Thursday, December 15, 2011

Praying for Grace...and More Bad Dreams

Chaucer has attention deficit disorder.  It is fairly severe.  After I learned more about it, he perfectly fits the standard definition, a classic case.  His body simply can’t be still.  
Since he was able to get out of his crib, he moves through the night.  I would say he doesn’t wake up, but, now that he is almost 9, he can tell you what time he moved from his bed.  He has found different spots over the years - in the hallway, on the couch, in our doorway.  But his most visited spot is on the floor next to me.  He curls up in a little pile of blankets, and sleeps.  My husband used to fight this, but it was a battle I made him give up, because he was fighting not only Chaucer, but me. 
My son has never been a snuggler, which has led to hours of me wondering where I went wrong.  Now, cerebrally, I understand that he can’t be still, his body feels trapped.  He gets anxious. His building of his little nest and need to be close to me fed me as much as it fed him.  He wanted to just be close. To know that I was close, and I needed to know he needed me as his mother.  Often he is gone before morning, without my ever being aware he was there.  When I wake, I know.  I can smell him, feel him, but he is gone, like a phantom.  In the winter, he moves around 5:30 or 6 into the living room where he turns on the gas fireplace and curls on the floor and dozes.  In the summer, he often goes outside.  This summer, his choice spot was in front of the tomatoes he was growing.   
Steve travels many nights, and I often find my room littered with kids or their trails.  There may be one or two on the floor, or one or two in my bed.  Or a blanket or bear or doll left behind that sells out my kids.  This is a terrible habit they have, and I know I should do more to stop it.  The girls don’t do it when my husband is in town, because he gets grumpy about it.  Chaucer, however faithfully, usually visits for a few hours even when Steve is in town. 
Somewhere in the deep of the night last night, there was a body snuggling, maybe.  It felt like an an assertive, if not aggressive snuggle. It was as if Chaucer were trying to literally crawl back into my womb.  His head was in my neck, and his knees burrowed into my stomach, and he grabbed my arm to wrap around his body. He wasn’t crying or talking, he never does.  Truth be told, I am not a cuddler when I am sleeping either.  In my half dream, barely alert state, I fell back into a full sleep.  
Around six, my older daughter comes in our room to take a shower.  (Yes, our kids have their own shower, and there is a third shower in our house.  And another half bath with a sink.  But they all shower and bathe and brush teeth in our bathroom.)  I stir and something feels weird.  Was I dreaming I was pregnant?  I feel pregnant.  Then I realize my son is still not only in bed with me, but still locked into his position next to me, like a baby kangaroo in a pouch.  
I am awake enough to enjoy it, relish it really.  I have to go to the bathroom so bad, but I don’t want to lose this.  I want to rub his head, rub my hands all over his little body, kiss him, and eat him really.   But I don’t move.  He rolls over onto his back and stretches out.  Only his left arm and left leg are touching me now.  I really have to go to the bathroom, but I know this is borrowed time.  I let myself rub his head, and maybe a leg, and an arm.  Just like that, he is tossing and moving, a prisoner to the lack of hormone connections in his brain.  He somehow flips into a position where his head is on the other side of the bed, but both of his feet are on my stomach, and he stills again.  
His little feet move with a twitch or two, just as they did when I was pregnant.  But they are big feet, warm feet.  It’s like a fire in bed, warming my heart.  I know he needs me, loves me.  He has never been expressive.  He was never the little mama’s boy, never the three year old that wrote notes saying I love you.  He did however used to say that he was going to marry Mommy, so I hold on to that.  
I asked why he was there, even though I know the answer.  It has happened before.  “I had a bad dream.”  
“What was it?”  
“I don’t remember now.”  
Sometimes he remembers, sometimes he doesn’t.  Because of his over activity, people always assume he is tough and not needy.  Even I do this sometimes.  He has always had the worst dreams, or needed the most comfort.  Movies have always scared him.  Even now, one of those Christmas movies - is it Rudolph? has a scary snow monster that prevents him from watching it. 
I love the kids in my bed and in our room.  I know more than ever now that it will not last.  Soon enough, the little nest by my bed will stay empty forever.  Already, there are nights when it is.  But I think thats more getting ready for Santa.  
Last night, a friend posted a picture of her daughter who is fifteen.  She looked.... well, grown.  My daughter is 11 1/2.  Less than 4 years from that.  My son will be nine in January.  How much longer do I have him coming to me in the night?  Each time, I wonder if it was the last.  I am glad I think like this, but I am also glad I don’t know the answer.  The answers to hard questions.. like when was the last time I held them on my hip? or the last time I nursed? or when will be the last time I see their little naked bodies? Or the last time they say “lellow” for  yellow or “becktast” for breakfast?  
I don’t think I could bear to know these answers. 
Thank God I am learning that they will always need me.  Of course, it will look different as they grow older.  May God give me the grace to embrace their changes and grow in my motherhood.  
And, naughtily, I pray for a few more bad dreams.  

Friday, December 9, 2011

A Man's Reach Should Exceed His Grasp

Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp. Or what's a heaven for? 
                         - Robert Browning
A couple of weeks ago, my daughter’s teacher was reviewing her reading for the month.  They are required to read a certain number of pages each month.  This started to annoy me, but if you put more than one second of thought into it, you realize there are no perfect ways to quantify something as elusive, personal and individual as a love of reading. 
Of course, she had read the required amount.  This is a battle we have never had to fight with her.  I am not talking about reading, but getting her work done.  She is a hard worker, very conscientious.  
I could picture her teacher, sitting on her stool, at the front of the room, with her roll away table pulled up to her, maybe with a computer, maybe not.  Her teacher has taught 5th grade at this school for 28 years, but doesn’t look like she has been teaching that long.  Her wisdom helps me believe, though.  I wouldn’t call her soft spoken; she is decidedly strong and confident in anything she says.  However, she never raises her voice.  
Chloe had most recently read the first in a series of books.  She told me that her teacher had told her to stay away from those books - they were too hard for her.  Although Chloe received 100% in the overall category, her teacher had marked that she had not chosen appropriately leveled books to read.  
I’m absolutely positive that the teacher did this discreetly, not only because I know her, but because that would have been the first thing Chloe told me if it weren’t the case.  

She picked the book because many of her friends were reading it - one of the biggest reasons I choose to read a book. It is fun to talk about with your friends, a way to bond.  
Dyslexia has hampered her ability to bond, to be a part of the group in so many ways.  Last year, her teacher told us she was passing notes in class to the point of disruption.  I have no doubt that she didn’t appreciate our inability to hide our joy in her joining the ranks of the girly note writers.  For years, her ability and then her confidence was a barrier to this  important social step.  

Every mother knows how heartbreaking it is to watch your child hurt and not be able to do anything to assuage the pain.  The knowledge of how hard she has tried, and struggled with reading over the years, reminds me now that this wound is, after all these years, still open and raw. 

As Chloe shared this with me, I listened.  A sensitive subject, always, but there was more.  A new thread.  A new discovery about herself.  And the world.  “I understood most of the book.  Maybe not all of it.  But I finished it, and I enjoyed it.”
A pause.  Thoughts swirling in her head.  I don’t push.  I don’t try to fix it or comfort her.  
“You know, I don’t think I would have read the next one anyway.  But,  it doesn’t feel good being told that I can’t read more.” 
Oh so thats how you feel.  Wow.  I might have expressed those feelings more like this:  “Expletive you.  It’s a free country and I will read it if I want to.” 

I am not going to let this one sentence take over, but it deserves a nod.  There is so much in that nugget.  She took the information, and processed it.  Chloe trusts her teacher immensely, so values what she says. Instead of letting her defenses take over in a vulnerable time, she chewed on it.  She may have realized that her teacher was right.  She moved on, acknowledging the teacher’s authority.  She acknowledged her feelings, but was able to stay objective.  She would not read the series just because her friends were reading it. She tried their suggestion, and realized it didn’t work for her, for whatever reason.  Their is so much valuable information in her observation: trust, insight, strength, processing, expression, courage.  

Man, am I glad I don’t allow electronic devices in our car these days.  I may not have had this conversation with her. 
Within a week, my son, who is also dyslexic, had a similar experience with his teacher.  He was walking up to check out a book in the library and his teacher asked to look at it.  According to him, she shook her head and said, “I don’t think so, Chaucer.”  
He is not as much of a reporter as my girls, so the mere mention of this lets me know how it has affected him.  He had started the conversation with, “Have you ever heard of a book called The Fourth Stall?” 
He doesn’t like to talk too much about these things, so I casually acknowledged, “That doesn’t sound like it felt very good to you,” and I googled it on the computer and pulled up a You Tube video of the author answering questions about the book.  We watched the interview, his attention never wavering.  At the end he said in an apparently sassy tone, but I know the voice was protecting him, “Yeah, that sounds good but too bad I can’t read it.”  
He was still hurt.  I couldn’t kiss this one away, so I continued.  I pulled up sample pages on Amazon, pulled him in my lap, and asked him to read.  It took less than a paragraph for him to realize that his teacher was right in her assessment, if not soft in her delivery.  
“O.K. This is too hard.  Could we get the book and you read it to me, Mom?” 
Of course, my son.  

Friday, December 2, 2011

Art Therapy

I remember reading a blog for a while and enjoying her posts and insights immensely.  Until one day, in trying to depict everyday life, she wrote something to do with boogers.  I  have never seen her in the same light.  Today, I run the same risk.  I am not actually saying anything about them.  I just want to make sure you can read the quote from the cartoon my son drew when he was upset with my husband.  It says, "I love to pick my boogers."

My youngest daughter created the following piece of art last night:

She amended it this morning.  She explained she would just use the same paper, but change it to whoever is being mean that day according to her current feelings.

I am grateful that they are able to express their feelings, rather than keeping it stuffed inside.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Why I Have Been Writing Only Emails and Making Love to My Calendar

A few weeks ago, Lindsey posted about Life’s polarities.  I’ve often thought of this before, but haven’t written or talked much about it.  This could be one of my biggest roadblocks to becoming a good, authentic author.  Many times, I don’t understand that I think or feel certain ways until I hear other people expressing it.  But sometimes, like this time, I am scared to admit it.  Scared to put it out there.  Scared of being grouped with the "flip floppers". Scared of being called out on my ambiguities.  Scared that people will think I am nuts and throw me in a psych unit.  Because that’s how I would phrase it too. 
I started this post with the admission that I am schizophrenic.  And I didn’t like it.  Using real frightening words in the wrong context or with humor scares me too much now. Much as Attention Deficit Disorder or Plantar Fasciitis or Dyslexia used to do. I didn’t want to use that word because I don’t want the universe to teach me a lesson about what that word really means.  
My grandmother, the feisty one, loved music.  She appreciated music, and appreciated those who appreciate music, more than anyone I have ever known. She said there would be far less good music in the world if there weren’t those around to appreciate it. I use this as a preface to say that I am often so frustrated that I can’t express what I am feeling as well as others can.  Why can Lindsey come up with  this:
 and I come up with this:
For the last couple of months I have only been writing emails and making love with my calendar, but whenever I can shift into my other personality, I will be back to writing some great stuff. 
Honestly, I meant what she said.  I just can’t get my exporter to work like that.  Instead of throwing in the towel when looking my mediocrity in the face, I will appreciate her words and insights.  I will be thankful that she can express it where it makes so much sense to me, even if it  doesn’t look all that neat and packaged in my life.  
Anyway, my polarity of the moment.  The past couple of months, not only has this blog for the five of you seen little writing, my books have seen less. And  my photography. I am beginning to miss them, the beauty, the ambiguity, the no right answers.  
I have been busy, not too busy, but the perfect amount of busy keeping my life in order.  I have been working on a school project and I am ON TOP OF ALL OF THOSE EMAILS. I respond to 80 percent of emails that need it, and even to some of those that require no response.  I have missed some appointments, but not because I was spacey or over scheduled.  Apples little conundrum introducing icloud erased my calendars and I simply didn’t have everything in my head.  Our calendar has been perfectly balanced for the most part.  I put much thought into every single item I type into our calendars.  It takes more time, up front, to think through the implications.  I have not been overwhelmed.  I still don’t think you would mistake me for a Type A person, but maybe.  Just maybe. (Who am I kidding?)
I like this person.  I like being the one who knows where things are, gets to places early, responds right away, knows that the projects are all running along smoothly, all papers filed, all documents written and edited, budget all set, checkbook balanced to the penny.     She doesn’t play a lot, and is always “doing” something.  She is on top of all the paperwork for the kids at school, but may not know if they had a good day or what they learned or if their feelings were hurt by a friend.  This me makes sure all the kids homework is done and ready to be turned in the following day.
My other self has ideas swirling all the time, sort of like the Pigpen character in Peanuts, except the dirt is ideas.  Seriously, one day my husband asked me what I wanted to do that day.  I explained that I always have so many ideas that I don’t know where to start.  He told me to write them down.  In less than five minutes, I had 96 ideas on the paper.  He just looked at the paper, then looked at me, then back at the paper.  He wasn’t reading it.  Then he looked back at me and said, “Is this stuff in  your head like this all the time?”  “Yep.”  He shook his head, put the paper down, and walked away saying, “Wow.”  
This person has 15,000 emails, and millions of pictures on three hard drives and one novel and one memoir started and hundreds of stories.  But not much finished.  This person walks in the woods with her kids and plays games with them and sings and laughs with them, but may forget to make dinner until we are all starving.  She laughs and giggles and keeps the kids up late on nights their dad is gone and sometimes has sleepovers in her room on school nights -- but hates the mornings after and is short tempered when the kids are crabby from too little sleep. This Mom tells the kids it doesn’t matter if they do their homework if they are playing outside in the fresh air, because these days are numbered and in November in Minnesota we are living on borrowed time before the snow comes anyway.  
My husband really likes the me I have been the last couple of months.  As I said, I like it like that too.  But I am missing the other me.  The one who writes and takes pictures and has a little more fun.  You know, the one with the really messy house and is unorganized and sometimes tells the kids to grab a dirty pair of jeans to wear to school because I didn’t wash any yet. She is begging to make an appearance.  
Yes, this is my current, as well as steadfast, polarity.  I have never been good at honoring both sides of me simultaneously.  I swing from one to the other, simply unable to be both at one time.      

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Mississippi Delta

It never fails - as I drive the last curved lap of the hills heading down into the Mississippi delta, my first glance of the flat, beautiful land that stretches as far as the eye can see gives my heart a big tug.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

I Write to Find My Way

Last spring, I went through some dark months.  I trudged through it, and found a happier way to be.  I started writing again, and discovered truths that, apparently for me, could only be discovered by writing, and digging deeper.  
I found some online friends that probably didn’t know how much they helped carry me through that time. I wasn’t able to talk to anyone in my real life for several reasons.  One of the reasons was that I couldn’t even identify what was wrong.  I was fighting ghosts.  These ladies helped me identify some things, and I felt a little more anchored by seeking out their writings.  (This is my first holiday season "knowing" these ladies.  In this week of gratitude, I am thankful for Lindsey, Pamela, Christa, and Christine. Thank you, thank you for your help this year.)
After a couple of months of focusing on myself, I expanded the circle to my family.  I created the Take Back My Family initiative, which, like life, morphed into something different than I expected, bringing unexpected peace, with a less tangible explanation. My initiative started with very specific guidelines, like eliminating most extra curricular activities and cleaning out our house.  
Roughly three months into Take Back My Family, and six months into my own journey, we are absolutely reaping the benefits.  It is far from perfect, as I’ve learned to accept most things are. We are happier than we have been in a long time.
I have long said that I hope no one finds all my writing when I die, because they will think I lived the most miserable life ever.  I have learned, mostly in the last couple of months, that I write more when I am not well.  Perhaps I write first to release, but secondly I write to find my way.  
I have blazed trails before, and it is hard work.  Sometimes I go through with a machete like tool and hack at the easier stuff, as a first go through.  Some trees have to be cut, and thrown aside.  Some take heavy lifting.  Some things grow back quickly and have to be taken care of for a second time.  Some have to be removed from their roots.  
When I write, especially this last year, I find things that I didn’t know were there.  It may appear to be painful writing, and undoubtedly it was excruciating at times. I have never (intentionally) shared my release writing, but have posted here much of my writing that helped me find my way.  
The past couple of months I haven’t written as much.  I have been living.  I have been very happily involved in some activities at my kids’ school.  I have been working on our house.  (ie: trying to ensure we don’t end up on Hoarders, the show I have never watched.) I have been slowing down.  I have been working on homework with the kids, and spending much time navigating their  learning disabilities.  I have been learning new ways to eat, much easier with more time at home.  I have been watching the kids build forts in our woods.  We built some fires at the fire pit this fall on Friday nights, and have already had many fires inside this fall.  I have watched my three dyslexic children develop confidence in their reading skills, and actually enjoy reading some books. I have lessened, if not eliminated, social obligations that weren’t fulfilling.  I have played many games of Uno and Mario Kart.  I have even read books that were not self help or memoirs.  Mindless murder mysteries just for fun.  And I finally had a birthday party for my daughter.... who turned six last May.  
I am enjoying my family and my life.  I am not in a rush to work on my book, or really in a rush to do anything.  When I start to breathe fast and worry that I am not doing enough, I take a deep breath.  I wanted to do more family excursions, but we are home most of the time.  We are nesting, I guess.  We are enjoying peace, and embracing change.  

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Just Write (from yesterday)

This morning, I woke up and all the kids were awake.  The little ones were working on a project for Santa.  They were using green and red duct tape to make giant letters that said, To Santa. They started this project last night and were excited to finish it this morning.  My oldest daughter was sitting close to them and chatting with them, while she was chatting on skype with a friend.  
This juxtaposition, for me, exemplifies the tween stage.  Being close to her siblings, but not working with them, while I am in bed four feet away on the other side of the wall.  Having the stability and comfort of family, while venturing out into the world.  This feels perfect to me - healthy growth and expansion, yet still close and safe and protectable by me.  
The light was shining bright and made the room feel warm and cozy.  It was the perfect kind of warm.  The kind you appreciate.  The light’s trick - making us think it was warmer outside than it really was.  
There was, unbelievably, no quarreling, no fighting, no teasing, no aggravating.  I’ve heard these are normal, but I honestly believe this stuff is worse in our house than most.  The attention deficit disorderd kids just move their bodies and mouths twice as fast and twice as loud as most.  Not today.  The little ones were working together as if world peace might be just within grasp.  
They went to get dressed and gather their things for school.  I made them toast and a smoothie and fried eggs because they were being so delightful.  
Sally said her feelings were hurt because her big brother didn’t say hi to her when he passed her at school.  He tried to make excuses, but I know how he gets caught up and likes his own life at school.  We talked about how close these two are, and how family will always be there for us, even when friends aren’t.  He said, “I’m sorry, Sally,  Next time I will say hi.” She nodded, silently communicating that that would make her feel more secure in this world.  
We sang together on the drive to school, and Chaucer helped Sally read a book.  I was so lonely when I dropped them at school.  I wanted them to stay.  I wanted it to last.  

I wrote this as part of Heather at The Extraordinary-Ordinary’s Just Write exercise. Head on over if you want to learn and read more.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Good 'Ole Days

Children accumulate multitudes.  I intentionally and with restraint rarely buy my kids toys.  First of all, they have plenty.  They have always received many gifts from many people and are the recipients of many second hand toys of friends and relatives.  Somehow, we are still bulging at the seams. 
Then there is the paper and art work and books.  I am a book lover and have not cleaned out their books EVER.  My oldest is eleven.  Thats eleven years worth of accumulating children’s books.  I always said that we were saving them for the youngest.  I would not let them get rid of any books, even if all the pop ups were torn out, some pages ripped, bindings falling apart.  I don’t have any of my childhood favorite books, and I wanted to make sure theirs were saved.  
So, last weekend I cleaned out shelves and shelves and boxes and closets of all of our children’s books.  I threw away (horrors!) the books whose bindings were done and that were falling apart.  I saved a few of the baby/toddler favorite books for each child.  (Honestly, sadly, I can’t remember any many of my third child’s favorites, so I made up some that were her favorites.)  We saved a bag of good ones for the new nephew/niece coming in March.  We fixed up their bookshelves with favorite sections - Diary of a Wimpy Kid, American Girl Series, World’s Record Book, Captain Underpants, and Baby Mouse.  And I made sections for two of them with “just right” reading books that they could turn to when needed.  And I have about 10 bags of books to donate. 
Guess what happened?  They want to read all the time.  They love how neat the shelves are, and now the shelves seem like they are for them, not a bunch of younger kids. 
You see, I was holding on to a time and years that have passed.  I thought I could stop time by keeping these favorites around. Some of the ones that I really liked didn’t become their favorites.  I held on to the hope that they could love what I loved.  While doing this, I was holding them back from finding their passions.  
We are still Taking Back the Family.  We are cleaning, purging, making room for who we are now, not the family we were several years ago.  We are making spaces and steps for growth for all of us.  Even if their childhood looks different from the way mine was or what I had pictured for them. 
I wished I had read more to them.  We read all the time, every night at least.  Often several times a day.  I loved reading to them and wanted more of that time back.  
Now they read things that I don’t read and it is hard to find a book that all four of us want to read.  It is also hard to find time for all of us to read together - with homework and even the limited activities we have now. 
Since the purge, my little ones have been asking for story books that we can read in one sitting again.  Sometimes they let me read, but often they want to read.  The cool nights have come and we are spending many nights reading by the fire before bed.  
These are, still, the good ‘ole days.  

Friday, October 28, 2011

Nuggets and a Salad

Two years ago, my husband and I celebrated our 10 year anniversary with a trip to the California Wine Country.  The details around this trip make a good story in and of themselves, but that is not the focus now. We had three or four days of doing what we wanted, talking without being interrupted, and eating a lot of food and drinking a fair share of wine.  
On the weekend that we were in California, my dad and step mother were visiting my step brother and his wife.  We were texting back and forth with him when he sends a random text.  I wish I could remember the exact words, or had access to it.  But that phone fell into a toilet at the Portland airport last year and all evidence is gone. 
The gist of the random text indicated that my step brother and his wife were now vegan.  Now, I’ll admit that I didn’t exactly know what that meant, but I had heard of it, and after living the last 15 years in the Midwest, it was definitely off the grid. I had been cautioning them to take very good care of themselves because they have accumulated five or six or twenty cats, which is weird enough.  But if one of them died, that would leave the other one living alone with all those cats and that might be cause for an intervention. 
Anyway, we were lazing away the afternoon at a quaint little restaurant eating squid and drinking wine.  I think we were about to order a side of burger with cheese soup. Well, maybe we weren’t but we could have been. We were texting back and forth asking questions, shaking our heads, and enjoying a good laugh out of this.  I hadn’t yet sharpened my awareness to pay attention when I start having smug thoughts and getting laughs out of situations like this.  
No animals or animal products.  I kept asking questions and my dad would answer, appearing uncharacteristically patient. I now know they were trying to absorb the change also.  My stepmother and stepbrother are private people.  They process things inwardly and give information on a limited need to know basis.  My dad and I talk out loud as we process.  My stepbrother dated a girl for about 7 years and one day, while visiting home, he is showing me pictures from a recent trip to Guatemala.  There are many pictures of a woman, whom appears to be more than a friend.  I asked him if Amy had seen these pictures and he said No.  I asked what she would think of them and he said he didn’t know.  He left and I asked my stepmother about it and she said they broke up. WHAT?!?!?!?
So, this is how we are introduced to major changes in his life. Like becoming a Vegan. Over the past few years, they have lived about three hours from us and they visit whenever my parents visit so they can get a free meal at a nice restaurant so we can enjoy quality family time.  My stepbrother has always been a foodie and would eat anything.  He introduced us to many restaurants in our town and foods like Kobe beef and carpaccio and sushi and whatever that raw fish that supposedly cooks with lime juice is called. 
So the vegan thing was kind of a big deal. 
It became a bigger deal the next month when we were planning their Christmas visit and Christmas dinner.  My parents come from Mississippi and they drive up from Iowa.  My husband and I cook the meals, and try to cater to everyone’s schedules and particularities.  This usually comes within a week or two of Thanksgiving, in which we also host my husband’s entire family.  We had the youngest kids and very busy lives.  I am tired thinking about it. 
I was attempting to explain some of this to my aforementioned father, whose lesser qualities include, but are not limited to, impatience and conflict avoidance. Trying to explain that planning for this one meal would take up the better part of two holiday season weeks prompted him to say, “Then we won’t come.” 
Not exactly the understanding and help I was looking for.  Of course I wanted them to come, so I said of course I could do this and would never want them to cancel.  
I put my all into the Christmas dinner.  I didn’t cook using butter or put cheese in the salad.  No animal secretions.  I bought horseradish hummus from Trader Joe’s and found avocados in December and made guacamole.  I didn’t cook in chicken broth and I bought a nut based sour cream.  I made a salad with a million veggies, roasted portobella mushrooms, had spinach, asparagus, and potatoes without butter. My step brother  brought a delicious squash soup.
And my husband made his famous prime rib.  You can only get this meat during the holiday season and it has long been a family favorite. He is a chef by trade and meats are his specialty. There was just a little glitch.  Everything was ready before the prime rib. So we ate the soup and salad, and saved the veggies to go with the prime rib.  
You see what’s coming.  After the appetizers and the soup and salad, we were full.  Steve had worked so hard and loved doing this for everyone.  It was hard to watch.  My dad and my stepmother and I all had some of his prime rib, but not because we wanted it.  We wanted to honor his effort and his skills and his gift.  
But the vegan Christmas dinner was one of the best holiday dinners I have ever had.  Yes, it was a lot of work.  And I was overwhlemed which made me look crabby about it at first.  I felt so good, like my body had just been tended to with such love and care.  I didn’t feel full or yucky.  
I felt like I had to keep this to myself.  For starters, I didn’t want to eat crow pie with a side of apology.  And I didn’t want to hurt my husband’s feelings.  And it was a lot of work.
I have wanted to make changes for myself and my family in the food arena for awhile.  It is very, very hard.  It is hard to incorporate children whose favorite foods are neutral colored and a meat and potatoes Midwestern husband.  I honestly have no idea how to do it.  When I try to make something healthy for myself, I often make something else for them, served with a side of resentment. Cue the ones who will say don’t make something else for them, they can eat what is served or not eat at all.  I have one child who is on a medication that suppresses his appetite all day, and has to eat his days worth of calories between 4 and 8 pm.  And of course they wont starve if they miss a meal, but I WILL go crazy listening to the moanings and cryings of hungry children for hours.  
I have tried really hard the last week with cooking for everyone.  After somewhat of a flop Wednesday night, my husband was sick of my food  recognized my frustrations and offered to cook chicken parmigiana for dinner Thursday night.  Yes, he can move effortlessly through the kitchen with a meat and frozen veggie and pasta.  But the chicken parm is special.  We picked the last of our tomatoes and he made a homemade tomato sauce that was to die for.  
Reading about Lindsey’s cleanse yesterday was intriguing, especially the part about how much better she felt.  It was on my mind all day yesterday.  As I ate my chicken parm dinner last night, I realized the only thing I could have had if I were to do this cleanse was the tomato sauce and the broccoli (if he would have held the butter).  As I watched my children eat their chicken without sauce and their white pasta and white bread melted with mozzarella (and their broccoli, Yea!), I worried about them and felt guilty for them eating this way.  At the same time I worry, sometimes when I fix something different, I make a side of pasta just so they will eat something.  Ugh! 
I am struggling with wrapping this post up in a neat little package.  I have no answer, just musings and questions, and trying to share a part of my journey. 
I am running to the store to get ingredients for this sweet potato, kale, and black bean salad.  And maybe some frozen chicken nuggets for the kids. Sigh.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Erasing the Lines

I remember hearing a speech about education either before I had kids or when Chloe was a baby.  Back when education and parenting were all theories that worked to perfection.  Back when I knew it all.  
The speaker was a father of four school age kids.  He opened with a cute little vignette.  He said his world was opened by the birth of his first child.  By having his own child, he finally, finally knew what kids were like.  And then his second child was born.  He was humbled by this experience, but was ultimately grateful because if he hadn’t had that second child, he wouldn’t have known there were two different kinds of kids in the world.    And then his third child was born, and, again he had to remold his ideas of categories for kids.  As an educator, I guess God didn’t think he was getting the message.  So, it took a fourth child for him to realize that, like snowflakes, all children, and all people were unique and operated in the world with their own internal compasses.  
I chuckled appropriately at his quaint introduction, smugly wondering if I was more qualified to give this speech.  
Ten years later, I have learned to heed caution when I have smug thoughts like this.  I have learned to brace myself and proceed gingerly.  I have learned to recognize an, often painful, lesson heading my way just as I can recognize the almost imperceptible cooler currents of August air letting me know Old Man Winter is always watching.  
Turns out, it was OK that I was smug that day.  I have always had a visceral understanding, and a subsequent appreciation of the differences in people, all their strengths and shortcomings, and how the world needs it all in order to function. To this day, I find it hard to take a stand on any side of most issues, given my propensity to understand, believe and feel both sides.  (Oh yea, except for my husband’s side.)  
When I was kid, I always wrote stories.  Or rather, I started many stories.  But my favorite part was planning the stories.  I would spend hours writing the descriptions and histories of the characters, or describing the houses and places that would eventually be in my story.  I would create an entire world and setting.  Often I was bored after that with the actual story line.  So I would move on to create another story.  
My newest lesson is a fun one, not painful.  (She says thankfully.)  It’s like starting a new story.  The lesson is basically an extension of all people are unique and special and should be honored for who they are. The new lesson incorporates complexity.  I think all people are much more complex than I have given them credit for in the past.  
This new discovery is a grass roots one, starting with myself and my family.  My kids go to a wonderful school where many adults know them intimately.  It’s not just their classroom teachers, but many specialist teachers (art, gym, drama....etc) and the associate director of the school.  They are opening my eyes to the complexity of my children.  I hadn’t realized how I had already put them in boxes that they may spend a lifetime trying to escape.  Even armed with the knowledge that the world does this and how much I fight it, I have come to the realization that I have done it.  
My oldest daughter’s greatest gifts are her persistence, her vibrant personality, her interpersonal skills, her artistic, musical, and writing abilities and her problem solving skills and her can do, will do, let’s do mentality.  I praise these all the time.  
My son’s greatest gifts are his athletic prowess, his mathematical and reasoning skills, his happy disposition, and his ability to charm anyone around him, making him much loved by anyone, adult or child, who comes in contact with him.  
My youngest daughter’s gifts are a little harder to articulate.  She values her relationships and is intensely loyal.  She is very slow to warm, cautious, and always follows her own internal compass, regardless of the external stimuli.  Her mind is always moving, processing and she needs quiet and alone time to process.  She will not talk to people unless she has something important to say, and does not like talking in front of groups of people.   She is athletic, very independent, loves drawing and writing, and is tough as nails.   
Last spring, I was talking to my son about the fitness test and talking often of the goals of the Presidential Award.  My oldest daughter finally came up to me and asked why I expected that out of Chaucer but not her.  Hmmmmm.
Last winter, my oldest daughter had an accident that ended up being painful for weeks.  She had to have an unexpected “procedure” at the hospital and it took lots of pampering and attention on our part.  My husband and I kept quietly wondering why it happened to her, rather than one of the other two, who would have been much tougher and less work.  The principal of the school called to say that in her 40 years of being in the school, she had never experienced such a tough kid.  Hmmmmmmm.
Last spring, some things were occurring in the second grade.  My son’s teacher started sharing some of them with me, and I brushed it off, saying he was always happy and, luckily, he didn’t get caught up in that.  She said, “Well.  I don’t agree.  I have found him twice crying in the bathroom.....”   Hmmmmmmm
My son has a reading disability and has to be pulled out of class to get extra help.  They  scheduled his tutor during art time because he had not appeared to care much about art.  He came home terribly upset because “Art is the best place to mix colors and poetry together.”  What?  Hmmmmmmmm
Sally’s first grade teacher came up and said she so appreciated Sally volunteering to give her “presentation” first.  She was so impressed at how well Sally carried herself while speaking in front of the class.  Hmmmmmmmm.

An assistant at school told me a beautiful story about Sally searching for days at the book fair for books for (the assistant’s) grandaughter.  Sally brought her books several times, often not saying a word.  She had this incredible awareness and was nurturing that relationship differently than we understood.  Hmmmmmmmmm
I am excited about my new discoveries.  I am giddy about erasing the lines I have inadvertently drawn around myself, my children and all those around me.  I am thrilled to discover the complicated complexities that are often hidden and obscured.  
Mostly, I am anxious to discover what limits I have put on myself and the opportunities that exist outside of the box.  

Friday, September 30, 2011

My Quest to End the Stupid Battles

My feisty grandmother died almost five years ago.  I don’t think about her every day anymore.  And I’m not sure when that happened.  She wasn’t sickly or elderly ever.  She just had a heart attack and died one night.  I am grateful for that, really.  Because she will always be strong and vibrant to me.  Because of this, it took me a couple of years to realize she was really gone.  
I have a  very rough draft an outline of a book about her.  I write this as evidence that she is not easily, nor quickly definable, so I won’t even attempt it now, as this post is really about me, not her. 
I was of adult age, but without children.  I asked her to do something she didn’t want to do and she replied,  “I don’t want to” or “I don’t feel like it,” or “No”, or one of her favorites, “Hell no.”  I may have tried to convince her for a minute or two but I know I didn’t try long.  When she didn’t want to do something, she wasn’t going to do it.  Period. 
What I did say was this:  “I wish I had a grandmother that was a pleaser.” 
And she replied, “I wish I had a granddaughter that wasn’t a smart ass.” 
I open with this story because I was about to open with explaining what a pleaser I am.  And then the thought of anyone that I know in my real life reading it began to consume me.  They would laugh, discredit me, and try to expose me as a fraud.  And chew me up and spit me out.  
But I am more of a pleaser than people realize.  By people, I mean everyone.  Friends, family, kids, parents, husband, and especially myself.  I am finding a little joy in realizing this fact.  
First and foremost, I am a straight shooter.  I tell it like it is.  I call a spade a spade.  I can see how this could be perceived as not being a pleaser.  Because sometimes what I have to say is not always pleasing.  I have learned over the years that the truth doesn’t always have to have sharp edges, and I have acquired a light filter.  (Yes I have.) But life is complicated enough than to have to try to be someone I am not, and this, directness, if you will, is as much a part of me as my  hazel eyes and  the Mississippi of my youth. 
The other reason people may not think I am a pleaser is my refusal to do some things.  I do many things.  And I do many things I don’t like to do.  But every now and then I adamantly refuse to do something I don’t want to do.  To hell with the consequences.  And every now and then, I may do something that no one else thinks I should do, to hell with the consequences.  And many times, an apology should accompany these actions, but most times it doesn’t.
This is a good segue into why, actually, I am a pleaser.  
Except there’s one more thing. Damn, that realization was a really good segue, but I need to explain one more thing that again, some would argue.  I am often, sometimes a pretty easy going, low maintenance person.  I can hear certain people laughing and guffawing and coughing in protest now.  Like my husband.  And my father.  Actually, since the birth of my third child, and getting to know her over the last few years, I have come up with a pretty good description that probably most would agree is accurate. 
I am really laid back and easy going, except when I’m not.  
This may sound funny, but it is the best truth.  Another way, although not as accurate, is to say I have a long fuse.  So, I generally don’t care what we do, how things are done.  And if I do, and it isn’t done my way, I generally won’t argue, I’ll just carry on.  If I do have and state my opinion, if it’s a battle to get it done my way, I just won’t fight it. 
There are basically two times I will fight it.  If I feel very strongly about it from the beginning and deem it battle worthy.  Like when our kids were babies, I didn’t want them to have juice.  Steve wanted to give them juice all the time and said kids drink juice.  I explained about the sugar content and training them to like sugar.....etc.  Now, many people are amazed that our kids only drink milk and water.  They don’t like kool aid, most juices, pop (or coke or soft drinks depending on where you live).  In essence, our kids don’t drink sugar.  Battle worthy.  
The other time I fight it (what is it?) is less admirable and more foggy and something of which I am not proud.  I fight and spit and spew when I am done.  Just done.  Done with everything.  Now, I can hear it.  Here it comes.... everyone does that, you do a lot for your family, you are not taking care of yourself.  Yes, thats true.  But it makes me react over little things as if they are BATTLE WORTHY.  Like the color of my daughter’s head band not matching her outfit or the way my husband loads the dishwasher or the teachers saying to act as if school started fifteen minutes earlier than it does.  
Here is a summary of what I have written so far:
  1. I am (more of) a pleaser (than most realize)
  2. I am usually laid back. (except when I am not)
  3. I fight WORTHY BATTLES. 
  4. And I fight stupid battles when I am not taking care of myself. 
MAY I INTERRUPT THIS POST FOR A MINUTE? All bloggers are writers, and many, many have written, or are writing books.  Many writers say they write to discover what they know.  And many writers say that they don’t know what they are going to write when they sit down to write.  I used to think this was a crock of shit never believed this until I started experiencing it, EVERY TIME I SAT DOWN TO WRITE.  OK, so now that I have acknowledged that I never know where my writing is taking me, may I say that I am getting a little tired of every piece of writing coming back to the same thing: YOU CAN’T TAKE CARE OF OTHERS UNTIL YOU TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF.  I am tired of this.  I want to move on.  I get it.  I get it.  This is like memorizing the Canterbury Tales.  I worked and worked on it.  And now I can never forget it.  It became so ingrained that I named my son Chaucer for Christ’s sake.  I can only hope that this lesson that keeps presenting itself over and over like an unwelcomed guest, will become as ingrained as the Canterbury Tales. 
Life has become better since I have started taking care of myself.  And actually learning and experiencing what that looks like.  Writing has become almost as vital as air itself.  If I don’t take the time to write and reflect, I am crabby, unproductive, selfish, and unloving to those I love the most.  
My mother is visiting, and she is much more of a doer than I have ever been.  (Someone has to be, right?)  She comes and does many projects that make our lives much more manageable and healthy.  We have always done projects and it forms a core of our relationship.  Although these projects are benefitting my family and me, and not her, my heart has not been in it. I wanted her to know how thankful I am for what she does.  I wanted her to feel like she is helping us and accomplishing something.  I wanted her to understand that I want her around even when she isn’t working.  I love to hear her voice in the morning, and smell the smell of my mama being around. But I don’t want to do projects now.  
You see, I have a new air.  I am smothering without my pen.  
The struggle for me, the pleaser, this week has been giving up my new air so my mother would feel loved, useful, welcomed, appreciated, adored.  And the irony is, in all my efforts, I feel as if I have failed.  
I don’t want taking care of myself to be a stupid battle when I am on empty.  I don’t want taking care of myself to be .... in your face, fuck you, I’m doing what I want.  I want it to be like eating and bathing and breathing.  Just something you do every single day in order to live.  
So, in a cloud of guilt and heaviness, I told my mother this morning that I just didn’t want to work on these projects.  I wanted to spend time with her, but I need to take care of myself, so that I have more to give. I have learned a new way to be.  A life where I don’t have to trudge through every day.  I didn’t know there was an easier way. 
And do you know what she said? 
“O.K.  All you had to do was tell me. Enjoy your morning.” 
I didn’t know it could work like that. 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Sometimes I Do That

I know the right thing to do to care for myself, and sometimes I do it.  I know what isn’t right, and sometimes I do that too. 
I meant for this to be a quote but I can’t find it or remember it exactly.  But this is the message I took, so I’m starting there.  
I started yoga about 10 years ago.  I quit the same day because those freaks would bend in scary ways and talked about breath and breathing as if their life depended on it.    And all that stillness, all that un-exercise, just made the lists longer of all that I wanted to do.  And I kept being in positions where I could see my feet and I didn’t want to add pedicures to my list.  
I kept hearing benefits from people, NORMAL people I should add.  So I would try it again every six months or so when there was absolutely nothing else to do except rearrange my sock drawer.  I never liked it while I was there because  I felt insecure and had a lot of growing to do the people were weird . However, I did feel better afterwards.  
Sometime a few years ago, I needed somewhere I could go without my kids and they had a childcare I became pretty hard core, and started going 4 or 5 times a year.   I didn’t, still don’t know what ayengar or hatha or vinyasa meant.  But I liked this class because at the end you got to lay there and do nothing and listen to him say that some people considered this the hardest pose.  I felt smug because I was good at it and didn’t think it was hard at all.  Plus, I could do this and make my list for the day.  Talk about multi tasking.  
He would also go around and give ...... mini massages? touch therapy?  at the end.  He would touch my temples and rub a couple of circles and do funky things on my forehead, face, ears, and neck with  his voodoo aromatic oil.  Now, don’t go thinking I am a touchy feely person because I was practically forced to let him do this.  Before he did this, he asked all of us to lay in shavasana and close our eyes.  He said he would be coming around and putting a curse and laying hands or some other tree hugger word.  If we weren’t comfortable with this, just lift our hands slightly right now to let him know. Well, of course I peeked to see who else was sane would not join in this seance  thought this was a crock of shit  would refrain.  When no one else raised their hand, I froze.  I had to think quickly.  If I am the only one who doesn’t do it, then I bet they will all join him and confront me with some sort of intervention.  I felt trapped.  Sort of like when a grizzly bear is mauling you, you don’t fight back.  Just play dead.  So I would incorporate that strategy.  
It reminded me of a time when I was in Indonesia getting a $10 massage and I tried to tell the girl not to touch my feet.  She just didn’t get it.  And I ended up loving it. 
Same with Tory’s touch.  It was one of the first things that relaxed my body and mind.  I still can’t explain it to this day.  This laying on the hands lasted maybe thirty seconds.  But the life force was inexplicable.  I started going every month or two just for the few minutes of shavasana and the 30 seconds of this laying on the hands.  
So, last spring when I was in a bad funk, I returned for the laying on of hands. Except now he had this huge following and the class had like 50 people now and he didn’t do this anymore.  Of course.  
But I had been to Kripalu and tried meditating with Dani Shapiro, so I would do a version of meditating during shavasana.  I guess I learned to quiet my mind because I would not leave there with a list of a million things to do. 
And the yoga grew on me, and I began to become attached to Tory for different reasons.    He was in a motorcycle accident this summer, and hasn’t been able to come for a couple of months.  Last week, we were told he is much better, but he would not be coming back.  He has been there close to 10 years on Tuesday mornings at 9:15.  And then they said they were going to try several guest instructors for a while before they hired a replacement.  
While I can’t write much more right now about the impact Tory had on my life, I know for a fact he would not want us to miss him.  Really, he wouldn’t.  Even if he missed us, he would not want us to miss him.  So, almost immediately, I accepted his leaving and opened up to find someone else to learn from.  The girl last week sucked. I really liked the sub for this week.  She was warm and whole and delicious and kind and I left thinking the world is full of good people.  
And I left with my version of the quote at the beginning.  Taking Care of Myself is becoming a much bigger theme in Take Back My Family than I wanted it to imagined.