Chopping off some hair (and baggage)

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Before and after. And yes, I call my default selfie expression Resting Mom Face.

As a middle child, I was a conflict-averse sulker of the first order.

My older sister raged against the machine, but I, by contrast, opted to weep pitifully FOREVER, crimson-faced and cross-armed, hoping to get my way through what I considered a stealthier, guilt-inducing form of rebellion.

My batting average wasn’t much better than any other kid’s, of course. But there was one conflict with my parents – specifically my mom – that stands apart in my mind by virtue of its sheer intensity.

After some lice breakouts at my elementary, the school nurse – ah, remember when one was just hanging around all the time ON STAFF? – pulled on some latex gloves and went from class to class, checking our scalps. Freshly back from Girl Scout day camp, I immediately landed in the principal’s office with one or two other lepers. (Ironically, I remember making a mental note that THOSE kids were gross and unhygienic rather than internally chanting, “One of us! One of us!”)

My mom took me to see Dr. Kim, our pediatrician; got a prescription for the tar shampoo (that you have to leave on your scalp for five minutes each time); and bought a double-sided black comb with two rows of short, crazy-narrow teeth – as if it was built for massaging a groomed chihuahua instead of actually combing human hair.

Particularly MY thick hair, which we’d all inherited from my mom. The trademark mane that hairdressers cooed over and complimented before, after working in it a while, saying, “Boy, you’ve got a LOT of hair.”

And because I’d spent my short lifetime absorbing inalterable truths about feminine beauty – my glasses, prescribed in first grade, would obviously need to be replaced by contact lenses as soon as humanly possible, and my hair should, upon release, tumble down to my waist (though I’d only just gotten it to grow below my shoulders) – I grew panicky when Mom started balking at the nit-picking comb’s ineffectiveness.

“We’re going to have to get your hair cut,” my mother told me. “You just have too much hair.”

Cue my crying. I wanted long tresses! Didn’t she understand I needed to grow my hair out to be seen by my peers, and by the world, as beautiful? To have my big-reveal, room-stopping moment of glory?

Nope. Off we went to the salon. Continue reading

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How appealing to a parent’s vanity ultimately leads to a kiddo’s heartbreak

IMG_2981.jpgMy nine year old daughter wept and screamed at me through breakfast this morning.

Not a great day-starter.

And the irony is, the episode was an outgrowth of something that seemed, at first blush, a wonderful thing.

A little over a week ago, I went to the mailbox and found a formal-looking envelope addressed – in faux caligraphy – to “The Parents of Lily Grekin-McKee.” Curious, I tore into it, read the first couple of paragraphs, and instantly beamed with pride. Yep. Tears actually rolled down my cheeks as I read this:

It is my pleasure to inform you that your daughter, Lily, has been nominated by [a teacher from Lily’s school] to participate in the National Youth Leadership Forum (NYLF): Pathways to STEM, an Envision program to be held at [nearby college] this summer, 2018. Only the brightest, most highly motivated students are singled out by their teachers for nomination to NYLF Pathways to STEM. You should be very proud of this achievement. Lily was selected because [her teacher] recognizes her as a student who already demonstrates exceptional maturity, scholastic merit, and leadership potential even at her young age.

I mean, what parent wouldn’t lap this up?

I joyfully cried some more, re-reading the letter a few times, and I shared a photo of it on social media.

I thought about how excited Lily would be, and how much it meant to me that her teachers recognized her academic promise and character. I was so happy for her, and for the experience she could have at this five day overnight camp, which offered cool activities related to forensics, medicine, and engineering. “What an amazing opportunity!” I thought.

For someone with a handful of degrees, I can be remarkably dumb at times. Continue reading

In defense of throwing your own damned middle-aged birthday party

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My beautiful 2018 cake, by Jeff Pavlik at Sunflour Bakehaus.

I remember the first time it really hit me that adult birthdays can kind of suck.

Two years before we had Lily (2006), February arrived, and I told Joe that all I wanted for my 35th birthday was to go out for dinner and to see a movie in the theater, which is something I love to do.

We did that. And as we were driving home, I stared out the window and inexplicably started to cry.

That sounds stupidly childish, I know, but friend-filled birthday celebrations were close enough in my rearview mirror that I suddenly, desperately missed my closest girlfriends from grad school, who were spread across the country. I felt dull and pathetic – and old. As if friendship was something you got to enjoy in your youth, and then you had to white knuckle it the rest of the way with your partner only.

“I don’t understand,” said Joe. “You said you didn’t need a party, or a dinner with friends, and that you just wanted to see a movie.”

“I know,” I blubbered. “I really did think that was what I wanted. But I guess I was wrong?” Continue reading

Adventures in parenting: getting the kids to try Indian food

Maybe our parental hubris arose from spending Thanksgiving week (and the equivalent of a small country’s GDP) at the Disney World parks, thus expanding our sense of where we might be able to go on family vacations in the future.

Or perhaps we’d decided to fly directly toward the sun on wax wings after I’d explained to the girls at dinner one night that our regular push to get them to try different foods wasn’t about being cruel, but rather so we could realistically think about taking them to cool places (with different cuisines) all over the world.

Whatever the impetus, Joe announced to me last Saturday morning that we would be going to our – that is, his and my – favorite local Indian restaurant that night. With the kids. Despite the menu’s complete lack of grilled cheese, hot dogs, mac and cheese, or chicken nuggets.

Uh … OK.

“Have you told the kids?”

“No,” Joe said. “I figured we’d just tell them when we’re about to go. And I’ll sweeten the deal by telling them that if they at least try a few things, we’ll take them to Orange Leaf for dessert.”

Well, this was definitely a recipe for a modest domestic adventure. Continue reading

Disney World travel journal: The Mouse Diaries

IMG_0003So. Disney World. Where was I?

Panicking before we left, right?

Months ago, I’d decided to schedule our flight on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, so we’d have Saturday to prepare. (As it happened, though, Lily’s all-day Lego Team tournament landed on that Saturday, as did my niece’s baby shower up near Alpena. Phew!) Fortunately, we were scheduled on a 12:30 p.m. flight, so we got up at our usual, leisurely Sunday morning pace, checked out the forecast for Orlando (70s, a mix of sunshine and rain for much of the week), finished packing up our bags, and drove through snow flurries to the airport.

(As a sidenote, I’d packed a plastic grocery bag with about a half dozen snacks for the girls. By trip’s end, I’ll have wished that I packed an entire suitcase of them. The “general store” and cafeteria at the resort had prices in alignment with those inside the parks – which is to say, HIGH – so we could have saved a bundle right there, had I known.)

The girls have been on a number of flights by now, but they’re usually smaller planes, with two seats (or two and one) on each side of the aisle. The flight to Orlando was on a huge plane, with individual video screens on the back of each seat, which allowed passengers to choose a movie for herself.

The girls were gobsmacked, and prepared, on pretty much this alone, to declare this the best vacation EVER.

So we all happily plugged in: Joe watched “The Hangover,” laughing loudly every few moments (which I was glad to hear – he’s often so stressed and overextended professionally that I don’t hear him expressing unfiltered joy like this much anymore); Neve and Lily watched “Despicable Me 3” (again); and I watched Salma Hayek and John Lithgow in “Beatriz at Dinner” – because nothing says vacation like a film that ends in what appears to be a Virginia Woolf-style suicide. Am I right? Continue reading

Girls’ (snow) day!

 

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Last Wednesday night, after huge snowflakes fell onto my otter hat and melted in my eyelashes – I had just aggressively boot-plowed my way to and from the grocery a block away – Joe and I received nearly-simultaneous texts, automated calls, and emails telling us that the girls’ school would be closed the next day due to weather.

In the past, when I was part of a newsroom staff, this pronouncement would immediately set me into action. I’d message the owner of the girls’ old preschool, humbly asking if the girls could crash there for the day. (Thankfully, the answer was “yes” every single time.) We’d load their backpacks with their favorite toys and games and books; make them each a lunch; and then, more often than not, Joe and I would have them climb onto a sled, and we’d pull them to the local Montessori on foot. (The girls thought this was the best thing ever, by the way.)

Yes, I’d often end up working at home that day, anyway; but as many contractors know, trying to work at home while taking care of young kids is beyond pointless. It’s like cleaning up the kitchen while also cooking a multi-course meal. And honestly, I loved having the occasional day at home to myself.

Now, though, two years after my layoff, and in the midst of a month-long freelancing drought, the thought of taking them to their former preschool never crossed my mind.

I was even kind of looking forward to spending the day with them.

And let me tell you, that marks a substantive shift in thinking. I used to feel resentful and anxious about these kind of situations; how they, by and large, fell to me more often than not. After all, I was the one with the part-time journalist job (though I worked off the clock ALL THE DAMN TIME), while Joe had the more demanding, high-stakes, high responsibility litigator gig. On paper, it was a no-brainer.

But I still resented it, and worried that the girls would start climbing the walls after a few hours, and turn on each other and me shortly thereafter. Because this wasn’t what we were all accustomed to. It wasn’t our routine. So such situations previously filled me with maternal dread. Continue reading

Desk as time capsule (or, Making the case for a little clutter)

IMG_2699.JPGFinding personal relics in an old desk is such a cliché that when the girls pulled my childhood desk from our upstairs crawlspace on Saturday, I froze up, a little scared of exactly what I’d find in those drawers.

Stylistically, the girls might as well have unearthed a dinosaur bone. A heavy, bulky white child’s desk, with oddly regal, gold-painted trim and accents, the piece matched my old canopy twin bed’s frame (also now in Lily’s room, sans canopy).

“What are you guys doing?!” I asked the girls, as they stood at each end of the desk, in front of the drafty crawlspace’s open door.

“You said we could put your old desk in my room,” Lily said.

Oof. And really, I should have known better than to speak my thoughts out loud. Lily’s messy, modestly-sized room has gotten more and more cluttered over time, in part because she refuses to let me remove the glider that was originally placed there when she was born. You know. When I was NURSING her nine years ago, and there was nothing in there besides a crib and a small dresser. Plus, Lily had recently added a small table to her room to work on her art projects. It’s completely untenable, logistically speaking.

For this reason, I’d recently mulled over offering her my old desk from storage in exchange for removing the rocking chair, footrest, and table from her room. My instincts were right on: when I mentioned this bargain, Lily was immediately all in – a little TOO all in, I guess.

“I didn’t say we’d do it today,” I said to them, exasperated. We’d just spent the morning at Neve’s Lego team exhibition, where Lily was also working a volunteer, and we all needed to pack soon for Lily’s Girl Scout troop’s overnight at the Fort Gratiot Lighthouse. We didn’t have time for this project on Saturday.

Lily didn’t see the problem, though, so I explained that she needed to clean out the area of her room where the desk would go (no small task), and that I would need to go through the stuff in the drawers to clear them out.

Reluctantly, she let it go for the day.

But because she was up for much of that night at the Scout event, having a blast, and because there’s ALWAYS a hard comedown from that kind of thing the following day, she threw a hysterical screaming fit Sunday evening about TAKING A SHOWER. (“I hate this family!!!” Perhaps a dirtier tribe would be to your liking, then, sweetie?)

So while Lily was in the bathroom, mumbling a litany of hygienic injustices imposed upon her, I took up residence in the hallway, sure she was going to fake a shower (which she did) by running the water and getting in just long enough to get wet and nothing else.

Since the exhumed desk was a few feet away, I grabbed a drawer while I waited on Lily and started pawing its contents. Continue reading