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Archive for December, 2011

Somedays, This Job Doesn’t Pay Enough

What possesses a 7-year old to wake up at 3:30 am and have a 40-minute meltdown? The devil is busy. The devil never sleeps.

Mae had to use the bathroom and she didn’t feel like using the bathroom. She wanted to put on her pajamas and she was too tired to put on her pajamas without help. She was trying to enlist my help and then her dad’s after I refused to get up. Fortunately, Jay slept through the whole thing.

We arrived home from SC at about 11:00 pm last night, all tired, and went to bed almost as soon as the car was unpacked. I helped Mae walk upstairs. She said she was too tired to use the bathroom and put on her pajamas. I didn’t dare mention brushing her teeth.  I let her go straight to bed in her clothes. I had no idea she would wake up 4 and a half hours later and punish me for it.

Mae came to our bed three times. First, she tried crying and wailing and holding my arm, saying that she was too tired and needed my help. She told me that she was upset and I was supposed to help her. Despite the fact that I told Mae she had a choice to sleep in her pajamas or clothes and that she could choose not to use the bathroom (as long as she was responsible for cleaning up any accident), she did not take note of her freedom and independence. However, once I said she would lose computer time, she went to her bed. I thought she would get tired of crying and go back to sleep. When she came back the second time, she went to Hubby. He tried reasoning with her. Finally, I told her that she had lost computer time for a day. She went away again, still crying loudly.

A few minutes later, Mae came back for the third time. She apologized and promised that she will listen from now on if I would just help her with her pajamas. I realize that if I had helped her, we could have all gone back to sleep earlier. I saw it as rewarding undesirable behavior. The last thing I want her to think is that crying like she’s being kidnapped is an effective way to get what she wants. I told Mae that she could earn back computer time if she went back to bed.

There was no school and work today, so we toughed it out. Mae did have a 9:00 am dental appointment this morning. I thought she would be a monster when I went to wake her. Nope. It was as if the whole episode never happened. She was cooperative and, according to the mood watch she was wearing, “serene.” At the dentist’s office, she had the hygienist laughing with her charming and funny self. You would not have known.


As a matter of fact, when Jay cried during dinner about having to eat his broccoli in order to get dessert, Mae attempted to intervene on his behalf. She explained to me that I was upsetting him and that he probably was too full to eat his broccoli because the acid in his stomach hadn’t yet broken down the broccoli. I told her to focus on herself. She then asked if she could speak to me in the family room. As if? Like a private talk would give her a better opportunity to sway me. I said no to the private talk and turned back to telling Jay that I could save his broccoli and dessert for tomorrow.

I’m not saying that I’m looking forward to going back to work tomorrow. But, work will be a breeze compared to this, and I’ll get paid to listen to others whine and cry.

Santa FAIL


I knew this was going to happen.

My mother had this brilliant idea that the kids should open all their gifts on Christmas Eve. I have to say here that when I was a kid, we begged and begged every year to open gifts early. My mother would finally give in and let us open one thing and it had to be the smallest item we had under the tree. As an adult, I ask myself now, “Why did she make us beg every year if she knew she would eventually say yes to one thing? Was that sadistic or what?”

Anyway, Mae woke up this morning and came to the foot of the bed where Hubby and I were sleeping. After confirming that, yes, today is Christmas, she asked if she has more presents. I said, “No, you opened all your gifts last night.”

She asked, “What about the gifts from Santa?”

I said, “Well, mommies and daddies buy most of the gifts. Santa is like a cartoon character.”

Mae reminded me that she once received a letter from Santa. I’d forgotten about that letter, courtesy of one of my aunts who had a lot of free time on her hands that season. I told Mae that I didn’t have an explanation for that. It’s hard to convince her of even simple things when her mind is made up, and I lacked the mental energy and clarity to work that one out this morning.

Mae decided that she would check under the tree anyway. She came back disappointed, saying that she wanted more gifts. This is the case with her anyway. She always wants more. Her wish list was 57 items long and after I had her highlight her top 3 wishes and told her to stop adding items, she continued to ask verbally for more stuff. Last night, when Jay opened his stuffed dolphin that can be unzipped and flipped into a pillow, Mae said that she wanted one of those too. It was an item that she had written on Jay’s list for him, so I asked Mae why she didn’t put it on her own list. She didn’t know she wanted it at the time. Grrr.

I wish I could strike the whole gift-giving and getting aspect of Christmas, unless it involves giving to those truly in need. I see that in our future as the kids get older. I like the aspects that involve getting together with family, which we did yesterday. One of my mother’s brothers and five of her sisters were there in addition to a slew of cousins. There were almost 70 of us. I saw cousins that I hadn’t seen in so many years. There is nothing like the comfort and familiarity of family. Who else can show up at a party with some of the pigs-in-the blanket missing and a pack of napkins already opened? It’s all good.

I visited family on my father’s side on Friday. I drove up to one aunt’s house and, next to it, where my paternal grandparent’s house once stood, there were piles of rubbish and a brick chimney. My feelings were hurt. Of course, I have no right to the house, no right to a say in whether it stays or goes. Still.

It was an old house when I was a kid. I used to sit by my grandma for hours at a time, she in her green pleather armchair, me at the end of the matching couch so that I could be as close to her as possible. We watched the CBS soap operas and the CBS evening news and whatever was in between. I don’t believe the channel ever changed. She chain smoked and when she ran out of cigarettes, she would send me to the club down the street for another pack (it was the ’70s). For dinner, she would let me have a plate of steaming hot white rice with as much butter as I wanted. I was her eldest grand and I got away with a lot at her house.

I was unprepared to see the house torn down. I thought I would cry, and if Mae hadn’t been with me, I probably would have. I asked my aunt how my grandfather, who now lives with a different aunt, felt about it. She said that he doesn’t know and they will not tell him. Ummm. It’s a small town and even at 91, he’s still of mostly sound mind. Auntie didn’t feel good about the demolition either. It was my uncle’s idea. She told me that she tried to help with the process and had three unfortunate incidents before she walked away: she came across a big snake in the backyard, something exploded when she tried to burn some trash, and she fell through the floor when she tried to pull up carpet. Omens, I tell you. Probably my grandmother’s spirit at work.

I’m a fan of following your gut when you get that bad feeling. I should have followed my gut about the whole gift unwrapping business. I’ve learned my lesson.

“Tell Your Troubles”

20111220-003153.jpg Mae was in one of her talkative, insightful moods yesterday evening.  When I picked her up from aftercare for her therapy appointment, Mae told me about a website that she learned of from one of her classmates. She told me that she wants to join and that she will have to check it out to make sure it’s ok for Jay. She listed the criteria for him, top of which was no chatting.  It was funny that she gave herself the responsibility of screening a website for her brother.

As her therapy appointment was ending, Dr. M asked, “Is there anything you want me to think about before we meet again?”  While I was thinking of an answer and trying to write a check at the same time, Mae responded, “self-discipline.”  Huh?  It’s so easy to forget this child is 7 years old.

Dr. M said, “Okaaay. . . . What does self-discipline mean to you?” Mae said it means doing the things she’s supposed to do.  Check.  I believe strongly that Mae knows and understands what’s expected of her and wants to do the right thing. She needs help and she is open to receiving it. That’s more than I can say for a lot of adults I know.

As I was backing out of the parking space outside the therapist’s office, I asked Mae to turn off the overhead lights because they distract me when I look in the mirrors or over my shoulder to change lanes.  I said that it’s safer for me to drive with the lights off.  She turned them off right away.  (The backstory is that she knows I like those lights off; I’d just never explained why in detail.)  Mae then began one of her disclaimers — she’s become really good at disclaimers.

“Mommy, I want to tell you something and I don’t want you to get upset. I’m not trying to scold you or be mean or anything.”

Deep breath.

She went on to tell me that I should tell my troubles before they upset me.  If I tell my troubles right away, then people can help me and I’ll feel better.  She had a lot more to say on the subject, but the gist was that instead of feeling annoyed about the lights and snapping that they should be off, I gained her cooperation by explaining what it was about the lights that bothered me.

I get her point.  Still, I flip between being grateful that she is articulate and expressive and feeling bothered that she expects instructions with explanations about why.  Oh, she could not have been my mother’s child nor my grandmother’s child.  Ha’mercy!

Our play date on Sunday was a success.  Both the girls I invited showed up and Mae was surprised and thrilled.  We moms were 4 with 6 kids between us in an inflatables place that had about 4 birthdays going.  Chaotic, but the kids managed to keep up with each other.  At one point, I heard Mae tell one friend to stop following her.  I pulled her aside and reminded her that having a play date means playing together and being around each other.   I told her that if she wants me to continue planning play dates and expects her friends to say yes and invite her back, she’ll have to be kind and play nicely.

We left the play place and, even though I had a hefty to-do list, the other Moms talked me into going to dinner with them.  It was my first restaurant experience with a gaggle of kids, and it wasn’t bad.

The play date was a good experience for me in that it increased my confidence that Mae can manage herself with her classmates at least some of the time, and parents from the school see her as a suitable playmate for their kids.  I hope it was affirming to Mae that she has friends she can play with outside of school.  This is something I can remind her of if she says again in the future that she never has play dates or that her classmates don’t like or want her.

I’m thinking more and more that there is greater value in getting Mae out with other kids than in meeting with a therapist.  Being able to monitor her in social situations allows me to  give immediate feedback, acknowledging when she’s doing something right and intervening to correct or guide when she’s not.  I’ve been emailing another school parent to set up a play date after Christmas.  Her daughter, F, is a third-grader that Mae met during summer camp a couple of years ago.  They clicked instantly.  They are both non-stop talkers with room-filling personalities.  Both have spent time with the school guidance counselor working on social skills, and at my request, the guidance counselor passed on my name and number to F’s mom.  My hope is that Mae and F can get together regularly, including sometimes with other kids, and then we’ll phase out or cut back to occasionally meeting with Dr. M.

My brownies should be cool by now.  I baked a double batch of red velvet brownies for my family’s Christmas Eve celebration next week.  I did the same thing last night, and it was a disaster.  I will never, ever, ever double the vanilla again.  I had to start over tonight.   I now understand why people start holiday baking so many weeks in advance.  I’ve learned my lesson for good.  I’m off to cut and freeze the brownies, and then get a few zzz’s before hitting the office for my last day of work this week.  Yippeee!

Color Me Done


The kids and I unpacked our Christmas decorations this past Saturday. We placed our little tree on a window sill and added little gold ornaments and two thin strands of gold garland. And, that’s a wrap. I hope. While Mae and Jay were pre-occupied with testing the lights, I quickly repacked the stockings and bigger ornaments that we’ve used in some years when we’ve had a larger tree. They haven’t pointed out to me yet that no stockings are hung and we have much fewer decorations than some of our neighbors.  I’m hoping they’ll let me slide.  I reluctantly celebrate Christmas anyway.  This year, as I try especially hard to budget time and money, I’d like to keep things really simple.

I should have stopped celebrating Christmas a long time ago.

First and foremost, I’m not a Christian.  Being a hypocrite should be reason enough to stop.  I made a half-hearted attempt in 2000, and it didn’t go over so well.   I was in the first year of a new job.  I declined politely to participate in Secret Santa, which confused my co-workers and dampened their holiday spirit.  In the days leading up to the office party, my colleagues spoke in code and hushed tones about their attempts to find gifts and avoid tongue slips.  The code was not to avoid detection of the names they had pulled.  Instead, they didn’t want to offend me by talking about Christmas.  On the day of the celebration, they huddled in a corner, literally, of the shared office space to have their potluck meal and exchange gifts.  I felt kind of bad.

I hadn’t meant to shut down the whole party, and I have no idea why they didn’t meet in a conference room or the break room down the hall.  The next year, I was invited again to participate.  I agreed and my supervisor said with relief, “So, you’re not going to be a grinch this year?”  Another co-worker welcomed me to bring in decorations or items related to Kwanzaa, which I happen not to celebrate.

And, with family, how do you “not celebrate” if your name still gets put in the hat at Thanksgiving for the Christmas gift exchange?  Tradition and obligation are strong pulls.   I am sooo outnumbered.

It’s not just family.  Christmas is altogether hard to avoid.  It’s everywhere:  TV commercials and shows, radio, stores, houses and yards, schools, billboards.  It is, on its surface, a two-month long secular and commercial onslaught (sorry, Jesus, to you and your followers) that I have never had the imagination nor found the proper supports to get around.  I’ve found that unless you clearly identify yourself as Muslim or Jewish or have some equally excusable reason for not celebrating Christmas, people will either include you anyway or attempt to make you feel bad for not wanting to take part.  So, I gave up. I lack the energy, the will, to resist.  I go along to get along.  Eckhardt Tolle wrote, “If peace is really what you want, then you will choose peace.”

Certainly, the time to get out of Christmas would have been before I became a mother.  I’m stuck with it now for real.  The kids expect Christmas and I am too cowardly to pull back.  It’s not all bad though.  As much as I dislike shopping, even for myself, I do enjoy seeing the kids’ reactions on Christmas morning.

I appreciate also that the holiday brings together my extended family.  It’s one of our biggest and best celebrations of the year.  There will be games, story-telling, food, laughter.  The occasion never disappoints.  Did I say food?  Ironically, this is my favorite time of the year for just that reason.  I can indulge in cake, cookies, and pie without apology.  Saying no might offend someone or cast me as a “grinch.”  And, I never want that to happen again.

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