Day 11: I am Thankful for Flora

Of course.

Dear Flora,

My sweet, sensitive, scatter-brained darling. You are 9 years old.

As always, I am so very proud of you for all the things you do well. You are an easy-going child. Even when you plunge into sadness or frustration, we find ways to figure it out. You have much in the way of a dramatic personality, but I see you learning to control your emotions. Good meals and sleep help a ton! So does talking one-on-one with me, and time one-on-one with Daddy. As our oldest, I see you trying to recapture the quiet of those first two years!

You love to learn, and some days you hate to go to school. You are endlessly curious — I think I have been writing some variation of this sentence since you first learned to speak — but you don’t like all the social aspects of school.

When interpersonal relationships are rocky, you’d rather stay home all day and read and watch television, and you don’t understand why you can’t. At the same time, your teacher says you participate eagerly in class, and that you are a good friend to your peers. So despite your dragging feet and puppy-dog eyes, I’m going to keep making you go to school.

You are quiet. You like to read. You like to be alone. You are SO my daughter.

You are nice to people, and you want people to be nice to you. You follow the golden rule, and you go along to get along, and you get so frustrated, and probably a little angry, when sometimes people don’t treat you the way you want to be treated. All I can say about that is hold onto that anger a little bit. It will help you to be assertive as you get older.

Kate gets under your skin, but you tolerate her most of the time. You clearly adore being M’s older sister. You are a mini-mother to both of them.

You eat well, and fight bedtime. You lose your temper when things don’t go your way, and then move on to the next thing. You like to make people laugh.

I think you like soccer, and you definitely like running around with your teammates, but you sometimes get discouraged about actually playing. That’s okay. You’ll get better.

You like that you play violin, but you’d rather not practice too often. You’re definitely getting better, however.

Your passion right now is birds. You love spotting birds, telling me what kind they are, reading facts, asking questions, and learning more about them. We’ve recently seen a yellow-bellied sap sucker, a tufted titmouse, and a heron, and you have been nearly beside yourself with excitement at each new sighting. We have bird feeders, bird books, and bird apps on our phones for you. Next you want a sketch pad and colored pencils so you can draw all the birds. The National Aviary is your favorite place in Pittsburgh.

Last night, as you and I set off for 7 p.m. Mass, I realized that nine years ago at that time I was checking into the hospital to have you. That the next day, I would hold a tiny creature that would change my life forever.

And I realized I wouldn’t have it any other way. I burst with love for you, my dearest older daughter. I can’t believe you are getting to be such a big girl, sometimes mature, and sometimes silly, and sometimes a drama queen, and sometimes so quiet that I don’t notice you (this usually when you’ve snuck downstairs to be with your father as he watches television).

I hope to God, I pray to God to be a good mom to you. I would protect you from every hurt and confrontation if I could, I *would* keep you home so you didn’t have to navigate the rocky terrain of interpersonal relationships. If I could. If I didn’t think that teaching you navigation was far more important than never, ever letting you get hurt or frustrated. As long as I don’t hurt you — I’m bound to frustrate you, that’s a given — I think I will have done what I set out to do as a parent.

I hope when I’m not being too frustrating, that you know my love for you knows no bounds. That even though I have to send you off to do hard stuff, you can always find safety in me.

I love you, my Flora-bean. Happy 9th birthday,

Mom

Day 10: I am Thankful for Largely Successful Weekends

Auction, attended. Met a nice couple that we hadn’t before, won a couple nice prizes, and our parents had a good time.

Soccer tournament… uh, this was kind of a low point. Moving along.

Flora’s birthday party went well. We polished off four Costco pizzas (two cheese and two pepperoni), most of a vegetable tray, three and a half bottles of wine, eight beers, and about a dozen juice boxes. Plus half a cake, four cupcakes, and a half-gallon of ice cream. Flora loved all her gifts.

The sleepover was about what you would expect. We handled any difficulties.

And by 12:30 p.m. today, everyone was out.

And even though my friend Jen and I stayed up cleaning the kitchen after the party, and Dan did the wine glasses Sunday morning, the house is kind of trashed, because I never got around to cleaning up from Sunday.

Oh well. Twenty-four treat bags are packed with clementines for the classroom, and I’m off to bed!

Day 8: The I am Thankful for Random Thoughts Edition

• I get to dress up in a pretty dress and ridiculously hot shoes tonight, and go have dinner and drinks with my husband. Granted, our parents (and a lot of other parents from our daughters’ school) will be there, too, but still.

Take your date nights where you can get them, my friends.

• My friend and stylist is even coming over to put up my hair! Fancy.

• It’s kind of interesting to have hair long enough to put up, actually. I’ve worn my hair short most of my life. It’s only been since M was born that I grew it out. Shoulder-length hair is a novelty!

• I really am glad that Slate redesigned their site, because it’s awful now, and I don’t spend long periods of time there the way I used to. However, I stumbled across these two stories in my Twitter timeline, and they are good. They hit home for me.

Time Off the Mommy Clock. I identify with this one because I have gone away from my children for extended times — usually long weekends, usually with Dan. It’s very refreshing to do; for me, a natural introvert, probably even necessary. I was single for 12 years of my adult life, and child-free for longer. It’s nice to remember, and to be free of the “mom” title for a couple of days.

I’ll say it again, take your free time where you can get it, parents. It’s good for you.

This second article made me weepy. It’s easy for a community to support a family when someone has cancer. But when a member has a mental illness, it’s a different ball of wax.

And it’s not about free food.

• I’m glad my parents are coming in this weekend, and staying for Flora’s party. Last year, I had just one party for the three kids, and I kind of wished I had done that again this year, but I couldn’t figure out a good time. We’re traveling for Thanksgiving, so I couldn’t plan it for then. Oh, well. My sister and her family will be able to have cake with M!

• I’m really glad we’ve planned a trip for Thanksgiving. I need a vacation, even it is a family one! (Just kidding, family.)

Day 7: I am Thankful for Signs I am a Pretty Good Parent

It’s parent-teacher conference season, and I can’t speak for all parents, but for me it’s a little nerve-racking. I know my children, and even though they come home with (mostly) high marks on their papers, I wonder how they are doing in the broader scope of school.

Flora has attention issues. She rushes through her homework so she can get to something more fun. Her spelling isn’t so great — a blow to me, her writer and copy editor mother.

Kate is, with me, at home and in public, utterly irrepressible. She bounces, she dances, she pokes, she bursts through boundaries. She is incredibly enthusiastic! Boundlessly energetic! So much so that I’ve signed her up for pep squad (oh yes I did)!

I think of these things as I sit outside their classrooms awaiting my conference times. Are they getting along okay? Is Flora still day-dreaming when she should be attending to her math lessons? Can Kate sit still?

Flora’s teacher comes to the door and welcomes me into the classroom.

“I just have to tell you first of all,” she starts. I hold my breath. “I love your child.”

Flora and her teacher share an affinity for birds. Honestly, Flora is like a mini-ornithogist. The teacher loves that! She then goes on to tell me all the good things Flora does: participates in class, works hard and works well, is polite to adults and to her peers. Yes, she does need to work on slowing down, and yes, she definitely needs to practice her spelling words. But she’s a pleasure to have in the classroom; she’s very bright; she is going to do very well if she applies herself.

The attention issues she had last year seem to be on the wane. She is present. She is a good friend.

I want to hug this teacher.

Then it’s Kate’s turn. Kate has the same first grade teacher that Flora had, but this is not even mentioned. So, that’s good that she’s not comparing (or contrasting, as the case may be) the two. She praises Kate’s reading ability, her willingness to sound out words she doesn’t know (this is true, Kate’s come a long way in this area; I’ve noticed at home), her very neat printing. She says when Kate has downtime in the classroom, she always gets a book and reads. She’s doing well in all her subjects, she gets on well with all her classmates, she comes into the classroom happy and ready to work, and she participates. She loves to help out, as well, putting things away, helping clean up.

“Does she, is she okay sitting still?” I ask nervously. “Is she disruptive in any way?”

The teacher looks surprised. “Oh, no. She’s sometimes a little chatty, but she quiets down when I ask.”

I want to hug this teacher too.

In spite of me overthinking the parenting thing, in spite of my divided attentions at home, it seems my children are doing all right in school. This is a relief, and it also makes me incredibly, incredibly proud of them.

I go home and give my girls big giant hugs for being good students. (I give M one too because, let’s face it, he’s awfully darn cute.) I sing their praises to Bella and Tadone, and to their dad later.

Some days, instead of worrying about doing this parenting gig wrong, I get a clear message: Whatever I’m doing, I’m doing all right.

Day 6: I am Thankful for My Village

The media turned Hillary Clinton’s “It takes a village” into a bit of a cliche, and in some cases a negative one, but I’ll be the first parent to tell you: Make sure you have a village.

For me, the village is less about raising my children — that’s up to Dan and me, and to some extent the schools we choose — than it is about having someone to turn to to say, “Uh, could you give me a hand?”

For example, this Saturday Flora has an all-day soccer tournament. Ten o’clock in the morning until four o’clock in the afternoon.

Since Monday is her birthday, and my parents are coming to town on Friday, I thought Saturday would be a good evening to celebrate with pizza and cake. And, er, a sleepover.

I delegated. Heavily.

My friend and Flora’s godmother, who is coming to stay with us Friday evening, will watch Kate and Michael Saturday while I take Flora to the tournament. My father will probably join us at the soccer field. After work, my husband will pick up the pizza, snacks, and cake and ice cream for the party.

I’m kind of hoping the house will just be “clean enough” for guests. If not, maybe my mom will pitch in and vacuum. (Otherwise, she’s just going to hang with her grandchildren, and who can blame her? She has cute grandchildren.)

This is the kind of stuff that happens all the time.

My in-laws, who are also our next door neighbors, are an invaluable part of our village too. And Twitter friends. And more.

This week alone, my MIL has cooked dinner twice and picked up the girls after their half-day of school. Each Thursday they pick M up from daycare so that I can go get my CSA vegetables. A friend of mine who lives near the soccer field where Flora will be Saturday offered to bring us lunch if she’s free.

I can’t do it alone, and I’m not afraid to ask for help. I don’t see that as a weakness. I see that as being smart!

What does your village help you with? Who’s in it?

Day 5: I am Thankful for Legal Drugs

As the daughter of pharmacists, I have always depended to a certain extent on medication to make me feel better. “Better living through chemistry!” I’ll happily declare, popping an OTC pill. If I have a headache, I take Tylenol. Muscle aches or menstrual cramps get ibuprofen. Cough medications and decongestants are fine to use.

And antibiotics are miracle drugs as far as I’m concerned. Having survived any number of ear infections and strep throat infections with my children, I have no problem with a pediatrician delivering the news that the source of my child’s misery or fever is an infection. Bring on the pink stuff! Within twenty-four hours, they will be feeling better, and I will be sleeping at night again.

Also, let’s be frank: I am fairly dependent on a number of mildly addictive substances.

I had an 8:30 a.m. meeting this morning (my own doing, no less), and as a result of yet another hellacious morning at home, I ran out of the house without my coffee. Ten minutes into the 8:30 meeting, my brain was clamoring for its wake-up brew. So the next 40 minutes were torture.

I need coffee, people. Or, more correctly, I need caffeine, and coffee is my chosen delivery method. It’s a bonus that I like the taste of coffee — a good, strong brew, with cream, no sugar. Each morning, I usually have a cup of French press coffee, and a cup of VIA. On weekends, I drink the entire French press (about three cups).

On the flip side, after my two or three morning cups, I go caffeine-free the rest of the day. If I drink anything with caffeine after noon, it affects my ability to go to sleep. And I have enough problems in that area.

Chocolate is another substance I need, although only occasionally. It’s a definite mood-booster for me. I gave it up one Lent, and realized that I take it for granted. Unlike coffee — or alcohol, which I will talk about in a second here — I don’t need chocolate daily. However, if I didn’t have chocolate for the occasional stress-reliever, mood-elevator, I’d probably have to go on a mild anti-depressant. Sometimes you need a kick in the seat — or, in this case, the pleasure center of the brain, to keep you moving along.

Another legal drug that I am dependent on is alcohol.

Yeah, I said it. The reason I’m not afraid to say that I’m dependent on my daily drink — usually a beer, sometimes a glass of wine — is because I know I’m not an alcoholic. I’ve wondered about that from time to time. I check in with myself.

I don’t consider myself an alcoholic — or even someone who abuses alcohol — because I don’t engage in a destructive pattern of alcohol use that includes any of the following:

• Tolerance to or withdrawal from the substance
• Using more alcohol or using it for longer than planned
• Spending an inordinate amount of time using it, or recovering from the use of alcohol
• Compromised functioning
• Continuing to use alcohol despite an awareness of the detrimental effects it is having on one’s life

I have a drink every day. Usually after the kids have gone to bed, and I’m reading my book. Some evenings (usually on a weekend), I have two.

And then I stop. And then, I don’t want another.

I will admit though, I do look forward to that drink. I don’t drink to get drunk. But I do drink.

Got a legal drug you like — or need (I’m thinking daily medication here)? Tell me about it in the comments!

Day 4: I am Thankful for “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me”

I don’t remember when I stumbled across this NPR quiz show. I think I’ve been listening to it for about two-three years now. I used to listen in the car, but the kids talk over just about anything I put on the radio. Happily I discovered the shows at NPR.org, and I now usually listen Mondays at work.

It pretty much saves Monday.

It’s hosted by Peter Sagal, a self-depreciating, self-declared geek, and co-hosted by golden-throated Carl Kassel — who is dry, deep voiced, and hilarious. They have a bunch of panelists, among them writers, comics, advice columnists, and pundits. The one that consistently slays me is Paula Poundstone. Her delivery and incredulousness are hysterical. I think the thing she says most is, “Who does these studies, Peter?”

It’s a call-in quiz show, and they find unusual news stories — or they make the news unusual because of the format. They do a bluff-the-listener segment, where each of the panelists tells a bizarre story to the caller, and the caller has to pick the real story. They also do a quiz called “Not My Job”, where they ask all kinds of people — scientists, writers, actors, poets, politicians, and more — questions about something they know very little about (allegedly).

The whole show keeps me giggling in my cubicle for about 45 minutes while I work on other stuff. Sometimes I can’t help but laugh out loud (usually because of a Paula Poundstone well-timed one-liner). It helps brighten up my Monday in a big way.

What is your favorite Monday brightener? Remember, I’m donating $5 to the Greater Community Food Bank for each comment this month!

Day 3: I am Thankful My MIL is OCD

I have to make this short because it’s Sunday night, and this house is NOT ready for the week.

I intended to do a Toy Purge this weekend in preparation for the next four months (three birthdays plus Christmas). But while I got started on the part where I empty the toy box and toy bins, I didn’t get started on the part where I sorted through the junk.

I am donating to Play It Forward (or like-minded group), as well as several Twitter moms I know. I have a bag of clothes for one mom’s little boy; a bin of diapers and bibs for another little boy; a 4T girls’ snowsuit; and a bin of baby toys for yet a fourth mom and little girl. It feels so good to give things to people I know!

I had invited my mother-in-law over for dinner because I knew she was tired of running around taking care of my father-in-law. He’s been under the weather, and finally got himself to a doctor, where he was diagnosed with pneumonia. We were just doing rotisserie chicken and potatoes anyway (beans for the vegetarians), plus salad. She came over about 30 minutes before dinner was ready.

She sat in my kitchen, and her head kept twitching toward the living room where everything — and I mean *everything* was spread out to be sorted. Finally, she started bringing bins into the kitchen to sort.

“Mom,” I scolded. “You don’t need to do that.”
“I know,” she said. “But it’s a sit down job. I just couldn’t sit here and look at it.”

I think she just could’ve changed seats. But I am grateful that she doesn’t hesitate to lend a helping hand whenever she can.

Day 2: I am Thankful for My Smartphone

I am writing my day 2 post at the salon while getting a pedicure. (Which I will be thankful for tomorrow.) I downloaded the WordPress app to my phone, and I’m typing away.

I love the convenience of having a smartphone. I do A LOT on my phone: schedule appointments, look up recipes, Google answers to #floraquestions, keep my calendar, make lists. Plus, email, Twitter, and the like.

I have to watch it with my smartphone. I tend to be too attached to it. (My father is reading this and nodding.) But I am thankful, nonetheless. That I can afford a phone, that I have people I communicate with on it, that it keeps me connected. I even like that my children can play games on it (in moderation).

I’m glad I have a smartphone especially on weekends. I don’t need to go sit in front of a computer. I do that enough during the week!