" I feel I am very sane about how crazy I am." -Carrie Fisher
"Own your Crazy." -Kim

Monday, November 22, 2010

THe Year It All Went To Hell...(or My Crazy Obsession With Pink)

This year we are going away for Thanksgiving. I have cooked the traditional bird and had my family over for eighteen years. This year I decided to take a break. We are heading up to Tahoe and replacing the traditional Thanksgiving activities of turkey, family, and parade watching with arcade, dinner out (think Sammy Hagar’s Cabo Wabo), gambling and parade watching (look, some small tradition needed to stay in tact).

This decision has turned out to be both freeing and a downward, spiraling out of control madness that is quickly changing the traditions of Christmas as well.

Since we are not going to be here for Thanksgiving I packed up all of the Halloween and fall decorations the day after Halloween. With an empty house on December 1st I did not feel sad or regretful, not even for one tiny minute…I was both joyous and elated. Then my husband and girls went away for a Sunday in mid November and left me with a day and night entirely to myself. Since the house was empty I decided to get the Christmas decorations down early and get it set up so it would all be done upon our return from Tahoe.

To do this my husband had to get down all the boxes from the attic. A process that takes him all day and one that is done with such an extreme amount of deep sighing, exasperation and grumbling that you would think he was preparing to head off to war. But we are 16 years in, he knows the drill, and it goes fairly smoothly. I also suggested he go ahead and put up the lights since we would be gone on the day after Thanksgiving which is when we traditionally fight about, I mean work on, hanging our lights.

So he put up the lights, got down all the boxes and then left for the day. Here it was…my day alone to gleefully put up my decorations, “Christmasfy” the house, and really do it up in style.

Only when I walked into the dining room and saw the 25 boxes instead of my usual glee and delight…I thought I might throw up. This was the first sign that maybe I was in a different place in life.

It all really seemed to be too much. But, I started in, pulling things out and separating, laying things out and starting to get a vision. Only my vision kept returning to the idea of…getting rid of most of it.

The second sign that things were going a little differently is that instead of listening to my traditional Christmas CD’s with Bing and friends filling the house with ideas of chestnuts, snow and happiness, I had Pink’s Greatest Hits CD blasting out. Nothing says Christmas like lyrics that scream of dysfunction and angst. For those that are concerned, I do listen to this CD a lot…it is small obsession right now, I do listen to it with my children, they do know all the words, even the bad ones…but we have had a long talk about how Pink is an artist and sometimes in the name of “art” and “your craft” a bad word is needed to make your point (please note the title of this writing…I am an artist, mush like Pink, thus my need to suffer for my “art” and “craft”).

After about an hour I called Corey and told him I was getting rid of a lot of Christmas stuff this year. There was too much and it was time to downsize. Honestly, his reaction was greater than if I had called and told him we won the lottery. I had not heard him this giddy and elated since the niners were in a winning season, and I think we all know how LONG that has been.

So I set about setting up some things and boxing up the rest for Craigslist. I listed the items and included the beautiful red and green plastic storage containers I keep it in too.

Naomi, who is not a traditionalist in any way and has been after me for years to get a fake tree and call it day, sensed my weakness and began calling every ten minutes throughout the day. Each call with the suggestion of really keeping it simple and getting a very small tree (think potted plant that you give as housewarming gifts size) and just sticking the ornaments back up in the attic for another year. In years past I would have been irritated with her, frustrated that she didn’t get me or understand my desire to have the real tree with all my sentimental ornaments. This time (with my pal Pink reminding me that I was rock star and still had my rock moves in the background), I remembered that last year the two older girls weren’t home to do the tree (and didn’t really care they missed it), the year before I had left it for them to do with a babysitter (and didn’t really care that I missed it), and most other years everyone would bail out after the first few minutes of “Oh remember this ornament?,” and I would be left alone to finish and get all the ornaments off the ground and onto the tree.

In the end there is stuff up, I am going to get a tree (a small one, although not potted plant small), and I did find the Bing CD’s as it turns out after a quick search on google that Pink does not have a F*%#ing Christmas album out yet (note to Pink…that would be a great title).

Listen, my girls are all in the Nutcracker, the school Christmas play (yes, we still call it a Christmas play NOT a winter performance), the church Christmas play (where I do not listen to Pink), and several holiday choir performances…hmmm? Maybe this is why I don’t have the energy for decorating. I still love Christmas, just maybe in a different way.

So, Christmas is changing, I’m changing, and that’s OK. I can change. Change is good. No worries, I haven’t changed completely…I didn’t throw out all of the girls’ Christmas art I have saved (although I thought about it, but with the announcement of Pink’s pregnancy I was feeling a little sentimental…key word root “mental”).

Upon returning from their day away not one child commented on the Christmas decorations that had been set up. Onward we go.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Girlfriends

I have this friend, Jodi, we will call her Jodi because that is actually her name. When I write I try to take out the names and “depersonalize” things a bit, for several reasons. One being, I don’t want to offend anyone. But, it turns out Jodi was only offended that I did NOT use her name.

Jodi is a relatively new friend, our children dance together and we work together. She is also not called Jodi in our house. She is referred to as Jodeen…which is said in a long drawn out, lazy way as though we are from the south and headed over to her house for a glass of iced tea with a side of okra and grits. She is called this because it is her birth name, and once she had to write me a check for something, and when my husband went to deposit it, he happened to catch her name, her birth name, and it stuck.

In life, I have had some good friends. My grandmother used to quote Truman Capote as saying, (and this will be paraphrased per my memory) “I am lucky in life. I have had three really good friends,” in answer to a question from a reporter that implied he must have many, many friends. I always thought my grandmother was trying to tell me that really true friends are few and far between. That being said, I guess I don’t know how many friends I have, but I do have a lot of great people in my life. I have figured out that without great people in your life it is a little harder to cope. Many of these great people are my girlfriends. The girls, well ladies...well women now...that have come into my life and made a difference.

Several months ago I headed off to a reunion with my sorority sisters from college. Most of these girls I hadn’t seen in over twenty years. Based on the emails flying back and forth before the event, it promised to be a great time, and it was. I shared a room with the same girls I shared a room with twenty years ago. It was exactly the same. We laughed at the same things, we got ready the same way, and if that damn mirror in the bathroom hadn’t been there to tell me otherwise, I would have assumed I was twenty again. My favorite pictures from the trip are not all the ones we posed for throughout the “dressed up” events we had, but instead the ones people snapped in the morning while we were having coffee and late at night when everyone was chatting and talking in bed.

My best friend from high school is still with me. Over the years the friendship has changed, grown, laid at rest only to wake back up again when we need each other. She is one of my Truman Capote friends. She was on my doorstep on 9/11, she was my first phone call when I had cancer, and she is my “go to” girl when I need a drink. Blessed am I to have had this girl in my life at fifteen and woman now, at forty two. My favorite picture of her is when I had my first child. She came in those first few days and she is laying down holding my oldest on her tummy. There is also a series of pictures of us from one year in the 90’s when, after an episode of Oprah on “How to Take Your Best Picture!” was aired we have our chins lifted so high we look like giraffes. This was before the instant digital checking we can do now, so it wasn’t discovered until a year’s worth of pictures were finally developed. She “gets me” in a way no other does and we have thirty years of shared history.

As my children grow and make friends I find a few keepers in their parents. Yesterday I had coffee with the mother of my oldest child’s best friend as we discussed plans for an upcoming prom (this will be a writing all by itself!). She is delightful, fun and always on the same page as me when it comes to parenting a teenager. The mother of my second child’s best friend is my summer and swim team companion…our hours together at the pool are something I look forward to each year as spring wraps up and summer looms ahead. We have several children the same age so there are shared experiences and some shared family traditions that have set in that I enjoy and look forward to.

My family is my first priority, it is my strength, it is my main focus in life, but these girlfriends are my support. My moments of calm and funny when all else around me is crazy and demanding. I cherish them and all that they bring to the table.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Wedding Weekend

Corey and I haven’t been to a wedding in years. Well, maybe one or two, here and there, but for the most part people our age are married and haven’t started divorcing yet, and our kids and their friends haven’t started getting married yet. Weddings are few and far between. This weekend we had two.

At first I couldn’t believe they fell on the same weekend. I was disappointed. I felt it would mean that I wouldn’t get to fully enjoy both as I would be worried about time, pacing and the overwhelming feeling of attending two important events in the same time period. But, I have been praying about just this thing lately. The idea is that I need to stop looking at all of my commitments as burdens, but instead begin embracing them and my busy life as a blessing. It is a good change in thought and it is turning in my mind slowly, making a positive difference.

They were two very different weddings, both of huge importance in my life and both far exceeded my expectations.

Friday night my brother got married. He is my younger brother. I was an only child for ten years before he came along, and I was desperate for a sibling and desperately in love with him from the minute he came. He is my best friend, we have always been close. As we got older life was crazy for me when I was having my kids and trying to work. A bartender, he would always take my midnight phone calls when one of my children was sick. He would then agree to come over and sleep on the couch and watch the Disney Channel with them all day so that I could go to work.

When the chaotic nature of my life subsided as my children grew older, his began. He met a girl, fell in love and in the blink of an eye he went from longtime single guy to committed father of one stepdaughter and two small children. It was a good change. It fit him and we loved her. As life happened, their marriage and wedding kept getting postponed, and we waited for it to all come together. And then this weekend it did.

I won’t give a blow by blow description of the day and all of the events. But, I will point out the highlights, the things I don’t need pictures for as they are forever embedded in my mind.

As children of divorce, when I got married it was still uncomfortable, my parents have always done fine, but there was a horrible awkwardness and underlying tension that would work its way into all family events that brought us together. I was reminded at Andrew’s wedding that time heals all wounds, and that things can come around in ways you would have never expected. At Andrew’s wedding there were photos that included parents and stepparents, a speech from my father that embraced his past life that made this all possible, and a fun moment watching Naomi (a women who cannot operate even the simplest of cameras) try to take pictures for my stepmother (a women who has professional cameras), and yes it was being done with the sunglasses on at the 8pm reception.

I will remember my brother standing alone watching his stepdaughter sing for them at the reception and then giving a speech that both honored his stepmother and stepdaughter in such a beautiful way that I cried. I will mostly remember being proud of my brother at every moment, and grateful that he found this amazing woman who loves him, and knowing that their future is very bright from this moment on.

It was one of those magical nights when everything is perfect. It was all things sentimental and perfect and it was a Newton wedding, so it was open bar…a great party on top of it all!

The next morning, after a Tylenol and large glass of water before I went to bed, I awoke to wedding number two.

I taught Samantha in the second year of my career. It was third grade. When I made a grade level change two years later, I would have her again for her fifth grade year. The next year I would have her sister Meagan as a fourth grader. They were an amazing family. Irish and fun, mom always brought Irish soda bread on St. Patrick’s Day, there were two older brothers. She was also a part of a special class. My first year of teaching had been a little rocky, with some very difficult students. That second year, Samantha’s year, brought me some amazing children, who were smart, dedicated, loved school and to be honest, they loved me.

As time goes on your memory fades, you forget things. As a teacher you don’t always hear how things turn out for those little faces that you loved and pushed for greatness. In my case, I had left the small town I taught in for the first eight years of my career, so having been gone for awhile, I really didn’t get follow up.

She found me on facebook. It was fun to see the grownup Samantha and her new baby. I asked her if she still kept up with her best friend from third and fifth grade, Liz. She said yes, and they were still best friends.

On Saturday I watched Samantha, Meagan, and best friend Liz all grown up walk down the isle at Samantha’s very beautiful and intimate family wedding. Liz’s mother remembered me and told me great things I said and written about Liz. Samantha’s mother told me this was a small family wedding, “and Mrs. Daniel just had to be a part of it.” She also told my husband the he had gotten even more handsome, so Corey was super happy he came as well. The girls remembered me in this really great way, remembered me as teacher who had made a difference in their lives. It was a rock star moment for sure. Today I am framing my picture with the girls, it will sit on my desk for the rest of my career.

So, I had this weekend where I was reminded in some really amazing ways that I was on the right path, both personally and professionally. It’s easy to forget where we are headed and that there is purpose. Wedding weekend was a lovely little reminder.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

You Can Go To Rehab When Cancer is Over...

Naomi is a recovering alcoholic. I think now she has actually been sober longer than she ever drank. It has been so long I actually forget about it most of the time. The reason I don’t completely forget about it is because she is very worried she will pass the disease onto me. She has spent years telling me about the evils of alcohol and its place in our family. At strange times she will look at me over her sunglasses and let me know that alcoholism is hereditary, or she will interject with some random statistic on addiction.

This all goes out the window when she wants me to do something with her. Then she will hold liquor in front of me like a dog with a bone. “Let’s run to Macy’s.” She will say at six at night when I am winding down my day and exhausted. “I’ll tell you what, you have a “suds” (this what she calls beer) and then I will pick you up and drive us there.” Or sometimes when she knows I am at the end of my patience with her (and it is really her fault), she will announce, “Why don’t you sit down with a suds and I will wash your dishes."

She doesn’t need to worry. I have no plans on becoming an alcoholic, as I have no plans to give up something I really enjoy, and I really enjoy drinking. Naomi also doesn’t need to worry, because while I do enjoy a cocktail, it turns out you can’t drink those and then drive children around. So, with four children and a gazillion activities between them, I have no worries of becoming an alcoholic because I have very little time to drink. Thank God I had four children and married a man who doesn’t really drink, or quite honestly, the memoir would be more about recovery than “fun mom stories”.

The only time I got close to worrying was when I had cancer. When I was first diagnosed there were a lot of doctor’s appointments. At every new appointment there were the requisite hours of forms to fill out on me and ultimately my family history as well. They all asked the same questions…”Do you have a history of breast cancer in your family?” I didn’t. “How many pregnancies have you had?” Too many. “How many alcoholic drinks do you have during a week on average?” And here is where it got tricky. At the beginning I could answer truthfully…one to two drinks a week. However, as the stress and number of doctor’s appointments increased (as well as the fact that I didn’t have to go to work in the morning) and Naomi practically throwing “suds” down my throat to reduce my stress…I realized I was lying when I checked that box because one to two drinks a week was rapidly turning into one to two drinks a day.

I needn’t have worried for long, because after all the appointments and surgeries came chemo, and chemo was a quick cure for impending alcoholism. Cancer was depressing for a few reasons, one reason being that when chemo started NOTHING tasted good, including a glass of wine or a cold beer. Besides hair loss I am going to have to admit the saddest nights during chemo were when cocktail hour would roll around and a drink didn’t even sound good. In fact, I spent a lot of time trying to find something that tasted good (causing me to be one of those rare people that gains weight during chemo) and what I came up with was sour patch kids. So, chemo left me a huge mess when it was over…no hair, weight gain, bad skin, and because of the sour patch kids…a gum and teeth situation that my dentist and I are just now getting over three years later.

This being said, that while I do enjoy a drink here and there, I am not into medicine or pills of any kind. I have a high tolerance for pain, and I do not enjoy even baby aspirin. I am a “gut it out” kind of gal. This all changed with cancer, because it turns out when you have cancer there is a lot of medicine to take, and at certain points in the cancer process, a lot of that medicine is…pain medication.

I did not want to take any of it, but Naomi (who quite possibly does still enjoy a little high now and then) would ask at every appointment. The doctor would be talking and she would lean in, very serious, and say, “I just have one question…can we she have a prescription for Vicodin?” It turns out that when you have cancer, doctors don’t want to tell you no or have conflict in any way really, so they were grabbing the prescription pad faster then my mother could finish the sentence.

So, I had a lot of spare Vicodin floating around the house (well, at least whatever managed to stay after Naomi had grabbed a couple of pills whispering, “Just to help me get a good night’s sleep while my daughter has cancer.”). It turns out there were moments I needed it too. There were a couple of unexpected pain situations and sometimes just the need to fall asleep instead of being awake all night and thinking about what will happen to your kids if you die.

I was grateful for Naomi and her crazy, obsessive need to get me pain medication. One night I was thinking about taking the Vicodin when I couldn’t sleep, but I was feeling guilty about it and worried that all that Naomi had told me previously COULD be true, and I could become an addict because it DID run in my family…when Naomi called and said, “Take the damn Vicodin Kim. We all need to get through this. You can go to rehab when cancer is over.”

And there it was words to live by. Luckily, cancer is over, I did not have to go to rehab and I have returned to checking the box for social drinking. However, when it doubt, it is good to know you can go to rehab when cancer is over!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

It's Good To Have Hair...

I have hair now. For a brief time (and by this I mean for one, super, long year) two years ago, I did not have hair. Breast cancer’s chemo had left me without hair. Shortly after receiving the news that you have cancer you will hear this next word…oncologist. Oncologist, in my mind, means chemotherapy. And certainly, with my group of honest and fast moving doctors there was never a moment that I did not know I was going to have chemotherapy.

However, in my mind, even though I knew it was crazy, I expected the oncologist to say, “Yes, you will have chemo. But, I have incredibly good news… you are the rare person who is going to have a new, fabulous chemo in which you will not loose your hair.” (After watching the documentary, I do feel possibly, that is what they said to Farrah Fawcett). It is not shocking to learn that the oncologist did not end up saying that. What he did do was recite a long list of possible side effects, none of which bothered me, until he got to the last one, where he said, “and then there is, of course, hair loss.” And then I cried.

After the news that I would loose my hair, I knew that I had about six weeks before it would actually fall out. This was a predicament because I have my hair colored, and I was due for a touch up. Now, while I feel that women need to keep themselves up, and I do not ever think that can be done at home doing your own color, I also didn’t feel like spending a $150 dollars on a fabulous coloring that was going to fall out. Certainly, I thought a small perk here is that I can run down to Walgreen’s and do the deed for a mere $5.99.

For the record, Naomi was not in agreement and had an absolute fit. And, for the record, Naomi was right it turned out horrid, but it also turned out all over my bathroom floor, so who cares. I avoided cameras and there is no record of the store bought hair color.

The reality is by the time the first round of chemo made its way through the listed side effects, I could care less about the hair loss and it was the LEAST of my worries. One night I pushed my fingers through my hair and when I looked down, the hair was in my fingers. I gave it another go and, yep, more hair.

In a moment of, “What the Hell inspiration,” I called my girls and we spent a fun hour hacking and shaving my hair until it was gone. When all was said and done, my three year old looked at me and said, “Mommy, you are beautiful.”

Really? Beautiful? Well this isn’t going to be so bad. The next morning I sat proudly in bed, still confident from last night’s announcement of my beauty. When my three year old came in, she made a horrific face and disappeared into my closet. She returned with a knit hat that someone had given me, “Here, I think you should wear this,” she announced before heading out the door, thus ending the “You look beautiful as a bald woman,” phase of chemo.

The truth was, I did not look beautiful bald. I get that there are some women that really rock that look and embrace it when they go through the whole process, and I had planned on being one of them, but it just wasn’t going to happen. So I wore a knit cap at home and a baseball cap for doctor’s visits, but as we all know, life goes on, and so it did, even though for me it felt stopped.

A wig was purchased for those “life goes on” moments and I did the best I could. The wig never felt right to me. It was awkward and hot. Simply put, I hated it…a lot. But, my cousin was getting married and there were family pictures, and I would need to return to teach a group of fourth graders for the last month of the school year so, on we went with the wig.

Eventually, I was done with the wig. I put on a baseball hat the last week of school and it stayed on until there was enough hair to look as though the cut was a decision I had made. When I finally wore the baseball cap that last week of school, I was worried about the kids in my class. I need not have. During the last week, at a very hot outdoor moment, I took off the cap to rub my head and let it breathe. At this moment Brittany (a fabulous little girl, who was a favorite, even though I am not supposed to have them) said, “I am glad you are wearing the hat. It is good to have the real you here.”

After the year had ended and summer began, I found myself at Disneyland with Naomi. It was a great trip. One of those, “Thank God I am on the other side of this!” moments. One day found us at the new “Princess Extravaganza.” Basically Disney had moved all the princesses into one area and they put on shows, arts and crafts, and signed autographs. On this day they all entered the “Extravaganza Area” by walking down the aisles and then floating onto the stage. As I sat there with Naomi, it hit me. I punched her and said, “Oh my God! That’s what I had…with my wig…really BAD Disney Princess hair!” Naomi started to deny it, you could see it as her lips moved together, but in the end she looked at them and said, “Yes, that really is the look you had going.” And we laughed, until tears ran down our faces and we could laugh no more.

I am not certain what the statute of limitations is on my hair situation. I know this…I should never complain about my hair. I know this, but sometimes I want to. I don’t like the cut, I’m not happy with the color, I wish it would look differently when I straighten it, and the list goes on. But, since I have been hairless, I feel I have no right to complain. And because of this I often say when people compliment me on my hair, “Well, yes, it is good to have hair!” And it is.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

My Marriage is Fine...

My husband is upset by the way he is portrayed in my writing. Apparently he hasn’t been with me long enough (18 years) to understand that when I referred to our marriage as “fine,” I meant…fabulous, amazing, wonderful, and superb. I feel it was implied.

Before you go and feel sorry for him, please understand that the same lack of sentimentality gets him off the hook for both birthdays and Valentine’s Day. I will get myself what I want for my birthday, I don’t expect him to be guessing and surprising me. Valentine’s Day is perhaps the biggest waste of time I have ever seen. And, to be clear, Valentine’s Day isn’t one of those things where I say I don’t care or want anything, but I secretly expect something great…I really could care less about the day.

The thing about my husband is this…he is most definitely the right person for me. I don’t usually tell him that, because quite honestly, to tell him would be contradictory to all the work that I put into making him believe that he can’t live without me (which he can’t). But, in reality, he is the only person I should have ended up with.

I’ll just say it, I’m crazy. No, really, I am crazy in many ways. We have four kids, we are ridiculously overcommitted, I think the house should be really clean, I work full time, and then I sign up for an insane amount of extra things at work, church, and with the kids. I know that I am a little (and by this I mean a lot) hard to handle. And this is where I know that he is the right person for me…because he just accepts it and handles it. To be honest, he not only handles it, he will generally take the bullet/dive on his sword when things aren’t going well. He will admit it is ALL his fault when we have a problem, and I will let him admit it is ALL his fault when we have a problem, but in reality many times… it is my fault.

When we got married I was that rare woman that didn’t really care about the wedding. My father offered up cash if we eloped, and I wanted to take that deal. But, my husband wanted the wedding and we had one. He was right. It was a great day full of truly fabulous memories. The hard part was in the planning. Not for me, but for anyone who had to make or produce things for the wedding. Florists, cake lady, and the list goes on were all met by the same phrase when they asked me what I would like, “Oh, I don’t know, you’ve done this many times, what do you think?” You would think they would love this freedom, but in actuality everyone seemed a little unnerved by my carefree approach to wedding planning.

The dress cost $150.00 (I am proud of this, not ashamed, so it you were someone who had a really fabulous, expensive wedding dress don’t feel sorry for me), it was the first one I tried on at a discount bridal shop, and the alterations and my rehearsal dinner dress both cost more than my actual wedding dress. It was my opinion, then and now, that the dress was a two minute gig. People were going to decide when I hit the church door if they liked it or not, and at that moment it doesn’t matter how much money you spent on the dress. At some point the bridesmaids even revolted when I announced I didn’t care what kind of shoes they purchased. They banned together to decide on matching shoes as they thought that would be more appropriate. And for the record I know of at least two bridesmaids that wore their dresses again.

I wanted to put my money where it would really count…the bar and food. We have a great picture of my dad at the end of the night that proves I invested wisely.

It wasn’t that I didn’t care about our wedding, it was that I was more focused on the marriage. Good advice from my pastor, “Most people are worried about the wedding, I encourage you to think about the marriage.” I was ready to be married, felt certain I was way behind schedule (I was 24, so obviously I had no real sense of what “way behind” was), and seriously in love for the first time in my life. I feel certain we have no business lasting as long as we have based on the ridiculous lack of questioning and planning we did before the marriage, but here we are.

I’m not sure what constitutes a good marriage. Certainly, as time goes by fewer and fewer people commit to the institution for a great length of time, and even some who give it years, beg off in the end. I do know there are ebbs and flows to the whole thing. There are moments I am caught up in the idea that I have married this perfect person, and that I have made the very best decision any girl could ever make and then again, moments where I am contemplating my exit strategy.

Maybe it lasts because I have the sense to know that there are going to be those highs and lows. Maybe it lasts because we both work at it. Maybe it lasts because when we think of starting over with someone else (and telling said person we have four kids) it seems like way to much work. When Tipper and Al Gore separated after 40 years of marriage a friend of mine said, “What’s the point? Why would you want to start over with someone else after all that work.” Agreed.

I am a firm believer in this, “You can’t change other people, you can only change yourself and the way you react to other people.” And in the end, I think that is what we have done. We haven’t changed each other, but we changed some things for each other. I’m not as sarcastic (yes, I know hard to believe if you know me, this is me way toned down) because it was a little too much for him. He’s more involved in our house and things that need to get done for our lives to run efficiently. There are not as many screaming matches when we try to agree on household projects.

I know this…he still thinks I’m funny and cute, and I still think he is ambitious and handsome, and we still laugh. So there it is…my marriage is going fine, just fine thank you!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Second Place...

Here’s the thing…or at least the latest thing…I can’t really see anymore. The problem with my lack of eyesight is I haven’t actually admitted it to myself. I mean, I have the glasses, because, you know, I can’t actually see anymore, but I am unwilling to wear them all of the time. For several reasons I guess. One, it is a huge nuisance. For forty years I didn’t wear glasses so I have no idea how to keep track of them or remember to bring them to important places…such as restaurants and appointments that require me to fill out paperwork. Secondly, every time I put them on I can hear my college roommate chant, “Men don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses.” This honestly has no bearing on my life, I am happily married and not seeking out men, but it is what I hear so I instantly feel unattractive when I put them on.

I have tried a few varieties of the glasses and have basically settled on the “Tori Spelling” pair. They are Marshall’s glasses that I can buy in bulk, cheap, and in funky colors, and when my husband sees me in them he says, “Well, Hello Tori.” because they resemble the ones she wears on her reality show. Listen, I would rather be Jennie Garth in a Bev. Hills 90210 comparison, but the fact that I am not being called Andrea is a bonus and I am going to have to take what I can get. And if you got this whole paragraph, I know how old you are and what you were doing in the 80’s.

I also want to lose ten pounds. This has basically been a mantra that has followed me my whole life, except for maybe five minutes at the end of a successful stint at weight watchers. It turns out that with every year I age the ten pounds just gets harder and harder to lose. In college those ten pounds could be lost with a fabulous diet of gummy bears and diet coke. After babies number one and two, the ten pounds came off with a little careful watching of what I ate. Babies number three and four required a trip to Weight Watchers and the ten pounds after chemo was accomplished with Nutri-System.

Now I just want to lose them because I am 42. Only I don’t want to watch what I eat, go to Weight Watchers or order any Nutri- System food (nor can I currently afford any of these things because I have the four overcommitted children I am paying many, many lessons for). Basically, I am unwilling to do any work whatsoever. So, I either need to suck it up and do one of the above mentioned programs, or I need to suck it up and admit I am not going to lose the ten pounds.

Recently, I was at the Disneyland pool (not swearing) when I had a fabulous revelation. I was there, in my swimsuit and age appropriate cover-up, thinking about the ten pounds I did not lose before the vacation. I might also, possibly, have been thinking about the ten pounds while I was having a beer and eating some french fries. As I was contemplating my journey from the chair to the hot tub in my bathing suit without the cover-up, I started looking around. Looking and assessing the situation. There were a lot of women there with their kids. Most were in bathing suits, some with the cover-up and many without.

Of these many women in bathing suits, there was this one woman. This one woman, who was about my age, looked fabulous. And while she looked fabulous, it was the kind of fabulous that had not come easily. Let’s face it this woman was working out, there were weights involved, possibly some jogging, and she did not have a beer or french fries anywhere near her. And she was sporting a two-piece as she yelled to her children, and hauled her baby around. I won’t lie to you, she looked good. So, feeling like I could no longer walk confidently from pool to hot tub in my Gap, black, tankini, I let myself move on to the other women at the pool. Listen, I’m not going to go into a lot of adjectives or descriptive words here, but I will say that no one else was sporting a two piece, and as it turns out, no one else was even sporting a tankini. It was then that I realized it…I was in second place.

With little to no work, and french fries and beer in hand, I was in second place. I wasn’t the hot mom in the two piece, but I wasn’t doing too badly. Since this remarkable day, where I landed in second place, I have tried out my theory at other pools and public venues. There are times where I must be honest with myself and admit that I am not in second, and I fall down to third or fourth, and being as I live in small town where the women really keep themselves up, sometimes there is even a fifth place. But, consistently I am in the top five and even more consistently…second place.

Since I have decided (for this moment) not to lose the ten pounds, I am now working out in the hopes that I could maybe, possibly firm up the ten pounds. I actually like to work out, and it always go well for awhile, and then sadly the four kids I have get in the way of a consistent workout routine. The worst part is that once you start working out it turns out that it does feel better (and you look better) then the plan that I really enjoy, which is sitting at home eating potato salad and watching reality T.V.

Luckily, when all is said and done, I can return to my original problem…I can’t actually see anymore. Obviously, since I can’t get the glasses to the important places, they rarely make it into my closet or bathroom. So in the end I can’t see the extra ten pounds anymore, and remember I’m still in second place. Not bad for this underachiever...I’ll take it.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Overcommitted...

Before I had kids, or maybe shortly after I had my first, I told myself that my kids would choose one activity to participate in at a time. I was determined that we would not be one of those ridiculous, overcommitted families that has no time for dinner and is constantly referring to their calendars to keep their lives in order. As the kids got a little older, I didn’t stick to the “one activity” rule but changed it to…well, we will take all these things now so they can see what they like, and then in high school each child will pick their favorite thing. The oldest is starting high school, she is not choosing her favorite thing, and we are the epitome of an overcommitted family.

The difficulty sometimes lies in the fact that their favorite thing is NOT my favorite thing, or my husband’s favorite thing. Because of this we (they) end up enrolled in all of our favorite things.

We are currently enrolled in twelve dance classes between four children. This means two recitals and about fourteen costumes. I am not going to tell you how much I spend on costumes. You will assume I am very wealthy (I am not, just broke all the time) or crazy (I am). Not only are we enrolled in all these classes, but it will get worse next year.

My oldest is going to be on the competitive dance team. This is something that I said, “NO” to for many years. Actually, what I said was, “Hell No!” And apparently, “Hell No!” translates into…”yeah, OK, go for it.” So next year she will do competitive dance and I will, in turn, be a competitive mom. I am picturing Toddlers and Tiaras, although I am told it is not that bad. I have a good friend embarking on this journey with me. She talks about bringing a novel to read, and ducking out to do some shopping at the competitions. Look, I have seen those competitive moms in action (while I am drinking a latte at recital time) they are NOT reading and shopping. They are filling balloons, hopping out of their seats to help with costume changes, and hauling props into the studio. I am trying to look at it as the exercise program for myself that I never have time for.

My second and third children had decided to quit dance. One to do year round swim (because we have that kind of free time) and the other to concentrate on piano and voice lessons (in case she would like to be Miss California some day). This was a great decision I thought. We were “choosing” things and slowing down. Well, we were until the final recital that left both children a mess in different ways. One cried hysterically for three hours after the recital telling me it was because she was “happy” to be moving on from dance. The second just found me alone and said quietly, “You know how I love my dance teacher. I can’t leave her.” And, with that, we were all back in.

Dance isn’t our only vice. There is swimming, choir, basketball, church youth group, and probably a few other things I am forgetting. I am moments away from being the crazy mom on Wife Swap who rants to the cameras about her schedule, and then does a crazy cry because someone has thrown said schedule away. A good friend emailed me the other day and asked a simple question, “Is there ever a time when your kids do not have something they HAVE to do?” I thought long and hard and then replied, “Yes, the week between Christmas and New Year’s.” And, while I would like to say I am exaggerating, I’m not.

I’m not sure how we got here. For the record, my husband hates all the dancing. I am sure it has something to do with the slightly crushed dreams of a man who did not get sons and football. Or it could be that he is right, and it is all way too much and unnecessary. What am I really preparing them for? A stint on Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders: Making the Team? A chance to audition for America’s Got Talent? Vegas showgirl? Backup dancers for MTV videos? The whole thing is a total disconnect from my personality. I am mostly hoping to make it through the competitive dance season without the other competitive moms not hating me. It is OK if they dislike me a little, but I am going to try and avoid full-on contempt.

My thought process is that if I keep them “busy and active” (a positive spin on “overcommitted and exhausted”), there will be no time for any vices like drugs, alcohol, or sex when they are teenagers. The other day I told a friend, “I just want to keep them busy enough to avoid any stints in rehab.” She replied, “Them or you?”

Monday, June 28, 2010

She'll Start High School with More Math Than I Graduated With...

I have to admit I am a bit of an underachiever. I suppose it is all relative and while there are certain segments of the population out there that would look at me and think I am an overachiever, really, honestly, for the most part I am a bit of an underachiever.

It started in high school, my sophomore year, when I sat down in my counselor’s office to review my academic progress thus far, and look at where I was headed in the next two years. I was doing well, college bound, with no real issues. The counselor said my future was bright and I could follow one of two paths. He then proceeded to lay out the two paths for me. One involved attending a university and the other a state college. The prestigious university path involved a rigorous two years of math, science and foreign language. The state school path involved a slightly rigorous Jr. year followed by, from what I could tell, a breezy Sr. year. I have stated I am a bit of an underachiever, so there is no real need to tell you which path I took.


The underachieving continued in college. My choices were state colleges located up and down the coast of California, and at college choice time my parents were going through a nasty divorce. I decided the best way to choose my college was to decide which one was the farthest from my home and attend that one. San Diego State it was. It turns out San Diego State had a lot of other perks too, but distance was its greatest attribute for me.

My father sent me off to college with one line of advice, “Get a good liberal arts education, learn to play bridge, and handle your liquor.” Really, every underachiever’s dream direction as you head out into the world.

Every college course all had one thing in common I quickly discovered…the syllabus. Every college course started with the instructor going over…the syllabus. The syllabus was just another version of the speech my high school counselor had given me. The syllabus laid out several paths for you. One path led to an A, the other a C-. I did a quick analysis of my future and life ambitions. I thought about job interviews and applications, I checked around, and nobody who actually functioned in the adult world could remember having to share their GPA from college, just proof that they had graduated. Thus, this syllabus girl jumped right on board with the c- path, and went to work on learning to play bridge and handling her liquor, except that I still can’t play bridge.

This being said, my life as an underachiever has gone remarkably well, except that now I have children, and it turns out my children are not underachievers. So, I have now gone from underachiever to hypocrite in a quick blink of an eye.

The reality of this hit me when I walked in late to Back to School Night for my oldest child’s sixth grade year. I teach, I have four children…I have led and attended hundreds of Back to School Nights, all fourth grade and below. I was completely unprepared. The teacher was basically laying out expectations that would prepare the children for college. College? Seriously? I got ready for college in my Jr. year of high school. We have five years to go before we think about college. It turns out we didn’t.

Before Jr. High my daughter had to decide which classes she would take. It turns out there were “2 paths” involved, one of regular classes and one of Advanced Placement classes. She chose all advanced placement. I said, in my still present underachiever voice, “That’s a pretty big load. Do you want to take maybe one regular class so you are not bogged down with too much homework? Where’s ceramics? I took ceramics in seventh grade, it was great.” She said (with extreme exasperation and somewhat snotty look on her face), “No, I qualified for all of these classes and that is what I am going to take. Why would I take the regular classes if I can do the work for these?” Yes, exactly…and there it was, my shift from underachiever to hypocrite was underway.



This theme would follow me for the next few years. There would be Back to School Nights at the Jr. High, meetings, math practice sessions, and the list goes on. Luckily, I have a monitor in my brain that is somewhat in place most of the time. This monitor would keep the things I thought about saying safely in my head, while I would respond to things with what appeared to be a thoughtful head nod of agreement. For example…

At the seventh grade orientation day a parent said, “Thank goodness they are in these great math courses. You can’t do well in life without a really firm grasp on mathematics.” In my head I was thinking, “Oh, but you can, you really can…look at me, I am doing great and I still add on my fingers.”
But, what I did was…a thoughtful head nod.

The next year, at the eighth grade Back to School Night, I found myself with a “free” period because my child and several others had chosen “office help” as their elective. A parent said, “I think this “office help” is a huge waste of time. It won’t help them in the future at all. I wish the girls had taken French instead.” In my head I was thinking, “Are you kidding? This is a really popular choice, this is great. This means our kids are cool.”
But, what I did was…a thoughtful head nod.

That same year, at conferences in April, a very nice Science teacher laid out for me which science classes my child should take in high school (turns out there were 2 paths). He very politely steered me away from Earth Science in an explanation that implied Earth Science was a ridiculous waste of anyone’s time and that by taking said Earth Science class my child would be unfit for any kind of successful future. In my head I was thinking, “Wait…I took that earth science class and got a C-, it wasn’t that easy.”
But, what I did was…a thoughtful head nod.

High School starts next month. We have had our talk on expectations for this upcoming journey. There were “2 paths” for me to go with during our talk…underachiever or hypocrite. I did not mention ceramics or that her load might be “too heavy.” I did not bring up “office help” as a choice. Instead I find myself on the computer trying to find classes at the Jr. College for driver training and health so that she can take AP History in their place next year. She is NOT signed up for earth science, but some crazy biology class, and she will start high school with more math than I graduated with. When we discussed her GPA expectations, we said a 4.0 is what she should shoot for. She said, “Well, what if I get a couple of B’s.” I said, “Well, people will be checking your GPA for college, it is VERY important.” You got it, I went with hypocrite.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Well, Really It Was Rosie O'Donnell...

Women ask me all the time, “How did you know it was breast cancer? How did you find it?” The women are almost always nervous, quiet, and shy when they ask. It is usually followed by, “I mean, if you don’t mind talking about it?” The thing is, I don’t, mind talking about it, any of it, I have a ridiculous lack of boundaries I guess. So, here it is…


I was a fan of her talk show. It was in the days before TiVo, so I didn’t catch every episode. I would have to be at home, and work tended to get in the way of that. I wasn’t a fan of the show so much as I felt connected to her. Others would say the same thing I am sure. She seems to have that affect on people. For me it was small, weird coincidences between us that I would identify with in the stories she would tell. We had a love of TV, and a strong memory for the details of past TV shows. She would tell stories of her daughter, and I would sit, stunned as if she were telling the story word for word about my own child. Just different things really, but I liked the show. I was sad when it went off the air. I felt like a good friend had moved away and we no longer kept in touch.

When the press started that she was coming to The View I was excited. I didn’t watch The View, it came on in the morning when I was at work and I wasn’t interested in any of the hosts, but now it was Rosie and a new age of TiVo and DVR’s. I set my TiVo and started watching her that September. It was everything I wanted it to be. I had my friend back. September was enjoyable, and then October rolled in.

October, it seemed, had always been covered in orange and black, but in recent years a sea of pink was settling in as we celebrated breast cancer awareness month. The View, with Rosie at the forefront, dove into the month. The last segment each day covered stories on women with breast cancer…survivors, uplifting stories really, nothing negative. I didn’t watch. I told myself I had things to do, that I didn’t have time with four small children to watch the whole episode. Each day of October the segment would come on and each day I would click off the TV. But, in the back of my mind I couldn’t let it go, they stayed with me, these stories I didn’t watch and the message they were trying to send.

While I knew it was important to do self exams, I didn’t do them. I would wait until I had my yearly exam and let the doctor do it. It felt weird and overwhelming, and I just didn’t understand what I was looking for whenever I would try to do an exam. The View kept on with the stories, and I kept turning them off. But, at night, they would come back to me. Haunt me really.

I tried not to worry as I had an appointment with my OBGYN in November. I would tell myself, they will do an exam then. But, the haunting continued. Midway through October I started checking. And each night I checked, I would come back to the same spot. It didn’t feel like anything they tell you to look for, but it didn’t feel right either. I couldn’t get it out of my mind.

At the end of the month my husband ended up at the doctor. And this is probably the most amazing part of my entire journey, because he NEVER goes to the doctor. But, on this day he was there, and I must have been obsessing over it more than I realized, because he was aware enough to mention it to our amazing Nurse Practitioner. She told him to have me drop in and she would check it.

I did drop in, and she did check it, and she said the exact same thing I had been thinking every time I checked it, “It doesn’t feel like it should if we were to be worried, but it doesn’t feel right.” This led me to a mammogram at age 38, on the last day in October.

I knew at the mammogram appointment I had cancer. Chatting with the mammogram lady about my life and kids, and her life and kids, was casual and breezy…and then it wasn’t. In a moment my life changed. In that moment, there was this sudden shift of energy, a sucking up of the air in the room. The mammogram lady said, “How many kids did you say you have?” She really could have said, “Oh dear, you have breast cancer,” and truly, that would have been more subtle.

There are a series of incredibly fortunate events that happened to me after that moment. The doctor reading the mammogram that day knew my dad and called my doctor immediately, and then my own doctor (who knew my dad) called me. The phone was ringing as I set my purse down on the counter after the mammogram appointment. Less then a week later I was in the handsome surgeon’s office discussing the removal of my breast. I am grateful. I hear women’s stories all the time, and the fast paced journey I went on is the exception, not the norm.

For most of my life my faith has been tied up in my church. I love my church, the people there, the messages I listen to on Sundays, the kids’ programs my children attend, and all that is a part of my church experience. I know that I have a faith that I cling to with great integrity, but it is not the type of faith where you will hear me say, “God spoke to me” or “I will just put that in God’s hands.” It has always been a faith that needed something concrete to get my attention.

I am grateful, because God knew that I needed a certain concreteness to get my attention. And in the end while I love Rosie, and most often you will hear me say, “It was Rosie, I owe it all to Rosie.” I must give credit where credit is due. God spoke to me, he just knew he needed a really spectacular hook to get my attention. So I thank them both!

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Love...

Paige is my third daughter. She is her own person. I know that, I have always known that. You are either going to love her or she is going to MAKE you love her. There is no middle ground with Paige. She is determined and she is loud. Not purposely loud, it just comes naturally. When she was six, as first grade was ending and with summer approaching rapidly with 3 digit weather outside, Paige wore boots. Paige wore boots with shorts and skirts, to the point where I was starting to envision them with her swimsuit when swim team started in June. They were not shorter boots or ankle boots; they were more along the lines of riding boots, ones that come up to your knees. And even if I was able to let go of how ridiculous the boots looked in May with the central valley heat in full blast, there was a smell starting to associate with the boots that the rest of the house was not very happy about(and quite honestly the first grade class was probably a little disturbed as well). At the last minute, right before it was time to put on swimsuits and head to swim team practice, she stopped wearing the boots. Relief!

In first grade she was “in love.” She announced it over dinner one night rather casually. “Well, I am in love.” Her older sister, ever practical to Paige’s ever whimsical, responded, “You are not in love, you can’t be in love, you are only seven, that is ridiculous. Maybe you like him, but you are not in love.” Paige smiled, confident, always sure of herself and restated, “No, I am in love.” She didn’t talk about it any more for awhile, but when asked about her day she would smile slyly and tell you it was great.

Then one day she whispers to me, “I almost told him today.” Distracted, I ask clarifying questions because I don’t know what she is talking about, I have forgotten she is in love. “I almost told him about the love.” I think before I speak, but finally ask, “What do you think he would have done?” She replies confidently with a big smile, “Well, I’m pretty sure he would have run away!”

Soon she announces, still confident and happy, “Today I found out. He doesn’t like me. He will just have to be my boyfriend.” I explain that it is a two way street, and that if he is not interested he cannot be her boyfriend. She looks at me, as though I was crazy, and says, “I know he doesn’t like me, so I won’t be his girlfriend, he will just be my boyfriend.” I try to explain again that he may not like this idea and I also try to throw in that boyfriend and girlfriend relationships are not appropriate for elementary school, but she doesn’t listen. I am happy for her self confidence and in difference to the fact that he does not like her. She is undaunted. She will go on to “love” this boy for the rest of first grade and on into second.

Midway through second grade Paige arrives home with a necklace with her name on it, given to her by the “in love” boy. There is a convoluted story surrounding the gift…something about a prize at a fair he attended…she is pleased, you can tell. The necklace is worn several times and then tucked into a box. Not long after she announces that she is not “in love” and that she will not be “in love” for awhile, that she is “taking time for herself.” And that is where we stand today several years later. The love is over, she is happy working on herself and I am impressed that she is able to express and participate in a concept that I did not get a handle on until well into my twenties.

She is not the only child to experience “love.” Love came to our house in a more serious form later when our eighth grader started getting attention from boys. This happened because she grew about two feet and went from regular 7th grade girl to 8th grade super model over night. We arrived at a friend’s party not to long ago with our four children in tow and a friend we hadn’t seen in awhile said, “I see you brought your nanny.” I was perplexed. Nanny? On a good day I am lucky to afford a babysitter for two hours. I realized he was talking about our oldest daughter and he didn’t recognize her.

She liked the boy for a long time, and then he liked her. And then she asked us if she could “go out” with him if he asked. My husband said, “NO!” I told him that she was asking, which meant we were involved. If he threw down with the NO!, next time there would be no asking. We said yes.

It lasted most of 8th grade. He was a good kid. We live in a small town, people knew him even though we didn’t and every time someone would hear the name they would say, “OH, he is such a GREAT kid” I tried to take it at face value and not picture an Eddie Haskell type situation(I realize I am dating myself with the Eddie reference).

There was a Christmas gift, a Valentine’s gift, flowers on her birthday, and two group trips to the movies. The second group trip involved her little sister and father picking her up and coming into the movie theatre. She was mortified, mostly about her father’s outfit of old jeans, a football jersey, and a baseball hat that had seen better days and also that her sister ran up to her and gave her a hug. Finally, there was the break-up. It was a polite, somewhat mutual parting of the ways that was quite honestly handled much more maturely then some of my college day break-ups (and by some, I mean all). In the end the only one who was disappointed about the breakup was my husband.

“I thought you were totally against the whole thing, why are you upset?” He went on to say that in the end this kid had been pretty easy to handle. Rumor had it he was too nervous to hold her hand in the movies, he had this great family and was really quite nice all the way around. So he didn’t even get to enjoy the break up because he was already onto worrying about what came next. High school boys are next…he should worry.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Never Say Never...

Never say Never. This is my parenting mantra, my words to live be, my motto so to speak. When the kids were young it applied to things like cutting other children’s hair, saying bad words, kicking other children, and any little thing children do that you are appalled by. I noticed there was a brand of mothers who were very contrite, sure of themselves, and very “holier than though” when it came to other children’s short comings. Often pronouncing indignantly and loudly, “Oh my little Tommy, Susie and so on would NEVER do that.” I quickly realized that their kid would do that, that my kid would do that, and that all kids WILL do that on any given day.

Sometimes, very rarely, I forget my mantra and it comes back to bite me in the ass.

This was the case with swim team. I have four children. The first two children are really good swimmers. From the get go it was easy. At age two we took starter lessons (NO Mommy and Me, I am highly against Mommy and Me Classes of any kind, but that is a story for another day) and at age three we took actual lessons and at four they swam.

The fact that they were good swimmers caught me off guard. In fact, my children are very good at most athletics and this also catches me off guard. They are requested by coaches for basketball, they win medals at swimming, they win talent show competitions at school and I won’t bore you, but the list does go on. This takes me off guard, or more to the point, is completely shocking to me because I had NO such talent of any kind. I tried out for the drill team three years in a row (didn’t make it), I was “Rover” (I’m not even sure it is a real position) on my little league team, there was loud groaning when people had to choose me for there sporting teams (back in the day when it was alright for teachers to subject children to “picking their own teams”), and the list goes on. Don’t feel sorry for me…I went on to be a perfectly fabulous adult despite my shortcomings as a child, but still it catches me off guard when my children have these talents.

I assumed the ease with which my first two children learned to swim would continue right onto the second two children. It did not. It came to a grinding halt with child number three. We started with the same starter lessons and then moved on to actual lessons. Basically between ages three and six we took every kind of lesson known to man for swimming. One year involved a whole summer of lessons in which she never let go of the teacher and swam with one side of her body flailing in the water and the other side wrapped tightly around the teacher’s neck. If the teacher let go there would be a loud scream heard throughout the poolside area in which one would assume murder was being committed. All while I sat casually reading a magazine and pretending the screamer did not belong to me.

All lessons were taught for two summers by a wonderful college girl “Miss Sierra.” This poor girl earned her money and I am quite certain went back to college after the first year determined to major in business or agriculture.

She finally swam. It was a less than fabulous stroke that caused people great alarm when she first hit the pool solo. There were concerned looks and glances at life vests. A good friend went to the pool with me one day and sat as we watched my daughter swim. She said casually, “You should get her some lessons.” I said, “I did. This is the result of thousands of dollars of lessons.” She replied, “You should ask for your money back.”

She was almost six, she hated swimming, but she could swim. At the end of the summer I announced that next summer she would be on the swim team with her sisters. She announced that next year she would NOT be on the swim team with her sisters. We both had a look of steely determination. In January I started announcing daily that she would be on the swim team. She replied daily, she would not be on the swim team. I won. June first we headed to the pool with three children registered for swim team.

We had done swim team with my first two children for a few years. And remember my first two children were children who swam with ease. And while I admit their talent caught me off guard, I also have to admit I jumped on board with it enthusiastically. A small amount of “proud parent” cheering (or crazy “stage mom” pushing) was involved. It was during those early swimming meets with my first two children that I forgot my “Never Say Never” mantra.

If you have ever been to a swim meet you know that there is a six and under category. In this category you have some children that can actually swim (like my first two) and get across the pool in a timely manner, and you have some children that cannot swim across the pool in a timely manner and those children flail across while being timed and usually clock in with a time of 8 minutes 25 seconds, all while parents stand by the edge of the pool yelling and screaming encouragement. I found it a COMPLETE waste of time. I complained bitterly about it. I said to probably anyone that would listen, “I would NEVER do that with my child.”

At the first swim meet that year I walked my third daughter over to the starting block and watched as she jumped in the pool when the whistle blew. I then walked to the side of the pool and cheered loudly while she flailed to the end of the pool, pausing for breaths, and occasionally just flat out rolling over onto her back in a floating position to rest, eventually clocking in at some time well over the 8 minutes and 25 seconds I had previously complained about in others. People were rolling their eyes, mothers were whispering in groups and I knew what they were saying, “I would NEVER do that with my child.”

It is a few years later and while there is probably not an Olympic Gold medal in the future for this particular child I can report that there has been improvement. There have even been, on poorly attended swim meets when people are out of town for the Fourth of July, a few winning ribbons. Recently, across a crowded store, I saw Miss Sierra. I yelled, “Miss Sierra, Miss Sierra.” She spotted me and while I am certain, since I was standing there with child number four who was about starter swim lesson age, she wanted to run; she did not. She sucked it up and smiled politely and came over. I said, “Miss Sierra, I just have to tell you that my daughter has been on the swim team for a couple of years now and recently she won a second place ribbon.” She cried. Right there in the crowded store Miss Sierra cried and said (as nicely as possible while in complete disbelief), “Really? That is so wonderful and, well, amazing really. I guess you should never say never”

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Perspective...September 11th...

Disclaimer...this posting is something I wrote awhile ago, and it doesn't actually need the disclaimer because it will be immediately obvious when it was written once you start reading. It isn't funny, but it is my favorite piece of writing ever and my only published piece (thank you Lodi Leaflet). I read it every now and again. It has stayed true...


September 11th…
This year, my Christmas lights were the last ones down in the neighborhood.
It was an almost embarrassing length of time until they came down. Then, they didn't make it up to the attic until well into March when the Easter decorations came down. They sat, packed up, waiting in the garage for someone to notice them.
We have lived in our house for almost a year. During this year, my husband has unpacked about two of the 20 boxes in his office.

Sometimes the garbage in our house doesn't make it to the outside garbage until the day after it is full. It sits, spilling over to the floor, waiting for someone to trip over it or be repulsed by the smell. These unfinished projects and disregarded chores are my husband's.
They are the things we decided long ago in our marriage would be his responsibility.

They used to get done immediately. Not because of my husband's desire to do them quickly, but because of my desire to see them done quickly. Obsessive, compulsive, or just outright anal as my husband says, if they weren't done in a timely manner, a long series of whining and nagging would commence and continue stronger and louder until all was complete.

This was before, this was a year ago August, before Sept. 11, 2001.

Because on Sept. 11, one year ago today, for one short hour -- for one long hour -- I thought my husband was dead. My husband, a California native and resident, was in the World Trade Center on the 61st floor.

He has told his story many times. There is always someone who does not know about his brush with death. It is his story that causes people to stop and inhale their breath in disbelief. It is one of those things that you can't believe happened. It doesn't seem possible.

For me, it is one of those things I can't believe happened, and I can't believe we were involved. We live in California. The people involved here were on planes. There were no happy endings or stories of triumph for the people on planes.

The stories in California were sad, about people who were not coming home. My husband's story is happy; it is about survival and triumph on a day when there was nothing to celebrate. My story is a little less about Sept. 11 and a little more about every day since.
On that Tuesday, I had the phone off the hook. My 4-year-old came in and crawled under the covers with me, her warm body snuggled against my pregnant belly.

"Mommy do you want me to answer the door?" she asked. "No sweetheart, it's 7 in the morning; no one is at the door," I told her.

Then I heard it too. I was too sleepy to be alarmed. It was my best friend. She stood awkwardly, alone, nervous-looking in sweats.

"Are you OK?," she asked.

I was OK, just confused.

She sat me down, she told me, and we turned on the TV. With no background information, I watched a tower fall.

I am a realist, a bottom-line gal, everything black and white, very little gray. I remember thinking, "Well, that's that. Nobody could survive that. He's dead." I didn't verbalize it, but I felt it.

The next hour felt like five minutes. Turn on the phone, get messages, friends sound concerned, but not panicked, he must be somewhere else, not in the towers, because, well ... because.

Corey's boss has called. He doesn't sound like he thinks Corey is dead. Return his call. He thinks Corey is out, but he doesn't know for sure.

Think about calling my dad; if Corey is dead I want the children out of the house when I hear this.

Stay calm, don't want to lose the baby.

Brother arrives to help. Best friend and brother try to make pancakes for my children. This would be funny on any other day.

Call Corey's mom. Tell her he is there, she doesn't believe me, he isn't in that building because, well ... because.

The message comes in while I am on the phone with mother-in-law. I get it right before 8. On my voice mail I hear, "Collect from Corey." I drop to the floor, crying.

It is his voice, he is alive.

I missed the impact the rest of the world felt. I was completely self-involved, in my own world, not understanding the magnitude of the event.

Standing in front of the TV at about three in the afternoon, watching it all I realized for the first time, "This wasn't an accident or a plane crash. It was terrorism."

My husband came home.

He rode a bus halfway across the country and then bravely got on a plane in Tulsa to be home with his family.

There are many men, women and children whose stories about that day are not happy, they do not end well. I think of the women, the pregnant women, most often. Their stories are on "Dateline" and in People magazine. I watch and cry, I read and cry. I feel guilty.

Why were we blessed?
Why did my husband come home?
Why did my husband get to be there when our third girl was born in November?
Why did this happen?

The only way I can answer is with my life. My answer is to live a little more and worry a little less. My answer is to have more fun with husband and children and treasure my family. Let go of the things that used to bother me, and really aren't that important. I have put some perspective into my life, a perspective that wasn't there before.

When my husband is late and I am overwhelmed with three children at bath time, I am reminded that this could have been a permanent situation. It could have been me every night, every morning, every day, alone.

This perspective has changed me, for the better. I am different now. It sits there, 9/11, in the back of my mind a reminder as to what is important. I'm not perfect, I slip. As the time passes since Sept. 11, I find myself concerned about the garbage, the boxes, the things I want done.

I hope if next year's Christmas decorations sit in the garage until Easter that I will ignore them and realize how unimportant it is. I pray I will keep my new found perspective and know what is important to my family -- our health, our love, our life.

Sept. 11 took so much away from our country. God willing, I will cherish all that it gave me for a very long time.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

You Just Don't Say the F Word at Disneyland

Here’s the thing, and I know when I say this I will offend a large portion of the population out there, but I don’t really love Disneyland, or at least I didn’t start out loving it. Having said that it is important to note that we go once a year and sometimes twice, which is a sort of irony that is not lost on me.

Early on when we were starting our family and we had only our two oldest children we took a family trip across country traveling from California to North Carolina. This, of course, involved airplanes and with airplanes comes airports. I decided on this trip that we would not be traveling as a family, on a plane, until everyone could take off their own shoes and put them back on. I was also unwilling to load any type of car seat or stroller or baby device onto a plane ever again. Now this was unfortunate because we went on to have two more children. So, since I wasn’t going to be getting on any planes for a vacation for about ten years and I like vacations, I realized quickly I would need to come up with a plan. There were trips to Tahoe and that was great because we had access to a cabin there, but what about a real vacation? The kind with room service, someone to make my bed and no cooking.

I did not think my plan would be Disneyland. I had been once as a teenager with Naomi and my father before they divorced. I am not going to go into the trip or the dynamics of my parents’ marriage, but it is safe to say I did not have good memories of the trip and it was always very odd to me when people spoke so highly of the magic kingdom. Never the less we took our oldest when she was two and I was pregnant with child number two. I had it in my mind that we needed to do something with “just her” before child number two arrived. This was before I realized none of that would matter because with so many children there would never be equity and it was ridiculous to even try.

I spent the first two days of the trip saying every hour, “Well, this is fun.” or “We’re having a good time, aren’t we?” All in a sort of odd, disbelieving voice, because we were having this really good time. It finally ended when my good natured husband practically yelled, “Yes Kim, we are having a good time. We are at Disneyland not the Holocaust museum what were you expecting?” So, I put my baggage away and enjoyed the trip.

Later, after I realized I was not getting on any planes, I turned Disneyland into something that would work for us all. I added concierge to our hotel room (complimentary cocktails from five to seven), instilled in my children the idea that the pool was just as much fun as going into the parks and in the end we have enjoyed it.

So much so that one year when my husband was too busy with work to go I decided to take Naomi and the four kids. Please note that Naomi does not like rides of any kind, doesn’t handle crowds well and likes to have dinner at four and be in bed at five. So, in reality, the whole trip was a little stressful. Adding to the stress was my youngest child who was two at the time. She spent the entire time in her stroller covered in jackets refusing to get out and participate in anything. So, on our last day, before we were supposed to drive home I decided to get up early take her into Fantasyland and spend an hour just with her riding rides. Naomi was opposed to the plan, but I insisted and headed off with her. We got right on the monorail for early entrance, landed in Fantasyland and NO ONE was there yet. I had been enough to know that this would be short lived and within minutes it would be a crowd of thousands and for some strange reason they all head straight to the Dumbo ride. This is a fun ride for someone who is two, but in my opinion not worth the standard two hour wait with said two year old.

But, on this day…no line for Dumbo. In my best mommy voice I say, “Look, the elephant ride is ready for us,” as I start the run toward getting in line. She says, “I don’t want to ride that elephant ride, I want to ride the horses.” Let me tell you, the “horses” or merry go round, is NOT the big attraction of Fantasyland. You can ride that horse any time, during even the biggest crowds, there is NEVER a line. In my continued best mommy voice I say, “Great. Let’s ride the horses next, first let’s ride the elephants.” We are almost to the line now and it is still empty and ours for the taking. She wails, a really loud wail and says adamantly, “No, I am not going on those elephants; I want to ride the horses.”

It is in this moment that all the stress of the trip comes to an ugly head. I know I am beat, but I am frustrated, and under my breath I mutter “F@#*” It was very quiet and heard by no one around us, except it turns out, my 2 year old, who quickly and loudly I might add responds with, “I am NOT a F@#*”

I am telling you right now that while I can tend to embellish a story, take little liberties to make things funnier, there is no such exaggeration when I say to you that all of Fantasyland came to a grinding halt and quiet surrounded us. Every ride from Dumbo down to Peter Pan had a hush come over it all while hundreds of parents gave me a look that can only be described as extreme disgust. I quietly grabbed her, slunk off to the merry go round and rode the horses. She loved it and her loud yell of the F word really seemed to lift her spirits because in jovial tone that had not been heard all week she announced after the horses that she was ready for the elephants now. Of course, now it was about a two hour wait with a line full of disapproving people that were judging me on my child rearing efforts and possibly a “wanted” like poster already in place banning from the ride.

So, let it be known that you just don’t say the F word at Disneyland.

Monday, June 14, 2010

I Didn't Picture the "Baby" Part...

I am sixteen years into a marriage that most people who attended our wedding probably gave sixteen weeks. This practical, everything is black and white, think it over carefully kind of girl threw caution to the wind, held her breath, threw a penny into the fountain and married for love with very little thought to how it would all go. It’s going fine thank you.

I do add to that, while things are going fine, never say never because then you are on Oprah saying, “No, I really didn’t know he was cheating/watching porn/texting teen girls/(insert problem here).” But, I really do think it is going fine.

We have four kids, four girls, all two years a part. People always ask if we are going to try for the boy. I say, “We did…four times.” I also feel if God wanted me to have a boy, I would have one. If I kept trying I would have five girls. In the end, while I know my husband was really praying that we would have a boy, I was grateful when the last one was a girl. By that time girls were what I knew and luckily I was very sure I wanted a fourth “child,” irregardless of what happened. So, here we are with this big family that we didn’t actually discuss or plan, but it is going fine.

I realized rather early on that when I pictured our lives and family, I pictured… kids. I pictured activities with…kids. I pictured great family vacations with …kids. I pictured holidays with…kids. However, it turns out that before you can have “kids” you must have babies. This is the part I didn’t picture. Originally I thought we would space the children out about five or six years. Once I realized how exhausting the baby phase was I sped it all up with a grand determination to grit my teeth and get through it.

My vision of kids versus the reality that is babies was never more evident then the year we had our third, or as I like to call it “The year I was almost committed.”

I am organized and on time for everything. Actually, I am early for everything and while I am getting more relaxed with age, a nervous, sick feeling starts in my stomach if the clock hits a time I am supposed to be somewhere, but am not yet. When we had our third child I stopped working and tried being a “stay at home mom.” This did not work out for me on so many different levels it is impossible to cover them all. The biggest problem was that for an entire year I could not get myself and three children where we needed to be on time to save my life. It didn’t matter if the function was at ten in the morning or ten at night, we were going to be late.

So I spent a whole year with that sick feeling in my stomach and while I was feeling sick about my chronic tardiness, my third child spent her time actually being sick. This means that for six solid months I would feed her and she would projectile vomit it right back out. I had to start wearing really cheap, inexpensive clothes because I could only wear them once (vomited formula the most unforgiving stain known to man). I had to start carrying her around the stomach facing out from me…kind of like when you carry clothes on your arm when shopping. This did not scream warmth and love to the innocent bystander and about once a day we would be out, she would projectile vomit on the ground and someone would say, “Oh dear the baby spit up. Mom? Did you know your baby spit up?” To which I would reply in a rather surly tone, “Yeah…I know.” I felt like adding “spit up my ass…there is a puddle of baby formula vomit on the ground, did you think I didn’t see that?” Luckily she was my third so I wasn’t tied down to the rules of mothering. Against all advice and every baby book written, I gave her milk at seven months and that was the end of that. The projectile fun ended and never returned.

The absence of constant vomiting now gave me time to deal with my second child. She was two and “eccentric.” I am going with eccentric or “quirky” because the reality was she was weird and weird is a bitter pill to swallow when discussing your own child. I can reference weird because in the end she grew out of it, but it was a long year.

Once a week we would go to our church’s youth group. I needed the break from my kids and quite honestly I thought maybe God could help my situation. In the end while the other children would participate in the bible lesson or craft…most youth group sessions found my child in the corner with scissors cutting paper into small pieces or sitting backwards on a chair rocking back and forth. Let’s face it these were not actions that screamed, “play with me, be my friend.” There were looks from the other moms, but luckily it was church so they were kept to a minimum, because I am certain people felt that had to be kind at church. God only knows what they said when they got home.

I also decided that while I was a stay at home mom I should join play groups. I won’t spend a lot of time on this I will just say quite emphatically that I was a BIG PLAYGROUP LOOSER. I never had the right snacks, I had the vomiting baby and the “quirky/eccentric” toddler and I never really cared about any of the things the other mothers were talking about. This was because they were talking about their babies and it turns out that I wasn’t super interested in the baby part. It was all a huge disaster that had me checking into daycare and running back to work by the end of the year.

I love my kids and I loved them as babies too. Really, there are lots of great “baby” moments and I am not a monster. I am just being honest when I say that I hadn’t realized the baby part…tons of plastic paraphernalia (car seats, strollers, high chairs etc.), diapers, late nights, no sleep and all the rest would be so hard. I am sure there are two categories of people out there, the mothers that appreciate my honesty and those that are a little bit horrified, because some people are the exact opposite of me…they pictured the baby part and not the kid part (feel free to find their blog/book for another point of view).

My youngest is five. There is no more “baby” stage. They are all “kids” now. We’ll see…now it might just turn into Be Careful What You Wish For!!!

Friday, June 11, 2010

When Breast Cancer Was Funny...

Today was a good day I told myself. Good because two days after a mastectomy I was dressed in “sort of” matching clothes, my hair was “sort of” combed, my make-up was “sort of” done, and I was “sort of” hopped up on pain killers so the reality of how I might actually look did not matter to me. The victory was in the “I’m ready to go, even though I am missing a breast, have tubes tucked into my underwear and my whole life has turned upside down in less than a month.” Because a month ago I was a wife, a mother, a full time teacher and a ridiculously over committed human being…now I just had breast cancer.

The purpose of being up and sort of ready to face life, was an appointment with my surgeon, a nice, extremely attractive man who had recently removed my breast. My mother was picking me up for the appointment. I love my mother, she is wonderful in many ways, but she is not your typical mother. Well, maybe, if you were rich, eccentric and living in Manhattan, then she might be your typical mother, but we are none of those things. We are middle class, small town, central valley California people.

It was no surprise to open the door to her dressed head to toe as though she were going to the Country Music Awards instead of her cancer stricken daughter’s follow up mastectomy appointment. Not only was she dressed in a fur coat and knee length fur trimmed boots, but she wears big, dark sunglasses year round and currently her hair was very red. So it was really like opening the door to Naomi Judd.

Naomi looked over her sunglasses, gave me a once over and said, “Oh. Well, I can see we are going to need to get some matching sweat outfits for the next few months.” I knew right away that I did not look anywhere close to the “sort of” good I had built myself up to be. I did feel like screaming at her that the reason I did not own matching sweat outfits was because she had spent my whole adult life warning me of the evils of women who let themselves go by wearing those “horrid little sweat outfits” everywhere. But, I had long since learned that to point out the inconsistencies of my mother were futile and led to no purposeful discussion. Instead I smiled and said, “Thank You Naomi, I will work on that,” and went to locate the painkillers that were suddenly becoming a great perk to my illness.

The surgeon, again he is very nice and handsome…a rare combination of attractive and outstanding bedside manner…was, of course, slightly taken aback when he came into the room for my appointment, this being for several reasons really. One reason being the presence of Naomi, who did not take off her sunglasses for the mastectomy visit and two our reaction to the removal of my bandages.

Prior to breast cancer, I was a well endowed girl, a size C cup since freshman year in high school and a double D for college and beyond, I had been dealing with my breasts it seemed, my whole life. Not perky double D’s like you see on any MTV reality show or Hugh Hefner’s girlfriends, but the kind of double D’s that sag down to your belly button, need to be lifted up and tucked into your bra. So, even though I would eventually go on to have four children, my breasts had the look of a woman who had birthed four children long before it actually happened. Simply put, I had always hated my breasts, if I had to do it over again I would have maxed out a credit card and had a reduction at 18. My mother has lived the journey with me. Dresses for dances, graduation, and just about any occasion have led to huge department store break downs and constant frustration, because while a double D on top, for most of my life I was a size 8 on the bottom. This leads to difficulties when dress shopping.

Now, I am certain, my very experienced doctor had to unveil bandages to breastless women many times and I know that many women are very traumatized by the loss of a breast, so I am certain my surgeon had seen many tears and had to comfort many women. That has to be the norm I would imagine. It is not what he got from my mother and I. As the bandages came off to reveal my totally flat boy chest on one side….my mother and I both said, in chorus, something to the effect of, “Oh, that’s not so bad, oh gosh look at that, well, doesn’t that seem like it will be just fine.” Speechless. We left the nice, attractive surgeon speechless.

After the visit what should have happened was that I should have gone home and immediately gone to bed with, yes, more pain killers. Really, the day had been full enough with Naomi and the speechless surgeon. However, I decided that I would like to stop by the store for grapes and my mother wanted a flu shot which was also happening at the grocery store that day. I am certain grapes and flu shot at Safeway always follow mastectomy appointments.

The need to stop for grapes probably came from the same place that would strike me throughout my journey with breast cancer. It came from the need to be a good, involved mother, when really that wasn’t always possible when you are in pain from surgery or exhausted from chemo or just exhausted from the whole experience of it. On this day I thought that a good, involved mother would have fruit in the house for her children. The need for a flu shot on this day, I am not so sure of where that came from. But, never the less, here we were at the grocery store. After grapes, flu shot and many other items that hit the cart, I found myself in line. I was tired, exhausted, drained and in need of those pain killers again. Naomi was still in her sunglasses (it was December, not a bright month, for clarification) and I was realizing that I was feeling like a Judd too, not Ashley as I had felt in the morning prior to my mother’s look at the door, but rather Winona.

Here in line, bickering with my mother, I heard it. “Hello Kim.” I should at this time explain that in a ridiculous twist of fate in life, I have somehow ended up living in the town I grew up in, myself and about three fourths of my graduating class. My life, since I’ve moved back, is constant run-ins with “the weird guy from geometry” or “popular girl with good hair” or “smart guy from English who didn’t like to loan me pencils.” I have long since learned after moving back that you do not leave your house looking anything less than put together or your ex boyfriend from Jr. High is going to be there and you will be embarrassed.

Today, because of breast cancer, I have forgotten this rule. So, I turn slowly to face the music. It is “guy I had a crush on who was really a looser” from high school. He was one of those guys you liked, passionately, stupidly, embarrassingly and to add insult to injury one of those guys that did not like you back. He was also one of those guys that when you had a couple of years distance on it you said to yourself, “Really? I liked that guy? I was too good for that guy AND he didn’t even like me.” It was also one of those things where had it been any other moment since I had moved back I would have been smug and thought “See, I turned out great, you are the big looser for not taking me up on it.” But, today with one breast, mismatched sweats, tubes tucked into my underwear, and Naomi by my side, I can only suck in my breath and reply “Hello, how are you?” very weakly as I take in HIS smug, “Thank God I dodged that bullet” look.

This was the day I knew I would be all right. The day when I knew cancer would be difficult, scary, exhausting, frustrating, and challenging. But, I also knew it would be funny. Because for me, and this is just me, it had to be.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Grandma Eve Gives (A Well-Needed) Push

It happened yesterday morning as I was cleaning our hall closet. It is summer, I am a teacher with four children of my own…this is my summer of organization…closet, laundry room and garage. I was very seriously contemplating my yearbook situation. The question at hand was, “Would I regret it if I threw away my four hardbound yearbooks from high school?” Four large, space consuming books I hadn’t looked at in years and that documented four years I really didn’t enjoy and filled with less then flattering pictures of myself. With yearbooks in hand poised halfway between garbage can and shelf, I watched a card fall and from the insides a newspaper clipping.

It was my high school graduation card from my grandmother. Not seen in twenty-two years, the newspaper clipping was from the San Francisco Chronicle and her favorite columnist, Stanton Delaplane. His topic was “writers” and “storytellers.” It had been published in October of 1985 and she had saved it for nine months to put in my graduation card in June of 1986.

My grandmother, one of the greatest women I will ever know, had passed away at 94 six years earlier. I sat down on the closet floor and bawled.

Suddenly, I remembered the gift and the day. I liked the gift, a book on writing mentioned in the article as a necessity for all serious writers, but I was 17, graduating from high school. I realize now that I didn’t understand then all that she was trying to say in her card and the clipping, and I certainly didn’t appreciate the effort and sentiment. She was telling me that I was a writer and that good writers are not just writers they are storytellers, which is something I have always known about myself. But, here it is 22 years after the gift and I haven’t really done anything with the writing or the storytelling.

I start all the time. I write little bits about my children, I tell their stories in emails to friends, and last year when I had breast cancer I chronicled it all in a series of funny and some not so funny emails to my girlfriends. I envisioned my articles being like “Sex and the City” for working mommies everywhere…funny, edgy, thoughtful…except, of course I don’t really live in a city, more of a town, and the sex part with four young children in the house is probably different then the single gal in New York City, but still I had my ideas. The sticking point was always, how do I start? How do I get across who I am and what I will be writing about? Really, how do I introduce myself?

And then, yesterday, in the midst of my organization summer…. the card and clipping. So, I’ve slowed down my organization, woken up before my girls, turned on the computer and started my “storytelling.” It’s a good time. My oldest starts High School, I have entered my 40’s, I have hair after a tangle with breast cancer, obviously…a lot to say. And now, thanks to my grandmother, I believe I have introduced myself. This is my memoir, not because I am famous or infamous, but because some extraordinary things happened to a fairly ordinary girl.

I didn’t throw out the yearbooks. Seriously, you can’t do that. I’m a small town girl living in the town I grew up in, who throws out their yearbooks?