Friday, November 30, 2007

Spewing Some Volcanic Gunk

I wrote this post a few weeks ago and waited to post it because I wasn't sure if I wanted to. But I think I will. Just so you know that I don't happen to be exploding at the moment.

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I think I generally come off as a fairly together mom, in person and in my writing. One of the ways that I maintain my sanity in the face of a very challenging child is to try to keep a veneer of calm, even if inside I am screaming. There are cracks in that veneer, usually small--a tense voice, a hand too tight around a little arm. Sometimes, usually when I am tired, these cracks become larger. I yell at the kids, or cry a lot, or say mean things. Less a crack, more a fissure. This usually relieves some stress and I'm able to go back to the calm.

Sometimes, though, the lurking fear and darkness inside become difficult to manage. They never go totally away. And it is just primal and raw, this stuff that sometimes comes spewing out, and I can't even really write about it, as much as I want to. But of course I will try.

It is fear--fear that I am doing everything wrong, fear that Luke will turn out to be a horrible person and that it will be all my fault. It is childlike insecurity, it is a feeling that no one understands what I am going through, that everyone wonders what the hell I'm doing to my kid that makes him scream and thrash around (at age five) this day, try to steal something from my friend's house the next day, bite his little brother (at age five) still the next.

It is fear that people don't know that I know. I know. I know. I know and I read and I talk to people and I think and I pursue labels or don't pursue labels and seek professional help or don't seek professional help. I've time outed and time inned and sticker charted and spanked and talked, talked, talked.

And you know, it is really tiring. It is exhausting. And I know it is life. Repetitive, ongoing, challenging. But this life with Luke is life on fast forward, life special edition, life warp speed. I know, because I have another child that shows me what an easier, slower life could look like.

I'm not saying easier and slower is what I want, necessarily. Because then I would have a different child. I would have a different life. But sometimes, just sometimes--usually when I'm tired, when I've just recieved, as I just have, the fourth phone call in a week from Luke's teacher--I wish that I could maybe just pause this life for a little bit. Slow it down.

Maybe I'm being overly dramatic because I'm frustrated and I'm tired. Or maybe not. It is simply impossible for me to tell, because I'm in it. It is what it is and usually it is okay, even fabulous and joyous and wonderful. Because dayglow life is really great sometimes.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Happy Birthday, Blog!

Dear Weblog,

You turned a year old this week! Happy (belated) Birthday! I believe you have matured over the last year, although I must admit that I am biased.

Known by nearly all as "Blog," you are funny (I hope), honest, and decently written. Your most astounding strength is your ability to flourish despite everything working against you--two kids who don't want to share their mama's attention with you, a dirty house, and the dreaded "mommy brain."

You are wonderful at helping me feel connected, accomplished, and like a thinking human being.

Here's wishing you many fruitful years to come.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

(Some Rambling) Food for Thought

I've been thinking a lot about food lately. I mean, I always think about food, because I really like to eat it. I would consider myself a foodie, really: I love to cook and to bake and to read cookbooks and to eat and to grocery shop. But lately, I've been thinking a lot more than usual about food. Part of it is that I am finally reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, her book about eating homegrown and local food almost exclusively for a year. And, too, now that we are no longer dorm parents and no longer eat in the cafeteria, I am cooking again with regularity. And with the kids pouring Halloween candy down their throats and with Thanksgiving just around the corner and Christmas cookies to start baking, oh, just any day now, there are a lot of food topics for me to think about while doing the dishes and gazing out at the falling leaves. You know, because now that I am a full time stay at home mom, that is what I do with half of my day.

I have been reading food memoirs for a year or so now--a genre I didn't know existed until recently, actually. I never thought I could write about food, since I'm not actually a gourmet, or gourmand, or whatever. But a food memoir. You know, like, why I enjoy food and what memories I have about food and what role eating and cooking have in my life. Now that I could write.

But at this point I'm just brainstorming.

I think I was, perhaps, a strange child. I do remember liking a few foods typical of what many children like: macaroni and cheese (the boxed stuff, thank you very much, minus the tuna and peas my mother liked to add), popcorn, and anything sweet. But beyond that, what I remember aren't likely the foods we ate everyday. What I do remember are the coconuts, brought home by my dad as a treat or purchased with my saved up allowance--yes, I said already that I was a strange child--that we would crack opened with a hammer, catching the liquid essence of coconut inside with a bowl. We would spend the rest of the day slivering off pieces of the coconut meat to eat. In the same exotic fruit category, I remember my dad bringing home asian pears. The ones I remember were larger than the ones available today, although perhaps this is just the work of my memory, recalling the fruit proportionally to my age. There would be one asian pear for the entire family, and after dinner my dad would slice irregular pieces and dole them out one at a time around the table.

I also must have had a thing for fried foods, because I remember my mom making corn fritters and tempura. I think she only made each of these once, but my sense memories, especially of the tempura, are strong. I remember dipping each vegetable in the batter--I think I helped with this part--and then my mom would lower a batch into the hot oil. It would bob to the surface a few minutes later, the smell of the tempura mingling with the scent of the hot oil.

Also, I loved cucumbers with salt and filet o' fish from McDonalds. And "kippered seafood snacks" on saltine crackers, a snack so horrific I can't bring myself to try it again as an adult. Just think whole small fish, brined and tinned. But I tell you, I loved it as a kid.

On my list of "won't eat" at the tender age of seven? Liver, bologna and miracle whip. That is all I can honestly remember disliking. Although I probably still ate these things, because I ate whatever I was served. No questions.

Which raises this question for me: why are my kids so picky? Is it because I don't force them to eat whatever I'm eating? I just doesn't seem fair to force a kid to eat something, especially since I like things like shellfish and stinky cheese. I mean, my kids--Luke, really, because he is the picky one and Henry just sometimes follows his lead--do eat healthy foods. Luke in particular is just very limited in what is acceptable to him in each food category. Vegetables? Steamed green beans and broccoli, cooked corn and peas, raw carrots and pea pods. Fruit? Fresh and frozen berries, melon, and an occasional pear or apple. Protein? Beans, nuts, and only McDonalds chicken nuggets because, according to Luke, "they don't taste like chicken." Grains? White rice, any kind of buttered pasta, and bread that "doesn't have crunchy things in it." Dairy? Milk and melted cheese.

Of course, Craig will, and does, eat refried beans, cheese and salsa melted together with tortilla chips every night of his life. He swears that this is his secret formula, why he can eat whatever he wants and not exercise all that much and still remain slim and fit. I don't know about that, but maybe my boys have gotten their repetitive eating patterns from their dad.

Anyway, this isn't a great post, but I can't write any more. I need to go eat.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Available for Viewing: One Semi-Hippy

Remember that ritzy suburb that I took the boys to so they could run in the sprinklers on that really hot day in August? That day that Luke wore a crazy outfit and the little boy thought he was weird? Maybe the blog post isn't seared into your memory, but the day is seared into mine. It was a day that I was looking for friendship and connection, but I just wound up hot, defensive, and feeling like a loony lady who drives a half converted biodiesel car, nurses a toddler, and lets my five year old dress up in colorful outfits that get him mocked. Oh, and I don't think I mentioned how that day ended: we stopped by to pick up the farm share veggies of an online friend, but my heat-addled brain couldn't remember her name, and the farmer grudgingly gave me a few vegetables, thinking I was trying to scam him. I certainly looked the part. I even had heat rash all over my face.

Okay, so I have joined a book group in that same ritzy suburb. Crazy, right? I have a couple of old friends from graduate school that live here, and one of them lives in said suburb. She has two kids now, both boys, one of whom is named Henry. We got together a few weeks ago, and while it was so fun to reconnect with her, our kids didn't really hit it off. But when she invited me to join her book group, I jumped at the chance. The other grad school friend is a member, as well as several other mommy friends of the ritzy suburb grad school friend. This way, I can see the friend without having to worry about our kids' chemistry. And I might make some new friends, no?

So the first meeting was a few nights ago. We were to discuss Huck Finn. But since most people hadn't finished it, we mostly just ate a lot of snacks and talked. This was great, as far as I was concerned. While my mind does crave stimulation beyond what it receives during Sesame Street, I'm just as open to friendship and adult conversation. Most of our conversation revolved around our kids. All of us had at least one, except for the one grad school friend who was due with her first in just a few days.

I could tell right away that I was, perhaps, different from most of the moms here. First of all, since the one was about to give birth (and another was about to have her second) there were birth stories all around. All of these involved an epidural and an obstetrician. I didn't offer up my own stories, which don't involve either. But I had to chime in when someone mentioned "those crazy co-sleeping families." If I was going to regularly socialize with these women, we would need to get a few things straight.

"Well, my family is a co-sleeping family," I said.

"So do you all sleep together?" and "How did you start this?" and "When will you stop?" and "I was only joking!" rained down upon me.

I ended up telling the whole double sized bunk bed story, which is perhaps even stranger than the story of the average co-sleeping family--but funnier, too, and a bit more reliant on serendipity than The Big Hippy Manual of Hippy Parenting.

But that is what I automatically became, I think, for most of these women. I was the hippy mom on display. They weren't at all mean, but they had a lot of questions.

"So wait," said one, with new perspective on our chitchat that evening. "Did you have your kids, like, naturally? I mean," she said to clarify, since this term natural had been used in reference to vaginal birth all evening, "Without any drugs?"

I nodded yes, then offered that Henry had been born at home.

Later, it was revealed that I still nurse Henry at two and a half years old.

I left feeling strange. Like I would be the subject of many conversations between many of them for the next few weeks. Like I had been on display, an exotic creature for them to examine. But I also felt pretty good. I hung out with the "conventional" moms in the "conventional" suburb in central Ohio and it was okay. It was actually pretty fun. And there was some really good cake and wine.

Next month we are reading The Jane Austen Book Club.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

For those of you that know my friend Jenny, you know this: She is warm, genuinely caring, funny, thoughtful, and spontaneous. And she is very, very generous. She will, quite literally, give you the shirt off her back. On my recent visit to Chicago, I stayed with Jenny. The morning that I was packing up to leave, she was rushing around her house finding things to pack into my car.

"I bought these three new shirts, and I love them so much. I want you to pick one to keep!" she declared.

After I picked a very cute black t-shirt with a dragonfly on the front, Jenny went on to give me a wooden table, a clock, and many more things that I dare not mention for fear that her husband, more of a collector as opposed to his purging wife, will find out.

In addition to all of the above-mentioned lovely qualities, Jenny is a bit--let's see--zealously spontaneous? disorganized? abstract? artistic? I'm not sure exactly how to describe it. Her home is lovely and well organized in many ways, streamlined and beautifully decorated. But keys often elude her, and the set of measuring spoons that I gave her upon learning that she couldn't find hers has mysteriously disappeared. She wonders why her baking sometimes flops.

When Jenny both emailed me and called me while I was on vacation in Alaska this summer to find out my new address, I was not surprised to discover that it was because she wanted to send me a gift.

"I want to subscribe to Eating Well for both of us. It is such an inspirational magazine!" said Jenny. Not one to take a list to the grocery store, she will often pick up a copy of this magazine and shop based on the recipes that look good.

I had been looking forward to receiving my first copy in the mail here at my new home, and I was not disappointed when I did. It features beautiful pictures, delicious recipes, and the added bonus that it reminds me of Jenny each time I open the pages.

A few weeks after receiving the first issue, I got piece of mail from Eating Well. It was a bill. For my subscription and for Jenny's. Well, clearly someone had made a mistake, so I ignored the bill.

A few weeks later, another bill arrived. It included a gift card that I could mail to Jenny. I decided just to pay for our subscriptions.

On my recent visit to Chicago, I decided to tell Jenny about what had happened. She has always been a friend that I could really laugh with, and I just couldn't resist sharing this with her. As I expected, she found the whole thing hilarious, and we enjoyed chuckling over the situation all weekend.

Last week, I received another notice from Eating Well. My credit card information didn't go through for some reason. Our subscriptions will be cancelled if I do not pay immediately. I'm off to call them right now.