Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Small Talk

Sometimes I wonder if I have Aspergers.  I am not trying to make light of what I know can be a devastating condition which people struggle with daily.  However, my social ineptitude occasionally causes me to wonder if I fall somewhere on the barely discernible end of the Aspergers spectrum.  Or, perhaps it's just that I'm a writer.  Writers tend to be hermits; great at observing and analyzing human behavior, but often completely incapable of joining in human conversations or interactions. Just call me Emily Dickinson.......ok........Emily Dickinson with a tiny fraction of the talent.  I can usually think of witty, meaningful, entertaining and relatable things to say when I have a pen or keyboard at hand.  However, when I am standing face to face with another person, there is often a gaping, awkward silence at my end of the conversation.  Large groups of women frankly terrify me.  I tend to stand in a corner and listen to the conversation unfolding while I try to wipe the clammy sweat off my hands and make sure my breath doesn't smell like the onions from my dinner.  I attempt to laugh when everyone else laughs, and try to look, for all intents and purposes, normal.  I try to fit in.  But that's the thing......I am constantly trying.  I have always envied those women who seem to have charming, witty anecdotes about a myriad of topics, which roll off their tongue in an effortless manner.  I am a deep thinker.  I believe this goes hand in hand with being a writer.  I know this may sound odd, but I would be perfectly happy to do nothing but stare at a wall and think all day long.  I usually have thoughts about the meaning of life, the duality of human nature, the state of the economy, the decaying world in which I am supposed to raise my children, or any number of other topics, rambling around in the recesses of my mind.  But more often than not, when I try to strike up a conversation with someone, I end up talking about.........the weather.  Seriously.  I cannot begin to tell you how many conversations I have begun using phrases like, "How about that sunshine", or ,"Do you think it will actually rain one of these days?"  Pathetic, isn't it?  But weather is something we all relate to. It is something we are all familiar with and deal with on a daily basis.  Plus, the few times I have tried to bring up the state of the economy or the duality of human nature with a group of women, I have been greeted with blank stares and a quick change of topic to Victoria Beckham's latest hairstyle.  Apparently large groups of women don't like to have deep discussions.  I have a few friends with whom I can discuss meaningful topics.  They don't look at me like I'm Rain Man when I tell them I was just wondering about Newton's third law of motion or that I just read the most interesting article about the unintentional war on boys in America.  They are genuinely curious to know what I think, and they add their own unique and much appreciated perspective to the conversation.

     I love that I have friends whom I can really talk to, not just talk at.  I hate small talk.  I have discovered, as a mother, however, that I really enjoy talking to small people.  This is a form of "small talk" I actually enjoy.  I think it is because children are naturally curious about the world around them.  My children have so many questions about how the world works that it brings out my own natural curiosity and thirst for learning.  When you're with kids, it's not nerdy to learn about outer space and dinosaurs.  It puts you right up there on the coolest mom list......or so my kids tell me.  Now, I'm not saying that I don't occasionally (occasionally meaning anywhere from 1 to 100 times daily) get tired of the relentless questions.  But, by the time my five-year-old asks me for the tenth time how large a pteranodon's average wing span was or  how much bigger a mastodon would be than an elephant (see- boys are obsessed with size from a very young age), I begin to wonder myself just how big those things were.  Then, like any good mom, I Google it.  I think I have learned more (perhaps useless) facts as a mother than I ever did when I was in school.  As I sit with my children and look at art history books or read about customs of countries around the world, it can be a learning experience for all of us.  Talking to kids all day forces you to think and to discover.  Another reason I love talking to kids is because they don't put up any false pretences, so I don't feel like I need to.  There's no filter there.  Kids don't fret about whether or not their question is going to make them appear ignorant.  They just ask it.  And children are rarely opinionated.  There are some adults I can barely talk to, not because I am socially inept, but because these certain adults happen to know everything about everything and they are determined to make sure everyone knows it.  These conversations, if I am unfortunate enough to get trapped in one, involve a whole different kind of desperate silence, a lot of glances around the room to try and discern the quickest escape route, and enough head nodding to cause a small case of whiplash.  Children usually aren't know it alls.  But they want to know it all.  And I love trying to learn it all with them.  I like to get out with friends, and sometimes I honestly need a break from the little people.  But, many of my memories with groups of friends bring back feelings of anxiety (with occasional bouts of nausea) over what to wear, what to say, how to laugh, how to sneeze, how to breathe, how to fit in.........thoughts of , "don't blow it this time,Shannon."  On the contrary, many of my happiest memories involve days at home with sweat pants and wet frizzy hair, stacks of library books and two curious learners on either side of me, waiting with wide eyes for what I will read next.  I am definitely not swearing off my girl's nights out, here.  And perhaps I can even try to improve my conversational skills to the point where I can move to topics somewhere in between the weather and the meaning of life.  But, I am grateful to know that there will always be at least three people who will laugh at my jokes, who are just as curious as I am about that big world out there, and who always keep me entertained with their very own form of small talk.

Monday, April 16, 2012


I really hate treadmills. I am infuriated by the feeling of running as fast and as hard as I possibly can and getting absolutely nowhere. Sure, my progress is being measured by a small digital screen, flashing incessantly before me the number of calories I have burned and the number of miles I have "traveled". But, when all is said and done; when I am wheezing like an 80-year-old woman and in serious need of a shower, I am still there, in the same spot I started, staring at the same wall or tv screen. I have often wondered if hamsters feel the same way when they run in their wheels. As a girl, I had a pet hamster, Hamlet (one of my favorite literary pet names of all time). At night, I would drift off to sleep to the sound of his wheel squeaking rhythmically every few seconds. When Hamlet was about three years old, he contracted some sort of hamster dementia. He didn't seem to realize who or where he was. He was skittish and just down right cranky. Looking back now, I'm pretty sure it was the wheel that drove him to madness (although I suppose I did kind of set him up for it by naming him Hamlet). Dirk and I actually owned a treadmill for about a year. Then, one of Dirk's coworkers offered to sell us a top of the line Foosball table for $50. The only spot for the Foosball table happened to be the spot the treadmill was currently residing in. It wasn't a hard decision. My brother-in-law was happy to take the treadmill off our hands.
Being a stay at home mom with young kids is like running on a treadmill. Hold on now......not so fast.....I am not implying that I hate being a stay at home mom. But there are some definite parallels. Laundry is one example. As a mother of three, I now typically do at least one load of laundry every single day but Sunday. Many days I do two or three loads. Given the frequency of the clothing being removed from the hamper for washing, one would think that at some point in time, the bottom of the hamper would be visible. Not so. Far from it. Despite my daily efforts at keeping it at bay, the laundry can often be seen overflowing the top of my little wicker hamper. Many days, the hamper and laundry basket are both full. I have to put away the clothing waiting in the basket before I can wash the ever present clothing in the hamper. Just like a treadmill.......constant exertion of energy, yielding no apparent result. I also exert a great deal of energy trying to keep the floor visible, with similar lack of result. A friend once described it this way to her husband: "Trying to keep a clean house with small children at home is like spending an entire day meticulously placing stakes for a fence, only to have them knocked over and having start from the beginning the next day." Being a stay at home mom can also sometimes feel like being trapped in the movie Groundhog's Day. Days blur together as the same mundane tasks are performed amid the same controlled chaos, day after day, after day after.....well, you get the point. Another reason being a stay at home mom is like running on a treadmill is because it is hard work. Very hard work. To the politician who recently claimed that Anne Romney hadn't worked a day in her life (she only raised five boys while battling breast cancer and MS), I add my voice to the backlash that has already been propelled by thousands of moms. I suppose there are stay at home moms out there who actually may sit and eat bon bons (why bon bons have somehow come to be associated with stay at home mothers, I have no idea. I think I tried one once in high school) and watch Days of Our Lives. I suppose these are the few who give us a bad name. But, I feel safe in presuming that the majority of stay at home moms work their butts off. I know I do. Though I may feel it is the truth many days, I also do not think it is fair to declare that being a stay at home mom is the "hardest job in the world".......most important, perhaps, but hardest? I can't honestly say. It is the only real job I have ever performed, aside from waitressing. I am sure many other jobs are also very physically, mentally, and emotionally taxing. I respect the work others do. Yet, so many times, mothers, like Anne Romney, are disrespected and criticized for "not working". Here is an example of a typical daily schedule in the life of this stay at home mom:

6:00- get up and do yoga to get "centered" for the day
7:00-get Morgan up (like waking a bear)
7:15-fix Morgan's hair
7:30-get breakfast on the table
8:00-clean breakfast up
8:30-depending on what day of the week it is, clean either bathrooms, floors, or dust
9:00-make sure Hyrum is dressed in seasonally appropriate clothing; feed Ryan
9:30 turn on Dinosaur Train for Hyrum; feed Ryan a bottle and put him down for a nap
10:20-rescue Ryan, who is screaming after a 20 minute cat nap, from his crib.
10:30-get dressed
10:45-throw my hair in a ponytail and slap some makeup on my face, while Ryan tries to crawl up my leg
11:00-make lunch for Hyrum and myself
11:15 or 11:30-attempt to eat lunch while feeding Ryan
12:00 clean up the kitchen
12:15 or 12:30-separate laundry and throw a load in the wash
1:00-spend quality time with Hyrum
2:00-fold laundry and put away
2:30-greet Morgan; give the kids after school snack; help Morgan with homework, spelling words
3:00-give Ryan a bottle, get him down for a nap
4:00-help Morgan with piano
4:30-start prepping dinner
5:30-eat dinner
6:30-bathe kids
7:00-read to kids and put them to bed
7:30-give Ryan a bottle; put him to bed
8:00-breathe....and fold a little more laundry
9:00-try to console Morgan, who has apparently developed childhood insomnia, and can't fall asleep yet again
12:00-awake to Ryan's screaming and give him his binky
2:00-awake to Ryan's screaming and give him his binky
4:00-awake to Ryan's screaming and give him a bottle
6:00-get up and do yoga.............


Nowhere in that schedule can I seem to find a wide open slot for bon bon consumption and Soap Opera viewing. Day after day after day, we stay at home moms work hard. We keep running and running, with no end in sight, staring at the same four walls. Days when children are sick or cranky, or extra loud, can feel like running with the treadmill on a steep incline. We clean and cook, console and chastise until we are emotionally drained. Yet, at the end of the day, when we finally take a moment to sit down and breathe, nothing apparent has changed. If one were to run on a treadmill for thirty minutes a day, every day, over time, you would see a change in that person. It would be almost imperceptible at first. But, after an extended period of daily treadmill running, that individual would not only appear more fit on the outside, but would be on the road to improving the condition of their heart, and their overall health. Looking back at my own childhood, I can see on my mother's face, the same look of blank exhaustion that covers my own many days. Worn out from running on the mommy mill day in and day out, she had to wonder if anything she exerted so much precious energy doing made a difference. Did it even matter? I can answer that. Here I sit, one of the three products of her tireless labor. I have a family of my own own treadmill to run on. I found and married a man who treats me like gold because I felt that was what I deserved. I try to treat others with compassion, and I have an overall contentment with my life. As for the other two products of her labor: My sister is a successful attorney who graduated law school as one of the top in her class. She is kind and strives to do good in the world. My brother is one of the single most compassionate people I have ever met. Over time, the countless loads of laundry, the thousands of meals prepared, the hours upon hours of lost sleep, the stealth binky replacements in the middle of the night, all somehow added up to three individuals who have a relatively firm footing in a world that is spinning out of control. I hope the repetition of my mundane, daily routine will someday show similar results. On days when I wonder if any of it matters, I am reassured by a favorite scripture passage:

Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great.

So, my fellow, stay at home moms, let's keep on running. The result of our efforts may not be immediately apparent, but we are laying the foundation on which our children will build the rest of their lives, one bottle, one lullaby, one story book at a time. One more way motherhood is like running on a's good for your heart.:)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Refrigerator Magnets

You can tell a lot about a person by what is hanging on their fridge. For example, by looking at my refrigerator, you would be able to tell that I have traveled a bit, that I try to be a compassionate person, that I like to inject a little bit of humor into my every day life, that I love my kids, and that I cannot remember anything unless it is written down in a place where I will see it at least three times a day. By looking at my fridge, no one would doubt that I am a mom. At any given time, there are several finger paintings, report cards, crayon drawings, spelling word lists, and reminders for various school/PTA sponsored events plastering the front of my old off-white GE refrigerator. Some of the artwork is held up by magnets boasting sayings such as, "Scribbling is the new........."; underneath there are three possible options with check boxes......"Dadaism, Impressionism, Sign of genius". I have several of these magnets, each with a different snarky comment about children's artwork. Yes, my refrigerator is a small reflection of my personality. But above all, I think it shows that I am a real mom. This post is actually inspired by a conversation I had with a friend a few days ago. I was picking my son up from her house. I began admiring her beautifully framed black and white family photos. Soon, my eyes began searching the rest of the room. I think when we are in someone else's home, we tend to scope it out, whether consciously or subconsciously, to try and find out a little more about them. I also think that we notice when someone in our house is scoping it out to try and find out more about us. And, as women, we begin to apologize for anything they may see that is not perfect, anything that may be slightly out of order. Sometimes these apologies can involve a little truth bending......."That pile of papers is out of control today.....I don't know what the kids threw on there.....that counter is normally spotless." I don't know about you, but I have one counter in my kitchen that is the "catch-all" counter. It is where mail, and well, basically anything else that doesn't make it to an otherwise specified location ends up. About once a week, I go through "the pile". The counter stays uncluttered (and therefore visible) for approximately ten minutes. If I didn't do my weekly catch-all cleanup, I would have no idea what the surface of this counter looked like. I think we all have places in our home like this. Some of us may have deeper junk drawers, and therefore our clutter is less obvious. Anderson Cooper, who is widely known as being somewhat of a neat freak, even admitted to having a clutter closet.
As I scoped out my friend's living room/kitchen area, my eyes fell on the refrigerator. Plastered. Just like mine. I instantly felt a little bit closer to my friend. I then realized we were even more alike, when she followed my gaze and immediately began to apologize for the clutter on her fridge. I then explained to her that it looked almost zen like compared to the explosion that is the front (not to mention sides) of my refrigerator. This seemed to put her at ease. After mentioning one of our more Martha Stewartesque friends, who did not have a single magnet, sticky note, or photo adorning her refrigerator, my friend came to the conclusion that "real moms have refrigerator magnets." In the home I grew up in, the refrigerator was a place of honor for artwork, A papers, and other various kid crafts. We always knew we must have done something well if it got a spot on the fridge! For years, my mom had little plastic flower framed magnets with our pictures in the middle, which we had made at church one year, hanging front and center on our Kenmore. By the time my parents built their new home, complete with an empty nest fridge (these refrigerators tend to boast a lot less clutter than the young family fridge), the photo flower magnets had become so sun-faded, that they looked like they could have been taken a few generations before. I have a similar refrigerator magnet. My daughter made it in preschool. Beneath her picture, are the words "I love you mom", written in big bubble letters and colored in with crayon. It is already becoming faded. I wonder how it will look in twenty years!
I'm pretty sure it will still be there by then. I used to be like my Martha Stewart friend. When Morgan was a baby, I would actually follow her around during the day and clean up after her as she played. When Hyrum came along, we would at least try to keep the toys in the kid's rooms. Since having Ryan, I just let the explosion happen. If I know company is coming over, toys can be seen flying through the hallway in the direction of the children's rooms. But, in general, we clean up before bed. I am not sure if this gradual decline in my cleaning regimen is occurring simply because I am constantly exhausted, or because I am learning to embrace the chaos. I think I was in denial for a few years. I like things organized. I like them in their place. I like order. For a while, I think I was in denial of the fact that my ordered world had been overturned by tiny people and that the best I could now hope for was controlled chaos. My OCD rehab is still a work in progress. There are days (Dirk will tell you, because he has to remind me to breathe on these days) when I turn into a cleaning machine. I think this is an inherited trait from my father. Once I start, I can't stop until everything is in it's place, dust free, polished, sparkling.....well you get the idea. On these days, Martha Stewart could probably walk into my house without being too appalled. There are days, however, and these are becoming more frequent, when I can look around at the clutter, at the fingerprints on the glass, at the empty pudding cups on the table and realize that I am living in the most glorious form of chaos imaginable. My house may never earn a Good Housekeeping seal of approval, but it is a real mom house. It may be full of clutter, but it is also full of laughter. It is a place where my children can feel safe and validated, loved and important. My refrigerator is plastered with proof of that.