Friday, October 9, 2015

Things Are Going Fine

I hate running out of paper towels. Inevitably, the dog barfs whenever I have no paper towels. I will clean up a lot of gross things with cloth towels, but dog barf isn't one of them. Well... thanks to Amazon's "Subscribe and Save" program, and my itchy trigger finger on the "order now" button, I will never run out of paper towels again - ever. Never ever ever. Look at them! They've multiplied like rabbits and no longer fit in the pantry. I'm going to have to build an addition onto my house to store paper towels! Who has time to build an addition onto the house? Not me! I'm too busy doing... what AM I doing? Certainly not improving my computer prowess --- all those paper towels but our family of six is only a few rolls away from being out of toilet paper... good thing I've been to India and can proficiently wipe with my hand because I'll be DAMNED if I'm going to buy any toilet paper in an actual store. It will arrive on my doorstep via UPS from Amazon or we will all just have to go potty at other people's houses.

So --- back to that question - what am I doing with my recent huge supply of free hours?

Activity 1) Being down on myself about my lack of online ordering skills
Activity 2) Spending a lot of time on Facebook
Activity 3) Not cleaning the house
Activity 4) Wondering who will brush the dog already! And trim her nails! And walk her!
Activity 5) Feeling guilty about all of the above PLUS the fact that I haven't finished writing a book, reading a book, or organizing the linen closet which has been on my chore list since late August
Activity 7) Painting my nails
Activity 8) Un-painting my nails

I know I've been on Facebook too much. I can barely hold a conversation with anyone, even my dog, without mentioning someone's Facebook post or comment. Last night, I found myself sitting at the table after dinner unable to move. I was transfixed by Facebook, ignoring the dishes, the laundry, the kids' homework, the 43 Cub Scouts about to arrive eagerly at my house. I spoke slowly to myself, in a gentle, reassuring voice: "Teri, set down your phone. Look your daughter in the eye and reassure her that the math will get done. Now... clear off the counter... easy does it... no sudden moves... and hit "wrinkle release" (for the fourth time) on the dryer then move carefully toward the dishes. That's it. You're doing a great job. Now get out there and take a walk to burn off some of the sugar from the candy bars you were sneaking."

Later: dishes done, counter clean, clothes put away, and Cub Scouts having had a successful meeting - my husband and I have bleary "How much freaking longer can this week BE?" looks on our faces. We watch one of our guilty pleasure TV shows (YES! Instead of spending romantic time working on that linen closet!) and then fall asleep milliseconds after climbing into bed.

Today, glorious Friday, I drop the kids at school, buy myself a coffee, and sit down to look at Facebook. (I know, I know. Shut up.)

I see this post from a dear friend:

I have been to a wedding and a funeral this week....Life is precious, it's worthy of celebration. With all my kids in school and more "free time" than I've had in years, I'm spending more time thinking about stuff, less time on Facebook, more time walking the dog, less time comparing myself to others, more time reading and less time "hustling for my worthiness." It feels good.

I smile and I cry, simultaneously. Her circumstances are similar to mine but NOWHERE IN THIS POST DOES SHE MENTION PAPER TOWELS TAKING OVER HER LIFE! 

That "less time comparing myself to others" part gets me. On any given weekday, I'm falling short of a hundred people's expectations: people who have no expectations of me! It makes no sense. I'd join this friend on a walk with the dog to glean some life wisdom but she lives in another state. Instead, we set up a phone date. I know she will be gentle and encouraging and real - she always is. Her Facebook post is beautiful for that reason - she never tries to be anything she's not -- and her words today are good news and encouragement. I just need permission from myself to relax. We are in a brand new place in life. It takes a while to figure it out and navigate. Her words "hustling for my worthiness" stick in my brain. I've been hustling for weeks - trying to prove to myself that all is well. The hustle doesn't work anyway and then I turn to social media and candy bars. Might as well take a deep breath, say another prayer, and remember my worth is already established - whether my nails are painted or not - and even if we don't have toilet paper. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Wouldn't it Be Funny?

Wouldn't it be funny if, now that I'm free most of the day, I hired myself out to homeschooling moms as a tutor/schoolwork supervisor so they could have extra time to themselves? I don't think my kids would think it was that funny. Some of them (I won't name names) are asking (regularly and loudly) to go back to homeschooling. I am standing by my decision to send them to public school despite the teeny incidents involving other children who: eat hand santizer; act like total brats; don't take their meds and therefore are exceedingly disruptive. Yep, in three weeks I've seen each of those things and more! Just ask! I've been telling the stories non-stop and I have them honed so they're pretty funny when you're not crying about them.

Anyhoo.... back to the subject at hand, which, contrary to appearances isn't homeschooling or public schooling -- but hiring myself out. Let me catch you up on what I've been thinking:

I gotta get a job.

I gotta take some time off now that I'm not full-time mothering small children or homeschooling.

I gotta get a job.

There's no way I can work and still deal with the drop-offs, the pick-ups, the homework, the meal-planning, the grocery-shopping, the errands, the housecleaning, the laundry, the Facebook, the coffee-drinking, the book-writing, the...

I need to work to earn money because suddenly I have a kid in ninth grade. Ninth! He's an official high-schooler with official plans to be a college-goer and before you can say "Geez, he's tall! I remember when he was a wee lad!" I'm going to need some resources to at least partially support him in his pursuit of higher education. After all, I want him to be successful and happy so I can finally let go of all the guilt over how bad I think I've botched this most days AND so he can help support Kevin and I on our trips to Europe in our senior-citizenhood since we could never afford it when the kids were growing up.

If I work, I will be miserable and bored because I can't think of one single job I would enjoy that doesn't require another degree or two. And if I take the time to pursue another degree or two - there goes all that time I could have been earning money! And there goes all that money I could have put aside for degrees for my kids! Today, as I poured my coffee, I had a revelation: If I get started now, and work my butt off, I can have a Master's degree before my oldest reaches his junior year. Then I have TWO FULL YEARS of earning before that same kid graduates and requires help with college. But then I remembered all the Master's degrees I'm interested in and how the jobs they're associated with don't pay squat - and how people who use phrases like "don't pay squat" probably won't even pass the GRE. Hell, I couldn't even remember what the GRE was called and had to text my friend for a reminder. I'm doomed.

I've read *several* (read: one) studies that say that teenagers need a parent's presence even more than young children or else they will devolve into sociopaths. If I'm going to work, better to choose something I'm not passionate about and educated for so it's not hard to leave it at the end of the day to go home and supervise the homework and the lunch-making.

If I don't work, I will find myself mid-day on a Tuesday writing a blog viewable by the public which outs me as a bored, neurotic, over-thinker who is CLEARLY drinking too much coffee.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

On Mammograms (and therefore Frigidaires, I guess)

Right on the mammogram machine there are two packets of smelling salts* taped at eye level. "Do you need those very often?" I ask the technician.

"No, not often, but when I do, it's good to have them close." She reiterates that a mammogram isn't that painful but people sometimes get "worked up" and pass out. I'm glad I'm not "worked up." I'm standing there with a gown draped first over one shoulder, then the other, trying to seem nonchalant about having my breast maneuvered onto a tray and then flattened by what really resembles a refrigerator drawer. It does, I swear. I could remove it from the machine, take it home in my purse, and fill it with fresh vegetables before installing it in my Frigidaire.**

I find myself thinking about how this is what this woman does all day long. She dons her gloves, positions other people's breasts onto the tray, then stands behind a shield and pushes the button that takes the picture of the breast. Over and over and over again. And presumably, goes to lunch mid-day and is able to think about other things. I don't envy her job, I really don't. I don't want to have a job where I may or may not have to deal with people passing out. And... I'm losing sight of the bigger picture here - I also don't want to have my hands on other people's breasts all day. I hope she earns a good salary.

Days after the mammogram experience, women get their results. I've done this before, and thankfully,  last time there wasn't anything abnormal. But my friend in California had her first mammogram within days of mine and her results were different. And then she started her cancer treatment. I'm happy to say she is here today, having survived the cancer. I sat with her after her first reconstructive surgery and thought back to when she got her results and I got mine and our paths diverged.

More recently, two more women I know got breast cancer diagnoses. So, today when I stood there trying to relax as the machine clamped down, I thought of them. Prayed for them. It hurt a little at one point and I remembered my friend's husband's description of the skin stretcher she was coping with at home as she recuperated from her mastectomy. I can handle a little pain. Especially compared to a skin stretcher. If it comes to it, I'll deal with the skin stretcher, too, if it means I get to live a little longer with my family.

Why am I talking about mammograms and breast cancer? I'm certainly not a good advocate for regular mammograms. Today's was my first in three years. I'll know the outcome in a few days. But the experience, whether it brings relief until the next one, or produces the news that changes your life, is something many of us women are going through or being encouraged to go through once a year, much like dentist appointments and pap smears. And I like to talk about things like that. Unpleasant but common experiences. Just to reiterate the "you're not alone" message that so often gets me through things like mammograms.

*ammonia inhalants, or ammonia carbonate if you want the fancier, more medically accurate term

** I do not actually own a Frigidaire-brand refrigerator but I'm not writing from home and can't actually recall what brand I own. And I'm in good company this way. Shel Silverstein used the Frigidaire brand in his lustrous poem "There's a Polar Bear in My Frigidaire." Go pick up a copy of "A Light in the Attic" and read it. It might help get your mind off the subject of mammograms.

Friday, August 28, 2015

End of a Big Week

Monumental week this week. If it weren’t for the coffee shop I love so dearly, I might be wandering aimlessly somewhere talking to myself. Prayer has helped, too. Let’s be honest, it takes more than coffee to keep me going. But it’s Friday and my four kids and my husband and I got through the first five big days of public school life after six years of homeschooling. Additionally, we have a high school freshman - it might take months for me to acclimate to that. There have been victories (out the door every morning on time! good teachers! time at the coffee shop! homework done! lunches packed by a miracle of Jesus!) and defeats (slight bullying incident! tears and nausea on the way to school! lamenting early wake-up! why am I putting exclamation marks on the defeats?) But we did it. One down, thirty-something to go. Let’s not think about that right now.

The experiences of this week have been peppered by those of our friends. We know four families who just took their eldest kids to college. One navigating the world of college sports for her hopeful high-school senior. Some with new Kindergarteners, a couple marveling over full-day first-graders. A few in the earliest stages of motherhood with newborns. Plenty, like me, looking wide-eyed at their high-school freshmen and wondering when they got so tall… so opinionated… so old. 

The variations in parenting circumstances from newborn to college are staggering. But the similarities are undeniable and poignant. My mom-of-a-middle-schooler friend was buying school shoes and teared up when she realized her daughter’s feet were suddenly only one size smaller than her own. At the same time, our neighbor “forgot” she’d just dropped off her daughter at a campus hundreds of miles away and went ahead and got out a dinner plate for her, too. When her husband pointed it out… tears. The tears are a result of similar goings-on in our hearts - this parenting thing is never-ending change! Why does it hurt so much? I’m not prepared to delve into that question. What I do know is how it stood out to me this week all that we have in common. Weird how Katie’s Kindergarten boy posing next to his new teacher looks remarkably similar to Annette’s son in his just-set-up dorm room. Maybe only in a mother’s eyes, I’m not sure. All I know right now is that the coffee and the prayer are helping, and thank God for friends.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The End of Our Homeschool Era

Tonight we are going to a homeschool yearbook-signing party. My kids will see friends, sign yearbooks, and play in the park. My husband and I will see friends, eat potluck dinner, and cry into our hankies as we mark the end of an era - our homeschooling years. Okay, that’s not totally accurate. Kevin hardly ever cries in public. And I’m feeling nostalgic, but not really emotional. 

It has been a mostly-all-good six years. I’ve managed to teach the kids to read, do math, and feel comfortable doing science in pajamas. These kids are socialized, thriving, fun young people that I’ve been happy to have home with me all this time. But as a result of the occasional fear that I’m botching it, coupled with bouts of depression and loneliness, I think a change will be beneficial. I need the help and support of other teachers. I need more schedule, structure, and accountability than I currently have. Therefore, next year Joseph starts public high school and the other three will be attending a charter school. 

When I dropped off Joe at the high school the other day, where he was assisting in the set-up of a summer robotics camp, I was elated. He had something good to do that I didn’t orchestrate, wasn’t supervising, and could appreciate from a bit of a distance. For some, I realize, the desire to avoid such “letting go” is the exact reason they homeschool. For me, I’m grateful for the opportunities presenting themselves in the public school world. I may even hug their teachers every morning and bake cookies for them once a week. 

My life is going to change, big time. It hit me oddly a few days ago when I began to “unfollow” homeschool bloggers and companies on Facebook and Twitter. My identity is changing. I’m trying to imagine how it will feel to buy uniforms, review someone else’s curriculum choices, drop the kids off every weekday, and come home to a quiet house for the first time in fourteen years. (I’ve only homeschooled for six years but I’ve been a mom for over fourteen.)

What now? Do I get a job? Focus on the baseboards I haven’t cleaned? Volunteer somewhere? Stay in bed til noon, eat Bon-Bons til my pedicure then shop til I drop? The truth is, I don’t know. I’ve never had such quantities of time to myself. Before homeschooling, I had four babies in a row so all my time was spent pregnant, breastfeeding, potty-training, and getting pregnant again. This is a WHOLE NEW ERA, friends. And to be honest, it’s a little overwhelming. Maybe not as overwhelming as that whole breastfeeding and potty-training time, but still…

Kevin suggested I take at least one semester off before I begin a job hunt. I like that suggestion. Truthfully, most of my days will likely be filled with kid transport, helping in their classrooms, writing, cleaning those baseboards (just kidding, maybe), homework facilitation, and perhaps an exercise DVD minus the elementary-aged audience watching and telling me I’m doing it wrong.

Thankfully, summer break isn’t even half over. I have more time to dream about next year and relish my kids. I also have to teach them study skills, test-taking, and how to get out of their pajamas for science. Here's how it's going so far. See how riveted he is?

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Books! But My Pants Are Falling Apart

I bought a pair of yoga pants many months ago and they are ready to be replaced. They have shrunk a tad so when they're freshly laundered I have to hold them in front of me and place my foot on the bottom hem of each leg and then pull, pull, pull up as far as I can, stretching the fabric so they're not too short when I put them on. Often I hear a stitch pop, so I have to inspect the seams along the outside of the leg or sometimes the crotch. God forbid I walk out in public with a hole in my pants.

Last night, I wore the yoga pants, briefly, for dinner at a friend's. When I came home, I draped them over a bin in my closet. This draping action indicates they're not dirty enough to warrant laundering, but not clean enough to re-hang. I can wear them again the next day provided they're spot-free by morning light.

Today I shower and dress anticipating my "Mom's Day Out." Once a month, I plan a day away from my usual responsibilities to relax, meet with friends, sit in my favorite coffee shop, maybe write. It occurs to me that perhaps this time my plans should include a little shopping. I could use that dwindling Christmas money, tucked in the back of my wallet, to buy a new pair of pants! On the forefront of my day's plan, though, is a visit to a bookstore that recently opened downtown. It's an independently-owned shop that looks enticing in online photos. A regular, old bookstore would be appealing enough - THIS one promises an antique printing press; cool in-store events; and ---put on a quirky hat --- an artificial bird sanctuary! The more I look forward to investigating this new place, the less I think about pants shopping.

I make the drive to the store with friends. It's called The Writer's Block, and when we're parked and walking in, my heart is singing. This is such a cool place! The books! The decor! Birds and t-shirts and vintage board-games and friendly employees!  In under twenty minutes, I have selected several hundred dollars' worth of books. I want to buy them all. I want to carry them home and read them and be changed by them and then place them on my bookshelves to be cherished. But I'm wearing the yoga pants. The ones with almost-holes in them. The ones I wore yesterday, too, and will try to wear tomorrow, after church. The ones that would cost much less to replace than the hard cover autobiography I'm holding and yearning for. In my mind, I hear advice from my more frugal friends: "You can get that at the library." "Put some of those back." But the Christmas money! I do put several books back on the shelf, and appease myself by entering the desired titles into my "To Read" shelf on Goodreads. I buy a book on birding (better to own than borrow because it's a reference) and a practical paperback and a little bunny figurine for my daughter who is turning ten in a few days. And I hope these pants will hold up a while longer.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Tarnished Silver Cup

I like to throw things away. People often give me a hard time about it, but I can honestly say I've never regretted getting rid of anything. I'm not cold-hearted, I do keep a few meaningful things. I have my photo albums. I have my Smurf collection. I have my baby blanket stowed in a box in my closet. And I have this silver, engraved cup from Neiman Marcus that my parents' friends gave me when I was a newborn. It sits fairly prominently on a shelf in my bedroom, and I stopped and held it the other day while I was dusting. It reminds me of so many things.

We weren't Neiman Marcus kind of people; we lived in a pink aluminum-siding house and wore handmade clothes. But my mom sure liked that cup. I got the impression that she would have liked more things from fancy stores. It's weird how hopes and disappointments can sit on a shelf in the form of a small silver cup. As I grew up, I admit that things from fancy stores became appealing to me, too, though you wouldn't know it from the choices I made.

At nineteen, I had a boyfriend in a punk rock band, a secretarial job, two roommates, and a lot of freedom. To obtain this freedom, I had packed up my clothes in trash bags and moved out of my parents' house a year before. I had dropped out of college because it got in the way of the lifestyle I was enjoying. This lifestyle consisted mostly of spending time with the boyfriend, drinking, and dancing. I did afford a few fancy pieces of clothing thanks to my trusty credit cards, but those were pretty much maxed out.

One November weekend, at my boyfriend's parents' house, I took a pregnancy test. It was positive. I hadn't considered my goals recently, but nevertheless I was pretty sure that having a baby wasn't going to help my circumstances. I was nowhere near a Neiman Marcus life.

A marriage proposal came haphazardly while strolling the upper level of the mall hours after the pregnancy test. There was no diamond ring, just a Coke from the food court. And no mention of true love and devotion, or any of the stuff that might be forefront in a proposal I would have liked.

I tried to bring up adoption - I was adopted - but he didn't like the idea. He wanted to get married like his parents got married in high school when they were pregnant with him. I'm not sure why his desires prevailed... maybe I couldn't imagine giving away my baby.

If this was really happening - and it seemed to be - my parents weren't going to be happy. I needed to tell them as soon as possible so they could get acquainted with the idea in time to help pay for a wedding. I couldn't fund it on my own, I was having a hard enough time affording cereal.

To spare myself the tantrum my step-dad was sure to throw, I called my mom during work hours and asked her to meet me for lunch. We chose the Jack-in-the-Box between her office and mine. I had never asked my mom to lunch before, and our relationship had been considerably strained since I moved out, so I can only imagine what she anticipated.

Did I look out the window when I told her? Stare at the table? I have no memory. What did I wear on the day I told my mom I was pregnant and marrying a guy she barely knew?

I got the words out. A baby was on the way, there would be a wedding. There wasn't more to say. She said she'd tell my cranky step-dad. And I went back to work.

I have no recollection why I told my coworkers about that Neiman Marcus cup, but I did. Maybe I was being wry about it - lamenting how this baby wouldn't have a silver cup. In any case, a day or two later, one of the women I worked with appeared at my desk carrying a shopping bag. She said it was for the baby and held it out to me. It was a plastic baby cup from Pic-n-Save.

Would my baby have had different standards with that cheap, plastic cup on a shelf in our house, rather than the silver one? Would she be less disappointed in herself over her mistakes? Would it have mattered? I still haven't achieved a Neiman Marcus level in my life. How have my expectations for my children been shaped by what I went through as a young adult? These are all the questions I think about when I dust that cup. And still I keep it. I don't bother polishing it, though. And the plastic one? I confess --- I threw it away.