Me: "Who has the best seat in the house, me or daddy?"

Adam: "Well, Daddy's is nice, but yours is best. Your's is squishier."

Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Homemakers Guide to Multi-Tasking

I don't multi-task. I multi-forget.

The sun dawns bright on a new, hopeful day, a day full of the promise of tidy rooms, sparkling floors and empty laundry baskets. I start out in my own bedroom, making my bed. But alas, the bed-in-a-bag came with about a litter of fancy little pillows that looked way cooler on the bag than they do on my floor. And then there it is, under the satin-front cord-trimmed throw, the beginning of the end. A shoe. A child's shoe. I pick it up and, immediately forgetting about the rest of the pillows, I head off, shoe in hand, to the kid's room. On my way, I pick up several homeless toys and a pair of underwear (don't ask), and upon arrival, set to work putting the toys and shoe away. Just before the closet, my bare foot decends on a disabling land-mine... a Lego. I stumble and hop, gripe and hiss, and of course, drop the shoe.

A din shrouds my chipper outlook as I am suddenly sucked into this vortex of mass destruction, trying to make order out of the chaotic black hole, without the assistance of lasers or ray guns or anything. And then I see it, under a pile of well mixed clean and dirty spatula. Yes, my spatula. My favorite, very straight, perfectly thin, slightly flexible, excellent for chocolate chip cookies- yet still perfect for pancakes-metal spatula.

I am insensed. How dare those little aliens?! I march out of the room, spatula held aloft like a brandished sword, and stomp-limp down the hall, trying to imagine what those little creatons might have been doing with it. The possibilities all lead to the same disgusting conclusion, and the same destination. Straight to the dishwasher. I open the machine, but realize at the sight of water puddles in the tops of all of the upside-down cups, that this load is clean. Unload, reload,wait... Why is my hammer in the sink? Off I go, to the studio, making a mental note to investigate this one...

MY STUDIO!!!!!!!!!! Oh, my poor, poor studio. Destroyed. Where to begin? I absentmindedly set the hammer down on a nearby chair and begin to gather up shoes, blankets, about 13 socks, cups, and yikes! scissors, off the floor. Whew, no hair piles this time. I make a teetering stack by the door of all the things that need to be relocated and then notice that there is still a huge mess, only most of it is mine. Those messy little apples didn't fall far from this tree. I bounce between piles and unfinished art projects for a while, when the phone begins to ring.

I launch myself over the teetering stack of sundries accidentally kicking it over, and speed to the living room. But the phone is somewhere in the pile of clean laundry. I don't find it in time. I bet you can't imagine what I start doing after I finally do find the phone.

As the sun is setting on the day, I make my way through the house with armfulls of folded laundry, and as I go, this is what I see: a partially destroyed studio, complete with misplaced hammer, a strewn pile of kids debris, a half-unloaded, open dishwasher, dirty spatula near by, a semi-destroyed black hole with both Legos and one stray shoe on the floor, and at last, a nearly completely made bed, minus throw pillows, which remain on the floor.

Multi-task, my sore foot. I flop onto the bed, and kick the remaining throw pillows onto the floor. Ha. Task that.

Oh, and by the way, I never did finish putting away the laundry, either.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Things that go bump in the night

OK, before you proceed, there are a few things you need to know:

1. I don't like the dark

2. I have a touch of insomnia.

3. My husband gets night terrors.

4. We often co-sleep.

5. My son, Adam, is a very light sleeper.

It was about 2:30 in the morning, and though I knew I would be tired in the morning, it would not be different from most mornings that followed these sleepless nights. I put down my book and switched off the light, hoping sleep would come. I lay in bed listening to my toddler, who had joined us about an hour ago, breathing softly beside me, and on the other side of her, my husband sleeping deeply with a heavy drone. The tired old house settled around me with soft creaks and an occasional thud. In the living room the fish tank hummed, and outside a very confused bird tried to convince the world that it was nearly morning. I began to feel sleepy. Finally.

In my fading consciousness I heard a creak and the soft thump of feet hitting the hardwood floor down the hall. I waited to hear the shuffle that would tell me which of my sons it would be, the slow heavy pace of Ethan, or the quick light footfalls of little Adam.

THUD-THA-THUMP! There was a sudden pounding on the floor. Then a blood curdling scream from Ethan. Then more thumps with the screaming. Ethan's shrieks caused Guy to bolt up in bed in panic, joining in the screaming. "What!? WHAT!?" he hollered over and over and over, his terrified calls ringing out at a fevered pitch. Guy's screams woke the baby, who cried furiously in hysterical, high-pitched shrieks. A beat later, Adam awoke to a house of chaos, and promptly added his terrified voice to the chorus of screams.

It had been 3 seconds. Just four seconds before, the house had been a soft hum of breaths and a far away birdsong. Now, it was the ear piercing climax of an 80's horror film, minus chainsaws. I felt like I had just been launched into a haunted house. My heart raced in a nightmarish frenzy of beats, and in that moment I believed in ghosts. Guy was screaming, Ethan was screaming, Adam was screaming, and Ellie was screaming. I joined in with my own bellow. "EVERYBODY STOP SCREAMING!!!! IT'S OK!!!" I insisted, though I had no idea if it was or not. All I knew is that a few seconds ago everything had been fine!

I threw myself out of bed, and ran down the Poltergeist-length hall. Ethan stood frozen, sobbing, "There's somebody in the house! Somebody was following me!"

"No one is in the house!" I insisted in my best fake-calm voice, calling out over the crying of the baby and of Adam, who lay twisted up in his blanket on the floor beside his bed.

"Some one was following me! I heard them running down the hall behind me!" He demanded.

I glanced at Adam who sat on the floor rubbing his head, then reassured Ethan, "Look, if it will make you feel better, I will look through the house." I held my breath and imagined what might happen if someone had managed to get into the house. Didn't prowlers slip into windows at night and tiptoe past sleeping homeowners, gathering up heirloom silverware and pearl necklaces? Didn't the wife always wake the husband with a, "Harold! Someone's in the house!"? Then Harold, would climb out of bed, carefully put on a robe and leather slippers, and grab a trusty baseball bat from under the bed to investigate.

My Harold stayed in bed. And I had no baseball bat. Or slippers for that matter.

I skulked around corners trying to be cautious on the off chance there was someone waiting to shake me down for a matching silver cake and pie server set. I reached for every light switch, stretching my body out like the dark was lava and my feet would be safe if I kept them in the light. I felt stupid. And scared. I turned on EVERY light in the house, all the while insisting to myself that it was to reassure the children. By the time I had made my rounds safely back to the hallway, everyone was piled into my bed with Guy. "All is well!" I announced with the shaky confidence that comes only after the amature trapeze artist is back on solid ground.

"I fell out of bed." Adam sniffed, still rubbing his little head.

"Before or after the screaming?" I puzzled.

"Ethan got up to pee and it kinda woke me up. I rolled over, but then I fell out of bed." Ah, yes. I forgot to add that to my list. #6, Adam falls out of bed... a lot.

It took us a few moments to to put the pieces together. Ethan had gotten up to pee, waking Adam. When Adam fell out of bed, the tumble to the floor mimicked the pounding feet of a vicious intruder in Ethan's half asleep ears. Then he screamed, and of course, you know the rest.

With the house lit up like a roman candle, I sat on the tiny corner of bed that was left. After we talked and laughed a bit about our scream-fest, one by one the boys wandered fearlessly off to bed, and the baby curled up beside her papa and shut her eyes. My husband, who has a knack for falling asleep instantly, was back to nearly snoring in only a few minutes.

I drifted through the house turning out all the lights, puzzling over how the neighbors could have slept through the sounds of murder and mayhem next door. With darkness filling the house, I finished my task and hurried to bed. I settled in and glanced at the clock. It was nearly 3:30. In the stillness I took inventory of myself; heart pounding, blood rushing, a veil of sweat on my top lip. I felt like I had run around the block, or was about to.

Then, like it did when I was ten, my mind began to wander in the darkness. I began listening for the boogie man. The walls creaked. The pipes thumped. Which brings us full circle to #1, I don't like the dark, and #2, I have a touch of insomnia.

I was still awake when that darn bird fell asleep from exhaustion at dawn.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Picture, perfect

She spun into the kitchen, half prancing, half floating, and curtsied. She wore an old, white curtain as a trailing robe tied around her neck. A princess costume in bright blue satin peeked through the cape, and clunky plastic heals and elbow length gloves nearly completed the ensamble. A half dozen strands of beads in a rainbow of colors sparkled from her neck. In one hand she held her fairy wand in a royal, scepter-like way, and her other wrapped around her favorite baby doll, bedecked in a paisley scarf. Atop her head she wore a sparkly crown, slightly askew.

I ran for my camera. I couldn’t miss this quintessential moment of childhood. In a split second I had already imagined showing her this picture years from now, and enjoying all over again this precious instant in time, only this time with a grown up version of this amazing little princess. I snapped the picture. It was perfect.

"Can I seeeeeeee? I wanna see!" she bubbled excitedly.

Ah, the digital age, when we can see the pictures we take in a split second, while the moment is still warm. It used to be that a photo was taken on pure faith. We aimed the little black box, pushed a clacketty little button, and hoped for the best. The roll of film might then sit in the camera for weeks, or even months, till it was all full. Then, depending on how far off payday might be, or where you tossed the roll when you yanked it from the camera to pop in another, the developing would wait. And wait... (When I was eighteen my mom finally took a candy bowl full of film rolls to be developed. Who could have known there would be faded baby pictures of my sixteen year old brother on them?). Taking a picture meant waiting for a memory.

But not now. Now there is no opening an envelope weeks after the special day to discover that precious moment in time had been spoiled by a blink. No revealing, shortly after granny has moved on to the great beyond, that the youngest member in the four generation family portrait has a finger up the nose. Now, there it is, the moment in the moment. A tiny screen tells all in an instant.

I held out the camera. She wrestled my hand down into her face to get a better look.

"My crown is crooked." she stated flatly, a dejected look on her face.

"You look beautiful!" I insisted, and it was true! She was adorable, happy and perfect. Her joyous little face beamed out at me from the tiny image, her slanting crown adding all the flair of a tipped top hat on a 40's tap dancer.

"Take it over." she said simply, futsing with the crown.

I helped her straighten her crown, though a little reluctantly. There had been perfection in her imperfection. There was magic in the instant; spontaneity and adorable six-year-old joy. Yet I understood. How often do I look back on a moment, an effort, and see only the flaws.

I took the picture. She stood a little stiffly, a dim, self conscious grin on her face. After the digitally-made shutter sound, she relaxed and smiled, then dashed over to inspect and approve of her new and improved self.

"Good." she said before trotting off. Yes, I suppose it was.

I saved the one of the princess with the crooked crown.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Pardon me, ma'am, is this your first egg?

When I lived in Costa Rica fifteen years ago, I rented a room from a sweet little family in the country. Instead of a ceiling, we lay in bed at night and peered up into rafters. Instead of glass windows, we had wooden shutters. And instead of a cat, we had chickens. As the house had no actual doors, the chickens waltzed freely through the bars of the security gates and into the main room that doubled as both kitchen and living space, their claws clicking on the tile. They pecked rice from the floor and occasionally messed on it, but no one seemed to mind. Soon I got used to having them murmur and hum at my feet as I sat at the table eating fried plantains and sweating. Strange as it was, this had become the new normal.
Then one night I came home to the calls of a very distressed bird. Concerned, I asked the dona of the house, Flor, if a chicken was sick or hurt. She smiled and explained that one of the young hens was trying to lay her first egg. Since the hen had never laid before, she was confused and in distress. Her once low blllrrraaa-blllrrraaa had become the sound of feathered fear. "Bok-bok-bok BE-GOKKKKK!" she bellowed. "What-the-heck-is-going-ON?!" She seemed to demand. Every few minutes she repeated her squealing cluck. Dona Flor explained that the little hen didn't know what was happening to her, and was declaring that fact to the world. She said that after this first, most difficult egg, the hen would never again make those pained calls. Next time, and every time hereafter, she would lay still and grumble a low complaint that said, "Oh, yes, I remember this pain, but I know it won't kill me."

I have thought about that little hen many times over the years. How many times have I encountered a new challenge or trial, and boystrously announced my grief to the world? How often have I cried out, thrashed and complained over a new, unfamiliar fear or pain? My first feverish child, my first miscarriage, the first time dad was hospitalized. Then I think about the other hens, the ones who have been-there, done-that-egg without complaint. I realize that I too have had pains that have come back to me once, twice, three times or more, and each time I endured them with a little more grace, patience, and perhaps, a little less racket. And in those moments when I am screaming out my loudest BOK! I look around to see another woman nearby who knows my pain and answers with a low and steady murmur.

Oh, yes, I remember this pain, but I know it won't kill me. I will learn. It may take another dozen eggs, but eventually I'll learn.

Come in, sit down

I think that my job as a mom is a lot more simple than I tend to make it. I am supposed to be a chair.

If a person is left on a chair in a pitch black room, for a while they might call out for a response, but finding themselves alone and doubting anyone is coming, eventually they would begin to reach out to see what is out there in the darkness. They would stretch feet into the blackness and tap the floor, reach arms out slowly at first, searching the abyss for danger or security. After a while, they would have navigated the space around the chair so well that they would have memorized the rug, the nearby table, the empty space... all the while holding on to the chair. Soon, as they determined that there was no impending danger in the space most directly around the chair, they would probe further. They would step away, just out of reach of the chair, then quickly return to it to reassure and orient themselves.

It wouldn't be long before the space beyond the chair would be well navigated, and, confidence having grown in the person's capacity to forge through the darkness and return to safety, they would begin to embark on a bigger journey. They would decide to see where the safety ends. Knowing they could return to the chair, and that from that point they could determine the position of all obstacles they had thus far encountered, they would push through the void till they finally reached the wall. From there a brief investigation of the wall would be followed by a return to home base, to the chair, the one fixed reference point from whence the location of all else is charted. Then would ensue the systematic investigation of the perimeter of the room, with less and less frequent returns to the chair, the understanding being that the person knows the chair is there if they need it, but now as less of a necessity and more a source of comfort and rest.

Soon, the darkness would dissipate, not pushed away by light, but by understanding. Each return to the chair having reinforced that the next time, it would be there again. Had the chair been moved the first or second or fifth time that the person had gone out exploring, all confidence, trust and security would be dashed. Had the walls somehow shifted, boundaries moved unpredictably, the chair would have become the only reliable safe-place. But from that safe place, instead of the world being a safe, comfortable place, it would be one of fear and uneasiness.

I want to be a chair. I want to be fixed and sturdy and reliable. I want my children to use my constancy to help them navigate the world, and with boundaries firmly in place, for them to feel secure at times when the terrain is unpredictable and the light too dim. I don't want to try to follow them around rescuing them or sheltering them, but for them to know that when they need a soft place to rest, I am here for them and always will be.

Treading water

I have a lot in common with Eeyore, that aptly colored blue donkey from Winnie the Pooh who manages to see the dark cloud in every silver lining. I have a hard time seeing the glass half full. In fact, if you point out the glass, I might notice, first, that you set it too darn close to the edge of the table and it'll probably fall before I get a chance to drink the water anyway.

I hear all the time that happiness is a choice. I have chosen it, picked it up and put it into my shopping-cart-of-life, but every time I look away, it winds up back on the shelf. I am the emotional fat girl that signs up for weight watchers, or in this case, mood watchers, over and over, only to find myself a short time later with a pocket full of Twinkey wrappers and wet Kleenex's, wondering how I wound up here again.

The other day my nephew and I hit upon a discovery. Neither of us can tread water. We can kick and flail and still barely keep our noses above the water's surface. He chimes in, "If I just let go, I eventually float... 3 feet under the surface." I know how he feels. I am that weird lady at the YMCA that scares the lifeguard and makes the other swimmers in my lane dry off early. Now, I have had the experience of floating. When I am pregnant, I bob like a cork. It is effortless, and I calmly, gently glide through the water, my smiling face well above my buoyant breasts. It is heaven. But it is not my norm.

I wonder if some people just float better than others... that happy-float that keeps them up when others would sink. I am not saying that they don't get down, or that they don't have to choose to be happy, but just maybe they don't have to flail to keep their face out of the deep end of the emotional pool.

I'll keep trying. I'll meditate, I'll write affirmations on note cards, be grateful, take my vitamins, take deep breaths and count to ten. I'll memorize quotes from the Dhali Lama and Ghandi, and maybe even Chiken Soup for the Soul. I'll smile so that my brain will release endorphins, I'll pray and read the bible. I'll go to that proverbial market and choose happiness off the shelf, and next week I'll do it all over again.

And at the end of the day if I find my glass is half full, I guess if I get thirsty I can always drink a mouth full of pool water.