Plan B

Z is one of those kids who has always needed to know what's going to happen and when and how and why.  She likes things to be predictable and structured and doesn't manage well when plans change suddenly.

Of course, life is all about plans changing suddenly.

When she was younger, we bent over backwards to not rock her world too often, for her - and our own - sanity.  Now we realize that we cannot structure her whole life; she's going to need to learn how to roll with it when plans change.   Our new goal is to maximize her resilience and give her confidence in her own flexibility.

So we work with her, as best we can.  We point out and applaud any examples of her mental flexibility.  We try to model our own.  When planning the following day, we now talk about "Plan A" with either a direct mention or the understood implication that we might need to make up and accept a "Plan B" or even a "Plan C".  

This is helpful, but only to a point.  Because, you see, she's also a worrier.  Sometimes when we lay out what we hope will happen, she'll mentally reach into the "Plan B" realm and not be able to come back out, worrying endlessly about all the things that could keep her beloved Plan A from happening.

Which brings us back to why we originally structured our lives for her benefit:  it reduces every one's stress.

It's a one step forward, two steps back sort of process.  Some days, she'll rally when disappointed and say "Well, we just need to figure out a Plan B, right?"  Other days, she'll act as if the world is ending and no "Plan B" will do. 

Today especially, I know how she feels.

I am supposed to be arriving in Connecticut right about now.  Then I'm supposed to pick up my rental car and drive to Massachusetts to see my college roommate and meet her twin baby boys.  In a few short hours, I should be sitting on her couch, holding one or both babies, sniffing their sweet heads.

Instead I'm sitting here choking down crackers after being felled by a stomach bug.

We've been planning this trip for months, since before the boys were even born back in November.  I've been itching to be there - to help out, to hold babies, to hold her hand - for months now.  CG and I found a good weekend, bought an airline ticket (with trip insurance THANK GOODNESS) and I waited with bated breath, counting down the days.

Then, last weekend, E threw up in her sleep.  So began my countdown.

I was anxious about catching it, even more than usual.  I washed my hands incessantly.  I pushed her away when she tried to touch my face or kiss my lips.  Any rumble in my belly brought on a new wave of anxiety.

All of that was for naught, as I found out around 2 am Thursday morning.

The timing of it couldn't be much worse.  It just really sucks. 

I don't want a "Plan B".  I wanted my "Plan A".



I don't know when exactly but sometime in the past year, it slowly dawned on us that we have TWO actual child people in our house.  It sure was a calmer, quieter household when we had one child and one baby/toddler we sort of - not really, but kind of - ignored.

Z has always controlled the airways.  She was an only child for the first three years of her life and I spent all day in one-way and, eventually, real, honest-to-goodness, two-way conversations with her.  By the time she was a toddler and talking in earnest, our dinner table conversations were pretty much dominated by whatever bizarre-o thing was running through her head.

As Z got older, the conversations in the car, on a walk, at the table became a place to chat about our days, to ask burning questions about dinosaurs, to test out nonsense jokes that made us roll our eyes.  She's always been a part of the conversation because, of course she was.  Slowly, falteringly, we taught her about taking turns in a conversation, not interrupting, listening patiently for the whole question before answering. 

Then E started talking.  And she wanted her fair share of the airwaves.  At first it was loud babbling, with shrieking sprinkled in for punctuation, any sounds she could muster just to contribute and be part of the family.  Now it is full sentences or, her current favorite, Christmas carols sung at top volume.  All while someone else is trying to talk about their day.

Momentarily resting her sledding muscles, and her vocal cords.
Logically one would think that this would cause Z to calmly sigh and resolve to be an excellent example of polite conversational skills.

What?  That's not logical?  NO WONDER.

Now our house during daylight hours is a swirl of little people talking over one another.  I am constantly one "conversation" away from a headache.  We are working on remedial conversational skills with Z and basic NO SCREAMING PLEASE instructions with E.  I bark endlessly: "Just a minute!  I can't hear you until I finish hearing your sister!" "Inside voices!" "One at a time!" and "No interruptions, please!"

So, of course, E has taken to yelling, when I'm in conversation with someone else:  "INTWERUPON!!!  INTWERUPON!"

At least she's aware of what she's doing?  It's a start?

Where's my Advil.....


My mahster baathroom

When we bought our first house in Pasadena, one of my massage clients at the time said "Congratulations!" and then, without missing a beat, "Tell me all about the master bathroom!"  Actually what she said was "mahster baathroom" with a slight British accent which was totally ridiculous as she had never traveled outside of California. (Say what you want about Madonna and her accent but at least she actually lives in England.)  While I was used to my client's fake accent and her chummy way of asking about my life, I was stunned by her basic assumption.  For, you see, our new house was quirky and lovely and sunny and perfect and.... TINY, with one weensy bathroom that could not rightly be called the master anything.

We loved that house, including its tiny bathroom.   But when we later planned to move here to Virginia, with two children and a dog, we had lived through several rounds of houseguests - and stomach bugs - so knew we wanted at least two bathrooms.  Buying our current house from far away was challenging;  I spent many, many hours squinting at real estate photos on my computer screen trying to figure out how a certain room really looked, how it would feel to walk through the space and make it our own.

Our new home was clearly right for us from the beginning.  We were looking for something bigger than our old house but not too big, close enough to town to walk easily but on a quiet street, preferably a cul de sac.  We found it and snatched it up and didn't really think too much about why the seller didn't post photos of the master bathroom.  We knew it existed, we just didn't have photos of it.

I was tempted to call my old client and crow, "I have a mahster baathroom now!"  But then I would have had to actually pick up a telephone and we all know that's just a crazy thing to do unless a gun is pointed to your head.

What we discovered was that our new mahster baathroom hadn't been touched in the 30+ years since the house was built.  Luckily, it was built with the cheapest contractor grade materials which were starting to disintegrate!  The toilet rarely flushed properly, the tiles were crumbling in spots, the sinks and shower head and tub were all bizarrely - uncomfortably - low to the ground as if they knew we would be bringing in two little ankle-biters who would rule our lives.

We began fantasizing about remodeling the bathroom from the moment we moved in.

We started the actual process a year later with budgets and savings accounts and architect-designer friends and many, many bathroom magazines.  The actual, honest-to-goodness remodeling began last week.

Here is our bathroom a week ago, Monday 8 am, right before a sledgehammer smashed its beige blahness to smithereens.

And here's where this post starts to go off the rails.  Because, you see, when I look at these photos, I see a perfectly functional bathroom.  Boring and blah but basically functional (mostly) and all the little crumbly issues could be dealt with in spots and we had gotten used to stooping over the sinks and under the shower head and not bothering ever to take a bath because the water only covered the back 1/4 of our bodies.

If we had just accepted it as it was, then all this money we are spending to make it nice and modern and fulfilling of every capitalist middle class fantasy would be free to donate to someone without a job and a comfortable house, someone without any bathroom, master or not. 

I have been haunted by this post by Catherine Newman which I read right after the new year, ie.  right after we had signed the contract to actually start remodeling our bathroom.  
 "We stretch to give, and I hope you do too. There are some good resources at the end of that piece about how to find organizations to give to, although we give everything we give to Partners in Health, and I feel good about that choice. And every year, it comes down to the same question: build a mud room, or give it away. And every year I think that people need to not be holding dying children in their arms more than we need a better place to keep our boots. 
I'm all about "tax the rich," "eat the rich," and occupy everything. You know my politics. But with respect to the developing world, upon whose backs we have amassed much of our nation's wealth, we are the 1%. Even if, yes, you trip over a lot of shoes and coats and backpacks when you walk directly into our dirty kitchen from the muddy outdoors."
After I read that post, I couldn't get it out of my mind: People need to not be holding dying children in their arms more than we need - a new master bathroom.  When it's stated like that, how can you ever purchase anything "extra" for yourself ever again?

I can't help it, I am trembling with guilt over our master bath remodel.  Which is ridiculous, I know.  Is there anything less tragic than middle class, liberal, privileged guilt over their freaking bathroom remodel?  Perhaps a long winded blog post about a master bath remodel?  Jeezus.

I really have one of two options as a reasonable adult:  I can insist we forgo the new modern bathroom and give the money to reputable charities or I can enjoy the remodel, grateful for my good fortune, and accept the reality that I am enjoying a luxury that few in the world can afford. 

I seem unable to choose either of these options.

I'm remembering this post too, which I found last year on (in)significant detail, by mimismartypants.
"My brain does a serious push-pull when it comes to larger questions of how to be in the world.  Specifically, stuff.  There are things I want.  I want a remodeled kitchen, with an extremely kick-ass stove.  I want to put a skylight in our stairway.  I want to make over the upstairs bathroom with an extremely expensive shower.  I want lots of new shoes, an upgraded iPhone, new pots and pans, an Xbox with Kinect (embarrassing, but true), a few sessions of personal training.  I want a long interesting vacation to a foreign country.

Then I start to freak out about the cost.  And not just the cost as in our personal budget, but about whether remodeling the bathroom or buying an Xbox is more or less the same as kicking a poor person in the face.  There are people in the world who will watch their children die of hunger, and I am thinking about dropping fifty bucks on an All-Clad saucepan?  Really?

And sure, I could send fifty bucks to a hunger relief agency, and I do that periodically, although the charity budget has to be split several ways because everything matters!

It does not change the fact that I still want the saucepan."

This is the rub:  I could have insisted we not remodel, given the money to charity.  But it would not have changed the fact that I still want the saucepan.

What do you all do, if and when you have extra money?  Does it go into home improvements of the practical or enjoyable kind?  Does it go into long term saving?  Does it go to help people who have so much less than we do?



They are so close; they really have no choice.  They can't get away; they are almost always there.  One does something, the other tries it out.  One laughs, the other laughs.

One cries, the other cries.

I took a photography class today called Mothers Who Click (Cross one off of my 40 for 40 list! Yay!).  In it, we were asked to pay attention to what shots we are always trying to capture:  a real smile out of a non-smiler, a perfectly posed portrait, a peewee football action shot.  There was no question for me:  I am always trying to capture my girls together in a candid moment that perfectly represents them at this exact moment in time.

I hope that one day, when they have the choice, repeatedly, to be together or be apart, they will chose to be together.   And that I am there to take their picture.

Music: "Sisters" by Sarah Battens


I (don't) know you

Dear Z,

I like to think I know you.   

You are so like me, I say sometimes.  We are so alike.  Later, you repeat it back to me, especially when you're feeling scared or sensitive about something.  I'm sensitive like you, right Mama?  That's why I'm scared of monsters?

Yes, I say.  We are a couple of sensitive flowers.

I understand when you desperately want to play with other kids but don't know how to approach them.  I wince in recognition when you cover your ears and cower in loud places.  I know immediately when you are grouchy and unreasonable due to hunger and hand you a packet of almonds I keep in my purse for me - and now, for you.

I think these similarities are a gift to us both.  They bring to our relationship a recognition, a mirroring of experience.  They help me feel close to you, even during your most exasperating behavior.   I think they alleviate some of your loneliness and pain when you are scared or hurting, because you know I understand, even if my response to you is not always as sympathetic or calm as we both would like.

Sometimes this knowing you through my own experience gets in the way of really seeing you, though.  I have to remind myself that you are not scared of heights or high speed or being upside down; that was - IS - me.  I have to remind myself that while you worry when approaching new kids, you still do it, rather than hiding behind your mother sucking your thumb like *ahem* someone you know.

That elusive thing we call balance is what I'm looking for, of course.  I want to let our similarities be a comfort and a way to connect, not a constraint or a prophecy.  I want you to understand and love the parts of you that are like me, the parts of you that are like your father and the parts of you that are unlike anyone else in the history of time.


Your Clueless But Hopeful Mama


Dear E,

I sometimes think I don't know you.

Where did you come from?  I think and, sometimes say, gazing at you in bafflement.

You are the little sister in our household equation and as a fellow little sister I understand the feeling of looking up to a sibling, the constant desire to run with the big kids. 

But that is where my easy recognition ends.

You are slippery, stubborn, resilient, and not terribly interested in rules.  I am surprised time and again that you wake so slowly, completely uninterested in food, while your sister and I are wide awake in seconds, demanding food before anything else and lots of it, please.  

I don't want to simplify your complexities by saying that Z is like me and you are like your father but, of course, I think those things from time to time.  I don't want to be so determinate about it, to divide you two and act as if each one of you belongs to one of us, when of course, we all belong to each other and to ourselves and to the universe in equal measure.

I think our differences are a gift to us both. You are not a mirror for my own reactions, my swirling, volatile moods.   I see you as a separate person so much more easily than your sister, either because you are my second child or because you are so seemingly different from me or both.

I don't want to divide up personality traits and assign them like a warden:  You are the sensitive one and you are the confident one.   I want you to know that, in this life, you get to try on all the adjectives you like, my dear, including the ones you think your older sister has already taken. 

The truth is: you have parts of me and parts of your father and parts that are uniquely, spectacularly you.


Your Clueless But Hopeful Mama


40 for 40

When I turn 40 this year, I would like to feel ... triumphant.  So on November 28th of this year, this whole resolution/goal/to-do list thing will either make me feel terribly accomplished or terribly DEPRESSED.  Whee!

I got this idea from Greenstyle Mom:  40 things to do in the year I turn 40.  If you click over to her blog, you'll notice that she's going to do a back flip off a diving board and complete a marathon AND a triathalon.  Mine are decidedly less impressive.

A lot of the things listed below either scare me, overwhelm me or just get lost in the shuffle.  But they're all doable.  Hopefully I'll find the impetus to get off my duff and just do them already!

1.  Take a hike on the Appalachian Trail.  It's close by!  I've driven by it!  And waved!
2.  Submit writing to three different places, web or print.
3.  Go out dancing (any kind!) with my husband.
4.  Visit an art museum in DC with the girls (I'll be sure to warn all you local folks so you can steer clear).
5.  Take the girls on a new hike.
6.  Take a new exercise class.
7.  Hold a freestanding headstand.
8.  Hold a family fire drill.
9.  Volunteer my time.  Somewhere.
10.  Go waterskiing again. 
11.  Take the girls on a hike to see my favorite waterfalls this summer in Vermont.
12.  Start a baby clothes quilt (or just donate the freaking baby clothes already.)
13.  Drive to West Virginia.  It's so close!  I've never been!
14.  Show our girls the Atlantic Ocean.  They've never seen it from this coast (Jamaica doesn't count in my book!) and that just feels wrong.
15.  Take the dog for a hike, just the two of us.
16.  Meditate.  At least once.
17.  Lie in bed until 8 am at least once.  Just because.
18.  Paint our living room.
19.  Learn to love the old rug and curtains in our living room or get new ones.
20.  Hang pictures on the walls in the basement.
21.  Part my hair on the other side for a day.  Just to see.
22.  Wear earrings at least once a week.
23.  Take a full day media/web fast. 
24.  Plant a new vegetable in our garden bed.
25.  Take out all my camera lenses and remember what they're for.
26.  Take at least one decent picture of the girls every week.
27.  Tackle our filing cabinet.
28.  Get our taxes done without needing an extension. *ahem* CG *ahem*
29.  Sit down with CG and take a good, brave, come-to-Jesus look at our finances.
30.  Check out the local Unitarian Church.  IN PERSON.
31.  Pick and freeze blueberries.
32.  Make tiramisu, CG's favorite dessert, from scratch. 
33.  Visit the National Zoo with the girls.
34.  Celebrate my tenth wedding anniversary in some exciting way.
35.  Take my husband on a surprise date.
36.  Take a creative workshop of any kind.  Yoga.  Writing.  Sewing.  Photography.
37.  Write a 'just because' letter and mail it.
38.  Host a Scrabble party, since my husband refuses to play with me.
39.  Go on a family bike ride that finishes in a picnic.
40.  Post here about these as I accomplish them!

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