Thursday, May 30, 2013

Bowl of Cherries

Whoever it was that said life is like a bowl of cherries had it right.  Sometimes it's sweet, sometimes it's the pits, sometimes it's both at the same time all rolled up together and hanging on the end of a slender green stem.
This is the Mother's Day photo I posted on facebook.  Because it's beautiful.  I love it because we are dressed nicely, with clean faces and smiles.  And because it looks like we love each other.
But below is more the reality of my life.  
The only reason we are mostly clean and combed is because we went to church.  And then we came home and tumbled into our rooms and threw on some whatever clothes so we could meet in the kitchen to feed.  There is chaos on the counter, like most days.  Dog biscuits in the middle of a cookie-making operation.  I love this photo because it is us.  We are who we are, and we're together.  We're even mostly happy.

But I also love this shot below, because the chaos very rarely stays contained on the counter.  It spills over into every aspect of my life.
And even though I prefer the sweet moments, I'm willing to endure the pits because they go hand in hand.  I can't have one without the other.  I can't cherish one without the presence of the other.  And even though I might want to seem like I live a well-groomed, well-behaved, well-lit life, I'm always quick to admit that I struggle with this motherhood thing just as much as the other mothers out there.  And I love my children through all the chaos, the sweet moments, and the pits.
I mentioned back here that if my past self were suddenly dropped into my current life, she would lose it.  I believe that to be true.
I look back on those comparatively calm days with much fondness.  When I stayed home with my two little girs day after day.  When their simple routines were the most pressing things in my life.  Mealtime.  Nap time.  Bath time.  Story time.  Walk to the park time.  Coloring time.  Chase them around the house making monster sounds time.  Snuggle time.  Bed time.
I know I didn't appreciate the relative quiet.  Or peace.  The lack of frenzy.  Not having so many multis in my multi-tasking.  I thought it was hard.  I thought my husband's firefighter schedule of 24 hours on, 48 hours off was challenging.  Which sort of makes me chuckle now.  Nobody told me that life gets harder before it gets easier.  Or maybe I just didn't listen because I wanted to continue believing that my life right then was hard.  But I also realize that it was hard for that version of myself.  Because I was young.  I had just recently joined the throngs of women engaged in the journey that is motherhood.  The chronic lack of sleep with newborns and illness and dreams that cause little ones to wake up crying for their favorite purple dress was a hard thing to adjust to.  Young mothers have to learn how to soldier on even when their most basic of needs aren't being met.  The relentlessness of putting others' needs ahead of our own is a tough pill to swallow.  As is the knowledge that our time is no longer our own, but belongs first and foremost to the little fragile creatures that have been entrusted to our care.  But I have learned that the days when I can "get nothing done" are, in fact, the days when I'm doing the most important things of all.
Mothers have been going through this same refining process since the beginning of time.  Too often, I think, we use our hardships to create wedges between us and others.  To set our tough times apart from those around us.  To help us somehow feel unique.  But none of these life lessons are unique.  Maybe some of the details aren't shared en mass, but the process of learning and stretching and growing is all the same.  It has all been experienced before.
There is no joy, or sorrow that I can feel in relation to my children that hasn't been felt before a million times over.  Kids make messes.  Kids bring chaos.  Kids make you see life through new eyes.  Kids melt your heart and help you learn to love more than you ever thought you needed to.  They bring purpose, triumph and failure.  They bring out the very worst and the very best in us. 
And through it all, I am so grateful to be a mother.  To be this mother, with these children at this time. 
I love how this process is described in the movie A Wrinkle in Time, "All the glory of what you are now and all the wonder of what you will become.  It's only yours if you discover it for yourself."  How grateful I am for this journey, and for all the joy and discovery to be found.
My crew gave me the perfect gift this year.  (I shouldn't mention that it's because I told them, "This is what I want.") 
A hammock, with a plate of homemade chocolate chip cookies that I didn't even have to make myself.  So, when I get overwhelmed by the chaos in my life, I can retreat to a peaceful place and look up at this view . . .
to help me remember the magnitude of my blessings.  Bowl of cherries, indeed.

All Work and Some Play

I'm not sure if any of us knew just how much work living in this house would entail.  There's never enough time to do all that needs to be done, it seems.  But we do what we can.  And we rope the kids into helping up to the point of mutiny.  We're hoping that mutiny point will become more and more delayed as their work loads gradually increase.  But, we'll see if my theory pans out.
All I know is that I will not send my kids out into the world without a good work ethic.  If they develop even a decent portion of the work ethic that their father possesses, I will be a happy mama.  And they will be better equipped to function in life.
Spring storms brought down a fair amount of trees in our neighborhood.  So we happily helped our neighbors clear them off their property.  We brought the logs home and chopped some of them up for firewood.
Shaggy was the master ax man.  Check out that facial expression.  Serious stuff.
The girls took over for me after a while, hauling and stacking like a couple of lumber jacks.
That's our family's first ever wood pile right there.  I have to admit it feels good to have a little stockpile for cooking, heating, etc.
The little girls helped by making sure Shaggy took breaks to push them around in the wheelbarrow.  Whatever would we do without their assistance?
We used the best logs to complete our campfire seating arrangements.  R especially approves of the double wide one.
Shaggy gathered smaller fallen branches to build a civil war era compost heap.  He was so proud of that thing that he bugged me for days about going out to look at it with him.  I couldn't figure out why he was so eager for me to see the compost pile.  I always make the kids take the compost out there.  It's cool to have one and all, but certainly doesn't merit special trips of appreciation.  But when I saw his architectural skills at work, I was sufficiently impressed.  I think.  But more praise is generally the way to go in these matters, so I should probably heap on some more.
J is often too hard to find when it comes to family work projects.  He spends as much time as possible out exploring our property.  Half the time, I don't even know in which direction he went.  But sometimes, I catch him in the act of nature exploration.  And then we all go MIA from the family work project because I can't resist trying to capture the moment.
The moments when he captivates his younger sisters by demonstrating the principles of flotation.
Or when they discover that the frog pond is loaded with frog eggs.
It's hard to express just how much I love the fact that they have these amazing things right at their fingertips to explore.  It's the very best after school/summer camp they could ever be enrolled in.  And even though I can't always be privy to the things they are experiencing, I look forward to being witness to what they make of the memories they're forming right now. 

Gardening is our other fledgling endeavor these days.  We planted lots of berries, beans, peas, onions, cantaloupe, watermelon, tomatoes, and various fruit trees.  I've been hearing lots of horror stories about all the different things that can go wrong.  I dutifully report these things to Shaggy, who just continues to work and hope.  It would be nice if we can figure out how to successfully produce some of our own food.  Preferably for our family and not the bunnies, deer, bugs and bears that are known to like garden buffets around here.

We had the kids help plant at least one of the fruit trees.  It would be their tree to watch grow and help care for.  It should be fun to see how they both change over the years. 

Will all this work will pay off?  I guess time will tell.

Signs of Spring

It seems like forever ago, now, but it was only about 6 weeks ago that we were marveling at the whole amazing process of spring.  As winter dragged on, I realized that I could no longer picture the trees thick with green leaves.  I could no longer recall the sounds and movement of outdoor life.  And I longed for a change.  As much fun as it was to experience winter with such a long time without it, I was ready for spring.
And within a two week period, we went from snow to 80 degrees and spring simply erupted all around us at an astonishing rate.  The trees were budding, we blinked, and before we knew it, tender new leaves were uncurling and stretching out towards the sky.  It was not a process that was going to wait for me to finish up my work.  So I set it aside, grabbed my camera, and went outside with my trusty sidekick. 
She was all geared up to look for buggies.  And was dismayed at how many she found.  Next time, I think I'll steer her towards rocks.

The weather was perfect.  Absolutely perfect.  The birds sounded like mocking jays calling to each other from the far corners of the woods.  The breeze washed over us like silk and there was a freshness to the air that was invigorating.
THIS is what I had missed living in a place with only two seasons.  The change.  The freshness.  The "out with the old, in with the new."  The temporary nature of the seasons is one of the things that make them worth reveling in.
And revel we did.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Errand Buddy

B has been fired from her position as my errand buddy.  Because she stinks at that job.

Most trips begin with whining, resistance, and stalling and end with wailing and gnashing of teeth.  Literally.

A trip to Lowe's comes to mind where I had to buy one item.  Only one.  We were in the store for 10 minutes.  B did her best to make it take an hour because, instead of letting me read the labels on the polyurethane, she tried climbing the shelves and pulling down as many cans as she could reach.  When we got to the check out lane, B was having a fit about wanting to carry the can of polyurethane which was entirely too heavy for her.  Then she whined about buying the candy that they so kindly had displayed right at child eye level.  Then she wanted my credit card.  Then she wanted to push all the buttons on the credit swiper pad.  Then she stripped off her jacket, insisting she was too hot.

When we were about to leave, I tried to reason with her about just how cold it was outside.  (Think 30ish degrees.)  I tried to put her jacket back on.  She screamed and cried.  I tried putting her coat on.  She screamed and cried.  I just love it when I get to deal with toddler illogic in front of an audience.  Such fun!

So I scooped her up and put her in a shopping cart, short sleeves and all.  She was protesting and crying and trying to stand up.  I was holding her down so I could drive the cart out of the store.  When we finally got outside, the winter wind hit her and took her breath away.  She looked at me accusingly and began wailing about how cold it was. 

Well, what do you know?  Mom was right.

Another time, I took her grocery shopping.  I should never take her grocery shopping.  Not ever.

She won't sit docilely in the shopping cart.  She wants the race car carts where she can sit up front and drive one or both of the steering wheels.  I always buckle her.  Which usually buys me a whopping 7 minutes to tackle my list of 49 or 57 or 72 grocery items.  Right.  I didn't get very far.

She began wailing that she wanted out.  I ignored her until her wailing reached an unacceptable level.  I can always determine that level by the quantity of reproachful looks I get from the fellow store customers.  The ones that are there shopping by their blessed selves.

So, I succumbed to those reproachful glances and let B free of her restraints.  And I did what any good mom is supposed to do with a bored toddler in a store.  Get her involved.  I had her help me pick the best apples, half of which came home with big bruises because she missed the bag.  And I had her help me find the mini m&ms we needed for a party.  Where she got distracted by the bulk candy in the same aisle.  Which is conveniently placed at just the right height for toddlers to reach their grubby little hands in the bins.  She was making such a ruckus, I let her pick one kind.  We put a few in the bag and I let her hold it.  Every once in a while, when her hands are full, she makes a little less mischief. 

Right.  She began chewing through the bag to get to the candy.  I removed the bag from her possession.  She began wailing and we made a rapid exit from the candy aisle. 

I did my best to distract her by directing her gaze towards all the raw meat.  Mmmm, delish!  She forgot about the candy, fortunately, and wanted to be the leader and have me follow her.  That was a challenge because my cart was getting so full it would barely turn corners and it was piled so high that visibility was extremely poor.  (I really wish somebody would make carts sufficient for families of 5 or more.  It's like a nightmare tetris puzzle trying to fit in all the food without smashing the bread or making the meat leak.)  I may or may not have run into B a few times with my overloaded cart.  And she got frustrated when I had to stop to add items to my cart.  So she started rolling around on the floor and whining that she wanted to GO HOME!  RIGHT NOW!  She completely ignored my requests for her to get up.

I forced calm and got down on my knee to explain a few things.  Like how dirty the floors are and how we just shouldn't roll on the floor in stores.  Like how she should just behave and listen to me so we could leave the store sooner.  She didn't care about any of the explanations I was giving her in my patient-laden Mommy voice.  And she wasn't about to stop misbehaving.  So I had to spend some time rearranging the whole cart, dumping all the bread into the front of the racecar to make room for her to sit in the cart, facing me. 

But she wasn't going to sit there willingly, so I did what any good mom does in this situation.  I grabbed a box of fruit snacks and opened it so she could have a pack and sit there docilely so I could get the heck out of the store.  Previously, I never let my kids eat food in the store.  I always made them wait until we'd paid for it.  Until now.  B is giving me a run for my money and I'm finding that my standards in a lot of areas are getting decimated.

A few packs of fruit snacks later, we were finally out of the store and the food was loaded in the van.  When I tried to buckle B in her carseat, she began wailing and thrashing and arching her back so I couldn't buckle her.  But I was done.  I didn't care why she was crying.  I stuffed her into her seat, clicked those blessed buckles and started driving home. 

After 10 solid minutes of screaming and crying that she wanted to go back (seriously?!) to the grocery store, my heart softened a little and I asked her why she wanted to go back.

"Did we forget to buy something?"  This was my attempt at distracting her to help her calm down.  I'm thinking maybe it backfired.

"YES!!  Forgot Life cereal!"  She wailed amidst the sobbing.

I assured her over and over again that I bought several boxes of Life cereal.  R can't survive without Life cereal.  I never leave the grocery store without buying some.  But all my words fell on deaf ears.  She would not stop crying about going back to the grocery store to buy Life.

By this time, I had regained my sense of humor and was chuckling over just how ridiculous toddlers are.  We pulled into the driveway and I carried my blubbering baby inside.  I helped her settle down with a snack and a drink and then began the process of hauling all the groceries in and putting them away.

Amazingly, I'd managed to buy everything on my list . . . except for Life cereal.

Well, what do you know?  Mom was wrong.  But, whatever.  She's still fired.

It's good that she's cute.  It helps to counteract her not-so-cute behavior. 

This little eccentric of mine is why we were quite late for church on Mother's Day.
Can you tell that she did her own hair and picked her own shoes?  I tried to talk her out of the rain boots for a while, mainly because they weren't very clean.  But then I gave up and took her outside to take some pictures.  I can't say that Shaggy quite supported that decision of mine, but these moments are so fleeting.  And after we took a few pictures, she voluntarily kicked off the boots and ripped the flashdance headband out of her hair.  Win/win.