Moxie Mom On Life and Kids

MOXIE MOM on Life & Kids

Mother, How Could You?

A few days ago, Leah and I were going through our cavernous basket of photos (I don’t even pretend to plan to put them into albums anymore) for pictures related to school. For her birthday, I had given her an open invitation to create a photo album of her school years with Shutterfly. The beauty of this gift? She did the work and didn’t even realize it: she figured out how to scan her class pictures, she came up with the background designs, she placed her pictures in various clusters, and periodically she called me to the computer to approve of her choices. And I whole-heartedly approved with suggestions here and there.

A win-win situation as far as I’m concerned. She gets the photo album I’ve been planning to put together for a couple years now and somehow never got around to, and I simply pony up my credit card number. Love. It.

So, but that’s not what I really meant to talk about. Here’s what struck me as we were going through our photos. Time is fleeting, fleeting, fleeting. That’s it in a nutshell. My daughter is 13 years old. I have only five years left with her at home (unless she’s one of those rebounders). A mere decade ago, which actually sounds like a long time ago when I write the word, she was three years old.

As I wistfully pawed through the photos, thinking about how recently Leah was just a little thing, Leah was thinking something else entirely.

“Mom, I can’t believe you let me wear those clothes together. I’m wearing pajamas with a dress! How could you let me go out like that?”

And this: “Mom, my hair was a mess. Did you never brush it? I mean, really.”

True, she did look like a wild child at times. What doesn’t show in those photos was the tantrum simmering always below the surface, ready to erupt if I told her she couldn’t wear clashing clothes or we needed to brush her hair. Well, and to be totally truthful, it was less about the tantrum and more that I didn’t care anyway. Win-win again.

But now my fashion-conscious child can’t believe how un-put-together she was as a toddler, even though I explained that her opinions about her clothing choices were stronger than mine and that her hair wasn’t always a mess.

I can just hear it now when she’s 25: “Mom! I can’t believe you let me wear such a tight shirt. Mom! How did you let me go to that party where everyone was drinking?”

Um, yeah, well, see, I didn’t know about that party (I will be thinking).

I am now one of those parents who explain away their parenting choices, casting them in a I-did-the-best-I-could light, very much like, well, my parents. All parents. Shocking to be here already.

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The Un-Party Animal

Leah invited a few girls for a sleepover last weekend to celebrate her 13th birthday. She’s been a fan of sleepover parties since she was about 9—every year she wants to do it again—and I like them because they’re cheap and she has nice friends.

The problem is that as kids get older, they stay up later, and at 13 they’re capable of staying up into the wee hours of the morning (thankfully, they haven’t graduated to sneaking out yet). Four o’clock is not unusual.

Leah’s ability to stay up late, however, has not evolved with her age, and in fact she’s going to bed at the same time she did when she was 9. She gets up just as early, too. Sleeping in does not seem to be a part of her body chemistry, although I can still hope, and her schedule is increasingly at odds with her social life.

After her friends left, I asked her what time she fell asleep, and whether she was the first one.

“I was the first asleep,” she admitted, “At around 1:45am.”

Whoa, a record I believe. Was she bugging her friends to be quiet and turn off the lights all night?

“Uh, yeah.”

“How did they react? Of course they didn’t want to go to sleep, right?”

“No.” And then in a burst, “I just don’t get why people want to stay up late. I mean it wrecks your whole day the next day and you feel bad and I just don’t understand why people like to do it.”

I can just picture it now: Leah’s friends ready to play Wii through the night or watch a marathon session of movies or do anything at all but bed down, and Leah, the party hostess, admonishing them to be quiet so she can sleep. The social equivalent of pub crawling with your friends and then deriding them for buying too many drinks and not considering the next day’s hangover. Yeah, big barrel of fun. On the other hand, it’s hard not to feel sorry for her when you see her doing her best to stay awake, her face pale and haggard, blue circles forming under her eyes.

She comes by it honestly. Her dad hits the hay every night at the same time, rarely varying his bedtime. And I still remember the Thames boat cruise I did in my twenties with a crowd of Aussie friends who bought round after round until at one point I blearily realized I had six drinks in front of me and it was my “shout” at last and I could barely make my way to the bar, let alone snarf six drinks (needless to say, I did not buy myself another one). No one could have accused me of not trying, though.

But I didn’t feel any hint of ill will or irritation toward Leah on Sunday morning, although I wouldn’t have blamed the girls if they were. So maybe she didn’t badger them as much as I envisioned. Or maybe she did, and they were just too polite to show how they felt. I wouldn’t be surprised if it were the latter.

“You know, sweetie,” I said gently, “Maybe sleepovers aren’t the best choice for you anymore. You and I both know you don’t like staying up late.”

Leah smiled sheepishly. “Yeah, I know.”

“Maybe you need to have a party where everyone goes home at 10:00pm.”

She smiled more broadly, imagining, I suspect, how good it would feel to celebrate her birthday and still go to bed at her preferred time. What an idea.

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Birthday Presents

I’ve just discovered this parent blogger for the New York Times, Judith Warner, whom I very much enjoy reading, and appropriately for our family, she posted on her daughter’s birthday right about when I posted on my daughter’s. Except she tried to make poulet à l’estragon (tarragon chicken) rather than a three-layer cake (I think she actually accomplished the chicken with some complications, but I can’t remember what she did for dessert).

What caught my attention, though, was this: she allowed her daughter to open gifts from party-goers in front of them, and her daughter was both shocked and very, very pleased. Apparently this was quite the parental concession. I have never heard of children not being allowed to open gifts from their friends in front of those friends. Is this an East Coast thing? Is it considered crass to open gifts in front of others? The gift ritual she describes, one that’s very much still a part of my family, most families I know, in fact, sounds as if it’s from another era. I guess it is where she comes from. 

For the kids in my house, presents are the whole point of birthdays. (I say that, but Leah, at 12, is now more focused on having fun with her friends.) There was a short stage—maybe one round of birthdays—where I wondered if we were weird for not stating “No birthday gifts.” But, honestly, I think it’s more weird, certainly hard on your kid, to donate to a charity if your kid isn’t into it—unless your child is one or two and doesn’t know the difference. And what are they learning from the experience except that wanting birthday presents is bad and that they yearn for them? (What will be the long term effect of charity birthday parties, I wonder?)

We control so much of our children’s lives, much more than our parents did, and some of it is good. But so much, I’m convinced, isn’t. Birthday presents. What’s so bad about getting them? And shouldn’t they be opened at the party? Besides the birthday child feeling celebrated, the birthday guests derive pleasure and meaning from giving, especially, I notice, as kids get older. Leah’s friends put a lot of thought into the gifts they gave her and were happy to see how pleased she was with their choices. It’s just plain fun to give a gift and watch your friend’s face light up when she opens it and you know you nailed it. It feels good. Feeling good is a good thing.

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Über Cake

This is the cake I baked for Leah’s 12th birthday party this weekend. It’s out of Leah's cakeFamilyFun, the “Wonderland” cake that is supposed to be topsy-turvy, and which I think would be more aptly named the “Dr. Seuss” cake.

I don’t consider myself one of those super mom types. I hate crafts and I never cook gourmet meals. But I do come from a family who has always prioritized birthday cake—the birthday person’s favorite, always from scratch, with fillings and icings, and very nearly always ringed by fresh flowers, my mom’s personal touch. A lot of work went into those cakes.

In my twenties, my job of choice turned out to be, uh, baker. My first job, when I was nineteen, included being promoted to bakery manager and frosting a birthday cake, rosettes and all, on the first day of my new promotion with no absolutely no idea what I was doing (I practiced a lot on the counter). The cake was a success. Everything after that was…well, cake.

And here I am carrying on the family cake tradition. But this cake, it was intimidating. Not the design, but the work involved (including buying three new cake pans, it turns out, and enough ingredients for a vat of cream cheese frosting) and the time it would take to put it all together.

But when Leah asked, well, I love a good cake challenge. How else can I explain my madness?

I did take a shortcut, though, not revealed until Sunday afternoon, after all the party-goers had gone home (sleepover party), and my just-arrived sister was eating a piece of said cake.

“This is great,” she remarked.

“It’s a mix,” I admitted.

Sitting beside her auntie, Leah stared at me, eyes wide, appalled. “It’s a mix?”

My kids do not do mix cakes. Unlike my childhood self, who didn’t mind a good mix cake because I liked light rather than dense (and our family’s cakes were good but always dense), my kids shun mixes. They recognize color and taste from a mile away and consider mixes the ultimate birthday insult.

And I don’t go for them myself these days, but so many kids grow up with these kinds of cakes and don’t appreciate scratch cakes, that I have shoveled way too much uneaten cake into the compost. So I have been known to resort to mixes for parties. When I could get away with it. Like once. Maybe twice.

Then last year I found an organic brand I could buy that my kids liked and never suspected was a mix. Really, the mixes are that good. And the perfect solution for the three, yes, three, batches of batter required for this cake.

Leah never knew until that moment. I think she forgave me. She’s still eating cake every night for dessert.


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Birthday Boy

Today is Ty’s birthday. He’s nine. That’s halfway to being grown and gone. I have to pause here and think about that for a moment. Halfway done with my parenting. At least my everyday parenting (and more than halfway with my daughter). Yeah, sure, we’ll be talking on the phone when they’re off at college, reading emails from halfway around the world if they choose to travel like I did. But the everyday business of breakfast and family dinners and school performances and goodnight kisses…well, I don’t need to think about that just now. Only halfway there.

In the meantime, in good kid fashion, we are whooping it up with chocolate cake and presents and balloons. Bring on nine. Nine is fine.   

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