Friday, March 02, 2018

What I've Learned in 2018 (So Far)

It's been nearly two months since I hung up my corporate hat and put my parent hat on full time. What have I learned about life so far?

I've learned that my children are complicated people. I've listened to more stories of lunch time comedy and recess shenanigans in the past 2 months than I've heard in the past 5 years. Our girls have ideas, dreams, imaginations so strong, and random thoughts that are unlike anyone else's. It is truly a gift to be able to spend as much time with them as I am.
Marissa's best 80's ponytail.
Which she found hilarious.

Lindsey's favorite pasttime: reading voraciously with Beauty beside her.
My daughter's requests for a "big breakfast" on Sunday mornings is more-often-than-not met with a "yes" instead of a "no." Our version of a "big breakfast" is bacon, pancakes or waffles, scrambled eggs, all homemade, of course. It takes so little to make her happy, why would I not when I have the time and the energy?

Delicious gluten-free pancakes, after tweaking the recipe for two months.

I've seen that anxiety is a mangy beast that has one of my kids in its maw tightly, more tightly than I realized. After two months I feel like, perhaps, we are starting on a path to lightness. But no, I won't say that yet, maybe it's just another good spell that will be broken by another awful terrible no-good very bad day. And so I will continue to question, to pester, and to be there for her.

I've learned that I need the gratification of actually seeing things get clean when I clean them. This means there is no sweeping of floors once a week "just because," or dusting of mantels before they collect dust. I want to see that dust FLY, man, so it needs to accumulate good before I get after it.

And I've learned that my husband, the ultimate neat-nick, doesn't mind (or at least knows not to say it if he does) if the house isn't quite up to his standards. He is a more relaxed person for not having to do laundry on weekends and wash dishes every night. Not that I wash dishes every night either — we just leave them until the next morning because time together is precious and I'll have time in the morning to do them when everyone's gone off to work and school.

We've all learned that we used to spend a ridiculous amount of money on take-out food. I never quite understood before how our family could spend so much on "dining out," yet we never went to a restaurant. Bringing home "dinner in a bag" from Chipotle one night and Noodles & Co the next, and now I get where that money was going. That money is no longer flying out the door, and suddenly we can actually go out as a family to a sit-down restaurant every once in a while, despite my lack of income.

I have time to reflect and write, take photographs and exercise, all of which makes me a better person, more patient and confident at the same time. We are a better family for the change, and for that I am infinitely grateful.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

"Hey Alexa, Stop My Scattering Thoughts"

This past September our family got the Amazon Echo Dot. Two of them, to be exact.

This is the device that you activate by saying "Alexa," and then asking any number of questions. She most often tells us the time or the weather.

In the morning the girls and I will play the song quiz, where Alexa plays a few seconds of songs from various eras and players take turns guessing the artist and title.

Our favorite Alexa skill is the shopping list. The minute I realize I'm out of something, I tell Alexa to put it on my shopping list. By the time I go grocery shopping, the list is already built of everything the family needs.

Which brought me to an interesting thought, among my scattered thoughts.

I was sitting in my kitchen working on a project, when I suddenly remembered that I had opened the last gallon of milk that morning. "Alexa, put milk on my shopping list," I called out, and she dutifully did so.

A song came on in the kitchen and I told Alexa to skip it. The next song was rather loud, so I told Alexa to turn down the volume. A few minutes later, I thought about taking the dog for a walk and asked Alexa what the weather was like.

I found myself calling out to Alexa every few minutes, taking care of the random thoughts that flitted through my brain.

Which brings me to this question: are my thoughts scattered because of Alexa, or is it just more obvious because I interact with a device whenever my thoughts scatter?

Many of us struggle with focus and concentration, especially those of us responsible for family activities, stocking a household, appointments and work obligations. Are these devices helping or hurting?

After my experience working on this project at home, I feel like Alexa helped me. A random thought would come across my brain, I had Alexa take care of it and I could go back to my project. Normally I would be telling myself to remember to put "milk" on a list later on, and that thought would never leave my brain until it was taken care of.

Our family started with just two Alexa devices, we are now up to four. If I'm ever in a place where I can't just take care of something by telling Alexa to do something, I get annoyed. "Great, now I have to remember this until I get home and ask Alexa," I'll grumble in my car.

Are our brains moving forward or backward?

Monday, February 26, 2018

Middlemoon Creek Walk

Just south and west of us is a creek that runs through a neighborhood from Lake Harriet. It's a part of the chain of lakes and is maintained by the city. But for one magical weekend in the winter, the neighbors take over.

Residents in this area began decorating the path along the creek with ice sculptures. It started out small — balloons that are filled with water, frozen and the balloon popped. Ice in a bucket that is turned upside down. Then it got a bit more elaborate.

Now it is a magical walk of all kinds of sculptures, lit with candles from the inside, protected from the snow and wind that would extinguish them. So my camera and I went for a stroll.

There were elaborate altars of ice, decorated with candles and lit from inside. There was an incredible miniature castle, about the height of a four-year-old who stared at it in amazement.  The path was lit with little balls of icy light. Snow was falling steadily, making streetlamps in the area hazy with an otherworldly glow.

The path was busy with many families out to see the sights. People were polite in making way for others along the path. Dogs were petted, children smiled at, and strangers struck up conversations. A group of adults chatted about whose house they were heading back to for a warm toddy after their walk.

Yes, the sculptures were beautiful to see, and the ducks on the open water, huddling together with snow gathering on their backs. But the most beautiful experience of all was that of community in this special little creek.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

My Final Tween

This year Marissa will be turning 13 and we will officially have two teenagers in the house. Sure, it feels like we've got two already, but technically Marissa is still a "tween."

While Marissa was once our messy child, she has somehow come to appreciate order and cleanliness. Every morning she makes her bed before school. Clothes are actually put in a hamper, not strewn around the floor like they were when she was 7, and if you were to open the drawers in her desk you would find cosmetics and toiletries neatly arranged.

I spy with my little eye...
Yet there is still one throwback in her room taking her back to her childhood. Tucked away between some of her fluffy pillows is "Sheepy," the stuffed animal she slept with from babyhood on. I know she still sleeps with it, because sometimes in the middle of the night I hear the tinkle of little bells as she turns over with Sheepy in her hands.

So sweet.

Viva City Revisited

The emcee, AJ Friday, was fantastic at
keeping the crowd entertained while groups set up.
Marissa was given the opportunity to perform at Viva City, a celebration of music and dance put on by Minneapolis Public Schools. Lindsey had the same opportunity in 7th grade, and truly loved the experience of seeing and hearing from so many different schools across the city.

This year they were able to perform at the Guthrie Theater — the Guthrie! Marissa did not even know what it meant to be performing there.

The night began with a rocking drum line, made of boys and girls, thank you very much. Bands and orchestras, then choirs. Unfortunately we had to leave at the 2nd intermission, so we did not get to see the theater and dance performance troupes, which I remember as being impressive.

I loved how supportive the crowd was. If there was a beat, there were people clapping along. The acoustics were challenging as they were in a large theater and the accompanying instruments came through the sound system, but they had not put microphones over the singing groups, so most groups were drowned out by the instruments. Students were unaccustomed to singing to such a large audience; I could see each of the directors encouraging their students to be louder, louder, LOUDER!

I'm so glad that both of our daughters had this opportunity to see music from other groups, and to showcase their talents as well.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

The Grateful Child

In December Marissa was awarded a "HERO" award at her school. This is given to students who embody kindness, respect, encourage learning, all those traits that don't show up on standardized tests or in a report card. You know, the important stuff.

Marissa made out like it was no big deal — some teachers choose a student at random in their classroom, while others thoughtfully ask students to nominate classmates who have displayed rare kindness, then make their selection from that pool.

I could probably get a bumper sticker that says, "My child is a HERO in middle school," but instead, I'll tell a story that shows why Marissa is deserving of this award.

One day, Marissa and I were walking to a store together when she said the following to me out of the blue. As soon as we got home I wrote it down, so this is verbatim:

"You know, Mom, I was just thinking about how much Lindsey's been sick, and how much time you've taken off of work to care for her and stuff. And then I was thinking about when I was a little kid, and if I was sick and couldn't go to school and you or dad would stay home with me. I never even thought about the fact that you couldn't go to work, or that you gave up that day just to be with me. I don't know if anyone's ever thanked you for that, so I just wanted to say 'thank you.'"

And then a little snow got into my eye.

The Four-Legged Child

You have never met a pitbull so scared of the smallest things, yet unafraid of the biggest.

She will play with dogs twice her size with no hesitation. Yet today, when I popped bubble wrap near her, she practically crawled into Lindsey's lap, ears down and tail tucked, looking for protection.

Protect me, Lindsey, from the scary bubble wrap!
Beauty is so eager to please, she wants to do whatever you tell her. If she doesn't know what you're asking for, she will gaze at you until you give her a signal as to what it is, or she'll run through her usual tricks until she does one you'll reward with a treat.

She is not allowed to eat until we tell her she can. I'll put her food down, and she'll sit there and look at me for permission. If I wait long enough, two lines of drool will begin at the corners of her mouth, but she still won't eat until I say, "OK."

So instead I'll say, "Oh my," or "Oh...klahoma," or anything else, but until she hears, "okay," it remains untouched.

If we drop food on the floor, she'll look at us for permission to eat it, she won't just leap for it. A few times she started to gobble it, then Lindsey said, "Drop it!" and she actually spit it back out. She Spit. It. Out.

Is that popcorn? Are you going to drop some?
She recently completed a four-week recreational agility class with Lindsey. She was always too excited to see the other dogs (a no-no while training), but once she hit the course she was ready to run and eager to do exactly what Lindsey told her to do.

She is a running buddy for Wayne, a source of cuddles for Marissa and I, and has become Lindsey's constant companion. As what happens when you rescue a dog, she rescues you back.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Life's Not Perfect

Graphic from Malavika Suresh blog post 
I was thinking on the tagline I wrote for this blog some 12 years ago. Yes, 12! "Life's not perfect, but it sure is fun."

Not perfect indeed. My goal has always been to write about the ups and downs of life, not just the niceties. There's been one subject I haven't shared so much, because I respect my now 14-year-old's privacy. But her diagnosis of severe anxiety disorder has turned our family upside down, in ways not written about here.

This fall, she began to attend Southwest High School, our local public high school, for her freshman year. The school is two blocks from our home. I always imagined my kids going there, our home becoming a stopping off point for friends after school, a safe place for teens to gather.

Instead, after four days there, her anxiety was at such an all-time high that she could no longer muster the strength to physically leave the house. If you have ever witnessed someone having an all-out panic attack, then you understand when I say she could not physically go. This is not a matter of obstinance, will, or being spoiled. Her brain was functioning in such a way that going to school would have been bad for her health, and unpleasant for everyone around her.

So she stayed home.

Within the week we had found an option of MPS Online, the online education arm of Minneapolis Public Schools. She began taking classes online, staying home all day to work on the lessons.

But her anxiety would rear its ugly head throughout the week, despite having removed the trigger of being in a school. She often did not get a full 5 days of classwork in, which meant that as the weeks went on, she fell further and further behind. This had the added benefit of increasing her anxiety.

There's so much more, but this isn't about Lindsey, this is about our family.

In October, after nearly a month of online high school, Wayne and I began discussing how to best help Lindsey, and he floated the idea of my staying at home.

I surprised myself by not jumping at the idea. I mean, my workplace was not perfect, none are, but I have worked my entire adult life, and I really liked my job. I was given full rein over how I chose to fundraise, I got to write, my teammates are experts in their areas, passionate and driven. Plus, it was incredibly flexible with the demands my family had made on my time. I mean, what more could a fundraiser need in a job?

I had begun working at home Mondays to help Lindsey get her week started, and we discovered that Mondays were always Lindsey's best day. She got up on time, she ate healthy throughout the day, took her supplements, had a productive school day and took decent breaks (meaning walking the dog instead of playing a game on her phone.)

This idea began to grow. My husband the conservative accountant began running the numbers. Is this possible? Miraculously, it was. It was possible.

I wanted to stay at my job through the end of the year. After all, at a nonprofit, that's when all the fun stuff happens! I could not let my team down by leaving them during our busiest time of year. I gave my notice the week after Thanksgiving and gave them a month to become accustomed to the idea that I would not be starting 2018 with them.

And in January my new life began.

I can best describe the change in a single incident.

My youngest child is always ready for school nearly an hour before she needs to leave, so she can have some time to relax. One morning she and I are in the kitchen. My hands are around a mug of coffee and I am listening to her tell me about something that happened at school.

I inexplicably began looking for something to do. Surely it wasn't right that I was just sitting there, listening? There must be some task I should be doing. Then I The most important thing I could do at this moment is look her in her beautiful gray-green eyes, give her my full attention, and listen.

So I did. And I realized that it had been days — days! — since I had looked her in the eyes. What a sad statement on the busyness of life.

Yes, life is not perfect. But I am grateful that our family is in the position to make the changes we're making, to make it a little better for everyone in our family.

Friday, December 01, 2017

My Big Small Town

Best service in the city. Go if you need a new eye doctor. 
I woke up in screaming pain one day this past week. I opened my eyes and felt like someone was stabbing a knife directly into my right eye. I could not open it, I could not move my left eye without my right feeling like it was being scraped by sandpaper.

My youngest, God bless her, brought me a cold washcloth and a cup of coffee with cream, just the way I like it. I laid in bed, unable to move my eyes, or move in general without being in pain, for an hour. I patiently waited for 8 a.m. to roll around so I could call my eye doctor for an emergency appointment.

I called and got the office voice mail informing me that on Thursday, of all days, their hours are from noon to 8 p.m. But...there was a phone number to call for urgent care. I called; it was my eye doctor's cell phone.

I left a message and she called me back within 2 minutes. She made arrangements to see me that morning even though the clinic wasn't open.

By the time I arrived the pain had subsided substantially, probably due to the ibuprofen I'd been popping and the lack of eye movement. She confirmed what I suspect, which is that I had somehow scratched my cornea (I don't recommend doing this). It probably began healing overnight, but upon awakening in the morning ripped the healed cells back off my cornea, thus the stabbing pain at that time.

She called in a prescription to the pharmacy for antibiotic drops and gave me directions on how to care for it while it healed. We chatted about our kids; her oldest is in 1st grade, my youngest in 7th, at the same school.

I drove straight to the pharmacy, where I was greeted by Meg, who knew that a prescription had just been called in for me, but there was another waiting for me as well. Psst...I didn't even give her my name, first or last. They just know me there. I'm not sure if it's a good thing that the pharmacy staff knows me that well, but in this situation, it was incredibly reassuring.

I walked out of the store, smiling to myself, thinking about what an amazing small-town service experience I had while living in a major metropolitan city. As I stepped out, I saw my neighbor, an 89-year-old woman who has lived on our street her entire life, waiting at the stop light for the light to turn green. She and I waved to each other, the light turned green, and off she drove, eyes just inches above the dashboard of her large sedan.

Yep, I definitely live in a small town. In a big city.