Friday, August 31, 2007

Channeling the Panic

Well, I have successfully overcome my panic about the onslaught that is FALL. Rather than getting lost in that fear-in-the-pit-of-my-stomach feeling, I channeled it all into hyper-organization. What have I done, you might ask?

Well, I will tell you, but much of it is so nerdy and anal that many of you will snicker at your computer screens when I describe it.

1) We put the meal plan into place. Not so much the "every week's the same" plan, but the actual "decide upon and shop for the week's dinners in advance" plan. I'm quite sure that I'm the last idiot in America to figure this out, but Christ Almighty, does it make a big difference! It's a whole new world, this coming into the kitchen knowing what I'm going to make and having it all on hand. Ludicrous, but true. We're eating better and don't have to go to the store nearly as often, which saves us time and money.

2) I switched us over to an online calendar. Good-bye behemoth family calendar on the fridge, hello Google Calendar! We do keep a printed copy of the next few months clipped to the refrigerator so that we have easy access to it when we're making plans by phone, but I also love having the "next four days" option printed so that we can see what's coming on an immediate basis. It's extremely detailed and Matt and I can both access it quickly from home and work. Awesome.

3) I've had my new accountant get my business accounts up to date and I also wheedled her into setting up an account for the condo association so that I can easily deal with my treasurer responsibilities. I've set up online banking for the association and have already sent an email to all of my neighbors, threatening to poke their eyes out with sticks if they pay their fees late. Or something to that effect.

4) I finally purchased one of Levenger's Circa notebooks; I ordered tabs for it and have it organized into sections for my notes and to do lists: "home", "work", "condo", "church", and "shopping". All of my lists and notes are now in one place. This is a satisfyingly sturdy notebook with pages that can pop in and out - handy when you want to pull your grocery list out to take in with you but need to put it back in afterwards because you didn't find everything at that store. Basically, this notebook is the adult version of the old Trapper Keepers I keep yammering on about. Oh, and I had so much fun creating a photo collage all over the cover. (I seriously doubt that anyone out there hadn't bought into the fact that I'm a huge nerd, but if that's possible, then at least now we're all on the same carefully tabbed and detailed page.)

5) I had a party at The Container Store website - there's a lot of great stuff on clearance right now, and I bought colorful file boxes to keep all my paperwork for different jobs (condo, church council, work) separate and off my desk. My favorite finds there were these bulletin boards which are now hanging above my desk and are extremely cool (and, yes, I did spring for the matching push pins - totally worth it!). Oh, and their file folders are to die for. See, I told you you'd be laughing at me! I can hear you from here.

6) I already started my work-out routine for fall, just to get into the habit before work and school start up again, and it's been great. My new gym is totally amazing and I really look forward to going there. It's the first time I've belonged to a non-YMCA gym, and - given how skank the one here was - it's a change for the better. But without a doubt, the best part is that exercise always relieves my stress and it's already helping. And, I've talked two friends into joining this week as well, so maybe I'll see familiar faces there at dark o' clock in the morning this fall!

In addition to these organizational changes that I've implemented just in the nick of time, our new nanny seems fabulous (Lyle paid no attention to me at all today and was her new best friend - thank God!) and both kids' teachers have sent them lovely letters introducing themselves and sharing what they've been doing this summer, what their hobbies are, etc. It goes a long way to make the kids feel comfortable. We also met Baxter's teacher and dropped off the 6 bags of school supplies; she was great and sent him home with some books he was eyeing, to be returned on the first day of school. So she scored big with him and me.

So, even though big changes are afoot starting next Tuesday - and we already have child care lined up for both Wednesday and Thursday nights next week due to commitments that both Matt and I can't get out of - I'm feeling like we can handle it. We know so much more than we did last year going into it, and there's a lot to be excited about for all of us.

Wish me luck. Me and my army of organizers, that is.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Candy Beans

It was a long day here.

Our new nanny spent the afternoon with the boys and me, just to start getting acclimated. Lyle, who has made it very clear to me that he's "nervous" about both the new babysitter and starting nursery school, was not behaving in a particularly friendly manner. He clung to me for dear life and, every time she spoke to him, swatted his hand in her general direction and said, "Blech!" He's been clingy for the past week as these changes have been approaching, but today was definitely the worst. By the last hour he started to look her in the face, smile a little, and even held her hand for a minute on the balance beam at the park.

But this success was tempered somewhat by my elder son choosing that hour to start acting like a total hooligan. I had to cut the park outing short due to bad behavior (as in, getting a mouthful of water and then spitting it all over the structure, just barely missing a 3-year old girl - whose mom was pissed - then getting benched by me, and then basically doing it again!!).

Obviously, my kids were showing their best sides for the new nanny. ARGH!

It shouldn't be hard to imagine then that I had very little patience left come dinner time, when Lyle took one look at the unfamiliar refried beans next to his beloved quesadilla and started screaming for me to "GET - THEM - OFF - THE - PLATE!!!!"

Well, this mama said "No way" to that one. You eat what you want and don't eat what you don't want, but I'm not going to start scraping the "yucky" food off the damn plate! (If I'm ever not sure what to do in a meal situation, I think, "Would I be embarrassed by this at someone else's house? A restaurant?" and go from there.)

He was in hysterics. Not the laughing kind. We had to leave the table three times before he wanted that quesadilla enough to sit down again without screaming.

In between heaving breaths, he looked at the beans and asked, "Mommy, what is that?"

Without a second thought I answered, "Candy."

Three hands were immediately clapped over three smirking mouths.

He stared at me. "This, Mommy? This is candy?"


I could barely look at him as he tentatively tasted it.

"I yove this candy!" he declared, and went on to eat it by the spoonful and dipped his quesadilla in it.

After a while, I took a small step closer to the truth. "It's called 'candy beans'" I told him.

Well, come on! There are "candied yams", right? Why not "candy beans"?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Birthday Party Primer

I know that so many of you have come to depend upon my parental wisdom, knowing as you do that I have been a mom for nearly seven years now and have much rich and deep (*cough*) experience under my belt. It is for this reason that I feel compelled to share with you my Birthday Party Primer. I have, after all, just thrown my 9th children's birthday party tonight - I ought to know what I'm talking about, yes? (Note: 9 is a conservative estimate, given that it seems every birthday, including the current one, has required at least 2 or 3 celebrations.)

#1 - Cover all Barf Spots
You may discover, mere hours before your guests arrive, that the dry cleaner you just paid $55 to fumigate your white shag rug did not actually get Lyle's vomit stain out. At all. Not even close. Never mind that you've had it in your house for almost a week before you even realized this, you simply don't have time to get it out of there before people arrive and potentially SIT on it - because, as everyone says, "These rugs are so cozy! Who needs the sofa? I'll just sit right here!"

My solution? Bring out the card table, slap a bright sheet over it and - Voila! - a snack table that prevents anyone from sitting on barf at your child's party! No one will ever know! (That is, until they comment snarkily on the fact that you have this fancy-pants table in your sun room all of a sudden and you feel the need to defend your slovenly housekeeping lest you get an unwanted reputation as a Martha Stewart type.)

Looks cute and hides all vomit stains.

#2. No Planned Activities
Do not plan any games or activities, for goodness sake! Just keep the party short enough that the kids stuff themselves silly, unfurl party blowers into each other's nostrils and eyeballs, open presents, and play together until the novelty wears off and the crying starts. Then send 'em home! Who cares if they turn the living room into a 3-ring circus? It's a PARTY!

Three-ring circus

We only invite adults willing to take part in the circus.

#3. Don't spring for an expensive cake
Make a boxed cake the night before. Your kid likes the movie CARS? Slap some chocolate frosting across the white frosting and call it a road - grab his three favorite movie vehicles and place them on the cake at the last minute. Toss on some car-shaped sprinkles that were coincidentally in the container your husband bought, and you're golden. You've spent a buck thirty and he's happy as can be. (And, as an extra bonus, you have proven once and for all that you don't have a Martha Stewart bone in your body: because just LOOK at that thing!) [Wait! Not on vacation? I take it all back: get thee to the bakery and spring for the expensive cake.]

#4. Invite your coolest friends
Invite only good friends to your child's birthday party. The kind of laid-back, fun-loving adults who don't judge you, the hostess, for sitting at the table upstairs drinking wine with them rather than supervising the 7 kids under 7 downstairs in the playroom. You know, people who aren't supervising their kids, either. (We highly recommend Macalester College alumni for this.) Because, frankly, who wouldn't rather hang out with friends than realize that this is what it looks like down there:

Please direct any questions about throwing a child's birthday party to me at any time. Because obviously, I've got it all figured out.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Just Passin' Us By

I sat on the couch with Lyle this afternoon, watching CARS - a special birthday treat which had the added bonus of making the hours go by faster while we waited for his party guests to arrive.

I marveled over Baxter's l-o-n-g, lean body stretched across the floor below us, and smiled when Lyle pretended to be scared just so he could hold my hand some more.

After a while, he leaned back on a throw pillow, facing me.

"Mommy, is time just passin' us by?" he asked.

I'd say so, little guy. I'd say so.

Happy 3rd Birthday, Little One!

"Well, we never really knew

How much we needed you

Till you came into our lives..."

"'Cause now we're doing cartwheels and somersaults

And it's all your fault

Yeah, it's all your fault.

It's you we love (mama, can I hold [him])

It's you we love (let's put [him] on your shoulder)

It's you we love."

(The photos and the boys are mine, but the lyrics belong solely to Justin's a sound clip!)

Friday, August 24, 2007

Part Three: Safety

[To read Part One, click here. For Part Two, click here.]

I continued to climb, past my sister-in-law, and then eventually past my brother-in-law (who was, with the pure determination of a loving parent, miraculously pulling both of his 35-pound children up to safety), and suddenly we were at the top, far sooner than I believed possible given the length of our descent. Baxter stood at the top of the staircase in the woods, leaves and sticks swirling past him in the wind, with his hands over his ears and an expression of sheer terror on his face.

I could no longer run. Although we were decidedly not out of danger – in fact we were in a meadow with enormous, old trees all around us – we were finished climbing. My legs threatened to give out from under me from fear and exhaustion, but I kept walking rapidly to the house. Matt had sprinted ahead of me, depositing Lyle, and suddenly I was on the porch of our vacation house with my two boys, my niece and nephew, and my sister- and brother-in-law. And we were all okay. Matt ran back down the path to locate his parents and make sure they were all right; it was a horrible feeling to be racing ahead with our children in the storm, not knowing if our parents were safe. They were.

As we pulled the kids’ sandy wet clothes off on the covered porch, breathing hard, the rain began in earnest, finally joining forces with the wind. I filled up the big warm bathtub for the boys, and tried to catch my breath as the downpour again made its racket on the skylights above. It became obvious to me all of a sudden that I could barely breathe and needed my asthma inhalers stat; I sat in my wet clothes at the edge of the tub, shaking from the adrenaline and albuterol, marveling at our safety and trying not to think about how much more treacherous that already muddy path would have been, a mere five minutes later, in this kind of rain.

It was a fast-moving storm, without a doubt. And yet people more attuned to their natural environment (and less engrossed in a fun outing with their small children) would have paid more attention to that lovely dark blue sky in the distance – perhaps noticing it closing in on them - and the wind picking up all of a sudden. When we gathered around the table to eat our picnic dinner, still shaky, we suddenly noticed a huge tree limb that had come down in the backyard, just barely missing the house itself. It was impossible not to imagine anew something of that size crashing down when we were in the woods, with us underneath. News reports today confirm the speed and danger of the winds we were in, the flooding and power outages here and across the Great Lake at home. Chicago was hit quite hard, too, it turns out.

But on a personal level, I was extremely upset by how powerless I felt to keep my children safe. My older son, fancying himself a superhero, proved his Superior Speed and Strength by making it to the top first. But without the safety of an adult nearby, he was far too vulnerable. The one in my arms was nearly hit on the head by a tree branch, and I could not carry him all the way home. I’m sure Matt was right when he suggested that if I had not had the option of handing Lyle over partway up, I would have carried him the whole way, fueled by adrenaline and sheer parental will. But the fact remains that in the moment, I didn’t think I could.

For months now, I’ve wanted to get into better physical shape. I need and want more exercise. I just haven’t felt the motivation required to adjust my schedule and make it happen. But let me tell you, feeling like I couldn’t protect my children when they were in danger – because I wasn’t fast enough or strong enough? That’s all the inspiration I need.

While Matt was putting the boys to bed hours later, I was still working to calm myself. Putting on familiar, quiet music and pouring myself a glass of wine, I focused on mundane, everyday tasks that required no thought: washing dishes, putting the kids’ toys away, and sweeping up the sand we’d tracked in.

Opening the front door to shake sand off of the towels and blankets, I stopped for a moment and stood on the large porch. The storm was still raging around us: lightning and thunder had been added to the rain and wind, and it was a frightful scene. But knowing that, just inside, four beautiful, unharmed children were getting tucked into their warm, cozy beds by brave and loving parents filled my heart with much joy.

And indescribable gratitude.

Part Two: The Apocalypse

We scrambled, there on the beach, to collect our things. Grandparents, eager to calm a disappointed and angry four-year old, were moved to pick up as many large, heavy “special rocks” as they could from the stream before heading up the stairs. Fear rising in our parental hearts, we quickly stuffed blankets and towels in tote bags, and assigned children to adults. “Put your shoes on!” we shouted to the kids, “We need to get back up to the house before it rains!”

As we began our ascent up the wooden stairs, the wind we had so blithely ignored started to pick up with a vengeance. After two steps, Lyle cried, “Carry me, Mommy, I’m too tired for the stairs.” Handing Matt my tote bag – with him already carrying the extremely heavy food and drink bag – I hoisted Lyle into my arms and began to climb. There were other adults ahead of me, Baxter visibly among them. Matt was behind me.

Within mere seconds of our climb, the wind began its outrageous frenzy: leaves swirled and rocks rolled down the hill, clipping at our ankles. Pieces of tree bark flew at us, prompting my sister-in-law to cry out that it had started hailing. I thought she was probably right, and yet it hadn't. Logical thought processes had been, literally, thrown to the wind.

But, oh, the sound. That fearful sound was the worst, we all later agreed. Although the howling, angry 60-mile per hour wind was hitting us straight on, we all felt like this had to be something akin to a tornado. And yet I continued to dash up the stairs as fast as I could, fueled by adrenaline alone; avoiding the “sink hole” and trying to choose the least muddy places to step, lest I trip and fall with Lyle in my tired arms. It no longer mattered that there were no handrails in some spots because to slow down enough to hold one would have meant we had the luxury of time. And we most assuredly did not.

When large tree limbs began to fall, one of them grazing Lyle’s head, I started to feel the terror in my throat. My sister-in-law, moving quickly up the stairs next to us, looked visibly shaken. “We’re going to be okay,” I tried to say with certainty, but honestly, I didn’t believe it. I turned back to Matt and called out that I needed him to take a turn with Lyle. “Can you see Baxter?” he hollered, barely audible in the wind. “No, but he’s up ahead with…” and here I paused to scan the crowd behind me to figure out who was up ahead with my older son. Everyone was accounted for. I looked up the wooded path ahead of us. Baxter was not in sight. “He’s by himself!” I shouted, now starting to seriously panic.
I handed over Lyle and grabbed the bags from Matt, lunging up the stairs again with two huge tote bags; together, they were actually heavier than Lyle. At one point in the climb, Matt yelled to me that I should just leave them on the path, and if I hadn’t known that we had some valuables in one bag or the other, I would have. Despite being almost completely out of breath, I called out Baxter’s name. I could barely hear my own voice in the cacophony. Frightening thoughts raced through my head: Has he run off in the wrong direction? Where would he go if he got to the top? Is he hurt? Did one of the tree limbs hit him up ahead?

I have never been so afraid in my life.

[Stay tuned for Part Three...]

Part One: The Beach

It was a perfect, sunny day here in Michigan; surprising, after the intense thunderstorm that had pounded the skylights in the wee hours of the morning. We – two grandparents, four parents, and four young children – spent the morning at the Discovery Museum in St. Joseph since the trees were dripping and the ground was soaked.

As soon as our little ones awoke from their well-deserved naps, however, we were ready to go. Laden with beach toys, picnic blankets, towels, a big bag of drinks, and enough sandwiches to feed an army, we headed for the beach. Not having been on the beach outing the day before (because we Mommies were busy getting lost on unmarked back roads with a nearly-empty gas tank in search of a grocery store), I only understood that the walk involved some mosquito-infested woods and a staircase down to the beach.

I was somewhat surprised, therefore, when we came to the steep, rickety wooden stairs that led us through muddy terrain. Turns out, our house is essentially on a cliff. The “sink hole” on one step and the portions without handrails were also unexpected. I found myself somewhat anxious, juggling a big beach blanket while simultaneously trying to get Lyle down those stairs, my sweaty, slippery hand clutching his, but when we made it, the beautiful white sand beach on the shore of Lake Michigan was worth the precarious trek. We joked (sort of) about the walk back up, but consoled ourselves with the fact that the food and drink bags would be lighter.

While the engineers among us worked to divert a “river” that ran along the beach in new and fascinating ways, others ran headfirst into the water. I popped lime green goggles over Lyle’s big brown eyes, and in we went, my water-loving boy and me. We swam, we jumped, and we waded far out until we got to a big sand bar where he could stand on his own again. Others joined us, and we marveled over the colors of the blue sky. “Look, Lyle,” I instructed in wonder, “Over there, Sweetie: the sky here is so light blue - but in that direction,” I pointed to the west, “it’s a beautiful darker blue.” I was pleased to point out the permutations of his favorite color in this natural setting.

After a while, the breeze picked up, and I suggested we get out of the water and play on the beach. It was chillier to be standing on the sand bar than I’d expected. Lyle, his Oma and I sat in the sand and played. Matt called my name and gestured that we should come to the picnic blankets. “Okay, Lyle, I think it’s time to eat now! Let’s rinse off our hands in the lake,” and off we went. But as I got closer, I saw that the others appeared not to be unpacking dinner but actually to be folding blankets and towels, worried expressions on their faces. Kids were fussing about a sudden departure. I looked again at those lovely blue clouds and it turned out they were a lot closer than they had been.

And all of a sudden, they looked less a little less beautiful and a lot more…threatening.

[Stayed tuned for Part Two...]

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Aaah, Michigan!

Where the house is gorgeous, the lake a short walk down the path, the cousins adorable...
and the wi-fi just a tad spotty.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Do We Know How to Road Trip, or What?

State Patrolman Baxter, checking our route on an iPhone map:

Here's what Lyle thought of Indiana:

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Service...for Customers??

I had the strangest experience today. It was a sensation that was somewhat familiar - but dream-like - as if it were something I last felt in childhood.

If I remember correctly, it used to be referred to as "Customer Service" in the good old days.

No, no, not the department you call with trepidation when you find the time to remain on the line for a minimum of 20 minutes, getting transferred five times before reaching a human being who is probably a contract worker in India knowing little and giving you incorrect information about the actual airline/product/service. Not that kind of Customer Service. That's what I'm used to.

But no. I mean actual service for customers.

You see, I just took the position of Treasurer of our condo association last week. As you may imagine, I was thrilled to take on this added responsibility since I have so much time on my hands right now. But, I digress. Along with this position, I inherited an account at a local establishment called Broadway Bank. I had to go in yesterday to change the account over to my name. Allow me to share what I encountered there:

1) I walked into a gorgeous, big, open room - the architecture was beautiful! To my right, there was a sea of bankers - I mean, at least 20 of them, sitting at desks, helping people. In. Person. I was immediately seated in front of someone who helped me quickly and easily. Here in the city, I am accustomed to walking into a sterile Bank of America office where there is not a single banker visible; they are in closed offices in the back. And there are never more than two of them, so the wait is ridiculously lengthy.

2) One of the employees actually used an IBM Selectric typewriter to fill out a form for me. The kind of typewriter I learned to type on in, oh, 1987. Awesome.

3) I worked with another banker to set up an online account. Now, I have no idea about the quality of said online banking system - and this is a feature I use a lot and love about Bank of America - but they gave me a form to fill out by hand (user ID and password) and told me that it would be up and running by the next morning. I was given a little slip of paper filled out with my codes so that I wouldn't forget: again, handwritten. Amusing as hell.

4) I hadn't had time to check and see if my online account was working yet, but at lunchtime I received a personal email from the banker who helped me sign up for it. Yes, a personal email, folks! I went online and couldn't get it to work; somewhat disappointed with the old school bank, I replied to her email letting her know I was having a problem.

5) Not five minutes after sending my email, the phone rang. When I saw "Broadway Bank" on the caller ID, I just about hollered, "You are shitting me!!!" Yes, the same woman was calling me to help me, which she did very easily.

What the hell??

I think it's very sad that such an experience was so incredibly mind-blowing. No wonder the incidence of depression is so high in America. I'd love to see a study showing the decrease in daily person-to-person interaction over the past thirty years.

Sometimes...well, our country is such a detached and lonely place.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Winding Down

By all appearances, summer is winding down. We've got our truckloads of school supplies at the ready. Some schools actually begin this week. And every day people ask me, "How was your summer?"

Wait! Did someone say, "Was?!" Watch as my head swivels around 614 times.

"But! But, hey!", I want to call out, "My summer is just beginning!" I have the next two weeks off from work and won't be back until after Labor Day. We are leaving town for the first time all summer in order for me to add Indiana and Michigan to my States I've Seen list. (Yes, on Wednesday we are heading to a little town on the Michigan coast, where we'll stay in a big house with Matt's extended family. We're going to check out the beach on the other side of this beautiful lake, where the sun sets over the water and we have to move our watches ahead.)

When we get back we'll still have a full week with me at home in which we'll celebrate Lyle's birthday, have our new nanny visit a few times, and host some good friends from Seattle.

So summer is decidedly not over.

But I am bracing myself for fall, as you know. I have done a lot of organizing, sorting, and planning ahead, preparing myself for the onslaught.

One thing that I know will have to change is the amount of writing time I've had this summer.

I don't know if I'll keep up my summer pace over these next couple of weeks or not, but I rather think it would be in my best interest to start slowing down now, easing into the new mindset.

I love to write and I am truly enjoying this blog; I'm so grateful that all of you suckers kind people come here to read what I have to say on a regular basis. I have no intention of stopping anytime soon. But in order to get enough sleep - and add exercise back into my life this fall - I will have to spend less time in front of this computer. In a way (a really, really fun way!) this blog has taken on a life of its own this summer; now I need to help it get used to riding in the backseat for a little while. (Where, in all likelihood, it will whisper something extremely witty, and I'll think, "I need to blog that just as soon as I get home.")

As Seen on Lake Shore Drive

Friday, August 17, 2007

It's Not Me! (It's Three.)

Age two? Listen up: I laugh at your innocent attempts to wrest control from us. Your temper tantrums mean nothing to me. Neither the illogical demands for cookies in the middle of the night nor the desire for a trip to the playground during a thunderstorm. None of it even registers because it is a CAKE WALK.

That is, when I compare you to age three.

I don’t understand all the hype about the so-called Terrible Twos. I theorize that it’s because it is the first year that most of our little angels exert their wills, saying “no” (although Lyle was yelling “no” at me well before his first birthday) and throwing themselves on the floor. It’s new and unpleasant drama. Just when you start getting a good night’s sleep (if you’re lucky), the Tiny Usurpers of Your Former Life begin to give you a whole lot of crap.

I remember a moment that occurred about a month after Baxter’s third birthday, when I admitted to a friend during an outing at the San Francisco Zoo that I had harbored high hopes for age three. I had considered it a darling age of curiosity and conversation. And it is that, especially when you are with someone else’s three year old. But that first month of age three with my own child had been a huge disappointment. I had wanted things to get easier, not harder. That’s the honest truth.

Much of Baxter’s stint as a three-year-old was spent with a tired, barfing, pregnant mama. I had little patience for his monkeyshines. His behavior actually reduced me to tears many times because I simply did not know what to do with him. He was loud, fast, and extremely active. He was on albuterol often, accelerating him further. Baxter needed social contact every second of every day; he stood next to me as I threw up, talking to me as if nothing were happening, and became irritated that I wasn’t holding up my end of the conversation. He wanted me to lie next to him at nap time (sound familiar?) and then kicked and smacked me while I tried to get some rest. I remember one day taking a “time out” for myself because the urge to spank him was so strong, and he followed me into my bedroom (damn, why didn’t I have a lock on my door?), screaming and throwing large books at my hugely pregnant self. Yes, while Baxter was a sunny, exuberant, smart little guy – beloved by all – and I have plenty of wonderful memories of that year, he gave me a run for my money when he was three. (And the only thing worse than Baxter at age three? Baxter at age four. But we’ll save that post for next year.)

Lyle is not Baxter. In fact, his personality is quite different. And yet.

I felt it today: my almost-three-year old testing, yelling, and throwing the weight of his own very strong personality against all of my requests and expectations. That subsequent spike in my blood pressure, and yes, even the urge to spank. (I wonder if adults who weren’t spanked as children have this urge?) I gave myself a time-out and lay down on my bed for a moment. I wanted to cry. But this lasted for less than a minute, because soon his brother was crying in my place. Rule #1: If you want mama’s attention, attack your brother.

So now I know – it wasn’t all because I was pregnant and low on energy the last time. No, in fact, my second child has the capacity to bring me to quite the same level of inner despair without those raging hormones.

This is not good news.

There is one difference this time, though: I know it won’t last forever. Okay, so a possible two years of this isn’t a heartening thought (I'm going to pretend for a moment here that age 5 was easy), but at least it’s not an eternity. And this difference is critical. I know it helps, because I didn’t give up today. I finally accepted the fact that Lyle wasn’t going to nap despite his utter exhaustion, and that I was the only one who could break the pattern of dysfunction and change the trajectory of this afternoon. I walked back into the sun room after my brief lie-down and called out with feigned enthusiasm, “We’re getting outta here, boys! Now!! Shoes on! Let’s go! Lyle’s getting a haircut.” They stared at me. “And a lollipop!” They sprang into action.

We left the house. Lyle drove me crazy getting into the car, and then things gradually began to normalize. He got a much-needed haircut, I bought a big almond latte, and the boys even talked me into getting them each a book because if there’s one thing I can’t say “no” to for the kids, it’s books. By the time we got home, Lyle was even a little bit cute again.

It may feel wretched to go through it all again, but this time around I know that it’s not a character flaw in him or in me. It’s just three.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Spider Woman

I am a goddamn spider vigilante.

Every night before bed I go out on our tiny little deck to check the plants. In the past week, this has become the stuff of nightmares. Every nook and cranny of the deck seems to be overtaken by small brown spiders dangling from their webs. They glisten in the moonlight. I appreciate the spider, I do. I like to see those little bugs captured in their webs.


I go out there with my broom and - whoosh! - down they all go.

I feel somewhat brave, but at the same time I torture myself with images of a thousand big brown spiders staging a revolt outside the sliding glass door tomorrow night.



Ahhh, the Google.

I love that it took less than 24 hours before someone Googled "freecock" and ended up at The Wonderwheel.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Have We Discussed Bedtime Lately?

So, last night I sat here and wrote a long, painful post, begging you all to help me figure out how to Save Bedtime. (Now that we're done with the whole Save Ferris campaign, that is.) Because it's been just awful. I outlined the scenario and what's got us so stuck around here. I was going to post it tonight.

But then I was on a little internet chat with my good friend Becky (because why would you just yell out your back window to your friend-who-happens-to-be-your-neighbor when you could do something impersonal like iChat?). And I asked Becky (yes, the one with the better fashion sense) if she knew how to keep a 2-year old in his bed at night. Now this might sound normal to you, but that's only because you don't know that Becky's child is still in a crib. But desperate times call for desperate measures.

Becky recalls reading somewhere that you should just walk the child back to bed as many times as you have to - without saying a word.


Wait! (Slapping head with open palm.)

You mean, don't yammer on and on with, "If you get out of bed again, I'm going to have to take Superman to sleep with me, because he really wants to sleep and you're keeping him awake"? or (my personal favorite) "Please, please, just get back into bed without another freak out," which last night resulted in him hollering, "FreeCock! What's FreeCock, Mommy? What does the freecock say?" with his big brother rolling with laughter up above, screeching like a peacock.

So tonight, armed with this new idea, I stayed calm. I breathed. We read the story, we cuddled on the pillows on the floor, I sang the songs they wanted (one was about helicopters and the other about Superman). I stayed the requisite four minutes (Lyle's time limit of choice). I quietly went to the couch in the playroom outside their door. Every time Lyle left his bed, I silently walked him back. I never said another word to him. When he dropped his toy and needed my help, I silently pointed to it. He got it. I silently gestured towards his bed. He got into it.

Oh, it wasn't pleasant or easy, don't get me wrong. He cried and screamed and drove his brother absolutely bananas in the top bunk. But he stopped getting out of bed, and eventually he calmed down and went to sleep.

Noisy? Yes.
A longer process than is strictly necessary? Definitely.
But better than last night and the night before that, and the night before that.

Which serves as a great reminder that sometimes you just need a fresh perspective, not necessarily someone who has walked in your exact pair of stinky shoes.

Yep, That's Just What I Meant

Me (muttering under my breath): " and my big mouth..."

Baxter: "You mean, you and your big FAT mouth, Mommy!"

Rockin' Blogger: I'm Gonna Own It!

I want to thank Mrs. Chicken for including me in her Rockin' Blogger shout-out today!

I mean, this from one of the rockin' est bloggers out there? I'm pleased as a schoolgirl bringing home a good report card.

Only problem is, she just gave me a whole lot of new blogs to go read when my time is about to dwindle significantly.


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Parenting 101

Yesterday I saw a really frightening thing through the big picture window at the gym. A mother let her 3-year old son out of the car and, while she turned her back to get his sister out, the little boy darted across the parking lot. By himself. I watched, waiting for the horror to register on her face as she realized what had happened, but it never did. In fact, Mom looked like she hadn't registered a facial expression since 1978.

And then I saw it happen again. A few hours later, this time in the Office Depot parking garage in Evanston, a small girl went skipping way ahead of her mom, right through a big dark garage full of moving cars. No reaction from Mom.

Un. Freaking. Believable. Is this not BASIC parenting?? You don't let your little kids go racing ahead of you through a parking lot! Am I right, or have I gone mad??

I think I'm right. (I know, you're surprised.)

So. What I'm hearing, loud and clear, is this:

Therefore, dear Interwebs, I give you...

The Wonderwheel Parenting Primer

1. If your toddler picks up a large shard of glass, do NOT allow him to run with it in his mouth. At least not too fast over a bumpy surface.

2. Children under the age of 2 shall not be in charge of making dinner on the stove. Unless it's for you, and you have had, like, such a long day.

3. Your young child shall not be allowed to play in the street unless you are busy talking to a neighbor and don't feel like pausing to remind him.

4. If your child is about to put her finger in an electrical socket, it is your job to shout, "Stop!" and get off your butt to remove her from the area. Unless you want to teach her a lesson about electricity, that is. I mean, science is important - even for girls.

5. If your kid bites you, do not ever - under any circumstances - bite him back. Except in special cases, like when it hurts like hell and you're super pissed about it.

6. In a busy parking lot, be sure your child stays close by you. It is never acceptable for her to run ahead of you, unless you know for absolute certain that she's not the "accident type".

I sincerely believe that, if we could just follow these few simple rules, our children would be far safer in this dangerous world.

Monday, August 13, 2007

School Supplies Redux

I know, I know, I mentioned this last year. But lots of my readers are new! They haven't had the opportunity to listen to me going on and on about buying school supplies! Maybe, if you're all lucky, this will seem normal to me by next year.

Here is the list of school supplies for 2nd graders at Baxter's school. Now, you know I love me some office supplies, but even for the likes of me, spending $100 on this stuff every year seems a bit much. And imagine having 2 or 3 kids in school at the same time! Remember, this is public school; for some families this $100-$300 is a much greater hardship than it is for us. But it's required. Note that at the bottom of the sheet, there's a strong request for us to "donate" a few things; I had to ask bitterly as I was shopping, "And what is all this other stuff I just put in my cart, if not a donation??"

Of course, I know that if parents didn't take care of these supplies here in Illinois, the teacher would be purchasing them herself. It's not her fault that we have to buy so much, it's obviously a school funding issue.

In San Francisco, families aren't asked to bring a single thing to school - they may not have a fabulous school system, but somehow they were able to come up with some pencils and paper, for goodness sake.

Hell in a [Mammoth] Handbasket

Just when I start to feel better about fall, I see ads for these everywhere.

On Scheduling

(Or How I am Going to Survive this School Year)

I am feeling a lot less anxious about this fall. Matt and I have spent some time trouble-shooting so that we are better prepared to handle the sudden lurch into school, homework, and activities that will begin after Labor Day.

Thus far, these are our survival strategies:

For the Adults - More Scheduling!

1. Set up an actual schedule for our evenings, so we know that on Mondays I will go to the gym, on Tuesdays Matt will have choir rehearsals, and on Thursdays one of us will go to the grocery store. That type of thing. This will alleviate the "Oh my God! We're out of food and can't figure out when we'll be able to get to the store - and I haven't been the gym all week!!" crisis that we face most weeks. It will also help with planning - when Matt puts a business trip on the calendar or we have a school function to attend, we can look ahead and say, "Oh, so I'd better go to the grocery store on Monday night that week instead of the gym." Looky there: crisis averted.

2. Create a meal schedule. We're not just talking about a plan for the week (not that we've ever managed to do that, either), but a Total Simplification Plan! Monday = roast chicken, Tuesday = burgers, etc. Make, eat, repeat. I think this will drive me somewhat crazy after a while because, really, do I want to eat burgers every Tuesday night? On the other hand, do I want to continue our over-reliance on convenience foods? Do I want to open the fridge after work and find no actual meal in sight with two kids in full hunger meltdown mode? If we know exactly what we're eating that week, grocery shopping also becomes much easier. And I'm sure that after a few weeks we'd change things up...but even if we didn't, I have to agree that it's better than the current system.

For the Kids - Less Scheduling and More Breakfast Cereal!

1. Lyle will be busy enough, starting nursery school in September. No classes for him. He and the nanny can do whatever the heck they want on their days together, including hanging out in his pajamas all day. I don't care. Being 3 is about having time to play. If it seems like we can add something without stress later in the fall, I'll think about taking him to a swimming class one day a week because he's been crying to learn. But we're not starting with that. No siree. So cry all you want, little one, no swimmin' for you.

2. Baxter will spend his days in second grade. He is signed up for AYSO soccer, which meets twice a week (one practice on a week day, one weekend "game"). At the moment, we are determined that this is all he'll do in terms of classes. Last year, he loved all the after school clubs (chess, movement, science), and the boy we carpool with was doing the same ones, so it worked out. But if he doesn't get home until 4 or 4:30 and then has to do homework, eat dinner, and take a bath, there's no time left over for unstructured play. And you know what? Being 6 is also about having time to play.

3. If you could see the unbelievably complex breakfast routine around here on a day when three of us are going to work or school/camp, you would shudder. One wants raisin bread (not toasted!) with creamy peanut butter and the other wants a mini bagel with cream cheese. Cream cheese on all of it!! All over it! You didn't spread it here! Oh, sorry, I got off track for a moment there. And then they want to "help". Which is all well and good if it didn't mean trying to share the same step stool and being RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE COFFEE MAKER.

Which is probably the worst part, actually. The coffee maker part.

So, damn it to hell, these kids are going to learn to like cereal. I already started with it today. Cereal is for school mornings, that other crap is for weekends and holidays. I'm not even kidding. It's frigging breakfast boot camp around here. Yes, there were tears. No, not from me.

Because I could reach the coffee maker.

If anyone out there has other suggestions for me, please share them! We need all the help we can get to enjoy this school year rather than being stressed out by it.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

What Happens When a Speech Therapist Has Children

A Moment to Remember

Baxter, six-year-old Boy Wonder, there are moments in a parent's life so precious, so sweet, that we want to hold them in our memories forever. Like a photograph, except not still; more like a video clip we can turn to again and again. You don't understand this yet, of course, but I hope you are lucky enough to experience it someday.

One such moment occurred for me last week, during what could have been a mundane, forgettable trip to the ENT for a follow-up appointment. I'm not sure exactly why, but your characteristic enthusiasm, humor, and good nature were not only in full force but on over-drive.

You hopped up into the examining chair like an over-eager kangaroo, completely neglecting to remember that you were anxious about getting your ears checked. While we waited for the doctor, you studied the "pain scale" on the wall that indicated a patient's pain level from 0-10 with a series of faces that would help a child understand. Leaving me doubled over laughing, you repeatedly turned back to me to act out each facial expression all the way up the scale, completely hamming it up. (This is why God invented camera phones.) You even did it for the doctor and her intern when they came in, amusing them greatly. By the end of the appointment, it somehow came to pass that you were standing by the examining chair, pushing the buttons to move it up and down, with the cute blond medical intern sitting in it, while I spoke with the doctor.

Moments later we found ourselves in the audiology unit for your follow-up hearing test. You marched into that little sound-proof room, asked hundreds of questions about what to expect before the audiologist could even explain the procedure to you, and then plopped down in the chair and put the headphones on like a pro. You hadn't done this in two years. The woman came back to start the test, took a look at your grin through the window, and turned to me, saying, "He is adorable!"

And you are. I stopped to commit the moment to memory as best I could: you, seen through the glass, headphones on, raising your hand when you heard the beeps like it was your favorite game at your best friend's birthday party. The grin on your tanned little face was to die for. Really, is there anything that isn't high adventure for you?

On the way out of the office, you were told you could choose one sticker. You noticed some Backyardigans stickers - Lyle's favorite - so you asked the receptionist, "May I please take one home for my little brother, too?" and I thought she was going to leap over the counter and kiss your earnest face. Believe me, she doesn't see such sweet and polite children all the time. I think she was ready to give you the whole stack of stickers, just for being you.

I think that's exactly what is so special about you, and what was highlighted in that 45-minute period: you have a way of brightening the day of everyone you meet. I noticed this about you when you were a very small baby, and it's true to this day.

I can guarantee that, whether I remember that exact grin on your adorable 6-year-old face or not, I will always be able to say this about you.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Overheard in the Car

On the way to camp
Baxter: "You know what would be really strange, Mommy?"

Me: "No...what?"

Baxter: "If you tried to catch a raindrop on your tongue? But you had your umbrella up! That would be really weird. And then your umbrella would think you were being rude and sticking your tongue out at it!"

Strange, indeed.


On the way home from camp
Me: "Were you comfortable in the water at swimming today?"

Baxter: "Yes...why do you ask?"

Me: "Well, because you used to be pretty anxious about it. Remember?"

Baxter: "No...why was I?"

Me: "Mmm, well, you told me you were afraid you would drown."

Baxter: "Oh." (thinks about this) "Did I?"

Still Crazy After All These Years

Our courtship was somewhat, shall we say, goofy...

(Dennys, 1993)

But we got a little classier with age.

(Hawaii, 2000; 6 mos. pg with Baxter)

First we added this knucklehead:

(November 2000)

And then this one:

(August 2004)

(September 2004)

And now it's safe to say that our life is a four-ring circus.
Which is probably why we still have lots of this:

(Spring 2005)

and this:

(Spring 2006)

So, as we kick off our 12th year of marriage
I want to stop the madness for a moment to say I love you, and thanks for all the laughs -
and may we pose for the camera with silverware on our faces at our 50th anniversary!

Happy 11th Anniversary, Matt!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

All's Well

It has come to my attention that some of my very kind and generous readers have been concerned about my well-being since reading this post. I realized I'd better update you all, and let you know that:

a) I have found and hired a new nanny!! (Woot!)
b) I have found and hired an accountant! (W$$t!)
c) The green carpet is still here but is spread out on the living room floor where it looks far less attractive but is comfy for the kids to play on until it is sold!
d) I got all nursery school paper work in except Lyle's medical forms which will be done tomorrow!

Thanks to all of the above, I have been a lot more relaxed this week - despite the fact that it's been a fabulous week of nose-running, eye swelling, coughing, fever, and vomiting from the other three members of my household (not all symptoms have been present in all three dudes, thankfully; only poor Lyle had them all at once).

Help! It's Loud!

Oh. My. God.

The nice new owners of the condo upstairs are having work done on their unit this week. This morning: floor sanding.

The noise is deafening. Despite having a fever, Matt left the house to work downtown this morning. Baxter is at the Arboretum with his cousins. But Lyle is sick so we are staying home. I tried to put in a DVD to watch together and we can barely hear it - and it's cranked way up!

I'm supposed to have my accountant here to work this afternoon; I just suggested she bring ear plugs. Nice working conditions!

Of course, we did this in our unit too, before we moved in; I don't blame these people at all...we just weren't on the premises for it.

Someone out there, please tell me this won't take all day!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Shit. We Were Born in the Wrong Time.

So I just went online to take a look at Barbies, still pondering whether I should go ahead and get one for Lyle. And, dudes, look at what we missed as children! I mean, sure, there was the Barbie camper and the beauty salon (check! and check!), and that townhouse I always coveted.

But today's kids?

They get this.

Hot damn.

A Boy and His Barbie

Lyle picked up a brunette Barbie dressed in pink from head to toe at the doctor's office today: "Who's this, Mommy?" he asked with great curiosity.

"Oh, her name is Barbie! She's fun to play with," I responded, wondering what would come next.

I watched, smiling, as Lyle worked to bend the ever-limber Barbie this way and that to fit her in a too-small doll house, a Little People fire truck, and the back of a yellow dump truck. (She liked the dump truck best.)

I thought about how I'd probably be cringing if it were a daughter of mine playing with a Barbie with such zeal, and how silly that really is since I played with Barbies as a girl and loved them (despite the fact that my mother tried valiantly to keep them out of the house), and didn't end up all that warped on account of it. I know I'd still be a little freaked out, though.

What did make me cringe was the 4-year old boy in the waiting room who was clearly disturbed by my little boy playing with Barbie, and commenting on it every chance he got "Why is that boy playing with a princess?" he asked in disgust, turning away from the very sight of it.

I considered whether I should get Lyle a Barbie for his upcoming birthday, and wondered what this hypocrisy is all about, exactly - my discomfort about small girls playing with the busty, high-heeled doll on the one hand, and my amusement and encouragement of a little boy shoving her into trucks and getting glares from other boys on the other.

I guess it's mainly about messing with people's expectations, but I'm not sure that's exactly the right thing to do, either.

I mean, Barbie is Barbie no matter whose hands she's in. Isn't she?

I'm still tempted to get one for Lyle.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Why Church? Part Three: "For the Kids"

Spirit of Life, come unto me.
Sing in my heart all the stirrings of compassion.
Blow in the wind, rise in the sea;
Move in the hand, giving life the shape of justice.
Roots hold me close; wings set me free;
Spirit of Life, come to me, come to me.

When my kids hear that it's Sunday morning and we'll be going to church, they actually both cheer loudly at the breakfast table. They love church. I think part of what they love is the ritual of it.

For Lyle, the ritual is quite simple. We sign him in and go to the toddler room, where he gets to "play trucks" with Noah, color, listen to a story, eat some rice cakes for snack, and then get picked up. He loves going up to the parish hall for treats at the end and running around with Baxter and our friends.

For Baxter, the ritual is more complex. He starts off with us in the sanctuary, where he takes great pride in knowing what to expect. Baxter is a huge fan of the "Spirit of Life" hymn that we sing every week (text above) and opens his hymnal to the memorized page as soon as he sits down. He has learned that we usually sing something else before his favorite, and so he diligently looks for the hymn number in the bulletin, finds it in what I like to call our "hippie hymnal", and marks the page with the bulletin. But he keeps the page open to "Spirit of Life", and I think that's because this is the best part of the ritual for him. At a certain point in the service, the children are invited to gather up front to listen to a story that is related to the sermon's theme, and then they are "sung out" to their Sunday school classes to a few rousing choruses of "May peace surround you, may love surround you, as you go on your way..."

While Baxter sings, listens to the story, and walks back out past us to go to his class, he beams with happiness. This kid just eats the whole thing up, and seems to love every minute of it.

He is part of the Spirit Play class, which is described fully here (scroll down to the bottom of the page if you want the shorter version). Essentially, it is based on the Montessori method of teaching. A story is presented, the children discuss it, and then they move on to do their own chosen "work". But what I love best about the church program is that the Sunday school teachers do not hand the children a plate of answers - a "this is what you are required to believe" speech - but rather, encourages them to question, question, and question, in order to eventually develop their own path to truth. Now that's a Sunday school that I can get behind.

Also, like the adult version of church going on in the sanctuary, the children are constantly encouraged to think beyond themselves. They too have a collection, although I should say that any children who don't bring a few coins to add are invited to "blow a wish" into the collection plate, which is lovely.

One of my favorite moments since joining our church was the conversation we had with Baxter when it came time for the annual vote on how the kids wanted to spend this money they had donated. Half goes to the church, and they had a choice about whether to put it towards the new garden or to redesign the older kids' space. Baxter quickly decided on the garden, because "Giving it for the big kids' classroom seems silly - that's just decorations - but we should make the garden better because that's something we can do for the whole earth. That's more important."

The harder part for Baxter was to determine how to spend the other half of the children's fund. He had to choose from three worthy causes; after each one he said, "Well, yes, we should do that one! Of course!" We had a great conversation about the fact that we feel that way, too. There are so many people who need our help, so many important organizations to give money and help to, but we just have to choose; it's very difficult. It was really interesting and meaningful to sit with him and have this conversation, and listen as he wrestled with which organization was the best one to choose and why.

The things he's learning at church are very well aligned with what Matt and I believe and want to instill in the boys. But like all of the other things I seem to appreciate most about this experience, church is making this too happen in a bigger, more regular, and very real way.

[Here I will end my fabulous "Why Church?" mini-series. Of course there's more to say, but I think I've written about the big stuff now. But have no fear, faithful readers, I'm sure I'll yammer on about the impact of adding a bit o' spirituality to our lives again from time to time.]

Monday, August 6, 2007

Why Church? Part Two: "To Move Beyond Ourselves"

[This mini-series extravaganza was introduced here. Part One can be found here. Just for those of you who like to read things in order. You orderly people, you.]

In discussing what it is that makes me so happy about finding a church community to be part of, I have already mentioned what it does for me personally. And, of course, I'm as important as the next person. Which is exactly my point: if we do a simple inversion, we can also say that the "next person" is as important as me. Funny how that works, eh?

Just as it is so incredibly easy to zip through our busy weeks without a moment to sit and reflect and truly feel our experiences, it is probably even easier to get lost in the details of our busy lives and forget how much other people need us.

Wait: other people? Besides my kids and husband? But I'm busy! I have the kids and the house and my work and the doctor's appointments and the car needs an oil change and I'm late on the nursery school paperwork and shit-it's-Mom's-birthday-next-week and I haven't showered and there are bills to pay and the kids need new shoes and I haven't been to Target in over 3 hours!! My plate is too full for anything else. And besides, I do good work. That should be enough.

Except, in isn't.

Turns out, when you are a member of an organization that provides you with the structure for giving your time, energy, creativity, and financial assistance to others, you just do it. It becomes a natural part of your life in the way you wanted all along but didn't have the energy to start doing on your own. When your awareness is appropriately raised to the needs of others on a regular basis, you see the opportunities everywhere. That homeless family I have worked with this year? I was inspired to do that by a sermon at church. The teeny tiny baby I held for 2.5 hours recently? I was asked by the minister to go to her house and just hold her for an afternoon so that her recovering and unwell mother could take a shower and her exhausted father could do an errand outside of the house. Just by putting our money in the coffer on Sunday mornings we are giving to a local food pantry, because our church always splits the weekly offering with an outside organization.

On a more personal level, I am grateful for the opportunity to light a candle for whatever is "on my heart" during the music meditation every week. There is always something or someone to do this for. So each Sunday I rise and walk up to the front of the church and light as many candles as I need to send hope and love out towards the people I am thinking of - my father during his cancer treatments and now his recovery, the friend first struggling with her difficult pregnancy and now the sad loss of that baby, the family in need of a home.

I deeply appreciate having the chance to stop and think about these concerns and having rituals that allow me to do something with them - whether it's my time, my money, my energy, or simply my lit candle.

It humbles me to remember - most of the time, if not always - that there is a much larger world out there that extends far beyond me and my very small day-to-day worries.

It feels really good to be more connected to that world.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Why Church? Part One: "For Time to Think"

[This dramatic new mini-series is introduced here.]

I know I'm not the only one out there who is leading a life that could only be described as hectic. (And some of you are ahead of me on the ole hectic-o-meter!) So imagine for a moment being given the opportunity to sit. With your partner. Without your children. And just listen. And think. For. An. Hour. About really interesting topics. Like forgiveness in your relationships, honesty in your marriage, the importance of having real dreams and working towards them, social justice. And hearing good music, and getting a chance to sing (something I love and haven't done much of in years), and even enjoying a quiet moment here and there. Ah, the quiet.

There is something about this combination of peace and quiet, a thoughtful sermon, and nice music that really gets me. Most weeks, the themes lead us to consider how we choose to spend our lives - looking at the bigger picture of the world and our impact on it - and this always fills me with emotion about my work. I feel so very lucky to have work that I love and that I can feel proud of; work that is having a positive impact on children and their families.

In the day to day grind, it's easy to get lost in the drudgery of paperwork and scheduling, or to worry about whether work is encroaching too far into my time with my family. But when I sit in church, I am given the time to be filled with elation for the kids who are suddenly making big changes; sadness for the boy we said good-bye to last week because he is moving; concern for another family going through a transition. I am very emotionally tied to these children and their families, and when I have this chance to sit and catch my breath, my feelings are overwhelming. For the most part, it's joy I'm feeling as I think about how amazing these kids are and how hard everyone is working to help them become their best selves.

Add to this some meaningful music, and I end up in tears nearly every week. I was already knee-deep in emotion after the sermon today and then the congregation sang John Lennon's "Imagine", and that was it for me. I couldn't even sing it.

Then we sang the beautiful "Siyahamba", a South African gospel song. ( Click here for a sound clip. Not of us, mind, you.) I love this song, having become familiar with it on the Dan Zanes Night Time album back when Baxter was about 2 years old (if you don't have this, run to pick one up!). Baxter's good friend Lucy (the one hugging him in the princess gown photo) claimed "Siyahamba" as her favorite song back in those days (do you remember this, Stacy??), and I remember watching her at the Dan Zanes show that year when they sang it, and tearing up at the time over her rapt 2-year old expression upon hearing this song performed live. Needless to say, I hate when this gorgeous song is part of our service at church because I can only cry at that memory, which then triggers the really big tears over missing Lucy and her family, these wonderful friends who are back in California.

Do you see where I'm going with this? By the end of church, I was a serious crying mess. And today wasn't the first time.

While this is somewhat embarrassing, I clearly need an outlet for all these feelings: for the children who are moving forward, for those who are struggling, for my own kids, for thoughts of our faraway loved ones. And I'm sure there were tears of stress in there somewhere, too.

And I guess what I'd venture to ask is, don't many of us need that? Couldn't we really, truly use a time that is set aside to sit quietly, listen to something inspiring and thoughtful, and be allowed to actually feel the full range of emotions that we experience in a sometimes-shallow way as we're running hither and yon each week? I mean, I love to hang out in my jammies with the kids as much as the next mom, but this is something I really need in my life.

This was the very first thing that I came to appreciate about going to church on Sundays.

Why Church?

Last December, when my good friend Cara told me about the Unitarian Universalist church she and her family had begun to attend here in Chicago, I had an immediate reaction; that is, I knew we had to go check it out.

This may seem unusual, given that I hadn't been actively seeking a church at all. It had not even been a topic of conversation around here. In fact, my husband will be the first to tell you that he is an atheist who has absolutely no experience with church. I would tell you that I am a humanist who had a wonderful experience as a teenager with a very progressive Congregational church which had an enormous impact on my belief system and therefore my life. But I'd never found another place quite like the church of my childhood, and, frankly, I had stopped searching. I was busy with other things.

I didn't even recognize that something was lacking in my life until the moment I heard Cara describing this place. Before walking in the door, I already knew it was a missing piece. I couldn't wait to get there. And my intuition was right: it was exactly what we needed.

So I've been wanting to describe to all of you out there exactly why we headed down this path. Why church?, when, heck, let's face it, Sunday mornings were a nice time to relax in our pajamas and have some down time together, and we wouldn't have even said we believe in God had you asked us.

I have been mulling over this topic for quite a while now, but haven't been sure exactly how to write about it because there is so much to say. So I've decided today that I will tackle it in parts.

Part One is forthcoming.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Dudes, I'm Freakin'

It started with the big, fat packet that came in the mail from Baxter's school this week. I dutifully began filling in the family calendar - Ice Cream Social? check! Curriculum Night? check! Family Reading Night? check! 2,013 days off from school? check! 361 half days? yep, got that, too. It's all on there. And it's wicked nice to be able to see that there are already conflicts scheduled as far ahead as November! As in, "Oh, look! Baxter's teacher conference will be the day I'm at that workshop!"

It continued when I went to my first council meeting at church on Wednesday night after work. Loved the people there, will like being part of this leadership group that helps to direct youth and adult educational programs at my church. But, Lord, was it a long day. Left home at 8:30 AM, got home at 10 PM. And I won't even describe the driving that was requried - shuttling Baxter from Rogers Park down to camp in Lakeview and back - in between.

It was exacerbated by the continued plights of Mom Searching for Nanny, Business Owner Searching for Accountant, and Newly Moved Lady Selling Large Green Rug. Each plight required an ad on craigslist, which yielded about 60 responses all at once for three different things. I almost went into cardiac arrest trying to handle it all. When the new accountant was just as flummoxed by the dreaded Quickbooks as I was, things got even worse.

But it was all topped off by finding out that not only was I behind on the paperwork required for Lyle's co-op nursery school (fingerprinting, TB test, MMR test, forms for the state, forms about my child, emergency forms...) but I was late on it. I thought it was due at the end of August and was already berating myself for not being far enough along when I got the email this morning reminding us that it was due TWO DAYS AGO.

I don't think my breathing was normal all day. I kid you not.

You've never seen someone race to the fingerprinting place as fast as I did after work, just barely making it in the door before they closed for the day. I'm so mortified, but it's going to be another week before we can get everything in because our doctor appointments are next week; after all, I thought we had all month!

And so it begins: FALL.

I am trying not to be an anxious mess, but I have every reason to be scared.

This life I am leading was challenging enough last year, really it was. And now I'm adding responsibilities at Lyle's school, this new church council position (which is a fairly big one), and the role of Treasurer of our condo association.

Can I do it without cracking? I mean, really, what else can I let go of? I fear the answer is going to be "sleep". And that's not an acceptable answer.

I just had a couple spaces open on my caseload - but, please, if you're on my waiting list, STOP READING RIGHT NOW!!! - because I am hoping to leave that time available. We are going to spend some time this weekend figuring out just how much less we can afford to have me work this year because I already feel the fear growing in the pit of my stomach; but I know that the answer is going to be "more than I'm hoping for".

I've started telling myself, "Buckle up, Buttercup - this is going to be a wild one."