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Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

When my husband Dave and I bought our house 15 years ago, we were newlyweds with no kids, and there were just a few things we were looking for – enough room for the two of us and however many kids we ended up with down the road, and a nice town with a good school district.  One of the things we never thought to even consider was who would be living next door, across the street, and nearby.

But as luck would have it, the people living around us have turned out to be just as important as the schools, the town and the structure that we call home.

In the handful of years before and after we bought our house, almost the entire neighborhood turned over, with retirees moving away, and families with young children moving in.  And these families, along with their kids, have become like our family.  Many of the families have older kids who are now in high school and college – and somehow, they are all amazing kids – good students, athletes, and most importantly, nice, respectful young adults, who have been great role models for our own children.

Because these kids are older than mine, I have a fabulous group of  what I call “mom mentors,” who continue to help guide me through today’s complicated world of parenting.  We have summer “happy hours” where the adults gather outside to chat, and the kids run around and play.  The moms have gone away together on weekends, and we have “girls nights out” for dinners – we’ve also done jewelry-making, ceramics painting, and movies.  The guys have gone out to bowl.  We celebrate holidays and milestone birthdays together.

Some of us, including our family, have done construction to add on to our homes, rather than moving, so we can continue to be a part of this extended family.

Many of us have keys to each other’s homes, and pop in to walk or feed dogs when we’re called on (and let in forgetful kids who have locked themselves out).  We’ve cooked for each other when things get busy or tough, gathered mail and newspapers, picked up kids at school, and driven them places they need to be.  When our older son Matthew was hospitalized as a baby, we came home after two sleepless nights to find that a neighbor had closed our windows to the rain, and mowed our lawn.  When I broke my ankle last fall, neighbors cooked for us, drove our kids around, walked our dog, and even drove me 45 minutes to work.

familyroom2

I feel like what we have is old-fashioned, unique and special in today’s world.  And we’re so lucky to have it.

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HOW late is it??!

I like to think I’m fun to be around.  But really only until about 9:00 p.m.

Tonight, we went out to dinner with some new friends – a few families with their kids.  We finished at the restaurant around 8:00, and everyone else went back to one house so the kids could play and the adults could hang out.  We, on the other hand, came home so we could get a tired 8-year-old to bed at a reasonable time, to do our best to not start off the weekend with a sleep deficit.

sleeping

This is really nothing new for me, or my family.  In college, I was one of the few people I knew who could actually manage an 8:00 a.m. class (mostly because by 11:00, I’d be knocking on my neighbor’s dorm room door, asking her to turn down her music).  Back then, on most Sunday mornings, no matter how late I’d been out on Saturday, I’d be up by 9:00, doing laundry and hoping that someone else would wake up so I’d have somebody to accompany me to the dining hall for brunch before I crumpled in a heap on the laundry room floor.

With a few late-night exceptions, my life has continued along happily this way.  I was able to find myself a great guy who also doesn’t love late nights (When we celebrated our 15th anniversary last year, a friend chalked the success of our marriage up to the fact that we are both often asleep by 10:00).  And I guess some of this is genetic, because our kids are just like us.  When Matthew was a baby, we tried our best to keep him on what I think now was a pretty complicated sleep schedule, because if we veered off course by more than about 30 minutes in either direction, it could get ugly.  Switching the clocks for daylight savings time was a nightmare.  Both kids have gotten a lot more flexible as they’ve gotten older, but usually, we all would still would rather go to bed early.

As I’ve grown into adulthood, I’ve realized that I just came this way, and that’s okay with me; I consider it part of my charm.  I can take the jokes from friends and have learned to laugh at myself.  But please don’t call me after 9.

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Left on!

I was just sent an e-mail with information about a study that says lefties are more accident prone, more musical, and better at math.

I found this interesting for a couple of reasons.

I’m a righty, and so is my husband.  But our older son Matthew is a lefty, and our younger son Michael is sort of half-lefty (he does fine motor tasks like writing and eating with his left hand, but plays sports righty).  So, the first thing I realized when I read this was that Matthew fits the profile perfectly – he can do more advanced math than I can handle, but occasionally trips over his own big, flat feet.  He loves music, sings, and plays the saxophone.MattandMike

Then, the other thing I thought about was as parents, how many of us tend to “profile” our kids.  We chalk certain behavior up to gender, birth order, and even things like hair color, name, and handedness.  And these things can start early.  The day after our son Michael was born, a nurse told me that “of course” he was colicky and screaming his head off, and then she said, “it’s your own fault – you named him Michael.”  Before that conversation, I had no idea of the “legend” of the name Michael, but I’ve since met a number of people who have confirmed that boys named Michael are more prone to mischief (and I’ve met some parents of Michaels have gone so far to call their sons’ behavior “evil.”  We have some bad days, but I wouldn’t go that far with mine).

To some degree, I think this helps us explain behavior into neat little piles.  And it gives us a conversation point with other parents – “Wow! You have a clumsy lefty and an evil Michael too?!”  But sometimes not everything makes sense, and we’re not at all sure where to put it – I mean, Matthew has a really good memory … is that because he’s a lefty, a first-born, a redhead, or a boy?  I just can’t figure it out.

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When are we overstepping the bounds?

Get Milk-Bone Happy

Get Milk-Bone Happy (Photo credit: Brett L.)

Just yesterday a man I see now and then when we walk our dogs gave my dog a treat without asking me first.  Now it’s not like I’m monitoring my dog’s diet, or that it’s a big deal that he gave her a treat, but for some reason, it really bugged me.  Just because he didn’t ask me first.  And unfortunately, the dog didn’t say, “Hold on. Can you please ask my mom if it’s okay for me to eat this mystery treat?”

But what I started wondering is – how do WE know when we’re crossing someone else’s invisible line, where we are doing something that for whatever reason bothers them?

Like when we tell a friend’s child that “no, in our house we don’t jump on the furniture while wearing muddy cleats,” or “please get your dirty hands out of the snacks, because it’s 5:00, you’re getting picked up in a minute, and your parents said you’re going out to dinner.”

Okay, so perhaps those are more straightforward scenarios, but I’m often unsure about how to handle things on the rare occasion that a kid who isn’t my own is being rude, or using words that I don’t think a kid should be using (earlier this year, I overheard an 8-year-old – not my own – refer to someone as a ‘bag of *insert non-8-year-old expletive here*’ ).

More often than not, rather than worry about disciplining the other kid (or, in a rare case, dog), I use these situations to teach my own kids (or, in a rare case, my own dog) about the good and bad things we see in the behavior of others, and what we expect in our own family.

Like not to take dog treats from strangers.

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This will just take a minute.

English: Logo for The Home Depot. Category:Bra...

English: Logo for The Home Depot. Category:Brands of the World (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whenever my husband Dave decides he’s going to fix or improve something around the house, he surveys the problem and tell me it’s going to “just take a minute.”

It’s never a minute, and for some reason, after 15 years of home ownership, he still just doesn’t get it.  How come I do?

I’ve done the math.  Any project is a minimum of three hours and two trips to Home Depot (please note here my use of the word MINIMUM).  The maximum is a full day, four Home Depot trips, one Lowe’s visit, and a drive to the emergency room for stitches.

I shouldn’t complain, because on some level, I am glad that Dave wants to try to fix things himself.  But last year, he wanted to change a toilet seat.  Relatively easy job, right?  Not when the screws holding the old one aren’t coming off.  Rather than try some WD-40, Dave thought it would be a good idea to try and loosen the screws himself.  With a hammer.  I warned him, and yet somehow he was still surprised when he smashed a hole in the toilet.

I do think that different people just have different skills.  Dave can make a mean lasagna (his “secret” is double meat.  Now you know.), can shoot a basketball like nobody’s business, and our grass is beautiful.  The toilet?  Not so much.

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You should really do this yourself.

I had one of those conversations with my kids this evening that makes me question what kind of job I’m doing as a mom.

I’ll be honest.  I don’t have those moments every day.  Generally, I think that we are doing a pretty good job of raising good, polite, responsible kids.  Tonight, though, the boys conspired to head downstairs just as I was putting the finishing touches on dinner.  I asked them to come back, and when they looked confused by my request, I told them that “I’m not a waitress, and it’s not my job to serve you.”  One actually replied, “But it is.  You’re the mom.”

I’m embarrassed to even admit that this conversation went down in my house.  And it makes me think that we need to do a better job of teaching our kids to take care of themselves.  I’m also hesitant to admit that on some level, not only do I not mind taking of care of my kids, but I actually kind of like it.  There is something that makes me feel wonderfully “mommy-like” by cooking dinner, making school lunches, baking banana bread (with bananas that I have, un-mommy-like, allowed to rot on the counter), and folding little miniature boxer briefs.

But I know there’s a really fine line here, and I fear that I’ve firmly planted myself on the wrong side of it.  My 8-year-old can’t reach where we keep the milk in the fridge, so I pour it for him.  My 11-year-old, on the other hand, is a handful of inches shorter than me, and can certainly reach it.  But he’s convinced he’ll spill it everywhere (which, incidentally, he most likely will), so he almost always asks me to pour it for him.  I’m sure this is a life skill I should be teaching him, and I wonder how his adult life will turn out if he can’t pour his own milk.

Maybe tomorrow morning, I’ll let him do it himself.  Then again, I just went food shopping today, and I’m not entirely certain that I want a whole gallon of milk on the floor.

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Are we there yet??

My kids are the ones, who just like me, look forward to the beginning of the school with much more excitement than nervousness, rather than the other way around.  We all love shopping for and organizing school supplies, picking out the first day outfit, and meeting new teachers.  The end of the school year, however, is a different story.

Once they start taking down the bulletin boards, it’s pretty much all over for us.

When he was in pre-K, Matthew started having semi-regular meltdowns in May.  He was our first child, so we began the over-analysis of what troubles he might be having with a runny-nosed 4-year-old classmate, if he was coming down with something, if we weren’t reading to him enough, or too much, or if we were reading him the wrong books.

Check, check, check, check.  Nope.

It soon passed, once school was over, so we forgot about it, until late the following spring.  And sure enough, it happened again.  And has happened every year since.  Thankfully, as he’s gotten older, he doesn’t really melt down anymore.  But we’ve recently noticed that he’s grumpy about completing homework assignments that he was once compliant and self-sufficient about, and is complaining on  Sunday nights about how dreadful his weekend has been (I find that one particularly annoying when we KNOW we’ve all had a fun weekend).

And Michael, who is coming to the end of 2nd grade this year, isn’t much different, although his end-of-school blues seem to manifest with an age-appropriate hypochondria, where he periodically insists he has a fever.

Every spring, I myself am quietly a little weepy about saying goodbye to my own students at the end of the semester.  And yet it took me a few years to see the pattern with my kids.

And despite the fact that the boys have vacation and a summer at a camp they love to look forward to, the weeks leading up to the end of the school year continue to be what I can only call a “strange” time for our family.  Thankfully, we’re busy with end-of-year activities, planning vacation, and getting ready for camp, which seems to distract us all a little bit.

But I guess there’s still something about saying goodbye to another year, bidding farewell to teachers, and packing up the year’s art projects that still kind of gets to us.

See you in September.

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Why DID we get a dog?

In July, we will have had our dog Allie for 2 years.  She’s the first dog I’ve ever owned (and I say *I*, it’s because despite the fact that there are four humans living in our house, as the only female besides the dog, the majority of the pet care responsibility seems to fall to me.

There are some definite advantages to having a dog.  I’ve made lots of new friends being out and about with a little fluffy white dog.  Most of them are 7-year-old girls, but whatever.  And our dog is the only creature living in our house who unfailingly wakes up in a good mood, happy to see me.  Sometimes, she is completely content to just curl up in my lap and sit there.  And she rarely asks me questions that I can’t answer.

Unfortunately, nothing’s perfect.  The dog was no easier to get to stop peeing on the floor than either of my boys were at a young age.  And she seemed even less motivated by a sticker chart than they were.  The dog likes to dig around in the yard and eat whatever rabbit poop she can find.  She seems to enjoy licking sweat off our guests’ legs. Just gross.

Our neighborhood seems practically overrun with dogs over the past few years.  Why is that?  I like to think that I wasn’t under the impression that we were getting a dog because we were going to teach our kids a lesson about responsibility, or because we thought we needed to do what everyone else was doing.  Since I’d never had a dog before, I had no idea how much work was involved and that we’d always have to find someone to take care of her if we left the house for a while.  But I also didn’t know how much I’d grow to love something that only weighs 10 pounds.

I think that maybe we were all just looking for a wet nose and some fluffy white love.

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