Thursday, May 19, 2016

this time

Just last night, I tweeted:

I'm going to sell all my corporate clothes to make sure I never consider becoming someone's lackey ever again.

And then, I shit you not: this morning--not even 12 hours later--a coffee shop customer of mine told me about this job opening at her company that she thought I should apply for. And just like that, I thought about it. 

But then, I dismissed it, shaming myself for even considering it. I have been there, done that and I hated it, I reminded myself. I have little boys at home who I want to spend their final before-school years with. And I have a dream of becoming a writer, or at least a Creative Writing professor. 

It is so easy to get sucked into the vacuum of conformity. Of being a responsible adult with a steady paycheck who looks forward to the weekend, when you can once again pursue your passion. It's easy to become what people expect of you rather than who you want to become.

But this time, I'm doing it right. 

I am one of the few people who gets a second shot at adulthood. I got my undergraduate degree and did lackey work. I had steady paychecks and did a good job at work I loathed. But now, I am going to get my graduate degree and do what I really want to do.

I am a dreamer. But this time, I will also be a doer. And that "doing" does not include org charts. I am done being sidetracked. This time, I am laser-focused.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

crop tops, spanx, and panic button necklaces

I used to think the world existed for the young. And certainly, there is plenty for the young, plenty that us older people are slightly jealous of. But now, as I age, I am seeing that the world does not revolve around the young. The young people only think it revolves around them. The rest of us coexist in this world with them, something for everyone. There are jokes in kids' movies just for us adults, almost like a subtle reminder that we matter too. Because we've all got our things.

The young people have:
Snapchat, miniskirts, crop tops. Wet and Wild makeup. Bikinis and whipped cream vodka. Bikinis made out of whipped cream. Vodka. YouTube channels. Perky tits. Elastic skin. Tanning without worrying. Eating french fries without getting fat. Hundreds of texts a day, but zero emails that aren't spam.

Us in middle age have:
Spanx, Pinterest, coupons. I think my generation will be the last one that ever gets really excited about office supplies. We have our VH1 list shows that remind us of when we were young. Buzzfeed is all us. We drive cars that are neither sexy nor ugly, but unabashedly practical. We remember planning dates with phone calls rather than a right swipe. We are a bit more personable than our younger counterparts, although admittedly not as technology-savvy. We talk about "the good ol' days" as if we know anything about that, thinking that the 80s were the beginning of American history.

And the elderly have theirs:
Tea, buttons you push on strings in case of a fall. Spending time at donut and coffee shops without asking about the wifi password. Money stashed away in retirement accounts. Memories of some really great music, movies, and books that most grandchildren will never know of. They have worked jobs without computers and used their hands for something other than texting and driving. Pictures were sacred and scarce. Working hard was admirable. And they actually do know a thing or two about some good ol' days - before screens ruled our world.

In youth we learn; in age we understand. ~Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach

As I grow older, I learn that the world never really did revolve around me, I just thought it did. My perspective shifts as I see the same things in different lights. I have learned to appreciate the history that shaped the world for me as just as I am learning to adapt to the inventions that come from the generations after me.

The world does not belong to me or to the Millennials or to my children's generation. It belongs to us each, whichever place we find ourselves in it. There is a niche for each of us. Or for us non-conformists, we can always carve our own.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

preschool

Yesterday, we went and visited a preschool for Brandon. "The Berenstain Bears' 'Go To School'" kept running through my mind. Brandon took it all in: the lego table, the playdoh, the blocks, the artwork. He found a book and sat down in their reading chair as if he belonged there.

I've been asking him if he wanted to go to school for awhile now and his answer had always been, "no mom, I want to stay home with you and Holdy."
Until recently.
Now, he says, "when I'm a little bit bigger, I can go to school, right mom?" And when I ask what he would possibly want to do at school, away from mom and Holdy, he replies, "play with other kids and learn my letters," with complete conviction.

I wasn't against preschool before, but I didn't see any necessity for it. I am a stay-at-home mom so why send him away for a couple hours a week and pay someone to watch him when I am completely capable myself? But I learned yesterday that preschool is to prepare us for school; the parents just as much as the children. If we can let our kids go for a couple hours a day, a couple days a week, then maybe we can fathom a whole day at school.

We loosen our leashes a little at a time as these tiny babes of ours turn into boys, then teenagers, then adults. One day they bite off their collars and run wild and free, only to return when we call them back for dinner.

I swallowed my tears as I watched my babe seamlessly fold into the preschool life for an hour. I imagined him seamlessly learning to drive, to get a job, to buy his own house. He will handle it all with his usual aplomb, and I will handle it all with my usual exaggerated emotional breakdowns.

Then this morning, Brandon recited his letters perfectly and asked me if he could go to school today.
"Not today, but in September," I replied.
He looked at me for just a moment, then resumed reading his alphabet book.
It was as if he was checking on me, making sure I am ready to let him grow up.
So I didn't cry in front of him. Let him think he got his aplomb from me, until he learns otherwise.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

opposites

I'm not sure that Steve and I could be any more different in our parenting styles. But really, we are pretty opposite in personality, so that could have been predicted. I am high-strung and impatient, he is reasonable and level-headed. He is a planner, I am spontaneous. He is a worrier, I am a reactor.

Last week, Holden hit Brandon on the head with a toy train. I mean, Holden walked up to Brandon, his teeth bared, and smacked Brandon as hard as he could. It was cold-blooded.  Here's how we reacted. I screamed (of course), signaling Steve to come running in. I cuddled Brandon while Steve scolded Holden. I kissed Brandon on the head, then took Holden into his room to put him to bed. Steve stayed and looked after Brandon.

"Brandon's head is bleeding!" Steve (I don't want to say "squealed" here, but I don't know what else to say) said in a panic.
"Did you see that?" he followed up.
"No," I replied. "I kissed him on the head but I didn't see anything."
(I didn't add that I also didn't look for anything).
"Should we call the doctor?"
I put Holden in his crib and followed Steve's voice. I checked out the blood (it was a drop) which Steve was blotting furiously with a Kleenex.
"The cut isn't big enough for stitches, there's nothing they will do," I responded. "Plus, the doctor's office is closed."
"Should we take him to the hospital then?" Steve persisted.
"Do you know how much that will cost? And again, they won't do anything," I responded.
I left the scene, returned to Holden.
Steve continued to panic, but silently.

The next day I took the boys to Steve's parents house. Steve's mom asked me about Brandon's head, because Steve had texted her about it. I told her it was fine and we both chuckled about how Steve overreacted.

But then a few days later, I completely lost my cool when the boys wouldn't help me clean up. Steve reminded me they are two and four and I tried to bookmark that for future references when I freak out, because it will happen sooner than later.

"We couldn't be more different as parents," he said.
I agreed. It's true. But maybe that's not all too terrible. Our boys will grow into the men they are going to become despite it.
They might be the youngest boys to ever climb trees at Fontanelle Forest because I let them try when Steve would rather keep them right by his side.
They might take care of Steve and I in our old age with unparalleled care and attention because that is what Steve provided them when they needed it.

We might not be on the same page all the time, but at least Steve and I are in the same book. We are both taking care of our kids in the way that we think is best. We are both making sure they know they are loved and cared for, in our own variations. And isn't variety the spice of life, anyway? Then my boys are like a nice and spicy homemade chili.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

sticking it out

Training for a marathon is teaching me endurance and perseverance. It's not just anybody who can set out and run for hours. It takes some real cojones. I only set out on out-and-back runs, rather than recurring loops. On loops, it's easy to quit prematurely. But on the out-and-backs, once you get out, you have to run back.

I have learned it is more mental than physical, running for what seems like forever. Don't get me wrong, it's very physical too. Trust me, I've got a blister on my big toe screaming, "it's physical!" But fighting the excuses you give yourself to turn around early and do less than you planned is the real achievement.

While reflecting on my long run today, I thought about how I'm much more of a sprinter than a distance runner. People think of me as motivated, and I definitely am, but only in short-term goals. I kill it at project work, but give me something that takes more than a few months and I get bored or tired and peter out. Perhaps this is why I've never finished a book, even though I've been writing since I was twelve.  

People who last decades at the same job baffle me. I have never even held a job for three years. I am quick to start something, and quick to quit. I quit running track in high school, I quit piano lessons, I switched colleges after three semesters, I've held a dozen restaurant jobs. When anything gets overwhelming or daunting, I leave and move onto something else.

So every week that I run even farther than the last week without quitting early, I know I am taking baby steps towards perseverance. I am learning to stick with things, even when the going gets hard. I guess I have been learning that through marriage and parenting, so maybe it's really taken me ten years to learn this about myself, to start changing this bad habit of mine.

Running a marathon is impressive not because of one morning spent running during the actual event, but because of the commitment it signifies. And when I think of commitment, I think of the best thing in my life, the one thing that has stuck for a decade: my relationship with Steve. I realize, good things come to those who persevere. I kept reminding myself that as I ran today, over and over, for sixteen miles.

Friday, April 29, 2016

catching up

At first, when Holden was a screaming baby, I wondered if I would ever love him the way I loved Brandon. Brandon was my first boy, the boy who taught me how to be a mother and how to love unconditionally. None of that could be recreated - the magic had already happened. With Brandon, I was patient rather than weary. I was two years younger and much more naive. It was fresh and new: this baby stuff.

But with Holden, it was a new baby, tired old hat. Waking up in the nights was old. I quickly loosened up in my parenting. Instead of running to his crib when he cried, I paused and let him put himself back to sleep. He was a better sleeper than Brandon because I allowed him some more independence. He learned to roll quicker because I let him be alone on the floor. He was a less needy baby, not needing me because I didn't make him need me.

So the beginning, the babyhood, was hard. Mothers need to feel needed, and not being cried for made me feel less loved. But I have noticed his toddlerhood is a whole different ballgame. With Brandon, I would mourn the milestones, meaning it meant a time of neediness had closed as he learned something new. But with the second kid, I rather find joy in each new step he makes, new level he climbs to. I am not sad that he has graduated, I am happy to see him growing into a boy.

Because I have learned that babyhood is just the necessary step to get to the person they become. And watching them grow into their own is the good stuff. Now that I've had one baby grow into a boy, I know what is coming, and I am excited to watch Holden scramble to catch up to Brandon. It is not sad what is over, rather, it is exciting what is to come.

Now that he is a toddler, talking up a storm and running around like a maniac, I am constantly showering Holden with kisses and hugging him. Maybe I'm making up for what I missed when he was a baby. Maybe I just have a whole new appreciation for who he is now that we have passed what I thought he should have been. When he was a baby, I assumed he would be like Brandon, cuddly and needy. But now that he's a boy, I appreciate the independence he has always had, knowing it was always a part of him.

I have learned to hold Brandon's hand and to let Holden run wild within my sight. I have learned that my boys are fantastically different. We react differently to different people. I love them each, and in the end, the second kid catches up to the first. It's not a comparison, but rather each love is unconditional. We have as much love to give as there are people who need to receive it.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

coffee shop distortion factor

I have been working in a coffee shop for nine months now. Nine months! Which by coffee shop standards makes me a senior and something of an expert because the turnover is that crazy. Customers are always commenting to me about the revolving-door-turnover and I explain to them that it's the nature of the business - people take this job on their way to somewhere else. Nearly all the baristas are in school. If not, we're "in a weird spot in life" - meaning just out of school or deciding to go back to school or trying to make a real career out of a dream.

In the past nine months, I've noticed that there is a coffee shop distortion factor that makes you see the world not as it is, but as you think it is because you work in a coffee shop. We are not dealing in reality here, folks. We are working amongst beans and mostly young women when in reality, it's a man's world out there. So here are the five main ways I see the world differently, through these steam-wand-fogged lenses of mine:

1. Apron outfits
Every day, I wear an apron. Everyone should be allowed this luxury. Sure, Casual Fridays are a thing. Perhaps instead workplaces should Apron Tuesdays. Because wearing an apron over your outfit gives you a whole new freedom. Aprons hide everything that needs hiding. So all sorts of clothes that usually would be off limits are now fine. Too tight or short on the stomach? Oh well. Camel toe? It's fine. No one sees it, because it's covered by the blessed apron.

Muffin top is not an unusual embarrassment anymore, it's a daily staple. Because pants that make your ass look good make your stomach look bad, and with the apron, the stomach is a non-issue.Now it's all about the ass (the way it really should be anyway).

2. Indecisive people
In real life, they are slightly charming, how agreeable they are to anything. You can bulldoze them and get your way (if you're into that kind of thing, and I certainly am). They'll eat sushi even though they hate it, just because you recommended it. What's not to love about a person like that? But when they are customers holding up your line in the drive-thru, they are absolutely infuriating.

Example: 
"How many shots are in a large?"
"Four," I reply, annoyed already at the conversation that will ensue next.
"Then how many in a medium?"
I roll my eyes and turn to the other barista who nods and rolls her eyes too.
"Three," (curtly).
"I'm just not sure, I haven't been here before..." (the ellipsis is spoken).
You haven't been to a coffee shop before? Really? It's 2016, the world runs on caffeine. Caffeine and prescription pills, but caffeine you can get in a drive-thru.
Of course she meant she hasn't been to this coffee shop before, but all coffee shops offer the same sort of stuff - drip coffee, espresso drinks, teas and blended drinks.
(I allow an awkward pause for the customer to get her shit together). 
"What would you recommend?"
"What do you usually order at other coffee shops?" is my response here. Because what I like and what you like have nothing to do with each other, so how could I recommend what you might like?

This conversation usually goes on and on, you will lose interest reading it as quickly as the barista does having it. The other day, a seasoned barista and I had multiple cars like this, back-to-back and I can't tell you how much headset-turning-off went on. "What's up with these degenerate customers?" she moaned. I nodded in shared exasperation. Because in a coffee shop, the "large-vanilla-latte-extra-hot-skinny-no foam-with-whip," spoken in a rush is not a bitch, but rather a person who knows what she wants. And in CoffeeShopLand, bitches are queens.

3. Forward men
In the past ten years, I haven't been asked out once (OK, make that in the past nine years. There was an incident in a bar in East St. Louis once). I mean, I'm not looking to be asked out, because that means the awkward nice rejection that will have to come from me, but it is somewhat flattering to know you're desirable at least to someone.

Now in the past nine months as a barista, I have been asked out more than the rest of my life combined. Keep in mind: I'm the oldest I've ever been, I've birthed multiple children, and I've got forehead wrinkles that will make a Real Housewife weep. There is no plausible reason that men would ask me out more now. The only reason is because I'm their barista, and that must make me attainable. I serve them their drinks every day and flirt with them slightly (just as much as is required for them to throw a dollar in the jar). They must think of me as some bimbo who likes just them, paying no mind to the possibility that I treat all the other men (and women) with the exact same kindness, with my exact same joie de vivre.

Did I mention the men who ask me out are old and I'm way out of their league? No, I didn't; and for a good reason. Because you should think that I am sexy and desirable to all men, not just the weird pathetic ones. Damn me and my chronic oversharing. 

4. Caffeine consumption
As an employee of any place other than a coffee shop, you probably have one, maybe two coffees a day (of course their are exceptions, but I speak in generalizations). I remember my past life, having a drip coffee each morning, a nice blended drink from a coffee shop a couple times a week as a treat. But once I became employed at a coffee shop, suddenly those $6 special drinks I could have every day, now for free. So I started drinking way more coffee than I needed, just because I was there and it was there, so why the hell not? 

About a month after starting as a barista, I went to see my OB/Gyn for my standard appointment. When she asked me if I had any concerns, I replied in an ashamed whisper so the token nurse/witness wouldn't hear, "I'm urinating frequently."
She looked up from her laptop.
"Are we talking incontinence?"
"No, no," I said 'no' twice to cover up my half-lie.
"But my body doesn't give me much warning," I added for additional convincing.
"Have you increased your caffeine consumption?" she asked, speaking like the professional she is rather than the street rat I sound like.
"Coffee? Oh yeah, I work at a coffee shop now. I drink caffeine all the time," I said it in pride almost, before I knew to speak about my profession in shame.
"Then try cutting back," she replied.

And that is the medical reason us baristas take potty (sorry, mom habit) breaks every twenty minutes. Because "cutting back" is not in our vocabulary. Say what you want about us, but at least we know how to go hard.

5. Standard work hours
Baristas are part-timers. Only managers work full-time and I swear coffee shops make people managers solely because of their availability to work full-time. There are no qualifications or exceptional customer service or management skills required, just open availability. But anyway, who cares about them? Back to us. A two- to four-hour shift isn't unusual, it's standard. So in the event that we do work an eight-hour day (like the rest of the world), we bitch and moan about how exhausted we are.

"Oh my god, how do you do it?" I ask my husband as I flop onto the couch dramatically after a "long" shift.
"How do you do this every day and not kill yourself?"
And he just smiles because he knows I couldn't last a day in his world again just like he couldn't last a day in ours. He wouldn't be able to handle being asked out or finally wearing his college pants or overly-agreeable people. He's just not cut out for it. Because it's not for the faint of heart, it's only for those of us who know how to go hard, even if it is only for a couple hours a day. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

April love list

My latest love list kicks off with this CD I'm completely obsessed with: "Traveller" by Chris Stapleton. I have loved country music since I was in college, and Steve has loved singer/songwriter/folk-type music. This CD is a perfect blend of both. This album doesn't feel rushed and full of filler. Rather, it feels like Chris wouldn't put out an album until he was happy with every song. It's incredible.
I packed away all the size three clothes last week and gave Brandon his 4T wardrobe, which he hated immediately. "I want my old clothes back!" he moaned. And soon I understood what he was saying. Sure, the new clothes don't have any stains or rips, but we had a history with his old clothes. I particularly miss these shorts: they are "Genuine Kids by Oshkosh" brand and I bought them once upon a time at Target. I wish I could find them in every size because they are perfect. I have many pictures of Brandon in these shorts, because he always picked them out.
 
Speaking of shorts, it's shorts season here. I love colored shorts because I wear so many white, black, and gray shirts. J. Crew Factory had them for $15 the other day, and they have 5" inseam for us middle-aged moms that don't want to look like we're still trying to be teenagers. Hell yeah! (OK, maybe I am still trying to be hip).
I didn't really know what "PJ Masks" was until a few weeks ago, and now it has moved into this house like a hurricane. The boys have their own running/dance routine worked out to the theme song. There doesn't seem to be much merchandise for it out in stores yet (OK, there isn't ANY), but luckily, it's 2016 and the internet solves all our consumer problems. I found this on Etsy for oh so cheap and the quality is fantastic.
I don't have a lot of time on my hands, but when I start a good book, somehow I find time. Suddenly, every spare moment (now there are spare moments), I'm reading. I could not put down "Going Clear" which you probably already know about because it's also a movie. I haven't seen the movie, but the book is fascinating - it's about the religion of Scientology and it's shocking. Lawrence Wright does an excellent job of putting together all the different testimonies and angles and should be offered some sort of award for his journalism, in my opinion.


Monday, April 18, 2016

What the hill?

Back in January, I signed up for a tune-up race as a part of my marathon training. I selected a half marathon based on it's location and date. And before I knew it, the day was upon me. On Saturday, I woke up early. I ate an English muffin, drank a little coffee. I strapped on my Garmin watch and my iPhone and headed for Schramm State park.

When I had signed up, I assumed it was a nice scenic trail run. But a few weeks ago a coffee shop customer informed me it was that insane hill that Steve and I couldn't even walk up, over and over and over again, a seemingly endless loop. When I had signed up, I knew about the hill, but I thought it would be one and done. I didn't know. Saturday, I learned all too well. 

I started the race appalled that everyone was walking a tenth of a mile into the race. The hill was big, yes. It was waging war on my quads, no doubt. But I thought this was a run, not a walk. So I ran it. The first lap, then the second. On my third lap, I noticed maybe everyone was walking up the hill because your pace walking and running it isn't that much different.

Your run is so incredibly slow, it's like running through water waist-deep. So I too, walked. Not the whole hill: I made myself a goal of where I had to run to before I slowed to a walk (a sidewalk chalk encouragement that said "Go," ironically). Then at the goat sign near the top of the hill, I had to resume running.

And then, there is this glorious downhill side. At first, at least, it was glorious. I felt like I was flying. I was wondering why no one was running it as fast as I was. Why was everyone seeming to slow themselves when gravity was on your side for this one short stint? So this loop continued for 24 laps: straight uphill, straight downhill, a short flat part where you cross over the mat and the water station.

It became a total battle of wills. Hearing the same volunteers with the same canned encouragements, seeing the same runners with the same running shirts and sweat stains: everything was running together. Even the felled tree began to annoy me. When volunteers would ask what lap I was on, I pretended I couldn't hear them over my music. Who knew? Who cared anymore? I just wanted it to end. Even the once glorious downhill became monotonous, and I began to slow myself like the other runners, because I was losing the coordination to stop myself from falling if I sped too fast.

Around lap seven or so, a guy who I was always right near mentioned we were at the same pace. "You kept me motivated the first five laps," he said. And I realized my hill running had inspired someone. "I'll try to keep pace with you," I said, a promise to myself more than to him. I needed a motivation not to quit. I needed someone to keep me accountable. It's easy to quit without anyone to shame you out of it.

Spencer and I checked in with each other every now and then. I asked him between huffs if he was training for something. "Lincoln marathon in two weeks," he answered. "I'm Seattle in two months," I replied. "I'm just hoping it's not as hilly as this is."
"I don't think there's much that is," he replied.
And I realized he was right.
A marathon is a feat.
But this also was a feat. And yes, it was only half the distance, but the conditions were tough. It wasn't for the faint of heart.

Once I got to eight miles, I told Spencer this is where continuing to run becomes unnatural.
"Dig deep, I guess," he said, half-assing the popular workout mantra.
I lost Spencer. I started walking before the "Go" sign which used to be where I would catch up to him on each lap. With each new lap, I thought, "I can't let Spencer pass me." And so, I didn't. I dug deep, as much as I hated that phrase. I thought of a quote I liked better: Henry Ford's, "whether you think you can or you can't, you're right."
I could finish. I could and I would.

So I did. I saw Spencer at the finish line and joked that I thought he had dropped out. We didn't though, we dug deep and finished what we started. Not everyone did, however. Over 20% of the participants who signed up for the half marathon dropped down to doing half of the half marathon instead.
I was 15th place overall, 5th place out of the women's category. Had I raced last year with the exact same time, I would have placed third for women. Steve brought the boys to greet me once I had finished. I was so happy to see them. Brandon has been wearing my medal today, asking if he can be in a race with me one day.

Yes, it was only half of what I have to do in two months, but it was a feat in itself. I am digging deep.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

statement of purpose

I have been going through a bit of a mid-life crisis (people have corrected me and called it a third-life-crisis, but really, how could we know?). Staying home for the past two years has been a nice sabbatical from full-time work, but in the back of my mind, I've always known I would go back, one day. But to what?

After a bad experience working in HR, I would like to stay as far away from that as humanly possible. I'm too old to teach new tricks to (I'm not, but recruiters will see it that way). No one wants to hire a thirty-something with no relevant experience into a decent-paying job. Maybe I could do sales of some sort, but only the non-pushy, relationship-building type. Or I could own a little coffee stand somewhere, but the risk involved, the stress of profit and loss...never mind. I'll just buy my coffee instead.

The only thing I would want to do for the rest of my working days is to do what I do even when I'm not being paid for work: writing. Of course I'd love to be a published author who can write from the comfort of my own home, while being around for my boys to make them homemade cookies for after school. I'd love to be around for PTA meetings and soccer games. If they ever need to stay home sick, I will be here hogging the remote and making sure they don't pull a Ferris Bueller. I will be Beverly Goldberg, but the one who gets paid. And in addition to being around for my kids, I'll be able to do what I love. I will create characters and conversations and scenes and write into existence what was only in my mind before. It's a win-win.

If only we could all just become published writers with book deals, though. If only it was that easy. Writing is one of the few professions where you don't get paid until after you've finished all the work. And even then, you might never get paid. You might just submit your work to him and her, here and there, hoping that one editor or editor's assistant somewhere will get you. When I tell people I want to be a writer, they look at me with their eyes squinted, cheeks pulled up to their eye sockets like it is an impossible pipe dream. I know that is supposed to deter me, but it hasn't. What it has done, however, is made me consider a fallback, you know, just in case, not that I'll need it. 

Last fall, midway through my mid-life crisis, I applied for grad school. I applied not really knowing whether I'd get in, but just wanting to see if the door was open, if the option was viable. I felt like a child in an adult's world, answering "N/A" on all the questions of my publications and providing my meager resume with a pleading Statement of Purpose: "Although my resume might not be impressive (OK, I know it isn’t), I’m hoping you see my passion, candor, and earnestness and translate that into potential." I provided a writing sample - 30 pages of the novel I've been writing - which I knew would be my only hope.  

Two weeks ago, I got a call. It was the Associate Director for the MFA in Writing program and she was excited to welcome me into their grad program. So it was a viable option. The news was exciting, even though I hadn't accepted or declined, hadn't worked out logistics like childcare and payment. I hadn't asked Steve how we were going to manage both of us in grad school before our kids were in school.  But I knew it was what I wanted. I want to be in a community of writers, to have my work critiqued, to hone my skill and to write with the fervency I did during my undergrad years. And when it was finished, maybe I would have a book deal. Or maybe, I would use my degree for my fallback idea, which is to teach writing. Those who can't do, teach, after all. 

Last weekend, Steve and I went out to eat and I asked him what he thought. Should I do it? He was hesitant, as he should have been. After all, I already have a degree in writing, what good will a second one do me? But this time, I have a plan. This time, I know what real life entails and I am more equipped to handle the stark reality of it. Steve and I have this relationship where we push each other to become better versions of ourselves, and because of that, and because he saw it was what I really wanted, he told me I should go for it. 

So here I am, again feeling like a child in an adult's world, applying for scholarships, trying to make sense of student loans. I am filling out immunization forms and trying to track down my advisor. I am learning already that I am capable of more than what I was doing. And isn't that what becoming a better version of ourselves is, really? Shedding old skins and growing new ones for the new seasons we find ourselves in, adapting always. Growing older, yes, but because we're growing.  

Monday, April 4, 2016

4th birthday

Today, Brandon is four. He is such a lovable, charismatic boy. He exudes joy and makes everyone around him happy. He feels strongly, every emotion being vibrant, none of them in muted tones. He is complimentary and says, "I love you" or "you're my best mommy in the whole world," without coaxing. He loves to "go fun places with me" and runs constant commentary with his many observations. He listens in to adults' conversations and adds his two cents or corrects us when necessary. It's easy to forget how much he knows because of his size and age, but he never misses a chance to remind us and astound us.

He is cautious and careful. Today when I asked him if he wanted more sausage he said, "I have plenty." He will spend all day on the iPad if we don't cut him off. He calls all the kids at the park "friends" (ie: "a lot of friends are here today!") He loves hide-and-go seek, tag, and racing. He calls races "marathons" because he knows mommy is training for one. He always helps clean up the house before daddy gets home and then shows off his work to dad saying, "look, my bedroom is all nice and shiny!"

I realize how big he is when he asks to go in the boys' bathroom all by himself instead of accompanying me into the ladies'. And then I realize how small still he is when he asks for his woobie at night and insists on someone falling asleep with him. He knows my emotions and offers to make me happy when I'm sad. He loves to be dipped while we dance in the kitchen or asks for piggy back rides from the couch in the living room.

He has an infectious smile, impressive vocabulary, and deadpan wit. He is addicted to sucking toothpaste right out of the tube and will hide in his room when he isn't feeling up for interacting politely with the rest of us. He loves to paint and eat Lunchables. He prefers the indoors. Popcorn is his food of choice. He thinks desktop computers exist for Google imaging zoo animals. Sometimes he loses things then whines, "I'm always losing things!" just like his mom. But unlike his mom, he can think back to the last place he left it.

He is constantly making us happy. Happy golden birthday to my ray of sunshine. You made my world what it is and I love watching you grow wiser, funnier, and bigger with each passing day.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

dinosaur party

I am not a party person. This is my first year organizing the boys' party on my own (OK, it wasn't completely on my own. My sister made most of the Pinterest board and my sister-in-law made the cake part of the cupcakes. But close enough). 
I started off doing what I do best, which is ordering invitations off Etsy. They were adorable (sorry about the tiny pic, but I'm just not motivated enough to change it). The invitations were shipped from Australia, so they took awhile longer than I had planned for, but that's alright. First step, done.
(Oh, and I also purchased them matching t-shirts off Etsy that my sister pinned on my Pinterest board. I am the best at buying stuff). 
Then, I booked the bouncy castle. I knew I wanted more than just a square, but one with a slide. So I got the Groupon deal and booked the big one. Check, check. 
 
Then I prepared the giveaways. Instead of party bags, I made party eggs. I bought those giant plastic Easter eggs from Michael's and spray painted them: first white, then with this textured speckle spray. Then I filled them with little dinosaurs, candy and play-doh.  
Then, for the food. We had baby carrots "for herbivores," and what were supposed to be lil' smokies "for carnivores." However, the night before the party Steve discovered the lil' smokies were expired so I made the same recipe with cut up hot dogs. Oops. Oh well, we all must learn to work with what we've got. 
I also made deviled eggs ("dinosaur eggs"). There were bugels ("dinosaur toenails") and I also made some "unidentified fossils" (mini marshmallows on the ends of pretzel sticks dipped in candy). 
 
And then, the cupcakes. I had visited the cake store I usually purchase birthday cakes from, but there was nothing that looked special enough (not to mention, the dinosaur cakes they had were $80-$100). I'm weirdly anti-sheet cake, so I decided it would be cupcakes.

I checked out the website of my favorite local cupcakery, but they didn't have what I wanted either. So I used a Pinterest idea. It was just box cake mix, then I took a whip bag from the coffee shop I work at for the frosting. Then I used the points of candy stars I melted to make stegosaurus spikes. Wah-lah!  
 
The boys enjoyed opening their presents and playing with their friends. We bounced in the castle until they came to haul it away.  Last night, we all fell into bed exhausted (did I mention I worked the opening shift at the coffee shop yesterday, too?) It is good to be done for a full year with the party planning. It is not my forte, but I like to think that yesterday I faked it pretty well. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

knee slapper

When my siblings and I were kids, we would go to the zoo on Easter. It was a tradition we shared with family friends: on the 4th of July we would go splash in their pool, on Easter we would head to the zoo. I remember one Easter in particular (I must have been around 13 because I remember I was wearing a loom seed bead necklace from Claire's). We were in the car, on the way to the zoo. Janice called Joel her "boy toy" which we sheltered home schoolers found hilarious. Joel said, "that's a knee slapper" and literally slapped his knee. But somehow, the gum he had been chewing ended up on his hand which splattered all over his knee. Then he had to gingerly pick gum remnants out of his leg hair. And I remember my Claire's necklace broke that day.

Twenty years later, I still think of that Easter and laugh. I laugh because Joel still says, "knee slapper" and still makes people laugh with his endearing charisma. He has been a "boy toy" to other women since. But mostly, it makes me smile because it was an ordinary moment that means nothing to anyone other than our family. But to our family, it is a moment cemented in our memories as something we enjoyed and shared. I texted my siblings the memory: we are all in our thirties now save Joel, but our childhood bond is still there, as if we just drove away from the kitchen table for a spell, but one day will resume our homeschooling together at that table, making snide comments and drawing pictures again like we used to under the guise of education.

I drove my own kids to the zoo yesterday, a few days after Easter. I wondered what moments will become memories for them. I always wonder how they will remember me as the mom of their childhood. Will they remember the me that yelled at them and nagged them? Will they remember the me that took them on all sorts of field trips and caved when they begged for candy or toys at the store? Will they remember me as always being at the computer or on my phone or on the treadmill? I hope they remember me for cuddling them to sleep each night, for dancing with them to Meghan Trainor and Coldplay. I hope they remember me the love, not the stress.

And I hope in twenty years, they are texting each other childhood memories that still make them laugh, despite decades of pain and hard lessons learned in the meantime. I hope they remember the love, not the stress.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

two

It's hard to believe it's here: two years have passed since this little one was born. He has been a catalyst for so much in our lives. I started writing again after he was born. Steve returned to school. I stopped working, but started focusing on our family. I started working out, training for a marathon.  Holden came in, this fresh new life that breathed new energy into us, too. He is this bundle of energy and force, and I suppose some of it has rubbed off on us, teaching Steve and I we can do more than we do, we can become more, become better.

Holden has tried my patience, tested my wills. He has made me realize I am stronger than I thought I was. He has also brought me so much joy and laughter. Watching him dance unabashedly has made my day countless times. Steve and I have marveled over the words he learns, the sentences he strings together, how quickly he is able to catch on to physical activities usually reserved for much older kids.

Holden is a daredevil on the slide, he has a scream that belongs in an 80's hair band. He squirms out of haircuts, he always requests bubble baths. He loves sweets as much as I do and started saying "ka-ka" to mean "chocolate" before he learned his brother's name. He would point at the Target sign and say, "cookie!" when they still gave out samples. Instead of nodding or grabbing, he says, "please" in response to your question if he wants something. He loves being read to each night and says, "again, again!" once you finish a book he likes.

On more than one occasion, I have apologized to strangers because Holden just walked up and smacked them. You would think he is fearless, but he is not. He is afraid of bees (and calls all insects "bees"). If he sees one, he runs to me and says, "mama, scared!" then I cuddle him into my chest and he pops his thumb into his mouth. He will play by himself for hours. He doesn't need anyone until he gets thirsty, then he will grab my hand and pull me to the fridge and ask for "juice please." He tries to help wash the dishes, but will act like he doesn't understand chore commands beyond that.

He always has a mischievous glint in his eye and I know his mind is churning a mile a minute. I can already imagine so many paths he might take in life, where they might lead him. But knowing him, he will surprise me and take a completely different one, one I hadn't even considered and become even more than I ever imagined. He is already a force to be reckoned with, with only two years under his belt. I can't imagine what he will accomplish with a few more.