Sunday, December 16, 2007

It's My Son's Christmas Party and I'll Cry If I Want To

This past Thursday my goal was to make it from Charlie's preschool to the car without breaking out into the ugly cry in the school parking lot. Why the tears you ask? I missed Charlie's Christmas party at school. I didn't just miss it. I had no idea it was even going on. I went to pick up Charlie from school and his teachers met me at the door, their arms overflowing with Christmas presents. I should've known something was up right away. "There she is!" they exclaimed when they saw me. I was a few minutes late, but nothing major, not late enough for the halls to be deserted and Charlie to be the only kid left. He was already in his coat, his school bag in hand. Wait a second. The teachers were meeting me at the main door of the school. Usually I pick up Charlie at his classroom door. What was going on? "We tried to call you," the teachers said. "Charlie's Christmas party was today." Apparently there was an email sent to an email address that was one dot off from my email address. I had managed to slip in and out of Charlie's school every Monday and Thursday without hearing one word about a party. I kissed Charlie's head about a million times and hugged him over and over and said I was sorry. He seemed perfectly happy. I don't think he really cared too much that I wasn't there. He said, "Mommy" with a big smile on his face each time I hugged him. I carried him out to the car and bit my lip to keep from crying. As soon as I buckled him into his seat and closed my car door, I burst into tears. Not just any old tears either, big loud sobs. Toddler-style crying. Charlie was perfectly fine. Why was I so upset?

I felt like the worst mom on earth in that moment. I tried to imagine what might have gone on at a two-and-a-half- year-old's Christmas party. Were there cookies? Was there singing? Maybe there was some kind of dance party that broke out? I will never know. Charlie's not exactly helpful when it comes to recalling details. His teacher kept reassuring me that she took lots and lots of pictures. Somehow, that does not make me feel any better. It's like if my best friend didn't invite me to her wedding, but she said it was okay, she'd taken lots and lots of pictures. I know, I know...a preschool Christmas party is not exactly a wedding, but still. I felt horrible. I felt angry at the teachers for not telling me about the party except through email and I felt angry at my email address for having a stupid dot in it. Really, though, it wasn't anger I was feeling. It was guilt. I tortured myself by imagining what the other moms must have thought of poor, little orphan Charlie. What kind of mom doesn't come to their two-year-old's Christimas party? The worst mom on earth. And that's me.

I picked up Emma from school and the sobbing continued. She pleaded with me to stop crying. I told her why I was crying and she said, "it's okay, Mommy. We can have our own party." Don't you just love that? I called my mom and my sister and they both assured me that I am not the worst mom on earth and that the beauty of two-year-olds is they don't remember stuff like this. Thanks to the wisdom of these fabulous women, I'm slowly getting over it. Now, I can look at it as a learning experience. I think the guilt was not a completely irrational emotion. I should have been more involved in what was going on at Charlie's school. I should have been more proactive about communicating with the teacher. Charlie had to wait until November to start school because of some weird rule the school has about not having too many kids under 2.5 years in school at once. Something about a building code? I guess if too many kids under 2.5 are in the building at the same time the building could explode or something. Probably a good rule come to think of it. Anyway, Charlie started school after all the other kids and so we have been sort of out of the loop about things. I didn't realize the teacher was communicating with me by using the wrong email address this whole time. It would've been nice if the teacher at some point had said, by the way, I've been sending out emails...have you gotten them? But really I blame myself. So, the lesson I'm taking away from this is, when it comes to schools and teachers ask lots of questions, be involved, and don't wait around for them to tell me stuff.

Later that night Brandon and I attended his office Christmas party. This was my third year to attend the party and I am always impressed by the effort they put into the party planning. This year the theme was "Candy Land" and so the main ballroom was all decked out with 7-foot candy canes and giant peppermints. This was a much more normal theme than last year's "Christmas in Space" theme. Last year I remember hanging out with Brandon in one of the lounges, staring at a giant holiday spaceship and calculating how much each minute was costing us in babysitting. Are these themes really necessary? Isn't "Christmas" sort of a theme in and of itself? It's nice that they try with the themes. I do appreciate the effort. The other constant with these parties is the band. The band sings all those wedding favorites like "I Will Survive" and "Holiday" complete with hand motions. This year I noticed the hand motions lacked a little joi de vive. They seemed more like sign language than dancing. Speaking of dancing...there was also a DJ at the party. I noticed something very interesting. When the DJ first started playing, a few people immediately lined up and started doing what I think must have been the Electric Slide. Within seconds more and more people crowded the dance floor. People of all creeds, ages and ethnicities lined up to do this dance beneath the glow of a giant red and white striped peppermint. Have I missed something? Is this a thing? It must be. Yet more proof that I am totally out of it.

The office party also involved lots of standing around in high heels (which I have not done since the last Christmas party) and talking to strangers that my husband works with. I am so bad at this. That's one of the many reasons I married Brandon. He is good at talking to people in these situations. Me? Not so much. Do I really have to come up with something we have in common and try to yell it to you over "Let's Stay Together," guy that works two doors down from my husband? Can't I just watch the people doing the electric slide and daydream about how I will write about them later in peace please? But at least there was a chocolate fountain. I am sort of a klutz and I'm always afraid I'm going to stick the marshmallow or whatever I'm dousing in chocolate into the chocolate fountain in such a way that it will cause chocolate to spray all over me and my fancy Christmas Party dress. Still, I can't resist sticking something in the chocolate fountain. The chocolate flows so freely and so endlessly. It really is a beautiful thing.

The next day was Friday and we were stuck at home waiting for various repair people to come to our house. I was hobbling around because I was actually SORE from wearing high heels the night before. How sad is that? And I call myself a lady. But I did redeem myself, sort of. I read the kids the Christmas story from their kids' Bible and we put together this Playmobil nativity that my mom sent us (thanks mom!) and talked about baby Jesus and the "fairy" (aka angel), and the donkey. (The fairy and the donkey figure prominently into Emma's telling of the story, I'm afraid.) We also painted our own wrapping paper. I cut shapes out of a potato, envisioning that we would stamp Christmas trees and ornaments all over our white paper and it would be too adorable and crafty for words. Instead, Emma felt inspired to strip down to underwear (except for fairy wings) and paint her entire hand and then sort of used the wrapping paper like a big paper towel. Charlie (who was wearing a green frog costume) kept painting big blobs of paint and then sitting on them for good measure. You can't get in the way of the creative process I always say. I let all this happen and even sort of encouraged it. Not bad for the worst mom on earth.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

So, how was your day?

Today it has just been one thing after another... as usual, Emma woke us up by getting in our faces and demanding things at 7 a.m. Emma loves two things in life: getting up at 7 a.m. and eating cereal for breakfast. The day that Emma can go downstairs and successfully help herself to cereal and milk without waking us will be a glorious day in our household. Today was not that day. Silly me left her back turned and the Special K out in plain sight and turned around to a mountain of Special K poured out on the kids' table. It was already absorbing some of the milk that Charlie had spilled earlier and so it was turning into Special K papier mache. Super. $4 worth of Special K into the trash.

Cut to about thirty minutes later...Emma has been dropped off at school. Charlie doesn't have school today, so he gets to go Christmas shopping with me (lucky guy). Well, really, there wasn't much Christmas shopping going on today. Really it was me walking around the mall with Charlie in a backpack (accidentally left stroller at home of course) while the backpack pushes my jeans dangerously lower and lower. Here I am hiking my jeans up, walking into Banana Republic. Here I am walking out of Banana Republic with a screaming child. (Hike.) Here I am walking into Nordstrom's. "NO NO NO NONO NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!" howls Charlie. And now we're leaving Nordstrom's (Hike.) Here I am bribing Charlie with Hot Wheels cars from KB Toys. (Hike.) There we are riding the holiday train that goes around the mall. See us waving merrily? I think we might actually both be happy at this moment. Hello, stores that my son will not allow me to go into. Look at you with your Christmas presents just waiting to be purchased. (Choo choo.) Here we are in Macy's. Charlie announces, "Mommy, I'm not crying!" I almost start crying as we wait in line for about 15 minutes while the person in front of us seems to be buying things and returning them and buying them again. (Hike).

Now we are in the car. It's time to pick up Emma and our car is not cooperating. The parking brake is angry and it won't let me turn it off. There are all sorts of exclamation marks on the dashboard. There is also a "P" inside a circle with a line through it. Apparently our dashboard is now anti-parking brakes. To make matters worse there is a "DING! DING! DING! DING!" sound which is constant and makes my teeth hurt it is such an ugly, persistent sound. Amazingly, the car still works despite all of this commotion. I drive to Emma's preschool (DING! DING! DING! DING!), call the car dealership on the way and tell them what's going on (DING! DING! DING! DING!), pick up Emma (DING! DING! DING! DING!). Guess what she studied in school today? Bells! (DING! DING! DING!). I have an appointment at 2:00 to get the car looked at. It will take at least 2 hours. (DING! DING! DING!) Charlie will miss his nap. (DING! DING! DING!) I will be stuck in the dealership waiting room all afternoon with 2 non-napping kids. (DING! DING! DING! DING!)

We are home eating a quick lunch of pb & j before heading to prison, I mean the car dealership. I go upstairs to brush my teeth and put on lipstick (apparently I'm still trying to give the impression that I have my act together) and come downstairs to a huge mess in the playroom. Charlie thinks it's a great idea to run his new Hot Wheels through the pb & j and then run them along the white toy box. He is shouting, "Oh no! Cars in the jelly!! Cars in the jelly!!" like this is not something he intended to do, but we know better. Emma is playing a game called "Make a big mess." I'm not kidding that is really what she's calling it. I try to get upset that she has dumped every bucket of legos, blocks, clicks, wedgits, every puzzle piece and doll accessory out into a big pile on the playroom floor, but she objects. The whole point of "Make a big mess," she argues, is to...yeah, you already figured this out... make a big mess.

Now we are in the car dealership playroom. I am feeling pretty confident about our 2-hour stay at the dealership because I (being an experienced Mom of two) have brought my secret weapon: the portable DVD player. I get it all set up and realize two out of three of the DVDs I brought are empty boxes. The only box with an actual DVD inside is a Bob the Builder DVD that only Charlie likes and he sits still for TV for about 5 minutes. So much for my secret weapon. I am huddled in the corner of the playroom floor of the Volkswagen dealership. It is all I can do not to hug myself and rock back in forth, muttering incoherent things under my breath. My kids keep taking sneaky steps outside the glass partition that sections off the playroom from normal society. There is a plastic Wiggles character singing a song over and over again. He is obviously in need of some assistance, but I don't have it in me to care anymore. Charlie stuffs the Wiggles man into a toy firetruck and he is silenced. One hour goes by... Miraculously, the Volkswagen man comes in to tell me that they have to order a part and they are giving us a rental car and we can go home. (!!!!) We are saved!

Now we are home and I am making the kids watch "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" while I write this. I feel a little like the Grinch who stole something today. I have been short and impatient with everyone today. My body aches from the tension I've been carrying around all day like a heavy coat (or a heavy 2.5 year-old in a backpack). I saw this lady on Oprah the other day who has created a little sanctuary in her closet in order to escape from her kids. She lights candles in there and drinks a glass of wine and reads magazines. My closet is stuffed with Christmas presents. The shoes are strewn all over the place because the kids like to go in there and try on my shoes. There's hardly room in there for my skinny jeans, let alone candles and a glass of wine. Plus, I feel like if were to go in there for more than 30 seconds, I would be greeted by jelly car, Special K mountain and "Make a big mess" as soon as I opened the door.

Now the movie is over. Emma just walked up to me and asked, "Mommy, do you work?" "Yes," I say. "Yes, I do."

Monday, December 10, 2007

Only connect

Now, that I've gotten over myself and started telling people that I have a blog, I have started wondering, why do I have a blog? It's not like I'm unique...every other townhouse on my street probably houses a nerdy person like me, typing away in the wee hours of the morning about their favorite meal or their favorite movie star or what someone said to them at the mall that day. The more people that have blogs the more grain-of-sand-ish your blog feels and it's easy to trick yourself into thinking that you are writing in a void, that your writing might as well be corked up in a bottle and tossed out to sea. The Internet can feel like this vast ocean--your thoughts and words exist somewhere out there, but they are so tiny and there is so much ocean that they can easily be swallowed up. But, somehow, miraculously, they aren't being swallowed up. People I have never met are reading about what goes on in my tiny little life. Maybe you are one of those people? If you are, then I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I am honored and amazed and humbled that you would read this.

I just read this article about bloggers in Japan and how different they are from bloggers in America. For starters there are many more bloggers in Japan and they write much more often. Their blogs are the opposite of the American style of ranting and pontificating in the hopes of landing a book deal. "Bloggers here shy away from politics and barbed language," the article says, "They rarely trumpet their expertise. While Americans blog to stand out, the Japanese do it to fit in, blogging about small stuff: cats and flowers, bicycles and breakfast, gadgets and TV stars."

The article goes on to describe one Japanese blog that is called "I Had My Lunch." The writer of "I Had My Lunch" writes daily about, well, her lunch. She is careful never to criticize the food or the service at the restaurant where she eats. She always finds something positive to say because she would not want to cause the restaurant to receive any negative attention. I wish I could understand Japanese because I would love to read about her lunch every day. Granted, I am a little bit weird, but for some reason even the most mundane details about a stranger's life are intriguing and reassuring to me. According to the article, Japanese people have all the latest technology and can (and do) blog while walking down the street. I think that is fascinating. All these anonymous people brushing past one another on a street or sitting next to each other on a train, not saying a word to each other because they are busy communicating anonymously with an imagined audience. (She said, communicating anonymously with her imagined audience).

So, why do I blog then? Whether I like it or not, I have always been a writer. My brain is happiest when I am using it to put words together on a page (or a screen). I am not good at talking. I dread talking on the phone because my words come out all wrong. I find myself saying things like, "I don't know what I'm trying to say" or "I know I'm not saying this very well, but..." a lot on the phone. My brain shuts down when my thoughts have to be filtered through my mouth. Give me a keyboard and I can suddenly say exactly what I mean to say. The thoughts come out and show themselves to me as though someone else came up with them.

So, why not just keep a journal then? I don't know. The truth is, I have tried to keep a journal and I have never been very good at it. I don't like the feeling of writing for my eyes only. My writing changes when I know I'm the only one who is going to read it. I get whiny, I complain a lot. I become a very glass-is-half-empty sort of person. Blogging is like praying in that you polish up your thoughts in order to send them on a journey. It's a conversation--mostly a one-way conversation, but there is the presumption that someone is there on the receiving end.

At the end of the Japanese blogging article the reporter talks to a man who blogs anonymously about his five-year-old son. He was flabbergasted when a reporter called him for an interview after seeing his blog. "I hadn't told anyone else that I blog," the father said. I can totally relate to this. As soon as you hit "publish post" and send your little thoughts out to sea, you never expect that someone else will find them. It's much easier to believe they will drift out there forever in their little bottle. I am trying to write with the faith that my words will wash ashore and someone will open them, and for just a brief moment there will be a an imaginary line connecting me to that person. I think that's why I blog.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Let it snow

We awoke this morning to Emma throwing open the bedroom door and announcing, "It's snowing! It's snowing!" She pulled the blinds open to reveal that in fact a light dusting of snow had fallen over all the corporate headquarters that we can see from our window. The buildings looked less greedy and powerful. They looked more cute and innocent, like Santa's corporate headquarters. It's funny how snow can do that to a place.

I went downstairs, had my coffee and came to terms with the fact that school would be cancelled today. Don't get me wrong, I love snow. As a displaced Texan, I still think of snow as this miraculous event, a rare occurrence that is God's way of telling you to slow down, watch movies and drink hot chocolate. But I also think preschool is God's way of helping me not lose my mind. So, I was slightly bummed about the thought of school being cancelled and instead spending the day gently persuading the kids that they had to wear shirts and shoes if they were going to go outside (not to mention zipping them up into those puffy snow suits, shoving their fingers into gloves and their feet into boots only to discover that they need to go to the bathroom). So much for my plans to work on my novel, do some Christmas shopping and take a shower without Charlie constantly opening the shower door to chat. (Sigh...)

But as I look outside at the pine trees covered with snow and the constant flurry of white falling noiselessly from the sky, I can't help but feel it's a small miracle. Everything is transformed. The energy around us feels different, like the electrons or something are charged differently. Our house feels like a sanctuary with its heat and it's blankets and envelopes of Swiss Miss. When you walk outside into the cold, the sounds are different, quieter, holier. It's like reading a really good poem, looking at everything under a blanket of snow. Even the most mundane thing like your own front yard is made new and beautiful.

The forecast tomorrow calls for clear skies...I have to admit, I'm kind of disappointed.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Oh, Christmas Tree

Yesterday, I made the executive decision for my poor, unsuspecting family that we would get into the Christmas spirit and we'd have a good time doing it. My plan was that we attend Christmas-related festivities (ideally involving Santa), purchase a Christmas tree and decorate said tree. I can be really forceful when I want to be (I know, hard to believe, but it's true) and I quickly had everyone on board with this plan. I studied the newspaper for Christmassy activities we could do and found something involving Santa and a barge that was happening within walking distance of us. Supposedly, Santa was going to cruise up Lake Anne and de-barge at Lake Anne Plaza so that kids could hang out with him and do Christmas crafts, etc. I thought that sounded like something we needed to be a part of, so we put on coats and hats and gloves and then set out. Then we realized we forgot Charlie's hat, so we went back and then set out again. And then we realized that it was 30 degrees and windy and we never made it farther than La Madeline's (where there was a warm fire and muffins for the kids).

After La Madeline's it was time for Charlie's nap, so we scrapped the Santa/Barge plans and headed home. We then were very sad to discover that Charlie had no intention of taking a nap. While Charlie howled upstairs in his crib, I decided that it might be a good time to leave Brandon with the kids and get some Christmas shopping done. He thought it might be a good idea to check out our financial situation before I actually spent any money. (What a scrooge, right?) Have you ever tried making a budget while the screams of the non-napping are echoing in your brain? It does not make you want to go out and buy a Christmas tree in the 30 degree weather with two preschoolers, I can tell you that much.

In an effort to detach from the crying and the budget talk I started looking at the millions of catalogs that have made a nice little home on my dining room table. My eyes fell on an ad in the Bed, Bath and Beyond catalog for a fake, pre-lit Christmas tree on sale for $19.99. The ad showed a girl about Emma's age standing next to the tree. She wasn't having to stand on tippy toes or anything to put the star on top of the tree. The tree seemed to call out to me and it was saying, Buy me. I won't shed all over the place. You won't have to water me or spend hours untangling old lights, only to realize that your old lights don't even work because they are old. You won't have to rearrange furniture to accommodate me. I am tiny and cute and I will make your life easier. Plus, I thought, there won't be that super depressing dead tree carcass to come home to when we return from our holiday travels. Right, said the little fake tree. Now go get Charlie up from his nap. That crying is making me crazy. So I went and got a very relieved Charlie up from his nap and announced to the family that the little fake tree was the way to go.

I have to say I love our tiny fake tree. I love how perfectly triangular it is and how you can bend the branches up at the ends like little pipe cleaners so that the ornaments stay on. I love that the lights are perfectly distributed and all I had to do was plug them in. We put only our most treasured ornaments on--a porcelain pink pacifier for Emma's first Christmas, a bear in an exersaucer for Charlie's. There's the dump truck ornament that Charlie keeps taking off the tree to play with and there's the ornament from the place where Brandon and I had our wedding reception. My favorite is a beautiful Brooklyn Bridge ornament that was given to us the Christmas after he proposed to me there. The ornaments fill our 4-foot tree perfectly, like it was made for us. Our life as a family can be summed up on that little tree. I'm so glad we (and by "we" I mean "I") decided to buy it.

Did I mention we also made Christmas cookies and listened to the Charlie Brown Christmas CD? We had to move fast before Charlie ate all the dough. He is a boy after my own heart. Is there anything better than smelling sugar cookies baking while listening to "Christmas Time Is Here?" (You know that really sad jazz song with the words, Christmas time is here, Happiness and cheer, Fun for all, That children call their favorite time of year. The music sounds like the opposite of fun for all--it's like the music knows that the fun is going to end at some point and it's already imagined the sadness after the Christmas tree is taken down and the gifts are unwrapped. The music knows the fun is fleeting and you have to enjoy it while it lasts.) Try and top that, Santa on a barge.

Then I actually whipped out a needle and thread and got all crafty and started making my own cranberry/popcorn garland. Once again we had to work fast, while there was still popcorn. I'm not sure which Christmas activity the kids liked best. If I had to guess, I would say it was putting the red and green sprinkles on the cookies. Or maybe it was the muffins from La Madeline. They had no idea they were supposed to want to see Santa on a barge. They are simple folk who appreciate the little pleasures in life.

So, it turned out that we had a pretty successful Christmas-fest on Saturday. Here I thought I was being crazy to try to cram so much Christmassing into one day, but the funny thing is, I would say the whole Christmas cookie/garland-making/fake-tree-decorating extravaganza happened in the span of about one hour... just in time for a quick bath, two books and bed time. I think everything happened on Saturday exactly the way it was supposed to.