Free Range Kids

Living next door to one’s in-laws has its perks. (If you’re me, anyway. I’m sure mileage varies.)

For example, my MIL makes sure the lawn guys cut our lawn, and she gives them our payments. She will sit with the baby while I take the girls to Flora’s soccer practice. Once a week, she comes over at 6:30 a.m. so I can get to work early. (This is especially helpful if I have to unexpectedly bolt early another day to take a child to the doctor or something.) And we all usually have dinner together once a week, at her place. Tadone sits with an under-the-weather Kate and keeps her entertained with YouTube videos of laughing babies so I don’t have to burn personal or vacation time.

Because of our arrangement, my children often feel free to go over to Bella and Tadone’s whenever they feel like it.

Unfortunately, this arrangement has blurred the boundaries when it comes to the rest of the world.

My children operate under the false assumption that if it’s okay to just go into Bella’s house, it’s okay to go into our other neighbors’ yards if not houses. Kate has, actually, walked into the house of the people who live across the street from us.

She wanted to play with their dog.

Mind you, we have attempted to instill in them boundaries. They have been expressly forbidden to go into anyone’s house, even if the person invites them. They are to come to us first. And we will, nine times out of ten say, “No. You cannot go into that person’s house without Mommy or Daddy.” (The tenth one had better be the ILs, otherwise it’s 10 out of 10.)

They are not even supposed to go into any yard except for ours or Bella’s. Again, unless I am with them, for example, on an evening walk.

The neighbors across the “street” — we’ll call them the Smiths, and they live across the driveway, really, not a street — are a couple the same age as Dan and I, but their children (a boy and a girl) are 20 and 17. They are done with the baby/toddler/childhood stages. They are very friendly, with Dan and me as well as with the children. They have never, ever called or taken me aside to say, “Please keep your children out of our yard.” Their daughter has babysat for us.

The time that Kate came into their house, they laughed it off. Mrs. Smith just said, “We just wanted you to know in case you were worried where she was.” Mr. Smith takes great delight in our Kate, actually, even enjoying my exasperation with her.

Now Dan and I have differing philosophies about children outside. My thinking is that a 6 year old and a 4 year old are fine outside, without direct adult supervision for up to half an hour at a time, for example. Dan thinks the children should be supervised at all times — this even goes for in the house. He wants them in sight, always.

I have clear rules for outside: They have to stay in our yard (or Bella’s). When I call, they have to come. They know these rules, and Flora, for one, follows them to the letter. (There is one other yard they are allowed in, with permission — they have to come ask — and they have to stay outside, and they are not allowed on the trampoline. If they go into this yard with the children who live there, I seldom let them stay longer than 15 or 20 minutes without me.)

Kate, not surprisingly, is another story, and is making me rethink my “free range kids” philosophy. She, clearly, is not abiding by the boundaries we have set. Lately, she has been asking to go outside with Flora, and when I hesitate, she says, quite seriously, “I will not go into Mr. Smith’s house.” Well, okay, kid, but there are larger issues here.

I am struggling with this, especially after such a long, rainy spring season. Children need to play outside — hence the backyard playset going up this weekend. Yet, I am not in a position to be outside with them every second. Sometimes I am stuck giving Michael his bottle or changing his diaper, or I am trying to get dinner to the table. I think letting them go outside while I do these things — with the rules outlined above — is reasonable.

Should I have different rules for Flora and Kate? Should I make Flora her sister’s keeper (i.e. she can’t do anything Kate can’t do)? Should I tell them they can’t go outside unless I am going with them — without exception?

We have also instituted another rule that I was very relaxed about until this week. When we come home, we are to get all of our stuff — purses, lunch bags, stuffed animals, what have you — out of the car and go directly into the house. For awhile, I was relaxed about it because if they didn’t go into my house, they went to Bella’s. But lately they have taken to roaming into the Smith’s yard (especially if they are outside in their garden), or looking for Kate’s friend “Lisa” who lives in a house below us. I can’t have that when I am juggling my stuff and the baby, and anxious to get dinner ready. So I’ve put the kibosh on that, and  now it’s “in the house until after dinner” for the most part. Seems to be working.

What do you do? Let your kids roam, or don’t let them out of sight? How do you balance it? What are your kids’ boundaries, and do they obey them?

Random Thoughts: My To-Do List — For The Rest of the Year

I have so much to do, and so many things happening — most of them very, very good — that until June 3 and then again from July 15 to October, I am booked.

Talk about needing a clone. My clone needs a clone.

1. This coming weekend: Kate is “graduating” from preschool; Dan is putting together the massive outdoor playset we bought (we split the costs with my SIL’s family, and he is getting lots o’ assistance); we have a family 40th birthday party to attend; and it’s Bluz’s BBQ with the Carpetbaggers. On the upside, I took Friday off, so I have a four-day weekend. Which will undoubtedly disappear in a flash.

2. My parents are coming down for Kate’s “graduation”, so we will probably have lunch with them and take them on a tour of my husband’s office, which I playfully refer to as our second house.

3. The weekend after this one, Flora “graduates” from kindergarten — the last kindergarten class to graduate from her school. Then we are supposed to be in Erie for another 40th birthday party that night. I haven’t quite worked out the details on this yet.

(Aside: I put “graduation” in quotes like this because, well, it’s just preschool and kindergarten, and it seems silly to call it graduation. Both girls did well this year, and they will not be returning to their school next fall since it is closing, so technically, it is more of a graduation than “graduation”. Still, I’ll save the parties for high school.)

4. Technically, we have a break in planned activities at this point — although I am supposed to be doing something social with a few people, I think. Drinks may be involved. I hope someone emails me the details. And I remember to write them down. And get a sitter.

I also owe many people phone calls. Our phone (and cable and Internet) at home was out for a week. It was, finally, resolved with little muss or fuss. I got all my messages on Sunday. Sorry for the delay!

5. July 15, Harry Potter — last book, part II — comes out. We also have to go up to Erie for a wedding on July 16. This may require a vacation day on July 18. Oh, wait, I may have to take off July 22. See #6.

6. July 23, Girlie Weekend — which, of course I have been planning this whole entire time — in Philadelphia. This is not my traditional college-girlfriends Girlie Weekend, this is for my sister. July 30 is her shower, near Pittsburgh, and October 8 is her wedding. In North Carolina.

6a. Notes to self: Check into MegaBus for Girlie Weekend. Make contact with Philadelphia-area peeps for fun suggestions. Send out invitations through Facebook or e-mail. Book hotel. Make dinner and/or show reservations.

6b. Warn Dan about Girlie Weekend.

7. Wedding: dresses. Gifts. Getting in shape. Renting car — or, possibly, *buying a new car*. At some point, getting all three of the children into our four-door, sedan-type vehicles is going to move from “tight fit” to “untenable”. Taking vacation days.

8: November birthday. December birthday. January birthday. That’s just *my* kids. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas.

The End.


This is what my husband refers to as “plate-spinning”. I have to keep all this up in the air — and I do have help — while also spinning plates named “children”, “work”, “house”, and “paying bills”.

My arms are tired.

Is it any wonder that I wake up in a cold panic about this stuff once or twice a week? Actually, it’s the baby who wakes me up, and then after I get him settled, the cold panic sets in.

Must remember: deep breathing, taking things one day at a time, and my Dad’s motto: “Don’t panic. It’s so unattractive.” Also, may stock up on towels, and train everyone — even Michael — to always know where his/her towel is.

Memory Lane: Grandpa Frank

My mom’s dad — and Olympia’s husband — had some interesting sayings.

“When not in use, turn out the juice.”

“‘I see,’ said the blind man, as he picked up his hammer and saw.”

“Know what I mean, Jellybean?”

That’s what he used to call me: Jellybean — and Twiggy. (Hey, I was a skinny kid.) I used to protest Jellybean as a nickname because I didn’t like jellybeans; still don’t for that matter. “Well, what do you like?” he would ask. “String beans,” I would say.

Yeah, I was a weird kid, too.

My grandfather was, for me, the quintessential old Italian man. He was incredibly stoic, often grumpy. He didn’t say a lot. He had a garden and a plum tree that he cultivated, and while it looked as if he wore the pants in the family, looking back, I think my grandmother ruled the roost from the kitchen. Grandpa drank dago red — probably made in the basement — at Sunday dinners. He hated Germans (Krauts he called them) and Jews — which is something I never understood. Not that he was pretty racist (hey, it was a different, less politically correct time), but that he chose these two groups for his specific ire. It seems to me you would kind of love Germans if you hated Jewish people, or hate Germans but like Jewish people.

His basement was a treasure trove. He had a workbench with a vise, and numerous jars filled with nuts, bolts, screws, washers, and just about any other small metal object you can think of, plus magnets galore. To this day, I have no idea what he did with this stuff. He also had a garage simply filled with useless junk and toys from Marx Toys, where he and my grandmother had worked.

One of the things I remember the most about my grandfather was how he would look after my little sister when she was sick and my mother had to go to work. My mother didn’t go back to work full time until Krissy was in first grade, so we never were really in daycare. Whenever Dr. Sis would get too sick for school, Mom would call Grandpa, and he would come over.

My sister has fond memories of this time. They bickered constantly and they were best friends. My grandfather used to poke, and poke, and poke. “Noooooo,” my sister would whine when he antagonized her. Yet, she brought out the sweetness in him. I honestly don’t think any of us grandchildren got him to smile the way Krissy did. I believe he used to make her egg drop chicken noodle soup, too. He made her feel better, always, every time.


My Kate — who shares a birthday with Dr. Sis — has been running a fever since Sunday afternoon. (As an aside: I have noticed a pattern with Kate: when she is run down — if a day or weekend has been over-the-top busy, she will spike a temperature that lasts a few days. I’m going to talk to her pediatrician about it. Maybe it’s a chicken egg thing: She is run down and a bug she has been fighting off takes advantage of a weakened immune system, or she picks up a bug because she’s run down. But I don’t know, and I think I should talk to a doctor.)

She has been hanging out with her Tadone — her Italian grandfather. He’s different than Grandpa Frank — much more cheerful, for one! — but I see the same kind of dynamic with the two of them. He calls Kate “a pistol”, and she is, and they share a love of music and YouTube videos.

Hey, it’s better than Fox News.

Seeing them together reminded me of Krissy and Grandpa Frank. Right down to the antagonizing. “Bob the Sponge.” “Spongebob, Tadone!” “Bobbie the Spongie.” “Noooo, Tadone, Spongebob.” Said with an Italian accent, “Sponge-a Bob-a.” “Taadoooone!”

I hope their love for each other is just as enduring.

Not My First Rodeo

Michael is the third baby I am raising.

So why does it feel like I don’t know what I’m doing?

This week, I have been dealing with a super fussy kid. He’ll still give out smiles, and Flora can make him belly laugh out loud, but he’s also covered in drool; fussing at his mouth, nose, and ears; and not sleeping well at night.

He’s on his third ear infection. He’s on his second antibiotic for his third ear infection. He may be teething. His nose is runny, his breathing snorty. I started him on rice cereal last Friday to see how it would take.

After six days of the antibiotic, and five days of rice cereal, I stopped the latter. We went to the pediatrician to see if the former was helping.

And, oh, yeah, it’s not ringworm. It’s just eczema.

What I am mystified by is our stops and starts with solids. A lot of the behavior I associated with teething — the ear pulling, the runny nose, the fussy nights and cranky days — are also signals of an adverse reaction to solids. This was strike two for us on that front. (Strike one was oatmeal cereal, which caused a diaper rash.) Michael’s verdict on solids has been: mouth, YEA; body, NAY.

The ped (Dr. J, probably the most senior doctor in my kids’ practice) says he still has fluid in his ears, but they are not infected (in his words, they aren’t “hot”). So we’ll keep on keeping on with the current abx. He’s scheduled for *another* ear recheck next week.

The ped also poked a little fun at his colleague who diagnosed M with ringworm. “Dr. K is still young,” he said. Dr. J probably has some 30 years on Dr. K.  “He probably hasn’t seen many rashes in his time.”

As far as solids, I’m giving it another two weeks. I may start him on fruit (bananas) or vegetables (sweet potatoes or carrots), or even yogurt (soy-based) rather than cereal again.

As far as teething, how panicked was I to stumble upon this story at regarding teething medication? Answer: pretty panicked. From Tuesday to Wednesday I had probably given M four doses of the stuff. I tossed it after reading that article.

I guess four years between children is long enough to make me forget everything about having an infant. Including the good stuff, of course: the cuddles, the smiles, the kisses, the amazement of watching a child develop. I guess that’s one reason people have more than one!

Rock, Hard Place

Something happened this past weekend that I can’t — shouldn’t? — write about on my blog.

I can’t write about it, because writing about it may cast one of my children in a negative light. And I don’t want my child to read it someday and think that I thought she was a “problem child” or “troubled” or any of that.

I *want* to write about it, primarily because I am seriously struggling with the parenting of this child. Not because of the child that she is, but because of the parent I am.

I wonder if I am parenting her well or appropriately.
I wonder what I should do differently, if anything.
I wonder if I can love her better. If I need to give her more one-on-one attention, more focused care. If so, how do I do that? How do I find the *time* to do that?

Let me be absolutely clear: I love each of my children equally — infinitely and without hesitation. I show my love differently — after all, my children are all different. I do things with Flora that I don’t do with Kate, and vice versa. I don’t expect that strategies I used with my girls will be wholly effective on my boy. (Because he’s a different child, not because he’s a boy and they are girls.)

My husband is a psychologist. When he was working for an outside agency as a therapist, he saw a lot of children. I can’t tell you how many times he would come home and say that it wasn’t the children who should be in therapy; it was the parents. (Or at least one of them.) He was such a diplomatic therapist, that he would often find a way to get the parent into individual therapy. Surprising how many times a parent would report to him how much better the *child* was doing after some time.

I wonder if I am there, that mom, that parent. I sense that my child is acting appropriately for her age, not just pushing boundaries, but sailing over and through them. I wonder if I am dealing with it the right way. I mean, obviously not, right? Not if she keeps doing it? (Not the pushing part; kids push boundaries, some harder than others. The going-over boundaries part.)

Can I write *around it* like this, and get feedback? Or is this post so very content free that it’s unhelpful to anyone who wants to help?

I don’t want to write a story that castigates my child. That isn’t helpful to anyone. But I also want to talk about this, put it out there, hear, “Been there done that.” Or at least, if a parent hasn’t been there, some words of consolation, support.

I don’t mean to be mysterious. But I feel if I write about this incident in the wrong way, I’ll be doing more harm (down the line) than good.

But if I don’t find a way to do a better job parenting, I am afraid of the consequences of that, too.

Don’t Call Him Angel in the Morning

Michael is a sweet baby.

Michael has an incredibly pleasant personality.

He smiles at everyone. He seldom cries in public.

He’s pretty adaptable. He rolls with what is going on and where we have to go. Thank goodness, especially this last weekend. Sometimes when he falls asleep in the car, and wakes up someplace not at home, he does look around like: where are we and how did we get here? But usually when he sees me, and/or sees his bottle, he’s pretty content.

When he gets tired, he fusses; I give him a little bit of a bottle, his binky, and he falls asleep on my shoulder. This is one of my favorite things: when Michael falls asleep on me.

People comment on how good he is. They are charmed by him, calling him sweet, handsome, adorable… so many complimentary things. I usually agree with them.

It bugs me a little bit, however, when someone says he’s an angel.

Of course people *are* going to say Michael is an angel.

But he’s not. Gabriel’s an angel, my angel baby.

Michael? He’s better than a angel. He’s here.


Disclaimer: I know this is my issue. No one means to be insensitive. It’s not like I wear a sign around my neck: Mother of a Still Baby. I’m not getting my panties in a twist over it. It just bugs me sometimes, and I write about stuff that bugs me.

As a matter of fact, it seems like all I write about lately are things that bug me. I need some good news or a cute Flora story soon.

Maybe some pictures. Something lighthearted and fun.

Suggestions welcome.


What do people call your babies (or spouse, or pet) that bugs you? What do people call *you* that bugs you?

Apology Expected

This isn’t about freedom of speech. In this country, you are allowed to say what you want to say. You can have any opinion you want, and you are free to express it.

This isn’t about Twitter or social media. I happen to love social media, Twitter in particular, but it does give plenty of less-than-stellar minds an open forum to vomit out their stream of consciousness.

This is about the outrage I feel that Rashard Mendenhall, the running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers, has apologized for some idiotic comments and not others.

In particular, he has said he is sorry for sounding unpatriotic in some recent tweets about reaction to Osama bin Laden’s death. He has even gone back and deleted the tweets.

Although he has lost an endorsement deal with Champion because of the unpatriotic-sounding tweets, and he has gotten a pass from the media  — and from the Steelers’ front office — because he’s apologized, I’m still struggling with this.

Because what Mendenhall did NOT apologize for were the tweets that made him sound like a misogynist prick. He has also deleted those, apparently, but you can see the full glory of his former twitter stream at That’s Church.

I’m not calling for Mendenhall’s head — pun intended. I don’t want the Rooneys to trade or fire the guy. He’s a football player, not a brain trust.

But I would, as a life-long, diehard, female fan of the Steelers, like an apology. Mendenhall’s comments about what constitutes “respect” in regards to women was appalling. Ugly. Misogynistic.

After taking the stand I took a couple of days ago in relation to how girls are talked about, I can’t just let this go. I am raising two more female Steelers fans, and I’m tired of the bad behavior.

I know team sports is a big old boys’ club. That’s fine. What is not fine is when, as a society, we continue to give the boys’ bad behavior toward women — punching 20-year-olds in the head in public restrooms, beating on wives and baby mamas — a pass.

If we aren’t going to trade the big boys, the least we can do is make them stand up and say their behavior is wrong. The Rooneys have passed along some less than stellar players who got in trouble in public — Santonio “that’s my weed” Holmes and Jeff “Skippy Skeeve” Reed are two that jump to mind. If they want to make the players with anger that manifests itself in spousal/girlfriend abuse take anger management classes instead of trading them, okay. I’ll deal with that.

But an apology isn’t too much to ask. Or demand.

I’ll wait. I suspect I’ll be waiting a long time.

I am emailing this post to Ron Cook of the Post-Gazette, because his article about Mendenhall’s apology is what really, finally set me off. If Mendenhall still has a Twitter account, I’m going to @ him so he sees the link to this post, too. Not that I expect anything will happen, but I have a voice and I need to raise it.

Mother’s Day Madness

When did Mother’s Day become “Christmas Day in May for Mothers”?

Not that I would mind getting jewelry or an iPad for Mother’s Day, but it seems as if big, expensive gifts are compulsory these days. My inbox/Twitter feed have been inundated for the past two or three weeks with The Perfect [Quite Pricey] Gift for Mother’s Day!

I’ve been a bit taken aback.

(I’m sure my own mother is quite disappointed to read this, by the way.)

Mother’s Day this year is especially busy. I would like first and foremost to sleep in, but that is probably not going to happen. (Dan is a worse morning person than I am, and I am only a morning person because I’m a mother — and gainfully employed).

I would also gratefully accept a future spa day or an Ergo baby carrier. However, those probably aren’t in the works, either.

In lieu of expensive gifts or a day completely to myself (also not going to happen, probably for YEARS, and I’ve come to terms with that), I told Dan I just wanted cards  and, maybe, flowers would be nice. We have far too much to do Sunday, so low-key gift-giving is acceptable.

But the other thing about Mother’s Day and this sudden explosion of marketing to Mother’s Day is the inadvertent pain marketers, who are focused on the bottom line, are causing lots of people — many of them women, some of them mothers themselves.

Mothers (like myself) of still babies, for example. I am fortunate in that my motherhood became tangible after Flora was born, it is no longer the amorphous motherhood of lost babies/pregnant women, like it was in 2003 and 2004.

Children who have difficult relationships with their mothers. Maybe after years, an adult child has come to terms with the fact that her relationship with her mother is a lost cause. It has got to be difficult to face ad after ad extolling Motherhood with a capital M and warm fuzzies.

Birth mothers of adopted children. Children of mothers who have died. Motherless mothers.

This Hallmark holiday cannot be easy on those mothers and those children. It’s not the rosy picture of kids bringing Mom breakfast in bed. I wish marketers and retailers had the sensitivity to realize that, and just scale way back. I know that’s not going to happen, but some days, I just wish the almighty dollar didn’t trump all.

But it’s this awareness I carry (that many, many people carry) that “Mother’s Day” can be tough that makes the littlest gestures from my husband and my children even more precious than diamonds.

Diamonds I’ll take for Christmas.

Stop Bad-Mouthing Girls!

Dear Parents and Soon-to-be-Parents of Boys,

Please, please, please stop saying things like, “I’m so glad I have boys!” when in earshot of Parents of Girls. Especially when the girls in question are also within earshot.

I am so sick of people acting like having a girl — or having multiple girls — is so much more difficult than having boys. Comments to the effect of “I wouldn’t know what to do with a girl” or “Girls are so ‘fill-in-the-blank'” (I have heard: dramatic, emotional, fussy, difficult, and — the ultimate — “girly”) are, at best, ignorant, and, at worst, rude.

I understand that you may truly feel relieved that you do not have or are not having a girl. That is fine; you are perfectly entitled to feel that way.

I have two girls. And yes, one of them is quite dramatic. The other is utterly irrepressible, although that may have more to do with her personality than her gender (I am betting). They both tend to be emotional and when they are angry with each other, they threaten to not be each other’s friend anymore (rather than, say, pounding the crap out of the offending party).

Maybe when it comes to issues of friendships and relationships, boys are easier than girls. Maybe I will learn this, too, as my boy gets older and develops his own way of being in the world.

That is not the point. The point is that to disparage the way-of-being of girls — overall, as a group — is not helpful or constructive or nice.

Girls are girls, and there are as many different types of personalities for girls as there are for boys. Girls can be sporty and fun and smart and messy. They can be helpful and sweet and nice and good at math. Girls are princesses and super heroes. They can be sugar and spice and everything nice, or they can be mean bullies.

Girls roll their eyes. They stomp their feet (boys do this, too, I’ve seen it). Girls’ tween and teen years may be more fraught than boys’; they may require more negotiation by all parties. The old trope “with boys you only have to worry about one penis” may be true, but we still have to teach all our children to respect their bodies and the bodies of others. Boys and girls need to respect others’ feelings; they all have to learn to stand up for themselves and for others and for their beliefs.

The implication of “I’m so glad I have boys” is that boys are better to have. I disagree. Heartily. Not that I think girls are better to have.

I don’t think it matters what you have. Children are work. The challenges of parenting come with parenting girls or boys or both. The challenges may vary, but they vary by child, not by gender.

And children are blessings. Boys are blessings, girls are blessings, one of each is a blessing, four of one kind is a blessing, only one is a blessing.

It’s fine to have a preference, it’s fine to be relieved that you are having a boy (or a girl, for that matter). Just don’t be rude about it. Because if one of my daughters turns to me and says, “Why did that person say he (or she) is glad he has boys?” I’m going to respond, “Because he (or she) is an idiot.”

red pen mama


When 9/11 happened, Dan and I were in Italy — on our honeymoon.

When the United States invaded Iraq, I was pregnant with Gabriel.

The whole time Dan and I have been married and creating our family, America has been a country at war. Granted, it was a remote war, and it little affected our day-to-day life. Other families have not been so lucky. And we should all be thankful to our men and women in uniform.

And now, nearly 10 years after the tragedy of 9/11, justice is done, and a man is dead.

My prayers go out to all of that man’s victims, Americans and otherwise.

My prayers go out for an end to our country’s wars. A prayer for a different world for my children. A prayer for peace.

What are you praying for today?