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."