Wishing for a rest

Since having children life has changed.

I know that is a trite thing to say. Of course it has, you moron, you might be thinking… And of course, it has changed in all the ways people talk about. I’m tired. I’m busy. Things are messier and more chaotic.

But I’m so much more driven. Because, you see, once you have children, you have goals. I have two goals, because I have two sons. My goals are similar. To see these small humans through successfully to adulthood. These goals are stressful. To me, at least. And they are manifested and pursued in different ways for each of my sons. And that is hard, too.

I look at parents with almost-grown boys and marvel. I shake my head and wonder if they know something I don’t. I wonder if they are wiser or calmer or more intuitive than I am, that they could have managed the enormous feat of raising a boy to near-adulthood successfully. I think of this especially when I see the almost-adult boy doing respectable, polite things. Being cordial and sweet, charming and gracious. I wonder about the people who raised him. How did they manage it?

I am trying. And I am terrified.

One of my sons makes it easier than the other. One of them seems content to just grow up, and I get to hug him and cuddle him and love him along the way. For him, it seems like growing up is just happening. The other wants to fight. He wants to fight me, he wants to fight his peers, but I think mostly he tries to fight himself. He wants to be bigger than he is, older and more mature. He wants to fight time and chronology. And growing up for him seems to be a struggle. And so it’s stressful for me. I lose patience, I get angry. And I constantly ask myself if I’m screwing it all up. If I’m screwing him up. If I’m doing anything right at all.

This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, this child-having. And I know that this stress will not leave me as long as they live in my house. And probably not then. But my goal right now is just to raise them to adulthood. To have two grown, stable men stand next to me and call me “mom.” To know that they are secure and strong, and that I have met my goal – that I can finally hand the responsibility over to them. That I can rest.

And sometimes, I swear, all I want to do is lie down.

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Slowing down the Christmas Crazy

The last few months have been crazy. I once had a small non-stressful contract with a digital publisher that never pushed too hard for crazy revision or overnight edits, and self-published on a somewhat ridiculous schedule… but then I signed with an agent. And while that has been a relief in some ways, it brings a completely different kind of stress. Now I feel like it’s been FOREVER since I’ve had a release, but I’m working twice as hard behind the scenes.

And things are not getting done.

And my kids are growing up so fast.

And a lot of days I wonder if maybe I’m being selfish, trying to get this dream launched when I should be present. And available. And not stressed out because I’m trying to do ALL the things.

But I think I’m too selfish to wait. It took me almost 40 years to get the guts to follow my dreams (I think about 35 of those were spent figuring out what my dreams actually were! Okay, maybe five of them were spent just having fun and running around NYC with my girlfriends…)

Right now I have a book to revise. And there’s a part of me that wants to run around with my hair on fire and get it done right effing now. Because that’s kind of how I am about everything. But the problem with that is that I have so many other PLANS. I want to finish the guest room before Christmas. I want to redecorate the front room… I want to make curtains for the front room. I want to continue nagging the hubs to hang our new dining table light and to set up the home gym in the basement. (Because it turns out I’m supposed to like, exercise, sometimes.)

But for a little while, I’m trying to just BE. To be a mom. To be a person who loves the holidays. To be a grateful wife who knows that these days will not last. More crazy and crisis will come our way. Christmas is only a short time — a month, really, if I get the tree up soon after Thanksgiving. And I know it’s just shiny lights and jingly bells, and that isn’t what the season is about.

But you know what? Those fleeting shiny decorations are representative of so much more to me. They are joy and light, innocence and peace. The sheer mad helpless excitement that my children feel during this month is priceless — and like the season, it is fleeting. I know that they won’t be eight and six forever. Cynicism will set in (after all, they are my kids). And soon the magic will fade. Reindeer won’t fly anymore, Santa will be just a guy in a cheap velour track suit with an unconvincing beard. No one will be wildly excited about a candy cane or beg to help me set up my little village. The glitter will be just shiny dust, and while they’ll always love the tree (because they are my kids), they’ll turn to being excited about different things. Material things.

And so I’m going to pause in my frantic efforts on the publishing treadmill. I’m going to get the book back to my agent in a timely fashion… but before I do, I’m going to hold my children on my lap and read the holiday books they bring home from school. I’m going to light a fire, pour hot chocolate and talk to them about their stockings, muse about where the elf might pop up next, and plan what little treats to stick behind tomorrow’s door on our advent tree. I’m going to take this month and live with my beautiful family, basking in the knowledge that what we have now is good. Is magic.

And this tree–my shiny glowing Christmas tree–makes me think of all of that. I’m sharing it with you in hopes that you will remember to slow down and reflect a little bit this month, too. IMG_1726

The Art

My kids bring home a lot of artwork. Lunchbox is in Kindergarten, so he is still creating huge 11 x 17 paintings and drawings for us to display around the house. Turbo’s art has gotten more intricate, and has lots of complicated houses filled with rooms and beds and–frighteningly–men with guns and sometimes blood. But 8 year old boys will be 8 year old boys, right?

Anyway, I’m out of room. As much as I want to keep every precious memory and wonderful owl made from fingerprints… I can’t. I’m not a hoarder and I don’t want to be one. I know that things that seem precious now are tomorrow’s junk. Don’t get me wrong–I keep a few things each month, tucking them into a folder that I convince myself I will then organize into big binders of keepsakes for them. (I haven’t done that, but I could spring into action any moment!)

So for now, I put the art here.

Today I give you, Red Dragon (Turbo) and Giraffe (Turbo, artwork commissioned by his little brother, Lunchbox, who has a particular affinity for giraffes.)

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Charming Childrens’ Artwork (not)

On Sunday I took Turbo to his soccer game (where an Arctic wind blew freezy air fingers up my butt — hello!), leaving Lunchbox at home alone with the Major. When I got home, the Major told me how they’d had lunch in the trailer in the driveway since he was doing some work on it, and how they’d played CandyLand after lunch. It was one of the first real fall days around these parts, and this whole situation just had me feeling all warm and fuzzy about the way they’d spent their time while we’d been out.

As I walked in with Turbo, I noticed some chalk art on the driveway, and knowing how wholesome the rest of their lunch hour had been, I asked Lunchbox about it.

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“Lunchbox,” I said. “Is that a picture of you and Daddy?”

He grinned at me and shook his sweet little head. “That’s Mr. Fartybottom and Sir Poop.” Then he trotted into the house, leaving me to wonder what the rest of these pictures might be of and whether I should hose them off before we get in trouble for depicting driveway obscenity…

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I’m afraid to ask what these are…

Turbo’s New Room

So Lunchbox got a new room a while ago… I couldn’t leave Turbo out! He’s a little older, so his room needed to be a bit more…mature. After all, he’s eight for frick’s sake!

He’s been on this city-theme kick for a little while, and I’m a skyline-loving girl myself (probably my soul missing NYC as it drowns here in the boonies. But at least we have grass. And trees. And huge bugs… but I digress.) So we decided to do a city theme for Turbo. He had already picked out some great prints from our last trip to IKEA. (If you are sensing a trend here, I’ll go ahead and confirm — yeah, we go to IKEA a lot). So all that was needed was some paint!

Again, this room featured PRIMER wall, a favorite color of the previous homeowners, I guess… and Turbo’s room is DARK with only one window on the north side of the house. Poor Turbo. That’s why he needed a kickass room! Here’s a photo of the awesome (not) before color… 2015-02-27 10.22.14

Not too awesome, is it?

Turbo’s favorite color is red… but I wasn’t game for red walls. So STRIPES! 2015-02-27 12.55.07

But first I had to put down something over this hideous icy blue primer color…

So I painted it out with a nice creamy Navajo White — the same one I used in Lunchbox’s room. Neutral, calm, warm…

And then I got out a level, a pencil and a measuring tape…

measuring stripes

Good times, I tell ya! Notice how some of the stripes look skinnier? I figured this one out the hard way… you draw the lines evenly (assuming you want evenly spaced stripes) and then tape OUTSIDE one stripe (the one that will be colored) and INSIDE the next. So the wide stripes in the photo above will be the ones I paint. As seen below…

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The stripes are only going on two walls, because I have BIG PLANS for the third and fourth… Bear with me, I love this part!

painting skyline on wall

Using thin painter’s tape, I made buildings! I decided to paint a few of them in the same red I used for the stripes — Benjamin Moore’s Million Dollar Red in flat. But I also chose four other shades of dark grays for the buildings, and alternated size, shape, and color as I went along. Painting skyline on wall

This part was pretty fun, but it definitely took a long time… And I had to wait for the paint to dry in one building before I could tape and paint the one next to it. And they each took at least two coats. But I persevered, and I think the final result was worth it! 🙂

Turbo's Room

City skyline on wall

Stripes on room wall

There you have it! What do you think?

Lunchbox gets a new room

Ahem. Yup, I know, I’m really good at blogging. As evidenced by my lack of actual…well… uh, blogging. But HERE I have a shiny new post for you! *pets the computer*

We moved in December. We bought a house and acknowledged that while we live in a state we’d never really given much thought to as California kids (and I’m using the ROYAL WE to indicate me and the Major), we were now just going to go ahead and stay here. Thanks, Marine Corps! I’m sad about it a lot because ALL of our family is about 3000 miles away, and they’re missing a lot of the kids growing up. I talk to friends who get to have Sunday dinners with the grandparents, or go shopping with their moms… and, well… that isn’t what we’ve got happening here. But we got about three times more house than we’d ever be able to afford in California. Plus… water. Around us, falling on us all the time. No drought here, which is good because green makes me ridiculously happy.

But I digress.

I told the kiddos that I’d give each of them a room overhaul twice. Once NOW, and one when they decide their NOW rooms are too young for them. So the next couple postitos will be about their rooms.

I have to give a shout out to Jackie Hernandez at Teal and Lime (SUCH a fun blog!!) because I blatantly COPIED her playroom wall for Lunchbox’s pirate room.

So when we moved in, it was clear the room had been painted a few times. Once red, as evidenced by the splats on the ceiling, and once…black? Maybe? So when we got it, it had lots of primer on the walls to cover that stuff up. And it was pretty blah. But with two windows, it’s got great light. Sometimes I’m jealous — I think Lunchbox got the best room in the house!

So I knew we wanted pirates…and I was so inspired by Teal and Lime, I took her playroom wall and used the waves on three walls, replicating the mural over LB’s bed.

Overbed mural and wave pattern

You may notice a bit of a Jake and the Neverland Pirates theme here… that was a requirement. Over the bed is a Jake nightlight that has a remote control and talks, and some Jake decals that LB can stick on and peel off. More on that soon!

I took the waves around three walls, using a creamy Valspar Signature Churchill Hotel Navajo White in eggshell for the upper half of the wall and inside the whale. This color got used pretty much everywhere in the house, so now I have some for touchup in other places!

On the remaining wall, I wanted to do something with chalkboard paint, and give LB a place where it would actually be OKAY to write on the walls… thus, the octopus!

OctopusThis guy was just freehand — his arms and legs are nice and loopy/wavy, so it was pretty easy to just go with the flow. Here I had them tint the chalkboard paint in the same color I used for the ship and waves — Valspar Signature in Splish Splash. The waves are an eggshell — this was just the tintable chalkboard paint from Valspar (all at Lowe’s!)

The result, once I put the bookshelf back up and everything, is pretty fun! I hung an IKEA bucket filled with chalk on the shelf next to the octopus:

Wall Octopus and chalk

And once the walls were done, I had those two windows to think about. And here’s where Jake is involved again. I picked up about two yards of fun Jake and the Never Land Pirates fabric at Joann’s (on sale, yay!), some plain white duck cloth that was super cheap, and some FolkArt textile medium  to use with my acrylic paints. There was a bit of sewing involved here, but not much. Oh, and I grabbed some of these grommety grommetsthings at Joann’s, too.

painting curtainsI did some measuring and cutting, a bit of straight sewing, and then I painted…

I pulled some examples of “piratey” letters from the Intertubes, and penciled on a skull and crossbones that wasn’t too scary… Lunchbox is only five, after all!

I think it turned out pretty well, and really didn’t take long. The hardest part was the pirate ship, and I swear I probably put this project off for weeks just thinking about how I could do justice to the awesome example I wanted to follow. I ended up freehanding a small version while looking at the picture from Lime and Teal, and then sized it up by drawing a grid over my drawing, drawing a grid on the wall, and replicating what was inside each block. (You learned how to do this when you were a kid, right?) Like this, but I don’t do the math part. 🙂

Anyway, are you ready for the big reveal? Here are my “afters”! PS. I was just getting the hang of the fisheye…apologies for my crappy photography. I’m learning!

Finished curtain and mural with whale and ship

If you’re wondering what the little table is next to the bed, it’s an IKEA Lack table with a Lego board glued to the top. Tiny Lego project table! 🙂

octopus in chalkboard paint, finished curtain

finished curtain and wave wall

Militant Mommyhood

Is your baby wearing white after Labor Day? Oh my...
           Is your baby wearing white after Labor Day? Oh my…

The Beginning

I think I’m pretty firmly out of the baby-having years of my life. I mean, it is probably still physically possible, if not mentally abhorrent. If it were to happen… well, I can’t even bear to entertain the possibility of starting again at the completely clueless, worried-about-every teeny-thing phase of parenthood. Because that was totally me.

You know what I’m talking about. Anyone who has ever stared into the open and unguarded eyes of a tiny baby knows. That life, every infinitesimal thing that makes up that human existence, is quite literally in your hands. And if you’re a new mom, you’re handed this ginormous responsibility at a moment in time when your body is in the worst shape it’s ever been, your hormones are out of control and you may be right on the verge of sanity—thanks to total exhaustion and the sheer enormity of it all.

But it doesn’t matter how tired you are, or if you’re basically wearing a grownup diaper and hopped up on Motrin, because the most important job of your life starts now. If you’re like me, you read ninety-seven books about what to expect while you were pregnant. But I read maybe, oh, half a book about what to expect once I had this defenseless human being actually in my arms as the rest of the world felt like it was spinning slowly out of my control and my identity receded so far beneath my nursing bras and swaddling blankets that I wasn’t even sure who I was. I was unprepared. And even the new moms I know who read ALL the right books about how to handle that 6-pound squalling world-disruptor were pretty damned lost once the time really came.

Dads are part of the equation—of course they are. But dads, at least most dads I know, manage to be a bit outside the frenzy and tornadic shitstorm that is managing a new human life. Maybe it’s because they traditionally take just a few days or weeks off and then their lives essentially go back to normal while the moms take on most of the new-baby stuff. (In this country, at least.)

All the Ways You’re Doing it Wrong…

And so it is confusing to me that so many moms—all of whom have shared the life-altering shock, pain and confusion of having a first child to some degree—are willing to pile on one another when it comes to figuring out how this should all be done.

Why is there a legion of moms standing at the ready to pour on the guilt when a new mom realizes that breastfeeding is not going to work for her? Why are there dozens of websites and Facebook groups positioned as being there to help and assist new mothers, that will quickly deride and condemn them for deciding that baby-wearing or co-sleeping isn’t right for them? Or that they are right? There are militant mommies on BOTH sides. Why are cloth diapers the only way to go – or wait, you live in the desert (or California) where water is scarce? Then how dare you use cloth diapers when it takes so much of that precious resource to clean them and reuse them? (see? Both sides, I tell you.)

When I was a frightened new mom, with a sparkly new human life in my hands—at a time when I should have been enjoying my baby and my new definition of self—I was completely paralyzed by fear, guilt and shame. I couldn’t breastfeed. I did it for eight whole weeks—three weeks after the doctor advised me to stop. I remember when the Major came home from work one day and I was sitting on the couch crying as I pumped blood and milk into a bottle. The mastitis and yeast infections were so bad that feeding felt like pulling glass through my breast, and much of the milk I made couldn’t be fed to my new baby anyway. But I knew that “breast was best,” and I’d be damned if I was going to take the easy way out for something this important.

I hope you see the insanity in the above statement.

My baby was losing weight. But my lactation consultant said I just needed to persevere. It would certainly get easier. It would become second nature. But it didn’t. And Turbo was hungry. But formula was the enemy, right?

No.

Formula was the right choice for us. And when Lunchbox’s turn came, I tried again, but we had the formula ready to go. And he was a fat and happy little guy, well fed and sweet.

And neither of my formula-fed boys has shown any sign of harm from my choice. By the way, my brother the rocket scientist was also formula fed. He’s over six feet tall. I don’t think formula stunted his intelligence or development. I was formula fed, too…

Don’t Listen to the Militant Mommies Around You

Here are the things I want new mommies to know, and I hope that hearing THIS from a mommy who has been there might help counter some of the messages that surround new moms, the propaganda put forth by the Militant Mommyhood:

  1. Feed your babies however you choose, but hold them tight when you do it, and look into their tiny faces, and smile. And know that you are taking care of them. (Having Mom smiling while holding a bottle of formula HAS to be more soothing than having Mom sob while you suck frantically at a scabbed nipple that barely makes milk, right?)
  2. Diaper your kids in whatever way works for you. Make your choice based on your beliefs and capabilities. Don’t let anyone pressure you in one direction or the other.
  3. You DO NOT have to make your own baby food and freeze it in ice cube trays. Don’t you have enough crap to do right now?? But if you DO have time to do this, then be proud that you’re doing what works for your family.
  4. Goldfish crackers are not the devil. Your kid will probably prefer carbs to veggies once they hit three or four, no matter how diligent you are at introducing healthy foods first. I speak from experience.
  5. Put the baby on a schedule. Or don’t. You have to do what works in your house, for your life. Don’t be bullied.
  6. Putting your tiny one in the swing and taking a minute to read a magazine doesn’t make you a bad mom. Good moms are happy moms. Find ways to get time for you and relax. Happy moms don’t spend every waking moment with their children. Happy moms regain their identity and independence over time. Don’t be afraid to do the things you enjoy doing WITHOUT a baby strapped to your chest.
  7. Babies are resilient. I think mine are made of rubber. You will make mistakes. And it will be okay.
  8. Most of all – SURVIVE. The first year is about getting your feet back under you and adjusting to the biggest change you’ll ever endure. Survive it. And if you can find those bright gleaming moments of wonder and joy in there, treasure them! Do it your way, and know that you are doing it right FOR YOU.