Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Lumbering Toward the Parenting Tar Pit

If you are like me and you are sliding into home on this mom gig then you may not know how much babies and the accoutrement (Isn't that a fancy word? It means necessary junk) that surrounds them have advanced. Compared to the modern parenting that I see going on, my children were strapped to me with animal skins while I fed them raw meat in a cave.

They'll be more than happy to tell you they were raised by wolves. They are hilarious that way. 

My kids had car seats that no one would put the dog in now, cribs, bottles, pacifiers, and one very noisy crank up swing. My son fared a little better than my daughter since he arrived 6 years later. He had a jumpy thing that hung from a door frame and a baby monitor.  We call that progress.

After your own bout with babydom you tend to lose touch. You move on from analyzing the contents of diapers and start wondering about even more important things like-- if that breakfast cereal is so packed full of vitamins, can you just feed it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? That is a natural question when you stare down the next 18 years of meal planning.

I began to notice my first infant disconnect at the grocery store. Young mothers with babies and toddlers shlepped along brightly colored covers for the grocery cart seat. Consumer Reports actually ranks these. I'll admit that I was fascinated. And instantly filled with guilt. What germs had my children been exposed to while riding in hundreds of germ infested grocery carts and chewing on the handles?

I casually noticed other mysteries of parenting from time to time but not enough to ask "What IS that?" to complete strangers. Then a few months ago I worked in the church nursery to fill in for my daughter while she was out of town.

It was a baby Twilight Zone.

Chic mothers arrived with Baby Gap clad bundles of innocence and dropped off collections of mysterious accessories.  It took about 4 baby drops before I realized that the mommies weren't leaving their stylish purses behind but that the new diaper bag is disguised as something a woman would actually want to be seen carrying. Black leather. Leopard print. Designer logos. I wanted to smack myself for being conned into carrying a pastel monstrosity with a duck on it that clashed with every outfit I'd ever worn as a new mother. Though, as my daughter likes to point out "It was the 80s, Mom; I doubt anyone noticed."

Well, now isn't that the real reason we have children--to keep our self esteem in check?

Babies don't seem to have changed all that much. They still delight in playing "Hey, guess what's wrong with me now!" Which means that one must delve into those designer bags to find a collection of mysterious items whose use I could only guess at. Baby bottles now look like something designed by NASA complete with a propeller that goes inside the bottle to mix the formula, and pacifiers have clearly been designed by someone who watched one too many episodes of Star Trek.

"Beam me up, Scotty. You can locate me by the GPS in my stroller."

(I made that up trying to be funny but thought I'd google it just to see if it is on the horizon. Well apparently we breached the horizon some time ago and you can have stroller GPS for around $249.00)

I'm lumbering toward the tar pit as you read this.

I got my phone out to check the time. The babies gave each other nervous looks. A room full of infants who were posting to Facebook from the womb lacked confidence in a smartphoneless adult. They began to whimper for their hyper-connected techno moms.

The thing I had the most trouble with was the swing. There wasn't a crank.  I thought maybe it was broken until I noticed the switches, buttons, and lights. Who designed this? One of the few joys of sleep deprived, unwashed mothers everywhere use to be that startled baby face you got when you cranked that swing up. This new stealthily silent gadget made me nervous. Was there a baby swing simulator someplace I was supposed to have trained on before stepping into this nursery bound cockpit?  I put a baby in, fastened the buckles designed to see the kid through take off and into orbit, safely. I pushed a series of buttons. I tried another set. Finally a third sequence. No swinging. No music. No birds singing.

I did get one very confused looking baby.

I undid the buckles and straps and retreated to a creaking rocking chair in the corner. Within a few moments the little tyke was asleep and the remaining babies eyed me with, if not approval or confidence, then at least the respect reserved for dinosaurs. I'm guessing a rocking chair was the last piece of baby equipment that didn't come with a manual. 



Tuesday, May 22, 2012

What If?

Someone recently called me brave.

Did you get that?


When did that happen?

I'm not sure about owning "brave" but I'll gladly own confident these days. Why? Because probably like you I spent a large section of my life being afraid.

A few years someone I didn't know very well called me on it.

The word was "timid." 

I thought I was fooling everyone with all my talk of "wisdom" and "caution."

I reevaluated. I was intimidated by a lot of things.  What was I missing because of that?

Last week over on The Professor and The Housewife I wrote about our misplaced fears. We are afraid of the wrong things it turns out, if you pay attention to statistics instead of the media. You are much more likely to die by slipping in the bathtub than by being murdered. But dying in the bath isn't quite sensational enough to make the news unless you are famous and we throw in alcohol and cocaine. Then you can get your funeral broadcast live.

You are more likely to die from a bee sting than a snake bite.
You are more likely to be killed in a car accident than plane crash.
If you are a woman you are far more likely to die in childbirth than while sky diving.

Oddly enough when you tell people you are pregnant no one accuses you of being crazy or lists, out loud, the gruesome ways you could die on the delivery table.

If we are that far off when it comes to fears about life and death, what else do we have irrational fears about? You know the answers. Rejection, intimacy, failure, success, the unknown...

Are you really so happy with the known?

Can I just ask--what are you waiting for?

 I had a lot of people tell me I was really different when I got back from my first trip to Italy. I'm not sure what happened. Maybe because I fulfilled a lifelong dream everything else suddenly seemed possible. I do know that I realized at some point that the world wouldn't fall apart if I didn't analyze everything to death. I noticed that when I stopped being afraid, I stopped being so hard on myself. It became okay to make mistakes and to let people see them.

It became okay to be exposed. Unguarded. Wrong. Imperfect. If you are afraid to be those things you will never move forward.

I also just gave up worrying about what everyone else will think. It's easy to be imprisoned by that particular worry.

There are a lot of what ifs. We don't like change. The people around us don't like for us to change. Change brings up a lot of scary questions.

What will happen if you wake up out of the sleep walking version of life you've been living? What if you realize you're unhappy? What if the thing you want to do is a colossal failure? What if you voice your opinion and everyone disagrees with you? What if you find out you don't really have any talent? What if everyone thinks you are having a mid life crisis? What if you ARE having a mid life crisis?

What if?

What if?

What if?

If we are going to ask that question, let's at least spin it in our favor.

What if you find the adventurous child you were before life knocked you around? Do you even remember that person? What if you find a strong toned body under those extra pounds? What if you find your life's work? Or passion? Or the love of your life? What if you surprise everyone by how fabulous you are? What if you surprise yourself? What if you find out there is power in being vulnerable? What if your courage inspires someone else?

Let's search for our inner child and outer warrior. Let's leave fear stranded on the side of the road while we lie in the grass and laugh at it. Let's get to the end of this life full of joy remembering all the things we did instead of regret for all the things we didn't do...

What if?

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.
2 Timothy 1:7

Friday, May 18, 2012

Piece By Piece Garden Shed

This is not mine...
I had this little fantasy. See picture at right.

I decided to give an old structure on our property a little makeover.
It started out twenty years ago as a playhouse for my daughter, built by my father-in-law. When she outgrew it it had a second life as a rustic shed for housing lawn mowers and broken lawn chairs. One day I had a vision of something a bit more appealing in the back yard and set about dismantling it.

I may not be very good at building things but I am a master of destruction. Give me a crowbar and a sledge hammer and stand back. Sometimes when I'm dismantling things I'm reminded of that verse in the Bible about how the wise woman builds her house but the foolish one tears hers down.

All I can say is you gotta start somewhere.

This is mine.

And YAY! After tearing something apart you get to rebuild it. I'd had old windows laying around here for years, without any real purpose. A couple of years ago I acquired a door that a friend's parents were throwing out, and a neighbor had given us a pile of wood left over from a building project. Could I repair and remake without buying anything?

I probably could have. But then my husband got involved and he was determined that I should have a proper roof for my new project. Plywood, felt, shingles, labor, (he hired a friend to finish it).

Price: $220

I have simply got to get over my fear of power tools. I cannot look at the circular saw without thinking of Walk the Line...

I've cut all the pieces I needed using a hand saw.

 I've used every single scrap of wood, window, corrugated metal and rusty nails we had laying around here and now I've come to a standstill. So I'm on the hunt for something to finish one inside wall and the front. I'd really like the front to have lots of glass maybe with a screen door. The whole thing is wonky in sort of a Dr. Seuss way, because I'm not a detail person. My husband keeps offering me a level.

A level? What is he trying to say?

I stand back and take a look after I've hammered things into place.


It looks alright if you sort of tilt your head...

I had Mod Podged travel maps to this window in a prior project. Water can be used to loosen the adhesive and a razor blade to scrap it off. It took about 45 minutes, but it was worth it to have this beautiful big window to let in some light.

Where to go from here...

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Breakfast Taco

Everyone has heard of a breakfast "burrito" consisting of eggs, cheese, and ham or perhaps bacon chopped and wrapped in a tortilla. Recently, I had a breakfast revelation. Using Orowheat Thins (whole wheat, naturally) I created a breakfast "taco." You can stuff it with whatever you like in addition to the eggs (ours were supplied by backyard hens). Try a variety of cheeses and top with spinach or chives, as I did, fold over and serve up a tiny sensation that the kids are going to love.

                                            Healthy + Fun = 99% awesome!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Cartwheels and Chicken Intimacy

You're going to do WHAT?
Over on The Professor and The Housewife we are discussing the Military Industrial Complex, the defense industry, and foreign policy blow back.

We are such HuffPost wannabees.

 But here? Here, today's post is about the fact that I can still do a cartwheel and how to lubricate a chicken's "vent."

Don't even act like you don't want to know the intimate details.

I know you wish you lived next door. I'm fairly sure my neighbors don't appreciate my ridiculous level of awesomeness...or my awesome level of ridiculousness...or something.

I'm working on ways to impress potential grandchildren. I figure besides making appearances in my bee suit, owning magic egg producing chickens, and making the world's best hot chocolate, cartwheels might be something useful to add to the repertoire.

Over the weekend one of our chickens sat on the nest for 4 hours and didn't produce an egg. She moped around the yard and even refused to peck the new outcast chicken. The next day she seemed worse and there was still no egg. So I turned to that fount of all wisdom...Google. I already knew that the thing I'd dreaded since receiving my first baby chicks was now upon me; I had an eggbound chicken. It is just what it sounds like and can be fatal if not dealt with. Now you might be surprised to know that there is a vast chicken community so I had no trouble finding posts with our chicken's symptoms listed and advice on what to do.

Do you ever realize what you have to do and then keep looking because you don't like the answer? After suggestions to add oyster shells to the feed to boost calcium, the next step was to hand feed the chicken yogurt, or other goodies and to make sure they had fresh water.

Okay. Done. Still no change.

The next thing to try was to give the ailing chicken a bath, holding her backside in warm water for 20-30 minutes.

I cannot tell you how tempted I was to use a large roasting pot on the stove for this, if only for the comedic effect. In the end I decided to use the bathroom sink which would allow me to sit on the toilet lid during the process. It was a pretty picture let me tell you.

Sink full of water + feisty hen = drenched housewife and water soaked bathroom.

The last and final piece of advice to try, before giving up and calling the vet (which seemed an expensive course of action for a 3 dollar chicken) was to massage olive oil or KY Jelly (I can't make this stuff up) around and inside her "vent."

Violating a chicken. Something to add to my "Things I Never Thought I'd Do" List.

You should have seen the dogs' faces when I brought the chicken through the house to the bathroom. I placed her in warm water (flailing chicken wings can make water travel a really long way) and held her firmly under the water. I talked sweetly to her and told what a beautiful chicken she is. She eventually relaxed and let me have my way.  Some things work on females of all species...

After 30 minutes I wrapped her in a towel and turned her over. I put on a rubber glove and took the olive oil...

Do I have to draw you a picture? I'm trying to keep this a "safe for work" site.

I have to say that she didn't seem to mind but I was very uncomfortable about the whole thing. The experience was a little clinical for my taste. Next time I think we'll both have a couple of drinks first, maybe a cigarette after.

I dried her off and put her out on the nest. The next morning she had laid the egg and was back to her old self, queen of the coop. I did think I got some skeptical looks from the other hens. Who knows what she'd told them.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Renaissance Men Wanted: Liberal Arts Degree Required

"What is he going to do with THAT?"

This is the question I get 99% of the time when I tell people that my son is getting a degree in Art History. What people really mean, of course, is "How is he going to afford a house in the suburbs and make the SUV payment?"  These are, after all, our American priorities. We value less and less the "jack of all trades" with a bit of knowledge about everything. Conversations with people often reflect the new myopic specialized view of education. What happened to the philosopher/craftsman/scientist? We see more and more students emerge from college with the ability to do one thing well. But not necessarily to think about it or anything else in any original or creative manner.

Which is why liberal arts studies are in decline.

In an economy gripped by fear, students and parents staring down increasing tuition and the prospect of debt due to student loans are prone to go for the "safe" options. My son's theory (and yes, he's given it a lot of thought) is that since economic stress has funneled so many students into practical degrees or mere "certificates" in twenty years or so there is going to be a dearth of people qualified to be curators of museums or teach things like art history and related subjects. But even if that doesn't come to pass I still want him to do what he's passionate about. I have confidence that he'll find a way to make a living.

We spend a lot of time thinking about the future. Our viewpoint is a little different than most parents and college students. Instead of my asking him where he wants to be in ten or twenty years I ask this: "Your life is nearly over, you are in the nursing home or maybe a hospital. Looking back over your life, what do you want it to have looked like?"

The answer to THAT question reveals where your priorities lay and what your goals should be. Then you look down the road and make your 5, 10, 20 year plan to get there.

Never lose sight of the entire thing.

My daughter arrived at the Do What You Love Party a bit late.  That is so like her. She loved studying the law and worked very hard for four years to get a degree in paralegal studies. She toyed with the idea of law school. She was giddy the day we went to the mall to purchase her first "business" wardrobe when she was hired at a law office. Within one year she worked at 3 firms. We thought she just couldn't find a practice that was a good fit. We had no idea that she was crying every day on her way to work. You see, it turned out that it was indeed the studying the law that she loved. Applying the law, dealing with stressed out attorneys, and meeting clients on the very worst day of their lives, was grinding on her soul. She cried for 3 days before she told us that she wanted to be a kindergarten teacher. She thought we would be upset that we had paid for a degree that she wasn't going to use.

Yes, of course, your father and I want you to cry on your way to work for the next 30 years.

Some of my daughter's students captivated by a storm.
She has been working at a Montessori school for the past year and is working on her Master's in education. She is happier than I've ever seen her and talks about her job with joy and passion. The business wardrobe was sold at a consignment store and she traded a stuffy office and stacks of files for a playground and crayons. Her favorite  comment about the change is that her current "clients" are so much more mature than her old ones..."and they cry less." So does she.

So if your kids are in high school and looking at making some really big and expensive decisions, take a moment to have them look BACK from some end point many years from now and think about what kind of people they want to be. They will leave a legacy of one kind or another, it can just be kind of hard to see that when you're starting down the road.

Beautiful lives don't just happen. Random luck may not shine on you. If you want your life to be something specific instead of nothing in particular, you are going to have to live it with intent. Think about it, focus on it, work hard at it.

The fast lane often leads to nothing but debt and depression. Your college student may be far happier (and maybe even eventually more successful) on The Road Less Traveled.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Room to Breathe: The Psalm 90:14 Woman

When the Stones sang "I Can't Get No Satisfaction" they really nailed something, didn't they? That simple grammatically incorrect lyric speaks volumes about us. We all struggle with just how much is enough. The plethora of yard sales in spring and thrift stores filled to the brim are a testament that it is a challenge to have enough to be comfortable and not enough to stifle our souls. Where that line is, is likely to be different depending on your personality, style, and what season of life you are in.

I remember many years ago reading an interview with Ali MacGraw and she was quoted as saying that she wanted to be able to pick up and move anywhere with only her books and Navaho rugs. I love that. I was filled with envy once while taking a sleigh ride in the Colorado mountains with my husband when the driver pointed out a stone cabin where a woman was living all alone with no heat and no running water. The cabin was about the size of my garage. I've thought of that woman so many times and wondered what truths about herself and life that she uncovered sitting by her lonely fire on cold winter nights.

Adventurous, self sufficient solitude...be still, my beating heart! 

I know. Some of you are jealous of your neighbors new car or remodeled kitchen. I am jealous (and brace yourself, because this is going to sound terrible) when people have an excuse to start over with next to nothing.

“As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

A check from the insurance company and a material clean slate. Every choice of what to own after that could be so deliberate. Nothing inherited, nothing dumped on you by parents or kids, nothing you somehow got stuck with that you hate.  Ever notice how natural disasters focus our attention like a laser on what's really important? It's often only under these harsh circumstances that we hear people say "It's only stuff"  or "We're all together; that's all that matters." Ordinarily much of our conversation is about what we are going to purchase next, what "this room needs" or our wish list.

 “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” ~ Leonardo Da Vinci

One day, I don't remember exactly when, it all became enough and then too much. Some days I'm overwhelmed by a feeling akin to smothering amid the clutter.  The quest for balance is ongoing. Family heirlooms, stacks of favorite books, a bird's nest, an icon lovingly brought home from Italy (of St. Francis and St. Clair, both of whom shunned abundant materialism to find God) are the things I enjoy having around. When something makes you happy it's worth giving a home to. But even beloved books, are often passed off to other bibliophiles, leaving only slightly painful empty places behind. It is probably only a fraction of the stuff you have that is giving you any joy. The rest is just cluttering up your home and clogging up your life.

 Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” ~ Albert Einstein

Maybe it's time to stop accumulating so much.  Here's my list of what I'm willing to spend on these days:

good coffee and food
travel, enjoyable activities, and experiences

Your priorities may be different, but at this point in my life I mostly spend on things I can use up or pass on...Possessions frequently cycle THROUGH my house. Think of the difference between a fresh babbling brook and a stagnant pond. There are some things that have a forever home, but I do try to be careful about attaching too much sentiment to material objects. Many things get used for a season (of life) and then are given away to someone else who will enjoy them. When my kids were small they knew that accompanying the list they were going to make for Santa also meant it was time to let old toys go to charity. Every once in a while there were regrets and tears over something, but if Christmas was just around the corner, they were likely to be distracted by that.

Teach your kids to pass things on early in life.  They will learn to be givers and come to appreciate making careful choices. Plus, you don't want them leaving 18 years of stuff behind when they move out!

 A vocabulary of truth and simplicity will be of service throughout your life” ~ Winston Churchill

I believe in a God who wants us to free us from our selfish desires and show us how to walk in freedom from all manner of grasping and greediness. It's a long process and He still has a lot of work to do, but I'm working on releasing that grasping fist into an open palm.

Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.  Psalm 90:14