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Oh, boy!

I’m the mom of two boys.

As I’ve learned over the 12 years I’ve been a “boy mom” (almost 13 if you count the time during my first pregnancy when I knew I was having a boy), I’ve learned that while there are lots of similarities in parenting boys and girls, there are also LOTS of differences.

At this point in my parenting experience, I’m going to chalk the main gender difference up to smell.  Adolescent girls just smell better than boys.  Simple as that.

boys

But it started off pretty innocently.  With a baby, whether you have a boy or girl doesn’t seem to matter that much, except that there are more clothing options for girls.  That said, it’s not a big deal if you have a bald baby boy (because without a bow or a headband, even if you dress a bald girl head to toe in pink, some people are still going to tell you how cute he is).  Plus, I don’t think girls generally pee on the wall when you’re changing their diaper.

In the years between infancy and adolescence, some differences have caught my attention.

Homework.  I have one son who does the majority of his homework standing up.  I have friends who say the same thing about their boys, but I’ve never heard that about a girl.  As a girl myself, I have no idea why or how my son does this, but he’s a good student, so it’s not something I think I need to argue with him about.

I also think boys’ friendships are somewhat less complicated than those of their female counterparts.  Matthew once got into a screaming match with a friend in our backyard.  There were no punches being thrown, so I just decided to wait it out.  They both stormed into the house when they finished yelling, and when I timidly asked, “Um, what’s going on?,” they replied calmly that they were going downstairs to play video games.  That’s it.  It was never spoken of again.  Things don’t work that way with girls.  The screaming match would have been followed by tears, texts, whispered conversations with other girls about said screaming match, and it could have been weeks or even months before whatever started it was forgotten.  The boys, on the other hand, had already forgotten what they argued about by the time they got into my house.

I always thought I’d be the mother of a girl.  I think for many women, we for some reason associate parenting with braiding hair, playing with dolls, and reading the girly books we read as kids (honestly, when it comes to my favorite author as a kid – Judy Blume – the thought of moving beyond the “Fudge” series with my boys just gives me the creeps).

When I was pregnant with Matthew, I just knew he was a boy, and yet when it was confirmed by an ultrasound, I was a little disappointed.  And with Michael, I was SO sure he was a girl that we had a name picked out (Ella, if you’re curious).  I had a test to rule out other things, and when I asked the gender and they told me he was a boy, I asked if they were sure.  Their reply – “Um, XY, that’s a boy.” (that’s the chromosomes, for those of you who might have had as many years since high school science as I have).

And even though I was SO sure that Michael was the girl I always thought I’d have, there wasn’t the slightest amount of disappointment when I found out that our second child (who we knew would be our last) was a boy.  I knew by then that the love for a child is not something that’s gender-specific.  I don’t feel as if I’m missing anything.  I love my boys as much as I could ever love any creature with beautiful long hair (and a better smell).  I’m also convinced that you get the gender that you are meant to have (and I like to think that there’s some higher power somewhere who knows what they’re doing).  Because while I’m pretty sure I couldn’t handle the complicated nature of girls, it doesn’t really bother me to read a book to a boy who for some reason is keeping his hand warm in his pajama pants.

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Hello, I’m your child’s teacher!

It’s that time of year again.  There’s a chill in the air, the sun is setting earlier, I’m sneezing from who-knows-what flying around, and we’ve spent two late evenings this week in overheated classrooms with a bunch of other parents who don’t even seem to be trying to resist the urge to distract themselves on their phones while their kids’ teachers are telling them what to expect from the next 10 months.

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It seems a little more straightforward in elementary school.  The teacher (who, by the way, probably hates back-to-school night because odd as it might seem to you, she is a whole lot happier trying to corral a bunch of runny-nosed 7-year-olds into their seats than she is talking to adults whose suit-covered behinds don’t even FIT into those seats), has enough time to show you adorable drawings on the walls, and give you a little show-and-tell about this year’s confusing spelling program, and some sort of diorama your kid will be crying about in a few short months.

You’ll sign up for an individual conference next month, where you can find out if your child is as weird in school as they are at home.

Now, back-to-school night in middle school seems to be an entirely different story.  Given that middle schoolers are a somewhat mysterious brood, prone to periods of silence, followed by periods of intense information-sharing and questioning, it’s possible you know a lot about your middle schooler’s teachers.  Or nothing.

You can expect to be squeezed through crowded hallways of confused, lost parents, looking for the Language Arts room.  The confusion is frequently interrupted by, “Lisa! Over here!!  Oh, my God! I haven’t seen you in so long! How was the beach?”  Followed by, “Excuse me, sorry! Excuse me,” while Lisa prances across the hallway to kiss her friend and they both pull out their phones to see when they can get together for coffee.

This is all happening in the approximately 37 seconds the parents have to get from one class to the next, because if parents were actually given an appropriate amount of time to get around the building, we’d be there until midnight.

You can likely expect to be greeted at the door by a foreign language teacher.  In a foreign language.  This makes me exceedingly uncomfortable.  Our son takes Spanish, and it’s not like I don’t understand when Senora Whats-Her-Nombre shakes my hand and says “hola.” But I’m never sure how to respond.  I’m pretty sure she speaks English, so I could say “Hi,” but given that she’s started the conversation in Spanish, I feel sort of obligated to go along with her and pretend that I’m bilingual.  But I’m afraid that if I say “hola” in return, she’s going to ask me a question or say something I don’t understand in Spanish.  So I just sort of look at her, quickly break eye contact and go sit down.

You can expect that, unless you are an engineer or accountant, your child’s math teacher is going to use a term like “absolute value” or a word like “quadratic” that is going to make you feel afraid enough that you may ask the teacher now if she can tutor YOU, because if your child asks you ANY question about math this year, he is going to find for sure that you’re really not as smart as you like to pretend you are.

When the Phys. Ed. teachers announce that every 7th grader is required to have deodorant in their gym locker, you’re going to think a lot of things.  Like, is there any parent who has never gotten a whiff of their own 7th grader and not figured that out on their own?  Or, please let it not be my kid who needs to be spoken to because he has forgotten to use the deodorant I know he brought in the first week of school.  Or, how is it possible for a teacher to tolerate being in a room full of sweaty 7th graders?

When back-to-school night eventually ends, you hope the sun hasn’t started coming back up again.  Because you still have to get home, get any straggling kids to bed, and start worrying about a math midterm.

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Where’s my walker?

I had a realization in the middle of last night that Dave and I are beginning to settle pretty firmly into middle age.

It wasn’t a dream, or our kids calling us old, or anything like that.  I was awoken around 1:00 a.m. by Dave, asking if we had any Tums.  I sent him to the cabinet where we keep them, asked him for one for myself (apparently, at our age, chili for dinner – even when I make it without beans – is no longer a good idea), and then I got up to go to the bathroom.

The past few nights, we’ve had that awesome cool fall weather at night, and I was oh-so-comfy when I woke up, curled up in my long sleeves and pants.  But once I returned from the bathroom a mere 90 seconds later, I got warm.  I loosened the covers.  Then I got up and changed into a t-shirt.  Then I got hot. Then I got up and changed into shorts.  Then I pulled the covers off.

walker

I think you know what I’m getting at here.

For some reason, I started thinking then about when Dave and I were dating, and we could stay up past midnight.  I didn’t sweat in my jammies, and we didn’t wake up with heartburn. I’m fairly certain we could also tolerate chili.

That said, though, I wouldn’t trade this phase of my life for a stronger stomach, or a flatter stomach, or a good night’s sleep.  I love my life and my family.  I love that Dave wakes up in the morning and has to walk down the steps with two feet at a time, like a toddler, until he stretches out a little.  I love that I’ve started to stash reading glasses in my purse and on every level of the house, because a little extra light just isn’t cutting it anymore.  I love that three years ago on my birthday, Michael (who’d just turned 5 at the time), said to me, “It’s funny that you’re 43.  You really look 44.”

I love that when we DO wake up in the middle of the night, that Dave’s there to laugh with me about problems that, in the scheme of things, we’re lucky to have.

So, okay, I could kind of do without what’s starting to look like weird wrinkles on my neck, but whatever.

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I’m sorry.

This time of year always gets me thinking about poor decisions I’ve made and how they affect the people around me.  That’s no coincidence – as a Jew, I observe the holiday of Yom Kippur – the day of atonement, where we don’t eat all day, and apologize for our sins.  And I say “observe” rather than ‘celebrate,” because even though it’s technically called a “holiday,” to the outsider, it doesn’t even come close to resembling what they’d consider a holiday.  That is, of course, until the sun goes down and we celebrate not losing consciousness all day by stuffing ourselves full of bagels and lox.

Bagel

Bagel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But I digress.

While some of my fellow Jews are posting blanket apologies on Facebook to those they’ve offended this year, I’d like to be a little more specific about things I’ve done this year that might require an apology:

To my sons: I’m sorry for sending you to school with a sandwich made with deli turkey that only smelled questionable when I made a sandwich for myself hours after you’d already happily gone off to school with yours, which I’d made the night before.

To a random person living somewhere near me:  I’m sorry I left dog poop on your lawn.  I turned my head for a SPLIT second while my dog was pooping, and you see, she weighs only 10 pounds, so her poop isn’t always visible to the naked eye.  Plus she makes a run for it as soon as she’s done.  In my defense, I did search for a good five minutes before giving up.  But I’m still sorry.

To my son’s 7th grade teachers: I’m sorry he’s used all of your tissues (which I know you bring in yourself) this week.  He has a cold, and I sent him in with a pack of his OWN tissues, which he brings home every day.  I guess it’s cooler to blow his nose in the front of the classroom than to pull one tissue out of the dainty little pack with flowers on it.

To my dog: I’m sorry for making you wear a Halloween costume.

To my husband: I’m sorry for insisting that I need to watch the end of a “cliffhanger” episode of Honey Boo-Boo when the Knicks are playing.

I’m hoping for a better year ahead.  Wishing you all the same.

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Hey, you’re special!

My 8-year-old son Michael and I got into an interesting discussion not long ago.  Walking to school, we spotted a cardinal in our neighborhood, among flocks of very ordinary brown birds.

cardinal

And it got us to talking – did that bird have any idea how unusual and special it was?  We were thinking “probably not.”  After all, unlike people, birds don’t have mirrors, so it’s not like he (for some reason, I assumed this bird was a boy) could check himself out and admire his own red feathers, standing out among the hundreds of birds that look nothing like him.

It was actually a little mind-blowing to think about.  After all, this bird was so different, that he caught our eye immediately, and yet he was just going about his business like every other bird, checking the ground for worms and probably hatching some fantastic plan to poop on my car.  He had no idea that just his being different was enough to stop two people in their tracks to stare at him for a while.

As parents, we tell our kids every day how being different makes them special.  Let’s be honest – sometimes, it’s just to make them feel better.  Because the most valued thing to a lot of kids is NOT to be different or special – it’s to fit in and be just like everyone else.

I’m guessing that it’s a lot less complicated to be a bird.  Wouldn’t it be great if no matter how we all looked, and no matter how we acted, we could just go about our day, not even realizing that we were different from all the others around us?

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Just putting it out there….

I was pretty pleased last night when I saw my 12-year-old son Matthew’s Instagram post.  Not because it was a great-looking selfie.  It wasn’t.  And not because he’d said anything particularly brilliant or funny.

He posted a photo of himself, hand on his chin, looking pretty bored on the night before the first day of 7th grade.  It was how he captioned the photo that made me realize that at 12, he’s light years ahead of where I was at that age.  He wrote, ironically:  #ughschool, #thinkimreadybutidontknowifiam, #imtiredandineedsleep.

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And here’s why I loved it.  He wasn’t pretending to be, literally, too cool for school.  Matthew was born one of those kids who can be who he really is, and say what’s actually on his mind.  It took me until my 30s to understand that the way we truly connect with other people is to say what we’re really feeling.  Somehow at 12, he finds it okay to tell people what he’s thinking – “I’m really not sure if I’m ready for another year of this.”  At that age, I was probably crying behind closed doors at home, and pretending to the world that it was all good, even if it wasn’t.

It’s much less stressful, I realize as an adult, not to pretend to be something I’m not.  When I tell friends that yes, I have nights where I crawl into bed, pretty disgusted with myself about how I’ve parented my children that day, they often respond with a wide-eyed “Me too!”  But it’s also a chance for us to remind ourselves that the next day, we crawl out of bed, apologize to our kids, and try our hardest to be a better version of what we were the day before.

None of us are on this journey alone.  We have chances every day to grab hands with the person next to us, and take them along for the ride.

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