Friday, September 5, 2014

Sweet and Sour

     Back when we were camping in Colorado, the kids befriended two boys who were camping in the campsite next to us.  They taught our kids a new game called "Sweet and Sour".  The way it goes is simple: you wave at a passing car and if the occupants wave back, they're sweet.  If they don't wave back, they're sour.  I had mixed feelings about this game, since I usually go to considerable lengths to avoid any type of social interactions with strangers (and at times, even acquaintances.) My kids, thankfully, did not inherit that inclination from me and surprised me with their bravado. They had buckets of it.  They waved at travelers passing in the campground, they waved at people on the trails, they waved at cars on the highway in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. They were endlessly optimistic in their search for the "sweet", crowing with delight whenever someone waved back.

     In the weeks since we've gotten back from vacation, I think they've mostly forgotten the game.  But I haven't.  I've found myself spending the past few weeks going throughout my days mentally labeling my interactions with people as "sweet" or "sour": the man who held the door open for me at the bank- sweet. The checker at the grocery store- sour.  Roo, when I pick her up from Kindergarten- sweet.  My Facebook newsfeed- sour, sour, sour.  (Seriously, what was going on yesterday? I was mentally exhausted and cranky after reading through it.)

     Here's a silly insight: the more I paid attention to the sweet and sour in my life, the more I started to appreciate the sweet.  What's more, the sour affected me less.  If nothing else, I was motivated to be even more sweet in the face of sour. (I think that's actually a trick I learned back in my waitressing days, but I must have forgotten it since).

    Anyway, I'm not sure why I feel the need to relate all this.  I think I just want to say that it's easy to get sucked into the vortex of the sour, especially if your Facebook newsfeed has been as argumentative and depressing as mine has been.  I don't think we humans were ever really supposed to be subject to that many opinions and information at once.  And while I'm not saying that I'm going to stick my head in the sand, I am going to stay in the present and focus on what matters right now:
I'm going to keep my political opinions to myself.
I'm going to do my best to be kind and help people right here in my community.
I'm going to pray for the things that I have no control of.
I am going to stay sweet.

I hope you all stay sweet, too. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Back to School Night

     Almost every year since I began this blog, I've written a back-to-school post.  I told you guys all about PG's disastrous first day of school drop-off, I related to you J's puking episode in Kindergarten Jesus, and I got all sappy-sentimental with this post from a few years ago.  This year, though, I got nothing.  The first few days were a cake walk.   The most controversial occurrences were the eye rolls I got from the older two when I forced them to stand still in front of their classrooms for a picture.  I had barely taken it before they waved and ran off towards the playground.
That's J's "You have exactly 2 seconds to take the picture." smile.
     As for Roo, parents stay with the Kindergartners on the first day.  I had thought that leaving her on the second day would be hard since every time the teacher mentioned it, I had to do that blinky-tilt-my-head-back thing to keep the tears on the inside of my eyeballs.  But then the second morning came, and together we hung her backpack on the play yard.  Then she gave me a kiss, ran off to play with her friends, and I was left standing there on the playground feeling...... really okay.  No lumps in my throat, no tears blurring my vision, no emotional flashbacks to her sweet babyhood.  I'm a tough nut.
     By the way, it helped that I was recovering from a rough morning. Thirty minutes prior, I had been shouting things like  "The train is leaving the station in 5 minutes, people! I suggest you find your shoes and get them ON your body!!!" Friends, there is nothing like morning madness to suck the sentimentality out of leaving your kids. Nothing.

     Anyway, all this to say that this year, there was no story to be had from the kids' first day of school.

     There is however, a story to be told from Back to School Night.

     Back to School Night nowadays is nothing like when our parents attended back in the day.  If your upbringing was like mine, Back to School Night was always scheduled a few weeks after school started. Your parents probably left you with a sitter and drove to your school, where they sat in your little desks and listened to your teacher talk and answer questions for an hour or so.  The agenda looked something like this:
                         6:00 Principal's Message
                         6:15-7:00 Teacher's Message in Classrooms

     That's it.  If there were two of you kids at the same school, your parents probably split up to each attend a classroom.  Then they went home. (Actually, my parents probably took advantage of the sitter and went out to dinner.)  The whole thing seems kind of calm and relaxing to me.

     Our Back to School Night is a much different affair. At my children's school, it's always scheduled before school starts.   There is no sitter.  Everybody goes to find out who their teacher is and visit their classroom.  The agenda looks like this:

                        4:30- Class lists posted (Translation: Fight the 900 other families for a spot in the parking lot and then muscle your way to the class lists to find your childrens' names and teachers. Also, stop to greet friends you haven't seen in a while.  Do this in a large crowd while keeping track of your multiple children and your spouse, who grows irritated with you every time you stop to chat. 
                         5:00- 5:45-  First Session with Teachers, Grades K,1, and 2 (Translation: Begin the "Filling Out of the Forms" while simultaneously listening to the teacher describe your child's day and their policies.  If you're an old timer like me, you tune out the teacher because you've already been through this twice so it's cool if you just focus on the "Filling Out of the Forms"- until you catch a snippet of the teacher saying something that sounds totally unfamiliar and you feel like a loser for being cocky. )
                         5:45-6:30- Activity Sign-Ups and T-Shirt Sales in the MPR (Translation: Go stand in a forever line to buy school T-shirts that your kids don't really need.  Get to the front of the line to discover that they ran out of the size and style that your child wants.   Argue with your children about whether or not they really need to join the Roadrunner Running Club which meets at an ungodly hour before school starts.  Continue to irritate your spouse by running into and chatting with friends.
                       6:30-7:15- Second Session with Teachers, Grades 3, 4, and 5. (Translation: Split up with your spouse.  Pray he takes good notes on the doings of child #2's teacher while you attend child #1's class.  Continue with the "Filling Out of the Forms".  Start to worry about your mind when you realize you're listing the wrong allergies for the wrong child on the wrong form.  Realize that half the parents in the room are shaking their heads, crossing things out, and muttering to themselves.  Feel better about yourself.  Give up on filling out forms and decide to finish it all up at home. 
Overwhelming mess.....
Ba-BAM! Now it's 3 neatly organized and signed packets.  Moms are  awesome. 

    At 7:30 it's all over.  You take your tired and hungry kids to Rubio's for dinner, which is crowded with all the other families from school who are also taking all their tired and hungry kids to dinner.  Your spouse continues to be irritated with you for chatting it up, but you toss him a burrito and he's appeased.  The last two hours have been filled with nervousness, anxiety, information, excitement and chaos.  You go home and pour yourself a well-deserved glass of wine.

     So you see.  Very different experience.  Is it just me, or do we complicate things a lot more now?  School is practically a job.  I even received homework already.
Dear Teacher, my goal is to not resent you for forcing me to set a goal. 

     This morning PG said to me "Mom, I just realized something sad.  When you were going to school, you had to get up early every day.  Then you had kids, and just because we're going to school, you STILL have to get up early every day."

     Well, yes.  And in between my high school graduation and the birth of my first child 13 years later, there was this thing that I had called a career, and before that was an experience known as college, and multiple other meaningless jobs along the way which required me to get up early.  But I didn't tell her any of that.  I'll go ahead and rack up the pity points and let her think that school is the be-all-end-all of my existence.  That's how it felt at the end of Back To School Night, anyway.


Friday, August 15, 2014

Dream Warrior

     It rained every day on our vacation.  Normally rain and camping aren't my favorite combination, but I didn't mind it so much on this past trip.  It rained mostly at night, and I was surprised to find that I love the sound of rain drops falling on a tent just as much as I love the sound of them hitting my bedroom window back at home.

     One night, after listening to a thunderstorm pass overhead, I was having trouble falling back asleep.  There I laid wide awake in my sleeping bag, when PG sat straight up.

     "I have NO idea how to do this.", she declared loudly.  Her voice had a touch of tween-ish attitude we've been experiencing lately, so my response to her was a bit curt:

     "Do what? What are you talking about?"

      "I don't know how to capture this tree." I relaxed a little and a smile spread across my face.  It's always fun for me to catch a loved one talking in their sleep.  I wanted to get as much out of this conversation as I possibly could.

      "Why do you need to capture the tree?" I asked her.  She mumbled something of which I could only hear part of, which is unfortunate, because judging from the bits I did catch- something about "the animals" and "courage"- it was likely a very entertaining answer.

     Now, I don't know what she was dreaming.  She didn't remember anything the next morning when I asked her about it.  She had just finished reading Tolkien's The Hobbit a few hours prior to her bedtime, so I imagine her dream was influenced by the fictional world of faeries and dwarves and Hobbit adventures that she had just left.  So it was in the spirit of those adventures, with her subconscious wide open to me, that I reached out to squeeze her hand and tell her, "Don't give up.  I know you'll find a way to take that tree."

     She nodded and then slowly lay her head back down upon her pillow.  I watched her for a moment and then rested my head too.  And before I closed my eyes, I wished that my daughter, that night in her dreams, would know victory.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Muses and Demons

     For the last week, I've been writing blog posts in my head.  I've been talking to you guys about so many things, most of them sad, because it seems that's mostly what the world is filled with lately.  But then, before I could get time with my laptop, some other tragedy or horror was announced, and whatever imagined prior conversations I was having became moot as new thoughts and conversations pushed the old ones aside.  I have such a jumble of thoughts to express right now.  So I'm turning off the news in an attempt to force any new atrocity to wait.  I'm putting in my earbuds.  I'm closing my bedroom door and hoping that the Muse shows up-the one that helps me funnel my thoughts onto this trail of words that are being forged by this blinking cursor.
     Muses are real.  Did you know that?  I can feel them.  I think everyone can if they pay close enough attention when they are doing something that they feel passionate about.  However, to be honest with you, I think it's the absence of a Muse that proves their existence to me more than anything else.  A friend once told me that she could tell from reading my posts that "writing comes easily" to me.  Easily, HA! When I can get into a "zone", when I feel the inspiration that allows me to express myself, when my "Muse"-if you will- shows up, then yes, it is easier, but it never feels easy.  It feels like labor, but in the end, I usually have something to show for it.  Sometimes I'm even proud of that thing.  It makes it worth it.  However, when the Muse doesn't show up, when I sit and stare at a screen, when minutes tick by with nothing accomplished, when structuring every sentence is torture- that feels more like a stillbirth.
    I think creative geniuses have lots of Muses, and I think they are good at accessing them.  They know what music, what mindset, what physical setting will call forth their creativity.  They hone these skills over time, but it's my opinion that they're born with their minds and spirits wired for it.  The door between the creative realm and reality swings easily for them.
    Yesterday, with the news of Robin Williams' passing, it occurred to me that the door that allows one's Muse to pass through admits more than just creative inspiration.  It also admits demons.  I don't know why, but doesn't it seem that the price for the amount of beauty and creativity one puts into the world is paid it's weight in the amount of demons one has to battle? How many artists, how many actors, how many writers and poets can we name that are notorious for not just their talent, but for the demons they've battled? It makes me wonder if demons and muses are cousins. Maybe twins. (Twins makes sense.  It goes with good and evil, yin and yang, the paradoxes that are entwined all over the mysteries and understandings of our world.)
      I know this is a silly fantasy, but often when I hear about someone passing by their own hand,  I wish that I had the power to time travel back and show myself to them like a Dicken's ghost.  I wished this yesterday.  I wished I could have shown Mr. Williams how loved he is.  I wished that I could have shown him the world without him in it, so he could've seen how much he's being missed. I wished I could have made him understand that he wasn't really alone, that it was only the demons talking extra loud.   But then I realize it may not have even mattered. Maybe knowing all that would not have been enough.  Maybe he was just tired- tired of battling the demons everyday.  Or, maybe he was just weary of living in this world.  I understand that.  I'm weary today too.  There's a war in Israel, a Christian genocide happening in Iraq, people are beheading children and spiking their heads for the sake of their own God, and we sit in our living rooms and view it all on YouTube.

God help us all, and I mean that.

But then, also today, I read Anne's Lamott's Facebook post in which she reminded us that laughter is just carbonated holiness.  I like to think about laughter that way.  And I think about all the carbonated holiness that Mr. Williams brought into the world.  I'm thankful for it, and I'm planning to drink it in whenever I watch his movies.  I'm going to throw my head back and let all that beautiful holiness roll out of me in the form of laughter, and I'm going to think his name into the Universe, and I'm going to thank his Muse, and I'll be glad for him that his Demons can't torture him any more.

Rest in peace, O captain, my captain.

Monday, July 7, 2014

How To Be Responsible With Your Library Card

Back when I was in sixth grade, I checked out the "The Witch of Blackbird Pond" from the Buena Vista Library in Burbank.  Then I never turned it back in and I lived my middle school and high school years in terror of police showing up at my door and dragging me off to jail for my crime.  The day after my high school graduation is the day I left Burbank, and I remember  thinking about that book as I was driving away from Griffith Park and the Disney Studios.  I felt both guilty and relieved- like I had gotten away with something.

(That's a true story, and for those of you who don't believe that a mix of that much dorkiness and goody-two-shoeness can exist in a single human, I'm here to assure you that it can, and has.)

Fast forward 22 years.  J and Roo want their own library cards.  PG has had one for a few years, so I give them the same spiel I gave PG.... it's a privilege, they have to be responsible for their own books, if they get a fine it comes out of their own wallets, etc, etc.  We check out books.  Two weeks pass.  We troop back to the library to return their books.

The kids put all their books back in the deposit.  I start fishing through my purse looking for their library cards.  I can't find them.  I remember that I changed purses last week, so they must be in there.   I realize that the only card I have is Matt's (and when he ever did step into the library to get a card remains a mystery to me).  I decide that we can check out new books using Matt's card.  I hand the card to the librarian and she hands it back and tells me that there are twenty-five dollars in overdue fees on the card.  They date back to 2012.  She shows me the book titles.  I vaguely remember checking the books out.  Shoot.  I can't blame Matt for this one.

I decide to model accountability to the children.  Since the library takes cash only, and I'm only carrying $5 dollars, we drive to the nearest gas station where I buy a water and get $20 cash back.  The gas station charges me an additional dollar for the trouble of using my ATM card, which I find ironic since I'm only using my card at the gas station because the library won't take it.  I'm irritated.  I shrug it off.

We return to the library.

A new librarian greets us and takes the payment.  We give her the books we would like to check out.  She then informs us that Matt's card needs to be updated and that he needs to be there to do it.  We still can't check out any books.

I grit my teeth and tell her that since Matt is not here, and since I don't have my card OR the kid's cards, I'll pay the $1 replacement cost for my card.  I am determined to check out library books.  I am responsible!  My children are responsible!  We love reading!  We love the library!

Now the librarian informs me that my card has $30 in overdue charges on it.  This time, they date back to 2010.

I give up.  We trudge back to the car empty handed.

I set out on this trip to the library wanting to show my kids a love of reading, and we came back without books.

I wanted to show them how to be responsible with their cards, and I couldn't find any of our cards.

I wanted to show them how to be responsible with their books and I had racked up $50 in overdue fines.

The lesson here is that if you want to know how to be responsible with your library card, just watch me and then do the exact opposite.  Also, it's clear that I'm probably suffering bad juju leftover from The Witch of Blackbird Pond, so if anyone happens to know how to cleanse my bad library vibes, let me know.  Thanks.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

In Other News...

You guys.  It's like E!News Central around here.  The air in this household is abuzz with gossip. Hushed murmurs abound.  You wouldn't even believe the vibe here.

9 has a girlfriend.

Before I go on, let me stop and say that I am NOT writing this simply to announce on a mom blog that my teenage stepson has a girlfriend.  That would be stupid and lah-ame for a variety of reasons. It'd also be boring because it's not really anything special.  That's what teenagers do, right? They date.  9 has had girlfriends before.  So this is not news, and this is not what I am writing about.  I repeat, this is not what I am writing about. What I am writing about is the reaction of my family members to the change in 9's relationship status.  It's bananas.  The drama!  The excitement! The betrayal! (I'll get to the betrayal thing in a minute.)

It started a few weeks ago with a text that Matt sent me.  It said "9 just told me that he has a gf."

The thing is, that though he meant to text it to me, he accidentally texted it to 9.  And 9 was all "Uh, did you mean to send this to someone else?" So then Matt had to explain himself and kind of apologize.


Then the kids found out.

Pg is totally laid back and whatever about it.  J doesn't understand why 9 would want to date a girl because in J's world, all the love stuff is stupid and embarrassing.  Whenever we tease J about getting married someday, he insists that he won't because (and this is a direct quote) he "wants to have a happy life." So, clearly Matt and I have been a wonderful model of love and marriage for him.

In fact, if I had to guess about which kid, if any, would have a problem with 9 having a girlfriend, I would've guessed J.  A few years ago, at Knott's Berry Farm, 9 got pulled out of an audience to take part in a shotgun wedding skit in which he was forced to "marry" a man dressed as a hillbilly bride.  9 had fun with it and was playing it up.  I was laughing so hard that I had tears coming out of my eyes, until I looked down at J and discovered that he was crying for real.  He thought 9 was really getting married off and leaving us.

So you can imagine my surprise when it turned out that Roo is the one child who is having the hardest time accepting this little change.  I was totally unaware of her feelings because if the subject ever came up, she stayed pretty quiet.  However, yesterday 9 was home from his summer camp job for the first time in 6 days and Roo announced at the dinner table that she was calling a family meeting.  She took the floor and hmmed and ha'd for what seemed like forever.

"Um, I really want to ask 9 a question?  But I'm embarrassed too?" She was shuffling her feet and staring at the floor.   I had a feeling that since the question was directed at 9, it would have something to do with his girlfriend.  I said a quick prayer that she wasn't going to ask anything that I didn't want to know the answer to, and told her that it was okay.
"I feel really weird about this." she said.
"Well, you called the meeting Roo, so spit it out."
"Oooooooooookay.  Fine. 9.  Is it true that you have a girlfriend?" she asked.
9 smiled and said "Yes, it's true. I have a girlfriend."
Roo made this weird groaning sound and then she took a deep breath and asked "Is it true that her name is Lily?"
9 said, "Yes, it's true that her name is Lily."

And then Roo got this embarrassed smile on her face and ran from the room.  9 and I exchanged "What was that?" expressions as I left the room to follow Roo.  I found her in her bedroom, laying on the floor, with her feet up on the wall.  I asked her what was going on.

"I'm never talking to 9 again."she said.

"What? Why not?"

"I don't know.  Because I feel weird."

"Because his girlfriend has the same name as you?"

"No!  I just feel weird."

I tried to reason.  "Um, okay.  You know, he would still talk to you if you had a friend named Kynen."

I got an eye-roll response, so I shrugged, turned, and walked away.  I was half way down the hall when I heard her get up, stomp to 9's doorway, and loudly proclaim to him "I am NOT happy for you!"

Then she stomped back to her room and slammed the door.

I walked to 9's room.  "Did she just tell you that she is not happy for you?"

He was still laughing. "Yes."

"Oh, PLEASE can I write about this?"

He told me to go ahead.  He's a good sport about stuff like this.

What cracks me up is that if 9 ever decided to bring this girl around us, it wouldn't be me or Matt she would have to impress.  To win Roo over, this girl better show up with really cool hair and makeup, glitter or sequins somewhere on her outfit, and she had better know the words and harmonies to each and every song from Frozen.  It'd be for her own good, because truly.......

does this look like a face you'd want to mess with?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

This Is Summer, This Is My Brain On Summer

Hallelujah, the summer days are upon us!  School let out 6 days ago and though it feels like it's been much, much longer than that, it's (surprisingly) not because my family has been driving me nuts here at home.  In fact, they've been dreamy and by dreamy, I mean half of them have been gone.  9 is working a job up at a summer camp in Big Bear, PG is at her third year of camp at Hume Lake, and Mr.C has been at a three day planning committee thing that he's repeatedly explained the purpose of and I've repeatedly forgotten.  So, it's been me and the littlest of the littles and they spend most of the day deeply entrenched in imaginary play.  Here's a pic I snapped of them this afternoon:

Part of me worries that J is getting too old to get so lost in his imagination.  I wonder if he shouldn't be a little more self-conscious or embarrassed to don the crazy outfits he comes up with, if he shouldn't play more sports, if I should ask that he spends more time here in the real world with us.  Then I remember that I am an advocate for stories and storytelling and that I have a son who spends most of his time bringing all the stories in his head to life and that most of the famous and talented artists and storytellers that I know of speak of spending their childhoods in much the same way.  When I remember that, I feel better about it. (Not much, but enough to make me worry less.  Because worrying is apparently what I do.  I know.  I'm just as annoyed by it as you are.)

Anyway, I got off track.  I was explaining why this week has felt so long.  It's not because being trapped in the house with the kids has made it feel has been the case in some past years (ahem, I'm looking at you 2004-2011, aka "the baby years").   It's just that the lack of schedule has turned my time into a long, meandering tunnel of no demands that opens up into a vast, sunny meadow of no obligations.  With this, I have no problem except for the fact that it's messing with my writing.  Without a schedule, my brain is on like a hippie free-flow drive and I can't focus on getting one common theme to thread into an interesting post.  So, forgive me this twisty-twirly post.  It's just reflecting summer's effect on my mind.

I guess if I had to pick a theme for this post, it'd be hair, which I know is cheap because my last post was about hair, but I can't help it if the Universe chose this week to make hair a theme in our household.  Besides, part of what made hair a theme this week was the aftereffect of the great bang massacre that I wrote about last week, and I'll explain all of this in a moment (I'll be honest with you- it's not that interesting, especially now that I've built it up), but I first need to point out that if hair was not a theme before, it most certainly is now, if for no other reason than the fact that I've now typed the word "hair"SIX times in just this one paragraph.

So.  Let's talk about hair.

Roo crawled into bed with me the other morning.  I happened to be Googling "Rockabilly Bandanna Hairstyles" because I was looking for a way to hide my bangs and a bandanna seemed like a good place to start.  (By the way, my sweet friend Alisha commented on the last blog that I should just "sweep my bangs to the side" until they grew out.  Dear Alisha, "sweep" is a word that suggests an element of elegance, and I assure you, there is nothing elegant about what happens when I try to "sweep" the hot mess that lays on my forehead to the side.  I'm sorry.  And I love you for trying to help.)

Anyway, Roo watched a few tutorials with me and asked me if I could give her "Rosie the Riveter" hair for the day.  I have to say, I love this about my Roo.  She Loves (capital L intentional) hair and makeup.  I remember exactly when this obsession started.  It was Halloween a few years ago, in which we dressed the kids as Lock, Shock and Barrel.  She was Barrel, the Skeleton, and as I sponged the white face makeup onto her face, she was absolutely enthralled.  Not like giddy, happy enthralled; more like serious, all of her senses open to the experience, taking it all in enthralled.  She loved the nearness of the other person's face as they patted her makeup on and filled in her eyeliner.  She loved following my directions of "blink" or "close your eyes" or "stick out you lips".  For months after, she relived all of it through her play.  I spent quite a lot of time letting her apply fake makeup to my face, the soft puffs of her breath on my nose as she ran a soft brush across my eyelids, giving me directions on opening or closing my eyes and alternately holding a mirror up to my face.  She a girly-girl for sure, but for her, it's about the transformation.  She loves it. So naturally when she saw the tutorial for Rockabilly Bandanna hair, she was interested.  And when I did it for her, I nearly died from the cuteness.

I've always regretted not being part of the Rockabilly Movement (was it really a movement, or just a trend?).  I may be able to live vicariously through my Roo though.

Here's the other part of hair in our household this week: J got his head shaved.  Here's the before and after.

When I was looking at this picture, I realized that the before picture is exactly how I fear J is going to look in the future after he's moved out and doesn't have to listen to me tell him how to take care of himself: scraggly hair, food on his face, and wonky eyed.  I think it's his default look, lord help me.

Now that I've written close to a thousand words about pretty much nothing (I'm so sorry), let me leave you with this one last thing.  Yesterday I was vacuuming PG's room when I came across a ring of index cards filled with quotes.  I guess her teacher had them write a quote a day and keep them on a ring in their desk.  Maybe I'm just feeling extra sentimental from missing her while she's away, but reading that ring of quotes made me just fall in love with her teacher.  That one little activity didn't have much to do with math or reading or writing, but what a beautiful way to teach children perspective.  I got a little teary-eyed reading through them.  No one should dare say anything against educators to me for quite a while- this one act has made me feel fiercely protective of them.

So, I leave you with this one quote from my daughter's ring full from her fourth grade year: "Today, me will live in the moment... unless it's unpleasant, in which case me will eat a cookie." -Cookie Monster

I'm going to make that my motto for the summer.  No plans.  Just living in the moment, and when life gets rough, I'll have a cookie.

Have a great night.