Please don’t send sick kids to school!

I am annoyed that my children are ill.  I am really annoyed that I am also ill.  We have fevers that keep spiking, we’ve all developed a terrible cough, and poor Mellow had an enormous cyst on her eyelid that is now oozing and leaking so she looks like she is crying tears of blood.

This virus came to us from Wildling’s school.  I know this, because half the students were out sick on Monday.  Half the students.  It’s not a big school, but still, that is a strikingly large percentage of sick children.

I can’t help but be angry at whomever it was that sent the original virus to school and spread it around.  Someone sent a child to school who shouldn’t have been there, and because of them, I have had to stay up nearly every night this week monitoring my baby’s fever.  I have had to take one daughter to the emergency room and the other to the pediatrician.  My mother-in-law had to come over yesterday to take care of the three of us, and now she might get this terrible virus as well.  My husband has had to take off work to care for us, and he knows that it’s just a matter of time before he too shall suffer.

I am angry that someone made the decision to send their sick child to school.  But I also realize that *NOT* sending a sick child to school is not always possible.  I come at it from a position of privilege – I am self-employed, part time.  When Wildling had to stay home from school this week, I simply didn’t work.  I didn’t have to call my boss and ask permission.  I am not using up vacation days, or worse, taking unpaid days.  I didn’t have to call around and find a babysitter so that I could still go to work.  Today, Will is off work to take care of us. He has sick leave and vacation time. He is not going to get fired for non-attendance. His employment is secure.

Not everybody has this.  I imagine someone feeling their child’s forehead and realizing it was a little too warm, and thinking that they couldn’t afford this, they had to go to work.  One more absence could mean the loss of a job. I imagine no malicious intent when that parent gave their child a dose of medicine to bring the fever down and dropped him off at school (also, in my imagination the sick child is a boy, and specifically the one that sometimes picks on Wildling because he is easy to blame since she doesn’t like him anyway). I imagine that parent didn’t think of the consequences or lied to themself that their child wasn’t contagious. It’s just a little fever.  Probably nothing.  I imagine that parent feels terrible now when they drop their child off in the nearly empty playground as all the other students are home sick.

I am annoyed with the parent that made that decision.  But I understand that sometimes there isn’t really a choice.


Three Good Things

About eight months ago, I attended a resilience training seminar at a conference. It was meant to help our professional lives, since of course that was the focus of the convention. However, for me, the benefit of that training has manifested in my personal life.

At that particular seminar, the speaker talked about how important it is to focus on the positive rather than the negative. This is something I have tried to do, but it’s difficult as I am pessimistic by nature. One suggestion that was given for families was that at dinner time, each family member takes a turn saying three positive things about their day.

We decided to try it. After a week or so, Will and I both found that we began to look for things during the day. Oh, that’s good, I’m going to use that as one of my good things tonight. It was a good way to start a conversation and share our days with each other. Wildling contributes, and, although usually her first good thing is ‘I’m having a lovely dinner with my family,’ and her second good thing is something like ‘I’m having milk,’ she does provide tidbits and stories from school as well. We get to learn what she thinks is significant. She usually does Mellow’s good things as well (I’m having a lovely dinner with my family, repeated in a very high falsetto, which I guess is how Wildling assumes Mellow would talk if she could).

We’ve been doing this for about eight months now, and it is working – we are forced to find the positives even in our worst days. I think of today as proof of it’s success.

Wildling has strep throat. We spent hours in the emergency room yesterday. I was up all night with her as her fever kept spiking. Meanwhile, Mellow has developed an eye cyst, and her eye is nearly swollen shut. At some point today, she developed a high fever as well. I spent all day, on no sleep, taking care of two sick children, both of whom desperately needed me, but whom I was trying to keep separate (clearly, that failed, as the fever did spread to poor Mellow). Wildling was completely miserable, and spent most of the day just sitting in a chair, lethargic and sad. Mellow wanted to nurse all day and kept climbing up on me and crying.

Yet tonight at dinner, after that horrible awful day, we were all able to come up with three good things. A year ago, I couldn’t have done that. I would have been so focused on how miserable we all were, how tired I was, how I wasn’t able to go to the store and get Wildling her medicine because she and Mellow were too sick. Instead, I focused on the good: Wildling’s fever has gone down, my father-in-law picked up the medicine for us, we spent awhile quietly watching youtube videos of ballerinas and talking about the importance of working hard. Those are my good things.

I know that Wildling will get better. Mellow will get better. Tomorrow will be better. There is something good in every day.

New bike = freedom

I have a new bike, and when I ride it, I feel free.

When I was very young, I had two traumatizing bike accidents which left me terrified of going down hills. That’s what happens when you live in a neighborhood made entirely of steep hills, and when your non-mechanically inclined father thinks he installed brakes on your little Strawberry Shortcake bike that you recently started riding without training wheels.

As a teenager, I lived in another neighborhood of hills, and I rode my ten speed around with my friends. There weren’t many other girls in that neighborhood, but there were a couple of guys I hung out with. We’d ride bikes to each other’s houses and play basketball or just hang out. But then two things happened: I moved to a far away state where I knew no one, and I turned sixteen and got a car. My bike riding days were officially over.

I don’t think I rode a bike again until my mid-twenties, when I started dating a guy who was into mountain biking and talked me into trying it (yes, that was Will). I bought a used mountain bike off of a friend of his, and we began to ride together. I was still terrified on hills though, as the little girl who still lives inside me would scream with terror every time I looked down a steep one and remembered how it felt to be on an out-of-control bike, the pedals spinning and spinning without me touching them and my father running desperately after me trying to stop me before I crashed. He never caught me.

I enjoyed the mountain bike though, because riding it made me feel like a child. Look how fast I can go! Look at all the places I can go! I’m free, I can go anywhere! That mountain bike and I had a lot of adventures, including exploring a boarded up and abandoned city in the middle of a hurricane (Houston, Hurricane Rita).

I gave it up eventually though, in favor of a Kona AfricaBike, which, in my opinion, is the greatest commuter bike ever built. I loved my AfricaBike. I loved riding it. I loved that it was steel and heavy and black, and from a dead stop I could blow away any roadbike. I rode that bike for three years of law school, and just loved the freedom it gave me. I didn’t have to pay hundreds for on-campus parking. I didn’t have to wait in line at a parking garage. I could just hop on my bike and go. When Wildling was old enough, we bought a trailer for it, and Will and I suddenly had the ability to take her to the park, take her along the river path, take her to bike festivals. Then one day Wildling and I were walking out to the carport to go somewhere and I noticed something wrong. There was a cut bike lock on the ground, drag marks in our gravel driveway, and no bike. I was absolutely devastated.

I did replace my original AfricaBike with a new one, one that I sold today. I never loved it as much as the original, perhaps because my heart was too broken to be fixed with a newer model. But lack of love is not the reason I sold it. No, I sold it because a couple of weeks ago, I got a new bike, one to transport the children and me: An Xtracycle Edgerunner. I may say that the Kona AfricaBike is the greatest commuter bike ever, and I mean that. But the Xtracycle is the greatest cargo bike, and best child-friendly car substitute available.

The kids love it, I love it. Part of the reason I love it is because when I ride a bike, I still get that feeling of being free, of being young and happy and having access to the whole world. I can feel the wind in my face and I can go where I want.

Wildling loves it. She loves when I pick her up from school by bike. Her little friends are jealous. They see me when I ride past the school’s window, and they have asked her when they can have a turn. Magnanimously, she has promised all of them that I will one day give them a ride. I won’t, actually, but it was nice of her to offer my services.

Mellow loves it, too. The other day I told her we were going for a bike ride, and she grinned, jumped up, and took off running for the back door. Of course, I had to chase her down so I could put a diaper on her, and she screamed in frustration. She even says ‘bike,’ one of her very few vocabulary words, and she’ll point at the shed door and try so hard to reach the handle. While she rides she is usually quiet, but I sometimes hear her babbling and chirping away.

When we ride the bike, we get to interact more with people. Pedestrians wave at the kids. People smile and comment as we pass. When I park, people come up to me to ask about it. Does it ride well? Is it a comfortable ride? How’s the balance with kids on it?

I imagine, as I pass cars stopped in long lines at intersections, that the drivers are looking at me with envy. I’m outside, getting exercise and enjoying the beautiful weather. I am powering my own transportation. They are breathing stale air and listening to their children complain from the backseat, while my children are learning about balance and have unobstructed views of the world they travel through. I imagine that this is what drivers are feeling, because it is how I always felt, trapped in a steel cage while cyclists glide by freely.

I know the freedom I feel on the bike is mostly an illusion. It takes me longer to get places, and I have to be much more concerned about theft when I finally arrive. I can’t really go off-roading, and I must follow the same traffic laws as everybody else. But I feel free. I feel energized. I feel powerful.

I love my new bike.

Finally, True Commitment

I think it’s happening. Will and I are finally ready to make a real commitment to each other. After 15 years of friendship, 10.5 years of a romantic relationship, 9 years of living together, and almost 8 years of marriage, we are finally ready to do it: we are going to stop having separate silverware.

It’s true. Real commitment is happening.

When we first moved in together, in 2005 (we’re getting old!), we each had our own set of silverware. Mine was a gift from my grandmother, when she cleared out all of her kitchen stuff to move in with my parents. A few minutes on Google tells me that the pattern, Oneida Twin Star, is considered vintage, so I guess that qualifies mine as fancy and elegant. Will’s silverware, the Oneida Jupiter Satin (thanks, Google and ten minutes of searching), is one that he bought himself when he first moved out of his parents’ house. He loves his. He thinks it’s the most beautiful silverware in the world.

Neither of us was willing to compromise, and we wouldn’t give up our silverware. Personally, I think he should have gotten rid of his, because mine is vintage and came from my grandmother (plus, it’s pretty). But according to him, the curved edge at the base of the forks and spoons digs into his delicate hands and hurts him, so he can’t eat with those – and he hasn’t, in the ten years he’s had access to them. I’ve used either set, because my hands are tougher than his, but I wasn’t going to give up a pattern I really liked for his kind of boring one.

So that’s the way it has been for the past ten years. We have a silverware drawer filled to overflowing. A couple of years ago I got a nice organizer for the drawer, but there are so many spoons that everything is just kind of jammed in and messy anyway.

Here’s what’s changed: I am decluttering. Stuff is gong away. Bags and bags of unnecessary crap have been taken out of our house and donated or disposed of. Today, I was working on the kitchen and I opened our ridiculously over-filled silverware drawer and I realized that we needed to do something to fix this situation (also, Will needs to fix the actual drawer, since it’s partially damaged).

It is time. We are committed to each other. We don’t need to hold on to our old silverware just in case we decide to break up. That ship has sailed. We aren’t going anywhere. And in honor of this commitment, we need to stop this ridiculous use of separate sets of silverware.

We are buying one set. We will go to a store and pick out a set together, and that will be our shared silverware. I think we’re finally ready.

Wasting Stickers

If you give Wildling a pack of stickers, within moments there will be stickers everywhere. She especially likes to put them on the tile floor, but she is willing to also cover windows, countertops, and her little sister.

If you give Wildling a bag of candy, like the kind parents give out at birthday parties, she will immediately devour as much as possible before I take it away.

Wildling will wear new clothing the second she gets home, or sometimes sooner. I’ve had to let her change at the store before because she just couldn’t wait.

These are things I admire about her.

When I was a child, if you gave me stickers, I would save them. I didn’t want to use them up, didn’t want to ‘waste’ them. I enjoyed the act of possessing them, but couldn’t bring myself to use them, because then they would be gone and I would have nothing. I was the kid who saved my Valentine’s chocolate until it went bad, because I wanted to save it for a special occasion. I had a pencil collection once, and it sat in a box for years. Occasionally I would take a pencil out and admire it, or line them all up to look at the pretty colors and designs, but then I’d put them back. I donated that collection years ago, without ever having used a single pencil – without ever having had the enjoyment, the experience of using a single one of those fancy pencils.

I wish I could have been more like Wildling.

I try to let it go. I try to use things as I get them, rather than hanging on for some future potential occasion. But it’s hard for me to do.

I sometimes cringe when Wildling puts an entire sheet of stickers on the floor (or on Mellow’s back!) because all I can think is how wasteful it is, how now those stickers are used up. But they aren’t. She got satisfaction out of the act of using them, and she is not burdened by having to find a place to store stickers she will never use. She will not have to hold on to them and worry if the time is ever right, if she is ever comfortable enough to use them.

Wildling is confident. She knows there will always be more stickers. She has the freedom of knowing that if she puts stickers on the floor, and they are cleaned up and thrown away, someday she will get new stickers. She does not have to be a slave to her possessions, holding on to them tightly for fear of using and wasting them. She is not afraid.

Monkey Windows and other mis-named things

When Wildling was a baby, Will and I agreed that we were going to teach her the real names for things, not made up words or baby-talk. For example, she has always known that she has a vagina, not a hoo-ha or whatever other silly words people use.  Part of the reason we do this is because when I was a child, my parents liked to use substitute words, and I often ended up embarrassed by it.  Sometimes it was over something really silly – like hairbands.  Seriously.  You know those elastic bands that people use to put their hair in a ponytail? My mom taught me that they were called ‘bingers.’  It’s embarrassing to ask someone if you can borrow a binger, and they have no idea what you’re talking about, and then, of course, because kids are kids, they make fun of you for it.  As another example, I don’t think I heard the word ‘fart’ until elementary school, because my parents called them ‘ducks.’ I never knew that ‘ducks’ weren’t the universal term.

Speaking of ‘ducks,’ or ‘farts’ as the rest of the English speaking population would say, yy mother was actually horribly offended when we used the word ‘fart’ in front of toddler Wildling.  She insisted we call them ‘puffy pooters’ instead, because that is so much less offensive and feminine for our delicate little girl.  We laughed and ignored her, of course. She brought it up a few times, but … no.  They are farts, or, sometimes, ‘stinky butts,’ as in “Mama, did you hear that? I made a stinky butt!”

Puffy pooters weren’t the main point of contention, though.  My father goes by the name of Bubba to his grandkids, because that’s how my oldest nephew pronounced ‘grandpa’ when he was about fifteen months old.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with nicknames.  However, I personally, hate the name Bubba (no offense to my southern readers), and I really don’t like the idea that a mispronunciation of a word by a very small child dictates what everyone else has to use forever.  I didn’t want my children calling their grandfather Bubba.  We eventually compromised with ‘Grandpa Bubba,’ which makes me cringe, but at least I can tolerate it.

We did allow an alternate word for one body part. When Wildling was learning to talk, one of her favorite books was the Belly Button Book, which is a simple little childrens book about hippos and their belly buttons.  The baby hippo calls belly buttons “bee-bo,” which Wildling thought was cute and repeated.  She knew the word belly button, but she also used bee-bo.  Of course, she did this in front of my parents, who were, as usual, quick to point out my perceived hypocrisy. “I thought you were teaching her the real words, but she just said bee-bo.  What happened to your grand plans?”

We have held to goal of teaching her real words, and if she chooses to use an alternative word while knowing the real one, we’re ok with that.  And it’s good that we’re ok with that, because omigod she calls peace signs ‘monkey windows’ and it is just too adorable to correct.  Monkey windows! She loves monkey windows.  She’ll point them out when she sees them. Best of all, my mother signs every card she sends with what she thinks of as a peace sign, but her beloved granddaughter perceives it as a monkey window.

The Decluttering Binge Continues

I can’t help it, I’m obsessing about decluttering. Obsessing.

Will thinks I’m getting a bit extreme, but I think he’s just saying that because he knows that when I’m done with all of my stuff, I’m going to make him do his, and his materials-I’m-going-to-use-someday-for-some-undetermined-project collection will be substantially reduced.

I’m still working though decluttering as outlined in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. The author, who calls her method the KonMari method, is my new idol and mentor, though I think I’d be terrified of her judging me if I ever met her in person.

I’m not following the exact order of purging, and I think I’m not doing it fast enough. Ideally, we’d do the whole house in just a couple of days. However, with Mellow and Wildling underfoot, I just don’t have the time or patience. Plus, I can’t declutter while they’re awake, since Wildling claims everything (Mama, what’s this? Can I have it? Oh, this is mine too. And this. And this.).

So far, I’ve done the clothing and books (as mentioned in my last post) and I am 99.9% done with papers. The ugly and very hated filing cabinet that has moved with us across the country and back is now empty and will be set outside for bulk pickup next week. Plus I’ve gone through my yarn stash and fabric stash and culled them. I have three large bags of yarn that I am never going to do anything with (mostly remnants from previous projects, some acrylic that my mother-in-law bought me, some other stuff I liked until I tried to work with it). I haven’t got that out of the house yet though, because in March my local yarn shop will buy it for $1/lb in store credit.

I’ve also purged giftbags/boxes. In our coat closet, the entire shelf was a repository of gift wrapping materials. I counted 45 gift bags. Believe me, we do not get invited nearly enough parties to justify that many gift bags. I save them when we recieve them and re-use them, but that’s at least a ten year supply, and I know we’ll get more (despite the ‘no gifts, please’ that I put on invitations). Now we have twelve gift bags and zero boxes.

One thing I’ve noticed as this progresses – it gets easier. I’m also finding myself going back and grabbing things that shouldn’t have survived the initial purge. For example, I had a very pretty grey dress that my mother bought me four years ago. I only wore it once – I didn’t like the neckline. While getting rid of nine garbage bags full of clothing, somehow I kept that dress. I somehow convinced myself that I would wear it. But keeping it nagged at me. I kept thinking about it and thinking about it and finally I realized that the reason it kept popping up in my head is because I should have discarded it. It doesn’t matter how pretty that dress was, I wasn’t going to wear it, and it did not belong with me. It’s now in the donation pile.

I am loving this process!

Better living through purging stuff

I’m working on something life changing.

Will and I have been trying to simplify and downsize our lives, but there is a war within us. Our inherent environmentalism and frugality are in constant battle with our minimalist desires. We keep things because maybe we’ll need them someday, and we want to save money by not having to buy them again. We keep things that are broken, because maybe we’ll fix them one day. We keep things because it would be wasteful to throw them away, and they aren’t good enough to donate. But yet we don’t want all of this stuff.

I find having too much stuff oppressive. Wildling does too, I see it in her. She tried purging almost all of her toys once, when she was two. I had been threatening to take something away, I think it was her play kitchen, if she didn’t try doing something (I think it was potty training related). Her response was “take the kitchen,” and then she started adding stuff to it. She began making a big pile : “you can take this too. And take this. And this.” Soon there was an enormous pile of toys that I had to take away. I felt horrible about it. I didn’t want to take away all of my child’s toys. But I did anyway, and it was good.

Of course, Wildling’s toys came creeping back into the house. And we had to deal with getting rid of them again. One night when Wildling was going to spend the night at her grandparents’ house, I told her that Will and I would be cleaning the playroom and getting rid of most of her toys. She thanked me. When I picked her up and brought her home the next day, she ran to the playroom and was so unbelievably excited about how empty and open it was, and she has never once missed anything I took away.

Last month, Wildling and I went through her stuffed animals, and she was allowed to pick ten to keep. It was easy for her, and though my heart constricted a little bit (get rid of the stuffed caterpillar? That was the first toy you ever picked out for yourself) with some of her choices, it was ultimately very satisfying. We followed that with taking all the clothes out of her dresser and allowing her to pick ten things per drawer: ten long sleeve shirts, ten pants, ten short sleeve shirts, ten shorts/skirts, and ten assorted leotards/swimsuits. She only had three pajamas, so she kept all of those. Wildling was excited and I think a little relieved to reduce the chaos in the drawers. It’s easier for her now.

So now Will and I are doing the same thing. I just finished reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, and it is truly, as titled, life-changing.

We’ve already started our purge, following the book’s instructions. Over the past year, Will and I have gone through our closets numerous times and, I thought, got rid of tons of things. No. Our previous efforts were insufficient. Based on this book, we ended up getting rid of nine garbage bags full of clothing. I didn’t even realize we had that much stuff. I had a bag of old stained t-shirts from college that I thought I would one day use to make a t-shirt quilt. It’s been fifteen years, and I never made it. Gone! I had a leather jacket that belonged to my grandmother. It was too big for me, so I never wore it. It has been hanging in our hall closet for six years. Gone!

I’ll try and update on here as the purge continues. 122 of our 501 books went out the door yesterday – yes, I counted. Some are still in the back of the car, because one used book store rejected them and we are going to try the other before we donate them. But they are out of the house, and that’s what counts.

As this progresses, I honestly feel lighter. Having too much unnecessary stuff is a burden. It weighs on me. It surrounds me and forces me to organize it and clean it. I get overwhelmed by chaos and then I can’t accomplish anything. As stuff leaves the house, I feel the burden lifting. I feel freer.