Category Archives: Occasionally, I Am Just Me

One of the three year olds in my preschool class once gave a long and lengthy lunch-time prayer that went like this: “Dear God, Dear Father, Dear Lord– thank you for the birds.”

Every day, Maren says a simple prayer before her meals. She is so used to this tradition that we have to pray at restaurants– even fast food ones. At night, we say the Lord’s Prayer together and then one of us says, “God bless…..” And Maren makes a list of every person she’s ever met in her life, the cows across the street, Ole the Bow-wow (her grandparents’ dog), and sometimes her stuffed animals. On occasion, abstract concepts get a nod as well. She’s been known to ask God to bless sunshine, dancing, and the sky.

This year I actually did something for Lent for the first time ever. I’m friends with lots of people who give things up for Lent, including one dude who typically gives up being Catholic. I’ve never participated, because I’ve never understood it, to be honest. I thought Lent was about making a painful sacrifice, to keep us humble– and I’m not saying that I’m little miss humility, but I could just never think of anything good enough to give up.

Maybe carbs.

This year, I read this great article (sadly I can’t find the link now…) that talked about really digging deep into your relationship with God, and deciding what things were getting in the way of deepening that relationship. If soda, or chocolate, or watching basketball were seriously becoming a hindrance to your spirituality, than those would be good things to ‘give up.’ In my case, however, it’s not distraction type things getting in my way– it’s more things I’m not doing, or things I’ve left undone (holla Lutheran liturgy!).

So one of the things I’m trying to focus on this Lenten season is being a little more open about my faith. I don’t feel like I’m super secretive about it or anything– but I do feel like a bit of a double agent. I’d say a good 90% of my friends are not Christians, and disagree pretty heavily with Christianity in general. So sometimes I’ll find myself just not saying anything when religion comes up– because its easier not to fight about it. To be fair, my GOOD friends know how I feel about Christ and spirituality and would never say something that makes me uncomfortable, and I try to return the favor. But…. I guess lately I’ve been feeling like I’m better at communicating then I give myself credit for. And so maybe what I have to say wouldn’t really make people so uncomfortable. Which I guess is a long-winded explanation for why I am writing about this today.

Ahem.

Maren is so used to praying before meals and at bedtimes that when Mitch is out of town, we have to call him on the phone at bedtime so he can say his prayers with us. Typically, she says a few words of the Lord’s Prayer, and then a big huge AMEN at the end. And then the God blesses, which could take twenty minutes.

When we started praying with her, it was more of a habit-forming deal. Mitch and I are religious, obviously, and– to be quite frank– it’s pretty important to us. We’re the type of people who want to do things genuinely and authentically. We spend a lot of time thinking about our faith, and a lot of time discussing it. It’s one of the things I like best about our marriage.

Even as people who have been Christians for years, there are still topics that are hard for us sometimes. Prayer is one of them.

Here is the thing. I know that a lot of Christians feel like God is up there listening to our prayers and like… I don’t know. Handing out prizes like a genie in a bottle. I don’t think I agree with that particular visual. I do think that God is listening… but I don’t think that when we pray, we are waiting for our lucky sevens to line up so that whatever we asked for comes into our waiting hands.

Some people have had some amazing experiences– myself included– and believe that it is the result of God answering prayers (for example: ask me sometime about how I knew Mitch and I would get married a few days after we met). I don’t want to take away from the idea of miracles, because I’ve seen them happen. On the other side of that, I’ve also seen terrible, horribly sad things happen to people for no good reason. People I love have experienced tragedy. How does prayer fit into that? What can I say– that some people pray more? Or harder? Or BETTER? There is no answer for that. So then, you might say, why pray at all? If it doesn’t AMOUNT to anything, what is the point?

You know…. the older I get, the more comfortable I am getting with not having the answer to everything.

But I think my answer hinges on my own relationship with God. My idea of God the Father is so very similar to an earthly father– our Dads want us to come to them with our problems, even if they can’t fix them. They want to hear about our victories. They want us to tell them what we need— but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re going to GIVE that to us. I know the kind of father Mitch is– his instinct is to give Maren the skin off his back if it keeps her from experiencing even one moment of pain. But he knows that giving her what she thinks she wants all the time is not always what is best for her.

One of my clearest memories from being a young girl was the first time an adult that was not my parent yelled at me (and I mean really yelled!) and when I went home and told my Dad about it, he hugged me so tight that I can still feel his fingers on my back over twenty years later. He couldn’t change what happened. So he did what he could do. I think that God is like that. One time, I was singing a solo in high school where I had to pretend to be an angel singing to men fighting in the Civil War. I sang one note and then could distinctly hear my Dad starting to cry in the audience, because he could feel what I was feeling, and because he was so proud. I think God is like that, too.

And I remember one time when we were little, and our cat Butch died. My little sister picked up his dead body and carried him into the house to my Dad, and asked him to fix him with his tools. My dad took Butch from her and shook his head. “I’m sorry honey.” He had to tell her. “I can’t fix this.”

I think that God is like that. I don’t think he is up there, keeping tallies so that he can dole out rewards to people who pray more, or to withhold happiness from people who don’t (remember the prodigal son?). But I know…. somehow I just know that he is there. I think that the praying is more for US… not for him.

This idea started to form when I would listen to Maren pray. The reason we added the “God Bless” part of our prayer time was so that she had ownership of her prayers, rather than just repeating/listening to what Mitch and I say. And when I was listening to her prayers, I realized that she’s telling us all her favorite parts of her day. All her sadnesses and jealousies and disappointments are forgotten about, and instead she focuses on the sunshine and dancing and Ole the Bow-wows of her days. And then she lies back on her pillow and sighs.

Maren has no idea that her words are being lifted to a deity. Even if we explained it to her, she wouldn’t understand (or care, probably). But it makes her feel better– you can see it on her face. Just before bed she goes back through all the reasons she has to be happy, and they are most likely the last things she thinks about before she drifts off to sleep.

Whether or not you believe in God…. doesn’t that sound nice?

As a mom, my prayers these days are focused on the health and safety of my family. I can tell you honestly that each night as I drift off to sleep, the last things I think about are my husband’s breathing, my daughter’s smile, my unborn son’s strong and steady heartbeat. And I picture a bearded, flannel shirt wearing old man listening to me, blue eyes twinkling, and either saying, “I’m so sorry, honey,” Or “It’ll be okay. You’ll see.” Or something like that. Because that’s what my Dad would say.

I’m not much of a theologian, as I’m sure you have noticed. My opinions and ideas on religion have been based mostly on my life, and not on learning Greek and researching the original text. I know that praying makes me feel better– whether or not God is actually going to give me that brand new Honda CRV I’ve been asking about for the last few years. For me it’s not really about what God is going to GIVE me… or, put in other terms, how God is going to answer the prayer. For me, praying is more about being mindful of the things I should be happy about, and letting go of the things that I have no control over.

I don’t know if I’ve explained all of this very well. But I guess the point is– I want my prayers to be like Maren’s. Because there are soooo many miracles…. like dancing, and sunshine, and the sky.

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A diatribe ensues….

Something we get a lot of questions, suggestions, and criticisms about is Maren’s food habits– which always catches me off guard, because it’s one of those things that just makes sense to me.

When Maren was four months old, we started making her food at home (which you may remember). I can count on one hand the number of baby food jars we bought for her, and we never ever bought a box of that rice flake stuff (yes– we even made our own cereal AND our own yogurt). We loved it, and she loved it. We started out doing this mostly as a way to save money (and it did– bundles of it) but after we started making our own food we started being more conscious about what other ‘foods’ have in them. Those Gerber Baby TV dinners, for example. There are so many un-pronounceable ingredients in one of those boxes. It made me feel really good, whenever someone asked me what Maren was eating, to be able to say, “Broccoli and salmon.” And those really were the only two ingredients.

When she started doing solid food, her daycare (and most daycares) required that she be moved to the food program, along with all of the other kids. In our particular case, we were able to work it out and they made an exception for Maren. But when we moved daycares, we had to go through the whole process all over again.

For ease of reading, I’ll define ‘food program’ as I understand it. The USDA puts out rules about what kids (and adults) that are in care should be eating every day. I honestly don’t know what all the requirements are for toddlers, but I know there are two categories. One is food quantity, and one is food types. So like, for example, at breakfast Maren would have to have 3/4 cups of grains, accompanied by either juice or fruit, and a glass of milk. So, fruit loops, milk, and orange juice, or a breakfast fruit bar and milk. For lunch, she needs to also have a meat and vegetable component (each with respective required quantities), in addition to starch, fruit, and milk. The people who make the food fulfill these requirements in a variety of ways. For example, potatoes count as both a vegetable and a starch, but they can’t count as both in one day. But spuds are cheap. This is why, if you look at your child’s daycare menu, you will see them eating potatoes three to four times a week. Additionally, if they eat something like…. corn dogs or chicken fried steak… the breading on the meat counts as their starch. That might make perfect sense to some of you out there…… but not to me. Oh yeah, AND the fruit? Ever see a can of fruit cocktail, packed in either water or syrup? The water and syrup COUNT as part of a portion. So when they measure 3/4 of a cup, it doesn’t necessarily have to be all fruit.

Also notice: the requirements are food types and quantity….. not quality.

Additionally, there are no rules about food preparation. There are no rules about how much salt, butter, sugar, or preservatives can be added to any food. As long as food isn’t expired, it doesn’t matter how long ago it was prepared before it was served.

In order to be sure that their rules are followed– and, to be clear, I don’t really think there’s a problem with the USDA’s rules, per se– the government reimburses child cares for the amount of money that they spend on food. Then the schools go out and buy the food from outside companies– which is why we all had the same rectangle shaped pizza at school when we were kids. There are bunches of school food catering companies.

Here’s the thing: I don’t really think that schools are the enemy. With childhood obesity being such a hot topic right now, schools are getting handed a lot of crap for the food that they are providing the kids. I don’t really think that’s fair. I’ve never, ever met a public school administrator, kitchen worker, or teacher who discourages the kids from bringing their own food from home– but no one wants hungry kids, either. So if they aren’t sent with food, they need to eat something. The school does their best to keep costs down– for everyone. So they do what they can.

But day cares– for whatever reason– don’t have the same feelings, in most cases. Nearly every child care we toured for Maren required that she be on the food program. Required.

This did not make any sense to us, and we wanted to know why. We were told that if Maren had her own food, the other kids would try to steal it, and vice versa. We were also told that if we kept ‘coddling’ her she would grow up spoiled. We were even told that if we didn’t do the food program, she could get food allergies– which almost made me laugh out loud.

We were given a menu, but that didn’t make us feel better– because as an ex-child care employee and observer of school lunches by and large, I know for a fact that the meat balls they serve at lunch were NOT THE SAME as the meat balls that I made at home. The ‘salad’ was often a handful of shredded iceberg lettuce, often with ranch dressing mixed right in. There were never other vegetables in the ‘salad.’ The mac and cheese was so thick with cheese that you could shingle a roof with it– and when I asked about whole grain noodles, people wrinkled their noses and felt sorry for Maren.

Fresh fruit is almost nonexistent. Usually, bananas, apples, and oranges are it. Fresh vegetables are represented a little bit better….. but it kind of depends on your definition of ‘fresh.’

We observed a lot of lunches at a lot of child cares. We looked at our beautiful baby, who had only ever eaten food that I had made with my own hands, knowing every ingredient and exactly how it was prepared. In the end, we just couldn’t do it. So we refused.

Luckily, Maren’s in a daycare now where we can bring her food and no one says a word. It took some searching. In most places, when we mentioned that being able to bring our own food was a deal-breaker, the daycare agreed, and sent us on our way. This is shocking to me– really shocking. I can’t believe that the loss of tuition is worth participation in the food program.

We’ve been at this now for a year and a half, and like I said, we get lots of questions about our choice and our method. So I am here to tell you– you can do it! and its worth it! And your healthy happy adult child will thank you someday!

1) The hardest part: You have to actually make the food.

This was a hard adjustment for us, I won’t lie. When she was a little baby and just ate baby food, it was very easy. But once she got older and into solid foods, we had to change our eating habits, too. We’ve gotten used to that now. The hardest adjustment, I think, was switching to whole wheat pasta, and not adding salt and butter to everything (and for the record: I now completely prefer whole wheat pasta over white pasta. Sooooo much better tasting, so much more filling, and I need a lot less added stuff to make it tasty).

Every Saturday I plan our menu for the week. I have a few cookbooks that I love– my most favorite is the slow cooker book. We eat from the slow cooker at least once a week, sometimes twice, depending on our schedule. For the rest of the meals, I thumb through the books and seriously pick things that have the least amount of ingredients. I’ve gotten better at cooking this last year– but that doesn’t mean I like it.

The other night, we had tilapia baked with dill, salt and pepper. I mashed potatoes with real butter. I also steamed some broccoli without adding anything to it.

When I was dishing up, I got out a little lunch box we use for Maren. It has three compartments and a lid. We bought it at Target for like three dollars. I took out a portion of potatoes and broccoli right away for Maren to eat the next day. I baked an extra fillet of fish, and packed that up, too. So before we even sat down to dinner, Maren’s lunch for tomorrow was packed. Doing it this way means that it’s done, for one thing, but also that we won’t accidentally eat all the food and then be stuck having to find something else for Maren— which has happened before. Usually on spaghetti night.

For breakfast, we have three options. Oatmeal, which we make the morning of (takes about ten minutes on stove top), an egg with toast, or cereal. Maren loves her some generic brand organic Honey-Nut Cheerios. In the past, I used to make a loaf of banana bread (with applesauce instead of butter), or something like that, and send a piece for breakfast, but Maren didn’t eat it very well. She’s not much into sweets, I guess. Weirdo.

We also pack an afternoon snack. Maren’s favorite is a stick of string cheese and some fresh fruit– which takes zero time. Zero. We’ve also packed cottage cheese with fruit, veggie sticks (with no dressing. I’m a mean mom), or a sandwich. She also loves soy yogurt. Sometimes I pack something sweet…. but again, she’s not a big fan. Basically, we want to use things we would all ready have around the house for her.

People make a lot of different food choices for their kid– some do vegetarian, or limit carbs, limit dairy, what-have-you. For Maren, we basically just want to emphasize whole foods, organic whenever we can, local whenever we can, and prepared in a way that will keep as many nutrients intact as possible. I kind of try to alternate her proteins– so we don’t have cow eight times in a row– and try to have fish twice a week at a minimum. Mitch doesn’t like fish…. so… we do what we can. We don’t limit her calories, her sugar intake (although she is not allowed to have high fructose corn syrup), or anything like that.

Mostly we just want her to eat something real.

2) Be nice.

Having been a child care worker for many years, I know what its like to be on the other side of things. Especially in Maren’s age group, the kids are HUNGRY at lunch time. They stand at your feet and cry while you try to put their lunch together as quickly as you can. Lunch happens so quickly that by the time you have the last kid fed the first kid is done– and usually you need to get them ready for nap right away. The majority of the kids are all eating the same lunch– it’s frustrating to have to stop and remember one special lunch, especially if you have to microwave or open containers or put something together.

If you have to, pack a lunch that can just be kept cold– like a sandwich, yogurt, and fresh fruit. Get it into one container if you can. Do not demand or expect that the container will be washed before its sent home. And ask them how its working for them. Would it be better if we brought in a gallon of milk, or three sippy cups? Would it be better if we labeled the food? Would it work better if the food was as close to the other kids’ menu possible?

Try to be flexible. As long as Maren is presented with her food at the same time as the other kids, I try not to worry too much about the details. Maren has never cried for the other kid’s food, to my knowledge, or vice versa. And even if she did…. well… tough titties. She’ll thank us later. But when you’re nice and polite to the staff, they are a lot more willing to make exceptions and do the extra work for your baby.

3. Stand your ground.

Mitch is better about this than I am (shocking, I know). We try to be as courteous as we can be, but we don’t give an inch. Many people have tried to make us feel like this choice is not very important (it is). Most people have tried to convince us by saying that we’d save money (we wouldn’t).

Remember the bit about being nice? The nicer you are, the less ammunition they have. When I put Maren’s cold lunch into one container and tell them they don’t have to microwave anything, they don’t have to open anything else, they don’t have to put it on a plate, etc, then there really is no excuse. I haven’t made their job all that very difficult. And I’ve called them out, too. I’ve stayed professional, done my best to keep a cool head, but I’ve asked them, point blank– what’s the problem here? All I’m asking you to do is open a container for my kid. Is that really so hard?

Keep your eye on the prize. Remember what’s at stake here. Remember what’s at risk. Don’t let them talk you out of it.

Food is an issue that Mitch and I have kind of chosen to be our cross to crawl up on and die. Mitch and I are both overweight, and have been all our lives. Maren has never been overweight, in fact, she’s only slightly above average for her age group. She’s a very healthy toddler, and we’re hoping that these choices will train her taste buds so that she makes healthy decisions even after she’s started making some of her own choices.

Keep at it. If enough of us do this, eventually something will have to change. The reason that the food program is able to get away with making such terrible, cheap food for our kids is because we continue to eat it and pay for it. Don’t do it. Make a different choice.

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Writer’s Block. Writer’s….. Buh-lock…..

About a month ago, I left my job.

Today I was getting a pedicure (my mother’s day present from Mitch) and the very nice man rubbing nice smelling lotions all over my toes asked, “So what do you do?” And I said, “Oh, I’m a stay at home mom.”

I’ve been home for a month, and I think that was the first time I said it. I quickly followed up with, “I used to teach.” And I was about to launch into, “And I’m going to teach again….” When I rolled my eyes at myself and looked back down at my People magazine.

It’s very weird not having somewhere to go everyday. It’s also very wonderful– VERY wonderful– to spend the vast majority of my day kissing Maren’s cheeks and chasing her around the apartment. There is also the added perk that, at the time when I used to be clocking in at work and making my way down to my classroom, Maren has just begun to stir and make her little soft morning-time noises. I don’t use an alarm clock anymore guys. I don’t even have one.

One of the things I was looking forward to was having more time to write. And I do have a lot more time to write. Oodles of it. Time is dripping from my fingertips. And yet….. nothing comes.

Lots of amusing things have been happening to me, I swear. But when I start writing about them, I realize that I’m starting to sound like one of those moms. You know. One of those moms that text their entire phone book when their kid picks their nose for the first, second, and third times. And then I would start trying to revise and move along and find something else to talk about, and all you could hear is crickets.

So, since all my words are stopped up, I decided I need a writing laxative. Thus, I am going to do one of those internet things that people do….. Introducing—– THE 30 DAY LETTER CHALLENGE

I promise: This will take longer than 30 days. And its very likely that I will quit once the word constipation goes away.

🙂

  • Day 1 — Your Best Friend
  • Day 2 — Your Crush
  • Day 3 — Your parents
  • Day 4 — Your sibling (or closest relative)
  • Day 5 — Your dreams
  • Day 6 — A stranger
  • Day 7 — Your Ex-boyfriend/girlfriend/love/crush
  • Day 8 — Your favorite internet friend
  • Day 9 — Someone you wish you could meet
  • Day 10 — Someone you don’t talk to as much as you’d like to
  • Day 11 — A Deceased person you wish you could talk to
  • Day 12 — The person you hate most/caused you a lot of pain
  • Day 13 — Someone you wish could forgive you
  • Day 14 — Someone you’ve drifted away from
  • Day 15 — The person you miss the most
  • Day 16 — Someone that’s not in your state/country
  • Day 17 — Someone from your childhood
  • Day 18 — The person that you wish you could be
  • Day 19 — Someone that pesters your mind—good or bad
  • Day 20 — The one that broke your heart the hardest
  • Day 21 — Someone you judged by their first impression
  • Day 22 — Someone you want to give a second chance to
  • Day 23 — The last person you kissed
  • Day 24 — The person that gave you your favorite memory
  • Day 25 — The person you know that is going through the worst of times
  • Day 26 — The last person you made a pinky promise to
  • Day 27 — The friendliest person you knew for only one day
  • Day 28 — Someone that changed your life
  • Day 29 — The person that you want to  tell everything to, but you are too afraid
  • Day 30 — Your reflection in the mirror

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Mommy-Guilt and Jenga

I went back to school on purpose.

I say that to myself a lot, teeth gritted, eyes closed, fists clenched, usually while taking a shaky breath and trying to clear my head of all the build-up from the day so that I can fall asleep.

Obviously, no one goes back to school accidentally. It’s not like they find themselves on campus, schedule in hand, and think, “Oh wow, well I guess I’m going to school now.” Usually there’s a little bit of forethought and premeditation involved, and there definitely was in my case.

But my Now Self is still, sometimes, a little pissed at my Back-Then Self. And my Back-Then Self has to remind my Now Self that the one she should REALLY be filing formal complaints with is my WayBack Self, you know, the one who didn’t finish college the first time around. And my WayBack Self fights back with familiar phrases– you didn’t like your current major (or the one before that), you had some major funding issues, if you’d finished on time you never would have met Mitch, and so forth.

So since I can’t really demand any public apologies from anyone, all I have left to do is just be frustrated with my schedule, my lack of sleep, my time away from my baby, and just try to be thankful that at least I live in a time and place where I am able to go back to school. Some women don’t have that opportunity at all, ever in their lifetime– and I get to do it after having a baby. So really I should like, wake up every morning and greet the sun with shouts of glory and gratitude for the fact that on this day, I get to study math methods.

But its hard.

Have you ever played Jenga? You wait for your turn. You see a piece, and for some reason you commit to it. You wiggle, you hold your breath, and your other hand waits on the other side for the piece to slide free, so that you can place it on top of the wobbly tower. You and this piece are in it together now. If the puzzle holds, then you’ve survived to play again, choose a new piece, and go through it all again. If the puzzle falls, you build, trying to make it stronger. You start again, with new knowledge about structural integrity.

Life is like that. I learned a lot from growing up around  women who had a tendency to get stuck. They would complain and cry and say that they were painted into a corner– and I would always be angry at their complacency. So you’re painted into a corner, I would think, the only reason you can’t just walk yourself out of it is because you’re afraid to get paint on your shoes.

I haven’t always made the best decisions. But I try not to spend a lot of time worrying about it, because the more time that passes, the more those bad decisions are diminished by the onslaught of other bad decisions, and the knowledge of bad decisions yet to come. Like Jenga. If you let yourself get consumed by that one time that you were the first player to go and still somehow managed to knock the tower over, you might never play again. And that would be too bad. Because Jenga can be a lot of fun.

Parenting is scary, because– no matter what your track record for good and bad decision making used to be– you are now responsible for making all the choices for another human being for a very long time. And one of the first major decisions that I made for her, before she was even born, was that I was going back to school. Sometimes Mama wouldn’t be around. Sometimes Mama would be very busy. Very busy. Sometimes Mama would be stressed.

So far I’ve been lucky– selfishly lucky– I got to see her stand up for the first time. I heard her first word (A delighted “Daddy!” when Mitch got home from work). She took her first steps to me, a few days before Christmas. She throws her arms around me everytime she sees me.

But…. there are sad times too. One Saturday morning, I had to go to class very early, and when Mitch went in to wake her up she kept looking over his shoulder. He realized she was looking for me, and walked her through the whole apartment, and eventually she realized that I wasn’t there.

I know that she probably won’t consciously remember a time when Mom wasn’t around very much. But I also know that somewhere, deep down, the knowledge will be embedded. And it can kind of go two ways…. maybe she’ll grow up to be resentful, suspicious, and insecure. She’ll wonder what was so important that I had to be gone up to four nights a week, why she had to go to daycare when I was taking care of other people’s kids all day long. Maybe, when we have a new baby, long after I’ve graduated, she’ll resent the new baby because Mama got to spend a lot more time with him/her. Maybe, even if it is never really addressed, there will always be a little wedge between us all because of the time I’ve spent away from my family.

Or… maybe she’ll grow up to be independent, strong, and admire what our family went through when she was so small. Maybe, if she is ever struggling in school, she’ll remind herself how hard it was for me, for all of us, to do it the hard way.

Or maybe none of this will effect her at all. Her earliest memories will be after I graduate. She’ll remember me being home for every bedtime. She’ll remember going to plays and dance classes and hockey practice, and she even though, somewhere deep under her skin, she’ll know that she went through this with us, it won’t have even the slightest effect on her whatsoever.

Making decisions is, I think, what separates a child from an adult. Autonomy is the ultimate goal of childhood, after all. I think that a lot of adults are just scared to death to make decisions. I blame Dr. Phil. We see so many hours of television where they’re telling us: it’s my mom’s FAULT that I’m like this, it’s my parent’s FAULT that this happened, because of my mom, because bla bla bla. So we end up just terrified– every night I ask myself, “Welp…. how’d I screw up my kid today?”

But what can I do? Would I feel more or less guilty, in ten years, if I didn’t go back to school? Would Maren have a better or worse life, in ten years, if I chose something else?

Whenever anyone asks me how I make decisions– how I can be SURE…. I tell them this:

I’m not. I never am. You just have to make the best choice you can– a choice that you can live with– and then you have to commit to it. Plan your attack, hold your breath, and make your move. If the puzzle falls, build it again, but stronger this time. With a better knowledge of structural integrity. Next time, maybe you’ll make a different choice. Or maybe you’ll make the same choice– but you’ll have a different angle, more information, trust your steady hand a little better. The best decision I ever made in my life was to give a man who’d wronged me another chance– against my instincts and the advice of almost anyone I knew. And I’d make that decision again, and I do, every day.

There are bad decisions and good decisions. There are impossible choices. As a parent, there are so many difficult choices its unreal. But you can’t let that paralyze you. The puzzle falls, you play again.

The real crime, the real mistake, I think, is not to play.

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Radvent: Forgiveness

Princess Lasertron is doing a blogging project over on her blog that she is calling “Radvent.” Every day in December, she is posting a blog prompt and her response to it, and inviting others to do the same. My semester is winding down (and my winter term is starting up!) so I knew I wouldn’t be able to commit to every day, but the prompt today was “Forgiveness” and it struck a chord with me.

My point of view on forgiveness: tricksy. Tricksy tricksy tricksy. 

The saying goes, “Forgive and forget!” But then the other saying goes, “Wrong me once, screw you, wrong me twice, screw me.” So where does forgiveness fall into that?

I don’t have a long list of people that have wronged me, and I’m really glad about that. Imagine someone pulling out their wallet and all these pictures roll out– but they aren’t pictures of family or friends, they’re pictures of assholes.  That’s what I picture whenever I see someone who is just so angry about something that happened long ago. And I can’t help but thinking that– for the most part– the reason they can’t forgive that person is because the person they’re REALLY mad at is themself. Maybe for letting it happen, maybe for trusting someone they knew they probably shouldn’t, maybe for making the same mistake over and over again and creating a situation wherein they could be wronged.  

This probably isn’t the happy cheery Holiday forgiveness post that you’re expecting– and I do that on purpose. I think that this time of year, forgiveness is really emphasized, but isn’t really dealt with the way it should be. Forgiveness, when you’re a child, is one thing. I got a karaoke machine for Christmas one year, and my brother took it and pulled it apart to see how it works– I never even got to use it. So the next year, he bought me a replacement, and then did the exact same thing over again. I was pretty pissed. But now it’s just funny, if its anything at all. Probably the WORST thing that happened to me when I was a kid involved a break up I went through– NOT that the guy broke up with me, but the WAY that he broke up with me– and even that I can’t really conjure up hard feelings over.

And there’s been some icky times as a grown-up, too. Mitch and I have some history we’re not proud of. But that’s when it’s easy to forgive– when you really love someone and know that they deserve the forgiveness and they’re willing to work for it, and they feel so grateful to receive it. That’s the kind of forgiveness that I wish everyone could have, all the time.

I, for one, think that the saying ‘forgive and forget’ is just fine, but I don’t think that ‘forget’ implies reconcilation. Not for every situation. I think that forgiveness is an act that you do for yourself– I think it’s more about loving yourself enough to make a different choice and break a new path. A lot of times, the person you are forgiving doesn’t deserve it. A lot of times, the person you are forgiving won’t care. Life isn’t a Hallmark movie– sometimes those forgiveness/make amends phone calls aren’t really the best idea.

When I was in high school, I attended a youth group and one night the talk being given was from a girl that graduated from my high school a few years back. I have forgotten what the moral of the story was, but I remember that she was talking about fighting with her college boyfriend, and the way she illustrated it was by taking a magazine photo and ripping pieces off of it for every argument they had, until at the end she just had a bunch of tattered pieces.

I think that is what anger is like. I think that when you let someone get to you, and you carry that around, and you let it rule you, it’s like tearing a piece of yourself off– in the most visceral way imaginable– and handing them that piece of you. For keeps. Sometimes, you can get that piece back by telling them you forgive them, and that you want to fix things, and that piece of yourself can be restored.

Sometimes, it doesn’t work that way, and that’s the story I have to share with you today. Sometimes, you don’t get that piece back– so you have to rebuild without it.

There is someone in my life that I used to be very close with. I’m going to avoid pronoun use here, so my sentences might get sloppy. This person and I had a lot of good times, and also went through a lot of bad times together. This person was/is very brave, and there are things (in hindsight) that I wish I hadn’t criticized them for, and I wish I’d been more supportive of some of their desicions. But, at some point, through our bad times, it gradually became clear to me that this person had probably been angry at me– for some reason– for basically as long as I knew them. I’m not so obtuse to believe that I had nothing to do with this, I must have done something– but I honestly go back and back and back through my mind and I can’t think of anything. And certainly not anything that would warrant the kind of brick-wall hatred that I am affronted with now.

Well, this person was very important in my life, and found some ways to make things difficult for me and my family. I let this go on longer than I should have (screw me!), but in the end, I came to my senses (oh no– SCREW YOU).

I decided to forgive– but also to forget. Which, to me, means that I no longer have feelings of any kind for this person. I don’t want to say, “They’re dead to me.” Because that’s not true… but in a way, it is. When this person calls (which is getting more and more rare), I don’t answer. It used to be that when they left a voicemail, I would check it to be sure there wasn’t an emergency, and then decide if I should call back, but I don’t even do that anymore. When I know I’m going to see this person, I rehearse what I’m going to say on the way there, so that I don’t give away anything important or betray any emotions that this person could take advantage of. And the one time that I had a surprise meeting with them, I’ll bet that the shut-down/change-over was so obvious to them that they were frustrated and pissed for the rest of the night.

I know what you’re thinking– that seems like a lot of effort to go through for someone you say you are trying to forget. And you’re right. It’s hard work.

 Awhile back, I actually had to work with this person on a project that was really important to me. That was really hard. For those weeks, I kind of cut myself out of steel every day and did everything I could not to get too emotionally attached to their part of the project, or let any feelings of reconciliation start to kindle in my guts. I told myself, “Just do YOUR best, because this person will mess it up for you if they can.” And so even though I started to feel my gaurd slipping, and thinking that we could all just be friends again, I held up. And when– inevitably– this person DID try to mess things up for me, I just had to believe that it would all turn out okay because I had done everything that I could and done my part exactly right. And it did work out, and it was fine. And that person ended up looking like an asshole.

Like I said before, this person used to be a big part of my life, and so when I decided to end their involvement, it became very messy. Something this person did was spread lies about me, mostly to people that I didn’t know very well or that weren’t very important, but in several cases it became very problematic. And sometimes, it wasn’t just to distant acquaintances. Sometimes it was people that were close to us both, and sometimes those people believed this person, and there was nothing I could do to defend myself. I lost relationships this way.

For awhile, I spent a lot of time chasing down these rumors and trying to nip them in the bud, but it was impossible– and (even though I was telling the truth) it made me look like I was doing the same thing they were doing. So I ended up making the personal decision not to talk about this person anymore. I felt like if I didn’t, it would just drag up all those feelings again, and I’d never be over it. I decided that I was going to TRULY forget about them, and that means that– outside my family and very close friends– no one around me knows what happened or what’s been happening. In a few more years, I’ll likely get to a place in my life where no one around me even knows that this person exists. So now whenever I meet a mutual acquaintance, which happens pretty often, I always sigh a deep sigh and just pray that they will allow me to represent myself. And usually, that’s worked out. Sometimes it hasn’t. And that’s too bad.

It’s been hard, because of all the good times we had, and what I thought were good times left to be had. But the bad times weren’t worth it, in the end. So I cut my losses, and I let go.

This is slightly off-topic, but I spent some time in Al-Anon a few years back (that’s the one for friends/family of addicts). It uses the same 12 steps as the programs for addicts, the reason being that an enabler is addicted to the drama, to the person, to the enabling. Guilty as charged, man. I can be such an enabler that it’s dangerous. I am a caretaker by nature, and I think that whenever I see someone that is broken, my tendency is just to want to fix and fix and fix. Then the relationship is lopsided. It becomes about what I can do to keep the relationship going– and usually an addict will ask for extremely unfair things– the moon!– and never give you anything in return. Because all they can see is satisfying their addiction, whatever it might be. And I think that my tendency to enable people is what has gotten me into a lot of trouble in my life, and it took going through a serious 12 step program before I could realize it. A lot of the things I learned in Al-Anon are what helped me realize it was time to let this person go.

So, let this be the holiday season where you make a different choice and break a new path for yourself. Life is too short, man. If its not working, then let it go. Forgive them for you– tell them if you want– and let the pieces fall back into place. And then walk. away.

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Things I Wish I Could Put On My Resume

1) Captain of the Sarcasm Team

2) Bull Shit Cutter

3) Bratty Kid Diagnoser

4) Awkward Moment Maker

5) Huge vocal range <– because I worked really hard on it, and for what? All I do with my voice now is yell at kids.

6) Groundskeeper, Cemetery of Failed College Majors

7) Deliverer of Harsh Perspective

8) Wedding Crasher

9) Antiquated Word Conneusseur

10) Verbal Bitch Slapper

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Everyone’s Best Friend, No One’s Prom Date: The Sad Truth of Being “One of the Guys”

BECAUSE IT NEEDS TO BE SAID:

Here is something that really disgusts me, in all kinds of ways.

A few years ago, there was this show that was about a girl and her three guy friends, and a lot of it focused on how she was the ‘ideal’ girl, because she liked sports and playing poker, she liked to belch and wear jeans. Oh yeah, and also she was a total knock out, and probably all of her ‘guy friends’ secretly (or not so secretly) wanted to date her. Or at least knock boots.

This is a theme repeated in movies, like “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” for example. Oh, so, she loves basketball and riding motorcycles– OH YEAH– and she also looks like Kate Hudson, so, that makes her the ‘ideal’ woman.

Okay. That is wrong on so many levels.

I feel very sad for women (and men) everywhere because of this kind of polarization. The message is: In order to be ‘ideal’ you have to be just the right brand of masculine, and also just the right brand of feminine. Typically, this translates to: I want a woman who will let me do whatever I want, and participate in the doing of said activities, but will also look like a total super model– oh, and it helps if she can cook, too.

I feel like Dudes treat being ‘one of the guys’ like its some kind of high honor, but would THEY want to be ‘one of the girls?’ Have any of you seen shows about guys who just want to get facials and manicures and hang out chatting it up over wine and chocolate, and they are the IDEAL MAN– those shows ARE on tv, and guess what? The main character is typically a gay man, not a heterosexual man who just wants to be ‘one of the gals.’

I’m not saying that there is anything wrong about tomboys, or with girls that are super feminine, or any mix in between.

What I hate mostly is how the media perpetuates these rigid gender roles that are really stupid and senseless and don’t really have a place in today’s society– and I hate that because my daughter is going to be a part of it someday. I am all ready scheming of ways to keep Maren away from ‘tween’ fads, which, in my opinion, is making little girls grow up WAY too fast (Miley Cyrus, I’m looking at YOU).

What I hate MOST OF ALL– THE PARAMOUNT OF MY HATRED– is that it contributes to women thinking that they need to be that way to get guy’s attention. Trust me, I know. I spent all of high school and most of college pretending to care about Husker football because guess what? If I did, then the guys invited me out to the bar with them, and I got to sit next to so and so, and maybe– MAYBE– our fingertips would graze as we reached for the pitcher of Miller. When, really, all I wanted to do was go to a concert at Sokol Underground and have someone there with me who had the potential to form a complete sentence about the band we were watching– extra points if what he said was relevant.

My friend Scott has argued with me on this issue before. His opinion is that media is a influencing agent, but not an all together strong one, if you take it in context. And after some consideration, I have decided that I agree with him.

However: I think that one of the issues that has been created in the last few generations is that kids are kind of left on their own to form their own opinions about the world– and if they are constantly exposed to bull shit ideas like this one, with no opposing argument to tell them otherwise, they gradually begin to measure their worth against what the culture tells them their worth is and should be.

That is the point of this angry rant today. OPPOSING ARGUMENT OPPOSING ARGUMENT OPPOSING ARGUMENT

In high school, I would get so depressed about not having a boyfriend. It makes me cringe now. SO AWFUL. It’s so humiliating that I am terrified of running into people from high school who have this notion of me– oh that’s the girl who was so crazy about having a boyfriend that it was embarrassing for everyone around her. I coined the term: “Everyone’s best friend, no one’s Prom date” (which is ridiculous, because I did have prom dates. Three, in fact. The fact that they kind of sucked at it was not really altogether their fault. We were teenagers, for God’s sake)

Then I went through an Angry Phase, where any guy who crossed my path might very well get the crap kicked out of him. And even though I was definitely buying into a cultural stereotype of the angry man-hating feminist, I am so appreciative of those years. Because when I emerged out of them, what I found was that there was no one that was going to COMPLETE ME. Because I am complete. What you see is what you get.    I AM THE WHOLE PACKAGE. I AM ONE. Hey haters– Get off my porch.

This is hard for me to rant about, because I’m married. My single friends, who go through these hard times of identity crisis, always roll their eyes at me when I get ranty, because I’m married. I probably don’t even remember what it was like to be single.

Oh, to the contrary, my friends. I remember that I hated being single in college SO MUCH that I let a lot of skeezy guys take total advantage of me. And I remember then being the complete opposite, and detesting men so much that I thought I might melt them with my eyes. And then, in the middle of my anti-man phase, I discovered something really nice: I am kind of a cool person to hang out with. And instead of just wanting to advertise that to all the guys in the world, and wondering why they didn’t have the brains to notice how awesome I was, I just started hanging out with my own bad self.

I know how that sounds. Really pathetic. But trust me, it wasn’t.

And then I started loving being single SO SO SO MUCH that when Mitch finally came along, he had to work REALLY REALLY REALLY hard to talk me into an exclusive relationship. What, you mean I have to like, have an unspoken date with you every week? What– suddenly I have to walk to class with you when we’re leaving choir at the same time and headed in the same direction? WHAT THE HELL DO YOU MEAN YOU ARE GOING TO CALL ME EVERY NIGHT.

I will sum this up, before I explode all over these coffee shop walls.

Guys: If you are looking for the ideal woman, fantastic. I will not deter you from your quest. HOWEVER– don’t be a dick to the girls who are not the ideal woman, and are relegated to the friend’s list. If you are going to be just friends, BE just friends. And don’t pretend like you don’t notice when those girl’s like you and start to think that maybe there is something else going on. Give me a break.

Girls: RELAX.

You are ALL READY an ideal woman– yes, probably for some guy out there that you haven’t met yet– but WAAAAAY more importantly, FOR YOU. Trust me on this. I am married to a really fantastic guy, but sometimes he drives me absolutely crazy. And if all my self-worth was wrapped up in how he felt about me, there would be some really gray days. DO NOT LET SOMEONE ELSE DETERMINE YOUR WORTH.

LISTEN TO THE MEN IN YOUR LIFE. If they tell you that they want to be just friends, then THEY WANT TO BE JUST FRIENDS. This is not Hollywood, they are not actually scheming on you. I have found men to be pretty clear on this subject. Take what they say at FACE VALUE.

If it helps, go into an Angry Phase. Read the book “Cunt” and “The Feminine Mystique” and “Our Bodies, Ourselves” and “Manifesta” Even if you don’t get into everything they say, relish the fact that you are a DIVINE CREATURE.

And if you really start feeling like your life will be over soon because you’re 27 and not married yet, and you just need to feel tamed and domestic, come on over next Friday night. I have a husband and a baby that you can borrow for a few hours, while I go out and do some angry feministing.

/end rant

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