Monthly Archives: December 2013

I’m Sorry

A few apologies are in order.

To the people at the car wash who saw me spraying off my salty van in my pink pajama pants (which aptly say “I’m a bear in the morning” and feature surly-looking black bears), and my ratty old hoodie, and those darn comfy orange sneakers that aren’t doing my look any favors:

I’m sorry. That was a sight you didn’t deserve to see. Sorry also that you couldn’t avoid missing my pajama-clad behind as I vacuumed the fry remains and Reese’s wrappers from my vehicle for ten minutes straight.

To the folks at the two different drive-through windows who helped me with my orders today, and who managed to look past my third-day hair and my face sans Bare Minerals:

You deserve better. Even people in cars in drive-throughs could make a bit of an effort, right? You ARE right, and I wish I had more personal grooming time today to make our encounters less terrifying. Let me just say that you helped assuage a pox-stricken boy with special needs who needed to get out.

To my husband:

Thanks for taking over so I could finally brush my teeth at 7:00 PM.

To my neighbors, who saw me looking unwashed and irritable in my jammies. My rumpled bear jammies:

Please ignore me. When the viral plague leaves our abode and the boys return to school, a comforting routine will descend on this house and we will no longer be trashing up the neighborhood every time we step outside.

To my children:

I love you. Stop fighting over the Xbox.

To Jack:

We’ve almost made it through this Christmas crucible. You’re going to be better soon, and we are never going to look back.

To the month of January:

It’s ridiculous how excited I am for your arrival. Now come hither.

Pox & Stress

Christmas this year was a little weird.

For the first time ever, I patronized McDonald’s on Christmas Day. That pretty much sums it all up.

I ate a barbecue cheeseburger from the dollar menu for Christmas lunch, which is essentially a cheeseburger sprinkled with tiny spicy corn chips.

Basically, it just screams, “Festive!” Right? I also had a Coke on the side, so that was fabulous.

I did this because Jack has the chicken pox and is quarantined, yet he needed to get out of the house, even if it was only to a drive-through. Dutch and I took turns this week shepherding the remaining boys to family events, while the other parent stayed home to chill with Jack. And by “chill,” I mean giving him frequent baths, copiously applying hydrocortisone, administering benadryl and tylenol regularly, and trying to pacify him against his recurring moods of destruction.                                          

Christmas Day highlights included taking a drive through the frozen Cedar Valley, which was blinding and lovely in the sunlight; sitting by the fire and watching A Christmas Story while Jack played with his new toys; and reading from my beautiful new cookbook, which may inspire me to start cooking again in earnest. We’ll see. Don’t get your hopes up too high.

I should really stop here. I ought to simply appreciate and enjoy the good points and let the day remain a softly focused, vaguely warm memory.

But that’s not really how this blog works. You know me, truly.

It was a hard day, too.

The low points included Jack throwing a toy chainsaw at the ceiling with such force that he gouged out a chunk of drywall, Jack trying to bite me when I put him in time out, Jack flinging himself naked on the couch in an attempt to wipe off the hydrocortisone cream I had just slathered all over him, and Jack changing his clothes 37 times because he was itchy and uncomfortable.

By the time Dutch and the guys returned from visiting Grandma J, Jack and I were Christmased out. I needed to get my sorry Grinchy self hence, so I did something else I have never before done on Christmas Day—I went to a movie.

I dragged my mom along with me, and together we faced the billion other folks who also wanted to visit the cinema. In my attempt to leave behind the stresses of a homebound winter holiday with a child stricken by pox, I found that pretty much everybody was at their stress threshold.

Emotions were running high. Lines were running long. The couple who brought their baby to the theater were adamant about staying even though their child wailed periodically through the entire movie.

(Author’s Aside: That sort of thing doesn’t bother me as much as it once might have. Now I tend to simply enjoy the fact that I left my children at home, and that I’m not responsible for that little fussy person.)

My sister Kate pointed out to our sis Sarah (whose progeny were causing a serious stink about going to bed Christmas night) “It’s Christmas. Everybody is having a horrible night.”

Sometimes the truth gleams through the darkness brilliantly, and with clarity.

One more highlight I failed to mention: during the annual Christmas Eve Variety Show Family Predictions, my sister predicted that this year I would “write a book entitled, Pinterest is Annoying, and So Are You.”

There it is, gleaming. And sparkling.

I’m so glad Christmas is over.

Christmas List

So the spirit of Christmas returned to my heart, mostly because of one cello/piano duet of O Come, O Come Emmanuel during Sunday’s Christmas program. And because of MoTab’s rendition of I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. 

Thank you Carl, Jennifer, and MoTab for infusing the world with songs of beauty and meaning!

Also, thank you neighbors and friends for dropping by with merry wishes and tasty goodies! It’s a joyful time of year, and the dear ones all around me bringing treats make it even more so.

Here are some more joyful things:

A) Somebody’s chicken pox spots finally scabbed over and started looking less like bubonic plague and more like they might actually heal and that somebody’s skin may actually return to it’s milky state.

B) Dutch, for being off work for nine lovely consecutive days.

C) Baby, when Dutch retrieved his toddler basketball hoop that somebody threw off the deck into the snowy backyard.

D) Cleaning a bunch of bathrooms today. This is not an inherently joyful activity, but the feeling I achieved upon completion is.

E) Books in wintertime. Books all the time, anytime, and in any season actually, but particularly in this season of inversion, darkness, and freezing temps.

F) My epiphany that I’ve reached an age or a state of mind (not sure which) wherein I no longer care what I get for Christmas. Not a whit. All I want is peace and harmony among me and mine. And some peppermint chocolate cake on Christmas Day.

G) Memes involving Buddy the Elf.

H) The pack of children at the neighborhood breakfast with Santa, who followed the big man around in a pack, ablaze with smiles.

I) Powdered mountains in every direction.

J) When two-year-olds sing along with the radio to Jingle Bell Rock.

K) Stories like this one, about memorable Christmases in simpler times.

L) Being grateful in the midst of the season.

M) My fridge doors, which are currently plastered with the faces of people I love.

The Week in Review

Let’s sum up the last week:

1. Jack took to man-handling everything in sight that wasn’t nailed down or locked up. He also took to sprinkling Swiss Miss packets in the washer, the heat vents, and the sinks.

2. Jack developed an itchy mystery rash which has been totally bugging him.

3. The mystery rash = chicken pox. The week before Christmas.

4. Did you know that your kid can get chicken pox even if he has been vaccinated for it? Anyway, he can. And it will drive him so crazy that he will open his car door while you are doing 60 mph at the point of the mountain. We both lived. Seat belts save lives.

5. Jack determined that I didn’t really need to keep my new “Jane Eyre” DVD intact—the recent Mia Wasikowska/Michael Fassbender version. The totally perfect one.

6. Charlie was the cutest little Santa-obsessed five-year-old ever, who wore pajamas to school on Friday for Pajama Day, but not before asking me if he could also wear underpants and shoes. For the record, my answer was a resounding YES.

7. I subconsciously decided to bring back the muffin top by way of the nonstop Christmas season dessert-fest.

8. I fulfilled yet another viewing of yet another version of Pride and Predjudice, thus ending a lovely, if obsessive, foray into Austen’s masterpiece. I feel complete. I’m ready to part for now with Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy. Unless somebody cranks out a new film adaptation or an Austen-inspired novel. Then I’ll be right back in.

9. Truman’s hair grew approximately six inches.

10. I found that when Jack is plagued by a pox, the spirit of Christmas ebbs and flows around here. Mostly, it’s been ebbing. The nature of Jack’s discontent is to overtake the entire household. Maybe the Christmas spirit will return, like a high tide.

Lowered Expectations

Whenever I caught a glimpse of the Christmas tree today, my body temperature became instantly feverish, and my vision was blurred by the flames shooting out of my eyeballs.

Yesterday Jack went on a tour de abode while we were talking to our home teachers. The upshot of his rampage is that the once-stately Christmas tree lay humiliated on the floor, surrounded by a swath of ornaments and a pool of water into which Jack had apparently been stuffing food for weeks. The throw-down transferred the stinking Petri dish/tree water from the tree stand to the rug.
I woke in the middle of the night yesterday and walked downstairs to see that the top of the tree was dark as some lights had tumbled down in the assault by the nine-year-old. Standing on a chair and re-stringing the lights on the top of the cork bark fir in the very wee hours, I wanted so badly to go upstairs and karate-chop Jack. See how he likes being the recipient of the too-deep sensory pressure. 
Author’s Aside: He would probably like being karate chopped, because it would somehow be just the right amount of deep sensory input, as well as being delightfully unexpected. He would probably laugh.
I don’t know how to teach Jack to stop trashing things when he is frustrated/mad/bored/sick. 
My inability to change this behavior leaves me fuming with so much natural gas fired heat that the air probably distorts and shimmers around me. Stay back. Be wary of explosion.
Thus, the irrational and consuming anger every time I looked at the Christmas tree today.

I don’t have the heart to fix it. Why should I rehang the ornaments and the garlands when they will almost surely be vandalized again?
Because Christmas is almost here, that’s why, and it would be nice to have more than two ornaments and one drooping felt chain falling off the tree and dragging on the floor as we gather in the family room on Christmas Day.

I sat by my neighbor, Jennifer, as a Christmas dinner recently. She shared with me a treasured bit of information she has recently gleaned from a mom who she looks up to (and I quote), “Because she has successfully raised seven children, none of whom are serial killers.”

This is the advice from the mom of the seven reasonably law-abiding grown children:

Lower your expectations.

It makes sense. Jennifer has gained a sense of lightness and freedom from this wise gem. I’m mulling over how to apply it effectively in my family.

I’ll compose a list of possible ways to lower the expectations:

1. Leave the denuded tree as it is. Let Christmas happen in Whoville with no baubles and garlands.

2. That’s all I can come up with at present.

A Morning with Charles and Ebenezer

If I write about how I feel so light and airy and free from stress, then it is inevitable that Jack will respond by putting a small child in a headlock at church, getting strep throat, smashing a pretty Christmas plate, and wiping diaper cream all over the chair-and-a-half in my bedroom.

I need to internalize this inevitability.

I stayed really calm tonight when he deuced on the basement carpet, tossed baby’s basketball hoop into the Christmas tree, and ate six mini bags of chips. Then he fingerpainted diaper cream all over the upholstery and I lost it.

I called my son a curse word.

Did you know that diaper cream is designed to not be water soluble? It’s designed to block water, meaning that if you want to clean it out of fabric, you can keep dreaming.

As long as I’m confessing scandalous things, I put the baby down for an early nap today and spent the morning reading A Christmas Carol by the fire, totally not caring about the Big List of Things That Need Doing. Also, I was inhaling some amazing popcorn at the time, a la the Pioneer Woman. That last bit is an important part of getting a good visual on my tableau of scandal, don’t you agree?

I’m not sure how it took me until my middle thirties to recognize that Charles Dickens has one of the best literary voices of anyone, anywhere. I mean, he is so readable. I didn’t think so in high school. Or even in college. Now, however, I find him brilliant.

A Christmas Carol is so much more than the abbreviated Disney and Muppet versions they churn out every few years. Dickens invented the trope of the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. He painted, with words, Jacob Marley’s face as the door knocker and he did it with a deft hand at imagery and dialogue. There is a depth to the unabridged story.

There is some value in reading it as a grown up, when it can effectively resonate with one’s own life experience. It’s also nice to read it on a cushion by the fire, with some buttered and sugared up popcorn handy, while disregarding one’s To Do List.

Happily Behaving Blogs Don’t Make History

I’ve sort of been at a loss recently about the blog. It’s like my brain has skipped town and left me idling on autopilot. I completely lack the capacity for creative thinking.

Maybe my problem is that I’ve been reading too many books (if there were such a thing as too many books, which there isn’t). I’ve been devouring books. And I’ve been loving it. I’m so wrapped up in fiction that I don’t have time for my own neuroses. Just time for books.

Maybe the sticking point is that I feel unnaturally calm and relaxed. When I am this peaceful, I swear I have nothing to write about because it’s all rainbows and snowflakes and unicorns. When the conflict is gone, what is there to say? Isn’t this the crux of novels? Of all writing?

Nobody wants to hear a saccharin love letter to how great one’s life is. And if they do, there are plenty of blogs out there which would serve that purpose nicely. We want reality, right peeps? We want honest and funny and interesting. And we only want it whenever we demand it, instantaneously. Is it too much to ask? Srsly.

So here is a bit of reality. Yesterday morning, Jack’s pre-church tally of mischief included:
1. Peeing on the couch.
2. Squirting craft paint into the heat vent.
3. Smearing glitter paint onto an armchair.
4. Tossing the TV remote off the deck and into the undisturbed snow field which was the backyard.
5. Shredding some Doritos packaging and cramming it into the slats above and below the fireplace.
6. Changing outfits five times.

And yet, I feel like I am swimming in a pool of bliss. I have no idea why. Often, when Jack goes rampaging, I can find the humor in it and laugh it off. Occasionally, I want to tie a bandana filled with  Dino nuggets and Cheetos onto a hobo stick and hand it Jack as I send him off to find a new house to dismantle.

Something great happened after church on Sunday, and ever since then I’ve felt like the old guy in Up when he kicks his house loose from it’s footings and lets fly the balloons that carry his house to Paradise Falls.

We had a little conversation with someone which left Jeff and I shaking our heads in happy, stunned amazement. It was something unexpected and simple and refreshing. After this brief exchange, I felt like a giant, heavy backpack on my shoulders had poof! just disappeared.

I’m intentionally being vague, and I’m sorry.

Just know that I feel a little like a painted Victorian attached to a balloon bouquet, sailing over the tops of things.

So This is Christmas

Now that Andy Williams is singing about how it’s the most wonderful time of the year, I’ve been hearing the inevitable talk about the stress of the season.

This sort of discussion isn’t always overt. It can be wrapped up discreetly in a conversation, for instance, between those who adore the Elf on the Shelf tradition in their homes, and those who think the Elf is an over-the-top energy-suck brought to us by the Pinterest Generation.

The pressures of holiday expectations can be hidden in a lament about not having one’s Christmas tree up yet, or a whine about needing to send out greeting cards. It can be stressing about shopping, or cooking a big holiday dinner, or figuring out gifts for the neighbors/teachers/bus drivers/friends.

In years past, I was the one of the stress cases. Christmas was busy and anxiety-producing for me. I felt I had to keep up with the Ambiguous Standards of Christmastime, which is really dumb because the whole point of Christmas is peace and joy, which is by definition the opposite of stress and anxiety.

I’ve been evolving recently to a place of :
1) Not caring what people think about the way I keep the season.
2) Not kowtowing to outside pressures to be busy! and amazing! and Pinterest-worthy!
3) Not wondering if the way we do Christmas is good enough.

May I just say that the path to not caring about expectations is so completely fabulous? Because it is. It’s like jumping on a tube and flying down a snowy hill with icy powder invigorating your face. Not stressing is beautiful!

What (you may be asking yourself) was the reason for my switcheroo? I’ll tell you.

In the twelve months leading up to this Christmas, my third son was diagnosed with Autism and anxiety.

We went from a family with one special-needs son, to a family where half the children have special needs. During the past two years, my son’s behavior went from normal and unremarkable to worrisome and extremely difficult to manage.

We have two boys on the spectrum now.

Both boys have other diagnoses as well. It’s nothing that I haven’t discussed on the blog before; it’s our reality. We have come to terms with these challenges and begun to move forward. We also still face a lot of daily difficulties.

It’s both the big picture of what our family is and the daily challenges that we have that have changed Christmas for me.

This week I dropped off dinner to a neighbor with terminal cancer. Her Christmas tree was up, but only partially adorned because she lacks the energy to finish it. She had had a rough day—on a string of many other rough days. Seeing her hardship and her gratitude amplified for me the lessons I’ve started to learn this year.

The behaviors and the diagnoses–they have been God’s gift to me this year. It might seem counterintuitive but it’s not. In the learning and accepting and adjusting to difficult things, I figured something out:

Christmas is remembering that Jesus was born and lived and died.

That’s it.

That’s all it is.

And it actually is everything.

A Book Review and a Hubs Who’s Better Than Mr. Darcy

I’m reading Longbourn by Jo Baker. It’s right up my alley—a retelling of Pride and Prejudice from the perspective of the Bennett servants at Longbourn.

I’m pretty certain that had I lived in Regency-era pastoral England, I would have lived downstairs, baking the puddings and scrubbing the linen of the gentry upstairs. Some of Dutch’s real-life ancestors came from outside Cambridge, where one William G. was a gardner at a great house. We descend from the honest working class.

This book has gorgeous imagery and historical astuteness rivaling a Geraldine Brooks novel. Reading about the ins and outs of the invisible characters who made life possible for the gentlefolk has got me appreciating indoor plumbing, washers and dryers, paved roads, automobiles, modern medicine, and the fact that now we have employment and education possibilities beyond the limits of our birth.

I move that we all give thanks for the option of mobility through social strata. Seriously though.

This book has me mulling over what daily drudgery is. For the Bennetts, the Bingleys, the Darcys, and their ilk, a life of pleasure happened above while a bevy of workers handled the distasteful tasks below.

Though I identify with Sarah, the Bennetts’ housemaid, I found myself today wishing  I had a helpful housemaid below stairs. I wished I could summon her to clean up the “hippo-sized poo” (according to Henry) that Jack planted on the living room rug. I would’ve let her handle the handprint deuce streaks on the bathroom door, and the piles of laundry created by two boys who can’t ever keep their pants on. Literally. I would’ve outfitted her with the shop vac and asked her to remove all traces of Cap’n Crunch from the floor, along with all the other crushed remains of mealtime.

Meanwhile, I would’ve dozed by the fire like Mr. Bennett, or played the pianoforte like Mary.

But the only people below stairs here are the boys playing Xbox.

It’s okay. There is something to be said for cleaning one’s own house and handling one’s own hippo-sized kid poo disasters.

There is also definitely something to be said for the husband who handles shop-vac duty and kitchen cleanup, and who brings you dinner in bed, where you sit beneath an electric blanket while reading about servants in an Austen-era country house.