Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Dear Abby, From a Changed Mom

A few months ago I had a pretty rough parenting experience. I considered writing about the situation back then, but eventually decided to push it out of my mind - rather than document it - in an effort to simply forget it ever happened. (I have an unpleasant physical reaction EVERY time I think about the encounter. My fingers are trembling and my heart is racing even as I type this post.) But as time has passed, I have found myself not only unable to forget, but continuously troubled. I want to move on, and since forgetting isn't happening or helping me do so, I'm going to give writing about it a try.

Dear "Abby" (AKA Chasing Roots Readers),

I regularly take Will and Hallie to the park near our house so I can walk around the track for exercise while they play. The track passes the playground on one side, so while I can see the kids and they can see me throughout the entire 1/3-mile loop, I can't easily communicate with them until I reach the side of the track closest to the playground.

On this particular day, I could see Will and Hallie playing and could also see - and hear - that they had begun to disagree about something. I watched as Will repeatedly tried to put his soccer ball in Hallie's bike basket, and listened as Hallie screamed (her frustrated voice always comes out as a scream - we're working on it) for him to stop. At one point, Hallie swung a hand in Will's direction and he knocked her bike over as he tried to dodge her outstretched arm. I knew I would have to pause my walk to help them address this problem and planned to do so, but the situation was in no way serious enough for me to leave the track and sprint across the soccer field in their direction.

As I rounded the corner, I saw a women walking through the park with her dog change direction toward the kids. She started yelling at/to Hallie, "just run away from him! Just run away!" in a somewhat panicked voice. I continued walking toward the kids and this woman, and in an attempt to diffuse the situation, politely called out, "it's ok, they're siblings. They bicker from time to time." The woman turned to me with a horrified look on her face, took a visible breath, and shot in my direction, "she's TERRIFIED of him! He's BULLYING her!"

The woman's use of the word bullying, especially when I knew this was a case of siblings arguing about something ridiculous, rubbed me the wrong way but I remained calm...apparently too calm for this woman's taste. When I replied, "no, she's not terrified of him. They're brother and sister, and sometimes they fight. I'm right here and I'll take care of it," she LOST HER MIND.

The woman marched over to me and after getting right up in my face, started yelling at me. She claimed I was "nowhere to be found"* which is why she had to step in and stop my "awful son"** from bullying my "poor defenseless daughter"***. She called me a "bitch", a "fat cow", and a "horrible mother". I stood there - in complete shock - and took it, only because I had no idea what else to do and I shrink (and eventually cry) during confrontations.

* I wasn't "no where to be found". I was close enough to Will and Hallie to see and hear what they were doing, and I was walking toward them with the intention of stepping in and helping them work out their issue when she started yelling at/to Hallie.
** Will is anything but awful. He may pick on his sister and they may bicker/argue/fight, but I know - I KNOW - that Will would defend Hallie with every ounce of his strength and wit if anyone else ever tried to hurt her.
** Hallie is anything but poor and defenseless, and to assume to as much simply because she's a petite girl infuriated me. She may not be made of muscle, but she's strong and fast and smart and LOUD and would fight like a girl - in the best possible way - if she needed to do so.

Eventually the woman stormed off, leaving me - and my kids, who saw the confrontation occur but thankfully didn't hear the names she called me - in tears.

I sat down with Will and Hallie at the picnic table and we had a lengthy conversation about the encounter. I explained that while this woman's behavior was not their fault, their behavior - which they considered "everyday and benign" - had ultimately led to what happened. We talked about how people perceive situations differently, and about how even though this woman had misunderstood their bickering as something much worse and overreacted in her treatment of me, perhaps her life experiences had led her to assume bullying rather than sibling bickering. I went back to walking and they went back to playing.

But then...

The woman came back, this time without her dog. (I mention that she returned without her dog to point out that she hadn't gotten halfway home and made a split-second decision to turn around. She had gone all the way home, dropped off her dog, and walked all the way back to the park with a plan to attack me again.) She once again stomped up to me, this time to call me all three of the names mentioned above and tell me that for the rest of her life, 1) she would never again interfere if she saw a child being bullied and 2) the ramifications of her not stepping in to curb bullying would be my fault and "on me". I finally mustered the courage to say something, and as she stormed off for the second time, I squeaked out, "I hope you find somewhere else to direct your anger." She spun around and yelled, "I AM NOT AN ANGRY PERSON. I'M ONLY ANGRY AT YOU" before leaving the park for good.

I have never felt worse about myself as a parent - EVER - than I did that day.

I tried to put myself in the woman's shoes. What would I have done if I'd seen two kids - who looked likely to be siblings and whose mother was approaching - fighting? I can't say for certain, but I like to think I would have calmly offered to help the kids iron out their disagreement rather than screaming at the girl to run away. I like to think I would have offered the mother my support rather than my criticism. I know I wouldn't have called anyone any names, especially not such offensive names and within earshot of children.

I also tried to give the woman the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps she had been bullied - or worse, in an abusive relationship - and seeing two kids fighting triggered an involuntary reaction. Perhaps she was having a bad day (a bad week...a bad year) and she took it out on me.

But for someone who claimed to care so much about preventing bullying and protecting people from bullies...I couldn't help but continuously circle back around to the fact that she treated me as horrendously as I've ever been treated by another adult. I certainly felt bullied that day.

In all honesty, I think I might need to visit a therapist about this situation. I haven't taken my kids back to the park alone - I took them once but with my mom, sister, niece, and nephew - since that day, partially because the temperature outside is approximately 1,700 degrees, but also because I worry about running into this woman again. (I saw her near the park another day while out walking alone, so I know she lives nearby.) I worry about my kids running into her while walking to or from school, and I worry about my friends' kids - or any kids, for that matter - encountering her as well.

Since that day at the park, I have also started worrying far more about how my kids behave in public. I don't allow - nor have I ever allowed - Will and Hallie to misbehave or treat others disrespectfully, and I step in when they need my help controlling their emotions, working out problems, or taking a break from one another. I do, however, allow Will and Hallie to behave like kids. I let them be silly and rowdy and dramatic and even loud if the environment can support that kind of behavior. And because I want them to eventually learn how to calm down, settle a disagreement, and/or walk away from a contentious situation without my help, I always let them try on their own before I insert myself.

But now, I step in more quickly. I get frustrated with them more quickly because I'm worried about who's watching and what they're thinking and what they're going to say or do if my children aren't behaving the way a particular stranger thinks they're "supposed to" behave. Long story short, I am now much more paranoid about how I parent in public and I don't like it one bit.

So therapy in the traditional sense then? It's probably in the cards.

In the meantime, I share all of this today because writing about difficult situations - and hearing suggestions from moms about how I can best move forward after they happen - is a version of therapy for me. So if you have any suggestions...please share. What would you have done that day? What would you do now?

Signed,

A Changed Mom

Monday, August 21, 2017

Bucket List: #IMOMSOHARD

I stumbled upon the IMOMSOHARD (which, in an attempt to not anger spellcheck, I will refer to as IMSH from this point forward) Facebook page shortly after its creation about a year and a half ago. The two women pictured on the page - mothers around my age - looked friendly and fun, so I clicked play on one of their short videos:


Four minutes later and with tears of laughter streaming down my face, I started tagging all of my girlfriends in the comments section beneath the post. "If these ladies ever tour anywhere near us, we're going!"

As a woman, I find these members of my "species" two of the funniest I have ever encountered. Their humor stems in part from the relatable topics they choose to discuss, but also from the authenticity of their relationship as friends and the banter between them.

As a (often struggling) mother, I love Kristen and Jen's approach to both parenting and talking about parenting. They speak only the truth, at least the truth according to their experiences and a truth to which I can relate. They admit their mistakes and struggles in ways that make moms feel understood and less alone. And they laugh at themselves, which allows moms to do the same.

I am working on a post about one of the worst parenting experiences I've ever had. The situation began when a stranger made a snap judgement about me and my parenting skills and ended with her yelling at me and calling me awful names in front of my children. Not a day has gone by since the encounter that I haven't thought about that woman; each time she pops into my head I question whether or not she was right in her assessment, remind myself she wasn't, and then get angry at her all over again, both for treating me the way she did and for making me doubt my ability to mother my children.

The women of IMSH talk frequently about how physically, emotionally, and mentally difficult it is to take care of kids, but also about how moms supporting - rather than judging and ridiculing - one another makes wearing the motherhood pants easier. Kristen and Jen regularly remind me that 1) there are many different ways to do this job well, and 2) most moms want to love on and make life better for other moms.

Moving on after that lengthy lead-in for a post about a comedy show...

The moment I found out about the IMSH tour I texted my friends: "I'M GOING NO MATTER WHAT. ARE YOU COMING WITH ME?!" All replied in the affirmative, and we bought our tickets within moments of them going on sale.

I had high hopes going in. That said, I had never seen a comedian perform live so I didn't know what to expect in terms of a comedy show in general or the IMSO women's stage style; it can't be easy to transition from weekly four-minute YouTube clips to nightly two-hour live shows. But OH, did they deliver. I laughed from start to finish, and left feeling closer to my friends and united with all mothers. (And a little less torn down by the stranger I mentioned above.)
Road Trip!
The first IMSH tour has come to an end - the show we saw in Houston was one of their last - but should they ever tour again, I highly recommend making a date with your girlfriends (NOT your husband or significant other) to see the show. Keep in mind that the show content aligns with the content of the YouTube videos: raw and real and gritty and often inappropriate for anyone under the age of 18.

Thank you, IMOMSOHARD, for a month's worth of laughs and an incredible night out with friends.  
Lots of wine, lots of yogurt (Yoplait sponsored the tour so free
yogurt was everywhere), and a photo booth with props! (Want to see
something really creepy? Enlarge this photo and look at my eyes.

Friday, August 18, 2017

High Five for Friday: 8.18.17

1. At the end of last week we picked up Will's intermediate school schedule and he walked the halls, finding his way from one classroom to the next. He seemed - and continues to see - confident and excited, while I can't seem to wrap my head around the fact that he has left elementary school behind and in just over a week will start the next chapter of his academic life. As every parent laments, where does the time go?

2. A few months ago a half-wine bar/half-coffee shop opened in College Station. My friends and I have become regulars (the prosecco, lavender lattes, and cheese plates are beyond compare) and on Saturday afternoon we visited The Tipsy Bean again, this time for a Northern Italy wine and cheese tasting. Cheers to a break from everything that makes August such a tough month! (Anyone else? For me, August is one of the toughest months of the year...)

3. Soccer season officially started this week; we hit the ground running with two practices, two scrimmages, and one pool party. Dance season also started this week with five nights of Nutcracker preparations, three mornings of Mini Company bootcamp, and a Mini Company pool party. If this week was any indication, it's going to be a busy fall!

4. Speaking of a busy fall... I am staying in my position on the PTO Board at Hallie's elementary school for at least another year, which means my calendar has already begun filling up with school-related activities, service days, community-building events, and fundraisers. We've been working behind-the-scenes for weeks, but we officially kicked the year off strong with a "Welcome to the Rock" Spirit Night at Chuck E. Cheese and by gifting our new teachers, paraprofessionals, and support staff with bouquets of flowers. It's going to be a great year at The Rock!

5. Happiness Highlights:
Hallie checked The Pioneer Woman's newest children's book out
from the library and made Little Ree's pancake recipe all by herself.
(Except for flipping the pancakes, which made her too nervous.) 
It's a double rainbow!
After Will vacuumed out the inside of my car, these
(somewhat) happy little helpers washed the outside.
Hallie's creation.
Will's creation. I LOVE it
when the kids brush my hair...
It has been brought to my attention that if you break
open peat rock you might find crystals. This girl loves to
use her hammer, especially when it's to find shiny things! 

Happy Friday, Chasing Roots!

Linking up with High Five for Friday here:
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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

RIP, My Jolly Green Giant

The day before we left Wisconsin my Fitbit stopped working.
The top and bottom halves split apart, and even when
pushed back together the device couldn't function.
I wore my Fitbit 24 hours a day for more than two years, so while I treated it well, I can't say its sudden death surprised me. I had grown quite attached to it, however, so when it kicked the bucket I felt both a little sad and a lot naked.

My first instinct was to immediately purchase a replacement, but when I slowed down and considered my options with a clearer head (yes, I had to clear my head after my Fitbit died), I decided that asking around for recommendations before making a purchase would be a better course of action. I narrowed the seemingly endless number of available fitness trackers down to three - the kind I'd had previously along with two others liked by friends - but kept getting hung up on the fact that none of the three (or any I've found thus far) could do everything on my "want" list. So I made another decision...this time to not replace my Fitbit.

At the risk of sounding dramatic, this decision rocked my world. Remember that I wore my Fitbit ALL OF THE TIME for more than two years. I moved it from my pajamas to my workout clothes to my regular clothes and back to my pajamas every day, checking it regularly to make sure I was on track to meet the day's step goal.

Speaking of, my step goals have always been 12,000 steps on weekdays and 10,000 steps on weekends, and in 24+ months of wearing my Fitbit, I met my goal all but eight days. Knowing that, I decided I could go about my daily life - as long as I maintained my regular schedule of walking the kids to and from school, working out at the gym, and going for long walks on the weekend - and still meet those goals. I don't need a Fitbit to tell me I reached 10,000 steps, or that I walked across Japan.

I still reach for my Fitbit multiple times a day, wondering for a split second when I don't feel it clipped to my clothing where I might have taken it off and left it. But with each passing hour, I feel a little less constrained...a little more free.

So RIP, my jolly green giant. You served me well as both a companion and a coach, but the time has come for me to make a go of it on my own. I could use a little more freedom in my life.
Tux will miss my Fitbit too... He used to carry it around while I was
in the shower, and once he managed to accumulate 100 steps for me.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Wisconsin Bucket List: The House on the Rock

For the last few years, the kids and I, along with my mom and sometimes my dad, have been working our way through a South-Central Wisconsin bucket list of sorts. Along with Madison's most popular attractions, we've visited Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Mount Olympus Water & Amusement Park in Wisconsin Dells, Little Amerricka in Marshall, Troll Lake in Stoughton, the sunflower fields in Middleton, Miller Park (where the Brewers play baseball) in Milwaukee, and Cave of the Mounds in Blue Mounds.

This year we crossed The House on the Rock off our list of small town adventures and excursions.

The House on the Rock opened in 1945 and over the years has become one of the most visited tourist attractions in Wisconsin. To give you an idea of its regional and even national popularity, we counted more than 20 different out-of-state license plates in the parking lot on the day of our visit.

Dreamed up and built by Alex Jordan, Jr. (who I might describe as a more eccentric, chaotic, and gaudy version of Walt Disney), The House on the Rock seemingly grows out of Deer Shelter Rock, a column of stone 60 feet by 70 feet by 200 feet nestled in a forested area near Spring Green. The house itself consists of an extravagant patchwork of dark rooms, narrow pathways, and cramped galleries that flow one to the next. The spaces were built like one might assemble a patchwork quilt: at different times, using different styles and materials, and without a master plan to guarantee a coherent final product. Beige shag carpeting meets - not at 90 degree angles but angles ranging from 60 to 120 degrees - walls of exposed stone and brick. (In some cases, these stone walls are made not by piecing together small, perfectly shaped stones but of the actual massive rock in which the house is situated.) Rustic wooden tables sit beneath hanging Tiffany lamps and next to a 1970s electric stove. A player piano cranks out an eery tune while the steady flow of a nearby waterfall keeps time like a metronome. Trees grow unimpeded through many of the dimly lit - but lit with electricity none-the-less - rooms. Nothing about the house makes sense, nor is it possible to adequately explain this cacophony of architecture in words...that's what makes it so ridiculously fascinating.
This harp, drum, violin, cello, and piano continuously
played a jovial tune next to one of the living spaces.
The kitchen space had appliances as well as stone and brick walls,
wooden ceilings, and windows facing out of the rock on one side.
One of the dining areas: a wooden table, Tiffany wall lamps,
and stone and brick walls all nestled in a cave-like corner. 
One of the sunken living spaces - lots of carpeting,
carpet-upholstered furniture, and stained glass windows.
One of the indoor waterfalls.
Trees growing up through the house.
The highlight of The House on the Rock is the Infinity Room, which extends an unsupported length of 218 feet and 156 feet above the valley floor. The kids could have played out there all day; I, on the other hand, walked to the point, turned around, and walked quickly back to solid ground...well, as solid as one could consider a house built into a rock.
A view of one of the Japanese gardens on our way up.
The view from the top.
He was willing to stand much closer to the windows than me.
Kind of looks like it goes on forever, right?

People can walk to this point, at which they can look
through a hole in the floor straight down to the ground.

The view of the Infinity Room from a nearby highway.

In addition to the house itself, The House on the Rock is home to a number of galleries in which Jordan stashed his abundant collection of bizarre...stuff.

Jane Smiley wrote this about the complex in 1993:

"It is hard not to be overwhelmed by the House on the Rock. The sheer abundance of objects is impressive, and the warmth most of the objects exude, the way that the toys ask to be played with, for example, makes the displays inherently inviting. But almost from the beginning, it is too much. The house itself is dusty. Windowpanes are cracked. Books are water damaged. The collections seem disordered, not curated. In fact, there is no effort to explore the objects as cultural artifacts, or to use them to educate the passing hordes. If there were informative cards, it would be impossible to read them in the dark. Everything is simply massed together, and Alex Jordan comes to seem like the manifestation of pure American acquisitiveness, and acquisitiveness of a strangely boyish kind, as if he had finalized all his desires in childhood and never grown into any others."

To give you a small glimpse into our experience... After strolling down the cobblestone streets and past the old fashioned storefronts in the "Streets of Yesterday", we paused to listen to a massive calliope - complete with animatronic musicians - crank out a lively melody. We then entered a tribute to all things nautical: a cavernous space, the walls of which were lined with naval artifacts, maps of the oceans, and models of ships. In the center of the room stood a GIGANTIC - perhaps three stories tall and 100 feet long - statue of an epic battle between an octopus and a mythical sea creature. Next we passed through a room filled with bicycles and hot air balloons on our way to the World's Largest Carousel (elaborately adorned with 269 handcrafted animals, 20,000 lights, and 182 chandeliers). Finally we wandered through multiple rooms filled to capacity with dollhouses, circus displays, guns, armor, music boxes, old fashioned wagons, organs, and enormous ship engines.
The orchestra of life-sized animatronic
humans playing real stringed instruments.
The calliope in the Streets of Yesterday.
A model of the Titanic.
The sea creature vs. octopus battle, as
viewed from the third floor balcony.
Will and Hallie on the photo op carousel
horse (no one can ride the actual carousel).
The World's Largest Carousel.
Can you picture it? I certainly couldn't before we set foot inside.

I doubt I'll return to The House on the Rock anytime soon as I don't get the impression the exhibits change very often, but I highly recommend the first two "levels" (the house and the first series of galleries - my mom and I agreed that we could have skipped the second series of galleries) to anyone traveling through Wisconsin.

One more excursion crossed off the Wisconsin Bucket List!

The kids wanted to sit in every single one of these - and there were A LOT - fortune telling chairs. The Throne of Passion labeled Will as "brain dead" and Hallie as "out of control"...

Friday, August 11, 2017

High Five for Friday: 8.11.17

After a month away, today we return to our regularly-scheduled High Five for Friday posts!

1. We made it home from Wisconsin safely and with our sanity still intact, a remarkable feat considering we forgot our DVD players at my parents' house and didn't realize our error until we had driven more than 100 miles. Will and Hallie watched one movie (the only movie) on our iPad and played their Nintendo 3DS hand-held gaming systems, but for more than half of the 1,200 mile drive back to Texas they read, colored, played car games, and snacked. (They may have argued a bit as well...)

2. We fairly quickly reacclimatized to Texas' summer weather, another astonishing feat given that the temperature climbed all the way to 105 degrees just as we rolled back into our garage. (I guess I should say that Tom and the kids reacclimatized to Texas' summer weather. For me, "reacclimatized" is just a fancy way of saying "remembered how much I hate".)

3. For the first time in my entire life, I hired someone to clean my house. Actually I chose a company (rather than an individual), and set up an appointment for the employees to come in and clean from top to bottom one day prior to our return home. Regular readers might recall that during the summer months the kids and I spend quite a bit of time up north while Tom remains at home to work. During our absence he lives the bachelor life in our house, and while I appreciate his efforts to tidy and clean before I walk back through the door, the house is just never where I want/need it to be. This plan cost me a fair amount of money, but coming home to a freshly vacuumed, dusted, mopped, and wiped house was worth every one of those pennies. 

4. It took a few days, but Tux finally forgave us for leaving him. He decided he could once again sleep in the Beyblade stadium on Will's bed, snuggle with Hallie on the couch, and ride on my shoulders, and he stopped pooping in our closet. You read that right...during our absence Tux pooped on Tom's pants (pairs that lay in a heap on the floor) multiple times, pooped on the floor of our closet multiple times, and peed in a variety of places that were not his litter box, including the couch, the floor of our closet, and in a suitcase. He strongly dislikes it when we leave him behind. (We may need to start boarding Tux. Local friends, we boarded once at our vet and didn't find their accommodations nice or spacious enough to leave Tux there again. Any recommendations?)

5. As soon as we returned to Texas we hit the ground running. The last two weeks have included a swimming birthday party, quite a few trips to the pool, multiple play dates, a sleepover, a piano tuning, an orthodontist appointment, Bengal Belle dance camp, a soccer tournament, a lengthy and complicated work assignment, hours of PTO planning and meetings, and tons of paperwork, errands, and school supply shopping in preparation for the new school year. I also enjoyed two day-long excursions: one with friends to see IMOMSOHARD in Houston and one with the fam to Schlitterbahn in New Braunfels. (As both trips were on my bucket list, they'll each receive their own post in the coming month.) August is typically one of our busiest months of the year, and this August is no exception - cheers to keeping our heads afloat!
Having the swimming pool - with waterslides
and other activities - all to ourselves was incredible! 
Play date treat from the new Bahama Buck's!
These three besties loved their fourth
year dancing together at Bengal Belle camp!
And we always need a pic with their big girl besties as well.
Hallie and her Big Belle, Lacey.
Brody, Will, and Aaron at the Cavalry 3 vs. 3 soccer tournament.
Mom besties at IMOMSOHARD - best show ever!

Happy Friday, Chasing Roots!

Linking up with High Five for Friday here:
  Cup

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

A Delicious Gift From the Sun

I vaguely remember as a child wondering why my mom's lemon pitcher (a clear glass pitcher with etched lemons on the exterior and a yellow plastic lid) frequently sat perched on the railing of the back deck. Eventually she explained the process of making sun tea and let me sample her brew; I much more clearly remember that it tasted terrible.

Since living in Texas we have (slowly) developed an affection for Texas' signature beverage: TEA. We've sampled sweet and unsweet, and while Tom, Will, Hallie, and I each have a preference for one over the other, tea in general has become quite popular with the four Ferri.

While in Wisconsin a couple of weeks ago, I asked my mom to remind me of her "recipe" so I could brew my own sun tea when we returned home. She walked me through the process, and then a few hours later... Tom, Will, and I drank tea until we had emptied the pitcher, and then I brewed a second batch.

If our eagerness to drink my mom's sun tea didn't confirm our status as Texans, my still-Midwestern sister's distaste for the same drink did - she thinks tea tastes like soap.

In case you'd like to try brewing your own sun tea (because after all, what else do we have around here these days but sun), here's how!

Fill a large pitcher with water. We used filtered water in
Madison, but I would just use tap water here in Texas.
Add five or six tea bags (we used Luzianne iced tea bags, but any
green or black tea bags would work) to the pitcher, making sure the tea
bags are in the water and the paper tags are hanging outside the pitcher.
Place the pitcher in a sunny spot...
...and return a few hours later to enjoy!
If you like tea even a little bit, I promise this sun tea will not disappoint.

And yes, my mom still has and we used the same pitcher she made iced tea in when I was a little girl. "Vintage Iced Tea" has a nice ring to it...