Sub Plans, Swedish Design, and S#!*

Anyone who has ever been a teacher knows that taking a day off is almost not worth it.  Preparing the lessons and materials to ensure for an actual day of education in your absence – instead of slapping a DVD in the player – is often more work than if you were teaching the class yourself.

Yet again, another lesson that transfers to motherhood.

Craving adult time and a long-overdue visit to IKEA, I jumped on the opportunity for both when a friend told me she had the day off yesterday.  The plan was to head to her house directly after the last school-bound child was on the bus.  Barring the wailing and gnashing of teeth from the non-school-bound one because I wouldn’t let her out of her car seat at the bus stop, we were good to go.  She even stayed in her stroller through the entire showroom, only asking to play once we reached the toy section.  The carrot of mac and cheese dangling in front of her face delayed that meltdown.

Things got slightly hairy when I took her into the family bathroom.  While it was a wide-open space with a changing station and comfy chair for nursing, there was a separate stall with the toilet.  So I didn’t lock the outer door.  First mistake.  Another mom did come in to change her baby so I herded my toddler into the stall with me.  Apparently, the last inch or two she’s gained recently are the magic amount to bring her just within reach of most anything I don’t want her to touch.  My cheeks barely hit the seat before she’d unlocked the door.  She headed straight to our stroller which was right outside the stall so I finished my business while also trying to twist my upper half in such a way to watch for the two little snow boots she’d insisted on wearing this sunny day.  I found her just about to slip out the outer door when I’d pulled up my pants and exited the stall.  I mumbled to the other mom, looking over her shoulder from her cooing infant on the changing table, how awesome it was that she can reach doorknobs now.  ‘Love when they reach that age,’ she said; she’d sent her toddler out with auntie.

After lunch, my friend wrangled my toddler into a shopping cart as only a loving friend who is not said child’s mother can.  Feeling like I’d sicced my child onto her, I offered her the empty stroller to push.  I’m glad she declined because the ensuing conversations between the two were gold: toddler logic and made-up language with a sense of humor.  Plus, my toddler was much more enamored by a different face in front of her, keeping her in the carriage.  We made it through the marketplace without incident, even through an email-accessing exchange at the register (apparently, you do need the physical card for your IKEA family account).

It was only when we went back into the bathroom that things got hairy again.  This family bathroom had no stall and a better lock so I thought we were good.  Next mistake.  Right to the door, her little fingers expertly twisted the dead-bolt style lock – and swung the door wide to the lobby – as I sat on the toilet.  Mid-business, I launched from the toilet in a modified crouch-walk, trying to scoop her up with one arm and slam the door shut as quickly as possible.  My friend lifted her eyes from her phone in surprise.  Child escapism, public nudity – I was trying to address both at once.  Unsuccessfully.  I ended up slamming the little fingers of one of her hands in the door.  She buried her sobs in my shoulder while I finished some one-handed toileting, then ran her fingers under the cold, cold water of the sink.

Apart from almost driving out of the garage with the trunk open, we headed home without any other disasters.  Then my phone chirped.  My older two, who were walking home from the bus stop and then retrieving their sister off the elementary bus a little later, were holed up in a neighbor’s house because a freaky man on a bike had gone past them on the street.  They video-chatted me once they ventured home, refusing to go out again for their younger sister.  I finally convinced them to get her – stating safety in numbers, other parents at bus stop – but arrived home to angry children who felt I hadn’t validated their concerns.

They came at me as soon as I unlocked the door.  We said a few words.  I liberated their baby sister from the car.  We said a few more.  I grabbed the water bottles and travel mugs from the car.  I apologized and reassured them.  I made two more trips with my actual purchases.  I barely had my coat off when my husband, who had arrived home in the midst of all this, called from the upstairs bathroom, “Why is there feces in the sink?”

After an entire evolution that included drain disassembly, toothbrushes, and disinfecting products, I was finally able to show off my IKEA haul, which seemed incredibly underwhelming at this point.  This was an awful lot of work for some Swedish design therapy.  Maybe my expectations were too high for a marathon shopping trip with a toddler.  More likely, I waited far too long for a ‘day off’ and got a little more frantic with each little incident.

My kids were safe, only two of my toddler’s fingers were slightly bruised, my friend assured me my little escapee had blocked the lobby’s view of me from the waist down (she was the perfect height for that), and she and I had a lot of laughs.  At the end of day, all was good.  Still, I wonder whether it would’ve been a whole lot easier if I invited her over for coffee and we slapped a DVD in the player.

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At least I’m not the poor soul who left this on the ground of the IKEA garage.  I can’t imagine the familial discord this caused when they got home and got to assembling. (Jennifer Butler Basile)

Being Zoe

Last night as I sat on the glider with my pajama-clad toddler nestled in beside me waiting for her story, I paused a moment. Her anticipation was palpable, her cozy little body so cute. And yet, I spoke to my husband, resting on our bed in a brief respite before the next round of bedtime exhortations for our older three.

“You know, I don’t get anything done around the house when I’m home with her, but it’s not like I spend any quality time with her either. I have all these half-finished things I’m working on and getting frustrated about – instead of just giving up and giving her my full attention.”

He knew it was just my latest in a line of vents/complaints/realizations as I try to come to terms with my reality. It has been an ongoing conversation, one that couldn’t be solved at that moment anyway. There were stories to read, older cats to herd. There’s also a slice of something that just can’t be changed the way life is right now.

This morning, in the small window between two kids leaving and another rousing, I decided to spend a few minutes doing some spiritual reading. Time for me, time to center – before plunging headfirst into the day – or trolling Facebook, which very rarely yields spiritual dividends. I fumbled around, trying to find the page I’d left off on since the toddler, who now positioned her head directly in my line of sight, had been so kind to reposition the bookmark for me on a previous occasion.

I’m pretty sure I reread pages already hard fought on another day, but in them, the author talked about zoe and bios. Eternal life vs earthly life. Do we strive for something bigger than ourselves? Or are we bogged down by the day-to-day so that we can’t see beyond the ends of our own noses?

My first year of teaching, I taught a short story called “Be-ers and Do-ers” by Budge Wilson to my eighth graders. They were more enthralled by the close resemblance of the first word of the title to an adult beverage than the overarching theme, but even then, I think I knew that the play between the two ends of this spectrum was important. Before life got crazy hectic and happiness was hard-won.

Am I mistaking productivity for a successful day? Week? Motherhood? Life?

Am I looking to to-do lists as structure for the free-form days of stay-at-home motherhood?

Am I allowing quantitative data to measure my worth and override the qualitative moments of life? Because it’s easier to complete measurable tasks than surrender oneself to something or someone outside of themselves?

Hours later, after I’d given up reading and hustled number three out the door, I wrestled the toddler onto the changing table. She went full-alligator until I burst into tears. “Why, God, why?” I called out, not unaware of how pitiful my approximation of Jesus’ agony on the cross was. As fiercely as she’d fought, she suddenly was peaceful.

That was why.

Bios – doing – is that much harder when I pay no mind to zoe – being. Being at peace, in God’s light, resting in the assurance that He knows more and can handle more than I can.

“The boredom or tedium of life flows from [a] lack of depth. We tend to focus merely on the horizontal, the immediate reality of life, without ever hearing or obeying the words of our Lord: ‘Duc in altum! Set out into the deep!’ (Lk 5:4)”

Stepping on the Serpent: The Journey of Trust with Mary by Fr. Thaddaeus Lancton, MIC

 

Profound Simplicity

Coming home to porch lights beaming like a beacon,
a sign that someone inside loves me,
anticipates my return.

Blossoming across the porch,
filling that space,
highlighting the grain of empty adirondack chairs,
the shadow in the space between the slats.
Spilling over and through the tic tac toes of the windows,
imbuing the living room with a soft warm glow akin to Christmas candles.

The lines of the room the only thing standing out:
straight across the back of the sofa,
the vertical rungs of the rocking chair,
the vaulted grid over the glass of the wood stove

In this dim light,
this stark relief,
is the bones,
the foundation of what matters.

The lines of life in this place,
this home I fell in love with.

In the light of day, distraction drowns them out
But here, in the quiet of night, profound simplicity reigns.

Junk in the Trunk

There is a whole lot more junk in my trunk lately.

And, no, this isn’t that type of post.

I mean, literally.  A ton of junk in my trunk.

It all started one Friday almost two weeks ago.  In a scheduling feat only I would engineer, I had three days to prep for an outdoor overnight with one daughter’s Girl Scout troop and clean the house and menu-plan and shop for a dinner party for fourteen upon my sleep-deprived return.  So, of course, a health question that needed office-visit answering arose and the one opening my doctor had was smack dab in the middle of my harried day of reckoning.

Re-engineering the day to fit everything in, I hit the discount store first.  The two-year old squawked when I put her in the shopping cart, but soon entertained herself by holding the various items I plucked off the shelves.  I, of course, chose judiciously which ones she could hold without causing herself bodily harm or a ‘clean-up on aisle five’ effect.  The dish detergent did give me pause, but as long as she didn’t undo the cap on the plastic bottle . . . I’d watch her closely.  A few minutes later, she lost interest and hucked it over her shoulder into the larger part of the carriage anyway.  That was the end of that.

Until the citrusy aroma of Ajax niggled at the back of my nose as we drove a few towns over to my appointment.  I made a mental note to check the cap, thinking maybe it hadn’t survived the huck.  But when we pulled into the doctor’s parking lot, early, and having already checked one task off my list, I was too busy patting myself on the back and herding the two-year old inside to check for a citrus spill.  I was owning this harried day.

 

Turns out we were super early, since the doctor was running late.  We managed to make a bathroom visit, grind bright orange cracker crumbs into the carpet, crinkle every sticker in the good behavior basket, do a diaper change, and make some friends while we waited.  Luckily, the health issue seemed to be a non-issue so we headed back to the car.

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Good thing the extra 20% was free . . . 

Closed up for some time, the citrus smell was super concentrated in the car now.  Popping open the trunk, I found a soupy mess under the sea of plastic shopping bags.  Apparently my decision to buy the bottle with 20% more free was a moot point now.  Using an old towel left in the trunk, I sopped up the slimy mess, which would turn sudsy every time I thought I’d swiped the last of it. As I stood in the cavernous open mouth of my trunk, scrunching up slippery plastic bags and reorganizing their contents, cars zoomed by behind me, pulling the minutes of my early lead on the day with them.   And I still had to hit the grocery store for perishable items for the dinner.

 

Somehow, I made it to camp on time, but as we closed out dinner on the fire, our wood supply dwindled as well.  Camp wasn’t too far from home so my husband met me at the main entrance to the park and loaded firewood into the trunk, mixing the earthy smell of logs with artificial citrus.  The dirt and splinters didn’t bother me as much as they would have since the whole trunk needed a thorough cleaning already.

I felt like a real-life advertisement for removable trunk liners with raised lips to contain spills.  Soap suds, even on a low-pile rug, would have been a nightmare.  And neither my husband nor I would have loaded wood onto anything but the ruggedized surface.  Yet, neither of us pulled it out to wash it off after its workout that Friday.  The soap had dried, the splinters would still be waiting, and maybe we sensed there was more to come.

When another daughter’s Girl Scout troop painted pumpkins for Halloween, of course they hadn’t dried when it was time to load them into the trunk.  The other leader gave me a large plastic bag to lay out on the bottom; I lay the ripped off half of a legal-size file folder over it, the pumpkin resting on top.  I crawled out of the parking lot at a snail’s pace – and the pumpkin rolled over on the first turn.  Flipping on the four-way flashers and righting the pumpkin, I edged up the hill, over the main road and turned onto the side street across the way.  I made it but one more turn before it rolled again.  This time, I hedged my bets, hoping it would stay put in its corner until we arrived home.  My little Scout, meanwhile, was peering over the backseat the entire time, giving me a running commentary of its travels and the patches of pumpkin now showing through the paint.  When we finally extracted the pumpkin from the trunk in our driveway, sure enough, the trunk was more purple than the pumpkin.  She, of course, was more distraught about the pumpkin.  A blob of purple paint on the corner of the file folder, her makeshift palette, remained so I instructed her to go inside, get a paintbrush, and set to fixing her pumpkin on the porch.  I donned a headlamp, a handful of wet paper towel, and package of baby wipes and set to scrubbing down the inside of the trunk.

Turns out the spill of dish detergent at the outset of this trunk evolution was fortuitous when it came to scrubbing down purple paint.  That wet paper towel activated it like a dream.  And suds scrubbed out any dirt the wood chips had left behind.  The rubber-stamped letters of Subaru raised in purple relief against the black backdrop as the absurdity of this phase in my life came to bear.  Would I ever have imagined that I’d be standing in the pitch black of my driveway following the bobbing beam of a headlamp as I scrubbed poster paint out of the back of my car?  While my nine-year-old finished her squash masterpiece by porch light?  While my pajama-clad eleven-year-old peered out the window, drawn by the random shards of light sluiced across the dining room?  While my thirteen-year-old busied the two-year-old, who started this all, upstairs?  While my husband placed the packet of fundraising materials on the dining room table without realizing it was also covered in splatters of purple paint that got all over his hands and anything he touched within the next few minutes?

All because I thought I could fit it all in, in a short window of time; do it all at top speed and not make any mistakes.  Or because life with four children in a family of six people is always lived at breakneck speed with absurd missteps and stuff you just can’t make up.  If my eleven-year-old looked out the window in disbelief, I could just imagine what my neighbors thought if they saw the shifting beams of light through the trees.

The junk in the trunk wasn’t there long enough to become baggage, but old habits like over-scheduling and unrealistic expectations of what I can actually accomplish always travel with me.  Luckily, so do smart purchases like the ruggedized trunk liner and a sense of humor.  And the crazy few days leading up to the dinner party made me enjoy my glass of wine with friends even more.  And the bemused look on my eleven-year-old’s face as she took in her crazed cyclops mother makes my heart sing.  There are small moments of authenticity amidst the chaos – and never a dull moment.

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The offending pumpkin

Mind Over Water

Treading water only lasts so long

At some point,
the pull of the boat or dock or shore
becomes too much

The edge of exhaustion creeps up
The doubt of how much longer the legs and arms can cycle,

When will the muscles or lungs give out?

The hand must be able to reach out –

To grasp the solid surface
To heave the dead weight up and out of the abyss.

Unless you decide to float

To rest your head in line with the water,
Arch your back toward the sky
Let your hands and feet sway like seaweed

Rest and freedom come with this release
But also require relinquish of control:

The moment your ears slip below the surface,
Deadening the sound of the world above,
Open only to the gentle sloshing below

The origin of your breath so close to submersion
Your lungs expanding above and below the water
Your bottom threatening to pull it all under.

Possible panic in action and inaction
All at the thin line where the water meets the air

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iStock

Summer Rules

When one’s life is taken up with caring for others, there constantly seems to be a waiting period.  Once they finish school, things will relax.  Once we get through these end of the year activities, summer can begin.  And then you get through those things and life is neither relaxed nor does quintessential summer seem to have begun.

Our first day was glorious.  Bodies still primed to wake up fairly early, we – all but one sleepyhead – rose and readied for the beach.  There was also the excitement of sleepyhead’s birthday, complete with a special outing in the evening.

Then reality set in.

My idea of a relaxing morning is very different from theirs.  An unhurried cup of hot tea vs unfettered screen time to the tune of annoying sound bites run on repeat.

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thirtyhandmadedays.com

I reinstituted the regimen of last summer – to their chagrin.  The Summer Rules.  Their list of required tasks before electronic devices can be had.

The first day, they attacked the list with gusto, feeling accomplished as well as determined for the end goal.  That did not last.  By Day Three, it had become a fight.  With them doing the work-around of school computers to practice math and then access Pinterest or music.  Or doing the bare minimum or doubling up on chores.

It had become something else for me to do – policing them – instead of a way to occupy their bodies and minds other than electronically.  And once they earned their screen time, they seemed to devour it like addicts for the rest of the day, which to me, defeated the very purpose of keeping them away.  However, they’d probably be like that all day if not for the list.

Our rules need some tweaks, some personalization for our family.  ‘Helping others’ doesn’t speak to the actual chores they’re responsible for each day.  ‘Clean up one room’ is pretty vague, though they actually vacuumed their room one morning.  But having a list at all is a lot less vague than me walking around angry because all they do is stare at their screens.

Without structure, all life would be a waiting period – waiting for something to happen.  So our Summer Rules provide some structure to our days – even if they infuriate all of us to a certain degree.

Saving Grace

Well into the afternoon, I felt the warm sun on my face, the air on my arms, the pull of muscles in my legs.  For the first time all day.

It took all day to get up, get moving, get dressed, fed.  And I only did it because the bus would be arriving at the end of our street, depositing two of mine I’d sent out into the world.  The littlest had been my only saving grace all day, tucked under my arm on the couch, smiling up at me.

Holding her hand, toddling down the street in the sunshine, I wondered if perhaps God sent me children to save me.

From myself.  From getting lost in the bottomless pit.

They haven’t made it easy.  Sometimes annoying and painful.  But they got me out into the sunshine yesterday – even if it was late in the afternoon.

This is My Bag

Jennifer Butler Basile

This is the closest I’ve gotten to Kate Spade.

A purse that may or may not even be an original piece.

I don’t know her.

Yet, when my husband told me yesterday the breaking news about her death, my mood instantly plummeted. I stared at the black and white text and felt the sobs come.

Not because I know her. In a cliched way, I know her pain. In a frightened animalistic way, I see how quickly I could become her.

Facebook friends who know mental illness posted their sadness and support at the news. Some hinted at public posts with ugly comments and sage advice given too late. But I don’t read comments – of the general population anyway – for my own mental health.

And then one of those comments wormed its way into a personal post I saw.

It was easy for me to lament that stigma was still alive and well, that we’ve so much farther to go, and how sad it is that people still think that way – when I hadn’t read the comments. And then I saw how alive and well stigma is, how much farther we’ve to go, and how scary it is how some people think.

To think that suicide is a choice. To think that those who have reached the point of contemplating suicide are doing so as part of a rational decision-making process. That they eschew their many blessings in life purposefully.

Suicide isn’t supposed to make sense. That’s the fucking point. The mind, the psyche is not working properly. Depression is replacing the authentic voice of self with lies.

You would think the fact that it strikes down even people with blessing piled upon blessing would make people realize that there is something more to suicide than horrible circumstance and selfish choice.

May God save us all.

Holiday Hangover

Is it Tuesday already?

It came as quite the shock this morning when I had to wake up and rouse myself and kids to face another school day.  The holiday weekend seemed much longer than three days, as if we’d all already slipped into summer mode.

The long weekend was some weird sort of stasis.  It was neither too long nor too short; not stupendous nor horrible.  It was good.  In the midst of PMS and prepping for my two-year-old’s birthday party, I managed to not lose my mind and then relax a bit and enjoy the rest of my weekend.

Yet, even though I cleared out a wood pile that had been lingering in the yard and set up my compost area; even though I cleared a garden bed and planted two long-waiting potted plants; even though I enjoyed laughing with my husband and girls as we ate our first outdoor ice cream of the season – my thoughts turned last eve to how it all may not have been real.

The fact that I survived and thrived may have been a fluke.  The fact that I managed to not only be productive, but enjoy it; that I could not only enjoy my children, but feel joy with them; the fact that I wasn’t overly irritable, low, or unmotivated – I couldn’t just be in these wonderful feelings.

As I looked to a return to routine, I wondered whether I’d fail on my own.  Without the buffer of helpers in the house, would I be overwhelmed with the task of caring for my little one?  Would I feel trapped without the option of another set of hands if I had to tend to a household task or take a moment for myself?  Would my mood plummet without the excitement of a holiday weekend and the drudgery of the everyday?

It is said that comparison is the thief of joy.  Depression is as well.  It’s also said depression is a liar.  It is.  It is telling me lies about how I may fail.  And anxiety is helping spool out its prophecies far into the future.

I may have reached a point where therapies and supplements are finally coming together for my success.  But I cannot trust that.  If I do, the bottom of what I wish for so vehemently may fall out from underneath me.  I may have just had a pretty great weekend.  But even that, I can’t enjoy.  Because I figure my balance is due and I must pay up at some point.

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iSpot.tv

I look forward to celebrating the holiday where the right treatment and my own ability to sit in and take a moment for what it is converge; where no thing is the thief of my joy.  That will be a true celebration.

A Lilac

I cannot see a lilac without catching out of the corner of my eye
the diaphanous flow of sheer sheeting of the same color.

The folds and waterfall of fabric enveloping my body like the ring of a bell,
smooth against the pop of buds bursting
into three-dimensional triads and quartets of color.

Green hearts gilded with the white patina of many moistured mornings,
a specimen grown gangly and sparse,
cut to the quick before flourishing in fullness once again.

Overtaking its age,
shooting up sprouts all around it,
expanding its perimeter.

It is the harbinger of spring,
of warmer days promised in the perfumed chill.

It is the talisman of youth,
of adventures in grandmother’s garden,
the boundary of Mr. Thompson’s yard,
the backdrop of moments frozen in time.

I cannot smell a lilac without being at once wistful and hopeful.

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image from Getty

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