We Are Both Right

Siblings Sharing a Room, Brady-Style

siblings sharing a room

There's a lot of irony in having siblings share a bedroom, but you might as well make the best of it like this sister/brother room does. Photo and design ideas provided by Project Nursery at http://goo.gl/AErgf

There’s a little bit of Brady Bunch envy still lurking within me. And part of it has to do with those big awesome bedrooms they shared, one for the three boys, and another for the three girls.

OK, so their dad was an architect. And each room looked like it was the equivalent of two oversized bedrooms with the wall taken down between them. And Mrs. Brady (or maybe it was Alice) coordinated the bedding just perfectly. It all looked so cool. And so much fun.

Remember when the boys scared the girls by projecting apparitions from the attic out the bedroom window? Or when one of the triple sets would huddle up in a bedroom to cover up some ill-fated scheme involving farm animals? Sure Greg eventually moved out into his attic bachelor pad, but it was a good setup there for a while.

I was convinced that there was nothing better than getting to share a room with a sibling, or two. And to a point, I still am.

Growing up, my sister and I shared a room for close to ten years after our brother was born and snagged the third bedroom. We even shared the same bed (a double from what I remember) for at least a few of those early years. But whether it was us singing show tunes while making the bed or throwing socks at the whirring ceiling fan while laying on our backs in bed, we learned to be a team. That came in handy when it came to covering for each other years later.

In some ways, I think that experience also primed me for parenting. I remember nights spent awake listening to my sister breathe after an especially bad bout with asthma. We were in twin beds at that point, and I would kneel beside her bed on the hardwood floors that had been cleared of carpeting that might harbor allergens, listening for consecutive breaths. My perfectly healthy babies would be under the same night watch years later.

Sharing a room with my sister wasn’t all fairy tale all the time though. We had our share of spats, and there was no place to escape to when the going got rough. But in the end, I still appreciate having those years in such close quarters. Because the Brady room ours was not.

Especially now, in the middle of this double dip recession (if the economists won’t officially declare one, you can take my word for it), I think room sharing is coming back into vogue. Families are downsizing their housing out of necessity. An ailing grandparent might need to move in. And in urban areas, where housing has always been a tight squeeze, room sharing is only becoming more commonplace.

There are ways to make it work and have fun with it. And there are times to let it go — like when children get older and privacy becomes a factor. But in the end, siblings sharing a room provides a special bonding experience that just might make things easier for them later.

Did you share a room growing up? Do your children now? Ever think you might have to tape a bed sheet to ceiling when the going got tough?

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Over at Amanda’s house, single rooms are such a priority that she and her husband gave up their longstanding home office (and a few weekends) to make room for their new addition.

Originally published October 3, 2011

Fifty Shades of Grey, and Why Mommy Lived Happily Ever After

Done, done and done. How about you? ©We Are Both Right

I’m a Fifty Shades of Grey convert.

There, I said it.

Until Tracey recently asked Amanda and me if either of us had read it, I wasn’t admitting to anyone (except my husband) that I not only read Fifty Shades of Grey, but Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed. Just two months before, I had openly and stubbornly refused to consider reading these books.

You see, I prefer to buck trends whenever possible. And in this case, my decision not to indulge was made in reaction to the incessant gushing of pent-up moms in the bleachers at the town baseball field who thought the trilogy was worthy of a literary award. Seriously, mommy porn? How hard-up do you have to be?

So where was I? Oh yes, I read the entire trilogy. And I liked it. A lot. (I can blame a good friend, whose opinion I very much respect, for my change of heart.)

Once I had read them, it was challenging to refrain from the water cooler critiques which were heavily anti-Fifty Shades. All of my editor friends were saying that any self-respecting writer/editor would never get through the books without covering the pages in red proofreading marks. They were partially right — I was tempted, but distracted enough by the Red Room of Pain scenes to resist picking up a pen and mailing my corrections to author E L James. I also had to overcome a mental top ten list of the most overused fifty shades phrases (Can I get an “Oh my”?). The only thing left to do was laugh at myself for wasting hours on such a guilty pleasure when I barely make time to read anything else. And still, I was glad I did.

Now I am firmly planted on the Fifty Shades bandwagon — that is me, waving the flag, surrendering. But not for all the obvious reasons. Sure the story was hot, steamy mostly. And I even heard of one couple who completely turned around their relationship because the Mrs. had an awakening. But there was more to it than a bunch of sensationalist sex scenes and the BDSM theme.  The most intriguing take-away for me was how Anastasia Steele and Christopher Grey spun their extremes into a whirlwind of self-discovery and ultimately met somewhere in the middle.

I would go so far as to say that the story was touching, dare I say even sweet at times. Anastasia and Christian learned to bend (in most interesting ways) and let go of their fears and inhibitions. Their story, fictional as it may appear, gets you thinking about how far you can stray from your comfort zone while still being true to yourself.

The real theme here is about connecting with someone on a deeper level — and how sometimes you have to expand your definition of normal to get there. But I won’t lie, you will have to repeatedly pick your chin up off the sheets and get through a lot of cable ties and clamps before the real story emerges. Not a bad way to pass the time.

Come to think of it, maybe the real lesson here is about trying something before you decide whether or not you like it — kind of like this book.

Soooo, did you read it? What do you think of the Grey frenzy? Amanda had to deal with the Fifty Shades-hype on the baseball field too, except she’s not giving in. Ever.

Are Kindles Really for Reading?

reading with child

E-readers might be the new thing, but books are still king in my home. What is your child reading from these days? ©Horton Group/stock.xchng

Times change. And so do a mom’s opinions.

While I may have been Mrs. Anti-technology, my-kid-isn’t-touching-a-PS2*-and-especially-not-at-the-dinner-table just a few months ago, my stance has kind of softened since then.

It’s true that my four-year-old daughter is the reason I finally downloaded Angry Birds to my smartphone (to keep her busy during her brother’s basketball games). But she alternates between that and a math app that guides her through addition and subtraction.  And yes, my nine-year-old did get a netbook for Christmas — from his grandparents. But at least now he can check his fantasy football scores without monopolizing my desktop all day Sunday. And Monday. And Thursday. (Wish I had a netbook.)

So I’ll admit, handing them a screen of their own has its perks. There’s also no denying that their generation will have to be e-literate. I consider this an orientation to all of the gizmos that we can’t yet imagine which will be running their lives, making them toast in the morning, and walking their dogs Jetsons-style.

But that’s as far as I’ll go. Some things just have to stay old-school — for now at least. Like books.

What’s up with the Kindle Fire/Nook Color gadget that all the (other) kids had on their holiday wish lists?

A reading tablet, a book disguised as a screen? Sounds pretty crafty to me. Trick the kids into reading. I dig the concept. Except that’s not exactly how it pans out.

From what I gather, the latest generation of e-readers are more like a textbook with a comic book tucked into the center. You know, the ones that kids our age used to hold up in class while trying to look studious. At least that’s the picture that came to mind after I asked one mom on Christmas Day if the new gadget her daughter was toting around was a sneaky way to get her to read more. (Wink-wink. Mom-conspiracy in play.)

“No, not really,” she said, coming clean. “There’s so much other stuff on there — e-mail, apps, whatever — that she’s not purely in it for the books.”

Ahhh. So I see.

A Kindle’s not really for reading, after all.

They fooled us again.

How about you — are you quick to respond to requests for any and all technology with your kids? Or are you kind of holding back like me, staving off the screens with a invisible force field?

*Feel free to edit out my ignorance on the PS product line. I don’t even know if PS2s are handheld. Maybe I should ask Amanda. She’s way more into tech than me.

The Stuff Legendary Gifts Are Made Of

Holiday memories come in all shapes and sizes. ©We Are Both Right

Childhood memories fascinate me.

I love to ask my children what their first permanent memories are — things like the earliest point in time they can remember, what they were wearing or who they were with. My daughter’s is from last year’s vacation in California. My son’s earliest memory is playing with plastic dinosaurs in his room.

So no sooner than the first Christmas decorations appeared and pushed the Halloween candy into the clearance aisle, I was inspired to poll everyone I know about their most memorable holiday gift as a child.

The best reaction I got was from my husband. In less than a second he was telling me about a blue hockey helmet with a white cage that he went to the store a few days before Christmas to pick up with his dad. He brain-dumped so much detail on me about that Christmas that I felt giddy for him.

It made me recall the Christmas when I (or maybe it was my brother) got a magic kit. Even though I can’t remember whose name was on the tag, I have vivid memories of playing with the retractable wand and pulling a rabbit from a top hat. Also memorable is the year I got an electric Brother typewriter with the correct tape built in! Geeky, but oh so prophetic for this writer.

Still, the holiday that stands out most in my mind is the year that my brother was born just three weeks before Christmas. Now before you jump to any sappy conclusions, my kid brother is merely an accessory to this memory. (Sorry T., I know you thought I was about to publicly make up for my wrongs.) Anyway, that was the only year that my extended family let my mom off the hook for the huge family dinner that she usually prepared for 30 every Christmas Eve.

Instead, we celebrated a quiet evening at home with just our immediate family. We were lucky enough to have Santa stop by for his (her) cameo that evening, although I don’t remember any of the gifts he brought.

What I do remember is the gift I received from my maternal grandmother that year. It was a mushroom crate — the wooden, woven kind, held together with wire. There were two in fact — one for me and one for my sister — each with red gingham fabric sewn to fit inside the crate and draped over the sides to make a doll cradle. When I placed my favorite doll inside, it hugged her as snugly as my newborn brother in my mom’s arms.

The simple things.

For his own reasons, my nine-year-old also remembers his sister’s first Christmas. He was five and the unexpected jealousy following the ending of his only-child reign had just about worn off.

His big gift under the tree that year was an Xbox 360 (can you say parental guilt?). But the part he forgets (phew!) is that when we plugged it in that day, we quickly discovered that it had been used and broken, and then repackaged. My little guy (and his deflated dad) didn’t get to play with it until a big box store made good on Santa’s damages.

I wonder if it’s “the thing” he’ll tell his family about one day in so much detail that they feel like they were there with him. Or maybe that memory is yet to be made.

How about you — any big holiday surprises from childhood that still make you smile?

It didn’t take Amanda long to remember that special gift she wished for… and got!

The Spirit of Christmas Pageants Past

It might not have been the role I wanted in the Christmas pageant, but one I'll never forget. ©Oriental Trading

Baa-baa.

Talk about memories. Thirty-two years later, and I remember my line from the Christmas pageant in kindergarten like it was yesterday. (I can still do my Copacabana tap dance recital number from that year too, but that’s neither here nor there.)

What is most amazing to me is how vividly I remember that day. It was my first year of Catholic school and the teachers were assembling us outside the gymatorium. Our parents were in folding chairs getting their Polaroid cameras warmed up.

Behind us in line was the afternoon class and I could see my cousin if I turned around and stood on tippie toes. They looked so cool in their drummer boy costumes, with construction paper hats they had made themselves. Not to mention that their song rocked.

And me? Well I was a sheep. Lamb. Whatever. No drum to bang. Heck, no human words to even speak.

Looking down at my costume, I wondered if I could go through with it.  My five-year-old Christmas spirit was sagging beneath the white batting my mother had secured to the fabric shirt, pants, and mitts that she lovingly sewed for me.  And at that moment, I didn’t feel any better than the lamb girl in front of me whose cotton balls were falling off before we ever made it to the stage.

I thought about being a rebel and walking in, instead of crawling on all fours as we had practiced.

Why couldn’t my name have been Mary and snagged me the starring role?

I looked sideways at the angels’ tinsel halos, wishing I was them.

And then it was go time.

Not one to shirk a role, I did my part. I smiled. And we sang:

Said the shepherd boy to the little lamb: Do you hear what I hear? Do you hear what I hear?

Still to this day, when I hear that song, I smile. And sing along. Because by the time we left that stage, I had a change of heart. It could have been the rows of smiles in the audience or the Holy Spirit getting a hold of me, but I was Scrooge no longer.

At the end of the play, I crawled out while the other lambs opted to ditch their character and walk.

And then we sat stage right while the drummer boys did their thing. They were good. So I sang along to their act too.

Parumppapumpum. On my drum.

Just like I do now whenever those two songs play.

What takes you back to your childhood holidays? For Amanda, it’s a bit of time travel.

Never Mind Finishing School for Manners-We Haven’t Even Started Yet

Should my daughter ever become engaged to a prince someday, I think we’ll all be in trouble. The Queen of England surely won’t approve of her habit of stirring her drink with a parmesan cheese covered fork. Or the way she turns her soup-filled spoon upside down on its way to her mouth.

Perhaps Her Majesty will be distracted by the fencing match between the fork and knife in my son’s hands. And then once he falls off his chair because he only bothered to pull it out at a 45 degree angle, the contents of the chalice carelessly left in front of his plate will spill on the 16th century antique dining table and the whole palace will be in a tizzy.

It’s not even like we can depend upon our beagle’s English roots to pull us through. Her incessant barking will add another layer of madness to the event and she’ll likely only stop long enough to sniff the Queen’s corgis and dorgis.

And there I’ll be, with my phone under the table googling which of the eight forks should be used for pheasant — too busy to notice or be embarrassed by this display of poor table manners.

On second thought, maybe instead of junior year abroad, I should send my kids to finishing school for remedial table manners. Because as much as my husband and I try our best to model good table manners and etiquette, we sometimes worry (possibly prematurely) that our children will be destined for a life of social missteps.

Not too long ago, I read an article about a weekend course for children that focused on the etiquette of meeting and greeting, answering the phone, and of course, table manners. All I could picture was kids walking 40 yards with a stack of books balanced on their heads and then sitting down for tea. It seemed a little much.

pnijhuis/stock.xchng

But during meals when I get so frustrated with my kids’ disregard for the most basic of table manners, I have been known to threaten that instead of football practice we’ll send our son to “manners school” instead. He always objects with a groan and sits up straighter.

Right now we’re working on encouraging him to shore up his social etiquette skills, especially when it comes to meeting and greeting people. The warm welcomes he gets from his former day care teachers when we drop his sister off are all too often met with blank stares in the other direction. On a good day, they’ll get a belated and cursory “hi” when we’re halfway down the hall. Part of it is the shyness gene he inherited from me — but knowing how that held me back, I want him to work through it now and realize how his response in these settings is a reflection on him (and us as parents).

On my bookshelf, I have a tattered copy of Emily Post’s book of etiquette circa 1945 (curiously enough found at the home of my non-English speaking grandmother who didn’t arrive in America until 1955). I read it for a good laugh — especially the parts about men needing a collapsible high hat should they happen to be seated in the orchestra versus the boxes at the opera and tips on how to space place settings with a string in lieu of a less-than-accurate eye.

Etiquette sure isn’t what it used to be, and I don’t aspire to have my children constrained by these standards, but there is definitely room for improvement.

How far do you have to go on table manners and etiquette with your kids?

Originally published November, 2010

It’s Always More Fun at the Thanksgiving Kids’ Table

When I was a kid, with nine cousins over a fifteen-year age span, the kids’ table at holiday dinners was the hot spot.

It was the stuff memories are made of — clams oreganato eating contests, smack talk about the Monopoly game underway, and brainstorms for yet another original theatrical performance which we would always make the adults endure before coffee was served. (I still remember being pretty bummed when I finally graduated to the adult table as a senior in high school.)

The tradition of a holiday kids’ table still exists in our family, although most of the time now it’s an appendage to the main dining table as opposed to the exclusive seating we had at my parent’s house. There are also less kids overall, with the max being four on either side of the family.

Not quite the level of excitement it used to be — but for me the kids’ table is always more fun. Since this is a holiday from work, I would much rather be debating our favorite episodes of Yo Gabba Gabba (and whether Lance Rock was wearing the orange sneakers or the white) than haranguing about mid-term elections.

falconreid/stock.xchng

For Thanksgiving this year it will just be my two — so we’re planning to take the far end of the table which actually juts out into the foyer of my in-laws’ house. It will still be decorated with linens and china, but we skip the wine glasses and keep the bowl of cranberry sauce snuggly planted at the other end of the table. This arrangement also allows the kids a quick escape when they’ve had their fill on the first course and we excuse them until the turkey comes out later in the afternoon.

Mainly it was out of necessity that my husband and I started sitting at the Thanksgiving kids’ table when our son was a toddler. Someone had to take the place of honor at the far end and it might as well have been us, since we needed to hop up and down on a moment’s notice.

But neither of us seemed to mind the “preferred seating” and we plan to keep our spots until the incoming nieces/nephews bump us over to adult territory.

For reasons that include peace of mind, I hope the tradition of the kids’ table lives on until my children pass the final exam at the etiquette school I keep threatening to send them to. (Or until there are enough other little kids running around that no one can pinpoint just who spilled the ketchup on the new, creamy white, fabric-covered dining room chair.)

Will there be a Thanksgiving kids’ table at your celebration next week? Was there one when you were a kid?

Originally published November, 2010

Choosing to Make Things Work as a Working Mom

child on laptop

Motherhood is a never-ending menu of choices. ©Patricia Dekker /stock.xchng

Looking back, I never had that defining moment when I had to choose whether or not I would return to work after my children were born. I just kept working because it made sense for our family.

It was more a matter of choosing how I was going to make it work.

And for many, that’s about all there is to choose. In the most recent issue of Working Mother magazine, mothers shared their feelings around their choices and what they are seeking as far as work-life balance in What Moms Choose: The Working Mother Report, a study conducted by the Working Mother Research Institute. (And these weren’t just working mothers who participated in the study. It includes moms who are staying at home, others who off-ramped and on-ramped, and some who are blending their days as work-at-home moms, like Amanda.)

Basically all moms struggle with their choices, no matter which path they are taking or how they are going about it. We either feel like we’re not using our degrees to the fullest potential if we’ve scaled back or opted out of the workforce, or we feel like we’re not keeping up with the housework or giving the children our full attention if we’re not home all day.

It’s time that we all went a little easier on each other and ourselves. I try to remind myself when I get into a funk that my kids are the only ones I let be my judge when it comes to how good or bad of a job I am doing. (The rest of the time, when I’m not feeling so zen, you can find me whimpering to my husband about how exhausted I am.)

It still really irks me though when a fellow mom feels the need to tell me (nine years into my career as a working mom) that there’s no way you can do both, that it never makes sense financially and that no way would she have a stranger watching her children. I almost never get into it, but I do wonder how you can tell someone who’s already doing something that it’s impossible.

Once we get past all these hang-ups, the news is that we’re full of ideas about how to create a workforce culture that supports real work-life balance. Not the stuff that companies say they do, but the mindset of managers who understand that everyone needs some flexibility in life and work.

You don’t have to be a mom (or a dad) with a newborn at home to crave flexible work options. Most anyone has obligations outside work, and it makes sense to be able to flex and bend to meet those needs — just as we’re expected to when a business need comes up.

That’s the type of manager I am. If the work gets done, I don’t care if you did it at midnight or six o’clock in the morning. You could have brainstormed the idea on your commute into work or spent the entire last week banging out ideas on your keyboard.

Still, even with the best manager and most progressive company policies, the reality is that there’s no situation which is perfect every day of the week. (Except maybe getting to stay home while receiving a check in the mail for doing nothing in return, but I haven’t come across that want ad yet.)

Inevitably, there’s going to be some degree of worry about finding and maintaining the best arrangement for child care. There are days when none of the pieces seem to fit together. Or you feel guilty for pushing your kids too hard because there’s a tight schedule to keep. Or you feel like you’re pushing your luck at work (no matter how flexible they may be), because there are endless family obligations to be met.

With choice comes compromise. And in my case, even when you don’t have a choice, you have to compromise.

So we need to learn to accept.

Delegate.

Let go.

And then we can choose to be happy moms, meeting our challenges — whatever they may be and whenever they may change.

How have you learned to live with your choices? Amanda thinks I’ve perfected my role, but the truth is that I have just learned to be OK with winging it. What’s imbalanced one day seems to even out the next. And so it goes…

Pretzels Anyone? A Sugar-less Halloween

This Halloween will be like no other, now that my daughter is a preschooler.  You see, I’ve tried to keep her away from the gobs of Halloween candy that tend to get thrown into the bags of the oh-so-cutest trick or treaters.

But an innocent toddler she is no more.  Last year, I was able to entice her with pretzels instead of lollipops, but I think she will be much wiser to my tricks this year.  Nope, no more toddler yogurt snacks filling in for mini-Musketeers.  This year, she’ll be snubbing her nose at animal crackers and tearing open the Kit Kats.  Guess the party’s over in my world.

Don’t get me wrong, I never was the mom that forbid a gram of sugar from ever coming within 50 feet of my child — but I did put up a valiant effort to impose some limits.  A bag of M&Ms here, a lollipop there was OK with me.  I never used candy as a bribe and even if I did buy the occasional candy reward, my kids knew that they weren’t leaving the store with those dipsticks attached to a bag of pure sugar.

Up until now that is.  My Little Mermaid is going to be swimming her way through a sea of candy, trying to keep up with her big brother who boasted for days after last Halloween that he had filled his treat bag up to the bellyache line.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am not one to shy away from a Snickers bar.  I ate peanut M&Ms religiously every afternoon when I was pregnant with L.  Ice cream is still one of my favorite snacks.  So it’s not that I’m trying to spoil the enjoyment of a sweet treat for my kids (or the best holiday of the year), but I twinge at the thought of so MUCH candy.

I guess the best I can do is to keep track of what S. is unwrapping as we make our way from house to house.  My strategy is to steer her toward the chocolate, since there has to be more nutritional value in that than chewy squares of colon-clogging colored corn syrup.

And maybe she’ll be delightfully side-tracked when we happen upon one of those houses that has a bowl full of pennies or (score) a mini-tub of Playdough.

But in the end, it’s one day, and I’ll let her (mindfully) indulge the sweet-tooth she inherited from me.   Once we get home, I can hide the excess of treats from the little one with a short-term memory.  Her brother on the other hand will be making a mental inventory of every last Starburst he brings in, but that’s a story for another day.

Originally published in October, 2010

After-School Jobs Are Worth More Than A Paycheck

Hopefully my kids will have it all together on the school front, so they can get a taste of what's to come when they head out into the working world. © Kriss Szkurlatowski /stock.xchng

Any day now, I should be ready to retire. Because if you count the years since I first started working at age 13 — as a library clerk (who wins the prize for nerdiest job ever?) — I’m just about there. Come to think of it, there were a few babysitting gigs before that, so maybe I’m closer than I realize. But the point is, I’ve been working for, well, forever.

Could that be the reason why I’ve been feeling burned out lately? Makes sense.

But do I wish that I had waited to enter the working world until I was an adult? No. The truth is that I probably wouldn’t be as marketable as I am today if it weren’t for these first jobs. Not to say that scooping ice cream and mopping floors at the pool club snack shack set me up for the career path I’m on now, but that’s where I learned everything I know about manual labor, looking busy, customer service and not being above any job — all things that have come up time and time again in my working life (oh, and at home too.)

So when I’m thinking ahead to whether or not my children should have after-school jobs while they are in high school, the answer is as definitive as punching a time clock. As long as there are no other issues to contend with (failing grades, living in the middle of a cornfield with no employers within 100 miles, etc.) my children will be pounding the pavement just as soon as we can call them teens.

I won’t expect them to log long hours or work throughout the entire school year. But I do want them to get a taste of what it is to find and hold a job way before they become entitled new graduates with zero working experience thinking they are owed $80,000 in their first job out of college.

Maybe they will learn how to answer a phone, deal with difficult people (other than their parents), and get through the tedium/delirium of checking car passes at a security booth a few hundred yards from a beautiful shoreline packed with lucky stiffs who have a day off. Because character building activities like these are the only way to define the random jobs available to kids.

Whatever it is that they do, even if they don’t realize it at the time, will be teaching them what it takes to earn their keep (not to mention why they better shore up on those basic skills in order to get the job that affords a few weeks vacation every year so that they too can take a paid day off to sit at the beach).

If they’re lucky, my employable children will actually bring home a paycheck in the process, which they would ever so carefully spend on things that warrant the time they put into earning them. (Are those $125 jeans worth it when you have to pour two weeks pay into them?)

Even if they weren’t pulling in minimum wage or anything at all, it would still be a good job in my book. My son already has a plan for his community service requirement in high school, and somehow I don’t think coaching the youth sports he loves now will be quite as painful as unclogging a frozen ice cream dispenser five minutes before closing — paid as it may be. That’s a good lesson to learn too.

Besides, if my children never have the experience of waiting tables, polishing the high school basketball court, hosing down floors in a pet store or filing charts, they won’t have those great stories we all love to tell about our first jobs. Like the time when their mom had to break up a fight between old ladies in the library, going for the same periodical…

Amanda says she’s not letting her children work while they’re in school. I respect her choice, but now who are my kids supposed to barter ice cream sundaes for deli sandwiches with?