Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 In Review

Oh hey, this is fun.  For me, anyways.  I've always been a sucker for polls, surveys, and quizzes.  I'm stealing this one from Rage Against the Minivan's Kristen, who stole it from  All & Sundry’s blog. 

1. What did you do in 2013 that you’d never done before?
Planned and carried off kids' birthday parties, including homemade cakes.  Linden had homemade cupcakes and a bowling party, then homemade cheesecake at the family party.  Oak had a cheesecake sampler bought for his party at a--I don't even know what to call it.  They serve pizza and have this huge climbing structure for kids.  Then I made, per his specific request, a "vanilla cake with chocolate frosting and strawberry filling" for the family party.   It was topped with fresh strawberries that I got for free, because when I tried to buy them at a farm stand, it turned out it was also the owner's husband's birthday, so she gave them to us as a gift.  

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I don't do New Year's Resolutions.  I'm tempted to try that thing all over Pinterest where you keep a jar with notes of good memories throughout 2014 to read next New Year's Eve. 

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
My oldest nephew and his wife had their first baby, a lovely little girl named Olivia.  So I'm now a great-aunt.  Freaky.  Two friends also had babies.  One had her first, and named him Charles David, which is my dad's name.  (Coincidence.)  The other had her second, a boy.  Given that this time last year their 2 year old was in the hospital with brain cancer, it's all amazing and good at their house.  

4. Did anyone close to you die?
No.  My dad gave us a few scares, but made it through another year.  This makes 3 since mom died--we seriously doubted he'd survive that first year.  My sister's marriage has been dead for years, but they finally addressed it and separated. 

5. What countries did you visit?
Ha.  Ha, ha, ha.  I believe we drove twenty miles into the next state a few times for Lithuanian dance practice.  

6. What would you like to have in 2014 that you lacked in 2013?
More time in nature.  More time with my dad.  More weekends out of town.

7. What dates from 2013 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
We celebrated those birthdays with our kids for the first time on April 17 and June 3rd.  Also, not a specific date, but in early September, my husband was hired as a winemaker after five years of un- and under-employment. 

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Getting up enough courage to talk to my doctor about my rages despite the intense shame. 
9. What was your biggest failure?
Not being Karyn Purvis.  Just today I got sucked into STUPID power struggles with both kids at different times, and lost my temper completely with my son. 

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Nothing significant.  Linden had pneumonia and the Winemaker had mono, so I was fine with missing out on both of those.  

11. What was the best thing you bought?
My mother-in-law gave me a birthday check, and I spent it on a French Press, super cute pot holders, and a great pair of black boots that I found at Goodwill for eight bucks.  Eight bucks!  All of those items still give me joy six months later. 

12. Where did most of your money go?
Our biggest expenditures were property taxes. medical bills, and grapes.  Guess which one I'm happiest about?  My personal money was, as always, frittered away on lattes, crafting supplies, See's chocolate, and second hand clothing. 

13. What did you get really excited about?
Gelling as a family.  It feels different now than it did a year ago.  Our first camping trip.  Being on a team at work with my best friend there and several other people I am appreciating more and more.  My school's decision to lease an iPad to every student.  My nephew's baby.  My husband's new job.  My daughter learning to read.  

14. What song will always remind you of 2013?
  The Cups song ("When I'm Gone") and "What Does the Fox Say?"  Both of which I was introduced to by my middle school students, and then got to introduce my own kids to.  And then heard over and over and over again. 

15. Compared to this time last year, are you:
– happier or sadder? Quite a bit happier.  I was in a really horrible place of anger and shame by the end of winter break last year.  I wish I was ALL BETTER, but instead I am just BETTER, and that is still pretty wonderful. 
– thinner or fatter? Fatter.  I've been eating a lot of sweets this fall, and I currently weigh my record high weight.  I'm noticing that it doesn't bother me as much as the previous record did,  in part because it seems to be hanging around my belly instead of on my face. 
– richer or poorer? Richer.  Two jobs instead of one.  We still keep running out of month at the end of our money, but that's partly due to now having to pay child care (gah!) and partly due to a revolution of rising expectations, to use a phrase I loved back in my history major days.  Basically, now that we have two incomes, we think we can pick up pizza every week or so, shell out for sharp instead of regular cheddar, etc.  

16. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Camping and hiking.  Reading. 

17. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Pinterest and Facebook time wasting.  I love both of those sites for certain purposes.  Killing two-four hours of time five days a week for most of October and November is not one of them.  

18. How did you spend Christmas?
Christmas Eve at the in-laws.  Christmas morning as a family.  Christmas evening was weird.  The sister that always hosts is in an apartment this year, as they are building their dream home.  The next obvious sister is working on a messy and complicated separation from her husband of 30 years.  That left us, with our wild kids and tiny house  So we had one sister, her two grown kids, my dad in his wheelchair, and my mother-in-law over for dinner.  We meant to get together with the other sister and her family after dinner, but between my dad's health and my kids' freaking out that I was going out in the evening, that didn't really happen. 

19. What was your favorite TV program?
I don't watch TV anymore.  I'm not holier-than-thou--see previous notes about the obsessive internet use.  But it's just not something I worry about fitting in to my day.  

20. What were your favorite books of the year?
Thanks to Goodreads, I can actually tell you.  I was blown away by the mysteries of Tana French, especially The Likeness.  Can Not Wait for the next one.  I also got into Laura Lippman's mysteries, although she's not as incredible.  I tried the Dexter novels, and am enjoying them much more than my previous attempt at "I'll read the books the TV show everyone likes came from," which was Sookie Stackhouse of True Blood.  I really enjoyed The Nineteenth Wife, soap opera and mystery with a veneer of literary propriety.  For YA novels, I really enjoyed the Chaos Walking series by Patrick Ness, Chime, by Frannie Billingsley,  Winger by Andrew Smith, and the Divergent series. Two nonfiction pieces I enjoyed were The World's Strongest Librarian and Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert.  Finally, I have to admit that this year I read the first three of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series.  Don't LOVE them, but find them strangely compelling.  The fourth is upstairs waiting for me to read it.  

Geez, this is not a very literary list.  What can I say, I like mysteries and YA fantasy. 

21. What was your favorite music from this year?
The Head and the Heart, Amos Lee (or was that 2012?), the Lumineers.  Also Macklemore, specifically "Thrift Shop" and "Same Love."  I don't follow music much either.  Pop culture queen.

22. What was your favorite film of the year?
I saw one move in the theater, and maybe four at home.  POP CULTURE QUEEN, I TELL YOU.  So yeah, that would be Catching Fire for the win.  Did I mention I like YA fantasy?

23. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I made my family go hiking with me.  We went on a two mile hike that included two waterfalls, so it's not like it was unreasonable.  Linden wore a sweet little summer dress, which kind of cracked me up.  I turned 44 and have started referring to myself as "middle aged," much to the chagrin of my friends who went to school with me.

24. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Ooh.  Hard.  Some things that float to mind are spending more time with my dad or being more Karyn Purvis at home.  (Sandwich generation guilt.)  I think that spending more time reading and writing and less time scrolling through FB and Pinterest might have helped.   Regular camping trips. 

25. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2013?
I don't know if this question even applies.  I've been wearing jeans to work a lot.  The same two pair.  Over and over.  

26. What kept you sane?
Zoloft.  Friends and sisters that listen without judging.  Reading blogs by women I can relate to.  My husband's super yummy wine.  Forgiving myself for my messy house, my kids' screen time, and letting my sisters carry most of the weight for caring for our dad.  The sustaining love of my husband and the growing love of my kids. 

27. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2013.
I know I've said it a lot, but getting medication to deal with my moods was such a hard thing for me, and has made such a huge difference in my parenting, and thus my self respect.  I've never minded the idea of antidepressants; my shame was around the anger I felt--like being SAD and NUMB are okay, but being MEAN and SCARY were huge secrets.  I'm still pretty ashamed of my anger, but am so relieved I finally told someone who could help me with it.  

The Worst Holiday Song of All

The number one worst holiday song of all times is “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.” 

 It’s even worse than “Feliz Navidad,” which makes me grit my teeth, which makes my colleagues ALWAYS suggest that the Spanish classes remember to carol in my room.  

It's even worse than “Santa Baby,” which is creepy skanky, but pretty direct, and “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer,” which is SUPPOSED to be terrible.  

Yes, it’s even worse than John Denver’s maudlin “Please Daddy, Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas (I Don’t Want To See My Mama Cry)” which at least is not played on radios.  It’s just stuck in my head FOREVER because my big sister was a huge JD fan, and in those days of yore, you played the whole damn record.  On the plus side, I also have the complete lyrics to plenty of good John Denver songs stuck in my head forever, which comes in handy when my kids need me to sing them to sleep.

The major problem with ISMKSC is that the kid is supposed to be naïve enough to believe in Santa, yet their reaction to seeing Mom make out with a bearded stranger is not outrage or even confusion, but “Boy, wouldn’t it be hilarious if Dad walked in right now?”  What kind of a terrible person thinks it would be funny to witness their father catching their mother cheating?   

Another issue is that we, the audience, can infer that this is in fact Daddy dressed up as Santa.  But the kid is supposed to be upstairs asleep.  So why is Daddy dressed up?  Is this some weird sex game the kid walked in on?  “Then I saw Mommy tickle Santa Claus…”  Really?  Eww.

That’s my nomination.  What’s yours?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


In praise of my daughter, who puts the new roll of toilet paper on the spindle, instead of setting it on the counter like everyone else around here.  (Don't judge me for switching it around so the paper comes over the top of the roll.  I still appreciate that she hangs the TP.)

In praise of my son, who hand sewed his dad's Christmas present when I had assumed I'd be doing that step for both kids.

In praise of my daughter, who is the ALSO the only other person in the house that knows that the one funky glass bowl is the only thing that fits in the spot in the dishwasher where one rack is bent, so that is where it always must go.

In praise of my son, who, when I asked him to open the front door for me so I could take out the recycling, came and took one bag from my hands and walked out with me.  (This is HUGE, people.)

In praise of my daughter.  We took a walk/bike ride on the nature path near our house earlier today.  She said, "Look at the creek, Mama!  I haven't seen it in awhile.  It's nice to see it again.  It's nice to not be stuck in the house or running errands and buying stuff, but to be out in the WORLD instead." 

In praise of my son, who stopped to see if a random  toddler needed any help at the drinking fountain. 

In praise of my kids.  Yesterday we were at the grocery store, and we could hear someone playing French horn.  We tracked him down and stood quietly watching as he finished a song.  He smiled over and said, "I'll play one you know now," and started playing "Rudolph."  Completely unselfconsciously (and half unconsciously), they started singing along, but quietly, so they wouldn't mess him up. 

This isn't a holiday post.

I wrote most of this last week.  I just wanted to finish and share it.

Ned, a curly haired 8th grader, has taken to stopping by my room at the beginning and end of each school day, just to say hi.  He doesn't linger to chat, but I notice the sudden increase in visits anyway.

Today during our advisory class, he wanders up to my desk.  "I don't really like the holidays," he comments, with a self-deprecating smile.  "I'm not with my parents, you know."

I do know this.  He lives with his grandmother and great-grandfather.  He's moved a lot.  I don't know any details.  I make an encouraging sound. 

"I haven't seen my dad in 8 years," he continues.

"That would be hard," I tell him.  "I almost had a fight break out in my class the other day, and it was between two kids who aren't living with their parents either.  I kind of figure it was more about that kind of holiday stress than anything else."

"Probably," he says.  The bell rings, and he leaves.  He comes back in at the beginning of lunch.  "I don't remember why I'm here!" he tells me.

"To say hi to your teacher," I say, half-jokingly.

"Oh yeah!" he responds.  "Hi!"  Then he heads to lunch.

Ned is the "easiest" of all my students dealing with trauma.  There's the girl who does no work and threatens to hit kids who mispronounce her name.  There are the two who almost had that fight--one with both parents in prison, the other with a dead dad, and a mom in prison.  There's the girl who sends me frequent notes telling me how nice I am, despite the fact that she interacts wtih me as little as possible during class.  She works hard every day, but clearly has trouble learning.   One of her notes told me about her unsafe birth family, then the death of her adopted mom.  The homeless girl hasn't been to school in quite awhile.  One time she asked if she could tell me a joke, then wrote the F word on my board as part of it. 

Ned does well in class, has friends, stays out of trouble.  But he still needs something.  He still feels the pain. 

So do my kids.  We are doing well.  I think they actually believe they are loved.  Oak doesn't always believe he deserves it, and Linden sometimes fears she'll lose the love if she does something wrong, but it's starting to sink in that they are loved.  They're even learning how to ask for and create connection when they feel shaky.  But the loss is still there.  Their childhood included things they are ashamed of now, lessons they wish they hadn't learned.  They have a birth-mom shaped hole inside of them, a deep absence and loss that my love can't erase. 

It's hard for me to know this doesn't go away.   I see this kid, who's a great kid.  He makes Batman jokes.  He explained the government shutdown to his class more succinctly than I could have.  He listens to music the other kids don't like, and is unfazed by their comments.  He is himself, all the way.  And his parents are missing it.  And he is missing them.  This is the stuff that's so hard to really grasp before adoption.  I know, absolutely, 100%, that my kids are better off with us than they were in the orphanage.  They were also, from a physical safety point of view, better off there than in their home of origin.  But even if everything goes right, if they are resilient, and we are therapeutic, and the day comes when they both believe that our love is unconditional--the loss is still there. 

The flip side is that Ned also shows me it's okay.  He feels loss and pain.  He is still learning and growing and caring for people.  He is leading his life.



Friday, December 6, 2013

Homework and Chores.

First, let me say that nobody around here, myself included, naturally gravitates towards those tasks.  At any given moment, there is disorder and dirt in various sections of the home, and we do not manage to do homework, or even 20 minutes of reading, every day. 

Still, sections of the house--and key things like underwear and spoons--get cleaned regularly.  The homework packets get done weekly, and if you average across the week, we more than meet the reading requirements.  All of this happens without any serious drama.  Occasional whining, sure.  But no tears or fights.  I've been around other families (and read enough parenting books and blogs) to know that we are lucky in this regard. 

This is how we make it work.  "Sure, you can borrow my iPad--once your chores are done."  "Yes, we'll have dessert--as soon as you've done your homework while you sister helps with dishes."

At first, it may sound like bribery, but it's actually a version of the "Yes, when..." statement our therapist taught us to make way back when we first met her.  Our kids get 15 minutes of screen time on weeknights and an hour on weekend days.  (Ignore the fact that we also let them watch movies on weekend mornings so we can sleep in.)  This is pretty much a given, although there are days where we are busy enough that we skip screen time--it's not something I prioritize as much as they do, oddly enough.  They also get dessert most nights.  That may not be a good thing, but I want dessert most nights, and it seems unfriendly to not share.  So it's not, "I'll give you candy if you do the dishes."  It's more like "Let's get our work done before we play." 

There have been times when the kids lost computer time or missed dessert because they didn't get their stuff done in time.  These are consequences that mean a lot to them, but (from an adult point of view) aren't remotely harmful to them.  I've remained calmly sympathetic as I moved into the bedtime routine.  Tomorrow is always another day--do your stuff tomorrow, and screen time and sweets will re-enter your life.  After the first time or two, they became philosophical.  "I guess I'll have to do two pages of homework tomorrow night, but at least I'll get dessert."  The routine of it helps, and the way we tie a less appealing routine to a more appealing one.  Nobody's getting picked on; this is just what we do. 

I suspect there are some other factors at play. Special one-on-one time is, I've read, meant to be child-led.  Still, if we each grab a wastepaper basket and carry it out, then each haul a bin to the curb, it weaves a subtle connection between us.  I wash, you dry, we wind up laughing and singing together.  I fold the clothes while you fold the flats.  I clean the kitchen while you practice reading aloud to me.  You stir the meat on the stove while I make sure your sister knows what she's supposed to do for her math assignment.  None of us are going to put "doing chores" on top of our fun list, but once we've started, it turns out we do have fun. 

Last Sunday I wouldn't help them clean their rooms.  About once a month, I take an active role, and really get things organized for/with them.  Otherwise, I just ask that they clear enough room for me to vacuum their floors.  They headed upstairs, and on the way, Oak said, "Hey, I'll help you clean your room if you help me clean mine." 

Bingo.  A chore shared is closer to fun. 

Meeting the Real Santa

Things are feeling very good on the home front right now.  So good that I'm going to risk jinxing it all by writing some of it down. 

Last weekend, the Winemaker had to work (wine tasting being a big Thanksgiving weekend tradition around here), and I made plans to meet a family of friends at a tree farm.  None of us wanted to get a tree yet, but they were advertising free train rides and petting farm animals and a gift shop that raises money for widows in the Ukraine, so we figured it would be fun and festive. 

As we pulled up, the kids suddenly started hollering.  "Santa!  It's Santa!  Santa's here!  Can we go see him?!?" 

Last year we kept meaning to take them to meet Santa, but it got to a point where it was going to be stressful to cram it in, so we just let it go.  We did talk a bit about how Santa sends friends to talk to kids in some places, and in other places, he himself shows up.  I don't know, it just sounded like a good ass-covering story to establish ahead of time, in case they got skeptical about a particular Santa they met.  We were going to take them to meet Santa this year, and suddenly, here he was. 

I felt bad that their dad wasn't there--and that they weren't dressed in anything photogenic--but there was no way I could deny them the right to go see Santa when he was RIGHT THERE, MOM.  So I said yes, once we found our friends and said hi, we could go see Santa.

"Is he real?"  they both demanded of me.  "Is he the real Santa?"  I told them I didn't know, because I hadn't even realized he would be here, but that he sure looked real to me. 

"I know!" exclaimed Oak.  "I'll pull on his beard and see if it comes off!" 

Oh dear.  Santa had a glossy, shiny, FALSE BEARD on.  I pointed out that this would be rude, and not appreciated by Santa, but Linden gleefully chimed in.  "Yeah! We can pull on his beard and see if he says 'ouch'."  I hoped they would forget their plan after taking the time to find our friends and their five kids, or at least get shy in the actual moment.

Once we were ready, we approached Santa.  He was sitting in a sleigh, and both kids slid in next to him.  Linden immediately asked him, "Do you work at the North Pole?" 

"I live at the North Pole," he replied. 

Both kids whirled around to look at me.  "Mom!  It's really him!  He's real!" they stage whispered to me. 

No beard pulling.  I heaved a sigh of relief, took pictures, and tried not to cry.  The kids thought it was fun, but I thought my heart might just explode with joy, seeing their excitement.  They've lost a lot of childhood.  I'm glad they have at least two years of belief in magic.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

A Tip for Using Pinterest to Inspire, not Shame

I was going to say, "Here's the thing about Pinterest," but of course, it's not THE thing.  There are LOTS of things about Pinterest, some good and some bad.  But here's one thing I am figuring out.

If I like the idea, it's okay if my execution doesn't look like the pin.  I'm not talking "Pintrosoties," where the Rudolph cake winds up looking more like what comes out the back end of the reindeer than an actual reindeer.  I just mean it's okay that I don't have great handwriting or a color printer or the will to laminate things.  If a pin has a non-decorative function, it can be done plainly and still be successful. 

Last year, my first with children, I glommed onto the great idea all over Pinterest to have a book-a-day Advent program.  I called my sisters, both of whom have finished raising their kids, and they donated 25 holiday books they'd collected over the years.  One came over with a huge bag of gently used wrapping paper from past years, and we drank coffee and wrapped books while my husband took the kids roller skating.  Then each night in December we unwrapped a book to read.  My kids were still learning English, so some books were easier for them to follow than others, but picture books about the holidays are generally beautiful to look at, and if we got one that was too hard, we could always go back and re-read a few that were becoming favorites.  It was such a great way to introduce them to the culture of the holidays, it was literacy practice, it was family bonding. 

Naturally, I wanted to repeat it this year, which means it is now Hallowed Tradition.  But this year I didn't have time to bring in the troops to help prepare.  I thought about not wrapping the books, but unwrapping is a good deal of the fun.  So the other night I stayed up late and wrapped books.  The used wrapping paper I found was not as careful kept as that of my perfectionist sister.  Once I decided I didn't care about that, I also stopped caring about folding in the corners and creasing the seams.  The packages all look like they were wrapped by a blind man in a hurricane, working with material that happened to blow by.  Who cares?  Not my kids, who were thrilled to see the stack of packages, and ripped enthusiastically into the first one, welcoming it with cries of joy, as at a reunion with an old friend.  (Jan Brett's "Home for Christmas"; what a great start.) 

This year I wanted to add a piece.  You've seen the blogs and pins about Random Acts of Kindness?  Fun examples here and here.  So I came up with 25 "Kindnesses" (they weren't all random--I included "go on a walk with Mom," "Give Daddy a back rub" and "Write a card for grandpa") and printed them out.  Then I stuck them in a lunch sack.  Hey, it was a crisp, unused lunch sack.  Each night, one kid will pick the book to unwrap, and the other will pick the kindness card, something we can all do the next day.  The next night, we'll discuss how it went.  

Nice, yes?  Well, all the OTHER people on Pinterest had cute little cards and stickers to hand out when they surprised someone with their act, or at the very least, printed out their cards for their kids in red and green on cardstock paper.  And that is okay.  It's okay that there are people who can't do anything without making it visually appealing.  I'm related to several of those people.  But it's ALSO okay that I can ignore the visual stuff, and just focus on the idea.  

{I've since seen this pin, and for a minute I was all, "AAARRRGHH I must now glue each slip of paper onto colorful paper and then make a chain!" but then I came to my senses.}

There are areas where aesthetics are important to me, and I have often been accused of being crafty.  (Um.  I guess I'll let that stand as is.)  But form follows function, or so I've heard.  So I give myself--and you!--full permission to embrace "pin-worthy" activities that do not produce "pin-worthy" photos. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Rainbow Toes

This morning (after the whole "All I Want for Christmas is Booze" thing), Linden was acting odd.  Listless.  Grumpy.  Resistant to being cheered up.  I took her temperature, and it was normal.  I brought her over to the couch to snuggle with me, and that seemed to help.  She asked me to read her a book, and we giggled our way through "Frog and Toad All Year," but then she slumped back down and didn't want to do anything else.  I said, "Are you just feeling blue today?"

"Yes."  You can always spot the relief in someone's eyes when you've spoken the truth they were masking.  "Holidays are  hard."

She didn't really want to talk about it, but it helped that we acknowledged it, and then she was able to ask me if I could just stick close to her for awhile.  We went up to her room and played with her stuffed animals.  I fed them all goldfish crackers.  She was a puppy, and did tricks for hers.  Then I remembered a stash of nail polish my sister dropped off after her grown daughter moved out.  I said, "Do you want to paint our nails?"

This is the result:
(Sorry; I have no idea why I have a weird scab on my foot right now.  Also, my feet are kind of deformed.   Ignore.)  I painted her toenails; she painted mine.  I did her fingernails next, then read to her while they dried. 

In the meantime, our "stuff it; don't talk about it" son was playing Legos with the Winemaker.  Thanksgiving, after all, isn't celebrated in either of the countries where he had other families, so it is easier for him than Christmas and Mother's Day.  He was attracted by the sound of story reading and came in to see what we were up to.

This is the result:
Aaaaaand that's really out of focus.  Again, my apologies.  Please note the orange splash on my finger.  (In all fairness, my right hand looks a lot like this when I apply nail polish myself.) 

He wouldn't let me put any on him, but he wanted to put some on me.  I am not a manicured girl by any means, but how could I say no?

I've only had a few pedicures in my day.  I really enjoyed them, but I'm too much of a cheapskate to indulge often.  This mani-pedi involved no warm foot baths, hot oil massages, or trim.  I didn't get to choose my own colors, and the execution is...enthusiastic.  Not only that, but here I am, reinforcing gender roles to my kids, not to mention introducing them to some truly nasty chemicals.  (Linden took a gigantic whiff of the nail polish remover--oops!) 

It was lovely.  The concentration on their sweet faces.  Their hands in mine.  The mutual caring.  The bright (BRIGHT--did you see that orange?!?) reminders Linden and I carry with us of the loving care we lavished on each other.  The elaborately casual way Oak checks to see if his work has chipped throughout the day. 

From there we rolled into an outing to the skate park, where instead of working on my laptop, as I intended, I spent the whole time watching, cheering, and photographing my kids.  By the time we got home to prep the potatoes for dinner, they were ready to dash out back to climb trees with the neighbor kids.  Half an hour later, when Linden came in to change, she announced, "Having all that Mommy time today really helped.  I feel  good now." 

Me too, sweet pea.  Me too.

Dear Santa

In the time-honored tradition of many greedy children in this wondrous land, I started today not by taking stock of my blessings, but by working on my Christmas wish list. 

(Full disclaimer, I actually started today by letting the kids pop in a movie and then cuddling back up to my husband, who is only off today before working the rest of this long weekend.  So that was more in the thankful mode.)

I've said for several years now, I don't really need more STUFF, and most of the stuff I do need is too expensive to ask others to buy for me, like a new roof, or a 4-door car for our family of four.  So this is what I came up with:
  • kahlua
  • vodka
This, combined with the garage full of wine, makes me sound like an alcoholic.  But I suspect true alcoholics just buy the alcohol themselves.  I splurge on all sorts of silly things, but it always makes me cringe to think of shelling out twenty bucks or more for liquor.  Still, I like to drink things besides wine sometimes.  For instance, as you might have guessed, White Russians.   The last time I bought these two items was three years ago, when my mom died.  You don't worry too much about expenses, or even alcoholism, when that happens.  Then just when that supply ran out, I went to last year's White Elephant party and scored a new bottle of vodka.  It's running low, and besides, it's citrus vodka, which is useless in the White Russian department.  Hence my list.

After much thought, I added a few more items to the list.
  • suet (I love watching the bird feeder outside our kitchen window)
  • a date night
  • a family trip to the mountain this winter
This is why Christmas gifts for adults is silly.  I could pick up suet next time I'm at the grocery store, and really, it's up to the Winemaker and I to arrange (and pay for) the two outings.

My sisters will find something sweet and personal and possibly useless but nevertheless appreciated.  It's the in-laws who literally ask for a list.

I don't think I can give this list to them.


Saturday, November 16, 2013

Hiding out in my room. Only coming out if someone is bleeding or on fire.

It's 5:00 and four children are racing around my tiny house playing "Escape from the Pirate."  It involves a lot of shrieking.  

I can't believe it's only 5:00.  So far today we've hosted our social worker for our 18 month check-in, made mini catapults out of popsicle sticks and rubber bands, "experimented" with Halloween candy (mostly a matter of pouring different types of candy and sprinkles into water and seeing what color it changes into), finished two pages of math homework each, played soccer with dad, made those melty bead things with mom, used the rare appearance of the iron to have a short lesson in ironing napkins, played "tickle monster," invited the two neighbor kids over to see if we could learn how to finger knit,

and I'm done. 

But it's only 5:00. 

Send help.

Friday, October 11, 2013

"Self Control." Use air quotes to get the full effect of my sarcasm.

I've developed a Pinterest addiction.  This is not a joke.  Nor does it imply that I'm doing a lot of baking and crafting,  Instead, I spend hours scrolling through the "humor" section, clinking on links, and viewing  things like a list of Joey and Chandler's 25 best friendship moments (despite the fact that I did not own a TV during Friends' entire run) or 96 amazing animal photos.  During these hours I am neither grading papers, planning classes, talking to my family, nor getting to bed on time.  I finally downloaded a program that lets me block webpages from myself.  Yesterday I had Pinterest and Facebook blocked until 11:00 at night.  Then I stayed up until 2:00 getting my fix anyway.

I am 44 years old.  I am a responsible adult.  I have to download a program, sarcastically called "Self Control," in order to get myself out of the labyrinth of Pinterest time wasting.  I'm pretty sure this is not a good sign.  So,  Zoloft.  You're doing awesome on the "Less Rage" thing.  But I need you to back off on the "Zoning out Takes Precedence over Life" thing. 

In which my kids make me feel good.

Yesterday I was singing in the car, making up some nonsense song to entertain myself.  "Linden did this at you!" announces Oak, twirling his fingers near his ear.  I laugh.

"I didn't say you are crazy," she says, "I just said you're weird."

"Mama's not weird; she's AWESOME!" exclaims Oak. 

Some of the conviction in his voice came from the fact that he was arguing with his sister--and was on the parentally approved side of the argument for a change--but I'll take it. 

We read a story about a kitten going to school as a Show-and-Tell item.  Linden says, "If they do show-and-tell in 2nd grade, I'm going to bring you!"

"What would you tell?"  I ask, genuinely curious.

"I'd say, 'This is my Mama Doll.  She's the biggest toy ever!  She likes to wear earrings, and hug me, and read."

That about sums it up. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Doing my son's laundry

Pairs of pants: 12
Pairs of socks: 13
Pairs of underwear: 3

Seriously?  I guess we need to start micromanaging that. 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

A Few More Things Parenting Has Taught Me

1.  If a kid lays down during the day, even for a few seconds, that kid is sick. 

2.  Costco is a restaurant.  Sweet Tomatoes is a fancy restaurant.

3.  The evening allows enough time for two, maybe three of the following: making dinner from scratch, eating dinner as a family, doing dishes, listening to each kid read aloud for 20 minutes, supervising each kids' 20 minutes of homework, any of us getting any of our chores done.  Yet all of these things should be happening.  Plus, I hear some people bathe their kids occasionally.  I have no idea where they get the time.

4.  In event of soccer practice, there is time for soccer practice and Taco Bell.  That's it.  Oh, and you're supposed to bring a chair to soccer practice.  I didn't know that the first time I went.  On the plus side, soccer practice = Mom's reading time. 

5.  Saturday morning cartoons (or DVDs) exist so parents can sleep late and/or get it on. 

6.  Minecraft is a thing.  Applesauce in a little tube is a thing.  I knew that My Little Pony was a thing, but I didn't know they have Cutie Marks (gag). 

7.  Barbie movies don't suck as badly as I thought they would.  I'm not saying I make them an option on family movie night, but I think I prefer them to the movies where live action dogs make fart jokes.  The books based on the Barbie movies, however, are garbage.

8.  If you have the right kind of friends, with the right size of kids, you basically never need to buy any clothes for your kids besides socks and underwear. 

9.  The library has always been one of my very favorite places in the world.  Since having kids, I've discovered what the item check-out limit is (100), and that today's library offers free events like Lego Time and Game Night.  Add to that the fact that our library backs onto a park with biking paths around a lake, and you've got an entire day's free outing right there.  I honestly can't love the library any more than I do already, but if I could, I would.

10.  Zoloft makes me a better mom.

If you're wondering where the mushy stuff is, well, I did know going into this that there would be moments of awesome, times when I loved my kids so much I could physically feel my heart trying to pop out of my chest.  And I knew there'd be lows.  This list represents things I was just oblivious to in The Time Before Kids. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Hops like a bunny

Oak tells me, “Mom!  My friend at school is going to bring me a tarantula tomorrow!  She says I can keep it!”

My eyes bug out, and with admirable restraint, I manage to not quite shriek, “No!  You may not get a tarantula.”

“No, Mom, it’s okay!  She says I can really have it!”


“But it already has a little house to live in, and she’s giving me that too.”


“But Mom!  She’s bringing it tomorrow!

“Nope.  No spiders.  Besides,” (in a lame attempt to apply logic and/or push the blame elsewhere) “she can’t bring a spider to school.  It’s against the rules.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. I read it in the Parent Handbook.  No poisonous spiders at school.” 

“But Mom, why don’t you want me to get it?  Are you afraid or something?”

“Yes.  Exactly.”

“But Mom, it’s so cute!  It just hops, like a bunny!”

Okay, if you can think of something more disturbing than a tarantula that hops, then please do NOT tell me about it.  The fact that he thought this would make me more amenable to his suggestion, plus the general hilariousness of comparing a gigantic spider to a fluffy bunny made me burst into laughter, which just hurt his feelings. 
And then he tried to convince me to let him get a monkey instead. 

We are really cat and dog people, all four of us, but the Winemaker has serious allergies, even after five years (!) of weekly shots.  Husbands who are perpetually stuffed up, and occasionally have to go sit on the porch to catch their breaths, are one thing.  Winemakers who can’t smell are another problem altogether. 

Anyone know much about turtles?

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Stretched Out

The kids' English is AMAZING.  Oak still has some grammar errors ("Did you saw her?") and vocab gaps that result in a lot of "The thing did the thing to the thing."  But Linden--you'd never guess she isn't a native speaker.  Today I used the word "vulnerable" and she wanted me to define it, then break it down for her a few times so she could practice saying it.

But there are two errors they make that I hope stick around awhile longer.  The first is that they've conflated "join" and "enjoy."  So when Oak is still working on his ice cream after the rest of us have long finished he'll smugly tell us, "I'm enjoining it."  For some reason, I find this so charming that I've started using it as well, which only adds to the confusion.

The other one kills me.  Occasionally Linden will politely say, "Mama, I think you're kind of stretched out, because you're being kind of crabby."  Yes, I am stretched out.  Not in a loose, yoga kind of way, but in a stretched too thin kind of way.  I reply something along the lines of, "Yes, I am feeling kind of stretched out right now.  I'd better take some deep breaths, huh."

School starts next week.  We are broke*, and are waiting for tomorrow's paycheck before we can buy school supplies.  The Winemaker has mono, and although I am theoretically safe, having had it in high school, I came home today with a 102 temperature.  I've been at inservice all week, feeling like crap, and trying to wrap my brain around, coincidentally, about 102 different apps and functions as my school gears up for a one-to-one student iPad initiative.  I am stretched out.

*Of course, when I say "broke," it's middle-class broke, where at least I have a job and the cars are crap but paid off and we've already paid the mortgage this month, but we're down the wire on cash flow.  I know there are scarier kinds of broke to be.  It's hard for us, when we used to have two incomes and live below our means,  to have to be all, "No milk until Friday," and "thank God the kids don't care if their back-to-school clothes come from Goodwill."  But we have plenty, really.  

Monday, August 19, 2013

Busily ignoring Back-to-School ads

I'd like to pretend that the slowdown in my summer blogging is because I've been too busy having FUN.  But mostly we've just been chugging along.  I have never (ever ever ever) been one of those teachers who gets all antsy in mid-July and has their classroom decorated and their first three units planned by this point in August.  Yes, I like my job.  But I prefer not-working.  Even on a day like today, which consisted of thrilling events such as a trip to Target (for socks, no less), Goodwill, and the pharmacy; about seventy billion petty arguments between the kids; and a ridiculous amount of screen time for them, just so I could read a bit more of this really great mystery I got yesterday.

The Winemaker has mono.  I had it when I was fourteen, and the main effects were: a) acquaintances assuming I'd gotten in by kissing someone, thereby looking at me with new respect, b) being able to sleep in without getting scolded, and c) not having to take freshman PE.  Basically, a win all around.

This is not what the Winemaker is experiencing.  He can't eat.  His throat feels like razors.  He's so congested I have to interpret what he says for other people.  He has a constant low-grade fever. *Warning* next symptom is gross--He keeps barfing up giant balls of mucus.  (Oak late at night:  "Can you shut the door to your bedroom?  I keep hearing Daddy frow up and it makes me sad.")  He was so sick for a day or two that he didn't want me to leave the house, because he was afraid his throat would swell shut and he wouldn't even be able to call for help.

So instead of my usual seize-the-summer August frenzy of back-to-back camping trips and day trips to the beach, we have this excess of movies and books.  It's still summery, because when else can I stay up until 4 in the morning finishing a book?  Plus, you know, it's sunny outside.  In fact, today was downright hot.  I celebrated by cooking a casserole.  Because of course, on a hot day there's nothing like first turning on 2 burners and then the oven.  But it was comfort food.  Father's Delight for our poor miserable father.

Did I mention it's his birthday?  Yay.  Last night he was laying on the couch and said, "I have some birthday requests.  Let's not have a big group of people over.  And how about a nice cold glass of water?"

So summer fizzles out, but I'm still resisting the end.  I find September to be the saddest month of the year, and May to be the most stressful.  The rest of the year, I like my job.

In retrospect, the nicest part of this summer may be the time I looked out the back window and saw my two and their neighborhood bestie sitting on a blanket having a picnic in the shade, none of them squabbling for a good seven-eight minutes.  They looked so sweet.  Now that I think of it, the best aspect of summer this year (not so much last year, during our crazy new-family stage) is watching the kids enjoy their summer.  I expected that with Christmas, but hadn't considered that summer is also something magical in childhood.  Maybe I didn't expect it because summer hasn't lost any of its shine for me as I aged.  Even without the campouts and road trips I'd like to have fit in, there were still popsicles, and slip-n-slides, and two weeks of day camp, a few great day trips,  and hours of just playing outside.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Some days

Some days I think,"maybe after the kids are in bed, we can have a little glass of wine and watch a Karyn Purvis video."

Other days I think, "Maybe if the kids go to bed we can have a big glass of vodka."

Thursday, July 25, 2013

How to Tell You're MIddle Aged

I turned 44 the other day.  Nice palindromic number.  My lovely mother-in-law gave me a check, with the notation "for some clothes shopping."  She knows I like new clothes, but have no budget for them.

Instead, I went to a kitchen store and bought two new hot pot mitts, a kitchen towel, and a French press.  SO CUTE.  But I had to laugh at myself.  Really?  Kitchen towel?  For a treat?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

In Which I Have a Lot to Say About Books and my Kids.

I currently have 77 items checked out at our local library.  Maybe 7 are novels for me (okay, I admit it--YA novels and trashy mysteries).  Another half dozen are DVDs.  The remainder are books to read with the kids.  Pictures books, easy readers, a few nonfictions on topics of interest, and three books of science experiments.  We didn't get them all at one time, but each trip we get, oh, 40 or so items, then a few weeks later we round up all the duds, the ones that we can't renew any longer, the stupid fucking based on a TV show books I hate to read to them but they keep checking out anyway, and the ones that we are willing to give up in order to justify getting new ones.  We bring 'em back, so we can swear under our breath (oh wait, that's just me) at the library's new "automated" book return, which accepts one item at a time, except that after each three items it kind of gets nervous and shuts down for a bit.  Nothing is more fun than trying to return 30 books and DVDs one by one, while the machine stalls out, the kids squabble over who has handed in more books, and I try to remember to keep the cursing internal, or at least subvocal.  Oh, wait, I do know what's even more fun--being the person behind us in line.  Sorry, that person.


Several months ago, Linden came home from school asking if I'd read the Elephant and Piggy books.  I hadn't, although I felt as if I'd heard of them.  "Can we look for them at the library?"  she asked.  "They're by Mo Willems!"  So the next visit, I went looking for books by somebody Williams, because I figured she had the name a bit wrong.

She didn't.  You probably knew that.  May I just say how much I adore that her kindergarten teacher has taught her to pay attention to the author's name, so you can find other books by the same person?  That was totally a Mr. B. thing, not a Mom thing.  I guess there are some ways in which 35 years of teaching kindergarten give you some clues as to what kinds of things they need to know.  Me, I'm constantly being surprised.  Either, "You know that?  How do you know that?!?"  or "You don't know that?  Wait, was I supposed to teach you that?  My bad."

So.  Mo Willems.  My literary hero, although I'm not sure why Knuffle Bunny got the big awards.  The Pigeon books are hilarious, and Elephant and Piggy have this unique power to make my kids want to read them aloud.  Both kids are just barely starting to read, but when I pull out the E&P books (or, to be more precise, when they are slammed into my lap by eager children), the kid who grabbed it out of the pile fastest gets to choose their "part," then the other kid chooses theirs, and I get whomever is left over.  Linden has memorized the stories Mr B. read them, so she can get through those just fine.  Oak sometimes gets frustrated halfway through and asks me to take over, but between the humor, the way the words are color-coded to the character, the way the type fact reflects the emotions of the speaker, and the memorable quality of the stories, he is always willing to give it a try, and gets further each time we read.  I guess it's because it's dialogue rather than narration--a kind of built-in readers' theater.  I realized early on that, other than "books" that are horribly summaries of some  stupid My Little Pony or Dora movie, kids' picture books run the gamut from amazingly wonderful to pretty darn good.  But Mo Willems is in a class of his own.

(Then there was the time I was coerced into reading one of the horrible ML Pony books, and as it ground to a halt, just before I exploded with "Oh. My. God.  Nothing happened!" Linden gave a happy little sigh and said, "That was nice."  Nice.  Okay.)

On our most recent trip to the library, we noticed and checked out a book we'd renewed for months awhile back.  It's a sweet little "I love my daddy!" kind of book about a bear cub and his father.  Yes, I go out of my way to check out books that promote loving family relationships.  They asked me to read it tonight, putting it in the highly prestigious and hotly debated "last book of the evening" spot by unanimous decision, because "it's not silly" and "it ends with them going to sleep."

I opened the book to the familiar illustrations, and began to read.  "Hmm," I thought  in the back of my head.  "I don't remember the rhyming being quite this sing-songy."  As I kept reading, I figured it out.  I had never actually READ the words to this book before.  That other time we had it out must have been quite a long time ago, because the words I remember saying along with the pictures were really poorly translated summaries of what was going on in each scene.  I had read it to them (and they fell in love with it) in my pidgen attempt at their first language.

When I feel somewhat panicky that my kids are barely reading, it helps to remember that less than a year ago, they did not know any English. Now, they can follow along with not just picture books, but those short chapter books known as "early readers."  (Here, a shout-out to Cynthia Rylant.  I know her YA books, and am delighted to discover her different series of charming little chapter books.)  They have learned SO MUCH.  Reading will come.
When I read to the kids. Linden sits on my right, Oak on my left.  Then they lean.  They're trying to see the pictures, I know.  But the amount of weight pushing against me, especially on my left side, has increased dramatically over time.  I can talk to you about reading readiness, English language development, the beauty of children's literature, and fostering a love of reading, but what really keeps me reading night after night, despite my complete inability to stick to all the other schedules and plans I've put in place, is that lean.

It feels like love.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

An Open Letter to my Middle School English Teacher

Dear Mr. Johnson,

I had the hiccups yesterday, so I sat quietly on my couch and stared at a picture across the room until they went away.  It worked, as it always does.

When I was a sixth grader in your English class in 1980, if we got the hiccups, you would take us into the hall (so we wouldn't get the giggles from the other students) and tell us to look at your eyes.  You would gravely hold our gaze until we realized--they're gone!  When several of us had experienced this miracle, you told us how to do the same thing by looking into a mirror at home.  Eventually, we figured out it wasn't the eyes, but the calm focus, and so learned how to calm our hiccups anytime, anywhere.

You were my teacher for all three years of middle school.  You sighed and told us that it was too bad, because we would benefit more from having other teachers, being exposed to other styles of teaching.  We knew better.  In your classroom we sat in organized rows.  We took spelling tests every Friday, covering our papers as you had shown us, so nobody would be put in the awkward position of having seen a neighbor's paper and wondering if we would have remembered how to spell the word on our own.  We knew it was also so we wouldn't cheat, but appreciated the respect you showed our integrity.  We diagrammed sentences, a skill that finally paid off when I started learning foreign languages in which dative and accusative cases were recognizable to me as indirect and direct objects.  We took notes, and learned how to organize our binders.  We came in every Monday eager to see the three new posters that were sure to be hanging behind your desk.

Every Monday.  I can't get over that.

I had another favorite teacher in middle school, Mrs. Boughton.  She was a part-time counselor, part-time math teacher, and taught the TAG class.  The TAG class and your English class were basically the same group of kids.  The year she taught TAG, we sat in a circle and talked about our feelings.  One day one of the "popular" kids, whom I feared and resented, grumbled, "It's so easy for kids like Wendy; all the teachers like her.  They're always just waiting for me to do something wrong."  It was the first time I saw him as a person, and the first time I saw myself from another point of view.  Her class was so very different from yours, but I knew even then what it was that made me love both.

You both loved us.  Every kid in that room was important to you.  You knew us as individuals.  You'd been teaching for decades, but you never acted bored, never just went though the motions.  We mattered to you.  Mrs. Boughton, sitting in the circle with us, cared about us.  You, up at the chalkboard, challenging us to recite our helping verbs in five seconds, cared about us.  (By the way, I can still say them, and so can my brother-in-law, who had you at Capitol Hill in 1969).

I've been a middle school ESL and English teacher for fifteen years.   I have never been and will never be as organized as you were.  (Seriously, three new posters EVERY MONDAY?!?)  I'm more of a Mrs. Boughton than an Ol' Man Johnson.  Sometimes this bothers me.  After all, I learned how to spell Cincinnati, raspberry, and hygiene from you; not to mention the whole sentence diagramming bit; and a love of what I now know is called the Oxford comma.  In Mrs. Boughton's class, the only lesson I distinctly remember was reading A Separate Peace.

Then I think again.  What did I really learn from both of you?  From Mrs. Boughton, I began to learn to not judge others so quickly, to be willing to listen to the story from their point of view.  In your class, I learned valuable organization skills, all the more important because it doesn't come naturally to me.  From both of you, at a time in my life when self-criticism and social bullying were constant, I learned that I had value.  These are the kinds of lessons I want my own students to learn in my classroom.

My students know I love them.  I teach many things: skills, habits, information.  They don't all learn the things that are on the lesson plan, but they all know how important they are to me.  If I am to some of them what you were to me, then that is your legacy.

Sincerely (because that's another word you taught me to spell) and with love (because it's true),

Monday, July 1, 2013

This is Now a Cooking Blog. Kidding.

Peanut Butter Pig-Outs

This is my cookie for hot weather.  My mom got the recipe in about 1978, from her friend Valerie.  They were nurses together.  This is, however, not a healthy dessert.  It is delicious (hence the 3/4 empty pan) and requires no cooking, other than a little microwaving.

Mix: two cups of peanut butter, a stick of butter, and a pound of powdered sugar.  (That's 1/2 cup of butter and about 3 3/4 cups of powdered sugar.)

Stir in 3 cups of rice krispies.  Unless you're out, and forgot to get them when you made a trip to the store specifically to buy the ingredients to make these.  It turns out honey nut cheerios also work.

Spread the whole thing into a cookie pan.  Then melt a cup of chocolate chips in your microwave, and spread the gooey chocolate over the peanut butter layer.  At this point, I usually say, "I should have used more chocolate."  Feel free to actually use more chocolate if you'd like.

For years (MANY!), I've made this with crunchy peanut butter, because crunchy is good.  Yesterday when I was at the store with Oak (on that "let's get all the ingredients EXCEPT ONE" trip), I was looking at two seemingly identical peanut butters and wondered aloud, "How are these different?  Oh, one is crunchy and one is smooth.  Which one do we want?"  

Before I could answer my own question with "Crunchy, because it's good," Oak gravely replied, "Smooth, because if someone has a loose tooth, the crunchy kind can hurt."

Well.  I hadn't thought of the "if someone has a loose tooth" angle.  Since I was pretending to make these for the kids, I went with his advice.  

It's good either way.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Get In; The Water's Fine.

Just removed my first mean comment, after a bit of pondering on how to respond to it.  It didn't take long to conclude that while people have the freedom to express their opinions about me, since I'm the one putting my story out in public, it's not worth putting a lot of energy into rebutting, educating, or (even?  especially?) defending myself to online strangers who go on attack.  It helped that she attacked me in an area I'm not concerned about.  If she'd actually attacked me on one of my weaknesses, I'd probably have more trouble letting it go.

Moving on.  It was hot today.  In hot weather, these are my ideal places to be, in descending order:
1.  In a sandy bottomed lake.
2.  In any lake.
3.  In a slow-moving river.
4.  In an outdoor swimming pool.
5.  With my feet in a fast-moving river.
6.  At a splash pad.
7.  Running through the sprinkler.
8.  Washing the car.
9.  Sitting with my feet in a bucket of cold water.  (This one was brought to my awareness by Linden and our neighbor girl.  Brilliant.)

As far as I'm concerned, the benefit of hot weather is the enjoyment of cold water.  So I squeezed my matronly body into an old Speedo and took the kids to a splash pad, the other options being too time- and gas- consuming for today.  As I wandered through the spray, I slowly realized that although I was not the only parent enjoying the water with the kids, I was the only one wearing a bathing suit.  Then I noticed a hot young mom in a bikini, which just sort of proved my point.  Then I realized I work with her, and had to stop and make small talk instead of punching her in the throat.

It's summer.  It's 87 in the shade, and we're all broiling.  Why are so many moms hovering on the edge of the water, all covered up and sweaty?  What are we teaching the kids about their bodies, that we feel ours must stay hidden?

My mom always got in.  She too loved the water.  She stayed somewhat slimmer than I have, but after three pregnancies, her belly was soft and round, and she had varicose veins popping out of her calves.  What I learned from her was about enjoying the water, not about hiding your aging body.

When my daughter said, "Mama, please will you go into the water with me?" and I shucked off my shorts and shirt, she gasped with admiration at the bright purple color of my suit.  "Oh Mama, I LOVE your swimsuit!" she exclaimed.  She didn't care about the waddle of my thighs, the bulge of my belly.  My wish for her is that when she's 43, no longer a slim little miss, she'll be willing to put on her suit and get in the water.

Saturday, June 29, 2013


And now it's a year.

My mind still sheers away from the horror of that trip home and the first days; the layover in Heathrow which brought me to miserable tears, and then that first unending day when we finally asked my mother-in-law to come over so we could sleep.  She woke us up when they went from mooning her to throwing things at her.

We survived some pretty serious regression from Oak last week, but hey, there was no mooning.  The other differences we noted were that we have a common language now, and his sister did not join in his rebellion, which made it marginally easier to manage.

However, he's been consistently unkind to Linden this week.  I've had to stop myself from snapping, "Why are you being such a dick?" several times.  Then today, when I picked them up a half an hour late from art camp, he was being kind, generous, funny.  She offered him most of her share of the cheetos I'd bought as a surprise treat.  He thanked her sweetly.  The evening wasn't without tension, but the tone was set early, and we kept bringing ourselves back to that spirit of friendliness and affection.

I love love love to cuddle with Linden at night, to ask her for 'three roses and a thorn" from her day, to sing her lullabies, to drop kisses on her arms, her face, her head as we murmur sleepily together.  But Oak has night fears, and the Winemaker was gone, so I tucked in my easy child with a quick kiss and a damp cloth to help with the heat  Then I met my boy just outside his sister's door, where he'd been laying so he could still hear me.  When he goes into the bathroom to pee after dark, I stand outside and give him math problems so he knows I'm there, and so he doesn't dwell on his terrors.

"Mom?"  he'll say anxiously, checking that I'm actually there.

"Seven plus seven?"  I'll reply.

We laid down together in the big bed, because his room was so stuffy.  I rubbed his back.  I thought of how I am with Linden, how I cuddle and kiss and whisper sweet nothings.  I pour on the adoration that a mama gives her baby, and she soaks it in.  I don't do this with Oak.  He has grown to appreciate and even offer physical affection, but it's not that same kind of baby sweetness that I give his sister.  Feeling suddenly bad about this, I lean in and kiss his neck, whisper, "I love you so much."

He replies, "What's the biggest number you know how to do times with?"

"I know up to 12 times 12 by heart," I tell him, "and  I can do numbers that end in zero, like 100 times 100."

I know that his distancing doesn't mean he doesn't need the affection,  I keep rubbing his back.  He asks for water.  Last week, we had four nights in a row when he freaked out at bedtime, got aggressive, intentionally woke his sister up, went wild around the house.  I'm willing to put up with a little stalling this week.  He drinks his water.  I lay down next to him again.  "I love you," I whisper into the dark.

"Me too," he sleepily replies.

 We said that at bedtimes a year ago too, only in another language.  It was perhaps more a promise than a reality, but here we are, one tour of the sun later, still making the promise.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Another picture. I'm on a roll.

Linden drawing, while resting her hand on Strawberry Bunny.  It turned out that she was actually doing a portrait of Strawberry, so apparently touching the bunny was part of getting it right.  

She usually doesn't really like drawing, so I was thrilled when she set up this little spot for herself and asked for paper.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Our Ride

Our '97 Honda Civic has had a front headlight out for about four months.

The plates expired three days ago.  I'll get it taken care of this week, I swear.

I spilled something on the hood a few months ago, and little by little, the paint is slowly melting away.

So when Linden picked up a rock and scratched "kitty whiskers" (three on each side) to "make the car cuter" it was a toss-up whether it was vandalism or actually an improvement.

Some Actual Photos

I'm aware the the lack of photos makes this kind of...boring.  But having decided to be hyper-private about this blog, I'm really trying to be consistent about that.

Still, I've come up with some photos that don't show identifying features, so I thought I'd share.

We were at the beach on Memorial Day with several other families.  

Linden crossing the creek on our first day of vacation hike.  Really, with her insisting on growing out her bangs and simultaneous dislike of putting her hair up, most pictures of her this day show no revealing facial features anyway.

Oak showing off his blister.  He was the only kid of five who didn't whine the whole hike.  He was in his element.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Parenting fail?

Completely appropriate dot-to-dot

Linden and I were at a bakery today while Oak was at therapy.  She asked me to make her a dot-to-dot.  I am artistically challenged.  I looked around the place for inspiration, and saw their vases, which were wine bottles painted black.

I dotted.  She drew.  Then she added in the cork and a label,  including her dad's name.  I'm not the only one who thinks of him as The Winemaker.  She wrote "Win" and asked, "Is that how you spell wine?"  I almost said, "In a sense, yes," but I went with the straight answer and had her add an e.

A few minutes later, as we sat in the bakery with this displayed between us, it suddenly occurred to me that this may not be the world's most child friendly dot-to-dot theme.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Nearly a Year

The Winemaker and I just had a very rare morning alone together.  My school year wound down a few days before the kids', so I'm home for their last day of school.  We went out for coffee and ran a few exciting errands (bank, grocery store, etc.)  It was lovely.  That may sound sarcastic, but I mean it.  Just to have two hours of my husband's company.  Lovely.

As we came in the front door, I noticed the two painted plastic "wind chimes" hanging in the front window.  The kids won the kits at a school art night, and knew right where they wanted to put the finished products.

There are bikes strewn all over our front porch, and picture books and early readers from the library sprinkled liberally all over the house.  The quilt my mom and I made when I was sixteen is not here on the couch for me to cuddle with, because when Linden was sick, she got very attached to it, and has moved it up to her own room to cuddle with.  There is, however, a large stuffed bunny by my feet. And some leaning towers of clean laundry.  The bin of colored pencils that's permanently sitting on the china hutch, the "oh my God I just scrubbed this two hours ago" stickiness of the dining room table, the hanging basket we bought to remember their birth mom on Mother's Day, the pillow airing out on the front porch after someone somehow managed to get the corner of it when that person wet the bed, and yes, the art on the fridge.  This house holds children.

We are nearing our one year mark.  I talked to Linden about that, about which date we should commemorate (although instead of "commemorate" I said "bake a cake on").  The date we met, which was also the date they were handed into our full time care, forever? The date the adoption was finalized?  The date we came home?  She and I both lean towards the latter.  This house is where we are becoming a family.  They've lived here less time than they did in the orphanage, less time than they did with their birth family.  We're still struggling, all of us, every day.

And we're making progress.  We're learning.  We are brave, we are loving, we keep trying.  There are bikes on our front porch, and the bathrooms are almost always pretty sketchy, and this is my family.

Excuse me, but I have to go meet a school bus.  Let us all welcome summer.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Rest of the Story

That nap turned out to be pneumonia, by the way.  When I took her temperature Saturday, the numbers whizzed by on the thermometer rather the way the cost rings up when you're getting gas in the car.  This definitely helped build up my credibility with the "you need to take a nap" thing.

I  made it to my doctor's appointment too.  And cried.  In the waiting room, while filling out the screening form.  I think the receptionist might have made a discreet note on it:  "Please give this woman meds."  Then I cried some more while telling my sweet little doctor that I get so angry at my kids that I'm afraid I'm going to hurt them.  She said nice things, and gave me some sensible advice, prescribed Zoloft (which I had just learned can help with anger as well as depression) and wondered in her mild way if Oak might also benefit from something to take the edge off his anxiety, which is at the base of a lot of his more enraging behaviors.  She even used the phrase PTSD, which somehow impressed me.

I keep reading or hearing that kids from tough places will be misdiagnosed as ADHD or oppositional, because their behaviors will be similar, but that meds for those diagnoses will be wrong, because the cause is so different.  At our first school conference, I said something to Oaks' teachers about this, and they all (classroom teacher, ELD teacher and counselor) looked at me funny and said, "No, I wouldn't have said he has any attention issues at all.  He's quite able to focus.  It's more the way he behaves when he's stressed out or there are transitions..."  Now the doctor seems equally well in tune with the way our kids' background will affect them.  I like this.

The school where I work is undergoing a "digital conversion" which is fancy talk for getting one iPad for each student.  As part of this, teachers got an iPad mini and a Macbook Air to take home and familiarize ourselves with over the summer.  Don't be hating on me.  I'll be equipped for blogging, at any rate.  Don't let the door hit you on the way out, decrepit old off-brand laptop.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Two steps forward, one step back.

I'm not sure where to start, much less where to go from there, but part of trying to get out of the sh*tstorm that Mother's Day launched is trying to get myself to write.

I could start by saying that after heavy blog reading (Orange Rhino, Hands Free Mama, and some essays about anger and parenting on Creative with Kids), and watching some of the new videos we ordered from Karyn Purvis, I had three good days in a row.  Days where I responded gently and kindly, and helped kids regulate, and followed their lead in play, and caught them being good.  I even did a craft, dammit.  It didn't work the way it was supposed to, but we had fun making it anyway.

Then I came home today, and my husband was stressed and wanted some TLC, and my daughter kept trying to touch me in her most space invasive ways, and my son was acting up to obtain the remaining shred of my attention, and I kind of lost it. 


While I was in the midst of my three good days, I finally got up the courage to call my doctor's office and make an appointment to talk about my mental health.  I can't keep going, 'Oh, hey, I got this, I got thi--WHOOPS!" 

I can say that too many people wanting my physical touch at the same time was a trigger.  I can say that not getting lunch was a problem.  (By the time I got dinner on, I was seeing sparkly shapes in the corner of my vision.) 

In the midst of my bitchiness, I told my daughter she had to take a nap instead of going to the park, because her voice is hoarse and she has a fever.  A kind woman would have left out the "instead of going to the park" part.  I wasn't feeling kind.

I know Linden HATES being told to lay down during the day; it's a pretty sure way to trigger at least a minor tantrum from her.  In the orphanage they had to nap after lunch, and she bitterly resented it.  So that made her yell and kick, which led to more meanness from me, but I calmed down first, and went to, "I know you don't like to nap during the day.  That's why you only have to when you're sick.  Your body needs some time to rest."  I told her I'd set my alarm for 20 minutes, but wouldn't start the time until she was laying down and closing her eyes.  She stormed, "If you LEAVE, I'm going to SIT UP!" and I calmly responded, "That's why I'll be right here." 

She really is an obedient little girl most of the time, so instead of jumping on the bed or dashing for the door, as Oak would have, she grumpily lay down and played with a stuffed animal for awhile.  I reminded her the time would start when she closed her eyes, so she turned her back to me, clearly planning to KEEP HER EYES OPEN while obeying me otherwise. 

She was asleep within two minutes.

Five hours later, she's still sleeping. 

I tried to get her up for dinner, but she rolled back over and went back to sleep.  I've taken her into the bathroom and given her some water, then just tucked her back in.  Her skin is still hot.  She's sick.  She needed to go to bed. 

Mean Mama still loses, but it helps a little, knowing she really did need to go to bed.  The park (with a splash pad!) would have been a lousy idea. 

There's also this. I spent four of those hours with my son.  (The Winemaker went out for the evening.)  This is rare.  Homework time is probably his only guarantee for one-on-one time with me, when I will send Linden away if she tries to horn in.  (This may be the secret of why we don't really have the homework battles I know some families have.)  He had lost privileges for his new phone*, and needed to do three "jobs" to earn it back.  Friday night the kids are normally excused from dinner and dishes duty, but he helped me dry dishes tonight for one job.  Then we went outside and cleaned up the branches the Winemaker had trimmed from the magnolia tree today.  Oak got to stand in the yard debris bin and squash everything in, which he loved.  Job two.  Afterwards, I read him some stories while he massaged lotion into my feet.  Job three.  This is something I've done for him several times, and I must say it was lovely to receive the same gentle care back.  With the three jobs done, we put his phone in the charger, and he brushed his teeth so we could watch ALL of The Lion King together.  Watching movies is usually a weekend morning event, before the parents get up, so it was another nice treat for us to cozy up in the big chair together and share the experience.  He'd say, "I love this part!  You'll love it too, Mom."  Then I laid down with him so he could get to sleep easily. 

Nice Mama wins.

I'm gonna do this. 

Still nervous about the doctor appointment. 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Sugar, sugar

You know about the five love languages,?  The idea being that we all have different ways we receive and express love, and that if you're expecting someone to show you their love by, say, buying you a Ferrari, but they show their love by getting up in the cold every morning to turn the furnace on so the house is warm when you get up--well, that's kind of a screwy example, sorry.  But the point is, if you recognize one kind of expression of love, and your beloved shows their love differently,  you may miss it, and become sad and/or resentful, which is one of life's less appealing emotional cocktails. 

Well, my love language for children is Sugar.  As in, I love you, so I bake for you.  I love you, so I sneak you a little treat.  I love you, so I put chocolate chips in your pancakes, let you lick the beater, and hand you bubble gum when you're doing your homework, because Karyn Purvis says it's okay. 

The Winemaker, on the other hand, sees frequent doses of sugar as setting the kids up for obesity, diabetes, and a lifetime of emotional eating.  (Now, WHERE would he get that idea?!?)  So it's like, the "Die Early" language from his point of view. 

This causes some confusion, and leaves us ripe for triangulation.

On a very related note, tomorrow is Oak's birthday, his first with us.  We had a party with friends, and cheesecake, and goodie bags with candy, and a present from a friend that included a bag of candy, today.  Now I'm working on his real birthday cake, which involves, yes, licking the beater and helping frost, and so on.  I'm all, "But it's his birthday!" and the Winemaker is all "But we know that if we bend the rules once we fight the battle eternally after that!" 

Friday, May 31, 2013

I'm Not Dead Yet.

Okay.  Well.  Hmm.

I haven't been writing lately.  I can think of three main reasons:

1.  Both laptops got seriously ill about a month ago.  I'm back on tonight because the Winemaker spent a couple of days this week doing the long-delayed emergency surgery, and it seems they will limp along for some more time, much like an old car, or, sad to say, my 81 year old father.  Since I'm not under 25, blogging on my phone didn't work for me.  Blogging at work didn't seem like a good idea either.

2.  The only time I have for writing is after the kids go to bed.  This happens about an hour before I SHOULD go to bed, and about two hours before I DO go to bed.  I'm trying to get closer to the 'should' time, and anyway, even two hours a day gets rapidly sucked up in other stuff, like paying bills and randomly surfing the internet.  (Do people still say that--"surfing"?  It sounds dated, but how else do you describe wandering from website to website until you say, "Oh shit, now I'm only going to get 5 and a half hours of sleep!"?)

3.  Things have been pretty lousy lately.  It started on Mother's Day, and hasn't really eased up since.  When I tried to schedule extra therapy, I couldn't find any slots in our therapist's calendar, because, she explained, her calendar "exploded" (her term) the day after Mother's Day.  So, there's that--we're not alone.  But the wall-to-wall disregulation, which has now even spread to the one remaining sane member of the family, is hard to write about.  Plus, frankly, it eats up a lot of time, meaning that 1-2 hour window at the end of the day finds me exhausted and way behind on all tasks. 

Wednesday night I went to bed and realized that the most productive thing I'd done all day was wash my hair.  One's day shouldn't really peak at 6:20 am.

Thursday was better.  So was today.  We're not out of the woods yet, but catching my breath (and a repaired computer) made me decide to write even if I only have time to write a little bit.  It won't be great stuff.  But I kind of need it.  Reading the lovely, inspiring and/or hilarious words of other writers is great, but I need to write my own mediocre stuff in order to work on my own life.