Friday, August 26, 2011

When Daddy Watches Toddler

 ME: "Hey, Buddy! ... uh... what's in his hair?"

 BIG V: "Oh, he got in the soap. He wanted to wash his hair."

 ME: "He told you that?"

 BIG V: " ... but it kept him occupied 'til you got home."

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

I like your sweater. No, I mean it. I really like your sweater.

I know it's going to be very hard for you to believe, but I wasn't always this tall glass of sunshine you see before you today. (It's sarcasm, Mom. Don't feel compelled to point out the obvious.)

I wasn't a cute kid, or a beautiful child. I wasn't ever pageant worthy and I certainly wasn't being asked out on dates.

Like most kids, I thrived on compliments. If someone couldn't muster up the you are just about the most precious little girl I have ever seen nicety, what could they possibly say about me?

I found humor.

I figured out pretty quick how to get a group laughing so hard their ribs hurt, wiping away tears while falling off their chairs. I also learned that it's an act: disengage and go for broke. Before you know it, you'll be known as the funniest person I ever met! And to me, that was just about the best compliment anyone could ever give me.

The problem with being funny is that everyone assumes you're always happy.

Look, I was pregnant at a young age. The father was uninvolved to say the least. I felt very alone and I was very broke. Then I married someone I had only known for a handful of months and that ended disastrously at best. And then I found out I was pregnant. Again.

I had boyfriends who promised to be over with pizza but get sidetracked at the gas station meeting the love of their life. I met a wonderful guy who I thought was madly in love with me, only to tell me the formal event we were scheduled to attend two days later - he would be taking another girl. One he met at the flower shop where he stopped to get me flowers. It is important to note that both Pizza Guy and Flower Guy had the same name. And, yes, I immaturely judge all men as douchecanoes who share this name.

Needless to say, while my ill choices in men provided excellent comedic fodder for others, it left me feeling like shit the majority of my adult life.

Couple that with crappy jobs, lack of income, crappy so-called friends, and one particular holiday season which left me praying to God that I had been switched at birth and soon my rich biological family who lived in a mansion along the East Coast would save me. This was long before I learned earthquakes along the East Coast were possible. My daydream has since morphed into a wealthy long-lost great aunt who just happens leaves me a ton of money.

Needless to say, there was a time I didn't feel happy. I didn't feel like my life was fun. I didn't feel like I was enjoying anything. I didn't feel like I had anything to be proud of.

I was depressed. I was lost and sad but mostly angry. I was pissed off that my life sucked. And it sucked bad.

So, I sought out an innocent counselor and unleashed my burdens on her: I don't want to feel this way!  I screamed. I had visions of her ripping a crisp, white square of paper off her prescription pad and a cool drink of water while swallowing the pills. Help was on the way!

Except she didn't prescribe anything.

Instead she gave me a task:

Each day I want you to write down all the compliments you were given. No one ever compliments me. I work two crappy jobs then come home and take care of two kids who have no idea who I am.

And each day I want you to give three genuine compliments to people and write those down. Who  the hell am I going to compliment? The chick that walks into the liquor store when I'm working? Super cute ID pic, lush.

And then I want you to write down three things you are grateful for. Well, I can breathe on my own, does that count?

This woman was off her freaking rocker. I couldn't pay my heat bill. The only guys interested in me were jokes. I could have/should have gone to that audition at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Manhattan; instead I was employed as a Data Entry Clerk at some podunk factory and working at a discount liquor store on the side. How would telling someone I liked their sweater make a change in my life?

The first night with my journal I sat and stared at it with nothing to write. Here I was, the self proclaimed writer, with not one word to put to paper.

I started with the easiest:

Three compliments I gave today:
  • I told my daughter she was smart.
  • I told Joyce I was glad I worked with her.
  • I told the guy who works in the IT Department he did a good job handling all my computer problems because my crappy computer was acting up again. Like always.

It was a start (albeit a half-hearted one).

Now I needed to remember if anyone complimented me today. I was pretty sure they hadn't. I didn't do much right in my life - that was kind of obvious by the divroced with two kids from two different fathers thing. And the fact that my water was about to be shut off. Again.

This manager from another department came by to watch me type. He said I was the fastest person he's ever seen... and heard. Because I guess I hit the keys super loud or something.

Hey, that was something wasn't it? I could enter that data in my sleep. I didn't even need to think about what I had to type. My eyes saw it on the paper and my fingers just went where they needed to... completely skipping the brain processing part. I was pretty dang good at that.

Three things I'm grateful for:
  • my health
  • my children's health
  • at least I have a car even if it does look like something an old lady would drive.
 Okay, I would obviously have to work at this a bit.

The point was, I did keep track. Every day. Before I knew it I'd hear someone say something and think that's a compliment! I get to write that down! I was shocked at the number of times people were nice to me in any given day.

And I found I liked giving compliments, too. I figured you never knew who was putting on a strong, happy exterior while inside they felt their world crumbling. Maybe they also had an assignment where they needed to write down compliments they received throughout the day. I wanted to make sure they heard mine.

Soon I was looking for people to compliment: the cashier at the grocery store, my daughter's teacher, a co-worker, the lady walking out to her car - I really did like her sweater!

And with this simple exercise came the most dramatic change of all: my perception of my life.

The thing is, nothing changed. I was still the girl with two kids from two different fathers, working two dead end jobs and not making enough money to keep my heat on. Or my water. Or my electric. But I could now see all the other things in my life; the things that made my life worth living.

I found there was so much to be grateful for. The beauty that surrounded me... a flower growing up in the crack of an old crumbling foundation. Bright suns and soft moonlight. The full, rich sound of a cello. Choco-tacos. Live music played in a coffee shop. Baseball. Special Olympics. Movie theaters and their popcorn.

But mostly, I found that I'm incredibly grateful for the power of words; they way they inspire, and lift and make others laugh. Without a doubt, I am most grateful for words.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

I don't want my baby to turn into the dog.

Like most mommies, I rarely get a chance to get ready in the morning without the Circus Parade of my Family joining me in the bathroom. It gets hectic and chaotic and fortheloveofcheese can't I just shove my contacts in IN PEACE?!

My bathroom routine usually includes a moody, over tired 9-year old, a climbing toddler, and confused Big V, wondering why the kids are in there in the first place. This morning was no different:

Dotter is sitting on the toilet, yelling at Cletus, who is climbing over her to get to the counter where he's busy squeezing toothpaste out of the tube and smearing it across the sink, while I'm attempting to push him out with my elbow and jab a somewhat ripped contact into my left eyeball. Big V is standing behind me. I'm not entirely sure why, but I'm hedging bets he just felt lonely waiting outside our super tiny bathroom.

Dotter, can you please go get dressed?

"I know, Mom! That's what I was going to do! Why do you always treat me like a slave?!"

Off she stomps. (I just love these pre-teen hormonal mood swings.)

V, can you please go change Cletus's diaper? He reeks.

"I was just going to do that."

Sure you were.... Big V grabbed Cletus, who of course starts screaming.

I sighed. I just love my mornings. Not.

Ten seconds later Big V is back in the bathroom and grabbing the toothpaste.

Why do you need the toothpaste?

"He wants it."

Who wants it?


He told you this?

"Well, he's crying and wants to play with it."

He's a baby. Babies don't get to play with toothpaste.

"So, how do I get him to stop crying?" And he's staring at me like I'm the idiot.

We've got a serious issue in our house and it's called Daddy is a Pushover. (Either that or Daddy is Incredibly Lazy and Doesn't Want to Deal with the Drama, which I'm thinking is a tad bit more accurate.)

Big V still gives Cletus a bottle of milk when he goes to bed. The kid will be two next month. When I put Cletus to bed (with nothing) he manages to fall asleep in the same amount of time as with the bottle.

Big V lets Cletus play with his phone because "Cletus likes how it makes sounds." Never mind the extra charges Cletus has managed to incur while pushing buttons of said phone. Cletus also knows that my phone is not a play thing, and if it is found out and about, he will bring it straight to me while saying no, no, no!

Big V lets Cletus climb out of the grocery cart and take off running through the aisles, chasing after him to replace items he has ripped off the shelves. I have a strict no getting out no matter what rule that is getting harder and harder for Cletus to adhere to since he knows there is fun on the ground.

It is not fun taking Cletus out in public, especially if Big V is with, because Cletus will scream and Daddy gives in. Quickly. It turns into a game of Scream and Chase.

I know that Big V's number one goal in life is to be a good dad. A dad who is there for his children. A dad who is involved and around and an active part of their lives. He wants what all of us want with our children: a good relationship. He wants his children to be able to come to him for advice, to respect his opinions and to value him as a father. And I find that very sexy.

But I've been at a loss as to how to show Big V that giving in doesn't guarantee respect. In fact, it usually produces the opposite.

V has explained to me that he hates - absolutely hates - to see Cletus cry and get upset. (And you'd be able to see pretty plainly on Big V's face that it just about kills him.)

I usually step in to be the Bad Guy because, well, because I've been the disciplinarian with my two older girls so it's natural. Plus, I don't like to see Big V upset and uncomfortable in that role. In a way, I guess I'm giving him an easy out. Here,honey. I see you're upset about this - let me take care of it. The kids can get mad at me.

But then I think why do I have to be the bad guy all the time? And I worry that we won't be seen as on the same page when it comes to rules and expected behavior. How do I encourage Big V to welcome his role as a guide and teacher? To want basic expectations to be met so that everyone will be happier.

I believe children thrive under structure and boundaries. Big V feels if he imposes too much structure and boundaries he can not be the Dad he wants so very badly to be. And telling your toddler no, you cannot play with the toothpaste is a battle not worth choosing. Big V says he will pick the Big Battles to fight. I'm afraid the Big Battles will be FREAKING GINORMOUS if we have a kid that has never had to follow a rule ever.

It's like having the dog all over again. Except I won't be able to bring Cletus to the pound if he starts eating my drywall. 
I said no chewing on the furniture!

Monday, August 22, 2011

My Weekend in Four Photos

Big V and I went to Olive Garden for my birthday.
If I convince you of nothing else in your life, let it be this: 
Go right now to the Olive Garden.
Order the Chianti Braised Short Ribs with Mushroom Risotto.

I wandered around the book store.
Big V wandered half a millimeter behind me.
"Do you want this book?"
"What about this one?"
"This one looks good."
He was in a hurry.
To leave.

Children are like an optical illusion.
See, he's cute here.
But not so cute when I came across the wads of yogurt
he dumped on the living room rug.


His new favorite toy: the plastic wine glass.
He even took it to bed with him at nap time.
I'd say that's his mother's influence.