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July 2003
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September 2003

I was reading an essay

I was reading an essay from the book Why I’m Like This by Cynthia Kaplan (wonderful book, by the way. Go thou and read likewise), in which she mentions that once you have been a waitress you will forever after suffer waitress dreams. Oh, so very true.
I’ve been both a cocktail waitress and a waitress in an Italian/seafood restaurant. The server gig is probably the best hourly wage you’ll ever make, legally and without an education. But there are the dreams.
I still dream that I’m working at the bar, and I have a ridiculously large tray full of mixed drinks. I’m scrambling to put all the right garnishes in (“Does this take a flag? A cherry? An olive?”), and shooting desperate looks around the bar, trying to locate all the people who ordered these drinks. Finally I hoist the huge tray to my shoulder. It teeters for a breathtaking moment…and I steady it…and step off…and realize I’m naked.
Or I’m working at the restaurant, and I’ve been given a party of one hundred and six people. Just one mammoth table stretching out as far as the eye can see, filled with hungry patrons. I take a deep breath, and start taking orders. I’m working my way down, carefully writing down what they want. People are shouting at me from across the table, adding and subtracting things from their orders. I’m nodding and scribbling furiously, until I get to person #103. And realize my pen has been out of ink the entire time.
When Tre was born I graduated to mom dreams, like the one where I realized that I had forgotten to feed the baby for three days. Or the one where I left him in the cart at Wal-Mart, and didn't realize it until I had already gone to bed.
My point (yes, I have one) is that the other night I woke up, sweating from a writer’s dream. I dreamt I had sent out 47 queries and had inadvertently left a really raunchy phrase as the salutation in each. When I had finally regained my wits and calmed my panicked heart I had to laugh. A WRITER’S dream? Who exactly do I think I am? As though I’m somehow unqualified to sweat over the details “real” writers sweat over. I’ve sent out query letters. Hopefully none with salutations alluding to the editor’s parentage, but it was anxiety producing enough. And yet…a WRITER’S dream?
This is a theme I hear a lot among the writers I know. When do we cross that line, take the title of “Writer”? What level of success legitimizes this thing we do? I have right here, next to me, a contract that I need to sign and send back so this lovely person can put my essay in her book. I’m getting paid and everything. Am I now a “Writer”? I’m not sure that’s enough. I have a little sign, hidden away in my desk drawer, that reads “Do Not Disturb. Writer At Work. I can't bring myself to use it.
But as though a writer’s dream weren’t enough to make me faintly embarrassed, I just read all those comments from my last post. My goodness. I’m blushing here, people. And from writers such as yourselves…I’m floored.
Now, I’ve been told I need to learn to take a compliment properly, so let me say thank you. My goodness. Thanks.
And I guess I’d better get working here. Fortunately, I’ve got a sign...

As I passed the door

As I passed the door to the basement I noticed Claire, our beautiful stupid cat, meowing to be admitted. “Raphael,” I called out, “do you want to let the cat downstairs?” He came trotting up, all belly and enthusiasm. “Ah do it myself!” he announced, and wrestled the door open. Claire brushed past him with a purr/meow of thanks, and he turned to me with glee. “Ah DID it!”
“Yes,” I replied, homing in on my whole reason for engineering this tableau, rather than just opening the door myself, “and Claire was so happy that you helped her!”
When I was pregnant with my first child I read somewhere that if you focus on how your child’s kind actions make others feel good, rather than praising them directly, it would help them develop a sense of empathy. That too much praise makes kids self-focused. However, helping them appreciate how their actions make the people around them feel helps them learn compassion.
“Oh,” I thought, “I want that. That whole compassion/empathy thing. I’ve gotta remember to do that.” And so I added it to my bag of tricks, my many little techniques that I would employ in my quest to raise the perfect child. I had quite the bag of tricks, having been working in early childhood education for years. All along I had been storing up the little nuggets of information that I was sure would help. For instance, no child of mine would have a coloring book, for that would inhibit his natural creativity. No, instead my child would be handed blank paper and crayons and the freedom to CREATE. I would not hand down edicts like the unenlightened generations of parents that had gone before. No point-blank orders, dulling my child’s sense of self worth. I would explain my reasoning for asking (respectfully) for a change in behavior. I would patiently illuminate my motivation for curtailing certain activities (“I know it’s fun to jump down the stairs holding this knife, but I’m afraid if you trip you could cut yourself and that would hurt and then you would be sad.”). This would help my little one grow in understanding and logic, and help him to make good decisions himself. My child would benefit from the many tools I had amassed. Unlike those poor other children, born to parents who didn’t know all the tricks.
Well, the first thing I learned is that parenting advice that seems absolutely logical in a book or magazine or ECE class isn’t that logical to an actual child. Tools that I knew would serve me well...didn’t. I quickly figured out that although it’s nice to be able to explain your motivations for saying no, sometimes you have to be able to just say no. I’ve even followed up a blunt “no” with a terse “because I said so.” Some mornings there just isn’t time to go over the many reasons he can’t wear his swimsuit to church. In January.
And as for coloring books…let me count…we have 18 of ‘em. I hope it doesn’t ruin their creativity, but sometimes you just need a coloring book. Oh well, they’re my kids; odds were against them having any artistic ability anyhow.
What I’ve realized, I hope, is that parenting isn’t about little techniques. It’s not about the thing I do in this or that situation. It’s the sum of what I do in all the situations. The whole of my interactions with them and with others. It requires repeating myself again and again and again and again and again. And again. If my sons learn empathy it won’t be because I pointed out to Raphael the cat’s joy at his thoughtful act. It will be born of a million moments, a mosaic of what I said, and what I did, and what others said, and did, and off hand comments, and books they read, and other things I can’t even imagine, all coming together to form a picture of caring. I can’t orchestrate that. So I pray, and then do my best and hope.
But old habits die hard. Sometimes I catch myself in a moment like today, at the basement door. And I remember how in control I was before I had children. Makes me chuckle.
And pray.
And hope.

Nurture yourself. Make time for

Nurture yourself. Make time for YOU. Take care of yourself, or you can’t take care of anyone else. I hear it all the time. Women’s magazines, Oprah, you name it. The world seems concerned that I should slow down, take a bubble bath.
Pthhhppbbb, I say. I nurture myself with the knowledge that I’m not a weenie who needs a stupid bubble bath. I’m a grown up, for heaven’s sake. A mom, with a horde of little bitty kids. I don’t have time for candles and massages and all the other lame pampering suggestions.
Except lately I keep thinking certain thoughts. They make their way in, uninvited, between lists of school supplies that must be bought and plans for dinner. They have a distinctly whiny tone to them. They go something like this:
“I’m tiiiired.”
“My feeeet hurt.”
“I want to go get ice cream.”
Inner child? My sensitive wee soul, aching for nurturing?
Maybe I’m just tired. Maybe my feet hurt. Maybe I need some ice cream.
So I went out for ice cream tonight. Good ice cream, from the Marble Slab. The sort of ice cream that the Center for Science to annoy the Public warns you about. Coffee ice cream with chewy nuggets of peppermint patties. Good stuff. Dad followed Raphi as he raced around and around the building. Max and Tre hunkered down over their ice cream, and I settled down with mine. I even put my feet up.
Beats the hell out of a bubble bath.

My house smells of salsa.

My house smells of salsa. There is a logical reason for this, namely the gallon of salsa I made this afternoon. Among other things I used tomatoes from my own garden, jalapenos from my own garden, and garlic (you guessed it) from my own garden. I hadn’t realized until I went out to pick the tomatoes just how many there were. Many. Many many. Like, 35 tomatoes. My fingers sting from tomato juice.
But now there’s all this salsa, which I will freeze and stockpile against the tomato-less winter. That’s a good feeling. It’s been quite the week for filling the freezer. Sunday Mom and I harvested basil. There were only five basil plants out there, but by the time we chopped them down and stripped and rinsed the leaves, it was a forest. I laid out towels on the dining room table, and the entire surface was covered with ruffles of leaves. The smell…oh my, perfume should be so rich. Then we put them in the food processor with a little olive oil, and buzzed them – not too much. We scooped the resulting chopped basil onto cookie sheets to freeze in little emerald mounds. Transfer those mounds (or as we inexplicably like to call them, “doots”) into a zip-loc bag, and there you have it! Basil all winter long.
So let the snow fly! We’re ready. And not a moment too soon, because I hear tomorrow is supposed to be cool. Like, highs in the 70’s. Ok, maybe that’s not exactly snow, but it’s clear that summer is sputtering. I hate to see it die down, but at least we’re ready. Basil and salsa. That’ll get us through.

Today Tre and I went

Today Tre and I went rock climbing. No, seriously. My parents gave him a half-day rock-climbing lesson for his birthday, and we went today. It was amazing. I’m so freakin’ tired I can hardly think.
Anyhow. Tre did most of the climbing, being his birthday gift and all, but I got to go up a few times myself. During Tre’s turn I would stand there, at the bottom of the great huge rock, and watch him scramble up. I did my level best to keep my mother’s mouth shut, but I kept thinking “To your left, baby. No, the other left. That’s it, there you go, now to your right.” I kept as silent as I could and he went right ahead, figuring it out without my advice. The hardest part was when he was he was rappelling back down. He wouldn’t lean back far enough, and his feet would start slipping. In my head I’d be hollering, “lean BACK!” In my head I was drawing diagrams, showing him how staying perpendicular to the rock presses his feet into the rock instead of at an angle, causing him to slip. In my head it was fairly simple.
Then it was my turn. Heh, heh. Not so simple. I kept all the instructions in my mind, but once it was my body going up that rock, those words meant less than they had. I KNEW I should put my weight into the steps, so my shoes could grip the rock. I KNEW I should look up and plan my moves. I KNEW I should lean right back into the harness when it was time to rappel down. I just didn’t want to. I WANTED to do what FELT safe, instructions be damned.
Now, I call that a good start to a new school year. As the year goes by I’m going to do my best to remember being on that rock, sweating. Struggling to remember the instructions. Struggling even harder to obey them. I hope it will help me have more empathy with my boys as they strive to overcome math or phonics or writing. After all, it all seems fairly simple from the ground.

Back to school day. I

Back to school day. I sent my innocent wee babes off into the vast jaws of EDUCATION. Wait, you’re saying. Hold it there. Are you not a homeschooler? What is this talk of vast jaws, of sending off?
Ah, you are an astute reader.
Yes, I am indeed homeschooling my boys again this year. But they are also going to a one-day a week homeschool enrichment program, called Hope School. On Mondays Tre and Max are off to join hordes of other kidlets in activities of enrichment. This means art, science, music, PE, and something called Brain Gym. All good stuff. Very…enriching.
Oh, but it requires the sending off. Them, going away, into the arms of strangers (I know I had them going off into vast jaws before, bear with me. It’s been a rough day). I was making their lunches this morning, and as I was folding the aluminum foil around their PB&J’s (strawberry jam for Tre, pomegranate jelly for Max), it struck me that I wouldn’t be there to unwrap these sandwiches, to encourage them to eat their crusts. What if they couldn’t get them open? What if they went hungry? (As an aside here, I realize now that if they were so helpless they couldn’t figure out how to unwrap the foil around their sandwiches that lunch would be the least of their worries. I SAID to bear with me. At the time I was suffering from the effects of morning.)
My mom was sitting at the table, eating her breakfast. She saw me blinking back tears and said something very wise. “If it’s any help – and it was to me – sort of – this isn’t going to be nearly as hard for them. Their faces are turned away, and this is what they’re supposed to do. It’s a good thing.”
Well, she was right. It is a good thing, this day away. They bounded off into the jaws of education/arms of strangers, with hardly a backwards glance. I had arranged to have a friend watch Raphi for the morning. Her oldest son also attends Hope. We watched our babies file away with the other kids, and I turned to her, blinking back tears yet again. Her response was less tender, but no less true. “Oh for heaven’s…” she rolled her eyes, “it’s ONE DAY.”
So she took my Raphi and I was off. A whole morning on my own. I went home for a while, and as I stood at my front door, I turned to look at the neighborhood. All the front doors were closed. No one called across the street to a friend. No bicycles whizzed by. I literally heard crickets. It was eerie, like the Pied Piper had just been through.
I spent the morning doing things I never get to do. I spent a good hour reading in Starbucks. I strolled the aisles of Wal-Mart, free to wander past toys and candy without a fight. The whole time I felt like I had gone out without a shirt on, not having my kids with me.
But Mom was right. It was good.

Oh, and just to add

Oh, and just to add to the pandemonium that "blog it forward" has become, here are my questions, should you bloggers choose to play.
1. What's the best thing to happen to you this week?
2. What's the worst?
3. What do you worry about?

Lame, huh? Guess I, for one, should go back to leaning on Lani.

I’m doing it again, I’m

I’m doing it again, I’m gonna lean on the inestimable Lani and use her “blog it forward” questions. But first, let me apologize to the aforementioned inestimable Lani. I used her BIF questions from last week and neglected to link to her. Bad, bad blogger. I hang my head in shame. You should read her blog. She’s great. Go back in the archives and check out “Note to Self: A Morning Pictorial.” Good stuff.
So anyhow, off to the current batch of BIF questions.
1. Talk about flaws.
Ok, I read that and in my head I heard, “they’ve talked about paws and they’ve talked about flaws. They’ve talked quite a lot about old Santa Claus.” Anyone else do this? Burst out into Dr. Seuss unexpectedly? Years of reading and rereading have burned his rhymes into my brain and I will never be the same. For I will recite him in a box, I will recite him with a fox…
Sorry. Extra points if you know what book the above Seuss quote comes from.
I don’t know if that answers this particular question, except that channeling Dr. Seuss could, I suppose, be considered a flaw.

2. Best time you ever had behaving inappropriately.
Um…not sure I want to share any of these with all of you. My brother is sitting here, suggesting at least one highly inappropriate example. Ahem. Not telling the world about that, Josh. Not happy even YOU know about that. Shut up.
I will tell you about the other day, when Mom and Dad’s phone rang. I answered it, because they were both out. Some telemarketer-type person asked for Mr. (insert Dad’s full name), please. I said he was out, could I take a message.
“Is this the missus?” he asked in that chirpy phone voice. I didn’t want to say it was his daughter, because then people always think I’m roughly twelve and start calling me “honey.” Hate that. So I said, “Close enough.” There was a silence. “Ooookaaay. This is Joel from Promise Keepers. Maybe I’ll call back.”
I’m thinking Joel from Promise Keepers might not call back.
So that wasn’t the best time I’ve had, but it was pretty inappropriate, and I did get a giggle out of it.

3. Are you pursuing your passion? Why/why not?
Yes. I’m writing. I always wanted to, but life kept getting in the way. Then my life got…shuffled, shall we say. A lot of dearly held plans for my future – gone. And I guess I’ve finally realized that no-one’s going to make time nor space for my dreams. Gotta go get them. You just never know what’s happening next, so forge ahead.

In closing, let me share with you a bit of wisdom from my brother, the One True Josh. I came up the stairs from doing laundry in the basement this afternoon to find him sitting at the table. He was staring off in the distance, clearly absorbed in some important thought. “What ‘cha thinking?” I asked, not content to have annoyed him my entire childhood. He gestured at a box of nasal spray on the counter.
“I’m thinking that Metamucil had been named by the people who named Flonase, it would have been called ‘SquirPoo.’”
Well. There you go. Direct from the mind of Josh.

All right, I’m back, with

All right, I’m back, with many apologies for missing a day. Thursday, no less. I’m a loser. It was not my fault, though. We had some friends over last night for dinner (hi, Amy! Love to Liz), and there simply wasn’t an evening hour to be had for blogging.
Today was pretty full too. I took all three boys in for their yearly exams at the pediatrician’s. Three boys in a little bitty exam room – that’s grueling work. I’m always a touch anxious at the pediatrician’s. The boys’ doctor is great, I like him a lot, but he has so many opinions about how I should be parenting. It’s not even him; it’s the whole practice. Every time I go, someone’s giving me handouts on what to feed the kids, how to discipline them, how to deal with sleep problems, and stuff like that. I guess the theory is that they're experts on children, so their opinion matters. The thing is, they’re not experts on my children. But I always worry when I’m there that the great doctor’s office is going to decide that I’m not doing it “right.” Not sure what the consequences there would be, but it makes me anxious nonetheless.
I asked Mom if she felt like that when Josh and I were kids, and she shook her head with scorn. “Doctors didn’t offer opinions on things like that. They wouldn’t have dared. It wasn’t any of their business.”
Ok, so I seem to have gotten slightly off track there for a bit. Anyhow.
The boys are all perfect, if slightly short and big headed. They’re all in the 5 – 15th percentile for height, and the 80-90th percentile for head circumference. It’s a wonder they can stand up like that. Gives you a mental image of a gnome like creature, doesn’t it? Take my word for it, they look fairly normal. It’s only when the doctor wields his evil tape measure and charts that they seem so disproportionate. If I ever get around to switching blog hosts, I’ll post a picture and prove it.
Now, that brings up a good question for everyone. Should I post pictures of the boys on my blog? I get a disturbing amount of traffic from google searches for little boy p*rn. Wouldn’t want those people seeing my little sweethearts. What do you think?
Whoo, back to the subject. (Thanks for playing)
Max got two shots, and he was such a trouper. Didn’t cry at all. He was so stoic about it that the nurse even felt guilty giving him his shots. Tre and Raphi gathered around to watch the procedure, and they were very sympathetic. Lots of tender pats and hugs and encouraging words. It was very sweet.
So they were all pronounced perfect one more time (really, their doctor always ends a well child exam by saying sincerely, “ok, he’s just perfect. See you next year.”). And now I must get myself to bed. After all, I see here on Max’s informational sheet that I should be talking to him during mealtimes. Huh. Guess I’ll have to get some sleep so I can pull that one off over corn flakes.

My Max is five today.

My Max is five today. I spent all day remembering this day five years ago. I know, I obviously have issues. Bear with me.
That morning I was awakened by Tre, bounding into bed with all his three year old joy, requesting my presence in the day. I told him I would get up soon, and he waited for me on the floor at the foot of my bed (he also pulled apart a set of 35 candles, separating wicks from wax and shuffling the different scents between the labeling boxes. Didn’t discover that until later.). I lingered in bed for a few minutes, just listening to the morning and thinking, “I’m gonna have this baby today. My life is changing – today.” Don’t know how I knew, but I knew. After a while I woke up my husband (at the time) and told him I was having the baby that day. He blinked, asked if I was in labor, and when I said I wasn’t he declared that he must go buy a flash for his camera. So as to be ready for the birth, you understand. Then I called my mom and told her I was going to be having the baby that day. She laughed at me, perhaps because I had been announcing for weeks, “I could have this baby at any moment.” Hey, it was August. I was hot.
But it turned out I was right. Around 11 I started having these wimpy little contractions, so wimpy I didn’t even recognize them as contractions. By 12 I was pretty sure it was labor, even though the contractions were still pretty light and really irregular. I announced suddenly that it was time to go to the hospital. I must have sounded convincing, because everyone swung into action. On the way there the contractions went from 8 to 12 minutes apart to one minute apart and REALLY INTENSE. I got in the hospital room at 12:30, and I was in hard labor. You should know that a fast labor isn’t necessarily easier, just faster. I remember being in transition and panicking. I started hyperventilating and spots were dancing before my eyes. “My fingers are tingling,” I told a nurse. She sternly told me to calm down and breathe slower. This only panicked me further. Then I remember my husband getting right in my face and saying in the calmest voice, “Look at me. Look at me. You can do this. You are the strongest woman I know. Breathe with me.” And he breathed in and out and I breathed with him. He was my hero. At 1p.m., after a full two hours of labor, Max was born. I couldn’t believe he was really there, it had all happened so fast. Took me hours to catch my breath.
Max was cold at birth, so cold that the nurses wrapped him in blankets and then what looked like a black trash bag, and kept him under the heat lamps. They wouldn’t let me have him for the longest time. I kept looking at him, itching to hold him and warm him. Finally they handed him over, and I unwrapped him and put him on my chest, skin to skin, and put the blankets over both of us. Soon the nurse came in to take his temperature, and she was amazed at how much he’d warmed up.
He wouldn’t breastfeed for longer than five minutes, and this displeased the nurses. They kept coming in and quizzing me on how long he’d nursed. They started leaving little bottles of formula threateningly by my bed. I took to lying to them. “Oh yes. He nursed 15 minutes on the left, and ten on the right.” Which satisfied them, and was true, except he never did that all at once. Max was from birth, and is to this day, a languorous eater.
Remembering that day, there are truths in it I learned about Max. He will surprise me. His schedule is not, never has been, never will be, my schedule. Don’t push him; he’ll eat what he wants, when he needs it. And hold him tight; don’t let him get too cold.
Still catching my breath.