Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Why I Occupy

I marched in the Occupy Philly protest last Saturday, and I've been trying to find the words to describe it all week. People who know me look puzzled when I tell them, and I've been trying to explain why this movement has taken root in my heart.

Last Saturday, for a few brief hours, I stood up to the anxiety, anger, frustration, and fear that has gripped me for the last few years. For a few brief hours, I marched with people who want better for me and you and this entire country, people who may be ideologically different but stand together because they believe there’s still hope for this democracy, that there’s still a chance that our government will take action for the people and not for the corporations that fund their campaigns.

There’s a perception that the Occupy Wall Street movement is simply a mob of young, disenfranchised 20-somethings who have nothing better to do than sleep on city sidewalks to disrupt the lives of those of us with jobs. Revolutions are often sparked by the young because they have the highest ideals and the least to lose. They hold us all to a higher standard because they haven’t had the life experience to make them jaded or cranky or pessimistic.

I wish more 30-something middle-class moms and dads would dig deep into our bellies to find our younger, idealistic selves and stand up and shout a little louder. That’s how change will come: On the backs of those of us who are working every day and paying our bills and putting our kids on the school bus each morning – earning and spending our wages to keep this economy moving.

Everyone has their own reasons for shouting and marching, their own signs to wave above their heads. But I wasn't at Occupy Philly to overturn our capitalist economic system, nor to turn our country into a socialist state, nor to legalize marijuana, nor to ask the government to pay off my credit card debt. I wasn't there for many of the countless other reasons people gave for this protest.

I marched with Occupy Philly on Saturday for the simple fact that I am a middle-class working mom who lives a comfortable life. I have everything I need. And I want to keep it that way. But We the People are hurting, some much more than others. We are fighting endless wars in the dessert that cost trillions of dollars, while right here at home there is an epic struggle mounting all over suburbia.

I marched Saturday because not long ago, I held my husband's head on my lap while he mourned his job; I have watched him struggle with the pain of being out of work, the feelings of betrayal and anger and sadness that go along with being forced out of a career he really enjoyed.

I marched Saturday because in the past two years, I helplessley hugged a friend when her home was foreclosed on; I said goodbye to friends who had to move far away to keep a job; I cried as my colleagues packed their office belongings in a box; and I have clung to my own job with ragged fingernails, wondering every day as I pull into the parking lot if today is the day they tell us the place is shutting down.

This week, my husband celebrates his one-year anniversary in his new job, and I realize I have said hundreds of thank-you prayers over this past year; we are blessed and so damn fortunate to both have full-time jobs. But I clench my teeth every time I think that he, like countless others, had to take a job 10 years and $10,000 behind his experience level. I marched Saturday because after putting himself through college to be the first in his family to earn a degree, then working long hours for 12 years and sacrificing countless hours with his young family, my husband had to start over.
I marched on Saturday because I am a middle-class working mom, and I am one of the 99% of Americans for whom the American dream is slipping away. We earn 25% less than we did 3 years ago, yet our expenses have increased by 30%. There are no salary raises in sight, yet our utility bills, taxes, commuting costs, and grocery expenses seem to rise in leaps and bounds. I shouted Saturday because while I clip coupons and scrape every penny together to pay the electric bills, our bank rewards us for over 10 years of patronage by slipping in a $20 monthly service fee on our checking account.

I marched Saturday because I live in a modest suburban split-level house that was purchased minutes before the real estate bubble burst. Our home is worth tens of thousands of dollars less than we owe on it, yet there's not an iota of support from our mortgage company, despite repeated phone calls during the time my husband was unemployed. In fact, in the five years since we purchased it, our mortgage has changed hands three times; it's hard to keep up with who we're even supposed to mail the check to each month.

I marched Saturday because some of the major employers in my community are getting ready to lay off more workers, despite receiving bailout funding and tax cuts to steady jobs over the last three years. Another big bank is moving into town, but instead of offering mid-level jobs, they will be cutting those jobs to make room for six-figure-salaried executives to move in from out of state. My friends, my neighborhood, my children's schools, and my community will be affected by these cuts yet again.

I marched Saturday -- and I will continue to support this movement -- because I am angry. I am sad. I am frightened. And I am aware. I am paying attention. I am standing up for the middle class because the middle class is too big to fail.

This Occupy movement, to me, is not about politics or hand-outs. I'm not asking anyone to pay my mortgage or forgive my credit card debt. I don't really even care about my tax rate or what Warren Buffet's tax rate is. What I am asking for is accountability and decency. I am asking for decisions to be made for this country based on the needs of the people who make it great, not based on corporate interests. I am asking for leadership and a return to sanity.

You can read more about the Occupy movement here and see some good images of who is involved here. You can follow it on Twitter and Facebook just so you know what's really going on, instead of seeing the regurgitated chunks and sound bites put forth by mainstream media.

Not many of us can camp out for days on end, but we can give voice to this movement to support the ones who do. Because they are standing up for us -- the small business owners and teachers and customer service reps and marketing managers and hospital workers and custodians and lab scientists and construction workers -- Occupy is working for change for all of us who work hard and want stability for our children. Even if protest marching is not your style, I hope you will do something to Occupy, too. We live in a nation worth shouting for.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Flu: The bright side

I had the flu this week. For five days, I moped around the house with severe body aches, off-and-on fever, chills, and various other unmentionable horrors. When Happy started vomiting the other night, I hit a pretty low point of self pity, I'll admit. It's really hard to hold your kid's head over the toilet as he pukes up his guts while your own stomach is churning and your arms are shaking with chills.

But we survived, and when I stepped outside for the first time today, the sun seemed especially bright, the breeze especially refreshing. And I started thinking, maybe a week with the flu isn't totally awful. I mean, it did have it's good points:

(5) Sleeping. Do you know how long it's been since I had a full 8-hour night's sleep? A really, really, really long time. So the 30-hour night's sleep on Tuesday-Wednesday was especially awesome.

(4) Reading. I love to read, but with two little monkeys running around this house, I rarely have more than a few minutes at a time to snuggle up with a book...and usually when I do sit down to read, I fall asleep (see above re. lack of sleeping). This week, I read an entire novel. A new, good novel that I enjoyed, despite my fever and cold-sweats.

(3) No cooking. There was no way I could even think about raw chicken, let alone cook it up for my family. So it was all PB&J or Pop Tarts 'round the clock 'round these parts. I heard no complaints, either.

(2) Snuggling. Although it really sucks to watch your kids suffer through the flu with you, a marathon snuggle-and-nap session in my giant, fluffy bed was really a treat...despite the puke bucket in the middle of the bed.

(1) Weight loss! Today I walked out of the house wearing baggy shorts cinched by a belt on its last loop, thanks to the whopping SEVEN pounds I lost this week. Woot!

Don't think for a moment, though, that I'm clamoring for another flu week any time soon. No, thanks. But I wonder if maybe there's a way to have a few slow-down days every now and then, guilt-free, while remaining perfectly healthy.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A quick rundown on a summer gone too quick

Can you believe it's September? How did this happen? Astounding! I'm sure you were off enjoying your summer and hardly noticed that I haven't been here since June (yipes!), but we have some catching up to do. I'll try to bring you up to speed on the summer that was 2011, the high points, at least.

A good snuggle after camp
June-August: Happy goes to YMCA summer camp and loves it. Well, all except for Color Wars week...which Happy really hates but Mommy really loves. (Have you ever run as far as you can while screaming, like a human javelin? It's fun. Try it.) Every day he comes home exhausted and ready for a snuggle.

Hometown 4th of July parade
Birthday bash #2
July: We spend the 4th of July with our Besties -- then Mommy, Happy, and Zippy have a week off, which includes a trip to Ocean City, a trip to the Delaware Museum of Natural History, a day at the pool, and a birthday party weekend extravaganza (four parties in three days, two of which are in New Jersey).

July: Mommy, Happy, and our friends Miss B and Princess D go camping! In tents! Under a full moon! At the beach! And cook all our meals over a fire! Perfect weather, perfect company, and a perfect beach spot to play, splash, and hunt horseshoe crabs and critters. By far one of the best weekends ever, one I will cherish always.

Camping at Cape Henlopen

Watching for the moon over the ocean
Girlfriends in the Big Apple

August: Mommy spends a fabulous grown-up girls' day in New York City with long-time girlfriends. Sweeeet!

Bros on the beach
August: Penny the Beloved Murano goes into the shop for a spankin' new transmission (and we luck out with full warranty coverage!) so we pile into the teeny rental car and head to the beach!

Happy takes on the Capitol
August: Big Daddy takes Happy to Washington, DC, for the first time. He gets to ride a Metro train AND a taxi! And Happy wears a big ol' grin all the way through the Smithsonian "dinosaur and space-plane museums."
Snail hunting at Bellevue State Park
Swimming in the Brandywine
Philly Zoo
August: Mommy takes the last week of summer off to have some Mommy-Happy time -- and a happy mommy time it is! We go snail hunting in Bellevue State Park, wild animal watching at the Philadelphia Zoo, noodle-tubing and swinging on the Brandywine River, and relaxing in the movies (with a teeny bit of last-minute back-to-school shopping thrown in).

The boys and Ben
September: We spend the final weekend of summer in Philly, scooting around the Franklin Institute with friends, then stomping around the city on our own...and it all ends with us witnessing a naked bicycle event down the Ben Franklin Parkway!

Philly Naked Bike Ride 2011!

And in between all this fun stuff, we did a lot of playing at the park (where Zippy perfected his sliding technique), ate a lot of corn on the cob, had some blazing backyard campfires, saw a couple of concerts, weathered our first earthquake and hurricane, watched a lot of baseball, and just generally had a good time. It's hard to say goodbye to summer, but a little easier when you've made such happy memories.

My little firecrackers

(No toddlers were injured in the taking of this photograph.)
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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Tent lessons

The first trip Big Daddy and I ever took together, way back on Memorial Day weekend in 1997, was a camping weekend in Williamsburg, Virginia. We stayed in a KOA Kabin, and we both remember it as the weekend we fell in love for real. Sappy, yes. We were married three Memorial Days later. What better way to celebrate our 11th anniversary than by taking our kids to the place we fell in love?

Well, actually, in hindsight, I can think of about 100 better ways to celebrate our anniversary and learn.

We learned a few other things this weekend, which we will forever call our Williamsburg Camping Adventure 2011:

(1) Be wary of any campground that purposefully spells its name with a K. As in Kampground. The only nice thing I can say about this particular KOA is that the bathrooms were remarkably klean. Which is a big deal, really, to anyone who's camped in any number of state parks around the country. But there is no privacy. At all. The kampsites are shoe-horned in; we went through four sites before we found one that could actually fit our 17' x 10' tent. And even then we had to park the kar in the roadway. We could hear our neighbors breathing all night. Not snoring -- breathing! -- that's how klose we were. (By the way, the six over-cheerful Howdy Doodys in the kamp office couldn't find their way out of a paper bag, let alone solve a reservation problem. We had to find our own site, then tell them where it was.)

(2) Things will probably not go according to plan. For example, by the time you find a suitable campsite, a fierce thunderstorm will roll in. Then you will realize you don't have a tarp to go under your tent, so you'll have to go to Walmart to buy one. By the time you get back from Walmart and set up the tent, the campers will be tired and hungry and really only want to swim in the pool. Once you get them fed and off to the pool, they'll discover the pool gate is locked. Then they'll go to the camp office, where Howdy and Doody will tell them to go to the sister campground 1/4-mile up the road. So they'll come back and get the car, drive to the sister campground, and learn that the pool is closed for cleaning. Later that night, the pool will be drained -- and its water will rush by your tent, about 4 feet from your pillow. Thank goodness you got that tarp, right?

(3) Don't set your heart on relaxing on your camping trip. Especially if you're traveling with a 14-month-old who only recently learned how to walk. Do you know how many rocks and roots and holes and hills there are to stumble upon? We were in our site for all of 7 minutes before Zippy face-planted and came up with a mouth full of pebbles, a nose full of snotty dirt, and a big ol' goose egg on his forehead. Actually, now that I think of it, don't camp with a 14-month-old. That'll be easier.

Yep, that's a toad.

(4) There will be plenty of creepy, crawly things that would ordinarily freak you out, but since you're camping, whatever! There will be frogs leaping at your legs as you walk through the dark to the bathroom. And perhaps a red-eyed cicada will fall into your breakfast cereal. You will probably also have to pick up and set aside the granddaddy of all daddy-long-leggers so you can unzip the tent flap. You will pick a tick off your arm when you first wake up in the morning; you most likely will be bitten by some mystery bug scurrying inside the back of your shirt as you drift off to sleep at night. You will pretend to be unfazed by all this creepy-crawly stuff because your 5-year-old is being really brave about it all, too. Yay, nature!

(5) BYOF: Bring your own firewood. Because the wood they sell at the camp store for $7/bundle really kinda sucks. Perhaps it was just cut that afternoon; perhaps it was stacked in a puddle. Whatever the case, it will not light. Which means you should also BYOLF -- bring your own lighter fluid -- so you can at least have a quick flare-up fire on which your 5-year-old can happily warm a marshmallow.

What's that you say? S'mores? No way I'm sleeping!
(6) Allow yourself double the time to accomplish even the simplest tasks. Want to cook a quick franks-and-beans meal on your camp stove? Give yourself a full hour (because you first have to set up the camp stove, then try to light the stove and discover you have to re-hook up the propane because it's upside down, then dump over the mess bags you threw in the back of the car because you can't find the can opener, then turn down the heat on the stove because you scorched the beans to a mushy mess, then open another can of beans...). Need to get yourself and your kids dressed so you can meet your friends at the theme park by 9am? Get up at 7. Think you can get that baby to sleep so you can enjoy some peace by the camp-smoke? Definitely count on one-and-a-half hours for that.

(7) Embrace your dirtiness. You will be caked in sunblock, bugspray, sweat, and dirt for the extent of your adventure, regardless of how long you spend in the super-clean shower. Forget the make-up because it's just going to run down your face anyway. And tie a bandanna in your hair, too, because there's no taming that beast this weekend.

(8) If the forecast says 95+ degrees for the extent of your trip, stay in a hotel. Period. Otherwise you will sweat your sweet bippies off all day, and you will not cool off in your tent at night. In fact, while you're out sweating your bippies off, your tent will be soaking up all the heat and humidity and hugging it into your sleeping bag. Until about 4am, when you will wake up shivering because somehow the temperature has plummeted and your baby is crying because of it. (And the people sleeping in the campsite five feet from your head will not appreciate the 4am crying baby!)

Saturday, May 14, 2011

When Mommy's away...

I just got back from six days in Orlando at my organization's annual convention. This is a trip I look forward to and dread in equal parts each year. Imagine it: 10,000 teachers, mostly elementary school level, running around hundreds of sessions over the course of three days, across two massive buildings, with me and my colleagues at the center of every detail. We plan it for over a year; in fact, starting Monday we'll be planning 2012's convention. But it's a week of energizing enthusiasm, a time we can look around and feel that the work we do really is important.

This trip is old hat for my husband and family too -- it's my tenth (!) convention trip. In fact, this year, I didn't even cook meals ahead of time. I knew they'd have more fun with McDonalds and frozen pizza and ice cream truck treats and cereal nights.

And I really didn't worry about the children or the husband being here without me. I know Big Daddy is actually better equipped to be a SAHM than I am; he cooks, he cleans, he organizes, he does homework, he does baths and reads books and tucks in bed quickly and efficiently, without the whining-stalling-yelling-bargaining routine. (I did, however, worry a teeny bit about my cats. I feared that with all the excitement of junk food dinners and boy sleepovers, the people in the house might neglect to feed and water the furry ones.) 

While I was away,
  • The ATM machine ate Daddy's card, leaving him sans cash for a week. This means the junk food-a-thon that had been planned could not take place.
  • A three-day low-grade fever was, in fact, an ear infection for Zippy. So Daddy stayed home and cuddled the babe for most of the week.
  • Happy lost his first tooth. And his second.
  • Big Daddy power-washed and repainted the deck. I have no idea how he managed that while simultaneously single-parenting. (See aforementioned SAHM skills that out-skill mine.)
Meanwhile, I spent five gloriously quiet nights in a Hilton, complete with complimentary breakfast, evening hors d'oeuvres and honor bar as well as a giant heated pool and pristine fitness room. During this time, even though I worked my tail off during the day, I got to eat nice meals that I didn't have to cook, and someone came in every day to make the bed. I read an entire novel! Best of all, the only person I had to bathe and dress and feed was me. There was a time I would have felt guilty about that. 

That time has passed.

You know the best part about going away for a week? The gigantic hug and "Oh, I'm so happy you're home" I received from my handsome man when I walked in the door. Before I left, I was pretty sure he'd think the evening-parent shift was easy, thus negating all my bitching and yelling and passing out at 9pm most nights. Evidently not. Whew.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

An open letter to the world's bus bullies

There are things, as a parent, I know I need to be prepared for: My children will fall down the stairs or off their bikes, they will get reprimanded at school for doing something stupid, they will have meltdowns in the middle of the mall, and they will get picked on by other kids from time to time. I know this. Yet for some reason, when this stuff actually happens, I always feel surprised, startled...and so freaking hurt! I know, I know: Welcome to parenthood.

Today Happy got off the school bus and buried his face in my hip, wrapped his arms around me, and crumpled into tears. I shuffled us quickly back to the car, worried the other kids would see him and tease him, where Happy told me that he wanted to tear his shirt off and rip it into pieces:

"Because So-and-so was teasing me! He called me a retard...and said purple is a girl color! And the other kids were laughing! And he said I'm gay!!! And I don't even know what that meeeeans!"

Instantly my heart broke for my sobbing baby. But I seethed! The blood rushed to my face. I heard whoosh-whoosh in my ears. My hands clutched the steering wheel so hard I thought I'd bend it. I clenched my jaw. Horrible violent thoughts of this bullying little jerk flew through my brain. For a moment I could feel myself turning green and muscly, my clothing ripping off my body, my rage fueling a Hulk-Mom transformation.

Instead, calmly....coolly...compassionately I told my boy that I was sorry his feelings got hurt; that purple is a very handsome color; that all the coolest men in the world (including his father) are wearing purple these days; and that the best way to deal with a mean kid is to say "Whatever," roll your eyes, and act like it doesn't bother you. I also told him that I feel sorry for people who are mean to others because I know that someone else is mean to them; I told him bullies often feel bad about themselves, and they learn meanness from others.

Then we went inside the house and ate pretzels and drank apple juice, and Happy found great delight in my cutting a pair of his ripped-knee pants into shorts. Our evening moved along as most evenings do (though I did notice he was a bit more sensitive and whiny than usual), and at bedtime we role-played the "whatever" moment. (We had to role-play a few times, of course, because the first time he "whatever'd" then kissed me...which probably wouldn't really improve the whole gay-calling thing.)

So Happy seems to have moved on from his sadness. Kids bounce. But here it is, six hours later, and I am still all riled up. My stomach is in knots. I am angry. I am hurt. There is still tension in my jaw. I am reliving all those times when I was a child (teenager, adult) and other kids mocked me. It hurts a thousand times more now because I can't shield him from these wounds. And even though I said all those kind, cool, compassionate things to my son earlier today -- and even though I meant them -- right now, this is what I really want to say to the little bag of snot who hurt my baby's feelings:

You, little boy, are a bratty little turd who is not worthy of even one of the tears my son shed today. You are nasty to other kids because you feel bad about yourself; maybe if you shut your mouth and spent some time being kind, you would notice that most of the children around you are amazing -- full of joy and wonder and creativity and heart.

Your parents probably have no idea that you behave this way, but I bet they wouldn't really find it troubling. In fact, they might even shrug their shoulders and tell me this is normal, that my kid has to learn how to fend for himself because life is cruel sometimes, or that it's my fault for letting you wear a purple shirt. It's possible your parents are the kind of people who laugh at me now when I pass by because I am super tall or my hair is too frizzy or my car is too old.

You will spend most of your life feeling bitter and angry because people like my son are smarter and have more friends and more imagination and do interesting things in their spare time. There will come a day, maybe 10 years from now, when my son is 6-foot-6 and weighs 250 pounds and looks right over your head like you're not even there as he walks by you with his friends; you will wish you had been nicer to him so that he'd come to your aid when some teenage thug is picking on you in the high school parking lot.

I do feel a tiny bit sorry for you, little boy, because you are probably picked on too. Any first-grade child who throws around words like gay and girl and retard as insults has heard those words from someone else. I feel sorry that you don't have the guidance and nurture that you deserve, that you don't have someone who will sit you down and explain to you that some words are double-edged daggers. But mostly I feel sorry that you haven't allowed yourself the opportunity to get to know my son, to play Star Wars or Batman with him on the playground, or to sing silly songs and dance with him in the yard, to go on adventure hikes in the woods looking for leprechauns. You are missing out on so much fun.

Next time you want to call him gay or girl or retard, know this: My son will be comfortable in his own skin, unlike you, because his parents are raising him to show love and kindness to everyone he meets -- especially gays and girls and kids with special needs -- and even you. My son wears purple because it's a royal color and he is a prince among his peers. You, little toad nugget, will never wear purple, unless it's around your eye because someone finally gets sick of your bullying and knocks you the frig out.

Oh, and by the way, WHATEVER.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Passing notes

Happy is becoming quite the little reader-writer these days. Which is simultaneously great and awful. Great because, well, it's super-awesome that his brain has cracked the reading code. Awful because we can no longer spell things to keep them secret. OK, so that's not really awful. I recant my previous statement: Reading-writing is 99% great!

This afternoon, during the 3 minutes that I allot for us to change into "play clothes," grab a snack, tinkle, and head back out the door to the YMCA for Mommy's Vastly Important Workout Time, Happy was Grumpy. (And who can blame him with all this hustle and bustle?)

Happy-Grumpy, like his mother, has discovered a catharsis in writing notes to communicate when he's feeling out of sorts. Lately he will write a sentence on a small slip of paper, hand it to me, and stand in front of me with hands on hips, glaring while I decipher it.

(Note: I feel great pressure during this deciphering period because it's hard damn work figuring out his completely phonetic spelling his teacher calls "kidwriting."We're supposed to encourage his "inventive spelling" without correcting right freaking hard for this editor-mom! And, when I write notes back, I have to limit my vocabulary to words he knows by sight or can easily sound out, because I don't want to frustrate him with these silly things.)

Anyway. What follows is the transcript of this afternoon's note pass, which stemmed from our disagreement over what type of snack he would enjoy. Please remember to read phonetically...and giggle:

Happy: i DO won 1000 PRESals
[Stands with hands on hips while I read...he looks mad, real mad.]

Me: OK. Luv, Mom
[He reads it, shatters into uproarious laughter, throws arms around me.]

Happy: [one minute later] No Akshoole i loveyou

Me: Your smile makes my day happy.
[I retreat into bathroom, close and lock door, for my one minute of tinkle-time privacy. A small paper slips under the door.]

Happy: i AM smiuling for you and it is hrting my Mawth.

[Now I'm the one cracking up. And another paper slips under the door.]

Happy: MoM i wood like a frudsnaks iNstdto.

Happy: I do want 1,000 pretzels.

Mom: OK.
Love, Mom
Happy: No, actually, I love you.

Mom: Your smile makes my day happy.

Happy: I am smiling for you and it is hurting my mouth.

Happy: Mom, I would like fruit snacks instead.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Rubba dub dub

I know that a blogging is a visual medium, but I think this is one time you'll be happy I've not included photos. Instead I'll verbally paint for you a picture of hilarity:

I've recently (re)started going to the gym after work. It's kind of a big deal because it means picking up Happy from the bus stop, changing my clothes while he gobbles down a snack, then picking up Zippy from daycare and shuttling us all to the YMCA, where Happy runs along to play and Zippy screams like someone's ripping his hair out one by one. I run along to the fitness room, sweat like a maniac for 45 minutes on the elliptical machine, then hustle back to the babysitting room...where I'm met by a 5-year-old whining because he wants to play more and a 1-year-old screaming because he's tired, hungry, scared, etc. (The 1-year-old screamed the whole way home tonight, just to punctuate his point.)

Anyhoo...this evening I was particularly sweaty after a really, really good workout (yay, me!), so after throwing some leftovers in the oven to heat up and planting Happy in front of the piano to practice, I filled the bathtub with 3 inches of water, tossed in Zippy, then hopped in with him. Naked Mommy in the bathtub confused the little one at first (more crying!), but then he found major giggles. And really, who can blame him? Naked Mommy is hilarious!

Now, as you picture this scene, you need to remember that I am 6-foot-2. I rarely take baths because I barely fit in the bathtub all by myself. But I'm all about multitasking these days, and Zippy is small, so we made it work. I washed him quickly, then got up on my knees to suds myself up...which is exactly the moment that Happy barged into the room. And ran out screaming, "OH! MY! GOOOOOSSSSHHHH!"

Uh oh.

I've never been super modest in my home. I grew up in a house of naked parents. You know, hippie generation and all. (In fact, we used to have to yell inside when we came home with friends on spring/summer days because we didn't have central air conditioning, and my mom used to hang around in her underwear on hot days. I'm not that nudist, don't worry, kids.)

But now that I have a school-aged son who's very much aware of penises and boobies, I know I have to cover up. As much as possible. To avoid awkward questions and even more awkward answers. So when he ran in the bathroom, saw me sudsy in the tub, and ran away screaming, well, I started to imagine the trauma inflicted. I pictured him burying his face in his pillow, screaming "My eyes! My eyes!" I imagined the hours and hours of therapy he'd need just to be able to have a healthy relationship with a woman. Hell, he'd probably never even want to bathe in that room again!

But no. Instead two minutes later, Happy came running back into the bathroom. Buck. Naked. And laughing like this was the most fun he could imagine. He practically did a cannonball into the tub.

Before I knew it, there were three of us in the tub, I was standing in ankle-deep water covered in suds and trying to figure out how to rinse my hoo-ha without totally damaging my children's psyches, and both boys were cracking up. And that's about the time that Daddy walked in...and right back out.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The boy of my dreams

About 10 years ago, on the eve of my mom's birth/death-day, I dreamed about her playing with a toddler-aged boy in the backyard of my childhood home. I watched from a distance, wondering who the child was, until my mom picked up the baby and walked toward us. The baby had strawberry blond hair that shimmered in the sunlight, fringy curls around the ears. His head was nestled into Mom's shoulder a bit so I could only see it in profile, but I clearly remember the round cheeks and button nose. I asked where she found him. She smiled and said simply, "This is your son."

Mind you, this dream took place long before I even thought about having children, but I recall waking up feeling comforted and calm, settled into an understanding that everything in my life was going to be ok. It was the first peaceful, happy sort of dream I had after Mom's death, and the baby was just perfect.

Fast forward to March 2010. My newborn son slept on my chest in a dark, quiet hospital bed in the middle of the night. A tumultuous few weeks had led up to that day -- Chris's layoff, shifts in childcare and routine, anxiety over this new addition to our household. But in that dark, snuggly moment, a peace swept over me; I held my brand new healthy baby in my arms, felt his breath on my skin, wrapped his tiny hand over my finger. And in that perfect, precious moment, I knew everything was going to be ok. I felt whole and connected and completely calm. There was a presence in that room greater than just me and my baby.

I looked at that baby the other day while we played outside, the sun glinting off his strawberry blond hair. He was laughing at his brother's silliness, clapping his hands, and his big blue eyes sparkled. He looks just like my mother, you know.

And it occurred to me: This is the son she introduced me to all those years ago; the child I never even thought possible is really the boy of my dreams.

Happy 1st birthday, Baby J. Thank you for bringing so much joy into our family. Thank you for reminding me every day how blessed I am. And thank you for reintroducing me to the wonder in small moments. You really are a dream come true.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

I'm proud of us

I filed our taxes last night. Which doesn't matter to anyone, really, but Uncle Sam and me. But reviewing one's financial statements for the past year forces one to think a little bit about the past year. And as I laid awake in bed last night I thought, wow, I'm really freaking proud of my family!

Let's review the year that was, shall we?
  • Big Daddy gets laid off from his 12-year job a mere 3 weeks before we give birth to Baby #2. Instead of spiraling into doom and despair, we regroup, rededicate, refocus.
  • Baby #2 arrives, beautiful and perfect, and we adjust to being a foursome...and to sleepless nights, messy diapers, and marveling at the wonder of infancy.
  • Mommy is home on maternity leave while Daddy is home on severance pay; Big Brother goes from full-time childcare to half-day preschool and lots of time at home with both parents and his new sibling.
  • We spend 3 amazing months together, a glorious springtime with nowhere to go and nothing to do but be a family. We're relatively broke, yet somehow we're able to pay the bills and buy groceries, and we learn to be creative when looking for things to do.
  • Mommy goes back to work, to a new role that she doesn't really want but accepts because, really, there's no choice. She works 10-hour days, pumping her breasts every 3 hours and drinking too much coffee to stay awake because Baby is up every 2 hours round the clock. And she's now primary "breadwinner" -- that's new and scary.
  • Daddy takes on a new role, too: stay-at-home dad! The work hours are just as long, the pay stinks, but the benefits are great: hours playing at the pool, excursions into the woods to catch garden snakes, naps and games and scraped knees and bottles and diapers and cooking and cleaning and doctor appointments. We both discover he's really, really good at this gig...and we both like our new roles.
  • Big brother starts kindergarten: School bus, new teacher, new friends, full day, homework!
  • Daddy starts a new office job with a wacky schedule but steady pay, a short commute, and great benefits. Baby starts daycare. Mommy changes her work schedule to meet the school bus each day.
  • Mommy's entire work unit is dissolved and her coworker-friends are laid off; she starts yet another new job at the same organization, giving up a telecommuting day and changing her daily schedule yet again.
  • Daddy gets a raise after just 3 months in his new job because he's kicking ass. Ironically, this happens on the anniversary of his "liberation" from his previous job.
Through all of this change and uncertainty and what-comes-next, my fellas have been adaptable and amenable and completely amazing. I've had my moments of complete panic, but their steadiness brings me back to center. (Prayer helps there, too!) We've been healthy and happy and focused on what really matters: Us.

This is what makes me proudest of my family. We have grown closer and stronger and more in tune with one another. We have slowed down, reprioritized. We play board games together after dinner; we live for Friday movie nights; we snuggle as often as possible. Daddy still makes all our lunches every evening and gets the boys dressed, fed, and out the door each morning. Mommy takes naps on the weekends. Brother lives to make Baby laugh. Baby shows us all something new each day.

It's been the most challenging, most affecting, most memorable year of my life. And although I often joke about wishing for a boring stretch, I'm thankful for every up, every down, every pain, and every joy. This is the stuff of life, and life is good.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The sun'll come out

I'm thankful for days like this, full of little gifts in the middle of the endurance-testing, gut-checking, dark-cold month of February: A glimmer of hope on a few rays of sunshine through the bleak, a robin or two chirping a promise of spring, a chance to play outside without hats and mittens and runny noses. A day to look around and say, ok, it's going to thaw, it's going to be lighter, it's going to get greener, we just might make it.

And I'm so thankful for moments like this one to remind me of how sweet even February is: My baby's first recognition of birds flying overhead while he experiences his first swing ride. Look at the wonder in those big blue eyes. The world is beautiful, isn't it?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Sometimes I can't believe they let me have children

A lot goes on here between the hours of 4pm and 8 when Big Daddy gets home. I'm flying solo, without a map -- and often without a parachute. And most nights, when the cherubs are finally filed for the evening in their cozy beds, I sit back and think, man oh man, I cannot believe they let me keep these kids!

Here are some of the strange-but-true happenings in the world of Tall Girl and her Tiny Men this week:

* Flames in the oven. No joke. Fire. Burning tall. Flicking its tongue out the top of the oven door. While pre-heating for a gourmet fish stick dinner. As slightly frantic Mom moves the baby in the high chair and the big brother in his jammies to the front door, Sweet Boy notices the smoky kitchen and asks, "Mommy, are we going to die? OK...then we won't have to eat that."

* Mommy goes King Kong on the Jumperoo because it won't fold right. While Sweet Boy is practicing piano. After kicking the snot out of this seemingly innocent baby toy, screaming like a banshee-gorilla the whole time, she notices SB quietly sobbing on the piano bench...but practicing more earnestly than ever before! Evidently Mommy Kong should come out more often.

* While trying to print out photos for Sweet Boy's "Top Banana" status on a Monday evening, because she completely neglected to look in his book bag over the weekend to notice that he's been chosen for this highest of kindergarten honors, she hears, "Um, Mommy, I think Jakey's going to throw up any minute." Mommy picks up the glassy-eyed, slightly feverish babe, and asks, why do you say that, love? "Because I just fed him Play-Doh." On cue, baby gags and vomits tiny chunks of dried up Play-Doh all over the just printed Top Banana pics. A moment of motherly awesomeness!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Body beautiful

Just when I start to feel really blech about my body -- when I look in the mirror and think, wow, have you got a long way to go, so long in fact that you should probably just buy a potato sack to keep you warm while you sit on the sofa gobbling all those cookies -- I trip upon something that puts things back into perspective.

Read this mommy's love letter to herself, and view the love letter from her husband that prompted it. I defy you not to see the beauty in these stretch marks, or to realize how amazing the human body really is.

Yes, I've got a long way to go. But this doughy middle has grown, birthed, and nurtured two humans. Two! Whole! People! The tiger stripes on my stomach remind me of the wonder of those pregnancy days, when every cell of my body rippled and stretched with new life. The scar above my pelvis recalls the pain and the sacrifice and the sleeplessness that I've survived. The slight sag of my breasts tells of the snuggly story of nursing a pudgy, lovely infant in the early morning, napping with him by my side in the later afternoon. The roundness of these hips yells "that's right, folks, I can do anything."

I promise to love my body and be kind to it -- to feed it a cookie when needed, take it for long walks in fresh air, let it rest whenever possible. After all, this body has given me precious, irreplaceable gifts.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

One hour to live

I, like many bloggers, set a New Year's goal for myself of posting more often. Well. Here it is January 25 and I'm posting for the first time. Safe to say this goal has gone the way of the "no more cookies" and "exercise once per day" goals.

I signed up a couple weeks ago for this post-a-day e-mail from Wordpress. These neat little e-mails with blog-post ideas come to my inbox each morning. And I read them, mull them over while I'm stirring my coffee or walking to a meeting or sitting in traffic on the highway, then I get home, chase a baby, argue about homework and piano practice, make dinner, gulp dinner down, bathe the stinky monkeys, get the kids into bed, collapse on the couch for a moment, then go to bed myself so I can get up and do it all again the next day... yet I neglect to write. Hmph.

Let's try to change this trend, shall we?

Last week one of the post-a-day questions was: If you knew you only had one hour left to live, how would you spend your time?

Easy. I'd curl up in bed with my sons and my husband and my cats, and we'd read picture books. The time we spend each day, right before sleepytime, snuggled down in my giant cushy bed with books and pillows and stuffed animals heaped around us is my favorite time every day. A time to slow down, share what we love, giggle, learn, cuddle. One hour of that would be plenty to see me off to heaven happily!