Friday, August 28, 2015

Delight in the Drudgery

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The boys recently gave Tony a Darth Vader shirt with the words "Number 1 Dad In The Galaxy" emblazoned across the front.  Charles understands the joke, but Jamie just thinks Darth Vader is cool.  Their excitement over seeing him wear it and now calling him “number 1 dad in the galaxy!” at high volume is a good reminder to Tony, too, that our children love him. Not that he doesn't know, but I think he sees them so little and gets to do so few fun activities with them that it's important that he know, and that the boys demonstrate, that they think he's amazing.


I don't envy Tony, though I know many women who are jealous if their husbands. I am simultaneously the "fun parent" and the "mean mom" by virtue of how much time I spend with the kids. Tony is often tired, having worked a nine- or ten-hour day AND studied for his master's classes AND helped with Freddie in the night, so he gets frustrated easily. We all know that small children are nothing if not frustrating.

 

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Charles didn’t like dinner last night, and he chose to tell me in the most constructive manner possible.

 

I get to teach those boys to be good citizens, often enduring endless tantrums in grocery stores.  Like today, when Jamie pulled the water bottle out of Freddie’s mouth while we were making our way through a busy Costco and then started screaming when I told him that he had lost his treat (bribery: it works!).  Then Freddie started screaming and Charles started bragging about how well he was behaving. 

 

The root of all my bad habits is boy children: gross amounts of coffee, chocolate addiction, wine consumption…

 

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Then again, I get to see them develop their passions.  Charles loves anything physical and is happy when we can spend a few spare moments at the skate park.  Jamie, on the other hand, is so enamored with airplanes that he would happily spend all day watching them take off and land.  Lucky boy got to tour a B-17 last weekend at the Skagit Regional Airport.

 

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Tony misses out on a lot of fun moments and a lot of difficult moments, but he also misses out on seeing our children deal with setbacks, be kind to their friends, or play nicely with one another.  They’re growing and changing and developing their personalities and it really is a trip to watch those small changes every day.

 

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Charles, who goes to first grade next week, has come with me to my office all week while his brothers are in daycare. Instead of complaining, he has crept around the warehouse with the airzooka, eaten his weight in pretzels, and constructed books full of "evil plans" out of copy paper for each of my employees.  He's a delight, that kid, and that's not something Tony gets to experience very often.

 

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Yesterday, I initiated Charles into the fine art of folding laundry. All I asked him to do was fold his shorts an his underwear.  He complained, threw himself on the floor, and got perilously close to throwing a screaming fit, something of a rarity these days.  He'd folded one or two pairs of shorts when I pointed out that most of the underwear in the pile in front of him was inside out.  He was mad and frustrated and he picked a pair of underwear up in anger, pushed it down on his head and over his eyes, then flipped it back up over himself so that it was right side out.  Then he threw it on the bed with an UGH!, crossed his arms, and looked at me defiantly.  I couldn't help it, I burst into laughter.  Then Charles started giggling, too. The ham proceeded to fold all his underwear in this manner, giggling the whole time.

 

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I am thankful for this time I have with my children, even if I feel guilty for not being at work more.  Perspective, man.  Sometimes it just hits you over a pile of clean underwear.  I might not be the number one mom in the galaxy, but I get to laugh with my kids daily.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

There Is No Competition

I’m having a really tough day/week/month/summer and I feel, every day, as though this might be the breaking point.  What would it be like to go completely insane?  What is it like to have a nervous breakdown?  Is there relief from the anxiety and the stress and the guilt?  Could a nervous breakdown really be so bad?  But who would take care of the kids and the house and the dog?

 

I’m going through hell, so, as the saying goes, I guess I’ll just keep going.  But it’s awful.  And it’s difficult.  And it hurts.

 

And then I read the news and see that three firefighters have died in a blaze not far from my hometown and people have lost their homes in devastating wildfires and I think, “What have I got to be upset about?”

 

The thing is, though, that it’s not a hardship competition.  Someone somewhere, indeed many someones, are having a much worse time of it right now than I am.  There are people starving, people engaged in war, people sick.  I don’t want to seem callous – because I’m not; I care deeply about the strife in the world and do my best to address it in small ways like charitable giving, educating myself and my children, and prayer – but the terrible suffering experienced by others doesn’t mean that what’s going on in my life is any less difficult and painful.  I know I am better off than so many.  AND, I know I’ll get through it, so it seems stupid to whine about it.  I feel guilty for even thinking of asking for help, whether of the tangible variety or in the form of prayers or good juju or whatever.  I worry that I’ll be judged and shamed.  I ask Tony for help but he has none to give, and then I feel even guiltier for burdening him with my agony.

 

But allow me to write it out again, in big, as much for myself as for anyone reading: THERE IS NO HARDSHIP COMPETITION.  Someone else’s hardship does not negate my hardship.  Having things better than someone else does not mean that I’m not suffering or that it isn’t FUCKING HARD to be me sometimes.

 

So today I’m putting it out there for the world to see: I’m having a tough time right now and I’d appreciate your help and consideration, in whatever form that takes.  And you, you beautiful person: your troubles are valid.  I am giving you permission to feel the full weight of your burdens without guilt today.

 

Let’s take the old “everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” aphorism from the source, The Homely Virtues by John Watson, Courtesy, 1903:

 

This man beside us also has a hard fight with an unfavouring world, with strong temptations, with doubts and fears, with wounds of the past which have skinned over, but which smart when they are touched. It is a fact, however surprising. And when this occurs to us we are moved to deal kindly with him, to bid him be of good cheer, to let him understand that we are also fighting a battle; we are bound not to irritate him, nor press hardly upon him nor help his lower self.

 

We all have burdens.  Instead of trying to outdo one another in the arena of suffering, how about we just deal kindly with those around us?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Exhaustion

Since Charles was about two years old, I have loudly and often declared that my primary job as a parent seems to be exhausting him (and now his brothers) before bedtime.  It might be time to pull back on that.

 

Did I ever tell you about the time Charles had double-vision for an entire week?  Turns out he was just really, really tired.

 

The whole story is scarier than that, of course.  He first mentioned it on a Friday, after a long week at school this spring. 

 

“Mom, when I look at that tree, all the other trees around it are two.”

 

“They’re two?  You mean, they’re double?  Side-by-side or one on top of the other?”  (I can’t imagine how that question would have made any difference to me, but ask it I did.)

 

“Side-by-side.”

 

I admit, we were so busy, I just let it go for a bit.  Then he mentioned it again at bedtime.  Then again a couple of days later.  Finally, I got him into my eye doctor for a medical visit.

 

His vision was completely normal.  Verdict: he was tired.  I took him home and he slept for the rest of the morning, missing an entire day of school just to rest.  It was so totally weird.

 

Charles is my big, bold kid.  He rides his bike, jumps on his pogo stick, and climbs trees.  Until this past year, he was rarely still.  But occasionally, even he needs a break. 

 

This summer has been go-go-go.  Without Tony to help much, I’m responsible for getting the kids where they need to be on a daily basis, which means that they all get to go places while one of the other brothers gets dropped off.  Charles has been in camps all summer, outdoors and active for 8+ hours of each day.  Then we try to do fun things, like go swimming or visit the library, every week.  And of course, there are the things that I want or need to do, like exercise or go grocery shopping, plus the family things we try to do together, like go on walks or camping (where no one gets to bed early) or fishing (where no one gets to bed early and everyone gets up early).  When the kids finally get home after these busy days, most of the time they go off to play by themselves.  Solitary activities like LEGOs or reading have taken the place of elaborate games of tag in the front yard.  And I get it – as much as I love to see them be active and play with each other, the boys are around other kids and they’re moving all. day. long.  They need a chance to recharge their batteries.

 

Recently, Charles was again showing signs of exhaustion.  He chose to go to camp every day last week, but I forced him to sit and watch cartoons on Saturday and Sunday mornings (what an ogre I am!) and go to bed early.  I have decided to keep him home from daycare during his last week of summer next week.  He’ll have to come to the office a couple of days, but for the most part, he can play in an unstructured way.  Maybe he’ll even get a little bored.

 

I’m obviously still learning how to parent these kids.  Balance, we’re all seeking balance.  I haven’t found it yet, but I’m getting closer.  At least I know to watch Charles for circles under his eyes and to reign in his natural impulse to do it all.  I wonder where he gets that trait?

Thursday, August 13, 2015

He Walks

Freddie started walking this weekend, which is much cuter than I ever imagined it would be.

 

 

Isn’t that always the way: lack of sleep shades my expectations until I’m so sure that everything will either suck or at least be just another boring, exhausting life complication.

 

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I’m reasonably certain that Freddie could have walked a month ago, he just chose not to.  He’s already a pro at it, but he takes these big, wide turns to change direction that are just so funny in their inefficiency.  And he’s delighted by the whole darn thing.  Walking?  Turns out we’ve been doing it all wrong for all these years.  You’re supposed to laugh and smile about your very ability to do it at all.

 

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This summer is dragging on into one of the most difficult years I’ve ever experienced.  It has to do with a lack of hope for the future and a lot of drudgery right now that I’m not sure will ever pay off (see: lack of hope).  I’m wrung out stressed out and out of ways to fool myself into thinking that everything is wonderful.  But then the baby smiles like the goober he is, or Jamie sings songs throughout dinner, or Charles runs up to me at the fair and gives me a giant hug, only to zip off with his camp counselor, out of sight in a flash, and suddenly fooling myself isn’t so important.

 

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This life I lead is difficult and unglamorous, but it’s filled with many blessings among the hardships.

 

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This is what makes life worth living, not the deadlines, cash flow problems, mistakes, dirty dishes, nor sacrifice after sacrifice after sacrifice.  All that other shit sucks balls, but it doesn’t really matter.

 

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I have hope for their future, and in resigning myself to the Sisyphean tasks inherent in giving them a future, I should try to remember that they will bring me joy as they grow.  I don’t have to seek it elsewhere and though I might never learn to love the sacrifices I have to make, I do love the results those sacrifices produce.

 

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I don’t know if the balance of good and bad will change in my life anytime soon; frankly, I don’t think it will.  We’re not getting enough sleep, Tony will finish his insane studying schedule just in time for tax season to start in January, and my business is growing in a stressful way right now.  But I get to have stinky boys cuddle me all the time, and that keeps me going.

 

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Who would have ever thought I’d get so lucky?

Thursday, August 6, 2015

More Conversations with Jamie

While my last post was an entirely imagined conversation between myself and my one-year-old, Jamie actually said the following things:

 

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Jamie: “You don’t want a penis on your head.”

 

Me: …

 

Jamie: “Because then you would pee in your hair!”

 

I suppose someone has to think about these things.

 

 

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Jamie: “When I’m big like daddy, I’m going to live here!”

 

Me: “With me?”

 

Jamie: “Yep!  But we need to get a bigger bed.  This is a double, but we will need a triple and I will sleep on this side.  You will sleep in the middle.”

 

My future is awkward.

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Jamie: “I want my name to be JamieFour.”

 

Me: “JamieFour?”

 

Jamie: “Yes, I want the whole world to know how old I am.”

 

Me: “So next year, would you be JamieFive?”

 

Jamie: “Yes, and then JamieSix, then JamieSeven, then JamieEight, all the way to JamieTwenty!”

 

Presumably, after age 20, people will just think he is “old.”

  Jamie4

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Low Standards

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Hey, mom, how’d you sleep?  I’m still tired.  Can I nurse more?

 

I didn’t sleep.  You used me as a pacifier all night.  When I tried to un-latch you and put you in your own bed, you screamed.  I decided that dozing with you attached to my breasts was better than screaming.  I have no more milk to give you, and besides, it’s time for work.

 

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Gee, you sound sort of annoyed.

 

Honey, it’s been a long week.  I’m driving a car that’s not mine, it’s over 80 degrees and our house is an inferno, and the dog has shed so much, my ice cream has fur.  Plus, you might have noticed that your dad is gone, so I have had no adult help with you and your brother and the house this week.

 

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Here, have some cantaloupe.

 

No, thanks, babe.  You keep it. 

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Okay, then, but you’re missing out.  Besides, I’ve noticed that you’re not so into cooking this week.  If you skip this cantaloupe, you might be limited to nachos and pancakes until you can find the energy to shop again.

 

Excuse me?  Am I not keeping you alive in this murderous heat, under less-than-ideal circumstances, and without the help of your father?

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Sheesh, don’t be so touchy.  I only meant that you seem a bit lazy these days.  Here, have some baby corn (snort!).

 

Ha ha, very funny.  For your information, I’m exhausted, I had to do all the cleanup after we went camping, I broke our second vehicle after our first went kablooie and has been out of commission for a month, and it’s TOUGH to cook for one adult, one four-year-old, and one baby.  I think I’m managing just FINE, thank you, and there’s nothing lazy about it.  You have clean clothing, don’t you?

 

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Mom, I’m just saying that things are starting to slip, is all.  I still love you.  And I’m still cute, which allows you to forgive a multitude of sins.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for bed.  Where are you going to sleep?

 

Sigh.  I have no idea.

Monday, July 27, 2015

I Have A Black Thumb, But with Cars

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Do you know what’s not a good idea?  Taking a baby in a white shirt camping.  Ask me how I know.

 

Over the past month, I have driven five different cars.  Not like, test driven, but driven around, kids in the back, running errands, living my life.  First, our van broke.  The repair has taken FOREVER, but it might be (fingers crossed) that Toyota will pay for the whole job (including valve replacement and cam shaft something-or-another, I have no idea what all those words mean, but they are expensive words), so that’s lucky.  After my van broke down, I drove my parents’ Suburban for awhile, until they needed it to pull their camp trailer, so I swapped for my mom’s Mini Cooper.  My parents live 230 miles away, so car swaps are not easy for anyone, but it sure beats having to rent a car.

 

Then I drove Tony’s truck this weekend, though it remains to be seen whether or not he’ll ever let me drive it again.  Not that it’s MY fault that these things happen to cars I drive, just that I have the misfortune of being the driver when shit happens.  Case in point: When I was 17 years old, my boyfriend at the time (one of those great mistakes on a long list of many that helped me know what a fantastic catch Tony was) totaled my first car, so I had to drive my parents’ original Suburban (they had a 1986 model and now a 2001 model) for a few months to get myself and Leland to and from school and work and extra-curriculars.  After I had driven it for a couple of months, I told my dad that I was sure something was wrong with the engine; the truck sounded so loud and weird and was starting to smell (more than just over-perfumed teenagers with poorly-managed B.O., too).  Dad didn’t believe me.  He totally brushed me off.  So I told mom, and she drove it, confirmed that something wasn’t right, and crawled under the truck, at which point she noted that the entire exhaust system had rusted out.  My dad was livid – it’s no fun to be facing a multi-thousand dollar car repair after your daughter’s idiot boyfriend just caused the complete loss of another car in your fleet – but obviously it wasn’t my fault.  The injury had happened over years of driving it in the salt air.  To this day, though, he’ll say things like, “You only drove that truck for three months, but you rusted out the ENTIRE exhaust system!”  I think he’s mostly joking now.

 

Anyhow, I packed the three kids and the dog in Tony’s Dodge Ram pickup on Friday morning and headed south.  We stopped at the kennel in Stanwood to drop off Buster and his cloud of fur (seriously, he’s like Pigpen from Peanuts, only with fur, not dirt) and proceeded to wend our way through terrible traffic toward Olympia.  It used to be that we could leave early and blaze through Everett, Seattle, Tacoma, JBLM, and Olympia at or near 60 miles per hour, but not anymore.  In the last year or more, EVERY trip hits a slowdown in each of those cities/areas along I5, JBLM being the WORST.  So yeah, when we FINALLY made it to Tacoma, it was time to stop and have some late lunch.  Really late.  My poor, hungry boys were almost eating their own arms.

 

After lunch, we drove for another hour to Millersylvania State Park, where my family reunion has been held for the past several years.  Just as I pulled up to the ranger station, the engine (the big, burly diesel engine that makes me feel like a total fraud driving it – shouldn’t I have a sleeve tattoo or a gun rack or something?) started making this whap-whap-whap-whap-whap noise and smelling a little burn-y.  Not cool.  I drove to our campsite, turned the engine off, and was immediately greeted by a fellow camper smoking a giant cigar and drinking a beer (he’s the type of guy who should drive this truck) who said, “Sounds like you’ve got something stuck around your fan.”  Sure enough, the serpentine belt had split and half of it was wrapped around the fan.  Tony brought the appropriate part and tools and then he fixed it.  No big deal, I guess.

 

camping 2  Jamie the gearhead helped.

Then we camped.  The kids got dirtier than they’ve ever been, ever.  We ate, we hung out with family, it was great, and then it was time to leave.  Tony and Charles headed south with my parents for a week of fishing, while Freddie, Jamie, and I headed north in Tony’s truck.  Of course, I was immediately snarled up in terrible traffic.  The baby started screaming, Jamie fell asleep, and I began to dread the loooong drive home.  Maybe, I thought, we’ll be able to make it all the way to the Fife rest area before stopping.  Hahahaha!  I should know better than to tempt fate, because that’s just when I noticed the temperature gauge on the truck: it was pegged all the way to the right, a clear indication that something was WRONG.

 

I pulled over and killed the engine.  I was still on the freeway, but within sight of an exit ramp.  Still, I didn’t want to exit without at least cooling the engine a bit.  I popped the massive hood and couldn’t see anything wrong – there was no steam, no fire, all the liquid reservoirs were full.  Some young guys pulled over and checked to see if I was okay, but they couldn’t offer much help.  I chilled for a few minutes, fired it back up, cranked the heater on full-blast, and drove the shoulder to the exit ramp and pulled into McDonald’s.  For the second time in a month, I used my AAA benefits.  The tow truck didn’t arrive until almost 7:30 pm (it was 5 pm when we got off the road), so we had ice cream and a happy meal and waited. 

 

Though I wanted to cry, I quickly realized how blessed we are.  Not only was no one hurt, but I called around and family immediately jumped into cars to come help us out.  My uncle and aunt forewent an additional night of camping in order to pick us up and drive us to Kirkland, where my brother met us at our cousin’s house to take us home.  The tow truck beat us home by about 20 minutes and my neighbor drove our truck off the tow truck and into our driveway.  It was a stupidly late night for me and the kids, and Freddie refused to sleep anywhere but in the crook of my arm, but we made it. 

 

The most surprising loaner car has been the last one: Leland is allowing me to drive his 2015 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon until I get my truck fixed.  He is even allowing me to put my kids and dog in it (!).  I never thought I’d see the day when this would happen, but it just goes to show that he loves me after all.  In return, I changed all of his radio presets to the most obscure foreign-language stations I could find.  Hey!  Maybe he’ll learn Russian now!