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!

November 14, 2012

I have a little princess and it’s fine by me

My children are laughing. Hands clasped together, they whirl around in a loopy circle, chanting, “Ring around the rosie, pockets full of posies, ashes, ashes, we ALL… FALL… DOWWWWWN!”. With a crash they tumble to the floor in a fit of giggles.

Do I pull them on my lap, cuddle them close and explain how the rhyme is about gathering bodies during the Black Plague? Do I caress their soft hair and say the posies were for covering those dead eyes before burning them on the pyre?
No, of course not. Their game is innocent fun. There’s no need to attribute to it more meaning than it deserves.
I feel the same way about all the fuss surrounding the so-called “Princess Syndrome” stalking and undermining our impressionable young girls in today’s society (as if princess play was something NEW to this generation). There are many treatise on the topic, erudite explanations of how Cinderella is bringing down girls’ self-esteem, trapping them in a victim mentality, leaving them desperate for a Handsome Prince to come save them, eating away at their individuality and sense of self-worth, destroying all the ground gained by the feminist revolution. It sends them back to the kitchen with their aprons and coifed up-do’s to prepare balanced meals for Mr. Man-of-the-House.  
Whatever.
My five-year-old daughter loves princesses and fairies. Her Halloween costumes have included Rapunzel, Tinkerbell and the (self-titled) Pink Princess. Her dress-up box is full of various crowns and wands. Her favorite books are fairy tales and her favorite toys are princess figurines and dolls. She will wander around happily for hours, talking quietly to herself as she builds and creates her own adventures within those imaginary realms. Her older sister is into all that, too, but she’s moving on now to an obsession with fantasy novels and all things Taylor Swift related.
(No one seems worried about my son and his pirate-and-robot fetish, though we were applauded as good parents when we allowed him to delve into HIS princess phase. As if we could have stopped him, the little man was very firm in his need for a crown.)
They all also love outer space and playing with a circuit board set to make lights shine in the dark. They will sit at any given moment to read just about anything. My children in general are well-rounded from the delicate curves of their cheeks to the books they pick at the library, all balanced out with incessant potty jokes. (Pretty sure Cinderella never giggled over farts).  
Attributing that much effect to a story or game is just ridiculous. It’s not about the stories. It’s about what they take away from it. Quite frankly, if your daughter’s most influential role model is a fairy tale character, then you have WAY bigger problems than the proliferation of Disney movies and pink toys.
Balancing fantasy with reality is part of growing up; something learned from experience and observation of real life role models, of which my children have many. Let them play now and believe in happy endings, let them feel pretty and unique and adventurous and special—which they are. If a princess dress helps them feel that way now, it’s fine by me.
I am far more concerned about bullying and the future of their reproductive rights and teaching them gratitude instead of entitlement in a society of greed and selfishness. I send them out in spite of all that every day, wondering just a little bit if they will be okay, if someone will hurt them, if this could be the last time I see those faces because the world doesn’t feel safe anymore, if it ever did.
Faced with all that, a love of all things pink and sparkly doesn’t seem like a real game changer. I am just as worried about my daughters being scarred by princess play as I am about Ring Around the Rosie—not at all. I believe in the beauty of innocence. Let them dance with it while they can. They have time enough to learn about loss, to find out that a kiss cannot heal someone, no matter how full of love it is. Eventually they’ll see that bad guys sometimes win and handsome faces don’t guarantee gracious hearts. When that happens, I will be there to help them through it just as much as I am here now to play a part in their fairy tale games, put pink clips in their hair and admire their fancy costumes. There are all kinds of magic in this world. Leaving the door open to it doesn’t have to mean you’re inviting in disaster.

June 01, 2012

87 days of summer. Yes, I counted. Didn’t you?

I have been baking all week. Cookies, cookies everywhere and not a one to eat (except for the ones we sneaked, of course). Between Silvia’s three preschool teachers and Anna’s two teachers and bus driver, I’ve been up to my elbows in butter, flour, eggs and chips.

The first batch was fun. Silvia giggled as she sat up on the counter; breaking eggs, pouring flour everywhere and stealing chocolate chips straight from the dough. Jack toddled around, weaving in and out between my feet reaching up to her for his share of the chocolate. We ate a few from the first batch while they were still too hot, undeterred even as we winced and complained from our singed fingers and tongues. 

The second batch, she sat and watched a show, occasionally wandering over to see if they were done yet. Jack napped. Anna moaned and pouted, saying she didn’t WANT to make cookies right now and she’d do it LATER, Mooooo-ooooom.

The third batch, I bought some dough from the grocery store, squishing it up in a bowl so it wouldn’t look so perfectly portioned. I tossed some extra chips in to give it a homemade panache and baked them by myself while the kids ignored me.

Strangely, though, they all managed to show up when that first timer went off. Hmmm.

It was all for a good cause, though. Today is the last day of school. For the next three months, I will not have to physically manhandle my eldest out of the top-bunk at 6 AM, pushing her blindly towards the bathroom in her zombie-like stupor. There will be no backpacks coming home crammed full of every piece of paper my child might have touched or breathed on during the day. No homework or packed peanut-free lunches, no Spirit Days, no complex balancing of various projects, events and “donations” (I can’t believe how often we end up sending a check to school).

It seems a fair trade-off for the drawbacks of summer. We’ll swelter in the Texas heat, flounder about for indoor entertainment (there’s only so much time you can spend gluing things to paper or running around the tiny mall play area). I’ll be pelted with “I’m bored!” to the point I’ll run out of chores to retaliate with. The girls will argue and fight and be best friends all at the same time. I will rinse out swim suits until they become faded and see-through. Jack with have tantrums. Of course, Jack would have tantrums anyway because he’s just about two and cannot function without at least one full-on meltdown per day. Everything will be filled with sand (if you don’t have kids, you don’t know about sand. If you do, you feel my scratchy, incessant pain).

But as nervous as it all makes me, I have to say I’m still kind of excited. There’s just something so cool about Summer Vacation. Maybe it’s a hold over from my own school days, I don’t know. Maybe it’s just anticipation for all the fresh mohitos in my near-future.

Either way, good or bad, summer is here and we’re going all in to make it fun and busy and worth the memories. But I’m not making any more cookies. That is off the table ‘til Christmas.

(Oh, and hello blog-verse. If you’re still interested and reading… I’m back.)

April 02, 2012

Hiatus

I’ve been writing this blog, on and off, for years. I’m not a steady-as-she-goes kind of girl. It’s either all words, all the time or a blank screen with that annoying pulsing line at the top of the page, taunting me for my lack of output.

Right now, I’m being taunted. There’s a lot in my head, a lot going on, much ado and plenty of whatnot. But writing this blog isn’t the catharsis it has sometimes been. To be blunt, it is just not fun anymore, my friends. I’m not feelin’ it. Some of what I’ve written here is good. I have that in me. But these days it’s 80% filler and that’s no good at all.

So, in the continuing interest of living intentionally, I’m taking a blog break. Oh, not a writing break. I write all the time. But thinking about how I “should” write online, like it’s some sort of duty, another scribbled chore on my list, that’s taking all the charm out of the act. There’s a really fabulous freedom to writing when it is just for you, just because you thought it and liked that thought and wanted to think it a little bit more and see where it goes. Maybe it’ll take me out into the big wide world or maybe it could take me deeper inside where I haven’t seen myself before.

But I’ll never get anywhere if I don’t follow those trails of thinks and wonderings, those musings. And, for the moment at least, this is not the place they’re leading me. I’m sure I’ll be back from time to time, to say hello or reminisce about posts past. That’s the great thing about the internet: it will always remember everything you’ve ever said (cue the creepy music). Here’s hopin’ I come back with something to say!


March 20, 2012

Pancake revelation

I am fairly honest when it comes to admitting I don't like to cook. I can do it, but it's not my happy place, not the way a trip to Bermuda in the spring time with frilly umbrella drinks would be. But when it comes to breakfast foods, I not only don't like to cook, I just can't.

I botch scrambled eggs, my french toast is soggy, and omelettes are just plain laughable. My waffles are ok, but that's mostly due to the machine and the batter I make is pretty inconsistent. Pancakes are my real debacle, though. I have NEVER made good pancakes. I burn them or serve them raw or they come out so runny they're practically just really bad crepes.

This morning, though... oh, my.

It's been raining hard since last night, a nasty 12 hour thunderstorm. No one slept well (except Kurt, who's immune to sound at night). We have some dentist appointments today so Anna's staying home from school, since the only time I could get the kids in was mid-day. We are all out of cereal and I couldn't even offer to butcher some eggs since we only had one.

In desperation, I flew to the 'nets and found this recipe. Doubtful but with hungry kids clamoring at my heels, I threw it together. And guess what? It took about 5 minutes to make and another 10, maybe, to cook the entire batch.

I poured them into the pan and they... fluffed up. LIKE REAL PANCAKES. They browned smoothly ON BOTH SIDES. Even with my failure at timing and flipping, they didn't burn or come off raw in the inside.

And then, miracle of miracles, my children actually ate them, even Jack, with gusto, asking for more. Murmuring through full mouths that they tasted like the best banana bread ever.

I made pancakes, everyone. And they were GOOD. I even got all wild and adjusted the recipe a little bit (not that adding vanilla is an adjustment, but it made me feel adventurous). Not sure how my day could get any better. They're so easy I'm going to go ahead and make a double batch up and freeze them. The possibilities are endless: topped with peanut butter or fruit or just warmed up to eat on the go as is.

It's a sad state of affairs in the kitchen when a fluffy pancake can make me so happy, but I don't care. I'll take it!

Banana Oatmeal Pancakes
(makes about 12)

1 cup flour
2 tsp baking power
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup oatmeal

1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup milk
1 tbsp oil
1 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp sugar

1 cup mashed bananas (about 2)

Sift together dry ingredients and stir in oats, mixing well. In a seperate bow, mix together the wet ingredients and sugar. Fold wet into dry until just combined. Let batter stand for about 5 minutes to soften the oats. Over medium-high heat, pour 1/4 cup of batter for each pancake. Cook about 1 minute or until bubbles start to appear, flip and cook another 1 minute or so on other side. Serve.

Ta-da! As my grandmother used to say, easy peasy lemon squeezy. Only there's no lemon, but whatever.

March 15, 2012

I love Bikinis

It’s 6:30 PM. The girls have just finished up not eating dinner and returned to their regularly scheduled running-around-like-crazed-lemurs while Jack tromps about in Silvia's sparkly Cinderella shoes. As always, it’s loud. Kurt has just returned from a long business trip and we're both tired.

I sit down at the counter with a sigh, dishes ignored for the moment, and gently cradle my wine glass as I turn to smile at Kurt, who’s relaxing next to me with a matching glass. This is the first time all day we've had the hint of an uninterrupted moment.

“So Bob took me to this new restaurant at lunch today,” he begins, head lowered and eyes casting about for a place to look, anywhere but my face.

“Okay.” I’m a little bit puzzled because of the suddenly confessional air coming off him in waves. Uh-oh, I think. $100 bottle of wine? The best fish and chips in town and he went without me? Kurt has a developed a habit of sampling Dallas's diverse restaurant offerings during the week while I'm left at home to snack on the kids' leftover PB&J's. "Where'd you go?"

“Well… it’s called Bikinis.” He looks up, a sheepish grin on his face. My 43-year-old husband is BLUSHING. “It’s kind of a theme restaurant.”

The theme is, you guessed it, scantily clad young waitresses in bikini tops. They finish off the outfit with a pair of cut-off shorts than take “short” to a whole new level of cheek. Imagining my basically introverted husband there brings a grin to my face.

“Interesting! How was the food?”

“It was okay. Nothing special.”

Kurt finally catches my eye and we both start to laugh. He said he had a lot of trouble just looking up from the menu, especially since the waitress seemed hell-bent on hanging around, chatting and bending over the table. The whole time he kept thinking about how these girls were practically the same age as our babysitters. He kept thinking about me. Not so much that I need to be running about in my unmentionables tossing french fries (though I’m sure he wouldn’t complain), but just that as a married man he shouldn’t be there. A strip-club-party-with-the-guys kinda man he is NOT.

“I have a confession of my own, actually,” I start. “I took the kids to Chik-fil-a for lunch and to play. I just needed an easy distraction and said what the hell.”

And that right there is my marriage. He confesses about lunch with boobies, I confess about lazy fast food parenting. He thinks about the big picture (see the picture below), more intangible (the waitresses are all look, no touch) actions that could impact our relationship. I fret about little day to day things that might get on his nerves. The fun part is the only reason we’re bringing it up at all is each of us feels guilty personally, not because we actually think the other would be upset. A long-standing tenet of our union is mild self-imposed castigation.

In fact, Kurt felt so bad after the experience that yesterday he offered his support to another co-worker who wanted to try the place out, too. Yes, despite his discomfort, my husband went to the half-naked restaurant not once, but TWICE. In the name of office solidarity, of course. He’s noble like that.

I’m not above taking full advantage of his shame. I left him with the kids on a moment's notice last night and went out by myself for a quiet night of writing, coffee and frittering away a few bucks to wander aimlessly around Barnes and Noble.

Without a shred of guilt. Thank you, Bikinis. Feel free to mortify my husband any day of the week.

March 08, 2012

The Big Bag

Crouched in my closet, it lurked. Every now and then, I’d peek up at it and then, with a feeling of perverse joy, give it a shove further back into the shadows. Ha! Take that, stupid big bag!  I’ve moved on! I don’t need YOU anymore.

Only now, it seems I do.

For the past year (more than that, really), we’ve had a little problem around here. I mostly don’t talk about it in public because I have this strange feeling that Silvia would be embarrassed. But at five, I’m pretty sure she doesn’t read this blog and by the time she can, well, hopefully the issue will be long-forgotten history.

Silvia has accidents. Like, wetting herself on a regular basis accidents. It’s been an up and down cycle for a long time. There’d be months at a time where she was totally fine every day, not a drip or drop. Then suddenly, it would start to pick up; little mini-accidents here and there and then the occasional full-on puddle.

We’ve gone over everything, tried lots of different approaches. In the beginning when she was hanging off the tail end of potty training, we spoke sternly to her every time. Obviously, if you know kids at all, that is the WORST way to handle it. Since then we’ve done incentives, the “potty timer” to beep a reminder, tried to talk quietly about how she feels when it happens. We make sure she goes before we go out, while we’re out and when we get home and many moments there after.

These days, however, I just get her changed into clean clothes, send her to the bathroom to finish up and move on. What else can I do? I’m not going to yell at her. I’m pretty positive she’s not doing it on purpose. I’m not going to lecture her or punish her. I sometimes implore her to just TELL someone so we can get her changed before she gets a rash, but that’s it. Ordering her not to do it is ridiculous.

But none of it is helping. She’s having more problems, more incidents and it’s gotten to the point where I’ve brought it up with her doctor at the latest check-up. The biggest conundrum is that she doesn’t wet the bed at night. Ever. It’s only during the day. She says she doesn’t feel it until it’s happening, but if there is a muscle problem then why is she staying dry at night?

I won’t lie, I get really annoyed, even embarrassed, sometimes. I’ve even gotten mad (not my proudest moments). But most of the time, lately, I just get sad. Why is this happening? What is the problem? Is she sick? Is she scared? Is there one thing in particular that set her off (so to speak)? Am I not paying enough attention to her? Am I paying too MUCH attention? I’ve googled the hell out of it, talked it out with the doctor and friends. Kurt and I have had long discussions about the what, why, how, and if of it all. We’re not just sitting here aimlessly, but in the end, there’s just not much someone ELSE can do to make a person control their own body.

It’s a frustrating mystery. Probably, hopefully, she’ll get over it as she gets older. For her sake I really hope she’s doing better before she starts kindergarten in the fall. Kids can be really unkind sometimes.

In the mean time, I’ve pulled out The Big Bag. It’s a diaper bag I got when Jack was born. It has a billion pockets and holds all the diapers, wipes, cups and snacks a kid could ever want with room left over for my wallet, phone and chapstick. Most importantly, it has space for a full set of clean clothes for my daughter, something I just cannot fit in my regular purse.

It also tends to knock over displays at the grocery store and mildly concuss any child who has the misfortune of standing behind me when I turn around. It leaves a dent in my shoulder and has rearranged my posture to a Quasimodo-style hunch after only a day. But I’ll do what I have to do to help her out, even if it means The Big Bag has to momentarily emerge from retirement.

My hope is it’ll be buried back in the dark closet, gathering dust, problem solved, before the summer has past. I don’t want to think about lugging that behemoth about in 110 degree weather.

March 05, 2012

I have a plan

Since moving to Texas, especially over the crazy hot summer, we fell into the habit of going out for dinner on Friday nights. Until it got colder (and I use the term loosely), we could sit out on the plethora of patios, sipping our margaritas whilst the children ate quietly around us (in my blissful margarita-hazed imagination). There are several really nice outdoor malls around here, one of which has a splash park and fountain right in the middle of it. We’d dine, walk around, the kids would attack the fountain, we’d hit the ice cream shop and call it a night.

As nice as that sounds, a few things have come up that sucked the fun out of Fridays. First off, Jack is no longer complacent in a restaurant, not that he ever really was. Now, though, it’s more of an exercise in torture trying to go anywhere with him where he’s expected to remain in one place for whole minutes at a time. On more than one occasion I have simply grabbed him and walked, leaving Kurt and the girls to sort things out on their own.

Speaking of whom… the girls. They had gotten to the point where they expected to go out as a given. Not going out brought on a fit, even though they rarely ATE their dinner and often came home in an over-stimulated crying mess. The treat had turned into a belief in their due entitlement and that is a big ol’ no-go in my playbook.

Family Fun Night, not so much.

The major issue, though, is more practical. Simply put, it costs money to go out on the town. Doing it every week, well, that adds up.  With our house in Colorado still lingering on the market, living the Dallas high life doesn’t really fit. Don’t get me wrong, we’re fine, but living in reality is something we should all practice from time to time. You know, in small doses.

So last month I started a new tradition: hangin’ at home. Novelty!  In an effort to find something else fun (and cheap) to do, I started to plan some festivities to ring in the weekend. Right off the bat, I informed the girls that there would be no eating out anymore except for very special occasions, like birthdays or really bad PMS.

To keep it fun, I planned out every Friday with a special “event”. We’ve had a fancy-dress Tea Party with hors d’oeuvres and pink lemonade, Make Your Own Pizza night (that sort of failed, actually, I am not so much good with dough),  Sundae Funday, Breakfast For Dinner, and so forth. Granted, these don’t SOUND very fascinating but to a couple of little girls it has been the bees knees.

Amidst all that planning, in a fit of mad efficiency, I threw caution to the wind and planned out the rest of the time, too. As in, I sat my butt down and made a dinner menu for the whole month, five nights a week. Recipes noted, side dishes listed, grocery lists prepared and EVERYTHING.

I know. I was shocked at myself, too. Feel free to applaud, I’ll wait.

Done? OK. I realize there are fancy people who have been doing this forever, all the time, without even thinking about it. They are more awesome than me. I bow down before them as they tower over me in coolness.  But for me, this is a big thing. BIG. I've struggled with the "what's for dinner" question since settling into housewifely-ness years ago. it's no secret I hate cooking. But for a month now I have not been consumed with panic at 5 PM, staring blindly into an unhelpful pantry. That right there is worth the hour or two of irritation it takes to get it all sorted out and down on the calendar.

I did the whole shebang again for March this weekend and found myself with, get this, more dinners I wanted to try than I had days in the month. We’re in the Twilight Zone over here. I ended up popping on over to April and penciling a few days in ahead of time.

It’s madness and it feels so good. The best part of the whole experiment, though, is the way the girls have embraced their new Fridays. Every week they’re all a-twitter for the Special Event. Just adding all caps (Taco Night! Ice Cream For Dessert Night!) seems to make it a party in their eyes. They’ve lost that little bite of spoiled attitude that was starting to really turn my stomach. For them, the treat is doing something as a family and making a big deal about it— just because. That alone is worth every second of organizational angst I get from having to put it all together.

I’m running low on ideas, though. There are only so many tea parties I can stand. Any suggestions? What’s a fun little tradition your family has?

February 22, 2012

What does Mommy do?

Dear Silvia,

When I dropped you off at preschool this morning I noticed a big poster they’d put up on the wall outside the classroom. It had two columns, headed with the questions, “What does Daddy do?” and “What does Mommy do?”. Down the side was a list of all the kid’s names.

I scanned down the list to your responses. What does Daddy do? He works on computers. What does Mommy do?

Dishes.

That’s it, just “Dishes”. It should be funny and in a way, it is. But there’s a part of me that just got sad and pissed off and embarrassed all at once. Dishes? That’s how you see me, sweetheart? As a glorified cleaning lady?

Now granted, I’m really glad you didn’t say, “She naps while we watch TV all day” or “She sneaks all the cookies after telling me I can’t have any”.  But still, baby girl, there’s a whole lot more to being Mommy than washing out baby bottles. (I wash out wine glasses, too.)

Here is what I do, sweetheart. I’m the one who brushes your hair in just the right way so the tangles come out without hurting you. I sit and listen intently every day to the intricate dance of preschool playground politics, most of which I don’t even understand except that a lot of it ends with someone getting a princess band-aid and you begging to have one, too.

I’m the one who knows you won’t eat apricot jam. I know you don’t like apples, but you will eat them if they’re cooked up in oatmeal or muffins or homemade applesauce. Strawberries, however, are a deal breaker.

Not to put too fine a point on it, kiddo, but I’m also the one who carries an extra pair of panties around in my purse for you… just in case.

I know when picture day is, when birthday parties and parent teacher conferences are, what antibiotic you took the last time you had an ear infection and which band-aid has a real booboo and which one is just for show. I take you to the dentist and the pediatrician. When you get shots or have your blood drawn, I’m right there holding you, making you laugh so you barely notice the needles.

I’m not going to lie, sweetheart. I also watch the clock some days so I can pour a glass of wine right at 5:30 and then count the minutes until your Daddy gets home (from his “real” job). There are moments when I’m about two seconds away from investing in some very effective ear plugs. My days are long and loud and it’s not all happy shiny mothering perfection all the time. I get annoyed, too. You know my hot buttons like no one else in the world— except your brother and sister, of course. I think the three of you were born with a “how to push Mama to the edge” manual.

But for all the times I’ve lost my temper, honey, there are a hundred more times where I took a deep breath and kept it together so that we could both get through the moment without tears. Because guess what, baby? All those times I’ve yelled too loud and too much and made you cry? I cry, too.

I’m the one who worries. About everything. EVERYTHING.

I’m the one who says no when you need me to, even though you never think that’s what you need. I promise you I don’t want to. It’d be so much easier to say yes and make you smile. I love your smile.

I pull you close when I see you’ve gone beyond shy into downright frozen, regardless of where we are and who’s watching. But I make you step out on your own sometimes, too, even if you’re scared, even though I just want to protect you from all the big world pushing down on you.

And yes, baby, I do dishes, too. Lots of dishes and laundry and cooking and grocery shopping. But those are the easy things.

The hardest part of what I do, honey, has nothing to do with housework and dishpan hands. The hardest part is letting you figure things out on your own when my crushing instinct is to be there beside you and keep you happy and safe and whole.  The hardest part of being Mommy is giving you the room to grow into the amazing woman you’re going to be while always making sure you know I’ve got your back.

That’s what I do, sweetheart. But I understand that the dishes are just easier to see right now and that’s okay, too.

Love, Mommy

February 15, 2012

It's not all sunny on Sesame Street

I need a waffle iron, a plain ol’ 4 square, flat American waffle iron. If I had a waffle iron, I’d be productive and organized and efficient and I would save so much money. Way more money than the cost of the waffle iron, for sure.

How does such a ubiquitous kitchen appliance re-make my entire world? I’ve got three words for you: Organic Mini Waffles.

These little suckers are ruining my life. Seriously. The box is a friendly yellow with a big jolly picture of Cookie Monster on the front. They cost about half-again as much as the white Walmart box o’waffles and guess what? With two less servings thanks to the "organic" moniker and the whole “mini” part, you get half-again less product! Woohoo! What a steal— for Cookie Monster.

I bought these once on a whim and it was such a mistake, on par with that time I said, “Don’t worry about it, honey, I’ll do the dishes tonight, you’ve had a long day”. Set myself up big time and I’ve been falling ever since.

When I buy these damn little circles from hell, the kids clammer for them ALL DAY LONG. For breakfast, for a snack, to eat plain on the couch or with jam for lunch. Oh, they’re so cute, mom! Look how little they are! Can I have another?

No, my darling. No, you cannot have another. Between the three of you, the pack was decimated within 36 hours and there are no more. No, my own sweet love, I will not go to the store and get some right now. NO.

When I DON’T buy them, my children ask for them all day and throw fits of dejection at my every refusal. Which is fine by me. Deject away, pretty babies. But then it turns out that, from time to time, Jack will actually EAT these waffles (and only these waffles) consistently. With his total lack of interest in such a thing (you know, eating), I’m willing to suffer Cookie Monster and bring the evil back into my home.

And so it begins again.

But if I had a waffle iron, oh! I would be prepared! I would take a long weekend once a month and make a super batch of fresh blueberry waffles that would tastes better than anything Cookie Monster could come up with, I’d have the freezer stocked with them! My children would beg for more and I’d actually be able to afford it!

Then, with the ball rolling already, I’d dive in and prep several double batches of casseroles and pasta sauces! I’d make soup! I’d fill my godforsaken cramped freezer to the breaking point until every time the door opened delicious food, needing only a gentle heating, would fall out!

A waffle iron would do the trick, it would change EVERYTHING. Then I could stop financing Cookie’s habit. Because you and I both know what he does in the back alleys off Sesame Street with all that extra waffle cash.

(Of course you all realize I can’t really HAVE a waffle iron, right? Because that would mean putting my fantasy of sublime organization and preparedness to the test, risking damage to the hope it lights within me. We can’t have that. No, precious. Not that.)

What one thing do you “need” that would make it all better?

February 09, 2012

catching up where it counts

I have three children. I know this may be a huge shock to some of you (or actually none of you). But if you only kept up on things over at the kids' blog on the other side of the internet, you might find that hard to believe. I have been lax in the extreme keeping up with the kiddos.

The whole point of that site was to have a place to 1) update the fam on how the kids are doing and more specifically 2) to give me a record as-it-happens of little things going on with them throughout the years. Trust me, it's all so easy to forget and so precious to hold on to.

So in the interest of intentional living via meaningful projects (like getting rid of magazines even though that doesn't SEEM meaningful but actually freed up so much time and space for me, so there), I'm on a catch up bender. Fortunately, my obsessive habit of randomly scribbling down ideas and events all the time comes in to play here. I won't have to make up too many priceless moments. And if I do, well... everyone enjoys a little fiction from time to time, right? The fun part will be trying to guess where I've improvised and where I've stuck straight to script.  Fun for everyone!

Actually, not everyone, not really. I don't advertise the kids' site for the most part. It's not secret or locked up or anything, but in general I like to keep it on the down low. There's a part of me that wonders what they will think and be mortified by when they're older and read some of what I put out there. So as much as I'll enjoy their squirmy embarrassment, I do want to offer the comfort that not EVERYONE in the whole world read about their first love in kindergarten and enjoyed naked bathtime pictures. (Not like over here, where we know EVERYONE in the whole world reads my priceless thoughts. Mmm-hmmm.)

That's where I'll be for a bit, catching up yonder. If you know the way, see you over there. If not... maybe you'll fall down a rabbit hole (via crafty googling) and find us. Maybe you'll just have to live your whole life, wondering, aching, wishing you could have lived the wonder.

January 30, 2012

The pavlovian car-cart, redux

I freely admit this is a recycled post from my days blogging over at MA! Motherhood with Attitude. However, it's just as apt today as it was then. In fact, it's become even more so with the invention of mini-grocery carts that a lot of stores now keep front and center as you walk in the doors. Now, as if taking three tired kids for a last minute onions-and-diapers run (don't ask) isn't fun enough, I get to argue off the inevitable begging, "Can I push the little carts? PLEEEEEASE!". Right, because that sounds like fun. Going through to store with a screaming baby wiggling in front of me, followed up by two little girls racing in the aisles with their own carts, picking out boxes of cookies and slamming into precariously balanced displays of tomato soup. FUN.

This is all compounded by that fact that, despite a full awareness of my no-kid-cart rule, someone in this family, let's call him Murt, let's the girls use them when he runs out to the store on the weekends. Thanks, Murt. Way to set me up.

Here's the blast from the past. Enjoy.
***
(Originally from July 20, 2009 at MA! Motherhood with Attitude.)

I understand, in theory, that whoever invented those grocery carts with little cars on the front had good intentions at heart. I’m sure he thought what could be more fun, more distracting, for two little kids than to sit in a cab and be pushed through the store, totally occupied while mom peacefully shops?

Except that inventor, I have a strong suspicion, did not HAVE any children. The car-cart is my nemesis. It’s bulky and difficult to maneuver and the actual basket is too small to hold groceries for the average family. Most of all, though, is its debilitating effect on my kids.

“Car-cart! Car-cart!” would erupt the second we got to the store. They were at one time infamous for collapsing into complete hysterics if, God forbid, someone else was using it and they had to settle for its poor cousin. Then, after all this drama, the entire trip through the store would be marked by screams, pushing, hitting and my not-so-whispered threats to dump them in the diaper aisle for someone else to buy and take home if they didn’t stopthatrightnoworIwillgiveyousomethingtocryABOUT (yes, it’s finally happened– the threats of my childhood are now mainstays of my own vocabulary).

The worst, worse even than their deafening battles to control the wheel, is when they would wait until I was as far from the front of the store as possible, with a basket at least half-full, and then jump out of the cab. So there I would be, pushing a monstrosity through narrow aisles with two children running in opposite directions from me and the barge. This was an awful lot like threading the proverbial needle with a camel, only with a heard of jackals circling you at the same time.

The car-cart is now forbidden in my family. The last time we used one, I ended up abandoning it in the dairy section while I pulled two squalling whirlwinds by their shirt collars out of the store, dangerously close to using them both as bowling balls across the parking lot. The upside to that day, (which I salvaged with a VERY large glass of wine), is that they both now associate the car-cart, like Pavlov’s well-trained dogs, with a healthy dose of respectful terror.

Because what would be the point of having children without them being at least a little bit afraid of you?

January 19, 2012

Falling into the glossy marketing trap

“No! Those are Mommy’s, honey. Don’t look at those.”

Anna was poking through the magazines piled up next to my desk. From my reaction, you’d imagine she’d found some trashy porn (as opposed to the classy kind). Instead, she’d gotten her hands on the latest copy of SELF magazine.

I have a little, teensy weensy problem. I’m a magazine addict. I love them, I buy them off the rack all the time, everything from health to cooking and home. It’s totally unintentional when I pick them up, I often don’t realize I've done it until I get that little rush at the checkout when they put it in the special bag away from the raw chicken. So considerate.

I don't have any subscriptions, either, except for SELF since it automatically renews annually before I can intervene. I couldn't begin to tell you how long that's been going on, just enough time to make me feel like it's not my fault. A subscription would be admitting I NEED the fix. Of course, that also means I end up paying at least twice as much for each issue.

The worst part, or the second to worst part, is that each and every one of them is a near exact duplicate to the previous issue and the one before that and the one from the same time last year. Aside from the essays and articles, there’s not a new thought among the lot. I do read the essays, of course, but guess what? Nearly all of them are available online.

The actual worst part is the reason I lunged forward to pull that magazine from Anna’s hands. The cover model was wearing a tight midriff shirt and shorts. All the headlines were about weight loss, getting skinny to be sexy, how to firm up those flabby arms, finally lose that belly in 2 weeks. Exactly all the messages we’re constantly trying to keep my girls from focusing on. But hey, if mommy’s buying into it, why shouldn’t they?

It’s not just the mixed messaging, though. There are the stacks of cooking magazines (most of which have weight loss headlines, too). I don’t like to cook, as I’ve mentioned before. I make a mean muffin and a pretty good quiche and in general get some sort of dinner on the table most nights. But it’s not my thing. So why all the bazillion recipes? Am I trying to inspire myself or just make Kurt think there’s hope? It makes no sense. In the past year I have used maybe three of the recipes. THREE.

After the incident with Anna, I had a burst of motivation and gathered up all the magazines in the house. The stack was considerable. After adding up the cover prices, I came to a fairly staggering figure (I’m not gonna say except that it did, in fact, cross into the 3-digit arena). I then flipped through briefly, intending to pull out any recipes or workout cards or articles that caught my eye. Guess what? Nothing did, not a single flippin’ paragraph.

Into a bag they went and off to the library donation center. Buh-bye. If I don’t want my daughter reading all that hype, why should I ingest it myself? As for the cooking ones well... nothing was getting ingested there anyway. There are better ways to spend my time, better examples to set for my daughters and definitely better places to put my money. I suppose it’ll be a hard habit to break, turning away from all those mind-numbingly shiny covers promising miracles and solutions within their pages, but in the interest of living intentionally, I’m gonna give it my best effort.

What magazines do you read? Is it worth it?

January 11, 2012

Kiss my grits... or, for goodness sake, just try them!

Last night, my aunt visited us from out of town. For dinner I made what turned out to be a pretty tasty crock pot of goulash stew, served over egg noodles. It smelled great, was an attractive deep reddish color, boasting perfectly cooked potatoes and tender chunks of beef that fell apart on your fork.

Yum, right?

You would have thought I’d put a plate of mud and sticks in front of my kids. “But Moooo-oooom, I don’t LIKE this!”. In the face of Grown Up Sludge Served As Food, my kids tend to forget about how to politely turn down a meal, even after years of lectures and threats. This is even more awesome when we have company.

“Fine. Mind your manners, try it first and if you still really don’t like it I’ll give you some bread and butter.”

“I did try it, I really did!”

Mmm hmm. If by “try” you mean brought the spoon up close to her mouth, cut her eyes sideways to see if I was looking and then dropped it all back to the bowl. Sure.

“What about just the noodles? You love noodles.”

The other monkey chimes in. “I did eat the noodles, mommy, look! I ate all of them!” Her plate is, surprise, still wiggly with pasta.

I sigh. I smile, tightly. “Ok. Be excused. Be hungry. Go.”

I have some rules about food, the main one being I don’t make special meals. You eat what I make or you just don’t eat. There is some very occasional flexibility on this for nights when I make something I’m pretty sure will not pass their lips. Then they get some quick toast or PB and J... AFTER they try the dreaded dinner first.

I say it does not get to me. I say that I will remain calm, they get what they get, this isn’t a restaurant, I’m not a waitress, there isn’t a menu, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

But sometimes it totally does get to me. After several nights in a row of making nice, kid-friendly dinners from scratch only to have a couple of squirm worms wiggle away from untouched plates, I get angry. Sometimes I want to pelt my adorable little girls with goulash. I want to pick up every little piece of shredded chicken and mushed peas my son has thrown to the floor and toss them right back at him, one at a time. Flick, flick, SQUISH.

I do not do these things, of course. That would be immature. I get my vengeance in other, more petty, ways. Tonight for dinner we had leftovers, a.k.a. more goulash. Since I already knew they wouldn’t eat it, I went ahead and offered to make them some quick, blue box mac and cheese, saving the good stuff for the grown-ups.

But once they agreed, I deliberately mixed in a can of mushy peas and carrots, stirring them in so thoroughly there would be no way to eat around them. I sabotaged their dinner, straight up. The groans were profound and I LOVED IT.

Ok, yes, I realize this means that not just one but two different meals went uneaten tonight (except by Jack who sucked down two bowls of the tainted mac like it was manna from heaven). Regardless, I felt so much better. When their choices are (in their opinion) yuck and yuckier, I know I’ve done my job well.

In some families the saying goes, you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit. Here, you eat what you get or you’re gonna get WORSE.

January 10, 2012

If it's not inflammatory, why bother saying it at all?

This week is Be Nice on the Internet week, courtesy of Real Simple magazine. I’m all for it. I’ve read so many comments and posts all over the place that are just intentionally negative, argumentative and basically insulting. I am not blameless, of course. I've indulged in my share of snark through the years. That's even more reason a little Golden Rule refresher course is in order from time to time.

So here’s the plan and it’s as simple as things get: be nice. I'm not calling for a Pollyanna revolution here, but a little respect, a smidge of empathy, never did anyone harm. Show some support. Instead of picking a fight, find some common ground. If you're not comfortable saying something to someone's face, it's a good bet you just don't need to put it out there at all (trust me on this one). Remember that less is more. Not everyone wants to know about your sex life or bowel functions. Just sayin'.

Who’re you going to be nice to today?

January 06, 2012

New Year is here, again! They just keep coming, don't they.

Knew you’d catch up with me, New Year.

As much as I’d like to skip the whole resolution, starting over, clean slate post, it’d feel like a big ol’ gap if I didn’t say at least something.

Something. Ha.

Okay, kidding aside, there is a certain appeal to January, isn’t there? All that fresh time ahead that you haven’t screwed up yet, it just feels so CLEAN. Last year, I made a resolution that came down to, basically, just paying more attention; to how I act, how I think, how I spend my time, how I interact with others. An eye-opener, indeed.

This year, my inspiration came from a variety of sources, though mostly from an enlightening conversation in Colorado with my friend Tiffany over the holiday (Tiffany is, in general, massively inspirational and enlightening). Instead of resolving to make changes, she simply chooses a word to guide her in the year to come.

One word, so many interpretations, possibilities, tangents and unknowns. LOVE IT. When I combined that idea with my navel-gazing of the past year, I came up with my own word and some ideas for putting it into action.

Intentional. That’s my word. I want to be more intentional with my time. I have found within myself a tendency to coast, get from A.M. to P.M. with the shortest amount of thought and then start all over again the next day. It’s not very flattering, I know.

So in 2012, I will be intentional. With that in mind, I’ve come up with some projects, small and large, concrete and abstract, to help me focus. The best part is you have something to show for it at the end, a happy little “Lookie here at what I did! Yay, me!”.

I’ll reel out the plans as they come, wouldn’t want to start making a big list and getting all overwhelmed. One thing at a time, in this moment. Intentionally.

What’s your word this year?

January 04, 2012

Light bulb moment

Happy new year, friends and neighbors. I’m back.

I spent the past couple months lost in holiday-induced time lapses. The last two weeks we went back to Colorado, a long-awaited return home. Before we left, Kurt asked if I was even going to be able to come back. At the time, I wasn’t sure. Texas has not been a dream come true, after all, and the idea of being home, seeing all the places and people I’ve missed, was just too shiny to look beyond.

But I did come back and turns out, this is home, too. We had such a great time, saw family and hugged friends, visited old haunts. The day we visited our old house, now empty of everything but memories, was hard. But when we took a walk along the familiar streets of the neighborhood, stopping at the nearby playground and around to the park where Anna’s bus stop was, the nostalgia became more bearable somehow. The kids grew cranky at the same old parts, started fussing and whining on that last three blocks uphill back to the house. Same old complaints, too: we’re HUNGRY, we’re so THIRSTY, our legs are so SORE.

Incited the same old parental irritation, too, you better believe.

As bittersweet as it all was, it also reminded me of what helped me when we first found out about the move. Our home isn’t a place, it’s a family. Kurt, the kids, me. We’re still the same wherever we are. They still whine about their terribly sore legs and unbearable thirst when we walk to the park here in the Lone Star State. It’s still annoying.

Colorado was beautiful. We had a great big snow storm just before Christmas, giving the girls the snowmen and sledding they have missed. My brothers lavished the girls with uncle-y (is that a word?) attention. My oldest brother, in fact, now has them trained to call him Uncle Awesome. They seem to have forgotten he was ever a John at all.

There was too much food and we all reveled in it. The baby cried all night most nights and we all suffered it. 9 and 10 close family members crammed into one house for two weeks brought forth the expected amount of claustrophobia and reminiscences. I got to laugh and cry with my friends, drink too much (or just enough?) and suck down more candy and cookies than I’ve eaten in the previous 50 weeks entirely. I finished THREE whole books, sitting and reading in one place for more than a few minutes at a time.

In general, it was really great, if utterly exhausting. New Year’s Eve, my mom watched the kids while Kurt and I escaped to our favorite little restaurant (if you’re in the Springs, get yourself over to Carlos Bistro RIGHT NOW. Let him pick your wine. He is never wrong.).

“So, time to head back to Texas,” Kurt commented over dinner. “Are you ready?"

Before I even thought about it, the words just popped out of my mouth. “Yeah, I’m so ready to go home.”

Home. A new home, a strange home, often a lonely home, but a home nonetheless. We pulled up into the driveway and I had a happy little jump in my chest as I walked into the living room. My couches looked welcoming, the kitchen begged for some attention. Jack’s nursery, where he would sleep straight through the night, eagerly called out. Our rooms, familiar possessions, my very own bed.

My home.

I miss my friends and family (and Carlos Bistro), but this trip gave me a gift I wasn’t expecting, too; a chance to see this new place in a new light.

All that said, that light is now shining on our messy kitchen. Many things have changed in the past year but one truth will forever hold: dishes and laundry have no beginning and no end. Fighting that is like running backwards on Escher’s stairs. It won’t get you anywhere. Might as well just stay where you are and make the most of it.


“My life will always have dirty dishes. If this sink can become a place of contemplation, let me learn constancy here.” Gunilla Norris