Saturday, December 29, 2012

Thanks and No Thanks

Christians are encouraged to give thanks in all things. If we look hard enough, we can find gratitude amidst annoyance. So I'm going to give that a try today.

I'm thankful for warm down coats. I'm thankful for furry mittens. I'm thankful for fleecy warm hats. I'm thankful for soft silk long johns that disappear nicely under my work clothes. I'm thankful for warm fleece socks to go over my knee highs. I'm thankful for warm scarves. I'm thankful for shiny burgundy work clogs with a thick sole to lift me out of puddles. I'm thankful for the NextBus app that keeps me from having to wait too long at the bus stop in the sideways rain. I'm thankful for a dry train station in which to wait for the train. I'm thankful for my umbrella to keep the sideways rain out of my face. Mostly. I'm thankful that down coats dry well after a drenching. I'm thankful for a fulfilling job in a warm dry building.

I am truly thankful for these things. But I have to admit a few "no thanks" elements of my day.

If asked, I'd quickly say "no thanks" of offered the following:
Sideways falling rain
Temperatures in the 30's with sideways falling rain
Umbrella-buckling wind
Urban wind tunnels that exacerbate the umbrella-buckling wind
A warm train full of damp people

But at the end of the day, I'm going home to a warm dry house and a loving family. The pros outweigh the cons, and I really can't complain. And besides. There's so much to give thanks for!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Sorority of Moms Meeting

I left work 45 minutes late today because I believe in the sisterhood of motherhood. My job floats me between hospitals, and today was the first time I've been back at one of the sites in a few months. So today was the first time I saw Jane* since she came back from maternity leave. On my way out the door, I asked how life was, back at her full-time job with a 4 month old at home. Boy did I open a can of something...

"Is it supposed to be this hard?" The floodgates were opened, and the last 4 months just came pouring forth. I smiled, nodded, and said "yup" a lot. She joined the chorus of all of the working moms I know. "There's not enough time in the day. Daycare gets her best hours. I'm always stressed. I'm always behind. I never feel like I'm doing a good job. I love coming to work. I love my job and don't want to give it up. But this sucks. And daycare is so expensive. And nobody at work understands. And none of my friends are working with kids. Am I doing something wrong?"

I did her the favor of not sugar-coating things. I wasn't telling her anything she hasn't already noticed herself. Being a mother is a full time job. And having a career that you love outside the home is a blessing. But having both can feel like a curse.

Moms know this. That's why moms need other mom friends. So we can vent after a long day of work about how much something sucks. Society isn't so understanding of that need to vent. "You chose to have the child, right? You chose to go back to work, right? So why are you complaining? There are so many childless couples who would LOVE to be in your shoes. There are so many unemployed families who would love your job. Stop whining!"

But moms know what it means to be that candle burning at both ends. And we know the isolation it brings about. Motherhood is supposed to be so fulfilling, so wonderful, so all-consumingly joyful that all inconveniences are too petty to mention. But many of us don't feel that way. Some of us experienced failure for the first time as a new mother. Sleep deprived, oozing hormones, and feeling helpless at the hands of a colicky newborn, motherhood does not always feel like sweetness and light. To deny this is to devalue motherhood. Because it's hard. It just is.

So if you believe in the sorority of moms, find a way to support another mom this week. Take the new mom at work out to lunch. Surprise her with a mid-afternoon latte. Just stick around and listen. Or offer to help her out with something so she can go home early. She probably needs it.

*Of course her name's not Jane

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Getting into the Christmas Spirit

You can't have Christmas without Christmas music. To me, the two are inseparable. BestestHusband likes to tell the girls that our church choir helps us get a glimpse of how wonderful Heaven will be. I like that idea - I could spend all day singing, if only my pipes could hold up that long...

We're blessed with a lot of talented musicians in our congregation. I marvel at that occasionally, but was re-re-reminded of that yet again today. Balint Karosi, our music director, kindly gifted us with a CD of Christmas Music recorded in our church. The musicians are all in-house talent. Audrey, the vocalist, has truly been gifted with an angelic voice. Rosie, our pianist, is blind from birth. Balint, who plays organ and clarinet, has won international acclaim for his performances. And we get to listen to them every Sunday. We are truly blessed.

So for Christmas, I'd like to share them with you. Balint has been uploading worship music to the church website, and much of the music on our new CD can be found there:

Click on the carols, turn up the volume and enjoy. If it doesn't get you into the Christmas spirit, I'm not sure what can.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Countdowns Begin

It's that time of the year, the time we start counting down the days in breathless anticipation!

Days 'til Christmas:  7
Days 'til New Year's Day:  14
Days 'til the Christmas episode of Call The Midwife:  12!!!
Days 'til the debut of Downtown Abbey Season 3:  19!!!

This truly is the most wonderful time of the year!

Oh, and if you're still not sure what to get me for Christmas, here it is:

Downton Abbey Seasons 1, 2, and 3

I would happily fold laundry all day long if I had these...

Hope your Christmas preparations are going well. I've got holiday biscotti in the oven, and life is good!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The World Is Very Evil

BestestHusband loves the old version of a hymn, The World is Very Evil. It's quite old in origin, written by Bernard of Morlaix in the 12th century. It's a longish hymn, so I'll just grace you with the first verse:

The world is very evil,
the times are waxing late,
be sober and keep vigil,
the Judge is at the gate.
The Judge who comes in mercy,
the Judge who comes in might,
who comes to end the evil,
who comes to crown the right.

The hymn speaks of the end times, encouraging Christians to keep their eyes on the joys of a future heavenly home.

I think BestestHusband mostly likes the hymn for its dire-sounding title. The beginning of the first verse does sound pretty dark and grim. It seems appropriate this week. Our newspapers here are talking about a local child molester facing over 100 counts of abuse, and our eyes are all still moist from the horrible massacre that happened in Newtown, CT yesterday. When you look at recent events, it does appear that the world is very evil. 

My Facebook and email streams have been flooded with appeals to join in on banning guns. Because banning guns will prevent the mass-murder of innocents that occurred yesterday. But certainly we all know that this is just an attempt to do SOMETHING, ANYTHING, to try to salve our fear and helplessness. The child molester didn't need guns to be evil. A few years back, there was a series of machete attacks in Boston. There was plenty of evil and horror to go around without guns. (Didn't hear about those attacks? There are no pro-machete or anti-machete lobbyists that I know of; I suspect that this is a factor in why you didn't hear about these attacks. And I would much rather be killed by bullets  than hacked to death by a machete.)

Evil is everywhere. In various forms. Yesterday, it surfaced in an elementary school in a picturesque New England town. But it can, and will, surface anywhere.

Details about the killer are starting to surface. He is being described as a very troubled young man - possibly with a personality disorder, possibly as autistic. It will likely take a while to figure out the whole story. 

My friend Jenny once gave me a copy of Columbine, by Dave Cullen. It's a recounting of the horrible Columbine High School massacre in 1999. It tells a story different from what we heard on the news immediately after the attack. In reality, the murders had nothing to do with Goths bullied by Jocks, as I had remembered hearing. The two boys had plenty of friends, and there was no rivalry with other cliques. The perpetrators had significant psychiatric issues. One was a full-blown psychopath, the other just a depressed follower. They actually planned on killing most of their schoolmates with bombs that they had intended to level the school. The guns they carried were simply a back-up plan. Thankfully the bombs were duds. The evil they prepared didn't depend on guns.  The evil was beyond our understanding, and beyond our ability to predict and prevent. 

One part of the story really stuck me, talking about the parents of the murderers. It's no doubt that they suffered horribly, both as parents burying their children, and as parents watching other parents bury their children because of the horrors their own offspring had committed. They weren't bad parents. But they did have damaged kids, for reasons they couldn't control. The story that marked itself upon my heart was the story of the role of a pastor. The local Lutheran pastor (yes, this is likely why it caught my eye) was reminded by a parishioner that the murderer's family had once attended the church, and would likely need some support, as their community was raging against them. And so the pastor reached out to them. 

As Christians, we know that the world is very evil. And we know that we are all sinners, and that all sins, great or small, need forgiveness. And while we feel that our transgressions are certainly miniscule in comparison to the horror that was perpetrated yesterday, we all crave grace. We all crave forgiveness. I've read many horrible things said by people about the family of Friday's shooter. And they break my heart. Because certainly the Lanza family is already heartbroken. Both by their own losses, and by the horror of having a loved one be the bringer of such evil. 

The Lutheran connection caught my eye again yesterday, as I learned that one of the victims belonged to a church in our district. We consider those in our church to be part of our extended family. We feel their joys and pains as we do with our own biological family. And our church family has lost children in the past. But we have the comfort of hope, promised by a merciful God, that He will triumph over evil in the end. This early "goodbye" is not an eternal farewell. We believe that the second-grader killed yesterday is now waiting to greet her parents in their heavenly home. And while this can't erase the grief we're all feeling right now, it does provide a healing hope. 


The lyrics of The World Is Very Evil point to this hope:
The Judge who comes in mercy,
the Judge who comes in might,
who comes to end the evil,
who comes to crown the right.

We cannot end the evil, no matter how we try. But God can, and will. And we can set our eyes on that day. Because we know that more evil will befall us in our lives, and more horrors will call out our tears. But we can place our hope in a God who is greater than those horrors, who will wipe away all of our tears. 

Please find a place in your heart to pray for the killer's family. I'm certain they need a big dose of grace right now.

Friday, December 14, 2012

There But For The Grace of God Go We

Parenting is an amazing combination of job, lifestyle, and heart-filled obsession. It makes your heart sing. It makes you sink to the depths of despair. 

It makes you vulnerable. 

Parenting rips you from a world that you can carefully construct to convince yourself that you are in control. Before having kids, you can work hard in school, get a good job, work for the right promotions, save and invest wisely, and construct a safe and comfortable world for yourself to inhabit. You can sculpt your body through marathons and trips to the gym to look and feel the way you want. You can live in the right neighborhood to have all of the conveniences you'd like. You can move the distance from family that you'd prefer - either as close or as far as is comfortable. Before having kids, you are in control of your life. And then you have kids and you suddenly aren't anymore.

Before the baby even arrives, it takes over your body. Sleeping, puking, with bulging belly and swollen ankles, it doesn't matter what you want your body to look like. The baby will have its own way with you. You can construct the perfect birth plan, but you can only have it if the baby agrees to enter the world the way you'd like. You spend the beginning of your child's life eating and sleeping at the child's whim, not your own. No matter how much you think you'll stay the same, having a child changes you.
And when you get past the hectic early days, you realize that you can again eat, sleep, and shower whenever you'd like. You start to feel in control again. 

And then horrible news splashes all over the internet, and you lose control. You see images of children being led from the school where their classmates were killed, and the tears are unleashed. The terrified faces of those children don't belong to strangers in another state, they belong to yours. You feel their fear, you want to comfort them and hold them. You see the anguished parents waiting to be reunited with their children, and you say a prayer that they will be holding their terrified children soon. You pray that they won't be one of the ones to get the bad news from the authorities - that theirs is one of the 18 (or more) children that were killed in the school. That they'll be setting one less plate at the dinner table from this night forward. That they'll have Christmas gifts under the tree that will never be opened. 

Parenting makes you vulnerable to fear. Vulnerable to the knowledge that you can't protect your children from everything. Vulnerable to the heartache that befalls other families. Because there, but for the grace of God, go we all. We are all in the same family. And none of us are in control.

I'm sure there will be a flurry of reactionary activity to follow this horrible school shooting. People will want to ban guns. People will insist on new rules to make schools safer. People will point fingers and place blame. I'm sure there's blame to go around. But really, it's just all a desperate measure to try to help us feel better, to help us feel that we have a bit of control over the situation. But none of us do. And let's face it, that's the tragedy that we're all mourning together today. We'd give our own lives to save our children. And sometimes we're not given that chance. 

So we should all pray for the families in Newtown, Connecticut. Not just today, but on Christmas. And New Years. And next Christmas. And the Christmas after that. And for the families all over this country who have lost children to violence. This is a horrible day for them too, because their child died all over again. They were actually there, in those heart-breaking news photos, once upon a time. And let's pray for all families, as we mourn our new-found loss of control. It's not the message we'd prefer to think about during the holiday season.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Secret Christmas Peacock

I'm supposed to be earning the last of my CEU's right now. I have 3 more hours to earn before the end of the year (that would be 18 days from now). But I'm quite distracted. I've searched for recipes, read my favorite blogs, and stalked people on FB. In theory, I'd like to brush up on my dysarthria knowledge. For you non-SLP's, dysarthria is defined as a speech disorder with decreased muscle control caused by either muscle paralysis, muscle weakness, abnormal muscle tone, or dyscoordination. 

I know, it sounds fascinating, right? Alas, I'd rather be folding laundry, which I can't do with this CEU course because it's not a recorded seminar that I can listen to while folding laundry. No, it's a giant powerpoint presentation that I have to read and actually learn something from because the tests can have some tricky questions. I have Pandora Christmas music in the background which helps, but I'm still squirmy. Sigh. Am I whining? Come on over for some cheese. We've got some good bacon-studded stuff smuggled here from Minnesota that I can highly recommend. Ok, I'm rambling. I should just give up on avoiding my CEUs and tell you about the new stockings I got today.

Once upon a time, I had time, creativity, and a sewing machine. In our first year of marriage, I made stockings for BestestHusband and myself. (And some pretty awesome polarfleece jammies!) They were pretty simple, made of fabric I had around, and not bad, if I say so myself. I also started a matching reversible tree skirt which did not get finished. It's around here somewhere...the three layers of roll hems did me in... Since those initial stockings (and jammies), I had 2 kids within a year of each other. I still have a sewing machine. But my time and creativity are used up by daily damage control and the two mega-cakes I concoct for the girls on their birthdays. Last year, I asked my Mum to find stockings for the girls. I think she misunderstood. We got stockings for the dogs and additional stockings for ourselves. But our stockings just were not appropriate for little girls.

So this year, we still needed stockings for the girls. And I discovered Meg, a mom at our preschool, and her company, Proof. She makes some lovely and unique things, including stockings. So she agreed to stop by the house after daycare drop off one morning, and we talked stockings. I showed her our stockings, she showed me fabric swatches, we agreed on a design, and off she went with my original stockings as a pattern. A few emails and a week later, the details were hammered out, and the stockings were delivered. I'm thrilled. They're sweet and feminine, without being too babyish. And they're definitely unique.

Here's the back view. The front has the girls' names in contrasting fabric. Trust me, it's super cute.

If you live in the Boston area, check out her stuff at Birch St. House & Garden, a gift shop in Rosi Square. Or Colorwheel Collection. Or check her out on Etsy. She's a work-from-home mom, she can design to your specifications, and she's lovely. Check her out!

I loved the colors in this fabric, they matched our home and other stockings. I wasn't sure about a peacock on a Christmas stocking, though...

So Meg cut the fabric to minimize the peacocks. The front shows no peacocks at all.  And I like the idea of a secret Christmas peacock on the back.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Whine Fest

The urge to whine must be a very strong one.

My first job out of college was teaching children with autism in a private school that provided ABA therapy - Applied Behavioral Analysis. With ABA, you look at a behavior, you look at its antecedent, and you look at its response. ABA teaches that you need to change a behavior's antecedent or response to get a change in behavior. A behavior that is persistent must have a response that is reinforcing to the child. If you want to remove a behavior, you need to remove the positive response, and train a different behavior with a different desirable response.

So, when you have a persistent and undesirable behavior, like, say, whining, there must be some reinforcing response that makes a child continue to do the behavior. In other words, whining continues because it works somehow for the child. If it's successful, they'll keep doing it. And if you want to make them stop whining, you need to stop giving in to it, and only reward them for NOT whining.

Here's where ABA fails.

My girls whine. Constantly. But not because it's reinforced by the adults in the household. No. In fact, whining results in a response like, "No, you can't, because you're whining." or "I can't understand you when you whine. Use a Big Girl voice." or "Stop whining." or "No. Ask me again when you're done whining." NEVER does whining get them what they want. Yet they still whine. And we've tried to replace the undesirable behavior with a better one. We model a pleasant voice and polite way of asking. Here's an example:

MeToo:  "Moooommmm, I waaannntt miiilllkk!"
Me:  "Mama, may I have some milk please?"
MeToo: (in a non-whiny voice) "Mama, may I have milk please?"
Me:  "Sure sweetie, here you go."
MeToo:  (gets milk, her desired result)

ABA would claim that after multiple trials of this re-training, the whining behavior should be extinguished, replaced by polite Big Girl voices. 

ABA would be WRONG! They persist in their whining attempts. Despite never getting anything they whine for.

But today, I suddenly feel the need to join in on the whining.

Logically, I know that I don't really have any problems in my life. We can make our monthly mortgage payments. We're both as employed as we want to be. Our girls are both healthy. Our extended family is quirky, but not dysfunctional. I'm not battling a terminal illness. I'm not puking nonstop like the former Kate Middleton. There are people in this world with REAL problems, and we are not them.

But I have an annoying niggling little thing that makes me want to whine. And I'm going to do it now.

I caught a cold from the girls. It hit me full-on at work today. I've had a sinus infection for 2 weeks. I'm on Day 13 of antibiotics. I haven't had full use of my left nostril for 3 months. It was 3 colds back-to-back that set me up for my sinus infection. And just as I was starting to turn the corner on my sinus infection, I got walloped by another cold. Seriously?

Can't a girl catch a break?!?!

Look, I know it's not the same as a neurodegenerative disease. It really isn't such a big deal. It's a mere nuisance in the grand scheme of life. But I'm angry. And sad. And holding a one-person-pity-party in my own honor. 

Please pray for my sinuses. And if you get the chance to talk to Santa, tell him I'd like a new left nostril for Christmas. It's only 2 weeks away. Certainly he can take pity on me and start working on it...

Thanks for entertaining my whine. Come on over and I'll serve you some cheese to go with it.

Monday, December 10, 2012

I Love Ikea

I experienced an otherwise under-appreciated play date setting today:  Ikea.
Who needs the Children's Museum or trampoline park? Take 3 preschool girls to your local Ikea, and they can jump on beds, investigate every cabinet and drawer in the kitchen mock-ups, sniff every scented candle, and run around in relative safety and peace. And most of the other people there on weekdays have kids, so you don't get any disapproving or judgmental stares. 

Even better, you don't have to pack a lunch. A family of 3 can get a hot meal for $12. That's less than a lunch entree at a restaurant in Boston. And it can even include such exotic drinks as Lingonberry or Elderflower juice. What a deal!

Next time, we're turning it into a mommy play date. We'll drop the girls off in the playroom to be babysat while we mentally redecorate our homes and enjoy tea time in the cafe. Anyone want to join us?

PS. Thanks to Joy (my friend Joy) for getting together today. It was definitely the highlight of this wet and dreary day! And thanks to the distraction of her daughter, my daughters didn't notice the Christmas shopping I did for them. SCORE!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

School Report #5

The girls and I did our 5th school visit on Friday, at the Mozart school. It's one of our neighborhood K1-5 schools, and another small one, with only one class per grade.

Other than the general coziness of the school , I was struck by the impression I got of the Principal. He was older, a parent, and gave off a serious no-nonsense vibe. He talked about knowing every home owner that abutted the school property (and it's quite a few!), and I didn't doubt it. He talked about knowing every child in the school by name, and I didn't doubt it. He talked about knowing everything that goes on in the school, and I didn't doubt it.

The other great impression I got was that being a parent there could be a full-time job if you wanted it to be. He pointed out some of the things that had been accomplished by parents: grant-application for funding and design/construction of an updated playyard/playground, brochures and website for school marketing (yes, you have to market your schools here in Boston if you want people to apply for them), and updated library with funds for re-stocking/growth. I saw parents helping with crafts. Parents run the PE program. 

My notes were scribbled on a small notepad I had in my pocket, so here are some other details:

  • There is a before-school program for K1, but after school they have to go to a different school for afterschool programming.
  • Uniforms are worn M-Th.
  • "Specials" include visual arts, woodworking, music, science, PE.
  • There are designated rooms for music and science, and the library is large enough to do classroom activities in.
  • The school is tiny, but the classrooms were large enough, cheerful, and felt airy, with great windows.
  • They participate in the yearly Roslindale parade, as part of civic-mindedness.
  • The nurse is shared with the local Bates school (discussed in an earlier school report).
  • They have a lovely outdoor classroom, which is a garden-ish space with benches and different plants. It's used for every type of class (writing, math, science) across every grade. There was a tiny greenhouse in use, and a compost bin to help maintain the garden.
  • They have an urban gardening program, named SLUG (something-something-urban-gardening).
Overall, it's another school that I think the girls could thrive in, and I'd be happy to send them there. I saw many parents that I've seen at other school tours, and it affirms my idea that there are lots of parents like me who care about their children's school options, and would be very active in any school that their/my kid went to. I see this as a good sign for my girls' education. We get a break from school visits until after the New Year. But this Wednesday is a meeting that talks about the process and strategy of applying to schools in Boston. Yes, I said strategy. (sigh). But I want to be fully informed, so I'll go. I'll be happy when this application process is over.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Royal Celebration

Once upon a time, there was a little Princess named MeToo. Every year she grew fairer and smarter. On her third birthday, fair maidens from all over the land gathered to celebrate at a Princess Party. They wore puffy princess dresses, decorated tiaras with jewel stickers, painted masks, and decorated treasure chests. They found jewels hidden by an evil fairy to fill their treasure chests. They destroyed an evil piƱata to get the treasures hidden inside. They feasted on treats, and a few healthy foods, too. They played with toys and balloons. And when the party was over, they cried as they put on their coats and went home.

But before the party, royal preparations had the household abuzz and aflutter. Royal family flew in from Minnesota and Alaska. Gifts were purchased. Party supplies arrived in the mail. And the royal birthday cake was made. The fragility and secrecy of the Princess' cake required that it be made the night before the party. So, working late into the night, the royal cake decorator frosted, cut, constructed, and assembled the cake. And, long after the stroke of midnight, the long-awaited Princess Cake was complete. 

Modeled after the castle Neuschwanstein, it was similarly structurally unsound and designed by a crazy person. 

Front view.
Side/back view.
View of the tower that fell and shattered while taking pictures seen above.

The exhausted royal cake decorator assumed that more castle damage could occur overnight, and left the repairs for the morning. Amazingly enough, no further damage occurred, and the repairs were simple and quick. (and cleanup was rather tasty.) 

And the Princess loved her cake, and everyone lived happily ever after.

The End.