five minute friday: she

…where a brave and beautiful bunch gather every week to find out what comes out when we all spend five minutes writing on the same topic and then sharing ‘em over here.

Go:

“What did I do wrong?”

I had been sharp with her. Unnecessarily so. She hadn’t done anything wrong. I was just tired of not being listened to and had raised my voice in response to the cacophony of the little ones running away from,  while simultaneously giggling at and ignoring my repeated requests. She had been sitting quietly on the couch watching Word Girl. It was almost bedtime for them and my head was filled with the swirling clutter of our kitchen, the undone daily to-do list, the mountain of unwashed laundry and the books and toys that the children seemed to see as a household obstacle course to be serpentined through rather than picked up after. She was sitting amidst the three ring circus of our living room and I wanted some help cleaning up.

She’s almost seven now. Light years from the toddler who used to grin with a carefree enthusiasm that was hard to pin down. She takes our words, our tones, our looks or lack of them into her tender heart and mirrors them back in her daily interactions with others.  I hear it as she scolds her dolls and reminds her friends and sisters of the rules and how to act in both their very real and make-believe-land and I frown making a mental note to temper myself. To give her more emotional freedom to remain the unencumbered little girl that darts between big-sister-hood and little-girl-dom on a whim. Who frequently entwines her unending mommalogues with requests to be the baby next lifetime around with predictions that when she grows up she’ll be not only a teacher but the person in charge of them.  

She.

She’s not a baby anymore. Not a toddler or a preschooler to be shaped and shepherded at every turn of the schedule and activity. She is venturing out into her school and her community and becoming not just the person I expect her to be, but the girl she wants to be. A girl who matches her striped shirt with rainbow polka-dotted jeggings because she likes the way the patterns play together. A girl who wants to sing Katy Perry loudly in the car with the windows rolled down rather than listening to me sing another verse of the unending family version of the Barney song. A girl who loves to both get a smiley face on her weekly spelling test and ask in baby tones if I’ll carry her to bed tonight. A girl who wants to be the one to choose which restaurant we go to for dinner but will still only eat cheese quesadillas and mini-corndogs most nights. A girl who begs me to not take her picture in front of her friends but photobombs the shots of her sleeping sisters.

She didn’t do anything wrong.

She. She’s just growing up before I know how to let her.

Stop.

Art’s imitation of life

lunartOne of my favorite bloggers had a recent post about AG dolls and in reading this post I was brought back in time for my own version of this story.

A couple of years ago, in spite of the plethora of half-naked, crazy-haired dolls littering the floor of the girl’s room. Dolls, that had been purchased and received in the last six years and had formed their own make-believe community with the generation of dolls that survived my childhood to be handed down to the eager little starfish hands of my own children. I still found myself wanting for a doll for the Quail that had Down syndrome. Problem was, every. single. doll. that was marketed for that- creeped me out. And I didn’t want to buy, what to me was a creepy looking doll and tell my daughter whom I routinely gush at how beautiful she is; that this lone doll, not the series that had already been living in her room, represents her.

This conundrum really bothered me at the time, I worried that it was springing from some deep-seeded discomfort I unknowingly harbored about the Quail and her labels. That maybe I wasn’t nearly as accepting as I assumed and presented myself as. I kept flashing back to the hundreds of pictures from her newborn days that I would skip over when deciding which to share because I thought they emphasized the stereotypes that the label of Down syndrome bring along with them.

At that same time Punky– that Irish cartoon about the girl who has Ds came out and that- that I was for. We got that and it now sits happily amongst the set of kids DVDs that we never watch because we never watch DVDS. (Shout out to Netflix: Please add Punky!) But we have it and I enjoy the show.  As opposed to how I feel about all of the doll options out there.

At that same time some of the other families on-line that we were friends with because of the Down syndrome connection; were having this Spanish doll-maker named Desi adapt the eyes on these Waldorf-style dolls to represent Ds. The doll with “the eyes” was just as darling to me as the other dolls she made. So I contacted her and put in my order. With the first photo she sent of the Quail’s doll I commented that it didn’t have the same eyes as my friend’s dolls. Desi indicated that as these specialty orders had been coming in she had revised her original design and was it ok? I wasn’t sure how I felt about it- but at the same time- I appreciated her take as an artist and didn’t want to interfere too very much.

Fast forward a year and a half later when our dolls came. For Zuzu I had asked to have the eyes deep blue and heart shaped- because she is both full of heart and wears her heart so openly. The hair- Oh I was as specific as I could be about the hair. When our friend Molly had photographed our family I had swooned over the strawberry blonde locks she managed to capture of their early childhood. This, this I wanted commemorated as they aged and their hair starts to turn more like my own. She created this wild tangle of art yarn that both mirrored their style at the time and pulled out the strawberry of the blonde. I had wanted a smattering of freckles on her cheeks because those had recently begun to sprout. Zuzu, while routinely bathed in sunscreen would occasionally make it out of the house without or manage to wash it off before an afternoon of outdoor play. We would of course give the grim reminders of how darling freckles can be a precursor to skin cancer, which runs rampant in our family and Zuzu would reply how her teacher told her they were angel kisses. Sigh…

Of course we also had to have a series of accessories for the doll because otherwise it really wouldn’t represent the fashionista that is our children. Fairy wings, purses, shoes, scarves and hats. These dolls by far have a better wardrobe then me.

Out comes the Quail’s doll and with the newly designed eyes. Indeed they don’t look like the eyes of our friend’s dolls. Really, they look pretty similar to Zuzu’s dolls eyes. Much like how the Quail looks more like us than she does others with Down syndrome.

Remember that episode of Glee where we learned that Becky’s internal voice was Dame Helen Mirren? And Becky’s monologue:  “You may be wondering why I sound like the Queen of England. In my mind, I can sound like whoever I want, so lay off haters.”   

DSC_5206Well in the meantime the Quail has fallen in love with Sadie, the blonde,Target version of an AG doll. She was quite specific and insistent in which doll she loved and really, who am I tell her it doesn’t represent her right?

five minute friday: broken

…where a brave and beautiful bunch gather every week to find out what comes out when we all spend five minutes writing on the same topic and then sharing ‘em over here.

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Go:

“Let go of your sister’s neck. Do not pick her up by her arms.”

“Stop talking so loud. Please be quiet and let me think for one minute.“

“If you yell at the table one more time you are going to time out. You shout. You’re out.”

“That’s it. I’ve had enough bickering for the evening. Everyone in bed. Now.”

“You need to go say you are sorry too. It doesn’t matter if she started it.”

“We all help clean up because we are a family and we help each other.”

“You can either help match the clean socks or go play by yourself.”

“Stop telling on your sister and focus on what you need to do.”

“Go. To. Bed. And no more getting up.”

“If you get up again you will need to tuck yourself back in.”

“No you can’t sleep in here. It will wake the baby, baby. Please go back to your bed. I love you.”

“If you aren’t going to eat your peas than there will be no dessert. That’s your choice.”

“You cannot wear the itchy dress to school. Your skin is too dry right now. It does not matter if Aliviah is dressing up. Your Momma said no and we don’t do things just because ‘everyone’ else is. We’ve talked about this”

“You go to school tomorrow. Not today. Put your backpack down please and finish your Cheerios.”

“Asked and Answered.”

 Again and again I hear words come out of my mouth and they feel unkind in that heart of the moment. These children, they push and push and push. That perseverance, that confidence, that determination, it will serve them well as adults. In the meantime, it’s this hard parenting work that ties my stomach in knots and drains the energy right out of my tired head each day.

Did I just break their spirit or teach them a valuable lesson that was really as necessary as my voice insisted it was?

No, she isn’t thanking me now when she pops out of bed for the 6th time insistent she has to tell me again why she needs to wear the shiny pink dress to school for the egg hunt all the while scratching at the itchy patch on her belly.

No, she doesn’t sound grateful at all as she is hauled out of the kitchen hollering her teacher’s name, her insistent fist tightly wrapped around her Dora backpack on a Wednesday morning before the sun has even come up.

No, the baby is quite certain we are wrong and she should be back up climbing the bed frame and toppling over our tired selves rather than staying put in her pack-n-play and sleeping for more than a 3-4 hour stretch at a time.

It breaks me, this firmness. This need to hold fast to the routines and rules. It breaks them when we give in to their whims. It’s not the free-range, light-hearted, happy-go-lucky parent I envisioned when I saw that first positive test. Their tears bring my own when I turn around.

Of course, I hadn’t actually met my children at that point either…

Stop.

five minute friday: home

…where a brave and beautiful bunch gather every week to find out what comes out when we all spend five minutes writing on the same topic and then sharing ‘em over here.

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Go:
Sometimes I confuse house and home and I have to stop and mentally remind myself one is not the other. And in the end one matters so much more.

I find myself coveting a different….house. We chose ours a decade ago when its quirkiness felt just right to remind us who we had been- that becoming home-owners didn’t mean we were growing away from ourselves.

Its’ wood-framed windows that swell in the heat and refuse to open. The glass doorknobs that come just a bit looser with each and every turn. The peeling paint and plaster that spiders its way across the rooms. The wild and tangled yard that blocks us from the too-busy street connecting us to town. The upstairs that we assumed we would one day remodel. It all fell together in a charming gabled angle long before we had three little birds feathering our nest.

With these little ones under foot I find myself mentally rearranging and remodeling. Shoving and scraping at the windows to make sure they will open. A screwdriver stored in the green pantry hutch to tighten those pesky doorknobs over and over. A new coat of paint to cover the “old cracks” that the six-year-old cheerily points out in case we hadn’t noticed them. Adding a fence to separate little strong-willed heads from the bustling cars and roaming dogs. Dreaming of lifting the whole kit and caboodle “Up” style to a road that lets us walk and wagon and tricycle our way to a park. I feel overwhelmed some nights with the restlessness of our things as they push and stack against each other cluttering each room as we grow and grow and I click all the more feverishly through the websites that showcase better and bigger and just plain different thinking, maybe this one…

And then just when I’m at my most claustrophobic, the afternoon sun shines through the white wooden window panes and catches the red highlight of a little ponytail bouncing behind the dolly stroller around the corner. The noise of the doorknob thudding to the carpet is quickly followed by the rascaling giggles of sisters hiding and seeking. The warm yellow paint of the dining room glows around my face as I peer in to the churning bread dough that will rise steamily to become our daily bread. Their bubble and popsicle-coated feet splash in and out of the yellow plastic pool as the nearby bbq smokes the potatoes and chicken under the warm summer sun. The pile of coloring and story books topple off the tiny corner table revealing the latest sentence the six year old has written in her tentative crayoned scrawl: “I love you. Do you love me?”
And I think…home as I shut down my computer screen.

Stop

five minute friday: bare

…where a brave and beautiful bunch gather every week to find out what comes out when we all spend five minutes writing on the same topic and then sharing ‘em over here.

Go:

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I take the teacher note out of the Quail’s backpack and read it to her four year old self: “The Quail was not kind to her friends today. She pulled her friend down and her friend did the same….” The Quail looks down at her shoes while bird-perching her bottom lip out at my words.

“Momma, that girl was mean to me again. She took my prize and hid it and wouldn’t tell me where it was.” Zuzu’s voice wobbles through her tears.

 “Momma I got my sticker and stamp taken away today. But I was only talking quietly. Lucy was talking loud but Mrs. Campbell didn’t hear her. She didn’t get hers taken away. It’s not fair.” Her tears flow hot at the injustice of kindergarten rulings. Her embarrassment at having gotten in trouble worn as plain as the clean back of her hand where the daily stamp is missing.

“Back away from each other and Quail go to time-out. We do not hit or spit.” I raise my voice to be heard over the wild ruckus of the girl’s disagreement and then proceed to wipe the spit off my face that was sent there flying out of the Quail’s frustration. I feel myself pause- I need to be heard, but I need to not yell and frankly- that’s hard some days.

Each day we start again. Each day I promise myself I will not yell. I will listen. I will instruct calmly. I will model what I want to see in them. Each day I feel the frustration mount as we repeat the same lessons over and over. Including the new promise to not yell *this day*.

The basic lessons:

We do not hit, pull or spit.

We ask for help when we need it.

We listen to our teacher, parents and grown-ups in charge.

We do not yell.  

The bare bones they are,  these daily repeated lessons of ours. How to get along with others in this ole’ world. How to be kind.

These basic lessons- they bare repeating each and every day as we wake up and try again.

Stop.

I am 40.

photo courtesy of Zuzu

photo courtesy of Zuzu

I am 40 today. To be honest, I think I’ve always been a little bit 40, even from way back when a very young me mostly dressed in orthopedic Doc Martins and gray woolen cardigans with Kleenex tucked up the sleeve while sipping tea from the perch of my 1940’s solid maple Ethan Allen swivel rocker listening to Prairie Home Companion. Really the only “funny” feeling I have with this technical change in decade is the discombobulation that is coming with being officially older than the age my mother perpetually resides at in my head (It’s 37 if you are curious). I’m arriving to my 40’s in a pretty happy and contented state of being. One where “I’m good” would be the answer to most questions about the state of my life, and the changes I still feel I’d like to make one day. One where my daily boiled egg, cup of yogurt and coffee leave me feeling perky. Sound in the knowledge that it’s ok that I haven’t slept more than 5 hours at a stretch in over 6 years rather than finding it insomnia inducing.  

Which isn’t to say that I don’t see room for improvement (like maybe increase that hours of sleep a night number for starters). What exactly would I like to change in this coming decade? I’d like to yell less. I want to be more patient. I’d like to read more by myself and with my family. I’d like to increase my technical knowledge of photography. I’d like to declutter my home, my brain and my email folders. I’d like to have a seasonal, familial, daily rhythm to the food my family and I eat and the time we spend together.  I’d like to have a weekly pattern of walking, gardening and yoga. I’d like to completely rid my brain of the guilt that piles up when I don’t meet my own expectations in life so that I can move on more quickly to trying again. I’d like to write a book.   I’d like to make a yearly book of our family’s life and one of our families recipes. I’d like to use more of what I already own more regularly. I’d like to go back to seeing more live music shows and traveling regularly. I want to continue to see the magic in the ordinary of our days.
What have I learned in the last 40 years? Here are the highlights- and yes- I know there are many contradictions in here. A little secret- there are many in life as well:
  1. What other people think of me is none of my business.
  2. It is ok to feel happy, angry and sad. They are my feelings and I don’t need to apologize for them. That said I am responsible to create my own happiness, control my own anger and curb my own crying.
  3. Ruminating over things that aren’t going well only makes ME unhappy.
  4. I prefer to find the good in my day and document it. And I prefer to let the rest go at days end.
  5. I prefer my chocolates mixed, my jewelry sentimental, my coffee strong with milk and my flowers colorful.
  6. When the next day comes, I’ll try again.
  7. Not only do I need the ability to try again, but it’s good to give the people in your life another chance as well. We all make mistakes.
  8. Listen to other people’s opinions about life, but remember they are only opinions.
  9. When someone compliments you, say thank you and smile.
  10. Share what you have.
  11. It is important to say sorry when someone is hurt by you, even if you didn’t mean to.
  12. It is possible to enjoy variety- McDonald’s McRib and High Tea.
  13. Not everyone needs a detailed explanation of what you mean.
  14. Not every situation needs resolution; sometimes the best course of action is to just let it go.
  15. If I didn’t photograph or write about it, it’s hard to remember that it happened for me.
  16. Daily structure, rules and routine help me to look outside of those for inspiration.
  17. When people offer help, if it really would be helpful- say yes and thank you.
  18. I feel better when I eat my fruit and veggies, get lots of sleep, take a walk, go outside, floss my teeth and drink lots of water.
  19. When something is bothering you, try to think about how you could fix it. When something is bothering someone else, just listen.
  20. In parenting my children, I understand and appreciate my own parents so very much.
  21. When I can’t stop ruminating on something, walk on it, photograph it or write about it. There is freedom in taking control of your thoughts so you can move on.
  22. Your experience in life is yours alone.
  23. Don’t try to control other people’s actions. It doesn’t work.
  24. Everything passes in life- the good and the bad.
  25. Expectations should be in flux- lowered when you become overwhelmed and raised when you could do better.
  26. When you can’t change your situation, change your perspective and attitude.
  27. I like to be cooked for, read to and invited over.
  28. In the moment, I am much more capable than I think I am in the preparation.
  29. A daily family meal is defined as us being together for the meal. It doesn’t matter who serves it, what it is or what time of the day it happens.
  30. I enjoy the feeling of a good melt-up (think opposite of a melt-down)
  31. Trying something new is just as great as returning to our old favorites (food, vacations, friends, activities).
  32. I’d rather have an ongoing list of things I want to do than have that list neatly checked off.
  33. When people tell me they see something good in me, I start to see it in myself and I live up to that expectation.
  34. Being able to laugh about the daily awfuls helps me to get over them.
  35. It is so very important to be kind. To others and yourself. Whether deserved or not.
  36. I learn a lot in a quiet moment.
  37. I’m inspired by images, words and food others make.
  38. I’d rather ask a question than assume I’m right or understand all that I need to.
  39. You can learn just as much from those younger than you as those older than you- if you want to.
  40. I am crystal clear how lucky I am to have the family, friends, community, health and teeth that I do.

Bless you all.

fave-O-lit friday: keep calm and mother on

Keep Calm and Mother On Teal Damask 8x10 Digital Printable Image 1006


I raised my voice again. In my defense, I had asked the two of them in my regular voice 3 times already. In their defense; between the stream of the water, the raucous giggles outlining their splashy play and the wails of their tiniest sister outside the bathroom door furious at having been set down yet again; I am certain they didn’t hear a single one of my requests to quiet down and wash their bellies next. In the flurry of the witching hour though, they rarely do. And I’m tired. And I can’t think when it’s loud. And I’m running late and behind in my laundry list of things to do. Not to mention the laundry, or dinner, or the clutter I never seem to get to clearing. It all closes in on me in that bathroom some nights. I’m overwhelmed in those loud, claustrophobic moments we have together before supper in the evening and again before breakfast and the sunrise. No one listens. No one hears. And then I raise my voice. Again. And then a lip trembles, a tear spills out, a spirit breaks and we all sit silently berating ourselves for not getting it quite right. Again. Not exactly the kind of quiet I was aiming for.

I know these days, they hurtle past me and my intentions at lightning speed. I know I’m going to miss these days. I know the day that my rooms and mind aren’t cluttered and the only laundry I have to fold or dinner I have to prepare is my own, the tears that spill from my eyes will be ones of regret instead of frustration. I know there are no perfect mothers, just perfect moments within motherhood. I know I am not the first mother in the history of mothers to wish she could do better. To spend her quiet, late night moments when she should be getting that rest she needs reviewing the guilt racked up from the earlier chaos. I know there are objective reasons why we mothers react the way we do. We are tired. We are spent. We are pulled in every direction except the one that used to be our own before we donned this sash of motherhood. We are expected to know what to do in a given moment. Instantaneously and with certainty. And then someone questions us. Or challenges us. Or goes on their merry way as if we had never spoke. With a voice filled with their own certainty and indignityat our suggestion, our direction, our pleading, they poke the bear with a straw. You know the one, the one that did in that camel?

We no longer belong solely to ourselves.  Our bodies; and our minds with the brain cells our young have feasted on in their getting and growing here, I often fear, are now familial property. Our whole selves now belong to the once tiny egg of a being that is no longer tucked neatly under our hearts. Our bodies have gone through one of the most significant changes it ever will in our lives. Our hormones are rearranging and that fact alone is culpable in our response to those around us.

But yet, for all the objective and understandable reasons for our sometimes rash behavior, our frustration, our anger, our bewilderment and disappointment, we still feel let down by ourselves. And here’s a little secret Moms: most of us, even the happiest, most insightful, competent- appearing, go-luckiest of us; we’ve all been there and felt and reacted that. same. way. Ask anyone. We’ve been tired. We’ve been angry. We’ve been frustrated. We’ve been disappointed. And yet; God willing and the creek don’t rise, we do.

The very next day. And we try again.

It’s a practice. Staying calm and just mothering on. A verse that I stitch and mend over the impulse reactions I’m prone to and hopefully with the quiet refrain of its melody I’ll learn by heart one day.

One breath at a time. One heartbeat at a time.

Keep calm and mother on.