5:10 am IN THE MORNING.
And I'm up. Not because I have some new found willpower to move my sluggish body out of the bed, but because I haven't laid down yet.
I woke up at 9 am yesterday morning, worked fast and furiously on deadlines until 2 pm, cleaned the kitchen and living room until 3 pm, sat down to watch a DVRed show with Billy at 4 pm, walked around the neighborhood with Javi and the As at 5:30 pm, sat down to dinner at 6:30 pm, and played with the kids until they went to bed at 9 pm.
I must've lost my mind. I decided I simply had to catch up on my messageboard (which lasted until after midnight). Then I felt compelled to read the 87 blog entries that had piled up in my reader since Tuesday (lasted until 2 pm).
And at the unreasonable hour of half past crazy, I finally opened Quark and began layout. And I had to write at least five news bits to fill up the layout. And then there was the table of contents, which is still a bear despite my having automated it when I was hired for this contract).
There you have it. I procrastinate so hard and so badass that it is now 5:15 am and I'm sitting here, awake but dogass tired, unsure whether I should try to sleep for the 2 hours until Bella wakes up (thank the heavens Billy gets Javi ready and on the bus by 7:20).
One day I'll learn ... right?
Alexis on my bus said that Mr. X and Mr. Y go to the same house at night and then the bed creaks.
My brain screeched to a halt and I frantically searched through my mental rolodex to find the appropriate words to have this discussion. Mr. X and Mr. Y are two male teachers at his school and they have long been the subject of rumors among students as to the nature of their relationship, dating as far back as when I had them as teachers in the sixth grade (at least twenty years ago).
Before my brain split in half, I needed to suss out exactly what he heard and how he interpreted it.
Me: What does that mean?
Javi: I guess they're the G word.
Me: The G word?
Javi: You know, G-U-Y.
Me: G-U-Y? That spells guy, Javi.
Javi: Oh, I mean gay. That they're gay.
Me: You don't have to spell it out, Javi, it's not a bad word.
Javi: Okay. So are they gay?
And this is where you could've seen the smoke pouring out of my ears from the gears turning and turning in my head. It's such a complicated, loaded question.
To be completely honest, I don't know or care to speculate about the sexuality of the school's teachers. I think it's cruel that those men are still, so many years later, the subject of gossip and rumor. Javi's school is one of the most diverse in the district -- making it also one of the poorest. These men take their jobs (one teaches music, the other art) seriously and the kids really enjoy their classes. Mr. Y happens to be Javi's favorite teacher and Javi wants to grow up to be just like him.
So with that in the background, I have to formulate a response that keeps Javi in the discussion, teaches him our family's values and morals, and keeps him safe from those in his peer group who would single out and torture the kid who sticks his neck out. My mountain man husband would've simply said, "Don't believe everything you hear," and left it at that. I'm not the mountain man.
I said to him: We don't know where Mr. X and Mr. Y go when they leave school, and it's not our business to know. Would them being gay make you think they are bad people or dislike going to their classes? (To which he said, thoughtfully, No.) I don't know if they're gay, but I don't think it matters whether they are or not. Being gay doesn't make someone bad, and it's not something that we can change about people, so we just have to accept them for who they are, right? (To which he nodded emphatically, Yes.) So the next time someone tries to talk to you about other people, just tell them it's not really your business and talk about something else, okay?
He didn't have many more questions about either his teachers or sexuality in general. We've had lots of discussions leading up to the one where we talk about someone he knows being gay, so I felt that I'd already laid the groundwork. For example, we had a long discussion about transgenderism when Vogue Evolution competed on America's Best Dance Crew and several of my good friends are in same-sex partnerships.
Though we moved onto other talk, I labored over the conversation later. Did I really answer his question? Did I leave him thinking that being gay is something great or something horrible? Did I set him up to be the one kid in a crowd of jeering adolescents who proclaims that being different is a wonderful thing -- and so becomes the object of the taunts?
My goal was to use measured, non-leading language that left him thinking that being gay isn't "good" or "bad," but just part of being human. Like how some people are brown and some are pink and some are big and some are little. I wanted him to know that gossiping about people is definitely a bad thing, and that the label "gay" isn't something that should be used to hurt someone, same as the label "fat" shouldn't be used to hurt -- and racial slurs are words people never should use at all.
But he's only one small boy. One eight year old in a sea of children whose parents use words like gay and retarded to describe things they don't like or that don't make sense to them. Parents who likely tell racial jokes and raise their children to believe that anything different from them is wrong. So who am I to send my son into the world without those trappings when they are the only protection against childhood torture?
I can tell you what I told my mountain man. That I won't have a child who uses a person's own self against them, who teases and taunts and makes other children's lives hell. I'd rather my child have one one or two true friends who've been raised as he is being raised than that he have a school full of acquaintances who aren't. I'd rather teach him to be true to himself than to be true to ignorance.
Yet it's his life and he's the one living it. I can only pray that we raise him with the strength and determination of spirit he'll need to uphold the values we're handing him. But, then again, I suppose that's what every good parent does. Our children are the ones who will someday show us through their lives and actions whether our efforts were ever -- could ever have been -- enough.
I struggle with all the seven deadly sins. I can be greedy, vain, gluttonous, jealous, lusty, and most definitely lazy. But anger often has me in a chokehold. My fortune let me know that holding onto hurt and anger doesn't just affect you once, it is an open wound that you carry around with you every day and that infects every relationship you enter.
Despite seeing a therapist and writing through my emotions on this blog, I still struggle with letting it go. Often, my anger wells up and floods my body without me even realizing it's happening. It's like a piece of white hot metal that scorches everything it touches. You won't always hear it, but you'll feel it. The hard stare, the coldness when I walk into the room, the explosion of burning words when I open my mouth.
This is the vice that I try to control and can't. I grew up fighting and learned early to protect myself both physically and emotionally. I learned to punch and kick, to grow nails long enough to slice skin, to turn inanimate objects into weapons. I learned to attack with force and to finish off an opponent. I learned to never get caught in the shadows and to avoid enemies in packs. Those skills don't help me much these days, but I find myself still using my sharpened tongue and ability to perceive which words will burn the hottest and longest.
This is my statement that I'm putting it down. The gasoline, the match, the flame -- they shouldn't be my constant companions. I don't need to feed them and keep them at the ready. I am making this promise to myself: Use your hands, your mind, and your words to nurture and create good. Be vulnerable, accept that you will get hurt, but also that you will survive.
Most people who know us like to talk about Javi is my mini-me. He can cut a look or give a belly laugh that is a polaroid snapshot of me. He is an academic overachiever and loves to be smack in the middle of everyone's business, just as I did at his age. But Javi exhibits behavioral preferences and differences -- some subtle and some not so subtle -- that an aware observer would flag as a sign that his biology differs slightly from Bella's.
For example, he hates to wear a hat. Billy is rarely seen without a hat and I like wearing them, but don't because I look like a cross between Gallagher and a mushroom. Bella enjoys wearing hats, though I don't often let her because they mess up her hair, which I spend way too much time fixing. But Javi hates to wear them, and so does his biological father. These things are small and the learned behavior way outweighs the innate behavior (though Javi holds his head in a certain way while smiling that hearts my heart because he looks just like his biological father then and in pictures of his biological mother as a child, she has his face with long, dark hair).
Raising Bella has proven to be an experience that enlightens me more to who I am -- the person I was born as -- rather than who I present the world. She is petite for her age, as I was (I didn't grow at all for several years as a toddler), and smart as a whip (as my mother claims all her girls were). But there's more. She preens for an audience, basks in the attention of strangers, and plays coy with the world. She fawns over babies and brings grown women to their knees.
I want to protect both of my children from the world, but for different reasons. I want Javi to have the life his parents asked me to give him when they chose me as his mother. I want to battle his disorders and ticks so that he learns how to overcome them and lead an amazingly rich life. I want him to feel that no barrier is stronger than his will and ability.
But for Bella? I want her to be her full self, the self that sings and dances and believes that all things can be true. The self that sees the best in people and bats her eyelashes at a van full of men without worry that they'll take it the wrong way or that one of those people would hurt her. I want her to be a woman full of grace and laughter who knows she is strong, but yet has never had to claw and scrape at life.
In the end, I want them both be happy and loved and strong. However, for my daughter, I want the life I wasn't given and -- honestly -- wasn't always convinced I deserved.
It's not always easy being in THAT family. We can't get together without a fight or argument breaking out, we have to screen and schedule visits to ensure that no one runs into or is subjected to the wrong person, and everyone is way too into everyone else's business. There's also a good dose of "why us" running rampant in my family. Why was our dad a screw up? Why was my sister born sick? Why does my other sister grapple with mental illness? Why has our mom worked so hard her entire life and yet will continue working until she dies?
You get the picture. I've tried for the past several years to give up the "why us" whining and just enjoy that this is the life I live and this is the family I've got. We can't change each other (much) and if it came to a knife fight, mess with one of us girls and you'll have three others on your back. And we will shank you.
So I'm proud that my THAT family was featured at We Are THAT Family this week. I hope you'll go check it out and leave a comment either here or there to share your own THAT family story.
(And keep in mind there's only so many THAT family stories I could fit into the questions Kristen asks. I didn't even get into the deadbeat dad who recently moved back with his 2 pre-teen children that he thinks we should help raise and how he likes to brag to us about how amazingly smart they are -- as though they invented the wheel [and teen angst]. Guess what, loser. We were dying our hair and shaking up the scene when those kids were still a drug-induced dream. And there's how my husband was born on the side of a mountain. You know I can tell you some stories about that!)
I happen to be a firm believer in ghosts, paranormal activity, spirits, and other things that go bump in the night thanks to many strange things and happenings over the past 32 years. I am very open to paranormal activity and have a fascination with (and a health fear of) the other side.
none of it was true. For instance, Jimmy told us all about people being buried alive and tying bells to their wrists, which supposedly originated the phrases dead ringer and saved by the bell, but it didn't happen. The other was that in order to hear the bells clanging, society had to create a graveyard shift. Also not true.
However, the real history outweighed the spook stories. For instance, we saw pictures and death certificates for 53 miners killed in a series of mine explosions at the Egypt Coal Mine in 1925 -- still, to date, the largest number of miners killed in a single accident. However, the site was said to be jinxed and nearly 120 men died there in the short time of its operation.
From there, we learned about several local merchants who died in the buildings that now comprise our downtown (or at least were once in the spot that the current buildings stand on). There was JP Coulter who went to the State Fair one day and the next day walked home, sat down on his porch and died at the age of 42 from what they diagnosed as "acute indigestion." To this day, he appears to the youngest child of the family now living in what was his home.
Also, while the walk itself yielded nothing scary, I have heard all kinds of dings and knocks and bangs, and felt many weird presences, in the days since. Billy says the problem with taking me anywhere is my overactive imagination, but I'm not convinced. I don't think it would take much urging for me to do an amateur EVP in my living room (except I'm too chicken shit). Want to join me?
*Photos borrowed from NSPIR until I get copies of the ones we took that night.
The wild animal has gone back to sleep now that the prospect of the cage is put away. This was Bella's first real sickness, so I don't think either of us knew how to handle it but apparently this child doesn't wait for cabin fever to set it. She goes on the offensive from jump and refuses to just sit still awhile so that whatever bug she had could run its course. I hope that she learns to go easy on herself some day, but for now I'm just thankful that we've both survived four days of sick alone together in our little home.
And as you can tell from this photo, there will always be something a little wild hiding just behind the surface of my little girl.
Me: You misbehaved at school?
Javi: I KINDA got in trouble for drawing but I just HAD to draw because I haven't in SO LONG. So I just sat REALLY quietly at my desk and drew A FEW pictures without talking to ANYONE.
Me: So you got an X on your behavior report?
Javi: Pretty much.
This morning as I was getting dressed to take Bella to school, she discovered a teeny-tiny-baby pig on the floor beside her. She scooped him up in her palm and turned toward me.
Bella: I got dis baby pig, Mama!
Me: Oh, what a sweet little baby pig. Can I hug him?
Bella: No! Dat baby pig in big trouble. Dat baby pig TIME OUT, Mama. You no touchin it.
Me: Wow, okay. Bad baby pig.
Bella: Yes. Bad baby pig. I beatin dis baby pig! You gettin' spank BABY PIG!
She then threw the baby pig down with disgust and beat the pretend crap out of it. When her arm got tired she picked up a shoe and beat it some more.
Bella: Okay, baby pig. You not trouble no more. You dead baby pig. SEE WHAT YOU DO!
(I promise we do not beat, torture, or otherwise abuse our children. I can only guess there's a secret Dora episode only she can see where sweet Boots gets the ax. What other explanation is there?)
This is but one example of why we are THAT family.
But now I have a secret weapon. Isopropyl alcohol! Billy made me my own squirt bottle to keep on our window sill. I break it out everytime someone messes with my counters (including when my sister leaves her receipts in the puddle of water left from washing dishes or Javi decides to write a card to his father using a Sharpie and no buffer layer).
You have to try it. It dissolves any ink stain and then evaporates. Easy peasy! This works for me -- what works for you?
Not only does Bella have her own playlist on my iPod, but it's full of Yo Gabba Gabba, Sesame Street, Ralph's World, Barenaked Ladies, Laurie Berkner, and theme songs. I know every song word for word and often jam right along with Bella. There are a few songs I prefer above others. 21 Raisins and Rhyming Circus are my favorites, while Bella could listen to Elmo's Song 18 million trillion times and still beg for "again!" I hear that song in my sleep sometimes... and not in the good dreams.
So I was pleasantly surprised and interested when Miss Amy asked me if I'd review "I Wanna Know How It Works," a CD for preschoolers aimed at getting them up and active while also introducing them to different instruments and types of music. I wasn't sure what to expect from an singer/songwriter who is also a fitness instructor, but I wasn't disappointed.
The first few tracks on the CD didn't suck my kids in, but I have a two year old and an eight year old. Those first few tracks are solid preschool (think, ages 3-6). Once we got into the heart of the CD, though, I had two head bobbers in the back seat (though Javi didn't want me to see him liking the "baby music").
After listening to the CD several times, we have three stand-out favorites (and, yes, I said "we" -- these songs are fun!): Weights & Measures, Hippity Hop Rabbit, and Go Joe. I love how each of these songs gets my kids moving, giggling, and interacting with the song. For instance, in "Go Joe," Miss Amy's dog gets off his leash, causing lots of chaos. Little Bella scolds that puppy every time and laughs as he gets into trouble.
Bottom line: While not every song is a hit, the majority of the songs on this CD are perfect for your preschooler (or toddler or older child). I plan to put it on rotation at my nephew's birthday party as I know it'll get the kids moving and keep them out of trouble. I'm also thinking of letting Bella's daycare borrow it for this week's Music Friday.
Best part: Miss Amy didn't send me one CD -- she sent me two! That means I have one to share with YOU!!!! This is my very first giveaway and I'm so happy that it is something that my kids and I enjoy so much. Here are all the ways you can enter:
1. Go to the CD site and listen to the song snippets. Then come back here and leave a comment telling me which song on the album you think your kids will like best.
2. Tweet about this giveaway with a link back to this post. (You can use this if you'd like: I just entered a cool music giveaway for kids from @millermix http://trunc.it/2jht4!)
3. Become a follower of my blog.
4. Subscribe to my RSS feed.
Make sure you let me know all the ways you entered (in separate comments) so that you get credit for each entry! This giveaway will end on Tuesday, Oct. 20!
We then went over to a friend's house for dinner, where Bella played (and fought) with another little girl while I had a planning session for (yet) another fundraiser we're holding this month. All too soon, it was after 9 pm and my baby girl was overtired. We sang and danced to some new music and then she laid her head against my shoulder as I brought her inside.
Normally she'd fight and fuss to stay up, but last night she said, "I want my foots pjs, Mama. I so sweepy." I held her in my lap to change her into bedclothes, carried her up to her room, and got her all tucked in. She asked for "tisses hugs!" and her Rodney monkey, and then she turned over and went off to sleep.
I expected a crazed maniac in place of this peapie when she woke up this morning, but she's been mellow and loving. Not once has she tried to claw my face off or kick me in the shins. Rather, she's listened and laughed and used her big-girl voice. I think part of her attitude is she gets to be an only child this weekend and another part is she misses her daddy and is feeling needy in his absence.
But what makes this lazy Sunday so wonderful right now, is that another part of her gentle bearing this weekend is I've been able to devote all my resources to her. There's no man-child or boy-child to divide me. There's no work, no back-to-back obligations. It's just the two of us and our own little agenda.
I can't wait for my boys to come home, but I have a new-found appreciation for girls' weekends.
I miss them. Javi called me tonight to tell me goodnight and that he missed me. He told me all about the Vols game that he got to see from right inside Neyland Stadium. He told me about riding his bike around the campground, throwing out his first cast with his new pole in the campground's pond, spending time with his Uncle Jim, and his excitement to go to Gatlinberg tomorrow.
And then I tried to get off the phone because Bella was crying. He said, "Mama?" I answered him, "Yes, baby?" He then whispered, "I really do miss you. Can you come have a sleepover tonight in my bed?" It just broke my heart. Between my two children, this sweet and smart little boy is the one who needs me most, who craves my attention and affection, the one who would be devastated if something were to ever happen to me.
And God do I love him. His big brown eyes, his wide smile, his cackling laughter, the way he sucks his teeth and jerks his shoulders around when he's upset, how he is only 65 pounds but sounds like a herd of elephants when playing upstairs by himself, the crazysparkle in his eyes when he loses the battle against impulsivity, how he bursts through the door after he gets home from school, the celebratory dance he does when he brings home a good performance report, how he lingers against me after hugs, how he gives me 800 kisses a day, the hope in his eyes when asks to "sleep over" with me and Billy... and the list goes on.
I have gotten many emails and a comment about my earlier post in which I expressed my feelings of inadequacy and guilt surrounding the way I parent (and came to parent) this amazing little soul. I'd like to explain something on the chance that he does one day read my blog and care what his mama had to say:
I strongly believe that Javi will be a better person for having a mother who examines herself and her actions, who expresses her fears in hopes that by giving them a voice she can better work through them, and who isn't afraid to admit that she doesn't have it all together -- but that she loves her children so much she is willing and determined to keep trying.
My post wasn't about not loving my son. From the minute he was born, I have cherished the gift of him. I was in that delivery room and I was so scared, so overwhelmed, so overwrought with the enormity of parenting. Where most adoptive parents jump through ever-higher hoops and wait years for their children, my preparation period lasted exactly three weeks. One day I was a grad student in Boston partying all night with people I may or may not have known, and the next day I was preparing to bring home a baby... in a week.
Fortunately my baby decided to wait 10 days so I could attend his birth. I was the first pair of arms to hold him and the first skin he nestled against. I was his everything and I tried so hard to live up to that reality.
But here's the truth: There was another family for him. It was all lined up -- the paperwork was signed, the family was planning, and my child was being prayed for by another mother. Three weeks before their baby came home to them, I stepped in. My child's mother is my older sister. She kept her pregnancy secret and then swore she was doing a closed adoption and there was to be no discussion.
I never stopped to consider that other family, what they could provide, what love and excitement they had for their new addition, how long they prayed, what it would feel like for them to finally have their child ... and the potentially crushing disappointment of losing him. I was too young to understand that stopping the adoption meant taking a child from two mothers, not just one.
And now that he's mine -- and I'm older, more experienced, and more compassionate -- that third mother stays with me. My sister gave me a priceless gift when she put her son into my arms. She entrusted him to me and put her own hurt away until she could grieve in private. But who comforted that other mother? What did her heartbreak feel like, and could I have prevented it?
I especially think about her when my patience is low or when I feel that I am just not strong enough to parent a child with Javi's particular brand of impulsivity, inattention, and anxiety. Maybe she is a patient, gentle woman who wouldn't lose her temper. Maybe she would smile through her tears and whisper to him, "We'll get through this together" whereas I shut down and say "Go to your room!" Perhaps she'd cradle him, let him rest his head on her chest, and just be silent with him as the anxiety, frustration, inability to stay still course through him, whereas I tell him that's enough, sit over there, stop draping yourself over me.
I want to be the woman I imagine that third mother could've been. I want to be patient and gentle and kind. And on a night like tonight when my first born is six hours away from me yet needing his mama, I want to try even harder. I build my resolve to be the mother he deserves -- even when it feels like an insurmountable goal.
And that's what I want him to know when or if he ever decides to learn more about the woman and mother I am. My love for him is so huge, so powerful, that I would do anything to make his childhood an experience that creates a strong and enduring foundation for his adulthood. I want him to think back on these years and say: I was wanted. I was happy. I was loved.
Here are the rules: Answer the questions below using only one word (yes, only one). Thank the blogger who gave it to you. Pass it on to 6 of your favorite bloggers.
The good stuff:
Where is your cell phone? bathroom (don't ask)
Your hair? ponytail
Your mother? tired
Your father? selfish
Your favorite food? Thai
Your dream last night? embarrassing
Your favorite drink? icedchailatte (one word, see?)
Your dream/goal? independence
What room are you in? bedroom
Your hobby? reading
Your fear? regret
Where do you want to be in 6 years? settled
Where were you last night? shopping
Something you aren’t? organized
Wish list item? Kindle!
Where did you grow up? NC
Last thing you did? fastforward
What are you wearing? tanktop
Your TV? on
Your pets? nonexistant
Your friends? therapeutic
Your life? blessed
Your mood? wired
Missing someone? yes
Something you’re not wearing? pants
Your favorite store? Michaels
Your favorite color? red
When was the last time you laughed? tonight
Last time you cried? yesterday
Your best friend? missed
One place that I go over and over? store
One person who emails me regularly? MoveOn
Favorite place to eat? wherethewingsare!
And now your part:
Anjie (here's your posting motivation!)
I grew up in a household of women. From the day I was born, I shared a room with another woman. For a brief time during my childhood, my mom implemented a rotation that allowed each of us three girls to have our own room for six months before having to move back into a shared room. It was glorious, but short lived and the six months always flew by and I was back in the room with one of my sisters.
Which leaves me at a loss as to why my adult roommate situations have all ended so horribly. Allow me to bullet it out for you:
~~D. The single white female from freshman year of college. She wasn't supposed to be my roommate, but the original didn't want me. After the first one dumped me (based on nothing as it happened before we even moved into our dorm room), I was put with a girl named V. But V.'s best friend was assigned to D. -- so they swapped us.
So began a year of this girl copying everything I did -- down to getting her hair cut just like mine -- and plotting against me when I didn't reciprocate her ... adoration? I will say that I screwed her as a roommate but I won't say why in case she ever reads this. Let's just say it involves a lot of tequila, an 80-mile drive, a fruitless search for illegal things, and one hell of a cover up. :)
~~CP. I should've known this bitch was trouble, but she was willing to move off campus and recruited her friend J. to live with us. It all went to hell when CP's ex and I became best friends (we were all friends to start with) and she retaliated by sleeping with every male friend I had. Also, when my friends called, she'd tell them that I wasn't there (even when I was) and then she'd offer to stand in me if they wanted to do something. I can't tell you how many times I'd show up somewhere and she'd be having dinner or drinks with my people.
We finally had a showdown during which I told her she was a psycho slut who embarrassed herself. She told me I was a lying bitch. We agreed to hate each other -- but she still insisted on inviting her friends to my parties. She's still living the same pitiful leachy life. (Can you tell I'm not over it?)
~~CW. I met CW online and offered to share my home with her and her son when she relocated to our area. She took me up on it. This was one of the biggest mistakes of both of our lives. Her kid attacked my kid, I showed interest in Billy to keep her from dating him, she went to my family to complain about what a horrible person I am, and I kicked her out.
I'm one of those people who believes you make choices and then you deal with the consequences. She was one of those people who makes choices and then cries about them. We didn't mesh, but I hope she's happy and that they are both living a good life now.
Luckily, I have had some wonderful roommate situations. I think the key is living with people you really like rather than those who will just split rent. I had some iffy situations with my other roommates in Boston, but those weren't horror stories, just a few months of uncomfortableness before we all went our separate ways. However, Kati and I would've lived together forever if I hadn't moved back to NC from Boston. And Billy and I enjoy sharing the same space.
So tell me -- what are your roommate horror stories?
Here's the truth. We didn't have children's books in our house growing up. My sister and I were just talking about this while making dinner a few nights ago. Our first books were Carrie, Cujo, and The Color Purple. Our mom actually went page-by-page through The Color Purple and marked out the words or paragraphs she thought we were too young to read. You can imagine how drastically the story changed when we read it as teenagers.
The "book" that I cherished and read cover-to-cover more times than anyone count was The Children's Encyclopedia of Fiction. It was a big purple hardcover book full of stories from writers around the world. My absolute favorite story was about Nils, a miniature boy who lived beneath the bed of a child who spent a lot time home alone. Nils became a comfort and confident to the boy.
What's truly awesome is that despite several moves over the span of my life, my mother held onto that book and recently gave it back to me. So many beautiful and uncomplicated moments came rushing back to me. I am so excited that Javi is now old enough to read and appreciate the stories that brought me so much joy when I was only a little bit younger than him.
That's where the oldies-but-goodies come in handy. I remember a neighbor once making me wash his car windows with vinegar and newspaper*, and when I was in ROTC, we couldn't always afford brass polish, so I learned to clean my brass with vinegar and baking soda. Over the years, I've learned that you can get a really good clean with some of the simplest, cheapest ingredients.
So now when I want to clean, I pull out my $0.99 spray bottle that's filled with equal parts water and white vinegar with a splash of lemon juice thrown in (because the smell of lemon makes me happy). If I encounter a particularly dirty area, I'll sprinkle it with baking soda and then spray it down. Let it set for a while and the wipe right up.
Not only does my house not smell like a bottle of bleach, I'm not exposing anyone to harsh chemicals, the surfaces are squeaky clean, and I haven't used anything that will harm our the outside environment, either.
* I don't use newspaper because we don't subscribe to one, but they work wonders. I don't know why or how, but once you try it, you'll see. I use rags that we wash and reuse.
This cleaning tip works for me. What works for you?
In trots Javi.
J: Mama, is that your jewelry in the bathroom?
Me: I have jewelry in the bathroom.
J: Is it the gold jewelry on sink?
Ashley: No, Javi, that's mine. Why?
J: It's precious gold. I need it.
J: I need that precious gold to send in for money. I saw it on tv. It said send in all your precious gold. Can I have it?
Ashley: Uh, it's not real gold.
J: Is it precious?
Ashley: No, buddy. It's not precious.
J: Oh. When you get some precious gold, let me know, okay?
Ashley: Will do.
Scene: Bella was lying across the back of the couch wearing nothing but a diaper. She spotted the DVD liner for Elmo's Potty Time, a remnant leftover from a whopping full-month of potty trained Bella.
B: I wan watch dat Ahmo Pahty Time.
Me: Daddy's watching football. Want to read this instead?
B: Okay. Dat Ahmo!
Me: Yep, and what's this (pointing at a roll of toilet paper).
B: Dat's papeh towdyels fah wipin' mah bud!
Me: (suppressing laughter) Good job, that's right. It's toilet paper.
B: Not toedit papeh. It papeh towdyels. I no wipin my bud and my sheesetake wid dat papeh towdyels, Mama. I not!
Me: I know you're not.
B: I wipin yo bud?
Me: No, I wipe my own butt.
B: I wipin yo sheesetake?
Me: Nope, I do that, too.
B: Dat okay, Mama. Javi said I wipin his bud yestahday.
(No worries, Javi had no idea what Bella was talking about. There's really no telling.)
My friend Cheryl chose some good ones. Here's are mine:
1. The Annotated Brothers Grimm. I own this book, but I've never read it. I bought it because I'm fascinated with the often blood curdling truth behind the fairy tales we grow up on. I think I'd actually sit down with it if forced to by virtue of having no other option.
2. Mosquito by Gayl Jones. I own this book, too -- it's bound with Corregidora and The Healing (making it one book). However, I've never been able to read it. Jones' style is very dense and rambling, turning just the first paragraph into mental gymnastics. I need to read this book, though, because the main character becomes heavily involved in the Mexican underground railroad. I was first exposed to Jones when I was interning at Beacon Press and helped write the Reader's Guide for The Healing, so these books (and this author) is close to my heart.
3. The Outsiders. This was one of my first favorite books and will always hold a special place in my heart. I introduced Javi to The Indian In The Cupboard series this weekend and my heart lifted because I know he's one step closer to right age for The Outsiders.
4. Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. Gloria Anzaldua woke me up. Reading this book helped me understand the way I grew up and the world we live in. It also gave me a context for processing Who I Am. I like to re-read every few years to remind myself to stay grounded. I would try to find it bound with This Bridge Called My Back.
5. Harry Potter and the Prizoner of Azkaban. Animagus, father figures, werewolves ... what can I say? POA is the favorite book of the series, followed by Order of the Phoenix and then Goblet of Fire. I felt that Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows were too ... rushed? I wanted to sit in things a while longer. I will say that at the end of HBP, I had to close my book and whisper NO! just like Sebastian in the Never Ending Story. That was a weird moment for me.
6. Drown by Junot Diaz. Gritty, intense, spellbinding... I read this book around the time that I first saw Fight Club so my feelings for one are inexcoriably linked. Both bring up aggression and a seething, pulsating anger ... but they both also make me feel alive. I also loved The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, but nearly in the same way.
7. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. Who doesn't love Kingsolver's books? It was really hard to choose between TPB, The Bean Trees series, and Prodigal Summer -- but I have read TPB four times already and I listened to it on audiotape three summers ago. I like to quote it and consider myself a forever a Leah and my baby sister forever a Ruth May (though she thinks she's an Adah). My older sister is definitely Rachel. Dude, I just got the urge to read it again. It's so good. If you haven't read it and you decide to, please tell me which sister you are.
Why only seven, universe? I had to leave off Bastard Out Of Carolina, The House On Mango Street, Woman Hollering Creek, The Color Purple, Possessing The Secret Of Joy, The Sweet Life Of Bees, The Fact Of A Doorframe, The Blue Estuaries, and so many more. I urge you to read any of these if you haven't already.
I'm a bibliophile, so this post gave me some mild anxiety. Thankfully there is no remote island and the library is just a short drive away.
However, what I've found is a whole different (and tremendously better) group of porn searchers: those in search of MILFs. Now, in interest of total transparency, I am not a MILF (don't tell my husband that) -- but the people landing on my blog using the search string "Mom Porn" don't know that.
I have to wonder... what do those on the hunt for mom porn think when they land on a page that reveres the almight minivan? Do they get off on the beautiful and light home office? Perhaps it's the glorious visual of a lap-banded stomach.
For whatever reason the mom porn afficionados (and surely they are fancy shmancy afficionados and nowhere near as disgusting as the child predators who were after my kid) land on my blog, I'd like to give them a HELLO THERE! ENJOY THE MINIVAN! Because I do. Oh, I do.
Yesterday was a prime example of how you can be a parent of two with a full time job and still get out in your community to make a difference. The first part of the day we sold concessions at a local football game, but the second part of the day we collected non-perishable foods from area neighborhoods. If you're interested in getting your children involved in a fun, active project, you should try the food drive.
Here's how we do it:
--Collect paper grocery bags. We have done this in different ways. You could ask your friends and family to give you their paper bags, ask for a handful of paper bags each time you go to the grocery store, or ask a store to donate bags. A local Food Lion donated 500 bags to us last year and those have lasted us through this year.
--Create a flyer that tells all about your project, including what you're collecting, why you're collecting it, when you'll collect it, and where you'll donate what you collect. Staple the flier to one side of each paper bag. Let people know that all they need to do to donate is fill their bag and then set it outside for you.
--Leave the bags on your neighbors' doorsteps. Javi and I (along with other families) walked around five neighborhoods, but you could easily scale down this project and just leave bags for your neighbors. On a Tuesday, we left bags on everyone's doorsteps and then we came back on Saturday afternoon to pick them up.
Those who participated in the food drive left their filled bags back on their doorsteps. We didn't knock on doors, we didn't try to convince people to donate -- if there was no bag, we kept moving. On drop-off day we did everything on foot, but on pick-up day, we drove around with a pick-up truck and the kids got to sit in the back.
--Take the bags to your local food pantry. Once you've picked up all the bags people have set back out for you, drive it over to your food pantry or shelter. If your choice of food pantry is a popular donation spot, you may want to coordinate drop off with them so that they can make room for the donated food. You might also choose to divide your bags between different charities if you have a particularly big haul -- which will depend on how many bags you hand out.
We never alert our people when we're coming, but that's because we always donate to the same place -- an addiction recovery mission -- and no one else chooses to donate to them. Therefore, they are always in need.
Slight variation: In years past, we have also gotten one of the local middle schools involved. We brought boxes over to the middle schools and asked the 6th graders to compete against each other. The homeroom that collected the most food in their box won a pizza party. However, this isn't something one family could easily coordinate and pay for.
Our results: This year we distributed 260 empty paper bags on Tuesday and picked 60 of them back up on Saturday. While it would feel disheartening to know that 200 families chose not to participate in the food drive, we try to think more positively. 60 families chose to share their food -- and their hearts -- with those who are less fortunate. Several families told us that they shopped purposely to fill their bags with wholesome, healthy foods.
This is my family's favorite volunteer project, and that's because our hearts swell up (as do our eyes) when we deliver our bags of food to people who are struggling so hard to carve out a better life for themselves. I guarantee you that no matter how bags you hand out or how much food you are able to donate -- you'll create a memory and feeling for your children that they will never forget.
Let me know if you try it!
This is what works for me. What works for you?
There have been days when I wanted to give him back.
There. I've said it. My sweet, smart, darling little boy who would rope the moon if it made me happy. That child I used to call Pluck and who would snuggle against me in the weak light of early morning when it was just the two of us against the world. The boy who will become the man that I shape and nurture him into.
I have thrown my hands up in surrender and hit the ground hard enough to bruise my knees because there have been days when I thought I was the wrong person for this job. Days when the scales tipped in favor of his biological parents. Days when I imagined what life would've been like had I not decided to adopt a child when I was 24 and just starting out in life.
So when I read that a woman actually did return her adopted child, it hits me like a punch to the gut. Not because I think she's a monster who treated a child like a pair of ill-fitting jeans, but because maybe she was right. Maybe those feelings are more than tired despair. Maybe what she did was selfless and brave, and what I am doing is selfish and cowardly.
Could someone else love my baby better than I do? Would he and I both be happier if I hadn't "protected the family" by tricking my sister into allowing me to adopt him? Is love enough to overcome the doubts that seem to linger too long?
To be fair, I don't blame Javi or think he has any role in the way I've felt about our relationship the way Tedaldi did. I know it's about me. I also know that I never wanted children. I never imagined myself as a woman who would do a good job raising her children with the strength, confidence, and love they need to endure our world. I often tease Billy by saying that when we get divorced, he'll have full custody of our children and I'll see them every other weekend.
But I love them, fiercely. I have gone to the mat for Javier countless times, and would gladly give up my life for him. I love him with everything I have. He's amazing and I was blessed with the chance to be his mother -- especially when I hear my sister say that if I hadn't been in that delivery room, she would've changed her mind, and I suffered through his biological father's twisted attempts to take him away from me (for all the wrong reasons, of course).
I have the belief that God gives children to the mothers (and fathers) who can handle them. I've seen it time and again -- the woman this summer who patiently and lovingly sat beside her autistic son in Javi's art class despite the child's refusal to touch any paints or paper, my friend whose son screamed every morning for years because he'd only wear an orange shirt or because she prepared his breakfast incorrectly, my own mother devotedly stationed at my other sister's bedside countless times over the years as she battled Cystic Fibrosis.
I know that God gives children to the mothers who can handle them. And I know that God gave Javi to me. Not through DNA, but He put that child squarely in my arms. I feel that every time I want to give up because something stronger surges through me and I am confident again that I made the right choice.
I don't really know if I did. I don't suppose I ever will. One of the sad things about the human condition is that once we choose a path, there's no way to go back and see what lay down the other road. When he's 30 years old, Javi may look back on his childhood and his parents and wonder why he got the short end of the stick. Or he may see my faults and inconsistencies and choose to love me anyway.
I can only pray for the latter. And I know in my heart that he is one of mine forever.
Update: Read my further explanation of these feelings here.
1. Do you have any cultural or religious naming traditions? We generally follow the rule that you don't name a child after the generation directly before (like naming my daughter after my mother) unless the namesake has already passed on. Billy and I came up with our own conventions by naming our children with a first name that speaks to my heritage and a "natural" middle name. By natural, I mean taken from nature.
2. Did you or your partner come to the marriage with pre-selected names? Yes. I came to the marriage with a child, so he had a name already. I also knew that if we ever had a baby and it was a girl, she would be named Isabel, Rowan, or Quinn.
3. Did you consider the sound of the first and middle and last names together? Did this make any sad eliminations? When I was a single parent, I gave up on too many syllables because the child would always carry around my long and difficult-to-pronounce maiden name. My only criteria was that the first and middle name sound good together. After we got married and decided to have another child, our concerns were book-ending -er names. For instance, Billy liked Walker, but Walker Miller is too many -ers.
4. Did you have veto powers? I always have veto powers. It's written into my contract. ;)
5. Did the baby naming cause arguments? Lord yes. Mainly because I was deadset that our baby girl would be named Isabel and called Isa. Billy didn't like that at all, though he couldn't come up with any other suggestion. We both liked Rowan, but he only liked it for a boy. We also argued about the middle name because though we both liked it (and it was his choice), I wanted to spell it differently and possibly only use it for a girl.
6. Do you think it is easier to name boys or girls? It was hard with both. I remember riding around Boston with Kati and Paul back in late November of 2000 when I first decided to adopt Javier. We ran through name after name, anticipating what horrible nickname people would call HER by. That's right, we were choosing girl names. We did some work on boy names, but all signs pointed to double X. My favorite names were Carlo (which someone would inevitably shorten to Carl) and Rafael (which someone could easily mix up with Ralph).
7. Did you eliminate names because of people from your past or present who you don’t like or because a certain image comes to mind? Yes. We also eliminated names that others had already chosen. For instance, we would never have used Emma or Grace simply because it's so popular. Now's when you wonder if we were living under a rock with Bella, but that's all Billy's fault. He hated Isa, so Bella became her nickname.
8. Did you/would you survey your children to get their thoughts on the name? I don't have to. Javi tells me all the time he wants to change his name to JJ. However, when Billy adopted him and we changed Javi's last name to match Bella's, I gave him the option to change his entire name. He chose not to. It's hard being named Javier -- you'll never find your name on a souvenir cup or cheap plastic license plate keychain!
9. Did you tell people the name or possible names before the baby was born or were they “in the vault”? I told Javier's birth mother what I wanted him to be named. I'm glad that I did because I probably would've changed my mind if she hadn't told the nurses in the delivery room. I was sort of dumbstruck by the whole birth thing and couldn't make decisions right then. We also told people Bella's name, though I warned everyone she would probably be born a boy. That's just my luck.
10. Did you use baby name books? Not for Javi and only supplementally for Bella. I was trying to find names to match Javi's middle name, but then when Billy made his suggestion for her middle name, I didn't need the books any longer.
Drumroll Please…What did you name your kids? My sweet boy's name is Javier Stone. His middle name is in honor of my Uncle Donnie who died when I was a teenager. He was as close to a father to me as I ever got. My fiesty sidekick's name is Isabella Emory. We added the -la to Isabel to make the nickname Bella make sense. Emory is the name of the river that Billy grew up on in Tennessee. His best memories happened along that river.
Want to play along? I'd love to read all about why you chose the names you did.
Here's what you know if you want to live with me: Smells are not my friend.
Billy tries to wear cologne, put scented powders on the carpet before vacuuming (yes, he vacuums, and yes, he's mine), use scented plug-ins, burn scented candles or oils.... And each time, I give him a lecture. Because smells make my head hurt, badly. I aim for zero smells at all or I face a horrible headache that could last days.
But there are certain scents that I want to snuggle up inside: freshly cut grass, hair that's newly dyed, a recently washed body, onions cooking on the stove, cinnamon and orange peel simmering in boiled water, my babies' sweaty necks.
I also love the fall and the smells it brings with it. Harvesty, spicy, comforting smells like pumpkin, apple, something baking. My favorite Christmas ornament is a gingerbread man Javi made that smells like it was dusted in cinnamon. Unwrapping it makes me feel calm and safe.
But the smell that I absolutely love -- and which may mean I'm crazy -- my husband. No cologne, freshly washed or not. When I was pregnant and my sense of smell skyrocketed (making us all miserable), I used to make him take his shirt off so that I could nestle against him and inhale his natural scent.
Maybe it's phermones? Whatever the case, anytime I'm really stressed or feeling headachey, I can get instant relief from taking in a deep breath of Billy.
What smells do you love?
A little callous? Yes. A little too much information? Yes. Outside the domain of women's experiences? Not by a long shot.
In this CNN interview, she nails her point: Whether or not you agree with abortion, women have the right to have one.
It's a right -- not a privilege, not a crime, and not something anyone should have to sneak around to get. It's a right. Like free speech. Like bearing arms. Like due process. The government gave us that right -- whether or not you agree -- so it's wrong that states (like Wisconsin) go so far to undermine that right.
I was also impressed by her determination to clear up a common misconception that miscarriage is a point in time. It's not. It could go on for weeks. Many women must undergo devestating surgical procedures after a miscarriage. It's not like stubbing your toe or closing a door.
So while I don't think we need to read about Trunk's sex life, I do think she should continue shining a spotlight on women's issues.
Bella spent most of the afternoon singing one of the three Happy Birthday songs she knows. There's "Happy birthday, happy birthday, happy happy birthday to you," a fun mix up of the tradition "Happy Birthday" song that plays when you hit the balloon Billy's coworkers gave him, and then the traditional song.
Because it was also Javi's third day of excellent behavior, we modified the words for him. "Happy third day, happy third day, happy happy third day to you." I think you can imagine the level of breaking it down the child experienced between cake, ice cream, and such fun praise.
In total, it was a quiet(ish) celebration with just us and Billy's parents, but we really had a good time together. I am so blessed to have this man and my children to call mine.
Happy 36th birthday, babe!