Thursday, July 24, 2014

What I'm Thinking About: A Pictography

David Foster Wallace. One of my favorite authors right now. Tragically ended his life in 2009 with no answers to a lot of questions he left for the rest of us.
This guy. The one on the left. We have been married a decade and sometimes I think the only thing I am sure of in life is that I want him next to me. Giving me all the answers or just sitting with his mouth shut. I wouldn't trade him for all the agreeable, affable, easy going, middle of the road guys in the world. His wild heart has captured mine in a way that I never want to live without. Knowing that someone could love me this way answers a lot of my middle school diary musings. I can't wait to teach Purslane and Knox that someone out there will be worth giving up all the other boys and girls for.

These kids. Being their Mama is one of my greatest joys and biggest challenges. How to raise them, love them, nurture them, teach them, discipline them. Obviously encouraging them to read good books isn't a problem.

Friendships. Particularly with other Mamas who aren't afraid to talk about the times when life isn't roses. Sometimes it's just messy and trying to find the right stick for roasting marshmallows. This one is a gem. And looks that good after a hike behind the waterfall.

Mortality. I feel like the 30s is the decade where you realize that you aren't impenetrable to life's ups and downs. This is a card I drew for a friend of mine after a prostate cancer scare. Hallmark didn't have anything that said what I wanted, so I made my own.

Place. Particularly my place, which happens to be Pittsburgh at the moment. Some days I feel stuck and some days I feel like the luckiest girl around. I feel like I keep asking the wrong question, which is "can I be myself here?". I feel like maybe the better question is "who am I here?". Because we should allow our place to change us.

Me. Christy. I have been thinking an obsessive amount about my identity and feeling very typical as I process what it means in this season as I find my place primarily in relation to my young children. Things I have gained insight from to assist in this process: Grant. Daily prayers and rhythms of liturgical Christian life. Book Club with 9 other fascinating women. Base embodied practices such as eating real food. Community. Writing words and listening to songs.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Life Without Television (a 2 week update)

We took TV out of our daily life a little over two weeks ago. Changes in habit are always difficult, particularly when the impetus for change is idealistic preference and not mandated by law. We didn't HAVE to stop watching television, we chose to because we felt it was best for our family.

Bunny ears. Sunglasses. So what?
Things are messier. The house is often a disaster at the end of the day because we still have a two year old and a four year old who move from thing to thing with the speed of a grad student after three espressos. I underestimate the number of markers and stickers and legos and dominos it takes to occupy their brains in the four minutes it takes me to chop an onion and sauté some green beans. A Curious George episode is 23 minutes and I can make an entire dinner in 23 minutes- plus shake a cocktail and take a look at myself in the mirror before Grant walks in the door.

Not that I always did those things when Knox and Pursy were in the habit of watching a show in the witching hour before dinner...the 5-6p hour has always been chaotic for us. But an episode of Clifford or Curious George was a place I could "send" them while I attempted to make the house look like we didn't just sit around and throw stuff all day. And without that extra distraction, I am more acutely aware of the scope of the mess my two sweet faced carnies create.

We found a flannel board at a thrift store. If I remember correctly, there is a panda flying over the sun in Pursy's storyboard and a chemo patient on her honeymoon in Grants. Fostering creativity.

We have found other things to occupy our time. I have become more crafty (meaning I have found more things to glue onto construction paper), we have scoured garage sales and consignment shops for dress up clothes and outside toys, and Grant invested in a baseball bat, ball and tee for Knox to have something to hit without getting a time out. I have started going to the gym at 6a and getting showered and dressed before babes wake up so I don't have to choose between putting deodorant on clean armpits or dirty ones that means that they woke up before I did and there is no time for shower and getting dressed because breakfast is needed and diapers are dirty. After being a parent for over four years, I am just beginning to learn that trying to do something for myself while a child wants my attention only makes me frustrated at their need for attention. In other words, in our TV free hours, we are trying to be more involved with our children rather then less.

 I don't think our decision about television was that pure and selfless, but it felt good to write it.

Pursy "reading" the Pigeon book to Knox
But I still needed to fill the void left by television. So I came up with brilliant idea of Reading Hour. Every day after breakfast, I send them to the living room to make a stack of books on separate couches. I made a promise to take them to the library twice a week to find new books, and with my coffee mug in hand, the three of us sit down and read for one hour. Once they have looked through all of their books and I have been able to read at least a page or two of my book, we snuggle up and I read their books to them.

Do you hear the birds chirping, the rainbows shining and the deer gliding through the sun dappled forest?

More like two minutes of reading and then Knox rips a page out of his library book, causing Pursy to scream in horror and requiring me to put down my coffee and begin a speech about taking care of our things and ending with a threat to never borrow library books again until he goes to high school. We settle back on the couch and after 5 minutes, Pursy swipes a book from Knox's pile causing Knox to scratch her arm in violent protest. I put my coffee down again and console my daughter while also dealing with her swiping offence and Knox's reaction. This ends with an emotional sweeping screed on how they are the only siblings each other will ever have, which neither of them are paying much attention to and would rather try reading again then listen to me talk any more. We settle back in. At this point, my coffee is tepid, I have no idea what I just read, and Knox's diaper needs changed.

It has been getting progressively better, our daily routine without television. They have stopped asking for shows and are running faster to make their book stacks and settle in. I am less frantic about the messy state of the house and feel overall that we are making more interesting choices with our time. Yesterday Grant developed a wicked migraine and was very grateful for the television to occupy the babes in the hours I was at work. Pursy and Knox were riveted on the movie they got to watch, because the television has gone from just a thing to a novelty.

Onward we go.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Let Me Explain...

We are not watching television anymore.

Can you smell it?? The smoke coming from the holes in my skin from all the burning eyes of other stay at home parents who use television as a 23 minute babysitter so they can take a bloody shower. The assumption that we are now super judgy about television and will be taking all of Pursy's Yo Gabba Gabba stuff to Goodwill for (patronizing sigh) all those parents who don't love their precious babes enough to play with them and instead put them in front of a show...

Don't get me wrong, I really, really like TV. I do not think it's evil or the cause of all the world's problems.

But we were at Disneyworld last week and Great and I were dumbfounded at the number of kids and adults who were wandering around the Magic Kingdom on their phones. Not using them to talk in, but two thumb scrolling through whatever was happening in the life of other people that was more interesting then what they were personally experiencing.

Has anyone seen the movie Her?? It wasn't far off from what we saw last week. Small pods of one wandering around completely disconnected and unaffected. Missing it.

And I know that smart phones have their place, do great things and have changed tons of relationships for the better. Lord knows I still can't get to my friend Chrissie's house without my GPS.

Whatever your personal feelings about Louis CK, I am convinced the man is a prophet. The way he gets people and himself is remarkable, and he has made a name for himself as someone who is unafraid of the dark side of humankind. Even finds it laugh worthy. This interview on Conan where he bloviated on why he hates cell phones is so right on it's almost chilling. Louis CK speaks about our fear of loneliness being at the heart of our constant need to communicate with people who aren't with us. The fear that sitting alone at a restaurant means that no one wanted to come with us. Sitting on a park bench just people watching means you don't have anything more important to do, and the casual passer by can't tell if your screen is your 401k portfolio or your Snapchat. The illusion of priority and popularity.

How does this translate to our decision about television? To be clear, we aren't tossing ours out nor will start looking at your with a sideways glance of suspicious fear. Our experience last week just got us thinking about how we spend our time and what we do with our lonely moments. As a stay at home parent, I don't have many lonely moments but I certainly use television as a distraction when I run out of energy to think of a new activity for Pursy and Knox or when I need to make a phone call in peace. We have made it a reward, a consequence, a special treat, a normative practice...basically, have given it a place of honor it doesn't deserve.

My kids need to learn how to be alone. How to not be entertained. How to sit on a bench and watch birds or sit in their airplane seat with crayons and color.

We are on Day 3 of this new normal, and my house is a disaster, I had a gin and tonic at two in the afternoon today, and both babes have required either band aids or ice for sundry mishaps while "entertaining themselves" in the back yard.

Go Team.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Thank You, Cameron Diaz

This week Cameron Diaz gave an interview with Esquire magazine and discussed her decision not to have children. The down and dirty is that she has decided to focus on herself and her career rather then start a family.

 "It's so much more work to have children. To have lives besides your own that you are responsible for - I didn't take that on. . . . A baby - that's all day, every day for 18 years. Not having a baby might really make things easier, but that doesn't make it an easy decision. I like protecting people, but I was never drawn to being a mother."

As the universe is wont to do, panties started bunching up all over the place. Diaz was accused of being selfish, work obsessed, and not doing what was natural for a human being. People magazine, one of the more reputable celebrity smut rags, put out an online poll that asked simply: Is Cameron being selfish or selfless by choosing to not have kids?

I know at this point I shouldn't be perturbed by the ironies in our culture, let alone the uniquely weird phenomenon that is celebrity culture, but I did find myself wondering what exactly the biggest issue was for the average person who found Diaz's choice not to have children irritating.

I thought at first the issue was that it was a female choosing not to be a mother. I could roll my eyes at another sexist example of how far we haven't come in accepting that being a woman doesn't mean being a mother. But then I read the interview again and wonder if it doesn't hit all of us who have chosen to be parents in the gut. The secret, guilt inducing gut where we hide our fears that somehow we are the only humans in the universe who feel this way about being a parent.

I could be (*enter your noun or verb here*) if I didn't have children.

Mine is that I could be a Family Nurse Practitioner if I didn't have children.
I could run every day if I didn't have children.
I could take Thai cooking classes if I didn't have children.
I could be making a six figure salary if I didn't have children.
I could paint our bedroom if I didn't have children.
I could take Grant on the trip to Rome he has been wanting to take if I didn't have children.
I could sleep for 10 hours a night if I didn't have children.
I could put mascara on every day if I didn't have children.

As I was making this mental list a few days ago, I was sitting in a chair alone in a hallway outside our Disney Resort hotel room crying my theoretical mascara off. We had been on vacation with Grant's family for 7 days and I was exhausted. We had been going from breakfast to evening swim time every single day and I was crawling over the finish line. It was magical and super fantastic and the photos are literally picture perfect, but I was all funned out. And I just wanted to be alone. I wanted to do something that didn't involve strollers or ice cream or big furry chipmunks. I was exhausted of the stress of being extra vigilant as our little parade navigated the swells of people in the parks, constantly checking that both my children were still with us, thinking about sunscreen and Fast Pass times and hydration and the little Buzz Lightyear that came on the straw of Knox's lemonade at that last restaurant... I didn't want any responsibility at all. I wanted to do something for ME.

And as I thought about the first things that came to mind as I read this interview with Cameron, my crying changed over to chuckling at the sheer vapidness of all my unrealized or delayed dreams. Would I really trade Knox to learn how to make Pad Thai? Give up Pursy for a chance to sleep until after sunrise? There isn't anything that I want to do that I won't either be able to do at some point, or already do with the "help" of my children. (think: my morning makeup routine usually involves Knox practicing with my eyelash curler. kind of annoying if I am in a hurry but super cute)

In my imagination, if I just had more time to myself I would be an exceptional human being. Well read, extensively traveled, perfectly coiffed, actively involved in community and church, trailblazing in my profession, the perfect match to my exceptional human husband at every party...

Cameron Diaz realized that children are a gargantuan responsibility and she chose not to take it on.
And reading her honest words about how much easier life is without children made her amazing body on the cover of Esquire look more realistic then fake. She actually is that gorgeous and all her hard work to be successful has paid off. She made a choice knowing herself and what she wanted with life. I am completely happy for her.

My decision to have children has paid off for me too. We are a crazy parade of laughter and tears and hopes and fears (my apologies to anyone who knows the Small World song and now has it stuck in their head like I do after 17 times around in the little boat ride...) but all the things I DO with children makes the above list of things I would do without them look very small. It makes the days I go for a run even more exceptional. It makes my mascara look amazing on the days it gets done. The weekend I painted the downstairs bathroom I shamelessly lauded my ability to "do it all". My puny paycheck that I bring in from my one day a week of work lets our family breathe a little easier. The sleeping bit??...there is always more coffee.

And when I am humble enough to realize it, the things I do in a day that have absolutely nothing to do with me are the best parts. The time I spend with my children getting to know them and teaching them and hanging out with them and loving on them and introducing them to the world are the reason I get out of bed in the morning right now. It isn't about me, it's about me as their Mama.

And we have a great Thai restaurant down the street when I get in the mood for Red Curry and Spring Rolls...