Date night dissolution

The hubby and I had a date night planned this weekend.  The best part about date night, in my opinion, is that you get to miss the whole dinner/bedtime debacle.  The hours between 5-8 pm are, without fail, the most difficult for me as a mother.  I just don’t enjoy that time of day.  Even on the weekends when I am not as fatigued as I am after working all day, some kind of strange black magic takes over in our house and everyone gets cranky and nobody’s ears work and messes get messier and bedtimes creep later and children move at the speed of sloths and I just. can’t. take. it.  Add in the fact that you have to make dinner, clean up from dinner, and 5 out of 7 nights also nag kids to do homework and practice their instruments, then chase them into the shower, well–fuggedaboutit.  

But when it is date night I hire a teenager who comes to my house at 5:30 pm and feeds them hot dogs or soup from a can and plays with them and puts them to bed.  This is cause for happiness on both sides of the equation, because our kids love the teenage girls that babysit for us, and we love escaping the witching hour.  The babysitter always asks us when we are leaving what time we will be home, which I suppose is a valid question when I think about it rationally, but also–who is she, my mother??  I’ll come home when I’m good and ready.  Geez.  OK, 9:30 at the latest, I need my beauty sleep.

We were kind of aimless about our plans for date night this week, and at a loss about what to do with ourselves.  We had wanted to do something outside but the weather wasn’t cooperating, so all we had figured out is that we were going to go out to eat somewhere, and then hopefully find something else to do so that we didn’t get home before bedtime because–hello!– let’s get our money’s worth out of the babysitter!

I got dressed up really cute.  I have been following this fashion blogger on social media, and she is always putting up these cute little outfits with links to where to buy everything, which really takes the guess-work out of being fashionable.  I put on actual pants.  With a button.  On a weekend.  They weren’t even leggings sneakily devised to look like pants.  I was really working it.

I looked at the clock and realized that the sitter was 10 minutes late, which was weird, because she was always on time.  We texted her, and she answered back that she was so sorry, she totally forgot, and also she was sick today so she couldn’t come anyway.  At the same exact moment that this text conversation was happening, my daughter started yelling for me to come upstairs quick, because she had diarrhea and she didn’t feel well.   Sigh.  I got the hand sanitizer, changed back into my pajamas, and hunkered down for a night in.

So basically, in a 30 minute time span I went from  looking super cute in my new spring outfit and anticipating to some good food and an evening out with my husband, to standing in my kitchen in my pajamas, staring into my empty fridge.  With lipstick on.

This must be the 40-something’s equivalent of getting stood up for a date in your 20’s?  Except I don’t remember someone else’s diarrhea being a part of that.

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What NOT to buy for the holidays

Well friends, here in the USA, it is almost Thanksgiving, and the holiday shopping rush will soon be upon us.  I would like to take a little time to discuss with you, my kind readers, a few tips for  your holiday shopping lists.  I know most of the articles you are accustomed to reading around this time of year talk about the “best gifts to give” or the “hottest toys of the year”, but I think that sometimes knowing what not to buy can be just as informative, if not more informative, than a list of most-wanted items.  With this in mind,  I am going to take you through some of the worst things to ever take up space on our family’s personal toy shelves. Because I love all of you, I have compiled a list of the most annoying, most obnoxious, most unworthy toys that you should definitely NOT  put on your Christmas lists.  Grandparents–listen up!  This goes for you too!  So without further ado, here are the most annoying toys we have ever owned:

Tickle me Elmo TMX edition:  My son received this on his second birthday, and it scared the crap out of him the first dozen times we used it.  Pressing Elmo’s belly or foot induces a fit of muppet laughter which sometimes includes hysterics such as rolling over, kicking his legs, and pounding his paws on the floor.  Once Nate got over his crippling fear, it was kind of funny, for a little while.  But after your toddler compulsively pushes Elmo’s tummy  80 times in a row before breakfast, it is NOT  FUNNY ANYMORE.  Also, we nearly went broke trying to keep batteries in this thing.  It took 6 AA batteries, and Elmo ate those things like he was at some kind of all-you-can-eat battery buffet.  When the batteries would start to fizzle out, we would sometimes hear Elmo give a random, unprompted giggle from the bottom of the toy box while we were trying to unwind after the kids were in bed.  Creepy.  A special thank you to my in-laws for bringing this red fuzzy ball of laughter into our lives.  Pretty sure they don’t sell this one anymore, but there are lots of other talking/giggling variations on this theme that would be worthwhile staying away from.

Despicable Me Fart Blaster:  Again, this one came to us as a gift from my in-laws.  I love you guys.  Also, are you mad at me?  Did I do something wrong?  I really try to be a good daughter-in-law, so it is hard for me to understand your insatiable need to torture me with battery-operated toys.  In my in-laws defense, my sweet, delicate daughter did ask for this toy by name a few years ago.  This toy is a hit with pretty much every kid who has ever stepped foot into our house, for obvious reasons.  Compared with all of our other toys, it also spends an inordinate amount of time out of reach in our uppermost cabinet in “time out”.  It basically looks like an air horn, with a variety of fart sounds for your enjoyment.  Really great for those of you trying to discourage the constant potty humor with your school-age children.  There is a  similar item on the market which looks equally annoying, called the Tech Gear Multi-Voice Changer.  I suggest steering clear for the sake of your sanity.

Moon Sand:  There are no words for how much I despise this stuff.  Some kid whose mother obviously hates me gave this to one of my kids at a birthday party, and the next thing I knew it was everywhere. In every nook and cranny, between every floorboard, in every tiny crevice.  And because it doesn’t absorb water and never dries out, it is completely impossible to clean up.  Ugh.  I kept waiting to get an invite back to that kid’s party so we could give him an ant farm with a hole in it.

Melissa and Doug Band in a Box:  This one was my fault.  I bought this for the kids one Christmas thinking it would be a fun way to foster a love of music in my young children.  Indeed, when the were crawlers and early walkers, it was just too precious to watch them shaking the little maracas and tapping on the tambourine in time to their favorite kiddie music.  But as they got older, it became apparent that this toy was just another way for them to make a ridiculous amount of noise.   And you know what?  They do not need any help with that.  And the cymbals, good heavens , the cymbals.  Remember that skit from SNL with Will Farrell and the cow bell?  “You know what this needs?  MORE COW BELL!  It’s just like that, except with cymbals.  Help me, Jesus.

Squawking Rubber Chicken:  I am happy to tell you that we have never owned this toy.  Whoever came up with this idea is the devil incarnate.  Seriously.  If you don’t believe me, check out this video of the chicken in action.

Trust me when I tell you this: when it comes to toys, less is more.  Toys that make less noise, toys that have less pieces to keep track of, toys that require less (or no) batteries, and toys that do not take 2 hours to assemble.  Allow these principles to be your guiding light as you shop for the children in your life.

While we are on the subject of holiday giving, let’s have a quick chat about your child’s teacher.  Most of us feel the need to get a little something for teachers at holiday time.  My husband used to teach elementary school and would himself come home with bags filled with tokens of appreciation the day before Christmas break.  And while your teachers all appreciate the thought and spirit behind the gifts, as the wife of a former teacher, I implore you:  Do not buy your child’s teacher a mug.  Please trust me on this.  Yes, even if it is filled with candy or other confections.  Every year, we would receive an average of 10-15 mugs from students per year. First year:  “Yay!  Look at all the hot chocolate we can drink!”  Second year:  ummm…I don’t have any more room in the cabinets for those mugs, honey, might have to use some to hold your pencils at school.  Third year:  “If you bring home any more mugs, I will cut you”.  So please, just don’t.  Just say “no” to mugs, kids.

I do have a few fun suggestions though, for those of you who are looking for some creative and meaningful gifts*.  These are not well suited to young kids (who rarely appreciate creative and meaningful gifts anyway!) but may find a place on your list for other special people in your life.  Here are a few things I have come across recently that I really love:

Deux Mains:  This is great little shop that I was introduced to while in Haiti earlier this year.  Deux Mains is a small footwear company in Port-au-Prince that exists to empower Haitians to be financially self-sufficient by creating jobs that pay a fair living wage.  They partner with Rebuild Globally, a non-profit organization that engages in business development, job training, and education in Haiti.  They sell some of the most beautiful (and comfortable!) sandals and flip-flops I have ever worn, and, neato-skeeto, they use recycled tires to make them!  You can order their products online, which will ship from their warehouse in Miami, but rest assured that the labor of love all takes place in Haiti.

Noonday Collection:  This is another fair-trade business that sells jewelry and accessories from artisans all over the world.  Your purchase helps to support the artisans in their respective countries and provide dignified employment.   You can shop by country or just browse the collection online.

Mantrabands:  I am really digging these.  They look so stylish and fun stacked up, and you can pick the message(s) you want as your own personal mantra.

Emily McDowell Studio:  I really love this little online shop that sells cards, journals, and gifts that are both hilarious and refreshingly honest.  Need a little something for that person you know who is going through a hard time?  You will likely find it here.

Story People:  A good friend introduced me to this sweet little shop filled with art that combines whimsical illustrations with soul-soothing poetry.  You can find cards, books, calendars, ornaments, and the like here.  If nothing else, it is so fun just to peruse all of the different “stories”.

Design-her gals:  This site is so much fun, and great for that friend on your list who likes personalized stationary.  You can create an account for free, and then design and save any number of “gals”  (or guys) to look like you, your best friend, your mom, your sister, or whoever is on your list.  Kind of like a bitmoji (though this company predates bitmojis by almost a decade).  Then you can have your personalized image printed up on whatever gift item you choose from the store’s offerings.

So, talk to me!   What are the most annoying toys to ever enter YOUR house?  What would you never buy again?  And what are your favorite gifts of the moment?

*My blog is not sponsored, so I am not trying to sell you anything!  These are just some of my personal favorites!  Kind of like “Oprah’s favorite things” but way less famous and with no giveaways!

A season of change

 I know some people who are not good at saying “no” to things.  As a result, they find themselves over-scheduled, over-committed, and spread thin.

I am not one of those people.  I don’t like to have a full calendar or a busy schedule.  To that end, I say “no” to social engagements and requests to be involved all the time.  “No” comes fairly easily to me.

I am particularly good at saying “no” to my children.  For me it is, in fact, almost a knee-jerk reaction to most every request that is lobbed in my direction.

“Can I have my own iPhone?”
No.

“Can I invite 47 eight year-olds plus all of our neighbors and their cats to my birthday party?”
No.

“Can I have waffles with maple syrup and whipped cream and sprinkles and candy on top for breakfast?”
Nope.

Can I have my own You Tube channel?
Uh, no.

The requests are never-ending, I can hardly keep up.  I could probably just have a tape recorder (do those even exist anymore?  How old am I anyway?) parked in a corner of the kitchen with my voice saying “NO” at 6 minute intervals.  I would likely intercept a few requests that way and save myself some headaches.  Or perhaps I would have an uninterrupted shower from time to time?  Hmmmm.

The thing I am realizing is that, though I may be the master of the “no”, I need to also be better at saying “yes”.

I was sitting on the couch on a quiet Saturday afternoon last weekend, book in hand, with the sun shining in the window and my favorite quilt on my legs.  My favorite weekend posture was interrupted by my little guy who came in and said, “Want to go out and play in the leaves with me mom?”  I had a second where I felt the “no” rising up, my knee-jerk reaction, with all of the attached excuses.  I had just sat down.  I had been doing chores all day.  I hadn’t been feeling well.  I wanted to read my book.

Then I looked at him.  How much longer will this kid want to play in the leaves with his mom?  How many more golden autumn days will I be able to do this with him before he starts preferring his friends over me, or gets a girlfriend, or goes off to college?

So I said yes.  And look what happened:





We had fun, we connected, and we made memories.  I am so glad that I didn’t succumb to my knee-jerk reaction of “no”.  Instead I stepped into the discomfort of the “yes”.  It wasn’t uncomfortable once I got there, but making the transition from “no” to “yes” always involves a little discomfort for me, a little stretching, like working out some stiff muscles when you get out of bed in the morning.  Your bed is warm and cozy, and you want to stay put under your covers.  But when you do haul yourself out of bed, there is coffee waiting, and the sun is shining, and you decide that it’s good that you got out of bed, because there are some fun things and some important things coming your way that day.

The last month or so I have been getting ready to make a change.  I am in transition.  I made some personal realizations that I had to say “no” to some things and some people that I really cared about, in order to say “yes” more often to my people at home.  And perhaps more importantly, in order to say “yes” to me, and what I really need right now.  It is not a very graceful transition for me.  There have been a lot of worries, tension, tooth-grinding, and a few sleepless nights.  A lot of concern about what other people will think or feel, fear of letting people down, and fear of the unknown.  I have been afraid to come out of my comfy bed, so to speak.  The stretch from the “no” which keeps me where I am, to the “yes” of moving forward, demands discomfort.

And then there’s autumn.  Autumn is just out there, doing her thing, bursting into color, making her transition in the most glorious, beautiful way possible, with no concern over what people think about summer making its exit and giving way to a long, cold winter.

Autumn is such a show-off.

Most of the transitions that I make in my life look a lot less like the beauty and grace of autumn, and a lot more like the bitterness of February giving way to the unpredictability of March.  I have always thought that March was the most hideous month, all slushy and mucky and dreary. There will be a day here or there with a break in the weather, giving some hope that spring is coming, only to snow again, covering up the progress that the warm sun had made. Once the snow finally melts and the ground has thawed, we look around only to see that the grass is brown, the gardens are a mess, and there is a lot of work to do.  That sounds a lot more like my transitions.

So, me and autumn are going to do this transition thing together.  She is going to remind me that it is possible to move from one thing to the next with beauty and grace, and that even the most beautiful changes leave a big pile of leaves to rake up at the end.  Transitions are always labor-intensive in some way.

Just like I’m learning to say “yes” to my kids, I’m learning to say “yes” to change. Let the leaves fall where they may.

“As uncertain as I was as I pushed forward, I felt right in my pushing, as if the effort itself meant something.”               ~Cheryl Strayed

 


 

Unmeasured

I have written before about how much I love running on Saturday morning with my friends.  We met up this weekend after a long hiatus over the summer, when everyone was busy and going their separate ways.  If you hang around with people who like to run, sooner or later someone will try to recruit you for a 5K.  Or a 10K.  Or a half-marathon.  Or a whole marathon!  How about a corporate challenge?  A relay team?  A muddy sneaker?  An inflatable 5K?

Though I greatly respect those who choose to participate, I have never been interested in doing any of those things.  I like to run for the sake of running, and I have absolutely no competitive spirit about it whatsoever.  I have always thought this was because, growing up, I was just so miserably bad at sports of all kinds that I lowered my expectations of what I could achieve in the arena of sports.   And because I never had that drive, it just really doesn’t matter to me if I win or lose when it comes to a race or a game, or anything else sports-related.   But I always wondered if it was something else.  Maybe I am afraid to fail?  Afraid of embarrassing myself?  I know I’m afraid of the ball.  Ball sports are not my friend.

Just for kicks, the other day when I was running I turned on the Map My Run app, just to see what kind of distance I was running with my usual neighborhood loop.  Of course, the pleasant lady-voice interrupts your music every mile to confirm that you have just completed another mile, and to let you know your pace and speed.  I have to tell you, I didn’t like that pleasant-lady voice, who told me that my average pace per mile was 10:03.  I felt like I was running waaaay faster than that.  I was clearly motoring down my subdivision here, ruling the road, and she is talking smack about me.  What the heck, pleasant lady-voice?  I turned her off halfway through my run, because I don’t need that kind of negativity in my life.  I noticed that my mood changed the moment I turned her off.  I went from feeling stressed and judged and worried about how fast I was running, to just free to enjoy my music, the movement of my body, and my mounting endorphins.

I had a moment of clarity while running the trails this weekend.  I think the reason that I don’t want to do any kind of competitive running is not because I am afraid of failure or that I have just embraced that I am bad at sports.  I think that I am just so tired of being measured.

It seems like almost everything in my life is measured somehow.   And as a woman, I feel the pressure of society always trying to measure me.

There are apps to measure my calories.  Color-coded boxes to measure portion sizes, if you are so inclined.  Dress sizes and jean sizes and bra sizes, all with their own brand of stigma attached to their numbers.  Measure my pace with a running app.  Measure my popularity with Facebook likes or the number of hits on my blog.  Measure my success by my salary.  Measure my productivity by the amount of revenue and RVU’s that I generate at work.  Measure my steps with a pedometer.  Measure the quality of my sleep and my activity level with a FitBit.  Measure my weight, always attaching some judgement or action plan to the number that is displayed.  Measure my progress and my potential.  The message is that the these numbers somehow add value to me, like I am just a placeholder or an incomplete equation, that needs more numbers to add or subtract or multiply me to determine the sum of my worth.

As a woman, I am told to count my steps, count my calories, count my carbs, and count my blessings.  And I am just so, so sick of it.

I totally bought into it though.  The world imposes all these measurements on me, but I buy into them hook, line, and sinker.  I do it to myself, just as much as the world does it to me.  I have the apps, I think the thoughts, and sometimes I also judge others by these arbitrary measures.

So as I ran on the trails, and let myself just be there, steps uncounted, mileage unaccounted for, no training goals–nothing but me and the trees and the sun and my friends.

It was simple, beautiful, and perfectly unmeasured.

I’ve decided that I’m going to try to measure less.  Not just me, but other people too.  And when people try to measure me, I am going to try to remind myself of my immeasurable worth.

 

Prevention


This summer I have been focused on preventative health care.  Not on purpose.  It just worked out that way. One thing my momma always taught me was to keep up to date with your medical and dental check-ups.  And my dad taught me to keep up to date with your car maintenance, which is essentially preventative health care for your car (I’m talking to you K.C.!).  I am very obedient with all of these things.  Plus, I am a health care provider, so I have to represent, you know?  So, in addition to being filled with the usual summer leisure activities, my calendar has been peppered with a variety of health maintenance appointments.  Super fun, right?  Don’t be jealous.  It has seriously been taking up a lot of my free time.  Then multiply those appointments by 4, because of all the other people in my family that also require check-ups and dental cleanings, etc.  OK, multiply it by 3, since my husband doesn’t ever go to the doctor if he can help it.  The last, and only, time in his adult life that he had a physical I had to intercept him in the kitchen on his way to get breakfast and draw his fasting blood work at the table, because no way was he going to the lab voluntarily.

We are a healthy family, and I am grateful for that.  I know many people for whom this is not the case.  Still, sometimes you get news that you don’t really like to hear when you go for your regularly scheduled health maintenance visits.  Like that you have a cavity between your teeth because you didn’t floss well enough.  Have I mentioned how judgy my dental hygienist is?  Or that your mammogram looks very normal except for the fact that you have “lost significant volume since last year”.  Um, what?   Or that your oldest child is “starting puberty”.  Sweet mother of Mary.   In the scheme of things, nothing terrible.  Except for the puberty thing.

But really, how lucky am I that I have access to all of these services to keep me healthy?  That is what I thought about when my heels were up in the stirrups, wearing that joke of a paper gown that just barely covers my altogethers.  There are places in the world where people do not get this kind of care.  I pay my insurance premiums, and I am going to take advantage of all the screenings and judgemental advice made available to me.

The other reason that I have been thinking a lot about preventative health care is that I have started working on a primary health care project in Haiti.  Many of you followed my journey to Haiti earlier this year, which was a life-changing experience for me.  I have been given the privilege of participating in some ongoing work with a nonprofit organization, and our plan is to organize some medical missions trips to Haiti again next year.  At this point, most of my work has been researching, making connections, talking to lots of people who have done this type of thing before, and praying for direction.  We have some good ideas of what we want to do, but have to work out the logistics of implementing the plan in a way that is helpful and sustainable in the long-term.  It sounded like a simple plan at first, but the more I think about it, the more complicated it seems.

I keep reminding myself that it is OK to start something, even if you don’t know how to finish it yet.  So, I am just starting, and trying to release my expectations of how it will turn out.  Our advisory board will have our first conference call in September and I will have others to join me in this endeavor.  We will figure it out together.

The health care system in Haiti is currently in severe crisis.  The resident physicians at the public hospitals have been on strike since March.  This has essentially shut down most of the major public hospitals, creating even more strain on an already weak system.  The doctors are protesting low pay and poor working conditions.  The average resident physician in Haiti gets paid the equivalent of $140 per month.  They are subjected to terrible conditions in their workplaces, sometimes performing medical procedures or surgeries by the light of their cell phones, with unsanitary facilities and not enough medical supplies.  If this is the case for the physicians and staff, imagine what the patients are subjected to.   In addition, the country is facing a widespread cholera epidemic, the Zika virus, and all of the ongoing health problems associated with malnutrition and poverty.  If you are poor in Haiti, the odds are that you will not get medical care if you need it.

The challenge is, how do we help without inadvertently making the situation worse?  Haiti is filled with NGO’s, and yet even with all of the good intentions, foreign aid, and support from well-meaning people, the problems continue.  The fact is that we could start this project and end up doing nothing other than creating dependency on foreign aid, harming the local economy, taking the pressure off the Haitian government to take responsibility for its public health system, or even take jobs away from local health care providers who need them.  I am sure that there are a whole host of other negative consequences that I haven’t even thought of.  When I start to think about it too much, I  feel paralyzed.

I think we are never going to be able to do it perfectly.  We are imperfect, and the system is so fractured.  So there is no perfect way to implement such a plan.  But there are some methods that are better than others.  I have been able to make contact with some people in the past few months who are currently doing similar work in Haiti, and their insight has been so helpful.

So listen.  Assuming you have health insurance, go get your colonoscopy if you’re of the age to do so.  Get your mammogram, your PAP smear, your routine blood work, your dental cleaning, your vaccines, and your physical.  Get your car serviced while you’re at it (ahem, Keri!).  None of us particularly enjoy all of these things, but imagine if you didn’t have access to them?  Be thankful you have these tools to detect disease (or a faulty transmission) early, so you can get the care you need.  Think of the people who don’t have easy access to those tools, not just in faraway lands, but here in our own country–though we can talk about that issue another day.