Friday, November 25, 2016

Go Ask Alice ... About Her Bathroom Time

I wrote one of my college entrance essays about the bathroom. The prompt was, "Where is your favorite place?" On lined paper, in blue ink (I know, I'm that old, and my parents didn't buy us one of those giant word processors that some of you had then.)I wrote about how the single bathroom at our house, shared at the time by two teens and two adults, was my sanctuary. After a long and arduous day carting a 20 pound back pack up and down the high school halls, studying for pig anatomy tests, preparing presentations on the aorta (which I pronounced ahhhh-orta?)and conjugating Spanish verbs, I returned home and made a bee line for the bathroom. There, I would shed the angstful worries of a teen's day, load the tub with hot water, sprinkle in some Calgon, light a candle and read until my fingers and toes wrinkled into prunes.

My parents' bathroom, like all other parts of their house, is tiny. As an adult, the sink rises only to my upper thigh. You are really practicing your squats when you sit on the toilet which feels as though it was made for a child. When I started dating Andy, Mom and Dad bought a fancy, bendy shower head so the spray hit his head and not his chest. Everywhere you go in my parents' house, you can hear someone else doing something else. Like, when I was in my room in the morning, I could hear my Dad stirring sugar into his coffee, then slurping it to taste. (The beginning of my misophonia problems...)We all played different music on our boom boxes and would yell at the others to turn down their tunes in favor of ours. The so-called "little room" in the house is just big enough for a chair and we all fought for time in the little room, even though it had no door, because no one else could go in there with us.

As a teen in my parents' home, whispers sounded like shouting, foot steps like thunder, walls closed in on me and I often felt as though I was Alice who had taken a pill and fallen down a hole. Before I knew it, I was ten feet tall and everything else was teeny tiny.

Yet, while the house is small, it is sparkling clean. One really, truly can eat off of the floor at my parents' house. Even when we were kids, my mom dedicated hours to cleaning, finding her peace of mind in the hum of the Electrolux. As a teen, I took comfort in the combination scent of bleach and bath salt and the way that the water flowing blocked the rest of the sounds of a full house. I was not the only one who took refuge in the tub. Both my mom and my brother took to the tile-walled room to soak and relax, finding quiet in a few uninterrupted moments.

Except, we all could pick the lock. And there was only one toilet in the house and one place to brush one's teeth or comb one's hair. People had places to go, people to see, glasses of cold water to throw over the shower curtain onto the naked bather reading a book, or in my Mom's case, smoking a cigarette. Plus, even though it was suffocating at times, we all were so used to being together, it felt odd to be alone. So, when my Mom was in the tub, she'd close the curtain, and like confession, my brother and I would squish ourselves, cross legged, between the tub and the wall, stare at the curtain and tell Mom about our days, share our worries or ask her to name a noun, adverb or verb ending in -ing to complete the funniest Mad Lib story of all time. I grew accustomed to leaving the door open when using the bathroom, straining my head around the wall blocking one's body from view, to shout out whatever story I'd been sharing and just couldn't wait to finish.

This was my normal and as many of you know, my normal is of a different variety. Ask my college friends and roommates who had to get used to me walking around naked, taking a bath in the shared bathroom, (they threw grapes at me from the other side of the door) or asking if they wanted to continue a conversation while I peed. Needless to say, being out of the Goshen Tiny Home, and co-habitating with non-family took some time to adjust to. The bathroom is an intimate space and sharing that space with others means you get to know personal things about them. Like whether they practice good hygiene. Like whether they leave toothpaste or hairs in the sink, or whether or not they can plunge a toilet.

Now, Andy doesn't remember the topic of his college entrance essays but he is pretty sure it was not about the bathroom. However, in the 15 years that I have shared a home, and a bathroom, with this man, I am most certain that it, too, is his sanctuary. Yet, unlike my family, Andy is not loading the bathtub with Calgon and reading a book to quiet his mind. He NEVER EVER invites others to join him in his bathroom time, say to partake in Mad Libs or a confessional-like conversation. After most outings together, after every arrival home from work, or on a Saturday morning when I go for a run and he is alone with the girls, Andy bee lines to the bathroom, shuts the door, locks it, and doesn't come out- for a very long time. When we were first living together, I'd try to follow him into the bathroom, or talk to him through the door, but I learned quickly that was frowned upon. Knowing what I'm doing in the bathroom, but not knowing what he was doing, seemed a bit of a mystery to me. Because I am the prying-type, I'd ask him what he was doing and I'd get no reply. I've learned over time that, with Andy, "What happens in the Bathroom, Stays in the Bathroom." I am most certain that, like my 16 year old self, Andy feels, as the only man in the house, the only person with any desire for privacy in our house, that he, too is Alice who has taken a pill, fallen down a hole, and is ten feet tall in a tiny, unfamiliar world. Ironically, the only space in the house in which he doesn't feel suffocated by demanding, loud women, is the smallest room of all.

Luckily, we have two bathrooms, so Andy can spend all day in one bathroom, while the three women of the house can enjoy our bathroom rituals in our own time and in our own space. And yes, I miss him while he is away- in the bathroom- but I respect his need for alone time. And yes, despite my efforts to bathe in peace nowadays, my bathroom door is always unlocked and open for little visitors. And yes, when I am home, I always squish my body between the shower curtain and the wall to catch up with my mom while she takes a bath.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Faith and Prayer

I'm not a God person or a Jesus person. I don't go to church. I don't pray. I don't find solace in a higher power or through the act of prayer. I've never felt that good things come from "leaving it in God's hands" or by requesting prayer warriors join me in sending good thoughts into the universe. It's not for lack of trying. As a kid, I went to church every week with my mom. I baptized the kids. I've read Bible verses and listened to others share their opinion on faith. I've knelt on the ground and tried to ask God for forgiveness and for hope. Unlike others, whom I have envied, God has not spoken to me. I have found no value in prayer. It has brought me no comfort. I would prefer to meditate, write, or talk things through with a friend. Rather than ask others to pray, I prefer to ask for help, to ask someone to listen, or to bear witness.

Like I said, this is not for lack of trying. I've wanted to find faith and I've wanted to be comforted. I have anxiety in general and, in particular, about death, so knowing I am going to be cradled in God's arms and enter the pearly gates sounds great! Finding strength in a prayer circle- sign me up! Except, we can't be who we are not, and so, I have accepted me for me and I have come to terms with the fact that organized religion and prayer is not for me.

Until today. Today, I started to pray.

Over the summer, I made a comment to a very wise woman (you know who you are; I'll keep your identity secret here since you are an introvert) about my annoyance with prayer warrior comments. She reminded me why people pray. She reminded me that anyone can pray, no matter your race, or religion or socio-economic status. She reminded me that when your cup is drained, and your turned out pockets turn up nothing, and your heart is broken you can still have hope and that hope can come in the form of prayer.

I woke up this morning and I prayed. Well, first I cried- a ton. And I turned to my community for support and to listen and to be heard. But, I also prayed. I pray for peace and I pray for love and I pray that dark days are not ahead. I pray that this wake up call mobilizes us to act and do so with vigor and with passion and intent. I ask all of you prayer warriors to get on your knees and do all you can to find it within your (bleeding liberal or otherwise) heart to forgive those who feel so angry and alone and alienated that they chose a candidate who openly hates others, a candidate who promised a wall to keep out those who look to our country for freedom and hope just as our families once did, a candidate who promotes violence against women; a candidate who intimidates and bullies; a candidate who promises things that I fear he might deliver. Today, my cup feels drained and I look for hope and so I pray. Perhaps this challenging (I really mean terrible) turn of events is the catalyst I needed in order to see that my faith is right in front of me.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Cure for a Neurotic Person: Children

I have a rigid personality. This fact is not new to me. I like things to go as planned. I do not like change. I am steel. I am ceramic. It all started in fifth grade when family friends asked me to go away with them for a week's vacation. I missed school and returned to find that the desks had been reconfigured. When I walked in, my little flip top desk had been moved across the room from where I left it, positioned in a pod with three different classmates. While there were only about sixteen students in the class, and my previous podmates were scattered just feet away from me, I felt lonely and afraid. I'd come to trust seeing their faces each day and took comfort in the routine of working alongside these three particular students. I had butterflies in my stomach and choked back tears that morning until recess. I pulled my Juicy Juice pouch and butterscotch Fruit Roll Up from my lunch bag and I will never, ever forget how it tasted and how I threw it, limply and unwanted, into the metal trash basket after my teacher refused to switch all of the seats back to their previous configuration. At the time, I did not see my request as ridiculous and, remember, this was the 80's. My teacher did not kneel down at my level, put her hand comfortingly on my shoulder, and share that she understood how I was feeling but rules are rules and, in time, I'd learn that my three new pod mates were just as fun and nice as the old ones. She didn't send a note home to my mom about how I'd had a hard day and cried quietly to myself for 8 hours. She just said no and to stop being a baby and to go out to recess.

As you can see, I've never recovered from that fifth grade moment and go back to it regularly when I consider my general inflexibility and anxiety. I feel most comfortable, and comforted, when I know what to expect. If only that silly teacher had told me before my vacation that my pod was going to be switched, I could have returned prepared! I likely would have imagined the pod configuration in my head, planned small talk with my podmates, ("Oh, what kind of Little Debbie did you bring today? I brought Star Crunch!"), considered the way the light would fall upon my desk during reading circles, and planned how many steps it would take to get to the rug for story time. Sure, make fun of me. There are so many super people out there who agree with me:

"Organize. Don't agonize."-Nancy Pelosi

“I believe luck is preparation meeting opportunity. If you hadn’t been prepared when the opportunity came along, you wouldn’t have been lucky.” -Oprah Winfrey

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” -Benjamin Franklin

“I will prepare and some day my chance will come.” ― Abraham Lincoln

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” ― Benjamin Franklin

That's it, Ben Franklin, you summed it up for me. Lack of preparation is failure and I do not want to fail. In addition to being rigid I am also competitive. No, not like star athlete, valedictorian competitive, but like intramural Dodgeball champ, family reunion balloon toss winner, finish 3rd in a road race of 7 people competitive. Whatever task is at hand for me to accomplish, I want to do it as best as I possibly can and if I end up on the top, I feel pretty good about it.

So, thanks to these awesome personality traits, my feathers get ruffled all of the time. If I have plans to hang out with a friend and the friend bails at the last minute, I get frazzled. If I want to go for a hike and it rains, I get upset. Need to send off an email and the internet goes down- watch out. Running a race with me and you fall into my pace group? I'm not going to say that I may not elbow you or spit in your general direction.

It's at about this point in time when you are wondering how someone so neurotic is surviving parenthood. Being a mom or dad is the antithesis of rigidity, organization, planning and perfection. My blood pressure sky rockets on the days when I get to work and then get the "your kid just puked in her lap" call. I have cried when all I want is a date night and the sitter cancels and all I get is the honor of cleaning a turd out of the bath tub.

Anyone who is a parent knows that you lose control as soon as you conceive and definitely as soon as your bundle arrives to your arms and care. I've been a mom now for ten years and I'm not going to lie. Every day is an upward battle; a battle to let go of expectations, competition, control, anger, desperation, resentment, fear, loathing, exasperation and instead embrace exhaustion, patience, flexibility, acceptance, kindness, love and hope. Now, I'm not a God person but I do believe that the universe speaks to us if we choose to listen.

The universe spoke to me 10 years ago on a cold, Upstate October night. The universe gave me a gift. The universe stopped me in my neurotic tracks. I'm not sure I understood the full magnitude at the time but, in the years to come, I learned that the universe saved me. The universe gave me Caroline.

Who would I be if I was not Caroline's mom? I don't think about this too often because I'm too busy being Caroline's mom (and let's not forget Char's too). It scares me to think about me being the mom of someone else. Would I be the mom, standing on the sidelines yelling to my kid about making the winning game goal? Would I be the mom insisting my daughter wear a matching hair ribbon with her outfit for picture day? Would I be the mom hyper tuned in to the friend dynamics in her daughter's classroom? Would I be the mom who poured over homework and pounded spelling words into her kid's brain to change last week's 90% to a 102%? Would I be forcing her to engage in bazillions of after school activities? I'm not saying that partaking in any of this is bad necessarily, but my rigidity, competitiveness and anxiety could easily make me an over-the-top mom.

Being Caroline's mom means putting most of that behavior aside. I've never stressed over her getting a 100% on a spelling test. I could give a shit about the standardized state tests as long as she isn't nervous about taking them. I know she isn't the most popular girl in class and she doesn't get invited to every birthday party. She's never scored the winning goal and she isn't a musical protégé. She's not climbing mountains. At least not physical ones.

I watch Caroline climb mountains every day and, over the last ten years, I've watched her blossom into her own unique and special person. Sure, when she was younger, I felt sad because she wasn't advancing at the same rate as other kids and I felt isolated because our daily challenges were different than the daily challenges of our peer parents and their children. Caroline reminds me every day that we may not get what we planned for and that we can't control everything in our lives. She reminds me that there's more to being a kid than wearing cute matching outfits, having a gaggle of girlfriends and being the best over others. Caroline reminds me not to be competitive but instead to just be.

I can't be rigid with Caroline. I have to be flexible, pliable and strong. I can 't be steel. I am her graphene.Every day with Caroline is a new configuration of desk pods and I have learned to greet each configuration with patience and understanding and I refuse to let a change of plans ruin my butterscotch fruit snack. So Ben, Oprah, Abe, and Nancy, meet Gilda, Tori, Yvonne and Metropilitan Nikolaos:

“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the movement and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.” –Gilda Radner

Some of the most wonderful people are those who don't fit into boxes." -Tori Amos

“Often people ask, "How can you say you're blessed to have a son with Down syndrome?" My outlook on life has forever changed. I see my own challenges differently. He's always showing me that life is so much bigger than self.” ― Yvonne Pierre, The Day My Soul Cried: A Memoir

“Each child with special needs such as this does not come into the world in order to make our lives difficult and make us suffer. They each come into this world for a reason and have their secret inner voice. It remains to us to offer our love; to 'bear one another's burdens'; to experience a collective humbling — to realize, that is, that we are not as powerful and important as we think; and to try to lighten that person's burden and understand their language. These children are better at speaking the language of God.” ― Metropolitan Nikolaos of MesogaiaM

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Our Teen Marriage

Tomorrow is our 12th anniversary but we have been together since September 2011. If you do the math, our relationship is 15 years old. That's right, our relationship is a teenager. We've passed the cute goo goo gah gah of infancy. Our baby marriage shit its pants over and over and we've had to clean up its explosive blow outs. Our infant relationship was needy and we were very dependent on the other. Back then we always had to be held and we co-slept. Our baby relationship needed the bottle as much as the breast and sucked its thumb for comfort. The first stage of our relationship was all about the basics and immediacy and survival.

We fell and picked ourselves up as relationship toddlers. This couple has thrown themselves on the floor and tantrummed like preschoolers. We've had many growing pains. We've grown and stretched and grown some more. Somewhere around 2010, the relationship lost its chubby baby fat. We learned the A,B, C's and 1,2,3's of marriage. We learned to read one another. We gained more independence and could go for longer periods of time apart without missing the other so much. Our school-aged marriage learned something new every day and it seemed like every day required something else for us to learn. We mastered the relationship building blocks needed for future marital success. All of our energy was spent on building the marriage ,and the family, and we went to bed exhausted and often dirty because we forgot to take care of ourselves or it didn't seem to matter as much at that time.

Then, we became pre-teens and we felt ugly and awkward. Things changed so fast while nothing changed fast enough. The past was forever ago and the future couldn't come soon enough. Our relationship's voice got deeper and the shape of our relationship changed, and changed, and changed again. We'd go to bed thinking one thing about us and wake up thinking the exact opposite. We realized there were people that now expected things from this relationship. We knew this marriage was about more than just us. We had a purpose. Our marriage wasn't just play anymore and the work seemed harder, more complex and at times, too complicated or overwhelming.

Now, as we honor the teen years, we feel more assured in our relationship. We don't feel pressured by peers whose relationships glow and sparkle on social media, because we know better. We know who we are and we are true to it. We celebrate our unique relationship. Like most teens, this relationship needs time alone. Away from family. Away from kids. Sometimes, we just want time alone from each other. Our relationship is excited and it's scared. We love watching our children grow into themselves and we are sad that they have grown so fast. We are not new parents. This relationship is not new. This relationship can get zitty and its emotions are like a roller coaster. "I hate you. I love you. I hate that I love you." This relationship gets depressed and isn't always sure why. Sometimes this marriage feels like a cloud and sometimes this marriage feels like we're walking on a cloud. This marriage is combative and argumentative and sometimes rebellious-"I will not empty the trash today even though I know he hates that." "I'm going to buy that shirt and not even hide it for a week before I wear it!"

This relationship is no longer fresh and soft and new. It is hardening and maturing and solidifying. We're not cute but there's something powerful in how we have grown. How much stronger we are; more confident and aware. The shape and outline of this marriage show it is aging. We're edgy and liberated and starting to tune into the world around us not just to our own little life bubble. At this stage of our relationship we have wisdom to share, experience under our belts, and we can fall fast asleep without the other at our side. We have no issue sleeping alone in our big girl/big boy bed -or alone on the couch. This couple is not afraid of the dark.

What will the next five years bring to us, I wonder. My twenties were a shambles. The decade of highs and lows and self-loathing and second guessing. I'm assuming that our marriage may feel similarly, mostly because at year 20 of this relationship, we will be the parents of one 15 and one 11 year old girl. I'm pretty certain most parents experience a great deal of self loathing and doubt while parenting teens. Yet, our 20th year of love will likely also be monumental. For all of the hardship I experienced in my twenties, I also found joy- joy in finding a person to spend my life with, joy in giving life to two children, and joy in being a mother and wife. I didn't realize it at the time, but when I was twenty, the world was my oyster and I had my whole life ahead of me. What had come before was merely the brief beginning of a long, wonderful, hard, challenging, exhilarating journey. Will our twenty-something relationship look back and see that our past two decades together were just a blip in time, the foundation for adventures and better days ahead? I suppose only time will tell.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

To Have and To Hold and to Lose and To Find

I move stuff around our house all of the time. I like to organize and one of my mantras is, "There's a place for everything when everything is in its place." Often, that place, however, is not my place. I very much dislike clutter and being surrounded by stuff stresses me out. A fun Friday night for me is cleaning the house and, when I really need to decompress, I grab a trash bag and fill it to the brim. I am the only person in my house like this.

Caroline is just plain messy while Charlotte and Andy are borderline hoarders. Anything that touches their fingertips never leaves their possession and they have a magician-esque manner of acquiring objects. "Oh, look what I just pulled out of this my black hat! (Charlotte owns a magician hat, by the way) Yes, it's 17 plastic toys from McDonald's Happy Meals!" "Oh, what's that behind your ear? A lead soldier! Fancy finding that here!"

I'm not sure if I'm just that unobservant or if I am in denial, but stuff in our house accumulates like wet gremlins. I have to work my very own magic to get anything out of the house without Charlotte and Andy seeing, therefore, I spend a lot of time putting stuff into containers and bins in hopes that, if the junk is tucked away, at least is it out of sight and maybe out of mind. Sadly, there just aren't enough containers, or should I say, large enough containers, to fit all of the junk my family has gathered so Andy and Charlotte are now sharing our spare bedroom/office. Like dealing with hazardous materials, it is an enter at your own risk space and one that I just try to pass by as quickly as possible. My only purpose for that room is to take junk that is scattered throughout the house and deposit it there. Chances are, if one of my hoarders is looking for a coveted item, it can be found in the junk room.

And, it seems as though one of my family members is always looking for something. The quest for the missing X, Y or Z generally takes place right before bed (either for them or me), before catching the school bus, prior to catching a flight, when I am on my way out the door, or am on the telephone. The person missing the X, Y, or Z is always very upset, very pushy, and always blaming me for misplacing the missing "I can't live without" item. Now, I own up to the fact that 50% of the time, it's likely that I did see X under the couch, Y in my car, or Z in the mudroom and I threw it in the trash, packed it in a box, or threw it in the hazardous waste room. However, 50% of the time, I have never even seen the item nor had anything to do with its moving from one location (say, under a bed) to another location (like inside one's boot). Yet for some reason, when it comes to missing objects, it is apparently my responsibility to recover the suddenly precious thing. Like right this second. Like stop everything that you are doing because it does not matter and I'm going to stand here and ask you over and over again until you find that small yellow piece of paper that had a name on it and a date and I won't do anything if you don't find it for me. Right now.

I have a method for managing these frequently occurring situations. To start, I stare blankly at the person yelling at me. Next, I announce I've never seen the item. Then, I ask whether the person missing the item has looked for the item. Ha! That gets 'em every time. Then, the person yells at me again. There's usually some arms flying around and accusatory words flung in my direction. This is when I must pull out the threat, "If I look for X, Y, Z and I find it, you're...."

So, one of two things happens at this point in time. If the person missing the item is one of the kids, I end up looking for the item, which generally involves me going into one of their rooms and picking the item up off of the floor. The alternative is that they get distracted and forget they are missing the item and we are all happy- at least for the time being. Now, if Andy is missing something, I either turn my head in a direction and spot the item or I ignore him for a long time because I'm rubber and he's glue. Eventually, his mantantrum settles down and he stops ranting at me because, lo and behold, he has found whatever item he was looking for and has neglected to tell me.

It's been a particularly rough few weeks for Andy in the missing item realm. I've gotten an 11:30 pm phone call from him, from a rest stop outside of Buffalo, asking me to search the house for his debit card. He insisted I stop everything to find a set of car keys despite the fact that I had an extra set in my hands. That piece of paper with the name and address on it? Underneath the lap top. This is the cycle of life in our house. Things are lost. Then, they are found.

Today, I talked to Andy around lunchtime. If we can, we try to touch base during the day, mostly so Andy can remind me where he is or where he is going. (I lose track of Andy's whereabouts like he loses track of stuff.) Today, in closing the conversation, Andy asked me to look for something he's misplaced. I knew something was wrong because he didn't blame me for moving the item and that was a first. He told me he'd spent 45 minutes this morning looking for his wedding ring and he asked me to look for it when I got home this evening. He talked through retracing his steps and asked me to look where he'd already looked. He told me he called a place he'd had a meeting yesterday hoping it'd turn up there but no such luck.

So, tonight, after work, after feeding the pets, and making dinner, and doing the dishes, and helping the girls with their homework, and their bath, and reading them stories, Charlotte and I went on a mission to find the ring. But, this time, it didn't take a simple gesture of walking from one room to another to find the ring. There was no one yelling at me and nobody to to threaten because Andy was not home to look for his own wedding ring. After about 20 minutes, it was past bedtime and we gave up.

I shouldn't read into it but reading into things is what I do best. Andy loses everything so why is it bothering me so much that he lost his wedding ring? The ring that he picked from a gold souk in the United Arab Emirates. The ring that inspired me to get the same ring for myself because I decided our rings should match and this ring looked so perfect on his finger. The ring that we bought before he'd formally proposed to me because we saw the perfect wedding bands and knew we had to sieze the moment. The ring I had inscribed for our 10th anniversary that reads on the inside, My Rock". The ring that symbolizes 'til death do us part, and we're in this together, and nothing compares to you.

I think it bothers me because I often feel that, since that day in the souk, far away from home, we have built a home together and despite growing and changing, we have grown and changed together and for the other. But, sometimes, we are just too busy for one another, so focused on who we need to be for everyone else, that we forget who we need to be for each other and sometimes, that gold band is the only reminder in my day to keep Andy on my mind. Without that ring on his finger, when he's at a rest stop in Buffalo at 11:30 at night, at a county meeting, or a baord meeting, or bathing the girls while it's my turn to be at work, will he remember to think of me? Where do I fit in his day if not resting constantly on his finger?

Maybe I'm reading into it too much. Maybe it's not a symbol of how fragile marriage can be. Maybe it just means he's a shit head and loses stuff all of the time.

With our 12th wedding anniversary just three days away, I can only hope that, like all other things that he loses, his wedding band will just turn up, and he'll neglect to tell me, and I'll see it on his finger again.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Kids in Tow

We have done a ton of traveling since the girls were born. Just four short weeks after Caroline's birth, we traveled to Puerto Rico to attend my best friend's wedding. I'm comfortable with being on the go- all of the time- and with kids in tow. Traveling, and being out in public, with kids, is a learned skill and, in my opinion, is a true art form.

When the kiddos are itty bitty, you have to learn how to cart all of the crap with you and be able to distinguish between the crap you really need on the road and what crap should stay at home. Like car seats. Yes, it is worth sticking your body in the car, in the airport parking garage, in the dark at 5 am, and wrestling with the belts and buckles to extricate the ginormous car seat and then clunkily balance it on your luggage while you hussle to the check-in. (Yes, you have earned the right to pay the extra $3/day to park in the garage and not in long term.) Get this, nobody will tell your baby if you use disposable diapers for your overnight trip in a hotel so that you don't have to carry around poopy/pissy pants in a wet sack for 48 hours. Yep, you can warm up your baby's bottle without that fancy-pants bottle warmer Aunt Patty got you from your registry. Ask your Mom, she'll show you how. Same goes for the wipe warmer. Baby will still coo and smile when you change her even if you aren't removing poo from her fanny with a perfect temp wipe. (It's not a spa people, it's a diaper change. Get 'er done.)That magic binky that seems to be the only DAMN THING IN THE ENTIRE WORLD THAT GETS YOUR KID TO SLEEP? Bring two. Blankie? Put it in that secret fanny pack, you know that one you have under your shirt, with your passport? That shit's sacred.

Traveling with kids is stressful and physically challenging. I don't think I've sweat more in my life than I have traveling with my children. Carting the stuff, carting the kids, getting up and down, rocking, running, assembling and unasembling, packing, unpacking, re-packing: it all requires quick thinking and fast moving. My mom, who only took me out in public once a week, to church, just doesn't understand why I go through the pain and stress over and over again. Unlike my mom, who decided to hibernate for 15 years, I was determined that being a parent wasn't going to stop me from having fun and being social. I travel with the kids because I don't want to miss out. As a big time extrovert, it's hard for me not to take part in a good wedding, friend gathering, cousing bonding vacation or bite out after a long week at work. Since child care is hard to find, and is expensive, and because I spend so much time away from the girls already, I try to "kill two birds with one stone" and share, rather than separate, our experiences.

And share experiences, indeed, we have. Like standing in a hallway, behind a closed door during a wedding, because the girls are whining and crying and we don't want to disturb the ceremony. Like sitting in a hotel room while everyone is enjoying the wedding reception because you thought she'd fall asleep in the stroller and you could tuck her in a corner so you could have a drink and cake, but instead she melted down and you are alone in your room crying and eating a left over happy meal she didn't eat for lunch. Like walking around a hotel parking lot from 6-9 am because your kid gets up before everyone else and then, when the rest of your group gets up to eat breakfast, you sit in your hotel room, with the curtain drawn, while your kid takes her mid-morning nap.

Instead of bringing me into the social action that I so crave, having my kids in tow at public events and social functions has too often isolated me from others. Countless times I have hoped and dreamed and anticipated seeing an old friend or family member, to end the event having hugged the friend/family member hello and good bye and not exchanged any words and merely mouthed "sorry" and pointed downward while the toddler dragged me to a location as far away possible from any other adult. I have been so close, to social fun, yet so far from it, all at the same time.

Today, I was really excited to catch up with a friend after we both had a hectic week. We decided we would get our girls together and do a little shopping at an outdoor flea market. The kids could be loud, play with eachother and we could gab while strolling behind them. Our first hour was spent eating lunch- cutting up food, re-rodering food after the first food served was deemed unacceptable, picking up spilled drinks and being talked over- and over -and over. Thirty minutes of the second hour was spent chasing the kids to each flea market table and managing the multitude of junk purchase demands. The following twenty minutes we divded and conquered. She took one of my kids, with hers, to do more junk purchasing, while I stood outside a toilet stall at a coffee shop so one of my kids could poop. I'm pretty sure that 2/3 of my outdide-the-home life since kids has been spent either standing outside of, or facing a corner/wall (I am afraid to be alone but don't look at me!) in toilet stall.

"Oh, you went to the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, Canada? Yes, yes, me, as well. I agree, their ornithology collection is equisite! And might I add that their restroom facilities are sparkling!"

You say you are looking for a great place to go on vacation? Might I suggest the Duluth, Minesota area? Their parks are educational and fun and you could sit on the floor of their restrooms! You won't even feel like you need to hot wash your kids when they crawl under the bathroom stall when they forget how to unlock the door!

Oh, you were at the Cinderella ballet at The Albany Egg? We were, too! Why didn't I see you? Oh, that's right! We spent 30 of the 50 minute performance in the bathroom. Yes, the kids found the echo in the bathroom more entertaining than the ballerinas! Oh, you say the performance can be streamed on YouTube? Great news. Glad we spent $50 on those tickets.

As time goes on, and the girls become more independent, we have found that it's getting easier. We are definitely carrying less stuff around with us. We're down to a booster seat and we usually find the nearest Wal-Mart and pick up certain travel necessities once we arrive at our destination. Smart phones have helped us communicate, and catch up, with our loved ones so that, in the event we are like ships passing in the night at a reunion or wedding, we still know what they had for dinner last Tuesday, how much they hate Hilary Clinton or Donald Trump, and what their kids wore on the first day of school. And that play date with my friend today? For the last hour, the girls played together, wihout fighting, and we talked! About, like three things- from start to finish! And nobody had to poop.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Don't Be Mad at the Helping

I'm pretty sure Andy came out of the womb helping people. I can see him now, in the hospital nursery, crying as loudly as his little baby lungs could cry, in order to get the nurses attention. Not for himself, of course, but because the baby next to him needed his diaper changed. Service might as well be Andy's middle name and his desire to help others is one of his truest intrinsic motivators. Andy remembers being a kid and his mom instilling good deeds into all that he did- hold doors for others, shovel sidewalks, help carry heavy loads. He can't recall a time when it wasn't important to him to watch out for those around him and he can't tell you the moment when he decided that service mattered. As he tells me, "it's the right thing to do."

In highschool, when most teens are spending their energy on figuring themselves out, hiding from adults, and feeling dark, gloomy and zitty, Andy was out in his community, building bird houses, cleaning parks, and volunteering at a raptor center. Sure, he was zitty and doing regular teen things, yet he never lost interest in caring about others- a great accomplishment at a time when kids can hardly think about much more than caring about themselves.

His interest in community accelerated when he moved to our small upstate town. As a matter of fact, his mom has told me that she thinks Andy gravitated to upstate for its small town lifestyle and the ability for him to make an impact on the place he calls home. As a graduate student, Andy was always signing up for extra volunteer assignments, staying behind, after most others had left, to make sure everything was cleaned up and the last box packed away. He volunteered to help an retired professor set up his computer and offered to do errands for him or just spend time listening to his elderly friend's life stories. When he got his first post grad job, it wasn't long before he was joining committees and planning community events, like our annual Winter Carnival. He spent countless hours, and shed lots of sweat, ensuring these community activities went off without a hitch and everyone had a good time. To Andy, the end goal wasn't always about how much money he made, or the connections he established. It was about how much of a difference he could make, or even more simply: it was about helping others when help was needed.

Helping others may not buy you yachts and fancy houses but it does get you some recognition. Andy's got badges and sashes and framed certificates and other accolades to commemorate his dedication to service. He's been called a super hero and has developed a sort of infamy in our small town. When I first heard him called a supero hero, I laughed. I also slammed my fork and knife on the table and started chanting his name, but we were at a restaurant and I was drunk. Now, many years later, I actually visualize Andy wearing a suit (I know, think Mr. Incredible when he was out of shape) underneath his button up and khakis and being ready, at a moment's notice, to help someone in need. Kittten stuck in a tree? There's Andy to save Mr. Meows and return him back to little Suzy and Bobby. Mrs. Johnson's paper bag full of food rips open as she tries to load her groceries into the minivan? Never fear. Andy is here with a reusable tote for Mrs. Joshnson to use- and he's so good at getting under all the cars to gather the cans of corn and jars of pickles that rolled away. The Smiths tire goes flat in a big thunderstorm and they have no cell service or AAA? No worries, Handy Andy to the rescue. He uses his membership to call AAA, fashions a giant umbrella out of a tarp in the back of his truck so they don't get wet walking from their car to his, books them a hotel in town-on him- and runs up his data plan so Little Jimmy can use his phone to watch Netflix on the way there. All the upstate citizens know they are in good hands since Andy is always nearby. It's a bird! It's a plane! No, it's Andy the Eagle Scout. On any given month, on any given night, Andy can be found volunteering. He's helping others, serving the community, and making a difference.

And I think it's so f^&king annoying.

I'm not a bad person. I like to help people, too. It was my idea to start a Little Free Library! I was on the Diversity Day Committee in highschool. I donate clothes to charity. I help little old ladies, and kitties stuck in trees. I hold doors open. Service and community are important to me but so are my kids and a clean house and my damn sanity. So, while Super Andy is out leaping tall buildings in a single bound, and getting certificates for it, I'm folding my 10,097th pair of underpants and re-wiping the tooth paste blobs from the sink. Maybe I wanted to be the adult chaperone on the service week trip to the DR but Andy had 5 evening meetings that week and I needed to be home for the girls. I like to help others, but at this point in my life, I feel more like a sulky teenager who can't figure out how to take care of myself. I can't figure out how to fit it all in.

Sometimes I worry that if it Mr. Meows was our kitten, Andy would not rescue him from the tree. I usually carry in my own groceries. And you know what, there is a true story about me, Andy's mom and the girls (infant and toddler) trapped on a back road with a broke down car and Andy leaving us there to go to a baseball game. Just this week, Andy disappeared from our house to help a family whose car had broken down. When he returned home, I freaked on him, after panicking about his whereabouts (one minute he was in the house, waiting for Char to put her PJ's on, and the next minute his car is gone and he's not answering his phone.) He was very direct with me and not interested in an argument. He said, "If it were you and the girls stranded, I'd have wanted someone to do the same for you." I told him to go fu$k himself and stormed away but what I really wanted was to remind him of was the fact that it was true-I would want someone to do this for me, but all those years ago, why hadn't he? I can't help but feel like the girls and I don't get to see Super Andy. By the time he gets home from a day of service, he's used up all of his super powers and he has little energy for rescuing me from piles of laundry. He's used up all his good listening skills, polite patience, and attentiveness on others, and has little tolerance and time for the girls whiny woes. Andy gives so much of himself to others that I get angry and hurt when it doesn't feel like he has much left to give to us.

The night that Andy left to help the stranded family, Charlotte and I sat in her bedroom, waiting for his return. She was anxious because Daddy reads to her every night that he is home and she can't fall asleep without a Daddy story and back rub. She asked over and over where he went and when he'd be home. I was tired. I was mad. I was frantic and nervous. I was in between swears and tears. When he finally answered my call and told me where he was, I shared with her that he left to help a family. I told her I didn't know when he'd be home and I was sorry and I was mad at him for letting her down. I asked if I could fill in for him and I rubbed her back and then leaned over to give her a kiss goodnight. She wrapped her arms around me and pulled my face to hers. "Momma," she whispered, "don't be mad about the helping. Be mad about the not calling."

She's right. It took a six year old, someone who is also greatly impacted by Andy's passion for service, to remind me that I can't get mad at the people Andy is helping nor can I be mad at Andy for wanting to help others. At a time when many would look the other way when someone is in need, Andy reminds me that stepping up, and going the extra mile for others, is just as important as taking care of ourselves. Andy's good example will instill the same value in our girls as his parents instilled in him. And I bet you, after reading this, Andy will never, ever, leave me and the girls stranded on the side of the road again.