When I am an old woman

Tuesday, I was a chaperone for a group of third graders at the zoo, and as we were leaving I met the woman I want to be when I am very old.  Racing to the rendezvous point by our deadline I encouraged the kids, “We’ve made it this far and no one has lost a leg.  Keep going…”  Well the hurrying stopped and the kids proceeded to pretend body parts were falling off.  They limped, dragged and moaned themselves to the exit of the zoo.  Thankfully we had three minutes and I could see the teachers, so I just laughed and kept encouraging them to move forward while the zombie leprosy overtook them.

Of course, while my kids were emulating disastrous disabilities we lurched past a group of really old people in wheelchairs.  Some had oxygen.  All had a helper pushing them.  One was staring at me and my kids.  Her red lipstick both matched the smart red jacket she was wearing and framed the beautiful smile on her face.  She clapped her hands in delight and then held her clasped hands to her chest watching the loud silly kids parade past her.  I don’t think one of them noticed her, but she noticed them, and we noticed each other.  As I walked past she smiled at me and gave me a little wave while she kept laughing.

The kids weren’t being insensitive to people who couldn’t walk, or who were missing body parts.  They were just playing and having fun.  The old lady could have been grouchy.  She could have wished that those loud kids would quiet down so she could enjoy the zoo sounds.  Other old ladies might have shook their heads at me for not making my group of six urchins behave.  But she didn’t.   She recognized the joy of the moment.  The fun that comes after six kids and one grown up have spent the day watching peacocks dance their mating dance, learning about assassin bugs, and picking which fish resembles their daddy.  The excitement of getting to ride back on the bus.  The pride of finishing their whole packet of zoo worksheets before lunch.  It was a great day for us and it was like that old lady had a crystal ball and could see the entire joy of the trip in that last single moment our group had together.

While we were doing our last count of the kids before boarding the bus, the old woman was wheeled past our giant group of 82 kids and chaperones, and still she was smiling.  Even as the kids did obnoxious kid things like play with toys they weren’t going to buy from the gift shop and try to trip each other.  Then she saw me and reached out, so I stepped forward and held her hand, just for a moment, and smiled at her.  As her dry paper skinned hand pulled out of mine I thought, I want to be like her when I grow up.

Earth Day in my Gardens

It’s Earth Day!  What better way to celebrate than to show you my gardens?  This post was written last year when Amanda Soule of Soulemama asked her readers to submit a piece about their garden.  Each month she selected one to share with her readers.  Well, my gardens never made her blog, but they can sure make mine!  Shall we go for a stroll?


Gardener: Johanna Levene

Garden Location and Zone: Denver, Colorado – Zone 5

Vegetable Garden Size: Home (300 sq feet) School (500 sq feet)

Image 1 - windows into the gardenSpring in the Garden 

How long have you been gardening?

I don’t ever remember not gardening.  My spring and summer childhood memories revolve around Mother’s Day flower shopping, mixing bright blue Miracle Grow water for tomato planting, and sitting very quietly with my mom listening for tomato hornworms as they chewed their way through our plants. When we found one we’d fling it into the street, except the one time we put it in a terrarium and watched it grow into a spectacularly terrifying moth.

Image 2 - Johanna in the gardenMe and Raggedy Ann in my grandma’s garden 40 years ago

I taught my husband to garden when we bought our house and he has taken over most of the maintenance while I still focus on the new plantings and the vegetable garden.  We’ve moved away from the chemical fertilizer of my childhood to organic gardening, but he brings a new kind of technology to our efforts.  As a mechanical engineer he can be found weekend mornings walking around our yard with his AutoCAD drawings of our garden recording the growth, blooms and colors of the plants.  He maintains both an electronic and hard copy of these maps:  he is a modern garden dork.

 Why do you garden?

Gardening is one pastime that brings our family of diverse interests together.  In our life we have two working parents and an only child and it’s easy to get swept away in all the things we “should” be doing.  Gardening makes us slow down and spend time together because we all enjoy being outside together playing in the dirt.

Where do you go for gardening inspiration?

My garden inspiration is largely found in walks through the neighborhood, visits to my parent’s house, and trips to my local nursery.  I have been known to steal seeds from a neighbor’s unique flower or bring a trowel when visiting a friend who has a particularly pretty iris.  

What’s your biggest gardening challenge?

In Denver late freezes, summer hail, and early freezes are the destroyers of gardens.  Last year we planted two Sundays before Memorial Day and our garden was demolished by hail two days later.  The year before we had Japanese Beetles for the first time.  We tried to control their population by borrowing a friend’s chickens for a weekend.  We believed in that solution so much that we got our own chickens last year in order to avoid loading chickens into the back of my Subaru.  Also chickens turn bugs into eggs, which is awesome.

Image 3 - Hail DamageLate May hail damage and our white picket fence.  Poor plants.

 What’s your biggest garden accomplishment?

For the past couple of years we have included our daughter’s friends in the planting and harvesting of our garden, and we’ve loved introducing new kids to our garden.  Last year our family expanded our influence to include seventy-five third graders at our public elementary school.  The parent who had been in charge of our school garden was graduating her oldest child, so when the school asked for volunteers we jumped at the chance.  We plant with the kiddos in late May and harvest in September.  We love every minute of it.  My favorite moment last year was at the plant sale when this tough eighth grade boy came loping down the stairs and said, “Do I smell tomato plants?  I love that smell.” Even the big kids get excited about the garden.  The school garden gives kids a focal point that they look forward to in the younger grades, own in third and fourth grade, and then remember in the later grades.

What do you most love to grow?

We grow flowers and vegetables.  In the veggie garden tomatoes and Anaheim peppers are our standby favorites, but the past few years we’ve grown potatoes, and they are magical.  The plant grows, the plant dies and you don’t know what the harvest looks like until you dig around.  We never fail to miss a spud or two so the potatoes just keep perpetuating.  Oh, and don’t get me started on pumpkins.  One day you have no pumpkins and the next day one has grown so big you can’t get it out of the tomato cage.

Image 6 - pumpkin in a cagePumpkin in a cage

In the flower beds we have tons of spring bulbs: tulips, miniature iris, hyacinths, crocus, and daffodils.  My heart thaws every February when the first crocus appears.  We’ve got color all year, but the flower gardens reach their peak in spring and early summer.  In Colorado, July and August are a bit hot and dry for many blooms.

If you have children, what role do they play in your gardening?

We include our daughter as much as she wants to be included.  From year to year her interest and commitment change, but we try not to force her into gardening because we think nothing ruins a kid’s love of “yard work” like being told they must participate.  Last year my husband and I did most of the planting – both times, stupid hail – by ourselves.  The spring vegetables are her favorite and she’ll head out to the garden before school to snack on lettuce and snap peas.  In the fall she’ll help us harvest the veggies and process them for storage.  Our daughter is also enjoying our new role as garden parents at school and is looking forward to her turn planting the school garden this year.

Image 7 - baby in the gardenGardening before she could walk eight years ago

 Can you share one or two of your favorite gardening tips?

We’ve lucked into a couple of natural pest solutions that make gardening easier:  plant cilantro right next to your tomatoes to keep the hornworms away, and a huge lemon verbena plant in the middle of everything keeps a variety of pests away and smells great when you *accidentally* crush it when weeding.

 Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about your garden?

We have an urban garden at our house, and it supplements our meals, but does not come close to providing all the food our family eats.  Our school garden provides an opportunity for kids to learn where food comes from and harvest a feast for the fourth graders in the fall.  Our gardens are as much about growing our family and community as they are about growing food.

 Can you tell us about yourself?

By day, Johanna Levene is a manager of a team of ten web developers, database administrators, analysts and projects managers that build web tools about renewable energy and alternative fuels.  In the evenings she transitions to a mom of a third grader which can include the roles of a soccer coach, gardener, meal maker, and pet caretaker of two cats, one hamster, three chickens, and a few snails.  Once the kiddo goes to bed, Johanna’s evening persona morphs into a crafter with a primary focus on knitting, and an aspiring novelist.  When she’s not busy with the rest of that stuff she manages to be a wife too.

Presidential Equality

February 3, 1870.  That’s when the fifteenth amendment stipulated that
“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

To be clear, all men regardless of race or color had the right to vote.  It would be over 50 years before women of any race or color could vote.

August 18, 1920. That’s when women received the right to vote in this country. My grandmother-in-law, who turned 100 this year, was born when women couldn’t vote. A woman with whom I spend my holidays had a mother who could not vote in the first election of her daughter’s life.  I find this unfathomable.

Never in my life have I questioned my worth when compared to my male counterparts, and I am grateful for that.  Along the way key points of the women’s intelligence dogma missed me.   Somehow I managed to excel in reading and writing AND math and science.  Girls are bad at math and science?  Who knew?  In 3rd or 4th grade I made the gifted and talented program in English, but not in math, which I found unacceptable.  Whatever stipulation the school set I must have accomplished, because I was in both the math and English G&T program from then on.  I scored a perfectly even 650 math and 650 English score on my SAT.  After high school I received scholarship offers for acting and engineering programs, and went the engineering route. My class ratio started at 8 men to every woman, but I never thought I shouldn’t be in an engineering college; I just found it really easy to find a date on Saturday nights.  After getting my degree I went to work for a big management consulting shop and picked the most challenging technical track I could find, without ever thinking if a girl belonged in that role.  Now, 20 years into my career I lead a team that is half women and half men and not a day goes by when I question if one of my male colleagues is better at his job than I am, because they are not.  We may have different skills and strengths, but they are not better.  My husband, as I have mentioned before, has had the same career duration as me and we make exactly the same amount of money.  My life is a symbol of the equality between men and women, and until recently I believed with all my heart and soul that gender equality was a reachable goal for this country.

In 2008 I held my baby girl and marveled that Barack Obama, a black man I voted for after caucusing for Hillary Clinton, was elected as president.  So much social change has been catalyzed during his 8 years in office.  Why shouldn’t the barrier of a female commander in chief be the next to fall?  In my mind it was a foregone conclusion, so I sobbed on Election Day when my dream of celebrating President Hillary Clinton’s win with my little girl evaporated.  How did a highly qualified woman lose to a man who has never served a day in office?  I don’t want my daughter live in a world where boys are just assumed to be better leaders than girls, because I have never lived in that world.  How dare this election destroy my 42 years of proof that men and women can be equal in this country?

Misogynist is being thrown around everywhere and peppers casual conversation in my circles.  Misogyny, according to the old hardback Merriam Webster Dictionary on my desk,  means the hatred of, contempt for, or prejudice against women or girls.  Filled with vitriol the word is spat meaning the first two words, but my fear is that it’s really the third.  Hatred and contempt could be focused on a single candidate or person.  It could mean that Hillary Clinton and her actions kept her from becoming elected.  However, I am terrified that the real problem is that the 48% of voters are actually prejudiced against my gender.  That is a much bigger wall separating women from the presidency, because that isn’t a candidate problem it’s a cultural issue.  My fear is that somehow outside of my bubble lives a country that still thinks women should be seen and not heard, honor their husband and father, and stay barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen.

We still have a chance to have our first woman president before the centennial anniversary of women’s suffrage, but on the eve of this inauguration day that historical occurrence seems unlikely.  Friday I will watch Hillary attend the inauguration as the wife of our former president and worry that I live in a country that doesn’t think a woman can take the oath of office.  I will wonder if my father’s adoration and pride in me over the years would have been enhanced if only I’d been a boy, even though that thought seems impossible: he always seemed so proud of me. But he voted for our new misogynist president and I believe he is excited about the direction our country is going.  Is my own bubble more fragile than I ever imagined?  I will worry that my daughter will have to overcome obstacles that I was lucky enough to avoid through pure dumb luck.  And I will hope that the pace of change has accelerated from the late 1800s and we don’t have to wait 50 more years – the duration between black’s right to vote and women’s right to vote – before this country’s prejudice of women ends.  Will my daughter’s granddaughter be the first woman in my family to have a presidential female role model?  Will that far off progeny finally live in a world that I falsely believed I inhabited; a world where men and women are equally respected and valued?  Time will tell.

Bart the Cat LIVES

Two weeks ago Bart the cat headed back to the shelter.  I was going to be out of town and he had procedures planned:  bandage change followed by cardiology appointment.  He was still very sick when I left him sneezing and bandaged.  My soul hurt not knowing if he was getting better, going to be diagnosed with a fatal heart murmur, or dying from complications due to his other problems.  Right before I left on my trip the shelter called: Bart was doing okay, but couldn’t go to the cardiologist until he was 100% healthy, which he was not.  They mentioned he would likely need foster care again, if I was willing when I got home.

I decided I was willing.  From Washington DC I e-mailed to let the foster folks know I was heading home and could pick Bart up if they needed me.  An emphatic “Yes” was delivered to my inbox.  When I arrived last Tuesday he was bandage free, upper respiratory infection free, but his nose was a bloody mess.  Having had a snotty cold for three weeks his nasal passages were a wreck, so I was told to take him home, get the humidifier on him, and bring him back in a week if his nose stopped bleeding.  Only then could he get his heart murmur evaluated.  (He also can’t be actively bleeding at the cardiologist.)

Poor bloody nose.  Ouch!

Well friends, I’m here to tell you that I might not be the cat grim reaper.  Look at this beauty!  Bandage gone, bloody nose gone, fur free of blood, and Bart  cleans up quite well.  Almost a week of damp kitty humidification action and he looks like a cat that will find a home in no time.

I’m so happy.  This was what my foster experience was supposed to be.  The shelter and I worked in partnership to make Bart well.  I’ll take him back Tuesday night and the cardiologist will evaluate him Wednesday.  If all goes well he could be up for adoption Wednesday night.  This boy could have a new home by Christmas, and I’m actually hopeful for the first time in my foster career.  The best part is that even though he loves my daughter I don’t feel like he’s our family’s cat.  While I’ll be sad when we leave him Tuesday it all worked out the way it was supposed to: Bart was sick, we got him healthy and he and his huge purr will make some family an amazing pet.  I still don’t think that this is the best way for our family to help make the world a better place, but I feel healed knowing that our first litter was bad luck, not some kind of horrible cat curse.

If you are in the Denver area and in search of a new cat, drop me a message.  I can hook you up with a winner.  Mr. Bart will steal your heart away.

Personality Evolution

infp-personality-type-header
Image from 16 Personalities.

People, people, people.  The past few days I’ve been obsessed with personality and character, which is not in my comfort zone.  As someone with a degree in engineering who works with a bunch of computer programmers I have spent my life interacting with other humans (because cyborgs aren’t perfected yet) but not always understanding other people.  In my work space I use personality tests and data to try glean information about those around me.  I’m really fond of the Strength Finder analysis and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).  Oftentimes with those two pieces of data I feel more comfortable knowing those around me.

The one bummer about Myers-Briggs is that it’s ridiculously expensive, and depending on the year my company may or may not foot the bill to let new people take the test.  Well, this week one of my colleagues sent out a link to 16 Personalities.  You get a Myers-Briggs-ish result at the end, with an additional “identity” trait and it’s free! The price point is great, and there is an added benefit of a really spectacular website design.  In about 10 minutes I’d answered all the questions and got my result: INFP-A, The Mediator.

Reading through the results they seemed as accurate as any of those test are, but the F shocked me.  My entire life I’ve been a thinker (T), not a feeler (F).  (The third letter is either thinking or feeling.)  When I first took Myers Briggs in 1999 I was an INTJ (Introversion, Intuition, Thinking, Judging.)  From the MTBI website:

INTJ:  Have original minds and great drive for implementing their ideas and achieving their goals. Quickly see patterns in external events and develop long-range explanatory perspectives. When committed, organize a job and carry it through. Skeptical and independent, have high standards of competence and performance – for themselves and others.

About 10 years ago I took the test again, and had shifted slightly.  My structure, or how I deal with the outside word, had changed from Judging (J) to Perceiving (P).  I went from being settled and organized to being more flexible and spontaneous.  I was always on the borderline there, neither a strong J or P, so the switch didn’t really surprise me.  Also, my husband is a pretty strong J, so I think I naturally needed to provide some flexibility in our family unit.

The rest of my traits have always been pretty cemented.  I am a pretty strong introvert (I), I love interpreting information (N) and when I make decisions I am logical (T).  For example, I used a spreadsheet and a formula to name my daughter: happy to send you a copy if you want to try it out.  When I need to make decisions I take squishy ideas and turn them into hard numbers, then evaluate those numbers to make sure that I’m not just making a decision on a whim.  I was confident those three character traits defined me, until now.

This new test has me at 59% feeling, so not really even borderline.  The 16 Personality site says,

Feeling individuals are sensitive and emotionally expressive. They are more empathic and less competitive than Thinking types, and focus on social harmony and cooperation.

Okay, well I am still not sensitive and emotionally expressive, but the rest of the definition seems pretty spot on.  I am regularly commended at work for not needing to get credit for my work and collaborating.  My team is built on maximizing everyone’s strengths and acknowledging that we all bring very different but important skills to our work.  I, as the manager and client liaison, am not more important than our programmers, analysts, testers, or system administrators.  We all provide critical pieces to our work in different ways.  Similarly, as a parent I’m the one who listens to the woes of third grade and says, “Man, that sounds so hard.  I’m sorry you had to go through that.”  My husband, a T, has a million suggestions for every conflict.

So I’ve had this new personality suit I’ve been wearing around all weekend to see how it fits.  For highly-self aware people I’m sure that news like this isn’t even news, but for me having a new definition of who Johanna Levene is will take some adjusting.  I’ll continue to dig through my results, and compare it to my husband’s and my kiddo’s to better understand our family dynamics.  As people at work take the test and share their results I’ll figure out if that changes the needs and work of our team.  I’m also going to research if the differences between MTBI and 16 Personalities to see if may there is a difference in methodology.

All that said, I did have a moment of clarity with these results, that might help with my whole writing in a closet dilemma.  According to the 16 Personalities site, Mediators are led by their interests, and not rewards and punishment.

At their best, these qualities enable Mediators to communicate deeply with others, easily speaking in metaphors and parables, and understanding and creating symbols to share their ideas. Fantasy worlds in particular fascinate Mediators, more than any other personality type. The strength of their visionary communication style lends itself well to creative works, and it comes as no surprise that many famous Mediators are poets, writers and actors.

Oh… well at least that helps explain this insatiable need I’ve had over the past three years to start writing and telling stories.  Because really, this new passion of mine is really incongruent with an INTP/INTJ personality type.  See, eventually my inherent N trait will sort this all out…unless I become an S someday…

If you take the test I’d love to hear your thoughts on your results!

Pets 0; Cars 2.

Yesterday was the Girls on the Run (GOTR) practice 5k, and I volunteered to be a running buddy for my daughter and a group of 16 third and fourth grade girls from her school.  They have been training for months and the final race is Sunday.  Wednesday was a big day.  The first time they would actually run five entire kilometers.  Buddies were needed to ensure that no one was left behind as the sprinters and walkers spread out across the course.

It was a warm fall afternoon and the sun was shining.  I had decorated the sidewalk by the side of our house with chalk hearts, GOTR, and arrows, because our house was on the route.  It was my special surprise.  At school, the coaches met with the excited girls for a few minutes and gave them their matching sunflower yellow shirts to wear.  The parent buddies marveled at the amazing weather while waiting to start running.  After no other parents seemed willing to wrangle the sprinters, I took off with the lead group.  Steps into our run we heard a horrible noise: a thump and then a cry.  One thought crossed my mind as I turned back toward the school and the crosswalk we’d just passed.  A kid got hit by a car.

Relief when I saw a golden dog limping and whimpering it’s way across the street.  There was no blood and no gore just sad sounds and a slow moving animal.  One of the Girls on the Run coaches and a mom ran to help the dog.  My 6 girls and I were the only ones who didn’t witness the dog getting hit.  We paused and the kids asked hard questions like, “Will the dog be okay?” and “Will the dog die?” and I said, “I don’t know.”  In no time the singlemindness of 8 and 9 year-olds took over and the runners started again, so I went with them.  After all, we were there to run.

There was no hysteria.  There weren’t even any tears, but each intersection I stopped traffic – the sound of car hitting flesh fresh in my mind – and girls passed me talking to each other. “That dog reminded me of my dog.”  “My mom was crying.”  “Do you think it is dead?”  “I would be sad if it was a cat.”  The conversations continued throughout the run and after we celebrated our accomplishment the dog news was relayed to moms, dads, teachers and siblings.  The coach who stayed with the dog told her story.  The owners were called, but not contacted and a nice neighbor took the dog to the vet in his truck.  “Will the dog be okay?” the girls asked.  “I don’t know.”


 

Today is my work from home day, and I watched our new backyard cat stalk mice, our chickens, and investigate our maple tree.  My house cats dart from window to window not growling but fascinated by the cat that’s outside.  How did she get there and why isn’t anyone making her go back inside?  She’s not our cat, and she isn’t friendly, but chicken bring mice and I’ve been happy to see her hunting the past couple of weeks.  It’s been a few years since Mark the cat stopped coming around and since I’d watched his muzzle and then coat turn from orange to white I assumed he’d passed on.  He used to leave us mouse presents on our front stoop and while the baby  mouse piles were disturbing, I was glad he kept the pest population down.

After picking up my daughter from school I watched the grey cat prowl around our yard.  When she disappeared behind a tree I went back to the basement to finish my work day.  I glanced out the egress window and there she was, her sleek grey fur gleaming and golden eyes staring at a rodent or bug just beyond the edge of the window where I couldn’t see and she couldn’t reach.  I called to my daughter, “Come see the new cat.”  My cats each stretched into the window screen and our family examined her.  My daughter cooed, “Hi cat.”  The huntress didn’t waver from her prey.  Suddenly her focus broke and she glanced down at us before leaping into the front yard.  We all went back to watching TV, typing, or napping in our cat bed.

Fifteen minutes later I heard my husband come in the front door.  He thudded around upstairs and tromp tromp tromped down the stairs.  He greeted my daughter who ignored him in favor of her show.  He stood by me and said quietly, “You know that grey cat that’s been around.  I think she got hit by a car.  I saw someone stop and pick up her body from the middle of the road.  She’s lying in the yard across the street.  She’s not moving.   She’s definitely dead.”

“I just saw her.  She’s been around all day.”  Back upstairs I stared out the kitchen window at an unmoving pile of familiar grey fur sprawled in our neighbor’s yard.  Her positioning and stillness left no room to wonder if she was going to make it.  Her body was right across from the colorful hearts and arrows I’d drawn.  Our new outside cat wasn’t going to help manage the rodent population anymore.

My husband pointed to the white car with blinking hazards, “That was the person moving her.  I hope they are calling someone.  Did she have tags?”  I didn’t remember.

Numbed I went back to my computer and when my daughter asked what was going on I said, “I don’t want to tell you.”  I kept working and my daughter went upstairs to find her dad. I held myself together until her little arms wrapped around my neck and she said, “I’m so sorry mom.”  Only then did I cry.  I cried for the pets, for the owners, for the kids that witnessed a car hit a dog on what was supposed to be a magical day, and for my daughter who would have been “sad if it was a cat” the day before.  When I was done, she sobbed.  “Mom, animals do so much for us.  Why do we run them over?” All I could say was, “I don’t know, kiddo.”

I glimpsed the grey cat’s body across the street while I made dinner.  When I noticed my daughter crying while staring out the window I paused.  We hugged and she moved on. When dinner was finished I looked and even in the dark I could see that the remains of the outside cat were gone.   “Mom, do you think an animal got her, or did her owners find her?”

“I don’t know.”

The Third Day of Third Grade

I watch you.  I watch you watch them.  The pair labeled your “best friends”and the other one.  They laugh and touch and a little girl gravitational force pulls them together as it repels you.

I watch you.  I watch the jealousy and anger coil up inside you and I hope that it finds release before you snap inappropriately.  You stare unblinkingly with your ice blue eyes and the look is pure hurt because you are left out.

I watch you.  I watch as your new friend, “Well maybe friend,” you’ve said, “but not yet” walks up to you and you don’t even acknowledge her presence.  I talk to her and compliment her sweatshirt and make pleasantries, which you should be doing, but you don’t because you can’t stop staring across the blacktop as your best friends and the other laugh at something.  They are too far away, so we cannot hear what they laugh at, but we can see they are having fun without you.

I watch you.  I watch as the second maybe new friend walks up and you ignore her too.  Opportunities surround you but you can’t see them because you want to be over there with them in their class.  You want the comfort of last year.  You want familiar.  You want to be inside the threesome again and not stuck outside looking in.  The two maybe new friends stand silently ignored and you continue fester until you turn and say, “I told you I’m not popular anymore.”

I want to hurl idiotic phrases at you.  You catch more flies with honey.  Life isn’t fair.  Make new friends, but keep the old.  I want to stop your stare and refocus it on the sweet kids around you.  I want to plaster over your hurt and wounded heart and tell you it will be okay, but I don’t do any of that.  It might not be okay.  You might lash out at your old friends and miss the opportunity for new friends.  You might lose them all.  I wish for a tree to sprout between your class’s line and the other class’s line so that you don’t have to see them having fun without you.  I know it might be a long and lonely year.

I think of Rachel and Stacy 34 years ago on my playground.  I remember wishing for what they had: for the heads close together and the whispers and hand games and true friendship and wondering, “How do they do that?”  I remember longing for what they had, but never finding it.  I watch you and hope the hurt of my third grade isn’t repeated in the next generation with a different pain of loss instead of longing.

I watch you and feel the agony of a mother’s anguish.  I watch you and hope it will be okay.

The bell rings and the pain of everything makes reach for a hug and kiss, needing to be loved too much to remember I’m embarrassing.  I pour my heart into you, because you are loved and you are amazing and you can do this, and then we part.  I watch you.  I watch you walk away alone.

 

 

Kiddo Travel Hacks – Kid Phase

img_3867

Now that my daughter is a rational, reasonable, logical human being (mostly) I love traveling with her.  Her bodily fluids stay inside of her (mostly.)  She’s helpful at the airport (mostly.)  Her eyes see wonders that a solo traveling adult would miss.  We wait to watch the airplane drive under us on the walkway to the terminal.  (Yes, airplanes drive under walkways sometimes.)  She notices a friend at a neighboring gate, and we have a lovely conversation that I would have missed with my head down in my electronic device. I’m an observant traveler, but she really makes me be present.

My absolute favorite trick to traveling with kids is a game I made up on the spur of the moment.  It works for any kid who can count to at least 20.  The day the game was invented we checked our bags and headed toward the security line (cue ominous music).  In one of the mysteries-of-TSA moments the line was long.  So long.  Longer than the line had any business being.  All around me adults were “F-ing security!” and “F- you, why didn’t we leave sooner?” and “F- I’m going to miss my flight!”  In response to my rising panic that my kiddo would hear these angry adults, inspiration hit and I said, “Kiddo, how many big steps do you think it will take to get through this line?”

We started counting big steps.  “Mom, how many do you have?  12?  I have 23.”  I watched as she took an extra big step and stood too close to the person in front of us.  She nodded and said, “24.”  We made it through one wiggle – a phrase coined during the game development which means one length of the barricade wrapped line – and after she tallied our steps she proudly announced, “I’m winning!”  Of course because she has smaller legs it took her more big steps to travel a wiggle so she won.  Silly grown-up me had assumed we were trying to get the least number of steps in per wiggle.  Any game my daughter always wins is a great one, especially in an aggravation filled place like the airport.

Now we play the giant steps game through security.  We play it down the jet way.  We play it wherever there is a line where adults are acting like children who need to have their mouths washed out with soap.  She always wins.  It’s worked for five years, this giant step game.  This year, at 8, she was a bit more shy and afraid of what people would think of our game so we played, but quietly, and she still won.

The other upside of this game is that we almost always attract the attention of someone else who is just trying to make the best of a crappy situation.  We’ll get a smile or a nod, and it makes me happy being goofy with my kid and making others a little happier with our silly game.  The downside of this game?  I abhor long lines at airports when I’m not with her.  It’s all I can do to keep from challenging the angry “F-ing” guy next to me – “Hey, jerk-o, which one of us do you think can take more giant steps through this line?”  Wonder how that would turn out?


The final in a series of Kiddo Travel Hacks where I share my best advice for not just surviving, but enjoying travels with kids.  Also check out the infant phase and toddler phase posts for other tips and tricks.

Kiddo Travel Hacks – Toddler Phase

IMG_0586

Traveling with an infant is uncertain and scary, and traveling with a toddler is just like that, but louder and more mobile.  There’s less screaming for no reason and more, “Want down now!  Now!  Now!” followed by the toddler death screech.  These are the children holding their parents hands walking up and down and up and down the aisle whenever the fasten seat belt light is off.  In my opinion, toddlers are the hardest travel companions.

Melissa, from Parenthood and Passports echoed my thoughts in her comments on my infant post, “The infant days were much easier than the toddler days, I have come to realize.”  She’s so right! (Check out her site if you travel with kids or travel at all!  It’s a fun read.)

How do you travel with a toddler and keep your sanity?  Let’s start with the no/low-cost suggestions:

Talk about the airport ahead of time

Make your toddler aware of the whole flying process.  Talk about the security lines and sending the suitcase off when you check it.  Explain where all their stuff is going, so you can remind them as you go through the process.  “Now remember, this is when blankie goes in your bag and through the x-ray.  Then we’ll go under the bridge.  First you, then Mommy next.”

Make flying an adventure

If you grouch and gripe it doesn’t help, but the airport is filled with amazing things. Notice them with your toddler.  “Don’t the security policemen have cool blue uniforms?”  “You are so special!  You don’t have to take your shoes off!”  “Do you see our bags going on the plane yet?”

Make others like your kid before they become obnoxious

Teach your kid the three rules of flying before you go, repeating them over and over.

  1. You MUST stay in your seat when the seatbelt light is on.
  2. You MUST NOT kick the seat in front of you.
  3. You CANNOT smoke when the no-smoking light is on.

Have your kid repeat these rules as soon as you get on the plane.   Point the lights out.  Explain what the seatbelt rule is and that it is not your rule, it is the plane’s rule.  It won’t end the “I WANT TO GET UP!” tantrum, but it will provide a way to explain without it being your fault.  Also, fellow passengers will appreciate hearing that if their seat starts being kicked endlessly by little feet you are their ally.  The smoking thing is just funny.  Trust me, a three-year old saying the third rule is “No smoking!” is hysterical.

Finally, teach your kid that take-off is called “blast-off.”  Nothing is cuter than a tiny voice shouting, “Mommy?!?!  Is this the blast off?!?!”  Your kid is adorable.  All toddlers are.  (If kids came out at 18 months old and potty trained I’d have a dozen.)  Let their cuteness shine through before it gets tarnished by hours in the plane.

Bring familiar foods and treats

You love the chance to try exotic foods prepared in local styles when you travel.  Your toddler does not.  On the plane bring their favorite cup, and fill it with their favorite drink after you get through security.  Bring bags of their favorite foods.  Slip in a treat or two that they don’t often get to eat.  My kiddo was a pacifier blankie loving toddler, so she got her pacifier and blanket the entire flight.  She also had a sippy cup of juice, sliced apples, and goldfish.  When she wanted a treat she got a ring pop: the pacifier in lollipop form.  Throw away your rotting teeth and nutritious food worries for the duration of the flight.  Make it a comfortable, special smorgasbord.

IMG_9242

Now, if you are lucky enough to have a little extra money to spend there are some higher cost things you can do to make your trip more enjoyable.

Devices and television are your friend

Sure, if you are lucky, your toddler will fall asleep when the plane takes off, but if you aren’t lucky it’s okay to ruin their brains with TV on a phone or tablet while they rot their teeth with treats.  It’s a vacation!  Fun fun!  Also, sometimes there are built-in televisions on a plane that cost a bit to purchase.  Trust me, if you only buy one TV, it’s better to get Disney and Nickelodeon for your kid than HGTV for yourself. Invest in some over the head folding headphones for your toddler.  They won’t be able to keep the earbuds in their ears, and you risk a “I CAN’T HEAR!” tantrum.

Get them their own seat

I know travel can be expensive but if you are traveling solo with your toddler it helps to have an extra seat and an extra under the seat.  I used to travel with my daughter’s carseat because her seat was a familiar space for her.  Also, she was a great car sleeper, and often that translated to a plane sleeper if she was in her own seat.  From a safety perspective, it was easier to ensure she was belted in if she was in her carseat.  That said, try hauling your gear, your kid’s gear, your kid and a carseat sometime.  I had wheels I could put on my carseat, but I have vivid memories of me wearing a backpack, pulling my roller bag – with her bag strapped to it – and carseat on wheels while balancing my daughter on my shoulders walking out of baggage claim.  I swear, I must have grown two extra arms to pull that off.

One thing to know, if you do travel with a carseat make sure it is approved for flight by the FAA and that you put the seat in a window seat.  Those two steps will save you embarrassment and the attention of angry flight attendants.

Pay for stretch seating

If you don’t splurge for the extra seat, try splurging for extra legroom.  My daughter spent many hours on the floor of the plane playing between my feet.  Yes, it is filthy.  Yes, you risk the little one eating some random dropped food.  Yes, it’s amazing to get your child off your lap and get a little space during a long flight.

There is one thing you must do if you are traveling with a toddler, and it will cost you nothing.

Rely on the kindness of strangers

People will be jerks and mutter nasty things under their breath.  People will recline their seats so your kid can’t see the TV.  You can get yourself all bent out of shape, or you can look for the kind smile from the lady across the aisle who has been in your seat.  You can marvel over the car rental person who, when you were returning your car, noticed the toddler in the back and says, “Get in the passenger seat, I’ll drive you to departures.”  There will be an uppity business man who talks Dinosaur Train with your kiddo the third time she launches Buddy at his head.  Turns out he’s a dad under that suit.  I remember the awful flight to Orlando in generalities, but six years later I remember the specifics of the people who were wonderful to me and my challenging, adorable, loud toddler.


The second in a series of Kiddo Travel Hacks where I share my best advice for not just surviving, but enjoying travels with kids.

Kiddo Travel Hacks – Infant Phase

img_3867

I love traveling with my daughter.  She’s at an age where she understands that the pain of the drive, the airport, and the lines is more than worth the adventure at the other end.  That said, I remember preparing for infant trips with a pit in my stomach.

She took her first flight when she was a few days shy of six months old.  My husband’s dear aunt was supposed to come visit us, but instead of flying she was doing another round of chemo.  Her cancer was back, but I desperately wanted her to meet her grand-niece.  “No problem,” I said, “We’ll come to you.”  Brave words, but the idea of flying with an infant was terrifying.  On the plane there is so much stuff to bring and so little control over her.  Who hasn’t wanted to rip their ears off because of an infant screaming during an entire plane ride?  Did I want to be that mom with that kid?  While I knew most problems could be solved by baring my breast and feeding her I was not confident nursing in public, so I came up with a backup plan.

My brother-in-law was traveling with us.  Rather than sit with our family, I asked if he would sit in the row in front of us.  Then I made my request.  “If she starts screaming, will you please stand up and start berating me?  Loudly?”  He looked at me with surprise and I justified, “See, I can’t handle some stranger going off on me, but if you preempt it and just start telling me to ‘shut your damn kid up’ and that I’m ‘a terrible mother’ you might circumvent others yelling at me.”

All of my in-laws think I’m crazy, and I did nothing to change my brother-in-law’s mind that day, but he agreed.  I boarded the plane confident that the worst I would have to endure was a baby crying and my brother-in-law acting like a maniac.  I could handle that.  I was armed with bottles, pacifier, diapers, changes of clothes, toys, and digital devices to keep her happy, but if those didn’t work I was also armed with a plan to keep the meanies away.  As usual, when you’ve planned every contingency, the flight was easy.  My daughter fell asleep drinking her bottle as we took off and woke up as we were landing.

When traveling with an infant, figure out what scares you the most, and make a plan to deal with that.  Puke?  Pack two changes of clothes.  Poop?  Do the same.  Germs?  Bring a bag full of 3 oz bottles of hand sanitizer.  Mean people?  Bring your own meaner person.  Travel with an infant is a total wildcard, so do what you can to address your own fears.  If you are calm, you’ll be able to better deal with whatever surprises come your way.


The first in a series of Kiddo Travel Hacks where I share my best advice for not just surviving, but enjoying travels with kids.