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.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Another Day, Another Flood.

We just flooded our second bathroom in less than a month.

The first was a surprise when I got home from a trip. "Guess what happened while you were gone Mom? Lucy overflowed the sink!"

The second was a different kind of bathroom flood - I'll spare you most of the details, but this time it was not the sink that overflowed, if you know what I mean.

When we moved into this house, all the bathrooms were carpeted in a light-beige (although maybe it was originally white) carpet. But given how much money we spent moving in and how we have really been trying to stay true to the "if we don't need it we don't get it until we have our financial goals met" model, the carpet was set to stay on my bathroom floors for at least a couple of years.

Do you ever have those prayers that you wonder if should really bother God with? I do - like "please let me get a close parking spot for school pickup today," or "if you could help me get this dinner on the table without burning it, that would be great." Well the older I get, the more I believe that no prayer is too small, because He answers so many of my insignificant requests. The lesson I'm learning though, is to be careful what you ask for....

Many times I can remember mentioning to God that it would be nice to have new floors in the bathroom someday. Someday. I didn't mean for our two-year-old to turn on the sink and leave it running until it dripped three floors to the basement. I didn't mean for our three-year-old to put almost an entire roll of toilet paper in and cause an overflow during what was supposed to be my nap time. But once I sopped up the mess, ripped out the carpet and sat back and thought about it, I looked up. "That's not really what I meant God - I could have waited another year or two and missed out on cleaning up that grossness."

I know you could argue that God has nothing to do with my bathroom floods, that it's just all circumstance. But I've seen too many of my prayers answered in unexpected ways to believe that it's a coincidence.

There was a time when a flooded bathroom would have sent me into mini-despair because of the money it costs and the stress that comes from an unexpected house project. But today I recognize that God doesn't answer my prayers in the way I think He should. He just answers them. It's taken years for me learn to recognize Him, but I choose to see God in these little things, because then He is easier for me to find during the really hard times. If I can spot Him in my flooded bathroom, then I know better how to find Him when the truly dark times arrive.

It is in the silence that I hear His voice, but I can see His fingerprints all over the messes of every day.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The jig is up.

It's the end of an era. Today, Rachel figured out the truth about St. Nicholas and/or Santa. To be fair, she's been suspicious for a year or so but after this morning, she is no longer on the fence.

Back story: We have never lied to our kids about the existence of Santa and St. Nicholas. We told them that Santa was actually created from a real person and we've told them who St. Nicholas was and every time they ask about Santas they see around, we always tell them it is a person in a costume. Still, they wanted to believe in the magic and we just decided to let it runs its course. It's so fun to see their eyes light up, to listen to the stories they create and let their imaginations run wild. Plus who wants to be the one to tell a little kid that their fantasy isn't real? So we just let it last as long as it could.

Anyway, St. Nicholas brought all of my children socks on his feast a couple of days ago. They were pretty over the moon about these new socks - you would have thought we lived in poverty and my kids don't get their basic needs met, because on the morning of St. Nicholas Day, there were cries of "yeah socks! I have been wanting these for so long! I can't wait to try them on!"

I have a feeling we won't be able to ride that gravy train for too many more years before we start hearing "seriously? socks?" But for now, we're living it up and letting them believe that socks are the kind of thing you ask for for Christmas.

Well, this morning, Jonah was wearing his prized new socks and wanted to go out and get the paper.

"Put on your shoes," Gary said. "I don't want you to ruin those new socks I...." trailed off into silence.

Jonah didn't notice, but Rachel looked up from her toast.

"What?!" she said. "I knew it!"

Gary tried to change the subject. "You see this awesome hotel in this magazine Rachel? Can believe how enormous it is?"

Rachel looked at me and rolled her eyes. "He's trying to change the subject, but it's not going to work. I know. Did you hear that Dad?"

"I'm ignoring you," Gary said from behind his magazine.

"Doesn't matter, I figured it out," she said and smugly finished her toast. "Pass the comics please."

She has no idea of the enormity of the moment for me. But I guess eight years was a pretty good run for Old St. Nick.
Rachel, Christmas 2005. Eleven months old.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

My first post.... I am only eight to ten years behind the trend.

Ever since I began my love affair with Facebook, I have taken personal joy in posting funny/embarrassing things that happen to me and to my family, and recently people have asked me about doing a blog. I have long thought that blogs were pretty self-centered and wondered why anyone would want to read someone else's musings and personal insights, but to be honest, I am trying to put off sewing the five blankets I decided to make for Christmas. So here it is - the day I start my blog. 


I am a person of order and quiet. I like things a certain way and I like the appearance of perfection. It has long been a blessing and a curse. I appear put together to the outside world, but inside is a constant comparison, a feeling that there is always more to be done and a fear that others will see that I am not perfect and then .... well then what? Stop being my friend? Judge me? Realize I have flaws? It's ridiculous. So in my perfect, ordered world, God saw what I needed, and I fell in love with a man who is constantly late, loves change, and is almost never quiet. He is spontaneous, outgoing, and pushes the boundaries of social propriety. But he is also funny, generous, charming and quick to forgive. 

I remember our very first fight... we were putting up a Christmas tree together in the house we had just bought. I wanted an angel-themed, blue and silver tree and Gary wanted to put up all of his home-made, paper, and mismatched ornaments from his childhood. I cried, I insisted, he didn't back down. I was convinced the tree would look ugly, he didn't care. He wanted all of those old ornaments on our tree. At the time I was absolutely positive he was wrong, now I know it was me. 

And then God sent me four children in seven years. Children who throw tantrums and pick out their own clothes. Children who say embarrassing things in public and refuse to wear the perfect outfits I pick out for them. But who are amazingly brilliant, loving, funny and adorable. And as my life became busier, my rules became impossible to maintain, and I began to see that most of the things I worried about didn't even matter. It only took eight or nine years, but I began to embrace that chaos was a part of my life. And even though there are days when the only thing I want is perfectly clean, quiet house, this life I have is the best life I could have imagined.

It's true, now my carpet has stains, my ceiling fans are dusty, my children leave the house in mismatched and sometimes dirty clothes, there are days when half-naked toddlers answer my door, and almost all of my dishes have chips in them, but at least I can laugh at the madness, find peace in the noise and realize that nothing is perfect, and most certainly not me.