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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A New Era: Chapter Two, Super Heroes

In our house we only shoot pucks and balls. We stick to family friendly shows and movies that don't have weapons,  we have no weapons in our house unless you count vigerously waving fishing poles and hockey sticks, and we have avoided the mayhem that is the equivalent of the Princess Pink,  until now.

Once Henrik started school his world expanded, which we knew it would, we just weren't sure how it would play out as he was around kids who wore super hero shirts and played "bad guys" on the playground. Occasionally, through the years, Henrik has been drawn to the bold reds, blues and greens that the Super Heroes wear and has asked, "which character is on that kid's shirt". We've always answered him honestly and have somehow managed to stay away from purchasing clothing with superheroes on them.

It's not that I don't want those shirts or toys, heck, I love the angst of a good super hero film and would love to sport a retro version of a comic book hero t-shirt, but I don't want to have to deal with the "fighting bad guys" or "shooting bad guys" all day long. I'd rather my kid created towns with Legos and drew parking lots and drove cars, or even created the best train track in the world by themselves. I'd rather read, or play outside or do a project than have to deal with "AHhhh I'm dead" and plastic weapons scene.  To me, there is such a negative connotation to those things that I'm honestly afraid of. I don't want my kid to be the kid on the playground getting talked to every day about kicking or shooting. I don't want my kid to be the one that other kids go home to and say, "Mom, that kid is mean, he kept telling me I was the bad guy and he was the good guy and then he was shooting me". You see, it's not that I don't have a problem with the figurines, or the clothing, but, I don't like the violence. And perhaps it's because I'm a girl and was just never around it, but I already have enough wrestling and hitting and pushing in my house, I don't know if I have room for bad guys too.

It's hard enough being a military family and being in an environment where we go through security at the gate just to get on, and are greeted, usually by a man, wearing all types of weapons on his person. When Henrik one day asked why we had to stop and talk to the man at the gate I simply told him that he was keeping us safe. MISTAKE! To him, that implied that we were not safe. Dang. How do I teach a child how to be careful of his surroundings and yet still feel like the world around him is good? When he asked if bad people were trying to come to our house I told him no. I then told the boys that the men at the gate were protecting us and were heroes that helped make the world better. They were making sure that we lived here and were allowed near all the cool stuff Daddy works with. Situation averted? For the moment it was enough and now my boys like to have the windows down and like to salute to the gate guards on our way through.

Being in the military we are also faced with another issue, the military bases we live on and go to frequently, have static airplane displays, Henrik, who is in love with learning, asks all about them (I'm getting pretty good, BTW). "What's that big one called, mom?" "Oh! That's a B-52, a bomber! That one was actually flown in a war called Vietnam, and one of my professors in college actually flew on that bomber." DANG! I thought, I did it again! Wait for it..... "What's a bomber?" Henrik excitedly asked. Go ahead Abbey, walk your way out of this one... to shield or not to shield? That is the parenting question, isn't it?

"Well, it drops bombs on places that are not nice". He didn't say anything else. A few seconds later as we were driving up the Academy, I spotted a huge herd of elk. I said, "Moooove elk! Get out of the road! We don't want you in the road," in a joking manner. This spurred an interesting conversation in our car, "where do elk live?" "Are elk nice?" "Dat's not an elk, it's a MOOSE!"

Then Theo started yelling, "GO AWAY ELK WE DON'T WANT YOU HERE!" Fan-freeking-tastic, now I was teaching my sons about bombs and some how have implied that we don't like wildlife. Great. Parenting win right here folks.

"No, Theo, we DO want them, they are part of nature, we just don't want them in the road," I tried to explain. Then Henrik said, "Mom, where do they live?"
"In the woods, probably in a den or just under some trees."
"What's a den?"
"A little shelter, like a bunch of branches that fell over, or some weeds and sticks..."
"We should just bomb it and build them a house," he said matter of fact.

WHAT?! I didn't know what to do. I felt completely helpless, but at least he wanted to build them a house, right?  So I finally said, "No, Henrik, we want them to live in dens, they are not like dogs or cats that live in houses with people. They are wild animals. And it's not nice to drop bombs on animals or people, but sometimes we do drop them on buildings. I can't explain why, really, but sometimes, we drop bombs on places that are not nice to other people."

Silence.

Good, I thought,  we were done and let out a sigh. We pulled into the field house at USAFA and just as we came to the top of the hill, Henrik yells, "OOOoooh! A Missle! See it mom? See it?"

Head. On. Steering Wheel. Defeat.

So, after that day, I decided to not cringe every time they asked about bombs, or shooting. I answered them honestly and told them that we just cannot play shooting games AT each other and we can't drop bombs on one another, and most importantly, we cannot play shooting games if the other person doesn't want to play. They seemed to be fine with these rules and often are found making shooting noises when they find an L shaped object, hanger, or Lego creation.

 I get it, it's natural for people, especially little boys, to want to destroy stuff, I just don't know if I'm ready for it. I mean, as a parent, where do you draw the line? I have a three year old and a 21 month old, are they too young? How do I teach them about the world or things they see on TV (like the End of the World video game they saw every other commercial during the baseball playoffs?) How do I teach them that Soldiers and Airmen and their DAD are heroes, when really, some of the jobs that these men and women set out to do are harmful to others and I may not agree with? How can I make that agony of good vs. evil from a Super Hero movie relevant to my sons? How can I allow them to play these good guys against bad guy games while they start to discover the good and bad in others and the world, but not let them shoot other people? It's not that I don't want them to know about guns, it's that I want to teach them proper use and how to be extremely careful around them or kids that may have them. I want them to know that Super Heroes exist because there ARE bad people and sometimes we need a little magic to help us see the good in the world. And the whole idea of a Dark Knight is too much to handle at this age, but is SO important when I want to teach my sons about how to be a good man and do what is right. If only I had played with Action Figures instead of Barbies, maybe I'd know the answer.

The other day, Henrik casually came up to me holding a hot wheels car that happens to be Optimus Prime, "Mom, I think I want a car that turns into a robot". Again, surprised. "OK"I said. And because I knew we weren't going to just go out and go buy him what he wanted, I told him I would look for some and we could put it on his Christmas list. He was satisfied. And now, here we are, in that point in a child's life where they genuinely want big boy toys or the "it" toy of the season. He knows that these transformers exist, I've showed them to him actually, at the 5 Below Store, but it was small and didn't have any parts, so it was mostly a car. He didn't know their names until now, and up until this point, he self named these characters "Heroes" probably because they are boldly colored and have a lot of muscle. We also have a few from Happy Meal prizes as we traveled from North Dakota to Michigan and the boys happily played with them and didn't really care about what they were or why. But now, Henrik knows, and it's a big deal.

When we went trick or treating at the zoo we came to a station where Spider Man was handing out comic books, actually, he let the kids pick out their own, and I was really impressed, they had all kinds, ones with your typical Super Heroes and some with characters that were more silly and some with Elmo.  Since my kids wouldn't go to the table, I grabbed the Elmo one, and the one that did not have the Avengers or Bat Man on it. Yes, I did it on purpose, I could have flipped through the book, but instead I assumed that there would be robbers, weapons, and "scary" villains that I didn't want to expose my sons to. Shame on me? Maybe. Henrik was thrilled to see Spider Man, he was very curious about him and cautious too, but ended up giving him a hi-five and was pretty proud that he'd actually met Spider Man. And that's where I felt even more conflicted. Here was my son, dressed like a Scuba diver holding his candy bag tightly, but so in awe of this character he knows as a Hero.... and to have the opportunity to actually meet him! But does meeting an idol make my son want to be like him? Does it mean he now wants to fight crime and hurt bad guys? Or does it mean that he found someone who was pretty cool and he just got to hi-five him?


Later, we went to a Halloween party where one kid, about six years old, was dressed up like a ninja. (The only ninja my kid knows is the Fruit Ninja). This boy had at least three different knives and swords with him and handed one to Henrik to play with. The kid wanted to have a sword fight and Henrik looked at me every so carefully. I told him he could play, and as he took the smallest knife (I guess we'll have to teach him about that) he let out a huge smile. He was so happy to be able to participate in an actual boy game with an older boy! He didn't really understand what would happen after they banged swords for a while, but neither did I, and to my amazement, the older boy didn't "go for the kill" or stab himself for the dramatic "I'm dead" scene. Instead, they decided that they were done and went to play play-doh, the knives were used for cutting it. I'm surprised that I let him play, I think Eric was too. I think that we're still on the same page as far as weapons go, but at that moment, for some reason, I knew it was important to Henrik to participate, and since were were right there, it seemed to be OK. And again, I'm torn.

Yesterday we went to a birthday party, the theme was Princesses and Super Heroes, it was a wonderful party where the girls were given crowns and the boys were given capes. Henrik wanted to wear it, in fact, he never took it off. He loved every second of being a Super Hero, he some how knew all the poses Super Heros make and declared he had "Super Fast super powers",  he held his cape out with such confidence and pride, and he ran around the playground with his friends yelling, "To the rescue! Super Heroes are coming!"

When I went to get the boys so they could come in for some food, I put out my hand for Henrik to grab. Normally, something he'd initiate, but instead, he said, very politely, "Mom, Super Heroes don't hold hands unless they are rescuing or with their Super Hero Friends". I was taken back, I smiled and then let out a little sigh.

Later that night, the boys wanted to go outside, and of course they wanted to wear their new capes. It was so wonderful watching them run around and holding their capes out, I really don't know where they learned it, or how they think that capes make a world of difference to a hero, but they do, and while it's a little sad to see it happen (because I thought they were still babies), it's absolutely adorable. There they were running about, "rescuing" and yelling, "SUPER HERO!" Their smiles were huge, they were getting along wonderfully and it made me happy to see them playing this big kid game in such an innocent manner.


When it was finally time to come inside, I asked Henrik about Super Heroes as I assisted him with his shoes, "Who were you rescuing? What do Super Heroes do?" Henrik looked at me like I was silly, but then, he stood up (while trying to balance while I slipped off his socks and shoes), put his hand out and said, "Mom, I rescue people who need help." 'Like who? What do they need help with?" I replied, yes, I was fishing here. "Like, some people need to be saved from a fire burning their house, or a flooooooddddd..." I tried really hard not to tear up, "And how would you rescue them?" I was seriously holding back tears and trying not to let my voice tremble at this point. Henrik answered, but spoke quickly and waved his arms about, "I would scoop them up and fly them away to a safe place and then I would help them build a new house like Daddy". I gave him a huge hug. And he wiggled out of it only to grab his cape and quickly turn away yelling, "TO THE RESCUEEEEEE".
   
                           

I guess, what I've learned from all of this (it was a very busy few days) is that I don't have to buy clothing, books or let them watch shows that have weapons, bad guys or violence, but I have to let my boys play these games. I have to teach them the proper way to play and how to be safe. I have to teach them what a true hero is and why it's important to be one. I must let them go off into the world and see good and evil, and I must let them learn how to walk away when they are uncomfortable, don't like it or feel unsafe. I can't hide or shield them from everything, and I don't want to be that parent. I also have to be proud, when Henrik gave me those answers about what a Hero does, I was astonished. I guess between car races and playing in dirt he's heard me when I've tried to teach him about helping others and being a good person. No matter how I feel about it, we are now at a phase in our parenthood where we have two BOYS that want to do older, more adventurous things, and sometimes it will involve a cape and super powers.


Sunday, October 27, 2013

A New Era: Chapter One, A New Friend

There are multiple times through the course of parenthood when you realize that your child is growing up and is no longer that sweet smelling baby you could hold for hours on end. For me, I've had a lot of those moments, but over a two month period I've been shocked at how sentimental I've gotten while watching my boys grow. It could be because my husband and I have been going back and forth on the "another baby" discussion for months and the thought of no more pregnancy, deliveries or even alien poop could be in my near future. Or it could be because I'm in awe of how much my boys know and what they pick up and discover on their own. It's also a possibility that I'm just a crazy mother and wants to be a part of my kids lives for as long as possible because I know it's not that far away that they won't want to be snuggling or climbing on top of me every second.

A few weeks ago, our oldest son had his first real play date. For hours before the play date he was bouncing off walls, couldn't focus and talked my ear off as he told me what he and his friend would do. We discussed being a good friend and what that meant, as well as how we can make him comfortable while his friend was over. As I tried to get Henrik to settle down and eat his breakfast, he just looked older, I swear he was taller than when he woke up that morning. And I could see this big boy excitement that he exuded in every possible way. It was exciting, it was a big day, we were now at the point in his life where he could pick his own friends and invite them over and actually have relationships on his own.

For years, we've been having play dates and have "played with friends" but they are all kids of my friends, not his. And that's not to say he's not friends with them, but they are kids that he's just been around. And now, he's made a friend at school and wanted to hang out with him and "do stuff".  It's an odd feeling as a parent, one where you are happy that your child has branched out, introduced himself, was a polite enough kid, a friendly enough kid and outgoing enough to make a friend on his own accord. You're proud of that, obviously, it's what you've been doing for years as you teach them how to be in a social setting, but it's also another step in their life where they are able to step away from you and become their own independent person (another thing you obviously want). It's also a moment where you freak out a little bit and think, what if the mom and I don't get along? What if we don't parent the same way? What if I don't like the kid?

About thirty minutes before his friend was to arrive, Henrik paused and looked at me with a cocked head. "Mom? Will you snuggle me on the couch?" I was surprised. "Your friend will be here very soon, are you sure?" "Yes, I just need a cuddle," he replied. It was heart melting, DUH! Of course I was going to hold him and hang on to every second of that cuddle. It was a reminder that while I was observing and reacting to the loss of the baby era, there was also this moment where he still needed to have me to help him settle down. I asked him if he was ready to play with his friend and Henrik just looked straight ahead, stroked my hand with his fingers and said, "I'm just ready to cuddle now, I don't want to talk". And I sat there, until the doorbell rang, loving my little big boy.

When his friend arrived it was like Christmas, we had to get out every toy and show him every cool thing about our house and yard. And then, just like they do at school, they went off and played wonderfully with one another laughing, creating, building and playing. They were a great fit. I completely understand why Henrik chose this boy as his first friend. It's really comforting to know that your kid has chosen a good human to be around and admire as a peer. I got along wonderfully with the friend's mom and we easily fell into great conversation as we got to know one another. Phew! And Theodor loved every minute and wasn't jealous at all of Henrik for having a friend over. Theo was the typical little brother who wanted to play with them, and because they are good kids, they let him.

When it was time for his friend to go, Henrik and his new friend gave chest bumps, high fives and hugs to one another. And as we shut the door, I saw this proud look on Henrik's face for his accomplishment of being a good friend and sharer. I think he was also proud of himself for actually being old enough to have a friend from school over. As we sat down and got ready for nap time, I asked Henrik if he'd had a great time. He smiled at me and said that he'd love for him to come over every day. I laughed and told him that we'd make more play dates with his friend. It wasn't long after that conversation that Henrik drifted away to sleep for his nap, and fell back into that baby phase that is so hard to let go of.

For now, I don't have to let go, but we're teetering and dabbling in this "Big Boy" world where Henrik desperately wants to be, but also is held back by his need for his nap, frequent three year old tantrums, his love of warm milk and his desire to snuggle. It's an interesting journey, one, I'm sure that will span several years, but it's so nice to see this glimpse of who he will become as he enters boyhood, his teenage years and eventually as he becomes a man. And while it's easy to be astonished and proud of your child for being so wonderful, it's also important to take a little pride, or at least give a little smile as you watch your child discover the world in front of them.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Can We Have It All?

I have a confession to make. It's a bit embarrassing, I'll explain why in a bit, but I'm afraid that if I don't share this information that that knot in my stomach won't go away. Here it is:

I want a job.

I KNOW! I hear some of you gasping, some of you saying, "NO! You're a fantastic mother why would you want to work if you can afford to stay home?"I hear some of you saying, "Finally! She realized that she had so much more potential than being a stay-at-home mom". And that's where this inner struggle begins... I think you're both right.

 I LOVE, and wouldn't trade anything in the world for the hours I get to wipe butts, pick up vomit, play cars for the 1,000th time and do more laundry than seems possible. I wouldn't trade the fights with a three year old for blaming ME for HIM pooping in HIS pants, or the fight with a 20 month old who just can't seem to figure out why hitting is bad. I wouldn't trade the hours of fighting nap time or the number of cups of coffee I drink or the glasses of wine I drink at night as I zone out to The Voice because I'm too exhausted to do anything else. I wouldn't trade anything for the chance to spend as much time as possible with these tiny humans I created. 

But, 

At the same time, on occasion, I come across my reflection during middle of a tantrum and I stand up and look at it for a second. I am a college graduate. I'm still young, and good looking. I am an excellent public speaker, an alright writer, and a hard worker. I was an Administrative Assistant and a freeking Executive Director!  Why on earth am I putting up with this crap? I should be out there, doing something that gives me something for my work. I could be earning good money to pay off our debt and become a two income family, man, what a difference that would make. I could go somewhere where I get compliments during the day, talk about the news around the water cooler and use my brain instead of listening to something incomprehensible due to snot, tears and whining. 

And, 

Every once in a while I pretend I'm on a reality show or married to a prince, or a famous something where I can have it all: fame, fortune and family. 

But that's not my reality. I chose, one year ago actually, to step away from my career,  my 10+ years of non-profit experience, and my current role as an Executive Director, to take care of my family when we needed it most. I decided that a job, a new baby, a flooded house, a toddler, and a husband who was gone all the time, was too much for my sanity and I wasn't doing ANY of my jobs well. And I wasn't happy either. At the time, I was congratulated for actually acknowledging that I was doing too much and taking time for me and our young family. I was happy and people were happy for me that I was able to FINALLY be a real stay-at-home parent instead of a work-at-home parent. It was all I ever wanted in life actually. And here I am, on the one year anniversary of being a stay-at-home parent, admitting to all of you that I've turned in numerous applications for work from everything from being a nanny to being an event planner, to working for a radio, to being an Admin assistant, and I've been turned down for every one. Or ignored, that always makes you feel good. 

I'm so torn: my family could use the extra income. I could use some intellectual time and even a few hours away from my kids each week, but in return, I'd be giving up alone time with Theodor while Henrik is at school. I'd be giving up playtime and home school time with my boys that I'm honestly, really good at and enjoy. I'd be giving up all of the little things like their achievements, their 10+ word sentences, their abstract thoughts, their smiles and laughter for time away. I understand it works for some of you to be away from your kids, but for me, it's so hard. 

I don't understand why I can't find a job I can do from home? I don't know why when I've asked in an interview, for a job that could totally be done online (like I did it before online for another job), if I would be able to work from home a few days a week,  that the reply is that, "there is no way possible to work from home a few days a week". Really? Why? You just want someone to send emails and compile data. I don't understand why I have this stay-at-home parent guilt. Why is it that I want to contribute more to my family? Is it solely base on money? Is it that I can taste being debt free and I just do have the job to do it? Or is it because I am unsure of myself and the impact I'm leaving on my boys. Is it because I want them to see (like I saw) their mother getting a Master's Degree, or that I make the world better one person at a time? Or is it because I'm afraid that my sons will see that women stay home and raise children because in the military it's just easier than switching jobs a million times and having two 1099s and a handful of W2s. Or is it because I think that society is judging me for stepping out of the workforce for family, it's so.... 1950s. 

You see, I want my boys to see that women can do anything. I want them to see the hard work a stay-at-home mom (and parent too) does all day and why a mother would be a great addition to any business. Especially one who is qualified. I want them to see that a woman does more than cook, clean and raise children, because one day, maybe they will feel the whispers society gives a man who stays home. Or because one day, they too will have a wife in my shoes. I want them to see that moms can make money and work and make family dinner. I want them to see me for me and appreciate the things and sacrifices that I've made, for them. 

Is it even possible to have it all? Do I really want it all? Tonight when I picked up the toys while Eric put the boys to bed, I found a masterpiece of a creation that Henrik built with and for his trains. I saw the "farm" Theodor made by lining up all of his animals in the corner of the play room. I got to really look at their artwork and their home school projects and think, "Man, I'm doing a great job with them". And I smiled because they impress me and amaze me every day. Would I notice that if I added work to the mix? Maybe. Probably. But would it mean the same thing as it does tonight? I'm not sure. 

I think I'm torn for a few reasons: 1. There about a million stay-at-home parents in the military because it's easy, affordable, and probably the best thing with such an unstable, transient career. I feel like I fall into the "perfect military spouse" category by doing just that. I've never liked to "fit the mold". 2. In my experience, it's very hard to answer the question, "Do you work?" When you meet someone new. "I stay home with my boys" is usually followed with a "right now". Why do I do that? Is it because I think people judge me for not being smart? For not having a degree or experience in the work field? Is it because I'm just self conscious? And 3. I think society is trying to push the stay-at-home experience for a multitude of reasons concerning the education and health of a child, yet the business world doesn't make time for kids, or families. WHY? 

When I look into my soul and really think about what I want, I want a job where I can work from home. I want a job that I can do that is flexible, yet challenging. I want time for my family, because there is NOTHING more important than family in my mind. And I want something that can contribute to the financial success of my family. I want to be an equal in the financial world, not a dependent (which happens to be a word I despise because of being in the military sector). I want to be able to take my kids to and from school and teach them lessons on a variety of different things at home. I want to be able to see my kids have fun in the afternoon riding bikes or building towers. I want to be around them now because they won't want me around them forever. 

I am still actively looking for a job. I am still going to be very picky about what it is I choose to do as a job or even a career because, quite simply, I want to be able to make it to the pumpkin patch or art museum when their classes go. If I'm going to leave my boys to work, it's going to be worth it for all of us, not just me. But I'm looking for a job so that I can gain some of my independence back. It's not because I want to get away from my children, but because I deserve to do something for myself. 

I think it is possible. I think I can take pride in doing "work" and raising my children as long as I wait for the right fit for us. I think I can relax and stop pressuring myself into finding a job because maybe, right now my job is to be with them until the universe is ready for me to work. And right now, when my boys play house, I'm honored that they fight over who gets to be the Mom.  Sure they pretend to go to work, a lot actually, but if Daddy isn't around they assume that's where he is, even if he's out golfing. I want my boys to think of me as someone who will be around to hold our family together through a deployment, a crisis or a disaster. Sure, Daddy has the muscle and ability to fix anything and protect us, but Momma has the glue that holds it together. I guess that's the message and image of me I want them to have, and I think that I've already done that when I really sit down and evaluate my life and relationship with my boys. 

A while back, I changed my Facebook "work" section to "Stay-at-home Mom" you know why? Because it's hard. Because it's something I am proud of. Because not everyone can do it. And when my future employeers look at the gap in my employment experience, they will say, "What did you do for a year?" and I can honestly reply, "I was a janitor, a housekeeper, a chef, a caretaker, a teacher, a leader, an organized multi-tasker, a doctor, a nurse, a financial planner, a butler, a mechanic, a project manager,  an event planner, and an expert on giving hugs to solve the world's largest problems". When they look at me, completely confused, I can say, with pride, "A mom. I was a mom."