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

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?