Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Gold Stars

I haven't posted about the horror that is school for a little while. Mostly that's because it has become a horror that I have built up a tolerance for. And by "tolerance" I do not mean that it has gotten any easier, or better, or more manageable. I simply mean, that I don't notice quite as much how difficult, terrible, and unmanageable it all is. Or to put it in another way, last semester was like jumping into a frigid, glacial ocean of water. Like think Titanic and icebergs and all that. The sheer shock of how daunting and demanding and arduous it all was almost literally knocked the breath right out of me. This semester: even more difficult classes and even more credit hours. Yet, instead of being shocked I am now just numb. The water is no warmer, and I am no less close to dying (ya know, figuratively.) I am simply resigned. And sometimes resignation can be a good thing. I mean, it's gotten me through 14 years of marriage and nearly 20 years of parenting.

That's not to say that I don't enjoy anything about being in school. I do like to learn and all that. Mostly I just feel so overwhelmed that school is just one more thing on my endless to-do list rather than a truly enlightening experience. I have noticed, though, that there is one thing that I am truly, secretly enjoying about school. We'll call it quantifiability. Do I know if that is actually a real word? No. I took my English 1010 class decades ago. But we'll pretend for the sake of explanation that it is. To put it one way, we spend hours upon weeks upon months upon years doing things that simply need to be done. Sometimes we perform these tasks well. Other times, not so much. Most of the time, most of the things we do go unnoticed, unseen and often unappreciated. Sometimes we do get feedback, but it rarely correlates with the effort we put forth. If your mother-in-law pops in for a quick surprise visit and the house is a disaster does that mean that you never spend anytime cleaning? Uh, no. If your kids mess up or make mistakes or bad choices, like  - let's say peeing in places that aren't the toilet, does that mean you're a bad parent? Nope. (I seriously hope not, anyway.) If these same imperfect kids refuse to eat what you made for dinner because it "looks like crap" does that mean that you don't know how to cook? Totally not. (And it was delicious, by the way.)  Do you get extra credit when you go above and beyond? Or when you help a friend or a neighbor or a stranger? Not a single point. 

Do you see what I'm getting at here? There are no grades in life. Rare "Well Done!" or "Excellent Work!" comments from others. No GPA. No Honor Roll. No Cum Laude, Magna, Summa or otherwise. No Latin honors at all. In fact, I am fairly certain I will be graduating from life Exhaustus Est Emin ad Mortem. Yep, Exhausted Unto Death. BUT, for right now and for the next couple/few years, I get grades. Actual quantifiable proof that the effort I put in deserves recognition. A real-life LETTER and NUMBER that say, Hey, good job! I didn't realize until a couple weeks ago how much I truly enjoy this. It dawned on me when I was checking my grades (which I know for a fact are good right now) for like the 5th time in 3 days. Because they are pretty. And because it makes all the time I spend look like...well, something. So when I feel like I suck at pretty much everything else, I can just pull those bad boys up and see that I'm only sucking at some things. Not absolutely everything.

You see. If I spend 14 hours on a 20 page statistics take-home exam (and I did) and earn 49.5 out of 50, well I can feel pretty dang good about it. Do you know what I get when I spend any amount of hours cleaning my house? Or doing laundry? Or years of my life raising children? Tired. And for a VERY brief moment, a somewhat clean house, and MOSTLY finished laundry, and SOMETIMES kids who make good choices or are kind and decent. No A. No 90%. No 4.0. Just more work that needs to be done.

And I know. I know. It doesn't matter, these grades. The things that mean the most in life are not things that are quantifiable. The things that bring true joy are worth the work and effort all on their own. They are their own reward. I know. 

But that doesn't mean that I can't enjoy my grades for just a little bit. 

And it doesn't mean that we all don't deserve gold stars just for hanging in there. Just for being us. Just for holding on. 

Because we do. We so totally do. 

So I'll say it. Because you have earned it. Excellent work, my fellow students of life. Excellent work.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

What the Leprechaun Trap??

I've said it before and I'll say it again. The internet provides a whole new way to feel like an inadequate parent. It is an entirely ever-present forum for posting and sharing everything that every parent does absolutely right and creative and wonderful. And nothing they do wrong or mess up on or fail at. It is like seeing only the best side of everyone. The edited, touched up, filtered perspective on parenting. And it is daunting.

I, for one, cannot compete in that amphitheater. I am highly unqualified. You want a full confession? I cannot cook perfect biscuits or bake a perfect cake. I cannot do fancy braids or sew beautiful costumes. I cannot construct a bunk bed out of pallets or a suspension bridge out of popsicle sticks or a diorama out of Play-Doh. I do not build fun forts or plan fun science projects. I do not squeeze my own juice or make my own granola. I rarely take my kids to Wal-Mart with me. Let alone hiking or on fun vacations to Disneyland or Mexico. Those times when my kids look so adorable I am tempted to take and post pictures of them? Usually I cannot find a suitable background. Because my yard looks like crap and my house is a disaster. I barely...BARELY...do anything for my kids on their birthdays and Christmas. Let alone Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, Easter, the 4th of July, or Arbor Day.

This is no judgement against the people who do. I admire you. You inspire me. It makes me happy to know that there are fun and talented and innovative parents out there like you. Really. And those days when your kids tell you that you're the worst parent ever and you never let them do anything? You pull up those pictures and posts and remind them of just how awesome you are. Seriously. Do it. Me? I'll just have to rely on faulty memories. And that one time I took them to the mall.

My mom never made a huge deal out of holidays, but I do remember the time that she gave us raw instead of hardboiled eggs for breakfast on April Fool's Day. Or when she made heart-shaped pancakes on Valentine's Day. She was that kind of mom. I am pretty sure my kids rarely even eat breakfast before school. And when they do it's usually cereal or a Pop-Tart.

As far as parenting goes, the things I regret are many. The things I do right are few. Do I wish that I took the time to make every holiday magical and wonderful for my kids? Often. Do I have the strength or energy to actually do it? Never. Am I super glad that my kids are mostly understanding and forgiving? Always.

All we can do is our best. And those days when we can't even do that? Well, all we can do is keep trying.

So to all of you parents out there who put cute shamrock bows in your kids hair today, or left leprechaun footprints for them to find when they woke up, or made the extra effort to make rainbow waffles for breakfast:
You are an awesome parent. You obviously love your kids very much. They are lucky to have you.

To all of you parents who forgot completely that it was St. Patrick's Day and you are hoping that your kid is wearing SOME kind of green and is not being mercilessly pinched at school all day:
You are an awesome parent. You obviously love your kids very much. They are lucky to have you.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Belated Birf-Day Post

I had every intention of posting on my birthday. But my birthday sucked. And I had neither the energy nor the wherewithal to even log onto a computer, let alone write a blog post. Why did my birthday suck? Well, it had nothing to do with getting older. I have made my peace with this new decade of my life. (I think.) And I have also convinced myself that I just get better with age. Better at what? I'm not exactly sure. But certainly something...even if it is just wrinkling.
It sucked mostly because I made the unfortunate decision 40+ years ago to be born in the wrong season. Ok, technically I didn't make that decision. And my mom says that the doctor originally gave her a due date in the middle of January. She likes to tell me that I was 6 weeks overdue. Obviously the doctor was mistaken. Either that or I held out as long as I possibly could in an attempt to make it to spring. I failed. So mostly my birthday sucked because I had just left Arizona, where February is sunny and beautiful to come back to Utah, where it is decidedly not. Or in other words, I had just left this:

To come back to this:

Yes, that is an actual picture of my sister's backyard and an actual picture of my front porch on my birthday. What. The. Crap.

I mean it wasn't the worst birthday ever, by a long shot. And I did spend almost the entire day in sweatpants eating delicious food and watching Downton Abbey. So not a total loss. But as you can see, for someone who loves the sun and hates the cold, it was kind of a sucky birthday. 

The point is, I intended to blog 40+ fun facts about me on my birthday. And I didn't. So I'm doing it now. Because it actually reached temperatures close to 60 degrees this week. Which means I'm feeling much better. So here you go: my (belated) birthday gift to you all. 

40+ Things You Would Have Been Perfectly Fine Never Knowing About Me
1. I love hot dogs. Love them. And I am not the least bit interested in knowing what they're made of. So please don't tell me.
2. I am convinced that déjà vu IS actually a glitch in the Matrix.
3. I love llamas. I want to own one some day. Or maybe two; they get lonely.
4. Armageddon is one of my favorite movies. It's fantastically ridiculous and quotable. And features Bruce Willis, Steve Buscemi, AND Michael Clarke Duncan. What's not to love?
5. The only way I can sleep is on my side in the fetal position. Ever.
6. When I sleep alone I construct a pillow fort, with big fat pillows on either side of me. To protect me from ghosties and goblins...who are deathly afraid of pillows.
7. I hate when movie theater rows have an even number of seats, because I like to sit perfectly in the middle of the row. Even if it's not the middle of the screen.
8. I once told a horribly bad blind date in the middle of a terribly uncomfortable dinner that I had to get home to watch Xena. And then I went home and watched Xena.
9. I don't think Brad Pitt is at all attractive.
10. I have major parking garage anxiety. The Disneyland parking garage is like my worst nightmare.
11. I can't whistle. At all.
12. For the first couple years after I moved to Utah whenever anyone said they were going to build a house, I thought they meant physically build. And I felt grossly incompetent because I had absolutely no construction knowledge or experience. I thought maybe they taught it in Utah schools.
13. I have had a major crush on Jon Stewart for as long as I can remember. Because he is hilarious. And has a great nose.
14. I could eat candy canes every day. All year long. But only the real kind. No gross fruit flavored ones.
15. I am spectacularly talented at driving with my knees. When the occasion calls for it.
16. I think marshmallows are disgusting.
17. If I could be any mythical creature I would want to be a vampire. Or a mermaid. Or a vampire-mermaid.
18. I hate Tom Hanks. I don't know why. I just do. I always have.
19. I don't believe in having house plants. Because they just seem like one more thing that would need my attention.
20. I can't stand to not have my toenails painted. Even in the dead of winter.
21. I think John Travolta might be Satan. I'm not sure why. He just strikes me as someone who would be.
22. I get sick every time I eat buttery popcorn from the movies. But every time I go to the movies, I eat buttery popcorn.
23. I have a major girl-crush on Emma Stone. I know what you're thinking: She's too young for me. And you're probably right.
24. Loose and missing teeth gross me out more than almost anything in the universe.
25. Except bats. Flying rodents are the worst thing ever.
26. And opposums. Which are really just R.O.U.S.s. who didn't stay in the Fire Swamp.
27. I think Michael and Latoya Jackson are the same person. So he's not actually dead.
28. My one claim to fame is that I was the only white girl at my elementary school who could jump double dutch. 
29. I hate roundabouts. I don't understand them and I don't like them. They're worse than parking garages.
30. In a perfect world I am married to Patrick Stewart. And having an affair with Jimmy Fallon. And when Patrick dies, I will marry Jon. And I could keep my last name.
31. I look better in my driver's license photo than I do in the last family pictures we had taken.
32. If I could have any super power, I would want photogenicity. Or the ability to fly.
33. I am such a control freak that on the rare occasions when I actually turn on cruise control in the car, I usually realize after about 3 minutes that I'm not using it anymore. But I never remember turning it off.
34. If I had to pick just one app I couldn't live without, it would be IMDb.
35. I think Calvin & Hobbes is one of the best creations of the 20th century. 
36. I think one-ply toilet paper is one of the worst creations of ...whatever century it was created in.
37. My disposition is powered entirely by sun. I prefer a day that is 30° and sunny to one that is 55° and cloudy.
38. When I was little, my brother and I tried to find the formula for making Smurfs by combining several household liquids. And blue food coloring. In an old chocolate milk container. It's a wonder we didn't blow ourselves up.
39. I think I could subsist entirely on Swedish Fish and Sour Patch Kids. And maybe Red Vines.
40. The day I can master a Scottish accent will be a great day for me.
41. I have never, ever been able to do a cartwheel. But after I broke my wrist in 8th grade, I told everyone that was why I couldn't do one.

That's it. I probably will never do that again. If you made it through the entire list, congratulations. You either really love me. Or you're really bored.

Happy belated birfday to me. I'm holding off on further celebrations until the thermometer hits 80.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Life Lessons from the Little Engine That Couldn't

Not unlike my positive affirmations, I also try to find my life lessons where I can. 
Sometimes they come from TV shows or movies: 

Never say yes to two different boys who ask you to the same dance. (Gidget)

Bad choices usually lead to worse choices. Like wearing a fedora and calling yourself Heisenberg. Oh and killing people. (Breaking Bad) 

Toilets are always funny! (The Spirit)

And sometimes they just come from experience:

Bangs always seem like a good idea. Until you don't want them anymore.

Not having anything to wear has no correlation with the amount of clothing you own.

No matter how many batteries or rolls of Scotch tape you own, you will never be able to find them when you need them. Ever. (Although sometimes you'll find the Scotch tape when you're looking for the batteries.)

Ben & Jerry's New York Super Fudge Chunk can solve any problem. Except for weight loss.

I could go on. And tell you about the life lessons I have learned from song lyrics, but I might have to save that for another time.

 Sometimes I find life lessons in children's movies and books. Like Bambi. Or, in this case, the Little Engine That Could. Yes, of course there is the obvious lesson of believing in yourself. Blah blah blah. I think I can. I think I can. But I'm not talking about the Little Blue Engine, the one that pulled the train up the mountain. No, I'm talking about the poor, broken down train that needed a ride. We don't hear much about that train. But she's a vital part of the story. And I think the best lessons come from her.

#1. She Was a Happy Little Train
How do I know she was a happy little train? Well, because it says so right there on the first page. And why was she so happy? Because she had a jolly load to carry. Oh.
I don't know about you, but "jolly" and "load" are not usually synonymous in my world. Load denotes things like burden, weight, affliction, or laundry (which is all of the above.) I don't usually think of my loads as jolly. In fact, I don't ever think of my loads as jolly. Which would explain a lot about why I am not happy much of the time. (And also about why my laundry never gets done.) Not that we can be expected to always be thrilled with our challenges. But maybe, just maybe, if we have hearts full of graditude and look for the blessings in our burdens...well, maybe we can find the jolly-ness in our loads. And we can be happy little trains, too.

#2. She Knew Her Worth
She knew she was important, this little train. Passenger Engine and Freight Engine thought they were infinitely more valuable than this silly train who carried dolls and soldiers and peppermint drops and apples. Kind Engine was nice enough, but he didn't even want to try. None of them could be bothered to help her. She was broken. And nobody else thought she was worth their time. This would cause a lot of other trains to lose hope. To think they were worthless. But she didn't let what the other trains thought of her influence how she felt about herself. She knew she was important. And she knew she was important because of the load she was carrying. And the fact that it would help others. 
No matter what anyone else thinks: We are important. We are valuable. We have something to offer. We should know our worth.

#3. She Never Gave Up
She simply could not go another inch. She tried and she tried, but her wheels would not turn. 
She could have given up at this point. It would have been easier to give up. After all, it wasn't her fault she broke down. She just couldn't go any further. She tried. Wasn't that enough? Apparently not for her. Because she didn't. She just kept trying until she figured out a way. Stubborn little train.
Ummm...been there. We've all been there. That place where you try and try, but you can't go another inch? I think they call it life. It's hard. Sometimes it's painfully and ridiculously hard. The lesson here? Keep trying. Don't give up. You are needed. And help will come.

She's not the popular train, the one who broke down. She's no Little Blue Engine with her self-motivating mantras and her plucky little attitude. But I think she has some valuable lessons for us all. Definitely for me. 

And besides, you thought you could, you thought you could? Nobody likes a show off.