Tuesday, November 29, 2011

What an unfortunate use of needlepoint skills

I am from New England, which is a funny place to be from. Full of contradictions, New Englanders have a distinctive accent that wavers between high-and-mighty and completely uneducated, they keep to themselves which can come off as being incredibly rude and exclusionary, and they embrace both ends of the political spectrum from liberal to conservative. Sometimes in the same sentence.

On the one hand, we New Englanders are sensible, no nonsense folks. We wear sensible shoes, we drive sensible cars, we own a sensible winter coat, etc.

On the other hand, we also embrace pants with animals embroidered on them, stupidly expensive sports like sailing and polo, and home decor with irreverent sayings that are supposed to be amusing but instead are borderline creepy. Case in point: This little gem my mother gave me shortly after my divorce. I was 20 years old, dating for the first time ever as an adult, and I can assure you that this put a damper on things in her guestroom, where I was living at the time, which I imagine was the whole point of giving it to me.

Like the classic musical number "Baby, It's Cold Outside" which my friend Matt recently pointed out seems to be a song about date rape, this is another entry in the annals of "I can't believe that's considered festive. Or appropriate." And then, just when you think you've gotten as festivly uncomfortable as possible, rising above the fray, there is my absolute favorite piece of holiday decor, the collectibles that remind me of home and traditions and the ones I love,  that really says "It's the holidays. Relax and let me help you enjoy the season.":

Santa and his merry band of carolers.

You guys, meet The Eunich:

My gosh, I just love the holidays.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

I just wrote "moldy" instead of "holidays". A subconscious mind is a terrible thing to waste.

Hey, we made it! One holiday down, just a few more to go.

Now that we are officially in "the holiday season" - which I judge solely on the presence of eggnog in the grocery store - I decided to put up the tree.

Putting up a Christmas tree when you have OCD is possibly the most exhausting task ever. We had to get a fake tree because I couldn't handle the needles falling from a cut tree. And the water spilling on the floor underneath the tree. And the stickiness - I hate sticky. But by far, the hardest part of having any Christmas tree, real or fake, is the decorations. I have to physically leave the neighborhood in order to stop rearranging ornaments and lights. Wait. Hang on. Speaking of lights, that lightbulb is pointing UP when all of the other lights are pointed DOWN and I just have to.....okay. Better. Much better. Wait. There are two red bells rightnexttoeachother on the tree. My god, they might even be hanging from the same branch. Damn kids, not taking the "even distribution of ornaments" lecture that I gave them seriously. I knew she wasn't paying attention to my diagram when I reviewed it exhaustively before opening the boxes. Why I thought it was going to be a good idea to have the kids do the decorating is BEYOND ME because my right eye has been twitching for 18 hours and 4 ornaments are broken and things keep falling off because they haven't been hung in a secure fashion ( which is 1.75 inches-2.5 inches from the end of the branch, FYI). And then the Christmas lights stopped working. Only half of them light  up. It took me YEARS to find lights I could stand, and these are perfect and I have treasured them for lo and this many years and now they are KAPUT and that is NO BUENO.

Trust me when I tell you that the irony of my obsession with decorating the tree that we put up in honor of the holiday I despise is not lost on me. No, I am well aware that from the outside, it seems like one big huge contradiction - but from the inside it just feels like blind panic. Wrapped in the holiday spirit with a festive bow (a coordinating bow thankyouverymuch) on top.

So I grabbed my purse and went storming off to Ace Hardware in my pajamas, looking for a replacement for my precious perfect string lights. The pickings were slim. I found some nice looking lights, but they have LED bulbs and LED bulbs make me feel like my corneas are on fire. Which means that we have to go down to KMart and hope to GOD that they have a non-burny option. So I came home and informed the children who are cuddled up on the sofa watching movies that WE MUST GO TO TOWN. They looked at me standing theere in my pajamas with my hair standing straight on end and you could see it in their eyes: they think I am insane.

I am not insane, I am festive. WITH A COORDINATING BOW ON TOP.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

I'm sure I would have cleaned the fridge EVENTUALLY universe. You don't have to be such a dick about it.

Happy Thanksgiving! Or, Happy Thursday! (special shout out to my beloved Canucks and Kiwis! xo)

My god, I can't beleive it's finally here. My favorite day of the year, with it's $3 turkeys and mashed potatoes covered with gravy that is approximately 25% alcohol and 75% fat. I love everything about today.

Except when things go wrong. It is such a bitch when something happens to cast a shadow over this, the bestest day of the year. I blame it on the turkeys. They are nothing but trouble - dead or alive.

I bought the turkeys on Sunday and carefully set them in the fridge to defrost slowly over time as directed.
By Tuesday afternoon, not only were the turkeys still frozen solid, but everything ELSE in the fridge was frozen too. I discovered this quite by accident.

You see, on Tuesday afternoon I opened the refrigerator to get out something for lunch. I noticed some brown liquid under the turkeys.

"Damn." I thought to myself. "I should have put a tray or somethng under them before they thawed out. Now my whole fridge is going to be covered in nasty turkey juice." So I started dismantling the inside of my refrigerator, taking out the turkeys first. Which is when I discovered that they were still totally frozen solid. "Hm." I thought to myself. "These are not even close to defrosted. Where is all of that stuff coming from? And more importantly, WHY ARE THESE DAMN BIRDS STILL FROZEN SOLID?"

So I threw one turkey in the sink to rinse it off, and then I opened the veggie drawer and discovered that the bottom of that drawer was also full of this mystery liquid - and all of my vegetables were frozen.

"Hm." I thought to myself. "What the fucking fuck?"

So I took all of the veggies out of their plastic bags that were covered in the mystery spooge, threw the bags out and filled a bunch of tupperwares and paper bags with the frozen produce. I took the veggie drawer to the bathroom and rinsed it out. Or at least I tried to. But the brown ooze was sort of solid. Not frozen.


"Hm." I thought to myself. "What could this be? It looks lik- OH FUCK it can't be."

But it was.

A bottle of maple syrup had been knocked over in my effort to fit all three turkeys in my refrigerator, and now my turkeys and the contents of both produce drawers, along with the entire bottom of my refrigerator, were all completely covered in semi-frozen maple syrup.

I have two things to say:

Maple syrup is a bitch to clean up
Maple syrup is expensive as all hell, and I seriously debated scooping it up and trying to save it.

It was not my finest hour.

In the end, it took foaming bathroom cleanser to get the mess under control. Half of my refrigerator was on my kitchen counter for over an hour while I sprayed and scraped and scrubbed and cursed.

And then I had to deal with the turkeys. The frozen turkeys.

This is my solution. They will stay in here until they are defrosted, dammit. And then I can worry about whether they were cold enough while defrosting, because god forbid I not have something life-threatening to worry about on a holiday. Yes, food-borne illness will do nicely. And when I get these suckers out you can bet I will be spraying the entire bathroom down with bleach and scalding hot water.

For my peace of mind, you see.

In the meantime I will get my silverware polished. Because yesterday, I bought 8 forks at a thrift store that were tarnished, and apparently tarnish means that is is silver or silver plated or GOOD ENOUGH TO POLISH.

(those magical glints in the photo - just come natural, ya'll. BECAUSE SILVER IS SHINY EVEN WHEN TARNISHED)

I just can't believe how grown up I feel talking about how I need to get the silver polished before our guests arrive. Does it matter that the forks cost 50 CENTS? NO IT DOES NOT. Unless is it makes it even better. I am going to be telling my children to go polish the silver before every dinner party. I mean, isn't that why we HAVE children? I am going to be snapping up silverware for them to polish at every opportunity.

I am officially my grandmother. If you see me stuffing a tissue up my sleeve, I want you to punch me.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

5 things from Camp Mighty

Memories of Camp Mighty have come back in dribs and drabs, and are covered with glitter and sticky with Tang. I still have water in my ear, actually. I am terrified of losing my index card where I made note of the 5 things I am going to accomplish this year, so I am going to record them here. But before I do, I want to tell you something.

Yes. You.

If you read nothing else that I have written here, I just need you to know this:

If you are ever presented with an opportunity to attend something like Camp Mighty, you must take it. You don't have to be a blogger. You don't have to have a twitter handle. But if you would like to be inspired, to be surrounded by a group of compassionate and generous people and then challenged and cheered on, then you should attend an event like this. Something small-ish in size but big-ish in energy, in a cool location. The location of Camp Mighty was perfect - being in Palm Springs is like being on another planet, but with a hot tub and lots of fresh air. The people I spent time with were so amazing and kind and supportive and wonderful. Their encouragement made me brave. Which is good, because I needed it. I had a life list to wrangle.

But first, we had to get there. If you are contemplating attending an event such as this, but you think it will be too complicated or too hard to arrange childcare and buy plane tickets and rent a car and find someone to share your room with.....it's not. You can make this happen. I promise you. We flew from Maui to San Diego, had a great dinner with friends, and then drove through the night to LA, stopping to sleep and visit family for a few hours. After a quick shopping trip on Melrose, we pointed the rental due east and Sarah hit the gas.

I had never driven through the desert before. When you round a corner in the middle of absolutely nowhere and suddenly find yourself face-to-face with lush green landscaping and mid-century architecture, it's pretty surreal. We drove to Palm Springs from LA on Thursday afternooon, and drove to San Diego early Sunday morning to catch our flight home. Really early. We left Palm Springs at 1am, coasting through the desert overnight, high on adrenaline and Redbull, talking non-stop about what we were going to do and where we were going to go, and how amazing the weekend had been.

I was emotional. I was simultaneously pumped up and drained. Inspired and overwhelmed. It was exactly what I needed to shake myself out of this holding pattern I've been in, and choose a path.

I wished that I could have had one more day with everyone, with no flights to catch and no schedule to keep.

I wished that I had gotten a room at the Ace instead of the budget motel down the street.

I wished I had brought the bottle of red wine for the drive.

But these are not regrets - all of these wishes are good things. They are part of what I learned. If I ever have the opportunity to attend another Camp Mighty event, I will get even more out of it, because I know what is important to me.

Now that my memory has returned, that is.

Before arriving at camp I had a life list and a list of the events planned for the weekend. Knot-tying and opening a bottle of champagne with a sword were top on my list of camp events. But when we got there, I realized that this was going to be So. Much. More. than fun activities and an open bar. The things that had the biggest effect on me were not the cool stuff like wielding a fire extinguisher or learning how to make the perfect mix tape. Instead, I was fired up about the inspiring speakers (seriously inspiring - relatable and accessible and fun) and a long breakout session discussing our life lists.

And oh, those lists. We had to pick our top 5 items to discuss with the group. And by the time the first person had gotten to her third item, I had the Kleenex out.

People got real.

And in the midst of revealing some huge goal or challenge or dream - something personal or profound or just plain hard - inevitably someone else in the group would reach out a hand for a supportive squeeze, or chime in with an "I can help."

And help they did.

Since camp, missing people have been found, art has been created, friendships have been forged, things have been accomplished at an accelerated rate. Here's my list, which is rumpled but still on my bedside. Dana suggested "Rock Lobster" by the B52s as my karaoke song - duly noted, my dear:

1. Bake my grandmother's pie. The pie in question is a lemon meringue. I have her cookbook from 1952 - Meta Green's Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking. The note inside says "December 11, 1952" with her name and address at that time. In December of 1952, my grandmother was 40-something with a brand new baby that had been a big surprise. She was living on Long Island, and I can't even imagine what she was feeling. Maybe this cookbook and these recipes were a way for her to take back some control over her life. To plan meals, to bake during naptime, to create and express herself in some way. She had wanted to be a pilot, you know.

I'm going to make this lemon meringue pie, and then I am going to learn how to fly a plane. Two items off my list. I miss my grandmother.

2. Build a guest room. If you are a building inspector from the county, and saw our load of building supplies being delivered last week, FEAR NOT! We are not building a guest room. Oh my no. We are building a "storage shed". (To store our guests.) Nothing to see here. No permit required. Our guests love battery powered lighting!

3. Decide what I want to be. This is a big one. I don't know what I want to do with the rest of my life. I am one of those mothers who's kids are in school all day - not long enough for me to get a full time job without hiring a nanny, but long enough for me to be home every day bored out of my mind and looking for things to do. I have to decide. Am I going to work from home? Am I going to write? Should I learn a new skill? Which leads me to number four:

4. Learn to work a drilling rig. Part of attending camp was raising money for Charity:Water to buy a drilling rig. The rig will dig wells in Ethiopia, and provide clean fresh drinking water to people who have none. I want to learn how to operate one of these things. I want to understand how they work, how they choose the place to drill the well. And then? I want to travel to Ethiopia and see the rig at work. They don't have to let me operate it (although I will be wearing a hard hat JUST IN CASE THEY DO). I just want to be a part of something that changes someone else's life for the better. I want to put away this laptop and go outside and learn something new - something that will benefit others. I want to help.

5. And then, in the middle of saving the world, I want to nail a karaoke performance. Choose a song that will bring the crowd to it's feet, sing it like it's my JOB, complete with some sort of dance that doesn't look like I am having a seizure, and leave everyone cheering. I can't decide if this would be easier in front of a crowd of strangers, or people I know and love. I'm leaning toward strangers - at least the first time. Once I've got it down, I'll sing this one penultimate song at every opportunity. My apologies in advance.

So that's it. My list. I'm ready to go build the storage shed (for storing guests) and bake a pie. The rest will come in time. I'm gonna need some more Tang.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

This is not a playdate, this is free babysitting

I must be sending out some sort of childcare pheremone, because my phone has been ringing off the hook lately with requests for playdates. Playdates at my house.

I've offered to host playdates, of course. I do love having kids over, love to have the house full of laughter. But I wasn't expecting all of my casual "we should have a playdate sometime" offers to be called in at the same time. This weekend our cup, it runneth over with friends who want to play. Here. At our house.

Our sudden popularity began at 8am Friday, when I got a call to ask if I wanted to host an after-school playdate. The mom who called was thrilled when I said yes, because she'd "be able to get some work done!" Hey that's just gr-wait. What?

By 9am I had gotten another call from another mom (which went to voicemail and was not retrieved until much later) asking me to give her child a ride home. The request was cushioned by the "let's ride share and be eco-friendly!" approach, and suggesting I do the driving "since I was already going that way". Except, I wasn't. It wasn't my day to drive carpool.

Just a few hours later, on Friday afternoon, I was completely bamboozled. When asked casually by a friend whether I had plans for the next night, I replied that Sam was working all day Saturday, and we were planning a quiet night at home after that. Maybe lie on the sofa in my underwear reading a magaz-....her eyes lit up. Oh good! I was going to be home! So, could I have their kid over for the evening? Because they really needed a night out alone. Since we didn't have any plans, it shouldn't be a problem, right? And because the alternative was too awkward to contemplate, I agreed to facilitate their date night by providing free childcare.

You know, since I didn't have any other plans.

After all, I could relax at home with the family Friday night in my underwear, and leave Saturday night free and clear for babysitting a playdate! Yay!......yay?

Honestly, it would have been fine, except I went out Friday night. Selfish, I know.
About 7 hours after I climbed into bed late Friday night early Saturday morning, I got a call inquiring about another playdate - also hosted by me, because the other mom had been out late the previous evening (unlike myself *yawn*) and they lived a minimalist lifestyle (as opposed to my cluttered home) and didn't have a lot of fun stuff to play with (I think it was supposed to be compliment?) Only, her kid had sprained his foot and couldn't actually do much playing on the playdate. The one I was hosting at my house. Apparently. So, no hiking, or bike riding or skateboarding....She could drop him off right away! (Yay?) To do what, I have no idea.

But hey, at least she was straight with me. She was tired, and her kid was stuck at home bored.

S. Oh. fucking S.

I get it. And I felt for her. Through my mind-numbing exhaustion, I totally got it. Hell, I would have been asleep when she called, except I was already on the road, driving Lucy to ballet. And so I agreed to the playdate since we had another one already scheduled anyway - now both kids would be occupied and maybe I could lie on the couch with a magazine. I would have to keep my pants on, but it could still be relaxing. I picked up a gossip rag for the occasion.

The first playmate was delivered at 11:20 (This was an hour after our planned drop off time. The planned drop off time that I had rushed home from ballet to meet. Yay?) Before she ran back to her car  left, the mom informed me that her daughter had been up late the night before (join the club, kid) and was tired, and the mom hoped she wouldn't be cranky. She then outlined signs of sleepiness I should look for, before reassuring me that her child would revive quickly, and that fatigue and/or crankiness should not mean the end of the playdate. (Yay?) Let the good times roll. About 10 minutes after her mom drove off, the girl came into the kitchen to inform me that she was hungry. I asked her what she wanted to eat. She didn't know, she told me. It was hard to think, she hadn't eaten anything since breakfast.

She proceeded to eat for the next 6 hours, which eliminated my dream of reading a magazine on the couch. As I was loading the kids into the car to bring our guests to their homes in time for dinner (Yes, I deliver! Full service childcare playdates!) she asked if she could have a snack for the car ride. I didn't have time to make another snack, however, because I had to get everyone home in time for our evening playdate.

Does this sound like I am complaining? I don't mean to complain. I am happy to host playdates. I love having kids over here to play, I love setting up tea parties and making popcorn and I am thrilled that we have fun things for the kids to do here. What I don't like is being made to feel that I am being used. And I don't like being tricked into watching people's kids simply by admitting that I have no other plans - having no plans doesn't mean I am available to babysit. I don't think you should call to arrange a playdate and then expect that other parent to host it. Whatever happened to waiting to be invited? And for crying out loud, if you have to drop your kids off with caveats about injuries and fatigue, don't plan a playdate. Rent a movie and let them chll at home.

The truth is, I felt terrible not being excited about having all of these kids over, and actually considered driving all the way to school Friday afternoon JUST SO I COULD GIVE OTHER PEOPLE'S KIDS A RIDE. The very thought of saying "No" to someone was too awkward to even contemplate. It's a sickness: I have a pathological fear of saying no and having someone be disappointed in me. I know this. I'm working on it. Years of being "odd man out" in school compell me to say Yes to every request and invitation.

But I am shy about issuing them myownself.

When I need to get work done or have a date night, I hire a sitter. When my carpool falls through, then I bite the bullet and drive the kids myself. And if my kids are bored, I invite friends over to play - I don't try to find a parent willing to have them over. Playdates are not a substitute for childcare or parenting, and I don't suggest them unless my intention is to invite the other kids over here. If I can't deal, or I am too busy, my kids don't have playdates unless they are invited over. Maybe this is my hangup. Maybe I shouldn't be so shy about asking for help in the form of a playdate. But it makes me feel uncomfortable to call and ask someone if I can drop my kids off with them so I can get stuff done. And if I do need that help, I am always very direct about it. I don't call and ask for a playdate, I call and ask for help. It's not easy for me, which is probably why I don't do it very often. Over the past few months I have had to ask for help a lot - it was hard, and I was so grateful to my friends (Jerz, I am looking at you in particular) for being there when I needed an extra adult.

Here's the undeniable truth:
As hard as it can be to ask for help, being asked for help (and being able to help, and then thanked for it) feels good. It's easy to make asking for help - and helping - a win-win.

Bottom line, in addition to the fact that I was overwhelmed by getting all of these requests in a 24 hour period, each of these phone calls and interactions made me feel that the other parents were somehow busier or more important than me, or that I could provide things for free that they didn't want to spend the money on. Because of that, because no one came right out and said "Can you please watch my kid?" and no one said "thank you" when I agreed to do so, I got pissy.

And then I realized I was being a total bitch. This was my hang-up. The parents didn't know my phone was ringing off the hook. I had offered to have their kids over sometime. And clearly, that time was now. I needed an attitude adjustment.

I decided that rather than sitting around feeling like a doormat (because I guarantee no one had that intention - this is definitely my issue and I could easily have said no at any time) I needed to clarify when I was available. I took some control over the situation, and my day, and suddenly it was on my terms, and I felt good about it. The after school playdate and ride home were not convenient, so they didn't happen. I had errands to run before I could host a kid with a bum foot, so his mom brought him over when we got back from town. I needed a haircut, so one of our playdates involved a trip to the barber. And if you want to go out to dinner with your husband while I watch your kid in the middle of our evening routine and family time, you are going to have to do that when I am available.

So I clarified - in my own head, and then with each parent - what I was able to do, and what I still needed to get accomplished during the day. And you know what? Telling the other parents what I was able to do was okay! Except for the mom who needed a date night. When she texted me to ask if I still wanted to have her kid over for a playdate, I set my boundaries. (Aren't you proud of me?) I responded saying that we were going to be home by 7pm, and the kids would be awake until 9pm, if they wanted to go out to dinner between 7 and 9pm in the little village a short walk from my house. I raced in the door at 6:50pm with extra dinner so that I would have enough for a 3rd kid.

They never showed up.

And I spent the evening on my couch in my underwear. I totally earned it.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

I don't care what you want for Christmas, Santa ain't buying that.

It's that time of year again.

We are not spiritual in any sort of organized manner, and I lost my religion right along with REM about 20 years ago. Because of this, our children have had very little exposure to Christianity - aside from Lucy's brief stint in a Catholic nursery school that had me on my knees by Easter. ("Mommy, do you know what sounds ouchy? A crown of thorns! And having nails hammered through your hands and feet!")

And so, Christmas has absolutely nothing to do with Christ in our house.
It has to do with presents. And boozy eggnog. For me, not the kids. Mostly.

Listen, they know the story: the manger, the wise men, the baby born in Bethlehem. But they also know about the Polar Express. In their minds, one does not stand above the other. And one is not truer than the other - they are both stories about the season that have been told and understood, but in one story the kid gets gifts of oils and a camel, in a barn, and in the other the kids get toys from Santa and a ride on a magic train with hot cocoa. They appreciate one, and they want the other one to happen to them. I, on the other hand, don't want to have anything to do with either scenario. I don't think that Christmas - as it is celebrated by the vast majority of people I know, anyway - reflects the religious beliefs upon which it is based. I feel the same way about Easter. I feel almost disrespectful celebrating religious holidays when I don't practice religion of any sort. I don't practice because I don't have a specific belief. (Except for the virgin birth part. I got pregnant without sex - IT CAN HAPPEN.)

I hate the secular form Christmas for many, many reasons. I have some personal memories and associations that bring up a lot of sadness and anxiety. And then, of course, there's the money thing. And I hate feeling forced to buy gifts. I so much prefer giving gifts "just because", or seeing something little and perfect and wrapping it up for later. And I can celebrate your birthday like no one else. But I just don't get excited about Christmas. I hate being stressed about getting everything wrapped and in the mail on time. I hate worrying about whether the gift I chose was appropriate/sufficient/appreciated/useful/unique/reflective of how I feel about the recipient. And then I realized that all of my concerns were totally of my own making.

The paragraph above is about buying gifts for OTHER PEOPLE and yet the word "I" appears ELEVEN TIMES. Holy megalomaniac.

So, in an effort to make this about something besides me and my issues and my issues with organized religion, we sat down tonight with the kids to work on some seriously secular Christmas lists. Our families like to send presents for the kids, and in a concerted effort not to ruin the holiday for my children - and to assuage some of my guilt about having people buy them things they don't need in honor of a religion we don't practice - we have decided that the best way to make Christmas lists is searching for gifts on sites like etsy.....and sites that offer free shipping. I buy mostly handmade or locally sourced gifts, because who doesn't like a present from Hawaii? but I am reasonable enough to accept that the kids want to get their hands on some toys. So we sat down with the computer and started taking notes.

We don't have cable TV, and the kids go to school off the grid in the jungle where they do things like pick fruit off of trees during recess.....so we don't see commercials or much in the way of mass-produced toys. I have no idea what is out there, and not a clue as to what is "hot" this season. Don't get me wrong. I'll buy toys. Even plastic crap from China that will make me feel guilty. This isn't Little House on the Prairie for crying out loud - I'm not giving them a new whittling knife and a corncob doll. Well, I might - but they'll get other stuff too. My point is, we do have a different approach to choosing items for their wish lists. The kids have general ideas about what they want, I type it in the search box, and we see what comes up. (Yes Virginia, this is the modern day version of the Sears catalogue.)

Lucy wanted a scooter. We typed it in, a list of scooters came up, she chose the one she liked best, and BAM! Wishlisted.

Max wanted something called a Hexbug. I typed it in. And then I had a stroke.

First of all, it's gross. It's little and skittery and has a lot of legs and if he likes that damn thing so much why does he scream every time he sees a cockroach I ASK YOU WHY. I stared at him in the glow of the screen. "Are you serious?"

He stared at the screen. "Yessssss. I want that one." He pointed at some sort of plastic track that apparently these little yucky things were supposed to race around on. It was $45 dollars.

I shook my head. "No. I will not ask for that."

"It's my list."

"No. Absolutely not."

He glared. I glared back. I glared some more. I added the damn thing to his wish list.

I hate this holiday.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

It was all going so well until I fell in the hot tub.

I've never been graceful.
In any situation.

I am either falling over my feet, or inserting them in my mouth following a particularly inappropriate/insensitive comment.

In school I regularly discouraged coaches (field hockey, lacrosse, soccer AND basketball thankyouverymuch) with my utter lack of control and fluid motion. More times than I care to remember, social events have involved me me sitting in a corner in silence, or drunk dancing and shouting incoherently. Even my drunk dancing moves are heavy-limbed and clumsy, causing people to avert their eyes or remove themselves from the dance floor. And I have absolutely no natural ability to start a conversation with someone I don't know. Hell, I can barely bring myself to send a friend request on facebook because I am afraid of getting rejected.

I have never attended any sort of blogging conference before, mostly because it is really hard to justify buying a plane ticket from Maui to an event that focuses on that thing I do for free sometimes while the kids are at school, just for fun, to "express myself". This isn't my job. I don't have a job. Why would I go to a conference? But this wasn't a conference, silly goose. Oh my no - this was CAMP. Camp Mighty was.....different. It wasn't about blogging, it was about living. And not just getting through each day - about getting the very most out of it.

I needed that.

And when I registered, it didn't occur to me that there would be people there that - in my very small blogosphere - are internet famous. So when I arrived at Camp Mighty and immediately started recognizing people, I broke out into a cold sweat. I saw a group of faces familiar to me from avatars and websites I have seen over the years, gathered in a relaxed circle by the pool, and I immediately thought to myself "Just stay quiet and maybe they won't realize you are a complete and total imposter."

"After all," I said in my frantically spinning brain, "these are women who clearly know each other and probably attend these sorts of events all the time, their trips paid for by their advertisers or employers - of which I have neither. Do not draw attention to yourself for the love of god DON'T DO IT." I pulled up a chair behind them, content to claim my seat and my role at this event as outsider. Sarah, who doesn't read blogs and had no idea who any of these people were and really wouldn't have cared even if she did because she is So. Much. Cooler. Than. I. Am., was having none of it. "Aren't we going to go register?" I looked around, bewildered. Register? She pointed to the tables that had apparently been set up for just that purpose. I stood up as a few people looked over at me with faces that said "Oh, the poor sweet dear. Bless Her Heart she can't even figure out how to check in by herself."

Way to go, there, with that "invisible" thing, Daffodil. I felt like crawling uder the registration table and just eating the s'mores they were handing out.

The only coherent thought I could process was "What the hell am I doing here?" I mean honestly. What am I supposed to say to someone when I have read every post they have written for the last two years, and they have no idea who I am?

Let me guess. You wondered the same thing? Yeah, it turns out, we are not the only people who were having that thought. Isn't that amazing? As soon as I put it out there, as soon as I turned to a stranger in the hot tub and said: "So. This is totally freaking me out." I was reassured that pretty much everyone felt this way about someone who was at the conference, and possibly even sitting next to us in the hot tub.

 Now, I'm not going to wrap this up and tie it with a pretty bow - I never worked up the courage to speak directly with several writers I admire, because I just had no idea what to say and never found myself in the situation where I could approach them without veering into crazy fangirl stalkerville. I have my regrets about that. And the sad thing is, I didn't approach them in a desperate (and in the end, completely pointless) attempt to avoid embarrassing myself.

Because don't you worry.
I managed to totally embarrass myself.
Over and over again.

The first night went by like a dream. We walked into the opening night reception (which sounds so ooh la la fancy because it was) and walked right up to that open bar. Which might explain how gosh darn easy it was to relax. But it was more than the wine - Sarah and I were greeted almost immediately after walking away from the bar by a table full of smiling faces. It was such a relief. Total strangers saw our panicked looks and called us right over to join them.

And thus, the Palm Springs Posse (aka "da PSP" which sounds like a hallucinogenic but wasn't. Unless you count the Tang we were drinking.) was formed.

My utter lack of grace and confidence vis a vis the world in general and Camp Mighty in particular was overlooked by my beloved PSP. Together, we skipped over the awkward new-ness of it all, and launched right into getting to know each other. I think that every convention should have a welcoming table of friendly folks who just smile and wave and shout greetings at people as soon as they enter, offering hugs and a place to stash your bag and a nice compliment about that scarf you have on. There is strength in numbers, and everything was so much less overwhelming with a new friend on each side, holding your hand and passing you a kleenex when necessary.

If only someone had been there to hold my hand as I tried to get in the hot tub the next night. After a full day of rigidly trying not to embarrass myself, I decided to climb into the hot tub and "relax". Instead, I fell into the hot tub almost directly on top of Megan, while Maggie watched the whole thing and greeted me with a "Well, NOW you're in the hot tub!" when I popped up to the surface.

Very relaxing.

That is when I lowered the bar from "Don't embarrass yourself" to "Try not to ugly-cry until you get home". Which meant that I had a face cramp and a whomping headache for the next two days.

Worth it.

I need to send a lot of love and thanks out to Team Four (who formed my beloved PSP), Maggie and Laura, The Ace Hotel Palm Springs, The TonTons for making the opening reception so rad, the generous sponsors of the event, and all of the amazing and inspiring speakers throughout the weekend (see the list below). I laughed and cried, and made lists and crossed things off, and ate and drank and swam and danced. It was exactly what I needed.

Thanks to all:

Brian Piotrowicz (Who is not afraid to cry. About anything. Ever. Love him.)
Evany Thomas (Who taught me the power of cantelope, and showed me the most disturbing photo I have ever, ever seen. Long story short, if somone suggests a puppy pile, head for the exit.)
Kenna (Who's mom is really concerned about when he is going to meet a nice girl and start having babies. Somehow, I don't think it's going to be a problem, ma'am. And Happy Birthday.)
Lisa Congdon (Who single-handedly made me feel like starting over at my age was what all the cool kids are doing. And doing it better than those young whipper-snappers ever could. I wish I had thanked her personally.)
Buster Benson (Who gave me a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup and then told me I couldn't eat it. NOT NICE, BUSTER.)
Catherine Connors (Who led an inspiring session that I missed out on because our team was in the middle of some serious group therapy. Bummer, because I brought my tutu.)

Johnson & Johnson - I am excited to hear more about their new &you platform
Ronald McDonald House Charities - When your child is sick, they can help you be there for them.
Intel - They sponsored Maggie's Life List, and think clean water is important too.
Care.com - They gave me s'mores and a tube of toothpaste. And can help you find care providors.
Alliance for Biking and Walking - I think I agreed to ride a bike from San Diego to somewhere in Mexico. I should follow up on that. peoplepoweredmovement.org

Monday, November 14, 2011

I have about 6 weeks until awesome

About 6 weeks ago, I lay in my hospital bed and said "Seriously? This is ridiculous. You are done being sick. You are done with excuses. You need to get your shit together." Right then and there, I gave myself until the end of the year to figure out what the hell I want to do, and take the steps I need to take in order to get a job doing it.

I am halfway through my designated "get it together" time frame, which leaves me with about 6 weeks to really dial in the awesome.

The thing is, "getting my shit together" will require driving an emotional dump truck from location to location, shoveling stuff in the back as I go. I have a lot of shit, and it's spread out all over the place. I have self-help books, and journals and lists and I am meditating like a crazy person. But I needed a little something extra. This past weekend, in an attempt to corral and organize the aforementioned shit, I attended Camp Mighty. It was frightening and thrilling and sort of surreal, with some great lighting and very intelligent, fashionable cohorts. "I feel like I'm in a Wes Anderson movie, like the Royal Tenenbaums or something." Sarah said as she lounged on a chaise by the pool. I murmured in agreement as I munched fistfuls of gorp and considered ordering a bloody mary to take with me to the next session.

Thank god Sarah was there with me. In a stroke of genius, it turns out that supporting each other on and off the track is one of the basic tenets of derby wifedom. The fact that I don't actually get on the track anymore is kind of beside the point, but do me a favor and don't point that out to her, I need all the support I can get. Besides, she's hot as hell. If I had been alone, it's a pretty safe bet that I would have spent a great deal of time this weekend crying in my crappy motel room - which was down the street from the much cooler and more beautiful Ace Hotel and Swim Club where Camp Mighty took place. The fact that the Ace was sold out would have been a lot harder to handle if I had not had someone to accompany me on the walk of shame back to the parking lot each night. Without Sarah's steadying presence, I am confident that I would have spent the weekend in that "affordably hip" motel room that smelled like old men and hair dye, watching Food Network and infomercials while drinking iced tea out of the minibar.

I went into this weekend thinking "WooHOOOOO! Weekend in Palm Springs, opening bottles of champagne with swords and learning how to punch people and tie them up!" I glossed over the fact that there was going to be some accountability involved, and that I was going to have to actually make some long-term plans and commitments to someone other than my kids and spouse(s).

Someone like myself, maybe.

And it never occured to me that it might not be all sunshine, champagne and Sinatra in Palm Springs.

When we discovered that, in fact, it was cold and rainy in the middle of the desert, and then opened the door to our motel room and immediately gagged and ran to open the windows, assuming that someone had died in there and they had used stinky chemicals to clean up the blood stains, it could have been the beginning of my spiral. The fact that the champagne opening class was cancelled due to a torrential downpour would have given me an extra shove in that direction. Someone would have found me mid-week in the middle of the desert breathing into an empty In-N-Out bag and tying my shoelaces in knots.

That didn't happen.

Instead, I learned three important things this weekend:
1. Staying anywhere other than the Ace is depressing - sleep in your car if you can't get a room there.
2. If you put an "A" in "definitely", you're definitely an asshole.
3. Cantelope makes everything better.

These were important life lessons, and even if I don't figure out what I want to be when I grow up, at least I have these three things that I know in my heart are true. The rest is still a work in progress. Turns out, trying to pull it together is hard, people. Really hard. It is physically and emotionally draining. Thankfully, I had my fabulous Sarah with me, and we met an incredible group of people almost immediately after arriving (more on them later). I am a lucky duck. I may be without direction, but at least I can stay afloat.

Except in hot tubs. But that is a story for another time.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

He can take me out and buy me dinner, but we'll still be sound asleep by 8:30

I don't date much. Being married with kids is really cramping my style. At the end of the day, everyone is tired and hungry and needs a shower. We're rushing to get dinner on the table, I am still glued to the laptop while the kids are working on homework, and the evening flies by in a crush of cooking, cleaning, laundry and spelling lists, until finally one of us climbs into bed and passes out - sometimes still holding the towel we used to dry the dishes. I have a lot of guilt over how distracted I am in the evening, which is added to the guilt I feel about being sick or in pain for most of the last 5 months. In fact, I've been in pain for most of the past 15 years. Sam has been an incredible source of support - patient and kind and loving even when I am clutching a heating pad and living on ibuprofin and hot tea. Because you know what else is cramping my style? Cramps. Endometriosis is a disease that has affected my daily life since high school. The thirteen surgeries, rounds of drugs, tests, ultrasounds, clinical trials, alternative therapies and plain old bedrest have been part of the routine at one time or another for as long as I can remember.

I haven't been a lot of fun, that's for sure. And there hasn't been a lot of time for romance.

However, it has come to my attention that I am not alone. I was talking today with a friend (one of many) who also has endometriosis, two kids, and a busy life. She had just gotten back from a doctor's appointment. Because she used her vacation day to go to the doctors, of course.

"You know what he said?" she remarked with relief  "He said most women don't seek help until it hurts too much to have sex."

This did not surprise me whatsoever. It is not an excuse. This is not a case of "Not tonight, honey. I have a headache". I think the fact that I still have sex is a testament to willpower and no small amount of desperation to feel normal - and maybe even attractive. Women can (and do) handle pain at such an extreme level that most men in the medical profession find it alarming. Or at the very least, impressive. Any dude who has watched a woman give birth has got to give her some props.


But it is sad when a woman who is experiencing severe, chronic pain, has to have her pain vaildated by a doctor. And while she is sitting around worrying about why she is in pain, and how much she isn't doing because she is in pain, and trying to remember the last time she had sex, or an uninterrupted conversation, or even eye contact with her partner......well. Your romance can suffer. It's time to make some changes. I am inspired.

I am bringing sexy back.

My life list has one particular item on it that I have been meaning to check off:
#94: only use the computer during working hours

Step One: Turn off the computer the minute the kids get home.
Step Two: Do not turn it back on again.
Step Three: Look in the mirror at some point before my husband gets home, and maybe even brush my teeth.
Step Four: Start dinner.
Step Five: Consider baking something.
Step Six: Decide not to get carried away with this new lifestyle. This is not Leave it to Beaver. This has nothing to do with beaver.
Step Seven: Hire a sitter for the kids and go on a date - just us - once a month. A date with talking. And eye contact. Maybe even sex if we can stay awake that long.

So tonight, I am hiring a sitter, taking a shower AND brushing my teeth before he gets home, putting on some hot little number and some real high heels, and going out on a date. With my husband. And I am totally leaving my heating pad at home. Maybe.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

I would have been the one naked on the sorority roof.

This is the first post in a series I am writing this month on being thankful

I only spent one semester in college - and I wasn't really there at all.

I had a dorm room, and then a few blocks away I had an apartment where I slept each night. I had classes, and I also had two part time jobs. I had a roommate on campus and a fiance in town. I was eating in the cafeteria during the day, and grocery shopping at night. I packed up my dorm room before Halloween, and by mid-November I had stopped attending classes. By March I was married. I had just turned 19 a few weeks before the ceremony.

I missed out on a lot of things that fall semester, and still had more than enough on my plate. More than one reason to request a withdrawal from school mid-term (a request that was to be denied, as it turned out).

I missed out on the mandatory freshman "orientation" class that apparently every other freshman knew about. You know that nightmare where you dream that you don't go to class all semester and then you have to take an exam in order to graduate? That actually happened to me.
I missed out on the computer science class, and the college email account. Ergo, I only joined facebook a year ago.
I missed out on having female roommates, and living in a dorm, and all of the bonding and fun and binge drinking that came with it. And that is why I love my book club and roller derby team and girls night out. The last 10 years have been my first real experience with having a social life that revolves around girlfriends. Not dating, not going out hoping to meet someone I could date, not going out with the girls to rehash a terrible breakup - spending time with other women on a regular basis with no plan other than to just hang out with the girls.

I didn't have any reference, no deep connection to other women, until about 5 years ago. I made my first really close girlfriends at the age of thirty. Not the girlfriends that you meet for a casual lunch or dinner - the girlfriends who show up at your house without calling and make themselves a cup of tea, the girlfriends who assume that you will celebrate the major holidays together, the girlfriends who will drive to your house when you call them crying hysterically at midnight.

And all of the things I missed out on - from staggering drunk through the streets of a sleeping town, to having fierce monkeybread bake-offs on Christmas morning, to peeing against a dumpster outside Jack in the Box at 2am, to sharing a bed with 3 other girls in a 2 bedroom condo you just crashed with 20 other people, to emptying the weed someone gave you out of your carry-on before going through airport security, to realizing that hiding camoflauge easter eggs in the grass is a stupid idea, to texting photos of people in various stages of undress to other people in various stages of undress in a neighboring hotel room - these things (albeit belatedly) came to pass.

I can proudly say that I have now experienced (and barely survived) all of the stupid shit I should have done my freshman year of college - at the age of 35.

And that was good, and fun, and probably needed to happen. And along the way, through all of the fierce competition and long hours of work, and hundreds of hours on the phone, and thousands of miles traveled, I learned that being sisters - because we are more than friends, we are family, we are sisters of the very best kind who share beds and food and holidays and socks that are "pretty clean" - being sisters with these women is empowering. And liberating. And while it brought a lot of confusion and chaos at times, it also helped to keep things in perspective. It taught me about forgiveness and respect and the support that only women can provide each other, really.

So here's to the girls - the ones I speak to every day, and the ones who are currently not speaking to me because they think I'm an asshole. I love you guys, and you have made me who I am today - just as much as becoming a mother, or sustaining a long and happy relationship with my husband has shaped me.

I wouldn't be me without you.

I have learned in the past few years to believe in myself, and stand up for myself, and to stand up for others. To do what is right. To not be afraid to rock the boat a little. To say what I want - and then make it happen.

I forgot how to do that. Or maybe I never knew.
Either way, I know now. And I am thankful for that.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Memories of an adoption

"Hi Lucy." He bent over, looked at her small upturned face, and placed his hand gently on the top of her head. "My goodness, you have gotten big. I knew you when you were still in your mommy's belly!"

I froze. She stared up at him for a moment, just that extra beat that only a parent would notice, and then dropped her chin and stared at the plate of food in her lap, chewing slowly. She stole a glance at me from under her eyelashes. Questioning. I couldn't tell if the question was "Who is this moron and what is he talking about?" or if the question was "Is it true? Did it happen like that?"

Because I know she wants it to have happened like that. She wants to have grown in my belly. She spends more and more time exhaustively scanning her baby album, and Max's album, looking for photos of my pregnancy. As if all she needs to do is just find some evidence, and everything will be right in the world.

But just as everything will never be right in this crazy mixed up world, she will never find a photo of me, pregnant with her.

It never happened.

You wouldn't know it from looking at us. "Nature versus nurture!" her teachers grin. She is a little tiny version of me. Fiery and sweet, strong-willed and eager to please. She has started to roll her eyes at her older brother's antics, and scold him for even the minor transgressions. It is clear to everyone - even people who know the story, even people who mean well - that she is my daughter. It is so clear, in fact, so obvious, so apparent that I am her mother, that everyone forgets the details.

The details don't matter, of course - but her adoption was such a startling event for all of us, I find it hard to believe anyone could have forgotten. There was no real lead up to her arrival - we had no baby, no sign of a baby, no baby stuff, no baby shower. And then suddenly one day, there she was strapped to my chest or sleeping in my arms or sitting in the carseat. We had a baby!? How did that happen!? And everyone from the cashier at the grocery to the mailman wanted to know where that baby came from. It was a subject of much conversation and endless celebration and frequent congratulations and a lot of tears and laughter and wonder at the incredible good fortune of everyone involved. Which is why it still surprises me when people forget.

Our friends, our family....hell, even Sam forgets sometimes. But not Lucy. She doesn't forget. And I don't either. If I were to forget, I would miss the opportunity I take every day to be grateful. I would miss the opportunity to appreciate the gift that is my daughter, and the gift I was given to be her mother.

So to the people who forget. To the people who remember only that she is mine and I am hers? That is my gift to you. You forget because it is no longer important. It is only a very small piece of the puzzle - the first sentence in a long story. Nature, nurture, and otherwise, we will always be mother and daughter.

And for the brief time in the early morning hours following her birth, while they were waiting for the sun to rise before calling with the news?

That was all the time we needed, she and I, to find each other in this great big universe.
And that, more than anything, is a testament to our bond. I am hers. She is mine.
Which is, in the end, all you need to remember.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Robin Hood of Halloween candy

We were totally prepared. On the counter sat an enormous felt pumpkin, filled with candy. Candy candy. Skittles, Starburst, Twizzler, Tootsie Pops, Bit o'Honey. All the chewy gooey candy a kid could ever want. We had just returned from our own trick or treating adventure and had carefully gathered the candy that Max's new braces wouldn't allow - it was all there, isolated in the pumpkin, ready to be re-distributed to the late arrivals on this rainy Halloween night.

He must have reached past that, over into my mixer that sat tucked away in a corner. Hidden inside it's massive stainless steel bowl, covered by the plastic splatter shield, was my stash. A bag of KitKats, and a bag of Nestle chocolate bars - the miniature size - with the ingredients listed in spanish. The good stuff.

I heard the roving band of neighborhood children approaching, and as their voices and laughter swelled and the automatic light snapped on next to the steps, I heard the crinkle of cellophane.

I was already in bed, and it took me a moment to put it together. To realize that he was giving away my stash, my precious chocolate stash, to the assortment of children (most too old for trick or treating in my opinion) that were standing on my back porch in the rain at 9:30 at night, hooting and hollering.

A travesty.

It was wasted on them. If you had given them a choice between a few miniature chocolate bars or great fistfulls of Starburst, I imagine they would have preferred the fruity goodness over my tiny wedges of chocolate. It didn't mean anything to them, it was just a drop in their pillowcases full of candy.

But it meant something to me. With a noise that bordered on a roar, I clamored out of bed and pulled on my robe. I rounded the corner to the kitchen pulling my robe closed as the door swung shut behind him. "Get back here!" I hissed.

But he couldn't hear me over the revelry on our back porch. He didn't realize his error until he opened the door and stepped back inside. And came face to face with a woman, rousted from her warm bed on a rainy night, to find her chocolate being given away to some obnoxious kids who probably didn't even like chocolate.

As you might imagine, I was devastated.


I did the only thing I could do.

I went to the pantry, opened up one of the 2 grocery bags filled with halloween candy that we had just stuck in there, and pulled out a half-dozen pieces of chocolate. I fucking hate this holiday.