Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Who Needs Gun Control?

If you listened to NPR this morning, you heard on the national news that there was a stabbing in Pittsburgh last evening. Around 5pm, a man ran from Penn Ave into a Target store in East Liberty- waving a long kitchen knife. He was chased by two men whom he had been in an altercation with on the street, and he ran inside the store where he grabbed a 16 year old girl who was in a checkout line with her family. He stood at the top of the steps holding the girl by her hair and stabbing her repeatedly in the back and arms while yelling "I will keep stabbing her!". Three men jumped on him and for their efforts were slashed in the face and hands. One man finally took out the attacker with a baseball bat and police have him in custody.

The entire episode lasted only a few minutes, a witness reports.

This Target store is a half mile from my house and was where I was headed at 530 last evening to grab a bag of charcoal and liners for the Diaper Genie. I saw all the ambulances and was rerouted down Highland Ave.

In my neighborhood, if we make the news it starts with "Another shooting in East Liberty...". In the year we have lived here, we have seen guns take the lives of too many kids and seen the stuffed animal memorial on too many curbs. It is heartbreaking and makes the pandering about gun control and Second Amendment rights hard to sympathize with. Some arguments I have heard are that if we "take their guns, they will still find ways to kill each other" and "mentally unstable people won't be stopped by gun control".

Here's the thing, though. That mentally unstable man who had the knife DIDN'T KILL ANYONE. He sure tried, but it didn't happen. Imagine for one moment what would have happened if he would have run into that Target and had a gun in his hand. How many people would he have shot before the bravest guy took out his knees with a baseball bat? Would that guy have gotten close enough to use the bat before the 16 year old girl died because he had a gun rather than a knife?

If I had been in that Target with Knox and Pursy my odds of being able to protect them from one man with one knife are much greater than trying to protect them against one man with a gun. Desperation and a loaded gun would have made him a mass murderer. The 16 year old is being treated at Children's Hospital and the two men who saved her life are in local hospitals. Alive. The man with the knife is alive and will be in jail, held accountable for his acts of violence.

Please tell me one more time why tighter gun control is a problem for you. Please, I am listening. Just know I probably won't be listening objectively.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Happiest Valley in the World

We took a long weekend in State College this week and spent hours and hours relaxing back into the community of friends we spent 5 years with before our move to Pittsburgh. These people are salt of the earth and some of the most loyal and loving individuals anyone could ever hope to meet over the course of a lifetime, let alone in one season of life. As we sat in various living rooms, kitchens, bars, restaurants and libraries over four days, I was reminded over and over again the importance of truly allowing yourself to connect with people. To be known. With all your wrinkles and flower headbands and histories and laughing through morning yoga. These people know us. And love us anyway. They knew us before babes when we could sit and talk for hours over bottles of wine and watch an entire movie without stopping to change a diaper or color a picture. Life is different for all of us now, but this weekend we were together and it was glorious. (Becki, Mark and Kim- we missed you)

Fog on my camera lens added a nice touch to this ladies coloring soiree.

Give me my spatula, woman!!

Knox and Preston.

The babes playing together. Amanda supervising (i.e. avoiding working on her dissertation)

Pursy decides to stop sharing altogether and just move things to another room.

The men sitting around congratulating one other on their glorious facial hair.

I absolutely love this woman.

Women pregnant with twins should not look this sassy. But Anna makes it look easy.


To climb these stairs, or not to climb these stairs... that is the question.


This is what a 3 year old does at 530a when not at home to be sent back to bed.
This is what Mama does at 530 when 3 year old cannot be sent back to bed.

Pursy and Bec make breakfast.

Cute observer.



Things I Am Thinking About

I have read some stories recently on the news and blogs that I have been mulling over and feel the need to externally process. I don't know that I have settled on my final opinion but writing my thoughts out usually brings me to a conclusion.

1. Why is there so little confidence around parenting styles nowadays?? I feel like most parents I talk to express within a few minutes of talking about their children that they are questioning their choices or decisions around discipline, schooling, sleep training- whatever the current issue is. And I do it too, more out of habit than anything else. I was having lunch with my friend Jen last week and because she tends to bring unfiltered thoughts out of me, I "confessed" that I actually have no concerns about the way Grant and I have decided to parent Purslane and Knox. My struggle right now is having the time and energy to carry out the decisions we have made about parenting. I spend very little time reading books or searching blogs for advice or information- I really think we are confidently raising our children with the values we have agreed are important and in line with the family structure we decided to live by.

I am proud of the things I have discovered I simply cannot do and have let go of, rather than making my husband and children suffer for my inability to adapt. Sometimes when I am sleep deprived or out of patience or in a stressful situation I fail to carry out the parenting philosophy that we live by, but it isn't because I didn't know what I wanted to do or say to be a parent to my babes. I feel like because of the huge access we have to information and the transparency by which people live their lives on social media and blogs, there is a surge of insecurity around parenting. And I have felt it when I talk to Mamas who have made different decisions and are asking me about mine. My first instinct often is to defend my choices rather than simply explain and move on. Particularly if my choices aren't working out for me that day, manifested by "bad behavior" in my children.

I have blogged quite a bit recently about how hard things have been around here, trying to figure out how to keep up with an almost 3 year old and an 18 month old. I have felt like a failure and an unfit mother. But I am able to recognize that those bad days are not unusual or special. I am not alone or unique. I am one of the masses of mothers of young babes. And some days are more magical than others... But if you ask me what I think are the pillars of our family structure, I would tell you without pausing for a moment that we believe in grace, love, an open door, relationships, loyalty, manners, respect and a good beer. We believe God cares about the decisions we make and we are raising Pursy and Knox in this way. I am confident. I just need to let it show more often. Maybe I could encourage more confidence in other Mamas...

2. I have read quite a few stories now about the launch of a new Victoria's Secret line called "Bright Young Things" that many parents understood to be referring to underwear for middle school aged girls. The company has come out with statements claiming that Bright Young Things was referring to underwear for Spring Break, not young girls. Apparently the line is all brightly colored and appears juvenile but it supposed to be "beachy" and fun.

My initial reaction was an eye roll. One more thing, right? First we had Abercrombie and their tween half naked models, then Target and their "Party Favor" t-shirts in the Young Girl sizes. I am just surprised that VS is just now coming under fire by parents not wanting their daughters to start reeking of sexuality too early.

I actually think the parents who are boycotting VS have misguided anger. Even if the statement was a lie and Vicky's actually IS targeting 12 year olds, I would still shop there because they sell beautiful lingerie that has a specific purpose. If I took off my jeans and Grant didn't think about sex, I would take my underwear back and demand my $25 be refunded. The problem isn't Victoria's Secret. The problem is a culture that has folded back on itself when it comes to women and sexuality. I read a book a few years ago called Female Chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Levy, which addresses the reality that women have begun to objectify themselves in their desire to be fully liberated. I don't really want to go any further into that discussion, but I have plenty of thoughts if you want to hear more.

3. If any Mamas out there have not read the blog post by Fried Okra (Megan Cobb) entitled Dear Mom on the iPhone, you absolutely should. It is a beautiful example of why anyone (but particularly Mamas) should hold their judgment of others unless you have all the information. I talked about a blog that was circulating a few weeks ago about being a "hands-free Mama", encouraging mothers to put down their devices and just live in the moment. I agreed with the idea of the hands-free moment. I used the inspiration to spend a little less time behind my camera and a little more time just laughing at whatever antics Pursy or Knox was doing right then. Not trying to capture it, just enjoy it. And I moved our computer to the upstairs office instead of leaning against the counter over a cup of coffee surfing facebook or my favorite blogs after breakfast. I'm glad I did. But I hope that I didn't encourage (read: guilt) anyone else to do the same without proper introspective searching. Some good ideas don't apply to you. Or me. See #1 on this blog if you aren't tracking with my thoughts on this.

I think that's good for tonight. Just some things I am thinking about...

Monday, March 18, 2013

I Almost Need Two Posts for All This Goodness

What an outrageous weekend. It was packed with things, but all the best kinds of things. Here is our weekend in word and photograph.

Friday. I have been volunteering at the Pittsburgh Toy Lending Library and had a shift first thing this morning. I have been struggling with Purslane at the TLL because it is just big enough that she can run away from me, but just small enough that everyone there knows what is going on with everyone else's kid. Which, if you have a group of laid-back, helpful adults around can actually be very nice. If I am occupied doing something with Knox, I have often seen a kind Mama or Daddy helping Pursy off the big horse on springs (is there a name for those? I call it a rocking horse, but that isn't quite right) or steering her away from the huge jugs of finger paints on the floor of the craft room. But it is hard to know what to do when you are watching a Mama struggle with two toddlers running away from her in the opposite direction. Do you step in and help a stranger with her babes? Do you just watch and try to ignore the shenanigans so as not to embarrass the frazzled Mama? Fortunately most days we go with our friends Allie and Ian and I can chuck Knox at Allie while I go grab Pursy who has run out of the bathroom with her pants around her ankles yelling "I don't want to wipe!!".

The only picture from naked dancing hour that is appropriate to share
All that to say that when I take the babes there by myself AND have to do some actual work, it can be a stressful two hours. But this Friday, Pursy and Knox spent most of the time playing together in one area of the play space and after two hours we left happily and peacefully. I got my volunteer hours in, the babes got out and ran off some energy and our weekend was underway.

After our morning, we met my friend Jen for lunch at People's Indian Restaurant for lunch buffet. As I told Grant that morning our plans, he said "You two are crazy for taking our two kids to a divey Indian restaurant for lunch". I hadn't considered the actual logistics and started worrying for a minute, but then started thinking about paneer and na'an and samosas and my confidence returned. And it was fantastic. The food was outrageous, Pursy and Knox munched happily on na'an, cucumbers and saffron rice, inhaled half a mango lassi, and were really fun to chat with. Jen has two boys a little older than mine and so tends to talk with Pursy as a young adult. I am always amazed at Pursy's ability to process and respond when another adult interacts with her.
Drum Circle

After lunch I got a call from a husband who was trying to fight through a day at work feeling sick and finally gave it up. We picked him up and brought him home where he slept pretty much until Saturday morning. To give him some peace and quiet I invited myself and the babes to Allie and Phil's house for dinner. It was a cinch- Allie is pregnant and I offered to bring pizza and root beer. It was like shooting fish in a barrel. An expression that I really don't like but can't think of any other expressions that mean "it was crazy easy". Maybe I should just say that.

After dinner it was home and bed for Pursy and Knox. Grant was still sleeping, so I put on my painting clothes and spent my first quiet hours of the day painting the upstairs bathroom. It was our project for the weekend and I was ready to get started. Painting is cathartic for me. I get real nerdy real fast when I pull out the painters tape (sigh..) and my special tools, like an edging handle (dreamboat) and miniature red handled roller (seriously heart beating faster).

Pursy helps stab the eggs for breakfast
On Saturday I got up early to make breakfast before heading out for my appointment with Father Sam for an hour of Spiritual Direction. Will explain this more at some point, but basically we sit across a small table from each other listening to water spilling over a small tabletop fountain and discuss what God is talking to me about. I leave feeling challenged and hopeful.

At home, Grant's parents are there ready to take Purslane and Knox for the afternoon while Grant (who has recovered from his brush with death) and I finish the bathroom. I made BLT's for lunch and declared them my new favorite food. I make them with avocado, bacon purchased from a local pig farmer, and herb mayonnaise. Outrageous.

Then we closed the bathroom door and spent 3 hours in a tiny room together. We drank Yuengling, made fun of people we know (one of our favorite things to do- our apologies to all our friends) and painted the walls of our children's bathroom. We had a fantastic time. It took me back to the hours we spent painting our house in Bellefonte. Before babies, before a PhD, before buying our "forever" home. We LOVED that old house but knew that we would be moving when Grant finished his degree, so we tried not to fall in love too hard. But we did paint every surface of that house and it was one of my favorite projects. Just working alongside Grant and listening to music. He is a really good friend and after 10 years together we still like just hanging out. Our best bit of marriage advice to young singles is to find someone that you just love being around- doing things like painting bathroom walls. If you can see yourself wanting to do that with your boyfriend, you might have found the one.

Babes back home and grandparents on the road. We made a quick dinner and then sat in front of the TV to have movie night. Both babes were exhausted from playing all day with no naps and after the movie we basically tossed them in bed from the doorway.

There's MORE goodness??

At 730 Allie picked me up and we went to a local coffee shop to have gimungous rice krispie treats and talk about a Tim Keller book we are reading together. After 1.5 hours with my sweet friend, we cover such a breadth of topics that when Grant asks me what we talked about, I literally can't remember all of them. I do recall there was talk about circumcision, family camping trips and bridesmaid dresses. I love this gorgeous broad. We might have also discussed the book...

Home again and Grant has made me a Manhattan and queued up Amazon movie choices. We scrolled for a bit and landed on Jackass 3. I asked if I would understand the movie as I had not seen Jackass 1 or 2, and was pleasantly surprised that the plot line was easy to follow without prior knowledge. Those of you who were offended that we make fun of our friends behind closed doors now have something else to shake your heads at us about.

Sunday morning we have a smooth getting ready time and are (gasp!) on time for church. Our tiny church is full of outrageous people who care about one another and have made disciplined choices to live life in transparency. I truly love them. And the Canadian hockey player named Brianna who watches our children during the service is so fantastic. Pursy loves her and Knox calls her "Na". Oh, my heart.

This is what we do...

...with our Trader Joe's stickers
Sunday afternoon we go grocery shopping together as a family and go home to snuggle on the couch. Dinner is fresh spinach pasta with local goat cheese and grape tomatoes. Two episodes of YoGabbaGabba and both babes are ready for bed. Grant and I have a drink together on the couch and talk about a research study we are going to participate in to mentor teenage mothers.

Oh, my life. This weekend was just a microcosm of the goodness of my life and the beautiful people in it. And if you noticed the sprinkling of "outrageous" in this post, like I just did as I read it over again, it is the result of an NPR story I listened to on the way to my Spiritual Direction appointment on Saturday where Bob Dylan was quoted as saying "All these good people in one room is just outrageous" and I realized that word is severely underused. Not any more.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

I Do Declare, My Purslane Claire

The last few weeks have been rough around Chez Martsolf. I was reading back over some posts and there isn't a whole lot of positivity or excitement being directed towards my main gig of parenting. It has been a bit of a slog recently, truth be told. Purslane is turning 3 next month and I have noticed that my parenting of her has become much more mental rather than physical. I used to be able to give a command and she could either obey and life would go on peacefully, or she could refuse and life would stop while she sat in time out for a few minutes. The girl hates missing any action, so time outs have worked very well as correction for her. We call it a "reset" or "time by yourself", trying to make the point that we expect things to be different after her time alone on the step or in her room.

But around a month ago, I began noticing that instead of choosing a path (i.e. responding with yes or no) she was asking questions about my instruction, her actions and the overall progression of life in the universe. She wanted to know WHY. And as a parent, you can tell the difference between a stall tactic and a legit curiosity, and my gal was trying to figure things out. She truly wanted to know.

Why can't I push Knox down a flight of steps? He looks funny when he rolls.
Why do I have to hold your hand when crossing the street? I like to run fast.
How come I have to strap in my car seat before you will turn this car on? I can't put my hands in my pockets when I am strapped in.
I like bread. Why do I have to eat my raviolis and green beans instead of another piece of bread?

My favorite response of all time has been, "But it makes me sad when you say no. I want you to say yes because that makes me happy. So can you say yes?"

This stage of parenting is intense. It would be so much easier to just say "because". And that is appropriate sometimes, right? Like when in order to keep her and Knox safe, I must require her to follow my direction without questioning. And she may not understand or want to do it, but she must learn to respond immediately to my instruction. It is also appropriate to teach her that some things she can't do now but Mama and Daddy can do because we are adults and can make that decision for ourselves. It is called situational appropriateness and it is a tough concept for ME to understand. How much more for a tiny person who wants to eat up life on her favorite red plastic spoon and is constantly being stopped by two people who claim to love her??

All that to say that parenting a three year old is serious business and there have been very few days that I have felt up to doing the constant explaining for her outside in the wide world. We have spent a lot of days in the house or in the backyard. Add to that the gray Pittsburgh winter and a Knox man who is quickly losing his hesitancy about climbing steps and jumping off of things, and you have a Mama who has a beer a little BEFORE 5p.

But it's good. She is learning and developing and challenging and growing and exploring, and it blows my mind that she is ours. She is so cool.

Here are some bits of Purslane Claire goodness that went unsung over the past few weeks.
Big Girl eatin' breakfast at the counter
Tim Gunn would say "make it work!"


Painting Daddy's birthday card

If her career in fashion doesn't pan out, cake decorating is a done deal.

Creepy Teri eating steak, egg and tomato soup. With a spatula.

Remember these awesome Magic Wands? I had one when I was younger...might have convinced Pursy this was the toy she wanted from the Science Center.

My reward for making blueberry waffles.

She LOVES playing Cooties. She also likes to cheat.


Watching Yo Gabba Gabba and making funny faces.

I found this in my lunch bag at work. Sweet girl packed me a fork and clementine.

My centerpiece didn't have enough flair. Pursy took matters into her own hands.


My Beautiful Girl.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Parental Censor

I am a firm believer in the full accessibility of literature. The written word is powerful and becomes even more potent when attempts are made to censor or forbid. But the words don't have inherent power, the human action in response to the words are the power. The most passionate of ideas would turn to dust without one person taking them to heart and making them come alive.

Today I threw away one of Purslane's books. And I am asking for opinions from my readers (you) as to whether or not that is a slippery slope to parental fascism.

I won't tell you what the book is because some of you who are parents might have been given the same one in your child's stocking for Christmas last year, or you might like it. It isn't really important what the book is, anyway. The important thing is the action of parents making decisions about what they want their children to read when the issue isn't harm, illegal or inappropriate content.

My issue with this book is that it is DUMB. It really is one of the stupidest children's books I have ever read and every time Pursy wants to read it, I (sometimes) keep my eye roll hidden. I really hate reading this book. The content is terrible, the cadence is wonky and the illustrations are pedestrian. Pursy is not aware that there is one more page to the book because I have not been able to read the last page since I read it the first time. I just can't read it again.

I thought maybe it was just me and my high regard for literature and the importance I place on my children being exposed to good books and loving to read. Then I watched my friend Bec reading the book to Pursy and just the tone in her voice as she tried to get through it made me realize that it is just truly and of its own accord, a dumb book.

So today as I was cleaning up her room, I threw it in the trash can. In the laundry room of course, because if she saw it in her trash can it would be back on her shelf in a three year old minute.

I feel like I did us all a favor. I think it would be better for the book just not to be around then her watch me unsuccessfully try and hide my disdain. I could try harder of course, but have not been able to up to this point.  I feel like my energy would be better served somewhere else, because as a mother of two babes under the age of three, I have an energy daily quota.

So what is the consensus, did I do the right thing? The fair thing? Kyle Stedman, I know you have an opinion...

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Unicorns and Sunshine

So it's late (early) and I got home from work a bit ago, had a beer and bowl of leftover peanut ginger noodles that I had made for Grant and the babes for dinner, and finished Argo. Am now sitting here with a bit too much beer and not quite enough sleep and food in my system and feeling lovey.

Grant, I love ya. You take excellent care of our children when I am at work and they don't fully know yet how awesome you are.You are wicked brilliant and interesting and funny and have the best hands. I am so proud of the work you do and just love that you are my husband. Yesterday when I got that email about Pitt's DNP program, you walked over to the calendar and wrote the Open House on April 6th without a moment's hesitation. And in that moment, you validated what I want for my future career and what you think is important about our plans as a family. Mama will go back to school, and we will make it work. And you said all of that in one moment. In pen. I don't know how I convinced you to marry me, but I'm so lucky you fell for my feminine wiles. You are the man of my dreams and a very good friend.

Allie, I think you are a gorgeous woman. Your friendship has been such a gift, and your ability to help me see the bigger picture, just by how you love YOUR particular boys, has been an inspiration to me. I hope we will sit on the front porch in our rocking chairs whittling together some day.

Mama, I am so proud of the way you have stepped into our life and been a grandmother to our babies. Pursy and Knox truly adore you and I have loved watching Pursy make the connection between my relationship with her, and the one I had with you. Every time I brush her wet hair fresh out of the bath and she says "Mama, you didn't like it when Gramma brushed your hair either, right?" I smile. And then I finish brushing despite the protest, because it just has to be done.

LeeAnn, you are my hero in so many ways. I don't know how you have the energy or longsuffering to do what you do with my niece and nephew every day but you are raising two great kids. And you are still funny and interesting and devoted. From the day you sat behind that open newspaper and ignored me, I have been trying to get you to like me, and after 10 years I hope you do. I am crazy about your brother, so won't be going anywhere. :)

Pursy and Knox. You are two of my favorite people and I can't get over the fact that I get to make your pancakes every day. Let's go to the Science Center tomorrow and check out some cool stuff.

Good Night Pittsburgh, the city with the amazing bridges and beautiful front door who has won my heart. You will never be New Orleans, but I finally think I don't need you to be. You are my home and I love you too.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

All About The Bad Days

I am becoming more and more convinced that how well you are doing in your parenting role comes down to how you handle the bad days. The good days are easy, right? When things are going swimmingly, the babes are listening and responding and you had a shower PLUS you feel like a rock star in your body and clothes. Those days you are happy to give up whatever life you had before children. Whatever leisure activities, whatever body size and weight, whatever job or school or travel, nights of sex on the couch and breakfast in bed. You don't think about wanting those things back because today was so good. You are a good mom, have no doubts about your parenting philosophy, discipline choices or worldview. You are confident you are teaching and modeling for your children what you believe is important about life and God and humankind. You are hitting on all cylinders and it feels good.

But those bad days. The ones like I had last week where if someone who looked only marginally more put together than the dealer that lives on our block came to the door and asked if they could take my kids on a week long vacation to Puerto Rico I would have started packing bags. I stopped myself from saying out loud the thoughts going through my head- things like "Do you realize how much I gave up to be your Mama?"

 Days where you can't even think about whether your parenting philosophy is working because you have poop on your shirt and can't find a wet wipe to save your life because one child is running around naked with the rest of the poop still on his bum and the other child is laughing hysterically while she flushes the wet wipes you can't find down the toilet. On these days you don't stop to evaluate whether the good advice you read in all those parenting books was good or whether you maybe should have gone with Baby Whisperer rather than Happiest Baby on the Block? You try not to cry thinking about how terrible you know it is to discipline out of anger while you add up the number of time outs and angry responses you gave your two year old who was busy all day pushing boundaries and ignoring your requests and commands. No, on the bad days you just hold on and wait for bedtime.

 But those are the days you really learn where your heart is as a parent. When you are exhausted and sleep deprived and tired of living on goldfish and coffee. When your self confidence is in the toilet and you are out of patience and you want 5 minutes to yourself more than you want a snuggle from your babes. The times you have nothing left to give and feel inadequate in every way. Those are the days when the truest secrets of your heart come out and the only person who you need to prove anything to is yourself.

And when you bite your tongue and swallow harsh words on THoSE days, you are a kind parent. When you hug instead of yell on THoSE days, you are a loving parent. When you let little things go and remember the big picture on THoSE days, you are a wise parent. The bad days are the true measure of your ability as a parent, I am convinced of it. Because you don't have any bullshit to hide behind. It's just you and your raw, stressed out heart. And like me, who failed in every way as a parent on my bad day, the fact that I hugged both Pursy and Knox before bed and said I was so sorry and asked forgiveness, on THAT day, I actually was a good parent. Even just for a moment.