Like A Book

things-that-annoy-mom.jpgNatalie forgot to make me a mother’s day card.  This wasn’t a big deal, though, because she made me a little sketch during church service.  Our church kindly provides little cardboard card stock slips that are meant to be used for newcomers’ to fill out.  I believe that the bulk actually are used by small, bored children.  I always keep pens in my purse, including some of those cool “four colors in one” pens that haven’t changed at all since I was a kid.  Between the card stock, the quad-color pen, and her own ingenuity, she came up with something far better than a standard card.  She made a visual representation of things that annoy me.   And holy cow, does my 11-year-old have me pegged.  Here’s what she came up with:

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People who don’t know how to work four way stops.  Heading north out of our subdivision I hit two heavily trafficked four-ways in rapid succession.  And it’s rare that I exit them without muttering and cursing under my breath.  The most annoying to me are the sneaky people who get to the intersection before you, even though it happened three cars before you’re both to the front of your respective lines.  They keep track and assume that, once you’re both to the front, they get to go first. Now, if I happen to pull up to empty intersection concurrent with or a bit after someone who’s been in line for a few rounds?  Clearly they get precedence and can go out of the “my turn / your turn” order.  But those jackasses that attempt to sneak out out of turn because they happened to have been waiting in a longer line than me?  Nononono.  I hope you understand my explanation, because if you attempt to argue with me, it’s not going to go well.

 

Things that annoy mom

Chalk.  This isn’t so much annoyance as pure revulsion.  I know there was a time when I looooved to be called to the front to write on the black, slate chalkboards of St. Mary’s school, preferably with white, not yellow, chalk.  Something has changed, and now I hate thinking about it, seeing it, and I really hate touching it.  The thought of drawing with chalk sends me into apoplexy.

 

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When the dog vomits up underwear.  I’ve shared this previously, but I can’t remember if I told you that he’s vomited up at least 6 pairs at this point.  I don’t think that this particular dislike is unique to me, but I like the drawing.

 

When the dog jumps on the bed.  Obi attended puppy training when he was about 3 months old, and we’ve sort of winged it since then.  We enrolled in a formal obedience class about a month ago, and the instructor is big into all of the environmental controls and cues that should be instituted to remind the dog who is the head of the pack.  One of these is keeping the dog off the bed.  Some of us are buying into this philosophy more than others, and it’s not so much the dog getting on the bed, but when it’s coupled with said non-adopter hanging out on the bed with the dog.

 

 

When the girls sleep on the floor next to the bed.  It’s not so much their being there.  I admit that I relish those nights when everyone goes to bed easily, in their own beds, on the first request, and sleeps there all night.  Those three nights were great.  But I accept that due to fear or a strange desire to hang out, they like to sleep in sleeping bags on the floor of our room on the weekends.  Fine.  But they shuffle directly next to the bed and squeeze in there in such a way that my nightly trip to the bathroom is way too tricky.  I don’t need a Double Dare Physical Challenge at 2 a.m.

 

Things that annoy mom

When the girls ask me about food.  This includes constantly begging to stop at Starbucks as soon as they enter the car, asking what’s for the next meal as soon as the previous one was finished, complaining about said meals, and requesting a different meal than what is already being cooked.  Stop talking to me about food until you’re asking “where can I take you for dinner, mom?”  This is one of the big benefits of cooking in a crock pot:  they can easily identify what’s for dinner early in the day and begin to complain about it in advance without needing my input.

 

Things that annoy mom

The never ending stream of Amazon boxes.  I have to admit, I am a fan of the Prime.  However, Jimmy has a problem.  I have opened entire shipping crates packed to accommodate a single bottle of salad dressing.  This doesn’t seem necessary.  Or he accidentally buys in bulk:  a case of 36 car-compatible tissue boxes.  Or he buys a giant inflatable yard Yoda.  The one that pushed me over the edge, though, was the time I opened a large box to discover a 2-foot high vinyl replica of a bust of Shakespeare in which the head could be raised to reveal a safe.  This is apparently a nod to something from the original Batman TV series.  To me, it was a crazy thing to arrive on a random September day.  The neighbors joke about us and are slightly concerned that the constant traffic is illegal in some way.  I always say, though, if this is his worst vice, I can live with it.  I just take every-other-day trips to the recycling center for all of the flattened boxes…

So, that was my mother’s day card, highlighting all of my best, most charming traits.  Once I realized what she was doing, I asked that she draw just as many items that make me happy as she had items that irritate me.  I hoped that my daughter’s image of me was more than a summation of a list of things that rub me the wrong way.   I hoped she’d come up with all sorts of sweet things  like “being with me” and “warm hugs.”  As we’ve already seen, she knows me far too well.  I’m apparently quite bitter and jaded, because she barely came up with the requisite number, but they’re pretty spot on, and I’ll take what I can get.

“Things that don’t annoy mom:”

  • The Great British Baking Show
  • Laughing
  • Flowers
  • Family Tree / Genealogy
  • FB 24 / 7 (soooo not true)
  • Piano
  • Korean Soap Operas
  • Cooking
  • My Cup of Coffee

 

things mom likes

If I hadn’t been me

The other day, my 8 year old was having anxiety about who she would be if she’d never been born.  She’s never been one to present me with easy “worries before bed” topics.  One summer when she was around four, every night she worried about dynamite blowing up the house.  I could only calm her down with the white lie that dynamite ONLY works on boulders, such as in train track construction.  As she’s gotten older, things have become a bit more nuanced, but still quite challenging.  So I wasn’t exactly surprised by the nature of this most recent concern.  And strangely, I knew just how to relate–because as a kid, I had the exact same preoccupation:  if I wasn’t me, then who would I be?

I wonder if there’s a name for this particular obsession?  It gets to the heart of what it means to be human, what makes one unique in the cosmos, and the fleeting and illusory nature of consciousness.  Big thoughts to be having as an 8 year old.  While I remember having them at that age as well, for me the question didn’t exactly come out of the blue.  Rather it came from a book by Dr. Seuss that my Grandma Bier had, a big, hard covered picture book about a magical land that you go to on your birthday.  

happy birthday to you

Disturbing Dr. Seuss book

The book is probably intended to make kids giddy with with wild fantastical nature of a land all for you, but it mostly stressed me out.  I didn’t ever want to be whisked away from my bed by an odd, slightly bird looking yellow man only to go to a land of  very circuitously constructed aqueducts.  There was a line in the book something like “if you hadn’t been you, what would you be?…..You might be a bag of old dusty potatoes.”  Now that shook me up.  First, if I could be a bag of potatoes, that indicated that potatoes might be sentient, and I couldn’t even beginning to wrap my head around that.  Also, the idea that me-ness might be transmutable? No thank you, Dr. Seuss.  

potatoes

Imagine this, but hung in an unheated laundry room and you’ll get the general idea.

When I was little, the potatoes were hung in one of those wire baskets in the laundry room,  an unheated lean-to attached to the north side of the kitchen.  The basket also served as an improvised hanging area for dad’s umpiring uniform shirts.  Those potatoes led a fairly forlorn existence, and every time I caught sight of them, I thought of that stupid book.  What if I were the potatoes?

So I knew we were in trouble when my daughter came to me with a particularly disturbing book to read last night:  Sylvester and the Magic Pebble.

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Sylvester and the very concerning pebble.

In this shockingly award winning book, a donkey named Sylvester discovers a pebble that grants his wishes, and he accidentally wishes to become a rock.  Then he’s a sentient rock for OVER a YEAR until he luckily is turned back by a series of deus ex machina style plot twists.  He’s a rock out being snowed on day in day out while his parents cry at home.  GOOD LORD HOW WAS I READING THIS TO HER?  I tried to focus a lot on the more ridiculous aspects of the book, so that she wouldn’t realize just how disturbing the notion that you (or in this case, a donkey) could just turn into a rock version of themselves.  It just makes the whole potato proposition all  the more probable.

There’s a couple of lessons to be learned here.  One, children’s books can really freak people out, so let’s treat lightly, OK.  Two, treat your potatoes well.  And three, welcome to the world of lifelong existential angst, oh daughter of mine!

First Date

Author’s note:  I kept trying to write this story, and there’s too many little detours that need to be mentioned.  So, I’m just going to write it as I’d tell it.  During the asides you have to imagine me holding up one hand, frozen, as if sustaining the main thread of the story, while the other hand provides colorful gestures.  Trust me it works and people love it.  I think.

 

I took the girls out to dinner the other night.  It was early, so the restaurant hadn’t really filled up yet.  We were seated in the back room, empty save for only one other family with kids;  we were in “kid wasteland.”  The other family consisted of what were clearly a new mother, her mom, and her babies.  They were tiny and new, curled up sleeping against the women’s as they quickly, anxiously finished a one-handed dinner.  Clearly this was a first “time out with the baby” experience, which they confirmed.  I was  immediately taken back;  except for the fact that there were two babies instead of one, it might as well have been me and my mom with a relatively new Natalie.

Aside 1:  The girls wondered how I knew that they were twins.  I pointed out that unless the grandmother had simultaneously had a baby (she heard that and guffawed) or that the family’s baby had already made a best friend of the same age, the best bet were that these babies OF THE SAME AGE UNDER THE CARE OF THE SAME PEOPLE were, in fact, twins.  I hear that parents of twins get asked stupid questions all the time.  “Are they twins?” is merely a variant of my 7 and 11-year-olds’ question.  Another favorite has to be when parents of a boy/girl twin pairing are asked if they’re identical.

 

. . . I would imagine that Natalie was quite a bit older than these little ones, maybe closer to a month, when we had or first date.  It took me quite some time to rally to the idea of actually facing the terrors of dining out with an infant.  That’s a realistic concern. However, heaping helping of postpartum depression added to my hermetic state.  Luckily, my mother is a professional “propper up of people,” and she spurred me on to a lunch at the nearest sit-down place:  On The Border.

Aside 2:  Natalie was born in Arizona in June.  This was fortunate for me, as my mother was still teaching school and could stay indefinitely over the summer break.  Lucky for me she did, as I really am not sure how else we would have survived.  Two of my most vivid memories of the time were staring out this one particular window, and setting a daily goal of emptying the dishwasher.  Postpartum depression is no joke, and my mom’s a winner.

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Mom and baby Natalie.  Note the St. Norbert College shirt;  I think she probably missed a lot of Pat’s stuff that summer.  Sorry about that one, Pat.

 

. . . On the Border is a chain Mexican restaurant, with the attendant loud decor and music.  It was the perfect place in which the cries of a baby would be lost in the shuffle.  I don’t remember what I ate, just the overwhelming desire to get to the part where they bring us the check!  My diaper bag bulged with enough supplies to sustain us for up to a month;  we never needed them.  She slept in her little carrier the entire time.  Thank you, On the Border!

Aside 3:  There are no On the Border restaurants in the immediate Milwaukee area, however there’s a strip joint a little ways off that bears the same name.  You really couldn’t mistake the two.  The different approaches to signage alone make this impossible (busty lady vs. cactus and lime).  Despite this, one of Jimmy’s coworkers once took her sister to the wrong On the Border for lunch.  Interestingly, they weren’t put off by the sign, the fact that all the cars were parked around back, the lack of windows, or the darkness of the entryway.  It wasn’t until they were asked to pay their cover that things finally clicked.  An honest mistake, I guess…

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This is a family blog.  No comparison sign will be posted!

 

. . . The memory so fresh and real, I asked if the girls and I could come over and look at the babies.  They were sweet and gorgeous, and their mother really looked fabulous.  Before I even realized that the words were there, I was asking if they’d had to spend time in the NICU?  Luckily the mother provided me with an out, replying that “yes, they’re pretty small aren’t they.”

Aside 4:  Despite truly being small, they really just had that slightly NICU-ish look about them.   I have a problem digressing medical, as I have all of this information in my head rattling around that’s not being used any more.

 

. . . The mom and grandma didn’t seem taken aback, though, and my girls hovered over them making all the appropriate cooing noises.

Aside 5:  My medical colleagues can attest to the fact that any babies that spend more than a brief time in the NICU tend to take on a characteristic look.  Part of it is the charmingly nicknamed toaster head, which develops when these little ones spend long periods of time lying very, very still on cribs instead of floating in a nice buoyant belly.  But the other part is my observation that they always seem just a little more tense, even in sleep, as if awaiting the next interruption as they go about the tricky task of sustaining life.

 

. . . It was no more than a minute or two, but the exchange was important to me.  For the new mom, it will either be lost in the blessed forgetting fog of first few months, or it will be one of the sharp memories that comes back unbidden.  The moments of early motherhood are mostly snapshots for me, but I got to relive a vivid one:  the first date.

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Another great date night with Evie. Their manners may still be in process, but they’re generally quiet!

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Anatomy: Part I

Lately when the moms get together, the conversation often veers to puberty and all of the super-fun conversations it entails.  My generation of moms came of age in an era when Our Bodies, Ourselves was easily available. Our girls have been armed with an array of pleasantly illustrated, affirmational books published by the behemoth that is American Girl. The conversations are still awkward and hilarious.

Fortunately, I’d laid the groundwork for the pre-teen drama with numerous well-timed, carefully paced conversations throughout childhood.  There was the summer when Natalie was six.  This was the year she’d learned to ride her bike.  She stopped dramatically one summer evening, made a big show of wiping her brow, and announced that she’d been riding all day, and “boy were her balls tired.”  

“Well, I imagine you’re sore, but girls’ potty parts aren’t called ‘balls,” mentally chastising myself for ever adopting the “potty parts” convention to begin with. “That’s the slang term for boys’ potty parts.  I guess that boys always like to talk about their balls, don’t they.  Did you hear it one the playground?

“Yeah, but I didn’t know…”

“Well, no big deal, but that’s why it’s always a good idea to test out new words that we learn on the playground with an adult first, OK?”

“OK,” zipping away for another lap around the cul de sac.

I felt pretty good about things, boy I’d handled that minefield with cool nonchalance, imparting valued wisdom to my daughter.  That mental gold star fell off a few hours later when she came home announcing that Gabe had to pee while they were playing in the woods, and he just went on a tree, and she’d seen his “ball.”  So close, my dear, so close.

 

“I Don’t Know How It Happened So Fast”

time

I always get a bit melancholy this time of year.  It’s ridiculous, because the changing Midwest landscape seems so exuberant and joyful, but there it is.  When I was a kid, sure I was happy that the school year was over and the summer stretched lazily out in front of me.  But the end of the year festivities always fell flat.  I think that part of this depressive tendency has something to do with the cumulative effects of six months of Wisconsin’s meager winter sunlight.  I suppose that biology played a role, but over time I realize that most of it is pure nostalgia. My response to this past weekend confirms that I just don’t handle the passage of time well at all.  All of spring’s celebrated milestones and kids moving on;  the reminders of the ephemeral nature of time are too much for my naturally angsty soul!  Here’s some of the most recent evidence (caveat:  I cry over well-written commercials, so take it with a grain of salt):

Things I cried about this weekend:

  1. Senior “memory posters” at the dance recital.  Every year, the graduating seniors get to put together a collage of dance memories and a few words.  I routinely stand in front of these posters dissolving into a weepy pile of mush.  The old shots of the round, awkward preschool versions in puffy tutus compared with the “now” shots of these lithe young women.  And I know that every girl’s parent says the same thing:  “I don’t know how it happened so fast.”
  2. Tiny confection-like dancers at the dance recital.  If the senior displays weren’t enough, I then am confronted by the puffy little preschool ballerinas being led clumsily onto the stage.  Their tutus as wide as they are tall, they routinely steal the show.  However, while the rest of the audience “Aaaaahs” over the cuteness and laughs at the one ham in the crowd, I’m left with tears silently streaming down my face.  In 15 years, the little bon bons’ parents won’t know how it happened . . .
  3. Graduation blessing at church.  I might have been able to handle this one, so staid and formal in nature, were it not for everyone whispering how they could “remember when they were just a little baby.”  Stop remembering that so easily!  It was years and years ago, that much time must have dulled your memories!  It couldn’t have just slipped by unnoticed like that!  Luckily, my choir robes are long-sleeved and highly absorbent of human tears.
  4. Facebook feed crammed with pictures of graduates.  These always do me in more than prom pictures.  The look has changed so little over time–gowns, mortar boards, awkward poses next to Sunday-best parents.  It’s easy to dredge of memories of all of those other graduation photos filed away.  I cans till remember the cheap feeling of my own high school graduation gown, how my high heels sunk into the football field over which a stage had been set up.  If I can remember THAT so clearly, it must have only been a few years ago, right?  Who are all these young whippersnappers messing with my sense of reality?  Cue waterworks.
  5. My girls’ birthday pictures.  So, I don’t know how to use technology.  I needed a tutorial over the weekend to figure out how to find pictures and export them to this blog.  It was ugly, and Jimmy has suggested that teaching my grandfather how to use the computer was easier than helping me.  Apparently I kept saying things like, “stop clicking so fast!” and “how’d you get there?”  It was not a pretty scene, but he was saved from utter spousal destruction by the discovery of girls’ birthday dress photo collection.  This is a little tradition we started of taking their picture in the same dress every year.  Please join me in rapturous weeping over the first and most recent editions of each:
  6. Free donut for National Donut Day.  I’m not even kidding.  Nobody be kind to me for the next couple of weeks, I seriously need to recalibrate.

And here’s the thing:  I know that all of these tearjerking examples have to do with kids getting older.  I’m not sad about that fact, not exactly.  I’m interested by them as they change.  I was never a huge fan of infancy to begin with.  I’m just petrified of the fact that it all goes so quickly.  I get sad every spring when the tulips drop their petals, every fall when the last leaf falls;  somehow I didn’t pay close enough attention.

How can we possibly pay close enough attention?

Hooray, hooray it’s the last day of May!

There are a lot of things I will miss about May:

  • First night sleeping with the windows open
  • First impromptu deck party with the neighbors
  • Daffodils, crocuses, and the tulips that weren’t eaten by deer and rabbits
  • Fresh rhubarb & asparagus
  • Return of Vitamin D to my system

This year, however, I am acutely aware of the ever-lengthening list of things I won’t miss about May.  In comparing harried notes with the other parents in my circle, it seems that I am not alone.  May is truly the most ridiculous month.  It surpasses even those months that require gift-buying, feast preparation, or costume-acqusition.  It is with a huge sigh of relief that I’ll turn over the calendar tonight.

Here’s some of the things I won’t miss about May:

  • The calendar.  There was literally NOT A SINGLE DAY WITH NOTHING WRITTEN ON IT.  The closest I came was this past Sunday which only had one thing:  “coffee hour at church.”  I phoned this one in and picked up a couple dozen donuts on the way in.  I was foiled by the fact that I had actually entered “coffee hour” in error and I DIDN’T EVEN HAVE TO DO IT.  May is so ridiculous that it actually seduces me into filling any void with imaginary tasks and appointments.  Every activity, every club, every class has an end-of-the-year celebration/performance/recital/picnic/cotillion.  They are all important in their own right, and if asked there’s no way I could choose any one to dispense with.  But taken en masse...it’s a form of water torture represented by single-folded programs dripped slowly into an accumulating mass in the bottom of my purse.
  • The cake.  Every one of these celebrations is accompanied by a sheet cake.   The kids haven’t eaten anything other than frosting with an occasional brownie thrown in the mix for the past 31 days.
  • The tease of summer nights.  It is next to impossible to convince the kids that they need to treat this halcyon evenings as school nights and GET INSIDE and SHOWER EVERY NIGHT.  It is next to impossible to manage the summer piles (grubby socks, miscellaneous neighborhood flip flops, outdoor toys, sidewalk chalk and strewn water bottles)  while simultaneously having to maintain focus on the school year piles (filthy backpacks, barely-held-together folders, lunch bags, instruments).
  • The wardrobe challenges.  The change of seasons is one of the things that I like about living in the midwest.  Sure it’s an added burden to have to turn over the closets and dresser drawers twice a year to accommodate the seasons.   Summer into fall is a treat, and I gladly pull out the boots and sweaters, luxuriating in the cable-knittedness of it all.  The shift from winter dressing into spring?  Not so much. The first time I slip on a pair of shorts in the spring is an exercise in mortification, my legs so white that they could be used to signal passing planes.  Everything is just so–EXPOSED.  Ugh.
  • The oh-so ironic fact that Mother’s Day is celebrated in May.  I move that we swap out to June, when we can truly breath a sigh of relief and enjoy our breakfast in bed without having to calculate how long it will take to right the residual mess in the kitchen before moving onto the next item on May’s agenda.  Who’s with me?  Let’s leave May to the Father’s and take over June.

 

 

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Better Understanding Through Musical Theater

When Natalie started dancing at age three,  I nurtured high hopes that she’d be the center-stage star that I never was.  She’s always been an interesting-looking, attractive child, so she had that going for her.  She loved putting on productions at home and has, by age 10, compiled hours of raw video footage of these various theatricals.  Heck, Jimmy even constructed a stage in the basement for her.  So when she showed an interest in dance, I was hooked.  

 

Early on she stood out as stronger in her class. She was quick to catch on to things, and I figured that whatever she might lack in natural ability we could easily make up for with focus and maternal time investment.   When she was asked, I encouraged her to join dance company, the competitive dance group,  and she did so, enjoying being challenged in classes and being part of a group that had to meet high expectations.  However, by the fifth grade it was clear to me that prima ballerina she would never be.  Don’t get me wrong–she’s made great progress and I love to watch her dance.  However, the very natural confidence that thrust her onto the stage to begin with seemed to thwart any efforts on my part to push her to get better in her free time at home.  All the girls who were advancing were doing so because of time spent stretching in front of the TV and taking extra gymnastics classes.  She had no interest and jealously guarded her playtime which was, interestingly, mostly spent putting on more productions.  At this stage she was at the dance studio 4-5 nights per week, happily.  I’d attempt to probe for any feelings of disappointment of generally being in the back row, not participating in any extra ensembles or solos, but none ever surfaced.  How, I wondered, could you be so dedicated to something and not desire to be The Best? I had a niggling notion that this question had more to do with my own neuroses.  So, I let my concerns ride and watched with increasing anxiety as she became more and more firmly ensconced as an ensemble player.  

 

Unsurprisingly, my concerns were laid to rest in the car.  One day we were driving somewhere and she asked,  “If you could play any part in “Wicked,” which would you choose?”    “Well, of course I’d want to be Elphaba!” I said,  “who would you want to be?”  I expected her to pick the comic lead, Glinda.  “Nessa,” she said.  “Nessa?” I asked,  “the secondary character in the wheelchair?  Well, why?” I practically sputtered.  “Well,” she said, “Nessa’s still an important part, she has a few lines and a few times when she’s most important, but the whole thing doesn’t depend on her, but she’s still a part of the show, which is really the funnest thing.”

Nessa

Asian Nessa, #goals.

Facepalm.  It took a musical theater metaphor for me to finally understand my daughter.  People were so busy likening her to me that I missed this vital way in which we are different.  So alike in our stream-of-consciousness flow of language, sarcastic wit, and appearance.  So different in our motivation.  She was doing dance because she liked IT, she liked being part of a group.  She was doing it to please herself.  She wasn’t doing it to get ahead or be The Best!  My god the child is in a mentally healthy place.  It’s taken years of therapy for me to even approach a similar mindset!

Better understanding through musical theater, and conversations from the back seat.