Mason Jar Snow Globes with Kids

In this giant crunch of Holidays I find that I don’t have nearly enough time to try all of the arts and crafts projects that I want to. I know nobody  in their right mind has time to run to a crafting speciality store and buy an assortment of random glues and glycerin to make a project with the kids. It ends up costing a hundred dollars and by the time you’re done shopping and “crafting” with your kids you may as well have clicked on a pricey website and just purchased the items you were aiming to imitate.

Just ask me about the fifty dollars worth of jumbo yarn I bought so I could arm-knit a year ago. (Hint: it’s still in the packaging and I never arm-knitted.) This year I have adopted a new approach: I am a fan of using what I already have in my house and I’m 99% more likely to try a Pinterest craft if I already own the tools.

“Crafting” with my kids looks a little more like chaos than art. Glitter makes me nervous and glue ends up embedded in my rugs. I’m not sure how to survive having little kids, but that’s for a different time. Today let’s take a look at a realistic project you can actually accomplish.

snow globe jar project
I spared you the agony of a beautiful picture and opted to use a real one.

You need:

  • Deep Breaths
  • Patience
  • Mason Jars or baby food jars
  • Glitter
  • Water
  • Confetti – if you have it, believe me your little kids do not care if your craft isn’t perfectly supplied.
  • Corn Syrup – It’s sold literally everywhere this time of year, but don’t run out to buy it because its only purpose is to gob up your glitter so it floats around the jar more slowly.
  • Glue maybe– I used two kinds and both were a failure. Super glue and hot glue did not hold up against the vigorous shaking of preschoolers, I imagine Elmer’s is water soluble so don’t bother. Maybe just skip the glue.
  • Toys – My kids picked out cars and little junk to fill up their jars with.

Toys my kids picked for their jars

Now the fun! Let your kids dump their glitter and confetti into the jars while you glue down their toys onto the jar lid!

 

Snow globe supplies
Super glue and a lump of Model Magic. The Model Magic doesn’t hold down well, I don’t recommend using it in water projects.

Pro tip: Pre-measure out their glitter and confetti into a dish so they can mess around without wrecking a full bottle of glitter and your carpet.

I hot glued the toys on once I realized my super glue wasn’t holding up. The kids were way too eager to add the water to their glitter and shake their jars so we ultimately ended up with wet glue and loose toys. We tried though.

When you’re ready, add water to your kid’s jars and then a couple tablespoons of the clear corn syrup. Screw the lid down tightly or attempt to glue it on. You want it to hold up against toddlers shaking it.

Our finished product
They look like a kid did them, and that’s just fine.

The finished product looks awful! Damnit, the kids have thrown stickers into the jars when I wasn’t looking. However, they love them, and they did them independently. This is a realistic craft and that’s exactly why this busy mom of three loves it.

Now I’m An Alcoholic

I am not the world’s greatest F*ck Up. I was getting there slowly though. Nobody starts an addiction by being destructive. It starts slowly and harmlessly and gradually escalates towards more risky behaviors.

I drank every day for two and half years. I drank through flus and timed it around breastfeeding, I drank on trips, I drank when nobody else was. I drank alone. I drank in bed. I drank when I didn’t want to drink. I justified every single drink and every one of my actions because I wasn’t a danger to anyone. I thought I had enough control because I didn’t drink during the day. It’s easy to justify your way out of uncomfortable truths when you aren’t ready to face them.

When I hit the rock bottom of my addiction I felt it, I knew it, and that would be the moment that I would snap into sobriety voluntarily but unwittingly. The morning of my rock bottom my eyes didn’t gradually flutter open and closed, blocking out the light and then letting it back in. They sprang open like two shutters flapping against the side of a house in a windstorm. BANG!
I shot up from my bed, punching my feet to the floor without enough hesitation to steady my head.

The room swirled around, so I tilted my head sideways to accommodate my crooked brain. I’m familiar with vertigo, but this wasn’t it. This was accompanied by nausea and regret. It was a sinister hangover. The alarm clock sitting above the television said it was 7:45 in the morning, and that was fifteen minutes later than I had meant to sleep. My husband jolted up in bed, startled by my exaggerated movements.

“Camp, camp, camp.” I silently repeated over and over again. I hoped that thinking intently about getting my kid to camp would make it happen smoothly and I wouldn’t trip over my feet and fall, vomiting up the rare bottle of wine I had drunk the night before. “Was it one bottle or two, Chrissy? I don’t have time for this! Camp, camp, camp.” My head pounded, the floor came up to meet my face and woozed back away again.

My husband thudded down the steps behind me, and I paid no attention. Without looking back I dashed towards the bathroom knowing I had to beat everyone in my house to the shower if I was going to scrub the smell of wine, body odor, and bug spray off my body and change my clothes before my kids could notice that I was not okay.

The shower did not save me. I had to steady myself with my hands on the wall, just mustering up the balance to wash my hair and face.

That frenetic and desperate morning was nothing like the pain I felt through the rest of the day. Handling nausea and head spins with two preschoolers at home wasn’t easy, and for some god awful, illogical reason, I let my kids talk me into taking them to Walmart for a new toy. I thought I was still drunk when I drove them to the store, but biologically speaking, I should have metabolized that alcohol and that should be impossible. It didn’t change the fact that the road was warping in my vision and I couldn’t tell if I was close to hitting parked cars or not. I had officially become a danger.

That very afternoon I had a scheduled surgery, which is the likely culprit for my heavier than usual wine intake. I had to have some tissue removed from my back on the moderate chance it could turn cancerous. I thought about cancelling, but I didn’t change my appointment because I would have only prolonged my anxiety and continued drinking heavily. So I followed through, I had arranged childcare, I had a friend come with me to hold my hand through the small surgery where I had many layers of my skin cut out and stitched up. I was sick and dazed, and really disappointed in myself for walking into surgery with the hangover of an inexperienced Frat Boy.

In my husband’s retelling of the previous night’s event I didn’t drink enough wine to be that excruciatingly hung over. We had split three bottles with four grown people and I was being talkative and friendly and charming with our neighbors all evening long.  Not a slurring mess, not an embarrassment.

Joy!

It’s a genuine relief to find out I was not an embarrassment. I cannot tell you how awful it is to wake up every morning dreading your notifications on your phone.

I drink all night, I bring a glass to my bedside, and my phone usually stays glued to my hand until midnight. I almost never fully remember what I said in emails, or on Facebook. I don’t think I’ve done any permanent reputation damage besides being chatty and weird. It was getting dicey though, as I was taking more drinks to get to my light, happy feeling and staying up much later. I functioned on booze alone, sleeping maybe six hours a night, popping up in the morning to pack lunches and be happy go lucky. I ran at night, logging four miles a day, coming home and having wine until I crashed at midnight again.

I have purchased so much shit on Amazon that my husband changed the account info and hid the credit cards. Boxes started showing up that I didn’t remember ordering.

So just how much do I drink anyway? Good question! I honestly do not know. I have a prepared answer for when I have doctor visits and checkups. I always expect to be asked that question and I always plan a response and an innocent, befuddled look. “Oh gosh, I have to think about it but I am certain I have a glass of wine every night with dinner. I’d say seven to ten drinks a week.” And I make eye contact with the doctor at that point, and then look down at my shoes or at the posters on the wall. I don’t care that they know I drink, I just never want to have a conversation about my consumption, I didn’t want to talk about it or get help or hear speeches about health.

Realistically I can drink two boxes of wine a week. They don’t put health information labels on those, so it’s guess work. I estimate that I was drinking over a bottle of wine a day and consuming a thousand calories. I started to prefer boxes of wine a couple of years ago, after my daughter was born, I got cheaper and my standards shrank. Towards the time that I quit I had a box of low end schwill on the counter that I was forcing myself to drink because I didn’t want to waste it.

“I’ll quit when this box is gone. I don’t want to waste it.” Was always my reasoning. Also, I never actually ran out of boxes or stopped buying wine.

“I’ll quit when it’s not an anniversary, holiday, birthday etc…”  And there’s always a reason to celebrate, so there’s never a reason to quit.

The absurdity of my addiction is that I know better, I was raised in an alcoholic home, and I make choices every single day to be healthy. I run, and I run a lot. I lift weights at the gym too. I’m so proud of my body and what it accomplishes, but I treat it like a dumping ground for ferment and repressed feelings.

I started investigating my feelings of guilt and curiosity about quitting by Googling symptoms of addiction. I found the DSM 5 has changed what constitutes problem drinking. There were things that I identify with. Almost eight things. Here is the link if you are curious about the DSM 5.

Part of alcoholism is ritual:
I love to wait until the kids are fast asleep and drink without the shame of them seeing their mother bubbly on wine, then stumbly on wine, then passed out on wine. By the time I am emptying wine into my fifth glass, I’m heading up to bed with it in my hand. I regularly had a collection of three glasses on my nightstand that smelled sour in the morning. Twice I spilled on our mattress and soaked my husband because I literally fell asleep with the wine in my hand.

The kicker symptom:
Wanting to quit but you can’t. Yes, I wanted to quit all the time. I wanted to quit when I wasn’t even drinking, I would be actively running on the treadmill at the gym, knowing that I’m out of wine at home and I would tell myself, “Don’t stop and buy wine on the way home.” But I always stop and buy wine on the way home. That’s addiction in its most condensed definition.

I struggled identifying what addiction really is and whether I actually have an addiction. I tried to justify it away. I made excuses. I found some recommendations that drinking under three drinks in a day is not problem drinking. I convinced myself that that was my category. I fell into that group, the sort of at risk group but not really a problem group. I essentially scoured the internet trying to find information that would reinforce my denial.

Denial is easy, we live in a culture built for drinkers, and drinks are sexy, and drinks are masculine or feminine or professional. However they market it, which I notice much more now that I am sober. Beer makes up a huge percentage of advertising space featuring people doing fitness. You can be athletic and an alcoholic. Just look at me, having it all.

Additionally, I am a mom, and so I need wine. It’s a coping mechanism for something that is endlessly stressful. Have you met children? Have you met my children? They are loud, messy, gross little things that tell me they hate me but still need me to wipe their asses. I have three kids, which is three reasons to drink.

Consequently, I have had three pregnancies and I have no skin elasticity left to speak of. I do not want to get naked. Not under any circumstance. Drinking is a nice companion to the harsh feeling of my skin being looked at by another human. The last three years of my marriage are intact because of wine. My husband didn’t even know I had a problem with alcohol.

He’s confused about why I’m quitting. He thinks it’s me being on a cute health kick or making a temporary change to cleanse. It’s not his fault, I hide stuff from him. I hide my buzz. I hide my draw to drink. I hide the unbidden thoughts that I have about drinking all day long, and the ones that I have about quitting when I start to feel regret. He doesn’t know how dangerously close I came to collapsing during my runs. Booze was fueling me, propping me up, but I lacked the stamina of a genuinely healthy person.

Hiding isn’t an option once you expose every raw nerve. I am done drinking to escape from dealing with ugliness about myself, about choices, about losses, grief, and the terror of coming so close to experiencing the cancer that claimed my brother’s life a few months ago. Something I have refused to let myself feel, process and move on with.

I walked out of surgery and came into a house stocked with alcohol in preparation to hide from the pain. I didn’t touch any of it, I couldn’t bring myself to do it again after I had drunk myself sick, drove my children in some state of impairment, and gone under a knife. There’s nothing temporary about being an alcoholic. Everyone in my life is going to go through this with me.

10 Days Sober.

White Guilt And A Patchwork Quilt

My dad is an immigrant with a permanent resident Status that he acquired when President Reagan loosened the application restrictions in 1986, creating immigrant amnesty. (Reagan was today’s Democrat or something. I don’t know, because I was three.) My dad is Greek, just like my Big Fat Greek Wedding.  He’s also kind of racist; you see guys, a lot of that shit also exists in Europe. It’s real, and it’s not something we stand to gain anything by denying. It’s maybe an ego bruise or a pride-sting, but it’s a real thing with a name and a feeling and a dictionary description.

The thing about my dad’s kind of racism is that he never wants to revoke the rights of other people; he doesn’t think they don’t deserve to live, he just makes really harsh and sweeping generalizations that are still damaging and not okay.

My dad hides his racism really well, and doesn’t identify as being bigoted. He doesn’t actually think he’s doing anything wrong. He usually just whispers something under his breath and out of earshot when he’s watching TV.  As a kid I didn’t realize that he was in fact embodying the form of racism we heard about in school, when we had assemblies and councilor sessions about appropriate language. It’s the sort of thing that people have to hammer into your head before you really see it for what it is.

Like a lot of people, he’s not open with it, he’s not targeting anyone, but he does not get racial sensitivity. He doesn’t get gay people either, or how that’s “a thing”, but he doesn’t give a flying fuck if they get married, he just doesn’t fundamentally get it.

As I grew up, and learned how to stand up to my parents, I found it easy to tell my dad when he was being racist.

“Can you believe that girl, with all the black guys!” he would say to me when he would see someone he knew with another new boyfriend.

“Dad that’s racist.” I would flatly tell him, giving almost no tone of surprise, shock, or distaste. That is really the only way to talk to my father.

“Okay Chrissy.” He would say in his thick accent as he turned and walked away from me. Maybe he was being dismissive.

I knew I wasn’t changing him, he wasn’t turning a new leaf, he wasn’t ever going to declare himself an ally to anyone, but I also knew that I could tell him when he was doing it and that he would stop. I also knew I was saving him from saying that shit too loud. You can’t be publicly racist. At least you couldn’t be, seven days ago.

We don’t need Alanis Morisette to tell us how ironic it is that the immigrant who is racially stereotyping people looks shocked when I react to his slurs.  

I recognize racism because I grew up with it. My mom was even a little racist. Just the traces of it. She dropped slurs casually that I didn’t know were slurs. Like “Chinky,” which sounds adorable to a kid and not so bad, but it is bad, don’t tell your kids to say it. I said it until I was a teenager having no idea what the hell I was talking about. I didn’t even know I was being racist; it was just one of those things that gets handed down like a quilt or tacky gold earrings that were very popular during that Reagan era.

And my mom was the white lady who was best friends with the only black woman on our street; mom was sort of racist like dad was, yet she empowered our African Immigrant neighbor to get her license by giving her driving lessons and teaching her how to drive in our old, white Honda Civic.

My mom sent us to play with the neighbor’s kids, who watched Saved By the Bell on their grainy, small, barely in color and very non HDTV too. They cooked strong, odorous food that I had never seen before, most of it turned out to be seasoned beans or rice, but I was used to Macaroni and ultra-palatable food that was all the same color. They had hair that took a lot of combing and conditioning. They had these dark, wooden tribal masks on the wall that scared the hell out of me, but they were cultural—I understood that much. They would speak in a version of French to one another, but easily slide back into English for me. Eventually I realized I was picking up keywords in their dialogues. They were quiet and obedient to their parents. They had a structure to their household relationships that seemed more formal than mine, but I didn’t see any enormous differences when you consider what it must be like to come to Vermont from Africa. We were friends with them for years. And for most of the time, they were the only black family we knew, but my brother and I didn’t notice it until we were much older.

None of that sounds like true, cold-blooded, hate-filled racism, right?

So I get that a lot of people supporting Trump are saying that they’re not racist. Because like my family, being half-way kind-of racist means you are kind to people of all races, but you are willing to overlook the use of slurs and stuff that seems innocent. It’s not innocent, though. And not hearing those slurs, or standing up to those slurs is allowing someone to be branded with the hot-poker of hate.

I was finally of drinking age, waitressing nights in my parents restaurant across from a popular bar that always hosted live bands. After work I scooted over a lot to see music and friends and get drinks. My old neighbor was still living in Brattleboro, but divorced and with a home of her own in a different end of town now. She still went out dressed beautifully in traditional, vibrantly colored kaftans. I could spot her from a mile away; she was cheerful, always emanating a joy from her soul as though nothing got to her. She was out dancing with her friends at that bar. I didn’t talk to her much—loud music, crowded house.

Sometime in the following days, a familiar woman came in to eat at our absurdly tiny seven-table pizza shop. A frequent customer, she had to have been in her 90s. She walked with a cane and a serious curvature to her stooped back. I always felt a soft spot for her being that her appearance was so frail. I whispered to my mom, “It’s kind of sweet; she’s still independent and comes in for pizza.”

My mom whispered to me in a less hushed tone that left me feeling embarrassed, “That lady ain’t got nothing sweet. She had the nerve to walk up to my friend who was minding her business out dancing the other night, grab her arm, and tell her to go back to Africa. She called her a Nigger.”

My mouth gaped in horror, I stumbled over words. “What happened next?”  

“My friend is an amazing woman; she stood up, shook the woman off and said, ‘Leave me alone, I’m dancing!’ And then she did exactly that, smiled at her friends and didn’t let it stop her fun. That was the best way to shut that awful woman up.”

“Mom, are you going to say anything? Are you going to refuse to serve her? Should we kick her out?” I asked, genuinely concerned, and having never heard of such a thing happening before in my springy, peach-white skinned life.  

“No,” my mom said, continuing her work cutting bread for sandwiches.

The conversation ended just that abruptly.

We continued to serve that racist old lady for many more months. I never said anything, quietly serving her food, knowing she was full of hatred straight out of the MLK docuseries I saw in high school. Justice to me would have been kicking her out for her hatred, the way so many black people were dehumanized and kicked out of diners before I was born.

Someone I knew to be good and virtuous was publicly branded with the hate and anger of a perfect stranger.  It was not her responsibility to carry the dark shadow of someone else’s resentment. She had handled herself perfectly, and unfortunately I’m sure she had practice.

Everyone who stands out has. My dad is called a Muslim by intolerant people who can’t tell that his accent is Greek and that his flag is blue. He’s been called a “White-Nigger” and I’m still not sure what that means, but it seems like we affix the term “Nigger” to attribute hate to just about anyone.

It feels different somehow: using the language that was designed to oppress an entire culture of people from Slavery to Segregation feels like a far more dark and painful type of racism than jokes about Jews or calling Muslims terrorists. I understand. But somewhere we left a door open.

And we can dig in our heels, appease our guilt, or our fear of being represented as bad, and say we don’t carry those sins on our backs anymore; we leave the past where it is, because it’s not ours anymore. We have atoned, we are nicer now, too much time has passed, are they trying to punish us for things we didn’t even do? Should I feel guilty for being white?

Maybe. But only if we keep doing nothing. We packed away the dogs and firehoses and the Jim Crow, but racism didn’t die when that bitter old woman did. We handed it down, like a quilt or some tacky gold earrings.

img_20161112_135342217
Act with kindness. Think.

An Homage And A Tearful Goodbye

I was a really nervous fourth grader; even as a child I hated new experiences. The butterflies were never exciting ones, they were always weighted down inside of my cockles with dread. This particular day we were taking a class field trip to a local private school to do a workshop with kids from another school program, probably to “branch out” or “broaden our cultural experiences.” For whatever reason, my hippie public school teacher with feathers in her hair and earthy perfume had orchestrated an embarrassing exercise in which we would run improvised short plays. She made me act as the person who kicks Rosa Parks out of her seat on The Bus. You’re probably going; “What?”

I agree, there is absolutely nothing great about being the fourth grader who gets assigned the most racist role ever.

I walked into a small classroom with my large class and met the students of the class we were invading. There were silent, shy stares from both classes. None of us understood why we were there. While I quietly and blankly observed the faces of the new kids sitting in a semicircle in front of us I was also taking in the details of the room.

It was vastly different from my stark-white cement brick classroom background.  These floors were hardwood, not thinly carpeted with an itchy, blue rug. The walls were softer somehow, with trimming and details and large windows framed with wood. Back then the bookshelves seemed so big, and the kids had bean bag chairs to sit on while they read. Having no architectural or stylistic idea of what I was appreciating as a fourth grader, today I know it was warmth and natural light, soft color palates and nothing harsh, metal and industrial like you’d find in just about every other school building I’ve been in.

It stayed with me, both the humiliation of yelling at pretend (and very much white) Rosa Parks and having only half of a clue what that meant, and the feeling inside that building. I wanted to keep it forever, carry it home in my pocket and try to transform some area of my life into a safe and cozy nook.

I grew up down the street from that school in a Formica house of hard lines and no yard. As I got older I went trekking up the enormous, winding dirt driveway that lead at first to a mansion transformed into offices, used mostly for Yoga, and then just beyond that is an inlet for public hiking trails. Nestled up there on top of that huge hill just beyond that mansion is a school house. Made of wood, neutral tones and big windows, sitting in the shade of ancient trees, there was the warm feeling I’d always wanted to recreate.  It’s a unique location, off a busy street, and close to downtown but built so far into the woods that the cars are only noticeable if you crouch down and peek through tree branches. Life up on the hill feels a little like Shangri La.

I called the school as soon as my son was about to turn three. I knew I immediately wanted to enroll him in the place that had resonated so deeply with me. I potty trained him quickly to get him enrolled. The pee accidents still happen, but some kids just do that. The good news is that the school no longer requires potty training for enrollment. We agreed to send him there for preschool, and I thought we would keep him there forever. My husband agreed to send him there until he was old enough for public school, but the agreement wasn’t something we really talked about. I assumed that like everything else I would be able to change his mind.

School pick up was, interesting, maybe inconvenient but not everything in life is designed to be easy, but it builds character and glutes and that’s just facts. I adapted to walking up that steep and long road during heavy snow when my minivan would give out halfway up and I would be forced by the elements to have to back very slowly down the hill and park on the main road. I would hoist my youngest onto my shoulders and hike, feeling grateful for the workout but honestly displeased with the snow.

At Christmastime there were no Santas or forced themes, but there were kids sitting at picnic tables out front, knotting wire around rocks and handing them out to parents as ornaments.

I took the kids out to explore the trails, and they would get a few opportunities to go on them with their teachers and memorize a few trails. It was my preschooler who showed me how to use some of the trails I’ve never been on.

Every day I walked up to the door to pick up my big kid and he ran out, excited to see me, holding art projects and books in his hands, showing me his latest invention or spewing a ton of crazy stories about alien robot dinosaurs.

The parents met on the playground and chatted, when the kids came out at mid-day they would run to play structures and have built-in play dates.

In the micro chasm of preschool half day pick up I have seen families have new babies, talked about anything and everything with other parents, broken up spats between kids, chased my own three kids and watched them grow as they learned to navigate the playground equipment, the stairs and the big slides. They fearlessly took on the woods, the bugs and the salamanders. They played in the snow, only staying indoors on the most unlivable of northern New England days.

The school day wore them out for me. I would bring them home ready for naps. They played with all their might, playing chase or super heroes or some made up game that no adult could possibly follow, running back and forth across the hillside.

I picked my Five year old son up and drove him home on his last day at Neighborhood Schoolhouse, with three exhausted and played out kids in the car I felt stressed, but happy and emotional at watching the end of this truly awesome childhood era.  My son from the “way back” quietly called out; “Mommy, why is today the last day of school? I don’t feel like I’ve learned enough to go to my new school.”

And at that I allowed a smattering of tears to flow down my cheeks.

There wasn’t going to be a way to hold them back anymore.

With the wet heat of an overdue cry stinging my eyes, I assured him that he had learned so many wonderful things and he would be so ready to take on his Kindergarten year.  He’s learned the basics of reading and writing, without any academic pressure to perform. He was able to pace himself and every time we sat down to read he recognized more and more words, and towards the end, he has been adding and subtracting numbers. My heart pumps with pride knowing that we made a great choice for giving our kid a healthy start to his formative education.

I walked our dog tonight on the trails that lead up to the school. She’s familiar with the scents of those woods and eagerly pulled me towards the trail that leads to school. I was tempted to walk the whole way but felt myself abruptly overcome with emotion at the idea that I had to say goodbye to something I felt so deeply connected to, something that fit better than any pair of jeans I’ve ever tried to wear. I lead the dog back down the trail and let myself cry like no one was watching. My husband didn’t understand why I came home with red eyes, and I had difficulty explaining my attachment and my strong reaction, but when a place resonates with you, you react strongly to it. I said goodbye to my playground friendships, and my son said goodbye to some children he’s known for nearly half of his very short life.

It represents some form of an idyllic childhood, simplified. Where preschoolers and elementary kids experience nature and friendship, and education seems to find its way into that innate curiosity on its own.

On a side note; I haven’t seen a single kid since I was in fourth grade be forced to reenact a civil rights abuse, so either times have changed for the better or my acting ruined racially tense improv  for everyone.

We may have to move on to establishment education, white-painted bricks, and state curriculum but the two years we spent on the hill in the woods will always be worth the money, and the time. Unfortunately, not even my tears could make my husband change his mind about the educational plan he has for our son, not any more than my tears could make money appear in my bank account.

Soon, my heart won’t feel as stung by this sense of loss.

But there are few places that evoke such a sense of closeness and security and I encourage anyone to look closely at the happy little faces playing under the Hemlock trees and think that maybe, this could be a dream for their kids too.

This isn’t goodbye, it’s see you later.

I Punched My Husband In the Face

We unloaded the kids from the minivan after our weekly family date night at the pizzeria. After we shuffled them all inside and started to wash the tomato sauce off of them in the tub, we sat them in front of the TV to watch their favorite show; America’s Funniest Home Videos. My two year old calls it “People Falling Down” and my one year old calls it “Cats”. Both are accurate.

With them snuggled in and clean I thought I could make a rare pre-bedtime escape. I whispered to my husband so my kids wouldn’t hear me; “I’m going to go out for a walk tonight. I’m tired of breathing recycled air in the gym. And I smell like a Gyro anyway.”

He followed me to the Mudroom to conspire with me out of the munchkins ear shot. He’s actually a really supportive guy when it comes to getting me out of the house. He gets that it’s a 24/7 zoo, complete with feeding times, outdoor schedules and so much poop. SO. MUCH. POOP.

He stipulated though, that I should stop at the market for a gallon of milk. Which would require a traverse through a section of town lined with bars.

I expressed my trepidation about taking a stroll at dusk, especially through that street. Because this is a town with an unstated and unofficial curfew and a burgeoning heroin crisis. The quiet townsfolk and families all retreat to their houses for the night, leaving the young, the drunk, the uninhibited and the downright crazy to run the streets without the pretense of being glued to societal norms, like urinating  in toilets.

I am rapidly beelining toward middle age, hopelessly yet happily driven home at Nine pm by my internal clock, with only the draw of folk music or a contra dance to lure me out past my witching hour. I have become unfamiliar with the locals, I don’t know who to avoid and I admittedly just feel safer avoiding everyone. You get a little distrustful in old age I guess.

My husband’s response was to brief me in self defense, probably as a joke. But my jittery nerves saw an opportunity to prepare for the worst, so I took it.

My husband stands just a few inches taller than me, and maybe 50 lbs heavier. With three feet of kitchen space between us I thought he should be showing me self defense a little closer. For accuracy.

“Come pretend to tackle me! Show me how to do this!” I was just a little excited, like a kid wrestling his brother. I cajoled my husband into coming into contact with my extended arms, which he grabbed with two hands. He instructed me to swipe outward with my arms and reverse the grip of the attacker.

So I did.

Oh boy, I fucking did.

What happened next was so reflexive, and so primal that I even scared myself.

I used my arms to thrust his hands away from my wrists, and out to the sides. Then while he was recovering his balance I swooped in with my right fist closed and decked him in the jaw.

It cracked. We both heard the bone as it crunched under my knuckles. I was so sure I would be in deep deep shit with him for that punch. It was pretty unexpected, I mean, this isn’t a dojo, we were just being silly and practicing some lame defense stuff that would never work on a guy with a weapon. But here I was, with a sore hand and a husband with his mouth hanging so far open I thought a bat would come flying out.

He rubbed his jaw with his palm pretty gingerly and said, “Shit. It’s good to know I can still take a punch.”

And then I buckled in laughter. When I stood back up my husband grabbed my shoulders and said “Go for your walk. I if anyone messes with you they’re going to regret it.”

And I made it out after dark, alone. On the return trip past the row of bars I walked right by two men fighting and threatening to call the cops on each other. I steadied myself and walked right past it, unscathed and uninvolved but laughing as quietly as possible about that one time when I punched my husband in the face.

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Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

I lost my mind today, as I’m prone to doing. But I usually keep my crazy under lock and key behind the wooden door of my house.  I save my crazy for the special people who love me and are legally bound to me. Today I lost my mind on a perfect stranger on a public street. I’ll admit that I was pushed into reacting by fear and frustration by someone who unbeknownst to me has an insurmountable health issue, and that I reacted as poorly as a person can when their  back is against a wall.

The best and craziest part is that when I blew my lid at him he was inside his house sleeping and I was really just screaming at a cluttered second story porch from the bottom of the dirt driveway. The bad part for my credibility is that I attracted witnesses, and when another one of my neighbors asked me why I was running around acting like a child I just about dropped dead of embarrassment.

I was caught red handed, with a wooden handled wire garden rake shaking my furious grip as I dragged the trash and litter and broken glass out of my garden and into the adjacent driveway of the five unit apartment building in my neighborhood.

Small towns in New England that were founded before  cars and roads were developed will often have strange side streets, and dead ends that used to just be horse and buggy trails leading to farmhouses with acre lots and outcroppings of smaller houses that were all a part of the same farm. They were developed into multiple owner lots with the same leaky, old farmhouses from 1850 sprouted on half and quarter acre lots. Squeeze in a couple of rental units built in the 1970’s where property owners saw an opportunity to make income off renters because farm land was less profitable, and what you have present day is a really ugly mish mash of blurred property lines. And a lot of neighborly quarrels over land and appropriate usage of it.

When purchased, our house had some fences dividing the property we were purchasing from the neighboring lots. It was an old fence, hand built and nailed together probably in the 1950’s. We were able to brush off a lot of the unsightly activity across the yard because of the five foot fence. We had a very warm, rainy and atypical winter season. A driving rain took the fence down without much fight. Ever since that fence came down we have been exposed to the elements of our neighbors.

All of them are heavy smokers, but no fence prevented the lingering smoke from trailing over to our house, and personal habits aside they are mostly just normal tenants who mind their business and drive in and out without much noise.

SAVE FOR ONE.

One man, in his fifties I assume, drives in, slams around the driveway erratically and gives zero credence to personal property. Unless it’s his. And it’s all his. He has sticky fingers that man. He walks around, or drives in his 90’s model pickup truck and steals recycling bins from other people’s yards. He collects junk and hoards it. I suspect it’s all free stuff from the side of the road. He piles it up on his second floor porch and he’s “decorated” the driveway that adjoins our garden with fake flowers, broken china and broken, useless clay pots as well as regular “unfancy” trash.  I’m told by his landlord that the inside of his living quarters aren’t any better off.

Last summer we listened to this crazy man and his greasy ponytail have daily altercations with another tenant in his building. He was not even human in his unreasonable anger. He screamed profanities in a very booming voice, and every “FUCK YOU, YOU MUTHERFUCKING FAT ASS PRICK” that he screamed at the other guy seemed to reverberate off of the hills and carry on into the woods until the crows scattered from the tree tops. Apparently there was a physical fight between the men leading the less crazy guy to flee. I know this guy is a physical threat to humanity because I was eating ice cream at a picnic table outside of a neighborhood market with my kids when he pulled up to the sidewalk in his pickup truck, jumped out and cold hard decked a man in the head who seemed to just be innocently walking down the street.

We politely sat down with the randomly assaulted man at our picnic table while the shop owner phoned for the police.

My super fun neighbor just eerily jumped back into his truck and drove off.

The downstairs tenant whose porch is underneath his seems like a nice enough lady, she has a toddler of her own so I relate to her that way. I’ve actually only seen her in passing, until yesterday.

The beautiful early spring weather drove all of us neighbors to our yards for the annual New England ritual of raking leaves and throwing away whatever garbage surfaced when the last of the snow melted.

She came over while we cleared the last of the fallen fence scraps and introduced herself to us after six months of just spying on each other from twenty feet away. She explained she was spending her day cleaning out her crazy neighbors’ trash because he refused to do it himself. We obviously knew exactly who she meant.

We each went on with our individual projects on what was now just “no man’s land” at the broken fence and at the end of the day we finally had a clean view from our yard.

All of a sudden at dinnertime we heard someone rummaging through what sounded like glass and cans.

I looked outside and saw the bedraggled man with a very oily pony tail stub and a trench coat dumping out entire cans of garbage all over the land we had just finished cleaning up.

My five year old bolted from behind my legs and ran down into the yard to play. The man spotted me before I could drag my son back into the safety of the house. He started screaming at me “HEY YOU! WHO THE FUCK TOUCHED MY STUFF? SOMEONE THREW AWAY ALL OF THE SHIT THAT MATTERS TO ME WHAT THE FUCK WHO THE FUCK TELL ME FUCKING WHO!”

My eyes almost welled up in the panic I felt trying to get to my son who was standing in the yard, ten feet from the man berating me. I was on the porch still, probably thirty feet from him and twenty feet from my kid. I ran to grab my child and told the man that the neighbors were all cleaning today. Someone in his building had picked up his belongings and we had nothing to do with it.

The man blew up further, spreading trash around the dirt with his hands and ripping the dirty, browned, stained, disgusting things he was “saving” out of the pile and “organizing them” by lining them up on top of more garbage all the while screaming profanities at the top of his lungs. He immediately marched to the door of the woman I had met earlier that day and started screaming about his precious things.

I felt incensed for her. I felt intensely terrified and also frustrated that our invisible property line was now strewn with nails, broken glass and moldy decorations. I went inside for the night, hoping he would calm himself down and pick up his garbage before my kids could get a hold of it and hurt themselves.

I woke up to find the trash was all there. None of it had been removed.

In a fit I threw on my running sneakers and a bra and ran outside. I grabbed the nearest tool, the rake.

I was just shoving garbage back over into the driveway, raking with fury. The trash was bouncing and spraying into the parked cars when I had intended to make a pile. I was apparently screaming his name and telling him to come clean up his shit. That must have been what drew the attention of the neighborhood. I didn’t want the trash to just be scattered, I wanted to make statement. I grabbed a bucket and used my bare hands to grab anything and everything out of the dirt. I filled the bucket and screamed up at his window. “GET OUT HERE AND DEAL WITH YOUR SHIT!” And when he didn’t, I dumped it out into the back of his pickup truck. He might not notice since his truck is already full of junk. I’m praying for that.

The neighbors came out and called a meeting with the landlord who showed up that afternoon. I was informed that the man has been arrested three times this year alone but nobody can do anything with him, because he’s terminally ill with AIDS. Maybe if I were terminally ill I would be a huge jerk too, but maybe; no probably not.

The saner people who live on my street told me I was acting crazy. And I was. I own it. I had to stand up to that guy once and for all, or at least tell his window what I thought of him, and the guy’s landlord measured for a new fence and offered to pay for it.  Overall  I didn’t completely loose by being a derailed crazy train, but I don’t think the neighbors that I actually like are going to be inviting me over anytime soon.

I can’t wait to see what happens when that crazy guy looks in his truck and finds out I provoked him.

And by can’t wait, I mean I’ll be hiding inside all day.

Reasons I’m sending my kindergartner to public school

Reasons I’m sending my kindergartner to public school:

1. My husband is making me.

I used to firmly believe in parents taking action and investing time into making sure the public school system stays not just adequate, but educationally competitive and safe for children and families of all income levels. I used to think I would steadfastly concentrate on integrating my kids with the mainstream education system and making sure that they succeed with my parental involvement.

And then my  precious kid had to actually enroll and all of a sudden it was really a big decision and a huge change in my attitude.

Right now I hate integrating into the mainstream system. I want to live in the private school bubble. It’s cozy in here. The families are very dedicated people who love their kids and they always show up. They participate, they talk, they get along well and schedule play dates. We’re like-minded people interested in saving the environment with reusable sandwich bags and organic produce.

Public school is a giant unknown. It’s a heated political talking point. Are we funding public schools well enough? Why isn’t public education equal for all socioeconomic backgrounds? Is common core the devil incarnate or is it just misunderstood among Gen X parents who learned materials a certain way and can’t unlearn what has been ingrained? Are standardized tests going to reduce in frequency and punitive income damages for teachers? Or hopefully just vanish.

And then there’s friendships and playground politics and best friends and bullies.

I don’t know how I feel about cresting this gap between little kid childhood and big kid childhood. It’s all terrifying. It’s too many variables. Starting public education is taking the first step in letting go of your kid and putting them into the hands of perfect strangers.  And they will stay there, in that organization for twelve years.

Twelve years that I hated. Twelve horrible, important and formative years.

School ebbed and flowed for me with awesome times and really uncomfortable ones. I fell behind in school more than I want to admit. I lied to my parents about homework from the minute I was assigned it. Homework should just go pound sand, and I still firmly feel that way. I don’t want my kids to hate school and see education as a chore. I want super nerdy kids who freak out over microscopes and new findings in space. I want music theory to excite them. I want philosophers and dreamers.

Private school is great for the encouraging, “be who you are” style of learning. It’s a place where art matters as much as math and my kids are encouraged to go hunt rocks and research their Geological matter and then bring the rocks to the art table and turn them into wire wrapped ornaments. That’s a brilliant, inclusive and idealistic education.

I love that. I love that to the tune of three hundred dollars a week for half day tuition.

Record scratch. Hold up.

I’m a writer and a social media marketing manager so let’s all have a good laugh at my income. My husband is my boss. And I mean that in the most feminist way possible. He actually pays me a legitimate paycheck for my loosely termed “work” but make no mistake friends; his ownership of a successful business is the only reason I drive new cars instead of bikes. The kind with pedals.

My husband and his good credit went to take out a loan for tuition and then the roof on our house started to leak and our basement flooded and the fence in the front yard collapsed in a torrential rain downpour. So now we have teenagers who jump over the scrap fence posts and smoke pot behind our house. They think we can’t see them, because teenagers are essentially very dumb.

We have more to worry about than keeping our children in what I deem to be the best school that matches my educational philosophy. The physical roof over their head is one important matter.

Essentially the only reason I’m staying true to my initial promise to dedicate myself to public school is because I can’t afford to be special. Sustainability and financial security are going to matter in the long run. So I’m being honest; I’m not gung-ho here we go about public school anymore but I respect the dollar and I’m willing to put my money where my mouth is.

At least for the sake of staying married and keeping my debt to the confines of Home Depot.

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The Disorienting Reality Of ADD

I would do just about anything to avoid calling my doctor. It doesn’t matter if I’m calling a physician or OBGYN, I absolutely hate having to deal with a receptionist who puts me through to a nurse who is never available and then I have to listen to the eight hundred myriad of options on the phone prompt just to leave a voicemail for a stranger that says something like, “Hi, it’s me again. I have another yeast infection. I am dying. Send help. And wine.” Because I am the utmost professional.

It may speak to some of the issues with health care in our country that I have to call repeatedly to get medical help for simple issues like prescription refills.

It may speak to my agoraphobia that I just don’t want to be weighed and touched by nurses and have my blood pressure taken and discuss my dads’ high blood pressure and the embarrassing number of drinks I have in a week, and be looked at by the waiting room weirdos for something that can be taken care of long distance.

Every time I go to the doctor I leave feeling fat and bothered and I am almost always asked to pee into a cup for a test that I will never get the results from.

I bit the bullet though, when I was nearing a mental breakdown. Staying home with kids is hard work, not the hardest work, because honestly, building bridges or spaceships is probably so hard that it makes me look like a wuss. The staying at home parent gig is hard because of the mental isolation.  My oldest companion is five and whiny. My youngest companion is a baby who falls down a lot. There’s even a two year old at home with me who hits the baby and says “MAMA UP” a lot.

Nearing a breakdown? Par for the course.

But I am a respectable enough human to know when my insanity is normal and when my insanity is dangerous. I’ve put off the warning signs for a quite a while, but I was hitting my mental panic button and called the doctor like a responsible lady should.

“Hello, my name is Cindy, how can I help you?”

“I am calling to make an appointment.”

“Are you a patient here?”

“Yes.”

“What is the visit for?”

“…Uhhh…errr…eczema.” Yeah genius, way to think on the fly. Now nobody will know how crazy you are and you’ll just walk into the office and bombard your doctor with questions about your mental health. Totally fine. I’m sure passive aggressive agoraphobics do this on the regular.

“Next Tuesday?”

And there I sat, on white paper having just been weighed in a fully-clothed high-heeled nightmare.

“My shoes alone added ten pounds” I said to the nurse.

“I’ll make a note.” She replied through a halfhearted attempt at a smile.

“I got excited to leave the house and dressed fancy.”

“Blood pressure’s good, the doctor will be in shortly.” And just like that, the only compatriot I had in this sterile, whitewashed, and florescent patient mill is gone. I suddenly suspect my blood pressure is higher.

I sit and crinkle on the table and nervously wonder how I am going to segue from eczema into my anxiety without getting kicked out for being a liar pants.

Naturally, the doctor went on about eczema and wanted to know at the very end of our appointment if I had any other questions. At which point I blurted out, “I think I need therapy. Can you refer me to therapy? I have a problem. I can’t stop talking. I can’t clean my house. I can’t remember anything. I can never pull myself together and I’m always in a haze or a fog. I drink six cups of coffee a day to just feel normal.”

And then the doctor sat down, slowly opened up his laptop and said, “I am going to ask you some questions. I think I know what is going on here.”

I answered each question like a complete rambling idiot, and dotted all of my I’s with tears.

The doctor confirmed that I had easily diagnosable ADD.

Oh good, easy peasy.

Why was I not flooded with relief?

He had me fill out forms and pee in a cup and said they’d call me in a month with a prescription because it’s a controlled substance and I’m breastfeeding and blah blah blah the words he spoke muddled together in my addled mind and all I could think about was crying and screaming and breaking things.

I felt the opposite of comforted.

So I called my husband and fell apart in the parking lot because I know now why I can’t function and where my anxiety stems from but I feel hopeless and bereft and cluttered. I feel cluttered everywhere. From my overwhelming sadness and my constant stream of jumbled thoughts, and my messes and the receipts piled up in my minivan and the random baby sock in the cup holder. I am filled with sudden fury and I want to throw everything away. I allow myself the fantasy of a tantrum. I imagine the satisfaction of tossing socks and receipts and random charger cords out the window as I drive towards home. I want to run into my house and just throw everything on my counters into a garbage bag.

The Home magazines full of luxuries I can’t afford and loose change and markers without caps. The earing missing it’s other half, the last tea bag out of the box that has no other home. The spool of ribbon I used last year that is sitting in the corner, behind the paper towels because, what do you do with a little spool of ribbon? The only things I know how to do are make piles of everything or throw everything away. There has never been an in-between stage of organization.

I want to declutter and live a life that is free of the mess that I feel contained to. But it’s a mess that I can’t escape because it runs through my brain and it follows me like a haunting.  When the kids are out of control, I am powerless. I shrink underneath the shroud of what ADD can do. I lose focus, and I lose the ability to process in simple steps, what is taking place and how to address it.

I park outside of the post office only to drive away without ever mailing my package, because I am again, blocked by the fog and the failure to process procedures. I become overwhelmed and driving away becomes easier.

I have forgotten three birthday parties this year and gave up trying to schedule them, because every time that I RSVP “Yes” I don’t remember that I’ve missed the party until everyone is talking about it on Monday and I am filled with instantaneous regret, and I resent myself for not being able to be more stable for my kids.

Here I am, with the diagnosis and no access to the cure. And it feels, useless.

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I Called Off Birthday Parties, For Now

I enjoy parties, having guests, cleaning up the house and pretending that it always looks that nice. I have always loved hosting, making people feel loved and welcome in my home, putting the expensive cheese on the one nice plate and using an opportunity to dress up.

I even totally love kids parties, getting to eat cake that I don’t cook, giving an excited kid a fun gift for $19.99 or less, and letting my crotchfruit run amok in someone else’s space is a special change of pace.

As much as I desire super duper fun times and dress up and the good thick cut pepperoni, and matching Thomas decor and streamers, I can’t muster even an ounce of the energy, the drive, focus, motivation or the money to front three kidaplaoozas every year.

Given my new conundrum, my options seem to be:

1) Get rid of two of my children

I could host the dope parties from the days of yore like I did when I had one kid to provide for.
My other two kids would be missed, but seriously, one time I made two birthday cakes, invited fifty people, and made them all wear Halloween costumes.
My child was turning one, not being coronated, and why was I so bossy?
Nobody knows.

2) Give one kid a great big party because he’s used to it, and give the other kids little pathetic parties until they’re old and ruined enough to notice and just stash the extra cash for their future therapy fund.

3) Give my oldest kid a severely, corporate downsized party this year so that his expectations aren’t inflated for the future and also give all three kids equally small but meaningful parties where we actually have time to interact with our guests.

For my petite prince’s second bash, I rented out a farm. A fucking farm. We had a petting zoo, a corn maze, ponies, hay rides, apple cider and all the spoils of having too much time.

Those were probably better times.

I like option three.

I am currently so very fed up with providing daily childcare for my rugrats. I’m winded from a perfectly mediocre day when we have no plans at all and I change back into my stretch pants when I get home from the grocery store. I’m a pair of muddy, ripped toddler pants and a potty training failure away from hiding in my lazy Susan corner cabinet with a glass of Cabernet.
Organization isn’t going to be my claim to 2015 fame.
Neither is a hardy party.
Frankly, I feel I’ve birthed enough children at this juncture to firmly make a logical case that every day is a party. Just ask the chicken nuggets and sprinkle cookies that have been smooshed in the seat cracks of my minivan. They’ll tell you, we have a great time.

I’m slightly worried and massively shrouded in mom guilt because there’s no chance that my five year old won’t notice that he isn’t getting three hundred and fifty thousand toys and having a hundred people run around painting pumpkins on our lawn. But my plan of action is to blame his siblings for being born and taking all of our money. He’ll understand, five year olds are notoriously empathetic and fluent in the nuance of sarcasm.
*puts five dollars in the therapy jar*

I know other families that also put together magnificent parties for their children, and the adults have fun too, and why shouldn’t they?
I’ll attend with bells on and a toy from Target costing appropriately $19.99.

I know other families that in five years have never once invited my family to a party for their kids and I can finally let go of the politics of party planning and say, “I get it”. I do.

There are no hard feelings about who invites who.
We’re not Taylor Swift. We don’t got bad blood, yo.

There’s no social commentary I can make about excessive parties for kids. Some people get a ton of joy from blowing Manolo Blahnik dollar bills at pink frosted bull shit castles and updos for four year olds. Some people put Pinterest Gold Star Viral Award level energy into creating one of a kind parties on a tight budget.

I can’t do it for all three of my kids, I can’t even afford to set the precedent, or plant the seed that my kids will each be having a big birthday party, and the bottom line is that this is one of the sacrifices my whole family had to unwittingly accept in order to expand into the giant love ball that it is.
Full of cheap pepperoni and one shared bathroom.

There’s the possibility that something special will happen, that by coming to expect less my kids, my whole family even, will appreciate more.

They’ll probably just whine about presents or being bored and ask to watch every episode of Jake and the Neverland Pirates that we have on the DVR.

Special.

I have outgrown the need for a giant “prove how much I love my kids” party and instead I’m opting to pay the huge electric bill and keep the lights on.

Happy fancy pants birthday.

They’re going to have to face the reality that while birthdays are special, the world doesn’t stop spinning.

I also have to take ownership of my habit of trying to make my sons parties about me, and fancy Pinterest cakes and matching decor. And yes, showing off.

Well, I fold. If I had stopped breeding a kid or two ago I could have huge fêtes in discotheques but we all know that spoiling kids with discotheques and fêtes leads to feelings of resentment when they grow up. And midnight abuse of chips ahoy.

But whatever.

Do what works for you. I’ll be watching a Jake marathon for his special day, and eating pepperoni and chips ahoy mini sandwiches.

Don’t you dare judge me.

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Does he look like he needs 234 people to celebrate with? Naw, my bumpkin will be fine with some pumpkins.