Thursday, January 31, 2008

To Whom it May Concern:

I give up; I quit. I’m a lousy mother and I don’t want to do it anymore. I cannot get my children to eat or to sleep. Can you think of two more basic animal instincts than eating or sleeping? Breathing, perhaps.

They do breathe, most of the time, except last weekend, E got either a piece of chip or part of a large grape or one of the large grape’s large seeds stuck in his throat, pointed to his neck and squeaked “hurt me.” He didn’t stop breathing, but he might of while I was debating whether to call the on-call doctor or rush him to the emergency room. Fortunately he vomited all over me and the bathroom and himself before I had to decide.

Which just proves I’m a lousy mother, because I let a two year old eat chips (they were for the hummus) and I don’t bother with cutting up grapes anymore. I even broke down and bought hot dogs, for the first time in my life. We were in the health food store and they saw the turkey dogs in the freezer and started clamoring for them, and I read the ingredients, which although they were “all natural” sounded kind of full of “all natural” additives. Then I saw organic all-beef hot dogs in the refrigerator, and they seemed less full of extra stuff, so I bought them, even though they were obscenely expensive, and they made the boys really really happy. (OK, so they do eat sometimes--chips, grapes, hummus and hotdogs, and yogurt, cereal and pancakes and pretty much any fruit).

E kept calling them “hedgedogs” which is what he calls the hedgehog in “Trouble With Trolls,” and I kind of worry that he thinks hot dogs are actually made out of hedgehog, which is kind of disturbing, but is it any more disturbing than cows, when you think about it?

If I do quit this gig, I will kind of miss that sort of thing. I would also miss this, which M wrote in his diary at school last week: “01/17/08. This morning my mom wouldint let me bring my cd player and thre CDs. I tried to convinse her but she wouldint let me. I told my mom thate I would give my mom Allawinse but my mom would not let me do it. I told my mom yesterday Leah brout hers she said If Leah Jumped off a cliff would you do IT No I said.”

Well maybe I won’t quit, not yet. But maybe I could hire someone for the night shift. The sleep experiment is failing. It worked for about a week, and they still will fall asleep in their own bed, if they haven’t had a nap. Ever tried cooking dinner at 5:00 with two really tired and cranky two-year-olds hanging from your legs? It should be an Olympic event, I think, or a new form of torture the CIA could try out. The other nights, when they do nap (the three days they go to daycare and about two of the four days they don’t), forget about it. Right now it’s 9:20 p.m. and they’re doing puzzles and eating the toasty cheese sandwiches they refused at dinner time. I just want to curl up in bed with a book and pretend I’m a grownup without two 35-pound mobile growths on my body.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Buy Nothing Year, Part II

This will tell you a lot about how my brain works (as in obsesses over trivialities): the one thing I worried about when I decided to buy nothing new for the year 2008 was birthdays. Not those of my own family members—I knew I could cover them with homemade and found items (including a few intended Christmas presents that came in the mail after that date)—but other kids’ birthdays.

I have a few friends who have kids M’s age, who also share my environmental values and are also fed up with the amount of stuff their kids have. For those birthdays, I know I can create something that will make both me and the other moms feel good, and hopefully make the kids happy too. Last year two of these kids had birthdays within a week of each other, and I pulled a couple of late nights whipping up drawstring backpacks out of nature-themed material. M decoupaged small sketch books with wildlife pictures cut out of magazines. We added a field guide and a set of colored pencils to each and voila—nature backpacks. As I suspected, the moms loved them, and I was relieved to find out later that while they didn’t produce the thrill upon opening that the big, flashy toys did, the kids enjoyed using them later.

But with kids from M’s class, whose parents I don’t know, I can’t really count on a positive response to non-commercial gifts. At least two of the birthday parties M went to last year M gave the kids the first set of Legos either of them (at age six!) had ever received. All of their other presents were battery-powered and remote-controlled things. Now M has several remote control vehicles (gifts from his uncle), which he takes out to play with maybe once a month. The batteries usually burn out in a matter of minutes, he has to fight with his brothers to keep them away from them and some of them are clearly designed for adults or much older kids and are too complicated for M to dismantle and assemble to change engine components. Did I mention they require zero imagination or creativity? I can’t imagine a nature backpack would go over big in these households.

I had a test of my non-consumer mettle this past weekend, as the birthday party of M’s good buddy from school approached. At first M wanted to get him copy of The Dangerous Book for Boys, which costs more than I usually spend on birthday presents, but M worked out a deal where he would pay half and his dad would pay the other half, thus exempting me from having to figure out a solution to this problem. But as the day approached, M became reluctant to spend $14 of his own money and suggested we get him Legos. I hesitantly offered to make another nature backpack, but M said, "No, C____ only likes cool things." I tried to worm my way out by proposing that C take M to the store Saturday morning before the party to buy the gift, but C pointed out that since we were home Friday anyway (another snow day), I should go get it. I wavered a moment and then resolved to stick to my guns.

Taking a page from No Impact Man’s book, I suggested we give the child the gift of an experience. I gave M the choice between a gift card to either the movie theater or a bowling alley. It could be argued that movies are about as commercial as you can get, and the nearby movie theater is part of a big chain, while the bowling alleys are local businesses, and at least bowling is exercise. But I knew for sure the movie theater had gift cards, but I wasn’t so sure about the bowling alleys. M chose the movies. We drove up to consumer hill after a morning at the Children’s museum. The theater offered cards for $10 or $25. We bought two $10 cards, giving the kid the option of treating his family to a movie or taking a swim in a huge vat of popcorn. C, who took M to the party, reported that the kid was excited for the movie cards (an additional environmental benefit is they required only a tiny square of wrapping paper), so now I can relax…until the next birthday party.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Buy Nothing Year

This is part one of a two-part post.

Inspired by No Impact Man and The Compact, among others, I decided to make one of my New Year’s Resolutions to buy nothing (with a few exceptions*) new in 2008. I had been toying with this idea for a while, but finally decided to go for it around Christmastime (I think the stench of cheap, crappy consumerism in K-mart pushed me over the edge).

Once I made the decision, I felt so light and liberated. I went out for a last-minute shopping splurge in the last week of December (a pair of gloves for M because I finally gave up on finding the ones I bought last year, Three Kings Day trinkets for the twins, one black cardigan to replace the one I lost two years ago, four pairs of angora socks because it’s really cold here, one spiral field journal, one marbled writing notebook, and one light blue colored pencil for the sky) and as I entered each store, I thought, “I don’t have to come back here for a year!” This was especially heartening news as I navigated the poorly-planned, pedestrian-lethal, and generally disgusting shopping area known (to C and me at least) as Consumer Hill.

I was (and am still) excited to take on the challenge of meeting our needs by making or making do. It feels so Little House…like I’m Ma Ingalls knitting away at Christmas mittens while the kids twist straw into logs to feed the wood stove. I’m already imagining birthday and Christmas presents I can make (this may partly be due to my brain being poisoned by craft blogs). One project I’ve been meaning to take on for some time (even before I decided to go consumer cold-turkey) is to make pants for E and Z. Though their drawers fairly burst with t-shirts and sweaters, they are severely lacking in the trouser category because M was considerably smaller than they are so they don’t fit the pants he wore at two and the pants M wore at three were mostly hand-me-downs at least once if not two- or three-times removed from their original owner and mostly all have holes in the knees (which I intend to fix). I also want elastic-waist pants that fit over cloth diapers and don’t squish their Buddha-bellies.

I was able to unearth a large piece of midnight-blue twill left over from the Asian baby carriers I made before the twins were born and was obsessed with baby-wearing and actually thought I could wear two babies in two ABCs at the same time. I finally had a chance to cut out the pattern this weekend. There was just enough fabric to squeeze out two pairs of pants, if I made the pockets of one pair from another fabric. It involved some elaborate folding and pattern-flipping layout techniques. Then E and M who had been playing upstairs came down, and Z woke up from his nap, and in my haste to get it all cut out quickly, I neglected to flip a pattern piece and now one panel (the back of someone’s leg) will be the flat inside of the fabric, while the other three panels will be the soft, brushed twill side. In the old consumerist days, I could have driven the 40 minutes to the fabric store and bought another yard to fix the leg but now, I’ll just have to make do.

*My somewhat arbitrary exceptions to the buy nothing rule are: underwear (this may include bras, because I really could use some that actually fit); socks; materials required for making stuff (e.g. elastic), but I must complete all half-done projects before buying new ones; winter gear for the kids if I can’t find used (it is soooo important to me that they have warm boots and gloves and such in this frozen climate, but I think we have enough of everything to get through the next year); shoes for kids (M has subsisted off hand-me-downs for the last year and will really need sneakers come spring, and there’s supposedly something about kid feet needing the proper support new shoes provide—correct me if I’m wrong); renewing some (but not all) of my magazines (The Sun, Brain, Child, Orion, and the zines); photos and photo books (pictures are huge for me and I have three photo books almost put together at Snapfish that I just haven’t finalized and ordered yet) and possibly more writer’s notebooks when I fill the ones I have all up, which I hope I will.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Journey of the Sleep-Deprived

I need sleep. I walk around at work feeling like I'm trying to communicate underwater. I forget things. Yesterday morning I was in the shower when I realized I had forgotten to go to a dinner Tuesday evening for adult ed teachers (I'm teaching a class this winter--more on that later). I was mentally kicking myself for being so spacey, when M came in the bathroom to tell me that the Beach Boys were on the radio at gymnastics the previous day. Only it took him about 16 sentences to convey this information. When I came out of the shower I could hear Z bawling downstairs. When I got down there, I could see he was mad (completely undone) because M was eating cereal out of HIS bowl. Because I had just gotten up and had a semi-peaceful five minutes in the shower, I was able to use my best empathic voice, "M is eating his cereal out of your bowl and now you're really really sad. Papa didn't know that was your bowl. You can use another bowl today and have your bowl tomorrow." That didn't work. He started crying about the cereal, pointing to the cabinet. I shuffled around for another box of cereal and he just screamed, "no, no!" to everything I proffered, finally getting his point across that he wanted to close up the box of Shredded Spoonfuls and tape it closed, so that he could open it himself. By the time we accomplished all this M was done eating and I was able to rinse out his bowl, give it to Z, remove the tape from the box and pour him cereal. Whew.

Fifteen minutes later, I had everyone dressed and we started to get ready to go out. I got E in his snow suit, boots, coat, hat and mittens. M got himself ready. Z ran to get his vest--his new favorite article of clothing, a red nylon vest that he discovered in the drawer that must be at least 20 years old, with a frayed zipper and those really shiny silver snaps. He put it on himself and I zipped it up and proceeded to put on his snowpants. And he flipped out because he didn't want the snowpant straps over the vest. Now if I was still the calm, relaxed mommy of 15 minutes ago, I would have calmly removed the vest, fastened the snowpants, replaced the vest and moved on to coat, boots, hat and mittens. But at this point I was fed up, we were running close to missing the bus, and I just didn't want to deal with a two year old acting like a two year old. So when he started kicking when I tried to put his boots on, I opened the front door and put him on the snowy front step in socks. Still he kicked and screamed when I tried to put on the boots and C came in to find me crying in a heap on the floor and Z in full blow-out fit. C took over, I got my own stuff together, and we pulled into daycare at the exact same moment as the bus. Inside daycare, Z continued to dramatize over the vest, needing to hang it on a hanger just so, without any interference from me.

He was clearly really tired, and so was I. I had been really excited the night before, because I'd been able to sneak out of the bedroom while E and Z were still awake, and they didn't notice, cry or come after me. Unfortunately, C took that moment to come upstairs and change clothes, so E got up and came and joined me in bed where I was writing. I fell asleep, and so did Z in his own bed, E fell asleep in C's spot. At some point in the night though, E fell on the floor (either C moved him to his own bed, and he came back, or C moved him to my side of the bed) and I must have been really deep asleep, because C had already gotten out of bed, come around to my side and picked E up before I really realized what happened. Not long after that Z joined us in bed and proceeded to spend a really restless night, talking in his sleep and tossing around. So of course I spent a really restless night. In the shower yesterday morning, even before I melted down at and with Z, I decided I need to get more (better) sleep--no more lying down with E and Z until they fall asleep (and so do I) and no more E and Z in my bed in the middle of the night.

After I went away for a weekend in November, they stayed in their own bed that weekend and for several days afterward, but resumed their nighttime rambles. The only solution I could think of is to go away again. But since that's not really in the cards right now, I decided to work on the front end--getting them to go to sleep by themselves, so I don't disrupt my own sleep with a nap from 8-9:30 p.m. and because maybe, just maybe those books that say if a kid puts himself to sleep at the beginning of the night, he'll be able to put himself back to sleep in the middle of the night are right. So last night after I tucked everyone in, I turned off the light and stood at the end of the bed rather than crawling in with them. "Mom, aren't you going to sleep with us?" M asked. "No. Shhh." "Mama deep us?" E asked. "No, shhh." "My mama, seep us?" Z asked. "No. Shhh." And after they quieted down, I tiptoed ever so quietly to my own room. I didn't want to turn the light on right away and attract their attention, so I lay down on the bed in the dark. And woke up at 9:30.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

New GEMINI Forthcoming

As most of you probably know, before I started this blogging thing, I did something really old-fashioned--I wrote and published a zine. For those of you not in the know (like me a couple of years ago) zines are small, independent, handmade publications that can cover pretty much any topic on Earth, although there is a pretty big universe of mama-zines (this is where I drew, and continue to draw, my inspiration). I love, love, love making my zine.

I work in a job where everything, everything, is done by committee, every word written gets re-written three or four times. I learned a long time ago to have no ownership or emotional investment in anything I do there, so it's fine, but I think that constraint is why I get so excited over having TOTAL CONTROL over my work in my zine. Sometimes I have contributors, sometimes my husband reads over it to edit it, but it's still MINE ALL MINE! And I love it much more than my blog, because I spend a lot more time and energy writing and laying out everything to just my specifications--while the blog is much more spontaneous, but also a lot sloppier. And I also love that I send my zine directly to my friends and other zinesters and they can curl up in bed and read it that very day, and no one has to go out of their way to look for me on their computers. My favorite part, is picking up that box of crisp, freshly stapled and folded booklets from the printer. It all looks so REAL, like I really do something with my time, that doesn't end up gathering dust or getting thrown into the compost bin. I may as well admit, I also really love re-reading my own work, finding things I wrote funny, or poignant, and being pleasantly surprised by that. I also like finding my own typos, because I'm weird like that (I should have been a proof-reader). So, blog or no blog, I'm going to keep on zine-ing for as long as I can afford the printing and mailing costs, and for as long as I have a captive audience who likes reading what I have to say (or who all lie and say they do).

To that end, I have nearly completed GEMINI (that's what my zine is named) Issue #7: Word to Your Mother. Inside: I discover the library, the twins learn to talk (oh so slowly), M becomes a money-grubber, and I disclose one of my darker mommy secrets (hint: it has to do with a very popular children's author), plus poetry, haiku, cartoons, book reviews and more.
If you're on my zine list, you'll be getting one in a week or so. If not, leave me a comment and I'll send you ordering information.

I'm also thinking about putting back issues on this site, but to do that I have to a) scan in some "artwork" that I originally cut-and-pasted and b) make a decision about how much personal info I want to reveal here on the internets. Since I only have about four readers, and I'm one of them, I don't think this will be much of an issue, so stay tuned.

Monday, January 7, 2008

How Low Can We Go?

It’s nearing midnight Friday night and I’m in the bathroom, holding E over the toilet as he pukes and the thought that runs through my head is, “This is the greatest day of my life!” The night started out with M having some kind of nightmare/night terror/sleep talking and walking incident. I was in bed reading when he started up his agitated and nonsensical talking. I finally got him woken up (I think), calmed down and back in bed when Z started crying. I went over to his end of the bed and smelled vomit. I yelled for C and we went into action (after years of puking child experience--usually M--we have this down to a science). I took Z to the bathroom to clean him up, C took the other kids into our bed (yes they all share one big bed--a story for another day) and stripped the sheets. He took everything downstairs to the washer, I remade the bed, putting towels over Z’s spot and everyone was back in bed in less than 10 minutes. Scarcely had I resumed reading, however, when I heard E fussing. Sure enough, he had started crawling out of bed when he vomited. Luckily, he hadn’t eaten much all day, so we were able to do damage control with sponging and towel-covering. For the next two hours, one or the other of the twins was up and running to the bathroom to throw up every twenty minutes. And I was so delighted by this milestone--puking in the toilet!!--that I actually, in my sleep-deprived and vomit-covered state--ranked the experience right up there with graduation, my wedding, the births of my children and whatever other days Hallmark tells us are the greatest. In the early wee morning hours M got up and started in driving the porcelain bus (he’s been an old hand at hitting the mark for some time, being a person of weak stomach, or something). Then last night, I mentioned to C that I had a headache, and he said maybe I was getting the thing, and I said, “That would be kind of nice--send everyone to daycare, and stay home puking all day.” This is how low things have gotten around here.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

New Year Rut

Around this time of year, I, like everyone else, start to take stock of my life, and I realized this year--as I do every year--that I have a college degree and 12 years of work experience and exactly ZERO marketable skills. Maybe I'm exaggerating--I could get another job, a job exactly like this one, that is slowly eating away at my soul. I'm not really sure how to explain this, other than that if you really want to keep an employee around, make sure she doesn't develop any kind of aptitude to do anything other than what she has to do for that job. Of course I could have gone to graduate school, sometime before I had three kids, and a house, when I had the ability to move near a university with a graduate program. Or I could have gone into something more useful, like healthcare. Now that's something you can do anywhere on earth. The trouble is, that to be successful in healthcare, you have to like people, and their ailments and bodily fluids, and I just don't.

The other reason I can't leave this job that's killing me from the inside out is money. I'm a greedy, greedy person, and even though we all like to complain about how poorly paid we are around here, with my total lack of marketable skills and in the total economic dead zone where I live, there's no way I could even come close to matching my current salary, doing something else, which I don't know what that would be, because I'm not qualified to do anything. Then of course there's the health insurance. We have really good health insurance. By that I mean they actually cover preventive care, and the co-pays and deductibles are relatively low, and when we have a trip to the emergency room or something (three boys--this happens a lot), I only have to make two or three phone calls to get the insurance company to pay up. In this country, that's premium healthcare.

On New Year's Eve, after watching Underdog with M, and sending him to bed, C and I watched Sicko, Micheal Moore's documentary about the Health Insurance Industry (yeah, we're slow, but at two movies a month, our Netflix queue extends out to 2011) and I swear to god it was the most depressing thing I've ever seen. Yeah, I knew that Canada and the UK and even Cuba had state-run health care, and way better health outcomes and all that, and that tons of people in the US have no insurance and inadequate care (I was one of those people until about 8 years ago), but somehow it just never struck me as so unbelievably wrong and ridiculous and outrageously unfair before. I was ready to either march out into the streets or move to the French Riviera after I saw it, but it's super cold here, so I'm not out marching. And I have no marketable skills, remember, so even Cuba wouldn't want me. Instead I'm droning on in my soul-sucking job, so that next time Z needs four stitches, I don't have to pay the $1200 out of my pocket.
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