Monday, October 18, 2010

Whatever Gets Me through the Day

I'm not a perfectionist. Yes, I like to do things right if I'm going to do them at all, but I don't believe there's one right way to do things--even in editing. Sure, there are rules I'm rigid about. Others, like ending a sentence with a preposition, don't rile me up much.

I also like to be a better person--healthier, smarter, kinder, more patient. Not healthier, smarter, kinder, and more patient than the next person . . . just healthier, smarter, kinder, and more patient than my natural self.

But now and then I get tired of it all. Don't you? Tired of trying to excel, tired of smiling when you just want to bark back at the dog, tired of pretending. It's not the same kind of tired that turns me into a miserable old hag that no one wants to be around (I hope; though I do tend toward that personality occasionally as well). It's the kind of tired that makes me say, "Y'know what? Not today. I'm me. This is it. I'll try harder tomorrow. Get off my back."

And on days like that--on days like this, I require certain things (not necessarily all at once or on the same day--to just get me through:

1. Diet Wild Cherry and/or Diet Lime Pepsi over ice with a straw. I don't need two liters. A glass will do. I know the caffeine isn't good for me, and the acidity is even worse. I've gone weeks without one, so I know what life is like without my soda. I can survive without it. I just don't really need to at the moment.

2. A Mounds bar. I don't know what most people in the world have against coconut. I take offense on the coconut's behalf. And draped in dark chocolate, it's 230 calories, 13 fat grams (10 of them saturated), and 5 minutes of well-earned and over-too-quickly bliss. I have a brother who is trying to only put good things into his body. He drinks kale for breakfast. Drinks it. Kale. He blends it with blueberries and then holds his nose so he doesn't have to smell or taste it. Why? So he can add another ten years to his life in which he'll get to drink kale for breakfast, snack on it for lunch, and then saute it with garlic for dinner? I'm not an eat-drink-and-be-merry kind of girl. Never have been, never will be. So I get the idea of taking care of yourself--just not that well. I'll do the dinner portion with him a couple of times a year. That's my compromise. In the meantime, it's the occasional Mounds for me.

3. A nap. I have a friend who schedules a nap into her day. I hope she still does since I count on her every time I close my eyes for more than two minutes. I don't recommend combining the nap with the Diet Pepsi or the Mounds, however. More than a nap, I like a good night's sleep.

4. A Battlestar-Galactica (or Buffy or Firefly or Dexter) marathon while I fold laundry . . . or just sit there and pretend I'm doing something vital like catching up on old magazines so I can recycle. Recycling is important. Or sometimes I pretend I'm crafty, and I'll make something out of felt and thread and ribbons and buttons, give it a name, and set it on one of my kids' beds. "Really, I sacrificed my afternoon for you. Battlestar Galactica was just something to play in the background while I sewed love for you into every stitch."

What do you do when you just need to get through the day? What are your indulgences, your guilty pleasures that you know you deserve?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


I adore my children--so much that I sometimes ache just thinking about them. I volunteered in my son's kindergarten class yesterday and was tempted to take him home with me after my hour there. I'm the one with separation anxiety, not him.

There are moments of mothering, however, when you feel like you don't like your own children. They're not pretty moments or proud ones. They're not ones I advertise regularly or admit to very often. But they're there.

Yesterday afternoon, my daughter's Brownie troop needed carpool drivers. I volunteered. And that was a mistake. It's not the three hours of my day it used up that was the issue; it was seeing a side of my daughter that made me wonder how I could have raised a child who could act like that. Is she like this more often than not, and I only see the sweet and loving side of her because I'm blinded by my love for her? How much is fair to expect of her? Is she a typical eight-year-old? If so, heaven help all of us mothers of eight-year-olds. If not, have I screwed up? Do I have time to fix her?

I recently gave up demanding thank yous from my children. It wasn't helping any of us, and I read somewhere that kids need to learn real gratitude, not just when polite society requires a show of gratitude. So I didn't expect a thank you from her. I did, however, expect more kindness from her than I received.

I've been thinking about this a lot, obviously. I even had a hard time sleeping last night because I couldn't let it go, this notion of my children being unaware of what my husband and I do for them. I don't expect, as I said, constant thank yous and "Mom, you're the greatest" and "Wow, I'm so lucky you simply gave birth to me!" But shouldn't kids be at least somewhat cognizant of the fact that they're parents do a thing or two for them in the course of the day?

But here's the realization that is going to help me get some work done today and then sleep better tonight: I don't want my children to be aware of everything I do for them. I don't want them to have to bear that kind of burden. And I mean that completely seriously.

When people do something nice for me, whether it's a family member or a friend or even simply an acquaintance, I'm often overwhelmed by the selflessness of their actions. When my father died, I was blown away by the food that filled up my mother's house. I still get choked up thinking about it. When my now-eleven-year-old son had surgery over a year ago to correct a medical problem he'd had since he was three, a new friend I had hardly even gotten to know yet brought me a care package of chocolate. I had another friend recently offer to help drive my kids around if there are times I can't manage everyone's schedule this fall. If I had to stop and be fully aware of everyone doing me a kindness in the course of a day, I would be an emotional wreck.

And young kids need those kindnesses more than anyone. They can't drive themselves. They can't provide their own food and clothing and shelter. They can't pay for their piano lessons or acting or dance classes. They depend on their parents for 100 different things every single day. By 9:30 this morning, I had made 5 lunches, dropped off one, taken two kids to school at two different times, cleaned their breakfast dishes, emailed one of their teachers, filled my car up with gas so I'll be able to take them to their activities after school, and then ordered a couple of gifts. Their dependency lessens as they get older, but it never really goes away. At least I hope it doesn't.

I want my kids to need me, and I don't want them to feel guilty and beholden to me for all of those needs. I don't want them to feel they're taking out loans they can never pay back, because they're not.

So I'll probably be a carpool driver again. And I'll probably (definitely) be disappointed at some point again in how one of my children treats me. But I won't remind them of all I do for them. That's not one of the things they need.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Going Back

I got to chaperon my daughter's field trip today. The weather was beautiful, the setting perfect for fall, the timing good for my work schedule. A perfect morning, really. I even learned some things I didn't know before. And when I say that, I don't mean, "Wow! What a surprise! There are still things I don't know!" I mean that the type of field trip it was is the type of vacation I took many, many times as a kid with my family: back to the 1800s.

1800s. 1700s. Even a little of the 1600s once you hit Jamestown.

I often feel I grew up in several different time periods. I can thank my parents' supply of antiques and their insatiable curiosity about history for that feeling. When I walk into a building or room housing handmade farming tools or patina-touched porcelain dolls or braided rugs or chipped ceramic bowls, I feel like I'm home. It calms me more than anything else I can think of, and I want to shoo everyone else away so I can just sit there for a while and pretend that's not a plane I hear overhead or telephone wires I see outside the warped-glass window.

I don't romanticize these bygone eras. I know they were dirty times, ugly times, dangerous, sweaty, and hard times. I don't wish someone would take away my dishwasher so I can use a dry sink instead. I don't wish someone would turn off the power and let me light a lamp. I don't wish for a high child mortality rate or tuberculosis or the re-emergence of petticoats and shoes that had no right or left. I just feel that as we've gained the advantages of inoculations and paved roads and indoor plumbing, we've managed to give up our need for our neighbors and the pleasure of aching muscles that come with work rather than working out. More importantly, we've given up the joy of sharing a room--and not just a house--with our families at the end of a day.

I don't want to go back to 1800. I simply miss it.