Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Ten Things Meme (By Guest Blogger...Allison)

Inspired by Christine's Ten Things Post I asked Allison to compile a list of ten things she liked about herself. I wanted to see what she wrote. I was sad to discover she really had trouble coming up with 10 things when I could so easily spout off 5o wonderful things about her. But after much consideration, this is her list, exactly as she typed it.

Ten things I like about me are:
  1. I have a great singing voice
  2. I'm good with animals
  3. I try hard in school
  4. I have nice skin
  5. I have pretty hair
  6. I have lots of nice friends
  7. I have a mom with good taste in clothes (-:
  8. I am a good speller, i was in the school Spelling Bee
  9. I love God, he's like a best friend to me. When i am down, he turns my frown upside-down. (-:
  10. Lastly, I am very intelligent.
I also asked Brandon if he would create a list of ten things he liked about himself and he said:
"There is no way I could narrow it down to just 10".
I am glad to see someone in this family has a healthy self-esteem.

Remorse

"The parent I want to be floats in and out of my life, and some days it speaks through me, and other days I lunge after it like it's a shaft of sunlight I want to capture."

This is a quote from Catherine Newman's Column. She's very quotable that Catherine Newman. And yet this quote somehow isn't strong enough for how I feel this morning. Some days I can't see the shaft of sunlight anymore and I just plain don't like the parent I am.

Brandon's homeschooling papers are in stacks on tables and chairs waiting to be graded, filed, mailed in, waiting for inspiration on how to motivate him to do more, to be more...to want more. All my efforts at being inspirational, motivational, a driving force or even a consequence to avoid have failed miserably and I ended up yelling at him once again. And then the yelling seems to fester and grow inside of me and I find my that precious children, who are no different than any day, grate on me like sandpaper. And I am irritated and yelling and snapping at each of them about things that are so small. So very small. And I feel out of control. I cannot find the patience and the gentleness I prayed for just that morning. I cannot find the me in the dark irrationality whirling inside me.

Brandon and Allison know this person. They have seen her before and they head downstairs with looks of "Mom's gone crazy again" to stay out of the storm. And I know this, and I hate it. I hate that they can recognize this biting angry woman as one who has visited before. And Ben, sweet Ben, says "Why you yell, mama?" and that soft voice melts me, but just a little. Not enough.

I head off to my own room alone to pray again. "Lord help me find your patience, your gentleness. Rid me of this spirit of anger, meanness, of irrational irritation with my children, who are innocent. Help me be the parent I should be. The parent they deserve."

And when the storm has passed, and the craziness is over, I apologize to my children for yelling. I admit that I overreacted, but I cannot help but wonder if they are thinking they've heard it before. I speak kindly and softly, hoping to wash away their wariness and anger, that they will not regard me, remember me, as the mother who loses control. The mother that yells and is sometimes hurtful. I hope that the gentleness and love that visits most days, I do think it's most days, will be enough. Enough to cover the coldness like a blanket.

****************
I am cross-posting this post on another blog I contribute to Worst. Mama. Ever. It's a collaborative blog about our mostly comical, but sometimes serious (like this) less that stellar parenting moments.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Memories of a girl

I moved out of my parents home the week I turned twenty. I remember my mother gave me cooking supplies, or Tupperware or something suitably domestic for my birthday. I thought it was an odd gift for a twenty-year-old. I was hoping for a television. I doubt I appreciated it. I didn't appreciate much when I was twenty.

I had been working for the last 6 months as an receptionist/office manager for a small company an hour away from my parents home. I knew early on in high school that there wouldn't be money available for me to go to school and my grades disqualified from any financial aide. Thinking back I am sure there were loans available for college, but I never even investigated them. I suppose I gave up on myself long before anyone else could. I did take a couple night-time courses at the local community college, but my priority at that time was to get out of my parents home. It was a chaotic, stressful household, and it felt somehow wrong to be living there while working full time. Mostly though, with my friends all away at school, it felt like a failure. Like standing still while everyone else was moving forward.

My best friend Melissa told me about a peripheral friend, Heather, who was looking for a roommate while she commuted into Atlanta for school. I couldn't jump at the opportunity fast enough. She gave me Heather's phone number and we talked over the phone and decided to meet in person. Shortly afterward we were searching for apartments together. While we didn't chose the cheapest apartment available in the area , ours was a close second.

Heather and I moved in with help from friends and relatives. What a quick move it must have been. The only furniture I had to my name was the twin bed and mix-matched dresser and nightstand I had in my parents home. Heather's family had given her a sofa that may have been fashionable in the seventies and a 12 inch TV-VCR combo. And I think we had a table, I can't remember. The apartment was a dump, but I honestly don't think I realized it then. We loved it, just the idea of it. A space that was ours. Heather's and mine. Melissa's mother still talks about that apartment with an air of head-shaking disbelief that we actually lived there. She was concerned for our safety. I wasn't. I was living with the nonchalant invincibility of the young.

Nothing matched in the apartment, other than the bathroom linens that we had proudly shopped for together at Target and the place was a disaster. We were both awful slobs. It flooded, it was infested with ants and the entrance steps to our building was regularly surrounded by Hispanic men drinking beer and listening to music. And despite all of this, we were proud of our home, with it's new plaid bathroom rug and our new matching Pier One bookcases. We immediately became fast friends. We made funny rules about having boys over, which I think we both broke, and recorded an answering machine message with both our voices on it. And we got two kittens, two adorable orange kittens which brought with them an infestation of fleas, tore up our carpet and sprayed everywhere. I still have those cats, minus the fleas, their claws and their manhood.

Just weeks before I moved into the apartment I, with Melissa along for moral support, bought myself a new car. A brand new car. My old car, the product of my high-school savings, was wrecked and barely running. It actually broke down in the car dealership and we couldn't drive it home. We took this desperate situation as a sign and we left the dealership with a brand new Tercel. The dealership took the desperate situation as an opportunity and I came away with a 6 year car loan. A week after I moved into my new apartment I received the insurance bill for the new car. That night, I got a second job, waiting tables nights and weekends. There, I met a boy. A cute blond boy who would a year later become my husband.

I was poor. I was young, too young even to buy a drink. And I was working more hours than anyone should. I was often in the laundry room of my apartment building at 2:00 in the morning so I would have clean underwear for the next day. Sometimes I would call Heather from from my day job and beg her to go down and put a load in for me. She always would. I ate my dinner, free soup, at the restaurant between shifts. Yet somehow, I still I squeezed in dates with the cute blond boy, time with friends, and church. I was teaching children's choir and singing in a college women's ensemble. And I was happy. Happier, by far, than I ever remember being prior to that. I had a couple dear friends who really cared about me. I was falling in love. I was using my passion to sing for God. And, with God's help, somehow I was making it on my own.

Because I was ignorant that my life should be anything different than what it was, nothing (not the ants, the stinky cats, the flood, the four hours a night sleep) put more than a temporary ding in my blissful bubble. Eventually Heather and I moved into another, safer, less disgusting, apartment. Then, I became pregnant with Allison and the bubble did pop. A new life began, Heather and I went our separate ways and I started down the pathway to the person I am now.

There are times now, when this older, more financially secure, less sleep deprived version of myself, misses the ignorance and energy of the younger me. I don't even recognize that girl in myself anymore. She was sillier, more naive. She sang louder and laughed easier. But she lacked the wisdom that comes with years. She couldn't know the way a heart can love when a part of it exists outside of itself. She didn't know that joy is fleeting and should be savored in the moment. Was it a fair trade? Most days, I think so. But occasionally, when I am feeling old, or nostalgic, or when I spend time reminiscing with Heather, I do still miss those silly girls in that wretched apartment. Crazy huh?

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Good Morning Baltimore...

I'm kinda sorta taking the weekend off blogging. But somehow, I keep finding my way back here to read blogs. It's an addiction...plain and simple.

Allie and I went to see "Hairspray" yesterday afternoon because, well, because it's a musical obviously. And I thought I would share my review. It was pure cotton candy. Syrupy sweet, fluffy, not a lot of substance, but a whole lot of fun. John Travolta was distracting in drag (with what I thought was a horrible Baltimore accent), but the girl who played Tracy Turnblad was delightful. She was adorable and wonderfully talented. I don't know how you could keep from smiling all the way through. In fact I am still smiling.
Allison and I have been walking around singing "Good Morning Baltimore!" all day long, which is oddly the only line I can remember, much to The Man and Brandon's annoyance. Ben's singing it now too, which is not annoying at all, it's pure adorableness. Of course.

It was a bowl of singing, dancing, ratted hair happiness, served with a healthy message of accepting those who are different. Good stuff.

Can you tell I liked it?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

An afternoon with Ben and Clara (A picture book)

Ben and Clara.
See Ben and Clara play


Play Clara, play.


**************************************************************
Ben won't share, See Clara cry.

Cry, sweet Clara, cry.


***************************************************************
See Ben pout.

See Clara pout
*********************************************************
Ben and Clara talk it out.

Life is good.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Who is Stuart Smalley?

Today, Slouching Mom tagged me for a new meme, The Stuart Smalley Meme. I confess to having no idea who Stuart Smalley is and I am not sure how I feel about memes. Could it really be only a few weeks ago that I was tagged for my first one and was excited just to be invited to the party? Since then the rebellious streak in me has reared it's head and I have started balking at what I have termed "chain blogging". Thus, I have decided to reserve Memes for really rainy days, otherwise known as I-can't-think-of-a-single-thing-to-blog-about days.

However, because Slouching Mom is my blog-idol (When I grow up, I want to write just like her...) and I would probably do a post on the conception of my children if she asked me to, I am going to attempt this. I also suspect that she knows that a post on "things I like about myself", will be particularly hard for me. I tend to walk through my life feeling a bit like the geek sitting at the cool kids table, and hoping no one finds me out. That may be why she tagged me. She may be trying to force me into some kind of self-contemplative therapy. Or she may just have known that I was a big enough sucker to do the darn thing. Either way, I am nauseous, actually nauseous about writing it. Why is it that women find it so difficult to complement themselves? To find things in themselves they take pride in? Here goes..wish me luck.

The Stuart Smalley Meme
Instructions: The theme of this meme is "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it...I like me." So, in that vein, I am going to name ten things about myself that I like. I'm going to focus mostly on the physical, because that's what tends to undermine my self-confidence the most. But you can name anything you want. Maybe you have earned a particularly difficult to achieve degree, or you volunteer tirelessly at your child's school, or you make a really great Peach Cobbler. Anything that makes you feel proud, or happy, or significant.

1. I have big brown eyes with very long (albeit blond) eyelashes. This is my favorite feature about myself. They were the one physical atttribute I wanted to pass on to my children. I didn't.

I'm only on number 2, and already I am struggling to think of something. This is really hard.

2. I have a big, pretty smile.

3. I am a loyal friend. If a friend needs me, I will be there, no matter what mountains I have to move to make it happen.

4. I interview very well. I am very seldom ever not offered a job I interview for.

5. I am a good teacher. I have taught many ages at my church, and I am good at it. The children like me, and I love teaching them. It shows, I think.

6. I am honest to a fault. I have integrity. I will not lie, even to cover up my mistakes. I will take responsibility for my actions.

7. I believe in reading to my children and I have done it religiously with all my children, all the way through elementary school. The last book I read to Brandon was when he was in sixth grade. It was one of the Harry Potters I think. The last book I read to Allison was this year. It was "Anne of Green Gables."

Okay, I am really scraping the bottom of the barrel here. I also feel embarrassed to be saying so many good things about myself. I feel like someone will jump in at any moment and shoot me down.

8. I am a good writer. This was the hardest thing for me to write yet. I used to be confident in my abilities to express myself through prose. My recent time spent blogging has deteriorated that confidence. It's hard not to compare myself to others, who are obviously far more gifted than I. But this is not about what I am the best at, it's about what I like about myself. And I think I can still say: I like that I can write well.

9. I can sing, read music and pick out tunes on the piano. I will never be an American Idol, but I have a pretty voice. I am cringing at that phrase, pretty voice, I think it's safe to say it is pretty though, not mind blowing, but pretty. I think so.

10. I am a dedicated, involved mother. I had a hard time coming up with a 'like' about my role as a mom, but as many mistakes as I make, no one can ever say I am not involved in my children's life. I turn myself inside out and backwards to be there for all four of them, to be at their schools, to watch their rehearsals, to stop in the moment and acknowledge their accomplishments. I am involved, maybe to a fault, in all aspects of their lives. And I like that I am.

Good Gracious! I am finally done. That was even more painful than I thought. Now I get to decide whether or not to pass this discomfort onto someone else.

I tag Christine and Bub and Pie because I think they could both use some self-inflicted positive reinforcement this week.

A Serious Matter

I am not posting a funny story about Ben today, or any sentimental ramblings about Clara. I won't be talking about Allie, and how she wears her heart on her sleeve, or about Brandon and the trials of raising a teenage boy. Today I want to talk about a friend of mine.

I don't actually know her, we have never met. We've never even had a conversation. But she is blogging mother, like me. She has a baby and a toddler which I certainly know all about. She's 34, so close to my own age. And just a few short weeks ago she was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer. Today, I am posting a note from her. It's her hearts desire that people become more aware of this much unheard of form of cancer. I encourage you to read it, to take it seriously, to visit her Why Mommy Blog and read about her experiences, and to pray for her as she goes through this journey.

We hear a lot about breast cancer these days. One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetimes, and there are millions living with it in the U.S. today alone. But did you know that there is more than one type of breast cancer?
I didn’t. I thought that breast cancer was all the same. I figured that if I did my
monthly breast self-exams
, and found no lump, I’d be fine.
Oops. It turns out that you don’t have to have a lump to have breast cancer. Six weeks ago, I went to my OB/GYN because my breast felt funny. It was red, hot, inflamed, and the skin looked…funny. But there was no lump, so I wasn’t worried. I should have been. After a round of antibiotics didn’t clear up the inflammation, my doctor sent me to a breast specialist and did a skin punch biopsy. That test showed that I have inflammatory breast cancer, a very aggressive cancer that can be deadly.
Inflammatory breast cancer is often misdiagnosed as mastitis because many doctors have never seen it before and consider it rare. “Rare” or not, there are over 100,000 women in the U.S. with this cancer right now; only half will survive five years. Please call your OB/GYN if you experience several of the following symptoms in your breast, or any unusual changes: redness, rapid increase in size of one breast, persistent itching of breast or nipple, thickening of breast tissue, stabbing pain, soreness, swelling under the arm, dimpling or ridging (for example, when you take your bra off, the bra marks stay – for a while), flattening or retracting of the nipple, or a texture that looks or feels like an orange (called peau d’orange). Ask if your GYN is familiar with inflammatory breast cancer, and tell her that you’re concerned and want to come in to rule it out.
There is more than one kind of breast cancer. Inflammatory breast cancer is the
most aggressive form of breast cancer o
ut there, and early detection is critical. It’s not usually detected by mammogram. It does not usually present with a lump. It may be overlooked with all of the changes that our breasts undergo during the years when we’re pregnant and/or nursing our little ones. It’s important not to miss this one.
Inflammatory breast cancer is detected by women and their doctors who notice a change in one of their breasts. If you notice a change, call your doctor today. Tell her about it. Tell her that you have a friend with this disease, and it’s trying to kill her. Now you know what I wish I had known before six weeks ago.
You don’t have to have a lump to have breast cancer.


We are lifting you up.

Monday, July 23, 2007

highs and lows

My day started like this. Ben eating toast. Now Ben's eaten toast before, but it's been a while. And anything that's not a yellow cracker (wheat thins...they come in a yellow box) or a regular cracker (saltines) and is not from a baby food jar is cause for celebration around here. For goodness sake, I took a friggin picture!

Unfortunately things went downhill from there. Clara has been struggling to get rid of an ear infection for the last week and Ben, sweet Ben, may possibly the most mischievous three year old in history. Far more mischievous at least, than Brandon and Allison were at this age. I think he was going for some kind of record for consequences today. I really had to get creative. He was punished twice just because he can't seem to stop himself from putting things in the DVD player. He also ran the coffeemaker. With no pot underneath it.

And apparently he decided that this wheat toast from this morning was enough nourishment for the day, because after that he stopped eating again.

By this evening I was sitting on the kitchen floor, wedged in the corner between cabinets with my hands wrapped around my knees, trying to gather the strength for the battle I knew was inevitable to get Ben to eat a couple jars of babyfood for dinner. Ben came in the kitchen and found me that way and was delighted. 'This must be some kind of game.' I could see him thinking.

"I'll get my stool!", he said, and off he ran to the bathroom. He pushed his plastic stool down the hall and into the kitchen, in front of me. He sat down on it and looked at me eye-to-eye. I couldn't help but smile. It's sometimes impossible to be in a bad mood around Ben. Even when he's being a pill, he's such a happy little guy. I forced a serious expression back on my face.

"Ben, you have two choices. You can either eat your green beans and blueberries or you can go to bed."

"Ummm", he said. "Ummm" A long pause. I waited, watching him struggle with his options...."Ummm....I want....Ummm..."

"Yes, Ben?"

"I want a nover choice"

I burst out laughing. I couldn't help it. "Another choice, huh? Well don't we all."

He did eventually chose to eat his green beans and blueberries and we followed that with reading the new books we purchased today at the used bookstore. Including Curious George, his favorite. It's no surprise that he finds a kindred spirit in that cute, good-natured monkey, who can't stay out of trouble.

Opening the Door

I am not domestic. I think it's safe to say I am not exaggerating about this. My home stays in varying states of mess. I hate to cook. I do it because I have four children, but I despise it. Everything about it. The planning, the shopping, the actual cooking, the cleaning-up afterwards. My home is not beautifully decorated. It's desperately thrown together in an effort to look like adults live here, and not college students. There are a few pictures on the walls. There are even curtains in the kids rooms, but selecting them was painful reminder of where I am lacking. There are photographs everywhere, though. Books and photographs. It's easy to see where my interests do lie.

Oh I've tried, of course. I have made lists and schedules, bought books and subscribed to Internet sites that send me constant email reminders of what I should be doing to keep my home clean, my life organized. But none of it works. If I am forced to be honest, it's just not a high enough priority for me. Except occasionally, when it bothers The Man too much or my disorganization causes me to lose something or miss an appointment. And then I redouble my efforts once again.

It's something I struggle with constantly, this obvious shortcoming in my personality. I joke about it often, in a self-deprecating way. It's a defense mechanism against the nesty types. You know who you are. I come to your home and everything is beautiful. No matter how many children you have, your house is not overrun with toys. It's decorated fabulously and, most importantly, it's immaculate. There are no dishes in your sinks, or rings around your bathtubs. There is never a basket of wrinkled laundry waiting to be folded next to your ottoman (where mine is now). There are no stacks of papers and there is certainly not permanent marker "artwork" on your master bedroom carpet. And don't get me started on the yards. That's a whole other post.

You people intimidate the tar out of me.

And so, I don't entertain. Unless you are related to me, or a friend of many years, you probably have not been to my home for dinner. That' s not surprising really. Someone who's house is generally messy and doesn't like to cook, wouldn't entertain, would they?

But there in lies the problem. My insecurities about my home-making skills, and what they correspondingly must mean about me as a wife and mother, have inadvertently created a wall. It's hard to reach out to people, to create new relationships if you are unwilling to invite them into your home. There is something intimate about breaking-bread with someone. Something that invites confidences and laughter. It shows trust and longing for a deeper connection. And let's face it, we have four children, the days of inviting people to "meet us out for dinner" are long behind us.

I also believe that as a Christian woman, God is calling me to reach out more to others. To show love more, to welcome others into my inner circle, to be a better friend. I believe hospitality is something that God calls us to, as a result of our love for Him. But it's a calling I have been fighting tooth and nail for years. I have been putting it off, until I somehow morph into a better housekeeper, until my home is better decorated, my lawn better maintained. Until I won't be embarrassed for them to see the inside of my fridge. And it's not because I don't want to love others. It's because I am afraid that when they see me for who I really am, see my shortcomings, that they won't love me back.

But, this week I finally did what I said I would do countless times. At Sunday School yesterday I invited a couple, that I had been longing to know better, to my home for dinner. They already live in my neighborhood (and have seen the weeds in the flower bed) and have a baby girl that I am hoping will be a future friend for Clara. So, it seemed like a good place to start. I am challenging myself to do this regularly. And I am challenging myself not to freak out about it and spend the next two weeks in a frantic cleaning, decorating, weeding frenzy. I will make sure my bathroom is clean, I will make sure the kitchen won't scare them. I may even scrub out the fridge (it's been on my list anyway) but I won't pretend to be someone I am not. This is about trying to build real relationships. It's about letting someone in to my inner circle.

And if my inner-circle is a little dusty, well that's okay. Right?

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Taking matters into his own hands

It was poker night tonight, and so the kids and I were once again left to our own devices for the evening. Ben and Clara and I were hanging out in the living room doing quiet activities as bedtime was approaching.

Ben- "Can we do puzzles, Mama?"

Me- "Sure Ben, after Clara goes to sleep. We can't do puzzles with Clara."

Ben- "I think Cwara's ready for night-night."

Me- "No Ben, not yet. Soon."

A few minutes pass by and Ben is getting restless.

Ben- "Mama, Cwara's ready for night-night."

Me- "No Ben, she's not ready yet. Look (I point at her playing happily with her toys) she's still playing nicely."

Ben gets up and goes over to Clara, grabs both of her chubby arms in his hands and squeezes hard. Clara starts to scream. Ben runs back to my side

Ben- "See Mama. She's tired. She's ready for night-night."

Harry is coming today! (Revised)


To whom it may concern:

Today I am leaving for the afternoon to go work on scrapbooking Clara's babybook, and when I get back, Harry will be waiting on my doorstep. I am terribly excited. I am however, only halfway through re-reading book 6. So for the next few days, I will primarily be neglecting my children for Harry instead of for the blogosphere.

I would like to note, that since I will not be starting the new Harry Potter for a day or two, and I do have four children, and I am not the kind of person to read the last page first, that it may be a week, even, before I find out Harry's ultimate fate. If you spoil it for me: if you tell me who lives or dies, if Snape is bad or good or anything about the final outcome of our young friends, I will hunt you down and poor molasses on your head while you sleep.

Please consider yourself warned. Molasses can be very sticky and hard to get out of hair. It would also probably attract bugs.

Affectionately,
Joy

I guess what I am really asking is, if you want to do a post about the last book, include something about Harry in the post title, so I (and anyone else) know not to read it until I have finished the book. Too bossy??
Pretty- pretty-please.

REVISED: I read Bub and Pie's comments about the Canadian covers and had to do some research to find out what she was talking about. Did you know the entire rest of the English Speaking world uses a different cover than the Schlolastic designed American one? Here are the two versions of the latest Harry Potter book.

The children's cover and the Adult Cover. So enlighten me someone: Why are there two different covers? Are the books any different?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Glimpses of perfection

I sit with her this quiet afternoon, while her brother naps, a rare hour of time together. The two of us. I look around at the piles of work sitting next to us on the floor, the dirty counters, the laundry wrinkling in the basket. And I sit, incapable of pulling myself away from the feel of her, the weight of her resting against me. She speaks to me with sing-song words, just syllables really and I listen for meaning. I replay them in my head. The sweet, high-pitch sound of her voice.

I kiss the cool soft skin in the creases of her neck and the marshmallowy folds on her ankles and knees. I press my lips against her cheeks, devouring her. Inhaling her sour sweetness. I bury my nose in her fine hair and nibble on her ears. A laugh bubbles out of her, an uninhibited squeal. I let the sound of it ring in the air. Surely God has created no more beautiful sound. I nibble more and the laughing erupts. Stronger now, from deep inside her. Bursting forth in waves and gurgles. And I laugh too, with tears forming in my eyes. The two of us, in love, enraptured with each other.

She pushes against me, wanting to be free. I have held her too long, too tightly. I set her down to crawl away. The moment has passed and I wish I could seal it away, can it in a jar like summer tomatoes, to pop open on a day when I have forgotten. When I can no longer taste her cherubic softness against my lips or hear the ring of her laughter.

Because I will forget. I already have.

I can no longer picture her siblings at her age or hear their cooing voices. Was their voice as sweet? Was their skin as soft? Surely not. Certainly such beauty could not fade to the shadows I now have for memories.

But I know that it has. I know as strongly as I know anything that there were moments of such rapture and they have faded like the dusk, and once again I wonder why. Why my God who gives me such glimpses of perfection would give me a mind too feeble to keep them with me.

But I know the answer, He has whispered it to me again and again. It's for the beauty of days to come, that this moment fades, so my heart will be free to find the beauty in tomorrow. Free to embrace the joy in the life I have yet to live. And so, as the tears burn in my eyes, I try not to mourn the passing of this time. I try only to thank God for the blessing of this perfect moment...

and for the moments that will follow when it, too, is only a ghost for me.

We've been invaded.

My house has been invaded by ants. They're everywhere. Even places where there is no food. Like the computer desk. Well, okay I have been known to eat while blogging, but the bathroom, I definitely don't eat in the bathroom. And Ben, a recent unfortunate experience with an anthill still fresh in his mind, is terrified of the little guys. And so ten times a day I hear:

"Ants, mommy, Ants! Get the spway, get the spway!"

So I go and spray them while he crouches down and watches their demise with disturbing fascination and glee.

"Dey are wurggle-ing mom, Dey are doing the wurrgel-ing dance. Oh dey are dead now. One's getting away, can we spway it again?" He's jumping up and down now, so excited is he at the prospect of killing the last surviving ant.

And I, who should probably not be encouraging this toddler version of "Die, suckers Die!" obligingly spray them again. And watch them wurgle and do their dance of death. Because lets face it, the sadistic apple doesn't fall far from the tree on this one.

I am not a fan of sharing my home with anything that has more than four legs. Especially when they bite me while blogging. The nerve.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

What I wish...

I go through my days making wishes. We all do I think. "I wish it would rain" "I wish this line would move faster" "I wish the kids would stop fighting"

Sometimes my wishes are vain: a waist that stayed small despite the half a Happy-Birthday-Clara-cookie-cake I ate last night. Sometimes they're philanthropic: helping people in Africa or resolving the situation in the middle east. Sometimes my wishes are sentimental: for time to slow down. More often than I can count I am Solomon asking for wisdom on how to rule this little kingdom of children.

But for tonight, for right now, what I wish is just for my son to eat. It seems like such a small wish. Not like changing the weather, or fixing national crisis, or not even for faster metabolism or wisdom. Just for Ben to eat something that is not crackers and didn't come out of a babyfood jar. I am so tired of fighting my way through every meal. Through every calorie. I am tired of therapists and well meaning advice. Even the babyfood is a struggle now. I think he would just stop eating entirely if we let him.

And so tonight, I will get back on my knees and pray for this wish. I will pray, once again, that my three year old son would learn how to eat.

Who ever would have thought?

I promised myself no more melancholy posts and so this is the last of them for a while. Hopefully not the last of my posts just the last of this cloud that seems to have settled over my writing.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Happy Birthday Clara Elizabeth (one more birthday post!)

One year ago today, you looked like this...


And this morning at Gymboree you looked like this...
At home you looked like this...


And sounded like this...

video

You're pulling up constantly now, but you can't get back down. So you say "uh oh, uh oh" when you get stuck until someone comes and gets you. I think this is so cute I leave you there just to hear you say it again. You also say Dada, and Ball and Mama and try to say Balloon and Dora. You have brought us so much joy this past year, and we are happy and sad about this new phase we are entering into.
We love you.

Joy in Chaos gets a makeover

Over the last week, I worked with Jules at Everyday Mommy (specifically her company Everyday Design) to come up with a new look for my blog. After some changes and fickleness on my part, this is the final outcome and I am very happy with it. She was wonderful to work with, especially considering I had no idea what I wanted.

Thanks Jules!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Joy and chaos and chaos and chaos and joy...

The theme of this blog is supposed to be finding joy in the chaos of my life. The chaos is there, in my face every day. It shouts at me, it overwhelms me. It's just part of me, my personality, and the fact that I am a mom to four children. The joy is there too, but sometimes it's just a whisper and I have to look for it, be still and notice it, or the chaos will take over and I'll miss the blessings completely. That's the reason I started writing this blog. To fight against my inclinations towards melancholy and frustration and make me stop and document the moments of joy, and hopefully see in the process that joy abounds in my life. I just have to look for it.

Yesterday was Clara's first birthday party. Although I have been dreading Clara turning one from time-passing-too-quickly standpoint, I had really been looking forward to the party. I sent out beautiful invitations with black and white photographs of her. I decorated the house with pink tissue paper flowers and frogs, and bought pink and green balloons. I bought her a new party dress and I revelled in all things pink and girly. My last baby was turning one and I wanted to make a big deal about it, to celebrate it perfectly in grand, girly style. Sometimes, I am an idiot.

3 hours before the party-I am in the kitchen working on cupcakes and I hear Ben say "Mom, the balloons are going round and round!" He had taken his scissors and cut each and every string attached to the balloons decorating the living room. All 18 balloons were either spinning in the ceiling fan or collected 20 ft up in the vault of our ceiling.

2 hours before the party-I am holding an extension ladder for The Man while he corrals 18 balloons and brings them back down again to tie on new strings.

45 minutes before the Party-The Man and I are in the kitchen making sandwiches for the platters when we hear screaming coming from the living room. The Man and I both look at each other, contemplating how serious the screams sound and my mother-in-law springs, with truly amazing speed, into the living room. Clara was pulling up on our fire place and fell into the firewood, turning the left side of her face into a series of bruises and scratches. Poor, poor baby.



here she is showing off her scratches!

20 minute before the party-The Man and I are running around the house undoing the damage that Ben and Clara have done in the last 3 hours and I realize to my mortification that I am still in my pajamas. I have completely forgotten to shower. So I sprint off the the bedroom to throw on some make-up, deodorant and pull my hair in a pony tail, making a note to myself to avoid being in any pictures.

20 minutes after the party begins-Family starts arriving including my teenage nephew. The Man and I look at each other and realize we have forgotten our own teenager, Brandon. He spent the night at a friend's house up the road and we were supposed to go get him before his sister's party. The Man's the one sprinting now, out to the car to pick up our son.

The Party-I tried my best to keep the party list small, I really did. But just inviting our families and a couple very close friends we ended up with 17 children ranging from Clara's age to age 16. Chaos reigned supreme. My ideas of activities quickly went out the window for balloon fights and and games of tag among the paper roses. Video games were pulled out by the teenagers and the 3 prepubescent girls quarantined themselves in Allison's room. Drinks were spilled, babies fell, parents reprimanded, children shouted and laughed and bickered. Clara became overwhelmed at the cacophony of noise and fast moving bodies and stayed mostly in my lap. We had forgotten to charge the video camera. I kept forgetting to take pictures. The gift opening was a tornado of little hands and squeals as I tried desperately to see each gift before it was discarded for the next.

And then before I knew it, people were collecting shoes, and hair bows, and toys and bustling their kids out the door. And as I sat there yesterday evening, amid the mess and remains of the party I felt a little sad. That it was over, and it was so chaotic and such a blur. And that if there was joy, I had missed it. And I felt once again the creeping in of melancholy and self-pity. And so I am stopping now, before it takes hold, to list the things that were beautiful about this crazy day.
  1. My older 3 children had a wonderful time. The love their cousins and friends dearly and couldn't have asked for a better afternoon. They were all glowing after the party. In fact Ben said "I wuv Cwara's party!"
  2. My daughter is turning one year old. She is beautiful, and healthy and brings me unspeakable joy. She has so many people that love her. She is blessed beyond measure.
  3. And look at these pictures:



It's obvious that even if I missed the joy, Clara found some. And someone, someone who knows all about the chaos and what it's like to be the mom of a birthday girl, captured it for me.

Thank you friend.

Friday, July 13, 2007

I Won An Award

I won an award.

I am absolutely flabbergasted. Somehow, I won a Rising Blogger Award for my post "my beautiful girl". Someone nominated me. I wish I knew who. Oh and what wonderful things they wrote about me. I was moved to tears. It doesn't take much to make someone feel special does it. A button for my blog and suddenly I am walking 6 inches off the ground.

So thanks so much my mystery friend, and thanks to rising blogger for choosing me for today. It's a small thing, I know, but it was a big deal to me.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The wheels on the bus...

video
July 4, 2007

My first attempt at video uploading. This is the boy. He has been up to his shenanigans again. Just in the last hour before he went to bed, he sprayed Clara in the face with spray starch, put Brandon's PS2 CD in the VCR and emptied a tissue box onto the floor. He also managed to shut his finger in the front door earlier today, poor thing, and cried for no less than an hour.

So... the quality of this video is poor but it served it's purpose of reminding me of a gentler day.

Rock On!

So my new, old friend, Karen just nominated me for a Rockin Girl Blogger award.

I think that saying anything about me, a prudy mother-of-four, is rockin is very funny . Just ask my teenager. Especially if you take into consideration that Karen just watched me attempt to dance-it-up at a wedding we both attended. But still I appreciate the nod, the kind things she said about me, and the fun pink (my favorite color) BLING she gave me for my site.
I am now supposed to nominate other blogger-chics for the Rockin Girl Blogger award, but I am not gonna, rebel that I am. It's actually because I have just posted 2 memes in the last weeks and I am taking a break from chain blogging to keep me from being too annoying. Well to attempt it anyway. But if you feel you rock, please steal the button. You deserve it just for being kind enough to come here and read my posts.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Like mother, like daughter

Allison and I have always had a tug-a-war relationship. She pulls...I pull harder: each of us trying to get our flag across the center line. Many days my heart is worn and frayed from the constant tugging friction. Now, don't get me wrong, there are times, lots of times actually, when the rope gets slack, and we meet in the middle over songs, or shopping, or Anne of Green Gables, but it's always been strange to me that we don't coexist more often in harmony, given the fact that we are so much alike. Maybe it's because of that likeness, that we do struggle. It's not always easy to look in a mirror. I see so much of myself in her and I want her to overcome my personality in ways I haven't managed yet. I want her to be strong where I am weak, to succeed where I have failed.

Despite this often tumultuous relationship, we have never been good at being apart. As an infant, Allison and I spent hours, days even, alone together. Shane, who was working long hours and in school, only saw us in bits and glimpses, and on Sundays. Allie and I suffered through that first rocky year almost physically attached to each other. So I guess it was only natural that when I went back to work when she was 15 months that our hearts broke at the loss of each other. She spent her hours at daycare sitting alone in a corner, incapable of expressing or even comprehending the loss she felt. I went to work each day crying, my stomach retching over the grief of my little girl. Obviously things couldn't stay that way. We changed daycare, we shortened working hours, and we adapted. As time passed, and she grew older, it became conceivable to be separated for jobs, for sleepovers and then even eventually, for sleepover camp.

Last year, in 4th grade, Allison decided that she and her friend, Sadie, wanted to go away to church camp. I was surprised and a bit concerned. Previously, Allison was only willing to attend school trips and choir trips if I was able to go as her chaperon. Chaperoning church camp last year, was out of the question, as I was nine months pregnant with Clara. After much discussion she decided that she was ready to embark on a trip away from me, with Sadie at her side.

When the morning came for her to leave we found out that Sadie had been bumped to a different room, and Allie, who doesn't make friends easily, was with someone new. She was fiercely trying to hold back tears and I was trying hard to support her, an encouraging smile pasted on my face. As buses drove away, I smiled and waved and then, of course, I burst into tears. My stomach was sick and retching once again with anxiety that she would be ignored, ridiculed, that she would be sad or lonely. For four long days I waited anxiously for her to return only to find out that she had a wonderful time and couldn't wait to return the next year.

Well, next year was yesterday. I didn't cry when she and Sadie boarded the buses this time. Ben and Clara and I kissed her off to a cheerful goodbye and got in the car and drove home. I congratulated myself on what an evolved and together (and not nine months pregnant) parent I had become. Then this evening, I found her performance CD for the talent show on the kitchen counter. Allie and I had rehearsed together for this. I drove her to the audition and watched her with butterflies in my stomach and then my heart soared when she blew them all away. We rejoiced together when she found out she was chosen. We had, just the night before, picked out the outfit she would wear to sing. And now she would not be able to perform. It was back again, the nausea, the anxiousness. My heart was aching knowing how sad she would be when she found out.

And so this afternoon, I am going to ignoring this nagging voice that tells me I am teaching her something bad about responsibility, and I am going to drive her CD the hour and a half to camp. I called the number on the pink piece of paper, the number for emergencies only, cringing even as I did it, to let them know I was coming. I know they think this is crazy. I know this is just a silly camp talent show and there is probably some lesson to be learned here for both of us. But all I can think right now is that she will be heartbroken because... I know. I know what it's like to forget things, to lose things, I have done it all my life, and I can fix this for her. And so, just this once, I am not going to teach the lesson, I am not going to tug back on the rope. I am going to get in my car and bring my baby girl, who's not a baby anymore, her CD.

And I think maybe that's okay.


Allison and Sadie, off to camp

Sunday, July 8, 2007

a special bond

Last night The Man had the night off parenting to go play poker with his friends. Since The Man is typically the one who supervises putting Ben and Clara to bed, our routines were a little off. After snuggling in bed for smooches and one more round of My Friend Rabbit, I turned off the light and slipped out Ben's door. A few minutes later, I heard Ben in his room crying. Wailing actually. I immediately hurried to his room, worried because he never cries at bedtime. When I got to his side and asked him what was wrong he responded, between sobs,

"I need my brudder!"

Apparently, I had forgotten the most important part of the bedtime routine: goodnight hugs from his big brother. I ran and told Brandon who jumped up, delighted to have been so passionately missed. And as I stood in the doorway and watched them embrace, my heart was overflowing with thanksgiving. For what a blessing it is to have two boys who are so profoundly in love, with each other.
Brandon and Ben, 2005

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Eight Random Facts Meme

So while I was in New York (do you see how I like to drop the fact that I actually left the lovely state of Georgia for a change into every possible post) Greenblogger tagged me for the Eight Random Facts Meme. I didn't happen to notice the tag until a couple days ago, but in light of my current lack of blogging inspiration, I am grateful for a jumping point..Lets just hope it's not off a cliff.

It's also the first time I have been tagged for a meme, so I feel a bit like I have been invited to sit at the cool kids table.

Let's see...I'm supposed to post the rules:
A. Each player lists eight facts/habits about themselves
B. The rules are posted at the beginning of the game before those facts/habits are listed.
C. At the end of the post, the player then tags 8 people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know they have been tagged and asking them to read your blog.

Check.

Now I have to come up with eight interesting facts. Eight. Interesting. Hmmm...
In case some of you haven't noticed a reoccurring theme on my blog lately, I am feeling a bit insecure about my ability to actually be interesting. I guess this will either help me with this issue, or put a big fat nail in the proverbial coffin. Anyone taking bets?
  1. I share joint custody of my two cats with my old roommate (whom I love dearly). When we each got married she moved with them to Michigan. Then when they got on her husbands nerves too badly she couldn't bare to keep them from me any longer she drove them 15 hours to come back and live with me. She now has visitation rights and comes to see them almost never regularly.
  2. I bite my nails down to the quick. It's a neurotic habit. Yuck
  3. I believe the Bible is true.
  4. It used to be my dream to sing on Broadway and I am addicted to show tunes. It's now my daughter's dream to sing on Broadway and she is also addicted to show tunes. Sharing and obnoxious passion with your offspring: Divine.
  5. One of my biggest regrets is that I only have a high school level education. When Clara starts school I will finally get to start college. That will be one year after Brandon starts college.
  6. My name is Joy and I am an awful driver. I have wrecked every car I have ever owned (with the exception of my current vehicle), at least once. Usually several times. I was once in two car accidents in one day. I wrecked my car and the company vehicle within hours of each other. It's currently been three years since my last accident.
  7. I have a driving anxiety (see #6) and really wish I could find a way to function in this world without ever having to drive.
  8. I love to watch movies but rarely ever like the movie. I simply can't find a way to like reality TV.
Now I am supposed to tag 8 people to do this Meme but since it's been making it's rounds for quite a while now, I am only tagging three.

  1. A Happier Girl
  2. From Glory to Glory
  3. Losses and Gains

Latenight confessions

I think I left my blogging voice in New York. I don't know if I ever really had a blogging voice, goodness knows I haven't been doing it long. But before I left, I started to feel like I was getting in a groove. I started viewing events in my life within the context of how I could share them on my blog. I was excited about this passion for writing I had rediscovered after so long. I knew I wasn't a great writer, any illusions I had about that disappeared as soon as I became regular visitors to other blogs, but I loved it. It had been a long time since I felt passionate about much beyond my family. I went to bed rearranging words into phrases in my head and trying to decide if I should get up and write them right away, lest they poof away while I was sleeping. Apparently this was a legitimate concern because by the time I made it back from my trip, every bit of blogging mojo I had conjured up....Well, poof, poof, poof.

It took me three days to write a post about my trip. I started several times, but each time it was like clawing my way through dirt to pick out words that didn't really seem to fit together. I had no real message. I wasn't inspired. I eventually put something together to document my trip. Something was better than nothing I thought, and it was such a wonderful trip. And then I waited for something to inspire me to write again. And again nothing. So here I sit, well past midnight, blogging about blogging and my inability to do so. The irony is not lost on me.

There is something about night, about being shrouded in dark that leads us to confide. As a teenage girl I confided so many secrets to friends while sharing fold out-beds or palettes on the floor. My words finding safety in faces unseen. It's like that now, as I sit here and type in the dark, on a keyboard I can't even see. It's easy to ruminate, my insecurities finding residence in my idleness. And it's easy to confess; things like my fears that maybe I really am out of my league in this world of bloggers. My fears that maybe the reason I can find nothing to write is that I am not interesting, or because I simply lack the talents to find and record the gems in each day God gives us.

But now I am being grim. Someone I know emailed me and said they read my blog. She said she read it and it impressed her but at the same time it made her sad. My trials with Brandon, Allie's insecurities and my own about my place in this world. The title of my blog is "joy in chaos" but I think I have only conveyed the chaos in my heart and not the joy. I should share more joy. These are the things I think about at night. That and Harry Potter.

*********************
I guess that's my next confession. I just ordered the last Harry Potter book to be delivered on July 21st. I even used my precious Barnes & Noble gift certificate to pay for it. I think I was resisting because it didn't feel like a meaningful enough purchase. How ridiculous is that. Apparently I believe if I am going to buy a book at full-hardcover price it must be life changing. So, I thought a lot about what I would order. What books should I read, that I never have. What did I want to display proudly on my bookshelf. And then I went to Bub and Pie's blog and I saw her countdown for the last book and I knew that nothing would make me more excited than having that sitting on my doorstep on the 21st . Because the truth is that despite the fact that it's a pop-culture phenomenon, and I am sometimes a pop-culture snob, I simply love those books. And for good measure I used the rest of the certificate to order the 6th book as well because we don't own that one either. (And all I can remember about it is weeping through the last pages) And then I went and shamelessly stole the code for Bub and Pie's counter and stuck it on my site to count down the days til my delivery. Because that makes me happy. Very happy. So I guess that's a bit of joy, after all.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Things I learned on my trip to New York

1. Planes rarely leave when they are scheduled
I don't actually know if this is true for everyone, or just for me. I don't fly much, but when I do you can bet that I will not be arriving on time. Allison and I crawled into bed at my Aunt's house about 2:30 AM. We didn't mind so much though. We had dinner, read books, talked about our plans for the trip. It's amazing how waiting can actually be enjoyable when the romper-room crowd is at home in bed. Plus, we got to take pictures like this.
Lovely, I know. Heh Heh

2. Allison doesn't like crowds.
I am surprised I didn't know this. I know I have said things like "Allie likes her one-on-one time" before, but this trip it became very clear that she doesn't like socializing in crowds. Each time we were together with a large group of people (which, since we were visiting with family and attending a wedding, happened a lot) she would wander off by herself. She wasn't sad or looking for attention. She was perfectly happy off by herself reading, or looking around, or finding one person to visit with. That's very different from me. I love crowds. It makes me wonder what other things I never noticed.

3. If you want to know who really loves you, look for people with dirty hands.
My cousin Bethie's wedding weekend was the product of lots of work by many people. I continued to be amazed at the number of friends and family-members who were up early and up late to decorate, clean-up, run errands, cook, chauffeur and do countless other small things to make sure her day was special. She's an amazing person to inspire so much sacrificial love from others. But that part, I already knew.

4.Strong's Children's Museum in Rochester, NY is, like, totally awesome!
Really, it's worth the trip to the upstate NY area just to spend the day there. It's full of wonderful hands-on exhibits that encourage your kids to play more, create more, read more. And it's huge. I could go on and on about this place. Fabulous.

5.Dancing is good for your soul. We should dance more.
When we are young, we dance all the time. As a kid we do it whenever the mood strikes us. It's inherent in us this desire to move to the music. As a young person we dance at parties, at school, in clubs, and then eventually, at our friend's weddings. But something happens as an adult and we don't dance anymore. And when we do, we tend to feel a bit foolish, like this is something reserved for the young. And thin and coordinated. I wish this wasn't so. I love dancing. I'm not particularly good at it. I have a decent sense of rhythm but no coordination. But I danced at Bethie's wedding. And Allison danced with me, until we were both exhilarated and out of breath. And no, there are no pictures of me dancing. (Although there were some taken I believe) because this would not encourage you to dance more. It would encourage you to laugh more, and that really wasn't the point.

6. My daughter is beautiful.
I spend a lot of time observing Ben and Clara. Noting the small changes. Documenting the feel, the smell, the look of their chubby cheeks, the sounds of their voices. Trying to capture it all through the lens of a camera. It's been a long time since I looked at Allison that closely. But several times this weekend I was just blown away by the beauty of her. Amazed in fact, at what a gorgeous thing she has become. Her beautiful pale skin. The faraway look in her eyes. I know some of this is viewed through the rose-tinted glasses of motherhood, but that's okay. I hope I always see her that way.


7. The Spice Girls should have a reunion more often.
My cousins (biological and adopted) and I refer to ourselves as the spice girls. I can't really remember how this started. I was told that it had something to do with platform shoes and the fact that one of us is named Ginger. Our spice girl names change with our situation (I have been joyful spice, singing spice, sappy spice and for 2 stints at the end of my pregnancies..."Puff Mama") Our group has also grown larger over the years, expanding to include other relatives and friends in it's circle. It's a beautiful thing, my relationship with these other spice-girl-women It has been a shining light for me in many dark days. When the doctor told us we had probably lost Clara they prayed like crazy. When I fell into a very dark hole of depression after she was born then hauled me out of it and sent me weeping to the doctor. They have supported me when I have felt like a complete failure of a mother because I couldn't get Ben to eat anything that wasn't pureed. My only regret is that this relationship has been sustained almost completely by email. Sometimes daily, sometimes with weeks in between. We live, all of us, in different states. The spice-girl wedding of the century brought us back together again in person, but the time was too short and after much too long an absence. It needs to happen again, annually. And I am going to make it happen.



8. My Babies Can Survive Without Me.
I missed my other children horribly while I was gone. I was actually moved to tears a couple times by the pangs I felt at being away from them. However, the visions I had of Ben and Clara pining away in my absence were completely wrong. The Man said Ben only asked for me once and they were both great. Sigh. I guess it's wrong to feel bad they weren't suffering. But well, a bit of pining wouldn't really be too much to ask, would it?

9. There's No Place Like Home.
I knew this already, but there is nothing quite like 5 days away from your family, to help you remember. I absolutely could not wait to get home.
I am glad to be back.