February 21, 2018

Please don't die today

I'm having a major struggle in my heart every morning. When my son has a mini-fit because I want him to stop wrestling with the dog and get upstairs and brush those teeth. When my daughters don't come downstairs until 5 minutes before we need to leave. When we're rushing out the door, late AGAIN. The whole time, I'm thinking, "Is this their last memory? Me fussing at them and getting annoyed? What if they die today, alone, scared and bleeding and the last memory they have of me is rolling my eyes because they can't find their shoes?"

I'm dropping them off and trying to remember their faces, just that way, in just that moment. I'm whispering "Please don't die today" as I drive off.

We're researching moving to another COUNTRY, for fuck's sake, just so I can take them to school without having a panic attack every morning.

And the worst part? The most horrible, horrible part? I know for a fact that in a few weeks, it'll be better. Oh, don't get me wrong, it won't be perfect. I won't feel safe for them, but the cutting reality of it will fade. I'll go back to just rolling my eyes and digging for shoes. I'll feel that moment of relief when they hop out of the car so I can go and get my coffee and start my day. The fear will fade. Until the next time.

A lot of people were annoyed about the way the news was tossing around the number 18 for school shootings this year. I saw an opinion piece about that number being open to serious interpretation. One comment stood out to me. It said it was important to remember it was really just the one time this year, that most of the other "18" didn't qualify as a real event.

Just the one.

I responded simply, "Kentucky high school shooting. Three weeks ago." Her response? "Sorry, I missed that one, but still, not 18."

She missed that one. The death toll was only 2, after all. The injured are all going to survive, basically. It's not 18. We're debating what level of gun activity qualifies as worthy of notice. I was so angry. I wanted to write back some scathing retort, but I couldn't talk because guess what? I'd had to google the shooting, to make sure I was remembering it correctly. I had already forgotten, too.

I can't decide what's worse. Feeling this constant ache every morning that I will never see them again, or slowly feeling better because I've already started to forget.

January 23, 2018

Take it down a size? Thoughts on a big house

In the mornings, I go upstairs and wake the kids up. This involves walking through the main living room (as opposed to the formal sitting room) with it's lofty ceilings, up the curved staircase, down a hallway and into a corner bedroom. Both my girls are sleeping in the one big bed. Because I am awesome, I put my ice cold hands on their warm and cozy skin and start to roll them around from the hips and shoulders. “Say words”, I demand. “I need to know you’re up, so say words to me”.

From somewhere in the pile of mussed hair and pillows, I hear, “mmmuum ughhh, WORDS.”

I’ll take it.

Next, I go back across the hallway, which is open on both sides to the room below. I grab my son’s clothes from his room. Because guess what? He is not IN his room. No, he is back in my room, downstairs, snuggled in MY bed. So off I go back downstairs, drop off the boy’s clothes, shake him awake again, and go to the kitchen. Then it's breakfast, pack lunches and snacks. I drink my coffee, which is already cold.

I wait.

The clock ticks.

Instead of making another round through the house, I stand in the open living room and yell. A full-throated call to arms, to make sure they hear me around the corners and doors.


Changing bulbs? Not so much.
I have learned, after 5 years in this house, two things. First, the damn place echoes like the inside of a bell. Any noise in the living room bounces off the high ceilings and ricochets off the walls. Yet, strangely, the bizarre acoustics don't extend to the bedrooms. Go figure.

Second, the mere act of yelling makes me angry. I can be calling up to express my eternal love but by the time they respond, my body will be full of irritated angst. I call this the Banshee Effect. Also, being yelled at makes the other person feel pissed off, too. Now, sure. I could run back upstairs and do the whole routine again. But it’s not really practical. Plus, you know, exercise. Ew.

Eventually everyone is downstairs. They’re eating. I’m drinking my microwave-warmed coffee. Then, it starts again. “Go upstairs, wash your hands, brush your teeth, then come right back down. We need to go.”

Go. Up. Stairs. Those three syllables steal another 15 minutes off my life.

If you made it this far, kudos. If you gave up, I don’t blame you. I feel the same way.

We have 5 bedrooms in this house, including a guest room. They are "split bedrooms", which just means each is tucked away in separate corners of the house.Two of them are for sleeping, apparently. The other three are glorified closets. In a funny twist, we also have 4 bathrooms, which they manage to use and fully desecrate daily. Easier to poop around then sleep around, I guess. (Fingers crossed that’s always true). 

The point I'm try to make is my house, more and more, feels too damn big (and, clearly, we are not morning people). I'm certainly not the first person to think about this, either. I love this place, I do. I love that we painted it all our favorite colors. I love that the kids have a playroom where they actually, you know, play (sometimes). I love that my husband has a functioning sound-proofed office in the form of the media room*, where he can work and also rock out on his guitar. (Okay, actually, I’m super jealous of the sound-proofed office, with its very own door to shut us all out as needed. But I digress. As usual.)

I love our kitchen and cozy “breakfast nook”, which we use as just a plain old dining room. I love that I get to use the “formal dining room” as my own little office (which doesn’t have a door and is wide open and where everyone comes and dumps shit on my desk and digs through my drawers and takes all my pens).

It’s a beautiful home. It’s just too much. The vaulted living room ceiling and wall of windows make it near impossible to heat or cool effectively. The scattered bedrooms create even more distance in a family of introverts that are already avoiding people. There’s a wet bar in the upstairs game room, where we pile all the random toys and boxes and crap that we don’t know where else to put, because, strangely, with all this space, the house has only one, tiny linen/storage closet. The downstairs guest room suite, which initially was a huge selling point, is basically pointless for our needs. We got it so our older family members, when they visited, wouldn’t have to use the stairs. But in reality, we get almost no visitors. Having a dedicated empty room for 95% of the time is just a waste of space.
Hard to get to the booze in this bar
It’s easy here to just melt off into a corner somewhere and never be seen or heard from again—at least until someone starts bellowing your name and stomping up the stairs to get you. And cleaning? Good Lord. Don't get me started on cleaning it. Let's just say that thing about "the more space you have, the more you fill" is very, very true.

It was our dream house. It's perfect in a lot of ways, except that now the dream, at least for me, has changed. The more time I spend in these walls, as the kids get older, the more I look around thinking about how much we just don’t need and how easily it can keep us apart.

*A media room is a Texas thing. Since we don't get basements here, pretty much all the houses seem to have a windowless, sound-proof room that you're supposed to use for movies or music or murder or man-caves. I rarely go into ours, so I'm not super clear what Kurt does in there, besides work. He's a pretty balanced guy, though, so probably everything gets equal time.

January 18, 2018

It’s been awhile, huh?

You know that whole thing about “an object in motion stays in motion” and “an object at rest stays at rest”? Thank you, Newton. You just aptly described my writing life. Starting about 5 years ago, maybe even a little longer, I slowed down. It started with the move to Texas. I got busy, I got distracted. I got depressed. Then I slowed down some more.

Finally, I just stopped. Stopped writing the blog, stopped writing essays and stories and letters, stopped chronicling my children’s days and memories. These days, more and more, I find myself writing in my head and then watching it vanish like mist when I try to put pen to paper. It’s frustrating, depressing, and incredibly discouraging. Why bother? I’ve gone this long without thinking out loud, why start now?

Everything came to a tipping point last year. I went through a pretty extensive relapse of depression and crippling anxiety—or more accurately, it went through me, full of jagged edges. Add to that (and because of that) marriage counseling, extended family worries, and the daily realities as a mom of 3, and I was a right solid mess. We’d gotten to the point where I was scrambling my meds with the doctor, popping anxiety pills before social interactions of any kind (Grocery store? Hell, no.) and contemplating maybe just never leaving the house again. Or my bed. Ever.


Welcome to the wild ride of bipolar disorder, my friends. Eight years of doing pretty much fine, with little lapses here and there, then I cracked wide open. It's taken some work, some naps, and a shitload of love and patience from Kurt, but in the last few months I’ve come back together. The edges aren’t a perfect fit anymore, but they’re close enough. It's been at least two months now without panic-induced chest pains and hysterical sobbing, so that's cool. I mostly don't think my friends all hate me and my husband wants to ditch me. I've decided, most days, that I'm not damaging my children as a failed mother- at least not more than normal. It's fun, right now, just enjoying my kids- and noticing that they enjoy me, too. As long as I'm not being totally embarrassing, of course.

(I still think my dog is disappointed in me, but since the whole family agrees she’s depressed, I’m not going to take it personally.)

"You're a good girl, Marcy. What a good girl you are!"

This is all not to say that I’m suddenly a Changed Woman of Mighty Resolve and Glowing Confidence, not in the slightest. I know I've still got crap to work through, but I feel like, probably, I'm up for it. But I feel more… here. I feel better.

I’ve been working on my words, mostly in private. I’ve written dozens of halves. Half a blog post, half a story, half a journal, half a letter. It’s… a start.

So, there’s my 2018 resolution, or recovery, or leap of faith. I’m taking some halves and putting them together. I’ll mix them all up in a pile, cut and paste, hope and gulp. Then maybe I’ll end up with something whole. Something new.  A beginning.

November 04, 2013

Nine Easy Steps for a Successful Child's Birthday Party

This past weekend, I hosted a birthday party for my daughter's 9th birthday. Since moving to Texas, we have outsourced our children's birthdays to bounce places and play areas. This is always fun and easy, but often really expensive. This year, we decided to keep it in house. My daughter wanted a tea party with a real tea set and finger foods and fancy clothes and crafts. Every day closer to the event, she had more ideas and suggestions.

By the weekend before, I was a wreck. I'm about as crafty as a raw potato, how could I possibly do a real tea party? What on earth would I serve? What could I find for them to do? I had visions of bored little faces staring up at me quietly, looking around with disdain. I pictured my daughter crying in disappointment that all her friends had such an awful time. I borrowed things, I trolled Pinterest like a madwoman, I lost sleep and spent too much money. Here's what I learned and what I will now, hopefully, remember for next time.

1) Once the day arrives, they don't care. They really don't. You said, "party time!", they said, "yay!" and then you gave them sugar. Beyond that, it's all a blur, a backdrop against which they smear frosting and echo their high-pitched giggles.

2) See step 1.

3) You don't need "activities", not really. You need two bags of balloons. Blow them all up until you pass out, recover, and then do the next bag. Disperse said balloons across the room. That's it. That right there provides infinite activities all of which are a variation of "bounce, scream and pop". If you turn on some music, you have freeze dance (involving kicking balloons). If you give them markers, which I don't recommend, you have art (involving scribbling balloons and drawing on their own faces). If you do nothing whatsoever, you have screaming, laughing, running, volleyball-ing, tackle football-ing and general euphoric mayhem. Which leads to step 4.

4) You are not in control. Nothing you do, nothing you've planned, matters. Once more than four children have gathered in a room full of balloons and the promise of sugar, there exists not even the illusion of adult superiority. They are in charge. They own you. Submit.

5) They aren't hungry. Or, to be specific, they aren't hungry for anything INTERESTING (like all the infamous "finger foods" my daughter requested). Pizza, plain jelly sandwiches and, if you want to go all out, a basic fruit plate, some carrots and ranch-- these things will satisfy the masses with a minimum of dried out leftovers.

6) Cupcakes are better (i.e. less messy) than cakes. Cakes are prettier than cupcakes. Either way, they will only eat (or, in recent events, smear over their entire faces) the frosting. One mom I know just serves cupcake liners full of frosting. You decide.

7) Ask for no presents. Seriously. One of the best things we've ever done is request that, instead of gifts, people bring a small donation for a local charity. Take your pick: food pantry, shelter, Goodwill, animal rescue, whatever interests your child. The end result is an impressive display of giving and an impressive lack of excess. It's a good idea to open any family gifts after the party has ended, making the most of the lingering energy and still making your child feel special (which they are!). Settle down, kick some balloons out of the way and open presents from Grandma and Mom and Dad. Later, when you take the items to be donated, make sure your child goes, too. Gratitude is a gift in and of itself.

8) This step is for you, the parent, and must be executed with discretion. It is, however, absolutely non-negotiable. It is a successful party must. Open a bottle of wine before the 1st child arrives. Set it off to the side next to a fresh wine glass, away from prying eyes and curious fingers. As the door closes behind the last child to leave, fill the glass and drink it down as quickly as your nerves demand. Repeat as necessary.

9) Party bags, the two-edged sword of modern day birthday parties. If you don't want to do them, don't, but also don't be surprised if you hear about it from the children and even from a few less-than-tactful parents. If you do want to do them, do not, I repeat do NOT, fill them with candy. Or glitter. Or markers. Or glitter. You will invite the wrath of every single parent and create a pay-it-forward chain of party bag horror. They'll send your kids home with candy and glitter and markers and bubble gum. Then someone else will send the kids home with candy and glitter and espresso. Next thing you know your kid will come home with a glitter-covered puppy wearing a bubble-gum collar toting a barrel of chocolate-covered espresso beans around its neck. Stop the madness! Give out toy rings, bouncy balls and maybe something that lights up when you shake it. And, of course, balloons.

You've got extra.

November 16, 2012

You'll be grateful... and you'll like it!

Anna’s 8th birthday was a few weeks ago and, boy howdy, did she make out like a bandit. She received several gift cards, games, books, clothes and a brand new bike, not to mention a fun outsourced birthday party at a local bounce house place. The bike, actually, was sort of a necessity—she’d reached the point of ridiculousness on her little girl bike with her knees practically bopping her in the chin.

That was at the beginning of the month, a few short days after a Halloween extravaganza of new costumes and insane amounts of candy. Then there were the exciting trips to the bookstore to use the gift cards resulting in MORE presents, followed immediately by the book fair at school.
Oh, the book fair.
In general I try to get rid of those monthly Scholastic flyers as soon as they reach my doorstep, but their school promotes non-stop, building up excitement and expectation for weeks ahead of time. I understand it’s to raise money for the classroom but to be honest, their school is not lacking in funds. Calling the PTA zealous doesn’t quite cover it.
After some discussion, we agreed to go. I took all the kids to the weekend hours with these rules: They could each pick ONE book, any book, as long as it was less than $15 dollars (Scholastic books are notoriously expensive).
Silvia picked out a book of Christmas stories and Anna got a biography on Taylor Swift (oh, my!). We paid and trooped home happily, mission accomplished.
The following morning, though, all hell broke loose.
“MOM! You forgot my book fair money! Today’s my class visit day, I have to have the money in this envelope!”.  Anna impatiently waved the plastic baggy and class form for cash-carrying.
Confused, I reminded her we’d done the book fair YESTERDAY.
“But... but... it’s class day! I want to get a book! Everyone will be getting a book! IT’S CLASS DAY AND I WANT ANOTHER BOOK!”.  Then the crying and wailing started.

I ignored her. I had breakfasts to make and two other kids to get ready for the day. She just got louder.

Finally, unable to tune her out anymore, I loudly declared that there was no way on Earth she’d be getting anything at all and if she didn’t get it together immediately she’d be losing her book from the weekend as well. I sent her off to wash her face and took some deep breaths. Her theatrics continued, though, and we actually ended up missing the bus.

I was so upset, y’all. Seriously, not even so much mad as upset. Disappointed, not just in her, but in myself. Where have I gone wrong that my daughter so easily forgets everything she’s been given in her life?
And so was the Gratitude Project born. When Anna got home, I cancelled her playdate. Then, after homework, we made a list of everything she’d gotten in the last two weeks (mostly birthday presents) and I sent her over the house to fetch it all as a visual reminder. THEN she sat down and wrote out a thank you note for every single thing (something she was supposed to have done already, anyway. Oops.). THEN I sent her upstairs with this directive.
Write a letter telling us what you are grateful for in your life and what that means. I was clear that she was not to scribble out something generic in five seconds. She had to really THINK about it and go deep.
After about half an hour, here is what she came up with.

I will admit that the last part had me a little misty. Afterwards, Anna was in a very good mood, kind to her siblings and sweet to me. At bedtime, she gave me an extra special hug and whispered in my ear, “I’m sorry I had a big tantrum this morning, Mom. I love you”, which left me feeling very grateful and blessed, too.
(The next day, Silvia came off the bus with a list from the book fair people after HER class day. They’d made her write out a receipt for the things SHE wanted, titles and prices, to “Take home and give to your Mommy so she can get you JUST what you want and send the money with you tomorrow!”. Wouldn’t if be nice if the school reinforced the right messages we’re trying to teach them at home? Grrr. In Silvia’s defense, she only cried a little and then agreed we should put it on her Christmas or birthday wish list for a later date. Delaying gratification is hard at any age, so I was pretty proud of my little five-year-old.)
After all this, I am reminded to stop and think about all our own blessings. We are healthy and we have good insurance in case that changes. Even if this house does feel too small sometimes, we DO have it over our heads. Kurt, though it demands long hours, has a good job that supports us. When there is a family emergency, we are able to respond and be there to support our loved ones. I have no illusions about the the privileged life we enjoy. I don’t think we have to be ashamed of it, but I don’t want to forget, or let my kids forget, how lucky we are, either.
So the Gratitude Project continues, for parents and children alike. We will build on it more and more as they grow... which could mean a lot more letters to look forward to in the future. Hopefully not all of them will be coerced!