Mom Brain

When you’re a 35-year-old operating on 4 hours of puke-scented sleep who has spent the day sitting sitting in front of the TV watching quality children’s programming with the weight of a hot, sick kid on your chest, your mind starts to go to strange places.

Places like this….

“Handy Manny is really good. He’s like the perfect contractor.”

“Seriously, the guy needs to come over here. I’ve got all kinds of things for him to fix… And I am KIND of married to Mr. Lopart… (Hah! That was a good one, Krista!)”

“Maybe he could even make me those built-in bookcases I’ve been wanting.”

“I mean, he really is that good… And no one ever seems to have to pay him. He’s right in my price range.”

“No one pays him because he gets all his stuff for free from that Kelly chick. She is SO into him.”

“I bet his Angie’s List reviews would be hilarious… People would be like, ‘either I was hallucinating or his tools were talking!'”

(Mental pause)

“Oh my God, did I just spend the last five minutes talking to myself about contracting with a cartoon character? I used to think about economic theory and social justice and stuff. I used to speak three languages. Oh dear Lord, what has become of me?”

“Sh*t… Oh sh*t… Where’s the puke bucket? Where did I put it?! Why can’t I find it? I knew it! I’m losing my mind.”

“Oh screw it, just puke in my coffee mug.”

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I bet he’s cute in real life…

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Just look at the way he handles that tool box.

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“Handsome” Manny to the rescue!!!

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It’s been 12 hours and she is finally asleep. All is well.

Twelve Rules for Owning an Independent Preschooler

Those of us with young children who have entered into the “I do it MYSELF” phase have come to understand a great irony of life. We spend the first few years of parenthood imagining a future in which we don’t have to do every little thing for our children. We long for the day when butts will be wiped by hands other than our own, when we no longer have to force limp limbs into coats or kicking feet into shoes. We say things like, “life will just be so much easier when she starts getting dressed herself.”

Then one day, your child will decide to get dressed all by herself. And on that day, you will come to know the true agony of watching a three-year-old trying to remove her day clothes and put on underpants and a pair of footed, zippered pajamas with no help. At all.

And woe betide you if you do try to help. In fact, offering to help is such a rookie mistake that, if made a second time, you really do deserve the wrath your offer will ignite.

Unfortunately for us parents, surviving a preschooler’s attempts at independence isn’t as easy as just withholding your assistance. Oh no. There is a host of rules that you must follow in order to survive your day unscathed. I have broken these rules more times than I can count, and I have suffered accordingly.

Rule #1: Do not offer to help. This is the most basic rule, and really should go without saying. But I am saying it anyway.

Rule #2: Do not attempt to provide child with items necessary for task completion. Don’t you dare give her those socks!

Rule #3: Do not look directly at items necessary for task completion.

Rule #4: Do not think about items necessary for task completion. They read minds.

Rule #5: Do not compliment child. They can sense an unspoken offer for help.

Rule #6: Do not provide suggestions or advice of any kind. Even though there is a nearly 100% chance that she will drop the entire bowl of Cheez-its into the toilet if she brings them into the bathroom with her.

Rule #7: Do not speak to child.

Rule #8 Do not make eye contact with child. Again, they read minds.

Rule #9: Do not look in child’s general direction.

Rule #10: Do not attempt even the smallest tug of the child’s shirt, even though her head is stuck and she is about to fall of the bed.

Rule #11: Do not breathe the same air as child. She can hear your frustration in every sharp intake of breath.

Rule #12: Do not exist in near proximity to child.

The consequences of breaking any of these rules will be that she has to do it. all. over. again. Including the part where she gets her head stuck in the shirt.

Basically, just leave the room with your eyes closed and your ears covered. Stand with your back toward the general direction of your child. Do not think about your child until she has completed the task and given you express permission to address her. Unless, of course, the child with her head stuck in her shirt does fall of the bed, in which case why didn’t you offer to help you terrible, neglectful parent?!

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See? She can do it all. by. herself. (It was 80 degrees and sunny.)

 

My Girls and Music

Last night, my husband was at a meeting, leaving me home alone with our girls. Because they were both entirely too devastated by the reality of having to spend an evening without their beloved, all-knowing, all-powerful daddy, I decided to be the cool mom and have a dance party with them. (I mean really, it was kind of insulting that they both professed the desire to go to a boring, childless preschool meeting rather than staying home with me.)

First, we danced to some CCR, because how can you have a living room dance party without Down on the Corner? Then I played Hesitating Beauty by Wilco, because I love that song and I have a Norah, and what kid doesn’t want to dance to a song with her name in it?

Of course, after playing a song about a Nora for my Norah, I had to play a song about a Michelle for my Michele. So I went online to find a video of Michelle, by the Beatles, and came across My Michelle by Guns N Roses.

Somehow, even though I have liked (the softer side of) Guns N Roses since I was a preteen, and even though I am both the daughter and the mother of a Michele, I had no idea that GNR had a song about a Michelle. So, of course, I decided to click on the video, just to see, because the band who gave us Sweet Child of Mine surely could not produce anything un-kid-friendly. Right?

So I played the video.

At 0:49, my 3-year-old looks at Slash, whose face is covered by his long, black, insanely curly hair, and she says, “Mommy, is dat YOU? When you played your gwuitar?”

“Yes.” I replied, deadpan. “Yes. That is exactly what I looked like in 1988. You have a gift my child.”

As the guitar intro continued, it became clear to me that my girls were doubting whether this video would ever turn into “real” music. I could see the look of doubt dawning on my Michele’s face. Things were not going in the direction she expected them to go. But then, Axel Rose himself appeared at 1:25, and her sweet little face lit up.

Ok, actually, she collapsed into helpless giggles. Our boy Axel was dancing shirtless across the stage with a microphone and my girl thought it was probably the funniest thing she had ever seen in her whole 6 years of life.

Mommy!” She howled. “Why is that NAKED GUY dancing with a microphone? He looks so silly!” So of course, I started to laugh too, because he really does look kind of ridiculous.

We gave up on Guns N Roses and we moved onto the more certain classic. I pulled up a video of Paul McCartney playing Michelle at the White House for our President and his wife (and their daughters, who look distinctly embarrassed  at the way their dad is singing along) and I showed it to my own Michele.

“This is the real song sweetie. The one I always sing to you,” I told her as I started the video.

She took one look at it and said, “Mommy… why is that guy so OLD?”

All in all, it was not a very good moment for classic rock and roll gods in our household last night. And I have come to the realization that, if Axel Rose and Paul McCartney seem totally lame to my young children, there is absolutely no hope that they will ever see me as anything but lame. Except for that time when I used to be Slash.

 

Dance Like a Chicken and Fly

Over the last few weeks, I have been spending every Monday morning taking a Zumba class at our gym. I have to say that I am not a dancer, and I never have been a dancer.

All of the action shots my parents took of my during my childhood dance recitals show me off to the side, moving to my own rhythm, apparently oblivious to the fact that I was supposed to be participating along with several other girls in a routine we had spent the last six months practicing. When I was 7, my dance teacher politely told my parents that she didn’t think I was really getting anything out of my ballet and tap dancing experience and that it would probably be better for them to invest their money elsewhere. Unfortunately, remedial coordination classes don’t exist, so we added my failed dance career to my failed soccer career and limited my extra-curricular activities to Girl Scouts.

But these days everybody is doing Zumba and I figured that, if adults with no previous dance experience from countries all around the world can pick up the Zumba moves, then by God, so could I.

My first few classes were embarrassing. I spent the entire time trying to get my feet to do something — anything — that remotely resembled what the instructor was doing, and using vast amounts of concentration to ensure that I didn’t kick anyone or fall down. There were arm movements too, but that was so far beyond my capability that I just let them do whatever they had to do to keep me from falling into a heap on the arena floor.

But after a few classes, I began to feel a little more comfortable. My arm flapping became considerably less noticeable, and I stopped praying for the occasional breaks for running in place or squats that our instructor adds into the work out. I even managed to keep up when Claire, from Desperate English Housewife in America, subbed for our usual instructor and added in this twitchy, hip-shaking move that she made look totally sexy but which had me feeling like my hips, and only my hips, were having seizures.

I was becoming increasingly comfortable with the moves, and I had finally started to think that I was getting kind of, well, good at it. I was concentrating less and smiling more and at the end of the workout I was feeling almost as high as I do after a good run.

But then, summer camps began, and the basketball arena where the class is normally held was handed over to a bunch of sweaty kids. We were shuffled over to a much smaller studio, where there is an entire wall of mirrors.

My friends, they say the mirror don’t lie, and they are right. Watching myself do Zumba was like watching a train wreck. I didn’t want to see it, but I couldn’t stop looking, and the end result was horrifying.

You know that scene in Frozen, when the Duke of Weselton leads Anna off for a dance, and then proceeds to perform dance moves so ridiculous that it can only be comedy? That’s what I looked like. I mean, I was doing what everyone else was doing. At least, I was attempting to do what everyone else was doing, but my execution was significantly less controlled and coordinated. And while I am sure that everyone else was sweating too much to notice me, I noticed myself and it was weird.

 

But that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop taking the class. I’m not even going to stop watching myself look like a fool. Because although I felt like an idiot, I also got a lot of amusement out of the whole experience.

I think that one of the greatest gifts life can give you is the ability to laugh at yourself. When you can see the ridiculous in your own actions and find the humor in your own shortcomings, you are rewarded with an endless supply of entertainment. We all pave the roads of our lives with the stupid things we do. Laughing at them makes the going so much easier.

But more than that, when you can recognize and laugh at your own absurdities, you often end up having much more patience with the faults and foibles of others. You judge everyone less and you relax more. You become a better person without even trying.

So next Monday, you will find me at the gym in Studio 2, dancing like an overdrawn cartoon character with a smile on my monkey face.

 

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.

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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.