Friday Night Lessons

April 30, 2012

My children should know better by now. They should trust that when I say I have a time-sensitive surprise it’ll always be worth cleaning up those legos.

By the skin of their teeth they met the deadline of cleaning up their toys and eating their supper. Paul got home (barely) in time to join us, he was in on the surprise. Fed and full of anticipation we got into the car, evading every question they asked of us. Before long we had pulled up to a theatre and Red, so very perceptively, immediately knew what was going on. He read the sign and saw Star Wars 3D. In his mind there was no other possible conclusion, there was no other move we’d see instead of that one. He was correct, of course. I had been given a lead earlier that day of a cheap theatre, offering second run movies at a drastically discounted rate. Friday night’s event, including the 3D experience, cost the whole family $16. In my blissful state, even Jar Jar Binks wasn’t quite so grating that night.

The look on his face was priceless. He was happier about that than most of our Disneyland trips. I wish I had been recording his expression.

That night as we drove home two hours past bedtime I reminded Red of the night’s lessons. #1 Trust Mummy she she says she has something fun planned, and #2 School is only a small part of our lives and the rest of our day can still be fabulous no matter what happened at school.


Mourn With Those Who Mourn

April 27, 2012

(This post has been cross-posted from my post yesterday on Cherry Blossoms)

Is it just me, or has this been a really challenging spring? It seems it’s been a season of intense loss. The human experience is a messy one, it runs at an unrelenting pace until the whole world seems to stop at the death of a loved one and then you wonder if your world will ever start to spin again?

When you lose a loved one, it hurts. It doesn’t matter how much you believe in an afterlife or in eternal families. It hurts. When a loved one loses a loved one, it also hurts. The grief can be confusing if you didn’t know the deceased, but the sting of death reaches your empathy. Loss is loss and loss hurts. When the grief is vicarious it’s hard to know what to say or to do.

It’s easy to distance yourself. You don’t want to get in the way, you don’t want to do or say the wrong thing. You don’t know what to say. A couple of years ago when my friends’ baby was stillborn I felt mute. I knew there was nothing I could say or do that would give them back their son, but I wrestled with knowing that I wasn’t doing anything to support them or help them through this very dark time.

Since then I’ve tried really hard to take the advice of those who have walked through the valley of the shadow of death so that I can be a better support to others. While every death is different, and everyone deals with the pain differently, here are some simple guidelines that, when used with our discretion, can help you bridge that infinite gap between your pain of empathy and the great loss experienced by your friend.

Don’t say, “You are so strong. I could never do this.” Don’t say, “Don’t be sad, just be grateful.” Don’t second guess the precipitating moments, offer suggestions of how that situation could have been avoided, or, in some circumstances, even ask how it happened. That doesn’t matter. It won’t bring the loved one back, it’ll only bring more pain.

What you CAN say and do:
* “My heart is aching for you.”
* “I miss [lost love one] so much.”
* Share things that touched you about the deceased
* Tell your friend you love her
* Fast and pray for her
* Tell her that your friendship is bigger than any feelings that she may have and you are there to hear it all: the good, the bad and the ugly.
* Cry with her
* Listen to her
* Keep coming around when everyone else goes home and moves on
* Know that it’s ok to admit that you don’t know what to say. Neither does she. There are no words.

Your friend will NEVER stop grieving. How can any of us stop grieving someone we loved so much? Even if you are firm in a belief that your family will be reunited in an afterlife, it’s a long time away, isn’t it? It’s never too late to reach out to someone who has suffered a great loss and let her know that you care for her and support her. Hopefully when it’s your turn, she’ll be there to do that for you, too. Life is messy and full of pain; we need each other to get through. Please call a friend today who may need a pick-me-up. If you’re like me, you’ve got a handful of friends who could use it.

Body Image Revolution

April 26, 2012

If I told you that I’ve been working out diligently for a couple of weeks, and I eat properly and in good proportions, and I’m getting enough sleep, but the scale hasn’t even slipped by a pound, would you be surprised?

I’m not. I’ve been here before. Most of my adult life is filled with episodes of me doing everything right without getting the results that are supposed to follow. The only periods of weight loss I’ve had as an adult (not including childbirth) have come for inexplicable reasons.

So I’m exercising again, and I’m eating better than I have in months thanks to this new world in which I live. While I would love to lose a few pounds and fit back into the clothes I already own instead of going shopping for new, bigger, clothes, this is no longer a priority for me.

I am not going to drive myself crazy (and by extension, my family) in my attempts to regain some lost glory in the body of a former self. I have much better things to do with my life than trying to be nineteen again.

Here’s the thing: if I accept my soul, my spirit, my intelligence, as being an ever-evolving, ever-changing being that is housed within my body, shouldn’t it stand to reason that my body is also ever-evolving and ever-changing? And if I wouldn’t want my mind to return to where it was when I was nineteen, why would I wish that of my body?

That’s not to say that we should continue to grow, physically, unrestrained. I do think, however, that we should take the time to think about where our bodies have been, and what they have done. I’ve birthed and nursed a couple of babies and I wouldn’t erase that experience for anything. Instead of trying to erase that physically, I need to take my body where it is, and move toward health.

Size doesn’t matter. Health matters. You can be in good shape without having a good shape, and you can have a good shape without being in good shape. Of course most of us would prefer to have the best of both, but for many of us that isn’t possible. The ideal is to be in good shape, regardless of our shape.

So I am exercising. For as long as we are in this apartment I hope to maintain the pace I have started. Already I have noticed a change in my stamina and strength. Already my appetite has crossed the hurdle of insatiable hunger and I’ve settled into a normal consumption routine. Already I’ve noticed a stabilization of my moods.

My mind is clearer, my days are happier. I’ve been able to observe the effect that different foods have on my body because I’ve had the time to pay attention. (Any processed sugar before dinner will cause my moods and appetite to go haywire. Locally-produced honey is okay in small doses.) It’s wonderful to be able to listen to my body. I think we’re going to be good friends, my body and me. I’m taking better care of it, and whether I lose weight or not doesn’t matter to either of us any more.

Consolation Prize

April 25, 2012

At the end of Red’s first week at his new school, the school was having their annual spring carnival. Red wanted to go because it had been hyped up at school. Paul wanted to go because he knew we should hobnob and make friends. I did not want to go. I had received an invitation to attend Baby Loves Disco at the same time in downtown Dallas and review it for Cherry Blossoms and I knew that no one makes friends at school carnivals.

To all of us this was a no-brainer.

It took me until the last minute to convince everyone that my event would be way more fun, but by the time I did so the guest list had already been created and I had lost my chance for free admission.

Andrea tried to console me via text, reminding me that my consolation prize was a carnival and that’s not a bad thing. Besides, this way the kids would go to bed at bedtime and that’s worth buckets of goodness right there.

So while Paul worked late I took the boys to the school, vowing that while I would go and be a good sport, I was not, under any circumstances, going to make friends. Fortunately for me it was so crowded that I didn’t even have to make eye contact with anyone more than half my age.

Truth be told, the event was a bit much for me. It was so crowded, it was so … I don’t even know how to describe the assault on my senses, and it wasn’t my beloved Franklin Elementary. It was generic, suburban, sugar-filled, and narrated with pop music dance offs; I realized for the first time that we would miss this year’s World Fest at Franklin, that I would never again participate in a carnival with foods and performances celebrating the cultures and languages represented at our small, family-like school.  I didn’t want the cheap plastic trinkets from China that they were hawking as prizes, I wanted a caprese sandwitch freshly made by my friends.  I didn’t want to listen to the Justin Bieber contest, I wanted to listen to throngs of children singing in languages I can’t speak. I didn’t want to watch the Dynamite dance off, I wanted to watch children in traditional garb dance the Tarantella and the Flamenco.

While the boys paid their tickets to break a board I absent-mindedly filled out forms handed to me for a drawing for a free month at the karate school sponsoring that booth. They were a showy school with big patches and emblems; they did a karate-fied dance routine to music and lured children in with their snazz. They were everything I had come to avoid when searching for a martial arts school.

But three days later I got a call from them saying Blue had won the free month. I ponied up the cash for Red to have a month as well, bought them both uniforms, and spent several nights sewing on those ridiculous patches. I haven’t comitted to longer than a month and the jury is still out as to whether I will after only two lessons. I have, however, changed my opinion of the karate school. They may not be what I’m looking for, but they are what children are looking for. And I finally realized that if I signed the boys up at my dream karate school they’d likely hate it.

Turns out missing out on free admission to Baby Loves Disco wasn’t a total a bummer after all.

Our New Place

April 24, 2012

Our current apartment is brand new. This is the second time in our married life that we’ve been the first tenants of a new apartment, and we consider it to be the reward we earned from the previous, nasty apartment. It is surprisingly easy to keep clean a home that was clean to begin with. I also marvel, daily, at how easy it is to keep clean a carpet that started stain-free and isn’t daily trodden upon by people wearing shoes, and that our daily activities don’t involve feeding countless children who roam the premises, food in hand (and out of hand…) It makes me feel better about my own housekeeping abilities now that I’m only cleaning up after my own, and not after everyone I know.

On Saturday, after we took a day trip to the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth (further than I thought, but worth it,) went to a bbq place to celebrate being done with our old apartment and done with California traffic school, and visited with the neighbours, we put the boys to bed and Paul suggested I take a long bath in our brand new soaking tub.

I did just that.

I had to rummage for a while to find something that would make bubbles, but I found a small bottle of something I’d received for Christmas a few years back and never used (for obvious reasons.)

I even brought my phone into the bathroom and set it to an album Paul’s brother claims is great for putting the kids to sleep in the car. (Bon Iver.)

I can’t speak for the music for it was only the wallpaper of my world.

I settled into the bath and listened to the bubbles pop beside my head.

We’re supposed to be house hunting. But if for whatever reason we have to stay here longer than we had planned, I think that’ll be just fine with me.

My Neighborhood

April 22, 2012
My neighborhood by Proud Mum
My neighborhood, a photo by Proud Mum on Flickr.

Move over, Don Quixote, my power lines lean!

Choosing Health

April 21, 2012

It’s been a bit of a break in blogging lately. I’ve posted very sporadically. It isn’t that I haven’t had things to write, I have. It isn’t that I haven’t had time to write, I have. It’s just that this blog is very personal and lately my inner life has been raw. Even for an open-book like myself, I needed quiet time to feel, cope, and adjust. Yes, sometimes even I need quiet time.

On Monday my associations with our former landlord finally came to an end as I signed for a certified letter which contained our security deposit and, as I had requested per the California Department of Consumer Affairs, an itemized receipt for any deductions.

For some reason I was quite taken aback to see the considerably smaller than I had expected cheque. While I agreed completely with the smaller charges on the itemized receipt, I disagreed adamantly with the bigger charge which, if it wasn’t there, would have brought the refund to exactly what I had expected it would be.

I immediately contacted Paul, and my two friends who have previously moved out of the same complex. I cried in frustration that no matter how hard I had tried to be a good tenant and a good person, this callous woman was still using her favourite weapon to break me down: economics. I knew that fighting the charges from the other side of the country would be difficult and expensive, but approaching her directly would be futile. Contacting her again would certainly put me over the edge and any monies I could have recouped from the whole ordeal would be immediately turned over to the mental health professional I’d need to visit.

Depositing the cheque meant accepting defeat. It meant she won. It meant agreeing to the incredibly insulting and untrue editorials on the itemized receipt. It meant allowing her to do this again to someone else. Depositing the cheque, which was the same amount my other friends had received despite our very differing lengths of time there and housekeeping abilities, meant being complicit in her illegal tactics of having a portion of the security deposit (in this case nearly half) non-refundable despite the law being clearly against any portion of the security deposit being non-refundable.

I wrestled with this all day. But as I prayed and worked it through in my mind, the idea to just take it and walk away became clearer. At first I considered it only because the alternative meant more time dealing with her and I was d-o-n-e. Over time, however, I thought about it more and more and finally came to conclusion that I would accept what was given me, and walk away. Finally I decided that the money I believed was still owed to me was a small price to pay for having no contact with them again. I will no longer allow that woman power over my emotional stability.

Paul conceded that was the best plan, but offered that we do one or both of the following: berate them in reply with a letter and/or write scathing reviews online.

In the end we decided to do nothing. I concluded that I had no need to be “right” and that in trying to have the last word I would not convince her to change her ways, nor would she suddenly apologize to us, nor would she return us the rest of the money, nor would she suddenly start to treat the current tenants better. All it would accomplish would be adding more misery and negativity in my life. I was able to see how this crossroads for me was strangely parallel to Janel’s when she was seeking child support, and how much her life improved when she finally dropped it (and searching for him) from her life. I don’t want to be bitter and angry, I want to leave the bad in the past and move on with the good.

The cheque I deposited this morning was three-digits instead of the four I expected, and it was barely more than half the original deposit. But it’s more than I had last week, and I no longer have to think about those landlords again. I choose to remember only the good memories we made in that place. I am free, and I am happy. I chose health over justice, and I chose well.