May 13 2013

Get a Grip, Monkey Mind

treesAlways, always, always. Ten years of yoga hasn’t cured me of it. Four years of blogging hasn’t cured me of it. Circumventing bodies of water à pied et au bicyclette hasn’t cured me of it.

No matter how much I think and I think, I just can’t figure out the answers.

Why can’t I look at those plump little visiting waterfowl pit-stopping in Lake Harriet and not wonder how much fat could be rendered from them. (Cooks will understand).

Why can’t I simply write a post about how safe my city feels for my roaming kids without an attempted abduction in Linden Hills three days later?

Why can’t I figure out how to balance my summer so I don’t end up like this by the end of June?

Why can’t I bike by the archery field by Lake Calhoun without picturing, in full gory detail, sound included, an arrow whistling through the air and piercing me right through the neck?

Why does bad stuff happen to good people?

Why does being this particular age feel so messed up? Not necessarily in a bad way.

Why can’t I slow down time?

I’m going to say that about covers it, so as to avoid really freaking you out.

Oct 1 2012

Young Mommy/Old Mommy

mirrorsI’m not exactly sure when I became an old mommy, but I am sure that it has happened. Maybe it was when Saint James became a middle schooler. Maybe it was when my Devil Baby went off to kindergarten. Or was it even before that? When she was potty trained? Or when she refused to be carried around on my hip anymore? Surely, a fiendish toddler hell bent on running on her own juice shouldn’t eject one out of young mommy hood prematurely. Surely, all that chasing and cursing and eyes in the back of one’s head has to count for something.

The transition from one to the other happened without anybody noticing, including me. But now that I’ve noticed, I can’t help but wonder at it. The young mommies are the ones pushing strollers, anxiously waiting for their kindergartners to come streaking out of school while holding a baby on a hip, maybe a dog on a leash. They look tired, perhaps, but they can handle it. They are young.

The old mommies either do not bother to pick up their kids at school and let them take the bus, or more likely are waiting in the car ready to peel out to make it to soccer or violin or Irish step dancing on time. The old mommies don’t look tired unless they happen to be hung over. Which is good because they are old.

Also, the old mommies are assiduously trying to avoid any eye contact with the young mommies. It’s not because we don’t like the young mommies, it’s not because we don’t think their babies are cute. It’s because we are scarred from our memories of being young mommies. Not enough time has passed to soften the edges of those exhausting years with a golden patina.

The young mommies, mired so deep in relentless baby raising and toddler chasing, don’t even realize how hard it is. The old mommies didn’t either. But when one emerges from it and starts to feel a bit of relief from the constant physical hands-on work, one suffers a bit of PTSD. An old mommy shudders when she drives by a park and sees a young mommy pushing a baby on a swing, staring off in the distance or making desperate small talk with another young mommy. An old mommy can spot a “playgroup” from a mile away and it hurts her heart a little to remember how much she used to look forward to her playgroup. How polite and chipper everyone was. How relieved she was when someone told the truth about something.

You see, an old mommy remembers how monotonous it can be to be a young mommy – how isolating and lonely it is at times. And so we avert our gaze and concentrate on the business of being an old mommy, which is pretty fun because we get to rush around, being really busy getting our gigantic, smelly, interesting kids all the places they need to be. Old mommies are on the fly and relish the mobility after so many years of being stuck – by naps, schedules and the all around pain-in-the-ass-ness of having to buckle people into carseats.

We old mommies imagine that we look stylish and windblown as we rush through the hall to pluck a child for an orthodontist appointment. We have time to wash our hair, after all. We are experts at setting up complex multi-family carpools and smile knowingly at the van load of pre-pubescent boys rapping in back. Maybe we wave at the young mommies killing time after school at the playground, but we’re probably too busy typing the address of that soccer field in Chanhassen into our iPhones.

Obviously, this is a caricature of two stages of motherhood, but I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that time and hindsight expose those early years for what they were: tiring.

I wonder if the moms of high school and college age kids are looking at us right now, shaking their heads at our preposterous calendars and all our DRIVING. Maybe they’re laughing at us because we don’t know what it is to have to buy gallons upon gallons of milk every few days. Maybe we only think we’ve smelled smelly cleats. Maybe we have no clue what it is to deal with teenage angst, attitude, rage or euphoria. Try sex, drinking, drugs on for issues they may scoff at us. Try having your child hate you.

I bet I look quite the fool driving with my windows down and my music blasting and my car full of polite seventh graders. I bet I do.

Check back in 10 years.

Aug 28 2012

Many stones. Many, many stones.

Beach_Stones_2I have finally accepted the fact that it is impossible to go to Target just ONE time during back to school season. It has never, ever happened and it never, ever will. No matter what you do, no matter when you go, no matter how many lists you bring with you, you will never ever EVAH kill multiple birds with one stone. There will always be that stretchy book cover that brings you back.

It takes many stones. Many, many stones.

Sep 27 2011


Slinkachu_The Last Resort_2_1000Slinkachu_The Last Resort_1_1000Slinkachu_The Last Resort_3_1000Isn’t this such a kick? Street artist, Slinkachu, sets up and photographs these fanciful little scenarios that play with perspective. I found this on Unearth, a site that collects street art from around the world. I really dig this site. It’s thought and wanderlust provoking – an antidote to boredom and cynicism. When I feel sick in my gills from what I’m reading in the news and media, a little shot of art is a no fail way to restore my faith in us. All is not lost. Our kids are not doomed. The earth is not screwed. There is beauty, whimsy, humor and heart all over this hot little planet if we’re just willing to look. And even if we are screwed and doomed (which we are, holy shit, we are), it’s good to put that away and see the good, only the good, from time to time.

I found these pictures late this summer when the coalescence of my anti-climactic 41st birthday, Devil Baby’s impending leap into kindergarten and a general end-of-summer antsiness sent me into a tailspin. If you were anywhere within a two block radius of me the last couple weeks in August, you would have been alarmed at my state: alternatively weepy and manic, confused, verbose, morose, fretful, paralyzed, nervous and freaky. Deaky. Apparently, this identity crisis of mine was like a far off train whistle rapidly approaching over the last few months. Lady Tabouli reminded me that I was having these – um – thoughts back at our book club weekend in February. After too much wine, I confessed my angst to the ladies and said something about the fact that I can’t just be this aging party girl who goes to see concerts to feel alive. I needed a PLAN. I had completely forgotten. The ladies don’t forget.

Months, weeks, days. The words weighed heavy on my chest. Bounced around between my ears. Spelled themselves out behind closed lids like Sesame Street letters: WHAT THE FUCK DO I DO NOW?



So here’s what I know: 1. I don’t know the answer to that question, 2. I am not alone – many of us are wondering the same thing, 3. It is ok to take a moment, take a breath, take some time to figure some things out.

You see that number 3 there? That’s where Slinkachu’s pics come into play. Little does he know that a Minnesota mama saw his pictures at a time in her life when the confusion and angst rivaled that of her early twenties. I was amused by them. They stayed in my head. I went back to look at them a couple more times, showed them to Supergirl early one morning and finally found my message there. I felt it open like a flower in my throat: perspective.

Take a step back from your damn self, sister! (This is me talking to myself in my best Florence from The Jeffersons voice.) Get your head outta your fanny and open your damn eyes! You still the mama and those babies need you more than ever. Step back, girl. Step back.

And so I am. Trying.

Jul 22 2011

And for what?

motherhen-1So, you know how every once in a while I read something that throws me into a bit of a tizzy and I rethink, review, reimagine, rehash, reiterate, rewind and revamp whatever small piece of the status quo happens to be at issue? Well, this one is a biggie and I’ve been sitting on it for a couple of weeks because I just don’t quite know how to tackle it, given how deeply and fiercely entrenched I am in this.

From the July issue of The Atlantic, the article’s title – How to Land Your Kid in Therapy – is sort of beside the point. What is supremely hair raising, is the notion that we super-involved parents, who are literally devoting all of our time to making our kids happy and successful, could actually be doing them a disservice in the long run. Our ”discomfort with discomfort” is actually leaving them ill-equipt to deal with the real life stressors that will eventually come their way, and in fact may be turning them into little narcissists. Saying “good job” has become a verbal tick. To the extent that our kids believe us every time we say it (and why should they not?), they are left thinking they are pretty friggin’ awesome. When is the last time someone said good job to me? And yet I haven’t dissolved into a puddle of insecurity, have I? Obviously, kids need encouragement and some kids are more sensitive than others, but when I read this article, I realized my kids are in far greater danger of turning out to be clueless and entitled, with inflated senses of self than they are of having low self-esteem. Low self-esteem? Fat chance.

If you ever sit near the diving board at our pool you can hardly carry on a conversation for the constant yelling coming from the peanut gallery. Holding up the line, you have little Ashley or whoever screaming mom! mom! mom! mom! mom! mom! until her mother interrupts her conversation, watches her jump off the diving board, waits for her to emerge from the water and gives her a dutiful thumbs up or a big wow! good job! What the HELL? We aren’t talking toddlers taking their first plunges. These are 8, 9 and 10 year olds who insist on a captive, fawning audience at all times. My kids do it too and I’ve actually felt guilty saying No, I’m not going to score your dives right now. But damn if sometimes I don’t feel like averting my eyes to the pages of a magazine instead of watching them.

A couple weeks ago, Saint James and his soccer buddy walked in the back gate after having been at a soccer camp from 9-3. They were visibly hot and sweaty and had practice in an hour and a half, but they stopped at the rebounder and started kicking around some more. I had just read this article, so I was super self-conscious about my mother-henning, but was I crazy to think those boys should cool off after 6 hours of soccer? So instead of addressing them directly, I whispered to Doctor Dash to tell them to come inside. Of course Dash perfunctorily blew me off with an oh, they’re fine and asked me not to involve him in my article-craziness. So I went stealth. I banged around the kitchen for a bit, made an icy concoction in the blender and nonchalantly crooned out the back door – hey guys, want some smoothies? Mother. Hen. Wins.

Just this past week I was on my laptop at the pool and a tweenish girl ran up to me and told me that Devil Baby had gotten a back smack during dive practice. I sprang up and saw that she was being comforted by the assistant coach. I thought of the article, about letting kids sit with discomfort and just as I was about to sit back down, one of the moms rushed up to me and told me that Devil Baby was crying. I felt like yelling So What???? She smacked her back on WATER!!!! She’s FIIIIIIINE! But as such, unable to withstand the societal pressure to check on my child (who was FINE), I shuffled over, because isn’t that what I’m there for? Just waiting in the wings until they need a little pat on the back?

I think this article touched a nerve for me because I am at the absolute apex of my kid summer business. I spend ALL of my time driving them around so they can be super happy super humans – but to what end? I can tell you based on the last couple months that it is EXHAUSTING watching other people exercise. If I were on any one of my kids’ daily routines, I would be ready to do a triathalon tomorrow. I’d be freakishly buff. Outlandishly fit. But I’m not. I’m tired and crabby. AND I haven’t gotten to build a fort, ride a horse or learn graffiti art.

The weeks wear on, the novelty wears off, the boredom sets in and I pick up an article that shines a spotlight on something I’ve been kinda sorta thinking anyway. We fill up their plates because we want them to have fun, try everything, gain that muscle memory early on, so that in the future, it won’t be a struggle to learn how to play tennis, or ski, or swim laps. But what’s wrong with sucking? We all have to stink at some thing, some times, don’t we? And what’s wrong with being bored and “unhappy” during the summer time? It’s like it’s verboten to even suggest that. But don’t some of your best childhood summer memories involve time spent scampering around your neighborhood with no agenda? The problem is that there are very few kids around these days for my kids to scamper with. Everyone is busy.

The god awful truth of the matter is that, in more ways than I care to admit, my schlepping justifies my existence right now. To do all this work, as mindless and frustrating as it can be, and then engage the possibility that not only is it not the best thing I can do for my kids, but that I may actually be doing it for myself, well, let’s just say that smarts.

I can’t help but wonder what the hell I’m doing. I keep reminding myself that the number one thing that broke my heart about working was not being able to be with my kids during the summer. I have a palpable, gut memory of pulling up to my house with my babies (who had been in their posh air-conditioned daycare all day) just as a gaggle of wet kids were spilling out of my neighbor’s minivan. I can still see all the colorful towels wrapped around heads, being dragged on the grass. My neighbor was tan, her hair wet. I was so envious and sad. And now, these many years later, we are all about colorful wet towels and yet, I am feeling truly burnt out by a different kind of rat race.

Mother hen needs a wee break, I think. And maybe the chicks do too.

Jun 25 2011

This is summer?

blurI found this picture on my phone – surely it was a drive-by shot taken by one of my kids – and it spoke to me. This is how I feel about summer so far. It has been nothing but a cloudy blur. I’m not sure what my deal is (aside from the WRETCHED weather), but I can’t seem to get my footing. I can’t seem to stop. Look. Focus. It is as if I’m wearing fuzzy glasses that are keeping me one step removed from the reality of what surely is.

The date is June 25. Surely, it is summer.

We’re going through the motions, running from one thing to the next, but I have yet to have that summer moment. It can happen at the bandshell, at the beach, at the pool, in the backyard. When you lose the distinction between your skin and the air and you feel permeable to the softness of the season. When the smell of a barbecue or a sparkler makes your nose prickle in recognition and pulls you back through layers of memory, to other hot nights and cool drinks. When you feel summer in your bones, as a fact and a gift.

What is it? Is it that I’m too busy? Or is it really as simple as the string of rainy cold days? Am I not looking in the right place? Am I not documenting it enough with words and pictures? Whatever it is, I need to get it together because when it comes to matters of summer, there’s no time to mess around here in Minnesota. It is a brief and heavenly season and to squander even one day feeling muted and half-assed seems a pity.

Time to get my groove on.

May 5 2011

Damn squirrel eatin’ my flower and makin’ me feel all crappy.

Today I glanced out my kitchen window and saw a squirrel standing on its hind legs with its arms wrapped tenderly around my jonquil – only he wasn’t wooing the flower, or even making out with the flower, he was eating the flower. My only friggin’ jonquil in that part of the garden was being mauled and consumed in broad daylight. I burst through the back door and scared him away with all manner of screeches, hisses and wild hand gestures – I think I get very Latina all of the sudden when I’m trying to shoo something. Perhaps it’s the years of watching my mother scream and fling herself out of the house to scare Mallard ducks out of our pool so they wouldn’t get too comfy and make it their home for the summer.

I probably would have done the same thing had there been a hundred jonquils in my garden, but the fact that there is ONE just makes it so much worse. First of all, we work hard for our spring here in these parts – March and April are a bitch and the first crumbs of spring we get are these bulbs that start to crop up against all odds. This one flower, probably because there is just one flower, becomes a symbol of spring, of warmth, of hope, of change, of new beginnings. And by eating it, the squirrel is basically saying,You don’t even get to enjoy this one measly thing to the natural end of its short measly life, peevish mama. (Actually, the squirrel is probably saying something more like, Come closer my crumpet, I wish to ravish you, so ravenous am I after this long winter with nothing but a handful of bitter acorns for sustenance. But you know what? This blog is about me. Screw the squirrel.)

And as quick as the flick of a furry tail disappearing through the fence, this one flower also becomes a symbol of my failings. Do you remember this post? Just in case you ever read this blog and feel like, wowee, she’s real neato and thoughtful and motivated, rest assured that I’m not. I’m a lazy slacker. If I had simply followed through with my impulse to plant more – what were my words? “bulbs of joy” (insert eye-roll here), then I guess I wouldn’t be in my current predicament of hating on myself and hating on a squirrel. It makes me ornery that I’m so lackadaisical about every thing. Why didn’t I just plant some more damn bulbs like I said I would? Where is my follow through? What was I doing with my time? Honestly, I don’t even know. I really shouldn’t be this lazy. I come from very motivated, conscientious, busy-bee stock. What’s my excuse? I have no excuse.

And lest you think I’m being too hard on myself over a flower, rest assured that this is just one example of many. Look at my car, look at my house, look at my baby books. It’s all going to hell in a hand basket. But don’t worry, I’ll manage to forget about all of this by tomorrow and be back to my free wheelin’ lazy-ass ways in no time flat. In fact, I’ve been wracking my brain trying to figure out how to turn this into a business – there must be a market for someone who can lounge around and shoot the shit, drink wine, listen to hip hop, over-analyze everything, peruse fashion magazines and make pretty good chili. Someone hire me! Quick!

I think this is all percolating because of an article I read in the New Yorker last night. First of all, let me pause for a moment. The New Yorker. The first magazine I subscribed to after college. The only magazine to which I’ve had a consistent subscription since then. The magazine that makes me feel smart and entertained at the same time. The magazine that I share with Doctor Dash. The mother of all magazines – for me – my best me. OK, so I open it up in bed last night and there’s a huge article about this blogger who goes by the name Pioneer Woman. I’ve been to her blog a handful of times over the last few years, but I had no idea she had reached the level of being worthy of an article in the New Yorker. Basically, she was a city slicker who fell in love with a cattle rancher and it changed the trajectory of her life.

She seems sweet and engaging enough, but also, suspiciously, like one of those people with extra arms and hours in the day. She home schools her kids, cooks all sorts of fancy cowboy food, takes gorgeous pictures of all of it, teaches photography, oversees monster additions to her home and ranch, decorates it all, grows a garden, writes cookbooks, writes memoirs, writes children’s books and writes a blog. All of it with a wink and a smile. Which is fine. Obviously this is really compelling to a lot of women. I think her story and lifestyle are what people would consider aspirational. To me it’s kind of demoralizing. She makes Martha Stewart look like she’s in my league, which leaves me looking like I’m barely more animated than that piece of stucco that chipped off our house over the winter that I walk by every day and haven’t picked up.

I think you, my readers, are better served by hearing about how much I DON’T get done. My laziness is not only my gift, it is my gift to you. Tomorrow you can vacuum your cars with the satisfaction of knowing that I won’t be vacuuming my car. Or my house. What can I say, besides . . . you’re welcome.

Aug 7 2010

All’s well in summerland

flowers2So, I’d say it took me until about mid-July to hit my stride this summer. It took that long to find a way to be at peace with the level of activity (high), to embrace the heat and sweatiness of summer (moderate), to figure out a way to carve out a wee bit of time on my own (low). I figured out a few things as I was racing around in the minivan or cooling my heels at the pool, just in time for hazy, lazy August.

First of all, I need to consolidate these kids next summer. Getting them each to their own separate activities is hair raising and severely taxing on my temporal and spacial reasoning skills. So next year, for one week, they’ll all be doing ONE camp in ONE place. Even if they all have to go to a My Little Pony camp at Southwest High, I will kill 3 birds with one stone if it’s the last thing I do.

I also realized I don’t always have to go somewhere. I’m an out-of-the-house kinda girl. I never ever ever ever manage to just hang at home (which, I think, goes a long way toward explaining why the syrup bottle is still on the dining room table at 5:00 in the evening.) Most of the time we’ve got somewhere to go, but just as often, the exodus, the springing forth into the world, it’s completely self imposed by the ants in the pants mother who pretends her kids have ants in their pants and that’s why she’s dragging them out of the house all the time when really, let’s be honest, she’s totally the one with the ants in her pants.

Rain is good. Rain forces us to stay put and catch our breath. It soothes our parched nerves and grass. I love rain in the summer – even if it does catch me with all my beach towels hanging out to dry (grrr).

Dinner can be bread and cheese. We have a strange air conditioning system that cools half the house – a Phantom of the Opera air conditioner, if you will (but hopefully you won’t because that is terrible. Apologies!) Fortunately the half with air includes Dash and my bedroom. Unfortunately, it doesn’t include the kitchen. And most of the time, we don’t even bother with it during the day since we’re not home, so hanging out in my steamy kitchen is not high on the list of things I like to do. I really haven’t been cooking as much as assembling meals this summer and you know what? That works just fine.

famI can’t write for shit in the summer. I just have to accept it. It’s as if my words are stuck in a big pot of warm honey and pulling them out is too messy and laborious an endeavor to attempt. I’m busy, yes, but also, I may be getting my fill of words out in the world. Catching up with our families in Michigan and Massachusetts, talking, talking, chatting with neighbors at a block party, friends at the farmers market, bored ladies at the pool, people standing with their bikes waiting for the light to change, talking, talking, talking. We are out of hibernation for a few shimmering months and there is much doing to be done. Our heavy humid air is thick with words, more than usual, and that’s enough for me right now.

Summer is flying, just like I knew it would, just as it always does. Every day, I will notice something, really notice something, in an montiboots effort to slow it down. This morning. Devil Baby. Tousled swimming pool bed hair, eyes still puffy from a heavy summer sleep, puts on her rainboots and contemplates saving her forgotten stuffed dog and blankie from the rain. I watch her realize and accept. It’s too late.

May 20 2010

I’m just sayin’

sunshineI know I have a teensy little habit of taking something I’m experiencing and projecting it on the whole world, but something is definitely up. All my friends are feeling all freaky deaky, and quite frankly, so am I. We’re careening toward the end of the school year and I feel like we’re all driving runaway cars, pumping the breaks to no avail. Where did the time go? It feels like we were just wiping our brows after putting Christmas away and here we are in a deluge of end of the year obligations. Seriously, could we possibly pile on more stuff right now? End of the year masses, field day, plays, spring concerts, class picnics, graduations, class parties and on and on. On the one hand, it’s absolutely lovely. On the other hand, we may be getting too much of a good thing here. Everybody I know is racing around clutching camcorders with crazed smiles plastered on their faces which do nothing to hide the panic lurking in their eyes.

Yep, PANIC. Because in a few weeks we are ON, babies. ON. ON. ON. 24-7. Children all up in your business ALL THE TIME. No breaks, except for whatever camps and activities you’ve managed to sign them up for, which will require more running around with crazed smiles and more yelling hurry up, grab your waterbottleballracquetfishingrodclubscleatsclarinetloom.

I am really of two minds here. On the one hand, I love summer. I love the sun, the heat, the water and the not having to do anything. But then I went and filled us with activities because I’m no fool – the idle is not idyll. The quiet lazy afternoons never pan out the way I envision them. We don’t sit in the shade and eat popsicles and draw and fish and read. Possibly because of the frenetic pace we keep during the rest of the year, my kids want action and adventure. Or T.V. And honestly, we don’t even do that much. I suppose it’s relative, but I DO draw the line sometimes. For example, I drew the line at Irish step dancing earlier this year because of the wigs. I also draw the line at fencing, curling and golf. I don’t like golf. I’m not sure it’s an environmentally sustainable sport – especially in the driest areas of our country. It seems elitist and I will run the risk of subjecting my kids to forever being shitty golfers, but if they want to learn they can learn on their own time and their own dime. Plus the outfits are not cute. I pat myself on the back about golf, but then I signed up Supergirl for another run at Circus Camp, because obviously, the trapeze is a life skill that will serve her well. I signed Saint James up for a month long Junior Naturalist program and a drawing class. Why? Because this is their bliss and what can I do, but follow their bliss? And this is how I get myself in this pickle of the anti-Huck Finn summer.

It’s a paradox and I’m making a huge muddle of trying to explain it, but here it goes.

I sign them up for stuff because I don’t want them to be bored and drive me crazy, but in the end I’m crazy anyway and maybe even contributing to their being bored by keeping us on the run all the time. On the other hand, I only sign them up for stuff they love. These lucky, privileged children just happen to have a lot of interests. Take all that and dip it in guilt for not being 100% perky about all of this because a) I chose this life; and b) shouldn’t I want to be with my kids more more more? and c) I’m damn lucky to even have this to complain about, so I should just shut the hell up. Right? Right.

So I, like many others, spent the last few weeks with the calendar, various program catalogues and a furrowed brow, trying to figure out the right amount of stuff to put in our long summer days and how to physically get everyone where they need to go at the times they need to be there. I won’t know, until I’m neck deep in it, whether I got the right proportions of free time to camp time. And by then my freakydeakiness will have worn off, to be replaced with a numb exasperation with myself and my kids. The days will seem hot and endless and long and then all of a sudden it will be late August and I’ll get all freaky again, dreading the crush of school and all that entails, looking back longingly on our summer that seemed to stretch like taffy, and I’ll wish to be back here, right where I am right now.

Apr 29 2010

A bad idea.

monticupcakeMaybe when the only thing you’ve accomplished with your day is eating a bacon cheeseburger and a coconut cupcake, it isn’t wise to attempt to remedy said pathetic situation by trimming your child’s bangs.

And yet, I will.

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