Hard To Say The “F” Word

It’s just a word.

But it’s really offensive to some people.  And by some people, I mean me.

I can’t just throw the F-word out there or use it during any old conversation.  It’s never uttered around strangers, only people I know well.  The F-word is used only for emphasis.  I always cringe when I’ve said it.

So, (deep breath) here I go.

Forty.

There.  I said it.  I’m (gasp) forty.

The F word

The F word

I love when women who are forty find out that you have turned forty.  They say things like “Welcome to the club!” and “What moisturizer are you using now?”  and  “Might as well have fun, we’re into middle age!” (that sentence is usually accompanied by a small sob).  It’s also fun to be with women who are two years away from forty.  They say things like, “It’s not so bad!” and “It’s just a number.”  Of course it is.  They’re not forty.  One of my dear friends likes to tease me and say “So, how’s it feeling these days being forty?”  I love her.  And yet I’ve threatened to kick her in the shins.

I know, I know, forty is the new thirty, fifty is the new forty (28 is still the age cut off for American Idol).

Some people are shocked because I reveal my actual age.  I’m a television anchor, and in that line of work, women usually start pulling their faces upward, injecting laugh lines and get very vague on the number of candles on their cake. Thankfully I don’t work for Entertainment Tonight.  I’m on PBS.  And in PBS years, I’m 25.

I’ve had many months to get used to my forty woman self, but it didn’t really hit me until I saw it in print.  A friend of mine asked me for a quote to go in an article she was writing.  So she got the information and then asked me my age and hometown.  That Sunday I opened up the paper, and there it was.  Christy McDonald, 40.

Yech!  I remember when my parents were forty!  They were old!

I think the problem is, I still haven’t felt the “Ah-ha” moment of embracing my beautiful, forty self.  And that’s the dirty secret of the F-word.  We’re told by every talk show and magazine to love our age and feel empowered by it.  But at the same time we’re force-fed pictures of 40-ish stars who Botox, wax, pluck, air brush and fast their way to a perfectly non-forty appearance.  I don’t see them hanging around on the soccer game sidelines, coordinating car pools, working long hours and teaching children to tie shoes.  Except maybe for Jennifer Garner because she’s always pictured doing those things in People Magazine.

I also find myself wondering what the 40 and over rules are.  Can I still buy something at “Forever 21”?  Do I have to start reading “Good Housekeeping”?  (The headlines are catchy.  I do want a cleaner closet.)  Forty also brings special recognition, like the fact I’m eligible to play on a “40 +” tennis team.   And it brings some kind of adolescent break out on my chin I suddenly acquired two months ago.  My dermatologist said I could thank age, hormones and stress for that.

I say no thanks.

I found this quote from Mark Twain that I guess puts it all together.

“Age is an issue of mind over matter.  If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”

So, I am forty, hear me roar.  Or really, hear me kinda mumble it.  And I better enjoy forty.

Forty-one is coming soon enough.

OMG: The Terrifying Text

My phone chirped while sitting on the kitchen counter.   I had a text message.   Texts are always slightly exciting.  It means someone wants to talk to you right now.  But they don’t really want to talk to you, or they’d call.  But they do want to talk to you sooner than later because they don’t want to send an email and wait for you to randomly check your in-box.

So I had a text.  I clicked on the message bubble and there it was.

“Hi Mom!”

The sender?  My 9-year-old daughter.  Who was in her room.   No, this can’t be happening, I thought.  It was like that scene from a horror flick when the cop says, “We’ve traced the call, it came from inside the house.”photo-20

“Caroline?”  I called.

“Yeah,” she yelled from upstairs.  “Did you get my text?”

Yes, I did.  And it felt like life would never be the same.  There was her name, as the sender.  Instead of my friends, sisters, husband – it was my daughter.  Who let this child have a device that could send messages?

Oh yeah, we did.  It was a decision Jamie and I agonized over.  Most of the kids in school had either a hand-held game device, iPod or iPad (as we realized on special “electronics” days when they could bring them in. That’s a whole other blog).  Caroline had borrowed her cousin’s DS and had shown she could follow rules of use.  She didn’t break it or abuse it.  We felt that she was ready.  I wasn’t sure I was.

So the iPod was a gift for her birthday.  She promptly loaded it with music, “Fruit Ninja” and some American Girl game.   A few weeks later, came the next big question.

“Mom, my friends were wondering if I could text them.  Can I?”

We sat Caroline down and explained that what you write on a device will stay there.  You can’t take it back.  We also tried to explain that written words could be interpreted in different ways when you’re not there to actually say them.  But is it really any different from the phone calls I made to friends when I was in the 3rd grade?  Or the crazy notes I wrote and passed while in class?

With strict (very, very strict) rules in place, she sent her first texts.  They’re pretty harmless (one of the rules? We get to read them.) A lot of “Hi!” and “What did you have for dinner?”  And smiley faces.

I look at her now (ears plugged into her little device) listening and singing along to Taylor Swift  (“Never, everrr, everr getting baaack togethaaa) .  She just learned how to ride a bike! (3 years ago)  She loves Disney Princesses! (4 years ago) She still takes a nap! (no she doesn’t) Where did the time go?  Does this mean I’m older? (yes)

I’ve had babies for so long, that one text finally made me realize, I’m truly done with diapers, cribs and strained peas.  I almost have a tween.

OMG.

Blame It On The Chicken Dance

I sat comfortably in my chair on the other side of the one-way mirror, ready for a good show.  Ten little 3-year-old ballerinas started waving their hands and twirling around.

One did not.

Instead, this little ginger-haired child grabbed the front of her leotard, looked down at the floor and refused to move.

The teacher tried to coax her to join the group.

The wayward ballerina started sidestepping away from the circle, as the rest of the group flapped and wiggled.  Pouty ballerina suddenly caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror.   She frowned.  And then promptly stuck her pointer finger up her nose.

The mothers in the observation room all started to giggle.  Except for me.

Because that was my nose-picking ballerina.  My child was suddenly “that kid” who wouldn’t participate, distracted others and picked their nose.  Yes indeed, a parents’ worst nightmare.  Dreams of the New York City ballet (or a guest starring role on “Dance Moms”) shattered, I excused myself and went into the dance class.

Is her ballet career over?

“Catherine,” I hissed.

She looked over at me. Finger still precariously close to the nose.  I gestured wildly for her to come over to me.  And when she did, her face crumpled and she started to cry.  I wasn’t sure if it was in preparation for a nose-picking reprimand or not.  Then I heard the music.

It was the Chicken Dance.

“Kitty, why won’t you dance?” I asked.

“Because I DON’T KNOW THIS DANCE,” she sobbed.

Suddenly, another ballerina caught wind of the escalating Chicken Dance angst, and she started crying too.  Another mom stormed into the room and I couldn’t even look at her – knowing that my child had started the sympathetic crying syndrome.  (Sympathetic crying: The ritual of crying just because someone else is crying, not because you really feel bad or anything hurts.  Much like the sympathetic wee-wee, which is wanting to go potty just because someone else does)

I was bewildered at her behavior.  This is my third child.  Catherine goes happily to preschool three mornings a week.  She strikes up conversations with strangers.  She can belt out Katy Perry songs on the karaoke machine.  She never met a mirror she didn’t like.

Perhaps it was the goofy, polka beat of the Chicken Dance that cast some kind of scary spell.  The flapping arms and behind shaking can silly.  Believe me, I’ve had some scarring Chicken Dance experiences myself.  And one involved dancing with someone’s old uncle and a few too many Tom Collins.

But for a three year old, the Chicken Dance should be the most amazing fun ever!  Not for my ballerina.  She barely could finish class.  I hoped that next week would be better.

It wasn’t.  She did get through the first fifteen minutes, but it all fell apart again after the Chicken Dance.  Thankfully, no nose picking this time.  I had to bribe/threaten her to stay in class.  And kept repeating, “You’re really having fun!”

We’ll give it one more shot next week.  But perhaps she’s just wise beyond her years.

The Chicken Dance really does stink.

I Threw Out The Mona Lisa

It was the ear shattering shriek heard throughout the house.

“Mooooommmmm!”

It was very close to the “I’m dying” yell and the “I just vomited” yell.

So I ran towards my 6-year-old son’s room.  There he was, in tears and standing over a grocery bag I had just started to fill with trash.

“You’re throwing out my ART?!”  Josh asked in amazement.

The Mona Leprechaun

Yes, in the little garbage bag was a leprechaun mask he made in Kindergarten.  Made from construction paper and held up with a stick.   The ‘ol leprechaun had been buried under a stack of homemade “Go Red Wings” pictures, Lego magazines and “Fly Guy” books on the tiny chair in his room.  Let’s just say leprechaun guy hasn’t been seen from that stack of stuff in about three months, since it came home from school.

And I was on a cleaning binge.  I got that sudden, mysterious and crazy energy to run from room to room and throw out every paper, piece of plastic and string that wasn’t nailed down. And I tackled Josh’s room first.  In terms of collecting random things and refusing to throw them out, (prizes from Dave & Busters, spider rings, old candy)  he’s the worst.

It wasn’t like Mr. Leprechaun was one of only a few works of art he had ever done.  It was project #267 out of #2225.  And if you don’t believe me, you should see his room, which is a shrine to every piece of paper he’s ever written on.  He’ll draw something (it used to be trains, and now its sports scores), go into the kitchen, grab the tape, and put it up on his wall.  Every once in a while I’ll stand in his room and think…. I should take away the tape.

Art Wall

“But I worked hard on that,” he started to cry again.  “Why do you have to throw it out?”

Why?  Because if I held on to every piece of paper he colored, my house would be featured on an episode of Hoarders.

But instantly I felt like the worst mother in the world.  How could you throw out precious pieces of art?  A little person’s expression of creativity? I realized I didn’t know the rule here.  I adore every project my three kids do.  I know it takes them time, creativity and hard work.  (Or one crayon, a few scribbles and ta-da!)  But how long am I supposed to hang on to something?  Should I laminate it all?  Or just throw it out when they’re not looking?

Sigh.

So I pulled the leprechaun mask out of the trash.  He seemed to laugh at me, like “You’re crazy lady. I would have thrown me out too”.   And it’s even more disheveled after spending an hour crunched up in the garbage.  I don’t think you’ll see this craft in the Louvre or the MoMA any time soon.   Fifty years from now, art critics won’t be arguing about the mystery and subtle beauty of the leprechaun.  They won’t print replicas on coffee mugs and t-shirts.  But for Josh, it is proof of his arty talents.  And he is very proud.

I guess DaVinci, Monet and Pollock all had to start somewhere.  I just wonder how many drawings and projects their mothers threw out.

The One Word Parents Never Want To Hear

I opened an email from a good friend last week.  And there it was.  The moment I saw the word, I started breathing heavily and my vision blurred.  I tried to get up and stagger away from the computer, but I felt like I was going to be sick.  And then I started scratching my head like crazy.

Lice.

The Email No One Wants To Get

As in, someone has lice in the second grade.  The same grade my daughter is in.  At the same school.  It’s the one word that just makes me want to run away.  Or as my friend put it – run straight to her liquor cabinet.  I’ve faced down every childhood illness.  Pink eye.  Fevers.  The vomits.  Multiple bee stings.  A smashed toenail.  A spider bite that swelled one eye shut and caused an overnight hospital stay with IV antibiotics.  Intestinal distress. I can handle them.  Or really, I’ve had to handle them because, I have no choice.  That whole mother thing kind of means you’re in charge.

But lice.  Lice could break me.  To confirm my fears, our school sent home an email.  And it’s a subject heading you never want to see: Head Lice Communication.  Yes, lice was spreading like wildfire, jumping from tiny head to tiny head, laying eggs and…. I think I just made myself sick again.  Parents were instructed to bring in trash bags to keep students’ belongings separate.  A friend told me to put my daughter’s hair in braids or a bun to keep it out of the way.  I think we should have locked down the joint like the outer space level 5 hazmat scene from E.T.

And it’s not just my school.  Now that I’ve had my first brush with the l-word, it seems to be everywhere.

At a recent party, one mother confessed to me that her kids got lice this fall.  And then again a few weeks ago.  And it wasn’t just the kids.  She got it too (!).  As I frantically started itching my head, she recounted her trip to the drug store once she made the horrifying discovery.  She slapped down three lice killing shampoos on the counter. And a fifth of vodka.  Then, she told me, she called the Lice Lady.

There is actually a wonderful woman who will come and check your child’s head, bring you lice killing super power shampoo and help you de-louse your house.  Genius!  I’m not sure how much she charges but I think I’d give her my first-born (especially if she’s the one who has lice) to clean it up.  I went to her website which says “Welcome to the Lice Lady!  Sorry you have to be here!”  I love this woman already.  She’s like a first responder, a Lice Marine, running into dangerous situations when others are running away.  She must have a strong stomach and patience for weeping parents who wonder “WHY ME?!”

I took an unscientific poll of mothers (5 friends) which revealed they believe lice is indeed the worst.  One mom disagreed and she’d take lice over the vomits.  I started scratching my head again.  We have so far escaped the Lice bug (knock on nits).  But since we’ve had the stomach flu this past week, perhaps there’s a Vomit Lady out there.

Dear Diary: Keep Out

It didn’t surprise me when my 8-year-old daughter asked for a spiral notebook.

“I want to write stuff down,” she said matter-of-factly.

Dear Diary...

“What stuff?” I asked.

She just looked at me.  And then gestured wildly, “Just STUFF.”

Sigh.  So on the next Target run I brought home a notebook.  Which she promptly turned into:

A DIARY.

Suddenly I felt like I had been sucked back in time and was living in a Judy Blume novel.  Only now I was the mom in the book.

I had a diary in third grade.  It was a hardbound tiny book with Hello Kitty on the front.  I took a label maker and punched a “Keep Out” sticker that I pasted on the cover.  I wrote about all sorts of things like soccer practice, Valentine’s day, my dream crush on Rick Springfield (I sent him my school picture after getting his address from Dynamite Magazine) and my real crush on a boy in my class named S********.  (You think I’m actually going to reveal his name? Please, people.  I still live in the town I grew up in.)  I kept my diary under my bed.  A very safe hiding place, right?  All secrets would be secure.  No one would ever find it there.

Until my older sister did.  The “Keep Out” sticker was apparently not powerful enough.  She read it and then told S****** that I liked him.

HORROR.

How could my sister do that?!  She taunted me for weeks with diary details. It was excruciating.  To this day, all of my sisters make fun of my inventive spelling in the diary.  Like when I spelled “Barbie Clothes” “Baribie Clotneths”.  Ha ha.  Hilarious.  Not upsetting for a child at all.

I now look at my daughter’s pink polka-dotted notebook she drags around the house.  She writes in the family room.  In the basement.  Her bedroom.  I innocently ask what she’s writing and she just smiles.  I get that most girls have a diary.  That’s not the problem.

The problem is, I want to read it.  Badly.  Yes, she needs privacy, blah blah blah.  But I want to read it RIGHTNOW.  I want to get into my daughter’s budding mind.  Her secret thoughts.  I’ve known everything about her since she was born, and all of a sudden a little polka-dotted notebook has trumped me.   It knows the inside scoop.

And it enjoys taunting me.  It sits on her bed, in its hot pink glory.  Not even bothering to hide under the bed.  I could flip open the cover.  What if it dropped off the bed and happened to open up?  What if I was putting it away on her book shelf and a large breeze suddenly blew the pages open?

I’m not sure what I’m hoping to find in that little journal.  What if I didn’t approve of it?  What if (gasp) she wrote about me? Would I say something?  And admit that I violated diary privacy?  Don’t they have an American Girl Doll book that addresses this??

I saw her writing in it tonight.

“So, what do you have in there?”  I ask.  Hoping she’ll share.

“Hmmm, some thoughts just for me,” she says.

I swear that darn polka-dotted book laughed at me.

Thomas the Train Toots No More

On a trip to the basement yesterday, I caught the eye of Thomas the Train.  He still had that goofy, wide-eyed look on his face, but I could tell he was putting up a brave front.  He was laying on his side in a plastic bin, pinned by a wooden track and surrounded by his friends. You know, Percy, Henry, Gordon, Bertie the Bus and many others whose names I just cannot remember.  They were crowded together with 80 feet of track, a roundhouse, railroad signals and a few fake trees.  Usually Thomas and friends are spread out in the play area, ready for another adventure my 5-year-old son Josh has created for them.

Thomas the Train in the bin

But last week, I asked Josh to pack up Thomas and move him for his sister’s birthday party.  That was a week ago.  As I looked at Thomas the Train’s cheeky little face, frozen in the bin, I realized that he may not be coming back out.  I think he knew it too.

Thomas was an obsession for Josh starting at age three.   He built new tracks every day.  And when I say tracks, I mean intricate, multilevel rail systems with switches and bridges that ran the length of our basement.  For hours, he would lay the side of his head on the carpet, in a bizarre little crouch, so he could be eye level with Thomas as he chugged along.  Each addition to the crew was major excitement.  Aquarium cars, happy birthday party cars.  We even got Troublesome Trucks that laughed.  Evil, creepy laughing, but Josh loved them.

He sported a red Thomas the Train sweatshirt and begged Santa for a “squishy Thomas”.  We didn’t know what that was, until we saw a stuffed, plush Thomas the Train at Target.  Santa put one under the tree that year.  We even took Josh to ride the life-sized Thomas the Train when it rolled into Greenfield Village.  It was a forty degree day in May with a cold drizzle.  Miserable.  And it was NOT cheap.  (Memo to the Thomas the train people: have mercy on parents that have already gone broke buying all your stuff.)  Josh loved it.

I grumbled about Thomas.  I couldn’t stand the show, the bizarre movies and books.  They were kind of weird and sometimes made no sense.  My sister claimed she could write a paper comparing Thomas and his friends at the railway to a dysfunctional, modern workplace environment.  (This is also the sister who wrote an entire paper on how “Beverly Hills 90210” reenforced bad gender stereotypes)

But things changed in the last few months. Talk on the kindergarten playground turned to “Star Wars” and Legos.  And “Star Wars Legos”.  Josh would still play with Thomas a little, but his new Lego police station got most of the attention.

The other day Josh had a friend over to play and I told him to pick up his room before his friend came.  I walked in for inspection and noticed something missing.  Squishy Thomas wasn’t sitting on the bed, like he usually does.

“Where’s Squishy?”  I asked.

“Oh,” said Josh.  “He’s here.”  And he opened his closet to show Squishy Thomas on a

Squishy Thomas

shelf.  Hidden away.

It makes me so sad.  I know he’s getting older and I know he has to move on.  But Thomas marked a big part of our lives. So many times over the past few years, I have wished for my kids to grow up (to at least go to the bathroom by themselves).  I would say  “I can’t wait until they’re old enough..”

Now I find myself saying, “Just a little bit longer”.

There’s a reason why the Toy Story movies made adults cry – the nostalgia for loving a toy so much, the idea that perhaps a toy could love in return, and inevitability that we’ll outgrow them.  I feel bad for ‘ol Thomas in the basement.  He gave Josh years of entertainment and an outlet for his creativity.  Now, he may be done.

As I walked up from the basement and to the bedrooms, I stopped at Josh’s door to look in.  It was a Lego explosion, with small police cars and pieces scattered about.  Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader figurines duked it out in a corner near a fleet of racing cars.

And sitting on the bed, was Squishy Thomas.  Back in his familiar spot.

For now.