Monday, April 23, 2012

Hercules and the Path to Olympus

Mark is out of town on a ten-day trip, and I'm happy to say that--especially considering my recent meltdown--we're all managing quite well despite his absence. I've indulged in a bit too much self-soothing Diet Coke, fast food, and hulu--but I've also launched a major offensive against dandelions in the lawn, guided teenagers through a couple meltdowns/deep conversation/life reassessments, and dealt with midnight crying jags, bed wetting, and nightmares.

So the other night I was trying to come up with some way to impress upon the kids the mutual benefits of cooperation. We're all into Greek mythology these days. (If you need a kick, ask Levi to explain why Hephaestus is the best of the twelve major Olympians.) So I came up with this fable to share over our Saturday-night pizza:

Hercules and the Path to Olympus

Zeus, as you know, is a very capricious god. One day he became so frustrated with humans and their flaws and foibles that he vowed to destroy earth altogether. When Hercules heard of Zeus's plan, he protested. After all, Hercules had a mortal mother on earth.

So Zeus offered Hercules a quest. If Hercules could carry all the problems and mistakes of humankind to Mount Olympus, earth would be saved. The mighty Hercules felt confident in his strength and agreed to the deal.

But there was one more thing: Zeus told Hercules that there were two paths to Olympus. One was a steep, rocky path that traveled uphill. The other was a smooth downhill path. Hercules could choose either path to fulfill his quest.

Choose Your Own Adventure Ending A
Hercules chose the smooth downhill path. He bundled all the problems and mistakes of humankind into a huge ball and bound them with strong cords. Then he pushed the bundle down the path. It rolled quickly down the path and landed at the steps of Mount Olympus. "Congratulations, my son," boomed Zeus. "Earth is saved!"

Choose Your Own Adventure Ending B
Hercules chose the rocky, uphill path. He bundled the problems and mistakes together and strapped them to his chest with strong cords. He heaved and pulled, struggling with each step. Each time his bundle hit a rock, he stopped and pulled on the cord with all his might to free it. After many long hours of backbreaking toil, Hercules finally arrived on the steps of Mount Olympus. "Congratulations, my son," boomed Zeus."Through your strength and persistence, you have succeeded in fulfilling your quest. Earth is saved!"

But poor, exhausted Hercules was so frustrated with mortals and all their troubles, he said, "Oh, forget it! I don't want earth to be saved. Go ahead and torch it!" And with that, he pushed the bundle back down the hill and away from Olympus.

You should have heard Jesse gasp at that second ending. I told the kids that like Hercules, our family can choose a smooth, downhill path or a steep rocky one. There are certain things that we are going to do. That night it was clean up from dinner, take baths, and get ready for bed. The next day, it would be get ready for church and go to church. When we bicker and complain, when we don't follow instructions, when we hassle mom, that's like choosing the rocky path. We'll still reach our destination, but we'll all be exhausted and grumpy when we get there. When we cooperate and use teamwork, that's like choosing the smooth, downhill path. Then we can take care of our responsibilities more easily and pleasantly and have time and energy left over for more fun.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Betsy the Toddler

Although I was sad to see Betsy's birthday come and go, I've enjoyed her post-birthday month as much as ever. I've always loved little twelve- and thirteen-month olds. They are fully formed people, who operate in the same world as the rest of us. They walk into the room and join the conversation, they laugh at the jokes, they make their wishes known. But they're still so tiny and silly!

Betsy helps Roscoe do pushups.
Betsy's spunk and personality are becoming ever more apparent. She may be cute, she may be pink, but I'm afraid this girl is as strong-willed as any of her brothers. She, I kid you not, called me on the cell phone the other day. She shovels food into her mouth with fat man hands. She wrinkles her nose in an adorable, gleeful smile that she uses only when 1.) She finds Mom after a separation of several minutes, 2.) She does what she considers to be a neat trick, such as walking backwards, or 3.) She is given a jellybean.
The jellybean face.
Hands down, Betsy's very best talent is dancing. From the very beginning, this has been a girl who feels the rhythm. Even a ticking metronome makes her fat little body start to jiggle and jive. This Foster the People song is her very, very favorite:

That said, I can see that it may be time for me to tamp down the Betsy-worship at least a smidge. The kids have all started to grouse that Betsy gets more than her fair share of lovin. I'm starting to see that when someone compliments me on Betsy's outfit or cuteness, I should just say, "Thanks," instead of something like, "I know! Isn't she the sweetest?! This dress is from her grandma..."

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Face Lift

So how was my day off?

Delightful. Short. Enlightening.

My plan was to go downtown and stroll around a fancy new mall that just opened. But by the time I got away ("We'll talk abou it tomorrow!" "Ask Dad!" "I'll help you with that tomorrow!" "Don't make your sister cry!"), it was late in the afternoon and I was starving. The mall is just across the street from Mark's office, so I called him and proposed a little dinner date. Mark said he would meet me in ten minutes. So I did a bit of window shopping while I waited. (Forever21 appears to contain the exact same clothing and the exact same people it did when I trawled the Silverdale Mall in 1988. The only difference: The amazingly well-coiffed young gay men manning all the registers.)

So about forty-five minutes into my trip, I was walking across the courtyard to meet Mark, and that's when I noticed. I felt different. I could feel it in my face. Mark could see it. He said almost immediately, "You look different already."

I'm not going to admit that I'm never happy or cheerful. I'm sure I smile sometimes. But I realized that my face had been permafrosted in a grimace of tension, worry, and stress.  It's my climbing Mount Everest face. I've been spending way too much time in grit-your-teeth-and-endure mode. Which is an important mode to have. But I think last week I had developed some version of PTSD, where I was constantly feeling the tension, even when I could have been watching a baby play in the sunlight.

I had thought I'd spend my day off reassessing my life strategies. But really, as I let the quiet and peace settle around me, my strongest thought was, "Why do I do this so seldom?" Maybe not the hotel room part. But the driving away from the house part. The doing something that lifts the tension part.

The reason I don't is that I don't want to fall victim to the Woman Constantly Treating Herself for Once syndrome. But the truth is, I'm not that woman.

When I'm very pregnant, I try not to be a huge whiner. Try not to bail, abscond, or divest my responsibilities too much. Which is a good thing. But then when I'm not pregnant, I always look back and think, "Good heavens, Angela, you should have cut yourself a break!"

I'm starting to think that that's how I'll feel about this phase of my life. I'm not carrying a twenty-pound watermelon strapped to my torso, but I am the mother of six children. I like to think that Betsy has integrated effortlessly into our family, and caring for her is indeed sweet as pie. But it's not nothing. And meanwhile, each of the other kids is needy in their own way. The truth is, things are very intense around here right now. These are the happy truths of my full, blessed life. It makes me sick to think that the kids and I will remember me during this time with that awful, tense face.

I'm grateful that I'm not a person who gives up when the going gets rough. But I need to stop judging myself as weak when I need respite. This week, I'm working on lifting my face. On not letting myself settle into that expression of stinginess. It's a reminder to myself to enjoy, to relax, and to let some things slide.

And next time I feel permafrost face creeping in, I'm taking a break.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


This was the breaking point:

I was still in my pajamas, trying to get a good start on my day, when I heard the sounds of Betsy splashing in the bathroom. Not a good sound from this girl who is attracted to toilet water like a moth to flame.

I rushed into the bathroom to find that Betsy was not in the toilet at all. She was on her hands and knees happily splashing in the puddles that covered the floor. "That's not..." I thought.

But yes, Dear Reader, it was.

Apparently Levi's morning shower had left--as usual--pools of standing water across the bathroom floor. When, a few minutes later, Jesse came into the bathroom, he thought to himself--naturally--"Oh! I see it's pee-on-the-floor day." So he did. All over.

And there you have it. My girl in her pink leggings and embroidered tunic splashing happily in her brothers' urine.

"Mom, it's okay," Jesse kept telling me. "The floor was already wet." Which somehow missed the point, I felt.

So there I was, still in my pajamas, swabbing the floor. Dirtying towels to add to the soiled sheets already piled in the hallway following a certain midnight bed-wetting incident. Creating a growing mountain of stinky laundry. While Betsy was trying to climb over said piles of filth to return to the scene of the crime.

Yes, it's a sad scene. No ones wants to start their day this way. But it's also totally de rigeur. Any of you with any number of children knows just exactly what this kind of morning is like. Because we've all had them. You strip the baby. You clean the bathroom. You think, "I went to college for this?" Then you get dressed, you start the laundry, and you move on.

But I wasn't really moving on. I was furious, frustrated, and discouraged. Beyond measure. What I was missing, I later concluded, was equanimity.

I think I've been losing perspective for quite some time now. Months, maybe. Up in the night, hassled in the day, more on my plate than I can chew, and not a moment's peace for a bit of introspection. The angsty teenagers, the bickering kids, the psycho Jesse, the needy Betsy. My head in a buzz of pressure and distraction. The corners of my mouth pulled down in an (unattractive) expression of tension. I'm becoming the snarling mom that everyone, myself included, hates.

That's when I decided that what had heretofore been an idle fantasy must become a reality: I needed a day off. With an accompanying night off.

I made some unsuccessful low-ball bids for a hotel room on priceline. I racked my brain for any hidden caches of funds. Then, I called my mommy and asked if she had any miles/points/vouchers she could part with. And my daddy did.

So last night, I drove the kids home from school, dropped them off, then drove away.

Dear Reader, I drove away from this house.

to be continued

Friday, April 6, 2012

Spring Break Happenings

Last week I so, so wanted to take the kids to the beach for spring break. Even though we in no way had the budget for it, I came thisclose to just piling the kids into the car and heading west. Here's what we did instead:

~ I came down with a weird cold that at one point--the point when I was in the temple--was oozing mucus out of my eyes. And the next day I looked like the elephant man.

~ We took a family trip to This Is the Place Heritage Park as part of our continuing tradition of celebrating April 6 as the church's birthday. The best part: Betsy petting baby chicks. Holy cuteness. The not best part: Teenager demonstrating his maturity and above-it-all-ness by refusing (temporarily) to get out of car.

~ In the last week, we've gone to the movies in the following combination: Roscoe+Logan, Mark+Levi, Mark+Logan, Angela+Mark. In an apparent attempt to see every last thing showing at the dollar theater, Mark threatened to go again last night. I was winding down my elephant man phase and begged him to just stay home with me instead.

~ The best part of the week for me has been Roscoe. This year he's been so busy, and so stressed and exhausted in the rare moments he's home, it's really like we haven't seen him all year. This week he decompressed enough to turn back into the playful, helpful, ridiculous young man we know and love.

~ Maybe I'm just feeling the spring cleaning bug. Maybe certain things have been neglected during the past pregnancy-baby months. But I'm feeling like I'm turning into one of those hopelessly disorganized, slovenly mothers that my mother disdains. This week I washed out the inside of the fridge, cut Jesse's hair, and had the boys do some yard work. So that's not nothing.

Tonight Mark and I are taking Levi and Haley to a Jazz game. Tomorrow we're hoping to finish a major clean-out and reorganization of the garage and fix some shingles that have blown off the roof in spring wind storms. And we're planning on eating several dozen eggs and a few pounds of jelly beans.