Tuesday, February 19, 2013

21 Questions to Ask Your Kids


Long before blogging was a thing, I was “blogging” with pen and paper. I remember receiving my first diary as a gift when I was six years old. It was light blue with a Holly Hobby-esque girl on the front complete with a Little House on the Prairie bonnet. It had a lock and key, which made me feel safe in telling it all my darkest secrets, which included everything from my parents’ fighting and eventual divorce, to my undying devotion to Ricky Schroeder and Punky Brewster.


I still keep dairies today; only I call them journals now (more grown up, don’t you think?). And, of course I blog. My blogs are public, but my journals are just for me. I am compelled, however, to share a snippet from a recent addition to my kids’ journals, which involves their answers to a list of 21 questions I posed.


I asked them these questions one at a time in private so that their answers were true and not skewed by the other. The questions involved their perceptions of me, but I went a step further to ask them the same question about themselves when it applied to see how self-aware they are at the ripe ages of seven and ten. Their answers were funny and insightful, and I’d like to share only a few of them below. 


1.     What is something Mommy always says to you?

a.    L: Don’t put your feet on the couch!

b.    M: Walk your dog!

2.     What makes Mommy happy? (Then ask them “What makes you happy?”—ask them their own answer to each question where it works to do so.)

a.    L (his answer for himself): Oatmeal cream pies and homework passes.

b.    M (her answer for herself): When we spend time together.

3.     What makes Mommy sad?

a.    L: When her kids get hurt.

b.    M: When I lie.

4.     How does Mommy make you laugh?

5.     What was Mommy like as a child?

6.     How old is Mommy?

7.     How tall is Mommy?

8.     What is Mommy’s favorite thing to do?

9.     What does Mommy do when you’re not around?

a.    L: Work.

b.    M: She writes.

10.  If Mommy becomes famous, what will it be for?

a.    L: Helping and caring, or World’s Best Mom.

b.    M: Loving and caring and being a good mommy.

11.  What is Mommy really good at?

a.    L: Taking pictures.

b.    M: Snuggling.

12.  What is Mommy not very good at?

a.    L: Sleeping. (So true!)

b.    M: I don’t know. That’s hard. (That’s my girl! Ha!)

13.  What does Mommy do for her job?

14.  What is Mommy’s favorite food?

15.  What makes you proud of Mommy?

a.    L: You persevere on weekdays.

b.    M: When she accomplishes something.

16.  If Mommy were a cartoon character, who would she be?

17.  What do you and Mommy do together?

18.  How are you and Mommy the same?

19.  How are you and Mommy different?

20.  How do you know Mommy loves you?

21.  Where is Mommy’s favorite place to go?


This was a great experiment in perceptions. It turns out I am much harder on myself as a parent than my children are on me, as evidenced in question #10. Both kids gave virtually the same answer to that question even though they were asked in seclusion. As a mother you always wonder if the difficult things you do for your children come across as love. It was validating to know they do.


Also, I found out my children know me very, very well. They are observant like little New York Times reporters. In particular, my son’s answer to #15 blew me away. For a ten-year-old to say that he’s proud of his mother because “you persevere on weekdays” is just… profound.


I think most moms—no matter their profession, their responsibilities at work and at home or their personal stresses—persevere on weekdays. We just do what we can day in and day out to make the best decisions for our families and give them the best of ourselves while not losing who we are as individuals.


We persevere. We sacrifice. We balance it all like an elephant on a big red ball at the circus. I’m not sure most dads would be able to recognize and articulate that so accurately.


So here’s to you all you moms who persevere on weekdays! Ask your children these 21 questions and revel in their answers. Then come back and share some if you like!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Children with Unfortunate Names

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."

Try telling that to any modern seven-year-old named Bertha or Edith. Or ask the boy in my high school driver’s ed class named Mike Hunt (say it out loud).

Bad birth names are life’s biggest misfortune. Name your daughter Janessa or Caj and she is sentenced to a lifetime of repeating or spelling her name for strangers. Name your son Richard and at some point he is sure to be called Dick.

Conversely, a good birth name is a blessing. My best friend from high school named her sons Cannon and Colt. They may as well be named Awesome and Hottie. Those boys will always know that from the very beginning their mom thought they were matchless and special, not a Regular Joe or Dear John.

Feeling the way I do about names—that it is the first and most important gift a parent can give a child—it's surprising that I settled when it came to naming my own children.

It’s not that my children have horrible names. They’re just not the names I wanted, or even on the list of names I wanted. I am creative. I come from a family of writers. I could do better than give my children names that could be found on a monikered tchotchke. But I didn’t. On this very important decision, I settled.  

In my family, thoughtful name choice goes back a few generations. My grandmother named her seven children Joyce, Jeanne, Joan, Jackie, Janet, Jenny and Bob. She gave each of her girls a first name that began with J and a middle name that began with E. With a last name that began with M, my grandmother could then pronounce, “They’re all my little JEMs.” It was a statement to the world that her girls were precious but strong.

My mother—who always hated that people called her Joanie, not Joan—purposefully named me Heather and my brother Blake, neither of which could be shortened to end in an ie or y.

I don’t know if it was because of this family history of name consideration or just because I was an odd little girl, but ever since I could write I’ve kept a list of names for children I might one day have. The names on my list changed over the years based on actresses I thought had good hair (Julia) or surfers I thought were hot (Kelly).

When I found out I was pregnant for the first time, I went straight to my lists to see if any of the names still excited me. Some did, most did not. We didn’t find out our baby’s gender beforehand, so I had lots of research to do.   

Throughout my pregnancy name contenders came and went as I checked out baby name books from the library and read them introduction to index. I’d shout from the bedroom,  “What about Cameron? Judd? Henry?” No answer. My husband was never ready to discuss names. “Later,” he would say. Eventually I gave up, stopped asking and picked my own finalists.

Our son arrived two weeks early. When our families visited the hospital and asked his name I shared the one I liked. My mother-in-law strongly disapproved which meant my husband wouldn’t consider it. We had discussed no other names, so on the first copy of my son's birth certificate it says Baby Boy Lambie.

When he was two days old and it was time to check out of the hospital, a large, grumpy woman clearly over the “magic of childbirth” part of her job, waved the birth certificate in my face and said deadpan, “You can’t take this baby home without a name.”

I told her we still hadn’t agreed on anything. She said, “What names do you like? You did all the work. This is your opportunity to name your baby.”

I should’ve told her, “Henry,” and been done with it. But I didn’t. I called my husband who was out walking our dog and said, “We have to pick a name right now. How about Logan? We can use your name as his middle name.”

“OK. I like it,” he said.

And that was that. After nine months of pleading for discussions, he agreed to the first new name I spit out. Logan was the last name of my best friend in college, and she had always said she’d name her first child Logan. I hoped she wouldn’t mind.

Though I had never once considered it while pregnant, I was OK with the name Logan. That is, until we got home and I searched baby name websites to see how our last minute choice ranked. Logan was a top twenty name for the year my son was born. What had I done? I’d bequeathed to my first-born a common name. He would be one of many Logans in his class, forever identified as Logan L. in a class with Logan T. and Logan W. Oh, beans.

With my second pregnancy, I resolved early on that I would not to let exhaustion or desperation determine my child’s name. I again researched books and website lists, this time making sure I didn’t choose anything that was in the top 50 most popular names for the last couple years.

I chose names for my next son or daughter and decided not to share them with my husband, who never brought up names anyway. However, around month seven out of the blue he said, “If it’s a girl this time, I really like Kimberly or Stephanie.” I scoffed. I had grander plans for a daughter. I wanted a JEM of a name.

“Since you brought it up,” I said, “what about Liv?” My husband’s mother, who had died a year earlier from breast cancer, was Olivia. Olivia was too popular at the time based on the baby name websites, but Liv was nowhere on the list.

“My sister says she’s using Olivia if she ever has a daughter,” my husband said. “Liv is too close.”
“As a middle name then?”
“That's fine.”

Great. We had a middle name for a girl we may or may not have. I was encouraged that he’d peeked through the discussion door and pressed my luck with first names.

“I like Lake for a girl. Or Hazel is cool. I loved my Great Aunt Hazel. Or Savannah—we could call her Van!”
“Too weird.”

I should have dug in my heels and defended my “weird” names, but all my energy was consumed by heartburn and bloated cankles. I conceded to discussing names my husband considered not weird. I suggested Meghan spelled with an H as a nod to my name, and he agreed. Then I suggested Craig, my father’s middle name, for a boy and without argument he agreed.

When Meghan Liv was born, I was underwhelmed with her name, but I justified it because Meg means pearl in Greek. My husband and I had honeymooned in Greece, and pearls are both strong and beautiful, as I knew she would be. I could live with it.

When my kids were babies, mothers with older children would say, “Isn’t it funny how once you name them they start to look like that name and you can’t imagine calling them anything else?” Um, no. I obsessed about and regretted my children’s names long after they were out of diapers. At one point, when Logan was three, I wondered if I could legally change his name before he started school so that everyone would only know him by his cool new name, and “Logan” would be a distant memory.

I even tried calling my kids by completely different names at home—“nicknames,” I called them. Whenever I’d try one out, my husband just smiled and shook his head, and the kids would turn their heads to see if I was talking to someone else behind them.

Though my nicknames for Logan never stuck, in third grade he dubbed himself “Awesome” and surprisingly, people started associating him with that name. He even writes it at the top of his school papers, and his teacher doesn’t correct it. Neither do I.

As for my daughter, on a recent sunny afternoon as she sat at the dining table doodling hearts and rainbows around her name on a piece of yellow construction paper, she shouted, “Hey Mom, did you know that Meg spelled backward is gem?” Huh. So it is. I had always loved my daughter, but in that moment I fell in love with her name.

My children, now ten and seven, are far wiser than their mother. They know that labels only mean what you let them mean. I know that I’ve raised two wonderful kids who—no matter where they end up—will surely make a name for themselves.

This post answers the question: Share how you came up with your kids' names from
Mama’s Losin’ It

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Mom Sabbatical: Week 4 of 4: Five Things I Learned

As (bad) luck would have it, I had to end my Mom Freeze one week early, for reasons I cannot disclose at this time (it's not as mysterious/exciting as it sounds). So when Week 4 of my Mom Freeze began, I started it by taking a look around the house at the carnage of filth that awaited me. Here's what I saw mostly:

While I must admit my husband did a good job of keeping the house TIDY for three weeks (and of taking my place as Official Yeller At The Kids About All Things That Aren't Where They're Supposed To Be) neither he nor the children did one lick of the dusting or deep cleaning that is required each week on the floors, mirrors, toilets, windows and furniture of a family of four with two dogs. You know, the kind of things a maid does. Or a Mom.

So I ended my Mom Sabbatical one week early, not with a celebratory glass of wine in hand, but with tears in my Swiffer.
As I got to the deep cleaning I wondered... why did I do this again?
What did I gain from this? A few things. Let me share them.


1. Even if it's frustrating at times, I'm on the right parenting track and I'm not going to change course.
My husband and children are used to a maid. Problem is, we don't have one. My husband grew up in a foreign country, where maids are a part of the family. His family maid didn't come to their house once a week (or even once a month, like our maid did when we had one). His family maid came every single day at 8am to help his mom and dad with the kids and do all the cooking, cleaning, mopping, dusting, laundry and ironing. She left around dinner time after having cooked a hot meal she left on the stove for everyone to come home and eat.

My children, who grew up in this country, have grown up pretty much the same way. Only their maid is not called Jennifer. Their maid is called Mom.

I understand that chores come with the territory of being a parent of small children. I did not have a problem with taking care of the house when my kids were little. A two-year-old can't make himself a grilled cheese sandwich or change his own bedsheets when he pees the bed. I get that.

Thing is, my children are not small anymore, and I have long been a proponent of the "if you can reach it, you can do it" housework philosophy. I've seen TLC's 19 Kids and Counting. Those babies change their own diapers, I'm pretty sure, so I'm not gonna let my 7- and 10-year-olds get away with not wiping the excess toothpaste out of the sink when they're done brushing. They will load the dishwasher and pitch in. And when they are grown-ups, their spouses will thank me for it.

2. My children have impaired vision.
That is, they don't see wrongly-placed items. Besides the nail polish in the middle of the floor from Week 1, there were times these past three weeks when a lone sock would appear in the hallway and stay there for days. It wasn't hard to see. It was a black sock on white tile. And yet, there it sat, sharing a coffee with the dust elephants. I will assume that my husband saw it and chose not to pick it up in support of this Mom Sabbatical. But my kids? Nope. They just didn't see it.

I know this because, even though I couldn't demand the sock be put in the laundry basket (because part of the Mom Sabbatical involved me not being my normal, naggy self) I could ask my daughter if she saw it.

"I'm not asking you to pick it up. I'm just curious," I said. "Do you see that sock there?" She looked right at it and said, "No. Where?" without an ounce of sarcasm. Blerg.

This week, I found this in my bathroom sink:
 Not sure what that is? Neither was I, until I leaned in.
Yep. That's half a kiwi skin, eaten/scooped out by one of my children . . . and left in the bathroom sink. You might think this photo was staged. I wish.

WHYYYYYYYY??? I certainly didn't raise them to believe that the bathroom sink is an appropriate fruit skin receptacle. Yet one of them left it there. And my daughter, who brushes her teeth in this sink 2x/day, did not remove it for 24 hours. She just brushed and rinsed over it.

I know; I am shaking my head too.

They are both getting 3-D glasses for Christmas this year so they can't miss this shit anymore.

3. My children and husband are on their own timeline, and if I don't start adjusting my timeline to meet theirs, I will turn into my mother.
I'm not proud of my impatience, but it's part of my heritage. My mother is exceptionally impatient. When she sets her mind to something--from buying a house to ordering food at a restaurant--she wants immediate results. If she doesn't get them, there are non-stop reminders of her initial wishes which frequently escalate into yelling. Her life, as a result, is a series of exasperated outbursts about things over which she has no control.

Turns out, I am pretty much the same way. If I want the the dogs walked. . . I want it done now. Before the Freeze, if I wanted help with whatever it was that needed to be done immediately, I would ask and nag and ask and nag with no response, until I was forced to scream causing the kids (and sometimes me) to start crying. This was the pattern to which we'd all become accustomed.

However, the last few weeks I discovered that if I can keep my mouth shut long enough, my kids will eventually clean up after themselves, and my husband will eventually be the one to remind them to do it if they take too long. Or he will do it for them. It will just be done on their timeline, which may be a couple hours (or a couple days) longer than I would like. To quote my stepmother, I should "lower my expectations until they meet reality."

Basically, if I can ignore a kiwi in the bathroom sink long enough, I can find inner harmony in the knowledge that it will at some point in time be removed before it rots. And not by me. The ignorance is the thing. I must become more ignorant, which I'm pretty sure I can do with practice. And bourbon.

4. My husband is there for me when I need him.
Regardless of all my whining, when all was said and done it cannot be overlooked that my husband put up with me not lifting a finger for 26 days. And he never once complained about it or asked me to to quit it, already. He indulged my experiment and took care of it all, and I appreciate him for that.

Likewise, I think he got a little taste of what it feels like to wear my hat and be the kids' sole go-to person for everything from settling arguments to pouring cereal. And that might have given him one more reason to appreciate me.

5. While I do like a clean house and well-behaved children, things don't have to be perfect all the damn time. 
In fact, I learned