Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Me Again

Hi friends.  This time, I've got my hair up in a towel.  Baby is taking an exceptionally long morning nap, and I really ought to seize this opportunity to do my hair, brush on some make-up and clean up the breakfast dishes before lunchtime - all things that happen too seldom.

But I happened to have my computer on my lap and my kids are distracted doing something other than climbing on mom - but not making trouble quite yet.  The window there is about three to five minutes.  So while my hair is drying itself into a frizzy mop, I'm here instead.  Because I'm beginning to think that writing is something that has to be stolen, and that makes me feel more like a thief - the cool, ninja kind, not the kind in a ski mask who holds up a convenience store - than a mom in a messy house with a lopsided towel turban.

Then again, when I've gotten the kids to bed tonight and wonder what I should do with that hour of freedom, the thought will cross my mind, I should write something.  That thought will be promptly trampled by a stampede of easier, less worthwhile activities, which I will not disclose here...though really bad netflix movies or sappy kindle freebies might be involved....

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Wasting Time

It's a chilly morning, mid-February.  I'm on my couch in my silky pajama pants and a fraying hoodie while my kids, dressed about the same, but with shoes, are running around in the yard.  Snow was enough to keep them inside for a few weeks, but frozen mud?  They're undaunted.  If you can see the dirt, you can eat it.  That satisfies their requirements for a play-outside day.

I'm kidding!  Only one of them eats dirt.......and gets caught.

The baby just went down for her morning nap, which usually isn't a long one.  That means that I am now in my window of opportunity.  If I hurry, I can work out now.  If I really hurry, I can even shower before 2:00 this afternoon.  So, obviously, I'm here, instead, typing up a semi-coherent, irregular blog post.


I should mention that, athletic ineptitude aside, I really do like to work out, when I can manage it.  The question marks make more sense if you know that.  And me sitting on the couch, typing this makes less.  But here I am.

Over the days of stay-at-home-parenting, I'm learning a lot about myself.  One of those things is that I'm either rather lazy, or not very good at managing time.  I prefer to believe the latter.  Something I miss from my former life - the one without children - is having clear tasks and expectations before me, and having someone to make sure that I do them, and to evaluate how I did.

Yes!  I miss having a boss!

Because with external criteria and external critics to define them, and to define me, I could take the very objective list of things I had done on a given day, and easily decide: I did well today.  I am efficient, productive, competent -- other days, not so much.  A big 'A' on my paper or a 'C+' on my exam allowed me to bypass the need for all this introspective evaluation.  This is how I did.  This is what kind of a student/employee/person I am.  See?  It says so right there in red sharpie.

Child-rearing is a different creature.  I have three small people to nurture, a house to maintain, and any number of tasks, defined and otherwise to accomplish with various, rarely established due dates - if any at all.  I'm learning some tricks to it, of course.  Some things can be sorted into check-lists and charts.  Some things can be scheduled and regulated, if I will take the time to mastermind that scheduling, regulating, sorting, listing and charting.

Time is something that I want desperately to catch and tame.  If I could just grapple that wily whatever-it-is to the ground, get onto its back and establish a good, white-knuckle grip, then maybe things would be different.  Maybe then I could dance to the zany music that has become my life, rather than always stumbling a step behind it.

I've begun to ask myself, when I have a free evening, 'what do you want?  All you need to do is decide what will make you happy.  You have the ability, the resources, even, yes, the time to make it happen, if only you will.  So what do you want?'  And my answer if always the same - I don't know.


I should add a disclaimer here: this post is acting like kind of a downer.  I know that I come off as pessimistic more often than I actually am, and usually, I try to end with some redeeming perspective in my posts to counter that.  Today I'm not going to.  I'm just going to say that in the biggest, most important things, I am happy.  I know that.  Not for an instant do I regret the life I have chosen.  My little people are delightful and so much more, and you should see the things they're teaching me!  I have everything I need and everything I want, really.  The only thing I lack is me.  I want vibrancy, color in my life, and I know it's there.  It's all around me.  The only deficiency is my will, my ability to look up or reach out at just the right moment - there's that time thing again - to seize it.

Carpe diem - how cliche am I?  But many, even most cliches have their foundations rooted in more truth than we comprehend.  That's how they got to be so annoyingly well known.   That's how it is according to Caitlin, anyway.

Ahem.  My point is that I'm not sad right now.  I'm not wallowing in all the things and experiences I don't have.  I'm just sitting thoughtfully, even bemusedly on my couch, observing my life for a few moments, and gauging whether or not I still have time for that workout.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Dear America,

I'm usually pretty silent on social media, especially when it comes to political issues.  Emotions run high and the feeling of confrontation leaves me wound up and jittery.  But in light of the election and subsequent events, I feel compelled to come out of my shell just enough to share a few thoughts.

A lot of people are upset, angry, afraid, or disappointed.  Others are elated.  And then there are many who just feel uncertain.  What I want to say is this: that we all either voted for the candidate we thought best suited for the job, or, maybe more likely, voted against the candidate we thought least suited for it.  There's a heavy us-and-them mentality when it comes to politics.  The good guys vs. bad guys; or the informed vs. the willfully ignorant; or the truly needy vs. the entitled.  I'm not saying that everyone thinks this way or that those who do do it consciously, but that's the sentiment I pick up on most of the time and especially in recent days.

The comforting truth is that that's not the way it is.  I don't think it's naive to say that almost everyone in this country wants the same things: we want to live happy, productive lives, and we want that for each other too.  Red or blue, left or right, we all face a lot of the same issues and we all want to find harmony for ourselves and our neighbors.  The major difference is that we have very different opinions about how to go about getting everything to work.

I'm echoing the plea that Secretary Clinton, Mr. Trump, and President Obama have all made so eloquently this week, and I'm pleading with myself most of all.  I can spew cynicism with the best of 'em, but let's try for unity now.  I keep coming back to a scene from The Help, the film based on Kathryn Stockett's novel.  Abilene, a black maid, confronts Hilly Holbrook, a leader in much of the racism on which the story is based.  For a moment, Abilene's fury gives her courage, but then anger drains from her eyes as though she suddenly sees something more than an adversary.  "Aint you tired, Miss Hilly?" She asks, "Aint you tired?"

Are we tired yet, friends?  I am.  I'm weary of the leaden-browed contention that so many of us carry.  I'm tired of feeling intimidated and vilified for disagreeing with someone.  And I'm through with believing ill of half of my country because they see things differently than I do.  If you feel that way too, in any degree, let's rest.

I'm not suggesting that we roll over and just let things happen.  By all means, keep fighting for what you believe to be right, but while you do, let's offer one another the benefit of the doubt.  Let us assume that, as incomprehensible as it may seem, each of us is doing the best we can do with the choices we have.  Let's choose to believe, until proven otherwise, that beneath our anger or frustration, unkind words or stony silence, we're all stumbling toward the same glorious goal.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Ten Minutes Ago

Last Spring, a local high school put on Rodger & Hammerstein's Cinderella.  I couldn't resist taking Addie.  My three-year-old was delighted and wanted nothing more than to meet the elegantly dressed high school actresses who played Cinderella and her fairy godmother.  After that, the soundtrack was introduced into our daily repertoire.  My husband is always singing something and the girls are always putting in requests, or demands, as the case may be.  We found that toddler-approved music goes a long way to keep the peace, especially in the car.

So it happened that, as we were starting off on a road trip, a few weeks after the play, Ben and I were belting out lyrics at the top of our lungs:

"...In the arms of my love, I'm flying, 
"over mountain and meadow and glen, 
"and I like it so well, that for all I can tell, 
"I may never come down again!  
"I may never come down to earth again!"

But every time we reached those last two lines, we were interrupted by an adamant little voice, who insisted, "No, 'I may yes come down again!'"  There was no other way to pacify her and to restore harmony to the atmosphere within the car than to alter the lyrics to her liking.

I suddenly felt that Ben and I were riding a red balloon, buoyant with helium.  The hiss of the gas that had filled it - those dumb jokes that had first drawn us to one another, the pitter-pattering excitement of courtship, the silliness of those newly married, figuring-things-out days - was all fairly fresh.  We were still riding, somewhat, on the rush of new love.  And looking down from this imaginary reverie, I saw this determined little person, clinging for all she was worth to the balloon's ribbed ribbon.

She wasn't thinking about her mom and dad floating away, of course.  I'm pretty sure that her main concern was the idea of Cinderella and her prince floating permanently out of reach.  Then the show would be over and who would wear the tiara?  But to me, she was holding, white-knuckled, to that balloon's string, giving it a little yank, even.  She was making sure that her parents would not float beyond her reach, that, to the fullest of her abilities, she would be mirrored on every facet of our lives.

Being a mom, for me, has been all about re-realizing things.  Each time an idea re-enters my head through a new door or an open window, it stains the walls with greater tenacity, settles deeper into the cracks between the floorboards, or leaves a more lingering scent than it did before.  That morning in the car, revising the lyrics of "Ten Minutes Ago" to fit my three-year-old's criteria, was one of those moments for me.  Not for the first time, but more deeply than ever before, I realized that much of what was between Ben and me, and where we would take those things, was not only ours - not anymore.

We would - and will - continue to renew the helium that lifts us, little sips at a time, through stolen moments together; a thoughtful note here and a little act of kindness there; endless discussions about the things that make us tick; quiet dinner dates, though not without the occasional glance at our phones to check the time or for any news from the babysitter.  And maybe someday, years yonder, I'll realize that we were never riding a balloon at all, but a kite; that we have been riding on a breath of wind, and that those little hands on the line, those little heels digging divots into the ground have carried us higher, further, and more steadily than all the freedom of our unshackled wanderings could have done.

Just a thought.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

"You always pick the most inconvenient times to obey."  My mom's voice was a hiss of a whisper as she opened the door to my walk-in closet only to find me sitting on the floor there, journal open and pen poised between words.  My parents had always encouraged us to keep a journal, and, a chronic procrastinator, I always intended to, but never did.  At least, when she didn't find me in bed at nearly midnight, she didn't have to worry that I had sneaked out to find some mischief of a more dangerous sort.  I wasn't that kind of teenager.  But it seems that some things don't change much, even with a decade of willpower to their credit.  My tendency to procrastinate and heightened vulnerability to good intentions at inopportune moments are among them.

My grandma told me this evening, over the phone, that she wishes I still blogged.  Me too, Grandma.  Me too.  I tell myself that all of the time.  Writing is a muscle that I've allowed to atrophy down to a pathetic raisin in the last few years.  I wasn't a diligent writer before, but I kept a decent journal, a commonplace book (A vestige of my Romantic and Neoclassic British Literature class - I'm sure there's a more modern word for it...?), and made time to write other miscellaneous thoughts, ideas, essays, etc. when the inclination struck.  But now?  With three kids under the age of four, I find that those pinball ideas still enter my mind, bounce around for awhile, and then fade away.  I never have the means or the time or, more often than not, either, to give them a home in ink.

I panic sometimes, as I wander the emptiness of my creative faculties, once blooming with ideas.  When I finally get back to all this, I think, there will be nothing left.  That may be true.  More than likely, it's not.  Life is long, my mom reminds me, on an almost daily basis over the phone.  The seeming eternity of diaper changes, nursing, and disputes over legos will be over before I know it, and I'll find myself with - dare I imagine it? - time.  There will be time to explore myself as an adult, time to pursue the interests I didn't know I had before I began the journey that is motherhood.

Nevertheless, from the depths of these little years, I cannot live solely on the promise that they will someday be gone.  That thought might be my guiding light some days, but it cannot be my bread and water.  And that brings me to this moment, almost eleven o'clock on a Sunday night, doing what I really have no time or business doing - finally obeying my inner voice, which promises that a little writing, here and there, will add color to days that sometimes seem drab.  A bit of organized thought will better preserve the bright moments that I'll want someday to relive, in quiet, sun-dappled reveries.  And a little time dedicated to pursuing the woman I have always wanted to be, the woman I so often give up for lost, will keep these years from feeling like a coma.  The words will steal me away from my babies for a few minutes at a time, but will return me to them, more able, more awake, and more alive.

So, hello again, internet.  I'm going to be that bad penny that keeps coming back, the bullhead plant that grows tenaciously from wherever life has been otherwise eradicated.  If you have found yourself here, welcome to my all-but-abandoned warehouse of thoughts.  I am writing this for myself, but should you pass by, may something here give you a fleeting pleasure or a moment of calm.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Part of This World

*To the tune of “Part of Your World” from the Little Mermaid* Pretend the meter is right on. ;)

Look at this fam,
Isn’t it sweet?
Wouldn’t you think
My collection’s complete?
Wouldn’t you think I’m the mom -
The mom who has everything?

Look at these girls,
So cute in curls -
Look at them dancing
And see how they twirl?
Lookin’ around here, you’d think:
Sure.  She’s got everything.

I’ve got Ellie who can get
Into anything.
I’ve got Addie who’s sweet
To the core.
You wanna man who does the dishes?
I’ve got one of those too - and he sings.
But who cares?
No big deal.
I want more....

I want to be
Where the nurses are.
I want to get -
Get that ep-i-dur-al.
I wanna hear ‘em saying --
What’s that word again?
Oh yeah.  ‘Push.’

When you’re in someone’s womb,
you can’t get too far.
Birth is required for jumpin’, dancin’,
Not to mention, you’ll get to --  
What’s that word again?  Eat!

Out here you can breathe,
Out here you can play,
And no one’s bladder gets in the way!
Wigglin’ free,
Don’tcha want to be
Part of this world?

What would I give
If I could break
My water?
What would I pay
To spend today
In L&D?

It seems to me,
When I’ve got three,
I’ll have less
Energy than daughters.
But right this minute,
I’m just in it
To end pregnancy.

And I’m ready to breathe
Like a normal person.
Ready for ankles
Around which nothing orbits.
Eat my dinner and not have it--
What’s the word?  Burn!

When’s it my turn?
Wouldn’t I love -
Love a few contractions to speak of?
Come out of me,
It’s time to be
Part of this world!

Saturday, March 19, 2016

The Peace of Thy Children

I'm a chronic worrier.  What's worse, I'm a chronic worrier with an imagination.  Now, in the middle trimester of my third pregnancy, those fanciful worries creep ever more deeply into my dreams.  I find myself wakened from sleep with unsettling dreams and notions.  I sometimes drift into a doze only to be startled from it by some worry, however unlikely, and while I'm aware that nothing bad is actually happening, I'm also aware that I'm not awake enough and not capable enough to stop it from happening.  Strangely enough, the latter realization unsettles me more than the former calms me.  And of course, at the center of each of these not-quite-nightmares, are my children.

I shake myself from these half-awake-mares, usually to the early light of the morning, or sometimes to the late evening darkness and the realization that I have fallen asleep on the couch again.  I rouse myself just enough to ramble a perhaps nonsensical prayer, either from my knees or as I stumble to the kitchen to make breakfast.  What does one say when taking these sorts of things to God?  'Please don't let my toddler escape into the street at any point today'?  'Please keep my kids from falling into the river that we never go near'?  Not all of my worries are quite that irrational, but the point is that there are plenty of them, some ridiculously specific and others impossibly vague.  Usually, my entreaty ends up being something along the lines of 'protect them, please, because I know I cannot.  Not on my own.'  And with that, I push most of those worries to the back of my mind and move on with my day.  Other, more mundane worries quickly replace them, and I spend the next twelve hours mostly forgetting to be grateful that the heaviest thing on my mind is how on earth to get potty training behind us once and for all.

A couple weeks ago, I started a day that way, with the heavy realization of our mortality, a plea for protection, and then transitioned to what to have for breakfast.  The hours passed and I mostly forgot the haunted dreams that had welcomed me to my morning.  After the girls were in bed and Ben and I were ready to settle in for the night, an alarm began to sound in our back hallway, where the girls slept.

A week earlier, I had detected a funny smell in the back bedroom after bathing and dressing my girls - like nail polish, but accompanied by a vague scent of burning.  I'd called the fire department but by the time they arrived to scan for gas and carbon monoxide, the smell had diminished and the air was free of  any worrisome particles.  "Do you have a carbon monoxide monitor?" the fireman had asked me.  I said I did, indicating the one mounted in the hallway.  "No, no," he said, "that's just a smoke detector."  So, feeling like a complete idiot, I had added one to my grocery cart the next day.

When I heard the high pitched alarm, days later, I assumed it was just Ben installing the new one.  I came out of the bedroom, to find it still in its packaging, though, untouched.  The back door was open and Ben, perplexed, reported the same smell I'd noticed the previous week.  It was stronger this time, but there wasn't any smoke and the alarm sounded differently than it did when something on the stove top or in the oven went badly awry.

With the back door open, the alarms grew farther and farther between, but we decided to call the fire department just the same.  They showed up and began to scan again.  Two to three parts per million in the hallway - noteworthy, but not quite dangerous yet.  The fireman opened the door behind which our girls were sleeping and leaned in, only to back out again a moment later.  "About fifty in there," he reported, and asked us to bring the kids out.

In our living room, two lady firefighters examined our girls with a pulse-oximeter, specially designed to pick up carbon monoxide levels in the blood.  Addie's read 12%, hanging at the low end of dangerous, and Ellie's was up to 17%.

After a trip to the local emergency room for further examination and monitoring, and the challenge of settling two now-rambunctious children into a hotel room, hours later, my buzzing mind slowed into sleepy reflection, just before drifting off altogether.  My kids had been in danger that night.  They had been threatened by something I could not see, hear, or smell.  The only sign had been an accompanying scent that I had, days before, been given reason to disregard as harmless, if not imagined.  The only alert to its presence had come from an alarm which I had been told by a professional was not designed to detect it.

And I had woken that morning with a rambling prayer that my children would not fall victim to some danger from which I was powerless to save them.

I have little doubt that God has a sense of humor.  Without the bawdiness or coarse irony that we often use to induce laughter, I felt that I could sense a bit of a heavenly chuckle in the whole event.  A patient whisper of  'Yes, calm down, silly girl.  These are my babies too, and I forget not my own.'

Since then, a verse of scripture that I used to love has reappeared in my mind and though I don't completely understand it in the context of this experience, I haven't been able to shake the feeling that the two are profoundly connected.  "And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord," it reads, "and great shall be the peace of thy children."  Yes, life is uncertain.  The world is dangerous - but it is not spinning out of control, simply because it is out of my control.

My mother-in-law asked me, a few days ago, whether I have had moments of panic since this incident.  I ran over the last couple of weeks in my mind, probably with a perplexed frown across my face, and to my surprise, answered, "No."  But it's true.  Even with all the day-to-day stresses, the mom-fail moments and endless tiredness that seems to plague all of us, I feel like I've regained a quiet peace that I had once and lost along the way - lost about that time I began to have people in my life, under my care, whom I could neither perfectly protect, nor stand to lose.

Reawakened is my sense that a Heavenly Father sent these children to me knowing that I might, from time to time, fasten the car seats improperly or cut the hot dogs into dangerously large pieces, or even, while taking an evening shower, cause the water heater to spew poison gas into their bedroom.  He sent them to me knowing that the world is bigger, cleverer, and more powerful than I am.  I am neither condemned by these human weaknesses and neither are my children abandoned to my care.  They are His still.  He watches over them still.