Monday, March 31, 2008

A lifelong relationship with sleep

I took a nap the other day, and I have since come to the conclusion that I love sleep. I’m not talking about love like the way you would say, “oh, I love that sweater you’re wearing.” I’m talking real love.Serious love.As-much-as-your-children love.(Well, maybe that not much, but still some pretty intense feelings.)I haven’t always loved sleep so much. In fact, I remember as a child fighting it with everything I had. I used to hate going to bed. Not only would I potentially miss something very exciting or fun, but I would also be left out of my parents’ discussions which I was sure were all about me. So I would give the old line, “but I’m not tired” through half-closed eyes and my head would fall to one side until it fell far enough that I would jolt back awake, only to respond, “what? I wasn’t sleeping…”Eventually I’d give in or they’d yell loud enough and I would have to go to bed, where I was convinced that there were kidnappers just outside my window, waiting to come in and snatch me up. There were no monsters in my closet, just masked-men waiting to haul me away in a van without windows. In my cleverness, I figured that if they didn’t see me, they would pass by my house. So I would lay totally flat under the covers, and attempt to re-make my bed on top of me, pillows and all.And there I would rest and sweat and breathe through a tiny opening between the pillows. And I would say my goodnight prayers, pray for my family and friends, thank God for all of the good things in my life, and also beg of Him to make the kidnappers really think there was no one laying in my bed.Then I got a little older, and in time made my way into the world of academia. This was a time of flux in my life, because although I really loved sleep, I thought I never had the time for it. Between social events and writing reports, I consumed coffee by the pot-ful and often fell asleep right there on my computer keyboard. Unfortunately, the sleep I missed during the night hours was often made up in classrooms or lecture halls, where the dreams of my catnaps would intertwine with the school subject and one time I swear I wrote “Bob Evans has good breakfasts” on my environmental ethics exam.Thank goodness for erasers.But here I am now, an adult by most definitions. I have had three children, all which have kept me awake so much that I haven’t slept through the night more than four times in the past seven years. I spend incredible amounts of time preparing them and coaxing them to go to sleep—buttoning PJs, brushing teeth, reading stories, rocking babies—all so that I can stay up late and do things like write these columns and fold laundry without someone jumping in the basket. And while going to bed late at night is still good, what I truly adore are afternoon naps. Especially the “official” naps where you can actually lay down with the blinds closed and a fuzzy blanket pulled up to your chin. (Unfortunately, with a full house, these official naps come around about as often as Haley’s comet.) All snuggled up, you turn off the ringer of your phone and put on the TV for background noise and forget about all of the chores waiting for you. The house is quiet and there’s that peacefulness around that’s so calm it’s almost scary.You can lay there and drift off without worrying about kidnappers or mixing dreams and essay questions and you realize that true love is in the air and that life is good.

The smells of our lives

This story has a sweet ending. I promise.
I think about smells often. In fact, just the other day as I stood in the deodorant aisle in the pharmacy, I thought about my underarm choices for a long time. There are so many wonderful fragrances out there – orchard peach, wild raspberry, rain forest, tropical breeze – I just don’t think any of them belong in my armpits. For me, the purpose of deodorant is to de-odorize the not-so-pleasant smells that come about after a hard day’s work. The purpose is not to make me hungry or whisk my away to a tropical vacation when I start to sweat.
But I digress.
My point is that smells are incredibly important in our lives. The olfactory system, complex as it is, is something we rely on every day. Just this last weekend I had to sniff my son’s nose so that I could tell if he was coming down with a cold. (And if this sounds strange to you, ask your mother—I bet she knows the unmistakable “sick smell.”) This also comes after my daughter asked me how wolves know their own babies because the pups all look alike.
Smell.
It’s a mighty powerful thing.
Completely disregard the first paragraph about body odor, and think of your own favorite smell. I guarantee that the scent that comes to mind will trigger a memory, something special in the past that you associate with that smell.
It’s a documented fact that there is a direct connection between the sense of smell and memory. Any quick internet search will prove it, so I’ll spare you all of the scientific garble. I personally don’t need any hard proof; I only just have to light a match and smell the hint of sulfur that burns at the very beginning. Every time I strike one I am taken back to those summer days by the lake when I was finally old enough to play with bottle rockets, black snakes, and smoke bombs. I smile just thinking about it.
But enough of the past. What about the future?
Having a new baby in my house, I am basically bombarded by smells. Spit-up, diapers, and baby shampoo are constantly aiming themselves at my olfactory nerves. But the truth is that they, even in their most offensiveness, are wonderful odors. They are memories in the making.
As a mom, I try not to let the everyday stress of parenting get to me. When I’m on the verge of tears with whining kids and a chaotic house, I really try to remind myself that someday I’m really going to miss these frenzied times. So I do my best to find ways to remember my children in good times and bad.
I take a lot of pictures. In fact, my computer has nearly no hard drive left for the thousands of snapshots of the latest McAllister addition. I take a lot of videos. My favorite shots are the ones when the kids don’t know they’re being filmed—when they’re playing or sleeping in their food, or teaching each other how to do the polka.
So as far as my memories are concerned, I’m doing a fair job to preserve the way they look and the way they sound. But what about the sweet way my baby’s breath smells when she wakes up from a nap? What about the smell of my son’s sweat when he learned to ride a two-wheeler at age three? What about the lavender shampoo I used to use on my oldest daughter?
Those are the real smells of our lives, the most fantastic smells we will ever know. And they’ll never be found in a pharmacy.

A-tisket, a-tasket, a sugar-filled Easter basket

Here we are, the week after Easter. The religious ceremonies have ended, the special Easter clothes are hanging back in the closet. The ham is gone, and we’re all eating egg salad sandwiches.
And I’d bet money that if you’ve got a little kid living in your house, there is plastic Easter grass scattered in every imaginable place – and then some. I don’t know how it does it, but in my house those little strands make their way in cracks and crevices unreachable by the human hand. Most likely, I’ll still be finding pieces of it when I’m putting up my Christmas decorations.
And I’d also bet that even if you don’t have a kid around, a little bit of Easter candy has made it’s way into your house.
I know we’re just swimming in it.
It came at us from all directions; from parties and relatives and schools and yes, even from Mr. Peter Cottontail himself. And it’s all for the sake of giving that we now have actively contributed to the fact that Easter is the second largest candy-associated holiday, topped only by Halloween and knocking out Valentine’s Day and Christmas by a chocolate landslide.
That chocolate landslide includes the most popular treat associated with Easter, the very traditional chocolate egg, which was first made in the early 1800’s in Europe. Of course, way back then I’m sure they didn’t contain yummy things like broken up candy-bars or that mysterious cream filling that is so delicious because I’m pretty sure it’s liquid sugar.
And while chocolate eggs are technically the most popular Easter candy, we were personally bombarded by a confection in the shape of a happy little forest creature. Chocolate bunnies. Sweet and creamy hasenpfeffer, vegetarian style. Big ones, little ones, white ones, peanut butter ones, dark ones. Some wearing bows, some carrying baskets. As stated by the American Confectioners Association, 76% of people eat the ears off the rabbits first, and we fall well into that majority because there are plenty of deaf bunnies around this house.
And who can forget my personal favorite, jellybeans? 16 million of them are produced every year for Easter, and I reckon that at least 1 million of those end up getting lost or hidden with that pesky Easter grass; only the jellybeans you pull out from behind the couch at Christmas can not be reused for the following Easter.
Last but not least, the Peeps. Apparently there are five million of these sugar-coated marshmallow treats produced each day in preparation for the holiday, and I’d bet that at least half of these are left to dry out and get thrown away. That’s what happens in our house. Does anyone really eat these things?
But all candy statistics aside, there’s one fact that remains. We’ve got enough candy here to last us for months. And trying to be a health-conscious parent, it is a constant battle fighting off the sugar-hungry children who, if left alone, would eat candy for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We try to control them, but it doesn’t stop them from asking “can I have a piece of candy?” over and over like a broken record, to which we reply our own broken record, “not now, maybe later.” It’s a sad, sad, cycle that leaves me, the keeper of the candy, alone with all of the goodies…all of those scrumptious, tempting goodies.
And being the good mother that I am, I do my best to dispose of it all before my kids can get to it. So it’s really in protection of their health and teeth that I ate about three pounds of bunny ears today.
Besides, I deserve it because I’ll be the one cleaning up all the Easter grass.

To: Mom and Dad Subject: Paradise

I suppose you’ve reached that age when it’s officially allowed to get out of the late winter weather we have around here and head south to better climates. Some people call you ‘snowbirds’ but after the recent bouts of snow, rain and ice we’ve had here, I think I’ll call you ‘smart’ and ‘lucky.’
I also suppose that while I sit here and watch the sleet fall outside my window, your windows are open, the warm breeze blowing in. Your house probably doesn’t smell like it’s been closed up for four months, harboring all of the wonderful odors that come from having small kids around. You are probably not dining on chicken nuggets and fruit punch, and you most likely don’t have to dig through a pile of clothes to find a shirt without spit-up on it.
Sounds a bit like paradise.
Yesterday was just a normal day around here. I woke up the kids, although they didn’t want to get out of bed. Truthfully, I lied and told them it was a snow day, and when they jumped up all excited, I yelled “psyche!” even though I knew they had no idea what that means. They do now.
After forcing them to wear weather-appropriate clothes and wrestling to wash faces and brush hair, away we went on the morning route. Around the town I drove, dropping off kids at school and running errands, all the while hauling the baby through the rain; If she wasn’t born tough, she will be soon enough.
Once I got home it was as if the entire world had emailed me and given me a list of things to do. I spent two hours on the phone and the computer, trying to accomplish things with one hand while the other held a baby. Meanwhile, your grandson found a tin whistle and apparently started to teach himself how to play one very high, very loud note, mostly while I was on the phone. I don’t know how they do it, but kids just seem to sense when they should be quiet…and that’s when they make the most noise.
After lunch we headed to story hour, disheveled as usual. I must have looked like a bag lady, my coat collar turned in, diaper bag and library bag slung over my shoulders. The baby was awake and making noise (they must start sensing that quiet thing at a very young age) and sometime when I wasn’t looking, your grandson put on pants that are two sizes too small for him.
The librarians were probably wondering when the flood was coming.
As expected, we walked out of the library with more books than I had planned, which didn’t help with my bag lady status. Then it was off to school to pick up the kindergartner, meaning I had to show off my unkempt family to an entirely new crowd.
While the kids enjoyed an afterschool snack of whatever they dug out of the fridge, I took advantage of the few minutes I had and decided to wash the bedding, something that I know is overdue. Things like that just creep up on you—one day you’re sleeping in fresh clean sheets, the next you realize that last week when the little ones climbed in bed with you, the drool they produced is now a dried up stain on your pillow. Such is the price we pay for cuddling with our kids.
The evening was spent doing homework, practicing piano, playing Uno, and reading a few more chapters of the latest Junie B. book. I admit, it’s the most reading I’ve had time for in months.
After the kids were in bed, I crashed on the couch where I fell asleep, only to wake up and drag myself to an unmade bed—the sheets were still in the dryer.
So with eyes at half-mast, we made the bed and fell into it. I laid there knowing that as excited I was to finally get some sleep, I knew full well I’d wake up still tired tomorrow, where the same crazy schedule awaited me.
Yet another day in my own little paradise.

Friday, March 7, 2008

If you can’t beat ‘em, “cautiously” join ‘em

By Karrie McAllister

My Valentine’s Day wasn’t very romantic.
Oh, it’s not what you’re thinking. My husband did his job and brought home roses.
It was, naturally, my children who provided the laughs on the heart-filled holiday, and some stories are just too good to not share.
As parents, we are constantly challenged by the very personalities that are our children. When faced with these challenges, we do our very best. And sometimes our best turns out pretty good.
Other times it backfires.
Dealing with my son’s Valentine’s Day, it backfired.
Being a four-year old boy, he’s got little interest in learning his letters, numbers, or anything slightly academic. He’s been riding a two-wheel bike since he was three, but ask him to sit and trace the letters B-I-K-E is nearly impossible.
So after worrying about preschool and kindergarten looming ahead, I decided that drastic times call for drastic measures.
“Do you want to learn how to spell the word “toot?” I asked, hoping that his interest in smelly and gaseous noises might also perk his interest in the alphabet.
“Sure,” he answered, and he graciously traced the letters T-O-O-T on a piece of paper. He then pointed and said the letters, at which point my jaw dropped.
Apparently the little stinker of mine does know his letters – he’s just never had the right activity that interested him enough to do anything about it. And let’s face it, nothing sparks a little boy’s interest like flatulence.
So thinking I was on to something, I dug out the Spiderman notebook I bought for him ages ago, dusted it off, and got to work. On the top of each page I wrote every classic “boy” word I could think of.
Gun. Sword. Army. Poop. Worm. Butt. Booger. (You catch the drift.)
And that little booger of mine actually sat, pencil in hand, and practiced writing! I heard him naming the letters I thought he didn’t even know. “P-U-K-E.”
This was amazing. I was now pretty sure I was borderline genius.
But then this is where the Valentine’s Day part comes in.
For his preschool party, he needed to give each of the children and his teachers a valentine, for a total of thirteen hand-crafted notes of love.
All he had to do was put three heart stickers onto a piece of paper and simply sign his name, which he does quite well. But having the attention span of a fruit fly, I had to sit and work with him to make almost each and every one.
Finally, I left him to do the last three all on his own. I figured that after making ten of them, he should know what to do. Plus, if he was busy working, I might actually have five minutes to sit with my feet up without being nagged for a glass of milk.
Alone at the kitchen table, he worked quietly. I rested. And for a brief few moments of time, there was actually no noise in my house. It was wonderful.
But as little boys go, quiet doesn’t always equal good. In fact, it usually means he’s up to something. So I went over to check on his progress.
“Look, mom. I signed my name on all of these. Plus I wrote “poop” all by myself! I didn’t even need your help at all” he said, beaming with pride. “Aren’t you proud of me?”
And truthfully, I was. While it wasn’t the most appropriate word for sharing love with his classmates, the writing assignment I had devised had somewhat paid off. He was writing!
“I am proud of you, kiddo. Very proud.”
And once he had gone in the other room, I tore open the envelopes, crossed out his new found word, re-sealed them, and ate a piece of chocolate.
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