Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Literal One.

Me: "Luca, you are the sweetest little girl."
Luca: "I know, Mommy."
Me: "You're so sweet, I want to nibble on your tummy!" ::nibbles on tummy::
Luca: :::giggles:::
Me: "You are so sweet, I bet your tummy is all full of sugar inside!"
Luca: "No, Mommy. It's full of blood. People have blood inside their bodies, remember?"

Monday, May 23, 2011

Milking It.

It feels like much of the country is suffering through flooding and tornadoes and never-ending winters, and here we are in Arizona, soaking up the long twilights wrapped in undeniably amazing weather. We're spending hours outside on the weekends, the kids smelling of sunblock and the outdoors, their scalps milky sweet as they slip into a post-play pool nap with cheeks still rosy.

This past weekend I joined them in the kiddie pool, Rohan filling each drink holder on the pool with water, then starting over again once he'd realized that while he filled the second one the first had drained. Luca choreographed the whole scene, deciding which toys belonged in which side of the pool. On the side with the inflated seat I relaxed, letting my shoulders be kissed by the warm sun. She asked me to fill buckets and watering cans, gingerly leaning down to Rohan and offering him a mini-basketball and a big blue plastic bucket to play with on the side of the pool with the slide. They climbed to the top of that inflatable slide and dove feet or butt first into the water, screaming and giggling and making me wish every day was Saturday.

And then they improvised, taking advantage of the big blanket that was drying in the sun, which I'd draped over 3 chairs to keep it from dragging in the grass. Luca tucked beach towels under it and urged her brother to join her. "Rohan, c'mon buddy! You can come lie down by me, buddy! It's a fort, but an OUTSIDEDOOR fort!"

Before long, toddler tutu swimsuits and swim diapers had been abandoned for cold water and warm sunshine on bare skin. Sandwiches and berry yogurt and big glasses of ice water filled their bellies, and as we went up the stairs for naptime, she looked at me with that smile and said, "We never get to sleep in the same room. Can I sleep in the top bunk?" (What is it with kids and hyperbole?)

Of course I said yes. And of course they giggled and co-conspired and removed every item from the train table in his room and ended up with half of them in bed with them. But a few mintues later, both kids were asleep, he on the lower bunk and she on the upper. I went in for one last check when silence had descended on the house and found myself standing in the doorway, not wanting to intrude on their moment together, sleeping in tandem in separate bunks, together.

Tonight we pulled the wagon out of the backyard and Sleeping Beauty walked beside it as I pulled The Prince along in his seat. They each had a lollipop, his yellow and hers orange, though the lollipops switched from one sticky set of hands to another more times than I could count before each of them was cracked into what seemed like a million tiny crystals and devoured. Sleeping Beauty ran and skipped ahead of the wagon, telling us she was The Leader, then stopped and turned to me. "Mama!" she exclaimed, holding on hand over her chest, "When I run, my heart thumps harder and I can feel it." The process of discovery for little kids never ceases to amaze me.

At the end of the walk, I got them out of the wagon and out of their shoes, and they ran barefoot through a park by our house. Neighbors were there with their respective dogs, all of them running off leash and eager to check out the kids (and, no doubt, try to find the lollipops they could still smell). After greeting the puppies, we raced from one end of the park to the other and back again. Just as the dogs and their owners were leaving, one extra curious dog came running over to Rohan, leaping up and kissing his face. Horrified, his owner yelled frantically for the dog to get down. "Don't worry," I told her, since it was clear the dog's only intention was to give kisses, "he is loving this!"

She stopped for a moment and talked to the kids, then snapped a leash on the dog's collar and wished us a good night. Rohan, still giggling and brimming with excitement at his new doggie friend, bounced on his feet, waved one hand excitedly, and yelled to the dog, "Bye bye, goggie!!! I love you! I love you, goggie! Bye! I love you!"

And then, as the woman covered her heart with one hand to indicate how endearing she thought it was, he took his sister's hand in his and they ran across the grass barefoot, into the dusk.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Bucket Lists.

I don't really have a 'Bucket List' per se. I've never sat down and penned a list of things I need to do before: before I am 35, before I retire, before my kids leave the nest, before I die. Maybe I'm just not mentally organized to work in that fashion? But I do know there are things I've always dreamed of doing and goals I have for my life, and some of those are more of the pie-in-the-sky variety than others.

Among those, sitting near the top as a dream I've had for years, is the one where I write a book and get it published.

I've always been a writer. As a teenager, I spent hours upon hours writing poetry and prose in a little floral-covered notebook I owned. It looked like a regular hardback, so I chose it because it was easily camouflaged among the other books in my room and thus not such an easy target for older brothers who I knew would use whatever I put in it as ammunition to embarass me. I even won a few writing recognitions in school, including a poem I wrote titled 'Angel Dust' which was then refused for publication by my high school because it 'could have been a drug reference'. (For the record, I was way too sheltered as a teenager to even realize that angel dust was PCP....my art teacher actually had to explain it to me.)

As a professional, I'm known as 'the girl with the red pen' in my office. My boss and co-workers are always coming to me to review, revise, and red-mark the things they write, from Board Meeting notes to grant proposals to newsletter articles. And then there is this little corner of the world, which started as a way to document the hard facts of parenting and has slowly morphed into my place to spit out all the thoughts and memories and stories that pop into my mind throughout the day.

I've started and grown tired of several books in my lifetime. I get an idea, start to write, and then get bored or start to feel it's too forced. Or I lose confidence and then never go back to writing until I'm over the storyline, then revisit it and read it with embarassment.

But this time, something is different. I am writing a book. It's weird how inspiration hits, but I was listening to conservative talk radio (hey, you gotta know the opposition's views, right?) on my way home from work when a story came on that blew my mind. It had me thinking and suddenly I couldn't wait to get home and write the story that my mind was developing.

So, last night I wrote 3 chapters. And the story is still unfolding in my mind, but I'm feeling excited just to write something that's not autobiographical. After all, my life isn't all that interesting really, so it's fun to create a world in a story that IS interesting. Or so I hope!

Here's hoping that someone else (please, universe, let it be a publisher!) likes it as much as I do!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Party Like A (poor) Rock Star.

Luca's 4th birthday party was this past weekend, and per her request we went with a 'pink and purple' theme. We tossed around several ideas, from a park (too unpredictable given weather in AZ in May can be 108 or 85 degrees) to a pizza place (a little too loud for our crowd) to an indoor jump zone ($$$). In the end, we landed on a party at home in our own backyard. After all, we bought this house mostly FOR its backyard, so why not use it to the fullest?

We used Evite for the invitation. I'd love to tell people we were attempting to be 'green' but really I was last minute with it and it was free. Luca helped me write the list of invitees, and told me she didn't want to include any of her friends from school, except one. Afraid of offending the other families, we chose not to invite that friend either, to keep it simple. In the end, it was some of our closest friends and immediate family who came, which was better because we didn't feel as stressed to impress.

The best part about this party was that I set a goal to keep it under $60 total. Sounds simple, but in the ends kids' birthday parties often end up costing a pretty penny because it's just SO FUN to go all out! Our budget ended up like this:

Location: free
Invitations: free
Pizza: $45 (3 extra large + coupon for 1 free large)
Soda: $3.75
Cake + frosting: $4.50 (bought mix and made at home, dyed with gel dyes I owned already, used candles we had leftover from another party)
Pinata: $1 (made it at home with supplies on hand, but the 'foundation' for the paper mache was a large beach ball from the 99 cent store)
Candy for pinata: $3 (3 bags)
Goody bags: $1 for 8
Balloons: $1 for pack of 24 pink balloons
Chips: $3
Other snacks: free, on hand already
Kool-Aid: $1 for 2 packages
Cups: $2 for 2 packs
Plates: $3 for 3 packs of 16
Napkins: $2 for 2 packs of 24

Grand Total: $70.25. While I ended up a little above my pre-determined budget, I think I did pretty well!

The day was simple: inflatable pool and sprinker in the backyard, pizza, pinata, presents, cake. The kids all seemed to have a blast, and the next day Luca asked when we could have the next 'party with pink and purple cakes and balloons with candy'.

Sadly, my camera is still in the process of getting repaired, so we didn't get any real pictures, but my sister-in-law did video the day. If I can figure out how to post that, I will. But, for now, here's a picture of the highlight of Luca's day: the pink and purple layer cake.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Carpool Buddy.

Mornings are interesting in our house. A flurry of bowls of Cheerios, bananas, wardrobe changes, bag packing, hair brushing, calendar checking (for the preschooler in the family), and shoe finding. By the time 6:45 hits, the parents are on their way to caffienated wakefullness and the kids are ready for the morning routine of waiting for the garage door to rise so they can run onto the driveway and hopefully get misted by the sprinklers.

Rohan's my morning car pool buddy most of the year, except during wrestling season when Darrick does the drop offs for both kids and I do pick ups. Those morning drives to daycare or grandma's house are a sweet time for the two of us. Most mornings, we put the windows down and wave to cars next to us at red lights, talk about where we're headed, listen to music, and make faces at each other in the rearview mirror. Sometimes I try to engage him in something educational, like practicing counting our the alphabet song, to which he always interrupts and says, "NO, Mama!" over and over while I ignore him and carry on from the front seat. I will admit I sometimes worry that he isn't interested in these games, since Luca LOVED playing the counting, singing, alphabet, and 'what sound does this animal make?' games in the car at his age. But my worry went away the other day when he surprised me by singing most of the alphabet song by himself, unprompted by me.

This morning, Rohan snuck one of the 'goody bags' leftover from Luca's party off the counter (inside was candy someone picked up when the pinata broke) into the car with him. I looked back in the rearview mirror and saw him gnawing away at an orange lollipop, happy as could be. His facial expressions get the best of me and make me laugh, so I snapped some pictures when we were at red lights. My little carpool buddy! He makes mornings more bearable.

PS: Camera still getting repaired but man I CANNOT wait to get it back!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Windows Down.

It's unseasonably, well, beautiful in Arizona right now. Typically May ushers in unbearably warm weather which is but a tease of the oppressively hot hours and weeks and months to come. But this year? This year the weather has toyed with us a bit, fluctuating from pretty warm (upper 90s) to downright enjoyable.

Yesterday, I ate my lunch outside of my office, in the shade where the wind would rustle some leaves and cause goosebumps on my arms. I stared at big, cotton candy clouds on the bluest sky.

As I drove home it struck me: people are so used to their little segregated personal worlds that they don't even think to roll down their car windows in rush hour on a day as perfect as this one was. I, of course, had my windows down for the ride home. And I couldn't help but feel sad for all those people recycling the same cold air in their closed-up cars. When life hands you a day like this one, the least you can do to show your appreciation is roll your windows down.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

In Our House.

In our house, we celebrate birthdays for as long as the mylar balloons keep floating.

In our house, we stop the morning routine to get a cell phone picture of the kids being sweet together, recognizing there could be years upon years where they won't even consider each other friends.


In our house, Disney Princess laptops rank so high in importance we need our picture taken with them and we hide them behind a recliner so our brother won't "steal" them.

In our house, we have a 2 year old and a 4 year old.

In our house, when we can't convince the 4 year old to shower before school, we do her hair in "Minnie Mouse Ears".

In our house, you have about the same likelihood of being kept awake by snoring from the dog, the dad, and the 2 year old boy.

In our house, sometimes dinner happens in a circle on the great room rug.

In our house, there's a good chance you'll each go to sleep in your own bed and then all 4 of you will wake up in one.

In our house, there are random piles of hand-shredded construction paper in baskets under the kitchen table, piles of spilled glitter on the playroom floor, blocks and crayons rolled under the edges of every piece of furniture, un-hung piles of clean laundry in at least 2 rooms at any given time, dishes unwashed, little collections of stones in little boy pockets, dolls dressed in infant clothing, tights and swimsuits and dress up outifts in piles on the floor where Luca stepped out of them without putting them away, and half-read books with dog-eared pages on almost every flat surface.

In our house, the baseboards aren't finished, the house isn't magazine-perfect, the money goes to taking the kids on adventures while Mommy wears the same tired and worn wardrobe for months on end, the dog chews toys left out too long, we recycle the same colds from one family member to another, and childrens' books are stacked in haphazard piles in every room.

In our house, Daddy whips the kids into a frenzy of giggles right before bed, tossing them into the air or twisting them over his shoulders and then rolling them across the carpet while Mommy pretends to be annoyed at the circus riling them up right before bedtime.

In our house, we kiss imaginary boo-boos, dance with toddlers in the kitchen because they beg, "Ho-yud me!", mornings start with Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and Daddy's English muffins, we make pre-bed shoeless drives to McDonald's to get a cone for each of us in the drive-thru at least once a month, and little artistic creations are taped to walls, doors, and windows.

In our house, I am the luckiest wife and mom in the world.

Sunday, May 8, 2011


Today, Luca turned 4.

It's a bittersweet birthday, this fourth one. For some reason, 4 is all kid and no baby or toddler. She's crossed that invisible threshold and I'm not quite sure how I feel about it. I think her birthdays will always be fraught with mixed emotions for me because, as my first, they not only mark the day she was born, but also the day I became a mother.

Darrick and I both took yesterday off work to spend time with her. We visited both sets of grandparents and I took her to school over lunch so she could wear a paper crown, share treats (she chose pudding pops), and be sung to by 18 of her friends. She was on cloud 9, and floated up to cloud 10 when her favorite teacher (actually a high school senior who works in the classroom) gave her a beautiful frilly skirt and leggings as a gift.

This morning, we woke early and she opened some presents from us. Her favorite is a Disney Princess laptop that has learning games on it and opens with a key. She's so proud of this 'big girl' gift that she found a special hiding place for it so Rohan can't get to it when she's not there to observe.

We had breakfast early with both sets of grandparents, and our waiter gave her a free crepe with whipped cream, caramel sauce, and chocolate chips.

One of Luca's cousins, who she affectionately calls 'Birdie' will turn 1 on May 10th, so her birthday party was today. We spent most of the day there playing and swimming and eating. Luca, of course, eagerly helped open presents. We had talked to Birdie's mom and dad (dad is Darrick's brother) over 2 months ago to coordinate parties, and though they didn't want to have the party on Luca's actual birthday, because of my mother-in-law's work schedule, this was the only weekend we were guaranteed to have her in town. We agreed that the 1st birthday party was vital for Grandma to attend, whereas the 4th she could miss as long as we did something special to aknowledge her the day of before her cousin's party. At first, Luca was ok with it. She pulled me aside at the party, though, and pouted her lips. I asked her what was wrong, and she broke into tears and told me she was sad that it was her birthday but all the presents and attention were for Birdie. It almost broke my heart. On one hand, I reminded her of the gifts Grandma and Grandpa had given her the week before, the gifts we gave her, and the gifts from my mom that she received this morning. I reminded her how lucky she was to receive those gifts, and that it wasn't a good thing to be jealous of someone else's gifts. She told me she knew, but she was still sad that she didn't get a party today. I didn't know what to tell her. I honestly felt a bit guilty, but at the same time I think it's important for her to be able to share and not have everything be about her.

After naptime, we took her to dinner. She asked for pizza, so we went to a local Italian place we love and after dinner we requested a 'Sicilian Sundae' (cookie with ice cream on top) for the birthday girl. It came out, and her disappointment was palpable when there was no candle and no Happy Birthday song from the staff. We tried to sing to her, but she stubbornly refused to eat until, and I quote, "The people here sing to me like they are supposed to." After almost 10 minutes of back-and-forth that included us telling her there was no one there who could sing to her and they don't do that at that restaurant and her crying, I finally grabbed the first person who walked by and asked him, "Is there any way someone could be convinced to sing happy birthday to her?"

And, bless his heart, this kid (he was maybe 17) came back to our table a few minutes later and, all by himself (well, we joined in) he serenaded her. We thanked him profusely for making her day, and she was happy once again and shared her dessert, which by now was a melted puddle of ice cream atop a warm cookie, with her brother.

I have to be honest: her sad tantrum about the birthday party and her refusal to give in at the restaurant tore me in two directions. I was a bit disappointed in her behavior and the jealousy and (gah) brattiness she displayed. But on the other hand, as 'kid' as 4 may be, she is still a little girl, and a sensitive one at that. I've learned one big lesson about Luca over the years: she wants to feel like people are listening to her and taking her seriously. She wants to feel important and loved and appreciated. And she is only a little girl, so she can't always tell when her own need to be heard and validated is silly or bordering on ridiculous. We had a talk about the day tonight, and about how we knew she was sad about not getting her party today. A party is planned for next week, but in a 4 year old's world, we may as well have told her we'll celebrate it next year. She loves her cousin, but I think she felt a bit 'forgotten', and I never want her to feel that way. I want her to know just how special and important she is to us, no matter what else is going on in our lives. I know she'll forget being sad about it, and I know in the end this is but one in a list of many disappointments she'll face in life.


What's more important than all of that: the breakfast, the gifts, the party, the dessert/song fiasco is this: Luca is 4, and she has made us so proud. She is her own person. She knows what she thinks, what she feels, what she likes, and what she needs. She sometimes struggles to express it all in a way that makes sense to us, but she always forgives us our parental missteps, and above all she is loved and loves. She's smart as a whip, kind and caring and nurturing. She has a silly sense of humor and an old soul. Her favorite things to do are to play outside, to be with her family, to dance, and to engage in imaginary role-play such as pretending to be the teacher while we are the students. She loves her brother with a fierceness and is dying for a little sister. She is sensitive and her feelings are hurt easily, but she forgives easily. Many times, when she's upset, all she needs is to be told you're listening and to be given a big bear hug. She makes me, every single day, proud to be her mom.

I am sentimental as I watch the baby I know transform before my eyes. From tiny newborn to delicate infant to cautious and reserved toddler to talkative and compassionate little girl. She floats through life with her feet solidly on the ground and her imagination soaring in the clouds. I look at her, and I still see the soft pink newborn who I pulled into my arms on her birth day. I look at her, and I can see the woman she will someday be. I hope that she never loses her strong sense of right and wrong, her kind and tender heart, her old soul and little girl laugh. I hope she will always be the little girl who asked me if she could change her middle name to Ballerina. I hope she will remember her childhood as a time of happiness and love, of giggles and of serious cuddle puddles.

I love you, sweet Luca.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Fat Thighs.

It's a lot of pressure, raising a daughter.

When I was pregnant with her, I didn't want to raise a little girl who was cloaked in pink and frills. I asked people not to buy her pink clothes and pink toys. I didn't want the image of 'little princess' imprinted in all her earliest memories.

When I was pregnant with her, I hoped she'd be smart and funny first, beautiful later. You can make yourself look prettier on the outside, but I've rarely met a person who was funny without being smart. Pretty opens doors; smart and funny open possibilities far into the future. Beauty fades, but the ability to think critically and laugh with your whole body make you infinitely more beautiful to the core.

When I was pregnant with her, I was going to teach her everything it takes to be a woman, inside and out. I was going to be the kind of woman I want her to be some day.

Luca got lucky. I'm biased, I realize, but she has a face that draws praise from strangers for its delicate sloping nose and wide green eyes and rosebud lips. She has legs that are long and thin, a tall and lean body I now hope, as her mother, she will carry into adulthood.

Not because it matters to me whether the world sees her as beautiful. But because, as her mom, I want to protect her. And I know that growing up beautiful, and tall, and thin, and blonde might make her life immeasurably easier.

It's not in my nature to wish for a pretty little girl in a princess dress, flitting about and charming everyone around. I hope that, as she grows, she hears more compliments on her sweetness and kindness and sense of humor than she does on mile-long lashes and soft blonde hair that falls just so. I hope that for every, "She's so pretty!" she overhears, she is told 100 direct, "You're smart/capable/kind/loving/funny/a wonderful friend/daughter/sister."

But how do I marry these wishes for my daughter's sense of self-worth and value with my own obsession over my physical self? How do I follow Weight Watchers and weigh and measure everything on my plate while hoping she grows up with a healthy love of all kinds of foods and without an obsession over calories and fat? How do I stop myself from self-criticism and obsession over my mama belly and my fat thighs so that she doesn't internalize her mom's body issues? How do I explain to her that the dress she chose for me to wear is cute, but I won't feel comfortable wearing it again until _____ (I'm 20 pounds lighter, my legs aren't so pale, the world recognizes beauty in a mother's body)?

How do I tell her to love herself as she is when it's so hard to do that myself?

We talk about food to our kids, in terms of health and nutrition. In terms of, "That will make you strong so you can dance and play." or, "You're so smart and your brain needs good foods to keep growing smarter." We encourage them to run and jump and play. We take them outside, coat them in sunblock, and talk about how strong and healthy and capable they are.

And then, I count Points and horde a stack of jeans that used to fit me in the back corner of my closet, hopefully optimistic that if I just Do It All Right I will fit in them once again someday. I live with an image in my mind of who I could be and how I could look, if only I hold myself to impeccable standards and never lose sight of my goals.

A few months ago, Luca was changing her clothes and she stopped to grab her thigh. "Mama, I have fat thighs! I'll always have these big legs." she announced. It was an offhand comment, and one that wasn't rooted in any real belief that she did have fat thighs. It wasn't based in reality, as anyone who's ever met her could attest to, with her pin-thin legs. It was repeated, almost verbatim, from a comment my husband's mother had made about her own body the day before. We talked about her comment, and how it wasn't true at all. I asked her why she said it. She told me what I already knew: "Well, Gramma said she has fat thighs, mama. So maybe I do too."

"Luca," I asked, "what do you think about Gramma?"
"I love her," she replied. "I think she is beautiful."
"So do I," I answered. "So, let's make a deal. Next time you hear her say something about her thighs, you tell her what you think about her. So when she says 'I have fat thighs' what could you say back?"
"Well," she thinks through it aloud, "I would tell her 'I think you are beautiful'."

And she does. In Luca's eyes, her Grandma is nothing short of beautiful. I watch them together, Luca sitting on Grandma's lap and noticing the same curve of her smile, the same dimple just below the right corner of their mouths. I know that when she looks at her Grandma, she sees herself in many ways. And then I realize, she must feel the same way when she looks at me. And I think about what it says to her when the world compliments her natural beauty and the people she identifies with most in the world are distracted by calling out each of their own perceived flaws.

When someone she loves and admires and sees as a fiber in the fabric that defines her calls themself ugly or imperfect, how could she not grow up expecting to be flawed in the same ways?

I am guilty of saying things about myself in front of her that I have no doubt I'd be heartbroken to hear her say about herself. I am learning as I go, both to be careful how I speak of my own body and being for her sake and to change how I perceive the importance of the size of my thighs or the softness of my belly for both our sakes. I am not perfect. I may never be. I can only work to be better, and hope that I can impart on her a positive self-image that isn't rooted in her physical appearance.

And it's not just for me and for her. It's for my son, too. For the boy who will grow up with his mother and his sister as models of how women look and how they are 'supposed' to look. He's drinking it all in just like she is, and his earliest memories of the female body and how we feel about it, as well as how he's supposed to judge it, are created now. So if I can't stop the self-criticism for my own sake, I want to try to stop it for both of theirs. I want her to grow up with a positive message about how the women in her life feel about their bodies and just how unimportant that single piece is in determining their total worth. I want her to see that my belly may not be flat, but neither is my personality, and that being a kind and smart and capable and funny woman carries more weight than a pound of flesh. And I want my son to know that a woman is more than the curve of her hip or the size of her jeans.

I think we're off to the right start, but I know it will be a lifelong uphill battle. My son regularly watches me get ready in the morning, and lovingly touches the belly that's marred with proof that he once inhabited it. He loves to melt into my curves when he's sleepy and gently knead my upper arms with his hand. Those arms I don't want to show in public because I think they are too fat bring him comfort. My daughter often tells me I am pretty and points out all the ways she will 'be like me someday', a sense of pride and security in her voice. She is not worried she will inherit my fat thighs or my skinny ankles. She is, instead, optimistic about growing up to be just like me.

The day I wouldn't put on the dress she wanted me to wear, my husband kept pressing the issue. Asking me why I wouldn't just wear it. It was pretty, he assured me. But I didn't like how I looked in it, I told him. "I don't understand," he said in response. "For centuries women would have done anything to have a body like yours. There are millions of women who would kill for curves like women are supposed to have. So why isn't it good enough for you?"

Good question.


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