The Beautiful Colors Fancy Club for BOYS!!!! <3

Last week our fabulous new neighborhood had a community-wide garage sale. Pippin and I, being the frugal parents we are, set out early Saturday morning, sipping coffee and hopping from house to house; introducing ourselves to our new neighbors and taking advantage of things like $2 jeans and $40 flat screen TV’s for the teenage boys room as well as household items like a lawnmower and a cruiser bike.
Yes, the glory of saving so much by avoiding retail and scoring these goodies was great. But everything combined didn’t compare to the impact of amassing boxes of My Little Pony and pint-sized pink and purple condos with attached doggie daycare salons. For $6, I couldn’t resist getting the whole lot of it, in hopes that at least one of the girls would still be game to delve into such childish fantasies.
So-Called Mom
Well it took about ten seconds for all of them to disabuse me of that notion. I got sucked into a mom-organizing vortex, and when I came up for air, I realized my five year old boy had been unsupervised for upwards of three hours.  Oops.
I found Leopold in his bedroom, with his inner little girl apparently awakened.  My little violent boy-child had swapped out all of his dinosaurs, Nerf guns and space ships for these sweet little girl treasures: neatly lining his shelves were pink and purple plastic rooftops, manicured storefronts, poodle slides and lace trimmed tabletops with matching napkins. Now, granted, a zebra doesn’t lose it’s stripes (he was yelling Get into your cage or there is no dessert! while forcing a baby into a cage with a hairdryer, ) – but it was a softer, gentler Leopold than say, the one who shoots an arrow into your face.

 

To be entirely transparent, the first thing that came to mind was: That’s a lot of girlie for a boys room. Maybe It’s just a novelty thing. But then I caught myself; I wanted Leopold to have access and permission to play with whatever interested him. I’m embarrassed to admit those were my first thoughts, and actually now am relieved to see this softer side of him. You go, Leopold! Take this fancy world by storm!!
So-Called Mom
We often inadvertently steer our children towards a specific gender with toys, and clothes and even playmates. That’s so obvious it sounds almost trite, but because the gender- appropriate messages surround us, you really have to stay vigilant to not feed into it. I certainly fed into it:  my boys had blue rooms; the girls got pink. Boys got trucks and girls got dolls.  Pants and dresses.  And then I wonder, how does this affect their nature? I mean, the direct opposite of what’s going on with Leopold has already happened with Pascal. Because she is KILLING it at the skate park where not just boys compete with her, but also grown men.
 So-Called Mom
Anyway, there’s mountains of books and articles written about this stuff and has been for years.  But I’m now seeing my own hoard of children in a new light, as little people who can teach me a thing or two about diluting the gender-specific dogma that constricts us.
 So-Called Mom
I know I’ll be encouraging more choices from here on out. And, I’m calling that $6 bucks, some of the best money I’ve ever spent.
Newly Neutral,
So-Called Mom

So-Called Letting Go

Some things are easy to write and talk about and others, not so much. 
At the top of this list is the glaring fact that my kids are getting older. And not just this, but it is the first time in almost 20 years that I haven’t had a baby in the house. That’s a sentiment that raises even my eyebrows. In addition, referring to 5 year old Leopold as a baby lately has become an embarrassing habit that I recently have forced myself to break. I don’t even think I allowed him to transition to toddler-hood. He was always the baby, and now he’s a kid. A big kid—a kindergartener for crying out loud.
so-called mom
So–no babies for this mom, plus most of my kids that are now taller than me, mixed in with the fact that time definitely doesn’t seem to be slowing down at all and you have one hot matriarchal mess.
To help me cope with my new discovery, I’m laying out my obvious fears in the scrutinizing daylight:
1.  All I have known is being a mom who is deeply connected (dependent even?) to her kids. In a world where everything can be up in the air, being a mom was the one grounding thing I could be sure of. They don’t really need me as much these days—now what? Well, now I’m not so sure of anything.
2.  For the last ten years, Pippin and I have raised a blended family together. We have never known each other without our kids in the mix. When the last of the blend is off to live their own life, what will happen to ours?
3.  The idea of not being this all-systems-go mom that I have grown accustomed to, has me suddenly feeling like I don’t know my name. Sure I’m not quite 40 yet and I’m not one of those people who believes that 40 is old, but it does make me wonder: what exactly will I do when they are all gone?
4.  Did I even do a good job? 
So-Called Mom
I had my first kid, Jake, when I was 22 and I have always sworn that he was the thing that kept me on track, kept me out of trouble, kept me working harder than ever. I always say/think/feel that I was nothing before I had kids….so does that translate as the same after they fly the coop? Will I become nothing again? Bored? A trouble maker? These are real concerns of mine that anyone could flag as being fodder for a potential crisis. But I don’t want a crisis—midlife or otherwise. I want a transition point. I want to slow down time and create a gradual turn into this next stage. I want to savor this age, as awkward as it is for myself, the kids and the whole family in general. And then I want to accept that change, as scary as it is.
so-called mom
So what do I do to keep myself from doing anything drastic, like having another baby to fill this sudden void? I think I’m supposed to accept the discomfort of the void, and fill it with something else. Like self care for instance. Something I’m good at, but only after everything else is done—like most moms, I’m guessing. I consider myself a low maintenance person. It’s not that I put myself last, it’s just that I—outside of binge shopping for a self medicated distraction—I don’t always see to it that my needs are met until it’s just about too late.
So-Called Mom
Interestingly enough, that’s exactly the point—the problem— really. I have kids, seven of them: which means my needs are met through them. And now I’m realizing that isn’t sustainable.
so-called mom
So the new goal here is to slow it down, mom-wise. To make a steady transition to being a mom with kids that have grown their own wings. And to address the lack of having a baby– on my yoga mat. And come to a place where I can be OK without taking care of anyone but myself, and Pippin of course.
Switching Gears,
So-Called Mom

I Need Some Real Mom Advice

Since I’m dishing out So-Called Mom real life lessons like candy, I’d like some advice myself.  I mean, I don’t pretend to be an expert on….well, anything.  Heck, I’m just a So-Called Mom. I realize since we are creating a network of sorts, I may as well tap into your expertise.

One of my kids is not like the others.  I know….all moms say that, but it doesn’t make it any the less true.  Or challenging.  She’s just…different. For example,  she’s so detail oriented, it gets the better of her. It means she often misses deadlines for schoolwork, because she’s fixated on also turning in the extra credit work – leaving the entire assignment too late and useless to turn in. Other times, she can be so spacey, she forgets some key fundamentals. It means more days than I’d like to admit where she has been left behind (at home, at the movies, at the mall).  Or evenings when she’s meandered downstairs asking when dinner is going to happen, as I’m loading the dishwasher. Sweetie, dinner was three hours ago. It’s not like I don’t shout Dinnertime! And it’s not like we have it at ever shifting hours every day. If someone doesn’t come, I assume they aren’t hungry. 

And here’s the other lesson: I can’t go around the house yanking everyone’s earbuds out making sure they’ve heard me. It’s like, you have a clock on that phone in your hand and a stomach. Those two things should signal when it’s time to eat! But I digress.

She also can go from zero to ninety over inconsequential moments like someone taking her mechanical pencil or laughing because her shoes are on the wrong feet. And I wish I could say all of this was hormonal (she is 12 after all), but she has always been like this. Or maybe she’s more like me than I realize.

We all say that she could be anything she puts her mind to: neurosurgeon, supermodel, musician. But there’s the rub: she doesn’t put her mind to anything long enough to catch and become her thing. She is out there, floating in space, but with no gravitational pull—at least nothing I have seen. She wants to do it all, and certainly could—but there is nothing that fuels her—that makes it so she eats, drinks and breathes gymnastics, or tennis, or animation or, or, or…And did I mention she is her own roadblock? Unlike with Leopold, where it seemed it was me who had to get out of the way, if MJ could get out of her own way – and stop meditating on everything, she’d soar.

Anyhow, I’m hoping you can help me out here. Should I be worried? Should I let her find her way, essentially leaving her be/letting her fail/letting her discover who she is? Or should I intervene? I think my biggest fear is that she will feel unsupported – already I’ve got 6 other kids and a husband to juggle.  She often feels like the neglected one. Which I think is every mother’s fear. I feel like our girls learn to be strong women from us. They ultimately learn how to be treated in the workplace, and by their spouses and their own children from us too. We teach self respect, integrity and grace by demonstrating it well and um, just as important, also not demonstrating it well at all.

This likely bugs me, because she reminds me of myself. I always call her mini-me: darling, yes but also defensive and stubborn as hell.  And she’s a perfectionist…to the point of inaction.  Should I be steering her clear of the bumpy road that I’ve lived?  Or should I accept it and invite her along for the ride? Should I challenge her, I mean really push her? What do you think she is craving so she can get her butt in gear and realize her true potential? How do I discover what rocks her world she she can make something happen and start to build some real confidence and passion?

So what do you say, Moms? Anyone have a clue what to do?

Waiting (semi)patiently,

So-Called Mom

SO CALLED LIFE LESSON: shut up and get out of the way

Making friends is supposed to be easy when you’re a kid, right?  Aren’t they hot-wired to just hang out and play, and then boom! You’re friends!

Well, apparently not in my house. Maybe I’ve made things way too cozy at home so no one really wants to leave it.  Maybe my so called mom loving is just too seductive, too compelling, too…dare I say, safe.  For some reason, after raising 6 kids for the past ten years, I’m only now confronting this question. The results are not pretty, as I try to get the youngest, Leopold, into some social situations so he can make some friends.  And he’s not biting.
Our move to suburbia has made this glaringly obvious.  And based on my first stab at getting him out there, it’s looking a whole lot like his lack of friends means a whole lot more to me than to him.  He’s fine.  But if I have anything to do with it, my anxiety will become his.

Ooops.  This may go down as an epic fail.
First of all, my disclaimer: I had no idea just how much I was keeping my kids from building healthy relationships until now. I promise this was not intentional. But one side effect of keeping this blog, is I’ve become more self-reflective.  And the truth is, I think I may have to admit that having other kids over to play in our previous (very small) house was just not part of the program. When you’ve got just barely enough room for the brood you have, adding more kids that aren’t yours is just never an option. It gave me hives to even think about having one child sleepover.  Besides, other people’s kids bugged me.  So I don’t know if it was lack of interest on their part, or I just subtly dissuaded any real connections.
Now that we have so much physical room, I’m discovering I also have the psychic room to invite more people into our family space. Of course, I get that I’m pretty late to the game, but better late than never, right?. So both Pippin and I  are trying to recover lost time by drilling it into all of the kids—especially Leopold. But as per my usual, I over correct when I get my big ideas, so I’m probably not helping the situation.  Friendship is not exactly something you can gerry-rig.
Look Leopold! There’s a little boy across the street. Go and say hi!
Let’s go to skate and play! How many friends do you think you’ll make today?
I signed you up for a million gymnastics classes! Have you met anyone yet? When are they coming over?
His reactions have gone from:
I’m going to make 11 friends to I’m really nervous to I’m not going to meet anyone.
But here’s the deal:  maybe I’m trying too hard.  Maybe in my zeal to make up for my “mistakes” and lost time, I forgot to have patience and faith that things are better when you get out of the way and just be.
So here’s what happened today.  Despite my objections, Pippin went ahead and bought a small arsenal of Nerf guns—something he’s been calling “an investment”. And now I see why. Our kids spent the afternoon outside on the lawn on a rare Pacific Northwest day of sunshine, blasting each other. Before long, other kids from the neighborhood showed up, armed with their own weapons, looking to officially welcome our family the way that kids do.
Sometimes the best thing a So-Called Mom can do is to take herself out of the equation. It’s hard because we know our kids so well—but this can also be the very thing that holds them back. I know you all so well, that I impose what I think onto you and make you second guess yourself. It’s hard to admit that maybe, with all our best lovin’, we actually can make things worse.
Well Disposed,
So-Called Mom

 

Friends for My Violent Five Year Old

I hate to say it, but my youngest son, Leopold, has become a savage monster.

What happened to my baby who loved dinosaurs and Legos, and puzzles and wooden toys and even dressing up dolls on occasion?  Slowly but steadily, he’s moved from an innocent obsession with bombs and boogers to full throttle violence with a capital V.

Leopold used to sit happily while his nails were painted a delicious rainbow of sparkles by four giggling older sisters. But today, he wants no part of it, unless maybe the color is blood red. Everything lately has become guts and gore. If he does play with Legos, it’s to fashion a knife that he uses while pretending to be a hired hitman. He then artfully executes me while I’m working unsuspectingly at my laptop. Or, he snaps those colorful blocks together to make some kind of dismemberment machine for the tiny lego men, which leaves their little lego heads strewn all over the house.

I don’t remember the older boys being this brutal.

I’m not usually one to consult child development books or parenting how-to’s – I’m the So-Called Mom, remember? –  but this raised enough of a concern that I fled to my library for some of my own extra-curricular. I chose the obvious: It’s a Boy: Understanding Your Son’s Development from Birth to Age 18. At first glance, this book describes how parents often overreact to boy aggression at ages five to seven, but apparently this is how they develop “leadership skills” and become “socially resilient.” (I have put these in quotes because apparently these are our culture’s measure of “success”.)  In essence, the book instructed me to trust Leopold’s violent play, and that he will eventually self regulate through friends.

Now that’s what the usual mom might do.  But I’m not so usual.  I don’t just accept the so-called truth.  I think there’s other culprits at play here beyond the usual “age appropriate behavior.”

I think it’s screens.

I think screens have changed the rules in ways we are only recently starting to examine. As screens have taken precedence over almost every single activity and norm (research, family photography and filming, social interactions, of course all kinds of games), it seems naive to accept childhood violence as being strictly developmentally appropriate.

For instance, Leopold has learned about torture devices from his older brothers’ video games and watching YouTube at unmonitored moments—and not from watching Fox News or Bob the Builder. He not only has learned all about weapons and killing, but he has a clear understanding that they are for heroes and that the bad guys need to die.  And is Leopold just embellishing with his own active imagination?  I think it’s more insidious.

I think Leopold takes it to uncomfortable heights – or at least a level that I am uncomfortable with.  He frequently jumps the shark when he Lego-bombs his sisters or attacks me with hand stripped twig-shanks. This isn’t in alignment with the material in that book which suggests that Leopold’s friends will guide him with age-appropriate behavior. That together, they make the rules and hold each other to them. So I’m just now learning (on kid 7) about the importance of friends–that no one can get by on family alone, no matter how many siblings you have to play with.

I think this is the cultural impact of the internet and screens.

To add to this, Leopold is an unbelievably muscular kid, who at five, doesn’t yet know his own strength. What he has already realized is he can use it to intimidate and destroy things. He breaks apart tree branches so they become varying weapons of mass destruction. He bears his chest with zero embarrassment and hulks his way around the house, slamming doors, throwing toys, unwary of anything in his path.

So yeah, I”m pulling the plug on him, just as I did with Milla. And it’s a safe bet that he’s going to like it even less. But I’m observing his innocence and inventiveness being ruined by this disturbing new kind of play, and at five, I can still influence most of what he does.  I’m also ramping up in other ways to engage him, like enrolling him in some activities so he can socially engage with kids his own age.  He will start a gymnastics course to help him redirect some of this boundless energy.  Hopefully he’ll start focussing on walking on the balance beam rather than the pirate’s plank.

Desperately seeking friends,

So called mom