Weekly Column: Bedtime favorites

©Stephenie Freeman

After baths are taken and teeth are brushed, it’s time to read books before going to bed.

It’s such a nice calming bedtime routine that we all enjoy and leaves me feeling like I’m finishing the day parenting on a high note, minus all of the debating and begging over which books will be read tonight.

“No, pick a different one…we read that one last night…because it is too long…oh, please God, no…don’t make me read ‘Moo, Baa, La, La, La’ again. I promise to be good. Please. Choose. Something. Different.”

My boys often get into what I refer to as “favorite book ruts.” They want the same story read to them night after night after night. My begging and pleading for something new often falls on deaf ears. Once again I find myself reading “Fox in Sox” or some other equally mind-numbing book that I’ve read enough times to have completely memorized start to finish.

I’ve read about how this repetition is good for children. But has a study ever been done about what all of this repetition does to the parents? Because the truth is, if I have to read about Mrs. Bindergarten getting ready for kindergarten one more time, my brain might finally turn to Jell-O.

I’m not complaining. Not really. I might be reading “Goodnight Moon” for the millionth time, but having a small child in your lap, smelling of Johnson’s baby shampoo, listening to every last word that falls from your lips creates the kind of memory that I will revisit time and time again long after my boys are grown and gone.

Many of the books that we read that teach moral lessons. We’ve learned about strangers from the Berenstain Bears and about accepting people’s differences from Clifford the Big Red Dog. I’m not sure if there are any moral lessons to be gleaned from Dr. Seuss except that reading is fun when everything rhymes and there are lots of weird, made up words.

There are times, however, when I suddenly get a break from our regular reading repetition. It’s during these times that they request a Mommy Story.

“Do the ones when you say, ‘Once upon a time.’ I want one of those,” the Monkey will say.

Instead of feeling relief from not having to read “Good Night, Gorilla” yet again, I feel pressure to produce a bedtime story that is at par with my sons’ high bedtime story standards.

I mean, how can a simple, made up story by Mommy possibly compete with all-time favorites like “Sheep in a Jeep” and “Are You My Mother?”

In all honesty, it’s really not that difficult. Make your kid the main character—the star of his own show—and suddenly you become the greatest children’s author of all time.

There’s something enjoyable about telling a story that you’ve never told before. My boys give me a topic to start with that usually include their favorite things or a sport that they are currently interested in, and as long as they are the winner or the hero in the end, my new and unique bedtime story is always a hit.

Some of my made up stories have become bedtime favorites. For a week or so they will ask for “The Car Wash Story” or “The Golf Course Story” over and over again until a new favorite finds its way off of the shelf.

Which is fine with me. As Dr. Seuss put it so well, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.”

I feel like moonwalking.

Regardless of his issues (and he had some pretty big ones) I will choose to remember him in the 80's, when I spent my weekends learning all of the moves to his videos. Especially this one.

I was sort of shocked to see how many of the moves I remember. Like riding a bike. We will all remember where we were when we heard that Michael Jackson died.

It's all about staying active

It's been about a month since I stopped working with my trainer. The whole reason that I started working with a trainer in the first place was that I needed someone to help me stay motivated. (And of course having someone who knew the best way to help me succeed was great too.) So stopping the trainer seemed a little risky.

I promised myself that when I stopped that I would continue everything on my own. Well, I've sort of done that. I can give you lots of excuses: it's summer, we're totally off our regular routine, it's starting to get really hot outside, etc., etc. Luckily, I've still been paying close attention to what goes in my mouth.

Regardless, I've been staying far away from the scale. I didn't want to see that due to my lack of exercise in the last week I had put back on some of the weight that I had previously lost.
Well, I was feeling really brave this morning. I decided to take my chances (even though I knew that the news might ruin my day before it had even started.)

And let me tell you I was totally shocked to see that I hadn't gained a pound, but instead had lost FIVE!! Which means that I am five pounds closer to my goal.

To say that I was thrilled would be an understatement.

Now, I haven't been doing my "regular" workouts that I had been doing with my trainer, but I have been active.

On our recent road trip to Sequoia (see columns below) all we did was walk and hike and climb so that certainly counts for something. There was a night when I went out with my best girlfriends to a club to hear an 80's cover band and we danced for 3 hours straight. And recently when the Golfer and the Cheese were out of town, the Monkey and I played a lot of Wii fit. Let me just say, doing the Super Hula Hoop game is quite the workout!

So, obviously been active, no matter what the activity, is an important part of staying fit and trim. I know that once school starts again and I have 5 mornings to myself I will once again get into a regular workout routine. But for now, it's important that I continue to do things, fun activities, that keep me moving throughout the summer.

And, unfortunately, I don't think sipping frozen drinks by the pool counts.

Weekly Column: Light bulbs and Love

©Stephenie Freeman

Coming home from a vacation is always such a downer.

As soon as you pull into the driveway reality sets in. Suddenly all you can think about is everything that needs to be done: unload the car, unpack the bags, do four hundred loads of laundry, go through the large pile of mail, sift through a week's worth of newspapers, pick the dogs up at the kennel, and have half a box worth of Cheez-Its professionally vacuumed out of the back seat of the car.

There is always so much to do at the end of a vacation, it's almost enough to make you never leave town again. Almost. Family vacations are like labor: after a few weeks you forget about how painful it was and before you know it, you’re making plans for another one. Besides, a little post-vacation hangover is a minor inconvenience compared to the family memories that those vacations create.

We started making memories within just a few miles of home while on our road trip last week. Memories that included our four-year-old getting carsick. Memories that included pulling over every five miles to let our son upchuck his breakfast all over the side of the road. Memories that included deeply regretting forcing him to eat a plate full of eggs and bacon and yogurt before leaving town.

Yes, family vacation memories, the good and the bad, are what scrapbooks are made of. It’s doubtful that any of these particular memories will actually make it into our family scrapbook, although I did get a great picture of the Golfer holding onto our sickly son on the side of the road as he projectile vomited into a ditch.

I’m a big believer in documenting every little detail of a trip, but that’s not what possessed me to pick up the camera as my son puked all over his father’s shoes. As crazy as it sounds, it was a sweet and tender father-son moment that I was trying my best to capture on film.

My sweet husband didn’t hesitate when the first moans came from the backseat. He jumped out of the car and quickly took control of the vomiting situation. He didn’t try to use the typical, “Your the mommy” excuse. No, this daddy was willing to sacrifice his own cleanliness, willing to sacrifice life and limb on the side of the highway, in order to save the car (and the rest of us) from impending doom.

I never loved him more than I did at that moment.

Which is why, even in the midst of this post-vacation hangover, I am bound and determined to show my husband how much I appreciate him this Father’s Day. While heading out to shop for something special for their father, I asked my boys what they wanted to buy their dad.

“Light bulbs,” the Monkey told me.

“You want to buy Daddy light bulbs for Father’s Day? Are you sure?” I questioned.

“Yep. He will really like light bulbs.”

You see, the Golfer and I agreed that when it came to buying gifts for things like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, we would take the boys shopping and let them pick out whatever they wanted to buy (within reason of course.)

Apparently, we were off to buy light bulbs.

Our boys are creative shoppers. For Mother’s Day I got a teacup. Nothing else. Just a teacup. The Golfer tried to stifle his laughter as I looked at the Monkey and said, “This is just what I wanted!”

I can’t wait for his response as he opens his box of light bulbs this Sunday.

Nothing says, “Thanks, Dad, for all you are and all you do” than 40 watts of bright and shiny love.

Weekly Column: On the road again

©Stephenie Freeman

Maybe it’s the economy. Maybe it’s the high cost of airline tickets. Maybe it’s nothing more than a good excuse not to spend a week with your mother-in-law. Whatever the reason, more and more families are choosing to forgo exotic summer vacations to places like Hawaii and Disneyworld for something called a “staycation.”

“Staycation” is the new phrase created to convince the masses that it is perfectly acceptable to vacation within the boundaries of your own city. It’s a nice idea; stay home, save money, and explore the local wonders.

But for those of us that stay at home on a regular basis, those of us for whom the word “stay” defines who we are and what we do, vacationing in our own backyard simply isn’t a vacation.

This summer my family of four has decided to take a road trip; the kind of traditional, wholesome, family vacation where the traveling is just as much a part of the vacation as is the destination itself.

So with the enthusiasm of Clark W. Griswold we are loading up the family truckster with plenty of Wet Wipes and Dramamine and are heading out to explore the country, determined to show our kids how much fun it is to see the world from a backseat car window.

I’m not sure why I am so determined, but whatever the reason I am convinced that this road trip will produce better vacation memories than any airplane-flying, resort-visiting vacation ever could. Ironically, the only memories that I have of family road trips are terrible ones. I have a strong memory of wetting my pants while traveling through the Grand Canyon and another memory of our family truckster’s air conditioning going out somewhere on I-40 in the middle of the Mojave Desert.

Why I would ever want to go on another road trip is anybody’s guess.

Not wanting to repeat history, I’ve tried my best to plan ahead. I’ve tried to anticipate every whine and complaint that the kids are sure to come up with during our drive. The DVD player is charged and some candy is stashed throughout the car in strategic locations. I even bought a new movie and a few coloring books that are waiting in their car seats as a road trip surprise.

And if all of that wasn’t enough, I have one more trick up my vacationing sleeve.

A friend of mine told me about a trick to get your children to behave while traveling. The idea is simple. Give each child a baggie filled with ten dollars worth of quarters. Every time that one of them acts up or misbehaves, they have to hand over one of their quarters. Whatever they have left over in their baggies they are allowed to spend on souvenirs during the trip.

Nothing like the promise of useless gift shop junk to bring out the best in your little traveler.
I’m willing to try anything, especially when it comes to avoiding disasters, and have already raided the Golfer’s pocket change. Now I can only pray that my children don’t beat each other to death with their bags of quarters in the backseat.

By the time you pay for snacks, gas, and entertainment for the road, by the time you lose all of your patience and your marbles, I’m not sure that taking a road trip is any cheaper than flying.

Maybe flying would get us there faster. Maybe paying extra for baggage would be worth it in the end. Maybe taking a road trip will produce more negative memories than positive ones.

But at least on a road trip when you have to turn around to yell at your kids for throwing ten dollars worth of quarters, there isn’t an airplane full of people staring at you.

Weekly Column: I am Mama, hear me roar

©Stephenie Freeman

It was never my life’s ambition to be a mother.

Growing up, I never fantasized about becoming a mommy. I was busy playing War outside, running my own pretend library or teaching my stuffed animals their ABC’s. I was never drawn to playing with baby or Barbie dolls. The only Barbie-like dolls that I owned were three Charlie’s Angels dolls that I received Christmas of 1977.

My Charlie’s Angels dolls weren’t your typical Barbie dolls. They weren’t about looking pretty and trying on new clothes. These dolls didn’t clean house while they waited for their husbands to bring home the bacon.

These dolls were about fighting crime and catching the bad guy. These dolls knew how to use their beauty as a source of power, and as soon as I learned to feather my hair and master the art of karate, I would too.

I was born a decade after Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique rocked the world and started what was considered the “second wave” of the feminist movement. So, it should come as no surprise that I was raised by a strong, self-sufficient mother who taught me about less about domesticity and more about independence.

A mother who made sure that crime fighting, karate kicking dolls were waiting for me under the Christmas tree.

My mother knew that I had been born into a world filled with opportunities; opportunities that weren’t solely tied to the titles of “wife” or “mother” even though she hoped I would end up as both one day.

My mother was never a radical. I wouldn’t label her as a feminist. Her simple hints of wisdom were subtle; teaching me things like how to reconcile my bank account and check the oil in my car because “you should never have to depend on anyone else to do those things for you.” Needless to say, my husband is quite grateful and my marriage is better for it.

There were two things that I wanted to be when I grew up: either a veterinarian or Princess Leia from Star Wars. After I realized that I would have to go to the “other” state school to become a veterinarian, Princess Leia became my obvious first choice.

Princess Leia was the strongest, most powerful woman I had ever seen. Who wouldn’t want to be her? All of the men loved her, she ran her own planet, and knew how to shoot a laser-firing blaster. Not to mention that she had a really cool hair-do.

As much as my boys wish things had turned out differently, I did not grow up to be Princess Leia. I don’t run my own planet, I don’t know how to shoot a gun, and I have never solved a crime or saved the world (although that last one is still on the top of my “To-Do” list.) I did not grow up to be a veterinarian, a private investigator or a crime fighter, but at least I had the choice.

My grandmothers didn’t have a choice. You were either a wife and a mother or you were a business woman out in the world beyond your kitchen. They couldn’t be both. They couldn’t have it all.

My mother’s generation had more choice, but it was still a radical idea to try and raise a family and have a career outside of the home. That’s why they poured all of their efforts into raising women who would grow up to have it all.

Thanks, Mom, but I don’t want it.

I don’t want it all.

I’m happy with my small piece of the pie; my little corner of the world. I don’t need the whole enchilada. I don’t want to have my cake and eat it too.

I have enough dieting issues as it is.

I am not any of the things that I thought I would grow up to be, but I’m proud that my current resume contains one simple word: Mother. I spend my days making a difference in the lives of my children which surprisingly makes me happier than solving crimes ever could.

I do have a choice and I can confidently say that in all ways that matter, I do have it all.

And I think that would make any feminist proud.

The kind of letter you want from your child's teacher

The Cheese was blessed to be in Mrs. Henry's class this past year. After reading this letter, can't you see why?

The last...

swimming lesson...

soccer practice...

Day of school...

Weekly Column: Coppertone is a friend of mine

©Stephenie Freeman

I love the smell of Coppertone in the morning. It’s such a summertime perfume.

No offense to the other sunscreens out there, but I prefer Coppertone. It’s has to do with the smell. It reminds me of being a kid, spending my summers at the pool or out on the lake. I can still picture the little brown bottles scattered all over the bottom of our boat. Just thinking about it makes me want to go put on a bright yellow lifejacket that will stick to my skin when dry and float over my head when wet.

Sunscreen wasn’t the summertime priority back then that it is now, but there was always plenty of it on hand. It’s was always in the pool bag and toted along to the lake with all of the other essential gear. At the beginning of the day, you’d get rubbed down with a bottle of Coppertone Number 4 and were left to bask in the warmth of the sun for the rest of the day.

Is it any wonder why I always had such a nice tan every summer? I remember once someone asking me if I had any Native American ancestry in my blood. No Native American. Just Coppertone.

My kids complain whenever I start to spray them with sunscreen. They hold their breath and shut their eyes while I mace them with a spray-on, sweat-proof, bottle of the highest SPF I can find.

While they complain, I’m am quick to inform them that back when I was a kid we didn’t have cool things like spray-on sunscreen. We only had old-fashioned sunscreen that your mom had to rub and rub into your skin until it had all soaked in. The whole process felt like it took forever, especially when all of your friends were already in the pool.

My kids have no idea how good they’ve got it. How my mom ever made it through the summers without Cartoon Network and spray-on sunscreen I’ll never know.

I don’t think that I wore anything over an 8 SPF when I was a kid. Sunscreen that was waterproof, sweat-proof, and hypoallergenic that contained a SPF of 70 was unheard of. Only red heads and people allergic to the sun wore than much sunscreen. I saw new born babies who never wore anything over a 10 SPF.

This was at least a little better than my parents’ generation. Their generation never wore sunscreen. The whole concept of SPF (Sun Protection Factor) wasn’t even around until 1962. The Beach Boys were singing “Surfin’ Safari” and the last thing that anyone was worried about was too much sun exposure.

My mom had a little bout of skin cancer recently. Luckily it was nothing major; just a little spot on her nose. Nothing that a little cream and ten visits to her dermatologist couldn’t fix.
I’ve read all of the articles and reports of the importance of wearing sunscreen every day, all day, but in the past I’ve done little to heed their warnings. All of those articles didn’t make much of an impact, but my mom walking about town with a huge band-aid on her nose sure did.

I’m careful to spray my boys down before school each day. I spray them down before outdoor sporting events and before every swimming lesson. They grumble and gripe and complain and I find myself uttering the words that make me sound older than I actually am.

“You’ll thank me for this later.”

Something recently dawned on me. I’m outside watching those soccer and the tennis lessons. I’m on the side of the pool during those swimming lessons. I’m out running the neighborhood while my kids are running around during recess. They’ve been sprayed down for protection. I, unfortunately, have not.

So the last few weeks, I’ve forgone spraying myself with Chanel No. 5 and have started spraying myself down with Coppertone No. 70 instead.

And to me, it smells just as good.