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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?

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?

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. ;)

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.

Teething is not so easy a process, I say in all my wisdom.

As I cut my teeth in the blogosphere, I watch as my daughter is literally cutting.her.teeth. Today she left teeth marks in her finger, bit a decent chunk off of a toddler-size crayon (and went back for seconds and thirds), tried to bite a coloring book, and chomped on her dinnerware, my breast and the granite bathroom counter. She woke crying every hour of her long afternoon nap.

She’s been a slow teether; she has only her bottom two in her official first birthday photo. Now at 19 months, she has nine, three of which have broken through her tender little gums in the past week or two. She has at least three more waiting in the wings.

My husband is conservative with the Motrin and Tylenol. “If we give it to her tonight, we’ll end up giving it to her tomorrow night, and before you know it she’ll be 3 and have some sort of addiction to berry and bubblegum flavoring.” I exaggerate. A little.

What’s with bubblegum flavoring for babies, anyway?

But tonight she made her case. She’s resting comfortably, and I will, too… until she nurses in the morning.

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

There’s such beauty in hindsight. Not that it helps us avoid learning everything the hard way. Hey, I thought the Boppy pillow would ease my transition into parenting, too.

What hindsight has gained me, though, is perspective on my parents. I was the type of kid who thought my parents knew what they were doing until I was practically 30. That even though I certainly didn’t always agree, I thought their decisions — from dinner to dating — came from some kind of teacher’s edition with the answers to your toughest child rearing questions in the back.

Now that I’m walking around in my parents’ skin (Couldn’t Atticus have said shoes? Skin. Eew.), feeling like a kid dressed in grown-up clothing, I look back on their actions with new appreciation. I haven’t asked them specifically, but while some of what they taught my sister and me came from standards of safety and, um, decorum, an equal part may have been the product of exhaustion and frustration.

I’m lucky to focus on happy memories of my childhood. I remember a lot of love. And I know my parents wanted the best for us. Of course, I like to think I was a relatively easy kid to parent, pouting and hormones and crayon on the backseat of the car (not in that order) aside. I think my husband remembers the same (I really should talk to these people once in a while. You know, to confirm.).

I also can think of friends and family who don’t look back on love. Who spent their childhoods in the face of anger and loneliness. I see where some parents made terrible mistakes: physical abuse, allowing their children to witness their marital struggles. But in other situations I see parents who were only trying their best: no public school, no staying up late, no ripped jeans, no dating, no out-of-state college. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it backfired.

My hope is that my hindsight — first as a daughter, then as a mother — will lead me to succeed where my parents may have struggled, even though I’m bound to struggle somewhere else along the way. And that my children will someday look back on their dad and me and see, with hindsight, we were doing our best.

In case you happen to miss my daily shout from the rooftops, I’ll spell it out for you:

I’m done.

If you also are done, my statement needs no explanation. But I’ll elaborate for the rest of you. Today I babysat for a friend’s youngest son, who is young, indeed. Shy of 3 months young. He’s a smiling, cooing, fuzzy-headed bundle of sweetness and joy. At least he was for the 20 minutes I watched him, changed him, danced around my house talking and singing to him. He could warm the heart of the grinchiest baby grinch.

Those 20 minutes — while my son was bowling at a birthday party and my daughter napping in her crib — brought me back to a time and place when the world revolved around me and my firstborn. When I was on maternity leave and life was simple. Of course it didn’t seem simple at the time. Caring for one newborn is only simple when you have more than one child.

Those 20 minutes were particularly peaceful, I think, because I didn’t yearn for another new baby of my own. And that’s saying something because I love me some babies. I’m done, and I’m at peace with my decision. (I suppose I should add that my husband agrees with this decision. So far.)

I’m not done because I didn’t have enviable pregnancies, or because I’m afraid of experiencing another miscarriage, or because children are exhausting and expensive. I’m done because I’m so ridiculously happy with my family. My son and my daughter are amazing little people. As they grow and their personalities emerge, I can’t help but beam with pride knowing I’ve had a little something to do with them.

I’m done because our family feels complete. We have each other; no one is missing. Except maybe a fish, per my son.

I say it again and again, and I don’t waiver. But I now have three friends who have welcomed their third child after swearing up and down they, too, were done. “Never say ‘vasectomy,'” my husband says. So you never know. (But I’m done.)

When I see first-time parents schlepping their miraculous bundles of baby joy, I’ll admit to feeling a little… smug. In the, “Oh honey, remember when we didn’t know what we were doing, either?” sense. To which my dear husband would likely respond, “You mean five minutes ago?”

We’re a confident lot, he and I.

But I’m talking about the bewilderment that comes with new baby territory. As if sleep deprivation wasn’t enough, you’re barraged by advice. What you need to buy, what you need to do

I recently read a quip of parenting insight I wish I’d heard in the prime of my baby days. It’s likely more valuable than anything you’d glean from my experience alone. Brett Berk, author of The Gay Uncle’s Guide to Parenting, observed simply:

“The baby business seems to play on your fears that you’re ill-equipped for the job and are going to do it all wrong.”

He also wrote a whole book, I suppose. But I’m so content to mill over this sentence.

Have you created, or at least read, a baby registry lately? You’d be daft not to include coordinating nursery decor, complete with diaper caddy. You’ll need to feed baby, so don’t forget nursing pillows and personalized burp cloths and bottles that do everything but lactate for you. If you plan to leave the house, you’ll need a designer baby carrier that matches your car seat and stroller and diaper bag. As baby grows, his or her intelligence will be permanently stunted if you don’t have the latest and greatest educational toys that instill art appreciation and environmental responsibility.

Seriously, it’s not my goal to suck all the joy out of preparing for baby. I’m just sayin’. You’re contending with corporations trying to sell you crap disguised as necessities. You’re reading product reviews about the newest gear on the market. You’re comparing your list to that of your friends who have kids and therefore must be less clueless than you feel.

Listen to Mr. Berk and me as we steer you away from the strangers with candy-coated promises for perfect parenting. Follow your heart and your head, and buy what you want. But don’t succumb to ploys to make you believe you need stuff. Your baby needs you and diapers. Everything else is negotiable. ;)

It’s kindergarten. Not college, you chide.

Beginning next fall, my son will make the trek four blocks to our neighborhood school for about three hours, five days a week. I’m proud and apprehensive about his next step toward independence. Some parents get all worked up about academics and kindergarten as the new first grade, yadda yadda. Me? Not so much. He’s a smart kid, and he’ll learn his reading, writing and arithmetic. We have good schools in our town, and I’m an involved parent. It’s relatively cut and dried.

But something shakes me to.my.very.soul. Mean kids. Lord help me when it’s my daughter’s turn, because I’m already cringing just thinking about how mean kids can be.

My husband and I have always taught our son to be a good friend to everyone, and if someone isn’t being a good friend in return, to play with someone else. But how do you instill a deep sense of self confidence and personal strength? A sense that you get to choose whose opinions matter, and if a kid tells you your coat is ugly/your favorite book is for babies/you’re not good enough to play soccer, it doesn’t matter.

What matters is that you’re a good friend. You appreciate who and what makes you happy. What matters is how you’ll decide to define your own success. How you’ll make the most of what you’ve got. You may never be the best at something — and certainly will never be the best at everything — but you can always do your best. And you’re loved more than you’ll ever comprehend.

Excuse me while I put down my pompoms and/or Kleenex. ;)

It’s obvious to me that this soul shaking stems from my own struggle to find self confidence. I have my moments of peace, but I’m much better at worrying about and doubting the person I am.

So this is a big part of life. And life isn’t easy. Or fair, for that matter. But how do you convey that to a 4 (and three quarters)-year-old kid? Who happens to be my baby: a big guy who loves all things manly and construction, but has a gentle heart and will cry if he meets our disapproval.

Did I mention parenting is hard?