30 December 2007

Like Glitter Falling in a Snow Globe...Except Noisier

It has been an utterly exhausting week. Of course, with Christmas, and visits to family, and visits from family, and all manner of joyful mayhem, it was bound to be exhausting. I feel 2007 limping to a close, and I'm thankful to get out with some semblance of my wits about me. One of my New Year's resolutions is to locate the rest of my wits and reinstall them: we'll see how that goes. In the meantime, here are some highlights from our past week.

We found an absolutely AWESOME professional easel for Vincenzo's Santa Claus gift, and we found it on Craigslist for about 75% less than what we would have paid for it at an art store. It's beautiful; looks like this. We couldn't have been more tickled with our find. And Samuel's godparents gave him a DVD of Hamlet, the Kenneth Brannagh version (you can read more about Samuel's continuing Shakespeare obsession in this previous post).

So, after the obligatory chaos of everyone opening presents and colorful wrapping paper flying everywhere and Dad warning people not to lose the small parts of their gifts (he hearkens back to a painful childhood memory), I went to the kitchen to make breakfast for the troops, leaving the kids to dive into a favorite gift for awhile.

A little while later, I had the occasion to ask Rick: "Now how often does this happen? Our nine year old is watching Hamlet and our seven year old is painting at his easel ON CHRISTMAS MORNING?????" No matter that Elizabeth was most likely screaming at someone, Tallulah probably needed a diaper change, and Lola was in all likelihood changing clothes and leaving a trail of detritus in her wake... the boys were awash in culture and all seemed right with the world.

Both of our families got the kids the most thoughtful and wonderful presents: my kids are certainly some of the luckiest and most blessed in the entire world. I hope they realize this as they get older...


We also made snow globes this week. I will be posting pictures of these once we work out the kinks of the process: this was our first time, and while they are delightful, we are having a few technical problems with them and will be re-doing them. Look for pictures sometime soon. But during the snow globe fiesta, we did have one particularly exciting moment.

Grandma Lola (and her fun little dog Tommy) were visiting, and she and I spent the better part of an afternoon buying supplies for the snow globes. (Note: when people tell you glycerine is easy to get at any drugstore, do not believe them: call ahead to make sure and save yourself some pain and suffering...) We arrived home to an anxious and hungry crowd, ready for some crafting. Grandma graciously offered to buy everyone some dinner from our favorite Mexican restaurant, and she and Rick went to go pick up the food. This left me home with the masses, preparing the snow globe activity.

Imagine the scene: figurines spilling all over the place...children laying claim to the "best" jars...mom trying valiantly to remove the gummy leftovers from a stubborn jar label...Christmas music playing...children finding themselves strangely attracted to the big jars of white and silver glitter that lay on the table...and all of this amidst a house that is just plain messy. Like FEMA-level messy. No room for anyone to work, let alone think, but I had promised snow globes, and time was a-wastin'. No one was interested in me cleaning up first.

I say all this by way of setting the scene for what happened next. It was pure mayhem, and I was trying just to forge ahead without letting the mayhem distract me. Until Vincenzo said: "Mom, look at Tallulah!" And there she was, doll that she is, sitting on her little bottom in the kitchen, feeding herself Tommy's dinner that had been left out on the floor. Displaying some pretty advanced small motor skills in the process, I might add.

I screamed, I swept her up, I gagged. The kids screamed, they laughed, they made disgusting noises. It was nuts...I tried sweeping her mouth of as much dog food as I could manage, but apparently she'd been at this for awhile, because there wasn't much left in her mouth, and not much in the bowl either. Totally and completely disgusting. After cleaning her up the best I could while holding her at arm's length because the stench of the dog food was making me heave, I brushed her teeth and gave her a big bottle of water. HOW GROSS IS THAT? Luckily, Grandma Lola buys very good dog food, so it was actually the kind with real food in it...but that's mighty small consolation when you find yourself picking this "real food" out of your 16-month old daughter's teeth. Eeeeeeew.

We did manage to get an appropriately appalled response from Rick and his mom when they returned and Vincenzo said: "Grandma, the good news is that Tommy's bowl is finally empty; the bad news is, he's not the one that did it!"


And on a more serious note, this week I have been pondering the "long haul" nature of parenting. I think because we have had so much going on this week, so many packed days, I have really been struck by the impossible nature of the task before us: Raise five kids while keeping the house together, the kitchen stocked, the laundry folded, the checkbook balanced, the neighbors happy, the clients happy, the marriage solid, and the soul grounded. I have had many chances this week to reflect on how much we – I – need to keep in mind that parenting is for the long haul, and that the lessons our children most need to know are ones they will not learn overnight. We won't have the satisfaction of seeing them in the moment realize the truth of what we tell them. Instead, we need to trust that our words and deeds will stay with them, will root in their minds and hearts, and that someday they will know we were telling them the truth.

I'm not talking about the kind of cynical seasoned parent who says: "Just wait until you're older, then you'll know what life is really like." I'm talking about the hard lessons we would love for them to know now, the lessons Samuel would like to know now so that he's ready for the future. And I need to remind myself about the crucial need for patience. I need to be patient with them to have the lessons we teach them slowly sink in over time and with lots of gentle repetition. I find myself getting frustrated that I'm yet again trying to coax this child out of hurt feelings or that one out of a screaming tantrum. And yes, there is a place for not letting them "get away" with manipulation. But what they need more than a hard ass is someone to gently, firmly, hold the line and hold it with love, patience, compassion and understanding.

This might not make sense without the particulars, but the particulars are, I think, private for each of my children. But maybe it does anyway, as I'm guessing we can all relate to the experience of wishing we had more patience; it seems as universal as wanting our children to have a coat on in cold weather.

I am not a person who makes New Year's resolutions. It has always seemed false to me to pin all of my hopes on a date on the calendar. Instead, I seem to prefer setting myself up for resolution disappointment multiple times, all year round. But since these reflections are coinciding with the New Year, it seems fitting to shape them into a resolution – a prayer – for 2008: In this New Year, I hope I find the strength and patience to teach my children well, with love and kindness, the things they need to know to be happy. And I hope I teach them not to eat dog food.

23 December 2007

Before, After, and In Between

Christmas is upon us. Practically sitting on my chest, in fact. And Christmas is heavy.

It's been a noisy week in Lake Alatorre. We've had the school Christmas Program, a Basketball Tournament (we're in the Final Game! Yeah! Mixed Blessing!), baking til 3AM, last day of school, school parties, a birthday party invitation to honor, shopping, gift wrapping, decorating . . .

I am continually amazed at the ebb and flow of chaos and order around here. One minute, the dining room looks like this:

And miraculously, after a little elbow grease, it looks like this:

Lovely, isn't it? Lasts for about 10 seconds before it spontaneously combusts into mayhem once more.

There is so very much to do at this time of year. We are notoriously bad at taking care of things ahead of time, so we are once again down to the wire on a few gifts, important ones, too. Each year, I vow to start earlier so that I can spend these last few days before Christmas enjoying family and friends rather than shopping, baking, and running around like a maniac. I was unable to keep that vow this year, but I am yet again vowing to do better in 2008.

And even though we are last minute once again, we actually don't do THAT much shopping, so it's not so terrible. I have spent very little time in stores this year, and have been quite happy about that. Stores at Christmas make me anxious. There is, quite simply, too much stuff to take in and most of it is pure junk. Well, I suppose that depends on where you shop. I went to Target tonight, not a place I frequent usually, and found precisely what I needed very quickly. I then spent the rest of the time marveling over how much junk there is in the world. I was looking for a gift for my 1 year old. Now, she doesn't actually need a gift...she won't really care if she gets fewer gifts than her siblings, and we already have a nice pair of PJs for her. But I thought I'd just look around and see if there was anything relatively affordable that I felt like she would really have fun with. What I found was tons of cross-promoted toys from the past six months worth of kids' movies, lots of Bratz doll stuff, lots of plastic and electronic "educational" toys. It didn't take me long to remember that Target is the wrong place to shop for creative, well-crafted gifts for children.

I always chuckle to myself when I walk into Target. The doors of the store have a sign posted that says: "Distraction Free Shopping." This is the distillation of Target's policy preventing anyone from standing in front of their stores and asking for donations or signatures or anything else. No Salvation Army bell-ringers at Target: too distracting to the customers. So yes, the experience of walking through the door is free of that particular kind of distraction. Never mind that walking through a Target store is an exercise in being distracted, by banners, ads, displays, music, lights, buzzing, bells, and all manner of "Come Hither" attractions. I think the sign should be changed to read: Distractions-Not-Intended-To-Make-You-Spend-Money In-This-Store Free Shopping.

Anyway, the good news is that while we may have left many things for the last minute, we have also spent more time with the kiddos. We have been making ornaments for the tree, wrapping presents together, singing lots of Carols (mostly in the car going from activity to activity), and generally getting excited about the approaching day of gifties. Lots of talk about the baby Jesus, including a question from Vincenzo: "Why doesn't anything rhyme with Jesus?" Apparently, he was trying to make up a little song, and couldn't finish a couplet that included a line ending in Jesus. So we all joined in and came up with this:

"Christmas is all about the Baby Jesus,
And eating great food like crackers and cheeses!"

And then Elizabeth came up with this version of her "Family Love Song," a favorite of hers:

"I love my Grandma Rose,
And I love Samuel's nose.
And I love Vincenzo's toes..."

We have, in short, been enjoying ourselves. We are spending the days preparing for Christmas and the birth of Christ. We are getting ready to give gifts and watch people smile. We are ready for Christmas, even if the to do list isn't anywhere near finished. And who needs a neatly crossed-off to do list when you've got a cute little angel in the house??

11 December 2007

Tell Me Everything I Need To Know

Yesterday at school, Samuel went to the "Santa Sale," the annual opportunity for kids to buy cheap stuff for their families for Christmas. He bought some things for his brother and sister, and then apparently gave some of his money to his classmates. One boy told Samuel that if Samuel gave him some money, he would stop being mean to him. Well, we had to explain to our darling son that this wasn't OK, and that he should not have given money to the other boy just so he would be his friend. And that the other boy -- and anyone else he gave money to -- should not have asked.

Rick explained that this is what's called "buying friends," and we had to have a conversation about how this isn't appropriate, etc., etc. Samuel is pretty sensitive about things, and he felt really terrible about this. Unfortunately, he felt like he had done something very wrong, despite our efforts to reassure him that it was not his fault, that this was something he just didn't know about beforehand.

I tried to make him feel better. I said, "Samuel, there are lots of thing in life that you just don't know yet, and there's no way for you to know until either we tell you about them, or you experience it on your own first. It's not your fault if you do something and you don't understand what it means or why it's not appropriate; mommy and daddy will try to explain things as you are growing up. Please don't worry about things you don't yet know or understand, sweetie!"

His slightly teary response: "Can you just tell me everything I need to know now, so I'll be ready in the future?"

If only life were that simple...

10 December 2007

Fun Monday Ornament

Today's Fun Monday is brought to us by kaytabug, and here is her assignment:

In the spirit of the season I would like to see your favorite Christmas tree ornament. Not to be confused with the WHOLE tree. I want you to zoom in and show me one or a few(you know I can't choose just one!) of your favorite ornaments. If you don't decorate a tree, show me your menorah or dreidel, Kinara, or Yule Log. I want to see your favorite decoration for this holiday season.

* * *

Once upon a time, there were two young people who were very much in love and had recently gotten engaged. They were carefree, full of hope and anticipation, giddy...clueless.

One of my favorite Christmas ornaments captures the clueless joy of my then-fiance and me perfectly, and I must thank my wonderful mother-in-law for making this ornament and giving it to us.

I love looking at this ornament and laughing at how much I didn't know then, and wishing for a little of that innocence today. Twelve years and five children later, we are no longer that clueless. We have been through miscarriages and labor. We have endured mind-numbing sleep deprivation. We've had our share of financial challenges. We've lost members of our extended family, one at far too young an age. We've changed many, many diapers. We've been to Back to School Night three times now. We've cleaned up after sick children (just tonight, in fact! Rick actually hosed off some bedding in the street tonight...it was just too much stuff for the washing machine.) We've looked at each other in quiet amazement that yes, in fact, all five of them can cry, whine, complain, and yell at the same time. We've looked at each other in quiet and not-so-quiet amazement that this child performed Shakespeare! This one drew a beautiful picture of Mary and Joseph on the road to Bethlehem! This one eats steak, and salmon, and raw garlic, and spicy salsa, and sweet and sour soup! We've raised these five kids each and every day of the last several years, and been through all of the highs and lows that we all get to experience as parents.

We are older and wiser now, not so giddy anymore. But now we get to be something better than giddy: now we get to be that kind of happy that is deep and tired, hard won and hard kept, sometimes shabby like the Velvetine Rabbit, always abiding deep in our hearts. And we are still achieving this kind of happiness. We've still got the teenage years ahead of us to really test our mettle.

Who knew that happiness was scrappy and messy? Not those two kids in the ornament picture. But when I look at that picture, I realize that this is the very lesson I am learning every day, and I smile because I miss those early days and because I wouldn't change places with that girl for all the gold in the world.

03 December 2007

Fun Monday: I'm A Novice, so Bear With Me!

I have noticed that everyone else linked back to our gracious host, and included her text of the assignment this week. A day (almost) late, I am doing the same now:

Today’s Fun Monday host is Robinella. Her assignment is this:

“In honor of exhaustion, color and self-love, I present you with this week’s assignment. I want you to dig through your blog files and show us your best effort. Why you consider it your best is up to you. C’mon, you know you have a favorite - show it to me one more time”.

Fun Monday: One of My Favorite Posts

Today I am participating in a fun blogging thing called Fun Monday. The idea is that one blogger hosts, and picks an assignment for others to do if they choose to participate. The assignment this week was to pick a favorite blog post and simply repost it. This is the first time I've done Fun Monday, and it's nice to start on something simple! So here, without further ado, a reprisal of one of my favorite posts, from my not-yet-well-established blogging habit.

Just Another Fun Filled Day

Monday morning: Get up at 5:45 to make it to the grocery store when it opens at 6, because there isn't enough "lunch box" type food in the house for the school day. Stop on the way out the door because the baby has woken up. OK, so feed the baby first, drop her on the bed with dad, and off to the store. Think vaguely about what to make for dinner...give up on that one. Expend brain cells trying to balance nutritious lunch items with items the children will actually eat. Give up on that one, too.

Get home, make coffee, go to the dryer to get the uniforms out for the kids. Discover that the uniforms are still waiting to be transferred from the washer to the dryer (we can talk about whose fault that was later). Hastily pile the uniforms in the dryer; look at the clock: 50 minutes until we leave for school, 45 minutes to dry if we're lucky. Back to the kitchen; make school lunches and realize that I actually bought enough food to feed 3 classrooms instead of three children. (Will come in handy for the rest of the week...)

Get children up. Feed them the frozen waffles I uncharacteristically, but thankfully, impulse purchased. At the last viable moment, hustle the kids into dry (or dry-ish) school uniforms; stifle any complaints about damp socks. Pile everyone out the door and let dad take them to school for once. Back in; change the 2 year old and 1 year old. Clean the kitchen. Speed clean the rest of the house (ie., set the time for 20 minutes and do as much as possible in that time and then CEASE ALL CLEANING.) Call the doctor to make an appointment for the 1 year old (likely ear infection) and the 8 year old (should we have taken him to the hospital for stitches for the gash on his head when a metal basketball hoop fell on him last night? or was the butterfly bandaid enough??). OK, appointment scheduled for much earlier than hoped for...shower REALLY FAST while baby cries in her crib and the two year olds "plays" with her. Pack diaper bag, shoes for the 2 year old (who won't put shoes on unless she's in her car seat), remember the bill that has to be mailed, don't forget wallet, cell phone, sense of humor. Pick up 8 year old from school and go to the doctor. Yes, the baby has an ear infection (as if the incessant screaming and ear pulling wasn't enough confirmation); and yes, we should have taken the 8 year old for stitches. Great. No mother-of-the-year award for today, I guess. Make mental note to add money to the childrens' therapy fund.

Take the 8 year old back to school; off to Costco because we really can't exist without the following depeleted items in our home: coffee, parmesan cheese, a Y2K supply of cinnamon. Run through Costco with the 2 and 1 year olds. Off to the pharmacy to fill the antibiotic prescription for my adorable little screaming mimi. Get there right after the pharmacist has left for lunch. Decide that pharmacists should not be allowed to eat.

Home in time to pay a couple of bills on line, make a couple of phone calls for the family business, put away the perishables from Costco.

Back in the car to see if the pharmacist has decided to stop eating long enough to fill my prescription. Answer the phone while in the drug store, only to learn that the 5 year old Kindergartner has a fever of 102º, and can I please come and get her? Pick up the prescription, head to the school. It's close enough to the end of the school day, so bring everyone home at once to start the kids on their afterschool routine:

1. Put away your lunchbox; change your clothes and hang up your school uniforms; put your backpack on the vent in the hallway.
3. Homework Time
4. Playtime
5. Dinner
6. Chore
7. 15 minutes of clean-up
8. Shower or bathe for either boys or girls (depending on day of the week)
9. Quiet activity time

While making dinner, keep stepping over the 2 year old, who has fallen asleep smack dab in the middle of the kitchen because she missed her nap today. Somewhere beteen dinner and bedtime, perform nurse duties as follows:

• Give the 8 year old head wound some ibuprofen;
• Give the 102º fever some tylenol;
• Give the 1 year old antibiotic for her ear infection and tylenol for the pain (because a muzzle isn't appropriate for such a small child).
• Give the 2 year old ibuprofen for the multiple bruises on her leg, sustained when she catapulted backwards off the couch and landed on the wooden castle.

Clean up the dinner dishes while the kids do their 15 minutes of clean up. Divide bedtime reading duties with husband. Set firm boundaries: 2 stories tonight, then teeth brushing and bed! Four stories later, enforce the teeth brushing bit. Coerce, cajole, and physically force children large and small to GO TO BED.

Pop open one nice cold Lagunitas Ale and fall on the couch.

At 9:15, before surrendering completely to exhaustion, congratulate the 2 year old who has emerged from her room, wandered into the living room, pointed proudly to her nose and announced: "Look! No boogers!"