Q & A

   

Jordan Catalano: "Why are you like this?"

Angela Chase: "Like what?"

Jordan Catalano: "Like, how you are."

- My So-Called Life

 

What kind of world would this be, if we just asked?

Why do you hold that opinion?

Why do you feel that way?

What caused you to react in that fashion?

Asking questions is the first step to shutting down that primal instinct...judgement. But it's hard. It's hard to listen. It's easy to form opinions. Harder to have them challenged.

This week I found myself in a position of judging, being judged, and then judging someone for judging me. Quite the roller coaster. I feel about the same as I did after riding the Voyage at Holiday World...bruised, irritable, and wondering why I agreed to go on that ride in the first place.

I am still trying to learn something from the events of this week. When is judgement appropriate, if ever? How can you help someone you love from getting hurt? How far is too far in understanding where a person is coming from? At what point is benefit of the doubt an enabler?

I wish it were more acceptable to ask questions. I wish I had plenty of opportunity to get down and dirty and really find out why people feel the way they do, and now it compels them to act. I catch glimpses here and there, and sometimes it makes me grumpy. The more clearly I can see the origins of behaviors, the less able I am to get really stewed about perceived injustice. It all becomes a huge pile of muckety muck to sift through.

And it all boils down to who I can control, and that is myself. Part of the judgement I was passing this week involved gaining control over a situation that I felt was out of control, and trying to twist it into submission by making declarations using the limited information I have. And you can guess how well that went.

And then it was mirrored back to me, passive aggressively. I could see the control that was desired. And I could see how the opposite effect was achieved. Instead of being drawn in by my manipulator, I was fully repulsed and furious.

If we know that we draw more flies with honey than vinegar, why do we keep putting out the vinegar? Is that not the definition of insanity?

I want a world where when we first, when we very first feel the swellings of condemnation in our heart, first say "Wait. Let me hear from you. Why do you feel this way? What happened? Who affected you? How did xyz occur? " How much misunderstanding, hostility, fury, and general tongue clucking could be avoided just by gaining perspective? And if these questions can't get answered, that we invent a few of our own, if for no other reason than to infuse gentleness into our hearts.

The questions we answer on our own though...let me be clear...must be answered in a way that does not demean the other person. Because we do this always...we are constantly making up answers to questions. And usually the conclusions we come to are less than favorable.

But there is the other side of the coin too...what if you ask all those questions, and get all your answers, and the other person is still wrong?

Well, it's not about them being right.

It's not about building a pedestal instead of an effigy.

It's about the whole person, in all their parts.

If you asked those questions, and they are still wrong, the point is that you asked. The point is that you did not assume.

And by not assuming, you open yourself to love.

And by loving, you are gentle.

And in gentleness, your light can shine.

And when your light shines, the path is illuminated.

And when the path is illuminated, you can walk on it.

And maybe, someone will come with you.

Parenting Paradoxes

  If you are a parent, or are about to become one, congratulations! You are about to go on a magnificent journey where you will quickly learn that you can't do anything right!

Here are the rules of the game.

Don't let your baby cry in public.

Breastfeeding might help them stop crying.

Don't breastfeed in public.

If you want your child to stop hitting, hit them.

If you want your kid to stop screaming, scream at them.

Kids need to behave like miniature adults.

Miniature adults will still be treated as second class citizens with no right to be in public.

A woman with a nursing baby is rude and entitled if she takes her child to a social event.

A woman with a nursing baby is a neurotic helicopter mom if she opts to stay at home and breastfeed rather than get a sitter.

Children should show respect to adults who are then allowed to tease, talk down to, and be rude to kids.

Fathers should spend more time with their children, but not in public, because a man alone with children looks like a pedophile.

Do what's best for your child, as long as it's what everyone else is doing.

If you put your children first, you are an overbearing martyr.

If you don't, you are neglectful jerk.

If your kid is crying, pick that kid up. Unless, of course it's the middle of the night and it's dark. Then, he's on his own.

Total strangers know more about you, and your child, and how to parent said child, than you do.

This goes double if they have no kids of their own.

 

What would you add to the list?

 

Having It All or Having Enough?

   

I knew I couldn't have it all, knew there was no such thing.

So I didn't try.

That was my first mistake.

I thought, if I never reach for anything beyond my grasp, I will never be dissatisfied.

That was the first lie I told myself.

I don't know why I equated every career with long hours and brief cases and day care and nannies and pumping or formula feeding and never being able to care for my own kids.

I didn't want that, so I thought I wanted nothing.

Not that my kids are nothing. My children are not nothing.

But when faced with their voices being the only voices I hear, and the only tasks before me the preparation of food, the washing of clothes and the scrubbing of toilets, I lost a piece of myself.

I was told it was enough. I am not sure whose voice I was listening to. It wasn't my mother, or my grandmother, or my aunts. It wasn't my teachers. It might have been a woman I imagined out of whole cloth, based on a world that doesn't exist, but that I wanted to. An imaginary lady I built out of sadness and fear, out of a little girl's wish that things would never change.

Sometime in my formative years the lady with the apron and pearls became, not an object of satire, but once again, a goal.

And I was determined to make it happen.

Never mind the socio-economic climate had changed.

Never mind that in our technology-driven world it's easier than ever to telecommute.

I romanticized the pioneer, who would give her eye-teeth for my washing machine. I decided that being "poor" was an admirable goal.

I didn't know anything different. What I didn't know, I couldn't miss.

How foolishly did I dismiss my capacity for desire.

Let me be clear. I will never be sorry that I have been present for my children.

I will never be sorry that I have breastfeed for 8 years of my life (I counted!)

What I do regret was dismissing my chances at am education. That I took for granted the joy of learning at the feet of an elder, of being critiqued by a wise instructor. That I missed the chance to sit in a group, and talk about Shakespeare and Flannery O'Connor. That I shouldered the burdon of my education myself, and found myself wanting as my own teacher.

I could have gone to college for free.

I said no.

Now, as my children age, I am face with the fact that my talent cannot save me.

I have diminished my earning power by not recognizing early on that I deserved to have some.

I am nearing 35 years old, and I don't know what to be when I grow up. Or I do, and I realize I am 15 years behind.

I have watched my friends who were like me go in their own directions, becoming like the Proverbs 31 woman. They are present for their families. They are also doulas, midwives, photographers, fashion designers, antique dealers, realtors, soap makers, cloth diaper and cloth pad makers, yoga instructors, accountants, and teachers (even if it's just their own little ones.) They have found their voice, sometimes in their own fingertips.

I do not sew. I do not have a scientific mind. There is no product I can make that someone else could not do 1000x better. And I recognize that while not everyone requires formal education, I do. Even if I am never hired for a position, I cannot dismiss the fact that there is a wealth of knowledge in this world that is not mine, because I did not gather it. All I have is my voice. It is strong. But not strong enough for me.

I want my daughter to know that she is greater than the sum of her parts. That perhaps she can not have it all. But she can have MORE. She is allowed to help her families financial security. She does not have to find her fulfillment exclusively in homemaking (although that is a fulfilling thing, no question. But it's not the only one.) I want her to be defined by a myriad of things. Wife and mother yes, she will probably choose that. But she will choose more.

Because she can.

It won't hurt a thing.

Perhaps...it might even help.

My Voice is Changing

   

When I started this blog, I was a specific type of person. A stay at home mom. A homeschooler. Moderate to conservative. I wanted a houseful of kids and I figured eventually I'd get really good at housekeeping and teaching and caring for my kids. Eventually the picture I had in my mind of the person I was would mesh with my real life. I'd be me, only better.

But I didn't stay that person, and neither can my blog represent it. I'm growing up...my voice is changing.

I wanted to be a persona. I've always relished being real, transparent. But only so far. I really wanted to be that version of myself at the top of the blog (I was dressed for a parade when that picture was taken, for a job I was eventually fired from, for being too opinionated.) But that's not the real me. And the old Mammacake isn't me either. I have discovered there are things that are deeply important to me, and I didn't have an outlet for what I wanted to talk about. And I didn't know what to do. Start a new blog? Shut and stop worrying about it? No answer I could come up with could possibly satisfy me. And I finally realized what I needed to do, so I am doing it.

Mammacake is part of my identity, in all of it's parts and forms. Maybe it wasn't fully baked years ago, and maybe we'll have to work on the toppings a bit. The recipe might always be changing. But that's ok. This is my platform. And I have a right to tell the truth in my own space.

Allow me to introduce myself.

I'm Kate.

I'm 34 years old.

My husband is Hugh. He's funny and smart and he deserves a million times what I can offer him, and is ready for his ship to come in. He's worked hard enough.

I am the mother of four bright, beautiful children I do not deserve, but thoroughly enjoy (mostly.)

I have struggled with "mental illness" my entire life, and am trying to put together what parts are environmental and what parts are inborn. So far, I am recognizing the body/mind connection is strong, and to stay mentally healthy you HAVE to be physically healthy.

I love gay people. And mormons.

I'm an abuse survivor.

I'm a lactivist and and intactivist.

I will probably never get over my homeschooling failure.

I'm a stay at home mom who never finished college, and every day I question the decisions that put me in this position.

I'm a progressive Christian, which is like living in no-man's land. It's very lonely and scary here.

I have a vast collection of 80s earrings.

I listen to Loretta Lynn over the dishpan.

I don't own a dishwasher. I don't much like that fact.

But I do like thinking, and writing, and having someone listen.

Thanks.

Father's Day 2012

This was read by me at the Father's Day Program at Grace Church of the Nazarene today.

Every Mother’s Day it seems that every mother is honored as being a special sort of person
who rises above the chaos, takes the bull by the horns,
and creates a haven for her family
out of cobwebs, apple pie, tracked in mud, and hot chocolate.
I am here to tell you that every song, film, poem, or humorous reading I have ever heard on the subject of motherhood reminds me of one person above all others.
My husband.
Holding our baby's hand in the hospital during a breathing treatment
He has cleaned up vomit, mine and the kids’.
He’s unclogged the vacuum countless times, not so I can use it, but so he can.
He’s been known to wash a load of laundry (particularly when vomit is involved.)
He doesn’t always remember to clean the lint filter, but that’s ok. I don’t always remember to clean the house.
He makes the world’s best pigs-in-a-blanket, is an expert bacon fryer, and is the reason Subway invented the term "Sandwich Artist."
He has slept on ½ inch of bed space as long as we have had children, and has taken more than one nap with a kid sitting on him. I have the pictures to prove it.
He’ll rock a baby for an hour if that’s what it takes.
Here’s to the dads who aren’t afraid to change diapers, and who never use the word "babysitting" when it comes to their own offspring.
To the dads who don’t just toss a pigskin, but also cradle a porcelain tea cup.
To the dads who give out hugs as freely as they give out quarters.
To the dads who are brave enough to cry.
On Father’s Day we thank you men who do not reside on the mountaintop, but down on the shag carpet.
The boo-boos you have kissed, the hair you have put into pony tails,
the legos you have stepped on, the bike seats you have held on to until the last moment and then let go of,
the "I hate yous" you have endured and the "I love yous" that you have cherished will never be forgotten.
The work you are doing cannot be measured, and the love you are creating will never stop leapfrogging across time.
Thank you for being brave enough to say yes.
To say no. To sometimes stop, and sometimes go.
To the fathers that have gone on before,and those who are here,
the ones who are separated from their children, and the ones who have no partner to share the load.
To those, who instead of being a natural father to a few, instead became a father figure to many.
To all the fathers who try and fail, and  try and win, we thank you.

Crying Over Spilled (and Spoiled) Milk

  It started with a dish towel.

Felix woke up from his nap and toddled down the stairs where he found me at the sink, with a drying cloth tossed over my shoulder. "GIMME DAT!" he yelled. I looked around me. What? "GIMME DAT" he shouted again, and I grew more perplexed. Finally I gingerly reached up and touched my shoulder. "My towel?" "Yesh." "Say please..." I handed Felix the towel and he said, authoritatively, "Put it' away!" and he actually went and hung it on the towel bar.

Obviously my baby held some resentment towards my dish towel. If am holding a dish towel, I am working. And if I am working, I am not giving him attention. Oops. I'm doing it wrong. Whatever happened to the family behaving as a well-oiled unit, joyfully working together? Isn't he supposed to get his own towel and join me in drying the dishes?

Somewhere along the line I failed. I failed myself, and my kids. I didn't take care of myself. I didn't get enough sleep, I let my eating spiral out of control, and my lack of discipline in these areas made really good, intentional parenting impossible. Somehow, by grace and nature I got some decent kids anyway. Imperfect, but lovable and basically decent people.

But slobs. Oblivious. Self-centered. Just plain grody. They treat the house like it's their own private compost barrel, leaving orange peels and apple cores EVERYWHERE. It's influencing Felix, the artisan cheesemaker, who takes a cue from his siblings in that department so that he leaves sippy cups of milk in various stages of coagulation all over the house. They throw garbage near the general vicinity of the garbage can. They carpet the house with legos and stomp on books and leave papers all over the house. It makes me angry, and depressed. And it's completely my fault (well, they also have a father...)

So, I decided to take action. No fancy chore charts. I just glanced over the situation, made up a plan in my head, pulled a notebook from my purse (not one that I had purchased especially for this. Just a notebook. I had gotten pulled too many times into the idea that things had to be fancy or specialized.) I made each big kid write their names down on a sheet of paper, and after they completed a chore they got to write down an amount of money I dictated to them. If they got done early, they got extra money, plus that time added onto their break.

Did it work? Mostly yes. The kids worked hard, didn't whine too much, and earned a decent amount of cash. My sons used almost an entire bottle of Ajax dish soap doing the dishes when perhaps a quarter of the bottle would do, and Linus put away all the dishes wet and in no semblance of order. But they did all the dishes, and Alice and I sorted most of the upstairs laundry, and the yard was clean, and the living room picked up. I was pretty high on my success.

To cap off the day I decided it would be a great idea to watch the show "Hoarders" as a family. Um. Wow. I was not prepared for my kid's reactions. Screaming. Anger. Tears. Panic attacks. Too much? Probably. But I think it helped them understand what we are trying to avoid.

Then there was today. Maybe it wasn't a good idea to start a diet on a day you are also starting other life changes and when you haven't been to the grocery in a few days and have little appropriate food. But, I tend to be all or nothing. Besides, a well-meaning but dopey lady at my church asked if I was expecting because that's the only reason a woman would ever wear a boxy dress that shows her gut. Not that she might just be FAT. Nothing motivates you quite like that.

But I was STARVING and I spent the morning preparing my grocery list and doing freelance work and we got a late start. Late starts plus low blood sugar = HULK SMASH. I was already feeling irate when I opened the fridge and an ENTIRE DOZEN EGGS jumped out of my fridge and cracked on the floor. As if this wasn't bad enough, the same thing happened last week with an ENTIRE GALLON OF MILK. Not only are my kids oblivious slobs but they haven't figured out the magic of stacking things, preferring to throw them willy-nilly into the fridge, and not move things around. Their father the Tetris champ would be ashamed.

So, after many bad words and a mom who was frantic with hysteria, we took time off. And after I had dinner we started again. We got about an hour of work done. Not completed, but that's ok. I'm forgiving myself and my wild notions of perfection. Tonight, I'm making a list on a good old fashioned sheet of paper, and tomorrow we'll cross off what we can. And it will be fine.

Now we just have to Felix past his fear of dish towels.

To the Original MammaCake!

   

Happy Mothers Day...

To the woman who birthed me without drugs and when I would ask, "Didn't you SCREAM?" would shrug and say "No, not really. It wasn't that bad." She gave me the courage to do the same. I did scream, but she made me BRAVE.

To the woman who nursed me for a year, and nursed my brothers. I, in turn, nursed first my baby dolls and then my own four children. She made it feel normal, and natural. Which it is.

To the woman who fixed me caramel apples, which really impressed her father. I haven't forgotten either.

To the woman who let me eat my chili by making it into cracker sandwiches, and allowed me to open each individual green bean pod and eat the beans, then the pod, and didn't tell me not to play with my food.

To the woman who sewed all my clothes and Halloween costumes. I loved them (most of them.)

To the originator of the rhyme "You be the bug, and I'll be the rug...and we'll be snug as a bug in a rug."

To the woman who laid down with me every afternoon while we listened to the Mary Poppins Soundtrack, and Beethoven's 6th Symphony.

To the woman who dressed her kids up as characters from Amadeus for Halloween, and truly believed people would recognize us.

To the woman who made the very hard choice to return to work, and carved out a place for herself, and went back to school for a master's degree. I didn't always appreciate your sacrifice, but I do now.

To the woman who sent my brother to Virginia with a cardboard cutout of herself (it's not what you think!)

To the woman who stayed with me every time I gave birth, holding my hand, and occasionally making silly comments. And always made a beautiful blanket.

To the woman who makes perfect guacamole, a wonderful cheesecake, and spaghetti that tastes like home.

To the woman who told me that Helen Keller was blind and deaf and she could crochet, so I could too.

To the women who always said all she wanted for Mother's Day, or her birthday, or Christmas, was "A Clean House and Obedient Children."

To the woman who told me it didn't matter what she wanted, all that matters is what God wanted.

To the woman who never gave up on her crazy, difficult, emotional daughter.

Thank you.

1000 Moms Project

 

This is My Pot

"The best thing any of us can do to ensure a good world is create one around us. This sounds so simple and obvious but it isn't..."

So says my friend Liz today, in a Facebook post. It struck me, today of all days, partly because my friend Mandy, who helps write the blog Food From Here , came over to my messy home and gave me a gardening consult in a my yard overflowing with tall grass and little tykes toys. Her advice, coupled with sincere kindness, was so simple and forgiving that it gave me so much hope. Hope in a hopeless time.

Somewhere along the line, I forgot to be thankful. I forgot that even when you are longing for another life, you have to be thankful for the one you have. And if it's not happy, do whatever you can to change it. Forge ahead. Stop wallowing in your desire for change.

Once upon a time, there was a person I wanted to be. There were parts I had to give up, maybe forever. Other parts I had to put on hold until I grew enough to understand how to incorporate them. I can see I am still becoming that person...she's not dead. Maybe she was just sleeping until she had enough rest. I'm ready to rise up and do the things I wanted to do. Simple things that I was too overwhelmed to even think of. Silly things. A garden. A clothesline. Recycling. Cooking more from scratch. Being creative in the kitchen. Sewing. Crafts. Just because I work, and my kids are public school converts, doesn't mean I have to give up every dream of "the simple life."

There are things I want for the future, but I can't keep running in place waiting for things to happen. I've been doing that for far too long. Praying and asking and it's still time to wait. That old saying "Bloom where you are planted" seems to apply. I don't think this patch of land is my dirt forever. I prefer to think of myself as a potted plant, and someday I'll find my own garden where I can lay down some deep roots. But in the meantime, I'm not going to stay nestled in this pod, dry and dead. I've got to push out some green shoots and make this plain old terra cotta beautiful.

 

Yes, it's for me.

   

So, you've probably seen the Time Magazine cover that's causing people to foam at the mouth like Old Yeller right before Travis had to put the poor pooch out of his misery. And if you haven't, here it is:

 

I don't know why it surprises me that whenever anyone mentions the word breastfeeding the same people come out, trotting the same old opinions. And of course, we are all "entitled" to our opinion, I get told regularly. Although I am not sure we are. I'm not sure we should be entitled to believe things that have no basis in fact, but I see the same myths trotted out, over and over, especially about breastfeeding a child over the age of one. (For the record, the child in the picture is age three, not six. I had a kid who looked just that old at that age.)

Here are some of my favorites: "What are you going to do at a birthday party when all the other kids are eating cake and ice cream? Take your top off?

Um, no. Because a child who is old enough to have cake and ice cream at a birthday party will probably be eating that. Just because a kid nurses doesn't mean they don't also eat solid food and drink from a cup.

"If a kid can ask for it, then it needs to stop! " Or the similar "Once they have teeth...can eat food...etc"

This one is great because it has no basis in ANYTHING. The World Health Organization recommends nursing until at least age two, and afterwards as mutually desired by mother and child. The world wide average weaning age has been reported to be anywhere from 4 to 6 years of age. It's only in our backwards nation, where we are equally sexually obsessed and repressed, that breastfeeding a young child is seen as perverted or foolish. I keep waiting for someone to tell me the scientific reasoning for this one outside of their opinion.

"It's fine if you want to give them breastmilk (past the age of one, in public.) But pump it and put it in a cup."

Um, how about no? Pumping is a wonderful tool for working moms. It's also hugely stressful, annoying, and frustrating. If I don't have to be hooked up to an inefficient milking machine, why would I choose to be?

And here's my favorite.

"Any woman who nurses past the age of ___ is just doing it for herself."

I don't know what this means. Because if they think it's giving a woman sexual gratification, trust me, there are better ways to get that. And if a person thinks you can force a child to nurse, I have this to say. Hahahahahahahahah. If I a child is nursing, it means he or she wants to do it. I daresay, it means he or she needs to do it. There are other needs being met besides the basics of hydration and nutrition. But you know what? Maybe I am doing it for myself.

 

This is a picture of my two year old child that I am selfishly nursing while he was in the hospital.

When he entered the hospital, he was so dehydrated his lips were cracked and bleeding. He wasn't drinking, eating, or nursing enough to sustain himself. It turned out he had pneumonia, which was secondary to a bacterial infection, which I believe was possibly caused by aspirating vomit into his lungs when he had a stomach virus a few days before.

The first day they gave him fluids, meds and breathing treatments. He didn't perk up.  Soon after he entered the hospital he started refusing ALL food, ALL drink and ALL breastfeeding. He laid there, completely listless, except for when he was coughing. We had an amazing nurse who was very, very proactive in getting him extra treatment, and before you knew it, he was asking. Not for a popsicle. Not for yogurt. Not for cookies or Cheerios or Fruit Loops (all things that were used to entice him to eat in the hospital!)

He asked to nurse. And I obliged. Gratefully. For hours and hours.

My son slowly returned to himself. He wasn't 100% when he left, and he wasn't eating enough to keep a bird alive, but thankfully he wasn't dependent on the Easy Mac they gave him in the hospital. For several more days, his primary source of nutrition was my breastmilk. The very milk people say is "no good" after the first year (or six months, depending on which ignoramus you are talking to) was what brightened my boy up and brought him back. He slowly eased back into "normal" food, string cheese and fruit leather being his favorites.

Obviously there was a variety of things working in concert that brought my boy back to health. His devoted nurses and techs. Our wonderful family doctor. The fluids and breathing treatments and antibiotics. But I know that my milk was also an important ingredient. The nurses agreed. Not a single one had anything negative to say about what we were doing. They were all relieved when he started up, and happy to see him fed and comforted.

So, I wanted a healthy boy. I looked at my lifeless, scrawny child and felt numbly terrified. I didn't like that feeling. I wanted it to go away. And when my son asked to nurse after not eating or drinking for two days, I was joyous. I laid down in his hospital bed every time he asked, and he asked A LOT. And when his lungs improved and the pink returned to his cheeks, I was happy.

So yes, breastfeeding after two? It's for me. It gives me peace, and joy, and happiness. It reassures me that my child will not starve. It makes me smile and laugh when he asks in his sweet voice to nurse, and points at my breast and says "Right dere, mom."

Do I do it for me?

Absolutely.

But...

Not only.

 

 

Adventures in Not Sleeping

  My sleep schedule has been "off" since birth. My mother says I never slept, EVER, until I was 12 years old. And then I never stopped. At least, during the day. I was a total vampire at night, which made getting up for school in the morning an ordeal. My friend Tara said my siblings and I were the only people she knew who always stumbled in the door bleary eyed and yawning. My parents enforced bedtimes, but they had trouble keeping me from getting up at night and reading in the bathroom for hours, or the classic hide under the covers with a flashlight. This was replaced in later years by sneaking out to meet a guy.

Although I never napped as a baby, I became a championship napper in my adolescence. And I've continued to this day, though not by choice. I try to sleep at night, but I do this thing called "parenting" and it never, ever stops. I usually have at least two of my four children in my room at any hour of the night. My husband sleeps through most of it, but he likes to point out that his 6'5 frame is forced to lay on approximately 2 inches of space in our king sized bed. So even if he's sleeping, it's not exactly good sleep. When I do sleep, it's usually lightly, and when I do manage to dream, often my dreams are so incredibly detailed that I feel like I was up all night anyway.

I felt this lack of sleep keenly in the last few weeks. I was given more work at my freelance job at the newspaper than ever before. One night I stayed up the entire night, tossing and turning and generally panicking about my deadlines, so much so that I was unable to function the next day. My husband took my kids to school so I could sleep in, and then I immediately went to the doctor to get a prescription for anxiety meds. I haven't used it yet, but...it's there.

But I if thought it was difficult to deal with my normal life (loosely defined here) and major deadlines, I had no idea what a challenge it would be to deal with it all while sick. But just as one deadline was approaching, I came down with a wicked stomach virus, which soon swept to every other member of my household, except the baby, who decided to get Impetigo instead, which meant he couldn't go to Mother's Morning Out (which is where he GOT IT). I was feeling a little flummoxed. I was sick, I was trapped in a houseful of sick people, how would I ever get it all done?

And then of course, when would I SLEEP? I tend to write at night, after everyone else has gone to bed. This can start quite late, as my husband is also a night owl. One night I started to write at midnight, and didn't stop until 2:30. I left my 7 year old son sleeping in the living room chair. He had the stomach virus, and it just made sense to let him sleep wherever he was comfortable. I went to bed and settled down by playing a few games on my phone. It was 2:50, and I was just about to close my eyes when Linus wandered in. "Mom, I threw up in the chair." *Sigh* I let him lay down in my bed and made sure he had a barf bucket handy, and I went downstairs to deal with the damage. Not too bad. I was able to clean it quickly with vinegar and a towel. Back up to bed.

At 3:00 am, just as I sat down Linus said "Mom, do you have anything to drink? " *Double sigh* I got back up and went downstairs and got him some water. Climbed back into bed. Played a few more rounds of Solitaire, Bejewled, and Scrabble to wind down.At 3:30 am my daughter Alice came in the room and told me she was scared. I told her Linus was already here, not to mention her baby brother Felix, and to go back to her own bed. She started to sob and wail. I was too tired to deal with it, so I said, fine, YOU sleep here. *I* am going downstairs. I hate sleeping on our sofa, so I threw a couple of blankets over the damp, recently puked on and reeking of vinegar chair, and attempted to go to sleep. Again. At 4:00 am I heard a loud sound that woke me out of the beginnings of sleep. Precious, beautiful sleep. The closest I had gotten so far.

I went upstairs. I never did find out what the sound was. Perhaps a warning? Because I was greeted by something that, while not loud, is horrible and odious. The odor met me first. DOG POOP. Our dog had been known to poop in the kid's room, but never in the middle of the night. I went back downstairs for paper towels and vinegar, most assuredly muttering bad words under my breath.  I started cleaning up the poop and I stepped in the poop. Even more bad words. I went BACK downstairs to discard the poop and wash off my foot.

So, while I was cleaning up someone else's crap, my husband had to clean up mine, because ONCE AGAIN I could not function. I could not get up to get my kids to school. You have to realize, I am dealing with a sleep deficit here that goes back 30+ years, and they say you never really can catch up on sleep. I want to take my 16 year old self my shoulders and shake her. "All those nights you stayed out until 4 am? And then went to school the next day? THEY ARE REALLY MESSING WITH MY ABILITY TO COPE." My husband got the boys off to school but forgot to take my daughter to pre-school, so she stayed home. I laid in bed with a pillow over my head and occasionally asked her to fetch a banana for her brother while they watched Toy Story and Yo Gabba Gabba until I was slightly coherent.

I once saw a commercial where the children complain that Mommy forgot to fix them dinner because she was drinking...again. I sat straight up and thought..."I'm an alcoholic?" No Kate, just an insomniac.

The next night I had to stay up late writing again. My husband told me to just stay downstairs and sleep because we would inevitably wind up with a bunch of kids in our bed again and it would just make me cranky. I agreed, and curled up in the brown recliner where I spent the majority of my pregnancy with Felix. All was well, I was entering REM sleep when BOOM. SCREAMING. Not from my kids, from outside. A man and a woman. I opened the window and looked out, and saw a woman hobbling to my side of the street and shouting, and two men, one on the porch and one in the street.

I have a rule. If you take your domestic disturbance outside your house, I call the cops. I do not tolerate disturbing the peace, and I have witnessed a man sitting on his wife's chest and punch her in the face in his front yard on Easter Sunday. I know how quickly shouting matches can turn very, very ugly. And if you disturb my sleep (or my viewing of SNL) well, you get what's coming to you. So I immediately called the police, but I didn't know the address so I had to stand at my door and flag them down, which was nerve-wracking because although I have no qualms about CALLING the police, I don't necessarily want the people I called them  to KNOW it was me. A few minutes later there was a knock at my door, which made me jump out of my skin. "They're after me!"  I was certain the neighbor was coming to tell me off, or kill me, or something.

It was the police, letting me know it wasn't a domestic disturbance, just some college kids acting like idiots. Whatever. Now can I please sleep?

Fast forward to last Sunday. I must have gotten enough sleep, because I was able to get 3 kids and myself out to door to church. Linus was still sick as was my husband. Halfway through class Felix's teacher came and got me. She wanted to show me something. It was Felix. He had laid his head down on the table and had gone to sleep. At 10:30 in the morning. "Does he do this at home?" No. That is a sick child. I scooped him up and went to tell the pastor's wife we were leaving early. Just as everyone was swarming the foyer Felix vomited all over my dress.

That was the beginning of a very, very rough time.

I still was working on a bunch of deadlines for the paper, and now the smallest, most vulnerable member of the family was ill. The list of issues my family had experience that last week was starting to make me dizzy. Intestinal virus. Impetigo. Pinkeye. Parasites. Bacterial upper respiratory infection. Sore throat. Ear infection. Surely, this had to be the beginning of the end. We tried to keep Felix laying on a towel, but on Tuesday morning he vomited all over the sheets and pillowcases at 5 a.m. That's when I lost it. That's when I cried. I felt like I hadn't slept in weeks, I was working my hind end off, and everyone was sick. This had to be the beginning of the end.

And in a way, it was.

Felix didn't get better. Tuesday at 5 am was the last time he vomited, yes, but he just never got better. I was really starting to panic because did I mention we were set to go on an 8 hour road trip on Friday? A surprise party for my Grandpa's 80th birthday? In MICHIGAN? I finally broke down and took him to the doctor on Thursday morning. By Thursday night we were admitting him to the hospital. My baby was completely listless. His lips were cracked and bleeding. There was blood in his mucos. He had been drinking and nursing, but not enough. Diagnosis? Dehydration and Pneumonia, probably complications of a bacterial infection.

The first night I didn't sleep much. Hugh was on the couch, and I was on this weird fold out mattress on the floor. There were people in and out of the room all night. Checking vital signs. Switching IVs. Giving breathing treatments (which he hated.) Not to mention the lumbar puncture and blood tests that were taken when he first got there.

I was always awake to help. The next day the nurse told me I should take a nap. I agreed, it was a great idea. But I couldn't wind down. Too much Diet Dr. Pepper and pure adrenalin.

I tend to panic at small things. A pile of dirty dishes. A deadline. Leading a meeting of any kind. But when crisises occur I kick into stoic, heroic mamma mode. I am strong and void of emotion. I didn't even really feel tired.

The next night Hugh and I discussed sleeping in shifts so we could help the nurses with the breathing treatments and just be generally available to our sick child. I told Hugh there was no need. I am a light sleeper, he's a heavy sleeper. I would surely wake up anytime someone came in the room, and definitely if the baby cried. When it was his turn, I could wake him.

I went to sleep at midnight. Around 4 am Felix cried out, and I found him attempting to get out of his bed. I put him back in, and settled him down. He went back to sleep, and so did I.

I didn't wake up again until 9 am.

9 hours of almost completely uninterrupted sleep.

I didn't wake for any breathing treatments, or IV changes, or vital sign checks. And no one needed me to.

Maybe it's the mattress. Hugh says the one at home probably isn't stiff enough for me. Perhaps. It might be because for once, there were no children or dogs crawling into my bed. And I knew my baby was in good, caring, capable hands. Maybe that's what helped me relax.

I don't know why I slept so well. I am just going to take it for what it is.

A Gift.

 

Have I Created A Monster?

 

Like most girls my age, I grew up loving Barbie.

And as I grew into a teenager, I began to hear about how Barbie was evil. How she sexualized children at a young age, and gave them unrealistic body expectations, and I began to think I had been, well, damaged by my Barbie love. I thought about sex...that must have been Barbie's fault! I love fashion and jewelry and makeup...blame it on Barbie! I decided I didn't want my daughter to have a Barbie, which I found conflicting because, truth be told, some of my favorite childhood memories came from the epic story lines I created for my dolls, and the clothes my mother lovingly sewed for them, and the elaborate hairstyles I created by twisting her synthetic hair and securing it by shoving straight pins straight into her head.

t became evident that my daughter is as girly as I was, and her love of princesses and fanciness is every bit as much nature as nurture. I softened my stance against Barbie, but I maintained a hard line against other dolls, like Bratz. You have to have some standards, right?

Bratz horrify me. Where Barbie looks like a sweet, overly perfect girl next door, Bratz are not of this planet, but I feel like girls think they should be. It reminds me of how Tina Fey sums up what Beauty has become. In the 7os and 80s , it was enough that a woman be attractive but :

"Now every girl is expected to have Caucasian blue eyes, full Spanish lips, a classic button nose, hairless Asian skin with a California tan, a Jamaican dance hall ass...the hips of a nine-year-old boy, the arms of Michelle Obama, and doll tits. The person closest to achieving this is Kim Kardashian, who was made by Russian scientists to sabotage our athletes. Everyone else is struggling."

So it was safe to say...no Bratz. I mean, they are called...Brats! I am pretty sure none of them ever carried a pink briefcase unless it was filled with 20 pounds of doll cocaine.

Then came...Monster High.

And I felt tripped up. On one hand, they are even more body dysmorphic than Bratz. Their limbs are impossibly thin, with giant bulbous heads. Their faces are identical, more of that beauty on steroids look where every feature is impossibly big or small. But again...they are Monsters!! My inner goth geeked a bit at the thought.

And I was even more conflicted when everyone my daughter knew was getting one. Her best friend at school. Her cousins. My mother even bought one so she could fit those impossibly tiny clothes on their fragile limbs. Alice took to playing with her Grandma's doll and I could tell...she was smitten.

Once I picked Draculaura up and said  in a twee voice, "Oh hi, I'm Draculaura!  I have an eating disorder! I need a sandwich!" And then I told Alice, "I want you to know these dolls do NOT have normal bodies. This is not what a normal woman looks like. She looks sick. She's too thin."

And Alice looked at me like I was CRAZY and said "Mom, it's just a doll."

Ouch.

Yes, my four year old laid it out. She wasn't looking at Draculaura and envying her body. She liked the crazy redstreaks in her hair and her fun shoes. And I was being paranoid, and silly.

Would I have picked up Raggedy Ann and said "Alice, I want you to know you will NEVER have button eyes and yarn hair. This doll is NOT NORMAL?"

 Of course not. BECAUSE THAT WOULD BE CRAZY.

It became more evident to me that this was not a battle I needed to concern myself with when Alice started pretending to be pregnant and giving birth to busty, blonde naked Barbie dolls which she wrapped in blankets and pretended to nurse. A doll is a doll is a doll to Alice!

I realized that I know woman who could pass for Barbies themselves, and many of them are unhappy with their bodies and looks. And I wear a plus size, and I am extremely confident. How can this be, when my whole childhood I played with wasp-waisted Barbie with her huge breasts and knee-length blonde hair? Why don't I hate myself?

I don't know why. But if Barbie didn't ruin my life, I am not going to worry that Monster High is going to ruin my daughter, who at four is far savvier than I ever realized. She's never going to look like Barbie, or Draculara (or Raggedy Ann!) either, and that's fine. She knows she is smart, and beautiful. She envies no one, and as long as she keeps going the way she is going I am not going to worry. We might have to re-evaluate someday, who knows? But I'm not going to create a body dysmorphia where none exists. And when Draculaura joins the family, I hope she's cool with sleeping in the baby doll cradle.

Cosmology or Cosmetology?

An Open Letter to the Principal of my son's school. Dear. Mrs. B,

Yesterday I read the newsletter you sent home for the month of January. It started out promisingly.

"I would like to challenge you to make a resolution to listen to your child read or read with your child for 15 minutes a day. It is the one thing you can do for your child this year that will have an impressive positive impact on their learning."

So far, so good.

"Talk to your child about what they like to read."

Yes...that's important. Acknowledge your child's interests.

But then you proceed to tell parents what their children will like...according to their gender.

"Boys like books about spiders, snakes, sports and extreme weather and girls like books about animals, stories about "girl things", and beauty or teen magazines."

And that's when I got irritable. There are so many things wrong with that sentence I don't know where to begin. Besides the fact that it's a run on sentence, it's also full of silly, embarrassing stereotypes.

We don't even need to trot out the old chestnut that "Boys can play with dolls and girls can play with trucks," even though that is also true. According to the research of psychologist Dr. JoAnn Deak about 80% of girls have brains are wired in the traditional female sense, and about 20% of girls are wired more similarly to 80% of boys. So yes, some girls are more like most boys and some boys are more like most girls. That's a basic.

What disturbs me is the idea that if you are a girl who is wired like 80% of all other girls that it limits you.

I speak as an 80 percenter over here, with a very traditionally feminine daughter. We both love(d) dressing up, playing dolls, playing kitchen, playing mommy. We love makeup and sparkles and princesses. You know what else we like? Playing in the dirt. Lifting up a brick and seeing what worms and centipedes are doing. Walking in the woods. Playing swords. Reading about the human body. Telling jokes. Wrestling.

My daughter might need encouragement to read. It's ok that she reads books about animals and the occasional girls magazine (when it's age appropriate, some of them definitely are not.) It's ok if she wants to read beauty tips, thoughI don't think she'll have to be encouraged by the principal of her school to do that! Girls get plenty of pressure to conform to beauty standards as it is. It's more likely we'll need to steer her away from beauty tips and towards literature.

If she wants to read some fabulous literature primarily geared towards girls, like The Little House books or Anne of Green Gables, then I will cheer and certainly encourage it. But I will also encourage her to read books about spiders and snakes and sports and extreme weather. Because girls aren't just girls. They are people.

It seems like every day I read that girls are slipping behind in math and science...it's considered to be a real crisis. And at the same time we are telling girls they can be anything they want to be when they grow up. But becoming an adult is something that happens in inches...not all at once. A girl who is force fed beauty tips and magical pony stories and but not also encouraged to also gather real world information is not likely to grow up with a good career prospect, or any understanding of the power that she has inside herself to be the woman she chooses to be. I chose motherhood as my primary career path, which does not require limited understanding, but something far broader. You are a mother of a daughter, and as a woman you have chosen a career path that has given you a great deal of influence. This is not something that could have happened if you had focused on being a girl, instead of being a whole person.

I realize that this is just a school newsletter. You probably just dashed it off quickly and thought "Nobody reads these things anyway." I don't expect you to spend hours or even more than a few minutes gathering your thoughts. So here's a time saver. Try to stop using gender-specific language for starters. Instead of "Boys like A and girls like B" you could say "Children like to read about A and B." This can take some time. I still struggle to remind myself to stop calling the Doll Aisle at Target The Girl Aisle. But just remind yourself, children are individuals, and they all deserve to be encouraged in positive directions

As the principal of a school in a low-income district, you have a powerful platform here. You have the opportunity to make a difference. I know you already are, because you have girls on the basketball team and boys on the cheer team! Let's keep moving in that direction. Let's encourage kids to be who they are, and give them plenty of opportunity to grow. Dr. Deak says the brain is like a rubber band, and if you stretch those rubber bands, they stay stretched. Let's make girls bigger in math and science! Let's encourage them to read about yucky bugs and scary tornados. You never know when you might be turning a someone who didn't know she could BE anything other than a cosmetologist into a entomologist or meteorologist.

New Ways of Thinking

  It's helpful to know your triggers.

It's helpful to know that, when you aren't in the market for a new home and you have been brainstorming the cheapest and smartest way to make the home you own as livable as possible, that it's not the best idea to click when your friend posts a link to a house for sale.

But, yeah. I'm not very smart.

I was doing well. Calling the bank, calling plumbers and electricians, making plans to make our house the best home it can be for the longest amount of time. We were going to make it WORK, baby! I was confident and excited and then...

My friend posted a link to a house for sale. On the west side. In a good school district. On two acres. With three bedrooms. An office. A bonus room. A LAUNDRY ROOM (I dream of such a place.)  And the kitchen...a glorious kitchen! Huge with beautiful cabinets and painted a sunny, soft yellow. .Not to mention a fireplace and a master suite and blah blah blah...it was a freaking palace. And the price was good, for what it was offering.

Totally out of our price range. Completely. Not even close. And we aren't in the position to buy or sell anyway.

It didn't keep me from dreaming. And then crying. And dreaming. And crying.

Way to take Hugh on an emotional roller coaster! First your wife wants to spend way too much money renovating the house you have, then she wants to spend money that doesn't even EXIST on a completely NEW house! I should be very grateful he hasn't become an alcoholic simply to cope with listening to me talk.

There's an exercise I keep trying to perform.  You might know it by it's classic term "Count your blessings." It's a hymn. It's a song by Irving Berlin, too. It's something I come back to, day in and day out. It's something I fail at, and succeed it, daily. Hourly.

So here we go. Again.

I have a clothes dryer that spews lint all over the kitchen, and the door is held with duct tape.

I have a clothes dyer. It dries my clothes.

I have an ugly, dysfunctional kitchen. The layout is completely wonky, the flooring is terrible, and everything is old and junky looking.

I have a kitchen. It has a really nice stove and refrigerator, and I just got the mother-of-all food processors for Christmas. I've made lot of good meals in there, and I'm not about to stop now!

I have an old house that is too small. It needs a lot of work.

I have a house that keeps the rain and snow off our heads, provides us a place to play and sleep and eat. 

My husband needs a different job.

My husband has a job. And he has prospects. He's working his way. Slowly but surely.

I have four sloppy kids who drive me mental.

I have four beautiful kids who are creative and intelligent and growing in compassion and maturity daily. 

I don't have  enough money.

I have some money.

I'm fat.

I have enough to eat. I'm healthy. I have options.

I'm depressed.

I have the support of family and friends and the medical community. I am not alone.

There. That felt better.

Joy to the World

Meet Alice, the Happiest Person in the World.

Alice is four and a half years old, and has enough joy in her heart for at least four people her size. She laughs when she wakes up in the morning. She laughs after she sneezes. She is excited about EVERYTHING in the world. She loves broccoli and her daddy and dancing and digging in the dirt while wearing full princess regalia. She loves painting and making up songs to play with her Hannah Montana electric guitar and making her Barbie dolls perform in 'movies" and creating bizarre outfits that feature leggings, poofy skirts and two different high heels. On the wrong feet.

Sometimes her father and I start at her in wonder and mouth "Why is she so happy?" We have no idea. We both skew a little dark, a little droopy. I can be like Alice about half the time, and the other half of the time I am skulking around in my best neurosis. But Alice...when Alice is unhappy it is NOTICEABLE, because it's such a RARE occasion. The sunlight is absent, and thankfully never for long. She is easily reasoned with. Perhaps being reasonable is one of the gifts of a happy person? She never stays angry, so quick to forgive and forget.

Her heart is generous and sweet. I recall a time when she was no more than two years old, and one of her brothers was sick with a fever. She insisted on taking a cup of water up to him...no one else could hold it. She had to carry it up the stairs herself. She is full of kisses and hugs, and loves to gently rub your arm or face. "Mommy, I'm softing you."

 She might be giggly and gentle and cute, but that hasn't softened her intellect one bit.  She's full of mirth and a dry sense of humor too. Once I was combing her hair and misting it with a water bottle. She hates having her hair combed. It's one of the few things that make her grouchy. I said, spraying away, "Pretend you're in a waterfall!" and she said, deadpan, "All I see is da window." I said, "You have to use your imagination!" and she said "I yam. I am petending you are nevah doe-ing to t-omb my hair adain." She always tells me I'm beautiful, and even asked me the other day if I had been on a diet because "you yook weawwy fin." I have no idea if she knows what that means, but I think she heard it somewhere and thought it would make me happy. It did, but not for the usual reasons.

She's not perfect, but sometimes it's hard to remember that when her eyes dance and her smile lights up the room.  All of our children are precious and loved beyond measure, but it is Alice who brings the sunshine into the grey, for each of us. And there is so much grey...

Bringing this little dynamo into the world was a risk. Our family does not have material wealth. I am plagued by physical and emotional health issues. My pregnancy with Alice was fraught with minor complications that, while not necessarily life-threatening, gave me a great deal of discomfort. Some things will never be the same. Giving birth to her was a test of endurance and the most difficult thing I have ever done.

But I would do it all over again. She is worth the price paid. She has brought me more comfort and joy than I could ever have living a perfectly insular life. And daily, I am trying to absorb her example. To laugh, to agree, to be friendly and patient and kind and nurturing. To light the dark.