Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Taking its toll

The Thanksgiving break took its toll on all of us. We cooked all day on Thursday, it snowed, the kids played outside, the house was warm and smelled good. It couldn't have been more picturesque. That is until they all came inside. Then they fought with each other. Or Sean was busy tackling his sisters to the ground. The tackling isn't so much the problem, it's more the tackling on a hard wood floor. Or the tackling on the couch, while the 2 year old responds full force and then lands on the floor crying. Or tackling a sister in the middle of a well-traveled walkway for everyone else in the family. It was THAT.

I spent so much of the evening quietly correcting, then swiftly and loudly reprimanding Sean, that by the time we were brushing teeth and getting ready for bed, he broke down into tears.

me: (tired, exasperated) Why are you crying?
Sean: I didn't have a fun night!
me: Why is that?
Sean: I'm sad... (sob, sob)...because you wouldn't let me do... anything... fun! (Loud sobbing)

Basically I ruined Thanksgiving. As I was trying to fall asleep that night, I rolled over to ask Tom if he thought I ruined Sean's Thanksgiving.

Tom: You maybe ruined the end of his night, but you didn't ruin Thanksgiving.

That was a comforting distinction, but I continued to roll the picture of his crying face through my head until I fell asleep. By the next morning, Sean seemed to have forgotten all about his crying jag.

Sean: Wasn't that fun yesterday?
me: I thought yesterday was great! What part did you think was fun?
Sean: All of it!

Clearly his tooth-brushing-tantrum was a momentary lapse, quickly forgotten in the throws of sleep, but it stuck with me.

Parenting takes its toll. The other day I was talking to my dad and he asked how the kids were doing. After talking for a few minutes, Dad commented on what great kids we have.

me: They really are great kids. They just give us a run for our money.
Dad: As they should.

Frances has entered her indecisive, yet defiant stage as a two-year-old. She simultaneously will be upset that we won't let her eat an inordinate amount of raisins, then want to be picked up and held, then will slap me in the upper-torso-face-neck region, then I'll put her down, then she'll cry, then she'll want to be picked up, then I'll reach for her, then she'll run screaming away from me. And on it goes for 15 minutes. Sometimes she gets so exhausted by this cycle, that she ends up lying on the heated floor in the bathroom, curled up on the shower rug, sucking her thumb and pulling strands of rug out of its home on the floor. Her 2 year old brain, having spent itself entirely on the tantrum, needs a respite. The tantrum took its toll.

But what takes the cake is the past couple days. A 24 hour stomach bug hit Frances last Thursday, me on Sunday, and now Sean last night. There's nothing quite like stepping in someone else's vomit at 2am, in the dark of their bedroom, trying to figure out what has happened. Dear Sean kept taking a break from vomiting to tell us "I'm throwing up" and would then relay to us all the things he was experiencing. For example while puking he 1) can't breathe, 2) feels his cheeks puff out (which is how he knows the next round is coming), 3) feels his throat burning, and 4) can't wipe his nose fast enough. This projectile vomiting was so expansive, it's brought about 8 loads of laundry, built a tent city in our living room of large down comforters drying on racks, and inspired general chaos. The only way to do it justice is to take pictures of what our home looks like:
The television has won, and I've nestled the Lysol close to my hip so that I may strike the germs as soon as I see them coming.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Raising children in a violent world

“What most of us must be involved in--whether we teach or write, make films, write films, direct films, play music, act, whatever we do--has to not only make people feel good and inspired and at one with other people around them, but also has to educate a new generation to do this very modest thing: change the world.”
― Howard Zinn, Artists in Times of War and Other Essays 

When I was in college, a friend's parents told me and my closest friends that idealism belonged to the young. They applauded our desire to better understand the war in Iraq and rail against it, but they seemed unwavering in their belief that we would abandon our idealism the older we got. In the wake of the attacks in Paris last Friday, I've been trying to channel my emotions into something good. My mom's response to Friday's attacks was prayer. She believes that's the only response possible in the face of such atrocity. I don't disagree. Another friend told me that her initial response was fear and anxiety because the attacks in Paris made it feel more likely something like this could happen here. I have felt those same feelings, too. Strangely what also bubbles up inside me is a slow burning rage. How does this continue to happen? These attacks are not happening on my physical doorstep, but they threaten to drown out my idealism that this world could be something more than a series of violent acts from one human being to another.

Sometimes I feel a pang of wonderment as to why we brought children into this world. As I entered young adulthood in 1999, I have become increasingly aware of how big our world is, how diverse the perceptions, how different the balance of the economic scales from one country to the next. We are a privileged society, and yet, we struggle with poverty, violence, racism, hatred, and fear. No one is immune from this world's suffering. Why did we decide to have children?

I have snuggled my kids tighter the past couple days, shuddered at the idea that I can't fully protect them from what this world will show them in the future. Unlike the advice I was given in college, though, I don't believe I've lost my sense of idealism. Rather, I'm more fully aware that idealism is in short supply. We must continue to fan the flames of idealism, rather than bow down to despair.

My friend, Muriel, lives in Paris. She has for many years. Her response to these attacks was "we need to continue to live and fight against the fear." How can I do that as a mom of three young children, living in Minnesota? The only thing I can think of is to continue to create. Continue to create peace between fighting siblings, continue to teach them to push past their own fears and accomplish things they didn't think were possible. Continue to be a person who creates: writing, singing, teaching, living through the fear so they have a road map to forge their own sense of joy amidst sadness. Continue to pray: with them, for them, teaching them to pray for others in need. And when that day comes when I can't protect them from the ugliness this world has to offer, I will continue to live and fight against the fear that they will abandon their idealism. Because without a foolish sense of necessary idealism, we will never change the world.

Monday, September 21, 2015


I recently felt utterly consumed. I imagine I'm not alone in this feeling; to be a parent is to stay tuned in with little, crazy, brain-not-yet-developed creatures. These creatures have the ability to scream, yell, demonically grab the stairs (where they are taking a time out) and LET LOOSE at the top of their lungs, throat extended like that of a wolf at the moon. There are moments when I feel so consumed by these little crazy people that I have to leave the house. Looking for someone to take over so that I may escape, I text my dear husband who is in the process of taking public transportation home at the end of his work day. Even though I know he can't get home any faster, my texts go something like this:

me: What's your ETA? Sean is completely losing it right now. We don't have the flavor of Popsicle he wants.


me: Please hurry home. I need a break from Frances. She hasn't stopped screaming for 25 minutes and she's following me around the house crying if I won't hold her constantly.


me: Tough day with Audrey. I'm thinking of selling her to the circus. I know she'll thrive there.

Some of this craze from the kids I was expecting. It's the beginning of the school year, and this means our laissez-faire summer attitude is falling away. Instead we are waking up early, militantly keeping them on a time schedule that culminates in a frenzied push to get out the door for Sean's bus. It doesn't matter how early we wake up, it seems like the moments before catching the bus are always chaotic.

Tom: Okay, Sean, we have about 5 minutes. Please put your shoes on and get ready to go.

Audrey: (from the breakfast table) But I'm not dressed! I want to go to the bus! I want to go with you! Don't leave without me! STOP. STOP RIGHT NOW! I want to to go with you!

Tom: This is why we asked you to get dressed 20 minutes ago, and you said 'no.'

Audrey: That's because I was drinking my milk! Wait! Wait! Don't leave!

Tom: Ok, you can come, but that means you need to get dressed and put on some shoes. Now!

Audrey: But I can't! I don't want to go upstairs by myself! I'm scared!

Tom: Audrey, you are spending more time yelling than doing something. You could have been half dressed by now.

Audrey: (voice up an octave and grabbing her crotch) AAAAAHHHHH! I have to pee! I have to pee! AAAAaHhhhAHA!

At this point she throws herself prostrate onto the ground, still not dressed, still not going to the bathroom. Not going to the bus. However, not every morning is like this (lest you begin to feel really sorry for us, though we will take your pity. Thanks very much). In fact, our morning routine is beginning to take shape much more quickly than in previous years. It helps that all the kids are getting older, and it helps that they're used to us barking orders at them in the last 5 minutes before leaving the house.

I think it helps, too, that they are in a developmental stage where they emulate us. This probably won't always be true. I think there will come a time in their lives when they want nothing to do with me or my husband. They'll probably go through a very healthy, much needed distancing from our family - which will probably break my heart - and they will discover who they are as a person without the immediate context of our family system. But for today, they are emulating us. So they see us get our act together in the morning, and they want to figure out how to do the same.

Sean acts like a little Tom. Most everybody says he resembles Tom, and he's quiet, reserved, and contemplative like Tom. They both have their extroverted sides, and I am overjoyed when they show that side to me, but most often, their quiet side leads first and foremost. If Sean is a little Tom, then our dear Audrey is perhaps... a distant relative of mine. She is always putting on a performance. The other day she was putting on a magic show, but once she got into the meat of her show, she explained that she doesn't do the kind of magic where she makes things disappear. She does the kind of magic that's "just fun stuff." Like putting a donut shaped block on a stick and watching it fall from side to side on the stick just by turning it in her hands. That kind of magic. She plays "songs" on the piano while singing aloud. She's overly dramatic. About everything. She is persistent, stubborn, outgoing, and fearless. I'm not a biologist, but I think she has at least half my DNA.

So I guess the upside these days, is that this consumption is reciprocal. They are consumed by us as their role models as much as we are their eating, sleeping, and pooping habits. If imitation is the highest form of flattery, then Audrey is complimenting me right and left. We had the rare opportunity one day to leave the house together without any other kids. Special date, just Audrey and mom (doesn't matter that this date involved Audrey going to the dermatologist). Audrey obviously watched closely while I got ready to leave, and when I told her to get ready to go, she picked up a couple things I didn't know she planned to take with us. My husband captured this on our way to the car:

Though consumed, I'm flattered. 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

That Certain Je Ne Sais Quoi

It seems parenting is filled with an array of emotions. Some parents talk about not wanting their kids to ever grow up. That's not me. I try to embrace the joyful moments as they come, breathe through the aggravating moments, and take breaks when I'm about to lose my mind. I have never found that any emotion sticks around for too long. A joyful moment, where the sun seems to shine just right, the kids are playing well with together and listening to the adults, will quickly be followed with a child's poop-in-the-pants-and-on-the-hands moment, followed by 30 minutes of clean up and cursing under my breath. A pull-my-hair-out moment at 3am with a teething baby will be followed by restful slumber and gazing at my sweet one, silent music playing in my ears at how glorious this moment can be. And the wheel turns.

With the recent flood of back to school posts and pictures on Facebook, I see a similar array of emotions from parents: sadness, anxiety, nostalgia, gratitude, pride, fear, and relief. It's nearly impossible to sum up the feelings of putting Sean on the school bus, or dropping Audrey off at her first day of preschool.

This past weekend we had the great joy of going to Texas to celebrate my Grannie's 93rd birthday. Born in 1922, she remains one of the most graceful, generous, fun-loving, and sweetest women I have ever known. I aspire to live a life as integrity-filled as she has. The weekend was an incredible celebration of Grannie and every family member who has been impacted by her, both present and far away. Without me forcing it, our two older kids wanted to give Grannie a hug goodnight each night before they went to sleep. Words cannot describe how grateful I am that they have an experience with her. Though those memories might fade, at least they have a glimmer somewhere in their brains of this woman who has meant so much in my life. How can I possibly put words to that?

During this weekend celebration we went swimming, boating, jet skiing, and tubing. I can not put words to the muscular pain I am in right now, given how long I hung onto that tube, pulled behind a jet ski, trying to match my brave niece, Mia, toe-to-toe, muscle-to-muscle, clinging for dear life at 35 miles per hour. My body is still feeling the ramifications of the fun we had. I rode jet skis by myself, and at other times carried little children on it with me. There were moments out in that enormous lake, when I felt the vastness of the Texas sky above me, the cleansing of the water below me, and the humility of how small I am in this world. How insignificant I am compared to the great earth we live on. A certain 'je ne sais quoi' as they say.

After coming in from riding on the jet ski for the first time, my cousin asked my nephew, Theo, what he thought of the jet ski ride.

Theo: I was scared. And I liked it!

That sentence has stayed with me. Both scared and engaged, risking life and limb, wanting to go back while also wanting to go farther from the dock, pushing the limits of speed, waiting to see when your body, mind, and soul will "cry uncle."

All these moments: parenting, celebrating my beloved Grannie, jet skiing, they are hard to fully describe after the fact. But if I had to put a finer point on it, I would say something more akin to Theo's response. I find parenting to be scary at times because I don't always know the answers, don't always know what's the best thing to do. I feel that lump in my throat when Sean boards the bus for school in the morning and as I walked away from Audrey today, leaving her at preschool for the first time. (I also felt a dizzying freedom, having only one child in tow for a couple hours. One child? That's so easy!) I felt tremendous gratitude and joy celebrating Grannie in Texas, but it was hard to leave knowing that I may not ever see her again. If I dwelt too long upon that idea, I would be despondent. And if I dwelt too long on the fear of getting hurt on a jet ski, I would never do it. Yet it's not just one emotion that prevails, it's this bundle of emotions. It's gratitude and relief and joy and sadness and nostalgia and anxiety and hope. It's exhilarating.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Fruits of Solo Parenting

Recently my husband has traveled for work, leaving me to steer the ship at home.  When this happens my patience with the kids - at times - runs low. My craziness factor - most times - runs high. He doesn't travel much, maybe 3 - 4 times a year, but when he's out of town, solo parenting bears great fruits. Usually these emerge as really attractive character traits: resentment, anger, and rage (to name a few) directed at no one in particular.

Well usually it's directed at my husband when he calls to check in

me: Oh me? I'm great. Except the kids are fighting, I didn't sleep well, I can't go to the bathroom in peace, and Audrey was already in time out at 7am this morning. We're great - how are YOU?

And sometimes (always) it's directed at our kids

me: I'm the only adult here, so NO we will not swim in the deep pool. I don't CARE that you're practicing jumping in the deep end. That will wait for another time.


me: Put your clothes on. PUT your clothes on. PUT your CLOTHES on. If I say this one more time, you will NOT get to wear a dress today. It will be shorts and a t-shirt for you. Remember the last time you lost your dresses for a week? That will happen again.


me: Stop LAYING on your sister or I will come in there and remove you myself.


me: Get back in here. Now. What are you doing? Why are you playing in the car? I asked you to retrieve water bottles and come back inside! WHAT are you DOING? Why are you climbing into the driver's seat? What do you mean the doors won't open?


me: 3 strikes and you're out. If you get 3 strikes, then you go straight to bed with no books and stories. You already have 1 strike from when you slapped Frankie's hand.

Audrey: (taking an inventory of her evening) I have 2 strikes.

me: You have 1, but it can be 2 if you really want.

When solo parenting, it forces me to let go of some things.

For example, who needs pants? Frances was the pants-less wonder on Thursday while I was at work. She ate breakfast in the car, spilled milk and cereal on her seat and shorts, then pooped three times. So she lived in a diaper for the morning...while at the YMCA. Just forget about the pants! And why even brush your teeth? One night Audrey threw her toothpasted toothbrush across the bathroom, landing on the floor (bleh). That's when I decided that toothbrushing would not happen for Audrey. I'm just not going to hold that standard tonight. Cavities be damned!

There were some hidden gems in the solo parenting weekend. In a quiet moment with Sean, he told me that on nights when I'm not able to sing his lullaby to him before bed, he sings it to himself. He showed me how does it. He said it helps him adjust his eyes from the light to the dark. When I'm done singing to him each night, he checks his eyes, and if they're particularly sensitive to the light, he knows that he's nearly ready for sleep. So on nights when he sings to himself, he checks his eyes at the end of his song, and if they're not ready for sleep, he knows he's forgotten a part of the song so he goes back and sings it again. This insight - born out of being the only adult to hear his musings for that day - is a gem. I realize that the window might be closing for how long he wants me to sing him to sleep.

Whenever Frances has asked for Tom while he's out of town, I've told her that "Daddy's at work." She's used to him going to work 5 days a week, so initially she bought it. But after three days straight of not seeing her father, that line didn't work anymore. She wandered around the foyer one morning looking for Daddy. She wanted to talk to Daddy on the phone. She wanted Daddy to put on her shoes. She had enough of me. She wanted Daddy. I would gladly have had her father around to change her poopy diaper, but he was nowhere in sight, and since she smelled awful, I picked her up to go find the changing table. In some twisted mom-reflex, though I knew she was poopy, I sniffed her diaper.

me: Did you poop? You stink! Frankie girl, did you poop?

But instead of her usual confirm/deny pattern, she emerged with her own jab.

Frances: No. Daddy poop. Daddy. POOP.

Now regardless of Tom being in or out of town, she answers the question the same every time.

Though I much prefer co-parenting, single parenting does have its benefits. Along with letting go of pants and toothbrushing, I often find that I let go of some things that aren't serving me. I tend to be gentler on myself and the kids (at least for the first day or two that Tom's gone), and I allow more fun. Our tradition when he leaves is to go out for donuts. While eating our donuts

Sean: Dad is missing out on all the fun!

me: He sure is. We get donuts, and Dad will be on an airplane.

Sean: Yeah. We get to have fun and Dad just has to sit at a boring conference.

Truth. We are having all the fun. It doesn't always feel like that, but when I can take a deep breath and remind myself of the pockets of fun - even with the insanity - solo parenting can be a little fun.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Watch this!

Most anyplace we go, the kids want me to watch something they're doing. Sometimes it's obvious what they want me to see - a slide down a slide, walking on a balance beam, climbing something high. Sometimes it's not obvious: "watch this!" followed by an ambiguous physical action, complete with a proud smile. My internal monologue: What am I supposed to be watching? What the hell did she just do? Can I stop watching now? Oh. Is that it? Did it just happen?

Audrey: Did you see that?

me: Ehm...yes?

Of course watching is so fun when they're experiencing something for the first time. Watching Sean start to play soccer and run his heart out. Watching Audrey begin to take dance classes and enjoy figuring out the movements of her body. Watching Frankie begin to play with little figurines and talk to them or walk them around a doll house speaking gibberish to herself. The emerging personalities of our kids is a magical thing. It's easy to watch.

But other times it's exhausting. Watching Sean climb the same rock face over and over again, each time reaching the top (thank goodness without a broken bone) and wanting me to take a picture. How many pictures can I take of the same child, sitting up on the same rock face?

This watching has many motivations. I watch out of a need to protect their safety. I watch out of a desire to witness their lives: I like seeing them embark on their own personal journeys. But as a mom of three kids, it becomes overwhelming at time to keep tabs on their every movement. I'm watching for three different busy bodies on a large playground - anxiety producing when I can't find one of them. I'm watching for an argument between two siblings that's escalating so I can step in if someone's about to hit somebody else. I'm watching the bowel movements of each child to make sure they're staying regular. It's a lot to keep up with: a lot of watching.

The watching can go both ways. Audrey will watch me closely when I'm frustrated with her. I often don't know she's tracking my emotions until I get really angry, yell, and then if in the right mind, she'll try to right the situation:

Audrey: I love you, Mama.
me: (reeling from having to abandon my anger) I love you, too.
Audrey: Are you happier now?
me: This is not about being happier, Audrey. This is about you listening when I ask you to stop shoving Frances.
Audrey: (blinks) I love you, Mama.
me: Okay. Thanks. I love you, too.
Audrey: Now are you happier?

She sweetly smiles at me. Though she doesn't yet know the word manipulation, she's a master. She'll poke and prod at my disgruntled attitude until she sees that I'm not angry anymore, giving me hugs, telling me she loves me, even when she's the one who's put me in a bad mood. She watches.

She also watches out of sense of protecting her siblings' safety. We went camping in July, and Sean fell and scraped his knee pretty badly. I made the comment (to anyone who would listen) that it was a good thing Dad had packed the First Aid kit. Audrey was watching the whole time.

Audrey: It's a good thing we have the First Aid kit!
me: Yeah, thank goodness.
Audrey: Do we have a Second Aid kit?

And sometimes, I'm busy doing all this watching, tracking, recording little details in my mind, that I neglect to see the things they really want me to see. The things they wish I could see without having to tell me.

I recently cleaned out the van vacuuming it, cleaning dirty surfaces, dusting corners that never get used. I wanted the van to smell better, for one. I also wanted to find the calcified, decaying scraps of food that were long since lost to the under-carseat-netherworld. Mainly I cleaned because I wanted to move the kids into booster seats instead of little kid carseats. It was time, they're old enough, they weigh enough. So I finally bit the bullet, cleaned the whole car, made it smell good and removed the old carseats. I bought new booster seats from Target and got them all set up.

I felt good about the whole project, but I could not have foreseen their joy. They told me this was the best day of their lives. They hugged me. They thanked me over and over again. The next morning they made me cards with "Happy Supwise Day" written on them. They felt like bigger kids, more mature. Turns out they had been watching older friends and cousins ride in booster seats, and they wanted to do the same.

Though this might sound perfunctory, the whole thing was a giant leap.  It took cleaning out space in my mind and heart to see them as older kids. Me finally taking the leap to purchase new things instead of frugally holding onto the old things not wanting to part with the money.  I stumbled upon something they wished I had been watching but didn't know it.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Moving a piano: it's not brain surgery

If ever you think you might pick up a piano in Chicago and drive it across two state lines back to Minnesota, I've compiled some helpful hints for your trip. To quote my sister, Mary Kate, "Easy as pie. Nothing to it."

1. Rent a cargo van.
2. Silence questions about how you will get piano hoisted into cargo van. Tell these detail-seeking questioners that "I can not be bothered with the details! I am holding a vision!"
3. Drive to Chicago.
4. Stop in Wisconsin for gas and find a coffee shop.
5. If you worry about finding a place with fresh food, good coffee, essential oils, and homemade hemp-purses, just look for the VW van cut in half and plastered to the side wall of said coffee shop. It acts as the drive-thru window, and it's a beacon of originality in a sea of Wisconsin cheese houses.
6. Take note that they are Cheese HAUS's not HOUSE's.

7. Upon arriving in Chicago, reserve two hours to get through the god-awful traffic.
8. When trying to locate your cousin's apartment ensure the directions include streets without street signs, that way you can get lost on the south side of Chicago in a white, nondescript cargo van.
9. Park and leave cargo van. Say some prayers that no one steals it. Husband, friends, cousins all assure you that no one wants that van.
10. Discuss brain surgery over dinner with cousin's brain surgeon boyfriend (and owner of piano).
11. Learn important brain surgery details in case you're ever in the position of having to drill into someone's skull: the brain pulses in time with the beating heart. #mindblown. (I am not on Twitter)

12. Receive phone call at 7:45am the next day from movers you found on craigslist saying they're going to be 15 minutes late due to Chicago traffic (see point #8 above).
13. Quell growing fears that the movers you found are actually mentally ill people who answer the phone, pretend to be movers, take reservations, but then never show up. Or show up and murder you. Both realities are equally possible.
14. Console yourself about potential serial killer movers by welcoming your dear friend who's a professional magician to help you with piano move. He'll protect you from psycho, killer movers (no he won't).
15. Hide your disappointment that your friend can not in fact levitate the piano into the cargo van. Or saw it in half. At least not on this short notice.

16. When movers arrive, side step their annoyance on the phone with the fact that they can see no van outside of the apartment. Assure them it's only a couple blocks away. Resist telling them you weren't sure if they were real movers so you never brought the van out of its parking spot in preparation for their pretend arrival.
17. Walk briskly to get the van and relocate it to directly in front of cousin's apartment.
18. When you shake hands with the real movers, take note of the 6-10 inches of height they have on you. Not to mention that their muscles create triple the body size of your own. Praise yourself quietly for hiring the largest men possible to move the piano.
19. Take advantage of a person exiting the locked gates that lead into the courtyard of the apartment building so you don't have to call anyone inside apartment to come let you in. Who wants to be bothered with this step anyway?
20. Kick yourself that the person at the gate whom you were trying to take advantage of is the Eastern European building manager, Gordon.
21. Wish that building manager's English was better so he could understand that you are not trying to steal anything.
22. Push past your internal temperature rising as you realize you have two large black men flanking you, and a nondescript white cargo van parked in the street: back doors open, flashers on, ready to fill with any amount of loot.
23. Revel - only briefly - in the fact that you might look intimidating, or even like a bad ass.
24. Return to earth to realize building manager is nervously asking you to fill out paperwork if you want to live in this building.
25. Repeat the word "piano" over and over again, while desperately trying to reach cousin, brain surgeon, ANYONE on your phone to vouch for who you are.
26. Recognize that you are not in the least bit intimidating and wonder how this man could ever think you have bad intentions.
27. Remember two huge movers standing... right... behind you.
28. Excitedly see the light bulb go off in building manager's eyes when he understands you are just moving a piano. "Oh, a piano! So sorry - my english - yes, a piano!"

29. Hold breath while the movers proceed to move the piano with their own bare hands.
30. Rejoice when the two of them lift the piano into the cargo van. Ponder the fact that movers discuss who has the "shit end" of the piano before lifting it, because you imagine both ends of lifting this piano could cause anyone to shit.
31. Silence sister-in-law when she asks, "How the hell are you going to get that thing out of the van?"
32. "I can't be bothered with the details! I'm holding a vision!"
33. Note to self: call husband and tell him you may need more people than originally thought to get piano out of van.
34. After breakfast return to van and retrieve orange parking ticket from windshield. (Note that driving your parents' vehicles in St. Louis is not the only time when can get tickets for expired license plates.)

35. Before getting back on the road to Minnesota, give sister-in-law and friend a ride to the L.
36. Use this opportunity to make a hard left turn at moderate speed, thereby causing friend sitting in the back (no seat, no buckle) to stabilize dangerously tilting piano.
37. Get out at Red Line L stop and help friend lift the front piano legs so she can retrieve her bicycle wheel which slid under tilting piano during the hard left turn.
38. Drive back to Twin Cities while nervously, excitedly glancing back at piano, like it's your newborn child, worrying it will tilt, crash and break before getting back home.
39. When home, welcome the help of 4 men to move piano inside house. (Calculate in head that two medium-build, fit men must equal the strength of one, huge Chicago mover.)
40. Pat yourself on the back that you didn't perform brain surgery, and there was no magic involved: you just held the vision and got that sucker home!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mothers, You are Climbing a Mountain

When I was pregnant, someone told me that a pregnant woman burns just as many calories per day as a mountain climber actively climbing a mountain. Whether or not this is scientifically proven doesn't matter to me. What matters is: growing a person is hard work. It's not just a blissful time of kicking back.  For most women I know, and especially those with other children, pregnancy is hard work! The pregnant body grows, swells, retains water, feels foreign and uncomfortable, keeps you awake at night, and makes you feel like you can barely hold your eyes open during the day. Pregnancy is like climbing a mountain.

Those who have outgrown their rearing years frequently tell me that this is the best, most amazing time of my life: pregnant and with young children. How is this the best time of our lives? Why do people say, "you think it's busy now, you just wait!" or "you think you have problems now, just wait til your kids get older. Small people, small problems, big people, big problems." "Enjoy every moment, because it goes so fast." And then what? Then life sucks? Then it's not fun anymore? I'm often left wondering why this is the resounding theme from the older generation to the younger one.

Telling the parents of young kids that "it goes so fast" does nothing for them in the moment. It provides absolutely no support to their constant struggle of whether or not to take a baby with a cold to the doctor, or the parent struggling to get their child to sleep at night, or the parent whose child has abnormally prolonged, exaggerated tantrums. Sure the problems of older children might be more aggravating, more complex, and more anxiety-producing. That doesn't mean you tell those mountain climbers who are below you to "just wait, it only gets harder." What you can say to those who are coming behind you is "You are in it. You are doing it. Keep going. We are blazing a trail ahead of you."

People would never dream of telling a professional mountain climber to "enjoy every minute because this is the best time of their life." What does that insinuate? The underlying message to a healthy, physically fit mountain climber is, "just wait, you're going to break a bone and never be able to do this again." The subliminal message is, "You don't fully realize what a great time you're having, even though you think this is hard work." No person in their right mind would look at a mountain climber mid-climb and beam at them and say "enjoy every moment." A person in the throes of climbing a mountain probably needs to hear: "You are kicking ass!" "Keep up the good work!" "I know this is hard, and you're pulling it off. Keep breathing, keep pushing, there's a plateau ahead." The person mid-climb needs encouragement, not to be told that they aren't present enough to their circumstances. They don't need to hear a nostalgic statement of "it goes so fast" they need a water break, a quick re-fuel, and encouragement to make it to the next look-out point where they can take a breath, massage their weary muscles, and continue on.

My husband and I sometimes joke that parenting young children can be equated to Stockholm syndrome: though we feel held captive by our squabbling children, we still marvel at them asleep at night. Moments after my 19-month-old hits my face because I've taken away a sharp object she found in the dishwasher, I will giggle as she waddles through the kitchen. Though my 4-year-old may fight me all the way to the bathroom, I can't help but laugh when she gives me moment-by-moment updates on how many poops she has coming and when they'll arrive. My affection runs deep for these little people who can drive me absolutely crazy.

I have had a couple glimpses of this going "so fast." Glimpses. As Sean(6) and Audrey(4) just turned their most recent age and have become more independent, I can see how the physical work of parenting becomes somewhat easier when we aren't responsible for literally putting food into their mouths and literally washing every part of their body. I see how their ability to do things on their own frees us from parenting duties and allows them the freedom to go out into the world to experience new things.  I recently teared up seeing Sean stand on the risers at his Kindergarten spring concert and sing his heart out. I was taken aback at my own emotional reaction, and I realized that he is beginning that journey of being a student and a bigger kid.  A journey that will eventually take him - God willing - away from living at home, and he will create a life all his own. I saw both the heartbreak and joy in it, and my eyes filled with tears.

So to the mountain climbers who are mid-climb: I know this is hard, aggravating work with not much recognition or thanks from those we care for. Keep going. Keep breathing deep. Keep digging for patience amidst poopy diapers and underwear, fighting siblings, refusals to eat, and sick kids awake all night. Keep rejoicing in the small victories, and find solace in those who journey with you. For those of you ahead in the climb: thank you for making our pathway clearer by sharing your wisdom. Thank you for making our pack lighter by ensuring we have a safer path to walk. However, please don't tell us that this will "go so fast." I much prefer a, "You're kicking ass! Keep up the good work!" and try to remember that honoring the hard work we are doing now honors the hard work you have done before us.

Friday, January 16, 2015

better left unbroken

Some things in life are better left unbroken. People's bones. Someone's heart. Your bike. I'd rather not see these things broken. There are things around my house I would prefer didn't break. The oven, the washer, the dishwasher, the car, the heat. Yet that's exactly what's happened recently: nearly everything has broken or a function of it has stopped working.

Two years ago, our toaster oven bit the dust. It started sparking flames out of the back where the plug connected to the electrical insides. It made a quick exit stage left. Ever since then we've toasted things in the oven. No problem - that's why we have a broiler, right? Then a month ago, a couple days before Thanksgiving, the broiler stopped working.  Thankfully (no punn intended) we weren't planning to broil anything for Thanksgiving, so we just pushed through. To this day the broiler doesn't work. I'm just glad the subtle buzzing sound from the back of the oven has stopped.

Since moving last year, the washing machine has not been able to handle our laundry. Frankly I'm not sure this washing machine could handle the laundry of a single, petite woman who's fastidiously clean, much less a family of 5.  We NEED the laundry to function swiftly, efficiently, and thoroughly. Yet I've not been able to wash more than 2 towels at a time. I can only wash 7 cloth diapers at a time.  The washing machine can only handle 6 - 10 articles of clothing depending on the size of the person who owns the clothes.  Forget about washing 2 sweatshirts at once. 2 pairs of jeans - NEVER. Not only that, but even when we would put in a minimal amount of clothing, sometimes it would still halt mid-cycle, unable to finish. Torture.

Three months ago, the dishwasher stopped completing it's cycle on its own. Pressing ever so slightly against the dishwasher door would enable it to keep running, so we deduced there was something wrong with the latch. Instead of getting someone to fix the dishwasher, Tom has just been taping the door shut while it's running. Most of the time this works, but due to the cheap quality of the off-brand packing tape we bought, sometimes it fails. *Sigh*

Then our car stopped working. Once in October the car wouldn't start, so we had a new starter put in. Then in November, the battery wouldn't charge, and after it had been at the dealer for 4 days over the Thanksgiving weekend, we brought it home on a Tuesday night, only to wake up on Wednesday morning and have it be dead again. Nearly 12 days straight without our family car - without the ability to transport our whole family at one time.

The refrigerator doesn't really warrant mentioning. Yes the ice maker doesn't work, and some kind of warning light has been telling us a filter needs to be changed for the last 8 months. But it DOES keep food refrigerated. In this household, you've got to be a squeakier wheel than that to get some attention.

But don't rest on your laurels just yet. The other night, Tom was investigating why the radiators in the kids' rooms were not pumping out heat. The end of his hours of researching on youtube, purging the system of air, and re-pressurizing the expansion tank led to his discovery that there was a huge crack in the expansion tank. We've started 2015 with a bang: a brand new expansion tank, and finally a warm house all over - the day before the temperature fell to -14 (windchill of -34).

Putting finances aside (because it's laughable how we could possibly pay for all these things at once. By laughable, I mean impossible), there are things I've become so dependent on for our daily living. I want the washing machine to run a complete cycle. I want the dishwasher to wash the dishes. I expect that when I turn the key, the car will start. We must have heat in a Minnesota house. When these processes are not functioning, I become a cranky mom. More than cranky, really. I'm sure my children and husband could offer up some more exact words.

Sean recently had his 3rd lip revision surgery. We believed this to be his last surgery. We rejoiced. Until the days following the surgery when he and Audrey got so silly, high-energy, and play wrestling/fighting with each other, that she knocked his stitches right out of his mouth. There was blood dribbling out of his mouth, and he kept wiping it on his sleeves. I had just finished yelling at them the day before when they got too rough and Audrey hit Sean in the lip. Again the blood, again the looks of deer in headlights from them to me. I felt completely disheartened, at a loss of how to explain why I was worried about his lip, his gaping hole inside his mouth, the blood on his clothes (laundry is ALREADY a challenge), the financial implications of one surgery lost, and possibly another surgery on the horizon. I yelled.

me: This IS NOT funny!

Smirks fell quickly away from their lips. Mainly there were tears. Some things are better left unbroken.

Finally, a burst of sun through the clouds: we received a gift of a washing machine and toaster oven for Christmas and my life has totally changed. Suddenly the clothes can be cleaned. More than 7 towels can go into this machine at one time. Mind blown! Whole hampers of clothing can be washed in one cycle. Revolutionary! We received another gift of a toaster oven for Christmas, too. This thing toasts bread on both sides. AT THE SAME TIME.

Sean's lip is healing from the inside out. The scarring will be minimal and will only be seen by a doctor.  In the end, it will be fixed at some point in the future. And slowly but surely we will find ways to fix the appliances around the house. I have faith in that. The trick here is to keep valuing my present moments with the kids even amidst my frustrations. Broken appliances or stitches, I can feel overwhelmed by wanting things to remain unbroken. The fact is I can't stop the appliances, car, or kids from breaking. I'm here to kiss the stubbed toes, scraped knees, and apply pressure to the bleeding lip until the bleeding stops.  I'm here to laugh with them, even when I desperately want them to fall asleep at night, or sit down at the dinner table, or pick up their toys. I'm here to help them discover ways to resolve conflicts with each other instead of always stepping in to solve it for them. My role as parent is far from perfect. Most days, it's terribly broken. If I can learn to embrace the brokenness - in myself, my kids, our house, and this life - I find I am gentler on myself and gentler on my loved ones.  Perhaps some things are not better left unbroken. Most things accepted right where they are? Just right.