Where I’ve Been

I haven’t blogged about Easter. One of my best friends is Greek, so I thought I could hold out until Greek Easter and, even though we aren’t Greek, somehow make that work via a nice transition about Easter, friendship and spring but Greek Easter was May 5 and it’s May 30 so, well, whatever.

Some excuses:

• I’m doing a lot of freelance work. So much so, that I’ve even allowed myself to hire a babysitter so that I can work some during the day. This is so.hard. for me to do. Because, if I do all my work at night, I make more money (by not spending some of it on a sitter). But lately Andy’s had to force me out of bed in the morning due to me working late most nights. I miss my evenings.

• We lost our camera. It might be in the van. Or my friend’s house. Or under a pile of clothes in my bedroom. But because of this, Andy hasn’t been able to upload any photos for me. So Owen and James, if you’re reading this years from now and wondering why I haven’t written about your birthday yet, this is why.

• I didn’t watch “Arrested Development” when it first aired. Therefore, Andy has convinced me that I need to watch all 60+ episodes so we can watch the new episodes together. So far I’ve watched four. (It’s really funny.) I have a long ways to go.

• Potty training.

I hate potty training.

I’m good at looking at the bright side. Today, for example, I mowed the grass. I bribed the kids (popsicles) to stay on the porch while I mowed and much of the mowing was done with me looking over at them seeing them screaming at me (likely because God forbid popsicle juice was dripping onto their fingers) while I mouthed “I can’t hear you!” and frantically tried to finish before they completely melted down. But. I got exercise. I worked on my tan (lines). Our yard looks (sort of) better. See? Bright side.

There’s no bright side to potty training.

The end result, you say? That’s potty trained. There’s no bright side to potty training.

Some highlights of today:

• I used the carpet cleaner four times.

• I cleaned the hardwood floor three times.

• James peed on my cell phone.

• The boys spent a considerable portion of the day outside, in their underwear and T-shirts.

• Owen, after I chased him down, picked him up and put him on the potty said, “I WANT TO GO TO A NEW HOUSE! I DON’T LIKE THIS HOUSE ANYMORE!”

• James earned one—ONE—sticker on his chart.

• Owen earned none.

Also, they hide.

Whenever the timer rings and it’s time for them to sit on the potty, they run and hide.

So there you go. My May.

I’ve been so eager to turn the calendar page to June.

“It’s been said that adults spend the first two years of their children’s lives trying to make them walk and talk, and the next sixteen years trying to get them to sit down and shut up. It’s the same way with potty training: Most adults spend the first few years of a child’s life cheerfully discussing pee and poopies, and how important it is to learn to put your pee-pee and poo-poo in the potty like big people do. But once children have mastered the art of toilet training, they are immediately forbidden to ever talk about poop, pee, toilets and other bathroom-related subjects again. Such things are now considered rude and vulgar, and are no longer rewarded with praise and cookies and juice boxes. One day you’re a superstar because you pooped in the toilet like a big boy, and the next day you’re sitting in the principal’s office because you said the word “poopy” in American History class (which, if you ask me, is the perfect place to say that word).” —Dav Pilkey, Captain Underpants and the Preposterous Plight of the Purple Potty People

Interruptions While Editing

I’m in the middle of a huge editing project. (Every page in that almost-1,000-page stack is filled with 10-point type, single spaced.) When tackling this same project in the past, I’ve only worked on it after the kids have gone to bed. This year, to avoid 2am bedtimes, I’ve started immediately after dinner. I’m not sure why, in the past, I’ve felt an obligation to continue changing diapers, playing Candy Land and reading picture books once Andy was home. Asking him to take over has made this project easier and me, a more sane person. It’s been a good lesson: That it’s OK to stop, hand over, let things go, allow the dust bunnies in the corners to sit a while longer.

I’m also trying to do some editing during the day. But, I’m often interrupted. To illustrate:

• “MOMMY! I HAVE A BOOGER!” (I look up to find Owen standing in front of me with, indeed, a huge booger on the tip of his finger.)

• “Can I have a snack?” (Sophie. I get her a small bowl of applesauce. Resume editing.) “Can I have cinnamon on my applesauce?” (I get her cinnamon. Resume editing.) “Can I have some milk, please?” (I get her milk. Resume editing.) “I need a napkin!” (I get her a napkin. Resume editing.) “I need more milk. Please.” (Give up editing.)

• “My train. My train! MOMMY! FIX MY TRAIN!” (James then falls into a sobbing heap on the floor as he can’t get his Thomas train back on its tracks. I then spend five minutes myself trying to get said train—and freight cars—back on their tracks. Only to then be told that it’s going in the wrong direction.)

• “MOMMY! James keeps calling me a cat! I’m NOT A CAT, James! I’m O.w.en.!” (Can’t resume editing until I convince James that Owen is, indeed, not a cat. And can’t resume editing until I convince Owen that James no longer believes he’s a cat.)

• “What ya doing, Mommy?” (Sophie. Who has climbed up on my bed, aka my desk. Even though Andy is home and she is supposed to be with him. I explain.) “Oh.” (She stares.) “Can I help?” (I tell her no. Explain why. She stares.) “What do all those letters say?” (I tell her what the book is about.) “I can tell you the letters if you want. I know them!” (Thank her. Ask if she’d like to have a tea party with her dolls in her room.) “What do all those marks mean?” (Explain editing marks.) “Can I have your red pen when you’re done?” (I yell for Andy.)

• OWEN JUST TOOK MY TRAIN! OWEN JUST TOOK MY PERCY! That’s MY Percy, Owen! NO! GIVE. IT. BACK. (Sob.) Owen took my Percy!” (Editing is then interrupted every 10 minutes for the timer rule. Someone gets Percy. The other person gets to push the buttons on the microwave to set the timer for 10 minutes. When the timer rings, the two switch. It’s incredibly effective, except that my work is interrupted every 10 minutes.)

• silence (Something is wrong. I have to stop and check. Can almost guarantee James is sneaking some sort of food he shouldn’t be eating.)

• “MOMMY! You have to come upstairs RIGHT NOW. It’s-so-important-it’s-just-if-you-don’t-come-up-here-right-now-it’s-going-to-be-really-really-bad.” (I run upstairs. All seems fine. I ask Sophie what’s wrong.) “Can you brush my dolly’s hair?”

• (I’m sitting in bed, editing while listening to the kids laugh and scream outside my open window—my mom once told me about cassette tapes sent to soldiers with the recorded sound of children’s laughter, how popular they were, how needed. I then hear intense stomping on the hardwood stairs.) “Mommy! I have a special flower for you!” (I’m gifted a little white flower from our backyard tree—two of the petals ripped.) “Smell it!” (I do. I look at the face smiling up at me. Beaming, really. And I’m reminded that sometimes, sometimes, I love the interruptions.)

“The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s own or real life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life.” —C.S. Lewis

An Extra 24 Hours, Please

I think I saw on Facebook or on a blog or in an article or something somewhere about someone lamenting that people don’t tell the truth online. That lives are depicted as rosy perfect when, in reality, things are often messy (sometimes a happy mess, yes, but messy nonetheless).

This is just one of the piles in my house. And note that this is the right side of the desk. The left side isn’t pictured. (Also, I think it’s funny that the blue pamphlet sticking out, the one about needing an oil change, says OVERDUE in bold.)

I have piles of folded clothes and unfolded clothes all over my bedroom.

I (finally!) found a corner TV stand on Craigslist. It’s in a pile of pieces, in the basement, waiting its next coat of paint. As such, our TV is on the floor in our living room and our window seat is covered in piles of DVDs, cords, players, speakers and whatnot. (Turns out I should have held onto our old TV stand a little longer before selling it.)

There are piles of train tracks in the boys’ room.

There are piles of dolls in Sophie’s room.

The playroom is pretty much a big pile of stuff in and of itself.

I have piles of freelance work to do.

I have piles of picture book queries to send out (thanks to the piles of rejections I’ve received).

I have piles of e-mails to respond to.

I have 21 saved voicemails on my cell phone and I’m pretty sure I saved them all simply because they needed something more from me.

I’m drowning.

I know, I know, I know. Playing with my kids is more important than a clean home. But I’m not talking about dust-free baseboards here. I’m talking about being able to walk through my bedroom without tripping.

So there you have it. My Wednesday morning truth.

I hope, at the very least, to be treading water soon.

We’ll see.

Right now, someone stole a train from someone else and that someone else is screaming like a banshee, threatening with a plastic dinosaur.

Off I go.

“He was swimming in a sea of other people’s expectations. Men had drowned in seas like that.” —Robert Jordan

The Brook’s Song

This morning I walked past unmade beds …

and a laundry basket overflowing with dirty clothes …

and a playroom that, honestly, more often than not looks like this.

I walked down the stairs past the frame in our wall gallery that still has the model family in it, as I haven’t had time to choose, print and pick up a picture to take its place.

I stepped over the large, rolled-up rug in our entry, which has yet to sell on Craigslist—probably because I haven’t gotten around to actually posting it yet.

I walked past a pile of dried-up wipes James emptied from the wipes container …

and nearly stepped on a tube of suntan lotion, resting next to Sophie’s ballet outfit, which she wore two days ago.

I took a sideways glance at the pile up of cars, each of which fell to their demise after being pushed down the sloping arm of our leather and oak mission chair.

I walked underneath the Happy Birthday banner, still up after Andy’s birthday earlier this week.

I walked through the dining room and looked out our windows only to be reminded of the fact that our lawnmower is still at the shop, our grass is much too tall, there is a great possibility our fence will never be finished and weeds have overtaken our flower beds.

Once in the kitchen I checked on the quilt my mom made for Owen, which is soaking in a tub of cold water because of an overnight bloody nose diaster.

I looked at the counters, still covered with dirty dishes, some in the process of being washed, thanks to a broken dishwasher.

Up late last night with freelance work I yawned, wishing coffee could make itself. The boys were yelling “banana” repeatedly and Sophie was inside the refrigerator, taking stock of all the new things Andy had brought home from the grocery last night.

I broke a banana in half and pulled out a large container of strawberry yogurt, Sophie’s favorite. While I was spooning it into a bowl she said she wanted vanilla. With honey in it.

The vanilla yogurt, actually Greek yogurt, is my yogurt. It comes in small, individual, expensive containers and so I limit myself to about three a week. I add honey. I love them. They’re my treats.

“No, Sophie.” I said. “Those are mine. You love strawberry yogurt.”

Cue whining/complaining/tears/other it-is-way-too-early-for-this reactions.

I gave her the strawberry yogurt. More whining/complaining/tears/other it-is-way-too-early-for-this reactions.

Perhaps I was being selfish, not giving her the Greek yogurt. Perhaps I should have held my ground, and insisted she eat the strawberry yogurt. But the weight of the whining, the mess, the late nights, the broken lawnmower and the broken dishwasher, Owen’s physical therapy appointment which we were already late for, the painful blister on my foot from (stupidly) wearing flip flops while pushing all three kids in the stroller all the way to the farmer’s market yesterday all became too much.

I gave her the Greek yogurt. And a bottle of honey (which I, perhaps, placed too hard in front of her, as it fell over). I walked into the kitchen and gripped the counter.

“Go upstairs,” Andy said. “Take a break.”

“I can’t take a break,” I said. “You’ll be late for work if I take a break. I can never, ever, ever take a break.”

Of course that last sentence was not true. But many days, it feels like that.

Andy went upstairs to take a shower. I started coffee. And poured myself a bowl of generic rice cereal and began to eat.

“Mommy?” Sophie asked. “I don’t want the vanilla yogurt. Can I have strawberry instead?”

“The brook would lose its song if you removed the rocks.” —Fred Beck


Sophie knows that Andy goes to work every day. And that he works on a computer every day. And that his work earns our family money every day.

She attends a Montessori preschool and the word “work” is used often. So she also understands work as an activity she pulls off of a shelf and takes to a small rug to complete.

But I don’t think she quite understands my work. She certainly doesn’t consider the stay-at-home-mom work I do every day as work. And I don’t want her to think of my taking care of her as “work,” even though every once in awhile I secretly would like her to know that the reason she has food every day and clean clothes every day and a bath (most) days is because of the “work” Andy and I do.

But I also have other work, freelance editing and writing work. I’ve tried to explain this work to her. But she simply thinks (and tells people) that my job is playing on the computer. Lately, however, my editing work has been a bit more old-fashioned—I’ve been editing on paper, with a red pen. And having grown tired of all-nighters (something I was able to do quite easily in college, but has become increasingly hard for me the older I get), I’ve been trying to do more of this work during the day, while the boys nap. Sophie is intrigued by this work. And after hearing me say “no” for the 10th time to her request to “help” me with my work (which invariably involves drawing a flower on the pages I’m editing, something I’m sure my editors love) she gets out her own work.

We have never pushed workbooks or flashcards or the like on Sophie, thinking that she will have enough of that in her lifetime. But we’ve also discovered that she loves workbooks. Loves them. She loves tracing letters and doing simple addition and subtraction and finding opposites and differentiating between big and small. Of course, she loves playing with her plastic princess figurines and wooden castle and ponies and dolls much more. But when she sees me doing my work, she insists on doing her work. Hence the picture above (and yes, she’s wearing her bathing suit and sporting a train tattoo on her arm).

She concentrates so hard on this work. And she zips through workbooks so quickly. Grandma and Paw Paw brought her two this weekend, and she’s almost through both of them.

I love that she loves her work. I love that she’s eager to learn. I love the way she wrinkles her brow and purses her lip when she’s trying to think something through. But I also worry. I got As and Bs (and some Cs) in school, but unlike some people, I had to work for the grades—really work for them. And I stressed over my work. This was not my parents’ doing. In fact, they once approached a parent-teacher conference with concern over the amount of time I was spending, worrying about homework. As such, for the rest of the year, my teacher would put a time limit on the top of all my homework assignments, big, red, circled. Once the time limit was up, I had to stop, no matter how unfinished, how imperfect. At first, this additional hurtle worried me to no end. But in the end, it was one of the greatest gifts ever given to me.

I think the best kind of work is work that doesn’t feel like work. I feel those who live that life are lucky. I try to live that life, with caring for my children and my other work, my writing and editing. (But trust me, when it’s 2am and I still have hours of editing left, I often don’t feel lucky.) I also admire those who find joy in work I love to hate—laundry, scrubbing bathrooms, weeding, even cooking. I strive to find joy, fulfillment and contentment in these everyday chores. Some days I do, some days I don’t—even when I remind myself to be grateful that I have a yard to weed, bathrooms to scrub, clothes to wash and good food to cook.

But for now, it’s clear Sophie finds great joy in her work, tracing letters, X’ing big stars and circling little stars, matching. So I let her be. Let her grow. Let her learn. And I hope that passion for work stays with her always, not in an every-day always, but in a big-picture always. And perhaps most, I hope her grownup work is work she loves just as much as her childhood work. Work she looks forward to doing, enjoys doing, loves having done. I realize this requires a combination of skill, luck and attitude, but it’s something I so desperately want for her, for all my children, for everyone.

“Nothing is really work unless you would rather be doing something else.” —James Matthew Barrie