Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Pinterest Effect

When I was in high school, my group was the… wait for it… yep, the nerds.  You’re not surprised, I’m sure.  My social skills were lacking – specifically, I found (still find, sometimes) it hard to read social cues and was way too straightforward for my own good.  I also liked school, really liked it.  I liked learning, I liked playing in the jazz and pep bands (my act of rebellion – and this will show you how nerdy I was – was to refuse to be in concert band because I didn’t want to be.  The rule was that to be in the jazz and pep bands, one had to also be in concert band, but I held my ground.  And won.  Such a rebel!), I was editor of the school newspaper, in honor society, valedictorian, bunch of that stuff.


My friends and I thought we were the coolest.  We were idiots.  I’m happy to say that most, if not all, of us now lead wonderful lives with beautiful families and careers.  I’m pretty proud of us.  We overcame extreme dorkiness and are mostly happy now.  We’re still nerds.


God grant that my children are as awkward as I was from age 11 to 19.


I grew up in a small town, one that seems to have grown more connected in the past ten years.  I distinctly remember the day the McDonald’s opened; my dad was the first customer through the door.  I remember when we got a second stoplight in town.  I remember when driving to Astoria or Seaside meant upscale shopping.  Denny’s in Warrenton was fine dining.


We used to go to Denny’s a lot, my friends and I.  After games or jazz band outings, those who could drive would drive everyone there and then we’d make some poor waitress’s life a living hell for an hour or two.  Tony will tell you that he hated me for a long time because I went to the homecoming dance my freshman year, Tony’s senior year, with one of his friends (we were all friends, we swapped dates for years) and Tony was trying to impress this girl that none of us really liked but it was a small town, so we put up with her loud mouth, and he wanted to take her to the glamorous Shilo Inn, just across the street from Denny’s, but I foiled his plan.  His date (who was also a freshman) didn’t want to go to the Shilo Inn, so another friend of mine (who was dating a mutual friend of ours) and I said that we didn’t want to go to the Shilo to spare Tony the embarrassment.  So we all went to Denny’s.  And Tony is still pissed off about it, after all these years.  Because he didn’t get to impress a freshman girl in a tacky light blue dress in 1995.  Tony was a senior that year, by the way.


One of the small bands of nerds I hung out with frequently my junior and senior year would drive over there just for something to do.  And my boyfriend at the time, probably in concert with Sarah’s boyfriend at the time (she’s now my sister-in-law, which shows just how awesome life is), came up with the term “Denny’s Effect.”  It’s like this: everything on the Denny’s menu looks so good, especially if you are a growing 17-year-old male.  Those pictures!  Mouth watering.


But then the food arrives, and you are disappointed (except for when you order a chocolate-banana milkshake – those always look and taste exactly as they sound).  It’s Denny’s, so the food was always fine, but never so delectable as the photos made you anticipate it being.


I think we need a new term for our modern society (and also because I haven’t been to a Denny’s in years; the one in Warrenton is gone): The Pinterest Effect.  Have you ever taken a scrumptious-looking recipe from Pinterest and then done it yourself, only to find that it wasn’t nearly as good as you thought it would be?  For example, I made those brownies.  You know the ones… brownie mix plus a can of pureed pumpkin.  Healthy, low fat, tastes delicious.  Except that it totally didn’t taste delicious.  It tasted like a pan of chocolate pumpkin.  Which is not something you would ever really be inspired to make.


And all those crafts?  I think we all know what kind of chaos would ensue if I did a craft that involved string cheese, glitter, cotton candy, hot glue, food coloring, and yarn.  All of the crafts seem to involve some combination of those elements, they all look perfect in the pictures, and then they all look like a Michael's exploded in my kitchen.


From now on, when I put dinner on the table or make a chore chart or something and my son screws up his little face and says, “what’s that?” I’ll just mutter, “The Pinterest Effect.”

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

I Hear Some People’s Kids Don’t Fuss AT ALL When They Get Teeth; I Hate Those People Right Now.

Jamie is stretching toward the Terrible Twos and I’m edgy.  More coffee, please.


It starts with the advent of more teeth.  In Jamie’s case, he put off growing his canines and molars until last month, so now we’re well into painful teeth pushing and I know from experience that it will last until those two-year-molars come in.


I had a total flashback, déjà-vu experience this morning as Jamie threw himself onto the floor shrieking in one of those awesome, flailing tantrums that most kids save for the grocery store.  He had been cranky all morning, clinging to me and not wanting food but then wanting the food I had just put back in the fridge, then throwing the food he thought he wanted onto the floor.  He was up early, and by the time I was trying to bundle the kids up to go to preschool, I was a bit cranky myself.  I hadn’t had a free hand to eat breakfast, let alone drink more than half a cup of coffee, and Jamie flat out REFUSED his jacket.  As I slumped on the bottom step of the stairs, head in hands, trying to figure out how I would get to work on time (I wouldn’t; I had to put gas in the car because Tony’s morning basketball trips took the gauge right down to empty and I am one of those people who doesn’t notice the gas gauge until the little orange reminder light pops on), I was vividly reminded of the day I spent an hour-and-a-half trying to coerce Charles into his clothes and shoes to go to school when he was about 26 months old.  At the time, I couldn’t understand where the epic tantrum had come from – he just laid on the floor and wailed.  Everything was bad, nothing was good.


That night, probably about two years ago, I brushed Charles’s teeth and found some new molars.


So this is how you learn and grow as a parent: you screw up with the first child and try not to repeat your mistakes.  Had I known that Charles was in immense pain at that point, I would have treated the pain.  Obviously, he didn’t have the means to tell me that he was in pain, so he just screamed all morning.  I felt terrible that evening, after I had discovered those teeth.  This morning, I held Jamie down while I squirted acetaminophen into his mouth and then forcefully buckled him into his car seat.  By the time we got to school, he felt better and willingly went to his teacher to begin his happy day playing with trucks and trying to feed bits of spaghetti to the imaginary dog under his high chair.


The Terrible Twos aren’t terrible because the child is angry and willfully trying to wreck his or her parents’ lives.  They’re terrible because children have no way of communicating what they need and they get frustrated.  Jamie’s just 19 months old, but he’s already getting exceptionally frustrated with not getting what he wants, when he wants it.  All he wanted this morning, after our failed attempts at breakfast (no highchair!  Wait, highchair!  No yogurt!  Yes yogurt!  Aaahh, yogurt mess on his doggy pajamas!  Wail!) was for me to read him stories over and over again.  As you can probably understand, me sitting on the floor reading for an hour wasn’t going to get anyone to school or work.  But to Jamie, I was just thwarting his happiness and comfort (because he hurt, and sitting with mom for the bajillionth retelling of Sandra Boynton’s Moo, Baa, La La La! is apparently super comforting, no matter how mindless it makes me feel) for no good reason.


There are people who have favorite kid stages.  I think I have so far loved all the stages of my boys’ childhoods, but I’m finding this one to be the toughest for me – the stage wherein one child cannot keep up with the other and requires much more supervision.  Charles is old enough for swim lessons and playing at indoor play places and children’s museums.  He’ll finally sit through story time at the library.  Jamie is not old enough for any of those things.  But Jamie WANTS to do all of the things his brother gets to do.  Jamie is frustrated with this every time we leave the house, it seems. 


As we bury ourselves in tax season and life without Tony for awhile, I’m beginning to see the drawbacks of having Jamie this age at this point in the year.  When Charles was 19 months old, it was early summer, and we spent as much time as we could outside, on walks, at the park.  By the time we reached rainy tax season with long Saturdays just the two of us, he was over two years old and big enough to enjoy playing at McDonald’s or wherever.  Sure, it wasn’t any fun having a three-month-old or even a 15-month-old during tax season, but with just the two of us, we managed well, and a 15-month-old was easier that a 19-month-old.  Now, I look wistfully out the window at the rain, hoping for inspiration about playtime that will keep us all entertained instead of trying to kill each other.

Monday, January 28, 2013

I am Easily Placated with Cake

I’m home with a sick Charles today, but everything’s going to be all right because I have chocolate cake.


In addition to catching up on laundry and vacuuming and dishes and whatnot, I plan to eat that cake like it’s the last cake on earth.  It’s the best kind of cake, too, because it’s birthday cake, and we all know that birthday cake tastes better than all-purpose, other-occasion cake.


Charles doesn’t want any cake, he doesn’t want anything, so really, even though the cake is from his friend’s birthday party, a party Charles had to miss due to a bad cold and what appears to be an ear infection, there’s no reason said cake should go to waste just because he’s too sick to enjoy it.


It’s 10:30 am.  Is it too early for cake now?


Despite the sick kid, we had a pretty nice weekend.  Nothing like being forced to stay away from public areas for fear of spreading disease to make you slow things down a bit.  Tony got to flex his fort-building muscles and I went for a run.  All’s well that ends with forts.


Jan 2013 095


I almost made Charles go to school today.  He woke up pretty normally, no fever, and he ate well, but he kept telling me, “Mommy, I’m still sick.  I don’t feel well.”  Was he just saying that to get out of going to school?  Did he just want to watch more movies?  Probably.  But then I thought, shouldn’t I trust my kids?  Shouldn’t I show Charles that I trust him to be honest with me and tell me when he is too sick to go to school?  I didn’t want him to think that “not feeling well” is an excuse for missing school that he can use every day – he claims to hate school every morning and always tells me he doesn’t want to go.  He’s not serious, he’d just like more fun time; he loves school, running inside as soon as we get there.  So I hesitated.  He’d been sick all weekend, but seemed totally fine yesterday evening and he slept all night. 


But if I had forced him, even if he was totally fine, what kind of message is that sending to a four-year-old?  Would I be effectively telling him that I don’t believe him, that I don’t trust him to be honest, and also that we should push through illness and go to school/work even when we’re sick?  None of these messages seemed like good ones to send.  I ultimately decided that if he spent all day bouncing off the walls, I could use the opportunity to talk about honesty and responsibility and hopefully make a lesson of it all.


But he is sick.  He spent the early part of the morning on the futon in my office (of course there is a futon in my office!  I like to think of it as my fainting couch for when office jokes get too offensive or expenses get too high) and by 9:30 was crying because his ear hurt.  We’re back home now, watching Babar, pumped up on children’s acetaminophen.  Relationship intact.  Trust issues avoided this time. 


Sometimes a parenting win is knowing that you didn’t screw them up for one more day.

Friday, January 25, 2013

A New Utility for the Home

At the end of the year we bought a big, expensive compressor to put into the saw room at the office, something that required hours of study time on the part of my father to become a compressor-specialist of sorts.  We hired out the electrical, of course, but dad did all the hoses and clamps and other stuff himself.  Partly to save us some money, and partly because my dad likes nothing more in life than to become a pseudo-expert in obscure skills.


Did you know that compressed air is the 3rd most important utility in industrialized nations, behind electricity (1st) and water (2nd)?  Neither did I.


By my father’s logic, we use the first two in houses, why not the third?


I have noted my parents’ eccentricities before; you’d think I would stop being surprised by what they come up with.  But now this: my dad has decided to pipe his garage and house for compressed air.


The garage I can sort of understand (except for the fact that this will be an undertaking of epic proportions – the garage is HUGE).  After all, drills and hammers and nail guns can be pneumatic.  But the house?  Can you even imagine?


Dad would probably start by tearing out the motors in some crucial portion of the house – kitchen appliances, let’s say.  Mom would be without oven or microwave while dad rebuilt the motors to be pneumatically driven… and then mom would have the FASTEST MICROWAVE and the HOTTEST OVEN ON THE PLANET.  Compressed air is powerful.  I can see mom pulling a hose off of the wall and instead of vacuuming the house, simply blowing all the dust and dog hair out the door in one big cloud.  The clothes dryer would probably work pretty well, and the hair-dryer, too, if a compressed-air hairdryer didn’t rip your hair from its roots.  Super-speed blender?  You got it.  Coffee grinder to turn your beans into the finest dust?  Absolutely.


I told dad that he could then put in one of those systems like they have in bank drive-throughs.  It would be like a pneumatic intercom: mom, in the kitchen, could put a note in the jar and send it to dad in the office to ask him what he wanted for lunch.  Whoosh!


I’m not sure they see the absurdity in all this.  My parents are so ridiculous, I’m fairly certain that they think all of these are great ideas.  Lucky for me, there will be a new crazy idea within the next month or so.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Break the Cycle

I’m having a bad hair day.


I told my brother this and he said, “What are you talking about?  Geez, girls are so stupid.”  Yeah, he’s still my annoying little brother, even after all these years. 


The thing is, my hair is fine and longish and the ends are getting pretty dry in this cold, winter weather.  I think that not washing it every day has totally helped the roots to be healthier, but the ends need to come off.  I have a hair appointment in a week and a half.  Until then, though, I fight.  I have these face-framing wispies that sound lovely when you say that out loud but that are not at all lovely.  The wispies are grow-out from losing a  bunch of hair after Jamie was born and they tend to stick straight out from my head when I pull my hair back.  There’s too little of the rest of my hair to do anything because it is so fine, and this morning I wasted all the time I saved by not having a shower and then some trying to do something pretty that didn’t turn out pretty at all.


The past few days I have stood in front of the mirror and told myself, “You look pretty.”  I have said “I feel pretty” in front of my husband and my children.  I’m trying to change.  In part because saying nice things to myself has sort of the smile effect – you know, when you smile you feel happier, so you smile more and then you feel even happier?  Telling myself that I look and feel pretty, out loud, makes me feel even prettier.  And  I want my boys to look up to me as a confident woman who treats herself well.


Sometimes it feels like I’m just standing in front of the mirror and lying.  I could list all the flaws that I see, all the problems, but what does it matter?  The point is that I wish I could stop seeing the flaws at all.  I wish I could see myself as my kids see me, as Tony sees me. 


But I probably never will.  The most I can hope for is to break the cycle of emotional self-abuse that started a long time ago.


I don’t know what else to write.  This is how I’m feeling today, right now.  You wouldn’t know to see me on the street that when I look in the mirror I often feel terrible about myself, just like you wouldn’t be able to see on my face all the fears I have about my performance as a mother, wife, friend, boss, sister, daughter, and any other role in my life.  And I don’t want your reassurance, I just want you to know that I’m doing the best that I can.  And maybe you can use that to do the best you can, to look yourself in the mirror and tell yourself, “You look pretty.”

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Runner’s High

I’m on a Ragnar Relay team.


Whaaat?  *Wiggles finger in ear* 


Am I sure?  Well, yes, I am sure, I paid my deposit and everything.  Convinced Tony to do it, too… or maybe he convinced me.


I had a chance to do this last year.  A friend of mine has a team and was a few people short last July, about two weeks from the start of the event.  I thought about it, I really thought hard.  I was still nursing Jamie, who had just turned a year old, and I was carrying ten or so extra pounds of what I like to call “nursing weight.”  Still, I went for a five-mile run just to see if I could. 


One might note that I made it through labor and delivery without drugs (twice!) and therefore could probably run a marathon if I needed to.  And yes, that argument might hold water for most women.  But both of my labors and deliveries were uber-short and not terribly taxing (I know, you hate me right now).  The physical strain of giving birth was nothing compared to running for two hours straight to me.


So I went on that run, five miles in the July heat, and my knees hurt for days afterward.  I reluctantly called my friend and told her that I wouldn’t be a part of the team that year.  I figure that with the nursing and extra weight, there were enough hormones in my body to keep my tendons and ligaments all loosey-goosey and incapable of running great distances.


But this year?  Oh, this year I have psyched myself up to go for it.  I did a 10k in September, I regularly run two or three miles a few times a week, now I just have to build up to five or eight miles three times in 36 hours.


Holy shit.  That’s a lot of running.


Baby steps, right?  Or baby runs, as the case may be.  I’m planning to do the five-mile Tulip Run in April and then add another race or two between then and Ragnar.  I want to try to run three times a week at least from now until then.  This is getting increasingly tough, since tax season begins, well, now and Tony will soon be working all the time.


It’s so cliché, but I really never regret going for a run.  I often regret not running when I had the chance.  I’m not fast, and this is a for-fun team, but I don’t want to die, either.  So here’s a late-January resolution for me: run three times a week this year.


You know what sucks, though?  Cold running.  I took Buster the other day and I slipped and slid for two miles before packing it in for home.  It was like trying to go two miles on a Nordic Track – slipping with every step.  Buster was covered in frost and looked like some sort of abominable snow beast with tufts of whitened fur on his snout, mane, and tail.  I just looked sweaty and out of breath, I’m sure.  Not only am I not fast, but I am not an elegant runner by any means.  Do you want to feel pretty while you work out?  Work out with me.  The side-by-side comparison will do you wonders.


Now accepting all running tips and tricks.  Let me have ‘em!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

And Then We Super-Glued His FACE.

Do you know what will easily take your heart rate through the roof in no time flat?  Getting a call from your kids’ daycare that your baby had fallen and cut himself and should probably be checked out by a doctor.


Of course our doctor, who is awesome, doesn’t start until noon on Tuesdays because he stays open until eight pm, and of course I left my cell phone at home, which, after I left the office to pick up my child, would be the only way that the doctor could get a hold of me before-hours, as it were, so I had to run home and find my phone and then race to the daycare hoping the whole time that my child wasn’t bleeding out as I tried in vain to stick to the speed limit.


He wasn’t.  Bleeding out, that is.  He was cut, though, this tiny little gash on his lip he sustained while pushing a truck around and then tripping over his own two feet.  If the injury had happened at home, I probably would have let it go, but the daycare director put the fear of scarring into me, so we drove on in to the doctor’s office, where the sweet, sweet man met us on his morning off.


And then I held Jamie while the doctor glued his lip back together.


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Phew!  We’re going to be okay. 


I’m telling you, though, I didn’t even need to finish my coffee this morning.  ADRENALINE, BABY.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

They Grow, They Go

When I was little, we lived in a house on a hill a lake in Anchorage, Alaska.  In my mind, the hill was HUMONGOUS, a downhill slope capable of ripping off your arms if you went too fast on your saucer sled and tumbled off.  A wild ride, that hill provided hours of entertainment in the winter.  You could sled all the way down to the lake, but then the trudge back up the hill was like climbing Everest: never-ending and difficult.  Worth it for another trip down, though.


Well, the hill probably wasn’t that steep, or long, and we probably weren’t out in the many-degrees-below-zero temperatures for hours at a time, but the great thing about childhood memories is that they are so giant, you know?  The snow forts we used to build were incredible.  The snowmen were so tall, taller than the house, I am sure of it.  We had a daylight basement and I can remember mom getting us up in the middle of the night to look at a particularly spectacular showing of Aurora Borealis that, in my memory, was the most dramatic, beautiful painting of blue, green, and pink across the sky that I have ever seen, ever.  Alaska, in my mind, fits its popular characterization: a larger-than-life, over-the-top abundance of natural beauty.


The lake at the bottom of the hill was pretty great, too.  Leland and I would sled down to the bottom and mom would meet us at the little shed by the lake and get out the snowblower to blow off a patch of ice so that we could go skating.  The ice had to have been a foot thick in the dead of winter, and we had double-blade skates for stability over any irregularities in the ice. 


I was seven when we moved.  Last weekend, Charles was invited to an ice-skating birthday party at the rink in Bellingham and a part of me that is so far removed from that little girl skating on a lake in Alaska worried that he would hate it because ice skating would be so hard.  He would have to stay upright!  And no one likes to fall!  And it would be cold, he always takes off his gloves!  He will need to wear a helmet, and what about knee and elbow pads!?


Boy, I shouldn’t have worried.  I should have remembered how much I loved ice skating when I was young and how my brother, who was only four years old that last winter in Alaska, could skate like a champ.  Charles took to skating like a fish to water.


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The plastic pusher thing helped a ton – I think Charles only fell twice, and by having ME push the pusher, he was able to go super fast.




The best part, and also the most heart-rending part, was when it became clear that Charles needed me not a bit.  I only managed to get him off the ice to go inside and have cake.  I took my skates off, he kept his on, as well as his helmet, and then I left him with a PBJ and a cup of juice and went to the bathroom.  When I came back to the party room, he was gone!  He had told the other adults that he was going back out on the ice and that he didn’t need any help.  When I finally got my skates back on, I found him tooling around the rink like he hadn’t a care in the world.  I wasn’t allowed to touch him after that unless he wanted to go fast.  My bay-bee doesn’t need meeee!  Sniff, sniff.  Then again, I got to skate a bit on my own, so that was nice.  Two sides to the same coin, you know?


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Charles skated for two solid hours and only agreed to get off of the rink and out of his skates when the zamboni came out.  I guess everyone loves a zamboni.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Book Report: Gut Wrenchers

During November and December I read a ton, but it was all crap.  Which isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy reading the books that I did, just that they were hardly worth noting.  I’ve probably forgotten most of the plotlines… romance, murder mystery, thrillers, conspiracy… nothing of note, that’s certain.


I put off reading the book club selection for this round because I knew it would be an emotionally difficult experience, but I finally got around to it after the New Year.  And then I went and read another gut-wrenching book.  Two sob stories in two weeks – I must be crazy.


The thing is, if a book can make me cry, it means it was a good book.  I’m not saying that I want to cry, of course.  In fact, I rather prefer not to.  It’s just that there are so many books with which I feel zero emotional connection, so it’s sometimes refreshing to know that there are still authors out there who can take me for a ride, keep me interested, and get me so emotionally invested that I sob at key points in the story.  Not everyone can write like that; what a gift to have.


But I have to wonder what it must be like for those authors.  Do they cry when they write those emotional scenes?  Are they like Kathleen Turner in Romancing the Stone, where she sobs as she writes the last pages of her novel and then pours herself a glass of wine and feasts with her cat?  Or are they a bit more distanced because they knew what was coming?


I kind of knew what was coming in one of the books, the book club selection, The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman: heartache.  How could it have been any other way?  I know some of my fellow book-clubbers read this blog, so I’ll spare the analysis, but I will say that the story was compelling and certainly Australia’s involvement in WWI is not something I knew much about beyond the fact that they were there.


The other book I just finished is The Dog Stars by Peter Heller.  The prose is different from any other book I have ever read, in a good way, a way that speaks to the trauma of living in post-apocalyptic America following a decimating flu epidemic.  Also heartbreaking, this story was filled with hope and a poignant reflection on the value of a dog, especially when the person you’ve become is something detestable (we all detest parts of ourselves, right?  Buster doesn’t care, he loves me regardless).  There’s also quite the message of hope and the fortitude of the human spirit and our need to seek socialization or maybe create society.


I’m glad that I read both of these books, despite the tears.  I might try to avoid the heavy stuff for awhile now, though.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Difficulty of Giving and Teaching to Give

Charles throws me for a loop every single day.  Navigating life as a parent has called into question all my beliefs, values, and actions in a way I could never have imagined before he was here.  It’s not just the sense that he is always watching, it’s the knowledge that he is always listening and that he remembers and that even those things aren’t straightforward: his four-year-old filter, his undeveloped perspective on the world, is interpreting my actions and words in ways I am often unprepared for.


Yesterday I took away the books.  And I thought he understood that the books were going in the garage for a day because he wasn’t following directions and was throwing fits and acting in inappropriate ways.  I guess I still think that he understands this because this morning he told me that he was going to follow directions and get dressed when he was asked and “be good” so that he could have all of his books back.  He gets it, the concept of consequences, and that’s rewarding to me, that I have held my ground and affected changes in his behavior for the better.


But Charles is also a worrier, like me.  It’s a trait I had hoped he wouldn’t inherit or learn from me, but whatever control I had over that I seem to have lost already.  I prefer action when I see something that needs fixing, so I am hereby vowing to myself to worry less in front of the kids, but I don’t know that that will change the way Charles has developed.  For all he is an excited, active kid who appears to want to barrel through life at top speed, he ruminates over things to an extent that is only now becoming clear, and I’m not sure what to do about it.


Before Christmas, Tony, Charles, and I went through all of the toys in the house.  We organized and moved them, designating a scant few for donation to our local Tubs for Kids program (serving foster youth and needy families in Skagit County with diapers as well as used clothing, toys, and gear).  Most of what we gave away were stuffed animals, as these are toys that have never much interested Charles, and we had so, so many of them.  Including a rhinoceros that, to my knowledge, Charles had never touched, and a turtle that made a noise when his hand was pushed, but which was not played with, either.  Also a whole bunch of other stuff.  We talked with Charles about how other children don’t have any toys at all, and some of them will not be getting Christmas presents this year, so he could give these toys that he didn’t play with to someone who needs them to love.  And that he would be getting new! toys! at Christmas.  And, for goodness’ sake, we did not give away ALL the toys; we kept many stuffed animals and loads of cars and all the blocks and books and we are still overrun with toys.


When I took away the books yesterday, Charles broke down sobbing – not the angry tears of a foiled kid, but the heavy sobs of a broken heart.  I cuddled him and when he could talk, he told me that he didn’t want to give his turtle and rhinoceros away to other kids, that they were his and he loved them and missed them.  And then my heart shattered.  I found out this morning that he then had a very serious conversation with the director at his daycare center after he arrived at school.  “Miss M, I have something to tell you.  My brother Jamie and I had a very bad, terrible morning.  My mom and dad took away my toys and gave them to other kids who don’t have toys and now I don’t have my rhinoceros and my turtle.”


Oh, baby.


Of course, I would never have given away toys that I thought Charles loved or was attached to in any way.  But that did not appear to be the case and somehow I have not explained or modeled the concept of “giving” to him very well.  I want him to grow up happy to give and happy to help others, not resentful that his mom and dad took away his toys when he was little to give to someone else.  To him, the “someone else” is abstract, and I’m sure he can’t conceptualize their need at all.  And he has been thinking about this, worrying about this for weeks.  Probably not continuously, but still.


Oh, what do I do?  Tonight, after school, maybe over ice cream, we’ll talk more.  And then I’m going to try to involve him, at least a little, when I next give away my clothes or things to charity.


But don’t for one minute think that I don’t feel cheated!  Websites and books full of advice on how to parent children give all sorts of examples about involving your children in the giving process from a young age, about going through their toys with them to cull the herd, so to speak, and instill a sense of giving in them by donating unwanted toys.  Never once have I seen mentioned that age four might be too young to understand need or that the four-year-old isn’t being punished by having his toys taken away.  Am I the bad parent here?  Or did we just start too young on a serious subject?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Ready for Battle

Charles lost his books for the day.


He has approximately six billion of them, so this afternoon is going to mean a pile of work for me as I box or bag them up to take them out of his room and the living room.


I hate to do it, but I had to win, you know?  Never, ever did I think I would have to view parenting as a contest, but some part of each day turns into one, with both of my children.


Jamie is only 18 months old, but give that kid an inch and he’ll take a mile.  If I let him, if I didn’t hold my ground, he would play on my iphone all. day. long.  His tantrums and his tears come fast and furious when he is denied the object of his desire, be it the phone or a kitchen knife or my glass of wine or a snack before dinner.  Fortunately, he’s 18 months old and is easily placated and distracted.


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But Charles, well, he’s all stubborn.  He’s not often defiant, though when he is, he works hard to throw big, violent tantrums.  But he frequently refuses to do what he’s asked, especially in the morning.  And his consequences for not following directions and not listening get increasingly harsh until he loses big things.


And books are big things to this kid. 


This morning, he refused to get dressed.  He lost the toys he was playing with and still would not get dressed.  Then he lost just the books he was reading and still would not get dressed.  So then he lost all of his books.  Oh, I won’t take them away for longer than a day, and truly, it is more work for me than it will be punishment for him (even though it is punishment and he will feel it dearly), but I’m hoping that he’ll remember all this tomorrow and want them back enough to get dressed, brush his teeth, and get his shoes on in a timely manner.


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He’s four, so I try to cut him some slack, but also, I have to remind him who’s boss (I am) and start guiding him toward being responsible.  Is it too much to ask a four-year-old that he be responsible for himself in the morning?  That his role in our family right now is one that has him dressed and ready to go by 8:20?  I don’t think so.  And it’s so hard to make him understand that if he would just do as I ask the first time, he would have so much more time to play while the rest of us are getting ready for the day. 


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I’m a bit amazed at myself.  How calmly I proceeded to take away privileges, to inform him of his punishment.  I don’t usually yell back when he yells at me (“I DON’T WANT to get dressed!”), I don’t spank, I don’t get angry.  After he’s calm and removed from the situation, we talk about what happened.  I ask him if he understands why he is being punished.  I ask him how he will change his behavior for tomorrow.  In short, I think I’m doing a pretty good job at this parenting thing with regards to discipline.  I just wish it didn’t feel like such an uphill, endless battle.


One day he’ll figure it out: I will always win because I am mom.  Hell, I HAVE to win.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Sleep Diaries, Entry 976,302

A new tooth (the next of many, I’m sure – he only has, like, eight, so he needs approximately eleventy-billion more in the next six or eight months), a bit of a cold, regular naptime at school, and a dog are conspiring to keep me sleep-deprived.


The thing is, giving up sleep as a parent is supposed to be mostly temporary.  Like, your children are supposed to start sleeping again within a few months of birth.  You no longer have to get up and shuffle your swollen, pregnant body to the bathroom every couple of hours to pee, and the babies supposedly figure out how to sleep for longer than a few scant hours at a stretch.  As a parent, you sign on to stay up all night with a newborn or a teething baby or a sick toddler, you accept that you will worry about them when they are out late in high school, but for me, for us, for this family, sleep loss appears permanent. 


I just… I have said all of this before.  And yet the sleeplessness affects my whole life.  It is a running theme in my interactions with my friends and my children and my husband and my employees and my psyche.  It contributes to the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach when I look in the mirror and see the flab and the wrinkles and the black circles.  It keeps me from eating well because I’m just so tired all the time and all I want is something warm and comforting and probably fat-filled.  I think I drink a bit more (like, a glass of wine every night instead of a few nights a week) because I’m so exhausted by the end of the day.  And it’s more than just fatigue because the fatigue feeds the frustration, which feeds he snappishness and resentment, which feeds the guilt.


And I feel, sometimes, like I just do everything for everyone and no one does anything for me, you know?  Okay, so my babies can’t really do anything for me, but it would sure help if they would just let me sleep sometime!  This morning, after Jamie woke up at 5:15 am and finally snuggled down to sleep with me again, Charles woke up.  And after taking off his night time diaper, making a trip to the bathroom, and changing his pajamas, he crawled into my bed with me and Jamie… and proceeded to squirm and move and talk, despite my pleadings and scoldings for him to “settle down!” and whisper-yelling, “your brother’s asleep!”  Finally, when it was clear that he had awakened his brother, I sent them both into Charles room to play while I tried to shut my eyes for a bit longer.  It wasn’t even 6 am yet.  I had been up three times with Jamie and once with the dog that night.  But asking Charles and Jamie to play quietly is like asking Buster to please not eat the ground beef I just dropped on the floor.  No matter what I say, they’re going to play loud and hard. 


It’s the curse of a mother to feel unloved (I’m not the fun parent by a long stretch) and unappreciated (I do a lot of damn work for our house and our family and it is often taken for granted), and I am no exception.  The lack of sleep makes the bad feelings worse.


And it’s such a terrible thing, really, because underneath it all, I’m a fairly reasonable person.  I count my blessings.  I try to treat my husband wonderfully because he is so wonderful.  I love my darling imps with every fiber of my being.  I think about all we have and all we don’t need.  I am grateful for my life.  But I am also very, very tired.  And because of that, every day contains an element of self-pity, an element of frustration, an element of resentment.


I’m just stuck.  Stuck between happiness for my life and anger for it.  I’m stuck in a land of sleeplessness, a tiny house that gets tinier by the day, increasingly demanding jobs, and more and more guilt over my inability to balance anything well.  I feel like I’m trying to turn left but there’s never a break in traffic.  I can’t pull forward and I can’t reverse.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Spaghetti Pie

I made this Pioneer Woman dish for dinner last night and it was delicious.  It reminded me a lot of another dish I make, one that is a lot more complicated, but also a lot tastier, so when I have the time, it pays off.  May I share it with you?


It’s called Spaghetti Pie, and I first found the recipe in a retrospective of popular recipes from the 50s and 60s.  I have modified it a ton over the years.  Recently, I’ve seen several recipes for Spaghetti Pie make the rounds of Pinterest, but none of them look to be quite this good… largely because they are all meant to be quick, easy casseroles.  This is neither quick nor easy.  But it is spectacular.  And hearty.  And a crowd-pleaser.  And it travels well.  It even freezes well.


Here we go!


Set a pot of water to boil and get your spaghetti ready.  You don’t want too much spaghetti, maybe 8 ounces.


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Chunk up an onion and a bell pepper and any other vegetables you’d like to fool your family into eating.  Add a clove or four of pressed garlic and sauté it all in some olive oil.  The onion and the garlic add great flavor, but the rest of them will just be added fiber and vitamins, in my opinion.

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Add a pound of ground Italian sausage.  You could use ground beef or ground turkey, but it wouldn’t taste as good.  If you do use ground beef or ground turkey, make sure to add lots of Italian spices.  After my sausage was browned, I added some spinach (because I had it, and, you know, iron).


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Add half of a Costco-sized jar of spaghetti sauce.  Umm, this is like, 2 cups or so?  I don’t think of cooking as an exact science, so the idea is to keep it from being too saucy.  Then, add a drained can of diced tomatoes.


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Doesn’t that look lovely?  Smells good, too.


And now, the noodles.  Hopefully they’re cooked up all nice in your boiling water.  If not, get on it, the meat/sauce mixture will wait.


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Add two beaten eggs to those hot noodles and mix them up real good.  Do you like my dinosaur spaghetti spoon?


Then, add some parmesan cheese to the spaghetti.  I like cheese, so I use a lot – about 4 ounces.  Spread this gooey mess into a 9 x 13-inch pan.


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Next, take a whole carton of full-fat cottage cheese and spread it over the top of the noodles, like so:


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Top this with the meat/sauce mixture:


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Add cheese on top (I like to use parmesan and mozzarella and just simply smother the damned thing) and then stick the whole heavy pan in your oven at 375-degrees until heated through (about half an hour). 


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Make sure to invite your brother over for dinner because he loves this meal.


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Spaghetti Pie:

8 ounces spaghetti noodles

2 eggs, well beaten

4 ounces shredded parmesan (or more, if you love cheese)

1 carton cottage cheese (16 ounces?  I think?)

1 onion

some garlic (if you like garlic, use more!)

other vegetables (things that would be great here: carrots, olives, mushrooms, bell peppers, kidney beans, spinach – you get the picture.  Veggies with lots of water, like zucchini, might not work so well)

Olive oil – a tablespoon or two

1 lb ground Italian sausage

2 cups pre-made spaghetti sauce

1 can diced tomatoes, drained

mozzarella and parmesan cheese


Cook noodles according to package directions.  In a big saucepan (because if I don’t use a big one, I slop shit everywhere), cook the onion, garlic, and other vegetables in olive oil.  Add the Italian sausage and brown.  Add spaghetti sauce and drained tomatoes. 


Add eggs and parmesan to cooked, drained noodles and mix well.  Spread in bottom of 9 x 13-inch pan.  Spread cottage cheese on top.  Spread meat/sauce mixture over that.  Spread mozzarella/parmesan cheese over that. 


Bake at 375-degrees for 30 minutes or until heated through. 


Serve with a big ol’ glass of wine.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

It’s Your Problem

Do you know what’s wrong with people?  Okay, probably a lot of things, true, but here’s something that’s bothering me today: It’s-Not-My-Problem Syndrome.


Somewhat related: last night, Tony and I saw Les Miserables, and it was AMAZING.  I cried.  At least three times.  I told Tony that I could watch that again, and again, and again and he said, “You couldn’t emotionally handle watching that again.”  And he might be right.


But the premise, as you know, is that we should show basic compassion to our fellow humans.  “To love another person is to see the face of God” and all that.  Why is that so hard?  I don’t mean that we should give away all our riches or open our homes to strangers without homes or adopt all the homeless puppies or anything so drastic.  There are many small ways to be compassionate, and one easy way to start is to forcefully ignore the voice that so many of us have in our heads that tells us “It’s not my problem.”


This morning, one of the storm drains on our street was backed up to the point of becoming a lake that overflowed the sidewalk.  A sidewalk that is used by children walking to catch the junior high bus that picks them up behind our house in the dark of the early morning.  These are not my children, of course.  When I got to work at called the city, I found out that that was the first they had heard of the problem.  Do you know how many people live on my street?  How many others drive down the street and have cell phones and could have called it in?  Lots.  And no one did.  It took me, after my meetings and after I made it to work to do so.  I fully expected my phone call to be redundant, for public works to tell me that they already had a crew on the way, but that wasn’t the case.  I’m glad I called, even though I was too busy to do so earlier.


I have tried for years to develop the idea in my head that it IS my problem, and here are the results: I have called 911 for several accidents, including a crazy one a few weeks back in which a double-trailered dump truck LOST ITS SECOND TRAILER IN AN INTERSECTION.  The trailer rolled to a stop without hitting anyone or anyone hitting it, which was a miracle, but traffic was backed up around that for ages.  I have called in stray dogs.  I have picked up stray dogs wandering on the roadway and taken them to the police station.  I have pushed carts that some asshole has left in a parking space or pushed over the curb back to the cart-return.


It doesn’t take much, you know.  Just the willingness to spend a few more seconds or minutes of our time to do things that might never be acknowledged.  You won’t get a medal for cleaning up the trash you were about to walk over, and surely whoever littered within sight of that trash can was a jerk in the first place, but you can make a small difference.  And I will support you for feeling self-satisfied for the rest of the day just for calling public works to fix a storm drain.  Or whatever.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

More Information

As it turns out, Charles is himself exhibiting a few behavior problems at school.  I wasn’t told about this until I complained about the other kids hitting him and calling him names, which they totally do, but then the teacher told me that Charles has been acting out a bit.


And so.


I’m not sure I like the way it was brought up.  Like, was she implying that my son brings it on himself?  Apparently, he runs around the classroom like a madman on speed, refusing to sit down at the designated time and in the designated space for whatever activity is happening.  The kid with the behavior problems (the one whom Charles complains about) does hit Charles and throw things at him, but he is also, apparently, one of Charles’s best friends and Charles routinely tries to get this other kid to run around with him.  My boy is the instigator in these situations. 


I get it, you know.  Charles has more energy than ten monkeys drinking Mountain Dew, but I’m not sure how to curb this other than wearing him out the best I can.  We started the first of what will be many conversations and daily reminders to listen to the teachers and follow directions last night.  I’ll continue to talk to him about not using bad words, not hitting or hurting others, not running in school, and walking away to have a self-imposed time-out when he’s mad, but he’s like a pot boiling over.  Until I can remove the heat source, he’s just going to keep boiling.


It’s a bit tough to live in Washington right now.  Charles and his preschool class do not get to go outside.  When we go to Baby Boot Camp in the mall, Charles runs all over the place.  This morning, I sent him to run up and down the stairs three times, then slide down and bunny hop back up three times, then bear-crawl back and forth between my room and his three times, and on and on and on.  He jumps on the bed.  He asks, constantly, if Tony and I will chase him around the kitchen.  He wears me out long before he gets tired.


And, unfortunately, he’s started lying.  Well, he’s four years old, so he’s testing the boundaries and learning to lie, and that’s all normal, but it sucks, too.  When his teachers ask him to stop running or stop playing or stop yelling or stop throwing toys up to hit the ceiling, he tells them, “My mom said I could.”  Oh, brother.  So there’s another conversation we’ve been having regularly.  Do not tell lies.  I never said that.  Your teachers are in charge and it doesn’t matter what mom would say at home, when you are at school you do what they say.  He is chagrinned after these talks, but I’m not sure they stick in his head for very long afterward.  How much will we have to talk before we see a behavior change?


And so.


We’ve started swim lessons.  We’re going to do more roller skating in the garage.  Maybe we’ll visit Jungle Playland on Friday afternoons.  We’ll do gymnastics when swim lessons are finished.  Anything to burn off that energy so he’ll focus better on the teacher and following the rules.  He’s just so active.  And I realize that, with my work schedule becoming more demanding of late, and the holidays taking over our lives a bit, and the weather being dismal, I have not provided enough activity for him. 


The talks about right and wrong, following directions, and not lying and the addition of more physical activity are things I can do.  It feels good to take action, so I’m pinning my hopes on that.


And so.  For the second day in a row: Parenting.  Ugh.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Hard Lessons

Charles had a rough week at school last week, and this morning he didn’t want to go.  He didn’t kick or scream or refuse to leave the car when we got there, he just did that pitiful whining thing that simultaneously breaks my heart (because he is sad and you can hear it in his voice) and annoys the shit out of me (because it’s WHINING).  He generally gets over any hesitation he has about going to school by spending the first ten minutes or so of the day in the toddler room with Jamie.  And I always leave reassured by his love for his brother.


At the end of the day, he is usually bursting with stories of how he played drive-through taco stand or firefighters or painted some mittens or put together a puzzle or even, right before Christmas, proudly relating that he created a makeshift air hockey table with some giant checkers and a willing buddy.


But last week he came home upset every day.  Some kids at school told him that he was ugly.  They said his whole family was ugly.  Another kid (with acknowledged behavior problems) has been throwing things and hurting Charles.  People are fighting.


Some of the kids in Charles’s classroom have, for lack of a better term, dysfunctional families.  I know this, and I know that it won’t be the last time Charles runs into people who don’t know how to relate to others without insults and violence. 


But I just don’t know what to do to make it better.  Tony and I argue, but we never shout at each other and we don’t use bad words or ever insult each other.  I probably insult myself in the kids’ presence too often, but I’m aware of it and I’m trying hard to change (it’s tough – I’m going through a period in which I see no life improvement even though I am working so hard on so many fronts) so I can hopefully break the cycle and show them that it’s not okay to treat yourself the way I treat myself.  Charles doesn’t get to watch any movies that aren’t animated and geared toward very young kids, but I know that many of his friends watch more adult movies (Transformers, Batman, Spider-Man) with violence and swearing and adult themes, and of course Jamie doesn’t get to watch movies or TV at all.  We try to teach Charles to be kind to his friends, that it is never okay to physically hurt someone and it certainly isn’t okay to retaliate when someone hurts you.


Words like “ugly” are reserved for situations – never for a person or their creative outlet.  We had to explain the difference when a radio announcer was talking about the Seahawks and an “ugly” play.


So, bottom line, we’re trying to set a good example and we’re trying to talk to him about why kids are sometimes mean, without delving to deep into why kids are sometimes mean.  How could I?  How could I possibly make him understand that some kids’ parents are mean to each other and their children?  That at home these kids don’t get enough love to know how to be kind to one another.  Sheesh, some of them don’t get enough food.


Compounding the issue is that Charles is a pretty sensitive kid.  I’ve watched him play with other kids his whole life, and he wants nothing more than to play heartily with anyone around.  He gets a bit too physical sometimes, and he has the normal issues with sharing common to his age group, but overall, he just likes having friends.  He doesn’t understand why some of them don’t want to play or can’t give and take during play.  He gets sad.  He is extremely social so he gets lonely. 


I remember being in about 5th grade and crying to my mother because the other kids in my class didn’t like me.  Sometimes they were mean to me and said terrible things, other times they just didn’t include me in their fun.  It hurt so badly to not be able to relate, to feel like I was always saying or doing the wrong thing or that it was all just a setup and they were going to ditch me and make fun of me later.  And now I know that it probably hurt my mom just as much.  I like to think my struggles with friendship and (un)popularity made me a better person as an adult.  The embarrassments and the missteps and the social faux pas had to have served a purpose.  Else, why the pain?


Oh, parenthood.  Thank God the good outweighs the bad.


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Friday, January 4, 2013

The Beauty Idiot Strikes Again

This morning, I bathed for the first time in three days.  Which is an explanatory statement meaning: I was kinda gross.


The longish story is that, because of the holiday Tuesday, my schedule was off, and I went an extra day without a shower because it seemed silly to shower in the morning and then go work out in the evening.  Even though that is what I used to do all the time.  I don’t think I smelled particularly bad and I got compliments on my hair the whole day (I did snakes hair – two French braids, largely because on the third full day of no washing, there is little one can do besides keep it contained), so I’m calling it a win.


This whole dry shampoo thing is a bit of a revolution for me.  Even with a newborn, I tried to get at least a quick shower once every 24 hours.  Well, okay, 48.  Okay, fine, fine, 72, but that was the max, and I spent those first few weeks in bed or on my couch with newborns, so who’s to judge?  But dry shampoo?  Killing it.


I bought Suave, which is cheap, and seems to do the trick.  Everything is mega dry and static-y this time of year, so once I use the dry shampoo, I then have to rub some lotion or something on the ends to keep them from being to crinkly.  But the time I have saved!  The water I have saved!  The TIME.  I’m on a regular schedule of bathing Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday morning – essentially after every workout and also before I ever go three days again.  It’s a big step to make it to two days between washings, so I think I’ll hang out there for awhile.


It still makes me feel pretty dumb, in a way.  Like, I am 31 years old.  How did I not know about all of this before?  How many hours have I wasted over the years bathing unnecessarily, primarily because my hair looked greasy after 24 hours?  I’ll just bet that no one else out there showers every day.  Like, duh, Amelia, that was just something we did in junior high because we were so self-conscious.


Oh, sure, some of you might say that one can still bathe and not wash one’s hair.  I say, if I’m going to take a shower, I’m going to wash my hair.  I don’t need to shower every day.  I don’t smell.  I don’t sweat unless I work out (that might, nay, probably will, change this summer – then, daily showers are necessary for getting sunscreen residue off of my ghost-like, descendent-of-a-redhead skin).  I would probably shower after eating at a Mexican restaurant or Five Guys because I don’t deal well with grease odor.  Otherwise, every other day suits me fine.  Especially now that no one small is barfing partially-digested milk on me every few hours.


My skin has calmed some, too, though I wash my face as often as I did before I cut back on the showering.  I think this largely has to do with a tiny, nearly overlooked piece of advice I found regarding adult female pizza face: change your pillowcase daily.  Bacteria being the number one cause of skin craters in a woman’s reproductive years, and the pillow being the number one place to lay one’s face every night for 6+ hours (if I’m lucky!), it only makes sense that having a new, clean pillowcase each night might lead to fewer breakouts and less re-infection of offending bacteria.  Take that, acne!  I’ll just do more laundry!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

New Year, New Baby Website

Thunk! Thunk! Thunk!  Is this thing on?


Oh. My. Gawd.  You guys.  I feel like a new woman.


The stress of the past month was so extreme that I’m sure I was no picnic to be around, but it’s OVER.  We have turned the corner, given birth to a brand-new website, and now, much like after the birth of my human children, I have to learn how to cope with being a new parent.  Some things are the same, but other things are different.  There are problems and issues to solve that we never even thought about before.  Ultimately, however, we envision that our lives will be better with this new addition.


You see?  Running one’s own business, growing and making changes, really is like having another child.  Sure, there’s no love and affection from my business, and there’s lots of stress and there are sleepless nights, but my business will eventually pay me.  I’m guessing that will not be the case with Charles and Jamie.


While I might have been a stone bitch this past month, stressed out, not showering as often as before (thanks to the miracle of dry shampoo – yes, I’m a total convert, I have not showered in three days and I’ve totally gained a cumulative hour of sleep, which is nothing to sneeze at), AND I’m pretty sure my extended family wants to divorce me, those kiddos have had the BEST mom this past month.  It’s like I was able to push all the aggression and frustration and exhaustion out of my body when I was with them.  I have spent more time playing toys on the floor, chasing small people with my monster tickle hands, and running around the kitchen like a fool (which garnered me several new bruises and a skinned knee) than ever before.  It’s fun.  It feels great to be the mom who has nothing better to do than be with my kids.  It relieves some of the guilt I have over leaving them at preschool seemingly all the time.  And maybe, just maybe, it takes away some of the disgust the rest of my family feels for me.


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Sigh.  They’re getting so big.  They play (mostly well) together, without any major injuries so far.  Oh!  Except that Jamie has fallen down the stairs TWICE in the last week (he’s fine).  Awesome.  Learn some balance, kid.  And also, Jamie likes to smack Charles as hard as he can in the face whenever the opportunity presents itself.  Payback, I guess.  Overall, though, they’re sleeping all night long and they’re growing like weeds and eating like pigs and are just so damn lovable that all I can think is lucky.  So lucky.