April 29, 2006

A Date with my Destiny

I am such a geek.

Office supply stores are among my very favorite stores in the world - who needs shoes when you can buy folders? and four-color pens? and a labeling machine that will help me see that this clear box holds markers?

Since this is the case, it makes perfect sense that buying a daily planner sent me over the edge into bliss. Not only can I write down appointments so I won't forget them, I can tell you what I'm doing at 9:30 a.m. on December 17th of this year. My schedule's currently wide open on the 17th, but if I was busy that morning, it'd be written down!

The downside to all this organization is that I'm blonde. I have brain lapses entirely too often. The path of my destiny leads through a severe dose of humility. Case in point: writing in all the dates from now through a year from now, I hit April 24th (of next year) before I realized that my numbering (in ink, of course) put the 24th on the same day of the week as it was this year.

It took some in-depth searching and flipping of many pages, but I found the problem - I forgot Halloween. I went right from October 30th to November 1st. In my defense, I can only offer that when I was numbering I actually thought it was November 30th to December 1st, but being wrong about what month I was on sounds a lot worse than forgetting a single day.

Now my enticingly new planner has unsightly scribbles from October through next April. I am not allowed to enter dates in daily planners while talking on the phone ever again.

April 24, 2006

Re-generating Reading

My reading material varies widely - candy-coated, saccharine, mindless romances one day, Show Boat or The Brothers Karamazov the next.

Lately I've been reading Strauss & Howe's book on the Millenial generation, entitled Millennials Rising. I myself am a Gen X-er (born 1961-1981): I'll care about an issue if I want to care about an issue. Don't try to make me believe the government knows what it's doing and will take care of me; I'm too much of a realist to believe you. Defining moment of my generation? I remember seeing the Challenger blow up on television over and over again in an elementary school classroom.

I'm much more of an individualist than a team player. So there's no "I" in "team"? Big deal; there's an "I" in "win".

I am actually enjoying the book; it helps me understand why my generation is so cynical vs. the Millennials (born 1982-2002), who were raised with "Baby on Board" mottoes in the windows of their kid-friendly minivans.

What surprises me is the resentment I feel. My parents are still happily married to each other; my mom was at home when I needed her, not just through grade school but through college; and I never felt like I was the reason Mom or Dad didn't achieve their "full potential" career-wise. My anger is for the nebulous group of Boomer parents who woke up and realized what their ideals of rebellion and individualism did to us - but it was too late to do anything about the disenchanted Generation X, so they focused instead on the Millennials.

I'm hurt on behalf of my generation that we got written off. I agree with Deanna Beppu:
I sort of feel bittersweet about all this attention and praise that the Millennials are getting. If we Gen Xers probably share one common memory, it's how the adults in the world just forgot about us in terms of education, structure, values, and family support. And it does seem ironic and cruel that now the new kids are getting all the attention because suddenly the adults woke up and realized that we Gen Xers didn't turn out right. It's like our elders conveniently forget that they were supposed to be there for us, too.

Think about the issue of school bullies. I remember being tormented a bit by older kids - and I remember my sister having run-ins with an older, bullying girl on the school bus. The response was a "suck it up and deal with it" attitude by authority figures. These days, we're so concerned that bullies not simmer to the point of enacting another Columbine that students get yanked into the principal's office according to "Zero Tolerance" policies if they wear an overly opinionated t-shirt. I'm not arguing this change is all bad; I'm wondering why it wasn't important before.

I don't want a victim mentality. I don't want to hold grudges. I just want to understand this social grouping I've been with since birth. I want to know how to use who I am to serve following generations the best way I can.

April 23, 2006

And Then There was One

For the first time since its inception, the Stanley family will be decreasing in size.

The year we got married, Trent & I got two dogs: Jasper (a lab/Shar-pei mix) in March and Sugar (a lab/hound mix) in April. We got two so they could keep each other company while we were both at work. The only time they were separated was when Jasper ate part of his polar fleece blanket and subsequently had to have surgery to remove 12" of his small intestine. [FYI: Polar fleece doesn't break down in the digestive system the way other fabrics do. Keep it away from all animals and small children with a proclivity to chew and consume those chewed objects.] For the 4-5 days Jasper was at the vet's, Sugar was inconsolable.

The house we're moving to here has a back yard that's 1/3 the size of the one we had in Kansas City, and even that yard was really too small for Sugar. She loves to run and coils tighter and tighter like a spring if her movement's restricted for too long. Living in an 8'x10' shed and a 10'x10' run has been torture for her. Every chance she gets, she runs off. She always returns wearing an apologetic expression, as if to say it wasn't her fault that her legs ran away; she was just along for the ride. Sugar lives up to her name: she's hyper.

Our hope is to find a farm in the area that would be willing to take Sugar. As Trent said, we'd rather she have six months of being able to run as much as she likes than another seven years penned up in small spaces. Jasper should make an easier transition to being an indoor dog. He's good-sized (~70 lbs), but much quieter and thrives on affection.

So... the two shall be separated.

Today, however, it isn't Sugar that's giving me fits; it's Jasper.

I headed outside to put them on their leads, keeping a firm grip on Sugar's collar but (in a stunning display of blonde trust) letting Jasper out on his own. He betrayed my trust and ran off around the neighborhood. I had to track him down eventually, and I let him know that he'd just axed any chance of being released on his own recognizance in the near future.

Apparently he took me at my word. I looked out the window a while later, and his lead was lying on the grass, empty. Somehow (don't ask me how) he'd escaped the latch on his collar and was off (again) roaming the neighborhood. At first I thought my mom might have taken him along on her walk, but a loud cacophony of barking from the next door neighbors' (who own two springer spaniels) debunked that daydream.

I marched Jasper back over to his lead, let him know what I thought of him and told both of them (Sugar was barking left and right in very excited fashion) that they were inches away from spending the rest of the afternoon in their kennels.

Now Jasper's sitting with his back to the bay window. He's really developed the art of canine sulking... it's almost cat-like.

April 22, 2006

Eyes on the Past, Not the Future

Despite the gorgeous weather outside, today has been somewhat frustrating.

Further garage sales yielded a few finds, but the right-size, drawer-full $20 dresser I found had (of course) already acquired a "SOLD" sticker with someone else's name on it.

Discovered the backsplash of the longest stretch of cabinets in our kitchen has a 1/2" convex bow to the wall... If the backsplash of the counter is flush to the wall, the two ends are close to 1/2" away from the wall.

Today is a "should"-y day. So much of my time is spent pushing away thoughts of all I "should" be doing, paralyzed by what I could be doing instead of whatever task I am doing - any expended energy or effort feels futile. After all, reasons the snippy perfectionist voice in my head, I didn't complete this task or that one, which was truly the important one.

These are the days when it's more important to look back over my shoulder and view the past, rather than look at the future and feel my shoulders slump. Did the bed linen get changed or cleaned? Did the rooms get decluttered? Did I sand down any more of our garage sale finds prior to repainting? Did I take that intended walk? Have I spent time lavishing affection on our two dogs? Did I empty the dishwasher in my mom's absence so she didn't have to? Did I avoid unhealthy snacks and discipline my appetite?

"No" to all of the above. But... I did get a load of laundry done, situated the dogs outside on their leads with a wading pool of water between them, have changed/cleaned Nathan three times already today, fed him four times (with two still in front of me before he goes to bed), ran out to two garage sales, ate two meals myself, played and wrestled with Nathan, encouraged his crawling across varied surfaces, sang to him, read a significant portion of a book, and (now) have posted here.

It may not seem like much to some people, but I'll rejoice in my small steps of progress. I was actually dressed in real clothing (not pajamas) by 9:00 a.m. That, especially when joined by eating breakfast and lunch myself, is an accomplishment.

April 20, 2006

Eat or Be Eaten

I came as close to a Lord of the Flies experience today as I ever hope to come: the spring city-wide garage sales in our local hamlet.

I need a personality implant to compete with some of these people!

Though the paper says such-and-such a sale will open at 3, it opened at 1:30 and all the good stuff was gone long before your arrival.

Enough of these "near misses," and I finally started stopping wherever I saw large groups of vehicles clustered, gambling on the off chance there was a garage sale nearby. I actually drove into a cul-de-sac populated by a score of pickup trucks for that very reason. Once I was in the cul-de-sac, I realized they were all contractors' trucks; some homeowner was in the midst of a good-sized remodeling project.

Some rules I've learned concerning garage sales:
1 - Open your garage door, and they will come. It doesn't matter what your posted start time or even your start date is.

2 - Lock up the things you want to keep, or they may be sold inadvertantly.

3 - Talk with no one while waiting for the garage door to open. The very person with whom you're most compatible is probably there for the very item you want. You don't want feelings of friendship to stand in the way of a good bargain.

4 - If you find any item at a good price in good condition, for heaven's sake buy it. Even if you don't need it yourself, surely you can find someone who would use it.

I haven't got a prayer of finding a baby buggy to tie on the back of a bike; people show up 30-60 minutes early and sit in their cars in hopes of finding a baby buggy. I ran into a set of grandparents out searching for one. They didn't need it, but their daughter did. I consider this a violation of fair play. Those with extended families in the area have an unfair advantage and can communicate strategy via mobile phones.

It's as bad as the Tickle Me Elmo or Cabbage Patch crazes - and it's only Thursday. Friday and Saturday could be even worse.

New Skillz

Nathan taught himself a new skill yesterday.

He's been able to pull himself to a standing position for several weeks now, but it was a dead-end skill until yesterday. Many times he'd wind up stranded in a standing position with no pain-free alternative. He had to take a fall or die standing.

It was fascinating to me to watch his little brain at work yesterday. Holding onto the exersaucer with one hand, he bent his legs gradually, wobbled down into a lower and lower squat, then (when his diaper-clad butt was a few inches above the carpet) let go and landed with a bump in a seating position. He looked so pleased with himself I just had to laugh.

What made it even more interesting to me was that he crawled a short distance away, then turned back to the exersaucer, pulled himself up, and immediately went through the whole balance-squat-fall routine again. He did that a few times, practicing his new skill until it felt less like an accident.

Just like in the picture below, he looked for all the world like a baby mechanic working over his ailing vehicle as he gummed the edge of the upper tray, crawled around it, pulled himself up on it and made sure the tray toys were all in working order.

"Want me to check th' oil for you, too, ma'am?"

April 17, 2006

Joyful Surrender

I've been thinking about surrender lately. I'm very much a type-A personality: organization, detail, control, rules-based. I
like control.

There's been a series of circumstances the last several years that have required me to let go. Let go of my ideas for my career, my income level, my plans, my dreams - even my ideas of who I am and what value I have. I sometimes feel like a piece of furniture that's getting layer upon layer of grime and varnish get stripped away.

Frankly, it sucks. It's painful. It leaves me feeling vulnerable. Caring for Nathan means days of feeling like I don't exist except as a response to Nathan's needs. I'm learning to surrender - which is why I like this first picture. It's a painting by an artist in my area, and I love the way the little girl in the picture is simply being; she doesn't care what anyone thinks of her or even what she thinks of herself. She's completely caught up in enjoyment of the moment.

-Speaking of enjoyment of the moment, Nathan (or Bug, as I often call him) had his first swimming experience this weekend. Trent & I took him to the local indoor pool, adorable in his baby way and small swim trunks. He wasn't quite sure what to do with the water, but it was the noise and all the things to look at that tired him out in about twenty minutes.

I do hope he likes swimming - or at least isn't afraid of the water and knows how to move in it. Ain't he cute?

April 14, 2006

From a Friend of a Friend...

I've decided that motherhood should be like golf: I deserve a handicap rating.

Doing laundry may not be that difficult a task, but keeping track of a crawling baby and doing laundry ought to be rated higher on the complexity scale. It should be influenced by the number of kids (though beyond a certain number that factor should work against you; older kids help take care of younger ones in large families), age of the kids, what the kids are capable of doing (whether it's making creative messes or actual increase in skill/independence), how large the house is and how clean you need to keep it.

It's a new sport: molfing.

I usually roll my eyes at the stories that happened to a friend of a friend of a friend; this one's too good to miss, though. My mom heard it from the lady who taught at a quilting retreat she attended yesterday. The instructor's daughter is friends with the person this happened to:

A gal in the Omaha, Nebraska area sat down to eat with a friend and shared about a recent day at work. She works with a daycare program for mentally disabled individuals, and on this particular day she helped take several teenage boys to the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha. The boys were responsible enough to allow them to go through the zoo themselves, but they were told to meet at a certain place at a certain time so they could leave together.

When that time came, one of the boys didn't show up at the designated spot, so the woman simply asked zoo security to keep an eye out for him. Zoo security found him, but they passed along the message that the boy was completely wet and they didn't know why.

In order for the boy to change clothes before returning to the daycare program, the woman dropped him off at his house and watched him go in the bathroom with dry clothing.

The boy didn't come out. When the woman knocked on the door to see if he was OK, she discovered that he had run water into the bathtub and filled it.

Each of the boys was wearing a backpack for their trip to the zoo. This boy had put a penguin in his backpack and brought it home.

Yes, you read that right: a live penguin.

The bird was returned safely to the zoo, and all is now well again.

And you thought you had an interesting job. I think there are several fraternities that would want to recruit this guy to do some pranks for them... : )

April 11, 2006

Lowered Expectations

I realize men could feel that they've never done enough, that their work is never completed. I think there are more women who feel that way, though. How many females out there have actually sat down on an afternoon and thought, "Wow... there's nothing left for me to do here at home."

I don't remember the last time I had anything approaching that thought. Laundry, cleaning, "quality" parenting time, caring for Nathan, rescuing him from predicaments like being trapped in his Exersaucer* - I'd love to take a bubble bath, but the planets never seem to align that direction. I really only enjoy bubble baths if I've showered recently, I don't have a time limit (read: don't need to jump up and take care of Nathan), and I have a good book to read.

Such a coincidence of circumstances hasn't happened in several weeks.
There's just too much other stuff I choose to do.

Today's task? Laundry. All four loads of it. I'd love to say I'll get the checkbook balanced, but really, I think that's being overly optimistic. It's already 4 o'clock.

*Note: What kind of parent am I? I'm the kind of parent that sees their child in a predicament and runs for the camera, that's what.

April 10, 2006


Immigration issues are plastered all over the news - particularly today, because of recent protests and marches. Even our small town (<10,000) had a gathering at one of the local parks.

I'll be frank and upfront and say that I'm a bigot. I don't mean that I think that one race (especially my own) is better than another. What I mean by "bigot" is that I have to fight looking at a stranger from another race and not making assumptions. I don't tend to have any problem when I know someone personally. My friends are not limited by gender, race, age, etc.

Controversial issues make me feel uncomfortable. It isn't because I don't care about those issues, it's that I dislike conflict. I feel tense and uneasy in personal conflicts unless I'm fighting someone on behalf of someone I love who has been wronged. I can be ruthless if it comes down to loyalty...

Immigration issues make me feel tense because there isn't an easy answer. Declare all illegal immigrants to be citizens or give them all visas? OK, and how do you respond to the people from other nations who went through the process to obtain a US visa but were turned down? Should the US remove all border/immigration requirements and let whoever wants entry to come? The current social systems can support that (housing, economy, defense, treasury, labor, education, transportation...).

Do you say some can become citizens and some cannot? How do you decide who can and who cannot?

Do you say they're all illegal and no one should be allowed in the country illegally? If this is the option you select, I seriously question how much you know about the immigrant laborers that propel the agriculture, manufacturing and service industries. Many immigrants are willing to do jobs we Americans (with our pride and inflated sense of entitlement) are not willing to do.

As I said, I don't see any easy answers. No matter how things happen, no matter what decision is made, people will be angry.

I'm glad I'm not in the position to actually make a decision on this.

April 08, 2006

Shopping Struggles

My sweet, adorable, tiny baby boy has become a squirming, squealing 18-lb. lug.

My mom and I went shopping last Thursday and (of course) took Small Boy. Mom, in her infinite wisdom, suggested we take a stroller. I voted for the front carrier, but deferred to her experience. For Petsmart, the first instance of pull-Nathan-from-the-car-seat, I figured it was a short errand; why not just carry him and save myself the hassle of the stroller?

Problem #1: It wasn't a short errand. Petsmart's ID tag machines are cool and all, but engraving isn't fast in any sense of the word. Each character takes two passes. Go ahead and imagine how many characters there are in a dog's name, reference address, and home phone number. Now double that (we have two dogs, after all).

Problem #2: Nathan wasn't the calm, observant sort he used to be. We weren't done with Tag 1 before he started squirming and hyperextending in my arms. Since he discovered his ability to move on his own without parental intervention, he strongly disapproves of that option being denied him. He rocked back and forth; he tried crawling up my rib cage and over my left shoulder; he tried twisting his head and upper torso from side to side to escape the dreaded motherly arm enclosure. When all these failed, he expressed himself in the sort of high-pitched scream/squeal/wail that only ever happens when he's positioned just perfectly to pierce my eardrum.

Problem #3: By the time Tag 1 was done, I had to go to the bathroom. I pushed in the tokens for Tag 2 and proceeded to dance the recognizable "I have to go to the bathroom but am being forced to delay the action for now" dance while holding an 18-lb. squirming mass in my arms. Both tags finally done, I crammed them into a pocket and tried to calmly, coolly walk to the back of the store while desperately scanning the aisles for the rescue portal labeled "WOMEN". Since I wasn't up for trying to hold Nathan while going to the bathroom, I put his burp pad on the poured cement floor, put Nathan down on top of it, then did my duty - all the while trying not to think of how many dogs had been on that floor where my son was now playing. Correction: the floor where my son was now crawling, crawling to the floor drain (conveniently located in the stall I had chosen). I finished, pulled up my jeans, fastened the necessary toggles, and swooped Nathan and his burp pad back to my shoulder just before Nathan stuck his little fingers into the alluring holes of the drain.

I'm not up for the describing what it takes to wash one's hands while one is holding a 7-month-old. Life is too short.

I never thought to revel in going to the bathroom by myself before I had children. I didn't know having a child would remove that experience from my life. It's not something they tell you in premarital counseling or childbirth prep classes.

April 05, 2006

It's a Woman-Eat-Woman World

After reading a couple of blog posts about the world from the female perspective, I've been thinking about this topic. It wasn't until I got married and tried to tell my husband some of this stuff that he even had a clue some of it existed.

In college, I had to cross a bridge with few streetlights to get back to my dorm. Whenever there was a male behind me - individual or a group of them - I automatically felt for my pepper spray. A guy friend was floored by this response; he didn't like the thought of other women reaching for pepper spray if he was the one walking behind them. I tried explaining that I simply couldn't take a chance that he wasn't a good guy, but I don't think he understood.

In college classrooms, I wore jeans, hiking boots and a flannel shirt to classes. No make-up, rarely did my hair, and dragged the same ratty backpack for 4 1/2 years. When a girl walked into a lecture wearing stylish attire, I knew she wouldn't be taken as seriously by most of the engineering professors. If you're there to be noticed rather than to learn, you won't stay in an engineering major for long.

When traveling for work, I made a point of approaching my rental car carefully in the parking garage, splaying keys between my fingers so I would have a weapon if I got grabbed from behind. Understand that I'm not paranoid about this; it was just a pragmatic step to take for my safety.

If male clients had sexist attitudes, I couldn't call them on it, but had to soldier through. I was actually told that in order to get along with one person in particular, I should "kiss up to him until he likes you and starts to trust you; then he'll be willing to work with you."

I learned to flirt appropriately and hold my head, my body, my facial expression just so to convey the right amount of professionalism with femininity. There is a "keep your distance from me" tone, a "you're the only big, strong man who can solve my problem" tone, and "I'm so much better at this job than you are that you should be licking my shoes" tone - with a variety of facial expressions of every degree to match. No one taught me this. I had to figure it out and handle things on my own. For all the hassles of dealing with men in this world, I would still take them almost any day instead of other women.

Aided and abetted by the media and entertainment industries, we women are cruel to each other. Even close girlfriends (to whom the good women are fiercely loyal) aren't immune to a calculating appraisal of looks and outfit. When it's a stranger, the thought "Wow, are those earrings bad with that outfit" get voiced to whoever the woman is with. When it's a good friend, she keeps the thought to herself - unless they're really, really good friends and someplace private. In that case, she may tell her friend, causing the earrings to be exchanged for another pair.

I know incredibly talented women in the corporate world: intelligent, savvy, professional, capable leagues beyond many of their peers. Some were helpful by their example. Many - and even most - of them were hard as nails. The aura I got around them was that it was harder than hard for them to scale the ladder to where they were; they would make sure I had to work as hard to get where I wanted to go.

No lie: I do not recall a single female in a superior role from 4 1/2 years of college and 5 years of corporate experience who offered mentor-like advice or took me under a wing.

Horrible? Sexist? Sure. Whining that it shouldn't be this way for women doesn't actually change anything in my world, though. Learn to play the hand you were dealt. There are no bad hands in poker, just bad players.

April 04, 2006

Feeling Crushed?

Ever wondered why it seems like we learn so much more during the hard blows life throws? The hard times in my life don't seem easier later on, but they do seem... sweeter, somehow. Do I want to go through them again? No thank you. At the same time, there's a heart-level sort of learning that happens during those times that never sinks in during the la-dee-dah experiences.

I was thinking about this recently and realized there's a parallel in nature. Herbs (pronounced "erb," not "herb") only release their fragrance and flavor when they're crushed or torn in some way.

It's almost like our lives don't bring fragrance or beauty to someone else until we have been crushed or torn in some way.

Something to ponder.

Nathan has started pulling himself up to a standing position using people, couches or whatever's available. He's not always successful, mind you. It's rather frightening to realize he doesn't have the balance to sit up, yet he's using his arms to pull himself up as high as he possibly can just to see what the change in view is like.

Having him turn 180 degrees from the videos stored beneath the TV, crawl toward me, climb into my lap and scale my chest so he can stand up, look me in the face and grin turns my heart into a puddle.

This is one of those little things that makes 3 a.m. feedings feel paid for.