Thursday, January 14, 2010

Remember Who You Wanted to Be?

Before I had children, I had big plans about the kind of mother I was going to be. I would be firm but approachable, cool but not irresponsible, creative but not country crafty, honest but protective. I would make dinner every night, read literature instead of the "Little Engine that Could" before bed time, and infuse every action with love and care.

Newsflash: I've given up on my bid for Mother of Year. Six years later, after one husband, two kids, a mortgage, a 35-mile commute, and a job that sucks up my brain cells, I'd say I'm batting about 30 percent on these lofty goals.

I am reminded of how fallible I am every time I'm stuck in traffic after work when I should be home making dinner or giving the boys a bath, or when the kids try to gouge eachother's eyes out while I'm doing the laundry, or when I'm rushing around in the morning threatening to give both children back to the Indians if they don't get their fingers out of their noses and put their coats on five minutes ago.

Lately I've seen the same bumpersticker again and again: "Remember who you wanted to be?" I'm not much for bumpersticker philosophy, but I feel like the message from this one was written just for me.

So, I'm going to try. I suck at New Year's resolutions. Instead of making one this year, I have one general goal that I'd like to chip away at a little at the time (in between being rushed and overworked and picking the banana out of my hair): I'd like to be a more thoughtful mom.

I'm looking to the women in my life for inspiration, and there's plenty of it.

-- When I was little, my aunt Susan led my cousins and me around like the Pied Piper. We picked up pine cones to dress the long table for Thanksgiving, we pretended to be ducks ("Quack, quack, waddle, waddle"), and we picked so many flowers I'm surprised the camellia bush out front still blooms. I never forgot a minute of it.

-- For my toddlers, my husband's Grandma Hall made a photo album (the old kind with the clear adhesive sheets that peel and stick to each page) filled with pictures cut out from magazines. Every page has a theme ranging from bikes to Santa Claus to fruit. My boys have spent hours looking through theirs.

-- My mother took my four brothers and me to the library at least once a week and gave us free reign when we got there. She taught us to love reading but allowed us to develop our own interests. What a gift.

-- Another one from Grandma Hall: She saved boxes full of momentos of grandchildren over the years. Last year she made each of them a personalized scrapbook that included her favorites. My 6'2" husband teared up when he saw the handwritten, construction paper cards he made when he was 6 or 7, the newspaper clippings announcing he was on the honor roll, and pictures of his family he had never seen or had forgotten about.

-- My mother-in-law recorded her own voice as she read the pages of "The Night Before Christmas." My boys are still listening to it 2 months later.

-- Grandma Hall strikes again: Handpainted Christmas ornaments for each family member with our names and dates inscribed on the back. Even my 5-year-old understands that these are gifts to be treasured. When we opened this year's ornaments, he exclaimed, "Everything Grandma makes is special." Jason's mom saved the ones Grandma Hall gave her when he was little, and those will end up on our tree next year too.

-- I spent every Friday night with my great-aunt Johnnie until I was 13 or so. She picked me up on Friday afternoon, we visited her sister Maureen at the nursing home, and then we headed to her house, where she brought me dinner on a T.V. tray and we watched the Dukes of Hazzard, Dallas, and Falcon Crest. It wasn't the television that made our time together valuable -- it was knowing there was no one else on earth she wanted to hang out with more. Sentimental, but true.

Wish me luck. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Toys with Staying Power

Toys breed. They really do. One by one, they take over your house. I have spent an hour or more cleaning our master bedroom, knowing that the moment I let the boys in I'll be stepping on Lincoln Logs and looking for the source of the "Transformers" theme song, which I will be able to hear but will not be able to see. (I'll check under my bed, in the closet,and in my underwear drawer before I find the tiny singing demon robot in my husband's shoe).

Every year after Christmas, when Jason hauls a refrigerator-sized box of toys that won't fit in our house any more off to Goodwill, I feel a little guilty. It seems -- no, it is -- wasteful to buy hundreds of dollars worth of toys every year, most of my which the boys will play with for no more than a week before discarding them to return to an old favorite.

The problem is that when you're a new parent, you don't know what the "old favorites" are yet. So, after lots of trial and error, and boxes and boxes of toys that didn't make the grade shipped off to charity, I thought I'd share a list of winners. This list is skewed toward boys, because that's what I happen to know.

-- Stacking buckets by Parents. I bought our set 5 years ago. Aside from delivering on their intended purpose of developing spacial reasoning, these are just plain fun. My younger son wears them on his head or pretends they are pots and pans. My older son uses them for stilts (don't judge me -- I know you want to).

-- 30-Piece Alphabet Blocks by Imaginarium. These blocks, made of foam, have survived four years of abuse. They've been slobbered and chewed on, used as missiles, and now that the boys are getting older, are actually a good learning tool.

-- World Map 33-Piece Floor Puzzle by Melissa and Doug. I'm on strike from wooden puzzles - I find the pieces jumbled together at the bottom of the toy box, never to be reassembled again. The nice thing about floor puzzles is that the large pieces aren't easily lost but are easily stored in the original box. The world map works much more nicely for younger children than the map of the United States, since it's easier to learn the names of 7 continents than 50 states.

-- Buddy L. Dump Truck by Tonka. Because this is made of heavy-duty, rust-resistant metal, it's a good toy to store outside. Jack and Henry have spent hours filling up the bed with rocks or dirt and dumping it all out again.

-- Rock N' Ride Brown Pony by Tek Nek. Durable. Durable. Durable. Ours has been repeatedly dragged down the stairs, turned upside down, and used as a ladder. The pony sings an annoying but catchy little tune that you'll find yourself singing at board meetings or church socials if you're nicer than I am and don't take the batteries out.

-- Battery-Powered Jeep Wrangler by Fisher Price. Jack drives it, and Henry's a willing passenger. This one is expensive, but worth it. Just a note here: we bought this for Jack when he was 3, but he wasn't really coordinated enought to drive it until about a year later.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Oma, Stealing Candy, and Henry's Bloody Nose

Jason's grandmother died Thursday night. I liked Oma. She was a practical, hardworking woman with a biting wit, a woman who spent every Sunday morning with her children, sitting at her kitchen table, drinking coffee and frequently flogging everyone else at euchre, hearts, or hand and foot. In the front room of her tiny house, the longest wall is filled with pictures of her children, Jerry, Debbie, Sharon, and Rick, of their children, and in the last 15 years, her great-grandchildren. Oma was married to Papaw for 58 years. I can't help wondering what it was like for him to wake up Friday morning without her.

When we visited at Christmas, the boys ran around Oma's house sneaking candy from her candy bowl, begging for still more candy and for potato chips from Papaw's stash, and crawling into any willing adult lap at the card table. Oma seemed tired, and I knew she was in some pain, but she was well enough to make seven-layer cookies for Christmas dessert, and she seemed mostly herself. It seems unreal that a couple weeks later, her heart stopped working.

Jason left for the funeral this morning. The boys and are staying home so I can be at work on Monday and so that the boys don't make mischief for Sharon in general and at the funeral specifically (I can just see Jack yelling the lyrics to "Jingle Bells" at the top of his lungs in the middle of the eulogy or eating the roses from the memorial wreath -- thanks, Benjie). I hate not to be there -- the Bachs are certainly in my thoughts today. So, here's to Oma, and to everyone who loved her. God's speed.

The boys and I spent most of today huddled up in the house, avoiding the cold. Jack seemed especially subdued after Jason explained where he was going and why, and both boys were on their best behavior until dinner. Henry went on strike from Thai food, and Jack followed suit. (I believe Jack's exact words were "This smells like throw-up.") Then, while I was doing the dishes, Jack pushed Henry into a pile of stacking blocks and bloodied his nose. Henry cried, Jack cried more, and I cleaned the blood off of Henry, the carpet, and the walls. Henry's okay, and Jack is contrite.

I'll spend the rest of the evening recharging my batteries -- learning to use my new sewing machine and listening to the Tegan and Sara album I just downloaded. Then tomorrow, the boys will wake me up at the crack of dawn, I'll pop a couple of whole-wheat waffles in the toaster and we'll do it all again. I love that.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Quilting, Christmas in D.C., and the Wii

I'm starting this blog to chronicle every day life for myself and for my family. Someday my sons, now 3 and 5, may want to read it (or run screaming -- it could go either way). My husband and I work full time and spend the rest of the time trying to keep our home in basic order and raise our children well enough to keep them out of jail. Our days are so hectic that they seem to pass us by, and let's face it, I'm not friends with pen and paper anymore. This is evidenced by empty baby books that I sincerely meant to fill out, unwritten thank you notes that I swore I'd write, and letters to the few people in my life who aren't on the internet that I've inadvertently pushed to the side.

So, welcome to chaos, imperfection, and occasional moments of beauty.

A jumbled collection of thoughts from the last week:

I signed up for a beginning quilting class this week. I'm both excited and wary of the sewing machine I got for Christmas. It promises in 60-point letters to be "Simply the Easiest," but the quick start guide has about 20 steps just to thread the needle and do something to the bobbin that I have already forgotten.

Working for the government during the week after Christmas is like working in a Christmas shop during July. About 2 percent of my coworkers came to work, so it was impossible to get anything done that required the participation of another human being (in the government, that's pretty much everything), and it was so quiet I could hear the Xerox machine on the other side of the building. Boo.

My husband bought a Wii this morning while I was sleeping (it was my turn to sleep in). When I woke up, my five-year-old Jack was shaking me and yelling "MommyDaddyBoughtAWiiAndHe'sSettingItUpLet'sPlayBowling." I rolled out of bed unenthusiastically, poured luke-warm coffee and stumbled downstairs. Surprisingly, though, we had a great time. All four us liked bowling and boxing. I was stunned to hear myself yelling, "Smack him, Jack, Smack him!"

More later. Mercifully, the whiskey is working its magic.