Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Monster Mine

     A few months ago, around my son's first birthday, I wrote a post entitled Baby Mine.  The post was a tribute to my sweet sunshine baby and a lament over his much too rapid growth.  This post is also dedicated to Ryan, aka the monster formerly known as a baby.  It is dedicated to him in the hopes that someday he will read it and he will understand exactly why it is that my wrinkles run so deep and my head is covered in gray hairs.  He may also come to understand why it is that he has to pay a visit to Blackfoot South (the local mental institution) to see his mother.  This post is also dedicated to mothers of toddlers everywhere.  If you happen to be one of those blessed mothers whose toddlers quietly peruse their board books and stay out of things after one "No", don't talk to me.  I don't want to hear about it.  If, on the other hand, your experience with raising (chasing may be a more apt word here) toddlers makes/made an extended stay at your nearest loony bin seem like an easy out, then we can talk.  We can talk over a giant piece of chocolate cake in a room that is as close to being padded as we can find.
    Since the probability of me sitting down personally with each of you in a padded room over a slice of cake is low, let's just talk here.  Grab some cake if you have it.  Good.  Now lock yourself in your room.  Good.  First, let's talk about point of view.  I am not talking about a broad, abstract meaning of the term .(that may come later in the post).  I am talking literally about the point  from which objects are viewed.  I bring this up because I believe my baby transitioned into a monster around the time he started to walk.  As soon as he began to view his surroundings from his feet and not his knees, a whole new world of possibilities for destruction and havoc wreaking was opened to him.  The toilet paper was now within easy reach, as were all knobs, handles, pulleys, cords, tables, chairs and couches.  What a difference a few inches can make!  When Ryan approaches one of these now easily accessible items, I firmly tell him, ", no, no, no, no."  He smiles his still toothless smile, pulls the knob to open the cabinet and hurls a bottle of hairspray at me.  My days are now filled with repeatedly replacing items in cabinets, re rolling the toilet paper at least three times, fishing shoes, balls, toys, sometimes clothes out of the bathtub, and every so often out of the toilet, and wiping an array of thrown and smashed foods off of every surface in my kitchen.  This is after I have emptied every baby toy in the house into the middle of the living room floor in the hopes that the monster will be momentarily distracted. Now, let's talk about silence.  I can't remember what it sounds like.  So, I guess we'll talk about noise.  Ryan's favorite noise to make is something like a cross between a pterodactyl screech and a deflating balloon.  Since he does not yet say any words, this delightful sound is his primary form of communication.  Each evening I prepare dinner to a serenade of "EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE HEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE."  I used to clean the house to the soothing sounds of Jack Johnson or The Beatles.  Now, as I am up to my elbows in comet, instead of being soothed by mellow acoustics, I am accompanied by the all too familiar, "EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE HEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!"  Like a good monster, he also occasionally growls.  Next, let's talk about social life.  I used to have one.  I would bring the monster formerly known as a baby along and have a nice chat with my friends.  If Ryan cried, I would give him a bottle and continue in the conversation.  Now, when I attempt to socialize at a play group, exercise group, or any other type of group, my friends stare open mouthed as my monster throws himself on the ground in fits of hysterics, contorting his body into positions that look like some form of baby yoga.  It is also quite difficult to get a word in edgewise over the "EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE HEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!"  My monster is single handedly destroying my social life.  Now let's talk about church.  We make it about two minutes in the chapel before the "EEEEEE HEEE's" force me to take my monster into the hall.  Since Dirk is not able to attend church with us most weeks, this means that my older two children are left sitting alone in the chapel.  I peek my head in the door every few minutes and give them a quick "you'd better stop what your doing if you want to make it to primary alive" face and a stern finger point.  I do this no matter what they happen to be doing when I peer in.  Just a precautionary measure.  By the time sacrament meeting is over, I have done my arm workout for the week and I am ready to hand off the monster to my obliging husband.  Never had I imagined that playing the piano for two hours for a room full of screaming children would be a reprieve.  Now let's talk about words.  By the time Morgan was monster's age, she was saying many of these.  Her vocabulary was quite extensive, and I'm not exaggerating.  The girl could say words like hippotomas and spaghetti with perfect pronunciation by the age of eighteen months.  Monster says "EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE HEEEEEEEEEEEEE".  He also stares at me as I beg him to say "mama". He flashes a mischievous grin and says, "daddy."  Then he laughs as "mama" changes the world's most foul smelling diaper.
     Now let's talk about kisses.  I have come to adore slobbery, toothless monster kisses on my cheek.  I could also talk about monster smiles, monster belly laughs, and sweet monster sleeping, all of which are equally sublime.  These are the things that atone for the other monstrosities which almost cause me to pick up the phone and dial Blackfoot South ( I have it on speed dial just in case.)  Raising a monster is no easy feat.  There are days when the minute Dirk walks through the door and sees the look on my face and hears the "EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE HEEEEEEEEEEEEE" from the hallway, he knows I need to get out of the house.  There are days when my main goal is to keep my sanity intact. It's amazing how quickly one tiny monster can unhinge your brain.  And yet, somehow, I wouldn't trade one minute of it.  I don't fully understand it myself.  I guess it's monster love.  I'm sure someday, when Ryan is a teenager and he tells me he hates me or I catch him smoking in the bathroom, I will look back on the monster days and wonder what I was so stressed out about.  I guess it really is all about point of view.  As parents, we struggle through the challenges of each new stage of our children's development.  It's never an easy job.  But there is such fulfillment in seeing that our children are turning slowly from toddle monsters into self-sufficient, thoughtful, reliable members of society.  It is a miraculous transformation to behold.  Some days it's easy to see that what we are wearing ourselves out working toward day after day is actually coming to pass.  And for those days when all of this is not quite so clear, there's always chocolate cake.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


     Please excuse any typos that may occur throughout this post.  If there are more than usual, I am blaming it on my children's teachers.  That's right.  It is said teachers who required me to purchase 34  #2 pencils.  It was also by their requirement that I sharpened those 34 #2 pencils using an old crank sharpener that, for reasons I will never know, is built into my hallway linen closet.  By extension, I am blaming these well meaning women behind my children's school supply lists for the blister that has taken over my right thumb, making it much more difficult to accomplish every day tasks such as writing and typing.  I could also blame them for the perma-cramp now plaguing my right hand, which was induced by labeling each of those #2 pencils with miniature versions of my children's names.  Yes, along with the 100 other school items I branded with my kiddo's insignia, I also labeled each wooden pencil.  Ever tried writing on an 8mm wooden hexagonal cylinder with a 10 mm felt tip marker?  During the ordeal of the Labeling of the Pencils (capitals have been added because this will now become an annual dreadfully anticipated event in the Stanger household), I began to desire an old brass lamp complete with a three-wish genie.  Had I such a convenience at my disposal, my three wishes would have been as follows: 1) a label maker, 2) a time machine, so I could travel back to the days of my children's births and change their names to T.J.  and Emily, Em for short, 3) a high powered electric pencil sharpener.   Now, I know what you are thinking.  Had I such an all powerful genie at my beck and call, shouldn't I just wish for an endless supply of presharpened, pre-labeled pencils?  It certainly would have made more sense.  Since the genie never did show up, it hardly mattered that my brain had become as numb as my fingers.  This mind numbing occurred gradually, over the course of about a week.  It began with the Buying of the Supplies.  About two weeks ago, I printed off two crisp white sheets of paper detailing the supplies necessary to ensure my children's academic success for the year.  One evening, with lists in hand, I traveled to the store, reminiscing all the while on my own school girl days.  I used to love the smell of a brand new box of crayons and pencil shavings.  I would flip excitedly through my blank white notebook pages, just waiting to be filled with the priceless knowledge I would soon be gaining.  When I arrived at the store, there were 1,000 other moms who had ,perhaps, four hours and three shopping carts earlier, had the same naive delusions about the joy of school supply shopping as I had harbored.  These mothers now looked more like they would likely stab someone with one of their 400 #2 pencils, if only they were sharpened.  By the end of my trip, I could empathize with the looks on those poor mother's faces.  When the cashier in the checkout aisle cheerfully asked me if I "found everything alright" I was tempted to see how a Crayola crayon would work as an impaling object. It should have been a cake walk.  All of the standard supplies were conveniently grouped into bins and labeled.  I should have been able to walk in a straight line, stopping briefly to add a box of crayons or a pair of scissors to the contents of my cart.  I soon came to realize, however, that each item on the lists in my hand was size and brand specific.  I had to find the 1.27 oz glue sticks with the black label.  I found black label glue, but nowhere could I find a glue stick which matched the size specifications.  I also spent about an hour opening every spiral notebook in the store in an attempt to find one without perforated pages.  A friend had previously warned me this might happen after her own notebook debacle.  After searching high and low, she had found exactly one spiral notebook with non-perforated pages.  The front cover boasted a picture of Justin Bieber.  Not wanting to set her third-grader up for a case of Bieber fever, she had grabbed the notebook with the least noticeable perforation and run.  Afraid that my inability to procure the correct supplies for my daughter may serve as a reflection of my lack of dedication, and by extension, my daughter's lack of dedication to her education, I called every office supply store in a 50 mile radius in search of the illusive non-perforated spiral notebook.  With each call, I was informed that non-perforated spiral notebooks were no longer produced.  The last one in existence was probably snatched up by some Beiber lover whose teacher didn't even require non-perforated pages.   When I returned home 5 hours, 15 phone calls and 20 bags later, I informed my husband that he would be in charge of the school supply shopping next year.
     This explanation for my current school supply induced stupor does not even take into account The Buying of the School Clothes, which, when you have children who are half the size of their peers, is quite a challenge.  But, that is another post for another day.  I am left wondering several things after the previous week.  I wonder if it will be somehow detrimental to my children's academic futures that they are using the wrong size glue stick and the wrong type of notebook.  I wonder how many mothers grudgingly bought their third graders Justin Beiber notebooks.  I wonder how much electric pencil sharpeners cost these days.  I wonder if there is any mole skin left in my first aid kit.  But most of all I wonder when things got so complicated.  Did our mothers spend hours searching for the Prang watercolors (which, by the way, are only sold at King's in Shelley)?  Did they go on wild goose chases for the 1.27 oz black label glue stick?  Or were school supplies just school supplies once upon a time?  Did life really used to be so much simpler, or did it just seem simpler because we weren't the ones in charge?  We were the ones who eagerly smelled our untouched crayons and clutched our unadulterated Lisa Frank notebook and dreamed of the possibilities of a new year.  We were the ones in the spotlight.  Our mothers had painstakingly outfitted us with everything we needed to become the stars of our classes.  We probably complained when we were handed the New Kids on the Block notebook when we had been eyeing the sparkly pink one with the kitten on it, not realizing that our mothers were still recovering from a tri-city search for the right kind of notebook.  They were our silent cheerleaders.  I am sure that now, my children think that their school supplies, clothes and everything else that they use on a daily basis, appear out of thin air.  They do not realize that we are living in a house with sixty year old plumbing and a history of water damage so that we can afford the cheer uniforms, the 10,000 pencils that will be bought over the course of their school careers, to say nothing of the diapers and formula.  As parents, we make a thousand tiny daily sacrifices which go largely unnoticed by the very ones we are sacrificing for.  After the Buying of the Supplies and the Labeling of the Supplies and the hunt for the coveted and rare non-perforated, non Bieber notebook, I have once again been reminded of how much my parents sacrificed for me.  They drove us everywhere in an old Toyota mini van for twenty years.  We always had nice clothes to wear to school, the required school supplies to bring with us, and, most importantly, a loving and supportive home to return to at the end of the day.  I read a passage from one of Shakespeare's most famous soliloquies this morning.  Macbeth soliloquized that "life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."  I guess we could say that Macbeth was more than a little jaded, as was Shakespeare himself.  As for me, I will continue to play my part as the sentimental idiot who tells my tales to anyone who will listen.  The tale I wish to tell today is one of gratitude; of a deep appreciation for parents who have sacrificed so many comforts throughout their lives in my behalf.  Being a parent is full of plenty of sound and a good dose of fury.  But, I have to believe the seemingly insignificant acts we commit each day for the love of our children do actually signify something.  Looking back on my childhood with the perspective of a parent, my own parents actions and sacrifices signify clearly to me that they loved me enough to do anything for my happiness and well being. Thanks mom and dad, for every sharpened pencil, for every after school snack, for every bed  time story you read me when all you wanted to do was fall into bed yourselves. Thank you for supplying me with a sense of security and well-being which I am now trying to pass on to my own children, one sharpened pencil at a time.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Houston, we have a problem

     Have you ever conceptualized and constructed a rocket and then flown that rocket to the moon?  I trust that no rocket scientists are currently following my blog, so I am assuming that the overwhelming answer here is no.  Now, imagine an actual rocket scientist were to sit you down and tell you, "We are going to be building a rocket today.  Don't worry, I've done this plenty of times.  It's easier than it looks.  I'll be here to guide you every step of the way."  Would you feel suddenly more at ease about the prospect of building  a space bound vessel?  Neither would I.  In fact, many of us, myself included, would likely be on the verge of a panic attack at the thought.  As far as I'm concerned, crafting may as well be rocket assembly.  Many times throughout my life, friends have assured me, "We are going to be making a ___________ (fill in the blank with any of the following : watch band, bracelet, skirt, pair of pajamas, vinyl letter block, duct tape purse) today.  Don't worry, I've done this plenty of times.  It's easier than it looks.  I'll be here to guide you every step of the way."  Two hours later, as I down an Ibuprofen to kill my craft induced headache and my friend scratches her head, mumbling under her breath, as she tries to undo the hopeless mess I have somehow created, I am once again reminded that I don't speak the crafting language.  It may as well be martian.  My one and only crafting masterpiece was created in the first grade, and there remains no tangible proof that it ever existed.  In my elementary school, we had art class every Wednesday.  For weeks, we had been working on making "calico cats."  We were each given a large white piece of construction paper.  On the paper we drew the outline of a cat.  We were then presented with a large wicker basket full of fabric scraps.  We were to choose the scraps we liked the best and glue them to the construction paper cat.  Each Wednesday when we arrived at art class, I was the first at the scrap basket and the last to reluctantly put away my Elmer's glue.  I labored tirelessly, making sure that I used just the right variety of shapes, colors and patterns to cover my cat.  As I finishing touch, I added little button eyes and string whiskers.  The day I was allowed to take my calico cat home, I insisted on holding it on the bus so I could better admire my masterpiece.  I was all aglow as I stepped off the bus with my feline and fabric creation.  My mom would be so proud!  Seconds later, my six year old girl heart sank, as with a loud "pffft", the air from the closing bus door sucked my calico cat from my hands onto the busy street and then ran over it, covering it in black tire marks.  For a split second I thought about running into the road after it. Then I remembered the graphic descriptions my mother had imblazoned into my mind of what would happen to me if ever I ran into the street.  Deciding that I didn't want to become a human pancake covered in blood syrup, I instead decided to run home as fast as I could in the hopes that my mom could help.  I entered our townhouse red faced and so out of breath that I'm sure my mom could barely make out my plea of, " ........calico cat......the bus came and and the wind and the, and it was gone........and"  She apparently made out enough of what I was trying to say that she stood up, threw on some shoes, and followed me as I raced madly back to the scene of the trauma.  We walked up and down the sidewalk, keeping our eyes peeled.  My calico cat, my one and only crafting masterpiece had gone the way of road kill.  So ended my brief career of crafting.
     Since that fateful day, I have attempted to "craft" many other things.  As I have mentioned, these ventures typically end in a headache on my part and comments from my crafting partners such as, "I never realized you could tangle a necklace that many times before you were done putting the beads on", or, more tactfully, "Wow, Shannon; what an interesting take on vinyl lettering.  The slightly off centered look makes it feel less fussy.....less planned."  A few weekends ago, I was shopping in a design store with my friend.  I saw an antique map decoupaged onto a piece of old wood.  As I am planning to redecorate my boys' room in a nautical theme next year, I was very interested, until I saw the price tag.  My friend noticed the disappointment on my face as I set the map back in it's place.  "You could just make that at home.  It wouldn't be that hard", she said.  I stared at her incredulously.  "I could help you", she floundered.  I didn't blink.  "I could make it for you and you could pay me."  Bingo!  I am a very creative person.  I can visualize amazing things in my mind.  The execution of actually creating those things is another matter entirely.  That would require a left brain, which I am apparently missing.  Thankfully, I have found that my crafting ineptitude has given me little trouble in my adult life.  I happily pay money for the work of others who are very gifted in that area.  I admire the gorgeous blanket my friend spent two months knitting, then I sit down with a good book and my ten dollar Target throw and am perfectly content.  A few days ago, something happened that would throw my perfectly happy, anti-crafting world off it's axis.  My seven year old daughter entered the kitchen, where I was in the process of putting a frozen pizza in the oven, and announced, "I want to make something......not like drawing a picture.  I want to really make something."  I stood in silence for a few moments as my mind visually scanned the contents of each and every drawer in our house. "Houston, we have a problem."  We had some construction paper, some finger paints and a few sheets of stickers.  Apparently my mental scan had outrun my daughter's patience.  "Well, I'll figure something out", she said, and walked outside.  I didn't know exactly where in our backyard my daughter would come up with crafting supplies.  We had to cut down our hot glue gun tree just last year, and I forgot to water the pipe cleaner bush.  A few minutes later, she returned with a handful of dried leaves.  I watched with wonder as she pulled out a sheet of printer paper and a bottle of Elmer's glue and began sticking the dried leaves onto the paper.
    I made sure her dried leaf printer paper project got a spot front and center on the fridge.  Later that night, I stood there for a long time and stared at my daughter's creation.  For something made out of dead leaves and white paper, it was fairly impressive.  She really does have creative urges.  I decided then and there that it was high time I start helping her nurture her artistic talents and impulses.  I am still baffled by the idea of crafting in general.  But, I suppose there are mom's who attend their son's football games who until the point their son made the team, didn't know what an end zone was. There are parents who attend their daughter's piano recital who think that C position is a yoga stretch.  If my daughter wants to craft, I feel I need to support her.  Tomorrow, I have plans to go shopping for school supplies.  Along with the school supplies, some pipe cleaner, googly eyes, string, and maybe a few macaroni noodles may also find their way into the cart.  I figure I will start small, lest I end up aborting my crafting mission before it begins.  I'm certain that that mothers of most rocket scientists would not understand the inner workings and mechanisms of a rocket.  But maybe, many years ago, they sat holding a small boy wearing rocket jammies in their lap as they read books about outer space.    As parents, we get the distinct pleasure of helping our children discover what they love and supporting them as they reach for dreams that we ourselves may not always understand.  I don't think I will ever be ecstatic about crafts.  I prefer to craft words.  But that won't stop me from being in the check out aisle of the craft store every week if that is what will make my daughter happy.  At this moment, I doubt anyone reading this has the skills necessary to assemble a rocket.  But, if any of us knew that the future happiness of our child depended on our ability to single-handedly complete the next moon landing, I guarantee all of us would be signing up for Rocket Building 101( wouldn't it be awesome if that were actually a class?!).  I just hope that along with all of the glued fingers, tangled fishing wire, head pounding, and occasionally naughty words that may escape her mother's lips during our crafting expeditions, that my daughter will recognize above all else, that she has a mother who is over the moon for her, and who would bring her back the north star in a mason jar, if only she could find where to sign up for that rocket building class.