06 January 2015

On Laundry and New Beginnings

I don't make New Years Resolutions.  Per se.

Instead, I spend the whole last week of each year in a perpetual state of "Oh My Gosh I Need To Read More, Eat Less, Breathe More, Yell Less, Calm the F Down, and Take Charge."

Then I resolve to be a better person.  All vague and stuff.  Because really, resolutions don't work.

Do they?  December 31 is just a day on a calendar.  It doesn't matter.  It's not significant.

Is it?

Anyway, who the hell knows?  I only know one thing for certain: I spent an inordinate amount of time on my two week vacation sorting laundry, doing laundry, folding laundry, finding laundry, and re-organizing the laundry area of our garage.

The one thing I didn't get done was putting it all away.  And I am oh so very terrified, now that I've been back to work for two days, that all my hours of thankless labor will be a big fat waste of time because while I am at work, I fear the small and grimy hands that could be rifling through my neatly folded piles looking for just the right pair of leggings, toppling piles and wreaking havoc.  The face belonging to those hands might as well just spit in my face and reject me outright.

Because as is the case with every organizational project I ever take on, peeling back the covers and discovering the extent of the problem becomes a daunting and downright sysiphisean endeavor.  Case in point: I told my daughters to clean out their dresser drawers so we could put away all the folded clothes as neatly as possible.  My youngest is adamantly insisting that one of her drawers is her "crayon holder."  And so, I find myself in a power struggle with an 8 year old over whether or not a depressing collection of mostly broken crayons really belongs in a dresser drawer.  The power struggle is too much for me, when I'm pretty much doing 3+ full time jobs at the same time, between main job, raising kids, keeping house, and doing freelance gigs.  (Husband also doing multiple jobs, also helpful, also fighting the same battles I am, just so's ya know.)  So I put off winning the battle, or so I tell myself.  I tell myself that I will finesse her, that I will bring her around to my point of view without having to argue, that I will charm her into submission…tomorrow.  When I have more energy.

And then tomorrow comes and it's the strangest thing, but I don't got no more energies.

So I don't charm her.  She is un-finessed.  Crayons are still in the dresser drawer.  Folded clothes, slumping and sliding in their piles, are still on the laundry table.

Take that power struggle and multiple it by 5.  These days, I feel like I'm locking horns with each and every one of my little darlings…and this is just normal, not a crisis, not dangerous and not anything to really worry about.  I can spend 10, 15 glorious minutes with my crazy-bright and funny 10 year old, impressed by the sheer speed of her wit and dazzled by her laughter…and then BAM, I do or say something that prompts her to tell me what I mean and terrible mom I am.  Horns lock.  Battle lines emerge.  She won't let me hug her or tease her into playfulness again.

It happens on the daily.  Times 5.  How am I supposed to get the laundry put away in such an environment?  How keep resolutions to be better?

But one other thing I know for sure.  Want I want to do more than anything else in the world tonight, after I finally get home from a full day of work, followed by an evening school board meeting, when I am utterly exhausted, and just as all the children finally have my ear to pull and my arm to tug, is this:  I want to put all of the folded laundry away.

I resolve to do so.  I resolve to be a better person.  Eat more, sleep less.  Or the other way around.  Whatever.  I just. want. order.

Instead, I have children.  And many piles of folded laundry.  And a brand new year to...conquer.

* * *

  

09 December 2014

Cupcake Dreams

I want to be a kid again.  I want to tell stories the way my youngest daughter does.  I want to dream about cupcakes.  And I really, really want a Dream Teller of my very own.

During dinner last night, Little T was devouring my homemade spaghetti sauce and making me feel like Martha Stewart, Julia Child, and Ree Drummond, all rolled into one, and she mentioned that she knew she was going to have a good dinner tonight because her Dream Teller told her so.

Come again, daughter?

Your what?

That's right.  She has a Dream Teller.  Every morning, after a night of dreaming about cupcakes and unicorns and whatever other lovelies visit her while she is sleeping, her Dream Teller tells her what her dreams mean.  Here's last night's:



Actually, I don't want to be a kid again: I want to be THIS KID.

* * *

29 October 2014

Averting Awkward Alliteration

Little T learned about alliteration today in school, and she had a great time creating little one line "poems" with her classmates. My personal favorite, koan-like in its profound simplicity, is this:

The careful cat cooked colorful cupcakes in the courtyard.

Let that soak into your brain for a moment. It's pure beauty, right?

She remembered many of the others she composed at school:

The lion licked lots of lemon lollipops.
Savana slid down several slippery slides.
The seal told his sister several silly stories.

Then we started making up our own, Little T, Lady E, and I.  I'm guessing the ones we did here at home used the words "butt" and "poop" more than the ones Mrs. Onu collected from her 2nd graders. I'll save you most of those but here are a few of the gems we came up with:

Happy hippies hold hands and hop through hothouses.
Isabelle has a big icky contagious illness.
The canine’s colorful crap cooled down after being freshly cooped up. (Thank you, 5th grader.)
Big bears bang their butts on the backs of banana trees.

For that last one, she had the word "paws" instead of "butts."  I got a kick out of suggesting she might be able to think of a body part that started with a 'B' and then watching her crack her little self up with the revision. 

I refrained, however, from making the same suggestion for this one:

The princess printed pretty pictures of her prince’s...BUTT.

She was so pleased with herself!  So amused!  So delighted with her hutzpah! 

Mommy was pretty happy, too, to have avoided an awkward -- although admittedly hilarious -- alliterative apex!

Language is such a thrill, isn't it?



20 October 2014

Mr. Angry Truck Driver Guy, this is for you.

Driving home in the twilight tonight, my two youngest daughters in tow, we encountered one of those teachable moments.

I had just managed to avert a potent Clash of the Sisters, and was basking in the success of having steered us successfully away from the threat of punches to an invitation to "come up on my bed when we get home" from the top-bunk dwelling sister.  It was glorious.  And rare.

We were sitting at a red light, when my youngest asked for pain medication and a drink of water.  She is currently in a wrist brace from a slight sprain, and her wrist was hurting.  Also, she can't do some things, such as open a water bottle.  I glanced up at the light, marking that it was still red, grabbed an ibuprofen from my purse, gave it to her, and then reached for the water bottle, opened it and handed it over.  She took the pill, drank the water, and handed back the bottle.

In the time it took for those things to happen, which seemed quite brief to me, the light turned green.  The driver of the truck behind me BLASTED his horn at me.  I spilled the water.  And then I stepped on the gas and began to proceed through the intersection.  Mr. Angry Truck Driver Guy swerved hard to my right and passed me at just the right pace to allow him to give me a nice long glare as he drove by.

Daughter commentary: "MOMmy, HE'S giving you the STINK eye!"

Once he passed me, he swerved hard back to the left and in front of my car.  Just to make a point I guess.

* * *

Earlier today, a co-worker of mine dissolved into tears from two recent and unexpected deaths in her family.

Earlier today, my son called me with a plea for advice for handling an upsetting issue in his life.

Earlier today, I listened to a news story about an Iraqi student who lives in an ISIS-controlled area, who is now breaking the law by attending his state university; he leaves his house before dark each day to minimize the possibility that he will be arrested for pursuing an education.

And right at that moment, in my little minivan cocoon, I had, in a short five minutes, successfully prevented a nasty, soul-crushing fight between my daughters, and tended to an 8-year old's pain.

I kind of think that Mr. Angry Truck Drive Guy needs to take a chill pill and realize what's really important in life.

But my own reaction was interesting too.  I wanted to speed up and RIDE HIS ASS.  I wanted to ask him WTF was so important that he had to shatter my nice little moment with my daughters.  I really wanted to pull right up to him, roll down my window and say in a drippingly sarcastic voice: "Hey, I'm soooooo sorry I made you wait an extra 10 seconds.  I was giving my daughter pain medication for her sprained wrist.  I hope we haven't made you late for something truly important.  Have a nice evening, asshole!"

But my girls, they saw it differently.

They thought the guy was a whack job.  They had a nice little laugh at how stressed out he got.  Nothing was going to touch their groove, or derail them from their top-bunk plans.  So that teachable moment thing?  That was them, teaching me not to sweat the small stuff and to keep right on enjoying moments with the ones I love.

Here's my advice to humanity: whenever possible, whenever it occurs to you, several times a day if necessary, take a giant chill pill and control your stink eye.  It's just not that hard to tend to the more important things in life, if you give it at try.

* * *

We drove on, into the twilight, and soon right along the gorgeous San Francisco bay, and I was so happy to be with my non-fighting daughters on one of the first Fall-feeling evenings of the season.

Chill pills are the best.

* * *

24 September 2014

Hey, I'm a Literary Mama!

This is me: just imagine that's a bottle of Simple Green in my hand, and not a skull.



I am pleased to share with you that today I joined the ranks of some women writers I very much admire: Literary Mama has published a piece of my writing!  There are two reasons this is fun for me:

First, because someone other than me posted something I wrote.  That's just awesome.

Second, because I can share Literary Mama with you!  Please visit, browse, share, comment, and repeat.  It's a wonderful space for the "maternally inclined.


Enjoy!


Post Script. Yes, as a matter of fact, I do wear poofy Elizabethan sleeves and tights while cleaning.  Doesn't everyone?




21 September 2014

Thank you, all

Thank you to everyone who has shared kind words with me after my latest post about my mom.  Each one made me tear up a little bit…good tears, as opposed to the sloppy, nose-running, blotchy-faced, sleeve-mucking business that sometimes happens to some people but not me.  Ever.  Mostly.

I haven't been able to keep up with this blog very much in the last several months due to having a job I love and a family I pretty much like well enough.  But I'm very grateful that I have this space, for those moments when I need to write something down.  Writing, as many people have said, is a solitary activity.  But reading -- and commenting and sharing -- those things create community, or show you one was there all along.  So thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading and responding.

I'm grateful for you all.

Much love,

Monica


16 September 2014

Dancing Hands

Dementia and decline. Decline and dementia. Disease and depression and doctors.

It can feel all consuming, as if all those "D-words" are the only things that exist, as if the person suffering is hardly there, crowded out by D's big and small.  My father's time these days is spent managing all those D's, trying to make sense of them, trying to respond to them, and trying to make BIG D DECISIONS about care for his wife of 49 years, 8 months, and 18 days.

My too brief visits with my mother these days are overwhelming for so many reasons: guilt that I cannot visit more often; anguish over what she is experiencing and our inability to help; compassion for her, and for my father; gratitude that I can be there at least in some small ways.  And great sadness over how much she has changed.

It is a painful time, but it is not without its bright moments.  As is usually the case, one such bright moment came to me, and to my mother, courtesy of one of my kids.

I brought Little T to visit Grandma Rose a few weeks ago.  Our stay was a mixed up, jumbled bag of good and bad.  When we walked in, Grandma immediately said: "Boy am I glad to see you!" and we proceeded, over the course of about 45 minutes, to talk about things Little T was doing in school, what her siblings were up to, the book Grandma Rose wrote, and myriad other things.  These brief interactions were punctuated by my mom's anxiety bursting forth in expressions of fear and struggle.  One minute she was talking about her book, the next she was wailing about how the staff was punishing her, the next worrying about spitting too much, or her hands trembling, or the pictures on the wall moving.

(A side note: One of the most challenging things for me, about my mom's dementia, is that I'm certain that many of these things are truly happening for her; she is not imagining double vision, for example, or the walls moving, and those things alone would make a person "crazy." It's easy -- but not accurate -- to lump all of a person's odd behaviors into the category of dementia. They do not all belong there. If my hands trembled all the time, it would drive me nuts and would be such a distraction that I'm sure I'd talk of little else. That's not dementia: that's just life. In many ways, it does not even matter where normal ends and dementia starts. She still deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. As do we all.)

Little T did an amazing job of responding to Grandma's now and then questions and of trying to respond to what she thought Grandma might need. She offered tissues, looked for a book to read her, and gave me little suggestions of things that might help.

After about the 6th or 7th time Grandma raised her hands from the bed to show us, with some force and agitation, how much they were shaking, my giant of a tiny seven year old whispered something to me that made me smile. I told her to tell Grandma. Here's what she said:

When your hands are shaking like that, 
you should pretend you have jazz hands!

Something amazing happened. Grandma laughed.

I had not seen that happen in months.  I wanted to grab that girl, swing her around, hug her tight, and tell her how brilliant and wonderful she is.  Instead, I laughed too, choked back a few tears, and joined in as Little T and I did our best jazz hands, in solidarity with my mama, whose hands now danced above her bed cover.

I thought this a rather remarkable interchange.  What I learned later is that not only did it make my mother laugh, but it stayed with her.  She told my dad the next day about Tallulah's suggestion to pretend to have "dancing hands" and since then, she will refer to her dancing hands frequently, with less agitation now.  She also mentioned those dancing hands to me, almost a month later, recalling that Tallulah had suggested them to her.

She's not happy that her hands shake.  But I think -- I hope -- that she now has an occasion to recall a small bright moment with her granddaughter when the shaking thing takes over.  It makes a difference.  It's a chance to smile, when she has too few of those chances these days.

I think, in the midst of my daily striving, while I'm trying to raise children right and do my (paying) job well, as I'm steering teenagers to good choices, and working with Rick to get the bills paid and the carpools accomplished and the house maintained, that the Jazz Hands moment is the single most significant event of the last several months for me.  That moment is proof positive that simply being present is, truly, the most important thing we can do in this life and for each other.

It was absolutely not an earth-shattering moment.  It was a quiet, simple laugh, almost no more than a smile.  But nothing has meant more to me than to see my mother laugh that day, or to hear that the dancing hands have stuck around.  Everything else swirling around me pales by comparison.

Jazz hands, dancing hands: take a small moment and transform it by saying something, anything, to make someone else feel better.

When it works, it will stay with you forever.