Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Fighting Sickness the Non-Medicinal Way

Single mothers with no automatic support network can't afford to get sick. They need to be at the top of their game, or near it, at all times.

So when I woke up one recent morning with a stiff neck, pounding headache, stuffed-up ears, sweaty skin, and a profound feeling of blah, I knew I had to throw myself full force into nipping-whatever-this-was-in-the-bud mode. These ailments followed a night during which I experienced severe stomach cramps and (TMI alert!) an ache in the buttocks. The cramps were not unusual, but I had not felt hemorrhoid-like pain and pressure on my pelvis like that since being pregnant six years earlier. A pre-dawn visit to the bathroom relieved me, violently, of these problems. Then I went back to sleep and awoke with a host of new ones.

What had caused this? Was it standing outside in the cold and wind for one and a quarter hours the day before wearing a stylish yet insubstantial hat, scarf, and mitten set? That was very unlike me as I almost always choose my winter accessories for their warmth rather than their looks. Or was it, I feared, the result of neglecting to wash my hands a couple of times at the ski mountain several days earlier because I was in a hurry to get back to the table where my younger son was rough housing his brother. I made a mental note to wash my hands before we next ate. But being at the mountain -- or anywhere, really -- with both of my sons has a way of scrambling my thought process. And before I knew it, I was licking salt and ketchup from French fries off my fingers.

Gadzooks! Had I inadvertently given myself bacterial dysentery like in Kathmandu in 1988? That was understandable. Nepal is an impoverished country where not everyone who served food close to a quarter-century ago followed acceptable hygiene practices or was even educated about them. Short of a Katrina; Joplin, MO; or Sendai, Japan, what was my excuse? Needing to race back to referee my scene-making rabble rousers before someone got hurt, which often happens. As a matter of safety, it was a pretty good reason, come to think of it. In any event, something was going on with me. I didn't know exactly what. But I could try to stop it.

Having grown up a Christian Scientist, I am not one to run to the medicine cabinet at the first sign of illness. Rather, I have to be feeling pretty darn shitty before I will begin to entertain the thought of taking anything. Practically ten times out of ten, I will opt out of reaching for a pharmaceutical because I remember oh-so-clearly the few times I have taken them how they made me feel: dopey when I needed to be sharp (hello, poetry class); wired when I needed to sleep (3 a.m.); or dragging when I needed to feel energetic (beginning my day of caregiving).

So what I do, instead, is pound the old non-medicinal standbys into my system: water, Odwalla orange juice, grapefruit juice, oranges or clementines, chicken noodle soup, Ramen noodles, and tea with lemon and honey (particularly green and, my personal favorite, licorice-flavored Yogi throat culture). I try to give myself a bit of a break by asking other parents to drive one son home from the scout meeting and the other home from the faraway birthday party. I take naps if possible (almost never) and hit the hay early. If I have the chills, I will sometimes wear a fleece cap to bed. I try to clear out my sinuses in a health club hot tub and steam room, regurgitate excess phlegm by sticking my finger deep into my mouth, or gargle with warm salt water if I have the opposite problem of a dry and scratchy throat. I lay off vigorous exercise, which is a cinch since I am too busy to get much anyway as well as lacking in energy to boot. A spicy Thai curry dish or one loaded with chilies, I've found, deadens the relentless itchiness of the throat. Finally, as I head for the covers, I clean my mouth with a pleasant-tasting rinse, take a large spoonful of honey with lemon juice dribbled on top, and pop a Hall's mentho-lyptus cough drop into my mouth.

Lying on my side either flat or semi-upright, which helps keep my head less clogged, I shift the cough drop to the cheek closest to the pillow and let it slowly dissolve there. I am careful not to change position so the cough drop does not dislodge and accidentally slide down my throat, causing me to choke. The drop serves two purposes: to coat my throat like honey and leave it with a bitter, Listerine-like taste, effectively tamping down the obnoxious tickling of a bad cough. With the annoyance all but muted, I am finally able to sleep.

This get-well regimen has served me magnificently for the past six years. I started it following the most brutal episode of coughing in my life. Christopher and I had just returned from our annual trip to Florida. The Boston-area weather had turned bad with lots of driving rain and window-rattling wind. That's when the tickle took up residence in my throat, keeping me up for eighteen consecutive nights. Yes, EIGHTEEN. As the pregnant, full-time single mother of a not-quite two year old, by definition I was a wreck. Pile eighteen consecutive sleepless nights on top of that -- but don't forget all the miserable days in between! -- and what do you get? One seriously hurting, bitchy mama.

Rejecting the conventional medical approach, I desperately needed to come up with my own plan. Having noticed that the cough drops helped me during the day, I thought: Why not during the night as well? That's when I very carefully experimented with placing the drop in my cheek and sleeping on my side. And that's when I discovered that this one strategy could help prevent me from losing hours of restorative sleep per night while I was sick.

In general, I have been a very healthy person most of my life. I could go a year or year and a half without coming down with a single debilitating cold. That all changed after the birth of my oldest son. My immunity shot from exhaustion, there was a long period of time when I could not go even two weeks without falling ill. The tendency did an about-face, thank God, after the epic eighteen-nighter. My periods of health stretched to six months, then a year, and now they stand at a year-plus.

Prior to the past few days, I could not remember when a variety of symptoms last pulled me down. Right now I am in kick-butt mode for my cough, stuffed-up head, intermittent headache, and, yes, laryngitis, too. But it's time to add the final piece to my program: replenishing my stock of supplies. So off I go to Market Basket for lemons, orange juice, clementines, honey, and chicken noodle soup.

Wish me well!

How do you cope with sickness?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Paging Paul Blart, Mall Cop!

As you by now know, I have been having trouble with Charlie. His brother's heavy rehearsal and show schedule, not to mention the long commute to the venue, took a toll on Charlie and me. We had been hanging out at the same cafe practically every afternoon and evening that Christopher was busy with A Christmas Carol. Though my son and I really like the cafe, the food and drink offerings, the staff, couches, and board-game selection, it just gets to the point where ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. So one night during a performance -- we had already seen the show at full price ($25 total, no discounts for family members of performers, BOO!) -- I decided to mix things up a bit by taking him to a movie at a mall.

From past experience, I've learned to buy my kindergartener a gumball on the way to the theater. Hint: His whining about wanting one ruined a perfectly good showing of "Shut Up," I mean, Up one day. I'd promised it to him after the movie, but that wasn't soon enough for my Charlie.

His oral needs now met, I bought us tickets to Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, some snacks, and off to the theater we went. The film was light and enjoyable. A stop in the restrooms then it was time to return to the Salem YMCA where Christopher was wrapping up his holiday musical.

But Charlie had other ideas.

He wanted to play arcade-style games. We really didn't have time, and I didn't have any quarters on me. That didn't matter to Charlie. He sat down at one game with a steering wheel and simulated playing. Then he jumped off and ran to another and another and another. He would not come with me. "Charlie," I said in my voice that means business, "Christopher is going to be waiting for us. We can't leave him alone at the Y after everyone else has left!" Unfortunately, irritating me was Charlie's concept of fun. He was exerting his independence; he was determined to call the shots.

I couldn't physically remove him from the theater as he is too big for me to carry unless on my back, and he was not about to agree to a piggyback ride. And I flat-out refuse to pull or push him because I hurt my back last winter. As my injury caused me months of aggravation, not to mention costly physical therapy, I am certainly not willing to chance it happening again.

So with no other recourse, I turned to the man taking moviegoers' tickets and asked if he could speak to my unruly offspring. He directed me to customer service. This somewhat perplexed woman then came over and gently asked Charlie to go with me. Are you kidding me? Charlie was loving every minute of this! Eating up the attention, running in circles, and laughing his tight little ass off. Meanwhile, I was getting angrier and louder. People were staring. I informed Charlie that I was leaving. I had to pick up my other son.

I walked toward the theater's exit. Charlie tentatively followed way behind. We emerged into the mall and turned in the direction we came. He was not done tormenting me, though, because he whirled around and skipped back into the theater as blithe as could be. Increasingly frustrated, I pursued him all the way back to the small video-game area. He was laughing, of course, just having way too much fun. Again I marched over to the customer-service counter and requested security. The same woman appeared, and the same scene ensued. This time, fighting mad, I stormed out of the theater lobby. Charlie, perhaps fearing I would abandon him there, tagged along at a rebellious distance.

We headed down the mall's center aisle together for the second time. Well, as much together as a seething mother and defiant child could. All we had to do now was pass the remaining distractions between the theater and exit, and we would be home free. Or, rather, closer to the car. Charlie would not be tempted by the food court, coin-operated kiddie rides, or cute puppies in the pet-shop window since they were in the other direction. Smooth sailing, right? Wrong! I forgot about The Jumpy Thing. No, I swear I'm not making up that silly name for the attraction in which people bounce high in the air on a type of mattress while harnessed to a rope system. I had let Charlie do it the previous time we went to the mall and, no surprise, he loved it.

Like the gumball machines, passing it by proved to be too much of a challenge for Charlie. He wanted me to pay for him to do it, natch. Absolutely not. So he refused to walk any further. Man, this child drives a hard bargain! I looked around for someone to help me. Not twenty feet away was an information kiosk with a woman in attendance. I asked her to call security.

Paging Paul Blart, mall cop!

This situation had taken on a ridiculous dimension. Did any of my friends ever have to call mall security to get their child to leave with them? No. Had I ever even heard of such a thing? No. Thank the Lord no one I knew saw us, at least I think not. Sure, we had left a trail of "scenes" plenty of places: REI, while his brother tried on winter jackets; Walgreens, while I designed our Christmas card; Bradford Mountain, while I registered him for group ski classes; and on and on and on.

Knowing how he can behave, I'd have much rather not brought my son along on all of these errands. But I am a 24/7 single mother. The overwhelming majority of the time I have no choice. Nevertheless, in these previous instances and all others, I had been able to persuade Charlie to come with me. I hadn't needed to call in OFFICIAL BACKUP!

We had reached a new low. Mall security is just one step away from real-world security, i.e. police. The woman at the information kiosk, I could tell, didn't take me seriously when I put in my request. That's because all she saw was an angel-faced young boy. I knew better. Don't underestimate my son as he is one tough little dude with not an ounce of fat on him!

Oh, where was Kevin James when I needed him?!

If he had shown up, my evening would have turned right around. If not Kevin, someone equally large and definitely someone atop a Segway -- the modern, mall version of riding in on a white horse to rescue yours truly damsel in distress from being held hostage by her very own mischievous five year old.

No such luck.

After a very long wait -- during which time Charlie found the light-up section of floor kids stomp on -- two very average-looking men in uniform casually sauntered over on foot. Oh, come on! Is this the best you've got? Addressing the men, I explained the problem, indicating that I needed an AUTHORITARIAN figure to set my son straight. My Average Joes, however, failed to deliver the necessary gravitas. Meekly, they suggested to Charlie that he go with me. He said no. Duh! What did you expect, Mr. and Mr. Keeping The Mall Safe?! Thus began some ineffectual badgering. Are these security guards not trained for this sort of thing? I'm shocked!

With time rapidly dwindling before Christopher would be taking his bow, I made it clear that I, Christopher's mother, must go get him. I didn't know how long the performers and their parents would remain in the costume room after the show. And I was not willing to let my eight year old stay alone in a city YMCA without any knowledge as to why his mother had not picked him up. "I'm leaving, Charlie!" I said firmly. "You'd better go with your mother," added one of the mall cops. I turned and hastened toward the front entrance. When I reached the doors, I looked back to see if Charlie was behind me. He was.

The power struggle was over . . . for now.

Have you had standoffs with your child? What happened? How did you end them?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Winter of Charlie

Remember that Seinfeld episode called "The Summer of George" in which George Costanza gets a three-month severance package from the New York Yankees and winds up being extra lazy? Well, I have named this season The Winter of Charlie. But it is not about laziness. Quite to the contrary, it is about keeping my younger son busy so he won't aggravate his brother Christopher.

This past fall inadvertently became The Autumn of Christopher. He played football on a team of first- and second-graders three times a week for close to three months. He performed in a Christmas musical six times over two weekends, which necessitated more than two and a half months of rehearsals lasting anywhere from one hour to three and a half hours at a time. And he was a Wolf Scout. That entailed an overnight three hours away round trip plus numerous den and pack meetings and other activities.

Charlie, being Little Brother, was forced to tag along to all of these activities because I had to go to them with Christopher. Football turned out to be not a problem at all. In fact, it was quite fun for Charlie as two other younger siblings of players, including his best friend, also attended practices and games. The three adorable little boys entertained themselves at a playground, on a hill, and on tennis courts near the practice field. They passed the time in magnificent form, nary a complaint among them, even after the days turned colder at season's end. It was lucky, too, that the weather happened to be equally magnificent nearly every practice day and definitely every game day.

Cub Scouts and Charlie didn't fare quite as well together. He has trouble at (let's face it) boring meetings -- and in the evening or on weekends, no less. Hey, many five year olds would find them pretty tough to take! He can't sit still with me in a school auditorium, which is where some of the meetings are held, and he gets equally fidgety in a folding chair in the mostly empty room of the Community Center where den meetings are conducted. Without warning, he might run up and down the aisles of the auditorium or leave altogether, requiring me to either catch him and attempt (usually fail) to bring him back to our row or follow him out the door to keep an eye on him in the school lobby, thus missing the meeting myself.

Really, it's like having a toddler! Yet Charlie is a kindergartener.

At the Community Center, his brother's Nintendo DSi XL is my savior because it holds Charlie's interest after I have sent him upstairs to a small play area. An electronic game and scouts don't mix, so I encourage Charlie to try to keep the Nintendo out of sight. Oh, did I mention Charlie has zero interest in the scouts? It's true. He does not want to become a Tiger Scout next year when he is in first grade and eligible. No way, no how! And that is fine by me. Good thing, too, because Charlie is not scout material. He is too rowdy, too uncooperative, and doesn't like being told what to do. I can't see Mr. Cool at all in the dorky blue uniform with patches, and I can't see him reciting the Cub Scout Promise. Maybe for Halloween, but that's about it.

Believe it or not, taking the child who is the opposite of a scout to scouting activities was not even the worst part of The Autumn of Christopher. It was making Charlie go to rehearsals and performances of his brother's show. Christopher landed a role in A Christmas Carol, which was being put on by the North Shore Y Theatre Company. It was not an awesome part like Scrooge or The Ghost of Christmas Present. It was not even a speaking role. It was the part of a random Londoner (in very generic and flowery terms, he was called a member of the "Ensemble"). He appeared in a few scenes along with what seemed like countless other random Londoners -- so many children onstage, in fact, that I was seriously worried someone was going to fall off the small elevated space and break an arm! He danced the polka in one scene and peddled fish in another but mostly just sang songs with others in the company.

In order for Christopher to play this plum role (not!), I had to drive him to a city located one hour away round trip. As rehearsals were held after school, Charlie had to come with me every single time. The trip was just long enough that it made no sense whatsoever to come home while Christopher practiced. Charlie, of course, was much too rambunctious to actually watch rehearsals. So how were we going to kill all those hours in that city?

Lucky for us, a very cool cafe is located kitty corner to the Y where rehearsals took place. Charlie and I became its best customers during The Autumn of Christopher. Charlie picked out a sweet snack and drink every visit, and I discovered the outrageously delicious build-your-own salads with the chef's killer homemade balsamic vinaigrette dressing. As the cafe also has board games and playing cards, Charlie and I entertained ourselves with Sorry!, Monopoly, and Battleship as well as Kings Corners and War. Moreover, a storyteller read to children one afternoon a week.

I had no strength left at the end of those weekdays to walk with my son anywhere creative like a museum or curious like a haunted house. (This is Witch City, Salem, Massachusetts, I'm talking about.) So after depositing quarters in the parking meter, he and I would head straight to the cafe decorated with comfy couches and contemporary art, albeit some of it racy.

Our "dates" were fun and tasty at first. But as time passed and rehearsals grew longer, Charlie's behavior deteriorated. He refused to return to the meter with me to drop in more coins. He wouldn't go upstairs to the room where the actors changed into costumes and applied makeup, forcing me to do Christopher's face in the busy Y lobby in front of the general public. Can you imagine? He threw a fit if he didn't win or wasn't winning the game we were playing at the cafe. And he became very demanding, wanting more sugary snacks (though eating very little of them), as well as presumptuous, helping himself to drinks in the case without first asking my permission. Ka-ching went the cash register over and over and over again! My wallet was being emptied at a furious pace, and my bank account, depleted.

As if all of that wasn't enough, he would tackle his brother the minute rehearsal ended -- causing a scene in front of cast and crew -- and continue the manhandling (or I should say, boyhandling) down the stairs, across the lobby, through the parking lot, and into the back seat of my SUV. After a long day at school, the commute to Salem, and an exhausting practice, Christopher just wanted to be left alone . . . not jumped on, punched, or yanked. My oldest son is the type who would be perfectly happy as an only child, and he has stated as much many times. Predictably, the rough behavior would bring out his anger, Charlie's evil laughter, and my frustration. Verbal fights would ensue, someone would get minorly hurt, and the tears would flow. "I HATE YOU'S" would then be thrown around as well as other dramatic statements such as "I CAN'T GO ON LIKE THIS ANY MORE!"

I wanted to pound my fists into the steering wheel.

One day after we'd hit rock bottom -- I'll save that story for the next post -- the show ended. Hallelujah! I couldn't believe it. I thought the moment would never come. I drove up our driveway and breathed a massive sigh of relief. That's when Christopher remembered he'd left his backpack full of stage makeup at the Y. Are you (bleeping) kidding me?! It was no joke. So one more hour-long commute it was . . . not just for the heck of it.

Long before this happened, I decided we needed to institute The Winter of Charlie. A huge imbalance of activities had aggravated these already existing problems to nearly the breaking point. Charlie's one forty-five-minute gymnastics class per week could not begin to come close to compensating for Christopher's hours-upon-hours involvement in football, scouting, and the show. Charlie would get many of his own activities to exercise his body and tire it out, leaving him with little need to take out his excess physical energy on his poor, undeserving brother.

First I considered wrestling. It seemed like a perfect fit for my aggressive son who can't keep his hands and body off his brother. So we went to a club meet. There Charlie had a chance to informally wrestle a slightly older team member and, though he did not win, he did very well, according to the coaches. He also wrestled a girl -- the sister of a champion with a mat in his basement, the daughter of a coach and, coincidentally, a first-grader at his own school. Again he lost, but he doesn't know any of the proper moves. The girl, meanwhile, said Charlie was very strong. Christopher can attest to that. Encouraged, I took him to a team practice. He lasted twenty minutes before crying and asking to leave. He claimed a boy pulled his hair during an exercise involving heavy body contact. He was done with wrestling, he said. What happened to Charlie is not uncommon, apparently. Several people including a coach told me that many of the young boys leave or want to leave at first.

Next I spoke to a karate teacher. Perhaps a martial art could give Charlie the physical component he craves as well as the discipline he needs. But Charlie was not interested in trying it out, and I was not interested in the exorbitant price.

Gymnastics, on the other hand, has always been a big hit with my son because he seems to be part monkey. Since friends of Christopher's used to take classes twice a week, the idea didn't strike me as outlandish for a child as young as five. So that is what's happening now. He takes a class at a Y and another at a gymnastics academy. Frankly, the combination is perfect. He is also enrolled in a basketball clinic (as is his brother) and just completed a series of four group downhill ski lessons at a small mountain nearby. I am thrilled to say that both sports have also been a great success with my naturally athletic son.

Due to my keep-him-busy strategy, Charlie's behavior has improved. There is still a long way to go, but he is a much happier boy. And that makes me a much happier mama.

The Winter of Charlie is going very well so far.

How do you balance activities between your children?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Talks like Seuss

Charlie is five, almost six.
He just can't resist
picking up sticks.

He likes to hit them on the ground
and karate-chops them for their cracking sound,
or he'll swing them round and round.

Mostly, he skips
yet sometimes he slips
or, distractedly, even trips.

Always in motion,
I have a strong notion
based on my devotion:

Since he eats like a bird,
I find it quite absurd
how he never, ever tires.
Could he be strung with electrical wires?

Indeed, it is funny
how when it is sunny
I say, "All right, Honey,
let's look for a bunny."

He smiles and shakes his head,
remembering something I earlier said.
Or was it a children's book I read?

"You're doing it again!"
I laugh at his words, so Zen.
He doesn't refer to my timing
but, rather, my inadvertent rhyming.

For every time we're together --
like birds of a feather --
he believes it's a ruse.
Oh, Charlie, what's the use!

"Mommy, you talk like Dr. Seuss."

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Reaching for the Brass Ring

With the new year comes the time to honestly size up ourselves. Do we like the way we look? Do we feel healthy? Are we happy? What personal and professional goals would we like to achieve in the near or long-term future? How strong are our significant relationships?

We have an opportunity to improve upon the previous year. So at the cost of a little hunger, pain, and the possibility of rejection, should we make resolutions to stretch ourselves with the intent of becoming better versions of ourselves? It's an individual decision, but I say yes.

The key to keeping a positive attitude -- even if you do not accomplish your goals -- is being realistic, in my opinion. For example, don't resolve to lose thirty pounds because that feat feels too daunting. Resolve to lose five. If you are not satisfied once you've lost five, resolve to lose another five, etc. Approach the challenge bit by bit. That way, I believe, you will stand a better chance of keeping the weight off because your body will have a chance to adjust. Lose the weight too fast, and you will likely gain it back . . . unless you have developed extremely good eating habits and an exercise regimen that you are diligent about.

I speak from experience. Not too long ago, I went on Jenny Craig. I have never been an overweight person. In fact, I have been very athletic my whole life. I only gained twenty-one pounds during one pregnancy and twenty-two the other, and both babies were nine-pounders. Within one month of delivering each, I had lost all the weight plus an extra few pounds for good measure the first time around.

Did I look fantastic or what? I looked fantastic.


It wasn't pregnancy that caused me to gain weight and keep it on. It was 24/7 single motherhood along with other stressful experiences I was having at the time. At my heaviest -- I am not there now, but I am closer than I'd like to be -- I didn't consider myself fat. I called myself a larger version of myself. I have broad shoulders, yet I'm not fleshy up top. So the added weight made me look less like a competitive swimmer and more like a rugby player. (For the record, I have been both.) I tended to notice my natural padding less in the mirror and more in photographs and how my clothes fit . . . or, more precisely, how they didn't fit.

So I went to Jenny, having tried Slim Fast a couple of times with varying success as well as the bogus acai-berry diet. Jenny was great for me. At the rate of their celebrity spokespeople, I lost in the neighborhood of twenty-five pounds or more. (Actor Jason Alexander, a.k.a. George Costanza on "Seinfeld," was one at the time.) Those people supplement their diets with workouts courtesy of the most amazing Hollywood personal trainers. I had to self-motivate to get my body moving! But that I did, and I was pretty darn proud of myself for it. Like Valerie Bertinelli, I wore a bikini on vacation and at the local beach. However, like Kirstie Allie, the weight came back on after I went off the plan.

What happened? I got complacent . . . and a tad cocky. I knew all about calorie-counting and fruits and vegetables. I knew all about drinking water thirty minutes before a meal. And I knew all about the consequences of slacking off on exercise. Still, I did it anyway. I returned to eating what I wanted, though in a slightly more mindful manner. "Slightly" is the key word here. Ten pounds reappeared before long. Hmm, not happy about that. But not the end of the world either, I thought to myself. To save money, I put my athletic club membership on hold. When the hold period elapsed, pleased with my fiscal responsibility, I decided to drop my membership altogether.

Warm weather means ice cream and s'mores; cold weather means hot chocolate. I had a favorite tasty, sweet treat for every season.

So here I am having lazily put back much of the flesh I had worked hard to lose. Am I mad at myself? No. Disappointed? A little. Am I motivated to get back my bikini body? Not so much. The reality is: I am fifty now, so I am going to cut myself some slack because I also know all about metabolism and age. Previously, I was driven to slim down for dating. As I am happily not looking for anyone right now, my motivation to gradually lose and tone comes from a different place altogether -- a desire to stay healthy for my children so I can be around a very long time for them. Yes, there is an element of vanity to it, and there is also an element of pragmatism to it. I simply can't afford to keep buying new clothes in many different sizes. My ski pants don't fit, and that really annoys me. I had to wear a pair of the most awful rain pants over my long johns to a mountain the other day.

Not a good look!

While I plan to work on losing weight, I am realistic about the task as well. Certainly, I am not as gung ho as before. Rather, I have resigned myself to it. "Okay, this has gone too far. Time to get back in shape" is my current attitude. A piecemeal approach is my strategy. I've rejoined my health club, and today I exercised for the first time this year. Afterwards I craved a peanut-butter-cup smoothie but wisely said no when I was told it contains a whopping 676 calories.

I settled for a scone.

This blog, surprisingly, will help my diet -- God, I hate that word! -- because I was accustomed to snacking at the time I am now writing. Owing to my more even-keeled attitude, I may very well have better success in the long run this time around.

Whether you seek weight loss or something else, make your resolutions realistic. Reach for the brass ring, but don't beat yourself up if you can't grab it.

There is always next year.

What New Year's resolutions did you make for 2012? What are you doing to keep them?

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Promise of Renewal

A new year. What does it offer? A fresh start. A clean slate. A do-over.

Why does it seem like every year, especially at December's end, I am desperately in need of the renewal that a new year promises? Last week life was good -- the stressful pace of the school year was on hiatus; I could sleep in (as much as the mother of two young boys is allowed); I didn't have to pack lunches and snacks or find $2.75 x 2 and put each in separate labeled envelopes to buy both school lunches; I had some downtime, some alone time that is the lifeblood of any true-blue only child like myself; there was no snow to shovel or plowing bill to pay; following a week-long nail-biter, my mammogram and ultrasound came back negative; we had fun plans with friends on Christmas night and enough playdates to keep my boys satisfied; arrangements had been made for my younger son to take ski lessons; and Santa brought a second Nintendo DSi XL accompanied by riveting games. (That Santa sure is smart!) Then not long after returning from a thrilling movie with another family on New Year's Eve day, it all fell apart.

As we passed by in our car en route to the movie family's home, a child we know emerged from his house. I called out: "Hey, X, what are you doing?" Innocent query. I expected to hear, "We're going swimming at the Y," or "We're going to a friend's house from my new school." Not "We're going to Z's New Year's Eve party."

Say WHAT? My son is probably Z's best friend, and my OTHER son IS Z's brother's best friend. What party? I hadn't heard about a party. Wow, we weren't invited. What a way to kill a fine day, week, and New Year's Eve all in one fell swoop! It would have been bad enough if it had happened another time. But the biggest night of the year?

Oh, please rub some more salt into this wound!

Sure enough, insult was added to injury further up the street. Stopping off at the movie family's house to drop off a bag of the mother's and our holiday newsletter, I was met by her and her son rushing out the front door. "Are you going somewhere?" I asked. "Yes," she responded cheerfully. "To Z's party?" Dangerous follow-up question. I shouldn't have probed, but it came flying out of my mouth before I had a chance to censor myself. "YES!" she nearly shouted, no doubt expecting me to say that we were, too.

When we got home, my sons ran to the mailbox. Surely there must be an invitation stuck to the bottom. There wasn't. How about one waiting at the front door? Nothing. Inside the house, I headed for the kitchen. Perhaps an eleventh-hour invite would come across my landline voicemail. It didn't. Last try: my iPhone. Since I hadn't yet set up voicemail on the new device, I didn't believe I could receive a message. However, I certainly could read a text and would recognize Z's mother's number if she called. The results of both investigations -- like the mammogram and ultrasound -- were negative, but the bad kind of negative not the good kind of negative.

The boys were unhappy, to say the least. Why had their friends not invited them to their party? I couldn't answer as I was just as mystified as they were. They turned on a cartoon to deaden their pain while I retreated downstairs to the privacy of my bedroom to have a good cry. The silence of the house engulfed me, making me increasingly paranoid.

I remembered that two days earlier I'd read on my Facebook page that one of my friends -- the one in treatment for breast cancer -- had been rear-ended in her car coming home from work. I was the first to post a comment. "Here's to a great 2012!" I wrote. In other words, better things will be coming your way once we tear down this old, tattered calendar and replace it with a new, shiny one.

Then I began to apply my thinking about my Facebook friend to myself. At least we had been blown off at the tired tail end of a year instead of the ripe-with-possibilities beginning of a new one. That's the silver lining to this story because on New Year's Eve I felt joyless as I listened to my older son, the sensitive one, cry himself to sleep.

A new year allows us to erase the negativity of the passing year like a baptism, enabling us to once again experience life from a fresh perspective.

Do you believe in the restorative power of a new year?

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year, New Blog

Welcome to the first post of my new blog!

My name is Shelby Siems, and I am a single mother by choice. "By choice" is how we have come to be described, originating in Jane Mattes's groundbreaking how-to guide Single Mothers by Choice, first published in 1994. However, in many cases including my own, "by default" is a more accurate way of characterizing our choice -- and, yes, it was a choice -- to raise a child without the assistance of a partner, whether a spouse or otherwise.

I have two young sons. Christopher is eight years old, and Charlie is five and three quarters. They are my biological children and the offspring of an anonymous-sperm donor from California Cryobank.

Like most women, I wanted and expected to give birth to children within the structure of a happy heterosexual marriage. But life doesn't always turn out as planned. On my forty-first birthday, on the verge of another breakup, I realized it was time to grieve my lost dream of finding my husband, the father of my children. As time was of the essence due to my ticking biological clock, I needed to hasten the process of investigating single motherhood because I was not willing to also lose out on the chance to become a mother.

I was told, and I have read, that you can't be a single mother without a support network. This was the message delivered to me at my first single-mother support group meeting. And truly I, more than anyone else I knew or had ever heard of, was that person with no support network. My parents had long since died, and I am an only child. Translation: no immediate family help. Extended family? Double no. They nearly all lived too far away, were too busy with their own lives, or weren't interested in assisting me. Friends? Having recently relocated back to the East Coast from Seattle, I was starting all over again once more.

Since becoming an adult, I have seldom been one to take no as an easy answer or an answer at all. So rather than deter me from choosing single motherhood, the message inspired me to show those naysayers they were wrong. Eight years in, I am proud to say that I am still standing. And while I continue to disagree with the naysayers about needing a support network before choosing single motherhood, I readily declare that once the decision to move forward has been made, the woman ought to start building her support network right then and there. She will need people in her corner to rely on from time to time and in emergencies from the moment the baby is born, if not earlier, during her pregnancy.

As mommy blogs are now a dime a dozen, I feel the need to differentiate myself from other mothers, other single mothers, and other single mothers by choice. I am the one with no support network. That's who I am.

My blog will address single motherhood, motherhood in general, parenting issues, children (particularly boys), school, extracurricular activities, scheduling, the household, the community, finances, holidays, seasons, dating, and more. I reserve the right to post on unrelated topics from time to time, such as pop culture, politics, current events, etc. They may seem to be way out in left field from my core topic of single motherhood, but if I post about them it will be because they are on my radar screen. I am thinking about them, or perhaps they are a source of mindless escapism from my often quite challenging daily life. I expect to post at a rate of every five days.

A word about my blog name, Mad Mom. I have completed a 344-page nonfiction memoir about my journey to single motherhood and the first two years of it. It is titled Mad Mom: A Cautionary Tale of Choosing Single Motherhood Without a Support Network. I am currently looking for an agent to represent me.

I chose the moniker Mad Mom because I felt it accurately conveyed the living-on-the-edge, madcap existence of a full-time single mother with no built-in support network. It does not refer to mental illness. However, there are times (okay, MANY times) when it feels like my struggles have propelled me into mental illness. So the hint of that in the title works for me. Mad also suggests angry. There are times in my book when I am angry for justifiable reasons, and there will be times when I will get angry in my blog. But I hope on balance my posts will be engaging, thought-provoking, and humorous (at least sometimes).

Finally, Mad Mom harks back to Nepal 1988 when I met an adventurous and reckless young American man on the trekking trail who called himself Mad Dog. He was thoroughly filthy, not having bathed in three weeks and damn proud of it. As I think about his combination of extremes -- an over-the-top trekking pace and a refusal to abide by societal expectations in the cleanliness department -- I am reminded of my own life: the extreme parenting and my inability (especially in the early years of single motherhood) to find the time or strength to keep myself properly groomed. I did (and still do, in many respects) lead a domestic Mad Dog existence. And I, too, am damn proud of it.

Besides, Mad Mom has a nice, catchy ring to it like Mad Men. Short and sweet alliteration is always fun, and it is also easy to remember.

I am Mad Mom. I hope you will join me on my latest journey.

Happy New Year to you all!