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

Saturday, February 25, 2012

I Volunteer to Shut Up Now

Here's the problem with helping out -- if you do a bad job, they're gonna talk about you. If you do a good job, they're gonna ask you again.

Forgive me if I sound cranky. I am coming to the end of a self-induced month of volunteer overdose. I must have said yes to a few different people in the fog between Thanksgiving and Christmas. What I failed to realize was that three big events were scheduled for the very same week. Yeah. My bad.

Another problem with volunteering is that you can't take it back. At least I'm pretty sure you can't. Will someone please let me know if there is any way to pull off un-volunteering because it's possible it would change my life.

It is not that I don't support those for whom I am volunteering. What's not to love about the Cub Scouts, my home church, and the high school musical? (I am living an episode of "Leave it to Beaver"). It is not that what I agreed to do is that big of a deal. How hard is it to make a few table decorations, coordinate a dozen crock pots, and sell some ads for a small program?

The problem is me. Or rather my mom. Yes, let's blame her. Genetics is the only way I can explain why I felt the need to make centerpieces for the Scouting banquet instead of just buying a few helium balloons and flags. It's not even logical. Every Cub Scout I know would choose balloons and flags over "cute" any day. Lord knows I wasn't trying to impress the parents. The room was full of people far more creative than I. So why in the world did I spend two weeks gathering rocks, printing photos, cutting out boy-shaped cardboard, wrestling with wire and curling ribbon?

I'll tell you why. I was raised by the original Party Planner Extraordinaire. And those genes are just too strong to fight. It's a chronic case of WWMD? each and every time I'm faced with a project. And I can tell you that Mom would squeeze the last drop out of her creative sponge every single time she party planned. There's no half way with the woman.

It was a wonderful way to grow up. Our birthday parties were one-of-a-kind theme bashes with everything handmade from invitations to party clothes to games to favors. There were time capsules, surprise this-is-your-life Sweet 16 parties, costume bashes, treasure hunts, backyard petting zoos... I could go on. And those are just the birthdays. Other holidays got the same treatment. Thanksgiving included pilgrim and American Indian costumes and a cute little poem about the corn. Christmas? Use your imagination. Then double that.

Obviously with this kind of genetic makeup I need to pace myself when volunteering. I just can't seem to help myself. And why am I still subscribing to Martha Stewart Living and Family Fun when they just exacerbate my condition? I even have, I admit it, an idea file.

New plan. Get better at turning down the opportunities to make a difference in my community. Say no to the adorable children! Absolutely not to the sweet little church ladies! Forget it to the overworked teachers! Ugh. Clearly that is not going to happen.

But at least I can keep holding out against Pinterest as long as possible. I'm afraid if I overload my idea file to that extent I will find myself knocking on doors around town and begging to do something else for free.

That is exactly WMWD.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

I'm no Hostess Cupcake

On the short list of my God-given gifts you will not find hospitality. In any form. I think it must be a combination of introversion and perfectionism, but the unannounced chime of the doorbell can send me into panic mode. What is on my list of gifts is speed cleaning in the 15 seconds before I open the door. But that's a different blog.

For a long time having people over was almost more stress than enjoyment. I say "almost" because I truly do love my friends and rarely has someone left after a visit that I regret they came. Lots of moves, lots of friends, and lots of kids have sanded down the edges of my introverted pursuit of perfection. Ten years I ago I resolved to stop apologizing for the state of my house when someone dropped by on a whim. It didn't take long  to realize how freeing that small act of self-assurance could be. The truth is that most people don't really care if there are crumbs on my floor and dog hair on the couch. And the few who do can feel sorry for me and move on.

According to my calendar we have had company every single weekend since Christmas. Just for fun I added up the number of non-family members who have joined us for at least a meal, and more than half for an overnight stay. It's 46. That's a whole lot more baking of cakes and scrubbing of sinks than would normally happen around here in eight weeks. But, hey, cleaner bathrooms and an abundance of treats is always an improvement. And the fact that many of those guests brought the kind of belly laughter that reduces me to tears is the best hostess gift of all.

My sister-in-law once gave me a sweet little figurine holding a pineapple--the symbol of hospitality. I found it  providential when a stray football knocked it off the table within a week and broke her in half. I should glue it back together but I like the way it reminds me of God's sense of humor. It tells me that the gift of hospitality will never actually be mine, but I need to do the best job I can with what I have.

It's a lesson I want my children to learn: Doing the right thing, even if (especially if) it doesn't come easily, is always worth it. Opening wide my finger-smudged door enough times helped me learn to get over myself. And made it possible for me to say with utter honesty, "I am really, really glad you came."

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Other Me

The following in no way means that I am less than 100% committed to my big, happy family. And heaven knows I would not trade this spectacularly fun, messy, whirlwind of a life for anything else.


Sometimes I venture precariously toward the edge of sanity. Well, venture may not be the best way to put it. Actually I am shoved toward that edge by those who love me most. I can't blame them since they have no idea what they are doing. Who knows why what makes me laugh one day may reduce me to Mommy-Not-So-Nice the very next.

Over the years I have learned to sense the edge. And I have discovered different ways to pull myself back to the mountaintop of happy modern motherhood. Sure, there is chocolate and exercise and reality TV to energize and distract me. There are fabulous devotional books, motivational videos and hilarious books about people who have also hung by their fingernails a time or two. All good. But I have a secret weapon.

She's my alter ego. The other me. The one who never married and never bore a child. The one who hit New York City in her 20s and rose quickly to a very comfortable lifestyle. (It just wouldn't be realistic if I said she rose all the way to the top, would it?)

I like to visit when I am feeling less than completely content in my real reality. It's very quiet in that apartment on the 39th floor. It's a loft with exposed brick, concrete floors, towering windows and no extra shoes on the floor. The books are arranged by color and dusted every week by the sweet and efficient housekeeper who also makes sure the baseboards stay clean. In every closet the hangers face the same direction and the guest room actually has room for a guest.

In my alternate reality it is usually evening after a very busy, very professionally fulfilling day. I return to my clean, quiet home and I click on HGTV. I've never even heard of "So Random" or the fact that there's an entire channel devoted to the NFL. I kick off my designer shoes and drop my designer bag onto my favorite white leather chair. I sift through interesting mail and wander into my spotless kitchen for a glass of water. The only thing on the counter is a bowl of limes. I cut one for my drink and settle down at my home office space to check my email and Facebook and maybe order something full price from My laptop actually has all of its keys.

It's quiet in here, I notice again. Even with the city noise and background television, it's just really quiet. And that moment -- poof! -- is always when I am ready to get back to the real me. That little vacation inside my own head is all I need.

I know who I could have been. And I know who I am. And though it might be a really close call some days, I know which one I like better.