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.