High-tech convenience is making my life harder

I’m probably somewhere in the middle of the scale of my generation when it comes to using the best/fastest/easiest inventions to make my life better/faster/easier. I refuse to put a DVR player in my minivan, but I do have a cable TV system that I can control with voice commands.  I use an online grocery delivery service, but I won’t buy Lunchables.  I use a coffee mug to drink my coffee instead of disposable cups, but I use K-cups to make that coffee.  I’m as amused and impressed as the next guy when new ideas to improve convenience are marketed to the masses, but I always have a weird twinge of guilt, like I’m cheating by taking the easy way.  I don’t know why that is.

What I do know, though, is that some of the conveniences I regularly enjoy are also finding sneaky ways to make my life harder. Continue reading

Love in the Time of Mashed Bananas

I’ve been scanning few articles lately about marriage.  This time of year it is a popular editorial and blog topic with so many newlyweds back from their summer honeymoons.  Articles about what it takes to have a happy marriage, to stay together, to not get bored, to fight less, to love more, to make it through rough times, to be a team during parenting, etc. etc. etc.  I have a few years of marriage under my belt now, so I can look at those and laugh, scoff, agree, shake my fist, and have a bit of confidence that I know a thing or two.  There is no one answer that works for every couple for anything, no matter how many lists try to tell you otherwise.  One thing that all of those articles have in common, though, is that none of them mentioned ice bullets.

My husband and I have three kids.  A five-year-old son and twin eight-month-old daughters.  We have full-time jobs.  Right now, there is not much life outside of those two topics. Our time together is spent juggling children and everything that goes with them.  During this season of life there is no time or money for dates, presents, vacations, clothes without spit-up or conversations longer than three sentences.   If I’m being honest, marital health is pretty low on the list of things either of us think about on a regular day (as far as I can tell, anyway).  But it is vital for us to remember each other every now and again, even if it is in the middle of a three-ring-circus.

Our ice-maker in the freezer sprung a leak a few weeks ago, so the hose was disconnected until it could be replaced.  Suddenly it was June and summer and no ice.  Sure, the fridge keeps beverages cold enough, but sometimes in the summer I just really like ice in my drinks.  (why didn’t we just use old-fashioned ice trays, you ask?  because we got rid of them long ago.  who needs ice trays when you have an ice-maker in your freezer?)  So every couple of days I would mention how much I missed ice.  Then my husband would mention that it would be an easy fix, he just needed the time to get to the store to buy it and fix it.  Repeat. Time is in short supply, and we still don’t have ice.

Yesterday I was prepping all of the supplies needed to batch cook and puree baby food.  We have special trays for freezing the food in small portions, and I looked all over the kitchen without finding the one I needed.  After I yelled into the general vicinity of baby shrieking and toy crashing to inquire if he knew where it was, he walked in with a sheepish grin and said that he was trying to do something nice for me, but I had spoiled the surprise.  I was in the middle of work-mode and completely taken aback that he was talking about nice surprises when I just needed a baby food tray.  He pulled the tray out of the freezer full of mostly-solid, glorious ice chunks in what looked like over-sized bullets from the shape of the holders.  That seemingly mundane act of freezing water, in this time of our lives, held the equivalent weight of a dozen roses and a romantic dinner out.

So, bloggers, journalists, and women’s magazine headline-writers, there’s your next scoop.  How do you show affection to your spouse when you haven’t slept past 5:30 am or eaten hot food for dinner in the past year?  Listen for the little things.  And ice cubes.

Until It Isn’t

It is easy to practice what you preach, until it isn’t.

A popular topic of parenting humor on social media is a list of all of the things you swore you would never do as a parent, until you became one.  I read them and laugh, knowing that most of them are true of myself and probably most of the other parents of young children that I know.  Many years ago I might have groaned out of annoyance as a child of any age sat near me on an airplane, for example, and now my chest aches with pity and empathy for the haggard mom with the screaming baby in the row behind me, because I have been there too.
As my oldest child approaches school-age, I find myself running into more and more examples of situations that just aren’t as easy to stick to my guns as I thought they would be.  Not putting a DVD player in the minivan in order to encourage discussion and imagination?  Simple.  Limiting TV for my child to a set amount of time each day?  Easy….until I had twins.  Staying calm during temper tantrums and trying to re-direct into more positive activities?  Hard in any situation.  But even I am surprised by my newest challenge – ignoring gender stereotypes.

My four-year-old is a boy, and my three-month-old twins are girls.  I have never been one to believe for one minute that girls should have everything pink and only boys should play with trucks.  I couldn’t bear to wear pink until I was well into my 20’s and dressing professionally.  I started watching sports as early as I can remember and started playing them as soon as the leagues would allow my age.  My husband does most of the cooking, and I will readily admit he is much better at it than me.  So of course it should be easy to continue living these examples with my children, right?

It is easy to practice what you preach, until it isn’t.

My daughters wear some baby clothes that are meant for girls, and hand-me-downs from my son that are meant for boys.  They just stay in the house and spit up on them anyway, who cares?  But after a nurse commented that “I must not have known I was having girls” when I dressed them in neutral-colored clothing for a doctor appointment, I made sure they were wearing something girly to the next one, even though I felt a pang of regret for the reason I was dressing them that way.

I think my son is the sweetest little boy in the world.  When he uses his manners, or sings to himself while he plays with his toys, or gives hugs to his friends and family without being prompted, I just want to squeeze him forever. Two of his favorite things right now are the Disney cartoon “Doc McStuffins” and the Disney movie “Frozen.”  Doc McStuffins is about a little girl who plays a doctor that fixes and cares for toys.  Frozen is a movie with two sisters as the main characters, who end up (SPOILER ALERT) saving each other instead of the handsome prince coming to save the day. (If you haven’t seen that movie yet, it is amazing, go see it).  I couldn’t be more proud that he chooses these types of stories to enjoy.  But when he was so excited to tell me that a friend at school (a girl) had on a Frozen t-shirt, instead of my usual response of “That’s awesome, do you think you would like something like that too?”, I simply said “That’s awesome.”  When he saw the Frozen dolls while picking out a gift for a birthday party, or the big Frozen castle, I said it cost too much money (which it did) knowing full well that I didn’t want to buy it even if it didn’t.  When he asked for the Doc McStuffins play set, all kinds of glittery, pink, and purple, so he could have check-ups with his stuffed animals too, I procrastinated even looking into it until it was long sold-out for the Christmas season. That wasn’t pre-meditated, but I’ll admit a little bit of relief that it was.  And through all of this the part of my pre-parent brain that thought all of this color stuff was nonsense just looks at this weak mother, caving to the pressures of society, bug-eyed and disappointed.  I’m not actively discouraging him, but I’m not actively encouraging like I should be, either.  Why do I care what “they” would think?  I know I would steal the moon for my children, and I know that I want them to believe that they can be whoever they want to be, and like whatever they want to like, but it is harder than I thought to ignore outside influences.

It is easy to practice what you preach, until it isn’t.

Momentary Heroes

Disclaimer:  I am very aware that the experience I am about to describe below is not necessarily typical of all similar situations or families.  Please enjoy it anyway.

We took a family vacation last week.  My son is three.  The vacation involved travel in cars, buses, trains, airplanes, and a cruise ship, sleeping in a hotel, and for a little extra spice, a seven-hour delay in a very small airport.  After hearing that, you would expect that I am about to go on a short, comical rant about the challenges and stress of travelling with a small child.   In this case, you would be wrong.
Most any kind of movement from point A to point B with a child is challenging. For that matter, most anything with a child is more complicated than most anything without one.  That’s just how it is, and as a parent you learn to accept and adjust to that fact.  So on our vacation, we went to bed early, and we woke up with the sun.  Our time on the beach was not spent laying on a chair with a frosty drink, but playing football with a coconut and taking turns going in the water since the waves were too scary for little man.  We had to rent a car with room for a car seat.  There were no leisurely meals.  There were no quiet moments.  We had very tired arms and backs from carrying backpacks, beach bags, and a sleepy boy.  It was trying.  It was fantastic.
I imagine there are many adults without children who watch travelling families and thank their lucky stars that they are not going through the same experience.  I’m not going to deny that there are some times I wish I could be travelling without the added responsibility for someone else.  But an unexpected perk that I really came to appreciate on this vacation is seeing a beautiful, big-hearted side to a lot of adults that I would otherwise never see.

What I expect to see when travelling is a mass of other hurried, self-absorbed people, and mildly polite customer service helping me get where I need to go.  But when a wide-eyed little person is holding my hand, all of the sudden I see amazing, kind, empathetic people, travelers and service staff alike, that are going out of their way to make sure he is happy and comfortable.  I can’t even count the number of smiles, giggles, high-fives, silly questions, and sacrifice of time and effort that people gave.  Many of them were employees who were on the clock, but an impressive amount were other people in some stage of travel that could have just as easily walked right past or stood next to us in silence.  The five-seconds I had to smile and say thank you to each of them is never enough to show the gratitude that I feel for them making him happy. I think that is more than a fair trade for the challenges we had to face, and am kind of sad that once he’s grown up I won’t get to see that side of strangers anymore.  But I can choose to be one of those momentary heroes to someone else, and I think I would like that.

“And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.” – Matthew 18:5

Power (?)

I took a few minutes in between cooking and laundry, ironically enough, to read an article in the Chicago Tribune today about power.  The article, “Women and Power”, explored the definition of power that is met by the women on the Forbes 100 Most Powerful Women list, and whether Forbes’ definition of “money, access, and connections,” is really the measure we should be using.  Not surprisingly, most, but not all, of the women on the list have more money at their disposal than the rest of us.

Of course, first there had to be some talk about the disparity between men and women, the difference in the standards to which they are held, the corporate boy’s club, etc.  I didn’t find this as interesting as I did the quotes from a few very intelligent women that were interviewed about what they thought of this list.  First, a woman named Nilay Yapici, who is a “postdoctural fellow in the laboratory of neurogenetics and behavior at The Rockefeller University in New York.”  I’m going to go out on a short limb here and guess that this woman is brilliant.  While her point of view that there should be more scientists and researchers on that list is certainly biased towards her profession, I think she is spot on.  She asked, “Who is really powerful: the person who gives the money, or the person who has the idea and makes the discovery?”  According to Forbes it’s the money.  But I tend to agree with her underlying point, the people that make it happen aren’t given nearly enough credit.  Obviously the research doesn’t exist without the funding, and having the position to control where the funding goes gives that power, but shouldn’t the brain that solves the problem get some too?

Next they asked psychotherapist Simone Kornfeld, (again, probably pretty smart) about supermodel Gisele Bundchen holding the number 83 spot.  First she noted that while Bundchen may be a very savvy businesswoman, her presence on this list is an acknowledgement of the “reality that beauty is power.”  Whether we agree that it should be or not, I would bet that most women who grew up in this American society would have a similar reaction to mine: smirk…..pppfffttt…….shake of the head……sigh…..ain’t that the truth.  But where Simone Kornfeld goes next fascinated me.  The article says that having Bundchen on that list “probably provoked the most eye rolls.”  She says, “We push women to have beauty all the time, and then we get mad at them when they do.”  It’s such a sad statement, but I believe she is right.  Girls are pushed to reach an impossible standard, and when 99% of us can’t meet it, we respond with envy, anger, gossip, and rejection.

I will admit, I am happy to be nowhere near the top 100 list.  I don’t want the power to make the decisions that those people have to make.  I don’t want to spend hours on my appearance every day with the worry that I would be caught with a bad hair day.  But of course there is some awe (envy) in watching these power players live out their lives in very public fashion.  I think that I’m mature enough to be done worrying about meeting societal standards that I can’t/don’t want to meet, but I won’t pretend that I don’t slip sometimes and fall to the temptation of making fun because the internet makes it easy.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of it.

People Watching

For several years I’ve been in restaurants, catching flying splatters of food and asking my child to sit still and eat, while I enviously eyed those headphone-wearing, laptop-toting, coffee-drinking solo patrons relaxing around me.  Tonight I am one of them, and I have to say, it’s just as awesome as I imagined.  These are the types of things I took for granted before I lost the option to finish a cup of coffee while it is still hot.  So here I sit, ignored by the constant flow of people coming and going, and have very wisely switched to decaf.

Even though I am attempting to “escape” for a little while, I notice that I keep getting distracted from my solitary screen-staring by the real life going on around me.  The young couple with a new baby and a two-year-old taking turns eating and parenting, strained smiles and sleepy eyes.  The very serious-looking teenager sitting with her parents and talking about very serious-looking things.  The twenty-something guy who breaks into a grin as he texts or tweets or posts from his cell phone while waiting for his dinner.  The fellow laptop guy who asks me to watch his stuff as he gets up from the table, since I must be much less likely to swipe his things while I am busy with my own.

Then there are those that catch my attention because they hit a little closer to home.  The high-pitched story-telling I can hear from the kindergartner talking to her mom about school.  Watching her bounce around her table and eyeball my coffee as her mom coaxes her back.  I can’t help but smile at her, which I’m sure isn’t helping mom’s case.  I always find it comforting when I see other little people floating around and other parents futilely trying to pull them back, because at least I know it’s not just me who can’t do it.  I also find it both comforting and sad to hear the exasperated mom in the bathroom with two girls under 6.  Comforting because the words coming out of her mouth are so very similar to the ones I have heard myself using, sad because they are words like stop, no, child’s name in an exhausted whine, repeating the same commands in a louder voice in the hopes that maybe it just wasn’t loud enough the first time, etc.  The ugly is always uglier when I see it reflected by someone else.  Thankfully it is quickly followed by compassion and a vow to not be the mom that reminds other moms to stop being so cranky.

We could all learn a thing or two from each other.  I raise my cup to you, exasperated bathroom mom, and hope that you can find yourself restfully pondering other people someday soon.

Mommy, Mommy, what do you hear?

There are certain sounds that always make me smile.  Happy birds twittering in the yard (after I’m awake).  The powerful crescendo of a beautiful song.  The soundtrack to the movie Hoosiers.  The laughter of children.  I would bet that some may not agree with all of those items, but most probably can’t help but enjoy the genuine laughter of little kids.  I got to spend my morning today surrounded by that beautiful sound.

We took our son to see the production of Treasured Stories of Eric Carle, performed by the Mermaid Theatre of Nova Scotia.   It was simple, colorful, and stunning.  And the kids there roared and squealed and clapped and laughed and it was awesome.
Going into the show I was curious what they would do.  I’ve read “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” and “Brown Bear Brown Bear, What do you see?” and I couldn’t help but wonder how they would stretch these very simple and brief stories into more than 8 minutes of show.  But they did, and it was a good reminder to me that we adults don’t always have to be in such a hurry.  They took their time with every moment of every scene and had the entire audience captivated.  An entire audience of antsy, twitchy, short-attention-spanned children, mind you.  And they made it clear from the beginning that this was a “shoosh-free” show.  How liberating for all those kids to not have to be quiet, whisper, sit still, be proper, get scolded, and all that other boring stuff that happens when you go places with adults.  They could laugh, point, ask questions, give away the ending, and no one cared.
Before the show, as we sat in the lobby and waited to find our seats, my husband made the observation that it was very heavily girl-populated.  To which I replied, “well, that’s no surprise, look at who primarily attends theater events as adults?” And I have to say I find that so sad.  I can say with total certainty that my son, his friend, and the entire rest of the little boys there enjoyed every second of this the same as the girls.  I won’t deny that I enjoy playing, watching, following, teaching, and any other possible action you can take in relation to sports, and I see that my son is well on his way to picking up the same traits.  But I also see that he loves to dance to music, and paint, and read books, and sing songs, and it is really important to me to encourage him to do all of those things too.  It doesn’t come as naturally to me to remember those things, but when I do, it is so worth it.  The excitement in his voice every time he has talked about since is more powerful than any motivational speaker on the planet.