I’m Sorry, We Don’t Do High-Fives

Due to a series of twists and turns in my early twenties, I found myself residing in sunny San Diego. For five years, I regularly watched the sunset over the Pacific, kept the windows of my pumpin’ ’85 Nissan Sentra rolled down in the middle of winter, and fell deeply, wholeheartedly in love with sushi. But living in paradise comes with a cost. And my trade-off was enduring the annoying, steady stream of high-fives.

The high-five has a brief, understudied, but witty history. I won’t go into details here, but if you’ve got too much time on your hands, as I apparently do, check out this or this for your high-five education.

I’m not an athlete, and I was never in a club with a secret handshake. I never grew up in a family that said “Dude, that was totally AWEsome!” after a proud moment. We simply weren’t the high-fivin’ kind. But certainly even I could understand a victory high-five after a half-court shot that wins the game. Or a good-natured high-five when a friend shares some great news. 

Yet I had embedded myself into the land where a hand is lifted no matter what the celebration. People raised their hands up like a free-for-all. For good, not great, news. For the decision to purchase another beer. “Dude…!” Anytime I said something funny. “Dude….!” And I stood out as a fairly funny person in those parts. So I don’t think I got through an entire conversation in that town without having to slap a hand, if not several times. Some of my acquaintances should have just propped up their hand in an automatic high-five position, because it was as constant as a laugh track in a bad sitcom.

Yes, I grew weary of the high-five. I am guilty of leaving people hanging. My friends who knew me well, knew not to high-five me and enjoyed watching my looks of discomfort if cornered by a particularly eager high-fiver. I even reached a point where I risked being a flat-out bitch by either ignoring the palm that faced me, waiting for my smack, or by waving it away and muttering, “Ugh…no high fives”.  

Alas, parenthood finds me revisiting my old ghosts and I must comply with the social pressure to high-five again. Through other adult and peer influences, my son is receiving and expecting props after sports-related and other victories. I know the high-five, or derivative thereof, is the cultural norm, particularly for the male species. (Unless you live in San Diego, where it’s frequency is shared lovingly between the genders). Learning to high-five is a rite of passage for little dudes everywhere. What kind of mother would I be sending him off to school without any practice? Or to teach him and his little friends that in this family, we don’t do high-fives, because his mother had some bad experiences in the San Diego bar scene.

It seems there is no escape. So my plan is to bring back the low-five. Whatever happened to the low-five? Its much more subtle, can be done quietly and gracefully, keeping the hands at waist level or even lower, rather than the fanfare of flashing your hand close to or above your head, calling attention to your eager face. Flapping in a breeze of painful embarrassment if left hanging. Don’t leave me hanging….

Yes, if all goes according to my plan, a new generation of fresh victories will be celebrated with the much cooler, calmer low-five. It’s like a whisper….Dude.

Reading Lessons

The Big Shop is a long, drawn-out process that entails buying items up and down every aisle of the grocery store because you are down to one can of garbanzos and some frozen rhubarb at home. The Big Shop with a five-year old involves time, patience, a positive attitude and a baggie full of snacks.

Today I was upbeat and headache-free, so the Big Shop was moving along successfully. As we debated whether or not to splurge on a luxury cheese, I glanced over at the deli and saw a young Goth guy wearing a black t-shirt with red blood dripping letters that read: “F**K THE WORLD AND F**K YOU TOO”. Except on his shirt, the asterisks weren’t there.  

Really? F**k ME too? Nice. And the afternoon had been so pleasant. Now THIS guy is mad at me, and all I wanted was a little queso manchego.

Now I’m fairly liberal when it comes to freedom of speech. And there have been days, okay, maybe a good year or so in my life when I would have worn that t-shirt myself with a snarl on my face. I used to wear all black when I was angry at the world too. Little extra eyeliner, ooh, that’ll show ‘em. I could never pull off the Goth look completely though, because my underlying perky interior would eventually seep through even the thickest layers of sulk. Despite my failed attempts at living on the fringe, I always secretly found these dark and foreboding characters to be somewhat intriguing.

But today the attire of this angst-ridden youth just pissed me off. Not because I’m shocked by the F-word, I use it all the time. I just don’t use it around my kid. Today, my opinion of angry slogans advertised on t-shirts has changed. Because today, I am also the parent of a kid who is learning to read.

This is a really cool thing to watch unfold, Quinn learning to read. He’s putting in a solid effort and I can almost hear the synapses firing as he sounds out a word. When he does so successfully, his whole face lights up. He’s so proud of himself.

I don’t want him to learn the F-word.

I don’t want him to learn to read, “F**K YOU TOO”, on a stranger’s shirt. That pseudo-anger against the world shouldn’t include my son. 

But someday he will. I did. So I can’t control that. I can’t control that someone else’s kid will decide to throw that t-shirt on so he can stick it to the man during his Thursday afternoon jaunt to the grocery store.

I would like to think that my little guy won’t grow up wanting to f**k the world. Who knows, someday I may find myself desperately trying to talk him out of buying an equally angry t-shirt.

But you can be damn sure that it will meet with an unfortunate laundering accident before our next Big Shop.       

Eat, Pray, Whine

 My husband and I just returned from a couple’s mini-version of Eat, Pray, Love. We had cashed in on a couple of gift certificates we received this Christmas, and took a much-needed reprieve from parenthood and the hell that has been this winter. We rested well knowing Little Man was spending the weekend with our most trustworthy babysitters, Grandma and Grandpa C.

The weekend was bliss. We caught up with some wonderful friends in their new home and discussed paint swatches, art, Buddhism, sex, real estate, and Sarah Silverman episodes. I browsed in boutiques for hours without uttering the words, “Don’t touch!” We took a long walk to the beach, yes, the beach (it was a downright balmy 30 degrees) of Lake Michigan where I proved to my winter-weary New Mexican husband that Wisconsin CAN be pretty in February. We had massages, meditation, and delicious meals, one at this restaurant that borderlined on a sexual experience. Yes, it was a weekend where the shoulders finally drop away from the ears, all of the senses get some play time, and the left and right brain are in balance. Surely this retreat would get me through the rest of winter.

It didn’t even get me through 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, which found us in my mother’s living room staring blankly while our extremely loud son shook Grandpa’s bald head back and forth like a cat toy. By 11:00, my shoulders had crept up to my earlobes and I was crabby as hell. Why couldn’t those fleeting hours of serenity transfer into my daily routine, thus creating Zen Mom for at least two days this week? 

They say it takes at least 48 hours of vacation for us to significantly relax. By the time we were getting used to that foreign feeling, we were back on duty. I didn’t even get a chance to miss my son. So I sulked. We didn’t gently ease back into reality, it was thrown back in our faces like a cream pie.

This Monday morning started at 3:00 a.m. with my son whining to come into our bed. I was initially tender, but after hearing him drone, “Mo-ooom” in fifteen minute intervals from 3:15 until 4:30, I bristled hard. I plucked him out of his bed, put him into ours with a “There, are you happy?” and stomped out to make coffee. My solace in thinking that I would now have a couple of quiet hours to write and breathe was completely shattered at 5:00 when I saw his little duck fuzz head poke upstairs, ready to start the day. Sigh.

The next hour of the morning was spent trying to outpout my husband, because whoever is the crabbiest usually gets temporary amnesty from parenting. Jeff is getting sick and is facing yet another ass-clenching drive in newly promised snow. He accused me of spending the morning blogging angrily about my family. And what’s the use of a relaxing weekend if I’m only going to focus on the negative of returning home? He won, because in observing his foul mood, I was no longer irritable with mine.  

I am not angry with my family. Anger, for me, is based on intelligent observation of injustice or wrongdoing and can last a long, long time. I am crabby. Crabbiness is based on the scientific fact that I’m being a big baby and this usually runs its course in 24 hours. I wanted one more day, dammit, okay, maybe two. No fair. But that’s not reality, so after I take a few more moments to whine, those mental epiphanies I had this weekend WILL start to seep into my daily routine. One of those being that I AM happy to return to the home I have. And yes, writing a blog will actually help, as its proving to be a most effective form of short-term therapy for me.

See, I do love my job, more than any other occupation I’ve had. I am grateful that I can keep this job. But I need breaks. And like any job, when I’m in a bad mood, my co-workers are affected. Unfortunately, in this work place they take my moods a little more personally. ‘Cause when Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. So there’s a lot of pressure to shake off those cranky moods fast. And I don’t get the 45-minute commute to do it, I hit the ground running, crabby or not. Like anyone, I should be allowed a few miserable Monday mornings, especially after an idyllic weekend.

The weekend away was truly worth the bumpy transition home. If I didn’t have my occasional escapes, I wouldn’t be a healthy wife or mother. But if I weren’t a wife or mother, my escapes wouldn’t be very healthy. I need both to fully enjoy what the other has to offer. 

How’s that for balanced thought on a Monday morning? Thank God those Advil kicked in.               

Taking Candy From Babies

The woman at the drive-thru bank window smiles and winks when she pushes back my deposit receipt accompanied by a Dum Dum sucker. I thank her, sigh heavily and toss it into the passenger seat, bracing myself for the round of justifications from Quinn as to why he SHOULD have that sucker at 8:30 a.m.

Oh come on, you think, poor kid, just one little treat’s not going to hurt…

Um, yes it will. Refined sugar is one of the most harmful foods consumed today. It has no nutritional value. My son’s little body will borrow nutrients like calcium, sodium, potassium, and magnesium, from healthier parts to metabolize the sugar. It will rot his teeth and gums. It can make him prone to diabetes and hypoglycemia. His brain could be robbed of B vitamins that are linked to mood stability. And although it may not be the primary cause of ADHD or childhood obesity, sugar doesn’t help. It does hurt.  

And its never one little treat. It’s an inundation of sugar that floods us every time we go to the bank, the grocery store, gymnastics class, preschool, and other people’s homes. Those nice folk plead with soft eyes, “Do you mind…?” Yeah, I mind. If I allowed my son to eat all the candy offered to him, he wouldn’t have a tooth left to gum the next gummy bear. 

Before I rant further, I will share a little family history. I come from a long line of overeaters. Binge eaters who sneak-eat junk food so their loved ones don’t know how much junk goes in. Right now, someone we love dearly has been literally eating herself to death. She is not the only one; she is just the one with frequent visitor miles at the local hospital. We have a plethora of food issues on our family menu, with all the side dishes of depression and guilt that accompany the meal deal. Diabetes, heart disease, addictive personalities, and obesity run strong and hard on both sides of the family. And they are now finding that nature, not nurture, is the strongest indicator for childhood obesity. The genetic odds are stacked against my child. Thus, my anger and motivation for change.

I can’t just slip on a pair of skinny genes, so I control my environment. I try to make conscious, healthy food choices every day, every meal. Although I come across as “holier-than-thou” these days when I talk kids and nutrition, I will always struggle with food. I love it. I love treats. This Valentine’s Day saw a gross amount of junk in the Johnson household. I was snowbound and hormonally imbalanced so I sucked in chocolates and frosted cookies like a black hole. When I allow myself to indulge, I am way more likely to allow Quinn to do the same. Part of me still believes that makes me a Fun Mom.

Despite the casualties of the Valentine’s Day Battle, I am winning the war. I have maintained a healthy weight and diet for years. I weigh less than I did on my wedding day. I brag, because I am proud that I have broken a dangerous cycle. Being pregnant turned my yo-yo resolve to eat right into a nine-month habit. The habit turned into a lifestyle. I don’t want to see Quinn struggle with food like my family has. I am teaching him that we moderate indulgences, we enjoy healthy selections, and that rewards aren’t always edible. My shining moments come when he throws uneaten Halloween candy into the garbage, or bites into a store-bought cookie and says “Yuck, it tastes like chemicals”.

But in our society, “treat” means “sweet”. We reward with sugar. Good job buddy! Let’s go out for a hot fudge sundae. Ooh, good girl went poopy in the toilet! Have a piece of candy! Oh, look how nice you sit strapped in your car seat at the bank drive-thru! Here’s a Dum Dum. Our kids learn to expect candy for good grades, taking a shit, even sitting quietly. If it’s constantly available, is it still a “treat”? No, it’s a given. Sugar carries emotional value. Sugar IS love. Our Grammy is famous for “givin’ sugar” to her grandbabies in more ways than one. That is how many in her generation demonstrate love. I have learned not to confront this strong Southern matriarch because, well, I’m a little scared of Grammy. I quiet my crusade to keep the peace with friends or out of respect for my elders. Especially when they are bigger than me, and from Texas.

But in this societal context, I am the villain. And it pisses me off that strangers AND loved ones continue to put me in the role of the bitch who says, “No” all the time. There is social pressure to not snub the generous offer. I am the butt of jokes and sarcastic jabs among my relatives due to my “alternative” choices. I am the ogre who won’t let her deprived child have just one more, teeny treat. Those who sneak high fructose corn syrup laced with mysterious chemicals into my son’s mouth behind my back are his unsung heroes. They have relieved his abysmal withdrawals caused by his evil mother with a little bump of the good stuff in the dark corners of their kitchens. This cookie is our little secret. What’s next, a puff off your cigarette?

Hey, thanks. Thanks for the setback in my uphill battle against genetics, marketing strategies and candy-infested holidays. Thanks for teaching my son to eat treats in secret. Did I mention this is a popular technique utilized by most of my overweight family members? And I really appreciate your letting me know through that disappointed look you shoot at my son that by controlling his sugar intake, I am depriving my son of love.

Let me tell you how I love my son. I keep crap out of the house. We WILL eat it, so I minimize temptation. I bake homemade cookies and granola bars for him so I can use less sugar, add whole wheat flour and cut back on the butter. I know most, if not all, of the ingredients that go into my treats. I take the time to read labels, even on “all natural” and organic products. I give him water and a snack, not a sports drink, when he’s sweating. I say “No” and stand firm when he throws a fit about treats. He eats fruit, sugar that comes with fiber and vitamins. He gets chocolate, but not an entire candy bar in one sitting.

Don’t you worry about my son. I am a firm believer that models based on moderation are more effective than those based on abstinence. He gets his sugar. But the best sugar comes from the snuggles he gets every morning, or from hearing, “Good job, I’m proud of you!” followed by a big hug, or a “let’s do something together”.

I don’t understand why I am the “alternative” and not the norm.

I challenge parents to take some time to bake, to read labels, to research, and to moderate. I challenge them to spend less money on crap and splurge on a quality piece of organic chocolate that is offered sparingly. I challenge caregivers to analyze how much sugar they serve up while they CAN still control what goes into children’s mouths. Like the child riding in a car with a smoker, your child is a captive audience. What damage to them can you prevent?    

And I beg of you; given his genetic history, let Quinn’s parents decide what’s best for Quinn without giving us shit for our decisions. You are not doing my son any favors by offering him treats, and you ARE hurting him. It is not cute. I AM defensive and angry because this is MY son. So stop creating situations where I have to be a bitch to him and I offend you. 

I don’t doubt that parents who feed their kids junk love their kids. I know wonderful parents with smart, happy kids who eat poorly. I do wonder how much smarter they would be on a healthier diet. I challenge these parents to love their kids just a little bit more by cutting the crap.

It’s easy, really, to make changes. It’s easy as, well…taking candy from a baby.       

Hips Don’t Lie

My son was nervous about his kindergarten screening, so I quizzed him on a few pertinent questions. What town do you live in? What is your mom’s name? How many times did you pick your nose behind my back today?

I knew he’d do just fine, he’s a smart cookie. I knew the screener wasn’t going to come out from behind the cubicle with a furrowed brow and pursed lips, shaking her head, “I’m sorry Mrs. Johnson, your son will NOT be allowed to attend THIS school next fall. Perhaps if you would have played Ships Ahoy with him a little longer this morning instead of being so damned determined to fold that laundry….perhaps…”

My little guy skipped out with a huge grin on his face. “I counted, and I had to say colors and letters, and I readed the word ‘this’…” Oh god honey, don’t say “readed”, not in front of the screener….. He skipped to the play room while I discussed the results. 

He is obviously ready for kindergarten. My little soldier went above and beyond the call of duty. They wrote “Wow!” and “Delightful” on his form. His nearly flawless score of 99.5 was only marred by the observation that he didn’t know where his hips were. Hmmm…that’s weird. He knows that. But perhaps under the pressure of these strenuous testing conditions, he may have hesitated…flinched at the rib area…one pause will cost you.

On our walk home I showered him with praise. You are such a smart little guy! I’m very proud of you! See, it wasn’t that scary…you got a 99.5 out of 100!! What does that mean? I went into a quick, age appropriate explanation about scoring and testing procedures, and how he was only a half a point away from a perfect score and….

“Well what question did I get wrong?” Oh no. Why did I go there? Why didn’t I stop at “I’m so proud of you”? Shit.

“Well, they said you didn’t know where your hips were.”

He stopped dead in his tracks and loudly stated, “I DO know where my hips are!” He planted his fists firmly on his skinny little hips.

“Well, maybe she didn’t see you do that. Maybe she saw you point somewhere else?” I launch into probabilities of researcher error…”It doesn’t matter honey, you did such a good job…”

“I put my hands here…on my hips….like this….”

“Oh, well….then you and I know that you got 100, that’s all that matters”

“Let’s go back and tell them I know where my hips are.”

Nice. I would march back to the cubicle with the elephant on it, shove Quinn forward with a “Show ‘em buddy!” and stand back with folded arms, nodding, as he adamantly planted his hands on his hips. “Now you listen here”, I would seethe through my teeth, “obviously there’s been some mistake. This young man KNOWS his hips. Now are we going to give him the RIGHT score this time or is this going to get ugly…?”

No. I’m not that mom. “All that matters is that you did really well, and I’m proud of you. You did really well.”

We walked in silence for about a minute (that’s usually all I get) and he quipped happily, “I can’t believe I got 100!”

“Well, technically you didn’t….but WE know you did.”  Shut up mom, just…shut…up.

“I did! I can’t believe I got 100!”

“I’m very proud of you.”

He repeated “I can’t believe I got 100!” several times this afternoon just to make sure that had been established. He overheard me telling the story to my husband on the phone and yelled from the living room, “I DID GET 100! I KNOW WHERE MY HIPS ARE!”

Quinn has now learned to question his new school, research methods and authority in general. He will start his own kindergarten study group to discuss society’s obsessive focus on hips and its negative impact on childhood development, undoubtedly planting the roots of body dysmorphic disorder.

But let’s get one thing straight. The boy knows where his hips are.    

sweet dreams

The nightlight glows under his junior loft. He is tucked in between Seal and Happy Lion, snuggling deep into the purple sleeping bag….

“I love you more than anything in the world….” I whisper tenderly.

“Mom?” (bolts straight up)

“Yeah…?”

” Do you think I could spin my head completely around?”

“Umm..no…”

“But robots can.”

“Yes, but you’re not a robot…”

“Oh…yeah, right” (lays back down)

 “Sweet dreams, buddy”

“Sweet dreams Mom..”