My 4-year-old loves toy guns and I don’t know how to parent that

mcmullinThere was a standoff in our living room this morning. A group of knights attacked a group of pirates right there by the coffee table. There were several casualties, including horses that needed immediate attention while armed policemen waited nearby. There were reports of slain dragons, a princess who fainted, and a child was driving the rescue truck. A police helicopter was hovering over the scene.

It was mayhem.

This type of violence is not uncommon in our living room these days. My son is 4 and a half and he likes to play with soldiers and pirates and policemen. And swords. And guns.

I grew up in Europe where I knew exactly one person who owned a gun. I never actually saw said gun, just heard that one of our neighbors liked to hunt. The  police came to question us before issuing his weapons permit.

In fact, I never saw a gun until I met my father-in-law a few years ago. He lives on a farm in central Pennsylvania, and the cabinet next to his bed is filled with shotguns. He uses them to hunt and to shoot sick animals or unwelcome groundhogs. One time when we were visiting, he left his shotgun casually leaning against a car we wanted to drive. Seeing my husband pick up and move the gun made me queasy and uncomfortable. What if it goes off? Do guns do that, just by accident?

Read the rest on The Washington Post site!

NY, NY

It is such a cliche to love New York, no? Is there anyone out there who does not find it magical, inspirational, annoying, and irresistible? I mean, sure, there might be some people who hate the place, but I haven’t met that person yet.

For the first time in my life, I live close enough to “The City” that it’s not really a big deal to pop in and out for a day. It is awesome. I love it that on the roads I travel most around my neighborhood there are signs pointing to New York City. It is always tempting to make that turn and just head there for no reason.

I was sort of joking when I suggested to a friend that we should go bra shopping in New York because… well, because why the hell not? Thankfully, she took me seriously and on Friday we took off and spent the day shopping, walking, talking, eating.

It was glorious.

In no particular order:

1. Number of bra and panty sets purchased: 3
2. Last time I owned matching bras and panties: Never.
3. Earrings: 1 pair
4. Fancy hair thingy to get away from boring ponytails: 1
5. Size of steak we shared at Wolfgang’s: Who knows? It was ginormous.
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6. Manhattanhenge! 

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7. And on the other side of the street: crazy Moon!

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8. Cigarettes smoked: 2
9. Last time I smoked a cigarette: 15 years-ish, at least.
10. Blisters on feet after walking all day: 2
11. Frozen hot chocolate at Serendipity: YUM. Must be some kind of witchcraft.

And finally: finding a new friend in a new city and traveling so well together: totally and completely priceless. Calendar marked for our next trip!

This is how we sleep

When my husband is away on a business trip, Sam and I share a bed. I tried to fight it, but then the business trips became too frequent and Sam and I spent less time not sleeping than sleeping. It just wasn’t working.

Last night he snuggled in next to me — all cool and sweet-smelling from his bath. We read some books and then curled up under the covers. It was barely 8 o’clock but we were both tired and cranky. I rubbed his back then he rubbed mine with is pudgy hands.

Then came the question that I’ve been getting a lot these days: “Mama, will you marry me? I want to marry you.”

I was half asleep and this is a conversation we’ve had many, many times before. I took the easy way out.

“Sure,” I said.

Silence.

“Mama, why are you so fat?”

I chuckled awake and pretended to be offended. I laughed and said: “You know what, I don’t think I will marry you after all.”

“No, no, Mama, I don’t mind! I don’t mind that you are fat!”

And strangely I didn’t mind either.

LOVE

Sam is in love.

Miss Asia is about 18, tall, with beautiful long, black hair. She is a new teacher at his preschool and she is not even his teacher, but that didn’t stop him from picking her as the one. All it took was one afternoon of playing with spray water bottles on the playground and he was smitten.

“I love you and Miss Asia,” he told me that afternoon, with a special emphasis on the “and.” He later told me that he thought Miss Asia was as pretty as I am. Then a few days later we had to make a card for Miss Asia. Sam picked out a piece of white paper and a red pen and stood next to me as he dictated. “Miss Asia, I love you so very much. You are beautiful. I love you so, so much. Love, Sam.”

Confession time: I did not write those exact words on the card. As soon as he said them they felt so raw and honest and… I am not even sure what. It wasn’t jealousy that made me write “I love playing with you on the playground” instead of “I love you so very much,” but some kind of a protective instinct that wanted him to guard his feelings and not put everything on the table.

I feel foolish about this now, but at the moment it felt like the right thing to do. And then I wondered: at what point in life do we lose the ability to put our feelings out there so purely and so honestly? Is it after the first heartbreak? Or is it earlier? Is it somehow learned, ingrained in us like good manners? I want Sam to feel overpowering love and passion, just the way he feels it now. And I want him to be able to express it freely and without reservation, like it is the most natural thing on earth. Because it is.

But I don’t want him to get hurt or be made fun of by anyone. Somehow we all learn to be “smart” about love — about who calls whom first, who makes the first move, when and how it’s safe to say “I love you” for the first time. It seems like there are so many rules about dating and love. Rules that in the end don’t really protect us from disappointment or heartbreak.

So maybe the five-year-old is right when he puts all of his cards on the table and allows himself to be swept up by this great, big, mysterious thing.

I should learn from him.

How Can I Help My Son Adjust to a New City?

new-home

It is one of those mornings. Sam woke up early and now he is in my bed, snuggled as close as possible, twirling my hair around his fingers. His breath is warm on my cheek and his long limbs are wrapped around me. “I don’t want to go to school, Mama. I don’t like my new school. Nobody loves me there. And the toys are boring,” he says.

I turn to him and hold him close, trying to find the right words to comfort him. It is not easy.

My little guy is having a hard time. To be honest, we are all having a hard time, but Sam is the one who is new to this world of changes and challenges. We just moved to a new city and he started attending a new preschool. We are away from family, from the familiar, from the routine.

At first, everything was exciting: the new school, the new classmates, the new teachers. There were new toys to explore, new books to read, new songs to learn. As we worked on establishing a new life, it was fun to explore things together. Just going to the grocery store was an adventure.

But now it seems the honeymoon is over and Sam is more and more aware of what he is missing from our old life. He talks about the friends he left behind, his favorite children’s museum and playground, our old house where he was born. We visit often because his grandparents still live there, but sometimes I am not sure if returning “home” as he refers to it is helpful or if it’s just making the adjustment even harder.

Read the rest at Kveller!

The Problem With Date Night

cakeIt’s Saturday night. My parents are watching the kid. My hubby has the night off. I am a nervous wreck.

Because the problem with date night is that it’s still, you know, a date. A date that I was hoping never to have to go through again after getting married. I was so done with the messy, unpredictable world of dating and I was so ready for the comfortable, lukewarm certainty of marriage. Before we had a kid we didn’t need date nights to have an adult conversation or a meal that lasted more than five minutes. But now, date nights have become a necessity and suddenly, we are back to the pressure of having to carry on a witty conversation, to put on cute underwear, to make small talk over dinner and then at the end of the evening, to have sex.

The pressure is different than when we were really just dating, but it’s pressure all the same. This time, instead of wanting to impress or seduce, I always find myself wanting to prove that we are still a hip and happening couple and not exhausted parents who go to bed at 9 p.m. I still remember the excitement of our first dates — the butterflies, the sparks, the giggling. I know it’s still in us somewhere, buried under 12 years of marriage. Can we bring it back? Can we recapture what brought us together in the first place? Is that even something we should do?

Read the rest on The Huffington Post…

My writing life: Agonize, revise, repeat

I’ve been thinking about this post for a while now, ever since Lauren asked me if I wanted to participate in the blog hop. As is my m.o., I immediately felt weird and guilty about participating. I mean, writing about my writing life assumes that I am a writer. (Or that, you know, I have a life.)

I always thought that I haven’t suffered enough to be a writer. So I didn’t write for a long time. I imagined that I would have to be an orphan, or have lost so much, or live in 19th century Paris in an Absinthe-induced haze to be a REAL writer. I still think that a little bit, but strangely motherhood seems to provide all of the ingredients I thought are necessary for writer-hood: the pain, the loss, the re-examination of one’s life and values, and also the haze and fog of worry, sleeplessness, and wine.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

1. What am I writing or working on?
I am working on a longer piece about being an immigrant and there are bits and pieces of things floating around in my head. I am lucky and unlucky that writing is not my livelihood. I have no pressure to write and produce constantly, but that also makes it hard to keep things going. I belong to an amazing writing group and our monthly meetings are my deadlines. I have a full-time job and a kid, so writing often takes a back seat to all of that. But I am trying to take it — and myself — seriously and allow my writing the time and space it deserves.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Does it? I am not sure. I feel like it’s hard for me to judge that. I’d like to think that being from another country and writing in a second language might give my writing a different flavor, a different perspective about parenting and life in general. I try to be honest and real and I try not to be judgmental. Some days it feels like there is so much hate and judgement out there, especially online and especially on parenting-related topics. At least us, mothers, should give each other a break.

3. Why do I write what I do?
I write a lot about motherhood and about things lost, or the way things could have been. It’s therapeutic in a way, a bit self-indulgent. But then I always find that so many other people relate to my story that maybe is ceases to be self-indulgence. It’s such a comfort to know that I am not alone in something and also to know that through putting words on paper I was able to make someone else feel less alone.

I want to write for the sake of writing. Is it an amazing feeling when something gets published? Absolutely. How does it feel when a piece on The Huffington Post gets thousands of “likes?” Fabulous. Do I like to get 60 new Twitter followers in under an hour like I did with this fluff? Oh, yes.

But those things are so short-lived and fleeting and definitely not enough to keep me working hard. Writing is messy and sweaty and not glamorous work. Clicks and likes will never be enough to justify the pain of throwing up on the page. There has to be more.

4. How does my writing process work?
This is where I feel a bit like a fraud. What is my process? I have no idea. I am sure real writers have some sort of a trusty system, notebooks, outlines, plans.

For me, it works like this: A thought pops into my head — an image, a sentence, a question. I sit on it for a few days, playing around with it in my head, or I just dump it on the page and then sit on it. I agonize. I revise. Repeat.

And that’s that.

An awful lot of trust has to be put into this “process” that an actual idea will indeed pop into my head. Something always has and I have to trust that something always will.

I write — like now — in bed while my son naps next to me. I write during Food Network Chopped marathons in the evenings. I type quick notes on my phone when something comes to me late at night. I write when I am happy, but I write even more when I am sad.

I write on my laptop, but I have an unhealthy relationship with stationery. Notebooks, specifically. And pens, of course. I don’t write that often by hand, but I find great comfort and inspiration in empty, crisp pages, the scratch of a pen, just the possibility of the two of them coming together and creating something magical.

I still view writing as a gift. Sure, there is work and skill involved, but whatever that initial spark is, is surely a gift.

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And now to pass on the baton… What is so fabulous about being a writer in this day and age is that a real, living, breathing writing community is right there at our fingertips. I have “met” so many amazing writers in the past year and their advice, guidance, and support have been invaluable.

So check out three writers who are new to me, but who do not feel like strangers:

Miller Murray Susen is a hyphenate whose enthusiasms include acting, directing, writing, teaching, and child wrangling. She blogs intermittently at www.amomynity.com and twitters more frequently at @A_momynous

Kris Guay lives in Franklin, Massachusetts, with her partner and two teenage boys. Find her at her blog Life With Teenagers or read her essay in Full Grown People or her recently published poem in Corium Magazine.

Susan McCulley is a mindful movement educator and a Black Belt Nia Instructor who has been dancing and moving, traveling and teaching since 2000. Her blog, Focus Pocus: The Magic of Inquiry and Intent, is dedicated to taking body~mind practices from the studio into life. Her essays have been published on Elephant Journal, and she is working on a book. She lives with her husband in Charlottesville, Virginia.