Uniform Love

Several months ago Mitchel would not let me kiss him goodbye when I dropped him off at school. He was super mad because he was wearing “bad” uniform pants and apparently it was my fault. Never in the history of time has one of my boys denied me a goodbye kiss. Ever.

There is this thing that all five of my boys do when we say goodnight or goodbye or I love you: they bow their heads down and I kiss the tops of their heads. Trying to remember when this started, I  asked my husband and he said he started it. Apparently I used to kiss the boys all over their faces with messy mommy love and he would kiss the top of their heads, to balance things out with cool dad love. Manly, easy to display in public, love. The realization that this ritual was not born of me threw me a little off kilter. I thought I was the boss of our family rituals. But I’m glad that I intuitively evolved (without realizing it until now) to an acceptable form of showing affection for my now giant man boys because I still get to put my face up close and inhale the essence of them. Their smells of sticky softness and dirt and squirming adventure have changed to Irish spring soap and hair product and occasional sweat along with courage, optimism and sometimes fearful anxiety that makes me want to pull them tight and once again place wet smooches all over them to create a mother shield that fends off all that is harmful. But I don’t. Because it would be weird. Plus I want them receive my love openly, without embarrassment or reservation. On their terms. These terms have been steady and consistent for a long enough time to feel like a code. An unwavering mother son code that has withstood the test of time and height and age. 

Until twelve year old Mitchel changed the terms, boldly declaring that there would be no love accepted from a mother who made him go to school wearing wide legged uniform pants that bagged weird in the butt

I suppose it was inevitable that he would be the one to mess up my universe. Being the sixth born and youngest of five sons, he continues to push every boundary as he tries to figure out how to stand out and blend in at the same time. His life is complicated enough without having to worry about what the kids at school are going to say about pants pulled from the “uniform bingy” that his oldest brother probably wore to the same private school nine plus years ago.

But for the record, the pants situation was not my fault. Nor was it his dad’s fault. It was 100% Mitchel’s fault. And some decent parenting went on the night prior to the bad pants day that would NOT have happened with the first born, though he turned about pretty good despite the lack of tough love that we should have thrown on him at a much younger age.

Let’s rewind two weeks prior to the day Mitchel shunned my love:

Mitchel: Mom, when do we have to wear pants instead of shorts for uniform?

Me: I’m pretty sure it’s the day after Halloween. Which is coming up so you should see if there are any pants in the uniform bingy that fit you.

Mitchel: I really think we should be able to wear shorts in the winter if we want.

Me: Well you can. But there are of course consequences. Which will affect your dad or me, since one of us will have to come pick you up from school for breaking the uniform code. Which means there will be more consequences. For you.

Mitchel: Hmmm. Okay.

One week later according to his dad, pretty much the same conversation took place.

Enter 7:30 pm on the night before he is supposed to go to school wearing PANTS instead of shorts.  

Mitchel: Mom! I don’t have any uniform pants.

Me: Did you look in the uniform bingy?

Mitchel: I don’t know which one that is.

Me: It’s the one that is marked “UNIFORM CLOTHES” in big black letters.

Mitchel: (groans)

Mitchel (10 minutes later): There aren’t any pants that fit me. David says he threw his away because the knees were ripped out. Except for the pair he burned in celebration of never having to wear a uniform to school again. There is only one pair in the bingy and they don’t fit me.

I put the pants burning vision on hold for another day, immediately recognizing the rookie move to try and put the blame for no pants on David and force me to the mall at zero hour. David and I will have a discussion later about pyromania and its long term effects on a solid future.

Me: Bring them here.

Mitchel brings the pants to me and I look at the tag. They are exactly his size.

Me: Try them on.

Mitchel groans and goes to his room to put them on. He comes back visibly upset and hunched over, dragging one leg, clearly in terrible pain, wearing a pair of pants that fit him perfectly. They are not too short or too tight or too loose but he says they look weird.

Me: Well it’s SEVEN THIRTY. I’m NOT going to take you to the store tonight. You will have to wear these for ONE day. The day after that is Friday and free dress. We will get you some pants this weekend.

Mitchel: Groans and stomps off to his room, slamming the door behind him. His limp is gone. Weird.

The next day, in front of the school, I sit in shock when Mr. Bad Pants does not bow his head for his goodbye kiss. He smiles uncomfortably at me as he gathers his things.

Mitchel: I’m going to have a terrible day because of you. I  do not want your love right now.

Me: Well. That’s a sure fire way to guarantee yourself a bad day. But whatever. I bet not one single person will notice your pants. They’re blue like everyone else’s pants and you’re a cool enough kid to pull it off and be a trendsetter if they DO notice. By the end of November everyone will be wearing wide legged pants. Then you’ll call these pants your lucky, life changing pants and probably be able to sell them for millions of dollars when you’re world famous. Who’s gonna be the best mom THEN? Huh? You’ll be begging for my kisses. And I may or may NOT be available to give them to you. I’m  completely on the fence there. So. Take THAT.

Mitchel: You clearly do not understand me or the people I have to deal with at this school. It’s a cruel world mom.

And he leaves me, his back stoic and straight, backpack draped casually over his shoulder, walking with exaggerated confidence. And my heart falls in to my stomach as I think “My God what have I done, letting the boy go to school with bad uniform pants? His life may indeed be ruined by this one key moment that could have been avoided by a 7:30 pm trip to the mall last night. You read about these moments in the NEWS. I am the worst mother in the universe.”

But this thinking passes quickly. I’m a mother of six. I know shit. What has happened here is very simple. The student momentarily scooped the master of guilt tripping. I laugh and whisper “Well played and bravo to you Mitchel Siwinski. You are soooo getting some new pants this weekend.”

And he did. Two pair. With hidden security pockets “to keep your stuff safe and 4-way stretch for game changing comfort”. But funny thing: he’s keeping the bad pants. He told me they may indeed be lucky because he had a really great day.

But I feel the need to make it known that since that day, I have not been denied a kiss by the man boy. So he could have been bluffing about the great day. It’s hard to say.

 

It’s Not about the Size of Your Pants but How you Play the Game

It’s our anniversary and so we start the day with breakfast and mimosas to toast 25 years together.

Grant: Did you notice our waitress has bitchy resting face?

Me: Her lipstick is really bright so I was mostly just looking at that. Are you getting a bad vibe? I’m just worried she’s not gonna ever bring us another mimosa. One doesn’t seem like enough to celebrate such a long time. It feels like a miracle. Though my parents were married 26 years before they divorced so we should be careful about celebrating too loudly.

Grant: You have to take off their separation time. So really, we have already beat your mom and dad.

Me: Yes! We’re winning. I would toast to that but I’m empty.

Grant: Crap. I forgot to take a stomach pill.

Me: Let’s for sure buy some stomach pills. Otherwise we won’t be able to have snacks, lunch, more snacks and then dinner. With drinks in between all of that. Good stomach health is important today.

The waitress brings us our check. She does indeed have bitchy resting face. But I overhear her talking about her three little boys to another customer. So we tip her well even though she was slow to bring us our second mimosa. Little boys can cause bitchy resting face.

We stop at Walgreens for stomach pills. I get completely paralyzed in the mascara section. My GOD: do I need long, thick, plump, or voluminous lashes? Very black, kind of black, ebony, brown-black, or brown lashes?  I buy mascara MAYBE once a year and always find myself so torn. I find Grant in the aisle where they sell things like orthopedic socks and bedside toilets and we make a few discoveries. For $18.99 you can buy a fork, spoon and knife with a red handle that apparently helps increase eating for people with dementia. We giggle at something to help relieve strain in the scrotal area. It helps with fatigue “down there”. It’s important to stay in tune with the latest medical aids. Especially Grant who is in his 50’s now. I myself am only 49, so it will be a few years before I need scrotal aid.

In addition to stomach pills and mascara, I find a wooden G & H to decorate. Maybe for our 26th anniversary celebration. Go big or go home on this day I say.

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Grant: Where to next wife?

Me: I could use some work pants. I don’t have a single pair of pants that I can button and I am tired of wearing moo-moos and cute boots. Cute boots are a lame attempt to try and mask the fact that I am wearing a moo-moo. Plus one of my boots has a hole in the heel and little rocks keep getting in there.  It’s rattly when I walk. Embarrassing.

Grant: So we should look for new cute boots?

Me: No. I can duct tape the hole. I need pants. Winta’s comin. It just seems so NON anniversaryish, buying pants.

We go to the mall with the intent of finding pants to fit my bigger than last year’s butt and a new Seahawks hat for Grant. While he stops at a sports store with hats in it I wander into the most expensive store in the mall just to touch a few things and try and get an idea of what today’s fashion is. A twelve year old sales girl swoops in on me and pretends to be my new best friend. “Whaty up to today?” I just don’t feel like explaining to her what I’m up to, mostly because I’m just not sure what I’m up to, so I put down the $200 pair of black pants I am looking at and mumble something about needing a snack before I find the perfect pants. The music was just too loud anyway.

I turn into the store next door for women who have “real butts and such” thinking maybe this will be my mecca land. But if feels fraudulent in there because all the pants are cleverly folded backwards to look like size two pants when they are really size twenty or more, like the pants should be ashamed for being a bigger size. I can not support hypocrisy.  Plus I’m mostly NOT a size twenty and I don’t want a repeat of six months ago when I went to the thrift store and bought a bunch of size twenty clothing, explaining to Grant that I was “planning ahead”. Hence the moo-moos. That I thought I could make cute with boots.

I walk out and see Grant sitting on a bench. No hat. So far shopping is a bust.

We walk further down the mall.

Me: Maybe I should buy a new bra. My favorite one is falling apart.

Grant: There’s Victoria’s Secret! We could go in there!

He is suddenly interested in shopping.

Me: No. I hate those people and always will. Ever since I wanted to buy a cute bra when I was gigantico prego with Daniel and asked if they had a 42 triple D and that awful brat sales girl just turned her nose up at me and said “we don’t carry sizes that big”. I wanted to DIE. And when I turned to leave the store, my big belly and boobs knocked over a stupid skinny mannequin.

Grant: She was just jealous of your giant boobs. But NO. Let’s not go there. They are bad, bad people at Victoria’s Secret.

He is saying these words but his body is steering us both toward the store. We laugh and I tug him in a different direction.

Me: Now THIS looks promising! I like some of these outfits!

Grant patiently sits back down on a bench and I walk into the nice, dignified quiet store and start looking through what I think are wonderful styles. FINALLY! I have about ten items in my arms to try on when I look up and around me and realize that the only people in the store are women in their 70s and 80s. I’m not kidding. There is NO ONE under the age of 70 in the store. Granted they were all very lovely and well dressed women but the moo-moos have been bad enough on my ego. Not only am I not a size 20 I am not even CLOSE to being eighty and so should MAYBE not dress this way. I put the clothes back on the rack, quietly exit the store and sit down on the bench next to Grant with a dramatic sigh.

Me: I don’t fit ANYWHERE. I don’t know who I AM anymore. I belong NOWHERE. God I hate shopping.

Grant: Then why in God’s name are we here? We should be drinking our second breakfast.

Me: Yes! Let’s get the hell out of here.

We walk through Kohl’s on our way to the car and I am practically knocked over in shock by the most perfect, cutest little dress I have ever seen and it is only $29.00! I grab a size large and hold it up for Grant.

Me: Look!!!! Finally a dress as cute as my nightgowns. OMG I’m so buying this! Can I buy this?

Grant: Sure. But that IS a nightgown. Though I bet it would look great with your cute rattly boots!

I look around and realize we are in the pajama department

Me: Well who the fuck would put the pajama section right at the entrance of store. Everyone knows it’s supposed to be in the BACK of the store!  I’m so pissed! I was in love with this dress until I found out it was a nighty. The world is a cruel place.

Grant: Yes it is. I have yet to find the perfect Seahawks hat so I feel your pain. Let’s go drown our sorrows.

Though I DO actually find some new pants before we leave the mall. I buy two different sizes of the same style: one sort of snug and one sort of loose. Because I just don’t know which direction I am gonna go right now in terms of butt size. And GOD only knows when I will go shopping again.

But then we go to Jack and Dan’s for a beer. We hunker up to the bar and I see this brick with the initials G H S engraved in it.

Me: OMG! It’s our initials! It’s a sign that we ARE winning! And that we are FINALLY in the right place!

And we clink our drinks to further proof that we are winning. Even though we both know the initials stand for Gonzaga High School, the private high school four of our six kids have attended so far.

We are both just happy to still be playing the game.

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How the Tibetan Buddhist Monks Practically Saved My Life, Sort Of

I have been laid up for two weeks after some extensive reconstructive surgery on both sides of my left ankle. It turns out that, in addition to some shit I don’t understand, my jagged ankle bone was trying to cut one of my ligaments in half. My ankle was clearly trying to amputate itself. Ankle suicide. I don’t really blame it. It has to have been kind of rough carrying me around for so many years. I am NOT a light load. Though it has made me wonder what the hell my right ankle has been doing all this time that would create such an imbalance of strength and power. Is my right ankle a slacker? Or has it been the strong one this whole time, carrying most of the weight while my left ankle has slowly tried to kill itself?

This is not my intended topic: what causes one ankle to be mentally ill and the other one strong. Because that’s just weird.

However the subject leads quite naturally into the thing I want to talk about: Tibetan Buddhist sand mandalas.

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What, you don’t see the connection? Weird. It’s so clear to me. But I guess since you’re not inside my brain (thank God for you) I’m gonna have to explain.

Ever since I was a little girl I have immersed a lot of my time and energy into artistic activities that may not be deemed in any way practical by a lot of people. I know that my parents often raised their eyebrows and thought  “Oh lordy, what do we DO with this one?” I think that if I had shown an iota of talent in any of the things I persisted at they would have been more encouraging. Instead they kind of just “rolled with Heather’s current fancy” because I never seemed to settle onto any one thing for very long. There was always something more interesting to me just around the corner to try. And I have gotten worse as an adult, especially with this vast cyber world where you can learn about pretty much anything or be inspired by something with a 20 second search.

It’s kind of like taking a little nibble out of each piece of candy in a big box of chocolates because you don’t want to commit to just one or two because then you will get full too fast and not get to taste the other pieces.

Although that’s a bad example because I would never NOT finish a piece of chocolate. Plus it’s kind of rude if there are other people who also have rights to the box of chocolates. Just sayin.

Anyhoo, when I was a kid I dabbled in pretty much anything that called to me: perfume making, rock polishing; drawing; painting; furniture refinishing (my grandmother’s antique night stand was never the same); macrame; crocheting; singing; sewing;  piano;  paper mache (maracas with light bulbs where my favorite-dual purpose!); cross stitch; pottery; quilting; bird house making; gardening to name many.  I wasn’t really good at any of these things and it never once entered my mind that I wanted to be an artist in my future. I just loved DOING those things.

Yes, it was for sure satisfying when something turned out cool. I remember trying to draw a picture of a lion once. I must have been around 10. I kept showing my mom what I thought was my finished picture and she would say “you can do better”. This happened many times before my mother finally said “Yes! Beautiful!” And I gave it to her. She framed it and put it on a shelf and said it should be a reminder to me of what I could accomplish when I stayed focused and did my best. I found the picture in her stuff when she died and kept it. Not because it was a good picture but because it was a reminder of the joy I felt when I was making it and also the peace I felt handing it over to my mom, an offering of my love.

My children and husband no longer even bat an eye when they find me in the breezeway smashing glass or under a cloud of dust from carving soap stone with a dremel tool or stripping the plastic coating off of copper wire. The copper was for my latest endeavor, this year’s “Make Time for Kids” clock for an auction in April benefiting Casa Partners…

http://www.casapartners.org/

…I love the cause, because this group helps kids during the transition from a tough home situation to foster care. But I also love any excuse to create something that wasn’t there before. She “Goddess of Time” turned out quite gaudy and slightly over the top but pretty enough to get a little cash at the auction (I hope).

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Goddess of Time
On the day I started working on her I emerged after three or four hours of focusing on rocks and glass and copper wire and paint and my daughter took one look at me, smiled big and said “Oh mom! You’re doing art again aren’t you!” I looked at my hands all covered in epoxy and paint and held them up laughing. “How can you tell?” And she said “Your face is lit up.”

While I admit it was a little bit hard to hand her over to be on display and then auctioned off, because she and I had a lot of fun bringing her into the world, I was really quite happy to give her away and move on to the next “thing”. That’s just part of it, see?

So. Back to how my depressed ankle and Tibetan Buddhist Sand Mandala art are connected.

On day three after my surgery bummed-out-ed-ness began to spread over me, a dark gloomy haze. The nerve block they gave me from my knee down had completely worn off and the pain was like nothing I had ever experienced in my life: a vice grip lined with spikes slowly squeezing my ankle. So I turned to the pain pills the doctor prescribed which took away much of the agony but made me groggy and out of focus and weepy because I didn’t even have enough clarity to doodle with colored pens. And I thought “What’s the point ANYWAY? Everything I do is pretty much crap.” Because when I get bummed out it suddenly MATTERS that everything I create is crap. Depression, which thank goodness for me is generally situational and not chronic, is (at least in my mind) the opposite of clarity. It is like looking in the mirror when the glass is fogged up and having the audacity to call yourself ugly.

And so I turned to my iPad and Netflix and the series “House of Cards”, a well written but very dark show about the evil people and politics in the White House (perfect for my mood) and checked out completely on tv, something I rarely do for more than an hour or two let alone the THIRTY NINE HOURS it took to complete the 52 episodes produced thus far. I surrendered and thought dramatically (as is my way)  “Let it be done to me: narcotics and television, the beginning of the end of my life as a recluse who dies in her bed, with dirty hair, surrounded by Reese’s peanut butter cup wrappers and soggy half-frozen bags of peas.”

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But something happened four days into my binge: I started to feel better. And I am POSITIVE it’s all because of the Tibetan Buddhist sand mandala art that I learned about in the 33rd ‘chapter’ of House of Cards.

In the story, as part of a cultural exchange, Tibetan Buddhist monks were on public display at the White House for thirty days while they created a sand mandala. Here are a couple of links to explain this beautiful healing art in detail:

http://www.worldreligionnews.com/religion-news/buddhism/5-things-you-didnt-know-about-this-tibetan-art-form-seen-on-house-of-cards

http://www.mysticalartsoftibet.org/mandala.htm

But in a nutshell, the great leader of the group decides on a design, which is filled with specific healing symbols, the main deity (or god) being in the center. The chosen monks then re-create the drawing from memory and proceed to carefully and slowly fill in the drawing by sending millions of grains of colored sand through these tiny little funnels called chak-purs using vibrations from a small narrow steel rod. All through the process they pray, chant, meditate and sing, asking the deity for blessings and peace and enlightenment for themselves and the world. They are totally focussed on the act of creating for hours upon hours. (I hope they get potty breaks and such.)  And when they are finished, the beautiful, detailed creation is consecrated by the leader and then SWOOSH! the beautiful mandala is smeared with a small broom, DESTROYED to symbolize the impermanence of our material life. The sand is then placed into an urn where it is then usually poured into a moving body of water in another ceremony to disperse the purifying power to the world.

I had become deeply involved in watching the process of the creation so when this SWOOSH! happened on the show I sat up from my reclined position on the bed and yelled “Nooooooo!” And then flopped back down and thought “Oh! No wait.” I laid there for quite a long time, thinking about the dark questions I had asked myself earlier in the week and in other dark times in my life “Why bother? What is the point? To what purpose does it serve, especially when all I create is talentless crap?”

But see here’s the thing: we are all creations who are designed to create not criticize the creation. And when we open up our hearts to what calls to to us, be it music, art, stories, poetry, gardening, architecture, cosmetology, bee-keeping (that’s for you Sara), interior design… really I could go on and on because it is so personal, that which calls to our hearts, that which begs us to be a part of its own creation…when we answer, when we become fully absorbed in the process, engaged, meditative, focussed,  we become less concerned for ourselves and more connected to our God and His universe. And that act of answering the call becomes the very part of the world that makes it lush and beautiful and interesting and glorious. It is fantastic magic (that’s for you DG-ha!) and we owe it to ourselves and to the world to listen and act, regardless of the final outcome, for though it will indeed all be gone someday, just like the sand mandala, the act of saying YES is what creation really is and this yes is what is eternal.

The day of the sand mandala episode, my family had gone on a day trip to Montana. They returned that evening, gathered around my bed and grinning, bearing gifts: a huge piece of tangled driftwood with a dragon head in it (at least that’s what I saw);  102 railroad spikes (they counted them before me: pieces of gold before the queen); a smooth rock the size of a cantaloupe that had the most spectacular shades of rust and green and grey and blue and they all kept taking turns petting it while I held it like a baby. “We thought maybe you could make something from all this when you feel better.”

As if I could say no!

Christmas Trees: Not Just for Christmas Anymore!

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Every year my kids ask me if we can put the Christmas tree up on the day after Thanksgiving. A lot of people do that but I always feel like we should celebrate Thanksgiving all the way through the four days off before we start kissing under the mistletoe and whatnot.

So I always say no and put it off until mid-December. It’s just something I have to gear up for. Namely because I have to rearrange the furniture which leads to a conniption fit on my part because of all the socks, pet hair, pencils, candy wrappers, etc. that are discovered under the couches. One year I found a chicken bone.

But!

I came up with an idea. I know. Brace yourselves.

And I can only say this now that we no longer have toddlers in the house to break the ornaments or knock down our 25 year old fake tree. It turns out that Mitchel is nine now and no longer a toddler. Who knew?

What IF we kept the tree up all year long and just changed the decorations to celebrate whatever holiday was most prominent that month? Then I wouldn’t have to know ever again what is under the couches.

In January we can hang cans of Slim Fast and Nicorette gum and maybe our passes to the gym (that we currently can’t find.) Plus champagne under the tree. To celebrate all the resolutions we will have broken by February. Oh plus a few pictures of Grant because it’s his birthday month.

February there would be hanging hearts of course. Lots of them. Some of them would be broken, to signify past present and future love gone bad. Plus a chain of Ben and Jerry’s single servings for heart healing. And a couple of hams to prepare ourselves for resisting meat on Fridays during Lent.

Ugly little leprechauns and mini bottles of Irish whiskey would be hung on the tree in March. And snakes. Not live ones. That would be a bit much. St Patrick is known, among many things, for driving all the snakes out of Ireland. He did this before he was named a saint, which happens after you’re dead. Not YOU, the saint. I mean you COULD be a future saint but you are certainly not dead if you’re reading this. At least I don’t think you are. I think both Duncan and Mitchel would be fine sharing their birthday tree with leprechauns, Irish whiskey and snakes.

April contains the second BEST holiday of the year next to Thanksgiving: April Fool’s Day. Oh no wait. It’s Easter month too. Rats. Well. We can string five year old hardened peeps and hang plastic eggs filled with real scrambled eggs like my mom did one year for our (adult) annual combat Easter egg hunt. (One lucky egg had money in it.) We would have to put a very beautiful cross on top of the tree too. That would actually be cool and it would overpower all the irreverence.

In May there would pictures of me of course on account of Mother’s Day.  But only ones where I look skinny and I am not making a weird face (why do I do that?). No post-baby pics. There HAS to be a few of those SOMEWHERE. And maybe some garland made from twenty dollar bills: fun mom money. Oh and bottles of wine and cheese under the tree: GOOD cheese. The wine can be cheap. I would probably have to share some of the fun mom money and cheese with Dillin because it’s his birthday month. But not the wine.

Wow. June is my birthday month! But it’s also Maria’s. It will be easy though: we can leave the pictures of me up another month and add a few of Maria. And presents under the tree for both of us. But I will probably have more presents. CRUD: there is also Father’s Day. I hope the tree will be big enough for this month. We will have to hang a few knives, guns and golf balls on the tree as well.

July will have flags of course. And flip flops, which were the only thing I could wear when I was pregnant with Dan (whose birthday is in July) because my feet were so fat my shoes didn’t fit.  Plus flip flops signify summer and freedom. Oh. An flags do too. I would put sparklers on the tree but that idea could possibly go down in flames.

Speaking of burning, in August we will hang sunglasses and bottles of sunscreen, to signify the month we are all finally conditioned to put on sunscreen. This month is also when the kids finally remember to leave the back door OPEN for air circulation. It will at this point in they year take until mid-December for them to start remembering to shut it again. But I can’t hang a door from the tree.

In September we should hang foot balls and athletic cups on the tree along with gas cards to help with the five practices a week for three boys in three different locations but of course at the same times. I am not actually complaining here. There was one year when we had seven games to watch in a week so you can probably imagine the number of practices. I have kind of blocked much of that year from my memory. It’s practically a holiday with only three in sports now and I no longer feel (as much) need to carry a purse flask.

By October there will already be plenty of cobwebs on the tree.  Add a couple of fake bloody fingers, maybe a few arms and feet (FAKE ones, jeez), some deer horns (it’s hunting season too) and I think maybe one of those paper chains the kids make to count off the number of days until Christmas. Only this will be to count the number of days left of school football. It will be orange and black. To keep with the Halloween spirit. The carved pumpkins would look nice under the tree as well. Much more festive than the ‘smashed on the street’ look.

November’s tree gets all the wishbones that we have not wished on yet from the year past. (We eat a lot of bird.) We could have a wish day, maybe on the last day of November. Also I think we should wrap up all the frozen turkey and chicken carcasses in pretty Thanksgiving wrapping paper and put them under the tree. When they are defrosted we can have a ceremonial broth making day. I am a carcass hoarder. I know it’s weird. But it’s for soup. To someday make. But I will admit, our third freezer is getting a little creepy. Grant actually snuck this year’s turkey carcass to the garbage when I wasn’t looking. I’m trying not to harbor resentment. I keep telling him I will seek help but haven’t yet. The closest ‘meeting’ I can find is this group called “smart people who are prepared to feed their family if there should be some kind of apocalypse”.

I will be then so glad in December that the tree is already up that I will be much more joyful and calm come time to battle with the not working tangled up lights. I can already feel the peaceful Zen filled decorating party. There will also have to be a couple pictures of David. Not that he is competing at all with Jesus for birthday kudos, he would never do that. His is AFTER Jesus’s birthday. We could maybe hang the Star of David somewhere on the tree. Even though we are not Jewish. Jesus was though. So I don’t think it would be blasphemous.

I bet Jesus would be fine with sharing His tree. He was always up for a good celebration.  At any time of the year.

Vacation is a State of Mind, Not a Place: Part II

Speeches

There was no listening to any, not even ONE of the Great Speeches of the 20th Century. Not on THIS week. Oh no my friends. This week we DEFINED the meaning of a staycation, but we did NOT stay. We went…

…to Painted Rocks Trail…a ten mile hike…backpacks stuffed with our personally picked packable lunches and drinks from the grocery store. My drink was a carefully chosen $3.49 Strawberry Serenity: a gluten-free, Vegan, non GMO bottle of something liquidy that was supposed to reawaken, rebirth, repurpose and redefine me.

What it did instead at mile five was spray all over me and my glasses causing me to dance around like a whirling dervish and make the children roar with laughter at my unwillingness to just set the exploding glass bottle down. I wanted at least a TASTE of $3.49 serenity-it was more money than a large beer would have cost.

The trail we hiked paralleled the Little Spokane River and we inhaled the scent of life emerging from the decay of winter and felt the glorious sun on our faces for the first time in months.

Someone previous to us had planted nickels and dimes in the bark of various trees along the way, turning the hike into a treasure hunt, and then a competition, and then a fight resulting in tears, a shove, a stick poke, more tears and then an “ephinanic ah-ha” when they each at various moments opted to replant their found riches for someone else to discover. The experience slowed back down from there and bugs, birds and critters were once again noticed. Me, I just watched from the rear in quiet pleasure. No sense interrupting a perfect evolution of thought, since no eyes were lost during the stick poke.

Plus I was kind of sweaty from all that walking…and really sticky from serenity.

Painted Rock 1

Painted Rock 2

The next day we drove north to the local zoo. $33 later we were all a little glum over the idea of caged, fat, bored lions, tigers and one dog-food-fed bear who plopped down right in front of us, back legs kicked out like a person, big bear balls flopped out for all of us to witness.  His blank stare said “I really don’t give a f*** anymore.”

We got frappes at McDonalds to chase away the zoo blues and drove further north to Diamond Lake where we breathed in the warm, lake wind, threw rocks (at the water, not each other…mostly) and put our toes in the frigid, recently thawed water. We pretended that the lions, tigers and bear were all roaming freely like we were.

Lake 2

Lake 1

There was a slight set back mid-week because I needed (like a meth addict) to put some work in and therefore used up all my before noon Zen-time being kind of pissed off. I called my husband to inform him that I was quitting my job to become a full time “writer-mother-lover-of-all-people-so-long-as-they-were-not-any of my-EX-customers” and that he would probably have to get a second, and possibly a third job as I would require extra cash flow on account of I would need to buy some new clothes to fit my new role in life. (Picture cute flowing long skirts, dread-locks, flip flops with pretty sequins on them and tie dye t-shirts.) I think he must have hit a tunnel or something because we were disconnected… which was weird.

I was kind of hoping that the house would not be in order so I could just sulk in said house. But clearly my children were desperate for adventure because the house was in order.

So we went bowling.

And we fought and bickered and complained (it was mostly me and Maria doing that) and that was before we even pulled out of the driveway, which we finally did. But then Maria called my phone (which I let Dan answer) asking if she could PLEASE go bowling, that she would be NICE. I let Dan decide if we should turn around and get her. He is a kind person (unlike his mother) and felt it right to turn around and retrieve his wicked sister. He likes power but does not use it for evil purposes (when there are witnesses). He relayed her message to tell MOM to ignore her red puffy eyes when we picked her up, that she was fine, it was just allergies.

I declared it to be Silent Bowling Day but the tater-tots made it hard to stay quiet…they are such a cheerful food. We actually had fun but we went in shifts. That’s the problem when Siwinskis play games that keep score…on a large television screen. But soft-serve ice cream cones after bowling soothed the egos of those of us who bowl like crap (me) because more than state of mind, vacation is about the food.

Bowling

And while I did not order this when we were bowling…

Booze

…because that would have been wrong…Maria doesn’t know how to drive yet…I did have a Bloody Mary when we got home, but just one. It helped with the “vacation is a state of mind” bullshit.

BUT the next day it happened. We had one-of-those-perfect-days that keep you coming back for more. As the perfect drive is to golfers, as twenty-one is to gamblers, as the Super Bowl is to the Steelers, was THIS day to the Siwinskis. The two eldest man-sons decided to come with us on a spontaneous visit to Palouse Falls, where, one hour west then another forty five minutes south of Spokane, smack dab in the middle of rolling farmland, lays a very big, deep hole (picture a miniature Grand Canyon) complete with a pretty falls.

Palouse Falls

I held zero hope for a flawless, fun trip. Those of you with large families understand the statistical odds against six children and one narcissistic mother making it even fifteen minutes without a fight of some sort. But WE, my friends, made it the entire afternoon without anyone spiritually or physically hurt for longer than thirty seconds at a time, which is kind of like the five second rule when food falls on the floor.

Milkshakes on the way there helped.

I have to make note that there is a marked elevation of noise immediately AFTER food intake with my children, which can be very disturbing when you forget to bring your earplugs. But I had a milkshake too. Mine was peanut butter, which is mood altering nectar.

Mom and Maria

We drove, we sang, we played brainy clever car games, we laughed, we TALKED, we hiked on steep treacherous trails, narrowly skating several near death opportunities to find various treasures: sticks, rusty railroad spikes , nuts, bolts and a fifty pound rusty tractor bumper (which Duncan lost interest in hauling by the third  steep, rocky hill back to the car). We got dirty and we arrived home satisfied, happy and loving each other more than we can remember having loved. The kids found out that night that it was national sibling day, and grinned at each other (and me) with self-righteousness.

Palouse 2

By noon on Friday, I sent them all to say “hello” to their grandpa, who wasn’t at his office (he may have been hiding) after a morning game of Life turned really vicious. National Sibling Day was f’ing OVER.

I did the house tidying that day in solitude. But later there was a lemon-aid stand where Mitchel played his new birthday money guitar to lure in the high paying suckers customers. They made NINE BUCKS. Then we (mostly me) painted rocks to make a rock garden in the front yard. I decided that I was going to start a Rock Painting Therapy business. Do you SEE how important it is to take time off? I mean who THINKS of shit like that when they are busy working all the time? Grant may NOT have to get a third job after all.

rocks

Saturday, David announced to us that he hoped it would RAIN because he wanted to lie on the couch and be LAZY. Everyone actually agreed with him, which means the week was a success: my kids were craving BOREDOM and green vegetables (I made the vegetable part up) and I was craving my out of the house job once again.

But here’s the thing…these children of mine…these people whom I got the great privilege of helping make and continue to help grow…are nifty, colorful, individuals and I really, really, like them! They talk and laugh and yell and fight and EAT… a LOT…and they are wicked smart. I rediscovered this, like an explorer of a new land, when I allowed myself to lift off the heavy (mostly mental) burden of work I had created for myself: it was hiding the very treasure I actually work FOR.

This state of mind is a place I really want to stay…but without so many tater-tots and milkshakes: I need to look good in those long, flowing skirts. Tie-dye t-shirts and flowing skirts are the new black suits, didn’t you get the memo?

Vacation is a State of Mind, Not a Place: Part I

Monday morning on day one of my vacation, I stretched, still in bed at 7 am, and announced to my husband (who was NOT on vacation and just about to leave for work): “From this day forth, I am going to spread HAPPINESS and GOODWILL throughout the world.”

He grinned at me knowingly. “Okay, well, you might want to check your Bloody-Mary mix supply, because eventually you are going to have to get out of bed and FACE them.”

“No way” I say. “I am going to be the best mom EVER this spring break. Besides, we have a PLAN.”

“Oh yeah? Tell me about this plan.”

“Well” I say, reaching for my book and snuggling into my pillow “First, no one is allowed to talk to me or look at me or even whisper “mom” until NOON. Second, the house has to be in total order BY noon, at which time (if the house IS in order) I will be ALL theirs to go on the adventure of the day.”

“And what happens if the house isn’t in order?”

“We will all commence to listening to the “Great Speeches of the 20th Century Four-Volume Cassette Collection” I found when I was kind of cleaning my office on Saturday. I have been meaning to listen to these for quite some time. It will be very educational.”

“Hmmmm…well, that’s for sure inspiration to get the house in order, but what if no one agrees on what adventure to take? That could get a little tricky. There are so many of them…kids that is.”

“Oh! I have that all figured out. Everyone will cooperate with MY ideas on what the adventures will be because

1) this PLAN does not involve number one or two son, on account of the fact that everyone knows 17 and 20 year old males are uncooperative with any plan that involves THEIR cooperation and

2) the four younger ones are needy and will look at ANYTHING as an adventure. I mean just look at how happy they were when we let them ride on the ride in the Toy r Us ENTRYWAY and when we took the “you get to look but not eat Krispy Kreme Donuts” field trip yesterday!”

Toy r Us

Krispy Krem 1

Krispy Krem 2

“Well, you seem to have it all figured out, so…ummm…I’m leaving. You WILL be okay, right?”

“Of course! Everything is going to be just nifty! I mean just look at me ignoring my phone and emails ALREADY on this really ‘happy and at peace with the universe’ day.” I snuggle back down with my book and hum a little as he exits the scene. I only glance once or twice to the left, where my phone is turned face down on the night stand.

To Be Continued

How to Survive and Perhaps Enjoy the Holidays without Taking Speed, Owning a Time Machine or Robbing a Bank

Christmas blog post picture

Alright, so you (my ten or so readers) may have been deceitfully hooked by the title to this post, thinking that I have the answers on how to be some kind of angelic, high energy, ‘joyfully get it all done before December 25th without the use of narcotics’ parent. Well, don’t bother to take notes. This is not a “how too” lesson.This is instead a few festive thoughts from a well-seasoned maniac. You can judge me without walking in my shoes. I’m okay with that. I don’t even walk in my own shoes most of the time. I prefer either sprinting or going barefoot, which brings me to my first holiday survival tip…denial…

…it is very important to get yourself into full denial as early in November as possible, like when you are looking at your bank statement and it is clear that perhaps the $42.32 that you have managed to save for the Christmas season is not going to be enough to buy presents for six children (or, even more realistically, for you saner people, TWO children). Simply be cheerful that you have made progress and hum a lot (but don’t hum Christmas songs, it’s much too early for that… hum something like “Highway to Hell” by AC/DC, or maybe a bible song, or any Johnny Cash stuff… “Ring of Fire” comes to mind) and think: “Wow! Progress! $42.32 is SOMETHING after all!”

Side note: this is one example of when a time machine would really come in handy. I could zip back in time and reverse a few ‘poor choice’ purchases. Take for instance the $300 that Grant and I spent at the health food store on a cleanse/weight loss system that was supposed to work miracles (because we were both feeling a little more than chubby and summer was approaching and we thought it would be cool to have hot bods). It actually made us both feel kind of sick and head-spinny on the very  first day, causing us to abandon the plan immediately and head to the Swinging Doors for a chicken fried steak breakfast and two double Bloody Mary’s each to get our systems feeling normal again, thereby spending another $52.00 (including tip) and then $20.00 on pull tabs with the idea that we could win it all back and erase the memory of having been so stupid when we know full well that that shit doesn’t work when you are not willing to FULLY commit. I would dial the time machine to the day before this particular poor choice day and write a note to Grant: “Do not listen to Heather when she suggests going to the health food store tomorrow. Go instead directly to the Swinging Doors, spend $72 on mood leveling food and drink, then secretly stash $228 for Christmas, which will STILL not be enough to buy presents for six kids but will be better than $42.32).

So yes…huge digression…back to the denial idea…practice early on in November staying “PollyAnna Positive” that you will come across a big wad of cash before December 24, otherwise you will go in to a panicky tail spin that is very, very unproductive and bad for your health. It’s important to blissfully remain in full blown denial because this helps you to be your best self as you roll into to Thanksgiving…

…which leads me to the important role of Thanksgiving in preparing for holiday mania…Thanksgiving is the MECCA of all holidays…it is a charge your batteries, four day feel good weekend, beginning with that blessed day when you get to eat yummy food full of tryptophan (a mood leveling chemical that helps with denial), drink a bunch of booze (further promoting denial), watch football (excessive denial, especially with the Steelers playing this Thanksgiving) and generally sit on your ass in sweats and chillax…UNLESS YOU ARE IN CHARGE OF COOKING THE MEAL. Way back, twenty years ago, Thanksgiving used to stress me out, big time. Mainly because I am a crap cook and the pressure of putting on a full holiday spread was just too much for me. I thought this was woman’s work, and fought for that role for several years of my early married life, because I was a cranky, stubborn moron.

Enter (after several years of a lot of bad, bitterly performed cooking on my part) “The Weber” (pause here for dramatic magical background music…maybe something from one of the “Lord of the Rings” movies) and witness a husband whose real life work is about making the world a better place with his amazing ability to cook any kind of meat on said Weber, especially the glorious Thanksgiving-Day Turkey, full of special, yumilicious “Grant Stuffing”. (Pause for more music here: maybe “Magic Man” by Heart). This is when I realized that I could make the world a better place by just being the “Mashed Potato/Pumpkin Pie Side Kick”. Any moron can make mashed potatoes (I have only screwed it up two or three times in the last twenty years) and you can BUY pumpkin pies at the store. This was a huge moment for me, realizing that not being in charge of this meal did not devalue me as a woman, in fact it made me better, stronger, and more able to CHILLAX and watch football and let the master-baster do what he does best: joyfully (mostly) put on an incredible holiday spread. So for many years now, I have looked at Thanksgiving as my time to store up energy, rally my creative mojo, and pray for wads of cash to show up…super soon.

Which brings me to the subject of Black Friday and all the other potential shopping days up until the Saturday before Christmas…here are my thoughts on these days: IGNORE THEM. Carry on with your life, business as usual. Maybe throw up a little garland and let the kids tape snowflakes made from coffee filters on the windows to let them know you KNOW it’s almost Christmas and that you will probably not let them down. But other than that, just hum a lot (Christmas songs are okay at this time, it adds to the festive mirage), ignore the calendar and shun all your friends who have their shopping done by December 1st. They are not real friends; they are braggers who just want to make themselves feel superior to you. Do not let them put even a teeny chink in your armor of denial.

After years of coaching from my husband, a.k.a. “The Procrastinator”, I finally accepted the fact that it’s silly to shop early. First of all: kids change their minds…a lot. Sometimes that super cool “Presto Magico Turn Old Broken Crayons into Cool New Crayons shaped Like Cars, Animals or Aliens Machine” that you bought in June for $44.00 (because a certain couple of little boys decided that this cool potential money making machine was going to be number one on their Christmas Wish List) gets crossed off said list in December when something cooler comes along. Unless you intend to cut out cable and the newspaper so that your kids don’t see any commercials/ads touting the latest have-to-HAVE-to-go-on-living thing, ignore everything they say about Christmas gifts until about December 10th. Second, it is standard (at least in my household) that the wads of cash have mostly not shown up yet.

The last Saturday before Christmas is the day that Grant and I do ALL of our shopping. I know. I just heard a couple of you gasp. But we have it all very carefully choreographed. By December 15th the kids have written their carefully crafted letters to Santa (Mitchel even once taped a St Christopher medal to his ‘plea for football cards and not coal letter’ because he knew bribery was his only hope that year) and they KNOW there is no going back on those letters. We do request that they let us read them so that we know exactly what NOT to buy for them, since Santa has our back on these items. It also gives us time to draft counter-attack letters to Santa and send them priority mail should there be any requests for pets, drum sets, or a $600 X-Box One. It’s all about redirecting those kinds of requests with something more suitable to the recent behaviors and/or attention span of said child/teenager (though most of the teenagers in our household have learned early on to NOT take advantage of Santa’s generosity).

We then carefully compile our own list, checking it twice, or ten times (that’s my job) and gather all of our cash from various places: my “found it in the laundry so it’s mine” stash; Grant’s spare change cup-holder in his work truck; my giant jar of pennies I have been saving for the Penny Drive at the school;  a little bit of Plasma donation; a couple trips to the pawn shop and a small loan from our “we really need to save for a new dryer” envelope and we are just-that-quickly armed with what is not exactly wads of cash, but as always, enough for some thoughtful gifts and a couple of “I need to rest every two hours during this ‘why in the shit did we wait until the last minute’ shopping trip from hell ” toddies, which definitely help with denying the fact that we are morons…

…and we head out, the Saturday before Christmas (it is never allowed to be on Christmas Eve-that’s pushing it even for the “King of Procrastination”, plus Christmas Eve is ear-marked for our traditional McDonalds dinner and Christmas Eve Mass, which helps us get into the spirit of the real reason for the season: the proud owner of the BIGGEST BIRTHDAY of ALL TIME: JESUS, plus French fries are fun too)… and we leave the house all positive and giddy and this is without having consumed any kind of narcotic (just a bunch of coffee laced with bourbon (AND!)  NOT having had to rob a bank (though one year we actually wrote out a plan, and may have gone through with it had it not been for a miracle last minute Christmas bonus that saved us from potential jail time) and we just go get it done, laughing all the way…about what morons we are.

Sometimes we don’t find everything on the list (on account of the fact that everyone else got all the good stuff because they are goodie-two-shoes smarty pants early bird people who don’t know how to take RISKS). This is where creative gift certificates made from printed internet pictures (showing what you WOULD have had under the tree if your parents had it all together, but it will for sure be here by at least your birthday) come in handy. We also have been known to wrap up last minute items like cans of green beans, cases of top ramen and old tennis shoes when the number of packages is not equal per kid under the tree. Our children are pretty well-schooled to only expect one or two really good things and a few really weird and/or possibly icky items. Duncan once got an old ham bone wrapped in a deceitfully beautiful box with a bow. (We have an envelope marked ‘therapy money for our children for when they are adults and can’t figure out why they have trust issues” but we are probably going to have to borrow from it this year.) Anyway, it’s really all about (well besides Jesus) the initial presentation under the tree, which is easy to make quite stunning when you have six kids and large imaginations. And I guarantee that our kids will remember with great fondness the quirky gifts (one mystery kid is going to get a half-eaten box of chocolates  this year which I am currently working on, so don’t call ME a procrastinator!) and talk about these gifts with their therapists, more than they would if they got an X-Box One which actually works out great for everyone.

So you see, good people, we have learned through the years the art of denial, the value in the healing power of Thanksgiving and all its lovely role reversing, tryptophan glory, and have the adventuresome ability to condense all our holiday worry into one tradition filled Saturday. We drink, we eat, we come together in merry solidarity (that kind of rhymes) which is helpful during the holiday season, and we get that shopping shit done! This leaves a bit of of extra time after our shopping date to procrastinate a few things, like putting up the Christmas Tree and sending out our annual holiday letter full of exaggerated tales of how great we all are and (more importantly) make plans, should that really big wad of cash come our way (which by then would thankfully be too late to go into “spoil our kids a bunch more mode” and completely (not just kind of) wreck them for all of humanity”) to apply the money to more important things like feeding the poor, putting a bit away for college (insert silly snort here) and maybe having a little left over for investing in a nice January Detox at the health food store. Ha!