Monday, November 11, 2013

A Christmas Prelude

I like Christmas, and so it starts appearing early around here.  When the air turns cold and the wind starts up, when the fires in the fireplace start, it starts feeling like Christmas. 

This year I started listening to Christmas music on November 1st

We’ve been watching Christmas movies on Netflix. 

And I bought some new twinkle lights to make the living room festive.  Only one strand worked, of course, so the room looks a little odd, but still cheery. 

Christmas m&m cookie baking with the kids. 

I think I enjoy the November prelude to Christmas almost as much as the actual season itself, because it comes in a month of peace.  As much as we try to keep Christmas simple and meaningful, December gets filled with extra events on the calendar, extra tasks, extra shopping, and extra church services.

November is filled with silent nights, perfect for a Christmas prelude.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

All At Once

Today after her shower I wrapped Eden in her towel and all of a sudden realized how too-small it was.  She was shivering uncontrollably and exclaiming loudly how COLD she was, and I suddenly noticed how inadequate the baby towel was for her tall 5-year-old body.  

They grow in small increments, measured in peeking ankles and long-sleeved shirts turned to ¾ length.

Eden's first bath at home, at 4 days old.

And then, all of a sudden, they’ve grown.

And sometimes, what used to fit needs to be shed.  What used to soothe doesn't soothe anymore.  What used to be the favorite is left untouched.  What used to be feared is now exciting.   

Sometimes they grow so sticky molasses slow that it’s imperceptible.  Sometimes they stand up from a crouch and they’ve aged 2 years. 

It’s time for some big kid towels around here, new shoes for both, a new hat for the boy, solid “ssss”es instead of “shchth”es, homework for the girl. 

It’s shocking, and it’s slow.  All at once. 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Upstairs and Downstairs Parents

The title of this post isn’t a reference to Downton Abbey, although that would be a fun post to write.  It’s a reference to our local library, where the children’s section is downstairs. 

The other day, my mom told me that a librarian friend of hers, who frequently is the one to check me and the kids out upstairs, commented on what a great mom I am. 

I’m fairly certain the downstairs librarians wouldn’t agree. 

You see, the last few (three?  four?  it all blurs together) times we’ve gone to the library, Isaac has had a complete meltdown of one kind or another right when we were leaving.  It’s involved things like running away from me, crying, and screaming…super fun stuff.  So I’ve been the one chasing him, strapping his flailing body into the stroller (which I still bring in to make our entrance and exit go more smoothly), and calmly telling him that we do not yell in the library. 

I’m “that” mom to the downstairs librarians.  You know, the one who can’t control my kid.  The one who must be doing something terribly wrong in order to make my kid behave that way.  The one who clearly did not prepare her child that the library is a quiet and calm place and that we would have to leave soon. 

I’ve seen the looks.  I’ve seen the judgments from the parents of innocent little 15-month-olds who swear that will never be them.  I’ve seen the looks from parents whose children have mastered impulse control and obedience at a younger age than my son.  The looks and the judgments sting. 

But then we go upstairs.  And by the time we go upstairs, Isaac has calmed down and is no longer screaming and appears to have been sitting calmly in his stroller for quite some time.  So the upstairs people see my smooth checkout and think that I’m the mom who’s got it all together, whose angelic children never disobey and wouldn’t even think about screaming until they were red in the face in the library. 

So, whose judgment is right?  Maybe both.  Maybe neither.

They are judgments made based on the briefest of interactions, the most limited amounts of information. 

They are judgments made with no context of relationship, no incentive to believe the best about someone, and no good intent.   

On the receiving end of these judgments, it’s far too easy to be overly pricked and pained by the negative ones and overly encouraged and validated by the positive ones.  It’s also far too easy to parent in public out of embarrassment, shame, and fear of what judgments will be made. 

I am the one who knows what kind of mother I am.  My kids know what kind of mother I am.  My God knows what kind of mother I am.  We are the ones who are fully aware of what goes on both downstairs and upstairs.  We see it all. 

And in the context of these safe, long-lasting, loving relationships, I will find my anchor and my hope and my guidance.  

Thursday, November 7, 2013

In Other Words

Today is one of those days that I really shouldn’t blog.  I’m not in a good frame of mind to post something every day of my life, and some days private writing is more appropriate than public writing.  So to continue with NaBloPoMo, I’ll pass along 3 links to great articles I read today regarding parenting and families. 

The first, called “Why Kids Act Out at Bedtime,” by Dr. Kelly Flanagan, a dad who is also a psychologist.  I remember Glennon over at describing bedtime as one big game of whack-a-mole, where you get one kid settled and then the other has a request, and on and on and on…back and forth, in and out of the room, whacking those damn moles that keep popping up again.  It is fraying on even the most patient person’s nerves, and I’m not the most patient person.  Dr. Flanagan reveals how our response to bedtime has more to do with ourselves as parents and less to do with our kids. 

The second, called “Let your kids be mad at you,” by Janet Lansbury of Elevating Child Care.  She talks about the need as parents to be able to handle the full range of our kids’ emotions.  To be open to their anger at us, to not recoil or leave or defend or reproach when our kids express their anger at us.  Today Isaac said to me, “I want to be in our house but I don’t want to be anywhere near you” when he was mad at me.  I’m glad he feels comfortable saying it, although it is sometimes hard to hear.  I’m also glad that even when he’s most angry, he still wants to be “in our house.”  I take that to mean that he’s not running away anytime soon. 

The third, called “Marriage isn’t easy, but it’s beautiful, pope says,” reported by Cindy Wooden of Catholic News Service.  Pope Francis spoke in Vatican City about marriage and family life.  He affirms that marriage is not an easy path, but that in “lov[ing] one other person forever…the trials, sacrifices and crises in the life of the couple or the family are stages for growth in goodness, truth and beauty.”  I read a comment once in which an older woman who had been married for 50+ years said that for about 5 years of her marriage, she hated her husband.  But over the course of their married life, she considered that loving him for 90% of their marriage made up for that 10% of their time together that was difficult.  What if she had given up during the 10%?  What if she would have walked away from that marriage and lost the 45 happy years together?  Marriage is hard but it is also beautiful.  

Wednesday, November 6, 2013


For a (horrible) while in college, I worked on paint crew from 6am-7:30am before my first class.  I was trying to squeeze in extra hours, I guess so I could have more fun money.  This sounds like supreme foolishness to me now. 

If I was lucky, I’d get to bed around midnight and “only” get 6 hours of sleep.  It really wasn’t enough, as my falling asleep in my first class attested to.  But I could always take a nap whenever I felt like it. 

Now, getting 6 hours of straight sleep sounds like an amazing indulgent luxurious blissful wonderful beyond-all-expectations gift. 

Isaac hasn’t been sleeping well lately.  For about the last 3 years and 4 ½ months.

Well, not really.  He actually slept fine for the 1st 2 years of his life, but then things went downhill. 

We’re working on it.  Trying things.  Giving up and doing what’s easiest, which still doesn’t mean good sleep.  Then trying things again. 

Part of me says this is a small, insignificant challenge in the broader scheme of life.  Part of me says that this is a travesty and that sleep-deprivation is torturous. 

Sleep is one of those things, like health, that you don’t even think about when you have it.  But when it’s gone, it becomes the number one, can’t be ignored, problem of supreme importance.  Our bodies are strong until they are frail, and then we realize how vulnerable we are. 

When I went away last weekend, I slept for 7 hours straight that night.  I woke up in the same position I fell asleep in and checked my phone.  Yup, 7 hours.  I had that crusty stuff on my eyes because I didn’t open my eyes for 7 hours.  I forgot about that crusty stuff.  You don’t get that crusty stuff when your eyes are open off and on all night long. 

I’m just complaining.  I have no answers.  I am not learning any great lessons from this.  I don't overflow with grace and peace when I am woken up in the middle of the night, grateful for the chance to interact with my cherubs.  I try as hard as I can to keep my @#!*% together and be as kind as I can, while my body screams at me to lay down and go to sleep.

I empathize with all parents of small children out there who aren’t sleeping well, with the insomniacs, with those working 3rd shift, with anyone sleep-deprived anywhere.  May we all sleep again someday.  

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Voting Day

Today is voting day, and I didn’t vote. 

I value voting.  I know people have made and do make great sacrifices for the right to vote.  I usually vote.  I feel bad about not voting. 

Here’s what my not voting signifies:

~It’s hard taking two restless, active kids to vote with me, especially since the church that graciously sponsors our voting has a bake sale during voting day.  I either have to say “no” to constant requests for every imaginable cookie and treat, or say “yes” and give my kids loads of sugar and then ask them to remain quietly and politely in a line for an impossibly long (to a 3 and 5-year-old) time.  Today I didn’t feel up to it. 

~I have no idea who I’d vote for.  I read the pages in the local paper where they ask the candidates the same questions and have them respond, but I couldn’t differentiate anything from their responses to know who to vote for.  I couldn’t attend the informational meetings and debates and such that took place after my kids’ bedtimes.  Lawn signs and mailers and flyers and commercials are worthless propaganda.  Most local, small campaigners do not have good websites with good info. 

~I don’t vote along party lines.  It’d sure be easier to go in and check every box marked “R” or “D,” but that doesn’t sit well with me.  The parties are not uniform and neither party has it all right all the time.   

~There is too much to vote for.  I know that it’s a good thing to have the wishes of the populace represented in our elected government (whether or not that actually happens is another discussion, but let’s be optimistic here), but the list of judges and representatives and board members and on and on gets so long that it becomes impossible to make educated decisions about them, unless you make it your part-time job in the weeks leading up to the election.

So there’s my excuses and/or rationale, depending on how you look at it.  I hope you voted, and I plan to vote next time!  It’s not a perfect system but it’s a good one.  And even turning in a partially-filled out ballot (which I usually do) is better than nothing.  Maybe I’ll vote from home and mail it in next time, to take the cookies and kids out of the equation. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Annapolis: My (Formerly) Favorite Little East Coast City

I love Annapolis.  It has some old English city charm, with its brick roads and walks and roundabouts and street names like “Duke of Gloucester” and the like. 

Plus, it has docks and water and yachts and boats and Pussers (awesome seafood) and cool artsy shops. 

I stole away for a short visit to Annapolis Sunday morning, to go for a run and explore more of the city on foot.  I sort of expected the city to be quiet and calm on an early Sunday morning.  Um, no.  It was full of people and action…a hot rod car show, yachts in and out of ego alley, runners everywhere including a 5K race through downtown, Navy men and women in their dress uniforms walking around, and hipster students from St. John’s crashing every coffee shop. 

And every single person looked like they stepped out of a magazine.  The runners all looked like they run a quick 10 miler every morning to warm up for their Runner’s World photoshoot.  The residents and their dogs looked like they stepped out of a Lands’ End catalog.  The yachters (I’m sure there’s a proper name for them but I choose yachters) had their grey cable v-neck sweater and dark jeans uniform on, scarves tossed carefully carelessly around their necks.  The hipsters had perfectly imperfect scruff and the best plaids. 

And then there was me.  Have you seen this?  It's pretty apt.  

I didn’t have time to do my laundry before I left, so I chose the cleanest clothes I could find that looked okay.  So the running gear I was wearing in preppy Annapolis was my ten-year-old, unflattering but gets the job done running gear.  I felt a LITTLE like an outsider, a photobomber, if you can photobomb an entire city.  A city-crashing version of a wedding-crasher. 

But I did my thing anyway and enjoyed the brightly colored doors, the little patios hidden away, the red brick everywhere, the bright sunshine and cool wind. 

And I decided that Annapolis is a little too perfect to be my favorite little east coast city.  Perfect takes a little fun out of everything, adds a bit too much pressure. 

But Annapolis, you’ll always be number two.  

Why I Love The Liturgy

I got home from my trip at 11:45 last night and was nearly asleep already, so I didn’t post.  This post counts for Sunday.  J

My family became Lutherans a few years ago as a sort of theological compromise between the spouses.  Since then, we’ve been experiencing a more liturgical service than either Kasey or I had experienced up until then. 

The liturgy dictates certain parts of the service to be devoted to different things, like Confession and Absolution, the Scripture Readings, and the Eucharist.  The liturgical calendar sets out the feast days and celebration days for the year as well, along with the Scripture readings for each week. 

What I love about this is the sense of community it brings to the family of God.  Many branches of Christianity follow the same liturgical calendar, which means that around the world, church-goers are likely to be reading the same Scriptures each Sunday, praying similar prayers, and reciting the same creeds. 

This past Sunday I went to my brother and sister-in-law’s Catholic parish, and although some of the liturgy was unfamiliar to me, the overall structure and progression of the service was familiar.  Some of the prayers and creeds were the same.  The pastor and deacons were wearing green vestments just like my pastor was, marking this as a Sunday in Ordinary Time.  It felt like home.  And when the Pastor read that day’s Gospel reading about Zacchaeus, I remembered that Eden and Isaac were singing about that “wee little man” with the kids’ choir in front of the church back home that same morning. 

I felt connected to my brother’s church family, to my home church family, and to the whole family of God. 

There is comfort and grace and strength in millions of people around the world bearing witness to the same God through the same liturgy, and that is why I love it.  

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Trip Lists

I’m going to visit my brother and sister-in-law near Annapolis this weekend.  By myself.  I’ll say it again, so you can bask along with me.  By. Myself. 

I am an introvert and I crave time to myself.  I need it like food and water.  I’m serious, people.  And having two young kinds, I rarely get it.  So what happens is over time, I start coming a little undone…I get jittery, snappy, antsy, and extremely sensitive to the sounds of my family chewing food.  Seriously. 

So I sort of jumped at this chance to have a little getaway that includes 12 hours in the car by myself over the next 2 days.  To some people, this might sound annoying.  To me, it sounds glorious. 

List-making is essential for any trip, from my detailed packing list to my unrealistic list of things to accomplish before leaving.  For some reason, my brain thinks that leaving for a trip is a great opportunity to do extra projects, like clean out the car so it’s pleasant to travel in!  And clean the whole house so it looks good when I get back!  And clean out my purse so there’s nothing extra in there!  Um, yeah, not gonna happen.  I’ll be lucky to pack clean clothes and not forget something essential like my phone.  So here’s my trip in non-stressful lists: 

Top 3 reasons why this is going to be the best trip ever, in no particular order:
  1.  Being alone for 12 hours in the car. 
  2.  Visiting my brother and sister-in-law and meeting my new nephew!!
  3.  Being ALONE for 12 hours in the car.  
My playlist: 
  1. A Clockwork Orange book on cd
  2. Once Upon a Time, There Was You by Elizabeth Berg on cd
  3. Some cheesy murder mystery on cd
  4. Maroon 5
  5. Ella Fitzgerald
  6. John Coltrane
  7. Dan In Real Life Soundtrack
  8. Bruno Mars
  9. Silence. 
Things I’m looking forward to:
  1. Being witness to my nephew’s baptism.
  2. Catching up with bro and sis-in-law.
  3. Sleeping all night long without interruption for the first time in, well, too long.  Let’s just say that no one’s told my 3 ½ year old that he should be sleeping through the night by now.  
  4. Being near the water. 
  5. Hopefully catching a glimpse of my favorite little east coast city, Annapolis. 

And finally, an unedited photo of the current contents of my bag:

What?  Doesn't everyone need a hole punch and trash in their bag?  

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Tale Of The Cherry Princess

This month, I’ll be jumping on the National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo) bandwagon.  I’ll be linking up with BlogHer, where you can find tons of other bloggers who are crazy enough to attempt blogging every day for a month.  The theme for my writings this month will be “Messy Endings.”  Sometimes when I blog, I feel the need to make sure my endings are neat and tidy – problems solved, tricky situation navigated successfully, parenting challenge accomplished.  But that’s rarely how life is, and I’m looking forward to writing about more unfinished, in process, unresolved, confusing, and messy moments in my life.  The act of writing every day will, inevitably, entail messy endings.  No one writes brilliantly every day of their life, so in writing every day I am giving myself permission to write poorly sometimes.  I think I’m hoping that being a truth-teller, bearing witness to the messiness of life, will make me brave and maybe encourage a reader along the way.  Thanks for reading! 

A couple weeks before Halloween, Eden announced that she wanted to be a cherry for Halloween this year.  We were driving home from a friend’s ice cream birthday party, where Eden had ordered a cherry-vanilla cone and was reminded how much she loved cherries.  “They’re red, which is my favorite color, and they taste yummy, and I like when Auntie Jen shares them with us in the summer,” she explained. 

I was thrilled.  I tried not to make a big deal out of it, but inwardly I was so damn glad that my girl was creative and original and sheltered enough from marketers that she wanted to be a cherry.  A cherry.  How cool is that? 

So I waited the requisite amount of time to make sure she wasn’t going to change her mind, and then we figured out a plan for her costume.  She helped cut out her cherry pieces from the bright red posterboard, and then we fitted the green stem over her head.  She helped tape and staple and hole punch and tie and had the biggest smile on her face when she tried it on. 
The day of her school Halloween party came and when it was time, all the kids ran to their lockers to get their costumes.  They were told to put their costumes on and then sit on the mat.  I helped Eden with hers, and then she realized she couldn’t really sit down in it.  And then she started looking around…she saw Spidermen, Batmen, Ironmen, Luke Skywalker men, and princesses.  Of the five girls in her class, four were princesses.  And one was a cherry. 

A fire-breathing dragon near us asked Eden innocently, “what’s your costume made of?” as he reached over to touch it.  “Mine’s made of fabric.  Is yours paper?” 

Eden looked at her costume, and looked at her classmates.  She looked at me with, I think, fear in her eyes.  “Mine’s made of paper and theirs is made of fabric,” she whispered. 

I tried to smooth things over by being nonchalant.  It didn’t work.  Soon she was near tears.  Then she wanted her costume off, like, now.  Then she was terrified that she was going to have to walk in the parade and she did NOT want to walk in the parade.  Then she was sobbing, big gulping breaths and tears and tears.

I went back and forth between reassuring her, consoling her, encouraging her to wear her costume, telling her it didn’t matter if she wore her costume, fielding questions from her teachers, reassuring her confused classmates, and trying not to cry myself.  It was one of my superb mothering moments. 

The only thing I knew in that moment was that I was not going to put words in her mouth.  I had my suspicions as to what was going on, but I wasn’t going to ask leading questions and possibly add fuel to the fire. 

To help the students learn to pay attention to detail and identify things about themselves, Eden’s teacher asks kids who have certain characteristics to line up at the door.  So on Halloween she asked, “Will any friends in a superhero costume please line up?”  Every single boy, fire-breathing dragon and Luke Skywalker included, lined up.  It seems that every little boy considers himself a superhero.  I chuckled a little.  And then, “Will any friends in a princess costume please line up?”  And every girl except Eden lined up.  I winced a bit. 

My kid was different.  My kid felt different.  And it felt bad. 

To her, the difference was paper and fabric.  I was afraid she might have been embarrassed that she was the only girl not a princess, but she didn’t mention that.  I was afraid she might recognize that she was the only classmate not in a movie-character costume, but she didn’t mention that.  Later, on the way home, she said that she was afraid her classmates would laugh at her, because she was the only one with a costume made out of paper. 

Her costume was paper, and that was difference enough. 

It was so innocent.  No one was making fun of her, not in the slightest.  Her friends were asking her why she wasn’t wearing her cherry, telling her they liked it. 

She wanted to be like them, and she wasn’t, and she was afraid and embarrassed. 

I hate that.  I got mad at everybody that day.  First I was mad at the people who market movie character costumes to little kids, robbing them of their creativity and originality.  Then I was mad at “our entire culture” (you know you’re in trouble when you’re mad at something that vague and all-encompassing) for turning Halloween into just another consumerist junkyard.  I was even a little mad at Eden, that she lost her courage and spunk when she needed it most.  And I was mad at myself, for making her costume out of shabby paper.  I lashed myself with “shoulds” and “next-times.” 

And then I wasn’t mad anymore.  I was sad and mostly confused.  Because I understand wanting to be part of a community, wanting to be like everyone else.  I think that’s hardwired into us.  And as much as we talk about “embracing” and “celebrating” our uniqueness, sometimes at our core we just want to be the same.  It feels safer and easier, yes, but also comforting and homey and warm. 

As much as I want to encourage Eden’s creativity and originality, she’s now old enough and exposed enough to see that it’s not all sunshine and cherries to be different. 
She tried on her cherry costume to show a few family members, but then back in the corner it went.  She happily wore a “princess” dress to the rest of our Halloween festivities.  She’s a cherry.  And she’s a princess.  She’s my cherry princess.