Getting ready for summer!

I haven’t quite figured out when to “change out” the boys’ clothes and finally switch seasons. We had a spell of warmth that demanded the window air conditioners….and then we pulled out the blankets!

But as June arrives, there are just so many wonderful things to do. Check out this list by Pittsburgh Mommy Blogger! Of course, my kids’ favorite is anything that involves water, so I’ve decided it’s time to switch my car over to summer! (And according to the Farmer’s Almanac, it’s going to be a Scorcher this summer!)

My advice after 8 years: This is what you need to have in the trunk this summer:

  1. Swim bag for each kid
    1. swimsuit
    2. beach towel
    3. plastic goggles – the cheap ones because they constantly lose them, bite them to pieces, or otherwise mangle some part of them
    4. sunglasses – which go by the same rule as the goggles
    5. a change of clothes.
  2. Mommy’s swim bag (my favorite bag is a tote by LLBean which they don’t seem to carry any more, but it’s held up!)
    1. Sunscreen
    2. Extra towels
    3. Snacks for rumbly bellies
    4. Cash at all times (replace when used up!!) to buy more snacks for rumbly bellies because they don’t really want the healthy ones that you packed.
    5. Bandaids – you know that they will actually never abide by the “no running” rule around a pool!
    6. Tissues – love when the boys surface from below the water with boogers streaming down into their mouths, completely oblivious, and I try to pretend not to notice ….while motioning dramatically in one of those “get-over-here-and-wipe-your-snot!!” fashions.  Must have tissues….though baby wipes or the towel can be used in a pinch!
  3. Insect repellant – the tick season is upon us and Lyme Disease is hitting epidemic proportions in Southwest PA. Here’s some information from a friend of mine who is THE Lyme Disease expert in the whole world….or at least in Pennsylvania! Dr. Andrew Nowalk’s Lyme disease frequently asked questions
  4. Baby wipes – I can’t say enough about the importance of having these in the car at all times! They clean chocolate off the steering wheel (it happens!), sticky fingers, forgotten-mashed-smelly banana pieces, and so much more. In fact, I love baby wipes so much, I wrote a whole post about them almost 2 years ago!
  5. Bottles of water – this is particularly important for boys who are almost always thirsty, especially after running around under the hot summer sun. But they also come in handy cleaning up messes when you’ve decided to let the younger twoNate mud 5-14wp play by themselves on the other side of the soccer field while Super Tall Guy has practice and you, for the first time ever, spend the session talking with another mother. And then the younger boys return covered head to toe, very literally, in mud and you remember why you never stand and talk to another mother!!  It was particularly humorous, though, to hear another parent find the two boys (as I stood rustling in the trunk for the water) saying, “Um….does anyone know who these kids belong to?” in that unmistakably disapproving tone.  Yes – me… the negligent mother who is happy the boys found dirt, yet slightly distracted by finding ways to keep too much mud from settling inside the car! (Side note – a head full of mud-laden ringlets leads to a very long bath punctuated with clear joy that beckons the other boys to see that the water has become “poop.”  An inspiring conversation about this episode on Facebook has me contemplating the name for a new daycare center or boys’ school – “Boogers, Poop and Bugs.”  Has a fine ring to it, doesn’t it?!)
  6. Rounding out the back of my van, it also helps to have an umbrella (because it suddenly storms), fold-up camp chairs (because I get tired of standing for soccer/flag football), miscellaneous balls to toss around, and $20 cash hidden in the car for the spontaneous pull-over to an ice cream stand moment!

Summer is a joy! Savor every hot sizzling moment and pray there’s an ice cream truck in your neighborhood!

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Parenting 101

I was at the older boys’ basketball session the other day and sat near a man that I knew years ago.  We hadn’t seen each other for many years and now were reconnecting with our sons being in the same basketball league. He had brought one of his friends to come watch and I sat beside this man and “eavesdropped” on their conversation about parenting.

Naturally, I was not silent for long before I just “had” to share some of my favorite parenting books (for boys, it’s currently “Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys). This got the conversation going about what does it take to be a good parent.  After realizing that we were clearly depressing the man who was about to become the father of a newborn in a month (you will never get good sleep again, no book could possibly prepare you for this, there’s no guaranteed-to-work discipline technique, we did remember to throw in some of the “good” stuff.

There is a lot of good stuff. And there is a lot of joy in parenting. There’s also some real and natural struggles.  Some of my key points were:where-the-wild-things-are

– Remember to forgive yourself. You are doing your best….and new mercies for the day begin every morning.

– Parenting is an opportunity to see the world again. Things that we have forgotten or have forgotten to look at become brand new through the eyes of a child – the flower, the bee, the sunset, the water droplet…

– Parenting will help you identify all your “faults” and “issues” – just in case you want to work on them for “growth” and “maturation.”

– Baby wipes can clean anything.

– You will never get good sleep again – except for the times when you go away for the night – and it’s really important to do that regularly.

– Most importantly, surround yourself with other parents who are willing to be “real” and not just pretend that it’s the easiest, most wonderful thing they’ve ever done. There are parents who really do experience that….I salute them with one of those fake “good for you” smiles….but really, you need people who will vent and laugh and cry with you.  For you will laugh and cry often at the same time….especially if you have boys….as you try to figure out exactly why he felt the need to kick in the basement window?!?!?!

– Make sure that you laugh more than cry :).

The third beautiful brown boy…

I have a book on my shelf (or the pile beside my bed) about transcultural (transracial) adoption. I should probably read it and feel a bit more informed rather than just mosey along merrily.  But I don’t really feel like devoting the time to it right now (there always seems to be something more pressing).

But it actually is a real part of my life.  I picked Micah up from school one day this week and he started asking questions about Martin Luther King, Jr. (it’s Black History Month). He was actually most interested in the facts about his death (and what’s the name of the man who shot him). But as we galloped down the stairway (he always says we’re racing, but then takes off first so I can’t pass him), he told me about a movie they

    The boys after bath

The boys after bath

watched in school. He started explaining that there are white people and black people and that the black people were not allowed to do anything like go to school or ride a bus. Out of extreme curiosity, I interrupted him and asked him, “Micah, are you white or black?” He stopped dead in his tracks on a second step down, looked at his arm, pointed to his brown skin and said without pausing “white,” and skipped on down the steps…”just like you are white.”  I followed along with a smile and we continued the conversation about how many “important men” have been killed for standing up for “important issues.”

Driving home, I thought I might bring it up again. I said, “you know, Micah, you have absolutely beautiful brown skin because your birth mother was white and your birth father was black.” He replied, “I want to be white” and I responded that was absolutely fine. End of story for that day at least.

I was curious because this week, I added another brown little boy to my family (though his skin is the fairest of them all so far). Seth has officially changed his name and officially changed who he belongs to. He is no longer a “ward of the court.” He is a member of our family forever. Several friends joined us at the courthouse downtown to witness the ceremony. The three boys “allowed” me to dress them in dress shirts, vests, ties and slacks…which coordinated so well with their light-up sneakers (I haven’t bought dress shoes …seems a waste of money for one time wear!). They were gorgeous – until the pink and white cupcakes were served and I had to break out the baby wipes. And they were relatively well-behaved in the waiting area (a jurors waiting room) until the balloon-man arrived and equipped them with fencing swords.

As small streams of steam started to emerge from my ears and my voice started emitting at a lower octave, we were called back to the courtroom where we met the judge. The boys noisily took up the benches in the back as he introduced himself and I tried to keep a squirmy Seth on my lap. After answering a few boring legal questions, the judge read the “decree”…..that the child formerly known as KJE-G will “from this day forth and forever more be known as Seth…J…G…W….” Brings tears to my eyes. Those are some powerful words.

Naturally, I worry sometimes. Will I be able to be the best mom for these boys? Will I have the financial resources to care for them? Will I be able to cope if any of them develops significant behavioral or medical issues? Will I be able to keep teen girls away from the heart-throbs that these boys will become? Will I ever be able to keep enough food in the house? Will I be able to help them navigate the divide between black and white and develop a sense of pride in the beautiful brown children that they are and the incredible men that they will become?….

Love can. Welcome to our family Seth, my love.

Ten Bits of Wisdom for a New Adoptive Single Mother

I talked to a colleague this week who just adopted a little boy five weeks ago. She’s single and in her forties and asked me what I thought about single parenting and adoption.  I said “mothering is full of ups and down….usually within the same second.” And though my kids are still pretty young, here’s what I’ve learned so far (a bit more than I shared over the phone with her):

Five “hard” things that will surprise you:

You are going to fail. It’s really hard when you’re used to being a successful, professional woman, but it’s true. There are moments in mothering that you are going to totally and completely bomb. And you’ll know it. You’ll know it the moment you are in it…and yet you won’t be able to do anything about it. You’ll be in the moment and you’ll be doing it all wrong. But…. that moment will end. You will forgive yourself. Your ego will be bruised for a while, but you’ll forgive yourself. And you’ll learn that all moms do that. All moms fail at some moment. What makes a mom great is realizing it, forgiving yourself, trying to learn from it (yeah…..), and moving on. Because you love your child and your child loves you.

That’s the hard one. But it’s true. Here’s another hard one. There will be times that you hear this little voice in your head that says “I wish I never made this decision.” It’s probably somewhere between wiping the poop off the crib railings and stepping on a lego in the middle of the night. It’s probably somewhere in between 39 months of no more than two nights of real sleep in a row and lugging a stroller, diaper bag, kid and two suitcases down the airport hall. It’s there… somewhere. It’s fleeting. It’s shocking. But it’s also real. Life just flipped upside down, you’re on a rollercoaster in the dark, and sometimes you’re not sure you can handle it. And you are scared. But you can handle it. You really can. And you know in your heart of hearts that this is exactly what you want to be doing.

Hmm, I’m on a roll with the hard stuff, because there also comes that time when you realize that parenting has brought out the worst of you. The really ugly side comes out….like anger, grumpiness, impatience. And previously, if you didn’t like a situation you were in or the way it made you feel, you could leave. But now, you can’t. Parenting is 24/7, it doesn’t end. You wake up – the kid is there. You go to sleep – the kid wakes you up. So you must find yourself some breaks and forgive yourself again.

You are going to miss your single life. You’re still “technically” single, but it is so very different now. It’s hard to come to grips with the new limits on your life. No longer can you just jump in the car and head out of town for the weekend (without some serious planning and a trunk full of crap). No longer do you meet up with friends for dinner (without first finding a sitter and contemplating the balance of how many evenings you are away from home). Spontaneity is a whole different version now – you can still have some….until the baby is old enough to need a schedule and then spontaneity becomes “which room do I clean first today?” Gone is the time when you wake up on a Saturday and say “hmmm, what am I going to do today?”

And, you might struggle with the concept of adoption. You might have some bumpiness in bonding with your new one. You might grieve that this child, as beautiful as he is, doesn’t look the least bit like you (or you might rejoice in this). You might be hurt by other people’s glances or words. You might even go so far that you doubt your parenting ability for the child and wonder if some other family should have adopted him. And for this reason, you must have someone in your life who tells you as often as needed, “you are the very woman who is supposed to be his mom.” Because this is true.

Believe me – you will not survive this alone. Don’t even try…for many of the reasons that I’ve just listed. You must have some allies in your camp – a cheering squad, a supporters group, a cadre of friends. (And it’s helpful if all your friends don’t know each other so you can whine to at least 5 or 6 of them about the same thing that the little kiddo just did.) If you have family, move as close to them as you possibly can. Build up a network of people who can take the baby for a couple hours, drop off a gallon of milk in a moment’s notice, sit by you in the ER when the little one is sick, or get out of work early to get the kiddo off the bus on the day you have a really important 3:30 meeting. Cherish these people. They will keep you going. And do not be afraid to ask for help.

Oh – I’m squeezing in a number 6 — Parenting is painful. That surprised me. I never really considered how many times my head was going to get knocked by a flying block. Or a door slammed on my big toe splitting the nail. Or being jumped on from behind when you’re squatting to put on a siblings shoes and falling onto the floor. But the one that always kills me is leaning over your kid to plant a tender kiss on their head, only to have them rear back to look at you and split your lip open or bloody your nose. Real nice. (Okay, back to my list….)

Five wonderful things that will surprise you:

You are going to be amazed at how much you love that child. It is such a powerful emotion, that makes you wipe snot off a nose for the thousandth time. That leads you to lie down beside them long after they’ve gone to sleep just to watch them breathe and their eyes twitch for a few minutes. That causes you to fiercely defend them even when they don’t need it. The love between you and your child is better than anything you could have dreamed of and you can’t even imagine life without him.

You have never known pride until you’ve been proud of your kid. Oh sure, you have felt good about an accomplishment of yours. You’ve been happy for your team or colleagues. But when you watch your son kick his first soccer goal or your daughter stand up and take her first steps – wham! That is powerful pride.

The first time you say it – and believe it! – that you are the baby’s “mother” is pretty fantastic. When you say to yourself, “wow, I’m a mommy. Wow!” It will finally settle in…and your new identity forms. But what’s even more delightful is when your child looks at you and for the first time says “mommy” – you won’t ever forget that moment.

You will spend an entire day getting absolutely nothing done and you’ll be okay with that. You’ll be amazed at how long you can just sit and stare at a baby. You’ll wonder why it took two days to do a load of laundry when you’ve had to sort and fold the clothes over and over again when the boys have “underwear war!” You won’t worry about the dishes in the sink anymore or the crumbs under (and in) the couch – your new “accomplishment” for the day is to have fun, tickle and kiss….and keep the kid alive.

You will understand that becoming a mother was truly, truly the best decision you ever made. Sure you might want a little less vomit to wipe up, but you will know that there’s no other description of yourself that’s more important than to say that you’re a mother. You will be worn out more than ever imagined. You will be frustrated and confused at times. You will do things you never expected to do. And you will be happier than you thought possible – and so grateful for your child and the chance to be a mom.

Call me or a friend to share any of these 10 things…and for anything else.

(Oh….and here’s a couple other simple words of wisdom
– subscribe to Adoptive Families if you want to do a bit more reading and get some suggestions
– definitely sign up for Amazon Mom for free two-day shipping ….including diapers!
– always have extra milk or formula in the house – running out at 9pm is a huge mental drain!
– keep babywipes (and tissues) within an arm’s length…ALWAYS)

Top Ten

We had an office picnic this past week.  It was great – everybody came….all 6 of us!  I brought baby wipes (….okay….and desserts).  You can wipe down a picnic table with them.  You can wash your hands with them before eating.

What many people don’t know, and probably particularly people who do not have kids, is that baby wipes are golden.  They are strong.  They are moist. They can do just about anything.

So here’s my Top Ten List of what baby wipes can clean:

10.  Spills around the minivan cup-holders from mocha lattes (that are just necessary some days to survive after long nights)

9.  Food spills on the couch despite the rule of no food in the living room

8.  Sticky lollipop fingers compliments of the boys’ pediatric office (sugar-free of course)

7.  Dried green snot smeared over cheeks and nose, especially first thing in the morning

6.  Greasy hands from putting a bicycle chain back on….again…and again for the 3-year-old

5.  The dining room table after a meal of spaghetti (good for the floor too)

4.  Chocolate chips ground into the car seat of a 1-year-old who completely demolished a granola bar within a few minutes

3.  Puke on the carpet

2.  Pee on the carpet

1.  Poop on the carpet

(yep, all of that has been tested in private, home-based research, but repeating this research is not necessarily recommended)

What baby wipes can not clean:

10.  Nope – can’t think of a thing….

This is the reason why there is always a box of baby wipes in my car and several of them scattered around the house: third floor for the midnight diaper change; second floor bathroom to clean little behinds before they get into the tub; first floor living room/diaper changing area (we gave up on changing tables long ago…we just chase them around the living room!).

My mind has been spinning this week with “lists” of things related to parenting.  Don’t ask me why baby wipes was the first “list” on my mind, but stayed tuned this week for more lists coming :).

Why the term “mini-van” is a misnomer – it should really be called a “mini-home”

It took me 6 months to deal with the fact that 3 car seats were not going to continue to fit snugly across the backseat of my SUV – 6 months and some splits in the door handle leather that kept getting squished each time I shoved the door closed.  Well, it only took about a month to realize that the 3-in-the-back situation never could work….because from the day we picked Seth up at the hospital, Micah and Noah were now within touching range of each other.  Every parent knows this is a deadly situation.

So, by the end of the year I said goodbye to my nice SUV (ahem…paid off….SUV), and stretched out into a luxurious new-to-me minivan.  And it happens to be on the upper end of luxury – but it was the only one on the lot the day I drove by and spotted it.  I think that was also the last day it was clean!

To me it really is more of a mini-mobile home (though a kitchen sure would be nice).  (It does have a potty – a plastic pop-up one which rests under one of the seats, but isn’t really ever used….because the kids are boys!)  The mobile home carries an odd assortment of items, not all of which are essential, but some are.

Here is my list of “must haves” for any transportation system (kids or not!):

  • Bottles of water – even though they warm up in the middle of summer and are not environmentally friendly, it’s at least once a week that one of the kids is dying of thirst and demanding a drink, even if home is 10 minutes away (and no, I won’t pull over to the side of the road to get one out of the back….every time).
  • A stroller – if you have a kid under 3, you better have at least an umbrella stroller in the back for the spur of the moment stops for fun, or you’ll regret it tomorrow.
  • Cell phone charger – this is most important on the weekends because I often hand my cell phone over to Micah when he wakes me up at 5:45.  He watches a movie and I turn over and sleep for an hour…but this drains the battery so it sometimes needs to be charged (he’s a better excuse than “I forgot to charge it” or “I played too many games of Scramble that it drained”)
  • Some money – I always have $20 stashed somewhere (not telling you where!).  I can’t tell you how often it has gotten me out of a jam (like showing up to dinner with friends and not having my wallet…or running to the store quickly, and …).  I’ve used it so often that I’ve developed a system to prompt me when I need to replace the money as well.  I’m just saying, if you don’t have this already – do it!!  Quarters don’t add up fast enough.
  • The most important thing in a vehicle, of course, is Baby Wipes (brand not important)!  It’s shocking how many uses there are for them – sticky fingers from the lollipop, mocha latte splattered onto the consol, dust on the dashboard, sticky drivers wheel, bits of granola bar ground into the car seat cloth, really just about everything….including a baby’s bum, amazingly enough!
  • And for uniqueness, my mobile home at this very moment contains half a plastic dolphin from a “happy meal” from our beach trip in June, a few spare clean diapers, an umbrella, 2 empty plastic water bottles, 4 one-third less plastic bottle tops from said water bottles scattered across the car, a half-eaten box of Honey Nut Cheerios (the other half appears to be on the floor), one Hot Wheels race car, several granola bar wrappers (oh yes, granola bars belong in the list of “must haves” because the 10-minute ride from day care to home in the evenings can become disastrous with hungry tummies!), the swimming bag, the “floatie” for Noah in the pool, an extra pair of Noah shoes (I just took out a pair of socks 2 days ago…), and the ever-present box of tissues (which can work in a pinch if you’ve run out of baby wipes!).
  • Finally, I think the best thing I’ve purchased is a plastic bucket for the back seat so that Micah has his own trash can.  I mean, how many 6-yr-old boys wouldn’t love their own trash can?  He loves it so much, he’d rather keep it clean and just throw the dirty tissues (yes, he has his own tissue box, too – I do not have elasta-arms!) on the floor!  But it really is the thought that counts.

What are your must-haves?