Thursday, May 10, 2012

Happy Mother's Day!

Who picked the date for Mother's Day? The fact that it falls at the end of the school year, and right on the midst of graduation season, seems like poor planning.

If I had to choose the perfect Mother's Day weekend, it would involve an entire day at the spa, a bottle of riesling, homemade pasta (made by someone else), dark chocolate, reading on a hammock, and hours of uninterrupted rest.

But mothers know that usually our ideal is not reality. So my Mother's Day weekend is planned to go a little something like this: graduation party, camping at the lake, graduation party, graduation party, drive home.

Early in my marriage and mothering, I had very specific ideas of how I wanted things to go. I imagined ideal situations and worked my hardest to make sure they happened just as I had pictured. Through the years, I have had to learn to simply enjoy things as they come (although, I still have a long way to go - ask Gary 30 minutes before we are to host a party). I miss out on so much beauty when I spend all of my energy working to achieve an ideal that is in my mind, rather than enjoying the path laid out before me. The greatest lesson that Gary and my children have taught me is that enjoying every moment, even those moments that are not going according to plan, is what makes a beautiful life.

I could stand my ground this weekend, turn down invitations, send Gary and the kids to camp, while I stay home and live the dream, but what kind of Mother's Day would that be? I would miss seeing family I haven't seen in a while, miss waking up freezing cold on Saturday morning, next to a child who has probably peed in his sleeping bag, miss eating bagels outside while the sun comes up, miss celebrating what it is that makes me a mother. So I will pack the car, load the cooler, eat my weight in graduation cake, and celebrate Mother's Day.

I'm not completely giving up on my vision though. I think when I get home on Sunday night, I'll paint my toenails and drink a glass of wine to celebrate what motherhood has taught me - that you can't plan perfect moments, you just have to live every day in thanksgiving, with your eyes wide open, so you don't miss those moments when they happen.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Adventures in turtle-ing: Episode 2.

How we came to know that Bucky is a boy.

5:55 p.m. The turtle is pointed out to me at church and I (despite my great dislike for touching reptiles) pick up the turtle and place him carefully in a bucket. I call Gary to tell him that if he wants to be a hero, he can bring the kids to church after dinner to come pick him up.

I was in my meeting at this point, so my information is secondhand. I have a pretty reliable source, so I can vouch for it's accuracy.

6:15 p.m. Gary loads the kids in the van, having told them they are on their way to get a pet. Four children talk at once, many questions are being asked, and there is much anticipation.

6:16 p.m. The van does not start.  Not to be deterred, Gary loads kids in the wagon and begins the walk to church.

6:45 p.m. Everyone is home, turtle in tow. First order of business - take the turtle across the street and introduce him to the neighbors' turtle. Maybe they can share a box!

6:50 p.m. The turtle are placed together while seven children and three parents gather to observe.

6:51 p.m. It becomes clear that it is mating season and our turtle "gets to know" the neighbors' turtle. Clearly, ours is the male.

6:52 p.m. The parents exchange looks and some laughter. They decide it's best to separate the turtles, but that is easier said than done. (I was not actually there, but I can imagine the banter between the parents... "Oh, what are they doing? Those crazy turtles! Better get them their own boxes..." Finally, they are apart and our turtle, now named Bucky, is taken home. A box is found - he is given food and water. Everyone heads up to bed.

8:10 p.m. I arrive home to find Rachel waiting for me. "Guess what Mom?" she says. "We have a turtle and it's a boy turtle. We took him over to the Chrislips' and he climbed right on top of their turtle. He was really strong and Dad couldn't even get him off!"

"Maybe they were fighting," I reply.

"They were definitely not fighting," she says. "I think our turtle likes their turtle. It's called mating."

Thank you PBS and National Geographic for providing such a solid biology lesson to my children. Job well done. Now, if only you could teach them to clean their rooms.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Adventures in turtle-ing. Episode 1.

After our neighbors found a turtle in their yard, my kids spent the better part of two days searching for a turtle of their own.

After a frustrating afternoon and one tear-filled evening, I suggested they take it to prayer.

"Dear God," said Rachel. "Please help us find a pet. A turtle, an inch worm, I don't care."

The next night, a little begrudgingly, I attended a meeting at church (it was beautiful outside and I just wanted to stay home and have a glass of wine on my patio)

But there, in front of the church, was a turtle. Of course, I didn't see it right away - someone had to point it out to me. But that's how it is with God sometimes, we don't always see Him working.

We have brought Bucky home and he is receiving more love and attention than any turtle ever has. (We know he is a boy. More on that later.)

Thursday, April 19, 2012

It's best not to watch my process

You know those beautiful blogs from women who seem to effortlessly pull off beautiful crafts with their children who are perfectly groomed, all while taking lovely photographs capturing the entire amazing process? I always wonder how they appear to have such tranquil, uninterrupted lives. Are they magicians? Do they lock their doors so no one thinks they are home? Do they live far from civilization where solitude is the norm? Well, I am not one of those women. I suppose I could post pictures, cropping out certain details, but the truth is, this is how craft time goes at our house....

It's 3 p.m. on a glorious afternoon and my children and I go outside to make clothespin people for our Easter decorations. We need to make 12 disciples, one angel, one Jesus and four women. Good times. Rachel has called dibs on the women and Jonah has claimed Jesus.

At 3 p.m. we sit in the sun. It's hotter than we thought and by 3:15 we are baking. I am tired already because three children asking for different fabric at the same time has overwhelmed me. My poor iced coffee that I made is just melting as I watch.

3:20 p.m. Lucy emerges from her nap. Pantless in the front yard. Luckily the neighbors aren't surprised - they've seen this before. Still I *try* to promote modesty even in two year olds, so I shuffle her into the house to get dressed.

3:30 p.m. We have moved to the shade. Mary is almost finished, Jesus has two faces (one will be colored over with hair soon) and Henry is deciding if his person should be Peter or John. We settle on Peter.

3:35 p.m. The neighbors come out to play basketball. All boys and Lucy abandon the project. Rachel continues and makes another woman. I am trying to channel my inner Padre Pio and help children cross the street while also helping Rachel with the hot glue gun.

3:45 p.m. Rachel leaves to play basketball. I put the supplies in a chair to save for later.

By 4:30 p.m. we have all come home, hot, tired and hungry. We must clean up the mess, start dinner and clean up ourselves. And we aren't finished with our people. This is setting up to be a sparsely attended Easter morning.

Between 4:30 and 5:30, I receive eight phone calls, two doorbell rings, pick up a screaming child three times and help complete one more woman and one angel.

By the time Gary arrives, we have scooped up all the supplies and cleaned up the kitchen. The table is set and we are ready to display our artistic, yet incomplete, creation.


It is now several weeks later. Easter is over, we celebrated with joy. We are finally finished with our project but I have not taken a single photo. Know this though.... right now my kitchen is clean and so are my children. We have handcrafted a hands-on learning tool and I am a super mother. (Two of the four are true, but there are no pictures to prove which ones, so you will just have to guess....)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Today Pinterest almost killed me.

I have a new love affair with Pinterest. But I do not just like to get ideas, I like to take action. So, since my obsession began, I have been doing project after project, inspired by this site. My favorites are the ones I can do with things I already own.

I have done this.
And this....
 And this. 
And so many many more. I cannot stop myself.

So yesterday I decided to do a craft with my kiddos when they got home from school. It was too cold to play outside and I was putting up Valentine's decorations, so I thought I would combine an art project with decorating and make Valentine stained glass. The idea is genius. Take old tissue paper and tear it up. Mix Elmer's glue with water and use a paint brush to paint the glue on the window. Press the tissue paper on the glue and voila! 

In my mind, we were going to make giant hearts on all of the sunroom windows - one window per child. It was going to be beautiful and festive. I announced the project to my children.

"Guess what guys? We are going to make stained glass hearts on the windows!"

"Yay!" says Rachel. "But do we have to make hearts?"

Cue the sound of my vision crashing to the floor.

I should interrupt to say that I really believe that art should be free expression for children. I prefer blank paper to coloring books. I truly believe that children's creativity should not be limited and that they should be allowed to express themselves through their artistic creations. But, even though I subscribe to this philosophy, it goes against my very nature to actually carry it out. So, I had to fight with all my might to say the following.

"I guess not. What would you like to make?"

"Butterflies, I think."

"I want to make a sword!" says Jonah.

"Me too!" says Henry.

"And a throwing star!"

"Are you sure you don't want to do a heart? It could be awesome..." one last, desperate plug for my vision.

"No I want a fish!" says Lucy.

"Oh, and a gun!" cries Jonah.

"Um, we aren't making stained-glass guns." I have to draw the line somewhere....

So, off we went to the sunroom. And despite my inner voice crying out that this is not what I had in mind, we began.
A sword
A sword and a cross
A butterfly
A fish.
I had to bite my tongue a hundred times to make myself let them do whatever they wanted. The only time I stepped in was when Lucy just wanted to paint the entire window with glue.

They painted. They pasted. They made a huge mess. They were happy.

I didn't get my Valentine's decoration. But I got stained glass. And my children got to be creative. 

And it's better than perfect. Plus, I can leave it up past Valentine's day. :)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

There is a toilet in my living room.

That title is not a metaphor. There is actually a toilet in my living room right now. It is nestled between the piano and the fireplace and it is staring at me.

When it showed up there this afternoon, I immediately wanted to yell to someone to move it, but then when I noticed the two men (Gary and his brother) who were in the process of working on the new bathroom floor, I decided to bide my time and be patient (even though it was already driving me crazy).

Unfortunately, it's dark now, my brother-in-law is gone, and Gary is watching a movie. It's going to take several days to get the floor laid, but there the toilet sits, staking its claim on that corner of the living room. The worst part is that I can see it from the couch, so there is no way to avoid noticing it.

"How long is this going to be here?" 

"I don't have any idea," my husband mumbles from the couch.

"Well, there are a lot of other places I would rather it be. Even our bedroom is a better choice than the living room."

No answer.

I have worked for nine years to not be a nagging wife. Not that I have succeeded every day - I have been known to harp on more than one ocassion. But I try really hard. So right now I'm biting my tongue. I'm getting a new bathroom floor out of the deal. There is poverty and homelessness, neither of which I suffer from. I should be able to move past this and deal with a toilet in my living room for a few days.

Loud heavy sigh.

No response from the couch.

I know that I take a stand on some pretty silly things. For example, I expect that the blinds in the kitchen be raised to the same height (it looks trashy from the street if your blinds are not level). But I think I might not be asking too much on this one.

I'm sitting here reasoning it out.

He worked hard on this today. It's a long project - be patient.

Try to get past it - maybe it's not that big of a deal. Maybe no one will notice.

It is a big deal!

People will notice!

Maybe it will be nice to have an extra place to sit in the living room this week, since we will probably have visitors.

Maybe my two year old will actually use it to go potty.

I don't think I can let this one go. Maybe if I keeping sighing, he will take the hint. Maybe I'll show him this post and then he'll move it.

If it's not moved by the morning, one of two things will happen. Either I will break my resolution to refrain from nagging, or I will be spending my morning dragging a toilet into my office.

I may be embracing this philosophy of rolling with the punches and dealing with imperfections, but a girl's got to draw the line somewhere. I've decided my line is a commode in the living room.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

One big, decently-fed family

For most of us, Christmas starts next week. Probably Friday or Saturday. That's when you get off work, go see family and have family come see you. For me it starts on Wednesday (the day after tomorrow). The first Mersmann comes to town and two more Mersmanns will quickly follow when their finals are finished later in the week.

It's no secret that my family and Gary's family are different. We have a lot in common - both love kids and each other, both big Catholic families, both come from simple beginnings and value hard work, intelligence and a sense of humor. We both grew up on lots of beans, but not a lot of meat, received used presents at Christmas time and drove embarrassing beaters as our high school cars. We both wore clothes from the Goodwill and were never the envy of our friends when it came to our high fashion. We both have stories of sleeping in a huge pile on the floor in the only room with an air conditioner. But that's kind of where it ends.

My family is painfully punctual and many times early. Gary's family is predictable late to everything. My family values efficiency and getting the job done, Gary's family values the journey more than the destination. So when you are the wife and many times the host of family gatherings, it's a balancing act when we all get together. When we have a birthday party, I plan two parts - the first half of the party is for the Mersmanns - make sure everything is ready an hour early and have lots of appetizers to hold us over. Somewhere in the middle, the Pratts show up, and as soon as the party has officially ended, most of the Mersmanns are heading for the door. But that's when the Pratt party begins, so I pull out my reserves - the meal I knew I would need - and get ready to serve the soup, roast, sandwiches... whatever is appropriate for the after-party.

In the first years of our marriage, I didn't know what to do. I always ran out of food - spent too much on last-minute pizza and takeout and was generally stressed out when both of our families got together. But just like everything about my life, as soon as I let go of perfection, I was able to enjoy the craziness.

I'm writing my shopping list today - planning for at least two weeks of dinner guests. There will be lots of Mersmanns here before and after Christmas and even though their plans aren't secured, I am expecting Pratts on several days as well. To be honest I really have no idea how many people to expect for dinner on any given night between now and New Year's.

It might sound daunting, but I've learned a few secrets over the years.
1. Fresh veggies: They are a cheap, healthy appetizer and if you can kind of get people full before the meal starts, then you don't need as much food to go around.
2. Bread: Great filler, comparatively cheap, everyone loves it.
3. The Smorgasboard approach: Prepare a regular meal, but hold on to those leftovers. Then when you have one or two or three guests, pull out said leftovers and serve up a feast. True, everyone only gets a little bit of each thing, but everyone gets full. Spaghetti with a side of refried beans anyone?
4. Ice cream: See bread. And if you have a 99 cent box of brownie mix to toss in the oven, suddenly everyone feels like this is truly a special dinner. No matter how terrible the main dish might have been, ice cream and warm chocolate make every meal delicious.

I'l have you know, this is completely counter to my nature. The idea of serving tacos with leftover mashed potatoes and gravy used to hurt my heart. It's not a proper meal! They don't go together! But I had to decide which would be the most important to me - a meal to make Rachael Ray proud, or a meal where anyone feels welcome.

I'm still a work in progress, and I know that I'm not always the most gracious. Sometimes when the doorbell rings at 5 p.m., my heart still drops - I don't love when my plans get changed. But as soon as the food is on the table, no matter what it is, we have a wonderful time. I hope it's the same for my guests... it must be, or they would not keep stopping by. It's common knowledge that dinner at the Pratt house is served at 5:30.  You might get half of a hamburger and one spoon of lasagna, a teaspoon of peas and three pieces of bread, but there will always be a place at the table.