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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Taking time to stop and see the miracles


It’s a typical scene around this place. I’ve got a to-do list a mile long.  I’m sure one of my kids is going to be low on underwear for lack of clean laundry, and twice this week we’ve eaten hotdogs and frozen vegetables.  I don’t even need to mention that there is homework to check and columns to write.
But they all have been pushed aside for the good, because this week my life has been centered around one thing: a caterpillar.  And I don’t even mind it’s poo that stained a piece of furniture.
A few days ago while practicing the fine art of being children, my kids were playing in the yard.  Footballs were thrown, someone made a craft from some tall grasses, and I was busy cleaning the kitchen and missing it all.  (Motherhood: if ever there was a time for maid or a clone…) 
Suddenly my son came in, yelling.  “Mom!  We found an awesome caterpillar!”  Being a self-proclaimed nature nut, I dropped everything and ran out.  And there it was, a beautiful and large swallowtail butterfly to-be, munching away on some wild carrot.
Knowing that these were not really harmful and easy to raise, the dishes piled up and I began to construct what I like to call the world’s sweetest caterpillar digs.  I dug up and potted host plants (its favorite foods) from around the yard, hand selected sticks with enough strength to stay up, and placed them all in a net enclosure.  One child named it “Harvey” and so we began to spend our days watching him.  Or her. 
I may have fed my children junk food, but Harvey got fresh parsley and wild carrot every day.  I checked to make sure he was always well fed and properly digesting and basically spent more time on this thing than I did myself.
One night we came home to find Harvey sprinting as much as a caterpillar could around the enclosure.  I thought he was just going bonkers until I noticed a big dark splotch on the bottom.
“Kids!!!!!  Come quick!!!!  He just emptied his digestive tract and he’s going to get ready to make a chrysalis!!” 
And when you say “insect diarrhea” to a little boy, they come running like you just offered them 10 pounds of candy. 
Later that night, after the sprinting stopped, Harvey found his perfect location on one of my hand-selected sticks and began to “pre-pupate” where he attaches his front and back to the stick, hunkers down, and waits to morph into a full chrysalis.
And that’s where I am right now, watching this motionless insect, waiting for him to make his final morph as a caterpillar.  The process takes only minutes once it starts, so against my better interest I plan on propping open my eyeballs with toothpicks and Scotch tape, drinking a pot of tea, and staring until I’m cross-eyed at this inch-long pre-pupating caterpillar, which has now come out of its cage and is propped right in the middle of my kitchen table.
If I make it to the miracle, I told my children I would wake them up.  Even if it’s midnight, or even if it’s 2:00 AM.  When something so cool is on your kitchen table, it’s worth it.
I’m sure that if I lived in a busier neighborhood, a hundred people might have walked right past little ol’ Harvey, munching away in the sunshine.  I’m thankful my children took the time to get at grass level, even it meant getting grass stains on their clothes.  Watching this caterpillar go through these amazing changes reminds me of how many incredible miracles of nature there are out there, and if I can get this much enjoyment out of watching something an inch long hook itself to a stick, I’m bound to smile a little larger, even if there’s a stain of caterpillar poo on my baker’s rack and even though the to-do list has spilled off the table, rolled out the door and under a bush. 
There just might be another caterpillar hiding under there.

A chrysalis!  I never saw it happen, but Harvey sits in waiting, another miracle in the making.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Taking a stand on the stairs

If you’re ever in the vicinity of a flight of stairs and you hear a woman yelling at her kids and cursing the elevator, that’s just me.  Make sure you say hello.
It all started when I attended the College of Wooster.  My study room was on the third floor of the geology building and one year for my New Year’s resolution, I vowed I would never that elevator again.  Surely I could walk up three flights of stairs.  It would be good for me, especially based on the amount of late night pizza I liked to consume.
That resolution quickly became the best resolution of my life.  I stuck with it not just that year, but ever since that year.  (I do have a limit, though.  Hotels and other skyscrapers I most definitely take the fancy box with the bright buttons.)  To this day, I am quite happy about the decision I made.
My children, however, tend to disagree.  They haven’t quite grasped the concept of enjoying walking up stairs as much as I have, but it’s not for lack of trying.  I also make a point of parking far away in parking lots, which may be #42 on the list of why I’m a bad mom.
Living where we do, we don’t encounter very many elevator situations.  High rises in Wayne County aren’t that prevalent, but that doesn’t mean that in our very special and dear library there isn’t a set of eight stairs (yes, only eight – compare that to the 1,860 stairs in the Empire State Building) right next to an elevator.  And while the elevator is perfect for moms with strollers and folks who are unable to climb those eight stairs, that mechanical people raiser just beams in the fluorescent light to my children.  
“Can we take the elevator? Please please please?”
“Nope,” I respond, sticking to my guns.
“But whyyyyy?”
And that’s where I had to come up with a reason better than, “when mommy was in college and ate too much pizza she decided to always take the stairs and that’s just how it’s going to be.”  So instead, I thought about it and decided to tell them, “because someday you might not be able to take the stairs, and if that day comes, you’re going to really wish you could.  So just get it all in now.”
And that’s the other gun I’m sticking to. 
I’m not sure they quite understand, but if repetition has anything to do with it, it’ll sink in. 
We recently stayed on the fourth floor of a hotel that had an elevator right next to the stairwell.  One afternoon as we were headed down, a woman joined us in the elevator wearing complete running gear.  Ipod booming, stretching her calves, she rode the elevator down four flights so that she could go out for a jog, or maybe even to the gym to do the stair-machine.
My oldest was the first to catch on, bless her, and gave the most appropriate eye-roll I’ve seen in a long time.
America is well known for being overweight, unhealthy, and out of shape.  A friend of mine blames it all on ranch dressing.  I’m giving some blame to the elevator, seeing as you burn about 10 calories per flight of stairs and about negative three standing and waiting for an elevator.
With any hope, my kids will grow up to embrace their youth and be stair steppers, even without the resolution and the late night pizza, and learn to appreciate the fact that they can walk up and down stairs as they please.  Even better? Someday they’ll thank me.
I just pray that they don’t thank me by a trip to New York City or Toronto; The CN Tower has 2,579 steps.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Little Red Mom

Once upon a time there was a little red mom who lived in a house. She had three children who often resembled a lazy brown dog, a sleepy red cat, and a noisy yellow duck.

(There was also a little red dad who seemed to be off at his job when all the fun stuff happened, which the little red hen often wondered if he did on purpose so that he wouldn’t want to pull his little red hair out.)

One day the little red mom found some dirty socks on the floor, crumbled up and so filthy that they were completely stiff and were omitting a fierce odor. The socks were nowhere near where they belonged, which would be in the hamper so the good laundry fairy could whisk them away.

“Who will help me wash these socks?” asked the little red mom.

“Not I,” said the lazy dog.

“Not I,” said the sleepy cat.

“Not I,” quacked the noisy duck as she went off singing some song about being a Musketeer.

“Then I shall wash them myself,” said the little red mom, along with some other grumbled words under her breath. Off she went to the laundry room where she had secretly stashed some gummy bears because she knew that no one would find them in there.

When the socks were clean and the dryer buzzer sang that ominous tune of impending folding doom, the little red mom asked, “who will help me match the socks?” (The little red mom loathed matching socks more than planting seeds, growing wheat, grinding grain, and baking bread. Combined.)

“Homework,” said the lazy dog.

“Piano practice,” said the sleepy cat.

“Not I,” quacked the noisy duck who appeared to be wearing a formal dress for no good reason.

“Ah, then I will do it myself,” said the little red mom with a mouth full of gummy bears.

When the socks were matched and the laundry folded and organized into individual baskets for the entire heap of slothful animals, the little red mom had yet another question.

“Who will help me carry these laundry baskets up to your rooms?” asked the little red mom.

“Too heavy,” said the lazy dog.

“Gotta game outside,” said the sleepy cat.

“Dora’s on!” quacked the noisy duck who had decided it was a good idea to get herself a bag of potato chips for a snack while the little red mom was folding laundry.

“Ooh, aren’t I the lucky one,” said the little red mom, huffing and puffing and hauling all five baskets up the stairs in one shot out of sheer rage and disgust, most likely pulling some deeply placed muscle in her back that would require weeks of massage therapy to get resolved.

But then when all the baskets were placed in everyone’s rooms, wearily she asked one final question.

“Who will put away their clothes?” asked the little red mom.

“Not I,” said the lazy dog who was nose deep in a book.

“Not I,” said the sleepy cat who was constructing a fort from every known blanket in the house.

“Seriously, I would just shove the whole basket under my bed with the dozens of naked Barbie dolls and the library books you thought you lost,” the noisy duck would have said if she could articulate what was going on in her head instead of torturing the dog with love.

“Surprise, surprise,” said the little red mom, who was getting redder by the minute. “I suppose I’ll do it myself. Later.”

The next morning when the dog, the cat, and the duck were getting ready for school, they all tracked down the little red mom.

“Have you seen my jeans?” asked the lazy dog.

“Where’s my red shirt?” asked the sleepy cat.

“Is this dress too dirty?” asked the noisy duck who had managed to turn her skirt the color of barbecue potato chips.

The little red mom quickly pointed to the apparent clothes baskets as good little red moms do, but smiled just a bit because she decided that this little red mom deserved a little red shopping trip. All for herself.

With gummy bears.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The quiet peace of a haircut

I just want to shout it from the rooftops:


To the average reader, this is nothing to be shouting, yelling, or even thinking in all capital letters. But let me tell you, I have not had a stress free hair appointment in over ten years. And while my hair may be longer than it appears in that picture up there by the title of this column, it isn’t dragging on the floor, so you know I’ve endured my fair share of chaotic coiffures.

For the past ten years solid, I have never had a spare chunk of time when all of my children were safely and happily with someone else without me planning it. Being a stay at home mom is not something I would ever trade, but thinking back on some instances when I’m trying to relax so that I don’t jerk my head around to yell at a kid or stick a sucker in another one’s mouth causing the stylist to provide bangs where there was no intention of being bangs, the dream of being free crossed my mind a few dozen times.

But children grow, and recently I took my final child into preschool for her first day. Of course I cried as I watched her solemnly walk into her classroom. So grown up, wearing her new sparkly shoes and a horrendous outfit that she chose all by herself. I sniffled and wept until I got into my car, dried my eyes and opened my ears. That noise, so odd, what was it?

That sound I was hearing was silence. And freedom. I actually felt like I had left something in the building-- a purse, a camera, a phone, a child—when in all actuality all I left in there was the one thing keeping me from an entirely new and uninhibited world of two-hour, kid-free liberty.

If I wanted to listen to songs with bad words in them, I could. If I wanted to eat a cookie without hiding it, I could. If I wanted to go to the grocery store and not have to roll my eyes at my kid who thinks its funny to sneak things like bacon bits and pork rinds into the cart when I’m not looking, I could. (Totally true. She does this at the age of three. Her poor teachers.)

But instead, among other things, I decided to schedule myself an actual haircut, complete with styling and serenity. I am going to wear nice clothes and go early so that I can have a cup of coffee and page through magazines that feature movie stars that I care nothing about and books with bizarre hairstyles in them. I’m going to take a small purse and no hand held video games. I am not going to be equipped with crayons, snacks, stickers, or Matchbox cars, and if there is a sippy cup lying around, I can assure you unequivocally, that it does not belong to me.

In my early motherhood days of pure exhaustion, I specifically remember my first daughter as a tiny infant, sleeping peacefully in her car carrier while my stylist rushed to finish before she woke up. I remember falling asleep to the sound of the blow dryer, a quick few minutes of seclusion, wondering if she knew I was nodding off or if she thought I was just closing my eyes.

Older and wiser, I may still zone out again, but this time it will be from the relief of knowing that my juggling days of sitters and suckers are mostly over. Not dumb, I am absolutely aware that I will someday look back and miss those days of entertaining my kids while trying to do something as simple as look less like a caveman. But for the time being, I’m going to enjoy my few minutes of solitude and really live it up.

Maybe I’ll even go to the dentist. I’m way overdue.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The case of the missing snail (Farewell, Stimey)

Generally speaking, I’m a pretty big fan of the Betta fish. They last forever, you can only have one, and they practically ask to live in slightly dirty water. A mother’s best friend in the animal world, I will tell any parent with a child who begs for a pet (“pleeeeease mom, I promise to walk it and bathe it and feed it and brush it and love it everyday and everything!”) that the Betta fish is a very nice option.

We personally have had a few of these colorful fish, all which my children promised to be responsible for and ended up falling completely under my care. Really I didn’t mind, though, because I have fallen in love with our fish of the past, including Curly (the fish who would not die) and Geno (who death caused my son to sob uncontrollably for two days.)

These fish lived happily alone on my kitchen counter, where I would change their water out ever few weeks and feed it every now and then, until that fateful day when we find them peacefully sleeping on the bottom or belly-up on the top. Even so, I still can’t help thinking that there is health in companionship. So when our most recent fish came into our life, I really thought that Spanky needed a friend.

There aren’t many critters that can live with a Betta because these fighting fish will attack and kill just about anything. One such safe little critter, however, is a snail. Even the meanest minute little Betta is no match for a calcareous shell, and so with the purchase of Spanky, we also came home with Stimey, who is none other than a slimy snail. (Yes, it was a Little Rascals phase if you were wondering.)

As much as I have bragged about Bettas, the little aquatic snail quickly became my favorite pet of all. It became a little game—where would the snail be today? Stimey might be on the bottom, on the side, on the decorative little Spongebob character that graces the gravel floor of our aquarium bowl. Oh, the simple joys in life! I played this little game for the entire summer that we had him.

But then we went on vacation for six whole days.

Since snails eat algae growth, Stimey was well fed while we were gone. We left him and Spanky safely stored out of direct sunlight and with plenty of fresh water and food. Secretly I was waiting to come home and see which side of the bowl the little fella had decided to sit to greet me when I returned.

As I unpacked, my son ran up to me.

“The snail is gone.”

“Impossible,” I replied. “It’s an aquatic snail. What do you think he did, just crawl out and run away?”

He sadly brought me the bowl. “Look, mom. Stimey is gone.”

“Impossible,” I replied. “I’ll just go digging in the gravel with this net. I’m sure he’s buried down somewhere.”

Sadly, it wasn’t there.

“I think it ran away,” he said.

“Impossible,” I replied. “Snails don’t have big brains, but I’m pretty sure they aren’t dumb enough to crawl out of the water and just shrivel up and die. It’s like a fish purposely leaving the ocean, to lay there on the beach and go to fishie heaven. Nature doesn’t usually kill itself on purpose.”

Sadly, I was wrong.

A quick search of the surrounding area proved to show a snail shell with a dried up Stimey inside of it, a few feet from the end table where the fishbowl still sat.

When the laughter subsided, the questions began.

What was he thinking?

Was he on the run? From the Betta? From the Spongebob character?

Was he just a free spirit?

At what point did he realize that he had probably made a bad decision to climb over the edge of the fishbowl?

If snails could talk, what would he have said?

And when the questions subsided, we tossed old Stimey in the trash. Can’t quite flush a snail shell.

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