Dellabee and Me

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Archive for the month “July, 2011”

Of This World

Sometimes, I wish I believed in God.

I used to when I was much younger. As a young child I was active in the Catholic church and felt like I had a very special, unique relationship with God. My parents divorced and there was a good deal of stress and tension for many years – these were the times I leaned hardest on my faith. I never had a bad experience with the church. Our church’s priest was a wildly cool guy who was funny and hip – he smoked cigarettes and flew ultralight aircraft in his free time. He was easy to talk to and not at all in a creepy, pedophile way.

As I headed towards adolescence, I began to feel like my church connection was more of a burden, like a needy younger sibling. I began to dread weekly catechism classes. They cut into the more important parts of my young life: sports, homework, talking on the phone with my friends. So I stopped going.

My parents were not the driving force behind my church involvement, although it is my mother who signed me up for religious education classes when I was in 1st grade. After we moved to a different town when I was in second grade, I sought out the church and enrolled myself in classes. This sounds more ambitious than it was, because my neighbor went to church and I just tagged along with her. When I chose to stop attending church in 9th grade, it was not discussed with my family. I was free to choose without repercussion.

I know my parents believe in God. My mother was raised in a devoutly Catholic Irish family with too many kids and not enough resources. My father was not religious in a traditional way but he does believe.

It occurred to me when I was in my early twenties that the Bible was a work of fiction – the whole Adam and Eve story pissed me off. I was a big feminist and found the repeated blaming of females in religion terribly offensive. As time evolved I felt further and further removed from the faith that had been so sustaining to me in my youth. I wanted to believe and I didn’t want to believe.

After my son was born in 2004, I really wanted to believe. But I didn’t feel it. If anything, it felt fake and contrived. I could not reconcile the connection I had felt years ago with the ideologies that were in complete opposition to my own views. So, no baptism.

The following year, after my son’s first birthday, my father-in-law committed suicide. My husband found him, lifeless,  in the recliner we had just purchased for him from Costco. The phone call I received from him – sobbing, hard to understand because of his crying – was horrific. When I joined him at his father’s apartment, I had some assumption that despite the tragedy in front of us there would be a sense of peace. My father-in-law was a tortured, sad man and his passing at his own hand was in many ways a relief for both him and us.

Yet, when I entered the room where he had spent his final moments, I felt…nothing. He looked like he was sleeping, only he had slumped too far down in the chair to be comfortable and in doing so, his glasses had slipped off his face and were tilted into his cheek (leaving an impression on his face that remained until his cremation). He had vomit down the front of his shirt. He did not radiate peace. He radiated pain. It was like looking at a melted, burned down candle without a flame.

I was reaching out in a “spiritual” way, hoping for some feeling of relief from him. Or some sort of connection with him from the afterlife. Or, really, anything. There was nothing. I couldn’t even say that I felt he was “with us.” Because I didn’t.

This isn’t the direction I intended to go with this post. I really wanted to talk about how I long for the connection with something larger than me. I’m not sure how it all points back to the loss of my father-in-law, but it does.

Despite our obvious differences, the one thing I have in common with Christians is that sense of certainty and knowing. Because as much as they know – within themselves, without question, KNOW that Christ is there for them – I feel exactly the same way, only opposite.

I know in my heart and the center of my being that there really is nothing  to believe in.

I wish I was ok with this, but I’m not. It does make me sad.

 

 

Ten Minutes

I have always been interested in kids. I babysat when I was younger and enjoyed spending time with the kids I watched. I always thought I would be the kind of parent who really actively engaged with the kids, the fun mom who always thought up games and had patience for projects and was otherwise a real gem.

It turns out, I don’t like to play.

I’m not sure when it happened. It’s like going bald, I guess: a  few hairs a day and one morning you realize “holy shit, my head is shiny!”

It was easier when my kids were younger, a perk of short attention spans. I could spend a few seconds shaking a noisy toy long enough to distract the crying, then I could resume my daily dose of TLC programming. Or I could just sit on the floor with them, occasionally holding a toy in one hand while balancing a paperback in the other. By the time they hit age 2, they were more interested in flexing their muscles of independence than they were in playing with me. Phew.

But now…ugh.

They want me to play “puppy,” in which I am the mother dog and they are the baby dogs. Um, don’t we already live this?

They want me to play tag. Indoors. With one of them. Let me break that down for you. Me, chasing one child, around my house. Until I catch her. Then-?

Right.

I bought games. Lots of games. I can play games. Clear rules, precise beginning and ending (minus Monopoly, which I have deliberately NOT purchased). Turns out, my kids don’t like to play games.

My son is very, very bright with an exceptional memory. He is a little bit different from most boys his age, sensitive, quiet, imaginative, calm. I tried to teach him to play chess. Yet, after I laid out the pieces and explained how each moves, he decided we would not play the traditional game of chess but instead each side was a family. And the horses like to play together…

That was the end of chess.

I wish I liked to play. If I could remake myself, I’d be a playing mom.

Instead, what I try to do now is 10 minutes. I can do 10 minutes of just about anything. I shoot for giving them 10 minutes of playtime with me when they ask for it.  Not 10 minutes per day, or 10 minutes per kid. Just 10 minutes, as needed.

I figure 10 minutes of play is better than nothing, right?

I am, after all, just a work in progress.

A Tale of Two Girls in the Humid South

This is not as provocative as it sounds.

When I first started running, these were the things I feared, in order:

– dying

– being attacked by dangerous people

– dogs

– hurting myself

I had to run in the evening because of time/childcare issues. Running in the dark is quite different from running in the daytime.

Now that I have been doing this running thing for a few months, I have developed preferences. I prefer running at night because I have learned that running in the heat, with the sun melting my head, sucks. I am much more comfortable in cooler temperatures in general, probably because I am technically a “Northerner,” and I especially appreciate a moderate climate when I am sleeping or exercising. Running early in the morning is ok, but the opportunity is only there for me on the weekends because of scheduling issues.

My current fears are, in order:

– dogs

– being attacked

– hurting myself

– looking stupid

I no longer fear dying, although I do freak out when I get exerted to the point of being winded.

Can I still breathe? Oh my god, I can’t breathe? I can’t breathe! Panic!

In light of some recent behavioral challenges, I chose to drag  take the dog with me on my run.

You should probably know that she has never been running with me before, is historically terrible on a leash, and the only way I can walk her without getting dragged is to use a Gentle Leader. When I have walked her on the GL, she cuts in front of me constantly because of the way the leash pulls on her head.

It was a brave/stupid decision, depending on how you see it.

It was about 85 degrees, dusk. The dog was excited. We walked initially. She tripped me, frantically tried to sniff every blade of grass that we passed, and cringed in fear if I tugged on the leash. She has issues. I started to jog, she kept up with me, then WHAM! cut in front of me. I ended up straddling her. We both became hung up in the leash. It wasn’t pretty.

I think I hit every fear in that one paragraph.

The bright side of this is that I had to run faster to keep the dog from tripping me up. As long as I kept a decent pace and held the leash kind of out from my body, she stayed out of my way. After about .5 mile, I slowed to a walk. Sophie panted and gently limped, favoring one of her front feet. (I might have stepped on it during the tripping episode earlier, but I can’t be sure.). After walking for a few minutes, we resumed running. We hit our stride. Sophie appeared to grow in confidence right in front of me. She ran easily, tongue flopping around, ears down but tail up. I praised her, realizing how nice it was to have companionship on the run.

After a mile, I dropped Sophie off at home so I could run further without her. It was quite warm, and since she had never run with me before I didn’t want to hurt her. When I glanced at the clock in the kitchen after I removed her GL, I noticed only 12 minutes had passed since we left the house. Giving myself a few minutes for walking with the dog and acclimating to running with her on the GL, I am pretty sure we finished a mile in around 10 minutes. That would be the fastest ever for me.

Running with the dog eliminates the fear of being attacked, and greatly diminished my fear of other dogs. It totally increased the chances of hurting myself, and I am sure I looked totally stupid.

Despite this, we will definitely be doing it again.

Chickens in Cages

On my long drive back from visiting family, we encountered a chicken truck.

A major employer in my area is the Tyson factory. Tyson, as in chicken. Seeing trucks full of chickens isn’t that unusual. But it is always upsetting.

Four, five chickens crammed into each cage. The trucks haul ass and, as you can see here, the chickens are pretty exposed. Their feathers blow around. Their weak feet try helplessly to grip the slick metal bottoms of the cages, so they slip around at the truck’s mercy.

The truck we came across looked exactly like the one in the picture. It pulled up alongside us as we navigated through the mountains. It was very hot. As the truck passed us (on the righthand side, I might) I noticed the chickens all had their beaks open. They were either overheating or terrified. One chicken managed to get its head out of the cage, but he was sticking out of the side of the truck and not the back – meaning this guy was catching the brunt of the wind. His beak hung open as his head swung around. At one point he looked right at me, before the wind knocked his head back towards the cage.

And I knew then that I would no longer eat meat.

It is not a big leap from how I already eat. We are not big meat-eaters. Our grill is rarely used. I might eat a steak twice a year. Chicken is more common, but even then it is only consumed 1-2 times/week. My kids just aren’t into eating meat. My husband likes hot dogs but otherwise he, too, is not a huge carnivore. So when we got home I shared the story of the chicken truck with my husband. He agreed that he would go vegetarian too. But what should we do about the kids?

I asked them. They agreed that they didn’t care if they ate meat any more. That settled it.

I still eat eggs, seafood, and dairy products. Since I am motivated by a desire to be kind to animals, I think eggs that are unfertilized from free-range chickens are ok. Dairy, as long as it is from cows and goats that are treated well, is ok with me too. We are also drinking almond milk.  As for the seafood, well, I am just not ready to give it up. I need to research cruelty-free options (in the meantime I am telling myself that fish don’t have feelings, lol).

The kids have adjusted well so far. There are a lot of kid-friendly vegetarian meals like veggie corn dogs, fake chicken nuggets, etc. The kids have enjoyed eating lots of fruits and vegetables. I am exploring different recipes using beans, lentils, nuts. I don’t know how long we will eat like this – I think the kids might be the first to switch – but for right now I feel good about this decision.

This is such a boring post. Thanks for hanging in there. Hopefully tomorrow’s post will be funnier, and more interesting.

Reasons, Excuses, Decisions

I ran today.

It is hot, by the way – if you have seen the weather recently you know about the heat wave hitting the East Coast, and being in the southeast it has been especially humid and gross.

I have not been as diligent about my running as I was. The heat has been a factor – running in the heat just plain sucks. I have been in a bit of a funk too, though. I lost my job in June. My husband works long days and if you have been reading my blog for any length of time you would know how little I enjoy being home all day – every day – with my kids. I am worried about money. I am taking graduate classes and increasing my student loan debt to obscene amounts. I have put on some weight because I don’t know how else to cope with these feelings of fear, helplessness, failure other than eating them away.

It has not been a pleasant 2 months for me.

A few days ago I went to the grocery store with both kids. FYI, shopping with my kids is about as fun as shopping for bras when you are 40 pounds overweight and your friends insist that the miniature sales girl at Victoria’s Secret really can help you to determine your size. My kids are not little – 7 and nearly 5 – but still they always seem to know when I need them to be especially well-behaved, and this is always when they are especially awful. Don’t get me wrong, of course I love them, blah blah blah, but they have done some truly horrific shit to me in public.

At the grocery store, things started well. They were helping me find produce. We chose a movie from the Red Box and negotiated around the candy machines. By the time we hit the second aisle, though, they were decompensating. As in, shrieking while chasing and hitting each other – up and down the aisle, around my cart. I issued several reprimands, stern warnings, threats. I gathered them by my cart and reminded them – again, with gritted teeth and wildly bulging I-fucking-MEAN-IT eyes – how we behave in the store. Promises, promises. Within minutes they were running laps around an older woman’s cart, while shrieking and trying to hit each other. She looked irritated. I’m sure I did, too. In a flash I herded the kids, mid-sprint, towards my cart. In my anger-fueled haste, I scratched E’s arm. I hissed at them, they both began crying, and we walked away from our half-filled cart and came home without groceries.

This incident was a huge blow to my already weakened self-esteem. I sunk into a cloudy depression. My kids are not toddlers, what have I done to make them so badly behaved? I mentally lashed myself all afternoon. Things snowballed – who did I think I was anyways? Of course I had gained weight, lost my job, had a life with no direction – I wasn’t good enough for anything else to happen. Cue the ice cream.

I ended up going shopping sans kids early Saturday morning. I scheduled childcare for them Saturday night, and the grown-ups of the house enjoyed a magical 4-hour date night. Tentatively, I nudged myself back on track.

Today, I was up before everyone else courtesy of the dog. When I stepped outside to let her out, I noticed that the humidity was not as high as it had been. Should I run today? I usually run on the weekends because it’s the only time I can do it early in the morning – during the week my husband goes to the gym in the morning before getting ready for work which only leaves me with a very small window of time, so I tend to wait until the evenings to run.

I vacillated between running and sitting on my ass with the Sunday paper for about an hour. When I finally decided to run, I could not locate my ipod. The idea of running without an ipod, well, this nearly stalled the plans. But I convinced myself to just do one lap, which is about one mile, around the neighborhood. Not surprisingly, one lap became two laps.

At the end of the second lap, I was feeling pretty good physically – not winded, my legs burning a little, sweaty. Mentally, I was a mess – I’d alternated running and walking and I always feel like a fraud when I do this. Running is supposed to be running, not running for a few minutes followed by walking for a few minutes right? (Hi, I am a black-and-white thinker, how are you?) The berating of myself continued. I was walking to my house when it suddenly occurred to me that I actually felt fine enough to continue running. I turned around and headed back to the loop. The fight in my head was “ugh, really? why run anymore? you’ve already done 2 miles, it’s hot, you don’t want to injure yourself, your coffee is waiting.” I really wanted my coffee.

I stopped walking, in the middle of the street, confused about what to do – run another lap or go home? And something in my head shifted a little, and I realized that I needed to continue running because what was stopping me?

Oh, right. Me. I was stopping me.

So I ran the next mile, alternated with some walking. The minutes passed quickly, before I knew it I was far away from the square of sidewalk in which I had begun. By the time I ended the lap, I honestly felt like I could tackle a marathon. I walked home slowly, enjoying the feel of sweat and my pounding heartbeat in the morning sun. My head held high, I embraced the quiet peace within my brain.

Today, I ran 3 miles.

Baby Birds

Last year I became a “certified wildlife rehabilitator.” This meant I went through 2 days worth of classes that included tube-feeding baby possums (yes, I did this) and practicing subcutaneous injections on frozen dead rodents (did this one too, gag).

I learned so much in those two days about all sorts of animals, except birds. Birds require an FDA license to handle and rehab, which is lengthier and more expensive to obtain. I was a little sad about this because I have a weird attraction to ducks and imagined keeping some in my bathtub – so long to that dream. We did learn a little bit about birds though.

In the spring, several sparrows built a nest on the inner roof of our front porch. We were not surprised, as the previous 2 springs birds had built nests in the little tree in our front yard. We could see the nest from inside the house and we all eagerly waited for the arrival of baby birds.

And one morning there they were – noisy, scrawny little bird heads popped up over the edge of the nest. When we’d open the front door, they would stop making noise and slowly lower their heads. In only a few weeks, the babies were fully feathered and hopping around the nest. They continued the pattern of getting quiet and ducking down into the nest when we would come out the door.

One day, I was spying on the birds from inside the house. There 4 of them, fully feathered and looking nearly full-grown. I gathered the family around to watch them and we talked about how soon they would be flying off. Not long after, my husband walked out front to tend to the yardwork, and I guess he surprised the babies because they all launched out of the nest in a flurry of flapping wings. All but one flew off. The other one must have gotten knocked out of the nest in the excitement. This one was not quite flying and kept hopping around the grass.

I watched, concerned, but decided that we needed to leave it alone as the parents were probably keeping an eye on it from somewhere nearby. However, within minutes my husband was asking me to locate a box for him to catch the baby. When I stuck my head outside to ask why, he pointed up at the lurking blue jays. Blue jays regularly kill other birds, and there were about 3 flying dangerously close to the baby.

As I turned to come back inside, I saw – no joke – a snake pop out of the top of one of our shrubs. Like a puppet, it stretched up and looked over where all the birds were.

Yes, my front yard had become a scene of wild nature carnage.

No more questions, I quickly located a small box and my husband scooped the baby bird into it. Carefully he tipped the box over the nest until the baby slid back into its home, landing with a gentle plop.

Later that day the baby had left the nest. We chose to believe he had taken flight like his siblings, and did not end up in the jaws of the snake.

The snake, well, we didn’t look for it again.

But we did move.

School

Today I attended Kindergarten Orientation for my youngest child.

We are zoned for a year-round school, so my kids start in July. They will have 2 weeks off in October, 3 at Christmas, and 2 for Spring Break. Their summer break is typically 6 weeks long.

I am not someone who gets terribly sentimental. The things I have saved, mementos from their childhoods, are haphazardly collected and chosen at random. I go through phases of frequent picture-taking, and then months without. Right now, I am not entirely sure where D’s teeth ended up after being repossessed by the tooth fairy.

I don’t want to be one of those mothers who gets all worked up over the start of kindergarten. I am so excited for her to finally be “a big kid.” I know that she will thrive – she is a fast learner, fairly confident in new situations, and terminally cheerful. She is funny and charming, kind and friendly. I assume the school is going to love her.

I am looking forward to her independence, as she has always been a bit of a cling-on. She tends to want help doing things that she can totally do on her own. She always asks to be carried or picked up. She still has the cry of an infant – that deep wail that brings mothers from all over running to her rescue. She is always touching me, near me, hanging on me.

I am so excited about the possibility of reclaiming my body from her.

My biggest fear is that the school will call me and say that she is not ready for kindergarten, and to try again next year. At 4, her birthday falls right on the cut-off date for enrollment, and since we are starting mid-summer she will be starting school as a 4 year-old. There is a trend right now of parents holding their kids out of kindergarten until they are 6, or close to 6. I have been on the fence about this with her all year long because of her slightly immature behavior, but in the end it seemed like she was ready to go. And I was ready for her to go, too.

Now I am imagining her days at school – days spent with kids bigger and older than she is, days spent in the care of other adults, days spent navigating the complex maze of public school – using the bathroom, raising her hand, walking to the cafeteria, library, playground. It is going to be such an adventure for her.

I am excited for her. And for me. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit scared for her, too. And maybe a little bit sad for me.

Kindergarten is a new beginning for kids, but for parents it is the beginning of the end of childhood.

I don’t know if I’m ready.

Driving..with Children

 

Long drives with kids can be the stuff of nightmares.

But it is such a cheap way to travel.

I have made several long road trips with my kids, and I feel like I have a pretty good system.

I always bring:

– portable DVD player

– small selection of DVD’s, at least one favorite one and several that haven’t been watched recently

– coloring books, crayons, markers, blank paper

– action figures and Polly Pocket-size dolls and accessories

– Pillow petz/small pillows

– kids’ books on CD

– Nintendo DS lite

I fought getting the kids handheld video games for a long time before giving in earlier this year. Because they both enjoy them so much, and they can send each mother messages through “pictochat,” the DS is a good motivator. As in, when I have to shout threats from the front seat, I can include a threat to take their DS’ and they usually shape up quickly.

One other thing I have learned through frequent road trips with the kids is that it is best – and safest – if I have the things I might need for the drive easily accessible for me. I have a shallow box that fits in the passenger seat, just a plain cardboard box, that I use to organize the DVD’s, CD’s, napkins/wipes, snacks, and small toys. This makes it easy to grab what I need and pass it back to them without needing to stop the car every 20 minutes.

For snacks, I bring grapes, granola bars, apples, string cheese, cookies, goldfish crackers, and lunchables. I bring one or two insulated lunch bags and put everything that needs to stay cold inside them in the fridge until we leave. For drinks, each kid has a steel water bottle and I bring a jug of water to refill.

Bathroom breaks are the bane of my road-tripping existence, especially because of my 4 year-old’s fickle bladder. I make everyone use the bathroom every time I stop – so every time I get gas or stop for a coffee, we pile out of the car and use the potty. This can eat up a LOT of time, so I try not to stop unless I have to.

We survived two 12+ hour drives. And I am so happy to be home. And out of the car.

Going Home

 

I am preparing to drive north with the kids to visit my family in a few days. It is about a 12 hour drive, but then you need to figure the numerous bathroom breaks, snack breaks, change the DVD in the DVD player breaks, and oh-my-god-if-you-don’t-stop-fighting-I’ll-turn-around-and-we’ll-stay-home breaks. I seem to average about 15 hours.

I always do it in one trip, we never stop to spend the night anywhere.

Also, I always do this trip as the only adult. My husband always has had to work, and it is cheaper easier for someone to stay home with the animals.

Before we moved to the east coast 2 years ago, I frequently flew cross-country with the kids by myself. The first time, my son was 8 weeks old and it was much easier than it sounds. He just slept and nursed.

Flying with two kids was much, much harder. My daughter, as I have mentioned, was much more of a handful than my son – and keeping her entertained on a long flight was tricky. I could kiss – with tongue – the person who invented the portable DVD player.

I feel like I go home often, but truthfully I average about once/year. And it seems like as the years pass, being home is more and more depressing. It is easy to hold places in your memory without considering how they might change with time. The reality can be jarring.

The biggest change is how much bigger the town becomes while also losing all the businesses that were once thriving. When I drive through the place where I graduated from high school, I am both shocked and horrified by the bulging subdivisions and the boarded-up grocery stores.

I love where I am from – upstate New York. I love the ever-present mountains in the distance. I love the old buildings. I love Stewart’s, a convenience store chain with a hometown feel because in addition to gas and cigarettes they also sell make-your-own sundaes, fresh coffee, and Freihofer’s doughnuts. I especially love being home in the fall, when the leaves turn different fiery shades of red and the crispy air is just right for wearing sweaters and sipping a hot cup of coffee.

Being home is confusing for me. I love it there but know that I can not live there because of the floundering economy. My husband’s line of work is thriving where we are at now, but it is virtually non-existent up north. We are living a different life than what I imagined: largely on our own, with no family nearby, and none of the familiar landscape with which I grew up. That is why these trips home are so important to me. They are a chance for me to give my kids little tastes of what life could be like if things were different.

Tomorrow I expect to be on the road by early morning, and hopefully by dinnertime (okay, dinnertime in California) I will be looking at the Adirondack mountains in the distance while my kids clamber around my mom, and for a little while we will bask in warmth of being home.

 

Who Needs Film School?

My son loves Legos and gets a kick out of the Lego videos posted on Youtube. He is always coming up with different story ideas for videos but so far we haven’t been able to do much with it.

Well, the other day I was playing around on my computer and my son asked me if I could film a “movie” he wanted to make with his Lego guys. In a flash of inspiration I did a quick google search and found several different tutorials on how to make stop-motion animation.

Fortunately, I have Windows Movie Maker on my laptop (available  here ) and my handy Sony cybershot digital camera, and lots of Lego people.

We had so much fun. Our first video was very short, just an experiment to see if we could do it.

The second one he made on his own so it is not as smooth and I don’t have the music added to it yet.

But this is the one that I made, and the kids were rolling with laughter over it.

What do you think?

I think I have found a new hobby, lol.

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