Tuesday, December 6, 2011

You Can Go Home Again (But It'll Be Really Weird)

I went to visit family in my home town over Thanksgiving weekend.  I took the kids and we stayed in my parents house.  My parents are now living in an assisted living community and my sister lives in the house by herself.  Some things have changed (air conditioning!) and some haven't changed since I was a kid (same old upright freezer in the basement that makes the lights flicker).

The house that used to contain two parents, five kids, one dog and various rotating pet rodents seems to have shrunk.  The rooms are smaller than I remember, the yard seems hardly big enough to toss a football in (though I know many were tossed in that yard with no harmful effects), and how did five kids share the one bathroom?  It's not like I am that much bigger physically than when I lived at home, and my current home is hardly the Taj Mahal.  Perhaps it's like when you get a bigger purse because your stuff won't fit in the old one and suddenly the bigger purse has just as much crap spilling out of it.  Apparently I don't fit in this space anymore.

While we were there, I slept in my parents old bedroom.  This is the same room they slept in since before I was born.   Same bedroom furniture, same clay hand prints from all us kids hanging on the wall, same fancy nightie belonging to my mom hanging in the closet. Yeah, let that one sink in for a minute.

I finally came to the very obvious and real conclusion that my parents are mortal.  Dad's poor health is the reason they are in assisted living, but Mom can't do what she once could, either.  Someday in the not-too-far future my parents will be gone and I will be left with just my siblings as a connection to my past.  Scary thought when you consider I was an annoying little sister--they might not remember my childhood quite so fondly.

While we were in town we took my mother out to lunch and I drove.  Although I am a middle aged mother of three who drives a minivan, Mom still grabs on to the armrest like I'm doing 80 mph in a school zone.  It almost made me feel like a thoughtless teenager again.

Being in that space that once seemed so large but now seems to have shrunk made me realize that my kids are growing up at an alarming rate.  I remember visiting my parents with my newborn baby boy and how proud I was to be responsible for this tiny human being.  Now that baby boy has his learner's permit and is a good seven inches taller than me.  My kids aren't little anymore.  They seem to be hurtling toward independence and adulthood.  And someday I will be some body's aging mother who needs help moving into assisted living.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Day in the Life

Many of you may think being a stay at home soccer mom is a glamorous and financially rewarding career path, but I am here to tell you that this occupation comes with a few drawbacks.  For example, this is how I spent my day:

Awoke to the sounds of husband and two of the kids rattling around downstairs a little before 7 am; was slightly annoyed as the kids aren't allowed out of their rooms until 7 and I could have used those 3 extra minutes of sleep.  (Teenager, of course, was still thoughtfully sleeping.)  I drug myself out of bed anyway as I had a full day ahead.  God may have rested on Sunday, but mothers are just getting started.

Grumbled at my husband as he was thoughtless enough to come into the kitchen before I had coffee.

Newspaper, coffee and a shower later I felt a little more like I might make it through the day without causing a divorce or a visit from CPS.  On this up note, I decided to hit the grocery store early before I got caught in the whirlwind of soccer games and laundry.  Mistakenly chose Walmart as my quick trip and spent a hour wandering around the monolith complaining how nothing was where it should be and the lack of selection.  I still managed to come out of there with about 20 more things than were on my list.  I hate Walmart.

Home again to start the first of what turned out to be ten loads of laundry.  One old grocery list and a lot of plant debris was discovered at the end of several loads.  I'm not sure how clean any of those clothes are, but I used soap and water, so I'm calling it good.

Started making dinner before lunch as I knew we wouldn't be back until after 5:30 and I couldn't take another dinner of chicken nuggets and baby carrots.  The down side of the soccer season ending is now that we are all home at dinner time, my family seems to expect me to cook an actual meal.  With ingredients purchased ahead of time and a recipe and main food groups.  I seem to have forgotten this skill and feel slightly irritated that they remember sit down meals.

Dinner is finished and packaged away for future consumption just in time for one and all to declare their desire for lunch.

More laundry.

Tried to find two matching soccer socks for middle child.  With all the black socks I have purchased since my oldest started playing soccer you'd think our house would be bursting at the seams with black soccer socks.  I found two that were clean and only inches apart in length.  Victory is mine!

Older daughter is seen off to her game with husband while I hurry along the younger daughter in her preparation. (Teenager is thoughtfully staying out of the way by playing Xbox in living room.)

Stand in the rain at younger daughters game and then hurry home to change for the end of the season team party.  Find that older daughter has brought most of the soccer field home with her.  Bathroom looks like a mud slide took place.  Try not to grump as we shepherd everyone back in the stinky minivan.  (Teenager conveniently stays behind so his sisters won't have anyone to fight with.)

Soccer party at pizza place that apparently wasn't expecting a soccer party and only has one waitress and mediocre pizza.  So hungry I eat it anyway.  So much for carefully prepared dinner.

Come home to find teenager hasn't finished his chores or his homework.  And somehow this is my fault. 

Finish cleaning mud off the towel bar and the shower curtain in the bathroom.  Wonder how clean daughter got if her towel has chunks of mud on it.  I hope she used soap and water.

Oh well, tomorrow is another day. A school and work day, so at least I can finish the laundry in peace.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Happy Leif Erickson Day

You may not know that October 9 is Leif Erickson Day, possibly because the next day is Columbus Day, a day commemorated by shopping sales and celebrating Italian culture. For those us of Scandinavian descent, it is time to mope in the corner with our lefse. Columbus gets all the glory, while our explorer, proven to have gotten here first, gets a listing in Wikipedia and honorable mention in Minnesota.  Where's our parade, where's our chapter in the history books, where's our Leif Erickson Day Sale?
Leif  Erickson beat Christopher Columbus to the New World by 500 years.  Columbus wasn't even a gleam in his great-great-great-great grandfather's eye yet.  Five hundred years is how long it takes a plastic bottle or a disposable diaper to break down.

And who discovered lutefisk first, huh Italians?  Oh yeah, that's right: Norwegians.  And what about Ballard?  Yeah, we discovered that too.

While a Norwegian may have been the first European to set foot on North America, I think it's important to note that they were good guests and didn't overstay their welcome.  Norsemen tried settling in the New World, but weren't warmly welcomed by the natives.  Scandinavians aren't big on conflict (unless you count that whole Viking thing) and moved along. Of course, we came back once the dust had settled a little.

To be fair, the Native Americans are the ones who really got the short end of the stick here. They really need a "Thanks for the Contagious Diseases and the Little Piece of Land Day".   Interestingly, the outlet mall situated on the local Indian reservation is indeed having a Columbus Day Sale.  I guess they figure we're staying, so they might as well make a little money off us.

So spend today pondering what it means to be the forgotten  discoverer of America.  Think fjords and krumkakke and viking helmets.  Say things like "uff da" and "Ya sure, ya betcha."   Then tomorrow head out to the mall and shop those sales.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Good Thing About Being 46

I had a birthday recently, complete with cards, presents, and lots of good wishes on Facebook.  My middle child was particularly kind to me that day, but the next morning was back to the same old pre-teen attitude.  As she explained to me "It's not your birthday anymore.  Now you're just 46."  (And to think she used to be my favorite.) 

Here I am, just 46.  Not old, except to anyone under 21 (okay, 30), but not exactly in my prime.  But maybe my prime came a little later than everyone else's--I always was a  late bloomer.  Maybe there's something magical that will happen at 46. 

At 46, I rarely have to worry about being asked for ID when buying alcohol.  And when I am, it makes for a really funny story.

I'm not 47.

Now that I'm 46, I no longer feel pressured to have the perfect body.  Let's face it, gravity is kind to no one.  If I totally let myself go, people will blame it on my middle age hormones.  If I keep my current weight, some may think I look pretty good for a middle-aged mom of three.

Everyone calls me ma'am (except for the greeters at Walmart) and while some may think this is the same as being called "old lady", I think it's kind of nice.  It beats "honey", "sweetheart" or "hey you" any day.

Forty-six is the age where I finally feel grown up, but not grown old.  I have a few laugh lines (some call them crow's feet, but I'm a glass-is-half-full kind of person) and a few saggy areas, but no bunions, gray hairs or desire to eat at Denny's at 4 in the afternoon.

I no longer need to worry about what I'm going to do with my life--I'm already doing it.  No need to wonder what I'm going to be when I grow up.  No need to impress people, worry if that boy would date me, or if I'll ever have kids.  The answers are: don't care; yes, and marry me, too; and yes, much to my delight and chagrin, depending on what kind of day I'm having.

I am the same age as my brother for one week and then he becomes my older brother again, if only by 51 weeks. (But you can be honest, he looks much older, doesn't he?)

When I turned 45, I considered that my half way point.  The average age of my grandparents when they passed away was 90, so 45 was the top of the hill.  Now that I'm 46 I'm just looking over the rise and getting a peak at what's coming.  Looks pretty good so far.  And it's all downhill.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

What They Don't Tell You

Expectant parents are the target for conflicting (and sometimes bizarre) advice.  Put the baby to sleep on its back/stomach, don't give babies cows milk/soda, never leave children unattended in pet stores. With all the labor and delivery classes, well meaning friends/family, and the plethora of books it's hard to know who to listen to.  While I am no parenting expert, there are a few topics that I have noticed woefully neglected amid all this.

Most pregnancy books tell you about the different stages of pregnancy and what is going on inside your body.  What they don't tell you is your body is no longer your own--it has been taken over by a cute little parasite who doesn't care if you have no clothes that fit you anymore or if you can see your feet to tie your shoes. Your midsection grows to the size of a basketball and it feels like your skin is stretched so tight it's going to explode.  Your boobs, formally for decorative purposes only, begin to dispense beverages.  Intellectually I knew these were natural occurrences--I'd read the books-- but I would not have been surprised to have the creature from Alien to pop out of me. 

They tell you the pain of delivery will be forgotten as soon as you hold your baby in your arms.  Ha!  They were still stitching up the tear in my private lady area as I held my newborn, so there was little chance of that.  Labor for me felt like having a Mac truck drive through my body...slowly.  Then it'd go in reverse... inch forward for a while. Next it parked on my tailbone.  That is a pain I will never forget.  Which is not to say it wasn't well worth it, but it hurt like a son of a b***h.

They tell you that you'll learn to decipher your baby's cries and know what your newborn needs.  This is an old wives' tale, in my opinion, and old wives are not to be trusted.  My babies' cries went from a whimper (Bored? Can't find my thumb?) to a wail (Hungry?  You're the worst mother in the world?) to a shriek (You just stuck me with a diaper pin!  Someone call CPS!).  Mostly you just start at the easiest things to fix, food and diaper, and work your way up to the bouncing and walking.  Endlessly.  While said baby screams in your ear for no intelligible reason.  Endlessly.  Until your hearing is so damaged that you couldn't tell a "Please burp me" cry from a "Why can't I control my arms" cry.

They tell you that toddlers will assert their independence by saying no.  What they don't tell you is any practical way of getting them to do what you want, short of sitting on them.  And that brings on the "someone call CPS cry" and I tell you, toddlers are masters of the persecuted and abused routine.  What they should tell you is that how you handle toddler tantrums will come back and bite you in the butt when they're teenagers.  Bad behavior is cyclical.

They tell you that things will get easier when your kids get into grade school.  Sure they're potty trained now and speak in complete sentences when they demand things of you, but there's another aspect to consider.  Grade-schoolers have social lives.  They have friends (who inconveniently don't live nearby), and sports (little league practices are normally two hours long), and school field trips, and important projects they forgot at home and need you to bring to school, and school supplies they need for tomorrow...If they have siblings, you multiply this running around time by 6,789 (more or less).  You will be living in your car until they're sixteen.  And then they'll be living in your car and you'll be stuck at home without a ride.

They tell you that teenagers will assert their independence by saying no.  You can't make them do what you want by sitting on them anymore, however, because now they're bigger than you.  So now you just argue with them endlessly and hope to wear them down.  But you are too tired from driving everyone to practices and games and roller skating to outlast them.  Lucky for you they don't have their own car or their own job or their own house.  My most effective bargaining tool to date is to take away my teen's phone and threaten to text all the numbers in his speed dial, explaining to all his friends why he won't BRB. (LOL).  I think I actually heard him whimper.  (Translation: "You are the worst mother in the world and I will spend many years in therapy because of this.")

This is as far as I've gotten in the stages of parenting advice.  I'm looking forward to sharing how to deal with the kids moving out of the house and supporting themselves.  Of course, there may be a few things that may surprise me about that stage.  The house will be too quiet?  I'll start dressing the dogs up like babies?  I'll bug my kids about giving me grandchildren so much that they'll stop calling?  Perhaps I'll be just as clueless about this part as any other.  But I won't have anyone crying in my ear.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Where I Was

Ten years ago today I had just had a baby and my mother had come to stay with us.  That morning the newborn was crying, my two-year-old needed breakfast and my oldest was waiting to leave for kindergarten.  It was a time of new beginnings.

Then the world suddenly turned on its axis and everything changed.

While my mom fed the two-year-old and I bounced the crying baby, I turned on the tv for my kindergartner to watch a cartoon before he left for school, but there were no kids shows on, just news.  In my new-baby-fog I couldn't quite figure out what was going on.  And then I caught the announcer saying the Pentagon was on fire while I watched the picture of a smoking building.  I called to my mom to tell her what I'd heard.  It still wasn't sinking in, but we watched in stunned silence as the story unfolded.

I don't remember getting my son to school that day, I don't remember if we continued watching the news as the baby cried or if we shut it off so the other kids wouldn't know what terrible thing had just happened.  I do remember feeling so confused.  How had this happened and what did it mean now?  I can only imagine that was how many felt as they watched their country, the most powerful in the world, so crippled by a handful of extremists from half way across the globe.  What now?

Today that newborn is a happy ten-year-old girl getting ready to play her first soccer game of the season.  The two-year-old is in her second year of middle school with an obsession for the Twilight series.  And my kindergartner towers over me and talks with a deep voice.  For them the world didn't come to an end that day.  None of their relatives were in that tower and nobody they knew fought in Afghanistan.  They sleep in their beds each night with no fear of the world being any different than when the went to bed.  Does this mean that we won the War on Terror?

For my family, the world is now a safe place to live and grow.  But what about those whose loved ones were taken from them that day?  What about those who sent fathers and mothers, daughters and sons to fight this War on Terror and never got them back?  Do they see this as a win?  Or do they wake up every morning wondering what awful thing is waiting for them?

To them I must say thank you.  Your world may never feel normal again, but you made it possible for my children to grow up in a country that strives to keep its citizens safe.  Thank you for giving this gift to my children.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Just Wondering

There are so many important topics being discussed these days it's hard to know what really deserves my attention.  What's this about a debt ceiling and how does it affect my back-to-school shopping?  If there really is such a thing as global warming, how come it's only gotten above 80 twice this entire summer?  And most importantly, what happened between J-Lo and Marc Anthony?  All timely topics to be sure, but there are several other things that I can't help wondering about.

What is it with Canadians and outlet malls?  They flock there by the busload (literally), whole multi-generational families browsing through the Nike store.  Perhaps Seattle Premium Outlets (which isn't in Seattle at all) should open a location a little further north (further north than Tulalip, I mean).  And why do they drive so fast?  Perhaps they are in a hurry to get a great deal on a Coach bag, or maybe they have trouble converting kilometers.  Well here's a little friendly tip for my northerly neighbors:  km/h=mph x 1.609344  (don't be afraid to show your work).

Why do people insist on displaying all sorts of inappropriate things on their cars?  I once saw a woman who was waiting to pick up her kindergartner from school with a bumper sticker that made me blush.  Kindergarten is when kids learn to read--what do you suppose she told her child when he asked what it meant?  "Well, Tommy, that means Mommy has the morals of a drug addicted prostitute, but she knows how to read."  And ditto for the decals with the boy peeing on various logos and brand names.  Why does a grown man want the world at large to think of him as a naughty little boy?

Why does my dog eat his own poop?  The vet says I can get a special additive to put in his food to "make it taste bad."  But really, what could you possibly do to it that would make it taste worse than dog poop?

With all the scientific advancements and electronic gadgets available, why is it that the only way to unplug a backed up toilet is a rubber suction cup on a stick?  I'm sure my great grandmother thought the same thing as she plunged away at her Thomas Crapper original.

While these may not be the greatest mysteries of life, I'm afraid they will remain unanswered (by me anyway).  I am not a great philosopher; I prefer to consider myself  a creative thinker.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Happy Father's Day/ Happy Birthday/ Wish You Were Here

I meant to write this post in honor of Father's Day.  I'd been thinking about it for awhile-- I wanted to do something clever and funny (Dad always got my sense of humor).  Now my father's birthday has come and gone and I still haven't finished it.  Dad has Parkinson's, a disease that has robbed him of his mobility and personality, and it's hard to find the humor. But my dad is still my dad, just a little harder to reach.  And he could use a laugh about now.

So here goes.

Roy "Bud" Alvick was an only child who went on to sire five children.  Either he thought Mom was a real hot number, or he was making up for his lack of siblings.  Or that whole Catholic thing.  As I was number five I'm just glad he didn't stop trying till he got it right. 

Dad was always the Fun Dad, much to my mother's chagrin.  He was the piggy-back-ride, sure-I'll-buy-you-a-candy-bar, yes-I-see-why-you-need-those-over-priced-shoes-because-every-other-girl-in-school-is-wearing-them Dad.  Which is not to say there were no limits at our house (with five kids you need limits).  I know for a fact that Dad handed out a spanking or two, just not to me.  I was the youngest and, as my siblings will tell you, may have gotten away with more than my fair share.   

When I was still living at home Dad had a phone installed in his bathroom.  Not something every family can boast of, we were probably the first (or only) on our block. Dad claimed it  never failed that whenever he went in there for some "reading time" the phone would ring and it would be for him.  Could be that it was the quietest room in the house--there were five children living there after all--but I'm not sure that I want to know if he ever talked to me on that phone while taking care of business.

Dad started his career as a math teacher, worked for years as a school administrator, and eventually became a elementary school principal.  Funny thing is, Dad had gotten himself got kicked out of parochial school as a kid.  I'm not sure what exactly got him kicked out, but any number of the stories I heard about his adventurous childhood probably would have been enough.

Dad like to tease and taunt me during mass, trying to get me in trouble with Mom.  It usually worked--I'd get the evil eye even though he started it-- but it made time go by quicker.  Again, Dad had been kicked out of parochial school...

When I was in second grade our teacher tried to show me how to do long subtraction, but I just couldn't get it.  When I went home my mom tried to explain it to me but it still didn't make sense.  I was devastated--2 years in school and I'd already hit a road block.  I had a total meltdown (in a way only a frustrated 8-year-old can).  My dad came home from work that night and sat down with me and the math.  Two minutes later it made perfect sense and my dad was my hero.  Any man who can explain math to me must have super powers.

When I go visit my dad these days he's often confused about where he is or what he's doing, but he always knows who I am.  He doesn't joke around as often as he used to, but that's okay--I've already heard all his jokes anyway.  He doesn't need to remember them, I know them all by heart.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

My Summer Reading List--Really

I saw an article in Time magazine about books to read this summer, as recommended by famous author-type people.  I have come to believe that these famous author-type people are either REALLY boring, or full of shit.  Summer reading for these people contains a Russian metaphysical book, Dickens' Great Expectations, and the works of Dante.  Really?!?  Have they never heard of Janet Evanovich or Tom Clancy?  Now, granted, this is recommended reading from Time, not People magazine, but honestly, it's summer--lighten up!  (Or at least tell the truth.)

In the spirit of full disclosure, I, Kristin Alvick Graf, non-famous non-author type person, will share with you my summer reading.  I will divulge what is currently in my book bag, what is on my bedside table, and what I have on hold at the library. 

When I was in college I would read fluff fiction whenever I had a break.  I would stock up on Harlequin Romances and give my brain a rest from all my college text books. I should state for the record that I majored in English--I hope they don't revoke my degree when they read this.  In commemoration of this tradition I recently finished a racy little paperback titled Slightly Married by Mary Balogh.  It's set in Regency England and full of heaving bosoms and throbbing loins.  While this book was not bad, I will not be reading the other "Slightly" books in the series--one was plenty.

Last week I started reading The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow, partly because it was on sale at my local Target store and I desperately needed something to read.  (Buying books from Target?!  Now I know my bookseller's license will be revoked.)   The paperback edition I picked up is so covered with glowing praise there's no room to tell you what the book is about. But I will fill you in:  it's set in Portland, Oregon (near my home town) and tells the story of a mixed race girl who survived a family tragedy, but is left with more questions than she can answer.  I was liking it, but got distracted by another book.

Right now I'm reading The Foremost Good Fortune by Susan Conley and I'm loving it.  I usually don't read non fiction or books about cancer, but this memoir has so much going for it that I am positively swimming in it.  (But I am not taking it swimming because it is a library book and the librarian frowns on water logged books).

Next up, sitting on my bedside table are Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh, a book about I only know is set in colonial India during the Opium Wars, and Aunt Dimity's Death, a book (that I am re-reading) that is part of a mystery series by Nancy Atherton that I love.

And requested at the library and for which I am number one on the list after waiting many months--Voyager by Diana Gabaldon.  This is third in a series set in 18th century Scotland and has the unlikely combination of heaving bosoms and time travel, but it also covers a lot of Scotland's history.  And I like my history with a some throbbing loins on the side.

So there you have my Summer Reading List.  I may not reach September any smarter or with  greater enlightenment, but I will hopefully be well entertained.  And if not, I will go down to the local library and browse the stacks some more.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Life with a Teen

The weirdest thing happened today:  I asked my teenager to do something and he did it. 

I'd asked him to take care of the garbage cans and at first he'd come up with his standby "No, you can't make me." And it's true, I can't make him.  He's now 7 inches taller than me (though he only out weighs me by 6 pounds).  But once I walked out of the room, he went and brought in the garbage cans. 

It was like I was an authority figure or something.

But wait, it gets stranger:  I told him to turn off the Xbox and find something else to do.  He argued that he'd only actually been playing it for about 20 minutes, as it had been downloading updates before that.  I told him it didn't matter and walked away.

Then he turned off the Xbox and the TVAND THE HE CAME OUT AND TALKED TO ME.

I'm think he must want something.  It's been at least 6 hours since this double phenomena and still nothing.  No favors asked, no bad news broken.  The suspense is killing me.

Or maybe he's just growing up.


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Ten Things You Should Know About Abbie

Today is my daughter Abbie's birthday.  To most people she seems like a quiet, cheerful girl who plays the clarinet and talks endlessly about Twilight.  But there is another Abbie that only a few people know.  There are some secrets that only her mother can tell you.  So I will.

1.  My husband had wanted to name her Emily, which means "industrious", but I liked Abigail, which means "my father rejoices."  When I went into labor we realized we still hadn't agreed on a name, but since I was the one in pushing something the size of a football out of my body, I got to choose.  It turns out she is a hard worker who has her daddy wrapped around her little finger, so I guess we were both on the right track.

2.  Abbie was a girlie-girl when she was little.  All of her favorite clothes were pink and she often wore several different shades of pink together.  Princesses and magic fairies, castles and Prince Charming.  Now she wouldn't wear a ruffle to save her life, dresses are out of the question and boys are "weird.."

3.  She has long, crazy monkey toes.

4.  Abbie is smart, Smart, SMART.  She's not the child prodigy kind of smart, where she'd be graduating college at age 13 but have no friends.  She asks a lot of questions (and I mean a LOT of questions), is a voracious reader, and works really hard in school. And she asks a LOT of questions.

5.  She has the digestive system of a truck driver.  My sweet, fragile flower can belch louder than any one I know and you don't want to enter the bathroom after Abbie's been "reading" in there.

6.  Abbie loves all animals, especially dogs.  Jack, our yellow lab, was her first true love.  It was a difficult time when she decided she loved pigs, but she also loved bacon.

7.  She wants to be a marine biologist.  Or a dog groomer.

8.  Abbie is a wonderful big sister (and a much picked upon little sister).  She is still not too grown up to play Barbies every once in a while and is so kind to her little sister sometimes it makes me want to cry.  And then she pulls out her preteen attitude and I have to give her the look.

9.  She's Team Jacob.

10.  Abbie is willing to try just about anything--food, sports, you name it.  And if she doesn't like it the first time, she'll usually try a second or third time.  She has no built in fear of failure, never assumes she can't do something until she tries.  I am continually amazed by her courage.

I would like to think I'm partly responsible for all the things that makes up Abbie (except for the crazy toes and digestive issues), but Abbie is just going to be Abbie, with or without my intervention.  I sometimes think she could do a fine job raising herself, but I'm glad she's letting me tag along.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Lessons I Learned From My Mother

It's Mother's Day and I've been trying to come up with a fitting tribute to my mom and motherhood in general.  They say God could not be everywhere so He created mothers. My mother had 5 children in eight years so she really didn't have time to be everywhere.  But she did teach me some very important lessons that I have taken with me in life (and occasionally imposed on my own children).

No singing at the dinner table.  This may seem like an arbitrary rule, but in a family of seven, who had very different personalities and routinely got on each other's nerves, this was a sacred rule at our house.  And it saved my mother from having to listen to "On Top of Spaghetti" for the 50th time while trying to eat.  I first imposed this rule when my second child entered preschool and could only remember one line of any given song.

Dress up whenever possible.  I often wondered why my mother put on her nice clothes whenever she got the chance to leave the house without us, but now I know: there were adults where she was going.  People who would (presumably) not grab her skirt with sticky fingers or spit up on her blouse.  That in itself was reason enough to celebrate with a nice pantsuit and a spritz of Emerude. 

Read, read, and read.  My mother was never without a book.  If ever there was a woman who needed an escape, even if it was only for the five minutes before someone broke out in screaming fit, it was my mother.  The one place she routinely took all of us kids together was the library.  Not only could she stock up on her one "drug", but it made her look like a good parent to boot.

Let them be bored.  I remember summers as a time of doing a lot of nothing.  No trips to Disneyland, no drives across the country to visit the Grand Canyon.  We had the swim lessons and camping trips (with all 5 kids in one tent and my parents in their own), but most of vacation was spent hanging out in the neighborhood or the backyard.  Televisions were turned off by 10 am and then we were on our own.  I've tried this with my own kids and they mope around complaining that they're bored.  That's when I give them two choices:  upstairs or outside.

If your brother is bothering you , stay away from him!  By the time I came into the picture, my mother had had enough of bickering siblings.  If I complained about my brother picking on me, I rarely received much sympathy.   The only time I remember her stepping in and mediating one of these conflicts is when my brother called me a name that had to do with some one's nether region.  It was a term I didn't know (though I suspected it wasn't good) so I asked my mom, who then asked me where I'd heard such a word.  Revenge is best served by a little sister.  And really, how much of world conflict could be prevented if one warring faction just stayed out of the living room?

So Happy Belated Mother's Day--now my mom knows I really was listening (once or twice).  Perhaps my kids will learn a lesson or two from me, but I hope it's something good and not "Never shove stuff under your bed when your mother-in-law comes to stay."

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Happy Birthday, Sam I Am

Today my baby boy is fifteen.  Fifteen is the stage where they know everything, yet would still like you to make them lunch.  (And pay for everything, and "Hey, can you wash my shirt by tomorrow?")

His teenage-ness started when he was 11 and I was no longer allowed to talk to him in public.  Oh, how I miss those days.  Whenever I tell someone about what a difficult time we've been having with him, they ask his age and say "Oh, that's a tough age."   It's been  four years now and they're still saying it.

Sometimes I think it's going to have to be military school for Sam or AA for me in order for us both to survive his adolescence.

But then, every once in a while, there's a little glimmer of the sweet boy he used to be that makes me think I might not have failed utterly as a parent.  Sometimes he forgets he hates me and tells me something funny that happened at school or gives me a flash of the dimples when I joke around with him.  Then he slinks away and yells at his sister, but not before I recognize my son in there.

A couple of weeks ago I was waiting to pick Sam up from soccer practice (in the car of course--teenage handbook clearly states all parents must wait in the car) when I noticed one of the kids talking to the coach.  This boy was returning some borrowed gear, talking and smiling, all the while  looking the coach in the eye.  Wow, I thought, wouldn't it be great to have a son like that?  Friendly, responsible, and respectful of authority figures. Then I realized it was my son!  Apparently his mother did teach him some manners, he just chooses not to use them at home.

So Happy Birthday to my baby boy.  You taught me how to be a mother and a lot about patience.  I'm hoping one day we'll look back on this and it will all seem funny.  Sometimes it's even funny now, but only after a good glass of wine.

Monday, April 18, 2011

How I Spent My Facebook Vacation

I wish I could say giving up Facebook for Lent made me a better person.  I should be coming out of these 40 days having spent my time in quiet reflection and worthwhile pursuits.  Sigh.  Instead, this is how I spent Lent:

1.  I started blogging, which some may say is a worthwhile pursuit, but really it's just an extended FB update.  With spellcheck. ;)

2.  I was unkind to a door-to-door missionary.  I let my dogs frighten her and I had unkind thoughts about her fashion sense.  Three Hail Mary's and an overnight stay in Purgatory (without FB).

3.  I made it to the gym more often, yet I didn't lose any weight.  Could be those brownies I ate to fill my empty FB soul. 

4.  I also started doing Jillian Michaels' yoga DVD.  I still can't do the camel pose, but have come to the conclusion that her belly button resembles the navel of an un-ripe orange.  (While my belly button is past it's expiration date.)

5.  I came up with new and inventive ways to harass my kids.  Without my face pressed to FB, I realized I have some pretty funny kids--who are even funnier when I annoy them.

6.  Soccer practice, soccer game, volleyball practice, band concert, volleyball game, school volunteer day...Laundry.   Phew!  It's a wonder I had time for FB.

7.   I freaked out about my kids' grades.  I spent sleepless nights imagining them working as telephone solicitors and living in our basement.  And we don't even have a basement.  Then I had a margarita and figured  D was really the new C, and, hey, they were passing weren't they?

8.  I thought un-kind thoughts about my husband as he checked his FB account while sitting next to me.  And I came up with new and inventive ways to harass him.

9.  I finally got around to a couple projects I'd been putting off.  I spray painted the wood chair I got from Goodwill pink to match Olivia's room.  In the process I might have accidentally painted the driveway pink (well, fuchsia).  Right after my husband had spent an entire day pressure washing it.  He isn't as funny when he's annoyed.

10.  I shopped for our upcoming Vegas trip.  I shopped and shopped.  I think we may have to extend our trip a day our 12 so I can wear all my new clothes.  (And you are welcome, local Marysville retailers. You'll be seeing a blip on your economic indicators for the 40 days leading up to Easter.)

So you see, while giving up Facebook for Lent was definitely an exercise in will power, it did not bring me any closer to God.  If you think about it, though, God created the people who created Facebook, so really it's kind of a holy time-suck, instead of your run of the mill time-suck.  God wants me to be on Facebook. 


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Selling Jesus Door To Door

A missionary showed up at my door the other day, complete with brochures and homely outfit.  I think she was a Jehovah's Witness, maybe a Seventh Day Adventist.  (Someone really needs to come up with a field guide for missionaries.)

Let me just state for the record I'm not overly fond of missionaries.  I get the idea behind it:  go forth and spread the good news, go tell it on the mountain, if we have to dress in these dowdy outfits everyone else should, too.  It's not the religious fervor I object too, it's them telling me I'm wrong I have a problem with.  Not only that I'm wrong, but I'm too stupid to know it. 

And the pamphlets.  I hate the sad pamphlets.  Do these people know nothing about marketing?

When My Missionary came to the door, perhaps the dogs might have accidentally got out.  Now, if you know anything about our dogs (two good natured if slightly spastic labs), you'd know this is no big deal.  Unless you don't like to be slobbered on or covered in dog hair.  White dog hair.  And you're wearing a long black skirt, black tights, and a black coat.  And you're a timid missionary who doesn't know our dogs would sooner learn to play the violin than bite anyone.  So they accidentally got out.  And in the confusion of getting them back in the house, I just didn't get a chance to discuss if I was wrong or stupid or going to hell with My Friendly Missionary.

But then she played the pamphlet card.  Now I ask you, when in all the history of missionary-hood, as a poorly illustrated pamphlet sealed the deal? I, however, went to Catholic school and I know a false prophet when I see one.  Now, if she'd invited me to a Sausage Fest with a Beer Garden, that would have been a different story.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Report Card Blues

Having internet access to your kids' grades isn't always a good thing.  Remember back in the good old days when parents could be lied to and strung along until the day the actual report card came out?  Those lucky moms could spend months at a time, happy in their ignorance, not needing to anguish over what to do about about Tommy's poor grades.

I suppose if your kid is an overachiever, the daily access to their GPA would be great. Oh look, Suzy got an A on her math test and an A+ on her book report!  But not my kids.  My formerly intelligent children have decided to forgo the traditional path of studying and good grades and have instead devised a way to use their brain power to torment me.  Turn in homework?  Boring!  Be aware of assignments and due dates?  How predictable!  You know what will make Mom absolutely crazy?  If we complete a project and then forget to turn it in!  ROTFL!!

I've begun to wonder if all the time I spent playing educational games with them and the countless hours spent reading bedtime stories were just wasted time.  Apparently I could have just plopped them in front of the TV!  Hey, maybe I should have had that margarita when I was pregnant.

In all honesty, I have great kids.  They are smart (thanks in part to my superior parenting) and funny and easy going.  Maybe not excelling at math does not doom one of them to a future working at McDonalds.  And if one forgets to turn in homework, perhaps it is not an indicator of intelligence, but that she just has so much going on in that smart little head of hers she can't keep track of details.  Perhaps it would just be easier on all of us if I lost my password to the online grade book.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

I try to be a good parent. I strive to support my kids' academic endeavors.  But sometimes, honestly, I wonder what the h**l those teachers are thinking.

What, for example, is the educational purpose of the diorama? Sure, we've all made one, but what does it prove you've learned?  You remember one scene from the book?  I tried doing a search on the internet, certain there were all sorts of academic sites praising the wonders of the diorama on the young mind, but I came up with nothing.  There are however, many many sites on how to make a diorama.  Really?!  Construction paper scenes in a shoebox is not exactly rocket science.  My daughter learned how to make a Powerpoint presentation in 3rd grade--why in sixth grade are they still asking her to glue stuff into a cardboard box?  And how many shoes does the school think I own that I have an endless supply of these boxes the night before the project is due?

Speaking of ridiculous requests from the schools, why do they think I have brown paper bags for my kids to cover their school books?  Who has paper bags anymore?  My son informed me he needed a book covered (of course for the next day) and the only paper bags I had were from the liquor store.  A bag from a fifth of tequila will not cover a text book. (And nor should it.)

I may not be a model parent.  I have been known to tell my kids they will never again have use for the algebra they're struggling to learn, and I once sent a kid to school doped up on children's Tylenol when they had a (slight) fever so I  could go to the gym.  The way I figure it, all the inconsequential stuff the school asks them to do is good training for real life.

Friday, March 18, 2011

How I Got Here: Lent

How I Got Here: Lent: "I have been without Facebook for over a week now. In a fit of residual Catholic guilt, I gave it up for Lent. Only nine days into..."

How I Got Here: I'm with the Band

How I Got Here: I'm with the Band: "Today I went to a middle school basketball game. I got there late so I only saw the last 4 minutes of the 8th grade girls' game and on..."

Thursday, March 17, 2011


I have been without Facebook for over a week now.  In a fit of residual Catholic guilt, I gave it up for Lent. Only nine days into it and I'm beginning to repent.  Oh, what would Jesus do?

If Jesus had a Facebook account, I bet he'd have a lot of friends.  But would he have time to keep his status up to date, what with all the miracles and stuff?  "What a day! Healed a blind man and then walked on water. LOL."  Yeah, I don't think Jesus would say LOL.

I wonder if my 2nd grade teacher, Sister Judith, is on Facebook? (And would it be under "Sister Judith?")  She always had a way of sneaking up on you when you were goofing off and then get you with the vulcan death grip.  (I must say, it wasn't very Christian of her.)  Uh oh, I wonder if she's reading this right now?!  Sorry, Sister!  I'll do ten Hail Marys...

Is giving up Facebook making me a better Catholic?  I mean, if I was still a practicing Catholic?  (And if you "practice" being a Catholic, do you get better at it?)  While I definitely miss my daily forays into the silly land of Facebook, it seems there is too much real suffering in the world for these forty days to much affect my spiritual psyche.  But with all the natural disasters and political revolutions, it is nice to escape into a world where people LOL.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

I'm with the Band

Today I went to a middle school basketball game.  I got there late so I only saw the last 4 minutes of the 8th grade girls' game and only stayed for the first quarter of the 7th grade game.  Though I cheered them on just as loudly as the other parents, I wasn't really there to see the game.  I'd come to see the band--the Lakewood Middle School Pep Band.

When my older daughter first decided she wanted to join band, I was supportive and encouraging.  I'd never played a musical instrument myself (unless you count the blade of grass made into a whistle), but I'm always happy when my kids try new things.  She told us that the kids in band were cool.  Poor kid--she'd been in an advanced class since 2nd grade and all the smart kids in her class joined band.  She thought they were cool.  While part of me didn't want to knock these talented kids, I couldn't let her walk into her first day of middle school and be blindsided by the ways of the tweens.  I felt it my obligation as a parent to let her know not everyone in 6th grade was going to be impressed by her clarinet skills.  A great hook shot, maybe; being able to hit high C, probably not.

So I went to the game today to hear my daughter play.  I have to admit they were pretty good.  They've all come a long way since that first 5th grade band concert, with all the squeaks and squawks coming out of those shiny new instruments.  And while her musical skills may not guarantee her popularity, she was there with some very nice, decidedly un-geeky girls, all wearing their Pep Band t-shirts with a pony tail holder making it snug in the back. She smiled and laughed with her friends during breaks and played her clarinet-heart out during the songs.  I was not only very proud, but happy that she'd found this niche that fit her so well. 

What I want to know is would she be terribly embarrassed if I showed up at the next event with a shirt that says "I'm with the (Pep) Band"?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

How Did I Get Here? And Where Was I Going??

Some days I'll be driving down the road and realize I'm not sure where I'm going.  Blame it on my mushy middle-aged mind, juggling three kids (not literally--they're all too heavy for that now) and all their activities, or the fact that my mini van doesn't have a GPS system.  Usually it's just a moments hesitation and then I'm back on track. Some days there's a u-turn involved (what I like to call the scenic route).  It takes a little longer, but I eventually get where I'm going.

Then there are days, especially after getting back in touch with an old friend who is in some far flung part of the world, when  it seems odd that they ended up there and I ended up here.  Maybe I should have taken a different route and traveled to some far away land.  Then I really do wonder "How did I get here?"

"Here" is the United States, where for all it's many failings, a child can really become anything they want.  A girl can be an astronaut, a boy can be a ballet dancer, and a mixed race child raised by a single mother can become president.  My great grandparents came to this country looking for a better life.  It seems that is the defining characteristic that binds the American people, no matter what their skin color or religion--adventurous, fearless people always looking for something better.  This is where I am.

"Here" is the Washington state, where it really does rain quite a lot.  Unless you live in the eastern half of the state, and then you're either too hot or buried in snow, wondering what happened to all the trees.  But my Washington is wet and mild.  It's  green most of the year and moss is the state plant.  The people are intelligent and laid back, lots of Scandanavian descendants.  We allow other nationalities, too, but we require them to learn the local language:  "Uff da" and "Ya sure, ya betcha."  My great grandparents came here from Norway and felt at home.  This is where I am.

"Here" is the Marysville/Arlington/Stanwood area.  Sometimes we're North Lakewood, sometimes Lake Goodwin, sometimes Seven Lakes.  It all depends on who you talk to .  To the locals "here" is Lakewood, a community defined by the school district boundary and the numerous lakes (Let's see:  Goodwin, Loma, Shoecraft, Ki...It's kind of like the seven dwarfs, I can never remember them all...Sleepy, Dopey and Doc?)  Our kids go to one of the three small elementary schools that are within spitting distance of each other.  (Okay, you'd have to be a pretty good spitter, but with a decent wind and proper hydration...)  Then they move next door to the middle school and then across the baseball field to the high school.  Many are proud to call themselves "Lakewood Lifers," people who have gone to these schools since kindergarten.  You do not need six degrees of separation to link anyone here--one or two will do.  This community is small but inclusive; me and my Southwest Washington ways were welcomed without hesitation.  I know my neighbors, my UPS driver, and the parents of my kids' friends.  Many of them went to school together.  We chose this place to be my home and this community to help us raise our kids. This is where I am.

"Here" is a 4 bedroom house, with a backyard big enough for a trampoline, an above ground pool and more weeds than we could ever pull in a lifetime.  I live here with my husband of 17 years, our 3 kids, and 2 dogs.  The mortgage may never be paid in full, the outside needs a paint job, and all of the light switches are always sticky.  Controlled chaos is the law of the land here, and while I may not rule with a iron fist (or a Tiger Mother discipline), the occupants of this place humor me.  I am loved 80% of the time, hated 5%, and ignored the rest.  This is where I am.

I still don't know how I got here, and I'm not sure I ever really knew where I was going, but here is a pretty good spot.