Monthly Archives: May 2012

Things People Just Can’t Help Doing

My friend Debbie has a notebook which she has titled, “Dumb Things People Said To Make Me Feel Better, But Which Actually Made Me Feel Worse.” Her journal is the result of several tremendous challenges she has faced over the years. She said that while many people offered heartfelt words of compassion, others said some really dumb things in an effort to help her feel better. Because said comments actually made Debbie feel worse, she opted to unload them into a notebook, and ease her burden of carrying them around. I won’t repeat what some of the comments are, but I’ll just say this: they are really dumb.

The point of this post is not to trash people who say dumb things, because we’re all guilty of it at one time or another. But as the words in Debbie’s notebook attest, sometimes folks just can’t help but say some negatively noteworthy things. And Debbie can’t help but get them off her back and away from her psyche by writing them down. This post is simply a list of a handful of quirks I’ve noticed over the past few days. And, likewise, I just can’t help myself from writing about them.

1) The woman sitting next to me at The Avengers last night couldn’t help but carry on a running commentary of everything in the movie. Her monologue loudly noted her disappointment anytime a likeable character met with any trouble (“But I liked him…,” she repeatedly whined). She also uttered a loud “UH OH,” whenever disaster loomed. During the previews, I watched with eagerness a trailer for Tim Burton’s next darkly imaginative film for children. When the woman in the seat next to mine opined that she thought the movie looked stupid, I had a violent urge to turn to her and say, “You’re stupid!” But I didn’t.

2) Every night at 10:00 P.M. when we send one son off to bed, he can’t help but ask if we will make him a plate of nachos. The answer in always no, but he just has to ask anyway.

3) Jack just can’t help himself from rifling through albums and bins to locate family photographs, which he carries around lovingly for a few hours before shredding them into tiny bits in some corner of the house. I used to be really touched when Jack selected, to tote around, a photo which included me. But now I know that it will inevitably meet it’s demise shortly. He’s doing a real number on my Gospel Art Kit, as well. We use that thing a lot, and I would really like to keep it sort-of intact. I keep hiding it, and yet somehow I still keep finding shredded bits of paintings depicting well-known scripture tales, to which I can’t help myself from responding, “Curses!”

4) The young woman at the big box store who was training another young woman to be a cashier couldn’t help herself from looking at Jeff’s head of hair this weekend and loudly asking, “Going gray already???” I stood there aghast and a tad slack-jawed after hearing this. Jeff was entering his debit card pin at the moment and didn’t register it, but he told me later that he would’ve probably quipped a response along the lines of, “Young lady, you have no idea just how very ANCIENT I am,” possibly accompanied by lots of nodding and deep chuckling.

5) If there are SpongeBob GoGurts in the house, one son just can’t help himself from eating them all day long. This is a case for never again having SpongeBob GoGurts in the house.

6) If there are Lindt 70% Dark Chocolate Squares in the house, I just can’t stop myself from some daily indulgence. This is not a case for never again having Lindt 70% Dark Chocolate Squares in the house.

7) Teachers and school administrators can’t help themselves from planning a raggedly exhausting schedule of end-of-year parties, picnics, parades, field trips, field days, performances, dinners, and dances. It’s killing me, folks, and the crucible known as “my summer” has yet to begin.

What can’t you help doing?

I’m a Crabby Patty

Let me be really frank with you. This post is less of a carefully crafted essay about the beauties and complexities of life, and more of a catalogue of real time incidents which have recently populated my days. Read on, if you wish, knowing beforehand that it is late on a Sunday following a frenetic weekend when I write this and I am quite (in the words of Charlie’s most beloved SpongeBob SquarePants) a crabby patty.

In the past week the following things have happened:

1) I enjoyed a lovely Mother’s Day, which included a delectable serving of strawberry shortcake at church (yes, please) and an afternoon nap courtesy of Jeff, who took over on kid-duty. When I awoke from my afternoon of leisure, he said that the following things occurred while I was sleeping: a) Charlie turned on the hose and made a muddy pond in the corner of the backyard, while b) Jack took off all his clothes and romped through the landscaping, all while c) our next-door neighbors enjoyed an al fresco Mother’s Day picnic on their patio. Jeff felt that if there had only been a couple of dueling banjos, the scene on our side of the fence would have complete.

2) Jeff and I shook things up by taking a weeknight date downtown to see a play. It. Was. Completely. Fabulous. Being transported to the 14th century and watching Cervantes’ tale of Don Quixote unfold onstage helped me remember that there is life outside of the repetitious routines which fill THIS season of my life. Hearing the man of La Mancha sing about dreaming the impossible dream and fighting the unbeatable foe surely resonated with my daily workload. Plus, we ate at my new favorite restaurant downtown which made the evening complete perfection.

3) Henry fractured his elbow and got a cast, which will come off during the first week of summer.

4) I read a completely marvelous book about English colonists in the Massachusetts Bay Colony and on Martha’s Vineyard in the 1660’s. It’s called Caleb’s Crossing and I found it to be a purely magical escape. Must read more books by Geraldine Brooks.

5) Saturday rolled around and Jack started the day by shattering a crystal goblet given to me by my mother-in-law. He dug it out of the back of a cupboard and smashed it on the floor, presumably just to put on a good show. As the day continued, he also broke my iron by plugging it in and melting a bunch of plastic packaging to it. He took several jars of spices from my baking cupboard and poured them in the KitchenAid mixer, which he then turned on to enjoy a lively spin cycle of steak seasoning and colored sprinkles. He disassembled the humidifier and dragged the parts around the house (one part was an unfortunate participant in a Code Brown–goodbye, humidifier). He disassembled the hair clippers, but not before he buzzed to the scalp a large section of the hair right off the top of his head. He ran away and made it around the corner and partway down the street next to ours, until our kindly neighbors Keri and Tyler came to the rescue and returned him home. This happened so quickly, we didn’t even know he was gone until they brought him back to us.

6) On a happy note, Jeff and I skedaddled out the door for our date with nary a look back Saturday night and saw a completely charming and sweet film full of aging Brits who outsource their retirement to Jaipur, India. We also had a really terrific pie and listened to some live music on the patio of one of favorite pizzerias. I’m not sure how to reconcile how great our date nights are with how just plain difficult things currently are at home. I’ve been waxing nostalgic for days in a prior life, when being at home meant peaceful times. Here’s hoping the pendulum doesn’t have to swing between such polarizing extremes for much longer.

Purple Blizzard

Yesterday I attended Charlie’s preschool end-of-year celebration. The program featured songs that were so absolutely adorable, and so earnestly sung by such sweet children that my eyes glistened as I held my healthy and squirmy baby and listened. This phase won’t last forever. Chachi will inevitably join the ranks of jaded and defiant tween-dom. He won’t always run to me smiling and fling himself into my embrace. But right now, he does. Every time I pick him up from school or Sunbeams, or return from leaving him with a sitter, Charlie acts like the world is suddenly rosy.

We walked around the room after the program, gathering up Charlie’s homespun art projects on display. One corner contained pictures of the students’ names which they had been asked to color. A fair number of these pictures were completely, beautifully rendered. The children who produced them had used the full spectrum of rainbow colors and had more or less stayed within the lines. These children could effectively be described as “girls.” Charlie’s picture didn’t look like that. It was kind of a hot mess. Or his free-form take on contemporary art, not entirely sure which.

As I piled this messy picture on our growing stack, I couldn’t help but remember a moment from my own preschool days at the local Presbyterian church. Don’t ask me why I remember such a random little event with such precision. I sat at a little table with a group of children as our teachers handed out rectangles of white paper and boxes of markers. I grabbed a purple one and launched into coloring my sheet of paper with gusto. “Don’t scribble!” one of my teachers said as she looked at my drawing. “Color a NICE picture.”

Little did she realize that I thought my picture was the very definition of NICE. It was totally great. “It’s a blizzard!” I called out to anyone who cared. “I’m drawing a purple BLIZZARD!!!”

A few days later when I returned to preschool and took my place at the little table for snack time, the teachers began distributing plastic mugs. Each mug was personalized with a name and the pictures we had drawn onto those white rectangles of paper not long ago. In the context of “adorable art projects memorialized for future generations on a coffee mug,” my purple blizzard suddenly didn’t seem so great.

I looked at my neighbor’s mug. It featured a well-drawn house beside which stood a tall, leafy tree and a patch of colorful flowers. My mug stunk.

There was no do-over option for this preschool project, and I drank out of my purple blizzard mug for the rest of the academic year. I hated it every time I saw it.

I uncovered the purple blizzard mug in a cupboard at my parents’ home shortly after I had my first baby. I dusted it off and took it home, where we put it through the dishwasher so frequently that the purple blizzard faded to a misty lavender fog. Henry and Jack drank from it for years.

The purple blizzard came full circle. I created it as a scruffy preschooler who had a boy haircut (side note: don’t do this to your preschool-age daughter as it will haunt and embitter her) and now my red-headed preschoolers were drinking from it.

It’s kind of fitting, actually. Our home and my life sometimes resemble a purple blizzard. Maybe we can rest easily, knowing we are evolving toward a misty lavender fog, which sounds rather lovely.

Recently Ruminated

There is a motley assortment of random, half-baked thoughts floating around my vacuous brain (so what else is new?!) In no way do they resemble a cohesive blog post. Proceed if you wish, knowing you’ve been cautioned about my rambling, snarky world-view.

Recently overheard (when my ten-year-old heard me telling Jeff about a fireside speaker who grew up in Uganda during the reign of a dangerous dictator): “Mom, who’s our dictator?” When I relayed this tale at an extended family dinner, my BIL quipped, “Barack Obama.”

Recently remembered (when I listened to a woman on the radio voice her opinion that jogging and biking in the nude should be illegal): Whenever I visited my two sisters who then resided in San Fransisco, they warned me that if someone on the street appeared to be stark naked, they probably were. The safest bet for these city-dwellers, when their peripheral vision revealed what seemed to be dudes wearing only shoes and hats, was to look away fast and avoid a second glance.

Recently decided: the month of May flits by in two shakes of a lamb’s tail, which is really unfortunate as it is lovely and temperate (like a summer’s day! tremendously well-said W. Shakespeare!) I long for these fresh, mild, blossom-fragrant evenings to stretch on throughout the year. But they are trotting by amid frenetic end-of-year preschool and school festivities in a sadistic race to begin the seriously so tortuous summer months.

Recently enjoyed: a little lunch on the patio of Normandie with three of my favorite people–my mom, my four-year-old, and my wee babe. Yay for being able to take Tubs out in public places after six long months of sequesterment.

Recently planted: my favorite zinnias courtesy of my mother-in-law, who has created a lovely Mother’s Day tradition.

Recently revisited: Moon Over Manifest, one of the loveliest Newberry books I’ve ever relished. It makes me nostalgic for my childhood and reminds me that summertime is magical. I should probably bolster this positive summertime attitude by also revising Dandelion Wine before May floats away on the breeze and June slams me to the ground.

Recently decided: a rejuvenating hair appointment is a mood-boost.

Recently photographed: my family. In a lovely outdoor setting. Artfully arranged. Miraculously, this happened without fanfare or theatrics or tears or wigging out. None of my Facebook friends have much to say about our photo, but I am pleased!

Pretty Is As Pretty Does

“It is amazing how complete is the delusion that beauty is goodness.” Leo Tolstoy

I am some kind of anomaly in my demographic: I just don’t care a whit about lifestyle blogs and that pervasive purveyor of the aesthetic life called Pinterest. Blogs like Nie Nie’s, as well as the endless array of lovely pin-able ideas congregating online somehow manage to turn me off in a visceral way.

I may offend some people by saying this. I don’t intend to denigrate your favorite blogs or trash-talk your online pinning habit, if this is indeed your ball of wax. I just simply don’t really like those things myself, and I find it sort of interesting that my take on the world of “beautiful living” which cycles around the web seems to be very much in the minority.

Do I think blogs and pins about inventive hairstyles and feminine shoes, handcrafted art projects and effervescent dessert recipes, stylish home decor ideas and fashionable baby gear are bad? I do not think they are bad; I think they are boring.

I have a couple of friends who, in the midst of the wildly popular Harry Potter and Twilight era, resisted being sucked into fan-dom. They just didn’t care for books in the fantasy or paranormal teen romance genres, and their indifference set them apart from the teeming masses of excitable fans. I readily admit that I joined in on the craze and had a lot of fun reading these books and going to midnight showings of the films they beget.

But this time around, I am the skeptical, unimpressed bystander to an aspect of the Internet which is running with a full head of steam. I just haven’t been able to get into pinning pretty project ideas that I have no intention of ever producing. I get crotchety hearing about posts by lifestyle bloggers which flaunt their considerable, trend-setting, avant garde style. So you have good taste, good for you. You’re stylish and you blog about it all the time? I just can’t bring myself to really care.

I tend to favor blogs by my friends who write simply, directly, honestly, and humorously about their lives. It’s real. It’s not necessarily pretty. Sometimes it’s gritty. But it is REAL and it is happening! And I find it infinitely more intriguing.

Pretty things are fun to look at, but I think Tolstoy truthfully points out a common fallacy that because they are beautiful, we think they are also meaningful. Even as a maven of stylishness, blogger Nie remarked that after her dramatic accident and life-changing recovery, she began to see that while beautiful things are great, they are not as important as people. She wrote that having a good heart, a kind heart, became far more important to her.

I don’t write this as an attack on my friends who enjoy peering in the looking glass of an online world to gaze at things of beauty. I simply like my interactions candid, my blogs unabashedly down to earth, and my leisure time free from a queue of beautification projects. Call me lazy. Or snarky. Or weird. It’s how I feel. But my life is still beautiful.

Define Success

A few years back, a group of neighborhood friends and I jumped in the car spontaneously to catch a late-night showing of one of the Twilight flicks. While en route to our cheesy cinema treat, we talked about our families. When my friends asked about Jack and his then-hatred of his little brother Charlie, I confessed with frustration that I just wanted to parent my children with success. One friend asked, “What is your definition of successful parenting?”

She made me pause. I didn’t have a ready answer. But I really liked the question. It sort of implied that perhaps my notion of what makes a great parent needed some adjustment. I pondered it frequently, and felt a sense of freedom in realizing that instead of viewing my parenting efforts as inadequate, maybe I needed to let go of expecting myself to look like other parents. I already knew that my family didn’t look like other families, so this cognitive step seemed logical and rather satisfying.

I used to think, for instance, that successful parenting meant that my kids lived in a really clean, attractive house. That as a mom, I made delicious and inventive Food Network-style dinners, regular batches of cookies and brownies, and fresh-baked bran muffins for breakfast. Successful parents, I thought, spent Saturdays at their kids’ little league games before taking their families on outings to the ski resort, the movies, or even just a restaurant.

But as we have added to our family while also meeting Jack’s complex needs, each of the items on the aforementioned list has proven fairly impossible to achieve. I do my best to clean, but I keep thinking about how Lily Tomblin said that cleaning your house when your children are young is like shoveling the walk while it is still snowing (see also my earlier posts about Code Browns). I know how to adorn my house, but my pretty things tend to end up in a drawer or a cupboard lest they face an untimely end thanks to one Jack. Homemade dinners do happen, but they are studies in simplicity and repetition (morbidly picky eaters with sensory issues and major food hang-ups favor this kind of thing, don’t you know). And for a time, I took a lengthy hiatus from producing many home-baked treats. The only excuse I offer is this: I generally chose to do something sanity-saving and self-replenishing like read a novel or meet my friends for dinner instead.

As for sporting events, recreational activities, and fun family times on Saturdays, we just couldn’t make it happen. The parameters of our already circumscribed lives consistently drew more tightly around us. We couldn’t do most things that other families do. Attending a soccer game for Henry required getting a sitter for Jack, or splintering the family in order to meet the needs of our very different children. Outings to public places were stressful, not enjoyable. They frequently went south quickly and drastically, in which case we had to abort the mission.

I’ve learned that there is great success in simply surviving. We don’t do everything that other families do, but if they had a child like Jack, neither would those other families. We manage. We improvise. We perpetually problem-solve.

In the past several months, we’ve seen enough success with therapy and positive behavior changes that we’ve started Henry back in several youth sports teams. We are better able to take a peaceful and uneventful family outing to Grandma’s house, the farm, the gardens, or for cheeseburgers.

We’ve come a long way, baby. I’ve even been making cookies and the occasional chocolate cake. And I’m not even slightly ashamed to say that the cookies originate from a tub of refrigerated premade cookie dough, and the cake from a boxed mix. According to my evolving definition, this is success.