Monday, October 3, 2011

Tonight Is Golden

After a whirlwind of a month it is an absolute treasure to be at home for a leisurely evening. My life has never been so jammed packed full, well beyond capacity, as during these past four weeks. Every single second of the day was spoken for, there was literally not a moment to spare, and if there was, I was using it to gain some eensy, teensy ounce of energy back into my weary bones. From 6 in the morning till anywhere between 9-11 at night my beloved minutes were occupied.

On top of all my normal duties as mother of three and household executive, I was swamped with the kids school work (this already takes about an hour a day and they’re in 2nd grade and Kindergarten! Sheesh!), school activities (volunteering in the two classrooms as well as evening engagements for the parents), sports practice for two boys (twice a week), sports games for both boys (which now take up our entire day on Saturday), soccer games for my husband who plays twice a week (super duper sadly, I am out of commission until about January due to an ankle injury. I’m feeling rather sorry for myself.), a weekend soccer tournament out of town, and the overwhelming task of running a sports league for the first time. This undertaking alone has consumed countless hours of my life recently.

I thoroughly enjoy every item I just listed. In fact, I freely volunteered myself (and my family) for each and every one of them. But the magnitude in which I have been involved lately has significantly increased, thereby depriving me of any time leftover. The main source of all this extra work has been, without question, the sports league my husband and I are now a part of. We love it. It is definitely a joy to be involved with the club and we are glad to do it. But we didn’t necessarily ease ourselves into the process. We weren’t given an orientation or a person to shadow on the job, or anything of the sort. We dove in entirely, way, way into the deep end of the pool, blindfolded and holding weights. To say we hit the ground running is an understatement, we hit the ground speeding at a full sprint, with a propeller pushing us forward, and a strong wind at our back. There was no easing about it. We’ve stumbled our way through by acting in the moment, asking a billion questions, and refusing to give up. It’s been fun, educational, exhilarating, confusing, frustrating, exhausting, time consuming, rewarding, challenging, but absolutely worthwhile. Like I said, we love it. And I’m convinced it can only get better, now that our trial by fire is over. (and we only have some minor burns to show for it!).

So, all that to say…. It’s been four weeks and we finally have a night at home where we aren’t rushing off to some place or other, or where my husband and I aren’t drained entirely of our will to live. It’s a normal, easy going, average evening at our house. I am in heaven.

From the kitchen I watch my kids dance around the living room as I prepare dinner. So far they’ve busted their moves to LMFAO, Queen, AC/DC, Saliva (yes, these are all songs from my husband’s ipod) and a few others I don’t know the names of. The fact that I’m cooking dinner at 5:30 so we can eat at 6:00ish is a miracle in and of itself, since most of our meals have been at the early-bird-special time of 4:30pm (no joke… I know, so sad), or 7:30pm (the time we usually begin our bedtime routine).

We sit to the table at 6:05pm, the kids are nice and tired after their dance party workout, and I dish up the plates. We linger. Ahhh, we linger. No rushing, no leaving half-eaten plates on the table to clean up later, no yelling (ahem! I mean, strongly encouraging) at the kids to hurry-up-and-eat-for-the-one- hundredth-time-because-we-have-got-to-leave-and-I’m-not-kidding! Just a relaxed meal with smiles and giggles and story-telling and sharing. No one cares that it’s been 30 minutes and the boys have yet to touch their asparagus. Heck, we could wait here all night, we actually have the time! Well, the boys do eat their asparagus, every last bite (they like it), they were just busy telling us joke after joke after joke. And we listened to each one, pretend laughing at every punch line (I mean really, they don’t even make sense), but fully relishing the quality family time we’ve missed out on.

After dinner I actually get to snuggle up on the couch with my daughter who’s been waiting patiently all day to watch a movie. We pop in the DVD and half-watch, half play silly games. It’s beautiful.

The kids are now in bed snoozing peacefully. As I sit at my desk with a hot cup of soothing coffee and reflect on the experience I’ve just had I realize that tonight has been one of the most precious nights of my life because I was able to enjoy the simplicity of it all. I was able to take in my surroundings completely in the moment, to truly connect with my kids and just soak it all in. No craziness, no looking at the clock in despair, no flying out the door at lightning speed, no sitting at the computer answering email after email, or hushing the kids so I can talk business on the phone. Tonight was just about us. Tonight is golden.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

A Night Of Talent

I was inspired by a song I heard. My dad sings the chorus of this hilarious song to my kids, he really plays it up with crazy vocals and silly movements and they absolutely adore it, giggles galore! He sent the original version to us via itunes a while ago and as I listened to it for the 15th time (they played it repeatedly for themselves and again for every one of their friends who stopped by the house) I had an idea… I thought this song would be perfect for a talent show! Its upbeat tempo, nonsensical lyrics and catchy tune make it ideal for entertainment.

So, what to do when you have a supreme talent show act and yet no talent show in which to perform? A dilemma I pondered a mere second or two until I was magnificently inspired: I would hold my very own talent show!

We like to get together with friends for dinner and games. I thought this would be a great group to invite to my talent show. Instead of dinner and games we’d enjoy dinner and a talent show! I got everyone to agree to a date and time before I told them that this time around the evening would be slightly different. Initially my awesome idea was met with some hesitancy. For instance, my husband’s response was “What kind of crack are you smoking?” And several others were convinced they had no talent to share. But I held my ground and assured them it would be so much fun, plus they couldn’t back out since we already had a confirmed date! (yes, intentionally sneaky on my part)

The night of the talent show proved to live up to my prediction. I, along with everyone else, laughed for hours on end. Of course some of my laughter was encouraged by the margaritas I was drinking, but even without the liquid courage, it would have been just as full of joy and livelihood. Every single person participated (a requirement), shedding new light on their creativity. We had singing, dancing, a magic show, juggling, a game we all took part in, musical body parts, yoga poses, guitar, and more. It truly was a special evening, not to mention highly entertaining!

I encourage everyone to add a little spice to their dinner-with-friends nights. Next time mix it up a little and do something out of the ordinary. Tradition is marvelous and serves to create wonderful memories, but so does the unexpected. Every once in a while throw a curve ball and have some major fun!

The song of inspiration? Does Your Chewing Gum Lose it’s Flavor (On the Bedpost Overnight)? By Lonnie Donegan and His Skiffle Group (Thanks, Dad!!)

Look it up and listen. It will bring a smile to your face!

Friday, July 29, 2011

A Lesson For Mommy

This entry is difficult for me to write because it emphasizes my own immaturity. Even though it’s a little embarrassing for me to share my shortcomings with everyone, I still feel as though it something worth discussing.

I was at Old Navy shopping today. I was super excited because I had a Groupon for $20 that I was planning on using. The best part of this Groupon is that I didn’t even have to pay for it, I got all $20 for free! This is because I received a $10 credit from Groupon a while back and used it for the Old Navy offer ($10 for $20). Score! I am a huge bargain shopper so deals like this totally make my day. I mean, you can’t beat free!

After dropping off my boys at school I strolled into the store with my daughter in tow. Of course, I made a bee-line straight for the girls clearance section. After carefully perusing the clearance rack, I made my way through the various sales and began meticulously searching for a steal. I then copied my tactics in the boys section and ended up with a nice little pile.

On the walk on to the register I was mentally congratulating myself on being such a savvy shopper, once again making my dollars, my free dollars, stretch. I placed my prizes on the counter and happily handed the Groupon to the cashier. She rang up my items and scanned the Groupon then proceeded to stare at the computer screen for a while. Then she punched some buttons, removed a few items from the bag she had placed them in, deleted them from the purchase and scanned the Groupon once more. She again stared at the computer screen, waiting for the discount to go through. It did not. At this point she got on her nifty walkie-talkie and radioed the manager to request assistance. The two of them, to their credit, made several attempts to get the order to be accepted by the computer system, all the while shaking their heads saying “Well, it looks like this particular item is excluded from the Groupon.” Or, “This must be an ‘every day’ item because those are not included in the Goupon.” This whole time I just stood by patiently with a smile on my face knowing it was just a technical glitch that would soon be remedied. I don’t know why exactly I harbored this belief. Maybe because I had used Groupons before and had never experienced the slightest bit of trouble? Possibly because I never expected there to be any sort of complication? I read the Groupon terms a while back and hadn’t noticed any exclusions, I just figured it was the same as cash, good towards anything.

As it turns out my assumptions were wrong. Of the nice little pile I had accumulated only one girls 3T tank top counted towards the $20 I had. What?! One measly little tank top priced at $1.97? (I know, can you believe that price?!) Nothing else worked? What kind of messed up Groupon was this? I asked if there was anything they could do to override the system. I was met with baffled stares. “I’m sorry ma’am, there’s nothing we can do. These items just won’t work. I’m afraid you’re going to have to find something else.” I asked to see the Groupon so I could read the fine print. And then I saw it: “Some restrictions apply” was written in there plain as day. I had overlooked this small statement earlier, but this did give them the right to exclude basically whatever they wanted without giving specifics. Man, I was stuck!

This is the point in the story where it turns ugly. I didn’t yell and scream and huff and puff and cuss everyone out. A little part of me wanted to, but I have more than enough self control to stop that behavior in its tracks. The manner in which I did respond, however, sure wasn’t very polite. I grabbed the three items from the pile I wanted to keep, Groupon dollars or no, and walked away saying, loud enough for others to hear, “Well now I have to search the entire store again. I already did this once and I know there is nothing else in here I want.”

Ok, so that statement wasn’t even true. I had visited the sale racks of only two sections of the store, and quite honestly, given free reign there were actually quite a few things I would have been glad to take home with me. I responded purely from frustration and disappointment. I was looking forward to sharing about my thriftiness and showing the kids their new clothes. And now it was taken from me, or so I thought. I was angry and felt cheated. You see, I hate being taken advantage. Some may argue that in this case I wasn’t being taken advantage of at all, but at the time this is how I felt. It’s not in my nature to roll over and permit others to walk all over me, so I wanted to let them know how I felt about the matter. I could have made my point by quietly and calmly letting them know I was disappointed by the vagueness of the ad and hoped in the future they might be more clear so as to avoid misunderstandings. Instead I stomped off like a disgruntled teenager.

To make matters worse I immediately whipped out my cell phone and called my husband to inform him how awful this Groupon was. I was looking for some sympathy. Right as the words, “Old Navy sucks” came out of my mouth I turned to see a woman next to me trying to get my attention. As it turns out she was the store manager. I hung up the phone and was greeted with “Are you the customer with the Groupon?” Gee, how’d you guess that one? “Yes, I am.” I replied. “I am so very sorry” she said, “we’ve been having quite a bit of difficulty with the Groupons. A lot of people have been unhappy with them. Here’s a $5 gift card on us towards your next purchase. Again, we’re really sorry. This was our first Groupon and we’ve since realized we’ve hit a few snags. But we’re already working on another one that will be much easier to use and much more clear on restrictions.”

Instantly I was ashamed. What a baby, pouting that I didn’t get my way! Oh my gosh, I am a mother of three, constantly trying to instill values in my children and here I was acting inappropriately in front of complete strangers. I couldn’t apologize fast enough. “No, it’s ok, really. I’m sorry, I just had no idea there were limitations on the Groupon. I’m sure I can find something else.” The manager was very kind and even helped me pick out some jeans I was looking at for the boys. She rung me up at the register when I was ready and apologized again while handing out stickers to my daughter (her arm was plastered in them by the time we left). I assured her it was ok, really, no big deal, don’t even worry about it, trying desperately to save some teeny, tiny ounce of face.

As I was walking towards my car I felt deep regret for my actions. There was no need for me to make a scene, and even though I was embarrassed I also felt that same great feeling I had as I made my way to the register initially, of having been a super-duper-saving-shopper. I ended up getting a tremendous deal and was able to leave with a bag full of clothes I only paid a few dollars for, thanks to my free Groupon. I was reminded yet again that things always turn out ok, even if for moments life appears to be disastrous, or in this case, if the coupon doesn’t work exactly as I thought it would. If we just stop for a moment in the midst of chaos, confusion, hardship or while standing at a crossroads and breathe (remember how we’re always told to count to 10? It’s because it works!), just breathe and relax, we begin to feel a calmness, some clarity, a way that will help our situation. It doesn’t have to be a life changing event, it can be as something as small as trouble at the cash register. If we breathe and seek clarity we will find it.

I would have found this to be true had I taken a few deep, cleansing breaths instead of choosing to stomp off in frustration. Hopefully I’ll remember this lesson and choose differently in the future.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Proud To Be An American

What a great day to be an American! The 4th of July holds a special place in the hearts of patriots and brings forth a sense of community and solidarity in people. Having lived in other countries I can say with sincerity that I truly am glad to be an American. I’m not saying anything against other countries or putting them down, not at all. I lived very formative years overseas and have a great fondness and respect for other peoples and cultures. Every place on earth has much to offer and is unique in its own way. And yet, there us something different about the good ‘ole U.S of A. We are a special nation, we stand out in a variety of ways.

I spent Independence Day up at my parents cabin with family. They own a place in a small community just south of Flagstaff, it’s a marvelous getaway for us all! The town holds a parade on the 4th that anyone can take part in. On Monday my boys rode their decorated bikes in the parade for the second time. It’s a wonderfully festive time, full of fun and laughter, good spirits, camaraderie, and a general sense of well being. After the parade we enjoyed a long-lived American traditional meal, grilled hamburgers with all the trimmings and sides! Yum! My mom, a model hostess, had the table decorated with all sorts of red, white and blue cheer.

When our bellies were full and we sat back to enjoy our mountainous surroundings, my mom asked us to share one reason we were thankful to be an American, something we were proud of our country for. Here are a few of the answers given: “Because even though it’s cliché, we really are the land of opportunity. People still seek our shores to take a shot at their dream.” “Because we are a giving, generous country, eager to help others, whether it be our neighbors or someone in a foreign land.” “Because we are free to express ourselves, we can dare to be different or unique, we can question and seek for further, deeper meanings and answers, we can push the limits and break free from the mold, we can dream.” “Because we are a safe nation of refuge for those persecuted.” “Because our founding fathers made the effort to create an unparalleled constitution which is the basis of our greatness.” “Because we respect and honor every generation and both genders.”

My boys, 7 and 5, even joined in with their thoughts. My oldest said he likes his country because here you can pick as many flavors of ice cream you want and can mix them if you wish. He said he learned in school about a boy in a foreign country that was not allowed to mix his flavors of ice cream, there they were only able to choose one flavor. My other son stated he likes his country because he can swim in the pool. These may be considered small potatoes to some, but when compared to many parts of the world, they are indeed luxuries, and I’m proud of my boys for their gratefulness. I’m also thrilled they live in a land where ice cream and swimming pools are a part of their everyday life, as opposed to pain, suffering, lack or violence.

I know our country is not perfect, I know we have plenty of areas to improve in, I know we make mistakes, but overall we do a good job at providing for our citizens. I am proud to be an American. Are you? Why?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Ah Vacation...

Ah vacation, how I love you so….

How is it that merely one week away from the normal daily grind can work wonders in a person’s soul? I swear, I was close to losing my mind for a few months prior to leaving for vacation. A few weeks ago I even wrote about how desperate I was for a break. As a (mostly) stay at home mom (I work part time from home) I never get “time off” from the kids. After over seven years of working the same job day in and day out with very, very little time off I was drowning. I love my kids more than anything, but I hadn’t been getting enough time away from them in order to refresh myself. I was slowly slipping into insanity.

So, when our vacation week finally arrived I was ecstatic. Granted, I was also a bit apprehensive since this vacation was a family one, just our family. No friends, no other extended family members, just myself and my husband and our three kids, the same three kids I needed a break from. However, I was determined to enjoy the time away and release myself from any sort of normal responsibility. My daily life is fiercely regulated by the clock, I’m on a strict schedule that requires me to race through the day in order to remain on time.

I didn’t want any of that. I wanted my brain and my mind to be free, relaxed, calm. I wanted to savor the moment and distance myself from time management efficiency. I wanted to actually enjoy every moment I spent with my kids and not worry about running late or mentally strategizing the rest of my daily tasks while engaging with them. I wanted my kids and my husband to have all of me and I wanted to do so gladly and whole heartedly, not with reservation. In my busy life I have a tendency to have fun and be in the moment but with one eye continuously glancing at the clock. I don’t really know how to fully relax but I wanted to, I needed to. My goal was to shed that restricting mentality and be absolutely free for the entire week.

AND IT WORKED!!!! It was the absolute best medicine, exactly what I needed to expel the stress and tension and then replenish with renewed energy. My week was perfect. All day, every day with my wonderful family, relaxed hours on the beach, playing in the surf, morning bike rides, collecting shells along the sand, evening walks at sunset, fun and meaningful interaction, and lots of healing leisure. No clocks, no cell phone, no Internet (ok, I did check my email once), no itinerary, no expectations, no responsibility, just a genuine enjoyment of every moment of every day. (I did all the planning beforehand so we had details taken care of, giving us the ability to go with the flow).

I feel much better, renewed and refreshed, and packed with magical memories. Now I just have to wait another 355 days till the next time, approximately…

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Toddler Translator

My daughter is two and is talking up a storm. She chats to everyone and, as most toddlers do, points out every single object, person and pet she encounters. It’s as though her activities and sights need a continuous verbal relay. I hear about every plane that passes overhead, every dog that walks by, every bird that crosses our lawn, and pretty much every other action taking place. Her new one is “Mama, watch this!” which is followed by some sort of action on her part, usually a tumbling move she picked up from observing her brothers “break dance”. (Her tumbling maneuver, more often than not, consists of her lifting her arms up, straight into the air then dramatically swooshing them down, bending over and kicking her feet all of two inches off the floor. It’s priceless!)

On the whole, I love to hear her talk. I’ve waited for this day for a long time. Once kids begin speaking it makes life, generally speaking, easier. The only problem is, as is the case with beginner talkers, she speaks her own language. By this I mean she doesn’t always pronounce words correctly (sometimes she’s not even close!), making it a challenge to decipher her intention. She is extremely precise and knows exactly what she wants to say, and she says it, only I don’t always understand her. We play this game throughout the day endlessly. I have to go through a list of every single word she could possibly mean and say it out loud until I hit the right one. Now, being her mother and with her all day long I’m usually quite adept at picking the winning word quickly. However, there are instances where we spend a good chunk of time attempting to understand each other.

This morning, for example, she kept saying “Pez! Pez!” I looked all around the room for something that might sound similar to “pez” but couldn’t locate anything. I asked “Birds?... Cars?... Books?... Brush?... Pants?... Bed?...” until I finally hit the jack pot with “Brothers.” Turns out she was inquiring after her two brothers while I was getting her dressed for the day.

My daughter has the habit of just repeating the word (or phrase) over and over and over until I get it. She doesn’t tire, she’ll just repeat it incessantly like a broken record. When she’s not feeling patient and is frustrated with me for taking too long she’ll continue with her repetition but then she’ll throw in a loud “No!” of exasperation in between guesses, scrunch up her face, stiffen her body and then arch her back in protest, as though I am wasting her time and could I please hurry up and get with the program already! Sheesh! (I have no idea where she gets that from, by the way… Ha! I can’t even type those words without laughing!)

I usually make an attempt to exercise my own patience in this situation because I know she’s trying hard to speak to me. I can relate to just how wearisome it is when either people do not understand your words or when you lack the vocabulary to properly express yourself. It can be maddening. Of course I also make a point to encourage her to remain calm and let her know I’m doing the best I can, thank you very much!

However, even with the challenges involved I do really love the learning-to-speak stage. It’s a point where you can see your child grow and develop right before your very eyes, from moment to moment. It’s fascinating! I think at this stage every parent proudly states their child is pure genius for being able to identify, pronounce, express, and relay meaning. It’s a remarkable time in a child’s life. Witnessing such leaps and bounds in mere days more than makes up for the Monopoly-style guessing games and frustrated toddler tantrums.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

I'm Calling In Sick

I wish I had a cute story to share, or a funny moment, or an inspiring thought to help you through your own parenthood journey. I wish I could be witty or clever or humorous. I wish, for that matter, I could keep my eyes open…

The last few months have been little more than a blur. Every moment of every day has been full and I have been running full speed ahead with very little recovery time. I’m exhausted. I’m overworked. I’m barely keeping my head above water and my patience with the kids is wearing very, very thin. In short, I need a break!!! (As a side question, how do the kids always know when I’m on the verge of a mental breakdown and choose these moments to pull their worst stunts? Or is it that they normally act this way but I’m better equipped to handle it when I’m not functioning on an empty tank?).

Most days of my life I am perfectly fine. I have my better days and my not-so-great days like everyone, but overall I entertain a good life. These past few months have really thrown me for a loop though and I’m at the point where I need a well deserved vacation. I would settle for a personal day. Heck, I’ll even call in sick! Oh wait, I can’t. I don’t have any of these options. I don’t even get weekends as a respite from my full time job. I’m on duty, or at least on call, twenty four hours a day, seven gosh, darn days of the week. It’s too much. I can’t perform my duties properly if I’m never afforded a break.

Now, before you think this is a boo-hoo, poor me story, let me assure you it is not. It is an honest, vulnerable sharing of my heart. And I choose to share this today because I know there are many that can relate. We’ve all had times of overwhelm, of too much on our plate, times we feel the insanity creeping in. Life can be too much sometimes even if no catastrophe has occurred. The activities that consume my day are all things I like and want to do (except for the house cleaning!). I volunteered to work two side jobs and to coach, and all the running around for sports, school events, appointments, etc is all a part of caring for the kids full time. I asked for all of this and normally I love it all but recently they have just overtaken my life. Now I am saying, “Whoa there, Nelly! I need a break! Where do I punch out? Who approves my vacation time? When is my day off?” And the sad, but very real answer is, “Sorry, dude, no break for you.”

Usually I’m not this crazy-busy and I do get a few minutes here, an hour there to do something of leisure, or to relax and remove myself from the kids. Lately, however, any break from the kids I get is occupied with a plethora of other time-sensitive duties that must be tended to, leaving me about an hour at night of free time. The only problem is by this time I am very much brain dead and physically worn out.

So I’m not really sure the point of this entry, but this is what has been on my mind and heart lately. If nothing else, when you read this you’ll know you’re not the only person completely drained and overworked. We all need breaks and moments of relaxation in order to recover. I know this. Recovery is an essential part of life, without it we’ll burn out entirely. We must rest and recover in order to adequately perform again. Athletes know the importance of recovery. Imagine if they trained and trained and trained and never allowed their muscles to rest? They sure wouldn’t last very long. The same concept applies to the rest of us.

My only problem is that I don’t know how to rest and recover right now….. There is no temporary replacement lined up for my position of Mommy. Therefore I must persist until the craziness subsides. I hope I make it! In the meantime I heavily rely on my two (maybe three?) glasses of red wine on Saturday nights… This is my own blessed heaven and refuge for now. I know it’s not ideal but this truly is my reprieve from reality for the time being. Soon enough I’ll be able to recover properly… I must have hope!