Monday, August 24, 2015

all good things must come to an end, apparently

I've been that parent using this trite phrase with the children when it was time to leave the playground or a friend's house, thinking that I was imparting some great wisdom upon the next generation. Or, if not wisdom, at least the understanding that life is tough sometimes. You better get used to it. Right now, I'm the one having to buck up.

Today was the final day of summer break. Tomorrow ushers in a different way of life, full of early mornings, school days, homework afternoons, and squeezed-in dinners. Summer will soon be a distant memory, an unbelievably relaxed image in our heads.

I will miss many things from summer, including but not limited to:
  • 9:00 AM wake-ups
  • 10:00 AM actual get-ups
  • any time of the day reading
  • cicada crescendos in the treetops
  • busy broods of birds on the feeder all day long
  • that one Carolina Wren who would perch almost daily on our fence post and systematically sing in all four directions (man, I hope he found some love this summer)
  • mid-day board games, especially teasing Red about her ability to get a bazillion 6s in every game of Trouble
  • getting excited for the oldest's annual Youth Circus performances
  • Hummingbird Watch 2015 (we know you're drinking that red juice even if we've only seen you three times)
  • day trips with friends, with or without children (yay for grown-up time enabled by work-at-home husband!)
  • encouraging the children to go play in the rain
  • encouraging the children to go play at the playground
  • encouraging the children to go play in any space that's away from me and my book
  • eating homegrown cucumbers, peppers, green beans, basil, rosemary, and tomatoes (well, not the tomatoes for me personally, but you get the idea)
  • marveling at the variety of skinks/butterflies/moths/cicadas/praying mantises/spiders/beetles/songbirds who like to call our little homestead theirs, too
  • lazy pool afternoons with my totally independent swimmers, making the lifeguards actually earn their hourly wage
  • looking up from my pool chair to cheer on the younger two's latest diving accomplishments

That's not to say that Everything Summer will be mourned. I bid this all adieu with a one-finger salute:
  • mosquito swarms when I go on our front step to open the mailbox (I know I may have to suffer a few more weeks of patience until you're completely gone, you assholes)
  • humidity... enough said
  • my nonstop "glistening" look, which I've been chalking up to the previous bullet point rather than attributing it to any big changes on the old lady body horizon
  • day-long bickering... yes, I'm looking at you three... I still don't care who did or said what... enough already!
  • watching "this" and trying to accomplish the impossible at the pool- getting the goggles to fit the right way
  • my daily job as Time Keeper of the Electronics
  • asking particular questions dozens of times a day, like:
    • Did you put your bikes AWAY-away?
    • Whose cup of milk is this on the counter/table/shelf/bathroom sink?
    • Can you please put your socks into the actual laundry basket and not on the floor/couch/chair/stairs/toilet lid?
    • Who left this light on?
    • Why aren't you outside?
  • later summertime bedtimes (aka having to wait until 10:30 to be able to watch Orange is the New Black, I mean c'mon, we only have a few episodes left!)

If you're more a picture kind of person than a list lover, how about some of those positive bullet points in images?

Summer's end brings us to this evening, the night before the new year. New school year for the kids (though the high schooler still gets a couple more weeks' break thanks to the late Labor Day date) and a new beginning for me, too. Of course, we're all hyper-aware of our feelings tonight. The younger two whispering exclamations of nervousness along with the questions that are weighing heavy on their minds as they snuggle under their sheets: "Will my teacher be nice?" and Will my teacher like me?" Meanwhile, I am pondering my own potential inadequacies, hoping that I can rise to all the expectations that begin tomorrow. Here's hoping.

Summer, you've been pretty awesome, even if you were one of the shorter ones in our family history. You'll be missed. Fall, you've got some pretty big seasonal shoes to fill.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

moderation, shmoderation

I think I've always had trouble with moderation. At least as far back as I can remember, the things that I've loved, I've loved in the extreme. I didn't just start to enjoy to read as a child, I was apparently literally consuming newspapers in my crib. Okay, that did supposedly happen, but what I mean is that as soon as I could read, I began to read everything I could get my hands on. As a child, I read whatever was available, and I adored the Scholastic book order forms for inexpensive paperback books (and maybe a kitten poster here and there, too). Through adolescence, I read all sorts of genres, especially when my truck-driving grandfather would drop off a box of coverless paperbacks that couldn't be delivered, which is how I was introduced to Louis L'Amour westerns and Danielle Steele romance novels. I even read many of my dad's Stephen King horror and suspense novels, the memories of which cracks me up, because none of those three genres are among those that I choose today.

As a child born in the 70s, I grew up with a lot of television. A lot. The fact that I can remember episodes of shows that played before I was even 10 years old-- sitcoms made for adults, mind you-- reminds me just how much I've always loved watching a story come to life on the screen, big or little. As a latchkey kid for my teen years, that television was on almost as soon as I dropped my overloaded Esprit tote bag on the floor after school. Sally Jesse Raphael and Phil Donahue, The Monkees and You Can't Do That on Television, these were my obsessions as I conjugated Spanish verbs and hand wrote essays for English class.

And we're back to obsessions. All these years later, I still love both reading and watching television way more than I think I should, perhaps. I can get lost in both, the passage of time becoming meaningless to my story-obsessed brain. I've read over 15 books since the beginning of the summer, and have actually picked up the Smithsonian and National Geographic magazines for poolside reading, too.

Then there's television. We recently got access to Netflix, and as a result, five little words have become the new summer obsession.

Orange is the New Black.

Yeah, so we may be a few years behind the curve, but holy crap, this show is blowing my ever-loving mind. A couple weeks ago, my darling husband took the children to his folks' place for the whole weekend. From Friday evening through Sunday evening, I was living single, and apparently also bending the confines of time. I cleaned like a banshee, spending hours organizing and decluttering, especially in a particular teenage hoarder's room. In the span of 48 hours, I had created a spotless house, hosted an eight-hour gathering heavy on cheese and wine, and watched an entire season of OITNB. Plus one extra episode. I watched over ten hours of television on that one show alone. And I slept in each day, too!

My inability to apply moderation was punished by the fact that Hubby apparently wanted to watch this show, too, so I had to wait an entire WEEK for him to catch up, before we could move forward together. If you know the show, imagine waiting seven days at the end of Season 2, Episode 1 to know what happens next!

Netflix has now enabled my obsessive personality to consume without waiting, just like discovering a book series years after all the books have been published. Kids now don't have to wait to find out Harry Potter's fate (unless they're only 9 years old and have me as a parent... perhaps not the best example for me to dole out...). Teens can follow Katniss Everdeen from start to finish as quickly as they want. Just as I can now follow Piper Chapman and her much more interesting prison mates without having to wait for anything more than the children's bedtime.

With just one week left of our summer break, before life goes back to early rising times, homework-laden afternoons, and time-controlled evening routines, I'm looking at 21 OITNB episodes remaining. Methinks there will be little sleep going on for the next few days...

Sunday, August 02, 2015

sorry, not sorry

I signed up for a yoga class last week with a friend, and upon arrival, we realized that the remaining spaces in the small studio were limited, so we settled into place in the first row. As I set my mat in place, I turned to the person directly behind me, and in an effort to use humor to manage a moment that may have a twinge of anxiety happening, I grinned and offered an apology, a quick "sorry" with the subtext of "sorry you have to stare at my fat ass for the next hour." I was apologizing instinctively because if this woman turned her gaze forward, she may have ended up staring at my leggings-clad behind, not the most visually appealing sight around.

Now everyone who signs up for these classes knows that there are ten spots for mats and that most classes are fully booked, meaning that most people will end up in close proximity to another. It comes with the experience. And sure, maybe I was trying to make light of a slightly uncomfortable moment, but my instinct to apologize was more than just humor-driven.

I was apologizing for existing in this space, a space that I paid for. I was apologizing for my heft. I was apologizing for not being fit and trim, physically attractive in all the ways that women are expected to be in order to be attractive at all.

I was apologizing to a stranger for simply being me, taking up the space on my own yoga mat.

Thinking about it later, I couldn't help but think of the brilliant Amy Schumer's take on our apology-driven female experience. (Gotta check that out if you haven't seen it yet-- look for "I'm Sorry" in season three, episode four.) Why are we always freaking apologizing?

With my last post about making amends, I've been thinking about apologies and forgiveness a lot lately, and I think a big part of that is identifying what should be apologized for and removing the lame "I'm sorry" statements from my vocabulary where they don't fit.

It doesn't make sense to apologize to someone else because my body isn't picture perfect on the mat in front of theirs. It doesn't make sense to apologize to someone for walking by them, yet "I'm sorry" might come out of my mouth instead of "Excuse me" half the time. It doesn't make sense to apologize so often that the words become like a pathetic mantra. I truly do not want to feel sorry all the time.

I do not owe anyone an apology about my body or my appearance, or for taking up space around them. I would be better off apologizing to myself for the constant pressure to try to please everyone else at my own expense or in a self-critical manner.

And as I sit here typing these words, there's a voice in my head saying, "I'm sorry I can't be more articulate, and I really hope people don't feel as if I've wasted their time with this blabber." 

Nope. Sorry, not sorry.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

some amending to do

Apologizing has never come easy to me. Even in a small-scale disagreement, I have trouble admitting my wrongness and saying, with meaning, those two simple words: I'm sorry. While I've never done anything felonious, in the literal sense of the word, I have made choices that have hurt people in the past. I've lost a dear friendship over hurtful words, and I've long felt badly that said ex-friend wouldn't accept my eventual apology and instead opted to cut us out of his life. I've hurt the people closest to me and have been hurt by them, as well, and apologies have been volleyed back and forth over the years.

To err is human and all that, right? I get it. People mess up. I've messed up. We've all messed up. When it's your kid messing up, though, it stings a little differently.

Being a parent presents more challenges than I ever could have imagined as I watched my belly expand and expand fifteen years ago. It seems that with each new stage the children enter, those challenges grow in intensity and scope, and with a teenager in the midst, each day can feel like uncharted territory.

But the big one we face right now is teaching a child to properly make amends, and then to be the ones to accept such apologies and learn to forgive. Sounds so easy to put it into such simple words, but in practice, I'm finding that it can be dispiritingly difficult.

Interestingly enough, amend can also be used as a verb by itself, as in to amend: to change for the better; improve, or to grow by reforming oneself. So not only do amends need to be made, there is a whole lot of amending to do.

To teach someone to be a good person and to make good choices is another one of those things that sounds fairly basic and straightforward. I think it's one of those universal ideas behind most, if not all, parenting philosophies, and it's at the crux of all of our intentional actions with our children, right? So what are we to do when our children stumble and mess up? We know that it's going to happen, even if we can't predict the particulars. For all the figuring-it's-going-to-happen-eventually thoughts in the world, it's still a sucker punch to the gut when it does, in fact, happen.

I often joke, upon meeting people whose children have grown into adulthood or are even nearing the end of the teenage years, that I need reassurance that we're going to get to that point someday, too. Anyone with an ounce of perceptivity can surely hear the eager sincerity in my seemingly lighthearted question. Will we make it through, too?

For when people have a baby and are suddenly marked with the label "New Parents," they are often flooded with support, and rightfully so. Friends and family offer tangible help through providing meals or even just an additional set of hands now and again. But even more so is the community that can be found in connecting with other new parents who are likely in the same boat in the same rocky sea that is life with a newborn.

I believe that parents of teenagers are just as needy as those new parents, because quite honestly, I feel like a new parent all over again. I've never before parented a hormone-fueled, unpredictably-mooded teen with a still developing prefrontal cortex. But it's not so easy to find other parents who are not only in the same boat as you, but are willing to be open about the challenging seas they're charting as well.

For now, we're just rowing away, hoping our efforts will make an eventual impact on our course over the next few years.

Gah, enough with the boat and rocky waters metaphor.

We're just parents, totally fallible parents, who are trying to support our totally fallible teenager through a tough time of development and his own individual challenges. We're absolutely new parents all over again. Feel free to drop off a casserole if you feel so inclined.

Friday, July 24, 2015

therapy thoughts

I'm back to seeing a "talking doctor," as I frame it to the children when they ask about the type of appointment I'm heading to. She knows me from way back, and she's got the papers to prove that my "issues" have kind of always been there. Our conversations now aren't all that different than our conversations ten years ago.

I'm not sure if I should be reassured by my consistency or even more depressed by my lack of progress.

Either way, they are there. Anxiety, anger, fear of judgment, harsh self-criticism-- a veritable quartet of intertwined mental monsters that like to hang out in my head. They are undeniably quieting a bit thanks to the magic of Big Pharma, but that can only go so far, and I've got to do my part in keeping them reined in.

As much as I hate to admit it, I think that I'm paying my therapist to Stuart Smalley me.

PHOTO: Dana Edelson/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty

And you know what? It's pretty damn good to hear someone tell you, "You're a good mom." Because the voice in my head is not terribly fond of that particular phrase, but does seem to enjoy telling me many things that it thinks I suck at in the motherhood field.

Is it worth a piddly copay to have someone point out to you the things you're doing well? Yes, resoundingly yes, right now it is totally worth it. Am I at the point of looking in the mirror and telling myself these things each day? Not quite, but doggone if that Stuart wasn't on to something.

Sure, he was goofy and easy to giggle at, but what harm can come from making a point to remind yourself of your positives? Especially if the negatives can get so loud sometimes? So here we go... ready for some sap that I should probably be too embarrassed to post?

You are a good mom, and you do your best to show the kids you love them, have high expectations for them, and are confident in their abilities.

You are a good friend, and you deserve time to spend with the people who make you laugh and accept you, warts and all.

You are funny and can make people laugh. 

You are smart and capable of thinking and feeling deeply on important subjects.

What would you tell yourself in your own Stuart Smalley mirror moment?

Monday, July 20, 2015

trying to be who he sees

My younger two children spent the better part of a week at my in-laws recently, and it was their first time having more than one or two nights away from us at someone else's house. They, of course, had a blast as they were subjected to Grandparent Treatment for five days, which involved water parks, kids' shows on Netflix, and a whole lot of attention. Nine year old Red was prepped and ready to be emotional support if seven year old Pudge was in need, but apparently he didn't require much comforting, even at bedtime.

Until we showed up in the driveway that Friday night, that is. Then all of his emotions came flooding out of him all at once. Upon seeing the van, Pudge ran out of the house, and practically leaped into my arms. As I held him close for what I thought was just a regular old hug, I quickly felt the pressure of his little arms around my neck and realized that his face pushing into my shoulder was muffling the sound of his sobs. He was clutching onto me and letting it all out, and when he could speak again, all he could say was, "I missed you. I love you." Again and again. Seriously. This kid.

For a couple years now, Pudge has experienced occasional night terrors, with varying frequencies. Sometimes it will be a couple times a week, and then half a month may go by without one at all. When they do occur, they're usually over fairly quickly, with either Hubby or me, or sometimes even his brother, helping him to get calm and back to sleep. Even in the midst of one of these wholly disoriented and not fully conscious experiences, in his unexplained fright, he still calls out, "Mommy!"

Somewhere deep in his subconscious, he sees me as a person to cling to when in need, a person to help make everything all better. For all that I question and dislike about myself, it seems that I'm just what this seven year old needs. When I look in the mirror, I wish I could just see the person he sees, free of all the self-critical baggage my eyes bring to the practice.

Perhaps we all need this reminder to try to embrace an image of ourselves as seen through the eyes of someone who loves us. Who will you be?

Friday, July 17, 2015

oh, the places I don't want to go

With a spirit of adventure, our hero envisions all the possibilities. Pack up and move closer to extended family? Find a big house in the country, where money can buy so much more? Go west and forge an entirely new path for the family? Any of those options or more bounce around in our hero's head, picturing all the potential lives that could be lived.

We all know that every story needs a villain, right? Well, you're looking at her. Rather than being conniving and evil-minded, I'm simply averse to change, and I'm not keen on the idea of leaving the city in which we've lived for the last fourteen years.

The last time I moved with a smile on my face, 1997, engaged and ridiculously happy about a crappy apartment

Just that fact alone -- fourteen years in one city (with bonus fact that it's been twelve years in one actual abode) -- is amazing because it's the longest I'd ever lived in any one place my entire life. Truly, when we hit seven years here, it earned that title. Moving to a new town every couple years was the story of my childhood, and while it all worked out in the end, I think it left me with a deep impression about moving. As in, I hate it. I hate every single part of it.

The last time we moved, we went from an apartment to our townhouse, and we had one child. We also had approximately 50% less stuff, no joke. The thought of having to physically pick up every item in our possession and put it into a moving truck makes a vein in my forehead throb, my heart rate skyrocket (and not in a good way), and my stomach roil. It's terrifying.

But it's not just the logistics of it, which I know I could handle if forced to do so, dangerous blood pressure and all. The scarier thing to me would be moving out of this area and saying goodbye to our life as we know it. We are established. We've had accounts and doctors' offices for years, some more than a decade. We've had the same insurance agent for eighteen years. Dude. That's a long time!

While insurance agents and gynecologists are replaceable, friends, not so much. Seriously, the people who I call my closest friends have known me for so long that they've seen me at my absolute best, and my freaking worst, and the fact that they still answer my texts is beyond incredible. We've held each other's new babies, we've drunkenly embarrassed ourselves, we've ugly cried to each other. How do you find new people like that when you're already a grown ass woman? The history that I have with friends is irreplaceable, and starting over by making new friends is the scariest prospect of all when I think about moving to a different area.

I'm not adventurous. There, I said it. I'm cool with the idea of change when we get to the next chapter in our lives, as old fogeys traveling around in an RV when the children are all grown. Is it wrong to want to wait at least another decade and a half to move on? Yes, I'll miss my friends then, too, but we'll have more mobility, at least that's the assumption, when it's just the two of us. And, I'm pretty sure friends won't mind our camping out in their driveways, Cousin Eddie-style.

Hopefully we won't fill things up too quickly...

There's no easy answer that would make both of us super thrilled, especially on such a big question about day to day life. If money ever falls into our laps that would make any change even possible, I guess we'll have to seriously weigh all our options. For the time being, I don't think we're going anywhere.