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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Lou Ferrigno you have been served.

My son Jack is slightly obsessed with Lou Ferrigno. Not the Hulk as much as Lou Ferrigno playing the Hulk.  This all began when he was 5 and my mom got him the complete box set of the 1978 series, The Incredible Hulk.  At this point, Lou trumps Santa in this boys mind.   He has made several videos thinking that Lou could see them. This one made me laugh.  Dinner at Jack's house? How could Lou refuse? So if Lou does see this, you have been served. A sweet invite from a boy who really likes it when you get angry.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Love is an Understatement

This past weekend, Don was out of town for work.  I go into mama hen mode when he is gone.  I have to make sure all my eggs are in their nest and I need to know where they are at all times.  If they permitted me to sit on them, I probably would. The weather was bitter cold so it made it easy for me to convince the boys to stay inside. It isn't a secret that I have control issues, which leads to worry issues, which could result in a complete breakdown.

We live near a popular university that had a football game this weekend. This means that by noon strangers have parked in front of our house and throughout the day there is a constant stream of strangers.  So just another reason to keep everyone on lockdown.  The boys don't know they are on lock down, all they know is that I let them watch more TV and play more games than usual.

However, even with that, they start to go a little crazy.  I had a couple drop off a gift they had seen and wanted to give to us.  It was the book "Go The Fuck To Sleep". And a bottle of wine. It. Was. Perfect. When they were there the boys were bouncing all over them.  Jack and Oscar took off their shirts and were leaping, climbing and backflipping off the couch.  I really couldn't get a word in edgewise.

They left and went to dinner. I secretly envied them, their kids are older, but I wondered what freedom felt like as they got into their car and didn't have to buckle anyone else up.  I went to my computer and wrote them a thank you note.

As a one woman show I find myself in overdrive.  As I was cleaning up after dinner I had a thought.  Am I totally f*cking up the boys?  Really.  By this time, I had 2 on a computer and the other 2 were watching a movie. I had given them a dinner of macaroni and cheese.   Shouldn't I be doing some kind of art with them? Should I read them a book? Should I be asking them to practice their instruments?  Should I have given them a healthier dinner?

My tsunami of doubt continued. Only one of my sons is in a sport.  Should the others ones be enrolled? Did I fail them by missing the cut off? Are they going to feel like losers in high school because I didn't push them to play a sport at a younger age? Am I selfish? Do I yell too much? They should see me read more. I never open a book around them because I can't get through a page without being interrupted.
Do they think all I do is look at my phone and make food and clean?

I poured myself a glass of wine and sat on the couch, and looked at my messages.  I had already received a reply from my friend.  It said, "When we think of you, Don  and the boys, LOVE is an understatement".

It was like he could hear all the doubts in my head and delivered a simple sentence that I desperately needed..  He was right. If there is one thing I am not failing to do is love the boys. I devour them. I may not be an avid reader, but if there is one thing I am capable of doing is loving.  The people who I have loved or love know this.  If our friends could see that with what they witnessed? Then it must be there.

When everyone was finally in bed, I sat down and watched a show. It was Oprah (of course) and she was interviewing a couple who lost their son Ben in the Sandy Hook Tragedy.  They said that when you protect your heart and make decisions based on fear, you don't allow love to come in. It is best, even in the face of evil that you make the choice to love.  I can do that! But first I need to chill the fu*k out with the fear thoughts.

Prior to this I watched a documentary on JFK. By this time I was a blubbering mess.  Jackie Kennedy put on a brave face and was fearless.

At some point, I have to let the boys leave the nest.  It is my apprehention, not theirs that kept them inside.  The next day I allowed Jack to go to a friends house….all by himself.  I watched as he crossed the street. He looked both ways twice and cautiously ran across.

When he returned home I gave him a huge hug and I will admit, I was happy my little bird was back.  The one thing the mother of Ben said she missed was the feeling of her 6 year old's touch.  As I hugged Jack I appreciated that even more now. His squishy face and fuzzy hair couldn't be more perfect and I soaked it in.

I said a little prayer of gratitude, and decided to focus on love.  Which the word love, is truly an understatement.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Say Something.

2013 is the year of the list.  The internet is filled with lists like, What You Should Never Say to a Working Mom or What You Should Never Say to a Stay at Home Mom, or what never to say to a single dad, mom, grandparent, or your spouse, partner, son, daughter or dog.

I recently read a list about what you should never say to a working mother.  The problem is this, yes I am a working mother, but at one point I was a stay at home mother.  I went back to work for several reasons, but one of which was that my husband is a teacher and we have four boys who have enormous appetites.  Maybe there is a list on what to say to a woman whose husband doesn't make six figures, but I have yet to see that one. What category do I fit in?  If everyone read those lists,  I don't think anyone would be able to say anything to me…ever.

I have openly shared my struggle with postpartum depression.  The one thing that got me out of bed was the knowledge that my neighbors and friends would probably be stopping by to drop off dinner and visit.   I don't think they could or would have said anything wrong because they have common sense. . If they did, they would have been able to see the expression on my face that it hurt me. Thank goodness they didn't follow a list,  I would have been very lonely.

Sometimes finding the right thing to say is hard, but always worrying about saying the wrong thing, or offending someone will result in you looking like a mime.

When my grandfather was on his death-bed my father went to be with him out of state.  I wanted to call him but was so afraid of saying the wrong thing. I finally got the courage to pick up the phone.  I thought my dad would answer but my Grandpa did instead. His crackling familiar voice said "Hello?" and I hung up the phone.  I freaked.  He died.  I never said goodbye because I was afraid of saying the wrong thing to my 95-year-old Grandpa.  There is nothing I could have said that would have been wrong.  The guilt of not saying anything is worse than saying something unfitting.

A friend of mine lost her toddler in an accident.  I went to the funeral and then I stopped speaking to her for over a year.  I avoided her because I didn't know what to say.  One day when I was in Target we ran into each other.  I was frozen because I felt that no words were adequate for the death of a child.  Before I could say anything I just started crying and told her that I didn't know what to say.  She gave me a hug and said, "that is the best thing you could have said." Again, guilt for not saying anything for fear of it being inadequate, hurt more than any words could have.

If we go around worrying so much that we are going to offend someone, then we will never speak to each other. Its alarming enough that I communicate virtually with my friends more than I speak face to face.  But that is truely the only form of communication where you can read someones expressions.   I have found that I have offended more people by email than I have in person.  They interpreted my words the wrong way, or I used bold when I shouldn't have.

The worst case scenario would be that you did offend someone.  Is that really that bad?  There isn't a one-size fits all aptitude test of offense.  If a stay at home mom said to me, " I bet you really miss your kids while you are at work" I wouldn't  crawl in a hole and die. I would be honest, and say "sometimes".  I doubt her intention would be to inflict pain or guilt, and if it were, then we shouldn't be friends or acquaintances.

I think a really useful list would be something like "Things to Never Say to a TSA agent" that makes sense.  What doesn't make sense is making a one size fits all list that will inhibit conversation and instill the fear of saying the wrong thing.

I have said my share of embarrassing things, I once told a one armed man with a child in an elevator that he must have is hands full.  That was a long ride, but honestly I was the one embarrassed and can laugh about it now.

It is better to say something that is honest and heartfelt with good intuitions than nothing at all. Maybe we should focus on what to say to someone rather than what not to say.

Monday, November 18, 2013

What to do when your head is going to explode.

I would like to go on a public forum and announce that this past weekend I did two weeks worth of laundry for each member of my family. Folded it, and put it all away neatly while organizing all the closets....by color.   I made this announcement at home and nobody seemed to care, despite my crescendo of this proclamation in various rooms of the house.

Unless you do something like feed the needy or clean up litter it is not considered note worthy. Especially when you are doing both of those things in your own home.
This is going to be the type of blog posts my husband dislikes. Strongly.  I am not trying to make this a husband-bashing-angry-mama  post.  To his credit, he was working on a project all weekend.  My husband is a very good project inventor. He creates projects that include some type of lumber that I am clueless about.  And will take him exactly until 9:30 PM on Sunday night to complete.

I insisted that he took our youngest one with him to the store so I could fold in peace. That is all I asked.  But upon returning my 3 year old proudly came up to me and said " Mommy we got you your favorite thing at the tore (he is still working on his "s's") I was hoping for a venti coffee when I asked him what it was. "Wood! Big Big Wood" "Did Daddy tell you to say that?" " Yep!" and he was off.
I really thought that maybe my husband was offering a little gift of coffee to acknowledge the pain staking work of folding 400 pairs of min-boxer shorts.

This made me mad.

So I made sure to pick up the two empty laundry baskets, a stack of folded towels and teeter downstairs so Don could see me struggling.  The problem with this scene is that he knows I love Crossfit, attend regularly,  and can lift him if I wanted to. He isn't buying the struggle, so he laughs.

This made me really mad.

Sure enough, he had purchased a bunch of really big wood.  The pun was intended however.   But I can assure you, really big wood is NOT my favorite thing and NOT going to be my favorite thing for a really long time.   I explained that I wasn't even half way through my Mount Elliott of laundry and he explained that next time "we" shouldn't let it get so bad. And also reminded me that the boys do their own laundry.

This made me really really mad.

Maybe it was the use of "we" or the fact that he really believes that our 10. 9, 6 and 3 year old,  do their own laundry.  Yes, they help by throwing a pair of socks worn for 3 minutes into their hamper, and they also put the laundry into the washer. But who carries their hamper down, measures the detergent  (so it isn't the size of the venti coffee I wanted and didn't get).   That would be Moi.
If I let our 3 year old do his own laundry it would be Wednesday before he would get everything into the washer.  The truth is, it is faster to do it myself.

I decided to retreat back to our boys room and fold even more socks.  I found that systematically doing something with my hands occupied them and  kept me from wrapping them around Don's neck.
And that is what I did to keep my head from exploding. 

It actually helped.  As I searched for matching socks and saw the pile of pairs grow, and the pile of clean laundry decrease, it actually made me feel accomplished.  Proud even.  When I became a parent I never thought of the laundry.  Of course, I wouldn't change anything, well maybe live in a warmer climate where they wear flip flops all day.

But if you happen to see my boys, a take a look at their socks. They may match, or they may not, but know that someone who loves them very much washed them and took care to make sure their toes wouldn't get cold. Sometimes, (well, most of the time) I feel like I'm wasting away crucial quality moments of my life on mundane tasks. Doing laundry may not be the moment that defines me as a mother or a moment that anyone remembers but not all puzzle pieces are the exciting ones, some are just the background, but all are important to complete the picture.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Girl Power

We have friends whose daughter is our son Jack's best friend. I don't remember when they became best friends, all I know is that they are addicted to each other's company like crack.  They are a lot alike and nothing makes Jack happier than the thought of having her over.
Last night her parents asked if we could babysit for a couple hours. I didn't share this information with Jack until the last possible moment.  When I told him,  rainbows shot out of his eye sockets. I really meant it when I said she is like Jack's crack.

We set the table for dinner and  Jack and Oscar came to fistacuffs about who was going to sit next her.  We set her placemat in the middle (God help her).  Jack searched for anything pink he could find, which he was unsuccessful so he settled for red.

I must admit, I was kind of excited to have her over too.  Having a boy dominated house can be exhausting at times.  I forget that a girl can bring a different energy to a room.  Not a less vibrant one, just different.  She is the same size as our 3 year old but 2 years older. But, Oscar is a really big kid.  This confuses him and he thinks she is his friend and not Jack's. Hence, the fisticuffs.

As we sat down to dinner, she was bombarded with flying questions. Each of the boys went crazy. Its not like we haven't ever had a dinner guest, but the fact that she was a girl changed everything.  Each of them, even our 10 year old was fighting for her attention but in different ways.  The oldest wanted to say something cool, like, "I can eat an entire chicken". The middle stated the obvious "You look like your sister".  Jack was trying just as hard in his own way by pointing out the cup he chose for her. And Oscar's tactic was the most obvious and coincidentally least effective. He just kept repeating her name over and over and louder and louder while poking her with his finger.
She is the youngest of four and this did not phase her in the slightest.  I'm sure she is used to being the center of attention too. She commands it.

Don and I just sat, shocked at these four caveman that we created, fighting for the attention of a five year old girl.  She amazingly answered all of their questions simultaneously, at least in a way where they all felt satisfied.

I started to see the power that she had.  When this little girl spoke, the boys listened.  I am mystified as to when this stops happening… but it does.  I discovered in high school that I could get more attention with my body than my words.  I wish someone would have told me to not rely on that. Because as we all know, your body fades but your voice doesn't.

When does a woman grow up and start apologizing all the time? When does she feel the need to be polite rather than speak her mind? When does she start believing that she isn't smart? How is this little girl reminding me that the best qualities a woman can have are the same ones she possessed when she was 5?

I wanted to bottle her confidence and drink it myself.   After a long 7 minute dinner the boys scattered around the house.  She and Jack played with Oscar as their shadow.  When it was time to put on their pajamas I dug whatever I could find and gave it to them.  As long as it has a cape Oscar is cool with just about anything I chose.  I could lay out a pile of garbage in the shape of pajama pants and Jack wouldn't care.  I didn't want our guest to feel left out so I offered her a pair of  teddy bear jammies. She took one look at them, looked at me, and said " I don't like those".  She didn't feel the need to apologize for her opinion, she just stated it.  She also didn't feel the need to put on pajamas because everyone else was. She was comfortable just the way she was.

God didn't grant me with a baby girl.  I don't know why.  But what I do know is that I can be the best role model of a woman that I can be for my sons. I will strive to do my best to not apologize for who I am, to be comfortable in my skin and to speak my mind.  I will also show them that despite the media insisting that being a gentleman is a sign of weaknesses, that it does just the opposite. It  makes you stronger.

My hope is that she never loses her magnetism or ability to speak her mind. And that Jack stays in touch with her, at least through junior high.

She may be little but packs a powerful rainbow punch.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

From the Outside

On any given day you may find my Mom parked in an Arby's parking lot facing Main Street in Elkhart, Indiana.  She will spend hours there.  You see, to her its not an Arby's. It is her front porch.  The house she grew up in, was in that very spot before they knocked it down and built a Burger Chef, which is now an Arby's.  If she parks her car in just the right spot it is like she is sitting on her front porch, same view of the railroad tracks, and if she squints, it is easy to pretend there is a 2 lane highway rather than four.  If she rolls her windows up she can almost hear her family inside.
This is the closest thing she has to being in her childhood home.  My grandparents have both past away, my uncle is gone also.  Around the holidays it is a particularly hard time for her.
I am lucky to have my parents living in the same home that I grew up in.  We recently spent the night there and I slept under the same glow in the dark stars that I put on my ceiling in 1986.  They still work too.  From 0 -18 years I slept in that room. I know every inch of it by heart. I know that the scratches on the inside of my closet door are from the cat I tried to hide and keep in my closet.  Or that the dent on the wall is from moving my bed to every possible place in a square room.
When I walk into my parents house it hugs me. Its my house too.  There are so many memories that have all been jumbled into one. I spotted my son looking out one of the huge windows in the front and in watching him I was brought back to my small kid self doing the same thing.  I can tell you what the wood trim smells like, even tastes like.  I liked to lick things as a kid apparently.  I can look out at the exact place where the tree was that I fell from and broke my arm.  My parents cut it down after that.  Sometime I would love to sit in silence in their house. I'm sure it would speak volumes to me...if I listened.
I'm thankful to have this opportunity where I can sit in the living room, round the corner to the dining room and see my dad standing at the kitchen window and my mom sitting at the table.   They always look up and acknowledge me and they always have.  I'm sure the same scenario has played out since I was crawling into the kitchen.   Unlike my mom who has to rely on a parking spot to feel at home, I can go right to the very spot.  I had a great childhood and having them simply notice my presence reflects that.
Last night I went grocery shopping and since the time change, it is dark by 6 PM.  I don't  know why, but I was compelled to stop in front of our house instead of parking in the garage in the back.  I sat there as a voyeur  into my own life.
It is obvious that the house is alive.  It may be over 80 years old, but it is energetic. Every light is on. This would usually make me mad, but in this case I was happy because I could see what was going on.  Don was in the kitchen while Parker was doing his homework at the kitchen bar next the tower of lunch boxes.  I couldn't see Oscar because he is too short, but my guess was that he was following his brother Jack as he ran from room to room. I could see Jack's messy hair and that was about it.  Fin was standing in the living room practicing the violin.  I saw the over flowing laundry basket sitting on the bed in the front room.   On the dining room table was a heap of backpacks.  As I looked from the outside I found myself so much more grateful  than when I'm on the inside.  When I am in it, its hard to appreciate the beauty I could so clearly see now.  I focus on the laundry and not the laughter.
I'm not naive to realize that in a flash this will be over.  Just like Marge.
Marge is a women in her 70's that knocked on our door one Sunday afternoon.  It was a particularly lazy day and the house was a monumental mess.  When I opened the door she had tears in her eyes as she explained that her parents built the house and she lived in it from 1931-1940.  Not only did she live in it, she was born in it.   She asked if she could come in,  I welcomed her and apologized for it's appearance.  As soon as she walked in she said it was just like coming home.  She marveled at the fireplace. She went right for the kitchen and stood exactly where the boys stand when they are hungry.  We went on a tour for over an hour and she shared funny stories. Turns out, Oscar isn't the only baby to have fallen down the stairs.  Before she left she gave me a picture of her sister and herself sitting with their Mother on our same front steps.
She gave me a hug and explained that shortly after they moved her mother got sick and died.  Our house is the only place she has memories of her.   She had since moved away and was passing through and decided to finally knock on the door.  A few years back she had done the very thing I was doing. She parked her car outside and looked in, afraid to bother us.
We have since kept in touch.  She said she was so so happy to see the house that she loved as a kid being taken care of. I again mentioned that it usually isn't so messy and she responded with, " with 4 boys, if it wasn't messy I would be suspicious".
A house is only bricks and mortar.  But just like a person, it is what is on the inside that matters.
After a few minutes I decided to pull around and was greeted happily with four boys eager to see what food I brought home.  

The people sitting on the front steps may have changed, but the same feeling remains. The view from the outside gave me great perspective, but for now I prefer to be on the inside.