Sunday, December 29, 2013

An Apology

I am neglecting my blog this week as I am at my residency for my MFA in Creative Writing. If you were to read my texts this week they just say, "This is awesome! This is amazing!" and I really don't have a lot of thoughts to put online at this moment. 

I will return to my blog soon and hope you won't have forgotten me after my absence, and hopefully my writing will have benefit from this experience as much as my soul has. 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Batter Up!

I decided that the perfect "big gift" for Big Pants this year would be a batting practice thing; sort of like a ball on a string connected to a stick so that I wouldn't have to pitch to him and he would stop hitting balls onto the neighbor's porch.  

My ex was against it. He was sure that Tiny Pants would take a bat to the head sooner or later, but I knew he was a worry wart. I read a bunch of reviews and everyone loved this contraption. Everyone and their brother, even. No one said anything about siblings getting hit in the head. (Although, I do have to admit that my first ex husband once hit his little brother in the head with a baseball bat while using something called a "Johnny Bench Batter Up" but he was a little crazy. I'm sure it was completely avoidable with adequate parental supervision.)

Christmas morning, Big Pants was not all that impressed with the hitting thing, which not only cost a bunch of money, but also weighs as much and both kids and the dog put together.  I wanted him to like it, so even though it was really freaking cold I dragged it outside and tried to figure it out. 

I took the first hit across my stomach.  Although he swung the bat hard, I was surprised it hurt so little.  Perhaps my coat was better padded than I thought?

Or perhaps my cell phone, which was in my coat pocket, absorbed the impact. Yup, that was it.  It was shattered beyond repair. 

I still didn't give up.  I really wanted the gift to be a success, so I stood next to Big Pants and tried to figure out how to pitch the ball.  His next swing landed at the top of my thigh, and this one hurt quite a lot more.  

That did it; I dragged the contraption inside while explaining that it is only okay to laugh when someone gets hurt if you first make sure they are really unhurt and if they are not your Mama. 

I'll con someone else into figuring the thing out come spring. Until then, I will leave it in the corner so I can glower at it menacingly and make it properly intimidated.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Tag Team Christmas

Yaay Presents!

The best kept secret of single parenting is Tag Team Christmas.

My ex and I have an agreement where we each see the kids on Christmas Day, alternating which house they wake up at every other year, and switching at noon. The first year after we separated I prepared myself for the worst Christmas of my life, and my parents agreed to come to to support me in what we all thought would be a horrendous outpouring of grief interrupted by a few hours of holiday cheer.  We all assumed the crash position and waited for impending negative emotions…but they never came.  

Here's why:

If you ask my kids, Double Christmas is the best part of having two houses. It is the one time of the year when other kids are jealous of them.  They get two trees, two stockings, two stops from Santa's sleigh. the kids strike the motherlode twice in the same day, year after year.  They are in all their glory, so you get a day off from parental guilt.

But the kids aren't the only ones who benefit.  Here's the truth about kids on Christmas - they stay up too late fighting sleep, making it impossible for Santa to come until midnight, and if Santa didn't finish wrapping, Santa might be up until two in the morning.  Then the little angels wake up at the crack of dawn, decimate the toy pile in under an hour, and spend the rest of the day whining and being over-sugared and under-slept. 

Enter tag team Christmas.  Children wake up at Parent A's house  descend on presents like a pack of hungry hyenas, play with toys for an hour, and just when they start to get to that whiney stage around noon, they get dropped off at Parent B's house.  Parent B got to sleep in and finish Santa duty in the morning instead of the middle of the night, so Parent B is not overtired and cranky.  Parent A gets to go home and take a nap, and Parent B gets to do Christmas after coffee and breakfast, like a civilized adult.  

It is truly a win-win for the parents, and the kids are wallowing around knee deep in presents, so they happy, too.  Of course, the day after Christmas let down is still unavoidable (heck, I still get it at age forty) but Christmas day itself is far better when you have someone to tag in with.

Monday, December 23, 2013

My Christmas Peppermint Tray

I don't do pintrest,for the very simple reason that I know it will eat every spare moment showing me fabulous things that will just make me fee inadequate. I can feel perfectly inadequate on my own, thank you very much.

However, I accidentally got sucked into a pintrest-type thing this week.  I was reading a blog and wound up here.  I left the window on my computer open for an entire week. 


I tried to close it, but I couldn't. I was captivated. The peppermint tray held an evil hypnotic hold over me. I needed my own "perfect presentation for Santa's cookies." What kind of mother would I be otherwise?

I could not unsee it; while I had never before  heard of such a thing, now that I knew it was in existence I was sure all the way to my bones that my holiday would not be complete unless I made a peppermint tray. Heck, my life would not be complete without a peppermint tray.  it was my Christmas Destiny. 

The directions were pretty simple:

1. unwrap a lot of candies
2. place in a round baking pan lined with tinfoil
3. back for 8 minutes at 350  and "do not walk away…make sure the candies do not over melt."

I unwrapped the candy. 

Unwrapping is a skill I have.

I placed in lined pan. 

I can put candy in a pan like a boss

I put in oven, and checked every 8 seconds for the first minute, then completely forgot about them until the timer went off.  Thank God for timers.

the blurriness is the heat of the oven,
not my photography skills 

I took it out of the oven, and it was like a light from Heaven shined down on me.  I Made A Freaking Peppermint Tray! 

Checking frequently is for sissies.

I photographed it, I held it up to the light, I stared at it in wonder. 

My Very Own Peppermint Tray!

 I Made A Freaking Peppermint Tray!

Or a frisbee

For the rest of the week, I will only answer to Our Lady, Queen of Christmas. So what if I got crappy presents for people? So what if I haven't gotten around to vacuuming yet and the house guests will be here any minute? I made a freaking peppermint tray. My work here is done. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

My First Single Christmas

I am afraid I did not buy enough Christmas presents this year.  It is always a struggle between not wanting to buy too much and over-spoil them: set the bar too high for the rest of their life, bring more useless things into the house that will be played with for five minutes and then forgotten - and the fear of buying too little and breaking their tiny, hopeful hearts.  I buy my kids too many toys as it is. There is no reason for them to hit the motherlode on Christmas, but inside me still lives the child-me, when every Christmas was overcome with the splendor of many colored packages under the tree, overflowing the allotted space and flowing like a frozen tide over the living room rug. 
 I don't know how my parents did it.  I know now how little money we had. It's not that we ever got everything we wanted -our greed was too large for that the ever be possible - but the dreams that filled our heads every Christmas Eve were always exceeded by the reality of Christmas morning.  I want my children to feel the same wonder I always did on Christmas morning.
 The memory of my childhood Christmases weighed heavily on me the first year I was a single mama.  I was working two jobs and didn't have much extra money to spare.  I didn't believe in credit card debt, and I didn't want to ask my parents for extra help for Christmas, as they had already done so much for me.  We had just moved from the brand new three bedroom/three bath house we inhabited when we were an intact family into a much smaller, though quainter, house, with only one bathroom that didn't have an exhaust fan, the absence of which my three year old found incredibly disturbing. I wanted to provide a Christmas big enough to fill his heart with joy, and equal to what his father and his father's many relatives would provide at his house, and I didn't know how I was going to do it.
I bought some battery operated musical toys for the baby - the nonverbal can't express their desires and are therefore easy to shop for - but I didn't know what to get my big boy.  He was just barely three, newly potty trained, freshly enrolled in preschool. He loved animals and Thomas the Tank Engine more than just about anything. 
 While shopping for some clothes at the consignment store, I mentioned to the owner my Christmas fears.  She was a mother of four children, and had been a single mother for a number of years herself.  She went in the back room and reappeared with a large rubbermaid container.
 "This just came in.  It's all the Thomas take along trains and a track.  If you take all of them and I don't have to package them all up, you can have them for $75,"  she said.  I only had a budget of $100 for both boys, but $25 was plenty for a baby that only really wanted a big cardboard box and whatever his brother was holding. I took the trains home, and carefully wrapped all twenty five trains individually.  I had the large pile of my dreams under our tiny, tabletop Christmas tree, and I was able to do it all on my own. 
We are now on our fifth Christmas since the break up, long enough to have established our own family traditions. We even have a full-sized tree. It feels normal now, and the boys consider "double Christmas" to be one area where having two houses is far superior to having just one. Daddy and I talk frequently about what presents we are each buying, both so that we don't duplicate, but also so that we don't overshadow each other.  We try to maintain a balance between the houses and not use the holiday to one-up each other. 
But still, I always worry that I have not bought enough.  I make lists, I count presents, I recount presents, I take the presents out of hiding and look at them and reassure myself that there are enough to fulfill my children's expectations. This, I think, is not universal to being a single parent, it is shared by parents everywhere.  My kids are older now, and their wish lists are too long for any person to ever fulfill all their hearts desires. The big one copies and pastes items from online stores into one astronomically large letter, and then he sits and types out the letter his little brother dictates, which includes things like "a little plane I can fit in that really flies." It is up to me to decide what they will be happy with and what they can live without.
I have never again had the peace of that first Christmas, when my budget was magically enough to buy every single train for my big, though still little, boy.  My mother always said that, "God looks out for fools and drunks," but I am glad that first year, the Powers That Be extended that to look out for a newly single mama as well.  
I am lucky that now my Christmas insecurities have resolved into the ordinary ones common to most parents. I no longer worry that I can provide enough, or that I am enough. 

First published on BlogHer

Friday, December 13, 2013

You Better Not Cry

Image: DeviantArt

Do you know that classic Christmas Carol that begins:
"You better watch out, you better not cry
You better not pout I'm telling you why?"

I can't sing it, because it makes my children cry.

I don't mean they complain about my singing, say they don't like it, or whine. I mean real tears roll down their sweet little faces and their wide open mouths have drool strings connecting top lip to bottom.  There is yowling. Louts and lots of loud yowling.

The idea that Santa is watching their every move and keeping tabs on them, writing their behavior down on some list is too much too bear.  They know they have been naughty.  They know they provoke their brother and whine at bedtime and sneak extra candy.  They know their only hope is that Santa isn't really watching every minute.

We have spoken and I do reassure them that they are perfectly well behaved most of the time and they are loved and will get presents.  And, conversely, I have  threatened to call Santa, generally at bedtime. (Hey, Daddy started threatening before Halloween, I use Santa only as a last resort in December.)  

This is why we have no Elf on the Shelf - if Santa sent a live-in spy every year, my boys would need therapy, and lots of it.

And yes, they love Santa. They look forward to visiting Santa, and I occasionally promise to keep somethings between us and not tell Santa on them, much like mothers promised to keep secrets from daddies in the days of old.  

While part of me wants to be a good person and tell them that Santa will bring them toys no matter what, that love is unconditional, I also appreciate the solid threat that it is. Sometimes the Santa threat is the only thing that gets them to stop fighting and go to bed, and I need them to go to bed, sometimes very desperately.  Santa is my coconspirator and behavior enforcer.

Still, I feel bad when they cry when they hear, "Santa Claus is Coming to Town."  I feel like I have somehow gone astray in my parenting.  Yet, I also love to torture those little critters and sing it to them.  (But only when they are being really bratty.)  Does that make me an evil parent?  Maybe, but in just a year or two I won't be able to play the Santa card anymore, and the song will no longer upset them.  I might as well enjoy the Santa Mystique while it lasts.

Monday, December 9, 2013

7 Perspectives Common to Cats and Toddlers

Both cats and toddlers are small and rather feral. To say that either children or cats are fully domesticated is completely false advertising. They are wild beasts that are only controllable because they are small.  Their perspective on life is very similar.  

For example:

1. Large people scoop you up and kiss you against your will.  Any retaliation against this results in swift punishment. 

2. Sometimes the large people hold you down and wipe your butt, whether you think you need it needs to be wiped or not. 

3.  Sometimes the large people force you into a bath for absolutely no reason whatsoever. 

4. Your keepers do not understand that  the only place you can really sleep comfortably at two in the morning is on top of their head.  They just don't want you to be well rested. 

5. You are always starving and have absolutely no control over when you are fed.  If you use your initiative and get your own snacks, your initiative is punished.

6.  The people in power do not understand that it is your destiny to climb the Christmas tree.  Why do they torment you with putting up such a fabulous thing and then tell you "no" every time you go near it?

7. The large people think it is funny to post pictures of you with embarrassing captions on the internet which is obviously beneath your dignity. They have no respect whatsoever.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

So I Broke My Kid...

I broke my first kid. At least I think I did.  What I did was entertain him constantly form the moment he woke up until the moment he went to sleep.  It's not my fault really; it was more of a form of self-defense. If I stopped entertaining him he'd cry, and I wasn't good at listening to him cry.  

I don't want to be a bee!

I think a lot of parenting theories really just come down to whether or not you can stand to listen to your kid cry.  We dress it up with fancy names and read books all about it, but what it comes down to is really just can you listen to your kid cry or can't you.  If you can't, you are going to pick them up and play with them and do whatever it takes to calm them no matter what the books say, and you will read books that support whichever side you fall on the crying thing, and you will think people who do the opposite are bad parents.  But really, it's just about your own crying tolerance that matters. 

At any rate, I had no tolerance whatsoever. I started my day at 5 am, reading books to the baby.  Shaking toys at the baby. Bouncing the baby.  Counting down the minutes to the next nap, which only happened when all the planets were in alignment AND I danced him for 20 minutes.  I don't know how I could have done it any differently, it was all I could do to survive.

Now that baby is eight.  And he says, "Mama, I don't know what to do," and he says, "Mama, I need someone to play with," and he says, "Mama I'm bored."

I tell him, "You have been bored since the day you were born, kid."  That is true but not helpful, it turns out. 

He has an external locus of control; he looks to the world to meet his needs. I'm pretty sure I taught him that, and I know that won't serve him well in life. But I broke him, and it's hard to undo. 

The second baby, of course, was more laid back. He'd fall asleep when he was tired - anywhere, anytime. No miracle was required.  He smiled a lot.  He amused himself by watching his brother and chasing his brother and trying to eat everything his brother owned.  Now that he's five, he prefers to play with someone, but he is capable of doing his own thing.

Big Pants, just chillaxe!

You could say that I neglected the second because the first was still demanding all my attention - and you would be right. But it is also true that he was born a mellower kid. He was lower maintenance from the get-go. (But louder. A lot louder.)

So maybe I didn't break the first one.  Maybe he would have been a bored kid needing someone to entertain him no matter what I did. Maybe they just come as they come, and all our mistakes and all our guilt is for naught. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Arty Coolness That You Have to See and Also Buy For Me

There are some people out there who have skills above and beyond the realm of moderately-arty-mom.  People who think of things that are so out of the box yet so perfect that you can't believe no one else thought of it except no one else did.

I'm a moderately arty mom.  I  make all kinds of Barely Recognizable animals for my children on demand, mostly without patterns, and mostly with moderately successful results. Yes, I can proudly say that I am moderately successful at making barely recognizable animals.

Shut up, it's a boy version of Lilo's doll
 with a smaller head. And clothes. 

I have made both a helicopter and motorcycle out of cardboard, both with shoulder straps so you can wear them like weirdly large waders and crash into things in the house.  (OK, the motorcycles took a fair amount of help from a dear friend, H.)

I have carried large rocks up two flights of stairs to allow my children to create a castle with a moat. (that was a bad idea, for the record, resulting in many stubbed toes and a lot of bargaining to get the rocks back outside.)

But that's all sort of moderately- arty stuff.  These peeps take it to an entirely new level:

This man colors his kids art into like, real grown up art.  Which might piss off my kids on occasion, because they are really bossy about their art, but they are also lazy, so if I had the skill to do this they would totally make me do it all the time. 

Image from WhereCoolThingsHappen

Or there's this mom, who collaborates with her daughter with super amazing results that I would totally buy and hang on the wall, or drink coffee out of, because she awesomely made mugs as well as framed prints.

You can read it here  or you can buy me one here
by BusyMockingBird

Because I'd totally love that for Christmas, or just because you love me and want to give me a present.

Artist people are cool.  But, really, I want to do this with MY kids' art.  Tiny Pants has fallen in love with art and is constantly bringing me Art in Bed, Art at Breakfast, and Art at Snack time. (Tiny Pants observes two meals: breakfast, and Snack. Snack occurs approximately 15 minutes after breakfast concludes and lasts until he is asleep. If he could, He'd sleep with a graham cracker in his hand.)

I have a friend, G., who traces her daughter's art onto cloth and embroiders it.  I so am going to do that someday.  Or pay her to do it for me…wonder if she is game? I'd love a quilt made of squares of my kids' art, but I know I will never finish it; it will join the latch hook kit, baby quilt kit, and all their half-finished cousins hiding under my bed. 

Then I discovered this artist, Mia Van Beek, who takes your children's art and makes it into jewelry.  Hello.  There are few things I love more than shiny sparkly things.  I fell in love with jewelry when I was given a box of old half-broken things when I was four, and I have yet to overcome my love of it.  

I've always both loved and scorned the generic "mother" jewelry.  I totally understand the need to proclaim your love for your family through gold, silver, and gemstones.  Really, the only other way to express your love for your family would be through life sized replicas of them in chocolate, but then the dog would chew on their feet and that would be awkward.

The only reason I don't wear mom jewelry is that I haven't found anything quirky and arty and interesting enough to justify spending the money on it.

Until now.  I totally wish I could have your speakers blast the Alleluia Chorus right now.  Look at this and tell me this is not the coolest. thing. ever. You can't.  You want it too. 

You Want To Buy Me These Here

One thing I love about not having any sponsors is that I don't have to be all professional about promoting things.  I can just rave and squeak in excitement and not have to sound like a grown up at all. 

Buy Me

 And I can totally send subliminal messages for you to buy me presents without getting sued for mind control. (I think) 

Really, Really Buy This

 But in all seriousness, there is something important about seeing the creative thoughts people dream up, that helps us to see the world a little bit differently.  Art is magic, and witnessing it does something to your soul, deep down, in that place where you are still seven years old, and the world is still full of possibility.  These artists have captured that feeling in a way that makes my heart bigger inside. 


Monday, December 2, 2013

I'm Grateful that I Stopped Being Publicly Grateful

Going around Facebook in November was a challenge to post something you were grateful for for 30 days. I was resistant. I don't like people telling me I should be grateful.  I don't like to be a follower.  I like to choose my own challenges, not be guilted into them.  
It took me a week, before I succumbed, then I had to start out with seven things I was grateful for instead of just one. I am normally a whiney, half-empty kind of person, so I liked looking for less-obvious things to be grateful for.  I thought everyone should do it. I wondered about my friends who chose not to be grateful. (Hey, I never said I was a great person.)  I even started a gratitude list for my blog that I would post at the end of the month in addition to my daily gratitude on my personal Facebook page. I worried if it wasn't my first post of the day. I wanted to do it properly and reverently.
Then suddenly it started to feel a little self-righteous. There's a certain lack of humility in telling everyone you know how grateful you are, over and over, day after day for a month. But I kept doing it.  I didn't want to look suddenly ungrateful, and there really were things I was grateful about and I was glad to be noticing them. I just wasn't so sure that I wanted to report back to the world on them.  I committed to being publicly grateful for 30 days and dammit, I was going to finish it, and see how many people liked my gratitude statuses.
Thanksgiving Day arrived.  I was driving to my mother's house and stopped to get gas and pee at a rest stop.  I sat on the toilet in that metal stall and contemplated all the people who worked there on Thanksgiving; the restaurant people, the gas station people, the people who cleaned the restrooms.  I was going to write a gratitude post about the little people and about how we disparage the stores that are open on Thanksgiving but feel it is our God given right to have every Mc Donald's on the thruway open 24/7.   I was going to both show my gratitude and self-righteously alert people to all the unseen people who are ignored during the Boycott Thanksgiving Shopping posts. A two-fer.
And then I didn't.  I threw Facebook gratitude out the window. I went to Thanksgiving, where I was surprisingly not asked about anything I was grateful for.  I waited to feel guilty about not posting about gratitude on the National Day of Gratitude, and eventually realized I didn't give a crap. I told myself that I could catch-up the next day if I was struck by a guilt attack, but I wasn't, so I didn't.  I wondered if people would think I was lame and could only come up with 27 things to be grateful for, but I realized I didn't give a crap about that, either.  The month ended and I was never publicly grateful again.
 It's the same reason that I don't blog every day.  Quantity is not quality, and doing something over and over can strip meaning and joy from it.  I don't want gratitude to become a chore or a tool of self-righteousness.  I admire everyone who finished their months of gratitude, and I am not saying that they didn't benefit from it and approach it with more humilty.  I'm glad I started the challenge, but I am fine that I fell off the wagon.  
Image: deviantart
Actually, it's not that I am ungrateful.  It's just realization that a public proclaimation isn't the be-all and end-all of gratitude for me.   I'm extremely grateful for all the people and blessings and love I have in my life, and I am truly grateful for the people who wash the restrooms on Thanksgiving. I just don't need to post about it.
(And grumpy cat. I am always grateful for grumpy cat.)  

Previously published on BlogHer