Monday, April 14, 2014

Off Leash

D and I had an odd email exchange today.  It wasn't actually odd.  And that's what makes it so odd.

It has been warm and sunny the past few days, but we've had a lot to do and haven't really had the opportunity to enjoy the weather.  This morning, the older kids asked me if they could go outside for a while. I agreed, as long as they behaved during my morning meeting.  Miracle of miracles, they actually were pretty quiet and well-behaved while I sat on the phone, so I kept up my end of the deal and let them go out.  With the screen door open, I continued to work.

There's a rule that was once spoken, and is now understood, that the kids can play outside by themselves as long as they don't leave the deck.  When the new deck was built a few summers ago, we had a gate added at the top of the stairs of the deck explicitly for this purpose.  It's great, except apparently the latch doesn't hold perfectly, and if you jiggle the gate just right, it opens up, allowing passage to the staircase.  Instead of getting a new latch, D, with one of his handy DIY fixes, placed a bungee cord around the gate, but apparently it rotted out over the winter, and we had not noticed to replace it.

For fifteen minutes, all was well.  And then DM made a break for it.  (He's my adventurer, the child with no fear when it comes to anything and everything.)  I had suddenly heard LE screaming, "No! Come back here!" and I knew we were in trouble.  When I got to the gate, LE was halfway through the yard, and DM was all the way to the tree line.  Thankfully, he ran toward the woods and not toward the road.  I yelled abruptly to "Get back here!" which scared them just enough to turn tail and run back to the deck.  

I practically dragged them both inside, which didn't take much effort because they knew they were in huge amounts of trouble for leaving the deck.  At first I started to freak out -- "There will be no more going outside if you cannot follow the rules!" -- and all the ranting and raving that went along with that comment.  And while I did this, I emailed D to see if we have extra bungee cords in the garage, or if he can pick some up from the store on his way home tonight.  

Then something made me stop.  I don't even know what it was, but something in my brain just clicked and thought, "Wait, is this really a terrible thing, or is there something I could do differently here?"  It occurred to me in that moment that LE is almost five years old.  At five years old, I was definitely playing outside by myself.  I was even running into my best friend's yard to go play with her.  Sometimes we even crossed the street to see our other friend.  It was never the end of the world.  In fact, it was our way of life.

I took a breath, and then I sat the kids down at the kitchen table.  I apologized for yelling, and explained that I only did it because I was scared.  Then I asked a simple question, "Do you want to play in the yard, instead of on the deck?"  They both nodded so quickly, I thought they might actually be bobbleheads.  So we set up some ground rules -- no going into the front yard, no going past the trees, stay away from dog poop, and stay out of the rocks.  The next thing I knew, LE and DM were practically bolting down the staircase, with huge smiles on their faces and the dogs racing right behind them.  They stayed out there for almost two hours by themselves, with me periodically checking in through the window or yelling out the screen to make sure they were close by.  And minus a scraped knee (the crying of which lasted all of thirty seconds, which is amazing for my kids who like to dwell on their physical ailments) and one more minor incident of rule-breaking (when DM poked around the side of the house to see where one of the dogs ran off to), we all had one of the best mornings that has been had in a while.

A few years ago, before I was even a parent, there was an article titled "Why I Let My 9-Year-Old Ride the Subway Alone."  From what I can recall, the author got a lot of flack for this.  Heck, I was probably one of those people who thought, "What the hell is wrong with this mother?!"  And while I'm nowhere near ready to let my kids be alone in a city like that (and they're not old enough yet, by any means), letting them run free in their own backyard felt good and it felt right.

When I emailed D back, to let him know that the kids and I had come to an understanding with some new ground rules, I was a little surprised by his response.

"Yeah, but if you can’t have your eye on them at all times, what’s to prevent someone from just running into the yard and kidnapping them?  Are the dogs out there with them at least?"

I laughed.  I normally agree with these kinds of emails, but today, I laughed.  My kids mean everything to me.  And I know D feels that way, too, but he also expects them to be more grown-up than they are a lot of the time.  So I responded.

I told him that yes, the dogs were with them.  I told him that I had the windows and screen door open so I could hear everything, and I was talking to them regularly, even going outside occasionally to actually watch them.  And then I reminded him that we used to play outside when we were their ages, too.

"At some point, we have to cut the cord.  (I really thought you'd have to have this talk with me, not the other way around.)"

Monday, February 17, 2014

We Live Here

It's all fun and games until the police show up.

Okay, I need to back up.  A lot.

Something happened a week ago.  Something really horrible.  Something that has pretty much traumatized me (and as much as I'm aware of that trauma, I can't seem to get past it either).  Right at this moment, I'm choosing to focus on the funny thing that followed instead of the horribleness.  But I need to at least explain the horribleness (to some degree) in order to explain the funny.

Our children were with my in-laws last Monday night, so D and I could go to a kindergarten registration information session for LE.  We knew we were running out of some staples at home (bread, milk, cold cuts), so we asked our in-laws if they wouldn't mind if we ran out after the session and grabbed the things we needed before we came back to pick up the kids.  The point of this is to say that my kids were, thankfully, not with us that night.

The session got out and we drove to the store.  We got all the way to the final intersection right before we arrived.  And then everything went to hell in a hand basket, really quickly.

We were stopped in the left turn lane.  The lanes going straight (in both directions) had green lights.  And there was a pedestrian trying to cross the road.  I think you can probably guess where this is going, so I'll try to spare any nasty details because no one needs to know exactly what's stuck in my brain forever.  All you need to know is that the pedestrian was struck, not by us (we were stopped, remember), and I was the only eye witness to it because I absentmindedly turned to look out the passenger window at the exact moment it happened.

I couldn't look directly at the man for about ten seconds after it happened because I was afraid he wouldn't even be alive.  Miracle of miracles, he was conscious, though.  Emergency crews arrived almost immediately, and were able to take the man to the hospital for observation (he was, and as far as I know, still is in stable condition).  In order to get out of their way, D gave them our information so they could take our statements when things had settled down a bit.  I assumed that meant I'd be driving to the police station at some point later that night or the next day, but thought nothing more of it.

We picked up what we needed from the store (I would have preferred to go home, but kids still need milk to drink and sandwiches for lunch the next day), and we went to pick up the kids.  We arrived home about fifteen minutes after that to a police cruiser in our driveway.

At which point, real panic set in.

D: "He wants to take your statement now?  HERE?"
Me: "Crap. Crap crap crap.  Okay."

Why panic?  Well, at that moment, not only was our home a disaster area because, you know, kids.  But also, we had not swept the floors in several days from the dirt that came in after the latest snow storm, we had about six storage bins stacked in the middle of the living room that needed to be sorted through and ultimately put back in the attic, and the kitchen tables (I don't even want to go into why we currently have two kitchen tables) were completed covered in newspapers, coloring books, computers, and who knows what else.  I mean, it truly was a miracle that the Christmas tree was even taken down.  (Thank God it was taken down!)

The officer stepped into the house as I did, and I believe my unofficial statement started something like this: "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, oh my gosh, I'm so sorry. This is awful. Can I move that for you? Here, let me clear a space. I'm so so sorry."

Thank God the official statement didn't read quite like that.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Quest for Light

My body's warm again, all except my nose.  But total warmth will come with just a little more time.

I've spent the last couple of hours perched on my back deck, wrapped up in the warmest winter wear I have, camera attached to the tripod, in hopes of catching a glimpse of the hypnagogic Aurora Borealis.

I'm not an astronomy buff by any means, but there's something beautiful and enchanting about our universe that makes me want to look up. For as long as I can remember, I could find certain constellations -- Ursa Major, Orion, Cassiopeia -- and have always sought out more.  As a child, I paid close attention at the Hayden Planetarium on our class field trip because I just had to remember everything (oh my goodness, why can't I just remember everything?).  When I was 17, I sat in a field in upstate New York on a bitter cold night, just like this one, staring for hours at the Gemonid Meteor Shower, feeling like nothing could be as incredible as that moment.

We spend our lives looking down.  At a screen, at a book, at our feet -- it always seems to be down.  We try not to notice, try not to be noticed.

But see, that's just it.

“I believe the universe wants to be noticed." ~ John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

And notice it, I did.

I didn't see the lights tonight, and that's okay.  As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I caught the light of the moon reflecting on the earth, and smiled at how it sparkled.  I found those constellations I loved to discover nightly as a child, but more than that, I saw the stars, so many stars.  I spent a lot of time relaxed and quiet, in reflection and wonder, and for the first time in months, I felt truly at peace with myself.

My quest doesn't end tonight.  There will be a "someday."  Maybe I'll see them right at home, or maybe I'll have to take a trip somewhere further north.  But I just know it doesn't end with tonight.

Onward.  And upward.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Pin Cushion: Adding Sparkle to Christmas

(ED: I've been sitting on this post for over a month now.  The reason I never published prior is because I was waiting to upload pictures, but for a number of reasons, that hasn't happened.  So yeah, I'm publishing it, because this is just ridiculous.  If I ever get pictures up, you'll know that I've edited this again.)

I'm so sick of toys!  My house looks like a toy store ate another toy store, then threw everything up all over the place.

Wow.  That's a really disturbing mental image.  I'm so sorry for that.

Seriously, though, I read an article in early November all about not giving "things" for Christmas, and it really spoke to this void that's been appearing in my life because of all the things suffocating my soul.  (Overly dramatic much?)  Over the summer, I also read something else about a psychology study with this same concept of not giving things, and how people are happier when they get to experience instead.

And so I begged and pleaded with my family, for the love of all that is holy, no more THINGS!

For the most part, it worked.  My parents and at least one of my brothers seemed to agree that this made so much more sense.

But see, I have this problem.  It's easier for me to tell people not to give me things than it is to actually take my own advice.  How can I not get them things?  Shouldn't they unwrap something?  I had to figure out something that would satisfy my need to see something be opened, but wouldn't cause the same clutter and noise in my family's lives that I was trying to escape as well.

I wish I could say I came up with this idea on my own.  Heck, I wish I could even say I found it on my own, but that little achievement actually belongs to my mother.  No, as always, Pinterest came to the rescue.

I don't honestly know who posted this originally because I've seen so many variations of this pin.  But here's the link I used for Glitter Ornaments.  These ornaments are so incredibly simple and cheap to make, look so beautiful on a well-lit tree, and satisfy my urge to give something more than an idea to people.

What you need to make them:
  • Transparent ornaments
  • Glitter (any colors of your choosing; a multi pack of colors would probably be best if you're not working with a color scheme)
  • Pledge floor wax (I also read somewhere that Mop & Glo was an appropriate substitute if you couldn't find the Pledge, but I don't know this for sure)
My mom found some glass ornaments at Michael's to give away as gifts, and after DM broke three ornaments (not the ones we were planning to make, thank goodness, but still), I opted for some nice cheap plastic ones from Wal-Mart for my own tree.  I have no clue how much the glass ones cost, but I don't think it was more than a few dollars.  The plastic ones?  Yeah, only 89¢ each.  Excellent.

To make the ornaments glitter, you first coat the insides of the ornament with the floor wax, and pour out the excess.  I made about 25 ornaments in total, and the bottle of floor wax still looks brand new, like nothing was ever poured out of it.  I suspect I'll be making these ornaments for many years to come (or have really shiny floors, but let's face it, the steam mop is much easier to use than floor wax).  After the inside is coated with wax, you pour in the glitter and coat the inside with that.  The glitter sticks to the wax, and when the wax dries, it stays stuck to the sides.  You can leave the ornaments just like that.  To add a little to mine, I took some paint pens and added the year to one side and a snowflake (beautiful and unique!) to the other.  We also made fingerprint snowmen on my in-law's ornament (the kids' fingerprints because what the heck would they want with mine?). But do what you will.  Because the glitter all on its own is beautiful.

I know it's cheesy to say this, but taking a few minutes every so often over some stressful days really helped me relax and find the joy in this Christmas season.  Who would've thought some glitter could do that?  This simple, not at all time-consuming task, gave me something beautiful to give to my family and friends to go along with their true gifts (donations and days out on fun excursions).  This is the first year I didn't buy our annual ornaments, but made them instead, so it also gave me a fun tradition for my own family.  I was thrilled with this project, and just had to pass it along.

And before I forget, Happy Holidays!  Wishing you much joy, peace, and happiness this season and with the new year to come.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

New Parent Advice: Get out of the House!

I rarely dole out parenting advice, for the same reason I rarely listen to parenting advice: there's probably a grain of truth in it somewhere, but for the most part, each individual experience is going to be different no matter what.

But after seeing several posts on Facebook over the past few weeks that all followed the same pattern, I had to speak up today.  And again, I can only speak to my own experience, but I think I finally may have figured out a parenting trick.

So let's start with what I saw.  The Facebook posts went a little something like this (and yes, I'm paraphrasing):

"Taking baby out for the first time. Wish me luck!"
"Have to go to the store, and Daddy's at work. I guess I'm on my own."

The tone is always the same, full of fear and worry.  Like going to a store is a personal Everest that needs to be traversed.

Guess what?  Sometimes, it is!

At some point, you are going to be on your own with your child, and you are going to run out of milk/bread/diapers/laundry detergent/(you get the idea!).  You are going to need to leave your home with your baby and no other adults will be around to help you.

So my recommendation is just get this out of the way before it comes to this moment of forced retreat and sheer panic.  Whether you are a first-time mom or a veteran, you need to get out of the house with your baby (or children). As soon as medically/physically possible. Go for something. Anything you need, really. And the sooner you do it, the better.

It's easier said than done, but try not to think too hard about it.  Your baby may cry through the experience.  Your baby may sleep through it.  You may struggle trying to figure out how to fit a baby carrier into a shopping cart as well as all of your groceries.  You may be better at juggling a shopping cart and a hand basket than you ever could have imagined.

I've heard stories from real friends and other moms online that talked about it taking two or three times longer than a normal trip to the store.  But they did it.  And you will eventually need to do it too.

Guess what?

You'll figure it out.  Everyone does.  And no one figures it out in quite the same way.  But it's something that just needs to be done, and the less you look at it as some terrifying event, the easier it will hopefully be.  Panic is never going to help in these situations.

Before you think I'm just doling advice and not taking it myself, please consider this.  I have a husband who runs his own small business, and seeing as how his staff consists of his business partner and himself, he pulls a lot of long hours. In fact, two weeks before EM was born, his only employee (at the time) gave his two weeks notice. Which meant his last day was the day after I got home from the hospital, and D and his business partner were on their own again, with extra work that they had to divide between the two of them.  If I had to wait for D to get home from work to get groceries or other household staples, we'd never have anything.  Admittedly, his terrible, unreliable schedule is another reason I don't grocery shop often.  But notice that I said "often," and didn't end the sentence without that word.  I have to get out of the house sometimes.  It just happens.  I'll take the help when I can get it, but there are plenty of times when I am on my own.  Three kids.  One mom.  And some days it works out just as it should, and other days, I'm that annoyed parent in the checkout line, saying through gritted teeth, "No, you cannot get the toy.  Please stop crying because you're upsetting your baby brother."

So please, new parents, just rip off the bandage.  Get out of the house, try not to think about it too hard, and just know that I've never seen a parent never make it home from the grocery store because of cranky children.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Mismanaged Adulthood

I am not an adult.

I am a wife and a mother.  I have a home with a mortgage and all sorts of other bills that have to be paid regularly.  I have a job that I have to report to for at least forty hours every week.

But I am significantly lacking in the adult, grown-up, have-my-life-together department.

I cannot recall the last time I've been to the grocery store.  We have one of those "big box store" memberships because we have to buy diapers in bulk (sorry, I cannot bring myself to cloth diaper; breastfeeding is how I help reduce my baby's carbon footprint).  Because of this, we get our milk, bread, yogurt, and cold cuts there because, frankly, it's easier.  But aside from those staples and the handful of extras I buy periodically (fruit, veggies, cereal), I can't remember the last time I purchased real food from a real grocery store.  I've been slowly but surely going through the entire contents of my freezer, which is, I suppose a good thing, but we're getting awfully close to only having frozen broccoli and peas left.  Someone once asked me how I spent less than $200 on groceries every month.  Well, confession, this is exactly how.  I don't remember to buy food.  When I do, I buy in bulk so that I can forage for the next several weeks/months without thinking too hard.  Thank goodness for my parents who allow us to come over for dinner once a week.  It guarantees that we get a home-cooked meal that's not perpetually made with thawed goods.

And of course, the reason I hardly have any groceries is because I forget to cook.  It's not that I don't want to (ok, sometimes I don't want to), and it's not that I am incapable, but I just flat out forget.  At least three times a week, my children will say, "Mommy, what's for dinner?"  And I look at the clock, realize it's 7:30 PM, and I just pray that there are leftovers in the refrigerator.  (When I do cook, I always cook extra portions for this very reason.)

I can't remember when laundry needs to be done.  It's gotten to the point where I now have a chart, and that chart tells me what load of laundry to do on which day.  Except, 80% of the time, I stray from the chart by doing a different load of laundry because the pile's bigger or not doing any laundry at all because we have no empty baskets for folded clothes.

Oh, this is a whole different issue, but once upon a time, we had two laundry baskets.  And I would fold some of the laundry when I had a spare five minutes, but forget to do the rest later.  And then the second basket would fill, and we'd be out of luck until the baskets were folded and put away.  When LE was born, I bought a third basket, but this didn't help the problem.  When DM was born, another was purchased, and when EM was born, I bought two more.  Six.  I have six laundry baskets!  And yet, ask me how many are empty right now at this very moment.  I dare you.  Because the answer is surely to be "none."  At present, one basket is holding baby gifts that EM was too big to fit into at the time they were received (he probably fits in them now), one holds my maternity clothing that has to go into the attic, one holds all of the clothes that the kids grew too big for, and one holds a bunch of junk that D threw in that he needs to sort through before I can get my basket back.  So that leaves two baskets, and right now, they're holding my children's clothes because DM has a lovely new (in the last six months) habit of pulling all articles of clothing out of EM's and his dresser drawers and throwing them around their bedroom.  So their clothes are perpetually kept in laundry baskets in my room, where he can't get at them.  And thus, the great laundry debacle continues.

If you can't tell from the laundry issues, my home is a perpetual mess.  It has more to do with toys than laundry, but seriously, it's just an illustration of the chaos.  This infuriates me, but with three kids, two dogs, and a husband who is an even bigger hoarder than I am, I can rarely make a dent in the chaos of our lives.  Instead, I clean for about twenty minutes, get annoyed, sit down, and start reading a book.  (I like books much more than I like cleaning.)  It's so bad that my mother actually snuck into my house last weekend and started cleaning when she knew we were taking the kids to the aquarium.

I have grand visions of what my life should look like.  My home should be clean.  I've accepted that they'll never look as polished (read: empty!) as those homes in magazines, but just clean would be nice.  There won't be endless piles of unfolded laundry, which will allow me to do new loads of laundry in timely and appropriate fashion.  I will have a nice office space in my house, with beautifully organized bookshelves for my ever-growing collection of literature for both young and old.  I will make dinner with real food from the grocery store that hasn't gone bad before I could use it.  I will cook that dinner by no later than 5:15 every night, and I will still find time to sit down and enjoy a good book from that awesome home library I mentioned.  Yes.  This is what I envision.

It gets better, right?

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Tweet Tweet, Y'All.

I caved.  I joined Twitter.

Periodically, my husband or children would say something utterly ridiculous.  Ok, let's be clear, this happens pretty much daily.  Multiple times a day.  With a 4-year-old with the attitude of a 14-year-old and the imagination of, well, a 4-year-old, a 2-year-old who is a parrot and yet is coming into his own in the personality department, and a husband who is so tightly wound 90% of the time that he doesn't always know how to handle two children with big creative personalities, the possibilities of ridiculous statements are pretty much endless. 

I had been posting their comments on occasion on Facebook, but only my friends and family see that.  My brother casually commented, "I think it's time you get a Twitter."  I tossed the idea around for a while.  I never felt I had anything worth saying (much like with a blog), so as much as I enjoyed reading other Twitter accounts, I never felt a need to create my own.

But he had a point.  It was ridiculous.  And they were usually quick statements that I could fit in 140 characters or less.

Challenge accepted.

So this is it -- Follow @GreatTells.  And you will know just how positively nutty my family is.