Monday, August 31, 2009

The art of re-negotiation

When I quit working full time six years ago, I took over all the house work, bills and day-to-day minutiae that make up a household. My husband has to work, I thought, so why shouldn't I see to the other details?

Now I have two kids, their activities that require schlepping and scheduling, my own freelance work, and all the other chores I took on all those years ago. It's no longer an equal distribution of work. I dread sitting down with my over-worked husband to re-assign the family duties. While not a fun task, discussing what we do will make both of us more appreciative of the others' responsibilities. I hope.

Any advice on how to start this conversation?

Through their eyes

Like all funerals, there was a lot of food and a lot of people. Relatives we haven't seen since my husband and I got married 12 years ago. And our kids met enough aunts, uncles, cousins, and even more distant relations to completely overwhelm them.

They were saints. They were dragged around, passed around, strapped into car seats for indefinite periods of time, and sat like little angels through a two-and-a-half-hour lunch that even had me squirming.

I wouldn't have thought any less of either of them for pitching a giant fit right in the middle of their great-grandmother's living room. But it never happened. No sulks, no complaints. Just smiles and good manners.

I'm floored. Heck, I knew they were great kids, but sometimes they even impress me. All day, I heard, "They've done such a great job." "They're so well-behaved." "I can't believe how good natured they are."

It's not often we have a chance to see our kids through another person's eyes—a teacher, a relative, a friend. But this weekend was a real eye-opener for me. The next time they've pushed me to the edge, I'm gonna pull those words out again, take a deep breath, and start over. Cause when it counts, they outdo themselves.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Married with kids...and a dog

We made the leap. Last weekend, we picked up the newest member of our family. Mo is a huge puppy - at one year, he weighs about 100 pounds. He's kind and gentle. After I take him for long walks he's very well-mannered.

Last night he barked. Then he barked again and again. No, neither Chris nor I would say we had a good sleeping night. I haven't slept great since I was pregnant the first time. This, more than anything else, was the deciding factor for me to stop with two kids (my husband was perfectly content with one child, not that he doesn't dearly love his baby). Both my husband and I both have been staying up late so this barking episode could not have happened at a worse time. Why do children and pets seem to know this?

As I bumble, bleary-eyed, through my day, I keep telling myself he's a great dog. And he is. When he's not barking all night.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Food fights

My just turned 1 year old just wants to nurse. No carrots, peaches, or peas, thank you very much. It's an interesting problem. She's definitely more dependent on me. And I get lots of good cuddle time. But I also spend a lot of time talking to her pediatrician, a lactation consultant, and anyone else who can offer a little insight.

You may have noticed the formula companies are now marketing a product for 1 to 2 year olds. So maybe a nearly full time nursing 1 year old isn't too odd. And I'm trying not to compare her too much to her older brother, who lost interest in nursing before he reached his 15th month. But I do sometimes fondly remember the experience of no being tied to child or breast pump.

So we will continue to offer tantalizing bits to tease her taste buds and let her choose her own path to becoming an eating toddler.

-- Post From My iPhone

Just a little patience...

Yeah. The song by Guns N' Roses has been running through my head all morning. It's been a trying week: We adopted a dog Saturday, the kids went back to school, my husband has multiple major deadlines and I had to finish up a big project on Tuesday. So patience - and a clean house - have been in short supply. Hence my preoccupation with Axl Rose.

The sad part is I'm stressed about good things. We have enough work to pay our bills, our kids are in safe, educational environments and our new puppy will offer years of love, affection and protection. What would I do if there really was something to be stressed about? It's a question I have to stop and ask myself often. My kids are healthy - I have a few friends with very sick children. My husband and I enjoy each others' company - I have friends in rocky or failing marriages. Life is good; in fact, it could be a whole lot worse. So, Axl, I'm going to keep on humming your tune until it sinks in. Just a little patience....yeah.....

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Buy more, be less happy

While listening to the radio this morning, a woman was talking about a variety of studies that show the more consumer-oriented a person is, the less happy the person becomes. The perfect example is tweens and young teens. Almost all their self worth is tied up in what they wear and if they have the latest iPhone app. But America itself is no longer an uber-happy place to be. We rank as one of the least happy countries in the world. Now that's depressing.

You may be asking why. Part of the reason is we, as a society, work longer hours than we have in decades. We spend time "socializing" via the Internet or sitting in a room watching TV - maybe with a bag of chips for company.

We've forgotten how to be with people. We've forgotten how to connect and enjoy everything from the arts to a walk with a dear friend. Life doesn't have to be expensive to be rich. I've been reading my daughter the Little House on the Prairie series; in one of the books the whole town participates in Literaries. The town laughs together, enjoying the comradery of snowy evenings. I live in a lovely community that plans lots of activities, but I'm nowhere near that connected to my neighbors. And that's a shame.

When was the last time you spent a day - OK, an hour - with someone just for the fun of it? I plan to change that right now.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Dr. Death

I'm shirking. We've had a death in the family and my grand master plan is to hide it from my son.

To be fair, it's his great-grandfather. He's a distant figure in my son's life. Someone who's sat in a chair quietly during our visits. He loved Donovan as his first grandson, but D is just so young I don't know if he'll really remember.

It just didn't seem fair to interrupt D's 4th birthday to do the death talk.

So am I a coward?

I hope not. Our last visit with his great-grandpa a few weeks ago prompted lots of questions about death. He's confused right now. And we're trying to give him a little time to process his feelings and ask more questions or let it be.

It's difficult. What would you do?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Sibling rivalry

How can something so tiny cause so much trouble? Moira turned 1 yesterday, and she's driving her older brother, Donovan, to distraction. She gets into his toys, she steals his thunder. This is not what he expected when he heard he was getting a little sister.

We can see he's frustrated. A few weeks ago, he asked if I couldn't just put Moira back in my tummy. (But honey, she just won't fit!) A few days ago, I asked him to stop teasing his sister. ("But Mom," he said, "It's my favorite thing to do!")

Her birthday was the final straw. A whole day to celebrate this little whirling dynamo? No way!

And suddenly, I got it. My husband and I are both older siblings. We remember the angst. So we talked to Donovan this morning. Yes, little brothers or sisters can be a big pain. Yes, they get into your stuff. We remember. But ... they do grow up. And they get more fun. We promised. After all, our little brothers were the same way.

Welcome, attitude change. A few hours later, he told me, "Momma, I don't want to tease Moira anymore." He's giving her big time love. Hugs and kisses. Saying he loves her. Was it really that easy?

Now it's time for round two. Donovan's birthday tomorrow, and he'll have a day all for him to celebrate Number 4. Let's hope the truce holds.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Date night

Last night my husband and I went to the movies. We rarely go - just the two of us - so this was a special treat. Julie and Julia was charming, a nice balance of comedy and emotion. Probably a chick flick but no Bridget Jones' Diary.

I love getting to sit next to my man, holding hands and hearing him laugh. The stress of the day slides for our shoulders as deadlines, kids' behavior and whether we're making the right choice in bringing a big dog into our home melt away with the scene of bruschetta.

The worries were there this morning. But for a night, we were able to forget our responsibilities and simply enjoy the moment. Yes, we should do this more. But until the next time, I'll savor the fleeting moments of this date night.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The best choice for you

A little over a year ago, I quit work to stay home with my kids. My son, D, was 3, his sister a newborn. D had been going to school at the same preschool for three years--since he was 4 and a half months old. And he had a crew of friends he'd hung with—literally—since birth.

So I guess it should be no surprise that, as we were preparing for his birthday party this weekend, he asked me, "Mommy, can we invite Ian?"

He hasn't seen Ian in a year. But in his 3-year-old mind, his best friend Ian has to be at his birthday party. And his favorite teacher of all time is definitely Ms. Tina, his last teacher at daycare.

Sure, he went to a preschool this year for about five hours a week to make friends and continue learning in a school-like setting. But his heart is still with his old class and his old friends.

Ask him any day, "Do you want to go to see Ian and Ms. Tina or stay home with mom and see your new friends?" He definitely prefers me at home.

Sometimes he still asks, "Mom, are you not going to go to work anymore?" I explain I work at home now—taking care of him and his sister and doing freelance work. But I don't need to feel bad about the time he spent in daycare. The pluses were numerous. His daycare was at his daddy's office, so he got daddy time on their rides in. My husband visited him at breaks and lunchtime, going down to give bottles of expressed milk when he was an infant and then just to play and visit when he got older.

With a new family member in the house, it was time for me to be here. More time for both kids, and for my husband. We eat healthier and live healthier in a more stress free environment. But ... sometimes I still feel a little guilty for taking D away from his favorite friends and teachers. Heck, there are no easy choices. We're all just doing the best we can, right?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

How was your day?

It's a question I ask my husband every evening - as much out of habit as out of genuine curiosity. I do care (deeply) about his happiness, but I also want some connection to that full time, professional world I gave up years ago. I don't miss it. Often. And I don't regret my decision to stay home. Much. On a whole, we're a more balanced and happy family. But every once in a while...

Are there days when you miss that grueling 9-to-5 pace? Are there days when you'd love to get dressed up and go out to lunch with a client or coworkers? Are there days when you wish you had someone else's deadlines to worry about instead of your self-imposed list of chores?

Days as a mom are frequently trying (on positive days, I realize I'm learning patience). But every mother of grown children and every grandmother I talk to gets that misty look in her eye when I mention I have young kids. I know this time is precious. These fleeting moments will never be recaptured. And I cherish the chance to be here for them all. Most of the time.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Recipe for disaster

It's canning time. I've spent the last three full days in the kitchen peeling, cutting, cooking , freezing and canning peaches. I've also made a peach cobbler, a peach crisp and a peach pie. With the help of two young children.

My kitchen wasn't just sticky. The floor actually made a sucking sound when you tried to walk across it. I won't even try to describe the mess on my cooktop. Suffice it to say I spent a good hour trying to get that back to its normal pristine white.

The satisfaction comes from that first sunshine-bright bite of warm peach. I also like spending quality time with my kids, teaching them basic math and baking skills.

I love my kids and I love to cook. But the two do not always make for a fabulous combination. Next year, I may just have to wish for a late frost.

I'm sick ... again

And this time it isn't a little ole cold. It's serious. Possibly terminal.

It might take another 40 years, but without health care reform--with a viable public option--I'm just not gonna make it. None of us will.

Whatever your political persuasion, I know you value your loved ones. We all want our families to get the best care. And who can argue that the current health care system is really working?

I know it's confusing. There's a lot of banter going back and forth, but I'm pretty sure you can't find a congressperson who will say costs aren't too high, there aren't too many people uninsured, and a life-threatening medical illness doesn't have the potential to send anyone into financial ruin.

So here's what I'm asking. You don't have to agree with the plan out there right now, but if you do want health care reform, it's time to speak out. I'm terrified we're gonna miss this chance. And I won't be the only one feeling sick over it.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Turn out the lights

I love light. The natural kind. That's why my house has eight skylights. My youngest child still naps. But only in the dark. So we're learning to compromise. She's learning to nap in the near-dark. I'm trying not to pout at the idea of covering one of my favorite house features.

Do you have a favorite item that others don't see as so, well, great?

We all just wanna be accepted

Ever been introduced as "the best" something-or-other? The smartest, the fastest, the funniest? It's a tall bill to live up to. And it can really ruin your image.

I've seen employers do it. They send out these overly effusive brag sheets that list the person's qualifications, starting with their perfect kindergarten attendance. Believe me, no one's record should be THAT permanent.

We all like the little buzz we get when someone says we're great. And we need that positive feedback. But ultimately, time will out. We don't need others to introduce our skills; they'll shine all by themselves when the time is right.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Stay your cation away from me

I'm so sick of hearing people talk/brag/yammer about their staycations. The very word is absurd. I have no personal problem with the practice—heck, I'm pretty sure my parents invented it. I just don't like the "ya gotta be doing this to be trendy in a down economy" concept.

And what's with these weird word mashups people invent to dress up everyday ideas?

OK, enough ranting. Go on your staycation. Have fun. I'm all for it. Just two little requests: Don't use that word in front of me and don't expect me to look at your fakey pictures of what a great time you're having picnicking on your living room floor.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The morning cuppa

I haven't been sleeping well. Heat, stress, waking kids and general unrest have led to a week's worth of broken nights. Scientists have told us for years most people need eight to eight-and-a-half hours of shut-eye to keep everything functioning properly. That's great, but I also rely on my morning cup of coffee.

Each morning this week I've made the brew stronger hoping it would jump start my zeal for the day. It hasn't worked. But the coffee's been strong, black and hot. Maybe I'll just try another cup.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

So I'm sick

And the poor kiddies have been trapped inside with sickly old me while the sun shines. It's almost criminal.

I do feel bad for them. But I can't help feeling a little sorry for myself, too. Ever notice Mommies don't really get to be sick? Dinner still has to be made, kids must be fed, dressed, and cared for.

I'm thinking I need a new strategy. A backup plan when I desperately need rest to recover. Any ideas?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Idle little hands

My baby's reached the age when she considers a pause for a diaper change a huge affront. She rolls, complains, and tries to scamper away, bare bottomed. It's almost cute ... almost.

My latest trick: books. I used to hand her a small stuffed cat to hold while I changed her business end. But her busy little fingers weren't satisfied. A book gives her pages to turn and something to look at.

My son, who is three years older, also lacks a full stack of patience. He's a little harder to entertain, but during car rides or waits in the grocery store line, a book or even a game—I use a preschool adventure match game on my iPod—usually does the trick. Best part: Fewer battles over the little stuff.

The other cycle

Girls = drama. At least this holds true at my house. As we prepare for another school year, my eldest child is beginning to dread that first day. Will there be a bully? Will any of her friends from last year be in her same class? Will the bigger - and better - playground really be more fun?

Simple worries to be sure. But they dominate her thoughts. And she's begun to act out. As she gets more wound up, I get more tense. This is not a good cycle. In fact, the slope goes from slippery to a plunging drop-off almost immediately. And with no childcare and lots of errands to run, this week looks bleak.

Last night, I sat down to sketch out a strategy. First, we're going to visit the school - and new class room - tomorrow. If possible, we'll get a list of classmates. We're reconnecting with school friends and spending quiet time reading together.

Like any cycle, this too shall pass.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Lookin' good is the best revenge

We've had a heck of a few nights around our house recently. Thunderstorms and nightmares have wreaked a little havoc on the natural rhythm of our sleep schedules. And this morning, finally, I gave into the grumpiness. With a full day scheduled ahead of us, I knew I had to do something for myself: stat.

So I grabbed my trusty eyeliner and my hair curler. No, really. I don't think I'm the only one who gets really jazzed when I feel like I'm looking my best. And it really has a way of perking you up.

Consider this: You've heard the oft spread advice about smiling when you don't feel good and how it often has a lifting effect on your spirits. I contend that looking good has similar results. Case in point: I felt like poop, but I didn't want to look like it.

So a new outfit, a little make up and some hair spray, and I turned my frowns to smiles. As my husband says to my son, "Don't let a frown be your umbrella." Instead, reach for the face cream.

That's mine

For the first time in my life, I live in what might be dubbed a "country setting." We have a couple of acres of land in an established neighborhood; the land and green spaces mean there are lots of critters that live near us. Some want to live with us. I'm not OK with that.

This year our peach tree went nuts. The peaches are plentiful and growing large - some bigger than my fist. But here's the problem: the birds and the field mice think this is there buffet. I disagree. We've been fighting about it for the past three months. I have to admit, I'm not winning as I'd hoped.

This morning, my husband and I awoke to a cheery chorus of birds right out our wind. You guessed it, that's where the peach tree is. The tree is netted and securely tied with no easy ways in but the birds solved this problem by standing on the netting and pecking through. I'm realizing I don't have a choice. In this case, sharing is inevitable. But I plan to get enough peaches for pies and preserves. The birds will just have to deal with it.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Your best friend hates Facebook

Social networking. Isn't it just a fancy word for a lot of computer on computer action? It's a sexy title for what amounts to trumped up interfaces that allow you to post comments and pictures on the Web.

Don't get me wrong, I actually like it. I'm an introvert, and all of my friends will tell you they have to drag me out of my solitude periodically because I'm likely to hunker down with my computer and rot there.

My husband, on the other hand, thinks Facebook is the biggest, weirdest waste of a good computer he's ever seen. He's the tech-savvy member of our family, and he can usually find the solution to just about anyone's computer problem. But he's not so keen on the artificial world of social networking. A friend request from a third-grade lunch pal fills him with bewilderment.

Me? I'm tickled. I love to see what happened to my best friend in second grade who moved away. It puts a smile on my face to see pictures of friends and family all over the world, from Alaska to Japan and back again.

And here's the really weird part: My real, live book club plans all of our in-person meetings on Facebook.

Sure, it can be fake and weird and stalkerish sometimes. But sometimes it just works.

Dog hunt

The inevitable question, "Mom, can we have a dog?" has at last been uttered - with increasing frequency.

We had a dog. But his glaucoma and stiffness from arthritis meant he wasn't the companion for kids he used to be. Walking into a tossed aside toy led to yelps of alarm and pain. So, Jay Jay, my lovely American Eskimo who'd guarded my house while in college and laid next to me as I nursed both my children, went to grandma's house. Luckily, grandma had another dog to be his friend. And no toys to trip over.

So now in a new neighborhood known for coyotes, pack rats and hawks, we're looking for a furry family friend. I'm thinking big this time: Bernese Mountain dog or perhaps a Great Pyrenese.

But I'm the one who will have to walk the dog, clean up after the dog and buy the mountain of food such dogs require. Makes me think a toy poodle is sounding better and better. Problem is, I think a dog should be big enough for kids to flop on. That's what I loved best about our dogs growing up: wrestling on the floor.

As I watch the rescue sites and the SPCA for a good candidate, I am conflicted. What dog will be best for our family?

Friday, August 7, 2009

Sweet dreams

I'd rather be sleeping. Unfortunately, my soon-t0-be four year old would not.

It's an awkward adjustment when little ones decide they don't want a nap anymore. And his body is fighting his will. A longer car trip in the four o'clock hour will inevitably lead to some dozing in the backseat—a habit I dread, because all mothers know a nap that late means a disastrous bedtime.

I've tried all the tricks: Walking his little legs off, requiring quiet time. But it just might be time to accept the inevitable: My good little sleeper will not be sleeping during the daytime any more.

So neither will I.

Tax-free shop-a-day

Today starts my state's tax-free holiday. I anticipate this event - not so much because of the lack of sales tax but for the sales that go along with it. I am a sale junkie. I make a beeline in any store for the clearance rack. I refuse to pay full price for any garment, ever.

So today, the kids and I are getting ready to head out the door; after a few hours of whining, hiding in clothes racks and endless sighs when I say, "Let's try this one on," we will come home bags of clothes richer and pockets empty. But that's OK. Kids need clothes (so do I). And we're having a clothes swap at the end of the month to get rid of all the stuff that doesn't fit (or fit in the closet).

How will you spend your tax-free holiday?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

I will not shave my legs

I admit it. I hate shaving. It's liking mopping the floor; within minutes dark splotches mar the pristine cleanliness (faster if I got a chill, which was pretty much as soon as I stepped out of the shower). But I'm from the South, and by the time I was four, I understood that women do not leave their home without being completely decked out. That means hair is neatly in place, makeup is perfect and legs are shaved.

Here's my secret: Epilady. When I got pregnant with my second child, I was looking for a way to remove unwanted hair that didn't involve chemicals or puncturing a lung while trying to bend over the basketball my middle had become. Epilady was my comprise. Now, nearly four year later, I get the little gizmo out about once a month. My legs simply don't need touching up more than that. For which I say Hallelujah! There are way more important things I need to do. Like mop the floor.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Dust and clean

My dirty little secret? I hire a babysitter. Three or four hours a week, in the middle of the day. It's my gotta-make-that-phone-call, serious concentration time.

What always amuses me about the experience is my need to have the house spanking clean before the babysitter arrives. I spend three or four hours sweeping, mopping, sorting, and dusting so I can get three or four hours for myself.

I can't decide what I think about that, but I will say this. It is nice to end the day with a house that just got a face lift.

Monday, August 3, 2009

No, I haven't

Been taking care of myself, that is. Got too busy, and I fell off the list.

Big no-no.

But it's a fresh month, a fresh week. And today, I'm movin on up to a deluxe spot at the top of the to-dos.

My three gifts to myself:

1. Writing time
2. Sunbathing time
3. Reading time

Success undefined

Who's the most successful person you know? My guess is this person is very busy wielding his or her power, buttoning up negotiations and bringing home a hefty pay check. But is that person happy?

As I get older, I'm realizing that happy moments are the real accomplishment. Laughter is central; I'm not sure how I'd survive without the giggly moments with my children or my husband's dry wit.

People will ultimately define my success not as a byline or publishing deal. Long after everyone's forgotten the article or book, my friends and family will support me, cheer for me and hold me as I struggle to keep my footing in this precarious world of ambition. For them, I am thankful; because of them, I have the chance to achieve on a much larger scale.

So perhaps I need to redefine success.

It's just a hobby

Why do we ruin the fun things we like to do by making them work? I love to tinker with jewelry. Little beads, silver findings. Sometimes I just enjoy pulling my boxes of sparklies out to play.

But every time I do, someone tells me I should sell my products. I've occasionally considered it. Then I start thinking about packaging, pricing, overhead.

So why should I ruin some good old fun with a lot of messy responsibility?

-- Post From My iPhone