Friday, March 27, 2015

Laughing




Today has been a long day, another day in which I have tried to balance raising children, maintaining a decent home, and pursuing my writing goals. Too often I berate myself for not doing anything full well.

It is very rewarding and aggravating being a mother. I have begun telling my children, "If I ask you several times nicely to do something, and you ignore me, that means you want me to yell. It means you want me to get your attention in a different way."

Yes, I know. They don't want me to yell, but I'm a bit fed up. They know to clear their plates, yet several evenings I find their dinner dishes still residing at table. We have hampers and shoe baskets in this house, but every day you can find footwear and articles of clothing scattered. They know to eat, take a shower, get dressed completely, brush hair and teeth, and pack lunches in the morning, yet every morning I ask them again and again to do what they should be doing. The habitual stress of school mornings can take years off a mother's life.

My kids are good kids. Teachers, coaches and friends regularly come to me and praise my children for their good manners, work ethic and attitudes. And I'm grateful my kids behave so well in public; I just wish they would behave for me! I get to see their unguarded selves, and I am blessed to witness the giggles, silliness and raw emotions. Still, it means I get all the attitude, complaints, and rude responses as well.

As for the house....well, I dream of having help. I'm not lazy, you know. I don't watch TV during the day. I don't lie on the couch eating chocolate and reading mystery novels. I try. I pick up things constantly and return them to their proper places. I sort and clear out school papers, junk mail, old clothes and toys, but my house is still what it is: a cluttered mess. I do dishes and laundry and vacuum and sweep and wipe clean, but this place still look s neglected. It brings me down. I don't mind having a small house (by modern standards); I just wish it looked nicer.

As for my writing? Well, I already covered that in my last post. I'm not lazy there, either. It's hard work for which I do not get paid, and I plug away at it. I'm just not as prolific or savvy as I wish I were.

Anyhow, today I weathered my youngest daughter's tantrum about taking a shower; saw a pile of clothes still on the floor after asking my son to put them up for the third time; examined the dust on my shelves, the disastrous yard, and the wreckage in my laundry room with something like despair; and realized anew that my youngest boy just wants me to entertain him continually despite the work and writing I have to do. So I haven't been feeling grateful. I've been feeling overwhelmed. Again. I don't know how other mothers work a part or full-time job, maintain a garden, indulge their creativity, cook regular meals, still play with the kids, spend time with their husbands, and get plenty of sleep. Is it possible? Sometimes I think it is for them, but not for me. I wasn't given the magic recipe.

Amid all this frustration today, I took my boy Danny to get a birthday present for a friend before picking his siblings up from school. He liked the gift he chose. When we got home he tried to open the gift bag we'd purchased to place the present inside. A few minutes later, he found me in the kitchen, the bag still folded in his hand, ripped down both sides.

"Danny, what happened?" I cried.

"I tried to open it," he answered softly.

I closed my eyes and covered my face with my hands, breathing deeply. More money wasted.

But then? I made a decision.

"It's okay, Danny. It was a mistake. We all make mistakes."

Berto started to scold Danny, but I pointed out that the little guy wasn't being disrespectful. He didn't rip the bag while throwing a fit. It was a mistake, and, as Ella pointed out, he came to me and told the truth.

I went outside to put the bag in recycling, reflecting on the day while having a little conversation with God:

Father, I'm having trouble being grateful today....all the aggravation. I want to be grateful. I just...help me be grateful...

The last part was thought as I came back across the threshold into the house. As I saw my kids' faces, God answered my prayer in a surprising way. I saw an image of Jesus laughing over the ripped bag, over the silly things that happen, laughing with Danny and letting it go. And I let it go. The stress melted.

"It's okay," I told Danny again, this time with a lighter heart and restored attitude. "Jesus loves you."

A Writer Perseveres



A few months ago I received a handwritten letter from a dear friend in the mail. In it she spoke of my writing and offered some advice:

Don't Quit! We all have to learn & refine our craft AND find our own unique voice. I think this is where you are. Some people are gifted with what seems effortless talent. The rest of us have to work on it!

I am ashamed to say that at first blush my pride was hurt when I read her words. Instead of seeing the truth and encouragement in them at a time when I needed those, I fell into the familiar pit of discouragement and started wondering what was wrong with my voice, or if others thought I even had one as a writer, and why it was that I still had much to learn when I have written regularly for some time now. In place of these initial selfish thoughts, I could have been reflecting on my great fortune in having a friend who cared so much she wrote me a traditional letter by mail and dedicated some of its words to bolster me up in my dreams.

About that time - as I was feeling that familiar creative bleakness - I also read a post from Jennie Goutet, a blogger and author at A Lady In France, called A Mountain Meeting With God, and it humbled me to read her perspective of her own myriad endeavors, because to me she seems one of those gifted with effortless talent. And something struck me as I read it. Perhaps I am not the writer I believed myself to be. Perhaps I am just burdened with my own prideful expectations. That could be the reason why I have difficulty engaging people in such a way that they feel compelled to share my work or comment on it. Perhaps God has different plans for me (even though the idea of that saddens me - as if my God did not know me and the desires of my heart far better than I do). Perhaps I am expecting more from people than I am able to give through my words. Just because I have wanted to be a writer since I was a little girl does not mean I am a better one than someone who realized they wished to write for an audience last year. The pride must go.

And so must the discouragement.

I often wonder how far I might go in my writer's journey without this knapsack of discouragement I carry around perpetually, ready to hug it to me in some lonely place, sniffling as a shower of negative thoughts fall around me. What could I do if I stopped comparing myself to other bloggers? What could I do if I stopped beating myself up for not being "popular", squashing my inspiration in self-doubt?

Well, I could persevere and ditch that poisonous baggage I haul around on top of my dreams. My dreams might then be so buoyant, they could lift me up like a hot air balloon. I could write more and trust that somehow, someday all this work will pay off.

Because diligence does pay off. A post came around that illustrated my friend Camille's words perfectly. It was a piece about my 35th birthday, and it gave me headaches. I spent more than a week writing and rewriting it, wondering why it was taking me so long to say what I wished to say in the way I wished to express it. Then I asked the inevitable, If I am a writer, why can't I find the words to tell a story that I so badly want to tell? After writing for years why do I still grapple with the effect of my words so much? But I persisted in writing it, and the work did indeed pay off. It got a few comments, several likes, and some of my friends told me in person just how much they enjoyed it. (You can find that post HERE.) Camille's words of wisdom finally hit home. We are not given the same gift. Some do indeed have effortless talent and are quite prolific, too, the Agatha Christies of the world. The rest of us have to work on it, but in doing so we know we will "refine our craft AND find our unique voice". We may never receive the acclaim we desire, but in persevering we at least know we are using our unique God-given gift, doing what we were made to do.


I recommend this piece by Christine Carter on discouragement and gaining a renewed perspective: That Dirty Rag of Discouragement.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Humble Pie Housekeeping

There was a strange man by our mailbox when we got home one Sunday. He coolly sat there watching us pull into our driveway, his white sedan near where weeds were choking the landscaping rocks. The guy kind of looked like my husband Matthew, but my husband was golfing that afternoon.

I was on to this guy - whatever he was trying to pull by resembling my husband. I told the kids, "Nobody move. Don't get out of the van until I see what he's about."

So we parked and didn't move until the man casually emerged from his vehicle, and my oldest son Berto cried, "It's Uncle Tim!"

Then the doors were pushed open, and the kids sprinted down the driveway. I had forgotten my husband said he might come by, and sirens whistled in my head as I desperately tried to think with a dumb smile on my face, WHAT DOES THE HOUSE LOOK LIKE?

Yes, what does the house look like? So many times in my life I've asked myself this sorry question. I've had my share of humble pie at the hands of unexpected visitors.

I mean, sure, when you're deadly ill, being rushed to the hospital, you can let the shame go reasonably well when your friends come to watch the kids in your smelly, disheveled home. After all, they can't judge you too harshly while your fate seems uncertain. And when the repair man comes for the AC unit, puts on his little booties so as not to mark your juice-smeared floor, and you realize you forgot to cover the duct tape that holds your couch together at the seam, you can trust you won't see him again...or you can logically explain that your couch hasn't reached its 15 years of mandatory service yet, and you're not cheap - really!- just frugal and resourceful. Then you can ask if he watches the Red Green show.

But when your brother-in-law walks into your littered home and sees St. Paddy's Day signs waving in the vented breeze, wishing him the luck of the Irish in late April, you have little option but to joke as you turbo-sweep and straighten the clutter about his feet, "Come back in July, and we'll have the Easter signs up!"

And he glibly responds with, "And by Christmas, Halloween!"

Worse is the exposure of your poor housekeeping methods at the hands of expected visitors. A dear friend comments every time she enters your door, "I'm so glad your home is cluttered like ours - stuff everywhere!", and you comfort yourself that you're a reality ambassador, spreading cheer and lowering expectations. Party guests innocently open the microwave, believing you maintain your appliances, and find what looks like a hideous laboratory from a horror film, so you try to show appropriate horror and blame it on the kids' experiments in blowing up spaghetti. Your father-in-law uses your master bath and is greeted by feminine unmentionables dangling from the doorknob (You're not overly proud of them; you just think they add that extra something to the d├ęcor.) and bits of mustache trimmings in the sink. Too late at night, you pull out the bed from the sleeper sofa to make it up for relatives, and they jump back with an, "Oh my gosh!" and then giggle and point at What Lies Beneath, awed by the magnitude of the decaying debris. You can grumble that you cleaned under there only a few weeks ago as you fetch the vacuum, but they won't believe you.

It's always something that you forgot to hide or clean. Humiliation is just a pair of thongs or a moldy, forgotten sippy cup away.

I used to be prouder of my home...before I had kids and lost a critical, maybe fatal, amount of sleep. I used to make huge, long lists, weeks before entertaining, that included such ridiculous items as these:

Mop floors

Dust ceiling fans and pictures

Polish table, chairs and hutch with olive oil/lemon juice

Mow lawn

Remove bras from bathroom doorknobs

Clear off entertainment center and book shelves

Now my list looks like this:

Try to sweep

Load dishwasher if possible

Hide laundry

Comb hair

Take a nap

Perhaps someday I'll get back to mopping floors with more than wet paper towels stuck to the bottoms of my feet, polishing furniture until I can see my haggard face in it and scrubbing bathrooms every Tuesday morning, but right now I'm tired, and sick of society telling me what the perfect house should look like. Houses come in all shapes and sizes, darnit, and different levels of disorder, decay and maltreatment by dwellers, and I'll take mine as it is, so lived in it's beautiful, with a slice of humble pie to stay.


This post was originally published on this blog in July 2013.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Happily Published Elsewhere

On this blog I have not done a very good job of sharing when my pieces are published elsewhere. I need to get better about that and start supporting more fully those who publish my work, because I appreciate their support.

So a huge shout out goes to Teri Rizvi who founded a website in honor of the late, great Erma Bombeck at the University of Dayton: Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop. Teri has accepted many of my posts for publication, and I am very grateful to have my work appear on such a wonderful, humorous, Erma-honoring site where many accomplished writers appear regularly. Sometimes I feel intimidated, because, really, I am being published alongside these talented people in a place dedicated to one of the greatest humor writers of all time, but I am supremely grateful for the opportunity to be in their company.

My latest post to be featured there actually explains how I got the title for this blog from something my dad uttered nearly every day to his kids for years while we were growing up. You can read all about it HERE. Please share!

The latest post of mine to be published is quite the opposite of a humor post. It is an exceptionally personal faith post. In fact it is so personal that sometimes I groan to think that people I don't know or barely know are reading it. Goodness, people I love madly who may have trouble understanding it, because it is from a decidedly Catholic perspective, are reading it. Nevertheless, it was such a profound experience that I needed to write about it, and my husband suggested I submit it for publication. In it I confess wholeheartedly that I am a sinner, one who often battles discouragement, and that it is by the grace of God that I stand. That post appears at CatholicMom.com and is called Jesus Always Has Our Back.

Thank you, readers and friends, for supporting my endeavors to become a better writer. I am always grateful for your readership and comments. God bless!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Sunday, Not a Fun Day

This week has been something else. Last week bulldozed into this one, piling debris on that I am now attempting to brush off my mood.

My husband had four wisdom teeth pulled last Friday, but he wanted to go to 9am Mass on Sunday nevertheless. During the consecration Matthew's head turned towards me with a very weird expression on his face. My husband then promptly passed out as he was kneeling, eyes still wide open as he slumped against the pew in front. My arms stretched out to brace him, and I attempted to revive him with urgent words, but he was unresponsive for many moments. Others gathered around as Mass went on.

It's the ushers' responsibility to deal with medical emergencies, and our usher did indeed come to assist. Matthew revived, and immediately, fear passing, I burst into tears. A doctor attending Mass came into our pew, explaining that he was a medical professional. Someone asked Matthew if he knew where he was. He replied, "In church." Another woman a couple pews back called 9-1-1, and the doctor made Matthew lie down while an elderly woman propped his legs on her lap to chafe them. Other people brought wet paper towels and cups of water or aspirin, none of which were used by the doctor's orders. It was chaos, and people had to wind around us to get to Communion. I apologized for blocking one gentleman's way, and he hugged me tightly. Then a friend who heads Children's Liturgy of the Word took my youngest two. Poor Ella had been crying over "Daddy". (She's the only one who doesn't call him Papa.) Daniel had been stranded on the other side of the Doc, a pliable, bewildered, but stoic expression on his face. I felt badly for Ana and Berto; they were altar serving and could not come to us. I only found out later that they didn't even know who it was that had passed out.

Eventually the firemen came, and we followed them to the long music room. Matthew became very nauseous in there, and so they recommended having an ambulance take him to the hospital. Many tests were performed, but nothing serious was found. Meanwhile, two very compassionate friends, Diane and Geraldine, took care of our children  by feeding them donuts and lunch, playing games with them and then taking them to the park. There were also many other people in our parish who were very kind to our family. It was an adventurous day for us all, but not my kind of adventure.

Of course, in the days since - what a joy to be obsessive! - I have seen Matthew's wide-eyed face as he slumped against the pew play over and over in my mind. I'm afraid I have fussed over him much more than he would like, refusing to let him drive or go to work on Monday. He is never, ever allowed to scare me so terribly again! That was a very helpless and horrible feeling I had at Mass. I guess we should not have gone, though many of our church family said there could be no better place to faint; everyone can pray for you at once and receive Communion.

At any rate, not only have I been very worried about my man, but I have felt guilty about not taking care of him as I should have after his oral surgery. I made and fed him pudding, jello and watery mashed potatoes, and he was drinking a decent amount of water with his medication, but I feel that I should have been giving him better nutrition and shoving glass upon glass of fluids at him, just as my mother used to do for me when I was ill. He probably was dehydrated or, accustomed as he is to heavy-duty protein from red meat and such, malnourished. I have never been a good nursemaid, I'm afraid, though I really did try to serve his needs.

However, I am, in light of everything, grateful that I did not leave Matthew home alone on Sunday as I had planned to do originally. He is well, thank God, but I warn you, my friends: oral surgery is no laughing matter.




Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Forever Baby, Danny boy

I always get sad around my kids' birthdays. What a very selfish thing, I suppose...but I think about how this time will never come round again: the four-year-old giggles that lift my heart to the clouds with joy, the bedtime songs sung religiously each night, the great dance moves that always make me laugh, and the little blue-eyed, blond-framed face that gazes on me several times a day with abundant love and admiration. Ah, my forever baby!

Berto, my oldest, tells me I shouldn't call Danny Sam my forever baby; he already acts like my baby. Perhaps he's right. My little guy turns five this month and is going to kindergarten next school year. He has already been riding a bike expertly without training wheels for many months; he knows how to beat me at Skip-Bo Junior and Doodle Dice; and he plays soccer and football with his older siblings as if he were as big as they are. He has even had his first crush already, talking about marrying one of the daughters of my good friend, Holly, and saying he'll marry the oldest and then date the youngest (wait....what?!). Soon he'll be losing his first tooth.

When I think of Danny going to kindergarten late this summer, at times I want to celebrate and plan and then at other times I feel a panic attack coming on. Like now, for instance. Once he goes to school, I know there will be peaceful grocery trips where the words Can I have a doughnut? Please! Pleeeease? are never heard. I know there will be hours spent at the computer typing, a whole post unraveled seamlessly in a day, without a little man hanging on my back, begging me to play with him. And I do believe - I do! I do! - that I will finally volunteer at a favorite charity and get to a thousand projects around the house, like collecting and printing all the pictures from the last few years of our family's life to assemble into photo albums.

But then the questions and panic come upon the heels of my plans. Have I made the most of my time in these several months at home with Danny? Have I taken him to the park as often as I should have? Have I played enough games with him, pitched enough baseballs to him in the backyard, explored new places each week....uh, each month?

I haven't really. No. We've stayed home more than we should have while I've tried to be a better writer. I've fretted over the house and all its junk, working to clean it and clear it. I've missed out on sitting with him during library story time, because I always seem to forget or one of the older kids is home sick. Crying out loud, I've let him watch too much PBS while trying to write, read or while wasting my life on Facebook (even if it did partly have something to do with my writing hopes). Of all places, the grocery store was our most regular outing.

Breathe, I think, as I face my shortcomings in trying to be - at least quite often - an active, selfless mom. After all, I have played Red Light/Green Light. I've done my best to arrange regular play dates, even if they weren't at exciting places like the zoo or children's museum. I've read many, many books to him in the afternoon before he finally gave up naps in December. We have worked together on "home preschool": letters, calendar, addition. I've baked with him and danced with him. We have challenged each other in countless board games and have scaled numerous playground structures while playing tag. And I have simply held him, kissed his blond head and gazed into his absolutely adorable little blue-eyed face, still small enough to be nestled in the crook of arm. My Forever Baby I have cherished, even while knowing he will not forever be my baby.


While writing this post I remembered that today was library story time! Being spring break, I packed up all the kids, and Ella joined in story time with Daniel even though she preferred to be doing something else. We got to shake our sillies out, pretend to be monsters in a revised hokey-pokey, and stretch to snatch bubbles before they floated to the ceiling. Later I took the kids for a very rare treat at the mall, letting them all choose whatever unhealthy food court fare they liked. Then we let Daniel, now a wee bit too tall, play in the kids' play area one last time as Berto, Ana and I giggled, vastly entertained by all the little tikes' shenanigans. It was a good day. Sometimes it's all about serendipity and reminding yourself that motherhood is indeed a joy, one that needs your "all in" spirit.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Oh, the Horror!


I don't like chemicals. My favorite products to clean with are vinegar, baking soda and lemons. I refuse to use herbicide on weeds instead of pulling them (when I can get to them). I combat ants with red pepper flakes around my baseboards, and crickets hop around my home in the summer and spring unmolested, because I do despise pesticides. But even I have a chemical threshold, my friends, and after 12 years in this house sans professional pest control, it's been reached. I am now ready to spray chemicals all over my home while cackling, rubbing my hands gleefully and doing a jig.

This is all because I don't believe the words, "You've got my back, right?", should ever be uttered by someone preparing to enter their kitchen at night.

I speak of roaches, enormous roaches.

In speaking about them while remembering the critters encountered during our childhoods back East, an acquaintance said to me, "The roaches are going to inherit the earth."

They can inherit it, but would they mind waiting until we're gone? Long, long gone. We don't know where they've been....but we can guess. They're hideous and huge - none smaller than a mouse, I swear. And these mothers of all cockroaches do not deserve the title of "American" Roach, even if they do have a soft spot for potato chips and bologna sandwich crumbs.

The first time I saw a roach in Arizona, I was pregnant, and it was crawling out of the drain of our apartment’s bathroom sink. Matthew thought I was going into labor when I screamed bloody murder. When we moved to this house, I didn't see one for years, not until that fateful evening. But I was prepared to live and let live, comforting myself that they only appeared when it was cold outside, or the city sprayed for them. But not long ago we started seeing one every several weeks, and then I started seeing them any time my hired assassin and husband, Matthew, was absent. Paranoia gripped me. They sensed I feared and detested them. They were after me.

It felt like a cockroach Reign of Terror. The sightings became regular, and my reactions were all the same: scream, jump back several feet and point with shaking finger. Then one traumatic night I heard them. Matthew and I were watching TV, and I heard a very strange sound indeed, a humming/hissing noise. I went to the kitchen to flip on the light, and there were two cockroaches fighting, hissing at each other. After my command for Matthew to smash the heck out of them, I researched this phenomenon on the Internet, and the information quite plainly stated that the only roaches who hiss are the Madagascar variety. Though I risk your disbelief and the boycotting of my home by dear friends, I tell you what I heard was hissing. And so, obviously, American roaches have evolved, or we have an invasion from Madagascar.

My mental health deteriorating, I had to call pest control, because if things had progressed much further Matthew and I would have been dozing outside our kitchen all night, enormous raid cans in our hands, ready to annihilate our enemies with a flick of the light, getting better at the draw until we were the fastest in the West.

As it was I became a restless sleeper who compulsively flipped on my kids’ bedroom lights late at night. Then one night I dreamed of entering the laundry room and confronting a foot-long roach. Awaking from this horror, I whimpered for Matthew to hold me.

Honestly, I'm surprised horror movies haven't been written about them. If we have outrageous movies about man-eating ants, a plague of grasshoppers, the Blob, surprisingly agile giant spiders, created monsters, Amazon snakes, and zombies, I think we should address the very real horror already among us. Before anyone thought of zombies, I'm betting cockroaches had already been around millions of years, waiting to terrorize humans once they evolved. Roaches are far worse than imagined zombies, anyway, because we know they really would eat our brains if they got a fair chance.

Of course, if the hideous creatures did find their way into cinema, I fear I would not survive the screening - especially if any 3D technology were involved. They'd find me keeled over with those silly paper glasses eschew on my already nerdy, four-eyed face. However, I did happen to think of some ideas. If they get made and you see them, remember: keep your popcorn close, but keep your Raid closer.

The Roach Bride or ROUSes: Watch Out! This Bride is a Bridezilla of immense, hideous proportions. We hope she fries in the Fire Swamp.

Sleeping With the Enemy: In a tiny, rent-controlled New York apartment, a woman routinely eats on her bed/couch for lack of seating. There's only one place for the roaches to go for their crumbs, someplace dark and warm: beneath the sheets.

The Hunt For Raid October: In a world overrun by cockroaches, can a Russian submarine with the world's last known supply of bug spray spark the next World War??

Night of the Living Dead: A mainstream American city sprays its sewers with a fancy new pesticide designed to eliminate the scourge of humanity, and it seems to do a very satisfactory job if its piney scent is any indication. The townspeople believe the buggers are all gone, but as night descends, the whole neighborhood must rally to combat something not quite roach, not quite dead. They're baaaaaack!

As for my personal horror story? Pest control came. I am now considering sending my exterminator flowers every Valentine’s Day, enormous chocolate bunnies each Easter, and a nice gift card at Christmas. You cannot underestimate the power of a few chemicals to buy peace of mind.