Monday, October 26, 2009

Good Problems

I, once again, have a dilemma. But this time, the dilemma is a good one. It makes me happy. It even makes me giggle every so often when I ponder it. My problem is this: I have too many new books to read, and I can't decide which one to start with.

Yes, I know that the world is busy debating health care options, settlements in Jerusalem, global warming mandates, and whether North Korea is unstable enough to nuke us. But I can't fix any of those things no matter how much thought I put into it, so I'm going to focus my energy on a mini-crisis of my own making.

It started like this: my friend Kelly recommended a book series to me. The series met several key reading requirements: 1) it is at least moderately well-written, 2) it is engaging and escapist, and most importantly 3) all the books in the series have been released. So help me, I refuse to start one more book series where I have to wait a year (or more!) between books. In fact, I could have overlooked the well-written part of my requirements as long as the book met the other two. The book series is called "The Mortal Instruments" by Cassandra Clare. Book one is "City of Bones."

Kelly dropped off the first two books in the trilogy on Saturday afternoon. Ryan was gone most of the day, so I plowed through that one like a hot knife through butter. Zack was sick and had to stay home from church and serendipitously it was my turn to stay home with him. Long story short, I finished both books in about three days. I want to say that it was the reading equivalent of scarfing down an extra value meal when you're famished - I inhaled those books so fast I barely tasted them. But even though it was fast, I enjoyed the books. When it comes to good books, I'm not a nibbler - the book is either devoured whole or tossed out like a moldy loaf of bread. I think a better analogy would be to say that reading these books this weekend was like swimming underwater. I completely immersed myself and zipped through the pages, holding my breath until I absolutely had to come up for air. Then I would inhale, quick and deep, and plunge back in. I love that feeling of being so encompassed by another world that my own life and problems seem trivial and my whole mental effort is devoted to how that character was going to get himself out of the mess he's in.

I had to surface this afternoon when I finished book two because I didn't have book three. I did, however, have an exam to study for and various other mundane tasks that become urgent when a mother neglects her hearth for a reading binge. So I wasn't complaining. But by this evening I was ready to start neglecting again (real life being so much less appealing than I remembered) so I hopped onto Audible and started perusing. That's when it happened. For once in, I don't know, months and months and months I had a list of books that I was anxious to read and didn't know where to start.

It's not normally like this for me. Usually, I finish a book and then start hunting for a new one. Any time I talk to someone, I ask what they're reading right now, always looking for suggestions. I grab random books at the library, hoping something will be worthwhile. I read reviews on Goodreads, Amazon, and Audible looking for a book with the right combination of interesting plot, decent writing, and that's light on the smut/language. Generally I can have two of the three, and my mood determines which ideal I have to sacrifice. Right now I feel like I pulled the handle of a slot machine and hit the literary jackpot. (For the record, I've never actually pulled the handle of a slot machine, but I wouldn't be opposed to reading a book about it. My standards only extend so far.)

Here are the books on my dance card:
1. City of Glass (the above-mentioned Book Three)
2. SuperFreakonomics - my mind is itching to read this one, it looks so good!
3. The Gathering Storm, the latest in the Wheel of Time saga. It comes out tomorrow, but though I'm buying it right away, reading it can wait. I've already waited, what, four years for this book? Plus the book before this one could use a reread.
4. K2 by Ed Viesturs - I'm halfway through this book right now but it might get shelved temporarily.
5. and 6. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days and the latest 39 Clues books - both are fun series that Brad and Noah are reading and I like to read with them.

Six books. Six brand-new books. How did I get so lucky? With the reading I have to do for school, I could probably string these books out for months. On the other hand, I could buy them all and read straight through and polish them off in about a week. Two weeks, tops. Although I can't imagine the state of my house afterwards, or my marriage for that matter. I think I will bask in the glorious beauty of six books sitting on my nightstand (or in my ipod). Yes, it might be frustrating to have so many great books waiting to be read, tempting me to abandon my responsibilities. But think of the pleasure it will bring when I find time to escape reality and have something great to dive into. Bliss. I think I'm going to invest in a snorkel.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Swing Is Dead, Long Live The Swing

The time has come, and not a moment too soon in Ryan's mind. The backyard fixture that has been known alternately as The Swingset of Doom, the Deathtrap, The Giant Sinkhole That Sucked $700 Of Our Good Money (okay, that last one might have just been in my head), it's gone. Gone the way of the dodo, if the dodo was cut up with a chainsaw and hauled to the dump. Ryan's been waiting for this moment since approximately 5 minutes after he finished building the darn thing. He's feeling glorious right about now.

He's feeling doubly glorious since the former swingset home is now the location of his new pride and joy, the shed. A husband who gets all excited about building a shed is not a new thing. It's about as stereotypical as husbands get; after all, how many wives are bragging at playgroup about the shed they're building? Not many. That's the husband's thing. (Wives, incidentally, talk about their craft rooms.) Ryan's not that kind of husband generally. He's not building it for his tool collection or for his tractor/ATV/Ski-doo storage. He's tricking this puppy out and turning it into (drumroll, please) an office! That's more like Ryan. I can buy that. If he claimed to be building a shed as a carpentry workshop, I'd get suspicious and start checking his phone for curious texts. An office, well, that makes sense.

So far, the shed has been erected, wires have been laid from the house to the shed via a giant trench in the backyard for electricity, and the inside is insulated. A large stack of drywall is awaiting installation. A gigantic credit card bill is sitting on my desk. We are in too deep to turn back now, but if it all goes well, the shed will be an asset and not The Second Giant Sinkhole. Part of Ryan's master plan, and justification for the whole thing, is to use the loft of the shed (it's barn-like) as a makeshift sleeping area for the kids when family comes to visit. We'd put the family out there, but there's no bathroom, and with three boys in the family, well, that probably wouldn't be a problem for them. Sorry if that's TMI.

You'd think that now that the swingset is gone, our life would be injury-free. Not so. Recall that the swingset was originally purchased to replace the potentially-but-not-as-yet-dangerous trampoline that Ryan's parents had given us. The swingset moves in and BAM! Blood starts pouring. The blood had barely dried on the swingset before random monkey bars started snapping off, entire sections bent, and the whole thing would sway back and forth when someone swung, like that entire section of backyard was a ship on a roiling sea. It was an accident waiting to happen, and occasionally, actually happening.

So a few days after the final destruction of the swingset, I took the kids to Jump On It. Noah had been begging to go for weeks, as he had been practicing doing backflips on his friend's trampoline and wanted to try it out at the real place. Watching Darcey bounce across the trampoline and having a great time, I started to regret giving away the trampoline in the first place. After all, I reasoned, not having a trampoline hasn't stopped our kids from using them (at friends' houses) and it's not like the kids ever got hurt.

It's like having that thought triggered what happened next. I heard my name called over the loudspeaker and as I went to the front desk, followed the trail of blood on the floor to the bathroom, where Noah was sobbing and holding a huge wad of paper towels against his mouth. He had been doing a flip and landed on his knees, one of which bounced up and hit him square in the mouth, knocking two of his teeth backwards. It was painful for him, and gruesome to look at. To be perfectly candid, I didn't handle this whole episode very well. I rounded up the kids (three of my own, two neighbors) and got them home fine, but once I got home I lost it. I couldn't stop crying. I cried through phone calls to two different medical personnel until I finally had to hand Ryan the phone and make him take over. It was so embarrassing. My reactions were clearly out of proportion to the situation - Noah wasn't even crying anymore for Pete's sake, why was I so emotional? I normally handle medical crises with my children fairly well - this was not normal. (See my previous post for an explanation of why I was "not normal." It still took me by surprise to react so badly.)

Ryan took Noah to a great dentist that was open on Saturday. His teeth popped right back into place and so far he hasn't had any lasting damage. I've come to a conclusion - it doesn't matter what kind of apparatus we build in the backyard, kids will find a way to get hurt. Since Ryan has vetoed my idea to cover the entire yard in Nerf, I just have to accept that accidents are going to happen. Noah, in particular, is going to keep the local InstaCare in business singlehandedly. It makes me panicky to say that, to admit that my kids will get hurt. It's my job to stop that from happening, and even though I KNOW it's impossible, I still have a fundamental belief that if I am vigilant enough, try hard enough, pray enough, teach them and lecture them and scare them enough, I can stop anything bad from happening to my kids. To say that no matter what I do, bad things will happen and the only hope is that they are tough enough, lucky enough to come out relatively unscathed, well, that's something I don't know if I can say. Maybe we can rethink the Nerf Pavement idea again.

So the backyard has seen the end of the Reign of Terror by the swingset and we are adding the swingset to the rather lengthy list of things we wasted money on. (Dave Ramsey calls this a Stupid Tax. I call it tuition in the school of life. Ryan just calls it stuff we wasted money on.) The only thing we have left of the swingset is the little fort area that used to be the top of the swingset, where the slide started and the monkey bars ended. I asked Ryan to cut that off and turn it into a playhouse for Darcey, which I've been wanting to get her for ages. That part is sitting on the patio and Darcey seems to like it. It can be our $700 playhouse. (No, it can't. That hurts too much.) Don't think I'm not wary, though. I have a feeling that the playhouse is biding its time, laying in wait for us to get complacent and that's when it will attack. Blood will yet be drawn by the Swingset of Doom, mark my words.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Depressing Topic

I've debated for a long time whether or not to write a blog entry on this topic. It is personal and I'm fairly emotional about it. But then I thought, if you can't be completely honest and intimate with strangers on the Internet, who CAN you be honest and intimate with?

Let's just be blunt about this - rip the band-aid off quickly. I'm suffering from depression. It took me a very long time to be able to say that sentence, for a variety of reasons. One is that the sentence itself irritates me. The word "depression" implies sadness, and depression is used all the time to discuss much less serious issues. If a person can be depressed because their team lost a ballgame, then what I have is not depression. But the next more generic word would be "mental illness" and that's a word I refuse to even consider. So I don't like the word depression.

The second reason is that I don't like the phrase "suffering from depression." It sounds like the phrase you always hear in depression medication commercials, as in: "Are you, or someone you love, suffering from depression?" I don't want to be "suffering from" but I can't come up with another word that fits. I want to say "dealing with depression," and that phrase is okay (except for the alliteration). I want to refer to this as an "episode" so that no one mistakes me for a chronically depressed person - if this is a mental illness, I've just got a cold, not a full-blown disease.

The third reason is that I don't like the word "I'm." Because that indicates me, myself, Emily, the person I am and always thought I was has turned out to be a different person altogether. I don't want to say *I'm* suffering from depression - *you* can suffer from it all you want, and I'll be totally supportive and understanding, but don't let it be me, please God don't make it be me. I want to lay down on the ground and kick my feet and scream until it goes away, which is basically what I spent all summer doing and trust me, it doesn't work. Depression doesn't go away because you deny its existence or come up with other theories as to what's wrong with you. I mean me. Because I'm the depressed person I'm referring to, no matter how much I want it not to be me.

To be perfectly honest, I feel like my mind betrayed me. Not my mind so much as my brain, the organ or whatever you call it, that gray mass up there has gone haywire, sending out too much of this chemical and not enough of another and whammo! I spend six months getting progressively more irritated, irrational, unable to think clearly, fatigued. What did I ever do to my brain to deserve this kind of treatment? Of all my various body parts, my brain is probably my favorite. I feed it well, try to exercise it regularly, show it off in front of its friends. I think I've taken pretty good care of my brain, and yet it turns on me. If this had been some other body part, it'd be different. A bad back wouldn't be nearly as personal a defect as a bad brain is. I've never been athletic; in fact, I would expect my body to let me down if ever put to the test. If I was on Survivor, I'd be the person doing the puzzle in the challenge, not the swimmer or the strong one or the runner. I feel like my brain stabbed me in the back.

The irony is that other than the depression, my life is good right now. We're doing fine financially, our marriage is strong, the kids are healthy and happy and have friends. I have good friends, school is easy, my schedule is about as relaxed as it can be. There's nothing concrete I can point to and say, "As soon as I fix this, I'll be fine." That doesn't stop me from trying, though. I have spent many an hour thinking, analyzing myself, to find that one character defect that is preventing me from being happy. Guess what: it's not there. Not that I'm defect-free, mind you. But I've got the same defects as, say, a year ago, when I felt if not perfectly happy then at least perfectly normal.

"Normal" is another word I take exception to. I keep hoping that someday I'll be "back to normal." But what is "normal?" According to the Internet, normal means: conforming to the standard or the common type; usual; not abnormal; regular; natural. So I'm hoping I'll get back to the Standard Me, the Not-Abnormal Me, Regular Old Me. Unfortunately, I can't really remember much about Regular Old Me. I've spent the last six months thinking I was Regular Old Me but was feeling like Overly Emotional Me, Flies Off The Handle Me, Too Tired For Life Me. Over time, I've assimilated all of these new, depression-related attributes into Regular Me, and it's exceedingly hard to separate the wheat from the chaff.

I don't have a pithy ending for this blog entry, mostly because I'm still dealing with depression in the present tense. I've started taking a new medication and I'm starting to feel better - the constant fatigue is gone, thank goodness, but I still cry more than is warranted. I have a lot of hope that my depression is manageable and temporary, but I'd settle for manageable. I didn't write about my depression to garner sympathy or attention. I mostly wanted to expose depression for what it really is: a problem with chemicals in the brain. It's not a moral failing, a lack of motivation, laziness, or the latest fad disorder. If it was something I could overcome on my own, through exercise or diet or sheer willpower, you better believe I would have overcome this already. I feel weak for being depressed in the first place (as if it's something I could control), but at the same time I feel incredibly strong and so proud of myself for continuing to live and work and try despite how hard it was. There were days (and still might be) when getting out of bed or going grocery shopping or interacting with my children was an absolutely monumental task. But I did, and have learned to be grateful for the ability to do these things. Once the fog lifts for good, I'll be able to see life and myself more clearly. I will appreciate happiness. I will be creative. Above all, I will be empathetic. I think I'm going to like New And Improved Me if she ever gets here.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Things They Never Told Me At The Hospital

Parenting is tricky business. Every day I figure out something new about being a parent that I never realized before, and I've been at this for 12 years. At the hospital after having each child, a nurse stopped by and gave me a questionnaire with all of the topics a new mother might have questions about, and she would then teach a little lesson about how to do things like change a diaper, breastfeeding, anger management, etc. Today I'd like to present a brief list of the things that they never told me at the hospital. Feel free to add your own insights in the comments.

1. Children always start fighting when you have conditioner in your hair and one leg shaved.

2. Frequently, the determining factor when making a child-rearing decision is, "Will doing this get me acquitted by a jury of my peers?"

3. Not only do children not come with an instruction manual, they also do not come with something much more useful - a can of carpet cleaner. I had this thought last week while scrubbing a mess that Huggies failed to contain.

4. It's probably not a good idea to show your kid how surprised you are at a good report card.

5. While YOU may find your toddler's nascent vocabulary utterly charming, it'd be a good idea to provide a babysitter a Toddler-to-English dictionary, so she knows that "sis-a-weh-wah" means "Cinderella." Also that the non-replicatable six-syllable word that she screams in front of the refrigerator means "strawberries."

Monday, October 5, 2009


My dad has a theory that Facebook is killing communication. A theory which, ironically, he posted on Facebook. He posits that a Facebook post is a mere Cheeto in comparison to the robust meal of a blog entry. It's true - there are lots of things that I post on Facebook in a sentence or two that with some additional thought, time, and energy I could flesh out into a full-blown essay. Lately I've been running low on all three ingredients, hence the lack of posts lately. I decided to just skip blogging in September altogether - it looks better to have a month skipped than to have the blog archive read: September (1). That just looks pathetic. This way, maybe people will forget that there WAS a September. After all, if Parenting Front Line skipped September, maybe it was worth skipping.

Anywho, I am bowing to my father's wishes and resuming my blog, with no guarantees of frequency, length, or cleverness going forward. I was reading this New York Times blog entry today and it sparked some thoughts. The author has received a Traveling Poetry fellowship of some sort, which allows him to spend an entire year traveling outside of North America. My thoughts on the subject went like this:

1) Cool! I wanna do that!
2) How on earth do you decide where to go for an entire year of traveling??

I drove myself to the very brink of insanity trying to plan an itinerary for a mere three weeks in Europe last year. At least my parameters were smaller - I knew we were going to be in England and Paris for some amount of time; Ryan wanted to see Switzerland and we snuck in a few days in Milan. At the very least, I knew we couldn't go beyond Europe. But narrowing it down to those four cities nearly killed me. In choosing Milan, I had to give up Venice and Rome. Switzerland instead of Germany. What if I had to choose from the entire world? Is one year enough to see everything on my list?

I could divide it up chronologically, by taking the most interesting historical events and going to those locations. I like seeing old things. Egypt's pyramids and the Great Wall of China and cathedrals are all high on my list. Or, I could focus on natural wonders of the world - Mount Everest and rainforests and the Andes. Or I could skip the big cities altogether and focus on the small places, the authentic villages that have been unspoiled by tourists (that is, until I get there, I guess). Or, and I love this idea, I could travel gastronomically and eat my way around the world. Yes, I think that's my favorite. You can tell a lot about a country by what they eat.

So I guess what I'm saying is, sign me up. I would write a book about my year of traveling and the hook would be that of course I had to do it with my husband and four kids. Which means that all of my fantastic plans, my exquisitely detailed itinerary and travel-by-theme would go out the window, as the real goal would be how many bathrooms we can find in any given country. At the very last minute, naturally.

My question for you is, if you had a year to travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?