Saturday, May 31, 2008

Set Back and a Pep Talk

I can’t tell you how excited I am that the last few minutes of this month are ticking away and that a fresh, new start will soon be in front of me. After what began as a whirlwind and dream-like beginning to my fledgling writing career, I am (almost) back to square one. Some very unforeseen and unfortunate happenings have left me with just one client, but I guess this whole thing is pretty much feast or famine.

Early in the month, I learned that work that I was writing monthly (and that paid great) would be ending – there was a change in format resulting in no writing needs for the client at all. Then, just this week, the newspaper where my column resides went bankrupt. I don’t really care that I won’t be compensated for the last few columns in print; I just want to continue to write the darn thing. This has not been my month at all.

We’ve been unimaginably busy these last two weeks and I haven’t had much of a chance to pull myself up and forge into the pavement pounding work that I probably should have had to do at the beginning of this endeavor. I’ve tried little bits here and there, but no more than a few stolen moments at a time. While lots of things seem to be on the horizon for the fall with both new and old clients, it looks as if it will be one bone-dry summer. I’ll have a lot of free time to spend generating work!

There’s one thing that good about all this though and I’m not sure if it’s denial or just knowing in my heart that this writing gig for meant for me. I am disappointed, but I am not deterred. I fully intend on still making it – whatever that means for me. These last six months have been so personally rewarding that I just can’t let it all go. I have received such great feedback from editors, family, friends, acquaintances and strangers, my column must have struck a cord somewhere. And the bottom line is that I want this; for me, for a career, for our future. Thanks to all of you that continue to encourage me – it’s working!

So, as I write my 75th blog post, I begin again.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A Rant - In No Uncertain Terms

Fasten your seat belts; it’s going to be a bumpy ride. I don’t like to think of myself as a mom that has too many rules, but being one of the parents on our new block of kids younger than the average seems to be proving me wrong. Even Mike wonders why kids don’t seem to play here as much as other houses and I’m sure it has to do with the fact that Finn sleeps in the afternoon and like a good (and smart) mother bear, I am willing to do anything I can to preserve that. We also don’t have the same caliber of toys that other kids have – motorized scooters and cars, trampolines and enormous play sets. Some of those things will come over time, but while they’re absent, the kids migrate elsewhere.

This weekend, some parents that we’ve only met a few times were out there really playing with a group of the smaller kids. I kept checking on them every few minutes, thrilled to see them in a serious soccer game or wagon races with the parents doing the pulling. The kids were so happy – faces beaming in the sunshine. My mom, aunt and mother-in-law were over, so probably about seven minutes elapsed before I did my usual check up on them and just as my eyes searched my regular viewing points, my doorbell rang. It was the dad that had been pulling the wagon.

Now the rant begins – it’s not going to be pretty. This guy tells me that his wife took my kids to the park. With a more than confused expression I asked for clarification. “Which park? They’re 4 and 6! They should have let me know!” He said, “I know!” And “She piled all three of them (my girls and her daughter) into the bike carrier and headed out a few minutes ago.”

At this moment, I am very unhappy with my kids. They know that they are supposed to play in front of our house only, unless they let me know where they want to go. And the park? At about eight blocks away, going there without speaking to me first is an unimaginable offense. I grab my keys and drive over.

My minutes in the car were spent growing somewhat furious with the mother that took them. Who takes someone’s children anywhere without first talking to the other mom? Who piles three kids in a carrier contraption made for one? Again, who takes someone’s four and six year olds ANYWHERE without first talking to the mom?

So I get to the park and they are not there. I wait. They do not arrive. My anger at this mother and my kids for not even checking with me grows as I drive back to my neighbors and ask if I got the park wrong. He is totally irritated that I have interrupted his phone call and becomes even more agitated when I ask if he can call his wife and ask where she is. Let me just remind you – I barely know them. He calls and speaks to his wife in a language that I don’t understand. I’m sure he tells her that I am a big, crazy loser looking for my kids. Whatever. I want my kids NOW. He tells me she’s been riding around and will go to the park now, so I drive back.

And I wait again. For nearly twenty minutes, I pace in front of my car like some crazed pervert stalking the gazillions of kids there, searching out familiar faces in the sea of sun-kissed small people. They don’t come.

I, who almost never cries, am almost unable to hold it together at this point. I can literally feel my blood pressure soaring, my head pounding and I am fighting tears back like never before. I am beyond worried, so angry at my kids for not coming home and seething at the other mother. It has been nearly an hour. So I drive back home to get this dad to help me find my kids.

And a block from home, finally heading toward the park is this woman, struggling to pull at least 150 pounds behind her in the carrier. I am blind with fury now and cut another car off to get in front of them. They guy swears at me. The mom looks shocked.

I hop out and tell my kids to get in my car. I must have looked insane at that moment, because they didn’t put up a bit of a fight. They obeyed instantly. I think I spouted off about being terrified and going places without telling me and being 4 and 6, but I’m not sure. Then I looked the mom square in the eyes and said in a much too nice and composed voice that my kids were not allowed to go away from my home without me knowing and that I would be taking them home now. “Okay,” she matter-of-factly answered. Not even the smallest apology.

I locked the doors, shut the windows and completely fell apart while driving away. At the end of the block, I stopped the car to properly finish my dissolution. When I finally finished my rant, my girls asked why we were not going to the park and that revved me right back up.

Later, when I had calmed down and had a few regrouping moments, I found out from Logan that she had asked to come home and tell me they were going and that the other mom said she couldn’t wait for her and that she should just call me. She did, but with the visitors that we had, I didn’t hear the phone ring. So the mom said to just leave a message and come along!

And there it was, the tiny voice of my six year old on the line, sweetly doing what she believes to be the right thing as directed by another mom. This may be an acceptable form of communication at sixteen, but not six. I have NO idea what this woman was thinking. It would never occur to me to take anyone’s children anywhere without first personally talking to the mom – NO MATTER WHAT!

Can I get a witness? Am I crazy?

Friday, May 23, 2008

Hurry Up and Come Back

Every once in awhile you read a story about a couple that has spent little or no time apart during their married years. I remember one in particular that slept in the same bed, no matter what, for something like 40 years. I’m not sure that’s even remotely possible in today’s busy world, but I guess it would be pretty cool to get to the end of the line and be able to say you did it.

Last night, Mike left for several days at the Indy 500 with his dad and uncle. They have insider tickets to the most exclusive events, a gift from beyond from his wonderful Grandfather who passed away last August – his sixty year long Firestone career resulted in this incredible gift for the family. I’m excited for him to have a break and travel with his dad who he just loves spending time with. Whenever they’re together, they end up working on house projects instead of just having fun, so this will be great for both of them.

It’s funny though, all day yesterday, I was a little uneasy or off, and not sure why. I am definitely not used to him being gone; there’s no travel in his work life and he doesn’t usually go places with “the guys” or anything. Thinking about it now, I guess my uneasiness was just me adjusting to the idea that he’d be gone. I can’t imagine how my good friend, Tiffany, has felt over the last year while her husband has been deployed to Iraq. This is nothing, a trip for fun – just plain old living life and because of its rarity; it’s leaving me feeling funny. My friend is one strong woman for facing all those months alone with four young kids and the great unknown of the desert looming. By the grace of God, her husband is back home again and safe. I couldn’t be more thrilled for them.

While preparing for our family to arrive and Mike to leave (my mother-in-law will stay with us while the guys go), it never even dawned on me that this little trip might be effecting the kids. When it was time for him to go, it became clear. The second Mike walked out the door, Logan was in tears and nearly inconsolable for several minutes. Riley soon picked up on it all and her eyes bubbled with tears as well; both of them left confused about Daddy on his way – away. They’ve experienced us head out for a night or two once or twice, but never really just one of us for more than one night. And Logan is older now, probably just starting to get an understanding that other factors and unpleasant possibilities exist in her world – just yesterday she asked me what cancer was. Those are some big thoughts swimming around in a little mind. I can only imagine what was causing her such distress as he left and was so glad when she felt better.

Once again, my mind brought me back to my friend’s family and how her children, with their dad so far way, felt as they matured during his absence and learned more and more about the world around us. How brave they were to make it through this like they did; remaining calm, holding it all together and knowing in their hearts that their Daddy would return. What a remarkable family they are.

I have no aspirations to be the couple that never spends a night apart; past work travel, little trips here and there and the thought of sleeping on the fold out bed at the hospital by the time Finn came around did us in anyway. We’re out of the running. But I’m grateful for the fact that we’ve been blessed with most of our time together, good days and bad. I hope Mike has a great burned-rubber filled weekend; he works hard and deserves it for sure. And it feels good to miss him; maybe we all need a little of that now and then. His fan club can’t wait for him to come home!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Happy Birthday Finn!

I can’t believe that two whole years have gone by since our third baby entered this world. Unexpected until two weeks later, Finn, in his breech position, was the one and only to start labor and land us in the hospital earlier than our scheduled C-section. I woke at 4:30 feeling uncomfortable and when Mike got out of the shower later, I asked him to stick around. My contractions were (what’s a contraction?) five minutes apart and consistent from the start, so we called the doctor. By seven, my mom was over and we were on our way.

The doctors said that a bag of IV fluids would definitely stop things, but I had my doubts. Those doubts proved to be correct as the steady five minute reminder of the change to come carried on. By ten, we all agreed - today would be the day. We let all the important parties in on the next hour’s happenings and even got to talk to Logan who was at preschool. I loved that conversation and could feel her beaming through the phone lines.

As far as C-sections go, this was not my favorite. Laboring for nearly 24 hours with both the girls seemed to be just what my body and mind needed to make the transition to surgery and then birth. I did not like walking into the OR and being dead numb from the chest down in seconds. I did not like how cold it was. I felt very scared for the first time and this was my third time! I sensed that the good folks in the OR knew it, because the anesthesiologist kept asking me the same silly questions over and over. Thankfully a kind nurse called him on it and we all calmed down a bit. Then Mike walked in and it all finally started, much to my relief.

At the last moment before Finn’s arrival I looked at Mike and whispered, “I think it’s a girl.” He smiled and said, “I think it’s a boy.” A second later, at 11:01 am, Finn proved him right. The men are siding together already!

Our little blonde man was so boyish and strong looking, so totally different from our girls immediately. He was beautiful and in an instant made me know I was a boy’s mom as much as a girl’s. He was bigger than the girls, at 8 lbs. 3 ozs. and he fit perfectly into our hearts, our arms and our lives. Our world was as thrilled with his arrival as we were.
And at two years old, he proves his uniqueness on a daily basis, doing things I wouldn’t have imagined. Eating light bulbs, drinking muddy water, experimenting with the toilet and disassembling anything that can be taken apart, are all part of his repertoire. He is demanding and assertive and above all wants what he wants when he wants it. He takes charge of any situation.

More importantly, he is loving and cuddly to extremes. He has the best and biggest puckering set of lips you have ever seen and gives hugs like there’s a shortage. He is enamored with his sisters, exudes excitement when his daddy comes home and thankfully, as hard as it is sometimes, still has an aching attachment to me.
He thunders around as master of this domain, hugging the dog and then popping her on the head with a Nerf bat, steps into her water and then makes designs on the floor. Before I can clean it up, he is running through the living room with a bottle from the wine rack and then dumps a potted plant while I am putting the wine away. He is on the verge of talking in full sentences, putting three and four words together, so proud of making himself understood. He wears jewelry and Libby Lu arm warmers on his legs and beyond everything, loves his “Woa woa” bear.
He makes life exhausting, but definitely exciting and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I figure if you’re getting out of the baby making business, this is the way to go out. A little guy like our Finn keeps us on our toes, and more importantly, YOUNG.

Happy birthday baby boy. I can’t bear to imagine our lives without your sparkling royal blue eyes, your blonde curls, your beautiful smile and your full body contact hugs. Thank you so much for coming two whole years ago, you made our family perfectly complete. I love you forever!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Happy Feet

Why is it that some things just can’t be easy or cheap? I’m not talking about one complicating factor involved in a situation, but issue after issue blocking your way and making what should be a simple situation a difficult one.

Take the kids and their shoes. I firmly believe in good shoes for kids, especially early on, but my tune has slightly changed as the kids grew, multiplied and I noticed the perfectly adorable and affordable Target or Payless shoes that other kids wear. After trying them out, I realized that Logan’s feet are too narrow for inexpensive shoes and Riley’s are somewhat wide, leaving her with all sorts of blisters from anything but really well-fitted shoes. (Think $$$.)

I’ve finally succumbed to the fact that I’ll be spending a fortune to keep their feet happy, much to my wallet’s dismay. Now comes Finn, with his marshmallow feet, so squishy and wide they resemble mini-souffl├ęs – all you have to do is barely touch them and they deflate. I guess I thought, “He’s a rough and tumble boy – he’ll be able to blow through pair after pair of Target shoes!” No such luck. After five separate shoe store trips and trying on at least 20 pairs of 6.5 extra wide sandals, I had three choices: I could buy a pair I didn’t like (too fancy), I could send a $70 pair away to Chicago to have the straps lengthened so that the Velcro could be fastened, or he could wear gym shoes all summer.

I opted for the $66 fancy ones and wasn’t thrilled about it, but I needed something – right now his foot doesn’t even fit in a Croc! Apparently kids with really wide feet need very good shoes to adequately support their large insteps and Crocs wouldn’t cut it anyway. When I got home, I ended up finding a much more affordable (yippee - $39!) Stride Rite pair online and planned yet another trip to the shoe store to do my return.

Anyway, as I was driving home, I thought about something that the shoe salesman had said.

“The good thing is that his feet are so soft and squishy – that means they’re still going to thin out a bit.”

“Great,” I said.

But later, I chuckled as it occurred to me, “Does this same principle hold true for the soft and squishy area between my rib cage and hip bones?” If so, I’d be one happy mama to my kids sporting happy feet!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

It Ain't Easy Being Green

I just submitted the following for my newspaper column this week. I thought it would be a cool snap shot of the world to have for our digital family archives, so I'm posting it here as well.

The green movement is ruining my shower.

I love long, hot showers. There’s no quicker way to relaxation for me than to hop in and crank up the heat – just before scalding is best – and stand there awhile. I can literally feel the stress melt away as the water falls down over me and I have to force myself to leave and begin my day. But lately, I’ve sabotaged my personal respite with my growing desire to ‘green’ our lifestyle and lessen the mark our family is leaving on the planet. As soon as that almost meditative state envelopes me in the shower, a loud speaker in my head says, “You’re wasting water and using too much energy to heat it up!”

Don’t worry; I’m not going to preach to you about brushing your teeth in shower or cranking out a worm colony in the basement. How and if we get green is a personal decision that definitely comes with challenges. For years, I’ve made alterations here and there, slowly morphing the course of my thoughts when it comes to the environment. Recently, I’ve done some regular writing in the ‘green space’ which has opened my eyes to many things and left me focused on reusing, recycling and conservation more than ever before. I’ve got a way to go; I don’t fully understand what a “carbon footprint” is, but know that big changes stick better for me in small doses, so I’m working on them one day at a time.

Last week, I bought all reusable grocery bags. For six dollars, I was able to feel good and rid myself of the dreaded chores of watching the plastic mountain in my laundry room grow and recycling the bags with my toddler in tow. Those new bags hold a ton and now, I use my six bags in lieu of at least twenty plastic ones. That’s only two trips to the car to bring them inside!

The thing that hits home for me is pondering where all our garbage goes. So, I recycle like crazy and have started limiting my use of plastic wherever possible, such as choosing reusable containers over plastic bags. As parents, our decisions are often ruled by convenience and I am guilty of single-handedly keeping Ziploc afloat. For now, I’m just cutting down; I’ve got to be realistic.

As far as other changes we’ve made, we keep lights and electronics off when not in use, altered our thermostat settings and switched to doing most laundry in cold water. We’re slowly replacing all the old light bulbs.

The payoffs of our modifications are starting to become obvious. I’m noticing a reduction in our utility bills. More importantly, little comments to our kids about green choices they can make seem to be sticking. I feel like I’m helping them develop a love and respect for Earth and become part of something bigger, all at the same time.

I guess the bottom line is that I want to see our planet be here and beautiful for years and generations to come. Implementing these changes at a snail’s pace allows us to accept them more easily and even determine which simple pleasures may be too good to give up.

For you, maybe it’s the convenience of a handy water bottle or the all important paper towel. For me, it’s my hot shower. I just can’t do it, not yet.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Airing Out the Dirty Flip Flops

I have no doubt that the list of delinquencies that our kids’ futures hold will grow far beyond what we experienced yesterday. That being said, Logan, the last of the three I would have expected to pull off this trick, really threw us for a loop. After a quick morning discussion about flip flops being against school rules, we were off and on our way to start our day. Yes, Logan protested a bit and obviously thought I was being unfair since lots of her friends have been wearing them since the weather changed, but I explained that I knew that the school had this rule and we would not be breaking it on purpose. It seemed she accepted my reasoning.

Fast forward two hours and I am back in line to pick her up. Watching her as I move up through the line, I am thinking my usual loving thoughts of how little and adorable she is. I love this funky little jean jacket my mom got her and searching out some funny little trinket or jewelry she’s wearing to show her individuality. While I performed this common surveillance, my eyes landed on her feet.

Flip flops!

I zoomed past anger to full blown furious in about two seconds. By the time she got in the car, I was unable to greet her with my usual excitement and questions about her day. All I could muster was, “Are you wearing flip flops?”

“Yes,” she said, not meeting my eyes.

I lost it, went off, and said the wrong things for sure. Half way (probably speeding) to Riley’s school pick up, I told her I could no longer discuss it; that I’d have to talk with Daddy and then we would talk about it again. All the while she was crying about the fact that she was starving and that I didn’t give her the usual snack when she hopped in the car. I was so mad I didn’t care at that moment. I was mulling over another of her comments that went something like this, “So-and-so told me how to do it by putting them in my backpack. She said that’s how I could still wear flip flops to school like her!” Of course she thought this blame game (which I know had to be a true story) would get her off the hook, but it just added fuel to fire.

I could not believe that my child had done this. I don’t think for a second that she would have ever had the devious forethought to come up with this plan on her own. (The proof is in the pudding: she didn’t have the maturity to know to take them off and pack them away at the end of the day!) There was a girl in high school whose parents forbid her to wear jeans. Several mornings a week, she arrived at school and went straight to the bathroom to change out of her gap khakis. That, at age 15, makes sense to me. This, at age 6, does not. Is it possible that peer pressure is in full force already?

I hate to be disgruntled with another child, but this girl, so-and-so, keeps causing trouble. She has asked Logan to be her best friend, only to change her mind the next day, convinced her to sneak candy to school to give to her and hurt her feelings on more than one occasion. She cute and outgoing and spunky and I knew when I met her that she would be a ring leader of sorts. Then, Logan's teacher moved them, the only two kids in an advanced reading group in class, to the same desk. After Logan scored 100% on the reading test that only they had on Friday and she did not, this is what happens on Monday. Am I reading into this too much? There is no way she could be being vindictive, right?

I called Mike after we got home and I had cooled off a bit. I had moved from keeping her inside for the rest of the day to taking away her flip flops for awhile. I figured that Mike would have some wise words to guide us through the consequences portion of this event, but he thought she should stay inside for a week and lose her flip flops for the summer! We compromised and all flip flops were confiscated for the month and in the end, she endured a stern lecture on doing what she knows is right, not what others tell her to do and being her own person. For this child, who at this point is leaning more toward the need for acceptance, than the glory of individuality, it’s going to be tough. But the bottom line is that she is good to the core and I know that she will figure it out, especially once she learns that she can be herself and still be liked – by other good kids.

The other night after a jam-packed Sunday, Mike and I were both exhausted and well beyond the limits of our patience. When we passed each other running around at dinner time, he said, “It’s amazing what parenting does to you.” When I asked him to explain he said, “It’s so hard and we’re so tired and we have no patience!”

I agree, it is. But one thing’s for sure: you wouldn’t try this hard at any other job in the world. The day-in and day-out may break you down, but one 4 year old’s soccer game, a 2 year old’s constant “Hewwo Mommy, Hewwo Daddy" or a 6 year old’s sweet innocence make it all worth while.