Sunday, November 28, 2010

Closing up the storage unit. Oh my!

Less than a year ago, we moved out of our four-bedroom home.  I passed out belongings at playgroups, donated embarrassingly large amounts to CHKD (they knew me by name in the donation center), and on the street corner.  Literally.  We put a kitchen table and a few other things at the end of the driveway.  Free items on Craig's List. 

It felt amazing, and not at all scary.  We were ready.

We moved into the super-tiny temporary place, which transitioned us on either end of our 8-week road trip.  Since it was a one-bedroom apartment sublet (tiny tiny!), we got a storage unit.

After how many things we gave away, I was stunned there was still so.much.left.  I was starting to see that even minimalists with 3 children have a lot of things.

Then...The Conversation where we decided to load up a U-Haul of even more things and take to a Sudanese family.  We were surprised that things that previously held so much value to us (like leather couches we saved up to buy in our early marriage) had started to feel like a burden, not a blessing.  I gave it to that dad more for me than for him, in all honesty, although I also knew he really and truly needed our things. 

We still had a lot of things in storage.  Not much by most standards, but still felt like it was trapping us in some way.  While we plan to stay in Virginia Beach, the rest of the variables are pretty fluid.  And being able to float into whatever life situation sounds best is where both of us are right now.

Plus, to our surprise, we are happiest the less stuff we have.  We are reaching our maximum utility of stuff, I see.

And now we have reached a place in the process where I wasn't sure we'd ever reach. We are closing up our storage unit. 

Furniture we'll keep in the end:  Two recliners. 

I have been waffling about my mom's roll-top desk through our entire journey towards De-Stuffing our life.  The irony of this is that the desk wasn't sentimental to my mom.  I got it before she died, because she was trying to get rid of it. 

What I've decided:  If I need to remember my mom through a piece of furniture, then the memory must not burn very bright in the first place.  As back-up: If I really start craving a Mom-Heirloom furniture item, I can re-claim the hutch from my dad's house that goes back 4 generations.

In the last few days, I've been pulling back all these boxes labeled "Really Sentimental Things."  And I struck by how few of them really are. 

Case in point, the belly cast.  Written on the box:  "Really fragile.  Stack on top.  Belly cast."  It's the casting of my pregnant belly when I was carrying Simone.  I'm glad I did it.  I love, love, love the picture of newborn Simone next to the cast.  But I'm not interested in keeping it for 25 years until she's old enough to care.  And even then, would she care?

I think I'll take a few pictures of it and then let the boys destroy it with a baseball bat.  Bwahahaha!  That would likely bring them more joy than looking at a casting of their mom's big ol' belly.

Phew.

A bit scary, I guess, but only in theory.  I wrote Deane about getting some of the big items for the MOPS sale next Spring...and I can't think of a better use for the Stuff in there.  When I think about the feeling of being ready to live on a boat, belongings' wise, it only sounds liberating...not at all scary.

“You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give" (Kahlil Gibran).  I wonder if it's because, if you're giving to someone who already has enough, you're just passing along the burden of ownership?

Not every life needs to be as mobile as ours, and this isn't right for everyone.  But for us, the more we can fit our life into a backpack... the more joy seems to float to the top.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

How to take a freakin' family Christmas photo...

In case you're wondering, this is how it's done.  First off:

- Decide that all three of your children are looking rather shaggy, but you don't feel like taking them to the official hair-cutting place and spending all afternoon there. Since home haircuts have gone horribly in the past (like, REALLY horribly), use every ounce of your courage to attempt moderately passable at-home cuts.

- Be flabbergasted when the at-home haircuts turn out decently.

- Dress children in whatever red and green clothes you can find, because you refuse to spend money on Christmas clothes (unless they're under $3 at the thrift store or can be worn year-long).

- Borrow the condo lobby's decorated tree for a picture, because your minimalist self is using the fake fichus tree in the furnished vacation rental as a Christmas tree (hanging the ornaments on the fichus leaves).  Makes life simpler, but also makes an odd Christmas card.

- Realize that taking pictures of three children ages 6 and under is a bit like doing a photo shoot with steroidal monkeys.  It doesn't go well.  If one child smiles, the other is grimacing...closing eyes...walking away...crying...etc. 

- Snap pictures until someone trips on the lobby coffee table and starts bawling. Take break to soothe child. 

- Beg for a few more pictures, possibly even bribe with treats, until all three children agree to stand in front of the tree.  Scowling, but at least they're standing there.

- Watch 2-year-old daughter wrap tree ribbon around her body like a mummy. 

- Take 63 pictures, all of which are mostly terrible, until someone starts Real Crying and completely obliterates any chance of taking more. 

- Have husband say, "Um...let's try this another time. I don't think this is going well."

- Go back upstairs to the condo, admitting Christmas Photo Defeat...and then load 63 terrible pictures into the computer. 

- Prepare yourself emotionally to make a Christmas 2010 Outtakes photobook on Shutterfly, but yet still have no photo for cards.

- In a moment of stunned disbelief, realize that photo #53 doesn't look half-bad if you turn it black-and-white.  Yes, your son is giving a "half-Nelson" and your daughter is making a goofy face.  And you can still see the remains of your son's black eye.  But in the scheme of things, it's actually kinda cute.

- Decide that accurately representing the chaos of family (and turning it into nostalgic black-and-white) might be the best way to go.

- Upload photo and make 100 Christmas cards to mail out. 

- Marvel that you can make 100 cards for only $15 at Sam's Club.

- Feel relieved that the whole damn thing is over for another year.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Oh yeah, Happy Anniversary...

We are wretched about remembering our anniversary. Both of us.  I was sitting with a group of women just yesterday, and mentioned that we always forget our anniversary.  And yet...STILL did not remember that today was the day until 10:30 tonight, and Steve had fallen asleep.  I woke him up to wish him a happy anniversary.

Here's why this is good news:  This entire day, completely oblivious to the fact that it was a Special Day, was still a special day.  The kids and I did Meals on Wheels this morning, since I didn't teach.  And we had an absolutely marvelous time doing it.  Steve got off at noon, and I asked if I could maybe lie down for 15 minutes while he doled out lunch.  Three hours later, I woke up. 

If I was going to ask for an anniversary present, this would have been it. 

We all went to the holiday lights at the boardwalk, and Simone was on my lap.  Andrew sitting next to me.  They give you a Christmas music CD that plays while you drive (2 miles an hour!) down the boardwalk.  Listening to the music, hearing their squeals of joy, and being there with Steve felt like the most perfect possible night that life could give me. 

I was acutely aware of how far we'd come (see next post), and what a beautiful thing we'd created together in making these children shrieking pure joy over the lights.  I really, really, really loved my family and the man who was helping me raise them.  And then realizing hours later that this was the day we were married just made it even more "right."

Happy anniversary, babe.

The Story of Us (part 1)

A few months ago, I realized that I was writing down all these things about parenthood and my kids, but not really documenting some of the bigger picture things about my story with Steve. 

I have the journals of when we were dating.  Four years of absolutely hilarious commentary on our path.  We can laugh until we can't breathe over what I wrote...how silly we were, trying to figure it all out.  But I wanted more of Our Story.  

This is an horrendously incomplete installment #1 of our story, but one that seems appropriate on our anniversary.  Because when I conjure up how I felt during this time of our early period, I realize how truly and deeply grateful I am that we made it through all that.  The complicated variables of being together...but having our relationship survive all that made all This even better.

So here's what I wrote:

When Steve and I met, we were young. His 18 to my 19. I used to think I would wish that part of us away. Our youth. It made us stupid and bumbling in so many ways. Or that I'd had a starter relationship through my early 20s, and then met Steve when I was older and polished and had my shit together.

But then it wouldn’t be our story. And somewhere along the way, I fell in love with the story that was, not the one that sounded crisper and cleaner and less complicated.

Like the night we tried to talk about Prague. We met at the beginning of my sophomore year of college, and his freshman year. I was moving to Prague the next year, and we both knew it. We started dating for superficial reasons. We liked how the other one looked...and for how much we laughed when we were together. And because when he spoke, he said ideas and thoughts that I'd never heard someone say before. I was intrigued, but not in love.

While being handsome and funny and smart are nice, they are replaceable. This could be a fling, because I would go to Europe and meet funny and handsome and smart European men. I'd seen enough movies to assume the continent was crawling with them.

We never talked about Prague in any meaningful way. More accurately, only once. I told him I was going next school year. He nodded. And then we didn't speak of it again the rest of that school year. Until one night, in his room, right before school ended that year. He said, "So are we going to talk about Prague?"

And if I clear my mind long enough, even 14 years later, I can still feel that sucker-punch of emotion. That we were actually talking about it....someone broke the seal of that topic. I waited for him to say more, he waited for me. And then we sat up most of the night....in the dark...saying nothing. Me on the side of the bed, sitting cold and panicked.

I wasn't ready for this to end. But I wasn't ready to make it last through Prague. Since I wasn't asking us to stay together but I wasn't ready to break up, I had nothing to say. The room was haunted with our youthful terror and inability to make this conversation work.

A complete disaster, really. So much of our early relationship was. So much affection and common ground, but zero knowledge of what we were doing. How to navigate a relationship. Especially one we’d mutually decided would NOT extend into Prague-period.

I walked home that next morning, my head buzzing with failure. Literally buzzing. It was perhaps insomnia causing the buzzing, but I attributed it to our dysfunction. And wondered why I was in a relationship so screwed up that my brain would audibly buzz.

We broke up. Not a real break-up with shouting and grocery bags of returned sweatshirts, just this unspoken understanding that neither of us was continuing this Thing that we'd created.

Our last interaction before Prague was standing on the front porch of my sorority house, the night before leaving home for the summer. He put his hand on my shoulder and said: "It's been really nice knowing you." And he walked away and went home.

When Steve talks of it now, he shakes his head in disgust at Young Steve. "I was so immature. I had no idea what I was doing. I had this idea like I'd have this weighty, eloquent thing about how much it meant to know you. And I just came out sounding like an ass."

I arrived to Prague the next fall, and moved into a tiny apartment dorm surrounded by other Americans enrolled in Charles University. I would size up the guys, wondering with whom I'd stay up until dawn, talking about whatever stream-of-consciousness comes to mind after midnight. I felt hopeful and optimistic about this next stage.

If Steve was that great, how much greater might the next guy be?

There was James, the guy from Georgetown, who looked like a photographic negative of Steve with longer hair. Blonde and blue eyed and Nordic...instead of Steve's Slavic dark. But I didn't really like talking to him the way I did with Steve. And then I would hear him made fun of people behind their backs.

There was the Aussie in the bar with the green shirt and ripped jeans. We sat at the café table, Aussie and his friend and me, until finally his friend went away to talk with the woman wearing the red beret. And we kept talking. And talking. Until I was pretty sure it was time to kiss him, so I excused myself to go to the bathroom and never came back. I walked past the tram stop and all the way home, five miles, disgusted with my inability to not care about Steve.

I was pretty certain I wasn't supposed to not be kissing Aussies in ripped jeans.

Remembering Steve felt like an empty coffee cup from Starbucks when I can't find a trash can in the park. It had been a delicious drink, yes, and I loved every moment of my white chocolate mocha. But I was ready to move on and clean things up a bit. Or just enjoy the liberation of a empty hand and no coffee cup.

Then: The collect call I made from a Czech pay phone, standing in the rain as taxis blared horns, in tears as I told my mom that he'd emailed. And that he missed me. And I didn't want him missing me, and I didn't want me missing him. This too was a disaster.

And my mom said: "Maybe it's not a disaster. Maybe this will be what you need to be together."

There were three years between that moment and when we married. So that pretty much gives away the ending of the story. But I don’t want to forget this part of the story. If I forget it, maybe I won't appreciate everything that came after it.








Monday, November 22, 2010

This week, I am thankful...

(1) For Trader Joe's, who takes such good care of my family's food needs...even when I don't.

(2) That you can go to Melting Pot and just get the chocolate fondue course.

(3) Amazon.com's 2-day free shipping with Prime.

(4) That after 3 children and 14 years, I still find my husband to be the funniest, kindest, most insightful, handsomest man I know.

(5) For my Canon Rebel's auto-focus setting, which takes amazing pictures even when I have no clue what I'm doing.

(6) That the Dean approved my taking off summer session, but still getting the official Visiting Professor position.  I had moments of angst about having to choose which path to take, but ended up getting to take both.  Deeply grateful.

(7)  For truly incredible woman-friends...with or without cheesecake and sushi MNOs...and how they re-fuel my spirit and energy every time I see them.

(8) For Google, without which I'm not sure how I'd survive my insatiable need for information AND immediate gratification tendencies.

(9) That my mom's death was the way everyone should leave the Earth, and thinking about how it happened fills me with more joy than grief.  Even as I miss her deeply, I never have regrets about how I lost her.

(10) For three active, curious, interested, active, soulful, active, and colorful little children.  Oh, and did I mention active?  Parenting them is the most miraculous thing I have ever done.  Tiring too, but definitely miraculous.

(11) That we live across the street from the ocean...and across the other street from the grocery store. 

(12) For marble countertops, which I swore I didn't care about having...and now that I have them, I realize they are pretty darn awesome. 

(13) That the people below us moved out of the Winter Rental, so we can jump again. Okay, so Andrew can jump again.  The rest of us don't really have an ongoing need to jump off the couch.  Praying that the condo stays empty the rest of our Winter lease.  :)

(14) That Cancun is less than a month away, and I'll have FIVE child-less days with my husband.  I'm not even sure how to fathom that reality, but I'm pretty sure it will be fabulous.

(15) For the people who put up Christmas lights early, and stores already decorated with trees.  In my book, Christmas can't last too long.

(16) That my children hit the jackpot with grandparents.  And, that my children seem to know that. 

(17) That the YMCA offers free childcare when Steve works out.  There's nothing better than cleaning my kitchen in an empty house, and knowing it will *stay* clean for at least an hour.

(18) For wireless laptops.  I'm sure iPhones are even better, but no, I don't have one yet.

(19) That after 10 years of teaching, it keeps getting better and better.  I never set out to be a professor on purpose... but now that I am, I know I'll do this until I die.  Or until all 3 colleges fire me...whichever comes first.

(20)  Castile soap.  It cleans my face, laundry, dishes, hands, and floors better than anything else I've found. It's the best shaving cream too. And... having only one bottle to buy makes my minimalist heart sing.

What are you thankful for?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

"That Emotion"

There's a particular unlabeled emotion I feel sometimes in motherhood.  It's this mix of excitement-fear-awe-bewilderment-joy and more, all mixed into one.  I never quite know when it's going to come up, but I always know it when I feel it.  Like this tornado of emotion just swept over me, and I'm left speechless. 
They aren't always the Big Moments.  Or at least, not the big ones I'd expect.  But they are moments when I feel like I'm seeing something raw and miraculous and important about my children. 

At the beginning of Jack's kung fu class, they have them sit quietly with legs crossed for five minutes.  Eyes closed, hands on their knees, back straight.  There are about 15-20 kids in the room, and within the first minute, nearly all of them had eyes opened.  Scooting across the floor.  Fidgeting.  Talking. 

I don't judge, trust me.  I'd be doing that too, and I'm multiple times older than they are.  And I certainly didn't expect it from Jack.

I kept watching Jack, waiting for the fidgets to start.  They never came.  Not once.  He sat, for a full five minutes ("dog minutes" in child perspective) with back perfectly straight.  Legs folded. Eyes closed.  Didn't move a bit. 

The longer I watched, the more That Emotion built up in me.  How is it possible that he's doing that?  What created that in him?  He didn't get it from me! I spent nearly every T-ball game as a child, picking dandelions in the outfield and staring through the spaces in my mitt.

It wasn't just that he was sitting still; it was the sense I got from him.  That he was in his own little place...that one I see in him, and know it's bigger than anything I could have asked out of him.  I don't really know how to put it into words.

The kid can definitely get hyper and non-zen at times.  In fact, he's been driving me crazy with his activity the last few days.  The running, the shouting.  But something in him is capable of scaling back in ways that I don't completely comprehend.  For whatever reason, there was something real and raw in Jack in that moment for me.

Watching Jack form is like watching Bob Ross painting on PBS.  When I watch Bob Ross, I'm so amazed by every new step he puts into his painting.  It always looks like a finished product, and fills me with awe.  Then he'll go and add some evergreen trees, and I'm astonished that it became so much better.  The final product was always beyond anything I could have dreamt up myself.

That is how I feel about this sweet, kind, soulful little boy who was created in my womb - but nothing I could have dreamt of creating.  This child who fell asleep while counting backwards in French, under his breath.  I haven't the faintest idea why counting forwards wasn't enough for him.  Who fell in love with Russian when he was barely four. Who makes sketches filled with math equations, even though his parents don't believe in teaching much math right now.  Who fills notebooks with writings and brings me pictures of Star Wars battles as though they were the most incredible gift for me.  And quite honestly, it feels like they are. 

It feels like he's plotted this course on who he's supposed to become, and anything I'd do to step in and take over would just mess it all up.  He's a boy on a mission in life, I think.  I keep thinking I'm not sure how to parent a child with such an intense curiosity and need to explore life...but most times, it seems like he might have that under control on his own.


What? No laundry-folding elves?

I find it interesting how, when I emotionally quit from a task, I can wander back to the task on a new term.  Case in point: I quit as a homemaker this week.  No more cooking from scratch.  Or more accurately: No more NOT cooking from scratch, but *planning* to cook from scratch...which means, ultimately, that there's no food around.

Suddenly, I'm finding the freedom to see the joy in moderation.  Instead of heating up leftover fried rice for dinner (as planned), I found myself putting together a sweet potato and bean chili to go over brown rice tonight.  The sweet potatoes were pre-cut, the black beans were organic canned, and the brown rice is pre-cooked/frozen from Trader Joe's.  So I still won't win any Chef of the Year awards.  But I was finding joy in putting together food again.

The twinkle of cooking joy hasn't been completely obliterated.  It was just out of balance.

How many times will I have to re-learn that joy only comes from balance?  Cooking everything from scratch wasn't "me" and neither was getting all my food from drive-thrus or after 10pm.  I'm somewhere in between...I just have to figure out the right proportions.

I am also actively making peace with the fact that elves will not fold my laundry.  It's not going to  happen.  Steve does help, but he doesn't need another task on his plate either.  The good man does plenty already.  I need to just stop waiting until Laundry Folding sounds super exciting, and just DO IT. 

Note to self: It will never, ever, ever sound exciting.  But yet, it must be done.

And really...it's shocking how little time it really takes.  We have a minimalist wardrobe anyway.  The kids have about a week of clothes for each season.  I do laundry every day.  There's no reason not to spend 5 minutes just putting them away, instead of all of us dressing out of the laundry basket each morning.

Also learned: Sometimes the best thing to do is NOT to do something. We were supposed to go camping for 2 nights this weekend, and *very* last minute we decided not to go.  I looked around my family and realized the last thing we needed was more fun.  :)  Just kidding.  Okay, maybe not entirely.  Activity and fun and memories and such haven't been in short supply...peaceful calm in my PJs all day at home?  That's more like it.  There will be plenty of weekends to camp, but this wasn't the right one.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Man cannot live on donuts alone

Day 1 and 2 of overhauling my food-management has been a huge success.  I ate green things, chugged water, and had a real breakfast (not just coffee).

Day 1, I'm pretty sure I cheated.  I was so proud of myself for packing a banana on my way out the door for the day.  Baby steps.  Forgot about lunch.  Then I met with the Dean up at school, and the Director walked by and offered us box lunches from Jason's Deli.  Fruit cup and veggie wrap.  Fabulous.  Saved by the box lunch.  Note to self to pack my own lunch for Day 2.

Day 2, I had my banana AND a real lunch.  No Starbucks run on the way home from Co-op today.  Normally, I drive the loooong way home to go past the drive-thru Starbucks, and get my coffee and whatever panini flavor they have left...normally stuffing the panini in my face before they even get the coffee out to me.  Tendencies towards low blood sugar and not packing lunches for Days Out are not a good combination.  :)

It's amazing how quickly the body can respond to getting Real Food back into the body, instead of donuts, caffeine, and leftover pizza.  Usually on Friday nights I've been drained, energy-wise.  Our weekdays are ridiculously packed.  We're still attempting a family movie night (Last Airbender plays while I type), but I'm not feeling fried or overly irritable. 

Dinner last night was TJ's french fries (just potatoes and oil) and pomegranate seeds.  Tonight is leftover pasta with their pre-cooked balsamic vinegar chicken chopped up on top.  Also, the pumpkin bread mix from Trader Joe's.  Goodness, that was yummy..and EASY. 

Could I chop and season things myself?  Yes.  Did I?  No. So having a bunch of chicken that needs cooked/seasoned would just rot in our freezer.  Okay, not rot.  But not be eaten very quickly.

This is definitely my new plan.

Getting used to easy-but-healthy foods is going to be a quick transition, I can see.  Not quite sure why I didn't strategize like this a month ago. 

Steve says we were in "food denial."  :)  I think he might be right.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Operation Out-of-Survival-Grocery-Mode

My house is a mess and we've been eating ready-made food for the last month.  Sometimes organic grass-fed beef hot dogs...other times Tony's pizza and donuts I've run across the street to buy after the kids are in bed (or send Steve).  This week has been much calmer than my last month, but I can see the last month left some souvenirs in my life. 

Like crappy eating habits.

I think the only reason I didn't gain weight the last month was because I was barely eating.  Also not good.  Starving all day and then slamming an entire frozen pizza down your throat isn't really a good weight-loss plan. 

I want to feel strong and healthy and full. 

I'm completely addicted to crap food at this point, so I'll have to wean back into things.  My goals for this week:

- Drink 64 oz of water, not just coffee all day.  One of these days, life is going to hand me a kidney stone to repay me for my 32 years of terrible drinking habits.  And no, I don't mean alcohol. ;)  If I'm drinking it, it's probably coffee or lemonade.  I need to embrace pure water.

- A salad every day. I don't care if it's loaded with sun-dried tomatoes, dressing, whatever it takes to get it down for the first week.  I must eat something green every day. 

- Umm...no donuts.  Really.

- Eat something solid for breakfast.  A banana, apple, something.  Drinking coffee in the car on the way to teaching doesn't qualify for a meal.

I went to Trader Joe's today and loaded the cart with over $300 of food that was healthy.  Ready-to-go pomegranate seeds, organic veggie stock, cranberry sauce in a jar.  My Thanksgiving is coming in a package this year.  I just need to cook the turkey.  And we'll see if I feel like doing even that. :)

 I think sometimes my Puritan economics mindset at the grocery store backfires...because I buy all these need-to-cook-from-scratch materials.  But that's not how my life operates right now.  I teach oodles of online classes (okay, 10...but it feels like oodles), a few co-op ones, part-time college professor two days a week.  I need to use some of those funds to pay someone to chop my sweet potatoes for me. :) 

My role in life right now isn't a homemaker...and quite honestly, I'm not sure that was a good fit for me anyway.  Maybe it will be again.  But cleaning the house isn't fun for me.  Cooking 3 meals a day from scratch aren't fun for me either.  I love to cook, but for events...not for actual daily sustenance.  Teaching economics and English?  Rocks my world.  Doing things out and about with my kids?  Absolutely.  Somehow, I need to peel off some of the extra layers of my life, and get back to the core of who *I* am. 

Maybe if I stop thinking I'll make scratch-muffins for breakfast, and just buy the damn pre-made Trader Joe's muffins, things would run more smoothly.

Tomorrow:  Operation Laundry.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Apples and hurricanes

Life has been slamming me with to-dos the last few weeks, but suddenly, there's an eerie calm.  Very eerie.  This week feels like an eye in a hurricane, and I'm getting a chance to take a few deep breaths.  And spend some calm quiet, chatting with Jack after every one else fell asleep (the little ones, planned...Steve fell asleep putting Simone down to bed). :)

It's amazing to have long stretches of one-on-one time with him, and it's hard to believe I had it for 2.5 years with him.  But I think it's the change from the norm that makes it so special.  When it was just him, he was bored and wishing he had someone.  It felt so nice hearing his sweet little questions and ideas, without the background noise of chaos.  Or any "just a second, sweetie, I need to ____".  It was just him and me. 

We need to do that more often.  Even if it does mean he's up until 10.

He gave me a few pipe cleaners and then had me do an Odyssey of the Mind activity with him, where we each had 3 minutes to make something.  In secret. 

After 3 minutes, this is what we've both made:


Apparently, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

My little cowboy

There's a particular exhaustion I feel after one of my children's birthday parties. Such a mix of joy and fatigue. The weeks of planning, the morning of chaos, the cake-baking and food preparation, the guest list shuffles and all the other myriad details that go into planning it.  But then, watching it unfold - balloons and laughing children and flying wrapping paper - just feels like perfection.  No matter what could go wrong, it's perfect because it's about making the day special for Andrew.

And then the best part? Tucking in the little birthday boy and having him say: "This was the BEST day ever." 

My body is tired, but I am so at peace right now.  I feel the love for my child when I plan a day filled with the things they love most.  Inviting their little friends.  Having them help create a cake. 

Birthdays mean so much to me because they celebrate the coming of my child into the world.  There are moments when I look over at Andrew...his nearing-4-year-old self...and am stunned to remember that very first second that I pulled him out of the water and into my arms.  Looking down at his tiniest of face, as he scrunched up his face from the light. And to think that the same child is now the sword-wielding, hug-giving, articulate and inquisitive little boy he is now. 

His birthday isn't for another month (we're loose with celebration dates), so I'll save my schmoopiness over him for the Birthday Letter.   

Here's the birthday boy with his sweet little buddy, Samuel (on the left). 

And the Birthday Siblings:

Friday, November 12, 2010

That Econ Freak

Today, my lesson for my co-op economics class was about the Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility.  I freakin' love this concept.  For two reasons.  One, it's completely awesome to have this concept as a rule.  Eating one donut is fabulous...eating a dozen makes me ill.  One peanut butter cup?  Fabulous.  A whole bag of them?  Not so much. 

That this can be charted is what keeps me in love with economics.

But also, I love how it illustrates that so many Super Cool concepts are hidden behind complicated economic terms.  I think it unnecessarily scares people away from the subject.

Today I was also thinking about it in terms of our family quest for minimalism.  Before our move last spring, we knew our old house was too big.  We had too much stuff.  We had diminished marginal utility of stuff and space.

But then we moved into our Tuna Can temporary place, and that was too small. Our children didn't really like sleeping on the floor every night.  And we didn't have enough bowls. 

We have now found our point of maximum marginal utility, in terms of space.  This place is the perfect size. 

I love having two bathrooms.  Three was too many.  Things I needed were always in the wrong bathroom.  Too many toilets to clean.  Unnecessary surplus of bathrooms, if you ask me.

But one bathroom wasn't enough, either.  Two is the perfect amount.

I'm starting to feel like That Econ Freak, because I'm becoming more and more alarmed at why we don't teach these concepts.  They're completely awesome.  My students were absolutely connected to the concept of Too Much leading to decreased satisfaction.  Thanksgiving dinner, Halloween candy, eating Hot Pockets. :)

Contemplating this in terms of wealth helps clarify my previous confusion as to why coming to America didn't solve the Sudanese refugees' situation.  It just replaced the old issues with new ones...because they came from "not enough" into "too much."  Finding that balance between lacking basic needs and having an overstimulation of Stuff seems to be where we will find our greatest peace.

Great article on this same topic:

http://financialphilosopher.typepad.com/thefinancialphilosopher/2008/08/the-diminishing-marginal-utility-of-wealth.html

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Biology 101 with my 2yo

Simone, age 2y3m: "I think I might have accidentally broke my penis."

Me: "What?"

Simone: "I don't have one anymore.  Where it go?"

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Carpe Diem?

I am beyond ready for bed, so I'm not at all sure why I'm blogging.  But my attitude is needing some re-focusing, and I tend to re-find myself in writing.

Today, we were gone from home from 8AM to 8PM.  Too long.  I have a love/hate relationship with my schedule.  I love (love, love, love) every single thing on it.  But there's too much on it.  And I'm not quite sure what to do about it.

It was unusually full today, that's true.  But so is tomorrow.  And the next day, for that matter.

Spending the day at co-op is one of the highlights of my week.  I chat with brilliant, wonderful, interesting moms.  Watching our children spend their lunch hour having a light saber battle in the lawn.  It was so beautiful to see so many kids (and so many ages) interacting, playing, screaming with joy...and light sabering.  Andrew and his little friends gathered around the bag of chips and the Mickey Mouse game...their tiny little heads chatting and scheming together.  Jack bounding out of French class, chemistry, Three Musketeers, Dinosaurs...eyes bright and excited about his day.  He loves it so much.

But I am tired, too.  Today, I wanted to curl up on the couch with a book or just playing leisurely board games with the kids.  Instead, I had to pack an entire day of food and supplies and sit in traffic for 45 minutes of back-up on the highway...drop off Simone...unload everyone and then spend my day there.

Worth it?  Yes. Complicated?  Yes.

Our drive home lasted 5.5 hours...and included a Lost Boys' donation pick-up (where Suzanne kindly gave my children bananas and let Simone use the toilet), post office, picking up Jack's diagnostic lab, Starbucks, grocery store, Kung Fu, Jay's calculus books, and then dropping off 53 Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes for MOPS. 

Too much!

Home to laundry, dishes, and packing up to do it all again tomorrow.  Teaching instead of co-op, but the same idea. 

Balance.  I need to find it.  I know it's in there.  I just need to scale back.  Or wait until January.  Things will calm down then.  Or at least, I keep telling myself...

Monday, November 8, 2010

Kung Fu Andrew

Tomorrow could be the turning point in Andrew's life...or a big fat nothing.  But he starts kung fu classes tomorrow, after asking to go to "karate kid classes" for the last year.  Yes, year.  Since he was 2, he has been begging for kung fu classes. 

And parenthood has taught me: When a child tells you something about himself...believe him.

This child is going to require a large arsenal of physical skills in his tool belt, I can see it.  If we don't give him arenas for his Big Energy, it could turn ugly. 

I've been counting down the days until he can take fencing lessons at 7, but perhaps this kung fu place will fulfill that need too.  They have weapons training there.  As he will likely tell you if you ask him anything about kung fu. :)

We interviewed with Master Lee today.  I felt like I was talking to Mr. Miyagi in person.  Wise, calm, unassuming.  And yet, he could likely reach across the desk and kill me with his pinky.

An interesting dynamic.

He said he normally doesn't take 3 or 4 year olds, but he would try out Andrew and see how it goes tomorrow.  He was surprised by Andrew's focus and attention during the meeting. Andrew...who normally runs in place if asked to stand still...sat quietly and patiently in the chair for a half hour while we discussed his kung fu classes.  He spoke rarely, and only to tell Master Lee: "I'm going to do kung fu and I'm going to listen really well." 

He was so enthralled by the prospect that this day was finally here.  I see this being a long and joy-filled relationship between kung fu and Andrew.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Playing his own game (in Russian)

Two events of today are creating absolute confusion about what a parent really means to a child.  How much do we really play a role in who our child becomes?

Normally, I tell myself that I'm a major variable in who they become.  It's why I want to be a better person.  It's why I try to teach kindness and giving, and do my best to instill manners and respect. 

But then William, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, came to speak to my college class today.  And as I listened to him talking, I thought:  HE is the type of person I want my children to become.  Valuing education, deep spirituality, generous and kind, believes that you control your own life path by your choices and actions.  But his father was killed in the attacks when he was 7, and his mother was lost to him until he was grown. 

So how did those traits come into his spirit?  Is it that they were already formed when he was 7?  Was  he parented by the extremes of his circumstances? 

And then, I talked to Tatyana.  She is a native Russian speaker, who moved here when she was 12.  She has a son Jack's age.  She talked to him a bit in Russian, and then said to me:  "It is very difficult to not have an accent in Russian.  But he has NO accent.  He's definitely going to be bilingual." 

Before parenting Jack, I wouldn't have cared in the least if my child could speak Russian without an accent.  It wasn't even on my radar.  It wasn't on my short-list of goals for my children...or even my very-very-very long list.  I just didn't care.

But hearing that, I felt this burst of emotion - almost a punch in the stomach.  So many things.  For one, absolute joy for him.  This is happening!  This language he discovered and fell in love with is actually happening in his life. 

Every month when we look at the budget, we wonder about the sanity of paying for Russian lessons.  But he keeps asking and loving it, so we just make space and keep writing the checks. Hearing what she said, I'm not sure if I will feel that apprehension again. 

And a sense of wonder.  How did this happen?  I mean, really...HOW did this happen?  Why this language? Why this child?  I don't believe in past lives...more of an Emersonian spiritual path.  But what path is language-learning sending Jack down?

Surprisingly to me, there was also a strange sense of loss.  He is opening up this side of himself that I will never enter with him.  I will never know how well he speaks it; someone else will have to tell me.  While that might have concerned me before meeting Jack (how can I nurture something I don't understand?), I'm seeing that perhaps that's the way parenting works best.  He gets to be his own person, completely, because I can't possibly get involved in it. 

Pay for Russian lessons, send him to immersion camp, take him to Russia?  I can do those things to support him, but he has to move through that passion on his own.

I'm not a sculptor of my children, like I might have expected.  I can't create their wirings, talents, interests.  I'm like a golf caddy, walking behind where they're supposed to go. Providing the resources and encouragement and support...but ultimately, they have to play their own game.