Friday, February 27, 2009

What Daddies Do Best

I have had an epiphany. My life CAN go on without me. You see, I'm a prideful little thing and I have been operating under the assumption that I am the only one capable of doing what I do. Not so. Turns out my husband & children are far more capable than I have ever given them credit for. Last week, I developed a horrible kidney infection and ended up in the hospital. As I lay in that hospital bed, I was panicking about all of the things that I was supposed to do that week. It's a horrible feeling to be so sick that it's impossible to live up to the expectations that you put on yourself. I was certain that it was the end of the world as we knew it. Then, Daddy stepped up.

My husband isn't usually the splitting the housework / cooking / kids stuff responsibilities sort of guy. We have a fairly old fashioned dynamic. He prefers for me to stay home and let him handle the bread winning thing largely because he doesn't want to have to come home after work and work more. It's just convenient for me to stay home and make a mad attempt at domesticity. Ordinarily, I'm happy with the set-up. I've never been too worried about the evils of stereotyping or the women's rights agenda. Most days it just seems like we're both doing what we're best at and balancing our partner out. The only time that I get bent out of shape about it at all is when for some reason the thought, "What if I died?" runs through my head and I freak out at the thought of my husband being left with our four children and no mommy to supervise.

It's times like that when I spring random comments on him like, "Do you even know where the kids' doctor's office is?!" as the poor guy nervously backs away, cornered by my accusation that he couldn't ever hold it together without me. In my mind, it's a sad, sad scenario without me and I picture my children starving and filthy in the hands of the man who knows not the name of their home room teacher or the proper dosage of Tylenol to give them. Don't get me wrong, he's a great dad. He's just always been the fun one. He's the one who comes home from work and plays video games with them and comes up with the best ideas for building cool snow forts. He doesn't need to know if they're up to date on their vaccines or where I keep the birth certificates because I've always selfishly taken care of all of that. From the outside looking in, I've realized that I'm a control freak, a workaholic without a job with a monetary paycheck. All these years, it wasn't that he couldn't do it. It was that I never backed off enough to let him steal my glory.

The thing about being a stay at home mom, you don't really have a lot of chances to shine. Sure, I can pat myself on the back on the rare occasion that my kitchen floor is sparkly clean or I make my way to the bottom of the laundry pile. Overall though, it's a lonely, boring, thankless job. The only sources of pride and accomplishment that I really have come from watching my kids be healthy and happy or having my husband tell me that dinner was delicious. So, I grasp on to every little morsel of power that I can. I plan menus to ensure that all nutritional bases are covered and I volunteer in classrooms so that both the school and my kids get the message that I DO care about their education. I buy a plethora of books & subscribe to Highlights and National Geographic kids and Boys Life so that I can pat myself on the back knowing that they're reading. It's all really a little over the top & ridiculous once I've stepped back and looked at it.

So, it took me well over a week to get well enough to have energy to even get out of bed in the morning to get the kids off to school. I didn't know how they would manage to get on the bus on time or how on earth they would have a successful day at school without me making them a protein shake or helping them match their outfits. I was sure that home work wouldn't make it into backpacks and that by the end of the week they wouldn't even have any clean clothes to wear at all. Boy, was I wrong. Everything flowed beautifully. When they came home in the afternoon, I was amazed at how NICE they looked. What's more, my house looked nice too. All week long, I never lifted a finger and somehow my dishes got done. I never even heard any nagging or arguing. The kids did their homework. They brushed their teeth. Dustin took them all to the potluck for Tatton's soccer team (and made the food to bring) and took Brooke to the daddy-daughter dance. He not only fed them well, but delivered meals to me and made extra trips to the grocery store whenever I ran out of cranberry juice or anything else. He refilled prescriptions at the pharmacy. The only thing I noticed missing was the stress. When I do everything that he did, I'm running around like a chicken with my head cut off. We're always rushing and I'm always nagging. I hate to say it, but I think he MAY be better at my job than I am. Surprisingly, that makes me happy.

My epiphany is that I've been way over complicating things. All of these years of futilely chasing supermom status has been silly. It's nice to know that I can afford to get sick and that my family will survive. While Dustin has happily slid back into his breadwinner role as I've gotten healthier, it's nice to know that I'm doing what I'm doing voluntarily to make his life easier and not because he's incapable of it. And I really appreciate what a good job he did of taking care of me when I was sick.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Valentine's Schmalentines- Why I Want To Boycott

Don't ask me why, but I'm SO annoyed that Valentine's Day is this weekend. I just want it to go away. I tried singing "Valentine's Day Go Away" to the tune of Rain, Rain Go Away but obviously the meter was off. So, here's what I'm thinking...

A. If my hubby decides to spontaneously bring me flowers or chocolates or take me out to dinner on any random day, I am charmed at his romantic gesture and think, "He loves me! He REALLY loves me!" If he feels pressured into forking over hard earned cash on marked up flowers because the calendar says that it's the day when all people are supposed to write their paychecks over to Hershey's and Hallmark? Not so romantic.

B. I have 4 kids. Which means that there are 4 class parties involving purchasing & addressing cards & candy for their peers & teachers and sending in treats so that they can eat themselves into a sugar high meets belly ache right before riding the school bus home to me just in time for their blood sugar levels to crash and the tantrums to ensue.

Plus, in the latest sign of our hard times, recent retail polls indicate Americans are going to spend less on Valentine's Day this year.

Say it ain't so.

In the middle of a soul-crushing recession, with dire economic news unleashed upon us every day, the bad news is that Americans are expected to shell out a mere $14.7 billion on romantic gifts this weekend.

Stop me if I sound stupid, but why are we spending one red cent on this so-called holiday -- especially right now? Believe me, there are better ways to share the love and smarter ways to spend your money.

Materialism run amok...

I have nothing against romance, love, sex, frilly red hearts or an excuse to eat chocolate (mmmm... CHOCOLATE...)

The problem is that Valentine's Day, like many other American occasions, has grown from being a celebration that once aspired to some meaning, to being a trashy, materialistic extravaganza.

Think about how much pressure there is to participate:

Every schoolchild, practically, is expected to make or send cards to their classmates or bring treats to class. I just spent $26.00 on stuff for my kids' class celebrations. My two older boys were like, "Uh- Mom? Do I really have to give even the boys in my class cards that say I love them? Isn't that sorta creepy?" Luckily, I found snack size Snickers bars that just say To: & From: in lieu of the usual sappy, cutesy variety. You can't go wrong with a Snickers bar. They say, "I love you as a friend, Man." more than "Be mine.", you know?

Some single women feel so left out on Valentine's Day that they've been known to send flowers to themselves, so they won't look like losers. As if the absence of a bouquet or the baggage of a significant other should really tattoo "LOSER" on your forehead. How sad is that?

And don't assume couples are happier: For many, Valentine's Day is a yearly excuse to have a nasty fight, with partners feeling unloved & neglected . . . because they didn't get a stuffed bear or some candy. Seriously?

It's equations like this that lead millions of consumers to spend $14.7 billion. While the economy is melting way faster than the polar ice caps...

A short history of a dumb day:
What makes this ritual even more puzzling is that Valentine's Day doesn't even have a good story (see: Christmas, Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July) or spooky ghosts and pumpkins. In fact, we don't even know the real story for sure.

Valentine's Day is simply put big business.
Basically, throughout the millennia, February was always a slow shopping month. Then, because a couple of early Christian martyrs (both named Valentine?) might have died for love, a holiday emerged.

I'm not making this up.
A priest secretly married lovers in defiance of a Roman emperor's decree and supposedly was executed for it.

Another man, as legend has it, was rejected by his mistress, and -- you'll like this -- he carved out his own heart and gave it to her. Yech.

Somehow, about 1,700 years later, we're stuck spending gobs of money on predetermined displays of "romance."

So, here's what I'm thinking: if it's really the romance that you're looking for, give each other massages. It's free. Or you could always buy a pint of whipping cream for two dollars. I doubt I need to elaborate further. Take care of a chore that your loved one doesn't love doing for them so that they don't have to. Take the time to really have a conversation with each other. Curl up on the couch and watch a movie together. Make a concious effort to incorporate romance and gestures of affection into your every day life 365 days a year and don't stress out about making a commercialized, hyped up "holiday" into an unrealistic one day event full of too high expectations and flowers that die right about the time that you get the credit card bill for them.

And if you really need further inspiration:

Monday, February 9, 2009

Updated Repost: In Memory

So, today was my grandpa's memorial service. Well, technically his THIRD memorial service (two in Arizona & now the family one up here in Washington.) The man was well loved. It was a beautiful service. I had two favorite parts. First, I thought it was amazing to hear people speak about him & I was amused that several things that I had said about him in my blog were what other people remembered most about him too. My cousin spoke and Oh My Goodness! Was it touching. He described my grandpa to a tee and I wanted to jump out of my seat screaming, "YES! I remember that about him too! Wasn't he awesome?!"

Then, my grandpa had prepared for this. He made a DVD. Going to someone's funeral and then hearing their voice is a crazy thing. The dvd started off with him reading poetry that he had written (beautiful!) with his paintings as a background. Then, several pictures from when he was a very young man to just this last summer. It was great to see a ton of family that I haven't seen in a while and just to hear every one share about grandpa. It was brought to my attention that apparently more people are aware of my blog than I knew and several people had read my tribute to him. So, I decided to repost it so that the family members who were alerted to it didn't have to wade through a couple of weeks worth of posts to find it. So, here it is again:

The world lost a wonderful man yesterday. One of thee best men I've ever known actually. If I had to say what's shaped me into the person that I am today, having my grandparents in my life was possibly the biggest contributor. My grandpa didn't have an easy life, but he made it a fabulous one. In his book Daddy Your Shoes Didn't Fit My Feet, he shares with the world glimpses of his life story (as much of it as you can fit into under 200 pages anyway.) There's no doubt that he was a survivor. The saying "Out of difficulties grow miracles" is one way to describe his life. A lot of people allow themselves to be broken down and quit in the face of adversity. My grandpa used it as a tool to make himself into an inspirational motivator to those around him.

Growing up in the hills of Kentucky, my grandpa lost his father to a heart attack. His dad was only 38 years old and my grandpa was 11. That loss changed the dynamic of their family forever and the next several years would prove to be painful and terrifying for the family. After leaving home at a young age, my grandpa used his persistence and hard work to build himself the life he had always wanted. He proved to be quite the entrepreneur and was running a successful logging company (among other side ventures in real estate and such) when he started having chest pain at age 36. After running tests for the next few months, the doctors gave him a grim verdict: he had severe artery disease and if they did bypass surgery (which was brand new in 1970) that he would probably die on the operating table. They said he most likely only had about 6 months to live. In his usual "grab life by the horns" fashion, he set to work trying to get things in order for his wife and 4 kids. He didn't want to leave them with the same stresses and struggles that his family had faced when his own father had died.

It was then that my grandpa learned a valuable lesson. He sold his prestigious home in town and simplified their life. By being forced to slow down & downsize because of his health, he was able to realize something. Page 138 in his book says:

"The next few months taught me a valuable lesson. Happiness isn't found in prestige houses, big bank accounts, shiny new cars, or diamonds and silk cloth. Happiness is having peace within. It comes when we can accept who we are inside and are willing to trade worldly wealth for quiet time with your wife. It's when you relax before a fireplace while rocking a child that you helped bring into this world and let the sound of his rhythmic breathing bring peace to one's soul. It comes when you walk hand in hand with your five and six year olds, while the sun is dropping behind the evergreen trees, and you don't feel rushed when you stop and watch the hard working ants drag cuttings of cherry tree leaves. He doesn't seem to know where home is. The leaf is much bigger than he is, but he wants it all. I had spent much of my life like the little ant."

I feel so blessed to have come into my grandpa's world after he knew all of this, because all I ever knew of him was a man that acted as if he had all the time in the world to spend with me and made me feel like the greatest treasure. He had this gift for making you feel like you were his favorite person in the world & that you were a person of worth with talents and a purpose. I've never had self-esteem issues and I'm sure alot of that is because of his unconditional love since the day I was born (and technically before because I've read a love letter he wrote to my mom when she was pregnant with me that made it clear that he loved me even before I was born.) For a long time, with the way that he praised me and spoiled me, I thought that I was certainly his favorite. As I got older, I looked around and realized that that was just the way he treated everybody. He was always taking people under his wing and building people up. Now, I frequently run into people who ask, "How are your grandparents doing?" and they tell me how my grandparents have helped them get through a difficult time of some sort or enriched their life one way or another. "If it hadn't been for your grandparents..." is something I hear alot.

I have so many awesome memories of spending time with him. He loved to garden and always grew berries for us. When I eat a warm strawberry off the vine, I think of him. He also loved to fish, and I can't eat smoked salmon without thinking of him either. I remember spending the night at their house, he would always make me a special breakfast and so I also think of him when I think of omelets or waffles. There are so many memories of him tied into food. I think because like everything else he did, he just poured so much love into it. It wasn't really that he was giving me food so much as feeding my soul. Over the years, he became an amazing painter and his eye for beauty and love of nature are documented in his many paintings.

He didn't get much education growing up in Kentucky & Virginia, but he was absolutely one of the smartest people I've ever known and he loved learning. He was always up for a conversation and our talks would usually turn to the subject of goals and how smart he thought I was. He was so proud to see his kids and grand kids succeed and he always made it clear that he knew I had the brains to do anything I wanted in life. I still believe that and I'm so thankful that he instilled that confidence in me. The first mail that I ever received was when I was in preschool and my grandparents went to Arizona for the winter. I loved getting my "love letters" from my grandpa. He taught me so many life skills. Things like how to really talk to someone, how to look someone in the eye and truly listen. He showed me how to care about what people are saying and to have a servant's heart to help them if they need it. The first time I ever drove a vehicle was with him too. One afternoon, he just stopped by my house and said, "Do you wanna go for a ride?" and tossed me the keys. I was so nervous driving his truck, but he was patient as I swerved back and forth over the center line at 10 MPH, just casually talking the whole time and giving me the occasional pointer on driving.

Yesterday was my grandma's 70th birthday. My grandpa had begun planning for it over a month ago. He had arranged for all 4 of their kids to fly down and surprise her. I don't know if he knew then that he was going to pass away, but I wouldn't doubt it. I am shocked and amazed at the poetry of the way that he held on until all 4 of his kids were there and had a chance to say good-bye and be there to support my grandma. I have never known anyone else so capable of willing themselves to live. It was 39 years ago that they told him that he had about 6 months left. He has endured through heart attacks and strokes and heart surgeries over the years and has lost almost all of his siblings to heart disease in that time.

I'm sad for my grandma. I can't imagine losing your spouse after 53+ years of marriage, but I'm so thankful that our family (and community) had the privilege of having him in our lives for 39 years longer than the doctors told him we would. He passed away with the same dignity and with the same inspirational strength and love that he lived his life.

The work an unknown good man has done is like a vein of water flowing hidden underground, secretly making the ground green.
Thomas Carlyle


Check Out: Daddy Your Shoes Didn't Fit My Feet by Fred Holbrook

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Homework Headaches

Dear Blog,

Good mothers work hard to ensure their children's academic success. I aspire to one day be one of those mothers. Right now though, not so much. This week, I've decided that I'm more burnt out on school than I EVER was when I was a student myself. Why is that?

A. Son #1 has never been a fan of school. I accept this. We've done everything that we could think of to convince him otherwise since 1st grade, but sometimes you just have to face it. Some people just hate school with a passion and as a parent you reach a point when you realize, "Hey, I can't FORCE somebody to like something. I can only force him to go." That's it. I've given him rewards for improving his grades and punishments for letting them slip. We've medicated and tutored... the whole nine yards. Honestly, he's doing better now than he ever has (which means we're celebrating his C average) but I can't take a whole lot of credit for his success. He has some fabulous teachers and he's matured a lot this year as well. He still hates writing. As he threw a royal fit over the injustice of having to write a 5 paragraph report the other night, I was utterly perplexed. Doesn't he realize that 5 paragraphs is nothing at all? I write that much on my blog voluntarily. For fun even.

B. Son #2 used to LOVE school. Up until this year, he never had less than straight A's (or S+'s the elementary equivalent of an A.) All of a sudden he's avoiding his schoolwork like a draft dodger in route to Mexico and his report card is sporting (gasp) F's. Here I've spent (I don't want to tell you how much) money over the years on book collections and educational games and science kits to nurture his gifted brain that was frequently bored and now he's decided that it's all "too hard" and won't put in ANY effort. I'm sorry Son, but you can't throw in the towel and drop out in 4th grade. You were born in the wrong era for that. Not to mention, you've spent the previous years of your childhood rubbing salt into your brother's wounds about how you can't believe he struggles in school because it's "so easy" for you. I suppose the fact that his report card is now better than yours should be deemed some sort of justice for your arrogant ways, but I can't get past my frustration with your laziness to truly enjoy the poetry of your brother getting to celebrate pulling in better grades than you for a change. All I know is, I do feel sort of childish for splashing you in the face with that cup of ice water the other night when you were throwing a tantrum about your homework that should have taken 30 minutes tops and you had already extended it into a 3 hour ordeal complete with tears and teeth gnashing while blaming every one but yourself.

C. Son #3 brought home a packet of work that they had done together in the classroom and he had apparently not "gotten". His teacher attached a note, "Mrs. Hensley, Russell doesn't understand this. Please work with him at home." Sure, I can do that. Then, I look through the packet and see that he REALLY didn't understand it. A weeks worth of math worksheets all incorrect. A weeks worth of alphabetical order worksheets also all incorrect. A couple of Scholastic News reports on Barack Obama's inauguration and Martin Luther King, Jr. day looking like Greek to him. So, I'm sitting with him at the kitchen table trying to find a way to explain something that his teacher obviously must have explained already only I don't have a masters in teaching and am wondering how I'm supposed to make it make sense if she couldn't. Somehow, we managed to get it all done (while fighting with Tatton about how he MUST finish his homework... and trying to convince Lane that the 5 paragraph report is NOT as big a deal as he's making it out to be and that he should really just plop down at the table and write it one paragraph at a time... and practicing reading with Brooke...)

I'm just trying to figure out how when I was a kid, I managed to go to school, pull in good grades fairly effortlessly (I don't remember shedding all these tears that I'm seeing from my kids now) and still had time to run around outside climbing trees and riding bikes on my evenings and weekends? I don't remember my parents spending hours upon hours with me coaching me on reports and nagging me about all of the homework in my 30 lb. backpack. In fact, I don't remember having a backpack that caused chiropractor visits at all. So, when did this happen? When did it change so that my adult years now involve more schoolwork than my childhood ever seemed to? When did my kids stop having time to play and why does it seem we barely have any time to have a life outside of school unless their grades suffer for it? Grrr- maybe I was naive when I went into this parenting thing, but I'll tell you what: I never anticipated being this burnt out & exhausted from educating my kiddos and I would have never guessed that I'd have a kid who required anti-anxiety meds to go to school. Here our nation is in the middle of a childhood obesity epidemic and my kids are being held in at recess to catch up on missing assignments and doing even more schoolwork instead of physical activities on their evenings and weekends. I kind of doubt that their brains are even retaining any of it anyway since they're so burnt out themselves. That's my family planning motivation right there. Even though I'm a baby crazed mama who would LOVE to have more kids, I KNOW that I don't have the time or the energy for another one because I'm already so stressed and busy trying to keep up with the schoolwork for the ones I have. When you start getting so stressed over your child's homework that you break down and toss a glass of ice water on his tear streaked, whiny face, it's a good sign that you're incapable of handling more offspring and that MAYBE you shouldn't have had quite as many as you had in the first place.