mommy musings LESSONS ON MOTHERHOOD, LOVE, AND LIFE
Mommy Musings, Copyright ÂŠ 2017 by Kristine Bruneau All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. ISBN-13: 978-1542863315
For Rob and James â˜… Wisdom doesnâ€™t need a temple to live. It lives in every part of life, waiting to be uncovered.
I am sincerely grateful to: Elizabeth Zack of BookCrafters LLC for copyediting, Danielle Valente for the book cover and interior design, Tricia Laufer for proofreading, and my parents Frank and Linda Argento for instilling a love of reading, writing and storytelling. I wouldnâ€™t be this far in my journey if it werenâ€™t for all my dear friends and family members who continue to support and encourage me - Thank you!
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Introduction ..................................... i CHAPTE R 1:
Baby in Driver Seat ...........................1
CHAPTE R 2:
Happy Birthday ................................7
CHAPTE R 3:
The Dog Ate My Breast Pump ........11
CHAPTE R 4:
James and the Giant Poop ...............13
CHAPTE R 5:
Tangled in Leather ..........................15
CHAPTE R 6:
Little Red Mustang .........................21
CHAPTE R 7:
Kindergarten Angst .........................25
CHAPTE R 8:
Boys and Sticks ...............................29
CHAPTE R 9:
The Tooth Fairy ..............................31
CHAPTE R 10:
You Canâ€™t Hurry Scrambled Eggs ....37
CHAPTE R 11:
God of Discipline ...........................39
CHAPTE R 12:
The Right Tilt ................................43
CHAPTE R 13:
Hello. Good-Bye. I Love You...........45
CHAPTE R 14:
Got Rhythm? ..................................49
CHAPTE R 15:
The End Is Where We Begin ..........53
CHAPTE R 16:
Tomorrow Is a Better Day ...............59
CHAPTE R 17:
The Art of Listening .......................61
CHAPTE R 18:
The Alchemy of Joy ........................65
CHAPTE R 19:
Kids Are Good for You....................69
hether or not you are a first time parent, deciding to have a child is a lot like starting a home improvement project with an incomplete toolbox. You have to begin from a mindful posture, and bring your sense of humor and an open mind. As I quickly learned: You are not in control – baby is. A baby is a pure being. In the womb it swims around and grows, causing all sorts of interesting physical and mental wackiness to occur in a woman’s body. Some of these are things she’ll never completely recover from. What she and her partner will give up, however, will be paid back in wisdom. The moment you become a parent is when your ordinary life becomes extraordinary. There’s no shortage of advice and help for parents. More than 12,000 parenting titles are for sale on Amazon.com as of this writing. Not to be ignored is the unsolicited opinion and wisdom from well-meaning family, friends, and strangers. However, all the advice, research, charts, and infographics don’t mean a thing unless you experience parenting for yourself. No one on this planet, including yourself, can prepare you for the enormity of having children and all the conundrums that tag along. When you decide to give your time to your motherhood project, do it wholly. Don’t wish you were in some other place or doing another thing. Once there, give up, give in, and give it all you’ve got. Get rid of your head trash and think of the time you
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spend with your child as a gift. Go inward, first. Trust yourself, and then, push onward. To me, being a parent is a role you act upon. Within this role there’s work – hard work. When you experience raising a child, a relationship develops and deepens. You can’t just have a relationship with someone without working at it. Anything worth doing well is hard work. There is joy in the doing and learning from all the mistakes you’ll undoubtedly make. Kids are cute and cuddly when they’re small – and not so much as they begin to grow into “little me’s” and talk back. Too, our kids somehow become reflections of ourselves, which can be a hard pill to swallow. It’s all in how you look at it: the decision to have children, the incubation of a baby, the arrival of your newborn, the reality that this is forever, and your reactions to first-time and recurring situations with your kids. Throughout the pages of this book are gentle reminders of why kids are good for you — because sometimes we forget. As parents, we’re all on an epic journey of self-discovery. I’ve found that when I allow myself to see the world through the eyes of my child and act from an open heart, I learn something new, which I place in my toolbox. I hope you will, too.
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CHAPTE R 1
Baby in Driver Seat Put your faith in little things – that is your greatest source of strength.
missed you in my sleep,” James said as I leaned in to wake him one morning. Surrounded by soccer heroes, angry birds, and wimpy kids, I climbed onto his bed and put my arms around him. My little man hugged me back. He was twelve years old then, but it doesn’t matter; he’ll always be my little man. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t write about him. Strange, but I never thought about it before. I write about James every day. It’s something I did even before he was born. James saves me. — Before he was born, James was in charge, but being new to this whole parenting thing, Rob and I had no idea. We arrived at the doctor’s for a routine prenatal check. When we asked when baby would be due, the doctor replied, “Baby come when baby come. Baby in driver seat.” — What have we gone and done? Our lives will change forever with this child, this little person we must Mommy Musings | 1
constantly watch. I will be bringing into the world a helpless being who will be totally and completely dependent upon me for sustenance and security. Eventually, baby will go mobile – and then I won’t be able to let him out of my sight for fear that he’ll get hurt. Gradually, this boy of ours will develop his own personality, rely on Rob and me less for nurturing, and expect things like a toy, a phone, or a car. Am I jumping too far ahead? I should enjoy this time in my life, but I don’t think it’s really hit me yet. — Today, as I write this book and return to reading those two previous journal entries (penned far in the past), it brings me back. Back to a place I had forgotten, a time when I didn’t know I would have a boy, but knew I was going to have a boy. I chose “he” or “him” instead of “she” or “her” in referring to baby back then, even though I decided not to learn the sex of my baby from the ultrasound. Still, when questioned by others afterward about the gender of my baby, I said that I “knew” I would have a boy. At the time, I also chose not to undergo testing for genetic “defects” such as Down’s Syndrome and Spina Bifida. I didn’t want to stress my baby with amniocentesis or worry about the menu of “what-ifs.” I wanted to enjoy my pregnancy. I wanted baby to enjoy it too. I think it was a good goal to have. — I’m twelve weeks pregnant, and I didn’t realize how much my body would change. I used to complain about my tummy roll and bubble butt; instead, I should have been appreciating my fitness level and muscle tone. Now – good Lord! – My skin and organs are expanding at a
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frightening pace. I feel like Alice in Wonderland when she super-sized herself after eating a spiked crumpet. I’m uncomfortable, tired, and afraid. Will I ever feel normal again? — I began to show in only my second trimester. As I drove into a parking garage in Rochester on September 11, 2001, everything seemed fine except for the crazy itchiness around my belly, where my skin had begun to stretch. It was just before nine a.m., and as soon as I entered my workplace, I went on a conference call in my boss Julie’s office. We were discussing a client’s direct mail campaign with folks from our New York City office, located near the World Trade Center. In mid-sentence, we lost the connection. Puzzled, Julie and I looked at each other. I dialed the number again and again. Busy signal. As I was about to punch in the number another time, our creative director burst into the room and told us the World Trade Center (WTC) had been bombed. The conference room at work had a television. When I reached the room and looked at the screen, I saw flames licking away at the WTC building. And then, a plane flew into the second tower. More flames and black smoke. I was stunned. The moment I saw the crash my world changed. I cradled my swollen belly as tears fell from my eyes. All I wanted was to go home and pray: for the dead, the dying, the unborn, and the living. I needed to go home and hug my husband, my parents, my brother, and my nieces, and tell them that I loved them. A new fear arose inside me: Would my baby grow
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up under the constant threat of fanatical acts of terror and war? That December, a new curve-ball was thrown my way when I learned that the ad agency I worked for would close at the end of December: There wasn’t enough business to keep the doors open, so I would be laid off. I realized…I didn’t mind. Work had become unsatisfying, disappointing, and stressful. More than anything, I wanted to focus on my baby – and now I could. Love and nurturing would be my new currency. Still, staying home wouldn’t mean checking out from the professional world to which I’d grown accustomed. I decided I could still take on a freelance project or two, and keep writing. One minute, I was driving along life’s fast lane. The next, I was in the “slower traffic, keep to the right” lane. — “Kristine, Ray died,” my dad said over the phone. “I just talked to Uncle Ray,” I objected, even though I knew the cancer in his lungs had spread through his body in the past few months. “He called me a few minutes ago. He said everything would be all right. He told me not to worry.” Just then, I realized that I had dreamt about his phone call last night. And I remembered that when I had last visited him, I had noticed he relied more and more on liquid morphine to keep him comfortable. Still, I thought he’d hang on for a few more weeks because he was a stubborn man who made a living as a fine artist. Despite numerous critics of his art, Ramón Santiago was one of Rochester, New York’s most celebrated artists. His portraits of sultry women and whimsical creatures have hung in galleries world-wide and been collected by Hollywood stars.
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Later that day, I went for an ultrasound to see if the baby had turned to the head-down position. Rob and I had been planning to ask the technician to write down the sex of the baby and place it in an envelope to hand my uncle. Despite my uncle’s death, we proceeded as planned. When we handed my aunt (Uncle Ray’s wife) the envelope, she said, “He already knows.” — The doctor told us that if the baby still hadn’t turned by week thirty-eight, we needed to explore options. What options? Well, for one, the doctor could try to turn the baby using external cephalic version, an aggressive abdominal massage that is successful only half the time (not to mention stressful, painful, and risky). The other option was a C-section. I wanted neither. I told my friend Ann, a massage therapist about the options. So she came to my house on New Year’s Day to try reflexing points on my feet that might encourage the baby to turn. She also gently massaged my belly. When she was there, the baby moved around a lot, but refused to move in the right direction. On my own I tried exercises, inversions, and visualization techniques to get the baby to turn. After everything, he still seemed to be stuck under my rib cage. — When I saw my doctor at week thirty-eight, the baby hadn’t budged. We scheduled a C-section on January 9th – a week before my original due date. I left the doctor’s office feeling disappointed because I wouldn’t be delivering vaginally, as I had planned and prepared for. The news that a C-section was in my future simultaneously rattled and relieved me. I had focused so much of my energy on trying to
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turn this baby that I was tired. What I needed was to turn my attention to delivering a healthy and stress-free baby. — I rubbed my angel worry stone – a recent gift from my aunt in remembrance of my uncle. This small thing kept me calm, patient, and mindful while I waited to deliver my baby. The doctor was right – baby in driver seat. — Lesson: Have faith in small things because the road to parenthood is paved with tiny discoveries, challenges, bumps, and miracles. Your baby is in the driver’s seat even before he arrives. Sit back and enjoy the ride. Invitation: Wherever you are in your journey of parenthood, pause for a moment to appreciate and reflect upon the small things in life.
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CHAPTE R 2
Happy Birthday Dear, dear! How queer everything is today! And yesterday things went on as usual.
– Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland 1865 by Lewis Carroll
e looks just like a little man!” my husband Rob exclaimed. When I caught a glimpse of James in the doctor’s hands as he held him high above my eviscerated belly, I said, “He has a lot of hair!” Baby James had a pelt of dark hair that made him look eerily like Eddie Munster (according to Rob). To our great relief, it fell out a few weeks later, and James remained bald throughout his first year. The day James Ray Bruneau arrived kicking and screaming into our lives was long and exhausting. Rob and I waited thirty-eight weeks – plus an extra six-and-a-half hours pacing the hospital floor before a scheduled C-section – for our six-pound, five-ounce, twenty-inch bundle of joy. After the nurses cleaned and swaddled James in blue-and-white cotton and placed a stocking on his head, Rob cradled him in his arms. Neither Rob nor I could stop smiling as we looked from our sleeping baby, to each other, back and forth, again and again.
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Gazing into my baby’s face, I thought, My dream has come true! During my pregnancy, I had a vivid dream of a little boy picking flowers. The bright sun had illuminated his golden wisps of hair and fair skin, and he looked like an angel. I was sure that the child I was seeing was my son. It’s true: Nothing can prepare you for the birth of a child – and nothing can prepare you for the loss of one. The day my son was born, my dog Gunnar died. He collapsed in the street only minutes after a brisk run in the snow-covered hills of our neighborhood. I didn’t want a dog at first. So Rob worked on me for months, bringing me a boxer key chain, a boxer magnet, a book on boxers, and more. (Obviously, he wanted to adopt a boxer!). Then, after one visit “to take a look” at newborn pups, I was smitten. Several weeks later, we brought home a crop-eared, brindle-colored pup and raised him like a son. We fed, exercised, and played with him until he grew to nearly ninety pounds. When Gunnar started dragging me around the block, I signed him up for obedience classes. He eventually learned to walk by my side without a leash, and comforted me when Rob traveled for his work. Gunnar was my protector, my companion, my child. When six-year-old Gunnar collapsed and Rob rushed him to the vet’s, my thoughts weren’t on Gunnar. Nor were they on Ruby, our newly adopted one-year-old boxer. I was getting ready to have a baby, and I was worried: Would I know what to do? Would I be a good mother? Would I enjoy being a mom, or would I regret it? Would the dogs behave with the baby? That day, I prayed for my baby’s health. I prayed
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for strength to do whatever it takes to raise my child to be good. I prayed that the cut on my finger didn’t turn into a horrible staph infection. I felt my tummy and stroked the hard, round ball that moved with the lightest touch. I thought of my grandmother Grace, who died when I was five. I knew she was watching over me, as she has my entire life. She wouldn’t let anything happen to me or the baby. Guess I was as ready as I would ever be. By the time James entered this world, my best friend had left it. Things happen for a reason that sometimes lies beyond our comprehension. I believe that Gunnar watches over James. I also believe that maybe, just maybe, Gunnar lives on in James. — Lesson: Neither Rob nor I appreciated just how the changes in our lives would affect us. We caught a ride on a roller coaster without brakes, and the anticipation of giving birth and the irrepressible joy of holding our newborn son collided with the anguish of losing our beloved dog. Invitation: What changes have occurred in your life? How are you holding up?
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CHAPTE R 3
The Dog Ate My Breast Pump When you’re at the tipping point of frustration and exhaustion, try laughing. There’s less mess to clean up afterward.
hat measures do you take when your canine is attracted to your breast milk so much that she eats an important part of your breast pump? Ruby, our one-year-old pup, was always there watching James suckle my breast. She was there when he spit up; she’d lick the milk from the floor, his face, my hands, and his feet. She also was there to lie on his blankets or stuffed toys that had fallen on the floor. It’s like my breast milk was a magnet, beckoning her to come. I used a breast pump initially to induce my milk flow. I continued to use it to store my milk in a bottle or freeze it for feedings when I wasn’t with James. That way, Rob and other family members could take turns feeding James. One day as I washed my breast pump, I was in a sleep-deprived haze – and left the parts to dry on the ledge of our bathtub. Later, I went to collect my pumping gear, but I couldn’t find the small pump membranes that stop expressed milk flowing back
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from the bottle into the pump. I looked around, at first thinking I must have dropped them on the floor. Then I checked the sink and inside the tub. Finally, I realized: Ruby! She must have sniffed out the soft, rubbery discs, and devoured them. I told Rob what I suspected, and ordered him to keep an eye on Ruby’s poop over the next few days. After all, what goes in must come out. I also asked him to buy some more membranes. Three days later, Rob reported that the discs had appeared in Ruby’s poop. “Do you want them back?” he asked. “No, thanks,” I said. “I’m good.” Together, we laughed at the silliness of it all. — Lesson: Don’t lose your sense of humor, and keep an eye on any small parts that smell like breast milk. Invitation: Reflect on your day with your partner, and laugh about it together.
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CHAPTE R 4
James and the Giant Poop We are all slightly insane.
saw bubbles rise to the water’s surface as James grunted and lifted his little white tushie off the rubber bath mat. He looked up at me with his big brown eyes and smiled. I laughed, thinking that all he was doing was tooting. And then he pooped. “Ahhh!” I screamed as two rather large, dark nuggets floated toward the drain. Instinctively, I jerked James out of the bath and placed him on a towel. He wanted to climb back into the warm sudsy water and play with his rubber ducky, but the twin turds circled the defenseless creature like vultures. I immediately drained the water. Bath time was over. “We don’t make ‘ca-ca’ in the tub,” I said. “It makes more work for Mama.” I continued to reprimand my one-year-old: “You need to tell me when you have to poop so I can help you put on a diaper or sit on the toilet.” Clearly, James didn’t understand my reaction. He looked a little confused. I grimaced as I thought about how I was going
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to have to disinfect the tub, mat, and toys. I also wondered if I should disinfect James since he was in the water at the time of defecation. I reasoned that because it was a “formed” poop – and he was only in the water for a second! – that I was relieved from scrubbing his skin raw. It’s not like it was James’s fault. After all, he’s only a one-year-old. It probably felt better than pooping in his diaper and feeling it mashed like potatoes against his skin. Unfortunately, the daunting task of sanitizing the tub was ahead. While James slept a little while later, I pulled on my yellow rubber gloves, plucked the brown balls from the bottom of the tub, dropped them in the toilet, and flushed. I peeled off the bath mat and threw it in the washing machine. I picked up the toys and placed them in a bucket for disinfecting later. I sprayed, wiped, and rubbed the fiberglass of the tub – and then I sat on my heels and admired how the tub sparkled. I was glad I could enjoy the current setting. After all, finding a way to appreciate poop in the tub takes practice…and patience. — Lesson: Happiness is a clean tub, until the next poop. And since there will always be more poop, one must develop a whole lot of patience (and practice patience.) Invitation: Today, take a frustrating event like poop in the tub, or your child’s temper tantrum in the store, and ask yourself: Why should I let this make me act like a devil-mom? Can I deal with this situation with less emotion, or just take it in stride and enjoy the moment?
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CHAPTE R 5
Tangled in Leather Love is not f inding someone to live with; it’s f inding someone whom you can’t live without.
appy Mother’s Day!” my husband said, handing me a white box tied with a red ribbon. I opened it to reveal a gorgeous pair of black leather pants. As I fingered their buttery softness, I remembered recently admiring a mom of three who looked incredibly chic while standing at a party in a pair of black leather pants. My ever-observant husband had also noticed the leather’s alluring quality, and he knew I had grown tired of my stay-at-home-mom (SAHM) uniform (jeans and a tee-shirt). Too, I often grumbled to him about having “nothing to wear” minutes before leaving the house on a rare night out. Well, now I did, and the leather pants he had given me had amoré branded all over their slippery hide. Wearing the pants however, didn’t sway my biological clock, which was screaming like a caged banshee. “I can’t keep these pants,” I sighed. “Do you like the pants?” my husband said. “Yes.”
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“Do they fit?” “Yes,” I admitted, managed a clumsy pirouette before the mirror. “Then what’s the problem?” “I want another baby.” With those four words, I twisted a sweet, gift-giving moment into an intractable Gordian knot. I wanted to keep the pants, but felt guilty hanging on to them knowing they wouldn’t fit for very long. The right thing was to return the pants. Instead, I kept the pants. Over the next several weeks, thoughts of dancing babies ooga-chaka’d on my brain, while my husband worried about our finances and his frequent travel schedule: Was now really a good time to have a second child? We pondered the decision over a couple of lattés. When the buzz wore off, we accepted that there would never be an ideal time to have this child. My husband promised to adjust his schedule, and I agreed to cut back on unreasonable demands such as washing, dusting, mopping, and cooking. So, we got busy. Month after month, while friends and acquaintances swelled with their good news, I had nothing that was going to transform my figure. Complicating things further, I failed to have a period. “Low estrogen,” said my OB/GYN, who put me on a course of hormones to get me ovulating. After a fruitless year of hormone-taking, I turned to a fertility specialist. Months of testing, poking, and prodding showed nothing abnormal going on inside of me. The outcome of my husband’s semen analysis was good – lots of wiggly, motile sperm. Finally, we got a diagnosis: unexplained infertility. Mine.
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But I already had a baby. How could I be infertile? The doctor at the center explained that I may have had this “condition” all along, and that we were just “lucky” the first time. Lucky? I felt a lump in my throat. The nurse handed me a white notebook and discussed my treatment plan. There were conditions, cocktails, and syringes. I had to follow the rules of my chosen experiment. And even if I did, there were still no guarantees. What did I expect? It’s not like the doctor could hand me a Happy Meal and say, “Here’s your baby. Have a nice day.” I couldn’t just knock on the window and demand my prize. Overwhelmed, scared, and totally unprepared, I opened my new three-ring bible looking for answers. Instead, I got a crash course in pregnancy percentages and potential side effects from all the treatments. The only good news was that I had joined millions of women each year who embarked upon this unpredictable emotional roller coaster. During treatment, I struggled to keep my composure. I resented swollen bellies the most, families with two perfectly spaced kids next, and then the well-meaning mothers or grandmothers who dared ask the dreaded question, “When are you having another?” “We’re working on it,” I always answered. But often that wasn’t enough to get them to drop the subject. Instead, they deluged me with advice, opinions, and stories of fertile wombs until I was reduced to a sniveling mess. “Don’t worry, dear, it will happen,” said one. “I took fertility drugs, and then stopped. Eleven years later, I had a baby,” said another.
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And then, there was the completely insensitive, “All my husband had to do was look at me, and bam! I got pregnant.” But I also heard stories from women who had miscarried, given birth to a baby who died shortly after, or had a baby who was gravely ill. When I learned about their troubles, I struggled for words. My load didn’t seem that heavy. Yet even with this knowledge, I despaired. It sucks to not get pregnant when you want to. Months of anticipation and letdowns left me on edge. When James didn’t listen, spilled his juice, or did any of the two hundred maddening things toddlers do, I overreacted. I screamed. I stomped. I cried. One day, when James refused to settle down for his nap, I yelled and slammed a book on the floor. “You’re scaring me, Mommy,” James said, sobbing. A monster was raging within me, and my child had noticed. It was time to drive her out. “I’m thinking about giving up,” I admitted to my husband. “But I’m going to feel like a failure if I do.” “Don’t judge yourself,” he consoled. “It’s okay to end this.” After all, the stress and strain of treatment had frayed the edges of the most important thing we already had: our family. Still, I obsessed over my decision. When I visited the gynecologist for my annual exam, I told her I had stopped fertility treatment. Sitting there in my paper gown, it didn’t take long until I had reduced myself to a muddle of soggy paper. “Nature is more powerful than any of us,” she said. “You can’t force your body to get pregnant. You
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can take all kinds of drugs and still end up without a baby. Focus your attention on James. He needs you. You’re healthy. Be happy. Move on.” As a mom, letting go isn’t easy; I’m still wrestling my inner demons. I have one child. I wanted another, and then I couldn’t, but I tried, and then I stopped. But I still have a great pair of black leather pants, which like my family, fit. — Lesson: Infertility is not a moral failing. Not having the number of children you expected to have is far less important than what you’ve done and what you continue to do with what you have. Invitation: Consider your reaction to events that are out of your control. If they cause you to feel out of control, where is the opening that will lead you through the chaos and into peace?
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CHAPTE R 6
Little Red Mustang Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. – Anonymous
hen James turned two years old, we bought him a jungle-themed potty throne. Many of James’s friends were already pooping in the toilet; why not James? Besides, he loved animals, so we thought the chair might motivate him to poop. “Give it a try,” I said in my most soothing voice. I thought I was experienced in this, uh, line of work because I had house-trained two very stubborn boxers using a trick confided to me from a wizened breeder. She told me, “Take an unlit match, paper-side-up (not the wooden kind), and moisten the tip with your mouth. Then insert it halfway into your puppy’s bottom.” Like magic, both our puppies pushed out the match and their poop. As puppies they got busy where and when I wanted. As I reflected on this good-luck match trick, James continued to sit upon his throne. Eventually he gave up and asked for a diaper to do his business. I gave in. (After all, he wasn’t a puppy!) A few months later, I put James in underwear
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imprinted with his favorite Disney characters and rewarded him with a small prize whenever he sat on the toilet and peed. Several toys later, James finally got it: Pee in the toilet, and Mommy or Daddy gives me a gift! Pooping on the potty, however, proved scary for James. If I continued to urge him to try and use the toilet when he had to go poop, he would fling himself on the floor thrashing and wailing. Offerings of plastic animals, candy, stickers, a fish, and even a trip to Africa didn’t assuage him. I felt stressed. I was running out of time since James turned three, and preschool was lurking around the corner. The rule at this particular place was that all children needed to be potty-trained before starting. A recent Google search yielded more than 18 million pages on potty training from ‘how to get it done’ to ‘potty training in three days.’ More digging online and looking on store shelves revealed potty training dolls, books, videos, music, chairs, and special wipes to come to your rescue. Web rings and forums, parenting blogs, and the like abounded to help you get to your goal of “breaking your child’s diaper” habit. My friend Mary told me about seeing babies and toddlers wearing snapless onesies and crotchless pants when she had been living overseas in Shanghai, China. When nature called, such children could just “squat and go” anywhere. Mary’s kids were beyond the potty-training stage now, but she reflected, “Just think of how much money I could have saved by not buying diapers!” Yes, potty training is a multi-billion dollar industry – and American parents are suckers. I caught an episode of “Nanny 911” once where the nanny decorated the toilet with trees and plants to get the little boy to “pee-pee” in the potty rather than
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outside in the yard. I thought she was on to something until I caught James relieving himself – just like a wild animal ¬might – in my expensive silk bamboo. That’s when I realized that even expert potty trainers can’t guarantee results. Potty training was more time-consuming than I thought. After nearly two-and-a-half years of reading, talking to other moms, researching, and analyzing, I realized that it wasn’t worth pushing my kid too hard. And guess what? James made it through his first year of pre-school without incident. The year had passed, and James had turned four. Yet at home, he still wasn’t ready to complete his potty training. My husband Rob came up with his own idea: If James pooped on the potty, we’d buy him a car! Okay, okay: Rob was referring to a twelve-volt, plastic ride-on that James could use to cruise the streets of our neighborhood. I was doubtful, but why not give it a try? One afternoon, Rob explained the idea to James, who upon hearing the on-the-toilet idea, promptly threw a tantrum worthy of an exorcist – and then fell asleep. After he awoke from a two-hour nap, James marched into the bathroom, sat on the toilet, and pooped! That evening our family picked up a red Ford Mustang. (The plastic ride-on version, that is.) “It has a racehorse on it, so it’s fast,” said James, referring to the hood ornament. The next day, I watched James zip along the street with one hand on the wheel and the wind blowing back his hair. He had the radio blaring. I looked at my husband and smiled. To me, Rob was a genius. —
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Lesson: Potty training requires patience and genius. What works for one child may not work for another, but one thingâ€™s for sure: Every kid will eventually poop on the potty. Oh, and donâ€™t forget that your significant other can have brilliant ideas, too. Invitation: Pay attention to the opportunities that life presents to you, and try out a new idea or solution to a difficulty your child is having.
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CHAPTE R 7
Kindergarten Angst Fortune favors the brave.
hile most moms shed tears of melancholy when they send their squeaky little ones off to kindergarten in September, I shed tears of joy. But it wasn’t because I didn’t want my son around. As the first day of kindergarten approached, I filled with dread: All summer long I agonized whether my son James was really ready to leave the feathered nest. After all, he had a history of “separation anxiety,” one that we had made great strides to overcome. However, there was still a glitch. When introduced to new situations, James quickly became frustrated. My usually calm son transformed into a screeching, furless ball of arms and legs, which proved both physically and mentally draining to me. At the end of the day, I find myself drowning in introspection with a Cosmopolitan on the side. How on earth was I going to get my five-and-a-half-year-old to board the bus on his first day? While reading Real Boys by Harvard psychologist William Pollack, I panicked over his claims that going to kindergarten at age five pushes boys into separating
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too soon from their mothers. Pollack insists that this separation “is a mistake with serious emotional consequences” such as depression. He also reasoned that wild mood swings in boys are due to “earlier, unrequited longings for connection and a fear of shame.” Frankly, that’s not what I wanted to read. I knew now my son was going to develop a complex requiring psychotherapy and drugs for the rest of his life because his mama shipped him to kindergarten before he was ready. My shrewd sisterhood scoffed at these assertions, and insisted that my boy would be just fine. I had prepared my boy for his upcoming independence via two years of pre-school, five years of babysitters, two weeks of day camp, and loads of playdates-sans-mom. My husband and I had raised him with love and understanding, and given him tools to work things out. Might it be time for the next step? After all, it was only half-day kindergarten, about the same amount of time as James’s preschool day. What could happen? The voice inside me agreed: “Believe in him. He can do it. Trust him.” As “K” day loomed nearer, more and more people asked James if he was looking forward to kindergarten. His reply was a simple but honest, “No.” He wasn’t excited. He didn’t want to go to a new school with different teachers and lots of children he didn’t know. Nor was he eager for a stranger to drive away with him in a large, yellow cage. During the last days of summer, James would often ask, “Why do I have to go to school?”
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“To learn,” I would answer. “I don’t need school,” he would say. “Everyone needs to learn,” I would correct, adding, “Mommy and Daddy went to school. Your friends go to school. It will be fun.” James didn’t buy it. The night before his first day of school, James worried that he wouldn’t find his classroom. I drew him a map, which we had to review several times before bed. As I tucked him in finally, James squeaked, “I’m not brave.” “Yes, you are,” I replied. “You don’t have to be brave all by yourself. I’ll help you. Your teacher will help you. Your friends will help you. You can do this.” As my son fell asleep, I prayed that the situation would improve. But we had another crisis the next morning: “I can’t do it,” James said, sobbing. I tried to soothe James by saying all the nurturing things I could remember. When nothing seemed to work, I left him in a teary ball and walked away. And then something miraculous happened. He stopped crying, got off the couch, and got dressed. By himself. “C’mon, Mom,” he said, strapping on his backpack. “I’m ready to go to school.” I ran after him as he marched towards the bus stop – where, to his delight, he saw several boys and girls he knew. His best friend Caleb was there waiting with his big sister Colby. James smiled and wriggled in next to them in line. Seven-year-old Colby took charge, wrapping her arms around both Caleb and James. “I’ll help you get on the bus,” she said. “And show you to your classroom.” She was a dimpled angel; a toothless ambassador taking my son beneath her wing. My heart soared.
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When the bus pulled up, James climbed aboard. It had become something he wanted to do – and he didn’t need my help. He had solved his own problem and, for the moment, mine too. All the worrying, hand-wringing, dialogue, and preparation had paid off. I watched the bus turn away, took a deep breath, and exhaled. He’s on his way. — Lesson: Your child knows when he’s ready to take on today’s obstacles although it may cost you a high level of anxiety in the meantime. Invitation: Say this little mantra with your child today: “Hip, hip, hooray! I am happy, brave, and ready for today.”
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CHAPTE R 8
Boys and Sticks Walk softly and carry a big stick.
ne warm, cloudless, spring afternoon, I walked with my son’s little hand in mine towards the cul-de-sac where neighborhood boys gather to play, shoot baskets, ride bikes, and chase each other. Our dog Ruby bounded on the lawns next to us. It was a sweet, blissful moment that ended as soon as James saw them: boys with sticks. James dropped my hand and took off to join in the revelry. If only I had a stick, I thought. When I mentioned this little episode to my husband, he mused, “Boys and sticks never end.” Suddenly, sticks had become a metaphor for penis. Anyone who has ever raised a boy knows that boys like to play with their sticks. My son found his during a diaper change when he was a few months old. It seemed as if he’s never let go of it: in the morning, in the bath, at bedtime, for the rush to the bathroom, or just to hold while watching TV. Boys can’t help it. It’s just there, all the time. And as my son said quizzically to me one time while holding his stick, “Sometimes it’s big and sometimes
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it’s small.” His observation left me fumbling for a clinical-yet-brief explanation for my then three-year-old. In the end, I was speechless. “Does it hurt?” I asked James once. “No? Then, leave it alone.” I made a mental note to delegate the future “big talk” to my husband. Apparently, boys never outgrow the fascination with their sticks, or anything phallic for that matter. Their imagination transforms a simple wooden stick into a sword, club, or spear. Boys become warriors, battling for glory until someone gets hurt, or yells, “Oh, my nuts!” And then they roar with laughter. Sticks are everywhere you look. Sticks are in architecture, art, sports, music, games, and Google. As boys become men, they invent different ways to use sticks; some useful, some not so much. They range from stick shifts to the “brick dick” water tower in Ypsilanti, Michigan; from Albert Paley’s towering steel sculpture at Bausch + Lomb’s (former) headquarters in Rochester, NY; and from historically phallic electric guitars and cigars and to what went on in the infamous Clinton-Lewinsky affair. I could go on, but you get the picture. As I watched my son run with the pack in a Lord-of-the-Flies kind of way, I knew that his stick obsession was more than just a Freudian stage. It’s part of being a boy. But still, I’m glad I don’t have a stick. — Lesson learned: Sticks may or may not always be a good thing to have. Invitation: Watch your child play with a toy, or machine for a few minutes, and see what he ends up doing with it.
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CHAPTE R 9
The Tooth Fairy You never know what you can do until you try.
hen I was a little girl, the Tooth Fairy seemed like a young, beautiful, and magical creature. She could fly on silvery, gossamer, wings and had lots of money. I’m not sure how she earned her money, but that wasn’t important. What mattered was that she snuck into the rooms of sleeping children, collected teeth from beneath pillows, and replaced the nubs with shiny quarters. (I know, I know. I’m dating myself.) Important things to know about the Tooth Fairy when you’re six years old: • She can fly anywhere she wants, anytime, but mostly at night. • She’s kind. She gives her money to children, who can’t wait to spend it (usually on candy). • She has lots of money locked in a vault somewhere in Tooth Fairy Land. • She’s smart. With her superior brainpower, she knows when someone loses a tooth, where they live, and the moment they are sound asleep. • She prefers clean, minty-fresh teeth. • She makes jewelry with the best of the teeth she collects.
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She carries a magic sleep-wand that she waves over kids who wake up while she’s working. • She wears a pink tutu. — When I grew up, I wanted to be the Tooth Fairy. I believed, however, improbable, that I could do this job. One day I would meet the Tooth Fairy and become her apprentice. When she retired, I reasoned, I would take over her gig. I don’t remember when I stopped believing in the Tooth Fairy. I think it was about the same time I accidentally discovered that Santa Claus wasn’t real. One afternoon, while my mom was upstairs doing something, my brother Steve and I were alone in the basement. For once he wasn’t using me as a punching bag, and together we schemed to search for our Christmas presents. We weren’t allowed in the laundry room, so naturally that was the first place we looked. Neither of us thought that the gifts on our Santa lists would be nestled in the familiar Sibley’s department store bags alongside toys and clothes we requested from Mom and Dad. Shocked and guilt-ridden about our discovery, we swore not to tell Mom, because we knew we’d stumbled onto something big – the truth about Santa. Our decision didn’t matter: Mom called us on our little crusade when she took one look at her laundry room that looked as if it had been ransacked by a bunch of squirrels. We came clean to her, yet tried to justify that there was a Santa and she was just his helper. We were upset, and worried that Santa’s deliveries were over for good. She may have said then, “If you believe, you will receive,” or at least something to that effect.
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My dream to become the Tooth Fairy died that day, and I hadn’t really given it much thought until James lost a tooth. James lost his first tooth at six and-a-half, long after many of his friends had lost theirs. He couldn’t wait until his wiggly bottom tooth finally fell out. “Mommy,” he would ask, fingers in mouth, “When will I loof my toof ?” Many times a day he would open his mouth to show me his tooth and say, “Look, Mom, it’s weally wiggly.” I would nod in agreement, and James would walk around the house with his fingers wrapped around his tooth. One day James had had enough and said, “Pull it, mom.” I wiggled it and said, “It’s not ready.” In reality, I couldn’t bring myself to extract it. It sent shivers down my spine to even consider pulling it. However, James couldn’t take it anymore. He pinched his bottom tooth and pulled. Out popped the bloody kernel. “Look! My toof !” James said, his face resembling a little pumpkin. And then my cute little pumpkin-face dropped it on the floor. “Get it before Ruby does!” I said, not really looking forward to having to search dog poop for a baby tooth. Luckily, James fell to his knees and rescued it before Ruby knew what happened. We then placed it in a cup far away from her curious nose. Before bed that evening, I helped James place his tooth inside his small, tooth-shaped box (purchased just for this occasion) and tuck it beneath his pillow. He was excited for the Tooth Fairy to come take his tooth away and leave him with a treasure. James said
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he was hoping for a soccer jersey. I gently reminded him that the Tooth Fairy only carried cash. When the excitement finally wore off and he zonked out, I ran downstairs to grab my wallet. All I had was a five-dollar bill. While his tooth seemed worthy of something more substantial than the quarter I received as a kid, was five bucks too much? A dollar or two seemed more in line with inflation rates, and I scoured the usual places for loose bills – jacket pockets, the dryer, junk drawers, and couch cushions. No luck. I had hyped the Tooth Fairy all day; I couldn’t say she forgot. So it was either the five-dollar bill or face my son’s bitter disappointment. I made a mental note to be better prepared in the future with a stash of crisp dollar bills. After all, I am the Tooth Fairy; better start acting like one. I slipped into James’s room and pulled the tooth box out from under his pillow. I slid his tooth into my hand and replaced the box along with the folded bill. His long, golden eyelashes fluttered and he emitted a soft moan, but didn’t awake. I think I held my breath the entire time, but Operation Tooth Fairy was a success. I returned to my room, and marveled over the tiny jagged Chiclet. This little bone-like substance had six years of stories to tell. I dropped it in a small jewelry box and tucked it beneath my socks in the top drawer of my bureau. Every so often now, I’ll pour the troops into my palm and recall their exploits from poking through pink gums, to nuzzling the dog’s hindquarters, to biting cousin Julia’s finger, and finally to detachment. It took me over thirty years, but I had finally achieved my childhood dream: to become the Tooth Fairy. — 34 | Kristine Bruneau
Lesson learned: There are many elements within ourselves and the world that undermine our fate. Often we are reminded of our own belated recognition of what we already have and know to be true. Invitation: If you’ve kept your children’s teeth, take them out and look at them. What stories do they contain? If your kid is older, you might consider sharing the memories with them.
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CHAPTE R 10
You Can’t Hurry Scrambled Eggs Haste makes waste.
urry should not be confused with speed, which is moving fast. Speed is necessary when running late for an appointment. Hurry means to act quickly, and robs you of time. When you hurry to get out the door, you forget things like keys, phones, lunches, your kid, groceries, and more. When you hurry, you make mistakes and mess things up like breakfast. Trust me, I know. I learned the hard way. Eggs made in a hurry taste awful. What’s worse is that my family refuses to eat dry, flaky eggs. James often tells me that I am “the most horrible egg maker in the world.” Rob agrees with James. If two people in your family say your scrambled eggs suck, you need to think about changing something. “What am I doing wrong?” I asked Rob one day. He told me that it’s not so much that I’m in a hurry, but that I’m not present when I make scrambled eggs: I don’t stay focused on the task. “Oh please,” I said, ready to dismiss his comment with a fling of my spatula while at the same time
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visualizing all the other things I do while waiting for the eggs to “hurry” up and cook. I put dishes away, tidy up the kitchen, check email, feed the dog, and do other tasks to keep my life moving forward. I guess I do “hurry” eggs. When I hurry scrambled eggs, I cause a ripple effect: Not only does my family refuse to choke down my eggs, I create waste and add time to my already tight morning schedule. Too, when rushing to make eggs, I’ve burnt myself on the stove. Multi-tasking isn’t always a good skill to possess, especially when making scrambled eggs. What is the opposite of hurry? Slow down. I’ve found that the more I stay present cooking eggs and gently fluffing them in the pan, the better the scrambled eggs. I also found that I gained time by not having to make another breakfast, and I saved money by not tossing a few good organic (and expensive!) eggs into the garbage. Still, my scrambled eggs continue to be a work in progress. I guess I’ll just keep at it. — Lesson: Your hurry is not my worry. Invitation: Take a moment to think about a task or two that you rush to get done. Is the task done well? Do you have to do the task over again because you missed something? Does hurrying up the task leave you feeling good about yourself ? What will you do differently?
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CHAPTE R 11
God of Discipline No matter how hard we try to do the right thing, sometimes we end up doing the wrong thing.
ome days, James reminds me of the little boy chasing his dog with a fork in Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. In Sendak’s classic tale, the boy’s mom gets fed up with her son’s mischief, and calls him “Wild Thing.” To which the boy replies: “I’ll eat you up,” prompting his mother to send him to bed without any supper. The boy falls asleep, and dreams about taming man-eating monsters. One day, James got angry with me because I put him in a Time-Out for bad behavior. I had warned him to stop whining (as he couldn’t get ahold of his friends to play) and quit arguing with me (like it was my fault his friends were unavailable). And then he threw a container of markers across the room. That was the last straw. He hit the magic number three. “TIME OUT!” Upset, James called me “stupid,” and said I was “the worst mommy ever.” Just as I was teetering on the edge of something drastic, my husband, who witnessed the whole thing, showed remarkable Zen-like restraint and said, “Who’s evolved?”
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That is one of our favorite lines from the movie Night at the Museum, and “Who’s evolved?” has become an inside joke between the two of us. There’s a scene where a monkey slaps the face of night watchman Larry (played by Ben Stiller). As Larry raises a newspaper to return the slap, Teddy Roosevelt (played by Robin Williams) interrupts the assault and says, “Who’s evolved?” The answer is, “I have,” (but just barely.) After a few minutes, I edged up the stairs to James’ room and heard him say, “Please, God, help me. Please change my mom’s mind, so I can get out of Time-Out and play with my friends.” Bemused that my exuberant six-year-old had asked for the Big Guy’s help, I was also miffed to learn that I was the object of divine intervention. Did I overreact? Did I do the right thing? I read somewhere in the multitude of parenting books and websites available to me that it’s a natural part of a child’s development to want independence and exert his individuality. My mom and dad referred to demonstrations of “individuality” as “acting up.” They had no problem squashing such rebellion back in the 1970s. If we “acted up,” my brother and I were spanked, sent to our room, or both. We endured other disciplinary actions too, from hair pulling, to washing our mouths out with soap, and to throwing books, shoes, or anything else within easy reach. Unfortunately, that kind of discipline didn’t completely end our juvenile transgressions, but it did instill temporary fear, which was the point. I matured without visible scars and hadn’t given much thought to parenting until I had my own child.
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I knew that I wanted to guide and train my little guy to make good choices, but there’s a lot of free will buzzing inside a pint-sized human. A few minutes later, James walked out of his room. Instead of admonishing him for coming out before I called him, I asked, “Would you like to talk?” James sniffed and said, “Can we start over?” And then we hugged. James is learning and so am I. A parenting bible with all the answers doesn’t exist. However, I’ve found that when I’m clear, present, and calm with James, I can help him make the connection between his behavior and its consequence. Maybe God helped a little after all. — Lesson: There’s no pocket guide to disciplining a “little me,” no matter how far and long you look. Instead of searching for the answer to perfect parenting, perhaps all you have to do is wait for that moment when your child enlightens you. Invitation: Today, seek a moment of enlightenment from your child.
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CHAPTE R 12
The Right Tilt Def inition of tilt: (n) the act of tilting: the state or position of being tilted.
ames wanted to go to soccer camp, but he changed his mind on the first day. Clinging tightly to my hand, my then eight-year-old said, “I don’t want you to leave me here.” I tried to soothe him and said that I would see him in a few hours. “I don’t want the babysitter to pick me up,” James cried. “I want you!” I was able to leave only when James was distracted with some older kids at the school gym helping to run the camp. I couldn’t understand why it seemed that James suddenly couldn’t bear the thought of my leaving him, or trying something new. He had been to a few day camps before. But this week his separation anxiety continued, and by the fourth day of the same ritual, I was exhausted from trying to smooth out my son’s worries. What’s more, my husband had been out of town on business all week, making our family (and our support system) incomplete. Rob surprised James by arriving home a day
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earlier than expected. When James saw him, he yelled, ‘Daddy!’ in a little-boy voice that made my heart swell with joy. James jumped into Rob’s arms, nestling his brown curls beneath his father’s chin. The next morning on the last day of soccer camp, the three of us held hands and walked towards the gym. James’s worries seemed to have vanished. “I’m happy,” said James, with a wide toothless grin. “I’m the right tilt.” Yeah, me too. — Lesson: Being the “right tilt” means that your world is in balance. When James knows that mom, dad, and dog are nearby, he can do things on his own with confidence. There’s always a shoulder to lean on, arms to embrace, a furry face to kiss, a familiar voice to soothe him. Take an orb out of his world, and James feels the void. Invitation: What’s out-of-tilt in your world right now? How can you right it?
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CHAPTE R 13
Hello. Good-Bye. I Love You. Happiness is hearing: I love you, Mommy!
ne evening when I left the house to play tennis, James, then seven-years-old, said, “I love you, Mommy.” These four words made me stop. It didn’t matter what kind of crappy day I had, or how busy I was. I don’t recall when this ritual began, but they continue to be the best words I could ever hear. Holding James as an infant, I couldn’t help but kiss the top of his head and coo, “I love you!” every chance I got. It was a very one-sided love affair since James couldn’t speak – but he sure could cry! As James grew, he cried less, and smiled more. When he awoke in his crib, I recalled spending several minutes listening to him through the baby monitor as he chirped to himself. It was hard to wait to swoop in and cradle him in my arms. At fifteen months, James continued to scoot around the floors on his hands and knees. One day he knelt beside me on the couch, wrapped his tiny arms around my neck, and planted a wet kiss on my cheek. “I love you,” I said. James placed his lips against my face and made juicy smacking noises, over and over.
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As a sleep-drunk toddler, James liked to climb up and nestle into my lap while kissing his stuffed duck blanket Quack-quack. “I love you,” I would say, resting my chin on the fuzzy curls atop his head. Once James reached school age, our morning rituals shifted again. Just as James announced “Bus!” at the top of his lungs, he would scan my lips for traces of lipstick. If I wore lipstick, he kissed me on the cheek; if not, he kissed me on the lips. “I love you, Mommy,” said James, giving me one last lingering look before he boarded the school bus. James’s soft brown eyes and tousled hair melted my heart. When he wasn’t with me, I felt like I misplaced something precious – a nagging feeling that dulled a bit as the day wore on, but never really disappeared until I was with my son again. Our wrinkled-faced boxer Ruby felt the same way, I think. She’d pad in and out of rooms, sniffing for James when he wasn’t around. Eventually, she’d circle her dog bed, then heave and sigh into her nest. On school afternoons, I’d take her to the bus stop, and the moment she sighted James she’d begin her happy dance of wriggling herself into a kidney bean and snorting. With flattened ears, she would hop up on her hind legs and lick James’s face when he got close. I think Ruby and I felt in balance again once James was back at home. James is a few years older now and Ruby is gone, but it still feels as good to me when he’s at home. Now, at bedtime, as James begins to fall asleep, I kiss him, finger his curls, and say, “I love you.” “I love you Mommy.” — 46 | Kristine Bruneau
Lesson: “I love you Mommy” are the four best words I could ever hear. Invitation: How often do you hear “I love you?” Now, consider how often you say, “I love you,” to your loved ones. What might happen if you started saying it?
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CHAPTE R 14
Got Rhythm? What joy rhythm brings to those who have none.
confess: I “ain’t got no rhythm.” I like to listen to all kinds of music, but I don’t understand how to make sounds that are pleasing for anyone to listen to, with or without an instrument. Taking violin lessons, however, may have been the best way for me to uncover some rhythm buried deep inside of me. When my eight-year-old-son chose to play the violin, the “Suzuki Method” was his school’s preferred music instruction. Developed by Japanese educator and violin teacher Shin’ichi Suzuki, the Suzuki Method is based on hearing the music first, rather than studying theory, and then playing. Parent involvement was essential to the method’s success. However, I don’t think Mr. Suzuki had me in mind when he made the requirement. Having never played an instrument before – I doubt the flutophone counts – I don’t know how to read music or recognize notes by ear. I can barely clap in syncopated time. Usually I cheat and watch everyone else’s hands so it looks like I’m keeping up, but I really have no idea.
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Around the house, I make a lot of noise – slamming doors, drawers, and cupboards – but where’s the music in that? I tend to break coffee mug handles and chip plates whenever I put things away. I grip everything too tightly, including my tennis racquet. How could I show my son to gently play a violin? I rented a violin thinking I could change my past and somehow nurture James’s musical abilities. I arrived at James’s first lesson, violin in tow, only to discover that I was the only parent who had rented an instrument. I tried to remain cool while I waited my turn along with the rest of the students for the teacher to tune our violins. Every week I attended a group lesson with my son, led by the teacher. There was lots of repetition and progress was painfully slow, but James’s teacher was extremely patient and encouraging of all students, including me. He gently corrected finger placement, adjusted posture, and encouraged everyone to loosen their death grips. I was in awe of his tenacity and passion for teaching us how to play. However, I have to confess that I couldn’t wait to play something other than “Mississippi Hot Dog.” At home, the first sounds James and I produced while moving the bow erratically across the violin strings caused our dog Ruby to howl. Her plaintive wail still puzzles me; did she want to join our violin lollapalooza, or did she want us to stop? After several weeks of practice, our tone improved a little – although Ruby continued to howl. I came to realize, though, that James had progressed much faster than me. “James, where the heck is B note?” I asked. “Here, Mom,” he said, pointing to the second, or
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“A,” string while rolling his eyes. I must have seemed like a hopeless case of non-musical ability; instead of helping my son learn the notes, he instructed me. According to author Malcolm Gladwell, it’s really not my fault. Gladwell’s theory is that talent, plus hard work, plus luck, plus cultural background equals success. In his book Outliers, Gladwell explains that, “…by the age of 20, elite violinists had totaled 10,000 hours of practice; good violinists had 8,000 hours under their belt; future music teachers had just over 4,000 hours.” Ten thousand hours seemed to be the magic number in achieving success or expert status. I did the math: If I wanted to master the violin, I would have to practice nearly three hours every day – but I’m old by eight-year-old standards. Did I really want to spend ten or more years of my life working on that goal? I had a lot of other things on my bucket list, and this seemed like a distraction. When it came time for the first-year Suzuki students to perform in public, I worried. It had been just three months, and a mere handful of hours, since the first-years started. Would James know where to put his fingers to make a pleasing noise? In the end, it didn’t matter. What I saw on stage was excitement and determination. I realized that whether or not my kid hit the notes just right, I knew where he started from, and I was proud of the current moment. James and his pals didn’t overthink the music. They tried their best to follow along with the rhythm. When they messed up a note or two, they didn’t care because they didn’t really know which notes they skipped. After their performance, the boys and girls faced
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the audience with their violins tucked under their right arms and their hands clutching their bows. As a group they bowed to resounding applause. While I will never advance beyond “Mississippi Hot Dog,” I was humbled by my Suzuki journey. I may have found my rhythm after all. — Lesson: Practicing an instrument or anything when you’re very young makes a huge difference, and kids reach success faster than adults. Also, don’t overthink the music in your life. Invitation: Observe your children when they make music and allow the rhythm to flow through you.
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CHAPTE R 15
The End Is Where We Begin I miss the little wagging tail; I miss the plaintive, pleading wail; I miss the wistful, loving glance; I miss the circling welcome-dance. – excerpt from In Memorium, by Henry Willett
miss Ruby,” said James as he walked into my office one morning. “Me, too,” I said. James folded himself into my lap and began to cry. As I rocked him, I thought about our eight year-old-boxer, Ruby who had grown up with James since he was a baby. We had put her to sleep when she struggled to draw breath from her cancer-riddled lungs two days after Christmas. The decision was sudden, but not completely unexpected since she had collapsed many times over several weeks, her breathing growing more difficult with each episode. It had been three months since we made the decision to put Ruby to sleep and our house felt empty. As my fingers stroked James’ messy curls, I recalled a boxer I had seen a day earlier: The undeniable square head and pushed-in snout had been poking out from a car window, eyes squinting from the blast of sweet spring air. Was this a sign?
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“Mom,” James sniffed. “When are we going to get a puppy?” “Honey,” I said, “You know Dad isn’t ready for a puppy. Besides, a puppy is a lot of work–” “I will take care of the puppy,” promised James. “Hmmm,” I said, knowing that I would be the primary zookeeper. “Can’t we just look on the computer?” James said, “to see if any boxer puppies have been born?” “Well,” I said. “I suppose it wouldn’t hurt just to look.” A rabbit-toothed grin spread across James’s tear-stained face. We searched for breeders online, and discovered there was one nearby with a recent litter of four puppies. Another sign? “Can we see them?” asked James. “This was posted a month ago,” I said. “The puppies may have found homes by now.” “Please?” James clasped his hands under his chin and tilted his head. It was hard for me to resist his big, brown eyes. “Oh, all right,” I said, reasoning that the puppies were probably gone. When I called, I learned that there that one pup was left. The breeder, Elmo, said he was thinking of keeping him because of his calm, sweet disposition. Before I could stop myself, I explained that we had just lost our boxer of eight years, and my young son desperately wanted another. “Ruby really looked after James,” I said. “Could we at least take a look?” When I hung up the phone, we had an appointment to see the puppy that afternoon. James could barely contain his excitement. He clapped his
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hands and jumped up and down. And then he ran circles around the kitchen, slipping and sliding in his socks. “We’re just looking,” I reminded him. “Don’t get your hopes up, James. We don’t know if this puppy will be right for us. Besides, we still have to tell Dad.” Losing Ruby had been hard on all of us, especially Rob. She was his little girl who helped plug the hole of sadness when we suddenly lost our first boxer, Gunnar. I wasn’t sure he was ready for another dog, let alone a puppy. But I was about to find out. “Daddy! We’re getting a puppy,” James announced as soon as Rob opened the door, suitcase in hand. “We are?” Rob said, hugging James, and casting a surprised look at me. “I will be responsible,” James said, his words spilling out at high-speed. “I’ll give him attention and feed him. I’ll walk and play with him. I’ll take him to the bathroom and train him. You’ll see. A puppy will cheer us all up.” “Slow down, buddy,” laughed Rob, who had returned from a business trip to California. “It sounds like you thought a lot about this.” James nodded. Then he ran to the desk, grabbed a pencil and paper, and began to list everything he would do to help with a puppy. He showed us his finished “contract.” “We’ll take a look,” Rob said. “But no promises.” — No dog barked as we entered Elmo’s house. Staring wide-eyed at us from their crates were boxers, Boston terriers, and Chihuahuas. On the far side of the room, James spotted the boxer puppy. He was brindle – dark, with caramel stripes like a tiger, and a snow-white chest. Except for the puppy’s long, floppy
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ears, he looked exactly like our first boxer Gunnar. “Why didn’t anyone choose him?” asked James, staring at the puppy who was eyeing him curiously. “I think it’s because he’s different from the others,” replied Elmo. Then he explained that the puppy had a pink eye, but it wasn’t really his eye that was pink, it was his eyelid. “All dogs have a third eyelid that helps keep the eye clean,” explained Elmo. “It looks like skin,” said James. “That’s right,” said Elmo. “His third eyelid stands out more in his right eye than his left because it doesn’t have any pigment, or coloring. So his eyes look a bit odd.” Elmo opened the crate and out walked the puppy right towards James. “Do you want to play?” asked James, and he rolled a green rubber ball. The puppy gave chase, and returned to drop the ball at James’s feet. When the puppy pawed and pounded at his toy in a playful cat-like way, we all laughed. It was a natural boxer trait to “box.” Then James called out, “Here, puppy!” The puppy trotted to him with the nub of his tail wagging. James walked around Elmo’s kitchen with the puppy trailing after him. “The pup is really good with James,” said Elmo. “I’d rather see the puppy in a home with kids.” I looked at Rob and smiled. “I think we’re ready,” I said. Rob nodded. “What should we name him?” I asked. “How about Beck?” Rob suggested. Beck was short for Beckham, as in David Beckham – arguably one of the world’s greatest soccer
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players. His name was emblazoned across the back of James’s and Rob’s LA Galaxy soccer jerseys they wore that day. “I like it,” said James. Beck licked his hand. He must have agreed too. “Everything happens for a reason,” said Elmo. — Lesson: There are beginnings in life, like bringing home a puppy, and endings, such as a death of an old friend. We need both to learn from. Invitation: Today, think about the beginnings and endings in your life. Stop and think about where they might lead.
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CHAPTE R 16
Tomorrow Is a Better Day I want always to be a little boy and to have fun. – from Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie
ou’re supposed to wash your hair when you bathe,” I said to James who was sitting in the tub, arranging his plastic animals along the edge. “It’s part of getting clean.” “But I don’t feel like it,” said James. “Why not?” I said through clenched teeth. James had rubbed my last nerve on a long day. “It’s not now,” he answered. I sat back on my heels and thought about what he had said. While James plays with his animals in the tub, talking to them and splashing water, the furthest thing from his mind is washing his hair. During bath time, he builds a world that he believes is real and completely devotes himself to that moment. It’s a world in which Arctic and Antarctic animals live in harmony because when James plays God of the Tub, wherein anything he imagines can happen. I thought James was procrastinating, even though he didn’t know the meaning of the word. Grownups know – and some of us are pretty good at postponing things we don’t like to do, especially as a regular
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practice. As an example, I hate ironing. I’d rather pick up dog poop than stand in the basement pressing shirts. Ironing is really not that important to me, so I own less shirts that require an iron. I can get away with this, but James needs to practice good hygiene. He needs to shampoo his dirty hair. I watched James float on his back, enveloped in snowy-white bubbles fizzing like a soft summer rain. As I considered him, his eyes fluttered and closed. He’s in his zone. I knew that if I waited too long, I wouldn’t be able to motivate James to shampoo his hair. So what? So what if James doesn’t wash his hair today? What’s the worst that could happen? It smells a bit funky? While clean hair is important to me, James doesn’t care. So it finally dawned on me what James meant when he said: “It’s not now.” If something isn’t urgent and important, then it doesn’t need to be done right now. Tomorrow is a better day to do what he doesn’t believe is the most important thing to do at the moment. That night I didn’t force James to wash his hair. The next morning before school, I squirted spray gel on his curly mop. Guess what? Everything was all right. — Lesson: Sometimes, tomorrow is a better day to do something. Invitation: The next time you’re performing a task, or thinking about it, ask yourself these questions: Is it important and urgent, right now? Can this task be done another day? Is it worth doing? If it’s not important and not urgent, why is it on your list? 60 | Kristine Bruneau
CHAPTE R 17
The Art of Listening Know how to listen and you will prof it even from those who talk badly. – Plutarch
believe that my number one job is to listen, attentively and with genuine interest to the person who is speaking to me. Yet, I sometimes find that I don’t practice this with my own child. One day, James began to talk about his last soccer game and how the captain of his soccer team determined the toss-off. “Toss-off ? What’s a toss-off ?” I asked. “Mom,” James said with an eye roll. “You should really know this by now.” For three years, I’ve watched James play in more than fifty soccer games. How could I have missed this critical piece of information? “The toss-off determines who gets to choose the side to attack at the beginning of the game,” he continued. “We toss a coin, or do rock, paper, scissors. That’s what they do in professional soccer, too.” “I didn’t know that,” I said. “You need to pay attention,” he said. Touché. While soccer pros don’t employ rock, paper, scissors to determine the start of play, they do
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toss a coin. According to the “Laws of the Game” drawn up by FIFA, the international governing body of soccer, the start of play begins with tossing a coin. The team that wins the toss decides which goal to attack in the first half of the match. The opposing team gets to take the kick-off to start the match. For the second half, the teams switch ends, and the team that won the coin toss kicks off. To a non-soccer player like me, it’s all very confusing. However, my little conversation with James made me think about the importance of listening with an attentive mind and heart. Listening seems obvious, doesn’t it? Every day we listen to our kids, our spouses, our bosses, our friends, and our co-workers. Research implies that we don’t give conversations our full attention; we forget seventy-five percent of what we hear. Other factors also make it difficult to listen fully. These include distractions (dog barking at bunny outside the window), cultural differences (British speech patterns can be especially baffling), selective listening (But I didn’t hear you say, “Turn the TV off !”), defensiveness (Who, me?), making assumptions (When you “assume,” you make an “ass” out of “you” and “me.”), being judgmental (”I’m grateful that I’m not as judgmental as all those censorious, self-righteous people around me.”), and head chatter (”I wonder if these jeans make my butt look big?”) Kids are naturally curious. They ask questions, poke at the inner and outer workings of things, solve problems independently, and share their frustrations with people who don’t interject or ask too many questions. The latter takes a lot of self-restraint on my part.
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I’ve found one of the best times to listen to my kid and his friends is snack time: “I had a rough day.” “My teacher yelled at me.” “Sixth-grade reading is really hard.” “My favorite part of school is recess.” “I try to always wear black.” “My teacher thinks we’re the best class she’s had. She doesn’t like seventh graders. They talk back too much.” Kids seem to have their own language and understand each other when most grownups haven’t a clue. While listening requires energy, focus, presence, and concentration, what matters most is to start listening to your kids. — Lesson: Kids know more than you think. Listening with your mind and heart is hard, but when you give it your full attention you might discover something new. Invitation: How well did you listen today?
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CHAPTE R 18
The Alchemy of Joy We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves. – Buddha
found a moment of joy during my son’s final elementary school concert – a nose-fizzing, eye-watering, break-your-heart-wide-open kind-of-joy. In the black-and-white sea, a quick glance at the shoes revealed my James – the only boy in the band (having switched from violin to trumpet) – wearing unsanctioned red-and-black “kicks” (Manchester United colors). The room’s light had created a haze around his wild, tousled, curls, giving the appearance of a halo, a sure sign that our earlier clash over toothbrushing had been forgiven. However, my alchemy of joy didn’t occur during his song; it happened as I listened to the orchestra’s rendition of “Ode to Joy.” Beethoven’s symphony suddenly took on a new tenor for me as I fought back tears sure to ruin my mascara. “Ode to Joy” might as well have been named “Ode to James,” because James – a fifth grader as I write this – will soon move on to middle school
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with all of its lurking, pre-pubescent challenges. The bittersweet concert I attended marked the end of another chapter in his childhood. The music was magic. I closed my eyes to the vibrato of memories. Before the bleating honks of the horn player, there was the low drone of the cello, and the dreadful wail of a beginning violinist, invariably joined by our pooch’s howl. How James loved music! From singing along with Baloo in Disney’s Jungle Story, to shaking maracas at an island library during a Nantucket monsoon, to belting “Won’t you be my valentine?” into a microphone, and to chanting “Bar-ca” during a Barcelona training session (where his idol Lionel Messi plays), these moments fluttered like wings upon a bird’s breast. “I don’t have an off-button,” James exclaimed once as I poked him in the ribs and side in search of it. He’s always a tilt-a-whirl of energy – kicking a soccer ball, throwing a football, or shuffling, tumbling, and racing around the house with Beck at his heels. While James’s enthusiasm can be exasperating, I don’t really want to dial him down. You see, James plays with joy in his heart. I’ve observed James and his friends slide in mud, hunt for frogs, swing, climb, jump, and tackle each other. While they play games like hide-and-seek and tag, they’ve come up with different rules and inventive names like “death football,” and “keep-away-fromthe-zombie-while-bouncing-on-a-trampoline.” And when it gets dark, or dinner beckons, they’re reluctant to leave their fantasy worlds, often scheming for a sleepover to continue their fort-building past twilight. Memories click-clacked like slides in an
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old-fashioned carousel until Beethoven’s masterpiece was complete. I opened my eyes against the applause-filled auditorium and joined in clapping my hands. I had been transformed in the alchemy of joy. — Lesson: Joy can be found in the nooks and crannies of life, especially when you’re not looking for it. Invitation: What was your alchemy of joy today?
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CHAPTE R 19
Kids Are Good for You Stay curious.
ow do I get to be like you guys?” my husband Rob asked the three boys sitting around our kitchen table eating ice cream. The boys lifted their smiling moon-shaped faces. Their mouths were smeared with rainbow-colored sprinkles, and their lips curled in delight at the creamy, cold goodness of cookie-dough ice cream sliding down their throats and into their small, flat bellies. All three shrugged in response – and dug in again. The moment was too precious not to capture with a picture. So Rob grabbed his cell phone and told the boys, “Say, ‘It’s good to be a kid!’” Instead, one boy shouted, “Kids are good for you!” We laughed and took the picture, but what he said lingered in my brain for the rest of the afternoon. — “It’s okay; I’m a man.” James was responding to his dad’s admonishment of why he shouldn’t undress in front of the window. Where he came up with this particular idea, I don’t know. Like most kids, James is a curious creature who Mommy Musings | 69
says the most interesting things. Often he will parrot something I’ve said and turn it back on me: “Breathe, Mommy.” Other times he says something that makes me pause: “Nonfiction makes you smart.” Some gems cause me to scratch my head: “I burped an idea.” And others make me smile: “I like the smell of sweet dog breath.” James and his friends make up impressive stories and grand ideas. All too often their imagination involves dirt and water. I’ve witnessed my son and his friend build a moat in the front yard, a beaver dam in the back, and a habitat for crocodiles on the side. They play hard – the dirtier a project is, the more fun. (And usually more work for Mom to clean.) Hours pass, and my son finally returns home too pooped to move. His eyelids droop. He reaches for my hand while nuzzling his blanket. Eventually, the sandman takes over and he becomes my sleeping angel with impossibly long eyelashes. He still has a smudge of ice cream on his cheek. — Lesson: Kids are good for you. They have a way of grounding you and show you what’s really important in life, which at the moment might be as simple as to play hard, get dirty, and eat ice cream. Invitation: Explore and be curious with your child. What did you learn, today?
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
KRISTINE BRUNEAU has made a career from writing and communications. Her commentaries, stories, and reviews have appeared in a variety of publications, including the Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester Magazine, and Rochester Woman Magazine. She blogs regularly at KristineBruneau.com. Mommy Musings: Lessons on Motherhood, Love, and Life is the title of her first book. She lives in Rochester, NY with her husband and son.
Published on Nov 1, 2017
Mommy Musings: Lessons on Motherhood, Love, and Life celebrates the big and small events, and universal conundrums of motherhood. This book...