Christmas Tree Plan B

What do you do when you close on a new home about ten seconds into the new year, yet still want to make your home festive for your kids without unpacking and repacking all of your Christmas stuff?

Keep it all packed up nicely in the garage rafters and improvise!

goodandmessy.com christmas tree ornaments

-Real tree.  More like a treelet so we can keep floor space open for the bins and boxes that will likely be piling up by then. Came in its own tree stand.

-string of lights $3. We’ll donate those with the tree stand if we don’t manage to throw it in while our other stuff is getting packed on the moving truck. Everything else is paper so we can recycle it.  Waste free and pack free-yay!!

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-Paper garland.  The boys’ attention span matched the necessary length.  Win!

-Beloved action figures as climbing the tree count as ornaments.  They do.  It’s about what you love and right now, this is what they love.  Included in our tree are an armless GI Joe, headless Spiderman, legless Spiderman, motorcycle-less Spiderman (meaning he looks like he’s pooping in the tree), 2 Darth Vaders a Stormtrooper and an Elvis.  The joy they felt decorating this tree was incomparable, as were the sound effects.

best ornaments for kids

-My favorite part is the star decorated by my oldest, which includes the word, “Pese” with a peace sign covered in what appears to be bacon.

We rocked it.  I haven’t loved a Christmas tree this much since I was stringing the sweet 70’s candy garland on my childhood Christmas tree with my family.  I’ll be sneaking one of Spideys into my purse, marking the year with a sharpie, and whether or not we do our Plan B tree next year, I’ll be hanging this memory on our tree for years to come.

What about you? What’s your favorite holiday decorating memory?

baby yawns

I’m finishing up a painting when I hear Jimmy muttering from his bed.  Surely he’s not awake because he is bold and loud when he is.  His hand must have fallen asleep so I lay him back down and snuggle next to him.  Propped up on one elbow, with my other arm rubbing the pins and needles out of his hand, I can’t deny how much of this bed he suddenly occupies.  There are long, capable limbs everywhere.  The weight of his new hair is starting to quiet his cowlicks and his generally roosterish hair-do isn’t very roosterish at all.

He is fitful and anxious, but still semi-asleep.  He flips his hand over mine to stop the motion and puts my hand on his belly, laying his hand over my forearm like a dog guarding a toy.  Amused that he is in as much command asleep as he is when awake, I look down at my boy as he yawns. It was that brand new baby yawn; their nose disappears into a teeny button and they let out a whispered roar that is so scrumptious it renders you defenseless to all of the abuse they are about bring in the form of relentless servitude.  That yawn.  My giant boy did that yawn.

I look down at all the brush strokes on my sleeve and remember wearing it the night before he was born.  I had been working on a painting and could only button three buttons before my giant belly burst out.  It was January and we lived on the third floor.  I was so ready to have him that I abandoned all sense of appropriate clothing choices.

It stopped my heart.  I’m a sucker for baby yawns, but this one just struck me.  My dad nicknamed Jimmy the White Tornado and it fits him perfectly.  His white blonde hair is a blur as he flies by. Afraid of nothing, with a penchant for adrenaline rushes, at age 2.5 this boy is lightyears away from babyhood.  I have such mixed feelings when I look back on that first year.  I fell so hard in love with him because it was the most extreme year of my life.  He was my second child, but my first tornado.

My first, Michael, was born a citizen of the world, eagercopyright goodandmessy.com to enjoy his people and the constant fun they were sure to provide him.  While he certainly enjoyed our company in the world, the presence of his parents was not crucial to his happiness or navigation.  After all, life is a parade and surely someone else would pass by if he needed help, right?  He was a simple equation, an open book, and through toddlerhood, he handed out answers more frequently than problems.  Michael was our Red Solo Cup in a Pull-up.

Our second, Jimmy, on the other hand, was born the citizen of his world.  My husband and I were necessary inhabitants, essential to the minute-to-minute operations of his world but with little actual control.  He was born with skepticism and an unwavering conviction in his own feelings.  We were the befuddled gatekeepers to his world, relying heavily on hunches and hope to dodge the meltdowns.

His physical need for me truly shocked me, and it took me a long time to even realize that the term “momma’s boy” didn’t begin to cover it.  He required touch in a completely different way than I ever expected.  He wanted to be tight in my arms or swinging from the chandelier.  Many times, I would just rock and sway and keep him company in the chaos of his little body.  I wasn’t so much a respected leader as I was a court jester.  He would kick me out and beg me to come back in the same breath.  As unpredictable he seemed at times, he was pure and rich, ooey gooey love.  His unabashed joy was so infectious that it kept us on a mad dash to find it again, desperate to keep the shit and the fan in separate corners.

We have shared several hundred 3 am’s. Somewhere in there, we found some things that make his world a better place, including hardcore workouts, loads of furry animals ready to be de-fuzzed strand by strand, intense thumb-sucking, and swapping lullabies for marching bands.  Why request a soft, “rock-a-bye baby” when your mom will sing Irish drinking songs while firmly drumming your back?  The lovely therapists from Early Intervention would later shed some light on sensory processing issues, and help us make sense of our hunches.  I wanted to kiss them.  But not before I kissed Jimmy some more.  Our little tornado knows how to keep on truckin’.

So tonight, as I look down at this little big guy and I’m struck by the fact that we are so far from where we were when that yawn belonged to a newborn or even a toddler.   He is laying in the scattered proof of a contented soul: wearing the pajama pants that sat in his drawer for year, warming up to them just in time for them to become shorts, his faded blue nail polish that he sat so still for, the stuffed chipmunk next to his head whose fuzzy tail is still intact, the book he hid under the blanket, the weighted blanket at his feet because he doesn’t need it on his body tonight. All of it, he is just so much comfier in his own body.  So many nights he just couldn’t rest, and he just couldn’t release me from his white-knuckle grip.  Tonight his palms are softly open, showing off a thumb sucker’s callous because it is nowhere near his mouth.

I can’t say we are free of our 3 am rendevous, but they are 1000 times more peaceful than they were.

Sweet Jimmy, thanks for the tiny snapshot of the old you.  I’m grateful to be in your joyful twister 🙂  And I’m even more grateful that you are, indeed, asleep.

not so fast

I hear his voice from the other room–the voice that suddenly seems so old to me, even though in real time he is six.  He’s not six to me.  It still feels like I just got him, and that he miraculously and freakishly aged from a newborn to an actual person who reads in some science fictionesque measurement of time and space.  He’s new and old all at once; his voice big and small.

“Mama?”

“I’ll be right the-”

He comes bounding in the room, looks me straight in the eye.

“How ’bout we go outside and play football?  I’ll be the official and you can be the tackler.  I’m the official because I know how to play football the best of you and Jimmy and me and Dad.  Well, Dad’s a little better but he’s at work so I will tell you who wins.” He tucks his hand up under my elbow and sweetly curls his arm around mine, “Thank you for my pancakes, Mama. They were yummy.  Can we have more pancakes for dinner?  (jumps into robot voice) Pancakes for every dinner ever!!!! (jumps out of robot voice) You can even give me spinach. Just not inside the pancakes, but I’ll eat cold spinach next to my pancakes. Mama, can I have a kids’ show? Jimmy already got a kids’ show and it’s not fair if I don’t get one too. Jack at school loves the Blackhawks.” His cheek is pressed against mine when he starts singing, “We will, we will rock you! Sing it…” I can’t see him but I know he is making his rock out face.  I mean, really, how can you not when singing that song? “What are we gonna do today?” I can feel his little stinky breath near my ear as he tries to cuddle in closer, “how ’bout we have some tea?”

I love being privilege to his loveable ramblings, especially when he is in such a cuddly mood.

But here’s the thing.

I was sitting on the toilet.

A half a dozen topics covered, including meal planning, and not once did it occur to him that it wasn’t the time or the place.

So forgive me, dear future son, who will undoubtedly beg me to trust your judgement, who will likely groan with every caution I give on your way out the door, who will insist you know just as much, if not more, than me.  Forgive me for thinking you are still brand new.  Forgive me, but you didn’t even notice that I HAD NO PANTS ON!!!

So sorry, kid, it may be hard to trust your judgement.

the boost we needed…

A big reason I started this blog was make myself accountable for the swirling ideas that keep me up at night.  The thoughts trip over themselves and I fool myself into thinking that daylight will somehow organize them and provide a moment of peace which I’ll use to put those ideas into action.  But let’s be honest, daylight is not havin’ this plan.

It’s the small tasks of emails and phone calls and writing a list that are standing in the way of the big things that will let me sleep at night.  Some of those things are stressful, like sending our food allergic son to a new school safely and the financial bag o’ fun that most people deal with.  Some of it is exciting, like the new resolve that I want to make a living through art again, and of course, the Safe Staples program.

It felt so good to get the Safe Staples program out there, because I knew I needed to start somewhere. (If you are unfamiliar with the program which gets gluten free and allergy-friendly food into food pantries, check it out here and if you’d like to hear more about the reason behind it, here you go.)  A dozen times, I had to fight the urge to “finish” it more before sharing it because my brain knows we’ll learn as we go and adjust as needed.  But now what?  Which is the next step in the many places it can go?  I’m more than a little overwhelmed at all of its possibilities.  I mean, how incredible can this be? How many families can we help?  How many safe cupcakes can we send with a child to a birthday party?  How many bellies can we fill?  How many hearts?

I know, that was total cheeseball.

But it’s true.  It feels a bit like I’m standing at the rim of the Grand Canyon, afraid to look.  I know it will be as uncomfortable as it will be beautiful.  I believe in this program.  This vision and my work habits need to reconcile.  I can’t be afraid of how great it can be.  I just need to take a step. Any step.  I have been holding back out of fear of making a wrong move. So totally useless, I know.  Just when the guilt was starting to outweigh the to-do list, my incredible cousin Patti swooped in to snap me out of the standstill she didn’t even know I was in.

One of the many dreams I have for the Safe Staples program is to assist people in having their own Safe Staple food drives.  If we can’t all share a table, we can certainly share our food.  Life is about sharing what you’ve got.  Small gestures connect us and seeing a food drive box fill up, package by package, is one easy way to create a positive connection.  Why yes, I do have feathers in my hair and am currently singing folk songs.

What did Patti do?  Patti proposes to the staff at the Bright Horizons Childcare Center that she works at to make Safe Staples the beneficiary of their annual Great Kindness Challenge.  I never, ever thought to ask her to do this.  She just did.  Because I come from good people. The entire center (staff, children, parents) focuses on one task or organization and this year, at this moment, they are having the very first Safe Staples Food Drive!!!

AAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaAAAAhhhhhhhhhhh!

That food drive kit I contemplated instead of sleeping actually got done!  I sent her a few docs, hit the store to take some photos, and finished a couple more documents and Patti made an info board for the families at the center.  I kept it simple, because most of these families don’t have experience with shopping for a special diet.  Maybe the food drive kit isn’t quite right.  I’m stating now that while I will post it this week, it will likely change.  Permission to fail a bit granted. We’ll adjust as we learn.  I’ll post in the Safe Staples tab and on the Safe Staples facebook page. Let me know what you think.  While I was plotting to invite others to have food drives once I had the ultimate, most perfect, food drive tool kit all complete and purty-like, Patti beat me to the punch.  Action? Way more useful than purty plans.

As if a food drive wasn’t enough, there are a whole bunch of cherries on top.  Food allergy and celiac and galactosemia and autism awareness to a huge group of families with young children? Yes, please.  The opportunity to educate kids about food allergies and how their classmates may have to deal with them?  More, please.  I brought Patti our favorite food allergy books so the teachers can read to their rooms during the week.  Regardless of the amount of food they donate, their efforts have already made an impact.

Back to the food for a minute.  I just got a text message saying they have already started filling their SECOND box of goodies.  Yahooooo!!

Now that I’ve been reminded that I’m not alone in this, I’m asking for help.  Obviously, I want folks to continue to donate directly to food pantries using the Safe Staple bag tag and sign, but there is more we can do. Here are some of the dreams I have for this program, and since my only qualification for the job is desire, I’m hoping someone may want to help:

1.  Has anyone ever started a non-profit?  I was hoping it wouldn’t be necessary, that I would just be able to partner with an existing organization, but I realize I’ll need to do this in order for the program to grow.  I’d love to be able to be able to offer more direct help to families as well as the ability for companies and individuals to donate online. Any direction toward resources is appreciated.

2.  Does anyone know someone who works at one of the larger organizations like Feeding America or the Greater Chicago Food Depository?  I’m looking to learn more about the architecture of the food pantry supply system and how we work from the top down.

3. I want to setup a way for people to donate online, particularly by the holidays. Without an official non-profit status, another organization would have to partner with us.  Any ideas are welcome.

4.  I’d love to match make special diet families over the holidays. Personally, if I’m making a mess in the kitchen anyway, it’s not hard to make an extra safe dessert to share.  Perhaps some support groups or smaller communities can do this.

5. Partner with food companies so they can donate directly and provide coupons on our fb page and to those planning to do a food drive.  Who works for a food company like this?  Come on, this could be great for all of us.  I love to brag about community-minded companies!

6. Coupon Connection-any specialty couponing sites want to partner up so folks can donate more?

7. More food drives. Our first food drive in December of 2011 brought in almost $500 in addition to two big boxes of food from one small email and a facebook post.  I’d love to see Safe Staple food drives at every community fundraising walk and benefit that our groups have.  I’ll have the tool kit posted later this week.

If you have any ideas or can introduce me to someone who can help with any of the above, please send an email to safestaples@gmail.com.

There’s more to this story, but I’d say we’ve been here long enough today.  A huge ginormous thank you to everyone at Bright Horizons Sears Center in Hoffman Estates, Illinois.  Thanks for being open and generous and rising to the Great Kindness Challenge in so many ways!

P.S By the way, this particular Bright Horizons Child Care Center is about to open up to enrollment outside of Sears’ employees.  If you need childcare in the area, I highly recommend checking it out.  I’ve been a fan of their centers for a long time.  My godson and his brothers go to a different location so I’ve been many times and each time, it makes me want to be a kid again and belong to a community like this.  Seriously, it’s an awesome place! As a food allergy parent, I get a little giddy when I see each room with a cabinet clearly marked with an Epi-pen sign and the child’s picture who needs it. Add a menu and a constantly-updated ingredient binder posted at the entrance of the kitchen and I’m over the moon.

50 hundred 911 calls

Michael is the lucky recipient of my sleep-walking and talking genes.  It’s been completely entertaining ever since he first called me into his room demanding an answer to, “Do fish swim in your butt?”

“Um, luckily, no.  But that is a good question.”

I had to admit, it was a higher-level kind of question, especially for a sleeping three year old.  He added a request for ketchup right before his head flopped back onto his pillow.

My husband, Rob, tells me this morning that Michael came in while sleeping last night asking about the jumpsuits.  “With the numbers.  The orange jumpsuits.  Do they have their names?  What do the numbers mean? What if they get away?”  Rob fielded the questions and luckily, he went back to sleep for another hour before waking up with another nightmare.  “I can’t even tell you it’s so bad, Mom.”  Ok then, please come here and never leave so I can protect you forever.  Ugh, so tempting!!  But life is fantastic when you don’t think about escaped convicts so let’s just snuggle and talk about puppies.  Or farts.  Whatever makes that scared look on your face go away.

The day proves he really is stressing over prisoners and the possibility of their escape. Or worse, that there are bad guys all around without orange jumpsuits and how in the hell do we know who they are?!  Nothing like a little light conversation. Michael is a smart kid and he picks up on everything.  In most moments, he lives in the lightness of things; sees the simple joy that others don’t see.  He’s a silly kid, loves to be funny.  But, he also knows that every rule or caution is given for a reason, and he needs to know details about that reason in order to move past it.  Figuring out how to satisfy that need for information without giving him more to freak out about is dicey. I’m sure I sound like a moron most times I’m answering him. We usually have the kids watch their shows on Netflix and they don’t see much of the news or even commercials for it.  Clearly, we stumbled upon some of the news this week.  I vaguely remember answering him that the orange jumpsuits are the uniform for people in jail.  That was few days ago.

We had an awesome day today, the kind that erases all the crummy half-sick, too many errand days of the week prior.  We laughed a ton. All of us. But I can see the thoughts creep in and feel more questions coming our way throughout the day.  I’m happy he asks. And I want to make sure he keeps asking.  I’m kicking myself because I’ve caught myself saying to him, “this is nothing to get upset about” over an explosion like tying his shoes or not getting something when our kids are clearly bathing in enough “stuff.”  We’re in a super-meltdowny phase right now and my husband and I are both struggling with how to approach it.  It’s over bizarre stuff that baffles us, and none of our usual tactics are working.  But I know these are the times when the kids need more of our patience; when it’s time to unearth those superpowers and resist the urge to sell them. Regardless of the irrational (to me) breakdowns over slurpees and unicorns,  I have no right to tell him he doesn’t have a reason to get upset.  How do I know?  I can think it shouldn’t make him upset, but if I decide that for him I totally dismiss his voice.  It’s easy to forget how small their world is, and that they have exactly zero sense of perspective, making shoelaces a big deal. I need a new go-to line, because I can feel the words “you have no idea how good you have it” rising up in my throat and we all know how effective that is.  If I want him to keep trusting me with his fears and frustrations, I have to value his words, even the ones I don’t agree with.

Michael goes to bed but then gets up and asks to be re-tucked in.  He usually wears a halo to bed so I don’t mind obliging him in a few bedtime games a couple times a month.  I tell him to wait until Jimmy quiets down and I’d sneak back to tuck him in.  When I do, he has the blanket up to his chin and I can tell by the look on his face he’s worried.  I ask him if he wants to talk about anything and he says no.  “Why did you ask me that, Mom?”

“Your face looked like you were thinking hard about something.”

“No, I wasn’t. But what do I do if I see a bad guy in a orange jumpsuit?”

“You probably never will see one in real life, only on tv.”

“How do you know? Do they have a face like in the kids’ shows with the big eyebrows?” oh gosh your sweet little artist eyes are totally picturing the trench coat and crooked smile, too.

“Because there are MILLIONS of police officers in our country and just a small amount of bad guys.  The orange suits mean that the police already got ’em and they’re in jail.”

“What if they escape?”

“Well that’s where the orange suits come in handy because if they escape jail, everyone will know because they’re either wearing the jail uniform or they’re naked.  Either way, everyone who saw them would call the the police and they’ll throw ’em back in jail.”

“Like 50 hundred people will probably call I bet.”

“At least 50 hundred.”

He needs more info.  Though preschool statistics make him happy, 50 hundred calls to the cops for a naked or orange-suited escapee aren’t going to help him sleep.

“You know, God also gave you instincts.  (I can see the smile start to crack.) Not “stinks”, instincts.  Instincts are like your secret weapon. You may not know why you don’t want to be near someone, but there’s a voice in your head or a feeling in your gut that tells you to stay away from them. You should listen to your instincts.  If that ever happens you just tell me or Dad or someone you love.”

“Or the polices,”  he says shaking his little finger at me like a cartoon teacher.  I can’t bring myself to correct the plural police because it’s the last shred of his baby talk and I’m savoring it.

“Yes, or the police.”

“haha-Stinks. Did you ever see a bad guy in real life?”

Um, oh yay.  I kind of have an answer. When I was little, my brother and I were with my mom at a mall when we spotted a woman getting arrested for shoplifting.  Never one to pass up a life lesson, my mom literally dragged us through the mall behind this flailing woman wearing a dozen layers of clothing under her jacket screaming, “I didn’t steal nothin’!” If she didn’t, she was about to give birth to quadruplet pant suits.  I was sure we were going to get in trouble for eavesdropping, but we followed the police and her until they disappeared into the security office. I very clearly remember it was an unmarked door on that slanted wall underneath the escalator.  Now my adult brain knows that there was probably more to the office than the door on the slanted wall, but I spent my childhood thinking that mall offenders were immediately sentenced to a lifetime of standing crooked in the tiny triangular space under the escalator. Perhaps I should have asked my mom more questions.  Anyway, I was never, ever tempted to lift anything from Spencer’s, so I guess my mom’s plan worked.

He needs to know the shoplifter went to jail. He is very curious to find out if the police used their sirens when they dropped her off at jail.  He wants to know about the washing of the orange jumpsuits and if televisions in jail only show boring shows.  As I share my first brush with crime, I leave out the dragging and the screaming and the tiny slanted mall jail, but choose to play up the amount of clothes she was hiding.  “She looked like a snowman!  No, a giant snowBALL!  They could have rolled her to jail.”

“Maybe they did roll her, Mommy! They rolled the giant snowball monster farthead pooped her eye out!!!  Aaaahhhhhhhahahahahahahaha!”

And just like that, my boy cracks up, returning to his rightful age of five years old.  So glad I had all that internal debate about how to walk the tightrope between dismissing and fueling his fears.  There is a good chance some armpit orchestra would have done the trick.

By the way, we are going back to vhs tapes for our sole television entertainment.  Because I’d much rather answer questions about fish swimming in butts than about crime.  And can we all say a prayer that we don’t come across a group of inmates cleaning up the side of the highway this summer?  Yikes.

Bed Bath & Beyond Fun

Packing up to make a quick run to return a coffee maker at Bed Bath and Beyond and I hear a yell from the kitchen, “Can I bring this, mom?”

Is it a knife?

“No.”

Then sure you can.

“Awesome!  Can I wear my race car helmet too?”

Of course.  Let’s go.

I had no idea what he grabbed until I look back to make sure he’s all buckled in and there he is. Racing helmet on.  Visor down.  Game face on.  Cheese Grater in hand.  “No Mom, it’s the shifter-mover.” Oh, of course!  It’s a gear shift. The Olive Garden-esque cheese grater that Rob and I were so excited to register for because we clearly had big plans for freshly grated artisan cheeses, the grater that hasn’t had actual grating capabilities since Michael was 2 and used it as a drumstick, the grater that is so loved that I can throw it and say, “fetch!” to get the kids away from the oven, is now a gear shift too.  And it isn’t like a gear shift.  It IS a gear shift.

As I pull away, I hear his little voice purr like an engine. As I turn, he leans.  As I change lanes, he huffs with effort.  As I come to a red light, he groans in defeat. And when we pull into the parking spot, he exhales with relief and cheers his come-from-behind victory!  Two year-old Jimmy yells, “Win!”

How awesome is it that a child can be strapped in a car seat and, with every. single. fiber of his being, believe that he alone is controlling a machine capable of going 200mph?  I mean, you have to admire the commitment to character.  Mom melts away.  His little brother becomes an adoring fan.  The guy with the bad comb-over next to us becomes his fiercest rival.  Michael is awesome at this.  Not a day goes by that he doesn’t wear some sort of costume.  I will die a little on the inside when he outgrows this. I can’t say I hope it lasts forever because grown men in costumes at Bed Bath and Beyond are creeeeeepy.  But I do hope it lasts long enough.  Enough to fill his soul with faith in his own imagination.

“Can I wear my helmet in the store?”

Of course.

“But I can’t bring the shifter-mover, right?  I don’t want them to think I stole it.  Because they sell these there, you know.”

Oh, I see.  I think you’ll be ok, but it’s up to you.

“I better not.”

We go inside and I’m hiding my smile because I don’t want to distract from the awesomeness that he’s feeling after the big race.  A very cheerful employee tries to suggest we look around for something else before we make our return.  I decline.  She is sure we need something else as long as we’re here.  Dear, sweet girl who must be new.  In the two seconds we’ve been in the store, the boys have found squirt bottles and are crouching around the display stalking each other.  That glint in their eyes? That means they’ve spotted the floor to ceiling water glass display and they. must. shoot. it.  Yes, I am sure I don’t need to shop around.  Because your piles of towels and towers of dishware look like the set of Wipe Out to my kids.

For me, there are two basic rules for behaving in a store at ages 5 and 2.  Number one, they can’t mess with an employee’s hard work.  And number two, it’s their job to control their limbs to avoid collisions (with displays, fellow shoppers, each other). As the universe likes to do when you bring your kids out for a “quick run” on the verge of bedtime, there was nothing quick about it.  I can see that our simple rules were getting harder to follow and my credit card is being held hostage while they figure out the computer glitch.  I resort to bribery.  Here’s where parenthood is hilarious.  You imagine using lollipops or a shiny new toy to bribe your kids.  Well, of course before you actually have kids you imagine all the amazing and creative things you’ll do instead of bribing your kids.  Anyway, what works with my kids?  Letting them sit in the lawn furniture displays. No joke.

“Michael, look in my eyes.”

He raises the helmet visor.

“Do you know what they have here?” I nod to outdoor section.  His eyes widen.  He gasps.  Jimmy gasps too even though he can’t see over the squirt bottle display.

“You know what you need to do to get there.”

Perfect angels.  Return gets done.

Paradise, here we come!!  Two little boys, (one in a helmet) with their feet up, heads resting in their hands.  Fake hot dogs in the fire pit.  Jimmy insists they’re too hot. Sipping out of the plastic margarita glasses.  Michael can’t stop giggling because Jimmy is disappointed there aren’t real hot dogs and lemonade.  We try out every chair and all agree we should invite our family here for a party.  The wheelie ice bucket will be a big hit.

That errand was an easy thing to avoid.  And I think sometimes I avoid the store+2 kids out of habit, an old habit.  Since birth, my little guy has had a visceral disdain for stores.  I wouldn’t even call them meltdowns.  It’s more like he vaporizes.  But the truth is, he is turning that corner.  He’s in the game now, and even if it’s not consistent, it’s awesome.   He’s joining our family in a whole new way. As terrible as age two can be, it’s also every bit as exciting.

When I was registering 9 years ago, I thought that Bed Bath and Beyond would give me all the things I needed to throw a fantastic party.  I didn’t realize that so many memorable ones would take place while we were still in the store.  I couldn’t have planned a better post-race celebration.

I’m so bringing real lemonade next time.   It will BLOW THEIR MINDS!

Anyone else enjoy a good store display party?

What would you say to your 17 year old self?

I just looked at the calendar and realized that May 1st just passed right on by me without notice.  I worked in college admissions for a handful of years and this is my first National Decision Day, the day where universities should know who has committed to their incoming class, without a care in the world.  We were a very personal staff and the relationships forged over applications, open houses, and FAFSAs were very real.  So real that May 1st also meant some joyful celebrations and tough breakups.  It’s like the season finale of the Bachelor, complete with lots of misleading hype, tears and the painfully awkward, “I still want to be friends with your university.”

It’s downright hilarious that I ended up helping anyone choose a college.  My senior year Life & Death class began each day with 5 minutes of journal time.  Page after page said the same thing. “I can’t decide where I want to go to college.  How am I supposed to choose a school if I don’t know what I want to do?  I HATE THIS!!!!!”  I had no idea how to process the pressure I put on myself.  My parents didn’t go and it was always a non-negotiable; my brother and I were going to college.  And no matter how much of their life they had to sign away to do so, they were sending us where we felt we belonged.  I knew how much it meant to them. The gift wasn’t missed on me, but I did mangle it into this dramatic irreversible decision all on my own.  So when I was deciding between art and theater as a major and they didn’t bat an eyelash, didn’t redirect me into something more “stable”, I should have taken it as a sign that they were cool with whatever I chose.  They knew I worked hard and that was enough of an indicator that things would work themselves out.  I didn’t have as much faith in myself.

So in the spirit of National Decision Day, and all of those paralyzed by their own impending decisions, I’m writing a letter to the seventeen year old version of me.  I’ve seen a few of these and I always love ’em.

Dear Bridget,

First off, you made the right choice.  Your first year will try to convince you otherwise, but you did.  I’m sorry to say that you’re going to lose two of the most important people in your life by spring break. Being away from home during that time will shatter you in more pieces than you’ll be able to pick up for a while.  But the same small town you can’t believe you left Chicago for is actually the softest place to land.  You’ll get a call the night before finals that it’s time to come home.  The plan is to take a bus to Milwaukee where Dad will pick you up and take you back to Chicago.  Don’t freak out, but that bus never comes. After he finally calls Mom from a deserted bus station, Dad drives the rest of the way to come get you.  You’ll panic that he’ll be mad, as will your roommates because in one short semester, his timeliness is legendary.  Turns out, he’s just happy to see your face and heartbroken that he has to take you home to say goodbye to your grandma.  The year gets worse, but you, my dear, do just fine.

Your laziness in transferring pays off because sophomore year is what college is all about!  Your group of friends is real. And hysterical. And yours. It’s all kinds of fantastic.  Classes are good, you start photography.  Your bag starts to smell like the art building and the darkroom and you love it because it’s tough, but natural.  You belong there, even if you constantly doubt your right to be there.  There’s a formula emerging; the busier your hands are, the better you do in all of your classes.

It wouldn’t kill you to break a sweat once in a while.  You think you’re being all cool and not caving in to society’s pressure to be thin.  Except you’re just getting weak and squishy.  Way to show society.

You get the chance to study and travel abroad junior year!!  Thank God you don’t hesitate!  You promise yourself to take any job that comes your way and you really mean it.  You’ll feel better about dressing up as Barney for that kids’ birthday party when you’re tasting your first gelato in Florence.  You might want to rethink the Power Ranger job. The other ranger is a grown man and he doesn’t change out of the spandex unitard after the show.

Your roommate gets to go too and the entire experience will be indescribable. Keep dragging your butts out of beds at ungodly hours to soak up every bit of Europe that you can.  Your gray-haired self will still be grateful you did that.  In each country you end up playing “8th grade games” like, “if you had to marry someone you know, right now, who would it be?”  Boy, were we off.  Thank God.  Not only will she use her German skills to get you out of a Eurail pass pickle, but someday she introduce you to your husband.  You owe her.  Big time.  You’ll be neighbors and your kids will fall head over heels in love with her.  She’ll fill your home with gluten free, nut-free foods when you bring your new baby home.  Yup, she’s that good to you.  You’ll have to let her move away one day, but for this friend, you will go anywhere.  You will be as happy on her wedding day as you are on your own.

By the way, you totally meet the Queen of England.  I swear.  Let’s not talk about your bumbling idiocy.

You come back better, more comfortable in your well-traveled skin. You get to laugh so hard you cry. Often. You’ll live in places that could crumble at any moment.  Parts of them do.  You don’t give a s#@% because of all the laughing.

Here’s a secret as you get ready to graduate. The working population sees college students and new grads as shmooshy little puppies.  They expect you to be clumsy. Just show up and say, “please show me how” and get to work.  Take some pressure off. Seriously, you’ve got it backwards. College is the starting line of your education, not the finish line.

Oh, no matter what your teacher says, you won’t get used to drawing nudes.

I know this in-between time is hard.  But it’s not really about your college choice at all.  You can’t picture it yet because it’s just that good.  Your mom has been trying to tell you it will all be fine, hasn’t she?  She’s so right.  I promise.

Love, Bridget

So what about you?  What would you say to your 17 year old self?

just write, fool.

Welcome to the voice in my head!  Notice I said voice.  It’s not a particularly organized one, and certainly not one concerned with grammar.  Sorry ’bout that.  I know that may bother some of you.  You probably stayed in Honors English.  Me?  I passed by the skin of my teeth and thanked the sweet Lord that my parents weren’t the pressuring kind.  I’m not a writer, but lately I feel something nudging me to start.   Here goes.

For real, why is this so hard?  If I was my friend, I’d have enough guts for both of us.  I’d be the best cheerleader and business manager I could find.  I’d know exactly where to start.  I’d tell me I have nothing to lose.  I’m smart and brave sometimes, but not-so-much on my own behalf.

Is there such a thing as a half-assed perfectionist?  That’s me.  I can absolutely go to bed with a messy kitchen. My kids’ clothes rarely match.  We high five when they do.  When I’m tempted to apologize to guests for the mess in my house, I usually get bored and stop before the excuse ever leaves my mouth.  I’ve never cared about the paper pile at someone else’s house, why should they care about mine?  They aren’t their bills to pay. I can totally leave that one book that isn’t going the same way as the other.  Make a car out of legos that is almost all green except for those two random reds?   Drives my husband batty every time, but hello?  I made a car! Enough of an accomplishment for me.

Then there is that other part of me.  The part that cannot possibly leave one cookie in the package.  Or three, even four.  It’s the part that must pack everything up by the door the night before we go anywhere more than school.  Baking before holidays equals no less than four desserts to make sure our food allergic child can follow the whims of taste buds like everyone else.  Tidy up a room?  Hell no, must completely excavate, sort, evaluate, purge and re-install!  Since having kids I usually only make it the the evaluate or purge stage before someone needs a nap or a meal.  This is where my half-assed genes come in quite handy.  My brain sees all the progress and tells me I deserve a break, I’ll resume tomorrow.  That or two months from now. Whatever.  My biggest hurdle, and I do now see it as a major hurdle, is that if anyone else is involved in my work, I have to have it 110% before I put it out there or share it with them.  I must be sure it costs them no time or energy.  Even if I’m doing someone a favor, it has to be a super favor.  It has to be exactly what they need or more than they would dare expect, even it’s at the expense of my own sanity.  I’m not a cynic, and no one has turned me down for not being good enough, but somehow I’m sure the world will crumble if I haven’t got it all figured out.  I have no right to this lunacy, but it holds me back.  I don’t take a step until I’m sure I can finish a marathon.  Absurd when I write it out.

Let’s face it, the half-assed side is way more fun.  It makes way more sense.  We are all in constant state of change.  No one is “done” with anything.  There is no finished product, just temporary offerings.  When I realize this, it seems much less overwhelming.  I totally respect where others are at in their learning process, and the kind folks I surround myself with will surely do the same for me.  I have no idea why I feel like I should start a blog.  I know little about them.  I have no clear end goal, but I have wild fantasies of  being a voice and an ear in the communities I belong in.  I’m fighting my tendencies, surrendering to my hippie-dippie side who wants to see where this will go.  I’m promising myself to just post, with nothing more than a quick read through.  If I do more, it will never go further than this.   It may fail.  I may flail.  My brain knows you’ll handle this just fine.  I’m voting for the half-assed party.

How about you?  Anyone else suffer from all-or-nothingitis?