Friday, December 30, 2011

Happy Birthday

December 29, 2011.  My birthday.  I am 41 years old. 

I used to resent being born during this window between Christmas and New Years.  Amid holiday hustle and bustle, company, activities and entertaining, I felt my birthday wasn't special enough--too easily forgotten.  And since we were home for break, I never got to bring cupcakes to share with my class like the other kids in school.

In fact, for a period of my life, I changed my birthday.  A few friends still laugh about the time I announced I had moved my birth date to January 29--sharing the date with my best friend from high school.  Now older, and maybe even a little wiser, I welcome the benefits of my special day.

One advantage is taking a little "alone time" during our winter recess without feeling selfish.  I love having the kids home, my husband home, and the grandparents and aunts and uncles and presents and cookies and adventures, I really do.   I've been cooking quite a bit, which I enjoy,  playing new board games with the kids and curling up with Paul to catch up on old TV shows.   As much as I adore it all, being off of my regular schedule for too long wears me out.  I like to use my birthday as an excuse to clear my head.  In the morning I exercise, working up a great sweat for the first time all week.  I might normally feel guilty leaving Paul in charge all morning but, hey, it's my birthday!

I return to dine with my family on the meal of my request--a big healthy salad.  Presents are opened and I receive my annual birthday phone call from my mother.  (And I woke up complaining of gas pains.  So your father says, 'Well, how far apart are these gas pains?') Besides a few phone calls from friends, I also check the Internet to read the latest 27 happy birthday greetings on my wall.  Gotta love Facebook. 

After lunch, I pamper with a pedicure and redeem a free cup of birthday coffee.  I find a comfy spot to savor my latte and pull out the spiral notebook I had stashed in my bag.  I have come to appreciate my birthday's location on the calendar.  The 52nd and last week of the year is a good time to take stock of myself--to reflect on all that happened during my 40th year and to look ahead to the next.

Journal, check.  Toenails, check.  Yoga, check.  After refreshing my mind, body and spirit I return home ready to welcome our guests.  My dear friend Kristin and family join us for the afternoon and evening.  Because it is vacation, the whole clan makes the trip--a luxury I wouldn't have on just any Thursday during the year.  We get caught up, relax, laugh.  It is all so comfortable.  We feast on Lebanese carryout served on paper plates, saving room for Steve's famous homemade chocolate peanut butter cake.  The adults linger at the table talking over drinks while the girls rehearse silly birthday skits. 

As the festivities come to an end, I get one last Happy Birthday hug and kiss from my pajama-clad family before I nestle beneath the covers.  It was a wonderful birthday.  I wouldn't have it any other way on any other day.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Our Trash is Katherine's Treasure

Paul is telling Katherine about our weekend plans. "Uncle Stu is coming over this weekend with his pickup truck.  We're going to the dump.  Would you like to ride with us?"

"What are we going to get?" asks Katherine.

"No, honey, we're not getting anything.  We're getting rid of some old scraps and junk," Paul explains.

"But Dad," Katherine protests.  "What if we see something that's very useful?"

loading up Uncle Stu's truck

Katherine is very crafty and extremely creative.  Trouble is, with this combination of talents, everything is potentially useful.  Where I see a lone sock on the dryer, Katherine sees the body of a puppet.  Recently she used one to make a snowman (named Hanes, of course.)

Last month she came home from school holding a giant wall clock.  "Look what I found in the trash--someone threw away a perfectly good broken clock!" she exclaimed excitedly.  Sure enough, she set it up downstairs where she plays school with her dolls.  Soon, telling time is integrated into the lessons. 

While I dream of cleaning out all my closets, Katherine is bringing home the latest treasure from her "dumpster diving" forays.  Sometimes, I am busted when she finds something in our own trash.

Katherine: Hey, what's this Dumdum wrapper doing in the trash?  Mom!  I told you I was saving those.

Me: Oops, sorry.  I forgot.  (Forgot to take the trash out before you came home!)

Katherine's reputation for resourceful craft projects has spread with family and friends.  So I get phone calls such as this: "I've been cleaning out my basement and I have some fabric scraps.  I thought Katherine would like them."  Or this: "I found a box of art supplies that we aren't using.  I thought of Katherine..."

They are right, of course.  With a few scissor snips and a glue gun, the fabric scraps were transformed into camping kits for her dolls--complete with matching sleeping bags.  The latest box of craft supplies has been an invaluable source of inspiration as she constructs handmade Christmas gifts for friends and family. 

To encourage her hobby, I set up a table and some storage baskets in our laundry room so Katherine can have her own craft area.  Little by little, the table is covered with paper scraps, stamp pads, Popsicle sticks and string.  Soon the table's surface is completely hidden.  Refusing to surrender to the confines of an imposed boundary, her artistic workspace spreads to the coffee table in the playroom, the carpet of her bedroom and even the kitchen. 

The aftermath of Katherine's whirlwind of projects sometimes overwhelms her.  A creative genius does not have time to clean as she goes, you understand.  This is when I step in to restore order.  Today I spent the morning replacing glue caps, folding tissue paper and sweeping up piles of glitter.   Katherine is happy to have all her supplies organized--now they are easy to find for the next inspiration.  Now that the basement is put back together, I'm off to the grocery store.  Katherine came home yesterday with several Styrofoam trays and empty milk cartons. 

"Mom, do we have graham crackers and icing?  I bet we can decorate these to look like gingerbread houses."

Katherine and her snowman Hanes

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Staying Ahead of the Curve

"Clearance Sale"

The craft store advertisement catches my eye.  I've been thinking about hanging wreaths from my windows this year.  I've always admired the classic, festive adornments on the homes of others.  With wreaths 50% off, this might be the year to dress up the facade of my own house.  I brave the traffic for a trip to the strip mall and head toward the store in anticipation and excitement.

I'm picturing the finished scene in my mind--maybe some plaid ribbons to hang the wreaths?  And of course a cheerful, lush red bow on each one.  Then Paul can get some flood lamps to spotlight the windows.  Oh!  Maybe I can get a candle to rest on each sill.  I wonder if Michaels sells candles...Ideas are still multiplying in my mind as I step inside the store.  Abruptly, the joyful scene in my mind is replaced with the scene before me: chaos.

This is the season of advent, which literally means "to prepare."  The liturgical calendar tells us we have four weeks to prepare for Christmas.  The staff at Michaels does not share this view.  In their opinion, mid-December is waaaay behind the curve.  They had their holiday stuff out in October, people!  Where were we?  The smart customers snapped up their shopping bargains on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.  Lights on their evergreens and rooftops have been shimmering since Thanksgiving. 

Those of us braving the store today are the hapless fools, lured in by signs of savings.   With Christmas still almost two weeks away, we are labeled procrastinators.  And let me tell you, the early birds got all those worms weeks ago.  Gone are the candles.  Gone are the lights.  And gone are the red velvety bows.  All that's left are some gaudy plastic poinsettias and a Charlie Brown tree made in China.

By mid-December, these folks are done with Christmas.  The reason they are having a Clearance Sale, people, is so they can clear their store of all this unwanted merchandise to make room for Valentine's Day crafts.  Undeterred, I poke around the half bare shelves and manage to find a few wreaths.  I'm not sure what I'll do about the bows yet--all they had left were a few faded maroon ones, which I left for another customer's buying pleasure. 

This morning I am walking the dog still thinking about my Christmas decorations.  I pass by a neighbor's home decked out for Halloween.  Pumpkins by the door step, window clings of black cats and skeletons on display through the glass, and tired, tattered ghosts blowing from the tree branches.  At first I think they just haven't gotten around to taking it all down.  Now I wonder if they are just trying to get ahead of the curve for next fall.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Dry Socks

It is raining at 6:57 a.m.  I know because I look out the window before giving Jack an update on the time.  "6:57!"  I call.  Jack's bus comes every day at 7:02 a.m.  He is supposed to leave at 6:57 to allow time to walk to the bus stop.  Many days he sprints out the door at 7:01.  If he misses the bus, he has to walk the mile to school.  He hasn't missed the bus yet.

Until today.  "Will you give me a ride?" he asks.
I stand firm. "Sorry, Jack.  We have an agreement that you will walk to school if you miss the bus."
"But it's raining," he argues.
"Would you like an umbrella?" I suggest.

Jack retreats back into the house, presumably to retrieve an umbrella for our trek.  He returns empty handed. "Dad said he'd give me a ride!"

Here's what I want to say to Paul at this moment:  "Seriously?  What happened to consistency?  What happened to following through on consequences?  What happened to us being on the same page in our parenting decisions?  And why, if we're going to play good cop-bad cop roles, do I have to be the bad cop?"  I don't say any of those things.  I storm back into the house, grab an umbrella and thrust it into Jack's hands. 

The first part of our walk is quiet, except for the gentle spatters of rain.  Jack is angry and I am stubborn and we make quite a pair, the two of us. Bundled up in rain jackets, our hoods pulled tightly around our faces we walk silently side by side.  Jack keeps the umbrella closed and it swings from his wrist as he moves. Tatum is with us, his soft, thick fur glistening with wetness.  The rain begins to fall harder and Jack breaks the silence.  "Why are you so mean?"

This is a good question and I mull it over. I don't try to be mean.  What, exactly, have I done that is so mean?  Is it mean to follow through on a consequence because the weather is not cooperating? Good parenting should always be consistent and reasonable.  But what happens when you can't be both?  I chose consistent.  In hindsight, reasonable might have been the better option.

As we begin to climb the hill by school, we are in the middle of a torrential downpour.  The sidewalk is flooding as the rain rushes back down the way we came.  There is nowhere to walk except straight through.  My pants are dragging with waterlogged weight and my socks and shoes are completely soaked.

"Jack, I'm sorry.  I don't try to be mean.  I love you and sometimes I think I know what's best for you.  In this case, I think I made a mistake.  We look like two drowned rats."

Now I am no longer feeling stubborn and Jack is no longer feeling angry.  We both just feel cold and really wet.  After dropping Jack off, I return home and pack dry clothes for him.  Then I drive up to school to deliver the bag.

If I could have a "do-over" for the morning, I'm not sure what I would do.  Give him a ride?  Make him wear rainboots and use his umbrella?  Wake him up 10 minutes earlier?  Parenting decisions aren't often black and white.  Sometimes adults make mistakes too.  Maybe I wouldn't change our morning. Maybe the real lesson I taught Jack is this:

When you make a mistake, admit your error, say you're sorry and put on some dry socks.

  In today's paper, I read an article about Wednesday's storm.  "It was truly exceptional as a rain-producer...setting both daily and monthly rainfall records."

  Remember, I didn't say anything to Paul before I left?  When I returned home sopping, to his credit, he didn't say anything to me either. 

Friday, December 2, 2011

I'm Not Complaining But...

"God loves a cheerful giver.  God loves a CHEERFUL giver."  I'm repeating this over and over to myself as I pack. 
Sleeping bag? Check. 
Mess kit?  Check. 
Cheerful outlook?  Rats.  Two out of three ain't bad, right?

It's not that I don't want to spend the weekend chaperoning a Girl Scout camping trip.  Hmmm, well, actually I really don't want to spend the weekend chaperoning a Girl Scout camping trip.  I'd rather stay home.  It's not that I don't enjoy being a Girl Scout Leader--this is true.  I have the pleasure and privilege of working with a wonderful group of 10 year olds.  It's just that tomorrow will be the third Saturday out of the last four that I have spent the day with these lovely girls.  We hiked together on the Billy Goat Trail.  We raked leaves together for our service project clean up.  And now, we camp.  How much togetherness do we need?

Oops, I do not sound cheerful, do I?

I'm dreaming of cozying up by the fire Saturday morning reading the paper and drinking coffee from my new coffee maker.  Then maybe I'll go to yoga with my friend Debbie and fix myself a big salad for lunch.  In the afternoon I'll turn up some festive Christmas music and fa la la as I deck my halls with painted nutcrackers and evergreen wreaths.  Paul and I will put our feet up and enjoy a drink together before I whip up a delicious dinner.  Then we'll end the day snuggled on the couch with a family movie.

Well, I certainly feel more cheerful now but, in reality, staying home will not be more relaxing than my chaperoning duties.  Jack needs to depart for his basketball game at 8:30 am, and Tatum will need a long walk.  The giant history project is due Monday and I'm pretty it hasn't been started.  Then there's the grocery trip that needs to be made in preparation for the 21 people showing up at our house for the church youth group progressive dinner.  We're the salad stop.  If the house could be sorta straight and the toilet clean before company arrives, that would be great.

We're not the only parents who seem to sacrifice every weekend to our children's schedules.  Our kids are in that maniacal age bracket--old enough to be active but too young to drive--and after we sign them up for all these activities we are at their mercy.  Recently I invited a friend over and this was her reply (names changed to protect the innocent): 

"We unfortunately have a really crazy weekend.  There are swim meets and basketball games and  Husband and I have a work party to go to Sat. night which will be very late. Of course now we find out Child 1 has a late BB game too. Sunday I have a swim meet with Child 2 and BB game with Child 3. I'd love to come and thanks for the invite, but I think we will be beat.  I hope they don't have tons of homework too."

When I stop to consider, the camping trip will be just fine.  It's only 24 hours of my life and I'll be sleeping for 8 of them.  (Yes, I know my sleeping may be wishful thinking.)  We're looking at decent weather--not always guaranteed the first week of December.  There will be some creative skits, I'll get to go on a hike, help build a campfire and even get a s'more or two in the deal.  Katherine is thrilled that I'm coming.

When I start to think about having a Saturday all to myself, I realize that in 5 years, my Saturdays may be spent overseeing the college application process.  In just a few short years, I'll have all the Saturdays I want to myself.  This is when I remember that no one is forcing me to be involved in my children's lives.  It's a choice that I make gladly realizing that they do grow up too fast. 

Water bottle? Check.

Bandanna? Check.

Cheerful outlook?  Check.