Sometimes life’s a bowl of cherries. Other times, it’s a Louisville Slugger to the chops.

My heart broke for little Mad Dog the other day.

I picked her up from day camp and, instead of bounding up to me with a smile and a hug – she shuffled over, head down, with tear-stained cheeks.

Apparently, scant seconds earlier, she was finishing up an art project when, through circumstances beyond her control, it was ruined. She was making an intricate pattern of brightly colored plastic beads that were to be pressed with a hot iron, fusing them together and creating one piece. As she carried her beads to the ironing table, a kid accidentally bumped into her, causing her to fall. All of the little beads had scattered all over the floor, and the project was ruined.

She had made it for her cousin, but because it was the end of the day and there was no time to start over, she had nothing left to show for her hard work.

Seeing her looking so dejected was heartbreaking. Mad Dog is my tough girl. She generally doesn’t cry unless she’s in serious pain or has been significantly wronged. And she wasn’t sobbing either – like her siblings would do. Instead, her eyes were wells of tears and she just looked – broken.

I was instantly transported back to when I was 8 years old. I was in the third grade and had made a planter for my favorite teacher. It was made from an old coffee can and had sea shells glued to it and inside was a tiny cactus. Not the kind with the hard prickly needles – but the type that looks hairy and soft.

As I carefully cradled it in my hands, protecting it during the bumpy bus ride, I imagined my teacher’s reaction when I would give it to her. I replayed different scenarios before settling on the one where she gave me a hug and offered that I be her special helper for the day. Special helpers got to do little classroom chores like run notes to the office and erase the chalkboard. That bus ride seemed so long, because I was so excited to hand over my gift and receive my special assignment.

After arriving at school, we all had to stand outside for a few minutes and wait for the doors to be unlocked. I showed off my planter to my friends and relayed how excited I was to give it to our teacher, when all of a sudden – WHAM!

From out of nowhere, a fifth-grade boy took a practice swing with a baseball bat and hit me right in the stomach, sending my plant flying. It was truly an accident, he thought he had enough room and neither of us saw the other before it was too late.

I fell to the ground, having had the wind completely knocked out of me. My plant fell too, and pieces of shell, cactus and dirt flew everywhere.

On the ground, on all fours, I looked at the remains of the planter. What had happened was incomprehensible. The blow (both literal and figurative) had come out of the blue and my dream of delighting my teacher with the little cactus was gone.

It's a sucky feeling to be strolling along, happy as can be, and then have somebody pull the rug out from underneath you. One day, you’re on top of your game and the next, you’re at the bottom of the heap – and it can happen in a snap.

Life’s like that a lot when you’re a single mom.

One minute you’re cruising along, bills are paid, gas tank’s full, fridge is stocked and you’ve got just enough cash to make it until payday, when WHAM! Some stupid-assed thing comes along and screws things up.

You know, it can be something big – like the time the window on my minivan fell down into the door for no reason at all – an unbudgeted repair that cost nearly $500. And other times, it’s something smaller – like getting called to pick up a sick child on a workday full of meetings and deadlines.

Either way, after the initial blow, what matters is how quickly you’re able to rebound. And rebound, you must – because when a single mom’s down – things can go from bad to worse in a hurry. There’s simply nobody else to lean on when it’s just you running the show.

I like to think I’m fairly resourceful and relatively thick-skinned, but sometimes, when that unexpected monkey wrench gets tossed in, I just want to cry.

I wasn’t sure how Mad Dog would handle the setback. Eight-year olds are border line when it comes to emotional stability. They want to be treated like big kids, but still throw the occasional tantrum. I was unsure if she’d pout and cry or shrug her shoulders and walk away.

I searched her face for a hint of her next move. She thought for a minute and what she said next threw me for a loop.

Mad Dog asked if I would bring her back to camp on Friday, so she could do the project over again. This was a surprising request. After all, I’d planned to take Friday off so she could skip camp and go to a quick dentist appointment and then onto an afternoon movie. Despite the appealing offer, a movie in a real movie theater, mind you, not at home on a DVD, she held steadfast on her decision.

Now that’s determination.

But my little Mad Dog is like that. She’s not one to take any guff from anyone. She’s way stronger than I was at eight. She’s more confident, more sure of herself.

Maybe someday, if she finds herself a single mom, she’ll approach unexpected setbacks with more confidence and certainty than I. She’ll be even more resourceful and have a thicker skin.
And most of all, she won’t have that overwhelming desire to go fetal.

Nah, she’ll be alright...

she’ll be the one holding the bat.

Fundraising vs. extortion

I’ve had it with fundraising solicitations from my kids’ school and daycare. Yet, part of me is afraid to turn down these “opportunities to show school spirit”.

Maybe it’s an irrational fear, but I can’t help but wonder if the quality of my kids’ care hinges on my willingness to play (or should I say PAY) along.

I understand they need to raise funds from time to time to pay for special activities – and I’m okay with that. But the frequency of these opportunities is becoming a problem.

For me, the “fun” of fundraising began to diminish when my girls entered the second grade. The first fundraiser that came our way asked us to eat dinner on a designated night at our friendly neighborhood McDonalds.

The night before (gee, thanks for the notice), I got notes informing us that a sliver of the night’s proceeds would go to the PTA. The kids eagerly presented the notes, jumping up and down, chirping, “Can we? Can we? Can we, please?”

I decided we’d go, doubting all the while the funds raised from eating greasy fast food would be earmarked for new health-education materials.

When we arrived, the place was a zoo. There was no place to park, nowhere to sit, and the Playland was absolutely packed. I was certain that if I let my two year-old in there, he’d get trampled for sure. The parents looked tired and annoyed. But still, we did our time and I can proudly say that we contributed a hefty 23 cents to the PTA.

A week later, I was presented with yet another opportunity to show my support. This time, I could order a bunch of overpriced, over-processed, pre-packaged meals from some vendor in cahoots with the PTA. Again, a few pennies would be “donated” to the school.

This time I decided to pass. When I failed to place an order, I got three separate “friendly reminder” notes per child (remember, twins). Still, I could not be swayed. We really couldn’t afford dropping $9.99 of a package of six Mini Chicken Cordon Bleu Bites.

I tossed the order form. Okay, truth be told, I crumpled it up and tucked it deep inside the garbage can, so the kids wouldn’t see.

About a month later, I got a flyer notifying me that in two days (they’d gotten better) the school was holding its very own Chuck E. Cheese fundraising night.

Ugh. I hate Chuck E. Cheese.

I’m sure there are nice Chuck E. Cheese restaurants out there, but I have not been fortunate enough to find one. The one near my house is noisy, dirty and full of sugar-crazed kids and their checked-out parents.

Also, this particular “opportunity” fell just before payday, meaning I didn’t have the extra $50-60 to drop. So there was really no way we could go, even if I was up for bad pizza and a singing rat.

I decided to ignore the note again, throwing it in the garbage, then burying it with coffee grounds. I hoped this opportunity would pass unnoticed.

Sadly, the day of the fundraiser, my kids came home from school with more flyers. They were also wearing “Take me to Chuck E. Cheese” stickers on their shirts and telling me we had to be there by 6, because that’s when their friends were going.

I resented the position the school put me in. “Gee, thanks,” I thought. “Now I get to be the asshole who has to tell them they can’t go.”

I gently explained that we were not going to Chuck E. Cheese’s this time and tried to soften the blow by announcing that we were having homemade ice cream sundaes at home for dessert. Normally the at-home sundae bar is met with cheers. This time, they cried.

The following week, I got an invitation to a jewelry party being given by one of my son’s daycare teachers. While this was not a fundraiser, I felt compelled to show my loyalty to the staff. Again, in the back of my mind, I kept wondering if my boy might get treated differently if I didn’t go. So, even though I really couldn’t afford it, I went anyway.

A week after the jewelry party, I got two more invitations in the daycare cubby – a candle party scheduled for that Friday and a Tupperware soiree the following Sunday afternoon. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

The final straw came when my girls brought home order forms for me to purchase an art project they created at school. Mind you, each week their backpacks are stuffed with drawings, paintings and projects, most of which I have to toss because there’s just no way to keep it all. And now they’ve asked me to buy their artwork?

I understand that fundraisers are important, but I wish they’d quit nickel and diming me at every turn, then priming my kids to put the screws to me if I don’t open my wallet.

If anything, all of these solicitations work against their goal of building strong school spirit. For me, showing school spirit shouldn’t make me afraid to peek inside the take-home folder. I'd like to participate more, but my single-mom income simply doesn't allow it.

I’d like to know if anyone out there actually participates in all of these so-called opportunities. And, if they do, what kind of job do they have where they can afford all of this junk? And what the hell are they doing with all of that cruddy frozen pizza?

Perhaps their generosity (or fear of repercussions from not participating) is matched only by the sheer size of their freezer.

Mad Dog, Crowbar and The Deuce

When I was in college, I dated a guy who talked incessantly about getting married and having kids. Actually, he was quite specific about it all. According to his plan we’d have two kids – a boy and a girl – and we’d name them Sam and Hannah. He’d be a successful architect and I’d be a high school English teacher. We’d live in a house that he designed in the suburbs.

We were eating lunch in the student union when described the future he’d carefully laid out. Leaning in as if to tell me something confidential, he said, “It’s a good thing you picked education as your major – you know, so you can have summers off to take care of our kids.”

Rather than jumping for joy, I wanted to slap him.

For one, I found it extremely odd for a 22 year-old guy have his future planned out with the same giddy excitement as a seven year-old girl. But mostly I was repulsed by the thought of moving to the suburbs and getting saddled with a couple of kids.

As I listened to him ramble, I envisioned my appearance morph – like in the Terminator movies – from a trim, tan co-ed into a sort of mom-monster. After the transformation was complete, I no longer resembled myself. Instead, I was a pudgy woman wearing a gingham dress with flower appliqués. My hair was pulled up into a bun and I was taking a piping hot loaf of bread from the oven. Around my feet, toddled a herd of young children.

Days later, I broke off the relationship and changed my major.

I felt empowered. I had a newfound sense of feminism. I would not be pigeonholed into a maternal role. No man or major could force me to become a soccer mom. Hell, I might not even have kids at all.

I envisioned a different future for myself. I’d have an exciting career, a killer condo and a sporty two-seater. The only kids in my future would be my nieces and nephews. I’d be a cool aunt, but frumpy minivan mom? Forget it.

Fast forward four years…

After college, I fell in love with a new guy – one who was way more laid back than the architecture major. He was less of a planner and more of a wait-and-see kind of guy. I loved his casual attitude, his go-with-the-flow style and his ability to let things roll off his back. He helped me reign in my type-A tendencies and, as he’d say, “just relax a little.”

After a few years, we got engaged. And, fully embracing his c'est la vie approach, when my birth control prescription ran out, I figured I’d just wait and see what’d happen.

About nine months after our wedding day, I gave birth to twin girls.

The shock of being pregnant – let alone with twins – was incredible. After missing a few periods – and yet testing negative on two preggo tests, I was stunned. But I’ll tell you what…the minute I laid eyes on my babies, something in me changed.

As I held them in my arms for the first time, I knew, deep down in my core, that I was put on earth for those girls. I was meant to be their mother. The love I felt – and still feel – can best be described as primal. It’s a fierce kind of love.

Mad Dog was born first. She’s adventurous and daring. She had most of her physical milestones first: from rolling over, to crawling, to riding a bike. She’s my free spirited one. She likes her hair “long, loose and crazy-looking”. In school, she challenges her teachers (“Why do I have to show my work if the answer’s right?”) and once got in trouble for doing the worm on the floor during research writing time. If I had to guess her future career, it’d be professional snowboarder.

Four minutes later came The Deuce. She’s the brains of the operation. From infancy on, she’s generally quieter and a little more reserved. An introspective child, she has exceptional attention to detail and is a top student. She’s a list maker and spends her time “managing” her siblings – a.k.a. bossing them around, then tattletales when they don’t comply. Nothing gets past The Deuce. Her favorite phrase is, “But Mom, you said…” I believe she’ll either practice law or live a life of intrigue ala Robert Langdon of The Da Vinci Code.

Five years after Mad Dog and The Deuce were born; we welcomed our son, Crowbar, into the world. As the only boy in the house, Crowbar has got the market on all things robots and airplanes. He’s been seen pushing an imaginary button on his arm, sprouting rocket boosters and lifting off. He’s a master of sound effects – from helicopters to missile launches to dinosaurs, the boy does it all. Despite being a little tough guy, he’s a cuddler and, frequently crawls into my bed in the middle of the night to fall back to sleep with his little hand in mine. I’m not quite sure what Crowbar will be when he grows up. At this point, I see him in a cockpit versus a cubicle – but it could just be the vrooming sounds I hear in the background right now.

Having children is definitely a life-changing experience. But my fear of negative change – losing my identity, my sense of humor, and my style – hasn’t happened. I don’t wear sack dresses and I don’t consider myself frumpy. I still tell off-color jokes and listen to the same types of music. My love of pop culture and dark sense of humor are still, securely intact.

The other day I found my old copy of What to Expect While You’re Expecting. Flipping through, I wondered why the authors didn’t add anything about change – specifically the changes you’ll experience when you become a parent. They cover the obvious physical stuff such as lactating breasts and post-baby bodies. But they don’t say anything about some of the most amazing changes.

With Mad Dog, Crowbar and The Deuce in my life, my heart has grown bigger allowing me to love each of them as deeply, completely and fiercely as the next. It’s a little like Dr. Seuss’s Grinch whose heart grew three sizes in one day.

You know, that’s a diagram they should add to the What to Expect… book. Ditch the diagram of the stages of dilation, and replace it with the Grinch’s X-ray of his heart growing. That's a change we can all be excited about.

Take my kids...please!

I’ve always found humor to be an important element in my life. Maintaining a sense of humor is what got me through being pregnant with and having twins.

I remember the day when, at 36 weeks, I waddled into my OB-GYN’s office and stepped on the scale to learn I’d crossed the 200-pound threshold. At that point I outweighed my husband by 25 pounds.

Instead of crying, I wisecracked about how they’d better wait an hour before taking my blood pressure. The shock of learning I weighed the same as a Volkswagen would skew the results for sure. (BA-DUM-DUM!)

I had the nurses rolling.

Fast forward to the delivery room. As I lay there in stirrups, with my doctor verifying that I was indeed 10 cm and ready to push, all I could think of was Chevy Chase from Fletch.

Despite excruciating pain, in between contractions I asked, “You using the whole fist, doc?

I brought a resident to tears with that one.

Humor got me through when my ex-husband left. Sure, I had my pity-party moments, but more often than not, I tried to keep up my sense of humor (my chin too).

It wasn’t too hard – after all, he did resemble Steve Martin from The Jerk when he left: “I don't need this stuff, and I don't need you. All I need…is this ashtray, the remote control, the paddle game, this magazine and the chair.

Good or bad, it’s a defense mechanism.

I also apply humor to my parenting style. I enjoy my kids and find that I can get them to be more cooperative when I use humor, versus soul-crushing discipline.

Just the other night at dinner, as the kids were poking at their respective helpings of casserole, I stood up and ceremoniously announced a new house rule. Holding my spatula like a scepter, in a grand voice (a poor imitation of Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins, I admit), I proclaimed,

“Whoever complains about dinner, will receive another, delicious, nutritious and generous helping.”

My bit was met with eye-ball rolling. Impressions have never been my strong suit.

“Is this thing on?” I asked (still using the phony British accent), tapping the top of my spatula-now-turned microphone.

Granted, my humor is sometimes lost on my young audience, but someday, they’ll look back and appreciate that I made the effort. I hope that the kids’ childhood memories will be of laughing and having fun. Though, sometimes I wonder if I’m just giving them fodder for future therapy sessions.

But seriously, folks.

I think the use of humor in my house is having a positive effect. Humor teaches us to not take ourselves too seriously.

A few weeks ago, my youngest daughter and I were in the bathroom getting ready. I was putting on my makeup and she was brushing her hair. After studying her reflection in the mirror for a while, she asked me, “Mom, am I ugly?”

I put down my mascara and turned to face her. I gently cradled her face in my hands and said,

“Yes, honey. You are a very ugly girl.”

She held my serious expression for a split second before we both broke down laughing. She realized I’d caught her fishing for a compliment. I pulled her to me and hugged her. I assured her that she is very pretty and pointed out that it’s a little silly to ask a question for an answer you already know.

Any good comedian will tell you that it’s all about timing. I don’t want the kids to think they can joke their way through life or be unable to tell when I’m serious and when I’m kidding. And to be honest, we have our ups and downs in this respect.

Sometimes, when I’m laying down the law, they’ll crack smiles to try to charm their way out of trouble. Sometimes they can get me to break and sometimes they can’t.

Sometimes I have a hard time not laughing – especially when I’ve caught them doing something ridiculously naughty. Like the time my girls turned themselves blue.

They’d been outside playing with sidewalk chalk. Somehow, they thought it’d be fun to color their faces and bodies blue – including the brand new white turtlenecks I’d just bought.

Despite the Funniest-Home-Videos quality of the moment, I was livid. (We were set to leave the house within the hour to make an important appointment.)

The girls laughed, giggled and mugged funny faces, tying to ramp up the cute factor to avoid getting punished. Lucky for them it worked. Instead of scolding them, I grabbed the camera to capture the moment.

Though, I’m typically not a proponent of working blue.

Lessons learned from my parents’ divorce

As a kid, I remember being very sad when my parents announced they were separating. I didn’t want my dad to move out and I was scared about what it would mean for our family when he did. I remember sitting in the family room in our little cape cod on Morgan Avenue, wildly sobbing, begging them to change their minds.

After Dad moved into a little apartment on the south end of town, the sadness began to dissipate. A peaceful calm settled over our house – there was no more arguing, no more tension-filled dinners.

Even as a 10 year old, I remember realizing that this new arrangement was better.

I learned that my parents’ happiness was what was important – regardless of if they lived in the same house or not. And, I realized that happy parents – not stressed out, bitter, argumentative ones – make a kid feel more secure and confident. They’re also more fun. Looking back, I have more memories of having fun and laughing after they divorced.

I’ve applied this lesson to my own divorce. I’m a firm believer that kids aren’t screwed up because their parents are divorced – they’re screwed up because their parents didn’t handle the divorce well.

I watched an Oprah once where a bunch of unhappy women blamed their parents for all of their troubles with love and money. One woman said her inability to form lasting, healthy relationships was because her parents were divorced and she never had positive role models to show what a happy, successful marriage looks like. She said she just didn’t want to make the same mistake as her parents did.

That’s bullshit.

Life is a collection of experiences – good and bad. I don’t view my marriage and subsequent divorce as mistakes. Don’t get me wrong, they weren’t my favorite of all my experiences – but none of it was a mistake. I have three amazing children from that relationship. Getting divorced was hard, but I’ve emerged a stronger, more confident person now. And that’s better, right?

So, even with the benefit of hindsight, I’d accept that proposal all over again.

I feel I represent someone who’s better because of divorce (my parents and my own). I have observed my parents’ parting and have applied those lessons to become better communicator, better mother and better participant in my own relationships.

In addition, I’ve applied those lessons to make my own divorce better…better for me, my ex-husband and my kids.

As you may know, I’m a big fan of lists, so I’ve put together a list of Lessons Learned from my Parents’ Divorce. Some of these things I’ve learned by watching them do things well and to be fair, (and with all due respect to my beloved parents), some of these lessons are based on things they didn’t handle quite so well. Nevertheless, here it is – in no particular order…

Lessons Learned from my Parents’ Divorce

1) Be honest and open with your kids and explain things to them in a way they can understand.

Back in 1983, on that sad day in our living room, I remember my dad used a clever way to help my brothers and I understand what was happening. He held his hand up and explained that it represented our family (five fingers = five family members). He crossed two of his fingers (like you do for luck) and said that that’s how he and Mom used to be – very close.

Then he uncrossed his fingers to illustrate that they’d grown apart. He pointed out that even though the fingers were uncrossed, the hand was still intact. The fingers would always be a part of the same hand. Like the hand, our family would always be connected, regardless of who lived where.

I explained my own divorce to my kids in this very same way and I continue to try to explain things in terms they understand.

2) Respect your kids’ relationship with your ex.

My kids love and trust both me and my ex-husband. I try hard to make sure my words and actions about him are influenced by this fact. Bashing my ex verbally may make me look or feel better in the short term, but what’s the gain for my kids?

Even if he is at fault in some way, it doesn’t matter. I need to keep my mouth shut and respect the kids’ relationship with their dad. Otherwise I look petty and spiteful (the exact opposite of trying to make myself look/feel better in the first place).

Respecting those boundaries is better for everyone – really, it is.

3) Co-parent in a business-like manner.

I like to think of me and my ex as business associates. Together, we’re Family Incorporated, and our mission statement centers around the common goal of turning our kids into confident, responsible tax-payers.

We need to agree on the major points of upbringing (our business model) and pool our resources (time, money, energy) to successfully implement our strategic plan (growing little people into self-sufficient big ones). We set emotion aside and try to approach challenges logically and in a way that works for each associate.

For example, when my three year-old son breaks standard operating procedures and refused to stay in bed (at my house and at his dad’s), we held a conference call to address the issue.

Together, we determined that a zero-tolerance approach was best and outlined a game plan. Our objective was to overcome the obstacle of the boy getting up repeatedly, seeking attention. So our plan was this: The minute he’s out of his room, he’s marched straight back to bed without any coddling and with minimal conversation. This plan would be implemented each time he got up – regardless of at whose house he was sleeping.

The little guy eventually learned that Mom and Dad (co-CEOs of Family Incorporated) have the same expectation and deliver the same consequence for not following our family’s Code of Business Conduct. While we have two branch offices (Dad’s place and Mom’s house), the company’s rules and expectations are the same.

4) Communicate!!

Information is power and it’s true in divorced families too. Withholding information doesn’t help anyone. Again, thinking of this like a business relationship, what would happen if the project manager didn’t communicate with the rest of the team?

Thankfully, advances in technology support the ability to communicate with minimal human interaction. My ex and I prefer to text via cell phone, verses have real, live conversations. Text messaging for us is convenient, non-intrusive and keeps communications brief and on-point.

I’m sure my parents would’ve loved to have text messaging and email communication tools back in the mid-eighties. Electronic communication eliminates those, “I didn’t like your tone of voice,”-type problems.

Lessons learned, lessons taught

I learned a lot from my parents’ divorce. I don’t blame them for how my life has turned out – they’ve influenced choices I’ve made, but they’re not responsible for them.

I know my kids are all going to grow up and have problems. I know they’ll sit in a therapist’s office, spilling their guts and I’m pretty sure my name will come up.

And I’m okay with that, really. They may not agree with the choices I’ve made, but will hopefully recognize that my choices and actions have shaped their own decision making in a good way.

Now that I think of it, I hope they’ll get their money’s worth for those therapy sessions. Blaming your divorced parents for your problems will be pretty passé in 2028.

Maybe I should try harder to give them something good and juicy to work with.

Wanted: SWM, must own ear plugs

Most single moms are so busy taking care of kids and home, that they aren’t very good at putting their needs first. For me, the idea of dating seemed like a luxury and about as realistic a venture as sprouting wings and flying to the moon.

When would I find the time? How would the kids feel? Where would I find a sitter with a car but without a life on a Saturday night?

For a long time, when the idea of getting out and meeting someone popped into my head, I’d sweep it away just as quickly. So when a colleague from work unexpectedly asked me out one day, my response went something like this:

“Uh, well, thanks. That’s really nice of you. Um…you know I have kids, right? I’m not really sure that…well, I want to but…I just don’t get many free nights. But I still want to…”

I sounded like an idiot.

But there was a good reason for my hesitation. Logistics aside, dating as a single mom can be really scary. Before I had kids, if I went out with a dud or a jerk, the only person at risk of getting hurt was me. Now, with kids in the equation, there’s a whole new level of pressure.

I was afraid to bring someone new into my life (our lives) until I knew for sure the person was:

A) not a psychopath, and
B) truly liked kids in a genuine, but not-at-all-creepy kind of way.

And, on the flip side, I was nervous about how my kids would respond to someone new. Kids are unpredictable. They say whatever’s on their minds and are prone to unsolicited tantrums and outbursts. What kind of guy would willingly get involved with a lady with three, rambunctious kids?

Frankly, I questioned his sanity for asking me out in the first place.

Despite my stunning response, he assured me he was still interested, really enjoyed kids, and was willing to wait until my calendar freed up.

Okay, I thought. This guy’s different. I’ll give him a try.

Several weeks later, we made that first date happen. And, over time, we saw each other more and more. I learned that he was down to earth, close to his family, and that we shared many interests. Sprinkle in intelligence and a sense of humor and well, what more can you ask for? We just clicked.

After a few months of covert dating – my brood didn’t know I was seeing anyone – he asked when he’d get to meet the kids. Nervously, I suggested we introduce him as “Mom’s friend” and spend the evening at a local festival.

Even though I was initially apprehensive, everyone had a blast. Somewhere between the midway games and cotton candy, I relaxed and just enjoyed the night. After we got home and put everyone to bed, he told me he was impressed by how everyone was.

Frankly, I too, was impressed by their behavior. They were respectful, sweet, and funny. There was no bickering or whining. Looking back, I think they were thrilled to have another grownup to show off for. They told jokes, did cartwheels and, aside from juggling flaming batons on unicycles, were quite entertaining.

“They’re just so…good,” he kept saying.

Every time he said it, I’d blush and thank him, though, on the inside I kept thinking, “Just haven’t seen anything yet.”

Over the next few weeks, I held my breath, waiting for the first outburst, tantrum or fight. I wondered how long it’d be before my kids showed their true colors. In my house, we do things with gusto. We laugh hard, play hard, and fight hard too. And I wondered how he’d react. Would he turn tail and run?

Sure enough, a few weeks later, the happy façade gave way. We were all in my van, heading out for dinner. My two-year old who, seconds earlier had been singing and giggling, did a prompt 180 and burst into a full-blown temper tantrum. He wailed as he kicked the back of my seat and his face turned as red as the toy fire truck he hurled at the back of my head.

I glanced over to see my new boyfriend’s look of terror.

“What happened?” he whispered. “He was fine just a minute ago.”

“Oh, he does this sometimes,” I said apologetically. “It’s best to just ignore him.”

Ignore him? Yeah, right. I was skilled at tuning out my kids’ outbursts. But asking a single guy who wasn’t used to this to just ignore him was a ridiculous request.

For an instant I figured that this new relationship was doomed. As my boy howled in the back, I could actually visualize a gigantic wedge that would be driven down between our bucket seats.

“You are so going to dump me,” I said, only half joking.

Surprisingly, the fear on his face gave way to a smile.
”I will not be bested by a two-year old,” he said with a sly grin.

Suddenly the giant imaginary wedge disappeared.

Inexplicably, in a matter of seconds, my little guy turned off the waterworks and began to sing. The tantrum was over and my new boyfriend hadn’t jumped from the moving vehicle to get away – not this time.

It is possible for single moms to date, but it comes down to finding the right guy. My advice is to take it slow and be realistic about what you can and can’t expect from everybody – kids and grownups included.

Patience is key, a sense of humor is critical and a set of earplugs in the glove box doesn’t hurt either.

Me and Mr. Winkie

My son was five months old when his dad moved out, leaving him outnumbered in a house full of women. The poor little guy was left to figure out on his own how to do “boy things.” There’s no way I could teach him how to make those cool machine gun noises, let alone how to properly throw a baseball.

When it came time to potty train him, I didn’t really know where to start. I’d successfully trained his sisters, but they were girls - and part of their training included watching how Mom does it. That approach clearly wouldn’t work here. So, I began asking friends and family for advice.

Should I start him sitting down or standing up? He’s too short to clear the rim of the bowl, so should I pick him up and point him downward or get a step stool?

Because he was vertically challenged, I decided to start him sitting down. He hated that little guard attachment that came with the potty seat, so he popped it off and threw it away, announcing, “I don’t like it, Mama.”

After a few times of having his pee shoot straight out and down his legs instead of in the pot, I taught him how to tuck it down and lean forward. This worked pretty well, until I noticed his pee was still not hitting the water. Instead it was running under the seat and down the front of the bowl, pooling on the floor.

Now, with the bathroom stocked with Clorox towelettes and flushable baby wipes, we tried a new approach. This time he stood on a stool, with me behind him, holding him steady. He preferred to stand, but not by himself, since being up so high made him feel wobbly.

The first time he peed standing up, it shot upward, like a fire hose, nailing the back of the toilet and the surrounding wall. I couldn’t believe the force with which he peed – especially in the morning. The pressure was incredible.

So, we began to tackle the issue of aim. Recalling advice from a friend, I tossed a few Cheerios into the bowl and encouraged him to use them as a target. Confused, he looked up and told me (with a look of concern) the cereal shouldn’t go in the potty.

“No honey, you’re not going to eat it, you’re going to pee on it,” I explained. He shrugged his shoulders and complied. He tried to take aim by moving his hips from side to side and leaning forward – an approach that was creative, but not effective. Using this style, he hit the water for one, brief instant, and then ended up nailing the shower curtain, vanity and a towel rack as he swiveled his hips.

I knew I had to get him to take hold and take aim, but I wasn’t sure what terminology to use.

Penis sounded too clinical. Besides, it reminded me of story a friend once told me about growing up with her psychologist mother. The woman was strictly against using cutie-pie names like pee-pee or woo-woo to describe body parts. Instead, she insisted they use correct anatomical terminology. She felt that euphemisms were ridiculous and downright embarrassing. Sadly, her plan backfired when one of her daughters fell off her bike and ran into the house yelling at the top of her lungs, “MOM! I HURT MY VAGINA!”

I considered using the word pee-pee, but decided against it because pee-pee is what comes out and I don’t want him touching that.

Another friend (also a single mother) suggested I call it Mr. Winkie. Her daycare provider called it that and her son didn’t seem to have a problem telling Mr. Winkie where to squirt. I tried it out a few times, but it just didn’t roll off the tongue.

Finally, I settled on pee-pee maker. I know it’s a mouthful, but he gets it and I’m not embarrassed to say it out loud – which is good, because I find I’m saying it often.

“Hold your pee-pee maker and squirt it in the water.”

“No, you do it,” he says, folding his arms and piddling on the floor.

“That is your pee-pee maker, not mine. You do it.”

Still, he refused to touch it. I guess he thought he would eventually perfect his fancy-dancy hip maneuver.

After another week arguing over who was responsible for whose pee-pee maker, I finally figured out why he wouldn’t grab on and take aim. One day, after I had to aim for him, he refused to wash his hands.

His argument: “I didn’t touch anything,”

Once I convinced him that he has to wash his hands every time he goes potty, regardless of what he did or didn’t touch, he finally relented. Now, when he goes, he takes hold and hits the water a good 75% of the time, which I call success.

Potty training my son was a long, tough journey, but together, we made it through. He’s even trying to go all by himself, without help, which when he perfects his aim, will be just one more milestone that makes my life easier.

In the end, I won the potty war at my house. My boy is peeing like a pro and shows no hesitation to reach down and take matters into this own hands. In fact, this new willingness to reach down there has evolved into a sort of fondness for it. I caught him a few times just today, “feeling things out”, if you know what I mean.

The more I think about it, I guess I can claim at least partial credit for teaching him one of those “boy things.”