Life is absurd. And life is precious. Family is a lot of both.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Stress Relief Can Be Risky

The other day I ran across a pithy little on-line list of "Quick Ways to Relieve Stress". I found it hilarious. You will too if you have children. Or even hyperactive pets. Except that you can put them in a kennel. But I digress.

Here's what they promised would relieve your stress.

The advice: Take a 10-minute catnap. Lie down on the floor if possible.
Why it's funny: Lying down on the floor invites the pitter patter of little feet. On your throat. Sleeping would be downright dangerous. For that is exactly when they will stage their coup. You will likely awaken bound, gagged and friendless.

The advice: Visualize your favorite place. Imagine the sights, sounds and smells.
The funny part: Go ahead and close your eyes and imagine the snowy peaks of a mountain range. But good luck conjuring up the smell of pine trees and the sound of hoot owls over the wet dog and slamming doors/cabinets/toilet seats. You need to go to a quiet, clean place for this one. But, wait...then you wouldn't need it.

The advice: Vigorously massage your own neck and forehead.
The irony: Massage is great whether it's cheapo self-massage or expensive-o professional massage in a quiet, clean place. The massage is not the problem. The fact that the effects wear off about 2.5 seconds after  you see your children again is the problem.

The advice: Control your breathing by lying on the floor, closing your eyes, deeply inhaling and holding your breath for eight seconds.
The problem: See Tip #1 and add on the fun the kids will have popping you like a balloon when they jump on your stomach. I'll say it again: CLOSE YOUR EYES AT YOUR OWN RISK.

Last weekend I experimented with lying on the floor.
It took less than 30 seconds for them to attack.
The advice: Make up new ways to do old things to relieve both stress and boredom.
The so-stupid-it's-funny part: Um... parents don't get bored. Certainly not bored enough to make up a new way to do something. The goal is doing nothing. And the tried and true way to do nothing works just fine.

The advice: Sing in the shower.
The Do I really have to spell this out? part: The kids will figure out immediately where you are hiding and come find you. Gifted children will pick the lock.

The advice: Develop hobbies because feeling competent and in control is relaxing.
The part that still has me laughing: How silly. What's better for producing feelings of competency and control than parenting? Who could possibly handle more relaxation that that?!

The advice: Stretching exercises are good for relaxation.
And it all comes full circle: It's pretty hard to stretch without putting your head down. And if you put your head down, you might as well just go ahead, close your eyes and take a nap.

And we all know that what happens next is not exactly relaxing...

I can't believe they pay people to write this stuff. (The "Quick Ways to Relieve Stress" stuff. Not the blog stuff. Just want to make that clear.)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Next Erma Bombeck

Anyone who writes a mommy blog (and could we come up with a better name, by the way?) has heard someone say, "You could be the next Erma Bombeck."

Yes! Pick me. Pick me. I dearly want to be the next Erma.

I just attended the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop this month in Dayton, Ohio. We were 350 writers and wannabes who met for seminars, encouragement, inspiration and tips. It was a grand party where everyday people like me got to listen to and rub elbows with Pulitzer Prize winners, Hollywood writers, uber-successful freelancers and even (in my case) share an elevator with Betsy Bombeck, Erma's daughter. It was hard to leave when it was over.

I spent much of the ride home thinking about Erma. Wondering if there ever could be another one like her. I doubt that her brand of gentle humor would garner much attention in the midst of our in-your-face television and potty-mouth blogs teeming with--what I'm fairly certain Erma would deem--way, way too much information. Does anyone still laugh along with sweet and funny stories from the suburbs? I know plenty of people laugh AT them. But WITH them? I'm not so sure.

We talked a lot at the workshop about a writer's voice. Since I had three nights of genuine peace and quiet I had more than a passing moment to ponder my own voice as a writer. I read back through my blogs, old articles, and even Facebook status updates. And, frankly, I'm afraid my voice might be outdated. It is gentle. Humorous, yes, I'd like to think so. But I guess my mission statement wrote itself without me giving it much thought. When pressed to put it into words at another workshop seminar, here was my first draft:

Life is absurd. And life is precious. And family is a lot of both. It's fragile too. So fragile that it possibly cannot withstand biting, sarcastic poking fun. I have tears in my eyes usually when I think about my family. Sometimes from pain, sometimes from laughter, sometimes from fear, sometimes from relief. But the tears are okay; they soften the view. That's the view I want to write about and remember.

1993 - Brand new baby, brand new mama.

Yes, I want to be the next Erma. I wouldn't mind wide syndication, a shelf full of books with my byline, a million dollars of thanks, and a personal secretary. I'm betting that along with those things come a private office and a computer with all of its keys. I would jump at all of that in a minute.

But thanks to my time at the workshop I know why I really want to be like Erma. Her sweet, stoop-shouldered husband and all three of her middle-aged children stood in front of us at different times. They each read an essay of their choice that she had written about them and their little family. Each one laughed. And then each one cried. And how much she loved them came pouring through those words even 16 years after her death.

I know her words are kept on millions of bookshelves. But they are kept on her family's hearts forever more. And I am certain that Erma would say that is really all that matters.

Though a private office would be a nice second. I'm certain Erma would agree with that too.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Ode to the Pedicure

It must be soothing, I think,
As I admire the pink
On all my friend's spring-perfect toes.

To soak my sore feet
while in a big, comfy seat
At the nail place where everyone goes.

I'm so tempted by bubbles
To ignore all the troubles
That begin at the balls of my feet.

My heels are just swell.
The bottoms as well.
But my toes to the world I can't mete.

They're squashy and bumpy
And mismatched and lumpy.
And, worse, each has a miniscule nail.

No soaking nor sloughing
Nor rubbing nor buffing
Can remedy my sad travail.

Was ballet to blame?
Other girls did the same
Without ruining their piggies for good.

The miles and miles run?
Others have been there and done
And their toenails still look like they should.

No flip flops for me.
In ballet flats I'll be.
My toes stay in hiding year round.

So jealous I'm green
Of the toes I have seen.
How I wish for tootsies unbound.

It is not inherited--
My need to stay inhibited--
For my family all have perfect toes.

It is simply my curse?
I suppose it could be worse.
For it's impossible to cover a nose!

My friend's perfect pedicure--just one who makes me jealous.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Defined by Love

The other day I was praising my lawn boy (aka the Superman I married) about the brick border he'd just finished placing around a new flowerbed.

"I knew you'd like it," he said, "because you really like defined spaces."

It was one of those moments that happens more and more often now that we've been married longer than we haven't been. One of those moments that proves that guy knows me better than I know myself at times.

He was exactly right about my yen for defined spaces, but I had never really thought about it. So I started to think about other things he has illuminated simply by living so intimately with me. Let's just say he's the mirror in my fun house.

I look better with longer hair. He's never actually said those words to me or offered anything but, "Hey, great haircut." when I come home from the salon. It is, after all, my hair. But over the years I've noticed that his most sincere compliments come when it is a certain length. And when I  look back at photos I realize he knows what he's talking about. It only makes sense that the person who looks at me the most would know how I look best.

I can work out harder. There is a certain sparkle that man gets in his eyes when I have pushed myself to my outer limits. He appreciates that many days leave me too exhausted to even contemplate purposeful exercise, but when I do hit it--and hit it hard--he is my biggest fan. My single greatest physical accomplishment was running a marathon at eight weeks pregnant on the day after my 40th birthday. I felt like I could never exercise again in my life and call it good. He high-fived me, gushed over my medal, and said simply, "I knew you could do it. No sweat." Which, weirdly, was exactly what I needed to hear in order to keep from retiring to the bon bons and elastic waistbands.

I stink at making pancakes. It's a known fact in our house that I don't make hot breakfasts. I don't want to completely spoil these children and I feel a cold daily breakfast is a good start. Plus my pancakes never turn out right. Superman, however, makes amazing pancakes and omelettes. It used to bother me that he one-upped me in the kitchen that way. Now I realize it is his way of simultaneously giving me the morning off and endearing himself forever to his poor, hungry children.

Sometimes being a good mom means walking away. This is possibly the biggest benefit to being married so long and having so many children. He can communicate--with one look--the following: "Sweetie, you are a great mother, but right now you need to get out of here and take a break. I've got this. Scram." I love him so much for this that at times I am moved to tears. Yes, a break is often exactly what I need to make things better for all of us.

Short cuts can be dangerous. I pride myself on being efficient. It's a form of self-preservation around here but I will confess that occasionally short cuts have brought trouble upon me. By contrast, Superman is the most thorough individual I think I've ever known. He reads instructions carefully, labels and files everything, and plots and plans with extreme attention to detail before he ever begins a project. This makes me crazy at times. But I can see that I need his craziness in order to balance out my own. I will admit a little scoffing on my part when he poured double the concrete to make a foundation for the kids' playset. I am convinced a tornado would not budge the thing. I would likely have picked up a pre-fab set at a big box store, put a couple of sandbags around the legs and called it good. But when I sit outside and watch the kids scamper on the slide and swings he built, the payoff of his careful planning makes me happy. Happy enough to admit that he was right.

As we walked inside the other afternoon I asked, "So what exactly made you realize that I like defined spaces?"

"Cemeteries," he said.

"What?" I asked.

"You always shudder and complain when we pass one without fences," he explained. "Like you're afraid the bodies are going to roll out of there or something. It's weird."

Exactly! It's so nice to have someone who understands me.