Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Sponsored by The Man

In my ongoing search for mama-and-baby activities for Bean and I to do together that don't involve her spending a lot of time in shopping carts and me making up things I "need" to shop for, I've run across something that I'm pretty sure is a new and uniquely American event: the playgroup or story time held inside a retail store.

I'm not talking about someone reading stories to little ones at the local bookstore. Personally, I still think of bookstores as something other than a retail category and more of a...I don't know, a sanctuary of sorts. Something more worthy than just a store somehow. The creepiness I'm talking about is Pottery Barn Kids holding a playgroup where a clown is invited, and afterwards kids are permitted to frolic in the store's play area--all the toys in which are for sale, of course. And for a pretty big chunk of cash.

Then there are those Gymboree play center classes that are admittedly separate from their kids' clothing stores, but which include the singing of songs about "Gymbo" the clown, sung to the tune of "Bingo," and which have the corporate logo emblazoned all over the place. Plus a convenient little wall of overpriced toys for sale right next to the cubbies.

Is this phenomenon not similar to Channel One still showing in many American classrooms, purportedly airing current events content but also running ads by Coke and Nike and what have you? Are my lefty roots showing and I'm freaking out over a non-existent conspiracy in which The Man tries to imprint my little one's tender brain with corporate logos? Does anyone even talk about The Man anymore?

Monday, September 25, 2006

Special etiquette

I have officially joined the local mothers' club. It felt so...well...weird doing it for some reason. I'm not a joiner, for one thing, and much prefer hanging out in my kitchen alone on the computer or else sewing or reading or some other solitary pursuit. Plus, I have friends already. They're good friends that I've known for some time and like very much. Most of them work, though, so it's all I can do to maintain those relationships. For that matter, it's all I can do to squeeze in things like sewing and reading and hanging out on-line, so why am I doing this? For baby Bean, of course. I'm doing it for the playgroups.

But I'm beginning to have the sneaking suspicion that there is a playgroup culture out there that I'm so not privy to. I never did join a playgroup when Sister was little because I was working and already had too much to do. So it was a surprise when the mothers' club sent out the roster of people looking for playgroups and attached articles about playgroups that we were supposed to read. 'Cause playgroups require research and preparation, I guess. And then there's the overachieving mom who called me at friggin' 10 p.m. last night because she's taken it upon herself to organize the roster into a spreadsheet with names listed according to different criteria. She's getting her master's in information science, she told me gushingly, and just hated to have a semi-functional system out there. I went to the open playgroup last week with Bean to meet some of the parents, and more than one mom gave me recommendations quoted from those articles or from the mothers' club meeting speaker about how playgroups are supposed to be run and who should be in them. It was a bit freaky.

I just can't bring myself to research how I'm supposed to be scheduling Bean's playtime for optimal fun and learning or whatever, so I'm turning to you mamas out there before I sign up. Have any of you ever joined playgroups? Recommended or not? Any words of advice? And how do you avoid the overachieving, uber-mamas and just find some nice, relaxed mamas with nice, relaxed kids?

Friday, September 22, 2006

Changing of the garden

I've got an unexpected boon of free time this morning. Bean slept miserably last night and woke up with a cold, so she's taking a morning nap. We're skipping her little Friday morning music class, too, since I think she'd be too grumpy. No parent there would appreciate her extremely runny nose and sneezing either.

So here I sit in the kitchen at my computer, sipping tea and enjoying this little gift of time. I didn't get much sleep last night either, but I'm not feeling it yet. I feel great, in fact, which just goes to prove how very much I am starved for alone time these days. It trumps napping, which is saying a lot for me!

Earlier this morning I walked the dog past our old house and dropped off lists of plants that I had planted there in 2004 and 2005 plus a fat stack of plastic plant tags that I'd never gotten around to cataloging. The new owners requested them when I mentioned that I had kept records of everything because they're eager to learn about what's there and what kind of care the plants require. This thrills me, of course, since it was so hard to leave them all. But it occurred to me after I walked away that it really isn't my garden anymore. I've still felt possessive when I've walked by the house these last couple of months. I've been mad at them when they didn't water during a whole month of no rain. I've been sad to see things die that I really loved. But when I gave them those plant records I gave them the last of my work there. That's it! For real this time.

Tomorrow, though, Husband and the girls and I are going to a local nursery to choose a good-sized tree to plant in our mostly barren new front yard. I'm thinking about a willow oak or possibly another maple to pair with the one tall maple already out front. It will be the first thing we plant here and I'm so pleased and excited about it.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Terrible tasks

The past 48 hours have been filled with all sorts of sucky events. 2 days ago, I experienced perhaps my single worst day as mama to Sister. It involved a 1-1/2 hour long bout over very hard subtraction homework during which Sister alternately cried, whined, moaned, and threw fits. There were exactly six problems on this homework sheet, by the way. Six. At one point I totally lost it, grabbed Sister by the arm, and hustled her up the stairs to go sit in her room to cool off. (I, of course, also very much needed to cool off.) Plus I yelled at the baby after Sister came back down 'cause I STILL couldn't get Sister focused and Bean tore about the house getting into everything she knew she wasn't supposed to get into--plant leaf ripping, much drawer emptying, block throwing, dog slapping, and file cabinet paper flinging--just so I'd pay her some attention. Yeah, yelled at the baby. Is it any wonder that Sister's picking this up from me when Bean gets into her stuff? Way to model good mama behavior, Self!

Later that evening, Husband and I talked about the lawyer appointment we'd had just that morning where we discussed our wills. The appointment had gone fine, but Husband and I had a heated discussion over whether I should leave the money for Sister under the management of her perpetually unemployed father if I were to die. I don't want to because I'm afraid he'll spend it all on remaining unemployed so that she'll have nothing by the time she goes to college. Husband argued that making someone else a trustee is impractical, and anyway which of us inherits money at such a young age? I'm still unsure what to do. But I cried again that night.

And since then, I've spent precious naptime working either on an application for a new life insurance policy or on Brownie stuff.

Just sucky, I tell ya. Hope y'all are doing better than I am!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Job widow

"Whatever you believe you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it."--Goethe

I'm not usually the inspirational quote kind of girl, but this one has stuck with me since the first time I came across it 15 years ago or so. Lest you feel all impressed and daunted by how erudite and well-read I am and shit, let me just say that I read that in the context of some magazine article about someone who climbed Mt. Everest. Can't even remember who it was, and I probably read it while waiting in a doctor's waiting room or something. See? Not so clever as all that.

But anyways, it popped into my head this morning randomly, probably as my sub-subconscious was mulling over Husband's recent job change. I haven't blogged about it recently because it occurred to me that I was being rather indiscreet, blabbing the details of his work life over the internet when things were still undecided and tense. Now I can tell you that he turned in his letter of resignation yesterday. His plan is to start his own on-line marketing agency, and already has a couple of clients lined up, and even a few people begging him to be their marketing directors if that doesn't work out. He appears to be good at what he does, though don't ask me exactly how he spends his working hours. Couldn't tell ya.

So last weekend he spent part of Saturday and all day Sunday working on this new venture, meeting with people he knows, and going over potential contracts. I had thought that this was an exceptional event and that once he was no longer still working at his current job he'd have normal working hours again and we'd have weekend family time again. Last night when I mentioned that I'd be glad when this was settled down some, he let me know that it may not. Starting your own business requires very long and often irregular hours, he told me, and though he didn't plan to work every weekend, he couldn't promise me that he wouldn't. And then he said, "I may have to work all the time just to pay all the bills." Which, how can I argue with that, being one of the people he's supporting?

I lay there awhile thinking all these things that started with, "But I...." You know, like, "But I need you to give me a break from the baby sometimes!" and "But I really want us to be able to do things together as a family on the weekends!" or "But I hate it when you don't show up for dinner and it's just me and the kids sitting there, and me all pissy because I just spent the last half hour cooking with a screaming baby clinging to my legs." Feeling sorry for myself, I eventually fell asleep.

Sort of hard to think of Husband's new thing as full of genius, power, and magic when the kids have nearly pushed me over the edge, but hey! I'll give it a shot, okay, honey? Y'all just think thoughts full of genius, power, and magic my way.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Old friends, hard feelings

I've been working for the last couple of days on renting a beach house for some girlfriends of mine and I on Topsail Island, NC in October. It's our annual beach trip--as of a couple of years ago anyway, and not including last year when both me and Mommygoth had babies too new to leave for a few nights. I'm looking forward to resuming this tradition very much, though. I'd love for it to keep going til we're all old, old ladies.

But I'm a bit nervous about this trip, too. There will be 5 of us there, including me. We've all known each other since college, and one of them I've even known since elementary school. 3 of us are married and have children. 2 of us are not married and are childless. These last 2 girlfriends would like very much to be married and be mamas, and one of them is even going so far as to give her boyfriend of 10 years an ultimatum. He'll either agree to have kids with her by her December birthday, or she'll leave him. Only she's not telling him the date, because apparently he won't respond well to a spoken ultimatum. The other friend is still mourning the end of a relationship that she (and we!) really thought was going somewhere, and which went on long enough to seem serious. She's 36 now and freaking out about her prospects seeming so grim.


Our first year doing this trip, I remember commenting to one of my friends, "We're at the age now where for the next 10 years, someone'll either be getting married, or pregnant, or nursing a newborn." It seemed like it couldn't possibly turn out otherwise then. Can you tell why there's something a bit nerve-wracking here? My emotions about it all are very mixed. I feel horrible that my 2 friends are so unhappy about their lives, and that things aren't going the way they wanted them to. One of them is particularly fragile, and I hate to see her that way. I'm excited to be going and getting some time with them away from the responsibilities of my usual life, even if I should be so lucky to have such responsibilities. I want to get caught up on everyone's lives, but I feel like I should probably keep my mouth shut about my own because I don't want to piss anyone off or make anyone feel bad. They are wonderful women who don't have a spiteful bone in their bodies and wouldn't begrudge me a thing, but I can see that my TWO husbands--one of them Ex, of course--and TWO girls are an irritant sometimes.

I know that marriage and babies aren't the only mark of success in a woman's life, and I certainly know they're not the only route to happiness. But I AM happy, and apparently feeling guilty about it. I know I don't deserve my life, and didn't do a thing to earn what I have. I feel grateful and puzzled about it every single day.

But almost none of us deserve what we get, do we?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Sad fat foodie mama

My to-do list is mercifully light today, and the calendar empty of after school activities for Sister. Which means that I feel fully justified in sitting here during naptime writing blog fluff.

Today was the first day in quite some time where it was cool enough to require something rather heavier than cotton capri pants and vintage cotton house dresses. I busted out my favorite pair of jeans this morning in the early chill, all thrilled that I got to put them on again. Pulled them up with perhaps a slightly harder tug necessary to get them over my hips than I remember them requiring. Zipped them up...but that needed a bit of force. Then buttoned them and fastened my belt and looked in the mirror. Damn. When the hell did my ass get so big? I was so crammed into those jeans I felt like a total trashy slut mama walking Sister to school.

Better start laying off the ice cream. And the gin. And the jellybeans, amaretti cookies, butter mints, roasted nuts, buttery mashed potatoes, and everything else I love that's a routine part of my eating week. Ugh. I think this gets suddenly harder the minute you turn 35 or something. Or maybe it's this stay at home mom gig where food keeps me company all day.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Back to THIS?

This back-to-school business is hitting me hard all of a sudden. I feel like I've been thrown violently out of a summer of comparative leisure and relaxation--or anyway, as much of that as can be expected while trying to keep a couple of kids from being TOO bored--to the fast lane of Brownies, open houses, emails to the teacher, after school activities, packing non-boring yet nutritious lunches, and trying to instill good homework habits in Sister so that she doesn't take 2 hours to do 30 minutes' worth of homework. How did this happen? And did I REALLY believe that once Sister was back in school I would somehow miraculously have time to start going to the gym regularly like I've been promising myself I'd do?

Yeah, right.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

A weekend long recovery

It's been some time since I felt completely back to my normal self, but I think after this weekend I'm there. I left Bean alone with Husband on Friday night while I went on an overnight trip with a friend to her mom's house in a town a couple of hours away. We got our hair done--and FINALLY someone got my haircut right, though I had my snooty doubts, this place being what I think of as a small Southern town. Just goes to show me, ME of all people, why stereotypes about the South and small towns are, well, stereotypes. I'm crazy about this haircut. So cute and not like I have a pair of shaggy earmuffs on at all anymore.

But anyways, this is not what got me back to my normal self entirely. This trip included not only a perfect, unplanned haircut, but also cheap antique shopping! I purchased things for the house and didn't spend a fortune! I even found 2 beautiful antique quilts and a quilt top that I plan to finish myself with fabrics from this place for just under $100. Do any of you know how unaffordable antique quilts generally are? If you care, I'll just tell you that they're usually WAY expensive. But not these.

We also had margaritas! 16-ounce margaritas, me and my friend's mom, that were yummy and extremely drinkable. Served to us by a slow-ass waiter, but who cares when the conversation is fabulous and there's no baby to chase around the restaurant and you know you can drink as many as you want because you can stay up as late as you want 'cause there's no baby who's going to wake you up at 6:30?! I can't tell you how much glee that filled me with for the whole 24 hours I was there. We all 3 stayed up late, drinking and nibbling sweets (and them smoking) on the porch til WAY past my bedtime. I learned that I am in fact NOT too old to get over hangovers quickly the next morning. All it takes is having slept 9 solid hours the night before!

So all in all, this was a fabulous weekend. I missed little Bean a tiny bit when I called home to tell her goodnight, but mostly I was just so pleased to be out on my own for a change. I recommend this sort of thing highly to all you over-taxed mamas out there if you can manage it.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

A new food season!

I don't know about the rest of you, but all of a sudden it really feels like fall is coming. The angle of sunlight is changing, and down here in NC we've had a lot of heavy rain lately. This after a solid month of temperatures in the upper, upper 90's and not a drop of precipitation. No wonder it feels different!

Suddenly, all I can think about is cooking fall things in the coming cooler weather. I went out to the grocery store today and bought a whole mess of apples to make into apple butter. Mommygoth is going to email me her pumpkin muffin recipe tonight when she gets home. I want to bake and fill the kitchen with delicious, cinnamon-y, nutmeg-y, clove-y smells! I want to can stuff! I want to stockpile things for the winter!

I am so ready for fall.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Unlocking the cabin

We got back from the mountains yesterday and after 8 hours on the road with 2 kids, I'm glad to be home. I unpacked everything within an hour after our return, and have washed and dried no fewer than 6 loads of laundry in the past 18 hours. Blogging with a cup of tea is my reward. Folding will come later.

Some of you know about shall we say...dread? Horror? Anyways, my rather negative feelings about our annual excursion(s) to Husband's family cabin in Tennessee. If you're new to this blog, let me just explain that this cabin is beyond "rustic." It's more along the lines of "filthy" or even "squalid." I am no pansy when it comes to damp and dirt, like say on a camping trip or a long hike. Neither am I by any stretch of the imagination the keeper of an immaculate house. You know, someone who makes you take your shoes off at the door, someone who even scrubs the toilets regularly. But this cabin! The floor is so disgusting that I just can't bring myself to go barefoot. I wear socks instead, and after a couple of hours have passed, the sock bottoms are stiff and shiny with black filth. The mattresses and whatever horrible things fill the old dressers reek of mildew. I am physically uncomfortable when we have to lie down in one of the damp, stinky beds at night between sheets that will never get properly clean because it's just too moist there, and anyway the washing machine stinks, too. Factor in the 8-hour drive over the mountains with kids in the back, and the prospect is ghastly. Every time.

Last time we went there over July 4th, I began to understand a little why Husband's family is practically reverent when it comes to the cabin. The family members themselves are wonderful people--smart, well-traveled, friendly, good cooks, lovers of my children. Spending almost a week with them over the 4th made me think of the cabin as just the setting for a long history of really good times with these people. Many of them have been vacationing there since they were children. Their parents have, too, because it's been in the family for 4 generations now.

This time, something else happened. Husband invited an old friend of his deceased mother's up from Knoxville to breakfast with us on Saturday. Knoxville is only a 45-minute drive, which is nothing in that part of the country, so they were pleased to make it. She--I'll call her Kathleen--knew Husband's mother for 60 years before she died. 60 years, y'all! After breakfast, when we were all chatting on the back porch, listening to the river rush by and drinking coffee, I asked Kathleen how she'd originally met Husband's mother.

"Oh, gosh, I can hardly remember. It was in church, in Sunday school. We didn't attend the same grammar school, 'cause B. lived across town, but course we got along so well that we played together sometimes. Then we did go to the same high school. You know, B. and Nancy (another long time friend) were the only ones in our crowd who had a car in high school. So after church every Sunday--we'd have our bathing suits and our shorts with us--we'd leave church and come driving down here to the cabin. We'd stay here all day and swim and go tubing, and then drive back to Knoxville when it started to get dark."

And in an instant I got the clearest picture of a group of teenage girls piled into a big car, smoking illicit cigarettes, gossiping, laughing, the windows down and no seatbelts to keep them from turning around in the front seat to grin at their friends in the back. They'd be skinny because they all were back then, and wearing the modest bathing suits of the 1950's because that was the era, and because they were all good Southern girls, but they'd still feel the wind and sun extravagant on their skin and in their hair. They'd be talking in loud voices over the wind, excited to be on their own, out of church, heading towards a whole day at the river, the cabin and the water all to themselves. And then the cabin itself waiting empty for them, then full of them as they burst in. They'd run down to the water and shriek at the cold, nudge each other in, tripping over the smooth rocks, smoke on the bank if the cabin next door happened to be unoccupied that day. Later inside, they'd lounge with their legs up on furniture that was old even then, eating pears from the tree out front, talking til it was time to drive home.

Kathleen didn't tell me all that, and I never got the chance to hear B. talk about the cabin, but I could see it so clearly in my head. I understand how B. must've talked about that time in her life to her two sons, and how all the now-old cousins must talk about it to their children and grandchildren. I understand where Husband's love and yes, reverence, for this cabin comes from, and I understand why he wants our kids to go there and love it, too.

We would all be lucky indeed to have a place we loved like that, friends like that, memories like that.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Holiday sign-off

We're heading out of town for a long weekend in about an hour, driving one more time this year to Husband's family cabin in the Tennessee mountains. Because of Ernesto grazing the East coast, the weather is iffy, and therefore all activites usually associated with going to this cabin are iffy--tubing down the river, hiking, horse-back riding, going for walks, etc. We could very well be in for a long weekend of being holed up in a rather primitive and damn dirty cabin, trying to entertain 2 children who will be pissy indeed if they can't go play in the water when it's.right.there. Why are we going then? Please don't ask me. The cabin trip is Husband's gig. My newest strategy is to be as acquiescent as possible in the hopes that one day when the girls are old enough, I can beg off going to the cabin at all. It is SUCH a long-ass drive--8+ hours, the last couple of which are barfingly curvy. But I know I've complained about the cabin before...

No other news with regard to Husband's job. His new boss once again didn't come find him to sit down, though the president of the company did try to sound Husband out about his plans. We'll see when we get back, I suppose.

Off to finish packing and load up the car before we pick Sister up from school and get on the road. I'll probably be incommunicado up in them hills, but I do hope all you bloggers out there have a pleasant Labor Day holiday and don't get rained out by the storm. Cheers, y'all!