Saturday, December 15, 2012

When Mike met Mariska

I realized as I chatted with an old high school buddy the other night about our marriages - both of us lucky enough to be happily married for a long period of time to our best friends - that I always blog about the kids, but never about Mike and I.  I've never told "Our Story."

When I first get to know a couple, my favorite question is, how did you two get together?  I love origin stories.  Mike and I often equate ours to When Harry Met Sally.  Our first meeting wasn't smooth, we didn't hit it off, but something happened there, and it grew to friendship and finally to love.  We even danced to the song "I Could Write A Book" from that movie at our wedding because of the chorus which says:
" ...the world discovers as my book ends
How to make two lovers of friends"

So here's how these two friends became so much more.

It was the first week of college and classes hadn't even begun yet.  All the freshmen arrived early to learn our way around the school, check out organizations to join, try new activites, etc.  But let's be honest... we were a bunch of 18 year olds checking each other out.  Those first days were marked by everyone walking around everyone else's dorm buildings.  Everyone left their doors open so you could see who was inside. And who was walking by. Where were the cute guys/girls, where was the party hall?

So I'm standing in my friend Kristin's dorm room.  She and I had met at a "Southern California Ducks" mixer a few weeks before designed to give us someone to know on campus before moving 900 miles away.  A kind of safety net, if you will.  She had her door open and this guy goes be-bopping by (he rose up on his toes as he walked, creating kind of a bouncy walk) and then backed up slowly and walked in.  He talked to her, but kept his eyes on me.

"Hey Kristen, who's you're friend?"

He was NOT the kind of guy I was usually with.  He smoked, had long hair, wore trench coats and Doc Martens and listened to strange industrial music I'd never paid attention to.  He was WAY too comfortable with who he was and I, being shy, was immediately uncomfortable.  This brings out my "I'm gonna give you some shit" side.

"I'm Mariska and I have a boyfriend," I replied, "is it Halloween or do you always dress like that?"

"You look like some kind of blonde, California, bippy, (insert bad word here) cheerleader" he shot back with a mischievous smile.  He was unrattled. I wanted to hate him, but I loved anyone who could flick back the shit I gave out.  

"I was," I said as I turned away from him.

THAT was our start.  I called my mom later and told her I'd met the biggest a@#hole, to which she said, "You'll marry him someday."  Freakin' moms always know.

I tried to ignore him, but our paths crossed often.  He would make googly noises and say funny stuff when my boyfriend would send me ridiculously over-sized care packages from Notre Dame.  He called the pictures I had of my boyfriend and I in my dorm a "shrine."  He was totally uninhibited, unflappable, silly, crazy and always saying something funny.  And I came to find he was a good listener. 

When I told him I would never date him and we could only be friends, he took me at my word.  Unlike some of the other guys I knew, he never brought up dating again.  He would listen when I cried about my roller-coaster ride of a relationship with the guy at Notre Dame and give HONEST feedback - sometimes taking my side, sometimes taking my boyfriend's.  He recorded the messages for my roommate's and my voicemail because he could come up with the most creative stuff.  He would poke at me about my belonging to a campus Christian organization that I never seemed to fit quite right into, calling me his "cute, Christian friend" and challenging me to really think about my doubts, yet he would encourage me to follow my faith. We could debate religion for HOURS over a cup of coffee, but it never got heated and always ended in a hug.  He said he would write over the summers... and did.  He was easy to be around because he accepted me for me.  He didn't tell me (as the guys I dated did) to change my clothes, my faith, my hair, my fiesty demeanor, my long shoreman potty mouth, or my taste in music.  He took my constant ribbing about his smoking habit without offense.  He became my very best friend.

Our friends and roommates began to ask what was between us and he and I were truly baffled.  We were friends.  That's it.  Nothing more.  He had girlfriends, I had boyfriends and we told each other all our sordid crap and flirted harmlessly because we were safe together.  We would never be more.

Senior year rolled around and my long standing, on again-off again, long distance relationship ended in an ugly way.  I was bitter, angry and depressed.  Mike, my stalwart friend, was also going through some garbage with a girl.  So we decided to band together.  F#@! it we said, we wouldn't date anyone.  We would just hang out together and enjoy the rest of our final year with a friend we could trust, with no worries about relationships and baggage.

We were flicking each other crap one night about grades and I said, "Let's bet on grades."

"You're ON," he snorted.  I couldn't believe he would bet.  I was a WAY better student.  But he was closing the gap.

"Loser buys winner dinner." 


I won.  And as we talked about dinner as I asked him (still not quite sure why), "how come you never asked me out on a date?"

He laughed, "Ooooh, I don't know, maybe because you said you'd punch me if I ever tried anything."

So I proposed that we make our dinner a date since he and I were pathetic singletons with no dating prospects.  I told him we should dress up, look nice and go out.  He agreed.

My roommate noticed it first.

"Uhhhh, Mariska," she laughed as I got ready, "You know you've changed outfits 3 times.  For MIKE PLAVIN."

I blew her off, but the whole night I was a nervous wreck.  Apparently, so was he.  It was weird, feeling like this for my friend.  We danced around kissing all night, but never did.  I went home baffled and unable to sleep.  Two nights later, while we were on the phone because he had been up for 36 hours taking care of two messed up girls he was worried about when he worked security at a Rave, I went for broke:

"I find you frustrating," I told him, "because I'm finding myself attracted to you." 

SILENCE.  And then,

"JEEEEEEZUS Ris, are you serious?  I've been up for 36 hours, just took an Actifed and am too sleepy to drive and you tell me NOW?" 

I thought I blew it.  But, to my relief, he was willing to jump the gap from friendship to more with me.  And call it cheesy, call it bullshit, but I knew.  From the very first kiss (finally), I knew.  It may sound weird or negative, but it was a kind of "ooooh shit" dizzying, feeling - just knowing.  It's the end of the line.  Game over.  No more first dates or stomach butterflies meeting someone new.  This was it and I knew it.

I even tried to break it off for one brief week.  I was scared.  That end-of-the-line feeling was over powering.  And I was being criticized and shunned by my so-called "friends" in the Christian group because he was not a Christian.  Never mind that he (as some of them later admitted) often acted more "Christian" that the guys I dated from that group.  But I talked to my Dad about it (since he was my Christian influence) and he talked me down.

"Do you love him?" my dad asked, "Does he make you happy?  I already know he always supports your faith.  Do you think God wants you to turn away your one best friend and perhaps your best chance for that once-in-a-lifetime kind of love?"

Dad was right in the end, like my mom was right in the beginning.  I called Mom and told her I would not be moving back to California.  But she already knew.  She knew it from the first time I called her about my first "real date" with Mike.  Mike was my best buddy and the one, she said, who let the "real Mariska" come out.

We married October 20, 1996.  It's been 16 years now.  Has it been perfect?  Nope.  Have we hit our bumps, gone through times of distance? Yep.  Have we even thrown around the idea of divorce?  Yep.  Once.  But in the end, it keeps coming back to our friendship.  He's the one who knows all my stories, and loves me anyway.  He's the one I want to tell about my worst days... and my best.  He's the one who can really, REALLY make me laugh.  Even when I'm crying.  We can agree on or debate about religion, politics, books, movies and music... and it never gets heated.  Never turns ugly.

So, like Sally, that weird guy I met who disgusted me, intrigued me, intimidated me and flustered me, became the best thing that has ever happened to me.  That's our story.  What's yours?

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Late Night Voices

San Pedro, CA circa 1979:

"Hey asleep?"

Mom has separated us.  Again.  It's well past bedtime and our tired mother just wants us to go to sleep.  NOT because she doesn't appreciate how much we love laughing together, not because she doesn't want us to have fun, but because of the aftermath.  She's a single, working mother whose job is a 1/2 hour from where we live and, thanks to the babysitting permit, has to take two children to school 1/2 hour away.  We have to get up super early to get us to school and her to work.  By the time she gets us from the sitter, drives the 1/2 hour home and gets us dinner and into bed, she (and we) are exhausted.  She knows overtired, young twins in the morning will NOT be a pretty picture.  So she's put me in her room and left Lori in ours because we were talking and giggling instead of going to sleep.

"SHHHHHHHH," my sister finally replies.  "We'll WAKE Mom!" 

At last, Lori appears in the doorway.  Mom's separation trick would work... if we would stay in bed.  The two bedrooms in our tiny rental are grouped together at the end of a hallway with the doorways nearly touching.

"GIRLS..." my mom's groggy warning rings through the house.  But she sounds slightly amused too.  I can imagine she's holding back irritation at our disobedience along with a laugh that we thought she could not hear our exaggerated stage whispers and our getting in and out of the beds.  But we have a schedule to keep and she knows sleepy 6 year olds are grumpy, uncooperative 6 year olds in the morning.

Flash forward 33 years to Eugene, Or and I'm the mom listening to talking and giggling, but on a monitor while the kids are upstairs.  At the moment, they're in the same room, but I'm pondering separating them.  At the same time, I remember those nights with my twin, Lori.  The giddiness.  The feeling that you never want to end because it feels so good to bond with your sibling.  The joy of breaking a rule, even a minor one like your bedtime.  The feeling that you've pulled one over on mom.  It's thrilling.

I love children's minds.  Impractical, short memories and the inability to apply more complex cause-and-effect logic.  This is the kind of thinking that makes my children jump off the bed when I've told them not to because they haven't thought through the fact that I KNOW WHAT THEY ARE DOING even when I'm downstairs.  This is not because I have magic powers, but because it sounds like someone is heaving 40 and 60 pound boulders around my playroom.  This is what makes them say, "Let's play Wipeout!" even AFTER I've warned them that I will have the monitor with me downstairs while I take a quick shower.  This is what enables them to "sneak" out of their rooms early in the morning, turn on the TV and pound their way downstairs and around the kitchen even when I've told them that they can't have screen time while they have their "breakfast snack" on the weekends.  And this is what makes them think, when they are speaking in the same, ridiculously loud stage whispers Lori and I used to use, that I won't hear them say to one another, "We just won't tell mom!"

Tonight I've already played what a friend refers to as "bedtime whack-a-mole" twice.  I went upstairs once to tell Elizabeth to stop getting out of bed to drink gallons of water by filling and refilling a tiny Dixie Cup.  Then I had to go upstairs to talk down my melodramatic son who was convinced a Muppet Band-Aid would magically stop the (one would think from his drama) apparently excessive bleeding caused by the invisible paper cut on his thumb.  But now... the giggling has started.

"You are the cheese to my macaroni," William says to Elizabeth.
"No! You are the cheese to MY macaroni!" is her reply.  Uproarious laughter ensues.
"Dizzy, dizzy, " he's breathless with laughter now, "EYE ball!"
"Bubba," she's laughs right back, "I see your EYE ball!"

They have their own jokes now.  They make each other giggle.  I find them with their heads bent together over the comic books, library books and magazines they have strewn around William's queen-size bed (they never sleep in Dizzy's room) while William reads to her.  I hear stuffed animal battles. I hear them sharing dreams they've had.  I hear them laughing just to laugh and stay awake a bit longer.

There's school tomorrow and I'm thinking I should go up there and separate them.  I think of the aftermath.  The grumpy, slow moving kids I'll have tomorrow.  I'm about to threaten separation when a thought stops me.  I don't have to drive far tomorrow... it's a 7 minute walk to William's school.  Elizabeth can stay in pajamas. I'm an incredibly fortunate wife of 16 years to my best friend.  We live in a large, beautiful house, the likes of which I could not have fathomed when I was six.  I stay at home with my children.  Heck, after getting William to school, I could just stay in PJ's and hang out with my daughter until it's time to get Bubba.  I'm SO lucky.  Mom, didn't have that opportunity and when the times DID come where we could relax a little bit... mom was ALL about having fun.  Schedules and bedtimes and clean-up could wait.  Fun was to be had when we could have it.  In fact now, when she visits, Mom and I stay up way too late.  Giggling.

So I don't go upstairs.  I grab my drink, turn up the monitor and enjoy my entertainment.  Elizabeth and William are the late night voices now and I want to enjoy the giggles while they still last...

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

What Wakes Me Now

She's been vomiting since 11:30 p.m.  Every 20-30 minutes.  After the first episode, I bathe her, braid her long, blond hair so I won't have to hold it back, grab and roll of small-can plastic bags, line her trash can and crawl into bed next to her.  I have that bad feeling this will be a long night.

4:30 a.m.  It has been a long night, but she's finally done.  I've tried to sleep in between vomiting episodes, but each time I drift off, the smallest "hmmm" or the sound of her feet brushing the sheets as she moves wakes me again and I'm reaching for the trash can, sure she's ready to go again.  Now that she's done I'm afraid nothing will wake me up again.  I'm so exhausted. 

But at 6:45 the soft click-click on the hardwood floor all the way downstairs wakes me up.  My aging dog is up and if I don't let him out he'll have an accident in the house.  I stumble down and let him out.  I walk back upstairs laughing to myself at what wakes me now.

I used to be a sound sleeper... and I mean SOUND.  I recall my sister having to chuck stuff at my head to wake me as I slept through an earthquake during our childhood.  I fell asleep and stayed asleep through my parent's legendary New Year's parties that were so crazy I would be picking my way across sleeping bodies the next morning because they wanted to make sure no one drove home drunk.  Early garbage trucks, construction on our house, loud parties in college, loud movies going on IN THE SAME ROOM - I slept through it all.  Perhaps my loud snoring drowned out all other noise.  Perhaps I just slept the sleep of someone with fewer responsibilities.  But no more.  It all changed with motherhood.

I wake to everything now.  A sigh on the baby monitor when they were infants would have me up.  The CLICK of the voice-activated monitor switching on when I forgot to turn up the volume once woke me up.  The breathing of my dog next to me when I forgot to turn on the monitor and the baby was crying, woke me up.  I have super-ears now.  Mike and I will be watching TV rather loud downstairs while the kids sleep upstairs and even without the monitor on, I suddenly hear a "mom?" when I really shouldn't be able to.  If I sleep with them, even the quietest distressed sigh during a nightmare will have me up.  Shoot, even the sound of their heads swishing across their pillow case as they change position will wake me. I wake to the dog click-clicking across the hardwood - even through closed doors or one floor up.  I wake to my 6 year old padding down carpeted stairs at 6:00 a.m. even as he tries NOT to wake me.  I have mommy ears now.

You may think I'm complaining, but I'm not.  I'm merely marveling at the changes wrought by motherhood.  After all, I chose this.  The two kids, the two dogs, the staying at home.  And I know I'll miss it someday.

While I wish Yukon wasn't aging and I didn't have to let him out so early, I know someday I'll miss the sweet dog who laid his whimpering head on my belly the night I went into labor with William and I just thought he was being a weird dog.  But he knew.  4 hours before I did, that dog knew.

While I sometimes hate my mood after a particularly sleepless night, I know I'll miss the little feet padding around and the disheveled little heads leaning against me when they've had a nightmare.

I'll miss it all.  I know someday when I become the mom who only has a sleepless night when her older kid is driving home from college and she's worried about their safety, I'll miss waking 4 times in one night to the need for night lights, drinks of water, hugs and monster removal.  I know when they'll be able to wake to their own alarm clocks and get themselves ready for school I'll miss having to wake up an hour and a half before they do just to make sure they actually get dressed and have something to eat. 

I already sometimes miss the strangely relaxing alone moments nursing an infant in a rocking chair at some ungodly hour in total sleepless delirium.  And sometimes I already miss the crappy night of sleep because I've had to sleep sitting up all night on a couch with an infant on my chest because they have the sniffles and need to sleep upright.

Yeah, I don't sleep as much as I used to.  Sure, I can wake to the soft click of my son opening his door even though he sleeps one floor above me.  But what wakes me now is so much better than what I used to sleep through.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Don't judge... we're all weird.

This post will sound negative, but I don't mean it that way.  It's just that discovery and growth often involves a few bruises and some spectacular falls.

I truly don't know how to begin.  This blank page is staring at me ready for me to de-stress by writing as I have done for years, but this time it's pretty personal.  Pretty scary.

We've had a hard month, we Plavins.  Some of it purely from strange, outside occurrences, so those I dismiss as one-time anomalies.  But the rest has been a discovery that has been difficult to handle as a mother.  

I would say it started when William started school and Elizabeth started gymnastics, but really, it started way before, I'm just now realizing that I need to stop wondering and start taking action. 

William's first weeks of school were stressful for him.  He was picked on by a bigger kid, ostracized by some boys he considered friends, and in a K-8 school, thrown into a world exponentially larger than Kindergarten.  And despite the fact that he handled the bigger boy beautifully and neutralized the friend situation and is now making friends... he's a stress case.  He panics and shuts down when he gets too hot.  He gets nervous about the next day of school and doesn't eat dinner.  His sentences frequently start with, "well what happens if I..." and he's constantly convinced he's getting sick.  I fear that if we don't get a handle on this, he will grow up like I did - thinking something is wrong with him, labeled as weird or "too sensitive."

On top of this, enrolling Elizabeth in gymnastics has opened my eyes to other "issues" that I had been wondering about.  She's always been my more difficult kid.  She used to have such a problem eating different textures that we had to take her to eating therapy because she was vomiting all the time.  We've had to work hard to desensitize her to noises like vacuums, fans, blenders, etc. lest she fall into a tantrum that is literally uncontrollable.  But I saw in gymnastics that she also has trouble focusing.  She can become so fearful that she completely shuts down.  She'll go jelly-like and refuse to make eye contact with her teachers.  Just like with William, I'm hoping to help her so that she doesn't spend her life hearing that she's "different," "weird," "needs to toughen up," etc.

So I did some research and emailed friends and relatives about the possibility of Sensory Processing Disorder and have now made appointments to talk to doctors further about it.  It's been both heartbreaking and a relief.  If there's something I can do with occupational therapy to help them "rewire" themselves so that William doesn't dissolve into tears when he's too hot and Elizabeth doesn't scream for over an hour over something minor, I will do it.  I'm not that mom who sees symptoms and says, "oh no, that's not my kid."  Nor am I the mom who wants to rush to medication just because my 3 year old doesn't sit still.  Most 3 year olds don't.   But I want to give them opportunities to succeed.  They're both outrageously bright, but also VERY sensitive.

The hardest part for me in my research is that I also stumbled across information that made me wonder if I, too, have some sensory issues.  I fit a frightening number of items on the checklist for "Adult SPD" and in turn, the childhood descriptions of it fit the child I was.  They're all items I've learned to hide, suppress and fight against for the fear of standing out.  For fear I'd be labeled weird.  And I began to feel like those women who are Bipolar who feel guilty for having kids.  Should I have had kids?  Have my own issues made my kids small, neurotic, stress balls?

I guess I shall find out.  And as a friend pointed out, perhaps, if my kiddos DO need some occupational therapy... their help will, in turn help me.  I hope so, because I felt relief in just admitting to Mike and myself some of my "issues" that perhaps put me in the category of needing some sensory help myself.  So judge if you will, call me weird if you will,  but it's just me being me.  You see, I'm often distressed by touch.  Light touch, that is.  Fans and air conditioning aren't just annoying... they actually hurt.  It feels like sandpaper on my skin.  I hated holding hands with boyfriends who felt the need to rub their thumb lightly over my hand because the touch was so irritating I LITERALLY wanted to hit them.  I will often flinch at hugs or kisses, but I suppress that so I don't offend my husband and kids. I cannot STAND the sound of someone erasing pencil marks from a paper.  I will often make another noise so I can't hear it.  When I get too warm, I too get weepy and want to shut down.  Shoes make me a little claustrophobic, so I am often bare foot.  I hate tags, turtlenecks, elastic waists, and elastic on my sleeves.

The good news is... it didn't stop me.  I was a good student, a capable athlete and somehow or another, this really cool and funny man fell in love with me.  I have beautiful children and an adventurous life.  But I hope, now, to make it a bit easier for my children.  They are already proving to be academically and athletically gifted... but I hope to help them perhaps avoid the "weird" labels that come with being this sensitive.  I hope, as all parents do, that they will have it better than I did.

So we'll see if occupational therapy or therapy of some sort will help us.  And for now, if it makes you feel better, call us weird.  We're all a little weird in one way or another, aren't we?

Friday, August 31, 2012

Travelling with small children

So I was attempting to leave anywhere near the time I said I would to take my children to visit my in-aws today when Dizzy happened.  Dizzy being my mischievous, stubborn, crazy second child.  We had gone not one exit down the highway by our home when I hear-

Ugh.  I pull over to ascertain what tragedy has befallen my youngest in the 5 minutes since we left home and she has dropped the portable movie player, the movie has clattered out (under my seat, of course) and she is bereft.  I'm in a little dirt turn out off the first exit, top half of my body in the car stretching over blankets, feet, children's paraphernalia, etc. and my sarong-clad lower half is dangling out as I swear and get her situated.  I never even hear them approach.
I nearly jump out of my skin.  As I right myself out of the car, there are two motorcycle cops with lights on behind my vehicle and one of them has now approached me.
"Iiiiis everything okay?" he draws it out as though I'm armed with more than just  shitty attitude and a potty mouth.
"Yep," I counter, half light-hearted, half crazy-mommy impatient, "just travelling with small children."
He and his partner laugh heartily at this one. "oookay.  Just wanted to make sure you weren't in any kind of trouble."
"Nope, not yet," I sigh, "wanna 3 year old?"
He LITERALLY takes a step back while his partner laughs at me.  
"NO!" he snorts "I've got a sixteen year old."
"Shit," I say, mentally cursing myself for my continued profanity, "good luck."
They're really laughing now. 
 "Yeah," he laughs climbing back on his bike, "you too."

I climb back in, actually thankful for the heart-jumping nervousness I get around cops because it has at least stopped my seething.  Like the last few days, this morning with my daughter has been hell.  When I was about to leave and only 5 minutes later than I had planned, Elizabeth willingly did "one last potty" and I was thrilled that, for once that didn't cause a meltdown.  The joy didn't last long.  I realized, as I was asking William to get in the car, that she had been in there WAY too long.
"Uh...Diz?" I call, "Whatcha doing in there?"
THIS, any parent will tell you, is NOT the answer you want.  I open the door to water pooling on the counter, dripping down the cabinets and pooling on the floor.  Elizabeth is soaked as though she has showered with clothes on.
"I was thirsty..." she starts.
"YOU were? Or the whole bathroom was, Diz?!  JESUS CHRIST, we're trying to leave here and you just...AAAAAAGGGGHHH!". I'm carrying her out of the bathroom toward my room so I can mop up the mess and have her far enough from me that I won't be tempted to flush her down the toilet.

What is it about youngest children?  I've bee talking to a lot of fellow moms lately and, regardless of the number and gender of children we have, we all agree the youngest child is there to make you feel like a total idiot.  They will be the one to make you doubt that you have ANY business trying this parenting thing.

They make the messes and do the gross things that come straight out of books and movies.  You know the ones - entire rolls of toilet paper strewn around your bathroom, every shade of eye shadow you own painted on themselves and your bathroom, taking the lid off of your tiny, multi-colored, round cupcake sprinkles and letting them dance across your hardwood floor, shredding your mail to decorate the living room in confetti, using your powdered sugar as snow, swimming in mud puddles, picking up discarded Popsicle sticks and straws at the park and putting them IN THEIR MOUTH (eeeeek!), and my personal favorite from today after we finally made it to Mom Mom and Pop Pop's and went to the park, asking "what's this" as she squishes her finger into fresh bird or squirrel droppings.  Are you f@#!ing kidding me?  I was thankful my mother in law had her anti-bacterial wipes on her as mine were back at her house.

Seriously, she make s me feel incompetent.  Oh, and the other kicker today... As I'm hurriedly and angrily carrying her out to the car after the water fiasco, she wails right in front of the neighbor, 

We don't spank our kiddos.  But now our neighbors think we do.  

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Messy Car + Messy House = Happy Me?

I was looking at my car and house the other day and trying not to let my frustration build to the point where I'm impossible to live with.  (Yes, I know I'm difficult to live with... but I'm hoping not to graduate to "impossible."  I'm assuming even my patient hubby has his limits).  "I feel like I'm NEVER going to catch up," I said to no one in particular.  (I don't know if it's old age or motherhood, but I'm certainly talking to myself more these days).  And then I thought about it... what am I trying to catch up to?  Why am I so stressed out about this?

I think it's a matter of expectations.  Something my therapist said I needed to seriously revise because my expectations for myself are WAY too high and, in turn, I put impossibly high expectations on the people around me (my aforementioned patient hubby getting the worst of it). 

You see, I used to have that car and that house that was always ready for "guests."  My car never had wrappers or extra clothing or school/work items or shoes or sand or anything extra in it.  My house always had made beds and done dishes and gleaming counter-tops and uncluttered counters.  And now that I "don't work" (jesus, that phrase gets under my skin), I've been at a loss to figure out why I CANNOT, for the life of me, keep my car and house clean.  But today, I figured it out.

As I let our new lab Ellie (she of the over-active snot production) into the back of my Escape which already had a fine layer of Husky hair (courtesy of Yukon), I had a brief moment of worrying about her snotting up the back of my car and then thought,  "yeah, but it's better to have this fun crazy dog than a clean car."  And then it hit me... my stress level and happiness is up to ME.  It's a matter of re-framing the mess and altering the expectations.  Instead of worrying about the sand in my entry way, the breakfast dishes in my sink still at lunch time, the petrified goldfish in my back seat, the extra hoodies and kids' shoes on the floor of my car... I need to view them as evidence of a life well lived.  After all, when I had a clean house, it's because no one LIVED in it.  Mike and I worked, William was in day care and the dogs played outside.  When I had a clean car, it's because it carried only me.  And while I had a good life then, it's nothing compared to what I have now.  I wouldn't trade the cleanliness for the crazy, loud, messy, loving, fulfilling, growing life that is life with children.  Again, I need to see the changes... the mess, the noise, the clutter as evidence of a life well lived.

The sand is a celebration of spending more time with my kids at the park and less time sweeping and telling them "mommy can't play with you right now."  The dishes are because it was more important that they get the entire hour and a half of parent-child swim time at the local community pool than it was for me to have an empty sink.  The petrified goldfish are because I didn't want to cut our trip to the coast and aquarium short just so I could work around the breakfast-lunch-nap schedule.  The extra hoodies mean if we stay out playing way too late and it gets cold, my kiddos can throw them on instead of having to run home.  Life well lived.

That doesn't mean I'm going to let my car turn into "the pit of despair" or my house a cluttered, unsanitary mess.  That doesn't mean I won't continue to use nap time and late night as time to mop or vacuum or run laundry.  It's just not in me to let it go too far.  But I think I have to let go a little.  For my sanity's sake.  For my kids' sake.  For my hubby's sake.  If I keep stomping around, swearing about messes and telling the kids to "please find something to do I HAVE to clean up"... life's best moments will pass me by.  There will be no evidence of a life well lived.  No sand to stick to my feet and make me smile at the memory of Elizabeth coated HEAD-TO-TOE in mud at the park or William buried up to his neck in sand.  No wrappers to remind me of the impromptu driving adventure to some new park that resulted in having to "grab a quick lunch" on the go.

My Tante (aunt), at my Oma's (grandmother's) funeral had one bittersweet memory in her list of memories of Oma.  She said as a small child she often wished her mother would spend more time with her instead of cleaning so much.  Her memory was that of Oma caring more about a clean house than spending time with her kids.  And in the middle of all the sadness, the mourning, the family gathering... that moment stood out for me.  That moment I stopped and thought, "I don't ever want William and Elizabeth to say that about me."  I want them to remember when we used 5 sheets to make our entire playroom into a "tent city."  I want them to remember mom diving into their kiddie pool with them to have "family splash time."  I want them to remember taking a nature walk at the Delta Ponds on the way home from therapy instead of taking naps.  I want them to remember building sand castles as the park, baseball games at the local field, backyard splash days, marathon Lego or Play-doh sessions and summer nights staying up late having a cookie on the couch.

New expectations, new frame of mind.  I have my whole life to have a spotless house and car.  I only have a finite time to make the best memories with my kiddos.  Bring on the petrified goldfish and food wrappers.  Never mind the unmade beds and messy playroom.  I won't call it a mess anymore.  I'll just call them souvenirs.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Vision, Seeing and Rose-Colored Glasses

"Once she was born I was never not afraid."  - Joan Didion in Blue Lights

There are moments in life when you begin to "see" the world differently.  It has nothing to do with your actual vision.  It's because you've happened upon a moment so profound, the world now looks different... and you can never go back.  Having children is one of those.

If you have not had a child, I cannot explain it to you.  And you cannot fathom it.  It's not a criticism, not a badge of superiority or inferiority.  It's just a fact.  I have friends and relatives in this world who have lost a spouse, lost a child, lived through brutal prison camps, served in horrific wars, have "special needs kids" and who are facing certain death in the hands of a terminal illness.  I CANNOT comprehend their worldview, nor will I try.  Just as someone without children cannot comprehend that of a parent's.

Don't compare the time you and your boyfriend were both sick to the time I had to take care of two sick children when I, myself, had the flu.  It's not the same.  Do not compare the fear you had during a pet's illness to the time I helped "lock" my son in some horrible contraption for a chest x-ray as a small baby to determine if he had pneumonia.  It's not the same.  I know... I've had a sick pet.  Don't compare paper training your puppy to potty training my toddler.  Don't compare the sleep you lost on a big project to the months of sleep lost to a new infant.  Don't compare the love for your kitty to the time I first held my son.  I was BLOWN AWAY by what I felt.  So many times those first few months I just held him and cried because it was so overpowering, I was scared by the enormity of it and thankful at the same time.

My mother once said, when trying to describe the depths to which she loved my sister, brother and I, "you think you love your parents the same... but you don't.  You cannot possibly love us like we love you.  I can't explain it, but if you become a mother someday, you'll understand."  I was so offended then.  That was then.  Now I know... she was right.

I've been "seeing" these moments a lot more recently.  I'm not sure why.  The moments, I mean, when I realize how much my view of the world has changed.  Sometimes it's something so mundane, so simple, I feel silly writing it down.  The other night, for example, as my husband and I watched the new Spider-Man movie I laughed to myself when the scene came where he wanted to ask out a girl.  I laughed because I realized that type of scene used to bring me back to my past.  It used to make me remember a nervous boy asking me out or remember my own terror when I asked my first boyfriend out.  But now... now I got nervous for the future.  I suddenly imagined little William bigger, with knots in his stomach and sweaty palms asking out some girl.  And I found myself praying for this future girl to be kind to him.  I suddenly pictured little Elizabeth bigger, hoping she would be kind to some boy whether her answer was "no" or "yes", hoping she would understand how powerful her words could be.

When I just read that line by Joan Didion that I began this blog with, I laughed.  I laughed not because it was funny, but in relief that I wasn't a total nut.  I understood as only a parent can, that shift in worldview.  That new fear that never existed before William and Elizabeth came along.  Fear is now my constant companion because, as she says later on the page, "The source of the fear was obvious: it was the harm that could come..."  And it's not just fear of big things - illness, death, injury, heartbreak, loss, etc.  You fear the damage your words can do.  You fear, in fact you're often convinced, that you're failing at every step.  You fear pushing them too hard and not pushing them enough.  You fear babying them and making them grow up too fast.  Nothing is without that fear.  Just now as I spent a beautiful moment reading next to my son in his bed because he was feeling afraid tonight, I felt the fear.  I looked at the book he was reading, aimed more for 8-10 year olds and thought, "Wait, should I be proud of his advanced reading?  Or did I cheat him and make him older than he is?" And then I laughed at myself and remembered the words of the family therapist we just saw, "Mariska, we will all mess up and fail.  Please forgive yourself and move forward... he already has."

I don't mean this blog to be just about the fear though.  In fact, I don't mean it to be a negative.  Because too much beauty comes with the fear.  Too much to be thankful for.  With the fear also becomes a whole new way to "see" the world... you get to see it as a child "again", but it won't be totally the same as the first time.  It seems doubly beautiful right now because you get the pleasure of a child's view again, but with the opportunity to teach and learn and APPRECIATE the way you just didn't as a kid.

A 5 minute walk to the mailbox becomes an hour-long excursion because there were too many ladybugs and butterflies to watch, catch and observe.  The dry grass at the park isn't an allergy-pit, it's an opportunity to chase and catch grasshoppers.  Planting a garden isn't a chore anymore... it's part science experiment, part hope-and-prayer, part anticipation and part accomplishment as you see what seeds make it and what don't.  A one-hour nature walk becomes a half-day adventure complete with a picnic lunch because it just takes that long to point out tadpoles, dragonflies, ducks, baby geese, goose feathers, hawks circling overhead and all the other curiosities I used to just drive by.  A 4x10 inflatable pool becomes a ship in a hurricane, a beach with waves, an Olympic swim race and the site of our stand against the Empire and we're the Rebels (Star Wars folks... if you have to ask, well...).  A pile of sheets become an impenetrable fortress, a tent city and a camp-out.  A car trip becomes a "rock-out" session.  Fall leaves are more beautiful because your children want to save them in their "collection."  The moon is magical because your children say, "look!  it's following us" while you drive.  The warm sunshine is even more delicious because your little boy lies on a towel next to you and says, "it makes me love to be sleepy with you, mom."  Getting a kite aloft almost makes you cry because the look of joy on their face when they get to hold the string.  Reading a story is magical because you have another imagination to collaborate with as you picture the heroes, the landscape and the next turn in the plot.  Dressing up with your daughter doesn't feel silly, because her squeals of delight as you play Witch to her Snow White or Mother Gothel to her Rapunzel make you want to hug her tight and stop time.  Potty time isn't wasted time for them, it's just an opportunity for you to hunker down in the bathroom with them and read a story or two.

My world has changed now.  In a way I could have never anticipated.  In a way, I suppose now, will never stop.  No matter what they do, what they choose, what happens to them... my sight has changed.  I have to say mostly for the better.  Yep, I think I'll keep these rose-colored glasses for a while.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Of Dogs, Children and Expectations

I have two dogs... one, the older male is nervous, cautious, jumpy and easily chastened.   The other, the younger female, is a mess.  She's a total spaz, crazy, oozes mucus from her nose incessantly, and despite her beauty, rambles along clumsy, nutty, silly, snotting up our house and our clothes and, like a storm, rips through life oblivious to the destruction she's left behind.

They say our dogs begin to resemble their owners, or is it the other way around?  Well, in this house... they resemble my children.  Completely.  I realized that the other day as I watched Elizabeth.  She is Ellie, our young female lab.  She's a mess.  At everything.  When she cries mucus, tears and saliva pour out of her at an alarming rate.  She always wants me to hold her, but I have to change my shirt afterward.  Seriously.  I'm soaked.  When she eats, I now put a bib on her AND a huge dish towel over the rest of her in an attempt to somehow keep from filling my washing machine in the number of outfits she can dirty in a day.  Our local park has a water feature and unlike the other little girls playing tidy little games like "cooking" or building a castle, she treats it like her own personal mud-bath at the spa.  I pack extra clothes and it takes DAYS to remove the mud from her hair and ears.  Days.

So many people congratulated me when they learned we were having a girl.  They assume, as a woman, I wanted a little doll to dress up.  I think they envisioned a sweet, little, darling... sugar and spice and you know the rest.  I got all spice, baby, and she's nuts.  I knew I was in for trouble with a girl.  I was not your average little girl.  But I'll admit, I'm NOTHING compared to this little freak.  Everything I did, she does.  But amplified.  By 100.

When I eat, Mike compares me to Cookie Monster.  I'm messy.  She's like Cookie Monster too, but bred with the Incredible Hulk.  In fact, she informed me she'd like to be Hulk for Halloween.  So she can "smash".  Oooooof course.  I have a tendency to be easily distracted and clumsy.  She's like a newborn foal attempting to walk in stilettos.  Walls jump out at her at an alarming rate.  The floor often seems to snag her ankles.  I had (well, still have) a huge imagination.  My mom had to scream my name a million times because I was off in my own world.  My world was always much better than the real world and I hated to snap into reality.  I now find myself shouting, as my mother once did, "what am I talking to... a brick wall?!!"  I call and call and call and finally with a tap to her head and an "E-LIZ-A-BETH!!!!!" she snaps back and looks at me innocently and says, "what mom... I was just...".  Everything with her is "I was just".

"Elizabeth, get out of there! It's not a pool, it's disgusting." I shout about a bowl type feature full of revolting, muddy water at the playground.
Missing my anger and command, she says calmly as though explaining to the simple-minded, "Oh no, mommy... I was just soaking my feet".

"Elizabeth, " I shout as she grabs dixie cups, tooth brushes, old floss and anything within reach in the bathroom, "STOP touching everything!  I just want you to wash your hands."
"I just want to SEE," she says.  Trouble is, she always looks with her hands.  And feet.  And mouth.

She spits chocolate milk out at the table and cracks up.  She stuffs her fingers up her nose, farts on her father, chews up her food and then opens up her mouth to her brother, licks the sliding glass doors (oh yeah, the ones that the dogs snot all over), crushes food in her fingers and smears it on the table and announces loudly, "I farted!" or "I have to POOP!".   She chatters, sings and thrashes around in her bed until she falls asleep.  She prefers to be barefoot.  She prefers to be nude.   She's NOT a lady.  She's my daughter.  She's me... but better.  Worse?  Whatever.

She, like our lab, is a crazy, messy, ball of destruction.  I couldn't be more proud. :D

Friday, June 15, 2012

It Ain't Easy Being Green... or Blue

Warning:  This entry WILL contain swearing.
My son is going to go to therapy this Wednesday.  He's 5, soon to be 6, and going to therapy.  It hurts.  As a parent, you can try not to blame yourself, but you always will.  He began spiraling into a crazy sort of anxiety ball a few months ago, but it REALLY began to be obvious recently and my first thought was... shit, my fault.  Be it genetics or how I'm raising him... my fault.

Don't wag your finger at me or lecture me on my melodrama.  Don't remind me it's not all about me.  Logically, I KNOW all this.  Believe me, I know.  But you see, I suffer from anxiety and depression and it's hard to stop the negativity sometimes.  It's hard to stop the spiral.

So in the past couple weeks, as I saw him spiral and saw him fight it, only to break down more when he couldn't, it hurt me more than anything in this world.  I KNOW he wants to climb out of it.  I KNOW he feels crazy.  And I don't know how to help him. And that hurts most of all.  I want to hold him, comfort him, fix him, support him, help him find the answers, find the sunshine.  I don't want to encourage him to wallow, but I don't want to say that thing that people used to say to me that makes an anxious person just feel MORE bat shit crazy - "snap out of it!"  I need to be his wings, not his anchor.  Because I miss my son.

I miss the crazy, funny, light-hearted, not-afraid-to-be-an-original, totally uninhibited dude I once knew.  But now, as his tee ball coach noted, he can "carry the weight of the world on his shoulders" sometimes.  Now he's lost weight.  He not only strives for perfection, he beats himself up for not achieving it.  He worries about EVERYTHING and complains about EVERYTHING.  He's obsessed with his body - what he puts in it, how it feels, how jumpy his stomach is, how often he goes to the bathroom, etc.  In the worst of his meltdowns he screamed, in tears, "I HATE MY BODY AND MY MIND.  I CANNOT MAKE THEM DO WHAT I WANT!  I DON'T KNOW WHY I'M SAD, I CAN'T STOP THINKING THIS WAY!"  And I wanted to be the strong, calm mom... but I cried.  I cried because I understood every single thing he mentioned. 

I tell him not to strive for perfection, but to enjoy the journey.  I tell him we'll enjoy the adventure every day and not worry about the destination.  I tell him the "sickness in his belly" that is starting to cripple him can be beaten with mind over matter.  I tell him it doesn't matter if he ties his shoes perfectly.  I tell him he won't be able to do everything the first time he tries.  I tell him to take care of his body instead of berating it.  Instead of hating it.  But I think he can see I'm full of shit.  I think he can see that I've yet to enjoy the journey myself.  I think he sees my own perfectionism driving me nuts. I think he can see that I'm a bundle of anxiety.  I talk too much in crowds to hide my nerves.  I laugh too loud.  I walk on egg shells one minute and lay out my "if-you-don't-like-me-for-who-I-am-then-fuck-you" attitude the next.  I'm a scared little girl trying with all my might not to raise a scared little boy. 

It's tough though.  As my mom noted when when she just visited and we discussed William, I've always been different.  I've always WANTED to be different, but without standing out.  I've marched to the beat of my own drum, let my freak-flag fly... whatever tired turn of phrase you prefer.  I had no interest in being like everyone else, but at the same time I DID NOT want to be noticed for it.  I wanted to be liked and not left out, without having to conform to do it.  And we talked about how... was that "difference" what made me feel depressed?  Or was my depression what made me seem so different?

 And now I'm unsure of how to encourage William.  Do I want him to be an original?  Do I want him to be totally himself without worrying about what everyone thinks?  Of course.  But I see in him that same desire I had in me... to please, to be liked, to be included and I think... do I encourage him to fit in then?  Or to continue to march along as he wishes... not being afraid to paint his nails, not worried that his interests and vocabulary make him fit in better with adults than kids his own age, not afraid to celebrate with a silly dance in public when he tags someone out in tee ball, not caring what people think when he says his favorite colors include red, blue and PINK (in solidarity with his little sister)?

It's funny... I look back on this entry and think... there I go again.  I'm not enjoying the journey.  I'm trying to control the turns in the road, instead of finding the adventure. I'm telling my son not to worry in one breath and spilling ALL my worries in the next.

Hmmmm.  I wonder if they have joint mother-child therapy?  You know... kinda like mommy-and-me-swim.  Only without the silly songs and a slightly scarier deep end.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


I looked down yesterday while making my son's bed and saw something beautiful... my mother's hands.  I have my mother's hands.  Not the hands she's struggling with right now that are succumbing to arthritis (although I suspect that is soon to follow)... but the hands I remember as a child.  They're not perfect, not smooth, not hand-model hands... but they're the hands I remember.  Strong.  Fingers thin from hard work.  Short nails.  Tough.  Tough like my mom.

These are the hands that tied a million bows in our hair for gymnastics, drill team, cheer leading and school.  These hands made my bed in the morning until they taught me to do it.  These are the hands that braided my hair into "Heidi braids" in the morning, made dinner at night, packed lunches at midnight and drove for miles because she was a single mom, living on barely any sleep and driving us 30-35 minutes to school so we could go to school in the same town she worked.  These hands didn't care about if they were moisturized or manicured or smooth... they dug in the sand with us to find shells, pitched baseballs, helped bait hooks and reel in fish, did our cheer routines with us, played board games with us, sewed costumes, and clapped almost as loud as that awesome voice of hers that was audible in ANY crowd.  These hands cleaned up after us when we were sick, picked me up after a horrific roller skating fall when I was 8 (and a rollerblading one when I was 20... but that's another story) and that held me up when girls bullied me, boyfriends broke up with me and that helped me pack for the 900 mile trip to Oregon, from which I never returned and FOR which she's never forgiven me (love you mom).

Some women may freak out when told they look like their mothers.  Not me.  I think my mom is beautiful, inside and out.  She may be loud, crazy, moody and seriously tough... but she's also passionate, dedicated, self-sacrificing and so, so much fun.  So when I saw my obviously aging hands, starting to go tough from the park play dates, baseball, sewing, Play-Doh, dishes, knitting, etc.  I was fascinated and proud.  Save for the skin color, they are my mom's.  And as my kids pointed out that you can see the veins in my hands, I wasn't sad, I was proud.  They are like the rest of me... my face, my figure, my joints.  They show what I've done.  What I'm still doing.

A young girl I once worked with asked me once if I was considering plastic surgery since I was in my 30's and if I was sad to be "having kids so old" because I was a horrifying (and decrepit apparently in her view) 32 when I had my son and 35 with my daughter.  I try not to judge as I know we all take different paths in life, but it was hard to hide the disgust on my face.  Even if you want plastic surgery, it's a bit insulting to ask me if I'm considering it.  I told her "no way".  I will age as I age.  I will take every wrinkle, spot, bend and creak as it comes.  I'll be like my mom and work out like a nut and suddenly become totally ripped in my 40's and 50's.  I'll do crazy military-obstacle-course runs like her.  I'll still attempt to do high kicks in the living room because my daughter is doing them.

My Opa once said, when I asked why he liked to paint pictures of old people, "Their faces tell stories.  Young faces have no stories yet."

I hope my kids remember my hands and think they tell a beautiful story.  I hope I use them to dig in the mud, build Star Wars ships out of Lego's, soothe hurts, wash off dirt, cook lots of meals, pitch baseballs, braid hair and sew costumes until 2:00 am.  I hope my story is of a mom who's as fun and loving as she is nuts.  And I hope that, on a bad day, when I think I'm not good at this job, I can look down at my hands and feel better because they are beautiful.  They're my mom's.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Come Undone

I lost it tonight.  Again.  Time number...oh shit, I've lost count anyway.  Why, you ask?  Because apparently, I'm incapable of handling the smallest bumps in motherhood.  Tonight's bump was Elizabeth announcing at 8:30 (that's bedtime) that she had to poop and taking until 9:00 to NOT poop.  And I lost my shit.  What is wrong with me?  I joke about being crazy, I joke about being imbalanced, I joke that motherhood is driving me to padded walls...maybe it's not a joke.  Maybe I'm just not equipped.  How on earth am I going to raise calm, reasonable, sane, tenacious, productive, assertive kids when mom is a screaming, flying off the handle, crying easily, prone to depression, fighting the urge to drink, crazy person?

Here's the thing.  I have it good.  Really, really good.  I'm married to my best friend, I live in a beautiful home in a gorgeous city and have two very healthy children.  We have the money for me to stay home, we have terrific supportive friends, and I truly have nothing to complain about.

Have there been bumps in the road?  Yes.  But I look around and see people who have climbed mountains.  MOUNTAINS.  Not those inspirational stories in the media... I know real people who I can see and touch.  Yes, my parents were divorced... it was before I can remember, they were always not just civil to each other but actually DEFENDED each other and I got two kick-ass step parents out of the deal.  I have three friends who lived through horribly abusive parents and thrived, are incredibly successful and they're great parents.  Yes, I'm prone to depression, have struggled with panic attacks and had to once sign a form that said I agree to be committed if I try to harm myself again.  I know someone who has struggled with with bi-polar disorder, tried suicide, lost her mom and doesn't fold the way I do when my son wakes up whining.  Yes, I was bullied horribly as a kid, but I know someone who turned that same experience into a successful writing career.  Yes, I was abused by a boyfriend in high school, but I know someone who has survived rape and has her shit together more than I do.  Yes, stay at home motherhood is rough (and I will slap the next person who asks me what it's like not to "work" anymore), but I have friends and family with special needs kids and they are the masters of thinking positive.

So what's my deal?  Why is it my daughter's inability to stay in her seat at lunch LITERALLY makes my chest hurt?  Why is it when we're running late to school I start swearing like a long shoreman from San Pedro? (shoutout to my home town)  Why is it I start of each day trying to "start new" with some yoga or running or a positive attitude and within 5 minutes of waking them up, my kids make me come undone?  Every single day, I come undone.

Do I go back to therapy?  Find medication?  Start running miles and miles and miles?  Seriously, what the hell?  Why can I not handle this life?  I wrote once, when my Opa died, that I write when I'm lost, when I don't know what else to do. So here I am... writing again.  Maybe the answers are in between the lines.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Mini-Me and the Super Villain

So Mike and I were laughing about our kiddos tonight (sometimes that's all the "alone" time you get - sharing together like a couple of 12-steppers trying to survive) and I said something about wondering if the kids were asleep.  When he pointed out they must be because the monitor was silent and our kids are only quiet when asleep, I replied innocently, "what?  Mini-Me and the Super Villain?".  Another round of uproarious laughter, but later I thought about it... which is which?  The answer is - both. Depending on the day, the hour, the parent currently in charge... they have each owned each nick name.  They're making us crazy I tell you.  Building our insane asylum one devious act at a time.  I swear that's why they're sleeping together these days, they're plotting their take over. 

Bait and Switch:  The method most employed by our "innocent" little kids, this is the method wherein THEY are the miscreants, but WE take the blame.  It's genius really.  I believe this is the one turning my road to the funny farm into a steep, downhill slide rather than a gradual winding road.  I realized it tonight as Mike and I both talked about moments this week where we (in the words of a fellow-parent) "lost our shit."  You know - yelled, turned red, frothed at the mouth until noticing our children were wearing expressions of utter fear and confusion.  We laughed and said that we'll just label those moments as "future therapy sessions" and make sure to apologize to our kids.  For example... Elizabeth (who in this case is my mini-me) eating.  Eating with her is torture now.  TORTURE.  She's a space cadet. (My mother is enjoying this right now).  It takes her, like, 5 hours to complete a meal because she's staring off, singing, jumping from thought to thought fast enough to make a schizophrenic whistle in admiration and decorating her chair and the surrounding floor with enough food to feed a family of 5.  IT'S KILLING ME.  I could tie her to the table and she would still manage to NOT eat over her plate (shut up Ma).  I say at least 10 times per meal, "USE YOUR FORK OR SPOON!  NO HANDS!" and at least 20 times "TWO HANDS ON YOUR CUP!".  And then, I lose it.  I take her plate away... yelling, swearing, inching closer to that fatal heart-attack and she begins crying.  She's saying sorry and bawling and I feel bad.  So I apologize. I APOLOGIZE.  What?  I have been training this girl on table manners since she was 15 months old.  SHE'S THREE!!!  But there it is.  Parenting fail, future therapy bill, I'm sorry Elizabeth.  And, being mini-me, she decides to make me feel even more insane by instantly drying her tears, looking at me like she can't believe I'm hanging on to this moment and uttering some total non sequitur like "smell my feet, they're stinky."

Divide and Conquer:  A new and rather effective tactic, our children have now figured out how to use their 2.75 year age difference to their advantage.  They often ask for "boy time" and "girl time" since Elizabeth has yet to attain the fine-motor skill to play video games and William now realizes that playing with dolls is "girl stuff."  Ever seeking to be the best parents, Mike and I divvy up the monsters so they can each have some time alone with us. 

But I see now... THIS IS WHAT THEY WANT.  This gives William (Mike's Mini-Me in this case) the chance to "buddy up" with Dad, lull him into a false sense of security and then ask him something about which Mommy has already said, "no."  You see, they're counting on us being so burned out by the end of the day that we won't have the energy to compare stories.  They're thinking (often correctly) that we'll be floppy, drooling messes sitting on the couch laughing to The Daily Show or defusing our anger by imagining that we're Raylan Givens on Justified.  Tonight, however, Mike and I made time for each other and uncovered what devious little gremlins we've produced.  Mike was telling me about how William actually had the gall to say to Mike, "You're my favorite" because he was trying to A) get more video game time and B) get Mike to say yes to watching a movie during dinner when I had already said no. 

Meanwhile, Super Villain aka Dizzy aka Elizabeth is upstairs with me playing Strawberry Shortcake and working on me to get more playtime and/or a later bed time.  She's plying me with lots of hugs and "I love you too's".  And I realize, that little Super Villain, isn't being loving when she says it.  It's a ploy with her.  She says it either A) to distract me or B) as her way of saying, "now mommy, calm down.  you're about to lose your shit again".  I'm not kidding.  For as she sees me preparing to head downstairs to make dinner, she tackles me and says "I love you too".  I say, "Elizabeth, let's grab your dolls and play downstairs while I cook".  She's suddenly deaf and continues to play as though I had never spoken.  Two more times and I lose it... "E-LIZ-A-BETH!" I shout, "Take your dolls downstairs so I can start dinner!!!!"  She puts her hand on my arm, looks me in the eye and says "I love you too".  I play the trump card, say goodbye over my shoulder and begin heading downstairs.  'WAAAAIT!!" she panics and begins following me.  "I've won" I think.  But at the bottom of the stairs she mutters, "I'll go in the car with you."  Huh?  I turn to her, "Elizabeth, I'm not going anywhere, I'm making dinner".  She smiles innocently, "I thought we were grabbing dinner and watching a movie".

HOLY CRAP!  They're in it together!  Because THEN, Super Villain walks over to Daddy and starts cute-ing it up with I love you too's and hugs, etc. and after their video game, William aka Mike's Mini-Me puts on his best charm act and begins with the "ooohhh what is that?  dinner smells good.  can I help set the table?" I think he's making up for being a turd earlier and tell him he can put out the napkins and forks.  He's doing it and giving me hugs in the meantime and just as I'm about to congratulate myself on my sweet son, he says it - "soooo, I was talking to Dad about watching a movie during dinner..."


Monday, February 6, 2012

Letter of the law... and when they're ready to PRACTICE Law

Folks, watch your words when you have children.  Now, I'm not talking about swearing here... I'm talking about what you say to your children because, I'm warning you now, they are literal creatures.  First, because that's all their little minds can grasp and then... oh boy and then, because they have figured out how to obey the letter of the law while ignoring the spirit of it.  It's at this point that you realize they are working on outwitting you... and starting to practice law themselves.

Exhibit A:  Two Hands
When you say this to a young toddler they will grasp their cup with two hands just as you are showing them and attempt to drink.  Now... they may spill a little, but it's because they are learning.  I no longer have obedient toddlers.  I have a thinking scheming pre-schooler and a corresponding kindergartner.  So NOW when I will look over to Dizzy and see her 10 little fingertips balancing the UNDER side of the cup and the cup wobbling precariously as it is raised to her mouth and say  "TWO HANDS!" I am greeted with a look of obvious disdain and the reply "I AM using two hands." Jeez, really?  Do I really have to say, "Two hands completely cupped on either side of your cup with palms and fingers touching?"  I mean, can we not obey the spirit of the law rather than the letter?
Even better, when I say "Two hands!" to William and follow it up with "Think about what you are teaching your sister!" because I see him casually using one hand and the milk sploshing out before he's raised it an inch off the table, he replies, "I AM thinking about it.  I'm thinking about how to teach her to drink with one hand!"  Kill me now.

Exhibit B: Butts and Knees
This is a phrase we utter in our house whenever the children momentarily lose their mental faculties and attempt to stand on furniture that is designed for sitting.  When they were darling, willing-to-please toddlers, this phrase would get them to automatically drop to theirs knees or bottoms and sit as instructed on a chair, couch, etc.  I should have predicted this, too, would end.  The other day Elizabeth wanted to play at the table with her little Disney castle and dolls the way she sees her big brother doing with his Star Wars guys.  So I put together THREE (count 'em three) dining chairs in an effort to make a "bench" long enough for her to play on safely as she is not my most graceful child.  Like her mother before her, she's often so engrossed in her little inner world that she falls, trips, bangs into things, etc.  I set up her bench and proceed to cook.  Not even 10 minutes into playing I look up juuuuuust in time to see her go end-over-end onto the floor.  "Elizabeth!" I shout, "did you forget about butts & knees?"  Dazed and looking up at me from the floor she says, "Uhhhhh no.  My knee WAS on the chair."  I think about it for a sec... "just ONE knee Elizabeth?"  "Well, yeah," she replies, "I was reaching for my doll who fell!"  I see that I must now explain that one knee will not prevent a fall when 90% of your body weight is dangling into open space.  Sigh.

Exhibit C:  Wipe a little, flush a little
So William has been learning to tidy himself after going #2 because we figure a school-age child should be able to manage all elements of personal bodily functions while away from home.  William, being the fastidious little one that he is, immediately began clogging toilets as soon as we started him on this venture.  So one day I tell him (again, not thinking), "okay William, do NOT use so much paper.  You need to wipe a little, flush a little." and then in my usual yada-yada voice I end with "you know... wipe.flush.wipe.flush. and so on".  I'm feeling very proud that this is working when one day I'm cooking and realize he's been in that damn bathroom for over a 1/2 hour and I think I might be hearing my 9th flush.  So I peek in to see what horrible ailment has accosted my son's bowels and say, "are you okay?".  And then, I see it.  He is LITERALLY taking perhaps two squares of paper, wiping and then flushing, AFTER EVERY SINGLE WIPE.  Now, while I'm happy the clog problem is solved, I don't want to have to explain to the community at large that the next Pacific Northwest water shortage is tied to my son's bowel habits.  "William!" I stop him, "what are you doing?"  He looks totally shocked.  "You said - wipe, flush, wipe, flush!"  Oh boy.  "Hon, I said, wipe a little, flush a little, wipe, flush, wipe flush, etc.  I meant that you should wipe a couple or few times and then flush to make sure you don't clog the toilet and then repeat that if you need to."  He still looks confused.  "Oh, okay.  Well why didn't you say THAT then!?"  Exactly.

Now, I know what you're thinking folks... Mariska, this is a teaching moment.  Time to teach them how to obey the spirit of the law OR time to learn how use my obviously superior grasp of the English language to get the results I want.  Don't get cocky folks.  It won't matter.  Because once they begin learning the "letter of the law" trick... their crafty little minds jump to even more complex reasoning.  Their practicing law like a seasoned defense attorney and finding ways to use YOUR ideas to THEIR benefit.

For example... Dizzy and the potty.  I have accepted that she will poop on the potty in her own time.  This does not, however, prevent me from offering incentives or performing little "verbal trick" attempts to get her to at least try to overcome her fear and yet FEEL that it is HER choice not mine.  It worked on her most recent success (3 days straight of #2 on the potty) when I made the potty "talk" and say "I want your poops!"  She laughed hysterically and tried.  For 3 days.  So today I think it may have worked when she walks into the bathroom sits on the potty and says, "the potty wants my poops."  Victory, I think.  I've done it.  She pees and asks for a diaper.  I look at her surprised, but not refusing the diaper and innocently reply, "Oh!  I thought the potty wanted your poops today!"  She looks at me and the potty like we have a serious case of lack-of-gratitude, hands me the diaper and says, "Well!  The potty can have my PEES".  Checkmate.

William, too, has shown this advanced reasoning, when it comes to bedtime.  He HATES sleeping alone.  He's having lots of nightmares and monster fears, etc. so he's always asking if one of us will sleep with him, or he'll con Dizzy into it.  However, he finally realized that sometimes Dizzy is not the best choice because this girl practices some sort of mixed martial arts in her sleep.  If you sleep anywhere near her, be prepared for a combination of arms, hands, elbows, knees and feet to strike you throughout the night.  So, the other night, he asks me if I'll lie down with him until he falls asleep.  "No," I tell him, "I've got too much to do downstairs.  I can come up later, but I'm sure you'll be asleep by then."  A little voice floats out of Elizabeth's room, "I'll sleep with you Bubba!"  I see him contemplating it.  Sleep alone.  Brave Elizabeth's own special brand of night-time self defense. "Mo-om... please."  I'm thinking I've given him the perfect logic quandary.  "William, you have a choice.  Let Dizzy in here with you.  Otherwise, fall asleep alone and maybe I'll sleep up here later, but by that time you'll be asleep anyway."  He's staring at the space next to him for a long time.   "OKAYYYY", he yells to Dizzy, "Diz, you can sleep in here!"  I think I've won.  I tuck Elizabeth in and then come around his side to tuck him in and as I'm hugging him he whispers, "So here's the plan, let her fall asleep in here and let me fall asleep and then when you're ready to go to bed, carry HER to her own bed and sleep with ME!"  He's smiling at his brilliance.  I'm thinking he has a future in law.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

That was Then... This is Now

No, I am not referring to the S.E. Hinton novel (cousin Jewels, that's a little shout out to you). Rather,  I am talking about just how much life changes when you become a parent. 

You see, Mike and I were joking with William the other night that we would be returning him to the baby store as we were dissatisfied with our purchase and Mike said, "we could take Elizabeth back too!"  I followed that with, "we could take a vacation," he topped with "we could take a cruise!" and I nearly shouted in temporary delirious excitement "we could go back to IRELAND!!".  And suddenly... it hit me.  Life is SO different now.  Everything has taken on another meaning.  The world looks different.  Children change EVERYTHING.  The thought followed me around today as I giggled to myself about how something like the phrase "all nighter" has changed with age and parenthood.  Then I began to make myself a list of all of those changes. 

Parents... enjoy. 

Then: this is staying up all night to write a paper you waited til the laaaaaast minute to write, partying all night or staying up all night just to see the sun rise.
Now: this is because your colicky baby LITERALLY does not sleep all night, staying up with a child who is vomiting every 15 minutes ALL through the night, or being the kind of insane parent who sews, knits or builds some special project for your kid and seriously underestimating how long it will take to finish

Then: This is having consumed too much of a mind or mood alternating substance either legal or illegal in nature.
Now: This is trying to put the milk away in the laundry room, trying to start your car with toy keys, wearing two different shoes all day without realizing it, making up words to the Curious George book you're reading because your vision is blurred from exhaustion, handing your husband a sippy cup and your daughter a pilsner glass, or laughing hysterically when your kid swears not because it's funny, but because you're too tired to do something else.  No substance required, the lack of quality sleep does the trick.

Then: This is the phrase you list on your resume because you've juggled a multi-line phone with filing, handled a high pressure job that involves dealing with the public in the worst of circumstances, etc.
Now: This is squatting down and balancing a nursing child in one arm and helping a potty-training toddler with the other hand to sit on the potty, wipe, flush, dress and wash hands.  This is fashioning a device out of your nursing bra and stretchy shirt to hold a pump in place so you can pump breast milk, make dinner, hold a baby and do a puzzle with your 3 year old at the same time.  This is alternating being Princess Leia and The Fairy Godmother so that you can play with two kids at the same time and keeping one ear on one story line and the other ear on the other story line so you can jump accurately from character to character.

Then:  One in a dimly lit restaurant that requires fancy dress and costs more than it honestly should.
Now: One wherein there are no time-outs are given, 80% or more of the food makes it into human mouths rather than the dog's, I do not utter the phrases "less talk more eat," "smaller bites," "two hands on your cup," "sit properly in your chair," "chew with your mouth closed," etc more than 10 times, I don't have to explain what "the green thing" is or where food is not-so-subtly pushed around because it doesn't meet the discerning palate of a child barely old enough to wipe their own butt.

Then: Taken because you are feeling under the weather, drank too much the night before, want to ditch work, got last minute concert tickets out of town, etc. you sleep in, stay on your couch watching movies or go somewhere fun but far enough away you won't get caught.
Now: Forget "sick days", you don't get them any more.  Now this is one or more family members huddled together, voluntarily quarantined while some vomit or mucus or fever super-bug renders you all semi-conscious and LUCKY is if a) you have enough toilets that you don't start using buckets, bowls, etc and/or b) the bug has rendered the kids as weak as you are because otherwise sick kids run around like maniacs with bodily fluids flying willy-nilly while you can barely move and you pray that you have enough episodes of Phineas and Ferb on your DVR that you might get some sleep or at least get to stop moving for a while.

Then: The hot guy or girl in your class, the first sunny spring day when you live in a rainy place, the dress you always wanted, a sunset on a date, seeing a shooting star.
Now: Your baby the first time you hold him/her, the sound of your kids laughing together, your kid's first smile (and really, every smile after that), the sound of your baby's cry when he/she is delivered after some complications and you're terrified they won't make it, that picture of your child's tiny, tiny hand in their father's.

Phrase: BREAK
Then: This word follows Winter, Spring or Summer and signifies when you get to party, vacation, go back home or let loose.
Now:  5 minutes alone on the toilet, an uninterrupted shower, 10 minutes in the doctor's office waiting room, when your kick-ass husband takes the kids out for a few hours so you don't go bat-shit insane.

Phrase: LOUD
Then: Your neighbor's party the night before your biggest final, the a-hole's car down the street because he thinks it's cool to drive sans muffler or "trick out" his Toyota Tercel.
Now: Your kids 99.9% of the time.  They will speak at heretofore unthinkable decibels even if you're sitting RIGHT next to them.  They do not come with volume controls.  Just warning you now.

Phrase: MESS
Then: Your apartment after a party, your room because cleanliness comes last after classes, boyfriends, extra-curricular activities, etc. your car because you neglected to dispose of the most recent McDonald's evidence or you're so busy you often carry a change of clothes.
Now: Any room, seat at the table, vehicle or item of clothing that your small child has spent more than 5 minutes in.  Be prepared for an array of petrified snacks, spoiling liquids, bodily fluids and mystery substances.

Phrase: LOVE
Then: That jumpy feeling in your stomach when you're falling for someone, sharing your dessert even when it's your favorite, making reservations somewhere special on Valentine's Day, that strange euphoria/oh-shit panic combo you feel when you know you've found "the one."
Now: The literal, PHYSICAL ache you feel during an unwanted separation from your child, attempting to sleep all night in an upright position so your kid can breathe when they're sick, sharing tears with your preschooler because he comes home sad and says, "no one wanted to play with me today," giving up a boys/girls night out because your kid's face when they ask for a special "family night" or a special "mommy or daddy date" is so heartbreakingly precious that you forget you need a break.

Phrase: HEAVEN
Then: Falling asleep on the beach because the sun is so warm, a vacation in a beautiful place, a perfect date, a massage.
Now: That moment before you fall asleep and you hear soft breathing on the monitor and know everyone is safe, sitting with a flashlight in a blanket fort with a kid cuddled under each arm reading a story, teeny arms wrapped around your neck while a little voice says, "I love you mommy" and a little hand in yours while you walk on a gorgeous summer day while a little voice says, "I'm so glad you get to stay home with me now mommy".

Life has indeed changed.  I am immune to vomit, poop, spit, mucus and pee.  I often scream myself hoarse not because my children are horrible, but I'm so short on sleep I cannot handle even a little bit of misbehavior.  I take showers at 10:30 at night or 6:00 in the morning if I want a GUARANTEE it won't be interrupted.  Vacations now involve mouse ears instead of tropical locales.  I know the theme songs to Phineas & Ferb, Dinosaur Train, Olivia, Caillou, Super Why, My Little Pony and Curious George.  I worry incessantly about my kid's health, sanity, happiness and safety.

Am I complaining?  Nope.  See above definitions of Love and Heaven.  Ain't life grand?

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Penalty... excessive celebration

This title is in honor of my son, who loves football to a degree that still baffles me.  But then, a lot baffles me these days.  I'm a mom.  My brain is fried.

What is excessive celebration?  You know... the ridiculous victory dance, spiking the ball, the stupid gyrating that fame-hungry or over-testosterone-pumped players do when a camera is on them.  OR it's what you stupidly do as a parent before God takes you down a peg.  Football players get penalized some yardage... parents lose sanity points.

New parents, let me give you a tip.  Don't congratulate yourself.  EVER. Don't think you've mastered ANYTHING.  Because children are there to make sure you realize that you know NOTHING.  You are guessing, stumbling in the dark, conducting a life-long sociological study, screwing up, falling down, and basically racking up future therapy bills.  Yours or theirs.  Take your pick.

Now, you can see this as a negative.  Or you can look at it as an opportunity to learn, laugh at yourself, gain a whole new appreciation for your parents or to have fabulous fodder for a blog.  Quite honestly, I often veer toward the negative and then try to steer the crazy-Mariska ship in a more fruitful direction.  But lately it's been hard.  Really hard.  So hard I actually forgot about being thankful that I was home with my kids and wanted to return to work.  I realized I longed for work that involved schedules, adult conversation, BREAKS, sick days, vacations and the ability to GET AWAY, clock out and leave for the day.  The kind of work where home was a refuge and holidays were a change of pace.  Motherhood is NOT that job.  I had been able, until recently, to accept that that was the sacrifice I made becoming a mom rather than holding an office job. 

You see, I made the mistake of starting my victory dance a few months ago.  I had the kids teachers, strangers in restaurants, parents in play groups, etc. complimented.  I was the mom people called "together" or "organized".  No longer. The whistle blew and I've been penalized for excessive celebration. God took me down a peg and now this little control freak is having to learn how to roll with punches and frankly, I'm getting tired of the bruises.

So why am I losing it?  I can't tell you folks.  I don't know.  I've just turned a new corner and this little Alice is ready to leave this part of Wonderland.  William has become my misdirected energy/bad attitude/smart mouth/disrespectful son and Elizabeth is my mood-swing/increasing tantrums/incredibly clingy/I'm-starting-to-wonder-if-she-has-some-kind-of-sensory-issue daughter.  I know kids have their good and bad days and I was handling it.  But this past couple weeks, EVERY DAY one of them gave me trouble.  They were kind enough to alternate days so it wasn't both at the same time, but that was little comfort.  I honestly began to think, "Okay, I suck at this job.  I will put get them back in with a caregiver who can help them better than I can."  I felt defeated, deflated and tired.  Why?  Here's a snapshot:

William as of late:
Me - William get up it's a school Day.
William - I'm too tired.
Me - Too bad, time to get up.
William - NOOOOO!   It's too cold!
Me - Put some clothes on and you'll be warm.  No one asked you to sleep in your undies.
William - But my LEGS HURT.
Me - Get up and dressed and I'll give you some Tylenol.  Now move.
William - BUT I'M STARVING!!!
Me- So get up and you can eat.  Now, stop shouting, quit complaining about being tired when you choose to stay awake during nap time, put some clothes on and come downstairs when you can be polite to me.  I'm getting your sister ready and heading downstairs.
William (hysterical) - DON'T GO DOWNSTAIRS WITHOUT ME, I'M SCARED!!!
Me - So. Calm. Down. Get. Dressed. LISTEN and come with me.  I'm done with the attitude.  Get moving. NOW.
William - but I'm too TIRED!
I can't take it anymore and start walking downstairs.  William's yelling turns to a fever-pitched-cry-yell combo
This little event will repeat itself with the conversation variants revolving around his goofing off rather than brushing his teeth and putting on socks and shoes for school, cleaning up toys and using the potty before naps, cleaning up toys and feeding the dog before dinner and heading up stairs for bath and stories before bed.  I'm thinking of buying a whistle at this point and teaching him some basic whistle commands like in drill team because my voice just can't take much more.

Now a recent snapshot of miss Elizabeth:
She wakes in the morning totally happy and first words out of her mouth, "we have to take Bubba to school today?"
Me - yup.  (I begin carrying her toward the bathroom and she goes jelly-like in my arms and her voice is instantly in the glass-shattering range)
Elizabeth - NOOOOOO!  I don't have to go potty!  Nooooooo!  Noooooo! (the cries are only stopped by the "singing" of her potty because she has IN FACT gone pee).
Me - Good job, let me get your undies.
Elizabeth - I don't have to POOOOOOP!  I poop in a diaper.
Me - I said nothing about poop.  I'm getting your undies and clothes, calm down.
Elizabeth - I don't want clothes.  Can I be a princess?
Me - No sweety, it's FREEZING outside.  When we get back from taking Bubba, you can be in a costume.
Elizabeth - I want to be NAY-KEEEEEE (naked).  She's now running around sans pants, not wiped, dripping pee all over my bathroom.
Me - Elizabeth SIT DOWN.  I tell you every day.  Sit down on the potty and wait for mommy. 
She explodes into a puddle of tears, drool, snot and is lying face down on the floor.  I wipe her, wrestle undies and clothes onto her and she suddenly bear hugs me getting her tear/snot/spit combo all over my hair, cheek and shirt.
Elizabeth - you happy mommy?  Don't be mad.
Me - Elizabeth, I just need you to focus and listen to...
I stop.  She can't even hear me.  She's distracted by something.  This child who cannot BEAR the sound of the hairdryer, car wash, blender, food processor or sometimes just the sound of her brother talking or singing is suddenly deaf.  She honestly can't hear a word I say.  I clap really loudly and she snaps back to me, jumping out of her skin.
Me- ELIZABETH.  Focus.  Look in my eyes.  Are you listening to me?
It's too late.  She's entered another dimension.  She can't hear me anymore.  I tell her to wash her hands and have to physically pull her back into the bathroom because she has not heard me and she collapses from my touch screaming "OW!!!"
This is my whole day with her.  She's either speaking in a volume so incredibly loud I need earplugs or plugging her own ears and shouting "stop it!  that hurts my ears!!!"  She's playing with other kids one minute and then commanding them to leave her alone the next.  She turns on a dime.  And eating with her now is torture.  She no longer has her vomiting issue, but she still has issues putting too much in her mouth and then being totally confused by her gag reaction.  She still spits out certain textures.  She still has trouble handling her utensils.  She still has trouble realizing when she's full.  And potty training?  Forget it.  Pee is fine, but poop is another story.  She honestly cannot figure out her bowels in a seated position.  She can do it standing with a diaper on.  But seated?  Nope.  She makes noises and is confused as to why it's not working.  She cannot figure out how to use her body to do it.  I'm at the point where I'm just waiting.  Is it a control issue?  Is it her constant trouble with constipation?  Or is it something bigger along with the noises and food that I'll have to address with a doctor?  I don't know.  I'm too tired to figure it out right now.

And William?  Is it just being 5 1/2 that makes him run around like a crazy person, disrespect Mike and I, be in constant look-at-me mode and fight incessantly during play dates?  Or do I need to do something different?  I don't know.

I'm so tired right now the answers elude me.  I'm treading water, hoping to get the strength to swim again soon.  After all, it could be worse.  I could have a child with major special needs.  I could have been barren.  I could be struggling through a horrible marriage on top of all this.  But I was able to conceive.  I don't think my kids have special needs.  I'm in a happy marriage.  I have to remember that.  As my friend Monica says... "just keep swimming, just keep swimming..."