Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Scrooged? or Hot Live-In Manny...you decide

Yesterday afternoon. I had just posted my "happily coping with Christmas, ha ha" piece below when the phone rang.

It was Joe, calling from his office. "Well, I'm coming home. They've given us all an hour to pack up everything and get out." I have visions of medieval thugs in black formless hoods standing over he and his coworkers. Actually, it's a timid woman from the corporate office who is literally shaking because she's been given the crap job of telling a whole office full of people to go, right now. She's accompanied by some maintenance guy who is rekeying the locks as people are packing up their belongings.

We knew Joe's job was ending. The company had nothing left, really. Everyone in the office had done what they could to keep things going, but the writing had been on the wall for a while. But the last day was supposed to be today, and when Timid Corporate Messenger of Doom came in, it was a complete surprise. They were actually taking a little break and having a small, somber Christmas party. People who had worked there in the past had stopped by to say a little hello. They were counting on that last day, today, to get in one more day at full pay instead of workshare through unemployment. Instead, they got the boot early.

Tears were shed. People were blindsided. It all boils down to this: the corporate office which has more or less established ownership and authority refuses to pay out for anyone's paid time off. They are breaking contracts and severance agreements with other employees. We are out at least $7,500 on Joe's end in accumulated PTO, and we aren't even getting the worst of it. Corporate is trying to distance themselves from the company, lawyers are being called, sabers are being rattled. And so the little company party was crashed and everyone given the bums rush. People who had been there for nineteen years plus--even the company founder--were told to get out. Keys were handed over.

I'm not naive. I know that worse has happened to other people, and I am very grateful that we'll be okay on the unemployment once those benefits kick in. But what about our insurance? Will the Oregon Health Plan allow us to keep our amazing pediatrician? Our benefits end in eight days.

At the same time, I'm so grateful that we have the life we do. Our mortgage is doable, we don't have extra payments for cable or fancy internet. (Okay, truth be told, I'm dreading another year of dial-up!) We don't have car payments and we rarely use the credit card. In short, we'll be okay.

And I have Joe at home now to help with Kiddo and Plumtree. I'd been concerned about needing childcare to get some work done. Now I have a hot guy who lives in and does do childcare, for free. And I can have an affair with my "manny" and my husband won't get mad. Not bad to be me, huh?

I'm trying to keep a sense of humor in all of this. There's really nothing else to do for it. We just finished a bit of Christmas shopping and will go out for pizza tonight as we drop by the neighborhood mailboxes and finally mail Kiddo's letter to Santa. Later we'll put on a silly dvd and laugh, because that's kind of what we need. We'll have plenty of time to gnash our teeth, wail and rend our garments in our anger. For now, I need to get me some mistletoe kissletoe, because Joe, working or not, is still the best man I know.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Cheers

Christmas Spirit. It’s one of those mythical things to me, kind of like a unicorn or phoenix. Not that I don’t believe they could exist. It’s just that the Christmas spirit is kind of slippery and evasive for me. And I think it’s this way for many others too.

I belong to a group called “People Who Had Something Horrible Happen To Them on Christmas Day”. This is not in the caliber of, say, Aunt Martha getting a little too tight on the eggnog and calling her brother Milt a horse’s ass or that year you didn't get those fancy jeans that everyone else was wearing--not that I’m belittling your pain, but really, we would gladly have had that than what we got. Death, disaster and violence don’t hang up their gloves on Christmas day, and for some of us, it’s an anniversary of the hardest or most terrifying moments in our lives. I won’t go into my experience as: A. I like to keep up a little decorum and B. I don’t want to distract from my larger point, but trust me when I say that my life was altered by my Christmas Day experience and that it took years to heal from it. I’m not alone; plenty of others have their own terrible stories of a cruel Yule.

Let it be said: We aren’t out to ruin your Christmas, it’s more that everything that Means Christmas can potentially come with a side of post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s a stretching time for some of us, because we want to participate and, if we’ve come far enough, we can enjoy ourselves in the moment. And if Christmas were truly one single day it would be easier to do so. But it’s not: Christmas starts earlier and earlier each year. This summer we were reminded of Christmas in the stores, and it seems to officially start everywhere just as soon as Frankenstein's Posse and all their candy is cleared out of the stores. By the time December 1 rolls around, the television and radio are airing their Christmas specials. I don’t mind all of it, really---sure, there are some things that offend the sensibilities, but they would bother me, Christmas or no. But overall, on the short side it's still at least a thirty-one day Post-It Note reminding you that That Horrible Day is coming up.

I know that Christmas is a very special and important day for a lot of people and I don’t want to take that away from anyone. At the same time, how can we be completely genuine and true to ourselves if we feel like we have to fake an emotion to fit in? I’m pretty matter-of-fact about Christmas myself. I enjoy parts of it; even before I had my son, Joe and I still played Santa for each other. It's a treat, introducing Kiddo to the concept of Santa Claus—I think I can be that kind of a fun, giving mom for my son. But I’m not even close to jolly, happy, joyous or in the Christmas Spirit. At best, you could say that sometimes I get a contact high, and that’s about it. While many people gather with family, some of us hide a little at Christmas or we take good care to be with people who can accept us for who we are on that day. When I was younger I spent more than one Christmas alone and was glad to. As I’ve gotten older, more comfortable with life, each year passes and I become a little more comfortable with Christmas Day. It’s taken me thirty-one years, and I’m not done having hard feelings around Christmas, I know this. And yet, each year brings hope because it feels more bearable.

So, all this is just to tell you: if someone you know seems blasé or uninterested in Christmas, don’t take it personally or think unkindly of them. They are likely not thinking unkindly of you. They could just be like me: doing the best they can with what they’ve got on the anniversary of the worst day of their lives. I’m laughing as I write this, because it’s kinda funny, isn’t it? Now go have yourself a Merry Little Christmas (if that’s what you celebrate) and don’t forget to Santa your kid up.

Cheers.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Happy Snotty Solstice

I had the buttermilk, the flour, the mini-loaf pans--everything I needed to make some yummy treats for the awesome women in my mom's group. I had a ride to playgroup all lined up. In other words, I was set. My plans were to bake all day and share the love tomorrow, which also happens to be Winter Solstice, which we observe in our home.

So I was caught off guard when Joe brought Kiddo downstairs with a glistening sliver of wet under his nose. Another cold.

Being that I am not the kind of parent to give the gift that keeps on giving (germs), I think our plan is to stay home tomorrow. This cold may affect our Christmas day plans and frankly, I don't want to throw a wrench into someone else's works. I know that I'm not fond of people bringing their super-snotty kids out to mix and mingle so I try to follow that rule as well.

Needless to say, we've scrapped the baking plans in favor of cuddling. Joe has three more days of work and so we're stocking up on necessaries to make sure we don't go bonkers while hanging out at home. An "Old School" Sesame Street and a deep sea documentary will do fine. I'll have to send the man out for more super-soft tissues and garlic before it gets too late.

I'm not sure what the point of this post is, other than to take the season as it comes. I love the Winter Solstice, the passing away of the darkness as we regain the sun's light. We used to celebrate with friends, sitting outside sipping wine, huddled up in blankets and coats around a warm fire, talking low and looking up at our friends' window to see the altar of candles glowing inside, warming the kitchen and the dark winter night. Now we are more scaled down with Kiddo around, but I will light some candles and breath words of thanks for the changing of the seasons. I'm learning more and more to accept what is happening in my life, which was much harder for me when I was younger. Now I try not to dwell on what I might be missing, instead focusing on how I can make where I am and what's happening in the here and now better.

So!...
Chicken soup with garlic and noodles for my son. A nap for Joe. A cup of tea and some good planning time for me. I'll light the candles, make a fire, and be thankful for the rest, the quiet and the renewal that I'm hoping this time at home will bring. Winter is a season where so much looks bleak here, yet so much is happening in the natural world unseen. The plants are holding their energy in the nascent tree buds I can just discern and in the roots underground, invisible. The animals come to eat at our feeders and the bare branches of the choke cherry and plum tree reveal the tiny bushtits and chickadees that were hidden for the better part of the year. Blessings to all who celebrate the return of the Light!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

This One's for the Mamas

I wrote this post a few months ago and while we have somewhat moved past this specific moment, the thought still stands...

Some days, I really feel like a Bad Mom.

There, I said it. I don’t mean a Truly Horrible Mom, not by a long shot— it's just that some days, I get to feeling that parenting a toddler is a little like having an hysteric, headstrong and furious teenager around the house. And it’s so mercurial; things can be clicking along just fine and happy, Kiddo is engaged, learning something new every day and then BAM!, the season of shrill shrieks and crying and “don’t want” starts with a fervor one never could have anticipated. Simple requests that were once pleasantly accommodated (putting away one’s shoes or sitting down to eat) have today turned into opportunities to ignore me and wander off to do as he darn well pleases. He wants things he can’t have and gets mad because he can’t have them. And this puts us in a space where we are locking horns a bit.

And just when I think “Man oh man, I need to walk away now!” Kiddo looks at me plaintively, helplessly and says “Want to hoooold you.”

It reminds me that, inasmuch as he’s pushing my buttons and frustrating me with his sudden lack of cooperation and need to do as he wants, he’s also a little afraid too. I think this is reasonable and realistic. Kids at this age press and press— developmentally they are stretching, spreading their wings, not to fly away but to flap and flap and make a big fuss and say “One day I’ll fly all by myself, I’m my own little bird!” and we Mama birds sometime get tired of cajoling and inviting and redirecting and we raise our voices and squawk at our chicks. This makes the chicks nervous and then we feel like Bad Moms.

Yet, between the layers of guilt and love and the desire to do the best to raise our kids to be well-adjusted and self-actualizing (no small task we’ve got, eh Ladies?), I think there’s another dialogue running in our head like a CNN banner at the bottom of the screen. On some days mine would read: “When is he going to learn to stay out of the food garden? I gave him that huge patch of dirt……I’m so over this screamy-fake crying thing…What?! Again?!.....GET DOWN FROM THERE!!!......Okay, time for Mama to escape and take a shower …..Amazing how I disappear and he’s happy....” That last one is the worst; when Dad comes home or I go out of the room and Voila! The sun comes back out on his once-cloudy face. What a Crap Mom I must be if my kid is happier when I’m gone, right?

Fortunately, I’m not the only one dealing with this feeling of Not Living Up to Expectations. I met a group of mothers for breakfast this morning, all of us with children in tow, and miracle of miracles; most of us were on the same page. We wished we had infinite wells of knowledge in regard to how to address our children’s needs. We wished our children were--dare I say it?-—a little more compliant to our perfectly reasonable requests of them. We feel down on ourselves for getting frustrated with the simply unreasonable and demanding little people we have charged ourselves with raising up right, and for not having endless patience with the child who is yet again wandering off as they hear us calling “come here, please”.

It takes extra brain power for me to sometimes remember that my son now needs me to be physically present to help him do things he did just fine all on his own yesterday. In fact, as he’s pushing away from me, he needs my presence and support even more than if he weren’t. It occurred to me that I have to stop talking as I parent; sometimes just doing is far better than giving him another idea to say “no” to.

And it’s so incredibly silly. Today as we laid down together for rest, I felt appreciative. “Now we can just snuggle and relax,” I told him. This is the kid who, for the last half hour, had nearly chanted “want to lie down with you”. Instead of getting all cuddly he looked at me very seriously and said: “Don’t want to relax.”

“Okay, honey” I told him. “You don’t have to relax.”

He was asleep in less than 10 minutes.

I think most of us mothers of toddlers have had it up to here with advice from books on “How To Make Your Kid Want To Mind.” Heck, I’m full of strategies and after a day like this, my brain comes up blank. And what I want to know, more than any tip on discipline, is how to feel good about myself as a parent when I feel like some moments are complete failures? When I use a sharp voice in frustration and find myself feeling crappy? How do I not feel guilty when he says to me “I’m sorry for yelling at you”, only because he’s repeating what I’ve said?

No one comes along with a Candygram and says “Hey, you’ve done a consistently terrific job up until now and everyone’s entitled to mistakes in the eye of the storm. You’re a wonderful parent and this is like Colic, Part Two. Your kid is going to be angry and inconsolable at times and it’s just a part of their growing up. They will be mad at you and not at all agreeable and when all of this has calmed down, they will still love you and you will still love them. So don’t worry, pour yourself a cup of tea or glass of wine and just chill out now, even if they aren’t napping. Need to put on a dvd for the kid and go hide in the bathroom for a few minutes? Nothing wrong with that! We all need a break! You’re doing a fine job!”

We are doing a fine job. If we never doubted ourselves, never questioned our own weaknesses and values in regard to how we parent, we wouldn’t be doing so hot. What is it that we revere about those whom we consider great leaders? It’s not their perfection, but their humility. It’s their ability to say “I don’t know if this is going to work out, I don’t have all the answers, I can only do my best” as they press on and continue to be brave and try to do what’s right. Parenting looks a lot like international diplomacy: it’s rarely smooth, no two parties see absolutely eye to eye and yet, there is often some sort of progress, even if it’s in learning what isn’t going to work.

What’s more: if we love our kids in all their mistakes, we should try to extend that same grace to ourselves. It’s a challenge for me, especially when I hear that little voice in my soul whispering how badly I’ve blown it for the moment. It’s hard to remember all that’s going right on the days when every interaction feels charged. If we pull back, we can see that in the big picture, things are going right. Like our children, we take our steps, we stumble at times, but we are all in this crazy growing cycle that challenges us to cut ourselves some slack so that we can do the same for our kids. Forgiving ourselves means that we can forgive them for the days that seem endless and full of emotion, so that we can put it to bed and try to get a good night’s sleep for the next day. There’s always another day to do it better, even if we don’t know what that looks like. There’s always tomorrow, and that’s promise enough, even for a Bad Mom like me.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Soggy-Boggy Days

The Soggy-Boggy Days. You know what I’m talking about. First the relentless cold and now the rainrainrain. The cold gets into your bones; the rain somehow gets under your skin and none of it is really, truly pleasing to the soul. Add to this the mindboggling question I’m throwing out to all the work-at-home moms—how do we make work work while we’re at home with the kids?

It seems these days that Kiddo is always needing love. “Want to hoooold you, Mama” he says, hanging on my leg and looking frustrated. He starting to know that he’s not the only shining star in my universe, not with me doing so much work which takes me away from him, even if only for moments. There's the work of the house, and then there’s the work of the school: refining and finishing curriculum, a parent handout, forms for everything under the sun—all that on my list, plus all the little details necessary for the school’s day to day operations, such as mounting the coat hooks or cutting the marmoleum to fit the space where our boots will go. While some developments will hopefully be accomplished as a process with the children involved (garden planning for example), there are plenty of necessaries to keep me busy.

One does wonder, at some point while gazing into her tea as her child bangs away furiously at a metal bowl full of playdough and makes her wish for temporary deafness, why on earth one would choose to start a business at the time her child is doing the “toddler metamorphosis”. It never even occurred to me what would be going on with us around this time, and that was probably a smart oversight. You can scare yourself out of following your dreams, trying to prepare for every contingency. In hindsight, I would never have chosen to do this at this time, and yet, if not now, when? Having this winter and springs lesson plans under my belt will make the work of the next school year as a whole a little less daunting.

The largest challenge for most work-from-home parents is simply finding the time. Our work time usually seems to come at a cost; some ten loose ends of housework must be diligently ignored and if you don’t have childcare, you rarely get work done. This relegates our work to naptimes, after-dinner, or even worse, after bedtime, just when your brain is truly working at its best, ha ha. Or we get stuck trying to carve out work time on the weekends, which our spouses can get a little grumbly about, because they want their weekends too. Only stay-at-home parents understand the idea that for us, the weekend is rarely the weekend. Our child’s pull on us is slightly lessened, but we’re still expected to be the embodiment of "home" for our families. When we are home, and yet we aren’t really there, this can be a bit discombobulating for everyone.

One of my biggest challenges has been to set up a workable office for myself upstairs in our bedroom. Not ideal, but it beats the basement. I need a place to escape, someplace to work that is mine, the proverbial room of one’s own, if you will. Perhaps that will come when Kiddo graduates and moves out, or once he’s at school I can appropriate the kitchen table for the bulk of the day until it needs to be set for afternoon snacks, homework and dinner. Until then, being out of sight is the only way to get a whit of work done.

If you noticed the previous post (posted below) consider this; I wrote that last week and only now have I had a chance to post it. My life feels like two minutes of opportunity at a time. We’re learning to use the timer to measure out ten minute chunks of “play by Kiddo’s self”’ time, but it’s going to be a while before I get a whole half-hour uninterrupted to work.

And now—ding!—there goes the timer. Time to head back to the playdough picnic that’s been happening off and on during the writing of this post. I’ve also built a fire, fed the cat and made playdough peas, spaghetti and cookies. And we’re going to make real pasta soon, because Kiddo’s requested a ‘recipe’ yet again. Yesterday, it was currant pancakes, and I should type a whole post on them because they were so good. Trying to balance the work with fun—trying to get any work done at all--- so, send your stories or tips on how you manage to make work work at home. Double star points if you are doing it with no childcare. We’d all love to hear from you.

Chowdah Heads

Now that Ol’ Man Winter has been shaking his hoary fist at us in a rather threatening way, I’ve decided to feel okay with taking our fun mostly indoors. Even if there are still other things to do in the yard, once the ground is cold with frost, the soil is hard and ungiving; I’m not breaking my back when I could be inside by a cozy fire, working on lesson plans and drowning my yardwork guilt in a cup of tea.

Here are some other fun things to do on a cold, startlingly beautiful sunny day:

Watch the birdfeeder. Sounds tedious, but really, put a suet feeder out in your nearest tree, grab a naturalist’s guide and have some fun. We’ve had a downy woodpecker pair coming to visit us every day for nearly a week; first the female and then, unexpectedly a few days later, the male. This is Big Deal Stuff as I’ve never seen one in either city or forest, and is lots of fun for all us. Including Joe, who was aloof at first but soon telling us excitedly when one or the other was hanging about. A suet block and cage will run you about $5, and it’s one of those treats for the whole family.

Make some soup. Yesterday we made the delish corn chowder from Deborah Madison’s “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone". Sure, the corn wasn’t ‘fresh from the cob’ seasonal, and I didn’t have any fresh basil around (we used dried herbs), but with the stewed red peppers and coconut milk—the exotic substitute for the lactose-intolerant set—we made a pretty yummy supper. With my tendinitis acting up, I opted to use the Cuisinart for the chopping, so Kiddo was able to help by pushing the pulse button on and off while I pushed the potatoes and leeks through the tube on top. I’ve noticed that he’s been more interested in eating the foods he helps make, so I’m all for letting him help me drop ingredients like bay leaves and pinches of salt into the pot. I’m sure his favorite thing about this meal is the butter that goes on the ciabata slices, which makes me think that Kiddo is for sure my own child.

Watch something(s) silly and good. Although we just picked up, and truly enjoyed the new Star Trek movie, we had to do it afterhours, when the violence and scary stuff wouldn’t give Kiddo nightmares. Instead, “The Flight of the Conchords” tickled our fancy; yes, there’s a lot of adult humor, but it flies over Kiddo’s toddler head. He just loves the music. The show’s unusual and at times head-scratching sense of humor toys with circumstances both usual (two guys in love with the same woman) and absurd ( the racism suffered by New Zealanders?). If you ever wondered what two amoral, naive illegal immigrants from the “Land Down Underer” with no visible means of support and a wildly unsuccessful band did with their time, Seasons One and Two of the Conchords are giggly fun. And the music is the true star: songs like “Bowie” and “Bret, You Got it Going On” are hysterical and well-crafted. This show is the mirror opposite of HBO’s other young, irreverent show, “Entourage”—The Conchords suffer no angst, no character development and while both seek no larger meaning and the appeal is phenomenal.

Channel the spirit of Santa.
What recession? The other day Kiddo was asking me for one of the dried poppy seed pods I have in a vase. “I don’t have that for you”, I told him, “But maybe we could write a letter to Santa Claus and ask him if he’ll bring you one for Christmas”, and left it at that. He’s been hearing about this letter-writing ritual and I figure that gently guiding him toward something that he already wants instead of asking the open-ended question “What do you want Santa to bring you?” would ensure he’d get his request. We’ll ride this wave while it lasts…

Mark the passing time. Today we got out some construction paper for cutting. Kiddo cut all sorts of odd shapes and I cut paper strips to make the sort of Christmas paper chain so many kids come home from Sunday School with. We’ve been a little limited on paper, so we have the untraditional color scheme of brown and blue, but Kiddo was happy to help staple links and loved playing with the chain. I’d already given up on any hope of tearing off the links day by day—this sort of thing is just too much fun for a kid to destroy slowly and lovingly—but the whole process of it was a great distraction, and it gave us a Something to Do on a cold afternoon with little to offer otherwise.

Get all craftsy-like. Okay, so the curtains were necessary for the kitchen picture window—it’s like living in a goldfish bowl otherwise. We found a great golden pink Asian-style print that we can live with (another day of Overwhelm at Fabric Depot!) and I’m sewing the fabric up into panels, with muslin to line them. And now I get to sew them. There is something so zen to me about pinning and pressing, being incredibly accurate with the sewing gauge and listening to Perry Mason out of the corner of my ear. Joe just recently gave me the first volume of season four of the series, and I’ve only had a go at it once, so it’s great background chatter. I have to be alone to sew, because ironing boards, hot irons and toddlers to not go together so well. Aw, shucks, I really (don’t) feel guilty about taking a little time alone to do this. Never have curtains given me so much.

Laugh at it all. This year has been challenging; I don’t even know if we’re going to get cards out this year. And it’s not cause we don’t love you. With Joe’s job and investing in a start-up business, we’re feeling a bit in the thick of it. Not over our heads, but definitely looking forward with an eye on the horizon. I have a lot of faith that we are going to get through this okay; if not unscathed, still intact. I know a lot of people are facing very dire straits and tough situations, so I’m not going to feel sorry for myself. Instead, I’m going to focus on the fun, good things we have in our lives. Seeing Kiddo laying on the futon, feet kicking the wall ambivalently and singing along to a cd makes my heart glad. We still have our music, we have our friends and we have each other. I think that I’m feeling a lot of gratitude and abundance in the midst of all this. These moments can serve to draw us closer if we let them.

So be sure to get together with a friend and laugh a bit too. There’s a lot of sadness out there, but it’s okay to take a break and fill your heart a bit. No one is going to do it for you. We have to choose how we spend our days and focus our time, and I’m going to sign off now, put another log on the fire, and play with Kiddo.