Friday, July 4, 2014

Love in the Time of Mashed Bananas

All it took was a few ice bullets.

I've been scanning few articles lately about marriage.  This time of year it is a popular editorial and blog topic with so many newlyweds back from their summer honeymoons.  Articles about what it takes to have a happy marriage, to stay together, to not get bored, to fight less, to love more, to make it through rough times, to be a team during parenting, etc. etc. etc.  I have a few years of marriage under my belt now, so I can look at those and laugh, scoff, agree, shake my fist, and have a bit of confidence that I know a thing or two.  There is no one answer that works for every couple for anything, no matter how many lists try to tell you otherwise.  One thing that all of those articles have in common, though, is that none of them mentioned ice bullets.

My husband and I have three kids.  A five-year-old son and twin eight-month-old daughters.  We have full-time jobs.  Right now, there is not much life outside of those two topics. Our time together is spent juggling children and everything that goes with them.  During this season of life there is no time or money for dates, presents, vacations, clothes without spit-up or conversations longer than three sentences.   If I'm being honest, marital health is pretty low on the list of things either of us think about on a regular day (as far as I can tell, anyway).  But it is vital for us to remember each other every now and again, even if it is in the middle of a three-ring-circus.

Our ice-maker in the freezer sprung a leak a few weeks ago, so the hose was disconnected until it could be replaced.  Suddenly it was June and summer and no ice.  Sure, the fridge keeps beverages cold enough, but sometimes in the summer I just really like ice in my drinks.  (why didn't we just use old-fashioned ice trays, you ask?  because we got rid of them long ago.  who needs ice trays when you have an ice-maker in your freezer?)  So every couple of days I would mention how much I missed ice.  Then my husband would mention that it would be an easy fix, he just needed the time to get to the store to buy it and fix it.  Repeat. Time is in short supply, and we still don't have ice.

Yesterday I was prepping all of the supplies needed to batch cook and puree baby food.  We have special trays for freezing the food in small portions, and I looked all over the kitchen without finding the one I needed.  After I yelled into the general vicinity of baby shrieking and toy crashing to inquire if he knew where it was, he walked in with a sheepish grin and said that he was trying to do something nice for me, but I had spoiled the surprise.  I was in the middle of work-mode and completely taken aback that he was talking about nice surprises when I just needed a baby food tray.  He pulled the tray out of the freezer full of mostly-solid, glorious ice chunks in what looked like over-sized bullets from the shape of the holders.  That seemingly mundane act of freezing water, in this time of our lives, held the equivalent weight of a dozen roses and a romantic dinner out.

So, bloggers, journalists, and women's magazine headline-writers, there's your next scoop.  How do you show affection to your spouse when you haven't slept past 5:30 am or eaten hot food for dinner in the past year?  Listen for the little things.  And ice cubes.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Sixteen

I can't remember my sixteenth birthday.  Is that weird?  What girl doesn't remember their sweet sixteen, either for how great it was, or how awful it was instead of how great it was supposed to be?  Granted, that was 21 a few years ago, I have three kids, and I feel lucky that I remember to put shoes on some mornings, so I'm not entirely surprised.

I do have a strong memory from the day before my seventeenth birthday.  I was riding somewhere in the back seat of the car, "Jack and Diane" was playing on the radio, and I heard the lyrics "Hold on to sixteen as long as you can / Changes come around real soon / Make us women and men."  I smiled at the irony of hearing that line on that day, and then quickly went grim as the fear of that being true took over.  I had missed 364 days that I should have been holding on to sixteen, and here I was on the last day without ever even noticing that they had come and gone!

I suppose the next day wasn't any different than the day before, but the point had been made.  Now I am many years wiser and I can agree with Mellencamp (Cougar?  Not sure what he goes by these days) that there was a significant amount of change in the next sixteen years to follow.  Thank goodness.

*this post was inspired by the Wordpress Daily Prompt*


Monday, January 20, 2014

Until It Isn't

It is easy to practice what you preach, until it isn't.

A popular topic of parenting humor on social media is a list of all of the things you swore you would never do as a parent, until you became one.  I read them and laugh, knowing that most of them are true of myself and probably most of the other parents of young children that I know.  Many years ago I might have groaned out of annoyance as a child of any age sat near me on an airplane, for example, and now my chest aches with pity and empathy for the haggard mom with the screaming baby in the row behind me, because I have been there too.
As my oldest child approaches school-age, I find myself running into more and more examples of situations that just aren't as easy to stick to my guns as I thought they would be.  Not putting a DVD player in the minivan in order to encourage discussion and imagination?  Simple.  Limiting TV for my child to a set amount of time each day?  Easy....until I had twins.  Staying calm during temper tantrums and trying to re-direct into more positive activities?  Hard in any situation.  But even I am surprised by my newest challenge - ignoring gender stereotypes.

My four-year-old is a boy, and my three-month-old twins are girls.  I have never been one to believe for one minute that girls should have everything pink and only boys should play with trucks.  I couldn't bear to wear pink until I was well into my 20's and dressing professionally.  I started watching sports as early as I can remember and started playing them as soon as the leagues would allow my age.  My husband does most of the cooking, and I will readily admit he is much better at it than me.  So of course it should be easy to continue living these examples with my children, right?

It is easy to practice what you preach, until it isn't.

My daughters wear some baby clothes that are meant for girls, and hand-me-downs from my son that are meant for boys.  They just stay in the house and spit up on them anyway, who cares?  But after a nurse commented that "I must not have known I was having girls" when I dressed them in neutral-colored clothing for a doctor appointment, I made sure they were wearing something girly to the next one, even though I felt a pang of regret for the reason I was dressing them that way.

I think my son is the sweetest little boy in the world.  When he uses his manners, or sings to himself while he plays with his toys, or gives hugs to his friends and family without being prompted, I just want to squeeze him forever. Two of his favorite things right now are the Disney cartoon "Doc McStuffins" and the Disney movie "Frozen."  Doc McStuffins is about a little girl who plays a doctor that fixes and cares for toys.  Frozen is a movie with two sisters as the main characters, who end up (SPOILER ALERT) saving each other instead of the handsome prince coming to save the day. (If you haven't seen that movie yet, it is amazing, go see it).  I couldn't be more proud that he chooses these types of stories to enjoy.  But when he was so excited to tell me that a friend at school (a girl) had on a Frozen t-shirt, instead of my usual response of "That's awesome, do you think you would like something like that too?", I simply said "That's awesome."  When he saw the Frozen dolls while picking out a gift for a birthday party, or the big Frozen castle, I said it cost too much money (which it did) knowing full well that I didn't want to buy it even if it didn't.  When he asked for the Doc McStuffins play set, all kinds of glittery, pink, and purple, so he could have check-ups with his stuffed animals too, I procrastinated even looking into it until it was long sold-out for the Christmas season. That wasn't pre-meditated, but I'll admit a little bit of relief that it was.  And through all of this the part of my pre-parent brain that thought all of this color stuff was nonsense just looks at this weak mother, caving to the pressures of society, bug-eyed and disappointed.  I'm not actively discouraging him, but I'm not actively encouraging like I should be, either.  Why do I care what "they" would think?  I know I would steal the moon for my children, and I know that I want them to believe that they can be whoever they want to be, and like whatever they want to like, but it is harder than I thought to ignore outside influences.

It is easy to practice what you preach, until it isn't.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Being her first example

When my son was born, I was introduced to the pressure of parenting. I did, and still do, spend a lot of time thinking about the best way to teach, discipline, play, talk, be a role model, balance responsibilities, and everything else that goes into being the best I can be for the love of my child.  Now I am a mom of three: my son and two twin girls.  The girls are only a week old, and I have discovered the dumbfounding realization that their first example of what it means to be a woman/mom/wife will come from me.  I know they won't want to copy it all.  In fact, I hope that they don't.  I hope they emulate the traits that mean the most to each of them, make them their own, and accept and discard all of my shortcomings.

But what kind of example do I want to be?  If I had to paint a picture of the person I want them to see when they see me, what colors would I use? My answer to those questions are surely different today than they will be 10 years from now, but I hope that by sorting out what is important to me now, it will help me to live as not only the person I want them to see, but who I truly want me to be.

So, for the sake of those two swaddled little girls just beginning their beautiful lives, I have decided to start to figure out who this woman is today, and what is important to her, before I start falling down the several-year rabbit hole of sleep deprivation and living on adrenaline that is known as parenting early childhood.  When my girls think about who I am, these are some of the things I want them to know are part of me:
  • The priorities are God-Family (however you choose to define it)-everything else. 
  • Being married makes you part of a team that shares responsibility.  Each person contributes with what they do best, not based on how society says they should behave.
  • Exercise and being active are a part of life, not a weekly chore.
  • Electronics and social media are tools and fun distractions to be used sparingly, not as an extension of one's arm.  
  • Be passionate.  About faith, about love, about work, about sports, about books, about whatever moves you.  
  • Girls don't have to wear pink.  Or heels.  Or makeup.  But you can if you want.  Only if you want.
  • Being a female athlete teaches a level of self-respect that few other things can.  
  • Nature and open lands should be protected and enjoyed.  Turn off the music and noise to hear your own thoughts on the trail/beach/waves/hills/mountains.
  • Being truly present with friends and family is more important than where you are or what you're doing. 
  • Every hour of the day does not need to be scheduled, nor should it be.  Time should be spared for spontaneity and reflection on the rest of the crazy called life.
  • Being a mom is simultaneously the hardest and greatest role of my life.  
This list is really only scratching the surface.  Luckily, I don't have to hand each girl a double-spaced copy of everything I am, I have the rest of my lifetime to teach them.  God willing, they'll grow up to be awesome and teach me a thing or two about what their own version of woman has become.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Hear Me Roar

Sometimes you just have to laugh.

Almost two weeks ago I started a little adventure in the hospital because the twins we are expecting tried to meet the world a little earlier than they should. Thankfully they have still not made their debut, and I hope to be waiting for many weeks until the time comes for them to join us.
On day one, I was transported from one hospital to another to be at a location with the appropriate nursery. At the time it was a very scary ordeal, but if you can find humor even in the face of terror, you might as well take advantage of a little bit of relief.
My ambulance ride was long enough that I had the opportunity to make several observations. First, I could never be an EMT. Never mind all the medical knowledge and skill you are expected to possess, I couldn't even handle being the guy who rides in the back and fills out the paperwork. I think most patients would frown upon the results of my car sickness. So, EMT-guy-in-the-back, I salute you, your inner-ear stability, and strong stomach.
Next, let's move on to the EMT ambulance driver in the front. You, sir, are awesome.  I know it was a small section of time, and there could be many explanations, but I have to admit, I was totally judging your personality based solely on your amazing music choices. Maybe you thought you were choosing what I would enjoy, but I'm pretty sure that was for you. I was mildly amused as we switched from one diva dance groove to the next. When you settled on Katy Perry singing Roar, there was no doubt in my mind you were up there lip-synching and head-bobbing, and it made me a little giggly. When we scanned the stations, landed again on Katy Perry's Roar, and listened to it once more from start to finish, you about sent me into a fit of hysterical laughter. In my mind's eye, you were no longer just lip-synching and head-bobbing, you were full-out celebrating and gettin' down as we flew down the expressway in our little dance floor on wheels. Thankfully I was able to keep it together, otherwise the steel-stomached guy in the back might have added a psychiatric evaluation to my paperwork.
I know that judging a book by its cover is wrong, but I just couldn't help myself. Blame the stress, the anxiety, the need for distraction, but that ride is one I will remember, even a little bit fondly, thanks to my Katy-loving EMT ambulance driver.

Jam on, sir. Jam on.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Too much good stuff...for real this time

Last summer, I started a season of reigning in the crazy.  I recognized that while I had an abundance good things in my life, it was time to take a hard look at all of the activities that I said yes to and set some priorities.    I do think progress has been made.  All of the same opportunities are still there, tempting me and shaming me into thinking I should say yes because I'm good enough to handle it all.  But I think I have gotten a little smarter, a little braver, and a little healthier.  This weekend, for example, is pretty unscheduled.  By this past Thursday afternoon I realized that and started thinking "Who haven't we seen lately?  What project have we been putting off?  How can I make sure this open time isn't wasted?"  By Thursday night I had successfully shaken myself by the shoulders and canned any ideas of filling this open time.  My entire family is benefiting from it as we glide through the hours having fun and getting moderate chores completed.

As I continue to work at being smart about over-scheduling, I am moving from a season of pruning away figurative life-clutter into a season of getting rid of actual, filling-my-house, clutter.  No one in my house is a collector, or a hoarder, but there is just a lot of, well, stuff.  The way this scenario would have played out in the past goes something like this:  Live, obtain stuff, use stuff, put stuff away in different places, lose stuff as it gets covered by new stuff, organize big heaps of stuff into more structured big heaps of stuff, get frustrated, lose my mind, snap, and spend three weeks using every open moment to tackle every single room, donating, throwing-away, and super cleaning.  I suppose life experience and parenting has helped me realize that this is not a sustainable system.  So instead I have made the very sensible decision to just take a section at a time as I go about my normal day.  When that shelf is so full that I can't put something else on it without five minutes of balancing things just right, I will take the 15 minutes required to take the stuff down, throw away what is expired, old, and over-used, start a donate bag for the items that someone else could use for a while, and have one less cluttered shelf.  You might ask why I haven't been doing that all along, but this is a paradigm shift for me.  I am fighting life-long learned tendencies to keep things because I might be able to somehow reuse them and save the money and hassle of buying a new one.  It is why I am just starting, 14 years after graduating from college, to throw away gross college t-shirts that I had just in case I needed to a dirty job.  Not even a mechanic could need the amount of ratty t-shirts I have collected.  My need for order and space is finally beating out that need to keep things "just in case."

So far:

  • Expired drug-store items have been trashed (expired in 2009?  really??)
  • Kitchen cabinets have been cleared of glassware (how did we ever collect enough sets of margarita glasses and beer steins to entertain an entire frat house?)
  • Place-mats that have been used since we were married have been replaced (10 years creates a lot of stains)
  • Another bag of clothes has been donated
  • An armada of plastic grocery bags has been dropped off at the store for recycling
  • At least a year's-worth of batteries was taken for recycling (did I mention we have a three-year-old who likes toys that make noise?)
Next up is a bag of old shoes that need to be taken from my closet floor to a recycle drop off  location.  Since spring is around the corner, I'm guessing something in the garage isn't far behind.  The difference between today and five years ago is that in the past, that list of what has already been done would have been forced into a single weekend and I would have been near-tears by Sunday night.  Present-day, I have completed those things comfortably over the course of the last month or so, and none of them have felt like an imposition to complete.  And yes, it feels really good to not have things come tumbling out of the medicine cabinet when it is opened, and to eat on pretty place-mats.

I am still wondering what finally changed in me that I decided to do things differently.  Clearly, scaling back has been the over-riding theme this past year, and it is a very welcome and positive move.  I'm just not sure what finally pushed me, gave me the bravery, the ability to stand up to myself, the oom-pha, to finally just do it.  I suppose that shouldn't matter, but it is something I ponder anyway.

What mountains have you scaled after living under the assumption they were just too high?  What changes are being put on your heart that you might not be paying enough attention to yet?