By Gregory Keer

For my fifth date with Wendy Bass, I invited her to the park to meet my kid. No, not my offspring, but something better – the 10-month-old child I was babysitting. While my friends and family had opinions about more suitable jobs for a 24-year-old dude in graduate school, my goal that day was to impress Wendy, who worked as a child development specialist.

So, when Wendy arrived, I was already flexing my baby-feeding skills, delivering spoonfuls of strained carrots with practiced dexterity.

She was impressed. Not with me, but with the adorable wee one.

“Come here, little guy,” she said brightly. “Let’s go see the trees.”

With that, she lifted him and toured him around the park, pointing out leaves, branches, and squirrels while narrating everything in vivid detail. The baby giggled endlessly and I knew I’d found the future mother of my children.

Flash forward to the present mother of my children.

“If I have to make another lunch my kids don’t eat, I’m going to freakin’ flip out!”

“What do you mean my son has another cavity? Does he even have that many teeth?”

“Get your butts into the car or I swear I’ll drive to the school bus without you!”

Funny how 15 years of parenting pressure from raising your own children goes from a walk in the park to an inner circle of fire filled with exasperation and nonsensical threats.

In the years I’ve known her, my wife has shown the cheerfulness and strength of maternal characters you read about in Southern novels, but the moments of trial and tribulation have certainly tested her mettle. This last year alone, she’s labored exhaustively to find the right middle school for our 11 year old and the best mix of freedom and restriction for our teen while dealing with increasing pressures at work, home refinancing, and health concerns about our parents.

It’s not that she’s had to do any of this alone. We battle together through it all and — because we both have diarrhea of the mouth — share every fear and frustration on the phone, email, and pillow.

Yet, I worry about how much joy gets sucked out of this woman who does so much to ensure our family’s happiness.

Recently, a change in the school district’s start of the academic year combined with a further squeeze on our finances caused us to end an 11-year run at family camp. For more than a decade, the camp gave us playtime with our kids in nature, liberty from the rat race for a designated week each year, and friends that we all grew older with. My wife and I spent days fiddling with the calendar and crunching the budget until we finally had to face reality. For Wendy, who originally got us in to the camp by working as a guest-lecturer, this decision hit her particularly hard.

“I never wanted to end a family tradition,” she said, tears welling up as we tried to fall asleep the night we made the decision.

Although my wife melts into tears on rare occasions, this latest rainfall resulted from the overall toll of the family-work grind. It was the relentlessness of obligation combined with Wendy’s own drive to keep things adventurous and gleeful.

My concern for Wendy reached its peak because I hadn’t seen her so drained. So my sons and I got proactive to fill her back up.

Ari (8) now makes sure he takes a break from his Minecraft obsession and voracious reading habit to allow Wendy to read to him the books she loved as a kid, the Little House stories by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Wendy barely allows me in the kitchen (I do suck at cooking), yet Jacob (11) will not be denied. Along with the food he’s burned, there are the veggies he roasts and the desserts he concocts to make Mom’s life easier.

Our teenager, Benjamin, has even emerged from his responsibility cocoon to take care of the dog, the dirty dishes, (occasionally) his laundry, and transportation arrangements to and from activities.

For my part, I switch days with Wendy to shuttle the kids, make (or bring in) more meals, and take the boys out so she can have alone time. I do this since she refills me when I need help and since she just plain deserves it.

Perhaps the most important thing I do, though, is remind her that she can indeed slow down and draw shade from the trees she’s planted. Her children and I are there for her because she has nourished us so conscientiously.

Happy Mother’s Day, Wendy.

Posted in Columns by Family Man, Marriage, Mother's Day, Work-Family Balance | 1 Comment

What Dads Need to Know: What Does Mommy Do?

By Betsy Brown Braun

The mom’s tears at the end of the session spent counseling this soon-to-be separating couple were not surprising. Divorce is never easy. We had begun to discuss custody schedules, always a prickly topic. That’s when the dam broke. My empathetic comments about how painful these things are bounced right back. “That’s not it!” the mother unequivocally declared.  “What will I do?” she cried, emphasizing the word “do.

There were so many divorce related changes-to-come that had to be flooding this mom’s mind. But for her the tsunami was the revelation that she was about to be out of a job, at least a few days a week.  She had devoted her entire mom life to her kids—carpools and taxi service, homework and school projects, play dates and extra-curricular activities, house care and meal prep. The kids’ lives and needs were her job 24/7. That was about to change. And Mom didn’t have anything else to do, or so she felt. She could not even imagine being without her children, and she was terrified. Who would she be? Her identity was MOM, period.  At that moment the stark realization was about her, not her kids.

This plaintive comment, “What will I do?” reminded me of a blog by Leslie Irish Evans recently posted on The Huffington Post, “5 Reasons ‘My Kids Are My Whole Life’ is a Stupid Thing to Say”.  The author put forth many sound reasons for a woman not to make her child her whole life. But the last reason, “It sets you up for a big fall,” herein relates. Evans is referring to the time when the children go off to college, and mom no longer needs to be mom 24/7.  But what if it happens sooner, like in divorce?

I would like to add  three more reasons to Evan’s 5  for cultivating a life nowthat includes more than all things mom-related.  These additional reasons deal not only with the messages we give our children through our life choices, but also with how we position ourselves to live.

6.  Children need to know that moms (and dads) wear many different hats. Today’s kids need to see that there are lots of things that mommy does in addition to being a mom, many by choice and some by default.  Just like the child is a son, a brother, a cousin, a student, a karate guy, and a baseball player, Mommy does lots of things too. She is a mommy, a wife, a daughter, a lawyer, an artist, and bike rider, and a gardener. Mommy is just one of the many things you do.

7.  Mommy likes all the things that she does. So often a parent answers the child’s complaint about Mommy going to work by saying, “I have to work” or “I wish I didn’t have to work.” While that may be the case for some, many moms actually like their work. Working in addition to her work as a mom is a choice, and the child needs to know that reality. What a good idea it is to raise children to look forward to their grown-up work, seeing it modeled as aget to and not a have to. The same goes for making the choice to go work-out or take a knitting class and leave the kids at home.  Mom has lots of things that she likes and chooses to do in addition to being a mom.

8. Cultivate the YOU who isn’t a mom. While it is easy to mold your life around your kids and their friends’ families, take pains to have a non-mom social life and do non-mom things. Maintain your BC (before children) and non-mom related friends—from work, from your past, from your own interests. Take that class, cultivate that hobby that always interested you. These people and interests will remind you of your identity separate from mom and will remain long after your 24/7 mommy hat gets put higher on the shelf.

My client could not answer my question, “What do you do for yourself?”  Don’t let that be you.

Betsy Brown Braun, is the bestselling author of the award winning Just Tell Me What to Say (HarperCollins 2008), and You’re Not the Boss of Me (HarperCollins, 2010), also a best seller. A child development and behavior specialist, popular parent educator, and mother of adult triplets, and grandmother, she is a frequent speaker at educational and business conferences, has been a guest expert on Today, the Early Show, Good Morning America, Dr. Phil, Entertainment Tonight, Rachel Ray, Fox and Friends, and NPR, and has been cited in USA Today, the New York Times, Family Circle, Parents, Parenting, Woman’s Day, Real Simple, and Good Housekeeping among countless other publications and websites.  As the founder of Parenting Pathways, Inc., Betsy offers private consulting and parenting seminars as well. She and her husband live in Pacific Palisades, California.

Posted in Featured Moms & Dads, Mother's Day, What Dads Need to Know, Work-Family Balance | Leave a comment

Brothers Try to Take a Mother’s Day Photo

My three sons can barely do anything together at home without it involving a headlock. While they have been surprisingly good about creating greeting cards and artwork, this year, I can imagine them creating a Mother’s Day video like this, if they had to collaborate on it.

Posted in Anger Management, Blog, Humor, Mother's Day, Video | Leave a comment

One of the Boys

By Gregory Keer

My wife complains about being the lone female in a house of four guys. She bemoans the bathrooms that have been territorially marked by boys with bad aim. She scowls at the criminal lack of fashion sense they possess. She shakes her head in futility over the pushing, punching, and head-locking the guys engage in more often than they speak to each other.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to this,” she said, following a harrowing incident in which our seven-year-old chased her with a pair of socks that could have been mistaken for a round of Stilton cheese.

“I’ll never be able to pass along my Nancy Drew mysteries or my Little House books to a girl in pigtails,” she went on.

Then she glared at me. “It’s all your fault.”

This may be genetically true, in that the father determines the gender, though I’m hardly sympathetic. Growing up, Wendy was actually as much of a tomboy as a princess. Her childhood photo albums reveal a hard-nosed little leaguer, a dog lover who wrangled the Great Danes her family raised, and a kid who liked to tinker with socket wrenches. This is not to say that my wife didn’t wear dresses or try out her mom’s perfume. It’s just that Wendy is particularly well-suited to hanging with her homeboys.

For instance, it isn’t always the kids who start the rough-housing. Wendy picks fights with the boys, playfully challenging them to wrestling matches. Our youngest, Ari (7), loves it and doesn’t even mind when she pins him on the rug. Jacob (10) thinks the whole thing is just not right.

“Mommy, you’re a girl,” he says. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

To which Wendy responds by tackling Jacob, who is quickly reduced to a giggling mess.

Our 13 year old, Benjamin, has had quite enough of wrestling Mommy. He gets plain embarrassed when she tangles with him, especially because all 5’ 2” of her is competitive enough to still toss him around some.

Speaking of competition, my wife loves to coach the boys in athletics. Over the years, she’s mentored our kids in tee ball and soccer in addition to running them ragged in backyard basketball (she sucks at that sport, but enjoys harassing them on defense).

When it comes to fixing garbage disposals and door hinges, Wendy is the handy one. Ari loves to work alongside her with his own tool set, taking apart drawers and old toys for fun, showing how his engineering aptitude clearly comes from Mom.

I admit that some of these more traditionally male contributions tread on my ego as a dad. I’ve done a share of the wrestling and coaching, but when Wendy jumps in on these things, I feel a little left out. I’ve done everything from warning my wife that she might get hurt during the wrestling to nitpicking her methods on the field. And the day I tangled endlessly with the clogged toilet, reading instructions online and going through an assortment of plungers and coat hangers before I was flushed with success, I made sure to crow proudly to my sons that, yes, Daddy is a manly man who won’t be daunted by plumbing.

Fortunately, Wendy is big enough to let me work out my insecurities and deftly move to other ways of bonding with our boys. Among other things, she’s occasionally put aside her Twilight novels and headed down the path usually reserved for characters on The Big Bang Theory as she’s delved into science-fiction books and movies. This allows her to talk about aliens, wizards, and post-apocalyptic theories with Benjamin. Even in this gender blurring era, there aren’t too many mothers who can converse about wormholes and inter-galactic war.

Eventually, though, Wendy always returns to her moments of wishing she could interact with other females around the house (the dog and hamster just don’t do the trick). Frankly, I sometimes feel the same when I think of the missed opportunity to play the protective dad to a daughter or two.

But Wendy has gotten what she has always been well-suited for – a bunch of boys with whom she can put to good use all those years growing up as a girl who fit in with the guys. It’s helped her move past the occasional sexism in the workplace and it’s made her as strong as she is sensitive in other facets of her life. As a result, our boys see their mom as an example of how role models can come from both sides of the gender line. It’s the reason why this Mother’s Day is full of as many mud pies and bruises as Bath and Body Works. Wendy wouldn’t want it any other way. I know I wouldn’t.

Posted in Columns by Family Man, Humor, Marriage, Mother's Day | 1 Comment

Best Places to Be a Mom: U.S. Ranks Number 25

One of my favorite philanthropic organizations, Save the Children, just published its annual report on the State of the World’s Mothers. The report is intended to raise awareness about the need for health care and other means of support which mothers require to raise their children. The United States ranked number 25 in the world for its “scores for mother and child health, educational attainment and economic status.” The top-ranked nations for mothers include Norway, Iceland, and Sweden.

In a time in which our country must tighten its belt on so many expenses, it is also a time to prioritize where our money goes. On this Mother’s Day, let’s resolve to show our support for moms in this nation and around the world so that our children may be raised with the resources to help them grow healthy and strong. In this way, we can better ensure a future of healthy and educated adults who will better care for us and the world in general. As fathers, let’s also make the effort to provide for our women and our children, as caregivers ourselves. I look forward to a day when we have our own report on the status of global fatherhood.

Posted in Blog, Child Development, Health, Mother's Day, Newborns, Protecting Children | Leave a comment

What Dads Need to Know: My Seven-Year Peformance Review

By Heather Kempskie

I’ve been at this Mom-thing for seven years now. I haven’t had a performance review yet. No raise either. I decided to check in with my bosses (7-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter) to see where I stood. What did I discover? There’s always room to improve.

Me: What is Mommy good at?

Son: Are you going to ask me what you’re bad at?

Me: Can we start with the good?

Son: You’re good at helping me clean my room.

Me: Now for the bad.

Son: You’re bad because you don’t let me play Wii every day.

Me: If I got paid to be your Mommy, how much would I get?

Son: One. One dollar.

Me: How long have I been your mom?

Son: 36 years.

Me: Can I have a raise?

Son: No. I don’t think so.

Me: Can I have some of your money?

Son. Nope. Well, maybe a penny.

Me: Anything else to add?

Son: If you let me play Wii everyday, you would be perfect. But for now, you’re still good.

Me: How old am I?

Daughter: 64

Me: Do I work hard?

Daughter: Some days.

Me: Do I deserve a raise? Some extra money?

Daughter: What? Do you think I’m rich?

Me: Am I getting anything for Mother’s Day?

Daughter: Yes.

Me: What is it?

Daughter: Can’t tell you.

Me: Give me a hint.

I better not be getting a jar of marmalade. Or could it be a pimped-out Escalade? Thank goodness this job comes with decent benefits. I get to feel the exhilaration of a goal scored by my son at a Saturday soccer game. I get to watch my favorite Disney movies over and over again with my daughter and not feel weird about it. I have Lucky Charms in my cabinet and have an excuse to visit McDonald’s at least once a week. I get bragging rights to everything my son and daughter do right. I get to blame my husband (and the traits he passed on to the kids) for all the things they do wrong. And if I continue make some improvements on the job front, I’m looking at a pretty sweet vacation in about 11 to 13 years from now.

Have a great Mother’s Day!

Heather Kempskie is a freelance Web producer with NECN and the co-author of The Siblings Busy Book.

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By Gregory Keer

As a child of the late ‘60s through the early ‘80s, I had a lot of mommies. Sure, I grew up with a caring biological mom and, later, had the additional benefit of my step-mom. But I also had the smiles and advice of Laura, Marion, Carol, Clair, and Elyse — my TV moms.

While there were a number of mother characters on network television in the 1960s, the one who stood out for me was Laura Petrie of The Dick Van Dyke Show. Played with bright energy by Mary Tyler Moore, Laura was an evolution from the apron-clad moms of the ‘50s. This mommy had a slightly neurotic sense of humor and a jazz-dance grace. I wanted to have a playdate with Ritchie just so I could have lunch with Laura.

The 1970s ushered in two of my favorite screen moms. Carol Brady (Florence Henderson) of The Brady Bunch never felt quite real, but that didn’t matter much. She could smooth out any bad situation with her blended family, which was comforting to experience vicariously on a weekly basis. Marion Ross was pitch perfect as she revealed the eccentric edges around the ‘50s mom stereotype. I’m told that a famous outtake of Happy Days exists in which she passionately smooches the Fonz (Henry Winkler). Now that’s a cutting-edge mama.

In adolescence, I often took the world too seriously. My ‘80s TV maternal heroes also took an earnest approach to life, but could inflect it with knowing humor. Clair Huxtable (Phylicia Rashad) of The Cosby Show made a formidably effective mom while balancing her career as an attorney. She always had time to teach her brood of five about doing the right thing. Meredith Baxter’s Elyse Keaton of Family Ties juggled motherhood and a profession (architecture), too. As a former hippie, Elyse was a model of acceptance as she allowed her children to be individuals even when she privately didn’t agree with all their decisions.

For my work-centric adulthood years of the ‘90s, I didn’t pay much attention to maternal characters, though I occasionally checked in with the barrier-busting mothers found in Roseanne and Everybody Loves Raymond. However, after living my own sitcom as a father for a while, I have been happily drawn back to TV moms because of the boom of must-see comedies.

Patricia Heaton goes from the level-headed Debra Barone of Raymond to the more put-upon Frankie Heck in The Middle. Frankie is a relatable mother caught literally in the middle of financial stresses, a sandwich of demanding children and parents, and a career she never planned on. If she actually lived in my neighborhood, she’d be someone to rely on to watch my kids in a pinch — and the first friend I’d send on a spa day for all her reliability.

On the farther side of eccentric, Virginia Chance, the X-generation mom and grandmother of Raising Hope, is fun to watch from the safety of the digital divide. Martha Plimpton plays the character with shades of good intentions and dignity, but she is the last person you want anywhere near your own children.

Then there’s the deliciously daffy Modern Family, which showcases Claire Dunphy (Julia Bowen) as the high-strung maternal type who just can’t keep her opinions to herself and still ends up being a loving caregiver. My only concern is that, if she were to exist in reality, she might end up in a straight-jacket at least temporarily if she didn’t get to be totally in charge of that next middle-school dance. In the same program, Gloria Pritchett (Sofia Vergara) is a lioness in protecting her son Manny. She’s also so ridiculously hot that Manny will likely grow up resenting the fact that his friends only want to come over to drool over her. Still, Modern Family’s mixture of comedic errors and dramatic poignancy are well embodied by moms who put family first yet also have personalities that go beyond simply being nurturers.

I’m not sure what else TV has in store for motherhood, though it’d be great to see mothers with more varied cultural and philosophical backgrounds if only to witness more contrasts in the way people parent. Yet, if one theme has held true since the ‘60s, it’s that no matter how harried sitcom moms get, they always manage to bounce back with a laugh and a wise perspective. Pretty much like a lot of the moms I know today.

Posted in Columns by Family Man, Humor, Mother's Day | 1 Comment

Motormouth Mom

By Gregory Keer

While ladling three-ingredient Chinese soup for my sons, my wife reports on the day’s events.

“Benjamin forgot to turn in his homework, but did well on the spelling test. Ari hugged Amaya till she cried. And Jacob made 11 hearts out of construction paper.” She says all of this without taking a breath before I momentarily interrupt.

“What does Jacob want in his soup?”

“Nothing but chicken and rice,” she blurts before rattling off details of her work meeting.

I listen as I serve the boys soup. Jacob makes the “ewww” expression and yells, “Who told you I wanted chicken?!”

I point at my wife, willingly snitching on her.

Jacob yells again and cries, “You always listen to Mommy! You always believe her! You think she’s pretty and you like talking to her!”

Wendy and I try not to laugh. We manage to solve the soup problem, but two truths emerge from Jacob’s statements: I do think his mommy’s pretty. And I do like talking to her.

In my first phone conversation with Wendy, I felt my usual nervousness over being able to sound smart and entertaining enough to win a date. I feared the dead spaces that sometimes happened in talks with other women. But Wendy took care of that. She filled every conversational pothole with bubbly comments about her studies in special education and blunt questions about my dating history. Despite a history of over-thinking my dialogue with girls when I was a teenager (I used to pre-script, like some kind of romantic telemarketer), I kept up with Wendy’s verbal pace.

We went on lots of dates in those early days, spending much of the time jabbering about everything from favorite amusement parks to people we knew in common. Even after parting, we’d phone each other and yak some more – for hours. When my apartment mates complained about my low voice filtering through the walls, I’d just move the receiver into the closet and talk from there. I have no idea what Wendy and I said to each other, but we never seemed to run out of words.

My love for my wife began with all that talk, and continues largely because of it. Although we’ve lived together for more than 15 years, we still burn up phone lines and cell towers. We email during the workday, which is how my columns began since we typed our thoughts about being new parents when Benjamin (now 9) was just a tot. In perhaps our most nauseating display of communication, we sometimes IM each other from different rooms in the house if we’re working late at night.

Between the two of us, Wendy hogs the greater percentage of the sentences. Much of it is because she talks at a rate the Road Runner would envy (ask anyone who’s tried to decipher one of her phone messages). But because Wendy never quite shuts up, I hear all of her feelings, her complaints, her fears, her plans, and her love. With all the syllables, there is no mystery – just honesty.

Our sons have inherited Wendy’s gift of gab. Sometimes, all the talking gets my kids in trouble. Benjamin continues a record-setting pace for getting N’s in self-control because he can’t resist conversations with friends though they might be across the room. Jacob compels preschool teachers to take turns talking to him when he’s in a particularly verbose mood. Ari keeps his daycare compatriots from sleeping because he wants to chat about getting snacks.

Most of the time, their verbal skills help them because they can hold their own in discussions with both peers and adults, especially with my motor-mouth wife. She’s so proud of their articulation, she actually stops talking to hear them! Honestly though, and to her credit, Wendy listens to her sons – and to me – as well as she speaks. She’s an equal opportunity gabber.

In our family, talk is frequent but hardly cheap. We have my wife to thank for that because the words she inspires help us to be understood and to understand others. It’s something I value in the mother of my children, even if she wishes I had focused this Mother’s Day column on why I think she’s pretty.

Posted in Columns by Family Man, Humor, Mother's Day | Leave a comment