It’s Just a Dog…

“It’s just a dog,” my colleague said to me eleven years ago as I lamented about how my new puppy was home in her crate more than I wanted. “It’s not like it’s a baby. It will be fine.”

She was the first, but certainly not the last person to say those words to me over the past decade. She was right. She was just a dog.

Because she is just a dog, she always forgave me when I was running late, when I couldn’t spend as much time together because I had three small babies, when we moved her from the only house she knew.

Because she is just a dog, she loved me at my worst, thought a walk was a gift, and only needed food, a cool place to lay down, and a butt rub to have the best day ever.

Because she is just a dog, she never let me down, never held a grudge, never got mad. She was the perfect companion and the perfect friend — solely because she was just a dog.

Like most couples, my husband and I got our first dog soon after getting married and purchasing a new house. She was a beautiful Shetland sheepdog that looked just like a mini Lassie. She was supposed to be a show dog, so she brought a ‘tude along with her pedigree. We named her Napa after the wine region, and she was sweet, but a little aloof.

Because I thought dog number one was lonely, I begged persuaded my husband to get a second dog and eventually I wore him down. I found another breeder and ended up picking the runt of the litter; a scruffy, little sheltie that crawled right into my arms. She had me at the first wet lick on the nose even though her breath smelled like worms. I brought home Carnie (named after Carneros, another wine region in Sonoma) when she was just 10 and a half weeks old.

Like any good pet mom, I loved both my puppies the same, except one wanted to be loved on her terms, and the other, Carnie, became my shadow. She is the dog that loves you so much she is constantly under your feet; the one who steals the warm spot when my husband got out of bed; the one who opens the door just after you sat down on the toilet and will nudge your arm until you start to pet her. She is the dog who wraps her paws around my neck as any human would do, just to show me how much she loves me.  She is special, as any dog owner would tell you about their own.

It is just this dog, this beautiful creature without a mean bone in her body, who we are saying good-bye to today. And like anyone who has lost a pet, you can imagine how hard it is…not just because of her being a loyal dog, but because of what she represents — a time, a place, a specific point in our journey through life.

Because it was just a dog that lifted my spirits after my dad died of lung cancer, when I felt alone, when I needed somewhere to transfer my love.

It was just a dog that helped me get through years of dealing with infertility treatments, dealing with my depression over it, dealing with broken hope month after month.

It was just a dog that stayed a great pet even when we added three babies to our family in just sixteen months. It was just a dog that would steal biscuits from a high chair and lick the faces of our daughters clean while they squealed with laughter. It was just a dog that let three kids pull her ears and dress her in hats and use her as a pillow. Three kids that are better people for having her in their lives.

I know most people don’t mean harm when they say “it’s just a dog.” But I have to feel these people are missing out on a lot of beautiful things in life, like just another sunset, just another first snow or just another friend.

Because I know my dog is so much more than just. She has been my companion and the one reliable constant in what has become a full, amazing crazy life.

Because being just a dog was exactly what I needed from her.

And I just lost a piece of my heart.

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Saving Your Snark for Something Good

My husband and I were talking the other night how we feel a lot of tension around us lately. People just seem to be getting a little ruder, using a little more crass, being a bit snottier when there really is no reason to be. It’s like snarky is the new black.

You see it on social media all the time. A rant in a Facebook Moms group that’s supposed to be about support, a blog bashing a PTA clique, or the famous vaguebooking post sent out to make the world aware that “you don’t mess with me.”

But you can feel it “in real life” too. It’s the rushing around we do as we move into the holiday season oblivious to anyone else; it’s the way we talk to the plumber who was 30 minutes late to an appointment; it’s the way we send emails with words we would never say. It’s like everyone I speak to feels the same way — overwhelmed and agitated.

I started this week in the typical Mommy Manic Monday consisting of needing extra time to pull back and hair spray my daughters’ hair to avoid the lice outbreak at our elementary school, frantically writing in my twins’ journals because we forgot to do it over our crazy busy weekend, and having to redo lunches because I found a HUGE piece of mold on one of the three sandwiches I had just hurriedly put together (yes, if it was small I probably would have scraped it off), I was feeling a bit feisty myself. And it didn’t help when I couldn’t find my headphones when I had decided to reboot my gym habit starting now. It was a good thing my kids were off to school so they didn’t have to face my wrath.

Despite my bad mood, I decided to hit the gym anyway. At the 9:30 a.m. hour, my gym is comprised mainly of senior citizens and a few moms whose kids go to preschool up stairs. I picked an end treadmill next to an older gentleman who was running like the Russian in Rocky IV. Not good for my ego, but lessened the chance that anyone would speak to me.

About ten minutes in, I started to hear some clapping. Then some whoops and hollers and more cheers. I looked to the door and saw an elderly woman coming through with a cane and a huge smile.  The trainers circled around her and several of the regulars were congratulating her, giving  high fives and pats on the back.

My treadmill buddy stopped his workout to join in the applause, so not wanting to be rude, I did the same. I asked what all the hoopla was about with this woman — someone I had seen previously but never really paid any attention to in the past.

He casually told me that roughly a year ago, she had suffered a major stroke. She had been rehabbing at the gym with a physical therapist for ninety minutes five days a week since she was released from the hospital six months ago. He said she comes in every day with a smile and works her butt off harder than anyone else.

Her stroke was so severe that the doctor informed this woman and her family that she most likely would not talk intelligibly again, and at best would only be able to walk using a walker, but that was a long shot.

After hearing him out, this 105 lb. woman who could not talk and could not walk wrote a message to the good doctor. And it said this:

“Screw U.”

And a year later that same woman walked down a flight of stairs and into the gym without any help except for a metal cane for the very first time since her stroke. She moves slow and you can tell her left side is still limp, but seriously. Does it get any better than that? She gave that good doctor — and her stroke — the proverbial middle finger. That is some snark I can get on board with.

As I got back onto the treadmill, I felt a layer of shame wash over me. I realized that I had let the routine of life get me down and lost my vision of what’s important — something I would have missed if I had my headphones. I was starting to use my frustration, my stress, even the little bit of snark I carry around with me, toward the wrong things and towards the wrong people.

And it made me think about how so many of us are doing the same. As parents, it shows up in the way we treat our teachers, how we yell on the sports fields, how we talk to our kids. It is the way we talk about cliques in the PTA and moms with tattoos and kids with blue hair. It’s the unkind behavior to the teen who messed up your Starbucks order or the rant about pick up line or the road rage we feel in our commutes.

All those emotions are fine and justifiable, except when we use the energy we get from them to make other people miserable instead of channelling it for something good. What would happen if instead of yelling at a 15-year-old referee for flag football, we put all that anger to tell cancer to eff off? Or how about taking all that angst we have about feeling judged for our parenting decisions and putting that towards domestic violence? Or how about when someone tells you that you can’t do something, you respond with a simple “Screw U” and then show them how it’s done.

I’m not sure if the world can change their attitude right now. It is a scary place with a lot of scary stuff in it — and we’re all on edge.

But watching that woman use her snarkiness for good instead of evil, well, that’s enough for me to make some small changes. Maybe it will be enough for you, too.

Ten Things I’ve Learned from a Decade of Parenting

My twins turn ten this weekend. That means I have a decade of experience in parenting. If I was building my resume, I’d say that makes me an industry expert.

First night home together, weighing a combined 8 lbs. 13 oz.

First night home together, weighing a combined 8 lbs. 13 oz.

But despite the fact I have spent the past 3,650 days mothering, there is still at least one moment in each day when I feel unsure. I feel inadequate. I feel scared.

I am constantly reminded of this quote: “Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking outside of your body.”

Yes. That.

But as I reflect, I can’t help but toast myself with a glass of chardonnay for my success. I have kept two human beings alive for ten entire years with only a few mishaps along the way.

I have totally earned the title “parenting expert.”

Even if one time my daughter’s infant carrier flipped out of the shopping cart…with her in it. But that happens to everyone, right? Or the time my husband and I caught the twins sled riding down the stairs in a laundry basket because we were cleaning out a closet. Or the time I let my two-year old speech-delayed daughter suck wine off my finger just so we could hear her say the word “more” just one more glorious time. Yep, I’ve got this mom thing nailed.

And even though my parenting score card is filled with errors, I figure there has to be a few things I’ve learned along the way…a few things that you moms who have only been parenting two or seven or maybe only nine years don’t know yet, such as:

10. Kids are incredibly resilient to new situations. I know, as my twins are already living in their fourth city in their short life. As parents, we worry so much about making sure our kids know someone at every activity or event they go to, but truth be told, most kids make friends easier than we believe. We need to stop spending so much time ensuring they are going to be in attendance with a friend, and start encouraging them to meet a new one.

9. There will never be a stronger advocate for your child than you. I don’t hide the fact that one of my daughters had a tough start to life facing physical, developmental and emotional challenges. Since she was very young, my husband and I have fought to get her every service, therapy, surgery and support mechanism available to her. My most important word of advice: never accept limits on your child imposed by someone else. Believe in your son or daughter and they will always exceed your expectations. This is also easier said than done.

8. Crying becomes a pastime. Your kid’s first step, you tear up. First day of school for your first-born, you have to swallow the lump in your throat and have a mimosa at the busstop just to get through. Your daughter and 11 other kids you barely know sing America, the Beautiful and your eyes are swollen before the last verse. Don’t even get me started on those Procter & Gamble commercials they play during the Olympics which are just a ploy for you to use more Kleenex. Yes, becoming a mom has forever cemented the fact that I cry at everything. And even if you have that ability to keep your eyes dry during such emotional events, I know you are crying on the inside.

7. Kids are born with several sixth senses. Like when they know the exact moment you shut the door to go to the bathroom. Or having to poop when you are running late. Or needing something only when you are on a phone call. Or getting the stomach flu at Christmas. Seriously, they are gifted.

6. No matter how hard you try, there will be times you sound exactly like your mother. Don’t try to fight the force. And sometimes you just need to say things like: “I brought you into this world, and I’ll take you out.” It increases the dramatic effect.

5. Baking with young children is overrated. I could not wait to start family traditions of baking with my children. And then I actually did it and realized that keeping my children alive and me out of the sanitarium is more important. And going to the bakery to buy stuff can be a great tradition.

4. Your kids will embarrass the heck out of you. They will pass gas in the middle of church services. They will spit up on your suit. They will pee their pants — sometimes twice — at a bounce house party. They will say expletives when they drop a box of crayons in two-year old preschool. Embrace it. But they might also lie to their teacher, or send a mean text to a friend, or steal candy. All embarrassing, all important life lessons. Handle every embarrassing moment with thought, love and care because they’re probably embarrassed too.

3. Avoid the Mommy Olympics. So many of us use our kids as a benchmark to our own self-worth. As the mother of a child with some special needs, I discovered early on that we would not always be on the same timeline as other kids….and it was somewhat of a relief not to have to compete. It’s unfair to our kids when we gauge their success against their peers, and we should never feel shame because our kid is not measuring up to an imaginary bar set by their play group. Keep the focus on your child and celebrate their victories, whenever they may occur.

2. Judgment on your parenting is inevitable. It’s up to you if you want to accept it. There is not a single thing you will do as a parent that someone does not have an opinion on — and probably will share without being asked. And you certainly can’t read a blog (not mine of course), Pin or Facebook post that does not reek with self-righteous viewpoints on the many philosophies of child rearing. You can let it feed your insecurities or you can let it fly right out of your head. Choosing the latter means you’ll probably enjoy being a parent much more.

1. You will never know what you are doing — not even after ten years of parenting. Every time I feel momfident, one of my kids comes along and knocks me right off my parenting pedestal. All we can do is dust ourselves off, have a glass of wine, get a good night’s sleep and tackle it again in the morning.

Because there’s no getting your heart back once you are a parent.

Happy Birthday to my beautiful girls! I am a better person because of you. 

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Photo Credit: Nora Best Photography

 

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I’m in the Parenting Trenches — and Deep

At the tail end of a fun, long weekend one of my daughters came to me with a confession. I’m not going to go into details, but let’s just say it started as something minor, something she could have fessed up to much earlier and probably wouldn’t have received too severe of a punishment; BUT then there was a series of cover ups, misrepresentations and lies by omission that ensued. By the time we unraveled the entire story I had deduced that one of my sweet, kind-hearted, intelligent daughters acted like a thug. I wouldn’t be surprised if she started wearing gang colors soon.

OK, I may be exaggerating just a wee bit because the knife wound in my heart is still fresh, but when your child breaks that circle of trust — I mean really stomps on it — it is a tough pill to swallow.

This was the first time that I actually was disappointed in one of my children. I mean, sure, there are times when they do something dumb — like write on the couch with a permanent marker, or they do something dangerous — like sled ride down the stairs in a laundry basket (hypotheticals, of course); but those are just isolated moments of poor judgment.

When your child blatantly does not do something she is supposed to do (twice), then engages in a series of cover ups and sneaky behavior in order not to get caught — including misleading both your parents and another adult; well, that’s when you get called up to the parenting big leagues. This is the time when stuff gets real, the time when discipline matters, the time when life lessons get taught.

I was surprised at how personally I took this offense. I have parented with a somewhat flexible iron fist since finding out I was pregnant with my third. Having three kids only 16 months apart and a husband that travelled meant my kids had to listen to me, or there was no chance of ever leaving the house for years. My friends (lovingly) called me the Nap Nazi or Snack Nazi or Bedtime Nazi because I stuck to a routine without fail. If my kids fell out of line or broke the rules, my punishments were swift and just.

And it worked. Up until now. My girls have thrived under my somewhat tyrannical parenting regime. I think if you were lucky enough to meet my kids in real life, you would find them kind, compassionate and responsible girls — and just all around good eggs.

Which is why this act of defiance took me by surprise. And it got worse as I untangled the web my daughter weaved when she went through the many steps to deceive.

After going through the cycle of emotions you feel when your kid blows it, such as denial, rage, embarrassment and more rage, I realized that my feelings were also actually hurt. It hurt that she had misled me and it hurt that she broke my trust. I felt betrayed, which was a bit of a surprise. Of course, I knew this day would happen, but I didn’t realize how much it would affect my own psyche, my own confidence as a parent.

But I also get that it’s normal for kids to mess up, normal for kids to test the boundaries, normal to try to get out of trouble. With all joking aside, I’m still pretty confident my child will grow up to be a normal, happy productive member of society. And as my own mother said to me after hearing the event unfold: “Be thankful that it’s taken this long for it to happen.” Word to my mother.

Janet Lehman, a behavior therapist and contributor over at Empowering Parents, has said this about dealing with children who misrepresent the facts or lie:

I believe that with kids, lying is a faulty problem-solving skill. It’s our job as parents to teach our children how to solve those problems in more constructive ways….Again, in my opinion, the overall reason why kids lie is because they don’t have another way of dealing with a problem or conflict. In fact, sometimes it’s the only way they know how to solve a problem; it’s almost like a faulty survival skill for kids.  Read more: http://www.empoweringparents.com/How-to-Deal-with-Lying-in-Children-and-Teens.php#ixzz3G9M3JCvH

Well, if my daughter was worried about surviving my wrath, then I think the good doctor is right in what she said above — she was definitely trying to problem solve for survival. She knows her parents well, and knows we will issue a punishment…big time.

But I also want her to know that she can come talk to us about anything, and we will still love her no matter what — so when stuff comes up that really matters, stuff that can impact the rest of her life, she’ll know the right decision is to come to us. This is why as the full story started to come out and I put the pieces together, I did my best to remain calm and quash my normal loud tone I acquire when I get fired up.

But keeping calm does not mean that my husband and I were light on the punishment, or the guilt for that matter. We aimed directly for where it would hurt the most….right in the old iPad, with a little hiatus from the television included. And we threw in a few layers of guilt for good measure, just to make sure she knew we were not playing around when it comes to trust.

Of all the transitions we go through with our children, the move from rule-following little kids to more independent thinkers has been the hardest. I struggle with allowing my kids more responsibility, more trust while ensuring they know that I am still the boss. I (almost) long for the time of being physically exhausted from carrying three kids around all day to where we are now — constantly strategizing on how to keep one step ahead of them. I am seriously considering purchasing the entire series of The Cosby Show just so I feel a little more prepared on how to handle this stuff.

So, there are no words of wisdom to share today, no lesson to take away, no parenting ideology to agree with. It’s just me telling you that I’m in the trenches now, just like all the moms before me and all of you following after.

Does anybody have a shovel?

My Blogger Promise to My Friends

A few months back, when my blog was brand spanking new, I went to lunch with a friend. As I rolled in fashionably late, she told me, “I wanted to make sure I was on time…I didn’t want you to blog about your late friends!”

I’m sure she was kidding. At least I think she was kidding.

After that, I went on a very fun girls weekend. Let’s just say the words: “This better not end up on the blog!” were uttered more than a few times. And rightfully so. We have PTA mom reps to protect.

Most recently, a mom asked me if a particular blog post was about her. I was shocked, as I didn’t even know that she had an experience like I wrote about (and in fact, the post was very much about me.) But it made me think, is blogging hurting my personal relationships? Are my friends scared to talk to me for fear of me being a “blogger mouth?”

I’ve been talking about this with a few bloggers much more lofty than me, bloggers that have tens of thousands of readers compared to my tens.  Some of them blog as “alter egos”, never revealing their true identities. A few even told me only their closest friends and family even know they operate a blog.

And then there are others who document every aspect of their lives in such a humorous way that you feel like you are part of their family, their every day lives. They let you see the good, the bad and the ugly with no fear or hesitation.

I like to think I fall somewhere in between. I like to share just enough of my own personal experiences to be relatable, but not so much that I’ll embarrass anyone around me. I struggle between the line of sharing personal stories that may help other parents and my children’s privacy — and the potential little dirt bags that one day may comb through my archives to pull out a post written about my kids and use it against them.

But most of all I worry about my relationships. The real-life ones I have with my family, friends, neighbors, etc. who are kind enough to read and support my blog, but even kinder to me in real life.  I do not ever want them to feel I will expose their secrets or share their experiences or embarrass their children (at least not on the blog.)

So, because I believe in accountability, I thought I would make a few promises to my friends about my blogging:

1. I will never ever post a bad photo of you on my blog. My fear of retribution will always outweigh my desire to get a laugh, and a lot of you knew me in my spiral perm days.

2. If you ask me to keep something you share confidential, I will. I would never write about anything you tell me in confidence. Ever. And if you told me something that I do include in the blog, I’d never reveal it was you. I’d go to prison to protect my source. As long as it was like the one Martha Stewart went to because the one in Orange is the New Black scares me.

3. Everything I write about in my blog is true, but in a Law & Order sort of way. Let’s be real. I want to be authentic and pure and honest, but I don’t want to be jerkish either by calling people out on my blog. Chances are if you think something is about you that I wrote, it probably isn’t. I share my own personal views on stuff, but I change dates and locations and backgrounds to protect the guilty. I also get a lot of my fodder from other people. Or Facebook. Because we all know that everything you read on Facebook is true.

4. Yes, I am constantly thinking what to blog about next, but that doesn’t mean you should be worried every time you talk with me. Yes, sometimes a friend or family member does something so wackadoodle that I want to blog about it — but I won’t. This is not Keeping up with the Kardashians or TMZ.  And no one else signed up for this.

5. I may ignore your suggestions (but would never ignore you.) A lot of my friends send me ideas on what I should write next on the blog, and they’re great (usually.) But sometimes I know they’ve been covered a lot, or I don’t know a lot about it, or it may not be right for my audience.  Two of my most popular posts, however, (My 12 Year Old Was Blackmailed for Nude Photos) and (Five BS Excuses Parents Make for Mean Girls) were completely based on real-life situations that happened to my friends. Sharing their stories were great for my blog, but also a little cathartic for them. That’s a win-win in my book.

6. What happens on girls weekends/girls nights out/playdates on Fridays, stays there. Period. See number 1 on fear of retribution.

Playdates on Fridays is growing by leaps and bounds. If you are new, thank you so much for reading, but a huge thank you to my friends and family, because without you, there would be no playdates for me!

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