Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A meal to go with it

Dinner is the time of day I guard most carefully in this house.  I love to prepare the food; I especially love when the kids prepare the food; I love the food itself.  I still love it, despite the fact that some days, it requires near-herculean efforts to get tired kids to rouse themselves off the couch, cranky kids calmed down enough to sit, crying kids to stop crying, mad kids to leave their rooms and come to the table. But times are changing.  Something new is happening.  These days.... we linger.

The first time I noticed it, we lingered 5 minutes past the end of the meal.  The next week, 10. One evening the following week, we were at the table for nearly an hour.

Later that same week, I read this article on The Family Dinner.  Which, in the end, made me feel incredibly sad for her, more than anything else.

Then I read this one, which I liked because at least half of our monthly meals come from DALS.  Love this post, too, with the embedded links - (it made me realize how much I DO know about my own family, thanks to my mom and dad - and how much we have not yet shared with our own kids...)

And this one, which I really loved, because she is smart and funny and articulates how liking to cook for your family doesn't, in any way, pose a threat to maintaining a feminist perspective.

But the really good part?  And the point I'm really trying to make?  Is what happened the NEXT night, a night when dinner was served at 5:45, yet everyone was still seated an hour later.  It was a give-a-mouse-a-cookie  kind of evening:

We shared the good part, bad part, silly part of our day.  Something someone said triggered a conversation about experiences versus material gifts.  We asked the kids to recount some of the adventures (experiences) we had in the past year.  They rattled off the highlights of a handful of adventures we've shared, including unforgettable moments as well as seemingly tiny details. We asked them, then, to name presents (material gifts) they'd unwrapped on Christmas morning.  They stared at us.  And said nothing.

Jeff and I were gleeful in pointing out, "See!  It's the experiences we remember!"  Our experiences v. stuff conversation somehow evolved into Boy Scouts, and our refusal to let our sons participate in Boy Scouts, because of the BSA's divisive and unrelenting stance on inclusion of gay leaders.  That led to an in-depth conversation on gay marriage, which led to an explanation of the recent decision in Virginia to overturn the ban on gay marriage, and how that decision is supported by the Supreme Court, which led to a bigger discussion on legislation at the state and federal level, and eventually led to why this is good news especially for gay couples who wish to adopt a child, which led to a brief foray into all the different kinds of families there are, and that the one thing they all share is that they - we -  love each other, so much...

And it happened at the dinner table. We gave our mice a cookie, and they asked for a whole meal to go with it.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Eyes Open

Recently, NPR's David Greene and Shankar Vedantam covered a story on why people agree to do boring work.  Their reporting weaved together some new research to the old work of Camus in his "Myth of Sysiphus."  Toward the close of the interview, researcher Peter Ubel observed, "Camus [would say] your life with your eyes open because meaning doesn't lie in the work, it lies in what you bring to the work."

Those words echoed in my mind as I contextualized my life to Camus' work. This is the final year of my most meaningful work: the work of birthing and raising and running and wrangling a family.  It is hard to imagine, in this moment, that I will find work more meaningful than this.  More to the point - it is hard to imagine I will ever find the kind of work again that matches the kind of meaning I've found - created -  in all these years of growing up small people.
I overheard a phone conversation that Jeff was having with a relative who'd called to check in.  He gave a quick recap of graduate school and work; he talked about the kids' teachers and their new hobbies; and then, he seemed to falter over what to say about me.  "Anne's doing great," he said.  "She does stuff with youth group kids.  And she is busy with..." he trailed off.  He didn't quite know how to finish the sentence.

At first, I felt a little deflated, and fussed at him about it. "Jeff," I admonished.  "I am doing good work here!  Important stuff!  My work is Pax, and my work is Aidan and Leo.  You know this,"  I reminded him, yet I knew he didn't actually need the reminding.  Jeff has always been as resolute as I have in maintaining a lifestyle that includes an at-home parent.  "Yeah, you're right," he said.  "I just don't know how to describe your work."

Upon reflection, I realized it is hard to find the words that describe the meaning of my work.  How do I explain the meaning in the mundane, if the answer to "what did you do today?" is a list of generic chores and jobs related to keeping house and keeping kids?  How many days has he come home, tired from his own day, and heard my litany of complaints? For there are countless days I've lamented the mess, of the endless to-do, the hours spent chauffeuring, of the exhaustion I feel.  He knows I've felt resentment at times, when my work load is too great and the return is too little.  Dirt is tracked in on clean floors; bathroom sinks are instantly smeared with toothpaste; the milk supply is depleted well before grocery day; kids and parents are impatient, angry, distant. Where is the meaning in THIS? I've wondered.

And yet - there it is.

The work of grocery shopping, the times I've hauled tantruming children out, leaving a cart full of stuff, balanced by the meaning we create: weighing the cabbages; boosting Pax onto my shoulder so he can watch the woman at the deli counter slice our turkey in the huge mandolin; playing "I Spy" to distract from "no treats today;" spending the time waiting to check out with a child snuggling in my arms, a quiet and sacred peace stolen from an ordinary trip.

The house work:  the endless war against dirt and greasy fingerprints and countertops clear of paperwork.  If there is a Sysiphus-like hill to climb, it is cleaning house.  Finding meaning in the way the vacuuming becomes a delightful event for capable preschoolers who are impressed with their own ability; the inevitable game of "gotcha" that ensues whenever the brush attachment makes its way near barefoot toes; the laughter of littles in the bathtub, playing happily and singing songs with me while I scrubbed toilets and disinfected sinks.

The work of the laundry:  8 loads or more per week - muddy, smelly, sweaty, food-covered, stained, soiled laundry.  Balanced by finding meaning in the laundry basket, recently emptied:  a tool that transforms into a pint-sized vessel (a train; a ship; a plane) for rides around the room.

The work of play:  long walks or bike rides around the neighborhood; mornings with friends; afternoons at the park. Books and board games that divide up our chores; apple picking after gymnastics class, picnic lunches and the occasional adventure to someplace undiscovered.

Pandora played in the background as Pax and I started baking pumpkin muffins this afternoon. We listened to a playlist of well-known children's songs that included Laurie Berkner as we stirred the pumpkin together with the eggs, added the carefully-measured flour. The next song came on, another one by Berkner, titled "Five Days Old"
I'm sittin' here I'm one day old
I'm sittin' here I'm two days old
I'm sittin' here I'm three days old

I'm sittin' here I'm four days old.

(Refrain) One day I'll be a year

then I'll be two then three then four
But as for now I'm sittin' here
I'm five days old and no days more.

..then several more verses, each time returning to the refrain.

We sang and clapped in rhythm; we danced a little around the kitchen; I held him and felt the weight of him in my arms.  Just like that day he was one day old.  That day when he was five days old, when he turned one, then two, then three, then four.  Today, when he is five.

We danced some more, and I sang when my voice stopped wobbling.
Through my tears, I held my eyes wide open... I live with the full knowledge that "meaning doesn't lie in the work.  
It lies in what we bring to the work."

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Birthday Party Ideas: Round Up

Looking for an idea for a themed birthday party?  Here's a quick round up of some successful at-home parties.  The first four are more like how-to's' the others are more of a general description, but the ideas are still pretty clear.

Cooking up a Storm!  

S'more Camping Party 

A Pirate's Life for Me (this was a terrific and easy theme to do)

Mad Scientist Party (the kids were soo creative and curious, very engaged!  The possibilities for this are ENDLESS....)

Strike up the Band!  Music Party (Loved this one - again, so many variations)

Dinosaur Adventure:  
The young paleontologists who helped Leo celebrate his 4th birthday hunted for dino bones hidden around the room, ran in a dino dress up relay race, made Brachiosaurus top hats, and even got to explode a volcano with vinegar and baking soda. I made a Stella Stegosaurus cake - probably my most ambitious cake to date - and she turned out quite well, despite the duct tape I eventually used on her head....

Favorite Things (a day filled with the things Pax liked best of all.)

Cars and Trucks and Things That Go - (transportation)

Superhero Party 

Other ideas:

We've only "outsourced" a few parties.  Leo had an *awesome* rock climbing party this past year, (scroll down on the link to see the pics of the party) and Aidan has chosen to do smaller parties/celebrations several years: taking two friends to create "fused glass art" one year; roller skating and a sleepover another year; and in 2014, Jeff took him and a buddy out for a round of golf to commemorate his 10th birthday.

Party on, Wayne!

Party on, Garth!