And for once I was SuperMom

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Post Christmas

I haven’t turned on the Christmas tree lights in a few days now.  Seems like so much, all this ramping up for one day that we spend sitting around in our pajamas.  We had to stop opening presents because Emma was crying each time we opened a new one.
                “Can I paint with these?” She said, holding up a new set of bathtub paints.
                “Not now, you can use those when you take a bath tonight,” cue the tantrum.  I don’t even know what my parents got for her; two unopened boxes are tucked in the corner of our apartment.  I will open them on some dreary day in February when we have cabin fever and the toys from Christmas have lost their shine.  
                I asked Scott when we should break down the Christmas decorations, 
                “You know we should have champagne or wine while we take them down, because we have two months of winter left and no Christmas to look forward to,” he said, flipping my family’s tradition of drinking while we decorate on its head.  One time I was looking at calendar made for an elementary school classroom, it had a bell for December, a snowflake for January, a heart for February, and a four leaf clover for March.  It occurred to me that we placed Christmas and created Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day just for that purpose. If we hadn’t it would be snowflake, snowflake, snowflake, and then a brown snowflake. 
                There are no major holidays in the summer months.  We don’t need them.  It’s the dead of winter where you need something to decorate for or look forward to.  I’m sure our forefathers got tired of sitting by the fire and whittling for four whole months.
                I was just musing that I wish Christmas was at the end of January.  Spread out the holiday cheer.  Or madness.
                We made our gingerbread house today.  That’s right four days after Christmas we made our house of candy.  Emma loved it.  I had started with dreams of piping on perfect scalloped windows and arched doorways, while we were making our little house I realized I wanted it to be messy.  Dripping with royal frosting.  Covered in mismatched candy.  Emma’s three, after all, and this is about her, and not some silly notion that I saw in Better Homes and Gardens.  So we did it together, on a cold leisurely morning.  Scott came up with the idea of putting spice drops across the top, Emma placed mints and butter mints all over the place for shingles, and I tried to glue candy canes to the corners.  (A side note: does it scare you when frosting dries into that glue?  I always think, ‘oh gracious, we eat that,’)
                I think I might do more of this.  Holiday traditions after the holidays.  Save some of it in those quiet quiet days that come after.  So much of what we do has little to do with Christ’s birth and more to do with the fact that it’s cold outside.  I had a coupon for Glade’s line of winter scents.  I stood before a rack in Target that looked like it had been ransacked.  All of the holiday fragrances were sold out.  I was a bit sad.  An apple cinnamon or pine candle still makes sense in mid-January. 
                If you’ve followed me for awhile you know that I can be a wee bit grinchey.  I did my due diligence this Christmas season with the holiday music, more for my child’s sake.  It is, at the very least, kid friendly.  My grinchey heart aches more because of the excess and the breakneck speed at which it goes.  We cram a lot of sugar, expectations, and emotions into the thirty some odd days that come between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I end up with a bit of a tummy ache, tight jeans, and graying tree in my living room.  Why can’t we take this slow?  Savor it.  Make the four dreary months a little brighter the whole way through. 
                Is there anything that you’ve started to do after Christmas to make the hang over a bit easier to get over?

Tuesday, December 25, 2012


I thought about all the unopened gifts bought for those twenty children.  I thought about them just now.  I haven't thought much about the Newtown tragedy.  I haven't wrapped my mind around it.  I can't.

In Kenya all the parents over dressed their children.  Socks and socks, woolen hats, down coats in eighty degree weather.  We used to chuckle, then feel bad for the poor sweating children.  Eventually we found out that almost everyone knew someone that had lost a child to pneumonia.  Pneumonia.  That infection that sat on Carys last week.  That infection that was blown out of her system by timely antibiotics and IV fluids.  Medical care that we can afford because my husband's job provide good health insurance.

I can sit back and feel lucky that my daughter is well now because I am an American.  Because I was quick enough to notice that morning that she wasn't feeling well and to seek more medical intervention.  Because I was lucky enough to have a Parents magazine in my house that just happened to have an article about respiratory distress in infants that I just happened to read during the nap time that she had respiratory distress. I can feel smug that I have all these things.

But I don't.  Do I love my child more than a Kenyan mother?  No.  Do I have more resources at my fingertips?  Yes.  Am I thankful?  Yes.  Do I feel miserably horrible for Kenyans that do not.  Yes.  Can I fix that?  I don't know.

My child most likely won't die because of pneumonia.  Or any other simple childhood diseases for that matter.  I am lucky.  My daughters are lucky.

What separates me from the mothers of Newtown?  Nothing.  Not a damn thing.

There but for the grace of God go I.
And my children.

So what do we do?  Now that my children are potentially on the line.  We're there.  Someone walked into a school and shot first graders.  That happened.  We're that low.
So what do we do?

Gun control.  Yes.  We can start there.  Let's take the weapons away.  There is no reason that an independent citizen needs to own automatic weapons and thirty round clips.
That's a start.
Violence in the media.  The more violent actions you see against another human the more de-sensitized you are to it.  The violence that is in movies these days far exceeds that of movies that I grew up with.  What can you do stop that?  Don't see the movies.  What do you gain from seeing an ultra violent movie or playing an ultra violent video game.  Ask yourself, 'How does that enrich my life?'  Don't let your children see them.  Vote with your pocketbook.  If those types of movies stop selling Hollywood won't make them anymore.
That's another start.
Some things are going to take longer.  Like loving each other.  Making sure that the kid in the back of the room that no one is paying attention to is getting loved.  Making sure that no one falls through the cracks.  That will take longer.  Maybe we can start by asking for opportunities to love.

I think I might go write a letter to my senator...another start.

Sunday, December 23, 2012


Sometimes I feel like we almost live surreal American lives.  We fanny about wringing our hands over things that are so small.  We get bogged down and depressed and unable to really appreciate we really have.
                Then something real happens.  Like sitting down to read a magazine at naptime, you run across an article about respiratory distress in children, normally you would ignore it, but something tells you to check on your eight month old daughter.  She is lying slack and awake, not crying, she lifts her head and her breathing, flaring nostrils, pumping ribs, mimics the description in the article.  Real.
                You go to the doctors office and wait.  She lies on you limp.  Breathing is such an effort.  More than one doctor comes in to look at your child.  People start talking to you in very gentle tones.  You end up climbing into an ambulance following the paramedic that is holding your child.  Real.
                In the emergency room the listless child has her temperature taken one more time, her lungs listened to one more time.  Her oxygen checked.  Her chest xrayed.  Her blood drawn.
                Pneumonia.  Real Preumonia.
                But now you are in a hospital and they are wheeling you upstairs.  You feel safe because there are monitors, antibiotics, and IV fluids, and she already looks better.
                She smiles for the nurse.  A real smile.  Her first smile that day. 
                A night in the hospital.  A real night.  A real long night.
                The  next morning her ribs are flaring with the effort of breath.  She’s listless.  Her smiles are gone again.  Still not ready to go home.  They want to keep us one more night.  Give her more oxygen and fluids.  I acquiesce because I know she’s not well and I would take her home and I would just worry.  Real worry.  Real ‘keep you awake all night long’ worry.  Real ‘make your mind race’ worry.
                Those silly little worries that plague your normal days become less real.  Your only pair of jeans, the ones you came in last night are sopping wet on one leg because your older child vomited on you and you rinsed them out in the sink and put them back on.  You flaccidly accept this, because does it really matter right now?  Your eight month old vomits into your shirt, and your bra cup.  More acceptance, because there’s nothing else to do. 
                Your husband stays in the afternoon.  You go home to shower and pack a bag for the coming night of worry.
                You’ve walked on that precipice the whole time, knowing that one trip could send you into a chasm so deep you could go crazy.  You’re okay, you say.  You’re handling this so well you tell yourself.
                One more long night.  One real long night.  You lie with your worry.  She doesn’t need the oxygen.  She sleeps well.  You don’t.  You feel like you’re betraying her when you do pass out. 
                In the morning she sits up.  She smiles.  She tries to pull the tubes off of her.  She nurses well.  You cut her off early and make her go slowly because she’s vomited up everything to this point.  She does it, and there’s no vomit that day. 
                You take her home at lunch time.  Home.  Real home.
                For the next several days your hugs are little bit longer.  Your kisses a little stronger.  Your gaze a little more powerful.  You only then realize how close your toes came to the edge of that precipice.  You finally cry when they’re all in bed.  The letdown, the adrenaline gone.  The relief, we’re all okay.  You can’t remember praying, but you’re sure you did, little whispers up to heaven, ‘please,’ ‘thank you,’ and ‘help.’  Daily whispers that become more urgent when things are on the line.  Your'e thankful you live a five minute drive from your doctors office.  A ten minute drive from a working hospital.  So close to doctors and nurses with resources at their finger tips. 
                You turn back to your routine.  Your routine that has been so upset the past few days.  Your ‘real’ life interrupted by something real.  The tragedy hang over lasts a few days, when people ask, ‘how are you?’ you don’t really how to respond.  Blurt out everything or smile and pretend that everything is business as usual.  Even though your life was just interrupted by something real.  Something that puts it all in perspective.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Cut the Fat

“We should get an advent calendar,” Scott said to me about a week ago.
“I agree, we should,” maybe that organic chocolate one I saw at Trader Joe's. A few days later we were decorating our apartment. Scott had pulled out the two boxes full of ornaments and other Christmas decorations. I opened one and right on top,
“Hey, we have an advent calendar!” I pulled out the quilted one that my sister-in-law had bequeathed to me. Her teenage sons now too old to enjoy pulling out quilted lambs and wise men and arranging them by velcro around an embroidered manger. I hung it. It was November 28th.
Emma almost immediately pulled out the little figures and then began playing imaginary games with them. Internally I sighed, I didn't see any way around that. Would she be able to appreciate in two days when we started pulling them out one at a time?
Two days later I pulled her little body over to the calendar, I explained that we would take one out at a time, she folded up her arms and did her fake screech. She was reluctant to do any of it at all. The magical moment was a wash. The calendar has stayed hanging. She has put the figures we took out back in their little pockets.
Try again next year.
Along the way so many magical moments that I try to create with my family get wrecked in inclement weather, product malfunctions, misunderstanding, or just plain old arguing. Every year I try to create 'our thing.' Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I fail. Every year I decorate. Every year I listen to other women's traditions and feel low. I could be better. I could be more organized. I could be more magical. If only...
Then I remember the moments from my Christmases that were so special to me: playing with the Christmas Carol themed jack in the boxes, drinking sparkling apple cider while decorating the Christmas tree, and that first lighting of the tree. That tree was always the most beautiful thing that I had ever seen. A marvel. How could you take a simple tree and make it that lovely?
And that's all it took. No orchestrated moments. No elaborate plans. No amazing crafts.
The things that my daughters will remember from Christmases are things I don't even know that I do. A book. A certain ornament. A particular song. A flavor. Playing with that advent calendar. Maybe they will remember magical moments of cutting down our own Christmas tree, but I won't know until they tell me as adults. I'm sure it will surprise me.
Hopefully they'll get the point that it is about Jesus and not all this other stuff. That really seems to get lost in all the tinsel and stress.
This year I've been thinking about all the fat of the season. Every year I think about it. What is really needed and what isn't. So much of it is about other people's expectations. If I don't spend this much on Aunt Sue, she'll be mad. I've tried to shuck other people's expectations. Decide what I think is important and stick to it. Trim the fat and keep the meat. Forget Rudolph and focus on Jesus.

Saturday, December 8, 2012


“There's a lot of these sequin covered satellite things,” Scott says, eyeing the Christmas ornaments that I collected as a child, my mom gave me the box once I got married.
“They're called 'space balls,'” I correct him, as if that name makes them any better. I don't know if that's their official name but that is what my family called them. My mother made Christmas ornaments all throughout our childhood, I remember each year going through the ritual of picking a new one, my mom would place them all in a dish and we would take turns selecting a new sequined satin ball. We each have boxes of ornaments inherited from our mother's. Scott's mostly consist of Santa performing various athletic endeavors. My favorite was the weight lifting Santa. Emma collected them out of boxes and began playing an elaborate game pretend with the Santa ornaments and our Nativity set that we purchased in Kenya. As Scott unfolded it from the paper, I looked up and winced,
“She's going to play with that isn't she?” I ask. He nods, “I'm just going to have to get over it, aren't I?” He nods.

We decided to only put on the ornaments that we have purchased during our years of marriage. Up went the aspen leaf from the Garden of the Gods. Up went the red and green beaded stars from South Africa. Up went the red glass star purchased in Wheaton during wedding preparations. Up went the sand dollar from Bearskin Neck. Up went the sweet pea ornament from my mother, signifying Emma's first Christmas. A few more stars came out,
“Huh, apparently I like red stars,” I mused. I do like stars. And angels. Of all the Christmas symbols they seem a bit more pure. When I taught art in Kenya when Christmas time rolled around I struggled to find art projects that weren't wrapped in our cultural traditions. I felt the sun beat hot on my shoulders as I watched other classes cut out snowflakes from paper, and color in pictures of reindeer. Most of these children would never see a snowflake in their life. Come to think of it I never saw a real snowflake until I was an adult. As I extricated anything to do with the winter and pared down all the Santa myths I was left with stars and angels.
As we decorated I realized all the things we didn't have; no tree skirt, no tree topper, and really not all that many ornaments.

We did need lights, that was non-negotiable. Off to Target I went. The light aisle was as long as our apartment. My mind shorted out completely. All I wanted was a string of simple white lights. I didn't want globe lights, or light rope, or blue lights. Just simple white lights. At the very end I found my box of simple white lights, I grabbed it and left. My eyes blurred at all the decorations I passed. Purple and silver tree skirts. I've always felt that home decorations should have meaning. Ornaments should be from trips, or meaningful moments, or gifts, not just purchased at a big box store because you thought it was pretty. I thought I should purchase a tree skirt and a tree topper, but I kept walking. Something told me that I wanted them to mean something.
I use the unity candle from our wedding as a Christmas centerpiece. I wrap some tinsel around the candles and it sat for a few days as I thought about 'what it needed.' When Scott trimmed off those inevitable branches from the bottom of the tree I cut off pieces and placed them around the bottom of the bottom of the candlestick. Instant garland. Each time I passed I adjusted or added new ones. Too many adjustments and I found myself muttering,
'F***ing centerpiece,” Martha has a headache and she doesn't know why. Why so much stress over a centerpiece that only my family is going to see?
I keep think about what amazing thing I can do to make this time of the year special for my daughters. The other day I pulled out a stack of Christmas books from the closet and plunked down to read with Emma. I kept thinking I needed more. But there, I just did it. I made it special, by just saving those for this time of year, they're special. Maybe it's not in an elaborate ritual but just in an object. Each year this object comes out, and that makes this time of year special.
The other day at Bible study the air buzzed with stress. The holidays had set in, and we were all amped up on the energy of 'getting things done.' I could feel the snap. It was awful.
We need to pare it down. Just angels and stars. Just meaning. Why all the centerpieces and Santas? Can we do it, though? Every time I suggest to simplify, less cards, less food, less, just less, I get shrugged off, as if I'm crazy.
Why are we addicted to this? Sometimes I can feel grinchy-ness infect my heart. I don't love Christmas music. Don't doubt my salvation just because I don't love Rudolph. Please. Why are addicted to all this fatness? Peppermint mochas and pine scented candles. Is this necessary to celebrate the birth of Jesus?
I'm going to be crazy all by myself. Money limits on how much we spend on each other. One gift for the girls. That centerpiece needs a bow. I won't tie it. I won't. My little tree is naked on the top and on the bottom, no tree skirt and no tree topper. I won't rush out to some local huge corporate store and buy the same topper that will be on the top of millions of other people's trees. I will wait until we stumble across something lovely on one of our travels or moments.
Perhaps a star or an angel.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

More Moments

In January a friend of mine told me that it might take me longer to bounce back from my second child.  I shrugged and told her a few reasons why I should be fine.
Sometimes I'm just full of it.
Anyway seven months later my abdominal muscles are still stretched out and I have to fight my way through layers of fatigue to workout.  My regular four to five times a week still hover around two to four.  Four times is an amazing week.  Amazing.
Yesterday I finally found the time to do some leg and butt exercises from a magazine article that I ripped out of a Better Homes and Gardens.  I remember when I was younger I used to think the exercises in those features were 'a bit old lady,' a few weeks ago I saw this article and thought they looked difficult.  So either I'm getting older or those articles are getting better.  So I did the exercises, today I am so sore that I can barely sit down on any hard surfaces.  Squatting is a near impossibility, I must look like a rusty old gate creaking open and closed each time I move.
Do you know how often that you squat in a day caring for small children?
A lot.

This evening Emma convinced Scott to play 'cowboy' with her.  They came out of the room wearing various hats and using stuffed animals as their horsies.  Emma asked if I would play 'cowboy' with them, I was still feeding Carys her baby food so participation in 'cowboy' seemed, not only like my personal hell, but really not possible; unless we all wanted to listen to the baby scream while we gleefully rode 'ponies' around the living room.  Begrudgingly I ended up with a 'hat' perched on my head and a 'horsie' tucked in between my knees while I continued to spoon pureed apples into my squirming baby's mouth.  I look up, Scott makes eye contact with me and starts doing the 'horsey' from Gangnam Style.
I love that man.

My house is not baby proofed.  At all.  Emma is not really a getter into of things and cupboards.  For awhile I foolishly believed that this was because of our brilliant parenting, now I've talked to enough parents and had enough children rip my apartment asunder to know that some children just 'get into things' and some children don't.  Carys is going to be a getter.
Emma also rarely ever shouts the phrase, 'I can do it myself!'  I have heard so many parents talk about their child's rugged individualism as they refused to have mommy dress them at the fresh young age of two.  Emma could not care less.  She would much rather have you do everything for her.  I picture myself arriving in her dorm room to put her clothes on her.
"Do you want to wear this hoodie to class or this hoodie?"
Carys is going to be the 'I can do it myself,' kid.  I can see it already.
She is now eating about two jars of baby food a day.  Today while feeding her lunch she putting her hands in the way of my spoon.  I dodged around her whapping hands with a fully loaded spoon of orange goo, then it occurred to me...I just stuck the spoon in her hand.  Her little fingers closed around the spoon's handle and she gamely jammed it into her mouth.  Tongue squirming around exploring the spoon, back hunched in effort, feet wiggling in concentration, there it was, she fed herself.  I pried excited fingers off the spoon and re-orange goo, her hand was already outstretched.  In the spoon went again, her whole body hunching and wiggling in eagerness and concentration.
We worked it out.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


What do I feed the child?
It's not that she's picky.  She'll eat anything at least once.  Or she used to.  She's just not fun to feed.  I make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and proffer it to the goddess.  It's not my firstfruits, I will eat those, because I know they will get eaten, instead of just stabbed and ignored.
A moment later I look over and she has pulled it apart and is scraping out the peanut butter and jelly with her fingers.  She does this with grilled cheese as well.  Any time she asked for a grilled cheese I am tempted to just microwave a pile of cheese and place it in front of her.
Gross? Completely.  Honest?  Totally.
Children are just more honest.

"Ow, I didn't know I had extra skin underneath my chin," I look over and the baby has grabbed my husband's neck and is holding on tight.  He pries off her clamp and goes about his business.  I find myself pulling away from her little hands all the time, they hurt.  She pulls at my hair, my clothes, my shoulder, anything she can grab.  By the end of the day I am so tired of being grabbed.
I hear a shriek, high pitched and terrible. I look down and the baby has a handful of Emma's hair.  She is breathing heavy out of desperation, but not lashing out at the baby.  I lean down and untangle the hair from  tiny tightly gripped fingers.  I do shout when Carys grabs my hair and skin, but I always feel bad about it.  Like I should be able to put up with the pain just because it isn't really her fault that she's grabbing me so hard.  I'm sure that Emma has no added guilt when she shouts because the baby is pulling tender hairs.
Pure, simple, and honest.  Not wrapped up in a million emotions, like their adult interactions will become.

We are at preschool co-op, I look over and Emma is throwing a tantrum, she doesn't want to share the sand box.  We sit in the hallway and wait until she is calm.  Upon re-entering I look at the other girl's mom,
"Does she need to apologize to Hazel?" I ask, nervous there was striking involved.
"No, I think that Emma just didn't want to share," she shakes her head and gives a generously diplomatic answer.
I was thinking about it, is there a situation where you throw a bunch of adults in a room and make them share their toys?  The only thing I could think of was women cooking together.
"Oh, where you using that knife?" You ask, snagging your favorite knife.
"Oh no, it's okay, I'll go get another one," it's not, you can tell, but you're just glad to have your knife.

Maybe that's all we want to do, just rip apart the sandwich and eat the middle, but we don't.  We wander around munching on sliced bread pretending that we like it when we don't.  The middle is the best part.    Maybe we just want to scream,
"That's my knife!  You can't use it!"  But we don't.  We pad our interactions with niceties, to keep things rolling.  We eat fiber, to keep other things rolling.

Let's just take a moment to be thankful that we grow out of preschool behavior....