Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Bedtime is But a Dream

I had, in my head, this idealized version of what parenthood would be like.  It all comes in stages, but somewhere in my head I had this picture of the boys all tucked up in bed while Trip or I read to them from the childhood classics.  They would be - as I was at that age - spellbound by the words weaving in and out to create the tapestry of story.  Of course, then they would drift off peacefully to sleep and we would kiss them on the sweet-smelling foreheads, tip-toe out and switch off the light.

The reality is something more akin to a scene from Lord of the Flies.

Generally, half-naked children are streaking through the house, screaming they can't find the charger for the handheld games, or that they are out of toothpaste.  We wrestle them out of dusty jeans and change sheets that nobody realized were dirty until bedtime.  There is a frantic last grasp for a glass of water, a missing homework assignment.

"Can I borrow one of Dad's t-shirts to wear to bed?".

"I didn't finish my dinner. Can I have a snack?"

"Do we have school tomorrow?"

"Can I play my DS for just 10 more minutes?"

Meanwhile, the baby is crying because she's decided it's CLUSTER FEED TIME! so even though she was nursed an hour ago, she can't possibly survive five more minutes without a good gnaw at the boob.  And she probably just transacted some unpleasant business in her diaper, for good measure.

Once everyone is finally tucked into bed and the Papa Bear and Mama Bear have settled into the overstuffed cushions of the sofa for some much-needed quality time with The Doctor, you can just about set the clock for the time when the patter of four-year-old feet will be heard coming down the stairs.  Milo loves Dr. Who, too.  At least, he loves the first ten minutes or so -- after that, he can be depended upon to nod off to dream-land, turn sideways on the couch and start kicking someone in the head.

Yes, I had an idealized picture of what parenthood was going to be, and it bears about as much resemblance to the reality as I bear to Gwyneth Paltrow. 

But I still have high hopes they'll one day love The Phantom Toll Booth as much as I do -- even if they read it to themselves or each other instead of having it read to them by a frazzled mother who would probably fall asleep before they did, anyway.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Land of Opportunity

When we moved to Colorado, one of the intentions was that we would get out and enjoy all the opportunities of the outdoors here more than we did back East.  We used to live 5 minutes from the Appalachian Trail, but we never got very into hiking on the East Coast.  It's not a culture we were familiar with.

So here we are - The Land Of The Outdoors - where the sun shines 300 plus days a year, and I have to admit that I was skeptical.  I wasn't sure we would be able to really get off our behinds and get "out there" -- out in the Big Blue Room of nature. 

I am pleased to report that the husband, affectionately dubbed "Twitch" since his epilepsy diagnosis last year, has been lighting the fire under me and we are actually going outside and breathing lots of fresh air while viewing the spectacular sights of Colorado.  We are explorers in the brave new land, and after more than a decade on the Eastern Seaboard, it's amazing to be in a new place with so many new places to visit.

Friends "back home" laugh at me when I breathlessly describe how the sun shines all the damn time and how it snows, sure, but not like in DC. There, the snow falls and stays and turns to black and gray sludge that freezes over on itself again and again while the gloomy gray clouds laugh at human misery overhead.  Here, we don't even have a neighborhood plowing service. Usually we can see the steam rising from the pavement in the heat of the sun, Mother Nature providing a broom to sweep away the white stuff so it vanishes completely in a day or two. 

So, yeah, it probably sounds to people who know me like I joined a cult.  I might have to start calling myself "Sun Child Winter Smiler" or something, just to really seal the impression.

I've never made it through a winter as an adult without bone-deep blues and desperation for spring aching in my soul come April... until now.  I actually laughed as the unseasonably late snow fell through the afternoon and evening yesterday.  I smiled at the erstwhile white flakes and mentally perused the catalog of available outdoor adventures waiting to be sampled this weekend. 

Those cute little snowflakes.  They fell as the sun shined down from above, and when the moon glowed bright through the windows of the bedrooms where we slept, cocooned and dreaming of adventures yet to come.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Education - Once More - With Feeling

When I finished my associate degree last year, I felt a little weird about it.

 I consider myself educated; I read constantly, try to stay up on current world events, and I'm a bit of a spelling nazi.  My grammar is probably not what it once was, because I have forgotten a lot of the more esoteric rules and most of the rest has changed so much I probably couldn't tell you a predicate for a participle. (Random Alliteration Drive-By!)  The fact of the matter, though, is that I officially dropped out of college twice before finally getting that piece of paper with my name on it in fancy script, and even then I kept thinking "yeah, but it's not a REAL degree, right?"

So here I am, 34 years old, and once again in school and pursuing the elusive Bachelor's Degree.  Except now I have 4 kids, a house to maintain, very little patience, and a brain that refuses to cooperate with my directions most days.  Also, I still have absolutely no idea what I want to be when I grow up, except that it will likely involve healthcare administration (my area of study) and I would like it to somehow involve working to improve the state of Mental Health Care in this country because, sweet chili peppers, do we need it.

I would love to someday pursue a Master's Degree as well, but in the last few years I have learned not to plan too far ahead.  Life has thrown too many curve balls, and I keep the horizon a little closer these days.  Like waiting for the next 3 months to see a geneticist for Jack, or looking for a new psychiatrist so I can get meds sorted out once I am done breastfeeding Little Lady. Like keeping an eye on the housing market back east and hoping that our house there gains enough value to be worth more than the mortgage before the kids go off to college.  Like hoping we can find a house here and figure out a way to buy it so that we aren't consigned to be renters forever after.

There are days - like today, as I worked on a college paper and ignored the sink full of dirty dishes - when I start to take stock of everything on my plate and I can't help but think that a grand, metaphysical mistake of some sort was made.  These are challenges for someone better equipped to handle life than I.  These are challenges for someone who can remember to pack the school snacks, who stay on top of the laundry, who is always on time for preschool pick-up and who always knows the perfect words to talk their special needs child down from an oncoming tantrum.  On those days, I think that I Have No Business being back in school, as well as training to race and participating in Listen To Your Mother, when I can't even take care of everything else perfectly.

But when that happens, I get hung up on that one word.


Because perfect is a lie.  Perfect is a story that we tell ourselves when we look at the cover of Real Simple magazine and think that everyone else's house looks like that all the time and we are the only ones whose kids take their pants off when they come in the door and toss them on the back of the couch before dumping half a bag of Pirate's Booty on the coffee table for a snack and leaving the crumbs for the dog. Perfect says that nobody else ever breaks out the blue box macaroni once in a while and cuts up hot dogs into it and calls it dinner.  Perfect says that you are too out of shape to be in the gym embarrassing yourself on the treadmill - that gyms are for people who already look like athletes and models. Perfect whispers in your ear that it's pointless to go back to school at 34 because by the time you are done you will be too old to pick back up on a career, or to be of any value in the working world anyway.

Perfect is an ugly word.

So I guess I am learning more than how to write a college paper in the proper (New. Again.) APA format, or how to finish discussion question responses while juggling a baby with one hand and opening a juice box for a four-year-old with the other.  I am learning that being educated means more than finishing a degree (or two or three) by 25.  I am learning that, while it is important to live in the moment and keep my eyes on the immediate goals, there is nothing wrong with dreaming of a future yet to come and working for it - walking the path even if I'm not yet certain where it leads.

“Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway."  ― Earl Nightingale

It's equally important not to get discouraged simply because you are not where you want to be right now.  Celebrate the baby steps - the associate degree, the basket of laundry that got folded and put away (even if there are still 4 more waiting).  It's all adding up to where you will eventually be.  To where I will eventually be, too.  Where we are right now is exactly where we are supposed to be.

For today, where I am is finished with my paper and ready to enjoy a good husband-made thai curry along with this face:

Which is pretty a pretty spectacular place to be, actually.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

29 version 5.0

Friday was my birthday.  My 34th Birthday.  I'm fine with turning 34, but it's been a running joke at our house the past several years that I am turning "29 again".  This year, the kids finally caught on.  Jack, ever the stickler with the eyes for detail, started telling people "My mom is turning 29 - version five-point-oh". 

Baby girl turned 6 months old on Friday, too, because - like the BFF's we are going to eventually be (whether she likes it or not) - we share each others' half-birthday.  And she gave me a birthday present of her own by allowing me my first 8 hours of solid sleep in six months.  EIGHT. HOURS. OF. SLEEP.  Booyah - who wants to go Do Stuff? Because I can totally Do Stuff after actual sleep.  Real sleep to a mother with a newborn is like PCP for a normal person. I could leap tall mountains, fly around the room, or... like, fold laundry. Heady stuff.

We had a birthday dinner at home with friends on Friday night.  After 9 months in Denver, I realized we really are making a home here.  A few glasses of wine, way too much food, and even more laughter floated over the evening like so many incandescent bubbles.  Also there were a lot of highly inappropriate jokes, which was - obviously - awesome.  You know you are finding your tribe when an extremely large loaf of Italian bread is equally funny to the entire table.  (My tribe may share a sense of humor with 13-year-old boys.  It was still hysterical.)

And Saturday morning was the first read-through for Listen To Your Mother, Denver edition, which... I don't think there is a way to describe it other than to say that if you are local and you DON'T make it to this event, you will be missing out on something transcendent.  I still can't figure out how I ended up in a room with these people - talented writers, humorists and all-around amazing humans - but I will be forever thankful for the chance to be a part of this.  We laughed, we cried, and even my arm-hairs were tired by the end from all the goosebumps.

It was a nice reminder that life will still surprise me with wonderful things, and great opportunities still lie ahead.  I just have to be ready to go for it when the doors are opened and not let fear keep me from walking through into the next big adventure.  That's a pretty spectacular birthday gift.

So happy 29 version 5.0 to me.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Listen To Your Mother!

I sat down two or three or twenty-eleventy (my 4-year-old insists that's a thing) times over the past two weeks in order to compose a post.  It just hasn't seemed to come together for me, despite the fact that I have a lot to say.

Partially, I think this stems from an innate deer-in-headlights response.  You see, I was officially selected as one of the readers at this year's Listen To Your Mother! - Denver show.  So I will, in just over a month, be standing in front of several hundred strangers to talk about motherhood. I've never done anything quite like this before.  Part of me thinks maybe this is the beginning of a new renaissance here at Stay At Aum Mom.  The rest of me just hopes I don't cry too hard or pee my pants on stage.  (Setting the bar high since 1979!)

As for the rest of the reasons I have had a hard time composing a coherent column, those would be three little boys and one baby girl who have demanded the bulk of my attention.  Breastfeeding alone.. my gosh, I forgot how intense it is to commit half an hour of every 4 to providing nourishment to a small, hungry person. A person who can scream REALLY loud if you don't make with the boob juice fast enough.  A person who, in baby girl's case, has decided that naps are for losers and nighttime is party time.  Having my breasts violently chewed on at 3 o'clock in the morning is not exactly my idea of a party.  But, hey, these are the sacrifices we make!  For The Children! And, yes, if I'm honest I still believe it's totally worth it. Even after 4.

For the record, by the way, 4 kids is not an indication that we missed that class in sex ed.  You'd be amazed how many people assume that.  We really did want them all.  If you ask my husband, he'd have more.  My lady-parts and I remain unconvinced on that score at present, however.

I'm also back in school part time - because I am determined, eventually, to complete my degree.  I'm training for my first 5k of 2013.  I'm re-attempting the novel idea that has been knocking around in my brain the past few years, which so far consists of carrying a notebook around with me and jotting down every idea about it that pops into my head.  I scheduled a glass-blowing class.  I am doing Things.

So now, I just have to carve out the time to write about the Things.

I'm working on it.  Stay tuned!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Learning to Speak Truth.

On Friday I auditioned (via google hangout, because I couldn't make the in-person auditions on Saturday) for Listen To Your Mother.  It's a series of performances - all around the country - of local writers, mothers, sons and daughters who perform public readings on the topic of Motherhood.

I consider myself an amateur writer.  Public speaking, however, has never been my strong suit.  But after seeing Kate Hood's frequent postings on the show, I decided to check it out many months back.  I watched recordings of previous shows, I read what other people had to say about the experience, and I thought maybe I had something to say.

Years ago I wrote about an experience with Number One Son, and in the interim of the last almost-decade (!) it had come back around to me with even more meaning.  SO I sat down and recounted the original experience, along with how the meaning of it has changed for me over the years as we have struggled to understand him and how to best help him.

Public speaking terrifies me.  That's putting it as mildly as I can; having been raised a Mormon, it was required once every year or two that we stand up in Sacrament meeting on Sunday and give a "talk".  I remember (what little I have not blocked out) my young voice quavering while my legs, behind the podium, shook uncontrollably.

But this - Motherhood - may just be the topic that could overcome my anxiety. Because it is important - because other mothers out there have to be struggling, too, to cope with a child whose future they can't begin to decode.  As I was working on the piece, and reading aloud to myself in the mirror and trying not to notice how tired my eyes look or how many new gray hairs are sprouting in the inch-long roots - (Because who has time to color their hair anymore?  No? Just me and my mouse-gray follicles with the occasional splash of silver?) - as I watched my lips form the words I started to realize that whether or not I ever deliver this message publicly, I needed to hear it myself.

My brain started to absorb what my heart already knew - and this piece was written, absolutely, by my heart.  Whenever my head started to get involved in the writing process, I started to panic.  Was it too personal? Was it fair to talk about my child to strangers this way? Who was I to think I had anything meaningful to say on the topic, anyway?  Somewhere along the way, I had learned to believe it was not okay to share my truth - to "air my dirty laundry".  That was the voice in my head telling me this was too personal to share, that I should lock it away in a drawer and forget the whole thing.

I ignored my brain and wrote from the heart... and as I stood alone on the cold tile of the bathroom floor and heard the tentative sound of my own voice, my brain started to catch up, and the anxiety melted away. This is my story - a small piece of what Motherhood means for me.

I don't know if I will be selected to share my words with other people. I'm not sure I know how I will feel if it is.  Whatever the outcome, though, I am learning to speak my truth - even if it just means speaking it to myself in the quiet of the master bathroom.

Friday, March 15, 2013

A Perfect 10.

Ten years ago I started this journal - first as a way to record life events for myself and for family.  Over time, it evolved into a way to share and partake in a community of bloggers and, especially, women who provided the digital equivalent of an informal "salon" in the intellectual sense.

Today I am starting it anew.

Ten years ago I was a newly-wed and a new first-time mom, living in a two-bedroom apartment in suburban Northern Virginia.  Money was tight but we were young and invincible, and I was naively certain that the biggest challenges of my life (of which, to be fair, there had been several significant ones) were behind me.

Today, I am a stay-at-home mom to 4 kids - 3 boys and a very spoiled baby girl - living in suburban Denver.  Money is still tight but we are no longer so young.  In 2011 I was diagnosed with a Mood Disorder.  In 2012, my husband was diagnosed with Temporal Lobe Epilepsy.  Our eldest child continues to defy diagnosis, but has a collage of features from the Autism Spectrum and likely Mood Disorder.  The challenges we have faced in the last 10 years have been, at times, more than we thought we could survive, but I am no longer naive enough to expect that the hardest days are behind us.  I fully expect that the biggest challenges may be yet to come.  This no longer terrifies me.

In the last ten years I have learned that I have a deeper well of strength than I would ever have believed possible, and a network of friends and loved ones standing at the ready to cushion my fall.  I have learned that my marriage can survive the crucible of life; for better or for worse are no longer esoteric concepts, but the realities of a life together that we continue to build and nurture every day.  I have learned that I can be imperfect, even fractured, and still be a worthy soul.  I have learned that our imperfections are what make us real.

My name is MeL and I am a mother, a writer, an artist, a baker, a cook, a yarn geek, a great friend, a terrible dancer, a confirmed weirdo and (I hope) a pretty decent person.

Ten years is forever and a blink.  If you were with me for any of the last ten, I thank you and invite you to continue this journey with me.  If you're new here - Hello! It's lovely to meet you and you look spectacular today.

Wake Up And Go

It's... been a while.  Things have changed around here.  Actually, the "here" has changed around here.  We moved last summer from our small town home outside DC to the urban-ish jungle of Greater Denver.  Oh, and we had another baby! A GIRL one!  Apparently we finally figured out how to make those!

Clearly my articulation is lacking at this moment in time.  I want to make rash promises about how THIS time I'm back for good, and THIS time I'll be full of wit and wisdom and fabulous insight, but we both know that would be premature.  I propose we take it slow.  We can get to know each other again (or for the first time) little by little.  We've both changed, right? I mean, now I'm a mother of four.  I'm still running, still cooking, and still really, really bad at laundry. I have  special needs child, a husband with epilepsy (Surprise! I'll tell you about it some time!) and a lot more gray hair.

I'm also still pretty nuts, but hopefully in a good way.