Monday, December 5, 2011

Oh....Christmas Tree

I am not someone who jumps out of bed the morning after Thanksgiving and starts madly decorating our home for Christmas. Since I am always the one who hosts Thanksgiving at our house I am usually the one moaning the morning after about how exhausted I am and the thought of launching into the next holiday is unfathomable. As a result, we usually delay our Christmas decorating for a week. Or more.

We are a family that still insists upon getting a real Christmas tree. When the children were younger and our tolerance for activities that involved driving far distances and cutting things was low we got our tree from the lot down the street. These were always lovely trees with plenty to choose from in the perfect height and they tied it to the roof of our van with twine so we could drive it home. The whole process took less than 30 minutes including the time it took for me to dither over which of the perfect trees was truly the most perfect-est.

Last year I decided our children were old enough and our tolerances were high enough that we were going to drive out to a Christmas tree farm and cut our own. How festive! What a family bonding experience! When we told the kids they were excited. My daughter immediately got busy finding the appropriate outfit for the occasion which consisted of a skirt and blouse, tights, black patent shoes and her faux leopard coat and hat. The rest of us felt woefully underdressed in our jeans, sweaters, parkas and boots.

We drove out to the farm and while it did take longer than our usual drive to the local lot it didn't take days to get there. Or even hours. If I recall correctly, the drive took one hour. And yet our children complained bitterly, like we had been driving since before the sun came up. For several days on end. They demanded snacks and a video. I told them we are never driving across country. Or even to New York.

Once we got to the farm we sprang from the car and took big, deep breaths of the cool, crisp pine air. There was a fire pit and a rack of hand saws. My children immediately made a beeline for the saws. Once we sorted out who was allowed to use the saws (only daddy) and who would be carrying the bamboo measuring pole (them, taking turns) we started out in search of our tree.

As I mentioned previously, we do not come rushing out of the starting gate with our decorating the day of Thanksgiving. We kind of take a few weeks to warm up to the idea and get comfortable with the fact that it is already December. As a result, when we went to the farm to get our tree we were a little on the late side. At the lot back home that isn't a problem because they keep bringing new trees to replace the stock. At the farm, once a tree has been cut down it's gone, so you have to keep walking until you find one suitable. And walking. And walking. With your children who are complaining about the cold, dressed in faux leopard coats and black patent shoes, trying to beat each other with a bamboo pole and whining that they want to carry the saw.

Finally, after much searching we found the perfect tree. Well, almost perfect. There was a sketchy side but it could face the wall and would be fine. And we were tired and hungry and cold. So the husband got to work cutting it.

A few years ago we moved to a new house with higher ceilings. Much higher ceilings. And yet we had continued to buy a tree that fit our old house's lower ceilings. But not this year! We had measured and knew exactly what size larger tree we needed. What we didn't take into consideration was this much larger tree would have a much larger trunk. And so the husband laid on the ground with the small, dull, only slightly-sharper-than-a-plastic-knife, farm provided hand saw and sawed away at the large trunk. And sawed. And sawed. And got tired and so I sawed a bit. And then we got desperate and let each kid saw for a while. And finally it was almost cut loose and I misunderstood the husband's directions for holding the tree at the correct angle and when he finally cut it through completely it fell on him.

Once he crawled out from under the tree we realized we had to drag the massive tree a million miles back through the tree farm to the parking lot. It was big. And heavy. So we began the process of getting it back to the car. We had to stop a few times to peel off layers of clothing and catch our breath. And our children continued to straggle behind beating each other with the bamboo pole and swinging the saw at each other because by this point we had lost the will to care. But eventually we got the tree back, sat by the fire pit for a few minutes and drank hot cider, paid for the tree and the attendant tied it to the roof of our car and we drove home with our glorious tree.

Once we got home we cut it down from the roof of the car and dragged it inside. We got out our Christmas tree stand that we had been using for many years. It was the fancy kind from Brookstone that practically puts the tree up itself. Or at least it would've if it had been the sized tree we had gotten in all those previous years. Not the new massive one. With the massive trunk that didn't fit in our stand.

The husband was so overcome with the spirit of the holidays that he ran out to get a new stand that would fit our tree. Okay, actually he was nagged until he ran away, and it just so happened he ran off in the direction of the store. Which was out of the larger sized stands. At this point he was done for the time being. So the tree sat outside, leaning against the house in the back yard until the next weekend when we had recovered our Christmas spirit and banished our apathy and found the right sized stand after checking two more stores.

Finally we had the tree up, the sketchy side was facing the wall, we added lights and ornaments, and it was everything we thought it would be and more. And because of that lovely experience that has been transformed in my children's minds into the best Christmas tradition ever, I am now looking forward to a repeat of the whole event this coming weekend. But at least this time we already have the stand. And we are bringing our own chain saw.

Monday, November 28, 2011

My case of almost-insomnia

A few years ago I suffered from insomnia. It was a miserable and hellish existence that I wouldn't wish on anyone. The cycle of exhaustion during the day that borders on insanity and the dread as night approaches and once again you will be faced with the inability to sleep, even though there is nothing your body craves more. Luckily for me I no longer suffer from insomnia. Instead, I suffer from almost-insomnia. My almost-insomnia started around 18 months ago, in the spring of 2010 when we switched to daylight savings time. Something about the time change, the early morning light and my aging body created a perfect storm of which I have yet to escape. 

The reason I call it almost-insomnia is because I fall asleep fine. I sleep well through the night. And then I wake up. At 5:30am. Wide awake. Did I mention it is 5:30am? I do not want to be awake at 5:30am. There is little to nothing to do at 5:30am except work at the computer. I could go running, but it is dark. I could watch television, but it is morning and technically I should be getting ready for the day. The grocery store isn't open. Target isn't open. So instead I get up and have some coffee and think longingly of all those people who have to set an alarm to rouse them out of bed at 6:30 or 7:00. This works well when I have a lot going on and tons of work to catch up on and am so busy during the daytime hours that I need the extra morning time to get it done. This totally sucks when I have nothing urgent to attend to and there is space open on my calendar to accomplish whatever needs to get done that week during normal person hours. 

The downside of the almost-insomnia is that I am exhausted by mid-afternoon. By the evening I am a zombie. If I could go to bed at 7pm maybe that wouldn't be an issue. But for some reason my kids don't want to get on this schedule. They are burning the midnight oil, staying up as late as 8:30pm most nights. They have no consideration for mommy's almost-insomnia.

And yes, I have tried altering my sleep schedule by going to bed later. All that happens is that I get less sleep because regardless of when I go to bed, I am up at 5:30am. Even when I traveled to France this past spring, took a red-eye flight there, adjusted to the time change, flew back home and...immediately reverted back to my 5:30am wake up time. 

The problem with my almost-insomnia is there is no sympathy. If I mention it to friends it sounds like I'm bragging. Saying *oh, I just automatically wake up at 5:30am* is only a few degrees away from *I try and I try and no matter what I eat I simply can't gain any weight*. No one feels sorry for you. 

The medical profession truly cares about the insomniacs. They have lots of ways they can attempt to help you including several different medication options. The almost-insomniacs get sighs and reminders that we are technically getting the recommended amount of sleep for our age, and we are sleeping through the night, and it's not like we are waking up at 3am. In other words, we need to and accept this is our lot in life.

So I continue to exist with this condition and hope that one day it will get enough recognition and appreciation that there will be telethons and charity 5k races in its honor instead of eye rolling. In the meantime I think the best I can do is plan a trip to Hawaii where there is a several hour time change and then stay for a few months until my body's clock works things out. But until then, if you ever need someone to have coffee with you at 5:30am send me a text. 

Saturday, October 29, 2011

That 5%

Yesterday I got home from a doctor's appointment shortly after 2pm and promptly checked our voice mail. There was a message from one of the moms of a child in my daughter's class. She was calling to apologize that she wouldn't be able to make it to help at the class party today because her sitter for her younger children didn't show. When I heard her message I stopped breathing. I was the snack mom for the class party and had thought it was on Monday, not Friday, today. And it started at 1:50pm, which meant that there were 24 kids at a party with no cookies to frost. No sprinkles to sprinkle, no sugar rush. I almost got sick and felt dizzy, like I may pass out. But I managed to make my way to my computer and pull up the email from the mom organizing the party to see when it was scheduled. And it was occurring...on Monday. I was beyond relieved. For that brief period of time I thought I had screwed up epically.

I am a very organized and efficient person. I can easily manage a ton of data, to do lists, projects, sew halloween costumes, all without breaking a sweat. I always have a million balls in the air that I am juggling but due to my OCD, neurotic control-freak type A personality I have things completely under control. About 95% of the time. It's that other 5% where I drop the ball. And unfortunately it tends to be in a spectacular fashion. A situation this past summer was relatively mild. After having my mother-in-law come home from work early so she could pick my daughter up from camp so I could take my son to his annual check up only to find out the appointment was for the following Monday at 4:15, not this Monday. So I had to recreate the fine orchestration of transportation a second time. One of my husband's favorites was the time we arrived at the airport ready to fly out to visit relatives in Seattle with kids in tow and their millions of pounds of gear only to attempt to check in for our flight and not have our reservation located. Because we were at the wrong airport. And then there was the time I accidentally paid the mortgage twice in one month. Which isn't a bad thing per se, except there were other bills that needed that money.

So I was feeling really lucky that I dodged the bullet with my daughter's party. What a huge relief, that would have been a fiasco. Because, really, with everything I have going on and the lack of sleep and non-stop craziness I was certainly due a debacle. And of course eventually I had one. Because the percentages weren't in my favor. I was overdue for my 5%.

For the past three years I have run a large fundraiser for my children's schools. It involves a tremendous amount of data and organization. And because I am an OCD, neurotic control freak type A personality I am not content to use the ho hum materials that are provided to me by the product company. Oh no, that would be too easy. So instead I recreate the instructions order form and price list to my higher standards. Like anyone cares. But I care. Last year was a near disaster when I was halfway through stuffing the packets that were to go home to the families with my beautiful flyer when I realized I had typed the due date incorrectly. So I had to make 800 more copies and re-stuff a few hundred packets. Crisis averted. I certainly wasn't going to let that happen again so I checked and rechecked the flyer for this year before I made those copies. And so all 820 fundraiser packets went out on Friday and I was feeling happy to have it done. Until I got the email.

A friend of mine sent me a message. She was confused because there were some items in the glossy product brochure but they weren't listed on my order form / price list. It took about two whole minutes before it finally dawned on me. Holy crap, I had sent out my beautiful brochure and all 820 packets with the price list and order form...from last year.

I'm not going to lie to you, I didn't just shrug my shoulders, have a glass of wine and figure I would deal with it on Monday. Because that's not how I roll. I freaked. There were a few tears. I may have actually hyperventilated. And once I got my wits about me I immediately texted my friend in a panic. And she texted me off the ledge. And another friend was willing and able to help me with my new brochure and a third friend helped me get my email blast out with the corrections. All at 8pm on a Friday night. And later that night yet another friend sent a kind note of condolence and support. And this is why I love my friends. Because they put up with the OCD, neurotic control freak type A personality that I am 95% of the time, and are there to help me recover from the epic fails for that other 5%. Thanks guys.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Everyday grace

Last Saturday I was at my son's soccer game when the husband of a friend of mine came by handing out flyers. He was holding a fundraiser at a local restaurant to raise money for St. Jude's, of which he was running the Marine Corps Marathon for on October 29th. My Marine Corps Marathon. What was most remarkable about this encounter was that I had no idea he was running the marathon. I had run into my friend just last week. It was the first time I had seen her since the summer and we talked extensively about my injury and disappointment over not being able to run and the hard work I had put in training for the marathon before everything fell apart. And my friend didn't mention her husband's training. Not once.

Did she just forget to mention it because it had slipped her mind? Or that it was no big deal? Highly unlikely, they have six children, including two year old twins. I am thinking that his time-consuming marathon training had a tremendous impact on the family schedule and there wasn't a day that went by where she wasn't painfully aware of the time it took for him to train. Was I miffed that she didn't tell me? No, I am in awe at her graciousness. Instead of telling me how excited he was that race day was almost here she focused on me. She didn't patronize me and say there would be other marathons. She didn't say how sorry she felt for me. She simply acknowledged my disappointment and the loss of something so important to me as running. And the psychological impact I was feeling. And assured me that even though a return to running at that distance seemed impossible I would get there. As a fellow runner she understood perfectly. And rather than having to fight the urge to tear up and put on a brave face like I do with most people who express their condolences about my loss I felt at peace. I am thankful to her not only for making me feel better about my situation, but for providing such a wonderful example of everyday grace.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

You do what?

Last year my youngest child started full day kindergarten. Prior to that he was in a preschool that took me 20 minutes to drive to and the hours were only 9:15am until noon. And it didn't meet every day most weeks. In other words, I had very little free time, and what I did have was usually spent grocery shopping, doctor or dental appointments, and trying to fit in some exercise. So I started developing a list of things I wanted to do when I finally had more than 15 minutes a day to myself. Of course, at the time I had no idea of the secret that many moms of kids in school full time already knew - that once your youngest goes off to school you realize you do not have any more time than you did before. It is all taken up by the same things you did when they were home, except they aren't there to keep you company. Things like laundry, waiting for the guy to repair the washing machine, more laundry, going around to 10 different stores trying to find the stupid light fixture with the odd sized bulbs that seemed so cool when you bought the house, more laundry. Nevertheless, I had dreams.

One of my goals was to learn to play tennis. The last time I had played tennis was a class in high school that I had to drop out of because I had injured my back playing soccer. And for over 20 years I hadn't had the desire to touch a racket. But for some reason I decided I wanted to play. And so I did, I took tennis lessons in the fall and in the spring last year, and would have taken them again this fall if not for my leg injury. I enjoy playing tennis. I'm not super good at it, but it's fun and I hope to continue. Of course it would probably help if I could get over my anxiety of playing actual opponents in a real game instead of with my tennis instructor, but these are minor details.

Another goal was that I wanted to run a marathon. Sadly, due to my injury this summer that goal is on hold. Once my leg is finally healed I may revisit that goal, or I may need to alter it. Only time will tell.

My third goal was to learn how to sew. I had taken home economics back in middle school and managed to make a mediocre apron. When I was in my late 20s and we bought our first house my mother-in-law attempted to teach me how to make throw pillows. They came out lopsided. My daughter had made comments to me on more than one occasion about my lack of sewing ability. I didn't aspire to be on Project Runway, but it was a matter of redeeming myself. And maybe being able to hem some pants.

I took Sewing I at the local fabric store last spring. It was a six week course and during the second class we learned how to use the sewing machine. Once I put my foot on that peddle and heard the rhythmic sound of the needle going up and down I was hooked. It was so soothing, so relaxing, so therapeutic. I went home and told my husband we were buying a sewing machine. He just rolled his eyes so I took that as a yes and went out and bought one.

I loved Sewing I, where I learned to sew a tote bag and pajama pants so I moved onto Sewing II where I learned to sew a skirt with a zipper. I sewed lots of tote bags and pajama pants at home for my husband and kids. But then summer came and there was no time for sewing so the sewing machine sat forlorn and neglected. I figured I would return to sewing in the winter, after the marathon was over. But then I got injured at the end of July.

At first the injury seemed a small obstacle. By the time August was over and I was still unable to run it became clear that I couldn't do the marathon. I couldn't even participate in the local 5k fun run. I was despondent. And grumpy and emotional and restless. I didn't know what to do with myself. Especially since the injury prevented me from all other physical activity that could take the place of running. But to be honest, nothing can take the place of running so even if I were able I'm not sure I would have been interested.

But then one day I was at the fabric store because I needed a replacement button. They had out a big display of Halloween costume patterns. I had the idea that I would sew my daughter's costume this year. She wanted to be a queen, and they had a beautiful elaborate costume pattern for the perfect dress. This would be my fall project that would distract me from being unable to run. This is where I would channel my energy and time.

After the initial high of my decision wore off I realized I had no clue how to sew this pattern. It was way out of my league. Luckily for me, my previous sewing instructor is a wonderful woman who was very flexible. I asked her if I could sign up for another class but do my own project so she could guide me. Problem solved. I would sew the costume, have a positive outlet, and save some money to boot.

Here is what I have learned. First and foremost, sewing a costume yourself does not save you money. In fact, if you are like me and MUST have that beautiful fabric, or even the middle-of-the-road fabric once you calculate the cost of the beautiful fabric, it will cost you several times over what you would spend on several high-end Pottery Barn Kids costumes. I could have bought her a half dozen queen costumes for the price of this dress.

Secondly, I learned that sewing this costume takes a lot of time. Time I don't have. Running only took up an hour of my day and then I was done. And I didn't even run every day. Sewing the costume takes several hours of my day, that I attempt to squeeze in in between physical therapy and doctor's appointments along with everything else. Like the laundry.

And finally, I discovered that people think I am nuts. In my previous pursuit, when I mentioned training for the marathon the reactions I received ranged from disbelief to admiration. Mostly people said they were glad it wasn't them. I got a lot of good for yous. When I mention sewing people always ask *why*? As though they have wracked their brains and couldn't come up with a single hobby they would like to take up less. As though I had committed a crime and this was my punishment. Because why else would someone take this on? For some reason sewing has a bad rap. Perhaps to a large extent because it is somewhat irrelevant in our times. It would be a lot cheaper to buy this costume at Target. Just like it would be a lot cheaper to buy my tote bags, pajama pants or the skirt I made at Macys. And it is time consuming, and painstaking in the detail. Yet somehow it has been extremely rewarding. And when I see my daughter's face light up as I show her the latest progress I have made on her costume I know that sewing will be a part of my life even after I am back running again.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The race

This fall my daughter is participating in Girls on the Run. For those of you who aren't familiar with it, GOTR is a voluntary program for preteen girls that is conducted before school. The program goal is to develop self-respect and self-esteem through running. Since I first heard about the program I have been eagerly anticipating the year when my daughter would be old enough to participate and now it's finally here. I was so excited I could hardly stand it. The sessions culminate in a 5k race that we would run together, gimpy, injured leg be damned. So when I mentioned it to my daughter at the beginning of school imagine my chagrin when she told me she had no interest. I was crestfallen since all of her friends were over-the-moon excited for this program. Either my daughter lacks motivation in the area of running, or she is smarter than all her peers because she knows how far a 5k is to run. But eventually she came around (with some bribery) so last weekend she and I made a trip to the running store to get some proper running shoes.

First off she was absolutely giddy at the gait analysis because it involved running on a treadmill, something she had aspired to for quite some time. If only the GOTR program were being run on treadmills I wouldn't have had to resort to bribery. After the excitement of the treadmill came trying on the shoes. After the first pair was laced up I told her to try running on them. My fast-twitch muscle child jumped up and starting sprinting around the store like a bat out of hell. Not surprisingly, she was breathless within a few minutes. When she tried on the second pair I suggested that she try running at a more moderate pace because that was what she would need to do for the 5k race. That she needed to pace herself or she'd burn out before the first mile. Once again she jumped up and starting running around the store like she was on fire. The GOTR coach has her work cut out for her.

Watching my daughter go at full tilt and promptly exhaust herself, only to rest a few minutes and repeat the cycle reminded me of some wise advice that a dear friend gave me when my kids were babies. I had just had my son, my daughter was two and I desperately wanted to have my world return to normal. I fully expected that I would be able to balance the wants and needs of these two little people while simultaneously resuming all my previous activities, plus a few new ones to boot. And I was running myself ragged and was an exhausted, emotional wreck. And still things were not back to normal. Not even close. One day when I was discussing my predicament with my friend she said I needed to slow down and pace myself, it's a marathon, not a sprint. 

That conversation was six years ago and it is my mantra. Now that fall activities are running at full tilt I also find myself volunteering for anything and everything. On top of that I am attempting to sew a rather elaborate costume for my daughter for Halloween and have to spend several days a week at physical therapy appointments and doctor's appointments in an attempt to rehabilitate my leg. I love to be busy. The more the better. I find I can think more clearly, am more organized, and am generally happier. But there is a tipping point, and I never see it coming. With each and every activity I am going at warp speed, trying to get everything done, keep all the balls in the air. And one day I realize I'm exhausted, that my brain has become foggy and my judgment isn't what it should be. The other night I was so tired I accidentally iced the wrong knee until my daughter asked if I had hurt the right one as well. And yet I keep going, ripping through my to do list like my life depended on it. And here it is not even October and I'm already burnt out. So I am going to step back and slow down my pace from a sub-9 minute mile to a 10 or 11minute pace. I will still get everything done, and I will still manage all the commitments I love and care about, but I won't do it at a pace that is unsustainable. Because even though my gimpy leg has prevented me from running an actual marathon this year I still have a mental one to complete.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Mistaken Identity (or, The Day I Realized I Needed Glasses)

One of my best friends lives up the street from me. Selfishly, she has returned to work, so the amount of time she has available to gossip talk about critical issues has been reduced. Truth be told, I text her all day long, so I question how much work she is actually getting done.

Due to her schedule we often meet in the afternoon to walk together and collect our daughters from school and catch each other up on what has occurred in the past 24 hours since we last met. I come from one direction and she comes down a large hill from another direction and we meet at the corner. Her house isn't that far away, if I walk out to the curb of our house and look up the hill I can see it. It should be noted that there are no bends in the road to obstruct my vision, no big trees blocking my sight. And it is the middle of the day.

Today I am walking toward our corner and I see the she is already headed down the hill. She has chin length blonde hair and is always fashionably dressed, as does the woman walking down the hill. But wait, she seems to be stumbling a bit. That's odd. But I reason that it must be a combination of the steep grade of the hill and her impossibly high heeled pumps. But wait, she is kind of weaving and stumbling and kind of shuffling along like someone who is trying hard not to weave and stumble. So I have to wonder, is she drunk? It is the middle of the day, but things have been stressful lately. There's a lot going on and she's started a new job and perhaps she needed a cocktail or two? That wouldn't be like her at all, but who am I to judge?

And then she is nearing the corner and I realize it isn't my cute, 40-year-old-who-looks-more-like-she's-35-year-old-friend. Oh no, it is a little old lady. This woman is easily 90 years old. She has snow white hair and is wearing rumpled jeans and a caftan-type shirt. On her feet are some sort of Keds sneakers, and she is indeed weaving and stumbling. Like you do when you are 90 years old and walking down a steep hill.

As she passes me I smile and say good afternoon and she does the same. And to myself I make a mental note to move *appointment with the eye doctor* up on my list from *sometime next year* to *as soon as possible*.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

I will never be a contestant on Survivor

I grew up in the Pacific Northwest. As a kid we went hiking, did some camping and other nature-y stuff. It wasn't an anomaly, pretty much everyone I knew growing up had been to Mount Ranier National Park, climbed at least part of Mt. Si at some point, biked on the Burke-Gilman trail or the Sammamish River Trail. When I moved out to the the east coast my nature experience was somewhat of a novelty. Perhaps it was because the people in my graduate program where mostly from New York or Boston. I had been to Alaska and hiked a glacier! So somehow I got it in my head that I was a bit of a nature girl. I am sure when he reads this my husband will spit out his coffee laughing. My sister will do the same. I am not a nature girl. It turns out I like going out into nature for brief periods, preferably running or biking by it at a clip fast enough to avoid any bugs landing on me. I don't like to camp because there is no running water and there are bugs, and the ground is lumpy. And there are sketchy plants that may or may not be poison ivy or nettles.

So that is why it is so amusing that I am a Brownie troop leader. But luckily for me, the Brownies of today aren't only interested in camping. Someone in the Girl Scout national organization realized that there are many good women out there who could help the girls learn many things such as leadership skills, philanthropy, and general good citizenship, but you don't need a tent and a canteen to do it.

So this is how I found myself sitting in a circle with my little Brownies, having a discussion about what to do in the event of an emergency. We were working on a badge and they needed to discuss how they could be prepared. We started easy, asking them what they would do if someone got hurt. One of them offered that she would perform CPR. A few others concurred that this is what they would also do. Um, okay girls, but you are *8*, and you don't know CPR. This did not deter them in the slightest. I suggested they should seek help from a grown up. They just scoffed at me and looked at me like that was the stupidest thing they'd ever hear. I was not deterred.

Recently we'd had a bad storm in our area and the power was out for a few days. So I thought this would be a good opportunity to discuss what they learned and asked them what should you do when the power goes out? My daughter's hand shot up so I called on her. Yes Callie, what do you think you should do? She replied: Go to a hotel. Okay, so that is what we did when the power went out, but in my defense, we were already going out of town to go skiing, so even if the power hadn't gone out we would've been at a hotel. But in all honesty, after the first 24 hours without electricity my husband probably would have checked us into one anyway just to stop my whimpering. But then I asked the next questions, If the power goes out what do you do about food? Again, my daughter's was the first hand up so I called on her. We go to Starbucks for breakfast because mommy needs coffee. At that point I just put my face in my hands and vowed that our next badge would be the one on music or maybe art.

Friday, August 26, 2011

My fabulous vacation (don't hate me)

We just got back from our annual beach vacation. Let me start by saying that as a stay at home mom it was less of a vacation and more of a relocation of my regular job. Kind of like if your job moved to a big new building right on the beach. With a basketball court and a hot tub. But you had the total chaos of having to move all the things in your office and now the network is down and you can't find the file you desperately need and the fax machine isn't working and you still have all your regular hum drum work tasks and stresses.

Regardless, it was fabulous. But before you start hating me and my vacation, and thinking to yourself *wow, she is a total bitch for rubbing it in our faces*, I should clarify that what qualifies as fabulous by my standards in all likelihood would be considered a total debacle by anyone else. But my bar is low. Really low. So I can employ an adjective that designates it as a success without a trace of irony.

For starters, it took ten years to get to the beach. This was not made easier by the fact that 20 minutes into the trip my son was already asking how much longer until we get to the beach? I also have come to despise the little clock on the GPS that tells you the estimated time you will reach your destination. And that sinking feeling you get in your stomach as that time gets pushed out further and further as you sit in traffic that isn't moving. Or may even be moving backwards. And toward the very end of the journey it took us an hour to go 10 miles. I could have walked from Norfolk to Duck faster. It sure would have been more peaceful. My children were fighting so fiercely and with such malice that I turned around in my seat and started beating them with the 15 stuffed animals they insisted on bringing. Don't worry, I wasn't driving.

But the drive was fabulous. I made my automotive captives watch Free to Be You and Me, and they let me sing at the top of my lungs without asking me to stop. And then they watched Annie, and I got to sing along to that as well. And they were pretty entertained by seeing mom flip out to the point where I lost my grip on rationality and beat them with a stuffed seal and shark. And they begged me to do it again and they couldn't stop laughing.

Finally we reached the beach and the weather was perfect. I woke up early the next morning and enjoyed a cup of coffee while watching the sun rise. Then I got dressed for a long anticipated run. I had been abstaining for almost two weeks while recovering from my injury and was giddy at the thought of getting out there again. And I had a really cute new running skirt and headband. So I started running and felt okay, and less than a quarter mile in there was a big pop in the tendon and the leg felt like someone had set it on fire. Which isn't a good thing. So I limped home and for the next four days couldn't walk very well and had to shuffle up and down stairs sideways, like a crab. But a happy crab because the weather was awesome and I could sit in my chair in the sand and sun and read my book. And then another. And another. And the entire current issue of Vanity Fair. Fabulous.

So the next day I decided to try riding my bike. Since it is flat at the beach I didn't have to expend a lot of leg strength there was no pain. I rode about 15 miles and was feeling great when I got back to the beach house. And then I braked in front of my kids and husband who were outside playing basketball. And my feet got caught in the clips. And I fell over. Hard. And my shoe flew off. And my right leg (not the one previously injured by the running the day before) was scraped to hell. Blood everywhere. And I just laid there for a bit because the pain in my non-scraped up leg makes it hard to bend it and stand up from a laying position. But I didn't break anything and the bike was okay. And I was wearing a really cute biking outfit. And once you injure one leg running so you can't bend it and scrape the hell out of the other biking you receive a free pass to sit in your beach chair the entire day. Fabulous.

Later in the week I came down with a terrible cold that required me to stay in bed for a while longer. Yes, I was sick. But I got to And because it was vacation my husband was around to take care of the kids. Fabulous.

And then on Thursday we had to evacuate the beach due to the hurricane. And I had many people offer words of consolation about having to cut our vacation short. But I wasn't too upset because two years ago when we were at the beach it rained six out of the seven days. On this vacation we had six straight days of sun. So I was winning even with the evacuation. Fabulous. 

Our drive home took 8 hours. Partly because of traffic, partly because the kids needed to stop every two hours because they were hungry, or had to go to the bathroom. Or both. But on this leg of our journey they watched The Sound of Music, one of my favorite movies of all time. And I got to listen in as my daughter expounded on all the best parts to her brother. And hear the delight in her voice as she sang all the songs. Fabulous.

So yes, a sane person would say my vacation, or *relocation* as I prefer to refer to it, was an unmitigated disaster. But I prefer to refer to it as simply fabulous.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Pain is for sissies but it really hurts

I am no Tiger Woods. No, I'm not referring to the current version of Tiger Woods. I am talking about the June 2008 Tiger Woods. You remember him, he was the guy who won the US Open that year. And he did it missing a ligament in his leg, and had two stress fractures in his tibia. And every time he swung that club you could read the excruciating pain on his face and it made you cringe. It turns out I don't have that level of tolerance for pain. While it may not surprise you that my pain tolerance is not on par with a world class athlete, I am so stubborn and so clueless that it came as news to me.

Recently I injured myself. I can't say I did it while running. It actually happened because of all my running. I was really hoping one of the side effects of all this running would be to lose some weight, but I got this instead. I have piriformis syndrome which literally translates to *a pain in my ass*. This would be funny if it didn't screw up my running so badly. And hurt. Did I mention it hurts? But only if I run. The rational person would just stop running. But I am not rational, I am stubborn and apparently not very bright and think that these types of problems, and pain, will go away if I use my strong will. And just keep running because the pain will realize that it can't win. I have a very strong will, but as it turns out, not strong enough to overcome white hot pain shooting down my leg when I move it. I know, I am a wimp.

When it first happened I took a few days off from running and eventually I could walk again. So I went running. And then had another few days of not being able to walk. And then I saw a chiropractor who diagnosed me has started treating me with this really cool A.R.T therapy - just like my running hero, Kara Goucher uses when she gets injured. He let me know the good news was that I could technically run on it if I chose. Then he told me the bad news was that my brain would cry uncle due to the pain, and there would be pain. And it would be bad. And I blew this off because I have an inner bully/idiot that told me that the brain is just a mamby-pamby sissy and I should just put on my big girl running pants and go. So I set out to do 10 miles last weekend. And it went something like this:

Miles 1-4: la la la, the leg is a bit stiff but all is good
Miles 5: the leg is slightly tender but I am not alarmed
Mile 6: the leg is starting to hurt. this is slightly less fun
Mile 7: I am in excruciating pain and there are tears in my eyes
Miles 8,9,10: walking with intermittent attempts at running that looked more like a hobble/limp with my injured leg kind of being dragged behind me.

I was getting looks of alarm from other people on the running path. I think I saw some people wince just watching my pathetic struggle to run.

I wasn't able to walk again for a few days after that. Today I went back to the chiropractor and recounted my 10 mile run. What he said was: wow, you attempted a 10 mile run with your injury. What his face said was: you moron. And since I am really clueless I then proceeded to tell him how I was going to try to run 4 or 5 miles tomorrow to see how it goes, and then on Saturday would probably do 12 miles. Again, his expression said: moron. Or maybe it was a look of pity that anyone could be that clueless. At any rate he gently suggested that I try 3 miles for  awhile and see how that goes. And by the way, perhaps when I do build back up to longer runs I may want to do short loops around the avoid having to walk 3 miles back to my car if the pain gets to be too much. And all I could think was that no one came by and picked Tiger up in a golf cart. I am the worst.patient.ever.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

I hate you August

I am convinced that the days of August are not really dog days so much as they are dog years. Meaning that each one seems to last 7 times as long as it should. Many times in August I will pause for a moment in the afternoon and think to myself, good god, is it *still* only Wednesday? Only to discover it is actually Tuesday and that instead of just standing still, time has managed to move backwards.  This morning was particularly bad. 

Our current schedule dictates that we need to leave the house by 8:20 to get my daughter to camp. My children got up at 7:45 and were dressed and downstairs by 7:50. So far so good. By 7:55 they were in an all-out brawl over legos. We are talking screaming, hitting, kicking. All before breakfast. Over legos. Of which we easily own enough for every man, woman and child in our town to construct their own small city should they all decide to stop by at the same time. But oh no, clearly not enough for my kids to maintain some civility and, god forbid, share. And by the way, what the hell are you two doing playing legos when you have less than half an hour to eat breakfast, brush hair, teeth, apply sunscreen and bug spray, search for inevitable random item you want to bring to camp today, figure out where you left your shoes and still have the 20 minutes you apparently need to put on a pair of socks? So it's not just me, August is also taking a toll on my children. 

My husband gets to blissfully go to work each morning. Every other month of the year he is generally a Monday through Friday schedule kind of guy. Rarely does his job spill over into our weekend. But once it's August he suddenly has critical, urgent work things to take care of on the weekends. In fact, now that I think about it, he only comes home long enough to sleep, shower and change clothes. And even then he makes sure to avoid eye contact and speak in a low, soothing voice to try and keep me calm. But unfortunately this doesn't work most of the time, and instead he gets the wife-whose-head-spins-around-360-degrees-ala-the-exorcist as soon as he dares to walk through the door each evening. And don't bother to ask him if I am exaggerating because he will just get a stricken look on his face and ask you what you've heard. 

By August I have abandoned all pretense of trying to be *fun mommy* or *creative mommy*, or even *sane mommy*. Instead I just do whatever it takes to get through the day. Our motto becomes *just hanging on until fall arrives*. The pool has become boring. We have done enough arts and crafts to open our own gallery. It's hot. It's buggy. Even the television is crying uncle. So I'm just going to go lay down for a long nap and hope that when I wake up it will be Thursday. Or at least Wednesday evening. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Raindrops on roses

So there I was, merrily going along training for my marathon. Despite the ridiculously hot weather things were going well. I had a minor glitch with the whole breathing thing and my asthma when it got hot, humid, and the air quality turned toxic, but I persevered. Last weekend I completed 15 miles and didn't feel like I was going to die. And then I got injured. I have no idea how, or really what the injury is. It's somewhere on the back on my leg, behind the knee-ish, in the calf-ish, maybe the hamstring-ish area. All I know is it's tender and there were two whole days where I couldn't climb stairs and walked like I had a peg leg. This made me very depressed. And frustrated. And discouraged. But then I read a Facebook post from one of my favorite people and she was expressing delight over her new bathroom faucets. One of her friends commented on how our priorities change as we get older. Ha ha. And it got me thinking that if I am going to get over this problem mentally I need to do some work on changing my outlook. Because dammit, new bathroom faucets are exciting. And if I think really hard I bet I can come up with my own *a few of my favorite things* and then I won't feel so bad. So here is a list of things that make me happy, in no particular order.

1. Wearing my Lilly Pulitzer. How can you not smile when you are wearing an explosion of pink? And even better, when people squint at you and you can practically hear them thinking how loud your ensemble is.

2. My little espresso maker. So much goodness in such a small, mess-free machine. I am practically weeping with happiness just thinking about the next time we are together.

3. Frye boots. It may not be a time of year that I can wear them, but just knowing they are there makes me smile.

4. The knowledge that one day it will be fall. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but one day. So it's out there. Somewhere.

5. Freshly laundered sheets.

6. New school supplies. No, not because it means my children are going back to school in a month (tick tock...). But because I am a huge geek and love new pens. And binders. And lined notebooks that I have no use for. And I like to line them up neatly on my desk. Because I'm a nerd that way.

7. The morning. While I would not describe myself as a *morning person* I love the morning. I get up before 6am, have coffee in peace and quiet and for a brief period of time can envision a fabulous day where I am the mommy I want to be.

8. My son's sarcasm. I would never admit this to him because it's so inappropriate most of the time. But holy cow, it is hilarious. It's as though there was a 6 year old male version of me. Well done Charlie, but perhaps you could use that on others instead of your mommy.

9. The mail. I have no idea why, but I look forward to getting the mail each day. There is no reason to. I am not expecting anything exciting, just a bunch of junk and some bills. But somehow there is this part of me that can't wait to see what the postal carrier brings. So if you really want to give me a pick me up send me something. Anything. Except your bills.

10. Photos of my children. I love looking at pictures of my kids, even ones from a week ago. In the picture no one is picking on anyone, or kicking them, or yelling at them. The pictures are quiet and it's just them.

11. And no list of my favorite things would be complete without including Burn Notice. Michael Westen if I hadn't already found the perfect man and married him we totally would be together.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Sunshine paradox

Right now it is really hot where we live. I used to refer to this kind of heat as *Africa hot* because I always imagined it didn't get any hotter than Africa judging from the pictures. But living in Washington DC and all those State Department families, we now have several friends who have lived in different parts of Africa. And they inform me it isn't this hot there (note: yes, I'm talking to you Kathleen. Thanks for ruining that for me). So that leaves me with referring to the heat as *almost as hot as the surface of the sun*. I am confident that living here it is just a matter of time before we meet some family who have lived on the surface of the sun and I will have to abandon that simile as well. Never mind - it is just freaking hot.

It is too hot to go outside, even at night when the sun goes down. It is too hot to go to the pool because the thought of leaving our air-conditioned home to get into the car and drive there and then walk from the air-conditioned car to the front door of the clubhouse is unbearable. And there is a good possibility that during the 15 minute *safety break* each hour someone will spontaneously burst into flames. Today I made my children toast for lunch. Why? Because I didn't want to turn on the stove to make mac n cheese, or a grilled cheese sandwich, or any other *and cheese* food item that involved heat. And because my brain is so addled by the heat that I took the path of least resistance. Unfortunately we also ran out of bread after they ate five pieces of toast each so I will have to think of something else for dinner.

But this sitting inside at home, prisoners of the heat, touches on a fundamental flaw in my belief system that I haven't been able to shake in the 14 years that we have lived in Washington DC. This is the belief that because the sun is out you should be outside enjoying it.

I grew up in Seattle. In Seattle it is fairly straightforward. When the sun comes out you drop whatever you are doing, even if means leaving work, or school, or rescheduling critical surgery, and GO OUTSIDE. It doesn't matter what you do outside - run, walk, play with your dog, sit in a chair and read a book, lay down a blanket and have a picnic. For the love of god, just go outside and enjoy this fleeting bit of sunshine while it lasts. This logic works in Seattle for two reasons. First, since the sun will only shine for a very brief period of time it isn't like you are losing any productivity inside. And two, when you go outside to enjoy the sun the temperatures are conducive to it. These are two fundamental truths that I can't quite let go of.

In DC the sun shines. A lot. It shines a good part of the year. The difference is that it shines in the winter - when it is only 20 degrees outside. It shines in the summer - when it is 102 degrees out (like today). Neither of these temperature are conducive to being outside and enjoying yourself for very long. And truth be told, I am much more likely to go skiing all bundled up in a million layers in the freezing cold (but sunny!) as opposed to going outside for an extended period of time in 102 (but sunny!).

So herein lies my problem - the sun is out (yay!) but we can't go outside (boo!). This paradox, combined with my Seattle roots creates internal chaos and tremendous anxiety. Because despite living here for 14 years, whenever the sun comes out, as it does most days, there is a little voice inside of me that says *we must go outside NOW because who knows when this will come our way again*. It physically pains me to look outside and see that glowing orb and know I can't be a part of it. It gives me hives to let my children turn on the television and watch it all day long because there is nothing else to do, as though it is 50 degrees out and rainy. Every once in awhile I will get a burst of inspiration and make the kids take the dog on a walk. We make it about three houses away before even the dog is complaining.

So any year now I am hoping my mental crisis will pass and I will come to accept that it can be sunny and crappy at the same time. That one day I will be okay with having my children turn to piles of goo in front of the television because no one has the will to live anymore, let alone come up with an idea to do something else. And one day it will be sunny *and* pleasant outside, and we will be able to enjoy it to the fullest extent possible. I just hope my kids don't object to not going inside for the entire month of October.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Day 34

A while back I wrote a post about my desire to have some space of my own. Any space. All I was asking for was somewhere that I could have to myself, and that would stay clean because no one was messing it up. Of course I realize this isn't going to happen anytime soon. And even after the kids have moved out I plan on keeping my husband around so even then, while I will have more space, it won't stay clean.

During the school year this is an endless source of frustration. Now that it is summer I am overwhelmed by *togetherness*. Don't get me wrong, I love my children. I love spending time with my children despite the fact that they fight more than all the Kardashians put together, and their arguments are just about as petty. They are some of the funniest people I know and my biggest fan club. But the mess...oh lord, the mess.

I am reaching the point in the summer when I give up my efforts to keep the house clean. After over a month of repeatedly putting the exact same items away 10 times a day I need to admit defeat or I will go insane. Realistically, if I don't pick it up to begin with I won't be complaining that I have picked it up 15 times if it just stays put. But I am incapable of following that basic logic, so I spend my days shuffling from room to room returning things to their rightful place like a children's librarian whose spirit has been broken from attempting to shelve books in the middle of tot time. And by the end of the day it isn't unheard of that I finally take said item and just chuck it in the trash.

Yesterday, in my quest for cleanliness and order I came across a random pile of...scissors... on the kitchen floor. There were about 10 pairs (who knew we had so many?) and no one could tell me why they were there, or how they got there. I am guessing it is the household equivalent of a crop circle. Come to think of it, no one can ever tell me who got something out (except it wasn't them). I am starting to suspect the dog is secretly doing art projects while simultaneously attempting to complete a puzzle, playing a few rounds of badminton and of course, playing poker (oh Lucy, so cliche). How else can you explain how these items got out if my children didn't do it?

I spend a lot of time picking up various sports action figures, balls, random scraps of paper, feathers, pens, underwear, swim suits, towels, lip balm, legos, books, magazines, book marks, pencils, tape dispensers, playing cards, and the most reviled things of all - darts to a Nerf gun. Somehow those stupid darts seem to breed and multiply overnight, so that it isn't unusual to find them in every nook and cranny of the house. It drives me nuts.

So this morning my son decided to build a fort. In my room. With my blankets and pillows. And what does he tell me it is for? It is a bunker. And into the bunker he loads every Nerf gun and dart he has. It's like Waco in there. But it's 8:30am and I am all sweaty from having gone running in the 90 degree heat with 99% humidity so I grit my teeth and decide that if playing Montana militia man will keep him happy and quiet so I can take a shower in peace so be it.

And there I am, in the middle of my shower, relaxing in the heat and suds when I hear the sound. Pop pop pop. And I open my eyes and what do I see? Nerf darts. In my shower. Where I am (obviously) naked. And foolishly thinking I had five minutes to myself. Only now I am yelling at the top of my lungs at the retreating back of my alleged sniper. And I suspect the dog is snickering at me.

Only 50 more days left until school starts. But who's counting anyway?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Dear Nordstrom, it's not you, it's me.

Dear Nordstrom,
I see from the two catalogs and three letters you have sent to my home that your Anniversary Sale starts tomorrow. As someone who grew up in the Seattle area I have a special place in my heart for the Anniversary Sale. I still salivate looking through your sale catalog at all the beautiful clothes and accessories at such amazing prices. In fact, when I was in graduate school in Boston I would plan my trips back home around the timing of your sale just so I could shop it. But alas, I fear that some of the bloom has come off our relationship. You see Nordstrom, I live in the metro Washington DC area now. And while I love those beautiful things you put on sale I have no need for them for several months. At least three months, closer to four or five for the sweaters and coats. That's right Nordstrom, if I buy these things today I will be putting them in a closet until November, at which point they are no longer *new clothes* but have become *clothes that are taking up space in my closet for four months which I don't use*. This is an even bigger problem when it comes to my children. Have you ever tried to explain to an 8 year old girl that she can't wear the awesome outfit she got at your sale for her first day of 3rd grade because it is still 90 degrees outside? That explains the knee high black patent leather boots and black jeggings she was wearing in her first-day-of-2nd grade picture. It was 93 degrees that day, not counting the humidity. If you ask me she looked a bit warm. And even if we can get past that negotiation there is always the chance that many of the items will no longer fit my children because they have irresponsibly had a growth spurt between the time the clothes and/or shoes were purchased and when they can actually be worn. And even if they are the right size and the weather cooperates there is a good chance my children will no longer like them. Because they are fickle and if they can't even consistently like the same toys, music, video games, television shows or colors for more than ten days there is no way you can expect their fashion sense to remain static. Thankfully your return policy is rather generous, and I always have my receipt so there is no question whether I am attempting to return stolen goods. However I still feel sheepish and hang my head in shame when I have to cart back hundreds of dollars worth of goods in September and October because no one will wear them. And I feel truly sorry that this probably screws with the commission of the kind salesperson who worked really hard to help me purchase things for my kids. So I hope you will forgive me if I sit this one out. It's not you, it's me. But I should be honest and tell you I will still be stopping by for handbags and maybe some shoes that I have no occasion to wear. Because you can't totally abandon a tradition.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

It finally happened and I didn't see it coming

It was bound to happen. I have been both expecting and dreading this moment for awhile now. So why was I so taken off guard when it finally occurred? Perhaps it was because this morning was a typical morning. Nothing special or out of the ordinary. One of those days when you aren't sure what day of the week it is because they all run together in their sameness. We got up, I made breakfast, the kids ate, squabbled, got dressed, squabbled, brushed their teeth, squabbled, put on their shoes and then had some time to devote their full attention to squabbling before it was time to go. Oh wait, there was one big difference. Today I decided not to shower after my morning run. Today I had the audacity to stay sweaty and wear my running clothes to camp drop off. 

I should have been tipped off that this was a problem when I told my son we were leaving in five minutes and he eyed me suspiciously. "Um, shouldn't you change or something?", he asked. Innocently I told him, "Nope, I am going to shower when I get back from dropping you off at camp". Somehow I failed to register the look of alarm that crossed his face when I said that. 

As we were pulling out of the driveway he told me I could just drop him off at camp, I didn't need to walk him all the way down the hill to where they assemble. Naively I said, "Oh honey, that's okay, I don't mind". Then he got direct. "Mommy, I really don't want you to walk me down. I want to go by myself". At first I thought, how sweet, he is exerting his independence. But then it dawned on me. "Charlie, are you embarrassed to be seen with me?". Not even sheepishly he replied, "Yes! You are all sweaty and gross in your running clothes. And you smell." True, true, true and true. 

A lesser woman would have been offended, or maybe have their feelings hurt a bit. After all, their baby just told them to take a hike. Instead I had to suppress a giggle. For starters, this is coming from a 6 year old boy. Not his 8 year old sister who is still oblivious to the public suffering I represent. But the biggest irony was that I was Which is held on the football field at the high school. It was 85 degrees out and humid at 9am. People are getting sweaty and smelly just walking from their cars in the parking lot. When I pick him up three hours from now he will be so gross and dirty and sweaty that he will almost slip off his leather seat in the van. And yet somehow my appearance is completely unacceptable. Yow. 

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Know it all

Once upon a time there was a woman who knew things. This woman had graduated from college with two degrees, then went on and got her master's degree. After graduate school she worked a series of jobs with progressively more responsibility. These jobs involved people contacting her for her advice and guidance. Sometimes they just needed some basic questions answered. But always these people went to her because they felt there was a good chance she would have the answer, and most of the time she did. And they appreciated that. And she developed a reputation for knowing things.

One day the woman had a baby girl. This little girl was a joy and it was evident early on that she was a spirited child and an independent thinker. For several years the girl took what her mother told her as fact because the mother was older, wiser and seemed to know what she was talking about. The woman foolishly assumed that this relationship would last at least until the tween years, maybe even until the teens if she was lucky. She was wrong on both accounts. When the girl was young the woman rarely knew what she was doing when it came to raising a child but she still had the answers to the girl's most important questions. Do you love me? Do I look pretty? Why is the sky blue? Can I have some ice cream? Then the woman had a second child, a son.

With the son the woman realized she had even less answers than she thought she did when it came to raising children. She foolishly had thought that the second time around she would know what she was doing, that like the professional world the learning curve started to flatten out as you went along. She was wrong. The son proved to be a leopard of completely different spots than the daughter, so the woman was starting from square one. When the son got old enough he started asking questions she had no clue about. Questions about the various trucks on the road, and sports, and blowing things up. Every day the woman realized she knew less and less than she thought she did.

At some point things changed and the little girl began to doubt her mother. To challenge her assertions, no matter how based in fact they might be. One day, when the girl was six, she told her mother that the District of Columbia was a part of Virginia. The mother could not convince the daughter that this wasn't the case. The woman's word was not good enough. Only when confronted with a map did the daughter concede that perhaps she was wrong.

Now the daughter is 8 and asks her mother lots of questions but rarely believes the answer. The woman is not sure why she even bothers to ask. Is she testing her? Or testing herself? Unfortunately these questions often times are about things the mother once knew, or should have known, and has now forgotten. Such as geography. Yesterday the girl wanted a summary of the plot of Homer's The Odyssey, and the woman had to google it because her memory is full of holes. The woman now spends time boning up on subjects she hasn't thought about for years just to stay a step ahead. And the daughter also asks questions that have a straightforward, unambiguous answer, like how many floors there are in the Macy's department store at the mall. And the girl tells the woman she doubts her answer, that she things she is wrong, so the mother must show her. The mother spends a lot of time proving herself. It's like she is starting school or her career all over again.

The woman who once thought she had a lot of answers now realizes perhaps she doesn't have many at all.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Sometimes it's okay to judge

I try really hard not to be judgmental. As I have gotten older, and especially as I travel the road of parenthood I have adopted *There but for the grace of god go I* as one of my mantras. This is especially hard for me since my Myers-Briggs type indicator has me pegged as an ENTJ, with the *J* highlighted in neon. I try to remind myself that we all make mistakes and while judging anyone is a bad idea, judging people for their parenting is never a good idea. It is my belief that we are all one step away from making some sort of mistake with our kids on a daily, even hourly basis. Some of these mistakes will be minor and hardly a blip, others will be bigger. So let's all give each other a break. But let's be honest, we are all judging Casey Anthony and if any one of us had been on that jury she would be on her way to the big house. (Seriously, who were those jurors?). So with that fresh in my mind I nearly choked on my diet Barq's root beer this afternoon will skimming through the Washington Post. There was an article about a woman who has been indicted on charges of felony murder and child neglect of her 3 year old. It appears she put him in their mini-van and forgot to take him to daycare. Instead she left him in the car while she went to work. And drove home afterward with him still strapped in in the back seat. And still didn't realize he was there until her husband called from the daycare in the evening because the child wasn't there to be picked up. At which point she ran out to the the van and there he was there in the back seat, dead. The story reported that you could hear her screams all over the neighborhood. These facts alone are horrifying and I felt grief for the poor mother and the anguish she must have felt and what a terrible tragedy that could happen to any of us with our overwhelmed, overworked, over-scheduled maxed out lives. This had happened previously in 2002 to a man out in Manassas. I recall reading the stories and feeling tremendous empathy for the family, and the living hell that man must be living every day since the death of his daughter. But when I read on in this recent story I discovered that the mother had done this previously back in January, when the car wasn't sitting in a blazing hot sun all day and heating up to a zillion degrees. And that time the day care called her office when he wasn't dropped off in the morning so she discovered her oversight within 30 minutes of getting to work. Forgetting your child somewhere once is a tragedy. Doing the exact same thing less than six months later is unforgivable. So yes lady out in Prince William county, I am judging you.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Book Club

So this starts a new series where I will occasionally reflect upon a book I have read recently. Or not so recently, depending on how much time and energy I have for reading. Lately I have been busy with children home for the summer and training for my marathon. Between those two endeavors I am either otherwise engaged or too exhausted to move. Usually both simultaneously. So please forgive me if my posts are erratic and my humor is a bit tepid. It's only two more months and one day until school starts again...

I recently finished a book that I loved called What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty. It was a quick read but having finished it two weeks ago I still find myself thinking about it and reflecting on the premise. The plot is that Alice, a 39 year old woman, falls off the bike during spin class and hits her head. Right there I was hooked because for that reason alone I have never tried spin class. Now I am even more convinced that something bad will happen to me if I do. When Alice wakes up she has forgotten the past ten years of her life and believes she is her 29 year old self. She believes she is newly married and pregnant with her first child, when in fact now she has three. Mostly she is puzzled by who she has become and is completely baffled by her life. This got me thinking; what would *my* 29 year old self think of my current 40 self?

When Alice wakes up as her 29 year old self in her 39 year old self's body the first thing that she is aware of is that time takes a toll on your body. While my 29 year old self would probably question how she got the stretch marks, varicose veins, wrinkles and surgery scars I think the first thing that would come to her mind regarding the deterioration of her physical appearance would be "what the hell happened to my boobs?". I only say that because I don't have amnesia, was there through the breast feeding of two children and still wake up every morning wondering the same thing.

Sorry 29 year old self, it just happened. Since you know what's coming you may want to beef up that savings account since plastic surgery is a bit pricey. And a word of advice: don't buy Enron.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Day One

Dear Diary,
Summer vacation started on Friday. Perhaps that was part of the problem. It seems like no big deal, only one extra day until the weekend so there is no need to prepare for the kids being home all.the.time. It started out with everyone up at 6am. I know that in some households that is normal, but in my house the kids prefer to wake up after 7:30am, which gives me plenty of time to get up, have my coffee and some peace and quiet before the onslaught. So there we were, all awake at 6am and already they were bouncing off the walls. So I did what every responsible and devoted mother does, I went for an early morning run while the husband managed them. Originally this run was on my training plan for around 4 miles. I did 6 and would have done more if I thought I could get away with it. But alas, the husband had to go to work so I reluctantly came back. There is a good chance that at this rate I could be ready for an ultra marathon come fall rather than just a regular marathon.

Once I returned from the run it was quite pleasant. No rushing around making breakfast (mostly because the husband had already done that). No frantically making lunches. No barking at people to get dressed and brush their teeth and wash their face put on shoes and get their backpack and stop playing with legos and no, I don't have time to braid your hair when you ask me two minutes before it's time to leave and yes, you have to wear a coat when it's 20 degrees outside and no, you can't bring the sling shot you made to school today, and so on. This relaxed feeling lasted until approximately 9:30am when it dawned on me that it was well past the time they should be leaving for the bus and yet they were still there. Only now my house looked like a bomb had exploded. A lego and art supplies bomb. And my kitchen had reached a state of permanent stickiness. And already they had complained that they were bored, there was nothing to do, and filled that void by bickering with each other and constantly screeching *mom, brother hit me in the ear*, followed by *mom, sister kicked me in the head*, and so on.

At that point I knew we had to get out of the house. And since the last week of school consisted of only two full days followed by two half days (like they weren't going to have enough time once school got out that they only needed to go half days?) I still had a few errands I needed to run. I fed them some snacks and away we went. Stop number one went fine although I don't know if the appliance sales people at Sears would agree with me as my children opened and closed and opened and closed every washer and dryer in the place. On to the mall and they started to unravel a bit despite my repeated threats and promises of a large pretzel or a toy, or a car on their 16th birthdays. By the time we got back in the car to drive to our final destination they were bickering at full decibel and it became unbearable. We had a long drive to pick something up for my husband and I forgot to bring a movie for the DVD player. So yes, listening to them take turns playing *Dynamite* and *Baby* on the kazoo for 45 minutes was actually soothing compared to the alternative.

Eventually we made it back home and collapsed from exhaustion. I imagine it takes a lot of energy to keep up that level of noise and destruction. I know it takes a lot of energy to try and control it. Lucky for me today will go much smoother I'm sure. Both kids have dental appointments this morning. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Lost in translation

Recently my husband and I went on a trip to France. By ourselves. No children. Since I am not much of a late-sleeping kind of gal what I was most looking forward to was the peace and quiet. That's not to say the husband and I wouldn't talk. Instead I was looking forward to being able to talk and actually complete our sentences. Even have whole conversations that we started and finished without being interrupted. It was wonderful. The other thing I was looking forward to was touring the museums and landmarks and lingering over reading the placards without anyone whining that they needed to go to the bathroom or needed a snack, or wanted to visit the gift shop. This is where I ran into problems.

What I failed to take into account was that all the signs would be in...French. I don't speak French. I don't read French. And I absolutely do not understand French. For some reason, although I haven't taken a class, this is not the case for Spanish. Although I don't speak it I can generally pick up enough key words to get the gist. Same goes for reading. I admit I can speak next to none of it, but that's beside the point. The point is I just assumed French would be the same way. I was wrong. Really wrong.

I had an inkling of it when we first arrived although we only had a few hours of touring so it didn't really hit home until the second day when we visited museums. Most of them, with the exception of Musee D'Orsay, have all their signage in French. So this is how I interpreted my visit to the Louvre: painting of Christ at the last supper, painting of Christ with the apostles, painting of Christ on the cross, painting of Christ depicting several other scenes from the Bible and then the Mona Lisa and Winged Victory. The other sections of the museum we visited were similar: Roman column, another Roman column, yet another Roman column, Roman frieze, some Roman guy wearing an olive branch, some Roman woman half-dressed, some Roman cherub, and so on. That's not to say I didn't enjoy it. In some ways it freed me to enjoy it on my own terms and speculate on an interpretation. And I had the dates so I had some reference point. But don't ask me the names of any of the works because as I mentioned before, I don't speak any French and am aware enough to recognize that my pronunciation is so atrocious it's best to just pretend I'm mute then to risk humiliating myself and mangling their beautiful language.

So what happened was that I spent a week for the most part being completely clueless. Occasionally I would ask my husband for a translation since he took several years of French a million years ago and does get a general sense of what someone is saying. This seemed to work okay until the night we went to a restaurant and I asked him to translate the menu for me. As a result, he ended up with a delicious shrimp and morel risotto that was the highlight of his trip, whereas I ended up with some creepy fish and tomato dish which he had assured me was steak when I asked for the menu translation. After that i didn't ask him anymore and just reveled in my ignorance. And when I figured out that *roti poulet* was *roast chicken* I stuck with what I knew and ate a lot of it.

At first I was a little unnerved by not knowing what was going on around me. It was a little disorienting to have directions being given over the loudspeaker on the metro train and have no clue whether I was adhering to the rules or would be arrested at any minute. At one point we came across a huge live reggae concert by the Bastille but have no clue why they were having it because I couldn't read the signs. I also couldn't tell you who was singing. Again, couldn't read the signs. This happened again a few days later when we found ourselves in the middle of a large demonstration by our hotel in the Montparnasse district. They would yell out something, then chant *Oui Oui*, then yell something else and chant *non non*. This went on for awhile and the whole time they were waving signs. I have absolutely no idea why.

So when I got back home and within five minutes of our return the children were already whining and complaining and demanding that they get to watch television and eat ice cream like they did when grandma was in charge I simply said *Je ne comprend pas*.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Life in the bubble

My son is a goofball. Granted, he's only six, but I already envision that he will be the guy you want in your fraternity 12 years from now. Not necessarily because he will be the guy doing the keg stand (hopefully) but because he is genuinely funny in a Will Arnett-Adam Sandler-Steve Carell kind of way. Goofball. So it is surprising to realize that he is observant as all get out. Nothing gets by him. Ever. And he has a memory like an elephant. You put those two together along with goofball and he is the social chairman of kindergarten. And not just his class of 20. I'm talking all 7 sections of kindergarten plus the 1st grade. He knows everyone. And can tell you about them, and their siblings, and possibly their parents if he's ever seen them, which bus they take and what they wore to school last Thursday.

My daughter is not a goofball. She has a sly wit and a dry sense of humor. She also lives in a bubble. By this I mean she pays attention to what she deems is important and pretty much filters out the rest. This results in a problem. When asked about things that happened at school she has no idea. She knows what they studied that day (most of the time) but if I'm trying to pry some critical gossip out of her I get nothing. And not because she doesn't want to tell me, she honestly has no idea what I'm talking about when I ask if Bobbie got sent to the principal's office again today. There's a Bobbie in my class? would be her first question. Next she would try to recall if she is aware of anyone having been sent to the principal's office. Finally she would try to remember if they have a principal at her school and where his office might be.

This isn't a new thing. She has always been like this. My son could tell you who is absent from his class on any given day, not to mention a few kids from other classes who were home sick as well. My daughter couldn't tell you with any certainty whether a specific child is even in her class, let alone home sick. For three years she did ballet. For three years there were a couple of girls who took every class with her and performed in the recital as a group. Six ballet classes, three recitals. And yet if I mention Suzy from your ballet class I am met with a blank stare. Even if I show her the class picture she can't quite recall having met Suzy. This also happens with girls on her soccer team. The same soccer team she has played on with more or less than same 14 girls for the past three years. Granted, they all wear the same color uniform and most of them sport ponytails of varying lengths so I can allow for how that might make things harder to remember them.

Okay, so I may be *slightly* prone to hyperbole. And I should't be so hard on my poor bubble-girl. And just when I think she is growing up and becoming more aware of the people around her we have this conversation over the weekend:

Daughter: Mommy, what is the name of my school's Vice-Principal? You know, the woman who says *hi* to us in the morning?
Me: You mean the woman who you have seen every day for an entire year on your way into the building?
Daughter: Yes
Me: Her name is Mrs. Howard honey.
Daughter: Huh, go figure. Mrs. Howard. Okay then.

At least she knows who I am. I think.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Thank you Nordstrom

It happened again today. Nordstrom somehow managed to have the perfect dress for me for a challenging social commitment. In my size, in a beautiful color, and flattering while also being comfortable. In this case the function is a Saturday evening wedding, but not a *night* wedding, and not formal. But fancy. And at a hip location (too hip for me to have any business going there). The wedding is for two people I don't know and I don't know any of the other guests, except my husband, who is no help on providing guidance on appropriate attire. And yet there it was on the rack. Perfect. And did I mention reasonably priced?

This isn't the first time Nordstrom has been there for me. Previously they helped me rock the ultimate Survivor Style Challenge. Last year in late September I attended an interment at Arlington National Cemetery  of a long serving former US Senator. In other words, it was a big deal. Hundreds of people, VIPs, the media, you get the picture. The funeral had been held the previous month up in Alaska so the exact time and date of the interment was known well in advance. Plenty of time to find something appropriate to wear. Except that I assumed that I would be able to wear something with sleeves since it was at the end of September. I have several lovely black dresses that are perfect for fall weather. And when the interment was less than three days away I looked at the weather report and realized it was going to be in the high 80s and humid as all get out. So there I was, frantically trying to find a conservative black dress that was appropriate to wear after Labor Day but still cool enough that I wouldn't melt into a puddle while standing outside. And unbelievably, Nordstrom had just the thing.

I rejoiced in my good fortune and decided to pair the dress with some awesome black patent heels I had also picked up. Even though the heels were 4 1/2 inches high it wouldn't be a problem because all I would have to do is shuffle over to the gravesite in my suitably somber yet stylish and cool ensemble and then shuffle back to the car when it was over. That turned out to be a huge tactical error on my part.

I confess that this was my first interment at Arlington, and since it was for a former US Senator I have no idea whether it was typical. For starters, we were escorted to parking which was aways from where everyone was gathered. That wasn't too bad because I could shuffle the distance just fine. Then there was standing around for awhile - still doing fine although my make up had begun to run off my face. At this point I am craning my neck trying to see where the actual ceremony will take place and am growing puzzled. Then the music started. And the caissons began to move. And suddenly I realized we would be walking in a processional behind them. Down a steep hill. For over a half a mile. In the 88 degree humidity. Oh wait, it gets better. I forgot to mention that I am so sick I can barely stand up, even if I wasn't wearing the 4 1/2 inch heels (I found out the next day I had strep throat). So I wobbled and lurched down the hill and tried not to pass out. And as we walked of course we saw a million people we knew, some that we hadn't seen for over a decade, maybe longer. So there was lots of reminiscing. I can only imagine what came out of my mouth between the pain in my feet and my overall illness and heat delirium.

Finally, after what felt like a lifetime, we made it to the gravesite. But not quite the gravesite, more like an embankment overlooking the gravesite. Remember, there are hundreds of people there, and with my slow shuffling pace we were some of the last to arrive down the hill. At that point I cursed myself for not being elderly or pregnant because those people got rides in air conditioned vehicles and were dropped off right up front. So there we were for the ceremony, me still in those heels, which, with the incline of the steep embankment, caused me to tilt at an alarming nearly 45 degrees. The ceremony lasted over 30 minutes and when it was done we turned to walk back UP the hill. At that point I just couldn't take it any more. I took off the shoes much to the embarrassment of my husband who walked several paces away from me in an attempt to distance himself from my spectacle. Did I mention that the road was gravel over concrete? And yet the pain of walking in stocking feet up a hill in gravel was still less than the agony of walking down the hill in those heels. And my stockings were snagging and tearing and my makeup had completely run off my face and my hair was a frizzy mess. But oh my, I looked awesome in that dress.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

I'm committing

One of my favorite comedians is Eddie Izzard (this different color means it is a link - click here to see what I am talking about). He literally brings tears to my eyes with his monologues. As my husband can attest, I never get tired of watching recordings of his shows. But I have never thought of him as someone to emulate or look to for inspiration. Yes, he is exceptionally witty. But other than that he is just another performer, albeit a brilliant one who dresses in women's clothing. Until one day I was surfing for a clip of one of my favorite Eddie Izzard segments to show my husband when I came across a video blog of something extraordinary. In 2009 Eddie was approached by Sport Relief to complete a sporting challenge in support of charity. Eddie decided he was going to run 43 marathons in seven weeks. He did six marathons a week with one day of rest.  He ran around the entire UK - 1100 miles. There is one particularly grueling day where he runs one of the marathons in a downpour of rain and you can practically feel the rain sloshing in his running shoes. If that isn't amazing by itself you need to check out the video blog on youtube as he prepares to embark on his journey. Eddie is not a born runner and he certainly doesn't look like one either. When he decided to do this he was 47. In the video blog he expresses doubt about his ability to complete his commitment. And he realizes it will be hard. That it will suck. And that he might not make it. But he wants to do it. He even says *I want to do this but I don't know if I can*. So Eddie, you have become my unlikely hero. My new role model for running. My inspiration. You see, I signed up to run the Marine Corps Marathon on October 30th. It will be my first marathon and I have doubts. Lots of doubts. I am so chock full of doubts that I don't even say *I am running a marathon in October* but instead hem and haw and hedge with statements like *I am thinking about running....*. A 40 year old woman in moderately okay shape and two young children has no business taking on this kind of commitment. But it's time to get off the fence and commit openly. With this post I am declaring that I will run the Marine Corps Marathon on October 30th, 2011. I will spend the next five months training. It will be hard. And it will suck. And I might not make it. But I want to do it. And it's only one marathon. Not 43.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

She is just like me, except when she is just like him

People have children for a lot of different reasons, some good, some questionable. Regardless of how you got there, you have to admit that having a child is the ultimate form of narcissism. Who can deny a certain amount of pleasure when someone says your child looks *just like you* or has your nose (unless you hate your nose, but even then it looks great on your child and so maybe you learn to like your nose...just a little). Or when your child displays personality traits that are straight out of your playbook. This is especially endearing if they are those traits that are quirky or a tad grating. But they are so stinking cute when your child does them, so perhaps they are not as annoying to others when you do them as you thought?

The other day my daughter was assigned the task of cleaning out the bookcase in her room. She is an avid reader and this bookcase was beyond the legal limit of what it could hold. I noticed that many of the books she had outgrown and suggested she go through and take those out to either donate or give to her brother (if the subject wasn't fairies or princesses, which means he would get approximately one book out of the deal). And being my child she jumped at the chance to organize something. She actually got a notepad and jotted down a to do list of steps involved. My heart swelled with pride.

A little while later as I was walking by her room I noticed all the books had been taken off the shelf and there were large piles everywhere. Tentatively I asked her what she was up to. She explained that she decided that things would be much more efficient (yes, she used that word) if she sorted all the books into categories first. She had even put her brother to work helping. I think pride physically radiated off of me.

My next pass by the room I noticed it was unusually quiet. There didn't seem to be any activity going on so I looked in. And that is when I saw it. Both my daughter and my son were sprawled out on her rug, surrounded by mounds and mounds of books. They were silently reading. Now I am all for reading but at that instance I knew I was witnessing more then a brief break to skim through a story. Wait a minute. How did this happen? Where did this come from? When I start something I finish it dammit. Start to finish. No stopping, no breaks. I am on a mission. Oh no, they were exhibiting a behavior of my husband's. Specifically, the behavior where he starts a project, gets halfway through the project to the point that there is a huge mess, then gets distracted from the original project and ends up spending hours doing something else. And in all likelihood gets distracted from that task and so on. And none of the projects get done. And there is a huge mess that stays that way for several days...or weeks...until I come in and finish everything up (usually by employing a hefty bag). It drives me crazy. In fact, now that I mention it, he has a pile of paperwork in our office to *review and file* that is coming up on its one year anniversary.

As it turns out, for better or worse, my children have some of me, some of their father, and a lot of themselves. And for the record, with help from me, my daughter finished the bookcase clean out project and as it turns out there was actually two books to give her brother that didn't involve fairies or princesses.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

I'm not cut out to be a spy

While on our trip to France it become painfully obvious that I did not have a future in the intelligence community. If I were a spy and were captured by the enemy it would be very easy to break me. This wouldn't be done by depriving me of food, or water, or even through solitary confinement (okay, so I admit I haven't experienced any of those things to the degree they would be considered *torture* but work with me here). Physical pain and suffering also wouldn't suffice. I am a runner, and have given birth to two children. I have pain and suffering in spades. All they would have to do would subject me to sleep deprivation. And not even a number of days, just one night and I would be toast. Not only would I spill any national security secrets I might be privy to, I would also spill secrets about things they didn't even ask about. If there is anything I can't tolerate it is lack of sleep.

In a previous post I discussed how important sleep is to me. I am not talking about sleeping in. In fact, even on our vacation without the kids I still got up around 7am. And that was Paris time. At home I am actually chagrined if my children wake up before me, depriving me of that previous hour of peace and quiet at the beginning of the day. Oh no, I am referring to the minimum of six hours of sleep I need to function, although seven would be better and eight is optimum. But less than six and I am a disaster. So this is why the red-eye to Paris was a really bad call.

In theory it seemed like a good idea. Take the red-eye, fall asleep for the eight hour flight and wake up to have a croissant and some coffee in Paris. In reality I didn't fall asleep for more than 30 minutes at a time. I think all totaled I slept around 2 hours, probably less. Most of it with a slight cramp in my hamstring. For those of you wondering, Black Swan is not a good movie to watch when you become delirious from sleep deprivation. I was crazier than Natalie Portman. By the time we got off the plane I was a physical and mental disaster. I think part of the reason why the immigration official in Charles de Gaulle scrutinized me and my passport for at least 5 minutes longer than anyone else (my husband included) was because with my disheveled hair and clothes, pale withdrawn face and bloodshot eyes I looked suspiciously like a member of the Manson family. Or he suspected I was a zombie. I also was incapable of communicating coherently, and all I was required to do was greet the man and hand over my passport.

Things didn't get much better after that. Luckily my husband was there to guide me to baggage claim and to the driver who was taking us to our hotel. I don't think I said a word the entire time. I am sure the driver felt sorry for the poor American man and his catatonic spouse. How brave, how loving he must be to take care of such an incapacitated individual. This was further reinforced when I would fall asleep for brief periods of time during our drive. And I would drool. I was so tired I couldn't muster the energy or consciousness to care.

But the coup de grace came once we finally got to our hotel and check in wasn't for another 30 minutes. Luckily I was still in my catatonic state or I would have wept openly. Instead my husband led me to a cafe down the street where he ate lunch with gusto while I sipped water and stared glassy eyed into the distance.

Finally the time came where we could check in and he led me back to the hotel and up to our room. And at that point I just lost it. Uncontrolled sobbing as I proclaimed how exhausted and miserable I was. There may have been some writhing on the floor for emphasis. It was ugly. Eventually I calmed down enough to lay down and get some sleep and then a shower. And still I was a mess. It was early evening by this time and I was determined to get on Paris time so we went walking. Our goal was to visit Notre Dame, which was number one on my list of things to see. And when we got there it closed right as we were walking up. Although I was physically looking normal again I was still an exhausted mess and this was just enough to send me back over the edge despite the fact that my poor husband tried to point out it would reopen in the morning. And the morning after that. And the morning after that. At this point he couldn't help missing the catatonic me.

I am not proud of this whole *crying because Notre Dame was closed* incident but it did cause me to revaluate my plans to become a super spy in the next chapter of my life. Clearly I was no Sydney Bristow, which was truly unfortunate because she had some awesome outfits.

role model follow up

Thank you to everyone who wrote me with their suggestions for role models. Interestingly enough, with one exception, all the suggestions were women. But then again, all the respondents were women, so that may be a factor. Some people requested that I post a compilation so here it is.

Madeline Albright
Michelle Rhee
Cathy Lanier
Taylor Swift 
Barack Obama (I especially love this suggestion because it came from a die hard Republican)
Condi Rice
Suze Orman

Admittedly the list is short, and if I left anyone off I apologize. But it's a start. Thanks again for giving me hope!