Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Taking Down The Fairies

The fairies are gone. After 5 years in this house and almost 2 in the house before it, pretty little fairies pranced and arched their way over my daughter’s windows and across her lampshades. I loved that the little wallpaper cutouts weren’t too cutesy, or trendy. I could have convinced myself that they were so timeless they would carry her into her preteen years and beyond, but that would have been like telling a bridesmaid, “I’m sure you’ll want to wear this lovely dress again.”

Styles change, people change. I get that. I’ve seen people put a great deal of money into finding ideal colors and themes for their kids’ rooms, stating that such and such a look will never go out of style. The thing is, when we choose the decor for our kids’ nurseries we are going with what we like, before we know what they are going to become or what will fire them up a few years down the road. A boy whose nursery has a pro sports theme may prefer camouflage or wizardry when he gets to choose his own d├ęcor. How was I to know when I lovingly chose those fairies, to be enjoyed by my little girl for 6 ½ years, that her next great love would be… Leopard print? No amount of rubbing my pregnant belly or gazing into the intense, dark eyes of my tiny newborn would have prepared me for the spunky force of nature now living upstairs.

After I painstakingly peeled off the fairies, saving one or two in her baby book for posterity, I dove into full Leopard (or is it Cheetah?) mode. We decided on a bright pink room with brown accents. I covered her old bulletin board and her Care Bears trashcan with brown fabric and pink ribbon. I ordered leopard print pillows from eBay, and picked up a leopard lampshade at my favorite thrift store. (Note: when you can find a lot to match your theme at the local thrift store, the clock is already ticking on said theme's desirability). I welcomed my daughter’s input, but I’m such a control freak that I deftly steered her away from her initial suggestions of painting a leopard mural on the wall above her bed and leopard spots on her furniture. Yikes. The room is almost finished now and looks great, and I hope that perhaps after this phase passes, although I may be kidding myself here, we can “de-leopard” the room pretty easily and do something different with the bright pink shell.

Just as I could never imagine a day when my son would stop playing with his Thomas the Tank Engine trains, it was hard to believe that the age of Care Bears, Polly Pockets princesses, and fairies would end for my daughter. But here she is, standing on her bed, in leopard pj’s, flipping her hair around as she sings “hard rock” into a pretend microphone -- age 6 1/2 going on 16. For those of you with younger ones, now in the heart of Dora, Elmo, Winnie the Pooh or the Wiggles, cherish these days. The time will come when your kids will refuse to admit they ever loved them. Your only proof will be a well-worn stuffed toy gathering dust bunnies under the bed, a set of character sheets, or in my case, a couple of fairies tucked inside a book. For now, just hold those little ones close, sing along with abandon, and take lots of videos for evidence.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Going Out For Some Grub

Tonight we got together with my dad and his wife for dinner. They had suggested a pretty fancy restaurant, not knowing whether it was kid friendly enough for us. At this point in our lives, we tend to say no to restaurants that have cloth napkins, so they were glad to change plans and go to my favorite restaurant of all time. It’s great Mexican food, the service is fast, and the kids love it. We go there several times a month. Within a few minutes we ordered. I’ve been getting the exact same entree for 30 years, so I rarely open the menu. Sometimes I consider deviating, perhaps to prove I am a risk taker or at least not a stick in the mud. Not tonight—I went straight for old faithful, a bean burrito platter with green chili, and an iced tea.

I had downed half a bowl of chips when my order came. Digging in with my fork, I saw something in the sauce that looked weird. Knowing this dish well, very well, I was puzzled. I reached my finger into my sauce to touch it. Ugh. It was some sort of caterpillar, grub, or larvae over one inch long. This bad boy was not skinny either—it looked like the caterpillar from “A Bug’s Life,” but real, and in my food. To be sure I quickly handed my plate to my husband. I had lasik surgery on my eyes about a year ago, and my near vision is pretty unreliable now, so I hoped I was wrong. My husband gasped and quickly put the platter on another table. I thought he was going to retch. By this time I was in a sweat, I had that mini throw-up in the mouth feeling, and I was fending off questions from the kids. The waitress was on her way over, but before she got there, I had the good sense to tell the kids to go look at it. I realized if this became part of our family lore, they would not forgive me if they never got to see the creature. My husband showed the waitress, whose eyes got like saucers. Quickly grabbing the platter, she headed to the kitchen to show the manager and kitchen crew. I figure the conversation could have gone two ways back there: “Dios Mios! A worm in the food!” or “Ooops! Another one slipped through.”

At this point, the other 5 family members stared at their food, debating whether to eat. “Baskin Robbins?” I joked. To call my dad fastidious would be the understatement of the century (I saw two large bottles of antibacterial cleanser in the cupholders of his car tonight), but he and his wife gamely dug in. When he pulled an offending item out of his quesadilla, we all held our breaths until we saw it was just a wayward mushroom. Phew. It took the kids a few moments longer before they started eating, then my husband followed. I just couldn’t do it. The manager came out, apologizing profusely, but I just could not order anything else. Not even a margarita.

You may wonder if we got free dinner for 6 out of this. No, they took my burrito platter off the bill and gave us some coupons for free entrees on our “next visit.” I’m sure if we had made a stink, we could have received more, but I felt torn between barfing, laughing, and wanting to protect my favorite restaurant from a bad reputation. I think we were pretty discreet, because none of the other tables saw what was going on. Remember that scene from “Stand by Me” when one kid barfs at a pie eating contest, and before long everyone else is barfing too? That’s what I did not want to happen at my all-time favorite restaurant.

We kept it quiet, and then went out to get frozen custard to cleanse our palates. We laughed like crazy, making puns about worms, larvae and grubs. I’m feeling better now, but I am also a little worried. If time doesn’t heal all gross-outs, I may need to find a new favorite restaurant.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Minding My Own Cheese-Wax

My son, J, likes those little Baby Bell cheeses wrapped in red wax. We buy a mesh bag of them at Costco about 3 times a year. About a year and a half ago, he ate one and was having fun rolling up the wax into a little ball. This gave me the “fun mom” idea of saving all the wax to make one huge wax ball. Our long-term goal was to have a ball the size of a basketball. We started out rather quickly, because both kids were excited, but my daughter soon realized she didn’t really like the cheese and that I didn’t appreciate anyone opening up the cheese just to get the wax. Slowly, the wax ball grew, by about four blobs a week.

This fall my son was eating lunch and at clean-up time, he still had his little wax blob on the table. When a lunch mom told him to throw it away, he refused. Aargh. She told him again. Nope. Soon he was visiting the principal for a discussion about obedience. The wax went into the trash.

When he got home, we talked about how he needed to obey those in authority. I asked if he had tried to explain why he wanted to keep the wax. I hoped this would make him look reasonable and articulate, rather than disobedient, and make me look like a good mom. No dice. I gently suggested that if he were to put the wax in his lunch bag immediately after opening the cheese, this problem wouldn’t occur again.

My pride was hurt. Now I had moms and the principal as witnesses to this stubborn act. I mean, what kind of kid refuses to throw his trash away? Perhaps there was discussion in the hall afterward. I wanted somehow to work our wax ball into casual conversation the next time I went to the school. I wanted to absolve J of wrongdoing. Yes, I knew his rudeness was wrong, but deep down I felt that he had “taken one for the family.”

News of his wax collecting spread through the third grade table and part of the first. Every once in a while my 6 year old daughter, M, would come home w/ wax given to her by a generous friend. All was quiet on the wax front for a while.

A few weeks ago it happened again-- same issue, different mom. When I asked J how he had responded, he said he threw the blob away immediately. Whew. A show of obedience. No principal’s visit. No reason to be embarrassed when passing this mom in the halls. Still, I felt a little sad, and our wax ball looked a little lopsided that day.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

How full is your love tank?

New Year’s Eve we came home from a 5-hour road trip with two sick kids. When we opened the door of our house, intense heat blasted us. It was over 115 degrees in there. The walls, floors, and furniture—everything was blazing hot. Turns out our programmable thermostat (installed to save money and the environment!) had broken and, for the four days we were gone, had caused the furnace to crank up to full capacity. We loaded the sick kids back in the car and took them out to eat, while we aired out the house. Seven hours later, with all windows and doors open to the winter air, our house was still in the high eighties. We felt so blessed that no one was hurt, that our house didn’t burn down, and that very little was damaged. Those melted candles looked pretty cool. We rang in the New Year hot but happy.

The next day it became clear that our kids were getting sicker, so a trip to Urgent Care followed. Imagine how full it was on New Year’s Day, after much nighttime revelry. The kids were good sports, and soon we had 2 diagnoses: strep throat for one, scarlet fever for the other. Yay. The newfangled antibiotics had $50 co-pays, and my chances of getting the kids back to school for at least part of the post-Christmas break week looked glum. They’d been out for over 2 weeks and I was more than ready! The beauty of the antibiotics meant the kids felt better fast, but the bad news was that diarrhea ensued. My daughter was showering off after such a bout when, for no reason and with a deafening crash, the heavy glass shower door exploded in thousands of pieces all around her! Fortunately, she was not hurt. I grabbed her fast enough to lift her out of there so she wouldn’t step on shards of glass. She only got one small cut on her foot and, miraculously, no glass got in her face or eyes. We are so grateful she is okay.

I was amazed after this terrible week at how my husband and I weren’t at each other’s throats, or utterly defeated by these crazy happenings. We have short fuses when it comes to frustration, messiness, or any sort of chaos. I think we have 2 kids because any more would push us right over the edge. I cry and stew when someone makes a mean face at me in traffic, and my husband gives up when trying to return pants. We are apt to turn on each other like caged tigers for something as simple as a missed newspaper delivery or my plummeting blood sugar.

I think I figured out the reason these seemingly large events didn’t leave us grumping on each other. Our love tanks were full. Have you read Dr. Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages? My husband and I read it early in our marriage, agreed with everything it said, and pretty much failed to apply any of it with any regularity. The premise is that each person likes to be loved in different ways. It is useless trying to give your partner love in a way that doesn’t work for him or her. The different “love languages” are quality time, acts of service, gifts, words of affirmation, and physical touch. My husband and I learned that each of us feel loved by being served-- no big surprise for two youngest children! The problem is, we both want to be served, not do the serving.

We also learned about “the love tank.” If you feel loved, your love tank is full and it helps you in every area of your life. Unfortunately, many married people walk around w/ empty tanks. I’ve got to tell you that my husband and I have days, weeks, and even years when the gauge hovers down around E. After all, kids, jobs, pets, laziness, and too much tv can take their toll, and marriage often goes on the back burner.

The days before all of our New Year’s craziness, my husband and I got our love tanks filled up. It was our anniversary, and he arranged for my sister to keep the kids AND THE DOG overnight so we could go to a beautiful Victorian bed and breakfast. The fact that he arranged the child and dog care made me feel loved (and served) and the fact that I picked the B & B and the room and went along enthusiastically despite our sick kids made him feel loved (and served). We went out to lunch and dinner, browsed an antique store and spent excellent quality time in our room, if you get my drift. We were away less than 24 hours, but it was a HUGE change from our day-to-day routine.

I haven’t talked to my husband about my observation yet—we haven’t really had a lot of quality time since, but I think if we would just put the effort in to serve each other and keep those love tanks full, or even half full, we’d be better able to weather the storms of life, both big and small.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

How Old is Too Old?

I was at Pottery Barn last week and saw two women, probably in their early 50’s, who were dressed so hip it made me uncomfortable. I’m not sure what my problem was, but when they walked by in their heels, low rise cords, shrunken jackets and very blond hair, I got the heebie jeebies. Both women were in great shape, and their outfits were perfectly put together.

I guess I was wondering about some of my own recent fashion missteps, and feeling insecure about how to dress. Nine years ago my closet went from work clothes, to casual, stay at home mom clothes. I admit to a few years of looking schlubby, particularly when my breast-feeding breasts were so big I couldn’t even see my feet. Case in point: when I had my first child, it was still okay to go out in public wearing a unisex t-shirt and overalls. I’m at a point now where my closet is pretty much comfy clothes and dressy clothes, without much in between. I think comfy clothes are getting much cuter, so it’s possible to look pretty good when only running to Target or the vet. I tell myself that my chocolate brown velour hoodies and pants aren’t going to one day remind me of the baggy fuchsia “sweat suit” I wore during the eighties.

None of this explains why I felt so funky around the women at Pottery Barn. Was I jealous because they both were in better shape and better coifed than I was? Why did I shrink away? Was I worried I might catch a glimpse of a thong? I guess it’s just that when I was growing up, moms tended to look like moms. While we were prancing around in our tight stonewashed jeans and v-neck Forenza sweaters, our moms wore sensible sweaters, pants, and maybe a wrap-around skirt. It’s one of my least favorite words, but I think the term “slacks” sums the look up pretty well. Now, the line between “young clothes” and old has really blurred and I’m not sure where I fit in.

I feel young and want to dress young. No up to the chest “mom jeans” for me. I try to wear clothes that are fitted and flattering. But I still wonder, how much is too much? Can I still venture into a juniors department, or is that simply too weird for a 38 year old? I haven’t stepped foot into Abercrombie since it became apparent that it was no longer the place to buy khaki pants and wool sweaters. Some stores I pass have mannequins so small, it looks like preteens should shop there.

I tried to wear a cute terry cloth tube top from Target last summer. It was brown and was loose around the middle with elastic at the top and bottom, not like the pink one I wore to the junior high carwash when I was twelve. That one was so tight, my little breasts were highlighted and my chubby tummy stuck out. I was about 10 minutes into that carwash when I realized I was in fashion hell.

I have lots of friends who dress well, and I wanted to try something new. I had recently attended a wedding and a reunion in strapless dresses (go White House/Black Market!) and was feeling pretty good about myself and my tanned shoulders. The Target tube top was on clearance, so I thought, “why not?” I entered our beach house living room for the debut, thinking I might be more comfortable in this vacation setting, rather than the dentist’s office or grocery store at home. Husband said nothing. He has not said anything about my clothes since an incident when we were dating and he said I looked “homely” in my new dress. He insists he meant “homey,” but, really, is that a compliment? Anyway, no comments all around, until my 8 year old son walked in and said, “Mom, you are missing part of your shirt.” Hmmmm.

Fashion-wise, I feel like I should have pretty decent credentials, having been voted “Best Dressed” both in high school and as a young high school teacher. However, the first honor was in 1987, and there wasn’t a whole lot of competition for the second. Oh well.

I know that we should dress in a way that makes us feel comfortable, confident, and, if possible, doesn’t embarrass our children. I feel like I may wake up at age 60 and wonder why I didn’t take more fashion risks when I was say, 38. Am I wasting these years on shirts that cover my stomach?

Dog Days

We got a dog this summer. After debating about whether to have a third child, or get a dog, and the dog won out. This dog practically fell in our laps. My husband and I are people of little action, which explains how we woke up one day realizing our baby girl was over 6 years old. I was afraid that unless a dog fell out of the sky, we would never get one. Well, my sister called one day and said her next door neighbor wanted to give away two chocolate labs. My sister was up for one, if we wanted the other. Did we ever! This dog would be free, would be almost a year old (yay, no newborns!), and could play with her dog sister whenever my sister and I got together.

We should have felt forewarned when we called the dogs’ vet and the lady at the desk said, “Dallas and Shadow? I remember them. They are crazy!” Great. Anyway, we drove to my sister’s 4 ½ hours away and brought home our sweet puppy, Shadow.

Shadow was already crate trained, and we had every intention of keeping her in the crate when we weren’t home, restricting her to certain areas of the house, and letting her spend large amounts of time on a dog run outside. That first night she missed her sister and crate-mate so much she barked all night long. My husband slept on the cold floor next to the crate. The next day I left town for a girls’ weekend away. When my husband called me he shared the good news: “Shadow isn’t barking all night anymore,” and the bad news: “She’s sleeping in our bedroom.” Tim was so taken with having a dog, especially a big dog, that I’m lucky she wasn’t sleeping in my bed and on my pillow by the time I got home on Sunday.

Getting used to having a dog took some time. After one pee in the house incident, my husband moaned, “I just want to send her back!” He was seriously fed up. I was fed up when we hired a dog sitter later that month. Shadow was still using the crate sometimes during the day. While the pet sitter was out, Shadow broke out of her crate, injured her head on the metal, opened the guest room door and peed on the pet sitter’s bed! Ugh. When it became clear that the crate thing wasn’t working out, I decided to give her better accommodations by locking her in the bathroom while I ran errands. I figured she would be grateful to have so much more space, her food and water bowls, and a comfy place to rest. Ugh. When we got back, the water was running, the towels were shredded, there was broken glass everywhere, and my bamboo plants were eaten. She had trashed the bathroom.

Six months later we are doing great. Shadow is truly a member of the family. She hops in the minivan to go with me to drop the kids off at school and pick them up. She has a cozy dog bed that alternates between our bedrooms and the kids’ rooms, and the crate is gone forever. She won the battle, but we are all enjoying our new family dynamic.

Having a new dog reminds me a lot of having kids because BK (before kids) my husband and I had very firm beliefs about how the experience would go. We knew our children would be well-behaved, we would follow all the child rearing books about how to avoid common pitfalls and, in a linear fashion, raise wonderful people. We would let our kids cry it out, they would sleep through the night, and they would eat nutritious meals each day. They would be polite, and of course, gifted. Before long, with both the kids and the dog, we realized life was messier than we had anticipated. Our plans didn’t hold up in the face of day to day reality. We gave in on the issues we once thought were biggies and stubbornly dug in our heels on trivial matters. We’ve been disillusioned and disappointed and at other times delighted. With kids and with the dog, life is messier, but richer than we anticipated.

See you later. Shadow and I have to go pick up the kids now.