Monday, May 01, 2017

Radio Silence

Today was the day I dreaded: My daughter got sick at school and I was physically unable to answer the call.

I think, maybe, she's forgiven me. 

I was in the pool teaching a swim class while my daughter was across town puking in the bathroom while on a field trip.

For a half hour, the school, my husband and a mom friend from school tried to reach me on my cell phone, which was neatly tucked into my swim bag.

For a half hour, my daughter was feeling unwell and probably wanted her mother (but would never admit that, because she's 8).

For a half hour, no one could reach me. I didn't even check my phone after my lessons. I finally glanced at my phone after being informed by a co-worker that my daughter was ill and my friend was trying to reach me. This dear, sweet woman scooped my child up from her field trip and delivered her, with a medical-grade barf bag, to me at work. (Thank God for friends who stock barf bags in their van!)

Normally, I'd relish the chance to be beyond reach. I can't go to the bathroom without my 10-year-old finding me to urgently ask when we can go to the Grand Canyon.

This was different, though. Yes, it was just a half hour.  Yes, my tribe stepped in. Yes, it happens to all working parents.

But it was the first time it had happened to me. It's the first time that I've not been able to drop everything right away for my child.

It was my first brush with working mom guilt.

Tomorrow will be my second brush with that guilt when I have to teach swim classes on my youngest's birthday.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Day 365

Seven years ago, I left my career in newspapers and became co-chief executive of a growing company. I would later call that company FiDO, a title crafted using parts of my children's names, and describe my title as co-chief executive, kid wrangler and poop inspector.

While the decision to leave my job was made for me, it turned out to be exactly what I'd always wanted: to be home full time with my kids while they were young. Seven years ago, I asked the question: Will I work outside the home again? 

The answer back then: Probably. If it's sooner rather than later, it will be out of sheer financial necessity. If later, it will likely be a more well-thought out reentry that fits a job around my family; not the other way around. 

Both scenarios played out but, thankfully, sheer financial necessity was met with a minimum of disruption to our family life. Thanks to prayer, severance pay, unemployment checks early on, freelance work that appeared as needed and a handy husband with a sense of thrift and self-reliance, we made it to the youngest child's first day of kindergarten in good financial condition. That was one year ago today.

My youngest is now in first grade. He's thriving and is a sweet, friendly, easy going kid at school. His kindergarten teacher wanted a whole classroom full of Owens. At home, he's still the Incredible Hulk. The other two are in second and fourth grades.

A lot has happened for me, too, this year. I began freelance editing and got some interesting gigs early on. While editing and communication are marketable skills for me, the work is only marginally exciting. It's a do-it-when-the-work-appears job that I can take only in small doses. I can't imagine doing it long term as a freelancer or a behind a desk. It's hard to let go of that job description, though. After all, I invested in a college degree.

But a college degree does not define me and my loans are paid off. I owe no allegiance to that degree. I thought about what does define who I am. What do I like to do? When do I feel best about myself? Where do I spend most of my free time? What do I read about when given a choice?

The answer to all of these was swimming and working out. The committee in my head said, "You cannot get a job where you basically work out or swim all the time. You'd never make enough money. Be practical, woman."

I took that advice, the "be practical" part, anyway, and headed over my local gym where I am a member. I applied for a job as a swim instructor. The job fuses communication and parenting skills with swimming expertise. The best part of the job is that I'm getting paid to be in the water instead of behind a desk. I get to wear a swim suit instead of uncomfortable clothes. I don't even have to wear shoes or pants. It's totally acceptable to take a hot shower at work. And, sometimes, between lessons, I go into the sauna to warm up. I also took a Lifeguard Certification Course. I'd always wanted to lifeguard, but did not have the self-confidence as a teenager or young adult to go for it.

I now attend all my staff meetings in a swim suit. I swim a couple hundred yards and spend most of the meeting in the water. I get paid to swim laps and practice strokes and rescue scenarios.

When I asked my boss what kind of schedule to expect, he said that I'd get a blank calendar each month to fill in my availability. That's about as family friendly as a job can get. 

Wednesday, January 06, 2016


"It's been a long December and there's reason to believe that maybe this year will be better than the last." - "Long December" by the Counting Crows (Yeah, I know it's January.)

I love that song, despite it's depressing elements. It fits my annual December mood. The weight of the past year mixed with hopefulness, seeing the changes and realizing the possibilities going forward. This year was the first Christmas with kids where no one was sick, no one had a meltdown about gifts not received, no one was stressed about what to get whom and how much to spend. For now, I feel as though I've got Christmas figured out for us.

The kids' break, however, has been rather rough. After the initial Christmas week activities of cookie baking, shopping, wrapping and unwrapping, it just became a game of trying to keep them from destroying the house and injuring each other. Even going to the bathroom is risky.

I'm going to the bathroom. Please try to hold it together till I return, I tell the kids. I can't believe I still have to say this. 

The weather has been a mix of warm and rainy and cold and sunny. Seriously, weather, get it together. So there's been a lot more television and screen time than I'd like, mostly to keep my youngest from attacking the other kids. It's like Owen has gone feral, attacking siblings and eating like an animal. One day I caught him squatting on a kitchen chair stuffing food in his mouth two-handed. Another time I saw him walk by his brother and swat him with a shirt he'd just removed. He's filthy all the time and only wants to wear his bathing suit and a comforter around the house while complaining that he's cold.

Why were you attacking your sister?
Because she wouldn't let me spank her, Owen cries. 

Danny, commenting on a show he's watching: The girl was right, but the boy kept saying the wrong answer. 
Yep, that's how it works, sweetheart, I told him.

I'm done talking now, so you can talk, Fiona says after a long winded dissertation about something.
Honey, I don't want to talk. I just want to stop listening.

Can I go outside? I won't play in the mud, Fiona assures me. 
What are you going to do outside?
Go look for nature to bring inside.
Please don't bring nature inside.
But, moooom, I'm going to bring it inside in a bucket. Oh, well then, carry on.

Mom, the boys won't dance with me and I'm being nice, Fiona says in hysterics. Oh, honey. She spent much of her school break choreographing dance shows and trying to get the boys to dance or watch.

They just forgot to give me a bag of candy so that I could cry all the way home, Fiona wailed. Oh, the drama. Good thing we weren't far from home.

I forgot where I put my shoes, but I found them because they were in the right place, Danny says. Okay, we have half the equation here: shoes in right place. Next step: remembering that they are in the right place.

Please don't wrap the cat. I can see how he'd be confused, though, since the cat was sitting on the wrapping paper.

Don't sweep the Christmas tree, child!

Owen has been rather lethargic lately so I offered him this solution.
You need to move your body more, Owen.
I know how to get him to move! Fiona pipes up. I'll stick my tongue out at him and he'll chase me.

But he has my stone and he might wish that I DIE! Owen had Fiona's wishing stone and it was so distressing. And somewhat likely given his feral nature of late.

Mom, is this a washing bath? Fiona asked. Um, are there other kinds?

Can I have broccoli for dessert? Owen asks. Sure, kid, whatever you want.

Why am I in this room? I mused after wandering into the kitchen. A small voice behind me said Because I am hungry.
Oh, hi Owen. Do you want a banana?
No, I don't eat bananas in winter. They taste funny. I've also been informed that cheese tastes bad in winter, too.

Till next time!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Sitting on a throne of lies

My family didn't do Santa Claus when I was growing up. My mom took a lot of flack from other people for that, but I never felt deprived. My parents had their own way of making Christmas special with the three gift rule symbolizing the three gifts the Magi gave baby Jesus.

Because I don't know the narrative of Santa Claus, I often feel as if I'm making this whole thing up as I go along. That's right. I'm making up lies about what is essentially a lie. Most people would call this "story telling" but we are just not story telling people around here. Did I ever mention that I don't often read fiction because I cannot seem to suspend disbelief enough to get into a story? This is why I have never read a Harry Potter novel. Child wizards are about as far from reality as it gets. Kind of like Santa Claus is to me.

Yet my children ask whether Santa eats noodles and if he really comes down the chimney and won't he get dirty doing that and what's his address. They have gotten to the age where they ask Santa for items that mom and dad refuse to let them have. Clearly I have license to create the narrative for them. So I have.

Here are a few of the lies I've told my children:

Santa won't come if our house is a mess. This is a great way to get the kids to help clean the house.

Santa won't leave any new toys if he sees too many toys out. He'll think you have enough and move on. This works much better than my threats to throw out or banish toys they neglect to clean up.

Santa has to clear present choices with mom and dad.

Santa has a budget.

Santa doesn't deliver live animals.

I don't, however, tell them to be "good" for Santa. I don't believe that kids are good or bad, well or ill behaved. They're just human beings learning how to adult, which is something that I am still doing some days. For us, Christmas is about grace. And you don't have to earn grace.

Friday, November 20, 2015


We're well into the second quarter of school here. The kids are doing well. I'm busy volunteering and working on some freelance editing and writing as well as training as a swim instructor. I'm at a loss for words tonight, so I'll just let the kids do the talking:

Can my name be Buster [from the Arthur cartoons] because he's always hungry? Owen asks.

A few days later, as we're eating burgers:
Can my middle name be Burger Smash? Owen asks.
So you want your name to be Buster Burger Smash? I ask. Seems totally appropriate.

Owen, what are you looking for? I ask.
Have you seen my taxi?
he asks.
No, but I'm sure it's not in that bucket of candy [that you're rifling through].

Please take this out to the compost.
[Insert long explanation by Owen how it's Fiona's turn to do it and finally grudging acceptance of the task.] But I'm going to be grumpy when I get back, Owen says.

They have police dogs, but why don't they have police cats? Yeah, they can chase bad guys that go up trees, Owen says.

Fiona is a hot mess as usual.

Fiona, please clean up whatever pee is on the bathroom floor.
It wasn't me who peed there!
Do you know how much pee I clean up that is not mine?
[Blank stare from Fiona]
How do you know when you'll have a baby? Fiona asks.
Well, when you move into a house with more bedrooms than people, then you know, Jim answered.

Mom, is Santa real or do you and dad buy the gifts and stomp your feet on the doorstep so we can hear Santa? Fiona asks. Um, how did we get here so quickly? For crying out loud, she's SIX. I simply asked her "What do you think?" She gave me a wicked smirk. She totally knows.

A few recent arguments that I've refereed:
Mom, Fiona is kicking me, Danny calls up the stairs.
Stay away from her feet, I called down.

Mom, I was just standing in the TV room doing nothing and Owen kicked me, Fiona wails.
Stand somewhere else, I told her.

Mom, Danny kicked me in the belly.
Danny's explanation? I was trying to help him get his sweatshirt on.

Fiona comes up and informs me that Danny was lying down on her. Upon further investigation, I learn this from Danny:
Did you lie down on your sister?
Mom, I wanted to lie down. I didn't want to lie down on Fiona. 

Right. My children are masters at martyrdom.

Words I never thought I'd utter:
Ketchup is not soap. Fiona was rubbing ketchup into her hands, claiming it was soap.
Stop painting with ketchup. Owen informed me that he was finger painting with ketchup, other wise known as making a mess.
Please don't lick me. Owen had just informed that he was hungry and then licked me.
Stop following me around the kitchen with that butter, I told Owen who was trying to "help" me cook dinner.
Stop parachuting down the stairs, I told Danny who nearly jumped on me while holding plastic grocery bags above his head.

Till next time. 

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Grace and Gratitude

I woke this morning with a plan. A complicated, multi-pronged plan for getting kids and parents three different places at all different times at opposite ends of town. Both parents scheduled to work at overlapping times, one kid who needed to be one place with a parent, the other two left as loose ends to be tied somewhere and no plan for contingencies.

One phone call and all plans were out the window. The husband had to cover someone else's shift at the last minute. As the default, on-duty parent this morning, I did the only thing that made sense. I called out of work myself and took over. In the end, it was a simpler morning that kept all five us relaxed, happy and on the same side of town.

Today was the kind of day I dread. Our family tends to avoid these weekend rodeos. As a majority introvert family, we prefer to pace ourselves with carefully selected (and free) activities that fit into our family. These years with them come only once and we'd rather not spend them in a flurry of activity with little time for all of us to reflect on who we are and who or what we belong to.

Today was also an anniversary for me. Sixteen years ago today I began learning and reflecting on who I am and who I belong to. I slowed down. I put the cap on the bottle of booze. I listened. I cried. A lot. I raged. I accepted that broken part of myself and I began recovering.

Sixteen years ago today, I walked into a room full of strangers and was offered a cup of coffee by a kind woman who asked me when I last drank. Noticing my shaking hands, she handed me half a cup. I tried hard not to spill it. We talked. She told me her story. She stayed with me all day long, helped me empty bottles of wine, and took me to her house where I cried on her sofa for hours. Janice, who is among many women who helped save my life, died this year.

On that day, I also briefly shook hands with the man who is now my husband. I was surrounded by women at that moment and he thought it best to leave me alone for a while. After all, he thought, that woman is a mess. (I'm sure he still thinks this some days.)

And this week, I could have easily melted into that mess of a woman with a wine glass. I didn't, though I really wanted to. It would have been much easier than dealing with the barrage of monkey wrenches thrown into an overfull schedule.

You see, my son was suspended from school this week. On the evening of his unplanned day off, he and I attended a workshop for his First Reconciliation process. Today there was a retreat for his class to which I planned on sending him with his father. Someone knew that I needed to be there with him.  Reconciliation is about forgiveness and we both needed that reminder this week.

So instead of executing the complicated and stressful Plan A, I spent the morning talking about forgiveness and conscience with fellow Catholics and participating in a meal-packaging service activity with my son and daughter.

Then I went home, introverted pretty hard, and took a nap. I can't think of a better way to celebrate 16 years of grace and gratitude.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Top 5 Reasons Gravity is a Bi#$%

My children sincerely believe that the laws of physics do not apply to them. Water spilling, objects rolling off tables, falling from chairs - all totally unacceptable to them. It's not their fault, you see. That chair was being mean and somehow ejected them. The book bag is stupid for jumping off the chair. They need to sleep on the edge of their bed, you see, to make room for their 50 stuffed animals and a 2-foot long submarine. Sigh. Here's why gravity just should not be trusted:

1. Water flows down. My children like to put their water bottles into their backpack upside down and then wonder why their backpack is wet.
2. Book bags that are half set upon a chair fall off. The concept that the items in the bag fall to the bottom of the bag and will hence slide right off a chair if set on the edge is lost on them.
3. Tacos and burritos just simply will not cooperate. Why can't you eat a taco upside down without falling out?
4. Sleeping on the very edge of the bed lands them on the floor. Every. Time. And it so unfair.
5. Chairs. Oh my word, chairs. They each tumble out of one at least once a day. Even getting into a chair is challenging for them. I've seen my children tumble headfirst over the back of a chair and land on the floor. One of my children likes to run headlong into the seat of the chair, his feet flipping up. When I wind up in the ER with one of them, all I'll have to say is "Chair" and they will instantly understand.

That is all.