Archive for January 2012

School Lunches

A while back, I was clicking around on Facebook and became captivated by a photo that my friend Nancy had posted to her profile. It was a photo of the lunch that she had prepared for her daughter to take to school the next morning—a PB&J, an Oreo cookie, some cracker mix and fruit. Nothing out of the ordinary there, but what caught my eye was the presentation. It was quite simply the most precious lunch I had ever seen. Each item was neatly nestled in its own section of a plastic container. The sandwich was cut in the shape of a flower, the cookie sat perched in a tiny pink silicone cup, the fruit was adorned with itty bitty colorful plastic picks in the shape of animals and the little bunny-shaped crackers in the cracker mix lent harmony to the overall theme. It was art, and I was utterly enthralled.

As I raptly studied each detail, my mind couldn’t help but conjure the sorry images of what I had been passing off on my own children as school lunch. Baggies of smooshed sandwiches comingling with crushed and slightly stale Cheez-its. A handful of fuzzy pre-cut carrot sticks paired with a hand-me-down thermos full of reheated ravioli.  That slightly overripe tangerine from the fruit bowl that everyone in the family had spent the last week studiously avoiding. As this slide show of shame clicked and whirred in my head, I remembered the words of one of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott:

Here is the main thing I know about public school lunches: it only looked like a bunch of kids eating lunch. It was really about opening our insides in front of everyone . . . .The contents of your lunch said whether or not you and your family were Okay.

I pictured my kids unzipping their insides in the cafeteria of Boals Elementary each day next to children whose nutritionally balanced lunches were carefully themed and color-coded. I felt a slight wave of panic. How did I let this slide? Why didn’t somebody tell me that school lunches are supposed to be cute now?! With just a couple of clicks on my keyboard, I discovered entire blogs and websites devoted to the art of adorable kids’ lunches, and intently studied the necessary tools—bento boxes, food markers, silicone baking cups, decorative picks . . . the possibilities to create edible lunchtime art for my spawn were virtually endless. The burden of shame lightened with each item that I added to my virtual shopping cart; a few more clicks and my starter kit had been ordered. I pushed back from my laptop with a flush of self-satisfaction. See? I can be the mom who makes awesome school lunches, too!

The morning after all my goodies arrived, I retreated to the laundry room to secretly assemble my edible masterpieces. This process took a bit longer than I had anticipated, leaving the kids to fend for themselves in getting ready for school. As they grumpily searched for misplaced shoes and squabbled over the last Toaster Strudel, I locked the door behind me and unleashed the magic. Sandwiches were cut in the shape of dolphins and dinosaurs, cheese cubes and turkey rolls were speared on the ends of decorative toothpicks, teddy grahams were artfully arranged in silicone cups and a lone gummy worm was coiled in the remaining vacant nook of each box to add a touch of whimsy. Twenty-five minutes later, with the sounds of all hell breaking loose beyond the laundry room door, I surveyed the work of my hands with a smile and a nod. Yeah. I flipping rock.

It didn’t take me long to figure out, of course, that the person I was most trying to impress was myself. Also, possibly any other moms who might just happen to be volunteering in the cafeteria and would take note as my children opened the lid on their super-cool lunches. But really, mostly me. Because I’m not the mom who is volunteering in the cafeteria, and I’m not the mom who buys organic, and I’m not the mom who schmoozes with the other elementary-school moms at the playground after school every day. I’m not the mom who goes on every single field trip and I’m not the mom who knows the teachers on a first-name basis and I’m not the mom who has ever been, or ever will be, the room mother or the president of the PTA. That mom intimidates the crap out of me. And on some subconscious level, that makes me seriously doubt whether I am Okay.

The whole fancy lunch enterprise didn’t last more than a week in our house, for several reasons: namely, the realization that I was really just trying to salve my own damaged sense of self through fancy finger sandwiches. And while my kids thought the new lunches were super fun, I noted that they weren’t the life-changing, paradigm-shifting, confidence-boosting catalyst that I had anticipated. Frankly, they weren’t worth the time and effort. In short order we were back to our plain old, baggie-enclosed PB&Js, crusts and all.

The next time I saw my friend Nancy, whose Facebook post started the whole thing, I asked her about the cute lunches. “Oh, I don’t do them all the time,” she said with a laugh (being the grounded and emotionally well adjusted woman that she is). “It’s just something fun for every now and then.” Ah—balance. Now there’s a novel idea. I have been thinking about dipping into my box of fancy lunch supplies lately. I barely even used the food markers, after all. But this time it will be just for fun, every now and then.

Multi-tasking

Not to brag, but I’m a fairly accomplished multi-tasker, which is great when it comes to pretty much anything but kids. This seems to be especially true as they get older, a discovery that has less to do with my increased self-awareness and more to do with the fact that my kids are simply better able to call me on it when my juggling act goes terribly awry. Take as one example a phone call I recently fielded from my middle-school-aged son while feverishly working on my laptop:

“So are you coming to get me?”

I glance at the clock in the corner of my screen. School was over almost 30 minutes ago. Crap. “I’m on my way,” I assure him.

“Are you in-the-car-on-your-way or on-your-computer-on-your-way?” he asked warily.

Crap. Busted.

My kids are definitely on to me. They have identified the inverse relationship between the precision of my hearing and the position of my laptop. It’s one of the challenges of being a working mom (can I get a witness?). I am blessed with employment that allows me the flexibility to work from home, yet I am too often cursed with the unwillingness to clock out. That happens for a lot of reasons, like the fact that relationships are yielding while deadlines are hard, and also the reality that nobody in my family is going to be sitting me down for an annual review this year. This is a really good thing–I shudder to think of the 360-degree feedback I would receive from the people who actually put up with me 24/7.

Another inverse relationship that I’m cluing in to is the one between hurry and intentionality. The one kills the other, at least in my world, leaving my family too often in flying-by-the-seat-of-our pants mode. One very small area where I’m moving toward intentionality is bedtime, which I must confess has generally been driven by my singular desire to get everyone in bed with lights out (funny how my drive to punch out on the “mom clock” isn’t hampered by my hurry).

My friends Hilary and Phoebe, who are sisters and each have a sweet preschool boy, are super-intentional moms whose kids are likely going to be the next Chris Tomlin/ Louis Giglio duo, thanks to the Godly influence and intentionality of their mothers. From these friends I learned of The Jesus Storybook Bible, a wonderful little book that casts the whole Bible through the lens of God’s “Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.” Jesus is God’s Great Rescue Plan, which, when you think about it, is really just about the best way to try to explain the incarnation to a kid (or anyone, for that matter). I read “The Jesus Storybook Bible” with my ten- and seven-year-old over the past few months at bedtime, often with a catch in my throat at this beautifully simple, profound retelling of the Bible story. No matter how crazy our day had been, it was sweet, meaningful, focused time to wind down with my kiddos. Yay me. I’m hoping the mustard seed of intentionality in those moments will take root and grow beyond bedtime.

When we finished the Storybook Bible last month, I decided to get The Action Bible, which is basically the NIV recast as a 744-page Marvel comic book. I figured this would be a good way to drive home a lot of the details of the Bible narrative that The Jesus Storybook Bible doesn’t mention, and while that has been true, it has also proved more challenging in terms of explanation (we’re still in the first part of the Old Testament, and God gets angry a lot). As my son closed The Action Bible last night after reading me the story of Hagar & Sarah (BTW, try explaining the nuances of that relationship to your seven-year-old) he remarked, “Jesus is really strong.”

“Yeah, buddy,” I agreed absently.

“He’s got a six pack,” he said, a note of reverential awe in his voice as he examined the illustrations on the back cover. Sure enough, the crucified Lord of The Action Bible is ripped like a P90X devotee, which is quite a departure from the sweet drawings of The Jesus Storybook Bible. This opens a whole new can of worms, but I guess the two volumes work as a nice complement to each other when you consider that they are each attempting to capture the most complex human who ever lived.

We haven’t yet gotten to the stories of Jesus in The Action Bible, but I’m hoping that the comic strip version attempts to capture one of the features of his character that I find most heroic in this season of my life: his willingness to be interrupted. Jesus was driven, but never harried. He actually paid attention to the people in his life. He lived according to God’s timetable. And here’s what I’m realizing: it matters little whether my kids read about Jesus as God’s Rescue Plan or as an action hero with rock-hard abs, because the Jesus that they are most impacted by is the Jesus they see in me–the me that is susceptible to freak-outs over misplaced keys or a sink full of dirty dishes or drivers who don’t respond quickly enough when the traffic light turns green. So I’m trying not to listen to the voice that would wake me up in the middle of the night with the unfortunate news that I have irreversibly screwed my kids up. And I continue to sow my little mustard seed moments of intention, and pray for rich soil and favorable conditions. I’m also trying to close the laptop a little more frequently. Baby steps.

Wisdom Teeth

My oldest had her wisdom teeth extracted yesterday morning–a much preferable way of describing the process by which she now has four oozing holes in her jawbone.

As she has never had to undergo a surgery before (for which I am unspeakably grateful), she was a little nervous about the whole prospect. I wasn’t too worried about it (of course, I’m not the one left with the oozing holes). I realized, however, that we might be in for a long weekend when the nurse sat down next to me in the waiting room after the surgery was complete.

“It went great,” she assured me confidently, handing me a small plastic bag containing post-op instructions, a baggie of gauze pads, a can of chicken noodle soup and a snack pack of chocolate pudding. “She’s got gauze in her mouth right now, but you’ll want to change that out when you get home. Moisten the gauze a little before she puts it in. And don’t let her use a straw or drink anything carbonated,” she warned. “Dry socket is worse than natural childbirth.” I chuckled at the joke, but quickly wiped the smile off my face as I realized she wasn’t kidding. “I should know,” she solemnly assured me. “I’ve experienced both.” Holy cow. I clutched my oral surgery goody bag a little tighter and made for the exit.

Per the nurse’s instructions, I drove to the entrance and waited for them to wheel out my girl. The nurse had mentioned that girls tend to respond to the surgery with more emotion than boys, so I braced myself for potential weepiness and prayerfully rebuked full-on emotional meltdown, at least until we had reached the safe confines of home. Moments later my baby emerged, slumped in a wheelchair with an expression of bleary-eyed consternation. Stumps of gauze protruded from both corners of her mouth, giving her the appearance of a sedated walrus.

With the delicate transfer from wheelchair to minivan accomplished, we headed home. I cautiously watched out of the corner of my eye as she patted carefully at the gauze, then her bottom lip. “Mmff mfff mf mmmfffff?”

“What, sweetie?” I rubbed her leg nervously and tried to push the phrase “dry socket” out of my mind.

“Mmff mfff mf mmmfffff?” She poked more insistently at her numb bottom lip. Ahhhh—a lightbulb.

“Yes, babe,” I said reassuringly. “That’s your lip.”

Unappeased and dopey from the anesthetic, she swiped at tears and delicately fingered the stumps of gauze in her mouth. I mulled over the plethora of unpleasant words I had seen on the post-op info page: “oozing,” “blood clot,” “wound area.” Cripes. As we pulled up to the house, she issued another unintelligible phrase, impatiently adjusted the gauze and managed to utter, “My breath smells like poop.” She giggled miserably and swiped at another tear. OK—sense of humor intact. We’ll survive.

There’s not much that most of us are less prepared for than motherhood. It’s as true today, as I Google “Tips to avoid dry socket,” as it was16 years ago when that first pink bundle was laid in my arms. I knew it instantly: all those carefully underlined paragraphs in “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” would be woefully inadequate preparation for my crash landing onto the shore of Motherhood—an uncultivated new world of sleep deprivation, physical discomfort and emotional exhaustion. Fast-forward 16 years and three more bundles, and I am happy to report that I have established an amicable relationship with the inhabitants of this land, who have accepted me as their leader and generally only foment rebellion when asked to scrub toilets or when dinner involves more than one vegetable side dish.

Because I’m a little further along on the road of motherhood than some of my friends, and because all of my kids are potty trained and none of their names have shown up on the Frisco police blotter (yet), I am sometimes consulted for mothering wisdom. This is dicey. If motherhood has taught me anything after 16 years it is that I don’t know much (OK, I have mastered the French braid. And I make a mean snickerdoodle). In mothering, however, as in pretty much every area of life, I think that wisdom is best displayed through a posture of humility. The reality is that yesterday’s Miley Cyrus can quickly become today’s . . .  well, Miley Cyrus. As far as parenting goes, we are wise to remember that we’re all just a salvia bong and a few YouTube videos away from becoming Billy Ray.

 

Is there anything more unnecessary than another blogging mom?

I have seen Pinterest, and may confidently say no, the world does not need another mom blog. It does occur to me, however, that making the utter lack of necessity for this blog the central thesis of my first post is probably a mistake, so I’m going to just let that go.

Bottom line, I’m a mom on the run. I’m juggling two jobs, four kids, one husband, a messy house, the world’s most emotionally needy Shih Tzu and a nearly starved/possibly deceased leopard gecko. Note to self: Check on gecko. Bring Ziploc. My life is way too busy, although I didn’t plan for it to be—which likely is part of the problem. Instead of being a planner, I’m a reactor—which, of course, leads to moments when I’m teetering on the brink of total core meltdown, with my family mired in the path of some ugly emotional fallout.

I’m not exactly sure how blogging is going to help that, except that it is going to require some thought and creativity and self-reflection; all things that are markedly nonessential to my other downtime activity–watching last season’s hit shows on Netflix. While I have enjoyed a newfound sense of cultural relevance from watching every available episode of “Breaking Bad” and “Mad Men,’ I can’t say that my soul is any richer for the experience.

All I know is that at the end of the day, as lay in bed listlessly scrolling through my Facebook news feed and waiting for the Ambien to kick in, I too closely resemble the gecko that is languishing on a hunk of artificial tree bark upstairs in my sons’ bedroom. Maybe blogging about it will help. Also helpful, I would imagine, will be exercising on a semi-regular basis and tapping the breaks on my nightly slice-and-bake cookie habit. But one thing at a time. . . .