Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Load off/load on.

I'm not supposed to talk about this, I'm certainly not supposed to write about this, but I have to. Just for a second. Because writing is the way I process things. The way I sometimes have to figure out how I feel. Journaling doesn't work. I am embarrassingly trite without a reader. Even a potential reader makes a world of difference to me. So, please, forgive me.

My mom has dementia. This may not even be news, I don't know. But it's what's going on and it sucks. It's been 3 years since she was first diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's and since then it's been a bit of a roller coaster. Not like a roller coaster I'm riding, more like one I'm watching from afar. It looks really awful, full of loopty loops and free falls, but all I can do is watch and wonder what's going to happen next.

She's been diagnosed, undiagnosed, diagnosed with something different and so on. She's had her driver's license taken away by one doctor only to earn it back and have it "taken away" by my dad (thankfully). She's been completely blank one moment and perfectly lucid the next. She doesn't talk about what it feels like so I have no idea. Except for some books I've read, I am no better informed than you are. Possibly even less so.

Because I don't live nearby, the only way I can gauge what's going on is by what people tell me. I used to hear a lot more, when she was still driving, but I'm glad that stopped because it was never good news. People I'd known a million years would get in touch to tell me different stories but the ending was always the same. "I saw your mom. She didn't know who I was. Is everything okay?"

No. It's not okay. I don't know how it is because my dad tells me everything is fine, not to worry, but I'm pretty sure he's just trying to make me feel better. I'm pretty sure everything is not okay. I just have no idea what that means.

I've tried talking to my mom but conversation has never really been our strong suit. Now it's nearly impossible. When we're together, we always have my babies to enjoy so the conversation never turns toward her health. We've tried the phone but it's no good. I talk at her as long as she'll let me but I can tell she's not tracking what I'm saying and before long she has to go walk the dog and hangs up. It's not too different from how we've always been but that doesn't really make me feel any better.

My sister was my eyes and ears when she lived in Reno but she doesn't live there any more so I'm sort of flying blind. At least, that's what I thought. But tonight I called my dad (he's left two messages in two days...) and we talked - really talked - for almost an hour. It was...great. Sort of like a silver lining, you know? Like even though my mom is pretty much gone (she didn't know us when we saw her last month in California), I still have a chance to really connect with my dad. That's huge. It made me feel really good. And really bad. The point is, it made me feel.

It was like I was finally back on the roller coaster. (I was definitely on it at first but backed way off to avoid stepping on toes, etc.) And now, now that I'm sorting it out here, the only way I know how, I am definitely hearing that click-click-click and knowing that soon my stomach will me in my throat and my hair will by flying this way and that. I am ON this ride. It's awful and I hate it and I have no idea what's going to happen next but my seatbelt is securely fastened and my dad can squeeze my hand or scream in my hear or throw his arms in the air and giggle nervously or all three like he did when he took me on Big Thunder Mountain when I was three. Roller coasters are maybe not really our thing. But if we have to be on one, I'm glad we can be on one together.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Ritz bits.

We are home from our little fall break vacation and whew, what a week! Not even a week, I guess, four days. But, it was a pretty great four days...



The flight was uneventful which is always a little miracle when traveling with small children. We flew into Tampa where Bill had a morning meeting (we met him later in the day) and then drove the two hours to Naples. It was so beautiful. The entire drive I was taking pictures and gushing about how pretty everything was. I guess I was expecting Orlando which I don't remember being nearly as scenic. Or maybe I just hadn't really thought much about where we were going. Just that we were going. One thing at a time, ya know...















By the time we got to our hotel (The Ritz Carlton, Naples), I probably should have been prepared for all the beautiful surroundings, but I was still fairly slack jawed and overly impressed. Can you blame me? Check out the view from our room!

We walked down to the beach in order to catch the sunset and were just in time for one of my most favorite things in the whole wide world.

I had to go ahead and start a bucket list just so I could make it my intention to someday live where watching the sun set is an important part of my daily agenda. It certainly was while we were at the beach.


By the time we got back to our room, it was pretty late. So we ordered room service (sushi and french fries!) and had a little carpet picnic for dinner.


When the food arrived, our sweet server asked Liam if he would like a cookie. Would he like a cookie?! Ha! Of course he would! Then she asked him if he would like a big one or a little one. Ha! Would he like a big one or a... oh, he actually would like a little one. "What?" he said when he noticed the way I was looking at him. "I'm a kid. A little cookie at bedtime is more than enough." Unfortunately, they only had big ones left so he had to make do...

Thus began his nightly routine of seeking out a warm cookie and glass of milk at bedtime. Lucky for him the people at the Ritz were beyond above-and-beyond and WONDERFUL with kids. I was, once again, totally unprepared for that and spent the entire four days being blown away by how nice everyone was to my boys.


 It actually made the scavenger hunt I gave Liam each morning somewhat of a challenge. 

"Mama, was that a friendly stranger or someone who works at our hotel?" 

"Someone who works at the hotel." 

"Geez! All the friendly strangers work here! Well, I guess I could ask them their name or strike up a conversation. Or maybe they could bring me something new to taste." 


Frozen grapes? Why yes! That is EXACTLY what we'd like!

"What else do I have to cross off?"

"Five different shells."

"Got it. What else?"


"Something from each color of the rainbow."

"Check."

"A cloud that looks like something?"

"Mmmkay."

"What about a random act of kindness?"

"Like that someone does to me or that I do for someone else?"

"Something that you do for someone else."

"Oh good. Because probably everyone doing kind things around here works at the hotel."

The only thing he didn't find was a vending machine. Because when there are good people around every nook and corner, I guess vending machines are completely unnecessary. 

Other than the scavenger hunt, we didn't really do much of anything. We were either at the pool or at the beach. Pool, beach, pool, beach. 

Actually it was more like beach, beach, beach, pool, beach, beach, beach. Because, as Liam pointed out, we can go to a pool anytime but how often do we get to the beach?! Not as often as we'd like (we LOVE the beach) but often enough that we were just there last month. Although our last beach experience was completely different. Equally as wonderful, just not at all the same. The waves in California were intense, surfer dude waves. The waves in Florida were retired, old people waves. Much more my speed. And, thanks to the California waves giving Finn a little roll in the "washing machine", he was just scared enough that I could lay back and watch him play in the sand without being on full on suicide watch like I am at the pool. It was GLORIOUS.


So when I wasn't swimming or floating on my back, I was laying out. Under an umbrella. With a cold Corona in my hand. Having the time of my life and watching my boys do the same. 



And then, just like that, we were home!

What a fabulous way to spend a few weekdays. Thanks Naples for being beyond gorgeous, and thanks B for working your tail off so we can join you while you work your tail off.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Gimme a break.

This past week was Fall Break for the public schools in our county which, for us, means we could bring a lot less than our A-game without feeling that bad about it.

When you look at homeschool as a constant, ongoing, 365 days a year learning experience (like we do), it suddenly becomes pretty easy to "do school". We don't have to sit at the kitchen table sweating over assignments 7 hours a day. Or even 4 hours a day as our state law requires (180 days/year). As long as we're learning something (which we typically are), we're doing just fine.

Of course, for as many days that I feel perfectly comfortable with that (kids learn through play! the world is our classroom!), there are just as many days that I find myself in a tailspin of panic. We'll be clicking along just fine when all of a sudden I notice it's nearly noon, the breakfast dishes are still on the table, Liam's in his underwear, Finn is screaming over some minor infraction, and the only thing remotely educational we've done all day is make pancakes.*

On a normal day, this is when I am grateful to have some highly structured curriculum to throw at Liam. Knowing he's learning basic algebra or picking nouns and verbs out of a sentence makes me feel so much better about the seemingly chaotic state of our lives. And having him engaged in an assignment gives me a chance to spend some one-on-one with little Finn (or finally unload the dishwasher...).



But since this week was Fall Break, I didn't have to rescue the day from sliding into the abyss of sloth. I could just go with it, embrace the crazy, and mark it as a day off on our attendance tracker. If everyone else gets a break, why shouldn't we?

Well, I'll tell you why. Because not having a break can often mean the difference between one of those days (the yelling, late for everything, messy house, four o'clock is the new five o'clock, pizza for dinner, holy hell when is bedtime?! type of days) and a pretty normal, possibly even fantastic, day. Having bits of structure here and there makes our time at home infinitely better.

No structure, no problem! Take a lap in the name of PE.

And since we get to make our own schedule, I like to save our days off just in case we really need them. Or want them. There wasn't a whole lot to drag us away from school last week but this week Bill will be going to Naples, Florida for a trade show and has a room at the Ritz on the beach. The beach! So it looks like we'll be taking a "Fall Break" after all! Only instead of hanging around the house in our pjs, getting on each others nerves, we'll be tagging along to The Ritz, living it up Flo-rida style. I'll still bring my laptop though, just in case. You never know when we might need to take a break from our break.

*Cooking is actually a really good learning tool that we use all the time. Liam has to decide what he wants to make, find a recipe (online) that we have all of the ingredients for (or make appropriate substitutions), get everything out, follow directions, delegate (aka - ask for help),  measure correctly using the incorrect measuring tools that I give to him on purpose (he now instinctively know how many fourths are in a half, etc), exercise caution so he doesn't get burned (he can flip pancakes all by himself!), clean up, and answer whatever questions I throw at him while we cook (if we make 12 pancakes and there are 3 of us, how many pancakes can we each have...). We have to eat, right? May as well make it educational!



Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Wheel of parenting.

You know how being a parent is sometimes like being on a game show where you have to spin a wheel to figure out what to do next?

For example:

The baby is dry and fed and perfectly FINE yet will not stop screaming. What should you do? Let's just spin that wheel and... woohoo! Looks like a car ride!

Or:

The kindergartner who has explicitly been told NOT to cross the street alone has just crossed the street. Alone. With attitude. Is it going to be a gentle reminder for a first time offense or... nope, looks like someone's getting yelled at in front of his friends and having his play date revoked. Big money!!

You just never know with the wheel.

One time, I was babysitting and the baby WOULD NOT STOP CRYING. This was pre-Finn, back when I had very little experience with a baby who screamed for no reason, so I had no choice but to take a chance on the wheel. I was pretty surprised when it landed on, "Put the crying baby in a safe place, dig around in the junk drawer until you find that random pack of off-brand cigarettes someone left at the last party and go out on the front porch and smoke one." Weird, right? I know. The wheel works in mysterious ways.

I've used it at least twice this week. Once I got a major whammy and once it actually worked. Let's see if you can guess which is which...

Contestant number one was scared to go to sleep (he's afraid he might have another bad dream). This is a new thing that, as you can imagine, is no fun for anyone. On his third pitiful trip out to the living room he said, "I just wish I could read all night long!" I closed my eyes, spun the wheel and said, "Dude, you can. I mean, the only reason I know you're awake right now is because you're standing in the living room talking to me. Right? If you kept the door closed and stayed in bed, would I even know  you were reading? Think about it..."

Contestant number two went to bed like clockwork but when he was still bouncing in his crib and yelling, "Wiiiummm!!!" an hour later, I consulted the wheel and was beyond surprised that it suggested marching him outside in his pajamas so he could jump on the trampoline and run in circles to wear himself out.

So...whatdya think? Got a guess which one of these hair brained ideas actually worked?

If you guessed contestant number one, I am sorry to say you're wrong. He did go back to his room and shut the door and I guess I assumed he read himself to sleep but to be perfectly honest, I never gave it a second thought. I mean, really, so long as he stayed in his room I didn't care what he was doing (after a few nights of this, my patience is GONE). Around 11:30 he had to pee which completely blew his cover. Had he slept? Nope. Not a wink. Did he go back to bed and read some more? Probably. Then he got up a few more times in the night, woke up early, talked me into a sleepover the next night and then fell asleep in the car on the way to class the next afternoon. I guess the wheel logic was that he'd come to the right decision on his own if I stopped fighting him. But that's just crazy talk. If Mama says you can read all night, why would you do anything else?!

So contestant number two is our big winner this week! I usually try to keep bedtime as chilled out as possible but when I realized all Finny had done between his nap and bedtime was ride in the car and eat dinner, I knew he probably needed to blow off some steam. Plus, his sleep deprived big brother was desperate to get some shut eye and was having a hard time drifting off with all the yelling and spitting (wtf?). Add to that a backed up toilet (as in, it seemed to be backing up into the shower...) and suddenly the back yard seemed like the best place for the loud, unruly toddler. He thought it was hilarious, of course, and was more than happy to comply when I yelled, "Jump, Finny, jump! As high as you can! Now run in a circle! Good boy! Run faster, Finny! Keep running!!!" After about 10 minutes I brought him in, changed him into some dry pjs and laid him back down. He seriously just rolled over and closed his eyes. I couldn't believe it! I think he would have gone right to sleep but a few minutes later Liam got up to go pee. Oh, NOW you have to pee? Really? Well guess what the wheel has to say about that? Whisper yelling! Lots of it! AND a guilt trip!!

What was that, wheel? Oh, you think I need to get out of the house one of these nights? Like, soon? For cocktails with friends? Alright. I mean, if that's what you think is best. I know better than to argue with the wheel of parenting...

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Traveling with kids vs. without.

There's no question, traveling with kids is a major pain in the ass. It takes twice as long to get anywhere, you can't listen to Howard Stern in the car, and your pit stops are frantic, pull off the road, stop anywhere ordeals based not on whether there's a gas station with diesel or a Chipotle but rather on whatever shows up first when someone has to pee.



You hear yourself say things like, "I have a water bottle. Think you can get your penis out of your pants without undoing your seat belt?"

You give your two year old a bag of Skittles just to help him pass the time.

And find yourself singing along to kids' music. Kids' music.

All this and your vacation hasn't even started!

Checking out the history along the way...


Once you get to your destination, if our case a wedding weekend in Mississippi for one of the most wonderful couples we've ever known, then the fun really begins. Or at least it's supposed to. And it would. Definitely. If we weren't so busy making sure no one fell in the lake or caught someone's hair on fire with a flaming marshmallow at the rehearsal fish fry, or helped himself to a chunk of uncut wedding cake or Mommy's "Sprite" at the reception.

Chaos must be kept semi-contained at all times when you travel with children. Or at the very least, appropriately located. Stunt falls near the band can be easily passed off as dancing, but let that slip near the bar or the buffet and you are seriously out of line.

Of course timing is important, too. By the point in the night when the grown ups' dance moves are starting to resemble stunt falls (and people are stripping down and jumping in the pool...), kids can get away with just about anything. But sadly, by then, they are sound asleep back at the hotel.



(Or butt naked jumping from bed to bed. Whatever.)

There is no chance to discover great local restaurants or cafes when you travel with children because it's infinitely easier to fill up at the Holiday Inn's complimentary breakfast buffet.



But here's why traveling with kids' is awesome. Because that crappy hotel breakfast? It's the best thing they've ever had. Dry Frosted Flakes are amazing. And the hotel room? Which is just, like, you know, a hotel room, inspires a huge sigh upon entering and my six year old to say, "This is the life..."

Kids force you to experience things you never would have seen if you had been alone, sleeping in and enjoying a good cup of coffee and a leisurely breakfast.

At the Mississippi Children's Museum.






While us grown ups need a lot to be wowed or impressed - a gorgeous couple getting married on the steps of a historic family home, an over-the-top reception with great food and drinks and music and friends - kids find the wonder in EVERYTHING. 



Finny and I were playing on the grass at the fish fry when he rolled over onto his back and gasped. "Mama!" he said, pointing up at the sky. "What's...that?"

I laid down next to him and looked up. It wasn't a bird or a plane but a perfectly clear, star filled sky. "Oh, baby," I said. "Those are stars."

"Stars?"

"Yeah."

"Wow..."

"No kidding."

It was a gorgeous sky, like nothing we get to see in Nashville. Would I have even noticed it on my own? It was absolute perfection laying there with my baby on the grass, looking up at the sky and seeing it like I never have before. Because stars, when you're not used to really seeing them, are kind of amazing. And when people started lighting lanterns from the dock and sending glowing balloons into the starry night? Finn and I could've sat and stared forever.



Definitely one of those times I wished my eyes could take pictures. Fortunately we managed to snap a few real ones along the way.

















And just because it cracks me up, look how similar Liam and I look in the next two photos.

With Miss Courtney Jaye at the reception (he refused to dance until he found her)
On our last vacation - Manhattan Beach, CA.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Guided by cake.

Oh lordy. It's been ages since I wrote anything that wasn't a to-do list. Which is at least something, right? I mean, if Liam gets to count writing letters and comic strips, surely my to-do lists are better than nothing. Besides, they truly are works of art. Fiction, that is.

Here's an example of a list I wrote recently:

Finish painting!
Buy fabric!
Sew pillows!
Find new bedding!
Get frames!
Hang art work!
Finish cleaning!
Organize books!
Clean out basement!
Gather donations!
Find lamps!

Golly gee willikers I'm optimistic on paper!

As you can see, this is just my bedroom re-do to-do. The other lists are kept separately. But I can assure you they are equally as grandiose and annoying. Don't worry though. In real life my lists look more like this:

Start painting.
Someone yells, "Mama!"
Stop painting.
Trip over ladder.
Swear at ladder.
Address whatever child is having an emergency.
Remind them that needing more chocolate milk or losing their bookmark is NOT an emergency.
Fold the load of laundry I left sitting on the couch, get Liam set up with a math assignment, make lunch, eat with kids, clean up most of the dishes, suddenly remember I was in the middle of painting, trip over ladder, swear at ladder, mime throwing dried out paintbrush across the room.

Or:

Spend an entire Saturday driving all over town to buy sheets and pillows and picture frames and lamps and shelves (the right ones, at the right price...).
Get it all home.
Decide I hate most of it.
Find a way to spend another whole Saturday taking it all back.

Or:

Rally the boys for a field trip to the fabric store!
Get there and realize two things: 1) a fabric store is no place for an excitable 2 year old with a very loud voice, and 2) pretty fabric is expensive.
Oh, and 3) I can't sew.
Go home and hop on Etsy while kicking myself for wasting the morning driving across town and the entire week pretending I can DIY.

Or, my personal fave:

Buy a very large framed picture at a thrift store for $15.
Rejoice in saving so much money on a frame!
Get it home and realize it's slightly too long for the picture I need framed. Like just enough to annoy the crap out of me.
Spend way too long thinking about it, looking at it from different angles, comparison shopping online, checking Pinterest just in case someone else has had this exact same problem and already come up with a brilliant solution...
Decide, screw it. I'm using the frame.
Start the impossible task of removing the picture from the frame.
It's like they were conjoined at birth. I mean, really. If it wasn't so maddeningly impossible it might actually be funny.
Tear the picture to pieces.
Pry a million staples from the (slightly ugly) wood frame with a screw driver.
Realize some ass hat has glued the whole thing together.
Start trying to scrape the glue away with a screw driver.
Switch to an exacto knife.
Work that glue like my life depends on it.
Slip and jam the screwdriver into my wrist.
My wrist!
Like, this close to all my veins.
Get up to get a band aid.
Trip over the damn ladder.
Bleed all over myself.
Sit back down to finish prying the glue off the frame (on my bed because, well, I'm an idiot) and within two seconds manage to break the entire 24X36" piece of glass ON MY LAP.
Spend the rest of the afternoon cleaning up glass, washing all my bedding, swearing at my bedroom and tripping over the ladder.

I keep thinking I need to just buckle down and FINISH this stupid project so we can get our lives back on track. But it's not happening. I mean, it is happening. It's just happening very slowly. In the meantime, everything feels out of whack. Because of the ladder and the misplaced things and the gloriously huge pile of laundry (why not get out the cold weather hand-me-downs while we're at it?!). It's not even a big renovation. It's literally just putting lipstick on a pig (okay, not literally...). And yet, we're all kinds of discombobulated.

Last Thursday, amidst the chaos, there was a knock at the door. I shooed the babies out of the way (I babysit two days a week), and opened it just enough to see who was there while hiding my painting clothes (which make me look completely homeless but must be worn at all times in case there is an uninterrupted moment for me to get some work done). There, between my pile of stuff to donate and a half painted end table, was an adorable blond girl with a huge smile and several boxes of cake.

"You must be Maggie!"

She had a delivery for me from Nothing Bundt Cake, a bakery committed to, well, nothing but bundt cakes! Our Nashville location is celebrating it's one year anniversary by announcing the opening of a new store in Franklin and giving away free cakes to some very lucky people, myself included!

If you've ever wanted to put a smile on someone's face, may I suggest having CAKE delivered to their HOUSE? I mean, really.



It completely turned my day around. When you've got lots and lots of cake to share with people (that someone BROUGHT TO YOUR DOOR!), the half finished bedroom and piles of books and three boxes of random computer cords (yes, really) suddenly don't seem like such a big deal. In fact, they almost disappear entirely. At least they did for me. All of a sudden all I could think was, "You know what? Tonight is the Grey's Anatomy season premiere. How fun would it be to watch with my sister?  My sister who lives just three hours away. And happens to like cake..."

The next thing I knew I was loading my mini van (that still does not have a stereo system...) with kids and mini bundt cakes and choking down a five hour energy drink (like pure poison...) and driving to my sister's house to watch TV and eat cake.

I've got that five hour energy look in my eyes...





At first Liam didn't understand. "I mean, I want to go to Louisville too but driving all this way to watch TV seems like a very bad reason. Shouldn't you want to go there to like, see your family? Because you love them? Not because you want to watch TV." So I explained it to him in terms he could understand.

"What if Dylan got a new video game? One that you both really wanted."

"Like Mario Party 12?"

"Sure. Well, you'd want to get together, right?"

"Yeah."

"Because you'd want to play the game?"

"Sort of..."

"But also because you're friends, right? Friends who both happen to like playing video games."

"Yeah, okay. I get it."

Because even though I love my sister (and her family) and she lives close enough for this sort of thing to happen ALL THE TIME, it usually doesn't unless there's a good reason (or at least a reason...). A reason and a box of mini bundt cakes? Well, that's a no brainer.



Thanks, Nothing Bundt Cakes for helping me change out of my homeless costume and totally brightening my day. The white chocolate raspberry bundt was maybe my favorite (or was it the cinnamon swirl...) but the VERY best part was the home delivery. I can't wait to make someone's day like you made mine!