January 2014 archive

Insisting on Happiness, Even in January

“Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it. You must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it.” 

– Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love

Happiness is hard to come by these days, isn’t it?  Here in the Midwest and across much of the United States we’re facing the worst winter in a century.  Our ground has been covered in snow for well over a month now and with the Chicago area expecting even more snow this weekend, I believe it will be quite some time before we see any sort of green.  
The skies above are gray and the ground below is white.   The days are short, and dark. My lips are chapped and my skin is dry.  My emotional palette is desperately in need of some more vibrant hues to lighten my mood right now.
Adding insult to injury is a giant lack of routine.  We’re now squarely four to five weeks into the new year, yet I feel like I haven’t caught any sort of traction.   With a Polar Vortex two times over and resulting school cancellations, this month has felt like one big scramble to schedule and reschedule meetings, travels, appointments and activities.
As for any sort of New Years plan for self-improvement, just forget about it.  While I didn’t formally commit to a New Year resolution, I had a few things I had hoped to up my game on this year, physically, emotionally and organizationally.
So as this first month of 2014 comes to a close, I’m feeling a bit blah.  Actually a lot blah!  But before I get too carried away in my blah and one negative thought leads to another, I need to stop myself and adhere to one of my favorite quotes and listed at the top of this post.  I need to insist on happiness.
Knowing that one of the things that’s bugging me the most is the feeling that I didn’t accomplish anything in January, I’m making myself stop and take note of the past thirty-one days so I can celebrate a bit of productivity in each.  While I spent many of those days feeling sloppy in a big black, puffy parka, I need to prove to myself that I didn’t waste those days.
Highlights of the month include renewing my driver’s license (with a 6-year-old and 3-year-old in tow while I took the written exam), celebrating my son’s 10th birthday with grandparents and adventures around the city including taking he and a friend to see Blue Man Group and a family outing to the Field Museum.  At the same time I celebrated my own birthday and a decade of motherhood.  
Although not as much as I hoped, I did write a bit, submitted a bit and logged a few miles on a treadmill this month.  I’ve helped a friend or two, or three, as they are going through tough times and celebrated with others as they either announced their pregnancies or were showered for a baby about to arrive.  A closet has been cleaned and a donation to Goodwill made.  Our church installed a new pastor, our school committed to a day to raise food allergy awareness, and our neighbors gathered to work in a food pantry.  We participated in a program to acknowledge the program at our hospital that helps bereaved families after a stillbirth or death of an infant.  
I signed each child up for a new round of activities and projects at school.  Each and every one of those events were interrupted and upset the choreography of our calendar when various winter weather hit.  When stuck inside with the kids during cold days we did some creative science experiments and games involving a straw, a cotton ball and painters tape.  And while stuck inside with the kids on cold days, I yelled at them more than I should have and let them watch TV more than they should have.  Either way, we all survived and came out mostly laughing (ok, true confession:  I cried just a little bit when that fourth snow day call came in).

Our house is 94 years old and held up pretty well in the coldest temperatures its ever known.  Our pipes froze, but didn’t burst.  Most importantly, we had shelter and heat. Our car didn’t start one morning, and then it did.  And as long as I’m celebrating achievements, I should take note of the inches upon inches of snow that my husband and I removed from our walks over the past few weeks.
Many of my accomplishments of the past month may seem relatively small.  And some were a bit more involved.  I had a medical scare requiring a biopsy and for those few days while awaiting the results my mind spun as anyone’s would.  When the results came back as benign I steadied myself against the wave of emotion and relief which overtook me while knowing that others were receiving a different phone call.  I was again reminded of this perspective when just a week or so later in the month we spent the day being humbled and grateful at Lurie Children’s Hospital as our daughter had a relatively minor outpatient procedure. 
So what if at the end of this very long and very cold month I didn’t get to that daily plank challenge or completely cleanse myself of caffeine?  My book club finally had a holiday dinner and I saw some of the Oscar-nominated films.  My husband and I binge watched Orange is the New Black, and then peacefully settled into the start of Downton Abbey….oh, and I am hooked on The Bachelor again after a five year hiatus (thanks in part to the Polar Vortex, and thanks in part to Juan Pablo).
Certainly those thirty-one days of January lacked any sort of color or natural hue from the great outdoors, but each and every one of those days was vibrant and rich in its own way.  And whether I spent them wearing lip stick or chap stick, in a pair of snow shoes or slippers, every day of the first month of 2014 was well lived because each of those days was a gift.  Making this list made me appreciate and see light in these gray days.  I needed to know that I used those gifts in ways I didn’t realize.

If you’re feeling down at this time of the year, make a quick mental list of how you spent your January.  Go ahead and let yourself acknowledge the little and mundane right along with the big and fantastic.  Whether you’ve made a major life-changing resolution, or made it through the coldest day in a decade.  You stopped eating sugar, you fed your baby squash for the first time or you simply got those holiday returns back to Old Navy.  Either way, high-five to you!  High-five to us!  We’re doing it!  We’re surviving this winter.

After all, I’m just enormously satisfied that I was able to spend a morning at the DMV, with kids in tow.  And if that’s what it takes to insist on my happiness, so be it.

**Please note that if you are feeling something more severe, you should seek help from a professional.  I don’t want to imply that it is as simple as making a list.**

Playscaping/Escaping on Such a Winter’s Day

I’d never done it before.  In fact, I had no intentions of ever doing it.  And before I tell the story, let me disclaim it all with this photo,

Chicago.  January.  It feels like such a long, long time since this,

…or this,

And at age 6 and 3, my kids desperately need this.  They need to run and play and get fresh air.  And in the Midwest in the winter, that is hard to come by.

And so the story goes.  After a busy morning I decided to treat the kids to Chic-fil-A for lunch.  We have one now.  I’ve never been inside.  I’ve heard nice things from my friends who live in states like Virginia and Kentucky.  So we drove up and the girls spotted an indoor play-area in the restaurant.

“Please Mommy, can we go in there, please?” they begged.

Call it crazy, and I know it is.  But I’ve never let them go to one of those play areas at a restaurant.  It just never became a part of the rhythm of my days with young kids.  They go to the gym childcare playscape and other places, but I’m always sanitizing and triple sanitizing after.  (I know, I’m annoying even myself while typing this.)

In a bit of my defense, my oldest child has food allergies so we haven’t spent a ton of time in restaurants at all.  But especially ones involving young kids and food and play areas because they would have been so dangerous and so off limits that we never even tried.

The closest thing we ever did was to attend a stressful birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese.  At the time I was appalled to see a woman with her head down on the table sleeping, while her kids popped coins into an arcade game.

I admit, I totally judged.  I judged and then vowed to never return.  And to this day have never returned, to Chuck E. Cheese, or any other play area in a restaurant.

So today, sitting in the Chic-fil-A parking lot I made a snap decision and turned around and said “yes!” to the delighted girls in the back seat.  Without their brother’s allergies to worry about and no upcoming vacations to be spoiled by a stomach bug, I took one look at the gray outdoors and surrendered to their plea.

They squealed with delight, hopped out of their carseats and zipped their coats in record time.  “Thank you, thank you, Mommy!” they gushed and I felt good throwing judgement and caution to the wind.  Really good.   After all, this was the right thing to do.  I don’t want my kids growing up overly sheltered or in a bubble.  Yes!  We’d go into the Chic-fil-A, have a nice fried lunch and then play.  It was all so very “everyman” of us.

As we arrived in the sparkling clean restaurant, my mind was eased.  This wasn’t Chuck E. Cheese, this was fresh and nice and bright.

I chatted with the cashier about how the whole process worked and she laughed at my naivety.  I said, “I’m sorry, we’ve never done this.”

“Done what?” she asked.

“This,” I replied, “eaten inside and…..played!”  I mouthed the word as if describing a mythical occurrence….a flying pig, or a rainbow-tailed unicorn.  “plaaaayed”  I repeated.

“Oh”, she said and laughed.

I noticed that they had caffeinated Diet Coke and joked with the cashier about caffeine-free Diet Coke.  I quipped, “What is the point of drinking all those chemicals if you aren’t going to at least get the benefit of the caffeine?”

Ha – ha, ho- ho.  She politely smiled at me.  Oh my sweet Lord above, I saw the expression flash across her face.  The cashier at Chic-fil-A pitied me.

So as the girls shed their coats and hats into my arms and when the tray was too much for me to carry along with their gear, the cashier beckoned her co-worker to help me.  A friendly person emerged from behind the counter to carry the tray.  As the girls raced off towards a seat by the play area, I kind of breathlessly muttered to this kind person carrying my tray “Gosh, this is sooo nice!“.

I literally said that…in a Chic-fil-A.  Holy moly, desperado!!  Perhaps it was the funny polka-dotted cows on the walls, the promise of a Diet Coke or the Southern hospitality, but I had truly and literally fallen under the spell of Chic-fil-A and was downright giddy.

The light seemed to glow brighter and warmer inside that restaurant.  Just like a welcome oasis from the gray, snowy skies outside.  My girls were mannered and eager to please.  Bribed with not being able to play until they finished their meal, my daughters ate their nuggets without complaint and their fruit squeeze too!  I could almost hear the birds chirping in the background.

When it was time to play they raced into the romper room and I sat back, refilled my caffeine source and pulled out my phone.  I thought to myself, “this isn’t so bad.  Maybe I should have been doing this all along.  It turns out that I am the fool!”

My oldest daughter scampered out to tell me that she had made a new friend.  “Great!” I thought justifying the experience, “that’s exactly why this is so wonderful.  We’re expanding our horizons and getting out of our bubble and our community”.  Ok, so it wasn’t exactly a see-the-world experience, but thanks to Chic-fil-A our world wasn’t feeling so small suddenly.  

This was just swell.  In fact, any memory I had of any sort of disagreement with the social political beliefs of the restaurant’s president was all starting to slip far, far away.  Now I understood why friends of mine in other states hosted fundraisers here, and posted photos of the Chic-fil-A Daddy/Daughter Nights and other community events on their Facebook pages.

I scanned that Facebook newsfeed and thought about how those friends of mine in Southern states would laugh at how novel I thought this trip to Chic-fil-A was.  How they’d been doing this for years with their young kids.

I opened email and was even feeling rejuvenated enough to respond to a friend with a witty (…and frankly I thought pretty funny and smart) comparison of the movie Gravity to the TV show The Bachelor when the romper room door opened just long enough for me to recognize a child’s wail.

Sounds like its getting crazy in there.  Poor kid,” I thought to myself, before the acknowledgement set in, “oh sh*t, that’s my kid!”

I hurried in and heard her before I saw her.  Less than five minutes in and she was lost in the primary colored tubes above my head and screaming.  I had to talk her down.  Before I could see her, my six year old was dramatically telling me, “I didn’t do it!  I don’t know what happened.”

I snapped at her, “Lucy, you were supposed to be watching her!”.  Isn’t it always the wrong thing that comes out of our mouths first?  Both as a kid and as a parent.  I felt the eyes of every other parent and babysitter in the restaurant on me.

She replied, “I know, but I made a friend instead!”

I sighed and started trying to coax my sobbing 3-year-old down the tubes all while thinking to myself, “I am not going to climb up in this thing!  Oh come on.  The germs!  I don’t have time to be sick,”

Eventually I found my little Vivi red faced, hair going in every direction and her shirt half off her body, with one arm hanging out.  I grabbed her, hugged her and took her back to the restaurant.  Half-naked.  No shirt, no shoes, no service.  Whatever.  Her shirt was half on.

The other parents asked me if everything was ok and I scolded myself mentally for getting ourselves into this predicament.  One minute everything was going so nicely, the next it was all ab-so-f*ck-ing-lute-ly falling the apart.  Crud!

As Vivi calmed down she explained that her older sister stepped on her shirt and pulled it off then went back in to play.  It wasn’t any other child who had derobed my child, it was my own!

I gathered my things and told the girls we had five more minutes.  Then they collapsed to the ground as I pulled on their snowpants and boots and sweated and cursed inside my head.  And with that, my brief escape was abruptly ended as we sloshed our way back through the gray parking lot and to our car.

As I scolded them to stay close and hold hands, I saw the girls sneak a peak back over their shoulders at the bright restaurant with its colorful tubes and play area.

We may go back to a restaurant playscape….and we may not.  (And it’s quite likely that in those five minutes of escape we caught a germ or two that will wreak havoc on our household for an entire week.  But I’m trying, really trying, not to go there.)

Instead I’m acknowledging that in those five minutes I realized that it doesn’t matter if it’s a Chuck E Cheese or a Chic-fil-A.  I stand corrected. I’m no different than the mom resting her head on the table.  I scanned my phone while my children climbed in and out of tunnels and clobbered each other because they needed to burn off some energy…and I needed to refuel.  This job is exhausting anytime, but especially on cold winter days, and we’re all just doing whatever we can to keep on moving.

Ten at Ten

Celebrating a Decade of Motherhood
My oldest child is about to turn ten years old.  And beyond the feeling that time is flying and the statements about how fast he is growing up, I’m marking the occasion to not only celebrate my son, but to celebrate myself!  I’ve survived, rather I’m surviving, this thing called parenthood.  I’m not the first to say it and won’t be the last, because many of us already know that parenthood really is the hardest job, with the greatest reward.  So at a decade into this role, here’s what I know, the good, the bad and the ugly:
1.  My child has sucked every last ounce of energy, humor, intelligence, and composure out of me at times (actually most of the time), but in return I have been filled up many times over with a love so strong, so fierce and so unconditional that nothing can compare to it. 
2.   I expect the unexpected. Always.  Yet I’m still surprised every time.  As a parent I know that I am always just one stomach virus away from a vacation being rescheduled, or one unlucky fall away from an ER visit derailing our day.  And I also know that even with insurance, the price of an emergency room co-pay is about the same cost as that new pair of snow boots he just outgrew, or a soccer registration fee.
3.    The milestones in the books are amazing, but so are the ones that no one writes about.  Nothing can compare to the moment when I first saw my child’s face, but a close second might be the moment when a few years later that child spontaneously told me that he loves me.  And when I felt butterflies in my stomach as I watched him ride a two-wheeler for the first time, or saw his first real report card, those were big moments too!  Its all so wonderful, and it all just keeps coming.
4.  The three hours between 4:00 and 7:00 pm feel longer than the ten hours it takes to fly across the ocean…sitting in the middle seat of the back row of a plane…right next to the restrooms….and with the seat in front of me reclined onto my lap.  And here’s the kicker, sometimes (ok, often times) I’d rather be on that plane!
5.  Speaking of which, I now know what an amazing sense of imagination I have.  Not only am I able to play doll babies, trains and construction with the best of them, but during that particular 4:00 to 7:00  timeframe I can imagine myself in the most exotic of locations.  In fact, I’ve even looked up flights on the internet and made real calls to the 1-800 number on the direct mail piece and had conversations with actual travels agents!  I’ve heard all about the heated pools and massage packages for a completely fictitious trip that I have no intention of taking…and all while my child hangs on my leg begging for another cracker!
6.  Modesty has been redefined.  As if the process of pregnancy and child birth didn’t do it, then certainly the experience of trying to take a shower or use the restroom with a toddler in the house did.  Having my preschooler see me pump breast milk for his little sister and then remark on which side is “winning in the milk race” was humbling!  As was having my child ask if those were Mommy’s diapers when she found a stash of maxi-pads.  Phoning my husband at work and begging him to come home because I was pregnant and constipated and just needed some time in the bathroom without a toddler was a proud moment.  Oh, and there was the time I was pregnant, nauseous and yakked all over myself…while driving….while my two horrified children shot me bewildered looks from the backseat of the mini-van.  Ok, its time to wrap the modesty topic up before I gross you out any more.  But I know that you know just how many more stories there are to tell on this topic.
7.  There are few things more luxurious than a trip to Costco alone.  Are you kidding me?  Its a land where things are well-organized and neatly-stacked.  The only thing better is being forced to lay down in a soft dentist chair while you get a cavity filled because no one asks you to get up and fetch them a glass of water and you don’t even have to talk to anyone.
8.  Sometimes my voice makes a sound at a particular pitch that I didn’t know was possible before having kids.  And when I say certain phrases, I sound an awfully lot like my mother.  Recognizing this makes me both cringe, and feel tremendous appreciation at the same time.
9.  My children are their own unique people.  As much as I like to control things around here, everything happens on its own time, from when and how they were conceived to when and how they learned to read.  I’m not completely in charge, and neither are they.   There are no followers, and no leaders.  I can guide, nurture, and coach and they can decide, control and take action.  But then we all need to step back and be proud of the unique path where they each land.   
10.  At about 10:00 every night I start to miss them and peak in and if they are sleeping soundly, all of the frustrations of the day slip away.  As I’m filled up with an amazing gratitude, I process all that my children have taught me.   And I realize that a decade in, my children are raising me just as much as I’m raising them.  And we all still have a lot to learn.
Motherhood is this sometimes, but not always…


…sometimes its this…
…or even this…
but in the last decade, I feel that it usually falls somewhere 
smack dab in between the joyful and the chaotic…
…and gratefully so.