mom a tough time for being the clean freak she is, I'm also very grateful. I've come to her with plenty of messes and she's always helped me put the pieces of my life back together. She doesn't shy away from the debris of a storm. She's like a human SOS pad. Trust me, she will view that as a compliment.

It took me almost 40 years, but these days I listen to my mom. My hair is long. I wear heels and a skirt every chance I get. My scissors are stored safely in a kitchen drawer. It's a messy drawer, but it's progress, not perfection, right?

My mom and I look like an odd couple on the surface. She never has a hair out of place. I'm usually covered in dog hair. She plans ahead. I know I am typing this sentence at this very moment. She's 5'2", barely 100 pounds and always has my back. I'm 5'6" and weigh dis-girl-don't-shop-petite-section and lean on her heavily. Yep, an odd couple connected by the most amazing bond there is: unconditional love. Even Goo-Be-Gone can't destroy that shit.**

Not so long ago, when I became a single mother, who'd been out of the workforce for 15 years, I called my mom.  

She said, "You have a gift. Keep writing. Follow your dream. Oh, and here are some extra vacuum cleaner bags."  

Thank you, Mom. I love you! Happy Mother's Day! 

 

**Mom, sorry I swore in the Mother's Day post. I don't know where I learned such language!

 

 

 




A Good Dog Is Better Than A Bad Date


Ben near bath

It's a bad sign when I'm on a date and I miss my dog.  If I look forward to drooly, droopy jowls, rather than Mr. Comb-over's kiss, it's time to call a cab. Don't get me wrong, I love men. It's just that in a lot of cases, I love my dog more.

This wasn't always the situation. I was a confirmed cat person for years. However, heading for divorce and in need of some serious extra credit to get into Catholic Heaven, I promised my sons they could have a dog. After researching breeds with the shortest life span, 6-8 years max. (I had no intention of living with another mistake for 15 years), they decided on a St. Bernard. In January 2009, we brought home Big Ben.

Boys and big ben on porchWe went through the typical puppy years. He ate pencils, rolling pins, and a table or two. He broke through the same screen door weekly. In six months he gained 106 pounds. He learned to jump out the car window. I chased him through intersections, a golf course, school parking lots, tennis courts, and soccer camp. He became so strong, instead of walking the dog, the boys quickly learned to body surf. Realizing he was too big for the boys to handle, by default, Big Ben became my dog. 

After nine months I'd had enough. I was depressed about the state of my marriage, the kids sensed the tension, and drool was everywhere. It hung from lamp shades, chandeliers, drapery rods and most often, unknowingly, from the back of my head. At one time I owned 17 lint rollers. I called rescue shelters to take him. But each shelter Ben and me in carencouraged me to work with him to properly bond. Eventually he obeyed a couple commands: sit and... Well, ok, maybe he just obeyed one command. But when the boys went back to school that fall, Big Ben and I clicked and became inseparable. 

Sure, he has annoying habits, like drinking out of toilets, snoring louder than a freight train, producing poop larger than sandcastles, and consuming nine cups of food plus five hot dogs a day. He hides his treats all over the house, like a squirrel preparing for winter.  I find string cheese under drapes, hot dogs in sofa cushions, and once I found a three-day-old piece of pizza behind my pillow.

But he loves me. Unconditionally.

He lets me talk for hours, never interrupts, and five minutes later, still gets excited at the sound of my voice. He sticks to his word. He never says he's going to clean the garage and then doesn't do it.  He never commits to cutting the lawn and then watches a ball game instead. And he certainly knows when to keep his mouth shut. If my jeans are a little tight or dinner is a bit late, he never voices his disdain. We don't argue about politics, religion, or who drank the last Diet Coke.

Big Ben on my lapMy divorce required so much change. The kids needed my attention to help work through their anger and anxiety. Not being part of a couple, the dynamics of many friendships changed. Saying goodbye to a beloved home was heartbreaking, and the fear of the unknown seemed to hover over our heads the entire first year. However, one thing never changed. My dog was always by my side. No matter my marital status, my mood, my bank account, my home, my tears, my laughter, my disastrous dates, and the many nights home alone when the boys are with their dad, Big Ben has been next to me.

I don't believe it's a coincidence my boys chose a St. Bernard. St. Bernards are said to instinctively anticipate avalanches and storms. They rescue people who are lost or stuck. Big Ben walked into a doozy when he came to our house. And he rescued me. He continues to remind me that loneliness is a choice. A full life takes many shapes and forms. The Joneses have theirs, and I have mine. The sky is the limit with a companion that provides unconditional love. 

Enjoy the video. And by the way, Big Ben insisted I remind all readers that the camera adds at least 10 pounds.  After viewing it, he said probably more like 15! 

 

 


Middle Child: You're the Good Stuff

My middle child was on a rant. "No one likes the middle, Mom. No one ever calls the middle seat, especially on the Scrambler. No one wants a middle piece of cake. They want side pieces, the ones with all the frosting. Even you said you don't like the middle, because it's where the gray hair grows outta your head."

3 boys in Badger warm upsThen he said, "And come on, the middle finger is the bad one, right? There's no way that's a coincidence. As a middle child, I'm doomed to a life of medium-ness."

And before I could stop myself, the words just sorta slipped out: "Honey, I think you mean you're doomed to a life of mediocrity."

"Thanks, Mom. Thanks a lot. I feel so much better now that I know a fancy word to describe my middle child miserableness."

"Oh, honey, I think you mean middle child misery."

It's true. He'd had a tough week. His older brother, home on a school break, had received a lot of positive attention. In addition, he'd been dragged along to watch his younger brother play multiple hockey games. And due to conflicts, I'd missed both of his recent indoor soccer games. And I might have forgotten to pick him up from the Y, but it only happened once.

He stared at me with such serious eyes, practically drowning in his brother's hand-me-downs. So this little diddy... this one's for my middle child. I bet your middle child will like it, too.

You're The Good Stuff
by Liesl Testwuide, mother of one amazing middle child

You're my 7th inning stretch, my afternoon nap, my five golden rings, the button in my belly.


You're the cherry in my chocolate, the soda in my straw, and the hook in my book.


You're the free space on my BINGO card.


The firefly in my jar.


The funny bone in my arm, and my dream before that alarm.


You're the gooey in my s'more, the "ch" in my a-ch-oo, and the "u" in my hug.


You're my balmy summer night and my porridge that's ju-u-u-u-st right.


You're the warmth in my year, the smile between my ears, and the salt in happy tears.


You're the middle: the glue who makes us giggle.


You, my middle child, are the good stuff.

 

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A Letter to the Kids On the Eight Things I Wanted to Buy, but Couldn't, this Christmas

 

Christmas letter

Dear kids,

I know you're excited. You've been awake since 5:55 AM. I tried my hardest not to hear you playing Minecraft on the floor outside my bedroom. Thank you for not opening my door until it was light outside.

In a few moments, you'll open your Christmas gifts. The wrapping paper will fly, a mug of hot chocolate will hit the floor, and Styrofoam peanuts will cling to the dog's butt all day.

However, while I finally have your undivided, yet toe-tapping, impatient, attention this singular moment of 2016, I have something to share with you. Quit the eye-rolls. It's Christmas. I have the floor. I'll be short and sweet.

Christmas letter 2I need to tell you the truth about the presents you're about to receive. In all honesty, I wasn't able to buy the gifts I wanted this year. I couldn't.

I know you'll smile and nod politely when you open that new snowboard, remote control car, or electronic device. I'm grateful you'll be magnanimous. Magnanimous means- oh forget it, I know you're barely listening at this point. But in all seriousness, if I could, these are the things I'd give you this Christmas:

1. I'd give you a strong sense of individualism: the courage to forge new paths, speak up to right a wrong, and avoid following the crowd. The "in" group is not important. Having a clear conscience when closing your eyes at night is.

2. I'd give you a sense of wanderlust, a thirst to see different countries, and an appreciation of their cultures. I'd encourage you to toss aside laminated itineraries and experience the thrill of discovery. Don't let stuff get in the way of experiences. Put down the devices and participate. Notice the crisp air. Breathe in the fresh pine. Be present.

3. I'd box up a lifelong supply of questions so you'd never run out. I hope you ask as many questions at age 20, 30, 40 and 65, as you do now. And if you ever hear: "The answer to your question is, 'Because we've always done it this way,'" Be curious and challenge outdated traditions and thoughts.

4. I wish I could wrap up and give you the urge to always be kind, especially to each other. With the exception of your mother, no one's got your back like a brother. No one. It'd be awkward for your mom to saunter in the locker room to stick up for you if you were getting hassled by a jerk. There's nothing like a band of brothers for that kinda stuff and much, much more.

5. You may not understand at this age, but I want to give you the gift of serenity from living a spiritual life. I'm not talking about religion. Don't worry about people or things you can't change. Have faith in a higher power and embrace what you have, not what you don't. You are not God. Sorry. You are not the center of the universe. Sorry. I'm still wrapping my head around these facts, too. But I don't want you to think you've got to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. You don't. That's why I'd give you faith if I could.

6. You've already been given the gift of a sense of humor. I hope you'll be generous with your smiles, your laughter, and your hugs. Be the first to offer your hand, and radiate positivity and hope. Don't take yourself too seriously. The folks that do are so boring.

7. I'd love to give you the desire to be a lifelong learner. Stay teachable. Accept help and keep an open mind. The world is much cooler when you can look at it from different perspectives. Being stuck sucks.

8. No matter where you are, I'll be there for you, um, except in the boys' locker room...although don't put it past me. I am your rock. I am your North. I am your mom. You are incredible gifts.

Merry Christmas 2016!

xoxo

Mom

Yes...now you can open that other junk under the tree.

 

If you enjoyed the post above, please SHARE it through Facebook, Twitter, email, fax, snail mail, tack it on doors at Wal-Mart, read it aloud on an airplane, leave it in the bathroom at work. I'm not picky. You get the picture. Thank you!

Looking for more holiday posts? You may enjoy these:

Alone For Christmas?

My Resolutions for 2013

My Psycho Elf on the Shelf

 My 2012 Christmas Letter to Santa

2012 Christmas Card to All

My Rolling Stone Interview and Christmas Video for My Love, Louis C.K.


A Boy's Life: Talk About The Pits!

When I noticed the incoming call from our elementary school, I knew I had to take it. 

But I never have the guts to answer on the first ring when school calls. I immediately have to take several deep breaths and then mentally run through worst case scenarios. 

"Your son has #4 pencils. We require they each have at least one #2." That wouldn't be bad. I could have some fun with that.

"Your child shouted, 'Beast-mode' at the top of his lungs, ran to the boys' bathroom and announced 'Evacuation imminent' while a family touring the school was in the hall. For safety reasons, ma'am, kids must walk in our hallways."  I could handle that, too. It probably happens in everyone's house. Well, almost everyone's.

"Your child thought his math compass measured circumference and therefore shoved it-- Well, Ms. Testwuide, maybe you should come to the office so we can discuss this." Probably happens all the time. Or, at least a couple times. For sure once.

In the movie, We Bought a Zoo, based on the true story of Benjamin Mee, the main character tells his son, "You know, sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage, just literally 20 seconds of embarrassing bravery, and I promise you, something great will come of it."  

I remember getting a little teary at that point in the movie. I was moved by the father/son inspirational discussion. However, in real life, it's total bullshit. Mr. Mee may have bought a zoo, but he never met our principal. 20 seconds of courage would never be enough. 

I ducked out of the New Parents' Tea at my oldest son's boarding school to take the call.

When my ringer sounded, "Oh, it's nothing," I mouthed to the three women having a conversation next to me, but not with me, about monogram fonts. I continued, basically telling no one, "I'm sure it's nothing...probably just my decorator," and I chuckled at my own snarky joke as I stepped away from the ladies on the terrace for some privacy.

"Hello, this is Liesl." 

"Yes, hello. I hope I'm not catching you at an awkward time, Liesl. I know you're out of town, but we're having a problem here at school. It's kind of embarrassing, but your son is terribly stinky."

"Excuse me? I've got a bad connection. I'm in the Berkshires. Kinky? As in...well, as in kinky?" The other mothers suddenly noticed me and strained their necks my direction. "Did you say my son is terribly kinky?" I repeated.

I hadn't been prepared for that one. My future worse case scenario repertoire was just about to super-size. 

"No, not kinky, Liesl. He's not kinky," she emphasized like I was some freak. "Well, not that I'm aware of anyway. But he's stinky. Really stinky."


Stinky post 2"Ohhhh, he's stinky!" I laughed nervously. "WelI, I suppose at this age stinky beats kinky, right?" The principal didn't laugh. I turned toward the eavesdropping, perfectly-coiffed New England mothers, and did one of those nod-smile-I'll-be-just-another-minute moves with my pointer finger.  

"I know you're traveling in Connecticut, Liesl, but you must get your son deoderant before school Monday. He needs it. He needs it baaaaad."

When I came home, I explained that at this age, bodies go through changes. Boys need to use products. I bought the deoderant, the shower gel, the hair gel, the mouthwash, the you-name-it-I-bought-it-hygiene-product, but honestly, they don't get much use. My boys think maple syrup is a perfecty good substitute for hair gel, so God only knows what they're putting on their arm pits. 

Truth be told, being smelly is kind of a badge of honor around my house.

"Dude, smell my pits."

"You gotta come in here and smell this."

"No, no, Mom. Keep the windows up, it's totally nasty. Awesome."

"I played soccer in the rain, so I don't need a shower. Water's water."

 

Stinky postAbout a week later my son came home and said, 

"Mom, do you know that a lizard can grow another tail if its breaks off?"

"Nope, didn't know that."

"Yeah, it's pretty cool. We learned it in science. It's called asexual regurgitation."

I said, "Honey, I think you mean reproduction. Asexual re-pro-duc-tion."

"Reproduction. Regurgitation. Pretty much the same thing. Whatever."

"Well," I said, "while we're on the subject, do you know what sexual reproduction is?"

He thought for a second and then said, "Yeah, I'm pretty sure it has something to do with poverty."

"Poverty? Really? Where'd you hear that?"

"You know, Mom, poverty:  when you get all hairy, smelly, sleep really late, eat junk food, and then wanna do stuff to have lots of babies."

"Um, I think you mean puberty. Pu-ber-ty. Not poverty."

He quickly changed the subject. Thank God.

"Mom, can I have $15 to go to the movies with some friends? I'm broke."

"Fine," I said, "if you pull out those weeds, I'll give you money for the movies. After that, you need to shower because you're really stinky." 

As he walked away, over his shoulder he said, "See, Mom? Pov-er-ty. Pu-ber-ty. Same thing."

 


Let's Share the Love on Mother's Day

As Mother's Day approaches, I can't help but think back to all the interesting gifts I've received from my three sons throughout the years. I fondly recall getting a bean plant in a Dixie cup. One fragile, hopeful stalk, reinforced (suffocated) by Scotch tape. A Hugo and mom drawingcouple years later, I was treated to a Dixie cup just full of dirt. But man, I loved that dirt.

Another year one son surprised me with a beautiful type-written poem. It began, When I saw you across the room and our eyes first met, I knew it was love at first sight... Turns out the poem wasn't actually a poem. It wasn't beautiful, either. The second line began, Or maybe it was pure lust? And that's when I knew I wanted you to.... We had a brief talk about internet safety and then went to brunch.

Mothers worldwide dream of receiving painted rocks, handmade cards, extension cords (boys, I especially loved the green 8-footer, so thoughtful), and pots of marigolds along with breakfast-in-bed. Those years fly by. So bring on the macaroni, glitter and glue projects. We cherish them.

Eventually our children get older and we receive books, tickets to the symphony, or a lovely scarf. All nice gifts, but nothing quite compares to an overflowing cup of dirt that's been watered too much, carried with both hands over the white carpet, down the hallway to our bedroom at 5:30 am. We honestly don't care if that marigold ever sprouts. We just like watching our kids enjoy a moment of giving. 

And nothing beats a handwritten card mom can save to read at a college graduation or rehearsal dinner years later. This is one of my treasures:

Mother's day card

Yet for some, Mother's Day is tough, even painful. We look around, but don't always know who is suffering. Some faces are well-practiced at hiding the pain. But there are too many wonderful women in the world who won't get marigolds on Sunday.

Some wanted to be moms but were unable.

Some are estranged from their children and live with regret.

Military moms pray daily for their kids serving our country.

Some moms are in hospitals, comforting their sick children, content to get a smile, a nod, or just another day together.

Some mothers may feel sharper pains of grief on Sunday for the children they've to mourn prematurely. 

As a mom, I'm only as happy as my most unhappy child. No matter the age of my kids, when they hurt, I hurt right along with them. So although Mother's Day is a joyous occasion for so many, let's remember and comfort the women who ache for babies who were never born, have children who are sick, hurt, lost, addicted, missing, in pain, struggling, or have passed on. Their pain is our pain. 

For those of us blessed to celebrate this Mother's Day, let's be generous with our smiles, hugs, phone calls, and even our marigolds. It's the little things that make the big difference.

 


To My Middle Child: You're The Good Stuff

Three boys from the backLast week my 11 year-old son curled up beside me and said, "I'm really feeling like the middle child. It's Eli's birthday and Augie won that contest. I'm just kinda here...taking up space in the middle." So this little diddy... this one's for him.

 

You're The Good Stuff

You're my 7th inning stretch, my afternoon nap, my five golden rings, the button in my belly.

You're the cherry in my chocolate, the soda in my straw, and the hook in my book.

You're the free space on my BINGO card.

The firefly in my jar.

The funny bone in my arm and my dream before that alarm. 

You're the gooey in my s'more, the "ch" in my a-ch-oo, and the "u" in my hug.

You're my balmy summer night and the porridge that's ju-u-u-u-st right. 

You're the warmth in my year, the smile between my ears, the salt in happy tears. 

Hugo and momYou're the middle.

The glue who makes us giggle.

The cackle in my tickle.

You're the good stuff. 

 

To Hugo  xoxo

Love Mom


Waiter: Please, Just Give it a Rest

Waiter would you just shut the hell up:
 

Recently my old college roommate, Ann, and I made plans to catch up over dinner.  I hadn’t seen her in years and she was finally going to be in town. I was starving for adult conversation after long days spent fielding unending questions from my kids.

“Mom, what’s for dinner?”

“Mom, where’s my catcher’s mitt?”

“Mom, do I have to wear pants just because you’re hosting book club?”

With three sons, I am constantly up to bat, and their pitches come from all directions. However, after years of training, I’ve become a seasoned vet at quick answers.

“You get three hots and a cot. Don’t push it.”

“It’s in the basement, top shelf, next to the pilgrim hat piñata.“

“Yes. Pants are mandatory. That’s my final answer.”

 

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Let The Games Begin!

I waited four years to experience a special moment like last night.

No, I didn't have sex. 

Sochi-2014-logoI watched the 2014 Winter Olympic Games with my three sons. Popcorn, fireplace, pillows, perfect. Together we sat in awe of the huge air from the snowboarders, the pounding knees of the mogul skiers and the showy costumes worn by men's figure skaters. We leaned in at the jumps, winced at the falls, and cheered for the Americans. During the ads, we had animated conversation:

"I bet there are no lines in Russia to buy that sparkly pantsuit."

"How do they land so softly?"

"What's a Pussy Riot?"

 

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Alone for the Holiday? You're Not Alone

As a divorced parent, I dread the holidays my children spend with their dad. When other families are going to church, gathering around the table and sharing stories, my loneliness is indescribable. Even if I'm a welcome guest at a gathering, I'm lonely. It’s painful to watch other families be together and not know what my children are doing.

A couple years ago there was a billboard in town that read: “Divorce is contagious. Don’t catch it.” Driving past one day, my 9 year-old asked, “Is that true, Mom? You caught the divorce?”

“Yep, that’s why I tell you to never sit on public toilet seats,” I said. 

The ridiculous message “Divorce is contagious” is akin to telling my kids our family was unlucky – like getting stuck next to the kid with the gooey eye in reading group, or being sent home from school with lice after sharing a piano bench with Bedbug Barry in music.   

Our divorce, on the other hand, was no accident. It didn’t happen because we had a compromised immune system and ate at a Sizzler. Quite the contrary, our divorce was a decision I made after years of sober consideration, thousands of dollars spent on marriage counseling and two years of sleepless nights on the couch.

Unintentionally people make ridiculous comments: “That’s kinda nice to have every other weekend to yourself.” I think, you're not divorced. You can't fathom the empty feelings I get walking past clean bedrooms, living in deafening silence and not tripping over soccer balls. I’m a parent. I chose to have children because I wanted to raise them. I didn't check the part-time parenting box. So when a billboard looms overhead like a black cloud and sends the message to my kids, that if only their mom had used her high heel to flush the toilet at the Kwikie Mart, this all could have been avoided, I get kind of upset.


Mr-bean-turkeyIn 2010, James H. Fowler released a study called “Breaking Up is Hard to Do, Unless Everyone Else is Doing it Too” which claimed divorce is contagious.  What a turkey!  Although the study received a lot of hype and media attention upon release, (Fowler sat on the couch at the Today show and Good Morning, America) all the hoopla was premature. The truth is, it was only hoopla, as Fowler’s study remains unproven. The study still hasn't passed the peer review process, has never been published in a scientific journal, and has since come under increased criticism and attacks from colleagues.  M
aybe I'll erect a billboard that announces, "Being a self-righteous asshole is contagious."  I'd sure love to sit on the couch with Hoda and Savannah.

Sleeping feetWhen children are involved, divorce is rarely an easy decision, but rather, one that is toiled over for months and possibly years. Having to live apart from one's children for any length of time is devastating. Not being together for birthdays or holidays physically hurts. Unless you've been through it, it's hard to fathom.  

I get it. I feel your pain. A couple days ago I ironed my boys' shirts, packed their fancy shoes and belts, so they'd look nice for the holiday with their dad and his family. I'm not there to make sure their shirts are tucked in or to smooth their hair with my spit. And sometimes the loss feels like it will tear me in two.

However, I will make it through the day. It's just 24 hours, like any other day. Besides, it's the one day emotional eating gets a get-out-of-jail-free card.

So if you're not with the ones you love today, please know you're not alone. 

 Besides words of comfort, I offer these coping tips*:

  1. Wear sweatpants. You might as well be comfortable while your family whispers in the kitchen about your poor choices. 
  2. Think of others. Call someone else who may be alone today. Although you don't feel like doing a good deed, it will make you feel better. I promise.
  3. If you're around people, be generous with the hugs. They're cheap medicine. 

                    

*Liesl Testwuide is not a counselor, psychologist, psychiatrist, or board certified in any field for that matter.  However, she sometimes wears glasses which make her look smart, and, like a doctor, she has poor penmanship. 


Our Labor Day Vacation: Public Restroom Tour of America


Horn urinals 9gagwww.9gag.com
The last push of summer, Labor Day weekend, has sadly arrived. For control freak parents like me, Labor Day requires a great deal of labor to appear labor-less for the brood you love.  Marking the end of summer, it's an iconic American holiday, so there's serious pressure to have the most family fun EVER. I’m talking Norman-Rockwell-painting family fun. Kennedy-Camelot-football-tossing-fun. You get the picture.

Today, tightly wired moms are maneuvering grocery carts at dangerously high speeds, ticking items off their iPhone lists faster than the average man can read it. Washers and dryers are working overtime, duffle bags are being packed, and school supplies are sitting patiently in the corner until Tuesday. 

Concerned not enough fun is planned for the weekend, or worried too many Uno cards are missing from the deck, anxious parents are scurrying to purchase last minute kites, Bananagrams, and forking out cash for that odd PVC pipe game involving golf ball numchucks.

True perfectionists are desperately googling Martha Stewart articles regarding not only how to pack the perfect picnic basket, but also how to embellish it… because

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Letters From Camp

The following piece, Letters from Camp, was featured on the Today Show, Chelsea Lately, MSN, the Huffington Post, London's Daily Mail, Perez Hilton, E!, and many more websites. Enjoy! It has been shared on the internet via various websites well over two million times.

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Camp photo

Last year my eight year-old son went to summer camp. It was the first time he had been away from home for more than a night. An hour after he left, I missed him.  By the time I went to bed, I found myself wandering into his bedroom, just to feel close to him. As the days passed, I wrote to him daily. Each hour dragged as I'd wait for the mailman, hoping and praying for just one letter from him. By that point I missed him so much, I began to imagine what he might write to me. I fantasized I'd receive a letter something like this:

Dear Mom,

Thank you so much for letting me go to camp. I have learned so many cool things, like how to take a fish off the hook, tie sailing knots, and even how to groom a horse. Thanks for packing the sun screen. I've been out on the lake a lot, so it has really come in handy. You sure think of everything! Since it's been so hot, I've been drinking tons of water! See? I really listen to all your good advice.

The other boys here are really smart and nice. I'm making some lifelong friends I will cherish forever. We've had fun learning camp songs, playing cards, and catching frogs in our free time. During quiet time, I read the book you sent along. What a great selection! And just because you're my mom, I made a special gift for you in arts and crafts!

I'm trying a lot of new foods, just like you suggested. You were right, the oatmeal at breakfast really isn't bad when I add raisins. And don't worry, Mom, I've been using all the manners you've taught me over the years.

We are camping under the stars tonight. I am hoping to see some fireflies.

I love you,

W

xxoo

P.S. Tell my brothers I miss them!

 

Yesterday I received a letter from him! It's just slightly different from what I imagined:

 

Camp letter p 1

 
Camp letter p 2
Camp letter p 3
This year I'm sending an enitre book of stamps with him. Can't wait to see what he writes!


Videos Released: Drum Roll, Please!

 

Sure, my boys get a bit embarrassed having a writer as their mom, but I think they secretly like creating great material for me. Trust me, they keep it comin'. And when I recently did a live reading of my favorite piece, "I've Got Something In My Pocket" about boys and their underwear, in Ann Imig's 2013 Listen To Your Mother production in

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Notes From The Road

Busch stadium

Earlier this week, I set out on a road trip with my sons.  Our destination:  Kansas City for the 2013 VisionWalk. Since I rarely do things the simple way, we traveled en route St. Louis and southern Missouri. Here are some musings from the road.

Favorite t-shirt spotted:  Ain't Nuttin' Like Kentucky

Just in case you were lookin' fer Jerky Heaven, we found it: 

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One Day At A Time - Dealing With Usher Syndrome

So often the phrase "one day at a time" is only associated with sobriety. However I have found the phrase to be helpful in all facets of my life, especially when trying to deal with things I completely can't understand and are out of my control -  like why do children get serious illnesses and suffer? It's just impossible for me to wrap my head around why bad things to happen to innocent children. 

Zoe at visionwalk 2012 - edited
Zoe at VisionWalk 2012. This year she is a youth co-chair!
This week the boys and I are on a road trip. Our final destination is Kansas City to participate in the Kansas City VisionWalk. We are proud to participate and support Team Zoe. Little Zoe is the daughter of my cousin, Katie Kaemmer Murrow, and her husband, Wayne. Austin is Zoe's very cool and supportive brother. 

 

After years of visiting doctors and doing their own research in an effort to figure out issues with Zoe's hearing and sight, in early 2012, Zoe was diagnosed with Usher Syndrome, something I had never heard of until Katie and Wayne explained it to me last year. And as they calmly explained Zoe's symptoms and prognosis, I was stunned to learn that such a little sweetheart had to deal with such a viscious condition.  You see, although born with the ability to hear and see, Zoe is now losing both her hearing and vision. 

I know I am not the only one who has wondered, why Zoe? Why any child? Is it better to be born with the ability to see and hear and then lose it? To know what you are missing? How must it feel to have your world become a little more silent each day?

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My Dad Led Me Out On A Limb


Dad and me little
My dad and me in 1968.

My dad likes to live on the edge, and he raised me to feel comfortable out on a limb, too.

 My dad always says, "Rules are meant to be broken."  It drove my mom a little crazy, but I know what he meant. If someone tells you no, find another way.  Think out of the box. Don't let others tell you something can't be done. 

My dad always says, "C students rule the world." That didn't go over well with my mom either, but I know what he meant. Be a well-rounded person who can carry herself in the real world. Meet people. Know people. Don't spend your life in a carrel at the library studying theories. Get out there, experience life and do stuff.

My dad always says, "Do your own thing. Don't follow the crowd." That was a hard one for me. I wish I woud have followed this advice earlier in my life. But I wanted to fit in, while my dad urged me to stand out. Thankfully as an adult, I have come around and found it's a lot more exhilarating and fulfilling to forge a fresh path.

My dad always says, "The early bird gets the worm."  I still tune that one out. I don't want a worm - not even laced with tequila. 

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Fill 'er Up and Hit the Road*

DSC09404

Although I consider myself an expert in many areas of parenting, like how to maximize the longevity of boxer shorts, using a double dose of cough syrup for any ailment, and how to clean kids' fingernails with the tip of a paperclip while driving to school, I feel I have exceptional authority on long-distance travel with boys. As summer has finally arrived and many families will load up the SUVs for a trip, I thought I'd share some of my road-tested tips which will keep the adults sane and the kids happy on your journey.

 There is no doubt satellite radio, a cooler on wheels, a DVD player with headphones, and a couple audio-books are all good bets to make a family road trip more comfortable. But the stakes are just a bit higher when traveling with boys in a small, confined space for hours while simultaneously operating a large motor vehicle on

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Bark Less, Wag More


Ben near bath

It's a bad sign when I'm on a date and I miss my dog.  If I look forward to drooly, droopy jowls, rather than Mr. Comb-over's kiss, it's time to call a cab. Don't get me wrong, I love men. It's just that in a lot of cases, I love my dog more.

This wasn't always the situation. I was a confirmed cat person for years. However, heading for divorce and in need of some serious extra credit to get into Catholic Heaven, I promised my sons they could have a dog. After researching breeds with the shortest life span, 6-8 years max. (I had no intention of living with another mistake for 15

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Mama's Fizzled Fo' Shizzle

Dirty shoes
 

Yesterday at school, I overheard teachers complaining that students seem to have checked out even though there are still two weeks of school left.  I ducked out of the conversation quietly. I'm not a student,  but this wannabe-cool-school-mom definitely has the end of the year fizzle fo' shizzle.

HomeworkI've had it with third grade math story problems.  My child and I fight over who has to read them aloud. Neither of us can do it without loudly lamenting: "Are they serious?" followed by a David Letterman toss of a pencil. Then we get to waste time looking for the pencil, looking for the sharpener, and of course sharpening the hell out of that pencil 'til it could easily blind the inventor of story problems. We've both had it with Jane. We don't care how much money Jane had when she walked into the store, how many combs Jane bought, or how much each comb costs. We think Jane should grow some dreadlocks and spend her money on candy.

 

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Highlight Reel of Motherhood 2012/2013

It's been quite a year as a mom.  I could get all mushy, but that's really not my style.  I could discuss how much I've learned or lament how fast time flies.  I could talk about how many lunches I've packed, loads of laundry I've done, or Band-Aids I've affixed. But those things happen every year.

Instead, I've created a highlight reel of favorite quotes from my children to celebrate my mom experience over the last twelve months. I wasn't born with a great deal of patience, so thank goodness the most important things I've learned I need to be a good

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Don't Dis My Kid

Recently my sons and I waited patiently in a restaurant.  Let me clarify. Patiently = the boys made pyramids with creamers on their heads, had sword fights with knives and said at least 39 times,

“Mom, I’m starrrrrving.”                                                           

“Mom, I’m dying here."

“Mom, totally parched... need wa - t e r..."

Servers buzzed by. Didn’t notice the wielding knives, incredible cranium creamer buildings or the “hi-yaaa” karate-chop sound effects. Eventually patience turned to impatience.  My oldest wrote S.O.S. on his placemat, made a paper airplane, and launched it toward the sky. My youngest fake stabbed himself, fell to the floor and proclaimed, "There...is...another...Sky...walk...er."  

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Jesus, Jammies, and Norman Rockwell

As a divorced, single mother, I feel the need to create new traditions for our reconfigured family.  It's a last ditch effort to provide my sons with some happy-normal-we-all-get-along memories of their childhoods.  Some traditions, like decorating Christmas cookies together, have been a hit.  And some, like the Elf on the Shelf, have been a bust.

JesusA few years ago, I felt our Easter weekend traditions were weak. Sunday was full. Every year we hunted for Easter baskets, went to church, and then had a ham dinner at my aunt and uncles's home. but Friday and Saturday were thin.

However, Friday and Saturday were a little thin. Therefore, one day in the checkout line at Office Max, everyone's go-to place for hit movies, I picked up Jesus starring Jeremy Sisto. My Norman Rockwell Easter weekend began to take shape. On Good Friday, I envisioned us curled up on the sofa in our jammies, bellies full of perch, completely engrossed in Jesus, the movie. No arguing. No name-calling. No electronic devices. Just peace, quiet, and Jesus. In fact, because my fantasy seemed so ideal, I had already decided that Jesus from Office Max would be a Good Friday family tradition for years to come.  

On Friday, after threatening to take away the XBOX and ban them from Minecraft for eternity, I finally bribed them with popcorn to gather on the sofas in their jammies to watch Jesus. My Norman Rockwell fantasy sons were a tad bit more excited about the movie.

My fantasy sons said:

Wait for me!

C'mon, Mom, we'll make the popcorn for you. Just put your feet up. 

I know we haven't even watched this movie yet, but I hope we can watch it every year. Can we, Mom? Can we?"


Stop playing video gamesMy actual sons took a different approach:

“Seriously, Mom, if there are talking vegetables in this movie, I'm outta here."  

“Indiana Jones suffers and has a whip. Why can't we just watch that?"

"They pooped in pails back then, right?"

Eventualy we settled in to watch Jesus. And as Jesus was brutally whipped by the Romans, one by one, they snuggled a little closer.

“I don’t want Jesus to die.”

“Why are people just standing there?"

"Don't they see he's a good guy?”

In silence, they watched a struggling, bloody Jesus carry his cross through the crowd and up the hill. As nails were driven through his hands, I noticed a few tears in the boys' eyes. As Jesus hung on the cross, clearly in pain, more tears streamed.

They demanded answers:

“Why won’t God save his son?”

“Why won't someone do something?”

And not unexpected, "He's totally in pain. What if he's got to go to the bathroom up there? That'd be awkward.”

I had originally envisioned my Norman Rockwell fantasy sons moved and touched by the movie, but certainly not as moved and touched as my actual sons had become. I was unprepared for their strong reactions. Had this been a mistake? Would they have nightmares for weeks? They sobbed as Jesus suffered on the cross. I thought, how long is this death scene going to last? My kids are sobbing for Christ's sake. Geezus, Jeremy-Sisto-playing-Jesus, just die already to save my sons.

And that's exactly what he did. 

Augie in jammiesAt the end, we moved to the kitchen. His mouth stuffed with banana cake, my middle son asked, “Mom, do they make Jesus jammies? I want some. Jesus was tough.”

I, too, was stirred by the movie, but even more from the reactions of my children. My oldest looked at me thoughtfully and quietly said, “Jesus’s friends were lucky. They got to see him after he rose from the dead. We just have to believe.”  

My youngest was unsure, “I think we might be luckier than Jesus’s friends. We've got toilets.”

Yep. It’s a keeper.


God Bless Our Mess on the Anniversary of Sandy Hook

Crazy boys

Written December 14, 2012 following the mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.  Reposted December 14, 2019 for the fifth anniversary. My heart continues to be heavy: for those who will forever mourn, for the gratitude I have for time with my children, and with frustration that so many more continue to lose their lives as a result of gun violence.

 

 

The last couple days my sons were with their father and the house was quiet.  I found myself repeatedly walking in and out of their bedrooms, just to feel close to them.

There were underwear, socks, shoes, Lego figures, Webkinz, jeans, shin guards, and sheet music strewn about their bedroom floors. Clean and folded laundry, yet to be put away the previous week, was gathering dust. I found pistachio shells, an empty juice box carton, and Popsicle sticks under one bed. Under another, I discovered a crumpled blue sport coat, two overdue library books and my missing phone charger.

In the bathroom, the floor was nearly covered. Underwear. One damp towel. A Hardy Boys mystery. A massive hamper sat less than an arm’s length away. Toothpaste streaked the countertop. Dixie cups arranged in a pyramid and dental floss wrapped intricately around the empty toilet paper holder were clear signs they needed a magazine rack. The spatters on the mirror made me smile. I knew they were a result of laughter as they brushed their teeth. 

No doubt it was a bit of a mess, but I loved it. I savored it. In that moment, I took pleasure being surrounded by the messiness of childhood humanity. I walked back in the room of my youngest child, just 8, crawled under his covers, bruised my butt on a light saber and closed my eyes. I prayed for all the families in Newtown, CT, and humbly gave thanks for receiving the gift of more time on this earth to relish the disarray of being the mother of three boys.

Bring on the chaos

 

 


Road-Tested Travel Tips To Keep Parents Sane

Although I consider myself an expert in many areas of parenting, like how to maximize the longevity of boxers, using a double dose of cough syrup for any ailment, and how to clean fingernails with the tip of a paperclip while driving to school, I feel I have exceptional authority on long-distance travel with boys. As many schools begin their fall breaks later this week, I thought I'd share some of my road-tested tips in the event your family is heading out for a few days. 

There is no doubt satellite radio, a cooler on wheels, a DVD player with headphones, and a couple audio-books are all good bets to make a family road trip a bit more comfortable. But the stakes are just a bit higher when traveling with boys in a small, confined space for hours while simultaneously operating a large motor vehicle on unfamiliar roads at speeds of 75 mph.  Parental sanity, not comfort, tends to be the priority.

Tip Number 6:  Rolling Backpacks

Cornhead
Dude, we're from Wisconsin. We wear cheese. Besides, that cob won't fit in your backpack.

Rolling backpacks allow kids to haul their own stuff, even if it's heavy.  No more: "It's too hea-----vy. Can you puh-lease just carry it?" Each boy needs his own rolling backpack for his electronic game systems, chargers, books, games, blankie, and stuffed animals.  Any purchased souvenirs must fit in the rolling backpack which makes saying "no" to rifles, cone-heads and large rocks pretty easy. Pulling a rolling backpack inhibits kids from running too far ahead allowing you to keep up, and your blood pressure can stay down. In addition, unlike traditional backpacks, rolling backpacks are on the ground so they cannot easily be used as weapons against one another when standing in boring lines or crowded elevators. 


Tip Number 5:  Jobs for All

Hugo the Recorder
The Recorder keeping track of our s'more intake, crucial information.

As a single mom, I can't do it all, so every boy chooses a job for the trip.  My youngest is the Lookout.  He looks for bad guys, lightning, curves in the road, and booby traps. His job requires binoculars and a much needed diagram indicating his "left" and "right."

My middle son is the Recorder. He records unusual sightings like a bear peeing or a running cantaloupe (turned out to be an antelope.) He is responsible for writing down shopping lists, fast food orders, and game scores. His tallies of buffalo poop piles and creative abbreviations like "J.C." (just ketchup) keep us laughing.  

My oldest is the Navigator which requires attention to detail and excellent computer skills. Who needs Siri when I have my own Go-to-Guy? Before I can spit out the question, he's got the answer:  "Got it, Mom!  Check it out in 3-D."  Sketch Artist, DVD Master, Fart-Counter, Snack Man, and Mr. Muscles are some additional jobs to help a family trip run a little smoother. 

Tip Number 4:  Scooters or Ripsticks

RipsticksBoys feel the need for speed.  They are physically incapable of being restrained and confined for hours at a time.  And as a parent, unless I have some strong happy pills, I, too, am incapable of being confined for a lengthy period of time with them.  Don't fight nature.  Accept it. Although a stop at a park to swing or climb on a jungle gym is a nice respite, ten laps at full speed on a scooter or Ripstick around an empty church parking lot provides a faster and more satisfying energy release. Park the car. Turn up the tunes. Let 'em ride.  Not sold?  Scooters and Ripsticks never get flat tires or lose a chain. Pack the scooters, rent your bikes at the destination. 

Luggage carts
I love the anonymity of travel. I have no idea who these kids are.
Tip Number 3:  Luggage Carts

 Upon arrival, a group of luggage carts in a hotel lobby is a welcome sight for my sore eyes.  Kids are so wired to get out of the car, I let them each have a luggage cart as I pretend to completely not know them as I check-in at the front desk.  

Let them unload the car, one item at a time, in order to make as many elevator trips as possible.  Let them use luggage carts as over-sized skateboards, jungle gyms and bumper cars.  Hey, I figure, the longer you can put off going to that gross, under-chlorinated hotel pool full of strangers, the better. Right? I have used the luggage cart technique on many trips and have yet to be asked to leave a hotel.

Tip Number 2:  Gum

Get your butt to Costco and load up on gum - lots and lots of gum.  Hubba-Bubba, Bubblicious, Bazooka, with sugar, without sugar--- any kind will do!  

DSC09398
A quiet, happy traveler.
It is a fact that cars become quieter when kids chew gum. Boys do not yell or shout with multiple pieces of bubble gum in their mouths. They chew the gum.  They add more gum.  They talk about their gum. They compare gum. They inquire about others' gum. They blow bubbles. They add more gum and then they repeat the process.

Chewing gum is an activity in and of itself that lasts longer than coloring, Tic-Tac-Toe, or I Spy. So moms, don't be stingy with the gum! Don't be tempted to save the gum for a meltdown or moment of desperation. Leverage their love of gum.  Gum is your friend.  

In my experience, kids never, ever tire of gum. After chewing gum all day, when presented with the dessert tray in a restaurant, my youngest politely asked, "Do you have any gums?  I'll just have a gum." 

And My Top Traveling Tip:  Gatorade 

Eli w Gatorade
Gatorade: don't leave home without it.
Large, plastic bottles of Gatorade are the number one must-have for any long trip with boys.  Gatorade containers are so big, kids never ask for more! No one complains of thirst or fights over the last one. When the first boy finishes his Gatorade, the discarded, wide-mouthed jug conveniently becomes the communal urinal.  Peeing in the car results in hours of fun and conversation for boys:  "Mom, want some Gatorade?"  "I think I'm stuck."  

When a jug of Gatorade is in the car, the driver can relax knowing there will be no pressure to find a bathroom "Now!!!  Not five minutes, Mom, now!"  Your car now has a fully functioning urinal.

Say goodbye to finding crumpled, 6-ounce juice boxes and cellophane straw wrappers all over the back seats. Say hello to reducing your family's carbon footprint by bringing Gatorade on your next family road trip with boys.  Warning:  this tip could be disastrous with girls.  

 

DSC09404Yep, it can be frustrating, exhausting and down-right crazy when a family takes to the road together.  All the planning in the world will still result in some sort of not-the-end-of-the-world disaster.  But there are few things better in life than sharing an adventure with the ones we love!  

 

Happy Trails to you!

 

 

  



I've Got Something in My Pocket

As a young girl,  I dreamed I’d someday be the mother of two demure daughters.  I'd dress them in pink Polly Flinders dresses, white tights and black patent leather shoes. Quietly they'd play for hours, my two little angels, with Dressy Bessy and Mrs. Beasley. In my fantasy, we'd shop for the Barbie Townhouse, sell Girl Scout cookies, discuss Nancy Drew mysteries and debate which Hardy boy, Frank or Joe, was the cutest. 

 But then I gave birth to three boys. 

I'll be honest, my romantic childhood fantasies of motherhood never included:

buying Shout, Gatorade, and Goober by the case. 

falling into the toilet bowl...repeatedly.

washing urine off the walls, seriously guys, still?

stepping on piles of seemingly innocuous, yet unimaginably painful teeny, tiny Lego pieces.

Continue reading "I've Got Something in My Pocket" »


Soccer Mom on Steroids

Soccer sidelinesI’ve never thought of myself as a competitor. I’m not athletically inclined. On the 9th grade basketball team, I sat with my legs crossed on the bench, daydreaming of becoming Carol Burnett.  My disgusted coach would shout at the highest decibel level her manly, stout, body could exhort:  “Testwuide, this ain’t a Christmas tea, sit like a man.  Pay attention.”  What-ever… just puh-lease don’t put me in that game.

Continue reading "Soccer Mom on Steroids" »


Have You Had “The Talk” With Your Kids?

Recently I had "the talk" with my kids. I had put it off too long, which was truly irresponsible. Although my children are still relatively young, it's best to have certain discussions before they know everything and I'm just another embarrassing mom.  

I knew the subject matter of our discussion would be uncomfortable. Some could argue that not drinking, not smoking or not having sex are far more pressing topics.  But with three boys, I've got to pick my battles.  My gravestone and final resting place are far more important than teenage pregnancy or drug addiction.  

Instructions at graveAs single mom, I ponder what my final resting place will be like.  Walking through the cemetery, I panicked to realize I might land in the bumpy last row of our family plot, next to old Augusta Bach. A distant cousin, Augusta was a pathetic case who had no husband. My great-grandma begrudgingly agreed to toss her in the back for eternity. 

When I filed for divorce, I felt relief in being alone.  In fact, my epitaph might have read:  Beware of Dog.  However, now that time has passed, I can't deny I fear being alone forever.  I secretly yearn to have the words, "Beloved and super hot wife of...." engraved on my stone for all my posterity to see. 

The fear of being alone causes me to have unusual reactions around happily
married folks. When I witness couples holding hands at the grocery store, I want to smack that happiness right off their faces. Permanently dressed in a black turtleneck and yoga pants, like a middle-aged ninja, although lacking any sort of stealth, I fantasize about nailing three perfect flips at warp speed down the baking ingredient aisle and karate-chopping their hands apart.  Swish, swish, swish, hi-yahhhh!!  In my fantasy, at the last minute a bag of flour drops off the shelf providing a smokey veil into which my cart and I would vanish.
 

As a result of hating the happily mairrieds, I don't want to be stuck next to those annoying, well-adjusted couples for the next 200 years. Therefore I took the boys to the cemetery for a simple "do and don't" session.  Don't get me wrong, they don't need to go overboard.  I don't need a "statement" grave.  

I don't have issues about the size of a penis.

Boys at penis grave

Nor do I have a Napoleon complex. 

Napoleon complex FS

I don't need to pay homage to a lost testicle.

Indirect kick

But after walking the cemetery, surrounded by so many unique symbols of love,  I've decided not to give up on finding true love, the sequel.  And in the event I do get that second shot, all of eternity will know. The boys have strict instructions to order a hot pink, grossly bedazzled gravestone which reads:  "She's Goin' Down."

 




Amish Paradise

School has been in session for about a month and I have already driven kids back and forth to 22 soccer practices, 15 play rehearsals, 9 swim lessons, 4 guitar lessons, 5 piano lessons, made 60 brown bag lunches, folded 47 loads of laundry, tied 88 soccer cleats and spent $847 at Costco.

I’m running away to Amish Country.

Eight years ago, driving back from Cleveland, OH, after spending Thanksgiving with relatives, the DVD player in the car was broken and the kids were hyped to the max on candy corn.  By the time we reached Indiana, I was clawing at the door.  I had to get out.  I had recently quit drinking and the nail polish remover in my cosmetic bag was seriously tempting. It was dire. 

We pulled off the freeway, found a hotel, and splurged for the biggest suite in the place.  Upon arrival in our oddly homey accommodations was a sign that read:  

No alcohol or tobacco products permitted on site.  However, we have 29 kinds of pie. Welcome to Amish Country.

 

Continue reading "Amish Paradise" »


I Pledge a Redux to my Sags

Over the last few weeks, just like you, I have spent hundreds of dollars buying school supplies I never needed as a kid.  Strange things like hand sanitizer, entire reams (500 sheets!) of paper and $100 calculators.  I've ordered the Lands' End school uniforms and in a moment of weakness purchased trendy, expensive shoes that will likely not fit any of my sons in six weeks.  

The fridge has been organized.  The take-out containers have been tossed.  Single- Best back to school pic everserving, processed foods I can launch into lunch bags in a fury are stacked high. Each son has received his "back to school" haircut and we have had another lesson on the importance of deodorant.

In addiiton, I've washed my pink, fuzzy bathrobe so I will look presentable driving the kids to school.  It would be beyond embarrassing to have a car accident in a robe covered in chocolate ice cream stains and Cheeto-finger swipes. All in all, I'm feeling pretty prepared for the new school year.

The annual ritual of getting kids ready for school always sparks a desire within me to become more organized, more productive and just get my act  together all around.  The sight of glossy folders, the quick huff off a Sharpie, and the perfectly tipped crayons make me want to label stuff.  But just for a fleeting second.  I ponder properly filing things. I could fish my passport out of the filmy make up drawer and glide it smoothly into a crisp file folder marked "travel" or maybe just "P."  But that feeling passes too, content knowing my passport is safely tucked next to a jar of wax. And since I probably won't need either for a while, why mess up a system that works?

In the past years of experiencing the turmoil of divorce, even armed with the best of intentions, already by the Thursday after Labor Day, my urge to organize, lose weight, and get a bit of exercise, seems to die as easily as slow flies in August.  

But this school year is going to be different.   Not only are my kids going to learn all kinds of math stuff I won't even be able to fake understand, I, too, am going to make forward progress. Newly divorced, I'm no longer in a holding pattern, wondering if I should stay or go.  The tough stuff is behind me and the living is ahead. 

Therefore, on this first day of school, as all students across America will recite the Pledge of Allegiance, I, too shall make a pledge to get my divorce-comfort-food-cherry-pie-very-large-ass off the sofa to declare my goal for the school year.  If you've been "on hold" and let yourself go, come on, get up and say it with me:

"I pledge a redux to my sags and the bloated state of Abdomenia.  And to my stomach... that bitch which expands:  deflation, smaller bod, irresistible with dignity.... til the jugs start to fall."