Wednesday, May 29, 2013


Randy and I haven't been on the same page.  Sure, it's the same book, but recently, there have been days when I'm entire chapters ahead or behind where he is, struggling to find a place to meet--a paragraph, line, or phrase that grounds us in what it means to be in this together.  

The thing is, I've been feeling pretty down.  Sure, I recognize that I am blessed in immeasurable ways with my family, our home, the things we have, the opportunity to spend this time with the kids, freedom, etc, etc, etc.  Just listening to the guest speaker at our church this past weekend, I was humbly reminded that while I'm feeling blah about *little things*, there are countless men and women who risk their lives so that I may enjoy freedom.  Of course, while that is true and does compound the guilt I feel for being blah, it does not discredit my own personal battles.

I'm a social media addict.  My i-Phone, I believe, could be considered an extension of my body.  I spend more time accessing various forms of social media {Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, various blog sites, etc, etc, etc} than I do actually cleaning house or working out each day.  While that's embarrassing to admit, it's even worse when the person with whom you share your life points it out to you.  Or when your kids' time is compromised because you've *got* to post a picture, check an email, or respond to a comment in the blogging and/or cake world.  What the hell have I allowed myself to become?  A guilt-ridden momma {not just because I had this fact pointed out to me...I've recognized it all along...} who can't tear herself away for an entire day to spend some time 'looking around', rather than glancing down.  

When there's a problem, I need to find the source and fix it immediately.  It's what mommas are programmed to do.  Scraped knee?  Neosporin and a Band-Aid.  A fight over a toy?  Remove the toy and provide two separate time-out locations.  Lizard in the House? Screaming, a broom and a dustpan.  Quick, easy, relatively painless {minus the scrape and of course the raised blood pressure from the lizard}.  

But there is no 'quick fix' for loneliness.

I've been thinking about what it is, how it is that I've allowed myself to become so wrapped up in a world through a screen, and I honestly believe it is because I am lonely.  Yeah, I know.  I share my house with my husband and kids, the neighbors across the street are a fortunate blessing, and I have kinda-sorta-maybe started to get to know a few people through Gavin's school.  But that's about it.  

I am a people person.  I crave interaction with others--and sometimes {hard as this can be to admit}, it goes beyond playing Sorry and Mousetrap, watching a Pixar movie for the twelfth, and going to story hour at the library {where even if you did find a friend, it is looked down upon if you spend your time 'chatting it up''s a library, afterall}.  I know that it might sound mean to say that my kids and husband aren't always enough, but it's the truth.  And honestly, I think that anyone who feels differently, might be lying to themselves and denying themselves the opportunity to expand their connection with others.    

Enter the world of social media, right?  I mean, where else can you connect with anyone, anywhere in the world whenever you find the urge to do so {I mean, of course that whole *telephone* thing has been a great companion, don't get me wrong...but it was just a matter of time before there was a desire for more.}  The technology and intricacies of it all are astounding, and I for one, have been caught up in the amazing of it all.  Facebook, along with other social media sites have provided opportunity for my to stay connected with friends and family scattered across the country {and even around the world}.  A few touches of the screen, a couple clicks of the mouse, and I'm instantly able to read and write comments, posts, or messages to and from friends near and far.  It's almost like the miles between us aren't there.


There's something to be said for the human interaction.  The energy of two or more people in the same space; talking, sharing a meal, laughing, crying, or just *being together*.  It fills a lonesome void in your heart, even if you're just sitting on the couch watching television together.  And, while I have four other people with whom to 'be with', there are times I'm at a loss for finding the commonalities that I crave between us.  Shocking, I know.  But Elmo, Barbies, Legos, and the oil and gas industry don't happen to be on my list of 'top ten things to contemplate/discuss'.  It doesn't mean I won't, it's just that sometimes I need more.  

Which is why I've been changing things up on my blog a bit.  Originally, I started writing to tell the stories of my kids, to document things for them because I'm awful at keeping baby books.  I realize that while I might have a 'way' of writing that family and friends enjoy {or so they've told me}, I was finding that what I was craving was actually the time for 'me'.  When I was working, blogging gave me a way to wind down after a busy day filled with children and grading and connecting.  Now that I'm home pretty much {all.the.time.}, I'm realizing that time for 'me' is harder and harder to come by.  Sometimes, it feels like there is no escaping the duties a busy household with three kids {one of whom can be really, really demanding}.

Physically removing myself from the scene isn't always easy, because aside from possessing tracking skills that rival a tactical bloodhound, the kids aren't exactly old enough to be left alone.  It seems only natural that I find connections through the screen of my phone, the slim design of my laptop, or the toddler-print-laden i-Pad.  And connections, I have.  Friends with whom I commiserate, become inspired by, and share adorable photos of the little people who have infiltrated our lives and changed our outlook.  People I don't know personally who write for the same reasons I do, or who write for different reasons entirely, but speak to me through their words in ways that I can connect and relate.  And then there's this blog.  A place where I can spend some time with my own thoughts {with countless interruptions for more Goldfish, a potty training success, or helping button or tie the fifth outfit change of the morning}, however scary or honest or funny or random they may be.

And yes, I know that joining 'mom's groups', church groups, or other 'groups' can help give me some of those human interactions that I'm so desperately craving.  Don't get me wrong, I have found a few places where I can seek out others with whom I can share some face time {not 'Facetime'}.  The thing is, it's a scary place to be--the 'new' girl.  I'm an 'outgoing oversharer'.  I'm open and honest and {sometimes} my opinions aren't always the 'popular' ones, which can turn people off to deepening the connection.  That used to get to me, frustrate me that I couldn't just 'shut it' and 'ride the tide'.  But, I realize now that it's more important to be honest with yourself, portray the 'true you' at all times, and if others don't like it, respect their decisions and opinions {however hurtful they may be...and trust me, they can be hurtful}.  

When we were getting ready to move, I had countless people who told me that I'd adjust in 'no time', that I'd 'fit in' easily, and become a 'Texan' in no time.  Their messages were sweet, they came from their heart, and whether they were 'just saying' them or not, I appreciate the way in which they viewed my personality.  But I also have one friend who told me that I needed to give about 18 months to adjust from our Colorado-Texas move.  At first, I honestly scoffed at the idea, mainly because I was nervous about feeling 'in limbo' for that long.  Now that I'm smack-dab in the middle of that limbo, I appreciate her upfront honesty because I'm aware that these feelings of loneliness might be hanging around for a while.  Which is why it has become so easy to slip into the world of social media.  It's connections with people you already know.  It's comfortable. It's not-so-scary because your support system {albeit scattered over thousands of miles} can brighten your day with kind words, inspire you to attempt something wonderful, or even give you a much needed {virtual} hug when you're in need of one.

But when your significant other and the wee ones with whom you share your home make it apparent that your need to connect is causing a disconnect in your own home, it becomes apparent that things need to change.  It's not going to be easy, it's going to take a bit of self-control and a lot of figuring out other ways to fulfill the void of really 'knowing' about 6.2 people in this entire state {the majority of whom I live with}.  Sacrificing {some} time from my social media connection addition is vital if I want to get back on the same page with Randy {and the kids}, but I'm not going to lie and say I will stop entirely.  I will still share photos, update statuses, 'pin' inspirations, comment, write, read, and connect.  I am just going to set a time limit each day, and then disconnect when I've reached my limit.  It may not be the 'answer', but it will at least put me in the same chapter as my husband.  From there, it should make it easier for us to find one another. 

For now, I disconnect.  I will bake and decorate cookies.  I will dance with my girls.  I will do laundry {ugh}.  I'll spend time with my thoughts, fill my 'lonely' void with a few chapters in my book.  I will walk to the bus stop to pick up my son and we'll talk on the way home {he might want to run ahead...but I'll slow him down with a 'secret snack'}.  I will sign on later tonight; after dinner is made, eaten, and cleaned up.  And I will be fine.  

Monday, May 20, 2013

Happy Me

I stood at the water's edge, the waves gliding along the flat, smooth surface of liquid sand.  It's an interesting place to be; stable enough ground to walk upon, yet if you stand still for too long, you start to feel your feet slowly sinking into the softness of the earth.  With each wave that glided up to my ankles, I felt my the ground beneath me shift ever so slightly and watched as my feet became less visible as they fell victim to the supreme power the ocean gave to the tiny grains of sand.

I watched the waves reach the shore, smooth out any imperfections left behind from beachcombers and sandcastle constructors as it retreated back toward the abyss.  It was peaceful and serene, yet incredibly powerful.  Wave after wave came forth, an unending barrage of renewal; each one with its own unique path, but all bearing the strength of the almighty ocean from where it came.  I stood and watched; mesmerized by the tranquility, the sound, the beauty.  I was grateful for the scene, the calm, and my physical proximity to one of my 'happy places'.

Just about an hour earlier, we were loading the last of the 'gear' into the truck so we could venture off to discover a new {to us} section of coastline, just south {well, technically southwest} of Galveston.  I had heard from a neighbor that for just $10, you can purchase a beach pass for the entire year.  What added even more appeal to the deal is that you can drive right up on the sand, back up to the water's edge, and 'set up camp' for the day.  The twenty or so feet of beach that spans between your 'space' and the neighbors that flank either side of you gives the feeling that you have carved out your own niche of rented coastline for a few hours.   It makes for an ideal 'day trip' kind of a place; when we need to 'escape' for a little while, we can just want to pack a cooler, grab some towels and sand toys, and head out {almost literally} 'on the water'.  Check one for this little corner of the world where we find ourselves living.


At the 1962 America's Cup, President John F. Kennedy said in his speech that, "We are tied to the ocean.  And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch--we are going back from whence we came..."  Standing at the water's edge, taking in the sights and sounds and smells, feeling the power of the surf as it crashes at your ankles, and watching my kids skip and hop and run and dig and laugh and play without a worry in their mind...that is a definition of happiness.  From whence we came.  The beach makes me happy.

So, when I decided to share a smile and my happiness with others using the vehicle of social media, I did so from a genuine place.  My happy heart, my blissful mind, and my bikini-clad body.  I was at the beach.  It's what I wore.  An eggplant two piece that my husband bought for me, despite my initial unease with how I would 'look'.  I'm a mom of three, and have a bit of issue with physical appearance (#3 in Writing My Truths), as well as have a hard time receiving compliments (#12), regardless of what others say about me.

When I put the suit on yesterday morning, I glanced at the reflection staring back and me and instantly starting making assumptions of what others might think, worried that my body wasn't looking fit enough to don such a style, and I even felt a little under-dressed.  With some reassurance from Randy, and a dose of reality I found in a small snippet I'd highlighted in Glennon's book that said, "...nobody's secure, and nobody feels like she completely belongs.  Those insecurities are just job hazards of being human.", I threw on a tank top and jean shorts and we headed to the coast.

Once we had 'set up camp' and the kids were content with their beach-like activities, I decided to snap a picture and share on Facebook.

I captioned the picture 'Happy Me', and went about the business of being a beach bum.  Reading, lounging, jumping over waves, collecting shells, and standing at the water's edge.  Unbeknownst to me, the simple act of sharing a little bit of happiness quickly became fodder for a few comments that left me feeling exactly how I had felt when I had gotten ready for the beach in the morning.  Exposed.  

Listen, I get it.  The elephant in the room is the fact that my eggplant bikini top left me with tan lines.  That's what swimsuits do.  They cover up parts of your body in such a way that the sun can't shine there, and you're left with a visible reminder of the day you spent soaking in vitamin D and memories.  And despite the hourly reapplication of sunscreen, we were all left with tan lines that breach more on the edge of crimson than the toasted shade of a summer day.  But why is it that some people instantly feel the need to address the elephant in the room {the tan lines}?

I recognize that by posting to social media and by writing on here, that I've opened the door to my heart and soul and mind wide open, allowing for a wide range of feedback.  And most of the time, it is from a supportive and caring place; which is reassuring, helpful, and appreciated.  But seriously.  Poet Francis Duggan wrote 'The Human Will Never Cease to Surprise'.  A perfectly concise sentence for how I felt after reading a few of the responses to my posting of 'Happy Me'.  However, there was one kind and sweet friend, whom I've recently had the pleasure of getting to know, despite attending the same high school for a few years, was kind and genuine and complimentary.  I was grateful for her boost of confidence, and even moreso after reading the comments posted both before and after her words.  I was so disheartened and, quite frankly, embarrassed, that after deleting one of the comments last night, I decided this morning to remove the picture all together.  I was hurt.

As I sat with Randy and the girls at the breakfast table this morning, I shared my frustrations with my husband.  Our conversation wasn't overly in-depth, but I knew that he knew how I was feeling before I even told him.  That was reassuring.  Also reassuring was his advice to not care what others think or say, but focus on my own happiness.  Which is really what the whole picture thing was about.  'Happy me'.

The more I rolled the idea around in my head, the less irate I became at the insensitivity of others, and the more I thought about the way in which I choose to attempt to personify 'Be Happy.  Be Yourself.  If others don't like it, let them be.  Happiness is a choice.  Life isn't about pleasing everyone.' to the best of my ability, I realized that my therapy to get past the bitterness would be to write about it.  You could argue that it might not appear as though I'm letting those who don't like it 'be', but I look at it as I'm not naming names, and not making presumptions about the mindset they held when they chose to comment.  

I need to be myself, not what others envision for me.  Standing at the water's edge in my eggplant bikini; watching the waves reach the shore; smoothing out any imperfections left behind from beachcombers and sandcastle constructors and retreating back toward the abyss...there is {just one of many places} where I am happy.

shine bright

Friday, May 17, 2013

On Paint and Gravy

My home coffee bar...a.k.a. Morning Mecca
On Paint
For the past two days, I've been painting my favorite room in the house.  Like so many families, the kitchen is like 'mission control'.  I spend a great deal of time in and around the space; cooking, baking, writing, reading, creating, organizing, etc, etc, etc.  Since moving in, I've been wanting to add a splash of color and a few decor elements that make me happy, and help make the space 'mine'--or I guess I'd be making it 'us', since I've got a whole flock of ducklings who need to feel inspired in the room as well; to eat, do homework, create a project, say grace, or be helpful to me in some way.  So, I chose a pumpkin-y orange color that's bright and cheerful and helps 'bring the room together', and coordinates with the hodge podge of kitchen-y accouterments that I've collected from various stores and shops in Colorado and Texas.

Painting the space was no easy task.  The over-300 square foot room doesn't boast a lot of large, open, easy-to-paint walls.  Cabinets, crown molding & baseboards, windows, a chair rail, doors, and three arches all require precise 'taping off' prior to paint application.  My 'cutting in' skills are just...well..they're non-existent.  Therefore I used two rolls of painter's tape to protect any space I wanted to keep 'pumpkin toast-free'.  That, paired with the other 'pre-painting' requirements was probably the reason it took me six months of living here to muster up the energy to undertake this task.

It felt like it took forever.  Partially because that's what prep work 'does', partially because I was trying (in vain) to keep the girls happily entertained and relatively clean, and partially because I'm incredibly ADD and relish 'the show' far more than I do the 'set up'.  I kept popping into Randy's office to ask random questions.  One of the more popular questions was, "aren't you proud of me for doing all this prep work?", to which the answer was, "um,'s what you need to do".  Bummer.  Twenty minutes later....'Well surely, he'll have a different answer this time, let's ask and see'.   {Nope}.

You can see why this task took longer than it probably should have.

At any rate, after the room was prepped, I finally popped the can open and dipped the paint stirrer into the bold, viscous color that would soon warm up the walls and add a little more of 'us' to our home.  I began brushing and rolling the color over the walls, along the trim, and around the cabinets, doors, and windows.  With my earbuds playing a fun and random playlist of well-known hits, I found a bit of solace and peace in the action of swiping the color-soaked bristles across the {literally} blank canvas of wall.  As I did, I'd come across smudges, knicks in the wall {thank goodness for texturized walls, right?}, and the occasional thumb tack holes.  With a quick swipe of the brush or a flick of the roller, they were covered up, masked behind a pop of color, forgotten.  In time, the whole room was bright, refreshed, and worthy of a few ooohs and aahhhs from the flock of ducklings.
The 'before'...shortly after moving in
The 'after'
I love how the color continues through the archway
A few curtains and the breakfast area (well, we eat all our meals the 'food area')
will be complete!
I'm super pleased with the results.  I instantly felt more *inspired* last night as I was preparing dinner :)

Okay, really?  As I was prepping dinner last night, it felt somewhat like I was in the midst of a military mission, trying to keep my fellow soldiers in line.  Unsuccessfully, I might add, as they played 'wall ball' in the family room, rehearsed a {top-secret} dance routine in front of us while requesting {nastily} that we 'not watch' her, and pushing a toy shopping cart into my shins and over my toes while whining {a lot} and wearing only a {very soggy} diaper.  Oh, yes, and my dear brother called to 'check in and chat'.  The point is, whatever 'creative sparks' this new paint color was supposed to send forth had become dimmed by the insanity of dinner hour.  *sigh*  I guess the paint needed to fully cure.

On Gravy
I've heard that I'm a pretty good cook from various {what I consider to be reputable} sources.  I don't really ever use a recipe for anything other than inspiration for my own spin on things.  I often times take random ingredients, add a little butter or wine {or both}, and pair it with some rice or pasta {and the rest of the bottle of wine--for me, of course} and call it dinner.  So far, the kids haven't complained {too much}, and Randy's goal of 'unhunger' has been met nearly every night I've cooked.  Which is most every. 

So last night, in my *refreshed* kitchen, I felt compelled to make something extra super yummy.  More often than not, that means gravy.  I love gravy.  Not as much as bacon, but yes, the adoration is certainly there, and is not discriminatory.  I love all gravy.  Thanksgiving gravy, gravy you'd pour over mashed potatoes alongside roast beef, gravy that my sweet grandmother makes to accompany her homemade potato gnocchi.  Give me a little bowl and a spoon, and I'm a happy girl.

So naturally, last night, I decided that our meal simply *needed* gravy.  In our warm and cozy kitchen, in the midst of the warm and humid Houston heat, we had thinly sliced chicken breast in a chicken & mushroom gravy that I {obviously} flavored with white wine with farro and steamed broccoli.  I tasted the deliciousness bubbling away in the pan a few times more than necessary while it cooked and I prepared the rest of the meal.  

At some point, I became distracted by one {or more} of the kids.  Surprising, I know.  When I got back to the kitchen, I became glaringly aware that the table was covered with all of the things I needed to re-hang on the walls and windows to help 'finish' the room.  I checked on tasted the gravy one more time, stirred the farro, and began getting the table cleared of the 'stuff' so that it could be set for dinner.

By the time we sat down, it was later than I had intended, the baby was now completely naked, and the desire to pour myself a pint glass of wine was outshined only by the incessant and slightly competitive whines and noises and sounds coming from my flock.  Once everyone was served, I made a *small* request that there be 'no talking' for the first three minutes of the meal.  Serenity.

As I cut into the chicken and took a bite, I quickly became grateful for the fact that there was gravy.  Not just because I have a weakness for it, but because the chicken, which I have prepared countless times before, was not up to par.  It's not that it wasn't 'good', it just wasn't quite the 'extra super yummy' I had intended when I began chopping the garlic and shallots an hour earlier.

As the three minutes of quiet came to an end, I asked Randy if he thought the chicken was dry.  He chewed, said it was good, and continued shoveling forkfuls into his mouth, interrupted only by the occasional swig of beer.  I don't like beer, but I was grateful for it, because I thought it might have had something to do with why he wasn't giving me a hard time about the meal, like he often takes the opportunity to do when I critique my own cooking.

I suddenly felt guilty for giving the kids 'blah' chicken, and began offering up another spoonful of gravy on top of their meat to help drown out dryness.  I mean, it's gravy.  You can't go wrong with gravy.  In a move that made me question if in fact they were my children, they all said, 'no thank you', and kept eating.  Sweet, innocent, undiscerning palates.  Gotta love 'em.

On Paint *and* Gravy
As I was doing the dishes and cleaning up last night, I started connecting things in my world and {silently} noting the irony and beauty of it all.  I had gotten the chance to get an hour of unexpected, uninterrupted, and oh-so-appreciated reading in while Brynn was in dance class.  It was bliss.  The only thing missing was a coffee, but I made up for it with a handful of chocolate covered almonds I had instinctively thrown into a bag before heading out the door.

I began thinking about the response I had received from my last post, How To Be, and how so many fellow women and mommies shared little snippets of their lives with me {as well as 'there', usually through social media}, revealing how they, too, feel inadequate and as though they're not 'good' mommies at times.  It made me remember a quote that I had read {and, subsequently, probably 'pinned'} that says, 'Don't compare someone's highlight reel to your behind the scenes'.  I've seen variations on this {and again, probably 'pinned' them}, but it's pretty much a good summation of what I was trying to say.  I'm just wordier.  Sorry if you felt you wasted your time time, just check my Pinterest ;)

Anyhow...I was then reminded of a quote by Lao Tzu that I found in one of my recent *philosophical* searches for a yoga intention {makes me sound fancy, huh? yeah...thought so, too ;) }

~Because one believes in oneself, one doesn't try to convince others.  Because one is content with oneself, one doesn't need others' approval.  Because one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts him or her.

A-freakin-men. begin 'doing' just that.  *Sigh*

I put the leftover piece of chicken into a container, and then spooned *all* of the remaining gravy over top {can't waste gravy!}.  I walked over to the refrigerator, the door hit against the wall, and I made a mental note to be more cognizant when opening the door now, because I didn't want to scuff the color.  Funny.  I had never realized how the occasional 'door bump' affected the wall before painting.  Any scuffs on the wall were now covered up by the bright and colorful paint.  Putting the container in the fridge, I realized that my sub-par, 'flawed' chicken was kind of like the walls in my kitchen.  Not perfect, but workable, and covered up with something more colorful {or flavorful} to mask what I didn't want seen {or tasted}.  

From then until now as I sit at the counter in my kitchen to type this, I've been thinking of all the other ways in which we paint and gravy our lives in order to appear more 'put together' than we actually are.  How we spend money on things to mask the true beauty of our face and bodies and hair color {and, for the record...guilty, guilty, guilty}.  We spend money and time 'keeping up with the Jones's' whether they be next door, around the block, or in a whole different state but you've become aware of their home decor/manicured lawns/*ideal* life via social media {again, guilty}.  We limit what we share with others for fear of being judged, being looked down upon, being thought of as 'less than' {guilty...but working hard at being more open, showing more raw honesty, and letting the world see me}.  We compare, compare, compare...and assess others qualifications/abilities/worth based upon a snapshot that's been zoomed in so closely, it's like talking about a single star in an entire galaxy.  

And we're all guilty.  Every single day I find myself practicing a less-than-graceful display of myself and immediately respond with an internal 'talking to' followed by an apologetic plea prayer upward.  What's pretty cool is that when you make time assess yourself, reflect on areas where you need a 'fresh coat of paint', and {most importantly}, begin to act on becomes a little easier to broaden your perspective, see things {and people} for what {and who} they are, and begin to let it go.  Let go of the *need* for things, the facade, the cover-ups, the negativity, and the competitiveness that will always, always wind up with us feeling less than adequate in one area or another {or more}.

I'm not bragging in saying that I'm 'better' at doing this than any one person, but I am 'better' than the me I was six months ago, six weeks ago, six days ago.  It's daily work to spend time being honest and open with yourself {and being willing to do so}.  It can get ugly, it can get tear-filled, it can cause you to close off circles in your life where you used to feel as though you 'belonged' but have come to find that those circles no longer serve you.  That's'll find new circles, new areas in which you can allow your true self to shine, to serve, and to just be.  It takes strength and courage to scuff the paint, push the gravy aside, and stand alone and bare and exposed.  Keep standing there, and you'll start to realize that you're not as alone as you might think.

Perhaps the paint in my kitchen has cured, inspiration has come, and I've given myself yet another thing {or two or three} to ponder.  

Or, the fumes have gone to my head.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

How To Be

'Good mommies' read to their kids.  Daily.  At least that's what all the 'experts' will tell you.  In ways, I guess I used to be am one of these so-called 'experts'.  Teachers promote the school-home connection as one of the strongest ways to foster a solid educational foundation for children.  I should know.  It was a large portion of the soapbox on which I stood at every meet-the-teacher night, parent-teacher conference, and random phone call/email throughout the year to address a specific issue.

And yet, as a mom, do I follow my own teacher-y/soapbox-y advice?  Well, in ways, yes.  I do, to the fullest extent of what I envisioned the parents of my students doing--sitting down side-by-side at the 'homework table' to provide assistance through prompting (not telling) and questioning (not answering), finding creative ways to connect the skills being learned in school to 'real life' (measuring, counting money, functional writing activities, etc), and promoting manners and appropriate social behavior skills in hopes that they translate fully to the classroom setting and beyond (And from what we've heard thus far, this is one area where we have kicked some serious 'awesome parenting a**'.  Unlucky for us {and the school}, we've set the bar pretty high with {eesh}).  Overall, I'd say we're doing a pretty okay-ish job, and in my world, that is worthy of two thumbs up.  An 'A' for effort.  

Oh, but then there's that whole 'reading' thing.  Sitting down with a book between us, sharing the gift of time and the journey of an adventure to a far-off land with Flat Stanley; or giggling at the intricate and tongue-twisting rhymes of the original wordsmith himself, Dr. Seuss.  This is the area in which I not only fall short, but many, many days (like almost all of them), I fall flat on my 'hopeful mom' face and land somewhere in the middle of the Sea of Guilt.  Without a life vest.  And a school of teachers {pun intended} circling me, taunting me with stacks of children's books and looks of disapproval.  Trust me, I know the teacher 'look', and it ain't pretty.

So today, glorious today, I decided that rather than just chill out among scornful stares of those who are 'experts', I would plop down on the couch between my ballerinas daughters, turn off the background music Top 40 {kid-friendly lyric-ed} music I play all day long, and turn on my best 'read aloud, teacher-y' voice to read a few books.  I reached into the Land's End tote, the one we use specifically as a 'library bag', the one that I had personalized with our last name in large lettering so as to broadcast to everyone who sees, "Hey, look everyone!  Our family is studious, well-read, library-going folk!".  What's that?  More DVD's than books?  There must be some mistake!  We do not plop our children in front of movies to gain a little *free time*, who would do such things!, and grabbed a few books.  {Ironic sidebar: my current FB status reads as follows: 'Beauty and the Beast are I'll use the *free* time to ignore my laundry and blog ;) '}

The first book I read was Brynn's choice: Fancy Nancy: Spelndiferous Christmas  If you're a follower of this blog, then most likely, you know Brynn and this makes complete sense.  Brynn's world is made of pink, glitter, feather boas, and fluffy wonderfulness.  Think: cotton candy machine crossed with a Be-Dazzler, set to the tune of bubble-gum pop music.  And the Christmas theme?  Well that's obvious as well.  Her birthday has passed for this calendar year, as has Raegan's and most recently, Gavin's.  The next obvious holiday {read: PRESENTS!} is Christmas.  It seemed like her only logical choice.

After learning some fancy words courtesy of the curly-haired extravaganza that is 'Nancy', Raegan chose the next book, Elmer's Christmas, to keep with the apparent holiday theme that had quickly developed as a result of Brynn's desire for gifts.  An easy choice by a tiny tot who idolizes her older counterpart and chooses everything based upon the direct approval {or disapproval} of Brynn.  The book also features giraffes, so that made it a double word score, {for those mommas--unlike myself, of course--who forego reading to their children daily in order to play more Words With Friends}.

After I had expelled my very best 'ho ho ho!' from my lungs and closed the cover, I decided we needed to close this little reading session with a story that wouldn't get their hopes up for Christmas {read: PRESENTS} arriving any time in the near future.  I chose a cute {read: short} book, How To Be by Lisa Brown.  I remember picking the book up randomly while waiting {impatiently} for the ominous *darling* sound of the cowbell, signalling the start of story hour.  I flipped quickly through the pages, which have an average of about 5 words per page {score!} and tossed it into our super-y special, hoity-toity 'library bag'.  

As Brynn 'helped' me read, the girls and I learned, in limited description, 'how to be' various animals.  Carefully selected verbs and adjectives provide readers with an idea of what characteristics are necessary to fit into the mold of a specific creature.  For example, in order 'to be' a bear, one must growl.  Well, if that's the case, call me Yogi because I've been known to do so on occasion {especially after hearing the words, "Momma, pee...." coming from a child who is no where near a potty}.  I must be exceptionally talented, because I learned that I also am part turtle.  According to the book, 'to be' a turtle, one must hide.  That takes me back to just last night, when I returned home from the PTO meeting with a half-eaten bag of Sour Cream & Cheddar Ruffles.  I hid them on the counter behind my purse, but toddler eyes spotted them, so I snatched them and dashed into my bathroom where I promptly locked the door, sat down on the floor, and ate the rest of the bag while checking Facebook.  {It's worth mentioning that I've also enjoyed the occasional candy bar, cookie, and ice cream sandwich in this exact fashion.}  

I also learned that my all children are pretty talented when it comes to representing various members of the animal kingdom.  For instance, a characteristic of a monkey is to copy someone.  Well, Raegan sure as sh*t knows how to copy all the words she's not supposed to say {or hear}!  And spiders, well spiders are known to wait for a meal to come to you.  Aha!!!  I knew their helplessness is not learned, but rather innate.  Well played, Mother Nature, well played.  

The last section of the story turns the tables a bit, as it teaches readers 'how to be' a person.  Throughout the whole story, each animal has not only a list of cute characteristics that are easily stereotyped by its function in the world, but also mentions a slightly broader adjective that serves as an umbrella under which many animals {and people} may should fall.  The last section of the book simply revisits each of these adjectives to weave together a sketch of some of the key qualities a 'person' must should possess.  

{It appears that I've given away practically the whole story, and for those of you who relish in the surprise hidden behind the next page, I apologize.  I did, however, leave out enough of the words that I still think you'd find it to be a darling addition to your bookshelves--to be read, not just ignored for things such as Words With Friends or The Voice.}  And just to be polite to those who hate people like me who are giving away the ending, I'll say "spoiler alert", because I'm about to tell you the last line of the story.  Ready?

Don't say I didn't warn ya!

Be Yourself.  

That's it.  Simple, direct, obvious.  

Easy to do?  Eh...that's where I find the ironic struggle.  Here I spent the entire first part of my post outlining the innate fear I have of being judged for something as silly as not reading to/with my kids each day.  The first words of my post were 'good mommies'.  One of those subjective terms that I've been battling internally.  Who are these people who decide what 'good' means, anyway?  Is there a stately conference room somewhere in the middle of Minnesota {because, why not? let's fall onto the stereotyping bandwagon and note that people in the Midwest are generally known for being friendly, down-to-earth, and in general 'nice'--whatever that's supposed to mean!} where 'experts' congregate to discuss and craft this concept of 'good' to which we {society} upholds moms to?  Sadly, mommas, I think we've done this to ourselves.  

I have recently had deep discussions with fellow mommas, read blog posts and book passages that have struck a familiar chord, and been personally trying to wrap my brain around the source of the natural order of 'competitiveness' that can derive from a group of mommies left to their own devices.  Just today {today!}, I read an article about wealthy mommies from Manhattan who are hiring disabled people to pose as family members in order to jump the long lines.  Really?  The *need* to be 'first' and 'best' and 'most' has become so great that it has come to something as demeaning as this?  What ever happened to the old proverb "good things come to those who wait"?  Personally, I can't really find the 'good' that comes from hiring people to pose as family specifically for the personal gain of being 'first', or doing 'more'.  I think this teaches children that patience is not a virtue, but in fact something that is unnecessary.  Waiting can be avoided, if you have enough money.  I also think it's sad to know there are disabled people who are willing to devalue themselves in such a way.  True, they are turning their 'disability' into an 'ability', but at what cost?  Yes, they are reaping the financial gain, but at the cost of self-worth?  Exploiting their disability not to 'do good' {unless, of course, you're the rich kids who don't have to wait for Space Mountain}, but to answer to the almighty dollar.  *sigh*.  

It's a scary world out there to be raising kids in nowadays.  While I wholeheartedly believe that a strong educational background is essential for all children, I honestly think that teaching children 'how to be a person' is the fundamental puzzle piece that should be the core of what 'experts' focus their 'advice' on {for those moms who rely on books to figure out this whole 'parenting' thing}.  

Mommas.  Stop.competing.  Stop.'one-upping'.  Stop.comparing.  Just stop.  Look inside your heart, trust your instincts {and if you don't...find a trustworthy friend, not the advice of 'experts', who, by the way, conflict with each other on practically every parenting issue known to [wo]man}, and above all, BE YOURSELF.

shine bright, lone light...
posted on my Facebook last night...such a good {and simple} reminder.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Battle for 'All'

I've been pretty busy these past few weeks with the general goings-on of life as a SAHM with three little kids, as well as a surge in orders for cakes, cookies, and cupcakes as I attempt to get my little home-based baking business to take flight in the Lone Star state.  Gavin's principal, part of the PTO board, and a few other connections I've made here has meant that making buttercream frosting and/or sugar cookie dough has been almost a daily occurrence.  And I love it.  {Seriously?  I'm hosting a CDA (cookie dough anonymous) meeting next week for those interested.}.  I spend hours mixing, piping, and cleaning up only to have to make the same messes over again the next day.  It's been a bit overwhelming to go from zero to sixty, but I'm getting a bit more organized and recognizing areas where I need to continue making adjustments to this new baker-on-the-side-while-still-being-a-stay-at-home-mom status.

One {HUGE} obstacle I'm trying to navigate is striking the balance between fulfilling my role of *available* 'mommy' while working.  When I was teaching, dropping the kids off at daycare or school before heading into the sanctity of my classroom gave me the opportunity to spend time away from my children, where I was able to be a mommy who loved them endlessly while someone else took care of their immediate needs.  And to be honest, I kind of liked that.  I felt as though I was striking a balance between being a good mom while still being good to myself.  I had plenty of people who asked me if I was going to take time off to be with my kids after each time I had another baby.  My answer was always something to the effect of, "I love my kids more than I can even find words to express, but I am a better mom because I work".  Judgement was passed by some, emphatic nods of agreement given by others, and then there were the 'middle of the roaders'.  The ones who would get a sparkle in their eye when hearing that I felt better about my mom status because of my work-out-of-the-home status, only to have the dark cloud of guilt roll through.  The one that causes the inner struggle of feeling like they were failing their kids because they enjoyed most of the aspects of working away from home.  It's those people with whom I relate to most.

Sure, my outside smile says that I was 100% for working away from home, but heartstrings were being plucked daily by all sorts of things--the fact that Raegan technically took her first steps at daycare, never being able to volunteer in Gavin's classroom or attend field trips without having to spend hours on lesson plans for my own class, only having vague memories of Brynn as a baby because the time I did spend with my kids when she was a lil nugget was consumed by an active toddler.  I bashed my ability (or lack thereof) to spend more quality time with my kids when we were home because I was trying to juggle 37 different roles and responsibilities that were meant to please everyone else in my life except for myself.  I was banking on the joy, fulfillment, and satisfaction of others to keep my tank full and my spirit lifted, because the stress I was putting on myself kept my 'low fuel' light on all the time.  I had no idea that I was essentially running on fumes.

So, when we moved, I didn't search for a job right away.  My primary focus became getting our family acclimated to our new surroundings and starting to find building blocks on which to begin developing a support system here.  I hopped on to the pendulum and took a ride to the other side: life as a SAHM.  And for the time I've been labeled as such, I've had ups and downs and everywhere in-betweens.  I never once ridiculed or judged the SAHM's that I knew for having it 'easy', mostly because I was born with common sense.  But also because I know that parenting is hard as hell, and to be in the trenches night).long. is not easy feat.  I recognized prior to experiencing it first hand that I'd be working pretty damn hard without so much as a bathroom break to myself.  Even in the time it takes to eat a cheese stick, the minions beckon with demands for snacks, pleas for attention, or threats of peeing all over things because she's taken her diaper off (for the 294th time today).  I knew.  It's non-stop and I love them immensely, but there are plenty of days when it isn't fulfilling enough.

Enter the concept of 'work from home'.  I love the creative outlet, the fact that I am able to have something 'just for me' that I can also share with others, and of course the little extra money I'm able to make is an added bonus.

But really.  Like I said, I'm trying to figure out how to navigate the road of 'devoted-momma-while-trying-to-complete-an-order'.  I have countless people ask me on my highlight reel Facebook how I 'do it all'.  I usually cringe when I read the questions and/or comments about how I must never sleep, etc, etc.  Truth is, how I 'do it all' is not well.  I have terrible sleeping patterns courtesy of both my *darling* toddler and my own overactive brain.  In my written truths post, I listed {some} of what it is that makes me feel incomplete and inefficient as a woman/mommy.  I was broad enough that my statements encompassed various areas of my life, but I wasn't forthcoming enough to say that when it comes to 'doing it all', I suck.

I didn't write about how I rely solely on my 5 year old to inspire, and motivate, and further cultivate the interest Raegan has shown (yet again) in potty training.  I didn't write about how my almost 7 year old has to come in and wake me up in the morning because of the 5 alarms I set for myself, not one managed to rouse me from the random happenstance of a full night's sleep.  I chose to omit the fact that when I do get to 'sleep in' on weekends, more often than not it doesn't happen and I'm laying in bed playing possum whenever I hear the kids come in to see if I'm awake so I can pour their cereal, milk, or whatever random tidbit of uselessness they feel compelled to share with me during those sacrilegious hours.  I lay still and breathe shallow, hoping they'll approach with curious intent yet be disenchanted by a 'still sleeping' mommy and scamper off to strategically {and possibly intentionally} place Legos and other toys in my direct pathway to my most favored kitchen household appliance, my Keurig.  I neglected to share that there are days when the girls don't ever change from their pajamas, thus making me feel better about offering them cereal for breakfast, dry cereal for morning snack, cereal with fruit for lunch, and a trail mix of random cereals with a few m&m's for afternoon snack.  (Did I mention that in conjunction with the girl's pajama day(s), I join them, donning comfortable clothes for days filled with confectioner's sugar clouds, laundry folding marathons (most often occurring on the day Randy is slated to fly back in to town), or the rare times I'll indulge in a little couch-sitting/Barbie playing/channel surfing myself.)

I chose to keep those things (and many, many more) out for a few reasons...
a.) I'm wordy enough as it is.
b.) I guess there was still a fundamental disposition about my persona that felt the need to still come across as having it *partially* together
and of course, the one true reason:
c.) in reality, no one--NO ONE--has it all, does it all, is it all.  I don't even know what this 'all' is that so many people ask me about.  When I worked out of the house, I never felt like I had it 'all' because I was missing instrumental pieces of my kid's early lives.  I also felt as though I was shortchanging the 30 sweet students who relied on me for education, feedback, and encouragement.  Truth is, I couldn't strike a balance no matter how hard I tried.  On the flip side of the coin, I enter into the world of SAHM-mania and am faced with the inability to get a single room to stay 'in order' for more than 39.4 seconds of any given day.  My qualifications as a short-order cook have been questioned as I quickly throw some shredded cheese between two tortillas, put it on a paper towel (no extra dishes), and nuke it in the microwave to make a 'quesadilla' for my daughter's lunches (at the 'supermom time' of 2 pm because I was 'in the zone' with buttercream or Facebook or pretending  to organize the loft).

The reality is there is no 'all'.  There are the bits and pieces you've been given to create a puzzle for which you have not seen the final picture and for which can (and does) change on a frequent basis.  When I went to hear Glennon speak, she said to consider all the wonderful parts of being a woman as a puzzle, and that we're each only given a few parts, which is okay.  One of her monkee mantras is that 'together we can do hard things'.  She went on later to say that we need to let the 'hard' be what drives us (as women, mommies) together.  We need the connections in life to deal with the hard.

Working out of the house gave me those connections.  I had a support system that was an interwoven web of friends, colleagues, former students, and families.  The web isn't gone, I've just ventured to find a new place to make a web, to connect, to bake, to smile, to cry, to feel like giving up, to carry on, and to not do it 'all', but to do whatever parts I'm able to do as best as I possibly can.  Even if it means stocking up on Honey Nut Cheerios and Raisin Bran for another pajama day.

shine bright, lone light...

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Transitioning to the comfy jeans

This week Gavin brought his spelling list home, on which he's learning the -tch pattern.  Words like hatch, batch, patch, ditch, and stitch were printed perfectly using a perforated-line font, beckoning a pencil to connect the dashes and make the letters complete.  Pause for a bit of back story: each week, Gavin hastily traces all the letters, checks off the five words he wants to use first in his sentences, and leaves the remaining five for the next night.  Usually, the first night of spelling sentences is smooth sailing, because he's carefully selected the words for which he can independently and effectively craft a sentence.  It's in the second night that we face frustration.  Tears.  Annoyance. {when I give a few example sentences/scenarios and ask him to tell me what he thinks the word means based on that.  why will I not simply tell him the meaning?  why would I ever give him the chance to actually apply the strategies he's learning in school?  obviously, I don't know anything about kids and learning.  silly mommy.}

So, this week pretty much fell into tune with their previous counterparts; rapid tracing of letters, easy words used in day one sentences, frustration at mommy making him go back to capitalize and punctuate said sentences, and further frustration when he doesn't know how to verbalize what the day two words mean based on mom-given examples.  However, with it being the first week of May, I'm familiar with the routine and had armed myself heavily with an extra tall iced hazelnut latte.  The first four words of spelling sentence torture writing day 2 went relatively smoothly, so I {stupidly} relaxed a little and figured we'd sail through that final word.  Then, he read it {slowly sounding it out...but reading it all the same}


{Press 'play' for the repetitive conversation that ensues at the evil abyss of every unknown word:}
M: Gav, have you heard that word before?
G: Well Mrs. {awesome teacher} said it a few times yesterday and today.
M: Can you think of anywhere else you might have heard it?
G: Um....{dramatic pause to give the effect that he's actually thinking rather than seeing if I'll cave and define the word}  I've never heard it.
M: Okay then...listen to these three things, and see if you can figure out what the word means. {insert off-the-cuff-yet-craftily-created sentences/examples that allow him to utilize context clues}
G: Um...{'thinking' pause}...I don't know.  Just tell me.
M: If I 'just tell you', do you learn?
G: *SIGH*, face palm and/or head-meet-table.
M: I'll be ready to help you when you're finished with this *awesome* display of maturity.

Fast forward {not really, since you had to read that} to the final word.  Clutch.  This time, however, one of my off-the-cuff examples actually freaking worked, and Gavin replied with, "oh, so clutch means you hold on to something you really want".  Angelic voices resounded through the house as I polished off the last of my latte.  "So like, you hate being old, and you really want to be younger, so you clutch it".  {I know, right?  If it weren't for that whole 'parental responsibility' thing, and my deep-seeded love for the little smart a**, I'd have given him another -tch for his spelling list.}

After I spewed the last bit of coffee across the table, I raised a curious-yet-slightly-annoyed eyebrow {whilst deepening those 'worry lines'.  Damn the worry lines.}.

Innocent and ignorant laughter at mommy's apparent coffee faux pas broke the tension that was making my eye do this funny twitch thing when I'm seriously not pleased.  I stopped seeing those little squiggling lines in the background of my vision, and managed to respond with, "well, yes, Gavin.  I guess some people clutch to their youth.  Even your mother."

"Oh, okay.  Well, now I remember Mrs. {awesome teacher who is unaware the repercussions of this simple homework task} said that a 'clutch' can be like a purse without a strap.  And I raised my hand and said that my mommy has some of those and used it when she was in my uncle's wedding to carry her lip gloss and phone and tissues because she cried, but that's okay they were happy tears.  I'm going to write 'My mom has a black clutch with a flower'."

I sat in annoyed silence, empty latte cup in front of me, brow furrowed deeply {screw the worry lines, I'll buy some sort of cream} while my *darling* son wrote his stupid cute little sentence about a flowery purse.

So...apparently my almost-7-year-old is 'on to me' as I make valiant attempts to 'clutch my youth'.  I thought about this today while I was slathering on the SPF 70 to any exposed skin possible after I got dressed, while I was applying concealer to address the dark circles that skirt my under eyes, and while I made a notation on a sticky note in my planner to pick up some more hair color the next time I'm at Mecca Target because those few pesky color-that-shall-not-be-named appear to be peeking through.

I thought about all of the other things I do to 'clutch' at my youth.  There are a lot.  An uncomfortable amount even.  Most of which involve some crazy beauty ritual, a clothing style I might be on the verge of no longer being able to 'pull off', or music that I'm clutching to because it makes me remember 'the time when...'.

That last thing--about the music--spawned an impromptu walk down a piece of memory lane with two of my sweet friends from Penn State.  While painting a hallway today, I was listening to a playlist entitled "00's #1 Hits"{I didn't name it}.  As the songs filled my head, I was mentally transported to the dance floors of the favorite bars and clubs my friends and I frequented in State College.  Not wanting 'my girls' to feel left out, I tagged them in a post referring to this playlist on my Facebook.  Soon after, a stream of random conversation spawned from our sporadic, well-loved memories from a time in our lives when referring to 'my girls' actually meant my friends, not my daughters.

How and when did the paradigm shift, leaving me feeling like the pair of jeans you wear only if your favorite, cute ones happen to be in the wash?

I suppose the redeeming factor in this metaphor is of course that while those jeans aren't as new and 'hip' {wow.  yeah, I just said 'hip'.  honestly, I'm turning in my cool card right now}, they're pretty awesome because they're the ones you rely on when you need comfort, nostalgia, and maybe a little extra space in the waist.  They're the jeans that remind you of 'that time when...', and most likely have pretty good memories attached to them, because it isn't wise to hold on to things associated with unpleasantness.   Maybe they don't get to get 'out' as much as they used to.  That's okay.  Their primary purpose is to run errands, not to have a casual dinner and drinks with friends or be paired with trendy heels for a night of dancing and bar-hopping.  Sure, they might be a bit faded and worn, but that shows the marks of experience and lessons learned while wearing them.  Their little frays and tears are the jean's own way of showing 'worry lines', but instead of masking them with some sort of 'quasi-magic-and-only-temporary' fix, these flaws enhance their character and can become an opportunity to begin a conversation that could lead to great things.  {Tell me I'm not the only one who takes note of wonderfully, beautifully loved jeans.  Of course the Gemini in me doesn't just take note, I head into my loquacious side and use the butter-soft vintage-ness as a conversation starter.  It's okay if you're thinking that's strange right now.  When I wrote my truth the other day, I noted in number 12 that I have a horrible time receiving compliments, which essentially means the reverse is true, and I am pretty familiar with taking on a bit of taunting and mockery about my little quirks.}


As I was reading over Gavin's homework this afternoon so he can turn it in tomorrow, I glazed over the sentences and paused briefly at the clutch sentence to re-hash the crazy, meandering path my mind took upon hearing my son's {innocent} accusation of me trying like hell hard to hold on to my youth.  True, I'm just about a month away from yet another birthday; growing yet another year closer to the number that I'm sure will cause me to go into anaphylactic shock when it does in fact happen.

I am slowly recognizing myself as those comfortable jeans.  They may be full of holes, and 'broken', but who says 'broken' isn't ok?  Every one has flaws, fades, frays and stories to tell.

'The world breaks everyone and afterward many are stronger at the broken places'.
Ernest Hemmingway

shine bright, lone light