I wish I could report that I’ve been somewhere remote. And tropical. With beverages. But I’ve been garden-variety busy. So not exciting.

I’ve missed Only the K. I have so much on my mind, and I’m not beyond bribing you to listen. If you were in my kitchen right now, you could help yourself to anything in the fridge… although I admit I’ve eaten all the leftover cake. But I still have wine. And Prozac chocolate! Do stop by.

You know I’m not the most confident person in the world. Yeah, if confidence were vitamin C, I would definitely be deficient. I have my moments of feeling at peace, where I’m satisfied with my lot. But then something — or someone — will remind me of my inadequacies, whether they be personal or financial or what have you. And I doubt and second guess. It’s ugly.

One of my favorite quotes is, “We all do nothing equally well.” It’s my mantra, and I’m raising my children to remember this truth. There will always be someone who is more successful (though how we define success is another topic for discussion), more financially secure. There will be someone who is more patient with their children, who breastfeeds longer, who runs faster. There will always be someone who is more organized and better dressed and has a more stylish home. Did I mention I lack confidence?

Deep down, I know I have my own strengths. I think I’m a good listener, and I’m proud of that. I think I’m understanding and compassionate. That must be why I have such a difficult time hanging up on telemarketers, right?

I admit I find it easy to focus on my children’s weaknesses, perhaps because I’m looking for further evidence of my shortcomings as a mother. My son isn’t particularly athletic, and he talks a little too much about his imaginary friend. My daughter isn’t talking in sentences the way my mother swears I was at her age. And she’s a picky eater.

If we transcend my neuroses (because, come on, my children are awesome), we come to the book I’m itching to read: Your Child’s Strengths by Jenifer Fox. It’s on my bookshelf and any minute now I’m going to read it. It appeals to me beyond measure, focusing not on our shortcomings, but on where we excel. Because we all excel somewhere.

No, my son may not be the quarterback. But he is logical and sensitive and passionate. Who knows: my daughter may not be potty trained until she’s 4 (please no please no please no) but she’s compassionate and a veritable ray of sunshine.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if we approached everyone in our lives this way? If instead of needling each other about how we need to fix our personalities or lifestyles, we could appreciate each other for what we have to offer? If we exuded confidence and had confidence in each other?

I find myself comparing my family to my friends’. What’s up with that? I’m so happy with us. Why do I feel a twinge of insecurity when I hear of someone else’s accomplishment? How do I get over it?

Quite seriously, I think it’s a component of my penchant for depression and anxiety. But I see it everywhere, especially in the media. We pick at people who we perceive as somehow better off than we are.

I remind myself. A lot. I’m trying to build up that confidence. And I hope to send my children out into the world knowing they’re good at something, that they’re important and make a difference. And that they don’t have to compare themselves to anyone — or belittle anyone — to feel good about themselves.

In the meantime, if you see me lashing myself for not equaling Martha Stewart in the execution of my son’s fifth birthday party, remind me the cake I *purchased* was delicious. Buying good cake is a strength, right?

My son, who is nearly 5, currently is obsessed with LEGO. In fact, “obsessed” might be putting it mildly. He pores over the LEGO catalog as if staring intently will make the bricks jump off the pages. (Granted, with his impending birthday, all that staring will likely lead to more than one LEGO toy for the b-day boy. Guess he’s on to something…)

I like LEGO: I like the quality product, the creative outlet, the (relatively) responsible company. What draws a little bit of my ire is that the toys featured on the cover of the LEGO catalog are Indiana Jones-themed. As in the (very mediocre, I might add) PG-13 movie Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

I do not plan to shelter my children from everything age-inappropriate: I let my 21-month-old play with some toys marketed “for 3 and older” and let my son watch Dirty Jobs and Ice Road Truckers. My problem lies with movie studios — and their licensing partners — who are courting a market for whom this movie is not intended.

What’s more, a recent article pertaining to this very subject reports the Motion Picture Association of America — advocate for the film industry and operator of our familiar film rating system — is not interested in going to bat for parents (parents, apparently, are whiny and should leave them alone). Or listening to the FTC, for that matter. Far be it for us to stifle anyone’s creativity by regulating the advertising of violent movies on kids’ cable channels.

In no way am I interested in limiting our access to film. In no way do I suggest we censor or bring the content of films to a lowest common denominator of sorts (G movies all the way!). I’m the parent, and I’m responsible for my children’s access to this stuff. But I’m just thinking…

Maybe instead of reacting so defensively, a human or two should rise out of this industry and think. Logically. In the best interest of families.

Maybe it’s not such a good idea to freak out small children with flesh-burning amulets or deadly spirits or person-devouring ants before they’ve learned to ride a two-wheeler.

Maybe it’s not about the money for five minutes.

If the MPAA and film studio powers-that-be aren’t willing to listen, what about LEGO? What’s important here? Is anybody with me on this?

O Internet, in all the glory of your collective consciousness, I’m in desperate need of an arbiter.

What do you do when you respectfully disagree with someone? Is it enough to admit a difference of opinion, or must you feign agreement on some level to avoid being judgmental?

Questions with broad strokes, I know.

I had such a disagreement a million years ago. More like two years, really. But it still weights heavily on my heart, in part because I was accused of being judgmental. And, quite honestly, that’s not one of the qualifications I had planned to add to my personal resume.

Pretend, if you will, my friend and I are shopping, when she spies a fur coat she can’t pass up. She knows I’m an animal rights activist, just shy of dumping red paint on unsuspecting passers by, but she wants my opinion. I rather unenthusiastically agree it’s lovely — that’s about all I can muster. And after she prods me, I admit I add that she shouldn’t depend on a coat to make her happy. Still, she wants my support. She’s hurt, and says I’m being judgmental. Why can’t I just act happy?

She’s my friend — and her purchase won’t change that — but am I obligated to push aside my opinions for her sake? Is my difference in opinion truly the same as passing judgment?

And am I right to be hurt that she’d want me to fake how I feel?

This was essentially the argument, just not about shopping and fur (for the record, I can claim to be a vegetarian, but not an animal activist). Now two years later, similar circumstances have unfolded, and I’m sitting here, disagreeing, and feeling defensive.

Would someone who makes the rules please stand up and advise me? Am I a miserable human being, or can people maintain their opinions and disagree without being offensive?

Sheesh: defensive, offensive. It’s like I’ve “gone pro” in law or philosophy (or, um, soap operas), and I’m so not athletic. Sigh.

Following up on an indirect online recommendation, I experienced an epiphany of sorts via the book Family Building by John Rosemond. Who honestly scares me a little. Makes me want to say, “Yes, ma’am,” and “No, sir,” to anyone beyond my 32 years. Which, for better or for worse, would really be odd in Chicago.

Before you worry that I’ve taken a giant step back to the 1950s with “traditional parenting,” note that — like my approach to education — I’m not comfortable drawing advice from only one source. Which is funny, because politically I’m the opposite.

But I digress.

The premise of Family Building (published in 2005, it may only be new to me) is our primary goal as parents. “Well,” I thought, “I want my kids to be happy! Healthy! Successful!” But happiness, health (to the extent we can control it) and success, Rosemond teaches us (or me, at least), aren’t goals. They are byproducts of raising decent.human.beings.

That, my friends, is where the heavens parted and radiant beams shone down to enlighten me in my quest to do everything right: encourage the right extracurriculars, choose the right schools, watch the right amount of television, sleep at the right time, build the right amount of self-esteem, wear the right shoes.

Not that I’m abandoning my children’s best interests. I just have a clear goal. And that is for my children to be good people. Good friends, good colleagues, good spouses, good parents, good neighbors. Because expecting or trying to be the best — the smartest, fastest, richest, coolest, whatever — doesn’t bring happiness.

And suddenly so many priorities fall into place, the first of which is teaching our children respect for others. The golden rule, if you will. When you learn to consider the needs of others and act on them, I’m willing to bet my dishwasher you’re more likely to find happiness.

The second is building their self confidence, rather than self esteem. My son and my daughter are special in their own right. But everyone is special, and no child needs to think he or she is more special than the next.

The third is placing more emphasis on our family. On spending the elusive “quality time” together, sharing responsibilities and learning from each other.

I know, I know… we’ll also be holding hands and singing Kumbaya together. Stay with me…

Rosemond also suggests parenting should not be hard. And, come on, that might as well be the first thing I think in the morning, the last thing I think at night: parenting, for me, is hard. It is challenging, draining and trying. If adopting a few of these strategies and priorities can help me build my children’s character and focus on how amazing and rewarding parenting can be, I’m in.

Does Rosemond have suggestions for dishes and laundry, too?

Despite my claims that my family isn’t silent, this blog has thus far been a monologue. And while — stand back — I have so many more thoughts rattling around in my head, I think it’s high time you met another Knudsen.

So, I’d like to introduce my son… by way of his imaginary friend.

My son loves construction. Eats and breathes construction. He’s happiest building or digging on a “work site,” and where it is makes no difference. He doesn’t work alone; he fancies himself a truck, a member of a crew of machines — Caterpillar, mostly — that all have names. And as every truck requires a driver, he has one: Michaels.

The driver phenomenon began some months ago, about the time he began asserting himself. If he disagreed with Mom or Dad, we’d hear about it via his driver. “Mooom, my driver said I have to play in the basement right now.” “My driver doesn’t like squash.” “My driver says it’s okay to play outside when it’s 36 degrees and rainy.” That kind of thing.

Happily, Michaels (who is relatively new on the job) is generally agreeable. He is 11-years-old, which qualifies him as an adult to my nearly 5-year-old. He’s married (to his wife, my son clarifies), and has six children, two of whom are Mike and Savannah, and don’t forget baby Flower, who “has a pretty funny name.”

Since today is Memorial Day, my son informs me that Michaels is staying home with his family. They’ll be going to the park and eating pasta with red sauce for dinner. It’s good to know Michaels has such strong family values.

Hosting a truck driver can be tiresome. And I do wonder what my son’s kindergarten teacher and new friends will think in the fall. But mainly we’ve come to enjoy Michaels’ company, and our son’s view of the world through his eyes.

Not surprisingly, the whole TV-destroys-imagination argument is completely lost on us. Michaels says TV in moderation is okay; who are we to argue?

My first car was a used white 1986 Ford Escort hatchback that my sweet dad “souped up” with a CD changer in the trunk and a vanity plate. The catalytic converter never worked quite right and often smelled of sulfur, and the entire car would shake when you went a little too fast. But I was 16 and couldn’t have asked for anything more.

In my day of chipping in for gas, you could fill up a tank for $20. Granted, my parents boast their VW was topped off at less than $5. I’m now paying more than $70 to power my minivan. And my kids won’t be driving for more than 10 years — what then?

As much as I may change my tune as our credit card bill begins to climb, I’m okay with rising gas prices. Since high school, I’ve been aware of our dependence on a nonrenewable resource. I remember visiting Central Europe 15 years ago, and thinking how our affordable fuels condition us to waste, waste, waste.

We’re not completely dependent on our one family car. My husband’s commute to work involves walking and a 35-minute train ride. My son will walk to school in the fall. Our grocery store, our gym, our parents and many of our friends are within three miles of our home. Our only long drive is 30 minutes to our church-of-choice every-other Sunday.

What stinks is how many communities do not offer the infrastructure to support mass transit. How many people depend on their cars for their commutes to work or school. How many families won’t be able to easily adjust to gas prices higher than we’ve imagined.

I’m an environmentalist at heart, and I welcome the challenge to use less. But I wish there was an easy answer for those among us for whom this challenge is daunting.

I have an old friend — old in the sense that I haven’t seen her or talked with her in forever, not in the sense that she’s at all old — who is, in my opinion, perfectly assertive. Janine is confident, intelligent, respectful. You can’t walk all over her, but people don’t cower when she enters a room. She is everything I want to be when I grow up.

If nothing else, I’ve become acutely aware of my lack of assertiveness. Self confidence. Courage. Whatever. And aware that, as a parent, I have to step it up. Not only because I now represent my children’s best interests, but I also have to be a role model. Crap — I am a grown-up, aren’t I?

I have a long list of relationships and interactions in which I’m treading new ground: telemarketers, cashiers, retailers, servers, other parents, other kids… Yeah, stand back: the bank teller better not forget to give me two suckers!

All that said, I wasn’t a complete doormat before. A chicken? Yes. But typically I’m not apt to fight for something that doesn’t seem worth the effort. Either I’m good at keeping problems in perspective (ha), or I’m lazy. ;) And I don’t want to be a commanding presence. It’s not in me. I’m a behind-the-scenes type of gal. I want to strike a balance, to not shy away from a person or problem, to set things right. And, somehow, I want to teach my children to do the same.

All of the Janines (as if there could be more than one, but you know what I mean) out there, if any of you teach an online Assertiveness 101 class, let me know. ;)

Once upon a time, my husband and I abandoned various forms of birth control, and embarked on the exciting adventure that is starting a family.

We tried. And tried. And tried. I’d be lying if I said we maintained our confidence. But we persevered, and a relatively short — and relatively long — five months later, I peed on a magical stick and it proclaimed we’d be parents.

Yes, ridiculous morning sickness and exhaustion followed, but nothing out of the ordinary. We had a level II ultrasound at 20 weeks (my husband’s two sisters survived mere hours after birth, and their genetic abnormalities were never explained), and confirmed a healthy little person had taken up residence in my belly. I had sciatica and swollen feet and ate everything I saw. And 10 days before his due date, our son arrived in a fast and furious and truly awesome delivery.

It wasn’t easy, but it was textbook, and we got our baby at the end, just like we were supposed to. All we had to do now was wait two years and do it all over again. No problem!

The thought of my naiveté astounds me. Everyone should be entitled to a least one pregnancy like that. And while I feel ridiculous looking back — and yes, even a little guilty — I wish my second pregnancy had been the same.

When our son turned 2, we tried again, as planned. And when I got pregnant after only a month, I honestly thought we were being rewarded for our “patience” the first time around.

A few weeks later, I woke up in the wee hours of a Friday (Aug. 19, 2005) with horrible abdominal cramps. I was shaking and terrified in the bathroom: I was bleeding. Heavily. I called my OB, who met us in her office as soon as they opened. We saw our little bean with its heart beating on an ultrasound, although it wasn’t as big as we expected, and the heartbeat wasn’t as strong. Still, they sent us home cautiously optimistic (I still cringe at those words).

To make this long story slightly shorter, the bleeding only intensified. And by Monday, another ultrasound showed my vacant uterus, as if no one’s heart had been beating there days before. Our baby was gone.

In the throes of a grief I couldn’t have expected, I learned three things:

  1. Miscarriage, though strangely taboo, is all too common. Determined to talk about it, I found that so many women I know have experienced pregnancy loss. We’re like a secret club that feels lonely and exclusive, but our membership is booming.
  2. The logical words of solace — the ones I would have used myself — are the worst. I know it’s for the best. I know it’s nature’s way. I know it’s God’s plan. But I don’t care. I want my baby.
  3. There’s no spreadsheet to calculate how much it hurts. Miscarrying at six weeks certainly isn’t the same as a stillbirth at 36 weeks. But they’re both a loss. And it’s normal to grieve.

I’m standing on the other side of my grief now. Four months after we lost our baby, another life began and a nerve-wrecking pregnancy commenced. Of course I wouldn’t change the result, or trade our crazy little girl. But I do think of our baby, our little bean, who would have just turned 2 in April. I haven’t forgotten, and hope I never will.

When I hear of friends who have lost a baby, my heart breaks all over again. I’m so sorry you’ve joined the club. But know you’re not alone. Hugs.

Typically Mother’s Day leaves me… disappointed. It doesn’t live up to the expectations, the hype. Even our 4-year-old son said to my husband this year (too late, mind you), “Daaad, you have to get Mom a Mother’s Day present!”

But Mother’s Day ranks among the Hallmark holidays in my family (I’m sorry, Hallmark; I really don’t intend for you to be my scapegoat). You get a card or two and brunch, and call it a day. And while a heartfelt gift would certainly be accepted, all I really want is appreciation. A little acknowledgment that I’ve done more than simply keep our kids alive for the past year.

I realized this year that I typically ask my husband to keep our kids away from me on Mother’s Day. Isn’t that nice and warm and fuzzy? “Kids, I love you. Now sit over there and don’t touch me.” But I had a change of heart… except for diaper duty, which I let my husband keep.

Yes, I’m so.damn.exhausted. I didn’t realize this mom gig came with no vacation benefits! But when it comes down to it, I actually enjoy being around our children, particularly in the moments when they’re not testing the limits of my patience or generally behaving like demon spawn.

I’m proud to be their mom, and it’s heartwarming to hear our son articulate that he wouldn’t trade me for another. I’m proud to have a hand in the people they’re becoming (of course they’re people already, but they’re evolving!). They’re growing up — as ancient as nearly 5 years and 19 months, respectively, are — and this year I had more of an opportunity to appreciate them.

I sat between our son and daughter at brunch. I talked with my mom and took trips to the buffet table with my grandmother (who is 88 and counting). And I was happy, which is saying a lot in through here.

I will add that my husband offered an IOU for a spa package (when our budget allows, which may be never), and I do intend to hold him to it. ;)

Someday our son is going to be a rocket scientist and our daughter is going to be a brain surgeon.

Okay, an engineer and a veterinarian.

A front-end loader driver and a birdwatcher?

Or maybe a civil defense siren and Tatu from Fantasy Island. “Nee! Nee!” (The plane! The plane!)

Clearly, their interests as a preschooler and a toddler, respectively, are going to determine their life’s interests. Just as where they go to preschool and elementary school is going to determine their success. The options, the opinions and the pressure. All before they’ve learned to tie their shoes. And all before their father and I have been approved for a second mortgage.

It’s all a little… ridiculous. I should not be on Prozac because my son won’t participate in a full-day kindergarten program (yeah, I’m already on Prozac, anyway).

Lest you think otherwise, I’m not a negligent parent (when it comes to education). I like to think I approached our preschool decision with solid advice in my back pocket…

Many moons ago, I worked for an organization that counted among its staff esteemed early childhood professionals. The Ph.D. kind with more years of experience than I’ve had years of life. And you know what they recommended? Learning through play. Imaginative play.

So we (and by “we,” I mean I told my husband what we were doing) chose to send our son to our park district’s preschool, which supports a “learning through play” philosophy. And, despite some parents’ protests that they were lax on academics, our son’s experience was exactly what we sought: he participated in developmentally-appropriate activities, learned appropriate behavior for the classroom, made friends and enjoyed school. Score one for us!

This fall, we enter the big leagues. Kindergarten. You know, where entire academic careers are made or broken. Our community is bursting with options, from exclusive to public to parochial full-day. Part of our master plan in moving back to our hometown five years ago was to take advantage of the excellent public schools. But to back up our good intentions, I all but earned a master’s degree in education from the University of Google.

I have sought international research about full-day v. half-day kindergarten. I have studied philosophies of education: classical method, Montessori method, progressivism, anthroposophy, homeschooling, afterschooling, unschooling. I have read about John Dewey and Francis Parker and Charlotte Mason and John Holt and Neil Postman.

Happily, it’s all led back to our original decision (score two for us!), to send our children to our neighborhood public school, where our son will attend a half-day kindergarten program with peers from (slightly) varied backgrounds. And as I’ve planned, I’ll supplement his education using the methods/philosophies that suit him best. I think he’ll be eager to build his critical thinking skills, to learn from a hands-on approach. We’ll see.

As I’ve said before, he’ll learn his reading, writing and arithmetic. He already knows his letters and their sounds, and can do simple math (especially with M&Ms). My hope is that with our help, he’ll develop a love for learning that will complement his unbridled curiosity and imagination. Thinking, reasoning, questioning, experimenting. Whatever works. If we can achieve that, we’ll all win.

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