Monday, May 13, 2013

Four reasons I can wait a few more days for spring

I don't want to be the first one to complain that spring may actually, finally, be here.

The sun is out. And stays out past 4:30pm.

My girls are reunited with their playmates on the block, as bikes and scooters emerge from basements and garages.

There is music in the neighborhood and a sparkle in the air (and that's not just my allergies talking).

There's not much I like about winter, even as a born-and-raised Wisconsinite. As much as I'm not ready to revert back to temperatures below 50, there will be a few things I'll miss about winter. And there are just a few things I'm hanging on to while Mother Nature makes up her mind about the day-to-day weather.

1. Winter wardrobe. Is it just me or does it take everyone months to figure out their seasonal wardrobe, only to have to box it away and re-figure it out the next season?

2. Grocery shopping. Picking up something from the store before work and not having it spoil or melt in the car after a day at the office.

3. Coffee preservation. I often stop for coffee on the way to work, and I often leave it in the car. (That's a sign I need more coffee. right?) But cold coffee is just awesome.

Most importantly....

4. One serious car issue.

The first warm day of the year is the day I learn what foods the kids have dropped on the car floor over the last few months. Foods that were once fresh, then frozen are now thawed, rotten and smelly. Yep, the first warm weather day brought about not only a rise in our spirits, but also a smell in my car that I could not identify.

I do try to keep an eye on the food coming and going in the car, but sometimes I’m sad to admit it’s just not possible. I’m even sadder to say I haven’t made the time to clean out the car, although I’ve taken in the winter blankets, hats and mismatched gloves. I’ve been slowly getting rid of the papers that have accumulated on the car interior and bought some upholstery cleaner. 

I’m ready to fit in the annual cleaning of the car (AKA finding the food). I am determined, this weekend, to find the source of the offensive smell in the car — before it warms up again.In the past, I've found bananas and their peels under the car seat and unidentifiable remains in the nooks and crannies of the car seats. Squeezable applesauce packets, bagged baked goods... the list over the years is endless. And it appears obvious upon closer look that the girls have, at least on one occasion, used the "secret" way into the trunk as a garbage chute.

But as I'm inspired by a little warmth, I'm ready for this annual task... complete with my first homemade fabric refresher and upholstery cleaner.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Princess Power

"What do you want to be when you grow up?"

It's a loaded question and I'm still not sure I know the answer. But if you would have asked me that question at age 5, I would have answered: an archaeologist.

At age 7, a veterinarian.  At 12, A novelist.

At 15 ... nothing.  At 16, an artist.

At 21, a journalist.  At 30, an editor.

At 32, a mother.

But I've always been on a career path, a path that has taken many twists and turns throughout my life. On that journey, my two daughters have tagged along to become well-versed in the pro and cons, ins and outs, ups and downs of having a working, single mother.

When my older daughter was 4 years old, a class project prompted her: What do you want to be when you grow up?

 I asked her. "Anika, the world is yours. You can do anything you can dream of! Don't answer right away, just think about it: What do you want to be when you grow up?

"Ehh... I don't know. A princess?"
A princess?? The world is at your feet and you want to be a princess?

 A princess.

Princess pop culture wasn’t appealing to me in my formative years. I never owned a Barbie doll and was more concerned with trying to play on the baseball team with the neighborhood boys. My own Disney exposure was limited in my youth. By limited, I really mean none. My parents never took me to a Disney flick and I can't tell you anything about the princess films - current or past. While this may seem like I missed out on a childhood rite of passage, in all honesty, even my adult self finds those movies pretty frightening – on more than one level

 I tried to be involved with her interests, our attempt at watching Sleeping Beauty, Disney-style, for the first time together. was a failure After the dramatic close-up of the shiny, sharpened knife that is intended to kill Princess Aurora, Anika matter-of-factly announced, "Mom, this is scary. It's not an Anika movie." And she wandered off to play dress-up in a poufy princess dress.

 And yet, with her own minimal pop culture exposure, Anika still manages to be a princess fanatic with a closet of the frilliest, pinkest dresses ever sewn.

 I made a conscious decision to skip over those classic and current fairy tales in our nightly reading ritual mostly because, as a single mom, there may be a day when my children have a step parent and I don't really want to start out an already complex step-relationship with the common storybook adjective, "evil."

 And let's face it... There are a few varieties of princesses Anika could be talking about. There is the sophisticated, college-educated Kate Middleton-type princess... or there is the codependent Cinderella-type princess, who needs a man to help her find a pair of matching shoes.

Is the Princess Message that a young woman needs a prince to ride into the sunset on horseback to find happiness? or worse, that beauty is life most important attribute? Or maybe, and hopefully, it is much, much simpler than that. But I didn’t read years of feminist theory to sit back and allow my children, my daughters, to think it’s acceptable to grow up to become a stereotype. It was time for this professional mom to investigate her daughter's professional aspirations.

 I asked her if princesses went to college. She slowly nodded a wide-eyed yes as if to imply (and rightly so) that she would never suggest a future without college. Whether a princess by birth or a princess by marriage, I assume most modern-day princesses are expected to attend college. So I guess  it's a starting point.

 "So really," I pried, "what does it mean to be a princess?"

 My daughter answered, "Well... A real dress."

 "Your dress is real. You can touch it, so it's real, right?"

 "Hmmm... Shoes. It's definitely shoes."

 After a lifetime of exposure to the negative connotations of "princess," maybe I was the one who had the wrong idea. Maybe this independent feminist mother could encourage - even accept- a sliver of princess culture. Eventually I started to come around. I slowly found her professional goals easier to get behind, even if it means we tweak her royal dreams of being a fancy dress-wearing princess into a goal of being the fashion designer who creates those dresses.

Through that conversation, I learned I will always support my daughter, even if I don’t necessarily understand her choice. Although it is easier now, when her fantasies don’t involve any mention of princes, horses or sunsets.

 But as I've never been the princess type, I was still hoping for some more definitive answers. Anika quickly tired of this line of questioning. Overloaded with conversation, she took a deep breath and said, "Mom, all I really want is to be taller. AND a princess ...  Like YOU."

Thursday, April 25, 2013

You Never Know What the Day Holds

It was a rough morning. Kids are tired, possibly on the verge of caving in to a cold. I won't complain about it, because it is pretty standard in my life by Thursday.

When I said to EL, "Good morning, Lovely!", she rolled over and yelled, "Alone! Leave Me ALONE!!" I can't help it; this always makes me smile. At a week over 3 years old, her voice is so tiny, but carries so much power.

I know all this is likely a secret sign that we are too busy, even though I try to keep our weeks mellow.

Five-year-old Amp was fiercely searching the home for her favorite water bottle which she takes to school each day. Our leave time, 7:30, had passed. At 7:32, I ran outside to the car to look for her water bottle.

I saw a woman sitting on my porch with a suitcase. Assuming she was looking for my upstairs neighbor, I asked her if she was waiting for someone.

"I'm not safe. I'm just creeped out. I'm not safe. I don't know. I just need to clear my head. I'm not safe."

She is a calm woman, well-spoken, clean with fresh make-up on. I ask if I can call someone for her. She says no. I ask if she lives in the neighborhood. She keeps saying the same sentences: "I'm not safe. I'm a good person. I just want to be happy. I need a room. I need somewhere to clear my head. I just want to sit somewhere. I don't want to go to a shelter. They are creepy. Everywhere I go I am creeped out. I don't have a job."

As a woman who knows the struggles of a home that suddenly becomes unsafe, I had a lot of empathy. As a woman who has volunteered most of her life with women's issues, I wanted to help. But the reality is that my morning clock is still ticking. I still have to get my daughters to school and I still have to get to work. Hey, on time would be nice, too.

I dropped off Amp at school and parked the car. EL was still screaming, and had been the whole time. I went home. She was still there playing on her cell phone.

I wrote down some numbers on a piece of paper: the neighborhood community center, a center for battered women, a community help line, the district police, and a few other organizations I had volunteered with. I even wrote down the address of the closest library if she just wanted I wished her well, told her there were many people who wanted to help. She just had to call. They could all do a better job of helping this woman than I could.

She asked if I would buy her breakfast before I left. I said I couldn't. I felt guilty I didn't run back inside and, at the very least, grab a banana for her, but I was already going to be late for work. And I definitely didn't want to leave my cranky 3-year-old in the car, or get her in and out of her car seat again.

I called my mom  and my neighbors. I went to my social media circles. The advice was helpful - detailing more organizations who might help, and also words of caution. I wanted to take this woman in my car, bring her to a safe doorstep, but her picture of need may not have been the whole truth.

I was shaking inside. I know what it feels like to have your immediate physical safety threatened. I had my daughters in the car, so I didn't feel I could give her a ride. We fought long and hard for our safe, happy, healthy, home and I am sensitive to protecting every element of that safety.

She may not have looked homeless or battered, but I know first-hand that abuse has many different looks to it. Maybe the abuse was over a long period of time and this was the morning she took her stand. I flashed back to the night I packed a backpack of clothes and diapers, woke my children and left my house. If I didn't have close family and friends, where would I go? I'm pretty sure a random porch wouldn't be the answer, but I didn't have time to question how and why she ended up where she did.

Wait a minute, I did ask her those things, but they were without answer.

I called the police. Was she missing? Was someone looking for her? Was a batterer looking for her? Was she mentally ill? Off her meds? A grifter looking for a free meal? A con artist casing my house?

The answers were unknown, and still are. I went to work, rattled, unsure if I had done enough, the right thing, the safe thing.

An officer called me an hour later, said she was still there, had a cup of coffee, and said she had left her boyfriend's house after an altercation. The officer gave me her name and address. She lives 7 blocks away. She told the officer she was waiting for a ride from a friend.

That was a little different than the story I got, which also had my mind wandering. But maybe the friend was a shelter on their way or a desperate family member looking for her. maybe not. I couldn't help but wonder if I was a helpful neighbor, or a suckered victim-in-progress. If it was the latter, hopefully the police presence squashed any criminal plans that were brewing. If it was the former, hopefully she is able to find herself some safety, too. I may never know the full story.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Positivity Reminder

It's been a rough week in the news. The full week of rain doesn't help in the matter. As I was perusing some old files, I ran across an old blog post from Dec. 31, 2008, a time when I was particularly stressed out, and got a glimpse of hope from the kindness of a stranger. I felt it was a good reminder that a small gesture can have a big impact, so I'm sharing it again:

Here's the scene right before the holidays: The kids were terribly sick, and I also picked up the worst flu in the history of flus, nobody had slept in days, papers were piling up on my desk and EVERYONE was beyond cranky.

 We trekked to the doctor’s office and left with numerous prescriptions for all and headed to the pharmacy. There our agonizing 40-minute wait 
As we waited, we walked through the aisles to pick up a few small items in hopes of brightening our spirits. The kids picked fruit snacks and stickers and I opted for several products boasting promises to cover the black circles under my eyes.

 We approached the checkout counter with $100 of prescriptions and treats, and the woman behind the counter said she had a coupon for my cosmetics.

I told her I had already read the store flyer and, sadly, there was no coupon. Then, she pulled out a small box of coupons, organized and labeled, and explained they were from the Sunday paper. Huh? She continued to say that she likes to cut coupons and share them, sort of like a hobby.

Now, I am a busy momw who is used to paying more for convenience. I have honestly spent more than five dollars for a gallon of milk at a gas station because I did not have time to run one more errand. And here is a woman who cuts coupons from the paper for other people as a hobby?

 That coupon saved me two bucks on my total bill. This may not sound like a big deal in most people’s world. However, that day at that moment, it was like winning the lottery.

We left the pharmacy with medications, fruit snacks, stickers and cover-up products in hand. But thanks to the random kindness of this woman, we left with more than that. We left with a belief that we WOULD heal, we WOULD be healthy again, we WOULD sleep through the night once more, and my complexion WOULD return to normal.

This inspiration made me promise to myself that, in 2009, no matter how small the deed, I would “pay it forward”— hopefully to a mom with puffy eyes and a few sick kids behind her. 


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

TODAY Moms Gets It All Wrong

Yesterday on Facebook, I looked at a quiz from TODAY Moms about stress. Maybe you saw it, too.
(If not, you can see it here.) It was about what, specifically, is stressing moms out these days.

Immediate problem #1:
I despise the image chosen to accompany the quiz and the connotations of a mom pulling her hair out, unable to handle her unruly children in the background -- even if I know what those days feel like.

Moms are pretty tough, and on the worst of days, I think we handle ourselves better than that. But it is that exact type of image that has become one of my pet peeves in how the media portrays modern motherhood. It's as if they are trying to make up for years of portraying the perfect housewife and mother on TV and in advertisements. But this flip side is just as inaccurate.

The busier days, the tantrum-ier days, the sicker days, the can't-get-anything-done-and-nothing-goes-right days. I like to think of those as the exception days. And even at that I can handle them just fine. It's part of my contract with motherhood. 

Subsequent Problem #2:
The sample question was about which was worse: being called into the principal's office or your boss's office? Interesting. I could talk about that.

But then... Who has a more stressed out life, stay-at-home moms or working moms?

I'm only going to say this once. ENOUGH, ALREADY. Enough of the comparisons, the who-has-it-worse comparisons. No matter "what kind" of mom you are, you a.) don't need a label, b.) don't need to be judged about it, c.) have your own challenges and successes and your own set of rules to make it work.

Let's for one minute, stop and support each other, and work as a community -- preferably a community that doesn't find value in ranking mothers or pitting them against one another.

Sure there is stress in parenthood. It's an important gig with a ton of responsibility. There are worries you never imagined you would have in your pre-motherhood life. But there is stress in non-parenthood. Remember those pre-kid days? Yeah, there was stress there too. I'm pretty sure it wasn't motherhood that brought stress into life, although it does add a whole new set of stressors.

Additional problem #3:
When asked to list the specific stressors of motherhood, this disappointed me the most: one of the boxes to check was "staying fit and being attractive."

I would prefer those be separate distinctions as they are not nearly the same thing. Not all of us are at the gym to be more attractive. Hey, imagine this TODAY Moms, some of us want to feel healthy. Hell, maybe some of us manage stress with a run on a treadmill. In one sentence, women, specifically moms, were demoted into superficial beings who are just at the gym so they can "be attractive."

One of my personal parenting struggles has been carving out time to go to the gym or take a run, but it's not the struggle to "be attractive." It's a struggle to devote that time to myself -- to feel good, to stay healthy, to keep my immunity strong, to model good behaviors for my children. It's not about body image. It's about health.

And there were few things about health -- or even about stress or stress management -- on this survey. Here's hoping that the "results" of this online nonsense will reflect a brighter picture of moms. A picture that shows the strength, the perseverance, the love, the capability that is a mom.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Supermom or bust!

This morning -- very, very, early on this Monday -- my daughter reminded me that I promised her a Gatorade. It's a special occasion when Gatorade makes an appearance in our kitchen, but I bought it yesterday on our shopping excursion.

The trouble is, at 6 am on on a Monday morning, I have yet to take all the groceries out of the trunk from Sunday grocery shopping.

I'm not one to mention/complain/small talk about the weather, but here is my exception. See, if there are any readers out of the Wisconsin area, just know that it is mid-April and Milwaukee just got snow. Not a lot, but the sight of snow in April is heavy on the soul. It's been cloudy, rainy, cold and my productivity has been WAY under par. My to-do list is ever-growing and if I don't do it, no one else will. There are benefits and drawbacks to single momhood. Being the only adult in the house is often great, and often challenging.

So when my daughters and I returned home from shopping yesterday, I put the refrigerator and freezer items where they belonged and left the rest. Seemed like a good idea at the time. Besides, we had a dinner play date that we were for. But 5-year-old Amp has a sharp memory and clearly remembered the items we bought, and specifically begged for a morning Gatorade.

With two cups of coffee under my belt (but still in my pajamas), I went to the car to fulfill her request. Something was different. The ground was wet, and it smelled like spring! Suddenly , life was different, better, hopeful. The sun is barely out, but it's warm(ish) and spring(like). I'll take it.

I'm starting my Monday with the hope that we can have one great week. Homemade lunches, healthy dinners, a few trips to the gym and maybe attacking some of my to-do list. Oh yeah, and some of the spring cleaning. Get the girls to school on time (all week), get my daughter to her doctor appointment on time, turn in a successful daycare fundraiser, paint my nails, get to work early enough to get rockstar parking at least twice, park properly at home as not to get any more parking tickets, get my wanna-be garden started, rearrange the back yard ..... Yes, it's a good week ahead. Hibernation is over, and Supermom is reemerging! I'll track my progress and post it by the end of the week.

Friday, April 12, 2013

What My Daughter Doesn't Like Today

She's been 3 years old for two days, and I hope I can chalk this up to growing pains. Sitting at my desk at work and her piercing screams are still echoing in my head.

Here is a list of what my makes my daughter yell "I no like it!" "I no want it!" or "LEAVE ME ALOOOONE!"

Today, EL does not like:

The shirt I chose for her this morning.
Wearing socks at all.
Wearing black shoes.
Ponytail holders.
The car door being open.
The car door being closed.
The closed car door being locked.
Being in a seat belt.
The way we took to school this morning.
Dropping her big sister off at school.
The Hoan Bridge.
Lake Michigan.
The truck that was driving in front of us.
Turning left.
Her daycare center.
Her mom leaving her at the daycare center.

Ah yes, it's been that kind of day. And it's only 9:07 a.m.

Walking into the center, I held EL and she flailed her entire body around. We lost two shoes in the process, and a stranger brought one back to me, and I found the other in the hallway. It all reminded me of my older daughter's Great Shoe Debate of 2011. It seems that my entire family has shoe issues.

Our mornings are on a such a time restraint. I have to wonder, as I'm dragging my screamy, kicky daughter around.... is it worth being on time? Would giving her a few minutes to "scream it out" to herself in her room make it any better. Being five minutes late would be worth it, even though being 5 minutes late to my job guarantees I will have to park farther than two blocks from my building. But still, worth it.

On the flip side, it could be a day where screaming for a few extra minutes in her room would still mean she would scream and fight our morning routine. So maybe not worth it at all.

Getting three of us to three different locations five mornings a week has proved to be the hardest part of our year. I keep telling myself... only one more year to go. And somehow, that's not that reassuring, but at least I know it won't be this way forever. In another year and a half, my daughters will be at the same school. And it won't be a day soon enough.