About A Birthday

JQbirthday

This weekend we celebrating JQ’s birthday. We themed the party with his favorite things–BBQ ribs, dirt and bouncing. I even got a little bounce house and my friends all told me, very kindly, but firmly that I had become that person. That person who goes over the top for birthdays. I know this is true. I can’t help it. We all have our crazy. Mine is a birthday. When Ellis turned one, I spent the week prior, planning the perfect balloon arch and mapping out how I wanted the tables laid out in the church. It had to be the church, I’d invited too many people for our house.  When she turned two, I spent the week prior creating the perfect Curious George-themed labels for the the water bottles. I’ve learned a few things about birthdays–No one cares about labels. Make sure the kids can go crazy.

Kids did go crazy. The pool outside got filled with mud several times. At one point, a little boy walked over and flipped off the switch to the bounce house while four kids where inside, prompting me to scream out his name and for him to stare at me in fear and immediately flip the switch back on.

Celebrating little JQ has been so special this year in a different way than it was with Ellis. Not because we love them any differently, but because of what a year it has been. Only a month after JQ was born, I saw a lovely woman lose her newborn son. In February, another friend of mine lost hers 11 month old son. Right now, someone I know is gearing up to fight for her own son, a fight that seems life and death, but is taking place in a courtroom and not a hospital.  In February, on a particularly brutal day, as I recounted to my dad all the heartache that I’ve felt this year, I suddenly realized how much more they had endured. They’ve had friends lose children as well this past year, tragically and senselessly. They too have been to funerals. They have watched their own children experience pain unending. “Why children?” I asked. “It’s all such heartbreak.”

He just hugged me. It’s no sort of answer, but every sort of assurance.

I never really planned on having children. When I married Dave I told him he had to be okay with the possibility of never having children. He said he was, although, I’m sure he knew better. He claims he doesn’t remember this. But I have it documented in a journal. Anyway, he’s always been more level-headed. I think, in some way, children for me have been an unexpected adventure. They were never something I envisioned for my life and nothing I ever felt really prepared for. So, I often find myself at the end of everyday thinking, how am I here? How am I in this moment of Cheerios on my feet and a three-year-old shouting at the top of the stairs that “creepy aliens” are coming in through the windows?

Sometimes, I mean those questions in a kind of terrified way. But more often than not, I mean them in an amazed sort of way. I remember hearing an interview with David Rakoff (who was dying of cancer), where he quoted another writer, Melissa Bank: “‘The only proper answer to ‘Why me?’ is ‘Why not you?’…You can’t win all the contests and then lose at one contest and say, ‘Why am I not winning this contest as well?’ It’s random. So truthfully, again, do I wish it weren’t me? Absolutely. I still can’t make that logistic jump to thinking there’s a reason why it shouldn’t be me.”

And this seemed like a reasonable sort of logic. So, whenever I see myself in place of good or ill, I always ask “Why?” but then, I ask, “Why not?” Why not a blessing? Why not pain? Why not this little person, with a wide grin toothy grin and hands that want the world?  Why not this curve of a pink cheek? Why not this mashed banana on my floor and a little girl in a princess dress shaking her booty to the fox song? Why not this breaking heart?

I think I feel all of this so much more acutely because I had a miscarriage right before I had JQ. I always feel like I need to apologize for saying that. Because I wouldn’t have even known I was pregnant if I hadn’t felt weird while running one day and peed on a stick. And I was pregnant and then I wasn’t. And then, I was again. And it was such a weird yo-yo. But it’s the contrast to this bright, active little life I’m now raising. I don’t think about it always. But then again, there will always be that part of me there flushing away blood.

Sometimes, I feel like life is just breaking yourself into pieces. There are parts of me that have been broken off and left behind always in those moment of greatest joy and greatest pain. I will always be in that moment of a cold November night, when Dave spun me around underneath the stars and asked me to marry him. I’m also always in that dorm room, holding the phone, trying not to smash it against the wall, hearing what that man did to my sister. So much of life is just breaking and leaving pieces of you behind in your wake. But maybe it’s also finding parts of you. There is this legend found in Jewish mysticism that I’ve always loved. I forget how it goes precisely, but the gist is this: In the beginning, God’s light was shattered into an infinite number of pieces and spread all over the world. It is our job to gather the fallen sparks, the little trails of God that we see everywhere. I used to think that gathering the light meant doing BIG things. Digging a well. Saving a life. But lately, I feel like the pieces of God in my life are small. Very small. They are lying on the floor while Ellis builds a castle around me. They are my 5am’s with JQ, while he whisper’s “Dadada” and falls asleep. It’s Dave making a ridiculous joke and then waiting for me to laugh with his eyebrows raised.

So, this year has been one of breaking and putting back together. Of course, that’s dramatic to say, when all I’ve been actually doing, is not sleeping, writing for the internet, trying to figure out if that spot is poop or dried banana, and wiping dirt out of my baby’s mouth.  But maybe that’s why I like birthdays. I can indulge the drama in me a little and drape the house in tulle for my princess and get a bounce house for my crazy baby. We can eat cake and mark the passing of another year of breaking and another year of finding light.

And I really love cake.

And so does my baby. Especially dirt cake, which I made for him, because obviously.dirtcake

So, we celebrated a little life this weekend. A little life that is so insatiable. His hands are always reaching. His fingers always pointing. He is always needing–to be picked up, to eat, to sleep, to have precisely what his sister has, to bite an electrical cord, to climb into a dishwasher, to open the fridge, to cry when he shuts the fridge on himself. His needs exhaust me. His needs break me apart and put me back together. So, we celebrated that, but mostly we just bounced and ate ribs and cleaned dirt out of everything.

 

 

Doing Things With Kids

crazy Doing things with kids is the worst. Not all the time, of course, I really like taking my kids to carnivals and filling them up with funnel cake and then watching them puke it all out on the carousel. I also, really loooove hauling them to the pool only to have them beg to sit in the chairs and eat snacks for the next two hours. But, somehow, no matter how hard or how well I plan, something always happens that turns a simple run  to the grocery store into Mutiny on the Bounty. I run out to the store for just a gallon of milk and the baby poops on the cart and my daughter begins sobbing in the cheese aisle.

Here are some examples of what I mean.

Signing Up for a Race Without Kids: I sign up online. I run the race.

Signing Up for a Race With Kids: For some reason the online form isn’t working. Email and call the race organizers and reach no one. Decide to sign up at the packet pick-up the day before the race. Bring both kids with me downtown. It takes ten minutes to find a parking spot three blocks away. Get out of the car and realize the stroller isn’t in the back. Carry the baby and pull Ellis along two blocks* in 90 degree heat and up three flights of stairs to the packet pick up. Wait in line for the form. Sit at the table to fill out the form. The baby immediately crawls away into a display of shoes. Ellis begins crying because of the mess. Pick up baby, let him crew on my credit card while filling out the form. Almost finished filling out the form, when a sharp pain shoots through my leg. Look down, the baby is no longer chewing on the credit card and is chewing on me. Also, I just swore in front of 50 strangers.

Pick up the baby and wrangle Ellis to the line again. Get to the front and are told, no credit cards. Cash or Check. I have neither. Give the woman a desperate look. Take both kids out of the building, down the block to the nearest bank. Enter the bank only to be told their ATM isn’t working. Hustle both kids back outside. To another bank, farther away. Get money. Walk back to the packet pick up. On the way back, Ellis notices a feather in the street and becomes so overcome with fear that the “magical feather” will get hit by a car, that she throws herself to the sidewalk in anguish. Try to pull her up. Realize that the baby has dumped the entire contents of my wallet on the sidewalk. Pick up wallet contents. Drag Ellis who is crying because the feather was hit by a car. The baby begins crying too, because why the hell not?

Get back to packet pick up. Shove the money at the lady, who hands me the packet with a look of irritation in her eyes that SHE HAS NOT EARNED. Walk over to the T-shirt lady, who insists on trying to talk me into a Medium shirt, rather than a small. Because she just thinks I will be happier with it. She can’t see this, but the hand that is holding the baby is giving her the finger. I get the small. Ellis is now twirling in the middle of the room and will only come to me if I address her as “Your royal highness, get over here now!”

Get home. Tell the story to The Dave, who immediately gets upset about the ATM fee I incurred. Speak to no one for the next 15 hours.

Going to the Store Without Kids: Walk into the store, pick up milk. Purchase milk. Walk out of the store.

Going to the Store With Kids: Walk into the store, strap both kids into the shopping cart. Ellis begins fussing because she wants to sit in the giant cart that looks like the Titanic and boasts of the same steering capacity. The baby is crying because he likes being strapped down for NOTHING.  Promise them both cookies if they just shut up and focus. All we need is milk. Begin walking back to the dairy section. Notice that bananas are on sale, pick up bananas. Remember there is no thawed meat for dinner, pick up some chicken. Notice the baby licking a snot bubble and recall that I need tissues and veer into the tissue aisle. The citizens begin their coup. The baby is reaching out to grab everything off the shelves. Ellis is asking me WHY IS THAT LADY LOOKING SO ANGWY? WHY DO I HAFTA BE QUIET? IS THAT LADY MEAN? IS SHE NAUGHTY?”

See the dairy section and remember that The Dave had said he was out of yogurt. Get yogurt. Ellis is now demanding her cookie and the baby has a leg up through the arm strap. Go to the cookie aisle, grab some Oreos. Open the package and feed my children sugar so they shut the hell up. Remember we need wipes, hand soap and band aids. Grab all of those things while the kids are drooling chocolate down their faces. Rush to the check out aisle, just as the meltdown begins. The baby is in full on riot mode, twisting and shrieking and arching his back to get out of the straps. Ellis is crying because “Bubby is not doing da right fing!” Bubby don’t care. Bubby will tear everything off of the shelves until I relent and pick him up. With a tear in her eye, Ellis is picking up gum packages off the floor. The high school-age cashier asks me how my day is in a really happy voice. She can’t see it, but the hand that is holding the baby is giving her the finger.

I get home and realize I forgot the milk.

Taking a Walk Around the Block Without Kids: Walk around the block? Please, I either run five miles or I sit on my Adirondack chairs and read a book. It’s a lovely day, after all. Walk around the block? What am I? An old lady? LOL.

Taking a Walk Around the Block With Kids: It is a lovely day and we still have an hour to burn before nap time. I put the baby into his Little Tikes Cozy Coup and get out Ellis’ tricycle and take them around the block. We get ten feet out of our door, before Ellis is screaming that she doesn’t have her helmet and it is not safe. “DIS IS NOT SAFE!” I curse The Dave under my breath, run inside and grab the helmet, and hope that in those five seconds the neighbors don’t see my kids unattended on the front lawn and call CPS.

Run back outside. Try to put the helmet on Ellis, but I’m told, “PRINCESSES JUST ONLY DO FINGS DEMSELVES!” Let the Princess do the fing her ownselves. Ellis riding her bike and me pushing the baby in the Cozy Coup, we begin the the trek around the block. Ellis hits a crack in the sidewalk.

“OH NO! I STUCK! I STUCK!” She begins to wail and her body hangs limp over her handlebars. “I SO BERRY STUCK!” I kick her over the hump.

“Oh, wank you berry much!” She says. We continue on. Halfway up the block the baby begins throwing his body out of the Cozy Coup. I offer him a stick to chew on. He throws it out and tries to climb out the back. I catch his head before it hits the sidewalk. I pick him up and try to continue boldly forward, but it’s apparent now that the baby really wants to eat cement. I don’t mean this metaphorically. I set him on the ground and he licks the sidewalk. Ellis has decided that she is too “hot and ‘weaty” to continue.

“Fine, let’s go back!”

“‘Fere, hold my bike,” Ellis says getting off her tricycle. I insist she rides it back. She insists on crying. The baby is arching his back and wailing. I may or may not yell something along the lines of, “GET ON YOUR BIKE AND QUIT TALKING TO ME!”

I hope the neighbors haven’t called CPS. I lead my sad, wailing band toward home, like a pudgy, white lady Moses. I can feel the seed of a migraine plant itself in the base of my skull. A neighbor without kids walks by, “Well, that was a short walk,” he says with a smile.

“Yeah, right?” I say.

He can’t see it, but the hand holding the baby is giving him the finger.

 

*If you live in a real city, two blocks isn’t daunting. But I don’t live in a real city. I live in Cedar Rapids. Our city blocks are abnormally large and my Iowa kids don’t understand the concept of walking places

Linkedy. Link

cersei-more-wine

I haven’t been blogging as much lately, because one of the sites I used to write for, BabyZone, was consumed by the beast that is Disney. So, I find myself, unemployed and unable to afford a baby sitter. I’m using every free moment to finish the second draft of this book. I plan on wrapping it up by the end of July.  I just wrote that so I will actually do that.  Make no mistake, this isn’t like some sort of, OMG I’m on a deadline with a publisher kind of thing. I don’t have a publisher or anyone at all.  I’M SO ALONE!

Whatever. The point is: I’m trying to finish this THING. This albatross. I know. Yawn. Join the club, Lenz.

I hate these “behind the curtain” things. Like there is some sort of mystery. Like it isn’t just me and a glass of cheap wine giggling at videos of cats riding roombas and reading every wrap up of Game of Thrones ever. So you are welcome for answering a question no one was asking.

Good god, that was self pitying.

How about some links?

Some places I’ve been:

That one time I tried to solve a crime and I was terrible at it. 

Church. Oh. CHURCH! UGH. Church.

–This is a few months old, but I never linked it here. This is about why I think evil ladies need to be left alone. Or at least, not be made sympathetic. Because, enough.

Evidence

Last week, we came home from vacation, which really, with two kids and 8 in-laws isn’t much of a vacation, it’s just eating hot dish in close proximity to a lake. But Ellis had so much fun fishing, riding a horse, making fart noises with her cousins and seeing a rainbow right over an ice cream shop, I thought maybe we had all died and gone to her heaven. JQ, of course, choose that week to bust out tooth number seven. His heaven, as it turns out, is snuggling in bed with an exhausted mom. His hell? Sleeping in a pack and play.  Which would have been fine, but snuggling with a baby in bed only sounds good in theory. In actuality, he was up every couple of hours, pulling my hair and trying to shove his pacifier in my mouth.

And in those groggy early hours, I both absolutely loved that he was up, smiling his crooked grin, whispering, “dadadada” and trying to shove a pacifier in my mouth. And I also hated it, because I was so tired. Lay down baby, enough with the shenanigans.

So often, I’m absolutely torn between bone aching weariness and frustration and absolute contentment. A few nights ago, JQ was up at three, I went to pick him up and he fell asleep in my arms. As he slept he waved his hand and whispered, “ayyyyyeeeee.” I thought I might never leave that little moment. I thought I might die if I didn’t get some sleep.

JQ and sand

The day we came home from vacation, we had water in our basement from all the rain and five loads of laundry to do, not to mention the bags and boxes and soggy cooler to sort out. So, Dave put the kids to bed. I poured a glass of wine and I leaned the hell into that mess. By the time everything was cleaned and put away, I was on a bit of a roll. So, I poured another glass, filled a giant bucket with Murphy’s Oil and hot soapy water and just went to town on my floors.

This is what I do when I feel exhausted and like everything is overwhelming, I clean. This may shock you if you’ve ever been to my house, which is decidedly not that clean. But I do my best. And sometimes, when life is out of control, I think, I may not be able to make my baby stop screaming at 2am, but this sink will sparkle like a mother freaking diamond. This is not the confession of a healthy mind.

As I scrubbed the floors, I noticed the first five inches of the walls had tiny smear marks, like  infant cave drawings in banana and Cheerio and God only knows what else. Little clods of dirt tracked away from the planters.  I could see little dig marks in the soil. Under the couch was a piece of pop tart that looked like it had been sat on. Then there was a small blue plastic ball that felt sticky. Little cardboard books goobered up and smelling faintly of diaper, were under the table. I found tiny bite marks on a chair leg.

Under the TV was a princess wand and small pink purse filled with plastic food, an empty glue bottle and six quarters. A purple high heeled shoe, bedazzled with rhinestones was lined neatly alongside my running shoes. There were plastic beaded necklaces in the baby’s play car. A stuffed snake wore a feather boa.

I wasn’t there when all of these things happened. Or maybe I was and I was just too busy with another mess somewhere else.  Or maybe I was making dinner or maybe I was sitting on the couch drinking coffee and staring out the window until someone’s screaming brought me back to where I was.

But as I cleaned everything and set it back into it’s place, I mourned it. It was like setting things to right was destroying the evidence of whatever small magic had happened. What if it never happened again? JQ loved to play with this rattle from the first time he could grasp up until a week ago. Now, he won’t touch the thing. He woke up and decided never again. But I also hated cleaning it all up. Because, it really is so futile.  The next morning, I set JQ down on the floor and he crawled right to the planter and shoved a fistful of dirt in his mouth.

I don’t know why I bother.

I don’t know why I don’t clean every night.

 

Go, You

Iowa

Even though I usually run five times a week and it’s a big part of my life, I don’t write much about running. It’s hard to write about running without being annoying. Without bragging. Without saying, “Hey, I’m so awesome, I ran all these miles!”  Even if I told you about the time I peed myself during the last half mile of a race or the time I had to poop during a race, but I didn’t, and then I didn’t poop for five days and I thought I was going to die. Even then, those stories still involve talking about how I ran 13.1 miles willingly without zombies, or bears or White Walkers behind me. And all sports stories are the same–this thing was hard, I did it, go me. It’s cliche and I hate cliche.

For me, running is about the challenge, the endurance, it feeds the intensely competitive beast inside me by keeping me humble because I’m slow. But I can also compete against myself and I do. I love beating that smug Lyz of a few days ago. But in the end, running is really about justifying my deep craving for chicken nuggets and cheeseburgers.  Look, we all have our vices. Mine just happens to be fried and breaded chicken, also true crime. Also, pantslessness. Just be glad it’s not cocaine.

I also don’t write about inspiration. I am inspired a lot, by people and places and things. But I don’t write about it because again, it seems so cliche. This thing is hard. I was inspired to keep going. Go me.

I suppose in the end, it’s a matter of pride. I wish it was something esoteric that inspired me or kept me running. But it really is just cheeseburgers and someone telling me that Jane Smiley had four kids and still won a Pulitzer, so shut down Facebook and keep writing, loser.

On Sunday, I ran five miles and for the last two miles I did intervals, uphill. My legs burned and I thought I was going to puke. Part of me, thought I was really stupid. But the other part of me said keep going because nothing good ever came without pain and struggle and sometimes the worst pain is what you do to yourself.

As I was running up my last hill, Sara Bareilles’ song “Brave” came on. You know the pop song that’s been corporatized by Microsoft? It’s my own personal stance that no one should ever be judged by the contents of their workout playlist. Mine already has way more One Direction than is appropriate for a 31 year-old mother of two. That number, by the way, is two. Two songs. Also, some Britney, also a lot of Chris Brown, who I don’t like on principle, but “Drop it Low” is pretty amazing.  It’s hard to have principles when your last mile of a 10 mile run is uphill. At that point, the only principles that remain are “Don’t die. Don’t fall.”

I’ve been singing “Brave” to Ellis this year as a joke of sorts. She hates it when I sing, which isn’t different from the rest of the world. I’m pretty awful. But I sing her the song, because my little anxiety-ridden three-year-old sometimes needs that extra boost to climb a rock, slide down a slide or walk near a chicken. But when the song came on during my run, I started crying for all the stupid, cliche, reasons that I normally abhor on principle. But I was running, I couldn’t have principles. So, I gave in. And there I was–chubby white lady, tromping up a hill, with tears in her eyes because of a top 40 song.

Since February, I’ve seen some of my closest friends and family go through some deep pain–divorces, infertility, infidelity, separation, death. My friend Kristin has been writing about the death of her 11 month old son on her own blog. Someone told me that her blog was hard to read because of the pain that seeps through. And I agree. Her words are hard, but how much harder was it to write them? Did her fingers burn? Did she feel like she was going to puke?

Head down, legs burning. I think of all the people I know working so hard to crawl out of the spaces and cages they found themselves in. It’s not pretty, it’s not easy. It’s like clawing out of quicksand, pushing yourself to the light you see, which may not be daylight, but at this point it doesn’t matter. Just out. Just get out.

Maybe it’s because it’s all so complicated that easy cliche  finds meaning. And easy simple things–like saying, “I’m proud of you,” like telling your kid you are there for her as she faces  a chicken, like a silly Top 40 song that now means everything because of that moment when you heard it at the time you most needed to–sometimes those things are really important.

I tell Dave I hate sports movies because they are all the same–underdog tries hard, overcomes obstacles, wins. I think the thing that offends me so much about cliche is that it makes things seem easy–judgement, triumphs, it undercuts the specificity of what makes our lives individual and our pain so contextual. But sports movies are timeless for a reason, cliche sometimes happens because it’s true, because everyday we all feel like underdogs, trying hard, overcoming obstacles, and will we win? I don’t really know. I hope so.

After I came home from my run, I was pretty sure, I was going to have my period or that I needed to pee on a stick. I’m usually a rock and an island. Embracing cliche and crying from it? That’s what old ladies do! But maybe old ladies are soft because they realize that life is too hard, if you don’t cry every once in a while, you’ll never get it all out.

So, here is a song for you. I hope you ugly cry at your computer. At least then, I won’t be alone.

Edit: I removed the video because it was autoplaying. And that is obnoxious.

 

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