It’s silly to cry, but I am overcome

This morning as I pulled out of our neighborhood, Sally and Susan wanted to know why there were flags at the end of the cul-de-sac. I turned my head to look back, then shrugged. Maybe today is Washington’s or Lincoln’s actual birthday, I guessed.

I dropped them off at school; Susan was incensed that her refusal to get dressed in a timely manner meant that she got dropped off second. I had to stop for gas (thanks, Dick) and it started snowing; so much for my optimistic flipflops.

As I left Seagull Fountain with only Spot now in the car, I slowed down to wonder why there was a cavalcade of cars and both of the city’s fire trucks, and assorted police vehicles, lights on, no sirens, turning on to my street. Still, I just shrugged again and continued on.

Spot and I bought milk and frozen fish sticks and came back through the increasing flurries.

That’s when I noticed the banner on the garage of the house down the street:

WELCOME HOME SGT. PATTERSON.

And now I can’t stop crying.

It’s silly, because I haven’t even met the people who live in that house yet, as far as I know. I don’t know the Pattersons.

But if it were my son or my husband, or my daughter or my mother coming home, I would be crying on my knees.

It’s silly, because I don’t even have any close soldiers overseas right now. I don’t know the moms and dads, husbands and wives, sons and daughters. I don’t know how long they’ve been gone, or in what condition they return.

I do know I’m not the only mother weeping today.

Welcome home, Sergeant Patterson. And thank you.

Jane

Once my baby, always my baby

I know we’re in a recession, but it still makes me feel unspeakably wealthy and privileged whenever I take my kids to the dentist. There’s just something about all that equipment and technology being focused on my daughters’ teeth, which are going to fall out in a few years, that reminds me how incredibly different our lives would be if we’d been born in Garbage City.

Also I feel like such a good mommy when I subject them to the cleaning and flouride and x-rays. I hope this bi-annual spectacle of responsibility on my part makes up for lackadaisical morning brushing, not to mention non-existent flossing.

I’m going in myself next week, to get the chip in my front tooth fixed. A chip I did not notice until one day I was looking in the mirror and I wondered who that hick with the chipped tooth was. Oh. Time to get the gray in my hair touched up, too, probably.

Today was Fat Tuesday/National Pancake Day, so after the dentist I took my girls to IHOP for a free shortstack. (I assume prophylactic flouride counteracts one morning of unrighteous carbs.)

When I asked Susan, ever-so-non-pressuringly, if she’d like me to cut her pancakes, she screeched. Loudly. Right in the middle of the high-class IHOP dining area. There was yelling about not liking her pancakes cut ever and being so mad that I’m always trying to cut her pancakes and also that she hates me.

Normally this would really upset me. But I was determined that we were having a fun girls’ morning out, a mother-daughter date that we’d all look back on as the beginning of a fun tradition, maybe, or at least a good experience to associate with going to the dentist.

So I talked to her patiently, really low, and, to my utter flabbergastation, she calmed instantly. She may have even conversed pleasantly for the rest of breakfast, though I was in too much of a “really? That parenting technique worked?” fog to notice.

Is it weird that the more I enjoy the three children I have, the less inclined I am to have another?

We stopped at Old Navy for socks and Target for some dollar spot deals, and then headed back to Seagull Fountain to get Sally to school. Punctuality and not missing any unnecessary school are really important to me.

Sally said her tummy hurt and probably she should stay home for the rest of the day. I suggested that maybe she was just feeling a little nervous about walking in late, but I was sure she’d be happy once she was there among her friends. She said her tummy really, really hurt, and that she could prove it by lying on her bed all day. I said, “Without a book?” and she said, “Of course not without a book.”

So I shared with her this fundamental truth of life: “Wanting to lie on your bed all day with a book doesn’t mean you’re sick. It means you’re normal.” Now get inside Miss Jones.*

I asked if she’d feel better if we walked in with her, which probably is what good mommies are supposed to do anyway, since the school office people like to give you those little slips of paper that declare the absence “excused,” which is kind of like a cashier at the grocery store telling me it’s okay to feed my kids leftover spaghetti for lunch.

So we kissed and hugged and Susan and Spot and I left, talking affirmatively all the while about how exciting it will be when they get to go to school in a few years.

Then Sally ran out the door behind us, crying, because her class wasn’t in the room, and she had no idea where they were.

Normally this would really bug me, because, what are you, EIGHT, Sally? But she is my baby, my first baby, and I can almost remember how traumatic things can be in second grade, like the time I peed my pants in Mrs. Ortgiesen’s class because I didn’t want to get out of line for the take-home library book. And if I think this is bad? Hello. WHAT am I gonna do when these girls turn thirteen?

So we walked her back in and found her class friends in the lunchroom. Smiles all around and another mushy leave-taking.

And three stinky-cute kids have taught this dense mommy another fundamental truth of life: “Try a little patience, a little empathy, understanding, and compassion, and this mommy gig is suddenly not so hard.”

Jane

*Some Kind of Wonderful

She’s just not that into you

I’ve been really lucky to live in some odd places. Places where it was easy to find friends because there were only a few of us in the same situation, even after I left college, where you pretty much live with friends and learn with friends and work with friends. Places where the choice is between being friends and being alone.

First there was Japan, where Dick and I lived next door to our three co-workers for the semester. British Caroline and I bonded over the Japanese-subtitled James Bond marathon, and Lou from the Philippines and I bonded over a shared worldview (and Tina from America, if you ever read this, you always had the best manicure!).

Then there was Harlem, where Mimi and I were the only white, married (and pregnant) twenty-two year-olds. Then The Bronx where I had Angela and Laura at work.

And then there was Cairo, where Suzy, Katherine, Rebecca and I were the only twenty-something wives of teachers/graduate students with pre-school age kids.

Even in Florida my closest friendships seemed providentially serendipitous — Jill was the first church-lady-fellowshipping partner I ever had who got me, and Tara was in Florida for one year only — the year she and her husband and kid moved across the country all so she could meet me.

Some of these friends I might not have gotten close to if the laws of proximity hadn’t necessitated our friendship, and in many cases those friendships are even more precious because of our surface differences.

Now I live in my dream community, the kind of place I used to tell Angela and Laura (both quintessential New Yorkers) was “Zion.” I was kidding, a little bit, but I really like Utah. It’s not as diverse as most of the other places I’ve been; still, it’s the kind of place, in all other respects, that I’m excited to raise my daughters in.

But I don’t have any friends. (Except Chrysanthemum, and she’s a great friend, don’t get me wrong, and the fact that she moved in just down the street the same week is another clear case of providential serendipity, and without her I’d be bereft.)

But the haze of moving and settling and re-routine-ing has lifted a bit, and I look around and I start to recognize people because they look like their kids, who are familiar to me from primary (3-12 year-old Sunday School, which I’m 2nd in line to be in charge of), and I wonder who I’d like to be friends with, and who’d like to be friends with me.

I put myself out there. I’m involved in church and school and neighborhood activities. People (women) are always friendly, sometimes enthusiastically so, but . . . my (admittedly hesitant/timid/nonexistent?) overtures haven’t led anywhere.

Most days I’m happy to let things meander. I’ve got Chrysanthemum, after all, and awesome bloggy friends, and old good friends I could call up or email or Facebook. And I think, well, this is a good opportunity to focus on the kids, to do some more writing, to finish my basement.

Until I remember I have absolutely no idea how to begin finishing a basement. And really, I’d like to have a few more friends within visiting-every-day, Arctic-Circle-running distance.

Suddenly making friends seems a hard thing to do. And it’s not even that people have lived here forever. Seagull Fountain is pretty new, and several families nearby have been here less than a year. But even they seem to not need me, to not be searching for friends as I find myself (thinking of) doing.

And the last thing I want is to be a project friend. We were a project for a nice military family in Japan, only we didn’t know that we were a project until the husband got up in church and testified as to how great the fellowshipping project had made him and his wife feel. I was shocked when they never invited us to do anything after that burst of fellow-feeling.

I’m picky myself; I don’t want just any old friends. I’ve been surprised in the past, but somehow I wonder what I’d have in common with the nice girl my age who has four daughters (perfect!) and who told me today that she and her husband mostly eat meat they’ve hunted themselves (uh?), and that the antlers (%^) are starting to crowd them out of their house. (And her van radio was set to a country music station.)

Of course, now that I’ve written that, she’ll probably call me up tomorrow and see if I’d like to go to the library with her and all the kids, and I’ll feel guilty for talking about antlers and remember that I really love venison jerky, and maybe if we’re friends I could also score some free-range buffalo, which I hear is better for your heart than beef anyway. (But I’d have to introduce her to Coldplay. A girl has to maintain some sense of self.)

I was thinking today I should write up a questionnaire for likely prospects:

1) Do you have time/energy/room in your life for another friend?
1a) Are you interested in being friends with me?

2) How many hours a week would you be interested in socializing with this new friend?
2a) What days are good for you? Are your kids strict afternoon-nappers?

3) What are your feelings towards caffeine-dependency, trashy novels, and the occasional swear word?

4) Check the box if you’d like to arrange a playdate for our kids where we’d both be there too and try to converse meaningfully between breaking up fights, wiping noses, and answering our phones.

Then I thought that perhaps this would be a little bit Michael Scotty-y from The Office. And that made me both sad for my kids who are going to suffer through their teenage years with a Michael Scott mom, but also it cheered me up a little bit, because I remembered that at least I have something exciting planned for Thursday night.

But seriously — any tips? How do you make friends when it’s just not happening naturally?

Jane

Who’s afraid?

I have a cute video of Spot, so I tried to think of some counterpoint to the cuteness, some raw messiness to give depth to the adorability, but I’ve got nothing. Spot is cute like Dick is oblivious. She’s my favorite cuddler right now because she’s still small enough to nestle to my chest; she buries her face in my neck when she’s sad. She showers with me many mornings, and she has the cutest little body, the most-pinchable little buns. Sometimes I want to squeeze her and squeeze her. Whenever I wear earrings or a necklace, Spot tells me over and over “I like your earrings” “I like your necklace” and “You cut your hair, Mommy?”

Oh, I know something she does that’s annoying. When she doesn’t want to walk any further or eat any more vegetables or go up to naptime, she’ll drop down on her knees in the middle of the store or the living room, fling herself face down, and wail, “I’m too tired.” But no, that’s unbearably cute as well — who ever heard of using “I’m too tired” as a reason to get out of naptime?

Anyway, here’s a real author in favor of sentimentality:

If something inside you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Don’t worry about appearing sentimental. Worry about being unavailable; worry about being absent or fraudulent. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

The truth is (and at the risk of being a boring/bragging mom) two-year olds are cute. So here’s Spot (though I promise not to use this as an audition tape for So You Think You Can Dance):
http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=3290088&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=0&color=&fullscreen=1
spot’s elbow dance on Vimeo.

I hope she can always return to me when she’s done.
http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=3290149&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=0&show_portrait=0&color=00ADEF&fullscreen=1
spot’s elbow dance 2 on Vimeo.

7 Quick Takes Friday: Questions Answered Edition

I’m working on a positively scintillating essay called “Why Socialism Won’t Work” and I have a video of Spot doing her elbow dance to post, but I’ve been wanting to participate in Conversion Diary’s 7 Quick Takes Friday, so instead I’ll answer some questions I’ve been meaning to answer, because blogging is really all about narcissistic over-sharing anyway. (And I hope you’ll play along with two of these things, so pay attention. Or not.)

First, I’m missing Marie from Memarie Lane. She always had clever posts about unexpected topics. One of her last posts was an interview meme, which I signed up to do. The way it works: if you’d like to be interviewed (i.e. post your own answers to questions I email you), be one of the first five people to say “interview me” in the comments.

Here are my answers to Marie’s questions:

1. Do you think you guys will have any more kids? Yes, except when I’m sure we won’t. If I had money to hire serious household help, I’d say for sure, but . . .  I do feel like I’m just four years from my personal “too old” cutoff (35) — I have an aunt with Downs Syndrome, and can’t imagine coping with that sort of thing (I worry about admitting this, because isn’t that like almost daring God to say “Hmmm, guess what trial would be really good for our friend Jane down there?”). My other reason for waffling/delaying is that I really enjoyed Sally when it was just her and me for almost four years. Since Spot won’t enter kindergarten until roughly 2075 (October birthday, don’t ask), it’d be nice to wait a couple years so I can really savor all the last things with my last baby.

2. More than once you’ve subtly expressed some disgruntlement with your faith. Can you elaborate? Yes. I don’t like polygamy (the concept or history, though let’s be clear that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints/LDS/Mormon church has not practiced or condoned it since 1890), and . . . that’s basically it . I wish we as a people were more friendly to those of other faiths and persuasions, and occasionally I wish women (I) were in charge, but overall, if I have problems with my faith, it’s just the reality of being an imperfect person living among other imperfect people, and not a reflection of the God I believe in.

3. What is your opinion of the Large Hadron Particle Collider? I think I’ve heard of this — Yes, isn’t this that big particle collider named after that atomic particle discovered by Dr. Hadron? I’m all for scientific progress. Amen.

4. If you were asked to participate in Momversations, what topic would you want to discuss? I thought the “Which is harder: marriage or motherhood” one was great. I had a much easier transition to marriage than motherhood, and I wonder if it helps to get married young, and conversely I imagine motherhood might be easier a little older than I was (23). A topic I don’t think they’ve covered that I find fascinating is how and whether you should tell your kids they don’t have a particular talent. This question burns within me every time I watch American Idol, especially the early auditions.

5. When Sally has her first period, how do you think you will react? I hope I’ll react more intelligently than my poor parents, who, when faced with a 13-year-old daughter who’d been bleeding all day, worried that I might have cut myself down there. (My dad’s a family doctor, and my mom is . . . a woman). But seriously, I hope I can somehow convey that this isn’t the worst thing that will ever happen to her, with a straight face. (The worst thing is having to wear a bra for the rest of your life.)

(end interview)

6. I’ve been enjoying Boomama a heap lately. Her recaps of The Bachelor are so entertaining, even though I’ve never seen the show (I prefer classier shows like True Beauty). And she just has this funny, humble warmth. Makes me wish I could sit in her kitchen and just listen to her talk.

7. I found a Craft it Forward carnival on Steff’s OkieRiverMama blog, and thought it sounded fun. Except my idea of crafts extends to construction paper and washable crayons. Then Laura tweeted about this homemade chocolate chapstick, and I’ve been looking for an excuse to buy all the ingredients. So, if you want to risk some lip balm d’Jane, and to craft it forward (though I have to say I hated that movie) by offering to make macrame tapestries or personalized-scent soy candles for three of your commenters, be one of the first three people to say “craft it forward” in a comment.

Jane

(This is also my contribution to Sue’s Very Funny Friday. I must say that Sue, besides being pretty darn funny, has the most apt blog title ever. Bless her heart.)

People who say looks don’t matter are on crack

Because if she weren’t the cutest thing ever, I might be a little bit upset that she got the empty microwave popcorn bag out of the trash, inserted her head and, in a quest to capture every last bit of trans-fat, yellow no. 7 goodness, smeared it all over her hair, face, and clothes.

Dick is ready (I mean ready) for another baby. I’m not feeling the baby hunger at all. How could I, when I have these cheeks and these eyes and those lips giving slobbery kisses and insisting that she’s “not a Chah-lie, I’m a LOU-SEEY.” (We call her “Charlie” whenever her sisters complain about her, usually when they’re all crammed in the back of the minivan, which is unfortunately not separated from the driver’s seat by soundproof glass.)

Spot (“I’m not a Spo-ot, I’m a LOU-SEEY”) is a good baby, except that she wakes up much earlier than Sally and Susan ever did. Like 6:30 am in the morning early. She sits up in her crib, in the room she shares with Sally, and even though the railing of her crib is in the lowered position, she calls, “Sally, get me out, Saaaaallyyyy.”

Sometimes, if we’ve had a late night, I rush down the hall to get her before she wakes up her sister who needs to be alert for second grade, but most mornings I’m sure that the reason I had more than one kid is so the eight-year old can herd her sisters downstairs and negotiate the DVR.

Hmm, maybe we could have another kid — Sally’s probably old enough to start changing diapers. And a fourth kid would probably be just as cute as the other ones. Probably.

(a love letter to my husband. I know, tacky)

Dear Tom,

I make it a point to be honest and candid here, to be real. And that has led to two major problems. 1) It perpetuates one of the myths of our marriage, that I am always the “bad guy” who yells and swears and overreacts and criticizes the way you “park” the car. And 2) it sometimes paints you as a bumbling, typical guy who couldn’t find the grocery store if he were starving (possibly true) and who always forgets to take the trash out (quite untrue, recently).

The problem is: it’s much easier to be honest about what’s wrong. It’s easy to make jokes about ineptness or exaggerate faults for effect or confess to mistakes and inadequacies.

It even seems more authentic, more true, somehow, to paint a picture of unflinching reality, of Valentine’s gifts un-purchased and gourmet meals uncooked, floors un-mopped and thank-you’s unsaid. Of prayers mumbled as our heads hit the pillows and socks left under the bed.

And maybe it’s easy to expose these foibles, because, as urgent as they are in the moment, as maddeningly infuriating or calamitously disappointing they are during the day, — in the dead of night, when I can reach over and rest my hand on your strong chest or when I plug your nose to STOP THE SNORING, there is no one I’d rather have in my bed, in my mind, and in my life.

It’s actually almost frightening how together we have it. Frightening, to me, because I know I don’t deserve it. I don’t appreciate it enough. Well, I do, but I don’t always show it.

I’m afraid if I tell the truth about how wonderful you are and how lucky I feel to have you, it’ll sound like I’m bragging, or gloating, or blowing my own horn, because surely — somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something . . . something good.

See, just here. I’m stuck. The emotion swamps me, and unlike anger or righteous indignation, swamping love is harder for me to articulate. And it’s harder to feel unself-conscious. I think, maybe I should just tell this to you privately.

But I’m not private about the problems.

Why do compliments and happy-for’s seem tacky to me, but not complaining? (Surely it’s tackier to complain about one’s spouse?)

Well, here goes:

You might forget to take me on a date, but you always remember to take the family to the dollar theater.

You may carp about cleaning house on Saturday mornings, but the girls love going to your basketball games.

You ask me to stop swearing in front of the kids, but you make an honest goal to help more around the house.

You might not smell the baby’s dirty diaper, but you are never too tired to clean up the vomit while I comfort the sick kid.

You forget to buy me a present, but you always encourage me to have what I want.

You might be directionally challenged and sometimes completely oblivious, but I have never doubted your love and your patience and your faith and your goodness.

I have never been afraid to trust you with my thoughts, my feelings, my heart, my body, my love, my children, my dreams, my goals, and my future.

I trust you more than I trust myself. Even though you’re not perfect, and even though there have been times I’ve wished you had told me things before you told me, and even though I now know that some men are happy to break their promises, I would stake my life on your honor.

And if, for any reason, I had to start dating again tomorrow, I would spend years searching for someone exactly like you.

I don’t know if you’re as satisfied and content with me as I am with you (I don’t know how you could be, though I hope you are), and DANG it is such a cliche, but I love you more now than I ever imagined when we had our first date 11 years and 4 days ago, and sweetheart, I loved you a lot then.

love,

Shannon