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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.

My daughter was sitting on her heels, on her changing table of all places. And from behind, I caught a glimpse of her beauty. The curve of her spine, her flawless skin. For a second — you know, before she peed on the changing mat — I saw a woman in a Renoir painting.

What I didn’t do was slap her photograph in Vanity Fair. Duh. Art? Beauty? Whatever. She’s a baby. And while her mother can be captivated by, and emotional about, her daughter, she’s sure as hell not for general consumption.

That’s right, boys, call again in 20 years.

So, Tish Cyrus, I ask you: what were you thinking, standing by at the Vanity Fair shoot as your daughter posed like the grown woman she’s yet to become? How did you look in your baby’s eyes, and say, “You’re a beautiful and talented girl, Miley. We could portray your beauty in so many ways. But we’ve chosen to sexualize you, to capitalize on your fame, your moment as Lolita. Don’t worry, honey; it’s unavoidable, especially when there’s a buck to be made.”

I typically try to remain neutral, to avoid paying attention or even caring about Hollywood goings on. But now, as the mother of a son and especially a daughter, I see these controversies through new eyes. Have you seen the clothes for little girls? The dolls? Come on, could we be in any more of a hurry for them to grow up, wear minis, heels and eyeliner? This isn’t news, I know; but it’s new to me. I had a boy first. ;)

I’m bracing myself for the day my kids’ role models expand past Bob the Builder and Danny on Build it Bigger. When they listen to bad pop music and look up to actors on the Disney Channel. Suddenly the Cyrus family’s choices have potential bearing on my life.

Now I care. It’s shallow and selfish, but I care. Sadly, I think there’s plenty of room for one more mom in the fight to protect childhood.

I’ve received two e-mails like this one of late from proud baby boomers reveling in their childhoods. How they dodged fetal alcohol syndrome, didn’t die from the use of only one cutting board in the kitchen, learned rejection firsthand without Prozac, and suffered the iron hand of discipline. And they liked it.

Honestly, I get the spirit in which it was intended. I do. Those were the good old days.

But… is it just me, or do the creators of these e-mails — and perhaps the people busy forwarding them around? — seem to be sticking their thumbs in their ears and wiggling their fingers just a little?

Oh, how I appreciate the value of playing outside with friends, solving problems, dealing with disappointment. I want the same opportunities for my children.

But when I send my children out to play, the world is a much different place than it was, even when I was a kid. Yes, I’m hesitant to let my son walk down the block by himself. There are crazy people out there (I don’t know how or why that seems to have changed so drastically) and there isn’t a housewife at every front door with one eye on the neighborhood.

Yes, you bet my son wears a helmet every time he rides his bike, even with the training wheels. Yes, my children both ride in five-point harness car seats and will until they’re…15. Yes, I have tried to rid our home of plastics containing BPA. Yes, I will refuse to cook meat in our home because cancer and heart disease and diabetes all run in our family and I think fruits and vegetables are a healthier alternative. I don’t care if you look at me funny. There are risks worth taking, and none of these risks is worth it to me.

The word “parenting” didn’t exist back in the day, certainly not in terms of an industry. Now we shoot “right ways” and “wrong ways” to discipline/educate/potty train our children back and forth like illegal (at least in Illinois) bottle rockets. In the quest to provide the best for our kids, some of us have lost sight of what they truly need. Responsibility. Self respect and respect for others. Determination. The list goes on, and no, Play Station 7 is not on it.

Why waste the innovation and new ideas of the past 50 years? Why not learn from mistakes, even if we invent new mistakes in the process? Isn’t that what “progress” is all about?

Yes, our parents were lucky (Brave? More like blissfully ignorant.), but so are we. Our kids are, too.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to suit up my children in their respective BPA-free plastic bubbles with closed-circuit cameras and 911 satellite linkups so they can go outside to play.