A Time to Give

In the amount of time it takes me to drive from my house to my office, I could drive in the opposite direction and end my drive in Tahoe. We live in the sticks of Northern California because we have to. We have five children. We have to put them all somewhere.

When my boys were little, we lived in a crappy little basement apartment (which I loved so very much) in the middle of Denver. We hardly had enough space for us, let alone a bunch of kid stuff. For this one tiny little sliver of my life, I was Über-organized. I rotated toys in and out of circulation so they frequently felt they had a fresh supply of things to play with. I did the same with their clothes.

They had one toybox which they could keep full of all the action figures and Legos and Hot Wheels and Nerf guns and puzzles and dinosaurs and Dora the Explorer toys they wanted (because gender roles are for sissies, and Dora was *awesome*), but it wasn't to overflow. All their toys had to fit inside that one toybox (which really was just a big Rubbermaid crate with a bunch of stickers and shit on it) and if they didn't, some would have to be donated to charity. Not just any toys had to go, good ones were donated, ones a child who maybe didn't have enough money to buy new toys would be happy to find at the local thrift shop. 

Same went for Christmas and birthdays. Each year at the beginning of December, we brought out all the toys, all the games, all the Erector/construction sets, and we started making tough choices, because if Santa was going to leave presents, we had to make room for them. Each year I explained to them that not every family is lucky enough to be able to buy their children Christmas gifts, and that we could help make those kids' Christmas' a wonderful time by giving our best toys, the ones we have cared for and kept together and played with delicately, to the local thrift shop so a family who needed to find wonderful gifts for their kids at the thrift shop, would. 

My children (and really, every child ever) were delighted at this prospect. Yes, giving up toys they loved sucked for them, but they loved the idea of giving another kid a good Christmas, and I loved them for their kind little hearts. 

Of course, those little boys are not little anymore, and they don't really play with toys anymore. We don't have toyboxes, we have cable bins. We don't rotate stuffies, we rotate game systems. We have a great big house a million miles from no where that can store you won't believe how many crates of Legos and Airsoft guns and vintage handheld game systems. There are no more gently used toys to pass on to a new family, but the ritual of it is still important. These men-and-women-in-training need to have it instilled in them that thinking of others, that giving while they're busy receiving, is as much a part of this holiday craziness as turkey and trees and 33% off sales with free shipping.

Wanting to give isn't nearly as easy as wanting to get, until you learn how freaking amazing giving feels. 

The first Tuesday in December is #GivingTuesday. After school, we are heading out to the mall, where each kid is going to pick one gift that they want to get under their own Christmas tree this year. They're going to bring it home and wrap it gorgeously. We're going to take it our of our family budget for Christmas gifts, and count it as one of their personal Christmas gifts, and then we are going to give it away to someone else.

Maybe it will go to a local foster child, maybe to a family who's having a rough time getting by or rebounding financially. It won't be worth a ton monetarily, because we don't have a ton to give, but it will be something. It will make a child's Christmas brighter, and it will give my children the greatest gifts I can think to give them - humility and humanity.

Join the giving movement here and find ideas for giving here.

Write

I got this text message today from my friend and great mentor:

Deb Write.jpg

Sigh. 

I was telling Jim last night in bed that I actually miss blogging, it's been so long. Of course, I followed that up this morning with reading all of ShitFoodBlogger's tweets to him. Yes, I'm aware I'm doing Bedtime with Busydad wrong. 

The best I've got right now is that I heard this NPR piece about memory yesterday (or maybe it was the Christian radio station. They're always tricking me into listening to their shows, with their nearly-secular news bits and catchy and slightly emo pop Jesus rock) and it made me realize that I need an actual doctor/scientist/expert to explain to me why it is that I can't remember how many years I've been alive or the names of the three people who dug their way out of my Holiest of Holies, but I can right now without even THINKING about it recite the name of each book of the Old Testament to you, in order, or all the words to Cool It Now (even the raps, yo), or the entire 1988 McDonald's menu song (now in two breaths; getting old is hard). 

Audre Lorde says that everything can be used, except what is wasteful, and I suppose I'm still young enough that I haven't yet had to figure out how I'm going to need the lyrics to New Edition songs, but old enough to know that being able to recite all the books of the Old Testament out loud in order may just come in handy sooner than I'd care to admit. (I never did get my free McDLT for singing the whole damn menu song, though. I think I'll write a letter. I hope that counts, Deb.) 

What I do know, however, is that I can't start sentence with But anymore, which makes blogging quite challenging, and also that everything has changed so much since the last time I really, truly *wrote* on this blog that I don't even know where to start with it all. Our memories are terribly and hilariously subjective; each shift of angle, of experience, of perception changes them with radical unpredictability. I believe that you have to write what you know, and what I've always know is this pile of remembered shit I've drug around with me like the most unwilling sort of companion. 

I know it because I haven't been willing to let myself know much else. My husband gave me nearly nothing, and I held on to that almost-void with all the strength I had. But now (that was hard, but I did it) I'm one four-hour online parenting class away from not being married to him any longer, and I'm okay with that. Somewhere in this down/quiet-time I've found my peace with him, with all of it, and let go of that wonderfully familiar nothing I've been clinging to. 

I don't need nothing anymore.

I don't even want it.

That's a pretty big deal, for me. 

I have all these posts in draft - stories of this new life that we're building, new memories we're making in a new place with new people where the slate is clean for all of us, where we can decide what we want to be now, where we are equally as excited and terrified of the possibilities laid out before. It's hard to write it out, largely because I don't know a single thing about it yet...but I want to. 

I heard Jim say to one of his clients the other day (and I'm paraphrasing) that what bloggers have that no other form of media has is emotional attachment; our readers are a part of our narrative, they are invested in the stories of our lives. I remember what that was like, feeling like my story mattered to more than just me. I'm going to try to start writing this new story, with these new players, in this new place that I don't know, but I'm excited to discover.

Enough

Eight years ago, on the day you were born, I hardly saw you at all. I don't even remember much of that day; you came into this world and there was a problem (it wasn't serious) (but we didn't know that at the time) (and when you are one minute old, every problem is serious) and just as soon as they laid you on my chest, they took you away.

I spent your first day waiting, wondering, worrying. I ran my fingers across the smears of blood and fluids left across my chest in your absence and dreamed of what it was going to be like to smell you, to hold you, to listen to you breath.  You spent your first day asleep under a plastic pie lid, and I like to imagine you were waiting for me, dreaming, too.

I didn't know your lung had collapsed. I didn't know you weren't responding to sounds. I didn't know you have conjoined toes on one foot.  I didn't know anything at all about your first day, except the pieces of information strangers would drop on the floor around me while I waited to be able to bridge the distance from the places you and I were separately confined. 

Your father was by your side though all of this, of course - by kid three the romance of childrearing is dead, and the paternal instincts are at their peak. You were the daughter he'd waited 34 years and 11 months to the day for, and no amount of NICU walls were about to keep him from you.   

When I was finally able to come see you, once I had feeling in my legs again and all the bleeding had stopped and the pain was a distant memory, they let me come see you. You laid pink and wriggly in your plastic bed, covered with things that go beep, and though you were only 1-1/2" of sterilized plastic away from me, it felt as though I were trying to reach across the ocean to touch you. I felt your tiny, new, curly fingers through the veil of plastic sheeting, and for as comforting as it was to feel the shape of you, it was almost more difficult this way. Mothers are not meant to feel distances from their children, especially not on the first day of their lives out of the joint. 

This year, eight years after the day you were born, I hardly saw you, either, and when I did it was again through sheets of plastic. This year, though, you didn't look like the daily dessert special under a heat lamp -  you were across a canyon from me, again with your father, and I got to spend your birthday with you through voodoo they call Facetime. 

You came home to me two weeks later a new person, a girl, an eight year old. I got to meet the new you new - you seemed taller, you spoke clearer, that freaking loose front tooth dangling from your gums like old an old grape, taunting me to pick it. The desperation you've carried on your shoulders since we moved away from Arizona - from your father and the friend you made who I am sure will be with you for the rest of your life - seemed to have lifted off you. You have this shit. You came home a little bit older, but not too old. You came home eight, and that's just enough. 

(Shitty mom's note: Her birthday is the 1st. Today is the 19th. Stop judging me.) 

Ancient Chinese Secret

I've found the solution to the work/life-slash-life/blog balance issues everyone is trying to figure out. Ready? The answer is simply this - don't update your blog. 

*** 

I got sick three and a half weeks ago, one day after Jim got sick, and up until this Monday, we were both more or less useless. I couldn't stay awake for more than 30 minutes and he was coughing so hard for so long that I started to smell his clothes for meth. I feel as though three solid weeks without a moment of rest from illness is unreasonable really, especially when it hits both of the adults in the house at the same time but leaves the children more or less unscathed. I'm pretty sure this virus we have is the reincarnation of Mao, doing his best to knock off the remaining adult intellectuals so he can take over the world. 

Or, you know, it's the 2013 version of Bruce Lee's samurai demon coming to take our asses down because Jim keeps telling his gwai lo girlfriend all the ancient Chinese secrets.

Secrets like this one.  

Ancient_Chinese_Ramen_Secret.png

You think you know ramen, but you don't know ramen. THAT is ramen. That is ramen with chunks of vegetables in it, ramen that burns when you eat it because you aren't supposed to know about this ramen. You're supposed to be eating the ramen you bought in the styrofoam cup at Wawa. This ramen is secret. It's sacred. (It's Korean.) It's amazing. It's like two dollah or something at Ranch 99. 

It's also the only thing that will make you feel better when you contract a raging sinus infection three short days after the 3 1/2 week pox was lifted off of your house, and I'm pretty sure now you have to tell someone about it or a creepy little girl will melt your face off in seven days. (Wait. that's Japanese. Shit.)  

 

The 2nd Most Inefficient Blog Post About Efficiency

I was supposed to publish this post last week, because last week was my last week as a blog ambassador for simplehuman. (Hi FTC; that's a disclosure statement.) I wrote this post over and over and over, and finally had to stop and walk away, for no other reason than, ironically enough, it was grossly inefficient. I'm sure it was a good post, and will die an honorable death in my Draft Cemetery, but

                   you know how some people are really good at writing an exactly-three-hundred word post with a perfectly optimized-for-Pinterest photo and just enough but not too much SEO keyword inclusion that makes both their hoards of readers and their clients superbly happy? I am not those people.  

My posts all take these Robert Frost Road Less Traveledesque segues into existentialism, my daddy issues, poli-sci, words that aren't even really words, and gravy recipes before I even decide what the point is, let alone get to it. Case in point?  The 147 words I just typed that have nothing to do with the subject at hand AT ALL. 

Ahem. Over the post year, I've been learning and advocating a lot for efficiency. I've toured headquarters dedicated to looking at the things everyone else overlooks and making them the centerpieces of efficient living. My fellow ambassadors and I have tried, tested, and paid forward tools for efficient living, from Jedi Mind Trick trash cans to co-dependent enabler dish racks. And despite all of that, I have managed to make my personal life as completely in/un/not-efficient as humanly possible.

  • I moved to Northern California, so the mid-point Starbucks where I meet my kids' dad for his weekends with him went from being 19 miles away to being 360 miles away. 
  • My commute to work went from being over the dog toys and a left at the coffee pot to 2 1/2 hours. Each way. Uphill in the snow and barefoot.
  • My kids who used to go to schools cleverly-staggered at 45 minute start intervals now attend three different schools each about three miles apart, each which all start within seven minutes of one another. And there are no school buses in this town. And everyone here drives Suburbans to each school at the same time.
  • I replaced my neighbor who used to have an annoying husband and two kids with a neighbor with an annoying tribe of goats and one rooster.  
  • My tiny little entirely too small for us house has been replaced with one so big, I use a pedometer when I am making coffee in the morning.  
  • And I keep not going to the grocery store on the weekends like I used to before I had a commute into work and schools I had to drive kids to and roosters next door to yell at, so now I'm scrambling at 6:30 nightly to figure out something for dinner and going every.single.night which is a really great way to spend all your month's budget at Safeway. 

But of course, all of that is happening so that I can live with my very best friend in the whole wide world, whom I can, like, see any time I want now and stuff, so there is efficient balance in the force, I think. 

Still, with my simple, quiet existence gone and this constantly-running-and-juggling one with one commute and five kids and three dogs and a crazy wonderful boyfriend in its place, I am grateful for every small favor which comes my way, any shortcut my three hacker boys-man-children-things in my life read off the internet and try to pass of as their own to me, and any item around my house that makes the rest of life's details seamless and shiny.  

I am glad to know that I don't have to even think about the trash, like, EVER AGAIN, that the kids shower stuff isn't going to collect that inexplicable gunk in the corners of the tub, that I'm not going to have to reach my arm into the dogs' kibble to dig out my 1 cup measuring scoop that I decided I could live without and have regretted deciding that every batch of caramel I have made since, because my dog food container has a scoop that magically or by voodoo hangs from the lid. Seriously, WHY DID SOMEONE NOT MAKE THIS SOONER? I am glad to know someone is out there looking at every single bit of crucial daily minutia and making it work better, so that I can worry about everything else in my life I need too. I'm am excited to see what else they come up with, and really, it needs to be this

simple human toothpaste pump.png

You're welcome, simplehuman

Also, thank you for a really fun, really interesting, and really shiny year.