Balancing “Me” Time and Mommy Guilt

[http://personalexploration.blogspot.com]

  Yesterday morning I indulged myself with a visit to a day spa. I had received a gift certificate during the holiday season. I kept putting off scheduling an appointment because of kid’s illnesses, school vacations, tennis tournaments… you name it, my kids took priority.

So I finally found a day that worked for me when my kids did not need me. For the value of my gift certificate I was able to receive an herbal bath followed by a sixty minute massage. Ahh… the life of a SAHM. Isn’t that what we all do? At least when we are not watching daytime tv…

[http://spa-topia.com]

The bath should have been a relaxing soak, letting the jets loosen up my muscles while breathing in the aromatic herbal therapies my masseur threw into the bubbling water. Instead I kept wondering how much time had passed and whether I would make it home in time to bring a cooler of drinks to my son’s final “fun” practice.

Then the masseur transferred me to a quiet room with zen music and low lighting. I laid face down on the soft sheets while he worked his magic on all my tight spots. It was just what I needed to erase my stress and release my tension; but somehow I found it hard to focus on the moment.

[http://zantesalonspa.com]

I found my mind drifting into thoughts about how much my daughter would like this- how it would release the anxiety of her upcoming final exams. I tried to analyze the techniques my masseur was using so I could replicate them on her at home. I also contemplated the possibility of giving her a gift certificate to use as a birthday present. After all, I thought, doesn’t she deserve such luxurious treatment too?

I finally had to yell at myself (in my head, of course) and say: “What about Me time? This is supposed to be about Me! Can’t I stop thinking about my kids- either how much this would help them or if I will make it to their practice on time- for a mere 90 minutes?”

I don’t know if the fact that I am not working this year has put me on Mommy High Alert, or if I was always like this and didn’t realize it. Somehow I have to work out a more even balance between “Me” time and “Mommy” time.

[http://mamanyc.net]

I don’t know how she does it. Doesn’t she look calm and in control? Relaxation was the purpose of my spa visit. It seems ironic that it didn’t turn out that way.

Memorial Day Reflections

Flag of the United States at the memorial to P...

Flag of the United States at the memorial to President Kennedy in Hyannis, Massachusetts. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last weekend my son played in a memorial tennis tournament. It was held in the honor of a promising high school tennis player whose life was cut short last summer. The story I read about him was very moving and I am not surprised that my son immediately wanted to sign up to commemorate this young man. The police report indicated that the boy was just a passenger, on his way to tennis camp, and had the ill-fated luck to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Memorial Day is when we honor all the men and women who bravely serve in the military, protecting this country’s freedom and principles. Parents who send their children off to fight in wars have much trepidation and anxiety. They know that the odds are high that their son or daughter will come back wounded or worse. Parents who send their teens off to summer camp never anticipate such a horrible thing happening.

It makes me think about the adventures of my own children. They are both going to spend time at separate camps this summer. These should be exciting adventures for them and expand their worlds beyond our suburban town. Meeting new people and learning new things are the best part of camp. Should I reconsider letting them go? Absolutely not! In fact, they probably face worse possibilities at home.

For all the attention that airplane crashes seem to get, it is actually far more risky to be in a car. Everyday there are stories about fatal crashes, many not the fault of the driver. This summer my daughter will be getting her driver’s permit. Like myself as a teen, she has been counting the years, months and now weeks until she turns 16. I will be spending time on the road with her and doing my best to teach her defensive driving skills. She is a very cautious person and will be a safe driver; but it is all the other crazy ones who worry me.

I learned to drive on Long Island- on one of the busiest highways outside of NYC. My family had temporarily relocated there and my parents obtained special permission for me to enroll in driver’s ed. On Long Island one had to be 17, but they must have convinced the official in charge that they would supervise any time I was driving. When I return to the area these days and realize how much traffic there is and the speed at which these drivers race and swerve, I wonder why my parents went out of their way to get me in the class. If I was living there today, I would not be in such a rush to get my daughter behind the wheel. It’s funny how I thought it was fantastic at the time, but when I look back on it I can only imagine how nervous they must have been. I am sure the reason they agreed to it, was because they knew how important driving was to my sense of independence.

My son rides out on the roads, too. He and his friends have been expanding their bike rides to a couple of miles down to the ice cream stand. The last time he and a friend went off, I had to stop them and remind them to wear their helmets. I’m not sure how much protection they would actually provide if either of them crashed, but at least it makes me feel like I am doing something to take care of them. Hopefully they did not ditch the helmets as soon as they rode out of sight. I think I have made it clear how important I think their safety is to me.

My family also does alot of carpooling to practices, the mall, movies and amusment parks. So far all the driving has been done by adults- other parents whom I feel I can trust as safe drivers. That will start to change soon as our children reach the point where they have a junior license and can take passengers. Even with the best laid rules and plans, things can go wrong.

I still feel strongly about the right to independence, though. Our job as parents is to give our kids these experiences, whether they learn how to take care of themselves at summer camp or how to navigate around town on a bike or behind the wheel. We don’t want them to reach the age of adulthood and suddenly find themselves off at college with no idea of how to manage.

The other day, my son called me outside to the spot where a baby robin was splayed on the ground. I am sure it was one of the fledglings from the nest on our front porch. One who had flown away only a few days earlier, prodded by its parents to fly and see the world. I still see its siblings flitting about in the trees and hear them calling to each other. It is sad to see that one of them did not make it beyond his first day of freedom.

Obviously, there is no comparison between that baby bird and the boy who died last summer. His loss will leave a permanent hole in the hearts of his family and friends. This Memorial Day tennis tournament is a way of helping to heal that wound, but it will never go away. Likewise, when we watch the parades we remember all the soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice that can not be repaid in medals of honor or ceremonial flags.

Most of us view Memorial Day weekend as an opportunity to take a much needed break from work or school, throw a party, or take a mini vacation. While I am happy to have the extra day off, I am glad I was able to find at least a few moments to reflect on the real intention behind the holiday. My thoughts, prayers and appreciation go out to all the families who have lost members who fought to protect the freedom of the American people and their allies.

Miss Kim is my BFF

Miss Kim has arrived for a short stay at my house. She has a very welcoming personality, showing off her true colors and filling the air with her presence. The only reason she has any competition for attention is her timing. Right now the attractive Bearded Iris are flowering and calling their own followers. Their dark purple heads emitting powdery scents are a tough match for Miss Kim, but she prevails with her overpowering aromas and abundant florets.

Just breathing the air when Miss Kim is present can put me into a swoon. If I am having a stressful afternoon, holding a branch up to my face and inhaling her sweet perfume puts me in a happy mood.

She greeted me with a 20 foot long display of light purple lilacs and made my arduous task of repainting every spindle on my deck railing pleasurable. Even though I spent 3 hours coating every surface with new stain, Miss Kim kept me company.

Later I brought a huge bouquet, overflowing with Iris and Lilacs, into the house. The fragrant scent spread through the kitchen and family room and seemed to make everyone calm and happy.

At the end of the day, I clipped a single branch and placed Miss Kim in a tiny vase by my bedside. As I settled down under my covers, I enjoyed her sensual aromas fanned by the cool night air and the sound of crickets chirping. It was truly a night of bliss. I awoke this morning feeling relaxed and happy because Miss Kim is still here for a few more days.

Appearance Matters

It seems to have become an annual tradition that the week before Memorial Day, we spruce up our outdoor spaces. The threat of frost has passed, the gardens are in bloom and we are ready to kick off some barbecues. Before we do though, our chores include weeding and mulching the gardens; as well as power washing the decks and siding and repainting the cedar furniture and deck.

Instead of seeing a dried out, tangled patch of assorted plants running amok, we now have  a weedfree garden, freshly covered in dark wood chips and bursting with purple orange and pink flowers. The difference in appearance is stunning!

   

Likewise, washing the cumulative dirt, leaves and cobwebs off the front porch and slapping a fresh coat of cheery almond stain on the rocking chairs and tables makes the space much more appealing- especially when I add the new throw pillows and a hanging geranium.

The work is time-consuming and sometimes messy, but the results are well worth it. Because I know what is involved, I dig out my sneakers with the rubber treads wearing off , a baggy pair of shorts which I don’t normally wear but saved for chores like this, and an old t-shirt already decorated with paints of blue, yellow and gray from earlier projects.

By the time I am finished with the front porch furniture, I have smears and speckles of color on my arms and legs. There is even a section of my hair that is clumped together by dried paint. I don’t mind, though. I have been working hard and these marks are proof of that. Besides, I am so happy with the results of my efforts that I decide to keep going and tackle the even bigger project on the deck.

Unfortunately, we are out of stain and I will need to go out for more. I look at my spotted arms and legs, the stains on my shirt and the stiff clump of miscolored hair. I would never consider going to the grocery store like this. With my baggy, unflattering shorts, my sweat-soaked shirt and messy hair I cringe to imagine what people would think if they saw me.

I know it would be a waste of time to shower and change, only to come back and resume painting, so I decide to wear this outfit with pride. Recognizing my smears, stains and unfashionable clothing as the attire of a DIY painter in the middle of a project helped me see my appearance in a different light. After all, I was going to Lowes. Wouldn’t half the people there look like me?

As you can guess, no one gave me a second look or raised an eyebrow. It was obvious I was just coming in for more supplies for my deck project. Going out dressed like this should never have been an issue in the first place. Why should appearance matter so much?

Anyway, I returned home and resumed painting my deck furniture. The new coat of stain hid all the chips, cracks and layers of color the pieces had acquired over a dozen years.

       

They are well-made  adirondack style chairs and now they look as good as new. Once the deck gets its touch-up, I’ll be able to arrange the potted flowers and tiki torches and make it look very inviting. Soon I will be ready to entertain guests and kick off the barbecue season.

I guess that means I better freshen up my pedicure. It is one thing to go to Lowes looking disheveled, but I could never look like that when I have guests. Besides, after all that hard work, don’t my nails deserve equal treatment of a fresh coat of paint? Then it will really feel like summer!

Online Book Shopping

Image representing Barnes & Noble as depicted ...

Image via CrunchBase

At the end of June, almost a year ago, I received a teacher appreciation gift card to Barnes and Noble. It was a lovely thought; what teacher would not enjoy some good summer reading? The only problem is that I am a library girl. I visit my public library once or twice a week and always have piles of fiction, non-fiction, travel guides, cookbooks and magazines on my nightstand.

I do enjoy my Kindle. Downloading digital books makes packing reading material for vacations light and easy. I try to borrow my e-reads as much as possible; because if I do buy a book, it has to be through Amazon. I know they won’t take my gift card.

Third generation Amazon Kindle

So now I have held onto this gift for close to year and I am concerned it will expire shortly. I have read many book reviews in my quest to find something which I feel is worthy of purchasing.  Those qualifications would include: an author whom I enjoy and possibly have another book by, a book that had fabulous reviews, one that covers a topic of interest to me, something I could pass on to friends or family when I am done.

I came up with a list and decided to finally buy my books. Part of me still felt guilty about buying from an online chain, rather than supporting the local, privately owned shop. I suppose the compromise could have been to drive to the big store at the mall, but I rarely head out in that direction.

The Book Shop With Wigtown being named The Boo...

I decided to approach the owner of the independent store and see if we could work out a deal. I figured if I had her order the books for me and I purchased enough extra material over the gift card value that she would be happy for the business and I could finally unload the card.

I was disappointed that the owner could not figure out a way to make such a plan work- even if she offered to buy it from me at a discount and I bought books she already had in stock. You would think that in an attempt to attract customers she might have been willing to find a creative strategy. Instead she suggested I either gift the card to someone else or buy online. Imagine that- an independent store, struggling for business, yet encouraging me to shop online!

I still could not bring myself to do that; so in order to ease my disappointment,  I went to the library. I found one of the books from my wish list on their well-stocked shelves. I also located the next book I will be reading for my book club. I spontaneously grabbed one of the books which they had cleverly displayed near the front desk. While I felt badly that I couldn’t do business at the local shop, at least my public library was there for me.

Then I went home and placed my order online. The package arrived today. Now I have plenty of summer reading lined up for the next few months. I am only a year behind.

   

School Budget Vote: The Importance of a Well-rounded Education

    Across the capital region, the health of our public education system is in the hands of voters today. Times have been tough. Everyone is watching their bottom line. No one wants to see their taxes go up; but as the state slashes its share of local education costs, schools have no choice but to cut programs. These programs include special education, advanced placement classes, additional language instruction, athletics (including PE) and extra-curricular activities.

This doesn’t leave much room for electives which allow students to choose their areas of study. Instead the focus is on the federal mandates put in place by No Child Left Behind or the Race to the Top.  Even though much of the funding for these programs has been withdrawn, school districts are still being held accountable to these goals. The flaw of these plans is that schools put too much instructional time into the tests, neglecting other subjects in favor of the RRR’s.

We have to step back from this limited perspective and look at the whole picture. If our schools have the highest scores on the national tests, but our students have the lowest participation rates in AP classes, athletics and the arts, all we are doing is turning out a class of robots, not the critical thinkers we need to keep America a global leader.

When I was teaching preschool, I understood how important it was to provide opportunities for physical exercise, creative play and to allow time for spontaneous thinking- not just stick to a proscribed plan. High school should give students a chance to explore their interests and get involved in teams or clubs which will help them stand out in a field of college applicants. In addition to being stepping stones to an area of study in college, one could argue that clubs and teams build cooperative and/or leadership skills which prepare students for the workplace.

If your school district is holding a budget vote today, remember a good education is more than just the basics. In order to turn out a successful generation of workers, we need to provide a well-rounded education to our children. Smaller class sizes and more specialized subject areas  allow more opportunities for interaction, discussion, critical thinking and problem solving. Don’t look at what it costs this year, but rather at what your investment will mean for the future.

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.”
Albert Einstein quote

Mother’s Day

Did anyone celebrate Mothers’ Day last weekend? It certainly is a made for America holiday- setting up expectations for gifts, phone calls and fancy brunches or dinners. All the ads featuring perfect family moments made me emotional. I  knew those were fantasies for the movies; yet I secretly wished something similar would happen to me.

I remember my first Mother’s Day. My baby was 10 months old and still nursing. I was home with her every day. The first three months were the toughest, but we had gotten to a point where she had a more predictable routine and I was enjoying playing with her, taking her for walks and making baby talk. My husband knew how hard I was working to take care of her and he made me hand-painted card with the most wonderful words of praise and appreciation of what a good mom  I was. The flowers and gift card were nice tokens of his admiration, but the love and respect he had for me were priceless. I realized that even though being a mom is tough, I was doing my best and my efforts were recognized.

Over the next few years, the kids started to give me cards and gifts they made at nursery school. I would get hugs and kisses and some presents my husband helped them pick out. This cute little celebration was fun and we often attended the Tulip Festival on the afternoon. It was a great family activity to do together, complete with kiddie rides, crafts and fair food.

By the time the kids got to grade school, they started questioning the fairness of Mother’s Day. Why wasn’t there a son or daughter day? Didn’t they deserve recognition too? We tried to start our own holidays for each of them, letting them pick a restaurant or activity and giving them a few presents. However, when they decided they didn’t want to return the appreciation the following year, we dropped them all.

No mom wants to force her child to give her gifts or praise. We are too good to make them lavish attention on us. Besides, forcing them to follow the protocol would result in something that doesn’t feel right because it is not given out of love. At that point it is better to ignore the holiday and remind ourselves that it was concocted by retailers.

Instead I turn my attention to my own mother or mother-in-law. I try to show them my love and respect year round- not just on one day of the year. Mothers deserve that every day and by the time the children are adults they should not need commercial reminders to show appreciation or affection for their moms.

I did send each of my moms a card around Mother’s Day, but the words I wrote were probably more meaningful than the token gift. So while I admit I fell into the trap, at least I know that these exchanges happen randomly throughout the year, as they should- and not just on a dictated day.

To all the moms out there whose children are at that age of defiance between dependence and maturation, hang in there and keep doing your job. When they are adults with children of their own, they will finally appreciate all you have done for them.  And now that Mother’s Day is over, I can go back to watching tv without all those touching commercials.

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