Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Mommy, Unleashed

Today I had several hours by myself.

All you moms out there are jealous already.

Yesterday, my girls' Grammy called to see if she could pick Livie up after preschool today and keep her until lunch tomorrow. Uh, yes.

So I had the morning alone during preschool hours, 20 minutes with my little one, and then noon to four alone until I picked up Sophia from her after-school play date.

I did not know what to do with myself. After a moment of psychological flailing, watching my daughter's blonde head disappear in the backseat of Grammy's car, I realized that I could do just about anything I wanted. Well, what the heck do I want to do? I realized, I wanted to eat just whatever I was in the mood for without considering anyone else. So I got in my own car and went to a diner, where I got a booth all to myself. I ordered a BLT with avocado, and cottage cheese instead of fries. I was so happy to be sitting alone with a book and a meal which I did not prepare nor need to clean up after that I ate over half of it before I realized the avocado was missing.

While sitting there, I thought that people might be walking by and wondering what kind of person I was, eating lunch alone in my obviously un-corporate clothes. Okay, probably no one was even noticing me. But I'm so used to being with my children, and when I am with my children, people in contact with me immediately have a label for me: Mom. So being without them, I find not only do other people not know what to make of me, I don't know what to make of myself!

It got me thinking: what do I assume about myself and my life because I am a mom?

Here's some assumptions I have about how my days will go:

* When I order food in a restaurant, it must be something that at least one of my kids likes because they will not eat their own food and will want mine.

* When I go to Starbucks for a cup of coffee, I must have a snack in my purse for my four year old, otherwise I'm going to have to buy her a $3 and 300 calorie muffin.

* When I get dressed, it better be in clothes that can get dirty, because someone with greasy fingers will be pawing me.

* When I go in a store, I better be sure exactly what I need, know the path to get it quickly and get out, and be resigned to the fact that even with all the pre-planning, I may very well leave the store without what I came for, for any number of reasons (someone has a tantrum, someone has to go to the bathroom, someone -- me -- got so distracted that they forgot what they were there for).

Is it any wonder that four hours alone feels like being let out of a pen? And that, like an animal who has long lived in captivity, I would suddenly be uncomfortable alone in the wild. Now, that's an unfair analogy, because no one locked me up in a mommy cage, and I love being a mom. I have chosen a lifestyle in which I rarely put myself first, and I find it a fulfilling and meaningful life (at least half the time).

However, one assumption I do not want to make is that I no longer have a right to be myself, or put myself last. One of my favorite Christian authors and speakers, Jen Hatmaker, wrote in her book Out of the Spin Cycle, that moms can lose themselves to such an extent that they don't even remember what their favorite food is. Which makes them frustrated, small, and ultimately boring -- which is definitely not the life God had in mind for them when He created them as a unique and precious being.

So the moral for today: find four hours for yourself, mamas, and rediscover what you actually want to do, wear, and eat when you have no one else to consider. You might be surprised what you forgot about yourself. And make sure the waiter brings you that avocado.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Too Pretty to Use

In the post-Christmas house clean-out I do every year I found a Ziploc bag of stickers from my childhood. Sticker collecting was en vogue in my elementary years, and these fetish properties -- which included unicorns, fuzzy panda bears, and iridescent pink rose buds -- I had deemed too pretty and valuable to use. And now here they were, 25 years later. Their adhesive was gummy, their scratch and sniff smell gone.

Since then, I have slowly been digging through other dark corners of my house and found other ridiculous things that were rotting in their packaging. Like some floating candles that someone gave me for a party favor...nine years ago. It reminded me of a MOPS speaker we had once who had inherited 30-year-old Christmas candles from her mother in law that were "too pretty to burn."

In December, my grandfather passed away at the age of 96, and his loss is taking me a while to process. Part of the process is grieving the loss of our family house: a custom ranch-style in L.A. county that my mom and her five siblings grew up in, and myself, two brothers and 11 cousins spent our birthdays and family holidays at for our entire childhood. When the house sells, it will be like losing our mother ship.

My mom and her siblings have been going through 50 years worth of drawers. So far, along with wonderful sentimental things like my grandmothers' pearls and costume jewelry and gifts my grandfather was given by the patients of his decades-long medical practice, they have also found innumerable pencil stubs, odd golf shoes, Halloween costumes from the 1960s, wooden water skis that haven't been used in 20 years.

And the thing is, my grandparents weren't the type to keep a lot of junk. Their house was actually quite sparse and pristine. Going through the drawers, though, I'm sure my aunts learned some things they didn't know about Grandma and Grandpa.

Maybe it's morbid, but I've been thinking about how my house would speak to someone after I'm gone. If something happened tomorrow, there would be a lot of quilting fabric and thread to go through. But also, bureau drawers full of odd socks I am still thinking might suddenly find their long-lost partner, and kitchen drawers that are lined by a spilled box of toothpicks. In my bathroom are half a dozen old toothbrushes I'm saving for cleaning grout, and I don't even clean my grout.

So, I'm approaching my stuff differently. First of all, I want to pick up those toothpicks. Then get all the dried beans that have spilled in the back of my pantry swept out. Out with the odd socks. Bye-bye old toothbrushes. Gone with the expired medicine. I donated the place mats I got for a wedding gift that no longer match anything I have.

I shall no longer deem anything in this house "too pretty to use." I've been rooting around in my "china cabinet" (which is really just a wooden hutch I bought at a garage sale), pulling out dishes with dust on them, and eating off them.

This week, Livie, two friends and I had a tea party for lunch on my fancy glass punch-and-cake plates that I've had for years but only used once.

I'm using all the "fancy" paper napkins I've saved from past holidays and birthdays of which I only have about four of each kind.

I'm drinking out of the "good" wine glasses. (One of them got broken last week, and I'm not replacing it.)

I don't want to go all Fight Club on you here, but I'm thinking that if I die and there's hardly anything left in my house that would be pretty awesome. If I'm not using it regularly, I'm going to give it away.

Sometimes in this world, weird things happen. I just paused after the above sentence and went to cut my four year old daughter a pear. And as she was waiting she was singing this under her breath:

Jesus said to live,
give and give and give
store up all your treasure
where it lasts forever

This is a song she learned at church this week, based on the Bible verses in Matthew chapter 6:

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

I don't want my heart decaying in a drawer like old stickers. I want to use my pretty things to bless people, give them away when they are needed, and spend less time maintaining these earthly treasures. God give me the conviction to follow through.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Big Mean Daddy

I have just finished watching Columbia Pictures' live action version of Peter Pan on DVD and here's what struck me about it: Mr. Darling, the father of John, Michael and Wendy, is also Captain Hook.

In the Disney animated version also, the same actor voices both Mr. Darling and Captain Hook, which I thought was more for the sake of budget and convenience, like Hank Azaria on "The Simpsons."

But now I wonder.

I have never read the book, but is the whole story of Peter Pan really just Wendy's bad dream about a strict father who insists that it is time to grow up? Dad is the villain who tries to kill Peter Pan, the representation of childhood and fun?

We are living that story out in my house. Sort of.

Livie, age four, has taken to calling my kind and devoted husband "Big Mean Daddy." We don't know where she got this, and can't point to exactly when it started. But we know why it started.

Mr. Anderson (my husband Jeff), compassionate, sensitive man that he is -- one who in fact deserves a medal for the kind of female hysteria that the three of us put him through -- is, in fact, big, and a man, and our daughters notice the difference. For one thing, he always gets to play the villain in their games: the Darth Vader to their Luke and Lea Skywalker. He is there to roughhouse (see above, where they are attacking him with chalk). But one of the main difference between Mommy and Daddy in our family, is that Daddy is more likely to make them grow up.

Though I am unmistakably crankier than their father, I am also the one more likely to let them get away with babyish habits. From the beginning, Jeff has been the one to push them to sleep in their own beds, put on their own pajamas, give up their "lovey" objects, and stop sucking their thumbs.

All things that make me want to cry just to think of.

See, Mommies have an instinct to protect our babies and keep them babies a little longer. They lived in us, you see. They slept on our chests. They drank from our chests. And now they live outside us in the cruel worlds of the preschool and elementary classrooms, so they can come home and suck their thumbs if they want to. We'll respond to their every cry. They can climb in our beds, and bring those raggedy lovey blankets if they want to.

That is, until Mommy finally gets sick of pulling their thumb out of their mouths to get them to answer a question. Until Mommy is exhausted and sleep deprived. Until Mommy is tired of having a stinky blanket shoved under her nose every morning when her kids want to climb into bed with her. It is at these times that Mommy is happy there is a Daddy in the family.

Truly, I could not parent my children effectively without this man in the house. He sees through the sentiment and emotion of child rearing, and acts according to moral code, logic, and practicality. The fact is, my husband rescues me from my children, and also rescues them from me. There is tension at the moments when he swoops in and lays down the law, though, and the kids know it. This is likely the root of the Big Mean Daddy nickname.

Here's the really interesting part of this dichotomy to me, at least the way in functions in my house. Though Livie will choose me to tuck her in and read her the story, time that Daddy devotes to playing with her is extra, extra special. Though last week, they were battling over giving up her thumb sucking and baby blanket (Jeff is worried about her overbite), last night they spent precious moments on the couch doing letter flash cards that Jeff picked out for her himself. Then they went upstairs and picked up her room together. Jeff reorganized the whole thing on Saturday and is now methodically teaching her how to put her toys away.

By bath time, Livie's little face was like a lit lantern, and the beams were focused on Daddy. My part in our family is to be the one who is always around; my absence is what gets noticed. But the one-on-one attention from Dad is incredibly valued by our two daughters. His presence, his focused attention, is precious to them. And though they push against it, the firm steadiness of Daddy's approach to family life is something they crave. It makes them feel safe. More than that: it makes them actually safe.

Just like Mr. Darling. At the end of Peter Pan, Wendy decides she wants to grow up after all. Dad was right. It was time. And when she comes home to the nursery, I rejoice when she runs into her mother's arms. But it's her father's tears and his obvious tenderhearted affection, that makes me weep.

In our family, my eldest daughter and I have brown eyes, and Livie and Jeff have bright blue; we joke that we are on two different teams. Last night in the Anderson house, Livie once again requested me for tuck in and bedtime story. But when Daddy came in for the goodnight kiss, her face lit up again.

"Daddy," she said, "You and me are the blue-eyed team." And she put her hand out for a high five, and puckered her lips for a kiss.

"We sure are, baby," Jeff said. Big Mean Daddy? I don't think so.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Pearl in the Oyster

Last week, my eldest daughter was telling everyone that she was eight. In fact, she did not turn eight until this Tuesday, Valentine's Day.

So I told Sophia, "Hey, don't rush things, baby. You aren't eight yet. You only have one week left to be seven. You will never be seven again. What do you want to do with your last week as a seven year old?"

Sophia, who is usually up for these silly ideas of mine said she'd get back to me. That night she said one idea she had was running through the house yelling, "I'm seven! I'm seven!" This she indeed did, several times, in fact. But I didn't think that was quite enough.

So we ate oysters. Raw ones.

Both my girls reject normal foods like grilled chicken and green herbs, but eat bizarre things like unagi and grilled lotus root and spicy tuna rolls and calamari with the legs on. (We had homemade sushi for her eighth birthday, actually, which I'm sure to write about soon.) But never had Sophia sampled the delectable, fresh, cucumber-y sweetness of an oyster slurped right out of its shell.

My mom and I had taken Sophia to The Grove in Los Angeles for lunch and shopping, and as we ordered our grilled Ruebens in the Farmer's Market, we spotted a woman with a plate of oysters on the half shell. I bought us half a dozen, and Sophia ate her first two raw oysters on the last day she was seven. It must be confessed that she chewed them way longer than necessary and at one point almost spit one out into her napkin. But she got through it, and received many approving smiles and thumbs ups from the adventurous diners around us.

I believe in celebrating. The beginning of things. The end of things. And though one of my instincts on my children's birthdays is to go cry into my coffee cup in the laundry room because they are growing up too fast, celebrating the last day of the year they are seven, or four, or -- chills just thinking about it -- fourteen, seems a much better impulse to cultivate.

And I have to say, I'm doing a pretty good job.

One of my best mom qualities is this: when I see my kids are up for an adventure, I give them enough slack in the rope to go after it. And I create these silly, memorable moments when I can, praying that they keep being willing to follow my lead. This morning, Livie and I did the Twist in the aisle of Trader Joe's because a good song was playing. The fact is, that life is often like an oyster: ugly, messy, hard to swallow. But often, also, even the slimy, icky parts of it have a sweet aftertaste. And sometimes, even, that ugliness hides a pearl. My girls and I are seeking that sweetness, those surprises.

Sophia, at eight, is still the child I would have designed for myself: funny, smart, kind, brave, silly, beautiful, affectionate, and challenging. In fact, God designed her, but I congratulate myself that so far, I have mainly gotten out of His way and not messed her up. Happy Birthday, to the larger-than-life pearl in our family's oyster.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Sometimes It's As Simple As Standing Up

This morning I woke up at 5:55 and knew I would not get back to sleep. At 6:05, I snuck down the stairs with a book I'm reading -- and obsessing over -- thinking I would flip the switch on the coffee-maker-that-changed-my-life, and read a quiet chapter and watch the sun rise. Unfortunately, I haven't changed completely, and had forgotten to set the coffee maker and had no ground beans. So I stood in front of my stove for a full minute trying to figure out how to get water hot to make tea (caffeine seemed important) without using the almost-as-loud-as-the-coffee-grinder microwave.

And then I realized that stoves are quiet, and they can heat water too. It was very early in the morning.

Five minutes later, with tea steeping in my yellow pot beside me, I sat on my back-door kitchen mat and read a chapter of Donald Miller's A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. The Chapter was called "The Thing About a Crossing," and was about how in a great story, whether in real life or in fiction, the most beautiful, memorable moments almost always come after a hard journey. Miller had just paddled across an inlet in the Northwestern ocean for several hours in pitch blackness, and just as he and his friends got to the shore, they discovered that bioluminescence was happening in the water beneath them.

It was four in the morning, but we were energized by the ocean. As we got closer to the other shore, there were a million fish swimming beneath our boats, each leaving a trail and the ocean was flashing from beneath us as though fireworks were going off in the water. "I've never seen it like this," one of our guides said. He said he'd seen the ocean glow when you splashed you paddle, but he'd never seen the fish light up the water from underneath. When we were a hundred yards from shore and paddling into the lagoon, the whole ocean glowed like a swimming pool. None of us wanted to get out of our boats. I paddled around in circles in the lagoon, watching the fish streak beneath me like a meteor shower.

Wow, I thought. I want an experience like that. I want beauty and awe and awesomeness in my life. This is what Miller's book is about: living a story with your life that is filled with memorable moments and meaning, and about how often we don't live those kinds of moments because we are just going through the motions trying to keep ourselves comfortable and secure.

I looked up at the sky at this point, and could see just a corner of pink in my field of vision. I wonder what it would look like if I stood up? I thought. But I was tucked in with a quilt and my hot tea and I didn't really feel like it. Then I realized I had just read about a guy who got to see bioluminescence at four in the morning because he was out kayaking and it was pretty pathetic that I wouldn't even stand up. So I did. And this picture above is what I saw. I took it with my crappy camera, so it was way more beautiful in real life.

I would have missed it if I was sitting on the ground, or worse, still in bed fretting over all the things I had to do today, the worry over which is what woke me in the first place. This moment was a little gift, a small reminder that beauty is here for the taking, and you don't always have to take a huge step to make a good memory. Sometimes it's as simple as just standing up.

Friday, February 3, 2012

My Mom Has an i-Phone

My mother got a new cell phone this week and did not give me the number.

This is more a sign of how busy my mom is and not a comment on our relationship. I don't think.

But the reason I blog about this is not that I feel rejected at being suddenly unable to reach her. I am reeling because my mother now owns an iPhone.

My mother, who once sent me off to college with a second-hand computer she bought me, and didn't include any of the connecting cords. "Cords?" she said, mystified, when I called her. "What cords?"

As far as I know her computer knowledge has not increased a great deal since then, but suddenly, she is at my house searching for Bengal NFL highlights to show me on her phone. She still doesn't actually know how to do this ("What's the difference between google and You Tube?". And now she has a much, much better and more advanced phone than I do.

My phone -- very cute, very small, turquoise (bad for attracting police officers as I recently wrote in "Put Your Hands Where I Can See Them") -- does not have the Internet, or picture mail, or GPS. It has no apps. I can make phone calls on it. I can text. That's it. We were out recently with friends, and told them we needed to get home and bid because our e-bay auction was about to close, and they said, "Just bid from your phone!"

Uh, our phones don't do that.

I'm seeing a bad trend going on. Technology is whooshing past me, and though I felt sort of proud of it for a while down deep in my nouveau bohemian soul, I'm starting to feel a little odd and conflicted.

Hubby's parents both have iPhones too, and iPads. When the kids go to their house, they want to play ipad games. This really bugs me (no offense, Grammy and Grampy). 1) Because grandparents are for teaching kids to do old-fashioned things like play checkers and embroidery (which they do actually do). And 2) I'm looking to our parents to help us raise our kids in a low-tech, slower, simpler lifestyle.

I'm swimming against a colossal current, I know.. But I'm so addicted to my at-home e-mail, I get sucked into facebook, and I'm way more into this blog than any of my reader are, that the last thing I want is e-mail on my phone. Or my kids playing tablet games. I don't want to be totally plugged in (which is an archaic term in the age of wireless technology) every where I go. I really, really hate seeing children playing games on their parents' smart phones in shopping carts or in restaurants (I'm talking three year olds, not teenagers), and I know how judgmental that sounds. But we are raising an entire generation that doesn't know how to be present and is constantly looking at a screen.

So here I am, a voice crying -- or at least whimpering -- in the wilderness, posting to my blog that is sadly lacking in links or cool graphics, knowing that I have lost almost all the battles and certainly will lose the war.

Now I'll go e-mail this post to my mom. She will probably read it on her new iPhone, if she can figure out how. Love you, mommy. Please text me your new number.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

I'm Almost an Old Lady

When Hubby and I vowed to love each other till death do us part about 12 years ago, I know we both hoped we would grow old together.

Only back then, growing old didn't seem like something that would actually happen to us. We were in our early twenties: young, healthy college sweethearts with sharp minds, line-less skin and full heads of hair.

Lately, however, I think my spouse has been starting to think more about what an old version of me will actually be like. It's not the stretch marks or the few silver hairs at my temple that's getting to him though (I don't think...). It's not even the fact that child rearing has addled my brain, making me likely to say "umbrella" when I mean "fork." It's a few of my behaviors that are beginning to make him squirm.

For example, as I blogged yesterday, he found me scattering bird seed on our front walk one evening, and thought it seemed a little Crazy-old-lady-in-the-park. Problem: I really would like to be one of those ladies who brings bird seed to the park. Not one of the people that feeds seagulls at beaches -- those people really are kooky, inviting the winged vermin to attack us all as we sunbathe and eat our picnics as we swim. But a cute little lady in a hat who has a happy flock of robins at her feet and talks to the neighborhood children? Yeah, why not? Bring it on.

Hubby is also concerned about what he calls my Cranky Old Lady behaviors. I have been known, for example, to leave notes on cars in the neighborhood that are parked illegally, or even annoyingly. I've also called the police several times when the whippersnappers in the rental across the cul-de-sac were waking me and my precious children at 1 a.m. Okay, to be honest, they were just waking me; my children sleep like rocks. But Jeff says I'm on a trajectory to become one of those crab apples that informs the H.O.A. that the neighbors' Christmas decorations have been left up two days too long, or the neighborhood kids are scared of if they hit a ball in their yard. He has a point on this one, and I'm trying to reform.

But Jeff's real cause for concern is not just what I will be like when I'm old, but that I'm already acting like I'm old now. Particularly in my hobbies. I am unquestionably dorky in my choice of pass times. I quilt. I make seasonal throw pillows and yo-yo garlands that we don't need. I use words like "fussy cut" and "smock." I have embroidered Bible verses and framed them for our kitchen.

When I first discovered that I was "crafty" early in our marriage, Jeff was on board. A creative person himself, he liked seeing me discover my inner fabric artist. Except on the days when I either a) cut myself with scissors, b) cut an expensive piece of fabric wrong, c) swore at my projects, or d) all of the above.

But now, even on non-injury days, his enthusiasm is waning. I'm forbidden from making any more pillows or place mats. And he makes fun of fabric passion quite frequently. When e-bay ran a TV ad campaign this Christmas about a girl who wanted hip gifts from e-bay rather than another needlepoint throw pillow from Aunt Carla, he was absolutely merciless, as I stitched away on hand embroidered tea towels for all the kids' teachers. Ha ha, he said, you're old Aunt Carla.

Okay, so I'm old Aunt Carla. I get excited about a new set of delectable pearl cotton thread and a card of vintage buttons from the flea market. And I feed birds. And I don't like loud music at 1 a.m. And you know what's cool about getting older -- though I'm still not old? It's being comfortable with my dorkiness, and I do what I like to do no matter how silly it seems to other people.

Because I am a quilter (and let's face it, generally the quilting demographic is a bit older than me, like, by 20 years), I have run across the poem "When I Am an Old Woman," by Jenny Joseph, about how she will wear purple and red hats and not care what anyone thinks of her. Of course, there is whole line of plaques and quilting fabric and red hats patterned after it now, and groups of old ladies go out to tea wearing their red and purple. I shan't do that. But I like the spirit of it. In 35 years, look for me at a park bench in my (not red) hat, feeding birds and doing needlepoint. Hubby may be a bit embarrassed of me, but I think he'll still be there at my side.