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.

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Safe Staples for Food Pantry Guests on Special Diets

For those of you already shopping for someone with a medical condition such as celiac disease, food allergies, galactosemia or on the autism spectrum you are probably here because you feel the value of the special diet community in your life.  Let’s reach out to include those in our community who are relying on food pantry assistance.  Next time you’re shopping, just grab an extra peanut-free sunflower seed spread or rice milk or gluten free flour mix or whatever other specialty item you rely on.  Think of what matters in your own kitchen, and we’ll help you get your favorite Safe Staples into the kitchen of someone who really needs them.  It’s easy, I promise.  And it will matter so much.

The Safe Staples program is designed to provide food pantry guests on a special or restricted diet, the alternative food staples their diets require. There is so much room for this program to grow,  but let’s start simple.  This process helps you donate allergy-friendly/gluten free staples to any food pantry or in any food drive bin, without fear of the specialty items getting lost among the other donations, ensuring food pantry guests with food allergies, celiac disease and other medical conditions get the safe staples they need.

1.  Shop for allergy-friendly or gluten free alternatives just like you would for a traditional food drive.  Don’t worry about the size of your donation.  Every bit helps. Our facebook page will have suggestions if you are unfamiliar. *If you are a specialty food company, welcome!  Let’s talk. (safestaples@gmail.com) This could be awesome.

2.  Print out these two sheets; the Safe Staples Bag Tag and Sign for Pantry.  Page one is a note to the food pantry staff explaining your donation and asking it to be put aside for guests on special diets. Since many guests would never expect these products to be at a food pantry, many won’t self-identify.  Page two is a sign for the pantry to post so families will know these specialty products are available upon request.

3.  Securely attach the two sheets to your bagged or boxed donation.

4.  Drop it off at any food drive or directly at the pantry itself.

Please help get the word out.  Visit our Facebook page,  “Like” it and “Share” it  with friends and familiy or forward this post to family and friends. These two things are very important as they keep you in the loop down the road.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading. If you haven’t read my thoughts behind this cause, you can read it here. I promise you, this will make a big difference in the lives of those guests with food allergies, celiac disease, and other medical conditions requiring special diets.

More than Food. Drum Roll Please….

I’m so excited to share something that has been brewing in my head for months now.  Without further ado, let me introduce you to Safe Staples for Food Pantry Guests on Special Diets.   If you’ve already read this post, hop straight over to the instructions page.

safe staples for food pantry guests on special diets, food allergies, celiac disease

It’s a very simple way to get gluten free and allergy-friendly foods into food pantries and into the hands of those who need them. Regardless of your connection to the celiac, food allergy or special diet community, I really hope you’ll take a moment to learn more about why this is such an important cause. At the end of the post, I’ll explain the extremely simple way you can help.  But first, here’s a bit of why I felt compelled to start this program.

The route to preschool takes us past the Township Office which houses the food pantry.  Everyday I passed a sign listing the pantry’s current needs.  Half singing along to the radio, half chit-chatting with my son, I barely noticed the sign the first couple weeks of school.  One day it just registered and my heart sank.  It was a sobering reminder that even in this nice, well-kept community, folks were hurting. I was grateful that my new community was reaching out, but it struck me. I have celiac disease and my son has life-threatening food allergies, which means that my pantry “staples” look very different from most others’.  If my family was ever in need of food pantry assistance, it would be unlikely we’d find food there that was safe for me and my son.  How do families like mine get fed in their time of need?

My thoughts snowballed and while the main concern is the physical reality of being fed, I kept going back to the emotional component of living on a special diet and what that might mean to someone seeking help from a food pantry also living on a special diet.

My diagnosis of celiac disease was just a few short months before my new baby’s reaction to touching peanut butter led to his diagnosis of food allergies. In the midst of life and work and family, I suddenly had to figure out how to keep our little world gluten, peanut, tree nut and egg free.  It’s a frightening realization that food can harm you, that it can kill you or someone you love. It’s hard to sleep at first, because you don’t know where to start or where to stop. Every single thing we eat needs to researched.  What are the ingredients?  What did those ingredients touch?  Was it cut on a clean cutting board? Made in a clean pan?  I’d nervously manage to put together a safe meal just in time to have to start all over again a couple of hours later.   I was aching for knowledge and good food and recipes and muscle memory in my kitchen again.  Armed with a positive attitude, a fully-engaged husband, the luxury of a fullish wallet and unlimited internet access, I slowly found those things.  Five years later, I am a happy advocate for the celiac and food allergy communities myself, but I constantly work hard to manage the emotional side of our diagnoses.

I was always a legendary dining companion and relished local, hole-in-the-wall type joints.  The dawn of facebook proved so when I reconnected with old friends and dozens – yes dozens – of them said, “Hey, Bridget!  Good to see you! Do you still love to eat?”  Each friend request instantly brought to mind the food we shared together years ago, for me and for them.

Shortly after our new food adventure started, I remember noticing the insane number of restaurant billboards I passed. Compounded by the number of glorious Chicago eating establishments I lived among, I thought, “My gosh, they’re not speaking to me anymore”.  It felt like the world wasn’t speaking to me anymore; that somehow, I was no longer invited. I was so uncomfortable requiring so much information from those who offered food that I sometimes felt like I was listening to a stranger.

My life quickly went from “yes, please” to “no, thank you”.

Being on special diet is like anything in life. Its position of importance fluctuates.  And I always feel lucky that of all of the possible problems, we have ones with a simple solution. There are a million other things that are worse. The vast majority of time, I live by the “cans” instead of the “cannots” and our diets stay in perspective. The food we can or can’t eat is just a tiny speck of our lives.  But when I’m sick or or vulnerable or worried about other things, the inability to freely eat gets bigger.  Choice is a powerful thing.  Eating the special plate you brought while everyone else has full choice around you can plant seeds of doubt. Even in places that feel like home, you can feel on the fringe, not quite included and, if you’re not careful to combat this thought, unworthy.

Special diets require diligent planning.  Which, frankly, gets super boring.  Even if someone wants to make us a nice meal, I’m still the boss of it.  I have to be head chef and research analyst, even if I’m not in the kitchen.  As a food allergy parent, food surprises are scary.  I’m constantly trying to stay one step ahead of the food my son will encounter so he can enjoy something comparable, as well as avoid any dangerous situations. The predictability and lack of “safe surprises” wears on me sometimes.  I find myself cranky and I realize it’s because that wonder and excitement I had for food is buried. I have to watch that I stop that feeling from bleeding into other areas of my life.

On the flip side, when I find a new product or someone sends me a link to a new restaurant, that hope and wonder and excitement come right on back like they’ve never been gone. That familiar lightness is contagious and my senses quickly get back to the business of being inspired.

When my mom found gluten free pasta that worked well in Grandma’s Casey’s famous spaghetti, I felt the comfort I had been missing.

When I mastered that long-beloved apple skillet cake without gluten, peanuts, tree nuts or eggs, my hesitant mouth fully relaxed and let out a ChristmasMorningSantaCame squeal! My feet followed in the celebration, jumping up and down in our little 3rd floor kitchen. Sorry downstairs neighbor, but I had to dance!  I felt like anything at all in the world was possible!  If our kitchen was any bigger I would have spun and sung “The Hills are Alive”.  Not even exaggerating. It felt that good.

When, five years ago, that woman and her two kids stopped me in Whole Foods as the the tears welled up in my eyes out of confusion and fear, I felt kindness like I have never felt before.  When I recognize that look in the aisles now, I feel purpose and connection. I say goodbye with pride that I’ve helped someone feel less alone, more empowered.

When someone surprises my son with a treat they’ve seen me give him before, or bakes something and saves the empty ingredient boxes, I can’t deny that even if they do come in a different (yet clearly-labeled) package than most, we are absolutely welcome to and are continually receiving life’s gifts.

I think it’s safe to say that food pantry guests are at a vulnerable point in their lives.  In the midst of rebuilding, feeling hopeful and comforted and worthy matter.  Being fed matters.  Feeling safe matters.  For a food pantry guest on a special diet, safe alternative pantry staples mean they can adapt their family recipes to include those they love.  They can celebrate their child with birthday cake. They can share community through food.  Safe Staples in the food pantry mean the power of choice is once again, in their hands. Safe Staples will nourish more than just their bellies.

So let’s reach out to food pantry guests on special diets. Let’s take one worry of of their plates and fill it instead with good, safe food.

Are you with me?  I promise, it’s simple and quick.  Follow me to the instruction page, and spread the word.

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?

a not-so-simple morning

My husband’s coaching schedule means that our family time is very random, and weekends together like this one are rare.  It was really great morning.  The kids woke up at 8-the holy grail of wake-up calls, isn’t it?  Well, as a parent anyhow.  Michael, my five year old, runs in our room and whispers loudly with the speed of the Micro-Machine Man, “Mom, how about you paint my face like a snake again?  We should do it now before I get dressed, because I’ll wear my polyester shirts and I want to– oh, wait, I’ll get dressed first so it doesn’t smear, cuz sometimes it does and I don’t want to get on any face paint on my good polyester. It’s good to always get ready for the day because we have a lot to do and the first thing is always getting –oh, wait I have to go potty.  the first thing should always be going potty.”  whew.  This monologue was done before I even got the second eyelid open.

And yes, he is concerned about polyester.  Excuse me, his good polyester.  Because my child loves his polyester.  It’s my fault.  I over explained why I didn’t want my super sweatbox to wear his beloved hand-me-down jersey on a 90 degree day 3 years ago and he held onto that little nugget of info for dear life.  Like a priest at the pulpit he will extol the virtues of the leisure suit fabric, convincing you that coats are unnecessary in a world where polyester exists.  In fact, today he wore two.  For extra awesomeness.

I let my husband sleep in because naps are how we show love.  I fed the boys, painted faces and put together a toy semi-truck with a detachable trailer-a constantly detachable trailer.  48 tears/fix/play/break/tears cycles later, I had shown enough love and I told our two year old to wake Daddy to tell him he was in charge of the truck.  After we hid the truck, we all took off for a walk to Target and took a little bike path with plenty of spots to throw sticks in to a creek.  We raced just long enough for my husband and I to realize we need to work out more.  A lot more. The boys were thrilled with the fresh air, fresh dirt, and the occasional duck. Don’t worry, they didn’t harm the ducks. (If you have young kids, you know that they can easily confuse target practice with a little friendly conversation when it comes to small woodland creatures.) They ran for giant sticks over and over again, coming back to the little bridge to watch the tiny current pull them away.  It was my perfect kind of day.  Nowhere to be, figuring it out as we go, watching the kids be kids.  Simple as that. Life is good.  So, so good.

As much as polyester, Michael loves a good garage sale. Our long walks around our old city neighborhood really laid the ground work for our favorite mother/son sport.  We’ve been gearing up for the season and when he saw the sign we knew we had to stop on the way home.  So we split from the other guys and took a quick run.  Lots of tools.  Michael is sure he needs those concrete tools.  “Those would be great for our inventions or when we have to move stuff around.  You just put it on there and it gives it support.”  I’ve got to give him credit for the sell.  He even offers to negotiate the price since he doesn’t want me to spend too much money. ha! My stifled laughter turns into disgust when I spot the worst possible thing to spot at a garage sale with your kids…..the ginormous bins of stuffed animals!!!!!   AHHHHHH!  Note to the universe, PLEASE stop putting out your vintage, deformed, drooled on carnival prizes out for sale by the dozens.  And telling me how much your child loved them only makes me want them less.  I know the most loved animals also spent the most time on your bathroom floor, under your kitchen table, and under your child’s butt as he slept.  I’m the farthest thing from a germaphobe.  I grab public door handles with reckless abandon.  But you best take shelter if you tell my boy that the cholera-laden Scooby-Doo is “on the house.”

Luckily, this seller took my warning glance seriously and we progressed to the costumes.  Anything easily washable is fair game.  When we originally went up to the house, I heard a young man’s voice forcefully muttering something.  As we stepped on the lawn, I could make out the f-word. Six more were blurted out in as many seconds.  Only his feet and his shoulders were clumsily racing toward adulthood, the rest of him was very much a boy.  He spoke to us, at us, came and went as Michael contemplated between the firefighter and the power ranger.

I consciously didn’t shield Michael.  I didn’t create conversation to drown out the profanity. Obviously, I’d rather he didn’t hear it, but I didn’t want him to think something was “wrong”.  I assume the boy has Tourette’s Syndrome, and not that I know much about it, but I know he can’t control it.

His parents were there and another younger brother, maybe 11 years old.  The younger boy was casually lurking as if he had a stake in the sales but was too shy to actually play salesman.  He perked up when we crouched by the costume box.  The older boy came back, asking the younger, “f-love, f-power rangers, f-what you want to buy with your f-money?”  The younger boy pretended he wasn’t there.  His cheeks turned blotchy red. I could tell it was for my sake.  He didn’t want to be a part of swearing in front of a little kid. I smiled at them both agreeing that the Power Rangers were, indeed, awesome.  Big fat juicy lie, but I was desperate to send them a lifeline.  The older boy grabbed a fake knife with blood on it and happily shouted that it was fake sprinkled with the same kind of language and interruption.  Frankly, he was talking so fast, Michael missed the fun words.  As we waited to pay, the older boy kept prodding the younger one for attention, occasionally poking him with the rubber knife.  My heart ached for the younger one.  He looked as if he was praying for the lawn to swallow him up right then and there.  And when he realized he didn’t have enough change and that meant we had to stay a few moments longer, I could almost hear the f-bomb that went off in his own head.  He slowly lowered his eyelids and shook his head the slightest bit as the older one kept talking and swearing. The parents acknowledged the boy, but not the language.  There was a lot of love in what they were not saying; in the apologies they were not making. His mom told him kindly, but firmly to stop it once while we were waiting, but again, I felt like it was for Michael’s sake.  I put my arm on Michael’s head, hoping the words, “I’ll explain in a few minutes, but please, oh please, don’t say anything just yet” would somehow pass from my brain down my arm and into his head.  I didn’t want us to add to their pile.  I hoped our smiles and light conversation spoke enough.

I started the conversation as soon as I could as Michael hopped back on his bike.  I chose my words carefully, avoiding words like “wrong” or “normal”.  I told him that boy’s brain made him say words that may not make sense to us.  It’s just how his works.  It’s not a choice.  I wanted my definition to do all the right things, but who knows? Five years old is funny age.  They are starting to see glimpses of life’s injustices.  He seemed to get that this was probably hard for this kid.  He felt a little bad, but didn’t know exactly why.

As we made our way home, my heart went out to them.  That boy is so much more than those unfortunately-timed outbursts.  I’m sure he has adorable quirks like Michael’s deep love of polyester.  There is a voice beyond those swear words.  Part of my version of a perfect morning was the joy in seeing strangers interact with my kids about their painted faces.  The boys love it, smile proudly and meow/hiss/bark at them.  Strangers smile back.  Done.  Simple.  There are no double takes, no furrowed brows, no blushing cheeks when my children meet people.  What a gift that simple thing is! And I’m sure that boy is a gift to many.  I just have to say, that must be hard.  And to anyone that has something like this on your plate, you have my admiration.

There are dozens of everyday things that are simple for one person but downright complicated for another. How do you teach your kids to recognize and respect those moments?  I hope I did right by that family and by Michael, but I honestly have no idea.

As for the brothers, I hope they made gobs of money on their sale and get to go treat themselves to whatever has replaced Power Rangers on their wish list.  I know a new toy won’t help in any real way, but we all deserve a treat now and then, don’t we?

Thanks for reading!

-Bridget

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?