Sunday, July 28, 2013

And then there's the mind-numbing

When N was 5 or so, she asked for an American Girl doll for Christmas.  Santa, being cognizant of N's general disinterest in any doll other than Barbies and her inability to read labels at the time, chose to leave her an Our Generation doll, which N proceeded to ignore for 4 years.

I was actually going to sell the doll in a recent consignment sale because it sat in her closet with hair all funkified from being tossed around under clothing and other more-played-with items.

N insisted I keep the doll.

This summer N has been playing with a classmate who has around 6-8 American Girl dolls.  And lots of clothes for them.  And a bed for them.  And I think she has a vehicle for the dolls.  She has been to Chicago numerous times to shop at the American Girl Store.

As a result, N has been talking American Girl all.summer.long.  Being a product of me, she understands that she gets more "bang for her buck" if she buys Our Generation clothes.  She spent some of her earned money on an OG doll and clothes because she knew she could get it now rather than having to save up for twice as long if she insisted on AG brand.  N has, though, already asked that Santa bring her an actual American Girl doll (only because she doesn't hear Santa's diatribes on budgeting to which only his elves are privy).

N has also requested that we go to Chicago (or St. Louis or really any place that has an actual American Girl Store).

She is turning her closet into a closet for her dolls.  She is making play food for them and menus for them to read and asking her Nana (who can sew) to ramp up the clothes-making process.

While I am glad she has something to do (besides watch tv) that is creative and keeps her happily entertained, I am also
1. sick to fricking death of hearing about doll names and their favorite colors and their personalities and what 11,000,000 items N would like for them to have from the American Girl Store
2. understanding what kinds of hell my mother experienced when I, as a child, would visit my cousin who had a Barbie Dreamhouse and a waterbed and then return home to the squalor that was my life and say, "I want this and I want that and I want the other."

Who wants to talk human evolution??????

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The child who blows my mind

There are many times G is just entirely too much for me.

He is high-strung, moody, demanding.  Suffice it to say he is like his dear old mom in all annoying ways possible.  That double-dose of Carrie-like traits (dealing with my own personality AND having a personality very similar to mine thrown in my face regularly) is tiring.

But he seems to me to also be highly intelligent and really, truly funny, which sometimes helps take the edge off his other unpleasant qualities that he, at the age of 5, uses for evil and not good.

The other night he posed these questions to us seemingly out of the blue.  He asked, "If humans weren't around when dinosaurs lived, how do we know anything about them?"  And then the whopper, "How did humans come about?  Where did humans come from?"

To which D and I answered an eloquent, "Uhhhhhhhh."

Because how do you explain evolution to the child who has no concept of time?  When I say "tomorrow" he asks, "You mean the next day?"  If I say we will visit someone next week, he asks, "You mean the next day?"  To discuss two days from now means he and I go round and round with me trying to say it is the next day's next day.

So I did some searching on Youtube and did some searching on Amazon and then on our local library site and found some resources to help put evolution in a context a 5-year-old can understand.  Today at the library I sat with him and looked through the books The Skull in the Rock:  How a Scientist, a Boy, and Google Earth Opened a New Window on Human Origins and Neanderthal:  Neanderthal Man and the Story of Human Origins.  Though much of these books is far, far beyond him, it did allow me to show him some conceptual pictures of ancestors to homo sapiens so he could tell me which ones look more human and which look more ape.  From there I was able to describe in language he can understand how over time we came to look more human and less ape.

I don't hang around many 5-year-old boys so maybe all of 'em ask questions like this. Regardless, G really blew my mind asking deep questions. N never did at that age, and I don't know that she has yet considered such things (or she has just never posed the question to us).

Of the many things I enjoy about being a mom to these kids, it is helping them explore their interests.  And it is doubly fun when their interests coincide with things I find fascinating too.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Smack your foreheads, people

I am sorta not looking forward to school starting in 3 weeks.

No, I have not been hacked.
It is really me writing this.

As much as I look forward to only having one child with me during the week when N heads into 4th grade and G starts kindergarten in August, as much as I will be glad to have a whopping 5 whole hours a week all to myself in September when M begins pre-school, I have also lately felt unsteady from time slipping out from under my feet.  I sense the dull ache of longing in the pit of my stomach because this stage of my life, though difficult and exhausting with my two little guys, is nearing its end.

While I am in creative and mental need for this stage to pass, it saddens me too.  How can I be so ready for something and feel my heart clinging to it, wishing to delay it just.a.little.bit.longer?  How can the idea of my challenging child going off to all-day school feel freeing and heart-wrenching simultaneously?

It never ceases to astound me, the swing of emotions in this parenting thing.  The fulcrum of motherhood sits sound as I run along the lever, endlessly back and forth, trying to figure out "What exactly am I feeling?"  

Perhaps it is because I so much enjoyed our family vacation from last week--disconnecting from the online world and tv news and all the things I need to get done at home and in my head.  Coloring with the boys and watching N ride the waves on her boogie board and seeing all of them play in the sand and sucking up everything that is good and fun and wonderful about being a mother to these children.  I was carpe diem(ing) all over the place last week, which sounds messy but was so desperately needed to restore my faith that I am probably doing ok by these kids and that they are doing ok by me.  

My melancholic, misanthropic, haggard momma thing, which seems like a schtick but isn't (which makes it funny to friends and tiring for me) makes it difficult for me to feel the wonderment of mothering with any regularity.  The return to the ocean felt like a baptism, a window allowing my soul to fly into the breeze, challenging sandpipers on their whirling paths, seeing my children from a vantage point I don't often enough get to experience.

And now, land-locked again, I am still riding a wave but also feeling the sandy grit at my toes, the reality of what is challenging and hard and grounding, the acknowledgment that this, too, is passing.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The fear of being a critical parent

The problem with being a person of high expectations is that in addition to having them for myself, I have equally high expectations of other people, including my children.  And since I cannot control other people, and especially my children, this means I am sometimes frustrated and/or disappointed.

I set myself to very high, and possibly unattainable, standards.  This isn't to say that I don't have occasions where I let myself slide, but it isn't too often.  When I do give what I consider half-assed effort, there is always an internal tongue-lashing going on inside my brain.  I am often accused of being "too hard on myself" by my mother and an assortment of momma friends.

High standards/expectations are not always a bad thing.  Being a person who follows through, who tries to give exemplary effort, these things generally produce good results and the respect of colleagues and friends.

But I wonder if having them for my children is a bad thing.  Or can be a bad thing.

There is a taut rope of balance between having high standards and being a hard-ass, and children, given their limited view of the world, are not always able to understand that 1. the parent loves them immensely regardless of anything and 2. parents come with all sorts of baggage that affects how they parent and who they are and that this has nothing to do with the kid at all.  

If I have to choose, I know I prefer to have high expectations of how my children behave and what they accomplish.  I don't expect them to succeed in all things, but I do expect them to give their best effort and have a good attitude.

But sometimes I doubt whether I am as strongly preaching empathy and "I love you regardless" as I am "do your best."  

Monday, July 8, 2013

Identifying with Jack Skellington

Back in the day, whenever I felt at loose ends I would look to E.M. Forster's novel A Room With a View and find myself in Lucy Honeychurch, all muddled and confused and yearning to find a calmness to her internal wrangling.

Now, I find myself identifying with Jack Skellington, the pumpkin king in Nightmare Before Christmas, which my children have watched over and over and over.

He sings in "Jack's Lament:"

Yet year after year, it's the same routine
And I grow so tired of the sound of screams....

Ohhhh, somewhere deep inside of these bones
An emptiness began to grow
There's something out there far from my home
A longing that I've never known.

Earlier this year I remember telling a momma friend, "If I can survive until September (when all 3 kids are in school part- or full-time), I will be okay."  It will be the first time in 9.5 years that I will not have had a child with me at all times.

As of early July, I am finding it a struggle to get to September.

I am having hare-brained ideas, which sometimes means I actually want to pursue hare-brained ideas.  But sometimes it is a signal that I am so desperately dissatisfied with the here-and-now that I will do anything to make things different from the way they are right.this.second.

It is not that I don't have things to occupy my mind.  I continue to read and plan try with as much fortitude and patience as I can muster to read and plan for my teaching position in the fall, but I am constantly interrupted.

When I do get time away from the children, it feels like a sip of water to a person who has been in the desert for years.  That mere sip doesn't alleviate the wanting of water and only makes the desire to drink deeply and long more acute.

Some days I cannot stand for one more instant having to listen to a lengthy discussion of American Girl/Our Generation dolls and/or Skylander Giants.

Recently I have begun to wonder if I am not yearning for a greater capacity for creativity.  Certainly my writing fills that void and planning literature lessons fills it to an extent, but I find myself wanting to make things with my hands, to feed my creativity in a different way.  Playing piano helps but again.....I am confounded by the interruptions.  As soon as my butt sits at the bench, someone needs something or has a violent urge to chat with me that cannot wait for me to run a couple measures.

It doesn't happen very often anymore, when I am gently scolded by others to "enjoy this time because it is so fleeting."  I think about the fleeting nature of some parts of it.

Whenever I listen to my children laugh until their tummies hurt or I chuckle at the funny ways they phrase things (like G saying, "I wanna make a shoot" when trying to throw the basketball into the goal), I know that these snippets are what I will miss.

But there are large swaths that I will not.  The tantrums.  The wiping of butts when accidents happen.  The interrupted sleep and too early mornings and the inability to drink deeply of time to myself and do things that satisfy the cravings of an adult mind and heart.

Summer is a road of uninterrupted interruptions, and I am beginning to grow weary.  

Thursday, July 4, 2013

George Bailey days

I don't watch it often, but It's a Wonderful Life is one of my favorite movies.  Not only is Jimmy Stewart simply wonderful as George, conveying the frustrations that even the best experiences of life have to offer, but the general theme of the film is powerful.

How did I, and do I, make a difference in the world of my family, friends and beyond?

Many years ago I told my best friend, K, that if I were ever killed in some freak accident or tragedy that under no circumstances was she to say, if ever she were interviewed by the news people, that I was a "sweet person."

I can think of few things worse than being called or considered a sweet person....whatever that actually means.

Anyone who knows me even a little would never call me a "thoughtful" person.  I would like to aspire to be thoughtful, bringing someone a little trinket or cookies just because, but I am 1.) far too cheap to buy things that don't have some boring practical value and 2.) I hate to cook and only barely like to bake.

Yesterday and today, though, I have been smacked in the head with unplanned, weird experiences that have me thinking deeply about my place in this world.

At the pool, while I was trying to lure G and M out of the kiddie pool to come eat lunch, I noticed a woman staring with a look of horror into the 3-foot end of the pool.  It was break time so only adults could be in the pool since the lifeguards were away from their stations.  When I followed her stare to the pool, I saw a small child bobbing in the water.  I waited an instant to see if she would come up, and she did, but only to the bridge of her nose.  She made no sound.  She didn't wave her arms.  She was in the act of drowning.

Before I knew what was happening, I found myself jumping in the pool, lifting the girl out of the water and setting her at the ladder on the concrete.  The woman whose gaze I had followed knelt down and starting checking the girl with me.  I said, "Is she yours?"  The woman replied, "No."

All of a sudden I heard, "Are you kidding me?" "ARE YOU KIDDING ME?" and looked to see a woman walking over from the kiddie pool enclosure towards us.  When I followed the direction of her yells they were at her husband, who was in the big pool all the way across in the 4-foot section.

The girl was fine.  I don't know whether she fell in, jumped in, or what, but it wasn't long that she was in the water.  She was conscious and scared to death.  The parents said nothing to me.  This may be selfish or prideful, but I maybe a little bit expected one of them to say thank you.  I know if someone had done this with my child, they would have had to pry my fingers off them from the big bear hug I would give them in gratefulness.

My heart beat rapidly for a good 45 minutes, and some 24 hours later, the rhythm quickens when I think about this experience.

Today's oddity was at Walgreen's, where I went to pick up photos from N's time at day camp.  At the photo counter was an old man asking the photo guy where a certain insurance office was located.  I stood there waiting to pick up my photos and was drawn into the conversation by the old gentleman who showed me his letter from the agency and asked if I knew its whereabouts.

Since I'm still in the world of "dumb phones," I called D at home and had him mapquest the address on the letter.  I wrote down things to look for and told the old man he could drive with me and we'd find it.  This man, whose name I never got, said he had his car, but I was afraid of not being sure where I was going and getting him even more lost.  Plus, it was raining so I didn't like the idea of this 89-year-old frail gentleman driving aimlessly on a busy parkway following someone who wasn't 100% sure of where she was taking him. I explained my thinking to him, and he opted to come with me.

The man explained to me that he is hard of hearing, lives a bit aways across town from this insurance agency and thought it would be a good idea to drive to find the office before his actual appointment with the agent.  I drove him to the door of the agency and wrote down the bank it is directly across from to help him when he comes back.

He said he didn't know the words to thank me, but said his higher power must be looking out for him.  And that my higher power was looking down on me with pride.

I dropped him off at his car and returned home, feeling contented and sorta mind blown.

When the man was in the car with me, commenting about a higher power, I felt like that, like he,  was god embodied in this little old dude.  I know this sounds dumb (and my husband will almost certainly roll his eyes when he reads this post), but what made me think this is that the old man didn't say "Jesus" or "God," but higher power, a term I use often and most comfortably when thinking about my own beliefs.

I guess I felt like, with yesterday's experience so fresh and today's experience so out of the blue, this was higher power telling me in no uncertain terms, "Carrie, you done good."

I'm not sweet.  Or thoughtful.  Or so many other things.
But I do make a difference in this world.