On the Right Track to Balancing Super Stardom with Motherhood

I imagine this post will likely go right up there with being of interest to only a very small percentage of the people who read this blog but I’d like to at least ask the moms in the crowd to hang back (after the stampede.) To everyone who loves horses, an important event occurred last week that had the Twitter-Facebook sphere “awwwwing” with even more frequency than usual.

And that was: Zenyatta had her baby.

Now, if you don’t know who Zenyatta is, that’s cool. And not everyone who wasn’t living in a cave or under a rock would know who she is. Zenyatta is an ex-racehorse considered by many experts to be the greatest thoroughbred racehorse in history. Okay, so now aren’t you embarrassed that you haven’t heard of her? That statement would’ve been a tad more emphatic if she had won her last race—the only one in her entire history of racing BTW that she lost (she came in a very close second, so “lost” doesn’t really seem a totally fair assessment.) Anyway, she is, without argument from anyone, the all-time North American female money-earner. Like, ever. Okay, so granted she’s amazing.

She is also jaw-dropping beautiful. And monster-big, for a mare.

She’s also sweet. To say that about a racehorse is kind of a big deal. She is—get this—affectionate. She totally knows she’s the star of the show and she used to do a daft little dance before her races for the amusement and general delight of the equine media who, of course, adored her.

She retired at six years old after her last race—the Breeder’s Cup Classic, which she’d won before (the only female to do so)—and was paired up with a stud named Bernardini. (Her jockey was quoted on Sixty Minutes as saying that no stallion was worthy of her.)

In any event, on March 8, her bouncing baby colt—all 130 pounds of him—was born, a dark bay with a white star and polka dot markings on his feet just like his Mom. And the equine world rejoiced!

I think the thing that prompted me to do a post on Zenyatta was this little video clip that I saw of her loving on her new foal. While everyone always talked about how friendly and sweet she was, it still touched me to see her with her colt. She literally keeps the little fellow within kissing distance nearly all the time (not easy to do as you’ll see in the clip.)

As a mother myself, there was just something exquisite about seeing this amazing super-creature delight in motherhood to the extent she clearly does.

So that’s it! A little corny, I know but what with these impending empty nest blues I’m wrangling with, it doesn’t take much to get me all emotional about the parent-child bond! Just had to share.

Living Your Dream at the Worst Possible Time

Ten years ago I  wrote a book called “Quit Your Job, Move to Paris.” I wrote it after a young dewy-eyed college grad interviewed with me at the bank where I was working in the advertising department. (Dear God, I’m depressing myself just writing the words.) She’d recently graduated with a degree in advertising and wanted to know what she should do to, basically, get my job. I looked at her and asked: “Are you married?” She blushed prettily and shook her head. I said: “So no kids?” She reddened not so prettily and frowned at me. “Of course not,” she said. “Do you own your own home?” “I’m only 21,” she replied, as if speaking to a seriously mentally impaired individual. (Kind of like how my teenager speaks to me all the time but that’s another blog.) I said: “So, no ties, no mortgage, no private school tuition. My advice to you is…” She poised her little pen over her little steno pad.

Well, you can probably guess what I said (see above title of aforementioned book) and she did not appreciate being led on as she put it. In addition to being a new college graduate, she also happened to be the daughter of the bank’s vice president so I’m not sure why she even bothered to get my take on anything. She should’ve just gone to her Dad and said: “I want her job, please, Daddy.”

But see, I had a mortgage and a kid (plus two step-kids, but again, another time, another blog) and the idea of “living my passion” or waking up and smelling the croissants on the Rue de la Paix or spending a year writing a novel was about as possible as starring in a Broadway musical. She was young. She had her whole life ahead of her. Her choices hadn’t been made yet. From my perspective, I thought she should take advantage of her freedom while she had it, as if passion—for writing or travel or acting or anything—would dry up or run out like sand in an hourglass.

When I wrote the “Quit Your Job” book, I ended up researching various chapters on different life situations to suggest ways and ideas of how moving to Paris for a period of time might be possible: married with kids, single with kids, etc. During the course of my research, I discovered how it would be possible for me to go, too. The  information I came up with for my own situation was good and bad. The good news was: I learned I could go! I learned how I could make it happen! The bad news was: I chose not to. Yeah, I know. That part sucked. But it still helped to know I had a choice. I didn’t pack up the kid and the husband and shoot off to France in 2001 because when I sat down and thought about it, I realized I wanted other things more. Things that couldn’t happen if I took the Paris option at that time.

Funny thing about passion, though. If it’s real, it tends to stay with you. I don’t work in a corporate advertising department any more. I write full time. As for the Paris thing, well, my son is sifting through his college acceptances even as we speak which means, next year, he’s launched into his grand adventure. And guess what? Turns out, Paris is still there!

Seems that silly college girl was right about one thing: there really isn’t a time limit on passions after all.

As Parents of Boys: Does the Worry EVER End?

I’m going to go out on a limb here and make a statement that I know a lot of people will have an issue with but it needs to be said so here goes: when it comes to having children, girls are better than boys.

There. It’s said.

And I have to say I welcome any and all to refute or argue that this is not true. My own incontrovertible arguments are below.

It has been my experience as an only girl with three brothers and as the mother of an only boy that a boy is born and then begins a fairly constant campaign of trying to kill himself from then on.

You do not find girls flipping through gun magazines at age eight. You don’t see girls trying to create their own mailbox bomb at ten or taking apart the laptop because “You didn’t look like you were using it much and I wanted to see how it worked.” You just don’t.

I have friends with girl children and they have plenty to complain about but none of the whining or gossiping or nonstop talking or whatever gripe you have about daughters can compare with the worry you must live with on a daily basis when your child is a boy.

My older brother got his pilot’s license on his sixteenth birthday, before he even collected his driver’s license, which he did the very next day. My mother, when it became evident that my son was also mad for jets, said: “Do yourself a favor, forbid him to learn to fly now and save yourself the terror you’ll experience every time he walks out the door.”

Unfortunately, when I laid down the edict to my son, like most things, I went too far. I told him something along the lines of : “I don’t want you to fly as long as I am taking breath on this earth.” Maybe not surprisingly, the thought of my dying does not appear to unduly unsettle him. Rather, he finds himself wondering how old he’ll be (i.e. when I die) and if there’ll be a flying school near his house.

Boys want to do dangerous things with dangerous implements and they want to do them pretty much from the moment they can reach. I have a girlfriend who had three girls before she and her husband were surprised with their last, a boy. She told me the story of how she handed down to this, her last child, a wooden toy that all her daughters had played with as babies. She said the first time she gave it to him—he still couldn’t walk yet—he gave it a whack that broke it into three useless pieces.

Boys are so different.

My husband’s cousin’s son achieved fame within the family (posthumously, I must add) when, clowning around with his pals, he climbed a telephone pole and then reached for the wrong wire.

Can you imagine a girl doing this?

“A daughter is a daughter all of her life, a son is a son ‘til he takes a wife.

I have quoted this line to friends who had baby girls for years before I became a parent myself. I am that kind of daughter. The kind who calls and worries and visits and keeps my parents, now just my mother, in my daily thoughts and activities. On more than one occasion, my son, now seventeen, has offered the lawn mower shed to his father and me in the backyard of whatever home he eventually moves to when we are in our dotage.

I think being a parent means learning to manage fear just about all the time. When you treasure something that much, you’re constantly worried about losing it, but with a boy, the worry is racheted up several notches higher. I mean, really, what is there to worry about with a girl?

That she’ll drink or do drugs? That worry is not exclusive to girls and boys have a worse peer pressure for doing those kinds of naughty things.

That she’ll be abducted, raped and murdered? Sorry, that also is not exclusive to girls.

That she’ll get pregnant? Please. Not the end of the world. Nobody dies in this scenario. Next.

That she’ll get a DUI (or worse)? New statistics have come out that indicate teenage girls are delaying getting their driver’s licenses. So, fewer of them are driving until later when they’re more mature. Boys are LESS mature at 16 than girls are at that age and THEY are not delaying getting their licenses!

How about that she’ll want to play with guns or bash her brains out playing football or decide to join the Army or take up rock climbing so she can hang from a precipice 10,000 feet up and make you go totally WHITE before your time?

Boys are different.

My son is into backpacking and he’s recently bought a camping hammock. To me, the hammock resembles one of those contraptions you hang bananas in until they ripen, not unlike, I assume, how a hungry bear will view my son.

Which brings me to the end and the seemingly innocuous incident which prompted this post in the first place. Upon returning home from school today, my son grabbed a hatchet and said: “Heading into the woods, Mom, to find something for Dad’s birthday.”

Seriously. Can you honestly imagine a girl uttering these words? (Fortunately, it was a tree, not an animal in his crosshairs but even so, there was blood involved when it was all over.)

Boys. Are. Different.

And finally, what about the undeniable comfort one parent gets from the solidarity of being able to share fears and concerns with the other parent? Let me refute that myth right now. When my husband came home tonight, he dropped his briefcase and headed out the back door, yelling over his shoulder in the direction of my son’s bedroom: “Hurry, John! Neighbor said there’s a nest of copperheads in the back yard.”

Seriously?

ALL. Boys. Are. Different.

Final 10 Things My Horse Taught Me About Being a Mother

An AARP article a few years ago listed the sorts of personalities that tended to make the best Moms. Now, I know this is grossly subjective but like all things smarting of common sense, the article felt right. It said the number one personality that made the best Mom was the high school cheerleader, the close-second was the tom-boy, (go figure!) and the third highest ranked was the equestrienne. (Personally, I would’ve combined the second and third since most equestriennes I know are very tomboyish but I supposed there are some girly equestriennes.)

Which brings me to the final 10 items in my Top 20 Things My Horse Taught Me About Being a Mom:

  1. Pride of Presentation. The forerunner to my desire to dress my five-year old son like his last name ends with “Fauntelroy” had to be found in the many happy hours I spent braiding my horse’s mane, show-sheening his coat, and brushing his tail.
  2. Fearlessness. There is a saying in horsey circles that addresses scary moments, like when you approach a jump or coop. The saying goes that you should “throw your heart over first, and the horse will follow.” The adage means to say that if you’re ready for the jump, the horse will be, too. And, on the other hand, if you’re not too sure about that five-foot water-jump, well, don’t count on Thunder to sign on for the trip. This idea translates beautifully to motherhood. Whether you’ve facing a high fence with a jittery purebred under you and a stand full of people watching you, or bravely staring down a defiant three-year old in a fully-packed grocery store—the principle is the same. Act like you mean it and there’s a good chance he’ll believe you.
  3. Kiss the boo-boos. I recently read that 73% of mothers comfort their child first before examining or treating the child’s hurt. While I can say I certainly spoke soothingly to my horse while I dabbed on topical analgesics to his various cuts, I can’t say he was very impressed. Nonetheless, it was good practice for the little boy who would come later who definitely appreciated his mother’s words and touch during a trying time.
  4. Be mindful of the company he keeps. The proper equine pals will bat flies off your horse’s face with their tails and run up and down the pasture with him for hours (mindlessly, one presumes) until they all flop down on the ground, panting and happy. Unfortunately, the reverse is true, too. Blithely releasing your horse into the pasture without checking out the field can have you retrieving him the next day with big bite-marks on his neck and rump. I always knew which horses in the barn were friendly sorts and which ones to keep Prince away from, and I took even more care with my son’s playdates. And that went double when he got to middle school.
  5. Keeping things in perspective. I don’t care how hard you trained for the three-day event when Jiffy went lame at the last minute or how clean he looked after his bath (and just before he rolled in the dirt), none of it amounts to a hill of manure as long as he’s not tangled up in barbed wire or given himself colic because he got into the unlocked feed bin. By the same token, a situation where your three-old throws his metal truck into your flat screen in the middle of a tantrum is not the end of the world. Period. It’s a huge, expensive pain but it’s not worth getting derailed over. Losing him in a crowd at the mall—even for a few seconds—or watching your babysitter roll in from the local DQ with your toddler unrestrained in the front seat—is.
  6. It’s Fun to Get Dirty.
  7. It’s Fun to Play in the Rain.
  8. Eat Your Vegetables. My horses loved watermelon, apples, corn and sweet carrots. Coincidentally, they were my son’s favorites too. (He passed on the sweet feed.)
  9. Proper dental care is essential. While I don’t have to float my son’s teeth periodically (taking a huge file and whittling them down in the back) as I did with my mare, I am very aware of how often and well he flosses.
  10. Hugs are better when they’re returned. Having and caring for a horse involves a kind of love. It’s a source of pleasure, frustration, endless expense and hard work and most horse people think it’s worth it. A child, on the other hand, is all that, plus he probably won’t be the reason you show up at work with a limp or your arm in a cast (hopefully not, anyway.) And while I have often hugged my horse, nothing compares with the hugs I gave (and got) from my kids.

So, take it from me and my experience with a long line of horses, kids (and stepkids!), whether you’re a teenager looking to buy your first horse or a grown woman with a stable full at your beck and call, the things you can learn from the world of riding, riders and the ridden can prove enormously helpful later on if you ever decide to pick up the Mommy gig.

What about you? Do you ride? Are you a Mom? Do you have another hobby that you think has helped make you a better parent? Love to hear from you!

20 Things My Horse Taught Me About Being A Mom

A few weeks ago, I was flipping through a science magazine and came across the news that scabbing on a wound is now considered counterproductive to the wound healing quickly and with minimal scarring. I don’t know why the article surprised me. As an equestrienne, I’d been peeling scabs off my horse’s various cuts and scratches for years. The real surprise was that I hadn’t wondered, if it was de rigeur to do it for horses, why people didn’t do it too? My husband looked at the article, shrugged and said: “Kids always rip their scabs off.”

All of which triggered a burgeoning notion that being a Horse-Mom first before becoming a real one had prepared me for the job in many exceptional ways. Here are some of the things that owning a horse taught me about being a mother:

1. The Discipline Thing. This is a major issue in most relationship where you are outweighed by your charge by some 1700 pounds. If you can handle a truculent 1,800 pound four-hoofed, jerk-on-wheels (we all have our days), you have almost nothing to worry about when it comes to handling a child of your own under the age of three. Except for the occasional sharp smack on the neck to get Sparky’s attention, the disciplining is amazingly similar: You set boundaries, you make the boundaries clearly understandable, you respond to infractions of said boundaries with immediacy, love, firmness and consistency. And a good thirty percent of the time your horse and/or child will behave accordingly next time.

2. The Ability to See Past the Discomfort of the Moment. It’s the memory of uncomfortable equine incidents, like walking in mud and rain, cold and dark, looking for my horse out in some hilly, hole-infested pasture that later helped prepare me to weather a tantrum, clean up a seemingly impossible mess, or endure the constant sleep interruptions from an over-stimulated child. You’ll find you’re better able to deal with the unpleasantness if you can envision the coming, happier time: the tidy room, the tear-streaked but calm face, the peacefully sleeping child.

3. Sweets Make A Great Reward. And you still don’t want them to have too many.

4. Patience, Patience, Patience.

5. Expect the Best and You’ll Get It. Expect the worst and ditto.

6. It’s Only Poop.

7. Take Your Time. Unless you have servants to do it for you, getting ready to ride takes a good deal of preparation. One of the first things most equestriennes learn is to slow down and—since you have to do the job right (or, like checking your instruments before a flight, you may live (or not) to regret it)—you might as well enjoy the process. I have spent many happy hours grooming my mare, cleaning my saddle and other tack, watching the mice scurry out of the feed room, and listening to the other horses in the stalls nicker and murmur to each other; enough to know that riding horses is only a part of enjoying them. In many ways, this is one of the most important lessons my horse taught me about mothering. Forcing myself to slow down and listen carefully to my son’s report on his morning at Sunday School, or really involving myself in a game of hide-and-seek with him, allows me to enjoy him more deeply than I would the paltry satisfaction of ticking items off a list or finishing another task.

8. Second Sight. I am not talking visions here. I’m talking about sensing danger before it’s present. Because of a horse’s skittish nature, it’s always wise to keep your wits about you and see—before your horse does—anything that might cause a problem. That red jacket hanging over there on the fence? Steer clear or prepare yourself. Rocket might just rearrange the order of your spinal column if he sees it and decides that, today, it’s a threat to him. With horses, you always need to be one step ahead. Same with kids. The habit of looking down the road while at the same time looking at what’s right in front of me has helped me keep my child from walking into eye-level sharp objects, swinging car doors, too-steep stairs, off the edge of decks and any number of what-are-the-odds-he’d-get-into-that? kinds of dangerous situations. Developing eyes in the back of your head is a skill you hone with time. Taking care of a horse who saw bogeymen behind every tractor, rock and bush—helps.

9. Don’t Play in Traffic. Enough Said.

10. Endurance. I don’t mean the kind of endurance that has you switching horses on a mountain trail at 45-miles an hour, with your crash helmet caked in muck from the last hell-bent hour of your 20-hour ride. I mean a smaller kind of exhaustion that can overwhelm your determination not to quit. For example: I don’t care how tired you are from a long trail ride when the weather turned nasty and RockStar took that spill that left him shaky but YOU with a twisted ankle and now it’s so dark you can barely see the rider in front of you. When you finally make it back to the barn you still need to untack him, check him out for any boo-boos, clean him, dry him, feed him and tuck him in for the night before you can even think of icing that ankle, stripping off your muddy clothes and collapsing into a hot bath with a stiff one. I once broke my arm jumping a coop in a field and waited while kind friends fed my horse and turned him out to pasture before driving me to the nearest medical facility. (Being in shock helped.) As a result, you’ll find that years later, you’re wonderfully prepared for the moment—at four in the morning Christmas Day—when you still haven’t figured out how the damn dollhouse goes together. Or when you know you’ll end up screaming like a mental patient if you have to read the “Cat in the Hat” one more time, and then you read it a few hundred more times without any loss of inflection or drama when “Thing One” and “Thing Two” show up.

The Final Ten Things My Horse Taught Me About Mothering will continue next Friday! I’d love to hear from you—is there a hobby you had before you became a mother that you think made you a better mother? I’d love to hear about it!