October 21, 2011

The Tao of McDonald's

I took the kids to McDonald’s this morning. Save your judgement, I care not a smidge. Anna had a glowing report from her parent/teacher conference, both girls have the day off school and we needed some play time— and I needed coffee. Any locale that offers both those things is a-okay in my book.

We herded in, stocked up on pancakes, hash browns, and OJ and got down to it. Jack went ba-donkers with happiness, waddling around like a crazed penguin and calling out giddy laughs at anyone who would acknowledge him. You better believe people did, too. He’s ruthless with his cuteness.

I sipped my tasty beverage (they have LATTES there now, people! It’s like they know me!) and watched the pleasant mayhem. I was reminded with a pang of one of the first playdates at my old mom’s group in Colorado, when Anna was still just a baby, scooting around on her butt all over the sticky floor. How the times do change.

At another table, two other moms sat, bent towards each other with the eager conspiracy of a good old-fashioned mama natter. I smiled, shook off the twinge of nostalgia and turned back to my baby, who was at that moment trying to climb up the slide just as three kids were wooshing their way down. (Don’t worry, it all ended well.)

Into this happy setting walked another woman. She was well dressed, hair styled, make-up perfect and damn if that wasn’t a French pedicure peeking out of her expensive sandals. Beneath all that, though, was the familiar haze of panic. Two little girls ran giggling around her in tight circles, tripping her at every possible interval. One shoulder was weighed down by a ginormous diaper bag and the other was being pulled nearly out of its socket by the 20 pound infant carrier she deftly swung, managing not to so much as bump it in all the chaos below her knees.

Her expression said that she’d been scrabbling on the cliff edge of sanity since well before sunrise. This was a woman on the edge and more than that, a woman resigned to that teetering existence.

She gently settled the sleeping baby to the ground like a basket full of unstable C-4. She tucked her little girls into a booth and directed them to Sit and Stay. All that taken care of, she hurried out of the (completely safe and enclosed) play area to get their lunch and her very own cup of hot, caffeinated liquid happy.

The baby started crying immediately as she left. Of course it did. The two little girls jumped out of the booth to huddle around the carrier and poke at the crying baby. OF COURSE THEY DID. A quick glance proved the situation to be safe, your standard parenting “snafu”. I heaved a sigh of sympathy for the woman and turned back to Jack, who was now half way up the afore-mentioned slide.

Behind me, I heard shocked gasps. Then appalled whispers. I turned back to see the other two moms staring in horrified judgement at the crying baby with his “helpful” sisters. They kept swinging around to look for the mom, half-out of their chairs as if to go rescue the abandoned kids on their way to calling Child Services. Both of them looked at me, theirs faces miming indignation as if to say, “Can you BELIEVE her? What an awful mother! I would NEVER just leave my kids and walk away like that!”.

The woman was on her way back, a laden tray of happy meals and juices balanced on one hand, a coffee clutched in the other. I hurried to open the door for her, saying to them briefly, “When you have three kids, you just do what you have to do. You know what I mean?”.

Here’s the thing. They did not know what I meant. They didn’t know that it is nearly impossible to carry a tray of food with two kids and a baby at the same time. They didn’t know that, in the real world, your kids will not be emotionally scarred for life if you have to walk away for approximately three minutes while they are in a completely safe place. It didn’t occur to them that their very presence, as obvious mothers in the room, probably made her feel even safer doing so. They saw no correlation between her leaving to get the food and the way they were engrossed in conversation while their children played, unsupervised.

They didn’t know. And that’s totally okay. I didn’t know either at one point in my life. There’s a LOT of shit I didn’t know and there is even more shit I have yet to learn now. In my former days as a blissful mom of one, it was so easy to see what everyone else was doing wrong, be shocked at the way someone else would handle any given situation. With each child, I’ve had one reality shoved further and further down my throat until it set up camp firmly in my gut.

Never say never. I mean, really. Just don’t. Five years ago, I would have been appalled at the idea of CHOOSING a morning at McDonald’s to fill my kids up with hash browns and sticky cinnamon rolls (they have those now, too! Delicious!) and set them loose in a public play area probably crawling with the flu virus, not to mention ebola.

These days, I just think how great all those germs are. Way to build up the immune system! Here, kids! Eat some dirt while you’re at it. That’s what I call roughage, my friends. Who needs celery?

Just as I look back with embarrassment on my own moments of oblivion, I know in a few years they’ll remember the well-dressed and completely exhausted mom they cast haughty looks at today. Maybe they’ll even pay it forward a little with an opened door or just an empathetic smile.

Because like it or not, no matter how much you think you know better than someone else… there’s always gonna be someone who knows better than YOU. I mean, who knew McDonald’s would one day become for me such a metaphor for life?

What’s one thing you never knew you never knew?

October 19, 2011

Food and Fashion

When I go grocery shopping, unless I have a comprehensive list from the recipes I want to make, it’s a total crap shoot. I’ll walk through the produce and think, “Hmmm… those squash look good, I bet I could do something with that”. Then I’ll hit the aisles and pick out the pantry basics, throw in some inspiring ingredients to get creative with and voila, shopping done!

Only then I get home and have no idea what to do. Pantry basics, my ass. If it were that simple then why do I have NOTHING for the kids to snack on but graham crackers? I’ll sit there with my squash, onion and can of tomatoes and stare at them until my eyes glaze over. Without a big picture, it turns out to be spaghetti night. Every night.

It’s exactly the same thing when I buy clothes. I’ll coast through Target, Old Navy, Kohls and grab a bunch of shirts that look nice, a cardigan with shiny things on it, maybe a jacket that could work with “something”. A dress with potential goes into the pot and off I go, brand spankin’ new wardrobe in my cart. Only none of it goes together, none if it’s well made and NONE of it fits. It’s all onions and generic fruit snacks, manager’s special ground beef and a dented can of peaches.

I get home, pull on a shirt with a pair of jeans and admire the total frump-fest in my mirror. The dress is too short, too long, too fitted or too tent-like. Either way, it would need a tank top (mine are all full of holes but why buy new ones?),  a special kind of bra and, oh yeah, let's not even think about shoes. The jacket matches nothing, goes with nothing, layers with nothing and the sleeves are short in a totally-not-as-cute-as-I’d-pictured kind of way.

Don't you love running back to the same store, three kids in tow, to return things you shouldn't have bought in the first place? Yeah, me neither.

When it comes to my “outfits” every day is spaghetti day. Jeans, frumpy and ill-fitting t-shirt. Or a summer dress that gaps in the front or shows off the popped elastic on my old white bra. The finishing touch is the same pair of black flats or sandals I wear with everything.

I have friends who dress with an elegant ease, every item coming together in a variety of interesting, personalized and flattering styles. One has an especially magical gift of consignment shopping and pulling gems out of the racks at Goodwill. Interestingly, now that I think of it, all of them have a flair in the kitchen, too.

I have begged them to take me shopping but here’s the next problem. I balk at any item over $20, from shoes to bras and everything in between. So I stick to Kohls and Target, spending $20 or less over and over again on clothes that don’t work, buy the same t-shirts in the same colors and find that I wake up every day with nothing to wear, nothing that fits right and nothing that puts a smile on my face. It undoubtedly adds up over time to far more than one worthwhile outfit but, really, I have no idea how to put together one anyway, so why try?

I’d love to shop at the “fancy” mall stores (think Banana Republic or Loft, so chic!) but it seems like such a commitment. Those jeans can cost over $60! That silk camisole, the one that might actually match the cardigan with shiny things? It’s $112! Those places are the Whole Foods of the clothing world and if we get into Gucci-land I don’t even have a food comparison. Maybe rare white truffles by the pound?

And as a mom doing mom things all day with a baby who really likes to chew on my shoulder whilst eating crackers, it seems a little ridiculous to get all "put together". A concession I have made to Texas Fancy is mascara every day and sometimes, blush. I know. It's wild.

My kids get dressed in the morning, however, with an exuberant flair and total disregard for circumstance that I envy. Playing in the backyard all day? Sounds like a perfect occasion for last year's Easter dress! Icy cold wind and outdoor recess? Think I'll wear my sparkly sandals. Hair ribbons, glitter headbands, homemade bead bracelets and a wild ruckus of color and pattern, they dash out into the world prepared to shine with no thought to who will or will not see them or what activity will come up.

Someday I'll get dressed in the morning just for the fun of it. All my lingerie will actually BE lingerie, will fit and will (gasp!) match. I will walk into my closet and casually pick out an actual outfit without having to think about it because I’ll know it’s all good. Even my jammies will have some merit.

But that day is not today. Today, my Target t-shirt (New! So cute in the store!) keeps riding up and my stretched out bra straps is showing through while the popped underwire pokes me in the arm pit. My jeans are still a little tight from the wash but by afternoon I’ll be hiking them up methodically as they stretch out just enough to slide down my butt every few minutes.

As for dinner tonight? Ummm… I’ll get back to you on that. Probably something frozen and undoubtedly from Walmart.

So tell me, what are YOU wearing?

September 26, 2011

A week (or so) in the life

Here’s what’s going on over here in Texas-land:

I am covered in bug bites. Anna is covered in bug bites. We have them on our arms, legs, feet. Anna has one on her derriere, not really sure how that happened. I cannot go outside for five minutes without getting eaten alive. I bought some fancy bug bite cream that’s supposed to “zap!” the itch and ouch but it’s about as effective as a wet paper towel. That is to say, completely useless. It’s just brutal.

Silvia, Kurt and Jack have not ONE SINGLE BITE. Apparently Anna and I are just special. It must be a brunette thing.


Silvia started at her new preschool this morning. It’s a great school, on recommendation from a local friend (thanks, Jenny!). The drop-off was hard, though. She went into frozen lock-down, where she just kind of huddles in on herself, head tucked in and feet planted. I had to lead her to the cubby for her things, lead her to the sink to wash her hands and then lead her to the teacher. I kissed her, gave her a big hug and then put that small, clenched hand into that of a stranger and walked away. She did not cry, though, and I’m proud to say that (mostly) neither did I. I know she’ll settle in a few days, love it and giggle every morning when it’s time to go, but damn. I hate the first day.


We have officially reached the land of after-school playdates and I’ve gotta say it’s not my favorite place. The problem isn’t so much that the kids start to beg and whine to go play the moment they get home (which they do) or that other kid’s parents think it’s fine to feed my kids cookies, juice and candy right before dinner (which they have done) or even that apparently we are also expected to provide nourishment to their kids (which we are though I would never tank up someone else’s kid on a bunch of crap and certainly not without the parent’s permission).

No, the hard part is the way the older kids treat Silvia like a puppy: they send her off to fetch water and snacks for them, make her go get the balls when they play and often leave her following them around from a short distance behind, eager but mildly forgotten. It’s standard operating child dynamics; in odd numbered groups, the youngest is usually left out (like a couple of 6 year old’s with a 4 year old shadow). There’s no real benefit to intervening or trying to force the older kids to be more thoughtful— kids are kids. As long as no one is being deliberately hurtful, then you just gotta let it be.

But there are moments it still bugs me and I have put my foot down a time or two. Like when Silvia had been sent running back into the house five times in a row to ask questions and beg for treats. The last time, she said “they” wanted her to ask for popsicles. I gave her one and told her to pass along that if “they” wanted something from me they could very well get up and ask themselves. So there.


Transcribing my notebooks hit a bump a week or so ago when I found a section from 2008. 2008 was not so good. While of course I was there and do have a general sense and memory of what went on, the buffer of time, medication and post-breakdown amnesia has taken more than a little edge off those memories. Sort of like post-birth amnesia. You wouldn’t be a very functional person if you walked around constantly fraught with a vivid recollection of labor and delivery, your muscles cramping up reflexively throughout the day. Time has to take the edge off or you’d be regularly ordering an epidural with your lunch.

So re-reading those entries, those notes and scribbles, was heart-breaking. I hated myself SO MUCH. I was so sure that everyone else hated me even more than that. After a page or two of painful reminiscence, I started crying, set the book aside and snuggled into my ever-loving husband’s arms for a bit. It was just… a shock, like getting hit upside the head with a dusty old frying pan you didn’t remember you still had.

It’s been hard to pick the project back up, but I have. They’re just memories, after all. That’s not me anymore. If anything, there’s a certain sense of triumph in that.


On a lighter note, I am going to kill and dismember (but not necessarily in that order) anyone who points out to me ONE MORE TIME that Christmas is three months away. Or counts off the actual number of days. Or goes on and on about how they’re almost done with their shopping or started their shopping in January or is hand-crafting each gift individually this year.

You get the idea. SHUT IT. I have not even processed Halloween.


Speaking of which… Halloween. Ugh. I have to come up with costumes and candy and try not to EAT all the candy myself and then three days later my sugar-blinded children will become even more hyper-i-fied (it could be a word. It could!) when Anna turns seven and has cake and then the fights over any and all of her presents will ensue.

Because Anna will be seven. My baby is going to be seven. Oh, shit.


And that’s pretty much where we’re at right now.

September 20, 2011

The new "normal"... or how I used the "F" word more times in one day than in the entire Pulp Fiction movie

Monday afternoon, I picked up Silvia at preschool. She was napping on her mat so I put Jack down next to her to wake her up. He gets excited, starts patting her and poking her and yelling “Hi!” at her until she has to wake up in self-defense.

While she was hugging me after escaping from Jack, a teacher came over and very casually mentioned that Silvia was moving to a new class on Wednesday. Still gathering up her blanket and things, I was a little confused. The teacher wasn’t her regular one, just someone I’d seen around a couple times.

“Why?”, I asked. Silvia was draped over my lap with Jack pulling her hair.

“Oh, we’re just putting the slow kids over here together,” she said blandly.

I’m pretty sure my expression said what my mouth was too shocked to say, because she quickly followed up with (as if it made it better), “It’s nothing really, she’s just slow and the normal kids need to do their work without having to wait for her, that’s all.”

I grabbed my kids, stood up and asked where the director was. The teacher looked confused and tried to send me in another direction, but I cut her off and walked out. I left three messages for the preschool director to call me ASAP.

That’s right, friends and neighbors. She called my child slow and said she wasn’t “normal”. She said it right in front of Silvia. Because, you know, kids don’t ever hear things grown-ups talk about. They’re not little sponges with ginormous ears, after all. That would just be silly.

The day went downhill at that point, from my head going through various atomic explosions to my eyes fighting back furious, burning tears. Just as I thought I’d managed to get a handle on it and was preparing my biting comments for the upcoming “Oh no you DIDN’T!” phone call, I overheard a terrible thing.

Silvia, playing with two dolls on the floor. One doll said, “Why can’t I go play over there?”. The other doll responded, “Sorry, you can’t play with the normal kids”. Then she had them happily running off to do something else as if nothing had just happened. As if my whole heart hadn’t just broken all over the place in a big mess on the floor.

Kurt and I talked, we tried to think of some other meaning, some way in which it could be explained. I slept on it, or tried to. Mostly I tossed and turned and thought up long choicely-worded things to say to the director when I finally got a hold of her.

This morning, I sat down and typed up a letter outlining what had happened. I was neither accusatory or aggressive, I just stuck to the facts. Your teacher casually called my child slow, said she couldn’t keep up with the “normal” kids. Teacher said this in front of my 4-year-old daughter. My 4-year-old daughter has now assimilated these words into her vocabulary and understanding as applicable to herself. This is totally fucked up. We are never coming back. You all are evil and nasty and I will tell God about you and you will forever suffer for passing judgement on my child. She is so far above you in intelligence that you are but slime creatures with no sentience within her view.

Okay, maybe not those last things.

Unfortunately, righteous indignation has a tendency to fade in the face of real people expressing real shock, apology and remorse. I met with the preschool director and lead teacher today and they were, as they have always been, exceptionally nice women. The director’s eyes were red and her voice shaky as if she had been crying. They couldn’t stop apologizing. They assured me that, regardless of whatever that HORRIBLE BITCHWOMAN teacher had meant, she would be strongly disciplined and corrected and the entire staff would be talked to about what had happened.

“We NEVER speak that way or classify our kids. They’re just little kids, they’re all different and we love them and Silvia is a wonderful child and we can’t say enough how incredibly sorry we are.”

I told them the story about the dolls. They understood. They are mothers, too, after all.

How can you remain a fireball of maternal defensive outrage in the face of that? It’s not the school’s fault. It’s a good school. They just have AN ARROGANT DISGUSTING LOWER ORGANISM TURD a bad teacher within their midst, something they had not realized before. They are dealing with her, too, and she will definitely think thrice before making negative and inappropriate comments about the kids. Putting your job on the line tends to make people pay more attention.

But I am still not taking Silvia back there. There is no way I will let her think, even at the fairly oblivious age of four, that I condone or agree with someone (and an authority figure at that) calling her names, telling her she’s less than normal. I won’t send her back to a place where she’ll see everyday someone who thinks she is somehow not as good as everyone else.

The worst part of this whole thing was that I found myself making explanations for why the comments were so untrue. Silvia is shy in new situations, she doesn’t like to engage with the group immediately, we just went through a huge transition, she misses her family and her home, she needs time to find her new comfort zone. She likes to do things her own way in her own time and there’s never any success with her if you try to MAKE her do something. And so on and so on.

I closed that Pandora's Box before it ever fully opened. She needs no excuse. There is nothing WRONG with my child. If there was, I'd be her champion to my last breath, but there isn’t. She is thoughtful and beautiful and creative and precocious and, most of all, 100% normal. No UNEDUCATED DUMPSTER TRASH OF A PERSON thoughtless teacher gets to treat her that way, put those words in her head, and expect me to let it slide.

I mean, everyone knows basic etiquette, right? It’s not nice to call people names.

September 12, 2011

Transcribing my life

I’ve been a bit stumped lately. I guess you call it writer’s block, but I’d describe it more as an ocean of flotsam surrounding me, with nothing much standing out worth hanging on to. In other words, I’ve got a lotta thoughts, none complete and most not all that interesting.

In order to try and start something (ANYTHING), I’ve decided to go through all my writing notebooks, one by one, all my notes, and scribbles and little pieces of paper and type them all up. Even though I got rid of a large stash about five years back, that’s still a LOT of whatnots, my friends. I’ve got bunches of standard spiral bound notebooks going years back where I’ve thrown down thoughts, half-written articles and ideas, notes from books, snippets of memories and giggles and tears, many many many lists and attempts at setting my life into order. There are also sticky notes, 3x5 cards with mysterious half-thoughts (“The paper clip chain to happiness”) and scads of old grocery lists. I keep all this around, mostly stuffed in a bag and some folders.

For the most part, I wrote it with intention and then never went back to it. In fact the last time I opened one to write, at random, was a few days ago, which reminded me of the chaotic state of things, too. I often just grab a notebook, which ever comes to hand, flip through for empty pages and go. I have a friend who keeps her personal journals this way, too. It’s fascinating and creative and, most of all, confusing as hell.

Sitting down to start this little project, I made myself a promise: I’d type it ALL out, straight through and as fast as possible, without changing or omitting anything, however bizarre or pointless it may seem. This is harder than you would think. I find myself very irritating sometimes.

I’m just at the beginning of this adventure and so far, I can tell you two things. One, I hadn’t realized what an excellent typist I am— I hardly ever look at the screen and yet the typos are few! I’ve come a long way, baby. And that’s only from a third of the way through the first book. Who knows what else lies within!

August 24, 2011

What dreams may come... come now!

It’s been at least three weeks and, truth be told, I’m not really sure when the last time was that I had a full night of uninterrupted sleep. I’m pretty sure there was a night in June? This happens from time to time and usually tapers off after a month or two. In the middle of an insomnia phase, though, boy howdy. It’s fun for the whole family.

I don’t only just stay awake or wake up frequently to watch the clock. I wander, aware in the back of my mind that none of this is real but unable to stay in bed. I get up, talk to myself, respond to urgent problems like being convinced I have to get FULLY dressed at 2 A.M. I go into the kids’ rooms, I have nightmares and run screaming into the closet, I yell at my husband for not getting up and believing me when I tell him that Cici has fallen out the window and needs medical attention. (He knows the drill and ignores me completely. In the event there ever really was a night time emergency, he wouldn’t know about it ‘til morning.)

At this point, a full sense of unreality has begun to make itself fully at home in my head. I can usually pull it together in the morning after an initial period of total desolation. Then the coffee and the regular business of life takes over. But when mid-afternoon hits, usually right around the time I need to pick up my kids from school, EVERYTHING GOES WONKY.

My eyes won’t work. Literally, my vision becomes impaired, focusing in and out randomly. My daughters’ unending habit of repeating their questions 47 times suddenly comes in very handy since I simply can’t process the intricacies of language the first 46.

So I sit down. I reach for the remote. Jack is handed a very large bottle and several toys that are probably inappropriate for his age and will therefore entertain him for much longer.

TV on, baby distracted, I lose it— consciousness, that is. Oh, not entirely. The mom in me won’t allow my hold to completely disintegrate while my kids are with me. But for the most part I let the Electronic Babysitter step in and just collapse back on the couch.

I can’t really go on like this for too much longer or bad things will happen, so I’ve had to pull out the big gun. I’m not talking about Tylenol PM, Benadryl or other, high end, sleep aids. No no. It’s time to get SERIOUS.

It’s time for the Intellectual’s Devotional.

This book has rested on my night stand for years. Like my bedside Bible, it doesn’t always get a lot of use. But when I need it, when I really NEED it, it’s always there for me.

Made up of mini-primers on philosophy, science, literature and everything in between, it’s 365 pages worth of detailed information to “help you roam confidently with the cultured class”.

In other words, in anywhere from two to five pages, I settle into a level of deep sleep comparable to what I and the 100 or so other students in History 101 experienced my first year of college.

It’s better than the best narcotics, without the hangover. Best of all, research now says that short study sessions before sleep are significantly more effective for long-term learning than night-long vigils over the books. So not only will I get some rest, I’m improving myself in the process! Pretty soon, I’ll be the star of social gatherings everywhere, able to “impress [my] friends by explaining Plato's Cave Allegory, pepper [my] cocktail party conversation with opera terms, and unlock the mystery of how batteries work.”

Seriously, people, who could ask for more?

August 22, 2011

Home Alone

It’s 10 A.M. and the house is so quiet. I’m sitting on my bed, in my very own room, surrounded by my notebooks and random scribbled index cards. I spend almost no time in this room, though it is arguably the nicest in the house— peacefully painted a barely-there blue, just enough light from the windows and somehow remains cool even in the middle of the afternoon.

And it’s so quiet.

Today is the first day of school. We were up by 6 in the pre-dawn, out the door by 7. The girls were eager to get going, hair for once smoothly brushed (I pulled out the hairspray, ever hopeful to fend off the Bam-Bam chic they usually sport). Anna’s school was all a-bubble with students and parents waiting outside for those doors to first open. I made Anna lead the way in through the masses even though she kept trying to hide behind me. We got her settled in her class, name tag on and teacher calmly saying hello as if she and Anna were old friends.

Anna clung to me a bit as I left, but never left her seat and didn’t shed a tear. As for me… well. No tears were actually shed, but I won’t deny a misty sheen to my vision as we walked to the car.

Silvia was much harder. Jack and I walked her in. I helped her pick out a cubby, hang up her Very Own Special backpack (a big deal, indeed), said hello to the teacher and then settled her down at a table to color a picture while we waited for some more kids to arrive.

She wouldn’t color. She wouldn’t face the table, instead turning sideways in her chair and trying to lean into my arms. I waited a few more moments then kissed her pale, scared face, pulled her tight arms from my neck and left. When I glanced back, she was standing by her chair, facing the door, arms crossed in front of her. Watching me.

This time, the misty sheen over my sight was accompanied by a tight jaw and focused breathing. Damn. That was hard.

Instead of working out as I had planned, I took Jack home and we played quietly for an hour or so.

Quietly. No screaming, no thunder-booms of laughter and toys hitting the ground, no pounding feet echoing across hardwood floors. Just me, a baby and some little cars rolling back and forth, their wheels creating a subtle humm-humm between us.

Jack just went down for a nap and here I am— ensconced on my bed, writing on my own time, listening to nothing but the sound of the fan overhead. I haven’t had a full-day away from the girls since the last week in May, when school finished and we decided to keep them out of summer camp to spend their last weeks in Colorado free.

Strangely, I just don’t know what to do with myself. Chores? Sure, but that feels a little like a waste of quiet and solitude. I could watch TV (and by that I mean NOT Sprout or Nick Jr. or the Disney Channel), but again… precious silence too fragile yet to break.

This is so WEIRD.

And the weirdest thing? I miss my girls, big time. After all the stress and irritation of being home with them, locked inside because of the heat, you'd think I'd be doing a tippy-toe happy dance around the house (so as not the wake the baby). I'm surprised at myself, too. By Friday I'll probably have my dance moves perfected. Today though, I really want to call the schools and ask someone to go check on them, make sure they’re not huddled in a corner crying. I won’t, of course. I did that when Anna first started preschool, but I have three kids now. I’m a big, tough experienced mom, thick skinned and blasé about such things. What-EV-ah, they're fine, who cares. Time to LIVE IT UP.

(I’m gonna go hide the phone now, before I crack and get myself officially labeled as “THAT” mom.)

August 15, 2011

Sleep Training in reverse

You all remember, if you have kids, those first months (or years) where you walked around in a zombie-like stupor most of the day, soaked in the rancid marinade of sleep-deprivation. As a breast-feeding mom with my first child, I even worried about drinking too much coffee to sustain me. The chance it could filter through and keep my infant EVEN MORE awake was worse than caffeine withdrawal. I did get over that fear pretty quickly when it became clear there was no real way, mathematically, she COULD stay awake more. Anna would literally be up constantly. She’d fall asleep attached to me, wake up screaming every 30 minutes or so, then take up to an hour and a half to soothe back to sleep. Then it would begin again. All night long.

Torture. If the government really wanted to get information from someone, they should just strand them with a days-and-nights reversed newborn. A spy would cry for mercy after a week.

Eventually, just as with potty-training or any other life skill babies have to learn, sleep triumphed. For Anna and Silvia, it was about when they were a year old. Jack was six months old, for a very important reason and not just because he is totally awesome (which he is).

I let him cry. After four months of colic and finally overcoming the shock of three kids, I felt a lot less nervous about sleep-training. Basically, my guilt didn’t have the energy to override my need for seven hours of unconsciousness. It took about a week and we were there.

All that time, all those years, all that energy focused entirely of getting my children to SLEEP. Yet today, I walked into my daughters’ room at 6:45 A.M., turned on the light and shook them both awake. I wrestled them into clothing and marched them downstairs. By 7:30 and they were up, dressed and combed (but not fed), despite much protesting.

What the hell?! I woke a child up, broke the cardinal rule of parenting? My mommy-self from years back wants to slap me around the head and lock me in a closet.

Here’s what has happened. School starts in a week and everything is flipped over on its messy-haired head. Anna has to be at the bus stop at seven in the morning, Silvia at preschool (three days a week) shortly after that. Instead of trying to get my little ones to sleep past sunrise, I’m now struggling to get them up before the first glow of dawn.

A whole new journey of sleep-training has begun for us all. In my experience from the last school year, I know it’s also something we’ll have to re-visit again and again throughout the school year, getting harder as the mornings get darker. My kids don’t want to wake up. Six years ago I’d never have believed how annoying that would be.

Fortunately, I can now rely fully on the healing power of that delicious hot beverage (that I seem to mention lovingly every day), coffee. Because the only way they’d get a taste of it now, filtered or otherwise, is if I handed it to them in a brightly colored cup. And as much as I do want them to wake up without a fight... that’s not gonna happen.

I don’t share. That coffee is MINE.

August 10, 2011

Oh, brother or, in this case, sister

The girls always run up to Jack’s room whenever he wakes up to cheer him on until I get there (i.e., to keep him occupied while I limp towards the coffee machine like the addict I am). This morning, instead of the usual jumping, yelling and giggling I heard all kinds of shouting with no giggles at all.

“You get out! We don’t NEED you in here!”

Silvia, expelled so rudely from the room, plopped herself down on the floor of the hallway. Tears in her voice but more mad than sad, she tossed back at the closed door, “Yes you do! You’re my sister and you’ll ALWAYS need me!”.

Even with my irritation at the 6:30 A.M. screaming match, I couldn’t help but smile. Wise words from a 4-year-old.

Sometimes all these kids seem like... well, a whole hell of a lot of kids. It’s always so LOUD and some days there is way more fighting than communion. I’m always Mama in the Middle, called on to mediate. I find myself saying, “Work it out or walk away!” almost as much as I say, “Because I said so!” and of course, the tried and true, “NO!”.

And Jack is only one! It seems like too long a road to imagine them all grown up. But seeing as I have myself kind of done the growing-up thing as have many dozens (okay, hundreds) of people before me, I know eventually they’ll get there. My cousin, after many years with her life centered around the basic wants and needs of her kids, just started back at work now that they’ve reached a certain level of teenage independence. The mind boggles.

When that happens, as the parent becomes smaller and their own lives become bigger, it’s the people with your shared history who come along for the ride more than anyone else. Whether you believe it or not, eventually, your brothers or sisters are the ones whowill know why you tick, the people you called at 3 A.M. when you needed an illicit ride from some forbidden location like The Waffle House or a military base (theoretically, of course). They remember that awful nickname you had when you were six and love Hudson Hawk as much as you do in a visceral sort of way (or is that just my brothers?). When you lose your mind and maybe spend some time in the psych ward, they're the ones who drop it all to be there before you can even ask.

You don't always get along, you probably piss each other off more than any other person in the world and all that shared history can sometimes be as much of a burden as it is a blessing. But in the words of my wise little daughter, you’ll always need them.

Five minutes after being kicked off the island, Silvia was again running about with Anna, circling their brother on the floor as he tried to drink his morning bottle, preparing their joint plan of attack morning game. They communicate in a language I don’t speak. And that’s as it should be.

So every time I get overwhelmed, frazzled, furious and generally over-mom-ified, I try to remember that I already gave them the best thing EVER, each other, which in turn makes me, you know, totally awesome. Eventually my kids will understand that... and then maybe they’ll stop begging for cookies, Angry Birds stuffed animals, candy rings at the checkout counter and "just one more show". Hey, a girl can dream.

In the meantime, until this day of revelation arrives and they thank me (by the way, thanks mom!), I’ll stick to mohitos, cappucino and solo escape fantasies to help drown out the fighting.

August 08, 2011

Shut up! And also... yum!

It hurts, I'm not going to lie. I am out of shape and it HURTS. Lunges, squats! Get down low! Pulse it ladies, only 16 more! ONLY?! This from the gorgeous blonde in the front who wears those lightweight tanks with the shelf bras and actually gets support from them.

It sucks but I'm there. I get up, I rally the troops, I run back and forth from the car three times before we make it out the driveway. I forget my deodorant (sorry). I've been getting off my (not so firm) ass and making it to class. I am there for a purpose. I would NOT be there if there wasn't a goal firmly (Ha! I'm so punny!) within my view.

Apparently, though, the three ladies in the back of the room have a very different goal. They get up early, put on the unflattering stretchy clothes (and make-up, what's up with that?), take the time to set up the step and get all the weights and bars and mats and whatnot.

Then they chat. FOR THE ENTIRE HOUR. Occasionally they flail their weights around in the general movement of the exercise but more often than not they're still doing vague knee bends after the rest of us have moved on to floor exercises.

I try and ignore it. Everyone tries to ignore it, including the instructor. I catch her glancing at them in the mirror more and more and then the little comments start. "You really need to THINK about the muscle contraction here. You need to FOCUS on your form. Don't CHEAT yourself." As in, shut up and get 'er done, dammit!

So to these ladies, I'd like to offer some friendly advice. If you have so much to say, please go to Starbucks, it's right around the corner, down a few lights on the left. Get a cup of coffee. Settle into one of the comfy couches and have a good natter (I'd lay off the scones though, because I haven't seen you break a sweat yet). Also, get the hell out of my class before I start throwing weights at your head. It'll be the light ones, since I'm still working up to the heavier ones and that's a lot of shoulder work. But it'll still hurt. Much love and kisses, Megan

On the bright side:

I have discovered heaven, neatly disguised as a healthy protein and calcium rich snack, Oikos Greek Yogurt with caramel. They write the caramel part really small on the label, as if to say, it's nothing, it's no big deal, you are still being delightfully diet-y (if that's your thing). But it's SO GOOD. It tastes like pudding and it's creamy and cool and SO GOOD. In my house, it is simply referred to as Mommy's Special Yogurt. They also have a chocolate one, but it's not as tasty.

July 27, 2011

8 years and it feels so good

Yesterday was my 8th wedding anniversary. Since we’re so new here, there was no chance at all of going out on our own, so we improvised a date night in. After the children were in bed, Kurt made delicious cedar plank salmon on the grill followed by a chocolate mousse dessert that I made all by myself from scratch. (Did I mention I made it? From scratch? Because I did.)

I usually put some effort into anniversaries and other special days, but this year I was just tired and I definitely fell short of my usual mark, not even getting Kurt a card. I did put on some make-up, made a nice dessert (from scratch!) and had the kids washed and in bed relatively early. My darling husband, though, brought home a present, a wonderful present. He got me a muddler.

In case you don’t know what this is, you’re not alone. I briefly thought it was some sort of stress-relief device, meant for bashing on things (though hopefully not people) until you feel better. In a way, that’s exactly right; it’s a heavy wooden mini-baseball bat looking thing you use to crush up the limes and mint in the glass for mohitos.

As many mohitos as it takes.

Didn’t I say he was darling? I love Kurt and I LOVE MY MUDDLER. The name says it all, really. After a long day of children, chores, heat and discovering someone hit your car in the parking lot (yup!) there’s nothing a woman needs more than some good... muddling.

Happy anniversary, sweetheart.

July 22, 2011

Would you like some cheese with that?

Alright, it's that time again-- ALREADY! Get your hats and your noise makers, confetti and, most importantly, a generously filled glass of wine. Welcome to my pity party.

When I picked up the kids this morning from the Y child care, Anna saw me and burst into tears. She tried not to, bless her, but it just spilled over her wobbling chin and tight eyes and then she was a weeping mess in my arms (I'll mention here that also in my arms were two bags, my purse, water bottle and Jack). I couldn't figure out what had happened until she finally burbled that she was just SAD.

We hugged it out, oblivious to the scene we were making, and then I herded the gang out to the lobby to get settled. As I left, another mom with a passle of kids asked me, "Is she okay?". I told her we'd just moved here from Colorado and sometimes Anna has these little storms (just like her mama) but she'd be fine.

"Colorado? We moved from New Hampshire. Do you hate it." It was a statement, not a question. Do you hate it, obviously. Of course you do, asking is just a gesture. I stuttered something, sort of taken aback at her bluntness. She nodded her head stiffly and left, just like that.

In the car going home, I found myself really fighting back tears. One, because yeah, why lie? At this point, I hate it. I really do. I'm making the best of it. There are good things here and there's LOTS to do in every possible direction. The YMCA is about two minutes from the house and the kids love it and I get a good break. The figs are good (harvest time in the backyard, if you want some figs come on over. I dare ya!). Sure, it's hot as hell, the water smells funny and is wrecking havoc with our laundry, skin and hair. I can get lost (and have, many times) trying to go to the mall right down the street.

I can make it work. I can not think about it too much and it's all fine. The seasons will change (or so I'm told), I'll find my way around and we'll have a water softener to keep my hair from falling out so much. I may be bald by then, but probably it'll grow back. I will keep my head up and, eventually, we'll get there.

This lady though; so matter-of-fact, so grim. She just reminded me... it's not home and I don't LIKE it here.


Mostly though, and this might sound strange considering the basically unpleasant nature of the exchange, she made me miss my friends, with a deep, breath-snatching ache. I almost followed her out to her car to beg for a playdate of likeminded commiseration. Alternately, I also really wanted to go meet a good girlfriend for coffee and gab about The Wacky Lady at the Y. I wanted some kind of interaction to follow it up and I got... nothing. No one to go meet, no guts to stalk people in the parking lot. Just me, three kids and another day hiding inside against the smothering, sticky heat.

Normally I'd try and find some sort of neatly hopeful thought to wrap this up, but today, I'm just going to let it be. It's MY party and I'll whine if I want to. Probably I'll wine, too. With figs on the side.

July 15, 2011

Starbucks, redux

I first wrote this post 4 years ago but it remains one of those truisms about my life that just don't fade. There's something so comforting about a place that, regardless of where in time or space you are, is always exactly the same. Creepy, sure. But comforting. I finally located a drive-thru that's not impossibly far from my house (though it's not terribly convenient, either). Starbucks, I heart thee.

(side note: I was going through a very bad time when I first posted this, so take the depression with a grain or three of salt. I'm not lovin' it here for sure... but I'm not falling apart. I gots me some good meds, I tell ya!)

July 6th, 2007-- Why I go to Starbucks

Inside my life, it's a mess. Literally, figuratively, emotionally, psychologically... basically any "-ly" you can get, I've managed to trash it up a little.

In the literal sense, there's my car. Anna's car seat is full of crumbs, crackers, raisins, sand and an ever-so-faint leftover smell of vomit. Silvia's has dried spit-up on the straps; well, actually, on everything. There are dirty blankets, old shoes, burp clothes, Kleenex, baby carriers, old crackers, grass, science experiment sippy cups, and on and on and on.

It's a dumpster on wheels.

And that's just my car. Apply that image to my mind, my closet, the playroom, my relationships, and you'll start to get a better idea of the chaos that is me.

I don't want to be a mess. I try not to be, I really do. Sometimes I even manage to keep it all together. But even on the good days, I'm having trouble. I seem to be spending a lot of time doubting myself, my fitness as a mother, a wife and a friend. I try to laugh it off, shake myself and just get through the day, but a fine web of cracks has broken through my armor. I've never been all that tough, you see, and lately I feel about as formidable as a feather.

I keep trying to figure out why this is so hard. Other people do what I do, and more, every day and they seem to keep it together just fine. That line of thinking always leads me down a path I would love to never see again, a path that I can't seem to get off. Maybe I can't do this because I'm weak, I'm less than all the other people that are just fine, I'm flawed in a way that they are not.

Because every time I start to feel like I've gotten on top of my life, within days or even just hours, I fall backwards, breathless and out of control, feeling lost and a little more helpless than the time before.

This week it started with a gray fog, settling down over my vision, muting colors, blurring priorities, numbing emotions. How it's possible to look out at a summer day, full of life and heat and color, and see only dry wind and brown grass, I don't know. But that's exactly what my sight has been limited to.

Then every time the girls would cry, I'd flinch a little, then everything I hadn't done that I needed to do started to become, instead of just a list in my head, a physical obstacle that I could not walk around.

So what did I do? Well, as always, I turned first to Kurt. He's my center, he keeps me grounded, brings me back when I feel like I've gone too far away. We're trying to get through this together and I'm absolutely convinced that I'd have to be locked up if it wasn't for him.

But then, after a reality-check and (yes, I'll admit it) an ego-boost from my rock of a husband, I did the next best thing. I went to Starbucks.

I know it sounds stupid. "Starbucks? That makes you feel better? Seriously?"

But here's how it works. Internally, I'm all messed up, I'm chaotic and stormy and inconsistent. I look through the glass into that little coffee shop that sits on every corner of every town across the country. It's the same, wherever you go. Warm, inviting earth tones envelope the people inside. They sit in big comfy chairs or around small bistro tables, relaxed and contained, sipping from white cups filled with poise and culture and intellectual thought.

Usually I'm just hitting the drive-thru, looking into that enlightened atmosphere from the confines of disorder and confusion that is my car. The girls might be crying and I've got "Twinkle Little Star" playing on a constant loop. The barista (see, she's not even just the sales girl, she's a barista!) hands me my drink through the window with a smile, and with it she hands a little bit of what's inside.

It is a promise land of everything I lack. Peace, uniformity, cerebral stimulation all packaged neatly up as a frothy hot beverage. I sip, close my eyes, feeling the heat from the coffee course down into my body. It's not just espresso and milk, it's fortification against the haze that clouds my vision.

I know it's all just a lie...but it's a really good, convincing lie and I'll take it.

July 12, 2011

Home... at last?

I think making any big change in life is a lot like pregnancy. When you first find out, you’re excited and nervous. The whole thing seems like it’s moving so slowly, leaving you antsy and slightly nauseated all at the same time. After awhile though, you just start to get tired of even thinking about it—how your day to day life is about to completely scatter, all your relationships are about to twist and even some dissolve. The places you go will change, they ease with which you get around will be a thing of the past. Your laundry will double and your clothes won’t fit. Who knows what your hair will look like, especially after it all starts falling out.

Eventually, everyone asking, “So, how’s it going? Are you ready?", starts to annoy you to the point of mild violence. Of course you’re ready! You’re SO READY! Let’s get this train rollin’, dammit! The last couple weeks are absolute torture. Excitement, fear, sadness, more nausea... it’s all a sickening soup of hormones and adrenyline, rolling around in your belly.

Then it happens. Suddenly, with a great wrench of body and mind, your whole world becomes new. You’re so happy, so exhausted and infinitely proud of your strength.

Three days later, you wish you were sitting in your old familiar coffee shop, freshly showered, maybe a swipe of subtle mascara and blush warming your face, relaxed over a new book—ALL BY YOURSELF. What were you thinking? What the HELL just happened?! A week ago we arrived in Dallas after a day and a half of driving in every escalating heat. We’d been staying in a hotel for nearly two weeks before we left and just getting out of there was a relief. The good-bye’s were behind us and a world of potential before us. We arrived at our new address, hopeful.

But these things never are easy or predictable. The house was a mess, dirty from top to bottom and infused with the lingering smells of curry and dog. Over the course of the next three days, with many false starts, we managed to have it cleaned enough to move in. After my first grocery trip, I tried to set up the GPS to get me back to the house (side note: Our GPS is named Amy and we’ve fondly adopted her as a member of the family). It was hot, it had been hot from the moment we arrived, it never stopped being hot. I started to cry, pushing over and over again on the screen button, “Go Home”.


Now, a week later, we are moved in. The kids sleep easily in their beds at night, Jack has taken back to his crib like a fish to water after a drought. Our kitchen is unpacked. We have peanut butter and jelly sandwichs on hand and I can easily navigate to the store in case we run out.

After that initial period of shock when you have a baby, most of the time, it gets easier everyday. Yeah, everything is different, so different you could never have prepared no matter how much you tried. But over time, a rhythm evolves. You find a new way of being and doing.

Moving here, I’m starting to find a rhythm. It’s only been a week, one long miserable week. I’m still crying at weird things, like not having a bookshelf (the movers sent it to storage by accident) and the way Jack’s room is blue but it’s not the RIGHT blue that matches his bedding and pictures.

I can see a time, soon, where things will feel better. We will join the Y and get our library cards and go to the Aquarium. I’m finally going to bake some cookies in the new kitchen and see what cooking at altitude is like. Maybe I’ll make a new friend. Maybe someday it won’t always be so damn hot.

Okay, that’s probably a little too much to ask for at this point. Thinking it’ll cool off in a Dallas summer is a lot like pulling out your old jeans when your baby is a few weeks old and expecting them to fit. Some things, no matter how hard you try (and squeeze and hold your breath), just take time.

June 24, 2011

I like to move it, move it

This is a small room. I mean, really. It’s a nice hotel, don’t get me wrong. Kurt’s new company has done very well by us so far. I think if it was just Kurt and me, it’d feel downright cozy. Add in two little girls and a baby, though, and you’ve got yourself a foolproof recipe for a claustrophobic frenzy on all fronts.

There’s also a certain weirdness to staying at a hotel about 5 minutes away from your own home. I know this area instinctively and as soon as I get to the car the sense of familiarity descends. In this room, though, I find my mind trapped in Vacation Mode. That means (when you have little kids, at least) that we’re in unknown territory, surrounded by strangers and probably have the whole experience bookended by two spiritually unraveling plane trips.

This time, even though I’m sleeping somewhere else, I’m surrounded by all the familiar things of my day-to-day life. We’ve had playdates, visited family, gone to the zoo, even headed to the park right next to the house.

The old house, I guess I should say.

The theoretical move to Texas of last month has become reality at last. The movers started this week and are spending today packing up the last big things. By tomorrow my house will be empty except for the leftover flotsam that lurks under furniture. (Several old binkies from Anna’s baby years were found under our bed. Also, a stash of used tissues stuffed between the bed and wall in the girls’ room. Yum.)

We moved out the night before the movers arrived. I wanted the kids to be settled somewhere away from the upheaval. And ok, let’s be honest, I wanted to be away from the upheaval, too. I avoided the house studiously the first day. Just the idea of seeing it all pawed over by strangers and packed in anonymous brown boxes— ugh.

But, after an initial wave of nausea and sadness, I managed to walk through all the rooms and survive. Which is a good thing, really, because how embarrassing would that have been if I’d puked and started crying in the middle of the empty living room? The movers would have had to walk around me, it would’ve slowed down EVERYTHING.

So now, life is more about the upcoming drive away than the packing away of my family’s things. And now, I’m excited. It’s still sad, but emotionally I’ve moved on to the next thing. I’m ready to go. That’s (more than) partly due to the nerve-boiling pressure of cabin fever. The other part is just about wanting to get started—unpack, explore, find some new haunts, new routines, maybe even (gasp!) meet some new people.

I guess that leaves the thought for the day as this: Even though so much is ending, that also means there is so much about to start. And surprise, surprise, I’m ready for it.

Especially if it gets me out of this tiny hotel room. (The girls were fighting earlier while Jack was napping and I actually yelled, “Knock it off right now or you’ll have to go to... go to... umm... go sit in the closet!”)

June 04, 2011

It's all coming together... except for the loose ends

A week ago I was propping my eyes open with toothpicks (ok, with caffeine fumes), recovering from the nightmarish whirlwind that was our first house-hunting trip to Dallas. I say first because we’ll have to go back this week. I say nightmarish because of the REASON we have to go back next week.
Tornadoes. That’s what it all comes down to. As in, touching DOWN TO the ground in Dallas, Texas. Six of them. Not even comparable to the Missouri and Oklahoma horrors of this spring, but still… tornadoes, right there in the middle of my new home town.

Our plane was supposed to take off at 7:45 Tuesday morning but was cancelled, bumping us to the 4:45 pm flight. We arrived at 2:30 pm to make sure we had plenty of time to get through security with little ten month old Jack in the mix. Turns out we did, indeed, have buckets of time since our plane didn’t take off until after 7 pm. At that point, it seemed that the big storm system through the South had boiled itself out, leaving us a clear flight path.

That’s the thing with big crazy Southern storm systems though. They have to knack for popping up in waves, invisible from shore until the start rolling up the beachfront. By the time we reached Dallas another front was whipping around the city (did I mention the six tornadoes?). Calmly pretending all was well, our captain circled the airport for almost two hours, announcing occasionally in deceptively peaceful tones that he was sure we’d get clearance any minute. Then he pleasantly mentioned that we’d be diverting to Abilene since we were running out of fuel. Sure it’ll just be a quick stop. Back in the air and settled within an hour.

We spent the night at Abilene airport. After three hours sitting on the tarmac, they finally admitted that DFW was closed, all flights were diverted or cancelled and we wouldn’t be able to head back out until 11 am the next day. Sorry, folks.

Oh, and by the way, there’s something wrong with the plane’s starter. We need a guy with a screw driver to head on out and turn it on manually, but we’re positive it won’t be a problem in the morning. Sleep tight!

My son, my ten month old darling baby boy, was amazing. With a calm that put all the screaming, cursing adult passengers to shame, he made giggle faces at his reflection in the windows and slept peacefully in his car seat (they brought all our stuff off the plane) as if he were tucked in his very own bed. Hysterical business-types shouted about law suits at unfortunate American Airlines customer service reps but my baby boy just crawled around the conference room where we’d camped with the other two families with kids. He pulled on cords and scooted underneath office chairs.

We finally arrived in Dallas at about 2 pm Wednesday, approximately 24 hours from our starting time the previous day. We lost two days to the storm (and the tornadoes, in case I forgot to mention the tornadoes), leaving us with an exhausting marathon of house-hunting from Thursday morning to Friday afternoon. We literally left straight from our last house, grabbed a quick lunch and skidded into the airport about 20 minutes before boarding.

We found nothing. Well, not nothing exactly, but nothing concrete. We still don’t know what neighborhood we want, what school is best, which house would be ideal, and so on. Part of the trick with Dallas is that there’s no simple equation to minimize a commute time, regardless of where you live. Farther out you often end up with the same drive time you’d find travelling from closer in, based on traffic knots in certain areas.

And there are SO MANY areas. Seriously, the city is huge (4th largest city in the country, did ya know it?). So many beautiful places, thousands of houses, hundreds of schools, not enough time, not enough time, not enough time.

We head back on Monday, with hopefully less tornadoes diverting our path (though it must be said the staff at the Abilene Airport were beyond gracious, kind and helpful, especially in the face of some of the nastier passengers). But even with the extra three days Kurt’s company has donated, we still won’t have enough time to make such a big decision as where to plant our roots (and our money) in a city so full of possibilities and potential. So we’ll spend this trip picking a rental house in a place we THINK will work out. Call it a test drive. We’ll have time now to actually look through houses, to explore the bazillion little neighborhoods, to learn how to navigate the maze of highways and byways (Kurt was so excited to buy a GPS). In a year, Dallas will be home and we can easily judge where to put our feet up and stay awhile.

For the moment, it’s all chaos over here; basically, we don't know anything we'll be doing or when we'll be doing it until a few days before it's about to happen. It’s nerve-wracking. The children are out of school, bored to tears and tantrums and totally unaware of the big picture changes coming right at them. Kurt is refinishing the deck and scraping paint and staining doors and all sorts of other handy things.

And I? Well, I’m watching the kids. A noble calling in a busy time, but it doesn’t feel very satisfying. Between naps, playdates, errands and time-outs, I’m starting to sort through things. I’m trying to get in all my good-byes. And sometimes, I’m trying not to cry. I want to leave now, just to be done with this part of it. I’m excited and hopeful and very happy we have this amazing opportunity. But with the decisions made, this whole production has gone into a sort of auto-pilot and I’m just being carried along for the ride. There’s no real action for me to take except hold on tight.

Our little detour to Abilene has taken on an increasingly mythical and zen symbolism for me. Sure, it was totally inconvenient. And yeah, the coffee was no good. But we had a place to sleep and kind people trying to make it as comfortable as possible. There was nothing we could do, nowhere else to go. It happened and we could only happen along with it.

And the children took it all in a stride. There’s a lesson to be learned here, people. Screaming at the phone rep is only going to leave you exhausted and hung up on. In helpless situations, take your cue from the babies. Just go with it.

May 10, 2011

What makes a home?

In her book Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert went to Italy, India and Bali to find balance, find God, find herself.

I get to go to Texas. 
Anna, Summer 2005
Kurt has accepted a really wonderful job in Dallas. We’ll be moving next month, leaving Colorado, which has been my home for 20 years.

 Since my head can’t wrap entirely around the big picture of it all, I’ve focused down on what it means to leave this house. It is a place, not so much of adults, but of my children. The wall of windows in my room that spotlights the kids when they roll around the bed in a perpetual tickle fight. Watching movies on the big TV in “Daddy’s Basement” (known to the adult world as a man cave), curled up together in a jumble on the couch. The glow of the nightlight on the nursery walls as I sat and rocked each baby through the years, alone in the world except for each other. 
The girls, Summer 2007

The playroom where they learned to walk and color and read and sing (and talk back and bicker). The odd splatter of spaghetti in the kitchen from enthusiastic dinners over the years (no need to worry. The house cleaners are coming). The front hall where Anna and Silvia can spend hours throwing their favorite toys high in the air, making them fly.

The front steps covered in chalk drawings and little piles of stealthily dug up potting soil from Kurt’s freshly planted flowers. The family room where each of my kids at some point cuddled under blankets, watching TV and napping when they were sick.

The girls, Summer 2009
Splashy, soaking baths with three little bodies slipping about in the tub. Kurt painting the kids’ rooms with total patience as his pregnant wife wandered in and out, commenting on his progress (with loving suggestions, of course).

Christmas trees and Easter mornings. Valentine’s Day surprises and birthday parties. Even potty training and the eternal time-out corner. This house is where my children began. 

Jack, Summer 2010
 I know there will be new memories to come, new traditions and new delights. But I’d be lying if I said these walls don’t matter, don’t hold something important inside them. Our family was born here and it breaks my heart a little bit to leave it behind.

Still, we are leaving all the same, so I’ll eat, pray and love like the book suggests. It may be more fried Twinkies at the Texas State Fair then pasta amatriciana on the Piazza Navona. I suspect there will be less aesthetic meditation and more, “Oh God, does it really have to be THIS hot?!”. 

As for the love part? Well, fortunately that’s something that, unlike this house, we will easily bring along with us. No trip to Bali required (though wouldn’t that be nice?).
The kids, Winter 2010

May 06, 2011

Just breathe

I was at the gym a little while ago (ok, a couple weeks ago, but I have my totally convincing excuses, so there.). I ran and pushed through a pretty intense workout. On the cardio equipment I read magazines, quickly flipping past pages with too-long stories. During weights, I counted reps meticulously, my head speeding about with reminders, emails, calls to make, chores to do. During abs, I was pretty much fully focused on the “ouchouchOUCH, why I am doing this anyway?!” of it all.

The trouble started when I sat down to stretch. It’s been pounded into me not to skimp there, so I tried to focus. Breathe, hold, breathe, push a little bit more. Breathe.

It was excruciating. Not from tight muscles or achy joints so much as because I had to sit still and slow down. My mind kept flailing about like a drowning victim, desperately searching for something to hold. To CLENCH. I had to just. Sit. STILL.


Afterwards, the fact that the supposedly most relaxing part of my workout was, in fact, the hardest part really started to bug me. Why couldn’t I slow down? More importantly, what was I missing in all my manic rush?

Later that afternoon I waited in the car to pick Anna up at the bus stop. Jack was babbling to himself in the back and Silvia was staring blindly out the window. I grabbed my phone unconsciously and quickly pulled up my email (nothing special), news headlines (depressing) and Facebook (whatever). Then I stopped, looked up and had a little bit of a Moment. You know, when your brain sortstops and you realize you’re not alone in the universe and there’s so much more to the world than you’ve stopped to look at for even a whole minute in that entire day?

Just a little something like that.

I deliberately turned off my phone. I shook myself slightly and stretched my arms out over my head, filling my lungs with air. Silvia watched me with a grin and then reached her arms up, too. “Ahhhhh!”, she giggled, as though we were playing a game. Jack turned his head back and forth and started clapping his little hands, trying to get in on the action.

This week, I cancelled the data plan on my cell phone. I’ve started to make it a point to turn off my computer at night. This (aside from saving energy) makes it harder to just check things “real quick” in the morning while I ignore my kids and drink my coffee. Now I try to keep my computer checking more... in check.

When we are out and about, at the park or running errands or just playing out in the front yard, I’m there now, too, not wasting moments randomly checking my phone for something that isn’t there anyway.

It’s funny how the little things in life, like the digital distractions that have become so ubiquitous we don’t even notice them anymore, can take up so much space. I went to the gym the other day without a magazine, concentrating instead on the rhythmic thump of my feet and the sound of my own breathing (though the abs still left me with a whole lotta “ouchouchOUCH!”).

I can’t do it every day, or even every week. I race around in my head, sometimes totally consumed with the current wackiness around me of which I have no control. I tune out my surroundings in mindless internet auto-pilot more than I’d like. Everything is a work in progress and I am no different.

But so far, I’ve been able to manage two things, most days. When I would have been messing with my phone (and its total LACK of anything important) I talk to my kids.

And just once or twice, mostly before I go to sleep at night, I stop. My eyes close. And I take a deep breath. Hold.


May 02, 2011

Dust to dust

So, Osama bin Laden is dead. He was the embodiment of evil, pure and undiluted. I do not mourn him in the slightest. As unpopular as the idea is for many, I honestly believe that some people should not be allowed to live, to survive their crimes.

And now, just as his supporters danced on 9/11, burning American flags in the streets and singing, the world gathers in celebration to dance on his proverbial grave. Families of the lost, around the world, now have some measure of peace and closure. 20 years, and more, of his terror can come to an end.

But then, when the retaliation comes? When some new madman steps from the shadows to stand in his place? When the threats and bombs start flying again? I do not mourn his death. But it is not the end.

They retaliate, we retaliate. They dance, we dance.

Eventually, probably in a time very far from now but eventually, the vengeance and dancing will have to stop. The celebrations of violence, however justified, will have to end. And then what are we left with?

Just the graves.

April 26, 2011

Perfect imperfection

My husband doesn’t listen. He read some research somewhere that basically said the typical key and rhythm of a woman’s speech patterns make it sound like soothing background music to a male mind. This results in them tuning out a large part of any conversation. So, biologically, he’s not responsible. (I question this VIGOROUSLY. Unfortunately, he doesn’t hear me.) My husband pouts and excels at passive aggressive tantrums when the moment strikes. He will probably never get the hang of planning a date for us without my provocation. He stays up too late and then grumps in the morning about being tired. After 9 years (and three children) together, he still won’t kiss me until after we’ve both brushed our teeth.

He also empties the diaper pail without ever being asked. He lets me sleep in almost every weekend and then makes me a PERFECT cappuccino when I come downstairs. He sometimes sends me out, kid-less, to “go do my thing”, whatever that may be. There are times when he laughs so hard that his whole face turns red and his eyes tear up. He taught me to cook and enjoy the intricacies of wine. He endures my pent up outbursts and drama with barely an eye blink. When I apologize afterwards, he almost always says, “What? I didn’t even notice”. He is devoted to family, mine and his, without a second thought because, “that’s just what you do”. He is an amazing father, in every way a man can be.

I have never once, EVER, had to tell him to put the toilet seat down.

In the book, “Olivia”, by Ian Falconer, Olivia is a typical little kid. She has tantrums, makes messes, lives within a vivid imagination, dresses up constantly and doesn’t want to take a nap. Because of these things, and in spite of these things, she’s a much loved child to tolerant and amused parents.

In the final scene at bedtime, her mother tucks her in and says, “Good night, Olivia. You know, you really wear me out. But I love you anyway”. To which Olivia responds, “I love you anyway, too”.

For me, that’s real love. It’s honest, all the spangles and starry-eyed bullshit scraped away. Kurt will probably never stop hiding my purse throughout the day and I will probably never stop leaving it hanging on chairs or shoved against the couch on the floor. I am sure, given the exciting opportunity, he could EASILY come up with his own laundry list of my irritating habits. But it doesn’t matter. We love each other anyway.

You can’t ask for more than that.

April 14, 2011

All the cool kids are doing it

Catherine Zeta-Jones seeks treatment for Bipolar II

I'm always gratified (if that's the right word) when someone noteworthy "comes out" about having bipolar II. The word "bipolar" alone conjures up images of wild-eyed people talking to themselves on the street while chewing on their clothes and probably wearing their undies on the outside of their pants. It's just not fair or anywhere close to accurate. All kinds of people, from movie stars to poets, live with it every day. In fact, they tell you in the psych ward that pretty much every famous, highly creative person is in the same boat with you. Or at least in the same flotilla.

They probably have a nicer boat.

I've joked that living with it is sort of like the diet version of full bipolar disorder-- all the depression, half the mania. The downs suck. Anyone who's struggled with depression can attest to that, and quite honestly, who hasn't gone there at some point in their lives? The hypomania (the diet version, get it?) sounds like it'd be ok-- lots of energy, motivation, flights of inspiration. But it's also shakes and compulsions and sleep deprivation. My especially awesome symptom was pressured speech. I'd talk and talk and TALK and be so sure I was being SO HELPFUL and after that... I had more to say! Yay! Buy some ear plugs!

I've been on medication for three years now and it's basically kept me straight. Or, you know, sort of straight-ish for someone like me who's kinda wonky anyway. But in a good way, right? I've toyed back and forth with the idea of going off the meds, but of course every therapist and doctor I've seen says if it ain't broke don't fix it.

I still sometimes have trouble accepting that bipolar II disorder is a part of my life now, especially because for the most part it is now off my radar. That's why I wonder occasionally about the medication-- would I still be fine without it? Do I really need it? But the truth is, it is just not something that goes away. It is, however, something that can be controlled and treated and I'm living (yay!) proof of that. It doesn't get in my way anymore. I'm still me.

And Catherine Zeta-Jones, every deliciously gorgeous inch of her, is still her regardless of black clouds and chain-smoking. She's just honest. I like that.

March 31, 2011

Giving the finger

Easter Sunday, 1988. My 11th birthday just days away, I spent the afternoon at my dad’s apartment, high on Easter basket bounty, flouncing around in a brand new dress. It was striped in orange, yellow, pink and white with a cool little knit belt that tied in a bow over my hip.

Feeling especially pretty and energetic (I’m sure an overdose of jelly beans helped), I grabbed a basketball and ran out to the court to “shoot some hoops”. Of course, as a completely athletically-challenged child, this meant I bounced the ball around cheerfully with no actual baskets. I spent more time chasing it then I did actually throwing it.

Eventually the lure of jelly beans and peeps pulled me away and I headed back inside. The basketball was tucked under my left arm so I reached to pull the door closed with my right hand, wrapping my fingers around the side of the door instead of grabbing the knob.

It was a heavy door and fell closed faster than I could pull out my hand, catching my finger between it and the door frame. I felt a shooting pain straight up to my shoulder and, gasping “ow, ow, OW!”, I dropped the ball and pulled my hand tight to my belly. A few moments later I looked down and, instead of the swollen bruise I expected, I found my hand covered in blood and my brand new dress soaked in a spreading dark splotch.

Ow, indeed. The afternoon passed in a blur from my uncle (who lived with my dad) soothingly hugging me as he ran my hand under the faucet and wrapping it up in a (quickly soaked) hand towel. My dad, frantic and more than a little freaked out, called my mom and said, “Megan cut off her finger, I’m taking her to the hospital”. He neglected to mention which hospital in the entirety of Maryland before he hung up.

Eventually I ended the day with my entire arm wrapped up mummy-style, giddy from narcotics and with a decidedly shorter (but in no way “cut off” as my dad had feared) middle finger. I ended up having a skin graft from my arm to close off the wound. My dress was ruined. At the time, I’m not sure if I was more upset about that or the finger.

To this day I completely freak out if I see anyone reach a hand out anywhere NEAR a door’s edge. I’ve yelled at children in restaurants and stopped myself at the last minute from yanking back strangers who, chatting with someone, have thrown caution to the wind and wrapped their hand around a door without ever thinking of the possible dire consequences. Don’t get me started on people distracted by cell phones. I’ve translated my fears to feet, too, for all those crazies out there who go to hold a door open with their toes while wearing flip-flops. HOLD THE KNOB, people. It’s not just there for pretty!

I’ve successfully managed to pass on this phobia to my children, among other little quirks like shrieking at spiders, brushing my teeth while walking around and leaving shoes all over the house. As parents, we want to teach our children skills to get them safely and gracefully through the world. We help them learn to read, write, think, and deal with life’s inevitable challenges. We ourselves learned some of these things in part through experiences passed down from earlier generations.

But I think it’s the weird little unintentional lessons that really keep things interesting. They make for the fun neuroses you hesitate to share on a first date. Like your intimate knowledge that blood stains just don’t come out. So if you really like that dress, tread carefully and keep your hands close.

Jelly beans just aren’t worth the trouble.

March 29, 2011

Eat my kitchen

I don’t do leftovers. Every night I dutifully wrap up the remains of our meal, studiously scraping the bottom of pans to make sure I get every edible scoop. But then it sits, languishing in my fridge as all the tastiness seeps out of it and the color fades to a dull gray... except for the parts that go hairy and bright green. Yum.

What about the popular idea to “have it for lunch” the next day? Almost never happens. When the time comes, it never seems that appealing. The waste here is just staggering, not to mention the cost. And the time! The time lost preparing a meal only to then throw out half so that I can go spend MORE time preparing ANOTHER meal and so on— it’s just staggering. Especially for someone like me, who enjoys cooking about as much as laundry. It’s something that must be done but I’d rather someone else do it.

Considering that using my time more intentionally falls under my new year resolution umbrella, this problem calls for immediate action. Step One: Eat my kitchen.

While crunching on tasty cabinets does sound fun, what I actually mean is I went on a grocery freeze. Except for perishables like milk and veggies, I did a week of meals with nothing but what hid, forgotten, in my pantry and freezer.

I first went and made a list of every can, jar, box and foil-wrapped freezer mystery. Then I stared at it. After doing that for a bit, when my eyes started to cross, I walked over and stared at the shelves in the pantry. When I got a little light-headed from all that standing, I plopped down in front of the freezer and pulled out the Bottom Drawer, home of the Frozen Meat I Am Sure We Will Use Soon.

Here are some of the interesting things I discovered:

• Two dusty cans of water chestnuts (Huh? Who bought that?)

• One can of button mushrooms (I do not EAT mushrooms. EW.)

• A box of onion soup mix with one package inside that had been opened and half-emptied.

• Four opened and half-used bags of frozen peas. Many of these went sailing around the kitchen before I realized the packages were open. We are still finding peas in corners.

• One huge freezer bag of chicken thighs

• A half grated ginger root

• Two foil-wrapped mystery packages. Ground beef? Pork tenderloin? Leftover meatloaf? It’s like Christmas!

Most notable were the three jars of bouillon cubes. I have never in my life bought bouillon. I had to call my mother to ask what precisely one should do with it. I must assume it belonged to Kurt from before we were married and somehow ended up packed for the move when we came down to the Springs from Woodland Park.

Our 8th anniversary is this summer. Oh, dear. Does bouillon go bad? My mom says no.

Does it need to be said that I am not one of those imaginative cooks who can pull out a can of tomatoes, a bouillon cube and a paper clip to make a delicious stew worthy of Julia Child? At this point in my experiment I had a moment of panic where I had to fight off the urge to run to the grocery and get a rotisserie chicken.

Once that subsided, though, I think I managed to do fairly well. At least, no one complained. Much. And Kurt, stalwart husband that he is, ate it all and declared it fabulous. I love the way he lies. That week I pulled together a chicken stir-fry with (you guessed it) water chestnuts. There was a very boring casserole, chili with homemade cornbread (go me!), and chicken thighs with rice and peas. Lots of peas.

As for leftovers, I forced myself to eat those, too, since I couldn’t run to the store for something more interesting. Surprisingly, I'm learning to love a good bowl of leftover chili or pasta salad. Who knew?

All in all, I feel the experiment was a success. I used up a lot of the miscellany sitting around the house and made room for a more thoughtful stocking of my pantry and fridge. The end of the week left me with a sense of satisfaction harkening back to that clean-slate moment after cleaning out my closet and dresser.

I have to confess two things, though. One night we did order pizza. I just couldn’t face the mystery meat (which I have since simply thrown away). Also, I never used the bouillon. Approaching the jars left me nervous and with a slight twitch in my eye for some reason.

But I didn’t throw them away, either. If we ever move again, they’ll be packed up with the kitchen stuff.

Just in case.

March 28, 2011

Beautiful Paranoia

God, I love this. Seriously, the self-deprecating clarity of it all is just so FUNNY. And don't pretend you haven't, at some low and dark moment, given in to a few bouts of egocentric paranoia... because if you haven't? I probably don't want to know you. Just sayin'. I love me some flaws, especially when they mirror my own.

(But just remember... it's not paranoia if they really ARE all out to get you.)

We Who Are Your Closest Friends
By Phillip Lopate

We who are
your closest friends
feel the time
has come to tell you
that every Thursday
we have been meeting,
as a group,
to devise ways
to keep you
in perpetual uncertainty
discontent and
by neither loving you
as much as you want
nor cutting you adrift.
Your analyst is
in on it,
plus your boyfriend
and your ex-husband;
and we have pledged
to disappoint you
as long as you need us.
In announcing our
we realize we have
placed in your hands
a possible antidote
against uncertainty
indeed against ourselves.
But since our Thursday nights
have brought us
to a community
of purpose
rare in itself
with you as
the natural center,
we feel hopeful you
will continue to make unreasonable
demands for affection
if not as a consequence
of your disastrous personality
then for the good of the collective.

March 03, 2011

Love/Hate relationship with 'cry it out'

It’s 4:30 in the morning and I jerk awake with a feeling of startled panic. What happened? My confused brain stumbles through the cobwebs of sleep and then focuses. I was asleep. And it’s 4:30 in the morning. WHERE IS THE BABY?

I jump up and hurry to the nursery, gently opening the door. As I approach the crib I hear a gentle noise, like a kitten’s sleepy rumble. My son, seven months old, is sleeping. He has rolled over onto his tummy, cuddling his one lovey, a rumpled square of soft green cloth. He’s just fine.

And did I mention? He’s ASLEEP.

For several weeks before this miraculous event, I had been up every night, every hour. Jack had grown progressively more and more restless and clingy, refusing to sleep the moment he felt himself lifted away from the warmth of my arms. No one else could put him to bed. He couldn’t fall asleep without nursing. He ended up back in bed with me more than half the time, barely resting amid squirms and cries every time I moved or breathed. I was exhausted. I was emotionally spent. I was forgetting to brush my teeth.

Something had to be done, for the sake of my morning breath if nothing else.

Now, I absolutely hate the “cry it out” method. On the whole I think it’s just unkind. It goes against every instinct in my mommy-brain to leave my baby alone in the dark without my comforting arms (or other female appendages).

I have slept with all my kids, with a bassinet in my room. Usually I’d keep them in bed with me at least half the night up to about four or five months old. At that point, I feel they were strong enough (and I was confident enough) to move them to the nursery and to the crib. That’s when my internal conflict starts up.

You see, here’s where I have a confession to make. I am a total and complete hypocrite. Because as much as I hate it, two times out of three, cry it out has worked for me—and for my kids. My oldest, Anna, was the exception. She simply screamed. Period. I’d go back in every few minutes, talk to her and rub her tummy, then leave again. But she just screamed. And screamed. And screamed.

I gave it a week, during which time I camped out in the hallway next to her door every night, crying myself. But when every night turned out worse than the last, I gave the whole thing up for lost and went back to our normal “routine”. After all, getting up five or six (or sometimes more) times a night was better than staying awake, miserable, from dusk to dawn. What worked for Anna was time. LOTS of time. By one, she slept like a log, went down for naps as though they were her one true calling and barely twitched at the vast thunder claps so common on a Colorado summer evening.

For my other two kids, though, leaving them to cry has been a miracle. Not just for me, either. Sleep-deprivation, as we all know, is a bitch, linked to depression and nasty emotional hijinks. By teaching my babies to sleep on their own, I helped everyone in the house, INCLUDING them. It is this thought that keeps me from feeling totally selfish and cruel. Once they turned the corner, both kids were changed souls—happier during the day, more easy-going and less clingy, whiny and miserable.

Now in case you’re about to yell at me (or worse), I will say that I don’t carelessly lay them in the crib, close the door and go hit the night life while they scream themselves hoarse until they lose consciousness. It’s a process.

We established the bed time routine: changing, jammies, white noise, short story. Then the lights went out and we’d enjoy a wonderful chunk of nursing and cuddle time, but unlatching him before he fell asleep. Then there’s some more cuddling, until he was super-drowsy but still a little bit awake.

Then came the hard part. I put him down. Gently, sweetly, with much love, but still... down in the crib, not tight in my arms. With a gentle pat on his tummy, I left.

And he cried.

God, I hate that part.

The first two nights, he cried on and off for about an hour. Throughout that whole time, I listened to his cues. I went back in a few times and whispered to him. The few times his cries went from pissed off and confused to seriously freaked out, I went and picked him to start all over. He woke up several times that night and we did the whole shebang again. At least twice, though, just as I was about to go get him, he settled down again on his own.

The next night, bed time took about 20 minutes of crying after lights out. After that, only 10 or so. By the end of the week, he fussed a bit, snuggled into his lovey and settled down. He now goes to bed very well most nights, letting me put him down while he's still awake. More often than not, he sleeps through the whole night. It's not a perfect magic bullet and of course there will still be difficult nights (like now, with the cold he's had all week), but I can't argue with the incredible change in just the past month or so. I’ve actually had to spontaneously night-wean him. Because, you know, he’s fine. I’m the one with the boulders in my bra every morning.

I let my baby cry. There, I said it. Mea culpa. I don’t feel particularly GOOD about it but... I feel better than if I was sleep-deprived, jittery from 10 cups of coffee and bouncing a screaming, exhausted baby around on my hip all day. When I go get him in the morning, he now wakes up with a sweet smile.

And so do I.

(And now that I’m not too tired to brush my teeth and the morning dragon breath is under control, so does my husband.)