Catching up.

Has it really been two weeks?  I guess it has.  Life happens like that sometimes and life has certainly happened to me.  To us.  Grab a chair and a cocktail and turn on some music.  We’ll get all caught up here in a minute.

Summer is clicking by ever so slowly.  The kids have been out of school for nearly two months and the honeymoon is over. So, so over.  I can tell the Littles are growing up because they scrap and fight all day long.  You know, when they are not each other’s best friend.  Now this is familiar territory.  I remember sibling fighting and friending very clearly.  What I need to remind myself is that my sister and I are now very, very close despite all the childhood smack talking and attention grabbing and the Littles, I am sure, will have the same relationship.

Ella turned seven last Friday.  I know.  I have kept someone in my house alive for seven whole years.  It is a dubious milestone, sadly.  She is still very small for seven years old.  I had her to the pediatrician last week and she’s tenth percentile for height.  Tiny.  Poor thing.  I’ve always wished for two more inches (and who hasn’t, really) but I think she’s going to be lucky to break five feet tall at this point. 

I was going to do another letter to Ella like I did last year but A) I think it’s Amelia’s turn and 2) I wasn’t home.  Not at all that day.

The Littles went to visit Stephen’s mom for the weekend so I could work and so she could spoil and snuggle them without me around to be a giant buzz kill.  I know they have fun there but it’s going to take me at least a week to get them back in line.  (It’s a line…a crooked line.)  And my house exploded with birthday detritus.  Barbies and paint by number and puzzles and tie blankets and matching kick scooters.  Dresses.  Doll accessories.  How fun for them.

Reminds me that I need to schedule a garage sale.  Not for this stuff.  I’m not nearly that mean.  No, for all the outgrown toys of birthdays past.

Ella is auditioning for MIssoula Children’s Theatre tomorrow.  They are bringing The Jungle Book to our town.  I guess last year 200 kids auditioned and they cast 60.  Ella is convinced she’s going to get a lead.  I just hope she’s one of the 60.  She’s been talking about it for months, even to the point of inviting strangers at the grocery store (back in March when it was announced) to get tickets and come see her.  Like I said, months of this.  Makes me think of Tina Fey’s prayer for her daughter, “Dear God, lead her away from drama but not as far as finance.” 

Although if they ask her to do jazz hands, she’s all set.  Oh my.  What have I done?

Anyway the Littles went visiting for the weekend so I could work an outdoor BBQ and music festival for three days.  Three jungle humid, Africa hot days.

I am chafed in places we will not discuss.  I have a mosquito bite on the palm of my hand (among other, equally odd places) and I have a very mild sunburn.  I look like hamburger and I’m still mildly dehydrated I’m sure.  But, any day I get to work is a good day.  I can’t complain.  Beggars…choosers…that whole thing.

Remember how I asked for prayers?  Well there must be an unknown plan because I didn’t get what I wanted.  That was part of the anniversary week trauma and the (hopefully not permanent) liver damage that followed the next weekend.  You know, the holiday weekend that lasted an extra day.  That was the damage part.  Two days?  I got this.  Three?  I need detox. 

School starts one month from today and I am faced with another long school year not consistently being a productive member of society.  I am more than a little bugged by this event.  You just never know what’s going to come up but I have been home for seven years (mostly) and I am done.  I am a better mother and a better friend and better mentally when I am working.

Unless it’s working in jungle-like conditions.  And then I am not nice at all.

When I grow up.

The beauty of having very small children is that you get to hope for, dream about and discuss the future.  Every time I lean across the sink, getting closer to the bathroom mirror so I don’t stab myself in the eye with the mascara wand, there is a little standing on the toilet and watching my every move.

Sidenote:  there are two things to take from that image.  1) This is a novelty moment, reserved for theatre openings, girls night out and church.  In that order.  I own enough makeup to fill a teacup.  2) Getting older sucks.  I used to be able to do my makeup without leaning in and squinting.

“Mommy, can I have makeup?”  I get asked this every single time.  Nope.  You’re beautiful just the way you are.  And when you are old enough, I promise to be the one to show you how.

Same goes for leg shaving, driving, using the blender, mowing the lawn and bra shopping.  You know, all things that a mother should teach her daughters.  Not that my mom taught me all those things.  Or any of those things come to think of it.  Maybe bra shopping but that was the last of my grown up girl talk until I was very nearly married.  You think I’m kidding.  Oh wait…I did get the pre-prom talk.  Which I believe was, “Just…don’t.  Okay?” 

Don’t what?  Spill hot lasagna on my very expensive forest green satin number?  Don’t come home before dawn?  Don’t shoot up mushrooms?  Don’t what?

I’m surprised I left high school with all my eggs unused.

Anyway…a little off topic but something about spring and summer makes me realize, every year, how fast my littles are growing.  Ella wore a skirt (and not a short one…a uniform style pleated skirt) a few weeks ago and I remember remarking to someone that she grew legs over the winter.  She started out all stubby and small and now she’s like a real kid!  Her body is changing from the pudgy little I-was-a-toddler- just-yesterday look to the gangly elementary school kid.  Not that Ella has a shot at being gangly but you know the look.  These kids even smell different. 

I think a lot about what happens to us as we grow up.  I know it’s the cycle of things and I remember my dad saying (and this was very, very soon after Stephen died and the girls were one and three years old) to enjoy every minute, that it goes so fast.  At the time, I just about strangled him for suggesting that time should slow down.  I didn’t enjoy them at all that year and maybe I should have.  I remember very, very little about Ella being three years old.  So precious little.  I’m all there for the rest of it but there are seven or eight months that are mostly gone and they would be completely gone if it weren’t for this blog.

And as much as the littles and I talk about the future and all the fun things that are to come, I can’t help but wonder what’s to become of me?  I mean, being a mom is (mostly) great and all but what about me?  What about my needs and my future?  When do I get to be a little selfish and do what I want to do and not do something because it’s the best thing for all of us?

Which leaves me with the question, who do I want to be when I grow up?

Because I see myself, if things don’t change, on Hoarders with 18 cats and a roommate I can’t find among the rubble.  Okay, maybe not that desperate.  I honestly don’t know how I see myself. 

I used to say that I wanted to be Tina Fey/Liz Lemon when I grow up.  And then I read this today and it is so spot on that my goal to be her is mostly unchanged.  I used to embrace her awkward brilliance and now I just think she must be a really great mom so maybe that’s what it’s all about. “Lead her (my daughter) away from acting but not as far as Finance…”

I want to be a marathoner.  I know, I know…I just got to 3.5 miles last week but I didn’t say now. I mean sometime…down the road.  A 26 mile road.  Know why I want to do it?  I want the sticker.  You know, the oval stickers with the vaguely cryptic “26.2” in the middle?  I want the sticker.

I want to be an author.  And not just of this story, my story.  I want to write the mystery chick-lit novel that is loved by men and women equally.  Also, women that don’t admit to reading chick-lit and men who hide the cover but love it more than they would ever admit.  I don’t know what that novel is yet.  It’s not even in my head.  Not yet. 

I want to be an anonymous donor.  And never tell anyone.    Wouldn’t that be kind of fun?  I know right where my donation will go but I can’t say it ever because then when they show up to work with a giant check in the mail then somebody will trace it back to me.  See?  It’s already a fun game.

I want to be a wife.  This shouldn’t be a surprise and I’m not shopping at all.  This is also the one I can’t control and it’s killing me, just a little bit.  I was a great wife.  I’d like that chance again. 

What else do I want to be when I grow up? 

I want to change the world.  Don’t we all?  I mean, isn’t that why we think we’ve been put on this earth?  When a baby or a child or even a young husband and father…when they are taken far too soon there’s always somebody who points out that they have left their mark on the world.  That it was a better place because of them and they had a purpose.  I want to believe that.  Doesn’t mean that I do.  Or that I do today.  (Maybe tomorrow?) I remember reading somewhere (Thoreau) about “men leading lives of quiet desperation.”  Is that me?  Except not so quiet I guess.

I’d say that I’d just rather not grow up but the youth has been beaten from me. 

It’s a good thing I have these kids.  Because if I never run further than five miles or write more than a thousand words a week, I did give this world two healthy and active and bright girls.

And maybe they’ll be the ones to change the world.  They just might.

Elusive.

I wish I could put my finger on it.  Maybe if I knew what it was, I could find it and label it and file it away.

It might be the change of seasons or nearing the end of the school year?  Third quarter report cards are in.  Ella is well on her way to being ready for second grade.  I can’t hardly believe how she has grown this year.  And not just physically grown but grown up and I like what I see.  I miss having a baby but I love seeing my big girl making her own way in the world. 

Amelia’s spring conference was this morning and, other than claiming the kitchen center as her own personal house and not allowing visitors, she is doing well.  She is very much a class leader and isn’t afraid to tell it like it is.  She is also impulsive (will have to keep an eye on that) but she is also four years old.  I made the decision last fall to hold her from kindergarten another year, knowing what I know about this district and their expectations.  And, she’s not ready.  Not even a little bit.  Okay maybe a little bit and maybe she would end up being just fine but it would be a struggle just like Ella and I don’t want that to happen. 

It is a bit sad for me to not send her to kindergarten.  I was very much looking forward to finding a career again and rejoining society.  When I chose to leave the opera last spring, I didn’t know how much of my identity was steeped in my employable skills.  I was really good at it.  Am.  I am really good at it.  I need to be good at it.  At something.  Anything.

No, there’s something else going on that I can’t describe. 

Maybe it’s the end of fat camp that has me down.  This week is week 11 (more about that tomorrow night and about how I’m tired of getting into fights over why women should lift weights and how eating food with fat in it won’t make you fat).  Next week is testing so I have a run to do which means that this Sunday I need to check in on my 5k time.  Seems to be the pattern: run that 5k right before the 30 minute test run.  Maybe it’s because I’ve lost more weight in the last five weeks than I have in the last 5 months?  And maybe I’m afraid of going at it alone again?  What if I have a mental block against that number on the scale that marked the last time I had a real date, 10 years ago this summer?

What if this is depression raising its ugly head again and I need to see a man about some Lexapro?  It doesn’t feel the same and yet…I kind of wonder and, because I am wondering, does that make it true?  Is it the same as what they say about what to do if you even think you are having a heart attack? (Call an ambulance.)  If I think it, does it mean it’s real?  Nobody would blame me, of course, except me.

Oh, I know…swimsuit shopping?  Bra shopping?  And how I almost can’t make myself spend $75 on a decent swimsuit for myself but my kids have two new ones for the season already?  And maybe it’s because there isn’t anything more soul-sucking than swimsuit shopping in March.  (Fat looks better tan, I always say.)  And bra shopping (haven’t had new bras since the summer Stephen was sick and I was still nursing) sends me home to look at breast reduction before/after photos and plan out how, exactly, to get insurance to pay for it since I don’t really have any REAL problems other than the fact that I’d like to stop being ice cream cone shaped.  And I’d like to buy a shirt with buttons down the front.  And a dress.  Do you know how long it’s been since I put myself into a dress?  Um, 1997?  College graduation?  (On the upside, I’m down at least a full band size and down two swimsuit sizes!)

Maybe it’s my van that just turned 160K today and still needs the a/c fixed before it gets stupid hot?  No?

Messy house?  No.  Not really anyway.  It’s not actually dirty.  It just looks like we live here.  Along with several fraternity members and possibly a monkey that escaped from the zoo.  But it’s nothing that a healthy hour couldn’t cure.

Diet fatigue?  Maybe, just maybe, I want to get a giant cookie for my birthday and not share it…

Do you think…I mean it’s possible…maybe my impending birthday is dragging me down?  I don’t think so.  Not as much as last year which was a whole-hand birthday.  No, I’ve embraced the phrases “pushing 40” and “a woman of a certain age”.  Other than, if I were to (almost tragically) get knocked up, it would be considered a geriatric pregnancy at this point.  That’s kind of mean.

If I figure it out, I’ll let you know.

My inner Martha.

I want to be crafty.  Some would argue that I am but, sadly, I am not.  I can sew and I’m pretty good at it.  I have a decent eye behind a camera lens but that comes with so many years running lights for live bands and dance companies.  I love color and have a good sense for timing.

But, no, I am not crafty.  Not really.  I stumble around the internets at all hours and come across some of the cutest ideas.  Boxes made from vintage wallpaper (Why vintage?  Because it’s not pre-pasted or was the quality better somehow?  And how would one find vintage wallpaper?), itty bitty gingerbread houses, all manner of recycled objects like a giant wall decoration made only from toilet paper tubes and spray paint.  You may think I’m being flippant but I actually saw such a thing.  I was oddly fascinated because it offered a full tutorial.  You know, just in case YOU would like to make wall art from cardboard.  I?  Don’t have that kind of patience.

Oh, how I do adore supplies.  Raw materials:  school supplies, art supplies, fabric yardage, elastics and trims and scrapbook papers.  Oh my.  I have an entire room devoted to crafty things.  Not that I spend much time in there and not because of what you think.  It’s not my nap schedule, thankyouverymuch, it’s because when I’m in there I have two thoughts:  1) There is something else I should be doing.   2) I can’t hear or see what is happening in the rest of the house.  This is not an issue when I am the only one home (*snort*) but neither child can be trusted for any length of time unsupervised.  And maybe I should get past being concerned. 

I mean, they are too old to do something dumb like eat the bleach from under the sink.  But they might snip holes in my favorite bamboo/cotton blend sheets.  I know they are not going to run away from home but they might just decide to pick up the phone and dial random numbers until somebody in Paraguay answers.  Or the police.  They maybe might find the remote (ps:  can somebody please find the remote?) and wind up watching abused puppies or, worse, some crappy movie that will give them body image issues like Bring It On. 

Do you ever end up on one of these crafty websites…not the ones that are selling something like etsy but the ones that are self published by stay at home moms…do you start looking around and wonder what the rest of their house looks like?  Are they taking their kids’ Ritalin and staying up all night making perfect little nametags for Junior’s second birthday party?  Are they independently wealthy and have a live in nanny?  Or, are they actually single and living in a shoebox apartment and just posing with a neighbor kid? 

These thoughts come to me as I reflect on my day.  I figure I did two productive things today.  I went to AFC (where I whaled on my pecs and ripped my quads) (it was all strength training today) and I shined my sink.  And not because FlyLady told me to.  Because after I loaded the dishwasher, it looked like somebody threw up in there.  Last week.  A little Comet and a little scrubbie crocheted from some remnant tulle in a cute little circle did the trick nicely.

What?  Doesn’t everybody crochet their own dish scrubbies?

Oh.

Well it is that season again.  I have to keep my hands busy so my mind stays clear.

Last year, I worked.  And worked some more.  This year I think I will dust off my inner Martha and whip out something cute.  And then take pictures of it.  And then maybe somebody somewhere will stumble onto it and think “Genius!  How does she find the time?”

Lady, my kid just ate an entire box of Cheezits while I was busy doing something else.

The Real World.

Yesterday I wrote about how I don’t play with the littles very much.  I know some moms who drop everything for a supervised art project and they have play-doh making days and they get out the paints whenever anybody asks.  I wish I could be like that.  I really do.  I have every intent.

We have plenty of paints in the house but I am not often in the mood to clean up the mess.  I have pounds of purchased play-doh (I could make it from scratch.  And have.  But then somebody would fight somebody else to stand closest to me while I was mixing it.) but I hate stepping on the tiny crumbly bits that dry and become shrapnel to my heels.  We also have a fine collection of found objects that would make a wicked cool sculpture of some sort.  But then there’s the gallon of glue, roll of masking tape and scissor mishaps to contend with.

This is a personality flaw and I’m here to own it.

But I have always been good about creating experiences for them.  We have the zoo pass and the children’s museum pass.  Ella has been to the ballet and has seen a children’s opera.  They have ridden roller coasters, flown on an airplane, stayed in a hotel.  They have eaten at a restaurant that did not have paper napkins.  They have been to eight states.  We go to farms, pumpkin patches, butterfly gardens and animal shelters.  Both girls have been to preschool and sunday school and Kindermusik.

And then this statement showed up on Pioneer Woman’s blog this morning in the Homeschool section:

I personally believe the 36 to 54 hours students spend in public/private school-related weekly activities is not an adequate way to train children to become adults. That is not to say the children are not being trained elsewhere – by their parents, mentors, or genuine teachers, but I’m convinced it isn’t the socialization in the school setting that prepares students for the real world.

The “real world” prepares students for the real world.  (Written by a guest contributor, not by Ree herself.)

I am not a homeschooler.  Much like the aversion to messy preschool activities, I would not be good at homeschooling my children.  I am behind the concept 100% and if things don’t turn around for Ella this school year it will be a serious soul-searching consideration on my part. 

You know how sometimes you just need a “sign” that you are doing okay?  That you have made and are making the right decisions?  This was my sign.

Some parents are just better at some things than others.  We go and do.  That’s our thing. 

Next winter, I hope to add to that list.  I hope to be able to take the train to Texas to visit my brother and his family as well as Stephen’s dad and stepmom at their winter home.  I have never been on a train trip and I have always wanted to.

How cool would it be to be one of my littles? 

Footnote:  I saw Ree of Pioneer Woman fame on the Today show one day last week.  She was on for about 2 minutes and was supposed to be cooking something.  I have to say that her voice is totally different from how it “reads” in the blog.  Much more…feminine?  That’s not the right word.  But definitely higher pitched than I imagined.  That is, of course, my problem and not hers.  Oh, the power of imagination and the written word.

Early summer pool coma.

With every new season, I breathe a sigh of relief and contentment.  I don’t know if it’s the passing of time or the littles’ new wardrobes (how great would it be to grow so fast as to necessitate a new wardrobe every season?) or even the change of scenery and activity.  Having four seasons pleases me.  And you could never get me to move to a place that is missing one or two.

Ella is out of school.  The day are warm and the nights are (mostly) cool.  The air conditioning has been on (off and on and off and on) for a couple of weeks.  Maybe I’m getting old but I cannot tolerate the sticky nights.  Also?  This house does not breathe.  I cannot get a cross breeze to save my life.  That’s why we weren’t even all the way unpacked and I was having my first ceiling fan installed.

If this holiday weekend was any indication, we are in for a good summer:  Lawn mowing, pool time, gym time, time with friends and family (mostly family), house cleaning and laundry, simple meals. 

The outdoor pool at the gym opened this weekend.  We went twice on Saturday and then again today.  Funny thing about the pool at my gym:  being in a swimsuit is the great leveler. 

I know that I have a ways to go in the whole “looks hot without clothes” department but a good 80 percent of those poolside folks need some combination of fat camp, UV rays and/or a decent colorist. 

I fit right in.  Fat, pasty and in need of a root touch-up.  And we all know how I feel about fitting in.

Tonight was also my very last fat camp class.  I think I’m doing the right thing.  I mean, I started this not to have to do it forever.  I wanted to get to the point where I was able to do it on my own.  And I think I’m there.  There’s a lot I will miss but most of what I will miss doesn’t have anything to do with the exercise.  It’s all the things that come with spending three nights a week with a dozen other people. 

I’ll probably be back in the saddle in July.  Maybe. 

For now, for tonight, I am sun soaked and tired. 

I will pad around the house and check the locks.  There is cold air coming from the floor vents and it leaves the tile in the entryway a tad bit chilly.  My babies are sleeping soundly in a pool induced coma.  (One of the best parts of summer, I think.)  The bathroom smells like chlorine from the suits that have been rinsed and are tossed over the shower curtain rod.  Sunscreen is packed for daycare tomorrow.  It will be another hot and sticky day and it might storm. 

I do love the beginning of summer.

A working stiff.

So, I got a job.

It’s just a job.  It’s not a career.  That’s what I tell myself when the alarm goes off at 5:40am.  That’s right.  As in, before 6.  As in, clocked in at 6:30. 

What in the name of all that’s holy was I thinking?

I opened my fat mouth sometime last week when the director of Amelia’s daycare/preschool said that they were having trouble with their cook.  Somebody’s givashitter was broken and the result was cold and yucky food.  And, apparently, the personality of a wet mop.

Well, if you get rid of her, let me know.  I’m a great cook. 

Fast forward to Tuesday.  I am hired.

Oh, man.

I go from being a drain on society (Funny.  But only partially untrue.) to working full-time, 9 hours a day 5 days a week.  But…I get to work where my kids play.  The pay isn’t great but isn’t terrible.

It kind of puts things into perspective.

I am a single mom.  Just like millions others.

I work more than full time at a job that pays less than 10 bucks an hour.  It also does NOT offer health insurance or life insurance.  The only benefit is that my kids get a very reduced daycare rate.  (Both of them for about $125/week for the summer and then about $65/week for just Amelia in the fall.)

I get home from work…I started on Thursday…and I crash. I am wrecked.  I am dehydrated.  My back hurts from loading and unloading 2 household sized dishwashers all day.  The bottom rack hits me at my ankles. 

The girls are wrecked as well.  Actually, Amelia is okay.  She gets a nap.  But Ella melted down no less than a dozen times between school and supper yesterday, causing me to miss fat camp.  (More on that later.)

I am the second person to clock in for the day.  I leave just in time to get Ella from the bus.  When school is out next week, I’ll be there about 45 minutes later. 

I am the cook.  The only cook.  I cook for about 80 kids (will be 105 once school is out), 2 snacks, breakfast and lunch. 

One of the reasons that Amelia goes to this particular center (previously only 2 days per week) is because a vast majority of their food is made from recipes.  There is very little prepackaged anything and what is prepackaged is due to child request or time restraints.  The kitchen always smelled really good at drop off and Amelia was very happy to eat whatever was put in front of her.

I’m on a mission.  A mission of the Food Revolution kind.   I get a little bit of say on menu items.  Or, I will once the current groceries run out.  I have already planted the anti-HFCS bug in the directors’ ears and I have pointed out to them some of the yummy things I can make from scratch: gravy, biscuits, spaghetti sauce, muffins…not to mention I can make the hell out of the comfort foods.  And make them better.

Today it was muffins for breakfast, cheerio treats for snack (like rice krispie treats but with cheerios), grilled cheese and tomato soup for lunch and vanilla yogurt for afternoon snack. 

How many things on that list have HFCS?  3.  Tomato soup, the marshmallows in the treat and the yogurt.

I have some work to do, for sure.  But I can make it my own.

If, and this is a big if, this works out.  I’m severely cranky that I had to miss Fat Camp last night but it couldn’t be helped.  I couldn’t take my big girl out in that condition, mostly because of the fallout later.  Combine my barking dogs (read: mama needs new shoes) with cranky kids and my muscles potentially atrophying right in front of my eyes…I’m not sure it’s worth 9 bucks an hour.

I figure that, this summer, I will clear 1k/month.  That’s my take home.

We are fortunate in that we have other resources other than my employment.  But can you see why people are so miserable?  I fit the profile of so many other single parent families.

Mom works more than full time.  Kids need childcare.  Mom is tired and aching from working all day but the house still needs tending.  Dishes, laundry, reading, baths.  (Instead of going to the gym after work, I mowed the lawn.)  There is not time in my day to take care of mom’s physical needs.  Not enough sleep.  Not enough real food.  Certainly no time to take off for a sick kid.  Not enough money or time for the gym.

This?  May actually be why poor people are fat.  I feel fatter after 2 days but I know that’s not true especially given that this is the first time I have sat down in days.  I haven’t had a real meal since Wednesday.  But I also haven’t been good about taking my vitamins.  And I am too tired for anything other than some tv and computer time.

Does it take a measure of affluence to be healthy?  Because I don’t feel healthy.  Not a the moment.  In fact, I don’t like how I feel at all.

I took the job, and thought that I would really enjoy it, because I thought I could make a difference in the lives and the health of these kids.  I had all kinds of ideas about what I was going to make and how I was going to do it and I’d get the directors to realize that with a few small changes (or even as simple as changing brands) could make an impact.

And then reality sets in.

And I miss my house.  And my naps (oh, sweet baby, how I miss my naps).  And my days filled with puttering around the house and errands and the ability to drop everything and take my mom to lunch or be able to watch my nephew for a few hours. 

So I don’t know how long this is going to last.  Summer, maybe?  Maybe in the fall, I can re-assess.  Or, maybe something will come up.  Maybe.

But the littles are pleased with the new arrangement.  They get to see me whenever they want and Amelia brags to all her friends that her “mommy is the best cooker ever and you had better eat all your food.”

This is hard, being a working stiff.  If this were my sole source of income, we’d be on food stamps and that’s no lie.  How is it possible to work so hard, for so little?  Shouldn’t your income reflect the effort?

An interesting experiment, for sure.

Has, is, will.

Let’s file this under “shit I don’t want to do”, shall we?

When looking for a 5k in the not so distant future (name that song and I’ll buy you a beer…”In the not so distant future…”) I came across Teddy Bear Hollow.

Teddy Bear Hollow is a local group to support grieving children.  Of which I have two.  Or, one.  Usually.  Anyway, I am interested.  And I am really interested in supporting such a worthy organization.  (I will be running August 28th…and asking for donations this summer so save your nickels.  Don’t worry.  I don’t run fast.) 

I notice that they have a second Saturday of the month meeting for the children.  Crafts, activities and they would maybe meet some friends who are in the same boat.  Ella has been talking a lot about families and how our family is different from her friends’ families.  I thought it would be good for her to meet some other kids who are missing a mom or a dad. 

My littles?  Did me proud.  The place is run by volunteers, which is totally fine, except for the director.  All women.  All of the “Ladies who Lunch” variety.  Oh, and some sophomore Social Work majors looking for some resume fodder.  All good.

The head Lady Who Lunches (LWL) says to me at registration “So, who have you lost?”

Ella says “My daddy is in heaven.  He sick and died.”

Without missing a beat Amelia says “Our baby brother died too.  He’s with Daddy.”

Oh man.  I choked up.  And LWL needs a moment.  It might have been too much information coming from two tiny people.

So there are 19 kids and 11 parents/other caregivers.  The kids range in age from 3 (Amelia is the youngest) to 17.  The kids are split by age (bigs and littles) and sent off to do whatever it is they are doing.  The parents gather.

LWL asks us to introduce ourselves and talk about why we are here. 

I am just about beside myself.  Talk about a group of folks lost in the world.  Some have lost children, some spouses, one grandparent.  Lots of cancer.  A suicide.  A heart surgery gone very wrong.  And 19 kids between us.  Mostly women.  One daddy (who was hot and had a very interesting tattoo) and one grandpa who brought his granddaughter who was missing her mom. 

It is 119 degrees in this room.  I am sweaty and, thusly, refuse to remove my hoodie.  Also, I’m in a new bra and a little uncomfortable because I’m not used to an underwire (too much?).   My face is hot.  My eyes are already burning and I am trying to hold it together.

I am not meant for support groups.  I loathe support groups.  I didn’t go to one when Will died.  My doctor offered to connect me with one after Stephen died.  I’ll say it again:  I loathe support groups. 

And not because of the crying.  After almost 3 years of being medicated to the point of almost never crying except in anger and almost never in sadness, the crying is almost welcome.  Except in public.  With hot daddy sitting right next to me. 

What got to me was that most of the people in the group had a more recent loss than mine.  And, as we went around the table, they would say something and I would think to myself “Yep, I did that”  or “Oh Em Gee, that was me 18 months ago”.  

I could see exactly where I had been.

Huh.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to see on the “exactly where I will be” front. 

In the end, I blubbered and blathered for my five minutes about Stephen and about the girls and about getting up and changing diapers after the funeral and how there was never time for myself until just recently and the littles being so little. 

I did learn something…one thing…that I don’t miss having Stephen around anymore.  That isn’t to say that I wouldn’t give anything for him to walk through the door but I have learned to live without him and how to be the double parent and how to get through the day. 

What brought me to tears today was thinking about all he has missed, is missing and will miss.  In theory, he sees it all.  In theory.  I don’t believe.  I don’t think that time is the same in Heaven as it is on Earth.  It’s just my theory but a lifetime to us is a blink in the grand scheme of things. 

How can he see my baby becoming a little girl almost overnight?  And did he catch that Ella spent a good 10 minutes at supper tonight telling my dad all about lemurs? 

He missed it.  I just know it.

And then I cry.

And I am so tired.  I forgot how tiring it is to grieve. 

And how we never run out of tears.

I don’t know that we will go back.  I need to suss out what the littles got out of the experience.  I just…can’t.  I don’t think I can.  I will…if they find it helpful…but I don’t like this feeling of getting better and feeling okay about the whole thing.  And then everything comes crashing back.

The maybe tattoo.

I have been home from Memphis since late Tuesday night.

*cough*

I think I might have posted it before *cough* but I think that Memphis is a super fun town.  *cough*  I am skinny by all Memphis standards.  And in need of several fried pickles.  *cough*  Which are fan-freaking-tastic if you never have had one.  I was skeptical for sure.

*cough*

Oh, and I have bronchitis.  Self-diagnosed, of course, courtesy of my internet M.D.  It’s how I knew that Mimi had the croup.  And now I have the adult version of it. 

I tried to take myself to urgent care today for some kind of narcotic preparation so I can maybe sleep tonight but I got lost.  I forgot where I was going and Ella and I ended up practically downtown before I discovered my mistake.  Maybe I shouldn’t drink Tussin and drive?  Kidding.  Tussin isn’t even touching this. 

And I pee just a little with every cough.  So…that’s fun.

Needless to say, I haven’t been to fat camp.  At all.  In a whole week.  How’s that for flushing $39 down the toilet?  I figure that when I can walk to the end of the driveway and get the mail without wheezing, I’ll go back to the treadmill.  Until then, I’m still looking for the next nap.

I didn’t gain anything while I was gone.  We walked all over the place and I did hit the “gym” at the hotel.  I watched what I ate even though it doesn’t seem like it.  I didn’t go nuts like I usually do when faced with multiple days of eating out.  You know, big salad at least once a day.  Stopped when I was full.  One beer a day.  I don’t think that’s so bad.

Wait?  Who am I?

Have I changed? 

Probably.  And I am encouraged because the numbers on the scale are moving again.  In the right direction.  The funny thing is, I am back to the weight I was one year ago.  All this work…just to be back to square one.  I am in better shape, for sure. 

Whenever I get back from a trip or time away from my littles, I get to meet them all over again.  I know it was just three days but when did Ella become a big girl?

She has a loose tooth.  Did I mention that?  She is adding.  And counting backwards from 20.  She reads to her sister.  She thinks and thinks and thinks.  She thinks about how butterflies die after they lay their eggs.  And how monsters are not in her bedroom because monsters do not like things that smell good and home always smells good.

And then there’s my baby.  Who is not a baby at all anymore, it seems.  She is assertive and sweet and manipulative and cuddly and antagonizing all at the same time.  Just like a little sister should be. 

I have been thinking about Will a lot lately too.  I don’t know why.  I just keep wondering…what our life would be like.  You know, if he had lived.  Or, if he had never gotten sick.  He’d be finishing first grade this year.

I have another post brewing about Will.  I found a CD with pictures of him at 4-6 days old.  Most of my pictures of him are from a film camera (it was 2002 after all) but a few of the grandparents had digital. 

My boy Will. 

Don’t know what made me think of him.  Maybe it was all the alone time.  Or the baptism in church last Sunday of a little boy, who at 2 months old, is a total chunker just like my boy was.  Or maybe it was the tattoo discussion with a fellow stagehand.  Memorial tats are a wee bit creepy if you ask me but I have committment issues and, well, having both a son and a husband in heaven is a permanent event. 

Not like all those badly advised cartoon character tattoos out there.  I might have seen them all on Beale Street along with the shirts that had no pants (somebody told those girls that they were dresses when, in fact, they were not) and the gaggle of drunk empty nesters out after 11. 

Lots to see.

I’m just thinking of Will today.  Maybe it’s because I don’t feel so well and I keep wondering if this is how Stephen felt with that cough that wouldn’t go away and no wonder he was so tired.  And then the guilt sets in.

And then I miss my son.  And then more guilt.  Because I can’t imagine doing this with three littles.  And I’m kind of really glad that I only have two at the moment.  And who thinks like that?

I do.

Because I’m tired.  And I feel yucky.  And my chest hurts. 

But, hey, I’m not hungry.

Maybe all this coughing is good for my abs.

How’s that for a positive attitude?

My collections.

I am a collector.

I come from a long line of collectors, you see.

My grandparents had to be cut off after going to one too many estate sales.  They would buy a whole box full of “treasures” just for one little piece.  Not to admire.  Not to sell.  Just to own.  (Years later, my grandmother took up oil painting and started painting the furniture.  The antique furniture.  Nothing is sacred.)

My grandma (the other side of the family) saved all the dried out flower arrangements she was ever given in the 80’s and 90’s.  In the same decade, my grandpa (God bless his German soul) collected used tires, lawnmowers and nurse’s shoes.  Women’s nursing shoes.  The white ones with the thick soles.  He never offered an explanation.  He just started wearing them.

My parents throw things out just for the sake of getting rid of things.  Maybe this skips a generation?

Anyway, I am a collector.  I collect raw materials: paper, pens, blank journals, fabric and patterns, paint, crayons, spices and herbs (I can’t write “herbs and spices” without thinking of KFC), cookie sprinkles, tea bags…

I can probably add some more later but they have one thing in common: every item in that list is used to make something else.  To create.  Not that I have ever “used up” anything from that list without immediately replacing what little I have actually used.  No, no.  In fact, I’m somewhat methodical in my replacement timing and strategy, keeping in mind cost and possible future use. 

I have other collections.  Unframed photos, meant for a scrapbook or album.  Recipe books for meals not yet eaten.  Heck, my stack of unread books is almost to the point of being overwhelming.

I collect movies on Netflix.  My queue is over 300 movies long.  I’ll never, ever, not in a million years watch them all.  I’d like to fancy that I don’t have the time but you and I both know that I do.  But I’m not always in the mood for what they choose to send so it sits on top of my TV until I’m ready.  (Romantic Comedy and Documentary, I’m talking to you.)

I collect books on Goodreads.  335 books on my “to read” shelf.  Most of them recommended by someone else.  And then what do I do at the library?  I find 3 or 4 books NOT on the list and try to read those first. 

And we all know about my sock and underwear collection (times three people). 

I might have a problem. 

Maybe “collector” isn’t the right label for me.  Maybe I get to be a hoarder.

Nah.

The point of this (and there is a point) is that this week I have collected something else.  Something new.

I am in an advanced stage of “Don’t give a shit”.  It’s chronic.  If not terminal.  I really just don’t care.

Now, this isn’t a bad thing.  Not at all.  Actually it’s a good thing.

I have given up on stressing about things that don’t matter.  Seriously.  I yell at the kids less.  I breathe deeply when Ella is jacking around in the van instead of putting on her seat belt.  I used to stare her down and make threats.  And yell.  Amelia peed in my bed last night.  She’s been sans pullup since early December and pretty proud of it.  I don’t know what happened but it involved an extensive bed change very late at night.  Don’t care.  Did laundry and cleaned the mattress today.  Doesn’t matter.

The table is covered in crayons, leftover from a before bed coloring spree.  The littles made for me a dozen pictures in the span of thirty minutes.  I taped them all to the closet door.  Every one.  Ella and I purchased and played Mouse Trap today and played for almost 2 hours.  She was home sick today.  On the one day that was supposed to be my kid free day.  We watched an hour of Looney Tunes and then Smurfs.  We napped.  We made jello.

There was a time, just a few months ago, when things like crumbs on the counter bugged me.  Not that I wanted to do anything about it.  I didn’t like it.  And I was resentful that if I wanted the counter clean, I was the one to do it.  (And, frankly, I’m having a hard time giving up that resentment but that’s a different day.)  So the crumbs would sit there.  And I would get pissed every time I walked by them.  I could see them in my sleep because I knew that they would still be there in the morning.

And now?  I care so little about the crumbs, that I sweep them into my hand and drop them into the sink.

Huh.

Makes no sense.

Anyway, there is a change happening.  The littles can see it.  They don’t know what it is but they are enjoying it.   I play.  And I haven’t played in years.  We read.  We all read a lot now.  They see me reading while they are playing and making messes.  And I don’t care about the mess because I’m into my book.  I’m cooking again and forcing them to eat what’s there because “it’s on the menu” and, because of school, they can wrap their brains around it.

And it’s all because I stopped.  I’ve stopped making my heart race with anxiety and worry and anger.

I’m collecting again. 

I’m collecting memories with my girls.  I never want them to remember how I turned a room upside down looking for a puzzle piece and throwing a minor tantrum in the process.  But I am hoping that they remember the day that mommy played UNO all afternoon and how we all drank peppermint tea and used the  “fancy sugar” to sweeten it.  I hope they remember watching movies and eating popcorn.  Dressing up all the dolls to play school where I am never allowed to be the teacher.  Making brownies and eating the batter off the spatula. 

This is what happens when you stop to sweep the crumbs off the counter.

And get on with life.