Mom Jeans

Fly, Birdie, Fly

Henry run away on beach 2015People often say that as your children grow up, you have to let them go, let them fly. For this anxious mother, I have to let them go so that I can fly too.

It was the fall of 2011. My three-year-old was in preschool five whopping half-days per week and it was glorious. He had gotten a coveted morning spot which worked exponentially better for all of our schedules - including his one-year-old sister - than the two afternoons per week the year before. In one of our first weekly updates from the teacher, she announced they would be going a class field trip to a nature center. Out of town. On a school bus. What?!?! School itself didn't stress me out, but field trips off the island were a whole other story.

I did what any normal neurotic, anxious, fearful-of-death mother would do and got to work looking up laws about seat belts and car seats on school buses in New York! I mean, the West Side Highway and Saw Mill River Parkway are essentially race tracks! And buses tip over - like, all. the. time. It turned out that it was in fact against the law to put a three-year-old on a bus not in a car seat. Phew. I could couch my fear in the law - one of my favorite things to do! I'm not crazy. SEE! It's right here. But I didn't want my kid to miss the trip. So, of course, I drove him in our car. Yes. I. Did. He was too young to be embarrassed and I was too proud and self righteous and it was a great trip. And the bus didn't crash so those other kids got lucky too.

Flash forward to 2017. My now nine-year-old has been on countless school trips. I went on a lot of them in the early days. I was anxious about things like crossing streets and likely things like him falling off the subway platform. As time went on, I admitted to myself that I HATED going on field trips. It's not fun to be in charge of other people's children. It's not fun when kids misbehave or feeling like I have to tell them what to do. It's not enjoyable being vigilant. It's exhausting. It's not fun losing all the (flexible yet demanding) work time and figuring out how to get it all done. I still go sometimes - in a pinch - or if he asks - because I know I'm lucky to still be asked and because I get to learn cool stuff and because my schedule allows it.

I think part of my lessened fear and anxiety has had to do with my son getting older and me being more ready for him to do more as he experienced more of life without me and still came home at the end of the day. I had always worked, but mostly part-time and mostly from home, with him with a sitter within 5-10 blocks if not in another room for his early years. As he spent more time at school, with friends, at activities, I could breathe the tiniest bit deeper when he was away from me. My brain also had become occupied with more - juggling more work responsibilities and a second child left just a little less time to obsess and worry. 

I've also actively worked on reducing my anxiety. For this particular representation of it, a few months of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT*) was very helpful. I was going for pretty intense anxiety around some health challenges (other posts to come) and did some work to transfer some of what I was learning to the "I'm afraid my kid is gonna die" anxiety. I have been a fan of talk therapy for nearly 20 years and gone on and off over the years. After trying the medication route with not much success, CBT was recommended and I was in fact the prime candidate my doctor thought I would be. It's not perfect, and as my CBT therapist had to tell me more than once, his goal was to help me REDUCE the anxiety, not ELIMINATE it (which had always been, and still is - don't tell him - my goal). There would be spikes and valleys, he said. And there are. But thanks to that work, for the most part, I've been able to get down from the spikes more easily and more quickly than before.

He is on a trip to Ellis Island today. I don't even know how they got to the boat. 

I better go make a call.

*I did not plan to mention CBT in this post and this is not an endorsement of it. It has been helpful to me, as have lots of other things. I'm certainly not a qualified medical professional and it would make me anxious if you thought I was.

Not Their Job

It's not their job to see me - in my glory, in my sadness, in my excitement, my pain or anxiety. But, sometimes, even though I know it's not their job, I can't help but try to make them see me anyway.

At my soccer game: "Did you see me when I scored that goal?"

In their room, when they ask me to do something or get something when I'm putting sheets on the bed or picking something up: "Can you see that I'm cleaning up?"

At the dinner table when the Mr. and I dare to try to share more than one half of one thought with each other and they interrupt with something urgent, like needing a condiment, or falling off their chair and cutting their head open: "Do you see that daddy and I are talking?"

Many times, I think my tone is objective and of a "teacher" quality, and in my heart of hearts I think I'm actually making a long-term impact on their ability to notice other people outside of their completely-developmentally-appropriate-self-obsessed little souls.

But more often, I think I say it in the "mother" tone that grosses me out the minute it starts coming out of my mouth: "Can't you SEE how hard I'm working for you, for you, and for you? Don't you realize I never stop? Can't you give me a break for one second? Oh, and would it kill you to praise me a little bit too?" And then, I think to myself: "I mean seriously, Karen. Knock it off. It's NOT THEIR JOB TO SEE YOU."

There are also times, like this morning, when they DO see me - especially the older one - I think mostly because he's older so he's not only used to the drill, but he's actually supposed to start seeing other people a little bit more. And, when he saw me this morning, I didn't want him too. I was beyond tired, and acting a bit crabby, but more quiet, sad crabby than yelling, kuckoo crabby. He actually told the younger one to not ask me to help her with her gloves because I was so tired, to which my first reaction was to defend myself (oh, goodness). He then offered to help me with my work tonight...which made me sadder.

I'm not sure there's a moral to this story except to say that it's hard to know it's not their job to see me but to still wish they did sometimes - even just a little, but only when I want them to. I just don't want to put that on them and think I probably tend to do it more when it's been primarily the three of us for a few days or more - there's a bit of a void when the person who sees me most, my mister, is on the road.

While I would consider myself an intrinsincally motivated person and someone who just does things and acts in ways that I believe are the best things to do and right ways to act, I still LOVE to be noticed and listened to. Don't we all? I also really love to be praised.

Having a professional outlet, where I interact with adults and engage in work - where even the complicated projects have shorter term and clearer outcomes than parenting - allows me to be seen in meaningful ways. The hobbies I have like soccer - did I mention I scored in my last game? - definitely help me fulfill the "being seen" thing too.

I just always worry that my kids are [fill in the blank] painting these permanent pictures of what their childhood is and who their mother is/was and I wish I could know what they actually do see, and what is being imprinted for good.

Yeah, yeah, one day at a time, best I can, great job, yada, yada, yada.

I swear I'm not as needy as this sounds. Well, maybe I am, but Glennon says that's okay too.


Anger is a tricky thing for me. As I've written before, since becoming a mother, I spend a decent amount of time and energy trying not to feel it and trying not to express it in inappropriate ways, by exploding at my children, for instance. I try to be mindful of when I feel anger, paying attention to what my triggers are, and finding the things I can do to prevent it. I'm also a big fan of reading posts from Momastery and Hands Free Mama that often remind me in succession that it's okay and to be as present as possible to avoid the distractions and the multi-tasking that lead to inevitable frustration when my children are calling on me (literally and figuratively) when I'm just trying to get "one thing done." I also remind myself (this one's not that hard) that feeling anger is normal and expressing it when the children are behaving inappropriately is okay. But there are ways I do and do not want to express it and one day last week I was having trouble expressing it in the "good" ways.

One particular afternoon, after being Awesome Mom for a while, helping them set up a stage with a curtain and watching their show, I started to lose it with both kids when they were just being kids - talking to me at the same time, asking questions repeatedly, not listening, etc. - so I excused myself and went into my room to take a breather (I've heard this can be very helpful for everyone). My execution was way off and the kids responded negatively, but after a few minutes of me redoing the execution (do-over, do-over), we were back on track and I started a game of hangman with them while they ate their dinner.

The six-year-old guessed my first one before he had guessed a single letter: "I love you." I asked him how he got it so fast (we've played before but not THAT often and I don't use that one EVERY time). He said, "because of the kind of day we're having...." I didn't probe further because there had been quite a mix of good and bad and in between and I didn't really want to know but I've been thinking about it ever since. I am a good apologizer (with my kids, anyway) and my assumption now is that he saw this as related to my apology. I'll spare the obsessive thoughts about what he is equivocating that phrase with and how it relates to expression and what damage I'm doing on that front for another post (or a therapist).

We went back and forth a few times guessing and creating and then he did one - a long one. It felt like the three-year-old and I had guessed almost every letter in the alphabet and we just couldn't figure it out. I thought maybe there had been some massive misspelling going on, because, of course, it couldn't be me who was just not getting it. But that wasn't the case. The entire thing was almost completely filled in when I finally got it...and then I cried.


Damn kids.

Independence Day

I know, I know. It's January. Why am I writing about Independence Day? Because, clearly, my children have mixed up their calendars and think it's time to be all independent instead of needy, needy all the time. Who do they think they are?

The six-year-old often chooses to take showers over baths. I typically help with the washing. B has been the shower helper more often than I have of late. One night over break, I reached in to the shower with the shampoo, and the six year old said, "I got this, mom."

WHAT!?!? I mean, every time I've bathed my kids since the startle reflex disappeared - when is that, like 6 months? - I've said to them both, "This is how you wash your body. This is how you wash your hair. You can do this. This is how you do it. You can do this. Puh-lease do this! I don't want to wash you anymore!" Okay, I don't usually say that last one, but I think it.

So, then, imagine my surprise at my own heartbreak (mixed with pride, but heartbreak was leading) when my boy said to me, "I got this, mom." And seriously, who taught him to talk like a teenager? Goodness me.

The three point thirty-year-old waited a few days for me to recover and then did this. She forced me to take her swimming in the "cold" pool yesterday at this (indoor) pool we belong to, and we had a blast as much as I was kicking and screaming in my head about it before we went.

We were in the locker room all bundled up in towels, getting ready to change when I asked her: "Do you want me to get you dressed first and then me or me first and then you?" So, she says, are you ready for this? She says, "I think I'll dress myself." Um, okay. And she proceeded to do just that. For goodness sakes.

And spare me on the "it's so wonderful you're raising your children to be independent" stuff. Motherhood is torture. The end.

PS  - I'm buying them each a calendar so they can get their holidays straight this year. It's not funny.

Kindergarten sucks

I'm not ready. I said I was, but I'm not and I'm mad that I don't get a choice in the matter.

Not ready for what, you ask?

Not ready for Kindergarten, duh! I answer.

You smile, you may even laugh a little. I think it's [sort of] funny too, when I'm not busy trying not to cry.

Today is day three. B dropped him off - at the door - this was the last transition in the process.

He got a little upset and said that he wouldn't be able to find his classroom. B talked him through it and the principal introduced him to the "big" kids (1st & 2nd graders) who would escort him upstairs. He recovered quickly on his own and walked in with confidence. Just like any parent would want, right? Except B and I are both trying not to cry and he's probably already coloring pictures in his class.

On the second day, I was late to drop him off. We were ready an hour before school started and live a block away from the building. We had two "issues" just before we were to walk out the door - one requiring a full outfit change of a toddler - and, well, we were late by 4 minutes. All the other kids were seated in their seats already [though on the way out, I saw another much more relaxed seeming mother walking her son in too...]. It was a rushed goodbye b/c I was afraid of breaking the rules and getting in trouble [yes, seriously]. He blushed for one of the first times in his life, which made me feel even sadder and guiltier. I'm a blusher and it's usually not any fun when anyone else notices. Again, he said goodbye and went with his teacher to hang up his stuff. It took me the whole day to shake it off and I made sure I was one of the first in line to pick him up.

On the first day, we mostly got it right. Though they asked us to leave the room when I was in the middle of reading a story to him and I really didn't want to leave in the middle of the story. I mean, didn't I owe it to him to finish the story? He wouldn't know what happened in the end if I left now. I started to leave, then I started to read the next page, then I left because, well, I felt silly trying to rush through the story as other parents were leaving the room.

Everyone said it'd be harder on me than it would be on him. And I did believe that, I did. I knew he was ready. Not a doubt in my mind. And I thought I was ready too. He needs more stimulation, more learning about "school" things. He's ready to be in big kid school. And selfishly, his moving on is one signal in my path to feeling okay about working more and continuing to re-expand my professional self. I've even joked with people about L being ready for more than her "silly" 2 mornings per week of preschool b/c I selfishly want the time for work without having conflicting feelings about it...or paying for additional childcare.

Because he was ready, I thought I was ready. I changed my mind. I want him back. Right now. And, I do not care at this moment that he is so clearly ready, and that somehow I can take some credit for that. I don't want the credit, I want my H here running around, drawing pictures, playing and fighting with his sister. Kindergarten sucks.

I'm even more upset now because I know that if this is my reaction to Kindergarten, I'm in big trouble for the next 30+ years. This nonsense is exhausting.


H drew this pic this morning before school. Overheard: "I'm going to draw a picture for mommy because she's so cranky." A few minutes later he came in to see me in the shower: "I need to look at you. Is your hair brown or...oh, it's orange." Ah, if only it were developmentally appropriate for ME to be that self-centered....

P.S. I'm pretty sure that's my heart ripped out of the middle of my chest.

Why this (not so) Angry Mother writes

So, way back in October, I posted on this blog asking for people to vote for me in an essay contest on Readers Digest Facebook page. Well, between that post and all the harrassing I did of friends and family on Facebook, Twitter, and via email, enough of you voted for me to put me in the top 100 (out of more than 5,000 entries, but who's counting?), which qualified my essay, Angry Mother, to be reviewed by the editors and a judging panel...and I won! Okay, I didn't win the GRAND prize, but I was one of the 10 runners up and won $2,500! And, they published the essay, along with a photo they took (via professional photo shoot in my house), in the March 2012 issue of the print version of Readers' Digest!

Thank you to EVERYONE who voted!

Click HERE to read my essay (and see the picture)!

Shortly after the essay ran in the magazine, I received this comment on my blog:

I just read your RD article today at our local library as I waited for my son to take his music and art classes. It meant a lot to me, and I wanted to track down Karen Dahl of NY, NY to say, "Thank You." I had tears in my eyes that I was really hoping the guy in the chair across from me didn't notice. I found no place here to send a message to you, and so I'm hoping you will see this attached to your post about that article. Thank you for the best 150 words I've read in a long, long time.

I then started an email exchange with the commenter to say thank you to her and to tell her that this is literally why I write - not for the kind words (though that's great) but to hopefully make an impact on someone else, even for just a moment. I've wanted to be a writer my whole life and this 150 word contest and one comment have inspired me to focus on this dream more often!

Thank you again to friends, family, and strangers for all of your support! It means the world to me.

Miss Representation, Shaping Youth, and Me

My latest guest post is up over at Shaping Youth. This one is about Miss Representation, young children (mostly mine), and The Paley Center screening I attended, along with Shaping Youth's commentary on Miss Representation's latest efforts in conjunction with the Superbowl. Here's a preview of my piece:

Gender is the latest hot topic around here.

For almost a year, my preschool aged son has said on occasion, “boys are girls and girls are boys.”

He has told this to friends in class, often girls, who have gone home and told their mothers, thinking he has told them a funny joke.

He also thinks that “kids” means “boys” but not “girls.” He has asked me to explain this to him but I’m not sure he quite gets it yet. Only very recently have questions about different pieces and parts on girls and boys come in to play. He also recently asked me if he could “milk a baby” when he grows up. I’ve hesitated to say too much because the innocence of not knowing the difference between genders is one I’d like him to hold on to for a while. While I don’t want him to be ignorant, I also don’t want his rapidly firing synapses to process anything through a gender lens before it absolutely must.

Please head over to Shaping Youth to read more and let me know what you think. And check out Miss Representation for information on the great work they are doing.

Please vote for me

I just submitted 150 words to the Reader's Digest Your Life writing contest on Facebook. The 100 entries that receive the most votes will be judged by an "expert" panel with the chance to be published in Reader's Digest and to win $25,000.

My piece is entitled Angry Mother. Please check it out, and if you love it, vote for it. You can vote once per day through November 1. Please note, you have to LIKE Reader's Digest on Facebook before you can vote.

You can click on "Angry Mother" above or HERE to read my entry.

Thank you!

SpongeBob and other thoughts on media for young children

I wrote a post last week for Shaping Youth in response to the recent study on the immediate effects of fast paced television on young children. I was angry at the study, the media coverage of it, and the programming aimed at young children and their parents. Please read my post and leave a comment at Shaping Youth to let me know what you think. If you want to hear more of my opinions on young children and media, let me know that too!

The kindness of strangers

Today was a good day. A rare day when I got up at 5am and had two and a half hours to shower and read and clean and make lists before the children got up at 7:30 (noon by our standards). Our wonderful babysitter came for four hours and played with the children, including one on one time with the older one while the younger one napped, while I got lots of work done promoting Brian's new book. The transitions flowed. We had a lovely trip to the post office to send books away. And then, as we were walking back toward home, actually toward the playground to play tennis, I engaged Henry in a conversation about making a choice, mostly because I couldn't decide and wanted him to make the choice for me (it had to do with him and an activity).

I noticed a woman walking alongside us and I was pretty sure she was listening to the conversation. She was about my mother's age I think. After Henry and I were done with our conversation (and he had made the choice, not the one I would have made on my own), the woman said, "I'm sorry for eavesdropping, but I just wanted to say what a lovely conversation that was. And what a wonderful example of didn't interrupt him...respect...I wish you were MY're a F***ing rock's that Mother of the Year Award you know you deserve...." Okay, so I'm paraphrasing, but she did gush and it was more than a few sentences. I laughed (uncomfortably) and said thank you several times, and yes, I might have teared up a bit, and I might be now.

Here's the thing: I don't know who that woman is. I don't know what, if any qualifications she has to say those glorious things to me (though I know she was right - dead on, actually). She doesn't know who I am. On a different day in a different moment, I am 100% sure that she could have just as easily seen a very different scene and heard a very different conversation between Henry and me. I remind myself of this not just with my own public parenting moments, but with those around me. I try hard not to (somewhat unsuccessfully) judge. I go out of my way to say when a parent gives me the slightest opening, "oh, we've been there," or "it's so hard sometimes," or something else to say, "no, no, I'm not judging you, I swear." I try hard (somewhat unsuccessfully) not to care if I think someone is silently judging me.

But the good stuff, LET IT FLOW. That woman made my day and it took a second. It was kind, it was generous. It was judgmental (of me, of experiences she might have been comparing me to). We need to do it more - to each other, to ourselves. All day long. And we need to hear it, be open to it. Thank you, stranger lady.

On second thought, you might not be in to that whole, "praise me and tell I'm awesome all day long and I'll be okay" thing like I am.

Today was a good day even without stranger lady. I didn't "need" her comment today, but I'm going to save it up for a day that I do.

PS - There was a second stranger lady a few minutes later who helped me locate Lucy's lost shoe on the sidewalk. She spotted us walking back covering our tracks with one shoe on the Luce Goose and pointed it out - it was one inch from falling off the sidewalk and into the bus path. Thank you, stranger lady #2.

PPS - yes, I am that ethnocentric that my though right now is, "only in New York." Don't burst my bubble by telling me that people are like that everywhere. They're not. At least to me ;)

PPSS - yes, I know that New York isn't an ethnicity. Is there a similar word that means the same thing for cities? I couldn't find it and I'm too tired to search anymore.