Sunday, November 17, 2013

keep this moment

Wegmans on a Sunday, midday, is a crazy place. Craaazy. I didn't know so many people even lived here, much less shopped all at once. I tell you this this because the kids and I found ourselves there last Sunday at 2pm. Although both kids wanted to hang off the sides of the cart like trash men, I said someone had to ride in the cart because the store was just too damn crowded. They decided they both wanted to, one sitting between the other's legs, stacked back to front like a train. I pointed out that if they were both in the cart the food wasn't going to fit. "Sure it will," said Clark. "We can sit on it."

They had a blast. Seeing as my cart was 95lbs heaver than it should be, I focused on not plowing over people's ankles, so I wasn't paying much attention to the letter of their play, but jeez they were having some fun. Laughing and laughing and rocking the cart, funny faces and funny scenarios and funny rhymes. Everyones' heads turned when we passed. In every aisle. Frances happens to have the best laugh on the planet, magic chimes in her belly (seriously - someone needs to record it for advertisements) and they drew mega attention.

One woman covered her mouth to try to keep from laughing at them. As we squeezed between her and the coffee grinder she said, "I'm sorry. It's probably not helpful. I can't help it." Another person asked, "are they always this happy?" "Absolutely," I said.

At home afterwards, I marveled at how pleasant it all was. Me, two kids, Wegmans midday on a Sunday. How did we get here? It feels like a room we accidentally wandered into.

The next day my friend Emily came over with her two kids. Apparently she had spent some time wandering the extremely crowded aisles of Wegmans herself, and she described her experience in colorful detail. She did not have the miraculous and unanticipated success that I had (no one even hassled me for the free cookie! They were having too much fun to even remember!!).

Emily's description of her 23-month-old's flinging himself to the floor in the checkout line and taking the two bottom rows of candy bars with him was hilarious, and it also made me realize something: I don't remember! I don't remember. I don't remember exactly how trying it is to grocery shop with a toddler. I remember the comedy, and the anxiety about what was to come as I pulled into the parking lot, but not the dark desperation, the embarrassment, the feeling of failure.

Clark is only five and a half. I know moms forget, that somehow the human brain filters out the horrific numbing exhaustion and defeat (and the labor contractions), and keeps safe the memory of pure love and adorableness. But that quickly? It was only 3 years ago that I wrote this blog post. It hasn't been long. Although he's bigger, he still has to watch counter corners for fear of whacking his head. He's little. He still wants to be carried and sleeps with his blankie and cries if the legos won't snap together easily.

It's bizarre that our mama minds do that with so much sweep and reach. This ability is, of course, what keeps the human race from becoming extinct, but it is also why women put such pressure on each other inadvertently: they only remember the joy joy joy and can only assume you are feeling it too. Which you are. Just not at this moment in the check out line yes they are adorable thank you for saying so i'm trying to enjoy every minute yes I know it goes by so quickly no pressure there. Which makes you feel like you must be doing it all wrong for it to be so painful that you want to burst into hot tears this minute.

But you're not. Doing it wrong. And I'm not either, cuz hey look at the cool battery robots we made yesterday with a box of batteries and a glue gun! Plus, yay us we made it through Wegmans without anybody shouting or crying or even whining! I think I'll pat myself on the back for that. Pat pat.

clutter makes me craaaazzzzyyy

I wrote this post last month and I don't know what happened or why it wasn't posted, but here it is. It's mostly one long gripe, and if you're not up for that at the moment I suggest you skip it. But since my mom prints these blog posts and I collect them in a giant binder as a sort of record of the childhood of my children, I'm going to post it. Cheers!


Last month, the night before Frances's 7th birthday, I sat down on the family room floor at 11pm with wrapping paper and the biggest stack of gifts I've seen since last christmas. Seriously - it looked like christmas. Gifts from us, from my dad, from Mitch's parents. Multiple from each. I had a moment of pure panic that the affluence in which we are raising our children, are raising this entire generation, is going to have dire consequences down the road. I think I have this same panic every birthday and christmas as I arm myself with scissors and tape and colorful paper. It makes me want to 1) give the kid only half of what I have in front of me, saving the other half for the next holiday, and 2) throw out or goodwill or recycle 80% of the toys we already own. I seriously need some new storage options.

Let me tell you: it was a bumpy start to the school year. Everyone came down with a hideous flu about 10 minutes after school started (here I am complaining though I promised I wouldn't in a previous post. So sorry.), and Frances missed 5 of the first 8 days of school. For me, of course, the flu hung on and hung on way past when the kids were well and doing laps around the first floor, and since all I could muster was the minimal in the way of meals and not much else but lying on the couch, my house went to shit. Major clutter like a tide rising that I can't dam. It just builds and builds, piles of paper creeping creeping growing across counters, heaps of used but still clean sweatshirts and fleeces and blankets and I don't know what all on chairs and sofas, baskets of clean laundry to fold, toys toys toys.

Clutter makes me anxious.

I used to have this magical and inexplicable relationship with a sitter wherein she whisked the kids away one afternoon a week, fed them dinner elsewhere, bathed them and put them in jammies, then texted me to tell me she was on her way so I could vacate the premises for their arrival. While they were gone I straightened the house. All of it. Then I breathed an enormous sigh of relief. I received her text, walked the dog, and didn't have to participate in bedtime. After she and the kids were upstairs and in bed I would sneak back in the house and down into the basement where I would finish the laundry. It was heaven.

But she went and got engaged, and now is busy planning a wedding (in which my kids are the flower girl and ring master, as Clark likes to call it). She doesn't have time for a sandwich much less kid occupying. And I don't have the quiet of an empty house to straighten. Turns out a solid straighten every 7 days is really what it takes to keep us from sinking under papers, random plastic things, loose change. I gotta figure something out. I apparently can't get the house organized when the kids are here, leaving debris behind them like a cyclone.

A couple of years ago someone handed me a book called The Highly Sensitive Person. It's a bad name for what the author is trying to get across, which is not emotional sensitivity (getting feelings easily hurt) but sensory sensitivity - to noise, crowds, commotion, chaos. I'd never before thought of myself as a sensitive person in this way, but turns out I am. It helped me to see myself differently and to respect my limitations a bit more.

All of this is to say that the clutter in my house is making me NUTSO. (This post is really just one big whine) I have got to get a handle on it. Next year the kids will both be in school full day and then I will have no excuses. I can't wait.

Friday, October 4, 2013

supermom yearning is the pits

I'm exhausted. All from stressing myself out.

Today is Frances's 7th birthday, and I didn't start seriously planning her party or considering gifts until about 4 days ago. Thank you thank you Amazon Prime and your 2 day shipping, else I would be seriously up a creek.

Plus, pinterest. I opened my pinterest app yesterday, knowing full well the danger and believing I could guard against the pressure to be Lunatic Perfect Mama, but still wanting - needing - to get some help and ideas for the party that is going to take place mere days from now. Which I got: thank you beaded fairy bubble wands and mushrooms made from apple slices and marshmallows. But I also - of course - got the other too. The pressure to make a cake like this one, to set up a party that looks like this one (or this one, or this one), to go above and way beyond and create something magical that my child will remember forever. Which of course she won't. Which is why I am having a Perfectly Acceptable party that includes popcorn and grapes for snack, sidewalk chalk on the driveway, and decorate your own cupcakes rather than the masterpiece I usually attempt.

I have to keep reminding myself: Good Enough Mama is actually healthier for the kids, sanely deciding to forego the cake in favor of less stress, being able to enjoy books on the couch instead of rushing stressing short tempered all to win the non-existant pinterest award. Still, I cannot get the voice out of my head that says I'm a bad mama if I can't do this again (the link is the cake I made for her 5th birthday fairy party), when in fact all the kids want to do is play together. That cake does not make me a good mama, although it was fun and I'm very proud of it.

I was going to do away with a cake not only for the party, but even for tonight, the actual birthday night, and was going to take the kids to Wegmans to pick out the these super fancy cupcakes they always beg for. (You gotta see these things. Seriously gross major white flour white sugar all sugar rush and crash. If I ate one of those things I might die. But also amazing for a grocery store. That place may be the #1 reason to live in Rochester. Not kidding.)

Then after school Frances mentioned her cake for tonight, and there I was, 4 pm, turning on the oven and tying my apron. I opened a 1945 Better Homes and Gardens and made a chocolate fudge cake recipe I've never tried before. I used 1/2 whole wheat flour and 1/2 Bob's Red Mill gluten free mix. As we sat down to dinner (take out chinese, at Frances's request) I put the two layers in the fridge to cool enough to frost, which I did with plain whipping cream because I didn't have time to make actual frosting. It was delicious.

And because of the cake, because I was able to whip it up at the last minute, from scratch, a double layer frosted in pale yellow with pink sprinkles, for that evening I felt like Supermom. I keep thinking about a post on another mom blog that admits her strengths (pintrest worthy parties in fact) and acknowledges the things she doesn't do so well, not in a self-depreciating way, but in a so what way. (this is an excellent post, btw. Read it.) Cuz we all excel at something, we are all succeeding somewhere in our parenting. And none of us are doing it all. This is the trap pinterest brings us: the illusion that moms should be doing it all, and doing it with perfectly organized houses and great outfits. It's not true.

But it is true that we all do something beautifully, whether because we prioritize or because we're born with it, or because we outsource. (I make cakes!)

Even with that major cake success, the anxiety about the party 3 days from now has decended. I don't have time for perfect party planning. I don't have time. Last year I when I thought of decorate your own cupcakes (her birthday falls in a really inconvenient time for party planning it turns out) I thought of myself as brillant. This year I just feel like a slacker. Which I'm not - I just seriously don't have time, it is clear I don't have time, just acknowledge your limitations forcryingthefuckoutloud.

Sheesh. I've gotta give myself a break. Sometimes the guilty parenting voices are so loud. And not only do they lie to you and take up space in your brain, but they suck your energy and keep you from being the best mom you can be. The good enough mom. That one.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

new world, big kids

So I guess I need to address the very obvious fact that I've been away awhile. Looked like I jumped ship, didn't it? Not entirely true, because I've been writing half posts and never completing them, thinking about writing posts that I don't even begin. And then there's that other blog still percolating. I'm inclined to believe that intention should count for something, somewhere.

And then in that last post I didn't even acknowledge the oh-so-long break in posts. That's because I got moving with the writing and didn't want to stop for explanations.

Let's just pretend that you're already caught up, shall we? I hate coming back after a break because I feel I have to address the absence in a post that isn't really a post but some space filler of explanation that essentially always means the same thing: blah blah blah. Life takes a winding course and except for tragedy it's all mostly the same. I'll let you know if there are any tragedies.

I've moved into a new parenting time slot, did you know? Since I last hung out with you there have been major developmental changes. I heard this truth most loudly at an event for folks with babies and very young children recently. I happened to be there without kids so my attention was not diverted by my perpetual role as referee (oh the bickering drives me craaaazzzyyy). I looked around at the strollers and diaper bags and parents chasing escapee toddlers, and I thought "I don't live in this world anymore." It was a funny realization, especially since it should have been obvious. Those days were so tiring, a hundred hours each, and ran on one after the other without pause. Although intellectually I knew it wouldn't last forever, I never believed it. Suddenly I felt naked without my stroller: a kind of shield, a buttress, and let's face it - so helpful with the schlepping of stuff.

Things changed and I didn't even notice when it happened. I've moved from babiesandpreschoolers to schoolagedkids. The most obvious illustration of this new world is school, but the most important difference is developmental. It has to do with a mental progression, an ability to understand explanations, to not completely lose one's shit when asked to clean up the legos, to control reactions when frustrated hungry tired overwrought. Mostly.

The immediate down side is that the first of school also (evidently) means a soup of germs, which felled us straight away. Looking back on this blog, I want to acknowledge that I have spent a good amount of time enumerating our illnesses, which are many. I've spent a lot of time complaining about being ill, about fevers and stomach flus and many tv filled sick days in preschool. More weight in illness than a blog should carry. So none of that now except to say that because I've done nothing but lie on the couch or take care of sick kids for over 2 weeks now, my house is a DISASTER. Which makes me Crazy Lady. Just so you know the temperature of our spaceship.

So. Kindergarten and First Grade. A brave new world. I no longer have a child in the Waldorf school, which is sad, but it's also kind of exciting for the next thing, for us to be here.

And where is here? It is with a girl turning seven this minute, a girl who is sometimes overcome with so much love that she just has to say it, "I love you so much, Mama."It is here with a boy who is right on the very tip edge of losing the last of his babyness, and he's scared to see it go, scared not to be a baby and feel coddled, scared to have to learn and accomplish things.

It is here. Here where we all put on our shoes and our jackets at 8 am, leash the dog and trek to school 3 blocks away, watching for the trolls under the bridge. Here where Clark often pulls away from my kisses, where Frances is apart from me all day in a climate I know very very little about. It's odd to have her gone away from me so much, to feel so out of touch with her social life. I have to just trust that she will make good decisions, that she will choose the way that is warmed by the light. I know that often when I ask about their days they will not tell me, and I have to be open and present, so that when they do want to talk I am listening. I don't want to miss it.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

the whale bus

I put both my kids on buses today. Separate buses, though they are going to the same school, because one kid is full day (her first full day experience!) and leaves at 8 am (FIRST GRADE!!) and the other has half day kindergarten (KINDERGARTEN!) in the afternoon so doesn't get on the bus til lunch.

While Clark and I waited in the front yard for his kindergarten bus, I took a good look at him. Sometimes when the light is right I can see the toddler I hold in my mind, the toddler that was him before he became. Sometimes, like today, I then look even harder and try to see the man he will become, or even the adolescent, but I can't, because that person doesn't exist yet. When I see pictures of his dimpled toddler self, I recognize the person he is now in that seed, but it's impossible to see it going forward. Right now he is only five. He is Potential for a full sized human, but he is not Blueprint. His five year old self does not guarantee any kind of future. Anything can happen between now and then that will shape who he will become, things that I do and decisions that I make as a parent, and things wholly out of my control, curves the world will throw at him that none of us will see coming.

Parenting, it often seems to me, is a large portion helping and carrying and cooking and arguing and explaining and cajoling (which is different from what it used to be, which was more physical labor - holding, carrying, lifting, rocking, wiping, schlepping.), but the most important part is the releasing. Which is what I watched myself do today. As they each climbed those huge steps onto the bus, one at 8am and the other at noon, I felt they were being swallowed by a whale who was then going to turn in the water and swim away. Right? That's pretty much it. I had to just stand and watch, wave goodbye.

My husband asked me recently what I do when I get in really cold water. You can seize up, clinch your fists, tense all your muscles to try to block the cold from getting into the deeper parts, or you can relax into it. Force your muscles to go soft, your breath to release. It's not hard to do - the releasing - but it's hard to want to do.

I told Clark this morning that it was amazing that this big boy in front of me (KINDERGARTEN!!) is the same little tiny baby I held 5 years ago. I told him that five years doesn't seem like a long time to grown ups although it seems like forever to him. (for good reason: it is forever to him. It's all he's experienced of ever.) The only constant is change, right?

And now I get to leave this blog post to walk to pick them up. We are fortunate to live in the same neighborhood as the elementary school, and I love walking to get them in the afternoon. Last year Clark walked with me to pick up Frances, and now I am going to get them both. I'm excited for them to start this new adventure, to hear how the world comes to them, what they've learned about life since being carried away from me this morning. It's a big ocean. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

adjustment is hard

It is an understatement to say I have a hard time with change. Adjustment to just about anything is slow and painful. (Well, not anything. I do love to move the furniture around.) Especially when the changes come in multiples - not good.

This past weekend the new Swiss student arrived. Roxane is her name and she is very nice and pleasant to be around. This arrangement is ostensibly to lighten my load and provide me with company, but it is also change adjustment someone new in my house and in my family. AND the very same day she arrived... the snow melted. All at once. All of it.

For just about everyone I know here in Western NY, snowmelt is to be celebrated. It means spring is (sometime in the future, after we muck through the season of mud) on its way. We didn't have a ton of snow this year, and much more cold rain than I would have liked, but the snow was enough that the rain didn't wash it away; it just packed it down and turned it into a kind of snow cement, a white covering over all the ground.

Snow literally changes the structure of our yard. There are shoveled paths where there use to be open space. Garden beds are covered over and cease to exist. Small mountains spring up on either side of the bottom of the driveway, mountains that are good for sledding down and hiding behind and bouldering over. Snow forts and snow walls are built, then shrink and shift and are rebuilt.

Then the snow melts.

The snow melts and the old yard is revealed. Hello garden. Hello dog poop. (seriously a lot of dog poop hidden under the snow.)

There's not really a way for it to happen gradually. One day the snow is there, and the next it is gone. The piles at the end of the driveways stay for an extra day or two (and the gigantic mountains in the backs of the parking lots could possibly stay til July), but all the expanse of white, the crunch and spread of it, all that has been visually stable for the past several months - it all just vanishes.

It's too jarring for me. I was not ready to be done with the snow. I am never ready, turns out. Nonetheless, the snow is gone, and a new person is here, and adjustment is hard. I spent the last few days in a dramatic kind of space, weeping and lamenting the change, though I have faith it will be great for everyone eventually. It will come, the settling. And then you know what will happen?? She will leave, and it will be change adjustment someone gone from my house and family, and I will fall apart for a spell. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

conflict headaches harmony

I've been having near constant headaches for the past month (reason #1 for no recent blog posts) but they have let up a bit the last few days. Finally. Also, in the last few days my sanity has been less scarce. Interesting. Of course, it's much easier to be a sane parent when not in pain. No question there. But it seems to be more than just that.

I think it's the fighting. 

The kids, of late, have been fighting. A lot. Mostly, Frances wants desperately to love Clark, wants to kiss him and hug him and help him, and when she does any of these things he grumps and physically pushes her away. She gets mad and calls him a name, and he hits her. It goes on like this over and over, and whatever we do just doesn't seem to work. I've dived back into my shelf of child rearing books for some help, and Mitch and I have been talking about different strategies. Interestingly, the thing that (momentarily) turned things around was random. 

Frances fell down the stairs last week. Somersault kind of falling from the top, wooden stairs, terrible wails. She believed her leg was broken (which it isn't), and I'm sure it was terribly painful. The next day she had whiplash. I was in the garage getting something out of the car when it happened so I didn't hear the horrible sound of a body bumping down the stairs, but I could hear the wailing even before I got fully back inside. Clark was at the door with big eyes and said, "Mommy, Frances broke her leg!"

While Frances sat on my lap, then her dad's lap, then mine again (sometimes it would be best if a person could sit on two laps at once, that much comfort is needed), Clark stood around looking singularly uncomfortable. I asked him if he could bring a tissue for the tears and he quickly complied. He doesn't usually comply. In fact, he's incredibly difficult when asked to do just about anything. I'm hoping it's just a stage. 

The next day, when he was still being kind and helpful to her, it occurred to me that this may be the first time in the last, oh, two years or so, that he's seen Frances distraught when he was not the cause. He's always the cause.

A couple of days after the fall I mentioned to Frances how well they'd been getting along and I asked her what seemed different to her, why she thought it was. She said it was because when Clark says, "No I don't want to play that," she is no longer saying, "Fine. Then I won't play with you."

"What do you say instead?" I asked.

"I ask him: what else do you want to play?" she said.
Well. That would make a difference.

"Why did you decide to stop responding that you won't play with him?" I asked.

"Because it's more fun to play with him than alone," she said.

She is six and is amazing to me. I didn't teach her that. I think I was an adult before I learned it was more fun when I didn't hang onto much of my irritation. Some people never learn it.

In any case, in the past 5 or 6 days we have gone WHOLE DAYS with no bickering. Really. I mean, Holy Moly. It's like living in a different country. Oh that I knew which path we took to get here, and that we could find it again in the future! Because I know well this too will not last.

Change is the only constant, change is the only constant. I repeat it like a mantra. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

here is apple klepto

Frances came home from school one day last week and went directly to her crafts table where she immediately put together a book. 

Here is Apple happy
Here is Apple sad
Here is Apple sleepy
Here is Apple mad
Here is Apple cut in pieces small 
But baked in a pie is best of all. 

It was a book they'd used at school and she'd memorized it, come home and put it together with her own drawings. (Apple mad's face was particularly charming.) It wasn't until the next day when she read it to me again that I noticed the apples themselves; rather than draw them she had taped on apples cut from construction paper. And as I looked at it I realized they were die cut, that she did not cut them, and I wondered where she might have gotten them. 

When I asked, she sucked in her breath and ducked her head into my side.

I asked again.

"What will you DO to me?" she whined.

I promised her I would not be mad.

Turns out she took them from her kindergarten room, had snuck them in her underwear so no one would see. Ha!

"There were so many of them," she said. 

These are the kinds of parenting issues that make folks say it's harder as they get older, not easier. It's all in how you look at it, really. For sure it's not as exhausting now. For instance, I actually sleep. Plus I walk around with two free hands that I can use for things like dishes, or ordering shoes online, or taking a freaking shower rather than carrying babies. But these new issues matter, and that's what makes them so hard. Because the way we deal with them, or don't deal with them, matters. They determine who our kids will become, and how we see ourselves as parents.

I thought of letting it slide. I mean, it was five measly construction paper apples. BUT! It's the principal of the thing, right? So I called my aunt, who has been teaching kindergarten for 35 years, and asked her what to do. In the end I emailed Frances' teacher and asked if we could meet sometime soon. I told her Frances took something from the classroom. Her email in response said, "You can tell her that I am so glad she is going to talk to me about it, and I will not be mad at her." How great is she? 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

treading, and fighting siblings

Hallooooo! Been a while since I've been here. I've missed you! Missed being here. Much afloat and little time to process in writing. Plus, I've been thinking I will switch over to the new blog about which I keep talking. It will come, it will come. For now we are here. Together.

I am so far behind with - um - everything. Emails I meant to answer ages ago, christmas decorations still to pack away, laundry that has filled up the shute literally from the basement past first floor so we have to go to the second floor to put anything into it. The rental office of the beach house we're renting this summer called about the money I hadn't sent. "We sent you a contract," they said. "It's probably here in this stack of mail I haven't opened," I said. "But we sent it in December...!" they said. "Yes, probably here in this stack," I repeated. They sounded incredulous. I have this tape running through my head, a kind of ticker tape with all the things I need to do. It's very annoying. Things have been a little nutty and I can't seem to get from in front of the plow and back around behind it where I can steer. I'm just moving moving, as fast a clip as I can manage.

This is what parenting is for many people, isn't it?

I'm trying not to think about how behind I am. I'm choosing to look at it as the stuff of the sitcom and just keep rolling.

Today Clark made it clear to me that he needed some normal time at home. What I badly needed was 40 minutes on a treadmill at the gym but I decided to forgo that so Clark could have some time to settle. I thought about the fact that the gym is one of the things I do for me, and that I was giving up something good for me in exchange for something good for him. But this is my job. Not the giving things up, but making sure that he is settled in himself, teaching him how to do it and giving him as much practice as possible so he knows the feeling he's trying to create. Sometimes my job does indeed mean I need to sacrifice things. The trick is finding the balance. As moms we're only doing our kids a disservice if we give it all up. And figuring out when one should hold fast to filling our own needs is a complex art.

I keep singing Bob Dylan's Buckets of Rain: "Life is sad, life is a bust. All you can do is do what you must. Do what you must do, and you do it well."

Frances needs a lot of physical affection. She gets it from us, of course, but she also wants it from her friends, and most importantly from her brother. She loves her brother. Loves him. Thinks he's charming and funny and fun to be around. He loves her too, but she has this habit of pulling the superiority card, to trying to help him with things he cannot yet do by himself. And this drives him crazy. Their 17 months of age difference is so little that often they are on par with each other, more or less. They started activities like karate and swimming at the same time and so are equally experienced. Frances doesn't mean to put him down when she does it, she just so desperately wants to be helpful (and perhaps a bit in control...), wants to show her love this way. And wants for him to be grateful. He's not. He's resentful.

Which means he does not want her to hug him. And since he's 4, he's still unable to clearly say what it is he indeed wants. Instead he pushes or grumps or hollers at her. And these actions, believe it or not, tend to destroy her feelings of affection and good will, at least for the moment.

I don't have any brothers or sisters. I didn't learn how to fight with someone I'm close to. (In fact, this is a skill I've found it necessary to learn as an adult, what with the marriage and all.) So I don't know what healthy conflict looks like between a 6 year old and an almost 5 year old. Do I ignore it? Redirect? Talk to them? Explain? Separate? Drink heavily? Tell them stories about little fox siblings who have a hard time getting along? Waldorf believes this last one is the way to go, but I have to say, it's really hard for me to get up the inner energy for story creation. Maybe I'll work on that. In the meantime, I keep tissues in my ears and hope for the best.