......finding a new home for lutefisk lovers.

(ok we don't love it. or even like it. but we're supposed to.)

30 December 2010

The Post Christmas Analysis

I know Christmas is over. But I have a new post-Christmas ritual I'd like to share. Before the new year begins, take some time to scratch some notes about this holiday season. How did it go? What worked? What didn't? What caused you stress? What was your favorite part? Could you have done anything differently to bring more joy, get the dinner to the table more efficiently, avoid the mall, etc. Take a good hard look at these things and think about which ones ADD to your holiday. Which ones are a burden?

More often than not, we allow Christmas to happen to us. It is, as they say, the tail wagging the dog. We get thrashed around by the shoulds, the ought to's, the have to's, the people-pleasing, the demands, the rituals - some meaningful but most not, the events - some worthwhile but most not, and a calendar that shrinks by the day. In your perfect world, what would your holiday really look like?

I found my notes from last year and learned: Mike's back went out when he got home from his sales meeting. This year he got sick. Next year, I will put an as-yet-unnamed malady on the calendar; I will ask Mike to complete his tasks in November. I also learned that my favorite event of last season was the simplest: A Christmas Story at the Riverview Theater followed by pizza with friends. I need very little else. Everything else - the Holidazzle Parade, Macy's 8th floor display, a picture with Santa, the Nutcracker, etc., etc., etc., - are much more fun when you don't do them every single year. If Liam goes to the Holidazzle parade 3 times in his entire childhood, he will still remember it fondly as a holiday tradition.

I thought back on the things that made me feel overtired and overheated and hurried. About 99% of those things were mall-related.

I admitted in writing that church is a pain in the ass. There......I said it. I don't like church on Christmas. It just gets in the way......of Christmas. And I bet Jesus would agree with me.

I also admitted that I love Mariah Carey's All I Want for Christmas is You. Mock me, I don't care. I love that song. Admitting it to yourself is the first step. The next step is downloading it.

If you want your holiday to be meaningful, it has to be mindful. Taking some notes right now will bring your most hectic holiday into sharp relief........so you can leave it behind.

And next year you'll enjoy more snowy walks, more independent shops with free gift wrapping, more pizza with friends.

And more Mariah Carey.

21 December 2010

Hindsight is 20/20

Today Mike and I identified the moment that Liam decided he did not like the beach.
It was the moment this photo was taken.

In August, I posted about his resistance (Please Don't Yank My Chain Like This). About our surprise and confusion when the boy who loved the beach suddenly refuses to go.........

Today Mike is home on vacation (yay!) and we took a walk to the beach to watch the surfers. The ocean in winter is full of swollen, frothy waves that smack against the rocks for our entertainment. After each hit, I wait for the spray to shoot into the sky like fireworks (the beach in winter........I had no idea that it could heal my wounds year round).

Before heading back home, I point to an area just north of the fish shack and suggest that we check out the view from the sea wall. And Mike says, "That's where we pulled over to take a picture the day we drove Liam by the house for the first time."

And that's when it hit me: that's where his disdain for the beach originated. Right here by this fish shack just 30 minutes after we had arrived in the state of New Hampshire.

Just minutes before this photo was taken, we had driven him by our new house; showing him the place that we would call home in a just a few weeks' time. I have a picture of him looking out the car window, seeing his new house for the very first time........it doesn't contain the anticipation or the excitement or the amazement that I expected. Instead, the picture is heavy with rumination.

It was the instant he fully realized we weren't going home.

Then we drove from our new house to the beach to show him how close we were to the ocean. It's a 3 minute drive! We can come here every day! Can you believe this? We pulled over and hopped out of the car to take this photo, capturing our first visit to the ocean that was now in our neighborhood. And instead of celebrating with us, he sulked......barely looking up at the camera. In that span of 7 minutes, he was grappling with the full realization of his loss - and the stupid, clueless parents who were making him celebrate at such a time. What choice did he have but to hate the thing we were shoving in his face? We basically handed him a new behavior issue on a silver platter.

Until that day, Liam loved the beach. Now he cries and says please don't make me go.

But we do make him go. And though he complains and begs to leave, he hesitates so he can collect just one more shell. Or one more rock. Until his pockets are bulging and soggy with sea water. And when he can't carry any more, he fills our pockets. Then turns to us with his arms full of the beach and says "Can we go now? I don't like the beach."

16 December 2010

Chronology of a Christmas Meltdown

1. The Holiday Season Begins.............and it goes smoothly. Living in a new area, we have no family, no social group, and we're not involved in anything. Which sounds really sad but actually no family no friends no activities equals nothing on our calendar. And it's lovely. Our calendars, just like our houses, can get cluttered. So our new system is like an elimination diet; remove everything and eat grass. Then one by one, introduce one carefully chosen event at a time and assess for any negative reactions.

2. Sales Meeting Week.........Mike is gone for a week and it is not so bad. Because of the half-parenting and because I wrestled Mike into a planning meeting before he left in which we sketched out a budget and a gift list. He leaves and I start the legwork.

3. Mike Gets Home.........and leaves again. Wait......where are you going? I thought we could do x, y and z together. Or maybe YOU could do x, y and z. But he's going to Baltimore for a meeting. Then he comes home from Baltimore sick.

4. Sick Day Coincides with Post Office Day.........the day we had planned to have all of our gifts wrapped, packaged and sent to Minnesota and beyond. And Mike is watching TV on the sick couch. Not only are the gifts not wrapped or packaged, there are several gift ideas that failed. So before the trip to the post office, I have to run out and pick up a few more items. But I forget that the geography of this place prevents me from "running out" for things. Don't you "run out" to Target? I always say I'm going to run out to Target - and two hours later I'm coming home with milk. But, nonetheless, I have to "run out" for a couple gifts before my post office run. And I'm searching (unsuccessfully) for a go-to store like Patina and every store is 10 miles away. And the next store is 10 miles from that one. So my "running out" for a few things turns into an all day cross-country roadtrip. I'm starting to hate my car. Quickly quickly get your things so you can get to the post office so you can get home for bus time and cookie baking. Because.......

5. Post Office Day Also Coincides with Cookie Day........Two days prior, a note came home in the backpack asking parents to bake an ASSORTMENT of HOMEMADE cookies to be distributed to the teachers and staff as a Christmas gift. The cookies are due tomorrow. Such a lovely idea.....if I had known about it 3 weeks ago. And it specifically says "homemade" so I can't "run out" to the store and get some Mint Milanos to wrap up with pretty cellophane. I'm generally hostile about forced baking; I mock people who get stressed out because they haven't finished their baking. Now I'm one of them. But they can forget about an ASSORTMENT.

6. Post Office Day is Only 1/3 Successful..........the west coast gifts get purchased, wrapped and shipped. But I come up short when I make the bold move to drive by Best Buy with my middle finger up. I just cannot go in that store again. So I keep driving. Even though it means the rest of the packages will not get shipped today. While I drive, I brainstorm ways to pass off store-bought cookies as homemade.

7. Racing Home For Bus Time.........because we are required to meet our children at the bus. If you are not there at bus time, Frank the Bus Driver takes your kid back to school and you get in big trouble. I keep reminding myself that if I get pulled over for speeding, I will FOR SURE not get there for bus time.

8. 3:15 Bus Time......I make it. The bus arrives and Frank holds his hands up in dismay; he says Liam didn't get on the bus. I repeat: Liam is NOT on the bus. We check under the seats to see if he's playing a funny trick. He missed the bus last week but I got a phone call from the office one minute after dismissal time telling me of his whereabouts. It's now 35 minutes after dismissal time. I call the school secretary........is he there? Did he miss the bus again and you just forgot to call me? But it's clear he's not sitting patiently in the office waiting for a ride. She puts me on hold so she can search the school. When I'm on hold, it occurs to me to panic - especially when Mike gets off his sick couch and stands 12 inches in front of me, staring at me like Mel Gibson in "Ransom" - making the hold time seem like that period of time that the police refer to as "crucial."

92 hours later, the secretary gets back on the phone and says "He's at Weird Science."

Weird Science........the after school program he goes to every Wednesday. EVERY Wednesday.

8. I go upstairs and have a meltdown.

EPILOGUE: The next day, I "run out" to the store and get a 2 liter of Pepsi and a bag of Cheeseburger Doritos and watch movies on the couch.

10 December 2010

Merry Sales Meeting!

Every year during the first full week of December, Mike prepares for the holiday ritual of his semi-annual sales meeting; gathering together with all the shoe salespeople of the world to celebrate sales. Sales of all kinds. This holiday tradition takes him to all sorts of places far away from home starting early on Sunday morning until late Friday night. A full week away from home to celebrate sales. At the height of the hectic Christmas season.

(rant about poor timing and the burden left to the Christmas elves at home DELETED. He's well aware and, yes, he feels badly.)

This is not new for me; I am a well-seasoned single parent. In fact, my single parenthood was the primary motivation for this move. Because that was NOT what I had signed up for (she said over and over and over again). It's not what anyone should sign up for unless you really get off on being a martyr. Which I don't.........I could never qualify for martyrdom because that would involve keeping my mouth shut. I was a demanding, resentful, unforgiving wife - and rightly so. I deserved every outburst and every Janet Jackson-themed barrage of "what have you done for me lately?" Because we are not meant to do this by ourselves.

But NOW, post-move, after several months of no single-parenting, the biggest inconvenience during Mike's Holiday Absence is wondering if we should go ahead and watch the Grinch or wait and watch it with Daddy.

Big sigh of relief.

But the notion of Daddy being gone a full week is unfathomable to most people (again, rightly so). And the news is usually met with some form of "Omigod, how do you do it?"

And I usually answer "Not very well" (remember the demanding, resentful wife wagging her finger Janet Jackson-style?). But what I really mean is..........I cut corners. All small corners, and certainly unnecessary corners and, yes, even some big, important corners. You know all those things you're supposed to do as a good parent? I don't do those. I'm more like "Maybe you could get your own breakfast in the morning. The sugared cereal is on the counter and there might be milk." And that doesn't bother me. Because, really, who ever died because they didn't have milk in the house? Self-preservation is the name of the game. Anything that makes more work for me is bad for Liam.........in the form of a parent who resembles a snapping turtle. Or maybe a wolverine.

I actually have a system for dealing with the wolverine. I figure I just need to own it as my own condition (it's all about "I" statements) and I need to give him fair warning. As in (very calmly) "Liam, I need to warn you that I'm starting to lose my mind. And if you fall off that chair one more time, I don't think I can take it. And I'm going to start yelling and throwing dish towels. Do you understand?" (falls off chair) "THAT'S IT! I'VE LOST MY MIND! NOW I'M YELLING! DINNER IS OVER! GET OUT! GET OUT! I'M DONE PARENTING NOW!"

We've already discussed my half-assed domestic skills and that goes triple when Mike is gone. The LAST thing I need when Mike is gone is a clean house. Or clean underwear. I'm a very resourceful person and I'll just figure that one out without having to add to my burden. What I need is more down time not less. And if I play my cards right, I can go the whole week without loading or unloading the dishwasher. It helps if you go out for lunch every day. And I don't ever "make" a real dinner; it's leftovers, breakfast, lunch or Subway (I actually get a boost from Subway because it's a TREAT! No whining! No protesting! Just "I love you Mom!" So that goes right back into my personal energy reserve! Everyone wins!).

But then there are days when the inner parenting critic pays a visit. And I think I've taken the half-parenting thing too far. When I haven't seen Liam for 2 hours (oh how lovely! wait....that's sad) because he's upstairs watching TV completely unsupervised. And if I check on him, the serenity will be shattered because I'll have to say this show is inappropriate and promotes sassy mouth (whine cry negotiate beg). Then I start counting how many baths he had (zero) and how many vegetables he's eaten (zero) and how much exercise he's gotten (does recess count?) and I start the reflective shame spiral. It gets easier and easier to think of all the ways you're failing your child - they just pop into your brain like prairie dogs. The inner parenting critic only shows where you fail. It never shows you a list of all the amazing things you do. It only exists in that failed moment saying "Yeah, this is bad. Do you want to hear a list of "shoulds" to help you see all the ways you're f*cking up?"

Until I take control and say "HEY! You are conveniently forgetting yesterday when we read both The Song of Hiawatha and The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere! Two epic poems in one day! That's heavy stuff for a 2nd grader so I get extra credit for that! And I think an hour of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow cancels out an hour of iCarly, don't you? And what about tonight? How many parents do you know who discuss the various movements of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite with their 8 year old boys? And find youtube clips of the Russian Dance, the Arabian dance and the Chinese Dance to help illustrate the point? I can even spell Tchaikovsky! And AND did you forget that I read Twas the Night Before Christmas to his class this morning? Or how I coached him through the news that Grandma's cat had died? How come you don't write that stuff down in your little book?"


I thought so. Write it in your book, friends. Because, apparently, it's possible to be both lame AND amazing. Lame and amazing can co-exist and produce a top-notch human being.

Just try not to be lame all the time. You shouldn't try to be amazing all the time either. If you're amazing all the time, I don't want to hear it. Because you're either bat shit crazy or..........bat shit crazy.

03 December 2010

Size Matters

Mike measures his success by the size of his Christmas tree.

In the early years of our marriage we had small salaries and small apartments and he always lobbied for not getting a tree. And I was like "What's WRONG with you? You don't NOT get a tree." Our first year, we didn't have any ornaments so we nestled our Christmas cards in its Charlie Brown branches. It was so pathetic. And what I didn't know then was that the tiny trees shamed him. That squat, misshapen tree with no ornaments was a direct threat to his masculinity and his ability to provide for his woman (who was, at the time, making $30 more per paycheck).

Then one year, he didn't balk and sigh at the prospect of getting a tree (this was promotion #1). But, unfortunately, I had to prolong the shame. We picked out a perfectly normal sized tree, not a Charlie Brown tree. Two very nice gentleman loaded it into a cart and hauled it to the cashier stand. Then it was maneuvered into the Christmas tree wrapping machine where it was twisted and spiraled until it was wrapped in a tight mess of twine. I took out my check book and asked "How much?"

Hearing the answer, I put my checkbook back in my purse, narrowed my eyes at them and said "PUT IT BACK." Don't offend me with your un-Christmasy prices. And we went home with another Charlie Brown tree.

But with each promotion, the balking and the sighing decreased and the enthusiasm peeked through a little bit more. Until one year he declared "That one's not big enough!" and kept stomping his Sorels down the row of trees. It took me by surprise, this sudden "I actually do care about the Christmas tree" bravado. And I mustered a confused "Oh....ok....." and simply followed until he found a tree that imbued him with a commensurate amount of virility. I wasn't going to rock this new boat lest it sail away into the sunset.

Fast forward to the present..........to the most important promotion yet . A promotion that involved moving our family cross country to what is essentially a new planet in hopes that it will somehow be worth it in the end. We arrive at the Christmas tree farm in Vermont and Mike asks the owner where the 9 foot trees are.

The owner is a Brian Doyle Murray look-alike from the movie Vacation ("that includes wildlife fun") and he smirks a little bit as if to say "Calm down, Sparky." He questions him: "How tall are your ceilings?" And Mike says "9 feet."

I exchange a look with Brian Doyle Murray so he knows that I am the sane one.

"Well, now don't forget you have the Christmas tree stand which adds several inches. And you need room for the star." He's done this before; talking sense into overexcited city-dwellers who can't do math.

Mike dismisses him handily and starts clomping away toward the the tallest trees, sending a clear message that he needs no help finding the trees for successful people. Liam and I clamber helplessly behind him. I've decided I'm not going to fight him on this. I will refrain from being the voice of reason. I've already won the short-hair vs. long-hair battle; as long as I get a short-hair balsam or frasier, and not a fat tree with long needles, I'm pretty happy. Plus, I kind of want to see how this turns out.

He chooses a tall tree. I ask if he wants to measure it to make sure it fits - but he ignores me. I'm looking at that tree and thinking someone is delusional. But I keep my mouth shut. It's all you, dude.

We arrive home 3 hours later and haul the tree into the garage where Mike, wisely but tardily, directs Liam to get a tape measure. Perhaps 3 hours and 189 miles ago would have been a better time to measure, I think to myself.

He measures the ceiling: 94 inches.
He measures the tree: 117 inches.

We need to lop off almost 2 feet just to get it into the house. And that's not making allowances for the stand and the star. I'm working really hard to suppress a smile but I'm still not saying anything. In a very Clark Griswold fashion he mumbles "Oops. Well.....that's ok. I have to trim it up a little anyway."

A little? He is clearly not doing the math on purpose.
He really NEEDS this tree to be nine feet tall. If it's a lesser tree than last year this move could all be in vain.

I watch where he places the saw on the trunk........and give him a gentle reminder. "Don't forget about the tree stand."

"That's only an inch."

"And the star. Don't forget about the star."

"That's only a few inches."

"It's more like 12 inches." My rational side is fighting its way out.

"Don't worry about it! I'll figure it out!" he says, frustrated.

Really, the only way I can see this working is if he cuts the tree off in the middle so the tree ends in a plateau rather a point. Maybe we could put our presents on top of the tree instead of under it. But he trims it, puts it in the stand, and we carry it inside. Never have we had a tree so big that it required two people to carry it.

Mike sets the stand on the ground and we slowly raise it, raise it, raise it.........until it stops......... at a 60 degree angle to the ground.

Still keeping my mouth shut.

"Ok," he says, "let's get it back outside. Can you lower it back down? (pause) Kristin......let go. Let it down. (pause) What are you doing?"

I wave my hands at him jazz-hands style to show him that I've already let go. In other words, I'm not holding the tree up. In more other words, the tree is STUCK at a 60 degree angle in our family room, wedged between the floor and the ceiling; the pointy tree top gouged into our crisp, white ceiling.

I see his proverbial balloon slowly deflating......like he's starting to see the light just a little bit. And I see him cringe at the sight of an imperfection in our freshly painted family room. He carefully dislodges the tree and we carry it back outside.

He starts trimming again but I can see it's still not adequate. Why is he fighting this so hard?

"Don't forget the star."

"Kristin, I'll take care of it!"

But he's clearly not. Watching him continually prune more and more off that tree is like watching him prune his very manhood. So I try not to be the snarky wife. But I'm curious to see what happens when he "takes care of " the star.

This time the tree fits without destroying anything. The top of the tree reaching toward the ceiling with just a fraction of an inch to spare. I hand him the star. The 12 inch star. And he takes it confidently like "watch me, woman."

And he gets in there and starts wrestling branches until the star sits cradled not so much on top of the tree but more in FRONT of the top of the tree.

And it looks just fine.

I laugh.......happy that he was able to pull this off with his manhood mostly in tact. Because if there was ever a year that he needed a visual reminder of his success, it would be at this very moment.......far flung as we are from the people and places we normally hold dear at Christmas time. All in the name of his career.

He's keenly aware of the price Liam and I have paid for this move. And he really needs his career to pay off for us.

And by the looks of this tree, I think we're going to be just fine.