Monday, July 28, 2014

Mommy Mondays: Things We All Need to Stop Teaching Our Kids

I realize the title of this post may sound quite serious, but I assure you this isn't a post about sharing or breastfeeding or moms wearing bathing suits in public. It's about the obnoxious things kids say and then pass on to another kid, all at the expense of my sanity. I've been pretty lucky on this front, I guess, since Jack's social interaction has been fairly limited. But last week after swim camp, he came back with a few, shall we say, bad habits, things I know he didn't pick up from me (I already blame myself for plenty of other annoying and inappropriate things Jack says). Here, in no particular order, are some of the phrases I wish we could all agree to banish from preschooler vocabulary forever:

1) It's not fair!

This one makes me absolutely insane. From the way Jack uses it, I can tell he has no clue what "fair" means. Like I offer to take him to the park if he cleans up his toys and he whines, "It's not fair!" You know what's not fair, kid? That there are hundreds of over-priced, brightly-colored plastic pieces strewn carelessly across the floor and I have to BRIBE you to clean up your mess. No middle class kid in America who isn't being abused in some way really has a right to claim that anything in their life is "unfair." Where does this one come from, anyway? Who started this? What makes a four-year-old think he has any right to claim injustice when he is being fed, clothed, and sheltered by loving parents? Every time I hear it an 80-year-old man's voice pipes up in my brain: "Shut your trap, whippersnapper. Life ain't fair."

2) I'm telling on you!

Jack picked this one up at camp from some little girl named Zoe. If I ever meet Zoe in a dark alley, she better run as fast as her pre-K legs can carry her. I can still hear the way kids in elementary school used to say this when I was little: "Ooooooh, I'm tellin' on yoooouuuuu!" Uuuuuggghhhhhh. Look, I get it - we all want our kids to tell a grown-up if something bad has happened. But can't we just teach children to say, "I think we could resolve this in a more productive manner if a grown-up were involved"? Or at the very least, just walk away and get a teacher without the whole I'm-telling-on-you thing? The 80-year-old man is back, and this time he's saying, "No one likes a tattletale!"

3) Anything related to butts.

We have managed to avoid potty humor in our house up until now, but someone at camp must have given Jack the impression that this kind of talk is funny, because now any time someone says "poop" or "butt," he laughs. A fake, obnoxious, little boy laugh that drives me crazy. It's times like these that I realize how unequipped I feel to raise boys. Give me a PMSing 13-year-old girl any day. At least I can relate to that! Potty humor? I don't get it. (But the 80-year-old man in my brain is giggling. Apparently he appreciates this kind of thing.)

Look, my kid is no angel, and I'm nowhere near a perfect parent. I'm sure Jack has taught other kids some annoying things, and I'm sure The LEGO Movie is responsible for half of those. But if you'll teach your kid to stop saying "I'm telling on you," I promise I'll do my best to abolish the words "hippy-dippy baloney" from Jack's lexicon.

After all, it's only fair.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Foreign Service Fridays: ¿Cómo Se Dice?

Today on Most Eligible Family, I send out a cry for help - I need to learn Spanish! I also forgot to mention last week's post about Peruvian food. Please stop by if you get a chance. Oh, and happy Friday! Only one week until John leaves Russia for good!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Mommy Mondays: Life Lessons I Learned at Camp

When I was a kid, I went to several different camps, both of the "day camp" and "sleep away" variety. Maybe it's a testament to how pleasant my home life was, but while most of the other children seemed to take pleasure in field trips and camp food, the time spent outdoors and lack of adult supervision, I had a different take on the whole camp thing. In fact, I hated it.

I can remember three specific camps I attended: YMCA camp, which was probably a couple of weeks in the summer (similar to what Jack just spent the past two weeks doing); Foxfield riding camp, which was a two-week sleep away camp at the barn I rode at; and, worst of all, Sunny Skies, which we fondly referred to as Scummy Skies.

There's evil lurking behind those wonky eyes...

Perhaps I was foolish to think Jack's experience at swim camp would somehow be a positive one, but after the first three days, which all went, well, swimmingly, things got ugly. Every day he clung to me in tears, begging me not to leave him alone. Part of it was the fact that the five or six different camps the YMCA has all met in a gymnasium in the morning, where they sang the aforementioned "Boom Chicka Boom" and several other classics. Unfortunately, it was incredibly loud and echo-y in the gym, and Jack sometimes has an aversion to really loud noises. Then there was the fact that the counselors were never in the same place at the same time, so I couldn't find people he trusted to leave him with. He also hated certain aspects of the swimming (basically any aspect that didn't involve flopping around at will). His favorite part of the entire two-week experience seems to be a bus ride he took on the second day. (He just admitted this morning that he wasn't actually supposed to get on the bus. Whoops!)

While I greatly enjoyed my free time every day - I spent two or three hours in the mornings eating pastries, drinking coffee, and writing, then met up with friends for lunch or shopping in the afternoons - drop offs were so painful I wasn't entirely sure it was worth it. Now that camp is over I'm starting to rethink that, however...

Still, as much as he "hated" camp, he did make some friends and maybe learned a thing or two about swimming: his report card revealed significant improvement in bubble blowing, although his floating still needs a lot of work. (His teacher also wrote, "Sometimes Jack doesn't always want to get in or participate, but when he does he is very enthusiastic." Why do I get the feeling I'll be seeing more of those types of comments in the future?).

He went from a 1 to a 4 in bubble blowing. Never has a parent been more proud.


But perhaps these kinds of experiences are important, as negative as they may be. Looking back, I can think of quite a few things I learned at camp, and I thought I'd share them with all of you. Maybe they'll bring back fond (or not so fond) memories of your own...

Life Lessons I Learned at Camp:
1) Bees sting. No matter how many times you get stung by a bee (seven), it still hurts like hell.
2) Boys are never too young to want to see naked girls.
3) Water parks are a great place to pick up stomach viruses.
4) Chlorine turns blonde hair green.
5) Getting pooped on by a flock of birds is NOT lucky.
6) Rattlesnakes will make even the toughest of boys cry like a baby.
7) Sandwiches do not make good beach food.
8) Long bus rides are better with friends.
9) Sunscreen is not optional.
10) Camp is more about Mommy's sanity than it is about you having fun.

So, to the a-hole counselor who told me to "flick it off" when I had a bee on my pants (bee sting #3), the boys who watched us change through the holes in the wooden fence by the pool, and that poor girl with the white-blonde hair which turned a fascinating shade of chartreuse, thank you for helping to shape my childhood, for better or worse.

And Mom - I finally understand why you happily shipped us off to camp every summer. Some day I may even forgive you.





Thursday, July 17, 2014

Things I Love Thursdays: Call the Midwife

When you have a baby and your husband is out of the country, you find yourself with a lot of long, lonely evenings. We have about five cable stations, so I've been scouring Netflix for something to watch. I'd seen "Call the Midwife" come up as a suggestion, but to be honest, the picture and description sounded kind of boring.

From Netflix: "This period drama set in impoverished East London in the 1950s follows a newly qualified midwife and her colleagues at a nursing convent."

Nurses on bikes. Woo. Hoo.

But then my sister said I should give it a shot, so I did. And guess what? It's great! The first two seasons are available on Netflix, and I'm sad to say I'm quickly running out of episodes. The nurses are adorable (Chummy, a large, relatively unattractive nurse with a heart of gold is my personal favorite), the nuns are nothing like you'd expect, and there are adorable babies galore! Personally, I'm wondering where I can get a giant pram and if it's still legal to leave your baby hanging out in one all day...



(Please note: Anyone in an emotionally compromised state - particularly pregnant women - will probably sob at least once in every episode.)

Monday, July 7, 2014

Mommy Mondays: My Summer "Vacation"

Today was Jack's first day of swim camp. I signed him up back in January, when I knew John would be gone for seven weeks and I'd be alone with two small kids all day, every day, with no help. At the time, two weeks of full-time camp sounded absolutely brilliant. I'd be able to get in some one-on-one time with Will, and Jack would learn to swim. But as the first day approached, I started to get nervous. Jack's never done anything like this before. Eight hours is a long day, especially for a kid who's barely been to preschool. How would he do? And how, for that matter, would I do?

Dropping Jack off was surprisingly difficult. I cherish my time away from my kids, because it's rare and I need that "me time" to feel like myself. Since last October, I've spent almost every single day with Jack, and adding Will to the equation has made it significantly harder to get time alone. Any time I do get to myself is usually limited to two or three hours anyway, so it's not like I have that much opportunity to miss them. But today was different. First of all, I left Jack in a somewhat chaotic situation. There are multiple camps at YMCA and everyone gets dropped off together. Jack, being fairly brave, seemed unfazed. The first thing he said to the woman checking him in was, "Do you have a diving board here?" As if Jack knows the first thing about diving, let alone swimming. But then he was led off by a girl whose name I didn't catch, looking terribly small in his backpack, and I started to worry. What if he didn't like swimming? What if he got lost in the shuffle? What if he started flapping his arms and roaring like a dragon and people thought he wasn't quite right in the head? I called out goodbye, and he turned back for a moment, shouted, "See you later, Alligator," and before I could respond with, "After a while, Crocodile," he was gone.

I walked back to the car with Will and saw Jack being escorted through the parking lot to where all the campers were gathering, big and small. Jack stood on the outskirts of the circle while the counselors led the campers in a round of "Boom Chicka Boom" (on a side note, how is that still around? I used to do that at camp nearly three decades ago!). For a while Jack just watched, but I could tell from his body language that he was getting frustrated. He was leaning forward and waving his arms like a mad chicken, something he does when he's angry or excited. A counselor walked over to him, took him to another part of the circle, and walked away. I probably would have sat there all day watching him like a stalker if someone hadn't been waiting for my parking spot.

Look how small he is!

I almost cried as I drove away, but I managed to suck the tears back in and head off to the grocery store. The day loomed ahead of me, long and free. What would I do with eight whole hours to myself?

As it turns out, everything I normally do. I shopped, Skyped with John, worked out, had lunch, showered, did laundry, caught up on email, attempted to write, prepped for dinner, and in between all that took care of Will (I guess I'd forgotten that you aren't exactly "free" when you have an infant. Whoops.).

My new writing buddy.

At 5:00 I went back to get Jack. I was afraid he'd be bedraggled or upset, but he was surprisingly alert and happy. Apparently everything went fine (aside from the fact that a kid in a yellow shirt was mean to him, his lunch got mixed up with someone else's, and his flip-flops and sunscreen are missing. Oh, and he didn't pee for eight hours.).

I learned a few things today. First, that Jack is going to be just fine at camp for the next two weeks. Second, that I won't be nearly as productive without his company as I'd hoped. And third, that I'd better label every single thing I send him to camp with, down to his juice box (some other kid's High C ended up in Jack's lunch bag, although he assures me he got his Honest Kids lemonade).

As for Jack? Swimming went great and he learned the words to "Boom Chicka Boom." I think tomorrow's going to be even better.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Mommy Mondays: The New Normal

I am a creature of habit. I like routines and schedules. I love lists and plans. I can roll with the punches pretty well when things go awry, but the idea of things going awry stresses me out. John likes to call me a catastrophizer. I believe I inherited this from my mother. Thanks, Mom.

After Baby Will was born, my routine was obviously thrown out the window along with the notion of sleep. Newborns don't have schedules, unfortunately, and when you add a move into the mix? Forget about it. But now that he's 8 weeks old, I figured it was time to get some kind of order into my life. John returned to Russia a little over a week ago, and while I may be ready to kill myself every evening around, say, 7:00 pm, I find it slightly easier to stay organized since I have one less person to take into account. One of my main goals was to start working out again. I even purchased a crappy but functional treadmill from Craigslist before John left.

And then life happened. On the day John was leaving I got my second nasty cold since Will was born (my immune system sucks these days). I also got mastitis. If you've had it before, you know how awful it is. The best way to treat it is to stay in bed and nurse frequently. This doesn't work so well when you have to drive your husband to the airport an hour away, you've got an appointment to buy a stroller off of someone, and you have no one to take care of your four-year-old. Enter antibiotics. I'm sure my immune system will be even more pathetic now.

So today I finally got on the treadmill. And you know what I discovered? I'm completely, woefully out of shape. Granted, I haven't worked out in nearly a year, but my days of running twenty miles a week seem far out of reach. After Jack was born I signed up for a marathon. I knew that was unrealistic this time, so I signed up for a fun ten-miler instead. But with just over three months to train for it and no help with the two kids, I'm actually a little worried. I keep waiting for things to return to normal - my writing, my blogging, my exercising, my sleep, my poor stretched-out abdominals - and I'm realizing that "normal" no longer exists. My life will never be what it was before, at least not until the kids are in school full time. And by then I'm afraid it will be far too late for my abs.

This week I've decided to come up with a new definition of normal. My plans and goals have to shift with my priorities. No more working out six days a week. I'll take three. No more blogging four days a week. I'll settle for once. I knew I wouldn't have time to write after the baby was born, but I think it's reasonable to send out a few queries every week for the book I finished right before he was born. I'll take short cuts wherever I can get them (I'm buying a dust pan specifically for the clean up of Legos, for example). And I'll try to remind myself every day that the only person who cares if I wear makeup or make my bed...is me.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Mommy Mondays: Treading Water

I can't believe it's been two weeks since I blogged last. I wouldn't say time is going quickly these days, but it's like it keeps slipping past me, rolling along while I barely manage to stay afloat.

I know this is what early motherhood is like. The days are filled with nursing the baby, making sub-par meals for Jack, running load after load of laundry, trying to keep the house from turning into a complete dump, and heading out for the occasional errand. The nights are even worse. I feel like I've just fallen asleep when it's time to get up and feed Will again. I know that I'll look back on this period and it will feel like a blip on my life's radar, but right now it's just plain hard.

Part of it is knowing that John is leaving for Russia on Friday, and I'm trying to get as many random things done as possible before then, because I know I'll have even less time once he's gone. And part of it is that I have no time for the things that help keep me sane, like writing and working out. Waiting four years in between kids didn't help - I'd gotten so used to having my freedom again. Being tied to the baby by breastfeeding is challenging for me. Sometimes I just want to go out without having to worry if the timing is going to work or if the baby is freaking out while I'm away. Most of the time I want that, if I'm being honest.

But even though I'm impatient for the future in many ways, for the days when I can go to the gym or out for dinner with friends and know that everyone back home is just fine without me, I also have this sense that I need to slow down, to worry less about getting it all done and just focus on the baby, who has already grown and changed so much. So that's my goal for the next seven weeks, while John is away: to stop fighting so much against the current and just go with the flow, if only for a little while.

Otherwise I'm afraid I'll look back on this time and wonder where it all went.



Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Life With Two: The First Month

I apologize for being so absent from the blogging world lately! Honestly, this past month has been a whirl-wind. New baby? Surprisingly not that difficult. Moving with said new baby? Really freaking hard. Of course, we haven't made life easy on ourselves. We had my parents visiting the week after Will was born, we moved the week after that, and we went out of town the two weekends after that. Yeesh. Fortunately, Will had his one-month check-up today and he appears to be doing very well. My sanity, however, is subject to debate.

The new house. I love it!
So, how is life with two, you may be wondering? It's going okay. Jack is a trooper and Will is a very easy baby. John went back to work for the Marines yesterday so I'm officially on my own this week, and aside from a bad cold and smashing the car into a telephone pole yesterday, I'm doing fab. I even managed to a) shower, do my hair, and put on makeup b) feed and clothe both children c) arrive on time to Will's appointment with both kids in tow. Yesterday I tackled Target with both kids. Honestly, if you're thinking of having two kids, I highly recommend the four-year spread. Jack is so independent at this age and Will is a piece of cake (aside from only sleeping for 3 hours at a time at night - I forgot what sleep deprivation feels like).

The biggest hurdle ahead is John going back to Russia in a few weeks. I know I can manage on my own with two, but I am anticipating some long evenings and boring weekends. What I really need to do is find a babysitter! If anyone in Old Town has a recommendation, please pass the info along!

I have a feeling this is what a lot of our naps are going to look like in the future.

Right now my writing focus is on an upcoming interview for a blog. It's been a long time coming and I'm really excited about it. Once that happens I'll be querying my most recent novel and hopefully working on a collaboration project with my critique partner. I have a ten-miler scheduled in early October (a humble fitness goal but a goal nevertheless) and I'm really hoping to get into Spanish training this fall. For now, I mainly want to get through the summer without killing my children or myself. Oh, and sending out birth announcements before this kid goes to college seems like a worthy goal too. Just don't hold your breath.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Home Is Wherever I'm With You

Last week the lovely folks over at dogvacay.com asked me to write a post about what I consider my "home away from home." For some people I guess this is pretty easy: a cafe you like to write in, a family vacation home, a favorite corner of the local library. But if you're someone who moves frequently, like I am, it's hard to find a special place where you really feel at home. (Although I will say there is one place I can go to wherever I am that provides a certain comfort and familiarity: Starbucks. I know, shameful. But you can't beat it for consistency the world over! A chai latte is the same in London, Barcelona, Geneva, Istanbul, and Moscow. Alas, there is no Starbucks in Yekaterinburg.)

The truth is, there is no one place I consider home anymore. Foreign Service housing (in my limited experience with it) is fairly impersonal - in Yekaterinburg we all had the same furniture, so I could go to another diplomat's house and sit on the exact same yellow-orange nubbly sofa that waited back in my living room (which is a lot worse than seeing the same IKEA bookshelf in your friend's apartment, I assure you). And for the past six months, I've been a traveling nomad, a squatter in my parents' house, and, most recently, holed up in corporate housing.

But despite all that, I don't feel homeless in the slightest. I think it's a wonderful thing to be able to make yourself at home anywhere. And for me, as long as the people I love are nearby, I'm home. Even during the looooong Russian winter, when "home" (aka America) seemed a million miles away and I was sure I'd never see the sun again, I wasn't really homesick. Compared to deployment, when our house felt empty and cold without John there to warm it with his presence, Russia was a cake-walk. One I don't care to repeat, mind you, but still.

So there you have it. My family and friends are my home away from home. Which is a lot better than Starbucks, don't you think?

That. Right there. My home.

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Writer's Voice Entry

Here's my entry for The Writer's Voice!

Title: Needle's Eye
Genre: YA urban fantasy
Word Count: 69,000

Query:
17-year-old Akira Tanaka isn’t your typical Russian girl. Sure, she does ballet, but only to hone her Japanese sword-fighting skills, and she wouldn’t be caught dead in stilettos or a mini-skirt. Between her Russian grandparents and Japanese-American father, Akira has been raised on a combination of cultures that leaves her feeling out of place even in her hometown of St. Petersburg. With her sights set on an upcoming kenjutsu tournament and university in Japan, Akira is blindsided by the mysterious Dmitri, who not only wants to be a part of her future, but knows entirely too much about her past.

Meanwhile, a series of violent murders has left several major Russian cities on edge, and there are strange links to a story Akira’s grandfather told her when she was still a child: the story of Koschei the Deathless. Up until now, she never believed her grandfather’s ridiculous claim that Koschei had spared his life in exchange for Akira’s soul, any more than she believes in the big bad wolf. But the strange, insect-like sound her grandfather once described is eerily similar to the one Akira hears every time another victim is killed. And the more time she spends with Dmitri, the more she starts to wonder if there isn’t something evil lurking behind his ice blue eyes.

As the murderer closes in on the people surrounding Akira, she finds herself on the verge of losing everything—and everyone—she’s ever cared about. Now it’s up to Akira to stop the killer, but this time it will take more than a deal with the devil to save the people she loves.

NEEDLE’S EYE, a multicultural YA urban fantasy, is complete at 69,000 words and will appeal to fans of Christina Farley’s Gilded. I have written and edited professionally for multiple publications including Leatherneck Magazine, the Costco Connection, and the Veteran’s Administration blog. For the past year and a half, I have lived and worked in Yekaterinburg, Russia, where my husband is serving as a diplomat. I hold a Master’s degree from the University of London and blog about my experiences abroad at mosteligiblefamily.blogspot.com.

First 250: 
When I was very small, my grandfather told me stories of Koschei the Deathless.

He was trying to frighten me. They were the kinds of tales villagers told children to keep them from wandering alone into the woods, the Russian equivalent of Little Red Riding Hood.  But just as there was nothing scary about a wolf wearing a bonnet and bifocals, there was nothing remotely frightening about my grandfather, so I paid little attention to his stories.

Solavushka,” he began (he had called me “little nightingale” since I was an infant, when I kept everyone up all night with my “singing”), “the thing you must know about Koschei the Deathless is that he will not appear as a wicked old man with a long white beard, the way the storybooks say. He will not take you to his castle to make you his wife.”

I nodded as I examined my grandfather’s long, wiry eyebrow hairs, wondering why my grandmother didn’t trim them.

“Akira, are you listening?”

“Yes, Dedushka. I will make sure to stay away from Koschei.”

“You are not listening, child,” my grandfather grumbled, standing abruptly so I tumbled onto the floor. “How many times do I have to tell you?” He shook his head as he stormed off into the kitchen for some of my grandmother’s walnut oreshki. 

“I met him when I was a young man,” he told me once, not long before he died. “He had taken the form of a small girl, just a year or two younger than you are now.”