Honesty From A Fed-Up Mommy {pretty, happy, funny, real} (Vol. 15)

Welcome to another installment of “My kids are driving me crazy, so let’s focus on the {pretty, happy, funny} and – okay fine – {real} of my little ol’ life this week.”

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{pretty}

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Baby pictures, but of course. Because he’s undeniably, unequivocally beautiful. But also because he’s too little to be too annoying just yet.

Sure, a cold has transformed the poor child into a fussy, needy, restless little thing with a spigot for a nose, but… those cheeks. Those fat little hands. Those blue (if red-brimmed) eyes. He’s so {pretty}. And so sweet (for now). We’re so, so lucky to have him.

{happy}

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Three words: Gin And Tonic

Wait! Two more: Sleeping Children

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I know – I’m a horrible mother to be classifying pictures of hard liquor and sleeping children (the two are completely, totally unrelated to each other – promise) as my {happy}. But I’m all about honesty, and those pics? At this moment, they’re honestly what my happy looks like.

It’s just been one of those days. Besides the baby being sick and the weather being miserable, this has been The Day Of Meltdowns. My middle son completely lost it this morning when he woke (very late) to find that his brother had already left for school. He’d wanted to say goodbye. Sweet, hm? (Hint: It would’ve been sweet if the meltdown hadn’t lasted nearly an HOUR!) Then when we picked up big brother from school, BOTH boys lost it over an umbrella – a stupid, yellow, bumblebee umbrella. We ended up walking through the rain in a huddle, me holding the umbrella aloft, them screaming and jumping and grasping and (I think) hitting.

Meltdowns continued in the car and at home, over the above and over who-knows-how-many other things. Just before dinner, I actually illustrated to the boys just how fed up I was by holding a glass under the tap and letting it fill to the brim, then spill over before their eyes: “See this, boys? This glass is like Mommy. At the beginning of the day, Mommy’s got plenty of space. But then lots and lots of noise fills Mommy up through the day and when she gets to the end of it, she doesn’t have any space left, so all the noise spills over and Mommy loses it.” (So please let’s just have a quiet dinner!)

{funny}

If all that’s not {funny} enough for you, how about a bandit/cowboy? Gosh, he’s cute, isn’t he?

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And then there’s the game “cowboys having a big cowboy fight.” Apparently it involves ropes (that’s what that toy measuring tape is supposed to be) and swords (sticks, of course).

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{real}

We came unprepared (but of course) to the scarecrow-building activity at my son’s school last weekend, so this is as far as we got: scarecrow legs and torso. Nothing to connect them, no head save a precariously (and temporarily) perched pumpkin.

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Thus it sits on our porch. It’s cheerful enough, if rather too {real} to be really well done: The thing is headless, propped up next to the two little pumpkins my boys decorated that scarecrow-building evening. It sits below the tacky, cheapy Wal-mart scarecrow I only purchased because my son tore off one of its legs. We are talented seasonal decorators, we are!

 

There! There’s some cheer for your Thursday! Even if it’s only the kind that comes at someone else’s expense. Ah, well… stop by Like Mother, Like Daughter to locate some nicer, kinder cheer – the kind that comes from lovely people reflecting on the {pretty, happy, funny, real} contentment in their own (probably less grumpy) lives. Enjoy!

A Mother’s Power

Both of my boys are sick right now. It’s nothing awful, just a run-of-the-mill respiratory virus. Still, my two-year-old seems miserable. He looks up at me with those watery blue eyes, flushed cheeks, and wet nose, and I just about melt. I am putty in his clammy little hands.

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I’m not normally the putty-in-my-child’s-hands type. My home is so full of activity and noise and life, that I’m usually pretty well consumed with just handling it all. I rely on rules and strategies to get us through. But then things slow down and quiet down a bit, and I take the opportunity to really think on it. On these precious, unique little souls that occupy my home and my heart. On the wondrous, heavy responsibility I bear as their mother.

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When I was a child and feeling unwell, I remember thinking that my mother could just magically fix it. I don’t know, perhaps I thought she could pull an I Dream of Jeannie or something, but I was convinced that if I told her how sick I felt, she could and would make me well. Just like that.

It’s sobering to think that my own children now think the same of me. What power I must hold in their little minds. And what other, fundamental, weighty ideas I must represent to them.

I am my boys’ first model of womanhood, perhaps of beauty. I am their first model of love, of kindness. Their father and I form for them their first understanding of marriage and more basically, of how people interact with one another. I will be my boys’ frame of reference when it comes to contemplating what to look for in a wife and in a mother to their own children.

It’s all a little scary to think about.

It’s a lot to live up to.

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But I suppose all I can do is keep thinking about it. Keep praying about it. Keep checking myself, keep holding that wondrous, heavy responsibility in my mind and my heart. What else could one possibly do with something so important?

This First Year Of Blogging: “Most” Posts and 2013 in 13 Photos

As we wrap up 2013 (Happy New Year, everyone!) and my first (calendar) year of blogging draws to a close, I can’t help but reflect a little on how it (the blogging thing, that is) has all gone.

Fortunately, two bloggers currently have link-ups that facilitate my reflection quite nicely. So, I’m game. And I’m totally going to cheat by doing both link-ups in one post. Sarah of Amongst Lovely Things is hosting a link-up of bloggers’ “Most” Posts of 2013: those with the most clicks, most comments, etc. Dwija of House Unseen, Life Unscripted is hosting one on 2013 in 13 Photos.

Below, I give you both. Plus some reflections on this first year (er… seven months — I started the blog at the tail-end of May) of blogging.

First, Sarah’s prompts:

Post With The Most Clicks

My most-viewed post, by far, was “A Crazy Good Night,” about attending Like Mother, Like Daughter’s “Crazy DC Meet-Up” this summer. I wish I could take more credit, but LMLD’s “Auntie” Leila linked to it on her blog’s Facebook page (so exciting!), which explains all the traffic.

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Digging a little deeper, my next most-viewed post can also be credited to a (much) bigger blogger than myself. Grace of Camp Patton hosted a “How We Met” link-up, which has attracted a steady stream of traffic to this post for months.

And I’m just a tad embarrassed that I’ve got to dig down to number three to find a post that doesn’t owe its popularity to another blogger. Rather, it owes its popularity to a baby. Last month’s gender reveal announcement drew plenty of curious onlookers.

Post With The Most Comments

This would be “7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 14),” in which I announced my pregnancy. People are so nice… (Insert mental image of a smiley, grateful Julie.)

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Post With The Best Picture

Oh, so many pictures… so hard to choose. I think I’ll just go with this one, which is fresh from yesterday’s post, “Oh, Boys.” It represents life in our home quite well, I think. (And when I posted it on Facebook, my brother observed that it looked like my boys had murdered a snowman.)

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Post That Was Hardest To Write

That would have to be the one that took almost a week to write and nearly a month to move past: “The Weirdest of Them All.” Spinal injury + brain cyst = hard to write. (For an update on the medical situation, check out the post’s follow-up.)

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Post That Was Your Personal Favorite

This is another tough one to choose. I think I’m going to have to go with “On Abortion: Paul Ryan and Two Simple Questions.” I like to think of this blog as a mix of family/parenting/household stuff and political thought, but in all honesty, I’ve done far more of the former than the latter. I like that this post was firmly in the meaty/political/philosophical camp. I also like that I was able to capture my thought process on this most difficult of subjects in what (I think) was a clear, logical way.

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Okay, on to the second part of this post – seven more photos from this year to round out Dwija’s “2013 in 13 Photos.” I’m going to go with more pics that represent favorite posts:

I Don’t Treasure Every Moment

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7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 22): Thanksgiving Edition

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On Perspective… And Laundry

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The Glamorous Looking-Back

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The Blue-Sky Day

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That Mommy Dance

Playground Climbing

A Love That Changes You

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And third, (for anyone who’s still here!) some reflections on this first year of blogging:

Because I’m something of a numbers girl, I have to report that this here post is my 73rd. When I hit 50 posts in September, I was hopeful that I could get to 100 by the end of the year. But then I got that medical news, which tripped me up for about a month. And, you know… the holidays… and life… so I didn’t get anywhere close. Still, I’m proud of 73 posts in my first calendar year. That averages to about 10 posts a month and between two and three posts per week. Not bad for someone who has never been able to keep up journal writing for longer than a week at a time.

In a particularly angsty post from August, I described my reasons for blogging. In the interest of not re-creating the wheel (and at the risk of seeming a little full of myself), I’m just going to go ahead and quote what I wrote back then:

As much as I aim to write things that other people will want to read, at the end of the day, I have to write this blog for me.

Yes, there is this and this. Yes, I’d love to attract readers and get some interesting back-and-forth going in the comment sections. Yes, I love hearing that something I’ve written has amused or touched someone. Yes, I’d like to avoid hurting or even annoying people with my writing. But These Walls is really for me. It gives me an avenue to work through my thoughts and ideas and it allows me to feel like I’ve said my piece on subjects that matter to me.

I also write this blog for my boys. Hopefully I’ll live a long life and I’ll always have strong relationships with them both. But you never know. One of my worst fears is that something should happen to prevent me from raising my sons. And almost as bad is the idea that something should happen to estrange us in their adulthood. Unfounded as those fears are, I am comforted by the idea that should they (heaven forbid) ever materialize, the words I write here give me another shot at reaching out to my boys. I like to think they would give my boys a sense of my love for them, of the way I see the world, and the values I hope to impart to them.

Besides, These Walls has got to be for me (and my boys). There’s no possible way I can please or even interest everyone else. And there’s no way I can wholly avoid annoying/offending/hurting every single person who stops by this blog. All I can ever do is write posts that I like and that I can confidently stand behind. That’s it.

I’ve been trying to keep all this in mind. “I write this blog for me… avenue to work through my thoughts and ideas… allows me to feel like I’ve said my piece. I write this blog for my boys… gives them a sense of my love for them… the way I see the world… the values I hope to impart to them.” Those phrases have become something of a mantra to me. I revisit them to keep myself on-course as I write.

I am a slow writer. I rely on multiple drafts to get things right and I’m deliberate about the words I choose. It usually takes two to three days for me to write a post. And I’ve sunk far too much time into many a half-written post that may or may not ever see the light of the internet.

But I’m okay with that. Because “all I can ever do is write posts that I like and that I can confidently stand behind.”

So, I’m feeling pretty good about this first year of blogging. By and large, I like what I wrote. I feel happier and more peaceful for having pounded it out. I need to do a better job of balancing writing time with my responsibilities to my family, but I do feel like this blogging thing is valuable enough to deserve some small part of my time. At the end of this first year, I feel like I’m heading in the right direction.

7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 19)

7 quick takes sm1 Your 7 Quick Takes Toolkit!

—1—

I’m sorry for throwing that brain cyst thing at you and then walking away for two weeks.

I didn’t mean to be absent for so long. And I certainly didn’t mean to worry any of my loved ones who have been stopping by the blog looking for an update.

It’s just that following up on all those medical questions takes a lot of work. In the past two weeks I have met with a dermatologist, a cardiologist, an Ear Nose Throat doctor, a neurosurgeon, and an obstetrician. And I’ve had an echocardiogram. That’s six separate medical appointments. Plus I attended a board meeting and I helped out at my older son’s preschool, leaving my younger boy at home. That’s a lot of looking for sitters.

So as you might expect, I’m tired. And my mind has been rather too occupied with pondering illness and trial and the small, beautiful things in life to generate an actual, ready-for-public-consumption, finished product. Also, I’ve had to be brutal in distinguishing between the have-to-do’s and the want-to-do’s. My attention has gone to my boys and to stacks of medical forms. (And laundry when I have absolutely nothing left to dress the boys in.) Most other things (ahem, cooking and dishes) have been left by the wayside. Thus too went the blog.

—2—

I remembered (too late) last week that it’s probably never a good idea to say to oneself before bed, “I am so tired. I’m really looking forward to a good, solid night’s sleep tonight because ohmygosh I need it so badly.” You know what happens when you say such things, don’t you? The small children on the other side of your house hear you and collude to disrupt your oh-so-badly-needed sleep. They wake up multiple times per night. They may even end up in bed with you, together, fidgeting and giggling away your hoped-for last precious hour of would-be sleep.

(Co-sleepers, I really, truly do not know how you do it. Anytime we’ve had the boys in our bed, they get little sleep and we get less. And we all suffer accordingly.)

—3—

That said, I actually had two solid, interruption-free, 8-hour nights of sleep last weekend. After the second, I couldn’t believe how alert and energetic I felt in the morning. “This is what it feels like to be well-rested!” I thought to myself. “This is marvelous!” and “I should do this more often!” and “I’m never going to make sleep a low priority again!”

I don’t even need to tell you what happened next, do I? Because you know: schedules, commitments, medical forms, boys’ nightmares… Lack Of Sleep.

—4—

Okay, enough with the sleep stuff. It’s about time I gave you a little update on all those doctors’ visits, isn’t it? Here’s the deal in a nutshell:

  • Dermatologist: “No problem! Don’t worry!”
  • ENT and cardiologist: “We don’t think there’s a problem, but we need a bit more information before we can be sure.”
  • Neurosurgeon: “You have two potentially serious problems. But don’t go getting yourself all worried about them, because (1) due to the pregnancy, we’re not going to know anything more about them for at least a year and (2) there’s really no rush anyway, because both problems are years away from becoming truly problematic.
  • Obstetrician: “Baby looks good! Let’s just keep tabs on everything else.”

—5—

As I indicated above, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about trials in life and how we react to them. Personally, I tend to be a positive, glass-is-half-full, optimistic kind of person. So when these thoughts started running through my head two weeks ago, all I could think of was how comically, joyfully absurd my old stories of misfortune seemed to me now. I wrote a light-hearted piece on the subject… and then I didn’t post it.

I’d already felt a little silly to be extolling the “don’t let things get to you!” mindset when my own personal trials didn’t seem all that serious to me. I thought of people who’d been through much more serious ordeals and who (understandably) couldn’t move on. But then I happened to hear a few stories of people who lived through the most sobering and serious of trials, and still preferred to find the positive in their experiences. I was awed, and humbled, and taken down a few notches from my “delight in absurdity!” perch.

And then a few days ago the neurosurgeon told me that I might have a couple of my own serious trials ahead. He expects that the spine situation (herniated disc; vertebrae situated how they shouldn’t be) will get worse. Ultimately, he expects that I’ll need spinal surgery. (Remember that the problematic part of the spine is in my neck. For some reason, the prospect of spinal surgery in my neck is so much scarier to me than if it were my back.) Less certain, but perhaps more scary, is the (remote) chance that the brain cyst could impact my ocular nerve and cause me to go blind. There is only a small chance that this will happen, so I’m not panicking. I am, however, saddened at the thought that sometime in the future, I might lose my ability to see my family… and sunsets… and autumn leaves… and the written word.

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But even with this news, I felt a redoubling of my conviction that positivity in the face of trial is the way to go. There is so much we can’t control in our lives: we can’t prevent all illness, we can’t protect from all harm, we can’t stop all misfortune. But we can control our reactions. Maybe not our first reactions, but certainly our processing of the situations and the ways in which we allow them to affect our lives.

When I think about positivity in the face of adversity, I feel like I’m touching on a powerful truth, a good. I feel hopeful and at peace. How could I choose any other path?

The above thought process brought me to the realization that all of that positivity-in-the-face-of-adversity stuff is part of the same story. Finding the joyful absurdity in small trials, the admirable strength in serious ones, the quiet hopefulness in those you see coming – they are all good, and they are all connected. I think I might go ahead and post that lighthearted piece after all. And then follow it with another, more serious one. Neither part of the story is less valid than the other.

—6—

Was that heavy enough for your Friday afternoon? How about we finish off these “Quick” Takes with some sweet pictures of toddler Halloween celebrations?

At our house, we had a “Big Gween Dwagon With Fire” and a “Bwave Knight.

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Gotta love the preschool Halloween parades!

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He seems to take the knight thing very seriously.

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—7—

I don’t at all consider this to be a crafty blog, but I do enjoy being crafty when the occasion presents itself. I didn’t take a single in-process photo, but here’s how I made the boys’ costumes, in case you’re curious:

Knight:

  • I purchased a gray sweat suit, a loosely-knit gray/silver scarf scattered with a few sequins, a patterned gray/silver scarf, a loosely-knit gray/silver cap, and a child’s set of shield/swords (all from Walmart).
  • The sweat suit went on first, with no alterations.
  • The loosely-knit scarf was cut to the appropriate length (about three feet for my two-year-old), folded in half, and a head-sized slit was cut into the middle of the folded edge. It went on (just slipped over my boy’s head) after the sweat suit.
  • The other scarf was tied around his waist.
  • The tassles and pom were cut off the hat and it was set on his cute little head.
  • I handed him his shield and a sword, and we were done!

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Dragon:

  • I purchased a green sweatshirt, two pairs of green sweatpants, a loosely-knit green cap with a rim on the front, a tightly-knit green cap, and two loosely-knit (one orange, one gold) scarves (all from Walmart). I also purchased some patterned brown felt, some (red, yellow, and white) foam sheets, some batting, and some googly eyes (from Michaels).
  • I cut the brown felt to size and glued it to the front of the sweatshirt (which conveniently covered a design on the front of the shirt). I also cut two small circles (for nostrils) and two triangles (for ears) from the felt.
  • I left one pair of the sweatpants alone. With the other, I made the tail: I cut away one of the legs, leaving the waistband intact and some extra fabric at the top. I folded the extra fabric over and sewed it in place to cover the hole left at the top of the remaining leg. I then stuffed the leg with batting and sewed the bottom of the leg shut.
  • I stuffed the tightly-knit green cap with batting and sewed it shut. I then place it on top of the rim to the loosely-knit green cap and sewed it on.
  • I cut teeth and fire (in three layers) from the foam sheets. The fire was hot-glued to the rim of the loosely-knit cap (just under where the tightly-knit cap was sewn on). The teeth were glued to the underside of the tightly-knit cap. The nostrils were glued onto its top side. The ears were glued onto the top of the loosely-knit cap. The googly eyes were glued onto its front.
  • I cut each of the (orange and gold) loosely-knit scarves into three pieces. The longest was sewn down the back of the tail. The next was sewn down the back of the shirt. The shortest was sewn down the back of the hat.
  • The sweat suit went on my boy first, then the tail, then the hat.

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Have a great weekend, everyone! I hope you had a fun Halloween and you’re having a happy All Saints Day today! Be sure to jump on over to Jen’s to check out the rest of the Quick Takes.

The Best Gift A Parent Can Give

I heard a really moving story this morning on the radio. “Beating The Odds: Making The Grades Without A Mother’s Help” told about a Washington, D.C. teenager named Jennifer Hightower. Jennifer has excelled in school (earning a 3.9 GPA!) without the help of her mother, who has struggled with drug addiction and illness.

I’ll write more on it later, but I have something of a left/right ideological tug-of-war going on in my mind on some subjects. (On others there are no struggles at all – my mind is firmly on one side of the ideological divide.) Poverty-related issues most definitely fall into the “tug-of-war” category. Jennifer’s story was interesting to me in part because it satisfied both sides of my ideological leanings in this area: The left-leaning side was gratified that the story shone some light on the daunting (and often ugly) challenges that so many Americans face in their efforts to succeed – or even just to function – in our society. The right-leaning side was proud of Jennifer and her commendable efforts to excel despite those challenges. (Not to mention her happy, positive outlook on life and her forgiving attitude toward her mother.)

The story also broke my mommy heart a little. The idea of a small child taking on the responsibilities of keeping her home clean, cooking, and excelling in school without a mother’s guidance – it’s hard to take in. But a simple image is what touched me most: “I had to teach myself how to tie my own shoes,” Jennifer said. “I didn’t have somebody to sit down and tell me this bunny tie that you do. All that stuff you see on TV, I didn’t have that.”

For the umpteenth time since I became a parent, a small image of trial and deprivation took the wind out of my sails. On a daily basis, I worry about keeping my home orderly, washing the dishes, cooking decent meals for my family, getting my boys enough run-around-outside time. And yes, all of those things matter. But at the base of it, what really matters is that my husband and I love our boys powerfully, unreservedly, consistently… in all the best ways one can love. And that we take care of them in the big and the little ways. Our boys don’t have to wonder whether they are loved or whether they will have their needs met. Those thoughts don’t have to cross their innocent little minds. At times like these (thinking of Jennifer’s story), that seems like such a luxury. Countless children don’t get to have that sense of security. I feel so humbled and so very grateful that I received that gift from my parents – and that my husband and I are able to give it to our boys.