So Do I
My book, Caution: Children Should Come With Warning Labels, is intended to be funny, because let’s face it, sometimes kids are funny little creatures. They squiggle and giggle and see the world so differently than their moms and dads that it spreads smiles, even when things aren’t going the way we’d like them to.
But, sometimes, being a parent isn’t funny. For some, it’s downright sad. Being the mom of four bright and beautiful daughters has been a bittersweet experience for me, one that I’d never exchange for anything in the whole wide world. But, it’s not always enough.
Our oldest, Samantha (Sam as she likes to be called), got married last fall. Now, that was bittersweet. We love her and her husband, Sean, and admittedly are extremely happy for her and for the opportunity to open our arms to a son in our family. But, he’s not our first son.
For Mother’s Day, the four bright and beautiful girls gave me the most thoughtful gift they’ve ever given me. Dandelions and pretty rainbows are great, but they didn’t hold an emotional candle to the bracelet they had put so much thought and consideration into. Inside the velvet box sat a delicate silver bracelet, glimmering with clear crystal gems woven along its beautiful chain. Hanging from it sat one lone charm—a prayer box through which peeked one gleaming blue gem behind the outline of an angel.
The gift was spectacular, but the words meant more. “Mom, I will need something borrowed and something blue for my wedding day. It would mean a lot to me if you would share this bracelet with me on that day.”
I cried. Yes, I did. Although I try to be strong and keep it all in, there are simply times when it cannot be done. This was one of them. We didn’t say it, but we knew what the bracelet represented—it meant more than something borrowed and something blue. It represented the brother who would be the only one of her siblings who wouldn’t be there to watch her get married.
Sam’s always felt his loss more than the others. She was the only other child we had at the time. There are photos of her holding him and kissing him—mementos of a budding relationship that never bloomed. Throughout the years, she’s shared that with me.
“Mom, I still wish I had a brother. I’ve missed that in my life.”
So do I. Oh, so do I.
“Mom, he would have been 21 today. I wish I could have celebrated that day with him.”
So do I. You don’t know how much.
“Mom, I wonder what Matthew would look like now. I bet he’d be big and tall like Dad.”
So do I.
I’ve often wondered what our little boy would look like today. He was a handsome infant, perfect in every way, with his father’s face and a head full of dark hair. I’ve followed the milestones he would have followed in his life without him. I never told anybody before, but I even went outside and watched the kindergarten bus pick up the children on what would have been his first day of school. I waved when it went by, tears spilling from my eyes, wishing I was crying because he was on that bus, not because he wasn’t.
But, I can’t wish him back, although I want to so very much. I can’t take away that awful morning when our son didn’t wake up. So, I transfer my dreams to four bright and beautiful girls, knowing my life is full, but yet empty. I don’t talk about it anymore, but one bracelet changed all of that.
“All four of us would like to wear this on our wedding day. We think it’s the perfect way to remember our brother.”
So do I.
“Mom, I’m glad you like it, but I really wish that we didn’t have a reason to give it to you.”
So do I. Oh, so do I.
Note: In memory of her son, Matthew McKenna, all proceeds in April from Patti McKenna’s book, Caution: Children Should Come With Warning Labels, a humorous look at the realities of parenthood based on Patti’s experience raising four daughters, will go toward SIDS research. To order, visit the Bookstore at www.UrbanEdgePublishing.com or you can order at Amazon.com http://www.amazon.com/Caution-Children-Should-Warning-Labels/dp/0981532691/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1234889371&sr=1-5 .Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 15 so far )
In my book, Caution: Children Should Come With Warning Labels, I talk about one of my invisible kids, Not Me. Here’s some of the shinnagins little Not has pulled recently:
1. Not Me! took a gray sweater that the youngest swore was right there LAST MONTH!
2. When we looked for the sweater, Not Me! had put it right back.
3. Not Me! failed to do the dishes. I know because when I asked who was supposed to do them today, both of the girls said “Not Me!”
4. Not Me! left long strands of hair in the bathroom sinks, mascara on the mirrors, towels on the floor and makeup on the vanity. Obviously a well-groomed little tyke, little Not also has psychadelic hair, both blonde and dark brown of various lengths. With clues like this, I think I’m getting closer to identifying just who Not Me is.
5. After the girls ate the plain ones, Not Me! ate the peanut M & Ms that I bought for dad.
6. Not Me! piled the garbage sky high in the kitchen, without bothering to take out the trash.
7. Not Me! continued to put trash on the kitchen counter next to the garbage can because the trash can was over capacity.
8. Not Me! took my new lip balm and put it in Emily’s bedroom.
9. Not Me! ate a half gallon of ice cream in two days. How did little Not have room after devouring the M & Ms? Reminder: Not Me may need Jenny Craig intervention soon.
10. Not Me! broke the retractable eyeliner pencil I bought the day before.
11. Not Me! signed me out of my email every time I got up from the computer this weekend.
12. Not Me! shut down the computer, causing me to have to rewrite two chapters of a book and fall behind in my work again.
And now, Not Me! gives me a rest. Little Not quietly disappears from 7:15 to 3:45 Monday through Friday so I can get something done, like wiping out sinks, emptying the trash, loading the dishwasher, stocking the fridge, and whipping out reruns of book chapters.
Thank you, Not Me, for the reprieve.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
With four daughters, it’s bound to happen. One child does something absolutely newsworthy while the others sit quietly in the background. Sure, they’re happy for her, but they also can feel inferior and left out.
Our youngest is 15 and she’s the athletic one in the bunch. She plays every sport there is, and I must admit she plays them well. As a sophomore, she is a starter on the varsity basketball team. She works hard to earn and keep her spot, and it shows. She’s improving every day. Tuesday night she scored 25 points, earning her full page newspaper coverage, picture and all.
Her coach says she’s fun to coach, listens well, and has a super personality. I agree. All of my girls have great personalities. The teachers like them. They’re respectful, pleasant, fun!, and also honor roll students. But they get there in different ways.
The youngest, the overachiever and athlete, studies a LOT. She gets home from games or practice, showers and eats, then whips open the books and intently works on her homework until about 11 pm. The third, an honor roll student too, whips open the books, but only studies as much as she has to in order to get the A and occasional B. Grades come easier for #3 than #4.
We commend both of them.
But #4 got mass attention from friends, family, the community and fans. Her picture was on the front page and a 6 x 9 was plastered on the front of the sports section. How does #3 feel? I silently watched.
She was happy for her sister, and thankfully, only 15 months apart, they’re best friends. But I could see that the continual Emily this, Emily that was starting to get to her. She was quiet, in the background. Did she feel like she was in the background with our family? I think so. We talked, trying not to put her on the spot.
The headline said McKenna Excels. She said, I don’t excel at anything. But she does. She’s the kindest and fairest friend anyone will ever know. She won’t participate in mean girl, gossip tactics. She stands up for the little guy. She gets great grades and is a gentle, funny person. To me, that means much more than any sports stats. To her, it doesn’t.
Emily is bound to get more of the same attention she got Tuesday. She is after all an overachiever.
Meridith is bound to feel like she sits in her little sister’s background because she isn’t.
And I’m bound to feel happy for one when she excels and gets credit for it, and bad for the other because she does excel in so many ways, but yet doesn’t get credit for it.
What’s a parent to do when one child is an overachiever, and the other isn’t?Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 3 so far )
An excerpt from my book, Caution: Children Should Come With Warning Labels (published by Urban Edge Publishing)
No Means Yes and Yes Means No
Green Means Stop and Red Means Go
When Heather was just old enough to ride a bike, she eventually grew bored with riding up and down the driveway. We live in rural subdivision which doesn’t have sidewalks, so when Heather asked if she could ride her bike in the road, like her big sister, we said yes. But, we gave her conditions.
We live in the middle of the block, so we told Heather that she could go to the end of the block and no further. My husband pointed out the stop sign. “When you get to the stop sign, that means you have to stop, turn around and come home.”
We’d stand in the driveway and watch her as she executed her instructions without a flaw. This safety net soon was given a name. She could ride her bike as long as she remembered to “stop and go home.”
What do you know? It worked. We told a child to do something and she listened—not just the first time, but every time! Before she’d head out of the driveway, we’d ask, “How far can you go?” and she’d respond, “Stop and go home.”
We were sure she understood the rules, but we didn’t know just how literally she took our words until we packed up the family and took a road trip. The front door became a revolving door as we retraced our steps in and out, carrying luggage, pillows, snacks, blankies, dolls, games, and anything else we could find to appease four children stuck in the back seat for eight hours. Then, one last trip in the house to make sure we hadn’t forgotten a child or added one since we packed, and we pulled out of the driveway.
We weren’t two miles from home when we came to a stop sign. The whining hadn’t yet begun, and the girls were quiet, anxiously anticipating the little vacation we were taking. My husband stopped at the intersection, and Heather must have taken the opportunity to look out the window and take in her surroundings. The next words out of her mouth broke the silence.
“What’s the matter, Heather?”
“We’re not there yet, and now we have to stop and go home!” she wailed.
What? It only took a second before we both knew what she meant. Heather saw the stop sign, and we’d done such a good job manipulating her mind to think that the stop sign at the end of our block meant that she had to go home, that she now thought all stop signs mean you have to “stop and go home!”
Yes, we had manipulated her young, impressionable mind, but it was for her own safety. Kids, however, have an uncanny knack for manipulating words and sentences for no reason other than to drive their parents past the stop sign and into the brink of insanity.
It’s called the “No Means Yes and Yes Means No Game.” Now, any child who plays this game is not a naïve, innocent dimpled darling, but rather a scheming and cunning little shyster intent on getting their way, thinking they can outsmart their parents by reversing the meaning of two simple, but very important, words. If there was a Heisman Trophy for little manipulators, I know four girls who deserve serious consideration for the title.
The No Means Yes and Yes Means No Game is often played in the car, while the mother is driving and being driven crazy.
“Mom, can we go to McDonald’s!”
“Mom, I want to go to the park.”
“Mom, can we have ice cream?”
“Mom, can I have a puppy?” “Mom, can I have a bird?” “Mom, can I have a kitty?” and “Mom, can I have a white rat?”
No, No, No, and NO! Managing to answer all their questions in under two seconds, all that was left was the whining and the begging.
Until one of the little darlings got the bright idea that it was time to play the No Means Yes and Yes Means No Game. The game is remarkably easy to play and even the youngest catches on fairly quickly.
“Mom, can I get my ears pierced?”
Not one to mince words, I got to the answer right away, “No.”
“No, I said you can’t.”
“No means yes and yes means no.”
Oh, no—not this game. The game that tests every parent’s patience as they try to figure out how to out manipulate the pros. This is the one game that mom and dad cannot win. We’re doomed from the start, set up by our own little offspring.
Well, the only thing they didn’t figure out was that no could mean yes all they wanted, but it wasn’t going to change my mind—it was only going to make me lose my mind. Children can play this game for hours on end without tiring, and it seems that the more frustrated and irritated mom or dad get, the more intensely they strive to push them over the brink.
But, they don’t know one little thing. Parents have a trump card. For every no means yes and yes means no, we have an ace in the hole which is guaranteed to get on their nerves as much as, if not more so, than their little game.
It’s called “We’ll see.” Far better than yes or no, we’ll see can postpone an answer until your little one gets married, and then it can become somebody else’s problem.
Moms and dads have to say no often, but there’s nothing worse than the preplanned whining and begging which strategically begins with no and doesn’t stop until that no becomes a yes. Avoiding this situation is your best bet, and we’ll see is a parent’s secret weapon.
The wonderful part is that, for a long time, they actually believe “we’ll see” is a “maybe.” Well, it’s not. If I meant maybe, I would have said it. Instead, I say “we’ll see,” which basically means that I don’t want to tell you no right now and I’m in no mood to listen to any pleading or crying.
We’ll see works for quite a while before they catch on. They’re smart like that. Suddenly, one day you pull out the “we’ll see” response and you’ll hear them grumble, “Great, that means no.” Then, you try to save face because you like “we’ll see” and you want it to work for a long time to come, so you reply that it doesn’t mean no—yet.
I tried that and our girls chose that moment to reveal their photogenic memory. They recalled each and every time I said “we’ll see” from the time they wanted the shiny red shoes, not the black ones, to the time they asked for a Playstation III. They pointed out that they didn’t get a hamster or a pony and that we didn’t take them out to eat when they asked on February 2, 1997.
They had my number and had figured me out. But, that didn’t stop me, and I continue to fall back on “we’ll see” at every opportune moment. While it certainly doesn’t work like it used to, I now am the one who gets a certain amount of pleasure watching them cringe the same way they made me cringe when they twisted the words that came out of my mouth. As they say for every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction.
No might mean yes, but we’ll see always means no, and paybacks—they’re always priceless.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Another symptom of peanut allergies
My neice just turned one. Her mom knows not to give peanuts or peanut butter to a child under the age of two, but yet she found out that her child is allergic to peanuts in another way.
As mom was eating a peanut butter sandwich, she reached across to wipe something off the baby’s cheek. Within minutes, the spot was a flaming red and swollen mark on the child’s face. Quickly, she washed it with soap and water, and watched it closely. The washing did the trick and it started to fade and return to normal little by little til it was gone.
But yet, it troubled her. Why did her daughter’s skin react that way? She then realized that she had a peanut butter sandwich and must have brushed it along her cheek. To be safe, rather than sorry, she asked their doctor who suggested that she get the baby in for allergy testing.
She did, and the tests revealed that the baby is allergic to peanuts! We all know that this is a life-threatening allergy and one parents must be very attentive to. But who knew that merely having peanut butter on the skin can produce an allergic reaction?
I’m sharing this in the hopes that another mom or dad might find the information useful. Sometimes, the skin tells you more than you think. Pay attention; it might be telling you something you need to know.
Peanuts on the skin can produce an allergic reaction. If they do, follow up and get your child tested right away!Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 8 so far )
When our daughters were little, we used to play the “How Much Do You Love Me” game. Spreading our arms wide, we’d say, “I love you soooo big!” Sam always had a cute way of saying it–“I love you huggy much and sweet.” Those were the cute days, when love was enough to satisfy almost everything, except for their ferocious appetites, that is.
Now that they’re older, we say ‘I love you’ differently. A text message Luv u or a quick Love you – Love you, too, as the girls are flying out the door. But once in a while, I find it necessary to say I love you a little differently. Today is one of those days, and today this is how I’m telling my daughters that I do, indeed, love them.
Sometimes when I say no, it’s because I love you. Really.
Sometimes when I say yes, it’s also because I love you.
Sometimes I let you spread your wings and fly, visiting friends and spending the night with them. I know you need friends and fun, and I say yes because I love you.
But when you’re gone for three days and nights, I’ll yank you right back, just like a momma bear would do. So, fly, but always know that when you fly too far, I’ll clip your wings. Why? Because I love you.
I got you a cell phone because I love you. I know, everyone has one. But I love you enough to check in with you and make sure you’re okay. I love you enough to encourage you to check in with me and let me know you’re okay. But when that phone is at somebody else’s house on a charger and I can’t reach you, I love you enough to take it away. You don’t get the awesome privilege of texting your friends 24/7 if you don’t respond to me.
As I have with every one of you, I love you enough that I will not – ever- let you drive to school. Oh, I know that you think I hate you because of that, but it’s 100% based on love. I’ve attended the wakes of too many teenagers who never made it to school or home from school on that same route.
So, while you’re sitting here in our boring house tonight hating me because you want to spend the fourth night away from home, there are some things you need to know. When you push, I’ll pull. When you want more freedom, I might impose more limitations.
You see, everything is great – in moderation. Friends are wonderful, but they aren’t eveything. You have a family, too. We also need you. You also need us, though you don’t always know it. You need rules, restrictions, and reminders. You need to learn respect and gain the values you’ll need when you don’t need me anymore.
The only thing that doesn’t require moderation is love. Whether it’s SO BIG or huggy much and sweet, there’s always room for more.
Sometimes, the greatest way to show that love is provide limits, even though I know that, right now, you’ll hate me for it.
I love you enough to let you hate me.
Someday, I hope you’ll thank me for loving you that much.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 4 so far )
Oh, it has been a whirlwind of weeks, one with many ups and a few downs.
I’ve been working on marketing my book, but as in life, the best of all plans sometimes gets sidelined. And the sending off of our second daughter to college and getting another ready for marriage were the reasons for it.
On Monday, we addressed, stuffed, and mailed 159 wedding invitations. Tuesday, I picked 6 lbs. of green beans. Wednesday, we took Heather off to college.
If you’ve never sent a child off to college, I can tell you it’s a major endeavor. Buying new bedding, towels, robes, shower kaddies, and enough water bottles and snacks to feed our family of six for two weeks takes a lot out of you. Running around town, picking up immunization records, signing into the federal loan site 26 times to verify or print out the latest urgent, priority email, and still trying to work have left me zapped. Zipped and zapped, in fact.
There was no time for emotion, just a to-do list that grew, instead of getting smaller. Then, after packing everything, off we went, turning the page in our book as yet another child moved on into the big, wide world that didn’t include us. After standing in line, pushing, pulling, dragging, and kicking (yes) her belongings foot by foot for a good mile, we finally got to the elevators, which naturally don’t go to every floor – just every 3rd floor of the dorm. So, we hauled it all off the moving box and into the hall, where we took turns carrying everything up the stairs to the next floor, where her new room waited.
Hot, tired, and irritated, those were my emotions. Cool down time meant lunch, a chance to relax and refuel. Then, came the moment, saying goodbye. Along with the moment came the tears – mine, not hers. They started at around 3 PM and to tell the truth haven’t quite ended.
And she’ll be back today…for her big sister’s wedding shower tonight – I did say it’s been a busy week, right?
But it won’t be the same. Never. Again. We’ve turned the page, and she’ll never be here EVERY morning, having a cup of coffee with me, telling me what she needs me to do, or telling me what she wants to do. It’s changed. It’s scheduled now, and it’s intermittent. She’ll change, too. I know I already have.
The melancholy that struck me is backed up by the double whammy of a family bridal shower tonight for our oldest. Today, she does a trial hairstyle for her wedding day, gets fitted for her dress, orders her veil, and then off tonight we go to her shower.
And I have to come to grips with the fact that they’re leaving. Maybe they’re already gone, I’m not sure. But there’s a finality that was never there before that comes to me now, triggering stronger emotions than I thought. It is the price I pay for having their love and laughter for 18 plus years.
It’s stirred memories of their younger days – running in and out of the house, needing me by their sides, having to be closely watched at all times as they learned new things. For some reason, one memory ran through my mind. Meridith was two, maybe three, years old. She was outside with her dad, and I was in the house. Dad went around to the back yard for a minute, and Meridith didn’t follow. She walked across the neighbor’s yard, and he came to the door to let me know.
“Patti, your little girl, Big Time, I think you call her, just walked across my yard, you better catch her.” By the time I got out there, her dad already had caught up with her, so she was okay – and yes, we called her Big Time, an affectionate name because everything she did or felt was at maximum levels.
It occurred to me when I remembered this, but not when it happened, that it’s strange – unfortunate, really – that the people we trust with our children are afraid to go near them. He could have scooped her up and brought her to the door, but society tells us it’s wrong to touch another person’s child. Ironic though, isn’t it, that the people we don’t trust are the ones who aren’t afraid to go near our children.
So, now that the two oldest are gone or leaving, and yes, I’m crying again, I can only hope that people I trust aren’t afraid to touch them, and the people I don’t trust don’t get close enough to try.
I’m here, girls, always here. Ready to touch you whenever you need me.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 2 so far )