Me and my little lightbulbs in the bluebonnets!

Me and my little lightbulbs in the bluebonnets!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Too Cool for School

I'm not sure when I first heard the word "cool" in reference to my social standing. I know it was a factor, though. After all, I did grow up attending school with a large group much more affluent than I during the eighties, when Guess was king of denim and wearing a Swatch meant you had arrived. Still, those were my pre-teen years. I don't ever remember thinking of such things as a young elementary school child. So, when my kindergartner came home from school downtrodden because his friends didn't think something he was wearing was cool, I was a little stunned. 

I listened as J.T. poured out the tale of his classmates poking fun at his camouflage sunglasses. "Only DJs are cool!" he moaned. Through our discussion, I came to understand that a "DJ"  was someone with a backwards hat and slim dark shades. This all came about on a day when the kids were allowed to wear hats and sunglasses to school as part of a special program week. 

My husband drove home the message to J.T. that it shouldn't matter what other people think. And, while I understood his point, that's very difficult for a 5-year-old boy, who happens to be the smallest in his class, to comprehend. Right now everything everybody says matters from the principal to his teacher to his class mates. That is his world. That is his sense of self. 

Watching him deal with his first emotional battle was difficult for me. It conjured up memories of my own struggles trying to fit in, which I never really did. Creative types, such as myself and J.T., often have trouble finding our footing. Add to that the fact that my dad wasn't around and we lived in a lesser neighborhood than my rich friends, well you have a perfect misfit cocktail. 

Thankfully, my mother understood my need for a different learning environment and when I reached my sophomore year in high school helped me transfer into a magnet program. It was ideal for me. 

But, that didn't fix J.T.'s problem. His was here and now. And, aside from a few encouraging words, a hug and a little laughter, there was little I could do to help him navigate this sea of sharks. 

When did we as a society begin worrying so much about what was "in" or "cool" anyway? Why should it matter if our sunglasses are black or camouflaged? And why does the brand of our jeans count for so much in this world? 

At age 5, I'm sure it's less about labels as it is about picking on the weak, but I am surprised that we, in our politically correct everyone-deserves-an-award society, haven't put a stop to this madness. It seems that these little seeds grow into the massive oaks of approval-seeking that have led many to seek mortgages on homes they could not afford, to live above their means and max out their credit cards. 

Could it be that it all begins with something as small as sunglasses in elementary school? I say yes. I often poke fun at my husband, saying he would be happy in this world if he had nothing but a stick and a pot. And it's true. But as I listened to his wise instruction to my son, I could see that he wasn't just giving him a lifeboat to traverse these choppy waters.  By simply saying, "Son, you need to remember this: as long as you like you and what you stand for, that's all that matters. That's all you need," he was building our son a yacht, a place of strength, comfort and security when times got hard. A place that, try as they may, the world with its harsh words and fierce storms could never destroy. 

Sunday, September 27, 2009

What's the beef?

Sometimes, I wonder just how my grandmothers did it. Just how did they raise three children each, keep a home, manage their crops and cook everything FROM SCRATCH? I wouldn't say either had overly involved husbands. They were typical husbands of that era – caring but pretty much uninvolved with the daily operations of things. They went to work, came home, ate dinner, hugged the kids and read the newspaper. 

This leads me to wonder why women of today complain as we do. Single mothers excluded, those of us with husbands willing to pitch in in the smallest way should be rejoicing, shouldn't we? Or maybe I have that wrong. Perhaps, this is the way it was meant to be all along. Either way, I can arguably say that as the basic running of a home goes, today's mother has it way easier than my grandparents did. 

For instance, take my paternal grandmother. She's a one-woman freak of nature. At 86 years old, she still mows her property (over 100 acres), skins deer, goes fishing and tends her own fully functioning garden. She also still cooks a full Christmas dinner for her large family FROM SCRATCH. My other grandmother has a garden you wouldn't believe, which she still, at 85, maintains without help. Since my grandfather's passing over 10 years ago, she does get some help with the mowing, but maintains her home herself and has helped raise her nearest grandchildren, all while remaining very active in her church. 

My paternal grandmother not only took care of her land, family, home and husband, but she also worked as a cook in the nearby elementary school when she was a young mother. 

Then, I look at my own mother. She married my father at age 19, had her first child very early and quickly became a housewife. Never attending college, living in her own apartment or holding a job, she wasn't sure what to do after she left her abusive husband to raise two children on her own. She finished her associate's degree while attending night classes and sometimes worked three jobs to keep a roof over our heads. It wasn't easy. It wasn't always fun. But she did it, all while cooking dinner and keeping house for us ungrateful children. 

So, when I begin to moan and grouse about my husband working in San Antonio, having to do all this grunt work with no one to assist me, I have to look at the women who came before me. Those earlier generations of strong women who did what they had to do to keep their lives going, keep their children happy and their husbands optimistic. Did I happen to mention that my father's mother didn't have a washer and dryer until many years into her marriage? 

How, then, can I complain as I Swiffer my wood floors or take a load out of the dryer to fold them (for the hundredth time) when my grandmothers had few, if any, of those luxuries? What exactly is my beef? 

There are times, I wish I could go back in time and watch them in action, see how they handled their struggles. I'll bet my electric vacuum cleaner that they did so with much more grace than I can muster on most occasions. I'm making a vow to myself to conjure up their wisdom, their guidance and their experiences whenever I feel low. Thankfully I can do that just by picking up a telephone, another luxury that wasn't theirs for many decades. 

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Point, Please

I wanted to cry all day today. But, the tears just wouldn't come. After waking up my sluggish 5-year-old, I fought with him for over an hour about everything, essentially making me a drill sergeant, thus launching my sour mood and feelings of utter failure as a mother. I walked around with this heaviness all day, questioning myself and my choice to stay home with my children. 

As I've stated before, I get no greater delight than that which comes from the laughter of my young ones. I'm every day aware that this time, while occasionally challenging, is all too fleeting. Still, there are days when the prevailing question is "Why do I bother?" 

I should mention that some of my feelings are left over from last night's dinner, which I loved, but J.T. hated (which he announced before even taking a bite). That caused another argument, only exacerbated when Dan came home and decided to eat cereal instead of the dinner I had slaved over for an hour with him in mind. 

Since Dan has been working in San Antonio, his commutes require him to leave by 4:30 a.m., and he sometimes doesn't return home until after the boys are in bed. Over time, this has worn on both of us, and I'm afraid my nerves are a bit exposed. 

So, persisted the question. Why do I bother? Why cook dinners that go uneaten ... vacuum floors that only become soiled five minutes later ... make beds only to have them jumped on ... clean toilets ... mop floors (especially with a toddler at home) ... dust ... shower? It seems no one really notices or appreciates my best efforts anyway. I could cook a four-course dinner and would have no one to share it with. I would be a bigger hit in my household if I served Spaghettios every night. And that's not gonna happen. 

I asked my mother-in-law why I did the things I did. I told her about my overall feelings of sadness and irritation. She simply said that this was how I was defining myself in this particular season of my life. After thinking about it, I believe she is right. My mother had a slightly different take on the matter. She suggested I was doing these things more for myself than my spouse or children. 

Maybe staying home was a selfish choice. But, one I made with my children in mind. Of course, it was what I wanted. They really didn't particularly care one way or another at the time. But I like to think that down the road they will. I like to hope, at least, that, while the clean folded clothes in their drawers go unappreciated now, one day they will look back and be thankful I was here every single day for whatever they needed whenever they needed it. 

I pray that although my dinners go largely uneaten, the few bites they take will help enhance their appreciation for food that doesn't come out of a can. 

Growing up, I remember that my grandmother always had homemade chocolate chip cookies in the cookie jar whenever we came for a visit. She probably didn't know that those cookies were going to be etched in my memory, but they are. To this day, when I recall my fondest childhood memories, that cookie jar is among them, sitting idly on the sidelines taking in the action, but very much central to the comfort recalled of those days. 

Maybe my small gestures of cleaning, cooking and caring for my children will somehow find their ways into my children's mental cedar chest of memories. As a mother, that's what I am holding out for. That, and a really good massage hopefully some day soon! 

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Little Rewards

There are things about this motherhood gig I do not, nor will I ever, understand. For instance, why is it that children refuse to go to bed on time, yet also refuse to let you sleep in the next morning? It is as if they have some stockpile of energy they plug into at every possible interval. But, do we parents get even a hit of this elusive magic potion? No. Take, for instance, my oldest. A new kindergartner, he is eager to start each day (at least until it is actually time for him to drag his tired carcass from beneath his sheets). 

Each night, it's the same routine. Shower, brush teeth, read books, bed. Then in 10 minute intervals for the following hour, he putters down the hall for another hug, another question, another complaint, another demand. Which usually means he hits the actual sack around 8:30 instead of 7:30 as intended. That makes it all the more boggling that I felt his morning breath on my face at 4 a.m., startling me awake as he, whispering, asked, "Mommy, when am I getting up?" 

HUH? An hour after sending him back to bed, his voice came moaning across the hall again. "Mommy? Mommy!? MOMMY!!!??" I stumbled into his room, stepping on legos in the process, only to find he wanted me to cover him up with the blanket lying right next to him. Instead of asking why he wasn't covering himself up, I sleepily covered him, kissed him, cursed the legos under my breath and stumbled back to bed. 

So, that's how it all began. Throughout the day I fielded phone calls from clients and child care providers, held my screaming child while he received three booster shots and wrestled with my 5 year old over what socks he was going to wear to school. 

Today has been a unique day, not to mention the half-naked child I chased through the house in the course of potty training. He thought it was fun. All I could think about was the potential for mess and disaster should he suddenly get the "inkling for tinkling." 

Sad to say, the highlight of my no-shower no-workout little-rest day was the fact that Beau did, indeed, pee pee in the potty. What does that say about my life? 

Oh, well. At least for now, the two cherubs are sleeping in their beds, resting up for another day of interesting challenges (mostly for Mommy). I keep reminding myself that one day I will laugh about all of this. I will. But not tonight. Tonight I will sit my unexercised unwashed and unrested bottom on my double chair and watch mindless television. And I will love every selfish minute of it. That is, until J.T. comes in and asks for water. Again. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Thanks for the Memories

This has been a week of lamentation and elation, all at the same time. Like most mothers sending their children off to kindergarten for the first time, I found myself looking at my 5-year-old with fresh eyes as he strapped on his oversized backpack and headed into his "big kid" school.

He was no longer the little boy in footed pajamas. No. Now he was a tall lanky kid branching out on his own. Where had the time gone? Just yesterday I was delivering this boy by emergency Cesarian, praying he would be okay. When finally his tiny body was placed in my arms I felt a swirl of emotion – disbelief, exhaustion, joy, fear – many of the feelings I felt Monday watching him leap out of my carefully guarded nest. 

I'll never forget the first day J.T. and I were left alone with each other in the hospital room. The family had decided to let us bond, and my husband headed home for a much-needed shower. In the silence of that sterile environment, I spent hours just looking at this tiny blessing, this miracle I never thought I would be able to experience. 

I had spent the last ten years battling endometriosis, a vicious disease that attacks the scarred tissue in the female body, most often around her reproductive organs. After two surgeries to correct the problem, the prognosis was a fifty-fifty shot that I may or may not be able to conceive. So, to say I was overwhelmed by this new man in my life is an understatement.

I stroked his tiny fingers, counting each one. Time passed with me spending countless minutes examining each feature, from his extra long eyelashes to the unique swath of a birth mark on his ankle. He was mine. He was ours. At that moment, I whispered a prayer to God: "Please, don't let me screw this up. I know he's just on loan to me from You, so I will need your guidance." 

And we have been guided, Dan and I, in raising our little tornado of energy. He's funny, smart, challenging, hard headed (by birth right), and extremely creative. When our second son was added to the family nearly two years ago, I knew the roller coaster was about to get even loopier. And it has. 

So far, the greatest experiences of my life have been tied up in these children. As I kissed J.T. one last time to say goodbye, he barely looked back. He ran into his classroom with vigor, exactly what I had hoped for. As for me, I fought back a few tears, not for the present, but for the past, the tiny moments I'll never get back. There will never be another night when I can hold him like a little bundle in my arms and stare at this beautiful creature before me. I will probably never be allowed to rock him to sleep at night any more. 

No, these are new days. These upcoming years will be filled with heartbreaks to mend and hurt feelings to soothe. They will be days of soccer tournaments and sleep overs, first loves and first kisses. I'm looking forward to them all, even though it means my baby is now a boy. 

But, for a woman who never knew if she could experience such a treasured day as her child's first day of school, I say thanks to God for the memories ... past and future. 


Friday, August 21, 2009

Surviving Summer

Well, summer's officially over. It dawned on me today as I was straightening up the house (again). But, first, a little background. 

You see, my oldest son had been at the same child care facility for nearly three years and was weeks away from graduating with his friends when he was unceremoniously kicked out. He didn't deserve to be booted, in my opinion. He wasn't hurting anyone or being profane, the things that normally warrant such action. And, needless to say he was heartbroken. We managed to get him reinstated until graduation after a week's suspension, but were told in no uncertain terms that he was not welcome back for the summer program, a fun-filled camp that he had participated in for the last two years. 

In that moment, my plans for him (and, hence, myself) changed. At the time, I had another job on top of my consulting business demands, so this posed a problem. But, it takes a lot to knock the wind out of my sails. So, I set forth piecing together a creative calendar for the upcoming three months, enrolling the children in camps, VBS programs and activities. Holes were filled in here and there with planned family events. When all was said and done, I stepped back and admired the carefully constructed schedule with pride. It was a thing of beauty. 

Fast forward to today. After meeting J.T.'s teacher last night and turning in our school supplies, I began purging our refrigerator of unnecessary ornamentation. In doing so, I came across the calendar, with days marked off one month after another. I had done it. I wasn't sure we would make it, but we did. It was an uncertain plan to say the least. Would all the times work out? Would the children cooperate? How would they do with such a back-and-forth routine instead of the stability of the same-old same-old? But here we are at the end of August, plunging headlong into kindergarten and mother's day out, with a summer full of wonderful memories. 

In a way, I'm thankful to his preschool for denying him summer camp entrance. It was a gift. Despite the occasional frustrations of moody toddlers and fighting boys, a messy house and a floor that never seemed to stay clean, nothing but good things came from being forced into a new routine. To tell the truth, now that school is here, I'm a little sad. I'm excited for the boys, but I know those days when they are both gone, I will miss them, chaos and all. 

I reluctantly threw the calendar in the garbage, wanting vaguely to hang on to it, as sort of a souvenir of the summer of '09. It was the summer we not only survived, but thrived. 

Isn't it amazing how God works? Will I ever ceased to be awed by his architecture of our lives? Probably not. Just like that well-constructed calendar, he is weaving our daily lives, whether we like the current situation or not. And I'm thinking that when He's done, He admires our lives as I did my schedule, with pride at what He has created, the beauty of its intricacies, and most of all the triumphant outcome in the end. 

Monday, August 17, 2009

Off the Rails

A friend of mine who works from home gave me a bit of advice once before I started on this adventure. "Sometimes the trains are off the rails," she said. "On those days, you just have to go with it." Today was one of those days. 

I managed to set my oldest son's alarm last night (for the first time) in an effort to ready him for Kindergarten next week. Hence, the alarm went off as planned at 6:30 a.m. and I found myself questioning my wisdom in setting it to begin with. Still, he was up and at 'em early this morning, made his bed, brushed his teeth and we all sat down to breakfast around 7:30. I managed to make it to the Y where the kids played and I worked my butt off. Literally (hopefully). 

Here's where the train started to derail. On the way home around 11, my youngest passed out in the backseat, still exhausted from our weekend. There was no way to rouse him for lunch, therefore both boys were at odds with their schedules, J.T. going to his room for quiet time a full 45 minutes after Beau. That meant a shorter shower for me, and very little time for lunch and phone calls to complete the work on my to-do list. 

J.T. came in and out of his room at least a hundred times in that brief two-hour period, during which I was asked to reassemble legos, find scratch paper and pens and why ants lived underground. "I don't know," I said. "Go back to your room and don't come out until I come get you." Like that ever works. 

I did manage to communicate with a printer, finish an article and do some research for a client before he came the one hundred and first time, speaking loudly enough to wake his brother. That's when I did what most moms do when their children are at odds with each other on a long hot summer afternoon – I loaded them up, and we got out of the house. 

After stopping off at the park, the Dollar General and the grocery store, we came home three hours later with my 2- and 5-year-old singing "shake shake shake your bootie" as loud as possible much to my chagrin. Upon arriving home, I promptly declared it movie time, another mommy standby. (Shame me if you will, but there are days I thank my lucky stars for my DVD player.) 

So, the train jumped the tracks today. Very little was done in the way of house work or work work. But my boys are happy for the time being, and I saved a bit of my sanity all by following that nugget of advice given to me years ago. Sometimes you just have to hang on until the chug chug slows to a sputtering stop. In the meantime, I've decided to save a little more of my sanity – tonight we're having left overs for dinner. 

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Confessions of a Split Personality

I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels this way. In fact, I've heard other work-at-home moms talk about the see-saw effect of "having the best of both worlds." Still, I feel alone when I have my fleeting "I wish I still worked outside the home" thoughts. There are occasions when I just can't hear a pleading "Mommy" one more time, no matter how adorable the face is that it's coming out of. Instead, I long for those days when I could drop my children off at day care and retreat to my mound of work for the day, leaving someone else to wipe the poop, drool, food remnants and milk from their bodies. But, again, those are very fleeting and rare moments. 

Usually they are brought on by a week like the one I just had, when, in the feast-or-famine world of self-employment, I experienced the feast. Not normally something I'd complain about, it came on the heels of a long weekend with the family, after which I returned home without a spouse to share childcare duties with. Then ensued a slew of e-mails, phone calls, voice mails and texts regarding meetings, projects and urgent changes to projects that urgently needed to go to the printer yesterday ... urgently. Of course, the week was shortened yet again by another blessed family vacation, which gave me merely three days to cram work in around child rearing, working out and home maintenance, which, needless to say, has suffered as of late. 

I have to admit, though. Once I wound down from my little fit of panic and the overwhelming feeling that I could not possibly get it all done, I realized I could. And I did. Then, we went to the waterpark, floated the river and enjoyed the last toasty days of summer we have left. Heading home today (again, without the hubby), sunburned and exhausted, with two konked out kids in the backseat, I thought how lucky I am that tomorrow I don't have to fight a commute. 

I don't have to rush home, tidy up the house, plunk the kids in bed and wish for more time with them. Instead, I have the benefit of time. And, though I still feel like there is never enough of it, I can always say I'm making the most of what I have. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Huge Gamble

I'm not much of a gambler. In fact, the one time I did venture to Vegas, I lost way more than I won, which isn't saying much. But, about two years ago I threw the dice in my own life – I left a very stable job with a high income for the unsure territory of entrepreneur-ism. The fact I was nine months pregnant at the time didn't do much to calm my nerves. 

I tell a lot of people that decision was like jumping off a cruise ship in the middle of the ocean. It's a perfectly good ship. It floats; has all the comforts one needs to survive the voyage. Still, if you want to know what else is out there, sometimes you have to take a deep breath and dive in. 

That's what I did when I launched BCreative in January 2007. So far, it's been quite an adventure, with some very very good times and very scary ones. From one month to the next, I'm not sure if I'll make enough money to help with the household expenses. But on the other hand, I spend every moment possible with my two growing boys. 

In the end, it doesn't really matter how much money I make. Or even if BCreative sinks or swims. What matters is, when I look back, I can say I took a plunge that enhanced my kids' lives and showed me just what I was made of. 

During this blog, I'm going to share insights into my daily struggle of balancing home-based work and life. I'll talk about what life is like when a spouse travels two nights a week, sometimes making it imperative that I learn how to fix a leaky faucet on the fly. I'll also talk about my experiences with the fantastic nonprofits I am blessed to call clients. 

I hope you'll check in from time to time to learn from my hard-earned experience. I'll say this much – no matter how you look at it, the water's fine!