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.

Monday, September 13, 2010

They're wearing me down. Little by little.

My kids and this whole wanting-to-get-a-pet thing?

They're working it. Big time.

As I have said many times, we will get a dog.


I promise. They can hold me to it.

But after having four kids in 6 years, and now doing this parenting thing for the last decade, I just need to catch my breath. I am not ready to clean up dog poop. I have seen enough of the human kind over the last ten years. I'm good.

First, we had a betta fish. It died. We got another betta fish. It died. We got another betta fish. Guess what happened to that one?

Flush. Off to the big drain in the sky.

Then we got sea monkeys.

They croaked.

Last year, one of my sons requested a pet scorpion.

Nope. Never. Gonna. Happen.

Today I found this in my 8-year old son's backpack. It touched my sarcastic, temporarily anti-pet little heart.

Clearly, he wants a guinea pig. And don't you think for one second that he wants a hamster.

Because hamsters are nocturnal, and you won't see the action, yo.

So all you hamster owners? Fools. You are missing out on the action. What action? Well, the around in a carrots...and yeah. ACTION. Guinea pigs are where it's at.


Of course, my boy got the idea that he wanted a guinea pig from his best friend, who has a guinea pig named Checkers. I had the pleasure of meeting Checkers recently, and yes, I'm not gonna lie. He is quite adorable. He even purrs when you pet him.

He purrs.

Betcha those boring nocturnal hamsters don't purr.

Hamsters are chumps.

Checkers is cute and furry, and has a sweet little face. Coincidentally, that's exactly how I like the animals with whom I come in contact. Cute and furry. Slimy? No. Hairless? No. With a long, slithering tongue? Hell no.

My friend Rhonda, also the mother of my son's best friend, and subsequently the mother of Checkers the Guinea Pig, has me almost convinced that a guinea pig would be a good pet.

I said almost convinced.

This second son of mine has a birthday in February, so I still have plenty of time to think about it.

I'm getting there. Slowly.

But for now, the only pets allowed in this house are the Zhu-Zhu kind.

Baby steps, people. Baby steps.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

September 11.

I wrote this a year ago. I have never rerun any of my entries, but of everything I have ever written, this is one that is worthy of a rerun. September 11, 2001 is forever ingrained in my mind and my heart. The whole country was affected that day, but if you were affected in a more personal way, and lost someone dear to you, my prayers are with you. Still. We will never forget.

I remember exactly what I was doing when it happened.

Watching "Blue's Clues" with my one-and-only child, my 10 - 1/2-month old son.

I remember exactly what I was wearing when I got the phone call from Bill.

Maternity blue jeans and a gray long-sleeved shirt.

That day is forever cemented in my mind.

I thought what Bill was telling me was ridiculous at first, and I scoffed. Terrorists? It's 2001. Our airports have sophisticated screening equipment these days. It must have been a mistake. Pilot error. Error from the control tower.

Stop being so dramatic, Bill.

It's just not possible.

But within minutes, I learned it was very possible, as I watched a second plane blow right through the side of the behemoth building made of glass and steel.

And in that instant, I knew our country had changed forever.

I remember how my sweet little boy, not yet able to speak, but able to sense emotion, crawled into my pregnant lap, snuggled and offered comfort as I cried while watching the events unfold.

I did not know anyone who died on September 11, 2001, but I still remember many of their stories and carry them with me in my heart.

I remember Lisa Beamer, the young mother of two, pregnant like me, recounting the last conversation she ever had with her husband. She recalled her husband Todd heroically saying, "Let's Roll!" which became the country's personal mantra for months.

What would I say to Bill if I had mere moments to speak to him? How could I possibly fit everything I had to say to him into a minute-long conversation?

There could never be enough words.

I remember the usually stoic Peter Jennings welling up with tears while delivering the news, and me doing the same.

This wasn't just a news story that could be reported and set aside. It was unfolding moment by moment, and reporters are human.

I remember the news shots of people in the streets on September 12, holding up pictures of their loved ones, fervently hoping they were just unidentified at one of the hospitals in New York City, and not lying among the dead in the wreckage.

So many fathers, mothers, daughters, sons. So much possibility. Gone.

As the world watched in horror.

I remember the stories of the fathers and mothers who would never live to see their children grow up. I remember the stories of the fathers that would never get to meet their children because their wives were still pregnant.

Selfishly, I couldn't help but think that I was pregnant too. What if Bill never got to meet this baby? What if our son and this little baby growing inside of me never fully got to know what an amazing man their father is?

It was the sad, tragic reality for far too many.

I remember the flashes of light that came out of the darkness. The patriotism. The American flags flying proudly. The good deeds. The little kindnesses. The feeling that we were all one big family, and if one of us was hurting, we were all hurting.

For our grandparents' generation, it was Pearl Harbor.

For our parents' generation, it was the day that JFK was shot.

For my generation it was September 11, 2001.

My greatest hope for future generations is that there is no tragic defining day for them. I hope that they have their defining days, yes, but I hope that their defining day is something much more mundane and personal. I hope it is the acceptance into a school of their choice, the meeting of their future spouse, the dream job offer, the purchase of a first home, the birth of a first child.

Of course, it's not always rainbows and unicorns. But it doesn't have to be tragedy either.

One can only hope.

Friday, September 10, 2010

I've been holding out on you.

I have been meaning to write this post for a long time. I feel I owe it to the bloggers who make me smile, or think, or laugh, or cry each week.

As you may know, I started this blog about 18 months ago, and it has been one of my favorite hobbies, and one of my most enjoyable creative outlets. Besides...ahem...scrubbing the toilets around here, of course. I am beyond grateful to all of you who have ever read, or commented, or "liked" it on Facebook, or passed it on to a friend, because it makes me feel like I'm not talking to a wall.

I mean, really, when you have kids, it's like talking to a wall anyway, and you are ignored on a daily basis, so I truly appreciate not being ignored on my blog. Snaps, hugs, and smooches to you all.

But I have been holding out on you, so shame on me.

There are so many wonderful bloggers in the blogosphere that I read weekly, and I realized that I have never shared who they are with any of you. Shame, shame. Because these are really great writers, y'all.

Without further ado, I introduce you to...

  • Janet, author of Muffintopmommy. Janet is an old college friend of my sister's, but thankfully, through our shared love of writing, we have become good friends. Unfortunately, she lives on the East Coast, and I live in the Midwest, so we can't ever meet for coffee and laughs, which I so wish we could. However, we do trade almost-daily emails about blogging, our kids, the things that drive us crazy, celebrity gossip, and of course, most importantly, our shared like for the show, "The Real Housewives of New Jersey". People, it's all about priorities. If only Janet and I could turn our emails into a blog. Unfortunately, they're not totally G-rated and appropriate, and I wouldn't want to blow my cover as a mostly wholesome blogger. So yeah. But Janet will, quite simply, crack. you. up. Trust me on this one. I wouldn't lie to you.
  • Michelle, author of Peas Out Mama. I first "met" Michelle's blog at the recommendation of Janet, because they are old friends. However, I stayed and continued to read because she is a good writer, and she's funny. She talks about adventures of raising her one-year old son, "Boo", and navigating motherhood. I also love her latest feature, "This Week in Absurdity", because, yo, the world is absurd sometimes, and yo, it's about time somebody said so.
  • Jennifer, author of These Are Days. I met Jennifer at the Erma Bombeck Writer's Conference I attended in April. Jennifer has such a sweet writing style and she just pulls you in with her narrative. She just "gets" the sweetness of motherhood and life. It is clear that she loves her family, and she loves her hometown of Austin, Texas, and she conveys that so well through her writing. Reading her blog is like chatting with an old friend over a cup of coffee. Or in my case, since I hate coffee, make that Diet Coke.
  • Nichole, author of in these small moments. I discovered Nichole's blog through Twitter several weeks ago, and already, I am hooked. Speaking of someone who "gets" it, it's Nichole. As the mother of two children, she focuses on the little moments in the everyday that make up a life, and I love that. The complaints about motherhood are so easy to point out, but think it is much harder to describe what we truly love about this job, and how fleeting it all is. Nichole's blog is, in a word, charming. And cozy. I know that's two words, but I can't resist.
  • Sue, author of The Desperate Housemommy. Sue is a former elementary school teacher. Just like me! She is a stay-at-home mom. Just like me! She has 3 kids. Just like me! (plus one for me, of course) She blogs. Just like me! We have never met, but I knew that I had found a kindred blogger when she wrote in an entry not too long ago entitled, "Dear Summer: An Open Letter," that, "If I hear Katy Perry's 'California Gurls' on the radio one more time, I shall scream." Just like me!
  • Kelley, author of Kelley's Breakroom. I discovered Kelley's blog when Desperate Housemommy Sue sweetly wrote a review of bloggers she enjoys, and she mentioned our blogs. Kelley is a proud mother of two boys, but her blog is about more than just that. It's so random and funny, that, as the name implies, you will feel like you're sitting in the breakroom with her and shooting the breeze, as she makes you snort with laughter at her perspective.
  • Kristen, author of A Rock In My Pocket. I stumbled across Kristen's blog one day when another blogger had it on her blogroll, and I am now a faithful reader. Besides being a mother to 3 girls, Kristen is also a professional writer. She is hilarious and random and snarky, which are all awesome qualities in writer, as far as I am concerned. I wondered about the quirky title of her blog, until I read her explanation. Love it.
There are so many more bloggers that I would love to mention, and I will another day. But get started on this group, and I'm sure you'll find something that floats your boat.

Yeah, I just said, "floats your boat." I went there.

Enjoy. Happy Weekend to you.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Methinks I am a bit jaded.

I love this day.

I love that kids are so easily impressed.

You know how you are a jaded, seen-it-all adult? You know how you are rarely surprised by the usual things?


Well, I am sometimes. I can't help it. I am 36 years old, and I have seen a lot. I have not even barely scratched the surface of "seeing it all", of course, but I have seen more than my children have seen. I have been to many restaurants. I have eaten weird foods. I have traveled to a few cities. I have been to the top of one of the tallest buildings in the world. I have watched Snooki on MTV. (Only one episode, and I am not proud of it.) I even once saw someone wearing a Halloween mask on the El in Chicago, and it was in March. Yo, that was scary.

One of the best things about being a parent is introducing your child to something new, and today I had the chance to do that when they begged us to take them to Olive Garden after Sunday mass.

Yes, The Olive Garden.

It was their greatest wish in the whole wide world at that moment. They begged. They pleaded. They had seen the commercials pronouncing, "endless salad and breadsticks," and they would not be denied.

Bill and I have not eaten at an Olive Garden in years, and therefore our children haven't either, because honestly, I'll admit that I am somewhat of an Olive Garden snob. It's not that I don't love me some chain restaurant action living here in the 'burbs of the Midwest, but Olive Garden? It's the suburban cliche of restaurants.

I might as well just shout to the world, "Hi, I'm Clare, I live in the suburbs, shop at Target, drive a minivan, and eat at the Olive Garden."


Can a gal maintain the tiniest shred of coolness?

But as I rediscovered today through my children, Olive Garden is all that.

I have succumbed. I am a suburban mom. I am admitting it without shame. I am her. She is me. Black Honda Odyssey with a stroller and sports equipment in the trunk and all.

We walked through the door of our local Olive Garden this afternoon, and the kids were instantly amazed. "The chairs are soft! And they are on rollers! And there are fake grapes hanging from the ceiling! And ooh! Look at that! They hung pretty lights all over the place!"

To me, it was just an Olive Garden. To them, it was a new frontier. Uncharted territory.

Bill and I were baffled. We take them out to eat a few times a month, but clearly this time was different. Like I said, they have seen the commercials. "Mom! You can get an endless pasta bowl!" my son enthusiastically informed me.

Thank you, but no thank you. I like my pasta to have an end. I start it. Then I finish it. The end.

"Mom! Look at all this salad! And we can get more! It's endless!"

"The breadsticks! When we are finished with them, we can just ask for more! And they will bring them to us! They are endless!"

Olive Garden introduced my children to the concept of endless. As a result, they are now in love with the concept of endless. They have declared that all things at our house should now be endless. First and foremost, cookies.

Um, no.

Their enthusiasm rubbed off on me. I may or may not have squealed along with them once we got back into the car, "Yay! Isn't Olive Garden great?!?"

I was caught up in their moment.

But the new discoveries didn't end at Olive Garden, because after that, we had groceries to buy. As we strolled through the aisles as a family, checking off the numerous things on my list, we arrived at the baked good aisle and happened upon the Hostess snacks.

And when I say, "happened upon," I really mean that all four of my kids ran at the huge display at full speed.

It's not that my kids don't eat junk food. They are no strangers to Oreo cookies and Chips Ahoy. But Hostess snacks, a staple from my childhood? Not yet. "MOOOOOM!!! These are 2 for $4.00! TWO FOR $4.00!" my son shouted.

Yo. They are 2 for $4.00.

As I looked at the display, the Ding-Dongs made my mouth water. The Ho-Hos looked decadent in all their chocolatey, rolled-cake glory. The Twinkies, spongy and gold, called out to me. I looked at Bill and he was giddy along with the kids.

I decided right then and there that it was time to introduce my children to Hostess snack cakes. It is a holiday weekend, after all.

It was time for this rite of passage.

We decided on the Twinkies and the Ding-Dongs, because if you're going to start somewhere, it had to be there. As soon as we checked out at the register and loaded up the car, I held up both boxes in my hands and said to each of my four children, "Pick one." The oldest two picked the Ding-Dongs, and the youngest two picked the Twinkies. Bill and I each chose a Ding-Dong.

Like the Olive Garden, their amazement was instant. "Wow! The chocolate is hard on the outside! And there is cream in the middle! CREAM! This Twinkie is like a spongy cake!"

You would think I had just introduced a caveman to fire. Or the wheel. It was that monumental.

I couldn't help but smile. Mostly because Ding-Dongs still rock after all these years.

The simple pleasures of childhood were rubbing off on me.

I curse the day that my children become jaded.