Tuesday, August 31, 2004

School Open House

This afternoon, my twins went to their twin friends' house to play, leaving YoungestBoy stranded here with me and his sleeping baby sister. When he realized this injustice, he began to cry and said, "Why can't I go?"

I said, "Well, honey, there's no one to watch you over there."

He said with disgust, "I can watch myself!" Then, "I am going to be so bored! There's nothing to do around here!"

I said, "Bummer. Well, do you want to be bored in your room or in here?"

Amazingly enough, he went outside and found a way to amuse himself. It's tough to be five years younger than your brothers. Awhile later, the neighbor boys showed up and played with him for thirty minutes, softening the blow of being stuck home alone without his brothers.

My husband came home at 4:00 p.m. so I could have the car and take the kids to the school Open House. Only, two of the kids were gone, so we revised our plans and he took Babygirl for a car ride while I walked with YoungestBoy down to the school. On the way, he said things like this:

"Mom, would you be scared if the entire world was sucked into a giant vortex?"
"Mom, did you know there are bugs that can battle spiders?"
"Mom, I heard there is a spider that is so big it can eat a mouse."
"Mom, did you ever hear about that beetle who can shoot acid out of its (here, he points to his rear end) back?"

I said, "Where did you hear about this?"

And he said, "The extreme channel." It's not actually a channel, but rather, a show--something about Extreme Animals, I think on the Animal Planet. That show profoundly affected him, apparently. He said, "Thad kind of spider is only found in the Rain Forest." I said, "Well, I guess we'd better not go to the Rain Forest." He said, "No, I don't want to have my hands eaten by a spider!"

We arrived at school and located his classroom and met his teacher. I recognized her because my twins went through the same school. She seems lovely and kind and extremely organized. Her room was neat and tidy and uncluttered visually, which matters to me because I am so distracted by a crazily messy room.

YoungestBoy's favorite friend, David, is not in his classroom, which I figure is a good thing, as David's been described to me as "active" (by his mother) and "energetic" (by my neighbor, a classroom volunteer). When I asked my son why he liked David, YoungestBoy said, "He loves action!"

Anyway, my son tends to like action, too, and likes to incite his classmates to giggle at phrases like "nickel and a pickle." Last year, during the closing program, my son yelled out "pickle" during a pause between songs and the boys surrounding him all chortled with kindergarten glee.

My boy loves to get a laugh. He also thrives on doing well and meeting his teacher's approval, so he gets good grades and excellent comments, but he does have that tendency to go for the laughter.

We lingered in his classroom awhile, then headed to the library to buy some books at the Book Fair. Then back to the classroom for further investigation.

I can't believe school starts in two days. I can't believe I am keeping my twins home for school. I can't believe my baby is going to be two in two days. I can't believe it's 11:20 p.m.

Tonight, at 6 p.m., I looked at my baby prancing in the kitchen and said to my husband, "Hey, how about if I leave her with you and run to Target?" And he said, "Why don't you just take her?"

I sighed and said, "Fine," in that way that means, This is not fine, far from fine, why can't you see that I just want to be alone in the car, listening to the radio and thinking a linear set of thoughts without interruption and then shopping in the store without distracting, amusing, entertaining, corraling and soothing the wild beast that is my daughter shortly before bedtime? Out loud, I suggested to Babygirl that we'd be going to the store, "But first, let mama change your diaper."

Babygirl did not want her diaper changed, but finally relented. But then, she wanted to pull her pants on by herself. I sighed deeply, cradled my forehead in my hands and despaired. She pulled the jeans on, threw her hands into the air in a victory salute and shouted, "I DID IT!"

And then she pushed her jeans back down to the floor so she could pull them up all over again.

That went on for about twenty minutes. I gave up and said, "Hey, you want to take a bath?" She very happily said, "Zes," and headed for the bathroom, where I grumpily sat on the toilet and watched her pour water over her head four times in a row, asking for "towel" each time to dab her eyes.

Sometimes, I just want to leave the house without complicated negotiations and arrangements. Alas, that day seems very far off. I finally deposited a somewhat sleepy Babygirl into her bed at 8 p.m. on the dot.

Then I went to Target and spent more money than I expected. I always do. But now, we have snacks, we have the remaining school supplies, we have lunchbox snacks, we have milk, we have laundry detergent and other stuff too boring to mention.

Tomorrow, I'm sleeping in, without the impending horror of having to take Babygirl to the doctor or the photographer. Tomorrow's challenge will include getting haircuts for three boys who find visiting the barber to be utterly boring and as close as they have ever come to a near-death experience.

The Doctor

Babygirl went to the doctor this morning. I told her in advance that the doctor would touch her tummy and look in her ears. She repeated "doctor" and "tummy" and seemed all right with the idea.

I did not warn her about the dangers of standing on the scale at the doctor's office, even though I should have known. I cry when I have to stand on the doctor's scales, too. Doesn't every American girl?

As I was taking off her shoes so I could place her on the scale, she asked to go home in a mournful voice. Then I stood her on the scale and at the exact same time, the nurse stuck a thermometer in her left ear, saying, "Oh, I'm sure she's had this done lots of times before," and Babygirl let out a yelp, following by an outraged scream.

Babygirl is not accustomed to having her temperature taken, nor is she used to people shoving things into her ear. She's never had an ear infection, nor has she ever had to see the doctor for an illness. And she resents anyone entering her personal space. So, she continued crying while I held her against the wall so her height could be measured.

My Babygirl is now 26 pounds and 34.5 inches--in the 50th percentile and 75th percentile, respectively. I took her to the doctor last when she was 13 months old. That visit went very badly, with Babygirl screaming her head off and the doctor consulting her computer charts and gravely telling me that if Babygirl didn't fatten up, she'd have to have more tests. "So bring her back in two months for a weight check and a flu shot." The doctor didn't give me time to ask questions, nor did she ask anything about Babygirl's development (which was perfect, because she is the Perfect Baby, aside from her stranger anxiety). I was very upset with the doctor's doom and gloom comments about my long, thin girl who was and is very healthy and smart.

I didn't take her back two months later. In fact, I didn't take her for her 18 month check-up either. I fully expected to be scolded today, but everyone was quite pleasant. Everyone except Babygirl.

We will never know Babygirl's head circumference, because she refused to let either me or the nurse put the measuring tape around her blond noggin. Then the nurse pulled up the computer screen showing Babygirl's immunizations and glory be to God! Babygirl was up to date on her vaccinations! I thought she'd missed some scheduled immunizations from the missed 18 month check-up, so I was fully expecting Babygirl to get a shot or two today.

The nurse left and Babygirl settled down, only occasionally gulping and hiccuping and saying "Go home! Go home!" When the doctor opened the door, Babygirl jumped and started crying again.

Then the doctor had the nerve to look in Babygirl's eyes and ears. She pressed on Babygirl's tummy and examined her spine and her hips and Babygirl shrieked as if she was being eaten by alligators, one finger at a time. This is a child who will never be abducted because anyone foolish enough to snatch her would regret it within ten seconds, drop Babygirl and slink away. Babygirl will not stand for anyone to touch her or talk to her or get within two feet of her.

When we left, I said, "Say bye-bye to the doctor," (who'd just given her a Barbie sticker) and Babygirl paused for a split second as if considering a polite "bye-bye," then turned her head again and hid her face behind my neck.

Then Babygirl said, "Donuts," and so, just to ensure that Babygirl will indeed remain above the 50th percentile in weight and as a bonus, also have an eating disorder, we went straight to the drive-through donut shop and bought a dozen donuts with chocolate frosting.

Her brothers whooped and hollered as if it were a surprise holiday when they saw the donuts. It was. A holiday, I mean. It was "Babygirl Had No Shots Day," a cause for celebration, indeed.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Say "Cheese!"

This week, I have no DaycareKid. It's practically a vacation, except that I still have these four kids who actually live here. And no maid.

I made appointments this week, then--this morning, Babygirl had an appointment to have her picture taken and tomorrow, she's going to the doctor for her check-up and vaccinations.

When I opened Babygirl's bedroom door this morning, her eyes were sleepy and her hair was mussed and she stuck her lower lip out unhappily. Normally, she wakes up slowly, I think, and when she's ready to see people, she screams my name, "MOM! MOM!" I went in before that point and she looked at me sadly as I picked her up and said, "Tummy hurt."

Uh-oh. Not a good omen.

I smiled brightly at her and in my most cheery voice chattered as I changed her diaper and put on her tights and gave her a drink of water and told her we were going bye-bye. I did my best not to upset the delicate balance of her toddler world, not an easy task. I ironed her new, pretty pink dress and put an older dress on her so the new dress would stay pressed and clean until we got to the photography studio. Being a girly-girl, Babygirl enjoyed getting on her tights and her shoes and didn't even mind when I wet down her hair to reactivate her curls. She probably would have liked it if I put a little lipstick on her and pierced her ears, too. but I did not. We left right on time. It's my husband's day off, so I left the boys at home.

We arrived exactly on time at the studio. No one else was in the waiting room to my relief. Sometimes we've had to wait and wait until the babies and kids are cranky. This time, fate smiled on me.

Until he walked in, looked at the paper in his hand and said, "This is . . . ?" I said, "Uh, Babygirl?" He said, "Yes." And I said, "Um, is Crystal off today? I thought we'd be having her."

This guy, this photographer, took pictures of YoungestBoy when he was a year old. This man freaked out my boy with his loud voice and his crazy mannerisms and his broad, scary movements. Plus, he has a long gray pony-tail down his back.

He said, "No, she has other appointments today," and I said, "Oh." I thought to myself, I specifically asked for Crystal. Where is my beloved Crystal, my sweet young Crystal with her low-rise pants and her gentle charm? I want Crystal! Then I said, "Okay. Well, my baby will scream in your face. Let's go." I said that in a gentle voice so Babygirl would not be scared.

I told her, "Hey, it's our turn! Let's have our picture taken!" and she followed me, like a lamb to slaughter, to the big scary room filled with props and flowing fabrics and chairs hung on the wall. She was not amused.

She said, "Go home." I said, "First, we're having your picture taken! Won't that be fun?" I raised my eyebrows and grinned at her and she scrunched up her face and said, "No. Mommy chair."

"Mommy chair" is Babygirl code for "I would like to nurse now because I'm feeling sad and scared and maybe just a little crabby." She usually only nurses before she goes to sleep, just a few minutes and I think she'll be fully weaned in the near future. But when she is off-center and feeling needy, she reverts and wants to nurse. Thankful that her phrase for this is "mommy chair" and not something like, "big-big-B00B-B00B," I said, "Yes, I will sit on the chair. And here's the pretty chair for Babygirl!"

I sat her in the white netting canopy on the pink fluffy blanket that Scary Photographer Guy set up for her. She immediately burst into tears. I did my best sweet-talking, but she sobbed. I finally told Scary Photographer Guy, we might just have to take pictures of her crying and call it good. I had my doubts.

I took Babygirl into the little dressing room, nursed her for a few minutes and went back out to find that Scary Photographer Guy had bubbles. Good thinking. He must be brighter than he looks. Babygirl was momentarily distracted and so he snapped a photograph of her--not smiling, but not screaming and wailing and red-nosed. Then she began to cry again.

I calmed her down again in the dressing room and came out to find he'd arranged a new background, this time with wide ribbons and a little blue chair. I talked faster and most convincingly than a car salesman, but Babygirl whimpered and cried big tears. He took four more pictures, but they show only a more and more distraught girl.

Posted by Hello
(The lower left was the first picture.)

During that time, I said to her, "Hey, want to go shopping when we're done here?" And she said in the saddest possible voice, "Shopping." When we finished, Crystal appeared and said, "If you want, you can schedule another sitting with me." I appreciated the thought, but I don't think so. It's traumatic enough--for both of us--to even get there in the first place.

When we finished, we went over to the mall where I purchased three pairs of size 8 "Husky" jeans and khakis for YoungestBoy. Then I bought Babygirl a little box of Tom Thumb donuts and we went home.

She took a nap, then, to recover from the trauma of having her picture taken. I can only imagine how much she's going to scream tomorrow morning when the seemingly nice nurse plunges needles into Babygirl's legs. And she thought it hurt to have her picture taken! At least she can't dread it. That's my job, the dreading.

Sunday and the P-O-O

Late Saturday night, I read the blue note paper on my desk. It said, "Music, Lamb of God," which was a reminder to myself that I was supposed to sing during the service on Sunday morning. I said to myself, "Self, tomorrow morning you can get up early and run through it. No problem."

I am clearly delusional late at night.

Sunday morning dawned and I woke and then rolled over and convinced myself that "five more minutes" of sleep was essential. My husband left at 7:00 a.m. and still, I snoozed. Finally, at a bit after 8:00 a.m., I said, "I have to get up! I have to sing! What am I going to wear?"

From then on, I was in full panic mode. Shower quick! Fix hair! Wonder why I have so much hair! I was completely sweaty after straightening my now too-long locks. Babygirl woke and then I busied myself getting her ready, too. I went downstairs to remind the boys that they should be completely ready--"including shoes and brushing teeth!"

An hour after I crawled from bed, I was dressed, complete with make-up and semi-tamed hair. Babygirl was ready. YoungestBoy was ready. The twins? Not. No shoes, no brushed teeth. I pawed through my books, found my sheet music, sat at the piano and ran through the song, hollered when TwinBoyA tapped me on the back and asked me to fix his hair--"I AM TRYING TO PRACTICE!", figured that my children will definitely choose to be atheists by the time I'm finished raising them, combed his hair, finished practicing verse three and shouted, "GET YOUR SHOES ON!" once more and left the house.

With the kids.

We arrived early enough for me to tell the sound guy that I would be singing from the piano and that I wouldn't be doing a sound check. Then I sat in the front row (it's like the bulkhead of a plane--more leg room) and waited for church to start.

Babygirl sat and wrote on a notecard for a few minutes, sat through one song and indicated that she'd had enough. She wanted to go to the nursery. Problem is, she won't stay in the nursery by herself, but I couldn't stay either, because I had to sing. Quite a problem, really. We went downstairs and found her favorite little friend in the nursery, with her mother.

When I told Babygirl I'd be right back, she cried and clung to me. I told her I had to go, but I'd be right back and walked out while she wailed.

I sang my song and went back to the nursery, where Babygirl was momentarily silent, but sniffling and hiccuping from the screaming she'd done. She began crying again and we left the nursery so I could calm her down. She said to me, "Mommy back." I said, "Yes, Mommy came back." Then she said, "I was sad." I almost laughed, but instead I said, "Yes, you were sad."

(I'm sorry this is so dull, for anyone still reading. This really is a personal journal above all, so sometimes this is going to happen!)

After church, we left fairly quickly--sometimes we stay during the "Coffee Hour" and visit--but today, we didn't sit down (although YoungestBoy did make sure to fill his pockets with cookies). Because my husband had to stay and perform a funeral service, we went through the drive-through and ate McDonald's in the car.

I meant to put Babygirl down for a nap, but I was reading a book ("Rosie," by Anne Lamott) and watching the men's Olympic marathon. She was laying down on the bed, asking me to cover her with pillows, and then wiggling around and jumping. Finally, I decided that I'd let her skip her nap and then she'd go to bed earlier.

We meandered downstairs eventually, went into the back yard and discovered the clouds had parted and the air was warm and it was still summer! I said to YoungestBoy who was wandering around with a garden hoe, looking for things to chop, "Hey, you want to go to the P-O-O-L?" I spelled so Babygirl wouldn't know what I was saying. YoungestBoy said, "Sure." So, then I said to Babygirl, "Hey, you want to go to the pool?"

She said, "Go to the P-O-O!"

So, we rounded up everyone, while Babygirl chanted, P-O-O and P-O-L and on the spur of the moment, off we went to swim.

At the pool, the sky was vivid blue, the sun was warm, yet autumn definitely lurked just out of sight. A chill in the air reminded me that summer is leaving and I feel unusually sad to see it go. I watched the big kids try to drown each other and felt the sun on my shoulders and felt wistful.

I'm trying to muster up some enthusiasm for autumn--my favorite season--yet, all I can do is grieve for what's ending, for the loss of Babygirl's babyhood, for the close of this chapter. I remember how sweet YoungestBoy has been these past few years, how I wish I could have freeze-dried him as a four year old and reconstituted him to savor later. He just wouldn't stay four forever, and now he's six and going to first grade and the thought that he'll be gone all day, every day, makes me sad. We won't have our mornings together. No more funny conversations and wrestling around on the floor, tickling.

My twins are on the brink of adolescence--TwinBoyA just told me how much he hates me because I scolded him for calling his brother "jackass"--and I feel nostalgic and falsely long for their younger years--even though those years wore me out and found me hollering and wondering if they would ever stop throwing sand in each other's hair.

I just want to say, "Stop! Stop fast-forwarding everything! I want to see, really see this part! Slow down!"

But instead, the whisper of fall is in the air and the P-O-O is going to close and did I take enough pictures? Did we have enough fun? Did we fully enjoy the summer? Did we waste the time we had?

We stayed at the pool last night until almost 7:30 p.m. and when we came home, Babygirl was eager for bedtime. I was so sleepy, so worn out, but when I came out of the baby's room, my husband said, "Hey! You want to watch a DVD with me?" I didn't really want to--I hadn't even been downstairs and I knew the laundry was mating even as I stood there--but I said, "Okay." I kept falling asleep through "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" and my little snores would wake me.

When it ended, I finished reading "Rosie," and fell into a deep sleep in which I dreamed about going to the ultimate garage sale.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

My Best Magic Trick Ever

At 7:30 p.m., on the dot, I told Babygirl, "Time for night-night." I kissed her soft cheek and placed her in her crib, along with New Dolly and Old Dolly (twins, separated at birth, but reunited by me--I found one at a Value Village, then found a new one at the local Fred Meyer and bought the new one because it was clothed), Tiger, two soft pink blankets and a heavy hand-knit baby blanket. Babygirl said, "Dolly hat?" New dolly has a hat, which Old Dolly must wear to bed. I switched the hat from New Dolly to Old Dolly and said, "Night-night, Sweetie."

On some nights, she says back to me in her baby-voice, "Night-night, Sweetie."

The love I feel for this tiny child almost suffocates me sometimes.

I close the door and flip on the fan in the bathroom for white noise because it will still be an hour or two before the boys are quiet. My husband is still gone (officiating at that wedding) and I step into my bedroom and sit on the bed and flick through a few channels, checking the Olympics, but settling on the news.

And then complete silence blankets my house.

The power was out.

The electricity very rarely goes out here. I suppose that's because most of the power lines are underground, but for whatever reason, we very rarely sit in a silent, dark house like pioneers in sod houses back in the Litte House on the Prairie Days, or like those poor post-hurricane souls in Florida.

For the first thirty minutes, my living room remained fairly bright with the waning light of day, so I sat and read (Rosie, by Anne Lamott) until I came to the end of a chapter and realized that this outage might last awhile. Better prepare.

My boys came filing out of their room, acting as if I had just done the most magnificent magic trick, making electricity vanish. I retrieved two flashlights from the laundry room--which miraculously had working batteries inside. Then I set to work lighting candles. My boys stood watching in awe, oooo-ing and awwwwww-ing with each match's s-c-r-i-t-c-h and the whoosh of flame. TwinBoyA said, "Cooooool!" as if I was a performer eating fire in a spectacular circus.

They sat at the kitchen table, staring at candle flames, holding their hands to the warmth until I said, "Don't! Don't move the candles! Do not get burned!" I'm such a kill-joy.

I washed dishes while they ate pretzels and gazed into the fire. They were actually arguing about who could stare at which candle, but fortunately, the sound of the water drowned out most of that insanity.

Then I finished the dishes and decided to clean off the avalanche of papers on the kitchen counter.

Flylady would call this a "hot-spot," that place where things just seem to collect, that spot which must be dealt with severely and swiftly less the clutter spontaneously combust. Or something like that. Darkness had fallen, so by that point, I had to lift each paper to my jarred Yankee candle (Hydrangea) to see what it was.

I remarked to the children, "You know, this is how people used to live, without electricity all the time."

TwinBoyB said, "Well, how did they keep their milk cold?"

I said, "They had cows."

TwinBoyA said, "Ewwwwwww."

TwinBoyB said, "Warm milk! Ewwwwww!"

They pondered this as they ate. I could clearly hear the "CRUNCH-CRUNCH-CRUNCH-MUNCH-CRUNCH" of my boys eating pretzels and it was all I could do not to stab myself in the ears with a butcher knife. Is it just me, or does the sound of mastication drive normal people insane? I kept saying foolish things like, "Would you please just stop crunching? Just eat! Quick! Don't dilly-dally! I can't stand the crunching! Argh!"

My poor children finally abandoned their pretzels and reminded me that I had candles in the living room fireplace that were unlit.

I lit those candles and the boys gathered pillows and afghans and settled in to stare at the flickering flames. I finished my project with the papers and realized it was bedtime for the kids. My favorite time of day!

I lit a candle in each bathroom so they could brush teeth and sent them to bed with a flashlight.

The silence of a house without power is so still, so loud, so weird. I borrowed a book-light from the twins and sat to read in the living room, feeling very disconnected from the outside world. Thank God for books. I was happily engrossed in the story when the buzzing started, then a hum, then clicks and purrs and lights came on and the voice of the television upstairs murmured.

The kids all came out of their darkness to say, "Mom! The power's back on!"

I said, "Yes, I know. Now, go to sleep."

How about that? My kids were perfectly entertained with flashlights and the glow of candles for an hour and a half--they did not die from not playing Nintendo and not watching television before bed. We would make horrible pioneers, though. Ewwwwww! Warm milk!

Friday, August 27, 2004

And One More Thing (Okay, Two)

I remembered this afternoon of a few things that scared me when I was a child.

I was afraid that if I used too much toilet paper, the toilet would overflow. I used four squares, no more, until I was no longer a scared child. In fact, I think I was married before I started using generous amounts of toilet paper.

I was afraid that I would slide between the outdoor stairs--you know the kind of stairs without backs on them? I was terrified of going up those kind of stairs. I knew I would fall straight through.

I was afraid to speak in Sunday School class because I never spoke on Sunday mornings before class started. I was afraid my voice would be all scratchy and choked.

I was afraid people were talking about me behind my back. I was afraid of being left out and of being different.

I was afraid that when I stepped into a boat--rowboat, yacht, motorboat--it would sink.

I was afraid that the center of the golf ball my brother had dissected would explode and kill us all.


Just a while ago, I was sitting here in the family room, perusing blogs, when I realized that the television was blaring. I walked over, turned off Cartoon Network and resumed my reading.

A few moments later, YoungestBoy slid open the patio door, came in, looked around, turned on the television and went back outside.

He closed the door before I could say, "HEY! TURN THAT OFF!"


My husband is gone overnight to officiate a wedding in Portland. I feel a little adrift, alone again. The skies have turned blue and I think I'll take the kids to the pool tonight. It's supposed to rain again next week and then the pool will be closed. I don't want to don my swimsuit, but I will have to because Babygirl will insist on swimming with her beloved rubber ducky floating ring. She even sleeps with "ducky" now.

I am mourning the end of summer and the passing of time.

And now, Babygirl is screaming, "MOM! MOM!" from her crib. So, the second half of this day begins.

Same old, same old

You know what I hate? Besides raw tomatoes?

I hate people deciding who I am based on my marriage alone. I married a man 17 years ago who is now a pastor of a church. And somehow, that gives people all the information they need to decide who I am.

That's why it's not listed in my profile on this blog. The fact that I am married to a pastor has hardly anything to do with who I am as a person. People see "pastors's wife" and they stand back, gape, cover their mouths, share private jokes, judge, snicker and come to a swift conclusion. They conclude that I am completely unlike them, that I must pray in tongues while I dance through the house doing my housework, that I spend hours teaching the children memory verses and that I am standing with my hands on my hips judging them because I think I am Perfect. It's really no wonder that it's so difficult to find a New Best Friend when you are known as The Pastor's Wife.

People who have different standards for me based on my spouse's profession are misguided. They are the worst kind of people--unthoughtful people. And by that, I don't mean people who are unkind or ungenerous, but people who just don't think, who wouldn't recognize a thoughtful moment if it pinched them under the arm in that really sensitive spot. Unthoughtful people cannot engage in thinking conversation, because they are missing whatever essential component that thoughtful people have in their souls. So, if you ever offer a thought-provoking comment to an unthoughtful person, you will see that person go completely haywire with screaming alarms and blinking lights and flailing limbs. And then they will call you a hypocrite or worse. The point of your thought-provoking comment will inevitably be missed in the hoopla of their crazy response and then suddenly, you are on the defense, wondering why.

Frankly, unthoughtful people wear me out and on bad days, they make me question humanity. On really bad days, they make me think I was right--people are horrible and not to be trusted and why did I ever think otherwise? Why bother?

People who don't think live in some foreign land without a map. I can't even find the entrance to the housing development where those kind of people live, let alone get close to them and understand them. When I encounter those kind of glib, mean, stone-souled people, I smile and walk on. No, I run.

But I'm a "pastor's wife," so I don't give them the "You're Number One" salute, even though that's pretty much all they understand, because it doesn't take much thought to flip someone off.

My name is Mel. My name is not Mrs. Pastor's Wife. My faith is a skeleton, the framework of my life, not my hair. I don't restyle it each day in accordance with how much gel or time I have or change it in light of prevailing trends. My faith holds me up, gives me strength, keeps my chin from puddling into my toenails.

I don't talk about my skeleton as much as I talk about my hair--and when I say "hair", I'm not talking about my actual wild curls, but rather, the part of life that is visible to the naked eye, the outside stuff--but that doesn't mean my hair is more important than the bones that give me structure. My skeleton just is, and when people start judging me according to my hair, thinking they know everything about me, thinking they are in a position to judge how consistent I am--well, it makes me kind of testy.

Being judged and misunderstood pisses me off. Can a pastor's wife say that? I'll have to check my manual and get back to you.

In the meantime, putting these words here keep those words from swimming around in my already crowded head, so I feel a little better. So, no need to call the ambulance. I'll be staying here, taking care of kids for a few more years, at least.

And now, I have to go make lunch.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Post-Weight Watchers Grocery Shopping

Tonight, I went back to Weight Watchers. I had been absent for three weeks because of one thing or another. (Pringles, mostly, hardy-har-har.) Anyway, I gained two pounds, which--believe me, was actually fairly good news considering my un-Weight Watchers behavior the past three weeks.

After Weight Watchers, I headed to the grocery store, desperate for provisions (since I ate everything in the house--just kidding!). They've remodeled the grocery store closest to my house and for that reason, I wandered up and down most every aisle, picking out fat-free chili and skim milk and mini-Oreos (for the kids, wink-wink).

My cart was about half full when I glanced over and saw my Weight Watchers leader, Dianna. Instinctively, reflexively, without even a conscious thought, I averted my eyes and violently swerved my cart in the opposite direction as if I committed a felony by picking out food for purchase.

I know. I have some issues regarding food. Funny, huh?

Now, back to my "Caramel Honey" walls (or "Honey Caramel"--who can remember? I just know that I want to dip apples in the paint).

I put a second coat of paint on during nap-time today. This is what we used to paint. It's a miracle, I'm telling you! If you are going to paint, buy one of these Paint Sticks. No drips, no drabs, easy as caramel-honey pie!

As for the color--picture the orange-yellow color that Little Tikes (the toy company) uses in so many of its toys. Like this basketball hoop. That's the color of my walls. The intensity, anyways. Maybe slightly more orange.

When my friend stopped by the other day and I mentioned I was going to paint my walls the color of my hideous second-hand couch, she looked aghast. I said, "Well, my theory is that if I paint the walls that color, my couch will disappear." She looked completely unconvinced, but I was right. My couch is all but invisible now, sitting against my vivid walls.

For an accent piece, I'm thinking of moving the Little Tikes basketball hoop next to the couch.

Just kidding. What I really want are purple velvet pillows and new luxurious cream-colored carpet. Cream. And Honey. All I need now is a little hazelnut fudge topping and Granny Smith apples.

(Oh, and by the way, why has my profile and picture and list of blogs and everything slipped down the page? Or is it just my computer which displays my blog incorrectly? Does anyone know?)

Sweet Revenge

TwinBoyA had been the child who makes me question my competency as a mother. Since he was a crawling baby, he's attempted to wrest control of this family from me. He's a scowler and when he was about two years old, he literally growled at church people who said hello to him on Sunday mornings. He's always been touchy and moody and prickly. I swear he has the soul of a hormonal teenage girl.

A couple of years ago, I was helping him with homework and he grew more and more angry with me, rather than with the complicated multiplication problems. I grew exasperated with him and things were not going well. Then he threw himself to the floor. (We were in the living room, so it was a small gesture, really.) Saved by the bell! The phone rang.

When I returned to the math torture, he handed me a small folded piece of notebook paper. Inside, it said (in really horrible handwriting), "WHY ARE YOU SO MEAN?! YOU ARE THE WORST MOM IN THE WORLD!" I read it, looked him in the eye, raised my eyebrows and then said, "You forgot to say I hate you."

He blinked and sheepishly handed me a second folded note. I opened it to find the words scrawled in dark pencil, "I HATE YOU!"

I am a horrible mother, because I giggled, chortled, guffawed, even--which made him burrow under the couch cushions and holler.

He has never been an "easy" child. He can be delightful and he says really hilarious things (usually unintentionally) and he is a great reader and has a shockingly large vocabulary. But he is quirky and strong-willed and raises his lip at me in an Elvis grimace when he's mad at me. Which is often.

So, here's where I get revenge: His sister, the practically-2-year-old Babygirl calls him "Elmo" (which is obviously not his name) and she demands that he "rocky-rocky" with her. No one else will do. She stands and screams "ELMO! ROCKY-ROCKY!" and will not stop shrieking until he complies with her wishes. She wants him--and him only--to read books with her. If he walks away, she screeches, "ELMO! COME BACK!" She has become a tyrant.

He complains to me and I just shrug. Sometimes, you've just got to let the little ones do the dirty work. Revenge is sweet.

(p.s. After I posted last night's dull post, I casually used that handy-dandy button up there to confirm that, yes, there are more dreadful blogs than good ones out there in cyberspace. I don't think I've ever found a good blog that way--and then--ACK! A virus started to download itself on my computer and I sat helplessly and tried to "X" out the box and then suddenly, McAfee swooped in and rescued me by annihilating that virus. Boy, did that scare me! Anyway, I will not be using that button anymore and I'm warning you, if you want to find a good blog, do what I do-- follow the trail on blogrolls! No more "next blog" for me!)

Tuesday, August 24, 2004


It's 11:00 p.m., which bums me out. My husband and I painted our living room tonight--well, half of it anyway and all that productivity cut into my evening. And I am worried that "Caramel Honey" is too much for the living room walls. Sort of.

Me: "Do you like this color?"
Him: "Well, it's not a color I would have chosen, but I like it."

Long pause.

Me: "So you hate it?"
Him: "I didn't say that! I would just choose a boring color."

He would not have chosen red stripes in the family room or "violet aura" for the bedroom. I throw all caution to the wind when choosing the color of a room. Why not? It's just paint. I can't buy fancy-schmancy furniture, but I can make a room feel a particular way with color. My husband likes plain, boring, dull. Dorm room beige would be fine with him. He leaves all the creative decisions to me.

"Caramel Honey" is a good color. It is. Warm, glowing, comfortable. Unfortunately, it doesn't mesh well with my "guacamole" entryway, so I'm going to have to repaint that, probably red. I want to use red accents in the living room and eggplant purple.

We used this cool paint stick thing that worked like a giant syringe. I would highly recommend it. It really did eliminate the dripping mess of a roller.

I've just turned this blog into one of those really boring ones I find when I click on that "next blog" button up at the top of this page.

I'd better get to bed before I actually bore myself to death. Although, my husband might like that. With the life insurance money, he could have the living room repainted beige.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Wanted: New Best Friend

Married, almost-40 year old female seeks New Best Friend (NBF). I like movies that make me cry (Mystic River, House of Sand and Fog, Schindler's List), books that make me laugh (anything by Anne Lamott)and cry (Elizabeth Berg, Jane Smiley, Annie Dillard, Anne Tyler, Jane Hamilton, Barbara Kingsolver) and silence. I wish I were really hip and could claim to like improvised jazz, but it makes me a little dizzy and irritable. Dan Fogelberg and James Taylor and Norah Jones and Marc Cohn are more my speed, though if given a choice, I often opt for silence.

NBF must laugh at my jokes (self-deprecating, sarcastic, shocking) and be available for random phones calls in which I will ask "What are you doing?" NBF must be willing to spontaneously go to movies at 10:00 p.m., yet be self-sufficient and family-oriented as well. NBF should have interest in co-founding a long-lasting spectacular book club with other like-minded, funny women. NBF must have calm, easy-going husband who is willing to assume childcare duties so NBF can participate in Girl's Night Out events.

I vacuumed under my sectional today. Before I could even run the vacuum, though, first I had to pick up the debris the children slide between the cushions. I collected enough unpopped popcorn kernels and popsicle sticks to fill a paper lunch bag. Just knowing that the carpet beneath my sectional is clean makes me feel virtuous. Nevermind that there are still unfolded socks next to my keyboard and an unfolded basket of laundry sitting behind me.

Now, if I had a New Best Friend, she would laugh at that visual picture and then she'd tell me about the dust bunnies and worse under her couch and then we'd compare what we made for dinner and we'd plan our book club meeting.

I am in desperate need of a New Best Friend. No offense to my Old Best Friends (not that they are old, either). It's just that I really, really need someone local, someone not long-distance, someone I know in real life, an actual person who could meet me for coffee (not that I drink coffee). My Old Best Friends live so far away--New York, North Carolina, Missouri--and somehow, I've lived in this house almost six years and I still haven't clicked with anyone. No love connection, no magic, no instant bonding.

I'm mostly a solitary soul. I don't mind my own company and I laugh at my own jokes. I love going to movies alone and I prefer to shop alone. But sometimes, I look above the crowd that is my family and I think, "Where is my circle of friends? The ones I'll grow old with? Am I the only one wishing for friends?" Are they all too busy with their families and their jobs and their Old Best Friends?

In college, it was so easy to make soul-mate caliber friends. You see each other in your underwear, you cry over boys together, you eat too much pizza in your dorm room, you go on crazy road trips, you stay up all night eating M&Ms and studying and you bond.

Then graduation splits you apart and you have to start all over, only this time around, there is no easy camaraderie, no built-in bonding, no simple solution to the problem of finding a local New Best Friend.

Some people are lucky and they continue their Grown Up Lives in the same place where they've made friends. Some people are friend-magnets and attract happy-go-lucky, exciting people to them like bees to a barbecue.

I'm not like that, and I sense that I'm rambling and my eyes are burning because my contact lenses have been in so long today.

So, wherever you are--New Best Friend--call me! We need to get together, soon!

Meanwhile, I asked my husband tonight if it would be asking too much to want to have the legs and buttocks of the Olympic gymnasts without actually devoting my life to working out. Or working out at all. And while being 20 years older than they are.

He said, yes. Definitely asking too much.


Sunday, August 22, 2004

The Update That Goes On and On

I have a lot of ground to cover.

But first, can I just ask a question? Why is it that I can spend two or three hours straightening up, cleaning, organizing, sorting, putting away . . . and yet, my house looks as if debris is raining down from the ceiling? Saturday morning I did not sit down one time, yet by noon, my kitchen remained a breeding ground for dirty glasses and the family room was littered with toys. As I work, the children sneak behind me and wreak havoc. I would like to know where they learned this.

My husband had to work a lot yesterday, so he was gone all morning while I attempted to regain control over my house and laundry. I worked until lunch-time, then put the baby to bed and took the boys to a town festival. My husband stayed home with the sleeping baby. The highlights were eating hotdogs and petting baby bunnies and--for YoungestBoy--sitting atop a placid pony named Bunny. We were laughing at the antics of some jugglers when the cloudy skies unleashed a torrential downpour and we ran back to our car--the boys holding their flip-flops in their hands and running in bare feet. YoungestBoy was extremely disappointed in me because I "made" him watch the jugglers when all he really wanted to do was play a game involving rubber duckies and prizes that I had promised we'd play "on the way out." I'm not sure he is going to forgive me.

The afternoon meandered on at a leisurely pace. I actually dozed a little while Babygirl jumped around on our king-sized bed and then became conscious of my husband taking her downstairs with him to cook dinner. He made pancakes for everyone and I eventually wandered downstairs, still feeling sleepy.

The kitchen was a disaster--which seems impossible since I spent so much time in the morning cleaning--so as dinner ended, I headed for the storage room to get a replacement trash bag for the compactor (which doesn't work, still). As I passed the laundry room, TwinBoyA walked out and said in a calm, unhurried voice, "Uh, Mom? The toilet is overflowing." I looked down and saw a stream of water rushing across the floor.

In a single bound, I flew through the laundry room into the adjacent bathroom and sloshed through the inch of flowing water and grabbed the plunger. Plunge, plunge, plunge and the water stopped flowing over the toilet rim and began to recede.

Remarkably, I couldn't find a single bath towel in the laundry room--dirty or clean--so I hollered for TwinBoyA--who was standing, watching me in silence--to "GET TOWELS! GET TOWELS! RUN UPSTAIRS AND GET TOWELS!" Then, I unhelpfully grabbed two old cloth diapers (relegated to the rag pile in the cupboard) and threw them in the path of the stream.

I flailed my arms, spun around two times and yelled again "GET TOWELS! SOMEONE GET ME SOME TOWELS!" TwinBoyA had conveniently disappeared. TwinBoyB appeared and asked what was going on. I screamed, "GET TOWELS!"

The water filled the bathroom, half the laundry room and was seeping out from under the walls, making me think of Amityville Horror, a book I read as a teenager in which a house is demon-possessed or something like that. Stuff oozed from the walls in that house (if I remember it right). Here, water oozed from under the wall.

Finally, the boys delivered an armful of towels and I sopped up the water, throwing drenched towels directly into the washing machine. Nothing like stinky toilet water everywhere to make you wrinkle your nose and mutter under your breath.

My husband disappeared from the house shortly after this ridiculous display of panic where none was really warranted. Why get excited about a little toilet water? It's only pee water squishing into my socks, after all.

TwinBoyA stood mutely while I exclaimed, "Son! Next time! Do not! Stand there! And watch! The toilet! Overflow!! It! Is! An! EMERGENCY!"

I think he understood. Later, I explained that the toilet overflowing is just an accident. Standing, watching as it overflows is what made me scream and act like a lunatic. "Please!" I said. "If this happens again, use a plunger--like this," I said, as I demonstrated sticking it in the toilet and plunging, "or get a grown-up. Please. Please? Okay?"

Today, I had at least four extra loads of laundry to deal with because of this minor flooding. Pee-ewwwww!

After church today, while Babygirl napped, I hurried to Target to buy vacuum cleaner belts. I love my Dirt Devil vacuum, but the belts break frequently. They cost $1.99 for two, so today, I bought three packages. Take that! I thought. I will outsmart you, ridiculous machine! I managed to fill my cart, even though I only went for milk and vacuum cleaner belts. My friend, MaryKay, calls Target the Forty Dollar Store. It's true. You go in for toilet paper and no matter what, you spend at least forty dollars.

Today, I spent $65.00. I love the clearance sales.

When I got home, Babygirl was still sleeping, so I picked up the boys and took them shoe shopping. Earlier, I'd checked out the local Famous Footwear store and found they had a good selection, good prices and a "buy one, get one half-price" sale. YoungestBoy picked out a black pair of Chuck Taylor converse high-tops with flames on them. TwinBoyA picked out white "Shaq" leather high-tops with blue accents, while TwinBoyB picked out the same shoe, only with red accents. I almost bought Babygirl pink Chuck Taylors, but they didn't have her size. Instead, I bought a pair of "school shoes" for myself--black suede clogs with fuzzy, fleecy lining. My other black scuffy slippers will have to go.

Total price? Less than $110.00.

The twins couldn't figure out why they were getting school shoes when they aren't going to school. They are schooling at home with www.k12.com. I said, "Well, you will be leaving the house, you know!"

As we stood, waiting for our turn to pay, YoungestBoy nearly whirled and twirled into another customer. I said, "Hey, come here! Stand still! Stopping moving! Don't touch him! Come here! Shhhhhh! Stop it!" about a hundred times and the woman he nearly banged into said, "Oh, it's nice to see little guys since mine are like this now." She gestured a hand above her own head.

I said, "Yes, they do have a lot of energy, don't they?"

Shopping with three boys is like having eight arms and eight legs and four mouths--and only control over two arms and two legs and one mouth. The rest of my arms and legs and mouths just spin and jerk crazily, like some kind of maternal Tourette's Syndrome, where I can't predict what my arms and legs and mouths will do next. I am a creature which occupies an enormous amount of space with my blurting arms and kicking legs and shocking mouths. It's so embarrassing when I knock into someone else. I remind myself of that Ghost of one of the Christmases in "A Christmas Carol" who keeps children under her skirts--only my children will not stay tucked under my skirts, but insist on veering into other people's personal space.

I prefer to shop alone. But now the kids have shoes.

We're going to paint our living room soon, so I spent the remaining daylight hours removing electrical outlet covers and shoving furniture to the middle of the room and getting distracted in other rooms as I returned stuff to its rightful home. I have lots more to do before I even get to the wall-washing and taping.

But tonight, I've done enough. Even if it doesn't look like I've done anything.

Weekends. Not for the faint of heart.

Don't we all feel refreshed now?

Friday, August 20, 2004

True Bravery

I killed all those spiders with my bare hands (and baby shampoo). I gave birth unmedicated and at home twice--and the first labor was forty-three hours. I've driven through Seattle during rush hour.

But nothing comes close to the bravery I displayed today.

Today, I took the kids to (drum roll, please) Chuck E Cheese by myself.

I didn't even plan it ahead. I slept in (no DaycareKid today) and when I finally was showered, Babygirl said, "Church? Church?" because she thinks we should go to church whenever we don't have DaycareKid. I said, "No, but we will go bye-bye, okay?" And that was the first that I realized that, yes, indeed, we would go somewhere.

The boys have been begging to do something fun, so I decided to make all their dreams come true. It's easy to do that if you have a coupon for ninety-nine tokens, a large pizza and four drinks for only $29.99 (plus tax). I didn't tell them where we were going. I just gave them five minutes to get ready, called my husband to ask for the car and off we went (after first dropping off my husband at the church so he could continue working).

On the way, the kids stayed busy guessing where we were going. They all guessed right, but I did not comfirm or deny. At one point I said in a somber voice, "Would you guys be really disappointed if we were just going to buy new underpants?" I thought YoungestBoy would froth at the mouth, but the bigger boys told him I was just joking.

I did not confirm nor deny.

We arrived at Chuck E Cheese half an hour after it opened. Babygirl was wide-eyed and after I divvied up the tokens, she carried around her own cup of "munny." She didn't realize for awhile they she could put them in machines, but when she got the idea, she plugged the games as if they were slot machines. I tried to stop her, much to her annoyance. Then, she simply transferred the tokens one by one into her pockets. (I slid my hands into her pockets at one point and removed all the tokens while she gazed at a game.)

I kept an eye on YoungestBoy and wandered around with Babygirl and let the twins out of my sight. On one hand, I worry about the random child-abductor. On the other hand, I figure a mostly empty Chuck E Cheese is a pretty safe place for a pair of 11-year old twins.

I finally introduced Babygirl to the toddler area, where she sat and rode with Barney in a motorized car. She put in three tokens, one after the other, while I wished I'd brought a camera. Then, she played on the slide until I said, "Do you want some pizza?" and she agreed.

By the time we ate pizza, the boys had used most of their tokens and they each had a wad of tickets. Babygirl and I rode in this tall--dare I say even one-story tall?--rocking horse. It was really cool, I have to say. I've never seen a coin-operated ride like it. She just sat back and smiled a dreamy little grin and made me put in tokens three times in a row.

Then I said, "How about ice cream?" to bribe her out of it.

And just when you think you will get out alive, you have to endure the torture of the kids Picking Out A Prize with the tickets they've won. The crappy prizes cost 80 tickets. The good prizes cost 5,000 to 10,000 tickets. I would like to meet the person who has acculuated 10,000 Chuck E Cheese tickets and ask them "how?" Have they been stranded in here for a decade? How does anyone have that many tickets? Do they steal them?

My kids had fifty to one hundred and fifty tickets, each.

Luckily for us, there were only three children ahead of us, so the boys stood in line, calculated their net worth in tickets and peered into the fingerprint-smudged cases, pondering which cheap and ugly toy to "buy." Babygirl repeatedly pulled on me and said, "Ride horse! Ride horse" and I answered her, distractedly, "We don't have any more quarters. We're going to get ice cream!" but she would not take no for an answer.

At last I looked directly at her and saw she was clutching a single token in her greasy little hand. She must have had a hidden token in her pockets. I said, "Oh! You have a quarter!" So, we went and rode on the giant rocking horse again, while the boys waited in line.

From my perch at the top of the rocking horse, I could see that kids kept cutting in front of my kids in the line. They were no closer to the front than when I had left them. And Babygirl did a magic trick and pulled a second token, and then a third, from her pocket, so we hogged the Rocking Horse ride for three turns.

Then, I promised ice cream again and we went to wait with the boys. When I arrived at the counter, there was no employee to help my kids--who were finally first in line.

I said aloud, to no one in particular, "Where is the lady?"

Then, Babygirl began to pull at my leg and cry. She was ready to go.

She would not let me pick her up. She began to scream.

I said aloud again, "I can't believe this!"

I said, "Hellllloooo? Where is the lady?!"

Babygirl is wailing, stomping and crying.

The woman standing over by the check-in point looks at me and smiles.

I finally lean over the counter and say to the pizza-order-taking woman (girl?): "Excuse me? Do you know where the lady is?" I gestured towards the empty cash register near us. "Has she died? Do I need to call an ambulance?" I raised my eybrows in mock concern.

She did not have a sense of humor and did not even crack a smile, but she did, however, pick up the phone and moments later, the prize-giving employee appeared.

By now, Babygirl is in full wail and will not be consoled. I'm starting to sweat and my six year old hasn't figure out what he wants to get. I'm saying, "How about that? You want a Hulk sticker? Or you could get two things from there for fifteen tickets each. Or one thing for forty points and two for fifteen. How about a pack of pens? Come on! Come on! Come on!" He'd only been standing there for twenty minutes. How should he know? I'd probably be unable to pick from the pathetic little selection of cheap trinkets, too, when the only thing worth having costs 7,500 tickets.

Finally, with a pocket full of trashy plastic things that I will probably throw away later tonight after I step on them with bare feet, we left.

Babygirl no longer wanted to leave and stood five feet from the door, shrieking.

We all said, "Come on, sweetie. Let's go get ice cream," in voices one would use to coax a frightened dog back into his leash. Finally, I said, "Well, okay, bye!" and acted like I was leaving and miraculously, she stopped crying and we left.

Whew. For one second there, I thought I would have to carry her out, kicking and screaming (her, not me).

We went through a Dairy Queen drive-through on the way home, then got stuck in traffic on the freeway. Babygirl ate an entire ice cream cone, then said, "Messy, messy, messy," and wiped herself off with tissues.

The kids don't know it, but that may have been our last visit ever to Chuck E Cheese.

Until I see another coupon, I suppose. Where else can you buy complete happiness and utter despair for only $29.99 (plus tax)?

Thursday, August 19, 2004

I Want, I Want, I Want

In the words of my kids, "It's not fair!"

Doesn't that just sum up life? Add that to M. Scott Peck's famous first line in The Road Less Traveled "Life is difficult," and there you have it. A philosophy of life.

Life is not fair.
Life is difficult.

Is it any wonder that I wrestle with envy on occasion?

Envy is a sin. I know it. The handy-dandy on-line dictionary says envy is a "painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage." Even if we call it "ambition", envy is still so uncool.

Envy is one of those sins that mostly hurts the sinner. I've known this ever since I was a little girl staring at Lisa Palombo at the Assembly of God church I attended. Lisa sang with the voice of an angel--way before Charlotte Church, and way better, too. But I didn't envy Lisa for her voice alone. No way. Lisa had the flattest stomach of any girl in our church. And school. And town.

Her nose was a little too big and she had a smattering of freckles, but she walked in a sort of continual spotlight of attention. She blinked her eyes a particular way when she talked and I did my best to imitate her. She was four or five years old than me and I adored her. I wanted to be her. "Single White Female," anyone?

Of course, I was only a child. I was still enamored with her when I was a teenager, but she had the nerve to grow up and go to college, so I fixed my attention on Bobbi Jack, instead. Bobbi Jack had a flat stomach, too, and she also had a father who coached her softball team. I think that's why her team always creamed my team. My father never even attended one of my games. And Bobbi Jack had really cute clothes in really small sizes. And her hair flipped exactly like Farrah Fawcett's. My hair looked like Farrah Fawcett's hair after a tornado.

I've always noticed other people, always envied the good stuff, always minimized the bad stuff and then wondered why my life was so crappy.

You see the problem, though? We each measure other people's good stuff by our bad stuff. I never compared Bobbi Jack's flat stomach to my ability to calculate complicated math problems. I never compared my musical ability to April Wren's dimples. How could you really quantify the diversity of good stuff versus the bad stuff? We are all so different. But when you are twelve, all you know is that the boys are googly-eyed over Lisa and not you.

The more you compare, the more you find people who have more than you do. And if you are sensible, you realize that there are a whole lot more people who have less than you do--less health, less wealth, less wit, less compassion, less stuff. It's like realizing there is always someone fatter than you and someone thinner (unless, of course, you are the 58-pound anorexic on the Maury Povich Show). It's just a big continuum.

I started to really comprehend that in college, right about the time I decided to forgive my parents and move on with my adult life in an adult fashion. So what if my parents divorced and shattered my childhood? It could have been oh-so-much-worse. Things could always be worse. (And you thought a doom-and-gloom outlook was unhelpful.)

And so, even though the green-eyed monster dares to show his ugly face around here occasionally (sometimes more than occasionally), I never, ever invite him in to share an icy glass of Diet Coke with Lime. I kind of look into his dull eyes and roll my own brown eyes, close the door, bolt it and say "Whatever."

So what? I live in an older home. My yard is being overtaken by English ivy and wild blackberry vines. Our tiny used car barely seats us all. But really, I don't care. I chose this. Every bit of it, down to the carpet in the upstairs bathroom and the yellow-gold sink in the kitchen. This is mine. I made deliberate choices and all that accompanied those choices are my responsibility, my blessings, my reminders.

This life is the one I want. I chose my husband, that calm, sweet, kind man whose worst habit is not cleaning his George Foreman Grill. Despite an early bout with infertility, I ended up with three sons and a daughter. Even though I haven't flown in an airplane since 1994, I live in one of the most beautiful regions in the United States. On clear days, I can see Mt. Rainier and the sun setting on the Puget Sound. Who needs to vacation?

I won't lie. I would love to live in a house with glossy floors and marble-faced fireplaces and carpet so padded that your feet sink with each step. I would be thrilled to drive a gas-guzzling car and even better, to not have to worry about the cost of filling that gas tank. I'd accept the services of a maid and--why not?--a cook, too. Vacations twice a year? I'm there.

I would relish the finer things in life. But I know they are just things. Things that Hurricane Charlie could blow away.

And when it comes down to it, I have everything I need right here, in this house built over thirty years ago. In fact, I have so much that I have to keep cleaning out the cupboards and closets, lest we are overtaken by an avalanche of stuff.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Woe is Me

I think my allergies are acting up or I have a virus or maybe an inoperable tumor or even a rare, yet disfiguring disease. I am weary when I wake up and drag through the days. My tissue box is my new best friend and the children seem oblivious to my discomfort.

For instance, their twin friend (age 9) just came over (minus his twin brother, who is ill). They went straight out the patio door and began messing with the wasp nest in the far corner of the yard. I have told my boys repeatedly to leave it alone. I need to spray those stinging insects before someone gets stung. The boys cannot leave them alone.

So, I actually said this to the visiting twin and my boys: "Do not go near that nest! Do not squirt it, throw things at it or breathe on it! What are you going to do next? Get stung by bees and then set my whole back yard on fire?" (This was in reference to the fact that earlier this summer, my boys and their twin friends actually started a fire in the twins' back yard, using a magnifying glass.)

Twin friend just eyed me as if I had recently escaped from the local mental ward.

Now they are all in the boys' room hollering and wrestling and being boy-like. Babygirl and DaycareKid are still sleeping. But not for long.

YoungestBoy is still wearing his zipper-pajamas, the warm, fuzzy, winter kind. It's almost 3:00 p.m., so I guess he's not getting dressed, even though I told him to more than once.

The church secretary called a few hours ago. She was really trying to track down my husband--his cell phone was not on--and I think she also wanted to tell me that a church member had died. (She revels in the drama of bad news and of telling other people's bad news to anyone who will listen.) The secretary said that it took five minutes to figure out who was hysterical on the other end of the telephone line and then she ended up with only rudimentary information. The church lady was at her daughter's apartment and her daughter had died. I'm thinking the daughter was about my age and she'd had health issues, but still. No one really thinks that one day they will go visit their daughter's apartment and find her lifeless body.

(Well, no one except me, full of gloom and doom.)

My throat hurts and my teeth ache and the roof of my mouth feel like it was stabbed with one of those cute, tiny forks you use to scrape crab meat out of the claws. Ouch.

Oh, and if you're keeping track, you are aware that this type of woefulness comes to me in regular four week intervals. I'm so predictable.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Waiting for Disaster

Maybe it's just me, but I am always holding my breath, waiting for disaster to strike. My kids are all healthy at the moment, but sometimes I look at Babygirl and I think of my friend's mother whose 12 year old daughter said, "My arm hurts" and then died shortly thereafter from bone cancer.

My husband will be a little late coming home with my boys from some adventure and the thought will scroll across my mind: "Perhaps they were in a terrible car crash and they all died."

I think of when I was a young bride and everything seemed to be going according to my perfect plan and then my dad invited me and my siblings over to dinner. During the meal, my sister said, "So, what did you want to tell us?" and that was my first inkling that he had anything to tell us. My stomach clenched up and I looked from person to person and thought, No. No, no, no. My dad smiled and said, "Let's clean up the dishes first."

We sat in the living room afterwards--I can still see the pattern of the sunlight on the carpet, neat rows of sunlight sliced by the mini-blinds--and I can hear my dad explain that he'd gone to the opthamologist for his eye trouble and that the opthamologist sent him right to a neurologist and that the neurologist did an MRI and that's how he found out he had a tumor in his brain.

And, oh yeah, they predicted he had four months to two years to live.

We cried and then ate a party-sized bag of M&Ms.

For awhile there, things went badly all around us. On my husband's side of the family, a brother was diagnosed with colon cancer, another brother went to prison for a fatal DUI. His mother's apartment burned down, his brother died, his other brother had a heart attack, a different brother divorced his wife. My dad died, my sister did drugs and dropped out of high school, we had our bout with infertility, our cars broke down, money was tight and the dog bit the kids. And that was just for starters.

Right now--right here--things are good. And still, I wait. I wait for the phone call, for unexplained physical symptoms, for a freak accident, for sirens, for heart-wrenching loss. I read the obituaries every day in the newspaper and I check the ages and I think, That could be me. That could be my husband. That could be my child. That could be my mother.

Is it that I am accustomed to tragedy? Is it my fatal flaw? Or am I just trying to buffer myself against inevitable loss? I mean, no one lives forever. No life is trouble-free. I have no guarantees. None.

Since I was a child, wishing to be a teen, I've been looking forward, scanning the horizon for another life which would soon be mine. I've counted the days until high school graduation, looked beyond my college dorm for "real life," paced impatiently until my wedding date, endured my years of working until babies came to me and now, am I just puttering around, half-aware, waiting for the next thing? This, after all, will be what I miss when my nest is empty. (Should I live that long.)

I need to stop and to be. And I need to put aside worry. Because the thing is, tragedy has a way of finding you, even if you aren't by the side of the road, flagging it down. In the meantime, close the drapes, lock the front door and party on! We have this moment, now. That's all that's guaranteed. That must I know for sure.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

On Being Infertile

Back in May of 1989, my dad was diagnosed with metastacized melanoma. The doctors announced he would die in four months to two years. The week before his diagnosis, my husband and I moved into his house--a money-saving maneuver following my husband's graduation from Yale Divinity School. We were going to save money to buy our own home and get established in our newly married life together. (We celebrated our two year anniversary that summer.)

My dad immediately quit his job and my husband got fired from his new job (at a bank, which is hilarious, looking back). My husband could not find a job in his chosen field (church ministry). I worked full-time while my dad and my husband--the two men I loved most in the world--puttered around the house, got on each other's nerves and waited for me to get home.

My husband and I had planned to wait two years before we had children. I had the whole thing planned--we wanted to have five children, evenly spaced three years apart. I even picked out their names. During my long, boring hours at an office, I dreamed of staying at home and taking care of the babies.

That summer, as we watched my 47-year old father decline, my husband and I decided to go ahead and try to get pregnant sooner rather than later. I wanted desperately for my father to see his first grandchild.

The first month, my period was late. I took a pregnancy test and it was negative. From the very first month, I knew deep down inside that we would not get pregnant. My regular gynecologist brushed off my concerns, looked at my cervical mucus, declared I was ovulating at that very moment and sent me home to conceive. When my period failed to materialize and the pregnancy test remained negative, the doctor gave me birth control pills to bring on menstruation and then scheduled me for a hysterosalpingogram (HSG).

Boy, that was fun. I'd been a modest patient prior to my HSG. On that day, I was placed in stirrups and then introduced to the male doctor who proceeded to pry open my cervix and place all manner of contraptions inside . . . and I still remember that the equipment broke and I had to wait while they scrambled for a new package. Then, in this awkward position, stuffed with hard instruments and tubes and balloons, I scooted down the table and my uterus and fallopian tubes were flooded with dye and photographed. And lucky me, I got the all clear.

And they told me, "You have a great chance to get pregnant now, after this procedure." I knew a girl at my workplace who actually got pregnant after her HSG. I had great hopes.

Which were dashed. Next up: a post-coital test, which required my husband and I to do the deed at 6:00 a.m., so I could go to the doctor and have the little swimmers analyzed. That test was inconclusive.

So, the doctor put me on Clomid, since my irregular cycles seemed to be the source of our problems. Perhaps I was not ovulating.

I spent every month waiting, anxiously, going to the bathroom stall repeatedly, counting down days obsessively, crying. Oh yeah. Did I mention that my dad died, only two months into our attempts to get pregnant? He only got four months. He was 47. I was 24.

It was only after several cycles that it occurred to the doctor to test my husband. And then, Houston, we have a problem. The doctor said, "Well, it appears that you have a count of one million." We were exuberant. One million! That's a lot! Well, actually, no. The low side of average was 20 million. We were missing about 19 million of the little dudes.

We had a choice, then. Proceed with intra-uterine insemination, hope for the best, spend money we didn't have, look towards IVF, hope for the best, spend money we didn't have, go through the emotional torture of not getting pregnant while every single woman of child-bearing age that I knew was pregnant or lactating--including two friends who got pregnant despite birth control and one sixteen year old who terminated her inconvenient twelve-week pregnancy . . . or just stop. And adopt.

My husband would say things like, "Well, maybe this is a sign from God. Let's just wait for five years and if we're not pregnant by then, we can adopt."

I sobbed and stomped and carried on and questioned the very foundation of my faith. Why would God deprive me of the one thing I ever wanted? Why would God deny me the experience of being a mother? What horrible thing had I done in some previous lifetime that I was being punished in this way? Five years might as well be five thousand. I could not live that long.

My friends said things like, "Do it in a hot tub" and "Just relax." I cried a lot. I tried to pray, but I wasn't so sure God heard me or that He even liked me. My husband thought I was over-reacting. He didn't understand that I would fly to the moon to have a baby. I wanted nothing else but the ordinary miracle of being pregnant, the miracle that so many millions of women just took for granted and even despised.

Adoption is not as easy as people think. Even now, I hear people say, "Well, someday if we want a daughter, we'll just adopt." Or, "I had my tubes tied, but if we decide to have another baby, we'll just adopt."

Just adopt. Hardy-har-har. As if it's that easy.

First of all, it costs a ton of money.
Secondly, your entire fate rests in the hands of a birthmother who decides whether or not to choose your family based on your names. Or your hair color. Or the kind of dog you have. If you are uncomfortable with that, you can choose international adoption, which can cost even more, plus you get the added benefit of having no history of the child whatsoever. I mean, obviously, it's way more complicated that I can even convey here. It's not "just adopt." No way.

We waited and waited and waited. Rejection, rejection, rejection. Then, after several potential adoptions fell through (more tears, more snot, more lying on the bathroom floor in mourning), a birthmother chose us for her twins. Hooray, much rejoicing, woo-hoo, and hallelujah! And then a week before we expected them to be placed with us (it was all very complicated since they were already 5 months old and the birthfather chose not to cooperate), we received a call. Birthmother changed her mind. Sorry.

I have never had a blacker night, a more hopeless pit of darkness. I truly thought God hated me. Despite that, I decided I would trust Him. What else could I do?

Several phone calls, much holding of breath later, those twins became ours after all.

Fast forward four years later. I have moved on from my longing to be pregnant. I grieved the loss of the experience of feeling a baby squirm within my body, of nourishing a baby at my breast, of participating in the labor and birth of my own genetic offspring. And then, I found myself pregnant.

Against all odds. I was eight weeks along before I even tested. My entire nine months was perfect. I threw up twice, I slept a lot, I reveled in my enormous belly and my waddle. I winced at the smell of eggs. And nine days past my due date, I labored for 43 hours and gave birth in my bedroom, surrounded by a team of women and midwives and my very shell-shocked husband.

The experience was everything I knew it would be. Even the agony, the pain, the "I can't do this", the sweat, the tears, the hours without sleep, the shaking during transition and the screams during the birth.

I had a baby boy.

Four years later, lightening struck again and I became pregnant with my daughter. At 38, my body groaned and creaked and ached more than my prior pregnancy, but my birth was a delicious painful six hour roller-coaster of hollers and hoots. I hadn't planned to labor that day since I wasn't due for another three days. I ignored the contractions for hours, denied that contractions every three minutes were really labor and the midwife arrived less than two hours before my baby girl wriggled her way out in a big hurry.

Here's the thing.

My happy endings do not negate the grievous pain of my infertility. I know, I know, what it feels like to cry every month and to withdraw into the sanctuary of my bedroom and to practically drool with envy at the pregnant bellies in grocery stores. I never, never, never take my pregnancy and my blessings for granted.

I do wish now that I had been able to somehow enjoy that childless stage of my life more. I wish I hadn't spent so much time wallowing in the pain, but on the other hand, it was necessary for me to really experience the experience. Perhaps the dismal times make my life now seem sweeter.

When I was infertile, I was hostile. A lot. A woman I met once had adopted nine children and they were all teens and it was going badly and she had nothing good to say about parenting. I wanted her to shut up. A woman told me about her neighbor who adopted a baby and then got pregnant with twins. I wanted her to shut up. A woman I met had three kids in three years and belly-ached about the trauma of dealing with them. All the feel-good--or feel-bad--stories of well-meaning friends and acquaintances did not make me feel good. They made me feel ungrateful and wrong. And furious.

I did not want to hear happy stories.
I wanted to talk about my sadness.
I wanted someone to listen.
Not to give advice.
I did not want the burden of educating people about infertility and the statistics about exactly how many will conceive spontaneously versus how many will conceive after adopting (the same percentage, of course).

And now I find myself in a weird no-man's-land. I am infertile, yet I have four children. After dabbling in the world of doctors and medicines, I chose to birth at home. Now, we are in the bizarre position of wondering if a vasectomy is in our future.

I never had a miscarriage, nor a stillbirth. I never lost a baby or a child. I have friends who did--one lost a baby nine days before his due date to a freakish cord accident. Another lost her baby on the way to the hospital when her cord prolapsed. One lost a baby at 37 weeks due to an undiagnosed blood disorder.

I don't know that pain. True.
But I know the pain of infertility and I know the joy of adoption and I know the miracle of birth. All of it fills me with compassion and knowledge and speechlessness, for there's nothing you can say to an infertile woman without her wanting to slap you.

So be it. I was there once and I understand, despite now living in a shoe with so many children I don't know what to do. Sometimes pain is all you have to hold on to, it's all that buoys you along until you reach land and if someone pipes up with a story, you want to swat them away like a mosquito. That's okay. I understand.

Friday, August 13, 2004

Gnome, Sweet Gnome

This afternoon, my husband took the boys to see the worst movie ever made: Yu-Gi-Oh. I told him before he left that he'd probably want to kill himself during that movie, but he did not believe me. Until afterwards.

They left right before the babies' naptime and it occurred to me that I'd actually have two hours of solitude in my house for the first time in a long time. I put DaycareKid to bed. I put Babygirl to bed.

Then I did something I rarely do. I put my head on my pillow and closed my eyes and said, "Just a little rest."

Then, I heard Babygirl. "MOM!"

Not possible. "MOM!"

I rolled over, lifted one eyelid and saw that I'd been resting for twenty-five minutes. Babygirl, however, had not.

When she started to really scream out my name, I realized the sad truth: No nap for Babygirl today.

That explains what happened at 5:00 p.m.

DaycareKid left with his Grandfather. I was still embarrassed from this morning and did not look Grandfather in the eyes. I think we agree that we will never speak of me coming to the door in my threadbare bathrobe and wild hair.

Babygirl wanted to go in the front yard. She wanted to walk. So, we did.

We live on a circle and she headed right. It's a billion degrees here today and I was hot. And tired. I tried to hurry her along, but she is almost 2 years old and 2 year olds do not hurry. We spent a good ten minutes at the neighbor's house where she attempted to pick up their kitty. The kitty swished his tail at her, in the classic "attack-the-child" pose, and I finally shouted, "No! The kitty will BITE you!"

We moved on. At the critical intersection where the road leads out of the circle, I managed to distract her until we were again heading back towards home. Home-free, I thought!

Then, what should appear but the Gnome Yard.

The Gnome Yard is a ghastly yard with red rocks instead of a green lawn. There are flowers planted randomly, roses bushes in full bloom, and painted, ceramic gnomes. Everywhere.

Babygirl decided she wanted to hold a gnome. I said, "no," and she whined and I said, "Okay, you can't hold it, but you can touch it. Okay?" She said, "okay," and headed up the gravelly slope of the yard towards the nearest gnome.

She touched one and said, "three" and then another and said, "seven," and then another and another. I said, "Yes, good girl, you're counting the gnomes." I did my own count and figured there were about twenty gnomes total, maybe more. She'd touched a dozen of them and was crossing the sidewalk near the front porch to touch the final gnomes when J. drove her SUV to the house across the street.

J. is the most darling Army officer I've ever met. She is reserved and blond and soft-spoken and married to an Army Ranger officer and pregnant. They attend our church. Their baby--a boy they've named Luke--is due in mid-November. Her husband is scheduled to deploy between October 4th and 6th and he will miss the birth of his child. Instead, he'll be risking his life in Iraq.

So, I turned and spoke to J. for a few minutes and asked her how she's doing, if she could use a bassinet, what they plan to name the baby, if her mother's coming for the birth, etc. Then I glanced back at Babygirl and saw that she'd gathered three gnomes in her arms and was heading back towards me.

Oh, Gnome! I mean, oh, no! I rushed toward her, visions of crumbled gnomes in my head and said, "No, you can't hold the dolls!" She immediately began to wail and I placed the gnomes near the front door, fully aware that the occupants of the house were probably watching this small drama in their own front yard.

Babygirl was outraged. She began to scream and I smiled and said to J., "Well, I'm going to have to carry her home, kicking and screaming now."

Babygirl threw her first really impressive big fit. My husband was standing in the driveway as I approached, holding Babygirl sideways to keep her from leaping out of my arms to her death on the road below. She shrieked and screamed and thrashed about. He took her from my arms, which infuriated her even more, so he handed her back to me. I took her into the house while she screamed, "Outside! Walk! Outside! Walk!"

She would not be consoled and she would not stop screaming, so I calmly placed her in her crib and let her work her anger out for five minutes. Seriously, I did. This is my fourth child and I know what to do with tantrums. Ignore them at all costs. After five minutes, she was agreeable to sitting with me in the rocking chair and within another ten minutes, she was all sunshine and rainbows.

Tonight, my husband and I went to see "Collateral", the new Tom Cruise movie. I liked it, despite the death and killing. There were laugh-out-loud moments.

On the way home, we saw the flashing lights of a police car. No, two police cars! Wait, is that a rifle? I think that guy's holding a rifle, pointing it at the head of the--no, wait a second! That's no rifle! That's . . . that's . . . a microphone? And there's a television camera? The news? No! No way! That's COPS! (Bad boys, bad boys, what you gonna do? What you gonna do when they come for you?) Two police cars, one suspect's car, and we passed two more police cars heading towards the scene, looking for their fifteen minutes of fame. We considered going back just to stand in the background and wave ("Hi, Mom!") but instead, we laughed and kept driving.

Because, after all, there's gnome place like gnome. (Groan. Sorry, I couldn't help myself.)


My husband returned home yesterday afternoon. He'd flown to Houston for his 25th high school class reunion and during the week he was gone, he also visited with his Texan relatives. His entire family--four brothers, two sisters, three sets of parents (don't ask) all live around Houston or Corsicana. He ate at restaurants, drove a lot, talked a lot, and shopped a little with his mother.

That explains the gift he brought home for me. Normally, he doesn't bring me gifts and I don't expect them. As I've mentioned before, I'm a very Low-Maintenance Wife. He thrust a small bag into my hands, which contained a jewelry box. Inside the box sat a silver pair of thick hoop earrings, which are quite lovely. And on the card holding the earrings was the price tag: $50.00.

He knows me so well. He was in the next room as I was opening this gift and as I stared at the price tag, he said, "You should be proud of me. My mom wanted me to buy these earrings that cost $399.00. And I told her, 'Mom, you don't understand.'". When they walked in the store, he looked at earrings beginning at $19.99, but his mom tried to talk him into opening an account and spending a whole lot more.

Just so you know, I don't wear jewelry, other than the thin gold hoop earrings I bought in memory of my dad after someone gave me $100.00 when he died and told me to buy something in his memory.

So fifty dollars on a pair of earrings is a lot. This is the most expensive jewelry I own now, other than my wedding rings and my normal gold hoops.

I slept really great last night and only woke up once at 3:00 a.m. I wake up so often during the nights any more. I can't decide it that's because I am getting old or if it's because I have young children and I've lost the knack of sleeping all night.

My husband left the house at 6:30 a.m. and I heard nothing. I was submerged deeply in a dream when I heard "ding-dong." Time? 6:59 a.m.

I fumbled for my glasses, threw on my tattered lavender bathrobe and ran downstairs, hoping that it was my husband who'd somehow locked himself out of the house. No such luck.

I opened the door to find DaycareKid and his grandfather--a nice man, an ex-Navy seal, a strong, silent type--staring at me in horror. The look on Grandfather's face was one of shock and confusion. Raising one hand, I mumbled, "I know, I know. My husband left early and he didn't set the alarm and . . . I know." DaycareKid's mom told me specifically that Grandfather would definitely not be at my house before 7:15 a.m. and that it might even bit later than usual. So, I wasn't really planning to open the door in my sloppy bathroom and just-woke-up face.

I took DaycareKid out of his arms and waited for him to get DaycareKid's backpack.

That dumbfounded look on Grandfather's face will remain with me for some time. I look pretty scary in the mornings with my crazy hair and my glasses and my old-as-the-earth robe. Bet he won't be looking at his pastor's wife in quite the same way on Sunday mornings. Shoot!

YoungestBoy acted so weird this morning. Normally, he prefers hanging out all day in his pajamas. He plays in the backyard in pajamas and occasionally, if he's really lucky, he'll spend his whole day without putting on clothes. Yesterday, he was wearing long, zip-up, footed pajamas, the winter kind, and after I told him six times, he finally got dressed at about noon. In a yellow turtleneck and gray sweatpants.

Yes, it's still summertime here in Washington state. Yesterday, we had warm, sunny weather, probably 85 degrees.

So today, I was surprised to see him totally dressed (short-sleeved shirt, sweatpants) before 8:00 a.m. Puzzled, I said, "Are you dressed? Or did you sleep in that last night?"

He said, "I'm dressed."

I said, "Why?"

He said, "Because I want to be ready for the Yu-Gi-Oh movie when we go."

For at least a week, maybe two, he's been asking me the date. Turns out he's been privately counting down the days until this movie opens and he simply assumed that we would take him. So, he was ready. Because he planned to go to the movie. With or without us, I suppose.

Fortunately, his dad is back in town and when I told him about YoungestBoy's plans, he said he could leave work and take him to the movie and then go back to work. Because that's the kind of guy he is.

Superfluous earrings and mid-day movies. I'm a lucky girl.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Photographs From Sunday

Here are the kids at Mt. Rainier.  Posted by Hello

My mother dropped off my pictures tonight. She had to take a roll of film in for developing, so she took mine, too. As I looked through the pictures, I realized how brightly dressed everyone was last Sunday. The pictures were so colorful.

My mom said, "That was such a good idea you had to dress the kids in bright colors. You know, when I saw them Sunday, I thought, if a helicopter had to search for them on the mountain, they would be easy to spot."

I had to laugh, though, because not only did I not dress them to match (as I sometimes do when I know an event will be a real photo op), I didn't even notice what they wore, aside from sleeve length. Being in need of a helicopter rescue on the slopes of Mt. Rainier never occurred to me. I was more concerned about surviving the two hour drive with a two year old in the car.

Only ten more minutes until the kids are in bed. Not that I'm counting.

I'm Out . . .

I'm out of milk.
I'm out of space.
I'm out of Miss Meringue cookies (four for 2 Weight Watchers points).
I'm out of ideas to keep children occupied and quiet.
I'm out of time.
I'm out of Diet Coke with Lime.
I'm out of shampoo.
I'm out of patience.
I'm out of my mind.
I'm out of time.

But I have plenty of clutter! And noise! And grime! And children! And housework!

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

I Bet Grandma's Floors Never Looked Like Mine

I stood in my grimy-floored kitchen, washing dishes, feeding toddlers lunch, looking out the window, and thinking. I thought, How did my grandma (now 98 years old) manage? How did this mother of five boys and finally, a girl, wife to a traveling husband grow her own vegetables, can them, sew everyone's clothing, wash all the laundry, cook, clean, kneel by her bed in prayer, morning and night, and attend church every time the doors were opened . . . how?

I thought of my friend who homeschools her six children and teaches the girls know how to embroider and sew and knit and creates scrapbooks for her families and cans her own home-grown peaches and directs a choir and I thought, How?

Then I thought: Moms like that run a tight ship.

Their children have chores and rules and actually know how to scrub a toilet. Their children go to bed on time and read classic novels and put their laundry in hampers. Their children do not "back-sass," as my children would say. Their children eat homegrown vegetables and don't screw up their noses and make vomiting sounds when they find out they are having a well-balanced meal for dinner.

Then there is me. If those moms run a tight ship, then I'm the kind of mom who runs a . . . well, a wobbly dock. At best.

We don't sail the harbor, let alone the seven seas. My kids kind of perch on the shaky, splintery dock and watch the other ships sail. My kids sit on the edge of the rickety dock and try to touch the salty sea with their toes. My kids accidentally drop stuff into the water and pretend like they're going to shove each other into the waves below and complain "he won't stop touching me" and "the sun is shining into my eyes."

I don't run a tight ship.

I think it's probably in my nature to run a tight ship, though. I was a perfectionist in high school. If I did not make the highest A in the class on a test, I said the following spiral of things to myself: "I can't believe I missed an answer. I'm so dumb. I knew that answer. Why did I make that mistake? I know I will probably get a B in this class or I'll probably just fail because I'm so incredibly stupid and I'm fat anyway and my hair will not stop frizzing, no wonder no one likes me--well, sure they like me, but that's only because they have to like me and just wait. Just wait. I will probably fail this class and end up with such a low grade point average that I will not get a scholarship and I won't get into the college of my choice and I'll definitely never get married or have a meaningful career or kids and I may as well just go live under a bridge alone, of course. I'm so stupid. I may as well kill myself right now."

As you can see, my "self-talk" was fairly dismal. When I realized what I was doing to myself, I stopped. Not immediately, not without pain, but I stopped. I stopped being illogical and crazy and jumping to insane conclusions. And I stopped expecting myself to be Perfect because I realized that no one is Perfect (for awhile there, I thought Martha Stewart was, but hello? She's divorced--hardly a perfect story-book ending to a life--and she's going to prison.)

I call myself a Reformed Perfectionist, and I give myself permission to just let some things slide. Thus, my grimy kitchen floor. And the toilets which could use scrubbing and the kids who have not yet started piano lessons. I'm just not going to spend my life, my home-making years, pressuring myself to be Suzy Homemaker with a hollow head who smiles vacantly and never complains and hasn't read a novel in ten years since she left college. I'd rather my mind function with robust health than for my couch cushions to be spotless.

As for the kids, their childhoods are short. I know some moms feel like they need to rush, hurry, cram as much information into their kids as is possible before releasing them into the blue sky like a helium balloon. I'd rather just let them hang out and eat popcorn in the middle of the day and then swim under the clear blue sky with its sliver of moon and lowering sun. It's summertime still, for just a few short moments on this wobbly dock, and I say, "Who wants a popsicle?"
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