Monday, June 27, 2011

Confidence: I Haz It

This first week of official summer vacation has been a mix of lively activity and much needed down time. It always takes a while to find my summer rhythm after the hectic and draining climax of the school year. But it will come. It always does.

Usually we have the luxury of being a two parent household during the summer months, but Brent has been landscaping like a maniac and his job at the farm is in full swing and so he has been getting up sometimes even before puppy and kids to sneak out to work each day. This leaves me lots of time to settle back into life at home with the little people.

I've been beating myself up over the past few weeks about Jack's temper tantrums and bad attitude. I told you about "Punch the fuck out of my head!" but I haven't talked much about the other stuff, mostly because someday he will read this and it's just like what I said earlier about embarrassing family stories. Sometimes parents should just keep these things to themselves. But I will tell you that this "phase" which I am choosing to call it because that evokes a sense of non-permanence, has stretched my patience to previously unseen limits.

(I will, however, exact a small bit of revenge by publishing the following photo...)

What amazes/horrifies me is how much of myself I see in Jack. I know I have mentioned this before but seriously, during those moments when his frustration boils over and the hot tears spill down his face, I remember what it's like to be four and to feel that the whole world has conspired against you. Jack goes from zero to meltdown in a matter of seconds and it's often over something so incredibly trivial that I won't embarrass him by giving an example. But I know what he feels. I remember it. I suppose we are just overly emotional and melodramatic, he and I, but we are who we are. Now the question is: how do you cope with this? I outgrew it over time, but not before I put my parents through some pretty epic tantrums. I'd like to spare us all that same fate if possible.

And so I turn to my instincts. I know that many people would observe Jack's temper tantrums, cluck their tongues, and admonish me for not sending him on a time out. But I know my kid and I know that removing him from the situation is a temporary fix. Jack need to process the emotions he is feeling. He needs to be reminded to take a deep breath and use his words. Most of the time he just needs to be heard. And then usually he can move on. Don't get me wrong, we do plenty of time outs around here, but if we timed Jack out for every infraction he'd never see the light of day.

I try hard not to doubt myself so much. I need to trust those instincts and proceed with confidence. I want to look back on this time and know that I did what I thought was right. What I believed would work for my kid. What felt natural and healthy and productive. I want to remember that I disregarded unsolicited advice and resisted the urge to compare my kid with his peers and focused my energy on just Jack. Just Jack.

He will outgrow this. He will become the sweet, compassionate, loving, and strong minded boy we have been raising him to be. But probably there will be more tears before we get there. I need to be okay with that.

I have been thinking about what I said last time about winging it in the kitchen. Maybe I need to give myself more credit. Maybe instead of winging it I should look at my culinary endeavors as practice. I guess I am a self-guided student of the culinary arts. I am learning and with each try I become more experienced and more confident. I need to trust my developing instincts in the kitchen because for every questionable entree, there is a lesson, a tip, or at least a no-no that I can keep for later use.

Earlier this week I surprised myself by tossing together a pesto and zucchini pasta dish in just a few minutes. I am becoming one of those cooks who keeps her recipes upstairs. Pesto is now embedded in my long term memory. This is a cool thing, I think.

Something that works well with Jack, and most four-year-olds probably, is letting him participate in whatever I am doing. This week we hulled and sliced a flat of strawberries for our first batch of freezer jam. I did some internet research about the whole strawberry jam/pectin/sugar thing. In case you don't already know this, strawberry jam is LOADED with sugar and it's kind of like homemade ranch dressing- once you watch it being made it will never taste the same. I could not stomach the idea of dumping that much sugar into those juicy red strawberries and also, pectin? Is that really necessary? The internet gave me conflicting advice, as the internet is wont to do, and so I returned to those instincts and decided that half the sugar and half the pectin would still make for some deliciously spreadable strawberry jam. And guess what? I was right.

Have I told you that the kids are now sleeping until 8? I have no idea what happened, but let's chalk it up to a pervasive sense of relaxation in our house right now.

Relaxation for me means setting up a comfy deck chair, grabbing some iced coffee or a cold beer depending on which spirit is moving me, and reading a good book in the sun. Jack has caught the bug. We've been sitting on the deck and reading Charlotte's Web each afternoon. I wasn't sure if we were ready for read-alouds yet, but Jack never ceases to impress me when it comes to reading. He would sit and listen for hours if I had the patience to keep going, but I've limited us to two chapters each day. Any suggestions for what to read next?

I have been sewing a bit. My talented aunt Bobbi inspired me to make a dress for my cousin's wedding in August. You will perhaps recall that I rarely sew for myself, but when she gave me this pattern how could I say no? She also advised me on how to alter a pair of jeans that have been rotting away in the recesses of my dresser for.. wait for it... seven or so years now. Seven years?! I have had some, let's call them sizing issues in the past seven or so years. I sort of ballooned up while living in France, became a real runner and shed those croissant pounds, then had two pregnancies, became a milk cow and shrunk back down to my current twelve-year-old boy-like frame. So I have lots of clothes that don't fit me. And some of these clothes are clothes that I have an emotional attachment to because I bought them, say, in London and they symbolize FREEDOM! And YOUTH! And WANDERLUST! For example.

Back to my jeans. I loved those jeans. I lived in those jeans. Emily? You remember those jeans?

Infused with confidence after my visit with Bobbi, I tackled those jeans armed with sharp scissors, a denim needle, a whole lot of pins, and optimistic naivete. I immediately broke my first needle. No worries, I thought. I'll just switch to another. I smiled as I inserted the new needle without the added burden of consulting my machine's manual. I've got this. I know what I'm doing. But the new needle wouldn't descend all the way- it kept getting stuck on the presser foot. I thought this was strange but figured maybe the bigger needle needed a different presser foot. That's an easy swap. No problem. But the needle still wouldn't go all the way down. Hmmm, I thought. Is it too late to call Bobbi? I dug around for the little screwdriver and removed the plate from the machine's base. I poked around looking for whatever might be causing the obstruction. I felt certain I would be able to fix this, after all, I am an experienced and confident seamstress. I know my way around my machine. Nothing seemed amiss and so I reattached the plate and began to do a bit of audible muttering that was peppered with some choice swear words. Brent came along, beer in hand, and watched the spectacle. I started to explain my dilemma and then caught myself. "It's too complicated. You wouldn't understand," I told him.

"Hmmm," he glanced ever so briefly over my shoulder as I attempted to coax the machine into submission. "Maybe that needle is bent."

Sure enough. Bent needle. Either he is a genius or I am an idiot. Take your pick.

And yes I did finish those jeans, and no I did not take a picture of the jeans before, during, or after the process because I have ISSUES with jeans. You would too if you had no butt. Ahem.

A few notable quotations from the week...

As I served our first strawberry shortcakes of the season, Jack: "Mom, how do you always know how to make such cool stuff?"

Sawyer: "Mom, I love Mama."

I love you, too, buddy.

(And your little dog.)

(And your grouchy big brother. Tantrums and all.)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Sun is Shining

It's finally summer!

(I think! I hope! I better not have just jinxed us...)

And summertime at our house means a gigantic bowl of buttery, yeasty popcorn served just in time to spoil little appetites while mamas celebrate cocktail hour. After all, it's always five o'clock somewhere. My personal goal for the summer: fewer to-do lists and more relaxation. Having a drink with a friend in the late afternoon sunshine helps a lot with that.

Summertime also means a lot of time spent outside. A lot. Which makes it virtually impossible to keep Sawyer from eating green strawberries. I have also recently given up on the blueberries and the raspberries that are attempting to ripen in our garden. You have to pick your battles with this kid. He has learned to stealthily exit the house and ravage the berries in the early morning hours when people are busy sipping coffee and eating breakfast. If the house feels too quiet I know exactly where Sawyer can be found. The funny thing about his strawberry patch raids is that he becomes sort of catatonic, like the strawberries have some sort of magnetic pull or mesmerizing force that overtakes him. Most of his potty accidents occur when he's out there with those berries. He just can't be bothered to tend to his bodily functions when there are green berries to munch.

We have plenty of red ones thanks to Brent's job at the farm, but I've been freezing them by the flat and then there was this strawberry rhubarb pie I made...

Let's clear up a misconception here, shall we? I do not know what I am doing in the kitchen, so if you come to my house you should not expect a gourmet meal because probably I just winged it. Instead you should be pleasantly surprised (like I was this weekend) when the food is decent and the pie crust turns out all right. I have had a longstanding feud with all butter pie crusts. I am ashamed to tell you that I have actually cried actual tears over an unruly crust before. There's just something about pie crusts. I guess they intimidate me.

But this one was pretty darn good. If I do say so myself. All butter. No tears. This is a proud moment for me.

You don't get to see the finished product because I made a small error in my pre pie making shopping trip and in order to further illustrate my point about winging it in the kitchen, it will suffice to say that tapioca pearls are not the same as tapioca starch. Even if you try to crush them in a plastic bag with a heavy jar of peanut butter. Even if you then attempt to pulverize them in the food processor, realize the futility of your effort and ultimately make a final try with the coffee grinder. Your pie will still have a bubble tea like quality, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but does not make for appetizing photographs.

Speaking of coming to my house (cocktail hour is at 5, in case you missed the first paragraph), get ready for some quality time with the deranged monkey children. We have had some serious naughty behavior issues around here in the last few months. As in moments where Brent and I look at each other and wonder where we went so horribly wrong. Having children is a truly humbling experience and I have learned that sometimes I need to step back and remind myself that this too shall pass.

We are testing the waters with a sticker chart. I never wanted to be a sticker chart kind of mom, but these desperate times just might call for some smiley face stickers and the promise of an ice cream cone. Besides, I like ice cream.

In our house clothing is often optional. Especially when you've peed through your last pair of clean shorts during a green strawberry eating frenzy. I am so tired of doing laundry EVERY SINGLE DAY. This too shall pass.

I am trying to get Jack to at least keep his clothes on when he is out in the front yard. We have some, uh, conservative? type neighbors who often walk by our house in the afternoon with their young and very, uh, sheltered? son. One day when they walked by Jack climbed to the top of the slide and beat himself over the head while shouting "Punch the fuck out of my head! Punch the fuck out of my head!" Now let my just tell you right now that he did not learn this from us. I know you've heard me drop the F bomb more than a few times, but I assure you that we are very censored around the kids. So I guess we get to blame the delinquents at Acorn Park for this one. At any rate, the horrified neighbor quickly ushered her son from our sight while mumbling something about dinner on the stove or some other random excuse to get the FUCK away from us. Can't say that I blame her.

Another time as they partook in their leisurely stroll, Jack scaled the fence and climbed down right in their path on the sidewalk, dropped trou, pulled out his junk, and started laughing hysterically. Needless to say, they were not amused. And so, for their sake, I try to keep the kids in clothes when we are out front. No guarantees on that one, though. A person can only do so much with a pair of monkey children.

I'm not sure why Jack has chosen these neighbors in particular as the victims of his bizarre antics. He acts relatively normal around all of the other families on our street. I guess he smells fear or something.

I got to play hostess for a mini family get together on Father's Day. Jack loved being surrounded by a crew of professional grandparents. I loved having the little ones so amused and distracted while I threw together a quick pizza dinner. Meanwhile Brent spent the day in Portland at a Timbers game with his dad, which, if you know Brent at all, was the perfect way for him to celebrate Father's Day.

Mary brought an epic salad, as usual. How does she do it? I am telling you, NO ONE makes a salad like Mary. Is it the homemade dressing? The artichoke hearts? The perfected greens to cheeses ratio? Seriously. That was some delicious salad.

Pizza. Boring. Whatever. It's an easy crowd pleaser. Besides, I had a mountain of fresh zucchini that was begging to be eaten.

Snoozefest. Don't you have any other photogenic dinners in your repertoire? Nope.

Jack adores my uncle Jeff. He was literally hanging on Jeff's every word.

Sawyer adores everyone.

And if you do come to my house for dinner, expect to be put to work. You just might be asked to wash little hands before dinner, or coerce defiant two year olds from the garden, or read some bedtime stories, or perhaps amuse us by playing a song with a comb and wax paper.

But you will be handsomely rewarded with a slice of pie and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Or some giggles and snuggles and a hug and a kiss goodnight.

So here's to a summer of strawberries and cocktail hour and dinner parties and popcorn and keeping your pants on in public. I am certain it will be a memorable one.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Life with Lulu and Some Other Stuff


Okay, so this dog? I am totally loving this having a dog thing.

(The big dog in the photos is Doug and Mary's dog, Jake. They are both German Shorthair Pointers.)

I resisted, I protested, I came up with a million and one reasons why we should NOT get a dog. We already have enough mouths to feed around here, puppies are a lot of work, what would we do with a dog when we go out of town? Where will the dog sleep? What if the dog barks and wakes up Sawyer? What if we get a BAD dog? Veterinary bills! The rising cost of dog food! Fleas! And on and on and on. I envisioned chewed up shoes and puddles of pee and even more whining and whimpering than is typical in our household which, as you can imagine, is at MAXIMUM CAPACITY right now. In short, I was dead set against this dog thing.

But while I was busy picturing all of the inconveniences that go along with having a dog, I forgot that having a puppy is really a lot of fun. Really. The puppy breath! The sound of little doggy toenails coming down the hallway! The infectious playfulness! The unconditional affection! The snuggly squishiness of a new puppy! So yeah, let the record show that Brent was right and I was wrong. (I am sure I will regret typing that last sentence, but for now I am basking in the warm glow of dog ownership and maybe not thinking clearly.)

And as far as those inconveniences go, having a puppy is actually a lot like having a two year old. In other words, we were already prepared for the housebreaking and the chewing and the whining in the middle of the night. In fact, this dog is a lot like Sawyer. They both gobble down food like its their last meal, sleep a lot, pee on the floor, and require constant supervision. It's a good thing they are both so cute.

One more week of work to go! Sometimes I feel sorry for myself since I have to work full time and I'd rather be home with the kids (and the puppy!!) but then summer comes along and suddenly this working mom thing isn't so bad after all. One more week! One more week! The end of the school year is hectic, to say the least, and what teacher hasn't found him or herself running to Staples on a school night for an item that's desperately needed for the next day? I had to get a memory card for the video camera I was using and you probably know that technology is not exactly mah thang, but I enlisted the help of a tech savvy friend (hi Marian!) and so I knew just what I was looking for. The sun was shining and I was feeling a bit like Superhero Working Mom so I piled the kids into the bike trailer so that they could accompany me on this quick errand.

Quick errand. SPOILER ALERT! No errand with kids is ever quick.

The bike ride was pleasant enough, but the wind was blowing against me which meant that I was traveling at about 2 miles per hour. No biggie. I can handle a little wind resistance. Endurance! Fresh air! We arrived at Staples and I wisely put Sawyer into the shopping cart and foolishly let Jack walk on his own. As soon as we entered the store I became totally overwhelmed by the plethora of office supplies and it was soon evident that some assistance would be required. I hailed a friendly sales associate who helped me locate the memory cards and during my 30 second conversation with her, Sawyer climbed up and balanced precariously on the seat as Jack began pushing the shopping cart wildly down the aisle knocking over a row of displayed printer cartridges.

I began to apologize profusely to the lady who was helping me as I attempted to control my children, who were laughing hysterically thinking they were SO FUNNY. They kept trying to ram the shopping cart into the displays and I am telling you, it was like trying to capture deranged monkeys who had just escaped from a zoo. They were awful. I was totally humiliated. At last I managed to scoop Sawyer up and put the Mom Grip of Death around Jack's arm and the sales associate mercifully pushed our cart up to the check stand.

Sawyer was wrestled back into the shopping cart seat and I cinched up that safety belt as tight as it would go. I squeezed Jack's torso between my legs to keep him immobile and began digging around my purse. Then I noticed that I had forgotten the money. Because OF COURSE I HAD FORGOTTEN THE MONEY!

I almost cried.

But then I laughed. And thank god, so did the sales associate. And then she told me about her two kids and we had one of those parenting bonding moments where you talk about how you really had NO IDEA what you were in for when the lines on that stick turned pink. And then I dragged my children out of the store and NO SHOCKER HERE nobody wanted to get in the bike trailer. Because OF COURSE NOBODY WANTED TO GET IN THE BIKE TRAILER! But I am bigger and stronger and so I manhandled them into their little safety harnesses, gritting my teeth and resisting the urge to "accidentally" pinch anyone's chin with the bike helmet clip. I felt a tap on my shoulder and thought for sure that Child Protective Services must have ESP and they know that I'm a terrible mom- the kind who would pinch her child's chin deliberately with a bike helmet clip- and my kids are totally out of control and now they've come to take us all away! But it was only a nice older gentleman who handed me one of Jack's shoes that had been lost in the chaos.

Somehow the wind had changed directions and it was blowing against me again on the way home. Only this time the kids were screaming and kicking each other so I had to pull over and confiscate everybody's shoes and make the idle threat of a time out RIGHT HERE on THIS VERY bike path. Oh. My. God.

And then! And then! As I pedaled into the wind and turned around frequently to scold my horrible deranged monkey children, I must have veered slightly to the right side of the bike path and was nearly plowed into by LANCE ARMSTRONG! Well, maybe it wasn't him, but they all look alike at that speed. I am pretty sure he was about to lecture me about the importance of staying to the left but thought better when he saw the look in my eye. I would have sicced the children on him.

Look! It's summer! Almost.

Umm. I hesitate to show you this next set of pictures because it's just so weird and we all know that there is a certain level of weirdness that goes on in this household, but this is weird even by our weird standards. Jack has a... uh, problem? with getting his toenails cut. Like seriously, is there a groomer you can take your kids to? I think he needs a muzzle and maybe a team of trained professionals to hold him down for his weekly pedicure.

Sawyer will just sit there and let you cut his toenails. I have no idea why this is so traumatizing for Jack. Clearly he has issues.

Deranged monkey children. I have deranged monkey children. At least the dog seems normal. So far.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Insomnia and Puppy Love

I haven't had a good night's sleep in, oh, say two months. I fall asleep just fine. Rather, I collapse each night with weary exhaustion, sleep blissfully for a few hours and then am WIDE AWAKE each morning before the crack of dawn. I don't know if I can blame kids or chickens or what but once the faintest light of dawn begins to infiltrate our windows, I start stirring and can't fall back asleep.

(I am starting to wonder if I need one of those black, silky eye mask thingies. Where do you get those?)

The children are most unhelpful. They generally rise by 6 or 6:15, so even if I attempt going back to sleep I am only playing a waiting game- who will start yelling for me first? These kids do not have any concept of sleeping in. They are up and attem and immediately start making demands. As in PAAAANCAAAAKES! MAMA! PAAAANCAAAKES! I've heard from some people that they actually have to coax their kids into eating breakfast. My kids wake up ravenous and usually have seconds or thirds before I finally cut them off.

Payback for this early rising will be a bitch when they are teenagers. I am keeping score.

Except that I wonder if over the past four years this chronic sleep deprivation has taken its toll on me. Have I lost the ability to sleep in? This is certainly a possibility, and a dreadful one at that.

Yes, yes, I know some people keep their kids up late so that they will sleep in. Ha. This technique DOES NOT work for us. We just get extra grouchy kids when we do this.

And yes, I know I should go to be earlier, but it's so hard when there are beers to drink and chocolate cherry brownies to eat and what if it's a Netflix night? We are in the middle of Mad Men Season 2 and I just might have to stay up extra late to find out what will happen next for Don Draper. And I am pretty sure that I was a 1950's housewife in my previous life because I can TOTALLY picture myself wearing one of those high waisted dresses and heels while drinking sherry and making a pot roast. Okay, maybe not so much the pot roast part, but the drinking sherry in heels part for sure. And having a housekeeper. Totally down with that.

But back to my sleep deprivation issues. On Monday night I stayed out until midnight drinking red wine and eating chocolate cake with some amazing girlfriend sistas from way back in the day. For a couple of hours I was nineteen again and drinking Carlo Rossi with the girls and then suddenly it was midnight, I am sipping Pinot Noir, I'm thirty four and OH MY GOD I HAVE TO WORK IN THE MORNING. Oops. But see? All the sleep disruptions for the past four years have enabled me to function on very little sleep. Which is a good thing when you've stayed out until midnight on a work night.

The silver lining. Sometimes I remember to look for it.

And I'm realizing in rereading some recent posts and comments that probably it's time for me to put on my big girl pants and stop dwelling on what I've lost so that I have room to appreciate everything I have. I need to stop feeling sorry for myself about losing my mom. So I'm going to work on seeing the silver lining more.

Photographs this week are brought to you by Jack, who commandeered the point-and-shoot for an afternoon and came up with some pretty decent shots. These pictures make me laugh. I like seeing the world through his eyes.

(OMG! So embarrassing! I am totally going to go wash this mirror right now. Or the next time I am WIDE AWAKE at 5:30 in the morning.)

And I'm also going to keep trying for that optimism I was telling you about earlier. When Sawyer woke up at 6:40 on Saturday morning, I really struggled to find the silver lining on that one. But after I'd stumbled to the kitchen and poured a cup of coffee I noticed that the sunrise was brilliant and so we put on boots and trudged out to the backyard in our pajamas. The world is very quiet before 7 am on a Saturday and the sunlight cast that early morning hue over the garden that I rarely get to see. We fed the chickens and listened to the birds and I pulled weeds while Sawyer dug around in the dirt. By the time Jack rolled out of bed at 8:40 (!? a PR for him for sure) I had amassed a significant pile of weeds, Sawyer was covered from head to toe in dirt, and I'd already laundered and hung a load of laundry.

(Don't get me wrong- I'd rather be sleeping. But I'm working really hard on the cup being half full.)

Oh, and also...


Yes, Jack. Yes we can.

PS: Her name is Lulu.