Joanna Gaines Taught Me a Lesson

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Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Have you ever watched HGTV‘s show Fixer Upper? Fixer Upper is a home renovation show hosted by Chip and Joanna Gaines. They fix up homes in Waco, TX. Chip is the brawn and Joanna is the design brains and beauty. I’m in awe of Joanna Gaines.

She is a mother of four, has a successful television show, a design business, a bed and breakfast, is a devout Christian and is younger than I am.  I have two kids. Compared to her I’m not really a parent. I don’t have the kind of successful business she has, I don’t feel at home in any religion, and I’m getting older by the second.

I’m not saying I would trade places with Joanna. I don’t know what her life is really like behind the cameras. Her kids might hate that she’s not around or their whole lives might revolve around the business and just once they’d like it to be different. She seems super nice, but maybe she’s a good actress. I don’t want to live on a farm with all those animals. Some days I’m not even sure I want the dog. But she sure does make life look clean, neat, and well-adjusted.

It’s hard not to compare myself to her when the laundry is piled taller than I am, dog hair tumbles across the hardwood floor, the mail needs to be sorted, kids need to be driven to a thousand places (that’s not much of an exaggeration) and I have words to write, clients to appease and appearances to be at. Joanna makes it look easy.

But it ain’t easy. In fact, even as I write this the laundry needs attention, again, I’m out of shampoo, I have to figure out how to grab both kids today at the exact same time from two different places, this blog post has been a thorn in my side for days, I need to write a blog post for my client, and I have a word count for the new novel I must hit. I did manage to brush my teeth, cleanup last night’s dinner, and set the house alarm before I left to go to the Starbucks and write. It’s a win, ladies and gents! It’s a win.

We all know social media and television make life look like it’s all homemade food and hand sewn clothes. It isn’t. Life is messy. I don’t believe half the posts I see from moms who go on and on about how proud they are of their children and how amazing this kid is and this mom can’t believe how lucky they are. Every parent (okay, not every) feels that way about their kid. We all love our children with such a fierceness it could blow up the universe. These same moms also want to pull their hair out of their heads from time to time, imagine a vacation alone on a sunny beach with no one yelling “MOM!!!” and have at some point wondered why they thought being a mother was a good idea in the first place. Oh, trust me, it’s true. (If you don’t have teenagers, don’t weigh in on that comment. Come back to me in a few years. We’ll talk then.) Doesn’t make anyone bad for thinking that. Perhaps our Joanna has glimmered that thought too.

Last night I was talking to a friend who had suffered the rampage of Hurricane Sandy. Long story short, she and her family recently moved back into their home. She’s expecting baby number two and the house isn’t ready, the room isn’t ready, boxes everywhere. I said, “It will all get done in time. Don’t worry about it.”

Why do women feel such pressure to be perfect? Me included. Is it because women before us burned their bras and fought for our opportunities to hold great jobs and raise families and own homes and not need the help of another human being while doing all of this, least of all a man? Or is it because the Joanna Gaineses of the world paint a picture we try to strive for? It would be easier to climb Mt. Everest than keep our stuff together in a picture perfect way without help. Heck, even the climbers of Everest have help. They don’t go to the top alone, why should we?

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe in this whole it takes a village to raise a child business. No, your child is your responsibility. You raise him or her. The occasional car pool is one thing, but the constant watch my child so I can work and go on vacation in Disney mumbo jumbo doesn’t fly with me. Sorry, my opinion. (Before someone goes nuts, I’m not referring to the single mother working three jobs and living in a studio apartment trying to make ends meet. She needs the help. So, help her.)

But it is okay to say, I can’t do that right now. I can’t volunteer for one more group, or wash the car, or dinner is just going to have to be cereal. It’s okay to say to our partners, I need your help with the kids, the food, the horses, the bodies I’m trying to bury. And we shouldn’t feel guilty about it. Our home, children, job, and appearance don’t have to be perfect. And while we’re busy perfecting all these things we’re forgetting to better our souls. We should strive for more kindness, compassion, and generosity. We need to perfect our listening skills, because as a former Speech, Theater, Commmunications major I can tell you with assurance listening is a skill that can be learned. We need to experience things that make us feel better. Yoga, long walk in the parks, sunsets, coloring books, laughter.

When our souls are running over with warmth and peace we’ll be the better mother, wife, friend, business woman. Then and only then can we become the Joanna Gaineses of the world.

 

 

 

 

 

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Do You Check Your Emotions At The Door?

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I recently read a blog post where the writer says she doesn’t miss any of the stages of her children’s lives. I think she enjoyed the stages while she was in them, but she’s glad that they’re grown. She “[doesn’t] understand mothers who grieve every step of their children’s growing up. [She doesn’t] get the tears at the kindergarten door or the angst at the driver’s license test. The weeping at graduation baffles [her]. The whole point of being a parent is to raise kids, not keep them as pets.”

I have to disagree with her and thought my blog was a better place to do it than hers. Certainly, our children aren’t pets and we all want them to grow up to be independent, well-adjusted adults who thrive in life. I want my children to be responsible. That’s why they have chores and my fifteen year-old just found out he’ll be getting a job this summer, much to his dismay.

But I cried when my youngest stepped onto the bus for Kindergarten and I cried when my oldest graduated from eighth grade and I got misty eyed two months later when I dropped him off at high school orientation and for sure I’ll weep like a baby when he graduates from high school and yes, I will feel angst when he starts driving. That doesn’t make me a helicopter parent. It makes me a parent. Plain and simple.

My children’s highs are my highs and their lows are my lows. I’ve invested a lot of time and energy into this job I call “Mom.” My daughter has been sick since December and it keeps me up at night and when she’s finally well you can bet I’ll be shedding a tear. Doesn’t mean I don’t want her to clean her room. And doesn’t mean I don’t want her to grow into the amazing,  independent woman I know she’ll be.

I feel sorry for this author whose heart doesn’t seem to be fully invested into those times. She had a task to do and by golly, she was going to complete it. Check your emotions at the door.

Maybe I wear my emotions like a badge of honor, I don’t know, but I know I have them. And I know I love my children more than anything on this planet. Why wouldn’t I be engaged in their milestones?

Of course, I want my children to grow up and take on the world and make all their dreams come true. I applaud my son’s interest in music and my daughter’s interest in theater. Not easy career choices, but I would never stop them from taking it on. It’s their lives and they must live them.

I don’t long for days of diapers and tying shoes, but I know I will miss my kids when they go because they are mine for only a short time and for years all I’ve done is be there for them. I will have to reinvent some of myself when they go.

And maybe that is why I cry sometimes. Who will I be when they leave? And will they think of me from time to time? Will they roll their eyes when I call them? When they were little there was no question about their love for me. And there may not be any question of love when they are adults, but they won’t be mine when that time comes. And they shouldn’t be. Is it wrong to miss their warm embrace? Those chubby hands clasped in yours? Their laughter ringing through out the house?

The tears aren’t just because you mourn the loss of another stage in their lives. The tears are because you’re so proud of your child and all that they accomplish. Because you can’t believe that amazing person belongs to you. You, the impostor, You, whose father abandoned you, You, with all your flaws made a child filled with the best of you.

I will bring my tissues proudly when my daughter graduates eighth grade this year. I might cry a little harder because this has been a tough time for her. My heart soars at every football game when my son marches on the field in his band uniform pounding on his drum. And I will be biting my nails and praying to God above to keep him safe as he earns his driver’s permit this summer.

I don’t check my emotions at the door. They’re tucked in my pockets, around my neck, and dangling from my ears. I am a Mom. Today and everyday.

 

 

Is It Possible to Breastfeed and Walk at the Same Time?

Piglet and Me
Piglet and me. Happy together.

So, recently we took a family vacation to Disney. Did you know the average family saves for five years to take a trip to Disney? “The happiest place on earth.” That’s their slogan. I beg to differ. I saw a lot of unhappy people. None that worked there because if that happened the Mouse would have your head, but lots of unhappy visitors. I’d think if it took five years to get there you’d try and make the most of it, no? Maybe no.

Because I’m a writer or because I’m a little nuts, I like to people watch. I can get some good stuff for my stories by watching people and because I don’t do roller coaster type rides, or the tea cups because I’ll puke, I’m so much fun in an amusement park, ask my sister Kiki, I have plenty of time to sit and watch people go by while my family members brave the FastPass lines for the rides. I saw some interesting stuff.

Let’s start with it’s almost ten o’clock at night, we’re in Magic Kingdom and the place is still bursting at the seams with “guests”. A man pushes an empty stroller at a brisk pace. Was he racing to the next ride before the park closes? Looking for a prime spot to watch the fireworks over Cinderella’s castle? Determined to get his money’s worth since it took him five years of over-time putting up with his good for nothing boss, being under-appreciated at his dead-end job and his wife nagging the heck out of him to take her and their baby on a trip to Disney some time this decade? Where is the wife, you say? Racing behind him. Holding her baby in one arm, a blanket thrown over her shoulder while she tries to attach the baby to her breast so she can breastfeed while power-walking. I’m might write fiction, but I’m not making this up. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I wanted to offer her a seat.

She didn’t look so happy, this lady attempting to keep up with her husband. Pardon, my old-fashioned assumption he was the husband. I’ve been accused lately of having deep rooted gender messages. Who am I to say the man she was chasing was her husband at all? Maybe they weren’t even together. Maybe she and her baby were stalking him. Hey, maybe that wasn’t even her baby. Maybe she was running because she had scooped up the baby from the thousands of strollers parked around Disney and they only thing she could do to quiet the kid down was attempt to feed the poor thing because a woman breastfeeding while power-walking isn’t a strange sight in the least. See how the mind of a writer works? Sick, I know.

I met a seven-year old girl wearing more make-up than I own. I was relieved to find out, after having a conversation with her and her mother, she was headed to a cheering competition. The little girl was very happy holding onto her American Girl doll and telling me all about her. The mom, well, she was frustrated over the bow required to be in her daughter’s hair and probably a multitude of other things, but I was busy listening to the young lady.

I also met a woman while standing in line for ice cream. Did you know calories don’t count on vacation? This woman I met was from Indiana and had never been to Disney before. She wasn’t jumping up and down at her good fortune. She was hot in the sun, and didn’t want to stand in the long line for an ice cream cone for her daughter who I found out wasn’t the smartest of her four children. Her words. Not mine.

Nope, not the happiest place on earth.

But for us? Well, we had breakfast with Piglet, Tigger, and Pooh. Can’t beat that. We saw Noodge 1 march in a parade down Main Street in Magic Kingdom. How my mother’s heart swelled. The Coffee King and I bought a caramel apple in Germany and watched the fireworks in Epcot. I spent an entire morning with Noodge 2 in Universal Studios where she met up with a Minion from Despicable Me. We saw a free concert, ate too much, walked a lot in the beautiful Florida sun, laughed, went on rides (them more than me), and made memories. You bet Disney is the happiest place on earth.

 

Unfortunately, I can only handle rides of this speed.
Unfortunately, I can only handle rides of this speed.

Stargazer Lilies

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I’m someone who has a lot to say. Gasp. Shock. Awe. And usually I have no problem saying it. Until recently. Here, at the blog. If you sit next to me, say…anywhere, and we start up a conversation, I can talk and talk and talk. I’m sure most of my acquaintances quietly wish I would shut up. Everyone who lives in the country is too nice to say anything like that to my face. Now, the people who’ve known me most of my life just roll their eyes and make a face that says, “there she goes again.” I’m pretty good at reading facial expressions, so I take my cue and clamp my lips shut.

But here, I can’t seem to find a thing to write about. Maybe I’m premenopausal and what few brain cells I had left after having children have dried up. I don’t want to be premenopausal. That sounds old. Like someone’s mother. Hey, wait, I am someone’s mother. Ugh. This isn’t looking good. When you’re premenopausal that means you’re entering the second half of your life. Your youth is gone along with your estrogen and estrogen is supposed to keep us young. What’s going to do that for me now?

I can’t think of one thing that’s good about being premenopausal. Even the word is ugly. Why can’t women enter the stargazer lily stage? I love stargazer lilies. They’re my favorite flower. I think from now on I’ll refer to PM as Stargazer. I am officially entering the Stargazer stage of my life. There, that’s not as bad. Just as old, but not as bad.

I suppose not entering the Stargazer stage of life could be problematic. Like I might be dead and that would truly suck because I’m not a best selling author yet and I haven’t sang on stage in front of thousands of people wearing leather pants yet. I’ll need to accomplish the leather wearing pants thing soon before I’m over the Stargazer Lily stage and into the full blown bouquet of menopause and my backside spreads too wide to ever be seen in leather. Outside my house that is.

Have you ever seen that commercial for products to help women with Stargazer issues? The tag line is something like, “Have you had the 2nd talk?” My response, “No, thank you. I didn’t want to have the first talk and now you want me to talk about the part of body that’s malfunctioning because I’m old and the warranty is running out on my female usefulness?” I mean really. Sell me some flowers instead.

 

Why Do We Laugh When Someone Falls?

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Auditions for tumblers inside. No experience necessary. Image courtesy of dreamhours @ morguefile.com

Recently, my mother and I were telling some old stories about friends who have taken a fall in our presence. And even though we’ve heard these stories before we still found ourselves bent over, holding our bellies and gasping for air. That got me thinking. I needed to blog about this and see if anyone else finds falling as funny as we do. (By the way, my sister also has our affliction. She laughs too and better yet, when she falls she calls me so we can laugh at her together.)

Has anyone ever laughed at you when you fell? I know they shouldn’t. I know I shouldn’t, but I do. Have you ever seen the footage of the woman texting on her phone and she trips and falls right into the big fountain? That’s good stuff.

But why do we laugh when someone takes a tumble? It isn’t funny. Someone could get seriously hurt. Is there some wiring in our brain that lights up like a Christmas tree when we see a person take a nose dive? Even as I sit here writing and thinking of stories where someone has plopped face first  in the dirt I’m chuckling. I think that makes me a bad person. Or at least someone with a twisted sense of humor.

Let me tell you a story: My stepfather, a big man of 6’3″ and who is unfortunately no longer with us (so this should be even less funny, but forgive me, it isn’t) auditioned for the Ringling Brothers and Barnum Bailey Circus right in his own basement. On a cold night, he made himself a cup of tea. Yes, tea. Even big men drink tea. Who knew? He held his tea, probably in anticipation of the warmth and joy it would bring, and headed down the stairs. Well, there must’ve been a little elf there he couldn’t see from his giant perch and my stepdad tripped. But not just tripped, boys and girls, he did a full fledged forward roll in the air – yes, head over heels, took flight, roll and never once spilled his tea. Not a drop. Now that is acrobatics at it’s finest. And you have to admit, kind of funny.

In fairness to my dearly departed stepfather, I’ll share my own story. Now, I didn’t exactly fall, but I was at the home of my then boss. He was hosting a summer party for all the employees. It was a sunny day. The sky was a vibrant blue. I kept my sunglasses on inside. Well, who knew that one cannot see the black strings of a screen door while inside walking out, still wearing those sunglasses? And I, with my mission to return to my friends in the sunshine, walked with purpose toward the screen door while holding my paper plate piled high with food. I never slowed down. I plowed into the screen door at full speed sending me and my food in various directions. I hit the door so hard, it took me a minute to figure out why everyone was suddenly kneeling on the gruond picking up food. It was my food! When I finally rejoined those on the deck I was met with a resounding applause. I took a bow and did the only thing I could do. Laughed.

So, my faithful reader, do you laugh when someone falls or is it just my crazy family who gets joy from other’s misfortune? Has anyone ever laughed at you when you fell? Why do you think we do this? I’d like to know.

 

Kids Need To Be Chaperoned

Image by nightfall, morguefile.com
Image by nightfall, morguefile.com

I’m chaperoning the 8th grade class trip to Washington DC. I’m not the only chaperone, obviously, but I have wondered on more than one occasion, what was I thinking when I agreed to do this. It probably had something to do with the fact I’m a control freak and couldn’t let Noodge 1 go off to another state without the supervision of his overprotective, Italian mother. We’re nothing if not thorough. And we think we’re way more thorough about watching our children then all the other mothers combined. (I will say this. I’m way more progressive than my mother. She didn’t even let me go on the 8th grade Washington DC trip. Not that I remember that or anything.) Do you  know any Italian mothers? Just saying.

I’m one of those people who get sick in a moving car and worse on a bus. I have a whole regimen I undergo just to avoid the need to vomit. The most important being, I must have a full stomach. Don’t ask me why, but after years of experience, this fact proves to be true. Since we have to be at the school by 6 am I’m wondering what the heck I’m going to eat before the trip even begins. I could pick up something for the ride, but I live in the country. There’s nothing between us and the school except a few farms. A tomato plant isn’t going to cut it. But I will have snacks because I need to eat every two hours like an infant. Yes, I’m high maintenance. Refer to paragraph one where I mention I’m Italian.

My roommate on this trip is a friend whose daughter is in Noodge’s grade. I made this friendship all by myself without the aide of my children or their presence in a classroom. Who knew I still had those skills? I would’ve enjoyed my friend’s conversation for the bus ride down and back. We weren’t assigned to the same bus. Really? I want to say. Who planned this out? Didn’t they notice who was rooming together? They did, in fact, ask us for this information. Why is she on a different bus than I am? Hmm…? I’ll wait. Still waiting. No answer. Figures. I hope the other parents on my bus like me.

It’s too late to back out now and what would Noodge 1 think if I suddenly decided to jump ship? Will it be something he’ll store away in the “My mother’s out of her mind” cabinet? I’m sure it’s already full. Remember paragraph one. And what about Noodge 2? In two years it will be her turn. How can I say no to that trip without hearing, “You like him better.”

I should’ve thought this whole chaperoning thing through. That will teach me to be an overbearing, controlling, mother. Or not.

 

 

 

 

Life Lessons Being A Mom Teaches You

file0001307996139I started making a list of all the lessons being a mom can teach you. I included things like: patience, letting go, living in the moment, acceptance, and on and on. You know what I realized? I stink at most of the things I put on the list! Those of you that know me personally know I’m not the most patient of people. I practice patience, but often my Italian instincts kick in and patience flies out the door like I gave it a good shot.

What about learning to let go? Uh, no. Can we say “control freak?” I mean, really, what kind of mess am I going to be like when Son goes off to college in four years? Or how about when he drives? I can give you one better. He’s going on the 8th grade band trip to an amusement park. I’m not a chaperone. Honestly, the idea of him on all those rides without me reminding him to buckle in, keep his hands inside the ride, and not to talk to strangers makes me want to puke. I’m twitching just thinking about it. No, I don’t have the letting go thing down.

Do I know how to live in the moment? Not when I’m wishing they’d just go to bed. Bad Mommy.

Am I capable of acceptance? Well, maybe some things like how long Son wears his hair. (It’s starting to rival my length). But not others. Like dirty clothes all over the bathroom floor, thank you very much.

Does this mean that almost fourteen years into this journey of motherhood I’m screwing up royally? My kids will never forgive me and their therapist will be thanking me all the way to their vacation homes in Tahiti.

Maybe I shouldn’t be completely discouraged. Motherhood also teaches you about love. I had no idea that so much love for one little, creature born with no hair, no teeth and chicken legs could steal my breath or bring tears of joy to my eyes from just a look or a moment. Love like that can topple the biggest giant and that love floors me every time I lay eyes on either of my children. You’d think a mother loving her child would be a given, but it isn’t. I’ve seen what happens, up close, when a mother doesn’t love her child at all.

Now I ask, my faithful reader, what has being a parent taught you?