Saturday, July 19, 2014

Loneliest not-alone time

A friend posted this on her FB wall and tagged me on it.
My favorite is the one by Linda:
Being home with kids all day
is just the loneliest never-alone thing. 
Like living in a cave 
filled with malfunctioning Teddy Ruxpins.

This sums up my summer break.

Whatever stage of parenting one is in, one thinks that is the hardest stage....until one gets to the next stage (or maybe two or three down the line) and realizes how much easier that earlier stage was.  

Sometimes the kids watch our home movies which they can stream on the television.  When I see N as a 5-year-old, G as a two-year-old and M as a newborn, I remember how hard it was, but I also remember the easy parts.  Like how easy it was to entertain a 5-year-old and 2-year-old.  Bubbles, sand box and swingset.  Boom!  The baby had all the entertainment he needed by watching his older siblings.  

There weren't endless argumentative conversations about video games or Cartoon Network shows.  They were so young they didn't have such intense, formulated opinions that they were willing to discuss endlessly in the car.  As mindless as Dora the Explorer songs were, I could turn those on, and the kids were happy as we drove hither and yon.

When N was at school, G and M were on the same nap schedule, so I often had 2 hours a day of quiet, something I sorely miss now that naps are a thing of the past.  The kids went to bed earlier than they do now.  I could distract them by just changing out a toy bin or two.

This summer I have really noticed how much of that easy distractibility N has lost.  One afternoon in June, I made squirtable chalk that the kids could use outside.  N did it once and was over it.  She then got out a lawn chair and read her American Girl magazine in the front yard while her brothers had me reload their squirt bottles until the sidewalk was completely covered.  She has about as much enthusiasm for squirtable chalk as I do.  She is definitely leaving childhood behind.

What I'm finding hard about parenting at this stage is that I am just on stand-by.  The kids are too young for me to leave them alone so I am restricted to the confines of the house (which I've never liked in all my years as a stay-at-home mom).  The kids aren't needy enough to have me hovering, but they are needy enough to interrupt me often whenever I try to get involved in something I want to do.  So I feel like I mostly wander the house a lot.  I piddle.  

One of the pidddling things I've been doing is pulling toys out to consign in the fall.  I've got some big items that will be going and are further evidence of my kids moving out of that easy-to-entertain stage.  The sand/water table is going away.  The Cozy Coupe will find a new home.  These are the last of the giganto toys of early childhood.  

And while I'm not sad to see the items go because I am excited at the prospect of having my house feel less cluttered, it does give me pause.  

My time mothering very young children is almost over.  My bonus baby will turn 5 in the fall.  This will be his last year of pre-school.  I am a year closer to being able to work more, perhaps paint a bedroom in an entire day while the kids are at school instead of it taking a week of stops and starts.  A year closer to being able to go to lunch with friends, to spend more time with my mom. 

I learned my lesson last year when M started preschool.  I was excited!  I couldn't wait for my 6 hours a week of free time!  And the night before preschool I completely and unexpectedly lost my shit.   

Although I am not comfortable being outwardly sentimental, I am nursing a tender space in my heart right now, very much aware of this precious time.  

As much as I am aware of this, I know that the next few weeks of summer break I will struggle with the kids' arguments and whining and requests for snacks and other things that drive me bonkers about being with them from sun-up until sundown.  I will, as usual, be strung between the cherishing of the precious moments of now and the daily, mind-numbing, soul-crushing grind of now.

It made me feel immensely better last night reading the final chapters of Anna Karenina about Levin's soul-searching and spiritual development.  Levin had been musing on his beliefs, his place in the world, and he resolved to carry this fire of spiritual knowledge with him always.  Of course, that same daily grind with which I struggle got the better of him.

"Now, as always, interference made him angry, and he felt sorrowfully at once how mistaken had been his supposition that his spiritual condition could immediately change him in contact with reality."  

But later, as within my own head/heart and on this blog:

"He was glad of a chance to be alone to recover from the influence of ordinary actual life, ewhich had already depressed his happy mood."  

and still more...

"Real life had only for a time overcast the spiritual peace he had found, but it was still untouched within him."  

I sometimes forget that just because I am cranky and unhappy in the moment, that doesn't mean I am unhappy in the grand scheme of things, with the overall trajectory of my life.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Summer Reading, 2014

This summer I have been reading books in preparation for teaching next year.  I'm still working my way through Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy and will have it done by the end of the month.  Then I will read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.

Since March I have read or re-read the following:
MacBeth by William Shakespeare
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
My Antonia by Willa Cather
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli
Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
Silas Marner by George Eliot
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
Nothing but the Truth by Avi

The sweet spot has been a book that a college friend recommended titled The Monsters:  Mary Shelley and the Curse of Frankenstein by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler.  Having taught Frankenstein this past school year, I am finding it hard to put down.  I thought to take it on vacation in a few weeks.....my "beach" read as it were since I am such a nerd....but since I will be done with it by that time, I have decided to read The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom, which will put me back on track with my book club since I took a hiatus to read and re-read the aforementioned books.

My project for G and M this summer was to try to read a slew of Caldecott winners to them, and to have G read as much as possible to keep his skills fresh.  I have tried to have him read a book a day, but due to swimming and other activities he has sometimes been too tired to cooperate at bedtime.  And due to swimming and other activities, I have found it hard to remember to carve out reading time during the day.  Also, all this concierge-like activity has me tired too.

G--
The Stray Dog by Marc Simont
Snow by Uri Shulevitz
The Dark by Lemony Snickett
Pigs Aplenty, Pigs Galore by David McPhail
The DoorBell by Pat Hutchins
My Little Brother by David McPhail
Yo! Yes! by Chris Raschka
Green by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
The Pigeon Needs a Bath by Mo Willems
First the Egg by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
Just Helping My Dad by Mercer Mayer
Actual Size by Steve Jenkins       *Interesting read for him and me
Biscuit in the Garden by Alyssa Satin Capuccilli
Fly Guy v. The Flyswatter by Tedd Arnold
Grandpa Green by Lane Smith  *This is a neat book
Beast by Susan Meddaugh
My Mother is So Smart by Tommy DePaola
Moon Plane by Peter McCarty
Pigs Ahoy by David McPhail
Just Teenie by Susan Meddaugh
Who Loves Me by Patricia McLachlan
Snails by Monica Hughes
Not a Stick by Antoinette Portis
Moths by Helen Frost
Pill Bugs by Monica Hughes

N likes to read, but she is like me....she is too distracted during daylight hours to sit and read for any length of time.  Bedtime reading is her thing, but with late nights and sleepovers, she hasn't done as much as I would like for her to do.

N--
Currently Reading:
Belle Prater's Boy by Ruth White (She and I are reading this together)
Flutter: The Story of Four Sisters and an Incredible Journey by Erin E. Moulton
She is also a bit into a couple of other books but, like her mother, she sometimes has too many partially started books going at once.

Completed Reading:
Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage
Meet Caroline: An American Girl by Kathleen Ernst
Caroline Takes a Chance by Kathleen Ernst
Really, Truly Ruthie by Valerie Tripp
Meet Kirsten by Janet Beeler Shaw
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne, adapted by Ronnie Randall

Monday, July 7, 2014

Summer is interfering with my thinking.....and some semi-amusing kid stories

The daily routine of 6:30 a.m. wake-up followed by 15 hours of kid-speak that is like watching many really bad shows on Cartoon Network is taking its toll on my ability to think and, therefore, write.

I am reading Anna Karenina, which is slow-going but interesting, and I just began a book titled Monsters:  Mary Shelley and the Curse of Frankenstein, that I cannot put down and am even reading at red lights.  So, you see, I'm trying desperately to undue the damage of arguments over inane topics, like who gets the red lollipop since the bank teller gave two purples and a red, which create a mindworm worse than any earworm of songs by Neil Sedaka.

I have been thinking about why I have such an interest in and connection with black church worship and such weird feelings associated with worship in a contemporary Christian setting.  I have also been mulling over the Hobby Lobby decision, but my ability to write about these topics is stifled by the long days, constant interruptions and drop in IQ associated with being around my children all.day.long  These are things to consider more and write on when school resumes.

What I can write about are those weird and amusing things my children have been doing which, fortunately for them, keep me from killing them with my bare hands some days.

Worst Job Ever---
Near our home is an industrial business area.  At the corner entrance to this area is usually a guy who holds a sign for one of the businesses.  He looks to have something on the order of a mullet and wears a headset.  He also has a habit of "playing" the sign like a large bass.  Evidently, I had a habit of saying, "Worst job ever," whenever we would drive by this guy.  I didn't realize I had this habit, of course, until G said one day, "Worst job ever."  He says it now every time we pass, including yesterday on our way to Mamaw's house for dinner.

Lifeguard Job---
After supper, the kids were "swimming" in Mamaw's little pool.  N had the idea for them to play lifeguard.  She took her turn first, sitting in the chair beside the pool while G and M went under water with goggles on, pretending to need help.  She jumped in, rescued them, and gently pushed on their chests.

Next it was G's turn to be lifeguard.  N went underwater with her mask, waving her hand above the water in an attempt to gain the lifeguard's attention.  G the lifeguard zoned out, completely ignoring his "drowning" sister.  She came up and went under again, once more waving her arm to gain the lifeguard's attention.  Finally, she raised her head above the water and said, "What the heck, G????"

G, stood up, said "I gotta poop," and headed for the house.  What a shitty lifeguard he was.

Butt Kiss---
After swimming, the boys went into Mamaw's house to get changed into their dry clothes again, since we were going to hang out for a bit before lighting sparklers.

I picked up towels and swim masks, and upon walking into the house, the boys decided to "BUTT KISS!," which involves them bending over to touch their toes, stark naked and allow their butts to touch.  No matter how many times we say, "NO BUTT KISS," they do it anyway.  Of course, last night, in the midst of saying, "Don't do that!!!!" they proceeded to yell, "PENIS KISS!"

More Waste Management---
We got them dressed, watched a little tv and waited for the sun to set.  Around 8:30, having both boys on my lap, twiddling my ears and being generally tired and whiney, I decided to move the sparklers up so we could get the kids home and into bed.

When we got outside, M decided he had to pee.  Rather than going inside, he wanted to pee on a tree as G had done in our backyard the night before when we lit sparklers in our yard.  G, in his 6-year-old maturity, had the sense to use his fly for discreet urination near the willow.  Four-year-old M went to the tree in the center of Mamaw's yard and dropped trou, proceeded to scratch his butt while he peed on the ground.

One of the best things about summer and these little amusing snippets of life is when D and I are in bed, reviewing the kookiness of the day before I fall into a coma until 6:30 the following morning.

Last night we considered the usage of the boys' BUTT KISS as our code word for referring to adult tomfoolery (by inserting other body part language), but decided this would be beyond the pale.
Even for us.


Monday, June 30, 2014

Would I have resolve?

This weekend we watched 12 Years a Slave.  As intended, it was simply brutal to watch.

In typical 20th century fashion, I thought to myself a number of times, "How could this happen?  How could anyone allow this to happen?"

And then it struck me that despite my best intentions and beliefs in what I think I would do, I really don't know.  It made me ask myself how much injustice goes on in my own city that I do nothing about.  I tell myself that any injustice in my city, in my town, that may be going on isn't systemic, as clearly obvious as slavery was, but what if it is systemic, and I just don't know that it is?

How long did Nazi genocide go on before people outside the obvious knew it was happening?

When I even think about what I could do to make change, I pull back and think, "But I am so busy raising my children."  My own survival and that of my offspring is most important and necessary to me.  This is human nature.  

What struck me most about the film was how Solomon Northrup, as seen in the acting by Chiwetel Ejiofor, seemed to ask himself the exact same questions that I asked myself as a viewer.  How could he allow himself to watch this injustice happening without fighting it?  He saw it, he hated it, he was part of it, and he did what he had to do in order to ensure his own survival, which meant not doing anything obviously risky to fight slavery.  When he was hanging from a tree, and his fellow slaves went about their own business the entire day, it brought home that although they wanted to help him, they didn't.  Understandably they didn't, but also ultimately they didn't.

In the case of Patsey, Solomon had the chance to be merciful to her, and yet he couldn't do it.  Taking her out of the horrors of slavery would not be merciful to his own soul, and so he didn't.

I was struck by Edwin Epps' character as well.  As played by Michael Fassbender (one of my favorites), he was revolting and evil and horrible, and yet I could see his misgivings, his hatred of himself in rare moments for doing what he did to his slaves.  I could see how participating in such evil destroys one's soul.  I could also see a weird feeling of genuine care for his slaves.  He considered them his property, but at certain times I could see that he felt more for them than what he admitted to himself and them.

What makes this film fascinating to me is that in showing all slavery itself is 100% evil, it didn't show the slaves as 100% saints and the slaveholders as 100% sinners.  I think it did a remarkable job as showing all of them as complex, painfully human characters who had imperfect opportunities to make imperfect choices in a grossly imperfect world.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Summertime....and the living is....

just not as easy for me as I'd like.

I spend most of my time running along the seesaw, back and forth between these two trains of thought:
"Just let the kids enjoy themselves and quit fretting over how much time they spend dorking around on the computer/video games"
and
"So help me g*d I am going to light all the technology in this house ON FIRE if they don't find something else to do."

I've written about how I very much need the schedule of days dictated to me by school or work or children's naps, something....anything....outside of myself, otherwise I sort of bumble around.

These two weeks of summer have felt like this:

See, that is what happens to my sense of humor with too much unscheduled time.

I took the time to make a very detailed schedule for each child with 1/2 hour increments allotted for activities of their choosing.  If they wanted to do something for an hour, like play Legos, that is fine, but limits on screen time.  That lasted about 2 days before I realized that it is impossible to plan a schedule when my kids wake up at all different times of day....from 6:00 am to 9:30 am.   And mom cannot be expected to follow a schedule when she wakes at 6:00 am, but her coffee doesn't fully kick in until sometime around 8:30.  I can do many things, but coordinating 4 different schedules for 4 different people is out of my range of skills.

So then, I tried making a more general schedule, with the times of 10-12 being screen-free and 1-4 being screen-free.  But this system posed more questions and stress.  Like, we are sometimes out of the house from 9-11, so do the kids forfeit their one hour or do I add another hour and make screen time until 1?  And how does this affect lunch?  And if it rains all day, then having endless hours of no screens might be impossible (for me, I mean, because my kids aren't terribly good at entertaining themselves without pestering the heck out of me).

Two schedules, neither of which work very well, which has me sorta just wanting to throw up my hands and say "forget it."

And maybe that is what I should do....

Maybe I should just really lower my expectations of what I think my kids should do during summer?   I'm not a very good judge of whether my own expectations are realistic and actually achievable or so strenuous and pie-in-the-sky as to result in my hospitalization if I continue trying to push the impossible.

Would it be the end of the world to just stop fretting over this junk?  Would I then be able to be around my children in a state of semi-enjoyment rather than semi-anxiousness because I "should" be having them do other more productive things with their time?

Because right now I have thoughts like this:
"Last week I took the kids to 2 different parks for playtime and a botanical garden with friends and the pool once, but I really should have N and G select an author and have them compose a letter to said writer, and make them do a math skills website, and N should really work on learning a new song on piano."  Stew, stew, stew, stomach discomfort, blergity-blerg.

Or maybe I should just think thoughts like this:
"Hmmmm, this week I WANT to go blueberry picking and to the pool and get to the gym at least once.  And unless the kids tell me something specific they want to do, I'm going to just let them do whatever, provided it doesn't involve alcohol, knives and/or pedophile midgets."

It is like fundamentally changing my entire personality to think such things.
But perhaps I should try anyway?

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Almost half my life

For some strange reason I've been feeling particularly thankful for my husband, which is a sure sign I have a brain tumor or something terribly amiss with my noodle.  It is really not in my nature to be lovey-dovey, especially publicly.  I am not one of those women who talks about "my man" or "my lover" or "my soulmate."  I don't like to throw-up inside my mouth that much.

However, June marks 19 years of togetherness for us, and I've been thinking on that a lot.  In November, we will be married 17 years.

I don't remember specific dates anymore.  It was sometime in June when we had our first date.  I think we became engaged on May 28 the following year, but I'm not sure.  So much of what I have thought I would never forget, I have forgotten.

We worked at the same dental insurance company when we met.  He was completing his masters degree, and I was wrapping up my bachelors.  Colleagues had been trying to get us together for awhile.  Despite D's extreme reserve and avoidance of social events, he went to have drinks with a bunch of coworkers on a Friday evening, where I proceeded to chat it up with a mutual colleague's husband (who was far more talkative than D).

Two days later, on a Sunday, D called me and asked to go for a walk at a park that afternoon.
After our walk, he asked me out for the following Friday.  I was mightily impressed with him giving me so many days notice.
On the Friday of our first date, we went to see the play "Angry Housewives," which I find quite funny now.

I have often said that there are two main reasons I hooked up with D.

First, he liked the movie "Orlando" with Tilda Swinton, which he told me on our first date.  I thought he must be pretty enlightened if he was commenting on this movie and not some beat-em-up, testosterone-laden guy movie.

The second reason is that he doesn't care one whit for sports.

Recently, I was reminded of another reason why, 19 years later, I am glad I hooked up with D.  I was reading a newspaper article about the Malaysian jetliner that disappeared and discussing it with him.  As our conversation was dwindling, he said, "I think Gru took it."  Days and days later, I am still chuckling about this.

Perhaps my re-reading of Jane Eyre is what has me thinking on my marriage and the nature of love.  Being with someone who, while not perfect, is well-suited to my nature.

Or maybe it is that it has been a month since I've had my weekly 6-hours-of-solitary-grown-up-time, so I'm clinging to things that are adult and not endless childhood babble, and D is the most readily available thing.

Whatever the reason, I'm thankful he's in my life.
And now I'm going to go cuss or something to get all this sentimentality out of my system.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The every-decade book

Some people reread their favorite books every year, but I do not.  As a general rule I feel about books the way I do about vacation destinations.  With all the wonderful places to see in the world (and books to read) why should I revisit the same place (or book) over and over, year after year?

People don't change much from year to year, but a lot of changes take place in a decade or in a series of decades.  In preparation for teaching in the fall I recently reread Charles Dickens' Great Expectations, a book I loathed the first time I read it.  Almost 30 years later, I found it to be much better and surprisingly, much funnier, the second time around.  It is no longer on my "Most Hated Books of All Time" list.  It has been 20 years since I read James Joyce's Ulysses, so perhaps in another ten I'll give that one another go.

There is one book that I have made a point to read every decade since I was 15-years-old:  Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre.  It remains one of my all-time favorites, but with every decade, I take something new from the book.  The one thing that remains is my abiding adoration of Mr. Rochester, although this time around I'm having a bit of trouble with him.

When I was 15, I disliked the book immensely when I began reading it.  It was so.slow.  But then I got to the orchard scene, which is Chapter 23 (or thereabouts depending on your edition), where Mr. Rochester declares his true feelings, and at that point I couldn't read the book fast enough.  I fell in complete love with Mr. Rochester and considered the book a great romance.

In my twenties, I still loved Rochester, but I read with my eye on Jane's independence.  Her feminism, her strength, her resolve.  As a young woman finding my own way in life, I looked at Jane through that lens.

In my thirties, as a mother, I looked at Jane's childhood differently, and I looked at both her and Rochester's treatment of/relationship with Adele.

And now, at 40, I am finding myself less forgiving of Rochester's lies to Jane.  For the first time, I have seen what he says and does as desperation rather than ardent proofs of love.  I think he does love her, but I also see his need for control and how that hurts her so profoundly.  I understand why he does it, and I don't necessarily blame him for doing it, especially since he had no other options, but I see him as kind of emotionally abusive to her, which makes her decision to leave him even more powerful and indicative of her strength.

I am very excited to teach this novel to my high schoolers in the fall, although I have to say it feels WAY weird to be teaching to kids just as I was taught nearly 30 years ago.  Full circle, indeed.