Saturday, July 22, 2017

To the Next Crop of Young Mothers

Early yesterday evening I saw a teenage neighbor and her friend drive down our street, windows down, radio playing, friend in the passenger seat laughing, wind blowing through their hair.  It was the picture of freedom.

I watched with admiration.  It's been a while since I've looked like that.  I no longer leave the house at 7:00 in the evening, windows down, by myself or with a friend.  When I'm pulling away on our street, it's now in a minivan with three school-aged kids in tow.  I'm the mom shuffling kids to the pool with a tote bag for towels and sunscreen, or to the library with a tote bag for books, or to the grocery store where I forget our reusable tote bags and exit with too many plastic bags instead.  I always seem to be carrying things, like a Sherpa.

I'm the opposite of my teenage neighbor and her friend with the wind blowing through their hair.

Yet, I as I watched their car disappear down my street, I remembered that years ago, when my children were babies, I often felt undeniably trapped during the evening hours.  I could get through mornings and afternoons, but evenings sapped my resolve.  My girls were most fussy after dinner, and I'd spend those languid evening hours rocking and pacing with a baby crying in my ear, feeling as if the walls of my house were closing in on me, that I might never make it through.

There were some desperate nights then.

Now, with school-aged kids, even though my days still brim with activity, shuffling, whining, correction, meal preparation, and cleaning up after messes, it's not quite as hard as those early years.  When I watched my teenage neighbor drive away, I experienced a small surge of wistfulness at her freedom -- just enough to remind me of how powerful that urge had been years ago, how I had felt that I needed to get out or I'd suffocate.

I don't feel that intensity any longer.  It's easier now.

But I know that some moms, especially you dear young moms who can't even slip out to Wal-Mart by yourselves for twenty minutes because babies need to nurse and toddlers are clingy, do feel this way.  The baby keeps crying, the walls are closing in, and you feel -- even though you love your children -- that you're losing a part of your mind or yourself.

It's real.

And, as I learn mostly in hindsight, it's a stage that passes.  You get yourself back. 

One day we were the teenagers driving away, carefree.  At some point, we might be the mom rocking the baby, watching the teenagers in the car and wishing it could be us.  And maybe, just maybe, someone older watches us when we're with our young children, reminiscing wistfully about those years in their own lives because their own children have grown and are now gone.  Life is funny.  The cycles keep cycling.

But, today, if you're going through a hard part of the cycle, give yourself grace and keep going.  It will pass soon enough.  Somehow it always does.

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Monday, July 10, 2017

These Days, You'll Find Me in the Garage

We no longer can park either vehicle in our garage.  The entrance to one stall is blocked by a truckload of rocks that were delivered from a local home and garden center and now await their slow removal, wheelbarrow-full by wheelbarrow-full, as they get placed in our garden landscaping.

The other stall is slowly getting taken over by piles for the garage sale we'll hold at the end of the month.  As I carry boxes of outgrown clothes, books we'll never read again, and unneeded household items, I already hope for the elusive garage sale impossibility: that every single item will sell.

Between the boxes, I've set up drop cloths and a station where I'm working to refinish a cabinet, a bookshelf, and our kitchen table.  I finished the kitchen table once before and was so pleased with the results -- dents had been filled, Sharpie marker and other stains from the kids had been sanded off, and the new driftwood gray finish was a vast improvement from the old blonde wood.  My good work was short lived, though: months later, the kids spilled a bottle of nail polish remover on top of old work papers, which caused the print to transfer onto the table, decoupage-style.  So now I'm sanding it down and trying once more, hopeful that this could be the time that actually sticks.

This lifestyle of putzing and painting, working with my hands and cleaning up the messes from the rest of the year, fits the month of July, the one month where I'm most distant from academia.  In July, if you need me, you'll find me in the garage.

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Sunday, July 2, 2017

New Things: Vacation Edition

Last week we went on vacation with my husband's family.  Each summer for the past ten years, we've traveled together for one week each summer to the shore of Delaware, sometimes near Fenwick Island, and this year on the north side of Bethany Beach, toward Dewey and Rehoboth.

For obvious reasons, I love the idea of vacation.  It's a chance, quite literally, to vacate your normal routine.  I stepped away from teaching and campus, and I checked email just enough to be considered borderline responsible.  This was good. 

Even better, vacation is a time to have new experiences, a few of which I'll detail here for you.

1) Car Troubles.  About halfway to the beach -- deep enough to be far away from home, yet not deep enough to be close to our destination -- the transmission of our minivan spontaneously died.  It was ugly.  I never had given much thought how we'd navigate a breakdown on the highway en route to vacation, and I'll spare you the details, except that it involved a long wait and small rental vehicle.

I should add that our rental car was the cleanest vehicle that I have traveled in for the last decade, which (almost, but certainly not quite) made me forget about the accompanying expenses.

2) New Running Trails.  Almost every morning before the heat of the day, my husband and I took a run.  I'd like to report that we ran together, but he's much faster than I, so he'd join me for my first mile (his "warm-up") before I'd continue at my slower pace.

I found new trails that were flat, well-marked, and happily populated with a handful of walkers, bikers, and other runners.  Even though I got turned around one morning and ended up running a mile more than I had intended, I always aim to pick safe and easy routes when I'm in unfamiliar locations.  (One generally unstated life goal is that I refuse to become the subject of a Reader's Digest "Drama in Real Life" article. Safety first, kids.)


Plus, one of the trails led me to a scenic outlook where I paused to catch my breath, watch the water on the bay, and take a picture of my feet, because you take pictures of your feet when you're on vacation.

3) Kayaking.  Our rental house had a kayak for our use just a short walk away, and one evening while I was on a solitary kayaking expedition, I saw a bald eagle.  He was so close I could see the yellow of his beak as he flew overhead, and then he landed in a pine tree where I sat and watched him, paddling every so often to keep myself anchored to the spot.

I had no phone with me to capture a picture, but I think I preferred just having the moment to myself.

4) Funland.  There's nothing new about our family visiting Funland at the Rehoboth Boardwalk, given that we've been taking the kids there for years, but this year Funland had a new ride: the SuperFlip 360.  I was born for rides like this.

But the moment I loved the most -- even more than riding with my kids, or the happy nostalgia of the books of green Funland tickets -- was when we met a 100-year-old woman who was in line to ride the tea cups.

That is how you live life.  You ride the tea cups on the boardwalk when you're 100.

5) The Fractured Prune.  Nobody in our family quite understands the name, but we were told a few years ago that we should visit a Fractured Prune doughnut shop.  This year we finally did.  I'm generally not a huge fan of doughnuts, as I have plenty of other dietary vices, but these were good doughnuts. 

6) Yahtzee.  My mother-in-law and I played four rounds of Yahzee during the week.  When we play, we don't just play a single column, either; we play Triple Yahzee, which gives you more places to bury bad rolls.  I was on a hot streak for three games (one game I rolled four Yahzees! Four of them, I tell you! That's a new record!), but I was slaughtered during the final game.  Alas, you can't win them all.

7) Sunscreen.  We've had this one bottle of sunscreen forever.  It never expires, and we frequently use it, yet we can never finish it.  My husband and I both marvel: how does this sunscreen never run out?  It's a mystery wrapped in an enigma.

Well, this vacation, it finally ran out.  I have her to thank.

Now we're returning to the standard nuts and bolts of life back at home, like unpacking, doing laundry, buying groceries, and getting caught up with the mail.  It's good to come back to regular life, but I'm always thankful for that week-long chance to vacate it in the first place.

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Friday, June 23, 2017

No apology needed, yet we give them anyway.

The sink in our upstairs bathroom broke.  To clarify, the pipe underneath the sink in our upstairs bathroom broke, which caused a steady stream of water to puddle at the base of our vanity along with the Lysol wipes, hand soaps, and bottle of toilet bowl cleanser.  Eventually, the puddle must have reached critical mass and spilled onto our bathroom floor, creating a puddle there, too -- one that I stepped in, which is how I discovered the leak.

My husband called his friend, a handyman for a local apartment complex, to look at the pipe.  The next morning while I was at work, his friend came, diagnosed the problem, repaired the pipe, and went on his way.  Simple.

I came home, pleased with the quick fix and how I wouldn't need to brush my teeth at my bathtub spigot that evening.

Then I looked around our bedroom for a moment, knowing that our handyman friend must have walked through it to reach the bathroom.  The bed was made, but the rest of the room was a mess.  Because I had been painting my oldest daughter's room, all of her belongings had been transferred to our room.  Unwieldy mounds of her bed linens, stuffed animals, and books were stacked on top of our own furniture.  Her mirror, bulletin board, and pictures leaned against our bedroom walls.

Clutter everywhere.

As I looked around, I wondered if my husband had thought to explain the mess to his friend as he directed him to our bathroom.  I didn't ask, though, because I know the answer would have been no.

He wouldn't have said, "You see, Robin was painting Reese's room, so we had to move all of her stuff into here.  Please don't mind the mess."

He wouldn't have said, "Sorry, I know this place is a disaster."

He wouldn't have offered an apology or explanation, because there was no apology or explanation needed.  He knows that it's our house and we live there.  He knows that sometimes rooms get painted, and possessions temporarily get relocated into piles in other rooms, and pipes break, and messes naturally occur, and other people witness them.

In other words, he wouldn't have offered an apology because he understands that people live in houses, and living can be a messy prospect.  And because he's a man.

In contrast, I've noticed how quickly apologies are issued when a woman lets another woman into her home -- sometimes even before the guest steps through the front doorway.  Sorry that there's still a half-eaten waffle and syrup dripped on the kitchen table, even though it's almost dinner.  Sorry my kids have dropped their socks everywhere.  I'm just warning you... this place is a mess.

Our apologies and explanations suggest that it's a moral failing if throw blankets aren't neatly draped across the back of couches, or mail is unsorted on the counter, or shoes are left at the front door, or unrinsed dinner plates still sit in the kitchen sink. 

We apologize to each other for living in our own spaces, as if this is wrong, as if real life shouldn't take place within the walls of our homes.  At the same time, we all know that real life does take place in our homes -- and, sometimes, real life involves a broken pipe, a painting project, and a bedroom in a state of upheaval.

Best yet, real life also involves friends who are willing to come at a moment's notice and help when you're in a pinch, without caring whether your bedroom is messy.

That's real life.  When no apology or explanation is needed, let's stop giving them.

Let's give other people the gift of knowing that our houses look just like their houses: lived in.

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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Another Parenting Milestone

A lot of parenting involves slogging through the daily routine, but every so often, you encounter a moment that stops you in your tracks.  There are traditional firsts, like the time your child first rolls or takes uncertain steps.  There are highly-photographed firsts, like first days of school.  There are firsts that make parents sigh in relief, like when a baby first blessedly sleeps through the night, or when kids first learn to buckle their own seat belts and you no longer have to wheedle yourself into back seats to click them into safety.

In my parenting journey, I experienced those types of early firsts years ago.  Even so, life keeps evolving, and yesterday I experienced another first.

I drove my daughter and her friend to the public pool, dropped them off at the curb, waved as they walked to the counter and showed their passes, and then drove away.

Let me recap: I left my child in a public place -- one that is not school -- and then I left the premises.  Because she's twelve.  Because she and her friend are very responsible and capable of surviving without adult supervision for two hours.  Because I have reached the point in parenting where I'm not needed every single moment of every single day.

Parenting from the sidelines.  It's a first, I tell you.

Image compliments of USAG Livorno PAO

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