Mostly Drivel, Plus One Good Tip for Writing (and Life)

Jul 21 2014

I love my family. I loved being on vacation with them. I love that our kids are consistent (that questionable hallmark of good parenting), which they exhibit by dependably peeing on and around toilets no matter where we reside and reliably making messes in mere hours that would take others weeks and weeks to achieve. And I will undoubtedly tell you more about vacation eventually, because it was as awesome as I’d hoped and not as awful as it could have been, but right at this moment I must say I love being on Not Vacation with my family.

I love being on Not Vacation with them very much.

Very, very much.

Very, very, very much.

ALL THE MUCH, is what I’m saying.

Because it turns out two weeks of vacation is a LOT of time with People, folks. And, not to be dramatic, but, for those of us who are introverty, a LOT of time with People, even the People We Love More Than Any Other People in the World, equals a LOT of time having our energy siphoned away, as though all those People were issued Mystical Straws and then they popped those suckers right through our bodies and straight into our souls and slowly but surely sucked our Life’s Essence from our now-useless shells, Dementor style, leaving us empty and breathless and pretty much dead. Like, way more dead than the guy in Monty Python’s Holy Grail who insists he’s not quite dead enough to go on the death cart. Compared to us, that guy is downright spunky. No; we’re more like Wesley in the Princess Bride after he was tortured by The Machine. Dead by all appearances. Dead to everyone who needed him. But not so dead that a miracle, given enough time, couldn’t resurrect him. Just mostly dead, you know? 

We arrived home on Saturday at 4:00pm, and I spent the next 5 hours at Full Crazy Mama TILT doing All the Laundry in All the World, and putting away All the Crap, and – get this - Cleaning My Bedroom which is also my office, which is really just a desk, which I couldn’t see because it was hiding under All the Piles. And why did I clean my bedroom, you ask? Why do something so very out of character? Because I was frantically and giddily anticipating today – Monday – the Best of Days! The day I would send my children to Day Camp and have ALL DAY to write! ALL DAY to sit on a potty with no surpise pee sprinkles! ALL DAY without the MomMomMomMomMommyMoms! ALL DAY to craft something brilliant for you out of all that’s been bottled and ready to burst from my brain.

And so this morning I sat at my pristine desk in my comfy pants. The off-yellow velour ones that are threadbare in the inner thighs. And I got straight to work, because that’s what we writers do. Butt in chair. Words on page. Discipline. Discipline. Write.

So far I’ve played all my lives on Candy Crush.

I’ve ordered nail wraps online.

I’ve ignored my panties which insist on rolling down the lowest of my belly rolls to constrict around my hip bones.

I’ve used the words “hip bones” in their loosest possible sense, since there’s no empirical evidence I have any.

And I’ve wondered if I’m constipated.

I mean, I’m either constipated or there’s a giant ghost poop haunting my bowels. And THIS IS WHY IT’S IMPORTANT NOT TO TAKE TWO-WEEK WRITING BREAKS, people. BECAUSE IF YOU TAKE BREAKS, YOU COME BACK AND WRITE CRAP LIKE THIS.

Of course, if you don’t take breaks, you can write crap, too. That’s possible. 

So, basically, to clarify, Shit Happens either way.

BUT, and here’s the writing tip I promised you in the midst of all this drivel, you can write in the poo, friends. And through the pretend poo – the feelings of inadequacy, the certainty you’re a fraud, the belief you’re doing nothing worthwhile – that haunts you, too. Because you will find, in writing and in life, the poo is ever-present and very, very good at trying to block your way. Your way up. Your way out. Your way past and over and onward and through. And so you face a choice. Every day. Every moment. Live fully in spite of the poo or go nowhere at all.

To be clear, going nowhere at all is totally an option, and one of which I avail myself frequently, because sometimes we simply must sit in the muck and the mess until we find the magic. We know this, right? Right. There’s no shame to be found here for resting a while. No shame. Not ever.

But sometimes we’re eager to move, to take next steps, to find the next right thing, to blaze a path through the jungle, to find the illusive Village… and we look at the overwhelming piles of crap surrounding us – emotional crap, writing crap, life crap, parenting crap, marriage crap – and we wonder HOW. 

How do we write past, live past, move past this enormous mess?

Here’s the truth as far as I know it: We don’t move past the mess. Instead, we live and love and learn inside it. Despite it. Because of it. We write things – and push “publish” on them – knowing they’ve got crap clinging to them. We parent from sheer and brilliant imperfection. We inadequately shovel the poo and clear a way forward knowing more is on its way. And we take bold next steps knowing our shoes may squish and slide on the trail. 

……….

And what about you?
What’ve you been up to these past 2 weeks?
I’ve missed you, and I’ve missed hanging out here. I’d beg for someone to tell me that’s not weird, but I think we’re way, way past that. We’re weird. We’re good with that. It’s what makes us rad.

Do You Like Your Family? Yes, No or Maybe

Jul 13 2014

I just sent a note to my sister-in-law. It was about dinner and what we’re having for it, so it was important. She’s in a condo next to ours on vacation so I had to choose between walking upstairs to get my phone to text her or keeping my butt on the couch, demanding my minions get me paper and a pen, and then sending them to deliver the note and await a response. Minions, obviously. 

At the end of the dinner note (we’re having chicken and stir-fried noodles, FYI), I wrote, because everyone who’s ever been in middle school knows this kind of thing is an essential part of note-writing, 

I like you. Do you like me?

☐ Yes
☐ No
☐ Maybe

But my teenager, who was supervising me, suggested I add a box for Sometimes, which is an option that makes sense, so I added,

I like you. Do you like me?

☐ Yes
☐ No
☐ Maybe
☐ Sometimes

And then my mom intercepted the note and sent it back looking like this:

I like you. Do you like me?

☑ Yes
☑ No
☑ Maybe
☑ Sometimes

Love, 
Mom

And she added,

P.S. I’m going to go take a nap.

Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure that’s the most accurate description of parenthood around.

I like you all Yes, No, Maybe and Sometimes, and I NEED A NAP.

My mama’s the smartest lady I know.

Best iPhone Photo Apps (I’ll Show You Mine, You Show Me Yours)

Jul 7 2014

Psst… I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.

Painted in Waterlogue

Come on. You know you want to. I’ll even go first.

Here are my favorite iPhone photo apps for summer. I’m using them a TON on our vacation. And I’d love to know what your favorites are, too.

1. AVIARY. It’s FREE, and it makes adjusting light and color a snap so the pictures look sharper and more like real life. Although it has a lot of bells and whistles, I primarily use their cropping tool and the adjust tool, which lets me tinker with brightness, contrast, warmth and saturation. Here are some examples of my pictures before and after using Aviary:

BEFORE AVIARY:

BeforeAviary3

AFTER AVIARY:

AfterAviary3

BEFORE AVIARY:

BeforeAviary1

AFTER AVIARY:s

2. PICSTITCH. It’s also FREE, and it lets me easily combine photos to create a collage. I know there are fancier collage-making apps out there, but this is basic and the editing software is powered by Aviary, so it’s easy to navigate… no need to learn multiple ways to edit pics, which is a bonus for me. Note: you can also leave one of the collage picture spaces blank so it’s easy to add text (with another free app like Over) later.

PicStitch1

3. My newest, SUPER FUN toy, WATERLOGUE, which turns your pictures into watercolors. Now I don’t know what it is about apps, but I just hate paying for them. Hate it. I agonized over the $3 this one cost, but it’s been more than worth it. (Psst… Waterlogue isn’t sponsoring/paying for this post. This is just a really neat find.) Note: Waterlogue works better with scenery and shapes than with faces or portraits. Here are some of mine, before and after Waterlogue:

BEFORE WATERLOGUE:

IMG_8520

AFTER WATERLOGUE:Painted in Waterlogue

 

BEFORE WATERLOGUE
the view from our ship, departing Seattle:

BeforeWaterlogue1

AFTER WATERLOGUE:

……..

OK! Now it’s your turn!
What are your favorites apps for family pics?
For platforms other than iPhone, too. We’re a mixed-platform household.

Vacation!

Jul 4 2014

I’m about to leave on vacation. A LONG vacation. The longest vacation of my life, I think; at least since I was a child and had summers off and thought they were boring. This one’s a TWO WEEK vacation, friends. And just let me clarify here — I’m talking about TWO WEEKS IN A ROW — which is UNTOLD RICHES as far as I’m concerned and like WINNING THE LOTTERY and is entirely thanks to my mother who’s unreasonably generous and my father who’s also unreasonably generous but likes to be gruff and grim and mutter under his breath, “She wastes all the money on the children.” 

I’m as ecstatic about vacation (VACATION!) as I am embarrassed and hidey and reluctant to confess I get this one. It’s a strange world inside my head, because I love to tell you our gross poop stories, and I’m happy to write about humiliating myself in public, and I love so much – SO MUCH – that we momrades wave to each other in the dark, but I’m realizing I’m upside down and backwards, because the good things are sometimes harder to report. The things like TWO WEEK VACATIONS, because I have a kind of survivor’s guilt. 

It’s just that I remember the times when we needed a break in those earliest parenting years, and we couldn’t afford one. Couldn’t afford it financially, although we often cobbled together an excuse for spending more than we had. And couldn’t afford it emotionally, because as much as I wanted to be away from the littles, I hated it, too. I was drowning without kid breaks, and I was drowning when I brought them along, because, it turns out parenting is hard all the time. On vacations or not. With kids or longing for them. And, let’s be honest; even if you can afford one, breaks are rarely breaks in those early years. Not to be dramatic, but thinking I might get a break and then having that expectation dashed on the rocks of ruined dreams and wasted hopes was the worst. The worst

And so I find myself reluctant to talk about all the things that are good and easy now, the total miracles of kids getting older, like the fact that they put on their own seatbelts these days (!) and wipe their own bottoms, like, 92% of the time. It’s been a week now – a WEEK – since I’ve seen anyone’s butthole, you guys. And, sure, I woke up the other morning to a little boy penis in my face because “LOOK! There is fuzz on this thing, Mom,” (psst… it was dryer lint) and I can’t pick it all off by myself,” and we had to have a cute little chat about penises and faces and what other solutions there might be for defuzzing one’s man parts, but STILL. No buttholes! These things eventually happen. Are eventually possible

It’s a whole new world, I tell you.

Now, here we go. In one day’s time, we leave on VACATION. With ONLY TWO CHILDREN! Because we’re terrible parents, of course, taking some with us and leaving some behind. And also because our 14 year old – the one who has special needs and anxiety issues and just HATES vacations (a lot) (a lot, a lot) – will be at camp for a week. And because our 12 year old will be there, too. And because our 15 year old was all, Do I HAVE to go?” And I was all, HELL, NO! STAY HOME!” Except it sounded like, “Oh, baby, we’ll miss you so much, but if you REALLY want to stay in town with your friends, I’ll allow it.” So, although we’ll all meet up for the second week of vacation (in order to collectively torture the 14 year old, of course), this first week will be… dare I say it??… relaxing as we cruise for a week to Alaska and back.

We booked the cruise at the last minute because they’re way, WAY cheaper that way, (hint: check out VacationsToGo.com, especially their 90 Day Ticker <– not a sponsored ad… just the way we’ve been able to afford trips), and cheap is how we roll. 

So cheap, in fact, that Greg and I weren’t planning to stay in the same room on the ship, because the cheapest rooms are too tiny to accommodate 4 of us, and we weren’t willing to spend the parents’ money on more expensive staterooms. It was going to be me + a kid in one room, and Greg + a kid in another. But WHO CARES? It’s still VACATION, right? I mean, we’ve arranged awkward conjugal visits in the past. Heck, we live with 5 children, half of whom sleep in our room every night. We’re like the reining World Champions of Awkward Conjugal Visits. We could teach classes. 

But the Vacation Fairy shined down upon us. 

You guys! You GUYS. Greg answered his phone yesterday. Which isn’t unusual at all, because my husband is an extrovert. When his phone rings, his response is like a Golden Retriever’s when someone’s at the door. It’s a person! It’s a person! It’s a person! Someone’s at the door! At the door! At the door! A PERSON! WOOHOO! And he tackles the person on the phone and licks them to death. Because JOY! 

I, on the other hand, am an introvert. My phone is on silent all day, and I often don’t get my messages for hours and hours, which drives my teenage daughter INSANE. I don’t answer the phone at the dinner table, and I’ve spent years – YEARS – mocking Greg for his inability to ignore a ringing phone, even when he doesn’t recognize the number. Rolling my eyes. Lifting my eyebrows in a silent seriously? SERIOUSLY?” To which he responds, “But it might be IMPORTANT.” 

He’s answered EVERY CALL. For TWENTY YEARS. Every sales call. Every political pitch. Every scam. EVERY CALL.

Yesterday he took a call from an unknown number. From our cruise line, it turned out. Offering to upgrade us for free to a suite. A SUITE. For FREE. Instead of two, teeny, non-adjoining rooms with life boats in front of our windows, for which we were genuinely excited, we get a suite with a BALCONY. And amenities. And fresh flowers. And an extended room service menu. And a complimentary mini-bar. Who even knew that existed?? That that’s a thing?

So here we go on VACATION. A vacation with LUXURIES. And I know I sound like a loon and a Neanderthal. And I know I never, ever, ever get to give Greg crap again for answering the phone, which is a significant loss to my marital repertoire. And I know we’ll probably embarrass ourselves with wide eyes and oooohhing and aaaaahhing and gushing about free laundry service to our cabin steward. But right now, I can’t bring myself to care. Because VACATION.

I hope you’ll bear with me over the next couple of weeks as I talk about vacations and family and, well, resting. I know it’s not the usual fare here. And we all know someone will get sick and vomit all over the fancy suite and make it all OK eventually. In the meantime, I’d love any tips you have to offer, especially if you know how to be fancy! We can use all the tips you have.

More soon!

B

P.S. Greg asked me what canapés are. Apparently they bring them to our room every evening. I said, in my very best I-can’t-believe-you-don’t-already-know-this voice, “They’re hors d’oeuvres. Appetizers. Duh.” Then I googled “canapé.” I was right! Woohoo!

P.P.S. I also went on the Google to look up how to spell hors d’oeuvres. 

The End

People: Closer Than They Appear

Jul 1 2014

I glance in the side mirror. A quick check and then I look away. Forward, mostly. Occasionally back. And then side check. Side check. Forward. 

I see things in the side mirrors. Cars. Bikes. Kids. Mamas with strollers on the sidewalks. Friends on walks. Runners with their dogs. I see them, but usually only to assess how they might affect my drive. Or to think I really ought to go for a run. And then conjure the usual excuses for not running.

I pulled out in front of a car the other day. She had her turn signal on and she was slowing, so I thought she was turning before she got to me, but I was wrong; she was turning after, into a tiny, hidden driveway I didn’t know existed because I wasn’t familiar with the area, and I misjudged her intention. My fault, for sure. I should’ve waited until she turned before I began to pull out, which is something I tell my 15-year-old who’s learning to drive. “Wait until the other driver has committed to the turn,” I say. “It’s not enough to just see the signal.” But did I do it myself? Nope. And I was lucky we didn’t collide. 

We both stopped, the other driver and I, window to window for a few seconds, so I could see that she is young and beautiful and her car was clean and she was shaken. I mouthed “sorry” and “I thought you were turning here” and she mouthed back “you bitch” and “fuck you” and “my KIDS are in this car” which I knew meant “you scared me” and “I’m angry because you could have hurt us” and probably “I was having a really, really crappy day even before you tried to barrel into me,” but her words still made me feel worse than the bad I already felt. I wonder; if she’d known how long I’d dwell on her words and replay them in my mind, would she have pulled her punches and had mercy on someone who wronged her? Or would she have been glad at how punishing her punishment really was? 

It’s impossible to say, of course. I mean, I don’t know her, and we’ll probably never see each other again.

I watched her in my side mirror as I pulled away, embarrassed and jittery from an accident barely avoided. And then I looked forward. And back. And forward. And to the side again. 

And I wondered how much she and I have in common.

…if we’d met another way, if we’d be friends.

…if she has the same late nights and early mornings and days that are too long and too short all at the same time.

…if she feels happier when the sun comes out.

…if she puts chocolate chips in her brownies and takes her coffee with cream.

…if she’s ever a mess and if she sees the magic there.

Which is when I looked one last time and noticed the sign on my side mirror.

OBJECTS IN MIRROR ARE
CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR

Closer than they appear.

Objects.

And people, too.

All of us. Closer than we appear. 

It’s easy, I think, with an altercation and blame to assign, to put myself on one side and that mama on the other. But I suspect she’s closer than she appeared. And that we’re more the same than different. 

People usually are.

Which is important for me to remember. Especially when the lines seem clearly drawn. 

The kid of mine who freaks totally out every time I ask him to shower?
Closer than he appears.

The mama who loses it at her kid at the grocery store?
Closer than she appears.

The people who seem have it all together and who I envy?
Closer than they appear.

The husband who snores at night – maliciously – AT me?
Closer than he appears.

The people who wrong me and the people who are wronged by me?
Closer than they appear.

The people with terrible politics and worse theology?
Closer than they appear, darn it.

Which is wonderful. And terrible. Like the truth often is. More nuanced and scary and life-changing than I want it to be. But still true. 

Closer than we appear. Every last one of us. And so, so human.

photo 1 (70)

A Little Help, Please

Jun 29 2014

My friend Elizabeth sent a message to her girlfriends last night, after midnight, and it pinged to my box while I was laying in bed listening to the snoring husband and the snoring children and the snoring dog, all of whom were in my bedroom, maliciously keeping me from sleep, and I knew immediately you needed to see this message, too. Because Elizabeth reminded me we’re not alone in  the crap. Even when we think we are. And also, Elizabeth needs us, friends. STAT. She needs us terribly, as you’ll soon see.
 
Here’s her story.
 
I need the kind of succor only a large group of non-judgy people who know things about children can offer. There is discussion of bodily function and human waste in this story, just FYI, because it’s a story about small children doing something terrible.
 
Today we were at the park.  The GOOD park.  Seriously, folks, come out to where I live and I will show it to you, it is AMAZING.
 
My kids were playing happily and I was tracking where they were.  And then, in a horrible epiphany, I recognized the look on my 4.5 year old’s face. The poop look.
 

“Honey, let’s go to the toilet!” I said. I called the 3.5 year old over and we all headed off to the mercifully-close bath house (I told you, this was the GOOD park). We take over the handicapped stall (I know, I know, but two kids and mama in a regular stall is NOT happening), 4.5 pulls down his pants and hops onto the toilet and something is horribly wrong.

Poop in his pants.  Absolutely.  Poop on the toilet seat, probably unavoidable.  But this was poop everywhere.

The child, bless his heart, looks up at me in a mixture of horror and bafflement and says “Mommy, why my feces are all over?”

And I say “Oh honey– I think maybe you should have gone to the toilet sooner.”

And only then do I remember that I don’t have the diaper bag.

I have nothing.

It’s literally just me, the children, the clothes on our backs, and my drink and sunglasses.

No back-up pants.  No back-up undies.  No WIPES.  No oh-so-useful cloth diapers.  No wet naps.  No paper napkins.  No wet bag.  No plastic shopping bag.  NOTHING.

So, because I am a PROFESSIONAL, I flush the toilet and use the water running into the bowl to wet several wads of the cheap toilet paper available in the stall and wipe and wipe and wipe.  We talk about the ways he can tell his body might need the toilet.  I leave 4.5 on the toilet, basically clean but holding up his shirt just in case because Murphy’s Law, to take 3.5 into the OTHER stall to use the toilet.  I take the soiled clothes and wash them out in the sink, which is a trial unto itself because it’s a motion-sensor sink so I have to keep moving them in order to get enough water and the soap dispenser is broken.  I wring out the pants.  I roll the pants in some paper towels to squeeze out as much water as possible because the pants are, of course, WHITE, and will absolutely show poor little 4.5′s junk to the ENTIRE world if he wears them wet.  

Then I dress him and we all wash our hands furiously (again, broken soap dispenser, and then the dragging of the small children away from the motion sensor faucet WHY DO PEOPLE THINK THESE SAVE ANYONE ANY TIME).

We leave the bathroom.  I send 3.5 back to play and station 4.5 next to me on the bench until my husband comes back with the car and the diaper bag to save our lives.

We are in the clear.

Except.

Except that there is a small but obvious piece of renegade toddler poop on the walkway leading out of the playground.

Again, because I am a PRO, I told 4.5 to stay put and nonchalantly meandered over in the direction of the leash-your-dog sign, snagged a doggy duty bag, scooped up the poop, dumped my drink out over the spot on the walkway, and tossed the bag into the garbage.

So.

Somebody tell me that they can top this.

Somebody tell me that I did okay in this crisis.

And please, somebody tell me that I can take my kids back to this park.  Because it’s the GOOD park.  And I don’t want to be exiled from the good park.

20 Emergencies When Your Teen MUST Text: A Case for Teens and Cell Phones

Jun 26 2014

So many articles about teenagers and entitlement and so little time, you know?

photo 3 (48)

Also, blah, blah, blah, because my teen is as entitled as I was 25 years ago, by which I mean she is kind, and funny, and smart, and totally self-absorbed, and deeply concerned about others, and constantly confused about why she can’t have all the things she wants when she wants them.

She’s a hard worker and just amazingly lazy. Frugal and extravagant. Charming and annoying. And learning – constantly learning – about life and the people around her and her place in it all. So she’s human, really. And the same as I am now, at age 40, if I’m going to be honest.

My teenager has a cell phone which she half earned and half was given, about which I feel fine. I use it as an apron string, one she seems happy to cling to, and I make her text me with every new destination, plan and time change. She uses it appropriately and inappropriately; again, like her mama, sometimes with good boundaries about screen time and sometimes without. She uses it to stare at when she’s in social situations that make her feel uncomfortable, like how I used her in her infancy at parties and groups as a distraction from feeling scared and lonely and not knowing what to say. She puts the phone away – all the way away and on silent – at doctor appointments and guidance counselor meetings and not always in class. She’s an expert at high-speed car chase games and she makes a mean virtual cupcake. 

And the rest of the time, she texts. She texts and texts and texts like it’s oxygen and salvation. But that’s OK because the main reason we let her have a phone was for emergencies. And that’s how she uses it. For EMERGENCIES. Lots and lots of emergencies. Like these:

  1. To say, “Mom.”
  2. When I haven’t responded in 3 seconds, to say, “MOM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
  3. 3 seconds after that to say, “TEXT ME BACK!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
  4. 2 seconds after that to say, “!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
  5. To say, “fine”
  6. To say, “MOM! I CAN’T FIND THE THING!!!!!!”
  7. To say, “found it. bring me coffee on ur way home?”
  8. To say, “Coffee?????!!!”
  9. To say, “PLZ BRING ME COFFEE”
  10. To say, “Can u get coffee??”
  11. When I say, “Not planning to,” to say, “:( but can you? I’ll help w the kids. And manage there jobs! ;)
  12. To say, “?”
  13. To say, “I NEED COFFEE PLZ I’ll do anything”
  14. When I write back, “Can’t right now,” to say, “Ugggghh kay. :(
  15. To say, “But why????”
  16. When I write back, “Working,” to say, “:( alright…………………:(“
  17. To say, “K”
  18. To say, “miss u”
  19. To say, “Come snuggle me soon”
  20. To say, “come home. luv u”

In conclusion, I wish we’d put away those silly cultural arguments that we overindulge our teens and they don’t really need phones. CLEARLY they do need them. And use them. For emergencies. It’s a safety issue, folks. Case closed.

P.S. My teen approved this message.

P.P.S. I don’t text anything irritating. I am awesome all the time, and Abby’s never, ever annoyed by me.

P.P.P.S. My teen did not approve the P.P.S.

BethAbby3