Monday, April 30, 2012

Thirty Days (Hold Me)

With a few quick keystrokes this afternoon - before I could think too much about what I was doing - I committed myself to a thirty-day challenge at my yoga studio. For the month of May, I'll try to practice every single day. If I miss a day, I'll have to double up on another day (I have never, ever done this before) to catch up. I truly have no idea if I'm going to love this, hate this, succeed or fail at this, but I do know that I'm in need of a little challenge in my life and that I never leave yoga wishing I had spent the last hour any other way.

When the studio first announced the challenge, I wasn't interested: not the right stage of my life, weather finally getting nicer, right shoulder feeling a little wonky for the last couple of weeks, and, to be honest, a little bit of fear. I thought I'd just keep practicing a couple times a week and probably take a few months off during the summer. Darn that Gretchen Rubin, though, with her Happiness Project blog, because here was part of Friday's entry:

"If I try to do something four days a week, I spend a lot of time arguing with myself about whether today is the day, or tomorrow, or the next day; did the week start on Sunday or Monday; etc. And that’s exhausting.
If I do something every day, I tend to fall into a routine, and routine has a bad reputation. It’s true that novelty and challenge bring happiness, and that people who break their routines, try new things, and go new places are happier, but I think that some routine activities also bring happiness. The pleasure of doing the same thing, in the same way, every day, shouldn’t be overlooked. By re-framing, you can find happiness in activities like doing dishes or sweeping the floor, as well as your beloved morning coffee-and-newspaper.
The things you do every day take on a certain beauty, and provide a kind of invisible architecture to daily life."
Unsurprisingly, I think Gretchen is right on here. I remember when the girls were smaller, I found it was easier to give them baths every single night, no matter what. It wasn't that I really thought they needed baths every single night, but it was more that I knew it would be easier and happier for everyone if baths were just part of the nightly bedtime routine. No arguing, no trying to figure out when the last bath had been, no negotiating over it. And I suspect the same will be true here: no figuring out when (or whether) to exercise, no meaning to get to yoga but getting sidetracked by errands or a book, no wishing I had gone when I had the chance and resolving to go the next day. I've always wanted to do more yoga, and here is my chance. Just thirty days of yoga, one day at a time. 

Read Elsewhere: Books, Human Nature, Weight, Appearances

"I think, consciously or not, what we readers do each time we open a book is to set off on a search for authenticity. We want to get closer to the heart of things, and sometimes even a few good sentences contained in an otherwise unexceptional book can crystallize vague feelings, fleeting physical sensations, or, sometimes, profound epiphanies." - Maureen Corrigan, Leave me Alone, I'm Reading

"Most Asian cultures see human beings as innately good, born perfect but then pulled off course by false beliefs, unfounded fears, and other delusions. The Judeo-Christian tradition that undergirds Western philosophy sees humans as innately imperfect, born with all sorts of problems (original sin, carnal nature, ignorance of God's laws) that must be rectified and controlled if we are to become worthy. From a Western perspective, setting the original self free is shocking and dangerous: 'Why, if we just act from a place of freedom, we'll all be pillaging and looting by nightfall.' In Asian psychology, pillaging and looting (etc., etc.) come from a place of delusion, from imagining ourselves as separate from others, so that our welfare and theirs are disconnected." - Martha Beck, Steering by Starlight

"Nevertheless, she is six years old, and she is so far below the average weight for her height that the pediatrician mentions it at each visit, and she doesn't want to gain weight. She's mentioned this a few times recently, but I've ignored it because I didn't want to draw a lot of attention to it---or more truthfully, because I didn't know what to say. This time I asked soooooo casually if the other girls at school talk about gaining weight. She said no. I asked if anyone else had mentioned it. She said no. I asked why she said she didn't want to gain weight, and she laughed nervously and said, well, she meant she didn't want to gain TOO MUCH weight.

I didn't pursue it any further. There isn't any point. It's not as if it's possible to rear a daughter who doesn't understand that this society expects her to be thin. I'd been hoping, though, for a longer time before she understood it." - Swistle, writing "Weight and Daughters" at the blog Swistle

"None of us lead the lives our appearance suggests. We each lie in bed at night with our personal terrors as to what life could be, or about what life is like right now, and whether we have the strength to get through it. Clothes and money rarely can make that go away." - Deborah L. Jacobs, in Forbes Magazine

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Last Week's Highs and Lows

Jemma and I were home one afternoon last week. I was cleaning bathrooms and she said, "Mom, I want to clean the kitchen floor."

"Great!" I said. "Do you want to use the Swiffer?"
"No, I want to be like Cinderella. With a rag and soapy water."

She is my little buddy, and I am going to miss having her around so much next year. I mean, who will put raspberries on each finger and eat them off one by one at lunch?

We all went hiking on Sunday. It's what we tend to do on weekends when we don't have a jillion other plans, and these hikes often end up being the high points of our week.

Kites to fly, trees to climb, a pound of sand in each shoe, and time to stop in Holland for ice cream and to play the piano at the retirement home where Jason used to work long ago.

It's not all hiking and happiness around here, though. Last week we tried to take the girls out for dinner one night to escape the dust/noise/chaos/electrical shutoff caused by our construction, and the meltdowns that occurred in the backseat of the car while we tried to come to agreement on a restaurant were epic. EPIC. So epic, in fact, that after five minutes of all the Love & Logic scripts and various parenting techniques I know, I gave up and started videotaping the meltdowns, which amused Jason but further enraged the girls. I have tried in vain to upload it here, but you will have to trust me: there was hysterical crying, hysterical screaming, and hysterical kicking-of-seats. We did not go out for dinner. We drove back home, went back inside our Godforsaken construction zone, got out the jar of peanut butter and the bread and a hunk of cheese, and said, "There."

We have talked about it since, agree that it was ridiculous, and have decided to move on.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Three Simple Questions

I've nerded out before about my 2012 Happiness Project calendar, I know. But I particularly liked yesterday's page. With no editorializing, the page simply asked, bullet-pointed:

  • List five things you do for fun. In the last six months, how much time have you spent doing those activities?
  • Is there a quotation, a book, or a scene from a movie that makes you particularly happy?
  • What three subjects fascinate you?
I love these questions. LOVE them. They're such good prompts to get me thinking about concrete ways to sneak more joy, more wonder, more fun into my everyday life. So here are my answers, and I'd love to see yours.

  • Write, read, walk or run outside, cook and eat with my family, laugh with friends. I think it is safe to say that I do at least one of these every day, and I now realize that "a good day" is usually achieved when I have done all five.
  • Oh, I am a sucker for quotations! One of my favorites is from Brian Andreas: "Time stands still best in moments that look suspiciously like ordinary life." The book Dandelion Wine never fails to make me happy; neither do the movies "When Harry Met Sally" or "Love Actually," particularly the scene where Hugh Grant dances down the staircase.
  • I have long been fascinated by the 1960's (I used to get actually angry with my mom, who graduated high school in '68 and was in college at the height of the war protest/free love movement, for not at all participating in the era) as well as anything to do with World War II, and I'm currently interested in the intersection of parenting and religion.
“Instructions for living a life. 
Pay attention. 
Be astonished. 
Tell about it.” 
-Mary Oliver

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Read Elsewhere: If Motherhood Were School

"I barely make it most days. By the skin of my teeth, I pass. All my life I made straight A's but this mother thing. It's not something I want to just scrape by... and I feel like the gap is closing, what's shaping their behavior, and memories, and when they'll catch on." - from Adventures in Babywearing

In My House Right Now

This vacuum (Hello, lover), which every member of the family actually thinks is fun to use. (As Elf would say: "Oooh! Sucky!")
Annie's new bedroom.

This little girl, who looks demure in her first communion dress but jump-ropes everywhere she goes, all day long.

Annie's old bedroom, which used to look like this . . .

and the end of our hallway, which used to look like this . . .

 . . . now look more like this (at the end of the hallway) . . .

 . . . and this (view from inside the room).

Jemma's new bedroom upstairs.

This little girl, who warbles her sing-along cuteness while wearing Daddy's old headphones until her ears get sweaty.

A hole. In my house right now.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


Kicking my own butt at the gym for an hour: treadmill, rowing machine, jump rope, weights.

Lunch at Marie Catrib's with Jemma (yes, of course pudding).

Lucky pedicures and swinging at the playground afterwards to dry our toenails.

Reading a pile of library books in the car while waiting for Annie to come out of school.

New running shoes and lipgloss. 

Inhaling fresh air with next-door neighbors before dinner, and children doing cartwheels madly in the grass. 

Well-behaved, cooperative, happy, and all-around hilarious children.

New Patricia Polacco book at bedtime.

Scoring a last-minute babysitter so I could join some friends to drink (too much) wine, and drinking the first Chardonnay I have ever liked.

This quote from Mary Oliver: 
"Sometimes I need
only to stand
wherever I am
to be blessed." 

This ridiculous video MY FRIEND MADE:

Sleeping with the window cracked open.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

You Know It's Been a Bad Day When . . .

  • You have to wear a hat and mittens to walk your kid to school. In April.
  • You spend much of your morning waiting around for a guy to come pick up the mattress you're donating.
  • One of the first things your husband says to you when he gets home from work is, "Hey. I have a zit there right now, too."
  • When he arrives home from work, you are lying face-down across the bed and you say, "I want to run away from home." AND YOU MEAN IT.
  • You beg your husband to take the children to piano lessons and while they're gone you get into the tub with a glass of wine, five snack-size Twizzlers from your kids' Easter basket, and the phone. You are still there when they return.
  • You slam a door so hard that the framed black and white photo you took in college falls off the wall and into the toilet.
  • Your daughter outright refuses to get in the car after playing on the playground after school, and later runs away from you while you're talking to her for the eleven thousandth time in the last week, so you calmly tell her that it's a problem that you're going to solve together. The first solution you offer is that you will buy her a leash and put it on her every day when she comes out of school until you feel comfortable trusting her to listen. AND YOU'RE NOT REALLY KIDDING.
  • You go to the library after the kids go to bed, trying to re-stock the kid's books for the next week, and they make the "The library is now closing announcement." You hurry to the check-out counter, where your card is denied because you have fines totaling more than $10.00.
  • Things on the agenda for tomorrow include: Write large check to contractor; stay out of house for entire day because of lead dust; take child to therapist; re-wash load of laundry you forgot about which now smells terrible; wait in vain for exploratory freelance emails to be returned.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Tooth Number Three

Annie pulled her tooth out tonight just before bed. Jason goaded her into it - he was tired of watching her play with the poor thing, hanging by a few sad fibers - and she yanked it out calmly and spit the blood into the sink. Even after Jason jammed some wadded-up tissue in the socket, she kept trying to talk to us. Just now, she's upstairs, finally asleep. She came downstairs once after being tucked in, afraid that something was under her bed and going to get her ankles if she got out.

"Like what?" I asked, half-smiling.
"Like, a monster," she said, also half-smiling, because we both knew she wasn't really afraid.
"I only ever let in that very little purple monster," I told her. She rolled her eyes (a daily occurrence). She kissed me on the lips (the yips, as Jemma would say) and stoically marched back up the stairs to bed. She stopped halfway.

"Go to sleep!" I said. "If you don't go to sleep, the Tooth Fairy can't come."
"Why not?"
"Because she doesn't want people to see her."
She positioned her thumb and forefinger an inch apart. "Is the Tooth Fairy this big?"
"I don't know. I've never seen her. Now go to sleep."

Thursday, April 5, 2012

On the Turning Away

My whole life, my mom has said the same thing to me each time I turn to leave. As I get in the car, walk out the door, hop out of the mini-van, pull out of the driveway, she says, "Be careful!" She said it yesterday - yesterday! - as I, a 34-year-old woman with two children in my backseat, a person who has never been involved in any kind of car accident and pretty much never speeds, backed down her driveway.

She does it, I know, out of love. She doesn't want anything bad to happen to me, as as a mom now myself, I very much get that. I haven't started saying it to my own children, though. I think it sends a message that I would rather not send; that is, the world is a scary and dangerous place, so above all, your number one priority should be being careful. In fact, I've worked very hard in the last few months to send the very opposite message to a pretty anxious little girl. The message I want to send is, embrace this good day, for while bad things are possible, they are not likely, and you will prevail! So I say, "Do your best!" and "Have a great day!" and "Have fun!" as I kiss her good-bye and she turns away to walk into school. I liked my message better.

And then I read this passage in How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk this morning:

"One common parental inquiry that seems to be experienced as pressure is "Did you have fun today?" What a demand to make upon a child! Not only did he have to go to the party (school, play, camp, dance) but the expectation is that he should enjoy himself. If he didn't, he has his own disappointment to cope with plus that of his parents. He feels he's let them down by not having a good time."

It stopped me dead in my tracks, for it reminded me immediately of the infamous "Don't Carpe Diem" blog post that went viral among mommy-bloggers and Facebook users everywhere a couple months ago. Here's the gist:

Every time I'm out with my kids -- this seems to happen:
An older woman stops us, puts her hand over her heart and says something like, "Oh, Enjoy every moment. This time goes by so fast."
Everywhere I go, someone is telling me to seize the moment, raise my awareness, be happy, enjoy everysecond, etc, etc, etc.
I know that this message is right and good. But, I have finally allowed myself to admit that it just doesn't work for me. It bugs me. This CARPE DIEM message makes me paranoid and panicky. Especially during this phase of my life - while I'm raising young kids. Being told, in a million different ways to CARPE DIEM makes me worry that if I'm not in a constant state of intense gratitude and ecstasy, I'm doing something wrong.
I think parenting young children (and old ones, I've heard) is a little like climbing Mount Everest. Brave, adventurous souls try it because they've heard there's magic in the climb. They try because they believe that finishing, or even attempting the climb are impressive accomplishments. They try because during the climb, if they allow themselves to pause and lift their eyes and minds from the pain and drudgery, the views are breathtaking. They try because even though it hurts and it's hard, there are moments that make it worth the hard. These moments are so intense and unique that many people who reach the top start planning, almost immediately, to climb again. Even though any climber will tell you that most of the climb is treacherous, exhausting, killer. That they literally cried most of the way up.
And so I think that if there were people stationed, say, every thirty feet along Mount Everest yelling to the climbers -- "ARE YOU ENJOYING YOURSELF!? IF NOT, YOU SHOULD BE! ONE DAY YOU'LL BE SORRY YOU DIDN'T!" TRUST US!! IT'LL BE OVER TOO SOON! CARPE DIEM!" -- those well-meaning, nostalgic cheerleaders might be physically thrown from the mountain.

I realized that I'm not really sending a better message with my flung-from-the-doorway words of wisdom than my mom does. I realized that, after three little old ladies told me in the span of two days in Florida to "enjoy every moment!" I should know better than to expect that every day Annie has at school will be "great!" or that every play date Jemma goes to will be "super-fun!" I realized that I'm acting like the older lady in the grocery store!!

I'm not going to start telling them to be careful. But I am going to stop telling them to (and asking them later if they did) have fun. I think I'll start trying to say, simply, I love you.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Weekend That Was

Weekend highlights (or lowlights, as the case may be):

  • Impromptu dinner with friends at Everyday People on Friday night.
  • Moving all the upstairs furniture downstairs, then all the girls' furniture and clothing and CRAP upstairs. They slept upstairs for the first time on Saturday, and the love their new space.
  • Annie had an honest-to-God temper tantrum/meltdown about . . . a turkey sandwich.
  • We sat through an incredibly long Palm Sunday church service and celebrated by taking the girls out for coffee and treats at The Fancy Hotel.
  • Family dinner on Saturday night followed by watching A Dolphin Tale for movie night.
  • Plenty of cleaning, sorting, throwing away when the girls weren't looking, and carting a carload of old stuff away to donate.
  • New ranunculus in the pots on my front steps.
  • Sponge rollers and the resulting curls.
  • Family walks and bike rides snuck in between the drizzle.
  • The almost-13-year-old vacuum died (just as I had finally cancelled the cleaning service, too!), so I braved Bed Bath & Beyond to get a new one, and I am quite proud of the amount of money I saved on a new Dyson by finding one on clearance AND using my 20% off coupon.
  • A week ahead of no school, not too many plans, cousins, Easter, friends, and barbecues.