Regrets of a crunchy parent…

I don’t usually give caveats before posts. I try not to because in a way it’s like when you say to someone, “Not to be nosy but…” or “don’t take this the wrong way but…” which only sets you up to appear nosy and have them take it the wrong way. The reason for this caveat is that I do have a number of friends who I like a whole lot who choose not to vaccinate. They do it for a variety of reasons and I do respect that. I felt the need to put this up this week though in light of the recent measles outbreak. These are my regrets. I can only speak to my own experience and my own reasons for doing what I do as a parent. Make of that what you will.

I am a little crunchy. I admit this.

I had my kids at home, on purpose. I home schooled my kids for a number of years. I eschewed the norms where processed food and standard parenting was concerned, letting my children “be children” for as long as possible, letting them run “Lord of the Flies” like at times and explore nature and learning and life. We were free spirits! Life was good, until the lack of structure and oversight started to me into the controlling and fearful person I had always hoped to avoid becoming. We made some changes- big changes- and we’re all catching our breath again, getting into the rhythm of things and enjoying the absence of the stress that plagued us while we were homeschooling in those final years. All that said, I don’t regret the homebirths, the homeschooling or the alternative parenting.

There is only one part of my crunchy history that I do regret. I regret not having my kids immunized sooner.

The decision to avoid immunizations was one that bothered me more often that it comforted me. Our health providers back then were also crunchy, always putting the ball back in my court about the shots. They never pushed one way or another where immunizations were concerned and I appreciated that. I do think it is important for the parent to have some degree of control over this. Ultimately, we are responsible for the care of our children, after all.

It was the late 90’s and early 2000’s, and the grass-roots, crunchy movement against immunization was growing strong. Studies were cited in groups I attended about connections between autism and vaccines, chemical contamination and vaccines, government plots and vaccines and while I didn’t buy into all of the hype, it had an effect. Becoming a parent was difficult enough, making far-reaching medical decisions for each child and the battery of shots they needed was overwhelming and frightening. After a great deal of research and thought and worrying, we opted to wait on the shots. Because we were homeschooling there was no outside source (i.e. the school system) pressing in on us to immunize.

We changed our health care provider because it was no longer a part of our insurance network after our youngest child was born. Our new doctor looked at the children’s charts and asked about the absence of immunizations. As I tried to explain my position to him he listened attentively. He was affirming and understanding even as I struggled to articulate my objections to the shots. He did not argue the points with me but rather offered insights into the research. He also offered medical studies and articles I’d not seen before. “It’s up to you,” he said, “but really, there’s no research that supports your fears about immunizations.” That information combined with my children’s’ entrance to “real” school prompted us to get caught up on all the shots finally.

It was the words of a close friend that finally drove home the reality of how my decisions affect the people around me. Her daughter was born with a congenital heart defect. She is more susceptible than other children her age to disease. The lack of immunizations on the part of other parents is not simply an “alternative choice” to her family. It can mean life or death to her daughter.

I regret that part of my crunchy parenting. The thing is, that I don’t regret waiting on the immunizations because something awful happened to my family as a result. It didn’t. My children to date are quite healthy and have remained healthy. I regret the decision to wait because it will always make me wonder if I was, at that time, part of the problem we see rising now- measles in New York, mumps in Ohio, polio or something like it, in California and now the recent breakout of measles that stems from a trip to Disneyland. With new outbreaks of diseases we thought were held in check it makes me now question everything I believed when I was a newbie, crunchy parent.

And this is the hard thing, choosing to reexamine previous strong held beliefs and let myself shift into a new perspective. The hardest thing about changing my view on this vaccine thing was the blow I took to my ego as a parent. I admit that. It is hard to say that maybe I got it wrong but in the long run I can only subscribe to a path toward becoming wiser for it. In the long run I have to be able to be open-minded about how I understand the way the world is shaping up and I have to pay attention to how it’s shaping up. I am a part of that shaping. On this point, where immunizations are concerned, I now believe I had it wrong.

We are responsible to our children to do what we feel is best for them of course, it’s important to remember though, that we are part of a bigger picture, a larger community. What we do affects us all.

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Weekly thoughts: unrelated

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks over here at Carlson Central. We’ve had illness and a return to health on a few fronts. We’ve had battles of wills and pestilence and dust bunnies. I think I was the clear winner on the first two and the sore loser on the third. I just cannot reach far enough under the bed to really do a thorough job. That’s the truth. I’ve tried swiffers and vacuums cleaners and brooms with stuff tied to it. The last time I used some dusting spray stuff that assured me that the dust would be attracted like a magnet. That was a damned lie.

I can see the piled up dust under my bed every time I come up the steps. I feel like I have two options in this case, ignore it or buy a dust ruffle and forget it’s there.

I freaking hate dust ruffles.

It might be the word “ruffle.” I only like ruffles if they refer to potato chips. I freaking love potato chips.

This morning I put my oldest son on a city bus with explicit directions to get off at a certain street, turn right and walk one block to his school. Yesterday I rode with him, I tried to be sure to point out markers for him to follow, what to listen for on the speakers, words of wisdom. He assured me that it all sunk in. I asked if he wanted me to ride with him again today but he declined. 14 years old, too cool for school.

I was uneasy though so I told him I’d follow the bus today and make sure he got off at the right stop. Just for today. It’s his first time riding a city bus alone, give me a break. I’m entitled to be a little overprotective, right? So as I rode behind the bus I realized two things at the same time, my back right tire was low (again) which means the patch on it is coming loose and second, I didn’t have my cell phone with me. I thought, “I’m sure it’ll be ok…” and I just did like Elsa would do and I let it go. Mostly. I drove slowly, avoiding potholes so that the tire would hold up juuuuuust a little longer and I pulled up next to the bus at the stop Chet was meant to take.

I breathed a sweet sigh looking at his face through the window. He didn’t see me. I didn’t realize it was his stop in that moment because I was caught up in this feeling of letting go and such. He didn’t realize it was his stop either, apparently. When the bus and my car reached the expressway a few blocks later I was yelling in my car, alone, “GET OFF THE BUS! GET OFF THE BUS!” and scouring the stops to see where he’d finally exit. It was here that Chet did indeed find his way off the bus. I was stuck a few cars back, watched him dial his phone in a nearly calm manner and look around to get his bearings. I imagined my phone ringing back in my other coat at home. I considered whether to cut around some cars to reach him. I considered honking to get his attention and we sat there, hanging in the tension of that “what now” moment. I was close enough to see his brow furrow, to see him turning left and then right and I saw the moment melt from his face then when he spotted my car. He broke into a wide smile.

When he climbed into the car he said, “I missed my stop!” and then he laughed. “Were you worried?” I asked. He shook his head. “Nah. I’d have figured it out” and I believed him but I still drove him the four blocks to school because he’s my first boy and he’s a daydreamer and he’s growing up. It’s hard to let go. It really is.

Next week I do my first book reading at Parnassus Books in Nashville. It’s important I tell you this in case you’re not already subjected to my daily, maybe hourly harping on it on Twitter or Facebook. I’m an equal opportunity harper. If you’re local I hope you’ll come! You can find the info here:

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https://www.facebook.com/events/355481744600509/

That’s all I got for you fine people today…cling to each other well this week. Time is fleeting 🙂

The finer points of Kryptonite

I’ve been thinking about Superman.

After my first cup of coffee I made the bed. I felt good. I felt powerful. “Coffee is my Superman cape,” I thought to myself. Then I corrected that because Superman isn’t strong because of his cape. He’s strong because he’s an alien living on Earth. As I understand it (and please forgive me, comics fans, if I got it wrong) Superman is super strong here because of the particular mix of atmosphere here on planet Earth. Back on Krypton he’s just an average Joe.

Nobody flies or lifts cars off of people on Krypton.

So after scratching my superman cape/coffee connection whilst making the bed I thought, “maybe instead it’s that mornings are my kryptonite.” But that’s not quite right either. I mean, I’m groggy in the morning but certainly mornings won’t kill me, no matter what my hyperbolic Facebook statuses might say.

And of course that got me to thinking all kinds of interesting things about Kryptonite and Superman and coffee addictions and making the bed.

Kryptonite is home. It’s that little bit of home that affects Superman so badly. The thing about Kryptonite that  I remembered this morning is that it doesn’t kill Superman, at least I don’t think it does. It just makes him weak, but weak like the rest of us. It brings him back to average Joe status and I suppose it looks so painful because after being super strong and able to fly all that time, being reduced to just being average would feel pretty painful to anyone.

That piece of home makes Superman vulnerable.

And that revelation got me to thinking about my own home, my own history, my own story because that’s what I do. I think about the connections like that and then I write it down here. Home is our Kryptonite, it’s everyone’s Kryptonite. Home and the reminders of home make us vulnerable, sometimes in good ways, sometimes in not so good ways but it exposes us to ourselves, to our past, to our loved ones.

Home is our Kryptonite.

Home makes us human.

And the truth is, it can be painful or humbling to be reminded that we’re human after all.

Another day in the life

So, this is what I did this weekend, in case you were wondering-

We can’t have furry pets in this house because of dander/allergy issues so instead we have become a foster family to a Russian Tortoise in the boys’ room and a Leopard Gecko in my daughter’s room. Despite some early trepidation about keeping reptiles in the house I have to admit that I love them as much as I would any kind of furry pet, more or less.

The tortoise, Turles, is pretty low-key, forgiving and quiet. I swear that she looks forlorn most of the time but I think that’s just the look on her face. I can relate. Scully, the Leopard Gecko, is also fairly low-key. The only trouble we’re having on that front revolves around his food source, keeping crickets. It’s a constant dialogue now that Scully has grown. He goes through crickets like the boys go through snack food, except when he’s shedding and then, nothing. This means that the food supply present in the little plastic box we bought specifically for this purpose starts to die off and no matter how well I think I’m treating those pesky crickets they just die off after a few days if not eaten. And dead crickets stink, in case you were not aware.

I always feel a little bit bad for the crickets and I imagine what kind of life this must feel like to them. They’re born or hatch or whatever crickets do to come into the wide world and then are shipped off to pet stores to be placed in bags with cardboard, taken to someone’s house, placed into a spa-like environment with food and water and hiding places and then unceremoniously removed to the cage of their predator for consumption. I’m pretty sure this is the plot of a sci-fi movie I saw once.

I try to talk to the crickets and apologize for the harsh life. I tell them it’s a food cycle kind of thing but really, it’s unnatural if you really look at the big picture. And so, I always feel a little bit bad about it even as I sit and watch Scully enjoy the hunt.

The latest adventure came this week, though, when I decided to order a larger quantity of crickets for home delivery. I know, it sounds weird, but I really thought that maybe getting the crickets directly might mean they were healthier and last longer in that plastic utopia death chamber in my daughter’s room. When the box arrived the mailman held it by the edges. A metal screen covered the front of the small box and the crickets were clinging to the screen, trying in vain to escape. The first thing I noticed was that they were not the large crickets I’d ordered but small ones, about the size of the button on my sweater. Fine, I thought, he’ll just have to move a little faster to catch ’em. The next thing I noticed was that there was no easy way to open the box for transfer to the bug house without letting them or at least some of them escape. My clever solution was to open it on my back porch and just dump them quickly into the bug house. Flawless plan, huh?

Except, not so much.

If you don’t have a need to keep crickets for any reason you won’t realize that they usually come with some egg carton cardboard. They like to chew on the cardboard. In the case of this box the egg carton cardboard itself could fill the bug house and there was really no way to get the crickets from the cardboard to the bug house with any efficiency. So, here was me on my back porch opening the small box, seeing the mass of small crickets streaming out from all open areas like the scene from the Ten Commandments when the locust descend upon Egypt. And I am dumping crickets and cardboard into the plastic bug house with a real fury and determination, trying not to pay attention to the number of escapees, trying to shake off the renegades who are climbing on my hands and arms and pant leg, trying to keep my bug panic contained long enough to get the job done. It was kind of awful.

The escapees outside seem to have taken up residence in the garden, eating some of my plants, building their own version of utopia I suppose.

But wait, there’s more.

To make matters worse, the bug house apparently was not made for these small crickets, you see. After a day or so we started to find them here and there around the house. They have been finding cracks we had not considered before because of the larger cricket population that Pet Smart provided and every couple of hours I’d hear a kid bellow out, “Here’s another one!” We began to call it Cricket-pocalypse. I made an executive decision. The crickets had to go outside for the night until I could figure out what to do about their housing situation. We dumped a load of them into Scully’s cage to keep him happy and then I took the bug house outside to the back porch for the night. Was it shirking my pet owner responsibilities? Yes, probably.

I’d forgotten that it was meant to rain that night.

In the morning when I found them the majority of the crickets were drowned in what must have felt like a flood of biblical proportions to them. Some were still clinging to the soggy egg carton cardboard that rose just above the three inches of water in the bug house. It was again, kind of awful.

In the end, I did the only thing I could think to do. I opened the top of the bug house and dumped the whole mess into the garden. A kind of cricket Garden of Eden for those who survived. This is probably where I’d draw some metaphor for life and living, some deeper implications of that whole endeavor but really, all I can think is that it’s another day in the life, for me and the gecko and the crickets who found their way into the promised land this morning. That’s all I got.

On endings and beginnings

The school year is crawling to a close. Finally.

Because of snow days this past winter, CPS extended the school year a full week and it’s evident. The kids are downright twitchy. It’s fascinating to watch in particular because it’s the first year all four of my children have been in “real” school.

We have our routine down to a science. We all know our way around our schedule now. We know our respective places in each of our environments. Summer time is when we move into some kind of weird lull, unstructured time, floating here biding our time until the new school year takes over. My kids can only see a week ahead right now. I am looking at September already because September is when college visits begin for my daughter, High School visit begin for my oldest son, a new school awaits my youngest boy and my middle son moves up to middle school.

We’re always in motion here, school years shifting, knowledge blooming, pants becoming suddenly too short, voices changing. There’s no standstill. I’m envious of my children and their short attention span, their short lens on the world.

As my children get older I find I’m in this “middle” place with parenting. When they were babies it was clear- keep them clean and safe and fed. Now, they take the reins on much of this and I’m tasked with that looking forward job. It’s no less exhausting.

I often wonder if people who have followed the more traditional approach to education (ie starting “real school” at pre school and continuing on til graduation) have it all figured out at this stage but I know that’s the trap of parenting- comparison and “if only.” It’s enough to make a parent crazy.

So today as I sit and savor the last 7 days of our lingering routine I commit to pull back from comparison, pull back from future thinking, pull back from the fear of an unstructured summertime looming. Today I’m going to be here now…at least until the second cup of coffee kicks in.

the problem with parenting…

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You might remember my feelings about “Mother’s Day.” If not, you can see my rants here

This year as we approach that day in the U.S, I’m struggling a little with that whole parenting thing. I know, what else is new?

In particular, I wonder how hard it will be to break the habit of saying “be careful” to my children whenever they get out of the passenger side of the car. I mean, I imagine that sometime, and perhaps soon, they’ll have internalized this concept. I say “be careful” to them all day long; when we’re taking walks, when they’re using scissors, when they’re making scrambled eggs. I caught myself saying it to my youngest son as he was coming down the stairs the other day, not running, not hopping, walking down the stairs. Force of habit.

It got me thinking about how useless those two words have become. Or maybe it isn’t that they are useless, maybe they are just code for something I am really thinking but afraid to say out loud. I’m slowly realizing that pretty much every time I say “be careful” to my kids (and for that matter, to my husband when he’s driving) what I am really saying is “I don’t trust you.”

I don’t trust that you’ll be safe.

I don’t trust that you’ll be able to take care of yourself.

I don’t trust that you won’t rear end that car ahead of us.

Sad but true.

The latest trend in parenting right now isn’t so much “helicopter” parenting anymore. Now, it’s what I’m hearing termed “lawnmower” parenting. These parents try to clear the path for the kids, wrapping everything in bubble wrap, sanitizing the area, sometimes literally. I like to make fun of parenting trends as much as anybody but hearing about this new trend gave me pause. As it was laid out for me, the realization dawned on me that as much as I try to get my kids to think critically, to solve their own problems, to make their own scrambled eggs, I do this. I smooth the road, I wrap the bubble wrap, I send the emails about the potential internship and the low grade gotten on a test. What I’m saying when I do this is once again, “I don’t trust you…”

So between my realization of the translation of “be careful” and the image of me smoothing the road ahead I found myself in a full on panic this week. Add to this the ill timing of my reading this story in the Atlantic about  a playground (that is actually a junk yard) in the UK and I had to admit that I would be a freaking basket case if my boys were playing in there. I mean, I WANT to be hip and cool and allow them to live out their kid-hood with some boldness and excitement but…you know…I also don’t want them to come home with lockjaw.

Reality is hard…bubble wrap is easy.

Now, I don’t tell you all this so that you’ll leave a comment assuring me that I’m a pretty good mother (obviously I won’t delete those comments if you feel so inclined.) I’m just laying it out there. I think too often I labor under the delusion that parenting is just easier for pretty much everyone but me. I think that my neighbor is doing it better, that her kids are turning out better, that her kids can get out of the passenger side of the car without tripping on the sidewalk and falling on the ground.

This is the problem with parenting…and it helps me to just put it out there sometimes, a voice shouting into the storm like Lieutenant Dan raging on that little shrimp boat in the hurricane.

In any case, this is where I’m at this week as I ponder the upcoming fake holiday celebration of Mother’s Day and I do the yearly internal assessment of my parenting skillz. Not to mention that all this is coming together as we reach the end of the school year. There will be playing outside and riding the bikes in the neighborhood. There will be stick fights in the backyard. There will be driving tests for my 16-year-old. There will be college visits for my daughter and high school choices for my oldest son. There will be pressure building and heat rising and maybe even a lawnmower leaking fumes in the wake of my parenting.

I think I’m going to need to be more careful.

Why I hate Valentine’s Day…

“What do you think Dad will get for you for Valentine’s Day?” Miles asks.
“Um, nothing?” I respond,
He puts on a shocked expression, over the top and dramatic, which fits him perfectly.
“Why not?”
I shrug.
“We just don’t do that.”
He shakes his head and wanders into the next room.
“I don’t understand you guys at all.”

I never have cared much for Valentine’s Day. I’m also grumpy about the traditional Mother’s Day and maybe even a little about Father’s Day, Sweetest Day and St. Patrick’s Day. I’m not grumpy about all the holidays, only the holidays that bring with them outside pressure to have fun and romance or deep meaning. Ok, maybe I am grumpy about most holidays.

It may be my non conformist talking here but I don’t need any more pressure to feel something at a certain moment. It’s the “you’re not the boss of me” attitude coming out. I’m a burgeoning curmudgeon. What can I say?

When faced with Valentine’s Day this year I realized that for the first time ever I would be responsible to providing treats for about 90 kids. My boys are all in “real” school for the first time in their lives and each swim in a sea of about 30 kids day in and day out. Two of the classrooms allow candy with the Valentines and one allows only paper and cheap crap that will gather dust under my kid’s bed if it’s lucky enough to make it into the house at all after school.

I’ve had this obligation on my mind for at least a month and each time it has come to mind I’ve gently wrestled it back behind that door marked “procrastination.” A few times I’ve polled the boys with questions like, “what kind of Valentines do you want for your class?” They roll their eyes, unfamiliar with this practice, certain that it would be vastly “uncool” to bring Valentines but I know better. I know, from my own school experience, the feeling of sitting in my seat, brown bag in hand, waiting for the Valentines to be passed out, waiting and counting. This is back before teachers started requiring Valentines to be handed out to ALL the kids in a class so no one would feel left out. Back in my day, being left out was sometimes the point. The memory of it drags a deep and lasting dread over me. It was never a good experience.

The memory of sitting in my seat and waiting dregs up another bad memory- 7th grade and my “secret admirer” who I thought might be the boy I had crushed on that year. I was just discovering myself, discovering how I moved in my introverted skin, how I felt about the other people around me, mainly about the boys in the class. I was noticing who was “cute” and who was “mean” and usually those two qualities paired up. Why is that, I wonder?

My “secret admirer” sent me notes and I read them behind a bookcase in Mrs Conrad’s class.  My “secret admirer” said the best things at the right moments and promised a surprise on Valentine’s Day. He said to look on the bookshelves that afternoon at recess and I looked forward to it for a week. On the appointed day at the appointed time I stayed in at recess, presumably to do some extra credit work, I made my way through the empty classroom to the bookshelves and I found the special Valentine, it was a book sized box, wrapped in Valentine’s paper; hearts and bears and cupids, oh my.

I tore into the package, unaware at that moment there were 2 or 3 boys standing behind the next shelf over, waiting to see my reaction to what would end up being a gag gift- valentine bikini underwear.

Seriously. I lived out that tired, angsty pre teen movie scene where the geeky, awkward girl is duped once again. It’s no wonder I still root for Sissy Spacek’s “Carrie” when that pig blood comes down at prom.

Still, I wanted to give this classroom Valentine’s thing a new spin, perhaps redeeming it for the boys and maybe for myself. I considered carefully which Valentines they might like as I finally stood in the aisle of the Walgreens the night before the big day. Leaving it to the last minute worked against me, obviously. We were left with Batman and Hello Kitty. For the non candy classroom we went with Batman valentines which included a crappy eraser that would most likely serve no real purpose. For the candy oriented classes, M&M mini bags with a Valentine theme. It was a half-hearted attempt on my part. No pun intended.

half hearted valentines attempts

I prodded them to write their name on each one, not even requiring they write the names of classmates. I shoved them into the backpacks and reminded the boys to pass them out at the appointed time, regretting the lack of prep as I saw posts by other parents in Facebook and Instagram about their contributions to what most people consider a fun day. I felt that holiday Grinch sigh contentedly, slapping his hands together with a “job well done” kind of satisfaction. For a brief moment I considered making a trip to the store, adding something weighty to the boys offering and dropping it at their schools.

“Am I ruining this holiday for them?” I thought to myself. How long will I hold on to this old grudge against Valentine’s day, brought on by a bunch of pre teen idiots over 35 years ago? Maybe I am getting this wrong after all.

Then, I found a note from Miles on my phone. He’d asked earlier that morning if he could write me a Valentine’s note on my phone. I handed it to him in the car saying, “Yeah, I could use a Valentine I guess, thanks!” I sat in my car thinking about the meager Valentines I’d sent with the boys, thinking about the lost opportunity to teach something deeper and better, thinking about those 7th grade boys who pranked me at such a tender time in my life, thinking about the aisles of hearts and chocolate and Batman valentines and I read Miles’ note, hoping for some redemption, some shift of my curmudgeon-y course, some change of heart-

“Happy Vaelintines Day! Buy Miles a zombie sundae from Margies Candys!”

And I was strangely calmed then for reasons I cannot truly articulate. We don’t always get what we expect at the moment we need it, but sometimes we do get just what we need and right then I needed to be reminded that I’m not 12 anymore. I’m not standing at the bookshelf waiting for a note that was never written. This is my life, these are my people and my people like ice cream. I’ll take it.

Never change, Miles.
Never change.

Can’t complain…

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This morning I woke to the sound of rushing water, which sounds far more poetic than the reality. I sat in bed for only a moment, listening to the water rush, wondering if it was rain or someone in the shower already at this early hour. I walked softly to the stairs and listened again realizing the water was rushing in the kitchen. I swore loudly as I stepped bare feet into the half-inch of water that had accumulated in the kitchen, held in check only by the porous nature of the wood and the next realization of the dripping sound in our finished basement. Tiptoeing through the water I slogged to the basement stairs and swore again as I watched the water dripping quickly from the light fixtures and air vents.

First, stop the water.

The sound was coming from the refrigerator so I kneeled in the water reached under the sink and shut off the source. The rushing continued, but slowed. I gathered every towel in the house and began to sop up the water, knowing it was already too late for most of the basement ceiling. I focused on the pond in the kitchen. I considered calling Dave in Los Angeles. I thought about Miles’ “family day” at 9:30am, that I was supposed to read a story about my grandfather and my mother, flying for the Civil Air Patrol in the 1950’s. I wrung out water, I swore more loudly, I woke the children with my panic and methodical work of bailing and drying and swearing.

I moved on to the basement and cleaned up what I could, but water finds a way, through the drywall, through the ceiling fixtures, through the venting. The drywall was bubbling and I moved what I could. Some books were already ruined. I didn’t linger there, choosing instead to rescue the couch by moving it away from the ceiling fan, choosing to save the laptops on the table under the bubble of water ready to burst above it, choosing to rescue anything movable, anything still dry, anything at risk. I would have to get the kids ready for school still. I would have to change my clothes at least for the presentation at Miles’ school. Life goes on.

I don’t have breast cancer.

On Wednesday I had my first mammogram. I know, I waited too long. When I turned 40 I was in flux, between doctors. When I was 45 I was in flux, coming back to Chicago, getting life back together. I waited til now, when there was a lull of sorts, near the end of the “deductible” deadline and I made an appointment. The results were back right away. Everything looks good, better than good, the best possible. I don’t have breast cancer.

When I talk with people sometimes I’ll ask how they are and sometimes they’ll say, “I can’t complain” and I’ll nod and agree. I can’t complain. My life is good, overall, things are good. I don’t have breast cancer. But the truth is I can complain and I do complain- often, daily, sometimes hourly as I sop up the water that drips from the ceiling above my head from the broken water line to my refrigerator. No filtered water for my coffee this morning. No saving the books I read to my children when they were toddlers. No dry towels for a shower this morning.

I don’t have breast cancer. I’m thankful for it, tremendously, because maybe part of the reason I waited so long to get that baseline mammogram is that I thought I might have it, because so many of my friends have walked that in the last 10 years or so. I’m thankful for being healthy and for my children being healthy so I can’t complain. But that’s not really true. I can complain and I do complain and i will continue to complain because that’s normal and that’s human. I’ll complain and I’ll swear and I’ll be ungrateful. That will happen because my memory is short and my life is complicated. I”ll forget to be grateful while my basement is flooded and that’s natural. We’ll be okay. We’ll work it out. Everything will dry out and we’ll only have lost some things. I can’t complain. I won’t complain. I don’t have breast cancer.

10 (or 11) things…

IMG_5458The menu was laid out on a clean, light green background. It screamed “healthy and delicious” so effectively with its thin, smooth font choice and vibrant wording. It was as though it was giving me an emotional “thumbs up” with every menu option. Phrases like, “A tofu and carrot mix” and “fried to perfection” dotted the page alongside, “thick vegan mushroom gravy” and “complimented with a bed of pico de gallo.” There is nothing like eating vegan when its done with such grace and skill…except for maybe a thick, real beef burger, medium rare…and fries, real fries, made from evil white potatoes and deep fried until my arteries shudder at the very sight of them.

I try. I really do. I want to be better. I want to live a long and healthy life. I buy organic, I avoid gmo foods, I ban high fructose corn syrup from my pantry…mostly. The truth is that I’m exhausted. I feel like Sarah Conner’s son in Terminator 2, tired of training for the war. I just want to have some fun for a change.

Sometimes I just want a burger. In fact, sometimes I just want an awful burger and fries from a fast food restaurant, the same sort of burger in the pictures everyone passes around to illustrate the “non food-ness” of such fast food.

I’m 46 years old and it’s time to come clean about a few things.

Ten (or 11) things I need to admit:

1) I like fast food, sometimes. I don’t live for it and it certainly doesn’t do much for me. It’s the friend I avoid for as long as possible, the one that pains me later but in the moment, has the best, most dangerous ideas of what to do for fun.

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2) I hate kombucha. Hate is a strong word, I know. I’m probably the only person in my healthy circle of friends who hates it though I suspect it’s more likely I’m the only one who is willing to say it out loud. I don’t care for the flavor no matter how good it is for me and if it’s an acquired taste then that’s something but honestly, I don’t have energy for acquiring it. I just want a milkshake.

3) Milkshakes make feel nauseated an hour after I drink them. I drink them anyway…because they are delicious. It’s worth it, especially if they come from Margie’s Candies in Chicago. Trust me on this.

4) I’m not going to stop drinking coffee. I’m not even going to cut back. From time to time I think to myself, “Self, maybe we’d be better off without these cups of liquid love in the morning…” and then I slap my own face, like Cher slapping Nic Cage in Moonstruck and I feel better.

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5) I like sugary, girlie, coffee drinks. The more sugar, the more whipped cream, the better. Not everyday or even every few days but I like them and I’m not ashamed to admit it. When I order the non fat milk in my grande toffee nut latte (you know, just to balance things out) and the Barista asks if I “still want the whipped cream” sometimes I order extra just to make a point.

6) When I’m at home, I’m going to use that fake, sugary creamer. I’ve tried to switch to the “soy” creamer or the “coconut” creamer or plain milk. It takes all the fun out of that cup of liquid love and I resent that. They say resentment is a relationship killer so I’m going to stick with the fake, sugary creamer because as I stated, I’m not going to stop drinking coffee.

7) “Diet” versions of anything gross me out. Next.

8) Sugar replacements taste like chemicals to me. I know everyone says it’s because they’re just far far sweeter than real sugar or even high fructose corn syrup but you know what? I think that’s a lie or it’s possible that my taste buds are just whacked out. It’s possible.

9) Quinoa. I know people who can cook it beautifully and it tastes nice, not awesome, but nice. Don’t tell me I just don’t have the right recipe because I’ve tried more than you know. I have never been able to duplicate this and believe me I’ve tried to do it over and over for health’s sake because it’s supposed to be a power food, mystical and magical. You know what’s magical? Chocolate cake.

10) Trendy eating habits are killing my soul. Paleo, Atkins, Eat to Live, HcG…doesn’t matter. I’m not going to live forever. The clock’s ticking here and I’m tired of spending time trying to figure out which way of eating is “correct.” So from now on I’m subscribing to what my friend Sarah calls the “delishitarian” diet. If it’s delicious, I will eat it.

and 

11) I woke up a little cranky today.

Sorry.

Letting go…

All four of my children will be in “real” school starting Monday. I’m having a bit of a freak out about that, I have to tell you. After receiving an email from the principal for my oldest son’s school, welcoming us, encouraging us, I broke down. It’s hard to let go.

We have been homeschooling in one way or another since about 2003. We brought our oldest home after a rough year in Kindergarten. She’s always been outgoing and friendly. She loved preschool and she liked Kindergarten, excelling in reading and math and general awesomeness but she got teased every day on the playground. She liked to play alone and the other girls in her school gave her so much grief about it she cried every day when I picked her up from school. Teacher meetings, parent meetings, long talks with my daughter, “grin and bear” it moments, all came to nothing. We’d already changed schools once going from the Montessori school to a school closer to our house. It was too late to apply or get into a third try for the coming school year, so we brought her home, always thinking we’d make a switch the following year.

All in all, it’s gone well, I have to say. As we added kids we just slid them into the homeschool routine. It worked well when we traveled, when we moved, when we were living on 18 acres in the middle of nowhere. We hung out, we asked questions, we made observations, we argued and we struggled and we cruised for a long time. For as long as I was holding things together it really was a phenomenal time and then life changed up and they all seemed to need different things, things I could not deliver with any expertise or consistency. Last year, my daughter, having been home for most of her educational life finally stepped into High School, real school, art school, as a sophomore. She loved it and it loved her back.

I wrote last year of my decision to send Henry to school. It was grueling. His way of learning was so different from my way of teaching and long story short, I was leaking out all over the place where homeschool was concerned anyway. I was losing my mojo, not keeping up with Henry’s needs, falling apart in the bathroom because I felt I was failing them. I finally enrolled him at the neighborhood school so that we could both get what we needed. He loved it and it loved him back.

We tried a “real” school with Chet last year too, thinking the “game theory” approached they offered at the Chicago charter school would be perfect for him but you know, there is no perfect and he had trouble adjusting. He did great with the work but the classroom was overwhelming for him and often the chaos in the classroom kept them all from doing the work, which was the only thing Chet really wanted to do anyway. He did not love it and it did not love him back so we brought him home and I spent last year swimming in the guilt of being unprepared, questioning everything I tried, worrying about the present and the future and the past and all the while poor Miles cruised along doing his own thing, a little lost in the shuffle.

As the youngest in our family, Miles has the cushiest position and yet the strongest opposition to falling into line. His reading lessons probably sounded like I was driving spikes under his fingernails because he hated it so much. I was already burned out and he was getting the dregs of what I had left to offer and the guilt about that gnawed at me daily. I knew I’d put them all in school this year and the pressure ramped up then to “get them ready” for it but the more the deadline approached the worse we seemed to do. It remains to be seen how things will roll when Monday comes. Even so, when I questioned him on it this week he said, groaning, “Geez, mom. I’ll adapt. I always adapt. I’ll be fine, you have to let go sometime.”

And so, there it is. I am letting go a little, reluctantly, expectantly, with great fear and trembling and excitement because I have no idea what this year brings for us all. I imagine it will be a new kind of struggle and a new kind of joy and a familiar struggle and a familiar joy too. I imagine we’ll have moments of great regret mixed with moments of great relief. I imagine that I will adapt and that I will be fine because I have to let go sometime. It’s what we do as parents. We wish for them and we hope for them and in it we are always teaching them how to be their own people in the world. Parenting is letting go, a little at a time- crawling to toddling to walking to running- hair blowing in the warm wind, face to the sun, into the future.