Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Doing Just Fine, Thanks

At the pool this weekend, we reconnected with many of our "summer friends". We see them at the pool, we're close all summer, but in the fall and winter and spring, we lead our different lives and tend to lose touch. This weekend felt like a big reunion. We exclaimed over how big kids got, admired new haircuts, caught up on nine months of news. It was fun.

Except for one little thing. It was little, but it really got under my skin.

I was chatting with a woman about the girls, and after exchanging the expected updates and all that, she put her arm around me, turned her face into a very serious expression and asked,

And how are YOU doing, sweetie? You hanging in there?

I have to admit that I gave her the blankest of blank stares while I tried to compute this information and react appropriately. Did she have me mixed up with someone else? Someone fighting cancer, perhaps? Someone dealing with job loss? Or did she mean me? Did I look like someone going through some sort of trial that required sympathy and pity? I didn't want to embarrass her if she'd made a faux pas, but I honestly had no idea what she was talking about. Wait, maybe SHE was going through something that I was supposed to know about, and this was a prompt for me? Ack! I didn't know! I was truly confused. So I tried to respond as cheerfully and vaguely as I could, given that I'd only allowed myself a few seconds to process all that information.

I'm great, thanks! No complaints! And how are YOU?

Her response? An even bigger sympathetic face and a squeeze.

What the what?

This time I didn't try to mask my confusion with perky small talk.

Should I not be?

Turns out, she'd been concerned about me all year. 

All. Year.

She had spent nine months of her life, generally stressed about my well being, and the well being of my children...

Because we homeschooled Madison this past year when her preschool closed. And we plan to keep homeschooling her. And after Reagan has her preschool experience, she'll join us.

Homeschooling generally doesn't have the same stigma it used to. It's growing in popularity, it's not confined to extremist groups, there are plenty of resources and socialization options open. Most of the time, when people find out this fact about us, they react with mild surprise, and a comment that ranges from "good for you!" to "I don't think I could do that". Both comments are fine. I'm pretty easygoing. I don't go around waving a flag and saying that everyone should do what we're doing, and people generally react with some level of interest, maybe a question, and then we all move on with our lives. Madison is social and smart, and certainly doesn't seem like I keep her locked in a turret all day, so after some fairly benign questions or a low key reaction, we move on. You do you. The end. Online, people tend to have BIG OPINIONS and RIGHTEOUS JUDGMENTS and fight endlessly about it, but in person, people really don't really bat an eye. At least in my experience. The most eye batting I had this past year was when a current teacher wanted to know what curriculum I was using. I told her I was using a mix while I tried to see what style worked best for Madison (computer based, textbook/workbook style, unit study), and we chatted about the pros and cons of various textbooks. She was obviously knowledgeable, I had obviously done my research, and it was a fine conversation. I have one other mom who I see weekly, who does ask me, with genuine interest, every week, how things are going and what Madison is doing.

But I had never before received sympathy and pity. I had never had someone fret about the choices I was making, with my husband, for my family, and want to comfort me. Honestly, the only reason we'd discussed it at all last summer was that her son had attended the same preschool as Madison, and when it closed she wondered where we were planning to go. Other than that, I don't think it would have ever come up. Very rarely do I talk with summer friends about the nuances of our school year.

Even as I told her we'd had a great first year, that Madison was immersed in extra curriculars, that she'd become an avid reader, that she'd recently entered a phase where, because she can read the directions in her workbooks on her own, she prefers to self-direct all her workbook time, her face just kept getting more sympathetic. She lamented that I must "never get any time to just be ME". She worried why I was allowed Reagan to go to "real school" and letting myself be forced to "play school" with Madison. She was concerned that Madison's future teachers - because we certainly wouldn't keep doing this! - would automatically mark her as the odd child.

Two wackadoodles, that's for sure.

Now she's certainly entitled to her opinion. When her kids were young, homeschooling was seen as extremely radical and many of those kids she was aware of were probably isolated. That's fine. The strange part for me was that I wasn't getting an argument from her. She wasn't trying to change my mind. She was pitying me. Assuming I needed comfort and a shoulder to cry on. And for some reason, this bothers me so much more.

I'm not good at confrontation, but I did look right at her, smiled and said,

We're doing great! Thanks for being so interested in our lives!

 And kept walking.

I'm happy to talk with you about any topic under the sun. I'm happy to share my research. I'm even happy to get into a debate.

But save your pity. We're doing just fine, thanks, and there are people who need it more.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Pool Time is Here and I'm Not Backing Down

This summer marks a major pool milestone for us.

We are officially out of the baby pool.

At our pool, any kid in a swim diaper is confined to the baby pool only. Anyone can go into that gated area and splash around in the wading pool where the water toys are, but if you have the telltale layer on your backside, you are confined there. We joke that it's "Mommy Jail". It's fenced, it's separated, and there's no early release. Your grown up friends can come visit you, but otherwise you're holding conversations over the fence.

Last summer was especially tricky because most of Madison's friends were the baby of their family...and they were out of confinement. The "big pool" was the place to be, with the lounge chairs and the tiki bar and the lifeguard supervision. Sure, the kids might run back to the baby pool for some wading, but Madison didn't want to stay there and I couldn't leave with Reagan. Trust me. I tried. I was caught EVERY time letting my swim diapered toddler hang out near the steps and was forced to do the walk of shame back to solitary. So Madison was at the mercy of other parents who would help me split my focus.

But this summer...we're free! Lounge chairs, here I come.

Wait. You're allowed in the big pool now. Why are we back here?

OK, as of this weekend, Reagan still preferred to spend her time in the wading pool. But I didn't have to set up camp there, and she was free to come and go. So I'm still counting it as a win.

But with that win comes a battle. If Reagan is going to have pool freedom, she needs to pay the price. And that price? Swim lessons.

I hold firm on swim lessons. You don't have to like them, you don't have to join swim team or pass a life guard certification test, but you do need to learn.  We are at the pool all summer long, and even with lifeguards available, learning to be safe and comfortable around water is not something I'm willing to negotiate. Once you're in the big pool, you're learning how to navigate it.

The swim coach was there this weekend, and he was chatting with all the kids about summer lessons. Madison was forced, through tears at first, to complete lessons every summer since we started going to the pool, starting from when she was just turning two. Now, at nearly five, she's excited and happy, and I don't worry about her as much. She has more confidence around the water, but she also knows what she can't do and she is open to learning and trusting her teacher.

Reagan...well, last summer I backed down. She screamed and cried and fought through two lessons last summer before the coach and I decided to give in. She was still confined to the baby pool, she was still two, and it was bordering on traumatic for everyone involved. I didn't like that we bailed, but I reasoned that Reagan was a young two, different than Madison. She still wasn't speaking much and probably felt very concerned that she couldn't really make her fears known. She was confined to the baby pool, and because she was not even interested in potty training, I reasoned that we had some time.

But this summer, I am not backing down. If she has the freedom to enjoy all parts of the pool complex, she takes lessons and learns to be comfortable in the water. Not an activity you get to opt out of. And judging from how this weekend started, I'm in for an epic battle of wills against a truly masterful opponent.

The coach tried to chat with her about lessons, and she shut him down. I will not swim with you. I will not go in the big pool. I will not wear my floaty. I will not go in with Mommy. I will NOT LEARN TO SWIM!

We got her in her floaty for about three minutes before she insisted on taking it off.
We've got about three weeks to get her warmed up to the idea, because this summer, I'm not negotiating and it looks like the battle will be a big one. Reagan is not a kid who responds well to deal making and ultimatums - if you tell her she can't go to the pool unless she takes lessons, she will dig in her heels and not go to the pool. Ever. And that means that the family can't go, which isn't going to happen. Bribery doesn't work with her either - the promise of a snack bar visit for a frosty treat at the end of her lesson isn't worth it to her. And as anyone who has ever tried to reason with a three year old knows, reasoning with a three year old isn't something that's terribly effective. It's going to be an uphill battle.

I'm thankful we have a patient, kind, excellent teacher who will work beautifully with kids no matter how hard they fight. I'm thankful that we have a nice pool close by. I'm thankful that we can go all summer.

My primary goal is simple - get her in the water, with her teacher, and have her follow at least some of his instruction. My secondary goal is to do it without screaming.

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Friday, May 22, 2015

Creating A Summer Oasis

Thank you to Wayfair for sponsoring this post! 

This summer is shaping up to be a good one.

With the girls now both old enough to play independently on the playscape, I am envisioning spending some of our summer days with a magazine and a glass of lemonade, sitting on the patio while they get their energy out. Not that I don't love playing with them, but I've been so envious when I've watched moms with older kids just sitting, enjoying a summer day, while the kids climb and slide and swing to their hearts content. Up until now, I've had to help the girls on the swings or master that final step to the top of the slide, which means that sitting is more of a jack in the box situation. I pop up and down and read the same sentence over and over.

But now I can finally enjoy our patio. Really enjoy it.

Two years ago, Adam and I made the decision to start sprucing up the exterior of our home. We took what was just a concrete slab with a narrow path of pebbles and created a beautiful bluestone patio and two wide paths.

Last year, after our glass table shattered, we replaced all our patio furniture. Everything is starting to come together.

The construction is done...the furnishing is it's time for the final touches. We're searching for just the right accessories to make this outdoor space a summer oasis. And by we, I mean me. Adam gets involved in the big stuff, but when it comes to accessorizing, he definitely passes the torch to me.

I'm an incredibly indecisive interior decorator, and not shockingly, that seems to apply to outdoors as well. Do I want these cushions or these cushions? This accent pot or that one? I like this one better on its own but that one goes better with these cushions. Do I have to match the shutters of the house to the patio? Should I go bright and summery? Classy and neutral?

Metal 3 Tier Rectangular Plant Stand Pedestals
I love the idea of something that pops for planting my herbs in.

Metal 3 Tier Rectangular Plant Stand Pedestals



Multi-Tiered Plant Stand
Or do I use this one and let the planters pop?

Multi-Tiered Plant Stand

Thankfully, Wayfair lets you add as many products as you want to your idea boards, so you can group everything together to compare it (and ahem, send to your husband so he can look on his own time and hopefully give you an answer more helpful than "whatever you like is fine by me"). I've started an idea board, and it's helping. If nothing else, it's getting me moving, and that's good. Otherwise, just trying to decide on colors alone could take me until November.
Ikat Outdoor Throw Pillow
This outdoor pillow comes in several color combos that might add just the right pop.

Ikat Outdoor Throw Pillow

And I'd love to enjoy a good summer first.
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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Relax Momma, They Won't Go to College Like That

This post is sponsored by Acorn - an influence company. Thank you Acorn and Underjams for helping to take the embarrassment out of bedwetting!

Some phases are just frustrating.

Take the one we're currently in with Madison right now. I have no idea how or where she picked it up, but she's got the attitude, sass, backtalk, and expressions of a teenager these day and I am this close to busting out with "I am sick of your attitude, young lady!"

We're in the midst of it right now, and all those amazing strategies haven't started to work yet, and it's easy to think that my sweet, mature, charming little girl has turned into something much less sweet. That this is the rest of our life.

We're also trying to encourage Reagan off her nighttime pacifier addiction. She kicked her daytime habit, but she's clinging to that bedtime bink with incredible ferocity. I know there are some who would encourage us to just force her to go cold turkey, but since timing the "pacifier fairy" just right with Madison worked, and since waiting for Reagan to essentially potty train herself worked, I'm trusting my instincts that she won't go to college with it, and I don't have to go the tough love route. But I can't see the end from where we are and I feel like we'll just be in this stage forever.

I'm not alone in this. Because a few weeks ago, I read a thread on a message board about bedwetting that just made my heart hurt. For the mom and the kid, because this was a battle that just wasn't pleasant for either of them. This is a board for kids born the same month Madison was, so these kids are just shy of five. They aren't in kindergarten. They're still little kids.

Anyway, this particular mom was at the end of her rope when it came to overnight potty training. Her child had day trained quickly and easily, but wasn't even close to night trained. And this mom was done. She was asking for advice, saying that she'd already cut off all liquids three hours before bed, had the child use the potty twice during the bedtime routine and woke the still sleepy preschooler twice overnight to sit them on the potty. And still  - wet sheets in the morning. The mom was convinced that it was behavioral. She had her poor four year old helping to change the sheets every day to teach him about the consquences, but worse, in her own frustration and embarrassment, was starting to shame.

Only babies need nighttime pants. Big kids don't wet the bed.

My heart hurt so much for both of them. I get the frustration you get when you feel like every other child has moved out of a stage and you are still deeply in it. I get the I am not buying any more diapers! frustration. I get the annoyance of washing load after load of laundry.

But that kid is four. FOUR. A four year old being called a baby because he is still doing something, something that is out of his physical control, something that over 15% of kids are still doing consistently at five years old. This preschooler is getting his sleep interrupted nightly, and feeling like a failure every morning. The cover ups and lying are starting. Discouragement is setting in.

For many of my friends, their cue to start potty training was waking up dry. If that was the cue I'd waited for, Reagan would still be in diapers, and Madison wouldn't be long out of them. Madison wore "nighttime pants" until just after her fourth birthday, and Reagan is still wearing them. They are both potty trained, but nighttime is a different story. An overtired kid sleeps hard, bladders are still small, and sometimes that part of their body matures a little later.

The embarrassment of waking up wet, especially daily, can start to take a toll on a kid. Trust me moms and dads, no kid wets the bed on purpose. Until they’re ready, help them have skills to head off nighttime enuresis, and the supplies to stay dry - like Pampers UnderJams.  They're quiet and cloth like, with a low waist. No one needs to know what your kid has on under those jammies. Parents can learn even more about how to help kids at That’s where you can watch videos and read articles with lots of great information from Moms who are leading pediatricians. They have experience helping their own children deal with bedwetting.

And that was my comment to this mom, this mom who was frustrated and embarrassed and wondering why her smart, awesome four year old couldn't cross this final hurdle in the potty training Olympics. It's normal. Give that kiddo sometime time. Avoid the daily sheet changes with Underjams for a while. They aren't diapers - they're pants for big kids who need some help overnight. And relax - you won't be packing them when it's time for college.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2015


In case you haven't figured it out yet, I'm not a girl who likes rocking boats. Controversy doesn't fire me up. I always try to believe the best of intentions.

But yesterday I was hit over the head a few times by some assumptions about me, and I'm having a hard time keeping my fingers quiet.

Now let's be fair. These assumptions weren't really about me. I, Meredith, obviously was not at the forefront of either writer's mind as they wrote. What these pieces were was a blanket statement about a group that I fit pretty solidly into, and a very negative blanket statement at that. Both authors felt, very securely, that they had enough personal experience to make these assumptions - via reality television shows and/or "a Facebook friend of mine".

Yes, as sources go, those are definitely credible ones. But these also weren't written for CNN. Opinion pieces are, as a general rule, full of opinion. I get that. You are entitled to have one, and to write about it.

I don't want to get too deeply into either article or why I felt slapped when I read both (which, unfortunately, was back to back). I will say that one was on "girl moms" and specifically "dance moms", of which I am now immersed in, and the other was about homeschooling. Both maintained a mocking tone about families who had chosen those roads. One was full of suggestions that the parents that chose that road were not intelligent enough to see how wrong they were, and the other writer quoted directly from a recital handbook, thanking God she wasn't "cursed with a daughter". Suggesting that a homeschooling mom should make sure to teach her children to recite "do you want fries with that" (since that's all they'll amount to) or that anyone who would dare to put dance attire or makeup on their daughter is basically readying her for the pole crosses the line between "opinion" and cruelty.

I can tell you that I've found both the homeschooling community and the dance mom community to be among the most supportive groups I've found. I can tell you that, despite my initial skepticism about both of these paths, I have found these stereotypes and assumptions that I used to have way off. I've written before about how thrilled I am to have stepped out in faith and into these worlds where I wouldn't have initially been comfortable.

If I'd gone on assumption, I would have avoided a dance world that was "full of drama" and "age inappropriate attire and dance". Instead, my daughter has found role models that I'm proud for her to look up to. She's seen what hard work can accomplish and she has become motivated - with no assistance from me - to stretch and practice and watch and strive to become just like those big girls. The sweet ones who have incredible bonds with each other, their teachers, and the younger girls who look up to them so much. There's so much good that I would have missed if I'd only heard about the "horrors" of stage makeup, or the abusive relationships shown on reality TV and had let my assumptions drive my behavior.

I don't think either writer is a bad person. I think they've found a topic that people are willing to play into. It's fun to make fun of the closeted homeschoolers up in their turret, learning solely about creationism and bigotry. It's fun to mock the little girl (or more often, her mother), who in a close up picture, does look a little silly in her stage make up meant to make her face visible under bright lights at a distance. People will agree with you. People will share your work. And honestly, if you don't know anyone in those worlds, what's the harm? If your panties are going to get all twisted, then you need to get a sense of humor. Or thicker skin. Or you read it wrong. Or you're a troll. Or crazy.

So here's what I'm trying to teach my girls, who right now have no idea that people may someday be making these assumptions about them, based on their - and my - choices.

You will never talk someone into believing that their assumptions are wrong. Arguing on the internet...has anyone ever really had their opinion changed?

Lead by example. Be kind. Be simple. Be sophisticated. By all means, speak up for yourself, but breathe and count to five before you type or speak. Pause. Gather your thoughts. Reply calmly, kindly, and simply, and then show your truth. Be the example you want a little girl to see. Show them how hard you work. Show them that you can be a role model. Be smart. Choose happiness, and let your contentment shine. Kindness matters, and kindness speaks volumes.

I hope that's how I present myself. I show that the decisions I'm choosing are right for us, because we're happy. We're proud. And we're kind. And that's what you can do with you assumptions about me.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Creating a Broadway Kid

Yup, she's mine.

In case anyone was confused, Madison is definitely my kid. She may have started off looking like Adam, but now the most popular reaction to any picture shared on social media is how much she looks like me. She loves her bath and would stay there indefinitely. She loves to read and devours any book set in front of her. She will watch a show over and over again and enjoy it just as much as she did the first time.

Or maybe I have the personality of a toddler....let's not think about that too much.

And now she's started to become a little obsessed with musical theater.

When I was little, I picked up this bug early. I remember playing my parent's original Broadway recording records on my Fisher Price record player, and then putting on impromptu shows. I had all the songs memorized and started acting them out. The first show I remember seeing was a community theater production of the The Music Man and I was hooked. There were kids in that show! Acting and singing and dancing! I could dance! I could sing! I was a kid! I could totally do this! 

For the next twelve to fifteen years, I did as much performing as I could. My town had a summer drama program that I adored. I took dance classes. I took voice lessons. I was in every elementary school play they offered and angled for the lead (my crazy memorization focused mind gave me an edge). When I was old enough to realize it was out there, I started reading the audition listings in the Sunday newspaper and coercing my parents to drive me to auditions and, ultimately, rehearsals. I was in Annie more times that I can count. I spent one summer in two different productions of Bye Bye Birdie, playing the teenage lead in a "youth theater" that included young adults and the adult lead in a "children's theater" that topped out at 18. I listened almost exclusively to musical theater soundtracks. My best trips were the ones I took to see shows on Broadway. I loved it. I saw Les Mis several times. Phantom on the rainiest day. Rent. A Funny Thing Happened. Beauty and the Beast. Wicked. I loved them all. When I was eighteen I got my "dream role" as Maria in the Sound of Music - the perfect culmination to my "Broadway Babe" youth before heading off to college to pursue the more practical, yet still artsy, fulfilling career as a music teacher, which I did for ten years before my move to still practical, much less artsy, yet still fulfilling career as a stay at home mom and occasional writer.

Now, in the days of iPods, Madison hasn't seen my stash of musical soundtracks. We often save her educational DVDs for the car, occasionally playing some Kidz Bop. She knows every song to all the Disney cartoon musicals and can sing every word, but she hasn't attended her first community theater production or seen "real people" singing and dancing on stage.

Until recently.

There's a long story leading up to this, but basically, I was inspired to look up a performance on YouTube. I'd read a description of this particular musical number, and I vaguely remembered seeing it performed, and I wanted to refresh my memory. And in the days of YouTube, that's pretty easy to do.

So I was sitting on my couch, watching it on my phone, smiling at the memory and realized that Madison was watching over my shoulder, mouth agape, eyes locked on the little screen.

She was hooked.

We quickly started watching all sorts of clips, following YouTube's suggestions, occasionally my own brainstorms. We stumbled into some clips of Matilda, and Madison was even more hooked. She knows the story (we read the book a few months ago) and she was fascinated by those four Matildas, singing and dancing with attitude. She wanted to watch them all the time.

We checked the soundtrack (along with a few others I thought she'd like) out of the library, and added those into our car rotation. Before long, they were added to her iTunes playlist, and became a regular part of her dance performances.

Yes, she choreographs dances to the music on her iTunes list and performs dances regularly. She improvises and adjusts until she's happy, occasionally changing things up if she's seen the older girls at her studio doing a new move, and then performs them several times a day with consistent choreography. How I didn't see that "dance performer" would easily leap to "musical theater performer" is beyond me.

And in the days of tablets and WiFi and browser suggestions, she found out about performances much more quickly than I did. It wasn't long before she was running up to me with the Matilda page open on her iPad, saying "Mom! It says tickets available!"

That's great, honey! Good reading and good searching. Did you happen to read the part about how much a Broadway ticket costs?

Clearly, the interest was there. We went to see a middle school production of Seussical as a "test run", and she loved it.

So maybe we will be walking the New York streets soon, Playbills in hand, ready to experience one of my favorite performance mediums. And I'll experience that first love through her eyes, and see if the bug bites her too.

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