Flashback on Aisle 4

mother shopping for groceries

I know it’s not him. Really, I do.

I don’t need you all worrying about my mental state, thank you.

And yet, there he is.

Halfway down the aisle, staring at the rows upon rows of crackers and snacks.

His mom obviously sent him to find something on her list, her way of letting him be a bit “big” while still accompanying her to the grocery store. He’s at that age when kids need to break free just a wee little bit — and being sent on an errand to the other side of the grocery store is only as far as a mom can bear to let him go.

He looks like he’s probably 11 years old, 12 at most. Long, lanky arms and legs that probably grew longer since he entered this store. I know how the mind of a boy that age works. It’s highly likely that while he initially remembered what brand and type of cracker his mom wanted, those details have now been replaced with the memory of a funny YouTube video or an idea for a brilliant new Minecraft build.

And so he stares at the cracker section.

As I move closer to him, his momentary trance snaps and he glances up at me, then scoots apologetically to the side to make room for my cart.

Nope. He’s not my boy.

I wanted it to be him. Just for a day, maybe just for one shopping trip.

I have shopped in this grocery store several times a week since he was 2 years old. Endless conversations about dinosaurs or books or Legos have taken place between these four walls. He charmed the cashiers from the very beginning, and his attempts to teach strangers waiting in line about which dinosaurs lived in which prehistoric periods were always met with a smile.

And when he got older, I would send him off to hunt down something on my list. It made him feel big — bigger than his little sister, who then took over the business of the endless conversation.

And this boy standing right here feels like a ghost to me. Like someone rewound the reel of a long-lost episode of my life. I remember my son so well at that age, but as he grows farther away from being 11 or 12 or even 16 I find those memories grab me at unexpected times, filling me with emotions that aren’t usually on the surface.

I wonder where the time went.

My boy shops at the grocery store hundreds of miles away from here these days. All by himself.

He’s big.

Pretty sure he isn’t chatting up the other customers or teaching the cashiers about dinosaurs these days.

I haven’t seen him in three months.

He’s coming home tomorrow.

And I just might invite him along on a grocery store run. But I won’t be sending him all over the store to collect crackers and paper towels and baby carrots.

Because I would love an endless conversation with my boy right now.

Life Lessons from a Labrador Retriever

There she goes.

Again.

She ran out the back door the moment I opened it and plotted her course straight towards the huge tree in the corner. The squirrels are chattering at her from high above, the animal version of a snarky retort.

I whistle in an attempt to bring her back from her wild dog fantasy, but it’s no use. Once she’s focused on a squirrel she won’t give up until it hops onto the fence and heads for the neighbor’s yard.

One small victory in the effervescent life of a Labrador retriever.

I give up and watch her run gracefully up and down the fence line as the squirrel plays the daily game of catch-me-if-you-can. Deep in her gene pool lies the stuff of great hunting dogs, according to the breeder. When she runs and leaps around the yard you can see tiny glimpses of the dog she was born to be.

But fate placed her here, in this suburban home with 2.0 kids and not a hunter to be found. Her keen retrieving instincts are directed towards the spit-stained stuffed animals that inhabit her toy basket. She sleeps on my daughter’s bed and spends countless hours curled up under my desk.

Not quite a dog’s life — more like the life of a princess, my husband claims.

When she was younger, she was injured while running up and down the fence chasing a nighttime critter — either a possum or a raccoon. Her leg swelled up and it was difficult for her to move around. After vet visits, ultrasound treatments, medications and as much “rest” as one can force on a lab she was healed and life moved on. She continued to chase the squirrels and play seemingly endless rounds of fetch with a tennis ball.

But then when she was 3 years old it happened again. She was sitting in front of me as I sat on the steps tying my shoelaces. I motioned for her to back up and she did. The cry of pain was horrible and her leg was sticking straight out to the side, in a direction back legs weren’t built to go.

And it was the other leg.

So after a trip to the emergency vet, CT scans and consultations with the surgeon it was determined that Holli has an uncommon, chronic problem with both Achilles tendons in her back legs. Because the surgery and recovery is very difficult, we decided to wait it out. We carried her home, nursed her back to health and decided to try and limit her running and activity in order to avoid surgery for as long as possible. No more endless rounds of fetch in the backyard or running around with the big dogs at the dog park. She was destined to be the canine model for a couch potato.

And yet, she runs.

She runs because she doesn’t know that she can’t. The consequences of running the fence line in hot pursuit of a squirrel mean nothing to her. She lets her inner hunting dog loose and runs with grace and agility.

I swear she’s even smiling.

She runs because she can, because she doesn’t understand my long-winded explanations about why I called her back into the house. Because to her, running feels like something she is compelled to do, something she can’t stop doing. And she isn’t afraid of the consequences.

She runs.

Why don’t we?

We all have something we wish we could do, or maybe even feel that we were born to do. And yet, how often do we throw up our arms and say, “WTH? I’m going to do it!”

Has someone told you that you can’t? Is your inner critic whispering “You’ll fail” in your ear, ever so quietly while you daydream?

This is how I feel about writing, most days.

That I am driven to do it and really need to get those words out, but that time and work and my inner critic all get in the way.

That I need to write like nobody is reading.

That I need to take one more run at that squirrel on the fence.

And not worry about the chatter.

8 Ways to Suck the Fun out of the Pumpkin Patch

Ah, the pumpkin patch… a fall must-do destination for any family with wee ones. While most of these places start opening as soon as the September calendar page turns, many of us postpone the visit until it’s SO LATE that we have no choice but to go. NOW.

And since this past weekend was the LAST weekend before Halloween, there were plenty of families who could put off the pumpkin patch visit no longer. My 16-year-old daughter and her BFF wanted to check out the pumpkin patch on Sunday afternoon, grab a gourd and Instagram the heck out of it. Even though my daughter just got her driver’s license (yay!) I shuttled them to the uber-cool pumpkin patch out in the country because license restrictions don’t let her drive her friends around yet. While they Instagramed around, I learned a lot about family pumpkin patch visits.

  • Dress your entire family in your Halloween colors. This is apparently a requirement for most families, especially if there are more than two kids. Mom usually has a great selection of black, but orange? That’s a stretch. And don’t even think that Dad will gleefully wear orange and black without also sporting a grimace.
  • Argue with your siblings. While Mom and Dad might think a pumpkin patch visit will be all family fun and smiles, it really invites a whole new group of sibling “wrongs” that incite bickering. Who gets the bigger pumpkin? I want a hot dog, too! Want to borrow the wagon or wheelbarrow? Who gets to pull it? Who gets to ride in it? And don’t even think about letting one pull and one ride. There are no paramedics on site.
  • Take a fabulous family photo. What better photo op than the pumpkin patch? Heck, you are already wearing matching outfits – why not? Sit down on some scratchy hay, pretend to love your siblings and “smile BIG,” “quit poking your sister” and “act your age.” While not really suitable for the Christmas card, the Halloween picture will be a cherished reminder of the fun times you had.
  • Take a fabulous photo, part two. While you are at the pumpkin patch, make sure to take a photo of the whole family right at the entrance to the farm, under the sign that says, “Pumpkin Land.” No matter that this is the only entrance and exit point, and that you are holding up long lines of visitors on this LAST SUNDAY before Halloween. Keep trying to get that perfect shot, Mom. Really, we’re all fine just standing here.
  • Change a poopy diaper on the picnic table. I have no words for this one, but it certainly took away my hankerin’ for kettle corn.
  • Argue with your spouse. This fun activity is best done within ear shot of other families enjoying THEIR fun at the pumpkin patch. The argument is usually started by the wife, who insists that this is FAMILY FUN and can’t imagine that you don’t agree. Or Dad starts trying to tell the kiddos to behave themselves and Mom jumps in. “They’re just freaking KIDS, babe!” may have been screamed by one incredibly agitated mother. In a family with matching Halloween outfits, of course.
  • Wear cute shoes. Because obviously, the pumpkin patch is THE place to be seen the week before Halloween. What better place to wear those cute suede booties or open-toed wedges than to a farm? Bonus points for wearing them and then complaining about how “dirty” the pumpkin patch is. Or that your brand-new pedicure is now ruined. See also, FARM.
  • Turn your kids into “free-range” kids for the afternoon. The pumpkin patch is practically a free pass for parents. Let the kids run and be free! It’s a farm, how dangerous could it really be? Pay no attention to them, no matter how loud they yell, “MOM!” or even if they wind up snagged by their Halloween shirt on the barbed wire fence. Nobody will kidnap them because anyone who is brave enough to visit the pumpkin patch this close to Halloween will be back on birth control ASAP.

Did your family miss the perfect visit to the pumpkin patch this year? Thank goodness it’s almost time for the perfect family visit to the Christmas tree farm.

What’s Cool About Teens, Anyway?

What’s cool about teens? Plenty!

Teens totally get a bad rap these days! I feel strongly enough about this cause to be a part of the #ToMyTeen campaign with StopMedicineAbuse.org and some of my favorite bloggers. Our goal is to inspire a positive conversation about what’s great about teens today. I love the positive message, especially since most of the information we hear on the news about teens is negative. Not all teens are out causing trouble or making bad choices.

My-Teen-Isnt_Sherri

Actually, I feel that raising teens can be one of the most gratifying parts of parenthood! These little people you have shaped and loved for years are suddenly becoming mini-adults. They are caring and inquisitive, have strong opinions about the world around them and are actually great conversationalists. They volunteer, study, work, play, help around the house and take on new responsibilities. In short, raising teens can be pretty cool.

My-Teen-Is_Sherri

Research shows that kids who feel validated by their parents are not only more confident, but they are less likely to bow to peer pressure. Since we all share the common goal of raising happy, confident kids let’s focus on the positive this month! Visit ToMyTeen.org and check out the launch pad for this positive spin on tweens and teens. The site has a fun series of GIFs from some of our favorite bloggers and parents of tweens or teens. Click around, enjoy the animated pictures (did you find me?) and upload your own to add to the collection. Each person who participates during October by uploading their own photo is entered in the pool to win a $50 Visa gift card.

Keeping kids safe is tough

If you’re a mom, you know — there is nothing more important to a mother than keeping her little ones safe and sound. What seems to be such a monumental task when you first bring your newborn home from the hospital quickly becomes second nature. The great thing about raising kids is that you get to master each stage just as he moves on to the next.

Exhausting, right?

From newborns to toddlers to elementary school-aged kids — they sure keep you on your toes. But what happens when the child you want to keep safe and away from harm leaves your home each morning and heads off to middle school? High school? Suddenly cutting grapes and hot dogs in half (to prevent choking) and using a booster seat in the car aren’t going to cut it. Tweens and teens are confronted with all sorts of issues once they walk out your door, and it’s your job to stay ahead of the curve.

Be aware because you care

I am honored to partner with StopMedicineAbuse.org this month on their #ToMyTeen campaign. October is National Medicine Abuse Awareness Month, and it’s the perfect time to learn the facts, figures and dangers of over-the-counter (OTC) cough medicine abuse. Teens are using it to get high and while they think it seems like such a harmless trip (I mean, who hasn’t used cough medicine?), it is actually very dangerous. There are over 100 medications that contain the ingredient dextromethorphan (DXM), the ingredient that produces the high. What starts as a safe and effective ingredient becomes extremely dangerous in the quantities teens are using to get high and can cause serious complications or even death.

ToMyTeen Skittling_Infographic

What do parents need to know?
  • Skittling, dexing and robotripping are just a few of the slang terms used by teens when they refer to cough medicine abuse.
  • Approximately 1 in 25 teens reports abusing excessive amounts of DXM to get high. One in 3 knows someone who has abused cough medicine to get high
  • When abused, DXM can cause side effects including vomiting, stomach pain, mild distortions of color and sound, hallucinations and loss of motor control.
  • Having a conversation with your child about the dangers of abusing DXM is critically important. Data shows that what parents say does matter. In fact, teens who learn about the risk of drugs from their parents are 50% less likely to use drugs.
Signs of potential DXM abuse

So how would you know if your teen or any of her friends were abusing OTC medications containing DXM? StopMedicineAbuse.org shares these signs that a tween or teen may be abusing cough medicine.

  • Empty cough medicine bottles/boxes in the trash of your child’s room, backpack, or school locker
  • Loss of interest in hobbies or favorite activities
  • Changes in friends, physical appearance, sleeping, or eating patterns
  • Declining grades

Talk to your teens about cough medicine abuse — it’s important.

stopmedicineabuse

Will you join me? Share what’s cool about your tweens or teens at ToMyTeen.org and spread the love. Happy, validated teens make better choices.

She’s Sweet Sixteen

She’s finally up — before noon, I might add. When you’re a teenager, summer birthday mornings are for sleeping in as late as possible.

Even later than your older brother, apparently.

Sixteen. She says it, the calendar says it too… but my mind can’t wrap around the idea that my 6-pound baby girl has lived most of her time with us already. That while I have felt the past 16 years slide through my fingers she has used them to their full advantage.

She’s kind. She’s funny. She is smart and determined. She cares about her friends and her pets and her family.

She’s a little bit him and a little bit me, but she has always been very much her own person.

And there is a certain spark about her that stuns me, something I can’t quite put my finger on. It feels like she radiates joy and energy and peace, and at times I can’t get enough of just having her near me.

I guess that’s how all moms feel.

When I am distracted by her piercing blue eyes I find myself wondering what’s going on in her head. But mothers of teen girls know we dance on a thin line between comforting and being nosy. And that when they really need us, they will let us know. That asking “What’s wrong?” actually pushes them further away sometimes.

I am trying, sweet girl. I really am.

We traveled together this past spring, just the two of us. And I had glimpses of the relationship we would have one day soon, when she won’t need my permission to go see friends or my questions about homework or chores. When she will shed the blanket of my mothering and start living life on her own.

When she’s an adult who chooses whether or not to spend time with her mom.

We laughed, walked, swam, watched the sunsets, ordered room service pizza and just let ourselves be comfortable together. I didn’t dole out advice or correct her manners in the restaurant. I listened to her, really listened, as if I had just met her for the very first time.

And my heart was so full. Just like that day 16 years ago when the nurse handed her to me and announced that we had a girl. Back then I already knew that our time would be short — but from my vantage point now it seems a cruel joke that parents really only have 18 years to get it right.

I can deal with that. If you promise to ignore me when I stare at you, still trying to see that tiny baby girl inside. To let it slide when I kiss the top of your head or call you a pet name in public. To understand that when you are away from home a small piece of my heart is always with you.

To understand that a mother never really stops mothering.

We just upgrade to the new version.

Happy Birthday, sweet girl.

Have a wonderful year.

 

Kelli and Mom

In an Instant

The moment it happened is frozen in my mind.

The loud school bell ringing out the morning call to class — big kids running across the blacktop, trying to get to class before the teacher closes the door.

Moms chatting and laughing, making coffee dates and lamenting the pile of laundry waiting for them at home.

My little girl by my side, watching her big brother head off to school — a place she still wouldn’t attend for two more years. She in her 3-year-old exuberance was smiling and laughing.

And then, the crash.

Big, third-grade boy — late to class — didn’t see my tiny wisp of a girl and plowed into her as he ran. She didn’t see it coming, couldn’t even put her hands out to catch her fall.

I will never forget the sound I heard as her tiny head hit the blacktop. An eerie calm took over me, and everything seemed to happen in slow-motion. I sat down and took her tiny body in my arms, and for just a brief bit of time she was out cold. My baby, my girl — who had just moments before been smiling and laughing — was just not there.

And then, the tears. She was back, with quiet sobbing tears, in a voice that I didn’t quite recognize.  Low, moaning sounds punctuated with tears.

It scared me.

And yet, I still felt that eerie feeling of calm. I needed to get her home, needed to call the doctor. Why I didn’t think she needed an ambulance, I will never know. I just felt like I could do this, I could take care of my girl and she would be fine.

When I got her home and called the advice nurse, her message was clear.

Call 911. Now.

My husband held her, listening to the low, moaning sobs and trying to keep her awake.

When the paramedics came, her tiny body seemed so much more fragile than it had just an hour earlier. As they loaded her on the gurney into the ambulance, I remembered — she needed Bunny. The bunny she had slept with since her first birthday… the bunny that was supposed to protect her from these very dangers.

I bolted into the house to retrieve Bunny, then climbed into the ambulance with my girl. As we sped to Children’s Hospital, her eyes were closing. I kept telling her to stay awake.

What the paramedic said to me was haunting. “It’s not a problem if she goes to sleep. The problem will be if we can’t wake her up.” With those words, the seriousness of the situation hit me in the gut.

Walking the halls of Children’s Hospital, waiting for the CT scan to be completed, I saw them around every corner. Worried mothers with little children, playing with the doctor’s office stash of toys like everything was normal.

But these children I saw were very sick — some bandaged, some hooked up to tubes and dragging IV carts behind them. These mothers worried each and every day that their child would not be OK tomorrow.

It was an eye-opening experience, to see these women and fathers and grandparents, waiting in small rooms with obviously sick children, yet exuding calm and hope and continuing to parent, even when their child’s future was unclear.

My daughter was fine a — mild concussion and some badly-damaged glasses were her only remaining wounds as we left the hospital. Life would return to normal, or at least our version of it.

But those other mothers, those whose every waking second is spent cherishing the mundane, the usual, the ordinary — they showed me the other side of the mothering door. Where spilled milk at breakfast isn’t a bother. Where laughing and being silly is cherished because it’s rare. A mothering world where a mother just sees every day as a miracle, worries herself to sleep each night, then gets back up to do it again the very next day.

If we needed to, any one of us would fight for our child’s life and be strong in the face of tragedy.

It’s what we do.

But once you’ve seen the other side, no matter how briefly — you never want to go there.

 

 This piece originally ran on Moonfrye

 

How to Survive Your Teen’s Journey to College

It’s official: My daughter is on the journey to college! Those of you who have followed my blog since the beginning know I’ve been down this road once before. In fact, I started my blog in 2010 as a cheaper-than-therapy option to help myself make it through my son’s senior year of high school — and beyond. While I am so proud of my daughter and wish her all the best in her college journey, I have to admit that these 16 years have gone by too quickly.

 

smiling college students

College prep? Crazy!

I won’t sugar-coat the whole college-planning process for you. It can be crazy and overwhelming if you don’t have some direction or guidance — especially your first time through. Between test prep, test taking, essay writing and campus visits guiding your college-bound teen can feel like a part-time job. And even though I’ve been through this all with the Class of 2011, I’m looking for a little help with my Class of 2016 kid.

Ready to tag along on my ride? I’ve got a road map for my daughter’s college prep. I’m using the KapMap from Kaplan Test Prep — part of their #JourneytoCollege program — this time around. I promise, it is possible to make it to the finish line without losing your hair.

What’s the KapMap?

A month-by-month map for college prep? I had no idea such a great college-planning tool existed, so when I was offered the chance to check it out I was totally on board. My daughter is just about to start her junior year in high school, and it’s time for the big leagues now. KapMap is a great way to track your teen’s journey towards college. KapMap includes a monthly list of what your teen should be doing for each year in their high school career. How great is that? All moms know how incredibly fast those months fly by — and how easy it is to miss an important deadline. With KapMap I don’t have to worry about my daughter missing an important test or deadline that might jeopardize her chances of being accepted at one of her favorite campuses.

Overwhelmed?

If it seems like there’s a lot to this whole process, you’re right. It’s a whole new ballgame for this generation. Colleges in California are reducing admissions of residents in favor of higher-paying, out-of-state candidates, making it even more difficult to get into the in-state college of your choice. And the applicants of this generation aren’t just great students, essay writers and test takers — they also have amazing extracurricular activities and volunteer gigs that really make them stand out. KapMap has reminders and suggestions along the way to help your teen make their application stand out from the rest.

What my daughter is doing right now

Summer is winding down at our house, and my daughter is ready to start her junior year of high school. Here are a few things we’ve focused on this summer on her journey to college.

  • We have spent time talking about different careers, trying to help her develop a bit of direction towards what she might want to study, which also determines where she would like to apply.
  • She has spent time searching college websites and learning about academic programs they offer, campus statistics (such as number of students, safety ratings and acceptance rates) and what unique qualities each campus has.
  • She has toured a few campuses and is making a list of those she would like to visit during winter or spring break.
  • Registering for AP classes is a great way to show admissions officers that you can take a challenge, and my daughter is taking two AP classes during junior year — which means summer homework! (ugh)
  • Deciding about whether she will take the PSAT a second time as a junior. In our town, a local educational foundation made a generous contribution that paid for all sophomores to take the PSAT. Pretty cool, right?
My tips

Since I have been through the journey to college with my older son, I have a few tips for moms and teens just heading down this road.

  1. Only apply to colleges that your child truly has an interest in attending — and can afford. Each application has a fee attached to it, and even though it might be fun to tell people your child was accepted at Harvard, if he has no intention of attending that’s just wasted time and money.
  2. However, if your teen has a dream school she would love to attend, go ahead and apply! You never know how the application process will pan out, and your teen may have exactly what the school of their dreams is looking for.
  3. Have one or two backup majors in mind at each school your teen applies to. Even if they go in undeclared, it helps to have a focus. Changing schools down the road is always an option, but many students would rather stay at one campus until they finish their degree. This saves time and money in the long run, because all undergrad classes won’t necessarily transfer directly to a new campus.
  4. Try to remember that this is THEIR journey, not yours. Your alma mater may not appeal to your teen, or she may not share your dreams of an Ivy League education. Step back and really listen to what your teen wants, because in the end this is a stepping stone to your teen’s adult life — which they will be living, not you.
  5. Stay calm as acceptance letters, emails and texts start pouring in. Spring of senior year is crazy enough, and with modern technology many students are at school when they find out they’ve been accepted or denied. Hearing that your BFF was accepted at YOUR dream school when you haven’t heard from them yet can be devastating to a teen. Stay calm and keep your focus on your own teen’s journey — and avoid being pulled into the “Mommy Competition” scene.
Ready to go?

So, are you ready to start your teen’s journey to college? Start by downloading the KapMap and you won’t miss a thing. You can also follow Kaplan on Facebook and Twitter.

Special offer! Save $100 when you enroll in Kaplan’s SAT and ACT course through 8/28.Promocode: SHESPEAKS100.

 

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post for SheSpeaks/Kaplan Test Prep. I received compensation to write this post, and any opinions expressed are my own, and reflect my actual experience.