Lessons Learned

Next week, we are embarking on yet another marathon road trip.  Last year our guts told us to Go West, young man (or woman, in this case), and this year we are urged to head east.  Yes, friends, one poo-filled mountain vacation was not enough for this brave clan!  We figure it’ll be some time before the Rocky Mountains wants anything to do with us again (especially after two scream-filled hours on the train to Pike’s Peak), so this year we’re heading for the Great Smokies.  DollyWood, here we come!

Confession: I have had a life-long dream to go to DollyWood.  It’s on my Bucket List.  Whether this stems from the abundance of Dolly Parton movies that I was exposed to as a child or my love of all things kitsch, I’ll never know.  All I know is that I NEED a picture with a bronze statue of Dolly and her ta-tas, or I’ll never feel like a complete soul.

But I digress.

Hopefully we learned a thing or two about driving sixteen hours into the mountains with three small children.  In case you didn’t read last year’s blog, or have never been trapped in a poo-filled minivan with three tiny people, I’ll share those lessons here:

1: Bring a portable potty of some kind.  Any kind.  ANY KIND AT ALL.  Do not find yourself in the middle of New Mexico, fifty miles from the nearest rest stop, with a three year old who needs to go.  

2.  Limit the amount of fibrous granola bars given to small children (and if you don’t, see Lesson 1).

3.  Find a children’s DVD that you can bear to listen to for seven hours straight.  Otherwise you’ll find yourself listening to a “Maisy” DVD on repeat, featuring Charlie the Moaning Alligator, because it’s the only DVD you can play that will make your one year old stop screaming.

4.  Invest in headphones.  Or you will be listening to Charlie the Moaning Alligator for seven straight hours.

5. Pack a change of clothes for the car for each member of the family.  Again, see Lesson 1.

6.  Do not overestimate the abilities of your children.  No matter how many adorable activities you lovingly put into their adorable backpacks, within three miles of your home the entire contents of said backpacks will be strewn across your car.  And later covered in bodily fluids of one kind or another.

7.  Do NOT stop at rest stop bathrooms.  Just…..don’t.

8.  If you pack a picnic and plan on stopping to eat it somewhere between Houston and Amarillo, just plan on eating in the car.  There is literally nothing between Houston and Amarillo.

9.  Same goes for New Mexico.  Pretty much the entire state.  And Louisiana.  And Mississippi.

10.  Pack alcohol.  You’ll really wish you had it by the time you get to the hotel.

 

Of course, this trip will present a new set of challenges.  For one, we’ll be taking two dogs with us (one of which has just entered puberty.  More about that later).  Second, the children are older now and much more prone to whining.  Finally, and perhaps worst of all, we’re no longer the wide-eyed innocents that we were last year: we know what we’re going into this time.  We’re looking straight into the face of our nightmares and saying “yes, we are dumb enough to do this again”.

Stay tuned.

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Practically Imperfect in Every Way

Before I had kids, I had a pretty good vision of what motherhood would be like.  I would have a strict schedule – and stick to it.  We would never watch TV.  We would never eat fast food.  My house would be tidy and organized at all times – unlike some moms that I knew.  We would listen to classical music in the mornings and spend our time on educational projects.  

 

And then I had my first kid.  And my second.  And my third.  Turns out, this whole “motherhood” gig is a bit harder than it looks.  Turns out, I’m not Mary freaking Poppins.   And it’s time to admit it.

 

I was hugely inspired by a recent article, written by a fellow mom, about how much we all lie on Facebook (and other social media). You can read it here: http://www.kveller.com/blog/parenting/we-need-to-quit-telling-lies-on-facebook/

  Okay, maybe “lie” is too harsh.  Let’s just say that we tend to give our friends and family the highlight reel of how perfect and wonderful our lives are, while carefully omitting the ugly truths. 

 

Well, today I think that it’s time to celebrate those ugly truths.  Because that’s what’s real.  That’s what’s honest about our lives. That’s what we can share with our fellow moms and not make them feel like shit because they’re not up at 5am making homemade organic bread before serving their perfectly groomed children a hot breakfast of scrambled eggs (gathered from their own hens, of course) and pancakes made into adorable little faces.

 

I don’t know about ya’ll, but today I overslept and my kids had cold cereal.  

 

Well, one kid did.  The middle had to make it to speech by 7:30, which means she didn’t even have time to eat.  Which means that we stopped at Chik Fil A in between speech and preschool and ate in the car.  And for once, I’m going to be okay with that.  And I’m going to be okay with admitting it. 

 

I want for my girls to grow up knowing that IT’S OKAY to be a screw up.  It’s okay to fail.  It’s okay to try and not succeed.  IT IS OKAY TO BE IMPERFECT.   

 

So, let’s start telling each other truth.  Let’s start celebrating the dirty, frustrating, exhausting moments of motherhood instead of sweeping them under the rug.  Let’s start supporting each other, instead of trying to outdo each other.  Because no matter if you’re a stay at home parent, working parent, single parent, grandparent – this is WORK.  This is HARD.   And maybe if we would all just admit that, we could start going a little easier on ourselves – and each other.   

 

If we did that, maybe I wouldn’t feel like such a giant screw up on mornings like today, when I went to Lowe’s in an oversized sweatshirt and no bra.  Oh, and I hadn’t brushed my teeth yet, either (you’re welcome, Lowe’s employees!).  And my youngest accompanied me in her pj’s, cleverly disguised (or so I thought) by her winter boots and coat).   Maybe it wouldn’t bother me that instead of cleaning my ridiculously messy kitchen or doing educational crafts, we’re chilling on the couch catching up on the latest “My Little Pony”.     Maybe I wouldn’t be so embarrassed if a friend were to stop by and see my laundry room looking like this:

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And my kitchen table looking this :

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And my kid looking like this:

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And me looking like this:

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So here’s to telling the REAL story of motherhood. The wonderful, messy,  crazy-hard-but-worth-it life that we have chosen for ourselves.

Colorado or Bust! Day 5

Colorado Or Bust: Day 5

 

Colorado or Bust!  Loading up the ‘ol Family Truckster to drive 16 hours there, 16 hours back, for a grand total of 32 hours in the car with three small children.  Will we survive?

 

Day 5….better known as the day that I begin to research permanent birth control.  It started off fine.  We had settled into a pleasant morning routine of coffee, cozy fires, and cinnamon rolls.  We were up even earlier than usual this morning, as we had to catch a train.  A cog train.  A train that would carry us  14,000 feet to the summit of Pike’s Peak, inspiration for “America the Beautiful”.

We had originally planned on driving Pike’s Peak Highway up to the summit, only to be asked by many people, “Are you crazy?!”.  The reactions should have tipped us off, but we decided to look into it ourselves.  Reading that the hour long drive was a two-lane highway sans guardrail was the clincher.  Cog Train, here we come!

Choo Choo!

We drove into the train depot in Manitou Springs with the morning sun at our backs, excited to begin our adventure.   Until, of course, the girls had to potty.  And so did Skunkarella (L’s new skunk friend that travelled with us EVERYWHERE since her purchase).  I assumed that TL (my husband) and A would wait for us outside of the bathrooms….but  no.  We came out, Skunkarella in tow, to find my husband and youngest daughter missing.  We searched the bathrooms.  We searched the gift shop.  We searched the sidewalk in front of the train.

They had vanished.

My catastrophic mindset went into overdrive.  Were they abducted by backwoods mountaineers a la “Deliverance”? Had they accidentally stepped in front of a train?  Had a bear attacked? WHERE WERE THEY!?!?!?!

It turns out that they were in the coffee shop.  Buying me coffee.  Still, I was annoyed for undergoing an unnecessary panic attack (though to be fair, most of my panic attacks are unnecessary) and felt churlish towards TL.  This was exacerbated by the fact that I, being the type “A”, Monica from “Friends” kind of gal that I am, like to be early.  To everything.  Including trains.

TL is of the mind set that the less time that we had to spend on a small train with our three small children, the better.

In hind sight, he was probably right.   However, I insisted on getting on the train at the earliest possible chance to ensure that we would  not be left behind.  The big girls and I boarded, while TL and A played around the depot.  Another panic attacked ensued, with visions of L, C, and I riding to Pike’s Peak by ourselves while the other half of our family was left abandoned in a train depot.  And what’s worse, that was the half that had the camera!

But I needn’t have worried.  Shortly before the train whistle blew, TL and A boarded the train. TL plopped into the seat with a smug, “I told you so” grin that did not improve my mood.

Finally, we were off!  Wearing hats and cozy winter clothes, we left our windows open to breathe in the cool mountain air.  The tour guide began her schpiel, and we began our descent.

We’re so happy….for now.

And that’s where the trouble began.

L and C were content to look at the scenery for the first few minutes, but then boredom set in.  Being the overly prepared person that I strive to be, I delved into my backpack for the sticker books that I had packed.  They quickly and happily set to work.

And then A started.

Whining.  Crying.  Fussing.  Generally being discontent.

I read a book to her.  Which she threw.  I got out a coloring book for her.  Which she threw.  I got out a Leapster for her.  Which she threw.  I got a snack for her.  Which she threw.  As a last resort I took out my iPhone and played an episode of “Mickey Mouse”, which she loves.

Which she threw.

And then the crying REALLY began.  She writhed and twisted in my lap, screeching.  It was like trying to hold onto an ornery octopus.  I passed her to TL in exasperation, but she was having none of it.  The second her bottom left my lap, the wails of “Mama” began in earnest.  The childless passengers to our right were beginning to stare.

I took her back and tried to interest her in our surroundings, singing songs about choo choos and what not, but she was not having it.  Not.  One.  Bit.

And so this continued.  For over an hour.   Up  14,000 feet.

It’s beautiful, but who cares? Get me off this train!

We finally arrived at the Summit with relief.  We piled out of the train as quickly as possible, ready to escape it’s confines.  We stood in line to take our picture with the Summit sign, and then began to explore.  The girls were happy, because there was an abundance of rocks at the top of the mountain to play with and collect (they like rocks).  Mama was not, because of the abundance of un-guarded drop offs.  Mama wasn’t having it.  Not.  One.  Bit.

Still, I figured that with one hand firmly on A, we could let the other girls stand about twenty feet away from the drop off without me going into total panic mode.  TL disagreed – he thought that going a little closer for pictures would be fine.  This led to further churlish behavior on the part of yours truly, who could not get the picture of my sweet little babies plummeting to the earth below out of my brain.    Suffice it to say, drama ensued.  We were no longer speaking to each other by the time we went inside the shop to buy hot chocolate and high-altitude doughnuts.

Too close for comfort!

The hot chocolate and doughnuts were tasty, but C was displeased because they did not have chocolate doughnuts .  And she let that displeasure be known.  Loudly.

Are we having fun yet?

In exasperation I took the girls to wander the shop, and took my aggression out on my husband by purchasing an eight dollar magnet.

All too soon it was time to get back on the train, and we began our descent.  A was crying.  L and C were bored.  TL and I weren’t speaking.

Yea.

About five minutes away from the station, A got happy.  She looked out the windows, she flirted with passengers.  She morphed back into the sweet baby that I know her to be.  TL and I nodded at each other, silently agreeing to a truce.

Happy at last!

We drove back “home” in silence, and decided to take a detour to the town of Green Mountain Falls.  There’s not much there beside a gorgeous park and a FANTASTIC restaurant called “The Pantry”.  They’re known for their cinnamon raisin bread and cinnamon roll French toast, so how could we go wrong?  TL opted for the cinnamon roll French toast, which was amazing, but I opted for the green chili burger – because I refused to leave Colorado without eating as much green chili as possible.

And with that, peace was restored to our family.  We climbed a mountain with three small children.  And we survived.

Up next is Day 6, where we have a close encounter of the chipmunk kind, a zoo trip, and become witnesses for at least two drug deals.  Stay tuned!

 

Searching for Super Recipes: Hawaiian Meatball Sandwiches

I know, these sound a little weird.  But they were actually pretty fantastic, if I say so myself.  They are an amalgamation of several different recipes, mixed in with a little bit of “I watch Top Chef, I should be able to put together a recipe”.

And here is the result.

Here’s what you need:

Sauce:

1/3 cup of barbecue sauce (any kind will do)

2 Tbsp soy sauce/tamari

1 Tbsp grated gingerroot

1 Tbsp honey

1 tsp sesame oil

Meatballs:

1 lb lean ground turkey

1/3 cup plum sauce

1/3 cup Panko

3 Tbsp finely minced green onions

1 Tbsp minced fresh cilantro

1 egg

2 tsp minced garlic

1 tsp grated gingerroot

1 tsp sesame oil

Salt and Pepper to taste

Sandwiches:

1 package King’s Hawaiian rolls

Approximately five chunks of pineapple

1/2 bell pepper (any color), sliced

1/4 white onion, sliced

 

Here’s what you do:

1) Preheat the oven to 400 F.  Spray a rimmed cookie sheet or large baking pan with cooking spray and set aside.

2) Combine all of the meatball ingredients in a large bowl.  Form meat mixture into approximately 30 1 to 1-1/2″ meatballs.  Place on prepared pan.

3) Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked through and browned on the outside.

4) While the meatballs are cooking, prepare the sauce.  Whisk together all sauce ingredients and set aside.

To assemble the sandwiches:

Cut a Hawaiian roll in half.  Spread a dollop of the sauce on the bottom.  Top with a meatball, followed  by onion, pepper, and a slice of pineapple.  Put the other half of the roll on top and voila!  Hawaiian meatball sandwich!

I served three sandwiches per adult, and one per kid with fries and salad on the side.  We even played Hawaiian music via Pandora, until it began to get annoying (which was about five minutes in).

Aloha!

 

 

Things I Learned in Kindergarten

L’s last day of kindergarten is today, and the experience is very bittersweet for me.  On one hand, I am so freaking excited about having her home all day, every day, that I can’t stand it.  On the other hand, how is it that the year is already over? And that as of tomorrow she will be a FIRST GRADER?

Back in August, it felt like this day would never come.  I was a nervous wreck on the first day of school, anxious and emotional.  I couldn’t wait until summertime and for kindergarten to be over  – and now it is.  And I’m going to miss it.  Kindergarten was a pivotal time for all of us, not just for L.

Here’s what I learned in kindergarten this year:

  • My babies can survive without me with them every second of the day
  • I can survive without them every second of the day
  • It’s okay to trust other adults with the care and stewardship of my children (during school hours at least)
  • (Most of) the teachers and staff care almost as much as we do about seeing our kids safe, happy, and successful
  • I can no longer be the sole administrator of my child’s social life
  • “Phineas and Ferb” is actually a pretty funny show
  • Potty talk is something that I have learned to tolerate (to a degree)
  • Sight words are a big deal
  • So is counting to 100
  • Rules taught in the classroom can also be enforced at home.  My favorite?  “Sit on your pockets and show me your five”.  They also work with three-year-olds.
  • You’re never too old to love the Book Fair, and the posters are still awesome
  • Riding the bus isn’t as scary as I thought it was
  • I can’t force my kid to eat vegetables just because I put it in her lunchbox
  • PE is MUCH cooler than it was when I was a kid
  • Never underestimate the importance of sending money on Spirit Shop days
  • Five year olds can become quite fluent in sarcasm
  • Watching your baby become an independent kid isn’t as hard as you think it will be

First Day of School

Last Day of School

Learning to Let Go, Revisited (aka “I Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore”)

A couple of weeks ago I had an epiphany, in which I decided that I was too uptight.  Too neurotic.  Too anxious.  So, in an attempt to eradicate these character flaws, I decided to “let things go”.  I stopped chasing after the kids, picking up toys in their wake.  I let mail pile up. I threw out my cleaning schedule.  I even, as ridiculous as it sounds, tried to schedule days where I purposely didn’t make the bed.

But then I realized, that all of this “letting go” was having the exact opposite effect that I had intended! I was actually becoming more stressed, more neurotic, and more anxious!  Today, as I was busy vacuuming and dusting the house, I found myself singing.  And smiling.  And, glory be to God, HAPPY!   I was cleaning in that slightly anal, slightly perfectionist way I have and found myself loving every minute of it.  All of this time I’d been trying to become laid back, I was fighting against my own nature.  Giving into these neurotic tendencies actually feels really….good.  Comfortable.  Why fight it anymore? Why try to become something that I’m not?  I’ve been so concerned about teaching my daughters my anxious habits that I didn’t realize that in my attempts to become a laid back person,  I was teaching them something worse: I was teaching them that it’s not okay to be yourself.  And that’s not anything that I would ever want them to learn from me.

So today, I have cleaned my house.  And in a minute, I’ll re-print my cleaning schedule.  And maybe, if I get crazy tonight, I’ll reorganize my recipe binder.  And I’ll be happy.

The Kindness of Strangers

I’ve just returned home from spending four days at the hospital with my mom, who is recovering from major surgery.  During that time I was amazed – utterly amazed – at how rude, insensitive, and unconcerned some people can be towards those in need.   But even more so, I was awed and gratified to see the sheer kindness that we received from total strangers.

Take the volunteer who runs the Corner Café on the surgical floor, where my dad and I waited during my mom’s procedure.  She nurtured us with food and frequent use of the endearment “honey”, which was the exact sort of comfort that we needed during a stressful time.   Or Savannah, the night nurse that my mom referred to as an “angel in the night”, who took such amazing, warm, loving care of my mom that we felt that we’d known her our whole lives.  Or Jorge, the day nurse on Saturday who went above and beyond to attend to my mom’s every single need, to offer smiles, encouragement, and the pleasure of being treated like a human being.  Or the clinical assistants who stopped to chit chat while they took vital signs.  Or the sweet housekeeper, Angela, who offered to pray for healing and suggested that we move across the hall because a room with a view had just become available(and the one we were in was gray, depressing, and facing a dirty brick wall).  Or the people I met in the elevator on the way down to the cafeteria who just looked into my tired eyes and smiled.

This, however, is in strict contrast to some other encounters.  We dealt with insensitivity, lack of concern, and downright cruelty at the hands of some of our nurses (in my book, making a patient wait forty-five minutes to receive their medication is cruel).  And the signs that we would see on the hall in other patient’s doorways, rude signs that screamed “CLOSE the door when you leave!”; “ASK before you turn the light on!”, etc. When Savannah came to say goodbye to us when her shift ended, she said, “Thank you for being so nice to me.”  I asked, dumbfounded, “Are people normally not nice?”   She smiled and said, “You would be surprised.  The nice ones are few and far between.”   Now, I understand that when people are in the hospital that they are exhausted, stressed, and in pain.  And their family members may not be doing much better.  But I saw first hand just how hard most of those nurses and clinical assistants work – twelve hour shifts with a 30 minute break, which they mayor may not get?  They deserve a little slack.

So what have I learned from this crazy, stressful, teachable time ?  I’ve learned that any small kindness is noticed by the person that receives it.  That people yearn to be humanized, recognized, looked in the eye.  I love that line from  “As Good as it Gets”, when Greg Kinnear says, “If you look at someone long enough, you discover their humanity”.  And it’s SO true.   So please, go out there today and discover someone’s humanity.  I guarantee that it will not go unnoticed.