Monday, September 15, 2014

Mommy Mondays: Life With Boys

If you know me in real life or have been following this blog for a while, you probably know that I have always wanted daughters. I started saving my favorite toys and clothing for my future girls when I was about seven or eight years old. While my sister Sarah gravitated toward dolls with long hair and pretty dresses, I usually chose baby dolls, including a porcelain baby doll in a Christening gown that must have driven my father insane (we're Jewish). It was never a question that I would have a daughter. Even when I found out I was pregnant with Jack, I consoled myself with the fact that it was only my first, and Sarah wrote me the best baby shower card: "Remember: Shakespeare, Kipling, Tolkein, Twain - all boys." How could I not love a mini-John? The mini-me would come later.

When I heard the words "it's a boy" for the second time, I once again found myself reimagining my future. For the first few years of Jack's life, gender didn't seem that important. But starting around age three, when his interests became stereotypically "boy" (trains, pirates, superheroes), I had a much clearer vision of what a life filled with boys would look like. And frankly, I wasn't all that excited about it. I don't get many of the things Jack loves: building LEGO does nothing for me (and any satisfaction I get out of assembling a 500-piece set is completely obliterated the second Jack dismantles it); I've never cared where lava comes from; his obsession with tarantulas is basically my worst nightmare. A friend brought her daughter by the other night and I stared longingly at her ballerina Barbie while Jack pretended to ride his stuffed dragon. My own Barbies are stacked neatly in a plastic bin somewhere deep in a storage unit. One of these days I'll get around to donating them to Goodwill.

I feel wildly outnumbered sometimes, even though Will is only four months old. As a friend said the other day over coffee (she has THREE boys): there are just so many penises. The thought of sharing a house with John and two teenage boys is mildly horrifying. People tell me I should be grateful I'll never have to deal with a PMSing girl, but the thing is, I understand PMS. Greasy, sweaty, pimply teenage boys, on the other hand, terrify me as much now as they did when I was a teenager myself. I find myself buying T-shirts adorned with cartoon characters and detachable capes, a haze of pink tulle always just within my peripheral vision. But I've banned myself from the girls section of Target. I know it will only conjure images of the daughter-I'll-never-have. Or worse, I'll buy something and squirrel it away for the daughter-that-could-be.

But lately, when the boys are all upstairs getting ready for bed and I hear John's deep chuckle mingled with Jack's contagious cackle and Will's giggle-in-training, I feel indescribably blessed (and believe me, I'm not the kind of person who says "blessed").  I know I'll never get to braid my daughter's hair, but Jack is remarkably gentle when he tries to give me a ponytail. I feel a stab of envy when friends take their daughters to Disneyland to meet the princesses of my childhood, but I never imagined that I would get to be the princess ("Prettier than Elsa," according to Jack). And recently, when I went through the box of things I'd been saving for my daughter, I discovered that most of the items were stained or yellowed with age. The future I had so firmly in my mind, the one whose loss I spent weeks mourning last winter, was never really meant to be.

I'm still getting used to the idea that I won't take my daughter wedding dress shopping one day; I will NEVER be a soccer mom if John's and my hand-eye coordination is any indication. I dread the question I've already been asked many times: "Are you going to try again for a girl?" (I half-jokingly answer that I've "tried" twice and look where that's gotten me - it clearly wasn't meant to be.) But mostly, I'm trying to remind myself that the future never looks exactly how we think it will.

Sometimes, if we're lucky, it's even better.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Foreign Service Fridays: Did I Mention the Food?

I realize I've spent a lot of time blogging about FS stuff lately - I promise to get back to Mommy Mondays just as soon as something blog-worthy happens. (Jack's performance today at John's promotion ceremony might just make for a good post, once I've moved on from furious to amused.) In the meantime, I hope everyone has a wonderful weekend.

PS - Did you know Peru has the best food in Latin America?

Friday, September 5, 2014

Foreign Service Fridays: Russia On My Mind

I've been thinking a lot about Russia this week.  Hop on over to Most Eligible Family to read about it, if you like. Happy Friday everyone!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Writing Wednesdays: The B Team

Some of you may be wondering what's been going on with that whole writing thing lately, since I haven't blogged about it in ages. The truth is, I haven't blogged about writing because there hasn't been much to report. That's not to say I haven't been diligently working behind the scenes for the past year or so. I have, a lot. But despite all my hard work, progress has been slow. I finished my Young Adult Contemporary Fantasy set in Russia, Needle's Eye, back in March, and I've spent the past few months revising when I can. I've entered a few contests and had some mild success in terms of agent requests, but nothing major (obviously). So when I entered Pitch Wars--a contest where 60-something mentors (agented or published authors or editors) choose one manuscript each to work on for two months before a big agent showcase in November--a few weeks ago, my expectations were low. (There were something like 1200 applicants this year.)

I've entered Pitch Wars with three different manuscripts over the past three years, and even though two mentors chose me as their alternate the first year, and I received requests for more pages from all four of the mentors I subbed to last year, nothing came of it. This year I took a chance and submitted to a blogger I've admired over the years, from way back when she was in the query trenches like me, to the release of her novel, Killing Ruby Rose, which came out a few months ago and has done extremely well. Jessie Humphries is one of the most down-to-earth, friendly, and funny writers I know, and even though I wasn't sure she'd like my novel, I decided to go with my gut. And I'm so glad I did!

Jessie chose me as her mentee this year, which means she'll be reading my entire novel and providing me feedback before the agents take a gander in November. I actually dreamed that Jessie chose me last week (she couldn't tell me she'd chosen me, but she told me "not to worry about it" and winked at me - which is kind of weird because Jessie lives in Las Vegas, so I'm not sure how we were hanging out, but anyway...) but I never thought my dream would literally come true! I found out I made it in last night at midnight, so I had to whisper-squeal and hop around quietly since both kids were sleeping.

Jessie's alternate, Jocelyn Rish, and I are officially part of Team B-Words (Jessie's blog is called "The B Word," which stands for Book Writer, Blog Stalker, Baby Maker, and, if you ask me, BRILLIANT! And beautiful too. I have serious hair envy when it comes to Jessie...) and I couldn't be happier with my team. Thank you, Jessie, for taking a chance on me, and Jocelyn, I'm so excited to be teammates! Go Team B-Words!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Foreign Service Fridays: до свидания, Россия

Today on Most Eligible Family, I say an official farewell to Russia! My sights are now firmly set on Lima (assuming I survive until then). I hope everyone has a great weekend!

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.