On Losing the Battle

Today, as the first light filtered through the blinds I gazed at my beautiful boy who had climbed into my bed through the night. I breathed in his sweet smell and played softly with his little rubber ears. I wished hard that he didn’t have to wake up to the world changed as it was this morning. I despaired that he would come to know such a repugnant individual as the leader of his country. Worse, that he would someday come to understand that we let it happen.

Our country elected this man President of the United States and we should all hang our heads with shame. What will we tell our daughters? How will we explain that this man, who is so blatantly misogynistic, is allowed to set foot in the Oval Office? How will we excuse ourselves when they start picking away at their rights and freedoms? How could we have done more?

I read that Canada’s immigration website crashed in the wee hours this morning as those desperate for an escape, a do over, for the gag to be up, frantically googled. I’m here to tell you that won’t be me. I won’t be running. I am a British Citizen, a resident alien in the United States, an immigrant, and this is my home. My husband is American, my children are American, and soon I will be too. Next election cycle  my little guy will be eight years old. Old enough to understand and bear witness to his grown ups fighting to put someone worthy in our country’s highest office, someone he can admire and emulate. So as we move forward reluctantly this day, this week, and for the next four years my promise to my son is that this will be the last time I sit by idly as hate trumps love.

 

The Quality of a Moment

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The kids are asleep, the dishwasher is humming along. My feet are throbbing a little and I don’t remember when I sat down last. A few moments ago I looked up at our sky full of stars, so vibrant in this beautiful Texas Hill country, and I felt grateful. The enormity of the night sky will often make me feel insignificant, afraid, too small. Bit tonight I find myself giddy with gratitude, humbled by the sheer miracle, the blind luck that put me, little me, here. Able to stand on my two legs in my weed strewn driveway, and drink up this beautiful experience.

As I ran around this weekend preparing meals for the week I found myself overwhelmed by work. I made a point to shift my thinking and allowed myself to feel grateful for the experience of cooking for my family. There was Halloween pasta with bat and pumpkin shaped pieces, carrot and coriander soup made from Mum’s tried and true recipe, slow cooker chili and hot apple cider. I breathed in the smells. I savored the little hands, eager to help, the pasta pieces falling to the floor, their curiosity, and finally their pride at the finished meal.

I had to make a last minute run to one of those awful halloween superstores. Once we had purchased our gross, but totally cool zombie makeup I made a wrong turn and wound up out by the airport. What began as a twenty minute drive had turned into forty. We had pumpkins to carve and I had dinner to serve, school snacks to assemble. Yep, I like to sign up for snack duty on special days like Halloween and Valentines Day. It never fails to make me feel simultaneously overwhelmed and like a superhero. On our longer than necessary drive home I played my favorite music, rolled down the windows and enjoyed the ride. Then at midnight I enjoyed putting little celery stems into clementine pumpkins despite the late hour.

Once this week, while washing dishes, my little pirate friend passed through the kitchen and asked, “do we have any string? I need it to build my ship.” There was an actual homemade pumpkin pie in the oven and I believed in that moment that I may in fact be the happiest person alive.

I wondered aloud to Andy recently that there are occasions in life where you notice that the quality of the moment is somehow different, something akin to a childhood memory, but not. What I am coming to understand is that this is what it feels like to be present in the moment. This is mindfulness. Putting mindfulness into practice is simple, but it is work. I have a long way to go and more to learn. I still fall asleep when I attempt to meditate for more that thirty seconds, but I am working on bringing myself back into the present whenever I notice my mind wandering into that unknown future that I fear so much. I am beginning to realize how very much I have missed these past fourteen years. I will never be reimbursed the time spent worried and stressed about futures that ultimately never came to pass. I know that now, and practicing mindfulness is a not so small part of my whole plan to overcome my anxiety. And guys I have to tell you, I have not had a single panic attack since Andy left three weeks ago. It’s a major victory.

 

 

Birthdays


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I go overboard on birthdays. Like, way overboard. The traditions I’ve incorporated into our celebrations over the years can sometimes seem almost impossible to pull off. For example there are the chocolate chip pancakes served for the birthday breakfast, followed by the opening of gifts. This happens no matter if its a school day or not. There is always a special treat prepared for the birthday child’s classmates in addition to the Mama made birthday cake  served after dinner. If the birthday is on a school day I’ll always incorporate some sort of fun (and too often costly) activity into the afternoon. This would all be fine, but the expectations don’t stop there.

On the weekend of the birthday there may be a sleepover party or some additional celebration involving school friends. This will include a second cake or cupcakes as well as favors, entertainment and a meal for the guests. For those who have lost count that’s a minimum of four baked treats for the birthday child to enjoy.

I have done fairy parties complete with fairy costumes, crowns and wands, indoor campout sleepovers with tabletop smores, and art and craft parties on rainy days. I have hired a magician, dressed up like Elsa and spent inordinate sums of money on party room rentals at the Zoo, the local community pool, trampoline park and various gymnastics studios to name a few.

I love my kids. This should be obvious, and I guess I feel the need to prove it to them through this excess. I want them to feel as loved and treasured as they are on their special day, so I go overboard. This isn’t a justification. It’s a plea.

The negative effects of all this over indulgence are all too real. I notice it most starkly on the day of the celebration, but it lingers long after. My kids are spoiled. They have no concept of how lavish their parties have become. Their sense of gratitude is stunted even though I force distracted “thank you’s” from birthday boys and girls near crazed with excitement and high on sugar.

I long for the baby years. To witness once more their unmitigated delight as they open their little gifts. Or their wide eyed, open mouthed wonder when they are presented with their first birthday cake, candles ablaze.

I love my kids, so I am going to fix this. I am getting off this crazy train and I’m not looking back. It will be hard at first. Perhaps it will be doubly so since I am obviously not the only mother caught up in this cycle of expectation and ingratitude. Every week a new invite appears in my inbox. Another Mom is making her best effort, shelling out way too much dough. Because apparently this is what we do now.

I don’t need to go back to the drawing board. I’ve adopted some lovely rituals that I know the kids treasure dearly. I guess I’ve gotten pretty good at cake decorating because when I presented my oldest with his cake this year, in the cardboard cake box I had used to transport it, I heard the hurt in his voice when he asked “a store bought cake?” And truly, I love making those cakes. I love making the just perfect one for the person they are in this fleeting moment.  Creating it is a way to quietly consider (usually at 2am on the birthday eve) the person they are becoming and the child they are leaving behind.

My younger kids wear their birthday crown and rainbow cape at the breakfast table. Sometimes the birthday chair is lit up with twinkle lights. The big kids still allow me to decorate their birthday chair with a Balloon bouquet. There is a special, if slightly tattered banner that hangs over the table and always a jar of blooms set out next to the gifts.  I hope someday they fight over that banner and cape.

I actually love our pancake tradition, but perhaps on school days the birthday child could wait until after school to open her gifts. Or maybe she could be permitted to choose just one from the pile. Gift opening really isn’t something to be rushed anyway.

I would like their birthdays to feel like the ones I remember from my childhood. I remember warm family gatherings with grandparents, lots of photographs, and a few thoughtfully chosen presents. Since I am an August birthday I had a couple of special ones while we were on summer vacation. I remember one “cake” made of marshmallows and foreign candies, arranged in a baking dish with candles stuck in.  In the pictures I am wearing my favorite cat nightgown and my cheeks are a little sunburned. I set my hair on fire that year.

Of course I did have my special tenth birthday “disco”! It was like a dream. All my friends and cousins were invited and there was even a DJ. Mum made a Michael Jackson cake and I wore a deep blue dress with a big pink bow. I felt like a star.

As far as I could tell everyone had a blast. There were no complaints about the flavor of the cake, or the choice of music and games. Nobody commented that the knick knacks in their favor bags were lame. In fact, I’m almost certain their were no favor bags. And nobody complained about that either. We kids were genuinely grateful for our afternoon at the “disco” and I had no expectation that it would happen again ever.

Very soon Little Bear will turn four. I have not booked the party room at the Zoo even though it was my first impulse. Nor have I committed myself to hosting a backyard extravaganza for thirty or so kids and their parents. It will be a bit of a challenge, but it is time to focus on our more meaningful traditions.  Less outrageous, but just as rooted in the desire to make the birthday child feel as precious as we all deserve to feel on our birthday.