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.

"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.