Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Oh, Benny

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OK.  It’s been almost a month.  I am ready to discuss Benny.  I’ve berated myself enough, had enough days of gratitude for his return, and have forgiven myself (ish) for the utter stupidity and lack of awareness that caused the whole ordeal in the first place. First let me tell you about the very first member of the Smith Household…..
We brought Benny home as a puppy from Staten Island 9 years ago.  From then on, it was a rare occasion that he wasn't seen attached to me in what resembled a baby carrier. Jobs we're turned down if he couldn't join me as the show’s Maltese mascot, and parties were left unattended if he was not welcome.  I even scoffed at those who would warn me of the inevitable change of heart that motherhood would bring.   It was not Benny for whom I was concerned, but the baby.  How could I possibly love him or her as much as Benny?!  Ha!
It is because of our adoration that we were inspired to work with multiple rescue organizations and foster a handful of dogs, much to Benny's chagrin, as he is unaware that he himself is a canine and is terrified of his own kind. Although one of those fosters is now his adopted, one-eyed older brother, Morgan.
They seem to have a mutual “I don’t play, roll around, fetch or snuggle with any other furry creatures” understanding.  They were meant for each other in their aloof, co-existing way.  In fact, although he’ll never admit it, I swear I noticed a worried longing in Morgan’s eye during Benny’s tragic, 2 day disappearance. Where did he go, you ask?  The dog who is petrified of the outside world and would forever stay curled up in the corner of the couch if he had his druthers?
I locked him outside. No.  Not outside in the fenced in back yard, where he certainly would have scratched at the screen door to alert us of his location, but the front yard….no gate, no fence, no protection from the vehicles speeding home from park activities, and most importantly….no collar.
Wow.  But, it gets better.
We, (yes I’m adding my husband to this part) “WE” did not notice he was missing for 4 hours!  At that point, he was nowhere to be found. 10 pm, dinner cleaned up, showers taken, babies sleeping, and one scrappy dog with street cred, peering with a disapproving one-eyed squint that dryly said “I told him this day would come”
I could go on to tell you my list of excuses that may help to soften the image I’ve painted of us as horrible, irresponsible, and uncaring dog owners, but I will not allow myself that luxury.
We spent the next 48 hours searching, hanging signs, knocking on doors, calling shelters and vets, and crying. A lot of crying.  From all of us. My husband and I because of the agonizing worry over not knowing where he was and if he was in distress, and the kids, because they didn't understand why Mommy and Daddy were acting so strange. It was a nightmare of a weekend to say the least, but by the grace of God, Benny was returned to us unharmed!!  The nice teenagers, who returned him 2 days later, said they found him walking around in circles.  That’s our Benny.
Those who knew me pre motherhood most likely recall my attachment to Benny as slightly over the top. Those who have met me since the birth of my son however, have said after meeting him "I didn't know you had a dog?”
So, what I vowed would NEVER happen, happened.  Along with a thousand other things I said I would never do or never become once wearing the Mommy Badge.
In all honestly, it would be impossible for me to keep up the level of attention and doting care for my dog while offering my children the same.  But, I'm wondering if I went too far in the other direction. No, he doesn't need to attend auditions, trips to the grocery store or social events (unless they are in the park). He is in fact a dog. But, he can still curl up in my arms once the children are asleep in their beds, and perhaps I can pay just a smidgen more of attention and do a quick check to see if he is inside before I shut and lock the door at dinnertime.  Surely, there is enough of me left for that.  Don't' you think?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Hangin' With the Ducks

Playful, brisk breezes
Dancing on
Rings of rippling water
Wings flapping overhead
Symphonic swoosh
Feathered creatures
Birds, geese, ducks
Tweeting, honking, quacking
Calls and answers in their communal habitat.

I have about five hours of "free" time per week. Both of our families live on the opposite coast, so there is no dropping the kids off with Mom to run an errand or two.  I get a babysitter that we really can't afford, two days a week for two and a half hours each day. Such a blessing, but never enough time.   Usually I have the best intentions for these limited hours.  I plan to take a yoga class, or a hike, or to just sit in a coffee shop and read.

Well, I can count on one finger how many times in the past 6 months I have actually used this coveted time in such a way. I wind up going to the grocery store, talking on the phone, taking one of the kids to the doctor, or driving aimlessly, wondering what on earth I am doing driving on the traffic jammed highways of Los Angeles with no destination.

Today, although I had many chances to diverge away from my intended path, with 25 other things on my list, I forced myself to take a small 1 hour retreat to a secluded pond, one of the Valley’s best kept secrets.

As I sat and allowed my breath to sweep through dust and cobwebs in neglected places, my mind slowed, my shoulders found respite from my ears, and my soul emerged to shake my hand, almost as if to say "Hey there. Haven't seen you in awhile. Should we start from the beginning?"

As the saying goes, "you must secure your own mask before assisting others". Yes. We all know that. Nothing new. Why then, is it so hard to remember or follow through with?  While it is wonderful to talk to friends with whom we never get to finish sentences, and necessary to prepare meals and run errands, it is just as imperative to be still, and reacquaint ourselves with...ourselves.

So, in answer to a question in my previous post about why some of us as mothers feel insecure at times, I’ll pose another question. How can we be secure with someone we hardly know? Perhaps we just need to reconnect with who we are sans labels... Mom, Wife, Artist, Employee, Boss, Sister, Friend, etc.

If I don't take time to open my arms up to myself, I can't very well open them up to anyone else, can I?  Maybe this would explain my short fuse and lack of patience lately with normal two-year-old behavior.

As mothers, time to do this is limited, if nonexistent, and yet maybe more necessary than for any other. So, as I have been looking for the "Off" switch on the treadmill for quite some time, today it was just a matter of simply stepping off and hanging with the ducks.

Yes, dinner was left unprepared, and voicemails and emails remain unanswered, but thank God for takeout and tomorrows.  What small thing can you do for yourself today to "hang with the ducks"?

After several people alerted me to the fact that they attempted to comment on this blog and were unable, I investigated.  It seems as though "blogger" has been trying to rectify a technical problem with the "embedded comment form".  I have changed the format, hopefully avoiding the issue. I can't tell you how much I appreciate what all of you have to say, and how much I LOVE all of my facebook messages, but if you have attempted to comment here and have been unable, please be so kind as to try again and let me know if you still encounter a problem.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Be as I Strive to Be, Not as I Am

Some women slip into motherhood like it's a 500 dollar pair of Dolce & Gabbana jeans.  They look fabulous and together, even more so than when they were footloose and fancy free.  It suits them in a way that draws out their authentic beauty.  They carry on, baby in tow, emanating confidence and self worth in their new role.  I have met these women, although my time with them is limited because quite frankly, they make me feel bad about myself.

Then, there are those of us who step into it like a gawky 7th grader in a training bra and her mother's 3 inch heals, stumbling awkwardly around our new territory.   I have spoken to 3 other women this week, each of whom shared feelings of being uncomfortable in her own skin post motherhood.  I don't believe any of us were speaking of our mothering capabilities or feelings around our children, but more of our lack of grace in relation to the rest of the world.  For example:

Yesterday’s exchange with the handsome Trader Joe’s Employee-

            Me- Hi! How are you

            Handsome gentleman- Good! How are you?

            Me- Good! How are you? ....(Awkward laugh) Um...where do you keep the toilet paper?

Is there a lost and found box in the labor and delivery ward at Cedars Sinai containing my charm?  

I distinctly recall someone telling me that my 30's would bring confidence and assuredness.  Well, for me this has not yet been the case. And from what I understand, nor has it been for these women whose honesty, not only served to squelch the fear that I am alone, but also inspired this entry.

While I have some ideas about why this might be, I feel I need to clearly formulate them before sharing. But, I find the whole situation troubling, as I know how important it is to instill a strong sense of self in my children. Not only for their emotional well being, but for the promise of their success as contributors to society.  After all, I find that with many successful people, their steadfast belief in their gifts is often stronger than the actual gifts themselves, and the rest of the world is captivated by such convictions.

So, it should be as simple as believing  in my children, telling them I believe in them, encouraging them, and offering constant positive guidance, right?

Check.  Check. Check. And check.

But, I have a sneaking suspicion that, especially when it comes to the most precious values, our children are more likely to mirror us than follow our instruction. In that case, mamma's gonna have to get it together and enroll in some sort of self esteem boot camp!  Must begin daily affirmations tomorrow!!!

"Because I'm good enough…
 I'm smart enough…
 And Doggone it, people like me!" you? Not sure....could you just affirm this every 47 seconds, please?

While I do want to teach Isabelle that I find it more than slightly gluttonous to spend 500 dollars on a pair of jeans, my real goal is that she would wake up every day, no matter what she puts on, feeling like she is dressed in Dolce & Gabbana.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Horse For Dinner

Because dinner time is a delicate balancing act, I never quite know how it’s going to go. Too much snacking and proper food is not desired...not enough and we're past the point of no return.  Yes, I've talked about this before, but trust me, dinner time with toddlers deserves 2 posts...or 10. My husband has shifted his work schedule back one hour to facilitate a family dinner, putting the meal at 6ish. Sounds feasible, right?  However, it is my experience that 5 to 5:30 is the usual window of choice for those that are 3 feet and under, and the drastic mood shift that happens between 5:30 and 5:50 is quite astounding.  Come over. See for yourself...or just come over....and help.... please.
Tonight, in order to keep my son from ripping off his shirt and turning into a large green monster, I pulled out what I like to call the "Song and Tap Dance". It’s always different, this performance, and usually quite entertaining. I was artfully able to hold off the melt down by having him join me in singing:

"I'm so hungry, I could eat a horse!!!
 A horse, a horse, a horse!!!!
Neigh, Neigh Neigh!"

There may or may not have been a triple time step, a tour jete, and a kick line involved.
See, fellow parents?  All you need is a little exuberant creativity, and an evening is saved!! I am so thankful to the Boston Conservatory for my very costly degree in Musical Theatre, to be able to come up with such brilliance. I understand that not everyone has been blessed with such useful training, but please don't fret. I'm here to help.

6 minutes later.....

Dinner is served. The pounded chicken breast, breaded in pureed broccoli and seasoned panko, (painstaking prepared during sacred nap time) is lovingly placed in front of my two year old.

45 seconds later....

Kicking and screaming ensues, a tray containing gourmet food lands on the floor, tears flow, and an almost intelligible plea is bellowed.

 "Horse! I want horse! I eat a horse!!!"

Didn't see that coming.
Due to our lack of edible neighing creatures, my son refused to eat, and went to bed without dinner.

***"I Could Eat A Horse" sheet music and choreography, available upon request.
Send prepaid envelopes to:

Emily Smith's Genius Guide to Parenting
Southern, CA. USA

It will find me.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Go! Go! Go!....Um....Wait......

We've been cheering her on for weeks now. Even her brother joins in. "Go Ellie! You can do it, baby sister!" She is ready to break out of her stationary cocoon and explore the vast world of sloppy dog dishes and power cords! She needs that toy train, just out of reach with such determination, it consumes her tiny voice with a frustrated screech!
We've been on the sidelines of this infantile sport and are eagerly waiting for her to reign victoriously!  We're here to offer a nudge or a tuck of the knees to assist in her endeavors, but this achievement is just for her. The first of many.
Today we step away for only seconds, and return to find her in a completely different location than where she was left. Our little Houdini.  She must have done it! We wait with eager anticipation for her to perform her previously private skill, until at last she graciously allows an audience. With a feisty glimmer of a grin and a concentrated furrow of her brow, she is off!  Under the crib before we can regale her with a standing O!
As I flick a proud tear from my eye and an inappropriately tiny object from her mouth, my euphoria sobers to panic.  A hard pit swelling my stomach.
Oh crap. They're both mobile.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


I received a text yesterday from a friend of mine who just delivered her second baby.  I struggle with text messages because of their lack of intended tone, but every so often, there are those that chime through, jump off the screen and come across loud and clear. This text was of that sort.

She simply said she was losing it. I quickly sent a few responses saying things like "Go easy on yourself. Be patient. You'll figure it out. It gets easier." Bla, bla, bla. None of these statements did much for me in those first few weeks and months, but I was getting dinner on the table and in the middle of my own juggling act.
Our exchange that evening ended with this text that still remains unanswered in my inbox.  It says

"When does it get easier?"
Ok. Now I have to halt, and remember how it feels to need someone to stop and hear you.  It shouldn’t take a huge reach into my memory bank, I believe it was last Thursday.  But, this response deserved some thought and a quiet house with sleeping children.  I love quiet houses with sleeping children. 
So, what do I offer that is both true and encouraging?  Is there a magic month that unlocks a new level of ease?  Is it 6 weeks?  The only special thing that happened for me at 6 weeks postpartum was my hypertension diagnosis.  Maybe 3 months?  6? 9?  I heard all of these markers, and either they came and went with no relief, which only served to heighten my anxiety that I was doing something wrong, or in my current frenetic state, they seemed an eternity away.
I don't think there is a formula for figuring out when it gets easier. There are many factors and every woman's situation is different.  Isabelle is almost 9 months old and I have found about 4 or 5 different lulls that I thought were the top of the mountain only to find myself facing another peak.  But, because I have come to expect them, I feel more equipped to climb them.
So, after some thought, I’ve decided I'm going to answer that text with a phone call offering an ear and assurance that all she is feeling is normal, and a newly defined word, that after many self spoken repetitions, successfully and naturally brought my blood pressure down from the stroke zone.  It is this:
BALANCE – acceptance of the insanity

Because this had such positive effects, I've decided to have more fun with Webster:

Ok, well that first one is all I've got. But, I welcome thoughts from other mothers of older children!  Do these words ever find their way back into our dictionary?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Step up to the Plate!

That glorious season has arrived! It's time to break out our sweaters, and zip up our coats. The air is crisp as leaves float down from the maple trees and form scattered mounds of autumn color, blanketing cool grass.  The aroma of burning firewood dances down cobblestone streets as children carve spooky grins into freshly picked pumpkins. 
Ok. I Iive in Southern California, but I'm certain this is all happening somewhere.
Wherever we may reside, Halloween is upon us! As invitations for scary activities fill our mailbox, I can't help but think of my childhood and how my mother painstakingly handmade each one of our costumes. All 5 of us.  One of these won me a gigantic trophy as I was awarded  "Cutest Costume" in the town of Maine's Halloween Extravaganza!  I'm sure it was televised on TLC. I was in fact the most adorable Strawberry Shortcake you ever did see.
This has me wondering what kind of Mother I strive to be where holidays and events are concerned. I recall my mother pulling all nighters on many occasions, creating her brilliant designs, often with no patterns, mind you. My wedding gown is still talked about, 10 years later. Right out of a magazine.  Exquisite.
So, I have decided that my children deserve that same sense of pride in their one of a kind disguises as they march down the streets alongside fellow trick-or- treaters.  It’s time to step up to the plate.  I am ready, confident and eager to get on the phone, call my mother and ask her to make their costumes. 

My niece and nephew-Halloween 1998
Fire truck courtesy of my Dad
Dalmatian and Fireman costumes - my Mom
Tough shoes to fill