Sunday, January 31, 2010

Good-bye, January, or Don't let the door hit you on the way out.

I always hate January, but this one has been a doozy. Most of the time, someone or other has looked like this:

Here I'm plying little sickies with nibbles of toast and sips of water after a particularly sad day in which at one point I stood just watching waves of green puke cascade across the floor like an outbound tide. Part of me was thinking, "Run! Towels!" but another, tireder part was thinking, "Wow, that's really green." (Part A won out after a minute.)

Sickness ensemble:
This week was especially lame. Logan, Levi, and Haley are off-track, but...see above re illness. Also I wrote resumes for hours and hours and hours, begging, pleading, and yes, sometimes snarling at kids to leave me alone. Lame.
The bright spots were moments like this:

The kids worked together to play cards and build marbleworks and conduct magic duels a la Harry Potter. (We are a family who has actual rules regarding which spells are fair game.)

February is my other most-hated month of the year. But I'm sick of being sick, sick of hating winter. I'm all geared up to make some fun.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Food and Clean Clothes

I recently read this blog post in which a seasoned mother of seven divulges the two simple things that will make your life as a mother and homemaker better this year:

As I lay on the sofa, lamenting telephonically to my friend about my seriously miserable condition and the mountains of duties beckoning to -- no, hurling themselves at -- me -- especially the baby and my phenomenally, epically, heroically messy, dirty house, she told me this: basically your family needs food and clean laundry from you right now.

This advice has been echoing in my mind ever since. Laundry and food are things I tend to resent. They're so relentless! The laundry mounds up in no time, like a monster! You feed the people, they make a mess, you clean the mess, they want to eat again! But I know that providing these two things, on time, with grace, with a bit of extra flair and care is a great way to show my family my love for them and their importance to me.* The fact that these tasks pop up again and again every day gives me a chance, again and again every day, to be there for my family.** Cuz what says love better than the availability of clean undies?

* Which does not mean that family members don't have their own responsibilities to participate in generating good food and clean laundry.

** Like diaper-changing, where for some reason I've always had better success thinking of it as a meditation of love than a chore.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Middle School

Next year Roscoe will start high school and Logan will start middle school. We've figured out that Roscoe will go to Hillcrest High School and do their International Baccalaureate program, which will be perfect for him.

Logan...I don't know. I'm very leery of middle school. So many people have awkward or painful, if not downright soul-deadening experiences there. I've always felt a desire to protect my kids from that whole scene. And I'm feeling especially protective of Logan. He's in a good place right now and I'd like to carefully shepherd him through the next few years to see if I can keep him there.

So the options:
  • The magnet program Roscoe did, which allowed him to go to a regular middle school but largely stay within a coccoon of like-minded kids, no longer exists.
  • Logan is on waiting lists for two charter schools, which would be smaller and largely self-selected against the worst of bad influences.
  • Logan could go to our neighborhood middle school, where most of his friends are going. And maybe he would remain close with the good friends he has and drift away from kids who start down bad paths. But maybe he wouldn't. Seems like the stakes of that gamble are too high.
  • I could homeschool Logan for a year or two, which I seriously considered doing with Roscoe when he started middle school. But Logan is highly social, oppositional, and argumentative and not very self-motivated. It could be a disaster.
My real hope is that Logan will get into the charter school that's right in our neighborhood, but chances are slim. My heart is just praying and praying that I can arrange the best situation for my Logan.

What are your feelings on middle school?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Just One More

Today in the van, out of the blue, Jesse said, "We need Mallory to come back to our house."

"She's our little sister," he continued. "She's at the wrong house."

"Well, she's our foster sister," I explained. "Her mom was really missing her. She needs to be with her mom."

"No," Jesse asserted. "She's our little sister."

Sigh.

It's been a year since we put our names back on the foster list. Six months since Mallory went home. And no new calls. I've been in touch with our people in the system, and yes, we're on the list. Salt Lake, for whatever reasons, actually has plenty of foster families for the moment. And, for whatever reasons, many people are requesting, like us, little girls. (But we have reasons for being so picky!)

I know I shouldn't complain since over and over again heaven has dropped pregnancies or foster children into our laps as soon as we decided we wanted them. (On a couple notable occasions, before we wanted them!) But it really feels like it's time to finish our family.

Just one more, I keeping telling myself. Just send me one more.

Where is our little sister?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Manners, please: The Play Date

Ladies, the world cannot continue forever on this downward slide away from all decorum and manners. I'm all for frankness and comfort, but etiquette makes this crazy, crowded, bustling world go round. Let's lead the way in helping our children hold on to the few shreds of tact and politeness that remain.

How To Set Up a Play Date

One of the important purposes of children visiting each other's homes to play with each other is to learn etiquette and manners. Here's what I feel are the essential manners. All can be progressively loosened depending on your closeness with the family in question.

The Invitation

Teach your children that they may not invite themselves over to a friend's house. Yes, they may call their friend. To invite them to come over, not the reverse.

Exceptions can be made for close friends within easy walking distance in the neighborhood. This is because a.) presumably you've established an fair and effective trade-off system and taught all kids to behave appropriately in each other's homes, and b.) adults at either house can easily send everyone back over to the other house when needed.

Exceptions should not be made for kids under 5, who are always more of a babysitting job than a play date.

Asking for a Favor

Speaking of passive-aggressive babysitting requests, I've had moms call and say, "My daughter was wondering if Haley could play today." And I say sure, assuming that this is an invitation. Then the mom winds the conversation around to, "Hmmm, whose house should they go to?" and "My daughter really wants to go to your house," and eventually, "Great because I need to get my oil changed." This "invitation" was a grift.

Everyone understands the occasional need to offload a few kids during errands or whatever. And most people are happy to set up reciprocal favors with their kids' friends' moms. But don't pretend to be setting up a playdate when in fact you're asking for babysitting. If you are in a pinch and need some help, just say so:

"Hello, this is Angela. Hey, I'm calling to ask you a favor. Could Haley come over for about an hour after school? I need to take Roscoe for a haircut/Logan to the dentist/whatever."

Logistics

The ideal length for a play date is two hours. This gives the kids enough time to have fun but doesn't let them get tired, cranky, or bored with each other. Cut it to 90 minutes for toddlers/preschoolers.

The mom who extends the invitation hosts. The mom who accepts the invitation drives.

Aim for an approximately fair rotation of inviting and visiting, but don't worry about keeping this exactly even.

Teach your children not to request treats when visiting a friend's house. If treats or snacks are offered, they may accept them with a "thank you."

Conflict

Conflict will certainly arise as your child and their friend disagree on what to play, how to play, etc. This is a great opportunity for you to teach kindness, sharing, cooperation, and empathy. Except in the most egregious cases--say, biting, stealing, or sailor-grade cursing--do not tell your child that they were right and their friend was wrong. Do not call the other parent to complain.

Instead, commiserate with your child on the difficulty of the situation ("I can see you really wanted a chance to play with that truck.") and propose peaceful solutions ("I wonder if your friend would have let you have a turn in a few minutes."). Take the opportunity to tell your child that a good friend sometimes lets the other person have the upper hand, the biggest piece of cake, the preferred toy. Encourage your child to see the other child's point of view or just forgive and forget.

If the other child clearly made a wrong choice, you can say, "Sometimes other people don't have the same rules we do" or "I'm glad you chose not to act that way." But even those types of comments should be used sparingly. Remember, your child is, of course, telling you only their side of the story.

Coming and Going

Teach your child to answer the door and say, "come in" when a friend arrives. Teach them to walk to the door with a departing friend and say, "Bye. Thanks for coming."

When you drop off and pick up your child, a.) Thank the other Mom for hosting--even if this really was a play date and not a favor, b.) Thank the other child for being a good friend, and c.) Offer to return the favor any time. For bonus etiquette points, report to the other mom on something cute, fun, sweet, or helpful her child did.

What do you think? Any other important play date manners?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Love Note, married-with-children style

From: Angela
To: Mark@work
Sent: Tue, January 19, 2010 2:18:56 PM
Subject: update on your family

Haley is puking and feverish. Currently napping.

Levi came home from school and is puking and feverish.

Jesse is watching Harry Potter movies. He requested "Harry Potter and the Sirius Spider Half-Blood Prince." We were forced to improvise.

I am doing resume after resume and feeling yucky.

Roscoe [home from school for semester break] is bored.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Thanks, Moms

Yesterday, for the second time in a week, my mom happened to call me on the phone while I sat, defeated, amongst piles of boxes.

Last week I decided the time had come to get rid of our labeled boxes--newborn, 3-6 months, 6-9 months, and so on--of baby boy clothes. Because:

1. We're not planning on any more baby boys. (Though, yes, we're still hoping for another girl.)
2. We need the closet space since for Christmas we gave Roscoe and Logan the promise of their own rooms, which means we need to dissolve my office and relocate all contents thereof.

So I pulled all the boxes out of Haley's closet, piled them all over her room, and then became stuck. I just literally didn't know how to begin.

I came back a few days later and became stuck again. What am I supposed to do? Get rid of all these stained, tattered little shirts with stripes or trucks or turtles? When I've spent fifteen years assembling this array of clothes in every size, for every occasion? When each little set of footie pajamas brings back vivid, visceral memories of the soft, fuzzy-headed boys who used to wear them? I'm supposed to just cast it all into the DI pile?

Seriously, I just couldn't do it.

And so there I sat, kind of embarrassed that my practical mother had caught me utterly paralyzed by what should be a simple organizing job.

And then, she gave me the brilliant suggestion: "Why don't you make them into a quilt?" Well, making a quilt is a bit beyond me. But Brenda, my mother-in-law, is a great quilter, and she's exactly the kind of person who would understand why I can't easily give up all the memories contained in those xerox boxes labeled "newborn" to "Boy 2."
Brenda agreed. Though she may regret it once she sees the pile of threadbare little tees I assembled. But they're precious to me, and I can't wait to sit under the quilt, thinking about the round little bellies that used to be under that fabric.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Luck

This is a short assignment I wrote after recovering from that weird sleeping sickness a few weeks ago. You know, when just not being sick feel like a million bucks? Why do I always write about myself in the third person--as if that makes it less self-centered.

~~

In truth, Angela was one of the luckiest people in the world, though she usually didn’t like to think so. You, if you are reading this, may well be one of the luckiest people in the world as well. If you have enough to eat most every day, if you parents loved you and tried their best to care for you, if you can read, if you go to bed at night with only the vaguest fears of burglars or bogeymen.

Why then do we usually avoid thinking of ourselves as so lucky? Partly we don’t care to think of all those who, unlike us, suffer from hunger, neglect, or dangers too real to contemplate. Whose parents never tried, or failed, or were thwarted. Whose minds or bodies are shriveled.

But more often, I think, we don’t care to believe our luck because doing so would require us to recognize that this world--where toes are stubbed, checks bounce, and dust settles; where loved ones quarrel and everything new wears out or is lost-- is truly the best one can hope for. That there is no other world where luck always runs our way and entropy cannot reign.

But today, for this moment at least, Angela saw clearly her blessed luck. The sun shone brightly, and she took no notice of the spots and smudges on the windows through which it shone. Just yesterday she had lain in bed in a stupor of fever, her brain muddled, her limbs heavy. Every movement a toil and effort.

Today she woke with head clear, fever gone. It seemed no trouble at all to walk downstairs and make bread for supper. The simple absence of ache and fever freed her to realize the joy of an unburdened step. She could discern the blessed luck of spinning on one’s heel to reach for the salt off the well-stocked shelf.

The dough made a soft shuffle-slap-slap as she kneaded it on the clean countertop. It became silky smooth under her hands and, for the moment, she stood face to face with the truth of her luck.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

etc and sundry

Tragic

On the way out to the van, I dropped a hot pan of funeral potatoes on the garage floor. It shattered. So I took the second pan to the funeral instead. Meaning, no potatoes for us.

Palliative

I launched a new system wherein I roll a die at the beginning of each week to determine our family's Screen Free Day. (Which means no screen time--not, as some children suggested, that screen-time is free and unlimited.)

This week we rolled Tuesday, and it was not a huge success. Not because the kids couldn't fill their time without screen time--they could--but because I couldn't use it as a mood balancer when someone was throwing a fit. I realized that a bit o' PBS can go a long way toward resetting a hooligan's emotional clock. Levi was determined that I should fully and constantly feel his pain and parked himself thus as I tried to make dinner:

Heavenly

At night when they're put to bed, Levi invites Jesse up to his top bunk where he reads to him until they both fall asleep. The other night, we caught Levi singing "I Am a Child of God" to a droopy Jesse while softly stroking his hair.

Fit

Nothing if not industrious and innovative, these guys spontaneously decided to work out by hefting cans of diced tomatoes.
Clever

I have six resumes pending. Mark is out of town for 5 days.

Sunny

This is what Jesse looked like on his way to his first day as a Sunbeam in Primary.
So now you see that yes he does own clothing.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Funeral Potatoes

Last week a member of my ward died, so tomorrow we Mormon women will do what we always do: Flock to the church to prepare and serve food.

A few of us will get to church early, wearing a quirky combination of Sunday dresses and comfortable shoes. Probably the Relief Society president, a counselor or two, the compassionate service leader, and an assortment of women who are friends of the above, or of the family of the deceased, or who don't have day jobs or young children.

They'll set up tables and chairs on the indoor basketball court as they chat and laugh and cluck in compassion over the grieving family. When the funeral begins in the chapel, a few of them will remain behind in the kitchen to receive the women who will, one by one, knock on the kitchen door to deliver jell-o salad, or green salad, or trays of brownies, or thirteen-by-nine-inch pans of funeral potatoes.
Today I assembled two pans of this creamy, utterly unhealthy side dish. Lots of cream and cheese over little tidbits of frozen, industrialized potato--the ultimate comfort food. And as I measured and stirred, I offered up these potatoes as a sacrament of love and fellowship to the family. As children slammed doors and swirled around me, I didn't hold a moment of silence, but I did consecrate moments of memorial and condolence, mixing it all into the potatoes.
This was not an unexpected or particularly tragic death. It was more a sigh of relief after two years of waiting as this young man's body slowly, slowly, slowly succumbed its youth to a myriad of problems. So this funeral, even more so than most Mormon funerals, will not be so much about grieving as about marking and celebrating the stages of eternal life. We will gather together to remind ourselves that this life is the milisecond midpoint in our trajectories as eternal spirits.

After the funeral, family members will adjourn to the cultural hall to eat our potatoes. The women in the kitchen will wear out those practical shoes rushing back and forth to replenish the buffet line. They'll smile at the family members and encourage them to eat, eat, eat.
When lunch is over, some husbands will arrive to put away tables and chairs and sweep the huge floor. Leftovers will be packaged, dishes washed. The last woman will turn out the lights, shut the door, and carry a stack of now-empty pyrex dishes to her car.

At some point in the evening, there will be a knock on my door, and my empty pan will be returned. Then we'll all go home to live another day.
My mom's version of the recipe (with commentary):

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Holiday Roundup

Mais oui, we wii.
Getting a wii for Christmas was awesome because, well, now we have a wii. But also because I didn't have to do any other Christmas shopping, making the whole thing much more relaxed.

Stealth Movies
Mark developed the habit of sidling up to me or Roscoe in the evening and whispering a scheme to sneak out of the house to go to the movies. So we saw Sherlock Holmes (thumbs up), 2012 (peshy), and Avatar (one up, one down, one peshy).

Leisure
We went nowhere and hosted beloved friends intermittently. No one had to rush anywhere. No one really had to be anywhere in particular. We ate plenty. Most rules were abandoned or ignored. On New Year's Eve, for example, the TV was on all day from either wii or movies, and we covered the entire house with cups of soda, bowls of chips, and cookie crumbs.

Monday morning is gonna hit us like Mike Tyson.