Monday, June 27, 2011

Does a weekend get any better than

watching the girls on-stage (together) in their acting debuts at The Civic Theatre (so proud);

celebrating the performance at lunch with my parents downtown;

early-morning Wealthy Street Bakery chocolate croissants fueling all the girls in our family in the Reed's Lake Run (Jemma finishing 4th in the 50-yard dash and running in the 400, too; Annie doing the 400 AND the 800 for an even 3/4 mile, and me adding to my healthy food choices by sandwiching a 10K between croissants and coffee before, then a hot dog and TCBY after.  At 10:30 in the morning.  What?);

a quintessential June day at the beach with friends, ending with the four of us crashing the cottage for the night, ending with late-night hot-tubbing and then me somehow drawing the straw to sleep with the four big kids in the bunk room, wedged in the sandiest bed ever with Jemma;

starting Sunday morning with coffee in an Adirondack chair, my best friend, and the quiet of Lake Michigan while the guys took the kids out for breakfast;

wrapping the weekend up with a road trip with friends to see U2, which people have always told me is magical, iconic, spiritual, and amazing, which it was.

So, does a weekend get much better than that?

No, it does not.  Though today, we are following with an encore of "Here, eat some Cheerios in front of as many morning cartoons as you want to watch, while I try to stay in this bed for as long as possible."

Friday, June 24, 2011

Read Elsewhere: Simple

From Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson:

" . . . and while the lake lapped at their feet and the mountains absorbed their calls and the sky flung its blue parachute over their heads, he thought how wonderful it was that life was, after all, more simple than he had ever imagined."

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Fight Club

I haven't written much about our family trip to Sleeping Bear Dunes last weekend, and that's because it was sort of terrible.  The first time we took the girls to one of our very favorite places on earth, we were filled with trepidation:  Would they love it, too?  Could we still eat at our favorite restaurant, still hike in the dunes, still waste hours throwing rocks into the clearest lake water?  Would we all have a wonderful time, or would they ruin it for us?

This time around, we might have been a little too cocky.  We stayed at the same little condo we rented last fall, only this time it was warmer and sunnier.  We wanted to try some new things - new restaurants, new hikes, a new lake to explore, a new river to kayak - and we planned to meet up with a group of friends at their campground for a night of cooking over an open fire and traipsing through the woods.

We did all those things (and more), but the weekend left a sour taste in my mouth, and that's because of The Fighting.  If you have very young children (younger than mine) and are up to your ears in dirty diapers, bottles, midnight feedings, infant carseat-lugging, and piles of baby-food-stained laundry, you might want to avert your eyes and scroll down to the pictures at the bottom of the post.  Because here's the part where I'm going to do that super-annoying, a@@hole thing where I say, "If you think it's hard now, just wait.  Just wait until the entire tenor of a weekend can be determined by the fact that your children will find things to fight over that you would never in a million years think that two people could fight over.  They'll fight over who chooses the video for the car ride, over whether or not the other person is copying them, over who gets to sit next to Daddy at every single restaurant meal, over whose stone belongs to whom, over whose turn it is to use the camera, over where and how to build a fairy house, over sunglasses, over soap, over the flower petals they're using to make a suncatcher.  JUST.  WAIT."

The Fighting, to be clear, has been going on for months now, and usually I think it's a normal part of the sibling relationship.  Usually it comes and goes in fits and phases, balanced out by long days and weeks of very little fighting at all.  There is plenty of teamwork, plenty of giggling, plenty of sisterly love to balance the fighting when I look at it over the span of weeks or months.  But since approximately the minute that Annie walked out the doors of her school for the last time, The Fighting has been almost non-stop.  And here's where I berate myself for my foolish, foolish plan of scheduling NOTHING for the first full week of summer.  We'll sleep in! I thought.  We'll play games in our pajamas and walk to the coffee shop and go to the pool and the playground whenever we feel like it!  We'll bake something, or have a lemonade stand, or take a bike ride, and we'll be happy and freewheeling and old-fashioned and it will really feel like summer.  And then we'll go up north for a weekend family vacation!

But no.  Instead, we have fought - because their fighting leads to my reaction, which leads (so far) to more fighting.  I have tried a few different strategies to cope with The Fighting:

  • Ignoring.  This is probably the one I should employ 99% of the time, but it is almost physically impossible for me to do it.  I can do it for a little while, sure, but at a certain point the noise of the bickering amplifies magically in my brain until it is all I can hear, and I can't take it anymore.  As I told my sister-in-law, it sucks out my soul.  Not to be dramatic or anything.
  • Separating.  This is my usual go-to, and the one that works the best, but is the most time-consuming and annoying to have to follow through on.  I go all Love & Logic and say some version of "It sounds like the two of you aren't being kind to each other.  Please go to your rooms and come out when you can be kind."  At which point they go to their rooms for .2 seconds, come back out, and resume the behavior.  Repeat to infinity.  This strategy is also sometimes impossible to implement, like in the car, at a restaurant, or almost anywhere in public when I am by myself with the girls.
  • Yelling.  This is the least effective choice and yet sometimes it cannot be helped.  I can only ignore and/or separate so many times until I lose my patience and my mind, and even then I try really hard to make repeated requests in firmer, calmer voices to show that I mean business.  But sometimes, driving down Lake Dr., having said, "Please keep your hands to yourself" seventeen times, a yell sneaks out.  At which point the children are SHOCKED and ALARMED and INNOCENTLY WOUNDED and they say, pathetically, "Mom!  Don't raise your voice at me like that!" and then go right back to The Fighting.
These are the things, then, that were happening last weekend in one of our favorite places on earth.  At one point, I side-mouth-whispered to Jason, "She's being willfully insolent!" and he looked at me, amused, and said, "Who are you, Dr. Evil?"  So at least we can still laugh at it, which is something, I guess.  And this week has been better.  The girls are in a theatre camp every morning this week, giving them something fun to do with other people and me some time to write and get things done around the house.  But when I look at the (mostly happy) pictures of last weekend - of spoiling our lunch with shakes at LakerShakes, of floating on the Platte River in the sunshine, of hiking Pyramid Pointe, of Grocer's Daughter's Chocolate, of roasting dinner over the fire, of discovering North Bar Lake at sunset, of eating outside at Art's Tavern - I am reminded of something I read on All & Sundry years ago that has stuck with me.  

"Somebody left me a comment once about how family photos are like looking at ducks in the water, how you only see part of what’s really there — all the furious paddling underneath is hidden. I love that, it’s so true, and it’s one of the reasons I love taking so many pictures. It helps me remember and focus on the good moments, and let the memories fade of the churn it took just to make it through the day."

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Turns Out

Jason and I were married twelve years ago today.  I amused myself earlier this afternoon by contrasting the things that happened in my life on June 19, 1999 with the things that happened in my life on June 19, 2011.  

1999:  slept in late and woke up at my parents' house as a singleton for the last time, giggled nervously with my best girlfriends as we had our photos taken before the wedding, walked down the aisle at Dimnent Chapel on my dad's arm, wore a gorgeous white dress, ate cake, said "I do," danced the night away and fell into bed exhausted before getting up mere hours later to embark on our honeymoon.

2011:  woke up in a condo at The Homestead at 6:04 a.m. when Jemma came in and touched my nose, giggled in a pile in the bed while Jason opened his Father's Day cards and gifts, walked to the library late in the afternoon while Jemma hummed "Here Comes the Bride" and looked for the bugs she calls "germs," wore my hair in a ponytail, said, "Stop it" five million times in the car, ate a black bean burger, gave Annie several thousand time-outs, gave baths, watched Jason fall asleep on the couch at 7:15.

Things have clearly changed.  The collision of Father's Day with our anniversary prompted me to think about how little I really knew about Jason - about how he'd be as a father, at least - when we were starting out all those years ago.  We were twenty-one and twenty-three years old, and when you get married that young and have no plans for children in the immediate future (plans for many years of professional school and working two jobs to support said school, instead), you aren't really evaluating your new spouse as parent material.  I wasn't, anyway.  On some level, of course I thought Jason was kind and fun, patient and happy, loving and compassionate and all the traits people need to parent well.  But I didn't really know what kind of a father he'd be.  I never thought about it for a second, actually.  I just knew I loved him and wanted to spend my life with him.

Turns out, he's the kind of dad who constructs a fairy house at a moment's notice.  He's the kind of dad who lets the kids squirt him right in the face with water after he's mown the lawn, who teaches girls how to skip stones into the lake, who answers questions about space and bones and trees.  He's the kind of dad who calms with a quiet voice and a look, who settles fights with humor, who doesn't worry about making a mess as long as there's fun involved.  He's the kind of dad who will devote an entire Saturday morning to setting up a restaurant complete with menus, table settings, music, candles, and food he lets the kids help cook, just because they asked.  He's the kind of dad who gets up with them in the morning and asks what kind of music they're in the mood for at breakfast.  He's the kind of dad who reads stories, flips pancakes, flies kites, draws pictures, sings songs, runs alongside bikes, points, laughs, kisses, smiles.

Turns out, he's exactly the husband and the dad that our family needs, and we're so very lucky to have him, asleep on the couch these twelve years later.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

What's New, Bullet-Style

  • Last Friday afternoon, Jason and I sat in a title office and signed closing papers and a big, horrible check to finally sell our South Haven house.  It is hard to know how to describe the way it feels to sell a house that was the first big thing we owned together and to which we brought home baby Annie from the hospital.  It is also hard to know how to feel about the fact that it took nearly SIX YEARS on the market and us bringing an amount of money to the table that would buy a used car for that thing to finally sell.  I'll go with . . . bizarre.  Surreal.  We came home and drank champagne, toasting to "one mortgage!"  
  • Jemma, as I previously mentioned, taught herself to swim.  Early last week, she was still getting a snootful of water every time she tried to remember how to "hum" underwater to blow bubbles.  Today, during the minutes when she wasn't asking (at 4:00) if we could "eat lunch soon," and during the minutes when she wasn't being irrationally weepy about the tiniest boo-boo ever on her big toe, she was swimming half the length of the kid's pool underwater, popping up every single time and looking at me with big eyeballs through her goggles.  "Mom!  Did you see THAT?"  I definitely did, little fishie.
  • Jemma also taught herself to whistle, which she now does at every possible opportunity, including in church.  It is almost too cute to tell her to stop.
  • Annie and I spent an hour this afternoon going through the giant pile of crap she brought home from school in those last few days.  My favorite things are her artwork and an entry she wrote in her journal about her parents.  It ends, "I was the first baby that they ever had."  
  • Michigan strawberries are at the farmer's market!  (And in my tummy!)  Time to make shortcake.
  • I began the day at 6:15 a.m. with yoga class outside at Reed's Lake.  It was a clear, cool morning, and doing sun salutations facing the rising sun with the grass under my mat felt like being on vacation.
  • Our fish Priscilla died.  What?  I never mentioned a fish before?  That's because we'd only had her for about a month, ever since the day Jason and Annie came home from the Science on Saturdays program I'd signed them up for - with a fish!  There was NO MENTION of a fish in the promotional materials.  And yet there she was, in her clear Tupperware container which would remain her home forever, until we flushed her down the toilet this morning.  Is there any child, anywhere, who does not have a memory of flushing a goldfish down the toilet while they cry a little?  RIP, Priscilla.  You were a spunky goldfish on our kitchen counter for nearly five weeks.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The First Day of No School

:: giggling girls at breakfast, switching straight from pajamas to dress-up clothes afterwards

:: running around the lake with Connie while my visiting MIL nicely watched the girls

:: spending the whole afternoon at the pool, where Jemma has taught herself to swim and delights in tickling my toes underwater

:: stopping at the library to enroll in the summer reading program

:: baseball and rollerblading in the front yard after dinner

:: still wearing my bathing suit at 10:00 p.m.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Read Elsewhere: Inspiration and Lessons

i began as the mother of babes.

and i mean that, for i was born then, too.
all of the me that had begun,
the wonderings and wanderings of my first three decades,
melted away in the faces of those new babies
and i was born anew.

i spent the next decade tending.
and tending, i did well. it was my thing, apparently.

i grew into it, and i loved every minute.
you know that to be a gentle lie.
there were quite a few minutes of awful.  of anguish, even.
and so much comedy, uncertainty, dishevelment.
you know.

but now...
some of my babes are almost grown.
do not kid yourself about how quickly that happens.
do not kid yourself and do not miss a second wishing those
wonderfully intense, delicious early years away.

for it happens even as you are watching them.
they grow.

and as much as you need to lose yourself to care for those newborn babes, those littles-
when they have grown to your size almost-when their feet may be as big!-
it is then that you need to find yourself again.
you need to grow.

for then, as they come upon ten; at twelve maybe...fourteen certainly;
then you must find yourself in order to know how to guide them.  you must be the you
that you want to be,
so that the you they are growing up against and alongside, is the you that you want them to know.

for here's the thing:

in the end,
what you want for them most of all is to leave you.
to leave your house to become who they will be.
and when they are gone
who do you want to be left with?

my wish is that my own answer
is the me that was born out of mothering them.
and the man that's loved me all along the way.
by Tara Thayer, via SouleMama


Regrets of the Dying by Bronnie Ware, seen via Reverb10

For many years I worked in palliative care. My patients were those who had gone home to die. Some incredibly special times were shared. I was with them for the last three to twelve weeks of their lives.

People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality. I learnt never to underestimate someone's capacity for growth. Some changes were phenomenal. Each experienced a variety of emotions, as expected, denial, fear, anger, remorse, more denial and eventually acceptance. Every single patient found their peace before they departed though, every one of them. 

When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the most common five: 

1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. 

This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. 

It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.

2. I wish I didn't work so hard. 

This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children's youth and their partner's companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence. 

By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle. 

3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.

Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result. 

We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win. 

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. 

Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying. 

It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task. It is all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships. 

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier. 

This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called 'comfort' of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again. 

When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying. 

Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Last Day of School

First day of first grade . . .

Last day of first grade . . .

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Bring on Summer 2011

Jemma's been done with school for what seems like weeks now, tagging along with me everywhere that I go.  And Annie's last half-day of first grade is tomorrow.  So today felt like the last, best chance I had to get things DONE around here.  I may have tried to do too much (run, Target, library, groceries, set up interviews, phone call for new writing project, teacher thank-you notes, creation of summer boredom-buster activities (see below), cooking dinner, filling out paperwork for Girl Scouts and allergy testing, and topping it all off with a family trip to Jersey Junction), but I think we're really ready.

Annie has cheerfully and not-so-cheerfully done chores and saved her money these last six weeks or so, and Jason and I decided to go ahead and order her rollerblades as a surprise gift for her spectacular school year.  We gave them to her tonight right after dinner, then headed straight outside to strap them on and skate twice around the block, up and down the driveway practicing turns, and then all the way to the ice cream shop and back.  One fall.  Three tears.  Huge, proud smile and grateful little girl getting her "spend" money out of its envelope to pay us her portion tonight.

Not wanting Jemma to be left out of the action, we got her something fun for summer that we knew she'd love, too.  She whacks that ball at least half the time we pitch it at her, sometimes knocking it straight into us, always laughing and talking the entire time.

 After a week or two of brainstorming ideas, I finally put this together today, just in the nick of time.  It's Annie's "I'M BORED" Board - get it? - and it's full of fun and educational activities to stave off the summer whining and backsliding.  The whole thing went together in less than an hour, made up of one extra-sturdy (puffy?) poster board, four lengths of ribbon attached to the board with four brads, and about 25 activities divided between four columns:  Write, Do, Learn, and Create.

The I'm Bored Board could have as many or as few categories as you wanted, and you can simply write the task on an index card, label the other side of the index card with the category, and attach it to the ribbon with tape.  Here are a few of our board's activities:

Write:  a comic strip; a story about our family; all the Spanish words you know; a letter to your teacher; a poem; a postcard.

Do:  go for a run; make cookies; weed and water the garden; make up a dance routine; yoga; play catch; jump rope; make an obstacle course.

Create:  paint rocks; draw a self-portrait; make a birthday card; paint using pointilism; paint outside with the art easel.

Learn:  play math games on the computer; research a bug; read a book outside; do math flashcards; pick a country from the globe and learn about it; practice piano.

That should totally take care of summer boredom, right?


I'm predictably wistful about sending our big girl off to her very last day of what's been such a wonderful school year, and predictably amazed at how quickly it has gone.  Heading home from ice cream tonight, I think it was the first time our family has journeyed there and back without anybody in a stroller.  I remember making the trip the summer that Jemma was an infant and Annie was two; both girls rode in the Chariot together, Jemma still on the little papoose board.  The next summer, when the girls were one and three, we'd often take separate strollers (The Fighting) or maybe have Jemma in a stroller while Annie rode her tricycle, one of us pushing her along with our foot.  The last two summers, Annie has been able to ride her bike or scooter or just walk, but Jemma has always been in a stroller for the trip.

Tonight, though:  Annie flailed gracelessly along the sidewalk, refusing to hold anyone's hand while she paid careful attention to the cracks in the concrete; Jemma pedaled her blue-mouthed self right behind her sister, flying down the hills and then churning her legs stubbornly on the way up; Jason and I walked behind, watching, holding hands, feeling lucky to have another long summer stretching wholly before us.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Things They Say: Control Freak Edition

A:  Mom, when you get a cast, do you have to let people sign it?
Me:  No.
A:  Good.  Because when I have a cast, I'm not going to let anyone sign it.
Me:  Oh, okay.  (Pause)  You planning on breaking a bone soon?
A:  No.  (Pause)  But I don't like how sometimes people draw a picture on the cast, like a heart, or a peace sign, and there isn't room for everyone to sign their name, and then the whole cast gets full of black marker and looks all messy.
Me:  Noted.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Read Elsewhere: Letting Go

"The trick of being a good parent is to play the line out slowly until, when the moment is right, you drop it and stand there with empty hands. That is hard, and it is sad, but it’s the only way." - Anna Quindlen, via Momfilter

"Graduation open houses are still a long way off. But when they come, I want no regrets. I will say I drank up every moment, appreciated every sticky hug, relished in the joy of afternoon puzzles or putting my order in at her pretend cafe. It will come soon enough. And when the time does come, it will be a lot easier letting them go when I know I made the very best of the time they were mine to keep."  - Kelle Hampton, Enjoying the Small Things

"Here is the small kinship with mothers throughout time. Where do we find ourselves when we have spent so long defining ourselves through the mirror of our growing children? Where do we go? The fearfulness in my empty belly, the panic: over ordinary complacency these are actually good things. These are nutrients. This is the fertile soil where new opportunities sprout." - Sweet Juniper

Monday, June 6, 2011

Not-As-Good Things, June 2011

In spite of the weekend's pictures, it's not all sand and sunshine 'round these parts.  Last night, for example, after that glorious day at the beach full of swinging and playing in the sand, and after dinner at Butch's Beach Burrito and eating ice cream, and after watching unlimited Magic School Bus DVDs on the way home, Annie had an epic tantrum because I wanted her to . . . get out of the tub.  And she was cold (though initially the tub had been Too Hot), and I was standing there, telling her to get out of the tub, actually holding a towel two inches from her and waiting to wrap her in it - you know, to warm her - and instead she stood in the tub and cried about how cold she was.

I tried three separate times to get her to step out of the tub, but she was deeply committed to her naked crying, and my patience ran out.  I threw the towel on the floor and told her unkindly to go to her room and dry herself off and get her own pajamas on and OF COURSE SHE WAS COLD; SHE WAS STANDING UP WET AND NAKED IN THE TUB.  Ahem.  And THIS resulted not in Annie realizing abruptly how insane and irrational she was being, but in her resorting to her go-to response in these kinds of situations, which is to insist, "You don't love me!"  There were tears, there was stomping, and there was eventually a note of apology pushed from under her bedroom door.

Then today, Jemma got gum stuck in her hair because she was taking the gum out of her mouth and stretching it even though I have told her 24943204 times not to ever, ever do that.  When I catch her even touching the gum that is in her mouth, I make her spit it out and throw it away.  But today she somehow got it in her hair, on her forehead, on her right arm, on her cheek, and below her lower lip.  And even though the peanut-butter-gets-out-gum thing was floating around in the back of my brain (the way back, though), I cut it out.  I just couldn't bear the idea of googling peanut butter home remedies and making a huge mess and getting her into the shower and washing peanut butter out of her.  So I cut it, and I did a pretty good job, too.  (The damage was limited.)  Then I made her go to the drawer, get the brand-new-minus-one-piece package of gum, and throw it in the garbage.  Wasteful?  Yes.  But I was going for high-impact deterrent, so I think it was 99 cents well spent.

I am the only person in the house who regularly flushes toilets or turns out lights.

Jason left at 7:30 for a work-related meeting with the understanding that he'd be back in time for me to run.  That was over two hours ago.

The girls were arguing with one another so ridiculously and continuously tonight throughout dinner and afterwards, during getting-ready-for-bedtime activities (at one point, I told them to "stop fighting" for the tenth time, and Annie responded sassily that they "weren't fighting, cause I'd be using a sword against a villain"), that I announced that I was leaving the house to go take a short walk.  This led, predictably, to Annie wailing, "She doesn't love me!" to Jason.

The big, old tree in our front yard is sick or possibly dying.  I have an arborist coming over tomorrow morning to tell us if it can be saved.  I may cry if he says no.

I burned a pot of brown rice for tonight's dinner, and Jason has left it in the sink "to soak."  We all know what that means.

There are only three and a half more days of school until I have to call Annie a second-grader.  Also, until both girls are together all day, every day for three solid months.  HOLD ME.

Sunday, June 5, 2011