Savoring the Moment

It’s Back to School time and I for one am thrilled.  Back to routine, back to schedules, back to kids using their minds instead of their thumbs (video games and TV clickers have gotten some serious mileage in the two weeks since camp ended).  Laundry was done, clothes were laid out and hair was washed as we prepared for Day 1.

My oldest began 7th grade at a new private school but luckily, Andy works there and had the lay of the land down.  While it didn’t make it worry-free for Ben (far from it…when an adolescent actually ADMITS to being nervous, you know it’s serious), all the preparations had been made.  He had finished his summer reading, had a closet full of collared shirts and even brand new sneakers that actually fit him.  I owe all of that to his Dad.

IMG_8260Georgia, however, seemed to fall under my jurisdiction and clearly, I had dropped the ball.  She spent the day before school finishing the 10 pages left in her summer math book (whoops), and hunkered down in my office while I worked.  A matholympics done at a snail’s pace, she finally finished at 7:34 pm and I told myself that it would be fresher in her memory this way.  Before going to bed, I tried to play the part of the organized mom by suggesting we pack her bag for the First Day of School.  And that’s where it all unraveled.

Upon pulling the backpack from a dusty corner of her room, I was floored by how heavy it was and as the words left my mouth, I wanted to pull them back in.

“Why is this so heavy?  What’s inside?”

Oh. THAT would be everything that’s been sitting in there since the last day of school.  In other words…Mom of the Year never even went through her bag to see what she had done in second grade.  Everything from her pencil box to her journal and even the note from the incoming teacher on what the kids should be armed with for third grade was in there (I REALLY could have used that before bedtime); even her pink fleece jacket was stuffed at the bottom (mystery solved).  To be honest, I was actually relieved that I didn’t find an empty carton of milk and bag of rotten grapes in there too.  Guess I got lucky.

ImageIt occurred to me that June seems like a lifetime ago.  I can’t remember how busy the last day of school was (my guess now is VERY) or what she wore or even what the date was, but life got so crazy that I forgot to stop and savor the moment.  I decided to fix that immediately by pulling out her journal and we read some of the passages together.  What I found out was pretty amazing.

Georgia won her soccer game 6-1 in September and had fun meeting her cousins’ goats in October.  She played with a bunny named Thumper in November, and was so proud of how her Christmas tree looked.  Staying up until midnight on New Years Eve made her year and the Easter Bunny brought her hair elastics and nail polish and hair clips (she loves Easter).  She also declared that if she were President, she would make a law never to hurt anyone because “if you do you could go to jail.  I know you wouldn’t want that.”

I realized that so often as parents, we forget to slow down.  We need to remember that It’s ok to say no to volunteering for another committee or to meeting people after work or even (gasp!) to take a day off once in a while.  It all goes so fast and while I’m glad that I have Georgia’s journal to keep forever, I’m sad that I missed that moment with her in June.  Never again.

After all, I could be raising one heck of a future President.  Time to step it up.

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The Well-Dressed Man

Much is written about birth order and what it says about you. Supposedly, middle children are peacemakers and creative while the youngest are highly social and unconventional.

Although the oldest child is said to be authoritative, a perfectionist and driven, I realized that there is another characteristic that I would like to add:

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Ben, 2004 at age 3. Designer duds abound.

Extremely well-dressed.

While going through Ben’s hand-me-downs for Quinn, I was struck by the sheer volume and quality of his 2004 attire. I can’t believe that I didn’t remember it, but apparently, Ben had a better wardrobe as a three-year old than I have as an adult.

Seriously.

It was insane. I found about five pairs each of jeans, corduroys (both wide- and baby-wale) and khakis in addition to chinos in every color of the rainbow. There were enough sweaters to outfit an entire school system and even the t-shirts – multitudes of them – were brand name.

Of course, the kicker was the eight-piece collection of Ralph Lauren button down shirts that I hung up in Quinn’s closet…a closet with racks that are hardly ever used since t-shirts and shorts live crumpled up in a drawer.

I had to wonder…why, in the name of all that is holy, did Ben have SO MANY CLOTHES?!

It struck me that because he was my first child, I spent a fortune on his wardrobe and the novelty of dressing this little boy hadn’t yet worn off. Aside from the extra disposable income that I had as a mother of one, I used to love shopping for him. Whereas now I groan when I see pants getting too short, I would delight in the fact that this meant another lunchtime trip to TJ Maxx.  I’m quite sure that I must have deposited my check, paid the bills and then spent every last cent on size 3T sweater vests.

Although Georgia is my second child, she IS the first girl so she too had her fair share of new clothes. However, life had gotten busy (and expensive) so where I had turned my nose up at offers of hand-me-downs for Ben, I happily accepted them for Georgia. Last year, my sister gave her a few bags of clothes from a friend and when she found that they included – gasp! – some Justice tops, she was thrilled. As you can imagine, they became staples in her wardrobe.

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Quinn, age 3 1/2. Brand name hand-me-downs from head to (bare) toe.

And then there is child #3. Poor little Quinn, destined for 11-year old worn jeans and sweaters, knowing that the only new items in his drawers will be underwear and socks. He’ll be resigned to wearing button-down Ralph Lauren shirts from the last decade with corduroys to match. And sweater vests? They will be SO last season.

Luckily for me, I don’t feel the need to dress them like little J. Crew models anymore. Ben may have strutted the halls of his Preschool wearing collared shirts and khakis, but after many kids and years of experience, t-shirts and jeans are perfectly fine. With just one child, buttoning a three-year old’s oxford in the morning is fun; with multiple kids all running late for school, it’s like trying to nail jello to a tree.

Of course, now that Quinn has a whole new wardrobe of primo threads he looks like a million bucks. I suppose I should be thankful that I went to such extremes to dress Ben the way I did, as they now fit Quinn perfectly. And even though the only time he’s worn one of those button down shirts was on picture day, I’ll try to work them into the rotation.

As for those sweater vests? I can’t promise anything.

Happy Campers

photo-36I have a love/hate relationship with summer camp.  Don’t get me wrong; my children look forward to the warm sunny days filled with swimming and archery as though they are Christmas in July, and for that I’m grateful.  It’s just that with every yin there’s a yang, and while the benefits of camp don’t appear during the school year, well, neither do the drawbacks.

Things I hate, as a Mom, about Summer Camp

  1. photo-35Damp towels and bathing suits – the only thing worse than coming home to find a pile of these little wet treasures in front of the dryer (not IN the dryer, Heaven forbid) is smelling them when you open their backpacks. The next morning.  Where they have had all night in the dark humidity to grow their otherworldly stink.  Of course, after a few weeks of tackling them as they walk through the door to “train them” into putting them in the dryer and pressing ON, I eventually give up.  I figure that having to put on a funky bathing suit and dry yourself with a moldy towel will teach them a lesson.  It never does.
  2. That Four Letter Word – yes, parents, you all know what I’m talking about.  Lice (I itch just typing it).  The first time you realize your child has it, it’s all consuming; after that you learn that it’s just a potential hazard of camp life and does not whatsoever reflect on your child’s hygiene (despite what I have just called out above).  Luckily I have learned a relatively quick and surefire way to rid your child of this summertime nightmare but still, it makes me groan when the kids head to their first day of camp.  I mean, poor Georgia, with her beautiful curly hair; I guess I should be glad it’s just a couple of bugs and not a family of squirrels living in there.
  3. Packing camp lunches – full disclosure, Andy is the one who really manages this job but as I’m the one who does the food shopping, I’m always amazed at how much lunch meat and snacks they go through on a weekly basis.  27 pounds of sliced turkey and 15  pounds of ham, a 12-foot tower of American cheese and enough bread to put Wonder back in business yet I can’t afford a pedicure?  I consider it a fiduciary win that I’m still able to budget for wine.  A girl’s gotta have priorities, you know.

Things I love, as a Mom, about Summer Camp

  1. “Camp Friends” – Ben gets to hang with Pete and Davis.  Georgia’s besties are Rachel, Molly and Ellie.  Both of them look forward to seeing these kids all year long and LOVE being able to have mysterious buddies from other towns that their school friends don’t know.  And just this morning, 3-year old Quinn announced, “Umm, I have a new friend at camp.  Her name is Izzy.  She’s a kid, not a counseluh.  She is new.”  To see him transform from the shy new kid to head of the welcoming committee for new campers just four weeks later?  Warms the cockles of my heart.
  2. photo-34Daily activities – everyday my tanned and blonde-highlighted children come home and regale us with tales of what they did at camp (we still have to press Ben, but it’s easier than it is during the school year).  From Archery to “Gymnaxticks” (Quinn’s favorite), Wiggles and Giggles to Beading, Dodgeball to kayaking, these kids have a blast.  They even finally explained how Gaga Dodgeball is different than regular Dodgeball (they play in an octagon versus a rectangle), so now after eight years, I get it.  And although I find gimp everywhere from the floor of my car to the shower drain (true story), the 14 new bracelets and keychains I have each summer keep life colorful at the very least.
  3. The End of Day Exhaustion – nothing is better than a child who is so tuckered out from fun and laughing and sun and swimming that they willingly go to bed and even (gasp!) sleep in the next day.  It’s a beautiful thing and worth every penny that I’m spending on the electric bill for the dryer that’s running overtime.

Although my entire summer camp experience was limited to a single two-week Park and Rec Tennis program (that I’m quite sure actually made me worse of a player than I was to begin with), I love that my own kids will have these memories.  Sure, their camp started off as a summertime daycare for us, but it has since morphed into a time of their lives that they’ll never forget with friends they’ll always have.  In a way, I’m actually a little jealous.

I’m even working on a gimp belt.  And not for nothing, it’s pretty awesome.

“I wish I were an only child” and other heartwarming sentiments

“MOMMMMM, Ben (insert abusive act here) me!”

“No, I didn’t.  Georgia, I didn’t even TOUCH you!”

“Yes you did, you pushed me to the ground!”

“Mom, I wish I were an only child.”

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Smiles brought to you by threats and ice cream.

Groannnnn…

I don’t know about you, but at my house it seems as though the kids spend 97% of their time actually looking for ways to annoy each other.  I daresay it’s actual sport at Chez Shumway; so much so that even the 3 1/2 year old has gotten into the game and ever the competitive child, has bypassed J.V. and gone straight to the starting Varsity lineup.

Take for example, Sunday morning.  I awoke to Quinn “Bullhorn” Shumway climbing into bed with us around 7:15 and demanding to watch “the movie that I watch yesterday with the man.”  Huh?

I digress.

So there we were, enjoying some quiet time with the little guy (quiet because we both had pillows over our heads) while the older two seemed to be downstairs in the playroom peacefully watching something else.  Of course, they could have been “peacefully watching Platoon” but as long as there was no arguing then who was I to judge?  I came downstairs around 7:45 and while pouring myself a cup of coffee, the kerfuffle ensued:

“Ben hit me!”  “No I didn’t!”  “Yes you did!”  “NO, GEORGIA, I DIDN’T.”  “OOOWWWWWW!  MOMMMMM!”

At that point, who really needs caffeine?

We have tried reasoning, threatening, ignoring, everything (they’ll probably put the quote “I don’t care!  SELF-GOVERN!” on my tombstone).  We’ve explained that if they fight with each other, they will both get in trouble so remember to think about that before running to Andy and me.  If they work to resolve the dispute – which is usually over uber-important issues like one’s feet touching the other’s leg, one breathing too heavily, or Heaven forbid, the deadliest of all sins, changing the channel from one’s favorite tv show – then we will applaud their diplomacy rather than send them to their rooms.

Another (oft ignored) suggestion – albeit somewhat radical – is this: if your brother/sister is annoying you, go to one of the 14 other rooms in the house.  Unfortunately this doesn’t apply to Quinn as, at 3 1/2, he desperately craves the company of others and will follow you wherever you go.  He has so mastered his craft of annoying the other two that they have to literally hide from him to escape his reign of terror.  While Ben and Georgia may  have such skewed versions of the truth that COMPLETELY contradict one another, Quinn is totally irrational which makes it like trying to reason with a crazy person.

“Mom, Quinn just broke my Lego plane that I built.”

“No I didn’t.”

“Quinn, we all just saw you do it.  Pick it up.”

“I didn’t play with the cars and yesterday at camp when my counseluh tells me to swim with a noodle, I go in the pool and my friend Jonathan went under water…”

You get the idea.

I’m told that at some point, this will pass.  I mean, my father used to refer to my younger sister as my sparring partner and now we’re best friends, so I’ve got to assume that they’ll grow out of it.  In the meantime, however, I’ll be hoping for some sort of Olympic “Annoying” Event in which my children can bring home the gold.  Ain’t no one can touch these three.

Either that, or make sure there’s a pillow within reach at all times.  Positioned correctly, they can bring peace to any household.

Superstitious? Nah (knock wood).

As someone who grew up in a family of all girls, my knowledge of baseball could once be summed up in a few words: Fenway, Yaz and hot dogs.  However, after marrying a small town baseball legend and then spending the past seven years behind the outfield fence watching my son play, I’ve picked up a few things.   I finally remember where the short stop stands, when it’s time for a sacrifice bunt and I’m even starting to be able to recognize a change-up.  But nothing is as important in this storied game as it’s superstitions.

Last week Ben’s 12-year old summer baseball team (coached by Andy) was playing in the Cal Ripken District Tournament, and traditions were in full swing (ba dum bum).  For starters, my house stunk to high heaven with the smell of sweaty boy because they were on a winning streak.  Not making sense?  If your last name is Shumway and the past few games have gone your way then there is no cleaning the uniforms because HEAVEN FORBID you wash the luck out them.  That’s right, socks too (I gag just typing this).  The boys go to bed early the night before the tournament and always, ALWAYS visit the loo before they leave for the game.

It sounds insane, I know.  But superstitions are not to be scoffed at. photo-28

The day of the District Championship game, I had a full day of meetings, nervous energy before the 8pm start, and all the ingredients for my Spicy Blueberry Pie.  Despite the fact that a pie is perhaps the most ridiculously hard-to-eat thing that one could possibly want at a ball field, I placed the warm plate outside the Snack Shack and it was a hit.  Then, Georgia pulled the prize out of her Cracker Jacks – a tiny Louisville Slugger sticker – and stuck it on my arm. Random event or Lady Luck?  You decide.

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The boys after their fourth consecutive District title. I am insanely proud.

As the nail-biter went into extra innings and Ben approached the batters box with two outs in the bottom of the 7th and go-ahead run on second base, I took my place behind the outfield fence.  Doing my best Jedi Mind trick to insure that my boy get a base hit instead of strike out and end the game, I held my breath. When he railed the ball to the gap in right field and two runs came bombing across home plate, we all cheered and FINE, I may have cried a little (read: bawled like a little girl).  And when we got home that night, pride was accompanied by relief that Ben had not only delivered when he needed to but also, I would get to wash their funky uniforms and end the stink once and for all.

As the boys headed to the next round of the tournament the following week, I found myself reaching for not only the Cracker Jack sticker but also the blueberries.  I mean, what if I shunned the superstition and the team lost?  Would it not be MY fault?  As it was, I was going to have to wear a different shirt because of a 20-degree increase in temperature (no superstition is worth Sweaty Betty sporting a long sleeved shirt in 97% humidity) so really, could I possibly take that risk? photo-29

I blame my husband and son for this newfound paranoia.  I still take issue with the “Tournament Stench” but I can sort of understand the (ridiculous) logic.  Unfortunately, the team lost in Game 2 of the State Tournament so I suppose in the end, the sticker and the pie didn’t bring the luck that I had hoped they would.

Obviously, it must have been the long sleeved shirt that sat in my drawer.  Damn.

Do as I say, not as I do, children…

So last night as I was leaving Ben’s 27th baseball game in three days, I was carrying too much and as I stepped over the wooden fence to get to my car, I whacked the top of my left foot on the wooden post.  Hard.

Ummm…ouch.

After a few choice words I limped to my car and cursed myself – literally – for not being more careful.  When I got home (foot throbbing), I noticed that I was bleeding.  Despite the mind-numbing pain, I put a wet paper towel and a bag of frozen peas on it, propped it on a pillow and went to bed.

“I’m fine, right?” I asked Andy.  “You’re totally fine,” he told me, “the fact that it’s bruised and swollen is fine, your foot just needs to heal.”  After 14 years of marriage he’s learned that telling me what I want to hear is always the best course of action.

ImageAfter keeping it elevated today during work, I had decided that I would take it easy, “walk it off” and wait for it to feel better.  There was no way I was going to the ER and DEFINITELY no way I was going to settle for it being really injured, because that would destroy my summer plans.

At tonight’s baseball game I asked for the expert opinion of a friend who’s an oncology nurse but as she was heading to work and even had her scrubs on I figured that I was covered (right?!).  Her raised eyebrows and insistence that I ice it more and “keep an eye on it” made it clear that perhaps I may just be shrugging off something I shouldn’t be.

I mean seriously, busy parents out there, who has time to go to the doctor?  Or the patience to sit through x-rays (oh and that co-pay alone that could be better spent on things like swim trunks for the boys or hell, more wine to numb the pain)?  I had a full day of work, a tournament game of Ben’s to attend and kids to ferry around.  An injured foot, for the love of GOD?   I don’t think so.  That is SO not fitting into my life right now.

I remember my father falling off a ladder when he was in his late 70s.  My younger sister still tells the story about how, despite the fact that he was clearly in severe pain, Dad had told her not to call the ambulance because “Christ, I’ll walk it off.  I’ll be fine.”  When he eventually wound up in a cast (broken foot), we never let him forget it.  As I recall, he didn’t want to go sit in the ER and suffer the co-pay.

Where EVER do I get this from?

My Mom says it’s the Irish in me…we don’t go to the doctor unless there is an actual organ protruding from our bodies and as for a high fever, I learned from her long ago that after a hand to the forehead, you say to the child that “You-ah cool as a cucumbah,” feed them a Bufferin or Baby Aspirin (at least in 1977) and off to school you go.  We are tough stock.  Not exactly Mensa candidates, but tough nonetheless.

Of course, if one of the kids had done this I’d have them in the doctors office so fast their eyes would spin but I’ll be honest, much of the reason would be that if they had gotten injured, it would mean time off of sports and constant complaining at home.  Then they’d REALLY be injured.

So do as I say, not as I do, kids.  That’s my prerogative as parent.  I’m Irish.  And I’m tough.

Just don’t step on my foot.

Middle School Finals: do what you gotta do, ‘rents.

This week I learned a valuable lesson in parenting a pre-teen and I’d like to share it here.

Embrace bribery.

photo-25As Ben headed into his first week of finals in Middle School, he had good grades – all A’s and B’s.  He knew as well as we did that in order to finish strong and have a shot at all A’s, he’d have to hunker down and crush every test.  He also knew (because I told him about 25 times a day and even whispered in his ear while he slept) that the surest way to achieve this was to study.  And that, I explained to him, would involve quiet time in his room with a book open on his lap, reviewing the past few terms.

“I got it, Mom, I think I’m prepared.”

Hmmm.

I’ll give it to him, he went through study guides and seemed to recall most subjects pretty well.  We’d have him practice using ethos, pathos and logos persuasion in real situations like, “Ben, using ethos, tell me why you shouldn’t have to study for another half an hour.”

As you can imagine, he nailed that one.

When it came to the math final however, he and I went to blows.  You need to understand, I totally get math.  For me, the logic completely makes sense; I’m careful and methodical and write everything down.  Ben, however, is a big “yeah, I got it” kind of guy and that, to me, screamed “I’m unprepared.”

Batten down the hatches, kids…there’s a storm comin’.

photo-26As Ben and I argued incessantly (I, of course, was right), he got angrier and more stubborn and I became more insistent on “helping him.”  As I’ve stated before, I am Alpha Dog in this house when I’m sure of myself, so I had all but declared summer vacation canceled when I noticed a turning point.

On Sunday afternoon in the car ride back from New Hampshire, he studied.  When we got home, he went to his room and with his math pages spread out over his bed, he prepared.

“I knew he’d realize I was right.”

As we went to bed that night I remarked to Andy how proud I was of Ben and that it was great to see him embracing responsibility.  Our boy was growing up.

“Yeah, either that,” Andy explained, “or it could be that I told him that if he got an 86 or better I’d pay him $50 and if he he got an 85 or below, he’d owe ME.”

The day after the exam, I was sitting in the lobby of an ad agency waiting for my meeting when I got a text from Ben:

103 on my math final

You know, at first I was disappointed that it took a financial reward to get Ben to get an A+ but then I realized, what motivates any of us?  I mean, I love my job but I’ll admit that I don’t give it my all SOLELY because I want my Mom to be proud; I do a great job because I’m getting paid.  And although it’s not Ben’s choice to go to school, there are many days where working full time may not necessarily be my choice either.  But there I am, doing my best, making a salary because, let’s face it, the aforementioned pre-teen and his siblings tend to cost a bomb and I intend on going the extra mile because my bank account sure could use it.

So at the end of the day, I’m down with motivating my kids by pressing the right buttons.  While I’d love for them to strive for excellence based on a desire to change the world, I’ll settle for a couple bucks or Taylor Swift concert tickets (Lord help me if that carrot ever has to be offered).  When I told my client today about Ben’s final, this intelligent young woman with a good job admitted that her parents had paid her $20 for As and $10 for Bs.  And just look at her now.

Hey, if it keeps going in this direction I’ll be working harder than ever before…not to pay off the mortgage but rather to fund the blooming intellectuals I’m raising.

Maybe I’m not so good at math after all.