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!

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When It Snows Below the Mason Dixon Line

My plans for this week were simple: 1. To clean. 2. To wrap Christmas presents. I find that if I keep my goals pathetically easy, I can be an incredibly efficient person. It’s amazing how that works.

But it turns out that Mother Nature has had other plans for me. She brought us Marylanders an unseasonably early set of snowstorms, which have cancelled school for two days.

Yesterday, it was wet and icy, so we had a full day stuck inside. It’s all a blur to me; the only part of the day that I really remember was my trip to my doctor’s office where I learned that I still have strep throat, despite having undergone a full course of antibiotics two weeks ago.

Today, after my new antibiotic regimen has kicked in with unusual force, I am a little more aware of my surroundings. Which is good, because a second snow day with a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old who are both crushed that they couldn’t go to school requires a LOT of energy.

By 9:30, I was questioning my life choices. It’s now 4:42 pm, and this is the run down of how my day has gone:

Rooms cleaned: 0
Rooms made even messier: Every single one.
Gifts wrapped: 0
Time outs: 12. At least.
Labor-intensive Christmas crafts: 4.
Craft-related meltdowns: 4.
Sibling fights: I stopped counting.
Tears: Seriously, who can count that high?
Shattered glasses: 1.
TV shows: Um, 8?
Princess movies: 1.
Snowmen: 1.
Walks through the wintery woods: 1.
Rocks thrown in the stream: lots.
Faceplants into the stream: 1.
Children carried home crying: 1.
Wet, muddy children: 2.
Soaked items of clothing: 10.
Epic meltdowns related to the usage of stickers: 1.
Cups of cocoa thrown on the floor: 1.
Number of times a kid told me she was sooo happy: 4.
Worth it? Yes.
The number of prayers I will say tonight begging God that schools be open tomorrow: I’m going to start now and never stop.

It’s been a long day. Luckily, the roads are cleared enough for my husband to go out for pizza. Which he will be doing. Even if he has to walk. Seriously, I mean it.

There were also some precious moments, and I was fortunate to be able to catch many of them on camera for all the world (or the 5-ish people who read this blog) to see.

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Friday Roundup, Vol. 1

* 1 *

The idea for the “Friday Roundup” came to me when I was driving around town today. I was thinking about a bunch of different posts I wanted to write and about how I really need to do something regular on the blog. So, I give you this — a roundup of some of the thoughts that have been floating around my brain this week. Maybe I will stick with it? Maybe I won’t? I’m not quite sure yet. That just adds to the excitement, right?

*  2 *

Mostly, I wanted to post about a few things that are really getting my Irish up. (Or my Polish? Or my Italian? Or my “whatever I am,” which I don’t really know because I’m adopted?) In other words, I’m angry. And having been raised in a family of feisty, ethnic Irish/Polish/Italian Catholics, angry usually results in hyperbolic ranting.

Our country has had a lot to say about our governing bodies and political parties this week. A lot of what I have read has had me standing in my kitchen compulsively shoving balls of gluten-free Rice Krispie treats into my mouth to keep me from developing a permanent eye-twitch. (Yes, I was reading comments. Bad idea. Always.)

I’m not going to repeat what other people have already said. Some of it has been inspiring; the rest of it is infuriating. What I am going to say is this: I am mad at Congress. I am mad at individual Congress people, and I am mad at Congress as a whole. I am mad for a lot of reasons, but mostly I am mad because they don’t seem to have any real connection to the people to whom they are supposed to belong or any real understanding of what their role is in running this nation.

It’s like two parents who are bickering about their kids. On the surface, the fight is about the good of their children and their family. And to some extent, each parent is motivated by a genuine desire to seek what is best for his or her children. But what is really fueling the flames is each parent’s ego. Yes, they are both concerned about their children. But ultimately, they have each become so attached to their own idea of what should be done that the argument has become about THEM — their ideas, their self-worth, their desperate need to be right.

But here’s the thing. What is best for the children and for the family is that the parents get the hell along. Their most important  job is to keep their family together. Those other little things, the stuff of arguments, are never, ever, more important than the cohesiveness of the family as a whole.

I know that the fate of a nation is bigger than the fate of a family. I know that the implications of a healthcare initiative and the budget that funds a superpower are mountainous in comparison to deciding whether or not Jonnie Jr. is allowed to join the swim team or not.

I also know that a nation falling apart is mountainous in comparison to a family falling apart. And it is both maddening and devastating that the petty bickering that rips marriages apart and breaks up families has become the modus operandi of the houses of our government.

* 3 *

Now back to those Internet comments I mentioned earlier. I live about 30 miles away from Washington DC. This means that a LOT of my friends and family work for the federal government. Most of them are now furloughed because of a congressional standoff, which means that people I know and care about will not be getting a paycheck for an unspecified period of time. Some of these people are living in another country, where they are representing the same government that currently isn’t paying them.

These are all people who have to do things like pay their mortgages and buy gas, and provide their children with food and clothes and shoes and stuff. This whole shutting down of their place of employment — it sucks. It’s scary and depressing and infuriating.

But then there are the internet trolls who feel the need to add insult to injury and denigrate these very people who help run our country. I won’t bring their nastiness into this post. Instead, I will use it to say how very proud I am to know so many people who work for the good of our country, and what an honor it is that there was a time when I was one of them.

Every single person I know personally who works for the government is intelligent and hard-working. More importantly, all of them — from my 22-year-old cousin who just got his first post-college job to my 50-something attorney aunt who has dedicated more than 20 years of her career to our country — are working for the government because they care about this country.

So to all of these people, I would like to say THANK YOU. I appreciate the work you do. I’m sorry for what you are going through right now and I pray that it will be over soon.

* 4 *

Finally, earlier this week my daughter said something that broke my heart and got me thinking. I started a post about it, but realized that I need to do a little more thinking before I can do the topic justice. In the meantime, I am sharing this picture of a beautiful, brown-eyed girl who is so much more than she realizes. It will come up again.

Those eyes are two of my favorite eyes in the whole world

Those eyes are two of my favorite eyes in the whole world

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!

Existentialism for Toddlers

Trying to have a conversation with a two-year-old can be about as productive as having a conversation with a wall, assuming that the wall screams a lot and sometimes throws things at you and is often violently disappointed by life.

This week, my two-year-old has decided that nearly everything the universe has to offer is yucky. It’s not so much that she feels a general sense of yuckiness about the world around her. It’s more that she keeps requesting things from life, and then whatever it is that life hands her in response is a shattering letdown. (And by life, I really mean “her mother”.)

No! Not dis life mommy! Dis life YUCKY!!

No! Not dis life mommy! Dis life YUCKY!!

For example, yesterday we had this conversation:
Two-Year-Old: Mommy, I watch Max and Wooby on TV?
Me: Sure, sweetie, here you go.
TYO: NO! Not DAT Max and Wooby! Dat one YUCKY!

Then we had this conversation:
TYO: Mommy, I need apple pease.
Me: Sure, sweetie, here you go.
TYO: NO! Not DAT apple! Dat apple green! Dat YUCKY!

And then, at the end of the day, there was this one:
TYO: Mommy, hold you?
Me, feeling warm and fuzzy inside: Of course I will hold you!
TYO: NO! Not Mommy hold me! Daddy hold me! Mommy YUCKY!

(That one hurt)

But this morning, we had a breakthrough. She asked for bread for breakfast, and when I gave her toast with peanut butter, she didn’t scream, “NO! Dat YUCKY!”

Instead, she said, “NO! Dat bread gis-GUSTING!”

Oreos, however, are not yucky.

Oreos are not yucky.

See? We’re making progress!

On War and Peace

Over the past week I have been reading about two things: Syria and World War I. The crisis in Syria is everywhere, headlining the news and popping up in church, on social media, and even in overheard conversations at the gym. I couldn’t avoid it if I tried. WWI comes to me by way of an audiobook mystery novel, which has turned out to be a much more worthwhile read than I anticipated when I chose it as this week’s soundtrack for my long-distance training runs.

Because I am a Google addict, all the reading I’ve been doing has had me link-hopping through the last century, from the War to End All Wars, to the war that came after it, to the creation of Israel, to the current conflicts in the Middle East, then back to the Holocaust, and then back again to the invasion of Poland (which, as a former Wujek, is close to my heart) until one night I found myself weeping silently in bed at a 1939 photograph of a young Polish girl kneeling over the body of her sister. The endless internet access given to us by the iPhone can be a great or terrible thing.

It hasn’t been cheerful reading. It hasn’t made me all that proud of my human DNA. It’s hard to keep believing that love wins and that people are essentially decent when it feels like we have spent the last 100 years with the collective fingers of humanity hovering just above the DESTROY button.

In bad times, stories about the helpers — the people that Mr. Rogers tells us about, the people who are, in fact, always there when life is at its worst – usually bring me moments of clarity when I know that goodness overcomes evil. But this week, those stories just haven’t been enough. I can’t stop thinking about the mud of Passchendaele, or the cold of Auschwitz, or the heat of Iraq, or of all our empty repetitions of “never again.”

This is one of those times when the world is too much with me and I feel overwhelmed by the weight of our cruelty toward one another. I feel overwhelmed, but not overcome.

This weekend at Mass, in a ritual as simple as the closing prayer, our priest reminded me that even when it feels like we are just a pebble in a rising tide, and that there is nothing we can do to stop the forces of violence and suffering, we can never be overcome. He ended Mass with the prayer of St. Francis.

He reminded me that I can be an instrument of peace. That where there is hatred, I can sow love. That where there is injury, I can forgive. That where there is discord, I can bring harmony. That where there is doubt, I can inspire faith. That where there is darkness, I can bring light and that where there is sorrow, I can bring joy.

He reminded me that even if these changes happen only in my own heart, I can make them happen.

The prayer of St. Francis may seem on the surface like a submissive prayer, but really it is a prayer of empowerment. It is a prayer in which we open ourselves up to love, so we can use that love to conquer pain and darkness. It is a prayer that gives us a strength that can’t be weakened, not by anything.

***

The Prayer of St. Francis

“O Lord, make me an instrument of Thy Peace!
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is discord, harmony.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sorrow, joy.

Oh Divine Master, grant that I may not 
so much seek to be consoled as to console; 
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive; 
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; 
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.”

The prayer is attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, but was most likely written by a French priest shortly before WWI.

Not So Blurry After All

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Don’t Rape.

This week, social media and online news networks have been dominated by statuses, shares, and stories about a raunchy music award show performance in which a virtually naked girl just out of her teens had virtual sex with a much older man singing about “blurred lines” for a target audience of teens and tweens.

People were outraged. Mostly, they were outraged by the overtly sexual performance of a girl who had been in the public eye since her childhood. Those who spoke out against the much older man performing alongside her did so only in reaction to fact that the girl part of the duo was taking the brunt of the disgust. If he had been on that stage alone, I doubt anyone would have taken any extraordinary notice of his act. After all, his song about a man pushing, and pushing, and pushing a reluctant woman to have sex with him against her better judgment has been dubbed by radio stations far and wide as “the song of summer.”

***

Meanwhile, another story is breaking, though with much less ado. This story is about blurred lines too. Except that legally, technically, actually the lines aren’t blurred.

In this story, we learn about the sentencing of a Montana man who was convicted of legal, technical, actual rape. This man, a teacher who was over 50 at the time, had sex with his 14-year-old student — a girl who killed herself at the age of 16 while this case was still in court.

The rapist pled guilty to one count of statutory rape and was offered a deal – if he entered and successfully completed a 3-year treatment program for sex offenders and met a few other conditions, the charges would be dropped. That was in 2010. By 2012, he had been kicked out of the program for failing to comply.

His case was returned to court, and prosecutors requested a 20 year sentence with ten years suspended. The judge handed down a sentence of 15 years, suspending all but 31 days of it. With one day of time served, this convicted child rapist will be serving 30 days in jail for his crime.

This sentence is outrageous, infuriating, and yet another example of the injustice that runs rampant throughout our justice system. But it’s not the worst part of this story.

The worst part of the story is the judge’s reason for his sentence: because the girl this man raped, the child who is now dead, the child whom he never even met, was “older than her chronological age” and therefore “as much in control of the situation” as her rapist, her teacher, an adult more than three times her age.

So, in other words, according to our judge, the lines between rape and consent are blurred. If a girl – who is legally, technically a child – seems older than her years, then she isn’t actually a child.

Never mind that a person in a position of authority and trust engaged in sexual intercourse with minor less than one-third his age.

Never mind that this girl was so emotionally unstable that she eventually committed suicide.

Never mind that the case was back in court because the rapist was violating the terms of his sex offender treatment program. The victim’s outward appearance, the way she expressed herself, the way she responded to sexual overtures made her appear older than her years. The attitude and behavior of the victim were mitigating factors. It wasn’t “real” rape. The lines were blurred, and now a sexual predator will pay pennies on the dollar for his crime.

***

There are shades of gray everywhere in life. There are extenuating circumstances in most crimes — even in this case. This man may genuinely be ill. He may have been a victim of sexual abuse himself. He may benefit greatly from treatment and contribute meaningfully to society.

There are shades of gray everywhere, but there are also solid, defining lines. And rape is surrounded by one of those lines. Rape is rape; the person at fault is the rapist. If a woman is raped while walking alone in a dark ally, it is no less a rape because she “should have known better.” If a woman is too drunk to say no, she wasn’t “asking for it.” If a child comes off as sexually precocious, the adult who has sex with her is no less to blame because she “seemed older than her years.”

As I am writing this, I keep thinking — but everything I am saying is so obvious. Of course rape is rape. Clearly it is.

Except that it isn’t, not for everyone. It isn’t for our judge, who after apologizing for what he said in his sentencing, justified his sentence by stating, “Obviously, a 14-year-old can’t consent. I think that people have in mind that this was some violent, forcible, horrible rape. It was horrible enough as it is, just given her age, but it wasn’t this forcible beat-up rape.”

Obviously, it was a rape. But it wasn’t, y’know, a rape rape.