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Someone Told Me It’s All Happening At The Zoo

Two years ago I took the kids to the Bronx Zoo for the first time. I took them on a Wednesday, which (unbeknownst to me at the time) is the free day, and the whole entire world goes then, and the trip didn’t exactly go as planned.

It took me a while to build up the energy (and desire) to take them again.

When we went two years ago my parents had given us a family membership so we could go whenever I wanted.

I decided not to renew it be cause we didn’t use it at all after that.

With so many of us though, it’s pretty pricey to take everyone (or even just most of us) to the zoo.

But since I have decided that this spring break would be a break of adventures, I willingly and knowingly took the kids to the zoo yesterday. On Wednesday. The free day.

And I’m pretty sure that will be our last trip to the Bronx Zoo for at least, um…

Ever.

I had visions of an Instagram-worthy or reality show worthy (i.e. totally fake) trip. The kids would all have fun, they’d be mesmerized by the animals, they’d cooperate, and we’d leave with dozens of fond memories.

In reality, things were much different than what I had envisioned.

I knew better though. Most family trips are about 70% fighting/whining/arguing/complaining and 30% Instagram/Facebook worthy. If we’re lucky.

But this one was more like 90/10.

We did start this trip off much better than the one we had taken two years ago.

I knew where I was going this time and we got to the parking lot an hour after we left. I had packed lunches for the kids to eat, and they ate in the car on the ride there. We were meeting some friends too, so that made the trip a little more exciting.

We got out of the car and everyone had a full stomach and was excited to be at the zoo.

For like five minutes.

We stopped at the bathroom by the entrance before we did anything else.

There was a decent line to get into the zoo, but it moved quickly, and ten minutes later we found our friends.

It started raining as soon as we saw them, so we headed directly into the World of Birds.

It was about 4 million degrees in there, and every single person who had gotten to the zoo in the last twenty minutes was inside that exhibit to avoid the rain.

As soon as we walked in the door, Number 6 sat down and started crying.

“What’s wrong?” I asked him.

“MY FOOT HURTS!” he yelled at me.

Then he sat on the floor and refused to get up.

“HOW MUCH LONGER ARE WE GOING TO BE HERE???” he yelled.

“We’re only staying in this exhibit until it stops raining. It’s just a passing shower,” I told him.

“NO! NOT IN THIS PLACE!” he yelled.

HOW MUCH LONGER ARE WE STAYING AT THE ZOO???

We had literally been there for fifteen minutes.

“Um… we just got here,” I said to him.

“I HATE THIS PLACE!” he cried. “I TOLD YOU I DIDN’T WANT TO GO HERE!!!”

Yikes. It was going to be a long afternoon.

I took him out of the building, sat him on a bench and looked at his shoe.

“NOW MY PANTS ARE WET!!!! AAAAAAGGGGGHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!! WHY DID YOU GET MY PANTS WET?

I TOLD YOU I DIDN’T WANT TO GO TO THE ZOO!

THIS IS THE DUMBEST. PLACE. EVER!!!!!!!!”

The rain had stopped so we headed toward the seals. The seals are always a crowd pleaser.

“I HAVE TO PEE,” Number 6 said.

What. The fuck.

“You just went to the bathroom ten minutes ago,” I said to him.

“WELL I HAVE TO GO AGAIN!” he said.

“IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT BECAUSE YOU GAVE ME GATORADE!!!”

Kill me now.

I set the other kids up with my parents and my friend and headed off to find a bathroom.

It took all my restraint to not rip Number 6’s arm from his socket.

After five minutes of dragging Number 6 around in circles, we finally found the bathroom.

We made it back to our group and continued on.

“CARRY MEEEEEE!!!!” Number 6 whined.

“I’m not carrying you,” I told him.

“WHY WAS THIS SO MUCH FUN THE LAST TIME BUT THIS TIME IT’S

SO STUPID?!?!?

I was beginning to get a headache from clenching my jaws shut.

Around this point, Number 7 got an Incredible Hulk-like burst of energy.

She had a minor bike riding accident a week or so ago and she landed on the handlebars of her bike right on her chest. She gave herself a good burn/scrape.

She pulled up her shirt and yelled,

“LOOK GRAMMY! MY BOO BOO IS ALL BETTER AND MY NIPPLE DOESN’T LOOK LIKE SALMON ANYMORE!!!”

Oh my God.

Then she started doing cartwheels.

I didn’t let myself think about what exactly she was putting her hands into. I was just glad her shirt was all the way on again.

Now Number 3 and Number 4 were getting on each other’s nerves and Number 6 was on his seven thousandth sit-in.

“I’M NOT WALKING. CARRY ME.”

I couldn’t take him anymore.

Fully aware that I was contributing to the problem, I told him I’d give him a piggy back.

That helped for about three minutes.

But his shorts were too slippery and he kept sliding down my back, and that was pissing him off and now he was whining again but now I was actually sweating and out of breath.

So I put him down.

Unlike our list trip, there was no grand finale. There was no final exhibit or ride or display that turned everyone’s attitudes around.

Between the crying and the whining and the refusing and then the kids giving each other flat tires and pushing and shoving and annoying, we came to our senses and decided it was time to go.

I forced everyone to take a picture before we left.

This pretty accurately depicts our trip:

I really wanted my kids to be those kids who LOVE going to the zoo (why, I’m not sure, but still, I wanted them to love it) but you know what? Most of them don’t.

And what Remember whens will they have from this adventure?

I’m not sure, but one thing I am pretty sure of is that we are done with the zoo.

I mean, why drive an hour to the Bronx?

It’s apparent we’ve got plenty of wild animals right here at home.

 

 

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Less Yes and More No

When is the last time you said No?

And I don’t mean no to things like Mom, can I  stay up until the Super Bowl is over? or Mom, can I eat chocolate chip cookies for dinner tonight? or Mom, can we get a kitten?

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, reflecting and evaluating in the last few months, but especially in the last few weeks.

And I know with six school-age kids living at home our level of chaos and crazy is going to be higher than most peoples’.

But the number one thing I find myself talking (okay, complaining) about with my mom friends is how fucking crazy life is.

How it’s non-stop.

Even for moms with one or two kids.

How the weeknights are spent freaking out over homework and squeezing in a meal and coordinating kids driving from one activity to the next, and how the weekends somehow are even busier than the weekdays.

Aren’t the weekends supposed to be for resting? For regrouping? For decompressing from the Monday through Friday pandemonium?

They are defined as the period of time between the end of one work or school week and the beginning of the next.

But for so many of us, they have become the 48 hours, from Friday to Sunday night, that you cram full of as many sporting activities, birthday parties and other stupid and annoying bullshit as humanly possible.

While there are some days/weeks/months that are always going to be busier than others, more often than not I find myself complaining about this pace of life. About the constant activity. About the lack of down time.

But you know what?

I’ve done it to myself.

And it stems from either my unwillingness or my inability to just say no.

Until recently.

Two weekends ago was one of those when it rains it pours weekends.

Number 3 had a swim meet on Saturday and Sunday morning.

Number 4 had a swim meet Saturday afternoon.

Number 3 and 4 also had another swim meet on Sunday afternoon.

In addition, Number 4 had a travel basketball game on Saturday morning and  Sunday morning before the swim meet.

I was coaching one of the swim meets, then driving to the airport directly from the swim meet to hop on a plane to get to the conference I attended last Monday and Tuesday.

My parents took the three younger kids for a sleepover on Friday night to cut down on the craziness of  Saturday.

My husband took care of getting Number 4 to all her stuff. I took care of Number 3 on Saturday and Sunday morning.

A friend of mine was getting Number 3 from the swim meet on Sunday morning to the other swim meet on Sunday afternoon.

I borrowed my parents’ truck so I could drive that to the airport and leave my car (because it’s the only one that can fit all of us in it) at home for the weekend so my husband had it to take everyone to the swim meet on Sunday afternoon.

I realize upon typing all of this out that this is insane.

Actually, I realized that last weekend. And all of our weekends are not this out of control. But they are definitely busy.

And so on this completely out-of-control weekend, Number 6 was also invited to a birthday party.

And in all of the weekend’s logistical Olympics, I was trying to figure out how my parents could get Number 6 to this birthday party on Saturday.

Because it was actually for a kid I know and a kid Number 6 likes.

But then I pulled my head out of my ass.

It was just too much.

And I told the dad of the birthday boy that we couldn’t make the party. There was just way too much going on already.

I felt bad. Number 6 would have had fun.

But there are only so many hours in a day, so many balls you can juggle, and so many places you can drag your kids around to in a weekend.

And I don’t want to set that example for my kids — that there is no down time and every second of every day has to be scheduled full of  things to do!

It’s not healthy.

For the kids or for me.

This past weekend we ran into the same thing again.

Number 4 had three basketball games — one on Friday, one on Saturday and one on Sunday.

Number 3, 4 and I had to be at swim practice at 7 a.m. on Saturday morning. I had private swim lessons to teach before and after Number 4’s Saturday game.

Sunday morning Number 5 and 7 and I had a swim meet. Later that afternoon Number 4 had her basketball game.

I was trying to figure out how we were going to get to all these places.

In the end, we realized we needed to make some decisions, and we told the coach Number 4 couldn’t go to her game on Friday night.

On Sunday after the swim meet, rather than all of us driving 45 minutes to Number’s basketball game,  I stayed home with the younger kids and my husband went to Number 4’s game.

I felt some mom guilt for not going to Number 4’s game on Sunday.

But not as guilty as I would have felt on Sunday night after spreading myself too thin and inevitably losing my shit on someone for something that wasn’t that big of a deal.

Before you all go off on me and tell me my kids are doing too much, I am aware of this.

Number 4 and I have already discussed that next year, something has got to give. Playing travel basketball and swimming on the Y swim team and also swimming on the middle school swim team is just too much.

But when you have six kids of varying ages involved in even just one sport, and when you have three kids in elementary school who get invited to birthday parties approximately once a month, your weekends are going to be crazy. That’s life with a big family.

It’s crazy.

But it doesn’t have to be as crazy.

And that’s the reminder here.

That one, your kids don’t have to go to every birthday party they are invited to. Especially if they don’t really know the kid that well or if the amount of  time, effort, planning, and energy needed to get the kid there outweighs the amount of enjoyment he or she will get from being there in the first place.

Two, overscheduling your kids out of the fear that you are depriving them is wrong.

Because while you may not be depriving them of participating in activities, you are depriving them of  learning how to make choices. Learning to prioritize. Learning the value and importance of down time and self care and the realization that you simply cannot do every single thing you want to do.

Not at the same time, anyway.

Finally, I am reminded that expecting ourselves as moms to do the same thing is also unhealthy.

There are six kids in this house right now. Five of them participate in sports. One of them is in chorus. One plays the saxophone. Three are old enough to be home alone. Three are not.

I can’t get to every game or meet or concert of every single kid.

It’s just not possible.

And it’s not fair to the other kids in the house.

So the biggest thing I need to consistently remind myself?

Driving myself crazy, spreading myself thin, and physically being in the same place as my kids does not actually make me present for my kids.

In fact, it often prevents me from being in the moment and it causes me to be the very opposite of the mom I really want to be (and the mom my kids really need).

In this case, less is definitely more. Quality, not quantity.

It’s okay to say no.

In fact, it’s not just okay.

It’s a necessary life skill.

And if I’m going to expect my kids to know how to do it, then I’m gonna have to start doing it a little more myself.

 

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Your Kid Is Probably Not In The Top .05%

I know. Your kid is destined for greatness.

Your kid is different.

And every second of his or her eight or nine or ten-year-old season is determining his or her success starting….

yesterday.

One misstep by a coach, one bad call, one wrong move, one unforced error, one bad event, one missed opportunity, and your kid is now officially screwed out of any and all Olympic or professional hopes and dreams.

Here is the thing.

If your kid has what it takes, your kid has what it takes.

It will be fairly obvious from very early on.

If you have a future Michael Phelps, you will know it.

Michael Phelps wasn’t just a really good swimmer when he was a kid.

He blew everyone out of the water.

Tiger Woods wasn’t just winning golf tournaments as a child. He was a prodigy.

At two years old.

If you have a superstar, you will know it.

Your kid won’t just be good.

Your kid will make everyone else around him or her look like a chump.

There are a few phenoms who come up through the ranks in every sport every few years, and it is very clear that they have potential for Olympic or professional greatness.

Then there are the rest of us.

Most of us will never see the participant side of an Olympic event. Most of us will never be on the field at Yankee Stadium. Not as a player, anyway.

About one out of every 200 high school seniors are drafted by a major league team. Most of those players go to a minor league team first. Approximately one in 33 minor league players make it to the big leagues. This works out to about one in 6600 high school players actually making it onto an MLB team.

That’s a 0.015% chance of playing professional baseball in the big leagues. It’s very small. 

We don’t even need to go that crazy. We don’t need to talk the pros.

A 2001 study by the National Alliance for Youth Sports found that 70 percent of American kids quit sports by the time they are 13.

Forget the major leagues or the Olympics. 70% don’t even make it to high school!

I know. Not your kid.  Your kid won’t quit. Your kid is going somewhere. Your kid is already talented. And your talented kid won’t quit.

Not necessarily.

A study done by the American Swim Coaches Association showed that only 17 to 20% of 9 and 10-year-old swimmers ranked in the top 16 are still swimming at the national level 5 years later.

Another study done by USA Swimming using the all-time Top 100 list showed that only 11% of the top ranked 10 and unders are still ranked as 17- 18 year olds.

Being a great young athlete does not guarantee being a great older athlete later on in high school and college.

It doesn’t even guarantee that your kid will still be an athlete at all!

Millions of kids would love to go to the Olympics.

But let’s face it.

I wanted to go to the Olympics when I was a kid, too. I don’t know about you, but I never even came close.

Maybe that’s part of the reason why we’d all love our kid to be an All-Star. A record-setter. A gold medal winner.

That would be awesome. We could be proud and live vicariously through them.

But before I set my sights on a gold medal in Rio, I just want my kids to make it through high school.

And college, if they go that route. I want my kids to be involved in sports for the long haul.

Because the best part of a sport isn’t the hardware you collect. It’s not even participating at an elite level.

That’s not the measure of whether you were successful or not.

The best parts of participating in a sport are the connections you make and the things you learn about yourself.

Making friends. Having fun. Sharing a common bond with a group of people.

Pushing yourself not necessarily because your goal is to be the best, but to be better than you were before.

Learning to be a leader. Leading by example. Learning about sportsmanship. Learning to handle disappointment and loss with grace and dignity. Learning to compete against yourself.

Learning to use missed opportunities and unmet goals as chances to self-reflect and look at the things you can change in order to be better than you were yesterday.

Seeing growth and improvement in yourself and knowing that you pushed yourself to get better.

And having fun.

It’s great for your kids to have goals and dreams and aspirations.

It’s great for them to want to go to the Olympics.

But being a part of a sport is so much more than that.

It has to be. If it were only about going to the Olympics or going pro, it would be a pretty big waste of time for 99% of us.

I swam on my high school swim team. It was the best experience of my life. My best friends to this day are swimmers from high school and college.

As far as high school teams go, we were one of the best.  We won the state championships for our division most of the years I was on the team.

I think.

I can’t even remember, to be honest.

And that’s the point.

I have no clue what any of my times were in high school. I don’t think I could tell you a detail about a single meet or race in the four years that I swam.

But I do remember being chosen as a captain.

I remember what we did on just about every bus ride to an away meet. I remember singing every Michael Jackson, Prince and Flashdance soundtrack song on that bus.

I remember laughing harder than I have ever laughed before.

I remember all of us going to the Rocky Horror Picture Show on the weekends and I remember my teammates all being there for me when my brother died my junior year.

I remember how hard practices were and  I remember my coach continually reminding us that complaining is cancerous.

But I don’t remember a damn thing from one single meet.

Your kid isn’t going to remember the details of the games and the meets in thirty years.

Or probably even ten years.

But your kid will remember the good times.

She will remember playing cards on the deck with friends and catching frogs in the nearby pond with friends during a meet.

He’ll remember swimming in the pool at the hotel or playing miniature golf or going to an amusement park when the team travels to a tournament.

Who doesn’t love the movie The Sandlot? That’s a great movie!

But we don’t love it because the kids were amazing baseball players who were crushing the competition. Sure, (spoiler alert) they were the underdogs who beat the douchey rich kid team, and everyone likes to see the underdog win, but we love that movie because the kids were all having fun. Because they just loved playing baseball. They loved spending time together and doing something they all really enjoyed.

If I had the choice of being on the douchey rich kid team or the Sandlot team, I know which one I’d pick. I’d pick the one where the kids were having fun, and where everyone was a part of the team, no matter how talented they were.

We have some good athletes in this house. Number 4 wants to be an Olympic swimmer and Number 3 wants to play for the Yankees.

Is that going to happen?

Who knows. Statistically speaking, the chances are not good.

It’s great for them to dream big. But I’m not delusional.

And right now, all I want is for them to try hard and to have fun in the process. To be a part of a group that is having fun. And to learn to push themselves rather than relying on a coach or a parent to do it for them.

The other day I was talking to a mom whose kids are on the town swim team. This is their first experience with swimming, and one of her kids is starting very late in comparison to everyone else on the team. He’s also got some significant physical limitations that will prevent him from every being a super competitive swimmer. His mother is completely aware of and realistic about this.

In every meet her son is put on a relay team, and in every meet that relay team finishes well behind everyone else.

And she remarked to me the other day, “Everyone has accepted him. Everyone cheers for him. Everyone makes him feel like part of the team. No one complains that he’s holding them back.  This team has been wonderful for him.”

And along with having fun and learning about yourself, that is what being part of a sport is about.

Setting goals, pushing yourself, being a leader and being part of something bigger than yourself  (as opposed to making it into that top .05%)  is what truly makes a kid an exceptional athlete.

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Does it really matter?

Today I found myself texting a friend and telling her I was livid.

And I found myself getting really worked up over this thing that, in the big picture, was not a big deal at all.

It was an inconvenience, and it was annoying, but ultimately, it’s irrelevant.

A year from now, it won’t make a difference one way or another.

But my reaction to this annoyance was more in tune with it being a determining factor in the overall quality, future, and success of my life and my children’s lives.

It’s really insignificant when I think about it.

And I think that so often we get fired up over these things that are not life-altering, and then we react in a way that maybe isn’t teaching our kids how to handle the bumps in the road that life so often throws at us in an effective way.

Shit happens and sometimes people are assholes.

We can focus on that, let it eat away at us, and let it affect how we interact with our families.

Or we could use it as an opportunity to model some healthier reactions and to teach our kids how to roll with the punches without feeling the need to start wildly swinging themselves.

I mean, being a parent is the ultimate example of life never quite going as planned.

How many times have  you been about to walk out the door and finally be on time for something and then your kid tells you she has to go poo?

How many times have you made plans to actually do something for yourself and then your kid wakes up with a  103° fever and you have to cancel everything you had planned on doing?

How many times have you signed your kid up to do something being 100% positive she was absolutely going to love it only to have her bawl her brains out, cling onto your leg or your neck for dear life, and refuse to participate?

Parenting is full of those kinds of moments.

So is life.

And I really want to spend less time stewing over things that, in the big picture, are  inconsequential.

Does it matter if my kids miss a swim practice or a baseball practice that I have, for whatever reason, deemed imperative for them to attend? Or even two or three practices?

I’m pretty sure my kids will still meet their athletic potential ten years from now.

Those one or two practices don’t matter.

What matters is that they know how to roll with the punches. That they can handle an unexpected plot twist with a level head rather than having it throw them into a complete tailspin.

Does it matter if my kids decide to write their names on every single wall in the house?

Nah. I mean sure, it’s annoying, but to be honest, I kind of like walking past Number 7’s room and seeing her name written in the hallway outside her room in her preschool handwriting.

It’s cute. And it doesn’t matter.

What matters is that she has a roof over her head.

Does it matter if Number 6 lost the brand new sunglasses he just got yesterday?

As I was walking around searching for them I thought it did.

But it doesn’t.

Yeah, that’s annoying, too.

But he’s not going to go blind without them, and maybe the fact that he lost them less than twenty-four hours after he got them will help to teach him to keep better track of his stuff.

A year from now will it matter that Number 6 won’t let me pull the damn tooth that is hanging on by a thread out of his mouth?

No. It’s not in my mouth, so what the hell do I care?

A year from now I’m pretty sure it won’t be in his mouth anymore.

What matters is that I let him deal with that in his own time. Or until he swallows it.

Does it matter that my kid goes to a birthday party for a friend but won’t leave my side the entire time?

Nope.

He’s not going to be living in my basement when he’s fifty years old.

What matters is that I keep things in perspective. Eventually he’ll have the confidence to venture off on his own.

Does it matter that someone I don’t know all that well is talking trash about me to other people?

Definitely not.

What matters is that the people who me know me know the truth and would never believe a word of it.

What matters even more is that I know the truth.

Does it matter that I asked my husband to help the kids pack up their stuff to go to the pool and instead of packing a towel for one of them he gave them a bathmat to dry off with?

No.

What matters is that my husband willingly helps out with the kids and that he knows I really appreciate it when he does.

Does it matter that Number 7 has been wearing the exact same outfit for the last six days?

Nope.

What matters is that she’s clothed, that she loves what she’s wearing, and that she’s got enough confidence to not give a flying fuck what anyone else thinks.

Why is it so easy to forget what really matters?

Today we had tornado warnings here in CT, and it kind of put things into perspective for me.

I’ve got my house, I’ve got my health, I’ve got a husband who is willing to stick it out with me, incredibly supportive parents, good friends, and a bunch of beautiful, healthy, intelligent and super talented kids.

I’ve really got nothing to complain about.

And maybe if I want my kids to stop complaining about things that are really pretty ridiculous, I should probably stop doing it myself.

 

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