My mom came up today to visit and just before she left I took a few quick pictures of us. I hadn’t washed my hair and I didn’t put on makeup and for some strange reason when I smiled my upper lip disappeared…But my smile stretched across my face (maybe that’s where my lip went) and I hugged my mama tight. I hardly ever capture those moments, usually content to just commit them to memory and I realized that I want approximately ten billion more pictures in my life. I want evidence that the tips of my husband’s eyelashes get blonde when he is out in the sun and that our dog rushes to greet him by trying to glue his body alongside as much of him as possible. I want to hold something in my hand that will always show me what Big Sister’s face looked like when she was skeptical or how Little Sister always throws up Jazz Hands when I say “freeze”. I won’t let all the moments that have faded with time keep me down, which is easy to do when you are with rapidly changing little people…but I will be taking more photos of us all from now on.
This is the simplest yet most effective advice that I can ever share with you. Hopefully, you have at least one pragmatic friend/family member/book character that you hold dear that has offered this revolutionary principle with you – but just in case you are lacking one, have no fear – that is what I am here for. I can’t tell you how many hours I have spent brooding, sullen, or otherwise inwardly loathsome of simple stupid stuff that I have the power to change, but for one reason or another I stall on. (Know this – it could likely be combined into days if not weeks).
I am talking about wearing the running sneakers that you bought because you absolutely loved the color / found on clearance / or matched that one pair of “dress” yoga pants that you save for big occasions but rubs your left heel raw. Or that super comfy tissue paper thin long sleeved tee that fits everywhere but the neckline (why would anyone make such a small gash in the top and declare it boat neck?!). Or my personal undoing – the bra that I should have thrown out a good six months ago but I am trying to resuscitate against its will…gentle reader, I hope that you have no idea what I am talking about – but this would be a bra (well really the remnants of one anyway) that might have one underwire that juts out like a fin from underneath your arm, or boasts hooks in the back that have been mangled in the washing machine and remolded with needle nose pliers to resemble their original shape so many times that they have snapped off on now flagellate your back with every step you take, or even a shoulder strap that has gone slack so that even if you are blessed with anti-gravity, perfect symmetry that certainly isn’t what you are showcasing now…(for a select few this single bra has ALL THREE FEATURES).
The easy question for any sane person to ask would be something along the lines of WHY IN THE WORLD WOULD YOU CONTINUE TO WEAR THAT?! The answer is complicated but can be distilled to this cold, hard fact: that I can live with this. Until, of course, you can’t.
When you get to that point (and some warning signs that you are there or rapidly approaching it can be summed up as “extreme sensitivity to the world around you” – totally my own diagnosis and all but you get my drift), you need to shake it up. You need to buy a new bra, or three. This of course doesn’t mean that I think you should go straight to La Perla and spend the rent money on new lingerie, it can be as simple as pulling three IN YOUR SIZE – (and please double, quadruple, quintuple check this) in order to get on with your life without endangering the other people who inhabit it. The same goes for the running shoes you can’t run in or the shirt that would fit perfectly if only it fit right. The best possible way to move toward the life we want or the happiness that seems to elude us is to set aside the things that aren’t meant for us and keep working toward the things that are. Sometimes, we are lucky enough to have secured the big things – a sense of well-being, a stable family life, security in one way or another, so we put up with the little hindrances, in possibly a twisted act of humbleness only to find that it is driving us up the wall. If we are brave enough and clear enough to examine what is and isn’t working and then do something to change it for the better – other things follow suit by falling into place.
I cannot say that hearing the kids pull the doors closed in a consistent ‘slam-close’ (as opposed to turning the handle and quietly closing their doors) isn’t noticeable to me right now. But I can tell you that because I bought a properly fitting bra today, it isn’t making me want to shake my fist in the air like an angry, brow-furrowed mean neighbor at them either. This is exactly how I hacked my life today.
We are officially one week in to summer – what my kids consider “deep summer”. I am not sure where this phrase came from but I love it. Something about how in six days they are deeply committed to being different people moves me…because when else in your life does one get seventy straight days off? (I will save you the guesswork, it’s usually never. Or retirement.)But here we are (me too in some sort of soupy suspended reality because I am still on stay-at-home-mom / freelance time) and it’s pretty fabulous. If the kids don’t want breakfast? No problem! They will devour approximately forty-seven snacks between waking and sleeping so they are covered. No naps? No worries! Because they will battle it out in a war of words over what movie to watch until they both fall asleep with one child clutching the remote control in a Kung Fu grip. In between feedings and reminders that they “still have to brush their teeth and occasionally bathe” my kids have taking squabbling to an unchartered territory and crafting to a level I had yet to experience – the crayons are all worn to nubs…But that is deep summer too, I guess. A time of book reading and movie watching and bug discovery and swimming until your arms feel like overcooked spaghetti. And I wouldn’t change a moment of it for them.
When I was a kid I couldn’t understand why we didn’t go to the beach every single day. I loved squishing fistfuls of sand in my hands, building what hardly ever resembled castles and throwing myself up out of the ocean like I had seen killer wales do. I loved full sun, and impending rain – it didn’t matter to me in the slightest. As a new parent, I wanted to make sure that our baby got to enjoy the beach as much as possible. Even when that meant dragging a tent, pop up shade, blanket, and mini command unit down to the beach – it seemed a small price to pay for ocean views.
Today we took the dog to the beach with us. Somewhere in between his first eleven mouthfuls of the ocean and before he started whining miserably I knew that I probably should have discouraged him a little earlier. We headed home after multiple calls of nature and after a perfunctory clean up and quick lunch, we split into teams – one group taking the vacuuming of the truck (primarily the backseat, where two sandy kids and a German Shepard had taken up residence) and the other washing the sand, salt water and whatever else might be on the dog off of him, I then cut his nails…
In the grand scheme of things I only cut one too short and statistically that wasn’t awful but there is nothing quite like a bleeding dog toenail and it’s trails throughout the floors (carpets and rugs included!) to dampen the mood. At one point I surveyed the landscape of sandy, wet beach towels, sudsy, dog hair covered beach towels and the general sad and sorry state of the house and I got why some people would say “why bother”? Then I thought about the frames from our live just before that – when the kids threw themselves into the waves and we collected shells and watched the sun kissing the ocean to allow ribbons of light to thread their way down the sea floor and I knew that going wasn’t the easy choice, it was the right choice.
The towels will be washed and the nail has stopped bleeding and the floors were all scrubbed. The last clinging bits of sand swirled down the drain alongside our shampoo and conditioner and throughout the house there lingered that unparalleled mellow feeling you get when you spend the morning swimming in the sea. And it all seemed worth it.
Here it is – 59 minutes to midnight on the East Coast and I have one thing on my mind: I HAVE A JOB TO DO. I can’t tell you exactly what it has meant o me to meet this deadline every single day. I have made something new and somehow produced it no matter what came in my path – hurricanes, separation anxiety, weight gain, and general dissatisfaction with how I am running my life… you get my drift, and it feels amazing – it feels empowering.
Today was a solid Win. Little Sister made it through soccer without a single tear, without a single tug on my arm – just fully participated. (Yes, this is normal behavior and should be expected, but for us this is CAUSE FOR A CELEBRATION). Tonight, we got together with our friends who happen to be our neighbors and we made quesadillas, and memories as we played cards and the kids played among their selves.
A year ago, I had the craziest idea – that if I sat down to write that maybe someone would read it and maybe in some way or another they would feel a connection to it. I can tell you that it happened quicker and for a longer duration than I ever thought possible. So thank you, thank you for tuning in and checking your email box, or Facebook or feed and listening to what I have thought or worried out or dreamed of. At a little over two weeks left, I haven’t given up or given in – I have just gotten started.
Earlier on in the week, as Big Sister tucked herself beside her keyboard, she asked if she and Little Sister could put on a concert for their father and me. I have to admit that I didn’t give it too much thought, initially, as we have owned that keyboard for almost as many years as she has been alive and her interest in it has burned out quickly as she approached the ten minute mark each time. Something was different this time, though. I watched her as she read the instruction booklet more carefully and as she painstakingly wrote out programs, concert tickets, theater signage and a set list. I marveled tonight as I took photos of the display and the notification that there would be a short intermission where the musicians would be collecting money for the charity of their choice, The March of Dimes.
Little Sister took her part equally as serious, rehearsing the different speeds in which she might sing her first number, and discussing wardrobe options that could best accommodate her desire to “act out” “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” while being attached to her microphone. They made sure to tape reminders of the show (complete with the date and time) on any surface they thought my husband or I might come in contact with and simultaneously we knew that seeing them posted and being heard commenting on the excitement that we were building was far more important than the brief irritation of tape residue on the mirrors, the fridge and the television.
They used industrial extension cords to plug in both their karaoke machine and keyboard in the living room and pulled the window bench seats from the entranceway to create a platform for their instruments. There was multiple outfit changes and minimal bickering. Though the performance was adorable, what we witnessed as they interacted with one another before, during and after the show was incredible. They coached each other and worked together and seemed almost in their own little world as they cleaned up the props and dismantled the stage, excitedly discussing the highlights of each song and their own take on each scene.
I can be very very good at noticing all the parenting fails I have – all the missed connections, all the things I let fall the cracks and every way I could have improved. But tonight, I saw the best of it too – just the two of us, the very most import people in our kids’ lives fully soaking up their presence. And they reflected back that they heard the message with genuine delight. These little people sincerely thanked us for our time and attendance of the performance and double checked to be certain we would be able to get the proceeds into the hands of the March of Dimes Charity. We could not have been more proud of their tenacity, generosity and grace. It was a great moment in family-ing and for once I wasn’t trying to pinpoint exactly who to thank for it, or how exactly it came about, or anything else; I was fully there.
If you, yourself, missed out on the incredibly limited opportunity to view “Lights, Camera, Distraction” (it was only in one city, for one night and the tickets were limited to two), do not despair – I don’t believe it’s the last chance you will have to view an original work by the producing company.
My husband isn’t a big fan of going out to the movies. With a large, reclining sectional (complete with armrests and cup holders) and the option of blacking out the entire living room while we watch near-theater quality movies on a large screen, I can see his point. We could rent a movie from the Redbox for just over a dollar or stream from hundreds of options on Netflix with the ability to pause it at any point, he suggests, while having custom made snacks or drinks in the comfort of our own home. There is no traffic to contend with, no parking lots to navigate, or lines to wait in.
But at my heart I am a movie-goer (emphasis on the GO). I loved the theater; I loved the experience, the buttered popcorn, the ticket stub…ahhh. What I realized, after going to the movies today, is that I love the memory of the movies.
I spent what I consider an obscene amount of money at the movies today, $42.00. That tally was three tickets to an afternoon showing of “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul”. It was overcast again today, with the omnipresent forecast of afternoon thunderstorms. I was riding high from a sweet morning walk with the kids and our dog, then a successful well-visit for both of the girls where I watched their ever high tracking for height and health and was reminded of how lucky and fortunate we are as a family. We came home and made lunch together and out of seemingly nowhere Big Sister asked if there was any chance we could go to a movie. She has read the entire Wimpy Kid series, taking time to relay and read aloud her favorite parts for her sister either from memory or from copies of the books from the library, though this year we did order her own from Amazon for her birthday.
It seemed like a nice summer time treat and I felt almost frugal mentally calculating the “savings” of not having to buy a ticket for my reluctant movie-going better half who was on shift. After almost eight dollars for a “regular” popcorn and five and change for a “regular” soda though, I had to reconsider my position. No, a popcorn and drink aren’t necessary but they were requested and candy was helpfully never mentioned – so I indulged.
There were highlights – when the kids laughed that full head back hearty laugh at some gags in the movie and some lows – like when the movie didn’t start for twenty minutes and I tracked down a manager to get it rolling and while I don’t necessarily regret going, I am not in a rush to get back there either. The magic, it seems, isn’t in the lines or the walls or the credits on the big screen. It exists in the relationship you make with the film and the people you are experiencing it with. This is why I am going to the movies tonight. Right in the middle of our home, with my two best girls and as much popcorn as we see fit to make.
Before I checked the box, I assumed that the game of Memory we own had at least two hundred tiles. I was shocked to learn there were only seventy-two as that seems far too low. I know that as a child we also had the game, but the way I recall it was the tiles had items that were quite different from one another though they shared a common theme. If for example it was a sports edition there would be exactly one set of basketballs, one set of golf tees, one set of hockey pucks…you get my drift. This made it a quick game to play, slowing you down only long enough to ponder if that was a volley ball in the bottom right corner or a soccer ball.
Our kids have a Disney princess edition which is exponentially harder. There are multiple matches of Belle, Aurora, Cinderella, Ariel and Mulan. There are also card of them pictured alongside their side kicks and romantic interests. You may very well have seen Belle in the top right, bottom left, second column AND fourth from the right at the bottom – and none of the cards match up.
The other glitch that I have in playing this game is the wildly unstable emotional state of the players I tend to play with. After one sister earns her first (HARD WON) match, there is exuberant applause and hugs on par with qualifying for an Olympic pursuit. The second match elicits scorn (and usually tears, sometimes in reverse order). Pair that with my fellow players’ inability to flip the cards over in any sort of orderly fashion and my desire to clean as I go, ultimately rearranging tiles to sate my (self-diagnosed) mild ADD which flares up at the sight of crooked lines of cardboard squares (I never said I wasn’t a MONSTER) and you can understand why this game takes approximately two years to play each round.
But as Little Sister excitedly asked to play (while shaking the box over her head with wide-eyed delight) I wasn’t wondering how she could forget about the turmoil of playing a game together, or how long it would take to complete, or even how many turns I would make it before declaring that I should probably make a midday pot of coffee. I thought about what we were actually doing while we sat on the living room floor rug and how my husband was at work that very moment making it possible for us to be together doing just that. We weren’t merely playing Memory – we were each making one.
It has rained for days. I am not complaining, of course, because we have a backyard full of topical trees that love it. Also, the rain keeps the temperatures from ballooning past ninety-one each day (winning!). The kids are a little less impressed with six or more inches accumulating in three days.
This is exactly why I have to pull out Bill and Sharon from Kansas. They are just “real Topeka people” (Cameron Crowe quote – credit where credit is due and such) even though I have made them up entirely. Bill and Sharon have two kids and have saved all year for their big trip to Florida. They cut coupons, picked up extra shifts and saved all their pennies to fly here for some sunny skies and beach time – choosing a budget hotel (albeit one with a pool) because “they were going to be at the shore – all day, every day, sun up to sun down”. Bill and Sharon call it the shore; they drink pop and write out postcards to their folks back home. And all Florida natives feel sorry for them, because as nice as they are, they didn’t plan on an actual Florida summer: scattered thunderstorms with a side of a tropical depression. Oh, the forecasts might change it up – calling it “passing storms”, or “a chance of showers”, but the truth rings a little more like today’s advisory “violent thunderstorms in your area”…
My kids never want to hear about Bill and Sharon – because then they would have to feel a little less sorry for themselves, imagining that the worst time of year here was their only experience of this great peninsular state. In the car today, as we headed back home from errands, Big Sister held her hand up in protest, as I posed my usual question in this situation: “Did you think about…” “Please”, she pleaded, “not the people from Kansas”. “Or Iowa, or wherever they are from”, Little Sister added.
I stretched my lips in a tight smile and stoically nodded. “They are from Kansas” I started, “and they saved all year for this vacation”…Big Sister lifted her eyes to the roof of my car – in what might have been a precursory eye roll had there been any malice involved.
This is parenting. This is where the memories are made. They aren’t always shiny, or even fun, but they are ours. I am sure you have plenty of your own, but you can borrow some of my childhood favorites: once my sister was heavily into The Little House on the Prairie and decided to make what she gathered was an “authentic settler dish” (this turned out to be pork chops coated only in flour and fried in butter in a pan). When my mom delicately asked what exactly it was, my sister, exhausted from her life on prairie, bewilderedly called out “It’s cooked food”!(I have mentally said this countless times – in the same tone – as my kids asked me to identify spaghetti and meatballs, baked stuffed chicken and kale and potato soup on different occasions).
Another gem, polished through years of offering it up to us started in earnest to make us kids more grateful. If we complained about a shirt, or blanket or some other item, Mom would always ask us to “think of all the kids who didn’t even have a fill-in-the-blank” and how happy they would be just to have one. With Mom on a roll of gratitude reminding and perhaps not thinking it through fully, my sister complained of something on her face (I can’t remember exactly what it was – maybe a teenage breakout?!) and of course my Mom rolled out “Think of all the kids who don’t even have a face”. For years after, in my bedtime prayers I actually expressed my gratitude for having a face.
The point is that we can take away whatever we emphasize from each day. Yes it rained. We were cooped up. We were not at the beach. But we weren’t Bill and Sharon either. And I am pretty sure that even if they were sweating it out with a lazy air conditioner in a windowless hotel room, if they thought about it, they were each grateful just to have a face.
Today is the last day of school! I think I might be happier than the happiest kid you see at school. It is also the second annual Make-it-midnight celebration at our house. This is where it is allowed AND ENCOURAGED to stay up as late as possible. So far, I am the undisputed champion. Mr. Take-a-year is the first to fall as he is either coming off, going on to are actually at work at this time of the year. Little Sister, though the number one consumer of gummy worms, Hershey’s cookies n crème candies and kettle corn was snoring softly at ten last year. Big Sister, God love her, made past 11:35 p.m. when she finally closed her eyes conceding the victory to me.
Last year, as I bustled around the house folding and distributing laundry, I was a different person. Preschool had just ended and I looked triumphantly ahead at how much easier our lives would be with a single drop off and pick up at the same location. I mentally calculated all the free time I would have to clean the house and get to the gym and maybe even nap. I ignored all the naysayers (you, know the people who had already been there) who explained that it doesn’t exactly pan out that way – mentally shaking my head because I was going to prove them all wrong with my ability to organize my life in the few short hours my kids were at school.
To say I learned a lot this year is a gross understatement, but truth none the less. It sounds like an oxymoron, but I probably would not have discovered how strong and resilient this family was until we had no other options than that. Yes, the school year was tough, and life threw us a few curveballs since that late night last year, but I learned what our own rallying cry sounds like – and what it feels like to cup my hands around my mouth while I called it out. No matter what time I fall asleep tonight, it will be with that echoing in my head, welcoming summer to us all.