Friday, October 29, 2010

Our Noble Dog

Mollie writes:

John and I have always had pets of some kind.  Birds, hedgehogs, dogs, fish and crawdads, you name it.  But dogs have always been our biggest investment emotionally.  We've had six dogs, total, and each was an important member of our family.

When John and I first married, we knew we wanted a dog.  As a result, one of the first things we did to our new house was to fence the yard.  In those days, conventional wisdom wasn't what it is now.  In the late seventies, most people simply opened their front doors to send their dogs out into the neighborhood to relieve themselves.  But we were adopting two Newfoundland puppies, and it just seemed to push the envelope to expect our neighbors to clean up after our dogs.  At maturity, both would weigh over 180 pounds.  Imagine the poop scoop we had to buy!

We ended up with two Newfies because one of them, Oolum, had a significant heart murmur (sub-aortic stenosis) at birth.  This breed has carried this problem for years because of breeding errors in the fifties and sixties.  We'd arranged to buy Noble, our puppy of choice, but when the breeder announced that the biggest pup was going to be put down because of the severity of his problem, we decided to give him a home with Noble instead.

Oolum lived approximately 11 months.  He died of heart failure when his heart became so enlarged it could no longer pump blood effectively.  But Noble, our initial purchase, lived to be a ripe old eleven.

In addition to fencing the yard, we built the dogs a kennel.  We attached a doghouse to our house with a doggie door to our laundry room.  We had a custom door for the doggie door that could lock if need be (families do take their dogs on vacation!) and another door with a heater built in to insert if weather conditions sank below freezing.

We almost never used the heater door.  Newfies have two coats, the long silky black coat we all see, and a thicker, oil saturated undercoat that protects the breed from cold.  We had to decide, early on, whether or not these dogs would be indoor or outdoor dogs, but in the end, the dogs chose for themselves.  They wanted to be outdoor dogs, the yard was big and they liked to run.  So every winter, Noble's coat would become tremendously full, and the following spring, he would 'blow' so much coat we could fill ten black garbage bags with his shedding.

Once we brought home our babies, Noble became very attentive to them.  When John traveled out of town, Noble would sleep in the house, either in my bedroom or theirs.  Both boys could pull hair, poke eyes and perform other acts of doggie abuse, and the most Noble ever did was get up and amble outside.

Over the years, Noble "fathered" our family.  He protected us, played with us, swam with us, slept with us, ate with us and helped raise our kids.  He was always gentle and patient.  Occasionally he would bark, but only when he felt he had something important to announce (like the UPS van).

When the boys were toddlers, they fed him, helped bath him, chased him, snuggled him and just generally used him.   And Noble loved it all.

Frankly, he was the perfect dog.

At the end of Noble's days we were at a loss.  He had gradually lost weight and had developed arthritis in his hips and legs.  He wouldn't take pain pills no matter how hard we tried to force the issue.  Instead, he would try to chew at the pain.  This only led to further problems.  In the end, we chose to end his pain by euthanasia.

Putting a dog down is the hardest thing a parent has to do.  The children adored the dog, and didn't have any memories that didn't include Noble.  We were upset in our own emotional worlds, but the loss of the dog for the children exacerbated it.  In addition, we were worried about what the kids would think when their parents put Noble down.  What ultimate power parents wield!

We chose not to tell the kids of our decision, assuming that they weren't able to appreciate how painful decision to do so would be for us.  But we took Noble to the vet's office for our pet's end of life, and it was clear to the kids from our tear streaked faces that Noble had died there.

Losing a beloved pet is deeply painful for children.  Ours learned first hand how finite life is, how devastating death is, and how beloved a pet can be.  In the years following Noble's death we would have other dogs, but Noble, with his gentle demeanor and protective nature,  was the most generous and  nurturing.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Millie's Top 10

Millie writes:

Halloween is this Sunday, which means we've entered what a friend of mine calls “The Halloween-to-New-Year Holiday Death Spiral.” Just in case any of you Dads and Kids out there are working on your gift lists early, I thought I'd post this now; how you wrap them is your problem.

The Top 10 List of What Every Mother Wants for Christmas
10. Vacation days and sick leave
9. A self-cleaning bathroom
8. An item of clothing with no grease stains, bleach spots or spit-up on it
7. A year's worth of dinner menus that don't include hamburger
6. Vaccinations for the common cold
5. A reliable, efficient car that will hold six kids plus groceries – and is a candy-apple red convertible
4. A conversation that doesn't involve chores, homework or the discussion of someone else's feces
3. 24 hours of instant, cheerful cooperation
2. A surprise visit from Jensen Ackles onstage at the school's Winter Concert
And the Number One item that every mother wants for Christmas:

1. A happy, healthy, well-adjusted family clustered around the tree

A final hint: If you get us that last one - don't worry about the other nine.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Death of a Pet

Millie writes:

Right now three of our kids are at the veterinarian's office with their dad. This is most likely their last farewell to Sprite, an adorable ferret they've owned for nearly eight years. Sprite is the latest in a long line of adorable (and not-so-adorable) animals who have enriched our children's lives, taught them a few things about love and responsibility, and then taught them one last lesson: How to say goodbye.

The trouble with pets is that no matter how adorable they are as babies, no matter how funny and loyal and intelligent they are (or aren't), no matter what boon companions they are to you and your children: they die. Even the best-cared-for animals usually have far shorter life spans than do humans, and household pets often live only a handful of years. This leaves parents with three choices: buy only Galapagos tortoises for your kids, ban pets altogether, or have a plan to deal with how the death of a beloved pet affects your child.

As childhood traumas go, the death of a pet ranks right up there. A child can be more upset by a pet's death than he is by a relative's. For one thing, he may have spent far more time around Fido than around Uncle Joe; for another, the scope of a pet's death is (comparatively) so much smaller that it is easier for a child to grasp it. (Also, frankly, the dog may be more likable.)

Sad as it is, it is easier for a child to become acquainted with the “circle of life” through the animals that he has loved and helped to care for. We started with fish and worked our way up through gerbils and parakeets to dogs, cats, ferrets and chickens. Boy, back in those early days we had fish funerals that rivaled anything seen on Broadway, with solemn graveside services complete with headstones and some very little, very sad mourners.

It never gets easy to lose a furred or feathered friend (I draw the line at loving fish, myself, no matter how much my dander-allergic husband tries to convince me that they're pets on par with cats), but it does get easier. These occasions give you the chance to talk to your kids about what you believe happens after death, and to reassure them that they gave their pet a good life (you may need to provide some examples of this; guilt at such times can overwhelm a child) and – oh, yes – answer their questions about whether you will ever die.

If you haven't already done so, you need to make a will and appoint guardians for your children. That way, when it occurs to your little one like a thunderbolt that, if Blackie can die, MAYBE MOMMY AND DADDY CAN DIE – you can reassure them that, while you don't plan on going anywhere for a long, long time, if something does happen to you, Auntie Sue and Uncle Don will take care of them. Doing this will bring you enormous peace of mind, as well.

Because you know and I know that Blackie didn't see that car coming, either.

Requiescat In Pace, Sprite. You were loved.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Parental Ponderings

Goodness me, Maggie here, alive and kickin'! If it seems as though I've been Missing In Action.. well, it's because I have.

The youngest member of the clan is now three months old and doing great. She's at that cute stage where she'll grin at just about anything, loves to suck her thumb and ... sleeps through the night! This is huge, people, as her two year old sister does not sleep through the night.

Having four so close together (6, 4, 2 and 3 months) at my age (...ahem, 27), gets lots of big eyes from those slightly older than me with "only" one or two children to their names. Having them this close together creates an interesting dynamic, not only between the children themselves, but between us as parents and the children. They say that "Comparison is of the devil," and I have to agree--but it is SO hard not to do! Especially between sexes! When Laureli was four, she was helping around the house and cleaning up after herself without much direction from me. Her brother though? He's four and it's more of a chore to get him to do anything than the actual chore in question! I know a lot of that has to do with the fact that I can depend on his big sister to get it done, so the pressure isn't on him as much as it was with her. That being said, however, his little two year old sister tends to help more than he does.

I find that the years and milestones all get a bit muddled. I probably expect more of the younger two (not the baby--yet) because their oldest sister is capable of so much. That's not very fair to them, and I try to catch myself before I make assumptions and demands past their capability.

There are times I have more patience with the younger ones, simply because I've been there before and know what to expect. But then, there are times when that patience is scarce--because I've been there and my expectations are shot full of holes.

If there's one thing I've learned from having four children, it's that expectations are all fine and good, so long as you aren't counting on them to be fulfilled when you, well... expect them to. Case in point: I expected my baby to be asleep by now, but she's not, so this post will have to be cut short. Thanks for the example, Kayla!

Gardening and Parenting

Mollie writes:

Sometimes, it just seems like my brain is full.  I went outside to weed my front yard last week; it took me four sessions of four hours each.  Times past, I didn't have this kind of time to focus on pulling each and every weed in my yard so I'd head out with my hula hoe and just whack everything I saw that wasn't easily identifiable as something I bought at nursery.  But once my kids were raised, I started to find snippets of time where the weather was willing, my flesh was willing and I had a little time.

So I became a weed meister.

I used to weed as a cover for listening to my young'uns  playing in the yard.  You can overhear so much that you can lose track of the job at hand.  My kids had wild imaginations and sometimes I'd laugh so hard they'd look up from their play.  But now I can focus on weeds, their identification, and deal with them individually.  Most weeds I eradicate by hand, but the occasional few I resort to chemical warfare.

Example, today, 10:45 am.  John comes in from the deep dark environs of the only shady place in our yard, under the gunnera plant.  The gunnera plant is one of John's little (BIG?) experiments in the back yard (for specifics on gunnera go to ).  It's his pride and joy, a plant that dates back to prehistoric times with huge leaves.  He was checking out the status of his gunnera when he found, underneath, a suspicious looking weed growing.

It resembled marijuana to him (don't ask - we are both pure) but he wasn't sure.  I wasn't sure either, so I went to my "Weeds of the West" book and ultimately identified it as conium maculatum, a weed common to the Pacific Northwest, tolerating poorly draining soil, streams and ditch banks.  It's no surprise it started on this hill that slopes to our pond.  It has purple green stems and pinnate leaves that are segmented.  I also googled marijuana plant identification and ruled it out as the dreaded weed.  Even though we live on an island that seems to have pot growing anywhere there is an expanse of shady, moist, dark areas, the random seed hadn't found its way into my garden, despite the efforts of local birds to "poop" it everywhere.

Its common name is poison hemlock.  Now, if I had to choose what popped up in my yard, marijuana or hemlock, I'd ultimately choose marijuana.  It's a relief to know I don't have to choose.  But this hemlock is extremely poisonous, so we went at it with all guns blazing.  Someday, we'll have grandkids and I don't want a bunch of poisonous plants invading my back yard.  Ditto to controlled substances.

When all was said and done, the hemlock was removed and I placed a leaf in my book on the page that describes conium maculatum.  I probably won't forget this little gardening factoid, but it will be nice to have a sample for future reference.

My point here (and, ala Ellen, I do have a point), learning to identify plants is a good thing for a parent.  I'm trying to imagine raising kids without a few domestic hobbies and it boggles my mind.  For me, it's been a sanity saver; something that challenges my mind while the kids are building forts in the back yard.  But it has also prepared me to identify the random 'weed' that can crop up anywhere!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Sleep Tight . . . Right?

Millie writes:

Swaddling – also called “bundling” - is the practice of wrapping a baby up tightly with his arms and legs bound to his body so that he can sleep. Swaddling has been going on for centuries, with many parents swearing it was the only way they could get their newborns to sleep.

There are many theories about why it works. Some people say that it keeps a baby from “startling” itself away (you know that galvanic “sleep jerk” you get when you're about to nod off? Well, babies get that, too), and some say that it's comforting because it mimics the feeling of being in the mother's womb and makes the baby feel secure.

I bundled my wee ones occasionally (not that they'd stay that way, my babies were all big limb-wavers) and so did just about every other parent I know. However, recent research has shown that it may be time to find alternatives to bundling.

In the September 2010 issue of the International Journal of Childbirth Education, Nancy Mohrbacher (breastfeeding specialist and author of The Breastfeeding Answer Book) cited several studies that seem to show that swaddling at birth not only delays the development of good nursing habits, it can retard overall growth and be stressful for babies. There have been studies overseas which indicate that the enforced lack of movement caused by swaddling can contribute to an increase in lung infections, potentially fatal overheating and SIDS. Parenting magazine's Dr. Williams Sears says that swaddling babies too frequently or after about 3 months of age can contribute to hip dysplasia (deformity and dislocation of the hip joint).

Well, obviously these are extreme worst-case scenarios chosen to illustrate the authors' points; I'm not trying to use scare tactics here. Still, finding alternatives to swaddling seems like an idea whose time is coming, especially when you consider that nothing works all the time for any baby.

Skin Contact

Holding him skin-to-skin is one of the easiest, most convenient, most effective ways to soothe a cranky babe. Tuck a half-naked baby (it's just lunacy to do this without a diaper!) on your naked chest and let them soak up the closeness. It works just as well for daddies as it does for mamas; if you're in a semi-public situation wear a spaghetti-strap tank or a bathing suit top, anything that lets the baby lay his skin against yours. Oh, and dads – if you're furry, you can expect to lose a tiny handful or two of hair to that “grasping” reflex.


My ex-mother-in-law calls it “elephanting” - that reflex parents have of rocking back and forth when they're holding a baby. (Experienced parents elephant when they're holding babies, puppies, chicks, dolls or 10-pound bags of sugar – this is how we recognize each other in the grocery store.) It's automatic because it works; babies spent nine months sloshing around in amniotic fluid whenever Mama moved, and they like motion. Rock Baby to sleep in a rocking chair, carry him in a sling, walk around the house or take him for a ride in the car. Many parents swear by wind-up swings; there are even after-market attachments that can turn an entire crib into a rocking bed.


Singing works wonders, so sing away and don't worry if you don't hit all the notes – most babies don't know any better. (Well, Red knew better, but he was a special case.) Hum, read the sports page in a soothing voice, or walk around pointing out the sights - “. . . and here we find ourselves in the famous Living Room. If you look out the right side of the father, you will see the mantel clock, which is a major tourist attraction in our town.” White noise works for some babies, so try static (tune the radio or TV to a spot between stations) or a fan aimed away from the baby.


Establishing a bedtime ritual isn't just for older kids; even for babies, a bedtime routine will signal that sleep is coming and it's a good thing. Make sure the baby is fed and clean, and then experiment until you find what works for him. Some things I've used are scented-water baths, special bedtime songs, stories, rocking and back rubs. Kisses and hugs should definitely be in there somewhere, too! Of course, with a swaddling-aged baby, feeding will probably send them off to dreamland most often; then the challenge is getting them into bed without waking them back up again, but that's another story!

Parenting: Ask Dr. Sears: Alternatives to Baby Swaddling, Dr. William Sears
International Journal of Childbirth Education: Rethinking Swaddling, Nancy Mohrbacher

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Laugh of the day!

Mollie writes:

Go to:

and see the life of an average mom on any one day!

Sometimes, you just wish you had stayed in bed and NOT baked that cake.   Frankly, I could go through months of this sort of chaos and wonder what was up.  The good news is that once the video of you getting  ambushed by your kids goes viral, you have probably regained your sense of humor.

I have to admit, I LOVE the internet.  There is the ongoing conversation about whether or not you should post something personal on the internet.  Certainly "outing" your roommate's sexual orientation is a big sin, as well as texting naked pictures of yourself.   But I have to admit, I love the zaniness of the spontaneous goof up.  I'm praying that the woman in this video is at peace with herself, knowing that her  37 seconds of pratfalls made even the most frustrated of fellow sisters laugh.

You can spend the day baking a cake, frosting it, gussying yourself up, and make the dramatic entrance to a family party only to end up in some ditch somewhere.  We've all been there.  But to make the ultimate sacrifice and allow it to be viewed (and I hope she did!) by The Rest of The World is daunting.

Millie and I write this blog to let other parents know that they are not alone.  We joke about projectile pooping, parent-teacher conferences, just who gets the remote control on any one day and a myriad of other daily challenges.

We occasionally give out the random super-power.  But most of us have a super-power lurking in our souls and we just do not recognize it.  The ability to laugh at yourself - and it is myself I'm laughing at when I watch this video - is the greatest super-power there is.  And we already have it!

So my love and sympathy goes out to the 'ditched' mom and her wonderful intentions on producing a lovely cake for a family party.  But also goes out my respect for her, for all the cakes she's made in the past and all the little ditches along the way.

This is the quintessential job of mothering.  Bake a cake, lose your dress and end up in the ditch.  It happens to the best of us every day!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Do Unto Others

Millie writes:

My laptop has little virtual sticky-notes on the screen where I write reminders to myself. This morning I was flipping through notes (checking to see if I'd put “windshield washer fluid” on the hardware-store list) and ran across a snippet of a letter I'd saved from Joy:

“Sheila from the Cowtown office and I were talking today about the various ways in which our moms are awesome, and she was telling me she'd heard good things about you from Red.” [Editor's note: Red used to work at the Cowtown branch of the company for which Joy works.] “She said it was really obvious from talking to him how much he loves you, and how much he wants to do the right things and make you proud of him. I just thought you'd like to hear that today. ;)”

People who work in offices get performance reviews, bonuses and testimonial dinners, but parents don't often know whether or not we're having any sort of impact at all. Even if your kids go around singing your praises in public (which I suspect doesn't happen all that often, at least in my case), what are the odds that those praises would get back to you? It's kind of like being the Popular Kid in high school; you don't find out you were the Popular Kid until your 30th reunion, because it never occurred to anyone to tell you at the time.

For me this was sort of like a double-bonus, because not only did my sometimes-temperamental redhead say something nice about me, my eldest knew how much it would thrill me to hear about it. I got that email at least a year ago, and it still gives me a lump in my throat whenever I run across that sticky-note.

You have the power to make people feel this way.

Is it obvious to you that your friend's 6-year-old adores her? Did you overhear your brother's teenage son bragging about how his Dad taught him everything he knows about cars? Did you see someone's child pick up the items scattered from an old woman's dropped purse and give them back with a respectful, “Here you are, Ma'am?”

TELL them.

We get so caught up in the brush your teeth/ do your homework/ stand up straight cycle that sometimes we forget a great truth: Our kids are awesome people, and they love us just as much as we love them. It's not the straight-A report card that makes either one of us successful; it's the bond we have as a family. You may make it a point to say “I love you” to your child at least once a day (and if you don't, start), but we have to get our own feedback through less obvious channels. We don't need help seeing what we're doing wrong, but sometimes we don't get to witness our hard work bearing fruit. It's easy to despair of ever being a good parent, and easy to get stuck in that mindset. YOU hold the keys to your friends' and relatives' Parenting Paychecks: pay them often, pay them generously and ask them to do the same for you. We're all in this together.

Oh, and by the way: Mollie? Your youngest son adores you. He has told me on more than one occasion that you and his Dad are his heroes. You get an A+.

Monday, October 18, 2010

When Mollie Went Back to the Job Market

Mollie writes:

I was a SAHM during the 80's and early 90's.  I entered motherhood with a "wait and see" attitude when it came to working outside the home.  It was my plan to spend as much time with our kids as possible, but also not to put my husband in the stressful condition of being the sole breadwinner during tough times.  But a premature baby, an infant with seizures and other maternal challenges narrowed my perspective.  As long as John was gainfully employed as an engineer, I thought it was my responsibility to make our lives work on his earnings alone.

Once the kids started school, I started to notice my own situation, the onset of MS.  When the boys were 10 and 12, I returned to the workplace.  I had multiple reasons for doing so; in my case it seemed like a no brainer.

I was worried about the boys seeing their mother as a 'victim' rather than a person with particular challenges.  It seemed to me that having me stay home with MS was a cop-out in that arena.  A person often wonders how much a child learns by example, and I wanted my children to see that "life goes on" is a norm.

I had other issues that I had to deal with as well.  After staying home with children for 12 years, I'd lost my Social Security disability eligibility.  Forecasting for myself was a doozy.  At the onset of MS, most of us get the sense that we need to start seeing our lives as a finite exercise.  None of us knows where health issues will take us, but in my case, I had a good hint.  So I chose my immediate future with the big picture in mind.

MS is an individual experience.  Some people can go years without a recurrence of their symptoms, some of us get frequent exacerbations.  In my case, I had multiple exacerbations.  In addition, I also found that I had a proclivity to kidney stones, extremely high liver enzyme counts when under certain drug therapies, a nasty response to steroid use and transient global ischemic attacks.  I had no guarantee that when I was disabled that I would be in any shape to contribute to our families welfare, be it income OR child-rearing.  So I thought it was best to return to the work force to earn back my eligibility.

As it was, I was able to remain in the work force for six years, more than enough to earn back my disability eligibility.  During this period, I worked continuously, at first full-time, then cutting back my hours to accommodate my progressing disease.  When I ultimately left the work force, it was after having a TGA at work and knowing that my MS continued to progress.  It seemed, again, like a no brainer.

I don't receive much in disability benefits, but that's not the point.  My monthly allowance couldn't even pay rent on a one bedroom apartment, let alone food, utilities and health care.  But it was the principle involved.  I had worked for years paying into the program, I would accept the benefits when I was eligible.

I take a lot of inspiration from the story about Michelle Obama's father.  He had MS throughout his adult life and managed to support a family.  I have no idea where, in the big picture, MS took over his life, but he was certainly able to postpone it for as long as possible.  That took a lot of courage.

It takes courage to stay home with your children.  It takes courage to return to work when the family's needs supersede your own.  It takes courage to deal with waking up in the morning, blind, and it takes courage to quit working when the onus of accommodating a disabled worker conflicts with a very patient employer who needs to see your job done in your absence.  I was fortunate to have this employer in my life, but at some point, accommodation is no longer reasonable.

Once I quite working, MS continued to be a problem in my life, with the addition of kidney and liver complications.  I often wonder if the different drugs (interferon and steroids and muscle relaxants, Oh My!) sped up my decline.  But since quitting the work force, I feel comfortable no longer using steroids for a quicker recovery during exacerbations.  I don't have to consider "return to work" as motivation for      disease management.  That's a load off my mind.

 I still have problems with my liver and kidneys, but it's manageable now that I don't have parenting and job conflicts.

I'm writing this today since I want to emphasize the fact that each parent faces their own challenges.  The question of when to work outside the home and when not to work outside the home is painfully personal.  We each face our own devils.  But I'm glad that I went back to work, when it was reasonable.

So, to Millies and Mollies everywhere, good luck.  Whether or not you're a new mom, a mom weighing childcare vs. stay-at-home-parenting, a mom with teenagers, or a mom with disabled children, you have my support.  Never forget that your minor children are your #1 priority, but also don't forget that you have to make sense of your own life.  And making sense of your own life hinges on your family's welfare.

WAHM Bam, Thank You, Ma'am

Millie writes:

I've been a little bummed since I started writing professionally. Don't get me wrong, I am still amazed every single day that someone is willing to pay me actual money to write things down. In this economy and with the job market being what it is in our part of the world, I feel extremely lucky; there's also the little, internal “WHOA!” moment when someone asks me the “What do you do” question and I can say casually, “I'm a writer.”

It's a change, because I've identified myself as a Stay-at-Home-Mom for the last quarter of a century. Being a mom/ housewife was my vocation and my avocation, too. I am not one of those women who was doing her duty by her children until she could re-join the workforce; that was my career. I loved it and I was very good at it. Of course, as with any job there were parts of it I didn't like much; I hate cleaning the bathtub, dusting is boring, and nobody likes back-chat. Still, I found it a tremendous creative outlet and was very, very fond of my co-workers.

Now that is over.

Oh, I'm still at home. The phone is nearby so I can come to the rescue in an emergency, I'm here to answer the doorbell and nag people to do their homework. There's a difference, though. The dust doesn't get polished away every day, it builds up for a week until I give it a swipe with a hand towel on my way to do something else. There's a lot more pizza and stir-fry and a lot less Beef Stroganoff and homemade yogurt. I didn't do anything at all in the garden this year (though the kids kept it weeded) and there are still some decorations up from the high school drama cast party we hosted last spring. After-school cookies are far more apt to come from a package than from the oven, these days.

This wasn't how I pictured my kids-at-home years finishing up. There were supposed to be a few more hand-sewn prom dresses, a few more family vacations, a lot more outings to chat one-on-one over a milkshake before I had to turn in my badge for good.

When that pink slip showed up in our wage-earner's envelope, however, “what I'd pictured” was no longer relevant. What was relevant was that I had a skill that could make the difference between not-quite-making-it on unemployment and Coasting By. I leaped gladly into the breach, grateful that there was something concrete I could do.

Still, there was that small, small part of me that wept, “Now I'm not a SAHM any more!” - that part of me that misses the seasonal decorating, the home-cooked dinners, the spotless house.

Then I realized something: I haven't lost my identity after all, it's only morphed a bit. I've graduated from SAHM to WAHM. Sure, most days everything gets short-changed except the work and the family; the kids and Lance have to pick up more slack than I would like, and I imagine the volunteer coordinator at the high school wonders if Sassy and Jack even have parents. Instead of dropping into bed each night with the feeling of exhausted satisfaction, I drop into bed each morning with the feeling that I've been hit repeatedly with a six-foot 2x4 and the conviction that they should abbreviate Work-At-Home-Mom as WHAM instead of WAHM.

My “job description” still has an “M” for “Mom” in it, though . . . so I think we'll all survive.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Saturday Night Fever (30 Years Later)

Millie thinks:

He brought me flowers! He knows he’s allergic . . . quick! Put the vase out on the patio!

Darn it, there goes the phone again . . . Sassy! It’s Lizzie . . . what do you mean, she can’t have you sleep over after all?? You get online and you find someone to stay with tonight! It’s our 10-year Dating Anniversary, and you’re the only kid who’s still here! I don’t know, make friends with someone at the bus stop if you have to!

Oo, I get the bathroom to myself for five minutes . . . I should probably spray a little more blonde on those roots, if I don’t want to have what Lance so kindly refers to as “reverse-skunk hair” tonight. I wonder if he remembered to make reservations? HONEY! Did you make reservations? I don’t know, any time is fine with me . . . what does he mean, 8 o’clock? Well, I guess I can have an early snack so I can take my meds with food . . .

T’sk, the ants are coming in by the sink again . . . I need to put more bait down in here. I don’t want to find them coming out of the Water Pik hose again.

How am I supposed to put on eye makeup without wearing my glasses?

Yeah, I’m coming, I’m coming . . . Yes, I know it’s locked. I locked it. . . . So you wouldn’t come in, that’s why!

He wants to dress up tonight. I wonder if I still own a pair of pantyhose . . . oh no, that means shoes with heels! Well, it’s only for a couple of hours . . . if we park close to the restaurant, and I have a Mojito or two, I should be able to manage it. I don’t care, though, I’m putting my tennis shoes in the back of the car in case he wants to take a “romantic stroll” afterwards. Arthritic knees popping like Rice Krispies is definitely the antidote to a “romantic stroll.”

Oh no . . . Rocky forgot to take the kitchen garbage out before he left. I guess I’ll have to – oh, NO! And this was my last clean blouse! Stupid little . . . Sassy, don’t forget to feed the chickens. Darn it, you’re supposed to tell us before you run out! HONEY! We need to stop in at the feed store on the way downtown tonight . . . you’ll have to wear the blue suit instead, you know you’ll pop the seams on the gray one again if you try to lift 50 pounds of layer pellets while you’re wearing that thing.

Where is my dress-up purse?

I’m already worn out . . . maybe I should suggest we take a nap before dinner . . . but then I’d have to do my hair again. Forget that.

I’m coming, I’m coming! Sassy, don’t forget your sleeping bag; we’ll drop you off at Lily’s on the way. I don’t know. I don’t know! It’s YOUR toothbrush, why would I keep track of it? Well, get a new one out of the pantry . . . Do you have your key? Do you have your cell phone? Do you have your bus pass just in case?

HONEY! We’re ready. Yes, she has her key and her phone and her bus pass. Oops, hang on . . . I forgot my purse. Do you think you’ll need me to drive? Then I won’t bring my keys . . . otherwise I won’t be able to fit everything in here . . . okay, okay, I’m coming!

‘Bye, Sassy! Have a good time . . . pick you up tomorrow around noon.


Thank you, Lance! You look nice, too!

H’m . . .

Hey, he does look pretty nice! . . . . . . .

Friday, October 15, 2010

Recycling: The Learning Curve

Mollie writes:

It's so lovely when you finally have all your little ones in school.  You can escort them out to the bus stop armed with a cup of coffee, and when the bus pulls away with your little angels, you can head back to home energized and caffeinated.  The first day my little ones went to school, together, was a real breakthrough day for me.  I met my friends for lunch and then shopped for books!

Eventually, things settle down and a mom realizes that maybe she should do something constructive with the new time on her hands.  She can volunteer at school, of course, but at some point, the kidlets have to make it on their own.  In the past, I'd organize the holidays (Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas) and get stuff in order for winter.  I could do the Christmas shopping in October, wrap presents and prepare Christmas cards in November,  and pretty much coast through December.

I also thought it would be a good time to learn new habits.  One year I took piano lessons, another year I dropped some weight, and yet another year, I decided to improve my recycling program.  I was pretty good at recycling newspaper; there was a collection dumpster at the Elks Lodge.  And with a 2 cent deposit charged to my soda pop purchases, I was truly diligent about redeeming my money when I went to the grocery store.

These days, I'm pretty good about recycling - living on an island opens your eyes when you realize that there's only so much room for garbage.  We send a lot of it off the island, but that's expensive to say the least.  So when we first moved to Whidbey, I got a bin for every possible object to be recycled.  I recycle metals, plastics, cardboard, paper and even yard debris.  On my front porch, with the bistro table and the potted plants, I have my oh-so-elegant worm bin.  If it doesn't contain meat by-products, it gets composted.

But years ago I was more dilettante than diligent.  Wrestling with cardboard, pop bottles, tin cans, etc. just didn't always get done.  So, although I recycled, I was only half committed.

But the kids were taught recycling at school.  They had paper bins, milk carton bins, etc. throughout their schools and my kids recycled a lot better than I did.  Some days they would go off to school and come home with paper they'd made from recycled paper, another day they would come home with a can crusher they'd made in 'shop.'  All in all it was a good experience.

But I have to admit that occasionally, I'd get a little huffy.  One of the boys would ask me why I wasn't recycling all paper, not just news paper, and I'd get testy.  News paper had to be recycled separately because of the newsprint ink, and I just didn't have enough bins to recycle everything.  They'd look at me like I was a condemned woman.

It came to a head one year during "Earth Week" when the boys came home from school taking me to task for not recycling cardboard properly.  Frankly, I'd had it with their non-phosphate laundry soap, their organic vegetables AND their need to keep the world a cleaner place.  So when they bounced off the school bus with their daily recommendations for environmental awareness, I marched them up to their bedrooms.

I'd assembled some bins for them to begin their recycling.  Old tennis shoes in this bin, old homework in that bin, dirty sheets in the hamper and don't even bother me with washing instructions, they could do it themselves.  Little faces fell as they realized that they had to start practicing what they preached to their mom.

They developed realistic expectations.

Today, they both recycle some, but not with the fervor of their mom.  My worm bin is producing copious amounts of compost, my garage is a warehouse of stuff waiting to be taken to the local recycling center, and I have a separate area for things to be taken to Good Cheer (a Whidbey version of Goodwill).  So three cheers to the folks who taught my kids to recycle, their mom and dad!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

It's Only October and I'm Sick of School

Millie writes:

It's been a long, exhausting day for everyone in my household. The school kids are under too many deadlines, the workers have everything coming due at once and everyone is short-tempered, overwhelmed and cranky.

Oh, and there's yet another school concert coming up.

As much as I love fall, I always feel just a little bit under the gun at this time of the year. I think it's ludicrous that I have to pay money to listen to my own kid sing – though, I hasten to add, I understand why it has become necessary for music programs to do this. I remember with what dewy-eyed innocence I attended my first school concert – Joy recited “Frosty the Snowman” and we rehearsed together for weeks – but the thrill is pretty much gone by this point. Now I know it's nothing but 3 minutes of my kid(s) performing followed by 3 hours in a seat designed by the Marquis de Sade to torture pygmies.

Don't get me wrong, my kids are fantastically talented and so are a couple of their peers. It's just that I've already heard all the off-key John Phillip Sousa and squeaky first-year violin renditions of “Go Tell Aunt Rhodie” that I really care to hear. Attention music teachers of the world: Play some Metallica or some Muse or some Pig Destroyer or something, anything, else, this year, 'kay?

I have six children, four of whom have graduated from high school and two of which only have a year to go. Counting the three who went to preschool for two years, that's 75 Open Houses Lance and I have attended. 75. "This is a classroom. This is a book. This is a teacher. I'm all out of syllabi." I think I've got the hang of it now, thanks.

I'll scream if I see another slick catalog featuring twelve-dollar pretzels and thirty-five dollar rolls of wrapping paper.

Yeah, I'll work the book sale. Again. My, uh, let's see, twenty-fifth book sale. I'm all for literacy but . . . couldn't we sponsor pole-dancers or something this year, instead? If I see another paperback copy of Knocked Out By My Nunga-Nungas, I am afraid that I will spew into the Teen Classics.

You iron the choir robes this year. I have ironed enough choir robes to clothe the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and all their friends and relations. Ironing choir robes is like ironing eight-foot sheets of mucus. I don't want to do it any more.

Conferences. I could give you chapter and verse on parent-teacher-student conferences. “Your kid is a genius. Everybody loves him/her. I could eat him/her up with a spoon and not even want any dessert. If only s/he would hand in his/her work, I wouldn't have to flunk him/her.” At least when Bender was in school we got a break in this department: “I think you should have this child euthanized. If this was MY child, I'd beat him to death with a bicycle chain. Seriously. This child is the devil.” Ah, those were the days. Good ol' Bender.

Up at six every weekday morning since 1988. Making sure there's a healthy snack on the table and a clear hour for chatting and unwinding every weekday afternoon at 3. Date nights pre-empted by PTA meetings. Vacation days spent chaperoning choir trips. The smell of the track team. After all these years, there's such a monotonous sameness to the whole “school” thing.

Ah, but . . . when they cross the stage wearing the funny hat and the baggy dress . . . when they grab the folder holding that precious piece of paper and enthusiastically shake some old guy's hand . . . and then when they look anxiously out over the crowd, catch my eye and grin . . .

I never get tired of that.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Keeping the Faith

Mollie writes:

I was meaning to write an entry last night about recycling with children, but, after a day of weeding, I came inside the house to eat my dinner, and, whaddya know, I got locked into the rescue of the Chilean miners.  It was a real high to realize that 33 miners, who had been trapped over two months, would now all be coming up within hours.

While this has nothing to do with parenting, it has everything to do with parenting when you consider the "faith issue." It is amazing that 33 people were able to keep their wits together, take care of each other and themselves, communicate with their families above about their lives, stay healthy AND stay alive.

Frankly, it's a miracle.

I honestly see a spiritual side to this that has nothing to do with organized religion, simply the humble acknowledgment that we are not alone on this earth.  Over and over, the miners have stated that it was their faith that kept them strong.  Not one, so far, has been proselytizing, merely answering the obvious question,  "How did you survive?"

Once, when my 10 month old was having intractable seizures, I was close to panic.  We were in the ambulance, rushing him to the closest ER.  He'd been having seizures for at least 10 minutes and I was dangling on a thin thread.  Saying that I was praying is an understatement.  I was begging for my son to have relief.

At one point, in the depth of my despair, a warm feeling rushed into my soul.  I felt a gentling of my feelings and swear that the thought "It will be ok" washed over me.

I've never been a particularly religious person.  I don't usually go to church, don't bring my personal spiritual feelings into the polls, don't threaten others with eternal damnation if they don't agree with me, and I certainly don't have an insider's role in the workings of God.  But I do believe in God, and I know that God was with the miners just as God was with me in my hour of need.

It would be nice to understand that God isn't a meanie. Bad things don't happen because God is punishing us, only that bad things happen in a natural life.  Suffering is a natural part of life, just as elation is a natural part of life.  And a natural life is a gift from God.

So, I'll probably be watching TV off and on today (it depends on how guilty I start to feel about all those weeds).  It will be wonderful to see the miners be reborn, one by one, into this natural world.  It's nice to think that this life is a gift from a God who loves each of us, not just a special few.

Keep the faith!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Why What You Do Is Important

When the Truth Hits your Eye Like a Big Pizza Pie,
That’s A-moral

Millie writes:

Speaking of Grand Theft Garden Gnome (as Mollie was last weekend), I had an interesting Facebook exchange the other day with one of the kids who used to hang out with our Sassy. Here it is in its entirety, though it has been “sanitized” for this family site:

BA-Betty16 Lmao, F***ing garden gnomes >.< • CheechChong likes this.

CheechChong Down with the Gnomes

BA-Betty16 i colored one to look like a nazi ahaha

CheechChong lol if had 3 recycling cans of gnomes

BA-Betty16 If had?

CheechChong iv had lol sorry do u know what gnoming is?

BA-Betty16 like gnome hunting? when you steal people's garden gnomes?

CheechChong ya its fun as long as u dont get cough

BA-Betty16 he** yeah! ahaha

CheechChong got away with more the 36 in one night on one run

MillieButtinski That's awful. Srsly. People love their garden gnomes!

CheechChong sucks for ppl

MillieButtinski Stealing is stealing, yo.

BA-Betty16 people may love thier gnomes.. But i love their gnomes more. Ahaha

MillieButtinski Tsk. Kids today. :D Well, when they decide they love YOUR cell phones/MP3 players/laptops more, you'll be cool with that, right? Because "sucks for ppl" works both ways?

BA-Betty16 its a garden gnome.

MillieButtinski When we first moved to NE the first thing that happened was that somebody hopped the fence and stole a bunch of really decorative stuff the kids had given me out of the front yard (no, not garden gnomes, and it wasn't kids who did it, it was one of the tweakers who attend "meetings" at the church down the street). It was a really awful introduction to the neighborhood. We've also been broken-and-entered robbed before (not here), which sucks all out of proportion to the $ amount of what is taken. Anyway, I am done with this, it's getting creepy-parent-stalker-y and I'm sorry.

BA-Betty16 its just a gnome.

CheechChong its just a F***ING GNOME...s**t happens

Charming, no?


Okay, first a little background on Betty. She’s the same age as Sassy and Jack. She and Sassy were good friends in middle school and best friends their freshman year. Last year, when Sassy was having some serious health issues, Betty actually made it possible for her to attend school – Betty pushed Sassy to each class in a rolling office chair and carried her books for her. She’d meet us at the car every morning in the parking lot. Sassy never asked her to do this – she was just that kind of a girl. She had a 4.0 grade point average. She loved her kitty and her mom.

I have no clue who CheechChong is; all I can tell from his Facebook page is that he’s over 21 and pretty well illiterate.

I will be the first to admit that I should have just kept out of this, because even Millie knows that there’s no percentage in trying to preach to a teenager who isn’t yours. Oh, but . . . Betty was one of “our” teenagers, she had “friended” me on Facebook, surely I could jolly her out of this by pointing out that she might be hurting people, right? She hasn’t been around much lately, but it’s BETTY. I can talk to her.

Sanctimonious? You bet; but understandable, I think.

Today when I asked the kids about her, I found out that she’s drifted away from her former crowd. Betty lives with “her mom and some guy who might be her stepdad” now, and “hangs out with the Nazi kid at school” and – most heartbreaking – “used to be cool but that was BEFORE she started doing all the pot and whatever other drugs she could get hold of.” That beautiful little girl has become someone who can no longer tell the difference between right and wrong. She only uses her primitive brain now; her urges are all that matter.

I don’t know her whole story and I never will. I DO know that “friends” like CheechChong have convinced her that she has the right to take what she likes without worrying about anyone else. I DO know that the people who should have kept a very careful eye on Betty’s behavior and on the influences in her young life have failed her. I DO know that I will do anything I can to keep this from happening to one of my kids.

Because she's correct. It’s just 36 garden gnomes, right?

36 counts of trespassing.

36 opportunities to be arrested for theft.

36 chances to be tried as an adult and sent to jail for a very long time.

36 actions that will hurt people she doesn’t even know, just because she thinks it’s “cool.”

Some of the S**T that HAPPENS is preventable, Betty. I’m sorry someone didn’t prevent this from happening to you.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Post-Graduate Parenting

Millie writes:

I've got a foot in both camps, mothering-wise; I've got two minor kids and four legal adults. Two of said adults have flown the nest and all four of them are firmly entrenched in the adult world - with jobs and everything!

Back in my Old Mother Hubbard phase, I used to worry a bit about how my relationship with the kids would change once they were “kids” no longer. If you wonder about the same thing, let me tell you a secret: it gets even better!

I've heard friends who are grandparents talk about how wonderful it is to be able to enjoy a child without having to be responsible for correcting it, and that's sort of how it is for me as the parent of grown-ups. Of course I worry about them from time to time, but they're finished; it doesn't matter to me once they've moved out whether they clean their rooms or eat breakfast. I can help them celebrate their successes and commiserate with their woes, but I can do it without following it up with, “Now go take a bath – USE SOAP and don't forget to clip your fingernails this time or I will clip them for you!”

Once you no longer have to be Nurse Ratched or The Warden from Cool Hand Luke, you're a lot freer to enjoy your children as people. Yours can evolve into more of a Lady Bountiful role, in whatever way it chooses to manifest itself when the mood strikes. If your daughter is having a terrible day at the office, drop off some zinnias and a chai at the front desk for her; take your supervisor son out for coffee and listen to his “personnel” stories. Send your soldier a care package of his favorite cookies and give the poor barista an unasked-for ride to his train when he has to open the coffee shop at 4:30 in the morning.

You don't want to become “that Mom,” the one who won't GO AWAY, of course, but since you are beginning to blossom again as a person in your own right you probably don't have to worry about that. Send them flowers, send them a funny card or a cartoon. Fill their car with gas. Ask them to dinner and prepare their favorite meal. It's a lot of fun to be able to add a little unexpected spice to someone's week, and it's great to be able to be the Mom without having to be the Mother.

Besides, as my own Mom used to tell us: It doesn't kill ya to be nice!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Whidbey Island Watch

Mollie writes:

Living on an island does have its drawbacks.  I went grocery shopping and paid twice as much for some food as I would have paid on the mainland.  But by the time I left home, took the ferry, did all the driving, shopped, took the ferry back to Whidbey and drove back home, carbon footprints, hours and bucks would have been involved.  So, I shop locally and pay more.

One of the plusses about living on an island is crime prevention and security, a big issue for most of the parents I know.  There are no real strangers here, once tourist season ends.  If someone is talking to your child, we all know who it is and what the conversation was about.  You can look up registered sexual offenders on the State of Washington website and know how close one lives to your home, and, more importantly, who they are.  That isn't to say we have no crime, but we have very little.

Going anywhere off the island is a major production.   The ferry on the south end runs every 1/2 hour during the daytime, every hour in the evenings, and shuts down completely at night.  The only other ferry on the island runs less frequently because of tides.  It often shuts down completely if the tide is low.  This ferry is on the central part of this 41 mile long island.

Then, there's the Deception Pass Bridge.  It is breathtakingly beautiful, but is also breathtakingly hard to maneuver.  The lanes are narrow, the speed is 25 MPH, and passage is on to another island, Fidalgo.  Oh, and you have to pass through Oak Harbor, home of Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, where multiple military families live, and yes, keep an eye on things.  So this place is pretty safe.

It has to be, there's no place to hide!

So I was surprised to get an e-mail from a gardening friend who lives not far from me.  It seems she and her husband came home from dinner out to find somebody had parked a car on their five acre spread and was skulking around their house.   They called the police on their cell phone and returned to the highway, only to watch the potential perp get into his car and drive off.

But you just don't get far on Whidbey Island.  The cops arrived at my friend's home and got a complete description of the prowler, his car AND his license plate number.  But the pursuit didn't stop there.

Maura went to her PC and alerted all of her buds of her ordeal. The next thing you know, her e-mail goes viral on the island and everyone and their Labradoodle is on the lookout for a 85 Oldsmobile Cutlass, beige,  license plate # &*&%$$# (number withheld to protect the guilty).  So the perp was rounded up, brought to task, and all was handled Island-style.

Now we can't all live on an island, though it would be nice.  But we can take a more active role in crime prevention.  If you see a crime in progress, call it in.  Be a good citizen and give the cops as much information as you can safely retrieve.  Take photos with your cell phone, if you can.

And let folks know.  I don't care if it's bullying, sexual molestation or grand theft garden gnome, we all deserve a peaceful place to live.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Bullying, Part III

Mollie writes:

As parents, we are always soul-searching.  "Did I handle that well?"  "Did the kid get it?"  "Did I come off too strongly?"  "Did I miss the point completely?"  We spend 18 years raising our children only to spend eternity second guessing ourselves.

There has always been bullying in our society, we are a fountain of competitive living.  We've always fussed over "Keeping up with the Jones" and whose kid is an honor student at which middle school.  And our kids grow up with the stress of potty-training before age 3 and graduating from high school with honors.  It's no surprise that they lash out at each other in their own mini-cultures, be it classrooms, dorms, soccer teams or slumber parties.  Even the game of "Life" has winners and losers, for goodness sake, reinforcing the need to win in inconsequential ways.

Is it any wonder that our 'stronger' kids feel the need to conquer the 'weaker' ones?  We are an intensely competitive society and we introduce our kids to this from the second they emerge from the birth canal (can anyone say Apgar scale?).  While this is a handy way to assess a neonate immediately upon birth, it's hardly a harbinger of future life.  It only assesses breathing, reflexes, pulse, tone, etc.  at the time of delivery.  But, nevertheless, the race has begun.

I noticed with my own kids the intense need to compete.  One child is completely different from the other, one being math and science oriented, the other being artistic and emotive.  This isn't to say that the math guy isn't sensitive, or the artistic one pragmatic.  It just means that they follow their own internal wiring.  But one bristles at the other's individual differences.  And I am left to wonder - what happened?

It drives me crazy when people put down engineers.  Why is it necessary to dehumanize the folks who bring us bridges, electrical power or mechanical wonders?  But in certain circles, comments about engineers border on cruelty.  The same can be said about housewives, that women who stay home with their kids only do so because they lack the skills for anything else.  And an art degree? Heavens, it should come with a book that interprets "Do you want fries with that" in 20 languages.  What's wrong with working at a fast food restaurant if it supports your real career?  And what's wrong with earning 30K a year when a friend earns 100+K upon graduation from college?

Bullying goes on in our society whether or not we admit it, and often we are personally guilty of it ourselves.  When was the last time any of us felt 'bigger' because our children brought home straight A's?  A lot of us measure our own value by the victories of our kids.

It should come as no surprise that some children carry this competitive impulse too far.  I've heard small children chastise each other because their Matchbox car collection was inadequate or their ears unpierced.

It's nice to have milestones to measure growth, and grades to measure academic accomplishment.  But as a society, we continually confuse grades, Apgar scores, height and weight, skin color, ethnic background, religious values, sexual orientation, and a host of other individual traits as a value to be measured.  It isn't.  It's only a very biased way we evaluate a particular soul at any one time.


It would be nice if we could rise from our own personal abysses and understand that blonde is neither prettier OR dumber.  That a PhD in engineering only means that a person is well educated in a limited area.  That a degree in divinity doesn't mean that a person is closer to God (imagine that, God loving us all equally!?).

It's time to celebrate individual differences.  When our kids graduate from high school, does it matter when they first slept through the night dry?  It bears no relevance!

This Mollie wants parents to come to the conclusion that Garrison Keillor was actually right and NOT joking that all children are above average.  Each soul carries the potential for good and evil, each little person is an adult in formation.  We need to get off the track that bigger is better,  that one religious perspective is the ONLY way to God, that my mommy loves me more because she stays home with me (or works to buy athletic trainers for me) etc.  We need to build a foundation of love and tolerance, not hate and disgust.

When we do this, we will put an end to school bullying.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Bullying, Part 2

Millie says:

This topic hits pretty close to home for the members of my family. You may remember, 8 or so years ago, watching “Good Morning America” (or any of a half-dozen talk shows) and seeing video tape from a school-bus surveillance camera showing a twelve-year-old boy being brutally beaten and kicked by 3 older boys while other children looked on.

That boy, Casey Woodruff, was my nephew.

This case became something of a cause célèbre for the anti-bullying proponents, because Casey's parents sued the school board for failing to protect their son – and, eventually, they won.

Of course, during the course of the lawsuit counsel for the school district did their best to smear Casey's parents, Casey himself and his siblings by intimating that the parents were overprotective, Casey was a sniveling wimp who brought it on himself and the siblings were – guilty by association, I guess. The monetary award was merely a token, but the family had not sued for money; they sued because it was the only recourse they had left, the only way they had to spur the school district to take action against these bullies.

During this ordeal, our family learned the hard way that a lot of those “conventional wisdom” edicts about bullying are no longer true – if they ever were:

Boys will be boys. This is usually said in a patronizing tone, as if a gang of brothers hitting, kicking and kneeing in the groin a younger child every single school day for a year is merely a rite of passage for all the little darlings, like lisping or growing armpit hair. No. Some boys will be bullies, thugs and murderers if you let them. So will some girls.

You'll make it worse if you get involved. If your child tells you that he is being bullied, you must act, and you must act now. First and foremost, believe the child. You don't have to go off half-cocked before you learn all the sides of the story, but you must take your child seriously. If you don't get involved, and the school doesn't get involved . . . nothing will change. Stay involved until your kid is safe, and keep checking that he stays that way.

Tell them, “Just ignore it and they will go away.” This doesn't work. This never worked. Some people feel that the thing to tell your child is to fight back just as hard as they can the first time anyone touches them; even if they lose the fight, the thinking goes, future bullies will look for easier targets. While this may be a little too far the other way – and I'm not sure it is, mind you – it certainly beats doing nothing at all. Help your kids develop a few one-liners and other verbal coping mechanisms, teach them to hang around where the adults are, enroll them in self-defense classes, but don't tell them to ignore it. By the way: If you tell your kids that they can't start fights, but they are allowed to fight back, they may be suspended or expelled along with the bully. Do you care? Because I sure don't.

A certain amount of bullying toughens up a kid. No. A certain amount of bullying hurts and confuses a kid; prolonged bullying leaves him broken-hearted, bewildered and desperate. A bullied child may begin to think he really does deserve to be treated that way, that he really isn't worth protecting. This is why you must, must take bullying seriously; even if your child doesn't suffer lasting physical harm, it will forever distort his self-image.

My kid would never be a bully.
Your kid probably has been a bully. They are often characterized as being loners with poor social skills, but actually they usually have better-than-average leadership traits and a fairly extensive network of friends. It's the group mentality – the desire to impress the lookers-on – that drives most bullies. Almost everyone has taken a crack at bullying someone weaker than they are (aggressive teasing counts), but most kids don't get stuck there.

Bullying is always physical. Wrong-o. It can be, for sure – it can involve fists, feet, guns, knives, chains and whatever else the bully can get his hands on. It can also be strictly verbal, with mean teasing and taunts. The words don't even have to be addressed to the victim – some kids are bullied by others starting vicious rumors about them or spreading insults over the Internet. It all hurts. It all counts.

If my kid was being bullied, I'd know it. Wrong again. According to the Department of Education's “Stop Bullying Now” website, only ¼ to ½ of the kids who are bullied will tell an adult; boys and older children are less likely than girls or little kids to tell. Bullied kids are embarrassed and ashamed that they are being singled out and may not want you to know that they can't handle it themselves.

If your kid does tell you that he is being bullied, listen. Learn. And act. If you don't protect him – who will?

PS – Casey grew up to be a fine young man.
The Aftermath of Bullying, Allison Seale
HRSA: Myths About Bullying

Monday, October 4, 2010


Mollie writes:

There is so much floating about the cyber world about bullying that I just have to include my own 2.5 cents worth.

When my boys were in grade school, there was an enormous amount of bullying going on.  The "Call of the Wild" in elementary school is where most peer bullying begins.  Boys compete on the strangest levels.  Who has the most baseball cards or who has the coolest TMNJ accessories was often the source of many arguments.  Girls weren't exempt either, since who had the longest hair, pinkest bedroom, or sexiest Barbie wardrobe ruled the roost at school.

It begs the question - why is the ethical life of children so vacant?  I know that the 80's and 90's were vacuous times, with society devaluating children, childhood and life in general.  But it seemed to me that bullying hit its zenith when my kids were young.

A friend of mine, Kay, carries the scars of this.  Her son was bullied in school, and it was impossible for her to address this issue with the teacher and principal of the school.  Time and again, often with me in tow, she went to the school hierarchy to register her complaints about this situation, and time and again, she was turned away.  Since our sons were in the same class, I'd hear about the beatings, whacking, name calling and other acts of bullying from my own son.  Since we belonged to the same "Mothers' Underground" I went with Kay to meetings so that she would have a witness to her efforts.

All we ever heard was the strong encouragement on the part of the Principal and the teacher that this 8-year old had to stand up for himself.  The teacher in this class was so frightened, herself, of the bully AND his parents that she refused to step in.  So much for leading by example!

I felt Kay's frustration.  There is this terrible onus one carries when you stand up for what is Right.  And it would have been Right for the kid who was doing the bullying to come to terms with his anti-social behavior.  It would have been Wrong for Kay's son to have to give the kid a licking since our whole point in the bulllying issue was "Might does not make right."  But try explaining that to an educator in the 90's.

John and I moved in the 90's, and changed school districts.  I just didn't have the heart to be a witness to this atrocity.  Kay and her family moved, too, changing school districts.

It was the best we could do during these trying times.  A change of environment was all the kids needed to see that the bullying was wrong, not just for themselves, but their parents.  Seeing your parents take on the school bureaucracy was also, we hoped, therapeutic.  Leaving that bully to torment other kids in the absence of Kay's child was a terrible down side, but we had to be honest, that child was doomed to flourish with aggressive parents and wimpy educators.

Kay's son is doing just fine, BTW.  He graduated from high school as a student body officer, was an honors graduate from college, and is now enjoying the rewards of a life ethically followed.  But I always wonder, what happened to the bully?

We have our Dylans and Erics and Kips, the fodder of school bullying, taken to a surrealistic levels.  I understand that these boys were teased and bullied relentlessly in elementary and middle school.  For heaven's sake, both Kip Kinkle's parents were educators in the same school district that Kip shot up.  They were also  his first victims.  Dylan Klebold's mom was also an educator.  Yet she appears to be stunned by the outcome of ignoring school bullying and violence.

Being the victim of bullying does not condone acts of violence.  Kay and I were successful with our children because we spoke up.  We didn't believe then, nor do we believe now, that striking back was an option.  Parents forming an alliance together with the school staff would have been much more pro-active, but it wasn't an option then.

It might not be 'cool' to be an involved parent angered by classroom bullying, but it's the Right thing.  Dealing with bullying needs to be a social imperative.


Sunday, October 3, 2010


Masturbation is a touchy subject (pun totally intended), and is often approached with trepidation.

As a whole, the human race has two primal needs: feed and procreate. We've become fixated on both, sometimes to an unhealthy extent. Now, somewhere along the way, sex was made out to be a bad thing; something dirty and unmentionable in polite society. Right? Sex inside marriage is a beautiful thing. I firmly believe that's where it should stay.

But we're not talking about sex. We're talking about self-gratification. Growing up in a house with three girls (myself included) and two boys, sex came up. Our parents talked to us about saving ourselves for marriage and all that good stuff. They talked to the boys about masturbation.. because, well frankly, it is more obvious when a boy is aroused.

They didn't tell us girls anything about masturbation.

I have three girls and fully intend on speaking with them about it. I have to tell my two year old to stop touching herself because, quite frankly, her hands are probably filthy and I don't want her to get an infection. My four year old son has asked me "Do I have a bone in my penis? Like, a circle bone?" I admit I was a bit startled and blushed when he asked me that... I also admit that I just told him no, he doesn't have a bone.. and will let his father tell him more about, well, "boners" (term seems to fit at the moment) when he is old enough to understand.

I remember the first time I was aroused and had no clue what was going on, or what to do about it. I was confused and even a bit ashamed. Admittedly, I was once accosted in a sexual manner as a seven year old (which was never properly dealt with) and think that perhaps that is where the shame stems from? I don't know.

All I do know is that your girls need to be spoken to, just like you speak to your boys. Be matter of fact. Give them the information. Don't let them feel ashamed. The way I figure it, if we were only meant to have pleasure while having intercourse, we wouldn't be able to touch those pleasurable areas on our own.

P.S. Sigh. I had my husband read that last bit, and he says that argument doesn't work. "Just because we can smoke weed, does it mean we should? Just because we can kill someone, does it make it right?" Sure, if you want to get technical about it, what I said makes no sense. However, in this particular case, I think it works. Just because you can shoot holes in your wife's theories, doesn't mean you should. Just sayin'.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Love the One You're With

Millie writes:

This month marks a big ending-in-0 anniversary for me and Lance, the anniversary of our decision that, yes indeed, we could live happily ever after - and the vow to make it happen. We're celebrating this milestone by . . . doing the same things we always do.

Before you get indignant on my behalf, Gentle Reader, know that this is not a complaint. Lance and I have a pretty large dose of romance in our everyday lives. We send each other poetry and music, we walk hand-in-hand along the riverbank, we have champagne toasts and all the other classic “romantic” things. We also have things that are unique to our relationship that wouldn't seem romantic to anyone else, like Fig Newtons and bridges and stop lights. I've known Lance since we were 15 years old, and the accidental brush of his hand against mine still sends tingles up my spine.

While you might think, “Well, she just got lucky,” you'd only be partly correct. I got lucky all right, there's no question about that; but the luck was in loving a man who knows the importance of keeping romance alive. The rest of it is planning, preparation and effort. If I read that a lunar eclipse is going to be visible in our part of the world, I find out where and when it will be, set the alarm clock, and pack the GPS, a thermos of hot chocolate, a cooler of chocolate-dipped strawberries and a blanket into the car. If he think things need shaking up a bit, he'll get us tickets to a rodeo and we'll dance the night away afterward on the sawdust under the stars.

Romance is something that fits any budget; the love note slipped into the book you're currently reading is just as sweet as the impromptu trip to Canada for lunch. (Boy was that an adventure!) Huge surprises like trips to tropical islands or new convertibles are great, and if you can afford them you should spring one on your sweetie every once in a while. However, letting the little things slide in favor of making one huge gesture is a mistake. It's the day to day things like baking his favorite cookies, rubbing her neck and sending “I love you” emails (even though you're working in the same room) that keep your hearts lifted all the time.

Life is hard and dirty and often full of really awful things; you don't need to be reminded of that. If you concentrate on that stuff too much, it's easy to lose sight of the good things in your life. If you are in love with someone who loves you back, no matter what else is going on in your world you are very, very lucky.

Conventional wisdom says that couples lose the intensity of their feelings towards each other after a few months or a year; that the “honeymoon period” goes away. I say, that's wrong. What really happens is that Life tries to intervene, and we allow our emotional energies to be diverted to the power bill, the kid with asthma and the status report. These things must all be dealt with, I agree; but they're easier to handle if you keep them in the proper perspective. You are with each other today because, at one point, you decided that you'd never be completely happy if you couldn't be together for the rest of your lives.

So BE together.

Keep doing the things for each other that you did when you first felt that new flush of love. Bring him coffee in bed; make her mix CDs; shower together, go to the movies, send love notes through the mail. You know, nobody better, how to make your significant other feel loved: Do it. Often. You'll reap what you sow.

And Lance: Happy October!