Mom! Want to play a game?

6 year old Seamus has been hard at work after school lately, scribbling notes to himself on the coffee table in our den and muttering under his breath for up to an hour. None of us are sure what he’s up to, but by now we all know better than to interrupt him.

Last Thursday, he asked me if I would like to see what he’d been working on. I said I’d love to.

I nodded calmly, surveying his work like Shelley Duvall in The Shining when she discovers that Jack Nicholson has been typing reams and reams of doggerel while insisting he not be disturbed.

Oh my God OH MY GOD MY SON IS INSANE. Please review the answer to number six with me: yes, eleven A’s, a four down and up, an eight up, a one up, then A+++.  for the love of all that is holy: what was the question?

I looked up at my son’s expectant face. “Uh. What does this mean?” I asked, gingerly. 
Seamus smiled– he thought I’d never ask. “It’s a GAME! Want to play?”

When a child asks a mother if she wants to play a game, there is always the truth (no) and what she is obligated to say (golly, sure). And so I “played” that game with Seamus for a while, which consisted of me sitting and watching him scribble and talk to himself. I still have no idea what was going on, but number 13 had twenty-four A’s. And that meant he won.

I am thrilled that my son is able to occupy himself so contentedly. However, I am still a little concerned by his proximity to A Beautiful Mind territory. More the loco part than the genius part.

His godmother has pointed out that Seamus’s “game” looks like a series of increasingly positive eBay seller reviews. And hey, all eBay sellers are completely well-adjusted, right? 
I don’t think Seamus has ever been on eBay, but all those A+’s must at least indicate a child who sees his glass as half-full.

Have you a scribbling genius in your home? 

changing the world, one month at a time: meet

This week, I’ve fallen in love with a website that is changing lives.

Love Drop is a micro-giving community that unites to make a difference in the lives of one person or family a month. With each member giving $10, $5, or even $1, they make a huge difference in the life of one deserving family every month. 

This month’s love drop is for Ethan and Alex, two severely autistic boys who are (for the most part) non-verbal. Their family wants to get them a service dog from 4 Paws for Ability, not only for companionship and therapy, but also to keep the boys safe (seven-year-old Ethan often tries to run away).  The dog itself is free- it’s the training that is very expensive. 

Watch the short film below to learn a little more about their family: 

This Saturday, Love Drop is going to Ethan and Alex’s house to present them with the funds that have been raised. They are thisclose to having enough money ($13,000) to get Ethan and Alex their service dog. And then it all starts over again next week, with a new family, a new story, a new way to help.

I hope you’ll consider joining Love Drop with me. 

what all kids need: someone to push them, someone not to

This morning, we awoke to nine inches of freshly fallen snow at my in-laws’ house, which is just ten minutes away from a ski mountain. We had decided to spend the long weekend here in hopes that the kids might ski; after the freakish 67-degree February day we had last week, we weren’t so sure. This was almost too good to be true. 

The boys dragged me out of bed early so I could show them where I had packed all their ski stuff (in plain sight, by the way), and they were halfway dressed when Connor suddenly started complaining of a stomachache. “I wish I could ski SOOO MUCH, but I c-can’t, because my tummy REALLY HURTS,” he whined.

My husband wasn’t having it. Neither was I, really; Connor is the Boy Who Cries I-Don’t-Want-To-Go, and then he always has the time of his life. “You are GOING,” David growled, and I was totally with him, until I remembered that my son has been taking antibiotics for the past five days. And not really eating. Which can cause stomach pain. And maybe, just maybe, in this particular circumstance, he was telling the truth.

Next stop: a classic mother-father standoff, with David saying this was nonsense and put your ski pants on and we are going RIGHT NOW, and Connor crying, and me saying will you calm down he is SICK. Maybe. And are you really going to *make* him go skiing, is that the kind of memory you want to create?

And what was weird about it all is while David was saying “This is IT, I am drawing a line in the sand,” I could tell he wasn’t 100% sure he was right. And when I responded, “You are being ridiculous,” I wasn’t so sure he was wrong.

I had one card left to play, and so I did: I told the boys that if they went skiing, I would too. And I REALLY did not want to go. I never ever downhill skied until a year ago, and while I was at that time quite proud of myself for mastering the bunny slope, I’m in no rush to repeat the experience. But Connor didn’t budge– not even laughing at Mommy on skis was enough to sway him– and that’s when I was pretty almost definitely sure that he really was sick.

In the end, no one skied, Daddy went to the gym, and now everyone’s playing Legos while Maggie naps. I got Connor some probiotics at the drugstore; on the way I called my mom and told her the whole story. “That’s why kids need a mother and a father,” she said. “They need someone to comfort them, and someone to push them.” 

In other words, that disagreement is at the center of what parenting is all about.  My God, she’s right. Kids need the yin and the yang. And while neither I (nor my mother) think that only heterosexual couples– or only two-parent families–  can provide that for their children, I do think that all children need someone fulfilling each of those roles in their lives: someone to say “Be careful on those monkey bars,” and someone else to say, “Let me see how high you can climb.” 

Which one are you?

how many chores can kids really handle? Eloise Wilkin’s point of view

Last week we had a lively discussion sparked by my meeting a mother who claimed her five and seven-year-old sons do all her family’s laundry without any supervision on her part. Here’s the consensus we seem to have reached: while it is very important for kids to have responsibilities so they don’t go off to college not knowing how to turn a washer ON, it is also very important for them to be kids, and not do too much of the heavy lifting. But how to find that balance? How much is enough responsibility, how much is too much? 

Last night, I was reading to Maggie from one of her very favorite story collections- the “Eloise Wilkin Golden Book Treasury,” a collection of that author’s apple-cheeked children first drawn fifty years ago. Maggie chose the story “We Help Mommy,” and while I have read that story many times– not just to her, but to myself, many moons ago– last night I saw the book with new eyes.  Won’t you read along with me? 

Here’s the cover. Look at them, with their wee broom and dustpan, Sally in her starched apron! Maggie does that very thing with a play Dustbuster. Although it doesn’t actually bust any dust. 

They help their Mommy every day. Doesn’t that sound nice? They take off their jammies without even being asked! (That’s more than I can say about a certain six-year-old.)

Sweet Mother of God, is that three-year-old using a TOASTER while her four-year-old brother fries eggs on a hot plate? A hot plate which would be pulled from stores in 1962 after a rash of horrifying house fires? “You two are a big help,” says Daddy, and by “help,” he apparently means, “make my breakfast while I take my morning seat in the bathroom down the hall.” 

“Pull the sheet tight,” Mommy says, standing in the doorway, in her kind-of-mad voice. Sally and Bobby pull until there’s not a wrinkle left because the last time Mommy tried to bounce a quarter off her bed, and it didn’t bounce, she made their tummies feel a little funny inside.

Then they dust and vacuum and mop, under all the furniture, EVERY DAY, while Mom surreptitiously texts her friend: “3 pm martinis my hous B THER.”

Actually, it’s a toy soldier in the mother’s hand. But may I point out to you: that is the first toy we have seen in this narrative, and it is not being held by a child.

After that, it’s a quick trip through the grocery store. Apples and raisins! Criminy, is it Christmas morning?

Then it’s lunchtime. Sally and Bobby make their own sandwiches, and then, Slap! Mommy puts them together, sprinkling some ash from her cigarette on top. What yummy sandwiches!

It goes on from there: setting the table, washing the dishes, reorganizing the kitchen, doing a few loads of laundry (with parental supervision, it must be stated), hanging the wash out to dry on the line, the three-year-old with her mouth full of clothespins. 

Soon, it is time for them to put away their books and toys, after their allotted “play time” from 5:57 to 6:00 p.m. Then they retire to their slave-barracks, where Daddy reappears just in time to tuck them in. “I’m so hungry, Daddy, “Sally tells him. “That’s all right,” Daddy responds, patting her arm. “I sure enjoyed the dinner you made for me. It was a delicious treat. For a servant’s heart, that is its own reward.” Sleep tight, Sally and Bobby! Tomorrow you have to beat the carpets and mulch the front lawn.

James Lileks is the king of reinterpreting found texts, and I owe him props here. If you’ve never read his work, start with his interpretation of the 1973 Sears catalogue. 

is your dad funny?

While in kindergarten, each of my sons has participated in a daily classroom poll, giving them a chance to state their opinions and practice writing their names in one fell swoop. 

A few years ago, when Connor was five, the question was: Is your dad funny?

David was not amused, but his co-workers sure were (when I emailed them the photo). 

Yesterday, it was Seamus’s turn.

Now the kids are signing in on a Smart Board instead of a piece of paper, which is soooo 2008. (By the way, there is no kid named “Hug to” in my son’s class; admittedly boys’ names are getting a little more unusual these days, but that is the Smart Board deciding, in a Damn You Auto Correct sort of way, that “Hugo” was spelling his own name wrong.)

But while the times may have changed, the answer remains the same: my sons are in fervent agreement that their father is not funny.

“Shea, really? I’m not funny at ALL?” David asked this morning, with puppy-dog eyes.
Seamus considered his Raisin Bran, chewing thoughtfully.
“Nope,” he said, all the more certain he had chosen correctly.

I’ll admit my husband is no Jim Gaffigan, but he was pretty funny this morning, trying to prove that he was, and getting nowhere.

“What about Mom? Is she funny?” he asked, after trying a few silly dances, to no avail.

“Yep.” “Uh huh,” the boys agreed. 

This is because I’ll do anything for a laugh at my house. I’ll do poop jokes at the dinner table. I’ll belch and then pretend it was Maggie. I have no shame. 

Still, it’s a big relief, since I have a lot more of my self-esteem and career wrapped up in being funny than my husband does. But it bothers me that the teachers never ask if moms are funny. That’s not even an expectation. They might ask “Is your mom a good cook?” but funny? Why, Christopher Hitchens settled that question way back in the pre-Smart-Board years: women aren’t funny. Quod erat demonstrandum.

I would like to put Hitchens’s theory to the test tomorrow, and settle this matter on the Smart Board once and for all. But. If Seamus said I wasn’t funny, I might never recover. 

Though it would be pretty funny.

If you’re home tonight, please tune in to Blue Bloods on CBS at 10 pm. I play Elaine Carson, a mom who is having a regular day until her daughter gets kidnapped. I cry a LOT. Lucky me– I got to play out every mother’s worst nightmare! 

Also, you may have noticed that I’ve installed “Disqus” commenting software on the blog, which allows things like threaded comments, meaning I can respond to comments individually- and so can you. It also makes it easier to comment– and I think it’s a big improvement. Hope you like it.