Sunday, May 30, 2010

It's My Party, I Can Cry If I Want To

I am a good mother.  I am a good mother.  I am a good mother.

At least, I thought I was.

Darcey's third birthday is tomorrow, and since I've waited, oh, half my life to throw a Princess-themed birthday party, I've decided this year is the year.  No matter that Darcey is probably too young to appreciate or even remember a birthday party.  No matter that she doesn't understand the birthday party concept enough to know she can ASK for a particular theme.  See, that's the beauty - this is MY party, disguised as my daughter's.  It's a win-win, and you know how much I love a win-win when one of the wins is mine.

My mom sent me a link to a blog with a cute Tinkerbell party idea.  There were magic wand party favors and fairy wings and Tink's Beauty Salon and crafts and homemade butterfly-shaped waffles for breakfast.  It was cute and inspiring, exactly what I was looking for.  Good, easy ideas for a girl's party.  But then I made a horrible mistake.

I kept looking at the website.

I know that doesn't seem drastic, but you don't understand the potency of a website like this.  This blogger plans elaborate - and adorable - parties and then posts the pictures with instructions to replicate the event at your very own house.  Instead of looking at these ideas for what they are - simply ideas - I'm looking at the blogger's life.  She throws birthday parties.  She celebrates not only the standard holidays (Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter) but also the extra holidays, like St. Patrick's Day and April Fool's and Valentines Day.  She turns kids' playdates into full-blown events, with tablecloths and place settings and themes.  She throws parties for Dr. Seuss's birthday.  She throws parties for no reason, like a Curious George party or a My Favorite Things party for her girlfriends.  She babysat a friend's kids and turned it into a Teddy Bear Picnic.

When I babysit my friends' kids, they're lucky to come home with both shoes, let alone a goodie bag.

Do you realize what this means?  It means that this kind of lifestyle is possible.  And that's the reason I'm over here, hyperventilating.  Because this is the kind of mom I wish I was.  The kind that makes napkin rings out of coordinating scrapbooking paper.  The kind that makes party favors and goodie bags and homemade Death Star-shaped pinatas.  You know, the kind of mother that loves her children.

Ryan found me reading this blog, my self-respect shrinking with every ladybug-shaped-strawberry, and begged me to turn it off.  "You'll make yourself crazy reading that," he told me.

"But, look!  She sprinkles glitter on the guests' heads to turn them into princesses!"  I exclaim.

"That sounds messy."

"And then she sends a tube of princess dust home with each kid."

"You would do that to your friends?"

Um, okay, he had a point there.

"You know who I want to talk to?"  Ryan asked.  "I want to talk to this lady's husband.  I bet he is getting seriously neglected."

Yes, but think of the children, I wanted to say.  Brad and Noah were looking over my shoulder, exclaiming about the Hershey Kiss-shaped rice krispy treats and the firecrackers made out of Life Saver rolls.  "Admit it," I told Brad.  "You wish I did stuff like this."

He paused.  I know it's horrible to put your kid on the spot like that, but if I'm already a horrible mother, I might as well go all the way.  "No," he said loyally.  "That lady is a perfectionist.  I bet she makes her kids clean all the time."   Good answer.

I couldn't stop looking at the website.  It was a kind of parenting self-flagellation.  If I was a good mother, I'd throw a Polar Express party for my kids' friends at Christmas.  If I was a good mother, I'd make butterfly-shaped apple slices for their lunch box.  (That assumes I was a good enough mother to make their lunch, which I'm not.)  If I was a good mother, I'd print candy bar wrappers for every single holiday known to Hallmark.  If I was a good mother, I'd bake my kids' birthday cakes, instead of buying them.

What kind of lousy mother am I?  This wasn't how I was raised.  I used to make birthday cakes, and cool ones too.  I made a cake shaped like a hamburger, a basketball, a pool-shaped cake with Jello water and gummy sharks.  I used to throw parties that required hours of preparation.  Now I pride myself in how little work I can get away with and still call it a "party."  If I don't outsource the party to Chuck E. Cheese.

There's no other explanation for it - I've let myself go.

How can I live with myself?  My children are going to end up delinquents, living on the street, eating out of dumpsters, and when This American Life shows up and asks how their life went so horribly wrong, they'll say, "It's all my mother's fault.  She made me buy school lunch every day.  For my birthday, she gave me a store-bought cake and then made my friends run around the backyard for an hour.  There wasn't even a theme.  If only she had loved me enough to let me dip my own caramel apples!  If only our house was decorated for Chinese New Year!  Oh, the horror!"

I mock, but I really, truly wish I was that kind of mom.  I wish I could get a coalition of mothers together so we can decide on some kind of minimum standard for good-motherhood.  Anyone who exceeds those standards can do so if they want, but the rest of us, the lower-rung, under-achieving mothers, we don't have to feel obligated.  Until then, I'm just going to keep repeating my mantra.

I am a good mother.  I am a good mother.  I am a good mother.

*p.s.  I bet you're wondering where's the link to this uber-party website, right?  Well, I'm not going to give it to you.  I wouldn't do that to my friends.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Boredom Watch 2010

Hello, folks, and welcome back to the most anticipated event of the school year, the Last Day of School!  That day where the pain and torture of sitting at a desk all day and learning stuff can finally come to a blessed end.  That day where all of the dreams and goals and plans that would have been getting done all year, if not for school, can finally be accomplished.  That day that has been circled in red on every kid's calendar since way back in August.

And thus we begin Boredom Watch 2010.  How long will the glorious release of summer last until the first child says those magic words, "I'm bored!"  For those of you just catching up, our current record holder is Brad from 2008, when he crossed the whining finish line a mere one hour and eight minutes after the school day ended.  2009 was a disappointment - the kids finally, finally dragged their tired, limp bodies, already worn out from literally MINUTES of playing, into the Boredom record books at four hours after school.  I know we can do better than that.

Brad walked in the door at 9:25 a.m.  While we wait for the first update, I'm going to re-post a part of last years' Boredom Watch entry which I thought was particularly amusing.
We are on Boredom Watch 2009 - the clock is ticking and we are counting down to the first "I'm bored" of the season.  I know in some families this concept would be foreign, what with all their happily-spending-time-together, playing-board-games-and-singing-songs, who-needs-a-tv-when-we-have-each-other moments.  Maybe some families have children that know how to entertain themselves, but I don't.  Weird, because you'd think with all the neglecting of them that I do, they would have figured it out by now.
Sometimes I wish we lived on a farm, the romantic kind of farm in my mind where the boys help Pa with the chores without complaining, and Darcey and I spend our time keeping house.  We'd make huge meals from scratch, all organic and free-range and whatnot, and because we had to thresh the wheat and churn the butter, the homemade bread would be the best thing you ever tasted.  It's the sacrifice that gives it it's flavor.  The boys would come home all tuckered out, but they'd still have time to meet up with their friends to play kick the can, or hit a hoop with a stick.  Or maybe they'd be too tired from all that hard work to do much more than talk about that cute girl down at the five-and-dime and make plans for repairing the fence on the back forty.  But that's just a pipe dream from a woman who would be personally unwilling to give up her laptop, ipod, washer and dryer, etc etc etc.  Yes, that lifestyle would be the true survival of the fittest, and we'd prove ourselves to be lazy, fat, sloth-like couch dwellers ready to be picked off.

For kids who have every conceivable entertainment at their disposal, summer can be a really boring time,apparently.

So the countdown begins.  Will this be another record-breaking year or will 2010 go down in history as the first time since school was invented that children find non-boring things to do all summer?  Stay tuned to find out.

Update #1 - 11:15 and no sign of boredom yet.  In fact, no sign of my kids - the boys are all off with their friends.   It seems that boredom will be held in abeyance until the friends get bored of my kids.

Update #2 - 2:35 and still, everyone is occupied.  I left Ryan as the Boredom Monitor while I was at school and he reported zero incidents of boredom so far.  We've now passed the five hour mark - already an hour longer than last year!  Can we keep this going?  Does anyone have a contact at Guinness so we can register this?

Update #3 - 9 p.m.  Zack is in bed, the other boys are on their way, and not a peep about being bored.  We lasted the entire last day of school with no boredom!  Can this be?  Is it possible we are turning over a new, self-entertaining leaf?  No, I dare not say that out loud.  I'll just think it...and keep you posted tomorrow.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Armor Adventure

It’s 37 degrees and raining.

“They’re not going to cancel just because of the rain,” Ryan says.

“I didn’t say they would.”

“I know, I’m just telling you because…well, don’t take this the wrong way, but I’m tougher than you.”  I glare at my husband.  I’m already reluctant, insults are not helping his cause. I agreed to dress in Ryan’s stormtrooper armor for the Walk With Angels, a fundraiser to support caregivers of disabled children.  The garrison was asked to be there at 8:30, dressed by 9, mingling with attendees until the walk begins at 10.  Ryan is beside himself with excitement that I am dressing up today.  I am less excited. The alarm went off at 7:15 this Saturday morning.  I only set the alarm on the weekend for darn good reasons, like my wedding, or auditioning for “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.”  This does not feel like a good enough reason.

Driving to Lehi under an unfurled black tarp of a sky, I know I’m going to be miserable.  I hate being cold.  I hate feeling stupid.  I’m going to voluntarily dress up like a life-size action figure and stand in the rain so that strangers can stare at me?  I don’t know what I was thinking when I agreed to this.

The park is nearly abandoned when we get there at 8:45.  A few people are huddled under pavilions, filling helium balloons and organizing t-shirts for the registered walkers.  Giant bounce houses are inflating and man-sized speakers are playing upbeat music, “Kokomo” by the Beach Boys.  Ironic.

“I feel so stupid.  Why am I doing this?  I’m going to look like an idiot!”  We slowly cruise by Darth Vader on the sidewalk.  I groan.  “I have to stand next to that guy.  I am going look like a moron!”

From the backseat, nine year old Noah says, “Mom, stop saying that.”


“Because I like you.”  I shut up.  The internal monologue doesn’t stop, though, and now it includes I’m such a horrible mother.  What am I teaching my children?

We find a parking spot and pile out of the van.  Ryan opens his enormous Rubbermaid tote, the size you’d buy to stuff a body into, not that I’ve considered it or anything.  The armor parts are neatly stacked inside and he locates the thigh pieces.  It’s time.

I unbutton my jeans.  A black bodysuit is on underneath, but I look around quickly anyway to make sure no one is looking.  I feel like a creep, taking off my pants in a suburban neighborhood.  I pop those thigh pieces on with lightning speed – now if anyone looks out the window, they’d see a half-dressed stormtrooper, and not a half-undressed woman.  (Which, frankly, few people would complain about.  Trade me for my husband and someone might call the cops.)

The armor goes on quickly and I’m grateful for last night’s trial run.  I’ve pulled my hair into a low ponytail and secured my bangs with five clips.  Ryan helps me across the street before he puts the helmet on my head.  The transformation is complete, and I’m feeling sick.  “Wait, Ryan, I need to scratch my nose!”

“Too late for that.  There’s no way to get your hand in there.”

He’s keen to my stalling tactics and he steers me past the parked cars and over to the grassy area where Darth Vader waits along with a TIE Pilot, Boba Fett, a Jawa, and two Imperial Officers.  The Imperial Officers are Vader’s daughters, proving that nepotism in the Empire is alive and well.

Two girls standing on the sidewalk are pointing and giggling.  “Ryan, they’re laughing at me!” I say, panicked.  I knew it!

Ryan turns on the optimism.  “No, they’re smiling at how good you look!”  I give him an incredulous, how-can-you-be-so-blind look, but he can’t see me through the helmet.  I wave to the gigglers and they wave back.  At least they didn’t trip me, I thought.  This is worse than walking through middle school with a “Nerd” sign taped to your back – this is a giant, flashing neon “Nerd” sign, with spotlights pointed at my head.  Blending into the background is not possible when wearing armor.  I miss being a wallflower.

We catch up with the rest of the garrison.  To Vader, Ryan says, “This is my wife, Emily.”  I wave.  Vader waves back.  “Emily, this is-“ he cuts off when a little boy walks up.  “… Darth Vader,”  he finishes lamely.  In front of other people, we are to call each other by our characters’ names.  We also can’t take our helmets off – we don’t want to ruin the illusion.  I never do find out Vader’s real name.

Ryan turns to me.  “Stay by Darth Vader.  If anyone wants to take his picture, you jump in there, too.  Don’t put your blaster down or you may never see it again.  I’ll come back and check on you in a little while.”  I nod, but my helmet smacks into the chestplate.  I wave instead.  “You look great,” he says and smiles.

I stand there.  I don’t know what to do.  The only kids there are the children of the volunteers and they are staying under the pavilion.  My vision is limited to anything above my nose – below that, I’m blind.  I can’t see little kids unless I bend forward at the waist.  I shuffle in a slow circle to get a good look at my surroundings.  Vader’s gone.  I see him striding across the grass, already forty feet away from me.  Crap!  I could run (okay, shuffle) after him, but instead I decide to stay with the rest of the group, milling around by the registration booth.

Three hoodie-wearing ten-year-olds come up to us.  They look a little nervous and hang back a bit, so I wave.  One boy waves back and they turn to each other and laugh.  A second boy stands in front of the group and, arms outstretched, he yells, “Shoot me, Stormtrooper!”  I take careful aim with my blaster, and pull the trigger.  Electronic shooting sounds send the boy gleefully crashing to the ground.  Aww, I think, they’re playing with me!  How fun. The boys huddle up, then one pulls out a ladybug-shaped umbrella.  He points it at me and starts opening and closing it, circling around me and yelling, “Bang!  Bang!  I’m shooting you!”  I shoot back, turning to follow him with my scope.  I feel something touch my back, and I realize I can’t see the other two boys.  The umbrella-wielder was distracting me so that the other two could sneak up behind me and touch me.  The boys ran away, laughing.  I wish my blaster shot real bullets.

Two women in their forties see me standing on the grass and come over.  They are excited to see me.  “Can we get a picture with you?”  I nod.  They hand their camera off and stand on either side of me.  The TIE pilot and Vader come from behind and get in the shot.  A dad brings his daughters over.  He’s clearly more excited than they are.  We take pictures with them and the dad is delighted.  Watching someone else be this happy about Star Wars characters makes me smile.

The TIE pilot points to the sun, finally emerging out of the clouds.  Addressing Vader, he says, “Look, sir, the sun!”   Ugh, cheesy.  I remember dressing up to go to Renaissance Faires in high school.  My friends and I were involved in theater, so being dramatic in public was standard operating procedure.  Tim, my most eccentric friend, once spent an entire week speaking in a British accent.  He’d be the one at the Faire calling everyone My Lord or My Lady, pulling out every Shakespearean phrase he could.  He clapped coconut shells together as simulated horse hooves, a la Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  I went along with the crowd, but I was never able to lose myself in my character and stop feeling cheesy.  The armor provides a level of anonymity, at least – no one knows it’s me in there.  The TIE pilot’s point is accurate – the sun had come out, and it was finally warming up a bit.

Over the next hour, things got fun.  Families streamed into the park and I learned to enjoy people pointing at me.  A toddler spent five minutes staring.  I waved at him and slowly he crept toward me.  I was waving at some other kids when I heard more than felt my thigh pieces cracking into each other.  The toddler had reached me and wrapped my legs in a big hug.  I couldn’t see him but I rubbed my hand on his head.  He let go and ran back to his grandma, the huge grin on his face a mirror to my own.

The United Angels Foundation provides support and relief for burdened caregivers and developmental aid for the individual “angels.”   Many of the families that attended the walk had disabled children with them.  One little girl was wearing a red sequinned jacket – she was part of a dance group performing at the fundraiser.  She was seven or eight and had Down’s Syndrome.  I waved and walked closer to her, she waved back and smiled at me.  Her mom was nearby but didn’t approach with a camera, so the little girl and I stood and looked at each other.  I held out my blaster.  As she took it, her eyes behind her glasses lit up.  Her smile was so wide that her tongue hung out.  She turned to show her mom the blaster then turned back to me.  She fingered the trigger, pushed some fake buttons, then reluctantly handed it back.

Later, I was standing near Darth Vader when a man with Down’s approached.  He was probably in his early twenties.  He stood in front of Vader, pointed at him, and loudly announced, “You are freaking awesome.”  Then he turned to me and said, “So are you.”    Emotion overwhelmed me.  Love for this man who could express himself with such clarity.  Gratitude that I have four perfect, healthy children.  Guilt that I don’t appreciate it every single day of their lives.  Compassion for the mothers that weren’t so lucky, and respect that they have learned more about a mother’s love than I probably ever will.  I started crying.  My helmet hid my face, but my shaking shoulders were clearly visible.  I pulled myself together.

The one incontrovertible truth that I can take away from this experience is this:  after one cries, one must blow one’s nose.  A helmet without nose access prohibits this.  The results can be unpleasant.  Needless to say, as soon as Ryan came to check on me, I made him take me to the car.

Once the nose situation was under control, I went back out into the fray.  The organizers requested a picture of the costumed characters in front of their official banner.  The garrison members were there in addition to the mascots of every local sports team – I ended up standing next to Barney and Baby Bop.  It takes something like this to keep me humble – a reminder that in the eyes of the people in charge, I am just another head in a helmet.  I could just as easily be Barney.

A man in his thirties, who looked exactly like the actor Billy Zane, and an older man, probably his father, stood on the other side of the field staring at me.  The staring was so blatant that it would have made me uncomfortable if I didn’t know that they were staring at the armor and not the person in it.  I wonder if they would have stared if they had known it was a woman wearing the costume.

I stood near the sidewalk and waved to the walkers as they finally left for their circuit around the block.  It was like a reverse parade; I was the one standing still and the crowd moved past me.  I waved and people waved back.  I have to say I felt a little like a celebrity, so many fans and cameras and people pointing at me.  Ryan feels a little let down when he takes his armor off and no one is looking at him anymore.  I didn’t realize we had that attention-seeking streak in us, but it’s there.

I have no illusions that anything I did today changed anyone’s life.  As far as charity work goes, this is feel-good charity, not practical, teach-a-man-to-fish charity.  But feeling good has a value.  Watching your favorite Star Wars characters walk off the movie screen and shake your hand, that’s pretty cool to a lot of people.  Beyond that, though, was the chance to interact with people, with complete strangers, with the community.  It’s so easy to get wrapped up in my own life and limit my interactions to my immediate family and 174 of my closest Facebook friends.  I was at the park not only for myself, but for everyone else – and as a result, we all left a little happier.  I call that a win-win.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Camping Day Three

I've been working on schoolwork all week, which is why I haven't posted about the last day of our camping trip, and also why I'm still not posting about the last day of our camping trip.  Suffice it to say, it was delightful, we drove home, no one threw up in the car, etc.  I will, however, give you some pictures that I think you'll enjoy.

The day we were scheduled to go home, we made one last trip out to Goblin Valley, this time for a distinct purpose: so Ryan could dress up as a Stormtrooper and take pictures with the alien-planet-like background.  It was his birthday, also it was the whole reason he was so supportive of going on this trip in the first place, so it had to get done.

Funny.  I might update this with more photos later, but it's late and I need to go to bed.  I got the important ones up, at any rate.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Camping, Day Two

Morning is a surly time on the best of occasions, but when morning starts at 5:52, you know we're in for a special level of torture.  Here's how I imagined morning on a campout being: crisp morning air, sun rising over the mountains, we're swinging on the porch swing, sipping hot chocolate while taking in the serene, calming beauty.

Here's how the morning really went:  Up before the sun, hot chocolate getting dumped on the ground causing a Zack-level eruption, porch swing being used as ammo in a game of Whack-a-Brother, me shushing for an hour so neighbors (and spouses) can hopefully get a little more sleep, being told that my shushing is too loud, finally giving up and ordering Zack inside to watch Toy Story on the portable dvd player.  Surrounded by natural beauty and all of God's wonders, and I still, STILL have to resort to plugging one of my kids in.  This is an epic camping fail.

Although maybe I'm being too harsh.  In all honesty, take out the outdoors part and the hot chocolate part and this is a typical hotel morning.  Any morning that I have to deal with the kids at 5:52 a.m. is going to be lousy.  Trying to keep kids quiet so other people can sleep is a documented cause of parental insanity. (Trust me, I know.)  This problem isn't camping-specific - it's a symptom of traveling with children.

One problem that IS camping-specific, or more accurately, KOA-specific, are the cabin doors.  The cabin is solid wood, floors, walls, ceilings, all of it.  The doors have a locking mechanism that is vaguely reminiscent of the bars medieval castles used to close their doors to invaders.  A handle on the outside pulls a rope that lifts the bar on the other side, allowing the door to be pushed open.  Nifty, right?  The only problem is that it is the loudest door-opening mechanism ever invented by man.  The invention of the doorknob is what catapulted medieval man into the modern era.  The wooden bar scrapes and clanks, the handle rattles, the door itself sticks and has to be forced open.  We may as well attach a bell to it - no one is coming or going without waking the entire family.

An exchange taking place at, oh, 8:00 or so.

Noah:  Are people still sleeping?

Me:  Probably.  I would be if I could.

Noah:  Geez, people sleep for hours!

I don't want to sound completely negative, because overall we had a very nice day, but I have one more complaint:  Google Maps.   We've all had minor maps-related snafus - being directed to a dead end, going to a business address that no longer exists - a friend recently had to walk through a field to show up at the back door of the address she was looking for.  That's the cost of convenience, I say.  Well, I say wrong, apparently.  Because today Google Maps failed on such a massive scale I wouldn't be surprised if this was a belated April Fool's Joke.  From our campground in Green River, Google instructed us to take US-6 westbound, i.e. back toward home.  So we did.  For 45 minutes.   The promised left-hand turn that would take us to Goblin Valley never appeared.  And, naturally, neither did our cell service.  We turned around and finally got a hold of the camp, asking for directions - we should have been on I-70 westbound.  What should have been a 30 minute drive ended up being about two hours, which would make this a Mudgett-scale "shortcut."  Fortunately, everyone handled it really well - no one freaked out, although we endured an extra 1.5 hours of "are we there yets" until I threatened to leave Noah on the side of the road and let him walk to Goblin Valley, see how long it takes you then, buddy.

(I was just kidding about that.  I wouldn't actually make my kid get out of the car and walk.  But it made him stop asking, finally.)

Goblin Valley itself is just too cool for words.  I forgot to pack my USB adapter for my camera so authentic pictures are going to have to wait, but here's a picture I found online and I can attest, yup, it looks just like that in real life.

(Thanks for the image, Google, but you haven't made it up to me yet.  I'm still sulking.)

The kids took off running and pretty much didn't stop for an hour.  They climbed over and through these crazy rock formations.  The sun was shining but there was a cool breeze - it couldn't have been more perfect weather.  They slowed down and a couple started to get testy, so we hiked from that far rock wall in the picture back through the goblins to the parking lot for lunch.  The kids were done at that point, even though we had only been there about 1.5 hours.  We've learned not to push things, though - the extra hour we could have squeezed out of them would have come at a great price in whining.  Not worth it.  We'll go back tomorrow before we head home, though.  Ryan brought his stormtrooper armor in order to take pictures with that alien planet-like background.  That's going to be a spectacle.  I'm salivating already.

The drive back to the camp was substantially shorter, thank goodness.  Ryan stayed behind to take a nap but when it was apparent that no children would be joining him (*shakes her fist in anger*) I took them to a beach.  All these years of people talking about Goblin Valley and no one mentioned that there's a beach in Green River?  It was awesome!  I no longer feel the need to drive to California this summer.  The beach was situated at a bend in the river, deep into a canyon - the water was swiftly flowing in the middle but created mild wavelets on the shore.  The shore was fine sand and there was no seaweed/decomposing fish smell from the ocean which is nice, but the water was freezing.  Didn't stop them, though - the kids jumped right in.  We stayed well past the point where Darcey was shivering and blue-lipped because they were having so much fun.

Brad's campfire prowess showed itself tonight when he lit the fire with a single match.  We cooked hot dogs for dinner then shared s'mores with a family that used to live in our neighborhood who happened to be here.  The kids are looking exhausted at 8:30 p.m. - I'm not far behind them.  My fingers are crossed that we all make it through the night without nature calling.  Curse that astronaut-stalker for ensuring that we can never wear diapers for convenience.  (Ryan thinks that reference was too obscure- tell me if you agree and I'll take it out.)

One last thought for the night.

Zack:  I'm so cold.  I wish Jesus would come down and give me a coat.  And I'd say, "Thank you, Jesus!"

Bug Count:

3 gnats orbiting my head at the playground

1 anonymous possible bug that fell out of a tree and hit Ryan on the head

Several more gnats attacking the laptop screen while Ryan and I watched Thursday's Survivor

1 spider on the door to our cabin that Ryan had to chase around in order to stomp on

Things I've Forgotten To Bring:

Pocket knife

Cold cereal (Did not forget the milk, bowls, spoon)

Garbage bags

Zack's coat


White-noise machine

USB cable

Friday, May 14, 2010

Camping, Day One

We got a later start than I expected.  Much later.  I got home from school at 2:30, figured we'd pack and throw our stuff in the car and hit the open road by, say, 3:30.  What I didn't count on was that packing for a campout requires roughly 200 more items than packing for a hotel trip.  I consider myself something of a packing expert (for my family, at least.)  I had trial packing runs before our trip to Europe.  If anything, I tend to overpack rather than underpack.  Not so this time.  In fact, it is likely that I have dangerously underpacked, even though our minivan was so full it was bulging like a cartoon drawing of a stuffed minivan would be.

The problem with camping is that you need to pack a duplicate of every single useful item in your house including, but not limited to, furniture, bedding, kitchen appliances, and the entertainment center.  Random items that aren't useful in regular life become essential.  Take, for instance, matches.  I use them six times a year, to light birthday candles.  Our family could conceivably survive just fine on a single matchbook for the entire year.  In contrast, Brad used a match for every man, woman, and child in Utah trying to light our campfire tonight.

The campfire, by the way, was a heroic moment for Brad.  Considering the last time I was involved with campfire-making was when I went to Girl's Camp in 1992, we called upon our current Scouter to get our fire going.  He built a nice stack of kindling and lit it, but it went out.  The next match too.  And on, I won't get into the tedious details here.  At some point, he gave up, but I could see there were some decent embers underneath the whole thing.  Using the elite campfire-making skills I learned watching Survivor, I blew on the pile of smoldering sticks.  After about a minute of blowing, the whole stack exploded into flames!  The kids started cheering and Brad went back to work, piling more wood in a careful array.  I was so happy he could have his moment.  If we could have, we would have put him on our shoulders and marched him around the campground, we were so proud of him.

I'm excited about the trip so far, but considering that it's 10:48 p.m. right now and three of the four kids are still awake (and complaining about the snoring of the fourth) I'm apprehensive.  Bad sleep is never a good thing in our family.  Here are some memorable moments so far:

What's your favorite thing so far?

Zack: Playing the wii.

Me:  I meant camping.

Zack:  Oh, then, the playground.

Noah walks out in pajama pants and no shirt.  He is a younger version of Axl from "The Middle" - the teenage boy who wears just his boxers all day long. I said, "Noah, I told you to pack WARM pajamas." Noah, pointing to his pants:  "These ARE warm."

Bug Count:

3 gnats orbiting my head at the playground

1 anonymous possible bug that fell out of a tree and hit Ryan on the head

Things I've Forgotten To Bring:

Pocket knife

Cold cereal (Did not forget the milk, bowls, spoon)

Garbage bags

Zack's coat

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A-Camping We Will Go

Ryan and I are taking the kids camping tomorrow.  What's that sudden chill - oh, my goodness, hell has frozen over!  If you've known my family for any length of time, you would know that we are not, as they say, "camping people."  We are hotel people.  Ryan and I can both safely blame our parents for this lack of ruggedness.  My dad thought "roughing it" meant a hotel without cable.  Ryan's parents never went camping either, plus he dropped out of Scouts well before overnighters were required.  He pretty much loathes camping.  The annual Fathers and Sons campout is always scheduled on the exact same weekend as Ryan's Whine-a-palooza.  Funny how that is.

I've had this growing inclination over the last year or two to spend more time out in nature.  Something about communing with beauty and simplicity and growing things has been working its way under my skin.  Which is strange, given that I'm not a real big fan of being outside.  In general, I'm not fond of: bugs, extreme heat, extreme cold, dirt, and campfire smoke.  I'd prefer a clean, climate-controlled, bug-and-smoke free space to vacation in - a.k.a. a hotel.

So the fact that we're taking our kids camping - voluntarily, no less - is something of a wonder.  A friend told me about a deal that the KOA campgrounds (I refuse to call them 'kampgrounds' like they do - purposeful misspelling makes me want to throw things.)  Their (c)abins this weekend are buy one night, stay the next free.  So we get the whole weekend away for about $100.  You know me and a good deal - even if it means sacrificing bodily comfort, we're doing it.

Here are a few things I'm expecting to have to deal with this weekend:

-not having the right equipment, i.e. sleeping bags, camp stove, cooler

-sleeping/temperature issues

-not knowing how to build a fire

-waking up at the crack of dawn

-bugs, dirt, and campfire smoke (if we can get a fire lit, see above)

But I'm not one to back away from a challenge, no sir!  I come from tough stock, Connecticut farmers who worked from sunup to sundown in blistering heat and freezing cold.  Am I going to let some measly bugs and dirt stand in the way of connecting with nature?  No!  I'm going out there and I'm not coming back until I'm a tree-hugging, dirt-loving, dutch-oven-cooking, honest-to-goodness camper.  If I had pioneer ancestors, I'd make them proud.  This is going to be a great weekend!

(Plus they have free wifi at the (c)ampground so worst case scenario, I can order Domino's online.  Or send an S.O.S. on Facebook.  Wish us luck!)

Friday, May 7, 2010

Babies Don't Keep

Darcey, at age 2-and-eleven/twelfths, is still sleeping in a crib.  She is quite verbose now, which means that at 8:30 I hear, "Mom!  Wake up!  Get me out of here!" which always makes me chuckle.  Today I picked her up and was rewarded with a rare moment of cuddling.  She laid her head on my shoulder and I rocked her back and forth.  Now, chances are she was just using the height advantage to survey the vast pink wasteland that is her bedroom floor, a suspicion that was confirmed when she got down and immediately used Minnie Mouse's head as a chalkboard eraser.  But it doesn't take away that moment of pure, simple joy of holding my daughter.

I've been trying hard this week to notice the moments and appreciate them, those tiny snapshots of perfection that seem to be all older people remember when they think fondly back on their child-rearing days.  It's been easier than I expected, but I attribute that to the absolutely wonderful week I've had, emotionally speaking.  I have felt so even-keeled that I almost forget that I'm on a boat and there still could be rough seas ahead.  (This good week brought to you by GlaxoSmithKline.)  So I'm shutting my laptop more often when a kid is in the room with me, putting down the morning paper when Zack is getting ready for school, keeping the radio off when I'm driving the boys somewhere.  Not all the time, of course, but a little more than before.

In my house growing up there was a needlepoint hung on the wall that had a picture of a mother rocking a baby and it said:

Cleaning and scrubbing can wait til tomorrow

For babies grow up, we've learned to our sorrow.

So quiet down cobwebs, and dust go to sleep,

I'm rocking my baby and babies don't keep.

As I held my last baby this morning, I was conscious of the fact that I can no longer hold her brothers the way I hold her.  That part is over, and it soon will be with Darcey as well.  Have I paid enough attention to the moments?  Can I remember what each of their snuggly little bodies felt like?  I catalog all of the failures and the crises and the wish-this-were-overs; my only hope is that when I'm an old lady my selective memory will cobble together a picture of all the moments of perfection and love and joy.

I believe I will.  I believe that all of us mothers that are in the crucible of child-rearing are doing better than we think.  I believe that our kids see through the mistakes and the frustrations and know that they are loved, and that at the end of the day, that's what counts.  Not how clean our house is, or how much they enjoyed our dinners, or how much baby weight we still carry.  When Brad brings me home my daily flower he's picked off the blossoming trees, it's not to thank me for helping him with his homework.  When Noah gives me spontaneous hugs, it's not because I always know where he left his baseball glove.  We judge ourselves so much about what we do as mothers, but fail to realize that all that matters to our kids is that we love them.  That is what we are as mothers - we are love personified.

So as Mother's Day comes up, that most loved and loathed holiday, let yourself off the hook for all of the things you don't do.  Take a small step towards appreciating the moments more.  And if you'll indulge me, here's a modern woman's needlepoint:

T.V. and iPods can wait til tomorrow

For babies grow up, we've learned to our sorrow.

So quiet down Facebook, phone go to sleep,

I'm rocking my baby and babies don't keep.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Lasik: A Follow-Up (or, I can see clearly now, the glasses are gone)

*Warning - this post is not for the squeamish.  Like me.  But I survived, and chances are you will too.*
*But don't say I didn't warn you.*

I am 24 hours out from yesterday's Lasik surgery, and I am on top of the world.  Here's a rundown of the last day.

The surgery itself was billed as essentially painless, and it was.  Mostly.  I wasn't nervous until I was about to be led, bootied and hairnetted, into the surgery room itself.  Then I was glad I had been given a valium to take the edge off my nerves.  (Really it just made me sleepy, but I definitely did not get as worked up as I do when a dentist is scraping me with some medieval torture device.  Maybe I should start taking valium at the dentist.)

I lay on the table underneath the first laser, which cut a flap in my corneas.  This was the worst part.  The doctor put a ring into my eye to hold open my eyelids, then he pressed it down to create suction.  Ick.  The laser did its thing, which I can't even describe because I was too busy thinking there's a thing on my eyeball! to focus on the details.  The doctor put extra numbing drops in my left eye and it was less uncomfortable, except that there is still something on my eyeball! The creepy factor never goes away, not completely.

Flaps cut, I was moved to a waiting area for 20 minutes or so.  This was the best part.  I sat in this massage chair that was, to put it simply, phenomenal.  I almost got out and made Ryan sit there, to show him how amazing it was, but then again, I was the patient here.  How weird would it look if the nurse came back and Ryan was lounging in the massage chair while my flappy corneas and I looked on from the hard wooden chair nearby?  So really, I stayed in the chair out of propriety.  The chair thumped and rubbed and rolled and squeezed and vibrated and pounded my body until I had to wonder just how much of this I could take and still stand up, considering the valium.  At one point, the headrest lifted so that a different roller could concentrate on my neck, and if the massage chair salesman had been standing there, I would have signed on the dotted line.  When the nurse got me, about five minutes after the massaging stopped, or just long enough for my bones to coalesce, I said, "You guys ought to have a side business selling these chairs, you'd make a mint!"  Either she didn't hear me or she'd heard that quip from every doped up massage-ee to pass through and chose to ignore it.  Whatever.

After my visit to the massaging wonderland, they brought me back in for another round with the laser.  This one did the actual reshaping of my cornea.  First, though, the flap had to be peeled off.  This is as disgusting as it sounds, although at the time all I was aware of was some tugging that made my vision completely whack out.  I was telling my eye to focus on the light above me, but my eye, instead of obeying me, was off looking at the corner instead.  Come to find out (when I watched the way-too-vivid dvd of my surgery for Family Home Evening afterward) that the doctor was, in fact, yanking my eyeball in order to pry open the flap.

I think watching the dvd might have been more emotionally scarring than the actual surgery. Here, you watch it.

This one is the flap-cutting ceremony.

And here's the other half, the actual cornea-reshaping.

Gross, huh?  Add to these lovely visuals the smell of burning flesh and you'll understand why this was much more an emotional trial than a physical one.  The amazing thing was that when I sat up from under the laser, I looked out the window into the viewing room and saw Ryan - and by that I mean, I SAW Ryan.  At the risk of sounding melodramatic, to be able to see Ryan so clearly with just my regular eyes felt miraculous.  And yes, I cried.  Just a little.  Then I spent the next five minutes pointing to all the things I could read.  I love it.

Other than a burning feeling that lasted for about an hour, I had pretty much no pain.  Some dryness, but that's about it.  My vision was foggy at first, but now it's totally clear and the doctor today said my vision is 20/20.  Considering glasses could only correct me to 20/25, I call this a win.

So my plans for the future? Go swimming. Put eye makeup on without having to be so close to the mirror I'm fogging it up with my breath. Have the world's largest collection of sunglasses. And I'm totally serious about that - I plan to buy the biggest, tackiest, most outrageous sunglasses I can find and wear them everywhere. After years of wearing stupid clip-on sunglasses like an old fogey or foregoing them altogether, I cannot wait to wear sunglasses. But mostly, I'm just happy to see. Life is amazing today.

Monday, May 3, 2010

A Farewell to Four-Eyes

I'm doing it.  I'm finally getting Lasik.  By the time you read this, I'll be laying on a table with my eyelids taped open, being forced to stare at a light on the ceiling while a laser slices off my cornea.  While this sounds like a scene from a James Bond film, or possibly the latest torture cooked up by the guys at Gitmo, in fact, I am paying big bucks for this kind of treatment.  We'll find out in a day or so if it's worth it.

I've had a love/hate relationship with my glasses.  Okay, it's more like hate/hate with a dash of well, at least I'm not blind thrown in.  I got my first pair of glasses in third grade.  I was eight, and that same year I also got braces, the kind of double-whammy of ugliness whose sole purpose is to "build character."  I don't remember having that "Look!  I can see the leaves on the trees!" kind of experience when I first got glasses.  In fact, I remember quite clearly leaving them on the windowsill many mornings, causing my teacher to scold me and move me to the front of the classroom.  Apparently I didn't think I was missing much without my glasses.

My glasses didn't have a huge emotional impact on me at the time.  Their effects grew as I got older and kids got meaner.  In elementary school, I was bursting with self-confidence:  to illustrate, in fifth grade I determined (through what evidence I have no idea) that I was the third most popular girl in my class, after Alicia and Nicole.  Alicia moved, though, and I got bumped to the number two spot.  If we hadn't moved to Eldersburg at the end of the year, who knows how popular I would have been?  I was on the fast track to popularity.  I could have been somebody!  I could have been a contender!

But we did move, and my glasses were a prominent part of the instant judgment passed by my new classmates on my first day of school.  As stereotypes go, glasses=smart is not a horribly painful one, but since smart=nerd=dork=victim, you can imagine it wasn't the ideal stereotype heading into middle school.  Oh, and middle school was brutal.  Not all of it, but the bus rides, oh the bus rides.  Why on earth would any adult think its a good idea to cram sixty kids into a bus with no supervision other than the driver who could never possibly see what's going on in the way back where the scary kids sat?  To this day, I prefer to sit up front, near the driver, out of sheer self-preservation.

The glasses-as-target trend faded in high school, for the most part, with a few rather painful exceptions that I thought about disclosing here but won't because, really, they still hurt.  Glasses-as-smart was something I have (rather obviously) internalized.  Being considered "smart" is such a key part of my identity - would that be true if it hadn't been for the 4.0 assumptions made about me in school?  (Which, for the record, I never had, nor did I ever provide my father with his oft-dreamed about "My child is on the honor roll at Liberty High School" bumper sticker.)

They say that the eyes are the window to the soul.  If that's true, then glasses are the sheer curtains people put up for privacy.  Honestly, there is something about glasses that shrank me, made me withdraw behind the protective plexiglass shield in front of my eyes.  I was always aware of them, always self-conscious and, to be blunt, convinced I was unattractive because I wore glasses.  Well, maybe less attractive is a better way to state it.  I know exactly how much my glasses held me back in high school because after I graduated and moved to California, I bought contact lenses and my world changed.  Not only did I see the world differently (three cheers for peripheral vision!) but I found this well of confidence that I didn't know had been dry all these years.  I changed the way I looked on the outside, but the real change happened inside.

Fast forward nine years to 2003.  We had moved to Utah, I had two kids and a horrible case of dry eyes from the desert air.  I abandoned the contacts for glasses again, and at the time it didn't seem like too big a deal.  I was tired of the routine and the work involved in contacts, and since I had already used my feminine wiles to secure a husband, contacts no longer seemed as vital to my self-esteem.  I've been back in glasses for seven years and can barely remember what it was like to be glasses-less anymore.  Ryan has been suggesting Lasik for years now, ever since he got bait-and-switched, but I've been reluctant.  First, I had to wait until I was done having kids, because what's the point of fixing my vision only to have pregnancy screw it up again?  Then, it was fear, because nothing says "bad idea" like "slicing open your cornea."  The thought of whatever they're going to do to keep my eyelids open is enough to get my stomach churning.  (I'm picturing tape, Ryan's picturing toothpicks thanks to a Tom and Jerry cartoon.)  I've reached the point where the perceived benefits outweigh the fear, and that is why I am going under the knife, er, laser today.

I don't know what my reaction is going to be when I'm done with the surgery.  Will I cry with joy?  Will I undergo another reinvention of my self-image?  Will it even work?  (I have very thin corneas, the only part of me that is too thin, of course.)  I don't know.  I know this, though - I won't miss my glasses, not even for one single second.