Monday, March 29, 2010

Ride Along

“I’m so glad I’m four!” Little Sprout excitedly proclaimed as she walked in an embrace with her big sister. 
“I’m so glad too!” Middle Sprout said as she turned, smiling at me.  The kids were bounding ahead of me, toward Little Sprout’s first roller coaster.  She stood proudly at that measuring stick.  Legitimately flat on her feet, but convincingly above the line.
We all knew what she was so excited about.  For four years, Little Sprout has watched life happen.  From her car seat.  From the stroller.  From my arms.  But most importantly, from the side.  She was along for the ride, but unable to be part of it.  She has recently been allowed to be thrown in the mix, and it is thrilling to watch.
Anyone who has three or more kids can relate to the drama that plays out in most families.
I brought home kid number one and, aside from the terror of having no idea what I was doing, I had time, energy and intense interest in watching EVERY stage of development and growth.  I remember, vividly, filing his fingernails for the first time.  Fascinated by the tiny fingers and inexplicable cutting power of those all-too-flexible nails.  I documented him sitting up, lunging to crawl, actually crawling, cruising on furniture, taking his first step, learning to eat with a spoon and so many things in between.
Kid two came on the scene, and although it took more energy, I was still able to note the big changes.  And although, I didn’t document as much, not as many pictures or journal entries, each milestone was noted and celebrated with her big brother.  “Look…she is crawling.  Look… she is standing up.  Look…she can pull your hair.”
By the time kid three came on the scene, there was just too much activity in the house to notice the milestones.  I realized how much I had missed when I saw Little Sprout walk into the kitchen one day, grab down a box of cereal and walk to the cupboard to get herself a bowl.  “When did you learn to do that?” I thought.
It’s not that I wanted to miss her milestones, but that is the unfortunate lot of the third kid.  The third kid doesn’t get to be enrolled in all the mommy and me classes, or have every moment documented along the way.  The third kid gets to go to the activities for the first two kids.  They get to take naps in the car and they learn to eat all sorts of places that are not their high chair.  They know, at a very early age, what they cannot do…because only the big kids get to do it.
Finally, the playing field is starting to level out.  With the change from winter to spring, we have discovered how much Little Sprout has grown over the last five months.  She is big enough to ride her sister’s bike now.  She is big enough to ride in a booster car seat.  She is big enough to ride the roller coaster at the Mall of America.  But most of all, she is no longer just along for the ride.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Let's Talk about Sex ...Maybe?

It is happening in fits in starts in our house.  Not the sex...but the talking about sex.  Our oldest, Big Sprout, will be turning ten in May, and he is wise to the ways of the sensual world.  Our conversations with him (now let's be fair...they are really MY conversations with him) have been happening since about this time last year.  He doesn't want to talk about it every night, but when there is something that relates to that topic that he wants to clarify, he usually pulls me aside and says, "Hey mom, I need to talk to you before I go to bed."

The initial talks included correcting the misinformation from classmates and friends, clearly explaining the mechanics and answering the questions.  Always followed with a reminder, "Now you is for making babies, and you really don't want to be making babies until you are grown and married."  Talk over.

One of my favorite questions happened post-warning.

"Okay mom, I know.  I do have one more question though," he looked confused. "I understand how this whole thing works, but there is one thing that I just don't get."

"What is it, hon?" I said, bracing myself to supply more detail.

"What do the boobs have to do with it?  I know they have something to do with all of it, but I just don't see what they have to do with making babies."

Great question, I thought.  What in the world do the boobs have to do with it?  I stammered for a second explaining the functionality of the breasts post-baby, and he interrupted me and reiterated.

"No...I know that, I am talking about during know...during the...making of the baby."

"Well, as far as the use the baby.  Well, um...."  and then it came to me, "I know how I can explain this.  Remember when we were at the zoo (totally the reason I take my kids to the zoo!) and we saw that male peacock?"

"Yeah, I remember,"  looking even more confused.  He was trying to connect the boobs to peacocks and then to sex and I was sure I was the best mom ever.

"Remember what I told you about his REALLY colorful feathers.  What did he use them for?"

He sat for a second, and then the light of understanding came clearly to his eyes.  I breathed a huge sigh of relief. "He used the feathers to attract the female."

"Yes," I nodded with the now-you-see-the-connection-right-buddy nod. "Well, I guess you could say that women use their boobs the same way."

"Oh!  I get it now."  And then the slightly embarrassed giggle followed.  I can only imagine the misinformation he shared with his classmates after that one!

No, I'm just kidding.  I honestly don't think he talks about it too much with his friends, but if he did share any feathery details after that conversation, those kids have grown by nearly a year by now, and any confusion they still have about sex is completely not my fault.

I do have another challenge on my hands, however.  Last night, while watching NCAA basketball, one of those commercials came on with the disclaimer that if you have your erection for more than four hours go to an emergency room.  I love how they reach their target audience.  Anyway, Big Sprout scooted over close to me on the couch, and because his sisters were sharing the recliner they couldn't hear him ask,

"But mom, the people are so old?" I hadn't really been watching the commercial, so I had to glance up to see what he was talking about.  He continued, "they would be dead by the time their kid was in college," he calculated.

I laughed.  My teaching had reached my pupil.  Now I had to correct the information that I had supplied.

"Oh.  It doesn't matter if they're old," I laughed with him.  "And I am definitely going to write a blog about that okay?" thinking as I said that, that maybe he could read my explanation.

So here is my explanation:

People are interested in sex their entire lives.  They think about it and learn about it well before they should be doing it, and after the baby-making phase has come and gone, well, they still do it.  It is an expression of love and should always be done in love.  So I stick by my original instruction, " "Now you is for making babies, and you really don't want to be making babies until you are grown and married. And then, I want to add,  when you are grown and married and you are done making babies...then you are simply making love."

This post has been approved by Big sprout.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Key Word

It's time.  I have resisted it...made excuses to avoid it and put a ton of things in my own way to keep it from happening.  It's a wrestling match that I've been having with myself for years.  Control the words.  Harness the words.  Pass them out in small parcels, but carefully.  I've become bored with caution.

I knew when I was seven that words were powerful.  I remember, vividly, the red Annie diary I kept. I wrote about the boys who ran from me and the heartbreak that only a seven-year-old would know.  I wrote sentence after sentence, empowered by the freedom that only letters can provide.  The best part about that diary was that I could lock it up and keep the words safe. I think part of me has continued to write like that: locking away parts of it because I'm more comfortable that way.  I am ready to unlock the diary.

Those of you who know me may be confused by this revelation.  "You write all the time, and you've shared everything all along," I can hear you saying.  That's true... and untrue. I have shared the true stories, using the words to control how they have been shared. I have to finally admit, however, that I have been holding out.   Locked away have been stories and characters.  They are the unreal kind, and the kind that can potentially take on a life of their own.  They are of my sole creation and terrifying to explore.  Terrifying because there is not the safety of the truth.  Scary because it makes me vulnerable.

When people read stories, the true kind, they have an emotion about one part or the other.  They either react to the story or to the writing that creates it.  If I couple the two together, and present both the story and the creation, any rejection falls firmly on me.  I'm ready for that.  My approach has changed over the last few months and I have started to recognize when I write for writing's sake and when I write to just get words out there. 

I'm going to give my energy to writing for writing's sake, and I am going to unlock that world I've avoided.  My non-fiction proposal still floats out there, and now that I am feeling pulled toward new projects, it is Murphy's Law that I will be pulled back to finish that book.  If that happens, I will do that, but in the meantime, I am putting the key in the lock and letting the pages fall where they may.

As Markus Zusak wrote in The Book Thief (truly one of the best books I think I have ever read), "...there would be punishment and pain, and there would be happiness, too.  That was writing."

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Competitive Cleaning

"Hey Mom!  I said I was going to clean the playroom!   Big Sprout is cleaning the playroom so I can't!  You need to stop him!" Middle Sprout yells at me.

"Just help him, you can get a bead too!" I remind her.

Yes, it is another form of tattling, but one that I have been able to nip in the bud, and to be honest, I love that they are fighting about this.

It has been a miraculous few days in our house.  Traditionally with our long breaks (we are on a three-week spring break right now) I have struggled with keeping structure and sanity.  The kids, although acting the way that kids should, get to be sooooo annoying.  Annoying to each other...annoying to my husband....and eventually the whole thing starts to annoy me.  I was a high school English teacher, and I really never had a problem with classroom management, but something crazy happens to kids when they are bottled up in their own home with their siblings. I've tried sticker charts, I've tried elaborate flow charts, I've tried a marble jar, I've tried privilege charts, I've tried dry-erase boards, I've tried bribing, I've tried yelling and screaming and I've even tried silence.  All of those strategies have moderately worked, but not anything like these Decision Beads.

I cannot take credit for them.  It was a craft that my kids did at church, but they have responded so well to the adaptation we've made here in our house, that I will definitely keep using them.

Here is how they work:  Each kid has their own set of ten beads.  There are a number of things that we have deemed "Bead Worthy".  Here is the list:

  • Hygiene bead-  brush teeth, brush hair, get dressed and shower/bathe without complaint
  • Room maintenance bead- make the bed and pick up the room
  • Set the table before a meal
  • Clear the table after a meal
  • Do the dishes 
  • Sweep the kitchen floor and hallway
  • Clean the windows
  • Put laundry away
  • Clean the playroom
  • Take out the trash
  • Empty the dishwasher
  • Yard work x 20 minutes
  • Practice the violin x 30 minutes (a Big Sprout bead)
  • Exercise for 30-plus minutes
  • And anything that mom or dad needs help with that the determine is bead worthy
When one of those tasks is completed it is worth one bead for the older two and two beads for Little Sprout. They then slide the bead(s) to the end of the string to mark the completion.  The goal for each kid is to get all ten beads moved by the end of the day.  When that happens they earn $1 for the day and they are in good standing for privileges.

Good standing for privileges means that if we have an impromptu plan to watch a movie, or go get ice cream, or go to the long as the kids are moving beads in the right direction, they have full participation.  When the kids know that we are going to have a big privilege like a water park...the expectation is that they will have a certain number of days with ten beads.  Any number they fall short of ten is worth five minutes out of the pool.

There are, unfortunately, "Bead Busters" too:

  • Whining
  • Fighting
  • Talking back
  • Rude attitude
  • Disobedience
  • Tattling
Taking part in any of the "Bead Busting" activities will warrant one warning, and if the behavior doesn't change, it results in the loss of a bead.

This system is working well for a number of reasons for us.  Our kids are competitive, (likely the reason they fight so much with each other) so they want to be the first one to get all ten beads moved.  Another reason it works is that there is freedom of choice.  There is not an assigned chore for each kid, because they can choose which "Bead Worthy" activity they want to do, and if they choose to cooperate to get any of the tasks done, they speed up the process, and they can all earn a bead.

There have been some bumps so far, like convincing Big Sprout that handing his sister a napkin at dinner is not a "Bead Worthy" activity, but it is starting to really work.  Chores are getting done, fights are curbing faster, and it is a relatively maintenance-free way to hold the kids accountable.  I think I should make my own set of beads, and I am going to move one every day for making the good decision to use these beads in the first place!

Monday, March 22, 2010

To See or Not to See...

What can a four -year-old see through her missing grandfather's binoculars?  This weekend she saw eight bald eagles, a stump in the ice and when she turned to look at me, she aptly reported, "Mom!  You're so big!"

It's a significant event when the world outside can be brought closer through the magnifying power of binoculars, but it is a bigger deal than that for me.  See, those binoculars belonged to my dad.  I know with one hundred per cent certainty that he has no idea that we have them, and I have to keep convincing myself that he would have no problem with the fact that we are putting them to use.  I know in my heart of hearts that if I hadn't taken them out of a small box of my dad's belongings, they would likely have been lost years ago.

I snatched them, with other nostalgic items, when I helped my uncles to clean out one of the apartments that my dad left behind.  Through the years, he has left other apartments behind, other boxes of belongings.  Some of the boxes were saved by family members, but I know that other boxes of things have likely been lost forever.  I knew then, what I know now: that my dad has no real need for binoculars,(or the chess board that I am using to teach my kids how to play) but that doesn't make the recent use of those things any easier.

I couldn't tell you the last time he used the binoculars.  I only remember how he used to use them when I was a kid.  My dad would take them to Broncos and  CU Buffalo football games. I remember the black electrical tape that still holds the case together, and I can picture his younger, stronger hands opening the case to let me hold them...and look through them.  I wanted to see what only the binoculars could show me.  I worked at getting the two separate circles to join together so that what I was aiming at could be singularly focused.  I couldn't do it very well as a kid, but it worked flawlessly for me this weekend.

So much has changed since my initial attempts with those binoculars.  Well, for starters, I was the one sharing them with my own kids this weekend.  My dad has been lost...and then found...and then lost...and then found again...over and over.  I took the binoculars from him thinking I would just protect them for him for a while.  He has not yet given me a reason to give them back.  I wish more than anything he would call me up, screaming, that he wants them and that he has a million things he wants to do with them.  I know that that is never going to happen.  No one knows where he is right now. So, I emotionally cheer on my kids when they get the binoculars to work and something glorious gets bigger for them. 

Those binoculars are safely shelved at our cabin right now, but I will likely bring them with us when we go to Colorado for part of this summer.  There is a lot to look at there too.  Also, if, by chance, no one has been able to find my dad by then, maybe I can station myself at a possible stomping ground and just look through those lenses for him.  Maybe he could come into focus...just one more time.  I'd love to see him again...even if it is on his terms.

I want to  thank him.  I want to thank him for the memories my family was able to make this weekend looking through those stolen binoculars.  I want to thank him for the genes he contributed to help make our great kids with whom I get to share my life, and I want to tell him that there is still so much in the world worth looking at.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

March Madness....Frank Style

True, we are a hockey family...but that is by default.  Actually, no, I take that back, it is my fault.  If I had been paying attention and fallen in love with a basketball guy, we would most certainly be a basketball family.  But, you can see how that story ended up, and I am destined to spend my life in sub-zero arenas at the crack of dawn.  

Believe me, I've tried.   We have three basketballs and I take the kids out  to work on their dribbling.  Big Sprout can actually shoot hard enough to play horse and around the world with me, and I have not given up hope that someone in this house will beg to play basketball.  I take them to watch their friends play, looking for a spark of interest, and I would do everything I could to make basketball happen if they asked.  I played basketball growing up, starting in probably third grade, and through high school.  I even played for one year in college.  A big part of me could argue that basketball was the sport I loved, but soccer was the sport that took me the furthest.  So I have never fully abandoned my passion for basketball, and each year about this time, I get excited about the NCAA basketball tournament.

I admit that I know very little about the teams who have toiled and worked so hard to be counted among the sixty-four, but I will become an immediate fan at the first tip-off.  Everyone in our house filled out a bracket this attempt to recreate what my husband and I have occasionally experienced in Vegas.  Nothing is quite like Vegas during March Madness, but we will make the most of it here too.

Middle Sprout picked her teams based on the names.  If the name of a team sounded like or was the name of a friend of hers, or a place she knew...they got the nod.  Her final four picks are: Northern Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Saint Mary's.
Little Sprout made her picks similarly, high-fiving her sister each time she accidentally  picked the same team.  She belly-laughed at the Butler match-up. 

"Butt-ler?!"  she picked.  

"Yeah...maybe their mascot is the Butts," Big Sprout chimed in.
"What about between Sam-Houston and Baylor?" I asked Little Sprout.
"Damn-houston!"  She giggled.  We corrected her, and she has Sam-Houston winning it all. (One of her friends at school is named Sam)

Big Sprout was much more methodical.  He studied the regional rankings and tried to pick who sounded like the strongest team.  The mistake too many of us make who don't really know these teams.  I know my bracket will be wrong and I'll excitedly cheer for teams I didn't even know existed, but that is the joy of March Madness.

March Madness rocks because of the comebacks...the last-second wins...the multiple overtimes and the emotion that comes with all of it.  These college basketball players are the best players to watch.  They have skill, talent and an unbridled passion for a game that I still love too.  Some drama, for sure, but for me it is not at the disappointing level of the pros. 

No, I am not going to tell you my picks yet...but I'll let you know who makes out the best in the Frank household.  For now, we are preparing for the beginning of our weekend as a basketball family.

"Go, Butts!"

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

O'Everybody and O'Anybody's Irish on St. Patrick's Day

"You'll be a McGuire tomorrow guys!" I excitedly told the sprouts last night before they went to bed.

"Will I feel different, Mom?" Little Sprout worriedly asked.

"Oh, maybe a little," I laughed.  "You'll be more excited than usual, but other than that, you won't feel too different.  Just make sure you find something green to wear right when you wake up so that you don't get pinched." I light-heartedly poked her.

Her worried expression returned and she said, "Pinch me?  Who would want to pinch me?" She sounded panicked.

"Oh...don't worry honey! It's all for fun and you'll be in green, so no one is going to pinch you."

She relaxed and her eyes softened.  She smiled with anticipation and she and I had finally arrived at the place I had hoped to be when I brought up the topic in the first place.

I love St. Patrick's Day!  I want my kids to love it too, and each year I try to remind them of some of those fun genes I have passed down to them.  They are a more diluted version of Irish than I am.  They are 1/4 Irish, I am 1/2 and my dad is 100 per cent Irish.  It was a sad day for me when I had to learn how to write Frank instead of the glorious McGuire that I had adored growing up.  Don't get me wrong... I am very glad to be married to my husband, and to have his name, but Meagan Frank just doesn't have the same Irish ring.

So for one day a year, every person in our house is a McGuire.

In celebration of the day, I took the kids to St. Paul for the St. Patrick's Day parade.  Who knew there were so many Irish people in Minnesota?  So many, in fact, that I didn't find a parking space for nearly forty minutes of driving around and not until after the parade had actually started.  I'll claim Irish luck that the spot we found was literally THE last spot in THE last garage I had agreed to try.  We walked four blocks, found a small spot on the curb and watched the parade roll by.

There were green men and decked out strollers.

Flying leprechauns...

and a green-haired Elvis

Bagpipes, firetrucks, candy-throwers, dancers and bands.
But most of all there were groups of families and friends who walked behind a banner identifying themselves as the Irish among us.Growing up, not only did I go to the St. Patrick's Day parades in Denver, I was in a parade or two.  I remember the matching sweaters and kilts my sisters and I wore and the scratchy hay that was our chair on the float.  I had fun at the parades, but I never fully appreciated the holiday until recent years.

I'm proud to be Irish...not just because we throw great parties and laugh intensely at foolish behavior.  And we do laugh...a lot!  (maybe it's not such a good thing that we give ourselves so many reasons to be laughing)  I'm proud because the Irish are a hard-working, hard-playing bunch.  I think of scrappy tempers, boisterous conversations and smiling eyes.  There are days I curse my Irish temper, but without it I truly feel I wouldn't have the passion I have for every other part of my life.  I hope our kids will appreciate the parts of their personalities that were celebrated today.

Our cornbeef and cabbage dinner was fabulous, and the Killians has been a good way to end my Irish celebration.  I am glad that I don't have to wait an entire year to be a McGuire again because our clan may not have had a sect marching in the parade today, but a whole bunch of us are gathering for a five-year reunion in July...and I can hardly wait.

Top o' the Morning to Ya'

Happy St. Patrick's Day
Here is a cute Irish joke to set the tone for the day.  I will post later about our day as McGuires.

An Irish political prisoner escaped from jail by digging a 
tunnel that emerged in a school playground.  
As he emerged to the open air he couldn't help shouting at a small girl, 
"I'm free...I'm free."
"That's nothing," she said scornfully; "I'm four." 

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Please Pass the Snake

This photo captures the moments just before my husband handed Big Sprout the garter snake that had eluded both of them for the better part of fifteen minutes.  It was the third of three snakes that had emerged from the crack in our concrete on the front porch.  A sure sign of spring and evidently a rite of passage too.

My husband had wrangled the first one, spurring courage in our oldest to follow suit.  Big Sprout went after the second snake until he realized that she was quite a bit bigger than the first one and a whole lot more pissed off.  I expertly determined that she was the mom, and the two smaller snakes that had come out of the hibernacula (my vocab word of the week) were her babies. I truly have no idea, but that was my way to feel less uncomfortable about the fact that there were snakes coming out from under the porch!

Snake two came up in a striking motion toward Big Sprout, and as the girls ran screaming down the driveway, my husband stepped in with the long stick and his gloves to grab her by the tail.  She fought the capture much more than the first one did, and as she thrashed around, Big Sprout gingerly put out his hand asking if he could carry her to the marsh.  My husband brought her closer to hand her off, and her sudden movements quickly changed my son's mind.

As my husband was depositing snake two in the marsh, Big Sprout worked up his courage again to go after the smaller remaining garter.  His enthusiasm flushed the garter out and after two failed attempts to grab it, the snake disappeared into the large bush off to the side of the house.

"Hey, did you catch that last one?"  Hubby asked as he came back around the front of the house.

"He's here in this bush, dad.  He's right there!  I see him! I see him!  He's going your way!"  Big Sprout enthusiastically reported.

Big Sprout flushed and Hubby scooped.  The third snake was captured and the handoff was imminent.

"Can I take this one down to the marsh, dad?"

"Sure buddy.  Come on over here, and I'll hand you the tail."

Despite the fact that Big Sprout nearly dropped the snake...twice...he finally had it and he bravely walked it away from the house.  From father to son the snake had been passed, and with it a new confidence that hadn't been there before those three snake heads poked out from the concrete crack.

Just Give me the Control-top Panties!

Yesterday was a lesson in control.  A reminder of how little I have and a challenge to attain much more than I want.  It was the Monday at the start of our three-week spring break, and I had to play mom the whole day.  That is a role that has some annoying tendencies, but I guess I have no choice but to keep playing my part.

"Children...will you please join us for a family meeting."

As we sat in the playroom/ husbands' office I reminded our oldest (at least five times) to stop rocking on the footrest of our rocking chair.

"Hey, Big Sprout, can you PLEASE stop throwing that ball against the wall so we can talk about life for the next three weeks."

I tried to control the meeting, so that I could get a handle on  the schedule for the day and for the entire break.  It sounds like I want control, but what I really want is for life to just happen and to enjoy the trip along the way, but because I am the mom in the house, apparently that is not an option.  Through the morning, a series of instructions for any and/or all of the sprouts seem incessant.

"Hey, turn off the tv and take your laundry upstairs."

" cannot have a snack, you didn't even finish your breakfast."

"When do you plan on practicing your violin?"

"Did you brush your teeth...this week?"

"Please take your shoes off BEFORE you track mud through the whole house."

"Stop grabbing your sister."  "I don't care if she grabbed you first."

It's this crazy battle between acceptance of the many things in life over which I will never have control, and having to step in as the one in charge because I am totally supposed to be in control.  I don't want to be "controlling", but if I don't take my job seriously, people could deem that my kids are "out of control", a designation of which I would never be proud.  So I do what I can to "get those kids under control" and it rings in my ears like the nagging I cannot stand...but apparently I can't avoid.

 "Big need to put your helmet on for our bike ride."

"We're not riding that fast," he argues. "I've gone without it before," pointing out the mistake I made letting him ride helmetless ...just around the lake.

"I know, but your sister needs to have hers on and that way you can ride even faster," I try to convince him, while in the back of my mind I remember a lifetime of riding bikes without a helmet.

He reluctantly straps the helmet, and I have gained control again.  That is... until he decides to ride, with the posture of Eeyore, less than a mile an hour. I completely get it. I understand the angst of children as they grow through the necessary presence of parental control because they want desperately to be in charge of their own lives.  I want that too, but that only happens over time...a part of life even moms can't control.

So I take control of the things I'm supposed to,  and when that backfires...well, I open a bottle of wine. I didn't have control of the fact that schedules collided and Big Sprout was supposed to be in two places last night.  It wasn't in my control that a church commitment had precedence over that district hockey game for him, a game I thought was supposed to be on Tuesday. And I definitely had no control over the fact that the  team lost the game, ending their season. I didn't have a thing to do with the ending of  the season, despite my son's argument that it was my fault, and that is about the time that I went to uncork a bottle and call in the relief mother to finish out the day.

I couldn't find anyone to take my place...and the sprouts were all in bed anyway, so I sat with hubby, sipping that uncorked bottle of wine (out of a glass of course!) laughing heartily at the movie Hangover. My job as a mother has no substitute, and I wouldn't want one, but because it is my job to claim and accept responsibility for practically every aspect of our kids' lives, I am totally taking credit when something goes well!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Prodigal Sun Returns

The clouds lifted today.  After seven straight days of clouds, the sun broke through and burned them off.  It wasn't supposed to be sunny today, but there will not be a hint of complaint from me about it.  For the first time in probably 6 months I took a walk in just a t-shirt (I had pants on too)...and I didn't even have to pretend that I was warm enough.  The sun-filled walk was the concluding activity to the time that my oldest and I had to spend, just the two of us. He rode his bike and I walked behind, but I think I'll count it as a walk together.

I don't get much time alone with my son.  He is almost ten, and the older brother to two younger sisters, so my time is often crazily divided among the three of them.  At the start of our twenty-four hours together there was not much said in the car.  I must have missed when he started to be too big to simply chatter.  He talked to me, but with a reservation that I had never really noticed before.  I had to be more creative than usual to get him to talk about much.

He was better after he had a workout at his practice, and we enjoyed our dinner while watching basketball and eating wings.  It became a bit more comfortable and the conversation brightened. As a special treat for our date night, and to fulfill a promise I had made to him, we went to the movie Avatar.  We both loved it and continued talking and joking all the way home.

This weekend really was a homecoming of sorts.  I remember, vividly, the night before my first daughter was born.  Her brother and I had been running around the baseball bases during our pretend baseball game and I picked him up to look at the horses on the other side of the fence.  He was so small then...just two...and I remember gentle tears rolling down my cheek as I hormonally reflected that he and I would likely not be alone much again.  I was right.

It has been a long time, and he changes a lot between the times that we get to spend alone together.  It will be a challenge, I am sure, in the next few years as he continues to change and I am even less important to him as a companion.  I am challenged to welcome him home each time he matter who he is when he arrives.

I know that it is no accident that the reading and the homily at church today were actually about the Prodigal Son.  I left challenged to live with the joy-filled heart of the forgiving father and offer open arms while running to greet a fallen child.  When we exited the church, we found ourselves bathed in sunshine that hadn't been there when we went in.  It was awe-inspiring and a reason to take my actual son on a walk around the lake...even if that meant I just followed behind him.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Can women be both creative and competitive?

I think I must be going through a growth spurt.  Can that still happen at age 34?  Maybe there is a psychological development that happens the year you turn 35, and that is the reason for deep thoughts by yours truly.  Okay, so you know that I am on this "remember you are a girl so act like one"- kick.  I think it has triggered an area of my brain that hasn't been used before, and now out poureth the questions.

What are women generally into? asking this question is not meant to categorize or alienate or stereotype or any of those things that are definitely taboo.  I appreciate the complexity of humanity, and especially the feminine portion, and I am open and willing to accept that no one person is simply defined (ok disclaimer done)...but what are those activities that are most often associated with  women in our culture?  Of the things I decided that are more by and for women, women seem to be more interested in creating things.

When I think of those things that are utterly girly, I think of frilly dresses and done-up hair.  I think of Martha Stewart...flower arrangements and a five-course meal. Women enjoy crafting and scrapbooks, baking and accessorizing.  Women do make-up and nails and the beauty of a space is generally the woman's responsibility.  Gardening and care-taking, nurturing and multi-tasking.

Some guys are great at these things, and some women (like me) suck at a lot of them.  Not because I want to suck, because I don't, but I think that because I went the competition route, I never really learned how to do or fully appreciate the creative stuff.

Build it..... or break it.
Cooperation versus competition.

Relationships based on cooperation and creation can make and build great things.  Relationships steeped in competition are difficult and often counter-productive.  Maybe the problem with society is not that women have gone back to work and the children are raised differently than they used to be, but maybe, just maybe the problem is how and why women are in the work place to begin with.  We are there because we are competing more than we are cooperating now.  Seventy years ago, when women rarely worked outside of the home, the collective female energy was just that, collective and more singularly focused.

Back then, the focus was to achieve more opportunities and just look what amazing and driven women "created".  Women now have the opportunity to be and do anything we want.  For me personally, I thought that what I wanted was to compete and battle and win every chance I got.  The problem is that now I don't have that circle of women friends that I might have had if I had gone another route.  The women I played with and against through the years on my sports' teams are mostly just acquaintances now.  There are a few close friends, but not many.  Too much carried with us maybe, from when we battled for playing time, or when I was asserting my competitive nature more than my cooperative/nurturing one.

The movement on behalf of Susan G. Komen is a great example of what can be created with collective energy.  We need more of that.  We are smarter now, we have more opportunities now and we can change the world in amazing ways.  Women have spent a lot of time inserting ourselves into the man's more competitive world, and we have proven that we can absolutely do it.  I fear that the cooperative creativity may ultimately suffer because competition has started to make its presence known in everything we do. We compete for higher sales of make-up and cooking items and fragrant candles.  We try to have the biggest and most popular websites and businesses.  Competition is necessary, and many women would not be where they are without the drive to compete, I am just wondering if we might not build even bigger and better things if we weren't competing against each other.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Hmmmmm.....I wish I were a kid......Hmmmmm

I want to be a good mom... I really do.  I wake up each morning thinking about how I can be the mom our three sprouts deserve.  I would bet that 90 per cent of my energy, thoughts and time revolve around maintaining, feeding, appropriately clothing, emotionally guarding and effectively preparing our kids for life and its pitfalls.  It's only occasionally that I have to seriously think about whether I am achieving my mothering goals.  Today was one of those occasions.

All three of the sprouts had school today, and that means that our littlest was at preschool.  She goes two days a week, and we have been thrilled that she loves it as much as she does.  She has become more and more excited when she knows she has a school day coming up, and until recently I saw that as a great thing.

"We are helping her spread her wings," I proudly remarked, softly wiping tears away.

Okay, so I never really said that, and I am not that sentimental about it, yet, but I have noticed her growing and changing the last few months.  What I am not sure about is if the growth is an indication  of our success as parents, or yet another example of our shortcomings.

Littlest sprout is the funniest person in our house.  She is random, and her timing is truly hilarious.  I am going to learn a lot from her.  About two weeks ago she started meditating during her lunch.

 Absolutely true account:

Sitting on her stool, eating lunch, she put her fingers together and closed her eyes.

With long, drawn out hums she started, "Hmmm....I am eating my sandwich.......Hmmmmm......I have nothing to do today......Hmmmm....I wish I was at school today.......Hmmmmm......I'm still humming.......Hmmm.......the end."

My husband and I, who are often both home for lunch, laughed with and at her for her meditation, but there was a definite twinge of guilt.  She is our third, and the first kid who hangs out at home with us at the age of four.  When her siblings were her age there was always another kid in the house to play with.  Not for her.  My hubby and I try.  We take turns playing games with her and doing puzzles and going through school work, but we are not children, and we do not provide what only kids can.  Endless silliness.

So, I started to schedule more playdates.  More outings. More reasons to be distracted from the fact that she misses her brother and sister.  It works to keep her from asking incessantly "What am I going to do now?"  So, until the phone call from her teacher today, I thought things had gotten better, and she thought I was a good mom.

"Hi, this is Miss Teacher, I am just calling because Littlest Sprout just isn't herself today.  She says her tummy hurts and she is looking like she might just need to cuddle up for a nap at home."

"Oh, sure," I compassionately respond with eyebrows of concern, "I can be right there."

As I head to put on my shoes and bring home my little sweetheart...the phone rings again.

"Um, hi, this is Miss Teacher again, I was just telling Littlest Sprout that you were coming to get her and she said that she wasn't going home."

Laughter first and then, "so she doesn't want to come home, huh?  I believe it.  Do you need her to come home?"  Picturing the temper-tantrum-drag-out.

"No, she isn't running a fever or anything, but she says that she wants to stay with her friends."

I hang up laughing at the picture in my head of an ornery four-year-old with hands on her hips refusing to have to go hang out with her parents.  She already thinks we are not cool, and we have a really long time to be the last people she wants to hang with.

"She's happily spreading her wings," I comment to convince myself.  Hmmmmm.....I think I'll take up mommy meditation....hmmmmm

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Bottled Laughter

Maybe it really is too gray to be creative...or funny.  It is the second day of a four-day rainstorm that everyone I ran into today knows is supposed to drive our moods.  It seemed like the people I encountered had taken a pledge:  we, the people, of rain-soaked  (still dirty-snow-covered) Minnesota, do solemnly swear that this weather sucks the life out of us and we are going to withhold laughter for a nicer day.

I am not sure why I want to laugh really, really hard today.  Maybe it is the crazed spring fever laugh that sounds more maniacal than genuine that feels the urge to come out. But a good laugh does wonders,  and I know that is what I need.   Lots of funny things happen in this house on a regular basis, but now, when I need it the most... nothing is really all that funny!

We had an average and uneventful day, mimicking the drab weather.  So, I better do something about this.  I wish I had a clown costume that I could put on.  Complete with wig,  red nose, face paint, an obnoxious pair of overalls and big shoes.  I would love to just walk through the mall.  No performance.  No attempts to scare small children, just go from store to store, peruse like nothing is happening, buy anything that looks interesting and walk with bags to the next store.   Then maybe I could buy an ice cream cone and sit on a bench with my legs crossed and slowly lick my frozen treat.

But since I don't have a clown costume, and my kids are going to be home from school in like twenty minutes, I need something else for a chuckle.  Oldest sprout has a hockey game of those that I am supposed to seriously think is like the most serious and important event of the week. (please note sarcasm...he is 9 and I wish the tone of his "games" felt way less serious than they often do).  I fear if I do something to give myself a good laugh, one (or several) of the parents will think that it is not that funny at all, and I could cause more seriousness as a result.

So, I guess I will just have to have some internal laughs until I can get a good flick on later tonight so I can laugh this off, and I promise that I will report if anything actually funny happens between now and tomorrow!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Working it all out

 My Shopping Advisor

Strenuous workouts are out.  Shopping is in.
Conversations on a run are out.  Chatting while sipping tea is in.
Burning major calories is out. Trying not to burn a new recipe is in.
Scheduling my rest day is out. Planning a walk is in.
Climbing trees is probably out.  Planting trees is definitely in.

So, things have had to slow down for me over the last couple of weeks, and I am starting to appreciate the new things I get to do because of it.  It's not simply a coincidence that when my athletic prowess came to a screeching halt ( it halted years ago and it has just taken this long for my head to catch on) that I am finally invested in pursuing more feminine activities.  I've lived my world in the male-dominated sporting and athletic arena, and I feel like I am visiting a foreign country.  The only problem is that I don't know the language, and everyone knows I am a tourist.

I took my four-year-old shopping with me the other day to buy a new pair of jeans.  I wanted fashionable and comfortable, and definitely girly.  I walked into an extremely trendy store and I am pretty sure silent alarms went off in the headsets of the employees.

"Intruder...intruder...NOT a shopper!!!  Everyone look at her with the "Pretty Woman" stare."

Right about the time I started filing through the clothes at the second rack I realized that I was being watched.  I glanced up to see three of the employees, folding clothes at three separate areas, staring at me with a look of disgust.

Panic began to set in and I literally started to sweat.

Thinking to myself..."what the hell does the 30L mean or the 34 r?  Since when did womens' pants start sizing like men's?  I have no idea what size I would be of these."  I look up again, and it is absolutely obvious that these women can read my mind, and they are annoyed that I'm even thinking it. 

I started to shift my eyes around the store, and I realized that I was the oldest person in there by probably 10 years.  It's not that they knew I couldn't shop, they just knew I didn't know WHERE to shop...and it definitely wasn't supposed to be there.  They knew better than to greet me and it was much easier for me to slink out with my daughter, resigning myself to the fact that I will likely not be in a store like that again until my daughters are old enough to be trendy.  Maybe if I was a more seasoned shopper and looked comfortable doing what I was trying to do, I could have gotten away with shopping there.  Not as a novice!

When I went to a different store that was better suited for me, I was able to ask the questions I needed about the sizing for pants and I learned how to convert the European sizing to the numbers that I had always known. The employee was incredibly helpful, and I was impressed when she offered to start a room for a different woman in the store who had piles of clothes on her arms.

"Sure, your room will be right back here, and your name is on the door."

I think I might have had an "I don't usually shop" sticker on my back because she didn't ask to start a room for me...she let me find my own way to the dressing room and she never asked my name.  Maybe when I go in next time, I will go without a kid on my arm and I will pile with a ton of clothes to see if the reaction is different.  I started I hurriedly tried on the clothes, because I was starting to think I didn't belong there either.

I have likely burned more calories shopping and curling my hair in the last week than I have been able to burn lightly working out, because for me, I am learning a new language, new techniques, and new strategies because this whole girly girl thing is still "work" for me.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Conversion of a Tomboy

I just finished three laps around the house with a book on my head.  That's what proper ladies do, right? The last few days I have conducted an experiment and I have "done my hair" every morning.  That may not seem monumental to most women out there, but for me, it is extraordinary.  I am in the process of converting from tomboy to lady, and it has been an interesting journey so far.

I should probably tell you a little bit more about how deep-rooted my tomboy tendencies are.  My flashes of childhood memories include: playing football with the boys at recess, sitting inappropriately in a dress on the bottom bleacher at a concert, being confused with a boy because my Dorothy Hamill haircut didn't make me look much like Dorothy Hamill, playing basketball on a boys' team through sixth grade,  beating a guy friend of mine in a basketball three-point shooting contest in middle school, being the first girl to buy a guys letter jacket because I thought the girls' jackets looked lame, choosing a soccer or basketball game over a dance or a date and choosing my hairdos based on what would be least disruptive to competition.

Now, don't get me wrong, I did actually go to some dances and I wore dresses when I went, plus I eventually grew my hair out to be really long, but I have not had a whole lot of practice at correct make-up application, or how to dress in clothes/shoes that are both comfortable and fashionable.  I seemed to be feminine enough in college to garner the attention of my husband, and a few other boys along the way, but I am NOT what you would consider a girly-girl, and I have spent quite a bit of time the last few days exploring why.

When you spend as much time as I did, "playing with and against the boys" you learn a lot about what makes guys tick, and I know that is why I am more comfortable watching sporting events with guys than I am hanging out with the women who attend.  For the first time in my life, though, I want to move camps, and I am truly unsure how to do that gracefully.

I was the girl who made fun of the girly-girls (arguing that I could probably beat them up anyway), but I am starting to understand why I might have been so adamantly tomboyish...and it is time to embrace a change.

God has blessed me with arguably two of the most girly-girls  in the world, and I am fascinated by how comfortable they are in their own skin.  My littlest notices shoes and clothes and the combination of colors that was completely lost on me.  Then she comes down to twirl for her dad, and I understand  the difference between the two of us.

My dad... encouraged football, teaching me running patterns in the backyard.
My husband... sings and dances with his girls.
My dad... was only around if I was playing or he was coaching a sporting event.
My husband... goes on daddy/daughter dances, drives the girls to choir, coaches their teams and tells them all the time how cute they that he loves them just the way they are.
My dad, as he struggled with his own demons, likely didn't realize how much I was working to get his attention, and I was unfortunately gifted to keep doing it.

Of course I am thankful for how being a tomboy has taken me so many places, but I am ready to embrace more of who I have always been.

So, yes, it is awkward to give myself permission to do my hair, and to shop for cute clothes (I am used to workout clothes and not always matching), but I want to explore that buried part of who I am. I wrote down a list of things I would like to do to adopt a more feminine image, and my husband started reading it to me on the phone yesterday when he thought it was my grocery list:

  • Do my hair every day!
  • Buy some colorful and fashionable clothes (I hope I know what I'm doing)
  • Get a fitted bra (I own two bras that kindof fit, and otherwise I wear sportsbras)
  • Invest in real make-up (with colors that actually go together)
  • Walk like a girl (practicing with a book if I need to)
  • Sit like a girl (remembering that I am not on a basketball bench waiting to go in)
He admitted that he would be excited if I could find all of those things at a grocery store.  I luck.  I'm going to have to work to break my own habits. Some habits are harder than others to shed, and this is going to be a real challenge for me, but I am up for it.  Plus, as an aside,  I will punch anyone who has anything mean to say about it.