Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Twas the day after Christmas

Twas the day after Christmas, and all through the house,
the children dropped toys. Mama started to grouse.
She's feeling that annual Christmas let down,
The excess, the mess, they inspire her frown.
The children are already looking for more,
And she can't even find her own damn front door.
She just wants a blanket, a coffee, a snooze,
A good book, some quiet (and later, some booze).
She's been buying, and making, and wrapping for days,
Then it's over in hours. Cue the malaise.

But she does have the memory of kids at wee hours,
eyes shining in Christmas lights, awed by the towers
of gifts left by Santa, by stockings stuffed full,
by cookies left eaten: the magical pull
of waking to find the world sparkling and shiny
The enchantment of Christmas reserved for the tiny.

Yes she's wading through pine needles, wrappers, and bows,
small parts to their games, forgotten new clothes.
Yes she's chomped the last treat of this year's holiday
And she's already threatened to throw toys away.
But the new piles of junk, the new pounds of fat
Are worth it, of course, as long as there's that:

Friday, December 21, 2007

All I wanted to say today

I said already at Babycenter's Momformation.

Happy 4 days till Christmas!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Coxsackievirus is comin' to town...

Strep throat? Pffft. I wish.

Because there are no words, I shall illustrate how I feel:

Thursday, December 13, 2007

If I have one more set back...

...I'm going into hibernation. The papers lie untouched today. The Christmas coasters I so lovingly finished 75% of the way mock me from the sewing/computer/homework table in the sewing room/playroom/mud room/room for all the crap that doesn't have any other place. I woke up with a lovely sore-as-hell throat and a fever. As if I have time for lying around and whining.

But, regardless of the logistics of the thing, that's what I did all day, and now I feel panic in my bones. I absolutely HATE letting myself get this way in December. I am a big, big fan of the holidays. In me, the Christmas spirit abounds and often manifests itself in (post-exams) spontaneous rounds of baking and crafting. My inner Martha is loosed upon the household. I'm somewhat insufferable.

But if I let myself fall behind in the tasks I must do, all the fun stuff suddenly turns chore-ish, and I feel pressured to bake, pressured to make snowflakes with the kids, and pressured to wrap my gifts in my signature annoyingly cutesy way. And all of my December joy is washed away like so much curdled egg nog.

This weekend, I'm hoping to pare the list of must do's and make room for the want-to-do's, providing I'm not still sick. I'm actually hoping this is strep throat so I can knock it out with some good old fashioned amoxicillin and feel better by Saturday, which is when our babysitter is supposed to come over to watch the miscreants while John and I finish Christmas shopping. I have been looking forward to Saturday all week, anticipating a day devoted to two of my favorite things: spending money and having kidless time with hubs.

I'm off to sigh and whimper my way through the rest of the coasters. (By god, the kindergarten teachers WILL have somewhere to put their coffee cups this Christmas!) But I can't go without sending a happy birthday wish to my big sis (who needs to update her blog!)

Here's a special birthday image, just for you:

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

What, are we in Australia?

It reached 80 degrees today. On December 11th. The end days are here.

How is one supposed to enjoy her newly trimmed Christmas tree in BALMY weather? It's a drain on the Christmas spirit, I tell you.

Luckily, this year, Christmas at our house comes with a one year old, so that balances things out in the spirit department. It's impossible not to feel full of love for friends, family, fireplaces, the Three Tenors, and baby Jesus while watching your 13 month old's first Christmas tree lighting. The moment John plugged in the lights for our Christmas tree reveal, Paige stopped in her tracks, her eyes wide, her mouth open. Then she slowly lifted her hand to point at the tree in a gesture that said, "Holy. Crap. Do you guys SEE this?" She stood pointing for a good minute and a half, yawping in glee every few seconds. Then she attacked the ornaments.

Throughout the day today she's been happily carrying around all the holiday tchotches that I've placed around the house. They're all baby safe, but her swiping is putting a damper on my attempts to fancy up the house. Her favorites are the red pillar candles that I put out on the hearth, the kind that come in graduating sizes and fill a room with eau de noel. She enjoys the challenge of carrying things with a bit of heft, living dangerously and all that.

Tonight is just a quickie entry and then it's back to the grindstone, which for now is a folder fat with research papers. When the tide of papers ebbs, I'll be back to warm your hearts with tales of holiday joy and Christmas pickles (when I'm not chained to the sewing machine, trying to stay true to that mother#$%#$% handmade pledge)

p.s. The picture I used with this post captures perfectly Paige's expression when she saw our tree all lit up for the first time. No, no, not the baby...the giraffe.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


I've been thinking about my New Year's resolution, even though I don't typically torture myself with those rarely actualized self-promises that ultimately leave me feeling guilty and deflated and rife with self-loathing. But this year, something has to change.

My family is at a crossroads, faced with a difficult truth that comes into focus a bit more sharply every day: It is time to stir some very stagnant waters, specifically financial waters and the waters of bodily health. Our lives simply cannot move forward successfully unless belts tighten in more ways than one. But you know how that is, complacency and denial can place a death grip on the will. That is where we are now, complacently denying the need to DO SOMETHING about what's unhealthy in our lives.

This all boils down to my seemingly very simple New Year's resolution: to return my library books on time in 2008.

See, I've thought about this a good bit lately, and my inability to follow through on the simple task of returning library books represents all the other ways I let things slide in my life. This sloppiness is more than procrastination; there is something psychological behind my refusal to complete certain tasks, some mental block, some imp of the perverse waiting to be defeated.

I have trouble with the concept of "just doing it," which is all any life change requires, really. No need to wring hands and suffer. Just make the changes. Just get in the car and return the library books. There's even book drop parking for heck's sake.

But I need to start small. I need to show myself that I can change a bad habit, even if it's a relatively insignificant one, and prove to myself that change isn't as complicated as I imagine it to be. It's simple, really. Write the due date down. Get the books together on or before that date. Take them to the library. Put them in the slot.

The rest will trickle down, I hope. It really must. We're past due on more than library books, and the fines will only increase the longer we wait.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving, I've had my brothers and sisters on my mind. I don't spend much time considering my relationships with them, and I think that's because they've always just been there, and I know that, no matter the arguments that (still) crop up between us, no matter the petty disagreements, our relationships will always bounce back. Their lives are linked to mine permanently, and as those who met you in the womb have a tendency to do, they know me all ways, the good, the bad, and the ugly (and things can get mighty ugly between siblings).

Tonight I'm giving thanks for them by recounting a favorite memory about each one, an obscure memory that I might not have shared with them before.

It's an early, early Christmas memory. I think I was 3 or 4, but it was definitely pre-Blair. I got a little table and 4 plastic blue chairs, along with a Fisher Price stove and set of pots, pans, and play food. For some reason, we had Christmas in the den, not the living room, and Mom and Dad had set the little table up in the kitchen. You sat and played with me and my new kitchen set for what seemed like hours. I basked in the rare bliss of having your undivided attention, a sister 8 years older who usually had to be begged to play.

I was in 9th grade, and you were home on leave from the Navy. We went out cruising in the Malibu. We drove down this winding road near the river and talked and laughed and got a Slurpee, and you gave me a cigarette, which, yes, wasn't the healthiest or most responsible thing to to, but to me it was a gift of pure, unadulterated acceptance. Suddenly you enjoyed my company, and it made me feel mighty big.

I was 10 or 11, you were 4 or 5. We were lying on the bed in your room, and I was drawing Roxie and Ralphie pictures while you watched over my shoulder. I was telling stories about them (they were imaginary dogs, with an owner named Catherine, usually played by Blair) and drawing the action as I narrated. You were riveted, and I had that feeling (one I still love) of being lost in the game while time unraveled around us and the business of the house stayed on the other side of the bedroom door. I wish I could find those drawings. We had a whole collection of them in a green spiral bound notebook.

I am grateful to have had all of you for brothers and sisters, and I love you all, always.

Friday, November 16, 2007

You are my favorite because

My mom tells a story about my sister Blair once asking her, "Who's your favorite?" The question warmed my mother's heart because she realized that Blair wouldn't have asked unless she thought she was the favorite, and isn't it every mom's wish for each of her children to feel that special?

My favorite part of the story is my mom's answer to the question. She said, "You're my favorite because..." and listed all the reasons Blair was special to her. Then she said, "And Kelly is my favorite because...." and "Neal is my favorite because..." and "Ashley is my favorite because..." And it was an honest answer. She had four favorites, all for different reasons, which was just exactly the right answer and is just exactly how I feel about my own kids.

My very first favorite is turning 6 today, which puts a small lump in my throat. I can still look at him and feel the brand new momma love that filled me to overflowing 6 years ago. The first time I felt that love from head to toe was the morning after Owen was born. I was dozing in my hospital bed, trying to ignore the hot throbbing of my cesarean incision and a bit out of my wits from pain medication. John had spent the night at home and was coming to the hospital early, but he hadn’t arrived yet. I was alone. The room was half-lit with the purple glow of 6:00 AM in November and quiet but for the gasping of some monitor they’d strapped me to. The nurse came in with Owen and told me his body temperature was down. She untied my hospital gown and helped me bear my chest; then she stripped Owen to his diaper and laid him on my breast. “He needs your body heat,” she told me. “I’ll come back in an hour.”

The night before had been long and brutal, a nearly 30 hour labor ending in an unexpected and emotional c-section. I’d been a mess in recovery, shaking and sobbing, and they’d kept me there longer than usual, so I’d had very little time with my baby. The time I did have was bleary and crowded with family who’d come to see. Now the nurse left me alone with this small, warm, breathing boy tucked under my chin. She'd given him to me because I was his mother and it was my body heat he needed. Artificial warming lamps were no match for my blood-warmed body, pulsing with the heat and the love he needed.

I experienced that moment out of time. I’d never felt so exactly in the right place, so content and certain and calm. I think of that hour as my initiation into motherhood. I’d been on the threshold before, but during those minutes alone with Owen for the first time and nurturing him wholly for the first time, I crossed into that realm from which you can never retreat, the realm of mothering and its fulfillment, its love, its fear, its anxiety, its complication, its sadness.

Owen is my favorite because…

He thinks my jokes are funny and he makes jokes that I think are funny.

He loves reading and writing and music.

His dearest birthday wish is a package of dry erase markers.

He hugs his brother and sister goodnight every single day.

He loves school as much as I loved school.

He can’t tell a lie and has the guiltiest conscience of anyone I’ve met.

He taught me to be a mother, and he gave me my first taste of the gorgeous, swooning love of parenthood.

Happy birthday, Snowball!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Letting the riff raff in

It's a rite a of passage for any serious blogger, and now it is time for my initiation. Today I present to you the best of the Google searches that have led wayward visitors to my blog:

1. "Maturity clothes"
Maturity clothes include business suits, pencil skirts, high heels, and anything in houndstooth.

2. "My son is driving me crazy"
Mine too!

3. "Nurses with stinky feet"
Don't you HATE that? I hate that.

4. "One year old who eats lint"
Oh dear, you must be a first time mom. Don't worry unless the "lint" comes from the litter box.

5. "Smack bottom hard children"
What? How in the world did that search lead HERE? Ludicrous.

6. "What are persons idiosyncrasies mean?"
Well, if a person's idiosyncrasies include the inability to form a marginally coherent sentence, they mean "stay in school."

7. "What do 5 entwined circles mean?"
That means "Olympics."

8. "What should I be teaching my 7 month old?"

  • Toilets are not fun, fun playtime
  • Your brothers love you even when they sit on your head
  • Cheerios found under the refrigerator are not for eating
  • Sleeping through the night = nice mommy; Waking up every 3 hours = red-eyed-hanging-on-by-a thread mommy
  • Mommy only takes these little pills when things get really really nutty. And don't mention them to daddy.
9. "What does rock a bye baby mean?"
I can't really explain it, but I can tell you that asking this question probably means you were never loved as a child.

10. "Why is mommy so mean for reals?"
You try budget grocery shopping with 3 kids on 2 hours of sleep while the "Backyardigans" theme song loops endlessly through your head.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Handmade hullabaloo

So a couple of weeks ago, I sorta took this pledge to buy/make handmade gifts for everyone on my Christmas list this year. I say "sorta" because I still haven't thought up any handmade items to suit my 9 and 12 year old nephews--I can't picture them getting really excited about a tote bag or a quilted belt. And I can't whittle.

Anyway, this new sewing hobby has me a little high right now. I can't tell you how exhilarating it is to finish a project, to feel the pride of having created something beautiful(ish). So to have an excuse to sew has made me a bit of a hermit. I have a gift/project list a mile long, a closet stuffed with vintage fabric that I scored at a yard sale last weekend, and a permanent crick in my neck. John misses me. When he complains, I remind him how much money I'm saving by making our Christmas gifts. Nevermind the twice weekly trips to Jo-Ann's and the notions and needles and interfacing and dish towels and sewing books I've bought. I'm saving money, dammit!

I would love to share my f.o.'s here (it's sewing lingo--you wouldn't understand), but I have family lurking about, and I'd hate to blow any surprises. Maybe I'll set up a flickr group and relatives can be on the no-snoop honor system. I'll just enforce the rule that my parents handed down when we were little: if you snoop and discover your present, you take it then and there, and you'll have nothing under the tree for Christmas. So there. Remember, I can trace your outclicks, people.

I think a great deal about all the other work I should be doing while I sew: blogging here and at BabyCenter...grading papers...taking care of the children...nurturing my marriage...watching my DVR'ed episodes of The Hills. But the Singer calls to me every night (Singer, you know, like a siren). I think (hope?) some of my enthusiasm is bound to wear off, but until then, miss me. I'm busy doing all of this:

(okay, okay, f.o. = finished object. And I just learned that yesterday.)

Thursday, November 8, 2007

To wean or not to wean

Paige is now 1 year and 2 weeks old, and she's still a total boob-a-holic. I've always understood and sympathized with arguments for child-led weaning (to a degree...I admit I can't get on board with women who are still nursing kids old enough to read) and I considered it an admirable achievement for women to nurse for the entire first year or longer.

I revise my position: It's great for everyone ELSE to be able to nurse a baby past a year. But I hate it.

Lately, Paige is a violent eater. She seems torn between snuggling in to nurse and going straight to sleep. She'll latch on for 30 seconds, then claw me, kick me, and push me away. But If I button up the goods, she has a conniption. So I give her the other side, hoping she was simply dissatisfied with the angle of the nipple, and the whole thing starts again. I don't enjoy putting her to bed anymore. John puts her down every night because she won't take a bottle or a pacifier from me, and nursing her for both naps has already worn me down, mentally and physically.

It's time to wean, I know, but I'm not sure how to do it. Owen and Mitch both gave up nursing readily and of their own accord at about 7 months old. I didn't have to coax or deny them. We were both ready and it all ended happily. But Paige isn't likely to take the loss very well. She's still compelled to nurse, still drawn to it passionately, even though something in her is clearly ready to move on. I just have no strategy for weaning a child who isn't ready to wean, and I'm not even sure I should wean her if she's not ready.

Part of me wants to wait it out. Maybe in a few more weeks the part of her that's done with the boob will overtake the part of her that yearns for it, and I won't have to cut her off. But I hate the anger that surges in me when she demands the breast, then writhes and complains and scratches. Every offering of my milk is tinged with resentment and irritation, and it's taking a toll on both of us.

I'm tired of the squirmy, crabby, demanding baby she's become when I put her to bed. I'm anxious to rediscover those peaceful moments of drifting off at bedtime, her drowsy eyes blinking up at me, her breathing deepening, her little body limp and warm.

That's the part of nursing I love, and it's over for us. I suppose she has weaned me in a sense, and now we both just have to come to terms with the falling away of her babyhood. But that's hard. She's the last of my babies, and these months have gone fast.

Maybe I'm torn, too.

Monday, November 5, 2007

A week in review

Just catching up on recording the little things I'm likely to forget, which was my purpose for starting this blog anyhow...

Wednesday (Halloween):
I always know my children are sick before I know they are sick. I could tell the minute Owen got into the car last Wednesday. His face was droopy and pale, his eyes dull and sagging. His eyes have always shown sickness clearly.

I left work early to go Trick or Treating and called John on the way home. Owen was asleep--at 6:00. I told John, "Go feel him." Yep, a fever. 102. Poor Owen. He cried and cried when Mitch, Paige and I came home with the loot. But Mitch the Witch crawled up on the couch beside Owen the should-have-been ghost and opened his bag o' loot. "Look at all the candy we got!" Yes, he said "we." Those two fight like bandits all day long, but man do they adore each other. Owen dipped his hand right in and helped himself and Mitch beamed.

Owen woke up acutely aware that it was November, his birthday month. After wracking our brains over what to do for a party without spending an obscene amount of money, we've decided to buck the system and have a very small get together with only 3 of Owen's good friends. I was immediately relieved, and Owen was all for it. How much more fun it will be to have good buddies around to play with rather than a crowd of kids and the chaos of a 15-child party. I'm appalled at how much places want parents to pay for a child's party these days. If we had a bigger house, we'd be pinning tails on donkeys and dropping clothespins in jars right here every year. It's gotten to be too much. So I'm refusing to do it. I'm sick of the excess.

My niece's birthday. We went over for cake and presents, and it was fun to see my brother and sister. And the cousins, as always, were giddily gleeful to be together. My niece liked her present, and the only bump in that road was Owen's also liking her present--so much that he didn't want to leave because he hadn't played with it yet.

We went to the fall festival at the neighborhood elementary school (not Owen's school). The weather was amazing, 65 and sunny, and it was more fun spending money (on games and rides) knowing it was going to the school. Our jaws dropped at the difference between the donated items in the silent auction and raffle at this school and the school (in a much more affluent area) festival we went two a couple of weeks ago. Not equal. It made me sad. The DJ played "Staying Alive," and Paige found her calling: disco dancing.

Cleaning and resting and sewing. Fabric shopping with my mom for a bit. Perfect day.

Paige cracked me up this morning, holding the phone up to her ear and saying, "Hi." But it's more like "Ha"; "hi" with a bit of a drawl, I suppose. She's got a few words now: hi, mama, dada, nana (banana and all other food), ni ni (night, night). I love love love one year olds. Every day is an adventure. Every day she grows in some new way. She loves to climb and explore. And, of course, every day her adventures wear me out a little bit more.

School was easy tonight. I'm off to sew again since I don't have papers to grade. I had a friend commission me to make a bundle baby for her. I'm excited that someone wants my stuff! And I'm thrilled that my friend's 2 year old loves her own bundle baby.

Here are a few stuffies I've made lately that I'm particularly proud of (I'm still a beginner, though, so forgive the crookedness of these toys):

Bundle Babies #2 and #3

Sock Dogs: Argyle and Brady

Monday, October 29, 2007

Driving me crazy

There is a word for what I do each day on my 25 minute drive home from Owen's school: Endure. I endure it. It is my least favorite part of the day, and it is a wonder I have not left my children somewhere on the side of the road. Yet.

Come, reader, take the ride with me:

2:40 pm: Join the carpool line. Mitch whines that he wants to get out of his car seat and sit up front while we wait.

2:43 pm: Give in and allow Mitch up front. Paige cries at the injustice of being left in her seat.

2:46 pm: Mitch changes the CD for the 4th time, rolls the window up and down, flips on the windshield wipers, turns the heat on full blast, and blares the radio using the stereo remote control's volume button.

2:49 pm: Approach the front of the line and ask Mitch to get buckled into his times. Finally hiss, "Get in your seat!"

3:01 pm: Mitch climbs in his seat at the very moment the carpool worker lets Owen into the van. Owen and Mitch get tangled up as Owen tries to push past and get to his own seat. Shoving ensues.

3:03 pm: Reach the main road. Ask Owen how his day was. A mile into the drive, notice that Mitch is in his seat but not buckled.

3:05 pm: Owen asks to stop at McDonald's for a drink. I say no. Owen whines that he's thiiiiiirrrrrsssty! I say no. Owen whines and whine and whines. I turn the radio up a notch.

3:06 pm: Owen says he's car sick.

3:07 pm: Owen says he's "really serious" and needs to get out of his seat to lie in the floor. I say, "Get the bucket."

3:08 pm: Owen argues that he can't throw up in the bucket because we might need it for the beach next summer. He begs to lie on the floor. I tell him, "Get the bucket."

3:09 pm: A groaning, simpering Owen threatens to barf on the seat if he isn't allowed to lie down. I say, "GET. THE. BUCKET."

3:10 pm: Owen says he has to pee sooooo bad. I tell him he has to wait.

3:11 pm: Mitch says he has to pee.

3:12 pm: Paige starts to cry.

3:15 pm: Owen takes his shoes off, props his feet on the back of Mitch's seat and shrieks, "Smell my stiiiiinky feet!" Hilarity ensues.

3:16: Hilarity escalates.

3:17: "Smell my stinky feet" degenerates into "smell my poop." I remain calm. I ask nicely for the boys to tone down the noise.

3:19 pm: Mitch screams at the top of his voice when Owen rubs his stinky feet on Mitch's head. I lay out the first threat: bedroom lock down for half an hour after we get home.

3:21 pm: Mitch screams again to see if I mean it. Punishment imposed. Loud, whiny protests ensue.

3:22 pm: Owen screams when Mitch kicks a shoe backwards into Owen's seat. I turn, glare, and say, "Are you trying to get a time out, too?" The answer, "No," is spoken through a suppressed smile. Seething ensues.

3:24 pm: Mitch screams when Owen throws the shoe back. I lay down second threat: no TV all afternoon.

3:25 pm: Mitch emits a squeal that is just quieter than a scream to annoy me while evading further punishment.

3:27 pm: Ask Owen if he has homework. He answers, "I have one poopy-doopy homework."Mitch cackles. Hilarity reaches epic proportions. Noise level in the car becomes unbearable to anyone over the age of 8.

3:28 pm: At a stoplight, shoot the death-glare over my shoulder and growl, "Guys. I have asked you over and over to calm down. Now DO IT."

3:29 pm: Muffled hilarity ensues.

3:30 pm: Arrive home and ask Owen to carry his book bag inside. Owen whines that his book bag is tooooo heaaaaavy.

3:31 pm: Stand outside the car holding the 25-pound baby while coaxing Mitch out of the driver's seat of the van, where he is flicking the headlights and yanking the seat belts.

3:32 pm: Pee a little when Mitch leans on the horn, scaring the bejeesus out of me.

3:33 pm: Drag Mitch from the car. Notice Owen walking into the house sans book bag.

This is the scenario every single day. In fact, this is a run down of a relatively good day.

So when you happen to look up in the afternoon and notice that it is 2:45 pm (Eastern time), pity me, good readers. Pity me and pray for the lives of my children.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

She's a one year old!

And PROUD of it:

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Anxious moms and alpha boys

I have long believed that nerdy, egg-headed kids make the coolest, most interesting grown-ups. I have long believed that the traditional school curriculum undervalues creative and athletic talent. I have long believed that one method of teaching and one teacher cannot possibly speak to the intellects and the abilities of all the children in the class. I have considered these issues carefully. I can make (and have made) fairly solid arguments in defense of these beliefs.

Yet I find myself anxiously hoping that Owen is popular in school. I worry that he doesn't come home gushing about how much fun he had playing with so and so at recess. I find myself feeling smugly satisfied at his good grades, at his ability to excel at the kindergarten curriculum. And I find myself anxious to train, to improve him when I find areas in that curriculum where Owen's performance is mediocre.

I don't think it's unusual for parents to feel worried or proud for these reasons. Not at all. Of course I want him to have friends and do well. But I do wonder how I can believe so strongly that geeky kids are diamonds in the rough and that traditional school is not best for every kid yet hope so vehemently that my own child fits neatly into the mainstream.

Today I joined Owen on his first kindergarten field trip to a farm and pumpkin patch. He was thrilled that I was coming along and even told me on the drive out there, "Mrs. F says we can hold hands with our moms on the field trip." While I was touched by his wish to stay close to me, his comment caused my worry to bubble up again: is he lonely at school? is he unhappy among these new kids? do they accept him? why does he want me there?

My observation of Owen among his classmates today told me that he's not lonely. He does have friends. One boy even seems smitten with him, showing up out of nowhere at odd intervals to call, "Owen!" then smiling and waving. He trailed us at times without striking up any conversation, content just to be near Owen.

Yes, Owen had some friends, most a little less creepy than Lurking Kid; one adorable little boy even asked his mom if Owen could come over for a playdate. At the same time, Owen definitely wasn't one of the rowdy alpha boys, jostling and shoving and poking each other and giggling during the butter making demonstration--the same antics Owen and Mitch engage in every single day at home. I was surprised that my son wasn't drawn to that melee since silliness reigns in our household. Instead, he listened attentively to the farm guides; he followed field trip rules to the letter; he sat quietly, observantly on the hay ride. I even had one of the "lunch moms" tell me, after I'd complained about the noise level at home, that she had always considered Owen one of the quiet kids.

I found myself weighing all of this on the way home and finally asking myself why I was so obsessed with defining Owen's social status at school. I have never worried about this sort of thing before, but I suppose that his hitting school-age and starting out at a school where he'll attend kindergarten through high school makes the stakes seem high. Whatever name he makes for himself now, in his first year, could follow him (at least to some degree) through 12th grade. I don't want any stigma to descend on him, any shyness this first year to mark him as a wallflower.

All the same, I wish I could relax about it.

In grade school, I was pretty middle-of-the-road. I was certainly not one of the most popular kids, but I had my foot in most social circles, even if I was committed only to my very best friend. She and I tended to isolate ourselves somewhat, fancying ourselves too different, too mature, (too good?) to join up with any group in particular (though in reality, any time an invitation was extended to us from one the more popular groups, we jumped at it).

I don't know if I'm sensitive to Owen's social world because I felt inadequate or if my worry comes from the recognition that Owen is a bit of an oddball. In my heart, it's the oddball in him that I adore the most, that endears him to me. But in that part of my me that yearns for the acceptance that we all, to some degree, yearn for, I find myself hoping that my little oddball can fake it enough to survive in the mainstream, to never feel left out or left behind.

I hope the better part of me (and him) will let go of my shallow hope and remember to value what is truly valuable about Owen. I hope the better part of me will let go of my shallow hope before I teach him to subdue those impulses that make him the ingenious, charismatic, funny kid I adore...and I hope it happens before he stops adoring himself.

(Picture of Owen studying a large outdoor sculpture at the Art Museum, 3 years old)

Monday, October 22, 2007

Oh, you thought the WHOLE meme was done?

No, no, no. That was just the first question. I'm going to answer the rest, but I'll do it all in one post. Promise.

Here are Bon's other questions, poor neglected questions:

2. If you had to go back and re-do one thing in your entire life history, what thing would it be? Why?

This is a hard question to answer in public. But here goes.

The thing I've chosen does not seem to have had a disastrous effect on anyone's life, but it is the one thing that I continue to feel ashamed about and wish I'd had the maturity to do differently. If I knew then what I know now, I would not have moved in with John when I did. I think it was the wrong decision for Bailey's sake. In hindsight, and as a mother myself now, I can see that living together as boyfriend and girlfriend--not as a married couple or even an engaged couple--did not ensure a solid, secure home for Bailey. As I said, I don't think there were disastrous effects, especially since our relationship lasted and ended in marriage, and Bailey wasn't hurt by a break up between us. But I know now that a young child's emotional life is too delicate to risk and that living together didn't create the best situation for her.

3. There is a big, splashy Hollywood movie being made of your life. Who will play you?

Do I choose based on looks? Personality? Admiration? I'm not sure, so I'll do all three.

Looks kinda like me (or so I've been told): Juliette Lewis (I know...I know...)

Acts kinda like me: Jennifer Aniston. She's pretty goofy, seems fairly real and true to herself, and she has a streak of funny, too.

Admired by me: Meryl Streep is the greatest, but she's a bit seasoned to play me. I'll go with Toni Collette. Love her. And I can see her in the role of Ashley.

4. There is a gritty, indie-style mockumentary being made of your life. Who will play you?

Kate Winslet. She does indie films sometimes, yes? She's got some meat on her bones. She's got a dry wit and an honesty in her performances and her personality. I really admire her, on film and in interviews I've seen. In fact, maybe I'll send her a letter giving her first dibs on playing me in the sure-to-be-written-one-day-probably-a-big-hit indie film about my life as writing instructor and Good stuff.

5. I haven't been a reader long enough to know much about the teaching part of your life. Why did you choose teaching as a career, and what primary challenges and changes do you see in education today?

I chose teaching because I love school. I didn't want to leave college, and when I finished my graduate degree, I didn't want to leave grad school. If I could make a career out of being a life-long student, that's what I'd do. But since students spend rather than make money, I decided to be a teacher on the college level, to stay in the academic environment, to be around the books I love, to work in the realm of ideas. The schedule is good for the soul, too. There's enough change to feel periodically refreshed; I have enough control that I feel empowered and inspired; the work hours are not traditional and somewhat flexible. I love having December off to relish the holidays. I love having the summers off to relish my children.

And it has turned out to be the best decision I could have made to prepare myself to be a working mom. The college where I work is small, and my department is close-knit. The current department head (and all the others I've worked under) does everything in her power to make my schedule amenable to mommydom. I teach two classes a semester, two days a week, and they are alway within a couple of hours of each other, so I can be with my children most of the week, but still have a career that I love, one that fits neatly into my life and leaves me completely happy and challenged and inspired.

I could write another post (don't leave! I won't!) about the challenges facing education, but I'll focus only on the one I've been thinking about lately. I'm not sure what elementary and high school teachers see, but I find my students woefully lacking in resourcefulness. When they hit a road block, if the first search statement in their research doesn't pan out, if a printer runs out of ink when a paper is due, they throw their hands up in defeat.

I've never had a student who had computer problems come to me with a hand-written paper; I get only sob stories. In my day...well, really, if I'd lost a paper in college or couldn't get it off of my word processor (yes, those machines that were only word processors, where you'd type on a tiny screen and then the machine would type it up for you), I would have found a way to re-do it, to get it in. I never would have had the nerve to turn up empty handed.

I wonder if the inability to work around difficulties comes from the way we (have to?) shelter our kids now. There is no more running around the neighborhood till all hours, fending for yourself. Adults are all up in kids' business all the time. I think that's changing the way children grow up, possibly weakening their character. At the very least, it's sad. I hate that my kids will miss out on the adventure of childhood. There is very little adventure left for them.

Okay. Done. I know no one will ever send me a meme again, and I can accept that. But thanks, Bon, for the blog fodder. I really was inspired by that first question, and I love that I had the chance to stop and reflect on all four of my beasts.

I've posted a picture of myself, too, since I don't think I've shown my face yet. That's Mitch and Paige in the photo with me.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The last installment

We call Paige "Boomba," short for "Fatty Boombalatty." She really is a pudge, but in the most adorable way possible, of course. I am particularly fond of her leg rolls.

I don't yet have the perspective on how she's changed my life that I have with the others, since she's only been here a year. And that year felt like days, I swear. Paige's first birthday is next week. Next week, people! I know all parents say it, but it goes so. damn. fast.

Paige was not a planned pregnancy. In fact, John and I had been in negotiations over the big "V." He wasn't thrilled with the idea, but as we all know, a vasectomy is less invasive than a tubal, AND it feels like an eensy bit of compensation for the months we mothers put in as vessels of life and the hours we spend in labor. (Of course we also realize that a tiny snippity snip of the vas deferens doesn't even come close to what we go through to bear children. Our men are, in reality, eternally beholden.)

We'd decided that Bailey and the boys had taken us to the edge of our resources, financial and psychological. Raising two boys who are 2 and a half years apart is, er, taxing. To put it nicely. And our house is small, our savings account even smaller. I was satisfied with this decision, but I have to say, at times I heard a wee little voice warning that we weren't finished yet. It first piped up while I was packing up newborn clothes to donate to the women's shelter. The voice said, "Pssst. Don't do that. Wait a bit. Just in case." So I did. Unfortunately, the voice must have been on a coffee break when I sold all of our big baby equipment and gave all my maternity clothes to a friend.

I think it was giving away the maternity clothes that did it. The universe saw it happen, pointed a bony finger at me, and cackled, "Look at the silly woman! Giving away maternity clothes before the vasectomy. What gall! Pregnancy for you, woman!" It was a little embarrassing to call my friend, after much hoopla was made over my generosity and her life-long gratitude was expressed, to say, "Hey, can you give me my stuff back?" But I made the call because it was a whole wardrobe for heaven's sake. I couldn't start over from scratch. And of course my friend was thrilled for us (at least outwardly) and handed it all back happily.

So the little voice (lazy as it turned out to be) was right. It was also right about Paige's gender, something I'd intuited from the start but was thrilled to have confirmed at my 20 week ultrasound. I've long imagined all the ways I could force my own childhood loves on a girl: model horses, Anne of Green Gables, Little House on the Prairie, dollhouses. I've already imposed my fondness for old school Sesame Street on her. Happy birthday, Paige! Mommy got you a gift I know I'll love!

I have to admit, I do love having a girl, and yes, it's different.'s different. It could be a difference in personalities, but Paige is much more observant, much more willing to sit in my lap and watch what's happening around her, much less likely to jump into the fray and assume that all gatherings of people happen to honor her. (When Owen was a baby, any time he heard applause, he'd grin and beam and puff his chest out, believing the cheering was for him.) Paige is a snuggler; she seeks body heat and will curl up beside me in bed, hold my hand, stroke my arm. She pats my back when we hug. She pats her baby dolls' backs when she hugs them. She plays quietly on her own and can sit in one spot for more than 15 seconds.

All of this to say, I am thrilled to have a daughter. As the daughter in a very close, exceptionally healthy mother/daughter relationship, I was a bit sad when I thought I wouldn't have that with my own little girl. And who knows, maybe I won't. But at least I have the chance now.

And I have an excuse to buy paperdolls.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

An aside

I'm taking a break from writing the longest response ever to a meme to share this Dave Walker cartoon I saw at How about orange today. I laughed my lazy ass off.

If you're reading this, it applies to you, too

Part Three: The Snitch

I call him the blond sheep of the family. Apart from his tow head, he has many other ways of distinguishing himself from the brunettes in our family. He's the sassiest by far, the most self-assured, the least ingratiating. He doesn't need the attention and validation that Owen yearns for. He mastered self-care abilities (getting dressed, pouring drinks, bathing himself, putting on socks and shoes) at a startlingly young age. Mitch faces the world with bravado, and I have no doubt that he will plant his flag wherever he pleases.

His was my only planned pregnancy (yeah, we're just careless like that), but he wasn't conceived at exactly the ideal time. We'd hoped for a summer birth to avoid the messiness of turning my courses over to a substitute, but gosh damn we're fertile, and Mitch was made on our first try. So he was a March baby. Two months shy of the goal. Troublemaker from the start.

His birth was enormously different from Owen's, whose arrival was somewhat violent and traumatic. My c-section with Mitch was planned, but I went into labor 2 days before the scheduled date (troublemaker--see?). Still, his birth was very calm and controlled. I went to the hospital; they slowed my contractions; the doctor came; they prepped me for surgery; out came Mitch. I felt in charge from start to finish. I knew what to expect. All went smoothly. I even got to hold him in recovery. When I remember Mitch's birth, the salient feeling is peacefulness.

Going from one child to two didn't phase me much. I expected to feel overwhelmed and manic, bleary and helpless, but Mitch (rather misleadingly) was a very agreeable newborn. He fell asleep easily, took long naps, ate well. I joyfully witnessed the brotherhood unfolding between him and Owen, who accepted the role of big brother with aplomb and never fretted much about the sudden appearance of his fuzzy-headed rival.

I experienced the second-child honeymoon, a confidence and calm that I hadn't felt with Owen, an ability to trust myself and my baby, the wisdom to see that the best thing to do is simply the thing that will work best in that moment. The greatest advantage to being a second-time mom is knowing that all the difficult phases will pass. With Owen, I felt mired in every wrong turn. If he went through a spell of waking more frequently or refusing to nurse, I was sure I'd messed him up forever. With Mitch, I knew that there would be bad weeks and good weeks. (Well...good days. I'm not sure I've ever actually experience a whole week of goodness.)

Like many second-time moms, though I wasn't consumed with him, wasn't spilling over with the love and devotion of a new mother, I enjoyed Mitch's infancy more. It ebbed and flowed, a gentle tide instead of a tsunami.

In some ways, being a mother of two felt like my true initiation into parenthood. I don't mean that mothers of one are lesser parents, but as someone from a family of six, raising children meant juggling, mediating, stretching myself and my resources. When I took on the challenge of nurturing more than one and succeeded, I felt like I'd arrived. I loved having two. I relished their interactions; I was moved to the core by their brotherly bond. Our family felt whole and balanced. I proclaimed myself finished with childbearing.

Then, one afternoon in February of 2006, with Mitch one month from 2 years old and weaned for more than a year, I felt the sensation of let down when a book I was carrying brushed against my breast. And I spoke aloud to an empty room. And I said, "Oh shit."

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Bon's first question, part two

Owen's birth changed me to the core. Being his source of life, the woman who carried him for 9 months, nurtured him with her own milk, and met his endless, ever-changing needs flipped a switch in me. Suddenly, I knew mother love, a brand new, intoxicating emotion.

When I think back to those early days with Owen, I really do remember them as drunken. I was high on baby, consumed with his every movement, gesture, sigh, burp, yawn. When he was asleep, I journaled about him and organized his pictures. I shot hours of videotape, meticulously recorded his milestones, read parenting book after parenting book. I was utterly, hopelessly smitten.

Though I consider Bailey a daughter to me, I am not her mother in the same way I am Owen's mother. Bailey has a mother--a wonderful one--who lives only a few miles from me and John. Bailey sees or talks to her mother every day. When she is sad or excited or upset, she will settle for me if she has to, but her mother is the first place she turns, even when she's with us.

I am Owen's first place to turn, and being that kind of mother changed my life. Everything shifted. All that I'd considered important--career, ambition, travel--was instantly downgraded. Being Owen's mother fulfilled me in a way I'd never imagined. A brand new feeling unfolded in me, and I saw right away there was no going back. Once you experience mother love, you are ever more a mother, and you will always see the world through those eyes.

In November of 2001, when I gazed down at that squirmy, squinting newborn, I knew I was face to face with the meaning of life.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The one where Mean Mommy answers Bon's questions

I'm participating in my first blog meme (I didn't know the word either, mom) -- a list of five questions about you presented by another blogger. One of my very favorites, Bon at cribchronicles, whose blog is (and should be) kinda famous, did me the honor of providing my questions (because I asked her to). Apologies in advance because I think I might be long winded about some of them; they're provocative questions.

The first question: There are four offspring in your family. How has each child changed you or impacted you as s/he came into your life?

I'm going in birth order, so I'll start with Bailey. Bailey Boo, Booper, Bailes, Bailey Wailey.

The first time I met Bailey, she was barking. The summer I met John, he and I both worked at this upscale Italian restaurant, and he had a major crush on me, so he came by the restaurant on his day off on some false pretense (really to see me), and he brought Bailey with him. She was 3 years old, with huge brown eyes, long, dark eyelashes, and these adorable blunt cut bangs. She was pretending to be a dog. Loudly.

I tried chatting with her, but she would only yip. I admired John's manner with her, and I thought she was a darling, funny girl. I didn't see really meet her one on one, as someone in her dad's life, until months later.

After John and I had dated for awhile, including a few months of my living in Mexico, he invited me to come along with him and Bailey to the State Fair. She largely ignored me until it was time to leave, and she was unhappy about going home. I found a little stuffed animal of hers in the front seat and, while she sniffled and pouted in the back seat, I made him peek around the head rest and then dart away when she spotted him. We played peek a boo with the little stuffie until she was wracked with giggles. From then on, she was my buddy.

Bailey did change my life, but more slowly than my others did. Our relationship developed by degrees; I tried hard to be sensitive to her position and to the fear, anger, and resentment she might feel towards me as I got closer to John, and I didn't force myself on her. By the time John and I got engaged, Bailey was as much a part of my life as he was. By then, I not only wanted to spend my life with John, but I couldn't bear the thought of Bailey growing up without me.

Bailey taught me many of the lessons first time parents learn: that even the best laid plans are subject to upheaval; that the magic of childhood is revived in the lives of your children, allowing you to experience it all over again in a much more exciting, fulfilling way; that "sacrificing" for your family is not sacrifice at all since there's nothing you'd rather have; and that her dad was someone I wanted to have more children with.

One rainy Saturday when Bailey was 7 years old, we were home watching a movie, Air Bud, I think. As I lay on the couch, this overwhelming feeling of exhaustion washed over me, a heavy tiredness, weighing down my bones. I slept through the movie. That night, John was planning to make spaghetti for dinner, but when he took out the Italian sausage he planned to put in the sauce, the sight of it made me ill. Later, I drove to the drug store and bought a pregnancy test. It was positive. It was Owen.

Next installment (still on the first question): How Owen changed my life...

Monday, October 8, 2007

A mommy first

The first time a child of mine will go under anesthesia: tomorrow morning 7:15. Paige is having the tear duct in her left eye surgically opened. It's a very, very simple procedure but...well, you all know what comes after the but...

The hardest part will be the fury we will face tonight at 1 AM when she wakes up and wants to nurse, and I turn her away. She is going to be livid. I'm actually a little afraid of how angry she'll be. When that child wants her mama milk, she will scratch and claw and pinch and lunge for the mammary until she gets her way. Nursing: such a warm and bonding experience. Until they're old enough to draw blood.

The upside is that my own mama is spending the night tonight so she'll be there to take care of the boys tomorrow morning (we leave for the hospital at the crack of dawn). Because my parents live only 15 minutes away, they never stay with us. Our visits are always a couple of hours long, and then we all go back home. I think that's why my mom and I still adore each other's company so much--we never spend enough time together to grow irritated and resentful. Still, it'll be a treat to have her over to watch Heroes with.

This rambling post exposes my nerves, I fear. I'm sure I'll have a post in a day or two detailing the heart wrenchingness of watching your one year old being wheeled away into surgery alone, without you by the bed to give the doctor steely eyed "I dare you to screw up" looks.

She'll be fine. I know. But...

Thursday, October 4, 2007

If I were truly mean...

My two little potty mouths, lately hell bent on slipping the words "pee" "poop" "puke" and "penis" into every conversation, would wake up on Christmas morning to find these, and only these, under the tree, with a note attached:

"I noticed how much you boys love pee and poop. Thought this would be the perfect present. Merry Christmas! Love, Santa"

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Leaving Everyone Else at Home

We got back from the beach today. This was our first family-only vacation ever. We've been on vacation before, yes, but always with extended family, including a whole gaggle of my cousins and their children. But this time, it was just us, just our little 6 person semi-dysfunctional family. And it was heaven.

Here are a few of the reasons it was heaven:

1. The beach in September is gorgeous.

2. We had amazing weather, including one day (one day being the perfect amount) of driving rain, making for a cozy inside day.

3. John didn't work a lick (quite a feat these days).

4. The kids had hella fun playing in the waves, Paige included. She nearly had a baby cow every time she saw the ocean. When I'd take her to the water's edge, she'd kick and squeal and lurch forward like she wanted to dive in and swim to France.

5. The kids were worn out at the end of every day, which made bedtime easy and early and left lots o' grown up time for me and the old man.

6. We ate so. much. junk food. So much.

7. There was an exceptionally rat-like possum who wandered onto the screened in porch every night scavaging for food (oh, shoot, this one actually belongs on the "things that made me gag during vacation" list. Sorry.)

8. We ate out a lot.

9. When I had to drive back home to work on Wednesday night (certainly NOT one of the things that made vacation heaven), we had a disbursement check from an old escrow account waiting in the mailbox. Windfall! Whoo hoo! More eating out....

10. We napped every day.

The last thing on the list deserves its own section, because this one made my vacation. We decided that over the course of the week, we'd spend one-on-one time with each of the children. We very carefully and thoughtfully chose activities that each child would love, according to his or her tastes. Naturally that meant doughnuts for Mitch and mini-golf for Owen. Paige's one-on-one time happened every day in the form of coaxing her to sleep for two naps and bedtime and nursing her on demand all week (and for some reason, she was very demanding).

I had the honor of escorting for the doughnut date and the mini-golf date, and John took Bailey on her date, which was a 2 hour uninterrupted swim in the ocean. She loves the ocean, but it's hard for us to get in the water with her for any length of time because of younger siblings who might get washed out to sea without constant vigilance.

On the morning of his date, a "special breakfast" at a scrumptious village bakery, Mitch woke me at 6:00 am, whispering wetly into my ear, "Mommy! It's time for special breakfast!" I held him off til 7:00, and then we set off, rather giddily. At the bakery, we ordered a sausage and egg croissant, chocolate doughnuts (freshly baked and hand dipped) and chocolate milk. And then Mitch's head exploded. Not really, but yes, that's a whole lot of chocolate.

The best part was, of course, sitting down at a cozy little table together, chatting and munching and answering each of Mitch's incessant questions without interruption. He was thrilled to be singled out, and his behavior was impeccable. On the way to the car, he skipped up beside me, squeezed my hand, and said, "Thank you for my special breakfast." Then we went home, and Mitch spent the rest of the morning tearing around the beach house, wired on sugar and cocoa.

Owen's mini-golf date was Thursday night after dinner. We filled our pockets with quarters and set off to Uncle Andy's mini-golf and ice cream (which sounds a little bit creepy, kind of like "Uncle Andy" is trying to lure small children to him, but actually it's a nice place). The best part is, Uncle Andy only charges 2 dollars for endless mini-golf, and he makes a damn fine mix-in ice cream. One price, any and all of the toppings you want. Oh my yum. Heath Bar, Reeces Cup, and cookie dough, please.

Because it was the off-season, not many people were at Uncle Andy's, so we played speedily, just as Owen likes it. After chatting with another group of mini-golfers for a bit, Owen called after them, "Guess what? It's just me and mommy! We left my dad and my brother and my sisters at home for a special night!" It made me all gooey inside to know he was basking in our aloneness. I was, too.

After 2 and a half games of golf, I had 2 holes in one, Owen had 3. So we went inside and fed all of the quarters to that arcade game that pushes piles of quarters forward, and if you place your quarter just right, a whole bunch might fall into the quarter dispenser, and you'll win mega bucks. We won six quarters, but Owen, little gambling addict that he is, fed them right back in, so in the end we won no quarters and lost 2 dollars. But we had fun losing the 2 dollars, so oh well.

We're home tonight, sun chapped and tired. Everyone is in bed now, happy to have their heads on their own pillows. But when we wake up tomorrow, I expect there will be a brief moment of disorientation until we remember that vacation has ended, and we're back in real life now. Where one cannot eat doughnuts for breakfast, cookies after lunch, and ice cream sundaes every night. At least not after tonight. And possibly tomorrow. But after that, it's broccoli, spinach, and baked fish all the way.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Blogging is Great

But I'm going to the beach tomorrow! Minimum plugged-in-ness for a week. Can't wait. The beach in September is my favorite thing.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Real Parenting

This time last year, I was with child. Inflated and bulging with child. I was a balloon with feet, a waddling, aching reminder to all women suffering from baby fever that baby fever culminates in a month long bloat fest spattered with much complaining and cursing and topped with the people you live with wishing you'd just go somewhere and finish gestating already.

One afternoon, at the height of the bloat fest, I arrived at preschool to pick up the boys and waddled over to the 4 year old class, out of which Owen dashed, hollering about being star student for the day and proudly puffing his chest, where he'd been decorated with a sticker that declared, "I'm Special!!"

And so began the afternoon from hell. The boys were excruciatingly LOUD the entire ride home, shrieking and whining and managing to hit each other even though they weren't sitting in the same row for f's sake. I growled and grumbled and threatened, and they pretended not to hear me, but we made it home before I reached the "neck turning 360 degrees, eyes rolling back in my head" phase.

Inside, the shenanigans continued. There was much rolling on the floor and screaming, laughter and tickling that disintegrated into tears and smacking because the play had gotten too rough (it ALWAYS gets too rough). The smacking and tears inspired wailing and whining, and whining plus the bloat, plus the tearing bread of the peanut butter sandwich I was making, plus the post-loud-ride-home stress, plus the longing from deep in my bones to have a nap and the knowing that that would not happen, plus the Braxton Hicks contractions that had been torturing me since week 32 = me losing my shit.

I yelled at them. I mean yelled. Very loudly. I had them backed up against the couch, and I was full on flailing my arms and screaming incoherently that I'd told them to calm down eighty times and they never listen and I'm trying to make YOUR lunch and you're both going to bed RIGHT NOW with nothing to eat and then...Owen laughed.

At first he snickered, then he giggled, and then we was wracked with giggles, and I realized that he found me ridiculous. And that, my friends, sent me over the edge I thought I'd already gone over. But no, there was another, much steeper edge.

I put my hands on my oldest child's face, held his cheeks, and forced him to look at me. I asked him what was funny. Was it was funny to make me so upset, to have me screaming at them because they couldn't listen worth a damn? Was it funny to be screamed at? To be so disrespectful? My face was an inch from his, my hands still squeezing his cheeks, the impulse to turn him over and smack his bottom HARD dancing in my nerve endings, my voice bellowing and unfamiliar. I gave Owen a little shove away from me and stood back to look at him. I was shaking with anger and fear. I felt very close to out of control. No. I was out of control.

Owen's eyes were bright with genuine fear, tears now streaming down his face, no trace of a smile left. Mitch had pulled himself next to Owen, practically under Owen, and sat clinging to his arm. I watched them huddled there, truly afraid of me. I saw them watching me with the panic of not knowing what would happen next. Then I noticed the "I'm Special!!" sticker still decorating Owen's shirt, and the image of him dancing in front of me happily after school, so little, so taken with such a small honor, so full of naivety and happiness, deflated me utterly. I turned and left the room, found my bed, and crumpled. I cried and cried with shame, frustration, sadness, fear. I had never felt so outside of myself, so detached from the woman I'd been 5 minutes before, a screaming, abusive maniac. I feel shame even now remembering, picturing their faces on that couch, blanched with fear. Those boys, 2 and 4 years old, were afraid of me, their mother.

Before long I got myself up and washed my face, blew my nose. I went into the dining room where the boys were silently eating their sandwiches, looking sideways at me as I came in. I sat down across from them, and I apologized. I told them I was very wrong to scream at them, that I was very wrong to grab and shove Owen, that I was very wrong for losing my temper so horribly. I admitted to the boys that I was bone weary, and I said sorry. Many many times. Then my boys left their seats and came to me, washed of their fear and anger at me, eager to make me happy again. They hugged and kissed me and absolved me, and I never felt more unworthy of absolution or more full of pure, pulsing love.

A moment like this has never happened again. I hope it was my lowest moment as a mother. I hope I won't be that wild woman again, hot with anger and too overwhelmed to stop the wave of rage from crashing over my children. But that moment, ugly as it was, is real parenting. Real parents screw up. They lose their footing. They have horrible, nasty temper tantrums. They show their children the very worst side of themselves.

Real parents also teach their children that when a person messes up badly, she must say so. She must ask for forgiveness. The children of real parents learn that people who love each other can sometimes say and do horrible things to one another but go on loving each other.

That moment was terrible and sad and gritty. But it was real. As hard as it is to let go of the myth that parents are slawart beacons of wisdom and grace for their children, real parenting will, some time, somewhere, include unleashing the demons. It will happen. It will happen to you, too.

The cool kids over at Babble's recently sent out the call for blog entries on this topic, and I felt called to answer since the topic is near and dear to my heart. Plus if I link back to them I could win this rad stroller, and poor Paige in her ghetto stroller would love a pimped out ride like that.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Lopsided Love

Lately, I've been swamped with work: my school bag bulges with essays to grade; the literature course I'm teaching requires brand new lecture preps every week, and an influx of writing projects has me working on the computer more than usual. I've been feeling a bit like I felt in grad school, those months of slogging through Derrida and Plato, Donne and Lord Byron, all heavy-duty reading assignments that dampened my desire to read for pleasure. For 2 years, the same stack of novels collected dust on my bedside table while night after night I crawled into bed, my eyes dry and heavy from 100 page reading assignments, my mind at capacity, teeming with words and ideas. In other words, I'm doing so much writing and thinking for work, I haven't felt inspired to write for the blog.

I think my soul was longing to unplug because I developed a sudden and urgent desire to craft, to create something that didn't require hitting "publish" or "save." I'm not exactly a crafty gal, but every now and then I get the crafting yen, and woe to the person who stands between me and A.C. Moore. This time, foolishly imagining I could create anything close to as darling and hip as the Hillary Lang dolls at Wee Wonderfuls, without a pattern, a sewing machine, or a lick of spacial reasoning, I undertook a doll project.

I didn't realize I could buy the pattern for Hillary's Make Along Dolls (my favorite of her soft toy creations) right off her website, and I didn't want to wait for a pattern to be shipped to me, so I tried to make my own pattern using a big piece of cardboard and a flickr photo that displayed the cut-out pieces of the doll.

I did okay for an improvised first try, especially a hand-sewn first try. The doll, whom Mitch named Sara, is lopsided. Her stitches are ugly and obvious in a few (okay, many) places. She has embarrassing bald spots and ill-fitting clothes. Her eyes are a bit uneven; her hands are disproportionately small; and I worry that Paige may end up with a mouth full of stuffing if she plays with her too heartily. Sara does, however, have adorable feet. Turns out I'm pretty good at doll feet.

Sara has also captured Paige's heart. After 3 days of sewing, when I finally stuffed her body, and she started to look like an actual doll (sort of), Paige began to pine for her. I couldn't work on the doll when Paige was in the room because she'd sit at my feet, whining to hold the doll and pulling up on my knees to grab at her. When Sara was nearly complete, I gave her to Paige for the first time. She immediately dropped her on the floor, laid down next to her, and nuzzled her head into the doll's cushy tummy.

They lay there together for a few minutes in a bit of a rapture, and I decided that somehow Paige knew that Sara was fashioned from motherlove. The doll is scruffy, yes, but she has a soul:

And a soul sister:

Thursday, September 6, 2007

ISO: The Blond Boy I Once Loved

Mitch starts preschool tomorrow, and, as he puts it, "I'm so exciting." I'm looking forward to some semi-quiet time as long as Paige naps for more than 15 minutes and I don't have too many errands to run or papers to grade and nobody calls me and the dishes and laundry fairy drops by.

Last year, Mitch was the sweetheart of the 2 year old class. Nearly every time I spoke to his teacher, she'd gush about how sweet he was and how polite, and I'd walk away beaming, inwardly smug at what a fantastic job I'd done raising a gentle, well-mannered young man.

Well, if his adorableness was my doing, I must have really screwed things up since then, because lately, my darling Mitch has been usurped by bizarro-Mitch, an evil twin I like to call "Gritch." Here are just a few of the not-at-all-polite phrases Gritch has uttered over the past 2 months:

"If you say that again, I'm going to mess up this whole place" (to the Target employee who warned Gritch he might pinch his fingers in the check-out counter's conveyor belt if he didn't put his hands down)

"I don't really feel like it" (to Mommy when she reminded him to say thank you to a little girl who shared a toy with him)

"I think...nothing" (to the teacher assistant at the preschool open house when she asked him what toys he liked to play with)

"If you do that to me, I'm gonna walk out of this house" (to Mommy and Daddy when they were explaining to Owen what being grounded meant (because he asked, not because he was grounded))

"I don't want it" (to the kind jewelry store lady who tried to give him a small helicopter toy)

"........." (to the kind jewelry store lady when Mommy reminded him to say "thank you anyway")

"No, sir! That's not for you" (to the boy at Owen's soccer practice who tried to use Gritch's dinosaur stompers but had them rudely snatched away)

"If you say that again, I'll spank your bottom" (to Mommy when she told Gritch he had to eat his sandwich before getting any chips)

Bottom line, the boy is the anti-sweet right now. I'm fully expecting this message on the answering machine tomorrow when I get home from my morning meeting at school:

"Hi, this is Gritch's teacher. Can you come get him? He's become completely insufferable kthnx."

But maybe, just maybe, the phenomenon of "good for everyone but mommy" will descend upon Gritch and magically transform him back into the giggly, happy, charming boy he once was, at least during school hours. Cause I have a feeling the seasoned Mrs. J isn't going to fall for Gritch's standard response to getting in trouble, pictured below:

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Allow me to Translate

All mothers laugh at themselves for using those "mom phrases" they swore would never cross their lips. But who ever stops to wonder why we can't stop ourselves from saying them? Who takes time to consider why every mother in the universe (yes, universe; Martian protozoa are parents, too) has muttered "Just wait til your father gets home."

I stop to think about it, that's who. And I have a theory.

It's simple: If we didn't say something trite, we'd say something...else.

If we didn't say, "Because I said so," we'd say, "Enough with your why why why already! Now SHUT IT! ShutItShutItShutItShutItShutItShutItShutIt! SHUT. IT!"

If we didn't say, "I can't have anything nice," we'd say, "You little... Do you think I paid $2000 for this TV so you'd have somewhere to display your handprints? Sit the heck BACK and keep your grimy hands OFF MY STUFF. Allofit!"

If we didn't say, "Well, I'm not Timmy's mom," we'd say, "Well, Timmy's mom is a flippin' idiot."

If we didn't say, "I'm not your maid," we'd say, "I have 2 degrees, 7 years of professional experience, and kick ass references. But I spend my days picking your dirty socks up off the kitchen floor? Keep it up and I'm putting in my notice, kid."

If we didn't say, "I don't care who started it," we'd say, "Keep it up. Just keep beating each other in the head. Maybe you'll knock yourselves unconscious for a couple of hours. "

If we didn't say, "There are starving children in the world," we'd say, "I spend my once disposable income on mac and cheese, chicken nuggets, and Lucky Charms. Eat or I'm using the grocery money for 12 packs and handbags."

If we didn't say, "Turn it off. TV will rot your brain," we'd say, "Please, for the love of goodness, sit there all day and watch Nickelodeon so I can have more than 10 minutes of quiet and maybe a nap."

If we didn't say, "I can't hear myself think," we'd say, "If you don't stop yelling, howling, and whining, I'm going to get in the car and drive far far away to California and start life over on a cooperative farm."

If we didn't say, "Mommy loves you even when she's angry," we'd say, "Even if you grow up to be an armed robber, a polygamist, a Wall Street asshole, I will welcome you home. You have me wrapped not only around your little finger, but your thumbs, pinkies and at least 3 of your toes. I'm a sucker for you, I'm a fool for you. Please miss me when you go to college. Please look at me with the same trust and adoration when you're 35. Please love me always as much as you love me now."

Thursday, August 30, 2007

A Not so Broken Home

This post over at GNMParents has me thinking about my own role as a step mom. Over the 7 years I've been married to John, I've come to realize that the post-divorce family all of us have created around Bailey is something very special. This success is due mainly to the behavior of John and C., who handled their divorce with goodwill, who focused most of their attention on making it as easy as possible on Bailey, and who continue to pay attention to what's best for her.

Since John and C.'s divorce and their re-marriages, all of the adults in Bailey's life have worked hard to function as a unit. Oddly, what we've created is a kind of extended family. C. has brought us meals during times of sickness (so have members of C.'s church--amazing) ; she's celebrated the births of Bailey's half-siblings with joy; and she even took us in when that brutal ice storm in 2002 knocked out our electricity. (Strange, I know, but we had a newborn, and really, things are that okay.) So I know that, though divorce is never ideal for a child, Bailey has landed in a pretty ideal post-divorce situation.

C. has also been very supportive of my relationship with Bailey. I can see how it might be difficult to nurture that relationship, but she understands that it is no good for Bailey to feel torn between her two families. And I reciprocate wholeheartedly. I have never spoken a negative word about C., nor has John (luckily we’ve never really had a reason to), and we are careful to be consistent across households about discipline and rules. The result is that at Bailey’s birthday parties and school functions, when we all show up, she is delighted to have everyone there instead of worried about the tension it might cause. It makes me so sad to think of the thousands of children who cringe at the idea of their parents coming together for a special day. What a shadow to celebrate under.

I've also thought very carefully about my place in Bailey's life. Because she already has a very good mom, that's not the role I attempt to play. I see myself as something between a mom and an older sister, without the full authority of a mother (though I do have some, of course) and with a bit less chumminess than a sister. I give Bailey advice when she asks for it, I chime in on family discussions concerning her well being, but I defer to John and C. when it comes to the big things (we usually agree anyway). Because I haven't tried to stand on equal footing with John and C., I have a unique relationship with Bailey. She needs and loves me for different reasons, and in my view, that is a perfect outcome.

I do feel sad for Bailey sometimes, for the loss of her parents' marriage, but I am proud of the family we have built around her. She is surrounded by love, support, and security. Both of her parents have strong re-marriages that model loving, committed relationships for her, and the friendships between all of the parents in her life have taught her that, even when relationships go wrong, courtesy, compassion, and consideration can make what exists afterward a beautiful thing.

A revised version of this post is cross-posted at Momformation

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The No Nanny Diaries

As I mentioned a post or two ago, our beloved babysitter quit us in favor of her education or something, leaving the boys, Mitch in particular, bereft, and leaving John and me panicked since she quit only a week before the semester started. (In her defense, she was trying hard to rearrange her schedule and didn't know for sure that it wouldn't work out until late in the summer.)

So we pulled out all our old nanny-seeking tricks: an ad on the job board at a local university, an email to former students of mine, a request for friends to ask friends. We got several replies, including one from a student I taught last spring, a smart girl whom I really liked.

She started last Wednesday. Yay! And quit last Thursday. Boo.

She has some health problems, which I knew about, and in her email she explained that she'd thought long and hard and had come to the conclusion that her schedule was too grueling to fit in the babysitting, and sorry, she hoped she was giving us enough time to find someone else. Well. The semester started yesterday so...not really.

That makes 2 babysitters quitting in a week's time. Also, over the summer, when I was teaching/directing a couple of writing workshops, the sitter we hired to keep the kids for those 2 weeks quit after her first day, too. She called from her car claiming she was covered in hives from an allergy to our cats.

So what is it? Does our house stink? Are the boys horrible? Are these "I have to quit because" reasons just...excuses?

In my contemplation of the matter, I came up with a list of reasons a babysitter might not want to work for us. Turns out there are a few:

Ant Jubilee 2007. The exterminator is coming on Tuesday, but the ant parties have been really really rockin' lately. Ant infestation = gross people.

The big, boisterous man sitting at the dining room table talking loudly in a managerial tone. AKA Being alone in the house with the husband; AKA Babysitting with a parent present = nerve wracking.

Owen's tendency to relate every detail of his school day in a high pitched voice. Including a comprehensive list of who got X's on their behavior cards and why, what everyone had for lunch, what kind of cars the teachers drive, and a recitation of the carpool pages over the PA.

Mitch's insistence upon physical play. Including jumping into 120 pound sitters' laps and climbing up their legs, begging to be tickled and/or chased.

Paige's mommy-centric-ness. When mommy is not present, she crumbles in a heap on the floor, refusing toys, sleep, and food. Occasionally eebee or Baby Einstein will help, but only for 10 minutes.

The ginormous crack in the ceiling. The former home owner who installed the ceiling fan in the family room did a shoddy job, and now there is a crack zig zagging from the base of the fan to the top of the wall which makes our house = The House of Usher. So the new babysitter grand tour includes a warning not to turn on the fan or sit under it. Or near it. Or sneeze too loudly.

The lawn. It's been hot. Really really really hot. And our lawnmower blade is shot. And it's been too hot to live. And also very hot. So the lawn is a teensy bit overgrown. Add that to the pile of outdoor toys in our carport = we are rednecks.

The cat stink. Our cats can sense when someone new is visiting and feel it is their solemn duty to welcome new people with a steaming pile of cat crap in the litter box so the new people can smell just whose territory it is.

The poop duties. Apart from the cat stink, we have two children whose bottoms must be wiped, one of whom is also big enough to call from the bathroom, "Come WIPE meeeeeee" and then ask the wiper to look at his poo before he flushes it. Newbies are often unprepared for the wide range of poop duties in our household.

Our neighborhood. I like our neighborhood. It's been called a "marginal" neighborhood because of its proximity to a few "undesirable" areas of town, but I have no problem living here. (We did choose this area after all, and its "marginality" comes with living downtown.) Many of our neighbors are super friendly, run of the mill suburbanites. But it happens that one of our neighbors might be a drug dealing thug (or at least kind of look like one), even though he has always been very polite and respectful to us and sweet to our children. See, the girls I hire to babysit who are students at the expensive private college where I teach probably don't come from neighborhoods where the thuggishness of their neighbors is in dispute. And some of them are from very small Southern towns and have family members with very small Southern points of view about difference.

I realize our family may be a wee bit quirky. Our house is a wee bit quirky. Our kids are a wee bit quirky. So maybe it does take just the right person to work for us, though when we've found the right people, they've been incredibly loyal and dependable. Since 2001 we've had 3 long-term sitters, all of whom left because of graduation/senior year internships, and all 3 have been wonderful and have stayed in touch with us because they care so much for our children. So, yes, there are people out there who love us despite our faults.

I suppose we just have to keep looking. Meanwhile, local readers, if you know anyone, please pass along this ad:

Downtown family ISO part-time nanny. Looking for someone with lots of energy and a love of children. Duties include playing with our 3 kids, fixing snacks, and helping kids clean up after themselves. Must have reliable transportation, references, and no cat allergy. Those with skeevishness about ants, fear of ominously cracked ceilings, a low tolerance for babbling, or prejudice toward red necks and thugs need not apply.