27 January 2009

Concrete Reflections

I heard on the news the other day that 80% of the population of the United States lives in cities, or in suburbs of cities, in the uninterrupted sprawl extending outward in ripples from our metropolitan centers. This statistic surprised me. It made me realize, perhaps late in the game, just how much the country has changed in the last few generations.

My husband and I both grew up in small towns, and those towns have left their imprint upon us. I grew up where tidy blocks of homes mostly built in the early 1900's were interspersed with fields and creeks; from most of those tidy homes, one can see the rolling hills cradling the town. My walk to grammar school included a stretch of earthen alley alongside Nathanson Creek. I took a different way home, one that took me by an undeveloped town block, covered by a field of grasses and wildflowers. Slightly off-center, a lovely old oak tree held court, a perfect fort for school children looking to stretch out the afternoon by lingering in the field, imagining they were living on the wide open prairie, waiting for Laura and Nellie to walk by with their chalkboards and lunch buckets.

My little town was quiet, slow in comparison to the city I live in now, utterly charming. Yes, it was a safe place to raise kids, and I've written before about wishing my kids could be "free range," but it's not the safety I am feeling nostalgic for. It's the chance to live close to nature, to fields and trees and dirt and buzzing flies. It’s the chance to live where the sight of farm animals is not novel, where not all the sidewalks are paved, where shoes can crunch over gravel on a routine walk to the store. Living so close to the natural world settles you somehow, places you somewhere that feels solid and unchanging, in a way that strip malls with their ever-changing store fronts simply cannot do.

* * *

We are raising our family firmly placed in that 80% of the population I heard about on the radio. We occupy one of those undulating ripples of urban/suburban sprawl radiating outward from San Francisco. I realized the other day that as I live my life amidst the concrete and asphalt, I am assuming that someday we will live once more where fields and dirt and grass and wide expanses are commonplace. The rural life I grew up with is firmly etched on my mind and heart in such a way that I still feel like a visitor in the place I've called home for 12 years, someone passing through on my way home.

But who knows? We talk about moving someplace rural, but we are far away from making that a reality. We don't know if we ever really will sell this house -- our first, the one that is supposed to be our "starter home" -- and move to someplace our hearts already live, someplace that is quiet at night, where we can see the stars, where our kids can really learn about land from the ground up, so to speak.

* * *

Now, when I drive around town (or more accurately, from one town to the next along the stretch of cities that run together along the freeway), I think about how I might not be able to give them that experience. Maybe we won’t make it “back to the land.” That does make me stop and get nostalgic.

There are, of course, good things about cities. Shakespeare camp is probably hard to come by in more rural places. Good coffee might be a bit harder to find. Great books stores? Not so easy to get to. We would wait longer for really good movies to play nearby. If we stay in a metropolitan area, our kids will have multiple opportunities to learn about whatever they are interested in and to be exposed to interesting people doing interesting things. They will understand the modern world well.

But they won’t have the same imprints that their mom and dad have, further evidence that we are actually raising complete strangers. That asphalt feels foreign to me, but certainly not to them.

Maybe that’s really where my nostalgia for the rural life comes from, a desire to hold on to my children and to “place” them where my heart lives and from the knowledge that I really can’t do that, no matter where our house is located.

* * *

That field I used to linger in? It’s developed now, and has been for years. I might not crunch over gravel walking to the store anymore. The town is overrun by folks with lots of money and a penchant for spending it on homes that resemble small castles. Things change. Towns change. Children grow. Perhaps that’s why I can’t get this Robert Frost poem out of my head, one I memorized in high school and flash back to every few years:

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.


* * *

25 January 2009

These are the Days that Memories are Made Of

Today is our school's Open House, a chance for our kids to show off their work and for us to size up the teachers (kidding) and socialize with other parents. The school always holds Open House on a Sunday, so that the event follows the 9am Mass, which we usually attend.

Mass is always especially crowded on Open House Sunday, with all of the families that don't normally attend. We have all been pretty sick these past few days, with scattered fevers, runny noses, and LOTS of coughing. Last night, coughing kept at least four of us up way past our bedtimes.

When the time came to get everyone up and ready for Mass this morning, I made the executive decision to let everyone sleep, rather than take a coughing, sneezing, snotty brood into a crowded church where they were sure to breathe all over the Family of God. We planned instead to get up an hour later and bring everyone to the Open House, where we knew we really needed to ooo and aah over a painting of Jackie Robinson (4th grader), a Mayflower project (3rd grader) and a book of fractions (1st grader).

So picture this. We arrive at the church just as Mass is ending, and folks are starting to stream out and make their way up the hill to the school. We parked in the lot, on a significant slope, with our car headed up the hill.

I have been driving around for about a week with our overflow recycling in the back of the van, clattering and shifting all week. Rick did not know this. He opened the back to retrieve the baby carrier and what falls out but our empty beer bottles. Listening to brown Newcastle bottles roll towards a crowd of the faithful is a cringe-inducing experience, to say the least.

So, we're late. We're snotty. And we're dropping beer bottles in the church parking lot. Lovely.

We are, officially, THAT family.

It could have been worse. The crowd hadn't really started streaming out yet, just a couple of little old ladies who politely acted like they did not notice. Those bottles could have rolled all the way down the hill and come to rest at the toe of our parish priest or -- better yet -- the school principal! The glass bottles could have broken, creating a hazard for the entire crowd of folks walking up the hill. Our kids could have been throwing the bottles down the hill.

Oh and it really could have been worse: it could have been bad beer!

Just another lovely Family Moment.

23 January 2009

Thrift Store Valuables

When we got married, one of Rick's oldest and dearest friends gave us two beautiful, delicate glasses, perfect for drinking specialty drinks like Grand Marnier and the like. These lovely glasses, artfully hand-painted, were tiny, and very breakable. One did in fact break several years ago.

Well, these were really designed for two. They are the kind you use for special just-the-two-of-you dinners, for the dessert drink. For toasting a noisy life in a quiet space. For savoring together the life and kids you are taking a break from.

But you just can't do that with one beautiful glass.

In fact, just the other day, I was putting dishes away (I actually do that sometimes) and moved it aside to make room for some other wine glasses, and wondered to myself if that glass would ever be used again.

The other day, Lola answered that question.

A friend of ours was babysitting Lola and gave her some milk in the special glass for fun, which by the way, I can totally see myself doing too. Lovely little glass, lovely little girl...they go together. Of course, the lovely little breakable glass got knocked off the table, and broke.

But the story has a happy, wonderful ending! Feeling bad about the broken glass, our friend promptly took Lola to the local thrift shop. They found two simple glasses, much less fancy than the originals. A short while and one afternoon art project later, they had two adorable, puffy-painted wine glasses, complete with swirlies, polka dots, squiggles and stripes. They presented them to us when we got home.

We are again able to have that dinner for two, with fancy little glasses to enjoy drinks I never remember the names of. I did love those fancy ones, but these are better. Made with love, made by my daughter, their value is priceless.

Fabulous. Thank you, Debra.

21 January 2009

O'Bama is My People!

I'm Irish. Sort of. I mean, somewhere back in the fogs of time, people were born in Ireland, who gave birth to other people, who gave birth to other people, and so and so forth, and some of those people finally ended up here in America, and then two of those people gave birth to my mom and dad. (Technically, not to my dad, as his father gave him his Irish heritage and she-who-gave-him-birth gave him his Croatian blood, but you get the idea.)

My folks are a wee bit Ireland-obsessed, and I was raised to love fiddle music, get misty-eyed at green fields, and of course, enjoy my pint of Guinness. Mom and Dad owned and operated a fantastic Irish Pub in Sonoma for 14 (or so) years, which is still going strong under new ownership.

Rick and I honeymooned in Ireland, because while he is Mexican and Italian (I know! Lucky me!), he really wishes he came from the same sod that brought forth James Joyce, Seamus Heaney, and Irish Stout.

So I can't say thank you enough to my dear friend Karen, herself an Irish lass (a whole lot more so than I am), who, along with her full-blooded hubby, has a brood of pale-faced boys that can trace their roots back to Erin. Karen sent me an email tonight with the PERFECT content for my "Barack Obama" post. I was wondering how to add to the blogosphere's already saturated Obama material. And while I'm sure this is going viral on the internet, I'll go ahead and jump on that bandwagon.

I wept while watching the Inauguration...I felt the dark curtain lift from the world...I rejoiced to watch both history and our future unfold. And now, I can claim a bit of Barack as my own. Enjoy!

Moneygall is a small village in County Offaly, Ireland. It has a population of approximately 300 people, has a Roman Catholic church, five shops, a post office, a national school, a police station and two pubs.

The 44th President of the United States Barack Obama's great-great-great grandfather, Falmouth Kearney, emigrated from Moneygall to New York City at the age of 19 in 1850 and eventually resettled in Tipton County, Indiana. Kearney's father had been the village shoemaker, then a wealthy skilled tradesman.

And now for the SONG...Crank up your speakers: There's No One as Irish as Barack Obama

Thanks to the Corrigan Brothers for this inspired ode to our new President!

***

19 January 2009

It Will Only Take Me 10 Minutes to Strangle You

A friend of mine with four small children told me about a conversation she had once with her mother-in-law. MIL was trying to "encourage" her to add some small task to her daily routine. I can't remember what the task was, but it was some kind of chore that MIL thought would improve my friend's overall attitude about her house and her chaotic life with little 'uns. In an attempt to convince her just how simple it would be to add this "to-do item" to her day, MIL said: "It'll take you 10 minutes; that's it!"

When she told me about it, I had the same sinking feeling she did upon receiving this advice: If you only knew just how many 10 minute jobs I have in a given day, you would choke yourself on those words before speaking them in my presence.

It's the kind of advice that makes me want to throttle the person giving it, the kind that makes me want to say: "You don't have a freakin' clue what you are talking about, so shut your pie hole and leave me alone."

And people don't. Have a clue, I mean. I don't have a clue what your life is like, you don't have a clue about mine...no one really knows anything about us if we don't tell them, right?

So to answer the MIL's of the world, and other well-intentioned but clueless folks, here is a list of 10-minute jobs that make up my day:

  1. Get little people up and out of bed. Should take 10 minutes, always takes longer.

  2. Get little people dressed. Should take 10 minutes, always takes longer.

  3. Make school lunches. Whether you do this in the morning or the night before, it still must be done. Could take 10 minutes, usually takes longer.

  4. Change diapers. One at a time, 3-5 times a day.

  5. Wrestle toddler into car seat. Seriously can take up to 10 minutes, between playfully convincing her that it's her idea to get in her seat, warning her with consequences if she does not cooperate, imposing said consequences, and then giving in to the inevitable sweat-inducing, muscle-wrenching contortions it takes to get the completely stiffened body of a determined 2-year old to bend enough to get the almighty 5-point harness car seat fastened, while dodging her attempts to pull my hair, scratch my forearms, bite my fingers, and whack me in the face. Need to go more out more than once in a day? This little dance will happen each and every time she needs to be strapped in.

  6. Troubleshoot technology issues. Daily. Usually longer than 10 minutes, but let's call it 10.

  7. Print out coloring pages to occupy the children. So you can get more stuff done. Ha!

  8. Make beds.

  9. Return phone calls. Usually longer than 10 minutes. Say 20.

  10. Apply bandaids, ice packs, and/or healing kisses to run-of-the-mill little people injuries.

  11. Straighten up the living room.

  12. Tidy up the bathroom.

  13. Negotiate a peace agreement between warring toddler factions that have come to the very precipice of war over who had the Hello Kitty Driving A Car figure first. This could take 2 minutes: Give me the damn toy and retreat to your own damn corners and that's the end of that! Of course, that adds 30 minutes of tantrum and terror. So to really keep the job to 10 minutes, one must creatively, peacefully, take this time to have a "teachable moment" with one's children and show them how to resolve conflict in a way that honors all and promotes general well-being and ensures they do not become criminals when they grow up.

  14. That one above? Happens 4-6 times a day.

  15. Do laundry load #1. Transfer washer load to dryer load, start new washer load, fold freshly dry clothes, put them away.

  16. Do laundry load #2. Repeat all of the above.

  17. Pay bills online OR maybe buy a birthday present for a family member or friend online. Longer than 10 minutes, unless I know exactly what I'm looking for (which today, I did! 10 minutes to buy 3 birthday presents! Go me!).

  18. Check homework.

  19. Check backpacks, respond to whatever request has come home from school that day -- permission slip, donation request, library book notice.

  20. Look for library books.

  21. Return emails. If you actually want to return them thoughtfully, minimum 20 minutes.
21 10-minute jobs = 3 hours and 30 minutes. Round up to 4 hours to account for all the "should but don't" categories above.

Minimum 30 minute jobs:
  • Make breakfast. Feed the masses.

  • Round trip to school drop off.

  • Make lunch. Feed the masses.

  • Round trip to school pick up.

  • Make dinner.

  • Eat dinner with the family, just like June and Ward Cleaver.
6 30-minutes jobs = 3 hours

Big Time Sucks:
  • Grocery shopping, or any other errand needing to be done.

  • Cleaning up after meals. Probably 1.5-2 hours total for the day.
2 Big Time Sucks = 3 hours

10 hours later:
Have I read a book to the children yet?
Have I sat on the floor and played with them at all?
Have I talked to a friend, or to any of the people I really owe a phone call to?
Have I caught up with my neighbor, whose wife is in the hospital?
Have I read a book myself?
Have I watched The Colbert Report?
Have I heard anything at all about what is going on in the world? (Actually, I probably have, as NPR is the soundtrack to my day, but have I read a newspaper? Hell, no!)
Have I kept track of my kids online activities, talked about the bully at school today, tickled anyone, taken a shower, sorted through clothes to give to Goodwill, set aside the sport uniforms or had a cup of tea?
Have I done one iota of work for the jobs that actually pay the bills?


So, if you've got any advice on how to make my day go more smoothly, thank you. I'll pencil that in right after Task #57: Strangle anyone who gives advice.

***

ps. I know I am ranting. We do that sometimes.

18 January 2009

Headphones, Anyone?

Elizabeth and I were standing on the front porch, watching my mom park her Prius on our street. She was arriving to pick up Elizabeth and take her home for a two-night sleep-over. Ellie was ready: Elmo suitcase packed, blanket under her arm, big fat smile on her face.

As my mom parked, I remarked: "Wow, that car is really quiet."

Not missing a beat, Elizabeth responded: "Not when I'm in it!"

I don't think there's any sound proofing in the world strong enough for her.

***

16 January 2009

Cracked Up

"Mommy, when you have an egg in your tummy, and the baby gets born, does the egg break inside of you, does it crack on the floor, or in your hand?"

Soccer + Girl = Awesome

Gotta love the look:



13 January 2009

No Dance, Mommy Mia

My 2 year old confuses many words. Today I learned that she confuses the words "dance" and "sing." Here's how I figured this out.

I love to sing along to my favorite music, to the radio or to whatever CD is playing. I don't have a particularly great voice, but singing brings me great joy. My kids have gotten used to me wailing away while cooking dinner or washing dishes or driving around town. Many times, they have to wait until the end of a particularly poignant lyric to get an answer to a pressing question like "Can I have a cookie?" They are all very patient with me and not one of them has ever asked me to stop singing.

Until today.

On the way to school this morning, we were listening to Paul Simon's Graceland. Great tunes, right?? Especially Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes -- I love that one. There I am singing away, and from the middle row of the minivan, the screaming starts: "NO DANCE, MOMMY MIA, NO DANCE!"

(Did I mention she calls me Mommy Mia?)

So I think, no biggee, I'm not dancing. So I tell her I'm not dancing, and I keep singing. She just about comes unglued and keeps screaming at me: "NO DANCE, MOMMY MIA, NO DANCE!"

We go back and forth a few times, until I ask her if she means singing, and she says:"YEAH MOMMY MIA! NO DANCE MOMMY MIA!"

As much joy as children add to a life, there certainly are instances in which they suck the joy right out of an otherwise delightful time.

I was absolutely held hostage. I mean, I could have kept singing, but she just kept screaming louder: "NO DANCE, MOMMY MIA, NO DANCE!" It was so loud and so forceful that there was nothing to do but stop dancing. I mean singing. There were, after all, four other people in the car, and the whole screaming thing was creating misery for all of us.

It was a total bummer. I would forget every so often and start singing again. The resulting screams were immediate and powerful. I think I actually felt them hit the back of my neck. Not a safe driving environment.

8 hours later, I picked her up from daycare, and the same thing happened. I fear my singing days must go on hiatus. My youngest child has silenced my song. Who's the boss around here, anyway?

11 January 2009

A Special Kind of Hell

Whoever invented organized "Youth Sports" should be taken out to the back woods and shot summarily.

At which time, they should be escorted -- roughly -- to a special rung of hell reserved just for them.

Signed,

-- a frustrated parent

08 January 2009

Zipperhead Returns...and other happenings

Last Valentine's Day, Tallulah, Elizabeth, and I spent about four hours at an ER getting Tallulah's forehead stitched up. We called her zipperhead for a few weeks. The boys especially enjoyed this nickname.

But there's a new zipperhead in town: Vincenzo suffered a head wound in the course of trying to beat his brother to the ball while playing soccer at school. The school called and told us, and from what they described, I didn't expect to be alarmed by the look of it. But when I got home last night and saw for myself, well, let's just say I was not going to put myself in the position of hearing a doctor say to me, for the second time in my life, "You should have brought him in yesterday to have this stitched up."

(This happened when a metal basketball hoop fell on Sam's head last summer and I didn't take him to the doctor until the next day. The only reason I took him at all was that his sister already had an appointment, so I included him in what I thought would be a quick Yeah-he's-fine kind of a thing.)

Anyway, Rick took him (and Lola, who treated the whole experience like a special outing) off to the ER at 6:30pm. Four stitches and four hours later, they were back home.

He came downstairs this morning proudly calling himself Zipperhead.

* * *

And since it's been FOREVER since I have posted, let's see if I can come up with some snapshots of life in the past few weeks.

-----

While I was in a cleaning frenzy, the kids asked if they should find stuff they no longer use or want to give away or throw away. Impressed, I said by all means, go ahead. A few minutes later, Samuel appeared at the top of the garage steps (I was down in the garage doing laundry), holding his little sister Elizabeth in front of him by the shoulders: "I found something we don't need anymore, Mom!"

-----

While driving around town with Elizabeth and Tallulah, I had to listen to Elizabeth teaching Tallulah new words.

E: "Lu, say 'big.'"
T: "Beeg!"

E: "Lu, say 'juicy.'"
T: "Jushee!"

E: "Lu, say 'chicken.'"
T: "Sheecket."

E: "Lu, say 'BUTT!'"
T: "BUTT!"

You'd be surprised just how much adorable 2- and 4-year old girl giggling this conversation sparked. Repeatedly. They went through that little routine -- adding gems like "smelly socks" and "smelly fus" -- about 8 or 10 times in a 10 minute car ride.

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And in some exciting family news, my mom has joined the blogosphere! I inherited my writing bug from my dear mother, and am very happy to see her launch herself into the Wonderful World of Blogging. Please visit; please comment; please spread the word. Congratulations Mom!

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And a big fat welcome to 2009: here's hoping it's filled with (a) lots of witty, profound posts and (b) two or three surprising financial windfalls. I'd wish for good friends and lots of wine, but I am lucky enough to know that I start every new year with plenty of both. Just another piece of evidence that I am the luckiest woman on earth.