Thursday, December 5, 2013

51 Weeks Later

Fall is probably my favorite season, thanks in large part to all the fun, outdoorsy, family-friendly things to do. Likely for these reasons, it's been on my mind almost constantly over these last couple of months, though it's not like I ever forgot. But whether watching my small monsters carve pumpkins while wielding sharp objects and making a giant pumpkin-guts mess; or watching the posses of sugar-fueled trick-or-treaters roaming the neighborhood, my thoughts keep returning to the victims, and to the parents of the victims, of the Newtown, CT, school shooting last December.

As Thanksgiving came and went, those families were on my mind all the more as my constant thought throughout the month was how grateful I am to have a family that is happy and healthy and safe, and that I am grateful that my problems are small, in the grand scheme of things. Which is probably exactly how those families felt just last year at Thanksgiving, mere weeks before the unimaginable happened and the courses of their lives were forever changed.

It has been almost a year since that day, and the families have endured almost all the firsts…the first Christmas without their children, first Valentine’s Day, spring, summer, fall, birthdays, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and, soon, the first anniversary of the deaths of their precious children. The media focus, the community focus, the world focus that will be on them in the days leading up to December 14…I don’t know how they will manage it.  The grief they live with daily is unimaginable; to do so publicly in a country that watched them suffer and then couldn’t even pass any of the gun legislation they lobbied so passionately for is even more unfathomable.

When I think of the shooting, there’s one face in particular that comes to mind. His name was Dylan and his vivid, mischievous blue eyes were so beautiful. And, just as clearly, I see the haunted, devastated eyes of his mother. Her face stayed with me as the picture of heartbreak. A little guiltily, I am always so thankful that I don’t know that kind of suffering, and I hope I never do. But I am also always plagued with fear that horrible things happen to ordinary families. Families like ours. A year ago, so many families in Newtown, CT, were just normal people, living normal lives, when the most abnormal thing happened to them…randomly, without warning. The reminder that so much in life is completely out of our control is such a devastating, terrifying reality.

I was driving to Liam’s pre-school the other day to pick him up. I saw a man walking on the sidewalk with what I initially thought was a gun. On second look, it was a big L-shaped metal tool. But I see possible harm everywhere now, where is doesn’t really exist.  The horrors of that day in Newtown struck a fear in me that refuses to leave…the paranoia that a violent event can be waiting for me or my family anywhere, even in the least likely of places. When I walk into the kids’ schools, my first thought is “How unsafe this is.” There’s only one door that shields my precious children from the craziness in the world. I have the same thought at the gymnastics studio, at the community pool, at WalMart…that there’s no guaranteed way to stop a bad guy, should one of them arrive with a well-devised plan and lots of ammunition.

After a tragedy, there’s often a search for the lesson to be learned, for the ‘good’ to come from the bad. If there’s a ‘good’ anywhere in this, maybe it’s the threat of loss that helps me focus on the good in life and appreciate it all…especially those days, of which there are plenty, when I want to pull out all my hair and surrender myself to a facility with padded cells. I often remind myself that those parents would give absolutely anything to see their kid have a tantrum or make a giant mess or shove their sibling. The thought is sobering.

Sometimes I look at my children and their goofy little faces just choke me up. The delicacy of their features are almost doll-like, the long eyelashes like paint on porcelain. The sound of their voices and giggles are so precious; the intricacies of their personalities make each of them so uniquely special. I think of their potential, imagine their future. I can’t imagine them not having a future. This is the danger of loving. While the potential for joy is immense, so is the potential for suffering.

As the Newtown families approach the last of these “milestone” firsts, my thoughts are with them, as they have been all along. Their losses remind me that a day that ends with the well-being of my family is a good day. Their losses remind me to be thankful for all that is good…not just at this time of year, but every single day.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Being a Good Bad Role Model

In the shower this morning, for unknown reasons, I started to wonder if I am a good role model to the people I come across on a daily basis. As a parent of four and, as much as it pains me to say, a senior military spouse (“senior” in that Mike’s been in the Army for a while, and we’ve been together a lot of years), sometimes I think that I should be “setting the example,” whatever that means. Not necessarily for my kids, mind you…I think they know me well enough at this point to look to their dad when needing a role model. But, in our neighborhood, which is also a military community, I’ve been around the block a few more times than most of my peers, simply due to my ‘advanced’ age, and I got to thinking about how others might view me.

Almost immediately, I started to laugh. The idea of “role model” quickly fell away, as I thought perhaps the correct description of knowing me was really more akin to something out of a scared-straight program. “Look, kids! THIS is what YOU could become if you don’t clean up your acts!” Imagine tiny faces with wide, horrified eyes and terrified expressions. I don’t know why I found this so funny, but I laughed and laughed, and then I laughed some more.

A few examples quickly popped into my head…examples that, I am fairly sure, indicate I am NOT a role model, or at least not a good one. Recently, my mother-in-law sent me a book review. Its title? Moms Who Drink and Swear: Loving Your Kids While Losing Your Mind.  So, when my MIL saw the words “moms,” “drink,” “swear,” and “losing your mind,” her first thought was of me. I can’t even take offense because it’s all true. I drink, I swear, and often I do both at the same time. Frequently, I am confident I am losing my mind. And, apparently, I don’t even try to hide this.  Score one in the NOT a Role Model column.

Then, a few days ago, Nadia said to me in the car, “Mom, slow down. You’re going even faster than the school bus. You’re going to get pulled over AGAIN.” Of utmost concern to me in this sentence is the implication of the speed at which the bus driver hauls my kids around. Of course, if I had a bus full of kids, you can safely bet I would also be traveling at a high rate of speed, to get those kids OFF my bus. Of other concern: the fact that my daughter thinks I get pulled over a lot. I don’t know what qualifies as being pulled over “a lot,” but, regardless, she thinks I have a lot of police encounters, which sounds like another tally mark on the side of NOT a Role Model.

One day a year or so ago, while Mike was deployed, I realized I hadn’t seen my new neighbor in forever. I knew that her husband was also deployed and she had three small kids, of which the youngest was a newborn. I began to worry about her, thinking that maybe she was having trouble coping with the deployment and/or single-parenthood.  I decided I would soon go over, offer some guidance and “take her under my wing,” so to speak. Later the same day, as I had a complete and total crazy-woman meltdown over my role as single parent, Army-spouse, parent-of-four, I decided that perhaps the kindest thing I could do would be to NOT go over. What, I thought, could I possibly offer in terms of advice to anyone? More likely, seeing me in my beaten-down, sarcastic, grizzled-Army-spouse status might actually cause her to lose any hope she might have, as opposed to me being the shining example of well-adjusted wonder-woman I want to think I am.  For her benefit, I steered clear of her, thinking denying her my influence was the kindest thing I could do for her. Score one more in the NOT a Role Model column.

A favorite example happened a couple years ago. I was describing to a friend an incident that had occurred in my house. As I recounted the story that ended with a giant stain in my bedroom that looked like a Jackson Pollock painting, with cat vomit as the medium, and my subsequent unraveling into near-madness laden with an incredible slew of expletives, my friend looked at me soberly and actually said, “Sometimes I think I’m the worst parent in the world, but now I know I’m not.” I figure you could take this two ways: either I let her know that we all share the same struggles and we’re all, in fact, sort-of-normal as we deal (sometimes badly) with the crazy situations we frequently face as parents. Or…she’s not the worst parent in the world because I deserve the title. I think she probably meant the former, so we will score this one on the side of Role Model, since I haven’t been able to score anything on that side yet.

Plenty more incidents flashed in my mind…incidents in which I perhaps didn’t come off positively. I did a quick tally and simple math confirmed it’s much more likely that I probably am NOT the paragon of virtue I wish I were, or that I wish others saw me as. But, because I love silver linings, I decided it’s good to be true to oneself, even with all one’s imperfections. And then there’s this…being a bad role model can also be good (along the lines of “Scared Straight”), if it affects positive change. If I don’t always model good behavior directly, maybe people can learn something good from all my bad examples.  

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Postcards from the Edge

the face of the summer vacation...are we having fun yet??
I can see the light. It’s so bright and beautiful, ahead of me in the near distance. I want to go toward it, to see where it leads. I know it can mean only one of two things. Either I haven’t survived this summer “vacation” with the kids and, somehow, I have made it to heaven, or it’s that proverbial light at the end of the tunnel that indicates I have survived the summer with the kids and that school will soon, soon, not-soon-enough be starting. Either way, there will be peace. Insert sighs of relief here.

August has arrived (Hurray!! Cartwheels!!! Twirl in mid-air!!! Skipping!!!) and, with it, the symbolic end of summer. Here in Kansas, there are 12 full weeks of summer vacation. Eleven weeks have passed and I am so pleased to proclaim that the kids are in one piece, as am I, and that only five days remain until I can triumphantly declare victory over 80+ days spent full-time with four kids, three of whom have mastered the fine art of pissing-off-your-siblings-to-no-end. Also conquered: a tonsillectomy and a 1400-mile, summer-vacation road trip.

Ahhh…the family vacation…the source of so many memories, a handful of which provide fodder for future therapists in years to come. I can’t help but wonder who first “invented” the family vacation, or how the idea caught fire and infected more people than the bubonic plague. The lure of the open road, the desire to make new discoveries, the quest for adventure…the idea is so American and so romantic.  The reality, of course – like all realities - is slightly different, especially when conducted in a mini-van with a three-year-old with a chronic case of why-arrhea.

This isn’t an earth-shattering epiphany, but I’ve decided vacations are like a photo album (the old-school kind). There are tons of photos/memories at the end of the trip, but only the best make it into the photo album/memory bank. My albums consist of the edited and beautiful photos that make me seem like a master photographer with a really expensive camera. The truth, of course, is very different, when only 48 of 647 photos taken were actually decent, without strangers scratching their ass in the background, photographer-induced decapitations, humidity fogging up the lens, etc. What’s preserved, at the end, is the best of the good, while all else is omitted and forgotten. Here’s my photo-album synopsis of our trip.

General stuff: I bought a new atlas (spiral-bound!). For me, looking at an atlas is sometimes even better than looking at the scenery, especially when that scenery is the very flat, dull, dry western part of Kansas. My new, posh atlas revealed some before-unknown Kansas treasures, like the Kansas Barbed Wire Museum (in LaCrosse, for anyone interested) and the World’s Largest Ball of Sisal Twine (in Cawker City, and NOT to be confused with the world’s largest ball of baler twine, which is in Darwin, Minnesota). Again, I am reminded: IT IS TIME TO MOVE, despite the giggle over things in Kansas that make it onto an atlas page.

Things seen: Wind farms. Dirt roads. Weed for sale. Nudity. Kansas has a lot of wind, and it’s not just because I live here, for anyone interested in making that smart-ass comment. Minimal trees, wide-open spaces, weather currents I don’t grasp…all this equals LOTS of wind. I knew the wind farms were out here, but they’re not in my east-central part of Kansas. It was very cool to see a wind farm for the first time, full of massive, countless turbines, harnessing nature for energy. Then there’s the dirt-road network. I have been startled by this discovery before. I come from a place where the very rare dirt road is surely a road to nowhere, a dead-end. If the road actually went somewhere, it would be paved. But, in Kansas (and many places, as I’ve discovered), there’s a hearty network of thriving, trafficked dirt roads; and these roads actually go somewhere (albeit probably to someplace rural).  Other sightings: a gift shop in Colorado with a sign that read, “A respectable joint, 25 cents.” I thought, What an odd endorsement. No one calls a place “a joint” any more. And why 25 cents? And then it dawned on me…they were selling ‘respectable’ joints, for a quarter. Also seen: an incredibly aggressive species of hummingbird that scared the bejesus out of us, and a naked neighbor enjoying the morning mountain air in his lawn chair.

Things heard: Nadia waking the entire house at 645 AM to announce her sighting of a doe and two babies. Unimpressed with our tepid, sleepy response, she said, disappointedly, “It seems like nobody cares.” In our defense, we all would’ve cared a lot more AFTER a cup of coffee and AFTER the crack of dawn. Nadia, again, as we were driving up Pike’s Peak, clinging to our side of the in-the-clouds, limited visibility, guard-rail-less, winding mountain road, looking over at the precipitous drop inches away from us, “I hope you know what you’re doing, Dad.”  And Nadia, again, having an epiphany at the zoo: “When people die, why don’t we just feed their bodies to tigers, instead of burying them?” I am curious what the inner workings of her mind look like, but applaud her dedication to recycling. On a hike along a creek as we plodded uphill, Liam proclaimed (with all the attitude a tired, unpleasant three-year-old can muster), “ME HATE THIS WALK!” He wasn’t even the one pushing the stroller. If only these kids would tell me how they really feel.

And that’s my album of snapshots. We ventured to Colorado. We partook in many activities and saw nature’s majesty up close and personal. We encountered wild animals – some of which were our own children, some of which were the kind with fur. We were intrepid and fearless in the face of having-four-kids adversity. Moments were challenging (and sometimes the moments were hours, or entire days or nights), but, in the end, we labeled it a wonderful time, sometimes in spite of and sometimes because of the adventures that children induce. Which sums up the entire summer vacation – and parenthood, in general – quite nicely.

Onward, towards the light!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Summertime Blues

Call me delusional or paranoid; say I need to up my meds. But whatever you think, I think the kids are plotting my downfall. I think they are conspiring in their little-kid brains to partake in all the activities that drive me batty and, subsequently, to be rid of me forever after I am evaluated and committed. Summer vacation is only 12 days old and I've already developed a tic and a potty mouth to make a truck driver blush. Another 70 days of this and I will finally get my wish for a state-sponsored vacation complete with three square meals a day and my own private suite. 

Liam's contribution to this debauchery is a stubborn-streak a mile wide, combined with a refusal to poop in the toilet, or to poop with any regularity. I suspect that, at the rate he's going, he will have to interrupt his wedding to get himself a fresh pair of "unner," and that's only if he doesn't completely fill up with poop and actually EXPLODE at some point before then. Rumor has it, this anti-pooping mentality is not unusual in boys, but this doesn’t make me feel any better. I've had my hands in human excrement for so many consecutive years that it may, on any given day, be the straw that breaks this camel's back. Sort of related, and though I haven’t verified this with a medical professional, I think my carpal tunnel might stem from the repetitive motion of scrubbing out grimy underwear. I also suspect some of my mental exhaustion likely stems from trying to use Jedi mind tricks to will a three-year-old to poop. If there's anything I've learned in life, it’s that you can't make someone else poop, no matter how hard you try. 

Nadia's contribution to my emotional demise is, in all fairness, no fault of her own. She had her tonsils out last week and I think that says it all. What a way to start a summer vacation…some kids get to go to camp, Nadia got to have surgery! To put it mildly, she's not herself.  She loiters pitifully on the couch, digesting one Tom and Jerry episode after another. OK, that’s actually completely normal for Nadia, minus the pitiful demeanor. There's the occasional request for food, followed by immediate rejection of said food because "it tastes so bad," either due to my subpar cooking or, more likely, her sickly throat. She visits us in bed every night with a cough and whimpering and then climbs in next to me with breath that almost overtakes me, spreading through the room like a landfill-scented plug-in. We're a week post-surgery now, so there's the hope of better days soon.

Declan, at almost 17 months, has all of four teeth. So I suspect teething is the issue for his – and my - ill-tempered bouts of screaming, fit-throwing and general malaise. He has just discovered that he wants to be a stuntman when he grows up and I am always finding him in compromising positions, such as standing on the kitchen or dining room table, at the top of the bunk beds, "surfing" on our rocking ottoman, etc. Most of these adventures end with some degree of head injury, thus contributing to the ill-tempered bouts of screaming, fit-throwing and general malaise. During the moments when he's not working on his stunts, he dreams of becoming a make-up artist. His favorite drawer in the house is my drawer in the bathroom, where he gets into all of my makeup (recently having broken my new cake makeup, shattering it into a messy powder) and toiletries. For the uninitiated, 50 yards of unraveled dental floss is a mighty large pile of string. In his free time, he enjoys throwing toys into the toilet and smearing up the glass doors with fingerprints, drool and nose goo, which are absolutely two of my least favorite things. 

As for Grace, she suffers from a debilitating, chronic case of "I'm bored"-dom. Everything is boring, inspires boredom and results in boredom. Everything we have is boring, everything we get is boring, and everything in the world is a big, fat, boring disappointment. It's a little maddening, and fairly boring, to hear this complaint day in and day out. Her other contributions to my demise include being the messiest person in the world. Or, at least, under this roof.

Minus their individual skills, the kids often join forces, partaking in general squabbling, slapping, and, as a friend once termed it, the throwing of the no-fair flag. “No fair!” shouts Liam. “It’s not faaaaaair!!!!!” cries Grace. “No fair, Mama!” whimpers Nadia, softly, due to her impaired throat. I can almost see in Declan’s eyes that he is thinking the same, as I put an end to his latest head-cracking activity.

In moments of lucidity, I know there’s no conspiracy theory and I know that they’re just kids being kids, and that they’re actually pretty good kids, at that. But, in my child-induced haze of anxiety and paranoia, moments of clarity are few and far in between. And in those long hours and days of being vastly outnumbered in the ridiculously named “summer vacation,” I watch them warily, trying to combat their dastardly intentions with all the fortitude I can muster, in the hope of maintaining what little sanity remains, until the glorious start of school in the fall. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Quest to be Mother Martha Cleaver Mayer

About two months ago, a friend and I were engaged in a conversation about all of our perceived shortcomings. We both agreed that we wanted to be our own versions of Superwoman (my version: 5’9” tall, sings like a nightingale, speaks all the major languages, knows how to quilt), but often aren’t. She hadn’t lived up to her expectations of herself that day and was feeling inadequate. My “pep talk” included a detailed list of all the ways I had performed inadequately that day and in general, and some theories about how, as women, we are almost automatically destined for failure. In the quest to have it all and do it all (and, worse, to do it all well), we put so much pressure on ourselves to be June Cleaver/Martha Stewart/Marissa Mayer/Mother Theresa that, no matter how good we are, we never feel good enough.

In response, she started a blog called The (Im)Perfect Truth Project, celebrating the little things that don’t go according to plan, which are a much larger part of the day than the triumphs and things that go right. As for me? I had good intentions about a timely, introspective blog, but all I’ve accomplished in two months is lots of thinking-about-it. But in this period of mental marination, I think I am really on to something. I’ve decided our self-perceived inadequacies come straight from our genes. It’s all right there in the chromosomes...XX says it all. We’re just “wrong”…twice. It’s in our nature. So let the second-guessing of ourselves begin.

I think a hypothesis is supposed to be followed by some evidence (science was my weakest subject). And what better evidence to support my theory about all our self-perceived inadequacies than the Dove experiment that’s all over social media? In brief, a sketch artist listens to Woman A describe herself, and then draws her from her description (he never sees her). Then Woman B enters and describes Woman A to the artist. He draws Woman A again. Two pictures are made; then we see the pictures, as well as the face of Woman A. The sketch of the woman drawn from her description is always a homely distortion of herself, while the sketch drawn from the second woman’s description is fairly accurate. Woman A recoils at the image of her self-description, as well as her realization that her self-image is completely skewed.

On a small scale, I proved it myself just the other. I looked in the mirror and thought to myself, “I look lovely today,” which should prove that I am not insecure. And then I was inspired to do some affirmations, because I think it’s important to remind oneself some of the things that aren’t always verbalized. The next thing I came up with was: “There are many far-worse parents than me.” Talk about a backhanded compliment. Even when I am embracing the positive, it’s tainted with subliminal acknowledgement of not-good-enough.

Roseanne Barr once said something like, “If the kids are still alive when my husband gets home, then, hey, I’ve done my job.” And that, I think, was the standard for a while. There was no parental micromanagement and constant involvement. Was it worse for kids? Maybe. Maybe not. There’s probably a fine line between neglect and healthy laissez-faire. But then things changed. First it was societal – women’s lib and equal opportunity and you-can-do-everything-a-man-can-do-and-just-as-well – and then it was self-inflicted – a genuine need to justify the equal opportunity by excelling at all things. Self-worth became measured on much higher standards. Merely keeping the kids alive was no longer good enough.

I am by no means anti-equality and I don’t advocate a return to a 1950s ideal, but I do recommend low(er) standards in the quest for self-worth. It’s much easier to meet a goal when the goal is modest. Sometimes, it is even possible to surpass expectations regarding a modest goal. But when the bar is set high, it frequently won’t be met at all, and all that results are feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt.

It’s not that I have or recommend no standards, it’s just that the high(er) standards I used to embrace have fallen by the wayside over the years, either due to time restraints, other priorities or a certain not-giving-a-crap that seems to have developed with age. Very small examples: I used to consider being ‘on time’ as being a few minutes early. Now, if I am less than 15 minutes late, I consider that as being early. I used to consider something clean when it was disinfected, shiny and cat-hair free. Now, clean is a relative term defined by very vague parameters. I actually ate something off the floor in front of company recently. The other day, I wiped Liam’s nose with a sock (which had just been removed from my foot). A cleaner parent would’ve certainly gotten a tissue, but I’ve framed it as a resourceful parent using the tools at hand. I don’t think the event necessarily made me a worse parent, though it likely made me a grosser parent. But, at the end of the day, Liam’s nose was clean and he was still alive. So I did my job, right?

Repeat after me, ladies: Expect less, want less, pressure yourself less, have less, do less. Thanks to the XX chromosomes, I quite possibly may be wrong. But thanks to my low standards, I don’t really care if I am. 

Sunday, February 3, 2013

I'd Like to Thank...

“I don’t know how you do it.” I hear this pretty regularly. Do what, exactly? It could mean so many things, depending on the context. Organize my life with my mad alphabetizing skills, you mean? Need basil? It’s on the top of the spice carousel, in between anise and bay leaves. Looking for The Beatles’ Rubber Soul CD? It’s in between Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s. Or maybe it’s a reference to my freakish in-my-head math abilities. Need a check divided 14 ways? Need to figure out 18 percent on very uneven numbers? Need to know 75 percent off the sale price of 20 percent off the regular price? I can get you there.

Usually, I think, the I-don’t-know-how-you-do-it statement is in recognition of our military lifestyle. How do I pack up our lives, say goodbye, and move every few years? Raise four kids and stay sane (almost)? Cope with an absent husband AND four kids? Maintain a sense of humor (usually)? Be away from the place we grew up and our families? Find the hours in a day to do all that needs to be done?

Four kids under the age of eight, a deployed husband, trapped in MON (Middle of Nowhere)…And sometimes I wonder, too. How do I do it? And then I wonder if I do anything special at all, or if the things I face are the things we all face, just in different shape and form. Nothing I do is particularly difficult, but that’s not to say it’s easy, either. To be a stay-at-home parent is to face the multitude of mundane tasks, every day, day after day, and to try to stay sane while doing it. Some days, I am regretful that I am not doing something truly important, like making the world a better place. And other days, I think I am doing the most amazing thing in the world, and that I am actively making the world a better place by raising four kids to be good people who will go out and improve the world with their intelligence and goodness.

Every time Hollywood-award-season rolls around and people who already get to live in luxury and make gazillions of dollars receive awards for their “greatness,” I get caught up thinking about my acceptance speech…who or what I would need to thank for getting me to where I am today. But it’s pretty likely I won’t be receiving any kind of award or honor for anything, since I am, unfortunately, a fairly average person, despite my occasional delusions of grandeur. I won’t ever win a Grammy, as anyone who has ever heard me sing or hum will attest (unless, of course, I do a standout reading of the book I have yet to write). A Tony is definitely out, since that requires not just singing but also dancing which, according to my kids, I also stink at. There are a wide variety of Nobels, but the peace prize is probably out since I am slightly bellicose in nature. And the smarty-pants Nobels are out, since I am undereducated and not widely versed in any one thing. I don’t see an Oscar in my future since I am already “past my prime” in Hollywood years and, somehow, haven’t even been discovered yet, despite my penchant for drama.

So, I’m going to latch onto the I-don’t-know-how-you-do-it, and assume that’s an acknowledgement of some kind. And now I’m going to make what will likely be my only acceptance speech ever. As to how I do it? Here’s the unvarnished truth…

I’d like to thank paid labor. I maintain a mostly clean house, thanks to hiring someone to do it. The stained fence and the rooms that got painted during the deployment? I started the projects, gave up and hired someone to do the rest.  I am able to take kids to activities and classes thanks to an army of teenage girls who manage some kids while I manage the others. Two local daycare-type centers allow me occasional time to just be BY MYSELF. One of my favorite mottos is: you can’t put a price on your sanity. Thank you, paid labor, for helping me maintain however little sanity I have.

I’d like to thank caffeine. A few years ago, I hated coffee. Now, I am likely in need of a 12-step program. One of Liam’s first and only words was “coppee” and, thanks to me always saying, “I need coffee…badly!” Liam says he needs everything “badly,” too. He needs “cup badly,” “go potty badly,” “eat now badly,” “pants on badly,” etc.

Specifically, I’d like to thank Carol and Sue. Each was an adventurous, one-way co-pilot on a roadtrip with my posse of four from Kansas to New York, and then from Connecticut to Kansas. Three days in a car, each way, through some of the most boring landscape in the country with an infant, a two-year-old, a five-year-old and a seven-year-old. My six-week roadtrip early in the deployment likely saved my family from imminent disaster, and these ladies get a special mention for their bravery and intestinal fortitude.

I’d like to thank adversity. As Kelly Clarkson always reminds me, what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger. And even though I keep checking the obits, I have never seen adversity listed as a cause of death. So odds are that it won’t do me in either, which is good news because, on some days, I really do worry that adversity is truly out to get me.

I’d like to thank parentheses (because parentheses allow so many private exchanges with you, personally, that I wouldn’t share with just anyone), and I use them all the time. Plus, no one ever thanks parentheses (they are the Chad Lowe of grammar).

Lastly, I would be neglectful if I didn’t mention the legal variety of mind-altering substances. Whether they are in an orange pill bottle with a prescription label or a green bottle with a cork, I am fairly sure I couldn’t manage without these ‘mother’s little helpers.’

And now you know. That’s how I do it. Thank you so much! 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

If You Give a Mom a Moment

The other night after the kids were in bed, I was debating what would be the first task completed in the quest of Accomplishing Stuff. If you give a mom a spare moment, she will run through all the dang things that need to be done – from getting out the ladder to change the light bulb, picking up the days-old, petrified pile of cat barf, removing the nail polish from the bathtub, etc. – so I got out the laptop, headed for the comfy chair, and checked Facebook instead (because I excel at procrastinating and Not Accomplishing Stuff).

And so began my night of pinball-itis. With the heat of the laptop warming my legs (so cozy!), I had a pithy exchange with a FB friend, which reminded me that I had some sugar-free chai mix remaining (she’d made it for me, hence the connection) and that I was very thirsty. As I headed for the stove to make the chai, a trip past the sink reminded me I needed to start the dishes. Opening the dishwasher to insert the tab revealed a thermos, which reminded me I needed to make the kids’ lunches for school the next day. In the refrigerator to get the mango for lunches, I recoiled in horror at the layer of YUCK in the produce bins. As I was cleaning out the fruits and vegetables, I came across my apple surplus, resulting from the random-apple-dessert that I’d been craving but never got around to actually making. Not wanting them to go to waste, I started a pot of applesauce on a Sunday night at 10 PM. Yummy smells in the kitchen always make me think of another friend, which came with the realization that it was her birthday that day and I FORGOT TO CALL (I’m such a jerk!!!).

A thought of birthdays and missed acknowledgements and guilt reminded me of my niece’s birthday in a few days, which meant I needed to get her present wrapped and ready to be mailed. While wrapping, I turned on some tunes since plenty of time still had to pass before four pounds of apples turned from solid to mush. A Violent Femmes-inspired dance party (to clarify, it was a party of exactly one) ensued and I decided that I probably needed to sort through my iTunes library and ditch the songs with the bad language, now that the kids listen to it. Combing through songs, I played a U2 medley, reminding me of a friend I hadn’t talked to in a long time. So I headed back to Facebook to send the friend a message and, a few hours later, again enjoying the heat of the laptop warming my legs, I was right where I began the night. And that’s when it hit me…I’m the cat with the cupcake!

For those not in “the know,” there’s a series of kid books by Laura Numeroff about a bunch of animals with ADD and bad eating habits. With titles like If You Give a Dog a Donut, If You Give a Cat a Cupcake, If You Give a Moose a Muffin, If you Give a Pig a Pancake, etc., these books follow the meanderings of these animals as they bounce from thing to thing to thing, finally circling back to the first thing they started with.

The cat with the cupcake, for example, needs some sprinkles for his cupcake, resulting in a spill. The subsequent clean-up makes him hot so he ends up at the beach (a cat at the ocean! Who ever heard of such nonsense!), where he collects shells and other treasures and discovers he’s too weak to lift the bucket so he ends up at the gym, and then ends up in a karate class, at the park, at the lake (this is a very freakish cat, I’m just realizing, obsessed with water), on a carousel, at the science museum, and then back home. Once at home, sand spills out of his shoes, reminding him of the sprinkle spill, which reminds him that he wants a cupcake. Like I said, this is a cat with a bad diet and some serious ADHD.

So, as I realized my Family-Circus-style meandering path through the evening had brought me back to my beginning and that I was the cat (or dog, or moose, or pig) with the cupcake (or donut, or muffin, or pancake), I also realized I might have ADHD, but that’s fodder for another day. So, even though the light bulb didn’t get changed (again), and the cat barf got to continue to dry out (again), and the nail polish didn’t get removed from the bathtub (again), my circuitous journey through this particular evening was pretty successful, peppered with some minor Things Accomplished, a laugh that comes with self-discovery and a potential self-diagnosis to justify all my many distractions.