A mother’s ode to summer

Oh, summer
Most favored of seasons
Bursting forth with sunshine through clouds
Life teeming in lakes, rivers and flowerbeds
Your warmth melting away all memory of harsh winter.

And yet, as you stretch out before me
I feel a pang of dread.

Eight weeks on my calendar
Once filled with the hope of reading quietly in the shade
Day trips, star gazing, lingering over all of your sweet offerings
Interrupted so cruelly
by the fruit of my loins.

My car, now a taxi,
its inhabitants messy ingrates who never pay the fare.
Who demand to go hither, yonder, and back again
with no concern for your burgeoning gas prices.

My bank laughs piteously at my account balance
My wallet lies in ruins.
Pay for summer camps or listen to bored children whine–
The choice is obvious.

Wet swimsuits bedeck my carpets
Mud and dirt adorn my once luminous hardwoods
Goldfish crackers and half-completed art projects litter tables and floors.
Who shall clean this mess?
My laments are met with silence.

My tranquil moments of rest in the shade
As sun speckles through leaves
Playing patterns in the grass
Now suspended by the battle cry from a cacophonous band of neighborhood ne’er-do-wells
Coming to accost me with water guns.

“Play with us!” they call.
“Feed us snacks!”  they demand.
“Arbitrate our juvenile debates!”
My attempts to redirect their endeavors are futile
A fruitless exercise culminating in frustration
and the quiet plotting of maternal revenge upon my offspring.

And yet, in my midst
I see smiles unaffected by my fatigue
Freckles blossoming on little noses
Hair streaked light from the sun
As bubbles blow and chalk draws on blacktop.

I watch as one once afraid to fall
Bravely takes off on two wheels
And the one who, once timid near water,
Now jumps in with a splash and dives down deep to the bottom.

I see my vision of lazy days with a book and a hammock
And laugh.
There shall come a time for days such as those
Or so I am told
But no time soon.

This labor of taking pleasure in small joys
Will give birth to gratitude–
So say the wise women who have gone before me.
And yet I doubt their canned advice
Knowing the tendency of my own memory to recall only the sweetness.

Nevertheless, I check my impulse to anger
(sometimes)
And reject my instinct to lock them outside
(most of the time)
I strengthen myself with caffeine
And I join in the chaos
One day at a time.

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Woman who has one thing at a time

I have a new obsession.  Have you met Man who has it all?  Seriously, if you haven’t, you should open a new browser window and follow him on Twitter or Facebook RIGHT NOW.  Man who has it all has a “lifestyle blog for the super busy working dad.”  He is coming out with a book in October as well, which I think will make an excellent Christmas gift.  I have brought him to the attention of many of my friends and acquaintances and, interestingly, the responses have been mixed.  Some find him immediately funny, some aren’t quite sure, and some simply don’t get him at all.  If you look through his Facebook page, you will see clever memes such as this:
  

I.  Am.  Dying.

So my first reaction was that this guy is so, so funny.  I adore his dry wit.  My second reaction was to reflect on the fact that some of those memes seem so shocking and utterly ridiculous when they are directed toward men in this way.  However, every day in our society, women are bombarded with these very messages about our gender roles, and there is absolutely no shock value.

For instance, a woman would not be surprised at all to read in a headline or parenting book that one of her tasks as a new mother is to encourage the new father to play a full and active role.  And yet, if we turn that the other way around as shown in the meme above, we see how completely insulting it is, and how it sets up one half of the parental dyad to be an accessory, rather than an equal partner.  Likewise, how many times have we all seen a headline in a women’s magazine about how to be taken seriously at work?  Do we ever see such headlines directed toward men?  Nope, afraid not.  Men don’t worry about being taken seriously at work.  Want to know why?  Because they don’t have to worry about being taken seriously at work.  So, I just love how Man who has it all is playing with the issue of gender inequality by turning things around in a humorous way.

Now, lest you think I am just another angry feminist, I am also concerned about how men come out looking in all of this.  I think that Man who has it all is not only speaking about how women are portrayed in society, but also about how men are portrayed.  My husband and I are a little non-traditional in the fact that I work full-time, while he primarily stays home with the children.  We made this transition several years ago because he was very unhappy in his job and needed a change.  He has since started a small business, and it has been a very good thing for our family.  Because his schedule is more flexible than mine and much of his work is seasonal, he does the bulk of the chores, shopping, laundry, cooking, and basically keeps the home fires burning.  He is really good at it too!  I can’t begin to tell you, however, how many people act surprised and raise their eyebrows when they find out about our arrangement.  “So, he does all the home stuff?  REALLY?”  Yes, I nod proudly, he really does.  Then I think, wait, what?  Do men have these conversations about their wives or female partners?

“Dude–so you’re telling me she stays home with your kids, AND she cooks, takes care of the house, and does laundry?  Are you sure you trust her to do as good a job as you would? “

Weird when you turn it around like that, right?

No one is disputing the great progress we have made toward gender equality in the past century.  We have indeed come a long way.  I mean, we have a woman running for president!  Women in the senate!  Women in the military! But I think that the gender inequality that exists today (in the developed world) is more subtle.  It is less of an overt violation of rights and freedoms, and more of a quiet background noise–an undercurrent that runs through the veins of our society and our culture.  It is so prevalent that sometimes we don’t even notice when it is happening.  And this collective mindset affects so much of our societal and personal beliefs– from marital roles, to workplace discrimination, to rape culture.

Allow me to give you an example from my own life.  There is this email I keep getting at work from a third-party company offering a class entitled “Communication Skills for Women:  How to achieve confidence, credibility, and composure in the workplace.”  The email goes on to offer the following description:

Our researchers asked women across the country to describe their toughest communication situations. We analyzed over 800 circumstances and compiled these top 10:

•  Confronting others, delivering criticism
•  Controlling emotions
•  Being more assertive
•  Receiving constructive criticism
•  Using confidence not uncertainty
•  Getting cooperation
•  Dealing with the anger of others
•  Setting limits
•  Improving presentation skills
•  Taking charge
•  With this powerful day of training, you’ll build the skills needed to handle these situations and turn it into the results you deserve… and much more.

Wow.  Are you saying that women can learn to communicate too?  This is great news.  I thought for sure that since I didn’t have a Y chromosome, I was going to have to use smoke signals.  But now I have hope.  I can learn to put aside my pesky emotions and get my point across in a calm, composed manner that is assertive but not too assertive.  I also would hate to learn these valuable new communication skills in mixed company, as I tend to swoon easily when there are men-folk about.

I checked out this company’s website, and there was no special communication course for men, unfortunately.  If there was, I would probably sign up for that one instead, just for fun.  Why learn communication skills for women when you can learn communication skills for men, after all?  I bet Man who has it all is the kind of guy who would sign up for the “Communication for Women” class just to mess with everyone’s heads.

So, I applaud Man who has it all for his unique perspective, and for making us think a little more deeply about the way we perceive our gender roles.  It really has made me think about all the pressure I put on myself to excel at work while being an awesome, super-engaged mom and wife, who is also attractive and makes it look easy.  I don’t think I can do all those things at once.  I think I can maybe do one of those things at a time, on a good day.  Other days I am going to have smudgy mascara after a long day at work, warm up leftovers, collapse on the couch, and then go to bed at 8:30.  I shall call myself “Woman who has one thing at a time”.  I think it has a nice ring to it, don’t you?

 

The special ingredient

  
So listen.  You all know that things get a little crazy in my house around dinner time.  It is the most chaotic time of day around these parts.  This is nothing new.  This week, my kids decided to kick things up a notch.  And sometimes when I am really hungry, I make questionable decisions.  This may have been one of those times.

The kids only had a half day of school earlier this week, so they were home in the afternoon with Jeff.  He was trying to open our pool that day, which turned out to be more complicated than usual because we had a large population of tadpoles who had taken up residence on the top of our pool cover.  The kids were beside themselves with the thought that the tadpoles would have to be sacrificed in order to get the winter pool cover off.  So my darling husband lovingly transferred all those slimy critters into an empty fish tank.  The kids, in turn, gleefully watched them and played with them for hours while Jeff did what he needed to do to open the pool.

I got home from work at 6:45 pm, and they were all outside.  Jeff was working away, and the kids raced up to me to tell me all about the tadpoles and their rescue mission, which included a trip to the pond later that week to let them loose.

I went into the kitchen and noticed that Jeff had started dinner.  He had water on the stove for pasta that was close to boiling, and he had made fresh pesto (yummy!).  There  was chicken all set to go on the grill, and various prep dishes at the ready.  I picked up where he had left off, put the pasta in the boiling water, heated up the grill for the chicken, and made a quick salad.  I was starving.  It always seems such a race to get dinner on the table after work, the first step in the frantic weeknight dance of dinner-homework-clean up-showers-bedtime.

I got everything made, table set, food plated up, called everyone to the table, and we sat down to eat.

After we said grace, Jeff looked down at his plate.
“So…what did you use to drain the pasta?” he asks me.
“Umm…the pasta strainer….”  I replied.
“The one that was in the sink?”
“Yes, since that is the only pasta strainer we own.  Why?  What is it?”
“Nothing.  Never mind.”
“What?  What is it??
“You don’t want to know.”
WHAT DON’T I WANT TO KNOW??”

“Well, it’s just that the kids were using that to fish the tadpoles out of the pool and into the tank, and it was sitting in the sink because it needed to be washed out.”

We all looked down at our plates.  The beautiful bright green pesto was suddenly less appealing.   It was 7:15 pm.  I hadn’t eaten in about 7 hours.  I took a quick internal inventory.  I thought of all the times I had jumped into the lake at camp as a kid and accidentally swallowed a mouthful of water.  Or all those statistics out there that talk about how many bugs the average human accidentally swallows in their lifetime.   Also, the boiling water went into the pasta strainer before the pasta even touched it, so that’s almost like sterilizing it, right?

“I’m eating it”, I said.  Jeff looked a little surprised, but then shrugged and dug in.

“We don’t want to eat the tadpole pasta!!!”  the kids complained.

I put my fork down and looked at them.

“You are going to eat the tadpole pasta, because you are the reason we are having tadpole pasta.  First, you used my pasta strainer, the one I use to make food, to fish for tadpoles.  Then, you put that dirty strainer in the sink and you didn’t wash it out.  This is your fault.  You are going to eat it, and you are going to like it.  Now, pass the Romano cheese.

So we all ate it.  It tasted exactly the same as the pesto pasta we always make.  Turns out tadpole water residue doesn’t have a very strong flavor, especially with cheese on top.

After I was no longer in starvation mode, I started to wonder if maybe I shouldn’t have done that.  Maybe my low blood sugar had impaired my judgement.  Maybe our whole family would get Campylobacter, and then I would have to explain to my doctor how this happened.   That would be awkward.

But, I have to tell you, so far so good.  It has been about 4 days now and everyone seems just fine.  In fact, I think I may have totally reset my internal microbiome.  My intestinal flora feels like it is thriving like never before.  Maybe this will be the next holy grail of health food supplements and I can quit my job to sell tadpole water supplements, rich in Omega-3’s and antioxidants.  All natural and organic, with no GMO’s!

Moral of the story?  Pack a high-protein snack to eat on the way home from work, to avoid the extreme hunger that can lead to making poor decisions about food.  Also, don’t come to my house for dinner.

New title, new address

Hi everyone!  You may have noticed the change of name and address for my blog.  Please, try not to be confused.  There is a very simple explanation for all this.  You see, I am a woman, and sometimes us ladies change our minds about things like our blog titles.  I started this blog 6 months ago to chronicle my trip to Haiti.  Now that my trip is over, I felt the blog needed a different identity.  I still hope to take another trip to Haiti next year, and there are some plans underway to try to set up a primary care health program for under-served children in the orphanages (and possibly also in some rural areas as well).  The plans are still in their infancy, so I will share more at a later time when everything starts to come together.  In the meantime, I discovered I really like blogging about day-to-day life as I see it, so I plan to keep on.

Why I think field trips are like childbirth


I got to take a day off from work this past week to attend one of Leah’s school field trips.  I was excited to get to spend some time with her and “be involved”.  Being a working parent, I don’t often have the ability to volunteer or be around for many of the day-to-day happenings at school.  I am sure that my husband is more recognizable in the hallways of their elementary school than I am, but I do what I can.

So, I was ready.  Second graders.  The zoo.  A sunny, beautiful day, 70 degrees with a cloudless sky.  Couldn’t be better.  Leah tried to guilt-trip me into taking the bus from the school to the zoo with the kids, but I am no fool.  This is not my first rodeo.  I didn’t even like riding the bus with a bunch of elementary school kids when I was a kid, so no way I was going to subject my fragile nerves to that kind of chaos.  I took a nice peaceful ride in my mom-van with Taylor Swift, and it was lovely, thank you very much.

I was assigned a group of four adorable girls, one of whom was my daughter, and we were told we could go explore the zoo at our leisure, eat lunch whenever we wanted, and be back to get the bus home at 12:45.  No problem.  We broke from the rest of the group and off we went.

“I WANT TO SEE THE BABOONS!!!!”
“CAN WE GO SEE THE ELEPHANTS???
“ARE THERE ZEBRAS HERE?”
“I’M HUNGRY–WHEN IS LUNCH?”

They all screamed these things at me.  Simultaneously.  I didn’t even have time to answer.  The questions kept coming rapid-fire, over and over, at 90 decibels, 3 inches from my face.  It was like those early contractions you get in labor.  They are uncomfortable, but you have been bracing yourself for them.  You feel like you can handle them.  You’ve been preparing for this, even looking forward to it in a twisted way.

“Yes, we can see the baboons, they are all the way at the far side, so we will have to make our way over.”
“Yes, we can see the elephants, they are at the very end after the lions.”
“Sorry, this zoo doesn’t have any zebras.”
“Seriously?  You want to eat lunch at 10:30?”

We made our way over to the rhinoceros and watched him at play.  Then, the most exciting thing EVER happened.  HE WENT PEE.

“DID YOU SEE THAT?? (90 decibels)  HE WENT PEE!  HE WENT PEE RIGHT OUT OF HIS BUTT!!!  I DIDN’T KNOW RHINOS PEE’D FROM THEIR BUTTS!!

“HE DIDN’T PEE FROM HIS BUTT, HE PEE’D FROM HIS WIENER!”

Oh man.  The contractions were getting stronger now.  I wasn’t expecting it to get like this until at least an hour in.  I already want an epidural.  Oh look, there go the teachers, strolling along on their own with no kids.  How lovely for them.

We went to see some snakes and birds, and by then it was 10:45.  We had made it a whole 30 minutes into our field trip, and now everyone was officially whining for lunch.  Who eats lunch at 10:45?  Don’t these kids eat breakfast?  I decided to let go of my control issues and just let them eat lunch at 10:45.  What did I care anyhow?  Also, I couldn’t listen to them whining about how hungry they were in stereo for one more second.  They were quiet for about 15 minutes while they ate, everyone content.  Kind of like that dose of IV Nubain your labor nurse gives you to hold you off, because the anesthesiologist is busy doing someone else’s epidural, so you have to wait.  It is a welcome reprieve, but it wears off really fast.

We made rounds to all the little pavilions, took silly pictures, and experienced some disappointment about many of the animals being inside napping rather than out in the open where we could see them.  Honestly, I think the animals burrowed into their dens because word got  out that it was school field trip day.  I kind of don’t blame them.

The girls did a pretty good job staying in my sights and sticking together, after our initial “if you can’t see me I can’t see you” talk.  No one got lost, and there was only one skinned knee.  The sea lions were swimming in the underwater tank, which was a big thrill, but the polar bears were MIA, as usual.  We got down to the business of seeing all the things to see.  One kid kept declaring how “bored” she was.  Repeatedly.  Another one was still hungry.  The one with the skinned knee was limping.  Contractions 3-5 minutes apart now.  Painful, but we were getting stuff done.

“Mrs. Wright, will you take our picture with this lion statue?”

Right before the lion exhibit, there is a beautiful statue of a mama lion with her 4 cubs.  The mama is stretched out on the ground and her 4 cubs are snuggled up beside her, some in a playful stance with their little paws in the air.  The girls all took a seat on and around the statue, and I had a misty moment.  I was just like that mama lion, these were my 4 little playful cubs for the day.  Just look at them!  How cute were they?  I focused my camera lens.

“Hey–girls, stop poking the baby lion statue in the crotch!  That is rude!”   This is the part of the labor where you start throwing up over the side of the bed and you want to scream at your husband for getting you into this situation in the first place.  Please God, make it stop.  How much longer?  HOW MUCH LONGER??

The only way I was going to get to the end of this was to put my head down and push through the pain.  We were almost there.  Think about the end.  Focus on the goal.  When I get out of here I can sit in my air-conditioned car and eat my turkey sandwich that I didn’t want to eat at 10:45 am.  I can do this.  Go see the lions.  Go see the elephants.  Bribe them with the playground.  Sit on playground bench like all the other overstimulated parents for 10 minutes until the bus comes.  The end is in sight.

When we got to the entrance, the kids lined up to get on the bus, much more mellow now than when we arrived.  I gave Leah a big hug, and she threw her arms around me.  “I’m so glad you came!  It was so fun!”

“It was very fun”, I said back.

This time next year, I know I will sign up for another field trip.  Because even though it is so painful, it is one of those things in life you just don’t want to miss out on.  Sort of like childbirth.