Eighteen Candles

mom holding baby girlParenting.

One of the few jobs that doesn’t necessarily get easier the more years you have under your belt. Because while your skills might sharpen as you balance the tightrope between “yes” and “no” every day, your child is changing the playing field.

Constantly.

You might have one child or five — all boys or a mixture of kiddos — but each and every day you suit up to play a game that isn’t the same game you played yesterday.

I’ve done this parenting thing once already. With 22 years under my belt and a son recently launched into young adulthood, I thought I had it all under control.

My baby girl changed the game.

And now she’s ready to fly.

My last child, my only girl… I’m not sure what it is.

But while I am incredibly excited for her next chapter in life — college move-in only one month away — my heart is already missing that little girl who has been my sidekick for so many years. The toddler who grasped my legs while I cooked dinner and now shares my love for iced coffee and Target runs.

She’s 18 today.

I still can’t wrap my head around it.

From the day she was born, she’s been such a presence in my life. This tiny 6-pound baby girl who couldn’t wait for her due date to make her appearance; who threatened to be born while her father was off in search of a soda machine in the depths of the hospital hallways.

She altered the course of our lives, bringing a new perspective on parenting to two people who thought they knew it all. Her 4-year-old brother had no idea what a game-changer she would be… or that she would be his trusted ally and playmate for years to come. To watch them interact now as young adults is incredible. These two little souls who grew up in a heartbeat — right under my nose — as I fed them, bathed them, read to them, taught them, laughed with them and cried over them.

But my daughter.

How can I sum up 18 years of memories in just a few sentences, or a few memories pulled from the pre-digital years? Shuffling through the old photo boxes this afternoon I wished Steve Jobs had been a little bit quicker with his iPhone… or that I had not worried about the cost of a roll of prints from the neighborhood photo shop.

The cost of the missing memories is steep right now.

She is tenacious and caring, both a deep thinker and a free spirit. She makes me laugh and makes me think, makes me want to be smarter and do better. She loves a debate, yet loves a silly conversation just as much. She is fiercely loyal to her family and friends.

For the past 18 years she has graced our home with so much energy, laughter and love… and when she leaves for college next month her absence will echo down the hall, towards her empty bedroom.

But give me some Facetime, a text filled with emojis, a funny meme shared with an LOL or a call out of the blue — I’m good with that.

She’ll always be my sidekick.

Happy 18th birthday, sweet girl.

It’s time for you to fly.

kak grad walk

 

My Biggest Parenting Secret

Wouldn’t motherhood be so much easier on everyone if we all shared our secrets? Those little pearls of wisdom that make us feel at least we have done one.thing.right today? Good news — I’ve decided to share one of my best go-to parenting tips. You can thank me later.

One of the biggest challenges moms face is getting their kids to eat vegetables. Because, seriously, what kid really gets uber psyched over broccoli? Um, yeah. Not mine.

Neither does my husband. Unless you count corn chips as a vegetable.

So from the time the pediatrician said I could start introducing solid foods to my first kid, I have tried to create the perfect vegetable. That one vitamin-loaded side dish that would ensure my kids would not only ace the SAT and be an incredibly gifted athlete but also solidify my position in the Mom Hall of Fame.

How hard could it be?

Side note: why they call puréed baby food “solid” is beyond me.

So I started buying veggies. I cooked them, puréed them and froze them into cute little cubes in ice cube trays.

Cute, right? And so handy. My mom friends were totally impressed, I’m sure.

It made my husband gag. “Are you really going to feed him THAT?” he asked, already taking sides in the vegetable war I would fight for the next 18 years.

Traitor.

But one by one, those little cubes were thawed, heated and maybe even mixed with other “solid” foods like rice cereal or something else (ricotta and peas, anyone?). I took pride in creating these one-of-a-kind combos, especially when they didn’t immediately come slithering back down my baby’s chin and onto his lap.

And then, finger foods.

Smoothly pureed vegies like carrots, butternut squash and green beans are not finger foods, regardless of what your toddler might like you to believe. So I had to change up my menu and start thinking of vegies that my wee one would actually eat with his fingers, rather than simply using his fingers to throw them over the side of the high chair.

Side note: cats do not like green beans.

We tried lightly steamed green beans, small cubes of roasted butternut squash, peas (that didn’t end well), tiny little broccoli “trees” and small pieces of avocado until we found a winner.

Carrots.

The little dude liked carrots.

And so began an 18-year obsession (mine) with the baby carrot.

You could steam them and cut them small for little ones, or set out a bowl of them at snack time for older eaters. Stumped on what to serve for lunch? A bowl of baby carrots can easily elevate dinosaur chicken nuggets or mac and cheese to healthy lunch status. Playgroup at the park? Grab a plastic container and fill it up with baby carrots. They’re the perfect snack in the car, because unless your kid uses it for a magic marker or spits them out, they aren’t messy. Sure, I still included the always-handy pretzel sticks, goldfish crackers or pieces of string cheese. But the carrots were always there. Like a vitamin A packed BFF.

When my kids went off to elementary school, the carrots trudged along… safely wrapped up in a wet paper towel and a plastic container or sandwich bag (don’t judge). After a few years my son asked if I could leave the carrots out of his lunchbox, claiming he “didn’t have enough time” to eat all of the items I included.

Looking back now, I can clearly see. It was the beginning of the end.

My kids continued to grow, in part because of (or in spite of) the baby carrots in the bowl on the table.

I mean, what’s not to love? They are crunchy, colorful, small and easy to eat. Full of vitamins. Like a little mommy insurance policy that I’m doing this gig right.

Until about three months ago, when it all came crashing down.

I had still been putting the baby carrots on the table, even though my kids are old enough to choose their own snacks and lunches.

But I noticed that nobody was eating them.

They would dry up and turn a chalky white before the bag was even half empty. I was worried that my one tried-and-true mom trick had lost steam.

Then? The intervention.

I decided to put it all out on the table. Bare my soul.

“Um, hey… so I’ve been thinking that maybe we’re a bit tired of baby carrots?” I choked out at the dinner table. My mind was racing with ideas for our next veggie star. Rutabaga? Baby bok choy? Beets?

And my husband and daughter let me down easy, gently. They admitted that yes, they were tired of the old stand-by vegetable and that they would be perfectly fine if I stopped buying them. My chest tightened a bit. How would I keep them all healthy?

And life went on, amazingly much the same as before. I stopped buying the baby carrots and resisted the urge to quickly substitute a new crunchy vegetable in a bowl at mealtime. Chinese snap peas? Jicama?

Until fate introduced me to the spiralizer.

This incredibly cool kitchen gadget has opened up a whole new world of vegetables to me. I can turn vegetables into noodles! Substitute them for pasta! I can spiralize parsnips, beets, zucchini, butternut squash, jicama and broccoli stems.

And carrots.

And suddenly, I’m back on my game.

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This essay originally ran on the Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop site. I may have been giddy about it.

Looking Back, Looking Forward

It was the end of a long holiday break, and we were trying to squeeze those last few relaxing chunks of time from what had seemed an eternity on day one. The kids were busy, as they often are once they reach the age of driver’s licenses, jobs and “significant others” in their lives.

With four walls closing in on us at home my husband and I decided to visit a park about half an hour away, to hike a trail we haven’t hiked before. We needed to be outside, to soak up some sun and escape the house. When the air is crisp and the sky is a cloudless blue, there really isn’t anything more stunning than a winter day in California.

Hiking boots laced up and water bottles filled, we took off for one of our almost-empty-nest adventures, leaving chores and errands for another day.

When we arrived at the trailhead my husband took a map and we started to plan our hike. We still had a few hours before the sun would begin to set, so we chose a loop trail that would take us high enough for a stunning view of the area, yet be short enough to get us safely back to the car before dusk.

Always cautious. Always planning ahead.

We walked in silence for a while, quietly savoring the fact that we’re comfortable enough to embrace the quiet. After a while, my husband broke the silence with a comment about the view off to the side of the trail.

And that’s when I noticed.

I’m not looking around.

I am so focused on the trail right in front of me that I’m missing the view.

So I forced myself to look up and around and savor the adventure and wow — it’s such a beautiful day, such a gorgeous view. We kept hiking along the trail, passing others here and there with a friendly nod or “hello.”

But I almost immediately went back to looking down. To worrying about the rocks and ruts and uneven trail right in front of me or just below my feet.

So I stopped for a water break, and forced myself again to look around.

Beautiful, yet not perfect.

The years-long drought in California has left towering trees dry and creek beds empty. Recent rains have brought back green grasses, but the long-term effects of drought are still very evident.

I turned around to see the path we had taken up this hill. It was steep and covered in a patchwork of uneven soil, horse tracks and mud. It wasn’t obvious to me as we walked that path just how very difficult it was.

But we did it. Cautiously, carefully and continuously we climbed that hill.

You don’t always realize where you’ve been until you turn around.

Isn’t this the case with life? We trudge along over obstacles ranging in size from pebbles to boulders. Push ourselves through the murky parts when parenting is tough and relationships are cracked. Past broken friendships and milestones reached, straight through our kids’ childhood, which seemed to expire quite a while before we were ready.

Shouldn’t we look back once in a while? See where we’ve been, gain perspective on the road ahead? Not to wallow in the past, but to acknowledge it and more forward?

These feelings hit me in the quietness on that trail — that our 20+ years of parenting hadn’t always been a smooth path. That as hard as you try, your kids need to grow at their own pace, learn valuable lessons for themselves, to fail or stumble on the path — or even get lost for a bit.

Sometimes you need to look back.

Up ahead on the trail? A leafy, tree-covered walkway with towering pines on one side, sturdy oaks on the other.

I might have missed it if I hadn’t stopped.

I spend a lot of my time being cautious, living in this moment here rather than looking forward or back… and fretting about it, too.

I waste time being worried about stepping too far off the path, of stumbling or getting lost.

I’m just looking down.

It’s time I started looking up.

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.

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