Friday, December 31, 2010

What a year.

I had to squeeze one last blog post in for 2010.

I'll bet you thought I had shut my yap for good this year, but no such luck.

My last post of the year is inspired by a similar one written by Nichole on her blog, in these small moments. I have mentioned her blog before and how wonderful it is, but if you haven't had a chance to read Nichole's endearing perspective on life and motherhood, then head on over there to check it out.

Go on. Git.

Wait. You can stay and finish reading my blog entry first, of course.

It has been a wonderful year for our family, but it has not been without challenges and struggles. Such, as they say, is life. And life is good, and precious and wonderful, and so very, very fleeting, so we take the good with the bad and keep plowing forward. Thankfully, I have this blog as an outlet to record the trials, tribulations, and lessons learned along the way.

Because these children are the four greatest teachers I have ever known.

I have been blogging since April 2009, but this is my first full year of writing, month after month, and I initially wondered if it was possible. Would I be able to find the time? Would I find enough topics on which to wax poetic? Would people read? Would the things I write about my beloved children force them to seek expensive therapy one day in the distant future?

I come in peace. I strive to keep it real, while granting my shorties a modicum of privacy.

But y'all? If they do something gross and hilarious, I promise I will tell you about it.

At the risk of sounding a bit narcissistic, I have compiled a "Best of" list of a few of my favorite blog entries of the past year. I know, I know. Only superstars, athletes, and top-rated sitcoms are allowed to compile, "Best of" moments, but this mommy blogger from the Midwest wants to do the same.

And it's my blog, so bear with me.

In January, I fell in love, and much like Beyonce, I had a message for all the single ladies of the world. Luckily, Bill did not get jealous once he met the object of my affections. Also in January, I wrote a love letter to my husband about toilet paper. Yes, toilet paper. I challenge you to read it and NOT be able to relate. I'm sure you will.

In February, I learned that I am not Duff Goldman. Duff Goldman is talented and one-of-a-kind, and I am not him, nor will I ever attempt to imitate his talents in the future. If I do? I will seriously lower my expectations.

In March, I ran into a couple of young ladies at Target who reminded me that Babies are like so totally awesome. Like totally. Ahhhh....to be young and naive once again.

In April, BlogHer took notice of one of my entries, Dear Facebook, and syndicated it. In case you were wondering? Syndicated mommies still have to do the laundry, make lunches, and clean up vomit. It's an awesome feeling, but trying to shout to your kids, "LISTEN UP! I'M SYNDICATED NOW AND YOU BEST DO AS I SAY!!!" doesn't get you very far. Believe me, I have tried.

In May, Mother's Day brought out my sappy side, and I gave you a sneak peek of my relationship with my mother-in-law.

In June, a pair of dirty, disgusting tennis shoes made me cry. In a really good way.

In July, I described how I am sometimes overwhelmed by "mom guilt". But really, what mother isn't at times?

In August, we attended a family wedding, and a particular situation with my husband had me evaluating my own marriage, and what it means to me. As expected, I received quite a bit of response from you, my readers, on the Facebook page for this blog. I also included a rare photo of Bill and I.

In September, I realized that with parenting, you do your best, try your hardest, and hope for outstanding results. But you never really know how the whole thing will turn out, do you?

In October, I lost a beloved member of my family. I will never forget her.

In November, I discovered that one of my sons has a sweet tooth. Of course, I already knew this, but this sweet tooth? Is much worse than I thought.

In December, we gained a new member of the family. Kind of. Whatever you want to call him, call him adorable. And mischievous.

Onward to 2011. Wishing all good things to you!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Resolutions, schmesolutions.

Bah Humbug to you if you are one of those people that has your Christmas tree sitting on your curb, waiting for garbage pickup day.

Because I? Am still heavily ensconced in Christmas bliss.

The celebrations continue for us with family this week, and we are soaking up the joy of the season.

Then, there is the little matter of the new year that is barreling toward us at full speed. Traditionally, I have never been a huge fan of New Year's Eve or New Year's Day. Oh yes, they are fun holidays, and I know the calendar must march forward and continue on its never-ending journey into perpetuity. I get that. I'm cool with that. But thinking about it too much hurts my brain and causes huge bouts of self-reflection. Sometimes I like what I see. Sometimes I don't. Regardless, the new year is that huge reminder blaring in your ear of, “YO! IT'S 2011 NOW! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE? WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO?”

And I'm all, “Well, thanks for asking New Year. I've done a lot.”

But New Year is all, “Yeah, but you didn't do this and you didn't do that, and last year you said you would."

And I'm all, “Whatever, New Year. I accomplished many things over the last year.”

And New Year is all, “But you didn't organize the basement like you said you would. Didn't you dub 2010, 'The Year of Organization'? What makes you think this year will be any different?”

And I'm all, “Well, New Year, I did organize the office the office last year. The shredder and I became homies. So there's that.”

And New Year is all, “But you said you would work out more. You worked out maybe 25 times over the whole year. Also, the last time I checked, those upper arms of yours are barely strong enough to open a pickle jar, and you promised yourself you'd get some cute little arm muscles. But those? Are embarrassing.”

And I'm all, “NUH-UH, New Year! Vacuuming and loading the dishwasher totally count as working out! By that count, it means I worked out about eleventy kajillion times this year. Aaand if you squint and tilt your head sideways, you can totally see the muscles in my upper arms!”

And New Year is all, “Well, your resolutions last year were laughable. LAUGH. A. BLE. Resolutions, schmesolutions. Good luck this year, chump!”

And I'm all, “Dude. New Year. You talk way too much. Shut it. Enough with your tooting horns and your confetti, and your huge lighted ball drops. Can't you just begin quietly and not slap us all in the face with the reminder that time marches on and we have this one life to accomplish it all?”

2011 is coming. This year my resolutions will be different.

I have precisely two of them.

  1. To keep on keeping on. I love my family and friends and I love my life. It is full and fun and wonderful. Why rock the boat? Sure, I can always better myself, and I do. But I am NEVER going to be that person that works out 365 days a year, so I need to stop pretending that I am her and she is me. It's all about realistic expectations, and not beating myself up when I don't meet them.

  2. To finally start writing the book I have dreamed of writing for years.

    I know! How cliché! A blogger who wants to write a book! Shocking!

    Knocked you over with a feather on that one, huh?

    I majored in Elementary Education in college, and in my former life, I was a grade school teacher.  One of my college classes was on how to teach language arts in the elementary classroom. This particular class was taught by a professor who was dynamic and energetic and kind. She possessed all the qualities that you look for in a person that must stand in front of you two days a week and lecture you for a few hours. She was a dream teacher. Her lectures were riveting and interesting; therefore, winning her respect and approval was essential to me. When she assigned us the task of writing a book for children on any topic, I took on the challenge with fervor. To this day, it was my favorite and my most memorable assignment of all my years of schooling. Ever. I wrote a small children's book, and although I am not an artist or drawer in any way, shape or form, I drew simple pictures to go along with it. Happy with the results, I couldn't to see what the good Doctor, my professor, would think.

    A few weeks passed, and she finally had them graded and ready to return to us. I waited in anticipation as she called my name. Nervous to see what she thought of it, I flipped to the back page, where she had attached a note with her assessment. I will never forget what she wrote. "This is EXCELLENT. You should look into getting this published!"

    With those few words, my heart soared. 

    Her street cred puffed my ego. After all, this woman has a doctorate, and in particular, she studied children's literature. Her judgment meant the world to me.

    Did I get it published?

    No.

    Did I even try to get it published?

    No.

    I graduated from college, taught grade school, got married, started having babies, and the book still sits in its Rubbermaid container down in my basement, untouched for the last 15 years.

    In 2011, I will start to write a book again. Because I promised myself. Because I owe it to myself to at least try. Because even if I fail, and my book never sees a single bookshelf in a single store in the whole country, at the very least, I can say to my family, "See this book? I wrote it."

    My resolution is to start writing that book. I never said I would finish it this year. I will try, but I can't make that kind of promise to myself. After all, I am kind of busy with the tasks that go along with my real job title, "Queen of The Land of My Four Shorties".

    But I will try.

    Realistic expectations, y'all.

    Wishing you a wonderful, happy 2011. I am beyond grateful to each and every one of you that come to this page and read my words and comment on my posts. I am humbled and amazed by this wonderful community of bloggers and readers that I discovered when I started writing a blog.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Celebrate what you are.

I was about twelve when I first heard a Polish joke.

I have no idea what the joke was, nor do I care to remember. Undoubtedly, it was a crass joke about the purported intelligence (or lack thereof) of Polish people.

Ha.

Ha.

I recall being instantly offended. But at that age, I did not have the courage to speak up. The idiots who told the joke were classmates of mine, and they did not direct the joke at me. Not that that matters. Dumb, offensive jokes, no matter who they are making fun of, should not be told. Period. The boys did not know that I am of Polish heritage, and really, there was no way for them to know, without me telling them. I am half Polish, on my mother's side, and my father's side of the family is German, Scottish, and Irish. Therefore, my maiden name is German. However, the heritage and traditions that are most familiar to me, the ones my family has always embraced, have been Polish.

I love a good joke. I get many different kinds of humor. I like to think I am humorous on many occasions. That said, I have no interest in jokes or generalizations that make fun of any race or nationality. Really? That's the best you can you do? That's all you got? You're going for the cheap laugh?

Racial stereotypes? Are so last century.

Good riddance.

As ashamed as I am to admit it now, I did not speak out against the jokesters, because in my young, awkward mind, I did not want to single myself out from the pack. Twelve is a tough age. It didn't help my confidence any that I had short, naturally curly hair, I was a gawky kind of skinny-in-the-wrong-places, shy, and, as a few boys in my class loved point out frequently, "flat as a board".

If you know what I mean.

I thought, why draw more attention to myself? Why give the idiot-boys more ammunition? "Hey dudes! That's a lame joke! I'm Polish, and Polish people aren't stupid!" is what I said in my head, but what came out of my mouth?

Absolutely nothing.

Yes, I have done many stupid things in my 36 years on this planet. But none of them have to do with the fact that I am Polish. The last time I checked, all people do stupid things once in awhile, regardless of their nationality.

Guess what? The other day I changed a light bulb in my kitchen. All by myself. Without having to call ten other Polish people to come help me.

Fancy that, lame joke tellers with your lame jokes that are not rooted in any kind of truth.

If I could go back and talk to my 12-year old self, I would tell her to speak up, even if it was just a shrug of her shoulders, and a, "Whatever. That joke is so dumb."

Over the years, I have wondered how and why the wonderful people of Poland, the country of my ancestors, got a rep for being less than intelligent. Now, however, I don't care.

Sticks and stones, y'all.

I do know that I am Polish and Catholic and proud, and I want my children to feel the same. I want them to be tolerant of all nationalities, races, and religions, and to respect the traditions that others follow. I hope that my children never hear a joke, or even worse, tell a joke that attacks the essence of a person and what makes a person unique.

My point?

My family celebrates our Polish heritage, with a Wigilia dinner, just as we have every Christmas Eve that I can remember. Wigilia is a Polish feast that takes place on Christmas Eve, after the first star is seen in the sky. The menu is varied in different households, but it is always meatless. We eat fish, potatoes, and pierogi, and occasionally mushroom soup. We set an extra seat at our table for the Baby Jesus.

It is a wonderful tradition that is a cherished part of my childhood memories, and I am now proud to share this tradition with my children. My husband's family is not Polish, but they will be sharing in our Wigilia dinner. We will break the oplatek wafer and share our wishes for health and happiness in the coming year.

In preparation for our upcoming Wigilia dinner, my oldest son and I spent most of last Sunday afternoon making pierogi, which are round circles of dough filled with cheese, berries, or potatoes. We made the dough from scratch, as my grandmother taught me, and filled each circle with farmer's cheese, folded it over, and pinched it tightly closed. Three hundred miles away, my grandmother, or Babcia, ("Ba" as we affectionately call her) was making the same recipe in my mother's kitchen in preparation for their own Wigilia dinner.

The voice of Ba was in my head as I made the dough. "Don't over-knead! You'll get chewy dough!" "Pinch them tightly or the fillings will escape!" "When they float to the top of the water and stay up there, they are done boiling!"

I passed the wisdom on to my sons as she had passed it along to me.

Thank you, Ba.

We froze most of the 5 dozen pierogi that we made, but of course, we had to sample the fruits of our labor, and fried up a few tasty ones in butter.



This is not exactly health food, people. But the taste? Perfectly scrumptious.

Our traditions may have been Americanized over the years, but there is a kinship in knowing that in a village in Poland, on the same night, under the same stars, another family is partaking in their own Wigilia meal, similar to ours. The sameness warms my heart. It makes me feel like I am a part of something bigger. It makes me proud to be Polish, just as I am sure you are proud to be Italian. Or Swedish. Or German. Or African. Or whatever nationalities make up the essence of who you are.

Whatever you are, celebrate it.

Merry Christmas to you and yours. May you have health and happiness all of your days.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Word Up Wednesday - elf style.

Meet Christopher.


He is an elf that sits on our shelf. Hence, his other moniker is, "The Elf on the Shelf".

Christopher came to our home along with the oh-so-adorable-I-wish-I-would-have-thought-of-it-myself book, "The Elf on the Shelf," written by the mother-and-daughter team of Carol Aebersold and Chanda Bell.

I think Christopher bears a striking resemblance to Gilly, the mischievous Saturday Night Live character played by Kristen Wiig.


No? Just me? You don't see it with that smile? Not even if you squint a little bit?

Don't let Christopher's innocent smile fool you. He's a total snitch. He watches these kids and then reports back to Santa if they have been naughty or nice. Believe me when I say that he may be less than a foot long, but his watchful eye encourages my kids to walk the straight and narrow.

I need all the help I can get.

Christopher is magic, and if children touch him, his magic vanishes. Forever and ever.

And ever.

Now, who would want to be responsible for making an elf's magic disappear? Not any child of mine, that's for sure. Christopher means business.

Dude, I'm talking biz. ness. Don't mess with Christopher, or what's that you see?

Your name at the top of Santa's naughty list.

While he is busy sitting on our shelf during the day watching the goings-on of our home full of children, at night, it is a different story.

He parties heartily.

As a result, every morning, our children must search all over this house in order to find his elf self. One recent morning, we caught him swinging from our kitchen chandelier.


The next day, upon awakening from their peaceful slumber, my children found that Christopher had knocked over a small tree in our front hall, and was riding it, all horsey-style.


Giddy-yup, my North Pole friend.

Another day, he decided to sneak into our pantry for a snack of Goldfish crackers.


The nerve. It was at that moment that my children decided, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that Christopher had to have done this, because would the Mom that they know and love purposely spill crackers and then not clean them up again?

Not likely. As if.

Sometimes he sets a good example, like Tuesday morning, when we found him reading.


In fact, he loves to read. This morning he was reading our Christmas cards.


Stay in school, kids. Read. Reading is good. All the cool kids do it. Christopher does it.

Perhaps his most brilliant moment occurred Sunday night, and we discovered it Monday morning. Monday was the Feast of St. Nicholas, and our children left their shoes out overnight, by the Christmas tree, in hopes that St. Nicholas would fill them with treats, which he did.


Do you see that little speck of red on the floor next to Christopher? He was sitting high up on his shelf when our family went to sleep Sunday night, but somehow he got into the construction paper, scissors, cotton balls and glue and made himself a shoe to put out for St. Nicholas, lest he was left out of the fun.

That's right. HE MADE HIMSELF A SHOE. A dapper little red loafer, I might add, with cotton ball trim.

Christian Louboutain what? Jimmy Choo who?

Crafty little bugger.

Don't believe me? See it for yourself, complete with a chocolate chip that St. Nicholas dropped inside the shoe for him.


Because an elf gets hungry, you know.

The best part about Christopher?

He keeps magic alive, especially in the hearts of a couple of my starting-to-doubt-ers during this most magical time of the year. He adds a piece of joy to an already joyful season.

And for that I thank him.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Beauty on an endcap.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you may have noticed that I mention Target every so often.

Like how I love it.

Like how it makes shopping for cereal and Pull-ups and white Hanes socks fun.

But it's not like I'm obsessed. I'm just prone to exaggeration when I say I'm there all the time. Really, I'm only there maybe once a week. Or eleventy thousand. You know, same thing.

It's not like the post office is going to redirect my mail to Target.

Target, there is no need to take out a restraining order. I come in peace. I am just a mom who has many errands to run, and needs a one-stop shop.

It helps that Target has perfect fodder for my blog, because only interesting things happen at the Big Red Bullseye. At the grocery store? Eh. Not so much. But Tar-jay? Never disappoints me.

This morning, while shopping with my 3-year old daughter, I saw a thing of beauty on the bottom shelf of an endcap.

Sure, there are many things of beauty at Target, such as those yellow, "Price Cut!" signs, and those red, "Sale!" signs. But this? It was pure, natural beauty. It was nature at its finest.

Nature? At Target?

Stay with me.

I credit my daughter for finding it first. As usual, she was energetically running ahead of me, and as she reached the end of an aisle, she pointed to an endcap and yelled, "Mom! Look at the pretty flower!"

Not thinking much of what she was pointing at because silk flowers aren't exactly my thing, I absentmindedly nodded and placated her as I said, "Oh. Wow. Yeah. Look at that."

"NO MOM," she said insistently as she put her hands on her hips and made me look at what she was talking about. "LOOK. It's a flower!"

And we saw this.



The simple beauty of this bright red amaryllis growing out of this pot took my breath away. It was a rebel flower. A flower that grew too soon. A flower that shouldn't be.

Yet there it was. In all its bright, red Christmas glory.

About 50 other Smith and Hawken pots sat on the shelf in neat little rows, their cardboard lids secure, following the rules, with no sign of any flower growth. I was struck by the obstacles this beautiful flower faced in its journey to bloom. The cardboard lid. The lack of sunlight. The absence of watering. But somehow, despite all these obstacles, the amaryllis bloomed, bright and red, three gorgeous flowers sprouting from its strong green stem.

Thanks to my daughter, we found beauty today. Amidst the Christmas rush to complete all my errands, we took time to stop and smell the flowers.

At Target.

Monday, November 29, 2010

And for my next trick, I will have a temper tantrum.

I lost my cool this morning.

It's not the first time I've ever lost my cool as a mother. It probably won't be the last time.

I'm not proud of it, but at least I have the courage to admit it.

Today was the first day back to school after the wonderfully long Thanksgiving holiday weekend, so I expected a bit of chaos. I expected a bit of scrambling to get out the door.

Really. I should know better.

Nonetheless, one of my sons couldn't find his school shoes. But it's not like we have designated cubbies just for shoes. A coat was missing. But it's not like we have designated hooks just for kids' coats in the mudroom. A lunchbox couldn't be found. But it's not like we have a refrigerator in which to keep lunchboxes.

Ahem.

I looked at one of my boys and said, "You forgot to put your belt on today. Where is it?"

"Dunno."

"Did you look in your top dresser drawer?"

"Yep."

"Was it there?"

"Nope."

The belt is a required part of the school uniform. Without it, he most likely will get a demerit, as he has been warned by his teacher (who I adore and fully support) several times not to forget to wear a belt.

I took a deep breath and continued, "If you forget your belt, you'll probably get a demerit, you know. She's already given you enough warnings."

He shrugged his shoulders and said, "Well I looked and I couldn't find it. So write me a note or something."

Feeling uber-frustrated, I marched up the stairs to grab my cell phone. In the privacy of my bedroom, I vented to Bill. "UGH! What is it with these kids? NOBODY ever knows where anything is, because they just expect me to find it for them! Now I'm supposed to write a note to protect him from getting a demerit? I don't think so! Let him get a demerit! Then he'll learn!"

I was full of righteous indignation, and my thought process as I stomped upstairs to turn off the bedroom lights that my children NEVER remember to turn off was something along the lines of, "As if I'm going to help him find his stinkin' belt! Again! Like I do at least 3 times a week! Ha! Hope he likes that demerit, and the corresponding punishment that goes along with it! That'll show him!"

There was NO WAY I was going to look for his belt.

"Mooooooommmmmm!!! I can't find my coat!" another one of my children whined to me from the lower level of my home.

Figures.

Just breathe, Clare. Breathe.

As I continued walking from room to room turning off lights, I was in my son's bedroom and I decided to look in his top dresser drawer. Nestled among his socks, in plain sight, was his belt.

Of course.

My blood pressure was rising as I descended the stairs. "Look what I found?" I said as I dangled the belt in front of my boy's eyes.

"Oh. Yeah. My belt," he said, as nonchalantly as possible.

"Did you even look in your drawer?" I questioned, somehow knowing exactly what his response would be.

"Yep. It wasn't there. Thanks Mom."

Before I could even process what had just happened, another son looked at me and stated simply, "Mom, I can't find my backpack."

It was at that moment that I felt like I was failing my children in a crucial area. Responsibility. As in, they have no idea what it is.

Yes, they are kind children who are generally well-behaved, (save for the occasional flatulence incidence in the car) and most of the time they exercise good manners. They care about others. But when it comes to being responsible, and remembering where they have put their things?

Where have I gone wrong?

Well, I know exactly where I have gone wrong, but I'll get to that in a minute.

Back to the moment wherein my little boy innocently stated that he did not know the whereabouts of his backpack.

My limit had been reached.

I. just. couldn't. take. another. request.

As I stood in the mudroom, I spun on my heel to face my children. I stomped my foot. "REALLY?!?" I shouted. "WHY AM I THE ONLY PERSON WHO EVER KNOWS WHERE ANYTHING IS AROUND HERE?"

Out of the corner of my eye I saw Bill standing nearby, as he was helping with backpack and shoe retrieval. I may have mentioned it a time or twenty, but Bill is the Zen Master of parenting. He is rarely rattled. He would never stomp his foot in the mudroom and have a tantrum. He reminds me frequently to breathe and slow down. I love him for it.

The look Bill shot me as I began my tantrum was all, "Dude, Clare. Breathe. Chill out. It's just a backpack." But the look I shot back at him was all, "Dude, Bill. I'm going to tantrum. Because I'm fed up. So mind your own biz."

I know it's illogical, but tantrums are illogical. And everyone else around here (except for the Zen Master himself) has tantrums, so can't I have one every once in a blue moon?

Don't judge me, non-tantrum-havers. I don't need your smugness. Every Mom loses her cool every so often, and I'm still learning.

I plowed forward with my diatribe, "LIKE I DON'T HAVE ENOUGH TO AROUND HERE AS IT IS! NOW I HAVE TO FIND ALL YOUR STUFF FOR YOU?!?! NONE OF YOU ARE BABIES ANYMORE! YOU SHOULD KNOW WHERE YOUR STUFF IS! AND IF YOU CAN'T FIND IT, THEN IT'S YOUR OWN FAULT!"

Aaaand Scene. Tantrum over.

I love my children. I love being their mother. I love my job as a stay-at-home mom. But I struggle with where my hand-holding ends and their personal responsibility begins. I don't want my boy to get a demerit, so I find his belt for him. I don't want them to be without a lunchbox, so I chase my husband's car full of children as it pulls out of the driveway, waving the lunchbox in the air. I don't want their Nintendo DS to remain missing, so I search through the house with them, as they cry, "My DS is gooooooone!"

After my tantrum ended, I felt guilty. It's not that I felt bad about what I said, rather, I was disappointed in how I said it.

I am a work in progress.

When we were all in the car and driving to school, I finally spoke. "I'm sorry, you guys. I shouldn't yell. I'm always telling you guys not to yell, yet, there I was, yelling. But what I said was true. You have to take better care of your stuff. Dad and I can't do everything for you. You have to learn to be more responsible."

Responsible. The Word of the Day.

"Okay, Mom," was the general consensus of the kids.

"Okay, Mom," is a phrase also known around these parts as, "Yeah Mom. Whatever you just said went in one ear and out the other. But it sounded important, so we're just nodding and saying, 'Okay, Mom,' so that we can end your lecture."

As I drove the route to school, with the kids singing along to Christmas music on the radio, I suddenly realized that I was very cold. Freezing cold. Then it hit me. I forgot to wear my coat. The outside temperature registered in the 20s, yet I was wearing nothing but a sweater.

I forgot to put on my coat.

How irresponsible of me.

Man, I hate it when irony slaps me in the face.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Cut it out.

I just knew she was up to something.

Perhaps it was the sneaky little way she skulked out of the room, all tiptoe with her head peeking over her shoulder to see if I was watching.

Which I was, out of the corner of my eye.

We were in our home office yesterday morning, my youngest child and I. I, of course, was multi-tasking, up on a ladder, measuring where to hang the new curtain rod I had just purchased, while I was simultaneously chatting on the phone about the happenings of the day with one of my besties, Amy, while I was simultaneously keeping an eye on my daughter, who was sprawled out on the floor of the office, on her tummy, clutching crayons in her 3-year old hands, and coloring pictures of the recent trip she took to the zoo with her beloved Daddy. The last time I remember glancing over at my little girl, before Amy and I became engrossed in conversation again, she was coloring a scene of "Daddy and the big, gray 'ew-a-fant''. A pair of child safety scissors sat the on the floor next to her crayons, and she carefully used them to cut out each scene that she completed.

Amy and I wrapped up our conversation and said our good-byes just as I saw a 3-year old tush tiptoe out of the office and run down the hall to the powder room.

"Hey girlie, what are you up to?" I asked, not sure I wanted to hear the answer.

"Nuffing," she quickly responded.

"Nothing?" I repeated, raising my eyebrow, instantly knowing that, "nothing," totally meant, "something".

I am no stranger to this rodeo.

I went back into the powder room that she had so hastily run into moments earlier, and I scanned it, looking for signs of 3-year old foul play.

Hmm. Nothing.

Until.

I looked in the trash can and found a large clump of curly hair.

Brown curly hair, that coincidentally matched the exact shade and texture currently on top of my daughter's head.

Scissors + a 3-year old + a distracted mommy = UH. OH.

Not knowing what to say for several seconds, my mouth dropped and I just stared into her big brown eyes as I held the clump of hair in my hand. Finally finding my words, I simply said, "What. Did. You. Do?"

Busted.

She crumpled into a heap of 3-year old sobs as she threw herself down on the floor. "I CUTTED MY HAIRRRRRR!!!" she wailed.

I wagged my finger in her face and said firmly, "NO! You know that scissors are only for paper! Paper! Not hair!" as the sobs continued to wrack her 3-year old frame. At first, I couldn't tell where the hair was missing off her head. She has shoulder-length chestnut curls that, at the moment, were wild around her head. As I examined the back and the side of her head, I couldn't find the chopping-off point, until I turned her around, and saw it. Very short pieces of hair where a large lock of brown tendrils had once been.

Of course.

Why wouldn't it be the piece located front and center on her forehead?

Nothing more needed to be said. The guilt and remorse were evident as I ushered her little body off to her 3-minute tenure on the naughty step. When the timer was up, I got up in her little face and asked, "So? What do you have to say?"

"I sorry that I cutted off my hair, Mommmeeeeee!!!" she sobbed.

I reminded her of the scissors rule, told her I forgave her, and hugged her. As she pulled away from me, her eyes were red with tears. "I'm not pretty anymore!!!" she cried.

It was like someone punched me in the gut.

Not pretty. As if pretty were everything in the world. As if I would ever think that.

As if it mattered at that moment.

I have been raising sons for a total of 10 years now, and pretty is nothing to them. Of course I compliment my sons in many different ways for many different things, but pretty is not on their radar. But when I had my daughter, the word, "pretty" just became part of my everyday vocabulary. Rather than being an adjective to describe her, however, I use it a term of affection.

"Hey pretty lady!" I say to her when she puts on a new dress.

"Pretty in pink!" when she put on a brand-new shirt.

"Look how pretty you look in your new bow!" after a trip to the accessories department of Target.

Am I inadvertently, with my words, raising my daughter to think that pretty is everything? That she is somehow less of a person because her hair is now, in a word, different? All these things crossed my mind as I sat on the floor with her and hugged her after the naughty step.

"No way!" I said. "You are beautiful!"

Choosing my words carefully, I continued in the simplest way I knew to explain to a 3-year old, "You are a nice person, and you are a good girl. You help people, and you care about people. Mommy and Daddy and The Brothers love you. That makes you beautiful."

Within seconds, she was smiling again as she scampered off to find her next adventure.

My beautiful girl, missing clump of hair and all.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The candy thief.

I have a hypothetical question for you.

Imagine you are searching for your boy's favorite sweatshirt.

Hypothetically.

You have looked in all the usual, obvious places, like, oh say, the designated hook in the laundry room, which is oh-so-perfect for hanging a favorite sweatshirt. But no, you peek in the laundry room and the hook is there, on the wall, proud and tall. And sweatshirt-less.

You look in the playroom. You look in the family room. You look in the bathroom. You look in the pantry. You look under the kitchen table. You look in the garage.

No sweatshirt.

It is time for your boy to leave for school. Feeling frustrated from not being able to find the sweatshirt, he declares that it is, "STOLEN!" and you suppress your laughter out of sensitivity for your child. Because yo. It could happen. There are street gangs devoted entirely to the favorite-sweatshirt-stealing business. They will sneak into your home and leave all your valuables untouched and make off in the night with your sweatshirts as their plunder.

Heed my warning and lock 'em up, people. Lock. Them. Up.

Finally, your boy shrugs his shoulders in disappointment, and puts his second-favorite sweatshirt over his school uniform. It will have to do for today.

Hypothetically, of course.

As his hypothetical Dad loads up his hypothetical car and takes your hypothetical son and his hypothetical brothers off to hypothetical school for a hypothetical day, you, the hypothetical mother realize that the sweatshirt situation is now bothering you. You know you just saw it a day earlier, and the fact that it is missing starts to bother you. The missing sweatshirt is stuck in your craw.

So you continue your search.

You put yourself in the mind of a boy and you think, "Hmm. If I were a shortie, where would I stash my stuff?"

You go up to your child's bedroom and you survey the area, but your initial scan does not reveal the sweatshirt's location. As you complete your search of the dirty laundry basket, which does not produce the favorite sweatshirt, a lightbulb goes off in your head.

You remember that your boy was reading his brand-new copy of, "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth" last night while wearing his sweatshirt! Perhaps he got too warm while snuggling under the covers, shed the sweatshirt and it made its way down the tight crevice between the wall and his bed.

As you look down there, you feel a sense of triumph. The sweatshirt! It has been found! Mother of the Year Award goes to YOU! YOU! YOU!

Until.

You yank the sweatshirt up by its blue arm, and what you see down the side of the bed pops your triumphant bubble of happiness.

You see this.



Hypothetically.

Halloween candy wrappers. Down the side of the bed. By the dozens. Eaten upstairs covertly.

Not cool.

You think, hypothetically, that if your child was home from school at that moment, a punishment would be imminent. Why the need for sneakiness? After all, you are not stingy doling out the hypothetical Halloween candy. It sits in a big, hypothetical bowl on top of the hypothetical refrigerator, out of the reach of hypothetical little hands, but nearby and ready to be passed out for a little dessert after a hypothetical meal has been eaten, or as a hypothetical small snack.

So why the need to sneak it up to his bedroom?

Why? Why??? WHY????

Because.

That's just what kids do. I'm sure I did it. It doesn't make it right. But it does make it so. And your hypothetical child probably snuck his favorite candies in a stash up to his bedroom to keep it away from his hypothetical brothers and sister, who ALWAYS eat his candy. Hypothetically.

You, as the hypothetical mother are in a pickle. What do you do? Your hypothetical boy is a good boy, and rarely runs afoul of the laws of the house. Hypothetically speaking, he is an active boy, and loves to exercise, so that is not a problem. Do you pretend you haven't seen this? Do you allow your child to get away with the candy dash-and-run? Does a candy dash-a-run precede a life of crime? Or is it just what it is? A candy stash.

My head hurts from all this thinking.

Hypothetically, of course.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Word up Wednesday.

So many bloggers do "Wordless Wednesday" posts, and while I love the posts and I love the concept, I just don't think I can go all wordless on you. After all, I really like words. Words are fun. Remember? Scrabble is my jam. 

I like words so much that I lost my voice for about 5 days straight over the last week, and it just started to return this morning. Several days ago, I started to get hoarse as a result of a head cold, and then, because I enjoy talking so much, I lost my voice. But did that stop me? No. Instead of resting my vocal cords, I just kept talking.

I know, I know. SHUT UP, WOMAN, AND REST YOUR VOICE.

Nope. It's not like I'll let a silly little thing like not having a voice stop me from talking.

I digress.

This morning when I drove the kids to school, my car said that it was 29 degrees.

2-9, yo.

I live in the Midwest, so I don't know why I'm always shocked when it gets really cold again. Nevertheless, it always does, and I love the Midwest; therefore, I deal with the cold happily.

Dare I say I like cold weather? Because I do. Not all the time, but it's November. It's supposed to be cold. And who doesn't love a big, chunky, warm, cozy sweater in November?

Yeah. Yeah. I know you want to pelt me with your mittens and hats and snow boots for waxing all poetic about cold weather.

But my children refuse to accept that it is cold outside, so I spent the wee hours of this morning arguing with my shorties that YES, you have to wear a coat to school. YES, you should zip up said coat. And NO, a short-sleeved shirt and a thin sweatshirt is not appropriate for the drive to school.

Hypothermia ain't hip, kiddos.

You know, if they just accepted the fact that I am the all-knowing around here, things would run a lot smoother on a daily basis.

Needless to say, there was plenty of whining and maybe even a few tears, and stomping-of-feet, and an almost-forgotten lunch box and school project, and more whining before we got out the door this morning. By the time I wished them a, "Love you! Have a great day!" as the minivan doors slid open and they ran out towards the school doors, I was a bit frazzled, to say the least.

And what makes the frazzles go away on a cold, November morning at 8:15 a.m.?

Why a Target run, of course.

Since you are already well aware that Target is one of my happy places, I'll save you my usual gushing. But if I loves me some Target on a random day of the week, just imagine how much I love Target in November and December.

**cues chorus of angels**

Because Target at Christmastime?

I have no words. It's just that good.

So, after having used WAY too many words and tangents to get to the point of what I'll now just call my Word Up Wednesday, here's what made me happy today.


I can't tell you what made me happier. A cup of salted caramel hot chocolate from the Starbucks located INSIDE of my Target store, (Target and Starbucks. A perfect marriage.) or the fact that they put my hot chocolate in a one of Starbucks signature red Christmas cups.

Squee.

I had a difficult time prying my daughter away from this.


But it's not like I tried that hard. I'm a huge sucker for Christmas tunes. Even if it is only November 3.

Happy Wednesday.

Whether it's hot, cold, rainy or sunny where you live, or your sweethearts are having a whiny day or a well-behaved day, may you find happiness in the little things.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Poker face.

My least favorite part about parenthood?

Cleaning up barf.

Without getting into too much unnecessary detail, let's just say that I am on clean-up number four for the day as of the beginning of this entry. I cleaned it up five times for another one of my children last Thursday.

Blech.

Double blech.

I know it could be worse. I know in essence, I am very lucky at this moment. My boy just has a run-of-the-mill case of the stomach flu. I could be sitting in a hospital room with my child as so many worried parents are this morning.

My internal dialogue this morning consisted of, "Quit your whining, Clare. It could be worse," as I was on my hands and knees, grumbling to myself as I sprayed Resolve, and cleaned up sick off the carpet.

For the fourth time today.

And counting.

What you don't know about me, is that I have shards of brilliance. I decided put blankets all over the floor in our family room, so that if my son couldn't make it to the bathroom in time, VOILA! The blanket would save me a clean-up. A blanket! The ultimate vomit catcher! I am brilliant!

Except for when my child, in his sprint off the couch, managed to land on the 12 inches of carpet NOT covered by a blanket.

Oh shards of brilliance, why are you so fleeting?

When you become a parent, it's not like all of a sudden you grow this iron stomach. It's not like you're all, "Oh. Someone just barfed/pooped/bled all over me. That's cool. No bigs." Of course you learn to deal, and you grit your teeth, and you breathe through your mouth instead of your nose, and you try so fervently not to let your child see that you are utterly grossed out. Of course it gets a little easier as the years go by and the experience kicks in. Of course your compassionate, protective, mother's heart breaks for your child when he/she is sick.

After all, it's not their fault.

Barf happens.

And it's crucial to keep a poker face through the whole thing.

Because it's your job.

For all the wonderful, you can put up with a little yuck.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A decade.

Dear Firstborn,

Your 10th birthday was yesterday, and I hope it was all you ever dreamed of and more. I hope you thought your slumber party was a blast, and I hope you enjoyed all your birthday gifts. I also hope you are not thoroughly sick of me getting all up in your grill and joyfully yelling, "DOUBLE DIGITS, BABY!" over and over and over throughout the day.

In my defense, I waited ten years to do that, and I would not be denied. 

Your birthday was all about you, but of course, I have found a way to also make it about me, because your birthday was also the tenth anniversary of me becoming a mother. (Let's not leave Dad out of this either.)

A decade of parenthood.

That's kind of a big deal.

When I found out I was pregnant with you, almost 11 years ago, I was 25-years old, married to Daddy for a little over a year, and completely ecstatic at the news that we were going to become parents. Wanting to be the best mother I could possibly be, I devoured books about parenting, and subscribed to websites. I thought that these were the places that had all the answers. The more I read, I also thought, the more I knew about parenting.

I was prepared. PRE. PARED. Nothing was going to surprise me! Parenthood? Bring. It. On.

And then, you were born.

But more about that later. Let's backtrack.

You were three days overdue, and I was contracting heavily without so much as a centimeter of progress when my obstetrician sent me to the hospital with a wave and a, "Get outta here! Time to go to the hospital to have this baby!"

Huh? Today? But isn't it supposed to be like on those TV shows when I contract once, clutch my stomach, burst into happy tears and say to my husband, "Honey! It's time!"

Not so much.

After checking in and settling into the hospital, the nurse came to administer my Pitocin, so as to kick up my contractions a notch, and get my labor officially started. As she worked around the room getting my IV bags set up, she casually said, "Honey, do ya think you're gonna want the epidural?"

With all my 26-year old naivete bravado, I looked at her, smiled smugly, and said in an overly confident tone, "Well, I just don't know if I'll want one at all. Maybe? I'm not sure. I'm going to try to do this naturally." Naturally. As in, only the really good moms do this naturally.

Because, you know. The books said it can be done. And if the books said it, then it must be true.

And darn it all if I wasn't going to be a good mom.

At that moment, with all her experienced nurse bravado she spun around, and came to sit on the edge of my hospital bed. I could tell that she sensed my fear and my hesitation. She looked at me and said in her sweetest voice as she took my hand in hers, "Honey, do whatever you want. We'll help you. But I just want you to know that if you choose the epidural route, nobody will think you're a failure. You do realize that we don't walk around this hospital hanging award ribbons on the outside of the doors of the mothers who manage to give birth naturally. Whichever way you choose to get through your labor is just fine. I just want you to think about that."

No awards? No accolades? No extra cup of green jello? No ticker tape parade? No announcement on the hospital loudspeakers of, "MANY CONGRATULATIONS TO CLARE, THE MOTHER OF THE YEAR, WHO MANAGED TO GIVE BIRTH WITHOUT THE AID OF A SINGLE, DINGLE DRUG. WOO HOO AND MANY SNAPS TO HER! CAN ALL OF YOU PATIENTS JUST TAKE A MOMENT OUT OF YOUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED PAIN AND SUFFERING TO GIVE HER A ROUND OF APPLAUSE, PLEASE? THANK YOU!"

Dude. Some serious re-thinking was in order. My world had just been rocked with this should-have-been-quite-obvious-to-me revelation.

Her words hit me like a ton of bricks, and I still remember them to this day. Now, I know that every single day, there are many women in the world who give birth completely and 100% naturally. I have the utmost admiration for all of them. I do not know how they do/did it. Respect, yo.

But I soon realized after a mere two hours of Pitocin-driven labor, that I most definitely would not be one of those women. And surprisingly, I was totally okay with that. Birth plan, schmirth plan.

As they say, you plan, and God laughs.

Thank goodness for the epidural, because I have no idea how I would have survived the 12 + hours of hard, active labor, what with you being almost 9 pounds at birth.

Ouchies.

Anyway, long story short, you were born, and you were healthy, and I was floating on the Sea of Epidural. Life was good, and the best part? I still felt like a good mom.

Then we took you home from the hospital. Me being me and all, I was prepared. Prepared, I tell ya! PREPARED!

We put you in your car seat. Check! We drove home safely. Check! We took you out of the car seat. Check! We showed you around your home. Check! You let out a mighty wail that shook the walls of our small, Chicago 2-flat. Um...no check.

Alright. Alright. I said to Dad, "I can totally handle this! I bet he's hungry! I know I just fed him 30 minutes ago, right before we left the hospital, and the books said they're supposed to eat about every 2 hours or so, but I'll feed him, because I bet he's hungry."

So I nursed you. And you ate. And ate. And ate. Then you ate 30 minutes later. And then you ate 45 minutes after that. And then you ate. And ate. And ate.

AND. ATE.

Repeat.

You were like the baby who ate the world. I couldn't keep up. I would finish feeding you, hand you to Daddy who would burp you, and then you would lay on him for what seemed like 10 seconds, until you would start wailing, shoving your little fists in your mouth, and looking for some food, which, WHADDYA KNOW? Lucky-Duck Daddy could not provide for you.

"Um...Clare?" Dad would say to me just as I would almost doze off to dreamland, "Um...I think he's hungry again."

After the 2,475th time of feeding you in one day (you should know by now that your mother is prone to exaggeration at times) I started crying. In my hormonal, post-pregnancy, completely exhausted brain, I cried to Daddy, "I'M DOING SOMETHING WROOOOOONG! HE'S BROKEN OR SOMETHING! HE JUST WON'T STOP EEEEATTTTTINGGGG!!!! THE BOOKS SAY HE'S SUPPOSED TO EAT EVERY TWO HOURS, AND HE EATS EVERY TWO SECONDSSSSSS!!!"

It was at that moment that a lightbulb went off in my brain. The books were all stinkin' liars.

Well, maybe they weren't so much stinkin' liars as I realized that they were just guidelines for how to do this job. Yet, I was taking their contents for fact, and as a result, setting myself up for feelings of total failure. Sure, the average newborn eats every two hours. But clearly, you were an exception, and you were not "broken".

To the contrary, you (as are all your siblings) are positively perfect in your own little way.

As we moved through the days and weeks and months together, we perfected our little dance. I understood your cries. I learned your cues. I knew when you were hungry. Or upset. Or tired. You taught me more about being a mother than any book ever could. Yes, the books know a thing or two, but I learned to trust my instincts and relax. As our family grew, my confidence grew. Your two brothers came along over a few years, and then, eventually, so did your sister.

The four of you are the best teachers that Dad and I could ever hope for. We often have moments where we stop, look at all of you and think, "Wow. We did that."

It is our pleasure and honor to be your parents. Your kind heart and sensitive soul gives me hope for the future. Thank you for being born.

This decade has been the most monumental one of my life. Here's to the next one. Bring it on.

I'm ready.

Love,
Mom

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Just a dog.

I didn't think it would hurt this bad.

I didn't think I would cry this hard.

She was, after all, just a dog.

In December of 1995, during my senior year of college, my parents decided that it was time for our family to get a dog. With six daughters, life was chaotic enough. There were a million perfectly good reasons not to get a dog. However, my youngest sister Bernadette, who was 10, had been begging for a dog for quite some time, so when she asked for one that Christmas, my parents were finally ready to surprise her and grant this wish.

"I'm not planning on getting a big dog," my Mom announced before heading off to the Humane Society that day in December, "I think I just want a medium-sized one."

Famous last words.

She came home with this dog. (Picture taken in 2006, at 11 years old.)

It was a two-month old puppy that was part German Shepherd, part Terrier, mostly mutt.

And all heart.

My mom recalls looking into the eyes of this sweet animal, and knowing this was the dog for our family.

After all, you just know a family member when you see one.

It only seemed right that in our family of six girls, that our dog was also a girl. 

Naturally.

As was fitting for the Christmas time of year that we adopted her, we named her "Holly". She lived with my parents in our childhood home for 15 years. In the short span of a dog's lifetime, my sisters and I grew up. We graduated from grade school, or high school, or college. We dated. We moved out. We pursued careers. We got married. We returned home, this time as visitors. We had babies. We had more babies. Yet Holly remained our tie to childhood, the carefree times when life was much simpler.

Holly would always be there.

Even though, deep down, we knew she would not.

Surely, our dog, the one my family loved fiercely, would defy the odds. Surely our dog would live for twenty years or longer.

Surely.

She was just a dog, who was also, coincidentally, our four-legged "sister", and the seventh girl in our family. She was a nurturing, kind soul who would watch over our babies like the protective "aunt" that she was.

She was just a dog that kept my parents company when they emptied their nest, and their daughters took on lives and families of our own.

Perhaps you think this is crazy talk. Perhaps you don't get dogs. Perhaps you cannot relate to this kind of grief for a four-legged friend. Perhaps you cannot relate to this kind of love for an animal.

I know she was not a person. I know she was a dog.

But she was not just a dog. She was a friend. She was intelligent. Caring. Non-judgmental. Unconditional.

The love of a dog is a pure love. There are no strings attached. Love it, and it will love you back.

Simple as that.

Today I said good-bye to her for the last time via Skype, from hundreds of miles away. Luckily, my sister Colette, who lives nearby, joined me.

Modern technology is a beautiful thing.

I watched as my Mom and my youngest sister, Bernadette, no longer a 10-year old girl, but a 25-year old woman, stroked Holly's head as my Mom described how our beloved family dog could no longer stand for any amount of time. The same body that used to run, and fetch, and play with us, was now starting to shut down. My parents knew it, and the veterinarian had confirmed it. But for a moment today, as Colette and I spoke to her, I had a glimpse of the old Holly, the young Holly. I saw her looking around and towards the front door of my parents' home, as she recognized the voices of two of her "sisters", and wondered why she could hear us but not see us.

And my heart broke that much more.

"Good-bye Holly," Colette and I sobbed to the image on my computer screen.

"Thanks for being such a good dog," was what we managed to tell her through our tears.

Just a dog indeed.

Thank you Holly, for 15 years of love.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A celebrity sighting! Kind of.

I am always up for an adventure with the kids.

Within reason.

After all, I have four kids. So spontaneity sometimes has to be...ahem...planned.

Yes, I realize how dumb that sounds.

Last week we received a circular in the mail advertising the grand re-opening of a local grocery store. Sales! Specials! Cooking demos! But the thing that caught the eye of my oldest son was the mention of a certain celebrity that was to make an appearance at this particular grocery store at 4:00 p.m. today.

The celebrity was Adam Richman, of the Travel Channel's, "Man vs. Food".

My two oldest boys love watching Adam in his quest to eat his way across America, as he highlights local favorites and takes on food challenges. My 9-year old begged, "PLEEEAASEEE, Moooom?!?! PLEEEEEASE can we go to the store to see Adam that day? I NEVER get to meet celebrities!!!"

Can you believe he has lived NINE-ALMOST-TEN WHOLE YEARS on this planet, and I have deprived him of meeting a SINGLE celebrity?

Let's have a moment of silence for my boy, people.

Yo. The depravity.

Anyway.

I thought about it for a bit, and decided we would go. It would be fun! Spontaneous! Memorable! Also, with the size of my brood, and their quest to eat us out of house and home, I always need groceries, so at least I would be able to complete an errand at the same time. Besides. How many people would flock to a boring grocery store on a Thursday afternoon at 4:00 p.m., in the middle of October just to see the host of a cable show?

Well, to answer that question, A LOT of people. Or, more precisely, A CRAPLOAD.

No, make that a CRAPLOAD TIMES TWO.

Yep. That many.

Undeterred, we parked the minivan, and walked the 2.8 miles (ish!) to the entrance of the store. (Barefoot! Uphill! The whole way! Just like our grandparents did back in the olden days!) I spotted a saucy little race car cart and grabbed it before someone else could snatch it away, and I scooped up my two youngest children and dropped them in the "driver's" seat. My two oldest boys stayed close to the cart as we trudged forward.

So far so good. There were many people as we approached the produce department, but since it was only 2:45 p.m. at this point, and Adam wasn't scheduled to appear until 4 p.m., the crowds weren't quite massive.

Until.

We reached the cooking demonstration area.

I saw people congregating and I asked a lady, "Is this the line to get seats for the Adam Richman show?"

"Yup," she muttered before turning her head in the opposite direction.

With our cart half-full of groceries, we stood in that spot for about ten minutes, until I noticed that everyone in line had yellow tickets in their hands. Coincidentally, I had ZERO tickets in my hand. I leaned toward the elderly gentleman next to me and said, "Do we need tickets for this?"

"Yup. They're free, but ya gotta get 'em at the concierge desk all the way at the front of the store," he answered.

I looked in the direction where the man pointed, and I could see that the concierge desk was 8.7 miles, and 2,752 people away from the spot I was standing in line with my four children.

Ish.

Not cool. It would have been nice if the THREE different employees who directed me to the cooking demonstration/Adam Richman show area had mentioned that juicy little nugget of information to me BEFORE I trudged my way to the cooking demo area, complete with cart and four children. You know, "Hey lady! See this yellow paper! You need five of these!"

I was done. With a capital, "D". My two youngest kids were squirming and starting to whine. I decided that what we wanted to do was an impossible feat. It. Just. Couldn't. Be. Done.

My oldest child looked at me with his big brown eyes and said, "Mom! Don't give up! We can't leave yet! We HAVE to see this! This is why we came here!"

Darn that child and his optimism and his perseverance. Clearly, he did not inherit these qualities from me.

Sigh. My heartstrings had been tugged by my boy. Hard.

We soon learned, however, that it probably would have been easier at that point for the five of us to sprout wings and fly to Florida rather than get tickets to stand or sit within spitting distance of Mr. Man vs. Food. I felt like I was sludging miles through a muddy swamp while wearing lead boots. I was not making any headway.

Feeling defeated, I stood by the the large crates of onions in the produce department and wanted to cry  out of sheer frustration. And hunger. And tiredness.

The irony of wanting to cry by the onions was not lost on me.

Niiiiice spontaneous, fun afternoon.

As I looked up at the big television screens near the produce department (this is not your grandmother's grocery store) I overheard an employee say that Adam's presentation would be televised on the large screens. This is the next best thing, kids! We can stand right here and watch the whole thing!

"But Mom, we always watch him on TV. I want to see him live."

Oh. Good point.

As we stood off to the side and waited, and waited, and waited, out of consideration for the 1.8 million people (ish!) trying to pass, I made sure that my cart was pushed out of the way of traffic. My gesture, however, was not appreciated by a group of teenagers. Two boys and a girl stood directly behind me as they waited for traffic to clear so they could pass. The girl sighed dramatically and said in her most passive-agressive voice, "Uggggh. I can't believe people here are LAME enough to think that they can actually use a cart in this store right now! This is crazy!"

Stupid me! To think I am LAME enough to actually use this CART for my groceries! In a grocery store! Of all places!

The boy next to her agreed and said, "Yeah dude. That's so lame. Heh. Heh. Heh."

Oh silly teenagers. Silly, silly teenagers. Ignorance, as they say, is bliss. I wish that all of your future precious, children are adorable little sweethearts who are born with healthy sets of lungs, strong vocal chords, and RIPPING cases of colic. For a good six months. And then, when you finally get them to calm down for a bit so you can get some grocery shopping accomplished, I hope that a group of teenagers scoffs at you as you push your unwieldy shopping cart in a store, and then, just as you and your kid(s) are minding your own biz, I hope that same group of teenagers calls you LAME. Just because they can. 

Of course, I am not the least bit confrontational, so I just ignored them.

And I may or may not have given them a harmless little stink-eye.

Don't mess with Mama, kids.

Besides, it's not like I was bothering anyone in my little stake-out area by the onions. Another mother hoisted her 5-year old son on top of the sweet potatoes! That people eat! He stood on them, and of course, as expected, EVERY SINGLE SWEET POTATO CAME TUMBLING TO THE FLOOR.

But it's not like I couldn't see that one coming.

Who's the lame one now, teeny-boppers?

More waiting commenced. I was proud of the patience my children displayed, despite the hour and the situation.


Finally, after shouts throughout the store of, "Adam! Adam! Adam!" the man of the hour appeared.

See? This is as close as we got.


I should mention that I had to zoom in quite a bit because even the television screens were far away.

My sons were ecstatic because they were able to peek through the crowds and actually see him for real, even though he was about 12 miles away. Ish.

A celebrity sighting. Finally. At 8 and 9 years of age. Phew. Life is complete.

Despite the hassle and the crowds, it was worth it. I'm always up for an adventure.

Even if it's planned.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A little birdie told me I'm a wimp.

If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times, there's never a dull moment 'round here.

I was reminded of this once again as I entered our attached garage this morning, pressed the door opener, walked to the driver's side door, and then had about ten mini heart attacks as a bird dove into the garage, straight toward my head.

A BIRD, YO.

At 7:23 in the A-M.

The only other bird I would like to see all up in my grill at 7:23 a.m. is Toucan Sam on my box of Froot Loops.

It didn't help the situation any that I am a HUGE wimp. Huge. My 3-year old daughter was more calm than I was. "Mommy, I have a plan!" she said earnestly. "Just put your finger out and the bird will land on it!"

Who does she think I am? Cinder-freakin'-rella? A Disney Princess?

Yeah right. Stick my finger out indeed.

Clearly, she overestimates her mother.

"Quick! Everybody in the car!" I shouted at the kids.

That was my master plan. To hide in the car. From a robin.

Brillz.

We closed the doors as fast as we could, and the kids and I exchanged looks of, "Now what?" as I turned the key in the ignition, started up the van, and honked the horn a few times. Loudly. At 7:25 a.m.

Sorry, sleeping neighbors. Mama don't do her best thinking in the A-M.

In my defense, it was my boys' suggestion. They were convinced that the horn would scare the bird and make it leave the garage. Unfortunately, it just made the bird more frantic, which resulted in it flying at full speed into the ceiling several times, and banging into the overhead light bulbs.

I am now acutely aware of what the phrase, "bird-brained" means.

Determined to get the bird out of our garage, I opened both doors of our 3-car garage, creating a massive opening for a small bird to fly through. Nothing. I backed the car out of the garage. I honked lightly a few times. Nothing. I drove the car into the garage. Honked lightly once more. NOTH. ING. The only thing I accomplished was cementing my place in our lovely neighborhood as, "Mom Who Makes Way Too Much Noise In the Morning".

Finally, I decided it was time for the human touch, also known as Clare + a garden rake. It's a highly scientific technique that basically involves me swinging the rake wildly in the air at the bird, so as not to hurt the bird, but rather to steer it out of the garage, all the while shrieking and doing a wild "freak-out dance" (my 5-year old's words) if the bird came anywhere near my body.

Don't try this at home, y'all.

I threw down the rake and ran back into the van. My 9-year old sighed and said in his most exasperated, Mom-please-stop-acting-like-such-a-big-nerd voice, "Mom, are you done yet? We have to go to school now." Then he let out a you're-totally-cramping-my-style sigh.

My bad. I thought I was protecting my home and family.

As the day went on, I gave up trying to deal with the frantic, feathered beast, and parked my car in the driveway instead of the garage. Once I returned home with the kids after school pick-up, I opened the garage door, hoping that the bird would fly away home. Frantic, flying, more frantic, banging into the ceiling, frantic, flying, more frantic ensued. And pooping.

From the bird, of course.

I gave up. This was now Bill's problem. I have my limits, and chasing birds is one of them. I was about to go back inside the house, when my 8-year old son looked at me and asked, "Mom, can I give it a try?"

Better you than me, buddy.

With that, he picked up the garden rake that had failed me so miserably in the morning, swung it gently in the air a few times toward the bird, and of course, the bird flew RIGHT OUT OF THE GARAGE. Just like that.

Of course.

Schooled by an 8-year old. 

Lesson: Never send a spazzy mom to do a job a calm 8-year old can do.

Monday, October 4, 2010

I'm listening. No really. I am.

I listen to my kids.

Really, I do.

I am a multi-tasker in every sense of the word. I can listen to my children while I am filling the dishwasher, while at the same time eating a snack, while at the same time holding a phone nestled between my shoulder and ear without using my hands, while at the same waiting on said phone for the customer service representative to return to the line, while at the same time eyeing the pot I have boiling on the stove.

Despite all this, I listen.

My 5-year old came running in the room to show me his drawing yesterday. I looked at it while I was also simultaneously doing five different things and said, "Wow! That's cool!" and resumed my business.

It was then that I saw my 9-year old son pull his brother aside and whisper a little too loudly, "Dude, that's what Mom always to us when she's not really paying attention. She's not really listening to you."

And my heart broke into about 3000 little pieces.

My first reaction was to get defensive.

I do listen. 

Of course I was listening. I heard everything he said. I looked at the picture. I complimented it. But perception is everything, and if they think I'm not listening at times because I'm also doing something else, then that's what matters.

Heaven forbid they think I don't care.

Later that day at the dinner table, I made an extra effort to make sure that all four kids knew that I was listening. I made eye contact. I laughed at their jokes. I asked them individual questions. As we often do at family dinners, we discussed our highs and lows of the day.

It was one of those perfect family meals when the whole family was together, and we talked and enjoyed each other's company without having to rush.

I asked my oldest son what his favorite TV show is. Before he could answer, I said, "Lemme guess: 'The Suite Life on Deck', or 'Wizards of Waverly Place'."

He scoffed. "No. way. I still watch those, but I'm a fan of the classic TV shows."

Ah. He's a Renaissance man. He likes the classics. Intrigued, I raised my eyebrow and queried, "The classics?"

"Yeah Mom. Ya know, like 'The Andy Griffith Show',  'Leave it to Beaver', 'The Three Stooges', and 'Family Matters'."

One of these things is not like the others...

Dude. 'Family Matters' is "classic" television. Ask a tweener. They'll set you straight. And it won't make you feel the least bit old either, especially if you..ahem...distinctly remember watching NEW episodes of this show as a teenager while babysitting Friday nights and watching ABC's "TGIF", along with NEW episodes of 'Full House'.

My boy loves him some 'Family Matters' something fierce. He has perfected the Urkel screech of, "LAURA!" He can perfectly imitate the dances and gestures of both Urkel and Eddie's BFF Waldo Faldo. He has determined that Eddie Winslow is a player by noticing, "Yeah, Eddie dates a lot of girls." It would not be a stretch for me to venture to say that my son has seen every episode ever made, because he records them on the DVR and watches them during his designated TV time. Wisely, he shuns the later episodes of Steve Urkel's alter ego, and the boy Laura Winslow falls in love with, the ultra smooth Stefan Urquelle. In fact, if he understood the phrase, "jumping the shark", I believe that he would use it when talking about these episodes.

He spits on those episodes.

Proverbially.

Stefan Urquelle is a sham.

My boy enjoys watching the adventures of Winslow Family-slash-Urkel. 

But I already knew this about him. Because I listen. I notice things.

Even when they think I don't notice. Even when they think I'm not listening.

However, at the dinner table that night, I made sure they knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this time, I was listening.

Because they matter. And, pun intended, family matters.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Saturday night Scrabble.

I rock a mean Scrabble board.

On an average day, I am not the most competitive person you will find. I enjoy watching sports occasionally, and rooting for favorite teams, but I realize that it is just a game. However, just pull out the square board and the bag of letter tiles, and my opponent, most often my husband Bill, can EAT MY SCRABBLE DUST, YO.

Not to brag, but I have mad Scrabble skillz.

Well, I guess that's totally bragging. Sue me.

I like words. What can I say?

What has two thumbs and came in second-place in my grade school's 5th grade spelling bee, finally falling to the word, "onomatopoeia"?

This girl.

Anyway, I have learned to be more gracious when playing Scrabble, because it has gotten to the point when I just raise my eyebrow and say the word, "Scrabble?" and Bill is all, "NO WAY, WOMAN. NOT EVEN IF YOU STICK PINS THROUGH MY EYEBALLS."

Perhaps it has to do with the fact that I may or may not get all up in his grill after spelling a particularly fantastically highbrow, high-scoring word and yelling, "TRIPLE WORD SCORE SUCKER! 62 POINTS! TAKE THAT AND CHEW ON IT! HA!!!"

I know. It totally makes you want to play Scrabble with me, huh?

So, when my 8-year old son came to me on Saturday evening and said, "Mom, will you teach me how to play Scrabble?" my heart skipped a beat.

My children, of course, have only seen me playing Scrabble with their father one time. We usually play it on a cold fall or winter weekend evening with a bottle of wine after our children have gone to sleep. Of course the one time they saw us playing it, I practiced complete maturity and restraint.

Kind of.

Aaaaannnddd....HORROR OF HORRORS...Bill won.

Not cool, Bill. Not cool.

But my boy wanted to learn, and like any good master, I decided that his training must begin.

[insert nerdy "Star Wars" Jedi analogy here]

This was one time that I couldn't care less about winning. After all, when it comes to my children, I'd much rather teach them the love of a game and good sportsmanship. (Once they are adults, however, all bets are off. I totally foresee me getting all up in their grill in adulthood and yelling, "DID YOU SEE THAT? A Q, AND AND Z IN THE SAME WORD AND ALL ON A TRIPLE WORD SCORE?!?!? DID YOU SEE THAT?!?!? BOO-YAH SUCKERS!!!")

My son and I laid out the board, each chose seven letter tiles, and began the game. I helped him with his words when he was stumped, and I made sure he understood how to place his tiles to maximize his points. We looked at the tiles together to see that the words he placed challenged him and used the most tiles at a time. Fortunately, he is his mother's son when it comes to Scrabble, and he thoroughly enjoyed it.

It was bliss, bonding over a board game with my boy.

At one point in the game, he beamed with excitement. "Mom! I can't wait for my turn!"

"Okay, okay. Hold on. I just have to let me finish my turn first." I responded.

"But Mom! Check. it. out!" he said as he turned around the wood rack holding his letters.



What mother wouldn't be proud?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Where I'm from.

This post is inspired by the blog the red dress club, which asks, "Where are you from?" Check it out for inspiration, and to read what the many talented bloggers had to say for this writing challenge.

After all, if you don't know where you're from, how do you know where you're going?



Where I'm From

I am from the Motor City. From a city that gets beaten down time and again, yet continues to get back up, proud, strong and resilient.

I am from a red brick colonial on a large lot on a tree-lined street. From a house that stands dignified, 80 years young. From a house that still lives and breathes, full of the memory of six little girls, now all grown and gone. From a house full of the memories of laughter, love, heartbreak, gossiping, bickering, crying, playing, learning, living life to the fullest.

I am from, "always act like a lady, and you will be treated like one", and realizing my mother was right about this gem.

I am from Catholic schools with plaid jumpers and mary jane shoes, tucked-in shirts and socks pulled up to the proper height. From prayers in the morning and crucifixes in the classroom. From discipline and ritual.

I am from Sunday mass. From the knowledge that wherever I go on the world, the customs and traditions of my faith remain the same. From solemn prayers and familiar psalms.

I am from the ritual of family dinner, and making sure my children have the same. From a large, oval, "distressed" maple table, now beautifully distressed from years of use. From a table that has real dings and dents, courtesy of children learning to use utensils. From family recaps of our daily "high/low". From homemade meals that took hours to prepare. From fast food that took minutes to buy. From pizza night. From crying over spilled milk.

I am from Christmas traditions. From Christmas Eve mass. From the Polish Wigilia dinner of breaded fish, white potatoes, and butter-fried, cheese-filled pierogi. From setting an extra place at the table for the Baby Jesus.

I am from believing that love does conquer all. From feeling blessed that the boy that I fell in love with at 17 is the man I now call my husband.

I am from a loud home. From a home that makes no excuses for the mess and the chaos of four children.

I am from what you see is what you get. From striving to be authentic.

I am from capturing the moments of life that are to be treasured. From blogging and writing. From writing letters to my children on birthdays. From photographing the small moments. From soaking up this point in time. From being painfully aware that too soon, it will all just be memories.

I am from family is everything, even when the bonds that tie us together strain and threaten to pull us apart. From loving my family and friends fiercely and loyally. From never throwing away the relationships that really matter.

I am from trying to remain in the positive, even when the inner-complainer threatens to overtake my spirit.

I am from accepting who I am, yet continually asking for more of myself. I am from taking on new challenges.

I am from love is what it's all about.

Where are you from?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

You just never know.

You never know how the whole thing is going to turn out.

This job of parenting that so many of us do every single day of our lives.

You just never know. You won't know until it's all over.

But it will never really be over.

You try your best. You pray. You worry. You give it your all.

And then you get back up the next day and you try your best all over again. You cannot give up.

You have your moments of triumph. A little one learns how to walk. Or ride a bike. Or drink from a cup. Or get dressed all on his own. Or she walks through the school doors for the first time.

You see little kindnesses. The kids playing together nicely. A shared toy. A compliment. A brow furrowed in worry when another sibling is hurt.

You have your failures. The kids fight. Or one of them screams, "I HATE YOU! YOU ARE THE WORST MOMMY EVER!" in frustration. Or they whine so much that it irritates you until you think you cannot listen to it for ONE MORE MINUTE or your head will explode. You are, to put it lightly, annoyed. You lose your cool and yell. Your self-doubt consumes your brain one night as you toss and turn, while sleep evades you. You replay the day in your mind and the picture you see is not a pretty one.

And then you get back up the next day and you try your best all over again. You cannot give up.

You have glimpses that perhaps you are doing things right. Despite the setbacks, despite the failures, despite the self-doubt, there are many, many glimpses that perhaps you are raising good, kind, generous, and all-around decent people.

This is your hope.

You see your two middle sons, (who have their many moments when they combine together as well as oil does with water) high-five each other after working together to build a Lego structure. Your heart soars.

You hear your 9-almost-10-year old son, who has decided that he is way too "cool" and too "big" to play with the many toys that litter the playroom floor, complain about being bored. But this time, instead of hearing him complain about how bored he is, you see him doing this:



You see your oh-so-tough guy wearing a pink tutu and playing baby dolls with his 3-year old sister just because. You see her face fill with pure delight as she introduces him to her world of pink and frilly and baby dolls. You know that he would much rather be dunking a basketball on the hoop in the driveway, but instead, he is gingerly changing the clothes on a doll. You see all this, but like animals playing together in the wild, you do not disturb their moment. You hide behind a pillar in your living room, push the "zoom" button on your camera, and snap a picture, forever documenting the moment of sweetness.

And you think to yourself that despite the bad days and the self-doubt, I love this job.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Deep thoughts at Homegoods.

If my daughter could love preschool any more, she would marry it.

Every Tuesday and Thursday morning, she wakes up happy, knowing that in just a few hours she will join her new friends in circle time.

As for me, well, I'm getting used to it. I love the alone time, yes, but it's still a very strange feeling pulling out of the school parking lot in a nearly empty minivan. A hush falls over the car and the only sound I can hear is the sound of my breathing. It is a foreign sound indeed.

Also, there's that stray Matchbox car/food wrapper/pencil/unknown toy that rattles around as I turn the corner. 

The curse of the minivan. 

We always have the best of intentions to keep the car neat as a pin, but that lasts about three days, and I'm back to being the reluctant Mayor of Messy Minivan City.

Enough of my rambling.

Back to me and my alone time.

I love it. 

It is always amazing to me how refreshed I feel, and how ready I am to take on the rest of my day. 

Today, after my daughter skipped off happily to her preschool classroom, I aimlessly wandered the aisles of Homegoods.

Just because I could.

Homegoods is a place I would never take four energetic children, what with the gazillion breakables, and me not being a glutton for punishment.

But today I just wandered. Slowly. Without a purpose.

As I rounded the corner of one aisle into the next, I saw this sign hanging on the endcap.


My name is Clare, and I approve this message.