Sunday, January 29, 2012

Almost Recovered (Babble)

I’m doing better.  I’m closer to feeling well at this point than I am to feeling sick, but I’m still not well.  Lots of stuff still needs to clear its way out of my system but there is a light at the end of the phlegmy tunnel even though coughing seems like part of my identity now.  When I got home from work on Saturday I collapsed onto the couch in a prolonged coughing fit and I heard Mona upstairs say, “Mom’s home!”

It’s been strange to have no sense of smell.  I’ve steered toward foods with simple tastes such as salty or sweet just so there is some flavor.  So much of taste is really smell, and there is no difference in my world right now between chocolate and vanilla, or even tea and hot water.  Watching what you eat is easier when none of it’s appealing, so if I have to find a silver lining I suppose that’s it (even though that silver is arguably tarnished).
I hadn’t given my lack of being able to smell much thought until I took Quinn to his follow up appointment at the hospital.  His mouth and throat are completely healed from the tonsillectomy, but he’s been all stuffed up and continuing to snore.  Turns out a sizable colony of bacteria took up residence where his adenoids used to be, and the nurse practitioner said, “Can’t you smell that?”  Nope.  So Quinn now has some nasty tasting antibiotics that he’s being good about not spitting out and he should be all well soon.

When I haven’t been at work or in rehearsals I’ve been in bed.  I’m extremely conscious of how much harder this would be if Ian were deployed.  Single parenting while sick is such a nightmare.  I’ve done it and it’s awful and it makes the illness drag on for months when you can’t get any rest.  Two weeks is a long time to be coughing your lungs inside out, but I would be surprised if I’m not myself again soon.  If I had to be completely responsible for the kids and the dog and all the cooking and chores I wouldn’t be able to say that.

The one unexpected gift during these past couple of weeks was getting to leave early from orchestra rehearsals.  I would sleep all day, then take whatever drugs were necessary to help me survive playing viola for a few hours, and brace myself to last to the end of the 9:30 rehearsal.  But after working hard on An American In Paris for an hour and a half the conductor told us anyone who wasn’t playing some particular piece could leave at the break.  It took my stand partner and myself a moment of disbelievingly rummaging through our music to realize it was a piece we didn’t have.  That never happens.  String players are the workhorse of the orchestra.  We always have to play, and we’re used to seeing the harp player or the percussion or brass people leave at the break, but never us.  It was like a miracle!

I’m used to driving home after a rehearsal through a darkened city.  If Milwaukee has a thriving nightlife it’s not one readily visible on my commute through downtown back to the south side.  But getting out of orchestra an hour earlier meant some things were still open that I never get to explore, and one of them was the new location of a used bookstore I used to frequent years ago.  I decided to take a minute and check it out.

I love bookstores.  I browse for classics I should have read by now and novels unknown to me by authors I enjoy.  I look for things to buy for other people who love to read.  I marvel at the greatness on the shelves and am flummoxed by truly terrible things that made it to print while I still can’t find an agent.  I look with admiration for books by people I know personally and dream of a day where maybe one of my novels could be on those shelves as well.

This particular bookstore buys books, and around the time Ian and I moved into our first house (before kids) we sold them several boxes of things we had that we decided we just didn’t need anymore.  Most of the books were easy to part with, such as textbooks we knew we’d never reference again, and atlases that were out of date, and fiction that didn’t warrant another read.

But the one book I hesitated over was an anthology called My Friend The Dog.  I’d really enjoyed it as a kid, my worn, red copy with no dust jacket.  I didn’t know if it was worth hanging onto for my future, as of then still imaginary, children.  I put it in the box.  I took it out.  I just wasn’t sure.  I have so many books from my childhood that I planned to pass on to my kids and this particular one seemed borderline.  It would be so long before any kids we would have would be old enough for it that it seemed crazy to save, but I have a deep sentimental streak.  Eventually my desire to purge overcame my attachment to the book.  And it went in the box.

Standing a dozen years later in the same bookstore in it’s bright, new location I was curious.  I’ve been thinking about that book because Aden is now the perfect age for it, and she loves dogs.  I regretted letting it go.  I went to the desk and asked if they happened to have a copy of My Friend The Dog.  They looked it up, and said they had a single copy in their warehouse with the ebay books.  But it was worn, red, and had no dust jacket.  I told them that sounded fine to me.  I think I paid for it what they originally gave me for all the boxes of books.

It would make a great story to tell you my childhood copy of that anthology were back in my hands again, but when I went to pick it up I realized this copy was older, smaller, and contained different illustrations.  But that’s okay.  I’d feel bad for a bookstore that hadn’t been able to move a book in over a decade.  And this copy is fine.  With luck, it will be one that Aden grows attached to.

Recovery isn’t always what you expect.  It’s how you view moving forward that makes all the difference.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Musical Beds (But with coughing instead of music) (Babble)

I think compared to many families we’ve had fewer issues concerning bedtime.  I didn’t have a lot of choice when my husband was deployed both times about establishing some sweet routine with stories, etc.  I had too much to do and I was too exhausted all the time, so I simply got my kids trained early to put themselves to bed.  We read, we cuddle, we do all kinds of nice together things, but we tend to do them before bedtime.  Bedtime here consists of us saying, “Go to bed.”  And they go upstairs and get undressed and brush their teeth and go to bed.

My girls have always been very happy in their own beds.  Even when they are sick or there is some reason for them to come snuggle up on my bed for a while, they tend to want to go back to their own space to finally sleep.  When they were small I never let them cry in their cribs or their beds because I wanted where they sleep to always feel like a safe, comforting place to be.  I don’t know if that really worked or if the outcome I was hoping for was just a coincidence, but here we are.

For Quinn it’s always been a different story.  He was born during the first deployment and I don’t think remembered his dad very well when he returned from the second.  My son is attached to me in a way that straddles the line between charming and overwhelming.  When his dad was gone, Quinn wanted to sleep in my bed.  There was room and I didn’t mind.  But he would still sleep in my bed every night if he could, even though now with his dad home there really isn’t room.  We started moving him after he fell asleep to his bunk bed, and that worked for a bit.  However, he’s lonely in his own room so we got him a little mattress for the floor of his sisters’ room.  The girls are not thrilled with it, but they let it slide because they know it makes him happy.  He loves being part of the action as they all giggle past lights out, and he was good there.  For many months with this arrangement I was able to say that all my kids stayed in their own beds at night.

But the amazing thing about raising children is the lack of absolutes.  You may think this kid is a good eater, or that one is fearless, or the next one is fine sleeping in his own bed at night, but wait a day.  Everything can change and then you have a whole new list of habits and preferences to deal with and that becomes the new normal.

So right before Quinn’s tonsillectomy he was having trouble sleeping and started showing up in our room at night.  He couldn’t sleep and he wanted to curl up with me.  It was hard to refuse so I didn’t try, but it’s hard to even describe how our quality of sleep has suffered.

The worst nights are when the dog is in the bed, too.  Because at first I’d have Ian trying to sleep on one side, Quinn on the other, and the dog sort of flopped on top of me or between my knees or wedged somewhere odd.  That whole arrangement makes me claustrophobic.  Especially since Ian, Quinn, and the dog all have a habit when they are unconscious of filling any gaps around me.  If I shift, they shift with me to remain in contact with my body.  It reminds me of something I read a long time ago about how people buried in sand end up crushed and suffocated because when they exhale and create a gap the sand fills it in and leaves less space to inhale each time.  Quinn is like a sweet-cheeked mound of sand next to me in the bed.  Sometimes we make Quinn sleep in the middle, and that helps somewhat because I have an escape route that way, but it’s still not great.

After Quinn came home from the hospital he was extra needy about wanting to snuggle with me at night, and really, a sick kid kind of trumps everything.  So there have been many awkward nights around here, because even though now he’s better he doesn’t understand why he can’t stick with this new habit.  And somewhere between midnight and five in the morning Quinn winds up in our bed.  When we can, we wait for him to pass out and we move him back to the girls’ room, but when you’re exhausted there are many nights it just seems easier to stick it out.

When it’s too much, either Ian or I flee.  Usually to the couch downstairs.
The added twist to all of this lately is that I’ve been really sick this past week.  Ian’s consultations with Dr. Internet seem to conclude it’s acute bronchitis, but I’m on the upswing.  I’ve been through an unholy amount of kleenex and have been coughing like mad but I’m finally feeling stronger and should feel like myself again soon.  Quinn and Mona have been coughing a little bit, and Aden has had a cough for about a month but otherwise they all seem fine.

The hilarious thing about all the coughing (because you take humor where you can find it when you are sleep deprived and sick) is that it worries the dog.  Chipper is like some nervous hypochondriac, and anytime someone coughs he gets up and leaves.  So at night he’s been up every few minutes trying to settle into a cough free zone.  He’ll start off in our room until I cough, then he’ll trot down the hall and curl up on his dog bed in the kids’ room until Aden coughs, then he return to us. 

The other night it got so bad Chipper decided to give up on family togetherness completely and took up sleeping on the couch.  Which works great until I end up down there if Quinn’s in suffocate mommy mode.  The dog looked so devastated the other night when I showed up in the living room with my pillow I thought me might muster the ability to speak just so he could say, “Nooo!”

The winning night of uncomfortable sleep improv was when I fought my way out of the heap of Ian/Quinn/dog madness and tried curling up with Aden.  She was vaguely awake and I asked if she’d mind and she looked happy to have me, so I put my pillow at the end of her bed and hugged her feet for a while.  After a few minutes Mona realized I was there and started to come over too, because boy didn’t that sound like fun to all pile into Aden’s twin bed for a sleepover.  I told her I’d snuggle up on her bed next time (even though Mona’s tightly tucked system of many covers seems almost as claustrophobia inducing as my overcrowded bed).  This worked for maybe an hour when I gave up and headed for the couch again, which I really don’t like because it does nasty things to my shoulder for some reason.

So there’s that.  We’ve been at this for so many weeks now that it feels routine but I’m so tired of it!  Or just tired.

Last night when Quinn appeared in our doorway right at bedtime I was able to say no.  At 2:00 a.m. I admit to not being able to think clearly about reasonable parenting ideas, but Quinn was trying to shift things into a newer even less fun routine and I had to send him back down the hall.  He looked so hurt I could barely stand it, and when he curled up on his little mattress he started to cry.  But I let him cry.  I have never been a ‘cry it out’ mom, and I certainly never expected to have to employ that strategy with a five-year-old, but every day (and every night) can bring something new in this parenting game.

Quinn still ended up in my bed around 4:00 a.m. but it wasn’t bad.  Every time I had a terrible coughing fit he put his little arm around me.  I was sick enough that I don’t think I had much chance of sleeping anyway, and it was nice to feel adored even in my least appealing moments.

But I’m looking forward to a day in the near future when I can take breathing for granted again, and if I’m very lucky, get back to a routine that involves everyone sleeping in their own designated spots.  Lofty goals, I know.  Martin Luther King Jr may have had a world-changing dream, but I just want to catch enough sleep to have any old dream at all.  (Even that one where you show up at school and you’re naked or don’t remember what your classes are.  Sounds awesome about now.)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Temporarily Not A Liar (Babble)

This morning I hit an arbitrary milestone.  After months of making a conscious effort to watch what I eat and trying to exercise regularly I’ve made some progress.  And today?  Today I stepped on the scale and discovered I now weigh what it says I do on my driver’s license.  This is both exciting and pathetic.

I’m proud of myself that I’m more than 20 pounds lighter than I was back in the spring.  I still have another 20 to go to get where I really should be.  The next 20 will be harder than the first were, but I think I can do it.  My goal was to see if I could reach a healthy weight that I can try to maintain by my birthday in March, and my gift to myself would be a new driver’s license with my actual weight on it, but I don’t think I’m going to get there by then.  Maybe summer?  Although my motivation is wearing thin so hard to say how fast progress will be from here.

But here’s a question to anyone else out there who struggles with his or her weight too:  Do you see and feel the changes in your body when you lose weight?  Because I sort of don’t, and I wonder about that.  I know I am lighter.  I started out at some size randomly bigger than an 18.  (Target doesn’t really sell women’s jeans above an 18 so I had something from the men’s section for a while that fit but I don’t know what it was.)  Then whenever I reach a point where I can remove my jeans without having to unbutton or unzip them I buy the next smaller size.  I am currently down to a 14 which is starting to feel loose, and I have a pair of 12’s in the wings that I can get on but still look too tight to venture out in public in yet.  The last time I worked really hard to lose weight after Mona was born I made it all the way down to an 8, and then I got pregnant with Quinn and Ian got deployed and cookies became my friend and that’s how I ended up in the men’s jeans.
So I’ve come a ways in the right direction and I see the progress through my clothes.  I also see the startled reaction on the faces of people whom I haven’t seen in months and know they see a difference in my appearance.  But I can’t see it in myself.  Is that normal?
Part of me thinks that when I am heavier I am good at 1.) just not looking at myself in the mirror much, and 2.) adopting an attitude of inner beauty being important.  If I’m not actively watching my weight, then I’m actively ignoring my weight.  If I am trying to lose weight, then I have to pay attention, and I get frustrated by what I see.  If I’m actively looking to change a flaw then I am hyper aware of that flaw, otherwise how could I address it?  Therefore my own body image is oddly better when I’m heavy, I guess just through the magic of denial.  But it seems unfair to go through all this effort and not get to at least feel more genuinely pleased about it.

I mean, I am pleased, because I want to be healthy and I want to set a good example for my kids.  Aden worries about my denying myself sugar, but we had a talk about how I don’t need it and different bodies need different things.  Her body is growing so she can have the spaghetti with the meatballs and I’ll just have the meatballs and the salad and that’s what’s better for me right now.  I want my kids to see that exercise is something you build into your day based on what I do, not because of some lecture.  That there are lots of choices to make about food but they don’t have to be hard, just sensible.  I think I’m accomplishing those goals, so the effort is worth it.  But when you are overweight and dream of being smaller, it’s weird when being smaller in and of itself doesn’t bring the joy you expect it to.  Or maybe it does and I’m weird?  I’m probably weird.

In any case, yea!  Officially smaller, whether I see it myself or not.  I hate this struggle and the amount of mental energy it sucks up, but it’s important.  This is the only body I’ve got and I’d like to keep it in good enough shape to keep building violins for a long time, and to be around to enjoy my family and so many other things life has to offer.

I’m looking forward to the weight on my driver’s license being wrong the other direction for a while.
(Quinn at the center of the labyrinth at school.  That’s the kind of triumph I want to feel!  Maybe I need to walk that labyrinth….)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Naming the Spiders (Babble)

One of the most interesting things my dad ever said to me about being a parent was how watching your children develop their own interests forces you to learn things you might otherwise never choose to investigate.  My parents are artists and ran their own gallery for 40 years.  Thanks to them my brothers and I know more than the average person about art.  But thanks to us, my parents now have a bank of knowledge about violins, martial arts, neuroscience, India, rain forests, and insects.

That last topic–insects–has an odd, far reaching effect on our whole family.  None of us takes killing an insect lightly.

My brother, Barrett, is an entomologist.  He does beautiful scientific illustrations and spent years working on a field guide of damselflies.  He’s incredibly engaging, and has even been considered for television programs but he won’t go along with an ‘Aren’t Bugs Gross And Scary?!” agenda because he thinks they are wonderful.  Check out this audition piece he did several years ago if you have a minute and want to learn something cool about termites:

Termites and Bic Pens

Anyway, Barrett obviously sees no reason to be freaked out about insects, or related arthropods of any kind.  Particularly where I live in the Midwest, they pose almost no danger, so screaming about ants or spiders looks ridiculous to him.  And it is, when you stop and think about it.  When I watch him pick up a hissing cockroach and let it crawl up into his sleeve it makes me twitch, but I wish I didn’t have that reaction because it’s silly.  However, thinking and feeling are two different things, and I still don’t want to touch the roach.

I think the reason people react badly to things like insects and mice is that they are small and fast and we don’t see them until they are practically on top of us.  I like mice, but even I have jumped in fear when one ran unexpectedly across my kitchen floor.  Years of being startled by ants or spiders probably creates a negative knee jerk reaction over time, so most of the people I know are not delighted when they come across something small and leggy scuttling nearby.

But because in our family we have Barrett we don’t just take that as a matter of course.  We try to do better by our six, eight, and multi-legged friends.  I don’t feel guilty about swatting mosquitoes, but I do feel bad if I harm a spider.  Even though they make me uncomfortable.  I wish I didn’t react badly to them.

So we are trying to teach our own children to be better about this than we are.  Our strategy?  We name the spiders.

There is a small, pale spider that lives in our bathroom.  We don’t see it often, but every once in awhile there it will be in the middle of the ceiling or on a wall.  And my kids freak out and won’t go in there.  They call to us frantically that they can’t brush their teeth because there is a spider in the bathroom, and we call back, “What’s its name?”  Then they stop and consider that for a moment, and usually come up with something uninspired such as “Spidery.”  But that’s enough most nights to make doing something in the proximity of the spider possible.  Mona in particular will say something like, “Spidery makes me nervous, but I don’t want anything to happen to her.”

Once the kids shrieked that there was a spider on the ceiling in their room and Ian came and looked and said, “That’s just Steve, and I think you’re scaring him.  He’s very small.”  Suddenly the kids were all concerned for Steve.

It’s an approach that seems to be working.  We hear the kids name the spiders on their own now.  A few weeks ago Ian told me he sent Mona and her brother into the basement to switch the laundry and he heard them pause at the bottom of the stairs because they spotted a spider.  At first they were alarmed, but then Mona told Quinn they should call it something like “Fang Claw” and then they proceeded to go about their business.  On the way back up the stairs they even said, “Aw, look!  Fang Claw is moving!”

Naming the spiders doesn’t really help me.  I’m still creeped out.  But that’s not something I want to pass along, so better to fake the role of the brave mom who doesn’t fear arachnids.  Because I think raising kids who can see the beauty and worth in something like a spider is a good goal.  (And would make my brother proud.)

(My kids and their cousin greeting a caterpillar on the wall in the subway in New York)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Friendship Angles (Babble)

Imagine you are a mom with a daughter.  She’s sweet, and smart and charming.  She was your first born and taught you about the true depths of love.  She is more precious to you than your own self.

Now imagine you see her hurting.  Every instinct you have is to be on her side.  To make it stop.  Because even though life is filled with hard lessons that we must each grapple with ourselves, and your daughter is growing up and must begin to navigate the world without you, your heart still tells you to fix it.

You talk to your daughter and find out the source of her pain is a friendship that has gone awry.  A girl she has known for years has paired up with someone else and together they are snubbing her.  Your daughter is being left out.  She suspects she’s being laughed at.  Your daughter’s friend has become a mean girl.

You soothe your daughter and dry her tears.  You think about the best course of action while resisting the urge to overreact as a mother protecting her child is won’t to do.  You think the best advice may be to tell her to remove such an insensitive person from her life.  Let it go.  Cut your losses and move on, concentrate on different friends.

Now imagine you are the other mom.  The mom of the girl being labeled the mean one.  Your daughter is sweet and smart and kind.  She has many friends and loves them all.  Your daughter is unaware that she’s made any of them unhappy.  She doesn’t know that by being inclusive with one person she has excluded others and it hurts them.  She doesn’t know the pain of being on the outside and wondering why.  She is not intentionally cruel.  She is oblivious.

You get a call from the mom whose daughter is upset.  She tells you how things look from her angle.  From her daughter’s angle.  She wants to know if it’s safe to talk about it, or if it’s interfering too deeply in the lives and relationships of these girls who are old enough to have social lives of their own outside of the arrangements of their mothers.  You say yes, of course, to please tell you everything.

You think to yourself about all the times you fretted since you first held your baby girl in your arms about what you would do if she were ever picked on.  You know the pain of being an outcast at school, of being threatened and ridiculed and left out.  You always figured you’d find a way to help your own daughter stand up to the mean girls.  You would protect her.  Accompany her to school or keep her home if you had to, but no one was going to hurt your baby the way you were hurt.  It never crossed your mind in a million years that your daughter could be on the other side of that scenario.  That she would be capable of hurting others.  That didn’t seem possible.

You talk to the mom.  You talk to your daughter, who is reduced to tears at the thought that she caused her friend pain.  You talk with each of them again and even have them talk to each other.  You talk to a third mother with a child involved on the periphery, and chat briefly with the teacher as well.  Some of it is confusing, conflicting.  There is a slightly disorienting Rashomon effect as certain accounts don’t match up, but a bigger picture emerges.  There is no clear cut narrative of good and bad.  There are only mistakes and misunderstandings, bruised feelings an unintended slights.  But people are hardwired to construct simple stories.  We like labels.  We want there to be a right and a wrong and someone to blame.  Real human beings are not that simple and we need to resist labels in order to give people–particularly children–a chance to be more than that.

You are glad the mom talked to you.  You work together to give the girls a chance to spend some time away from the school, to connect again as friends.  You talk to your daughter about remembering to step outside herself and see what things look like from other angles.  To not get so wrapped up in her own activities that she can’t see what is in front of her.  You tell her that friendship is not just about fun, but about responsibilities.  She is determined to try harder to meet her friends’ needs.  And at the moment, it is working.

I have little sympathy for bullies.  I recoil at the unfairness of blaming victims for their own suffering.  But in our self-righteous hurry to pick sides and feel safe in our judgments, we need to be careful.  In some cases we can stop things from going too far and causing unnecessary pain.  Of course we need to protect our children, but we must also be brave about speaking up and giving the other side a chance to address the issue.

Because sometimes a mean girl isn’t actually mean.  And sometimes parents and their kids can do better if they are offered a different perspective.  Sometimes friendships can be salvaged from misunderstanding and put on track again, but only when people give each other the benefit of the doubt and are willing to both talk and listen.

It all depends on your angle.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Breathing Easy (Babble)

Quinn had his tonsils out this week.  He’s doing great.
(Quinn right after his operation before being wheeled to his room.)

In fact, he’s almost doing a little too great.  The instructions I got at the hospital about his pain medication said he would need it every four hours for the first few days, even through the night, and then we could slowly work him onto ibuprofen instead.  But he really doesn’t like the medicine, and I don’t know how to make a kid swallow something he doesn’t want to swallow (yes we tried mixing it with pudding, yes we tried being persuasive, yes we tried just forcing it down….) so we’ve been leaving it more to him.  And he’s fine.  When his throat is sore he’ll drink some ibuprofen and then he’s good for long stretches. 

He’s been sleeping while his sisters are at school and when they are home he’s so distracted and happy when playing with them he doesn’t mention his throat.  So we’re just monitoring his food and keeping him away from the clementines and anything scratchy looking.  We’ve made frozen treats abundantly available.  Before the operation I asked him what kinds of ice cream we should pick up and he said, “Chocolate, chocolate and chocolate.”  (That’s my boy!)

I’m so glad it’s over.  I’m trying very hard not to feel guilty about having canceled his operation last year (because there is no point in stirring that up, but mommy guilt works in mysterious ways).  Last year he just seemed so small, and when he had no symptoms right before his scheduled surgery the idea of putting him through an operation that required general anesthesia terrified me.  That probably sounds silly to many, but a surgical procedure–even one as routine as a tonsillectomy–is just so far from anything I can control that it’s hard for me to trust everything will be fine.  But it’s done.  His snoring at night was getting scary, and when our pediatrician explained that his snuffliness was not just from colds or allergies but from his tonsils blocking the drainage from his sinuses, I realized it was time whether I was comfortable with it or not.

I let Quinn choose a toy from the gift shop on an earlier visit and told him we would pick it up the day we went in for his surgery so he would be excited about going to the hospital.  He wanted one of those things filled with water and colored blobs that you can flip over and watch everything bubble and drip.
I can’t say enough nice things about the Children’s Hospital here.  It’s a very nice place, reassuring in both the competence and kindness of everyone we’ve met.  The recovery room was set up with a little area for parents to sleep, and I even got to take a shower before I went to bed (which kind of took the edge off of sleeping in my clothes and going to work in them the next day).
I was impressed with Quinn’s appetite after surgery.  He started off with a popsicle, then proceeded to eat five cups of orange jello, two cups of chocolate pudding, and a bowl of mac and cheese.  I don’t think he eats that much at home most days.

There was also a playroom across the hall where we could get out toys or even bring them back to our own room.  Quinn’s favorite game when we are at the cottage is Battleship, but the hospital had a modern version.  I have no idea when they updated the look of Battleship, but compared to the flip open game boards I’m used to from the 1970’s this looked really wild to me.  There’s even a “ship” that’s really a single guy “standing” on the water which kind of cracked us up.
Anyway, as far as hospital stays go, this was about as pleasant as it gets.  Quinn and I had a nice time together, playing games and watching Spongebob and eating pudding.  I was even able to skype with my brother in Germany while I was in the waiting room during the surgery which took my mind off of being nervous.

And as I said, Quinn is doing great.  So we can both (finally) breathe easier.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Next Time a Party (Babble)

It was hard after the break rousing everyone in the morning and getting them bundled up for school.  There were some tears about socks and dawdling over snow pants.  Ian walked the dog and made breakfast and I gathered my stuff for swimming and we thought we were running late.

But we were early.  Like, a day early.  Nothing quite like going through all the trouble to get the kids off to school only to realize you are the only people who thought the school was open.  Heh.  So, we apologized to the kids (who were surprisingly kind about our mistake), took them with us to the Y, and I got in my swim while everyone else batted balls around the racket ball court for an hour.  It was fine, and they were all happily building some sort of lego city in the living room when I left for work.  But I may be seeing the progress on their creations sooner than I expected because the violin store has no heat.  I’m still in my coat and am losing feeling in my fingertips as I type, so if the landlord doesn’t call back soon I’m going home!  (Blogging seems less hazardous in the cold than trying to use knives, so the instruments on my bench will have to wait.)  2012 is not off to a very organized start.

We had a great winter break.  Too short, as usual, but we packed a lot into it.  Christmas itself was quiet again.  I got to play some lovely music, and the kids liked all their gifts, but they kept telling me it didn’t feel like Christmas and I know what they meant.  For most of their lives Christmas has meant lots of family visiting, so trying to make a day with just us seem exciting to that level is hard to pull off.
But the tree looked festive, and my kids are finally tall enough that the ornaments aren’t all at the bottom anymore!

The irony is not lost on me that while we owned a home half the size we were the epicenter of holiday fun and everyone came to us, but that once we moved across the street where there is plenty of room for hosting the masses, circumstances changed and now we are alone.  Christmas here used to be noisy and silly and full of quirky traditions like casting hands and feet in plaster and my brother donning a smelly Santa suit and walks across the park to the bakery.  Now we are no longer the relatives with the youngest children who are hard to transport, unfortunate rifts have developed in parts of the extended family that make certain combinations of relatives unworkable in a gathering, and most importantly my dad’s health since his fall on Christmas day last year has continued to keep my parents tethered in Michigan.  So the day after Christmas we went to them.

I love visiting Detroit.  I know for many people who don’t consider it home it’s just some scary urban ruin, but there are many interesting things happening in and around the city and some of the best people I know are there.  The theme for this visit turned out to be puppets.  My mom got us tickets to a downtown puppet theater production of the Snow Queen which was followed by a puppet making workshop.  Then the next day we went to see some of my mom’s art books on display at the Detroit Institute of Arts and stumbled upon a one man puppet show also followed by a puppet making workshop.  The day after that my kids and their cousin put on their own puppet show, which you might expect to have included any of the puppets made at the aforementioned workshops, but instead featured one of Quinn’s shoes dangling by a wire and wrapped with bells.

My mom cooked amazing food, I got to spend time with an aunt, uncle and cousin I seldom get to see, my brother and I walked out to one of our old schools (that’s a whole post in iteself), and I played Scrabble with my husband, dad, and sister-in law.  I think my favorite part of the visit was seeing all of my kids and their cousin piled into a heap like puppies to sleep every night.  It doesn’t get sweeter than that without maybe adding actual puppies.  Now, all of that?  That felt like Christmas.

And just because it’s cool and I’m proud of my mama, thought I’d mention she’s featured in this month’s issue of Artist’s Magazine.  Check it out if you have a minute.  My mom is good.

We could have used a little more time at home just being at home, but I’m very glad we spent as much time in Detroit as we did.  We drove back to Milwaukee on New Year’s Eve, and the kids were determined to stay up until midnight this year.  They finally made it, too.  I wasn’t up to planning anything fun, so I just unpacked and let the kids watch the poor excuse for holiday programming our local stations put on.  Mona cried at midnight because she was so sad to see 2011 end.  It’s been a good year for our little family, so I understand.  We’re all together, we bought a cottage, we got a dog, everyone’s healthy…. Lots to like, but I told her there will be great things in 2012 as well, including more being together, visiting the cottage, continued play with the dog, and if we are lucky more good health.

The one thing we really missed this holiday season was my brother, Barrett, and his girlfriend who are currently living in Germany.  We had hoped to at least see them on Skype or talk with Barrett on his birthday, but his phone and internet all went down around Christmas day, and he was relatively cut off from family.  He really seemed as far away as he actually is, and it was sad.  I already missed my grandma pretty acutely, so knowing my brother was out there and not part of the fun was hard.

It got me thinking about how when I was growing up New Year’s Eve was our big family holiday.  It was different every year, and creative and wild.  I miss that.  I wish we hadn’t let that slip away from us.  I told Barrett he can’t be so far away next year.  I don’t know how much control I can exert to gather people together for it, but next New Year’s Eve I want a party.  Even if it is just my own little family again, I am doing something.  We will break out the mirror ball and come up with some games and I will make fun snacks.  So I guess if I have a New Year’s resolution that would be it.  Next New Year’s?  We’re having a party.

In the meantime the landlord got a guy in to start the heat going, and I should be able to feel my fingers again soon.  Funny how these violins didn’t fix themselves while I was gone….  Happy 2012 everyone!