Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Identity Theft

There are days when I look in the mirror and barely recognize myself. When did I become this haggard looking woman with perpetual dark circles and never fixed hair? I guess I have been this way ever since the day I had my identity stolen. There was a time when I used to blow dry my hair, take a little time putting on my makeup, and selecting an outfit that matched and looked fairly presentable. Then came August 28th, 2004. The Morganator (a nickname we gave Morgan shortly after birth, due to her constant crying) arrived, and the person I was got lost somewhere in the land of sleep-deprived parenthood. Two little boys have since joined the Morganator, and these days, I feel pretty good about myself if I have time to shower, throw my hair in a pony tail and actually remember to put on all of my clothing. Now, I know that there is more to life than how one looks, and my physical appearance is only one of the things that was altered by the theft of my identity. I used to spend a few hours at the piano most days. Now I feel good if I can get in a few measures of Mozart once a week. I also had ambitious goals like reading and extensively studying the complete works of Shakespeare in a year, or learning how to bake, or picking up a new instrument. Now I feel good at the end of the day if there are no clothes piled on top of the laundry hamper (whether because I have actually washed all the laundry, or because I have just been able to shove all of the dirty laundry down, it hardly matters), there are no dirty dishes piled in the sink, and all of my three children still have both of their eyes (until you actually have three children, you will never fully comprehend what an accomplishment this truly is). I consider it a lofty goal to get through one chapter in a book a day, and I now find myself memorizing a lot more Jack Prelutzky than Shakespeare.
I used to think," Somewhere in there is the old me, the one who has a passion for poetry, music and art." It wasn't until after I went through a period of mourning, if you will, that I realized the old me was very much alive. I just had to find new ways of uncovering it. I realized that I still have a passion for poetry, music and art, and that in some ways that passion has only been heightened by watching with wonder as my children discover for themselves that these are the things that make our world so wonderful. When my children laugh uncontrollably at a stanza of Shel Silverstein, the written word suddenly comes alive far more that it ever has through any Shakespearian sonnet. Teaching my daughter piano lessons is one of the single most rewarding experiences I have ever had. Her plunked out rendition of "Quiet River" rivals any phrase of Handel or Beethoven for the joy it brings my heart and soul. And my refrigerator is covered in the latest works of my two favorite artists. I never realized fingerpaintng could be so enlightening! So, it would seem that my children have not stolen my identity so much as they have helped me to discover it in new ways.
Having children also exposes the duality of our human nature. Since first giving birth, I have come to realize that I am more selfless than I have ever thought myself to be, but also that I can be more selfish than I ever thought myself capable of being. The second I cradled Morgan in my arms, I knew instinctively that I would do literally anything for her happiness and well-being. I still feel that way, but there were days in her infanthood when all I could think about was when the crying would end, and when I would finally again have a little "me time." I have also realized that there is a clearly defined limit to my patience level. My patience expires after exactly one 2:00 am.-6:00 jag of colic induced screaming. (Morgan was not the only one who felt like screaming on those nights- believe you me, I have screamed into a pillow more times than I ever thought I would.) Having children has certainly shed light on my weaknesses, but it has also shown me that I have more strength than I was ever previously aware of. The experience of motherhood has taught me, among so many other things, that I can do hard things, things that may seem impossible at first.
So, perhaps my identity was stolen in a sense. Maybe I will never have time to write a best seller because I am up to my elbows in mac and cheese, dirty diapers and finger paint. But by and large, the person formerly known as Shannon Stanger has been replaced by a much more compassionate and aware human being. I am grateful for the gift of being able to rediscover daily who I am through the eyes of my children.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Six going on.........sixteen?

My daughter will be seven years old at the end of this month. She will be entering the second grade. She still likes pink sparkly things and princesses and Sesame Street. Apparently this is no longer the norm for seven year old girls. Judging by what her fellow schoolmates wore to second grade registration yesterday, the average seven year old girl now likes black, animal prints, and Justin Beiber. I'm pretty sure Morgan has no idea who Justin Beiber even is (she's more of a Taylor Swift girl - thank goodness). Seeing all these girls who seemed so grown up (literally- because they were all about a head taller than my little girl, at least), I tried to think back to when I was that age. I loved My Little Ponies and Littlest Pet Shop and Fred Penner (no one else in the entire world seems to know who Fred Penner is- he was basically Mr. Rogers with a guitar and a beard), and I still played with Barbies. Speaking of Barbies.......what is the deal? Barbie has always been a role model of sorts to young girls; a plastic, wildly disproportionate model of what little girls dreamed of someday becoming. Over the years I had a gymnast Barbie, a bride Barbie, a veterinarian Barbie...... my favorite was probably journalist Barbie, who came dressed in a snazzy pink suit, that reversed into a cocktail outfit, and had a little briefcase. As I perused the Barbie aisle of the local Wal-mart ( don't judge- it's cheap, and I'm not made of money- I have never been remotely close to being worthy of a spot on the People of Wal-mart website......except maybe the time I wore my skin tight snake skin pants with my 5-inch red stilettos- you'll never know whether I am joking or not) I noticed that there is still a doctor Barbie, and a vet Barbie, along with many other Barbies representing worthy professions. The only problem was that every single one was dressed as though she worked a much different profession after normal work hours. If I went into the doctor's office for a visit, and my physician was dressed the way that the latest installment of doctor Barbie is dressed, I would question whether or not I had walked into the right building. There were other dolls in the aisle as well. I have always had a serious issue with the Bratz dolls. I mean, come on.....really? Bratz? Back to Wal-mart now, where there were plenty of barely clothed Bratz to be found. My issue with the Bratz was soon momentarily forgotten, however, as I ran into something that was, if possible, even more disturbing........Monster High Dolls...... if dolls are still a representation of what girls should strive to be when they grow up, then apparently the message that the rising generation of girls is receiving is that they should be severely anorexic zombie hookers. Aaahhh......every mother's dream for her daughter. I grabbed the nearest Tangled doll and ran for it.
My real question is.......what is this overwhelming trend in society of sexualizing young girls? If you let your six year old daughter parade around the neighborhood in a mini skirt and an off the shoulder shirt (speaking of which-do the eighties have to make a comeback every decade? if we didn't all look ridiculous enough the first time around) then you are not considering the pedophile who lives down the street. You just have to assume he's there. The world is full of sickos. And yet, there are some mothers who seem completely oblivious to this fact. I was watching Inside Edition a few nights ago. There was a story about that TLC show......I think it's called Tots and Tiaras......anyway it's basically a show about little Jean Benet Ramseys and there pageant crazy (maybe just crazy crazy) mothers. The little girl who won whatever the coveted title was, was named Eden. There was some controversy over her "talent", which was a dance full of extremely suggestive moves. As this poor little girl danced her way into the fantasies of pedophiles far and wide, her mother was standing on the sidelines cheering like she was at a soccer game (are pageant moms the new soccer moms?.......God save us). The woman has obviously inhaled a bit too much Aqua Net over the years.
I refuse to make my daughter grow up too at seven is not okay with me. And yet, I still find myself sitting and worrying that she won't fit in, that she'll be mocked because she prefers Belle and Ariel and Rapunzel, and even Elmo and Mr. Noodle to Justin Beiber and street walker Barbie. I worry, and soon my worry turns into alternating feelings of sadness and anger at the world that she has to try to fit into. What ever happened to the days of making daisy chains and holly hock dolls and telephones out of tin cans? There is no need to play telephone anymore, because every child over the age of eight (s0metimes younger) owns their own cell phone. I don't want my daughter to have to try to conform to a world where the girls her age are dressing like they are sixteen and don't know how to write because they only text (and avoid using full words and sentences at that). I want her to live in a world where she can still believe there are fairy rings in the back yard and pretend she is a mermaid when she is in the swimming pool. I want her to live in a world of less sex and more Sesame Street. As I ponder all of this, the sadness and anger eventually give way to hopelessness. I cannot change the societal norms. So I guess I have the daunting task ahead of me of helping my precious little girl to rise above the societal norms, and helping her to be sure of, and proud of who she is. I will try my best, but I can't help but feel sometimes that I am fighting an uphill battle......after all I am just one mother against countless media tycoons, toy companies, and sickos in high places. But, perhaps, just perhaps, if all of the other moms who feel this way could band together.... stand up and refuse to let our daughters be sexualized any longer...... maybe.... It's a long shot, but maybe we could get a little closer to again living in a world where the biggest problem a seven year old girl has to worry about is which pair of stick-on earrings she should wear to school the next day.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Sleep walking

The peak time to view the annual Perseids meteor shower will be this Friday and Saturday night. The best time to view this natural firework display is apparently between midnight and dawn. Any parent knows that sleep is the holy grail of parenthood, but for the success (or complete lack thereof) that many of us have on our epic quest to procure this most desirable of objectives, we may as well be galloping around banging a bunch of coconuts together. When my daughter was an infant she cried. A lot. (I know I have probably mentioned this before, but the trauma of a "colicky" baby takes a while to wear off). Day and night. The only thing that would prevent said crying was to nurse her, rock her, or drive around in the car. At night, Dirk and I used to take two hour shifts of rocking with her in our old creaky wooden rocking chair. If you have ever wondered why I seem to have seen every obscure movie ever created, this is why. Turning on a movie was a much better alternative than staring at the wall, or out the window at the other houses with all of the lights turned off, knowing that the people inside were sound asleep, and resenting them for it. When Morgan was around five months old neither Dirk nor I could take it anymore. One night we let her "cry it out" in her crib ( I had to leave the apartment), and after that she began sleeping through the night. But did I? Not exactly. I am a compulsive worrier. Always have been. If there is some event that may or may not happen in the near or distant future that may or may not affect me, my family, my friends, the country, or any person I have met anywhere in the world, chances are, I'm worrying about it, possibly losing sleep over it. So, when Morgan finally started sleeping through the night, I would lie awake worrying that she was suddenly sleeping through the night. Aside from being a worry-wart, I am also a bit of an insomniac. Sometimes I feel like I am running on cruise control during the day, and as soon as the sun goes down, my brain floors the gas pedal. If only there were some way to eliminate the need for sleep, I would be set. I could accomplish so much. But, short of getting a love bite from Edward Cullen, I don't think the whole surviving on no sleep thing is going to happen. I have heard of a form of yogic sleep. I like to do yoga, but I can never quiet my mind enough to reap the full benefits. Apparently, thirty minutes in a state of true "total relaxation" has the same effect on the body as an equivalent eight hours of sleep. I once had a million dollar idea. What if someone could invent some type of machine.......something like a tanning bed, except this would be a sleep bed. You lay in it for two hours, and it tricks your mind into thinking that you've had a full eight to ten hours of R.E.M. sleep! I could make millions!!!
I think the scientists (who actually understand the natural laws of the universe beyond a third grade level- science was never my strong suit) should get right on that. I mean come on- if there are agents out there who can fool people into believing that Charlie Sheen is actually a human being (though he himself claims to be on an entirely different plane of reality), then there has to be some scientist out there that can fool our minds into believing we are sleeping. Until that day, I guess I will have to learn how to own the whole puffy dark circled eye look. I could always say I'm going for the "heroin chic" look, even though I'm a Mormon, and the hardest substance to ever enter my body was an atomic Warhead. (does anyone else remember those things?) The Bono look could also work- I could just wear sunglasses day and night, indoor and out. I am a bit surprised by our ability to adapt to sleep deprivation and to be able to continue functioning on a semi-human level. A few weeks ago there was a night when I slept for exactly one hour. The night was spent with my best friend, a side-splitting movie, some chocolate fondue, and a gigantic tray of every conceivable thing we could dip in said chocolate (for the record, potato chips in chocolate fondue.......surprisingly yummy). It had apparently been far too long since we had chatted, because in the middle of an in depth conversation, I received a panicked call from my husband. It was 3:15. I jumped in the car and was on my way home. I got home around 4:00, was in bed by around 4:15, asleep by about 5:00, and up for the day at 6:00. Talk about auto pilot. I felt like the guy on Ratatouille, you know when the little rat makes him move his limbs.........I don't know who my puppet master was, but I somehow made it through the day without running off the road or losing my car keys, or mixing up my children's names.
But, despite the physical exhaustion I felt, I wouldn't have traded the night before for anything. My eyes were bleary, but my sides were sore from laughing, and my soul was filled up from having a meaningful conversation with one of the most amazing people I know. Sleep is nice. Some days I feel there is nothing I would rather do. But it's just sleep. Sometimes the hours when most of the non-insomniacs are sound asleep are the only time you have to catch up with an old friend, or watch an obscure Billy Crystal movie while rocking your new baby, or view a natural miracle. Maybe this Friday I will just stay up after Ryan's 2:00 a.m. feeding and watch the meteor shower. After all is said and done, I think I would rather sleep walk through my entire life than to go through it never having had the sublime realization that there are some things in life worth losing sleep over.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

We can't choose our family........or can we?

Just because we are born into a family does not necessarily mean that we belong in that family. Take it from Matilda Wormwood. In the beloved Roald Dahl classic Matilda, the title character is a would- be- youngest- Harvard- graduate- ever born into a family of couch potatoes. Side note: the movie adaptation of this book is very entertaining- Danny Devito outdoes himself as sleazy car salesman (and Matilda's father) Harry Wormwood. Matilda learns at a very young age that she must make her own way in the world. She has to learn how to succeed in spite of being born into a family who's favorite past time is watching The Million Dollar Sticky. If we are lucky, as I have been, we are blessed enough to have a family in which we feel we belong. I have been blessed with the best family anyone could ask for. I'm sure many would say the same of their own least their immediate families. In every family there is that one relative (distant or otherwise) that causes everyone at the family reunion to think, "Seriously?- I'm related to this guy?" In some families, there are many of these. Yet, despite the fact that we all have relatives who would make us question our own genetic makeup, there seems to resound deep within all of us the need to discover our roots. I believe there was recently a show on television which featured various celebrities doing genealogical research to discover their heritage..... I never saw the show, but I can only imagine some of the results.........Paris Hilton discovers that she is distantly related to Thomas Edison and responds, "Who? Oh- is that like the guy who invented light or whatever?".......further proof that the apple can indeed fall very far from the proverbial tree.
I am very interested in my own roots, and I take great pride in my heritage. And it just so happens that many of my family members are also my very best friends. What I have also come to realize, however, is that many of my closest (non-related) friends have become more like family. Hence the title of this post. I am not a Matilda in a family of witless Wormwoods. I have no desire to belong to a different family than my own. I have, however, over the years, found people whose spirits are so kindred to my own that I have desired to make them part of my family. Example A is, of course, my husband. When Dirk and I were married, I didn't just gain a husband. I was also blessed with another set of parents, as well as five more sisters and five more brothers. Example B- my best friend Kate- we are not blood related, but I consider her a sister in every way, because she is to me everything that family represents. Our souls are so interconnected that the only word to adequately describe our relationship is family. If Facebook is the social network, then family is our emotional network. Family is anyone who loves you unconditionally. They are always in your corner. They always have your back ( and any of many other various cliches). They are not always blood related. When something truly wonderful happens in your life, who are the first ten people you want to call? This is your family; the base of your emotional network.
Now- back to our friend Matilda.....There are some people who, like the Wormwoods, or Casey Anthony, should never be allowed to have children. And then there are people, like Miss Honey or my dear friends Lisa and Brandon (kindred spirits who happen to be part of the family I married into) who are not able to have children of their own. But, sometimes, God (or karma- whatever you personally like to call it) intervenes, and the Matildas and Miss Honeys of the world are united. Case in point- About a week ago a precious baby boy was born to a mother whom, though I highly doubt she could be compared in any way to the Wormwoods, was not exactly ready to add to her own family. As a result, Lisa and Brandon, two people who are more suited to be parents than almost anyone I know, have been able to add this little boy to their family. So, today I am grateful for my own family, both those to whom I am bound by blood ties, and those whom I have adopted into my emotional network. And I am grateful that two of those people whom I have adopted as my own have now been blessed with the perpetuation of their own emotional network in the form of a tiny little miracle named Hyrum Dale. Today, I am not striving to create the most entertaining or thought provoking post. Today, I am simply grateful. Lisa and Brandon are parents, and everything seems a little more right with the world.