Saturday, January 30, 2010

A Random Collection of Things

After two years of serious use, our digital camera is finally on its way out. Most of the buttons have stopped working, I can't turn off the flash anymore(thus the yucky quality of some of these pictures), and I have to rubber-band the latch that keeps the batteries in shut. It also sucks the life out of batteries immediately. As digital cameras age, they lose their ability to efficiently utilize energy. I put brand new batteries in and the second I turn it on the "low battery" light flashes. I snapped a few last pictures for this post before completely laying the camera to rest, as I'm not sure how long it will be until we can replace it. You may have noticed the size of my coffee cup. Those who know me well may recall that I usually prefer small cups for coffee, reserving the magnum mugs for tea. I haven't been getting good sleep lately and consequently have become a Big Cup Convert; the little cups just aren't enough to get me out of bed in the morning. This griddle rocks my world. I'd been asking for one for a while, and this Christmas my mother-in-law gave me this nice shiny one. I like making pancakes on the weekend, but it takes so long to make a reasonable quantity of them that I often end up darting between the table and the stove in a most unsociable manner. With this baby I can crank out six pancakes at a time and the whole thing wipes clean with a damp paper towel. It's a dream come true, and has revolutionized our weekend breakfasts. And speaking of things that rock my world, um, yes. That tiny little girl perched contentedly on my husband's broad shoulders is Alessandra. I think we may need to borrow her. I always love seeing Aaron hold a tiny baby, but there is something particularly sweet about a big man holding a tiny girl. Kind of whips the ovaries into a frenzy a little bit. Let's move on, lest I get pregnant just from looking at that picture too long. And speaking of pregnancy and babies, here is my "baby" wearing the pajamas I bought for his big brother the day he was born. That is, I bought the pajamas for Jack on the day that Matteas was born. He was wearing the pants as well but declined to put them back on after I changed his morning diaper. My kids are oblivious to the fact that we're in the middle of winter; Jack is coloring(and singing) at the table in his underwear. It's not because I'm a negligent mother, it's just the way he likes to do things. I'm excited to try this pasta. My trainer announced that she's going to turn all of her clients into hard-bodies by summer. To that end, she's asking everyone to make resolutions in the direction of working out more, making healthy additions to their diet and giving up any foods or habits that aren't conducive to achieving hard-body status. After thinking about the way I eat(lots and lots of vegetables, hardly any sugar, organic meats, brown rice instead of white) the only real offender I could come up with in my diet was white flour. Even then, I don't eat a lot of it. We have a whole-grain-only bread rule, but we do like our pasta. As luck would have it, this month's edition of Cook's Illustrated contains a taste-test review of whole grain pastas. PCC carries the brand that won(Bionaturae) and it's cheap. That big bag of fusilli was only $2.69. I haven't tried it yet, but I'm excited. My sneaky brother-in-law gives me a subscription to Cook's Illustrated every year for Christmas. He eats dinner at our house a lot, so anything he does to improve my culinary skills is of direct benefit to himself. It's a win-win situation because I love my Cook's Illustrated, and I've gotten so many great ideas/recipes/tips from their pages over the years. This year Tristan finally came clean, and on the card from Cook's Illustrated telling me I'd been given a gift subscription he wrote "Merry Christmas to me." It's a great gift actually, because it extends to just about anyone who's ever eaten dinner at my house. Way to be such a giver, Tristan. On Monday nights, we have a tradition. Tristan and Trevor come over to watch Monday Night Football with Aaron, and I make soup. It's something that makes everyone happy because, while I'm not wild about football, I do love having a cozy dinner with friends. My Dad gave me a $100 gift certificate to JC Penny for Christmas, and I agonized over how to spend it. I really wanted to get something that I would use often and that would make me think fondly of my Dad, so after I wandered around the mall for a long time I was really pleased to find the perfect gift: a ginormous cauldron. You can't really tell from the above picture, but the thing takes up half of my stove. It has a 16 quart capacity. That's 4 gallons, y'all. Again, a gift that extends way beyond just me. I'm looking forward to steaming a lobster in it for our annual Wedding Anniversary Dinner; the set up we rigged last year didn't work so well in our smaller pots. The new bed we bought last week is lovely, but I'm afraid it hurts my neck. It could be coincidence, it could be the extra workouts I've been doing, it could be that hefting our old bed out and our new bed in caused my neck to go out of alignment; whatever the case, my neck has been in serious pain since the morning after I first slept in our new bed. This chaps my hide something fierce, because the bed is great for my lower back(the reason we got a new bed in the first place) and I didn't want to fix my back only to tax my neck. I went and saw my chiropractor yesterday who adjusted my neck and recommended this special, funky pillow. I'm not sure if it was one or the other that fixed the problem, but this morning my neck is feeling great. I think the pillow will take some getting used to, but the instant I put my head on it I felt my neck relax. And just for fun, my new(temporary) profile picture on Facebook. It's doppelganger week, and the look-alike gods finally decided to smile with favor on me; people have recently been telling me I look like Jennifer Garner instead of Molly Ringwald. Now, I'm sure Molly Ringwald is a lovely person, but I'd rather be compared to Jennifer Garner. The women in my family have this rule about our faces getting really, really round in adolescence, and my cheekbones were in hiding until I was about 23. Aaron is off doing some much-deserved skiing, so I need to go tend my kids who are still running around without pants. I also need to reclaim my house from the clutches of all the toys and dirty dishes currently overrunning the place, and if I have any energy left after that it'll be Core Fusion time. Summer is just around the corner...

Friday, January 29, 2010

On Finding Your Own Way

I've been reading a parenting book lately that I really like. I don't read a lot of parenting books because most of them are stupid, but I have a few that I really like which have for the most part come highly recommended by other moms. One of my favorites is Parenting the Way God Parents: Refusing to Recycle Your Parents' Mistakes, which I found through Angie. What I love about that book is that it helps you identify what your parenting weak spots are without pointing accusing fingers at your parents. It's not about coming up with a list of everything your parents got wrong, it's about being really straightforward and honest about how your own upbringing affects the way you parent, and identifying ways you can do that better. The book I'm reading right now comes highly recommended by damomma, and it's called The Blessing of A Skinned Knee . What I'm loving about it is that Dr. Mogel addresses a lot of my own personal fears for my children and illustrates what will happen if handled the wrong way. I totally agree with her that most American children are overscheduled, overprotected and under-skilled. I think I was one of those children. Like most well-intentioned parents, I think my parents overprotected me a bit. My dad is a cop, so I get it. While I understand the forces which motivated them, I am proof of the flaws of that parenting style. Carefully shepherded in the 'right' direction my whole life, I grew up lacking the skills to make my own decisions, to choose my own way, to learn from my own mistakes. My parents didn't want me to make mistakes. They wanted to protect me from mistakes. What I love about the two parenting books I mentioned is that they both confirm something I've long suspected: you can't entirely avoid mistakes, so stop trying. Plus, mistakes are one of the greatest learning opportunities you're ever going to come by. It's not whether or not our children make mistakes that will determine their success or failure, but how they are taught to respond to their mistakes. In Parenting the Way God Parents, Katherine Koonce uses the example of a toddler learning to walk and points out a very simple truth: learning to walk involves a lot of falling down. No parent in their right mind would dream of scolding a toddler for stumbling while trying to learn a new skill; it's all a very important part of the process. No one learns to walk without a few(or a lot of) bruises. Yet somehow that lesson is lost on parents once their children are older and are, in a very real sense, "learning to walk" in lessons of character. My kids are still very young, and already I'm frustrated with their lack of ability to make the right choice the first time. I try to be very, very careful in how I respond to their mistakes because I know it will shape their attitude toward mistakes in the future. Will they seem that as an opportunity to learn something about themselves, as a nudge to go in a different direction, or will they seem them as personal failures, take them on as part of their identity? I had a psychology teacher in college who said one of her least-favorite parenting lines was: "I'm very disappointed in you." I got that one a lot as a teenager. Aaron and I have agreed that we will never, ever say that to our children. First of all, it's a lie. Secondly, it is aimed at the person, not the behavior. Jack makes a lot of mistakes, and the only person more frustrated by his mistakes than me is him. He draws a lot, and quite frequently it doesn't come out the way he wants it to. His usual response is to throw a fit, crumple the drawing up and say something self-deprecating like "I'm a butt!" When that happens, I walk him through the process of identifying what's really going on. "Jack, you're not a butt. I hear you saying that you're really frustrated, and I'm sorry your picture isn't the way you want it. You have some choices: you can try again, you can quit and do something else, or you can decide that even though it's not quite what you wanted, that your drawing is still pretty good." It was slow and painful progress, but it worked. Some days he'd get upset over a misshapen transformer drawing and he'd start to pitch a fit, but then he'd catch himself. "Mom, my picture wasn't the way I wanted and I almost tore it up, but then I decided I'm okay with it!" Or, my personal favorite, the Day He Experienced A Revelation. He is drawing at the table, I don't even remember what. He groans in exasperation and starts to explain to me what's wrong with his drawing. I get as far as saying "Jack," in an encouraging tone of voice when he cuts me off: he holds up his finger as if he's just been struck with an idea, and his entire countenance shifts. A smile spreads across his face and he sings, "Artistic license..." Okay then, my work here is done. I realize that a messed up drawing is not a moral issue, but he is learning responses that will come into play when there is more at stake than a picture of a robot. He is learning to see his mistakes not as personal failures, but as opportunities for improvement or a lesson in letting go. What really concerns me, the reason I read any parenting book at all, is that my kids' mistakes may not be the same ones I made. They might have different things to learn. Growing up, I longed for empowerment and independence. That was why, at the age of 11, I started running. I wanted the feeling of getting out into the world on my own two feet, and the practical activity of running provided that for me. My mom got married when she was 18 and only ever wanted to have a family, so she didn't understand those drives in me. I was a girl, I wasn't supposed to want empowerment and independence. I was supposed to want babies and a man who was strong enough to do the heavy lifting so I wouldn't have to. The irony is that my mother is a stronger person than the majority of the men I know. I married a man who likes the fact that I want to do the heavy lifting. He encourages me in it. What sometimes frustrates me about my husband is that he refuses to let me settle for less than what I am truly capable of. I wanted more freedom as a teenager, and the lesson I learned very late is that with freedom comes responsibility. I want to protect my children from pain, from failure, from danger, but what I am struggling to accept is that if I protect them from all pain, failure and danger, I will be "protecting" them from responsibility also. Responsibility involves risk, exposure, the potential for injury. I can't really protect them from those things, and I don't really want to. The best I can do is teach them management tools, which are easy enough for now: always hold Mama's hand around cars, always carry a knife with the tip pointing down, never touch anything on the stove. It will be harder when they're older and the consequence of a mistake is more dire, but we are laying the groundwork of trust. I want our kids to come to me with their mistakes with the faith that they will not be ridiculed or punished, that they will not be a disappointment to me. If I do that, eventually they won't come to me with their mistakes and then every poor choice is compounded by becoming a guilty secret. My kids will make mistakes, I guarantee it. My hope and my resolution is that when they inevitably do fall down, I will help them up and encourage them to try again, not push them back down to wallow in failure and my "disappointment."

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Good, the Bad, and the Funky

I've had five years to get used to it, but the schizophrenia-fest that parenting can sometimes be still manages to throw me off. Lately, we've been having a lot of that. Some days I feel like two totally different people as I alternate between Calm, Problem-solving Character-forming Mama and Grumpy, Tired, Can-you-all-just-stop-being-so-damn-needy-for-one-cotton-pickin'-minute!-Mama. Some days I feel like my kids are two totally different people, alternating between fun-loving, creative, playful infectiously giggling boys and total loons with no common sense and a drive only to bash each other on the head with their toys. It all started when we made the mistake of having ourselves two really, really good days. In a row. Friday, the boys and I went down to my sister Moira's house where the kids all played really nicely, we had a nice visit, and we even magically avoided all traffic on the drive home which was a little miracle because we got on I-5 North at 4:30. On a Friday. Like a said, a little miracle. So we're driving home and I'm thinking about dinner, and I remember that wild caught true cod is on sale so I decide that's what we're having. I call Aaron to see if anyone will be coming over for dinner, because we are the hip young couple who frequently has last-minute dinner guests. Also, Trevor seems to have some kind of internal alarm system which alerts him to the fact that I've put a pan on the stove with the intention of putting something edible in it, because he often calls at the exact moment I start cooking. Jack says he wants Trevor and Melissa(Trevor's fiance) to come to dinner, and when I end up buying extra cod we all Tristan to see if he wants to come to. The adults aren't arriving for a while, so I decide I should feed the boys first. I whip up some beer batter for their cod, then slice the only potato in the house which is the perfect size to make fries for two hungry little boys. I fry it all up in sunflower oil, which is a revelation. So tasty. The boys eat every bit of their dinner, which is enormously satisfying to me. I toss them in the bath and get to work on dinner for the rest of us while Aaron, who is home from work by this time, lights candles and vacuums the living room. He's good like that. The adults arrive, all of them bearing wine. We let the boys hang out for a while, then put them to bed. They are out in no time, having played hard and eaten well. My mother's heart swells with contentment and I think that there is no better feeling in the world than putting sweet, clean, played-out babies with full tummies in cozy beds. I say a prayer for all the mothers and children in Haiti. Dinner is perfect. I made wild rice, roasted asparagus, and pan-seared cod I served with a tomato, shallot, champagne cream sauce. Everyone licks their plate, and then we all drink wine in the living room. Saturday is another great day. Our Friday Night Dinner guests become Saturday Morning Breakfast guests, and we have coffee and pancakes made from oats I soaked in buttermilk overnight. We discover we have no syrup, but the boys like brown sugar and butter on theirs and I improvise a quick raspberry syrup with ingredients from the freezer, and it's ready at the same time as the second pot of coffee. Everyone eats well, the guests depart, and we head to Costco. We take separate cars because we had a large item to return so Aaron drives his pickup, and when I get to Costco the only open parking spot is in the first row. Next to Aaron's truck. That's what kind of day it was. We fill our cart with food, and I say another silent prayer for Haiti. And then. Then we buy a bed. But before we buy it I want to lie down on it, which is tricky because it's Costco and they don't really have any display models, just lots of beds stacked on top of each other. High. The lowest one is about eye-level for me. Aaron wastes no time, and simply hoists me up under my arms. I'm inordinately pleased that my husband can do that to me, and I take a few moments to flop back on the bed and grin like an idiot at the ceiling. I do this mostly for Aaron's benefit because he tends to get a little uncomfortable when I openly swoon, but I'm still grinning when he lifts me down again. We go home with our loot and I feel like a princess. Alas, Saturday night at the stroke of midnight everything magical turned back into a pumpkin. The boys sleep badly during the night and they both end up in our bed, which causes me to sleep badly. We manage to make it out the door to church but discover that there is a Royal Funk in the car and the kids are both complaining about how stinky it is. This actually happens to us pretty often, but I'm confused because the last time was only about a month ago and I scrubbed down all the upholstery very thoroughly. Aaron tries driving with his window open, but it's a chilly day so that doesn't work for long. We make it to church on time and the boys behave well, but then we have to get back in the car. With the Funk. We get home and it starts raining, so I can't clean out the car. That night, the boys sleep okay but I wake up at 5:40 and can't fall back asleep. Jack wakes up at seven, so I get up and we have a fairly pleasant morning until Matteas wakes up and the boys proceed to fight with each other ALL DAY. My greatest parenting struggle right now is how to handle their conflicts with each other; initially I'd ignore them and hope they'd get tired of it, but their fights have escalated to the point where they end in blood shed if I don't intervene. I know this is normal brother behavior, but I get really tired of having two screaming, bleeding boys wanting consolation after beating up on each other. It's ridiculous. Why don't they realize that the cuts and bruises are of their own making and therefore totally avoidable? Oh, right: because they're children. Also? Matteas. Matteas has turned into a tornado of exploration and devastation of late, and he dismantles everything he can get his hands on. If he can't get his hands on it, he finds something to use as a step stool(the box of Costco diaper wipes, the dirty laundry hamper emptied and then turned upside down) and then wreaks havoc on the surfaces above his normal reach. Ridiculousness ensues, as he runs off to make another mess while I clean up his prior activities. No shelf is safe, no basket of toys left unturned; I want to know who took my sweet Matteas and replaced him with this crazed monkey tearing apart my house. Anyway, it got better. On Monday we went over to Briana's and the kids rode bikes while I used her Shop-vac to clean out the car and in the process discovered the source of the Funk: a bottle of rancid milk, hiding behind a package of diaper wipes underneath the passenger seat. Some of it had leaked onto the rug, so I take all the rugs out and spray them down with industrial strength carpet cleaner and scrub. It's a sunny day so I leave all the doors open for a while to get some air in the car, and now it's really clean and smells better, although I have to say some odor still lingers. It's not the sharp, retch-inducing Funk from before; it's mellower, softer, more like the inside of a pumpkin when you first cut it open. We may have to get a new car just to get rid of the smell. And that, more or less, is the way my life goes these days; some really good stuff, some really hard stuff, and some really unbelievably stinky stuff. I know what everyone older than I am is thinking: don't blink, it goes by too fast, you're going to miss this. I know I will. I'm doing my best to be fully present to where I am right now, in this moment, trying not to sweat the small stuff and trying to savor the good stuff, because there really is a lot of it. What I won't miss is the Funk. When it finally goes away.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

I Hope It's Always This Hard

I took a little blogging break there for a while. There was some stuff going on that I couldn't blog about and it's hard for me to blog when there's stuff going on that I can't blog about. It turned out alright for now, but I was pretty distracted for a bit. I've been thinking a lot lately about what's okay to blog about and what isn't, and while I don't have water-tight criteria, for the most part I stay away from telling other people's stories. Not everyone wants their stuff out there on the internet, and I get it; it's kind of scary to expose yourself, even when the exposure is controlled. And really, even the nosiest person probably has a limit for Too Much Information. Truthfully, I kind of panicked a little after I put up my NFP blog. I think it's still ingrained in my subconscious that talking about sex, even NOT having it, is taboo. So I panicked, but I put it up anyway because I thought about how grateful I would have been to have known that information when Jack was three months old, and someone else in a similar position might be grateful to find it. I had another reason for putting up the NFP blog. In recent years a number of things have come up that I wished had been a conversation earlier. For example, no one ever once heard my brother Karoly say that he wanted to kill himself. He didn't talk about it. My guess is, like a lot of the other stuff he didn't talk about, he was ashamed. It can be tricky, growing up Catholic and emerging without a strong sense of shame. I once heard the difference between guilt and shame defined like this: guilt is directed at the action, shame is directed at the person. Guilt lets you know when you've made a poor choice, shame makes you feel worthless. I know the traditional phrase is "Catholic guilt," but I think shame is really more accurate. That phrase has always irritated me but I didn't really understand why until I'd done a few things that I was ashamed of. I know now that it irritates me because it's a distortion of the way things really are, of the way they ought to be. If a person is really and truly Catholic in an authentic sense, they would know that shame has no place in the Church. To feel shame is to believe God doesn't have the power to forgive you. I was standing in the back of a church with Jack once when he caught sight of the confessional and asked me what it was. He was three years old and we'd never really discussed Confession before, so I wanted to choose my words very carefully because I know how lasting first impressions can be. I said "That's a confessional. If someone has made some poor choices, that's a special place where they can go and talk to a priest about their choices, and the priest will help them make some better choices." "Oh," said Jack, totally unfazed. I still struggle with my attitude towards Confession. On the one hand, no one really wants to rattle off a list of their shortcomings in a public forum for all to hear. On the other hand, it tends to impart an illicit quality to something you do in a dark little room with the door closed, your voice barely louder than a whisper so that the people waiting outside won't hear you. You don't want them to know. It might change how they feel about you if they knew. But the fact of the matter is, it doesn't change you. I'm all for discretion. I don't think that personal disclosure should be done in a way that is focused on scandal or generates gossip. I think it should be done in a way that is open and honest and authentic, in a way that says "I'm a real person with real struggles, just like everyone else." I once heard a priest say "You think you're original sinners; I've been listening to your confessions for 20 years and I've got news for you: you're all the same." I know people who have carried dark secrets to their graves, and after they're gone and the truth comes out the reaction is mostly: big deal. I can't imagine keeping a secret about myself because I'm afraid my family will disown me if they know. I don't want that kind of weight. Aaron and I have both made choices we're not proud of, and we've told each other about those choices. We accept each other in totality, no exceptions. It's an amazing feeling, to know that someone knows absolutely everything about you, strengths and weaknesses, joys and fears, and loves you unconditionally anyway. I wouldn't know what that felt like if I held back. I don't want to live my life holding back; it's a waste of time and it leads to relationships that aren't authentic. It also saddens me to think that some people are so insecure in their relationships that they think someone might stop loving them if they really knew everything about them. That being said, I'm not going to start posting everything I've ever done on my blog. I don't recommend that for anyone. Spewing all your flaws to anyone who will listen isn't real honesty anyway, and the people I know who do that sort of thing use it as a way to keep from changing, to keep playing and replaying the messages they tell themselves about who they are. It's a voluntary abdication of power: I am this person who screwed up this and that way and that's just who I am. What I do recommend is, if there's something you don't want to talk about, ask yourself why you don't want to talk about it. The answer is probably that you want to avoid judgment. The interesting thing is, perfect people are boring. And they're not real; no one is perfect. I find it much more comforting to read about other moms who struggle to be good wives and mothers than the moms who appear not to struggle at all. Not struggle doesn't help me, I can't learn anything from that. In my experience anyway, not talking about things has done far more damage than too much talking. That's why lately, I've found the hard parts of my life comforting. If I'm struggling it means I'm working, that I'm actively and consciously engaging what is challenging to me. It means I'm not keeping the hard parts out of the conversation, that the trouble spots are talked about, addressed, not passed over or swept under the rug to fester for years. This is the sentiment I was trying to get at when I named my blog "Body of Work," a term usually used to refer to a bunch of lovely finished products produced by an artist. I want my life to be both: lovely finished products, and ongoing work. I want my kids to feel like they can tell me and Aaron anything, no matter how awful it seems to them, so they will know they really and truly are loved no matter what. I expect a lot of those conversations will be hard, but they will be real. I'll take hard and real over easy and false any day. And in the spirit of authenticity, I thought I should let you see my kitchen. Sure I make a lot of beautiful food, but I also make a lot of mess while doing it. And in the spirit of engaging life's challenges, I'm going to get off the computer and go clean the kitchen. It's good to be able to talk about the problem areas, but it's not terribly helpful unless you're willing to do something about them.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Not Quite Ready

For a lot of things. I'm not quite ready to say goodbye to white lights. I put away all the Christmas stuff last week but I just couldn't handle how naked and bare everything looked, so I re-did the mantle in a less Christmas-y, more 'winter light' style. I'm pleased. I'm also not ready for a baby. For the time being, we're not expecting any. But God sometimes has a strange sense of humor. For instance, we've struggled for years to get our kids to sleep decently. During the night is still kind of a challenge, with Jack waking up and sneaking into our bed at some point every night. It's rare, the morning I wake up in bed alone and I instantly think something's wrong because I'm not sandwiched between two wiggly boys. I read every popular book on children's sleep and we tried every trick(except for letting little babies cry; I can't do it), mostly to no avail. Recently, we moved Matteas' crib from its spot next to our bed into Jack's room. Previously, I would lie down in our bed with Matteas and snuggle him to sleep, but it sometimes took up to 45 minutes and then he'd still be in our bed to shout at me in the middle of the night. He is sometimes an angry sleeper. He doesn't really wake up all the way, he just yells. Then, if he can find me, he has to feel my hair and pet my face for about an hour before he can go back to sleep. I was going crazy. My New Year's resolution was to identify everything in my life that isn't working and change it until it does. I got an early start with Matteas, moving his crib into Jack's room in early December. It worked. I put him in his crib, pray with him, kiss him goodnight, and leave the room. He lies there quietly and goes to sleep, usually in five minutes or less. He almost always wakes up sometime in the night, but I can usually pat him on the back if it's before I got to bed or, if it's at 5 a.m. like today, just put him in bed with me and we can all go back to sleep. Life-changing. Aaron and I can get in bed together at night and talk. Or read. With the light on. I love co-sleeping and I'm sure I'll continue to do it with any more babies we have, but Matteas is hardly a baby anymore. So it seemed like it was working really well and everyone was getting more rest, and I was feeling so on top of my game that I even e-mailed a friend about the changes we'd made in the hopes she might find something she could use to put her kids to bed more smoothly. And then the whole day went south. It was like God saw my pride and instantly hit the "smite" button for the rest of the day, because everything that used to go well didn't. It went very, very badly, very loudly, in public. It was Jack's turn to bring snack to school that day, which starts around lunch time. That gave me plenty of time to get the boys to the store in the morning and pick up snack as well as some stuff for dinner. I always put Matteas in the back pack at the grocery store when I have both of the boys by myself, and Jack is usually very well-behaved walking next to me. If he has trouble, he goes into the cart and the trouble usually ends. Something was up with him yesterday. He whined, he ran away from me, he touched everything, even knocking down several displays. He threw fits when he didn't get what he wanted. Usually, he is shockingly mature about just looking at things and not touching them or asking to by them. During Christmas time, we could walk through the toy section of Costco without incident. Yesterday we were only at QFC and he was going to pieces over not getting something from a mark-downs cart in the floral section. He started melting down, and I warned him that if he couldn't behave in the store there would be consequences when we got home. Furious, his upper lip curled in defiance, he made a fist and held it suspended a few inches above his crotch. I had no idea where this was going. "If you don't let me have what I want, I'm going to punch myself in the penis! In the PENIS!" People are watching at this point, but I manage to respond evenly, "Go ahead; it's your penis." Realizing he'd made a tactical error, he resorted to throwing a tantrum. Matteas, still cheerful in the back pack, found inspiration for a song and began singing in a loud, happy voice a song about "Three penises, three penises, three BIG penises!" At this point, mothers of little girls are scowling at me. I gather the rest of my groceries and what is left of my pride and we exit the store as quickly as possible, not escaping another meltdown(this time over a balloon) in the checkout line. And later, bedtime is weird too. Matteas falls asleep in my lap while we're reading, which is never good. If he falls sleep anywhere other than in his bed, he wakes up shortly thereafter and he is disoriented and angry. Before that even happened, Jack couldn't sleep. He'd woken up at his usual time and I'd put him to bed at his usual time, but last night he just laid there staring at the ceiling. And then Matteas wakes up, yelling and totally out of it. I go in and hold Matteas, sitting in the chair between the boys' beds. Jack squirms around in his bed, making enough noise to ensure that Matteas can't fall back to sleep. After 45 minutes of shenanigans, I manage to get them both back to sleep in their own beds. I emerge from the bedroom feeling beaten and defeated, the cumulative struggles of the day making my nerves raw. It was that damn e-mail, I know it. "God, why must you humble me in such torturous ways?" "Why must you be prideful?" "I was only trying to help; I even said I knew my advice might not be helpful, I made room for differences." "Maybe you should spend a little more time focusing on getting your own life in order, and less time trying to tell other people how to order their lives." "Does this mean I'm going to get pregnant because I launched that NFP blog?" "We'll see. It depends on your attitude." "Well, thanks for making coffee, anyway. I'm going to need it tomorrow morning." "I always give you what you need; when will you learn that?" "See, that's where I feel we disagree; I feel very strongly that I don't NEED whiny, sleepless children who embarrass me in public, hinder my productivity and deprive me of sleep." "Are you sure? You don't think you NEED lessons in patience and humility?" "You've got a point there, God; but must you teach me patience in humility in such infuriating ways? Wouldn't it be easier for me to learn if it was, like, easier?" "Oh, don't think I didn't try; it was difficult to get your attention. I had to step up My game before you'd listen." "Well I hear You now God, loud and clear." "Just remember, there are seasons in life; a time to reap and a time to sow. Right now your family is in a learning season." "Again, I'm going to have to disagree a little bit. Were you not listening yesterday? Clearly, it's penis season."

Monday, January 11, 2010


After a lot of thought, I've decided to start a blog about Natural Family Planning. It still needs a lot of editing but for now I just wanted to get it out there. I spent a lot of time being frustrated over a lack of available, accurate information on NFP and decided that a blog would be a good place to try keeping all my resources together. I should state that my methods are based heavily on anecdotal evidence. I am not a fertility expert, a doctor or a spiritual adviser. However, I have gotten really good at not getting pregnant using only natural methods, and what I have to give I offer freely to those who need it or who are just curious as to how I have a 2 1/2 year-old and no bun in the oven. Yet. It may be a little too much information for the in-laws and it's a lot of information in general, which is why I decided to start a separate blog rather than clutter up this one with a lot talk about ovaries and hormones. So for the regular raising boys/eating food/pictures of the grand kids/chasing after my husband fare, stay here. For fertility talk, go here. That link will take you to the first post. To read more, click on "Newer Post" at the bottom of the page on the left hand side, or click through the archives link on the right.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

It's a Boy

Me: "I can't believe that much poop was inside Matteas; I feel like I just birthed a baby." Aaron: "I think Matteas feels the same way."

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Crippling Along

I have no beautiful visual aids to share, although today was a good day. I'm still struggling with the unpredictability of life, particularly parenthood. I feel like a total wimp to complain because there is absolutely nothing seriously hard about my life- my marriage is great, my kids are healthy- all my "problems" are very, very minor. And still. I get really frustrated. Specifically, I feel really lame about our spiritual life right now. On Christmas Day as I was putting Jack to bed he said "Mom, Christmas doesn't feel like it's about celebrating God." Out of the mouths of babes... At our church, the women of the church take care of the cleaning. The schedule rotates and you have a partner, so each person ends up cleaning the church once every four months or so. My turn always seems to come at a bad time and no matter how hard I try to plan for success it seems like it totally disrupts our routine and I'm constantly thinking I should take myself off the cleaning list. But that's stupid. In spite of the fact that our church attendance has been spotty recently, church is important to me. Especially our little tiny shoebox church full of the sweetest oddballs you can imagine. There is something about the Byzantine Church which attracts people from all walks of life for all sorts of different reasons, and we are a colorful parish indeed. So today I cleaned church, and I took Jack with me to help because he's not wild about sitting still while church is actually in session but he loves cleaning, so I figure it's important to help him build positive associations with church. Also, I want our kids to know that church is important to me. It isn't really important to them right now, and that's okay. Lately it's been rather challenging to illustrate the importance of church to our kids because we've been missing Liturgy a lot, most notably Christmas Eve. I struggle with how much of an effort we should make, what chances we should take, how hard it should be. Matteas started vomiting the 22nd of December and had a fever until 8:00 a.m. Christmas Eve, so he was personally out of the woods but I worried about Jack coming down with it, about carrying germs to other people with small kids. I know occasional illness is a part of life and a little virus isn't a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but we got one just in time to change our Christmas plans. So tonight I was feeling really pleased that I'd manned up and cleaned church, that Jack had helped and that it had gone well, and I was thinking it might even inspire him to be cheerful about going to church in the morning so we could show Aaron what a great job we'd done of cleaning. During dinner, Matteas started grunting. Then he cried out in pain. "Momma," he wailed, "it's not working!" "What's not working, Love?" "My poop!" I tried all my tricks: fluids, a warm bath, a rather personal massage, all to no avail. The poor baby was so exhausted from his battle with his blockage that he fell asleep the moment I laid him in his crib. I walked out of the boys' room and into the kitchen, intending to get a batch of oats soaking in buttermilk so we could have pancakes in the morning, hoping the fiber would get Matteas moving again. And then I remembered. Tomorrow is Sunday. Church. Shit. Dilemma: do I drag my constipated toddler to church where he will likely be in great agony and I will spend the majority of Liturgy trying to comfort him in the cold church basement so his wailing doesn't disturb the congregation, or do we stay home so he can poop in peace? Either option feels a little ridiculous. There is, of course, the possibility that I could go to Liturgy alone or just with Jack and leave Matteas home with Aaron, but it seems cruel to be away from my baby when he's in distress. Also, I don't like church to be a dividing force. But if I go, then there is at least the suggestion of a normal Sunday rhythm. My hope is that Matteas will be able to resolve things in a timely fashion, we will have pancakes to celebrate and then we'll all go to church and sit proudly in the richly-polished pews, and people will whisper about how unbelievably well-behaved our kids are. But if that doesn't happen, I will probably stay home and help Matteas work things out and then we will spend the day together as a family. It's not ideal, but for now it just might be the best we can do.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


If a platter of rare roast beef is not the sort of thing that excites you, you're clearly in the wrong place. It excites me. Even just the pictures. I made this roast on New Year's Eve at Albert and Anna's, roughly twelve hours before something really incredible happened. I also made this potato gratin which is stupefyingly simple and incredibly delicious, thanks in no small part to my mother-in-law who gave me a Cuisinart a few years ago and I now have the power to evenly slice through several pounds of potatoes in mere minutes. The amazing thing that happened roughly 12 hours(okay, more like 14 hours) after that meal was that perfect little baby in Anna's arms. Alessandra Gianina Matriotti was born at 1:40 p.m. on January 1st, 2010. I got to see her the next day, and she liked me so much that she slept on my chest for a few hours while I got drunk off the smell of her newborn head. So delicious. New Year's Eve, shortly after midnight. I know there are lots of cheesy quotes about friends being the family that you choose and that sort of thing, but the people in this picture really are family to me. Two of them literally are, one being my husband and another my brother-in-law, but even if I wasn't married into their family I'd still love them a lot. Iain(behind the feather) flew up from Ojai so we could all be together for New Year's and thus complete a satisfying decade: the same group of friends spent New Year's together from 1999 into 2000, ringing in the New Year from the deck of Iain's old house in Everett. I met Iain through homeschooling ages ago, and he introduced me to his best friend Tristan(in the white feather) who then introduced me to Aaron. It took a long time for us to iron out all our relationships and there was a lot of drama involved, but we're all still together. Iain comes to the Northwest about twice a year and then we have a Week of Festivities, a tradition I which I hope will continue for another decade of New Years and beyond.
We're all a little older, a little wiser, and a lot better-looking than we were ten years ago. And now we have dance parties, an after-dinner ritual which we started recently and one which I cannot fathom why we didn't start earlier. None of us are particularly gifted dancers skill-wise, but no one can rival our unbridled joy. Also? If you're going to fall of the work-out wagon, dancing is a great way to not let yourself go completely until you're sober enough to get back to formal exercise.
And after all the platters of rare roast beef, Duck a L'Orange, and red wine-fueled dance parties I needed a cleanser. Arugula and radish salad with shaved parmesan and red wine vinaigrette cleanses nicely, especially after a reunion with my trainer. December and early January were a whirlwind of parties and preparations, and in all the hubbub I completely neglected my exercise routine. I dreaded going back yesterday; I was tired and groggy and all I wanted to do was put on my pajamas and watch a movie, but instead I went to Laura's to work and sweat for an hour. She made me do a lot of leg work and walking was painful today, but it was really refreshing to realize that I do actually enjoy working out. Not just the results, I enjoy the actual process of moving and strengthening my body. So much of my focus during the day is outward, and it's relaxing to consciously inhabit my own body through physical activity. It's strange how long you can live in your body without actually acknowledging its existence, and it feels refreshing to lift a weight and realize you have arms and shoulders and back muscles, that you are made up of moving, living parts and that you can control them. I sometimes need a shove to get there though(like on rainy Tuesday afternoons), and having a standing appointment really helps. It also helps that, prior to my little hiatus, I was in the habit of exercising so that I had a flow of regular activity to get back to, rather than making well-intentioned but ill-supported resolutions to start exercising. It was an amazing month. Reunions, epic dinners, new babies, family gatherings; I am full and I am tired. We have one more holiday dinner this weekend but it will be much more relaxed for me, as it isn't at my house and the only cooking involved for me will be cranberry sauce and green salad. I do love cooking, but it will be nice to get back to regular everyday cooking for a while. Now that Christmas is over I'm really excited to get to all the projects we put off during the month of partying. Tomorrow Aaron and I are going to work on the master bedroom together so we will have a suitable space to put the beautiful new bed he got me for Christmas. That is, if I can keep my hands off him long enough to let him get any work done. Seeing my husband do manual labor, um, affects me.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Still Working on That

A few nights ago, we had tacos for dinner. Jack asked for a 'margagrita' to go with his. In the summer, we'd give him margarita mix combined with something carbonated and a fresh wedge of lime, things we didn't have on taco night. We did have a bottle of Martinelli's, so I gave the boys some in miniature wine glasses that belonged to Aaron's Grandpa Mathias. Matteas was absolutely thrilled to have his own "wine," but unfortunately he dropped his cup before the end of dinner and it broke. To console him, I gave him some extra Martinelli's in a shot glass(not because I wanted him to think he was getting a shot, just because it's a good size for small hands). He couldn't quite figure out how to keep the top of the cup out of his mouth.