Friday, July 27, 2012

The Olympics and parenting- what do they have in common?

It's the most wonderful time of the year!

Make that the most wonderful time of the quadrennial! (And yes, I did just Google "What do you call a four year period of time?"

Chills? Check. Shakiness? Check. Am I ill? You bet- with a massive case of Olympic Fever!

I absolutely love the Olympics, particularly the summer games. I love the pageantry, the absurd choreography of the Opening Ceremony, the flags, the uniforms, the excitement, the simple fact that Bob Costas is everywhere, and oh yes, the competition isn't bad either.

It's a love affair that began early in my life. Though I was only 3 years old in 1976 when Nadia Comaneci landed that historic perfect 10, I firmly remember in the years that followed, my mom, with her heavy Egyptian accent, would proudly introduce herself as "Nadia, like the gymnast," and everyone understood. 

I remember my dad's furrowed brow as he watched news reports in the months leading up to the 1980 summer games, and his patient explanation of how "boycott" did not refer to a gender-specific type of bed.

My brother and I spent much of the summer of 1984 reenacting key moments from the Los Angeles games in either our backyard swimming pool, or in the basement on our then state-of-the-art Apple II+, where we'd fight over who got to be Bruce Jenner in the Olympic Decathalon game. We scarfed down Wheaties from the Olympic edition box in preparation from the extreme thumb workout that would follow.

I've closely followed every summer Olympiad since then with a growing passion. 1988- remember all the sidebar stories about unusual street foods in Seoul? The 1992 Barcelona games took place just as I was packing my own bags for a year abroad in Europe. The shootings at the 1996 games in Atlanta nearly sent me over the edge. Sydney was one of my favorite Olympics, probably because Sydney is one of my favorite places (and it probably didn't hurt that at one point I had carried an Olympic-sized torch for a certain tall, blond Australian). 2004 in Athens- the modern day Olympics in Greece? Oh, the fabulousness. And who didn't spend the summer of 2008 holding their breath through each flip turn as Michael Phelps splashed his way through Beijing?

Which brings us to now, the start of the XXX Olympiad. And I mean that in the roman numeral sense, not in the "Debbie Does Diving" sense, because fortunately the Olympics are the essence of good, clean, televised family fun.

I'll watch because I love the sports, even though I'm not exactly a typical sports fan (I also have to Google "Who is playing in the Super Bowl" on a certain Sunday in January. Or is it February?), I'm definitely not what you would call coordinated, and I have a massive fear of games that involve flying balls (I was hit in the head with a baseball at my brother's 9th birthday party, which explains a lot in my life). I'm passionate about fitness in general and running in particular, but the only time I've ever won a race was at age 28, when those numbers were somehow reversed on my entry form. Eat my dust, octogenarians.

It's not just the sport but the sportsmanship of the Olympics that draws me in. I love that for this brief moment, regular competitors become team members. They are part of something bigger than themselves, if only for 2 weeks. I love watching the tears well up in their eyes as they hear their national  anthems played, a rare moment of patriotism for our increasingly polarized planet. I particularly love the demonstration sports, the ones played often just to show off something that's popular in the host country, like Icelandic wrestling in 1912.

I love the Olympics so much it made me wonder what the world would be like if we had something similar for parenting. What if there was a time and a place, every four years, where moms from around the world would come together, not to compete against each other, but to just show off the great feats of strength we're capable of and to learn from each other? (Sincere apologies to dads- you are just as integral a piece of the parenting puzzle, but in this case someone needs to stay home with the kids) It would be one giant demonstration sport.

Just like the traditional games, the Organizing Committee would scour the globe for an appropriate location to hold the Momolympics . It would have to be a place with all the required features to host such an elite bunch, somewhere desirable and accommodating, somewhere far from the distractions of daily life. Somewhere like Club Med Bora Bora.

We'd wear momiforms to level the style playing field, preferably something universally flattering, functional, and fun from our official sponsor, Target.

We'd march into the stadium with our flags and heads held high, having had a good night's sleep in our Momolympic Village and a massage from a guy named Sven.

And then, the games would begin. The "Making Grilled Cheese Sandwiches While Emptying the Dishwasher" event would bring out some of our nation's fastest hands, but might perplex the Europeans who don't necessarily share our rushed pace of life. We could discuss further over cocktails. The "Getting Babies to Sleep" event would highlight marvels from around the globe. And don't forget the always popular "Tantrum Taming" event- I can't wait to see what the Brazilians have to offer this time around.

Perhaps if we had the chance to celebrate our accomplishments, as well as our differences, we'd stop fighting "Mommy Wars" that have no winners.

Perhaps we'd understand that if our goal is to raise a world full of happy, healthy children who contribute to a global society, we need to stop tearing each other down.

Perhaps we'd see that we're really playing for the same team.

Perhaps if we felt less threatened and more supported, we'd stop trying to hold our children up as some kind of trophy. 

Perhaps if we could have a round of applause for sticking a landing (or sticking to our guns when it comes to enforcing bedtime), we'd see that what often feels like thankless, exhausting work is actually a gold medal worthy performance.
Perhaps we'd remember that we really are part of something bigger than snot and playdates and bake sales. Something bigger than ourselves.  

Perhaps we'd have a little more fun along the way, because parenting really is the greatest demonstration of love, of sacrifice, and of joy in the world.

 It's a lot to hope for, this Olympic dream of mine, but once every four years, once a quadrennial, it all seems so very possible.

And so I declare with a shiver of anticipation and a glimmer of hope, let the games begin.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Belated Birthday Wishes for My Baby Girl

My sweet little Ceci Bear,

I can't believe you are three years old!

OK, technically you are more than three, since your birthday was a full month ago.

Believe me, I do realize that some little girls have mommies who would have had an official birthday message prepared in time for the big event, printed out on fancy paper, folded into origami owls, and embossed with some sort of organic, edible monogram she found on Pinterest. Some little girls also have mommies who perform great feats of strength for a living. 

Maybe your mommy just needed a little extra time to get things just right. Or maybe your mommy is just struggling a bit with the fact that you are in fact three (and one month, I get it).

Maybe deep down, your mommy's biggest wish for you is that you would just stay two forever. Not even specifically two, just generally two-ish and most definitely, little-ish. Because the fact is, you are getting big-ish. Where just a few months ago you were a pocket-sized peanut, a speck in the middle of your big girl bed, you have suddenly become a long, lean, jumble of limbs surrounded by a a mess of crazy bed head.

And while I love that you're becoming so much more communicative, you're also becoming SO much more communicative which includes the bold declaration of your sudden and urgent need to poop in the middle of a grocery store at a decibel level most operatic sopranos would envy, or the equally assertive discourse issued from my bedside at 3 am that you are all done sleeping, and the general ability to talk virtually non-stop, about virtually nothing, from the backseat of the car.

So when I think of you getting bigger and older, I really do try to focus on all the wonderful things ahead, the wonderful person you are becoming, and the wonderful times we'll share. But I can't help but fear that every birthday brings you closer to the moment when ruffles and flowers and kitties and bows and your beloved Super Grover shirt are replaced by much....different things.

And from there it just seems like a short walk down a very scary alley to a place where you're you're getting piercings in places that most certainly should remain closed, and introducing me to your boyfriend, Snake, who you met online, and telling me that you've decided to give up that college scholarship to be a roadie for his band, Venom, and it's all so dark that I can't even remember a time when sunny days used to sweep all our clouds away. 

But since you seem so completely determined to grow up, so resistant to the idea of staying my baby girl forever, then you'll have to just allow me a few wishes of my own as you blow out the candles (OK, OK, you blew them out a month ago- work with me here!).

I wish I could bottle up a big batch of you at two and carry it around with me for the rest of my life. I wish I could take it out and spritz a little Eau de Deux behind my ears in those stinkier moments that are sure to come. I wish I could spray it all over the future and use its precious scent as a talisman to ward off the backtalk and the sass, because I'm sure teen spirit just doesn't smell that sweet.

I wish your vocabulary and pronunciation weren't expanding quite so rapidly, because quite frankly I love it when you say things like "flamily" and "my boo boo hoots" (although we really should work on the proper enunciation of the letter "l" in "clock" and it's really not fair that I don't correct you when you refer to a certain cartoon workman as a Dilder and not a Builder).

I wish you weren't so darn cute because that makes the whole discipline thing a bit tougher.  

I wish that I could stay up all night and watch you sleep because in your constant blur of motion, and in the chaos of daily life, I fear I don't always see you as closely as I should. But that's just not going to happen because let's face it, I'm exhausted, and I'm also more than a little creeped about by that book where the mom climbs up the ladder and sneaks into her grown child's home to watch him sleep. I'm sure in the sequel to that book he takes out a second mortgage on that house to pay his therapy bills. Boundaries are important.

I wish I could find a way to hold on to all these two-year-old moments so that they'd never dry up. I get sad enough when that little damp spot dries up- the one your freshly bathed head leaves on my shoulder when I read you stories before bed. It reminds me that no matter what happened during the day, no matter how many tantrums either one of has had, there's always a chance to wash it off and start clean. And the damp spot is a huge improvement over the spit up spot that you left in that same place for the first year of your life.

So maybe that's the key: maybe your mommy just needs to remember that even though things change, they often change for the better.

Maybe your mommy shouldn't over think things quite so much.

Maybe your mommy should just wish you a happy birthday (plus one month).

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Safety Town

First day of Safety Town, June 2012
So there I was, for the second time in as many months, sitting in a tiny school gym on chairs designed for much tinier behinds than mine, watching my almost five-year-old walk across a stage in a makeshift cardboard mortarboard with Pomp and Circumstance playing in the background.

The first time, it was for his preschool graduation. (I'm pretty sure my parents never attended such a ceremony for me circa 1977, but I digress...) This time, it was Safety Town graduation. For those not familiar, Safety Town is a one week program for 4 and 5-year-olds that teaches lessons about fire, pedestrians and traffic, water, guns, strangers and poisons/drugs. Each day has a safety theme that is accompanied by age-appropriate aids including puppets, songs, games and crafts, and special visitors like Neighborhood Safety Officer Mike, or Louis the Lightning Bug. One of the highlights of the program is a daily cruise  around the miniature town they construct in the parking lot on Big Wheels so the kids can practice traffic and bicycle safety under controlled conditions.

Around these parts, the week is a rite of passage for rising kindergarteners, one of those things that everybody just seems to do. "What week is so-and-so doing Safety Town?" is a commonly heard between parents on playground this time of year. So I didn't give much thought to the whole thing beyond getting our registration in before the deadline, which miraculously, I managed to do. A week of camp sounded great. Safety camp? Even better.

But somehow over the course of that week, something changed. As my little Safety Towner came home each day and shared his new found expertise (including a thorough inspection of our house and yard which turned up numerous egregious safety violations), I felt myself growing more and more concerned, and not just about Violation 107.4, subsection C: we do not have a fire extinguisher in the attic.

Fire. Strangers lurking in the park. Electrocution. Fingerprint kits. The more he learned about safety, the more dangerous the world suddenly seemed to me. As he ran through the house in his plastic fire hat singing "If you don't know what it is, ask a grownup not a kid, if you don't know what it is, walk away!" to the tune of "If you're happy and you know it," I did not want to clap my hands, but I did feel an overwhelming urge to get in bed and pull the sheets up over my head.

It's not that I haven't discussed safety with my son, and it's certainly not that we live in some sort of an idyllic bubble. As a former news reporter, I'm all too aware of crime, of tragedy, and of suffering, particularly where children are concerned. I've sat in courtrooms across from accused child molesters and murders, interviewed grief-stricken parents, friends and neighbors in the midst of their anguish, and stood by the side of the road as rescue crews worked (often in vain) to separate survivors from mangled metal.

But until that week of Safety Town, it hadn't occurred to me that I wouldn't be there to protect him from all that. Though he's gone to daycare, gone to preschool, he's even gone to spend the night at his grandparents' without me, his experience with the world outside our bubble has been limited until now. Home has been his dominant sphere, and I hope it will always be. But in September, he'll head to kindergarten, thus beginning a process where School and Friends and the vast mysterious Outside World will play a larger and larger role in his life.

I see that my little boy is ready for that seismic shift, that he has the confidence in his inner world to navigate the outer one. I understand that it will be good for him to experience different people, different ideas, and different ways of life. And as much as it pains me to accept it, I know that I cannot always be there to shelter him from harm.

Already, I see the changes. A cruel comment from another little boy made him realize that not everyone in the world is nice, and that words can be the most painful boo-boos of all. An ailing loved one has shown him that hospitals aren't always happy places for Mommies and new babies, and that some boo-boos just don't get better. I know that these lessons will continue, right along the ABCs and the 3Rs for the rest of his life. I see how important they are in building the person he is becoming, and yet I still can't help but want to push them away.

As we left Safety Town on that final day, I stepped off the curb and was heading for the car when he suddenly grabbed my arm.

"Stop, Mom," he insisted in a voice filled with authority I'd never heard from him.

"You need to look both ways. It's how we stay safe."