Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Good Job, Mommy

I lost something. Something important. Somewhere along the road in my adulthood, I have completely and totally lost the ability to take pride in my job. In my life before kids, I worked at the nature center. I could look at something I did and think, "That was cool. I did that, and I did a good job." Whether it was a program I taught when I knew that the kids were really engaged or a wounded heron that I helped heal enough to be released, I felt great about what I'd done. I knew I'd done a good job.
I've lost that.
My job now is just being a mom. I've set my own maternal bar so high that I can't reach it.
My dad frequently answers my self doubt with the same advice. He says, "You know, nobody's done it perfectly yet." While intellectually I agree with his statement, emotionally I feel like I should be better. Better than better. The best. I should be the perfect parent.
And I can't be. And I know that, but I can't figure out how to give myself and my kids a break.
I love being a stay at home mom, but I will admit that there are days that I see no gratification in it. Some days no one says thank you for their Cheerios. I have days when I feel like everyone in the house has better things to do than talk to me. On others, my kids are literally pulling on me and talking over each other to get my attention. Everyone's unending laundry and dishes are cleaned and put away with only my hands touching them. Sometimes, I feel invisible.
My kids will never be perfect. By default, the product of my job can't be perfect. Does that mean I can't take pride in my imperfect, lovable monkeys? Of course. Unfortunately, I take too little joy in their successes and too much fault in their failings. I think I need to work on that. Even if I was the perfect parent, my kids can't be perfect. They are human, after all. I need to judge myself based on myself, not them.
Yesterday, we didn't do anything too special. We shopped for Nora's friends' birthday presents. Then, we enjoyed the wet afternoon watching Halloween movies and dinosaur shows. But I didn't lose my temper today. I listened to their stories and answered their questions. I fed them. I hugged them. I read to them. I kept them safe.
Since I will probably only hear it inside my own head, I have to say: Good job, Mommy. You did a good job. Thank you.





Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Weekends

"What do you guys want to do today? You have some choices. We can..."
My conversation with my children starts this same way every Sunday. Since we have all but abandoned finding a home church and Saturdays are ruled by the soccer schedule, Sundays have become our family fun days.
Unfortunately, I get three different answers to my Sunday morning question. Nora is always ready for an exploit. The only time she is actually excited to play at home is if she has a friend over. On the other hand, Gray chooses a "lazy bum day" every single time. Although he is such a sociable little man that I believe he is destined to be a minister or a politician when he grows up, he misses home. I take it as a supreme compliment. Biking, hiking, swimming, museums, and fishing don't sound as fun as time at home with Luke Skywalker fighting pirates on the living room floor.
I feel pressure build with every approaching weekend, however, to have dazzling adventures with Nora and simple time on the couch with Gray. I feel like I need to maximize every minute with memories while still getting the laundry done. I'm still learning to balance two school kids and two weekend days. So far this school year, Saturdays are for Nora, filled with soccer games, festivals, and sleepovers. Sundays are Gray's day of movies, hugs, and home.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Fruit for a Year

I thought I missed peach season this year. Mid-August marks the tail end of local, ripe peaches, but, lucky for me, the season ran late this year. We stopped by the orchard in Charlottesville. Their "scratch and dent" half price peach boxes were almost empty. I knew it wouldn't hurt to ask, and the staff was delightfully accommodating. We picked through peaches. Even with very high standards, we still ended up with two full bushels.
In just a few days, I canned thirty-six quarts of peaches and eighteen quarts of applesauce.
I love canning, despite the sweat of steaming pots, the blood caused by the slice of a lid, and the tears of doom when there is still one more half bushel to peel. Once, Bubba questioned my commitment to canning. Truthfully, applesauce isn't even much more expensive to buy than my homemade. Then at dinner, he dipped his spoon into a bowl of the smooth, yellow pulp. He couldn't believe how much better it tastes than the store bought stuff. He hasn't questioned it since.
I gave myself a break after the three bushels of fruit I did at once. I overdosed a bit. I'm ready to jump back into applesauce next week, though!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Pepper Preservation

I've probably picked a peck of peppers out of the garden already, and more are ripening every day. I hate to admit it, but I was kinda getting tired of fajitas and pico de gallo.
I decided to preserve some peppers for future preparations. Normally, I am quite a snob about frozen vegetables, and Bubba is even worse. However, I plan to put the peppers into chili, soup, and maybe even salsa. All the peppers in those dishes are pretty darn mushy anyway, so freezing shouldn't do much damage. Nora and I quartered and seeded the bell peppers. We sliced the jalapenos and cut the banana peppers into strips.
I've never done this before, but I'm hopeful that my pepper plan will pan out perfectly.
Do you know the perfect way to preserve peppers? What are your favorite pepper recipes?


Friday, September 5, 2014

What To Do with a Bat on the Porch

Most of the time, I get along well with the local colony of bats. They screech at us from the vents in the attic and poop on my porch, but mostly we ignore one another. However, once in a while, our world collide.
I noticed a fuzzy blob on the wood below our front door while I was stepping across the threshold.
"What are you doing there?" I asked the small bat. The kids were playing on the front porch, so I added, "Guys, do not touch it, but there is a bat right here if you want to see it. Don't touch!"
Bats are small, and their teeth are tiny. Unfortunately, they are also a rabies vector. Only one in about 200 bats actually contracts and carries rabies, but possible exposure means some awful consequences for the human and the bat involved. The human has to have several vaccinations while the bat has to be euthanized so that the health department can look at its brain.
"Don't touch! Just wait here. I'll move him and let him go. I'll be right back."
I stole back inside to grab my bat removal tools: a plastic container with a lid
"Okay, ready." Six wide eyes watched as I placed the container over the still bat, placing the opening over the bat and flat against the wall to create a little cage.
"Is it alive?" Nora wondered. In response, the bat screeched and flopped itself to the bottom of the container. I slid the lid between the wall and the container and snapped it in place.
Voila, a bite proof bat transporter! I chose clear plastic so the kids could see the bat's thin, stretchy wings and sharp, tiny teeth up close.
When the kids' curiosity was satisfied, I walked our friend over to the woods. Carefully, I opened the lid and tilted the bat onto a tree. Bats usually take off in flight from high places and swoop down as they fly. The kids couldn't believe how fast the bat climbed up the tree and away from us.
video
When bats or other wildlife seemingly invade our space, we usually panic, asking, "What should I do?!" Usually, the answer is that don't need to do anything. The skunk in the trashcan will leave when it is done eating or the raccoon on the back porch will wander off when it gets bored. However, if a bat is hanging out on your front door, on your ceiling fan, or coffee table (all places I've had bats), the plastic container removal is easy and safe for both human and beast.





Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Two Thirds Quieter

My house is so quiet. Almost hauntingly quiet.
Two of my three little monkey kids are at school. Lily and I wander around the house. We're both trying to remember what we do without them.
I vacuum. I scrub the toilets. I watch Project Runway. I look at the clock.
I have a new "to do" list pinned on my cork board. I spend nap time ticking off boxes, feeling like Super Mom. I look at the clock again.
Gray boarded the bus on his first day with teary, wide eyes and his tiny hand in his sister's. She confidently pulled him to his seat in the front. Per my plea, she diligently sat with him on the ride to school and home again. They both came home beaming.
I am so happy that they love school. I'm thrilled to hear their stories of their life without me around. I know they need time away from me to grow. But it's still hard. The school bus is now taking two pieces of me away.
When I was eighteen, Bubba convinced me to do a 180 foot rappel off the side of a mountain in Tennessee. The descent was terrifying, thrilling, and all too short. Sending my kids to school feels like I'm convincing them to rappel. I provide the harness, the helmet, and the ropes. I've done it before, so I know it's safe. It's not something that they have to do to survive, but I know they'll love it and will grow from it. They have to take the first step off the ledge, into the air and the unknown. Then, they have to slowly work their way down the whole cliff. I can talk them through it and support them, but I can't do it for them. They can't quit halfway down, and they can't come back up. They have to make it to the ground. When they do, they'll decide where they want to turn and what will happen next.
School is my kids' first step away from me. It's terrifying, thrilling, and the time will be too short. But I know we will grow from it.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Thank Goodness for Pigs

The worst thing about canning and preserving my local summer peaches and tomatoes is the mess they leave behind. Both need to be peeled before they are stuffed into mason jars, and the mountains of sweet smelling detritus they leave behind can leave me overwhelmed.
Luckily, we got new pigs just in time. With the last few ham steaks of John Lee and a few packages of Sage's sausage still in the freezer, we brought Hermione and Handsome to the farm as their tasty replacements. And thank goodness for pigs.
So far, they've already gobbled up my tomato and peach remains, as well as some stale cereal the kids swore they liked, corn husks, and the bits and pieces of unrecognizable leftovers Bubba hoarded in a desperate desire for real food he didn't have to make while I was at the beach with my family.
I hate throwing food away. It wastes money, which I try very hard to never do.
It wastes my time. After all, I'm the one who prepares all the food in our house.
And it wastes nutrients. When we don't have pigs, during the interval months when we've slaughter's last year's and this years haven't been weaned, I compost. However, our little composter has a hard time keeping up. Pigs, on the other hand, never fill up. Instead, they magically transform rotten peppers into bacon. Thank goodness for pigs!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Kids Feeding Kids

It is a very humbling experience to realize that my own kid may be a nicer person than I am. When we visit my family in Ohio, Nora volunteers at a non-profit that my mom helps run. They distribute toiletries and household items at no cost to people in need. My normally shy, quiet daughter glows with confidence at "the office", which she has also taken to calling "her job in Ohio." She talks to strangers and absorbs every second of the attention she receives there. I've often wished she had a confidence boosting, benevolent activity closer to home.
A few months ago, while picking out seeds for our garden, she asked if she could have a corner of the garden for herself.
"Why?" I asked.
"I thought we could have a stand and then give the money to Grandma's office."
My first reaction was not admiration or humility; it was dread. "Well, we'll see..."
My mind flashed with images of hours sweaty garden labor. I knew she'd never weed and water frequently enough to keep the garden alive. I knew the labor would be solely mine, with the exception of a few halfhearted watering attempts which usually end with her spraying herself with the hose instead of the plants.
Nora persisted with increasingly grand plans her stand. She brought it up every time I talked about my garden. My answer was the same. "We'll see..."
Finally, I started to cave. After all, my garden usually produces more than we can eat anyway. I proposed a different plan, however. "How about if we do the farmer's market? And then, maybe give some of the money to charity? Maybe half?" I also explained that we should find a charity a little closer to home and brainstormed ideas for a place to give the money specifically to kids. In the end, we agreed on "the backpack program" at her school. The backpack program sends kids in need home with a backpack of healthy food for the weekend.
I completely refused to give her a corner of the garden. Instead, I offered to share the produce from the whole thing. My garden is very personal to me. I am the only one who chooses what we plant and where. Once it is initially tilled, I do most of the work on the soil and fight the weeds myself. Although the job is sometimes overwhelming and I curse the lack of help, mostly I enjoy it being mine...all mine. I knew her corner would frustrate both of us. The day would come that the work wouldn't be fun anymore, and the corner would fall to weeds or come to me. No, I decided it was better to share, but I secretly hoped the idea would dry up like my pathetic cantaloupe plants. Then, I could be greedy without guilt.
The idea was here to stay, and she continued to bring it up. She questioned why we couldn't give all the money away. I wanted to split the money with the charity, because it was my blood, sweat, and tears that grew the vegetables. The guilt of my own selfishness ate away at me. I decided that the stand would be Nora's and that she could do what she wanted with it, despite the fact that she still is not enjoying actually gardening at all.
After the busy Saturdays of June gave way to an open Saturday in July, I found myself asking my daughter if she was really, really, really sure she wanted to sit at a hot stand all morning. She nodded solemnly and assured me she wouldn't be shy or grumpy.
"Yeah, right," I thought, "just like you were going to help me grow all this stuff."
 The day was hot and tiring at the stand she'd named "Kids Feeding Kids" as I had predicted it would be. Although she had wilted as badly as our chard by the time it was time to pack up and go home, she was absolutely elated that most of what we'd brought had sold. She was thrilled that the other vendors seemed to adopt her. I'm sure it improved her mood to hear over and over how awesome she was from workers and customers.
It helped me to hear it too. It reminded me that it is pretty awesome that she came up with this on her own. Despite it being my hands doing the work, it was her heart. I'm glad she forced me be generous, and it looks like we'll be at the stand again in just a few days. In the meantime, I'll be watering and weeding and wishing she would ease my workload as much as she eases my conscience.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The One and Only by Emily Giffin

I was insanely excited to see the cool teal cover of Emily Giffin's new book waiting for me in the "new books" section of my local, beloved library. Emily Giffin has a knack for creating characters with hopeless flaws that you can't help but celebrate. The first book of hers that I'd read was Something Borrowed about a woman falling in love with her friend, who also happens to be her best friend's fiance. Somehow, she made me root for the impending marriage to break up and cheer for the cheaters.
The main character in The One and Only was Shea, a football addict, with an inappropriate crush on her best friend's dad who is a famous college football coach. Once again, Emily Giffin hooked and surprised me by seamlessly weaving sports through a chick lit book. The plot didn't drag through overtimes and fumbles. Instead, she had me captivated on every page and unashamedly rooting for her Shea.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Summer

It's exhausting being fun all the time. Now that Lily is old enough to tag along with just about anything and Gray will start school in the fall, I am determined to have an exorbitant amount of fun with the kids this summer. I refuse to let this summer slip by.
So far, we've been swimming and hiking. We have visited Appomattox National Battlefield, Bear Creek Lake State Park, the Farmville Visitor Center, and Longwood Center for the Visual Arts. We have caught dozens of fish, including this monster bass. We've picked a mountain of kale, lettuce, and spinach and chomped on freshly picked peppers, peas, and beans.
We have not had one day of being homebodies. During all this merriment, the laundry has piled up. Our dishwasher remains unloaded for too long, and I spend copious amounts of time searching for new adventures.
I am flying through summer with my Supermom cape trailing behind me. What's crazy to think is that they probably won't remember my efforts, especially Gray. He's only four, and these days will blur together. Meanwhile, I will try my hardest to remember every summer smile.