Monthly Archives: September 2013

A String of Minor Epiphanies

I had a string of minor epiphanies today.

Yay, me!

Here they are:

1. Bruises and bite marks on one’s upper arm bloom into an even more dramatic flower of purple, red, and blue the day after they happen. It’s like a fascinating rose garden growing before my eyes. An occupational hazard/rose garden.

2. Sometimes all you have to offer at the family dinner is a loaf of crusty Pugliese bread from Costco you pulled from the freezer and stuck in the microwave. And it is enough. And everyone will dive into it with gusto, alongside the other fancier options.

3. We will always be a circus side show at church, and I am so over it. If you go into it knowing someone (or three) will fall apart and act like rodeo clowns then it’s no biggie when they actually do. It’s how we roll, and it doesn’t make me want to scream at the universe or run screaming down the street while pulling out clumps of my hair anymore. One of us sometimes (always) has to leave church with one or two of our boys. We are fulfilling our calling as parents to kids who can’t handle church very much. We are simply doing it in sweatpants. With a triple batch of bran applesauce muffins in the oven. And we are doing it without bitterness. Yay for muffins without bitterness!

4. Perspective changes everything. One’s circumstances do not change, but the way one sees them can readily change. It’s brilliant in it’s simplicity. This calls for some subcategories:
       
         A) If you expect perfection, then reality will always be a disappointment. But if you view every good (or challenging) thing as a gift which contributes to your growth and experience, you will be grateful. Which brings me to…
     
         B) Gratitude is so much better. It just is.

         C) My new goal is to focus on what we have, rather than what we lack.

5. Knowing that someone else has it harder or worse than you doesn’t make your life NOT hard. But it can shake you from your reverie and remind you that in one way or another, we are all suffering together. We all struggle with something, or many things, and we can be empathetic and supportive. We can choose compassion. We can be like my friend Marla who elects to always see the good in you, even when you’re acting like a pill. We can decide to be nice. We can try to understand.

And thus concludes my introspective self-help blog post.

Pretty Much Craptastic

Memorandum:

To the dad behind us in line today at the zoo playground on the fancy lighthouse-shaped slide: Thank you for being cool and understanding as I hustled my angry, kicking nine-year-old off the stairs and away from the toddlers who apparently were taking way too long for my son’s liking.

To my sister: Thank you for trying to help us flee the zoo quickly when the epic meltdown happened, despite your pregnant belly and your two-year-old in your arms.

To the hordes of zoo patrons who stood in our path as we blazed a shrieking trail of tears up that excessively long hill that leads from the arctic animals exhibit to the main gate: I sensed your confusion at the woman plowing like a freight train up the crowded path with her screaming nine-year-old in her grip, and her baby in a little red wagon in her other grip. You were baffled folks, but you mostly just got out of the way.

To Jack: When you get frustrated and overwhelmed by a situation, perhaps we can think of alternative strategies of alerting me to your overwrought state other than sinking your teeth into my upper arm and clamping your jaw down like a vice. Twice.

To the well-coiffed woman in the Audi SUV who asked a woman (who was dragging her tantrumming special-needs son to the car while pulling a baby in a wagon) if she was parked nearby so you could wait for her parking spot: The fact that you rolled down your window and tapped your fingers on your steering wheel impatiently while my son threw his shoes and two cans of soda at my head and then had to be blocked from hitting his baby brother as I loaded the wagon in the car made my day just a tad crappier than it needed to be. You probably didn’t pick up on this, so I don’t fault you too much.

To myself: Prior to today, you didn’t realize that you could successfully navigate Saturday traffic on I15 with a bruised, scraped, and throbbing arm, and a wailing Jack in the front seat because he had to be kept away from attacking the toddler. You probably also never considered that even when you were gasping emotionally for breath so rapidly that it made your extremities go numb, you could still manage steering the car with your unresponsive and lifeless seal-flipper-hands on the wheel.

To Jack, again: I looked at you as I drove us home with my numb seal flippers, and I saw that like me, you were crying. I wished for the billionth time that you could tell me what was wrong so I could know what you need and figure out how to better help you. We were a hot mess today, buddy. But we both eventually calmed down, especially when I rolled down your window and you were in sensory heaven.

To the Classical 89 DJ with the soft, soothing voice: Bet you didn’t know that your dulcet tones calmed my PTSD today and turned my attention to a Richard Strauss symphony instead of the disaster behind us. You could put a hyperactive child to sleep, Ms. DJ, and I mean that in the best possible sense.

To the littlest brother: I’m sorry your brother assaulted you, and that we had to leave our outing before we saw the animals (except the elephants and a few monkeys). I’m grateful that you shook it off and slept peacefully the whole way home. Maybe we can try again on a weekday, without the teeming masses. Or the big brother.

To me, again: That sucked. But it’s over now. I declare us officially done with what happened back there on Sunnyside Ave. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

There’s a new season in town: let’s eat candy and be witches

Autumn has returned and all is right with the world, for people like me anyway, who believe as F. Scott Fitzgerald did, that “Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.” When the air cools and the leaves change, I swear there is a tangible sense of anticipation in the air.

I realize some folks do not share my enthusiasm for colder, wetter weather which is the harbinger of winter. To them, I say, “I feel your pain.” I understand because I feel the same dread and despair for summertime, which for me is the season when my children dismantle the house and my mental health goes walkabout. While other people are holding pep rallies because they are mad with joy for summertime, I’m weeping quietly at the prospect of the sun setting at 10:00 PM and thus ensuring my children will never, ever go to sleep.

Different times of year are hard for different people. Let’s just agree to disagree on which season of the year is the nicest or the most brutal.

But no matter what your stance on impending January is, who doesn’t love to see gorgeous fall leaves, and pile up pumpkins and gourds on the front porch, and eat apples and pumpkin pie? Fall is glorious.

It’s the season when Halloween rolls into town in a decrepit old jalopy sounding the ah-ooh-ga! horn, inviting everybody to act silly and spooky because hey, it’s sanctioned by an official holiday, people. It’s practically a requirement to decorate the house with tinselly black oversized spiders and dress up like the undead. Halloween gives us permission to be weird and funny. It also gives us it’s blessing to consume way too many fun-sized candy bars.

What’s not to like?

Well there are a few things, actually. If you’re a mom with school-aged kids, or if you teach school, you know that while it is heaps of fun, Halloween is way too much work.

Between adorning the place with fake cobwebs, prepping each child’s costume, and hiding and re-hiding the Costco-sized bag of Halloween candy from certain family members, there is a lot to do before October 31. Henry asks me every year what costume I’m going to wear on Halloween. He can stop asking, though, because I’m always a witch, which he thinks is über boring. What he doesn’t realize, however, is that me being a witch doesn’t take too much stretching of the imagination. I feel like a witch about Halloween.

It’s such a long marathon day of costumes, parties, parades and bingo cards with candy corn game pieces that when it’s finally time to trick or treat, I’m ready to curl up in a chair like my Jack. He refuses to parade around in a costume and do all that mind-numbing work of ringing doorbells at the neighbors’ houses. If he were verbal, he would tell you that trick-or-treating is for nerds. He celebrates Halloween with the iPad, and eating Reese’s by the candy bowl.

Jack opts out of Halloween, essentially.

I applaud his moxie.

Bite-sized Bitter Pills

I’m reading a book about a Lithuanian girl and her family who were taken by the Soviets and shipped to a work camp in Siberia during the Second World War. It is beautifully written, tragic, and heartbreaking. There are moments of great beauty and tenderness, but the story is too painful for me to tolerate all at once. It’s a short book that could be read quickly, but I’m slowly chipping away at it in bits and pieces instead. I can only handle a little at a time.

I have started using this tactic in other areas of my life; little bits of bitterness are easier to swallow than a bucketful.

I do it with housework. Clean a toilet here, vacuum a rug there. Occasionally sweep. Forego dusting—who needs it? It makes for a less-than-glorious-to-behold type of house, but eventually the dirty parts will get cleaned. At some point.

I do this with forms and emails from the school and scheduling doctor appointments.  Tiny steps toward progress. I’ll get to it, just don’t hold your breath.

I definitely use this approach with facing the more unpleasant aspects of parenting. If potty-training two special-needs boys is like eating an elephant, then I figure that after all these years of trying, I may have worked my way through the front feet and am now chewing on the shoulders.

It’s a lot of work, eating an elephant. I’m trying not to look so much at the great expanse of wrinkled gray flesh which lies ahead of me. I’m focusing on the serious poundage I’ve already metaphorically consumed.

Some day, both those boys will do all their business in the potty. When it happens, I will feel 1) like I have gotten a raise (the cash we drop on Code Brown-supplies is nothing to sneeze at), 2) that we have achieved something arduous and stinky, and 3) unspeakable joy.

I’m aware that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, but I’m also tuned into the billions of other steps which take place between the first and the last. You have to start somewhere, and then you just have to keep plodding. Baby steps, plodding forward.

It may be a shuffle, but I’m still moving.

Something is Rotten in the State of Denmark

Sometimes I think my children are hearing from my mouth something other than what I am saying. I’m speaking, but it either does not compute, or it is willfully disregarded and molded into an amalgamation of words which better suits their liking.

Am I talking English? Do you hear what I am saying, people who live in my house?

I’ll cite a few examples, because I can be scholarly and stuff.

This Week:

I said: “How was your day at school, Jack? Did you have fun?”
He heard: “Why don’t you toss your shoes, socks, jacket, and backpack in a heap on the floor and take a few paper plates into the backyard to shred and sprinkle through the bushes?”

Another time, the I said/he heard went like this:

I said: “It’s time to pick up the toys in the family room and put them away.”
Jack heard: “Now would be a good time for you to smuggle toys in small groupings into the backyard and heave them from the deck into the mulch pile.”

When I recently told Charlie it was quiet time and we were going to sit down together to read books and stare at our devices, he simply heard, “Go ahead and slip outside to your ‘secret’ spot around the corner of the house for your daily constitutional. I’ll be here with cleaning supplies and a happy heart when you get back.”

This scrambled communication prickled my brain tonight as I waded into the backyard mulch pile with a trash bag to retrieve toys, cups, and shredded photographs. My children and I need to communicate better. I need to speak in a way that they will listen and understand. They need to listen to me.

We need a mutual understanding because I am not really super jazzed to be unearthing buckets of playthings, dishes, and Doritos packaging like one of the grave diggers in a Danish churchyard. The Hot Wheels cars and the wooden train tracks were the Yorick to my Hamlet. I handled them with gloom. I gazed at them and foretold their imminent return to the grass heap. It’s a tragic cycle of playroom to grave.

Looking on the bright side, there isn’t a fair, tormented maiden buried in the grass and the leaves and the garbage in my backyard mulch pile.

Just spiders. And a few Bob the Builder toys.



A Little Off the Top

One of my children has a deep-seated fascination with the hair clippers. Ditto with Jeff’s shaver. Completely obsessed, he is.

We used to keep these things high up on a closet shelf so they were “inaccessible” to Jack (gold star if you guessed the right boy). But he schooled us shortly after that maneuver. He waited one day until I was occupied elsewhere, pushed a chair into the closet, retrieved the clippers, plugged them in, and shaved a portion of his head.

Who’s the smartest now, eh momma?

But all this motor-planning and problem-solving on Jack’s part made me feel proud. So I didn’t get too bothered by his choppy, messed-up haircut. At least, not this time.

As months passed, Jack put any pair of found scissors to immediate good use, by self-barbering a swath of hair right down the center of his scalp. Even when I began hiding all the scissors, Jack demonstrated an uncanny ability to locate spare pairs which seemed to be multiplying like rabbits in random corners of the house. Curse you, stupid rabbit scissors!

Like a moth to the flame, Jack was drawn to the scissors. In the junk drawer? Yes. Old pencil cases? Check. In a laundry room cupboard with art supplies I forgot we had? Absolutely. He even managed to flush out my long-forgotten craft box (from another life, when I cared about such things) and gave himself a ragged trim with the pinking shears.

I told myself that giving oneself a bad haircut is a right of passage in childhood. I decided I could be okay with his recurring bald spot since it meant he was learning and growing. I could deal with it.

It was simply the year of the bad hair.

But it is starting to eat at me, a little. This is probably because we have family pictures scheduled in a couple of weeks, and while I’m fine with Jack traipsing off to school with a crappy haircut, I’m less enthused about recording it in a portrait forever.

I keep fixing it, thinking we still have time for it to grow in partially. And he keeps chopping it. Is this tenacity? Passive aggressiveness? Some reliably fun sensory play? What are you telling me in your nonverbal way, my boy?

It’s like a tango. We dance around the haircuts, repairing them and then butchering them anew.

As the photo shoot creeps closer, I’m trying to be very Zen about this.

And I’m thinking it’s time to go buy a fedora.

Enter Sandman

I’ve got bedtime on the brain. This is probably because a) I’m sleep deprived, and b) I don’t even know what I was going to say next. Seriously, I’m so tired.

Bedtime at our house is not something we mess around with. We honor it. We fight for it. We believe in it. Bedtime is our sanity. It is that golden period in a parent’s day that shimmers in the dusk like a refreshing drop of dew, and is just as fleeting.

The primary reason I yearn for my children’s bedtime with such fervor is that it comes on the heels of the witching hour. This refers to the post-dinner exhaustion-frenzy when everybody behaves like banshees, including me. Actually, especially me, considering that in folklore traditions a banshee is feminine: a wailing female spirit darkly foretelling somebody’s doom.

Yes, I’m definitely the banshee.

My children have this irrepressible tendency to dig in their heels and resist transitioning from daytime to slumber. But Jeff and I are just as tenacious about making bedtime happen. We are united in our cause and push onward like a freight train. We adhere to a strict routine, for the benefit of a couple of boys who need structure and predictability. We keep it simple: jammies, teeth-brushing, potty, and prayers. And we include a magic melatonin-laced Oreo for the one who otherwise just can’t shut it off.

Sometimes it all goes swimmingly. But not yesterday.

Last night I faced bedtime alone as Jeff was working late into the evening. The witching hour was a real doozy, and I had my eye on the prize: a quiet space in which I could read and eat dark chocolate coconut almonds straight out of the freezer. My sons did not share my vision, unfortunately. They threw everything they had at me.

Bedtime was a ruse, a mirage. It was an unfortunate figment of my hopeful imagination. It literally dragged on for hours.

At one point, as I was coaxing the two youngest into a quiet, restful state, Jeff texted me from work saying, “Jack is pooping.” My husband, forty-five minutes away in the bowels of some hospital, had checked his phone app which shows live video feed of the Jack Cam, and found Jack laying a brick on his bedroom floor.

By the time I got to the scene of the….incident, Jack had helpfully picked it up and tossed it into the hallway for me to dispose of, which is a creative new take on the Code Brown.

Props to Jack for keeping it fresh and new.

But not fresh and clean.

Ode to Mom’s Pot Roast

Today I made a huge, ambitious dinner on a regular old Monday night. There was pot roast, mashed potatoes and gravy, vegetables—the works. It was your typical Sunday dinner.

Except that it was not Sunday, and my big, amazing dinner wasn’t as amazing as my mom’s or my MIL’s Sunday dinners.

Notably, I didn’t make fluffy, warm rolls to round out the meal. Such a disappointment, I know, particularly when you’re looking for a vehicle for downing homemade raspberry jam with butter. Also, my roasts are never falling-apart-tender like those prepped by Shirley and Joyce. And my mashed potatoes have lumps, doggone it.

As we ate the meal that took a geologic age to prepare, I noticed these discrepancies. I wanted to call my mother and my husband’s mother and shower them with compliments about their perfect comfort-food cooking while begging them for tips on how to do it better.

After dinner I remembered something else about making a big meat-and-potatoes meal: it dirties every pot you own.

It makes me appreciate the generation of women who have gone before, whipping up flawless beef roast with mashed potatoes dinners for me and mine on many a Sunday evening. I honor their sacrifice because seriously, cooking like that takes stamina and know-how. I appreciate their skill in creating something that is reliably delicious (unlike my attempt). I admire their efforts in the worthwhile cause of bringing people together and filling them up with good food and good will.

So basically, while I suck at making traditional roast beef dinners with all the trimmings, I recognize that I come from a tradition of women who could whip out a meal like this in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.

I should feel shame, perhaps, but I mostly feel a kind of reverence for what my grandmas and my mothers can do.

I also will add (boast) that I do know how to bake yummy desserts. Dinner may not be perfect, but at least my family is being raised knowing that dessert involves real whipped cream. And homemade caramel sauce. And cake. Oft-times, cookies too.

But never pies, because I haven’t yet figured out pie pastry.

Sunday Tantrums: Mine & Jack’s

Today was one of those Sundays when Jack went ballistic just as the bishop began giving a talk on….something. I don’t know the topic, as everything became all shrieky and loud and we were all “abort!”

The things to know about Jack and his church tantrums:

1. They come on fast. One minute he is quietly eating smarties and pulling on Jeff’s arm hairs, the next he is bellowing and drowning out the speaker for all the other folks in the overflow section of the chapel/cultural hall.

2. They are unpredictable. Giggling on the way to church does not mean happily giggling through sacrament meeting. The kid can turn on a dime.

3. He usually cannot recover from them. This means he becomes so wildly upset that dropping him off in the nursery with the two-year-olds (his cognitive compatriots) is out of the question.

4. Jeff and I take turns spending lots of Sundays removing an angry, frustrated, mostly nonverbal child from church and taking him home to decompress.

Here’s the scoop on what it is like to leave church practically every week with your kid who can’t handle it: It sounds dreamy, at first. You know, leaving church early to put on sweatpants and eat lunch is the sort of thing you (meaning me) yearn for while you are at church. It is actually not dreamy when it happens with great regularity. Turns out, when you aren’t at church when you wish you were, it’s kind of disappointing. I’m starting to feel like Lloyd Newell and MoTab are my best chance at a reliable spiritually uplifting moment of a Sunday morning. And that’s just because I can watch them while wearing my jammies and making everybody pancakes.

It’s simply the Sunday truth.

I’m finished whining now.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Tonight I took my children to the block party in the pocket park. This is news for the following reasons:

1. I took them by myself, without husband or helper, which is generally accepted foolhardiness.

2. We never attend neighborhood parties. This is because taking my kids to gatherings is like taking Curious George to a museum: you essentially wait for the monkey to climb the Tyrannosaurus Rex bones in the dinosaur exhibit, and then accidentally cause them to smash into a heap. Except I don’t bring a monkey, just my progeny.

We struggle to be appropriately sociable for a variety of behavioral factors, but tonight the five-year-old cruised to the party on his bike anyway, and the toddler would not be kept from being in the thick of it, so Jack and I figuratively threw up our hands in defeat and joined in too.

It was nice to be in the almost-cool-enough-for-a-jacket dusk and talk to my neighbors. It sort of makes you feel like an actual human being when you get to participate in basic social niceties.

It was delicious to stand on the cool grass and participate until Jack flew off the handle after some time had passed. We made a hasty exit and then Jack came home and threw my iPad across the kitchen.

Seriously, though.

It lived. So did I.