Tuesday, December 21, 2010

To Give or Not to Give

To give, or not to give, that is the question I ask myself each year around this time. Not to sound like a scrooge, but I have found that I give more gifts to peripheral acquaintances than I do to close friends and family. (Perhaps that says something about the number of friends I have?)

School teachers, religious education teachers, teachers’ aides, coaches, bus drivers, mailman, trash men, newspaper delivery person, hairdresser, piano/guitar teachers, work associates, Scout leaders… the list goes on and on.

And then there are the Secret Santa gifts, hostess gifts, neighbor gifts, and Church and school gift collections we give to.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a firm believer in the old adage ”Tis better to give than to receive,” but do I have to give to so many?

I’m a sucker for a red bucket. I’ve never met a “Toys for Tots” box I haven’t wanted to fill. And those Dear Santa letters bring me to tears every time.

The question is when and where to draw the line. When do you say enough? Like most families, we are cutting back this Christmas. Is it fair though, to cut back on any of the above individuals, all of whom do a much-appreciated service for our family?

All of these thoughts go through my head as I search for that perfect gift for the CCD teachers’ aide (whom I’ve never met but was told by my daughter is “very nice.”)

I know, money or gift cards are always appreciated, but I have a problem with giving money. My husband and his brother stopped exchanging gifts a few years ago when they realized they were simply passing money, in the form of gift cards, back and forth.

“Here’s a gift card to Lowe’s for you!”
“Thanks, and here’s a gift card in the same amount for you to Home Depot.”

Now, they wish each other a Merry Christmas with a handshake and a beer. It works for them.

I know it’s the thought that counts, but wouldn’t the thought mean more in words or gestures, not dollar signs?

Wouldn’t the mailman appreciate a cold glass of lemonade in July, and some hot chocolate in February? Wouldn’t the piano teacher like an extra week’s pay in March?

Of course they would, but does this make up for the absence of a gift in December? I don’t think so.

And so, I will continue to shop, and bake, and wrap. I will hand out my gifts with a smile and a kind word, knowing I am lucky to be able to give, even if it may be a little less than previous years.

I will wish everyone a Happy, Healthy and Peaceful 2011 and mean it. And that, in my opinion, is the best gift I can give anyone ~ the gift of positive thoughts and good will.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Tales of an Insomniac

Insomnia sucks! Is there anything worse than waking up at 3:50 am and realizing immediately you are up for good? Today, (Tonight? This morning?) a brief thought crossed my mind while in that state of being half asleep/half awake, that instantly caused me to wake up fully. It was, of course, a worry. Should I attend this event, or shouldn’t I? Will I disappoint this person if I don’t? What should I do? And that quickly my mind was up and running even though my body was far from ready to start my day.

I had two options: lay there in the dark and continue to worry, or get up and start moving. I’ve learned that there is nothing worse than fretting in the dark. I have it from good authority that everything always seems worse at night, when you can’t do anything about it.

So here I am, at 4:45 am, having put in a load of laundry, responded to a few emails, checked Facebook and played with the dogs, now watching the news and pouring out my woes to anyone who will listen.

I envy my children. I see them sleeping, sprawled out on their beds, covers half off, mouths slightly opened, deep in slumber, not a care in the world. I used to be that way. When did it change? Is it old age? Or perhaps the pressures of adulthood weighing down on me?

Whatever it is, I have found that I am spending more early morning hours awake than asleep these days. I’m trying to look on the bright side of this predicament. It’s quiet at this hour. As the saying goes, not a creature is stirring, not even the dogs (now that they’ve had their treats). I can read, write, or just daydream without hearing “Mom” every few seconds. (Of course I could also exercise, but why make an already difficult morning worse?)

I also find I do some of my best thinking and planning during this time. It’s amazing what you can get done before everyone in the house wakes up. The downside however, is that I am pretty much worthless by 9:00 pm, when my teens are just getting started.

When I look at my calendar today, I shudder. How will I make it through today on five hours of sleep? Well, I’ve done it before. I will do it again. And I will hope that this time tomorrow, (5:45 am), I will still be sleeping, and not working on my third load of laundry and second glass of diet coke!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Many thanks!

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. It requires very little stress in my life but rewards me with lots of great food. It also allows me to slow down and reflect upon what I am thankful for in my life.

When our kids were younger, we started a journal in which we would write down what we were each grateful for. Entries always included family, good health, a delicious turkey dinner, a warm house, good friends, etc., etc.

While I am still thankful for all these things, I have come to realize that I am also appreciative of the small, seemingly inconsequential moments that can make my day.

These include, in no particular order: a short line at the grocery store; someone, anyone else making me dinner; a cold fountain diet coke; my husband unloading the dishwasher; a sunny day; homemade chocolate chips; the smell of freshly cut grass; a warm blanket; a new season of Survivor; jeans that fit; a compliment; a good hair cut; my children's laughter; a quiet house; a friend's advice; a good book; an unbroken seashell; a smile; the sunrise over the ocean, and a sunset over the bay, and so much more!

And so, on this Thanksgiving morning, I wish all a very Happy Thanksgiving. I wish you peace in your life, joy in your heart, a good, hot meal on your table and family and friends to share life's ups and downs with. And for all of those things, and much more, I am thankful.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Are you still there?

Hello? Is anyone still out there? Have you all given up on me?

I would understand if you had. I have been terribly lapse in my writing. I’ve gone through a bit of a dry spell, due in large part to a brief stint with a part-time job.

I thought I had found the perfect “mom” job – part-time, working from home. Unfortunately, it turned into more of a full-time job, working from home, office, and car.

Some of that was my fault. I am nothing if not anal, and I found I couldn’t leave it alone, a hazard of working from home.

I also discovered something else: working outside the house doesn’t stop the work that needs to be done inside the house. The laundry, dishes, cleaning and errands all still need to get done, preferably by Mom, as always.

After loosing 10 pounds (one of the good things to come out of this experience) and countless hours of sleep, I realized this was not the job for me.

And so I’m back, where I should have stayed all along. My writing, in good times and bad, calms me. It slows me down and puts things in perspective.

I cannot tell you how many times I have started writing about a question or problem I may have and, after countless revisions and re-writes, have found the problem resolved in 400 words or less, and not always the way I thought it would.

Some people can talk a subject to death – I can write one to death. And that’s okay. It works for me.

So here I am again. My apologies, especially to those who “follow” me, for whatever reason. I thank you for your patience and promise to do better in the future.

Here's to many more posts!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Goodbye Summer

I was going to write about how much I despise Labor Day – the unofficial end of summer and the beginning of school - but then I thought, how typical. I haven’t run into one mother in the past few weeks that isn’t mourning the end of these carefree summer days.

It’s not that I don’t love Fall and all it encompasses: warm sunny days, cool nights, sweaters, football games, mums, pumpkins and leaf piles. It’s just that I’m not quite ready for everything else Fall brings with it: alarm clocks, homework, schedules, sports practices and stress.

To me, Labor Day is the Granddaddy of all Sundays. I get that feeling in the pit of my stomach - that feeling I still get on Sunday nights - that the good times are over and it’s back to work (and I haven’t been in school in… quite a few years!)

So here I sit, Labor Day evening, in a quiet house, with alarm clocks set, backpacks full of shiny new school supplies and kids asleep, dreaming of the new school year, and I can’t help but think back on the summer, and how it seemed to pass in an instant. As one friend put it, wasn’t it just June 18? Where did the summer go?

It went to vacations at the beach, swim meets and baseball games. It went to morning walks with a friend, lunches at the North End Beach Grill and drinks on the deck. It went to afternoons on the beach and evenings on the boardwalk. It went to family, friends and good times.

The Summer of 2010 is over for us. Oh, perhaps summer doesn’t really end until September 23, when Autumn begins, but for the Kopp family, summer is finished. School starts tomorrow, soccer started last week, and preseason began a few weeks ago.

Now that Labor Day is (almost) over, I can look at the months ahead more objectively. The start of the school year is really a fresh start for me; almost like a new year. I make resolutions, update my calendar, clean out drawers and start new routines. It's a new beginning!

So I say goodbye to another wonderful Summer. I will pack up our pool towels, goggles, beach tags and happy memories and look forward to a fantastic year ahead. A year filled with a new school for my daughter, a new job for me, and new experiences for all of us.

Summer may be over, but never fear – I hear Memorial Day is only 266 days away!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Be Nice!

Be Nice! Two simple words we hear often when we are young. I find myself using them with my children even now, and we are definitely past the playground age.

Nice is often thought of as such a boring word, but think about it. In the dictionary, its definition is “requiring precision or tact; pleasing or pleasant; attractive; kind.”

Pleasant and kind are two adjectives that are hard to find in today’s world. We don’t see many pleasant politicians or kind entertainers. And tact? Forget it! Turn on the television and you see the opposite of nice – rude, mean, inappropriate.

An athlete cheats on his wife; a politician interrupts a proceedings; a protester screams an obscenity – this has become the norm on TV. And nothing seems to be done to these people. What are we teaching our children?

When I was young (pull out the violins) we were taught to respect our elders; what comes around goes around; there are consequences to our actions.

In today’s reality-obsessed world, anything goes.

Be nice – I would like to bring that phrase back. It’s simple. It’s straightforward. And it tells people just what we want them to do. Join me?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Summer Swim

I have had the pleasure of watching my girls swim on our local pool's swim team this summer. Every Wednesday night and Saturday morning for the past month, I have stood on the edge of a pool cheering them on as they swim backstroke or butterfly, freestyle or breast stroke. The oldest has been swimming on the team for nine years; the youngest is just finishing up her third year.

After this long, you would think I would know a little about swimming. You would be wrong. I still have a tendency to ask what team they are playing this week. I just recently found out that lane placement was key in determining who the good swimmers were. (My husband proclaimed that perhaps that was why our girls weren’t winning; they should be in the center lanes – those swimmers always win!) And I steadfastly refuse to volunteer for any position other than snack bar at any meet (Food, I know; strokes, not so much!)

Despite this lack of understanding, I truly love to watch the girls swim. Perhaps it is because I myself cannot swim. I honestly don’t think I could pass the swim test at our pool. (This test requires any child under the age of 12 to swim 1 ½ laps freestyle and then tread water for 90 seconds. Passing this test allows them free reign anywhere in the pool. )

When I tell people this, they laugh. Sadly, I am not kidding. I then relay the story of my near-death experience at the pool.

When my middle child was just a few months old, I was watching my then 5-year-old son go off the diving board. However, I soon realized (with the help of a lifeguard) that if he didn’t have his tag (which of course he didn’t – he takes after me), I needed to be in the pool when he jumped off the board. I blame my next decision on postpartum exhaustion. I decided that I would simply slide into the pool with my 3-month-old baby on my hip and hang on to the side while he jumped.

As I was sinking to the bottom of the pool, I realized why, for a number of reasons, this wasn’t a good idea. One: this newborn was heavy, like an anchor. Two: if I was hanging on the side of the pool, water up to my shoulders, then said heavy baby propped on my hip would be completely submerged. Not a good idea all around.

They say your life flashes in front of you during these near-death experiences. What flashed in front of me was the headline in our local newspaper: “Mom dies in local pool surrounded by young children because she was too stupid and too heavy for teen lifeguard to save.”

Luckily, a kind neighbor saw me floundering and asked if I needed some help. (“What makes you think that? The fact that my baby is choking or that my sunglasses are floating toward the deep end of the pool?”)

After heaving, I mean handing, my sweet child into the arms of my rescuer, I then, after numerous attempts, dragged my body up and over the edge of the pool. Being the good mother that I am, my first reaction was to check and see if anyone had seen this debacle. Then, I checked my daughter.

Of the two of us, she fared better than I did. In fact, to this day, I firmly believe this is why she is such a strong swimmer. She realized early on that her mother was no help near water.

So I’ve left the swimming lessons up to the experts and I watch the girls swim, standing proudly on the pool deck. Everyone is happy – and safe!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

An Afternoon at the Park

Some go for the hits. Others go for the pitching. We go for the sights!

There’s nothing like a Sunday afternoon at the Phillies game. Santa has given my son the Sunday package to the Phillies games for the past three years. While he attends most games, every once in a while he has a game himself and the tickets are up for grabs.

This past Sunday, my youngest daughter and I decided to take advantage of his playoff game (no worries, he won; we will see their championship game) to head down to Citizens Bank Park and catch the Phillies vs. Reds.

On a beautiful, bright, sunny afternoon, the girls got to take in the game. While this was my third game this season, it was my daughter’s first. She was a good sport and even expressed excitement about going. (This was the same child who, on the first day of her brother’s baseball season, a cold, damp, cloudy March afternoon a few years ago, proclaimed, “I hate baseball!”)

We got there at the top of the second inning and, after a quick stop for a hat for Mom and french fries for, well Mom again, we settled into our seats.

I have been to the Phillies game with my husband and my son (on Mother’s Day – isn’t he sweet!), so I know the drill. Sit down, settle in, and don’t talk unless it has to do with baseball - and you know what you are saying.

Imagine my surprise when my daughter actually let me speak. We discussed the sun (it’s hot out there in the afternoon); the Phillie Phanatic (he is fun to watch); the Fan-o-vision (neither of us really wanted to be caught on that); and food (my favorite subject!)

We even talked baseball – imagine that. (When will Chase be back anyway?)

I took her picture, and she didn’t complain (too much) when I asked a woman in the row behind us to take our picture. What a sport!

Best of all, she didn’t whine when I told her we were leaving in the eighth inning! (My son has never left a game early. This lead to a two-hour wait in traffic after our last game together! What a way to end Mother’s Day!)

It was a great afternoon – the Phillies won (we heard the last out on the radio) and, more importantly, my daughter and I got to spend a beautiful afternoon together discussing everything, and nothing! It ended with a “Thanks for taking me Mom!” from my daughter. Music to a mother’s ears!

Any time, sweetie, any time!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Lazy Days of Summer?

Whatever happened to those lazy days of summer, when your biggest concern was who to play with? When you left home in the morning and only returned for food and the bathroom (if then)? When games were made up and non-chaperoned? When the best ideas emerged because you were bored? When you came home at the end of the day dirty, sweaty, tired and happy?

When did summer become so scheduled? I remember our first summer in our “new” house. Our son was three, and we were finally in a neighborhood filled with kids. I had such high hopes of summer days filled with picnics, impromptu wiffle balls games and water gun fights. I pictured my son running through the sprinkler with all those children I saw at the bus stop every winter morning, chasing down the ice cream man as evening approached.

Imagine my surprise when summer came, and all I saw were cars driving past with babysitters at the wheel. Where were all the children? I soon learned the answer. Camps!

Soccer, baseball, knitting, theater, fashion design, tumbling, magic, photography, video games – you name it and there is a camp for it. And I soon found myself caught up in the carpool lines: mornings in the classroom, afternoons at the pool and evenings on the field.

I know of one mother who describes her role in the summertime as Julie from the Loveboat – cruise director extraordinaire, arranging play dates, coordinating schedules and dreaming up activities that would make Martha Stewart and her cohorts look like amateurs.

I had the opportunity to spend the past two weeks at the shore. The girls slept in until 9:00 or so, while I woke up at 7:00 and took my walk. They ate breakfast in front of the television while I read on the front porch. We ran an errand or did a project around the house, then had lunch at noon. We spent the afternoon on the beach, reading, collecting shells, jumping waves and dozing in the sun. We wandered home around 4:00, showering and cleaning up before dinner. Evenings were spent walking on the boardwalk or riding bikes to see the sunset. The biggest argument was what to have for dinner.

We were calm, content and relaxed, enjoying the surf, sun, sand and our anonymity.

Then we came home.

And we were off! Swim team for this one, volleyball camp for that one. He needs new shorts; she needs poster board. “Take me to the mall.” “Drive me to my friend’s house.” I spend more time in my car then I do at my house.

I can’t complain too loudly. After all, I am the one who signed them up for these camps and teams. I bought into the theory that bored children are the root of all evil. And unfortunately, so have friends and neighbors.

“Go call a friend” doesn’t work as a distraction when most friends are at camp. It’s hard to have a wiffle ball game with one.

And so our crazy days of summer continue. I am counting down the days until we return to the shore and our unscheduled days and relaxing nights. Until then, you can find me in my car.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Beach

There’s something about the beach!

Perhaps it’s the sounds … Waves crashing onto the shore, and the cries of seagulls as they swoop down on unsuspecting sunbathers!

Or maybe it’s the smells… Salt air and suntan lotion! If someone could only bottle this smell, they would make millions!

It could be the feel… The warmth of the sun beating down on you or the burn of the hot sand as it spreads through your toes!

Of course there are the sights… On a clear day, the sun shines so brightly on that vast blue ocean, it hurts the eyes!

There’s just something about the beach! It heals me; soothes my nerves and calms my mind.

I have been known to drive that 1½-hour trip just for a whiff of salt air and a peak at the ocean.

Family lore says that salt air cures all that ails you. It is known to increase your appetite and make you sleep better! My daughter claims everything “just tastes better” down the shore. Is it any wonder I head down there whenever I can? (The promise of cheese fries doesn’t hurt either!)

Everyone has a special place – their nirvana that takes them away from their everyday stress to a place of peace and contentment. Mine is the beach.

I remember our first trip to the shore after our first child was born. Convinced he would never sleep through the night, and our lives would forever be relegated to tending to this screaming boy, we drove to the shore with the hope that the infamous salt air would heal whatever ailed him. (The promise of MomMom helping out didn’t hurt either.)

As we drove over the bridge and breathed in that glorious ocean air, I felt my shoulders relax for the first time in six weeks. And, while he didn’t exactly start sleeping through the night, we did get a solid six hours in him that night. (Ironic that now, we can’t seem to wake him from sleep – but that’s another story for another day!)

My family has a deep appreciation and love for the beach. While other families go skiing in the winter, we are known to head south. (You haven’t experienced the beach until you see it covered in snow!)

While others spend their summers at the lake, or sightseeing in the city, we pack up the car with our beach chairs and beach towels, and park ourselves in front of the waves, battling tides and errant Frisbees.

There’s a saying I love that says, “If you’re lucky enough to have a place at the beach, you’re lucky enough.” I couldn’t agree more.

There’s just something about the beach!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Dear Daughter

I could start with all your typical clichés: I can’t believe you’re finishing Middle School and about to start High School. Where does the time go? When did you get so old?

However, if there is one thing I learned from your brother, it is that time truly does fly and, in the blink of an eye, little ones grow up to be young adults.

I remember so clearly your first day of preschool. You and your friends were so excited, ready to learn and play.

You have always had such a wonderful attitude about life. “I’m going to meet lots of new friends today,” you told me one day on our way to your brother’s soccer tournament, swinging my hand and bursting with excitement.

Today, I see your worry, your fear. I hoped you might be immune to that uncertainty, but of course you aren’t. Yes, high school can be intimidating, physically and emotionally. It is big and full of older kids who drive and shave.

It is hard to leave a place where you feel in control and at the top of your game, and go to a strange building where you will be low man on the totem pole; a mere Freshman.

Fear not though. Those surrounding you were also Freshmen at one time, no matter what they say or how they act. (They are actually younger than your brother and his friends, and you can handle them.)

If I have one piece of advice for you, it is this: stay true to yourself. Your environment will change. Your teachers will change. Your interests may change. Your friends may change. And parts of you will change. But the true you, the little girl who grabbed my hand that sunny afternoon long ago and pronounced that she would meet lots of new friends, she will always be in there.

On that first day of school, when you face that large brick building for the first time, searching for your locker and a familiar face, channel that younger you. Put a smile on your face and think, I will meet lots of new friends today! And you will, I promise you.

The next four years will fly by, and I will be lamenting about sending you off to college (bite my tongue!) sooner than either of us want to think. Live in the moment, appreciate the time, and have fun. You will succeed! You are the middle child, after all, used to fighting for time and attention. You will succeed! And soon enough, you will be that upperclassman, ruling the school and intimidating the Freshmen class.

Congratulations, my little girl! Go get ‘em!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Can't we all just get along?

Is it too much to ask that my children get along with each other for one day?

Can I make it through 24-hours without hearing bickering and fighting amongst my precious offspring?

I thought the yelling and tattling would stop as my kids grew up. I thought wrong.

The oldest pesters the youngest; the sisters annoy each other; and they all aggravate me.

This one ate the last donut; that one borrowed my goggles without asking; he never walks the dogs; she never has to empty the trash; she always get the first shower; he always uses all the hot water.

And each and every argument ends with the same word: “MOM!”

Why isn’t Dad ever brought into these battles? Why does Mom always have to officiate?

I’ve tried reasoning. “You need to work it out together.”

I’ve tried ignorance. “I wasn’t there. I don’t know who left the empty box of cookies in the pantry.”

I’ve tried guilt. “Are you trying to drive me insane?”

I’ve tried dual punishment. “I don’t care who started it. You’re both in trouble.”

(I’ve even tried to hide. The dogs usually give me away!)

Nothing seems to work. The quarreling continues.

In my calmer moments, I try and remind myself that I too, fought with my siblings, yet we all survived. In fact, we are all very close. There is hope.

Unfortunately, these calm moments are few and far between, especially these days. With school winding down, tensions are rising in my household. Lack of sleep coupled with finals does not make for a stress-free environment.

Voices are rising and doors are slamming even as I write this. “I need to get in the bathroom to shower.”

“You always get to watch what you want.”

“Be quiet. I’m trying to work.” (Okay, this one was from me.)

I’m sure I’ll miss all this noise when the kids are grown and out of the house. I’m sure I’ll reminisce and think about the good old days, when the house reverberated with their voices. I’m sure of it, aren’t I?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Guilty Pleasures

~Staying up until 2:00 a.m. to finish a great book by a favorite author
~One hour, alone, in a bookstore
~An early morning walk with a friend
~Ghiradelli’s Double Chocolate brownies
~An afternoon on the beach – in the middle of the week – by myself – on a sunny afternoon – in May!
~Cheese fries
~A morning spent browsing the shelves of our local library

(I feel better just typing these up!)

~A weekend away with my sisters
~Lunch with my husband on a Tuesday afternoon
~Coffee with a friend (even though I don’t drink coffee)
~Staying in bed on a rainy morning and letting my husband get the kids off to school
~Reading People magazine, cover to cover, in one sitting
~A Brown’s cinnamon donut

(See the re-occurring food theme here?)

~Day-dreaming in the middle of the afternoon
~Taking my kids out of school early to head to the beach for the weekend
~Breakfast for dinner
~Mack & Manco’s pizza
~A cold beer on a dock gazing at a beautiful sunset
~A morning bike ride on the Boardwalk (before the crowds gather)

(I thought I would only list a few – seems I just can’t stop!)

~A pedicure
~Reading Facebook profiles of long-lost friends
~A nap in the middle of the day
~Finding and buying a great dress – on sale – just because
~Pulling out old pictures and photo albums and remembering “the good old days”

Life’s short! We all need some diversions once in a while. This list will hang above my desk, ready to be added to, or perhaps picked apart, if needed. After all, what’s life without a few guilty pleasures in it?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

One Year Down

He wasn’t even home seven hours and he was in trouble with his sister. He pulled into the driveway at 12:55 a.m. and by 7:20 a.m. the next morning, although still in bed, their paths never crossing, he was on her black list. He had eaten the last Pop Tart!

He has returned. My first born, the big brother, the only son, is once again home with us. We had survived his first year of college! Now, let’s see if we survive his first summer home!

With his arrival comes not only bags of clothing, faded sheets, ripped towels, torn blankets, old (and new?) electronic equipment and dirty laundry, but also a host of issues to deal with – negotiating a curfew, finding a job, sharing household responsibilities.

It’s an adjustment for everyone. We have to be quiet in the morning, when the girls are getting up and ready for school (a fact he loves to remind them of on a daily basis!) and he has to realize he is no longer living in a dorm with 50 noisy teenagers.

His first night home, my husband and I walked the dogs, locked up the house, turned off the lights, and went to bed in time to catch the 10:00 news – a typical night in our house.

Much to our horror, he yelled from his room, “I’m heading over to a friend’s house at 10:30!”

I, of course, responded, “You’re kidding, right?” (He wasn’t.)

I remember those days. I remember being annoyed at my parents when I would wander out of my room on a Friday night at 10:00 to go out, and the chain would be on the door and the outside lights would be off.

“They have got to be kidding,” I thought. “Don’t they know no one goes out before 10:00?”

Now, if I am still awake for Seinfeld at 11:00, I think I’m doing well.

We’ve forgotten some things: how much food he eats, how much milk he drinks, and how loud he is. He has forgotten some things: house rules - make your bed, pick up your clothes, and leave some food for the rest of us!

But we're coping. He's got a job. We're leaving the lights on later. And he's learned not to eat the last Pop Tart.

He’s happy to be home – there is comfort in familiarity. And, although my shopping bill has doubled, laundry has increased and sleep has decreased – I wouldn’t trade it for anything! He’s home, we're all together again, and I’m happy!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Thanks Mom!

Someone asked me recently what I would like to be thanked for on Mother’s Day. What things do I do that seem to go unnoticed or unappreciated?

I thought about it for a few seconds, and came up with a list of about a dozen things I felt my family should thank me for: changing diapers, doing their laundry, cleaning their closets, shopping for school supplies, attending countless (endless) recitals, killing bugs, hosting sleepovers – you get the point.

But that seemed too easy, too mundane, so I started to think of what I would thank my mom for, if she was still alive. And, as my daughters came home from school and told me about their days, it came to me.

It wasn’t any one specific task that my mom performed, rather it was something she did day after day, hour after hour.

“Mom,” I would say, “thank you for listening!”

Thank you for listening to the same stories over, and over, and over again. (There are six of us. Imagine how many “That teacher is so unfair” complaints she had to hear.)

Thank you for concentrating on me and making me feel like I was your favorite. (Which I clearly was, no matter what my brothers and sisters say.)

Thank you for not rolling your eyes and saying I told you so. (We all know how hard that is!)

Thank you for listening and really hearing me. (Even when I wasn’t sure what I was saying.)

Thank you for taking the time to hear about my day, even when you had dinner to make, laundry to fold and ironing to do. (Did I mention that there were six of us?)

It isn't always easy to sit still and really listen to our children. There are so many distractions in our lives today – e-mails to answer, meetings to attend, carpools to drive - which can pull us away, physically and mentally.

“The first duty of love is to listen.” (Paul Tillich) I have posted this quote on my refrigerator, hoping it will inspire me to stop and listen when my children speak.

I know many parents drive their children to school just to spend time with them, to listen to them. When I had just one child, I thought that was silly. Now, I think it’s brilliant. (Just make sure you unplug and turn off all electronic devices.)

One of my favorite writers, Anna Quindlen, summed it up for me in three short sentences: “I show up. I listen. I try to laugh.”

To all the mothers I know, Happy Mother’s Day! Congratulations for showing up and listening, every day, in good times and bad.

And Mom, thank you for listening, then, and now!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Hello! My Name Is...

My given name is Kathleen. I have no middle name, much to my children’s amazement. (I tell them that I was the sixth child and my mom had run out of ideas by then!)

Growing up, everyone called me Katie.

There were some exceptions. The nuns called me Kathleen – no nicknames for them. And of course my mother called me Kathleen, but only when I was in trouble. Some teachers tried to shorten Kathleen to Kathy, thinking they would be nice. (They only did that once. When I didn’t answer, they caught on.)

Other than that, from grades 1-12, through grade school and high school, I was Katie. This was before the name became so popular. I was pretty much the only Katie around and I was very happy about that.

Round about college, I decided I wanted to be a journalist, and journalists just couldn’t be called Katie. Too cute, I decided.

I then renamed myself Kate. (Easy to do when no one knows you.) Kate sounded serious and no-nonsense.

And for 20 some years, I’ve been Kate. It’s served me well, through college, work, motherhood, new neighbors and friends, PTO meetings and teacher conferences.

Once in a while, I will get a call from an old friend. I laugh when my daughter hands me the phone with a bewildered look and says, “They want to talk to Katie?!”

Well, I’m thinking it’s about time for another change. I’ve matured (or at least I am trying to). Kathleen is calling to me. (I know my mother is up in heaven saying, “I told you one day you would love your name.”)

I’m just not quite sure how to go about introducing this name change. I am not moving, nor am I meeting new people. My friends are the same. I can just imagine the eye-rolling that will go on when I say, “I want to be called Kathleen from now on.”

“Who does she think she is?” they will whisper.

To which I will answer, “Kathleen”

That may work!

Friday, April 30, 2010

Our Stuff

A broken “I Like Ike” pin; two white shirt buttons, still in their clear baggie; a tiny, yellowed newspaper clipping about a house for sale in a town never visited; a ticket stub from a high school basketball game from years ago -reminders of a special time, a special person, a special place.

A lifetime of memories gathered and collected, clipped and saved, stored and safeguarded – important only to the possessor. When examined by a stranger, all thought to be useless and unimportant, silly and trivial.

The death of a loved one brings with it many tasks, not the least of which is to go through their belongings. It is a very personal and private experience. I find myself smiling and shaking my head at some of the things I find, and then crying over others.

Yes, it is sad. But I choose to look at it as an honor – a glimpse into the heart of that person we saw every day, but perhaps never really knew.

“Who would save this?” we ask. “Why would anyone keep that?”

And yet, each piece holds such significance for its owner. I think of my “stuff.” I imagine my family members or friends going through my drawers (and I shiver) and finding:

One die (you never know when a child may need this in a game.)
An old, tattered scorecard from a miniature golf course in Ocean City (our first date)
A broken watch (my grandmother’s)
A bracelet made of soda can tabs and ribbon (a gift from a thoughtful 10-year-old daughter who knows I love my diet coke)

I imagine the looks my “stuff” would get. “Doesn’t she throw anything away?”

I think about it. Once a year or so, I get the “urge to purge” and I grab a big green trash bag and head to my room. And I have such resolve – this time I will clean out my drawers.

Then I start going through my stuff. And I start remembering. And a few hours later, I wander back downstairs, bag half full with only those treasurers I can bear to part with – the odd earring from college (I guess I won’t find the other); the ribbon from my high school prom (faded and torn – I never did like that guy); a few dried up nail polish bottles (I guess you really should keep them in the fridge).

And so it goes. Sorry guys, my stuff is staying. I am keeping it - for me, and for you. I need it to remember a time long gone, but not forgotten. And you need it to know who I was.

I’ve realized that our stuff tells a story: He loved sports, hated waste and was a newspaper enthusiast.

I hope my stuff tells the story of my life: She had a good sense of humor; was always prepared; and loved her family very much.

And really, what more is there?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Pet Peeves

I heard on the news recently that Consumer Reports magazine has posted a list of readers’ gripes. Interestingly enough, I have been collecting my own list of gripes. I call them “pet peeves.”

According to Wikipedia, the definition of pet peeves is “a minor annoyance that an individual identifies as particularly annoying to them, to a greater degree than others may find it.”

Below is a list of my personal pet peeves, followed by those of family and friends.

My personal pet peeves:

1. People who say “Don’t take this the wrong way.” (Trust me, I will. You’re better off not saying anything at all.)
2. Mothers who say, “My daughter and I are best friends.” (You shouldn’t be. You are years apart in age, and even more in experience. Your job is to be her mother. Leave the bff title to someone born within the same decade.)
3. Those who “Reply All” to every e-mail they send. (Unless you are trying to coordinate something, we all don’t need to hear your answer.)
4. Drivers making a left turn while talking on the phone. (Or better yet, trying to pull in or out of a parking space while holding said cell phone. Not only is it unsafe, it takes you twice as long, and is ignorant for those drivers waiting for you.)
5. People who insult you and then follow it with “Just kidding!” (No, you weren’t. You were being rude. Don’t hide behind humor to try and make yourself feel better.)

Now, pet peeves from family and friends:

1. Tailgating: And I don’t mean at a game. (My husband’s number one gripe!)
2. Playing dumb in a store with multiple cashiers but just one line. (The store is packed and you think you just happened upon an open cashier? Open your eyes and get to the back of the line!)
3. Driving up the shoulder. (Oh, you’re in a hurry. Then go ahead – the rest of us really want to wait in traffic!)
4. Teenagers. (I don’t think there is one particular trait that annoys my sisters the most – it is the whole package. If you have teens, you’ll understand.)
5. People who talk on their cell phone while in a public place (on a “no talking” train car or in line at the grocery store. We all don’t need, or want, to hear your private conversation.)

The term pet peeve has been around since 1919 and comes from the 14th century word peevish, meaning ornery or ill-tempered.

Believe it or not, there are various websites set up to post your pet peeves. (I guess that isn’t too hard to believe. There are websites for pretty much everything these days.) There are even t-shirts available to advertise your annoyance to the world.

A quick check of the Consumer Reports list showed that the number one annoyance of those polled was “hidden fees”, with “not getting a human on the phone” a close second. I can understand that. (I have started pressing “0” as soon as I hear a list of options. That almost always gets me to a receptionist.)

However, I have to question number 6 on the list. On a 10-point scale, with 10 being most annoying, “dog poop” was rated 7.6. Dog poop? Really? More people are annoyed at dog poop than discourteous cell phone use? I will pick up d.p. before listening to a stranger’s medical history any day of the week.

Well, I guess that is why they are called pet peeves. They may seem irrational or illogical to others, but are extremely annoying to us.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

My Little Secret

I got a tattoo. I am a 43-year-old mother of three children (one in college), former PTO Board member and active participant in our Church. And I got a tattoo.

I have been talking about getting one for years so, during a sisters’ weekend away, my sister-in-law basically told me to “Put up or shut up.” Since she was driving, I didn’t have much choice but to follow her into the tattoo parlor that morning.

“We’ll just ask a few questions” she said. “We’ll just check it out.”

One hour later, I walked out with a tattoo. “It took less than an hour,” I announced, to which my sister finished with “to ruin your life.” (Older sisters are like that.)

I have been talking about getting a tattoo for so long, I didn’t think my husband would be shocked. Just goes to show, he can still surprise me after 20 years of marriage. After having been assured it wasn’t fake, he stared at me for a minute or two, then walked out to play paddle.

My children reacted as I expected. The oldest thought it was “fine,” the middle thought it was “totally cool” and the youngest wanted to know if it hurt.

When my husband returned, he asked to see it again and seemed a little more accepting of my new addition. (“I just thought I would go with you,” he explained. “And truthfully, I never thought you would do it.”)

And that is the reason I got a tattoo - no one ever believed I would do it. I am not the poster child for a tattoo parlor. I was the good girl who sat in the front of the class and always finished her work. I am the homeroom mother who volunteers for all the class parties. I am the Girl Scout troop leader (twice) and Church volunteer. And I got a tattoo.

It’s not in a location that people can easily see it (Most people are “creeped out” when they hear where I placed it), but I can see it. It is a small tattoo (“I bet this is the wildest tattoo you ever did, right?” I asked the artist. He just laughed.) but to me, it holds great significance. It’s my tiny act of rebellion.

I’m surprised by the reactions I get when people finally do notice it. Many don’t believe it is real. Then I get a silent stare and then, inevitably, the same question: Did it hurt?

Young and old - everyone wants to know, did it hurt? My answer depends on who is asking me. If it is a child, I always say yes. If it is a peer, I answer truthfully – not much. It feels just as it was explained to me – a rug burn.

I haven’t had it long but I still get a secret thrill when I see it. As far as rebellions go, mine isn’t much. But it works for me.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Whose fault is it really?

Does everything have to be my fault?

I mean, I will take the blame for many things: the hole in the ozone layer (any girl raised in the ‘80’s will have to share this blame with me – big hair and all!), my children’s fear of bugs (I’m sorry – they just creep me out), shoulder pads (you had to love the '80’s), and not sharing chocolate (some things just weren’t meant to be shared – even with your kids!)

But I draw the line at others. I’m sorry, but the fact that the weatherman predicted cold weather, and my daughter wore jeans, yet the temperature reached 70 degrees and “everyone had shorts on except her” is just not my fault.

And I refuse to take the blame for the fact that Katie was voted off of American Idol. (Hey, we voted for her every week, sweetheart – at a hefty price, I might add!)

Who knew that when the principal said no parents were allowed at the Halloween party, that didn’t mean the parents in my son’s class? (I can still see his little face staring at me accusingly!)

I understand it’s easier to blame Mom. Sometimes, I even encourage it. (“If you are ever at a party and someone wants you to do something you are uncomfortable with, tell them your Mom would kill you," I tell them. "You wouldn’t be lying.”)

But do I have to be at fault for everything that goes wrong in my children’s lives? Where is it written that Mom is the scapegoat for all her kid’s disappointments? Did I miss that chapter in the What to Expect …series?

“It’s all your fault.” If I had a dollar (or better yet, a piece of chocolate) for every time I heard those words, I would be one happy mom!

How was I to know the test was on chapters 1 and 2, not just 2 (as my daughter claimed!)? Shouldn’t that be her bad?

Who would have guessed that the “Beginners Swim” class in high school would be filled with kids afraid of water? (Hey, that was one class he aced!)

Here’s a warning to new Mom’s: be prepared. You will be blamed for everything from your daughter’s first pimple to the fact that cookies are no longer sold in the cafeteria.

I used to try and reason with them. “Explain to me why it is my fault that you left your homework at school?”
But all I ever got was that universal response: “Because it is.” Depending on the age of the person shouting these words at me, this was either followed by a stomp of a foot, or, my personal favorite, a roll of the eyes.

Ah well, I guess if we can say “Because I said so” to our children, they can respond with something equally as vague.

So I’ve learned to roll with it. “Yes dear," I say. "Of course it’s my fault that the power went out just when your favorite show was coming on.”

And then I pop a piece of chocolate in my mouth!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


We lost a special man recently; a true gentleman in every sense of the word. It was very sudden, and far too soon for those who knew him. We mourn his death even as we celebrate his life.
“D” wore many hats – husband, father, grandfather, businessman, friend – and he wore them all with pride and distinction.
He was lucky enough to find two wonderful women to love and who loved him, despite, or perhaps because of, his unique sense of style and hearty appetite.
He loved his family; he was never prouder than when he saw one of his grandchildren in action.
“Is that my granddaughter out there?”
“Way to go #8!”
“Look at him go!”
While we, as parents, sometimes cringed at his exuberance, his grandchildren blossomed, basking in his love and acceptance. Basketball games, school musicals, baseball games, track meets, volleyball games, talent shows, tennis matches – he attended them all, cheering on the sidelines.
We will miss him; we do miss him. Who will read “The Night Before Christmas” to the grandchildren every Christmas Eve? Who will take care of the garden in Ocean City? Who will drive the Jeep to get the papers in the morning? Who will teach my children how to balance a spoon on the tip of their noses, or to turn their ears inside out?
D was an only child, who raised two sons, so a daughter-in-law was a bit of an adjustment for him. However, I can say with all honesty, he treated all the women in his life with respect and love, sprinkled with a healthy dose of humor.
The morning he died, before any of us knew what was to come, I checked in on him to see how he was doing. He had only recently found out about this new hobby of mine, and I’m told he was very proud of me. His words to me, his final words to me, were “Are you going to write about me in your Blog?”
D, I could never do you justice, but I hope you like it.
To a great man, a loving husband, a doting father and grandfather, and an exceptional father-in-law, we will always remember you. Thank you for your love, your attention, your humor and your guidance. God Bless.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Life Lessons

“I would do anything for my child(ren).” When I hear those words come out of a parent’s mouth, I’ve learned to run the other way.
Sometimes the best thing you can do for your child is nothing at all.
Your children need your love, your time, your care, your attention, but NOT your blind devotion. Children need to make mistakes and even fail. They need to learn that nothing in life is free; that actions have consequences; that not everyone gets a trophy!
I heard a mother on TV say that she would do anything for her kids. “They deserve to have their lives served to them on a gold platter.” No, they don’t, I shouted to an empty room.
Real life is dirty. It isn’t fair. And the sooner our children understand this, the better off they will be. Children need to fall down, get hurt and pick themselves back up. And we, as parents, need to be there to help them back up – not to prevent them from falling in the first place.
We cannot fix everything in our children’s lives – and even if we could, we shouldn’t. Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should. When life hands them a tough break, we should be there to console and teach, not fix and manipulate.
If they don’t make the team, we should explain that there is another team/activity that would be perfect for them. We should not call the coach (and principal, and athletic director and sometimes lawyer?) and threaten.
If they don’t get invited to a party, we should explain that not everyone gets invited to every party. We should not e-mail the parents of the party-giver and berate them.
If they don’t get an A on their paper, we should review the paper with them and offer our help with revisions. We should not call the teacher and insist upon a different grade. And we most certainly should not write their next paper for them!
Today’s generation of parents is often referred to as “helicopter parents” – they tend to hover, starting in preschool and continuing through that first job. In today’s colleges, and even in certain companies, there are people whose job it is to deal with these parents. What is this teaching our children? And what kind of children are we raising?
Do we want to raise a generation that has never experienced hardships?
We all love our children, and we all want them to succeed. What we need to remember is that they need to succeed on their own for them to achieve real success in life!

Monday, March 29, 2010

A Right of Passage

(Written in August, 2009)

We just dropped our son off at college yesterday. A right of passage, I know, but not an easy one. I’m told it’s the first step toward adulthood, but, to quote my sister-in-law, it’s a doozy.

My husband had been dreading that day for six months, knowing his first born, his only son, and the only other testosterone-laden family member would be leaving him to fend for himself in a house full of females. I am much better at living day-to-day. With two other children in the house, 2 dogs, and too many volunteer positions, I was able to postpone my worry until the last moment.

After all, someone had to plan the graduation party, and shop for the college supplies, and wash the sheets, and pack the clothes, and supervise the packing and then… cry.

I can vividly remember being handed this screaming, 9-lb baby boy 18 years ago and thinking, now what? What am I to do with him? How am I to take care of him? As a parent, you nurture, clothe, feed, protect and love this child for 18 years, and then suddenly, in the time it takes to unpack a dorm room, you leave them to fend for themselves, hoping you told them everything they will need to get by on their own.

Did I remind him not to wash his new red t-shirt with his whites? Did I explain to him how to change his sheets? Did I show him where I put his extra towels?  Did I tell him I love him enough?

Driving out of town, leaving our first born behind (never mind that he is 6 feet tall and weighs 170 pounds) was possibly the hardest thing I have had to do yet.  We drove there with three children in the car, and are leaving with only two. It was like leaving an arm or leg – part of me was missing.

Grant it, we will see him in six weeks. Parent’s Weekend is as much for the parents being left behind as it is for the kids. And I know that the tears are really selfish on our part. We are crying for ourselves, not him. He is about to embark on a new, exciting world – full of self-discovery, parties, football games, girls and hopefully, academics!

No, we cry because we realize that our little boy is no longer little. Our family is forever changed. Our table for five is now a table of four. And soon, much sooner than we want to think, even that number will shrink.

 And that is good. That means we are doing our job as parents – encouraging our children to grow and spread their wings. But boy, is it hard.

So, behind our sunglasses, we cry, with a smile on our face and a tug on our heart. We say a prayer, as we drive away, that we raised him right, taught him everything, and that maybe, he will miss us just a little.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Just because you can...

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Eight small words that pack a big message; a message I try and teach my kids daily.

 Just because you can eat four cupcakes in one sitting, doesn’t mean you should. (It’s not good for you.)

Just because you can wear a short skirt, doesn’t mean you should. (Respect your body and yourself.)

Just because you can finish your homework in five minutes, doesn’t mean you should. (Spend more time reviewing and hand in your best work.)

You get the picture. If only more people lived by this rule. (If only – another column for another day.)

Just because you can wear a bikini, doesn’t mean you should. (Perhaps you’re too big up top, too skinny, or just too large.)

Just because you can stay up until 2:00 am, doesn’t mean you should. (You have school /work in the morning and you need your sleep.)

In today’s world, too many people take their freedoms – of expression, speech etc., to the limit, and beyond. Common sense has gone out the window.

Just because you can skip classes now that you’re in college, doesn’t mean you should.  (You’re there to learn. Attend class!)

Just because you can go to work/school when you’re sick, doesn’t mean you should. (No one else wants to get your cold/flu. Be considerate and stay home until you’re better.)

It certainly isn’t a new adage. It’s been around for years. And yet, so many still don’t follow it.

Just because you can drink a bottle of wine, doesn’t mean you should. (You’ll thank yourself , and me, the next morning.)

Just because you can smoke, doesn’t mean you should.  (Your lungs will thank you when you’re older.)

And while many people don’t always follow this simple rule, I will continue to preach it to my kids. Perhaps they will remember ~

Just because you can ignore your mother, doesn’t mean you should. (Sometimes she knows what she’s talking about.)


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Putting out the Fires

 Being a parent is much like being a fire fighter. You are constantly putting out fires.  And just when you think you have one put out, another pops up; and another; and another.

You fight the fire with everything you have, but often find it smolders and the embers can re-ignite when you least expect it.

They say getting old is not for sissies – well neither is parenthood. You breathe a sigh of relief when your child is potty-trained. You feel you have made it through the rough stuff when they finally sleep through the night.  However, while babies are physically exhausting, teens are mentally and emotionally exhausting.

My mother always said, you are only as happy as your unhappiest child.  Unfortunately, I’ve discovered that you never have three happy, content children for more than 3 days!  Just when you think you have it down, you’ve solved their problems and you can relax and get a good night’s sleep – bam, another crisis pops up.

Report cards come home; friends fight; curfews are broken; rules are ignored; another fire needs to be put out.

It helps tremendously to have a partner when going through this. It also helps to talk it out with fellow parents. You need someone who can tell you, “It’s okay. You will get through this. This too shall pass. Your child is not a juvenile delinquent.” All clichés but, in times of crisis, all acceptable  - and welcome -phrases to a frantic parent.

I have often found myself doubting my abilities as a parent when I am dealing with my children. Yes, they are that good at battling.

“Maybe they’re right. Maybe I don’t know anything. May be I am trying to ruin their lives. Maybe I never was a teenager. Maybe I am being too hard. Maybe no one else’s parents are this mean.”

Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever questioned (not your sanity – we all lost that years ago) your parenting skills? When this happens, when doubts arise, I have one piece of advice – call a fellow parent! (And not one of those who are trying to be their child’s best friend!) 

Call your brother or sister, your neighbor, your best friend – anyone with a child the same age. It’s called commiserating and it is not only helpful, it is necessary, especially during those tween and teen years. Your child does it – why can’t you?

A good ally will always be on your side. “Yes, you are right. Yes, they are trying to drive you crazy. Yes, you should tell your 13-year-old she has a curfew. Yes, a bad grade does allow you to take away their cell phone/computer privileges. Yes, you are a good parent - no matter what your child says.”

In the mean time, we will continue to put out the fires. We will continue to do battle. And while we may not win them all, we shall put up a good fight, and pray we make it through the teenage years. 

Monday, March 22, 2010

It's My Turn

Blog – who ever came up with that word? It certainly isn’t the most flattering word. To be honest, I wasn’t really sure what a blog was until recently. Sure, I had heard of blogs before, but I never realized I could sit down and start my own.

It started out innocently enough. I mentioned to someone I was interested in writing my own column, and they suggested I start my own blog. This piqued my curiosity so I did a little research and, voila, here I am.

It’s not a difficult process. Honestly, the hardest part was deciding on a name for my blog. Since I hoped to have followers other than my sisters, I wanted something catchy. And, since I wanted to cover subjects more exciting than what I ate for breakfast – or what my children ate for lunch – I wanted something appealing.

Hence,  “Kate's Peace of Mind” was born.

I have always wanted to be a writer. I have been writing stories since I was 7 years old.  My first novel was a tale about my father fighting in the Civil War with Abe Lincoln. (Sorry Dad! Obviously history was not my strongest subject.)

At age 12, I started a neighborhood newspaper. College saw me as editor-in-chief of our school newspaper. I interned with a publishing company in my senior year of college, and was promptly hired to be a writer for a trade magazine in this same company. Writing was my passion.

Then, I had kids. And a new passion emerged. Writing suddenly took a back seat as I immersed myself in swimming lessons, Gymboree classes, playgroups and music lessons.  I became a mom. And for 18 years, I was quite content. I knew I would get my life back when the kids were older.

Well, here I am, almost two decades later. It’s my turn and, to be truthful, I’m not quite sure where to start. I think this is true with many moms. We give so much of ourselves to our families, we loose ourselves in the process.

But I’ve realized I have never lost that passion for writing – it’s just been on the back burner for a few years. I’m back, and ready to start again. So, here I am. Starting my own blog, brushing up on my writing skills, and hoping it will take me somewhere. It should be an interesting journey.

They say to write what you know, so that’s what I’m going to do. Motherhood, in all its glory, is not an easy profession. It’s given me many stories and insights into the world around me - some funny, and some not so funny.

I invite you to come along, listen to my stories, and share some of your own, as I embark on this new phase.

It’s my turn. Here I go…