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Some days, I just want to scream.

Most days, I want to scream. But some days, that want becomes a need.

Today was one of those days: the “want” was born out of last weekend, when I spent far more time driving around, chasing down various food or recipe ingredients for my daughter’s wacky diet and expensive palate than I would have liked. I have a paper due in my Globalization in Education class, and I had imagined completing it over the weekend and being done with it.

Even after four or five years of getting my plans squashed into the dust without a moment’s notice, my imagination continues to be a healthy optimist.

After driving around most of the South Bay on Friday for one thing or another, I could have told my daughter I was done on Saturday. She is rarely selfish, even though she has every justification to be so, and even more rarely unappreciative of what it takes to care for her. But…cooking, the ideas for recipes, the planning, the research, the entire process of it–that’s what makes her happy. It’s what has always made her happy: she was in the kitchen inventing recipes by the time she was three. She couldn’t read yet, but wouldn’t be able to, not really, for several years, but it didn’t matter, and I never made it matter. I opened the cupboards and we talked about ingredients: flour and sugar, spices, sauces, acids, oils, She asked questions I usually didn’t even know the answers to, because I had honestly never thought about why chocolate chip cookies flattened if you left them in the oven too long or made them too large. I had never considered why shortening was better then butter in pie crusts. If there is one place I follow the rules, it is in the kitchen.

I love food, but I’m not exactly picky. I don’t eat bugs, things with heads, or live things. Otherwise, if I’m hungry, I will at least try it. In fact, I don’t even have to be hungry. It just has to include chocolate of some sort, frosting of any kind, or salt.

But she was. And so I let her figure things out. Yes, her process made a mess of the kitchen frequently, and her recipes were often inedible for one reason or another. But she delighted in everything she made, and she learned from everything she made. I was still making things the way I had always made them, and along came this five year old who started to tell me how to make them better….I was thrilled. I had fallen in love with her father in part because he made me cookies when we were just flirting and bought me Rice Krispie treats from the food trucks on College Avenue and made me stew for one of our early dates. The way to my heart has always been through my stomach, and here was my daughter, wanting to take over in the kitchen.

If I had never loved her before then–which was certainly not the case, but if I hadn’t–I would have fallen in love with her then. I’d happily clean up after her for the rest of my life if I never had to set foot in the kitchen again.

Of course, she was five, her interest waxed and waned, so I did, in fact, step foot into the kitchen repeatedly for many years.

And then she started to get sick.

The inner chef in her went to work: she broke down everything we ate and replaced ingredients. I may not have been the greatest chef, but I’d always ensured we ate fairly healthy–little to no junk food, or junk food made out of kale, juice without added sugar, dessert was not a staple, little to no fast food. We ate homemade dinners most nights during the week. We’d also been gluten and dairy free by that point, due to intolerances for all of us. But Autumn was determined to figure out the cause of her stomach pains, bloating and severe constipation and diarrhea.

When nothing worked, and she only continued to be in more pain and her health declined, she turned away from food. She felt it had betrayed her. She also felt like a failure.

That feeling didn’t get any better when I took her to Seattle Children’s Hospital and they diagnosed her with an eating disorder without so much as listening to our story.

She did have an eating disorder. She and I were happy to admit that. But it wasn’t because she thought she was fat or ugly. She was, in fact, 85 pounds and hated her body for betraying her. She wanted to eat, and she did eat, as much as she could, but it hurt, and some days she would lie on the floor and scream after eating.

She and I did the best we could with little information and absolutely no medical assistance.

She put on weight in SCH, because they wouldn’t let her move, and they shoved food down her stomach 3 times a day. She cried after every meal, sometimes screamed. They didn’t care. She wanted to scream after every meal; some days, she told me, the want became a need, and I would hold her in my arms while she would scream into my shirt or a pillow. They had told her if she kept screaming, they would move her to a ward where I wasn’t allowed to go. So she screamed in silence.

After Seattle Children’s, Autumn went back to the kitchen. She was determined she would beat whatever was going on, and the hospital had convinced her it was all in her head. That conviction would lurk beneath everything she did and said and thought and felt until the day she was diagnosed with Lyme. But she never left the kitchen. Cooking became all she had. When she couldn’t eat, she cooked for me. She would often cook for her brother, but he wasn’t fond of her attempts to get him to eat more vegetables and less meat.

Her delight is plain on her face when she is talking about food or a recipe or modifications to something that didn’t work. She talks food, dreams food, breathes food. She has had to drag in chairs to sit on while she cooks, or more recently, laid on the floor with her feet up to try and reduce the inflammation while waiting for something to boil. But while she cannot control what her body is doing from one day to the next, she can control her recipes: in the kitchen, she forgets, for a little while, about the truth of her life.

So, when she is having a good day, and she wants to find rare gluten free ingredients to create something she has a taste for, I will drive her to the ends of the earth.

I forget, for a little while, about the truth of her life.

And mine.

I do not deny I was meant to be a mother. Motherhood was another piece to the puzzle of me. But being a caretaker? A nurse? That’s a whole different level of maternal skill. Not all mothers can be nurses, and not all nurses can be mothers. I fully planned on being emotionally available to my children for the rest of my life. I just thought that, at some point, I wouldn’t have to be so very physically, mentally and emotionally available to them.

Some weeks are harder then others. The problem with being a mom, and a caretaker, is that much of the time, even if we have a partner, we have to scream in silence. Not out of fear that we will be taken from our children. But out of fear that if we start, we will not stop.

Today, I woke up wanting to scream. By tonight, after a clinic appointment went from twenty minutes to two hours because the home health nurse kinked the picc line yesterday, after my daughter’s babesia-induced migraine caused her to be both whiny, dramatic and demanding, after the dog got it up in his butt that running around the apartment barking like a lunatic was a great idea, after I went into my daughter’s bathroom–which I usually try not to do but it was unavoidable tonight–after I thought we were “done” for the night so I settled down to watch an online concert…..only to have the picc line jam again during an infusion and the dog being an ass and there being no chocolate in the apartment…..

The want to scream became a need.

I fixed my daughter’s picc line and restarted the infusion. I did 85 situps and 110 crunches and 48 pushups. I took the dog outside to run off his looniness. And I tilted my head back towards the stars and breathed.

It wasn’t screaming. But I was tired from the pushups, which was exactly the point, and the air was cool against my cheeks. My dog looked like an idiot horse amusing himself with his own tail, and the night was calm.

The need to scream settled back into a low humming want in the back of my mind.

Tomorrow I will be able to sleep in a little later, and I have no classes. I can finish my paper and take care of my daughter and even clean her bathroom without puking. Probably.

Maybe tomorrow will be a day I won’t need to scream.

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Last summer, I blogged about my sweet children driving me insane.  We spend a lot of time together, and a year ago, I didn’t even have work to separate us.

I remember that feeling of, “OMG CAN I READ TWO PAGES OF MY BOOK WITHOUT YOU NEEDING SOMETHING?”  But I also remember taking deep breaths and, for the most part, keeping my swearing only to myself because I knew someday it would change.

Someday, they would have lives.

That day has arrived.

This summer, my son is teaching himself Latin, in addition to continuing his own Japanese IMG_7939language studies.  He spends a lot of time translating Japanese poems and Latin books he finds online.  Starting in a week, he’s working at the UW a couple days a week helping Japanese students.  He’s heavily involved in BloodBourne and Dark Souls , and he’s also watching a lot of Japanese anime, with and without the captions, as part of his Japanese self-studies.  He speaks a lot of Japanese to me, and I either reply in stilted German or bad Spanish.  Not that I know what he’s saying.  But then he doesn’t know what I’m saying, either, so we usually end up laughing.

He walks about 20 miles a week, and he comes out of karate rolling on laughter about inside jokes that he happily tells me, and sometimes I even laugh, but I’m removed from it all.  We used to walk together, and he would tell me all his story ideas and goals for the future.

He used to cry if I left the dojo before his practice was over.

IMG_7953Meanwhile, my daughter has discovered a social life and social media.  She texts her friend travelling in Italy and takes solo bike rides around town. She makes music videos on an app called Music.ally, which is pronounced musically, not Music Ally, OMG.  The music videos are complete with outfit changes, scene changes, sound and video mixing, and sometimes, the dogs’ participations (not necessarily willingly).  I’m horrible at memorizing lyrics. I tend to make up my own.  My daughter remembers everything after hearing it once, and she wants to “help” me learn the real words. But it’s rapid fire, and I am left behind, like I was for years when I would have sworn it was “Amber rain” and not “I’m all right.”

She goes into her room and talks to her friends or stays up until 1 am reading or makes music videos or creates amazing animals out of clay while listening to Rachel Patten, who is her most favorite singer ever.

She still tells me everything she and her friends do together, or what they texted or said and shows me her videos and theirs.  She talks to me about her books in depth and lets me read them and asks me questions that are echoes of questions I have asked her about books down through the years.

Bu she closes her bedroom door when she goes into her room to do anything.

This summer, I am find myself longing for still moment when we can all just sit in the same room for more than 30 minutes.  I find myself wanting to hang out with them and listen to their silly jokes about sex and “out of the mouths of babes” reactions to news, politics, life.

They still annoy me with their lack of understanding for how to put toilet paper on the toilet paper roll or take the garbage bag out of the garbag can before it is so full, it literally explodes when I try to take it out.  They still need me to buy food for them, apparnently, because several independent expeditions I have sent them on have resulted in a lot of not-what-I-asked-for. And they still need me to be there for them when they need me, and tell them everything is going to be OK when they don’t think it is.

They don’t like it when I’m gone too much in one day or too many times in one week.  They miss me when I take a weekend.  They talk to me all the time, and we spend a lot of time together, still, especially given that they are 16 and almost-13.

But.

Last summer, I was still parenting children.

This summer, I would say I am more of a mentor–much loved, I know this– to two amazing people.

And, I hesitate to say this because of all the “DON’T BE YOUR CHILDRENS’ FRIEND” articles out there, but…they are my friends.  Young friends, still.  I still need my own friends, and always will. I still get to make them do things and I have no problem calling them on their stuff.

But…I like them.  As people, as kids…the toilet paper and garbage bag issues aside….I like them.

 

I will be honored if, someday, they choose to call me their friend in return.

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Today I woke up feeling overwhelmed.  It usually follows a night of dreams fraught with all the stuff I haven’t done or finished or even started yet.  I rarely remember such dreams other than a tangle of dark shadows and frustrated emotions.  I don’t really want to remember the specifics.  It’s enough to wake up feeling overwhelmed.

Seeing as no one else is awake, I jump in to tackle some of my “undones,” hoping to resolve the mess of anxiety roiling in my gut. As I start working on a client’s blog article, my son trails in, tears already on his cheeks because he was so tired last night he and his dad didn’t play the game he’d wanted to play.  My first reaction is to snarl in frustration: I’m not going to get anything done at this rate. But I shove that nasty part away from me, pull him to me so he’s snuggled up against my side (at 11, I wonder how much longer he’ll be willing to lean on me like this) and we talk about why he woke up ready to doom the day.

Genetics?  Environment, growing up in a house where Mom wakes up overwhelmed and, in the past, didn’t handle it so well? It doesn’t matter.  What matters is I focus on the weight of him, the sound of his breathing, his constant 11-year old fidgeting.He gets into the open notes on the laptop in my lap and we talk DNA testing methods.  Apparently comforted, he wanders off to find his dad and see if some of their aborted plans from last night can be resurrected this morning.

Before I can dive back into my work, my daughter flies in on a few thousand sentences and half of a song.  The definition of a morning person, she rarely wakes up on a tide of anxiety or distraught emotions.  Those come later in the day, usually when she stops moving long enough to think about all the things she wants, longs for, dreams of, can’t have. But in the morning…she wakes up as if the day started awhile

 ago and the rest of us are slow to catch-up.

She wants to go to a park. She wants breakfast. She wants to watch TV. Did I notice the sun is out? She wants to know the plan for the day. She doesn’t want to do anything. She wants to play with the dogs. Can she eat the last donut in the box or will her brother get mad?

I stare at my notes, the blank page for my article. I think about the garden that needs weeding, the bookshelves that need moving, the family room that I’ve started priming for paint, the grocery shopping I need to do, the ribs I need to get cooking, the 100 pages of my novel I need to print so I can ready the package for Interested Agent #3….

My heart beats faster and my chest constricts.  It’s not even nine a.m.

My daughter is whirling around the house, dashing from her room to the kitchen, chasing the dogs, singing a song…the sun is shining. She is full of life and zest and…I breathe, focus on the sound of her voice, the memory of my son leaning into my side.

Life could end tomorrow. Would it be any better a life if all my “jobs” were closed out, completed?

I shut my laptop and breathe.

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You don’t often hear that one word in combination with that one name.  But I couldn’t help but feel like I was repeating myself earlier this week when I had to have the “ZIP IT” conversation with my son in regards to his recent epiphanies about Santa.

My son loves knowledge. No matter how heartbreaking or sad or pitiful the subject might be to his personal world-views or the world in general, he absorbs it, finds it enlightening, longs to spread the word with anyone who will listen.

Most of the time, we encourage his desire to teach the world. It can’t hurt to know the facts and figures associated with the Battle of Normandy, or the back story to the Stargate TV series, or the reasons why some physics theorems will never work. But some knowledge CAN hurt. Or at least, maim a little bit.

Both Santa and sex fall into this category for me.

I was twelve when I found out about Santa. It was by accident–my father assumed I knew, and who can blame him? I was twelve–but it still dropped me off a precipice and changed forever the way I saw the world, my parents, and life in general.

I felt the same way when I found out about sex.

My son, having the voracious appetite for knowledge that he does, has suffered no such issues.

He did writhe and moan and gag and fake-vomit for several minutes when he learned about sex for the first time, but when he was done, he was cool about it all. We went on to discuss the responsibility of such information, and how it wasn’t necessarily something he needed to share with his friends or his sister in any situation unless they asked. And if his sister did ask, he should choose his words carefully and forward her to me.

Last week, I found myself saying similar words when he finally stopped using the air quotes he’s been using around Santa Claus’s name and outright announced in a room of others exactly what he knew to be true regarding this tradition.

“Hey,” I said. “Come here for a minute.”

“Huh? Why? I didn’t do it. I wasn’t even in the room where it happened.”

“You’re not in trouble. I just want to talk to you about something.”

“Oh, no,” he groaned. “Can’t I just say I’m sorry and move on?”

(Really, he’s a very well-behaved child and doesn’t get into trouble nearly enough to warrant his fears)

He wouldn’t budge off the couch, so I sat next to him and whispered, “Remember how we talked about some information being for everyone, and some information being private, or at least only for certain situations?”

“Uh-huh,” he nodded.

“Santa is that kind of information. Everyone deserves to decide for themselves when they’re ready to know some things,” I said.

His eyes went wide with understanding and he nodded. “Like, you know,” he said. “Sex and stuff.”

“Exactly,” I said, a little sad that he’d reached this threshold, but relieved, too, that it’s apparently painless for him, in regards to both topics.

It should go without saying that I did come to accept the facts about the birds and the bees.

I wish I could say the same about Santa.

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I miss my grandparents the most during the holidays.

 

My maternal grandparents were never physically present during the holidays: they lived in England and, so far as I know, never visited over the holidays. I do remember seeing the Illuminations at least once: I was bundled up in a hat and coat, my grandpa was driving, and the lights swirled over me like a fantasy. Given that the Illuminations switch on late August or early September and run for 60 days, it’s doubtful we were there any later than early September, and it’s even more doubtful I was wearing a winter coat and hat.  But that memory is bundled up with my ideas of Christmas: to me, the lights were magic, and until I was 12 (yes, 12), Christmas was magical.

(To my siblings and parents–if you read this–I am fully aware I am probably jumbling several different visits. I don’t care. Don’t call/email/FB/text/twitter me to correct me.  Let me have this….)

 

Grandma in the 50's

My paternal grandfather died before I was born, but my paternal grandmother was a fixture at holiday dinners. Every year, she would announce that year was to be her last year on this Earth, and then, as if to make that prediction certain, she would smoke a pack and a half of cigarettes before the day was out.  I loved her, though, and as I got older, I even came to like her for reasons all my own. The last time I saw her was at the office supply store where she was doing administrative work some six months before she died. Grandma had always been petite, but somehow as I got older she got smaller, even though in truth we were the same size. She was wearing a beret-type hat she had knitted herself. She made all my mittens for me growing up. I don’t know why I didn’t keep them.

My maternal grandfather had died in between the time Grandma and I had last seen each other, and she offered her sympathies.Then she said, “I envy him. I wish I could let go. I really do.” I understood this not to be a moment of suicidal longing or depression so much as an honest admission of weariness.  She was in her seventies, not in good health, and she’d survived so many more Christmases and Thanksgivings then she’d ever expected to. She had at least two grandchildren, and I think she’d given up hoping I would gift her with another one soon (“What are you waiting for?” she asked me once. “To grow up,” I said. “You already are,” she said with a cigarette-smokers laugh. “You’re just afraid to accept it.”).

I hugged her that day, wrapping my arms around her thin body, told her that she would know when the time was right.

That following December, she died while I was in L.A. I knew before I was told. I don’t know how. I just did. I almost called my parents while I was still there, but there was no point: I wasn’t going to cut my trip short. It was Grandma’s time, and she knew that better than anyone.

I don’t remember when my Nana died. She was one of the most influential people in my life, but I cannot remember when she died. When my grandfather died, I had just come out of the shower, and I almost didn’t answer  the phone but I felt I should. I had a pink towel wrapped around my hair and my blue robe on. The sun was out.  I hung up and cried on the floor.

But my Nana–I have no clue. I remember needing to go to the ocean. We drove up to Whidbey Island the next weekend and I walked along the

 

Grandpa and Nana in the 40's

beach for a long time. I always figured she would linger with me for awhile, like other family members have. But maybe she didn’t need to stick around: she had introduced me to Agatha Christie and Barbara Vine, P.D. James and and Minette Walters. I still have all the books she bought me. My son has just started reading my worn-to-tatters Agatha Christies. Not for nothing were all the books she sent me female authors: she completely believed in my writing goals. Almost every Christmas brought a package of books along with a hand-knitted sweater. I wore the sweaters even past the point when I was well aware I looked like a dork.

I was OK with being a dork.

Today, my grandparents’ influences on me run through my blood, shape my thoughts, echo in my heart. But I still miss them. Especially today.

 

Grandpa and Nana in the 90's

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My daughter’s room is a probably a fire hazard, but I will take it over the contentious relationship we use to have when it wasn’t always like that.

After fighting some serious, awful battles over the tidiness of her room with her over the last several years (she’s packed to “run away” on two occasions and asked for a new mother on more occasions then I can count), I realized a few months ago–belatedly, I fully admit–that the whole room “tidiness” issue is in the eye of the beholder. Life around here has been simpler, calmer and so much quieter since I stopped battling her. As an added bonus, our relationship has drastically improved. Some of it I can attribute to her own maturity in general, but most of I know, deep down, is because I’ve stepped away from what she so passionately cherishes as “her” space.

I’m no Martha Stewart when it comes to housecleaning myself, and our house is generally what I like to describe as “comfortably cluttered.” We used to clean up every night before bed, but when my daughter in particular began constructing elaborate playsets, whether it be with blocks or legos or stuffed animals, we would let her keep them up for a few days. But then she began “collecting” things–anything from the homemade confetti she used to make once she discovered scissors and the usual kid stuff like rocks, shells, and party favors to the more eclectic: shampoo bottles, pieces of string she found, deflated balloons that she loved, seeds from apples she particularly enjoyed, a bucket of sand from the time we went to Ocean Shores on Mother’s Day, a tupperware container of grass where she had kept a “family” of worms one summer, beads from a broken necklace, old baby clothes she “remembered” wearing and didn’t want me to pass on….the list goes on and on.

I have never begrudged her the “collections.” I am, after all, the mom who has a cut-glass bowl full of rocks as the centerpiece on our side table or a stack of notebooks–never used and therefore pristine in their beauty and possibilities–on the small counter in the kitchen. My empty vases hold seashells and seaglass, and the shelf that runs the length and width of the living room holds my “collection:” my grandmother’s figurines, a a ceramic statue from a friend who went to New Mexico, replicas of Dutch shoes from my brother when he went to Holland, photos of people I have known and loved, places I have been, a metal rooster from Key West, unicorns and miniature beer steins from long gone friends who travelled places I have yet to go. As a kid, I had a long dresser with six long drawers, three on each side, and six small drawers all along the top. Most kids, I found out somewhere along the way, used those small drawers to separte socks from underwear, tights from tshirts. I threw all that stuff together, so that I could I use those drawers for my treasures.

I never liked cleaning up my room, either.

When I was around ten, my sister moved into my room while our dad renovated the upstairs to add on my brother’s room. She was–and is–Martha Stewart. To my mind, obsessively so. She was constantly picking up my clothes, my books, demanding that I clear off my bed, asking me how I could sleep, get dressed, simply live, in such disarray. At one point, we had to draw a line down the center of the room. I wasn’t allowed to throw my clothes or stacks of stuff on her side; she wasn’t allowed to straighten up my side.

To this day I remain perplexed at the entire situation: surely I wasn’t that bad, was I? I just didn’t like putting things away. One never knows when something is needed again–and that goes for a pair of socks to that scrap of paper with half a poem written on it.

I’ve been thinking of this a lot, lately, whenever I am forced to peek in my daughter’s room. Surely, I wasn’t this bad, was I? When I ask my mother what she used to do with me, she laughs and tells me she just turned a blind eye. “It was your room,” she said. “The only place, really, in the whole house where you had complete control.”

I’m still not my sister, but living in small spaces in college taught me the value of “a place for everything and everything in its place.” To a certain extent.

I wish I hadn’t learned this at all.

Despite my happy memories of my own mess, my daughter’s room drives me beyond sanity. Two days ago, I couldn’t even get through the door because she had placed an upside down rattan footstool crammed full of her stuffed animals (they were on a boat) right inside the door and then closed it.

She leaves her clothes in heaps at the end of the day instead of putting them in the easily accessible laundry basket in her closet. She takes stacks of books down to read and doesn’t put them away. Last week, she created a “sun” design on the floor with her collection of Disney books. In the middle, she set up some dollhouse furniture and her favorite dolls. She began to have a panic attack when I suggested we pick up her “design.” She collects boxes from various places and turns them into houses or spaceships or boats or trains for her dolls or herself. Today I found a ziploc bag of clear liquid far back in the shelf where one of her drawers was supposed to go. The drawer itself, of course, was on the floor.

“What’s this?” I asked her. “That’s my experiment,” she said.
“What is it?”
“It’s water,” she said. “Remember I told you I was keeping it to see what would happen?”

I had a dim memory of her talking about wanting to see what would happen to water if she kept it around for awhile. I wasn’t aware that conversation was a request or even a statement of intent.

“Ah,” I said. “So, why does it have to be here? Isn’t the drawer supposed to be here?”
“But the cats might pop the bag,” she said. “So it can’t go on the floor. The drawer can, though.”

Of course.

She’s been looking for her DS–and mine–since we returned from San Diego over Spring Break. Today, I suggested we just “tidy” up her room, and maybe we’d find them.

“But I cleared a path last night,” she reminded me. “I know,” I said. She had, in fact, shoved everything to the edges of the room in jumbled piles. “But let’s tidy up a bit more.” There were six boxes of various sizes in her room, along with a two foot tall stack of books and mounds of clothing. In the “path,” she’d set up her Polly Pockets and had been in there for several hours playing that afternoon.

When she is almost-41, and her daughter’s bedroom makes her cringe, will she remember her own “mess?”

In the process of “tidying” up, she found 1)her slinky, 2)several of her horses she’d been looking for, 3)her Laura doll and Laura’s furniture which had gone missing awhile back, 4)her Indiana Jones hat, which was “camoflauged” by the floor, 5)several books she’d been looking for, 6)her “tornado” bottle she made in science class, which is made out of two 2-liter bottles held together at the openings and, makes a tornado when the liquid in one is poured into the other, 7) her stuffed dolphin “Dolfinny,” and 8)both DSes. One DS was in her “oven,” which we’d made out of a cardboard box last fall. The other was in her drawer with her music and storybook CDs. “Well, it is electronic,” she said by way of explanation. “And the box oven?” I asked. “I guess I thought it was a good place to put it,” she said.

Having hid notebooks under my mattress, special pens in my pillowcase and money in my encyclopedias as a kid, I don’t have much room to argue.

When she got into the bath, I threw out four box “creations:” all of which were falling apart, one of which I didn’t recognize as helping her with, and none of which I had understood what they were supposed to be in the first place. I also threw out a pile of Easter grass she’d told me she’d already thrown out, but had apparently decided to keep under her bed instead.

Her room is neat and tidy and even accessible now. I don’t expect it to last more then a few days. But I will bite my tongue and take deep breaths, be thankful her neat-and-tidy brother doesn’t have to share a room with her, pray she will find a bit of organization in her future, and finally, do what my mother did with my room: close the door.

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Hello, my name is Elena, and I am a FB addict. I just can’t help myself: when I should be doing other things, fulfilling other commitments, I just need my FB. I decide to go in for a quick look, a tiny peek, and then I get tangled up in statuses and profile pictures and applications that tell me what Starbuck drink I am. I lose time to saving the planet by sending people pretend flowers. I burn breakfast accepting friend requests and tagging people on my “Notes About Me” page. When a friend recently apologized for not accepting my friend request because he had been so busy, I wondered what on earth could he have been doing? It had been TWO WEEKS! I can barely stay away from Facebook for two days.

A year ago, I had no Facebook in my life. Was I happy? Was I content? Did I have enough friends? Yes, yes, and definitely yes. True, I felt very isolated some days. Being a stay-at-home mom is not the life of luxury I imagined as a kid. With newborns and babies, time is one long moment during which you might not speak to anyone else even close to your age for several days. Toddlers are a bit easier: you have a little more energy, and you start to take the kids places and meet friends for coffee…but then you decide, when your child presents you with a wilted dandelion after a very long week of Terrible Two temper tantrums, that it’s time to have another baby. And you’re back to Square One.

Since my eldest entered preschool, I’ve felt my days are bits and pieces, snips of comings and goings and clock-watching to make sure he was picked up even while making sure my daughter didn’t nap too long or miss her meals .

Now that my eldest is in elementary school, and my youngest is in preschool, some days I spend almost the entire day in the car, running back and forth, shopping for groceries in between dropping one off or picking another up, squeezing dentist appointments in between soccer practice or pony class.

Yes: now I do have time to have lunch with friends, or get to the gym or just sit and read, if I ignore the rug that needs vacuuming. Of course, doing any of that (even the vacuuming) means I also need to ignore the itch at the back of my neck that tells me I need to work on my writing projects every day.

So, am I really so bored that I need to give up fifteen minutes to the writing “25 Things About Me,” or five minutes to finding out what song I am?

Not so much.

But here’s the thing: I’m having the best time doing all of that, and an even better time having all my friends in one place. I always wanted to live in a place where I and my family and all my friends and their families—old, new, liberal, conservative, Lattes or Skinny Mochas—could co-exist happily. Sounds like a Peter, Paul and Mary song, I know. But that was my dream, and look! Here we are: in my own little cyberspace town, having a common bond, at the very least.

It’s not as if I’m choosing my kids over FB. Yes, I’ve burned their breakfast a few times because I was checking statuses, but the truth is I’ve been burning bacon for years without Facebook’s help. Bacon takes awhile to cook, and I get…distracted. Sometimes I even forget I am cooking bacon and start to take a shower (that only happened once, and I was tired that day).

My point is, my Facebook addiction isn’t hurting anyone. It helps me feel connected, it gives me somewhere to go for a few minutes when it’s difficult to get out, and I REALLY need to talk to someone who isn’t asking me where their book is or what do I have to eat THIS week. Some would argue it’s a one-sided conversation on Facebook. I see it as a conversation with a time lag.

No, I have to say: this is a much, much, much better addiction then when I was addicted to carb-free ice cream (and just so you know? Even though it’s carb-free, you can’t eat a giant bowl of it every night and not put on weight, or not have crying jags the next day from the artificial sugar giving you insomnia and mood swings).

So, never mind. I take it back. My name is Elena, and I am proud to be a Facebook-er.

Welcome to my little town.

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Lately, I’ve been wondering exactly how working mothers handle the whole time management and the guilt thing. I’ve been observing a friend who has a full time, stressful job at a high-tech company. She runs several committees on the elementary school PTSA. She’s creating the website for her son’s Cub Scout troop, and she–and her husband–have both gotten to our kids’ elementary school early the last few months so as to help out with the shortage of crossing guards (we are a walking school).

And yet, I am pretty sure she’s not neglecting her kids. They are both well-mannered, polite, good kids who don’t appear to be the monsters that kids can be if they aren’t getting the necessary attention. I’ve been at her house to work on PTSA stuff with her, and her youngest son is apparently perfectly aware that she is “working.” He did sit in the room with us and work on his puzzle, but he didn’t constantly demand her attention. He didn’t attempt to sabotage her meeting with me because she wasn’t giving him all her focus. It was obvious to me that she had drawn a line in the sand, and he respected it.

I have a difficult time doing this. Especially, it seems, with my daughter.

In terms of solitary play, my son has always been independent. True, he would cling to my leg like a terrified monkey whenever we went to friends’ houses or the drop-in play at the kiddie gym, and he cried whenever I dropped him off at preschool for the entire first year (he was known as The Howler). But at home, he liked to play with me for a bit, and then he’d wander off and be fine on his own. For the last few years, since his sister has been able to actually play, he is happy to play with her for awhile, but then he’s done.

His sister is another story. Perhaps it’s because she’s the opposite of him, and she wants someone to play with all the time. She gets sad and mopes if she thinks she’s not the center of attention. She gets excited about going to school, and she wants to have playdates every single day, and sometimes twice a day. She loves birthday parties and people and interaction. She needs to be entertained, and she has a tendency to get very mad when no one will help her achieve that goal.

I also know I have not pushed her to be independent nearly as much as I pushed my son. If nothing else, he had to grow up when she came along. I was also very concerned about his lack of social skills, and I worked hard to help him feel comfortable being independent.

With her….I’ve started to push, on several things, several times…and then I let it go. “This is it,” I think. “She’s the last one.”

Not thoughts I ever expected would influence my hard-headed logical self. But my children have found pieces of me I never knew existed.

So, it is my daughter who, last week on Veteran’s Day, when we were all home and it was raining heavy like it does at this time of year, demanded my attention even after I spent all morning with them. Who cried and stamped her feet and sang her favorite litany (“Mommy doesn’t love me, Mommy doesn’t love me!”) from behind her bedroom door while she threw her stuffed animals at the door. And it is because of those same demands why I am sometimes rushing to get my homework done or put together the my son’s PTSA newspaper which I voluntarily edit, or even call a friend.

That same day, I had to call the president of the PTSA. It was all quiet at her house, and I remarked on this, wondering what she did with her kids on this rainy holiday. “Oh,” she said, “we did our thing this morning, and now they’re listening to their music on the computer and I’m doing my thing.”

I was impressed and amazed and in awe. Imagine that: they did their thing together, then they did their own thing, apart. Not forever, just for a few hours. That was when I understood that the thing between me and my daughter could be fixed. Should be fixed.

I emailed the same friend and asked her for advice. She basically said she wants to talk to me about it in person–it’s easier to explain and find out from me what’s going on. But I’d already been thinking, and talking to my husband, and I already understood the difference: I didn’t see any time as “my” time. When the kids were home, all time is “their” time.

The problem with that is twofold: 1)even if I had nothing else to do, ever, there is only so long I can play Star Wars guys, which includes doing a full range of voices for Clone Troopers, SuperBattle Droids and Darth Vader, and 2)I do have other things to do. Even taking away the PTSA work and my Facebook “work” and writing “work” and the whole talking-to-my-friends “work,” I still need to come up with meals. Sometimes I need to pay bills, make phone calls to doctors and speech therapists and teachers, make travel arrangements, carpool arrangements, birthday party arrangements. Sometimes I even need to clean another room besides the kitchen (OK, that’s so at the bottom of my list, but it would probably be good for the kids to see me clean just for kicks, and not because people are coming over).

And sometimes, the kids just need to play by themselves or with each other, and give us a break from being with each other.

But I feel like such a bad mom when my daughter looks at me with her big hazel eyes and holds my hand and tells me she loves me and really, really, really needs me to play Pet Doctor with her (this is before she has the temper tantrum if I say no).

And why do I feel like a bad mom? Here’s the deep thinking realization part: because I don’t really value anything else I do except be a mom. Nothing else I do seems as important, or as worthwhile, or as worthy. And, technically, it’s probably not. Editing the PTSA newsletter is not worth losing my kids. Writing poems and stories that so far, continue to just get rejected from every magazine on the face of the planet is not worth giving up time with my kids. Updating my profile on Facebook is definitely not as worthy as playing Star Wars guys for a bazillion hours with my daughter (judging by the happiness she gets out of it, that is).

The problem is, all of these things are things I enjoy. They make me happy. They make me feel connected. They make me feel successful.

Raising children is the most difficult job in the universe. If you are successful, you don’t necessarily know it until someone else tells you, or until your kid is 40 and says, “Thanks, Mom, for teaching me all that you did.” And then, if you’re 80, like I will be, will you really care? Will you even be able to hear them, much less recognize them? One can only hope, but the point is, raising children, you don’t get a pay raise every year for doing a great job. You don’t get bonuses. You don’t get awards or community recognition or people wanting you to speak all over the world because you are so damn good at what you do (that’s my husband).

A lot of the time, you get other people criticizing your methods. You get advice from strangers on the street. You get “looks” on the playground and in the airport. You get isolation from people your own age.

Sure, you get the “I need a magic kiss, Mommy, to make the owie better.” You get the “No, YOU have to put me to bed.” You get the “I miss you so much in school, Mommy,” and the “Look what I made you, Mommy!” You get the love, and the love is definitely far better then all of that stuff mentioned above. But that doesn’t mean it’s any less hard, on a day to day basis, when you give all day long and just want one hour to yourself to send people Pieces of Flair on Facebook or write a story that no one else wants to read but your husband.

It doesn’t mean that what relaxes you, what makes you feel centered and whole, is any less worthy then talking like Darth Vader to the delight of a little girl.

Today, after talking to my friend some more and talking to myself a lot more, I tried something new. I took the kids to the park for two hours. We walked down the hill; I even brought the wagon, at my daughter’s urging, although I was very firm in letting her know I would pull her down in it, but she would have to walk on her own going up (we have the heaviest wagon in the world). I pushed them on the tire swing for half an hour, at least. We walked over to McDonald’s and took food back to the park for a late fall picnic. We played on the tire swing until my shoulders ached. We played football. We played hide and seek. We started to play hide and seek freeze tag, but my daughter was sagging, and she got really mad for some reason or another.

I did not get on my cell phone. I did not keep looking at my watch, until the very end when Daughter was obviously worn out. I did not go to the bathroom for a very long time or find a really good hiding place (like my car) where it took them a long time to find me. I did not even use the fat lip my son gave me when his elbow slammed into my face on the tire swing as a reason to sit down. I did not suggest we go home until they were very, very ready to go home.

And when we arrived home, I told them very simply, very nicely, but very firmly, “It’s time for you to play by yourself or with each other and it’s time for me to do some work.”

My son, who would have done this anyway, said, “OK. Sounds great!”

But my daughter….she was the one I was worried about. She is the reason I’ve thought about doing this before, but have never really done it because, can I say this? I am sometimes afraid of her. Strangers have noted she is a “spitfire,” “firecracker,” and “headstrong.” They have no idea. I have been described as the same, my whole life (my mother just laughs when she sees us together), and yet I feel like she has bested me a thousand times over. The worst part is, I know she knows her…passion…makes me choose my words carefully. Today, on account of talking to myself in my head the whole time we were at the park, I was not afraid of her. I didn’t consider all the negative reactions she could have. I didn’t ask. I didn’t really wait around for her to give me her opinion. I kept moving, mentally, so to speak. Once I said it, it was a done deal.

She looked at me for a long moment, and I could tell she was trying to find the cracks in my armor. I must have appeared whole, because she just said, “OK. But you’ll play with me in a little while?”

“Of course,” I said.

“OK,” she said. “Hey, Brother, you wanna’ play with me?”

It could, of course, have been an exceptional day. I could have spent so much time with them they were honestly tired of me. The McDonald’s could have acted as an unspoken bribe.

Or I could have figured out that, if I feel my time is worthy, my kids will, too.

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You might have noticed my absence the last few months. Turns out it’s difficult to write when the kids are out of school. Of course, me being me (unrealistically optimistic, or a “Fruitbasket,” as my husband affectionately calls it), last June I envisioned us all sitting around and democratically agreeing when it was time for fun together, and when it was time for Mommy to go work on her computer. The kids were very willing to let me go work on my computer….just not during the day. Or when they were awake. Or….well. Reality intruded, as it always does, and I found myself cracking open my laptop at around 10 p.m. every night only to fall asleep over my own words (not a great ego-booster, let me tell you).

So, I’m working on getting back into the posting groove. I even have a rough draft on Word right now. And I will get to it in the next few days. I will! But for now, I thought I’d share with you a couple of the many fabulous, eye-opening, intelligent and often hilarious conversations my kids and I had this summer. It was a fabulous summer–it really was.

In the car, out on a Sunday drive, noticing all the pretty churches….we don’t go to church. Not for any particular reason, other then I don’t want to spend our sometimes only day all together listening to someone else talk while my kids spend an hour being babysat by other people and given information I don’t necessarily agree with. But I DO like to say things, sometimes, just to see what response I’ll get.

Me: Look at that church! Maybe we should start going to church.
Liam: NO!
Autumn: What do you do at church?
Me: We go and listen to people talk about life and living.
Autumn: What TV shows do they have there?
Liam begins giggling.
Me: Oh, you don’t watch TV there, sweety. Not usually.
Autumn: What movies do they show? Do they watch Cinderella?
Liam’s giggles blow up into full fledged laughter.
Frank is silent in the driver’s seat, but his smile tells me he enjoys watching me step into my own mud puddles as much as I enjoy doing it, although probably for different reasons.
Me: You normally don’t watch movies at church, sweety.
Frank: At least not the kind of movies you’re thinking of.
Liam is still laughing.
Autumn: Can you shop there?
Me: At church?
Autumn: Is it like a mall?
Me: Nooooo….you know the Bible? And when we talk about Jesus and God?
Autumn: Like at Christmas?
Me: Yep. That’s what you do at church: talk about Jesus and God and how to be a good person.
Autumn: But are there churches in malls?
Me: Nooooo….
Liam is about to have an aneurysm he is laughing so hard.
Frank: No, but that’s a good idea, baby girl. Churches in malls…..
Me: No, church isn’t really about TV or movies or shopping, sweety.
Autumn: Well, then, no thanks. I don’t think I really want to go.

Another conversation in the car–many of our best talks take place in the car, probably b/c no one has to meet anyone’s eyes. On this occasion, we were coming back from a large meal, and Autumn was sticking out her belly to express how incredibly fat she was.

Liam: “Autumn, you are SO fat you might be having a baby!”
Autumn: Ooohhh, a baby! Here comes a baby, squeezing out my belly button!
Liam: Ooooohhh your belly button is gonna’ pop open with that baby!
Shrieks and squeals and laughing chatter about babies coming out of belly buttons and suddenly it turns to ME squeezing them out of my belly button. Partly because I do believe in teachable moments, and partly because I believed babies DID come out of belly buttons until I was twelve and the truth was a shocker, and partly just because I like to say things (see above), I said,
“Actually, babies don’t come out of belly buttons. They come out of a woman’s vagina.”
Dead silence. Frank, again in the driver’s seat, rolls his eyes and smirks.
Liam, in a small voice: You mean the hoo-hah?
Me: Yes, but you know the hoo-hah’s real name is vagina.
Autumn: We don’t like that name.
Liam: Yeah
Me: Yeah, I don’t either, really.
More silence.
Liam: So, the mom squeezes out the baby from where she pees?
Autumn: Ewww.
Me: Not exactly. Girls have two holes in their vagina. One for peeing, and one for pushing out babies.
Autumn, wide-eyed, looks at her brother and then bends at her waist, trying as much as possible while still in car seat to examine herself through here clothes.
Liam: Isn’t it a little….small? To squeeze out a baby?
Autumn: Mine is DEFINITELY not big enough for a baby.
Me: The special hole gets bigger to accommodate the baby.
More silence. I can see the wheels spinning in their heads, and I gear up, realizing I’ve stepping into a gold mine of questions along this line–as in, “How does the baby get IN there?” But there is only silence in the back seat. They look back and forth at each other and to Autumn’s “hoo-hah” area with wide-eyes.
Liam: But you said you didn’t have us that way.
Me: No, I had to have a c-section with both of you. You were both too large for me to deliver vaginally. That’s what it’s called–vaginal birth. Most women give birth vaginally.
Autumn: By their hoo-hah?
Me: By their hoo-hah, yes.
Liam, finally snapping out of his trance, shaking his head: And once again, I am SO glad I am NOT a girl.
Autumn: I don’t think I will EVER have a baby. You can have a baby, Liam.
Liam: Autumn, I am a boy. I do NOT have a hoo-hah to squeeze out a baby.
Autumn, who has an innate sense of the facts of life more so then her brother: Well, you can go get a woman and have a baby with her, Brother, because I am NEVER doing that.
Liam: As long as I don’t have to watch her squeeze that baby out….

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A few months ago, after my son and husband caught the new Indiana Jones movie at the theater, my son put together his very own Indiana Jones outfit. For most of the summer, dressed in his overly long tshirt (worn backwards so only the white, not the brand on the front, showed), long-sleeved brown checked shirt that stands in for Indy’s leather jacket, and his floppy sun hat (REI calls it a ‘Research Rambler’), he ran around the yard singing the Indiana Jones theme song and lassoing trees with the homemade whip which he made from stripping a jump rope of its plastic handles.

The best part was that he kept his rope stuffed in his shorts. Not in a pocket–inside his shorts. Even now, several months after the Indy costume has been put to bed, I can still get a giggle at the memory of the looks on others’ faces when Liam would reach into his khaki shorts and pull out that rope. It was a good thing his tshirt was so long.

I didn’t ever have the heart to tell him that some moms were moving their children to the other side of the park when he dove into his pants and came out with a length of rope. After all, even if most of the kids were momentarily stunned when he reached into his waistband for his whip (ha-ha), once he had the whip in hand, they all looked a little envious that he had a whip in the first place, not to mention the handy storage space. Kids don’t, after all, have our framework to find humor or dismay in such behavior.

He was really proud of his costume, and I was, too: this is the same boy who had always refused to dress up until moments before we were leaving the house to Trick-or-Treat. He never got into the whole costume thing that some of his peers did when they were toddlers, and the closest he’s come in recent years to dressing up when it’s NOT Halloween is playing ‘Pretty, Pretty Princess’ with his sister (the game requires players to wear jewelry as they win it). So, maybe you can understand why I didn’t tell him to find a new whip storage, or ask him to take off the outfit completely, even when I realized he was sleeping in it.

I was afraid that if I asked him to take it off, he would never put it on again, and I wanted to enjoy this usually wise-beoynd-his-years boy who, for that brief moment in time was just young. In short, I was afraid if I made him take it off, even to wash, he would never become Indy again. Turns out I was half right.

The last time he was in full Indy gear was a very hot day, at least hot for us in the Pacific Northwest. The kids and I were walking to the park, only three blocks away, but Liam was, as I said, in full Indy gear. When my just-short-of-an-order suggestion to take off his “leather jacket,” was met with point-blank refusal, I tried logic, which usually works on him.

“It has to be 85 degrees out,” I told him, “and it’s humid today.”

“Indiana Jones doesn’t take off his jacket, and he doesn’t take off his hat,” I was told.

“Indiana Jones isn’t real,” I countered.

“Don’t care. Not doing it.”

I suppose, in retrospect, I should have forced him to take it off. But as I said, I was so very reluctant to do that. Worst case, I figured he’d get hot and take it off himself. I guess I didn’t realize how very wedded he was to being Indiana Jones.

Despite the abundance of shade at the park, my son chose the most sunniest area in which to run around and whip out his…whip…(sorry, but the puns and little jokes are endless, here) for at least half an hour. He had a drink of water, and then climbed onto the tire swing with his sister, who can easily achieve a Guiness World Record of Tire Swing Spinning, even after a full meal. He did this several times: play, swing, play, swing. Then we played a game of “Icebergs and Boats,” which he made up and included lots and lots of running and lassoing. It only lasted ten minutes, if that, because I felt the ruless were slanted in the boats’ favors (I was the iceberg, of course), but it was apparently long enough.

My son climbed back onto the tire swing with his crazy spin-addicted sister and within minutes he was pale and clammy and begging me to stop.

Two minutes later, despite moving him to the shade and having long drinks of water, he was close to vomiting. At that point, I forced him to give up his “leather jacket” so I could soak it in the drinking fountain and put it over his head.

“Nooooo!” he cried in outrage, but when I reminded him of the scene in one of the Indy movies where indy was riding through the desert and tied his shirt over his head, Liam agreed that it would, in fact, be something Indy would do. Still, he fell into a quiet which disturbed me.

We made it home. I tucked Liam onto a picnic bench in the shade and my daughter and I half-ran, half-walked up the three blocks to the house. We arrived just as my husband was pulling in, so we piled into the car and drove back to pick up Liam, who was still clammy and pale and very, very quiet. That night, he went into his room and, for the first time in months, undressed for bed.

His Indy outfit was in the hamper, and it wasn’t just a holding place for the next morning.

Liam has gone on to play Indiana Jones since then, but without the outfit. He has decided to be Indiana Jones for Halloween, even. But instead of resurrecting his homemade outfit, he chose a store-bought costume.

“Yours is much better,” I told him. “Ehhh,” he replied. “I can’t wear that anymore.”

I didn’t press, because I sensed he wouldn’t have been able to put his feelings into words, anyway. Much like that alien skin that crawled onto Peter Parker in the second (or third?) Spiderman, that outfit was a whole unit for Liam. Unlike an alien skin that can regenerate, Liam’s alter ego–the illusion he created for himself–was destroyed once a single piece was taken away from it.

“I’m sorry,” I whisper to him sometimes at night, when he is fast asleep and there’s no chance of him hearing me. Even as I’m doing it, I know I am neither the first nor the last mother to be sorry for having to do what is necessary, anymore then this will be the last time I will wish I could have done something different.

“I’m sorry,” I tell my sleeping boy. “But sometimes Mommy’s gotta’ do what’s she gotta’ do.”

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