30 June 2009

Second Chances

I am amazed at how many second chances I have gotten in life. Second, third, fourth, ninety-ninth. It's humbling and mercifully kind.

So I'm thinking that it would be a good idea if I could somehow internalize this merciful kindness and spread it around to my children.

Hmmmm. There's a thought.

Here's hoping I am able.

* * *

28 June 2009

Crunch

My youngest child has been up since an ungodly hour. My job has been to manage her, and keep her occupied in a quiet enough fashion so that everyone else stays asleep. The activity that fascinated her the most? She spread out her blankey in the middle of the kitchen floor, and placed a bunch of delicate sea shells on top of it. She busied herself taking care of them, arranging them just so, moving them, going back and forth between kitchen and ... wherever the shells are ... and bringing more to her collection.

Each time she added one, or changed one, she would admonish me: "Don't step, mama!" I was under strict instructions to take as much care as she with her shells.

This was tricky: she had positioned herself right in front of the coffee pot.

Still, I managed to step delicately and keep the shells -- and the girl -- whole and happy.

* * *

Dad just barreled through the house, en route from the garage, and went straight to the coffee pot. Big man boots, with no regard for baby blankets, thundered through the little shell babies.

Dad: Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.

Girl: Crying, screaming, gnashing of teeth.

Mom: Sigh.

* * *

23 June 2009

Picture Picture

My 4-year old loves to visit grandma Rose and Poppa. She gets so excited when it's her turn for an overnight, and equally distraught when it's someone else's.

She always has fun, and talks about her visit for a few days afterwards.

But today, she told me that last time she was there, a few weeks ago, she saw photographs of all of her brothers and sisters, and it made her miss everyone.

"I just couldn't look at the pictures, because it made me sad to look at them, so I decided not to look at them so I could be happy and have a good time."

This made me smile, tear up, and wonder all at the same time. I can just picture her getting a little teary herself, and then setting the pictures aside and bouncing back into her "happy place." This is one of the photos that made her wistful:



This is all the more remarkable because she takes a fair amount of abuse from all four of them, probably more so than anyone else in the family; it seems to roll off her back most of the time, and she enjoys giving as good as she gets. And apparently, she feels the love anyway. Amazing.

* * *

22 June 2009

Lucky Number 13

Tis' my 13th wedding anniversary today. In honor of that momentous event, I am "reposting" a post that originally appeared around Christmas 2007. I originally wrote this as a response to a "Fun Monday" assignment: Show us your favorite Christmas ornament and tell us why it's your favorite. I think it works well for our wedding Anniversary as well.

* * *

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, 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.

* * *

21 June 2009

Struggle

I don't know what to do.

I have so much to do. Everywhere I look, I see messes to take care of, disorganization to fix, problems to solve...people to feed. I have been trying all morning to motivate myself to do better, be better. To move. To get something done. To make a difference in this little hovel.

I have a lovely house. It's small for seven people, but it's lovely. I wish I could organize it so that it looked as lovely as it is.

I have the entire day stretching out in front of me, and a desperate desire to come to the end of it feeling like I accomplished something around here, and a sinking feeling that I will, once again, not.

I keep making false starts, giving up, moving on to the next thing. I keep getting distracted by blogs, by facebook, by youtube.

I'm goin' a bit nutty, wanting to crawl out of my own skin, and wishing I had more courage to face my piles of laundry, of paper, of dishes.

Aack. Help.


**Edited at 7pm, to add a link to the YouTube clip that made my day.

* * *

19 June 2009

Me and Peach: Sympatico

There can be only one response to the morning I have had with my nasty, brutish, and short offspring, and it comes to us from Peach of Finding Nemo.

Blank

I hear ya', Peach; I'm tryin'. I'm tryin' real hard.

* * *

18 June 2009

Ice Cream and Cacophony

Lola is 7 today!

I had to work (boo) so I could not spend the day with her. But she did get to pick sugar cereal for breakfast -- went to the grocery store after bedtime last night with dad to buy Cocoa Puffs. I didn't even know she knew what they were: I've never bought them before. But kids get to pick a sugar cereal for their birthdays around here, and I barely had the question out of my mouth before she shouted "COCOA PUFFS!"

So, the lady had Cocoa Puffs.

Not one to go lightly with the sugar fest that is a birthday, I took them for ice cream after picking them up from Auntie Debra's this afternoon. {Side note: Auntie Debra rocks, plain and simple.}

Taking five hyper, dirty-from-playing, tired-of-each-other children to the local Baskin and Robbins was quite exciting. I can't decide which was my favorite part.

Was it the mommy mommy mommy I want mint chip I want mango tango I want chocolate I want M&M flavor I want cookie dough I want a sugar cone I'm first she's pushing me I want a double scoop I want I want I want I want I want?

Was it one child dropping his double scoops of ice cream in his lap? And then doing it a second time? And then another child dropping her double scoops on the floor? And then me dropping my own single scoop on the table? (Excuse me, but doesn't this sound like faulty ice cream-packing? Four scoops tipping off of their cones? User error? I think not! Scooper error, thank you very much!)

Was it the many times small children wielding sticky cones bumped into some part of me? My nose, my fore arms, my elbows, my jeans? I exhibited some truly delicate, boxer-like contortions, trying to keep away from Tallulah's drippy mint chip mess.

Was it the sheer number of napkins we went through? (Yeah, I've heard all those arguments about large families wasting the world's resources, seen the bumper stickers that say "make love not more" [on the bumper of an SUV], and heard all about population control. What can I say: I like me some babies.)

Oh, I know what it was! It was the rubber-necking fascination of the mom-of-two sitting at the table next to us. You know how people can't NOT look at a train wreck? Well, whatever that phenomena is called, cute little mom-of-two was suffering from it big time. She was speechless and, I think, a little horrified. Yup, that was my fav. I just love being on display for folks who cannot fathom having this many children. It's like living under a great big microscope. I almost asked her if she'd like to pull up a chair to get a better view.

And really, all of the other "favorite" contenders can be wrapped up into this one, because cute little mom-of-two got to see it all. The ice cream mustaches and beards, the tears when scoops went plop, the mommy mommy mommy, the arguments about who got to sit next to whom, the whole lovely, chaotic, definitely un-tidy cacophony that is the Alatorre Family out for ice cream.

We had a great time. No, seriously, we really did. Even those who came in grumpy left happy. Ice cream does that, thankfully and predictably.

* * *

Lola wanted a turtle for her birthday, a real one. Who knew how expensive a turtle can be? After recovering from the shock of the $300 price tag for a turtle plus accoutrements, I happily settled for a cute little stuffed one from Barnes and Noble, which she promptly named Glitter. She told me Glitter is more fun than a real one because she gets to play with her and bring her places and she doesn't have to feed her.

* * *

Seven years ago today, Lola arrived in a whirlwind. I woke up around 12:30am and realized I was in labor. After getting Rick up, and alerting Grandma that it was "show time," we both took showers. Rick made us sandwiches. We took our sweet time. Both of our boys took 11+ hours to arrive; we expected the same with #3. One the way to the hospital, the contractions really started coming, fast and furious. We made it to the maternity ward registration desk at 3:10am and Lola screeched into the world 37 minutes later, my biggest baby at 9 lbs., 4 oz. Rick almost missed it because he had to move the car from the temporary "drop off your laboring, crazed-from-pain wife" lot." She arrived in time to let us watch the South Korea vs. Italy game of the World Cup 2002. She'll tell you now that she saw her very first soccer game that day.

Happy Birthday, sweet, funny, tough, charming Lola: we love you more than you will ever know.



* * *

17 June 2009

Getting and Giving

The children are cleaning their rooms.

Always an adventure. It's been going on for awhile now, and the boys definitely seem to be playing rather than cleaning. They've been asking for a break...I've been countering that they haven't worked hard enough to earn a break.

I just asked Samuel if he thought he was working hard. He gave me a refreshingly honest answer: "I don't think I've been doing my best, but I'm doing OK!"

Me: "OK then, why don't you give me some of your best now."

Him: "WHAT WILL I GET IN RETURN?"

Me, in a rare moment of clarity: "You won't get anything at all, but you'll give me a great gift."

I left him speechless. SPEECHLESS! This is no small feat with my first born. For once, he couldn't think of retort, a response, a follow-up question, a nuanced alternative, a space for wiggle room.

The room is still a mess, but I finally managed to have the last word. I'm positively giddy.

For a few minutes at least.

* * *

16 June 2009

The Re-Education of Mommy

I used to be an avid reader. Certainly as I child, I always had my nose in a book; sometimes I got teased in elementary school because of my tendency to read books that were very large.

As a young adult, I maintained the habit, trading book titles with friends, my mom, my sister, and devoting considerable discretionary funds to bookstores.

Then I had kids. Reading screeched to a halt. Books stacked up next to my bed, languishing, gathering dust. At night, when I tried to read, my head would bob after only a few paragraphs, and then I'd start over the next night, trying to absorb the same few paragraphs with the same, predictable result: zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Alas, I miss my books.

Most sadly of all, though, it seems that I have actually forgotten how to read.

On a recent weekend, I found myself as the mother of three, with the baby off at grandma and poppa's for two nights, and the eldest away at a baseball tournament with dad. The three middle ones -- the soft bits, so to speak -- remained here with me, and did a right fine job of entertaining themselves. It was work, but so much less work that I felt as though someone had removed my leg weights, and I was able to move with a lightness of yesteryear.

The first morning, I did something I haven't done in ages: sat down in a comfy chair with the New York Times and cup of coffee. The three kidlets were absorbed with Club Penguin and I was free to read.

In that week's New York Magazine, there was a really interesting article about the nature of work, and the difference between working with one's hands and working with one's head. The author describes the satisfaction -- intellectual, physical, and moral -- of fixing a motorcycle. It was a great read, and touched on all kinds of interesting ideas that have me resolved to teach my children the value of laboring with their hands and devoting themselves to manual labor to complete a project.

The problem? I had a hard time reading it. I am so unaccustomed to reading without interruption that when presented with the opportunity, I still read as though someone was about to snatch the page from my hands. I scanned the page, skipped sentences, ignored the parts that required me actually to think. I was looking for the highlights, the general gist, and doing it fast so I could get as much as possible in before someone scraped a knee or injured a sibling.

That's no way to read.

So it looks like I will be adding "reading" to the list of things I have to re-learn how to do, since having children. Other things on the list include:

  • Eating a proper meal, instead of the leftovers off of all of the kids' plates.

  • Getting out of the house without requiring an hour and 37 minutes to do so.

  • Going out and enjoying myself without feeling like I'm visiting an alien planet. Going somewhere without children without feeling like I need a passport.

  • Sleeping with both eyes and both ears fully closed.

If I needed help re-learning how to walk, I could go to a physical therapist; to talk, I could go to a speech therapist. So who teaches moms how to relearn to be themselves?

* * *

11 June 2009

Summer Plan

My big plan for the summer: act like a calm, cool, collected, stress-free mama.

Fake it till I make it.

Be the change I want to see in my children.

Today is Day One of Summer 2009. I have big ideas about eating well, organizing chores, keeping up with the house, having fun, and being the best mom on the planet. OK, the country. OK, the block. Which is populated by lots of retired folks. Like I always say, when striving for success, make sure your competition is frail.

Anyway, I've noticed that we (husband and I) have gotten out of the habit of explaining things to the kids and very much into the habit of screeching things like "because I said so" and "just do it" and "so help me God if you don't listen to me my head is going to explode." Comments such as these do, of course, have their place. Ya gotta love pointed and pointy words spewing out of clenched teeth for the fear and trembling they can evoke...and sometimes, fear and trembling is really what the moment calls for.

BUT! I used to be such a calm mama. Used to be known for my ability to diffuse situations and bestow calm upon the masses. Not so much anymore.

So Summer Goal #1: Breathe first, yell later. Speak quietly whenever possible. Help the kids walk on the lighter side of life. Show them how to take things in stride and laugh at themselves.

I am 15.5 hours into summer. So far, so good. 1760.5 hours to go.

Peace, Mama, peace!



* * *

03 June 2009

The Upside of Chores

Chores are good.

I've been neglecting our chore chart for months. I'm sure the kids are thrilled about this, but I really must get back to basics. Especially with summer beating down my door, I am aware that I really need to give the chores their proper due and a proper routine.

It's not that my kids do nothing; it's just that without that chore chart, what they do is haphazard and inconsistent. I have to make it up every day, and I have to put way too much thought into who is doing what and who did what last time.

All of this will be addressed with a good chore chart.

But I happily discovered another positive side effect of chores the other night. I taught my oldest how to wash dishes. Some of you may not be aware that in addition to having five children, I do NOT have a dishwasher. (Would that then be in subtraction to having five children? Since I don't actually have a dishwasher to add to the kid count?) So you might think that just having someone else wash the dishes is a positive enough effect. And it was indeed very very gratifying to have clean dishes that I did not, in fact, clean. But the real up side of having Sam wash the dishes is the conversation we had while he was standing at the sink, up to his elbows in soapy suds.

We talked about school, his teacher, his challenging year in 4th grade. We talked about bullies, and his classmates, and his reputation for being "too sensitive." We talked about his mom and dad. We talked. It was lovely.

And in the course of the conversation, he asked me what I struggle with. He asked me what his dad struggles with. Here's the thing we have to remember as parents: kids hear what we say, even if they act like they don't. They remember what we say, long after we have forgetten ourselves.

At least 5 years ago, probably more like 6 or 7, Sam and I had a series of conversations about how everyone struggles with something. This came from something he was having a hard time with, something that made him feel like he was the only person in the world to experience hardship. I talked and talked, and didn't think he was really listening. He never asked me anything about that particular idea, that everyone struggles with something. I had no idea it "stuck," so to speak.

But here we are, years later, and he remembers. And now is when he is ready to talk about it, and now is when he has questions. When he asked about his parents' unique struggles, he reminded me: "Because you told me, Mom, that everyone struggles with something."

We talked awhile about struggle, how to handle it, what it means, what courage actually is, and many other things.

If not for my redoubled effort to organize our family chores, I might not have had this conversation and learned so much about him and about being a mom.

Chores are good; conversations are even better.

* * *