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Monday, March 27, 2017


            It is a cruel world we live in, when the time for sleep is never the time we want it to be. Ever.
            There are, of course, exceptions, but speaking from my own personal experience, I’m not sure I’ve ever really been able to go to sleep exactly when I wanted. I can’t remember a single time (although I also can’t remember what I had for dinner last night) that I’ve had the pleasure of announcing, “I’m tired. I’m going to bed and no one or nothing is going to stop me.”
            As tiny infants we know no better and haven’t yet adjusted to any sort of schedule. After living in darkness for all of our lives, we suddenly find ourselves with lights and sun and lovely people who are trying to train us to sleep at times when we really don’t want to, but aren’t sure why.
            As toddlers and preschoolers, we start to slowly learn about all of the fun things we are missing when those big, lovely people make us go to bed. We may not understand anything like the TV shows that come on after 9:00 or the blissfulness of reading a book that doesn’t have pictures or rhyme, but we are certain that a mysterious wonder world exists when we are forced to sleep.
            As young children, we flat out know what we are missing. We are missing the good snacks, the funny movies. We are missing secretive conversations about grown up things that we may not understand, but sound fascinating. Words like “mortgage” and “carbohydrate” bounce around in our heads like a foreign and alluring language.
            Then we get a little older and even if we weren’t the slightest bit tired, someone barks out that there is school tomorrow and something about getting a full night of sleep being good for us or else we won’t grow or learn or ever be able to pass calculus, which is joke crueler than bedtime itself.
            By the time we’re old enough for calculus, we find ourselves shifting into the adult version of bedtime, when we start to actually want to go bed but can’t because of calculus homework. Without notice, we dream wistfully about those early bedtimes as we learn to drink coffee with cream and sugar to stay up late to study, thinking that life will get better and soon we’ll get the sleep we need.
            But life moves fast, and before you know it, you’re married while there may be a short bit of time when you actually have a choice on when to sleep, soon enough there’s a brand new baby in your life and even though you are so very tired, the sleep schedules are not matching up. (Refer to the third paragraph.)
            And even now, as our children are growing older, I still can’t help but think how much I would love to hit the pillow if it weren’t for the laundry/work/dishes which I will dutifully do while I dream wistfully about taking a nap.

Originally written 2.26.17

Pepe le Pew and Cupid, too

            Phenology is the study of seasonal natural phenomena, especially in relation to climate and plant and animal life. Watching the way nature changes with the calendar can be a neat way to track the world and make ridiculous comparisons and conclusions about fragrant animals, diapered babies and bow and arrows, and old cartoons characters with a French accent.
            Living in Ohio, we never know what the weather in February will bring. We can assume snow, but even the most astute student of phenology will tell you that weather (not climate) is not what makes most things in nature happen.
            So I go to two reliable signs of February: Love and skunks.
            I’m sure everyone will agree that February is the month of love, with the whole big candy-filled Valentine’s Day smack dab in the middle of it. But skunks?
             If you don’t believe me that February is the month of skunk, think back over the past few weeks… you’ve smelled a skunk, haven’t you. You probably even saw a poor, deceased skunk on the road.
            Skunks, like people, start to wake up after the coldest winter months. They don’t hibernate, they just kind of sleep off the super cold weather, snuggled in dens, presumably under down blankets with good books and loads of snacks and hot tea. When the weather warms up enough to venture out, they do (most likely for more snacks), and then go back to bed while the winter winds blow once more.
            Until February, that is. February is when these guys and gals officially emerge looking for love, as if they somehow felt the pressure of the holiday of heart-shaped heart-felt pledges of adoration. The males, all Pepe Le Pew, look for love by releasing a bit of stink to attract female skunks—not the black cat with a white stripe as in the cartoons. This cologne is meant to be a romantic wake up call for prospective mates. The females, if not attracted by these reeking dudes, release their own scent to try to encourage them to hit the road and stink up some other lady.
            All this wooing and loving and stinking back and forth and waking up from a month of lazy naps makes for one roller coaster of a month for these striped little critters. Mostly they’re just trying to do their skunk thing at the right time of year, based, I’m sure, on when the boxes of chocolate and roses go on sale.
            So as much as it stinks, be respectful to your striped starry-eyed-in-love furry neighbors. Remember how groggy you are when you wake up from a long nap and are looking for just the right mate, and the best way know you can convince each other is to release a little perfume from your hind quarters.
            Ooh la la! C’est magnifique!

Originally written 2.22.17

The world's greatest soup

            The story itself reads like a fable or a twisted children’s book that ends up with the entire town dining on soup. In reality, it ended up in our basement freezer where just our family had the pleasure of dining on it for months to come.
            My mother and I were away at Girl Scout camp, and my father, left to tend to his own needs, decided to make us a pot of Hamburg’ Soup (we always left off the “er”) to celebrate our week away in the woods fighting mosquitos, mice, and raccoons. Like any great chef or soup connoisseur, no recipe was needed. He just started digging in the fridge and the pantry and throwing things in the pot.
            A handful of this, a pinch of that. And then he’d taste it and think, “Boy, this could use some [whatever].” And in that would go, followed by a repeat of the last few steps until he had added so many things that it no longer fit in one pot.
            So he got out another.
            By the time we got home, there were four large, to-the-brim pots of soup simmering on the stove. I couldn’t have been more than ten, but I still remember the look of horror on my mother’s face when she first laid eyes on the full stove and the fuller sink.
            Truthfully, it was delicious soup. To this day, my family still says it was and he has yet to recreate it, which my mom is probably thankful for, but that’s ok.
            That’s the great thing about soup, though. It’s a big, steaming pot of all sorts of good things that might be decent on their own, but come together to make one massive, marvelous delight. A good soup has layers of flavor, but none that stand out and jump on your tongue and tell the other flavors to go away. They just all blend together and create joy.
            This was the story I told my kids on a recent dreary February day. Feeling cabin fever setting in, I thought in my mothering genius that I could give the kids all cutting boards and knives and let them have free range of the kitchen to make a pot of Hamburg’ Soup, in the style of my dad, sans recipe.
            “You don’t need a recipe for Hamburg’ Soup,” I told them. “You make it with your heart.”
            While there was a bit of a learning curve with how to dice onions and not massacre them, by the end of the afternoon we had all contributed something to this huge pot—but only one—of soup. I have to say that it turned out pretty fantastic. We ate it for three days and I snuck the last of the leftovers while they all were away at school.
            And our hearts all got a little happier.


Originally written 2.12.17

Old mom, new tricks

            If you add up the ages of all of my children, I’ve been a mom for almost 38 years, which is almost as long as I’ve been on this Earth. You might think that I have most things figured out. I know I did. But as it turns out, you’re never too old a mom to learn new tricks.
            This tip came from the brilliant family of the child who has the locker next to my oldest daughter. Both freshmen in high school, one day my daughter saw him pull a girly lunchbox out of his bookbag. There must have been an exchange of expressions and the explanation followed.
            “I forgot my lunchbox at school yesterday so my mom packed my lunch in this princess Lunchbox of Shame. I’m never going to forget it at school again.”
            Upon hearing this story, my eyes got wide and I probably stood there, mouth agape, wondering why I hadn’t thought of this long, long ago. While our children are pretty good at remembering to bring their lunch boxes home, they are terrible at remembering to unpack them. We’re those weird “save the Earth” people who pack everything in reusable containers and have no-waste lunches, so the unpacking of containers is kind of important. It becomes even more important over an extended weekend when I unzip the forgotten box early in the morning to find 4 day old strawberries that could double as a science project. I don’t make the kids do many chores, and throwing plastic containers in the sink after I’ve done all the packing isn’t too much to ask, right?
            Needless to say, I immediately wanted to adopt this marvelous parenting tool. It was enforced that very day. “Don’t let this happen to you!” I stated, and sat back to wait and see what would happen.
            It only took a couple of days for someone to forget and in my great excitement of packing a princess lunchbox, I was defeated on two counts. One, I couldn’t find the lunchbox I was planning on using. And two, it was my youngest daughter who would be accepting of said lunchbox, totally defeating the purpose of humiliation and oh yeah, a life lesson.
            So instead she was awarded her salami sandwich in a brown paper bag. But this was no ordinary bag. It contained special messages in large, bold print. On one side, “I didn’t unpack my lunchbox and my mom forced me to use this paper bag and a beautiful tree died for no reason at all. I’m so sorry I was forgetful, little tree.” And on the other side, “I didn’t unpack my lunchbox and am forced to carry the Brown Sack of Shame.”
            On the bottom I wrote, “P.S. I still love you. Love, Mom.”
            The next day, everyone unpacked their lunchboxes the second they walked in the door. This scheme of mine might not work for long, but that’s OK with me. I’ve got the next Brown Sack of Shame text all ready to go.
            Love, Mom.

Originally written 1.29.17


Monday routines

            I used to make fun of my Grandparents.
            My Grandma would tell anyone who asked, “Your Grandpa gets up at 6:30. He takes his walk, gets the newspaper, makes coffee, and works the crossword puzzle. I get up at 8:00. By that time he’s mostly done with the puzzle and have my coffee and toast--just the heel of the bread.”
            She could lay out their entire day, right down to when she would lay out my Grandpa’s Pj’s. They loved their routine.
            I, on the other hand, would listen to her story for the seventy-second time and scream to myself in my head that I would never let a routine tie down my life! I will live freely and day-by-day, wherever the wind takes me! Life’s an adventure! And so on and so forth, until I got tired of speaking in exclamation points to myself.
            But then, my school-aged children began having Mondays off for holidays.
            I may not be quite where my Grandparents were, but I like to refer to Mondays as my day of Domestic Recovery. I use that day to clean up all of the spontaneous adventure from the weekend and do all of the planning for the week. I clean, shop, prep, chop, wash, dry, play, fry, stack, cook, and sit back and look at how, for at least 30 seconds, I have life in order.
            But when my routine of the week gets thrown off by these extra people that I love so dearly hanging around, nothing gets done. And suddenly it’s Tuesday and I’m not ready for anything. In my head I’m screaming again with exclamation marks about how we can’t live spontaneous lives of adventure and fun if I don’t have my day of Domestic Recovery to get everything ready!  (I believe it was Oscar Wilde who said, “Spontaneity is a meticulous prepared art.”) There’s no food in the house, no one has clean clothes, I’m grumpy, and chances are I will forget 2/3 of the things I’m supposed to do that week because I didn’t have my uninterrupted Monday routine to write them down.
            Often have I dreamed of writing a petition to send to the President of the United States, filled with hundreds of billions of signatures of people who feel the same way I do about Monday holidays. And as much as I wish I didn’t need it, I will explain the importance of routine when trying to juggle a family. When there’s no Monday, Tuesday through Friday are practically catawampus to the point of abandon. Everyone is thrown completely off with extra-curriculars, I’m scraping together PBJ on stale bread, and everyone’s exhausted from trying to remember which day the trash is getting picked up.

            Maybe someday I’ll find solace in waking up and knowing what day it is by grabbing the paper at 6:30, but for now, without my Mondays I don’t know when I’ll have time for anything, let alone drafting that petition.

Originally written 1.22.17
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