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Kindergarten, the sequel

Today was the first day of kindergarten and it couldn’t have been more different than last year’s first day of kindergarten.

Last year was fraught with waffle drama and the omen of a lost skirt. This year she’s wearing another skirt but was not in the mood for breakfast at all and of course I was all “YOU MUST EAT” and put an extra snack in her Littlest Pet Shop lunch box.

This year Nathan was the one who stayed with her until the bell rang.

But mom wasn’t left out and got a shot in with the kindergartner as well.

I’m not feeling the love for those pants. They’re actually a couple of sizes larger than what I wear now and the last time I wore them I had four dollars in coins in one pocket, the weight of which nearly made the pants slide off my right hip.

But I’m liking that denim jacket which I purchased for $3.99 at Goodwill. Score!

Anyway, back to the kindergartner. I have no doubt she’s going to get into some mischief this year. Ideally I’d like to make it through the week before getting a call from the school, but after meeting her teacher I have all the confidence in the world my child is now with someone who will appreciate and nurture her individuality and help harness her dramatic tendencies.

So excited for the first day of school.

I’m also pretty confident in saying that skirt is coming home tonight. This year’s first day of kindergarten is much colder than last year’s.

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Last night I had an extremely vivid dream that I was pregnant again.

In this dream I was at the very end of my pregnancy, just days away from another c-section and not at all prepared to bring a baby home. We had nothing for a baby since we gave away or sold everything once Autumn couldn’t use it anymore.

I was so unprepared for this pregnancy that I hadn’t even picked out a name. It was as though the previous nine months hadn’t happened and I suddenly found myself in this state of incubation, which when you think of it, was exactly how it was because I went to bed not pregnant and found myself very much so in the dream.

As it so happens, I found my inspiration for the baby’s name in the dream and wanted to share it with everyone including Nathan who, while not present in the dream, was most asuuredly the daddy of our new daughter Mary Ellen Virginia.

I remembered that name this morning as I was driving to the gym. In the dream I selected that name because it supposedly paid homage to my side of the family and Nathan’s. But that’s really not the case. Mary is my mother’s name and Virginia is my paternal grandmother’s middle name. I don’t know where Ellen came from, but it’s not from Nathan’s family and I’m sure any future daughter of ours would be given his mother’s name, which was Pamela.

While I was looking forward to this baby, I was not at all thrilled with the prospect of having to pay for five more years of child care.  My weight wasn’t even a consideration, which I find odd because finally taking off that baby weight was a huge milestone I celebrated not too long ago.

I can only assume I dreamed of being pregnant because six years ago last week I found out I was going to have a baby and I knew her name, should she be a she, was going to be Autumn.  Then again, maybe the answer isn’t that obvious.  Maybe the personal and professional changes I’ve been considering and the potential those changes have for jeopardizing my hard-earned happiness are weighing me down like a 40 week-old fetus.  The funny thing is I wasn’t that unhappy or apprehensive about the pregnancy in the dream.  I may have been resigned and was definitely optimistic, but it was only after I woke up and remembered the baby’s name that I felt relief.

Mary Ellen Virginia.

Even though I’m glad I’ll never meet her, I can’t help but hope she would have been all kinds of awesome.

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Depth of field

In photographic terms, the world bokeh refers to the out-of-focus part of an image, or rather the way a lens renders the out-of-focus part of an image.

An image with good bokeh brings the subject into focus by way of making the background out-of-focus. You can still tell what’s in the background more or less, but what’s there is rendered as a soft mass of pixelated colored light, forcing your attention to what the photographer wants you to see in the picture.

I haven’t taken as many pictures as I wanted to this year. November has come and gone. My baby turned five, I turned thirty-nine and l’ve been too dang busy.

This was the first year since Autumn’s first birthday that I didn’t post an annual photo montage video. I felt a slight twinge of regret about that, but in all honesty it was very liberating not to spend hours in a cold basement hobbling together something that would have gotten yanked from YouTube or Facebook for copyright infringement because I didn’t actually ask the surviving members of The Beatles if I could use “For You Blue” as the soundtrack to my daughter’s fifth year.

I hear Yoko Ono is a tough nut to crack and that Paul McCartney may not be fond of women named Heather so I wasn’t even gong to try.

I might still do the video for myself, but right now reminiscing about this past year, especially these past few months, is not high on my to-do list. Right now we’re all about the future and making sure we don’t turn our child into the next generation of reality show train wreck.

Nathan and I have been having a time of it lately.  We’ve found our relationship with our daughter to be way more complicated than we ever thought possible at five years old, and since she’s our only child we don’t know if what we’re experiencing with her his normal five year-old behavior or if she really is hell bent on driving us to the loony bin.

For the past couple of months I’ve struggled with wanting to share what’s been going on in the hopes of finding comfort in my online community. Maybe some of you have experienced the frustration of being an impatient person trying to parent an impatient child. Maybe you’ve experienced meltdowns at Target over a bag of popcorn or at the bowling alley after a failed attempt to get a prize out of the claw machine. Maybe you’ve looked at your child and have already wondered what you did to mess her up and shouldn’t she have been the child your brother had instead of you? After all, he was the one who gave your parents all the problems.

I love my daughter. She’s sweet and charming and so incredibly funny. Just this morning she walked out of the bathroom with a Kleenex dangling from one nostril and said, “I don’t know WHAT’S going on up in my nose!” She has an incredible memory, she knows the names of all 50 states and has her father’s uncanny ability to recite cartoon dialogue verbatim. She has limitless energy that I hope will one day allow her to do whatever it is she wants to do.

It’s just that right now we’re having a hard time dealing with the more unpleasant side of her personality, in particular the part of her personality that insists on not listening. Ever. Or the part of her personality that has her throwing daily wicked tantrums. We never thought we’d be dealing with this still, EVERY DAY, at five years old.

But like I said, she’s our only kid, so we don’t know if this is normal or not. All we know is it sucks and some days it feels like she’s draining the life force right out of us.

That’s a nice thing for a parent to admit, isn’t it? Which would be why I haven’t been writing. The things I’ve wanted to write about have been too personal and the things I could write about too trivial.

So that brings me to where I want to go from here. A year ago I said I was quitting the blog, and while I probably could walk away right now, I don’t really want to. Granted, it has been great just living life instead of living and writing about it, but this blog has brought so many good things to me that I can’t imagine cutting it out of my life.

I just can’t write about the parenting stuff so much anymore. It’s not fair to Autumn now nor would it be fair to the young woman she’ll be some day if I openly discuss some of the difficulties we’re experiencing at home right now. The last thing she needs is a full chronicle of her tantrums to be published on the internet.

That being said, if I’m not going to write about my daughter, it stands to reason that this blog is in need of a name change. There can be no more “Autumn At Oak Hollow” if there’s to be a lot less Autumn in it and since I don’t want to quit entirely, I have to figure out what I do want to write about.

I’m choosing weight loss.

Up until now I’ve resisted making that the focus of the blog because I’ve never wanted to make The Weight be my defining characteristic. But let’s face it; a person does not get to be as big as I was without the weight being the most striking characteristic about her. And should I find myself at my goal weight some day, the fact that I’ve lost so much weight won’t be anything to sneeze at, either.

The weight, whether gained or lost, will be a part of me forever.

And if we’re going to go back to the photography metaphor, Autumn will now be part of the bokeh. She’ll be there, but she’s going to be out-of-focus. She’ll be an important part of the overall composition of my life, but she’ll no longer be featured as my muse.

That means I have my work cut out for me. There’s a lot that goes into re-branding a blog and I haven’t even begun to sort it all out. Even with a week off work between Christmas and New Year I can’t possibly launch this anytime soon. I just wanted to let you know well ahead of time that it will be coming.

Until then, wish me luck. My plate will be full.

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The teacher’s response to yesterday’s email was short and sweet:

“Thank you for letting us know.  I’m sure she will learn it is hard to go out for recess in a tank top!”

Of coure the girl did not change into the warmer outfit. I wasn’t surprised.

I relayed the story of the wardrobe issue to my neighbor at work, who replied by saying, “Why don’t you just hide the summer clothes?”

Oh. Yeah. I guess that would work, too, so last night as Nathan helped Autumn with her bath, I snuck into her bedroom and put every piece of summer clothing into the suitcase I emptied after my trip to Asheville.

Autumn did not realize her beloved tank tops were gone until this evening. For whatever reason, she did not fight me on her wardrobe choice this morning, but shortly after I got home she asked if she could change into a tank top.

“I put all your tank tops away,” I said.

“No you didn’t,” she replied.

“Yes, I did, and they’re not coming back out until next summer.”

She didn’t believe me and ran upstairs to her bedroom.  A moment later I heard her pull the drawers open.

“MOMMY! WHAT DID YOU DO?!”

What I had to, dear. What I had to.

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A working mom's lament

For five years I have convinced myself that I wasn’t missing much by not being a stay-at-home mom.

I am not the kind of person who can tackle a day without structure. I’m by no means saying that a SAHM’s day is without structure, just that if I were the one staying home, my day would be sorely lacking in organization and check marks next to the items on my to-do list. I work better working for someone who isn’t me.

I spent most of my maternity leave watching back-to-back episodes of “ER” and “Law & Order” on TNT, and when the time came for me to head back to work, I’d by lying if I said I wasn’t a teensy bit relieved to pass on the task of baby caretaker to someone else for nine hours a day.

Autumn has had excellent care since then, and I have occasionally felt that acute pain and guilt that mingles with a mother’s thoughts as she works her way through mortgage payments, grocery bills and credit card debt. I knew my child was in good hands, even if they weren’t mine, butI figured whatever internal conflicts I’ve been dealing with for five years over not staying at home with Autumn would dissipate once she started school.

I was actually kind of wrong about that.

I have taken this whole week off work to prepare for my trip to North Carolina and the Type-A Mom Conference, and in doing so I’ve been able to walk my daughter to and from school. It’s something I always hoped I could do, and in my fantasies in which I am a SAHM, I do this every day. Up until this week, our mornings have consisted of hurried drop-offs by car on my way to work. I pull up to the curb, get a quick hug and kiss, and wave goodbye as I try to navigate my way out of a parking lot ill-equipped to successfully handle the morning traffic.

This week, though, we have walked together and enjoyed the stroll to and from school. Monday I actually dropped her off by car even though I was just heading back home, but yesterday we hoofed it both ways. She held my hand, and on the way home we talked about her day, what she had for lunch and how the neighbor boy (yes, that one) invited her over to play.  The experience was everything I always thought it would be.

My heart aches when I think that I only get one more day of this before I leave and that I’ll be coming back to the regular routine of rushed drop-offs and too little time with her in the evening. I always thought working full time would make more sense and be more practical once she was in school full time, but now that she is, I realize there’s so much more to her world now that I’m not experiencing because I’m stuck in my own.

2011 is poised to be a good year for us financially. Even though Nathan and I probably aren’t going to see raises in our salaries this next year, we’re on the cusp of paying off two very large loans and our child care expenses will only be a fraction of what they were this year. I keep thinking that if we work hard, stop using the credit cards and pay down all our debt, there should be no reason why I can’t make my fantasy a reality, even if it’s only part time.

I’ve never felt such a strong pull to stay home as I do now. Maybe it’s because I know that next year Autumn may not want to hold my hand or give me a quick kiss as I drop her off at school. I mean the kid is already pulling shoes out of her closet and asking if they’re Sketchers. Before I know it, she’ll be perusing racks in the darkened caves of Abercrombie and Aeropostale, begging me to wait by the food court so she can flirt with Brody or Kyle or Devin or whatever the hell their names will be then.

I just want to be there for her while she still wants me around, but my window of opportunity only gets smaller the longer I wait. Some day there may be no point in trying to slip through at all, especially if there’s no one waiting for me on the other side.

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Barbaric yawps

I have a confession to make.

I am a yeller.

I yell at my child. I yell at my husband. I yell at my dog.

I don’t yell at the fish because we’re cool.

Yelling is how I respond to stress. Note I did not say it’s how I “handle” stress, because the yelling does not help me deal with the stress at all. Yelling actually adds to the stress because I feel like a piece of shit when I’m done barking at everyone.

I was born of two very different individuals, but one thing they had in common was that they were both yellers. Nathan’s parents were both yellers and he has become one, too.

We’re just now starting to realize how awful all this yelling is and that it is the most ineffective parenting tool ever. Our daughter does not respond to yelling. The only thing she has learned from yelling is that it’s ok for us to raise our voices to each other. She is becoming a yeller, too.

This past week has been incredibly stressful. The transition to kindergarten was not at all what we thought it would be. I’m not at the point where I want to write about it in depth, mainly because we’re still working through some things, but also because I happen to know one of Autumn’s former preschool teachers has been a regular reader of this blog for a year now. She has never mentioned the blog to me, but I know she still keeps up with us (hi, btw) and if she was able to find me here, it’s entirely possible Autumn’s new teachers could find this blog as well. We just need to get on the other side of this before mommy starts discussing it with the interwebs.

When we lost our daycare provider last year, I was worried how Autumn would handle the transition to preschool. Our provider had lost her license and I was forced to leave work one morning and pick Autumn up from her house. It was a horrible way to say goodbye to the woman who had taken care of our child for three years and Autumn still remembers how we cried that morning. That was on a Friday and by the next Monday she was enrolled at the preschool where she would spend the next sixteen months.

She adapted incredibly well to the new environment, and now that I look back on how smoothly she handled the transition, I think it was because she was ready for something new. She was ready for someone to bring her to the next level, to nurture her inquisitiveness and creativity and help manage some of her more diva-like tendencies.

And since Autumn handled the transition to preschool so well, I wrongly assumed she would take on kindergarten with the same chutzpa and fearlessness.

Which she has. Sort of.

Getting used to kindergarten has been a challenge for all three of us, and one thing it has taught us so far is that Nathan and I need to change the way we do things. Autumn isn’t a special needs child, but her absolute defiance, stubbornness and inexhaustible reserves of energy require some creative parenting. She makes things incredibly difficult sometimes, both for herself and for those of us who care for her, and now that we’ve seen some of her more explosive personality traits through the less forgiving eyes of her kindergarten teachers, we have realized that the yelling has gotten us nowhere and never will.

But, oh, the girl does know how to push our buttons. I have a feeling that is one thing about her that will never change.

Yay, us.

So we are trying our best not to yell. We had a couple slip-ups this past weekend, but I am happy to say I have handled at least two atomic tantrums without raising my voice above a stern warning. And you know what? The calmer I am during these events, the crazier Autumn gets.

I haven’t figured out yet if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but I am proud of being able navigate through her cyclone of hysteria without losing my cool. It takes some doing, but if I can find my happy place, I am able to retain a Zen-like calm that wins out in the end.

The other day I asked Nathan if he felt like we were all of the sudden having to play catch-up in the discipline department. We’ve been lazy and a little too indulgent. We have spoiled Autumn in ways we never intended to spoil her. What we need now is structure. We need to establish clear rules and even clearer consequences.

She’s not two anymore, even if she does act like it sometimes.

And I guess that’s the part of this whole thing that really breaks my heart because we also need to help her grow up.

This is just the beginning of letting go, and I never expected it would be this hard.

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Autumn has started to pay more attention to the physical differences in people.  I’ve wanted to write about this for awhile because a) she’s a girl b) she’s my girl and c) she recently called me “fat” for the first time ever.

I knew this was coming. Once Autumn was introduced to the preschool environment and a much larger pool of different shapes, sizes and ethnicities than she had ever seen before, I knew she’d eventually figure out I’m a pretty big woman.  Even though obesity has sort of become the unfortunate norm these days, I’m still the largest parent I’ve seen since we started her at the preschool.

So she called me fat. She said it matter-of-factly in a strictly observational tone and I thought, “Okay, there it is. That wasn’t so bad.”  And it really wasn’t. I told her yes, I am fat but that it’s not polite to say that to someone no matter how true it is.

I may let my kid watch too much TV and I may display my temper in front of her a little too often, but one thing I’ve made sure to never do is criticize my appearance in her presence.  For one, I don’t want to be responsible for building the foundation of an unhealthy body image.  Yes, I am a large woman but repeatedly calling myself such in front of my daughter would be just as damaging as if someone like Heidi Klum did the same thing.

The other thing is that I don’t need, nor do I desire, the kind of validation one seeks when she utters the words “I’m so fat” out loud. There’s really only one way to respond to that statement and that’s why women say it. They want someone to tell them it isn’t true.

But in my case it is true.

I was feeling pretty good about how I handled this thing and I thought the conversation with my daughter had come to its natural conclusion until she said, “Jacob told me, ‘Your mom’s not pretty’ and I got mad at him because you are pretty!”

You should have seen her face. It was as if Jacob had told her Santa Claus wasn’t real. And knowing the kind of kid this Jacob is, he most likely will be the one to detonate that bomb and destroy the innocence of his friends some day.

I have to admit it was awesome to be able see myself through my daughter’s eyes.  She thinks I’m beautiful and I couldn’t  love her more for that.  But there was also this other feeling, this little emotional punch to the gut knowing the Santa Claus killer was out there talking smack about me.  How many other kids were telling my daughter the same thing?

Still, I glared at Autumn and said, “Who cares what Jacob thinks? I certainly don’t and you shouldn’t either.”  We went on to discuss why people say hurtful things and how it shouldn’t matter as long as we feel good about who we are.

There was a part of me that knew what I was saying was crap. The ideology behind it was true enough, but I know very well what she’s in for in the years ahead.  My after-school-special postulating might work now while she’s very young, but eventually the voices of her peers will become louder than mine and she’s going to start picking herself apart.

Maybe that’s why the conversation was that much harder the second time around. Last night it came up again as I was putting Autumn to bed.  We were roughhousing a little bit and she said how some day she’ll be strong enough to flip me off her back like I do her.  I said, “You’ve got a lot more growing up to do before you’ll be able to do that,” to which she replied, “Yeah, because you’re fat.”

This time I got just a little pissed off because, hell, I’ve lost 60 pounds since October. Why can’t she notice that?

So there we were, launching into another discussion about the delicacy of making remarks about a person’s appearance.  It was rough. I found myself stopping and starting, fumbling over my words and trying not to sound like a fool as I again explained how some people might construe the world “fat” as being hurtful.

I think what was so hard about this was that I wanted to explain the negative connotations of calling someone “fat” without implying that being fat is some sort of character flaw.

Because it’s not.

Being fat is not ideal. Being fat is unhealthy. Being fat is unpleasant in many, many ways and can make life very difficult, but it’s not the hallmark of a sub-par human.

Not everyone raises their kids to believe that. I know because I’ve run into many of those kids over the years.

I have no doubt this is going to come up again, and I do hope that eventually Autumn will recognize my weight loss and see it as something positive born out of desire to improve my health rather than a desperate attempt to fit in with the soccer moms and the PTA crowd. But this may be one area in which I’m not great at communicating with her because I haven’t talked to her about the weight loss at all. I haven’t wanted to explain how being fat isn’t healthy, which in turn makes me unhealthy. She’s not a worrier by nature, but four year-olds don’t have the capacity to put things into perspective.  Their little minds are completely unboxed and their imaginations have no barriers.

Lately Autumn has taken to telling us she needs to work out. She’ll hang off the chair and do one or two push-ups before collapsing on the floor.  This irritates Nathan to no end.

“You’re four years old for cripes sake!” he says. “You don’t need to work out!”

But she sees me work out. She sees me leave and come home a hot mess from my time on the elliptical. She thinks she needs to exercise because I need to exercise. She pays attention and wants to emulate me, so I have actually taken the time to explain that grownups have to exercise because we work all day and don’t get recess anymore.

I hate having to tell her things like that. It makes me feel like the Santa Claus killer.

So how I’m going to end this is by asking for your thoughts. I think I need some other voices to chime in and I’d love to hear how others have addressed the mine field that is body image, self-esteem and teaching our daughters to respect and appreciate physical differences.  Sometimes I get the sense it’s all “kill or be killed” out there and that’s not really a world I want to send my kid out into.  Some girls are given armor and some are given ammunition.

Others are given boys.

Lucky bitches.

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