Friday, October 31, 2014

The Sixth Lap

Right now, before we get going, go pillage the Halloween candy you bought for tonight and pick out all your favorites.  If you have (hopefully) something better, go get that.  You'll probably want to grab some form of caffeine too.  Possibly prep your favorite binge TV shows/movies.  Today's post is going to depress you.  Sorry.  No, I'm not going to write about dead puppies or Hallmark Movie of the Week soppiness.  Today I'm writing about the Sixth Lap.  No, not the Sixth Sense, which would be handy, frankly.  There is absolutely nothing haunting, magical, or mysterious about the Sixth Lap.  It IS going to haunt you, however, with an outside hope of courage.

Our family is a Track and Field family.  We run, we jump.  This is because we're often not super coordinated and to add an unstable factor into the equation like a ball that will bounce, roll, or get swiped by the opponent may flummox us into a face plant.  Oddly, we can hurdle, which makes no sense, but there you are.  Probably fits in with the whole "we can jump" part of it.  At any rate, for this reason, I have been to many, MANY track meets.  I love them.  There's always something going on, something to cheer for, all kinds of events to interest anyone.  

Except for one.  There is one event at your average high school track meet that even the competitors don't like: the Two Mile.  It's EIGHT laps around the track.  The kids who run this are generally the same kids who run Cross Country in the fall and are used to road running, scenery, SOMETHING to concentrate on other than running in endless circles!  More than once, I've seen a poor kid lose count and think they were done a lap too soon.  It's awful.  This happens because there are so many laps, the fast kids always lap the others at least once.  Sometimes twice.  And the real heroes of this race, in my opinion, are the slow kids who know they are slow and know they are going to get lapped repeatedly, but they STILL RUN.  And I would cheer them more enthusiastically if they didn't take a friggin' half hour to finish!  This race will be run TWICE in any meet because there's one race for the girls and one for the boys.  And it's usually raining.  

It is this race, however, that holds a great analogy (I tried to type anomaly there, probably also fitting) for me today.  The Two Mile is not pretty, not exciting (except on rare occasions during the last 100 meters), and not fun.  It is, however, the Mother of All Races.  This is the one only the bravest (or the completely unaware and uninitiated) will willingly sign up for.  It is also the perfect comparison to parenting.  And I am on the Sixth Lap.

Here's the breakdown.  As I describe the laps, apply these descriptions to the different stages of parenting.  You will be both amazed and despondent.  Keep the chocolate close.

First Lap  -- first lap is always rough and exciting at the same time.  Everyone is getting their pace down, waiting for their body to get its running rhythm going, getting over the First Wind, and waiting for that Second Wind to kick in.  Everyone is excited and destinies are far from decided.  Anything could happen!

Second/Third Lap  -- Mid-first mile is great!  You're feeling good, you've still got gas in the tank, your pace is feeling solid, things are looking awesome, nothing serious is happening here.  Lots of potential still.  Many often make the mistake here of thinking they really are Superman and somehow their unknown potential is going to sparkle forth today!  They daringly take the lead and stride out confidently, wantonly passing the runner expected to win.  The greatest mistake made here is thinking the race is "about half way over, with the hardest part done."  Trust me, young runner, you will be dreaming of returning to these laps ere another few laps pass by.

Fourth/Fifth Lap -- Life is starting to get really painful around the end of the first mile, start of the second mile. You've been running for awhile now, solidly into the race, outcomes are beginning to be determined. The legs are definitely starting to feel the strain, the laps have really blurred together, you may have been lapped by this point by the stupid prodigy you so carelessly passed a couple laps ago.  But you're still feeling pretty solid and hanging in there.  Reality is setting in. 

Then comes the Sixth Lap -- Reality has settled and is hogging the couch.  You've been running forever, you still have forever to go.  The two (or is it three?  Maybe it's only one? Hopefully?) remaining laps might as well be miles instead of laps.   Even though the end is approaching, it's still far enough away to be depressing. Your legs are tired.  Your lungs are struggling. You haven't dropped dead, but the prospect sounds pleasant.  Your pace is set but slagging, your will is definitely drooping.  Why on earth did you sign up for this?  This is just self-imposed torture.  There's no law that says you have to run.  And yet you signed up WILLINGLY for this.  Maybe you should have a CAT scan when the race is over.  If it ever is over.

Seventh Lap is the deceptive Lap.  This is where all too often a runner thinks they are done, that they are on the Eighth Lap.  They sprint too soon for the finish, only to realize they have another entire lap to go.  This is the greatest of all deceptions.  Wise runners have paced themselves, watched the lap numbers (unless they got caught in the tangle of running along side runners on different laps when they all passed the lap number sign.  Ugh.) and saved a little gas for the end.  Either way, everyone is hurting.

The Eighth Lap is the end and it couldn't have come one second sooner.  Even the winner, who has trained, has the raw talent, and has competitiveness oozing from every pore, is spent.  And possibly puking by the sidelines.  No matter what your time is or what place you end up with, you are DONE. You have never been so grateful for gravity as you lay on the grass trying to remember how to breathe like a normal human while your coach hollers at you to get up and keeping walking.  This suggestion seems about the same as telling you to get up and do a gymnastics routine down the field.  It.  Ain't.  Happening.  At least not yet.  You will get up eventually, but just to lay here on the grass just a few minutes more is pure heaven.  

Then the best part hits like a wave of Caribbean ocean water: you did it.  You did something difficult and you finished.  You went the whole distance.  Maybe it wasn't pretty and no one should really sweat like this, but even by finishing, you succeeded where others failed to even show up for the race.   

Here are the bits you will want to remember as you compare the race to parenting.  The Eighth Lap is NOT high school graduation.  That happens around Lap Five/Six.  Sorry, if this comes as a depressing realization.  If you have an adorable, drooling cherub bouncing around your home, enjoy every moment, but know the end of the race is decades (plural, several plurals) away.  Pace yourself!  

Also, it's important to always listen to your coach -- your own parents, your spiritual leaders, your friends.  They are there for your success.  They have nothing invested in this race, they have experience, and they have objectivity.  They might be super annoying and you might not actually like them very much from time to time.  But they are there for your success.  When they say "Slow a bit," do it.  When they say, "Dig deeper," do it.  When they say, "Get up and walk," do it.

So anyway, as I work on my Sixth Lap (I'd like to think it was Lap Seven, but I know it isn't), having parented for 24 years now, with four kiddos still at home, and looking at a solid decade before they're all simply out of high school, I will continue to munch on my peanut butter M&Ms (which really don't help with actual running at all, sadly) and be grateful for chocolate as I jog along.  As I try to find enthusiasm for my twentieth-fourth year of figuring out Halloween costumes for the sake of my youngest two, who haven't done this 24 times, I will remember it really won't be too long before I'm laying on the grass being grateful the race is over, but even more grateful that I ran!

But I might need to puke first.  Just sayin'.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The 8 stupidest arguments EVER

When I look back at the last 25 years, I often wonder, "why did I bother with college?"  It's not like we dissect Dostoevsky novels or discuss parallel and relevant ideologies around the dinner table.  What I should have studied was hours and hours of Three Stooges movies.  What I'm getting at is this: I have listened to a lot of stupid arguments in my time.  I mean DUMB. It's important to define "dumb," for the scientific examination of this issue.  On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is a debate with your doctor over whether or not to get this year's flu shot (for 11% effectiveness last year?  I'm thinking, no.) and 10 is a congressional budget hearing (HOW much does an army surplus toilet cost?!!), I would rank the arguments in this house around a 13 1/2.  Let me present the evidence:

1.  Bedtime.  As a friend's husband once explained (loudly) to their daughter, "BEDTIME IS GOING TO HAPPEN EVERY NIGHT OF YOUR LIFE.  GET OVER IT."  And yet, every night we have the same debate.  Every night.  Every.  Night.  For 18 years, per child.  I have 6 of them.  I don't want to do the math.

2.  Boogers v. Farting.  We've had this debate more than once as well. Once is one time too many, so we're solidly over our quota.  This is how the argument goes: One brother farts on another brother's blanket.  Said blanket is now declared to be a Superfund site and must be decontaminated.  The Fartee then, in self-defense, states his farts aren't anywhere near as gross as the second brother's booger wall.  What, you ask, is a booger wall?  Why, it's a wall covered with boogers, of course.  Specifically, the wall next to the designated brother's bed, where late at night, after losing argument #1 (again), the aforementioned brother lays in bed, dreams of giant mountains of legos, and picks his nose.  Finds are then deposited on the wall.  Hence, we have a booger wall.  Which is grosser?  Debate amongst yourselves.

ps -- metal spatula and paint, if you were wondering.

3. Indoor Extreme Sports.  You're saying to yourself, "Wait, that doesn't sound safe!"  No.  No, it does not.  And yet, it's very real.  Skateboarding in the house?  Parkour on the stairs? BASE jumping from the second floor? Slam dunk contest in the hallway with a Playskool basketball hoop (players are 18 years old)? Free running through the entire downstairs? Human surfing down the stairs? Ultimate frisbee in the family room?  Full contact badminton in the living room?  We've debated them ALL, AFTER said activity was already in full swing.  The question I hear every time and just can't answer without getting an instant migraine: "But why not?" Really?  REALLY??

4.  Superhero v. superhero.  Ok, this one is just annoying.  It goes like this:  Brother #1 declares his favorite superhero of the day to be the dominant superhero of all time and space.  Well, no brother worth his weight in Captain Crunch and Doritos is going to let a statement like that go unremarked.  So, Brother #2 then presents his counter argument as to why superhero #1 is insufficient and his choice, superhero #2, is clearly preferable and dominant.  Fictional characteristics and humanly impossible abilities are then presented as evidence in each brother's case in support of their selected superhero.  These debates happen around the 93 decibel level.  Hearing loss begins at 85.  It should be noted that debating opponents are usually (a lot) closer in age to 20 than 10, and certainly not less than 10, which is when one might expect these arguments to happen.  Oh no.  When the punching starts, the argument ends via ME.  Any reference back to said debate is strictly forbidden as these embers burn long, long into the fire of memory.  Sheesh.

ps -- I  know you're wondering, so here's the most recent version: Quicksilver v. Superman.

5.  ANY argument with a human under 5 years old.  Here are some of my favorites:
--Head removal.  As in, "my plastic toy's head comes off, I want to take mine off.  So take it off NOW."
--Why?  As in, "Four comes after three."  "Why?" "Because it's one more." "Why?" " . . ."
--Ownership.  As in, "Buuut I waaaant bluuuuuue sprinklessss!"  "This one has blue sprinkles."  "But I want the blue sprinkles on your cupcake!"  "Ok, you can have my cupcake, and I'll eat this one."  "NO! THAT'S MY CUPCAKE!!"

6.  Hygiene.  Between the ages of 7 and 11, I have had the same argument multiple times a week with each and every son of mine.
It goes like this: "You smell bad.  Are you wearing clean clothes?"  "Ya, I just put them on last week."
Or its near relative:  "You smell bad.  Did you use soap in the shower?"  "Soap?"
Or its frequent incarnation: "You smell bad.  Did you shower last night?"  "I didn't need to.  I showered  . . . hmmm, I don't remember."
The reason given in each and every one of these situations as to why the designated stinker should be allowed to forgo changing/lathering/bathing?  "But I'm all warm and comfortable!"  Because 4-day old underwear on someone who believes toilet paper to be optional IS the byword for comfort . . .

7. Designated Spot.  I've written a blog post about this one.  (See The Gaza Couch, May 2012).  If there is one argument that will put Mommy into "THATSITEVERYONEISGROUNDEDFORTHERESTOFTHENIGHT" mode in under 30 seconds, it's this one.  I do not care if you've been sitting in that one spot on the couch since the day you were born.  Its a big frickin' couch.  PICK ANOTHER SPOT!  And, if you deliberately waited until your brother got up to pee to steal his spot, MOVE!  NOW!  And if anyone whines, YOU'RE ALL GROUNDED! Gah!  Seriously, I'm going to sell all the furniture and everyone can sit on the stinking floor! (No lie, they would argue about floor spots.)

8.  Physical Contact.  I'm not talking about punching, or hitting, or scratching.  You know what I'm talking about.  The ever, eternal "He's touching me!"  "Stop touching me!" And so on.  Yes, in fact his pinkie toe is touching the side of your foot.  I think you will live.  But now he's plastering his foot all over your face because you whined about his pinkie toe.  And how he's sitting on you.  And farting on command.  Bet you wish it was just a pinkie toe now, eh?

9 . . . honestly, this is giving me a headache just writing about it.  Gah, I need some chocolate.  May your day be insanity free . . . at least for an hour or two . . .

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Crafting for Boys

I am a creative soul.  You have to say "soul", saying "person" just doesn't cover it.  This is really one of the those things you have to BE to really understand.  I don't "like" to craft and be creative, I NEED to craft and be creative.  When the world is totally falling apart and I really, truly am going to go postal on the nearest human, I will drop life and start a project. Actually, I will start with a four-hour nap.  THEN I will start a project.  Life is always better after nap, isn't it?  Maybe I'll go have one now . . .

Hi, I'm back!  Most people have a sharp rise in blood pressure if they have to contemplate a sewing machine with a pile of fabric or three gallons of paint meant for repainting the entire downstairs, each room a different color and different painting technique.  I do these things to relax.  Gimme a glue gun and a paint brush any day.  I have more woodworking tools in my garage than most guys who proudly display their Man Cards to the neighbors.  No lie, one of the projects I really want to start is making the headboard and wall unit for my bedroom that I haven't been able to find and/or don't want to pay $5k for.  I get a rush of energy just thinking about buying lumber.  Mmmm clear, quarter-sawn white oak . . .

Let me say, YES, I am that annoying mom who sends her kids to school with all kinds of cute, homemade snacks, costumes, projects, whatever.  HOWEVER, I am also the mom who sends her kids to school in the clothes they've been wearing for the last three days (hey, I asked them to change and they threw a fit ("But my underwear are all warm and comfortable!") and some battles just aren't that important in the long run.  It's not like he's not going to graduate from high school if he doesn't change his underwear today.  Really.), without their homework done (I don't even want to talk about homework.  Elementary school homework is just a punishment for parents, middle/high school homework isn't my job.  End of story.), and with the disciplinary letter from the bus driver all signed, acknowledging it isn't kosher for my son to stand on top of the backs of the bus seats while the bus is flying down the road.  So, all things considered, you enjoy my kid's home-made valentines and I'll enjoy your kid's clean clothes and combed hair!  We celebrate our strengths :D

Along with writing, however, sewing has been my earliest great love.  I started writing my first story right around the time I sewed my first shirt -- first grade.  In high school, I regularly designed and made an entire dress in one morning, and then wore that dress to church that same morning.  I'm not saying these were catwalk-worthy, just that this was something I didn't see as odd.  I spent most of high school drawing and painting on anything that would hold still.  Fortunately, my mother is a kindred spirit and when I said I wanted to splatter paint my bedroom in three colors, she said, "Go for it."

When my first child was born, a girl, everyone said, "Oh, you're so lucky, now you can use all your sewing and crafty skills!"  This was around the height of Daisy Kingdom's popularity, with their multi-layered, multi-doo-dadded dresses.  My daughter did have all kinds of big floofy dresses and hair bows.  Even her Barbies and baby dolls got wardrobes AND toy furniture. Oh how wonderful to not only be crafty, but also to have a daughter so I could use my craftiness!

So when I continued to have male offspring, I got quite a few comments along the lines of, "Oh I'm so sorry you have sons (lots of interesting comments usually follow this start) because you're so crafty and you can't really sew dresses and hair bows for boys."

Here is what I have discovered: first, you CAN sew dresses and hair bows for boys.  They're just not going to wear them (unless properly remunerated); second, sewing dresses and hair bows is sort of the "easy out" for creative people.  Crafting for boys is SO MUCH more fun!  Without the easy go-tos one normally thinks of, I have had to stretch my skills a bit with the projects my boys have presented me.  I have thoroughly enjoyed the challenges they've given me that have pushed me out of my comfort zones.  After painting my daughter's room with periwinkle and white delicate flowers, I painted my son's room with a full panoramic underwater mural.  Everyone got involved!  I loved the flowers and classy white chair rail in my daughter's room, but we all loved creating the mural in my son's room.

Halloween is the main Crafting For Boys season and this year has presented the usual, fun challenges.  I have always had a rule about Halloween costumes -- nothing scary or gross.  Beyond being something I just don't want my boys to do, scary and gross Halloween costumes are just lazy.  Make an effort, people!  Rotting mummies and blood-drenched Dracula?  Yawn.  Done, done, and over it.  With my "stupid" and "unreasonable" rules about costumes, my boys have had to stretch their minds to come up with:

A rock

A cactus

A protesting goose

A garbage can

A shoe

A sock (with a hole in the big toe)

A girl (see earlier notes about pre-conceived notions about sewing)

Dr Who

A crayon

A dragon


and about 23 Star Wars clone troopers.

This year's offerings will include a sandwich and a banana.  I'm super excited!  Trust me, you can do about ANYTHING with 72" wide felt.  But before I open up the sewing cabinet and get my scissors out, I really do need to unload the dishwasher and make dinner.  Yeah, I know you already have those done, along with having planned and organized the rest of the week.  But we all play to our strong suits!  Even if your strength doesn't really lend itself to whatever your current situation necessitates, you can make it work and have fun at the same time!  We all need to enjoy life, even if "life" currently means camping on the couch 14 hours a day with starving newborn who eats every 90 minutes, and then poops and spits up for the 80 minutes in between feedings, while the toddler decorates the lower 36" of your house with green and brown crayons.  (Do my details seem specific?  Oh yeah, been there, Honey.  I feel your pain.)

It's OK to do what you like while you're doing what you NEED to do.  Find time for it however you can and go crazy with what you love! And now, I've got a sewing machine and a chop saw calling my name, see ya!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

In defense of the Mommy Headphones.

In recent years, I've taken quite a lot of criticism from my family for always having my ear buds in my ears.  And it's pretty much true.  They are in quite a lot of the time.  It's not that I disagree with the concept of "don't always be plugged in."  On the contrary, I set all kinds of time/usage rules regarding media of all sorts with my kids.  Over the last decade or so, our culture and society has been adjusting to a new factor of human life -- the electronic factor.  We can, if so inclined and allowed, live a completely virtual life.  Conversations, relationships, activities, can ALL be lived and accomplished without the benefit of actual human interaction.  This is not a good thing.  This is not to say our technological age is inherently evil, we all enjoy too many huge benefits from our iWorld to say that.  But there are some very real dangers, which have been and are continuing to be examined and discovered.  It comes down to this: humans need real interaction and society needs humans who are capable of human interaction.  The virtual world can destroy this in so many ways the original internet and computer programmers and engineers never realized.  Fortunately, we are recognizing this and society is working to fix this, ironically often using the very medium that creates the problem -- social networking and internet information.  More conversation creates more action.  We can use our electronic technologies to our benefit if we conscientiously avoid the dangers.  However.

This is NOT what Mommy headphones are about.  Let's get that straight right now.

Mommy headphones are not about an inability to understand and function in the real world.  They are a tool needed by mommies because of an OVERABUNDANCE of the real world.  A very, very real, graphic, smelly, loud, repetitive, whiny world.  Thus I present to you, my three arguments why the Mommy headphones ain't leaving my ears anytime soon.

1.  I don't want to listen to you.  

As in:

He's hogging the tv/computer/xbox!
Why can't we get a dog?!
I've just eaten three pizzas and I'm still hungry!
I forgot to wash my uniform after the last meet and it's been sitting wet in my duffle bag for 4 days!
He's sitting in my spot!
I need to take a dump!
Wow I just took the mother of all dumps!
Nobody told me I had to actually turn my homework in!
You just make us do chores to torture us!
I'm not taking out the trash, it's gross!
He made me mad so I HAD to hit him!
Why can't I watch (TV-MA show), it's hilarious?!
He's gross!
EVERYBODY else gets to _______, why can't I?!
It's his fault!
I'm too tired to load the dishwasher! (But not too tired to eat . . .)
He's an idiot for thinking _____ Xman is a more powerful mutant than ____ Xman so I punched him!
Showers are for chumps!
I'm working on my Man Smell!
Hey, I just farted again!! And again!!
Why can't I wear the same underwear all week?!

Really.  I don't want to listen to you or any of it.  Hence the earbuds.  However, if you'd like to converse like a normal human instead of a rabid monkey, I'm ready and willing to listen at any moment, day or night.  Lots of real teen conversation (the ones you really need to have) happen in the wee hours and I will always wake up for those.  But when the conversation starts to go rancid, the headphones are coming out.

2.  I will not stick to this chore without distraction.

Every non-mom out there needs to own this right now:  Moms do all the chores no one else wants to do.  For free.  It's a statistical fact, even full-time working moms end up doing the vast majority of chores at home that no one else wants to do -- dishes, laundry, general clean up.  We ARE doing all the stuff nobody else will do without pay.  Having said that,  I will absolutely own that I chose this job and responsibility.  I chose to be a mom, I chose to stay home (and have been blessed to be able to do so), and I chose to be a homemaker.

That DOES NOT mean I love laundry.  Or dishes.  Or dealing with pets.  Or finding lost left shoes while the bus is pulling up in front of the house.  Or fishing various items out of various toddler facial orifices.  Or cleaning up 2 am vomit from a bed and/or pile of toys on the floor.  Factor in to this the fact I am mildly ADD and have to put serious effort into sticking with anything until it's finished.  No lie, I leave faucets running and fridge doors open and laundry half washed and food half prepped and car doors standing open on a regular basis.

If I download a book on tape and pop the ol' mommy headphones in, however, I will be distracted enough to get the whole job done. Somehow, and it doesn't really make sense to me either, if I'm listening to a story (sometimes music, but usually a favorite book) I will stick with the job until it's done.  So leave the headphones alone if you want your dinner actually cooked and your shirts both washed AND dried. (AND actually folded and put away!  Oh ya!)

3.  I don't have 6 hours to sit and read a book and by All That Is Holy I need to do SOMETHING fun!

Taking note of #2, I don't have a lot of sit-down time in my day.  Unless, of course, I just ignore the house and take a day off.  This happens occasionally, but then it takes me three days to catch up.  So, if I want to do something during the day I actually enjoy, it has to be something I can do in tandem with what I need to do but may not like.  There are many things I enjoy doing, but most of them can't be multi-tasked into the needs of the day.  You really can't make cherry chocolate cheesecake and fold laundry at the same time.  I have tried.  It just results in more laundry.  (But you do get a cheesecake out of it.  Just scoop out the sock baked into the side there . . . )

I am, however, a bookophile.  I love reading, I love real books, I love stories and getting lost in the narrative.  But I don't have time to sit and read until bedtime and frankly, by then I am mostly brain-dead.  Again, the headphones and an audio book come to the rescue.  A classic Terry Pratchett or radio broadcast recording of some Douglass Adams and I will take on the day!  The laundry is folded before I  know it and the competitive farting from the Flying Monkey Circus (my boys) goes unregarded.

So, step back from the mommy headphones.  I'm not losing touch with humanity in a virtual fog, I'm not losing my social politeness and basic manners in a spastic need to be in constant electronic communication, I'm dealing with reality in its most full-blown tactile grittiness as I'm doing the world's toughest job.

And Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is hilarious.

And no one wants a sock in the cheesecake.