Saturday, March 28, 2015

party animals (pun intended)

This was my first birthday party pulling off without one of my fellow Pelesky ladies here to root me on, give me ideas, and help me set up. Last year my mom was here for Brandon's second birthday right after Holden's birth, and the year before Amber was still in Omaha and was a part of Brandon's first. And yes, I admit that those women were the masterminds behind the details and execution of everything. So I was a bit leery to attempt a party on my own. Here's how it turned out:
I might care more about the stationery than any other detail of the party. I definitely do. My sister says it best: the invitation sets the mood of the party. Cheap crappy invites? Cheap crappy party. I found these beauties on Etsy where I buy most all of my paper goods.
I was going to do a whole Pinterest board for animal theme kid party ideas, but that seemed too daunting. I pinned one idea and then gave up. The one idea I pinned said their local party store sold animal print balloons. Well so did ours. Check check!
I have been cooking a bit this year, but I'm not ready to attempt a feat as large as the focal point of the biggest day of a child's year (aka, the cake at their party). So luckily this world of convenience we live in has a solution for parents like me. We have a fantastic cake shop here in Omaha that makes everything. These cupcakes were so adorable! And yes, there was some animal discrimination as no kids seemed to want a hippo.
Party bags are a problem for me. I don't like filling up bags with cheap crap, but I'm also not going to buy each kid a $10 Melissa and Doug animal board puzzle. So I did the next best thing and bought those Melissa & Doug reusable sticker scenes and gave one to each kid along with a packet of animal cookies and two animal figurines. Wah-lah! Melissa and Doug injected into the party on the cheap.
 OK, no more pictures of objects. Time for pictures of these beautiful boys already! 
A rare picture of the three of us
So crazy that people think they look so much alike...
Brandon got everything he asked for. One of these days, I need to make sure my boys don't turn out spoiled. But today was not that day. I have a little more? I shouldn't... but what the hell? It's my birthday party! I'm so bad.
 We got Holden a rocking horse. I love these old-fashioned toys. Had to make the picture look old-timey for effect, of course.
While I didn't have a Pelesky lady by my side today, I did have my secret weapon, Anni. She has been to all three parties and has helped with every one. She is amazing and my boys adore her. Thanks Anni! And thanks to everyone who showed up and added to the merriment. Brandon had the time of his life and Holden fell asleep at six tonight, so that means success!

Friday, March 27, 2015

hardest job ever

It's been a year of being a stay-at-home mom and here's what I've learned: that this is the hardest job I've had. When I used to review resumes, I would laugh at people who would list their stay-at-home mom job as "CEO of family" or "Domestic Engineer" to try to spruce up the title. And while yes, that is still ridiculous, if I ever recruit again, I know whatever you give a previous stay-at-home parent to do, it won't be as hard as what they've already done. Because here's what being a stay-at-home parent entails that you will never find on any job description:

No breaks
Ever. There is no water cooler breaks, no lunch breaks. Your lunch is spent shoveling food into the mouths of little ones, while grabbing a bite yourself here and there. It usually takes me approximately three hours to finish my salad. And bathroom breaks? Nope. Of course you will go to the bathroom, but that will be while holding the infant on your lap or putting him in his walker with you in the bathroom. You can't leave those little guys alone for a second unless you want them to climb and fall down the stairs.

Long hours (all hours)
Think of the job you had that you had to work at the most: late nights, weekends, emails from home. That is nothing compared to be a stay-at-home parent. The hours are endless. Even when you fall asleep at the end of the day, you don't know how soon you will be woken up again and be back at it. There are no alarms, because that would be a luxury: being able to know ahead of time how much sleep you're going to get.

No team in I
At a job, you have resources. You are part of a team that makes the giant machine run. You are a cog in the wheel, not the entire (split-open) wheel. At home, you don't have anyone to be your "second pair of eyes" or someone to "bounce ideas off of" (can you imagine? "Would it be terrible if I left them in the swings so I could take a shower? No, that's a bad idea. Isn't it?") There is no one who will cover for you, to help you out in a jam. You are an island. You are alone in this. Yikes.

Low pay
Biggest understatement ever. No pay, and you are bleeding money keeping the children fed, clothed and sheltered. That also means no raises, and not even a performance review when you finally get to hear a much needed "good job." And because you don't work a paying job, you get the added bonus of people asking you what you do and having to lower your eyes and say, "I stay home" like you're some sort of unemployed loser. I don't know if they think it, but I think they think I have no skills, no ambitions or dreams, when that is the farthest thing from the truth.

No camaraderie
I think this one is the worst for me. I crave conversation that isn't about Caillou or finishing two more bites. I want to talk about pointless TV or make fun of someone's tie behind his back. I am writing to remind myself I know English - the full version, not just the same twenty nags you use on children. Having a friend or at least another breathing adult at work is a very under-appreciated perk.

Ever-expanding job duties
If you drop your child off at a daycare, you're paying someone to take care of your child. So you would think being a full-time caretaker would be taking care of your children. Which it is...And so much more. You also have to keep the house clean and cook meals. You need to do the shopping. You need to do all of this with the kids around - crying and/or getting into things. Or you can save it for when they are asleep and waste the tiny sliver of alone time you have to begin with. Your choice (there is no right one).

Loss of identity
I think the other hardest thing for me to adjust to is being a mom above all else. It feels sometimes like I traded in who I was to be a parent, and in many ways, I did. So I stay up late after the kids go to bed to remind myself of my non-mom self. I run, I read, I write, I do puzzles and take baths. I try to cram all of my hobbies into evenings so I can keep a sliver of the old me alive. Because once 7:30 rolls around (or 6:45 or 5:17, or 4:26 or...) you once again sacrifice yourself for your children. Because that's what parents do: they morph from who they were into what their children need. And stay-at-home parents do it all day every day.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Holden's first year

March 24 2014 marked the scariest day of my life to date. I didn't know if your dad and I would get to meet you. When I woke up, the first thing I heard was your cry and I was overjoyed. Here we are a year later, and you have grown from that tiny crying infant to a large one. Of course you don't cry all the time, but you are a very vocal little man. You like to squeal and screech and babble. Your dad and I call you a pterodactyl. You say "mama" at bedtime and "dada" when you wake up. You started waving and saying "hi" and "bye" two weeks ago. You dance and clap when Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off" comes on. And Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" - kids go crazy for that song, it seems.

You are a physically active little guy. You don't like to be confined - you are a roamer. You have been scooting around the kitchen in your walker for months now, and you walk when holding onto people's hands. You started pulling yourself up on furniture in January. You will pull yourself up on just about anything - a door, the bathtub, my leg. You fall a lot, but have learned to do it without hurting yourself (mostly). You are adventurous, wild and fearless. You try to climb the stairs alone, but I come behind you to save you from yourself, which seems to bother you. You have been trying to be independent as long as I can remember.

You love to swing and you laugh loudly when I blow bubbles. You have the most infectious laugh. It is sinister and cacklish in the cutest way. You cut your teeth early and seem to be getting your molars in now. You try to gag yourself in your high chair, and I'm hoping that's just because your gums are bothering you, not because you're bulimic. You like to play at the train table - you throw things off the side. You are a destroyer. It works out well because Brandon is a builder and he will build towers of blocks for you to knock down and then you will both laugh.

People comment on your beautiful large brown eyes. Your eyelashes are growing long. You have the sweetest little dimple. Your hair is still fine and a sandy brown. You were chubby for a long time, people called you a linebacker up until a couple months ago, but you have started to thin out. Now you are tall, but not rolly. You have a voracious appetite and already eat as much as Brandon at mealtimes. You refuse to wear accessories and even pull off your socks.

You seem like an athlete already. Earlier this week you started dunking toys into the basketball net in the bathtub on a loop. Your favorite book has two nursery rhymes in it and you look at me intently, waiting for each word. If I try to read you something else, you bat it down and hang over the chair looking at the books, waiting for me to pick up the right one. You love to shake your head "no." You like "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse" and "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood," but aren't nearly as into TV as your brother was/is.

You are my big little guy. It seems like you haven't been a baby for so much of your babyhood because you were always moving, always trying to be bigger than you are. You were never much of a cuddler, but I've learned you show your affection by making me laugh. Sometimes I look at you and can already see you as an adolescent and I realize it is going to go fast - you will shoot up quickly and one day I will read this to remind myself of who you were when you were smaller. You are my fiery, wild independent little baby; even if you're not a baby in any way but your age.

Monday, March 23, 2015

backyard hobbies

The weather has turned warm here and we are spending as much time outdoors as possible.
Brandon is still dedicated to his garden.
Holden is adopting some of Brandon's OCD behavior. 
Sidewalk chalk is always on the agenda.
Brandon thinks he can climb trees. Luckily, it looks like I have a few more years.
Just fifteen years until he can drive legally. These kids don't walk from one stage to the next, they jump.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

not some lark

We have entered the stage of parenting where things aren't so easy anymore. I mean, no part of parenting is easy, I'm sure, but when they are babies you keep them alive, but once they get older, you think about actions, consequences, and how it all shapes their character.

My older brother remembers my dad telling him that it mattered more to dad that his children had good character than a good education. And my dad is an educator. I know what he is saying and I agree. Of course I'd like for my children to be brilliant and smart, but what matters more to me is that they're kind and humble.

Brandon has started talking back, asking for things in the store, saying he's the boss. I know every reaction I have is molding him. I have started saying "no," withholding rewards if he doesn't earn them. It is much harder than the first couple years when I spoiled him and constantly said "yes." I was a fun mom - an older babysitter, really. I took him to the park and bought him toys and played whatever he asked. Now he is learning structure, rules, and consequences and it isn't fun being the bad guy. Not at all. I much preferred being the hip older babysitter.

It will take him years to appreciate, possibly decades. But one day he will appreciate that I was a hard ass so that he could grow into a fine young man. I tell him now that I am the boss because I know what's best and if kids ran the world there would be countless cavities, no haircuts, and broken bones every week. Kids run on impulses, while adults live cautiously aware of consequences.

I am teaching him self-control and contentment by not buying him everything he asks for, I'm teaching him obedience and patience and all those virtues that are not inherent in children.

One day, he will appreciate it. It probably won't be until he has children of his own and he realizes that parents aren't hard asses because they get pleasure out of it, they are only hard asses because they want the best for their kids. He will learn that it rips him apart to watch his child cry incessantly, knowing he can stop it instantly if he just caves in. But he won't cave in, because he will have learned what I have: that people with good character trump the rest.

Raising people is not some lark. It's serious work with serious repercussions. It's air-traffic control. You can't step out for a minute: you can barely pause to scratch your ankle. 
~ Glitter and Glue by Kelly Corrigan

Monday, March 16, 2015

ten brothers, polar bear, first garden

 I emptied out my iPhone today, so might post some of these pics, I suppose.
 Watching the snow fall together (a couple weeks ago. Today was 88 degrees).
We were eating dinner last week and he had this twinkle in his eye I wanted to capture. Obviously the sun was setting right behind him and it isn't great, but you I'm still counting it as a captured twinkle.
Who knew my boys had baby fever? They were obsessed with this little four-month-old last week. A couple days later, Brandon told me he wants ten brothers.
Brandon's cousin is an excellent reader. It seems like Brandon's whole life he's been so much littler than his cousins and not much fun for them to play with, but now he interacts with them as if they're the same age. He's only three years younger. What's three years, right?
Polar bear sighting at the zoo. And don't go to the zoo when public schools are out and it's a nice day. What a mistake.
 Holden met his great grandpa and his (middle) namesake.
Today we planted Brandon's first garden. He was involved in every step of the process to picking what we planted to hoeing and watering. He claims the carrots, peas, and lettuce in this garden are for the bunnies. That's fine with me because I'm not expecting much, seeing as I've tried to grow things before to no avail.
Brandon has been sleeping later than Holden ever since Daylight Savings Time and I don't feel the need to go downstairs yet when only one of them is awake, so Holden is my reading buddy.
Here are the four generations of Carter men. We took one of these pics before, but now there are two in the youngest generation.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

thirties are the less cool but more settled twenties

I just had a birthday which means I should be pitying myself for getting older and lamenting my crow's feet. But actually, I think my thirties will be my best decade. I have a lot going for me right now. I think I'll make a list:

1. My kids will be at their happiest ages while I'm in my thirties. These are their years before jobs and GPAs and puberty. These past two years and the next eight they will be innocent and carefree. Happy will be their default emotion, rather than a rare one (here's hoping, at least).

2. My body still functions correctly and hasn't given way to disease or health problems. I can be active without strapping on braces or applying topical creams.

3.  I'm past all the bullshit of my twenties. I know a lot of people think their twenties is the best decade, but my early twenties were full of indecision and stupid mistakes. I'm glad to be past it! Now I am settled; now I know who I am and what I want.

4. Also, in my thirties I don't have to worry about money the way I did in my twenties. And I eat meals other than a McDonald's #8.

5. I don't have to work right now. I'm pretty sure anyone who has been working for longer than a year needs and wants a sabbatical, but doesn't have that luxury. I do. I know it is a luxury, and I am grateful. But still fuck those people who say being a stay-at-home mom doesn't count as a job.

6. I am finally trying new things. I have been stubborn and set in my ways for too long. You won't believe this, but I am cooking now. I mean, I own a crock pot and have another tab open on the right where I'm purchasing a salad spinner. I am doing some house projects (or dreaming of them, whatever). I am even thinking about getting into knitting or quilting a bit. I would love to make personal gifts for people.

7. Hobbies! I have them and I'm enjoying them! This should apply at any age, but sadly it doesn't always.

8. I have the opportunity to teach my kids all sorts of things before they start school. My first college major was education and I've always been a lover of school, so you bet I will be all over forcing knowledge upon them! In fun and interesting ways, of course. Watching Brandon absorb information fascinates me. He started pointing out his left and his right just from reading this Arthur book once which boggled my mind. I have an "L" and an "R" Sharpied on my yoga mat because I'm 32 and still struggle with that.

9. I'm going to check a few things off that bucket list

10. I'm old enough that I no longer worry about being cool or fitting in, yet still not so old that people consider me irrelevant and ignore me (at least I choose to think they're listening. Don't correct me: I like it better this way).

Monday, March 9, 2015

it reverberates

I got a present from my daughter in the mail today. It was perfectly thoughtful: full of things I like - a book and a blank journal, homemade bookmarks and waterproof bracelets. And a very sweet handwritten note. I sank to the floor and wept - there is this constant ache because of Gracie's adoption. It never goes away, but I have grown accustomed to this pain after nearly a decade. But in situations like these - when I am flooded with her, it reverberates.

Brandon was across the hallway and came over and gave me a long hug. I decided this was as good a time as any to tell him about her. So I explained to a nearly-three-year-old why I was crying:

"Before you were born, I had another child. She is a girl, and she is nine years old. She is your half-sister and maybe one day you will meet her. She sent me a birthday present and wrote me this note. I'm crying because I'm not raising her like I am raising you and Holden and that makes me sad. And I don't want her to think that I'm not raising her because I don't love her because I love her very much."  

And there it was. My sadness in a nutshell. Saying it aloud to a two-year-old made the complicated ache sound a little less complicated. Brandon didn't say much; instead, he went and picked out a teddy bear and brought it back to me and gave me another hug. And that was that. About twenty minutes later he asked if I was sad anymore. And although I was, I told him I was all better.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Scheduling passion

Prepare yourself: I'm about to write about writing. How dull can you get, right? You must not have met me if you didn't already know that. I have two sides: super dull and super fun. And super fun usually requires a bit of alcohol to loosen up the super dull side.

Oh my god, you're still reading this? Wow, that's dedication - reading about dullness to get to the dull part. Here's what I was going to write about writing:

I've said before that it is my passion. It is what I want to do as a career. It is something I have naturally done my whole life. I have written short stories, letters, poems, and countless journal entries and blogs (OK, 810 blogs. This thing has a counter, so "countless" doesn't apply [and we all know that nothing is countless, there just isn't enough reason to count something so trivial]). I have started novels. I have never finished one. And I'm starting to learn why.

Last year soon after Holden was born I started my novel. I wrote 23 pages pretty rapidly and although it isn't an any particular order or polished, I really like what I wrote. I was proud of it. And then I thought to myself, Hey, this is as far as I've ever gotten on a novel. Let's finish this! Let's get this thing written and sent off to some publishers for a lot of rejection but possibly maybe one person somewhere will read it and like it too.

So I did what any goal-oriented and disciplined (and nerdy) person would do and made and Excel spreadsheet. I calculated how many words I should aim for, and how many pages I should write each month. I put in a formula for what percentage of completion I'm at (because what's an Excel spreadsheet without formulas?)

My mother-in-law had offered to watch my boys each Friday afternoon so I can come home (after stopping at Crane Coffee, of course) and write, uninterrupted. So you'd think if I put out 23 pages last year in a very short time, I would be up to at least sixty or seventy by now, seeing as my kids are older and slightly less maintenance, and I have an afternoon a week to dedicate completely to it. But I'm only at 40 pages. And if I'm being completely honest (which I am), the 17 pages I've written this year aren't as good as last year's 23 pages.

I've wondered at this. I do have some free time, of course. I find time to exercise and read and post blogs. I can't blame it on time. And every time I do sit down to write, words pour onto the screen, so I can't blame it on writer's block (we all know I always have something to say). I know what I will write about next, which direction the story is headed, which characters are important and which are one-dimensional. So what is the problem?

It was only tonight when I realized maybe my ambition took a wrong turn and this passion turned into a project. Maybe the spreadsheet and the scheduled writing times took the passion out of it and turned it into something that much too closely resembles a job. Maybe instead of worrying about when I plan to have it finished and who I should submit it to and what readers would think I should just stop worrying about it altogether.

Maybe I should let the story live on my zip drive and when the urge strikes, I plug it in and write some more. Maybe I should stop critiquing and counting and thinking ahead and just treat my novel the way I do my blog: when I feel it, I write. When I don't feel it, I pop some popcorn and resume "Vanderpump Rules." I want to want to write. Maybe to do it right, I need to do it the way I always have rather than forcing it into some schedule or spreadsheet. Time to go back to the basics.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Three Marches

 Holden - Today

Just like that, a year has gone by. Today as I danced with Holden, I tried to cement his squeals of delight in my mind so I will remember them when he is twelve and I am 43. I concentrated hard while also trying not to cry. I can't say that 2026 sounds all that far off to me.

Brandon - March 2013

I thought about the years ahead of us. Brandon starts kindergarten in 2017. That means he is already halfway through his non-school years. He will graduate high school in 2030 - 29 years after I did. Holden in 2032 - 31 years after me. I remember the hospital band I wore when each of my sons were born. I remember looking at the one I wore in 2012 and thinking, "wow, I'm 29." And then with Holden, when I was in my thirties, that was really a dose of reality.

March 1984

I remember so much about my childhood and adolescence and early adulthood and have always thought of myself as one of the young generation. But I'm not. There are generations after me and kids I used to babysit are getting married and having kids and this year my daughter is turning ten. Both as a kid and as an adult, time slips by us: a day here compounded with the day after and the day after. And pretty soon you're looking at old photos thinking, shit, that was that long ago? It goes quickly, this life we're given. So damn quickly.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Early riser and the injured

Brandon is the earliest riser in this house. Every morning, he is up around 6 a.m. I try to cajole him into going back to bed - I read to him, lay in bed with him. Nothing works. He is up that early. So since brother is, so is Holden. He is forever trying to be big like his brother.
These two could spin around on the desk chair for hours if I would indulge them.
Brandon hurts Holden from time to time. He doesn't understand that one day soon Holden will be just as big and strong as him and will very likely come up to him and whap him a few times for all the injuries he sustained before he could defend himself.
Their first year together is coming to a close. This next one should be full of more scheming, playing together, and yes, fighting too I suppose.