Friday, July 27, 2012

Happy Birthday

     I may really regret this later today.  It is almost 2:00 am, and here I sit, staring at my computer screen.  Sleep is evading me at the moment.  This is partly owing to the fact that I am recovering from my dentist appointment earlier this evening, during which I had not one, not two, but four cavities filled.  For me the dentist is worse than childbirth.  The drugs aren't nearly as good either.  For the world's best dentist tirade, watch Bill Cosby as Himself.  There is no way I can ever top his description of the horrors of dental visits, so I won't even attempt it.  Suffice it to say, I am not sure my jaw will ever close fully again.  Another factor contributing to my insomnia is the allergy attack brought on by my parents' cat. Between my allergy swollen face and my fat lip from having a metal vice prying my mouth open for two hours, I look like a cross between Goldie Hawn and Lois Armstrong.  Perhaps not the best way to begin a birthday.......with a bad case of insomnia, a fat lip, a headache, and plugged sinuses. That's right.  It's my birthday.  Twenty eight years ago I came screaming into this wide world.  And here I sit, almost three decades later, wondering what my ten year old self would be telling me if I could have seen the future.  I probably would have told myself that I would be saving all of my over sized tied t-shirts and neon color blocked clothing, because 80's style would once again vomit itself all over the fashion scene.  I would probably ask myself why on earth I had stopped writing poetry or anything of real substance.  In fact, my ten year old self would probably slap my twenty eight year old self in the face for giving up on my passion.  I would probably tell myself I should really do something about those laugh lines and start wearing sunblock every day.  I would probably laugh at the red mini van parked in the garage, but stare with amazement at the three little miracles I taxi around in it every day.  I would congratulate myself for finding my Prince Charming.  I would be astounded that my twenty eight year old self is capable of cooking in something besides an Easy Bake Oven.  I would ask myself why I don't spend more quality time with my brother and sister.  They are my best friends after all.  I would be disappointed in myself for caring so much about what others think of me.  I would tell myself to stop worrying about the cellulite on my thighs and to get in more food fights with my kids.
     I think, all in all, my ten year old self would not be too disappointed with who she was to become in the future.  I am living the life I'd always dreamed of; a brick house with a white fence (even if it doesn't have pickets), a wonderful caring husband, three kids and a dog.  I am living the American dream.  So, why then am I sitting alone with my computer at two in the morning, feeling so unsettled and disquiet that I can't even sleep?  Maybe it's because as I have been reflecting on my youth, I have once again been reminded of how fleeting this life is.  My girlhood days in Virginia don't feel so distant.  Yet here I sit, one high school graduation, one wedding, three children and a mini van later, and I haven't accomplished half of what I was going to do.  Once real life set in, I began to tell myself that once it slowed down, I would begin pursuing my passions again. "Maybe next year, when Morgan is over her colic, I will practice the piano again", I would think........"Maybe in a few months after the basement is finished and Hyrum has recovered from his tonsil surgery".........."Maybe then I will try to really write something".........."Maybe after Ryan is potty trained I'll finally go on that cruise with Dirk."  I am content with my life.  I truly am.  I just think that maybe I am beginning to yearn for more than content.  I need an impetus.  I need to move forward.  I need to create and to discover deeper possibilities within myself.  I need to stop pleasing everyone else and get back to the heart of who I have always been.  I need to dig up old passions and resurrect dead dreams.  This is starting to sound like the lyrics to a very twangy country song.  Maybe what I really need to do is to become a lyricist for Tim Mcgraw.  I think what I am really trying to say is that I need to let go of fear.  I need to let go of the need to be accepted, understood and loved by everyone around me.  I need to spend more of my precious energy creating things which fulfill my soul and give my life richer meaning.  I need to spend more of my time enriching relationships with those people who care enough to remember my birthday and to call or send a card.  I am not trying to become more inwardly focused.  I will still strive to uplift those around me.  I will still send a birthday card to every one of my in-laws and their children even though there are exactly two of them who occasionally remember my birthday.
     I think of a birthday as a personal New Year's Day.  I am about to embark on a new year of my life.  In this next chapter of my life, I think I will resolve to be kinder to those around me; to give everyone the benefit of the doubt.  To be able to do this, however, I think I must first resolve to be kinder to myself; maybe to give myself the benefit of the doubt more often.  My ten year old self didn't feel threatened when those around her succeeded.  She didn't feel diminished when someone else accomplished something great.  She believed that the little spark within her was just waiting to ignite and to become something great.  She didn't care whether anyone else liked her poetry.  She only cared that writing it made her come alive.  She knew she would become a published writer someday because no one could stop her.  She would simply work at it until it happened.  I am beginning to think that my ten year old self was wise beyond her years.  I think perhaps all of our ten year old selves were wiser in some ways than we are now.  I am beginning to wonder if what we term "growing up", is really just resigning ourselves to a life that is far below our true potential.  I think maybe my ten year old self is still somewhere in there telling me, "Happy Birthday, Shannon.  It's time to really start living your life."  "And by the way, it's so cool that you can stay up until three in the morning now if you feel like it."   

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

In Theory

     Sir Isaac Newton has been called the most influential scientist to have ever lived.  Wikepedia will tell you that not only was Isaac Newton a scientist; he also happened to be a physicist, mathematician, astronomer, natural philosopher, alchemist and theologian.  How is it possible that a stay at home mom with no college degree who required a tutor to pass algebra 2 has disproved one of Sir Isaac's theories?  I suppose it is an actual law and not a theory.  Newton's third law of motion, in layman's terms (or Shannon's terms- take your pick), basically states that for every action there will be an equal but opposite reaction. How did I come to disprove this basic and widely accepted law of motion, one may ask?  It was completely unintentional.  I generally try to keep a safe distance from all things scientific or mathematical in nature.  This startling discovery, which would shock the world at large and turn the mechanical world upside down (that is if more than five people read my blog, and if I understood the basic principals of science above a third grade level) was made while I was attempting to get my baby to poop.  That's right; I said the "p word".  If you are offended by descriptions of bodily functions to any degree, 1)you are not a parent, and 2) you may want to stop reading this post now.  I will try to refrain from getting too graphic, but a discovery of this magnitude does deserve some explanation.  My baby boy was born before his bowels were ready to perform their proper function.  He has always had some difficulties in the "p department".  When he was a small infant, these difficulties led his father and I to buy liquid gold formula for "sensitive tummies."  After selling a few prized possessions and remortgaging the house to buy said formula for the first six months of our baby's life, Dirk and I decided it was time to switch him to the regular formula.  It was iron fortified, which is code for constipating, at least in babies with sensitive tummies.  The first few months on the new formula were filled with a lot of screaming, red faced grunting, thermometers covered in Vaseline (won't go into detail there), Miralax, and occasionally glycerin suppositories.  One day, after about a week with no dirty diapers and an apparent demonic possession of my sweet baby, I decided it was time for a suppository.  I was ready to put my sweet boy out of his misery.  Perhaps most of you have never had the distinct pleasure of using a glycerin suppository.  In case you have not yet experienced it, I will explain.  Glycerin suppositories are small white, bullet shaped pieces of glycerin which are inserted in a place where you don't want many things shoved, and are used to "get things moving".  On the day of my scientific discovery, I pulled out the pristine, pure white glycerin bullet, and gently inserted it in my baby's bum.  Then I waited.  Within about ten minutes, Ryan's face turned the color of a beet and his physical exertion became apparent.  It was working!  And oh how it worked!!!  Had I not know from his face alone that the suppository had done it's job, I would certainly have known by the sound and smell which shortly followed.  I'm pretty sure my neighbors up the street were aware that Ryan had finally "made a poo."  It was a five alarm, ten wipe, strip down, bathe and dress diaper.

     As I mentioned before, I do not have a scientific mind.  But if you had seen the reaction to my action, you would be questioning Sir Issac's third law of motion as well.  Let's examine the facts: My action was this: I gently inserted a clean, fresh smelling suppository, which is basically a piece of soap into my tiny baby.  The reaction caused by the action was this: My baby basically exploded into an a-bomb of baby stench.  Opposite, perhaps, but certainly not equal.  I am sure many parents have similar stories of their children's bodily functions defying all scientific law and reason.  Perhaps the great scientists of the world never had children.  I'm pretty sure Isaac Newton never did.  This would be a great point to stop this post.  But I am far too long-winded for that.  Many theories exist in our world.  Some are touted as "laws", but to me they are still theories.  A theory is a way of trying to understand the way something works.  In science, these theories are often tested extensively and then become laws.  There are a few theories I would not mind being the test subject for.  For instance, the theory, "money can't buy happiness."  Some may say this is a proven fact.  To me it is purely conjecture. I have never had a chance to prove or disprove it.  I would be more than willing to be the guinea pig in that experiment.  As a friend once said it best, "Money may not buy happiness, but I'd rather cry my eyes out in a Mercedes than in  a Geo Metro."  I have already disproved the seven year itch theory.  I think the seventh year of marriage to my husband was one of our best.  Then there's the chaos theory, which basically asserts that if a butterfly flaps it's wings, it can affect climate and other changes on the other side of the world.  I am a firm believer in the chaos theory.  I just wish whichever dang butterfly is flapping away over in China would give it a rest.  Maybe the chaos in my house would settle down a bit.

     Parenthood is one giant theory.  As parents, we are constantly trying to prove that flawed, jaded, often clueless and helpless human beings can raise other human beings to become well-rounded, functioning adults who will not only survive in the outside world, but who will thrive in it.  I have this theory that I am a good parent.  I have a nurturing heart.  I love my children more than my own life.  but I am constantly, daily trying to prove that these elements combined will be enough to produce the desired result.  Isaac Newton once said, "Errors are not in the art but in the artificers."  I think as parents, we are often ashamed of our children's misbehavior because we feel it is somehow a reflection of our parenting.  When our child throws an ear splitting tantrum in public, we begin to wonder if we have done an adequate job teaching them how to behave.  When our child seems to completely forget how to use the words "please" and "thank you", we wonder if we are unintentionally raising a spoiled rotten brat.  We wonder.  We postulate.  We cry.  We pull out hairs, many of which have turned gray.  And the truth of it is, there is no answer.  There are no definitive parenting laws.  There are far too many variables.  Each parent is different; so is each child.  Parenting involves a lot of guesswork, followed by a lot of praying that your guess will work.  I have never understood science.  I have always been a little better with matters of the heart.  This works out as a mom, for the most part.  Dirk may have to help our children with their math and science homework after they are out of the fifth grade, but I will always be there with a hug, a smile and a listening ear.  So much about children and about parenting is mysterious and undefinable.  I have this theory though;  All kids really want is to be loved.  I may never fully understand the laws of the universe, but I know how to administer a band-aid (always with a kiss), cheer up a first grader after a rough day at school (always with a cookie and milk), and bring life to a gray winter day (always with hot chocolate and a stack of library books.)  There are many truths I have yet to discover, many theories I have yet to prove, but the few truths I have learned are enough to love the people around me, and for me that's enough.  The greatest truth I have learned is that I am here on this earth to better learn how to love others.  Isaac Newton once said, "We build too many walls and not enough bridges."  Guess he was a pretty smart guy after all.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


     Around this time every summer I begin dreaming of crisp fall evenings, cider on the stove and logs crackling in the fireplace.  I begin to crave the predictability of the children going to school at a certain time and returning home at a certain time each day.  I long for the chill in the air and the anticipation of the most wonderful time of the year, which for me happens to be Halloween through Christmas.  Autumn has always been my favorite season.  My other reason for counting down the days until harvest time can be summed up in one word: weeds.  Weeding is at the top of my list of least favorite chores.  It is monotonous, back breaking, never ending, mind numbing fruitless labor.  I can weed one of my garden beds meticulously until not a single one of the heinous offenders remains and by the next evening, there is a whole new crop popping up.  Usually my back is still recovering from the hour of crouching the night before and I wait a few more days.  I have an elderly neighbor whom I love dearly and who happens to be a master gardener.  I'm pretty sure Cora could get a palm tree to grow in Antarctica.  She assures me that the best way to go about this whole weeding business is to do ten or fifteen minutes each morning and night.  Sounds simple enough.  Turns out it is not as simple as it sounds when you have three small children and an unrelenting schedule.  I began thinking about this as I was doing what else......weeding, the other day.  What ever happened to the "lazy days of summer"?  So far our summer has been so booked with vacations, play dates, fireworks and family activities that I haven't even had time to sit down and write a blog post for two weeks now.  Some days I have to literally remind myself to breathe.  I think this is a large part of the reason I am so nostalgic for fall and winter.  When the seasons change, we are forced to slow down just a bit.  People hunker down in their houses.  Children are actually ready to go to bed by eight o'clock because the sun has gone down.  Of course, the fall and winter are still full of plenty activities to take up our time.  At least, though, amid all of these activities, I am not trying to somehow steal away one precious hour a day to dig in the dirt.
     The one redeeming quality about weeding is that it is a good time to think.  There is really not much else to do while squatting and repeating the same mindless motion over and over.  As I was weeding my sunflower patch for the twentieth time this summer, I did some good thinking.  My thought process began with about 101 other things I would rather be doing at that moment. I think being abducted by aliens actually crossed my mind- that is how much I despise weeding.  Most of the thoughts that popped up, however, revolved around people from this planet, namely, my family.  We have been so frazzled and spread so thin this summer that I feel the need to become reacquainted with my husband.  My children have gone to bed without a story more times than I care to admit (pretty unheard of at our house- we try to read every night).  As I pondered on how out of control our summer had become, an analogy began to take root in my mind.  All of these activities that were taking so much time away from the people I love the most were like the weeds I was pulling.  The weeds, like the activities, had started out small; just a few here and there.  Before I knew it, the sunflower patch, like my schedule, had become overrun.  I guess the reason we weed (I am not a gardener, so please correct me if I'm wrong) is so that the weeds don't take all of the nutrients from the soil that are needed by the plants we are actually trying to grow.  It makes sense to me, that if a bed becomes overrun with weeds, there will be less space and less strength for other plants to thrive.  The sunflowers still seem to be thriving, but slowly, almost imperceptibly, weeds were creeping up and filling in ever closer to their massive stocks, stealing whatever light and water they could take.  Their is a particularly vicious vine that grows in our yard.  It attaches to whatever it touches.  It wraps around and chokes the life out of anything it can get it's leafy tentacles on.  I do not want to let the insignificant busyness of life choke the life blood out of my family.  
     I know there has to be a happy medium.  I enjoy spending time with my extended family, and I like letting my kids stay up until sunset and soak up the outdoors.  A little busyness is good.  It gives us something to look forward to and it makes us more grateful for the rare lazy moments that occasionally come along.  But I have realized that for the sake of keeping family relationships intact, I may need to do a little weeding in my life.  I may have to become a little more comfortable with the word "no".  I may have to realize that as nice as it is to become better acquainted with neighbors, we cannot possibly invite each one of them over for a backyard BBQ before summer's end.  I need to realize that it is ok to let my children spend a day just sitting in the sun eating a Popsicle or climbing the apple tree in the backyard.  I may need to lower my expectations about how much I was going to accomplish in the yard this summer.  Some weeds are beautiful when they start to grow.  Morning glory, for example, with it's graceful vines and delicate white flowers is lovely to look at.  It is not quite so lovely, however, when it has spent fifty years becoming permanently embedded in your lawn.  All of the activities we have participated in as a family this summer have been fun and worthwhile.  But I refuse to let this level of activity, this constant, unrelenting movement, embed itself in our family life.  Just as weeding in nature is a constant chore, I think I will always find the need for weeding and pruning within my life.  I need to remember what is at the heart of the activity jungle: a fledgling family, crying out for nourishment.  I think perhaps, one day a week, I will turn off my phone.  I will make exactly one plan for the day: to be with my family.  To just be.