Buying Self-Confidence (and Belts) at Taekwondo

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Illustration by Abigail Gray Swartz

My 5-year-old son bounced toward me with his new trophy and his bright-white taekwondo belt that he had just received from his master. “Mama, look, I did it,” he said, beaming, as we embraced. “We are so proud of you,” my husband said as he took a turn hugging him.

Just a little over two months ago, during his first taekwondo class, my son sat on my lap and cried. “This is too hard, mama,” he said, sobbing. “I can’t do this.” But we stayed for the class, and by the end he was intrigued enough that he wanted to come back. So we did. And now here he was, taking his first test to receive his first belt.

But if I want to be honest with myself, he failed the test. He messed up his form and forgot one part completely. His master was standing right in front of him and helped him out quickly when he stumbled. He gave him an encouraging lecture about respecting his parents. And then he told him that he passed the test. Which he clearly hasn’t. Not really, not objectively.

The full story is on Motherlode

 Copyright 2014, The New York Times Company.

My Husband’s Always Traveling. How Is It Affecting Our Son?

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Last night my husband’s suitcase was on our bed again. I hate to pack, but I like to help him because I know that otherwise he will look like a sad, worn-out businessman at his destination. I can fit about a week’s worth of shirts and ties and sweaters into his carry-on, and they usually make it to Chicago or Cleveland or Richmond or Kansas City without a wrinkle.

We moved about a year ago for my husband’s job and a promotion, and now that things are going really well for him, his trips come more and more frequently.

I am excited for him. We are young, not yet 40, so when should he move up and ahead in his career, if not now? He loves his job and wants to feel like what he does matters in the world. But lately I’ve been feeling uneasy about his days on the road. What is the purpose of all this? What are we sacrificing as a family?

Read the full story on The Mid

Why I’ve Had to Change my Definition of Friendship

beautiful african american woman checking her messages.

One of the most vivid memories of my childhood is a bit of an elusive, weird thing: it’s my mother’s devotion to her best friend. My mother felt and “did”—and still does—friendship so exuberantly, so passionately, that when I was a child I could feel the love wash through our house when her friend was around.

Her relationship with her best friend seemed almost like romantic love to me: long talks into the night, visits to the theater, tearful conversations over the phone. They lived on opposites ends of the same street and one night, not being able to finish their conversation and say good-bye, they walked each other home back and forth, several times on the dark, quiet street, until the early morning hours.

To my mother, a friendship is a connection of souls, something to be treasured and protected and nurtured. Friendship is unconditional, never-ending. She was—and is—always there for her friends in very practical, physical ways as well: picking up kids from school, cooking meals, helping with errands, planning surprise birthday parties. Anything for friendship.

That rush of emotion I had when I was around her and her friend comes back to me often now that I am an adult. I crave that connection with that one perfect friend, who would reciprocate my feelings. But it remains elusive and I wonder now, if it’s even possible.

Read the full story on RoleReboot

When Being a Mother Is a Lonely Gig

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Right before my son was born my mother said something to me that, at the time, didn’t make much sense. She said: “Your husband will love you and support you and will appreciate all of the sacrifices that you are making in raising this child. But in the end, you will be all alone with every big decision, every crisis.”

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, especially recently as the three of us—my son, my husband, and I—were sitting in the emergency room of our local children’s hospital. That morning my 5-year-old woke up and wasn’t able to walk. We thought it might be a cramp from sleeping in a funny position and things seemed to improve as the day wore on—until they didn’t. So here we were, right around dinnertime, in a tiny exam room, eating graham crackers and oranges the nurses brought us.

The full story is on RoleReboot

Teaching a child about death

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The assignment at preschool was simple: draw a picture of your family. The teacher stapled 15 little pieces of paper on the bulletin board outside of the classroom once the drawings were finished. There were big families and small families. Families with pets, babies, and families that looked like tiny aliens.

Our family, drawn on a piece of neon green paper with an orange marker, looked like your average stick-figure family. Mama on one side with spiky hair, Sam in the middle, tiny, and Dada on his other side, bald, and a bit taller than the two of us. Above our heads two orbs hovered, spirals of orange marker lines, with helpful notes from the teacher that Sam must have dictated: “My great-grandmother.” And over the other orb: “Grand-pap, my dad’s dad. He was special to me.”

Both great-grandma—my grandmother, whom we called “Dedi”—and grand-pap have been dead for more than two years. Sam met both of them a handful of times when he was a baby, then maybe later when he was 1, then maybe once more when he was 2-and-a-half. Yet, it seems, their orbs keep lingering in his mind and right over our family.

Read the full story on The Washington Post

Why Moms Have Eyes in the Back of Their Heads

Photo by Gabriela Pinto, flickr

Photo by Gabriela Pinto, flickr

Sam and I have been locked in an argument about my parenting skills. You see, he thinks that I do not have eyes in the back of my head. And I know that I do.

He is pretty convinced that he is right. He tells me, “Mama, you only have eyes in the front,” and pokes his little fingers at my eyeballs for emphasis. “But look,” I respond, “look right behind all this hair in the back of my head. My eyes are right there. That’s why mamas have long hair.” He digs around in my curls, parts my hair this way and that, just to be sure. “No mama, you are being a clown,” he tells me, laughing.

Despite the physical evidence and his conviction, he does bring up the topic quite often — especially when he is doing something he is not supposed to behind my back. That’s how I know I need to turn around to make sure he is not eating a bug, or drawing on the walls, or stuffing toast in his ears. “You see, I do have eyes in the back, I caught you!” I tell him and suddenly, shaken in his belief, he needs to start digging around in my hair again.

I often think about how true it is that when we become parents, we end up saying things that we swore we would never, ever utter to our own children. My mom used to drive me crazy with “I see and know everything because I have eyes in the back of my head,” mostly because it was really true. By the time I walked the one block between my school and our apartment, my mom would know about that C on my geography test and that walking directly home involved a quick stop at the ice cream shop. It was infuriating to think that somehow, I was always watched by some secret neighborhood system of innocent-looking old ladies and shopkeepers who were really my mom’s spies.

 

Read the rest on The Huffington Post…

Inked

By DaMongMan/ Flickr

By DaMongMan/ Flickr

I could sort of make out the outlines of the tattoo on my husband’s arm on the small photo on my phone. He took it in front of our bathroom mirror, holding up his right forearm in front of his face. I had to turn my head to the side to see that there were sun rays and a sword and a heart—some Masonic symbols that I don’t understand and perhaps I am not even allowed to understand. The tattoo stretched from wrist to elbow and wrapped all the way around his arm.

When we got married thirteen years ago, Drew did not have a single tattoo. I don’t think we ever talked about his desire to have one. Now he has four, with a fifth one in the plans. The first ones were modest, easily covered up by shirts and forgotten. I was away on a business trip this time and I knew that it was “tattoo day,” but the size and scope of this latest ink caught me off guard. I scanned myself for a reaction: how am I supposed to feel when my spouse turns from a baby-faced, soft-haired man into a bald, tattooed dude? I know how his mother feels about his tattoos and, when I think about my own sweet, soft-skinned baby boy getting inked when he is older, I completely sympathize with her. But Drew is not my child—he is my husband. So I should be supportive, right? I want to be—and I am—but I can’t help but stop for a moment to acknowledge the unease in the pit of my stomach. Is it the tattoo itself that makes me pause? Or the change that the tattoo signifies? Does it signify a change? How do I know?

The rest of the story is on Full Grown People.