A Friday Morning PSA

To all my friends:

Photographed below is the remnant of what used to be a plastic Cinderella figurine.

A dream is a wish your heart makes...

A dream is a wish your heart makes…

Notice how, as a result of her impossibly tiny waist in comparison to the rest of her body, the cumulative effect of activity has resulted in her snapping in half and losing her torso/head.

Let this be a lesson to all women: we really should eat that chocolate.

A Country Western Kind of Day

Today has been a country-western song kind of day, but the stay-at-home mom version. It goes a little somethin’ like this:

“It’s Friday night and I’m home alone with my kids. They’re havin’ a screaming contest in the bathroom. (I’m hidin’ in the closet.)

I stepped on my brand-new glasses and I broke ’em. Super glued my fingers together when I tried to fix ’em. (I lost some skin on that one boys.)

I went to the store for eggs and milk. I forgot the milk. (And now the kids are cryin’)

I let the dog out and he ate some grass. It came back up and now it’s all over my carpet. (I’m savin’ that mess for my ole man! Ain’t that right, ladies?!) ”

That’s it. I know, it’s a work in progress. And I never said it would be a good country-western song. I didn’t even say that it would be a not-horrible country-western song. All I’m saying, is that as I was going through my litany of woes in my head tonight, they  were accompanied by a banjo and they came to me in a Toby Keith kind of voice. And yes, my inner thoughts are frequently voiced by celebrities with musical scores in the background. Aren’t yours?

On that note, let me finish my masterpiece with the following photo series:

I put a coat on my girl, and she pouted.

I put a coat on my girl, and she pouted.

She took it off and laughed in my face!

She took it off and laughed in my face!

 

I strapped her in her car seat and won the battle.

I strapped her in her car seat and won the battle.

And now it’s bedtime! TGIF, Folks!

Hi, I’m Krista. I Break Minds.

One night last week, during our most recent spate of winter storms and school closures, my five-year-old told me that I was “cracking her heart into pieces” so badly that “even her mind was breaking.”

I earned this opprobrium when I responded to her request for paint so she could make “an angel with brown skin, a white dress, and beautiful gold hair” by saying, “No. Seriously. No. Go watch TV.” She was crestfallen —  heartbroken —  her mind had been shattered. If ever there were a pathetic creature, it was my child that night. I was unmoved.

I am heartless, I know. But before you judge me, wait for the context.

First of all, I was eating dinner. There is a beast that lives within me, and when she gets hungry, we feed her. My husband learned this lesson very early in our relationship. My kids seem to face a much steeper learning curve, or maybe they just don’t care about the consequences of interrupting a hungry beast at feeding time. Whatever the case may be, they think it is totally appropriate to do stuff like try to kill each other, or pee on the couch, or ask for art supplies while I am eating.

Secondly, it’s been a long winter of snow days. And most of them haven’t been the fun, “you wanna build a snowman” kind of snow day. Many were so bitterly cold that my thin-blooded girls were crying after 5 minutes of being outside. Then there was the storm that dropped so much snow on us that their short little legs couldn’t navigate through it. And even on the snow days when they could play outside, the outdoor fun never lasted more than 2 hours.

It was deep.

I’m not kidding, it really was deep.

We just don't get snow like this in Maryland!

We just don’t get snow like this in my part of the world!

The rest of the time, we were inside — crafting.

We drew, we glued, we painted, we cut (oh, the paper we cut!), we stamped, we beaded. We marker-ed our markers dry and the Lorax wept for all the paper we used. We mixed media, and we built things, and we littered our kitchen with art supplies.

I cleaned green paint off of brushes, clothing, fingers, faces, and furniture. I negotiated peace after an epic battle over glitter glue. I have peeled countless stickers off of every accessible surface of our home and I am still finding them in random places, like on the side of the toilet bowl and in my shoes. So after a winter of making stuff, when a snowstorm in March kept my girls home from school for two additional days, I felt no guilt over breaking my baby girl’s mind by denying her evening request for paint.

I didn't think we'd make a dent in these. We did.

I didn’t think we’d make a dent in these. We did.

People tell me that the girls will remember these days and the time we spent together fondly. I’m sure they will. My daughter seems to have recovered the use of her mind, without any permanent damage to its faculties. Certainly, her gift for hyperbole hasn’t suffered. She will be ok.

Meanwhile, it is March 13 and currently 30 degrees outside, with the “feels like” temperature at 21 degrees. A fierce and bitter wind is blowing. I just read a headline suggesting the possibility for snow on St. Patrick’s Day. And in my cabinet, I have a Ziplock bag, and in that bag are shamrock shapes and stickers, and green glitter glue, and a rainbow paint set, all just waiting for little fingers to craft with them.

Hi, my name is Krista, and my mind is breaking.

The World Belongs to Such as These

Last Sunday, my five-year-old and I had the opportunity to spend the afternoon together, just the two of us, at a local indoor pool. With a younger sibling at home and a full day at school, time spent one-on-one has been rare this year. I’ve missed her.

My girl has a prolific imagination and spends most of her unoccupied time making up or enacting stories. As she has been learning so many new things this year, I have had the gratifying pleasure to observe how she weaves the new facts and ideas percolating in her brain into her stories and play.

So when we packed up go to the pool, I was interested to see her stash three princess figurines, three plastic cupcakes and a baby doll into her toy bag. I never really know where she will go with things.

When we got to the swim center, she headed straight for the baby pool, where she began setting up a scene. First, she brought out the three princesses and lined them up along the side of the pool. She placed a plastic cupcake in front of each. Then she went to her bag and brought out her baby. She carefully cradled it in her arm and carried it into the pool.

And then she baptized that baby, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen, using water consecrated with chlorine and the contents of a half-dozen swim diapers.

When I asked her about it, she explained to me that she had learned about baptism in her religious education class that morning. She told me that baptism is how we become a part of God’s family. And because she loves her baby doll, she wants her to become a part of our family. Therefore, a baptism was clearly in order.

photo (8)

It was an achingly sweet moment, the kind that reminds parents that bringing their child into the world really was the best thing they have ever done. It made me proud of her. It also made me reflect on and appreciate the best thing children do for us — allowing us grown ups to witness the fertility of their minds and the largess of their imaginations.

Most of us recognize the story from the Gospel of Luke, when Jesus urges his disciples to bring the children to him, because “the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” It is a story that tends to be linked to the idea that what is most valuable in children is their innocence and unworldliness. It seems to imply that children, in their dearth of experience, are better able to absorb the teachings of faith, and indeed of the world around them. I don’t believe that this is a strictly religious way of thinking. There is a common tendency to think of children as blank slates waiting to be written upon.

Children are certainly unworldly. There is necessarily an innocence to the way they approach their world. They have no basis of comparison. They have no prejudice. Their minds are open. They are open, but I don’t think they are waiting, passively, for us to shape them. 

If I have learned anything about children and the way they approach life, it is that they do so through constant questioning and experimenting. They are endlessly pushing the boundaries of their universe. And these attributes apply equally to the way they understand faith and the way they process new facts.

When I think of my daughter, who is at that perfectly ripe age when the concepts of faith and fact are just coming within her intellectual grasp, I see nothing passive about her approach to the world. All I see is activity – a dynamic, unrestrained pursuit for more knowledge, a constant pushing and stretching of the limits of her understanding.

I hear her asking why, and no matter how thorough an answer I give, I hear her asking why again. I see her acting out, and re-enacting, what she is learning so that, through interpretation and experience, it becomes a part of who she is.

When I think of the idea that “the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these,” I don’t see it as a calling to submissiveness or innocence. I see it as a calling for us to approach faith — and reason — like children do – with flexibility, enthusiasm, ceaseless questioning, and a mind with ever-expanding boundaries. Those are the best things that children have to offer the world, and we adults should not forget that.

After my daughter finished her charming baptism by pool water, as I was thinking about the profundity of what her mind, and the minds of all children like her, will bring to our future, she reminded me of something else.

She tossed her baby to the side of the pool and, splashing, shouted, “Mommy, that boy FARTED! He made BUBBLES in the WATER!” While I blushed and suppressed my silent laughter, I reflected on the next best thing children have to offer the world: their uninhibited appreciation for bathroom humor.

Life is best lived with curiosity, questioning, a mind without boundaries, and the ability to laugh at our bodily functions.

Impossible Cuteness

There are many days when my two-year-old is impossible. I mean, she is two. And she is tiny and feisty and stubborn and smart and really, really good at getting her own way. She can be exhausting.

But then there are days when she is just impossibly cute. So cute that I want to squish her up into a little blond meatball and gobble her up. (Hey, I was raised with an Italian grandma and a Polish grandma in my life. We love our babies through food imagery.) Today was one of those days.

She was mad at me (surprise!), so she sat down on a kitchen chair and said, “Well, I jus’ gonna sit hewe and be fwustwated! Hmph!

Hmph!

Hmph!

And since today is Wednesday, and my friend Julie at These Walls has introduced me to the Moxie Wife’s Five Favorites series, and this little turkey kielbasa really is pretty cute, I will add a few more of my favorite photos. I will call this series the Silly Time Spectacular! 

I was supposed to be the "easy" one.

I was supposed to be the calm one.

We can’t leave out the classic naked spaghetti picture.

I'm naked. I'm eating spaghetti. Life is good.

I’m naked. I’m eating spaghetti. Life is good.

And then there’s the one where she puts together an outfit.

Caption THIS!

Caption THIS!

And the one where she tries to take all of her clothes off but they get stuck around her little heiny.

Meatballs, amiright?!

Meatballs, amiright?!

And now I am signing off. I have some meatballs to make!

fivefavorites

Nice Things, and Why We Can’t Have Them

Sunday was the first night of Advent, and I decided that THIS year, our family was going to light our Advent candle and say our Advent candle prayer every. single. night.

This laudable resolution was challenged from the get go. First, I only had white candles. The proper purple and pink candles were nowhere to be found. But that didn’t matter; what was important was that we would light those candles and say our prayer together, as a family.

So I set our white candles up in the lovely Celtic-knot advent wreath I inherited from my grandmother. They didn’t fit in the holders, and I didn’t have time to rig them up with paper towels, so they leaned awkwardly in four different directions. Still, no matter. It was dinner time and we were doing this Advent thing, candles be damned. I mean darned.

All four of us gathered at the table. The lights were low; the single candle was lit. It was a solemn scene, which lasted approximately 15 seconds. Then, my two year old, Norah, started singing Happy Birthday and blew the candle out.

But I was determined not to let my plans be derailed by a toddler. I moved the wreath out of her reach, re-lit the candle, and said the first line of our prayer:

“O God, as light comes from this candle…”

While my five-year-old, Michele, sweetly repeated after me, Norah shot out her Go- Go-Gadget arms and yanked the wreath toward her. She blew out the candle, grabbed the two candles closest to her, and started drumming.

Teeth clenched, I removed the priceless heirloom to the top of the fridge and confiscated the candles. But still, I persevered. With or without candles, we were DOING. THIS. THING.

I moved onto the second line of the prayer.

“May the blessing — ”

“MOMMY! No!” Now it was Michele’s turn. “You can’t say the next line. My FLOWER didn’t get a chance to say the FIRST line.”

And so, in a tiny, screechy voice, the sparkly flower that had fallen off of a Christmas decoration said her part of the prayer. We moved through the next two lines, slowly, as each was repeated three times, but steadily. Norah was quiet. Too quiet.

As the little flower was squeaking out her repetition of the fourth and final line, Norah could contain herself no longer.

“PooPooPeePee! Butt! Snot! Boogers!” She shouted out her entire potty vocabulary. My husband started man-giggling, laughing harder and louder the more he tried to contain it. Michele didn’t even try to hold back her laughter, and, playing to her audience, Norah repeated her repertoire, adding in animal sounds and random words.

“Moo! Baa! Hair! Nose! Shirt! BUTT!”

I know when I am defeated. But I finished my prayer anyway. Because even though we can’t have nice things, I can still pretend.

+++

O God, as light comes from this candle,
May the blessing of Jesus Christ come to us,
Warming our hearts and brightening our way.
May Christ our Savior bring life into the darkness of this world,
And to us, as we wait for his coming.

 

Trotting Turkeys

This is *not* what I looked like

Last week, I volunteered at my daughter’s elementary school turkey trot. All of the 400-plus students in her school participated, from Kindergarten to fifth grade. The fourth and fifth grades were expected to run a full mile, which meant they had to make four long laps around the baseball fields behind their school. Third grade ran three laps, second and first grades ran two, and the kindergarteners only had to run one.  The girls ran first, and then the boys.

I was stationed way out at the third corner of the makeshift track. My job was to motivate the students and to keep them from cheating by cutting across the baseball field backstop.

I was away from the main action, with the starting line not even within shouting distance. I wasn’t recording time or congratulating the kids as they passed the finish line. But even though I wasn’t in the thick of things, I was in the perfect position to observe. And as an observer, I noticed some interesting things.

First of all, 9- and 10-year-olds excel at making it absolutely clear when they do NOT want to do something. They thrive in situations that give them the power to do this passive-aggressively, and they (silently) rejoice when the planets align and they can passive-aggressively display their supreme disinterest while also managing to exert some level of control over the adults in their lives. And in an elementary school turkey trot, boy, do those planets align.

I called these kids the “walkers with attitude.” These were the kids who Were. Not. Running. It was enough that they condescended to stroll, slowly, and in groups. But run? Oh, no. Oh no, no, no.

Let me tell you, it is painful to stand in the corner of a field on a cold fall morning and watch a group of kids amble at a snail’s pace over a 1 mile course. Painful. After almost 20 minutes, when the slowest of the slow were still only on their second lap, I’d had enough. I started to run. I ran up to them as they approached me, and I made them run with me for about a 100 yard stretch. Then I would run up to the next group, and escort them. This strategy was actually more effective than you might expect, and I even got some smiles from kids as they approached me saying to their friends, “ok, we HAVE to run here.”

Still, there were a few who weren’t having it. And oh, the looks they gave me. I don’t envy our teachers.

Then there were the runners. These kids were impressive.  Where the other kids started off sprinting, they paced themselves. They ran consistently and intelligently and showed a level of discipline that I, who have always loved to run, didn’t understand until I was in high school. The most memorable of these students was a 5th grade girl who could teach much older, and much more experienced, runners a few things. She was so good that, out of all 6 grades, she was the only girl who had ALL the boys in her class cheering for her.

Which brings us to the helpers. The girls. The girls who danced and cheered for the boys who were running. The girls who slowed down so their friend with asthma didn’t have to walk alone. The girls who turned around when they were finished to walk with their friend with Down Syndrome, who needed someone to hold her hand.

These were the girls who brought out my feminist ambivalence. The girls who made me WANT to shout “You don’t HAVE to do this! That’s why I am
here! Run your own race! You can be fast and powerful! RUN!” But who, instead, made me feel proud and hopeful in the knowledge that the helpers of the future, the people who will keep our world together, are growing up to be exactly what we need the most.

If the walkers and the runners and the helpers are the groups who stood out the most to me, there were two individual students who I will remember above all: the smeller of roses and the cheetah.

The smeller of roses was a kindergartener who came in dead last. (Just after my own daughter, the talker, who took advantage of the situation to hold her teacher’s hand and chat. But that’s another story.) This little girl started off walking, and walked the whole way. She was totally unmoved by peer pressure. Unlike the older kids, she wasn’t walking to prove anything. She was walking because it was a nice afternoon and there were things to look at. Things like the pale pink bead she found and showed me after the race. While the other kids were taking advantage of some post-race playground time, this little girl was proudly telling me about the beautiful treasure she had found during her walk around the field.

And then there was my cheetah. My fourth-grade friend who came up to my post walking, with “attitude” written all over his face. But as he came closer, I noticed that despite the stony expression on his face, he was crying.

I asked him if I could run with him, but his response was a hard NO. No, he would not run. He hated the turkey trot. He always came in last. I tried telling him that of course he would come in last if he didn’t at least try to run. He wasn’t having it. The tears continued to stream down his face.

His anger and frustration and tears continued to his very last lap, when finally another mother and I walked with him, to encourage him to run at least the last 100 yards of the race. We tried to get him talking, to get him to focus on something positive rather than the negative feelings he was experiencing at that moment.  After a few minutes of denying interest in any topic whatsoever, he finally broke down. “I like The Wild Kratts. And I like cheetahs. When I run, I want to feel like a cheetah. But I don’t. I don’t feel like a cheetah. I’m too slow. So I don’t  run. I can’t run.”

So the other mom and I each took one of his hands, and instead of running like cheetahs, we ran like turkeys. And all three of us crossed the finish line running.

T-23 Hours

It’s 10:00 am on Friday, October 11. By this time tomorrow, I will be 15 minutes into my first half-marathon race.

I have spent the last five months preparing for this event at the Baltimore Running Festival and now my training is officially over. I ran my practice 13.1 miles three weeks ago, and I did it with minimal suffering. Two weeks ago, I set a long-distance personal record in a 9.3 mile race, and then I did it again in my final training run.

I’ve spent the last few days stuffing myself with carbs and protein. I’m hydrated to the point where I have had to bring up the savant-like mental map of local public restrooms that I developed during my pregnancies. My iTunes playlist is almost complete.

I have my race bib, my energy drink coupons and freebies, and my all-important (neon green) race tee shirt.

And yesterday afternoon, I completed my final prerace workout, a gentle, core-stretching and -strengthening session of Pilates. Oddly enough, after 5 months of some pretty challenging runs, it was this last, non-running workout that served as the best reminder of my most necessary race-day accessory: a strong, focused mind.

Actually, I suppose this reminder really came courtesy of my children, who were both home and awake when I finally got a chance to squeeze the workout in.

While my five-year-old yelled questions down to me from her bedroom upstairs, my two-year-old was busy helping me get the most out of my exercising. She started by adding extra weight to my moves — she sat on my back while I was trying to plank and on my legs when I was trying to lift them. When that got boring, she sat on my head.

Then, she must have decided I wasn’t properly accessorized for my workout because she brought a cowgirl hat for my head and a necklace for my arm. After that, she turned her efforts to ensuring I was properly entertained, hauling a bag of board books over to me and dropping each one on my chest.

Finally, she asked for an apple, which bought me a few minutes of peaceful core crunching before she climbed out of her booster seat and came over to deposit some “gis-gusting” apple skin on my face.

Through all of this, I somehow managed to keep the important part of my  brain focused on my workout. I isolated muscles and maintained (mostly) proper form. Moreover, I successfully ignored the best efforts of a two-year-old to distract me from my purpose. Talk about the eye of the tiger — I was the eye of the hurricane. Or something like that.

This is why we moms are so good at endurance events. We’ve done pregnancy. We’ve done labor. We’ve done hours of pacing with colicky newborns. We’ve done endless playing with annoying musical toys. We’ve done Barney and Caillou. We can ignore the toddler human, which is possibly the most annoying force on the planet. If we can get through all that, we can fly through a couple of hours of running.

Race day is almost here, and I’m feeling good. My body is strong; my mind is stronger. I’ve got this.

Modern Elementary

Last Friday we went to my daughter’s first elementary school event, a PTA-sponsored ice cream social. I figured that we would go there, eat some ice cream and, you know, be social. My main goal was to meet the parents of the boys (yes, boyS) who, according to my daughter, have been trying to kiss her during recess. I expected a tame, grade school event that was no different or more exciting than all of the other events I went to when I was a kid in school.

What I did not expect was a dance party in the gym with an actual DJ. I didn’t expect to see a bunch of grade school kids dancing to “Cha Cha Slide” or “Gagnam Style” or “I’m Sexy and I Know It.” And I really didn’t expect them to be good — like, really good. The older girls seemed to know all the hip-hop moves, and some of the boys were actually breakdancing. Even my preschooler’s 2-year-old classmate was putting the grownups to shame with her skills.

Apparently, public school events in the 21st century are way different from the kind we had at Catholic school in the 1980’s. For starters, the principal was in attendance — and bobbing his head appreciatively — while music that included the word “sexy” was being played (loudly). Sister Madonna, my elementary school principal, was one of the loveliest women I have ever known, but I shudder to think what would have happened if any of her students had even whispered the lyrics to “Gagnam Style” within her hearing.

In fact, throughout most of the event I found myself either staring at the scene like an anthropologist who has just discovered an unknown tribal ritual (“what is that cha-cha thing they’re doing?”) or reminding myself that this was not 1999, I was not in college (there was no G&T at the drinks table), and it would be HUGELY embarrassing for me to break out my Elaine dance during “Cotton-Eyed Joe” in front of my daughter’s principal.

Yeah, that’s right, I said my “Elaine dance.” Because I’m old and I used to watch Seinfeld and, it would seem, I am totally unprepared for modern parenthood.

Because she is my child, my daughter spent the entire dance party running in circles around the gym. AS IT SHOULD BE. ;-)

Because she is my child, my daughter spent the entire dance party running in circles around the gym. AS IT SHOULD BE. 😉

The Philosophy of Running, Butterflies, and Coporophagia

I’ve spent the last few months training for the Baltimore Running Festival Half-Marathon (that’s 13.1 miles for the non-runners out there), and this past weekend I had my longest run yet – 11 miles. It was an important marker for me; I’ve been getting over an injury and my last few runs left me feeling like the walking dead the moment I crossed the 10-mile mark.

So this weekend’s run was a big one and it required as much mental energy as physical endurance to keep me going. I started off well, reveling in the outrageously beautiful weather and in the fact that I was alone. As in, all by myself. As in, WITH NO CHILDREN. It was kind of awesome.

But by mile 8, I was starting to hurt. I could feel the strain of the run in each and every individual muscle of my legs. My stomach was cramping. My eyelid started to twitch as I repeated to myself – “you can do 3 more miles… what’s 3 miles… nothing, that’s what it is… absolutely NOTHING…. OMIGOD 3 MILES IS FOREVER AND I’M GOING TO DIE.”

I had to dig deep, but I kept going and soon I was on one of my favorite paths, a gently-sloping downhill trail surrounded by woods. The sunlight peeked through the leaves of the trees, creating dapples of light and shadow on the ground around me. I lengthened my stride; my spirits soared.

It was then that I noticed a blue-winged butterfly keeping pace with me just over my shoulder. I watched as it fluttered past me and then landed on the ground a few steps in front of me. As I passed it, I slowed down to get a closer look and I saw that it was sipping the sweet nectar of… dog droppings. Seriously, the butterfly was feasting on a pile of crap.

I had never seen a butterfly do this before and I found myself wondering if I had just been graced by a visit with the Andrew Zimmern of the Lepidoptera world. But then, I kid you not, a small, white moth came by and joined the feast.

My mind was blown. I watched my blue-winged friend flit away to the grass next to the path, maybe for a nice post-meal nap, I don’t know, and then I took a few pictures with my phone to remember him by. Then I popped my earbuds back in, cranked up my ultimate power running song – Bohemian Rhapsody – and soldiered on through the rest of my run.

But when I got home, I had to do some research. And that’s how I learned all about butterflies and coprophagia. Apparently, while butterflies enjoy the nectar of flowers, they are unable to get the nutrients they need, for reproduction especially, from these sources alone. So, they eat poop (as well as rotting carcasses), which provide nitrogen, sodium, and other minerals.

Where am I going with this? I don’t really know. The optimist in me sees an uplifting message in the fact that the butterfly, which has long been a symbol of new life, of the resurrection, of the salvation of mankind, derives its sustenance from excrement and dead things. Albeit prosaic, there is a metaphor in here for the way we use – in fact, rely upon – the crappiness of life to grow.

The pragmatist in me says that, if you happen to be running, and you see a butterfly landing on the concrete in front of you, watch your step. Chances are, you are about to step in some wild creature’s toilet.

Naptime?

Watch your step!