Saturday, May 31, 2008

From Among the Dandelions

Recently my husband took both boys to a benefit dinner which included a silent auction. David explained the workings of a silent auction to Jabberwock, and the two of them wandered around looking at the items. Jabber fell in love with a tool set, full of shiny sockets and fancy screwdrivers with snap-in magnetic bits, all neatly held together by a nifty snap-together plastic suitcase. To Jabberwock, this tool set represented the epitome of manhood. Plus, he really loves anything that goes together "just so" in any kind of case, bag, or other fun container.

If you should ever go to a silent auction and get your heart set on that perfect Mexican vacation or weekend spa retreat, let me know, and maybe we can work out a deal to rent out the Jabberwock. See, once he and David placed their bid, Jabber would not move more than three feet away from the tool set. He staked out the area and nervously informed anyone who came close that "My Daddy is getting this one!" If they persisted in their interest, he shouted to David, "Dad! DAD! They're going to write something! Come QUICK!" No one was willing to get down and dirty with a cute four-year-old with a tool obsession, and so the tools came home with the boys that night. (I am leaving out the screaming meltdown and heroic actions of Daddy in the face of said meltdown and fast-forwarding through about forty-five minutes of extending the bidding, skipping even the point where David had to beg the auction organizers to take the tool set before the live auction was completed. These details, while sure to influence my decision on whether or not to take Jabberwock to another silent auction, really are a little bit beside the point of this post. Which is...uh...okay. Parenthetical aside is now over.)

This morning was the day we finally decided we would try to start up the old lawn mower and reassure our neighbors that they do not, in fact, own real estate in some kind of dandelion rain forest. Here are the boys using the new tool set to get the lawn mower running:

And here's a picture of why I never actually try to start the lawn mower:

And Jabberwock lovingly gathering dandelions into a vase, which we set on the back steps of our neighbor J's house "in case she misses them."

And lastly, Jabber learning about dandelion reproduction by blowing those wonderful seeds all around the yard.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Old Lady Liss

Last night I went to a party. Partying is not something that this busy teacher and mom of two small boys gets to do every night, especially with a husband who has to go to work every morning at 3:30 am. As the hostess of said party told everyone, "Elissa's even here, and Elissa never goes anywhere!" It's true. If I'm to be completely honest, I wasn't much of a partier even before the kiddos, but whatever. At least I used to leave the house socially from time to time with my husband. (My husband, however, did not get to attend the fiesta with me. Super sad.)

The party was delightful.

There was a pinata bashing. The party's guest of honor, our current Spanish teacher who is leaving our school to teach the elementary, broke the first pinata stick into three pieces. Then, she finished it off with a metal cane. She narrowly avoided impaling a neighbor girl on the backswing, but demolished the pinata and set free a bunch of chocolate. Nothing better.

Unless it was the variety of yummy margaritas, mixed up with awesome Bayfield raspberries, strawberries, or straight-up lime. Mmmmmm.

Maybe the array of tasty dishes--muy rico! (No photos available of the amazing food...only my husband ever remembers to take pictures of the food, and like I said, he was home doing the dirty work of raising our children while I was off partying.)

Or it could even be the sombreros we all wore. Que divertido!

But the best part of the evening was the terrific conversation, light-hearted and companionable, from my co-workers and friends. From teasing our hostess about her bullying people to come to the party ("Oh, come on! What do you have to do that's so important? No way, you're going to miss MY PARTY for THAT???") to "drunk-dialing" other co-workers (and almost the boss!) to giving the math teacher a hard time about his new girlfriend, I laughed so much my cheeks were sore.

The new girlfriend, however, did not want to socialize with "a bunch of old teachers," which point was emphasized when talk turned to starting a bridge club and debating the difficulty levels of the crossword puzzles on various days of the week. Yeah. I was feeling pretty smug, being neither a bridge player nor a crossword pro.

That smugness has dissipated a bit, as I sit here writing my blog post, glued to the television, it American Idol? Nooooo...not exactly. What supercool program has Elissa been watching, so avidly that she had to actually go put her contacts back in in order to better see the screen? Er, the National Spelling Bee, of course. Damn, those kids are amazing!

I think I may need to get out more.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Boys will be Boys?

I don't have any daughters to make comparisons, but I am continually taken by surprise by the number of gender stereotypes that my sons fit into. I mean, my husband is more of a nurturing caretaker much of the time than I am, and he is home with the boys about twice as much as I am during the school year. We have always bought dolls along with cars and trucks, Dora as well as Diego (though we try to steer clear of the characters anyway, but that's another post). We try not to limit their choices by saying something is "for girls" or "for boys," even when Jabberwock insists on carrying a purse with a lipstick case and a cute little red coin purse/wallet.

Today, I was happy when Jabberwock and Monkey wanted to bring their baby doll to daycare. Monkey was holding and cuddling the baby while Jabber got ready to go, and then Jabber carried the baby carefully out to the van, talking sweetly to him while he buckled up, and giving kisses on the baby's little tummy. We drove off, and I was thinking about how nice it is that my boys are learning how to be good daddies. How nurturing they are with the doll. How evolved my two sons will be when they are grown men. How gender roles are made to be broken.

Then, from the backseat I hear Jabber making a funny noise: "PSSSSSSSSSSS!"

Monkey cracks up, and soon both boys are raucous with giggles and "PSSSSSS!"

"What are you guys laughing at?" I ask.

Jabber is laughing so hard he can barely answer me, but he finally manages, "The baby is peeing all over Monkey! PSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!"

Oh, yes. Highly evolved, indeed.

True to their boyish nature, it only took about a half mile of PSSSSSing before they were also PFFFFTTTTing--laughing all the while like it was the funniest thing on earth. I suppose potty humor is gender neutral, but leave it to my sons to interrupt my smug little thoughts about transcending society's rules and roles with a good round of pissing and farting.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

What is that smell?

Somewhere in me is a post about the scream-fest that happened in my home this morning as I was trying to get myself and the boys ready to leave for work and daycare. Sometime I will write about my rising frustrations with them and with myself, and how angry I can get when they aren't cooperating, and how scary that anger is. Someday I'll put that all out there. But tonight I'm just going to bitch a little about sunless tanning products.

First, you should know that I do not tan. Occasionally my cheeks, shoulders, and upper chest get a little pink if I forget the sunscreen, but my arms and legs just remain a blinding white, no matter what. My mother, who has much more of a brunette complexion than I do, used to lie outside with Coppertone SPF 4 and talk about how when she was a little girl she ran around outside all summer and became nut-brown, kind of implying that if I got outside a little bit more, I'd be nut brown, too. This, of course, was way before anyone really knew or cared about skin cancer and wrinkles caused by the sun. I spread oil on myself and lay on a blanket in the grass for hours on end. I hiked and roamed the yard all summer. Still blinding white. In my mid-20's I actually lived outside for an entire summer and I was STILL blinding white. (Though that summer I did have a slightly pale ring around one wrist from my watch band!)

In high school, I tried some sunless tanning products. Quite a few of them, actually. I don't really remember anything about the results except for an embarrassing stench that to me smelled like a cross between cat pee and begonias. Not pretty. So I abandoned the sunless tanners and just stopped wearing shorts altogether. That was working out pretty well, until the last couple of summers. Sundresses, yoga pants. Who needs shorts? Who needs tank tops? I'm not a big swimmer, so the few times I got into a bathing suit in public I just rolled with the comments about my chalky legs and ghostly arms. Whatever.

The truth is, though, summer seems to be getting hotter and hotter. Last summer I broke down and bought some short capris for work, and even some actual shorts. My legs were exposed to the world in all their alabaster glory. Many bystanders were momentarily blinded. Several people called me "Casper," as in the friendly ghost. Random strangers laugh and approach me to line up their own nut brown arms and legs to mine, telling me like my mother did to get outside more often. Ha.

So yesterday while I was at Target I picked up a bottle of sunless tanning lotion, thinking that surely things have gotten much, much better in the couple of years since I was in high school. After my blissful bath last night, I mixed a small quantity of the stuff with my regular lotion and applied it to my legs with my hands stuffed into plastic baggies (a memory of orange tinted fingers rose from the past). It smelled okay, lightly citrus, just like it said on the package. Cool. I let it dry, wrote my blog entry, paid my bills, went to bed. Halfway through the night I woke to the smell of cat pee and begonias, with a light citrus top note. Mmmm. Just like I remembered.

True, my legs do now have some semblance of color, much more like human skin than say...limestone. True, there are some light streaks, and my knees do look a little bit dirty, like possibly I could pass myself off as a gardener. I kind of like the way it looks, and the fact that nobody has yet proven that this particular product will cause cancer. However, I have now taken TWO more baths, one first thing this morning and one this evening, scrubbing my legs vigorously both times with a pouf full of scented body wash, and I am STILL getting whiffs of that nasty smell. I guess it's back to the drawing board, Casper.

Monday, May 26, 2008


I would just like to say that in my world, there is precious little that cannot be made all better by a near-boiling soak in the old clawfoot. With bubbles. And a book, usually, although tonight I had to be semi-expedient so that I could attempt to balance the checkbook and pay a few bills before someone comes and repossesses my home, clawfoot and all.

I would have posted a photo of my own clawfoot tub instead of this one, which is much cleaner and has much more bathtub bling than mine, but since I am not Martha Stewart, a photo of my bathroom posted on the internet would greatly humiliate me. You may add to your mental image a tub caddy overflowing with half-empty (or half-full, dependent on your own personal disposition) personal care products and a smattering of squeaky tub toys and soggy reading material. Please refrain from adding me to your mental image, as I have enough issues around here with getting any privacy in my own bathroom.

I'm going to tell one more thing before I go pay those bills, about a sad, sad time before I had my wonderful clawfoot tub. I have always loved taking a bath, and a hot tub full of suds has always been one of my greatest solaces. When David and I lived in Oregon, I actually had a difficult time staying warm in the winter, which seems weird from a Minnesotan. For one thing, the winter there is wet and chilly, and the wet cold seems to sink right into your bones, even when it's not nearly as cold as it gets up here in the North. For another thing, whoever designed the heating systems on the West Coast was an idiot, because they put all of the heat in the ceiling. In the ceiling. And heat rises, as we have all learned in grade school science. Yeah, there was supposedly some fancy tiles or somesuch built into the floor that would radiate this fictional heat throughout the apartment, but the only way you were actually going to feel any of it was if you were to put thick wool socks on and stand on a tall chair. Then your ears might thaw out a bit.

Anyway, there were days upon end when I just could NOT get warm, and the only thing that would work was to take a bath. Unfortunately, our ghetto apartment had a hot water heater the size of a lap dog. There was only enough hot water in that sucker to just cover the very bottom of our tiny little bathtub. I remember having a very difficult day, and I was just longing, with all of my soul, for a nice hot bath to make it okay. I convinced myself that there really was enough hot water to at least get a few inches in the tub, but of course I ran out, and icy water poured in. I began to cry. Sob, really. And David did the sweetest thing ever. He began heating water on the stove, three or four pans full at a time, and steadily hauled them up the stairs and poured them into my bath, over and over, for at least an hour. I slipped down under the water until only my nose poked up over the surface, writing poetry in my head, and that's when I decided I must surely marry this wonderful man.

Random PSA

Monkey just ate what I believe to be three coffee beans from the kitchen floor. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
That is all.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Good News Abounding

Well, after my pissy little post tantrumming about my home, I thought I'd put together a bunch of good news, for the record.

Monkey's vocabulary is rapidly expanding. Although he is far from meeting or exceeding Jabber's huge vocabulary from the same age period, he has expanded a bit from his typical "dis," "dat," and "uh-oh" to include a few more words. For one thing, he has resumed saying "mama," and it even means other things besides "I'm hungry!" It makes me melt every time I hear him say it. Another vocab addition has the opposite effect on me: he has started saying "HIT!" which is followed by an enthusiastic smack, usually right across the face. Niiice. More constructive is his use of pointing to his mouth and saying "me eat," even though it does sometimes (humorously) come out as "eat me." :)

Jabberwock had a playdate, which is unusual, since I wasn't good at the whole dating thing the first time around, and since few of my friends have kiddos in his age range, it follows that he doesn't have a huge array of friends, either. But yesterday the two of us went to a local park to meet with a couple of siblings from his old daycare, and we all had a very nice time. Without Monkey along, I actually found myself able to converse with the other mom, which was super nice, and the kiddos played like crazy. We went for a little hike, had a picnic, and shared a sand cake, among other things. Jabber fell into the river a little bit (just his feet and one leg) while throwing stones and filling his bucket with water, and then he played in the sand for another hour or so. The result was a seriously happy kid with shoes I may just have to throw away.

Monkey took a blissful two-and-a-half-hour nap today, which allowed me to grade a bunch of papers and read a bunch of blogs.

We all ate a healthy lunch, which is wonderful since last night David brought home a pizza and jelly beans and I could not come up with a single reason on earth not to eat everything in sight.

Also, I found out today some interesting (to me, anyway) tidbits about Monkey's food preferences: Strawberries win out over all other food choices. Matchstick-cut carrots are second on the list, even winning out over string cheese and apple-cinnamon rice cakes. He will have nothing to do with meat of any kind (which we pretty much knew already, and since Big Brother is all about the meat like his dad, I have proposed a dual system of food preparation that made my husband almost threaten to ride off into the sunset alone. So I guess until I'm willing to do all the dual-meal cooking, I will continue to eat venison and poultry, or go hungry. Monkey still has his nummies, so he can take it or leave it.) Broccoli, even with yummy red pepper hummus on it, gets tossed onto the floor after one bite.

I was reading Parents magazine, an article about the sex lives of mothers (I know, I know), and it was about four moms who kept a five day journal about their sex lives (which seemed to me an awfully short period of time for a mom to document her sex life...but perhaps we need to step it up a notch around here, lol!). ANYWAY, both of the moms of infants were breastfeeding (yay!), and the mom of older kiddos said it wasn't abnormal for the kids to sleep in their bed. The fourth woman was still pregnant, so who knows. Anyway, good to see this in a really mainstream mag.

And Edited to Add: My last good news of the day was when I came downstairs in a little sundress, trudging reluctantly over to my stack of Shakespeare essays that need to be graded, and Jabberwock came skipping up to me and whispered in my ear, "Mama, do you know what? You look just like...a princess!" Then he kissed me on the cheek, without any begging from me or anything. This was especially nice since about an hour earlier he had informed me that he thought Daddy was the best daddy in the whole world, and he was pretty sure that his best buddy's mom (the one we saw yesterday on our playdate) was the best mommy in the world, and he was going to take Daddy and go live with her and his best buddy. Gosh, thanks, kid. I asked him what I was supposed to do without my two guys, and he shrugged. "You'll think of something," he said.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

But seriously

I make jokes all the time about my inability to make my home cozy and clean, but I really do struggle with it. I'm cranky right now, and everything seems a little worse than it should (one reason for this might be that I just had to practically hire a forklift in order to clean up the toys in the dining room toy nook just so I could clean spaghetti sauce off of everything because Monkey dumped his entire full plate of it off the table with a dramatic shaking motion that resulted in pretty much everything we own being covered in red sauce. Yes, including my one clean T-shirt, which was white.)

But home is a wreck, and it is a very rare occasion when I actually let someone inside it. And I feel bad about that, 'cause I'd like to have a home that feels presentable, if not perfect. The house itself is so loveable; it's cute as a button. When we first bought it, I got to pick out all the colors I wanted and paint every room just so. It was beautiful. Then we brought in our stuff. Ugh. You've seen some of the furniture. Well, the rest is no better. And the good stuff we have, like the beautiful dining room set and matching antique buffet that my mother gave me, handed down from her great aunt? Well, my two children have managed to practically ruin those pieces. How can generations of children grow up with these heirlooms, and my sons turn them to crap in less than two years? I guess my kids are just talented that way.

I'm overwhelmed by the amount of home improvement that we really need to do but cannot afford. Just from my seat on this putridly patterned couch, I see: the fireplace insert that has been sitting beside the fireplace for over two years now because my husband can't figure out how to install it. It was a gift from my dad, and he has apologized for giving it to us, but we still don't really know what to do with this bulky, ugly, expensive end table. See, the damn thing doesn't fit into the fireplace without significant amounts of work on the firebox, and also tearing out the old hearth and completely replacing it. That costs much money. The cost of a professional installation (not counting the hearth replacement) is over a thousand dollars, which we do not have. OK, also from the couch here I can see two mis-matched end tables, one from my grandma's house and one from my husband's. Our TV sits on a table we got at Goodwill and repainted in the colors of our living room--actually kind of cute--but the stereo on top of it was given to us by a friend like twelve years ago and actually was made in the seventies. Obviously not gonna play my mp3's. The curtains in my living room window that faces the street consist of a string of prayer flags and an old green wallhanging from my college dorm room.

I'm struggling with all of this because it really does fit my life philosophy of minimal consumerism to live like this, but it doesn't look nice at all. It doesn't feel like a "grown-up" home somehow. A big part of my frustration is probably just the logistics of a small home and four people, with all their stuff. I frequently think, "Well, maybe if we had more shelves in here, or if I bought one of those hanging organizer thingies, maybe then it wouldn't be so cluttered all the time." And sometimes it works. And sometimes it's just more dusty shelves and junked-up organizers. Sigh. What a complain-fest this is.

Whether it was the cathartic act of just writing about my frustrations or the calming hormones from sitting here nursing Monkey to sleep, I'm feeling less and less antagonistic about my little home. Sure, we've established that I am no Martha Stewart, and also that raising two small can result in a crapload of clutter that makes me fear the thought of a random "pop in" visit by just about anyone. The fireplace end table still just pisses me off. But the mismatched furniture? Well, what of it? I don't need to have a grown up home, I guess. My kids would just wreck it, anyway.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Irrefutable Proof...

That I am NOT Martha Stewart.

Evidence #1: Nothing in my home matches. Not the bath towels, not the bedding, not the furniture. We have some dishes that match, but the unifying factor is actually the chips in the edges from banging around in the dishwasher. My mom made us some curtains that match the bedspread she also made for us (my mother may actually be Martha Stewart, come to think of it), but now it's too warm for that bedspread, so it's in the closet. Half of our silverware matches. None of our clothes match, not even the kids. Well, especially not the kids. None of our rooms have "themes," or "color schemes," unless you count cluttered and strewn with toys a theme.

Here is a photo of the pattern of my couch:

Yes, it really is a hideous pattern of orange flowers.

Now, for the chair:

Yep, that's brown, gold, and green stripes.

See what I'm getting at here?

Evidence #2: I can kill any plant known to humankind in just three days, as long as it is a plant one would like to cultivate (weeds flourish in my care). Well, there is one plant that I've had since college, a hardy little tree that I pretty much fully ignore. It's not real vibrant anymore, but at least my mother-in-law has not "kidnapped" it like my other plants, which I actually appreciate, even though it is quite humiliating. Pretty much every time she visits, she leaves with one of the plants, saying, "Let me just take this one home and...fix it."

As for gardening, I'm a complete failure. There are three beautiful tulips in our backyard, there when we moved in three springs ago, and I'm surprised that they are still alive. In fact, last night I actually dropped a window on them from two stories up (that may be a separate blog entry, but suffice it to say that it was CLEARLY the window's fault!), and they're still upright. We also have three clumps of peonies that I have avoided killing. So far.

My friend Shana recently gave me a beautiful hanging basket that she and her mother planted, and damned if I haven't killed it already, too. It's a fucking petunia. Who can kill a petunia??? Apparently I can. David said it just needs more sun than our front porch is offering it, but I think it's me. Today a co-worker gave me some hostas to plant along the side of our house, where currently there is a patch of evil that I cannot identify but which even the lawn mower couldn't kill. Here are the poor suckers, awaiting their demise:

(I have no idea why this photo keeps showing up vertical. When I view it in my photo program it is horizontal.)

I also highly doubt that Martha Stewart's snow shovel would still be on her front porch in the third week of May. However, Martha Stewart does not live in Minnesota.

Supplementary Evidence:

  • I am artistic, but not crafty. I keep my sewing machine in its original box, complete with styrofoam.

  • My husband cooks all of our meals. When he is going to be gone during mealtimes, he often cooks for us and leaves me instructions for heating it up. When he does not do that, we sometimes have cereal for dinner. Or McDonald's.

  • As soon as I get home from work, I put on pajama pants and a shirt from yesterday, probably smeared with baby snot.

  • I've never used the little wineglass charms I got for my wedding seven years ago.

  • My organizational system for the house follows some simple guidelines: shove it in the closet, stack it on the couch, or hide it in the buffet.

Plus, my kid wears a bucket on his head:

Definitely not Martha Stewart.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Already??? SRSLY???

Yesterday my little Jabberwock came home from daycare with a little slip of paper folded and refolded in his hand. As soon as I came home from work, he leaped over to the door and showed me. "Look, Mama, it's Cute Little Girl's phone number. She wrote it just for me!" Sure enough, my four-year-old son was holding his first girl's phone number. This morning he made me repeat our phone number over and over on our way there so that he could memorize it for her. "I want her to call me, and I will tell her I love her!" he sang from the backseat, in between his memorization attempts. "But first, I'm going to say good morning to her in Spanish."

*Sniff* I thought I was the only one he said good morning to in Spanish!

This on the same week he successfully used sarcasm. I don't know how well I can stomach this growing up stuff!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Lost and Found

I lost my wedding ring today. I was standing in front of my 8th grade class, giving instructions, and suddenly I realized that my ring finger was empty, bare, naked. My heart skipped a beat or ten. I made my class stop journaling and search the room. They did not really help, saying things like, "It's your wedding ring, Ms. Lissnkids, aren't you SUPER upset?" I was. I was heartbroken, truly.

Obviously from the title you can infer that my ring was found, and indeed it was. I called my husband and in a quiet voice told him what had happened, and he promised to search as soon as he got home. My next class was doing debates, and in the middle of a very convincing argument about the ethics of human cloning, the phone rang. It was David, calling to let me know that the ring was found in the bed, where it had most likely fallen off while I was getting Monkey dressed. I was so relieved!

Before it was lost AND found, my students had offered up their usual explanation for something going missing: that is, somebody stole it, of course. I explained that it wasn't really worth a lot of money but that it was extremely important to me. "You got a cheap wedding ring?" one student asked. "Well, you should make your husband buy you a better one, then." I simply smiled and reiterated that the ring means so much to me, much more than its monetary worth.

As I struggled to keep from crying while searching my classroom (I have a firm no crying in school rule), memories associated with my "cheap ring" were flooding over me. I remembered how David's friend Loren had painted a picture and sold it to David so that Loren could use the money to purchase my engagement ring--a sterling silver Claddaugh ring--and give it to David as a gift, since tradition says the ring shouldn't be purchased by the giver.

I thought about the night he asked me to marry him, how we drove toward the setting sun on our anniversary and reached the ocean just as it was slipping down below the horizon. I remembered the way we walked in the darkness then toward the sound of the surf, walked hand in hand into the unknown, giddy with the uncertainty of that sound, the distance from land to sea indistinct and blurry. I felt like I was stepping off a precipice that night, not knowing which step would be my last one on solid ground, but he got down on one knee just before we stepped off the edge of that abyss and started talking about loving me forever.

We were married three weeks later, in a beautiful ceremony that we wrote ourselves. Our altar was a fallen log on the banks of the Clackamas River, and our friend Doreen married us while wearing a wall tapestry and reading from a black leather binder that was only slightly less solemn because of the small Tasmanian Devil on one corner. We had eight or ten guests, some of whom we had just met in the woods, and one of whom was living in a tent a little ways beyond the spot we pitched our own. He brought us a wedding gift of dry wood for our fire. Another man took photos for us and then disappeared. Loren's car broke down, and he and Michelle finally made it just as the ceremony was starting, walking with us between the two cedar trees that made our archway. We passed around a bottle of wine while soaking in a huge barrel full of steaming hot spring water and Brian gave a toast while his dogs ate our smoked salmon off the bench. Shae and Jerome sprinkled rose petals all around our tent and smudged the whole camp with sage and cedar. All this loveliness is tied into that small white gold band and silver Claddaugh that I have worn ever since. Irreplaceable.

Monday, May 19, 2008

It's not a good sign...

When I've got writers' block for the title.

Mostly, since I've started doing this blog thing (less than a month ago, and already I'm a hopeless addict), I just go about my daily life and then a topic starts twisting and turning in my mind. By dinner time, my fingers are itching, and by the time the kids and husband are in bed, I'm ready to roll. But tonight I've just got a slew of little random thoughts in my head. So why not form a list? A list of today's thoughts, in no particular order.

1. Deadlines. I have literally fifty million of these coming up this week and next for the end of the school year. Fifty-two million if you count the bills I still haven't paid for the month, but until school is over, I have to limit my attention to the work deadlines or I may explode. Or implode. Some kind of plosion, anyway. Sometimes I like to think of myself as the type of person who performs best under a little bit of pressure, and in fact I often use that very thought as a great excuse to procrastinate (like, say, blogging instead of finishing my work?). So far, I'm doing okay with this philosophy, although the periodic episodes of racing heart and dizziness may be an unfortunate side effect. I am going to blame the crushing headache I had this afternoon on all the data I had to enter and analyze on reading scores, though. Hello? English teachers are not made to analyze data. I would, however, be perfectly happy writing a poem on said analysis.

2. Making lunches. I really despise this, though not as much now that my kiddos are in a new daycare with a woman who makes them food, even with Jabberwock's food allergies. Now I only have to make one lunch instead of three. I did go grocery shopping this evening, after I got done working out at the fitness center (after I washed three Tylenol down with a cup of coffee and took a twenty minute nap, of course), and that makes lunch-making much better. Which brings me to thought number

3. What the hell are they doing to the strawberries out there in California??? Those suckers were the size of my baby's head! Granted, living in Minnesota I have a bit of a skewed perception about fruit and vegetable growing, since we aren't even close to being able to put them in the ground yet, and the average farm strawberry around here is about the diameter of a nickel. OK, maybe a quarter. But these strawberries were monstrous. I know, I should have taken a picture, but hey, I'm lazy. They are tasty, though.

4. I'm still on the lunches. I think what bothers me the most about this mundane chore is the fact that I am physically incapable of making my lunch until AFTER I clean the entire kitchen. My husband cooks for me (I know, I'm completely spoiled, but srsly, NOBODY would survive around here if I did the cooking!), and unfortunately he has no issues with cooking in a dirty kitchen. He doesn't really seem to see the mess, and he definitely doesn't clean up when he's done. I'll say, "Honey, thanks so much for dinner, but couldn't you just clean up a little bit as you go?" and he'll look around, genuinely puzzled. "I did," he says, his eyes sweeping blindly past the saucy fingerprints on the fridge door, the cheese wrappers and empty bean cans on the counter, the tomato pulp pooling on the cutting board, dishes and silverware littered all over. So on an evening like tonight, when I took off right after dinner and nursies to work out and grocery shop, there's quite the array of crapola waiting before I can make my lunch.

5. Five is a nice round number, so I thought I'd share one last thought for the day. I debated posting about this, since I don't really want my son to be too embarrassed, but it's just so darn cute I can't resist. We dined quickly last night in a lamentably fast food nation style (but at least with milk, apple slices, and string cheese and sweet potatoes from home for the kids) and then went down to throw some rocks in the Lake. Jabberwock discovered halfway through our walk that he needed to use the (nonexistent) facilities, so we beat a quick retreat to the van. Shortly after he realized his need, he tugged on my sleeve and said, "Mama, I think I pooped in my pants a little bit. I thought I was just going to pass some gas, but some came out." Poor guy, we were still quite a ways away from our car. David carried him back and got him all cleaned up, and he was a really good sport throughout the ordeal.

When we got home, I said to him, "Jabber, I'm really proud of how well you handled this whole situation. You did a great job with this." He looked up at me, and with a wry little grin said, "Oh, yeah. I did a great job. Four years old, and I pooped my pants. Great job." SARCASM! Perfectly executed sarcasm from my sweet four-year-old! Mama was so proud!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

And one more for today...

Just had to post my guys enjoying the beautiful evening...we love our Lake!

She Isn't Still Nursing, Is She?

I love my husband. This weekend he got the very first "She isn't still nursing, is she???" comment for this child, and David handled it flawlessly. He smiled at Grandma and answered, "Why, yes she is. Monkey still enjoys nursing, though he doesn't do it all that often. He eats full meals of normal food and drinks regular milk, but he likes to nurse, too."

And he does, too, even though sometimes it's literally only a minute. Sometimes he's just cranky as all get-out, really having a tough time of things, easily frustrated, battling with everyone's wills, and all it takes is three minutes of nummies to make him all back to smiles and calmness. Jabber was just a little bit older when he weaned, and David and I were talking on the drive home about how the Jabberwock didn't seem nearly as connected to nursing as Monkey is at the same age. But I guess I should start expecting the comments to sneak out here and there now.

And you know what? Let 'em comment. I will just smile and say yes, we are still nursing, and I was thinking about how maybe when he goes to college I'll pump for him and send him little care package coolers of breastmilk, since the follow-up question always seems to be, "Well then when ARE you going to wean???" as if there's a magic cut off date, and if you miss it, well, you're screwed. Whatever. With Jabberwock, I was a little more eager to cut him free, since I had to eliminate dairy from my diet while he was nursing. But with Monkey, I'm happy, and he's happy. So what's the big deal?

I was thinking about how much more confidence I have in my parenting decisions with number two than I had with my first son. With Jabberwock, I knew that there were things that made sense to me--like breastfeeding or "co-sleeping" (though I hate that term)--that weren't always supported in mainstream reading material or from family and friends. But I was hesitant, too, unsure. What if he never was able to soothe himself to sleep, like the books said? Am I going to still be nursing him when he's six years old? It helped, though, that everywhere I went, people mentioned what a nice kid he was, how well-adjusted. It helped that he was so happy, that because I had tried above all to foster a secure attachment with him, he feels like he's on pretty solid ground today, at age four. All of this helps me to feel sure of myself and my methods with Monkey now on round two.

I know that Monkey will sleep just fine in his own bed someday, that he'll wean without trauma, that just because I carried him in a sling for much of his babyhood doesn't stop him from venturing out into the world to bravely explore. And beyond just feeling more at ease with defending myself from other people's judgment, I feel like I should also be an advocate for others who may have interest or need support to parent in a way that is a little off the beaten track.

Just why?

Quickie post 'cause I'm supposed to be working, but seriously people, why does my son drink bathwater (by slurping it out of the soapy washcloth, no less), gnaw holes in the kitchen garbage bag, and eat handfuls of mud from the sandbox but turn up his nose at anything we are offering for dinner?

Monkey only eats really gross stuff!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Temper, Temper (in which I admit to being a complete brat, and childish at that)

Living with a four-year-old, I am no stranger to the temper tantrum. They didn't actually start during the so-called "terrible twos," but escalated quickly once little brother was born when Jabberwock was three, and honestly there are still days that we see several in one day. Most days, they don't make me totally crazy, especially since he's nice enough to save them for home most times, when I don't have the added stressor of an audience, judging me.

Monkey is closing in on 18 months, and already he has pulled a tantrum or two, collapsing in a wailing heap of limp, disintegrated skeleton when his will is at odds with mine. I try to verbalize feelings for the boys, help them to understand what they're feeling. "It's hard when you can't have what you want, sweetie, and I know you were having fun with that steak knife. But Mama just can't stand the sight of blood right now, punkin." I try to stay close to them, talk quietly, and hug them when they're ready to be hugged.

Above all, I try to show them a good example when I am feeling frustrated, angry, or otherwise upset.

And then there's today. I am a mess--a raging whirlwind of foul mood, ranging from all-out tantrum to sullen sulks. I am slamming doors and cursing under my breath, sometimes none too quietly. And I don't have any idea really what's wrong. Sure, there were lots of pretty damn annoying things that have gone on today, like when Monkey made a beeline for my water glass this morning and then fell on top of it, sending exploding glass all over three quarters of the main floor of our house, at the precise minute we needed to leave the house in order for me to make it to my meeting on time. Still, was it really necessary for me to slam my way out to the van, nearly shouting the f-bomb into my quiet morning neighborhood? Of course not.

Then of course there was the perfectly pointless meeting that I had to attend, without notice, without reason, in which I was being asked to do something or other about a big project for a student who is not my responsibility and who only has eight days left of school. This with at least seventy end-of-year deadlines looming and stress piled on like a deluxe super supreme pizza with extra double cheese. Still, was it really necessary for me to glower at the meeting facilitator, making it perfectly clear that I thought my presence there was ludicrous and time-consuming? Possibly not.

And yes, Jabberwock was being rude at the dinner table when he was shouting "Look at me!" fifty thousand times, getting louder and louder, at the same time waving a fistful of spaghetti noodles wildly, while dear husband was trying to have a conversation with me about some idiocy of George Bush's Israel visit. Still, was it necessary to yell so brusquely at the boy? Yes, it was true that he was being rude, both by interrupting and by playing with his food in such a way, and yes, he is perfectly aware of both facts. But why was I unable to stop myself from using that rough and mocking tone of voice? Definitely not cool.

I know I should do just what David suggests and go outside for a walk or take the van to the car wash, anything instead of sitting here, seething about nothing. I have this foul mood wrapped so tightly around me now that I can't even move, don't want to feel better. I just want to grit my teeth and feel miserable, I guess. I want to let everything around me annoy the hell out of me just because. Because maybe then I won't have to admit that this mood is not about the kids being rude or breaking things or even other people wasting my time pointlessly. It's all inside me, my own reactions, and I am not setting a good example for these two boys, who are always learning about how to be a grown-up. I think about that part of me that watches Jabberwock flinging himself upon the floor in a crying puddle, that part that thinks, "Get a grip already, jeez, kid." It wouldn't help if I said that out loud to my son in the middle of a tantrum. But I'm saying it right now to myself, and I sure hope it works.

I hope someone around here will still be close by to give me a hug when it's all over. And I hope I grow out of this kind of behavior soon!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

We Women

A poem that fits with my sort of pissed-off-but-unsure-why mood.

We Women

We women choose our battles--
we see the messes you men have made,
make no mistake.
We see the inequalities stacked up as far back
as your calendars reach,
and our calendars see farther, in all directions.
We are angry, yes,
but you cannot dismiss us
because of it,
write it off as that time of the month,
sprinkling jokes among your words like
stoning us with pebbles.
We are not fooled by our careers, fancy cars, or even
the occasional pair of comfortable shoes.
We know we still clean up,
we still cook,
we still make lunches and braid hair
and run coffee and kiss owies.
We wash the car
and let the dog in
and we see the dirty socks on the floor, but
we don't say a thing.

We still make less money for equal work.
We still are shown beauty in the tiniest of packages--
(the best-looking woman is so small she disappeared ages ago,
and they like it that way.)
We still compete with one another to be the best man.
We still watch our sons marching off to a battle we cannot stop.
We still still cut chasms between ourselves
with one incisive word,

We don't believe that feminism means
we gotta kick Man to the curb
with the garbage
he was supposed to take out three days ago.

We women know that the yoke upon us is
not made of man, not formed of flesh,
but of policy,
ignorance, money, and power.
We know that we have been backed into our corner,
fenced by our own anger.
We know that the grocery stores are laughing at us
as we fill our carts with quick-n-easy.
We know that our children are raising themselves
in our busy little images,
their fingers clutching toxic toys
in all colors of plastic.
We know that we own the word poverty,
twisting in our sides--

we women stuck,
suffering, sorrow stitched into our bodies,
into our souls,
into our dreams
with insidious little needles.
we women stuck--
doing our best.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Monkey See, Monkey Do...Monkey Get Owie

I never had an older sibling, but I always wanted one. I always envisioned a cool big sister who would let me in on all the secrets to fitting into the world of the exact moment when stirrup pants went from the ugliest thing imaginable to the coolest thing possible, or how to make sure the collar on my Coca-Cola rugby shirt was standing up just so. I thought she would help me with my make-up (maybe even saving me from the neon blue mascara phase!) Even a big brother would have been welcome; at least he maybe would have had some good-looking friends I could charm with my wit and big hair.

For a long time, though, I was an only child, since my mom and dad divorced when I was four or so. My little brother arrived when I was starting third grade, a little too late for him to really idolize me and emulate me...or to hit on my friends. And my little sister came much later; in fact the day she was born was the day I found out I was pregnant with my little Jabberwock.

David and I were unsure about how many children we would have. For a long while I think we were both content to stop at one, but then this weird babylonging stole over me--first in little flashes like when I actually saw or held a newborn, and then in a more permanent kind of wistfullness. Eventually, I convinced my love that two was really the perfect number.

There are times when my oldest son really regrets our choice, especially now that Monkey is fully mobile, and even the top of the dining room table is no longer a refuge for brother-free play. In many ways, our two boys are so incredibly different: Monkey is fearless and bold, while Jabberwock is more cautious and reserved. Monkey delights in climbing; Jabber gets nervous around heights. Monkey makes do mostly with three words, "dis," "dat," and "uh-oh," while Jabber at this age was already, well...jabbering. On the contrary, Monkey learned to walk like a pro before age one, but his big brother didn't take more than a step or two until almost 17 months.

Still, watching the two of them play is like watching a kind of comedy act, with Monkey imitating every move. Jabberwock grabs a stuffed animal and growls with it, so Monkey runs to get one, too, stomping around the house behind his brother, imitating the growls. Big Brother speeds up the parade, growls escalating into howls. Little Brother follows suit. Jabber jumps. Monkey jumps. Jabber spins. Monkey spins. Jabber throws himself onto the couch. Monkey throws himself toward the couch but falls short, dizzy from spinning. Monkey smashes forehead into floor. Monkey wails. In a sudden reversal, Jabber too begins to wail, not in pain but in fear that he will get the blame.

I'm so happy that my boys have each other.

Monday, May 12, 2008


This has to be short, since it is past my bedtime and I still have to log my calories for the night, blah, blah, blah, but I just have to share that I have queried two more agents for my novel this evening! Yay, me! It's funny, because even though I knew going into this whole process at the beginning of the school year this year, that I would get tons of rejections and just needed to keep on keepin' on, it still hit me really hard to get all these form rejections. Part of the writing experience, I know, but still. I just want to know that after all those years of birthing that novel, someone will take a look at it. So yeah, I was busy and stuff teaching my butt off these last eight months or whatever, but I think it was also disappointment and discouragement that has kept me from querying more. That and a bleak kind of fear that I will get to the end of the list of agents without getting anyone to read it. Then what? Can I stick my baby in a drawer somewhere to be forgotten? Harsh. I am still writing, with new projects in the works, but the thought of this just getting pitched in the "practice novel" category makes me feel sick. And I'm still really happy with the darn thing, too; I still get a little giddy when I read the ending.

Anyway, just had to share that even if I do reach the end of that list with nothing but a string of rejections, I'm going to query every last one! Wish me luck! :)

Also Known As...

From now on in this blog, I will call my oldest son The Jabberwock (Jabber for short), and the little one is The Monkey. Together, they are Curiouser and Curiouser. It's okay to still use their real names in comments, but I'm going to keep them out of the main text of the blog.
Thought you should know, lest you wonder if I got some new exotic pets! :)

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Daily Irony

One more thing for today. Monkey's new skill for the last couple of weeks is throwing things, and let me tell ya, the kid's got quite an arm! Unfortunately, it seems his aim is also quite excellent, and his target of choice happens to be other people's heads (especially his big brother's, but he's certainly not above chucking things at me or Dad). So I have been trying to come up with a positive way of redirecting know, "Sand stays on the ground" versus "Don't throw the sand" and "Cars are for driving, not throwing" instead of "Damn it, kid, we've already paid our emergency room co-pay for this month!"

Then today we went for a hike and stopped by the rushing river. What did we do there? Throw rocks, of course, like any normal folks. Monkey looked at us like he was pretty sure we were all completely nuts as we clapped and sang out, "Throw the rock, Monkey! Throw the rock into the water!"

Monkey says, "WTH? Now I can throw it?"

My Mothers' Day Gifts

My three boys gave me some terrific gifts today for Mothers' Day. The first, and probably most dear to me, was that David took the boys downstairs at 6:30 a.m. when they woke up and let me sleep all alone in the bed (pure bliss) until almost 9:00! This was after a long night of Monkey nursing at least once every twenty minutes, so it was definitely appreciated.

Then, I had the luxury of a bath, a wonderful French toast breakfast, and a parade of beautiful gifts, including a stained glass rain gauge for the backyard, flower seeds in case I manage to plant something this summer (would be a first), candy, and an interesting clay sculpture that The Jabberwock made at daycare, which he explained, "is like a clip for you hair, except it isn't."

As if all that weren't more than a mother could dream of, I also had the pleasure of being read to by The Jabberwock. The book was a little hard-cover novelty book for teachers, full of cute sayings or stories about being a teacher, probably a gift somewhere along the line from a student or parent.

That, however, didn't limit my little imagination man from telling me the story his way:

J: Once upon a time there were two green frogs, and they both wanted to go to the stream. And do you want to know what happens next, mom?

Me: Did they get to the stream?

J: Yeah. They got to the stream, and there was a Wake Woam!

Me: What’s a wakewoam?

J: A LAKE WORM, it’s a worm that lives in lakes and streams. And that's the end, 'cause it's a happy story. Isn't it a happy story, Mom? Would you like to hear another story, Mom? This one is about two frogs that lived 98 years from now. Wow, Mom! That’s when dinosaurs lived. Isn't that amazing? Imagine! 98 years from now there were dinosaurs and frogs! Want to hear another story? There’s a lot of stories in here.

Me: Yes, yes, read me another one.

J: (Reads some nonsense in a rhythm.)

Me: Sounds like poetry to me.

J: It is, and it’s GOOD poetry. (reads more nonsense poetry)

Me: Is there more to the story about the two green frogs?

J: The lake worm squirmed up close, and the two frogs died.

Me: I thought that was a happy story.

J: There isn’t any happy stories. They’re all for big kids. They’re for four year olds. Well, this area of the book, right here, these are nice stories. The two frogs, guess what they did?

Me: What?

J: A king came, and gave the two frogs some medicine. Then, the two frogs carefully awoken. Then the two frogs went to the river pond every single day. And they never saw any more Lake Worms. The end.

He told me a few more stories, and I began to work on correcting poetry my students had written. Later, he came over to read me a few more stories. This is what he said as he was rummaging through his book:

J: No, no, no, you don’t want one of the bad stories. Oh, OK, here we go...Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess. But she was mean. What??? You don’t want to read that one! That’s a bad story, too! What is going on here? (mutters) The wonderful prince...came, and...Oh, no! I’m not reading THAT! I give up, these are all bad stories!

These amazing kids--they bring me daily to a state of wonder with their antics. They truly are the best gifts of all. This whole day is a gift to me, a reminder of the role I have earned in this life. Sometimes I get to feeling trapped by this role, wondering if I'll ever be able to be anything but a mother, if I'll ever have a moment to write, if I'll ever again sleep through the night, if I'll ever have time to fix my hair and buy cute clothes, if I'll ever have the freedom I used to have. I wonder if I'll ever be able to wrap my brain around complex issues again without feeling it split into pieces, some of which are making grocery lists and some of which are just now noticing that I'm in public with baby snot on the leg of my pants.

This role, motherhood, is not an easy badge to wear. It's heavy and heartbreaking.
But the joy it brings, the wonder and the laughter and the happy chaos--makes it the best role of all.
Happy Mothers' Day!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Art of Silence

Another post on something I appreciate about my mom.

I really love a lot about my mom, especially now that I'm an adult. I try telling this fact to the middle school girls who confide in me how much they hate their mother. "Yes," I say, the voice of wisdom. "You hate her now, but someday she'll be so important to you." I share a few details with them, the truly explosive period during my own middle school days when it seemed my mom and I would just as soon kill each other as talk to each other. "Parents are just learning as they go along," I tell the girls. "They want to keep you safe and whole, and they also have their own stuff to deal with. Sometimes it all comes together into a big mess, especially for moms and daughters."

Most of them deny that it will ever get better, and I just smile and assure them that I would have said the same thing at their age, or even at age 18. Age 22.

Then, it happened. My mom let me grow up. She decided that's enough, Elissa's an adult now. Either that, or she was just so preoccupied with my younger brother (who was in the midst of his own adolescence at that time) that she couldn't spare the worry for me as well. Or, as I've sometimes thought, maybe she realized in raising a wild boy how easy it was in comparison to parent such a sweet, intelligent, wonderful, self-sufficient daughter like me.

Whatever the cause, the result has been wonderful. My mother has perfected the art of silence when it comes to my life and my choices. She does not criticize my decisions or cast doubts on my parenting methods. She keeps quiet while I vent about my problems and doesn't give advice unless I ask a specific question. She refrains from telling me about her own methods in a way that would suggest they are superior to mine. She has never said a word about my cluttered, dusty home, even when she has shown up unannounced, with the house in a shambles. She hasn't asked when I'll be getting Monkey baptized. She hasn't suggested that I should really plant something in the empty flower pots that are sitting in the backyard. She never said a word about Jabber's potty learning schedule. She hasn't ever raised an eyebrow about me still breastfeeding either child, even though she weaned me at four months. She doesn't question my decision not to feed hamburger to my children. She didn't even really raise much of a fuss when I told her I was getting married on the other side of the country in a purple dress with my best friend officiating outside in the forest and no family invited.

I think I appreciate this most of all about my mother, and I sure hope this is something I can remember to do when my own sons are making their way into adulthood. I hope my middle school girls' moms learn it, too, so they can someday experience the joy of a respectful relationship with their mothers, as friends and equals.

Friday, May 9, 2008

A Poem for Spring

So a while back, I was reading a post from Beverly at Homeschool Image, and she was reading and writing poems about spring. I always spend some time with my students at this time of year reading e.e. cummings' "in just spring" and "spring is like a perhaps hand" and usually we all go outside and write a spring poem, using our word jars as inspiration. OK, so then there's this year. Seriously cold, even snowing, while we were in the middle of reading poetry. Nothing was saying, "Spring is here! Celebrate her wonder!" We couldn't go outside and sit in the grass because the grass was covered in snow and ice. I suppose we still might, but of course now all of my classes are smack in the middle of some other things, and school is almost over.

In addition, I've been finding poetry writing difficult on a personal level for some time, since I finished my novel, in fact. It seems my brain got so used to paragraphs and sentences I'm just struggling to bend it and shape it into the shorthand of poetry. And honestly, it's always hard to find poetry in my head when I'm buried amid stacks of work. But I read Beverly's post and got inspired, and then I started this blog, where I really want to include poems. Top it off with the little poem I wrote earlier this week about toddler nursing, and I was starting to feel like the words were reaching back out to me again. I started musing about spring as I went for my evening walk, and of course while driving. The best poems always come to me while driving.

Still, it was stubborn, this poem. Lots of false starts going nowhere fast. Until this morning, which coincidentally (or not) is one of the first days it really feels like spring. I was driving to work after dropping the kids off at their new lovely daycare in the woods, and the first couple of lines popped into my head. Luckily, I managed to keep the minivan on the road. Poetry can, after all, be dangerous.

I arrived at work, with several lines shifting and forming in my brain, only to remember that I had a student concern meeting first thing this morning (which, quite typically for me, meant that I was about five minutes late for it already) and couldn't spare a few minutes to scribble them down. Halfway through the meeting I found myself turning to a blank page in my meeting notebook and drafting the following poem. (To be fair, I am a great multi-tasker, and I did wait until the student being discussed was not one in my class!) It's far from final, but once again, if I wait until it's perfect to post it, it will be next spring before I get it down.

subtle spring

too often I think of spring
coiled up tightly
in winter's dark breast
like an ancient clockwork
ticking inexorably on
toward a leafy explosion

I expect transformation,
a dramatic entrance
of cuckoo--
cue the blossoming!

crescendo the birdsong!
bring on the buzzing!

I seek the signs everywhere--
ferns uncurling to the sun,
fuzzy pussy willows softly waving
in a breeze,
a breeze that doesn't chill,

snow beating a rapid retreat
in rivulets running downhill to disappear.

too often the signs I seek
are foiled by winter's lingering--
the robin
taken by surprise,
an eighteen-inch snowfall,
the daffodils pushing
their slim green lives up
through the mud,
only to find themselves encased in ice.

spring it seems does sit
coiled and poised
in the heart of winter, waiting,
but she sets her own time,
her own season
to bloom.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

One thing I love about my mom...

In honor of Mother's Day and my mom, I'm going to do a couple of posts about things that I really appreciate about my mom. This is not Hallmark sweet. There won't be poetry or any of that mushy stuff. Just some things I think are swell about my mom.

So, today's post: birthdays and other special occasions. She never misses one. Every birthday, anniversary, and minor holiday, a card arrives in our mailbox, flowers are delivered, she sings on my answering machine, cake is served, and there is a party. I am 32 years old, and I have been given a birthday party by my mother every single year except for the two that I lived in Oregon. There is cake. There are presents. There is wacky singing of the Happy Birthday song by my family, only one of which has any vocal talents, including a boisterous verse about living in a zoo and acting (or smelling, depending on who is singing) like a monkey. There is tea served in my mother's yellow china cups and just right for dunking her delicious chocolate chip cookies. We play pool, table tennis, and darts in the basement or slap mosquitos on the back deck or sit around the fire pit in the backyard.

It would be enough if she just did this for me, but she actually throws a birthday party for every member of my extended family, most of whom live close by (my own family lives an hour away and doesn't make it to every single one...I also appreciate that the guilt trips about not attending have become less and less of an issue!) Some months there are three or more birthdays, and I can't think of a single month that has none. For my kids, she takes the party on the road and brings elaborate cakes in the shape of race cars, fire engines, and this year TWO cakes for the two boys: a motorcycle and a teddy bear!
The boys' cakes this year

She's amazing about special occasions, and I wish that as a mother I could be counted on to be like that, too. However, I'm the one who is at Target at 9:48 pm on the Saturday night before Easter Sunday, picking up the leftover baskets and a few treats because it slipped my mind that a bunny should probably make a stop. I never send birthday cards, and I get Mother's Day and Father's Day greetings out in the mail on time about every other year. I rarely manage to get them a gift, or flowers, though I almost always call. Almost.

You see, somehow my mother's incredible conscientious knack for celebrating did not get handed down to her only daughter. Instead, I got my dad's gift for non-communication. From him, I have always received more random cards or gifts...sort of a "hey, we've been thinking about you for the last couple of years and I've been meaning to get this in the mail for you..." I joked with him last summer because he called to see what sizes my sons were, saying, "Well, should I just tell you a couple sizes bigger so they'll fit when we actually get them?" I hope he's okay with the joking, and realizes that I'm not any better. Heck, I didn't even send a card when his daughter, my little sister, turned five last month. (I did send an email, but that's not quite up to Mom's standards, that's for sure!)

So I guess I feel some Mother's Day guilt, since I'm SO not good at this special occasion thing, but I do really cherish the thoughtfulness of Mom. And I did get her a card this year. That's worth something, right?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Diet that Isn't a Diet

I've never been on a diet before, but it seems like I am right now. I've begun tracking my calories on an online journal (but I'm not telling you where, lest you go there and tell me to stop stuffing my face this instant and get your ass off the couch already, Elissa!) and have lost a number of pounds that I'm pretty happy with.

Still, I'm uncomfortable with this dieting thing. Growing up, I can't remember a single time when my mom wasn't trying to lose weight--getting ready for swimsuit season, slimming down for so and so's wedding, losing those holiday pounds--it seems she was always on a diet. I remember my mom and my aunt poring over calorie-counting books, drinking cans of TAB, eating nothing but grapefruit and iceberg lettuce. I specifically remember the 1,000 calorie diet they were on that had rigid meals laid out for each day of the week: Day 1: Breakfast: one half hardboiled egg and one half piece toast, without butter. Lunch: open-faced sandwich with lettuce, tomato, and one thin slice turkey and 4 oz. skim milk, celery or carrot sticks optional. Seriously, you want to talk about setting a woman up for failure? My metabolism kicked into starvation mode just reading the menu.

Of course I was never really happy with my body, either, although I think my mom did all right in not going overboard with the criticism. Like any mom, I suppose, she made small comments about how I should start sucking in my stomach and did I have to eat that last cookie, but the weight obsession was always about her own body, not mine. I remember Mom comforting me when my grandma told some friends who were picking me up at the airport to look for "the chunky redhead." Yeah, that did wonders for my self image. She reassured me that just because all the women on my step-father's side were like eight-and-a-half feet tall and couldn't pinch an inch did not, by any means, make me qualify as chunky. (Though looking back, I probably was, even for a shrimp.)

Still, I vowed that I would just be as healthy as I could be, that I would never obsess over the numbers on the scale, that I wouldn't worry about weight gain or pants size or whether my butt looked big. I promised myself I wouldn't avoid pictures because of a fear of my double chin or my flabby upper arms.

Yet here I am, counting calories. Two kids have redesigned my body, and I accept that. I love my shape-shifting self. Just...couldn't I be a little thinner? A little a mom, maybe? I celebrate my mom body while wishing to whittle it down to a more manageable me. I break my promise to myself and step on the scale with bated breath, hoping to fall below a certain number. I contradict my philosophy of self-acceptance while pulling the tape measure taut around my hips with pursed lips of disappointment. And I worry about cascading into that endless cycle of weight loss and dieting that I witnessed growing up.

So, I'm not on a diet. I'm just "eating healthier." (while limiting my calories, heh.)

And, several positive things have occured because of this diet that is not a diet, things other than the weight loss:

1. I have actually consumed vegetables on a daily basis, sometimes more than once a day.
2. I have had a bag of jelly beans in the house for almost two weeks now, eating only one serving at a time, and not every day.
3. My whole family is eating less junk, especially if I do the grocery shopping. All in all, we've eaten much more healthy meals when I have to log them on the internet for anyone to see.
4. I have actually found more energy because of the exercising, which somehow has meant that I'm still getting stuff done around the house, even with the extra time I'm spending exercising.
5. I get to listen to back episodes of This American Life on my laptop while riding my exercise bike in the basement.

Just somebody stop me if you see me slurping a TAB and eating grapefruit, 'kay?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Nursing You Now

Here's a first draft of a poem I "wrote" this evening while driving and while working out at the gym, for my son Monkey, age 17 months. I have a feeling it's not finished at all, but since this is like a journal, I'll post it and then rework it later if it works out that way!

nursing you now

nursing you now
can feel like embracing an earthquake,
taming a tangle
of limbs grown
suddenly, startlingly too long--
knots of knobby knees
and your daddy's long, elegant toes
(no, no, baby, they don't go in my nose!)

nursing you now
has become a dialogue
full of jokes and surprises--
your mouth, full of mischief,
chug chugs like a train
through your latch,
then pops off smiling
for a quick Choooochoooo!

nursing you now
can feel like holding a hurricane,
my wanderer waylaid
and wiggling away,
pinching and prodding and pawing
until this moment,
this instant--

nursing you now
is a fleeting island of calm,
your clear eyes locked with mine,
your hands softly circling my breast,
and the sweet perfect sound of you suckling--
the syllables of your satisfaction.

Monkey nursing back when a camera
wasn't so much more interesting than nummies!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Right, Mama? Right? Right?? RIGHT???

In my quest to become a better and better mother (I'm not looking for perfect, but I am kind of vying for the most improved award sometime in the next twenty years...), I think the principle that is most important to me when raising children is to treat them at all times with the same respect I would treat another adult. In short, treat them like real people.

I am amazed and awed by those who take this principle to the farthest extreme and practice non-coercive parenting all the way, those mothers who will simply not go anywhere if their toddler doesn't want to get into the carseat or who will let their kids choose what to eat and when from some kind of all-you-can-eat, always-available snack tray that the mother has painstakingly prepared and miraculously kept fully stocked. Seriously, there's gotta be some real harmony in those families.

I can't quite take it that far. For one thing, I am honestly somewhat of a control freak. I'm laid-back about things like the kids not needing to have a bath every single night and encouraging free exploratory play and (usually) not having too big of a hissy fit when the kids make huge messes. I do a great job of speaking to the kids in a way that isn't condescending, asking their opinions and letting them make decisions. (Granted, the 17-month-old does make some pretty questionable ones, like repeatedly eating handfuls of the sandbox dirt, but that's a whole 'nother blog entry, there!)

However, this evening as I was shoe shopping yet again, this time much more successfully with only The Jabberwock along, I realized that I seriously need to work on my listening skills. To be fair, he often asks about seven gazillion questions in a row, not leaving nearly enough time in between for adequate responding. And often, the questions are just plain bizarre. But there were about four times during our trip this evening where I noticed that Jabber was saying something like, "Right, Mama? Right? Right?" and finally he actually sighed in an exasperated imitation of me and said, "Are you even listening to me, Mama?"

I thought, good grief, would I treat an adult this way?

If my neighbor or a parent of one of my students or even my husband were asking me a question, no matter how inane and well, let's face it, boring, would I ever just tune that voice out simply because I'm entertaining a more interesting thought inside my head? Or because I was trying to listen to something really intriguing on NPR, for that matter? I have my social failings, but no, I'm pretty sure I would not.

David said once that something he liked about me was that there was always a whole lot going on inside my head, and it's true that it's pretty crazy in there. In this busy balancing act of mother, wife, teacher, accountant, housekeeper, and wishful writer, I do struggle with finding that time, that space to really enjoy my thoughts and reflections. But I need to remember that my children are people, too, and deserving of my attention. After all, better to answer a couple of questions (fifty million times in a row even) now than to face whatever they come up with later to get that attention another way.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Agony of the Feet (Shoe Shopping With Kids!)

I've been needing a new pair of running shoes. My old ones are, well, old, and they don't have much support left in them. Plus, a few years back they got really wet and muddy, and since then they have acquired a rather annoying, if subtle, musty smell. I'm not even remotely a runner, but I do walk quite a bit, and I've been starting to attend a local gym sporadically to work out. My feet hurt, so I decided today was the day. I would go and buy some new shoes.

Well, the thing is, I blew all of my solo time yesterday at a step aerobics class with Mary, then coffee and browsing the computers at Best Buy. Then I even went solo grocery shopping, what a luxury. So it was all Mama, all the time today while David did his thing. No problem, I figured. I even learned from my mistake the last time I attempted to buy my new running shoes with the kids--I brought my own stroller. See, Kohl's (our standard shoe-shopping first stop) has these cute little carts that combine shopping basket with stroller, and I had been planning on popping Monkey into one of those, where he'd lounge happily, and I could shop at my leisure. It always worked with The Jabberwock when he was a baby. However, last time the store was so busy that they had run out of the little carts, so suddenly I was reduced to carrying the 25 lb. back-arching wriggler around with me while searching the shoe aisles, and every time I set him down, he'd sprint off in the opposite direction from the direction his brother was sprinting. I was unsuccessful, to say the least.

This time, though, I was ready. I brought up the super-light umbrella stroller from the basement, and I was encouraged when I practice unfolded it in the living room and Monkey climbed right in, eager to be "vroom-vroomed" around the house. I was confident that he would be happily contained in the stroller, and I could actually select a pair of shoes to try on today. Heck, maybe I'd even get to try on two pairs!

We pulled into the parking spot, and everything seemed great. Both kids were smiling, talking, cooing. Then I got out the stroller. Instantly, Jabberwock began to whimper, but it wasn't until we got all the way into the front door of the store that he hit full four-year-old meltdown level.

"MY LEGS ARE TIRED!" he wailed, collapsing dramatically on the floor beside me. "I WANT TO RIDE IN ONE OF THOSE STROLLERS!" Sure enough, there was a whole double line-up of stroller carts waiting at the door. He flailed about like he was in the middle of a serious medical condition. So far, people were politely ignoring us.

I should start here by saying that gentle discipline is my ideal, but it doesn't always come automatically to me. "Well," I said, shrugging my shoulders, "I guess if your legs are so tired, you'll have an awful hard time walking over to the toy department to get those new summer toys we talked about in the car."

Cue the wailing crescendo. Some shoppers were now glancing over in annoyance or disapproval. Monkey had had enough of the coveted stroller and leaned forward as far as he could go, trying to wiggle his hips out of the seat belt. I knew that I was on borrowed time then; there is nothing short of a five point restraint that can hold my little Houdini.

"Jabber," I said, more gently now, "You know we have some errands to run. Mama's trying to find a new pair of shoes, and then we want to get over to the toy aisle and get something fun for you to play with your friends this afternoon when they come over for a picnic. Those strollers do look really cool, but I can only push one stroller at a time, and I don't want to chase Monkey all over the store. You are such a good listener, and you're already four years old, so I can trust you to walk."

He stood up then, still crying a little. "I wish I didn't have a little brother!" he spat out passionately. I gave him a hug and assured him that he loves his little brother, and that we'll go shopping sometime soon, just the two of us, and he can ride in a stroller. Drama over, we headed over to the shoe department. Monkey seemed a little more at ease once the show was rolling again.

Still, the clock was ticking, and I went into the shoe aisles with a purpose--find the pair of shoes that I wanted, and find it within two moves. Like one of those toothpick-moving puzzlers I give to my students in elective class, I had to strategize and economize: scanning prices, searching for sizes, seeking the wide width. I found a likely contender, a pair of Avias on sale for $29.99 (three days only, sale ends today!). I parked the stroller next to a bench and removed my shoes somehow while simultaneously doing the hand motions and singing "Itsy Bitsy Spider." Monkey smiled grimly and began yanking on his buckles.

The shoes were too narrow. I needed a wide width. I had just one more chance. Monkey was standing up on the foot rest and leaning outward, attempting to gain his freedom by overturning the whole stroller. Somehow, he had managed to wiggle almost all the way out of the seat belt, so I stuffed him back down in and gave him my keys to play with. "Uh-oh!" he said sweetly, and then threw my keys on the floor. I stuffed the Avias back into their box and replaced it on the shelf. I tried to get the stroller moving again quickly, but for some reason Jabberwock was lying down on the floor, blocking the aisle, our cloth shopping bag wrapped around his head so he couldn't see that we were trying to get past.

"Jabber, honey, can you get up so that I can look for another pair of shoes?"

"Just drive over me," he said.

I finally found a pair of size 7 Adidas in a wide width. They're not my favorite color, but at this point I had done three laps of the shoe department while making "vroom-vroom" noises and played patty-cake twice with both boys. I put on the shoes, took a few steps, and decided to go for it. We zoomed over to the toy aisle, bought our frisbees and bubbles and sandbox shovels, and beat it to the van.

Tonight, both boys in bed, I put on my new shoes to take my evening walk. Sigh. They're too big. I have to go back. Worst part? They don't have the half size smaller in this shoe. Oh, well, at least I figured it out before I walked outside in them!

Jabberwock kindly took a picture of my new shoes!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

"Extended" Nursing on NPR

It's an all-too-common situation: Elissa indulging in her NPR addiction, parked outside her destination with the van running and her hand on the key, unable to shut the car off until the fascinating interview or commentary or whatever is over. I am a public radio addict. I listen compulsively, and then I talk at length to anyone who will listen about my thoughts on the programs I listen to. Unfortunately, I also don't really have a very good memory for names, so it usually goes like, "Yeah, there was the guy on, and he was talking to this other guy...I think the second guy climbed a mountain or wrote a book about climbing a mountain, or something like that, but anyway, I can't remember exactly how it started, but..."

Today I was listening to "Weekend America" on my way home from grocery shopping, and I heard this segment from Bill Radke. The story itself is relevant to parenting, and interesting to me because his daughter is a month or two younger than my son Monkey. It is all about the anxiety that parents feel about our own parenting abilities--how we want our kids to feel self-confident and secure, but yet we don't always take our own advice when it comes to relaxing and having confidence in ourselves as parents. Instead, we compare ourselves and our children to our friends, neighbors, and preschool cohorts.

But what really got my attention about this segment was when he was describing the home visit that the clinical psychologist did with his family to determine the things they were doing right and wrong in the raising of their first child. The psychologist asked Radke's wife, Susanna, to describe her morning routine, and the first thing she talked about was snuggling together in the glider, nursing! Yes, nursing her fifteen-month-old toddler! Hurray!!!

I realize this is not huge news, but just the fact that it wasn't news is terrific. I dream of an America where breastfeeding, and even breastfeeding beyond infancy, is just so much a part of our cultural norms that it doesn't get any special mention. Now that would be huge news.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Elissa and the Three Bears

The highlight of my day today is small, but for some reason fills me with happiness. I was driving to work from daycare and three black bears crossed the road right in front of me! It looked like a mama bear and two year-old cubs from last winter. The sight of these bears, just a few small miles from my home and school, just made my day.

That is all.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Toilet Mystery

Not much time tonight to write, but I had a couple of silly things happen this morning while getting ready for work, and I thought perhaps I'd start an occasional series here--things I never anticipated about motherhood. Nothing so profound, you understand, just the strange and goofy things that I didn't know would ever be a part of my life, like the fact that any time I open one of the doors on my minivan, I leave a small sprinkling of stale Cheerios behind. For the birds, I tell Jabberwock. Or like the fact that I'm driving a minivan, for that matter.

So this morning when I got out of bed I really had to use the bathroom. Monkey was nursing like some kind of addict all night, including straight through about three snoozes, and by the time he was ready to back off and let me have my boobs back, I had to pee like crazy. So I run into the bathroom, only to find that the toilet is...full. This was not yellow, nor was it mellow. I was puzzled and irritated by this uncharacteristic act of my husband, and I impatiently pulled down the handle to flush, only to find that nothing was going down, but more water was pouring in. The level of the contents of my toilet was rising alarmingly! Simultaneously gagging, wiggling, and panicking, I reached behind the toilet for the plunger, and soon the problem was solved. Not even a single splash. It wasn't until I had relieved myself and was scrubbing the skin off of my hands that I remembered the sound of Monkey playing in the bathroom last night as I was getting Jabber ready for bed. Sounds like the lid of the toilet slamming. And I wonder...what exactly did he flush? When will I discover its absence? What are the odds that it has now passed safely through the plumbing, never to bother us again? The Toilet Mystery--one thing I did not anticipate about motherhood.