Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Message of the Innkeeper

I am not going to lie. I have struggled immensely this year with finding that ever-elusive Christmas spirit. It is true, 2014 has been a year that has chewed me up and spit me back out. But so have other years. I am poor this year. But I have been poor other years. I am exhausted this year. But I have had two children born in November, so I know I have been exhausted other years. The challenges I have faced this year have been unique. But I have faced challenges in other years. I am not sure what it is with this year, in particular, that has made it so hard for me to feel the Christmas spirit. But it has evaded me completely.

None of the things that typically bring me joy at Christmastime have been able to work their magic on me this year. Not the Christmas music that I usually enjoy so much. Not the smile of pure wonder that my 4-year old had when we first lit up the decorated Christmas tree. Not my ever-growing army of stoic, festive nutcrackers. Not the bright and twinkling lights on the houses around town. Not hot chocolate. Not eggnog. Not the glowing garlands and snowflakes arched over Main Street. Not the pleasure of choosing just the right gift for each of my children that I know they will love. Not even watching my favorite Christmas movies (Although, did I still laugh during Elf? Is there sugar in syrup?? Then yes!) I have truly been this grotesque hybrid of the Grinch, Ebeneezer Scrooge, and Mommy Dearest. It has not been pretty, let me tell you.

I had all but given up and just written this year off as The Year Where My Heart Was THREE Sizes Too Small.

Then, the Sunday before Christmas rolled around, and with just the right sprinkling of "I hate Sundays!" (4 year-old) a dash of "I don't want to wear this STUPID dress!" (10 year-old) and a pinch of "NO! You can't touch my hair!!" (13 year-old) we were on our way to church. I sat smashed between kids and books and snacks and toys on the bench willing myself to somehow concentrate on the true meaning of Christmas and try to find even an ounce of gladness and gratitude in my heart. It didn't happen. The speakers were good. The Christmas hymns beautiful. But I still just wasn't feeling it. It was crowded. I was tired. I just wanted Christmas to hurry up and come so it could hurry up and be over. Then about halfway through the meeting, my 13 year-old leaned over to me and puzzled, "Why don't we know the innkeepers name?" I answered her, "Because he wasn't really that important to the story." She said simply, "Yes he was. He is the one that made room for them."

Oh. My eyes filled with tears as I sat and thought about what she had said. I wasn't the Grinch. I wasn't Scrooge. I wasn't even Mommy Dearest (ok, maybe a little bit Mommy Dearest.) I was the innkeeper. And not the one that had made room. One of the countless ones that had turned the weary travelers away. My inn was full. It was so full of sadness and anxiety and fear and hopelessness and self-doubt that I had not bothered to make room. There was no place in my heart for the Christmas Spirit. Because I had not made room. And that room that the innkeeper made for them, that space in a stable? Was it worthy of them and the child they were bearing? No. Not even close. But they stayed there anyway because he had made a place for them.

It was indeed only a short 4 days before Christmas, not a lot of time left to bask in the glow of the spirit of the season, but you'd better believe I have spent these last few days basking. And glowing. And kicking myself for not doing it sooner.

And remembering that as the travel-worn, distressed Joseph and the pregnant, exhausted Mary went patiently from door to door to door bearing with them the one Gift that was more precious than anything else in the world, they didn't force their way in. They didn't cry and plead and beg until someone opened their door to them.

They waited, until someone made room.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Life Lessons From Thumper

"If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." -Thumper (and mothers everywhere)

"Do unto others as you would have done unto you." -Pretty Much Every Religion

"Opinions are like armpits, everyone has one and most of them stink." -Someone Smart

There is a church song I learned as a child that is titled Kindness Begins With Me. Actually kindness begins with K. And, unfortunately, unkindness begins with U. But that's besides the point. The point? The point is that it's not that hard to be kind. It really isn't. I mean, sure it's also easy to be mean. (I should know. Just ask my children.) But it doesn't take TOO much extra effort to just be a little bit kind.

The thing is that everyone has opinions. And I would know. I have an opinion on almost everything. Maybe even everything. (And if you have read my blog for more than a week, or seen any of my Facebook posts, I guess you would already know that.) However, almost all these opinions should be kept to oneself. Especially when they are likely to offend. Unless one is asked one's opinion, in which case one should tread very carefully when answering. (Husbands everywhere know exactly what I mean.)

I promise I'm not preaching. This advice is for me as much as for anyone. I am an extremely opinionated person. I have opinions on things I really have no business even having an opinion on. Like when and where flip flops should be worn. (Spring. And Summer.) And whether or not certain things like socks should be worn with open-toed footwear. (NO!) And how toilet paper should be placed on the roll. (Over. Always over. And if I use the bathroom at your house and it's under, I will change it.) I really do genuinely try to not share my opinions, though, if I think they might offend someone. Except with those very few people who I hope know me well enough to know that I am just mouthy, but my heart is in the right place. (So, I apologize to those of you who wear flip flops in the winter, or socks with sandals. I meant no offense. Those of you who put your toilet paper wrong, though, just fix it would ya? Geez!)

I don't know if the semi-anonymity of the internet age contributes to people thinking that everyone wants to know their every thought on every issue. Or if people have always been rude and opinionated and now we just have a faster and easier way of finding that out. I don't know. What I do know is that everyone seems to have an opinion on Every. Thing. And they will not hesitate to let you know what it is. Particularly when it comes to how you are raising your children. When and where and how you give birth. How many kids you should have. How old you should be when you have your kids. How the kind of food you feed your children may ruin them for life. Whether or not breast is best. (BreastFEEDING, you perv.) Whether or not certain Christmas traditions mean that you're raising your child to live in fear for the rest of their life. How much TV they should watch. Vaccinations. Naps. Bedtimes. The list goes on and on.

And these opinions are not just limited to the internet. I should know. After dealing with our 3 younger (translation: needy and sometimes insane) children alone because my husband has been out of town for almost a month, I went to lunch with a friend today. With my tired, ornery, willful, loud 4-year old. Not really my first choice, but I have working-and-going-to-school mom's guilt over not spending enough time with him and he wanted to come. What could possibly go wrong? Today? Everything. I won't rehash all lunchtime shenanigans, but suffice it to say that I did not enjoy my lunch. And at one point had to drag (unusually strong) said 4-year old out of the restaurant so as not to disturb everyone else who still had a chance of enjoying their lunch. It was pretty bad. And then he semi-calmed down. I shoveled down my now-cold lunch and was ready to hightail it out of there. Then he decided to stand up in the booth to see the top of the blinds. Probably the least obnoxious thing he had done all day. Some grouchy grandma in the booth next to us (who had just gotten there and hadn't even been witness to the previous insanity) snapped at him to sit down. And then proceeded to tell her friend about what a crappy mom I am. Like I don't already know. Duh! I have a 13 and 10 daughter. They tell me ALL the time.

It's not the first time a stranger has questioned my parenting. It won't be the last. I can typically handle it with some grace. Usually it rolls right off me like water off a table after your kid has filled his chocolate milk lid with it to bathe his miniature Batman in. Usually. Today was just one of those days, though. Those end-of-my-rope kind of days. It's really just been like that all week for me. I wasn't really in the mood to hear someone's opinion on my crappy parenting. Really. Not. But I did anyway. Because people apparently can't keep their opinions to themselves. I mean, she could've just waited until I was out of earshot at least. Meanie. It ruined the whole rest of my day. Literally.

Rant over.
I'm making it my New Years Resolution to have less opinions. Truly.
The moral of the story is this: Just be kind. Really. Online. In person. Wherever. Whenever. You don't want to be responsible for ruining someone's day.
Also: If you are mean to me (or in general) I may blog about you. Just ask Jody.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

On Being 40

Well, it's been almost a year of being 40. Not quite a full year, but with a February birthday, it feels like I've been 40 all year. I was not ok with turning 40. Truth be told, I'm still really not ok with it. But it didn't ask. It just came anyway. Like in-laws or children into the bathroom or the uncontrollable urge to pee when you jump. Or run. Or walk. Or stand up. It just came. Mean 40. You know how when you're young, you hear adults say things like, "I just don't FEEL old." And you're like, "Whatever dude. You are so freaking old." Well, guess what? Now that's me. It's a mean trick, this aging. You know it's coming. But you don't actually believe it until BAM! It hits you. Like in-laws or children into the bathroom or the uncontrollable urge to pee when you jump. Or run. Or walk. You get the picture. So. Cruel.

Well, I decided to take this time at the end of the year to reminisce about things I've realized this {almost} year of being 40.

#1. 40 is Too Old To Live On Student Loans
It is one thing to have to use student loans for living expenses when you are in your 20's. I mean, realistically your bills at that point are like $30 a month for car insurance, $18 utilities after splitting it 7 ways with all your roomates, and Hot Pockets and Cup O' Noodles for food. You might even could get you some sweet new furniture from the Goodwill at the beginning of the semester. Maybe you have one kid in diapers or rent on a 2-bedroom apartment or something, but typically your cost of living is fairly low. And you have years & years ahead of you to pay it all back. 
But 20 years, 4 kids, and a mortgage payment later. Well, if you can't afford your living expenses by then, you're pretty much screwed. I totally am. It's been one of the worst years for us financially in a long, long time. I had no intention of taking out any more student loans at this point, but life had a different plan for me. Now I'm accumulating debt I may not even live to pay off. And at a time when I should be putting money into a retirement account or at least a down payment on a burial plot....

#2. My Untimely Death Will Be Less Tragic
I never said I wasn't morbid. All year what's been running through my mind is that if {heaven forbid} I were to die in a freak snowplow accident or my flat iron fell into the bathtub while I was trying to relax amidst Spiderman and a Ninja Turle loofah or if my car were to explode while I was pumping gas because I stubbornly refuse to obey the signs that say not to get back in your car while you are pumping gas, the headline will no longer read, "Young Mother of 4 Dies in Terrible Accident." Because I'm not a young mother any more. Still a mother, just not a young one. Thus my death will seem far less unfortunate.
And teenagers will think, Oh she was 40? Eh, isn't that about when people usually die?
It's sick, I know. But that's the way my mind works.

#3. Having To Explain Myself When I Shop
Walking into an Aeropostale or Forever 21 or Rue 21 or any other such legal drinking-age numbered establishment makes me feel incredibly self-conscious now. I feel like I have no business being there at all. And I owe the hot young body-pierced employees an explanation for even setting foot in their shrine of sparkly glitter perfume, body chains, loud clothes and louder music. I am fairly certain there is more than a hint of sarcasm and sometimes even a not-so-discrete eyeroll when they ask if they can help me with anything. To which I always respond that I am shopping for my daughter. Which I usually am. Because not even the dark lights at Hollister can hide the fact that I am much too old to be shopping there for myself. {Just don't tell anyone that my new favorite lounge pants are the joggers I just bought. Cuz I told them all they were for my daughter.}

#4. I'm Never Getting My Body Back...Or a Tummy Tuck
With the exception of a few months of ..ahem...summer vacation, I have worked my tail off at the gym this year. {Figuratively speaking. Very figuratively.} Because I was turning 40. And going on a cruise. And I was convinced that with a little hard work I could reclaim my body from the super-villain duo of childbearing and time. Nope. It's never going to happen. Ever. Dream: Shattered.
And it used to be that if I wanted to drop a few pounds, I'd just switch to diet soda and eat nothing but Whopper Jrs, Chex Mix, baby carrots and the occasional Rice Crispy Treat for a week. That is a young girl's weight loss plan, my friend. Now it takes me 3 weeks of non-stop exercising and eating nothing but...nothing just to shed the pounds I gained over the weekend. True story.
And knowing years ago that my body would never look the same after having children reside in it, I told my husband, "I will be sick for months straight, go through long & painful labor, and let your babies ravage my body, but I get a tummy tuck when I'm done." He said ok and we struck a deal.
Ain't happening. {See #1} Not even Sallie Mae is going to give me enough money for that.

#5. I'm Even Too Old for Old Men to Hit On
Let's be honest, with very few {super rare and/or super creepy} exceptions, even men well over the age of 40 like women younger than 40. Not that I'm in the market or anything. And even in my younger years, I was never the kind of girl who had all eyes on her when she walked into a room. But I like to think I turned a FEW heads back in the day. Not anymore. Not even the necks ridden with arthritis crane in my direction. No flattering words. No cat calls. {Unless I'm with my beautiful young daughter, and I will hurt somebody over that.} It's enough to make a girl want to walk past a construction site. From WAY across the street. Just to see.

So there you have it. 5 things about being 40 that I have pondered on this year. I mean, I can always say that I'm really just 22 with 18 years of experience. But who am I fooling? Not the workers peddling sequin stilettos at Forever Young Shoes, that's for sure. And let's face it, nobody is young or 21 forever. I don't care what you name your store.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

All I Really Need to Know I Learned By Watching Rocky

My semester is officially over. Technically, it was over last week. But it's not really over until the grades are posted. And they are. I got an A in English, Psychology, & Stats. (That's right, an A. In Stats. Unbelievable.) I got a B in stupid freaking Art. Because I forgot to turn in an assignment that was due on Halloween. I blame my children.

At any rate, it's finally over. And this is what I feel like:

I mean, I won right? But look at my ugly beat-up face. Dang I got beat up. 

I love the Rocky movies. They are just the right amount of gritty and violent and cheesy, not to mention sheer montage perfection. My husband does not like them. I think there is something wrong with him. He wouldn't even buy them for me for Christmas one year because he said they were stupid. I think there is a deep dark hole somewhere, maybe in North Dakota, for people who do not like the Rocky movies. I thought about reporting him as a terrorist, but then he wouldn't be around to check the mail. Or shovel snow. So I thought better of it.

But that is neither here nor there (although it is decidedly unnatural and UN-American.) The point is that I learned everything I needed to know this semester from my friend Rocky Balboa. Because he is awesome.

#1. It's Good to Be Able to Take a Punch
Rocky may not know much, but he knows how to throw a punch. He can break the ribs of a giant slab of hanging frozen meat. And have you seen what he can do to some Russian logs?? It's amazing. But Rocky doesn't just know how to dish it out. The man can take it. Jab after punch after uppercut after hook. Whether it's a headbutt from Hulk Hogan or a cross from Mr. T, the man can take it and just keep going. Well, let me tell you, I feel like I got my a*& handed to me this semester. One thing after another after another. I am bruised, I am bloody, I am exhausted. But I am still standing. My legs are shaking underneath me, but I am standing. Because Rocky taught me how to take a punch and get back up.

"It ain't about how hard you hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward."

#2. You're Never Too Old 
The year is 1976. Small time amateur boxer Rocky is challenged to a heavy-weight championship match by pro Apollo Creed. He is a little out of shape (But he is NOT a bum as some might have you believe.) With just a little help from Penguin of the original Batman series and some catchy theme music, he is in tip-top shape in no time. I mean, he made it ALL the way to the top of the stairs and everything. The man is in his prime. And I don't care what the so-called decision was, Rocky had that title. 
Fast forward to 2006. Rocky is old. Like older than me old. And he may not have beat Mason "The Line" Dixon, but the man held his own. And you don't see any statues of Dixon around, do you? Rocky was old, but still fierce. Just like me. Because you're never too old.

"If this is something you gotta do, then do it. Fighters fight." 

Apparently, even when they are old enough to collect social security. And a little brain damaged besides.

#3. Go One More Round
In both Rocky I & II, the man goes 15 rounds against Apollo Creed. 15 barbarous, rib-breaking rounds! Boxing matches don't even have that many rounds anymore. Admittedly, he only goes 3 rounds against Mr.T in Rocky III but those were some brutal rounds. I mean the guy said he was gonna bust Rocky up and he wasn't playing. I pity the fool who doubts it. Against Ivan Drago, AGAIN he goes 15 rounds. And winds up ending the Cold War and uniting Russia and America in the process. That's impressive. The point is, never give up. Even when you don't feel like you've got another round in you. You do. Keep going. And just like Rocky told Clubber Lang, you tell life:

"You ain't so bad. You ain't so bad. You ain't nothin!"

#4. There's Nothing Quite Like Good Old-Fashioned Hard Work
The Rocky training montages are arguably the best part of the franchise. Who can forget the moment a triumphant Rocky raises his hands above his head when he makes it up the steps of the Philidelphia some-kind-of museum-or-government-building-or-something in sheer victory? It's a great moment. But it doesn't even compare to the montage from Rocky IV featuring the formidable, eternally sneer-faced Dolph Lundgren training in his state-of- the-art Soviet facility and receiving Rasputin-made powerful mystery injections. Because there is Rocky, bearded and living in a cabin out in the middle of Siberia, lifting wagons, splitting wood, and jumping rope in a barn like a mad man. I mean how can a guy on a fancy treadmill even compare to one who can outrun a car?? My heart's on fire just thinking about it.
I am not one for spending hours on homework or on all-night study sessions, but this semester, and Rocky, taught me something. Nothing can beat good old-fashioned hard work.

"You're gonna have to go through hell. But when it's over, I know you'll be the one standing. You know what you have to do. Do it."

#5. The World Ain't All Sunshine & Rainbows
That's a quote from the man himself, so you know you can believe it. The world is indeed not all sunshine and rainbows. I wouldn't even go so far as to say that it is mostly sunshine & rainbows. It's pretty much predominantly clouds and crap. True story. Life will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. This semester damn near did that to me. And I am not at the end of my schooling. Not even close. I have many semesters ahead of me, but guess what?

"Yo Adrian, I did it!"

And I'll do it again, too. Just watch me.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Losing My Religion. (Not Really. Just My Mind.)

A friend recently sent me a {freaking hilarious} list entitled, 35 Things All Toddlers Will Lose Their S*** Over Today. It's funny. And true. And lists things like:
 #8. Underwear is Ouchy
#16. Sun went behind a cloud  &
#13. Mac n' Cheese is too orange.

A truer story has never been told, my friends. My kids are mostly past the toddler age, but I have an impeccable memory when it comes to the tantrums and trials and sheer insanity that is raising little ones. My youngest is now 4, which I'm not sure qualifies him for toddler-status anymore, but if he's not, somebody forgot to inform him of that fact. Cuz he loses his s*** daily over the most insignificant things imaginable.

For example:

* I crush up cornflakes and fry them in butter to put on the sour cream potatoes that I make for Thanksgiving. Well, Officer Lincoln of the Incorrect Use of Cereal Patrol just about lost his dang mind over the misuse of said corn flakes. Like truly about lost it. Like was screaming and yelling and crying, "THAT'S NOT WHAT YOU DO WITH CEREAL!!!" for a good 20 minutes. (Naked. Because he had just gotten out of a bath he didn't want to take. And wasn't about to put on clothes he didn't want to wear.) Poor innocent Audrina, who was simply trying to help by doing the crushing received quite the clawing, and scratching, and pinching. Police brutality at its worst, let me tell you.

* I thought when I finally had a little boy after 3 {lovely, but high maintenance} girls that I would save myself some of the daily drama that is getting-a-child-dressed. Nope. Lincoln may be the pickiest of ALL my children. He is picky about his pajamas. He is picky about his underwear. He is picky about his shoes. He is picky about socks. He is picky about EVERYTHING HE WEARS. And just because he refuses to wear something today does not mean that he won't be happy to wear it on Wednesday. Because there is no rhyme or reason to his pickiness. It has nothing to do with texture. Or style. Or color. He simply is unpredictably picky. And yes, I am bigger than him and can force clothes on him. But he will just take them off. And hide them. Sometimes in the trash can. And sometimes outside.

*In addition to being picky about clothes, my stubborn little 4-year old also seems to have an opinion on everything else. Hair gel, TV shows, how you set up his Memory game, what style of cup, plate, bowl, fork he uses, who gets to turn the light switches on and off. The list goes on and on. I hate giving into his every whim, and mostly I don't. Sometimes, though, I have no choice. Case in point: He didn't like where I parked the other day when I dropped him off at preschool. So he wouldn't get out of the car. So I pulled him out of the car. Then he wouldn't walk into the building. So I carried him into the building. Then he wouldn't walk down the hall. So I dragged him down the hall. Then he wouldn't go into his classroom. And at this point, he got underneath a chair outside of his classroom and held on to the legs and screamed and cried. So I picked him up off the ground, took him by the hand, and we went back down the hall, back outside, and back into the car. And I moved to a different parking spot. Because he had already made me incredibly late getting back to work, and I had no time left to dig deep into my bag of negotiating-with-terrorist techniques. And then he went into his classroom just fine. Because he is insane. Because what the heck kind of child cares about where the car is parked?? A 4-year old one apparently.

And why is it that children melt down over the smallest, most trivial things? I am trying to have some sympathy for the little guy cuz his dad has moved away for a while, and there are very few things in the world that he has control over, so if it makes him happy to wear the red Ninja turtle socks today instead of the ones he picked out last night, OK. Fine. No big deal right?

And I'm sure he (and all children) think that grown-ups have it made and get to make all the decisions and rule the world. Except guess what? They don't. It's the sad, sorry truth. And if I could go around screaming and tantruming over all of the little (and big) things that go wrong in any given day, I so totally would. I would cry and yell and pound my fists. {And probably kick a few people if I'm being perfectly honest.} But, alas, I cannot. And neither can any of us. And that's why I might enjoy being a toddler. Just for a day.

So I could totally lose my s*** too.