Monday, June 30, 2014

Awkward Mom vs. the Next Generation

Not that next generation; Awkward Mom isn't tangling with Klingons. She's not crazy. 

My Daring Darlings-

There is a small but loud group of folks that aren't expecting much from your generation. They seem concerned that the abundance of technology is going to cause a complete lack of imagination and contribute to your total isolation and selfish withdraw from society. All those i-Devices proving prophetic, I guess. They periodically pull out data to back up their claims. No, not that Data. (You guys really want this letter to be trekkie, don't you?) Important, scientific data with charts and graphs of poor academic performance and decreasing social skills that this loud group of naysayers like to wave around, usually on an iPad. I know....

It's sad, but we must not judge them too harshly. You see, they don't know you guys. They haven't seen what I have seen. They don't drive you around, listening to the worlds you can create with nothing more than some time to kill and a need to laugh. They don't merge onto the highway and shout into the backseat, "Who wants to play with the wind?" They aren't met with a thunderous wave of "Me!" and one 4-month-old baby smile, up for anything and blindingly radiant, even when filtered through 2 mirrors. They don't get to roll down all the windows, blast the Beatles, and glance in the rear-view mirror at the magic going on. No one is immune or too cool to give in to the sheer beauty of going 70 miles a hour; one's childish need to fly takes over. Giggles bubble up and spill over, creating an ocean for the blowing hair to dance in, like so much blond seaweed. I worry that it might tangle between you, but the unity you have created in your wind wonder would surely be fine with that. You can barely hear each other over the rushing and the music, so you flash smiles that are enough; your communication is as effortless as your joy. You start to bop together and sing along, changing Paul McCartney's nah-nahs to poo-poos with total gleeful abandon. Laughs so very distinctive; Super Kindergartner's is silky, Super Preschooler's is deep, Super Toddler's is barky and infectious, and Super Baby's is so new that it still squeaks unexpectedly. They all merge together, yet allow the harmonious mass to shift around; everyone has a spotlight moment. This is no borg, but a happy group of collaborators who have learned that playing with the wind is best when no one wins the race.

I don't know what amazing feats of technology you are going to witness in your lifetime. I suspect that you will probably be the innovative force behind a couple of them, and I really hope you get those hoverboards that the rest of us have been praying for since 1989. My point is this; I don't worry about technology spoiling you or making you retreat into yourself. Use whatever you need to channel your natural imagination. Try not to blow anything up; you have enough imagination between the four of you to power the planet, the USS Enterprise, and anything else that boldly goes where no one has gone before. Come to think of it, there might be quite a few explosions, but that's cool. It will work out in the end because I know you guys. And you are all incredibly generous, loving, playful, kind, inclusive, warm, sweet, quick, and utterly brilliant without being jerks about it. Go prove those naysayers wrong, in your charming, disarming way. Go. Boldly go.

I love you,
Awkward Mom

P.S. Dibs on the first hoverboard ride!

"If I were given the opportunity to present a gift to the next generation, 
it would be the ability for each individual to learn to laugh at himself."
Thanks, Charles Schulz.

"From one generation to the next, 
the Beatles will remain the most important rock band of all time."
Even more truth.
Thanks, Dave Grohl.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Awkward Mom vs. The Mommy Wars

For all you Switzerlands out there, the Mommy Wars are a tad more complicated than the Iran-Contra Affair, but I am gonna break it down for you. Basically, the Mommy Wars comes from the title of Leslie Morgan Steiner's 2006 book, Mommy Wars: Stay at Home and Career Moms Face Off on Their Choices, Their Lives, Their Families. As the title suggests, or rather just states, the Mommy Wars are between Stay at Home and Career Moms, but, like any "good" war, it soon branched out into border skirmishes between breast-feeding and formula feeding moms, co-sleepers and cry-it-outs, home-schoolers and school-users, natural child-birthers and epiduralers, no-you-can't-go-up-the-sliders and I'll-race-you-up-the-sliders. Just looking at the previous sentence has the potential to make any mom's blood pressure rise in anticipation of the fire-fight to come. Make no mistake, a Mommy Battle can break out at any time and without any warning. They are like the American Civil War, in that they pit sister against sister. They are like the World Wars in scope. They are like the Vietnam War in confusion. The Mommy Wars are fierce, long, and deeply embedded in our collective consciousness about what it means to communicate with other moms.

They are also a giant waste of time.

"But Awkward Mom," you are thinking, "you engage in the Mommy Wars with your antics with Perfect Mom! I mean, even the not very subtle and quite passive-aggressive name you have given her shows your bias and that you have chosen a side in the Mommy Wars."

"Thank you, Imaginary Reader, for bringing that up and so eloquently setting up my next point. It is almost as if you were reading my mind!"

As to my ongoing battles with Perfect Mom, here is the truth about that: I love Perfect Mom. At the end of the day, she is my sister. The Marcia Brady to my Jan. She's the Magneto to my Professor X. I see things in her that make me jealous. I also see things in her that annoy me and that I never want to emulate. I will bet you a dozen donuts that she is looking at me and thinking that exact same thing. OK, maybe not the jealousy, but everything else. When the aliens invade and we have to come together as a people to defeat them, putting aside our differences and fighting for the common good of the planet, I want Perfect Mom right by my side. She is sure to have some good stuff in her arsenal and I guarantee that she is a dead shot. Woman totally has the skills. Why do you think I have her for a nemesis? Because she is my equal and a true challenge. If she was someone I didn't respect at all, then I would hardly bother to engage with her, wouldn't I?

And maybe that is the best lesson of all; we must all deeply respect each other and our various mom-decisions if we are so willing to get into arguments about them with such regularity. We are willing to go to war over them. But perhaps the Mommy Wars are simply loud conversations that we need to bring our inside voices to. And introduce a little chocolate and tea to. Get a few pillows, a little humor, a couple smiles. Some laughter and a pinch of patience. All of a sudden, we are just hanging out with our sisters; joking around, discussing some stuff, changing the world.

For, know this: "The connections between and among women are the most feared, the most problematic, and the most potentially transforming force on the planet." Thanks, Adrienne Rich. Wanna be on my team when the aliens invade?

Oh, they're going to invade. It is just a matter of what form. I am leaning toward Michael-Bay-level transforming robots. But there is also the tried and true Area-51 grays. What do you think, Readers? Who's coming in the alien invasion? And do you wanna be on my alien-fighting team? Because I totally want you on my team!

I'm gonna hide under here until the Mommy Wars are finished.

All done? 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Awkward Mom vs. Doubt

You know that little voice that writers are supposed to have? That strong, steady, if small, voice that dwells within and tells writers that they aren't crazy. Whispers to them that they are supposed to be writers. The little voice that admits, yes, we are all artists, but you, my love, have something special. Something burning that should be shared with the world before it blows up inside you due to lack of eyes. That voice that writers cling to when the rejection and doubt and frets and fusses come to call. That powerhouse hidden within a reed; an aria from a mouse.

Well, my mouse must be taking a smoke break with the cool kids because she is no where to be found, and the frets and fusses are hungry. All I have to give them are semi-poems and self-pity. Hardly a meal. They'll soon turn on my creative core, hardly sated. That's really more of a centerpiece; delicate as an orchid and not made to be pawed by Doubt and his heavies. I am running out of poem peanuts, so if you see my writer voice, please send her home.

And tell her to stop smoking; her voice is hard enough to hear as it is.

Where's this Doubt guy, Mommy?
I have a heavy of my own I would like him to meet. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Awkward Mom vs. Star Wars Camp (Prequel)

Today is Super Kindergartener's first ever summer camp, and it's a dozy. Star Wars Camp. This was me, finding out that I didn't get to go:

Come on! I got dressed up and everything!

Anywho, Super K., his buddy Awesome K., and a plucky band of itty-bitty Jedis will be spending the week saving the galaxy from the evil Empire. Or making lightsabers out of paper towels rolls. I'm not sure. I don't exactly know what they are going to be doing because I just dropped him off and was scuttled out of there by extremely official-looking teenagers with homemade badges in little plastic holders. They kept promising me that he would be "fine" and "have fun" and that I should "go relax." These people have clearly not met Super Toddler, but they meant well. I know he will be fine, but he looked so little and lost at that cafeteria table. Awesome K. was in the bathroom and the little boy next to him didn't engage after Super K.'s "who's your favorite Ewok?" icebreaker. Super K. was looking around with slight terror and I was getting worried that I had plucked him down on Alderaan at the wrong moment.

You see, he is my oldest. My first. And he firsts like a champ. He is the calm, slightly cocky, leader of the Supers. He's gentle. He's sweet. He's smart and impatient and a little whiny on occasion. He's ultra nerdy. He's open to all things. He thinks the Force is for real. He's brave and loyal and faithful. Basically, he's Luke. He's all kinds of Luke.

And Luke gets hurt. Like really hurt. He thinks he's an orphan. I don't think he ever does get those power converters. His aunt and uncle get incinerated. There's the emotional scarring of finding out that your father is Darth Vader, which sucks. His mentor dies. Spectral voices are nice and all, but come on. Then, his ghost mentor sends him to another mentor, who also dies. Or disappears. Or becomes one with the Force. Whatever, he's not here to say cool things in a weird way. And Luke doesn't get the girl because she turns out to favor his cooler friend with a cooler ride. Oh, and she's actually his sister. Then there is the little matter of LOSING HIS HAND.

Super K. is 6 now. He passed Kindergarten with flying colors. He can write and read and do math that is starting to be beyond me. He's amazing and strong, and I have come to think of him as Luke from Return of the Jedi; defying Jabba and saving everyone. Using the Force like a bad-ass and grinning a secret, private smile because he knows just how awesome he has become. That's the Super Kindergartener that I know, but looking at him from across that cafeteria it dawns on me that I might be wrong. Maybe he's A-New-Hope Luke; scared and alone and being beaned in the face with that floating orb thingie Obi Wan was using to teach him about the Force. For goodness sake, he's 6-years-old! I bet you that baby Darth Vader wasn't even flying his pod-racer by age 6.

I am gearing up to go back and rescue him when Awesome K. pops back to the table and whispers something into Super K.'s ear. He flashes her a grin that isn't only Return-of-the-Jedi Luke, but bordering on Han-Solo-level. They both see me and wave. Happy loose waves that reach me long after they have already moved on. They are half paying attention to me anyway. There are rebellions to join and empires to reduce to rubble. There are epic battles to be waged, planets to rescue, and adventures just hovering there on the edge of the horizon. First, those Clone Wars coloring books need some attention, and Luke and Leia there are just the ones to do it. I slip out the door and down the hallway; I'm not ready to become a spectral voice from beyond the Force, but if he needs some space to test his wings, then I can do that. I'll pop over to Tosche Station for the day. We are running low on power converters anyway.

Look at that grin!
Little Luke is growing strong in the Force, even with 2 functioning hands. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Awkward Mom vs. Compliments (battle 16473)

Well, I can't document every battle with Compliments. I spent enough time fending her off; I don't have energy left to talk about it! 

For the backstory; here ya go. Basically, to quote myself (and thus throw my argument into a bit of a tailspin, but let's ignore that) "I'm a honest-to-goodness deflection Ninja with an arsenal of creative weapons to hurl your compliment back at you or just knock it miles away, where it can't touch me or, God forbid, actually land in my heart."

And I am wondering if these compliment ninja habits of mine are being passed on to the Supers. Do my children dodge compliments with the artistry of their mother? Are they mini-Neos; slow-mo sliding under the compliments with the flexibility of circus performers? Do they stand there like Superman and just let the compliments hit them, confident they will harmlessly bounce off? Are they more like the energy absorbers, who take all those compliments in, only to fling them back, full-force, at the original hurler? Or maybe they Wolverine it? Allow the compliments to affect them slightly but never to fully penetrate their inner soul? Avoiding compliments takes many forms and it is necessary to have multiple ways at your fingertips. You never know when you might run into an aggressive complimenter.

I want to know what I am raising here. Mostly to steal their techniques, but that is neither here nor there. Therefore, I conducted an experiment. I complimented the Supers regularly over 5 days to see what would happen.

Now, I compliment my children all the time. It is impossible not to; they are super, after all. Within the course of an hour, I could praise kindness, intelligence, sausage eating ability, lightsaber twirling, math skills, beauty, spelling, artistry, somersaults, couch fort construction, throwing, catching, climbing, and a stirring rendition of Let It Go. They are pretty amazing.

But for the purposes of my experiment, I decided to use just one compliment and see what would happen. I picked "You are a good friend." I picked this for 3 reasons:

1.) Because they all are very good friends. To me. To each other. To their playmates. To random kids at the park. To sundry invisible and imaginary people.

2.) Because it is specific but yet vague; meaning they wouldn't get suspicious of my repeatedly telling them this one thing, everyday, for 5 solid days. I probably tell it to them daily as it is and it has endless varieties. "You are a good friend." "What a good friend you are." "You certainly know how to be a good friend." "Friendship is your superpower." OK, so, many not endless varieties, but enough. I didn't want them catching on; starting to tailor their answers and messing with me. After all, they are super smart.

3.) And because it is a quality that I think it pretty important in the long run. Beauty fades. Smarts only get you so far. Lightsaber-dueling, while extremely valuable, doesn't truly bring balance to the Force the same way that kindness can. Being a good friend is one of the major underpinnings of society; why not encourage it, along with gathering some vital compliment stats?

OK, so here is the raw data. We'll draw some conclusions, but for now, let's just see what happened:

Super Kindergartener's responses to "you are a good friend" and similar phrases.
Day 1: Thanks!
Day 2: Yep! Hand me that lego, OK?
Day 3: Thank you, Mom. You too!
Day 4: I know; Awesome Kindergartener thinks so too.
Day 5: Thank you. You too, Mom!

Super Preschooler's responses to "you are a good friend" and similar phrases:
Day 1: Thanks!
Day 2: Invisible Grandpa says so and he is never wrong.
Day 3: Friends are good.
Day 4: Yes. You too, Mom!
Day 5: Invisible Grandpa is my great friend. I am a good friend to him because he is my good friend.

Super Toddler's responses to "you are a good friend" and similar phrases:
Day 1: OK.
Day 2: OK.
Day 3: Friends. I like friends. I am great friend. My friend love me. You love me, Mommy!
Day 4: OK. Hungry, Mommy.
Day 5: OK.

Super Baby's responses to "you are a good friend" and similar phrases:
Day 1: Face-splitting grin
Day 2: Nodded off.
Day 3: This:
Day 4: Something like this: 
Day 5: This: 

I am no Reed Richards, but I think the evidence here is overwhelming. My children are terrible Compliment Ninjas! They just accept them; they take them in, with various degrees of depth, and actually thank the Complimenter. What is this madness? It's almost as if they think the complimenter isn't somehow attempting to trick them into a false sense of security or flatter them for some nefarious purpose. It actually seems like my children just accept that they are good people with the occasional flaw, rather then deeply flawed with the occasional, and usually accidental, good. I think they actually believe good things about themselves! They actually see compliments as someone's honest and true attempt to point out something real and equally true, instead of some huge web of lies built for the purpose know, I never did figure that part out. Never mind, point is, my children have inherited none of my compliment avoidance and praise paralysis. None. Not one bit. Nothing at all. 

Thank goodness. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Awkward Mom vs. Summer

I am battling my old foe, Holy-Crap-How-Why-When-Did-Summer-Start-Where-is-the-Sunscreen-and-Why-is-that-Woman-Wearing-a-Bikini-at-the-Pool-While-holding-a-Baby-Please-Tell-Me-she-is-the-Nanny-of-Course-she-isn't-the-Nanny-Why-is-this-Towel-Sticky-I-hate-Popsicles-Speaking-of-Popsicles-I-am-Melting-Seriously-Where-is-the-Sunscreen.

He usually just goes by Summer.

At least Super Toddler seems to like him.

We are off to celebrate the beginning of summer at Awkward Grandma's place. She has a horse. Super Toddler is horse obsessed. There will be adventures. Back at ya with those super soon, Readers. Stay cool!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Awkward Mom vs. Art

Like actual Art. Art Carney, I think I could take on easily. 

Super Toddler takes an art class on Mondays. She gets me all to herself, sits next to her bestie, Phenomenal Toddler, and has free access to as many goggle-eyes as she wants. It's basically heaven and she behaves like an angel while there. It's a blissful 45 minutes that I should just enjoy, but being me, I think I will cast about for reasons to stress and over-think. It's more awkward that way.

Our class is an absolute cross-section of Ann Arbor parenting. There are 12 parental figures, and they are, in no particular order: Me. Phenomenal Toddler's wonderful nanny. 2 grandmothers (1 totally bored and 1 slightly too excited). The working mom on her lunch break who never lets her iPhone out of her hand. The working mom who takes Mondays off and left her phone in the car. The ultra crunchy mom with a recycling symbol tattooed on her upper arm, a baby wrapped to her, and constant news about her organic garden. The sorta crunchy mom who likes to work her cloth diapering into every conversation she has with Ultra Crunchy Mom. 2 Perfect Moms; 1 of the tall and intimidating variety, who mentions how dusty the room is at least once a session, and 1 slightly shorter one who just dresses really well and has the most well-behaved toddler on the planet. The hippie grandfather with a ponytail who misses every other art class and always wears a t-shirt from some obscure folk band. And a fairly normal mom who never sits near enough for me to get a read on her; she may be an alien. No one is that nondescript.

We are wildly different and yet 2 things unite us. 1) Our guardianship of 12 adorable, spectacular, and earth-changing people. 2) Our near compulsive desire to force those little wonders to be exactly like us.

We can't help it. We poke at their projects, shifting things slightly more to the center. Urge them to not put green next to purple. Try to cut the tissue paper for them. We tell ourselves that we want to help, but really, we want to control.

And they can't help it. They shift their projects out of our reach. They gleefully mix brown with yellow. They rip anything they can get their hands on. They just want to be themselves, but really, they totally want to rebel.

What to know how I know this? Well, watch Ultra Crunchy Toddler. Despite his mother's pleas that he "express himself" and "put stickers on the baby if you feel so moved," he is sedately cutting paper into the perfect little suit for his gingerbread-man figure and paying rapt attention to the teacher's instructions. Got that? OK. Now watch Perfect Toddler putting the glue in his hair while his mother practices her yoga breathing to keep from yelling.

It's the circle of life, Readers. We all want to be ourselves. We all want to try new things. And sometimes we all want to annoy our parents just because. Nothing like a little danger to truly feel alive.

And when we land on the other side of this see-saw, we still want to be ourselves. The ourselves that we spend so much time with and so understand. It is natural to want to pass on this knowledge to those little impressionable babies in our care. And they let us...for a time. Toddlerhood is our first real taste that these babies are no longer babies and not remotely interested in being exactly like us. (Unless you got really lucky and got a rebellious baby; you already know all of this.) Sure, they'll take some of it. Hopefully, the really good stuff; some money skills, a singing talent, the good sense not to play beer pong at the frat house. But they are gonna shed some stuff too; stuff you thought they might want. Stuff you picked out just for them, with the best intentions and utter love. It will hurt to see your shiny gifts thrown on the floor like so much unwanted glitter and sticker backing. It will hurt but it's important. It's important because the journey of raising children is the long hard journey of letting them go. And you need to start now. I know, that's crazy! They are only 2. But believe me, this is not a ripping off the bandaid or jumping in the deep end of the pool situation. You do not want to be the mom completely losing it on that college campus 16 years from now. Don't make anyone call security to escort you off the premises because that is gonna be one uncomfortable first Thanksgiving home and the holidays are hard enough. Don't be that mom.

Basically, treat toddlerhood for what it is; your training wheels for adolescence. And you are so gonna need that yoga breathing. Start letting them go today. Don't be silly and try to make them walk home alone or something. They are only 2! But maybe let them pick their own construction paper color. Let them hold the glue stick. If their gingerbread-man figure is 18 colors, has yarn tentacles, and is really an alien from the planet Zeep, well, so be it. Make your own gingerbread-man figure if you want it your way, that one isn't yours. She never was.

I'm pretty good at letting Super Toddler do her own art thing.
Probably because I am so busy spying on everyone else! 

I have reconsidered. I think Art Carney would win, hands-down, in a battle with Awkward Mom. "Ya know what I mean?"