Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Unearthed Essay #3

What if...

My kids are awesome. Just ask them, they'll tell you. Kids are like that, though. They look at themselves in the mirror and see something amazing. He doesn't see that his mismatched clothes are stained. She couldn't care less that her ponytails are crooked. And what's wrong with the dried peanut butter on that cheek next to the snotty nose? When my children look into the mirror, what they see is paramount to perfection.

Take Alex. He's always been on the small end, but don't try convincing him of that. When he flexes his biceps to show someone how strong he is, I'm pretty sure that when he looks down he sees a sea of rippling muscles waving up and down his scrawny little arms. Once he scolded a complete stranger for calling him "little."

What would the world be like if the general adult population were more childlike in this way?

Future Employer: What assets do you possess that would benefit this company?
Childlike Applicant: Man, I rock! I'm a super-stapler, I can work all day and all night and all day, and I'm the fastest typer in the world!
Future Employer: No, I'm the fastest typer.
Childlike Applicant: Okay, we can be the fastest together.

Now, I'm not really imagining that the UN would give tyrannical dictators a timeout then require an apology to the country's oppressed population...though that would be interesting, wouldn't it? I'm just thinking on a micro-level here. When a friend asks how I am, all too often I begin a discourse on what's vexing me currently or the various and sundry ways that my children are driving my batty. But what if next time I followed the lead of the smallest in my life? What if I answered enthusiastically, "Last night I made this pasta alfresco dish that my husband raved about and kids devoured! Even the vegetables! OH! And my waist measurement is down 2 1/2 inches! I don't always like getting up to work out, and after-dinner snacking is hard for me, but here--wanna' see the notches in my belt?"

Now usually when one brags about one's achievements, one is perceived as arrogant or self-centered and looked down upon. It wouldn't take long before one's social circle started shrinking. But what if that changed, too?

What if in response to my excited report of achievements, my friend answered, "Good job! I found a wallet at the mall full of cash and returned it to its owner. He sure was glad to have it back. Wanna' take the kids to the park?"

Really, the repercussions of this simple concept are widespread. Honest expression of emotion or desires, more emphasis on being fun and happy, willingness to befriend and accept those who are different, swiftness to forgive and forget...

I'm usually caught up in the attempt to mold my wonderful children into good citizens and modeling appropriate behavior: respect others, speak kindly, use good manners, blah blah blah. Every now and then I just need to put down my fork, use my hands and appreciate the sensation of applesauce squeezing through my clenched fingers. Perhaps the next time I see my friend I'll say, "check out how great I look in these jeans!" Chances are she'll laugh and congratulate me, because that's what friends do.

Who knows? Maybe one day I'll even look down and see rippling muscles.

Unearthed Essay #2

This one really explains a lot about my living room:

The Balance of Mediocrity

To all those single mothers who work full-time and parent their children full-time and run a home full-time, I tip my hat to you. I don't know how you do it. Every now and then I send an awe-filled moment of silent respect your way. You are incredible.

I'm a working mother. I haven't always been, and I didn't plan on it. In fact, I had intentionally tried to avoid it, but Life tends to look at my plans, giggle, and rewrite. One really long story accentuated with a litany of informational tangents later, I am here. At this stage of life I'm an onsite apartment manager of a 45-unit complex. I advertise, show and lease apartments, resolve tenant concerns, oversee a maintenance staff, collect rent...the list goes on. I work an incalculable number hours; incalculable because they're scattered throughout my day. Answer the door and make an apointment during lunch, sign a lease after dinner, post notices on tenant doors before naptime to help the baby forget that he's fussy, touch bases with the maintenance lead while I'm checking rent after taking Abby to the bus stop in the morning and answer phone calls while changing a diaper, writing the message on the bathroom mirror with a dry-erase marker. It's my way of contributing to the financial stability of our family while still being our children's primary caregiver.

When I started this job, it was my #1 priority. I jumped up and ran whenever the phone rang, interrupted Alex's nap for an impromptu showing and worked any hours convenient for everyone else. I also cooked, cleaned and paid bills while parenting Abby and Alex, who were then 2 1/2 and 9 months.

Then I broke.

In a crying heap in my living room after the kids were asleep, I fell apart. I was going full-steam ahead and ran smack into the Wall of Personal Limitations. Riah, who works full-time outside the home, was patient and sympathetic as I picked myself up from the harsh realization that I couldn't do it all. Graciously, he agreed to accept the responsibility for the kitchen and bathrooms. (Especially gracious because he hates cleaning the kitchen.) That took a load off and I began the process of finding balance.

I've been managing for 3 years, and over those years the balance has shifted. Sometimes my apartments stay vacant for too long because I'm playing with the kids and not answering the phone. Other days the house is clean and my to-do list full of checks, but my children are horribly neglected. I'm glad, to say, however, that I have found balance in mediocrity.

By nature, I am not a person who settles for mediocrity. It goes against my upbringing. I was taught to take pride in my work, do it thoroughly and do it well. The standards I have set for myself are high, and I have typically achieved them--so to settle for mediocrity was a hard pill to swallow.

Nowadays 'doing the laundry' means getting it clean and sorted into each person's basket. 'Cleaning the kitchen' means getting a load in the dishwasher. (Yes, it's Riah's job, but when he's swamped I step up.) I vacuum once a week when I'm lucky, my bills are frequently late, my tenants don't get immediate return phone calls, I don't take the kids to the park every day during the summer and I haven't the foggiest idea what my girlfriends are talking about when they chat about the latest novel they've read. I wonder who has the time to read much more than Click Clack Moo.

But we have a home, we have food to eat and clothes to wear, we are warm and dry, we feel love and are at peace, we have loving friends and family and we have each other.

And that's good enough.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Unearthed Essay #1

So, I was doing some very overdue cleaning and found some essays that I'd written about 3 years ago. Lee was around 9 months old or so, Alex was 3 1/2 and Abby was 5 1/2. I enjoy them, and I hope you do too...

Apples, Oranges and Bananas

It continues to amaze me just how diverse siblings can be. I marveled when my oldest nieces were little, and now that I have my own brood, I'm still struck by their differences. Yes, there are obvious gender differences, but it goes beyond that.

Abby is a thinker. She loves puzzles and word games, doesn't like physical play so much, and corrects me whenever I misspeak or the message gets garbled somehwere between my brain and mouth. Her sparkly red shoes from Halloween are now part of her everyday wardrobe and if she had her druthers, she'd wear 3 to 4 different outfits a day. Alex can kick and throw better than I can, getting him out of his caped Superman jammies is almost impossible and anything--and I do mean anything--is fair game to become a gun or a sword. I'm pretty certain that if I should allow him to peruse my feminine hygiene drawer he'd devise a sword and a shield in no time. Lee's still hard to tell, but so far I can tell he's an antsy boy. He just wants to get going. I can almost hear the dialogue in his head: "Ooh! The stairs gate is open! Here I go!" or "You know, Mom, I'm 5 1/2 in dog years, so I really am old enough to have my own steak and shrimp." Soon, he'll navigate us into the uncharted Sea of Lee and we'll swim in yet another beautiful, shimmery pool of unfamiliarity.

It's not like they have different parents. (Granted we're a lot less neurotic than when Abby was an infant, but everyone is allowed a fair share of paranoia with their first child.) We've learned and changed and grown, but all in all, we're still us. I'm sure that their unique characteristics are innate; they came with them, like a package deal where you can't substitute curly fries or leather seats or the ability to sleep through the night.

Come to think of it, some of these distinctions were manifest in various ways even before the children were born. My pregnancy with Abby was absolutely, 100% normal. By normal, of course, I mean the first trimester I missed every other day of work due to the constant nausea, I gained too much weight, and I was so swollen that I could barely squeeze my wedding ring onto my pinky finger. While pregnant with Alex I only threw up twice (dealing with Ab's um, messes), I swelled moderately, gained 5 less pounds, and he was frank breech at 37 weeks. By the time Lee came around I figured that because my previous pregnancies were so dissimilar I'd be able to predict the gender. No dice. I never threw up and the nausea wasn't as severe, but it lasted 4 weeks longer than the other two! My weight gain was spot on, and I wore my ring the whole time because I didn't swell a bit. When people asked what I was having, I responded that I was having an alien; only partly in jest.

Abby talked early, Alex talked late. Abby was painfully shy, Alex and Lee have always been gregarious. Abby only cuddled when she was sick or hurt, Alex and Lee are snugglebugs. Abby wasn't really an orally tactile, Lee's a human vacuum cleaner. Alex is fiercely independent, Lee clings. Alex enjoys playing with Dad, Abby not so much. Abby loves tomatoes, Alex hates them. Lee just wants everything...except the mixed vegetable baby food that has spinach in it; can't force that one down.

Of course there are similarities, but I notice the differences more because they pose challenges in the problem-resolution part of my brain. Reasoning, discipline, play, explanations, motivations, optimal shapes of sandwiches...everything needs to be customized to fit the needs of each child.

Sometimes I muse that motherhood would be much easier if I could just do the same things with each child at the appropriate stages in life. But where's the fun in that?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Memo to me...

Always check the washer before I put a load in.

Yep--that's a sippy cup, alright. And it'll be nice & clean, too!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Laundry time

Hmm. Is it time to fold and put away the laundry?


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

And the Coolest Mom Award goes to...

During Abby's parent/teacher conference last fall, her teacher expressed concern that she doesn't participate in class much. He'd like to see her raise her hand more, volunteer more and contribute more to the small-group book discussions. (I'd like to say this was a surprise, but she seems to be growing into some of the same stupid insecurities that have plagued me all throughout my growing-up years.) He suggested that if she get to know some of the other girls in her class better, she may be more confident in class.

Last week I finally got around to acting on that intention.

Very often when I do something, I do it big, and this was no exception. I sent out an evite to all of the girls in her class, bought a very few supplies, baked some cookies and cleaned furiously.

After school the girls rode home on the bus, and it was highly amusing to see 8 girls running down the sidewalk toward our house. (I timed it so Cora was napping and I sent the boys to a friend's house.) As soon as they got in, dumped backpacks, adored the hamster and washed hands, they sat down to a snack. A very cute one, if I do say so myself. I got the idea from Family Fun magazine, and after a little experimenting, it worked great with homemade pizza dough.

Due to life-changes in my friends' homes, my once full well of child-swap options has rather shrivelled up. I no longer have anyone to trade childcare with to go volunteer in the kids' classrooms. It kills me. I'd love to spend an hour a week in each classroom, but no dice. As a result, I don't know the personalities of the other kids in class: who is a good kid, who to avoid, who to invite over, who to get the idea. This party was a great way to easily and quickly size up the girls that Abby talks about every day after school. It was an unexpected bonus for me.

When they were finished with their heart-shaped goodness, I steered them into the bathroom to wash their hands again then let them loose in the living room to make valentines. Cardstock, sequins, scissors, markers, glue, pompoms, pipe cleaners, googly eyes, construction paper, doilies...the works!

I learned something great about this age: I can give simple instructions and step back. No once did I help anyone with anything. I actually returned a few phone calls in the kitchen while eavesdropping on the girls in the living room.

I also learned that some things stay the same over the generations. Jinxing someone will still render them mute until their name is uttered.

After the whirlwind of third grade creativity was beginning to wane, I redirected them back into the dining room to decorate sugar cookies.

Frosting in many hues: pink, purple and white, sprinkles, non-pariels, red hots, little shapes...lots of yummy fun, and a few nibbles.

I really thought that the girls would frost a bunch and take them home, but no. With only a few exceptions, they frosted and binged right there, fighting over the red hots. One girl had a particularly long attention span and frosted 14 cookies to take home, even after the rest of the gaggle had migrated upstairs to torment the hamster again. (After washing hands, of course!)

The most frightening thing about throwing parties is down time. Down time in which energy is high and control is low. Fortunately, with this party only lasting from off-the-bus o'clock (2:45ish) to 4:00, we only had about 5-10 minutes of chaos. And most of that was handled gracefully by Maxo, our unwilling but very loved rodent.

In all, it was a great day.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


I opened some junk mail the other day and was highly amused by a solicitation that my husband received. I saved it just because it made me laugh out loud. Check out a few snippets of his 8 page personal, pre-sorted first class letter:

"Riah, please forgive us, but we have just taken a closer look at your profile. It turns out you're more special than any of us imagined! Did you know that you possess some very rare, hidden traits? In fact, there is a famous person (someone you would instantly recognize, he's on TV every night) who possesses theses same special, incredibly rare traits. ...It turns out that people who possess these same rare and often hidden traits that you do are some of the most famous and successful people on this planet! Riah, you are indeed blessed! I know those around you don't know this yet, but they will! Down deep, you sense it, too. Right? I'm so excited for you!"

[This trait wouldn't happen to be gullibility, would it?]


"Here's a fraction of what you'll learn...
--Learn where the profits are and where they are not in all games of chance, poker, bingo, blackjack, lotteries, casino games or any gambling situation.
--Learn how to transfer all money, power, prestige from the uninformed to you...instantly.
--Learn how to use this new scientific knowledge to begin generating huge sums of money within hours...automatically...without even trying.
--Learn how to win any lover in any situation or how to regain your ex-lover.
--Learn how to lose all the weight you want or eliminate any addiction.
--Learn to control anyone, man or woman, anywhere.
--Learn to easily beat any opponent in your any situation.
--Learn how to make your new powers render all others helpless.
--Learn how to be more intelligent.
--Learn how to make everyone you meet want to be your friend.
--Learn how to make your every relationship better and more fulfilling."

It's signed by John. No last name, just John.

And it's FREE!!!

I'm convinced. You?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Big Brag

An email received today from Alex's first grade teacher:

Hi Dyann,
I just wanted to send a quick note to say what a joy Alex is to have. I don’t always get to tell parents these things in the hustle and bustle of the day and pick up and the rest but wanted you to know that you have truly raised a boy you should be SO proud of. He is so respectful, kind, helpful, hardworking…he’s an absolute teacher’s dream. Thanks for sharing him with us. We’re so blessed to have him!
Be proud!!

We are.

Monday, February 1, 2010


It would seem that tonight I'll be working on my filing. Not that I wanted to, and not that I'd even been planning on it. But simply because I don't have a key to the filing cabinet.