27 May 2008


I made a promise to my son yesterday, in an instant, without giving it much thought. It was Memorial Day, I was making breakfast for everyone, and he was whining. He was being incorrigible, as a matter of fact. He was despondent because he was bored, and he didn’t want what I was cooking, and why couldn’t he have some licorice, and why didn’t he ever get to do anything fun? He can muster up the foulest of moods at times, and this was one of those times.

I, on the other hand, was in a strangely light-hearted mood. Perhaps because I recently got a four-day hiatus from being a mom…perhaps because the night before some friends had us over for dinner and pampered us like nobody’s business…perhaps because I have been getting just slightly more sleep than usual lately. Anyway, in a uncharacteristic burst of optimism, I told him that I was going to stay calm and cheerful no matter what he said to me; I wouldn’t let him whine without sending him to his room, but I would not yell, and I would not let his mood turn my mood equally black and foul. And then I said it: “I promise!”

Well, I was kind of talking about just breakfast time. You know, just to get through to the next challenge of the day. But he took me at my word, and a few hours later, out of the blue, he reminded me. “Mom, remember that you promised to stay calm!”

Which made me realize that I had committed to an entire day of staying calm. I must admit, this gave me more than a little bit of a pause. Could I do it? Would I blow it? Would I end up screaming myself horse simply as a way to make myself heard above the fray? Or could I rise to the challenge and give the kids and myself a real gift?

Well, I actually rose to the challenge. I had a little help from my son; “the promise” became a little thing between us all day long. He would say “Remember, Mom!” Or I would say, “How’m I doin’ on the promise I made, buddy?”

Making that promise to him taught me a few things. First, that he listens to me. Which isn’t always apparent. Second, that it matters to him – to all of them – if I keep my word. And third, that being calm makes me a better parent. And why wouldn’t it? Why do we yell first and ask question (of them or of ourselves) later? What is going to be the harm if I stop for a minute and approach the situation quietly rather than like a crazed woman bent on ridding my children of malicious behavior? And why, oh why, must I re-learn these seemingly obvious lessons over and over?

Later that day, I was trying to play a movie for the kids that I had ordered online from DirecTV. I couldn’t get the darn thing to work, and the kids were on the verge of coming unglued. They were acting so impatient, and so…entitled. It was a great offense to them that they couldn’t watch their movie when they wanted to. It really bothered me; they seemed ungrateful, spoiled, unpleasant. Then I got on the phone to DirecTV and displayed some alarmingly unpleasant behavior myself, as I had to negotiate one of those evil automated phone systems and wait on hold for what seemed like an unjust amount of time.

So I went from scolding them for their intolerable behavior to exhibiting some of my own, right before their very eyes.


I caught myself, though. I told them that I was being ridiculous, and that I needed to show them how to be calm in the face of frustration. Then, I did my best to calmly tell the nice lady at DirecTV that their service sucks. But I was nice about it, I swear! And my kids got to see me practice what I preach. For once.

Make a promise to your kids today. It might just make your day.

And other food for thought:
Sometimes, a mess is just a mess, not a commentary on your worth as a human being.
Sleep helps.
Good food helps.
Quiet helps.

Slow down, world; here I come.

22 May 2008

Brooklyn Brownstone

Do the wonders of my family never cease?

My dad painted this picture of the house some of our family stayed in during our trip to NYC. I especially love the window to the right and the greenery at the bottom left. While a bunch of us slept elsewhere, this place was "home base" for all of our festivities. He captured our home-away-from-home perfectly.

Since he has retired, he has returned to watercolor painting. He has always been an artist; in fact, he was a professional potter for much of my childhood and I was well into my teens before I realized that some people actually purchased the dishes they ate off of. I have many fond memories of running around at street art fairs in San Francisco, dodging in and out between tables of hand-crafted jewelry, tapestries, pottery, paintings, etc. It was a great way to grow up, surrounded by people who take in the world and give something beautiful -- or at least interesting -- back.

Between my artist father and my writer mother (and throw in both of their experiments as musicians!), I think I know where I get the urge to be, if not the practice of being, creative. What a gift! And what a curse as well, as I think almost daily about what creative endeavor I wish I were engaging in but am in fact not. I have the will, but not yet the way. What I do have are a bunch of whiny weak excuses. Well, that and five strong, compelling excuses!

But the will does not leave. I will find some way to create...if only to keep up with my family.

21 May 2008

Re-entry is a Bitch

First off, thanks to Laura for the fantastic post title. She took one look at me this morning on the schoolyard and came up with that gem.

And it sure is, peeps. I had a fantastic time in New York with my family. That is to say, my extended family. I traveled to the Big Apple for my brother's nuptials, and left Rick at home with 5 children on perhaps THE busiest weekend we have had ever. He had to do the following:

  • First off, get everone to school and daycare, usually my gig, and then pick them all up in the afternoon, also usually my gig.
  • Get 7-year old to 5 pm baseball practice
  • Get to 5:30 soccer practice for 5-year old -- he's the coach as well!

  • Get 9-year old to his baseball game by 7:45
  • Get 5-year old to her soccer game by 8:30
  • Dash over to baseball game to try to make 9-year old's pitching debut
  • Take the entire family to an End of the Season soccer potluck
  • Drop off two youngest at Saint Nicole's for an evening of babysitting
  • Take the older three to a birthday swim party.

  • Get 9-year old, along with everyone else, to 9 AM Mass; 3rd grade was doing all of the Mass parts, and our own child did a reading.
  • Take everyone to the Annual School Spring Festival. Dole out game tickets like some twisted form of kid-crack.
  • Take 9-year old to his baseball game; he had to be there at 2:15, and they didn't get home until 7:30. Yikes.

Throw in one business consultation, which he did with four kids in tow, grocery shopping, birthday gift shopping, and feeding everyone, and it's quite an accomplishment. Wow. He's a keeper.

Meanwhile, I was conducting my own experiment to see just how little sleep and how much caffiene, alcohol, and bread products one woman can handle. Apparently the answers are very little and quite a bit. I love that my family enjoys "the drink." We do have fun together.

My brother lives in Park Slope, a beautiful neighborhood in Brooklyn. My mom, dad, and aunt stayed in a lovely Brownstone via a "house swap" arrangement; my sister, brother-in-law, 3 year old nephew, and I stayed in a great little guesthouse. All of our places were within a 5 block radius of each other.

We did the rehearsal thing on Friday, with a Rehearsal Lunch. Saturday, we walked all over Brooklyn, through Prospect Park and through the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, and the long way home. We managed to arrive at the 6pm wedding in Manhattan via subway with about 10 minutes to spare, freaking my brother out BIG TIME, because WE HAD THE RINGS. We had hoped to be there earlier, but what can you do? My mom and dad were quite the celebrities, meeting Tony's friends for the first time; he's lived there for about 15 years! My dad gave a fantastic toast. He worked in Karl Marx and a reference to porn, and still managed to get a few people teary. You sure are charming when you try to be, dad!

Sunday morning, my brother-in-law and I took the subway into Manhattan and walked around the perimeter of the World Trade Center site. It was very interesting, and sobering.

So. Now I am back. Hoo-boy. I am still digging out from being gone, three days later. Clothes are still everywhere...the to do list keeps getting longer...the kids are WIGGING OUT...and my rejuvenated self didn't last as long as one might hope. It was so wonderful to be on my own for four days. It was amazing how easily I slipped into it. It's not so easy to slip back into the "mommy mommy mommy" and the screaming and the fighting and the squabbling and the potty training and the accidents and the spilled milk and the noise oh the noise. It's a damn good thing I love them so much.

Re-entry is a much longer process than I anticipated. I think part of me is still walking the lovely avenues of Park Slope, sipping a latte, and deciding whether to eat a croissant or a bagel. Today, I was far more tired than I was the day after I got back. So tired I could barely move. I think I need a few more days away!

Hmmmm, don't think I'm gonna get it. A bitch indeed.

By the way, the porn reference was really rather innocent, so please don't think strangely of my father. The entire toast was lovely, funny, touching, and I'll say it again: charming.

07 May 2008

I Can't See the Forest...

...because a pack of wild monkeys keeps piling on top of me and shoving me further down into the leaves and muck and mud and loamy earth. 5 monkeys, to be exact.

I am utterly floundering here. My house is a disaster. There is no food in the house. The laundry is threatening to fall over on top of me or one of my offspring. I'm late with school paperwork, daycare paperwork, movie rentals. I am behind on my freelance work projects. I am behind on Garden Design business work. I cannot trust my own calendar, so I live in fear of whatever I am forgetting. I need to plan a 1st Communion shindig...in two days. I have to write a letter of recommendation for a colleague seeking a special award. I am helping produce the 2nd grade contribution to the annual auction in a week and a half. I have a sick child. I am potty training another child. We have baseball practices and soccer practice and games to coordinate. Birthday parties to attend. Mother's Day to acknowledge. A trip to New York to think about (fun and exciting, but YIKES: at this point, I'll be lucky if I manage to wear something besides sweats and a t-shirt to my brother's wedding!) I am exhausted. I am spent. I am done.

A friend of mine once suggested that I post my to-do list on my blog. This would mean I actually have to face my to-do list, and I just can't quite get there. It's never complete, it's always too long, and it's an insane document. I wouldn't want to air that particular piece of laundry...

Something's gotta give. And I don't really want it to be me. What do I cross off the list?

You know you have a big family when...

...one of your kids asks for ear plugs for Christmas.

01 May 2008

Time for the Natives!

And I do not mean the children.

Rick and I run our own native plant garden design business. And this weekend is the annual Garden Tour we are lucky enough to participate in. So I won't be posting anything until after Sunday, but for those of you interested in learning more about native plants, their advantages, and their beauty, check out the Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour website. Better yet, come on the free tour! Online registration is closed, since the tour is this Sunday, but there are several walk-in registration sites, including our own garden. It's a truly wonderful event...a fantastic way to spend a Sunday.

I'll be back after the tour!