Friday, May 31, 2013

The constant work of staying engaged

When I had N, I was in her face constantly, interacting with her, reading to her, pretending with her.  As a first time mom and obsessive person, I thought I was making her brain expansive and ensuring her brilliance.  I think it made me crazy.

I am a much more relaxed mom with my boys, and by that I mean I don't give them constant attention.  I am older and more tired mostly because of my increased cleaning, cooking and taxi-cab responsibilities.

I do feel guilty about this sometimes....that I am unable/unwilling to spend oodles of time in G and M's faces.  So I blog and post pictures of things I have done with them that make me feel better about my mothering and give them proof that I was occasionally a creative mom who played with them.....

and took photos of them in costume for their scrapbooks.

I hope this makes up for all my Facebook venting.  

The cheap and mostly successful tiling project

Next month we will have been in our house 12 years so the newness has definitely worn off.  Things are nicked and faded and have a layer of child-related grime so thick that I cannot get it off no matter how hard I scrub.

The paint behind our kitchen sink had a tendency to fade and peel due to the drops of water from the faucet. I am the official "paint toucher-upper" in the house and, really, I don't need any more work added to my endless list of things that need to be done.

So I decided to try my hand at tiling the lazy person's way.

I bought Tile Setting Mat.....

some lightweight tiles...

some pre-mixed and stained grout... (of which I did not take a photo)

And I got....... awesomeness for under $50.

With the leftover tile, mat and grout, I did this in the powder room, which is off from the kitchen and had one of those large, plain, stuck-forever-to-the-drywall mirrors that lacks interest and was starting to chip and look worn at the edges.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Church-going (A report after 6 months)

It has been 6 months or so since the kids and I started attending a nearby Christian church (where the kids have gone to preschool).  My "goal" was to attend once a month, not enough for me to get burnt out but enough for the kids to become familiar with the children's worship program with the intention of sending them to vacation bible school this summer.

(I did not like the idea of just sending them to VBS without somewhat regularly attending church services.  It seemed a little weird for me to allow people I've never met or even seen before to hang with the kids, and despite theoretically liking the idea of free childcare, I don't really like the idea of free child care.)

Our daily lives have not changed with our church attendance.  I am not reading the Bible or praying or anything of that sort.  But I have found that when we haven't gone to service after a few weeks I find myself wanting to return.  I enjoy the sermons very much.....maybe only because it gives me other things to think about besides the "usual" things that run amok in my brain.

If there is anything I haven't liked about the church it hasn't been enough to make me angry or uncomfortable, and that is saying a lot because it doesn't take much to do those things especially when it comes to religion or spirituality.

Yesterday's service had the woman who did the music taking the minister's place when they were saying prayers over the bread and juice, which I found pleasantly shocking given my childhood and early adult years in the Catholic Church.  It was like turning the entire patriarchal system on its duff having a woman in the center of the "apostles" as it were.

N and G enjoy the children's worship, and I have gotten compliments about how well-behaved they are.  M will start joining them in the fall when he turns 4.

I am very much an inactive participant.  Just sitting my butt in that pew is my signal that I am open to hearing, to learning.  As much as I like to write and express in every other facet of my life, I am almost freakishly reserved when it comes to church proper.  I'm not sure what this means or signifies, if anything.

Sometimes I wonder if I have put up a large wall and am just waiting for god/higher power/whatever to bust it down in some miraculous fashion.  But the worship leader yesterday made a point about pentecost that appealed to me by referencing his father's love, which was shown in small, seemingly insignificant ways that over the long-term were an indisputable sign that was very, very powerful to him and his siblings.

Even if I do have a wall up, I suspect I would be frightened the hell off if it were busted down in one big show of power.

I think small, gentle chinks are the way it will fall.
If there is a wall.
And if it can be breached.  

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Thinking I've mellowed (and acknowledging the truth)

For a split second, I thought maybe I've mellowed in the 9 years that I've been a mom.

When I was expecting and soon after N's birth, I was pretty darn militant about natural childbirth and breastfeeding.  G being breech and not cooperating with external version, requiring a c-section, sorta helped calm me down.  Even though I wasn't laboring and pushing I had still had a baby, although under circumstances that I wouldn't have chosen had I been given my way.

M finally stopped nursing (or I cut him off--however you want to look at it) earlier this year.  After nursing him for 36+ months (and the other two for a grand total of something like 64 months), my feelings about breastfeeding have dwindled.  I certainly think breastfeeding is best, but I'm not on my bandwagon about it.

The lessening of my opinion about these things made me temporarily think I was "calming down."

But no.
I very soon realized that I continue to be highly opinionated about other issues that are more in line with where I am, and where my children are, in their lives.

For example, I have found that the general trend in my area of sending one's children through the local public school system for elementary school and then hightailing it to a nearby county for middle school pisses me off to a degree I find difficult to manage at times.

I totally get it.  As much as I support public education, I find my views challenged whenever two grandchildren of a neighbor come over and play with my children in the backyard.  These kids are not bad, but they are uncouth and generally not well managed by their mother (I guess there is a father in the picture....I really don't know), and they have an astounding ability to ramp my children up into a fit of ape-like insanity (as if my children need help in this respect).

If nothing else, this experience serves as a gentle kick-in-the-pants to me.  If I believe it is good for my children to be around other children from all different walks of life in public school, which I do, then I need to accept that this includes the uncouth and generally not well managed among them.  Having just reread To Kill a Mockingbird, I am reminded that Scout and Jem learned a great deal from the Ewells about how to behave (or not) in life.

I completely understand the desire to run off, and I respect a parent's right to make this choice.
But I think you are a coward if you do.
There.  I said it.

(If all of these well-meaning, volunteer-oriented parents who are strong advocates of education would stay where they are, I suspect the local schools would improve.  If everyone who is great and dedicated and knowledgeable runs off, then off course the schools are gonna blow.)

Another example of my lack of mellowness has appeared as N gets ever closer to middle school, and I see the path of her rebelling before me.  I have developed a much stronger opinion of tattoos than I've ever had before.

I have told my children that they can do anything temporary to their bodies that they want---nose rings (which you can take out or allow the hole to close), neon-green dyed hair, mohawk cuts.

But for the love of god, do not get permanent tattoos.
Or if you do, wait until you are 40 (because by then you may have the sense of not making it a neck tattoo or something huge that may hinder your ability to get into whatever field of employment you wish to pursue unless you wish to be an artist or something of that nature in which tattoos are appropriate).

I'm not anti-tattoo in general.  I don't think people who have tattoos are dumb or trashy or anything of the sort.
But I also think that tattooed skin on a 20-something person, which can look very cool, looks very, very terrible on a 50-year-old's skin.  I've seen how my own skin has changed since I turned 35, and I don't even want to think about what another decade of life will do to it.

I also think that people in certain fields, like teachers, doctors, attorneys, judges, nurses, CEOs, are probably not taken as seriously (or hired) if their bodies are covered in tattoos.  I certainly would not want someone who looks like Travis Barker teaching my kids (although if he was f*cking OUTSTANDING I could look past the excessive body art a bit).

Where I live, there seems to be three types of folks:
1. the ones with a dinky little tattoo on their toes (and really why bother if it is gonna be a dot of ink?)
2. the ones with ginormous tattoos covering their arms and legs that cost hundreds of dollars (and really do you not have rent to pay or a car payment?)
3. the people like me who have no tattoos (we are a very, very small group of 4 people).

I have begun to think of it in this regard lately.  The skin is the body's largest organ.  Would you inject dye into your liver or kidney?  Then why into your skin?

This diatribe on uncouthness and body art is clear evidence that
1. my soapbox remains completely intact
2. I have become a full-fledged curmudgeonly old lady.  

Friday, May 24, 2013

20 years (or stupid things I did when I was 19)

If there is one quality I have in spades (besides neuroticism) it is tendency to reflect on everything for far more time than is warranted.

This fall I will turn 40, so I am reflecting on my life with even greater fervor than I did when I was 18 or 27 or 34.

I will return to teaching on a part-time basis in September so I am reflecting on what I did in the classroom eons ago and what I can bring to my students to help them engage in classic literature and improve their writing.

This month also marks 20 years since I went to England, Ireland and Wales for a 10-week study trip drunken escapade, so I am reflecting on that experience just for sh*ts and giggles.

I did many stupid things as a teenager and young adult but this trip was perhaps the grand poobah of stupid (and memorable).  It has made for fun stories over the years, but it is also the source of  a cloud of embarrassment that has lingered over my head like dirt that follows Pig-Pen wherever he dances.

To make a long story short, when I got to England, where the drinking age was blessedly 18, I sent a Dear John letter to my boyfriend at home and hooked up with a guy on the trip with whom I had shared an American Literature class (and who was dating a girl who was also on the trip with us).  And by hooked up I mean we got engaged.  For four weeks.  And then got unengaged.  Once we returned home I think we hung out once and then he didn't speak to me again, and that hurt tremendously.  (Maybe almost as much as getting a Dear John letter in the mail.)

I don't regret any of this happening.  I deserved the bad karma I got, and I am pleased that I have stayed in civil contact with both of these men via social media.  But to this day I feel embarrassed about my behavior in these relationships.

As a middle-aged woman with three children and 15 years of marriage under my belt, I can look at these relationships as short-lived, tempestuous love affairs that didn't mean much.  But they did mean much since after 20 years I am still thinking about them and feeling a little lousy for behaving as a naive, thoughtless perfectly normal 19-year-old.

This trip, a nearly 3-month jaunt, gave me many wonderful things:

  • an abiding love for Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles.  
  • an awesome concert story about being in Dublin at a Peter Gabriel concert, where Sinead O'Connor also performed and Bono and the Edge were 20 feet from us in the audience.  

  • a fond memory of my first and only time smoking marijuana on one of the Aran Islands and then wandering around stoned on the craggy landscape with two platonic guy friends with whom I also had American Literature class. 

  • the wonderful recollection of wandering the moors on a windy evening at twilight somewhere in England before returning to the hostel for the night.
  • the experience of musseling at the shore and a better appreciation for Molly Malone.  
  • an understanding that if I drink too much Guinness (or, let's be honest, any Guinness) I'm gonna start itching for a fight.  
This last bullet could lead me into the tale of my "2nd biggest grand poobah of stupid" which happened 2 weeks after I turned 21, but I shall save that story for another day. 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

My day-planner from the past few weeks

This week marks the END of nearly constant busyness, and I am thankful.

While I am not looking forward to being with all three of my children come early June, I am very glad to have a break from track practice & meets, Girl Scouts, ensemble practice and performances, and a seemingly endless string of doctor visits (although with M's pending myringotomy/adenoidectomy/tonsillectomy, we'll be doing our fair share of ENT and audiologist appointments).

I want to record what my day-planner has looked like the past few weeks so that I can remember just how busy I was with 3 children ages 9, 5 and 3.  This doesn't include exercising (which I like to fit in so that I have the energy to maintain this breakneck speed), errands and pathetic attempts to keep my house a little bit clean.

Week of April 22
M--Track practice, 3:50-4:45; Piano lesson 6:30-7:30
T--Ensemble practice, 8:00; Track meet 5:00
W--Gynecologist appt, 9:20; Girl Scout meeting, 6:00
Th--Ensemble practice, 8:00; N's orthodontist appt 10:30
F--N's field trip, 9:30-11:45
Sa--Swim lessons, 10:00-11:00; N track meet, 10:00; G to friend b-day party, 3:30

Week of April 29
M--Dentist appt all 3 kids, 9:00; Track practice, 3:50-4:45; Piano lesson 6:30-7:30
T-- Ensemble practice, 8:00; Carrie haircut, 6:30
W--Job interview, 10:00
Th--Ensemble practice, 8:00, G playdate 12:15
F--No school

Week of May 6
M--ENT appt 11:00; Track practice, 3:50-4:45; Piano lesson 6:30-7:30
T--Ensemble 3:45-5:00; Taylor Swift concert 7:00
W--Ensemble 3:45-5:00; Girl Scout meeting, 6:00
Th--N Ensemble performance, 6:00
Fri-- Cluster track meet 6:30 (Cancelled due to rain)
Sa--Swim lessons, 10:00-11:00

Week of May13
M--Track practice, 3:50-4:45; Piano lesson 6:30-7:30
T-- Parenting seminar, 6:00
W--Rescheduled cluster track meet, 6:15; Neighborhood board meeting, 6:30
Th--Ensemble celebration, 8:00; Preschool Graduation 7:00
Fri- Blessedly free of evening activity
Sa--Swim lessons, 10:00-11:00; Girl Scout training, 1:30-6:30

Saturday, May 18, 2013

A very part-time teaching position (Hooray! and Egads!)

I interviewed for a 1-day a week teaching position but did not get it, which I expected.  Due to it being a 7:30-3:30 position, I limited my available days to Monday or Tuesday when M would be in preschool so that my mother wouldn't have to watch a child

It was good practice to go through the "interview" process, although I'm certain not needing a job changes how I present myself a bit.  Of course, my nonchalance could be partly due to the wisdom of aging and feeling confident in my own skin and with my experiences.  Also, I'm simply not good at bullshitting.

One boost of confidence was seeing how good I look on paper despite being a stay-at-home mom for 9 years.  Between my freelance writing and various volunteer activities, in resume form I look like I have contributed more to the world than just delightful children and clean toilets (although those are exceptional things to have contributed to the world)!

I wasn't upset at not getting the 1-day a week job for two reasons.  First, I would have likely missed G's first day of kindergarten, and that bothered me although it wouldn't have kept me from taking the job. Secondly, I happened to hear about a 1-class a week position teaching middle school Language Arts at a local cottage school and was offered that job (much to my surprise).  

This Language Arts position will allow me to teach the classics (my favorites like The Odyssey and To Kill a Mockingbird) to students who are well above grade level, and while this is very exciting it is also a little nerve-racking.  When I taught in the public system, it was actually the "regular" kids who I enjoyed teaching most, not the advanced children.  

Whenever I've taught advanced children I have worried that they will be smarter than me (or more well-read) and that I will not challenge them enough (and make their parents happy).  However, as I've been planning my curriculum I have been remembering my time teaching AP students with more clarity, and I have recalled that while they might have been very bright children, they saw the world and literature through inexperienced children's eyes.  There was plenty they did not know that I could push them towards, and this realization has helped alleviate some of my anxiety.  

In my short time in the classroom, I developed a reputation as a really good teacher (and some would say excellent), but I have reservations about this characterization.  I don't say this in a "fishing for compliments" kind of way (because I have plenty of ego that doesn't need much feeding).  Given my limited time in the classroom, I was probably pretty good, and I certainly gave 110% effort, but there was lots I didn't know and much that I would do differently now that I understand kids better from having lived with them for almost a decade.  

The past few weeks I have been reviewing the core educational standards of my state, reviewing literary classics and beginning the process of rereading them, creating an online survey for my prospective students to take so that I can see what they know at this point, and generally feeling cognitively alive in a way I haven't felt in years.

And that is a nice feeling.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Within the realm of normal and hazy parenting filters

From my own personal experience, I know there is a fine line between quirky and mental illness, and I suspect the same can be said of behavior disorders.

G has his share of quirks but most of the time the odder ones happen every few months which is just enough time in between for me to forget the previous one.  Recently, though, he had two episodes within a 24-hour-period.

He has issues with museums or anyplace that has 1. dark spaces and 2. life-style statues.  We have learned to adjust.  Either G closes his eyes and allows us to guide him through or he calmly refuses to go and either D or I goes with the kid(s) who want to continue.  A few weeks ago he did the closed eyes/guide "dog" routine at a national park's visitor center.

The following day, however, he really and truly freaked out when I took him, N and one of her friends to the movie theater.  By the time we got there, the previews were on.  We started climbing the steps to the stadium-like seats and G freaked out--screaming, covering his ears with his hands, squinching his eyes tightly shut.  He has seen movies in a theater before but never after the lights dimmed and the images were on the screen.  I got N and her friend settled and then removed G.  He was perfectly fine once we were in the lobby.

I informed N' friend's mom of the incident because I didn't want the girl saying something on the order of, "N's mom left us in the movie alone," or something of that nature and the girl's mom worrying.  To make a long story short, the mom asked if I had ever considered getting G evaluated for a sensory processing disorder.

G certainly has his fair share of sensory issues (demands seamless socks, must have tennis shoes extremely tight on his feet, has texture issues with food, etc), so I began a short period of worry over whether G needs occupational therapy.  Fortunately my worry was short-lived.  Talking with his preschool teacher and an OT specialist at the public school system helped me feel better that, despite his peculiarities, G is within the realm of normal.

To be sure, about a month into kindergarten, an OT will come to G's classroom to observe him and consult with his teacher to ensure everything is ok, but I feel better after hearing someone who deals with a large number of children tell me G sounds like a normal kid with normal fears and relatively minor sensory issues.

A few days ago I attended a parenting seminar at N's school, and this too, helped me see G through a slightly different and hopefully clearer lens.  What the child psychologist said wasn't anything I haven't already heard or read before, but something just clicked for me while listening to him speak, as well we the experiences of some of the other parents.

Of the three kids, at this point in time, G is my challenge, and in all honesty he has been for a number of years. I think that this has caused me to have a "Difficult Child Filter" that comes over my vision whenever G does anything.  Even if he is not being challenging or difficult, I tend to think whatever he is doing is more challenging and difficult just because it is G doing it.

Aside from causing me a lot of angst, this filter is unfair to G because it taints my experiences with him and how I view him in the grand scheme of our family life.

Listening to some of the other parents discuss their children's "issues," such as a child throwing such loud and disruptive tantrums in elementary class that she has to be removed almost every day, helped me see that while G can be annoying, he is not a "problem" child in the least.  The biggest problem for awhile, I think, has been my perception of G.

I have felt relief at these "revelations" about G and myself, even though I also feel like a bit of a turd for having been wearing such a filter.  Of course I didn't intentionally wear it or even understand that I was wearing it, but momma guilt is gonna have its way with me regardless.

Perhaps it was this relief that made G's "graduation" from preschool last night so meaningful to me.  He was SUCH a corker, smiling with a mile-wide grin on the stage, waving to me and M and N during the performance, wearing his blue tie and looking like such a handsome little man.  I cannot help but adore all the strange little quirks that make him the interesting, funny and sometimes annoying little boy he is.

I was (and am) so immensely proud of him.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The significance of turtles

When I die, if dying means discovering answers to everything we've ever wished to know, I would like to know if there is any deeper meaning to me finding turtles in the road.

It happened again today.  M and I were on our way to run errands when I passed a turtle on the main street of our neighborhood.  I never pass up an opportunity to save a turtle (and wanted to give G and N a gander at it when they got home from school).

Franklin #3 is on the deck as I type this.  I had him in a low clear plastic container but he escaped and nearly fell off the 2-story deck so now he is ensconced in a taller blue plastic bin.  Once N returns home we will return him to the woods behind our neighborhood from whence he came.

 M, Franklin #3 in clear bin

G, Franklin #3 in blue bin

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Taylor Swift concert-going with one's daughter

N and I attended the recent Taylor Swift concert.  I have not been to a concert in probably 10 years, and I have to say that shows seem a little bit different from what I am/was used to.

Also, I am a dinosaur.

Let's do a little Then and Now comparison.

Concerts Then:  "Awesome! I am so stoked!!!"
Concerts Now:  "Meh."
(I don't dislike Taylor Swift, but I doubt I'd listen to her if I didn't have a 9-year-old daughter.)

Concerts Then:  "I smell POT!"
Concerts Now: "Damn, where's the pot smell?"

Concerts Then: "Look at that cute guy!"
Concerts Now: "Gee, my kid is cute in her little dress, swaying and singing."

Concerts Then:  No earplugs and days of tinnitus....
Concerts Now:  "We have to wear earplugs so we don't get tinnitus."

Concerts Then: "ROCK THAT GUITAR!!"
Concerts Now: "Hmmmm, isn't it interesting how he (Ed Sheeran) is able to loop that sound and make one guitar sound like full instrumentation?"

Concerts Then: "I hope this lasts forever!!!!"
Concerts Now:  "I hope this ends before 10 so N gets a decent night of sleep."

I really enjoyed Ed Sheeran's set, but since I am a dinosaur I prefer the singer w/ a guitar thing.  Taylor's numbers were very theatrical, but due to all the costume changes and such there was a lag afterwards so momentum wasn't continuous.  I thought her best numbers were when she was just pickin' and singin'.

I told D after we got home that Taylor Swift is wooden.  Her "interaction" with the audience seemed rehearsed and forced.  I doubt anyone under 30 would have caught onto that, but compared to Ed Sheeran she was like a mannequin in terms of personality.

Regardless of what I thought, I didn't go for me.  I went for N, and she says she had a great time. It was really cool to watch her taking it all in, and from her child's perspective I can see how the theatrical nature of the show really ramped up the wonder of it all.