Friday, June 29, 2012

Things they really don't warn you about

Boxes: Fun for cats and kids/Courtesy comedynose via Creative Commons

I know you've seen these lists before, these "stuff they don't tell you about before you have kids" lists. But those were all bullshit cop outs, filled with such informative items as "you're going to love them more than you ever thought possible." I mean, sure, this is probably true, but way to not go out on a limb there. As a fellow parent, I know your dirty secret. This is a worthwhile, but terrible job some days. On the best days, it's only a 4 out of 10 on the Scale of Grossness. I'm going to give it to you straight.

Potty Training Is Disgusting

I don't have girls, who are allegedly easier to train, but I can tell you that there is something innate that occurs when you become a parent, because only a parent can clean up what we have cleaned up, move on nonchalantly when we conclude that it's not coming out of that tiny crack beside the bathtub no matter how much industrial strength bleach we buy at the bulk store, and then allow these foul creatures to kiss us fully (and wetly), on the mouth, only minutes later.

Pro Tip: When potty training, either let them go naked, or go with loose pants with no underwear. Trust me. You'd rather pick that up off the floor than scrub it out of those $4 Batman underwear.

Your Kids Are Uninteresting to Everybody Else

Grandparents and doting aunts and uncles notwithstanding, pretty much nobody cares what your kid is doing beyond a cursory glance and an assessment of their relative cuteness. When it comes to friendly acquaintances, especially, no one is really invested. And honestly, that's OK by me. I'm still going to post pictures of my kid in his dobok on Facebook and babble about their latest dentist visit to unsuspecting strangers. It's just part of what I have to offer to conversations these days. I just wish I could remember that no one really cares when I'm feeling the weight of judgment from the world at large. 

Pro Tip: When you reach the level of honestly not giving a shit what other people think about your baby-raising, it's time to celebrate with family neck tattoos. 

Yep. They Really Do Prefer the Box It Came in.

You will spend a shameful amount of time and money around birthdays and holidays on the perfect gift. Your darling baby will rip it open gleefully, demand you take whatever it is out of its box, toss that thing aside and cram his body inside the box, thrilled that you devoted so much energy to finding the ideal cardboard receptacle for him. 

Same thing with sticks. Since the dawn of time, people have been content milling around outside with little more than a carefully chosen stick. We might call it a baseball bat, or a walking staff, or a golf club, but these are really just sticks with a purpose. I am telling you now - go cheap or go home until they reach the Age of Resentment. Even then, tread cautiously. One big money Christmas and it's all over for you. If you must buy something branded, buy it used, or ask around. There's always someone you know ready to let go of Dora's Talking House or that adult-sized giraffe from Toys R Us. 

Pro Tip: Those commercials that come on 85 decibels louder than the cartoons are aimed at you, way more than your kid. They are yelling "Hey, mom! Stop pinning things you are never going to make on Pinterest and watch this ad!! BUY THIS THING! GUILT! YOU SUCK AS A PERSON AND A PARENT!  BUYYYYY THIIIIIIS!" You'll believe me when you find yourself at the store been pulled by a force unseen toward something called Squinkies and that bowl that can't spill no matter how you turn it (LIES).

You suck at this.

So does everybody else. Yet most of us (many of us? I hope?) are able to look back on our childhoods and conclude it was mostly good. There was love. There was fun. There were people who cared about us despite our very gross and very human natures. We did stuff and learned things, and forged our own warped personalities from the fragments of dysfunction that form the everyday lives of all our lives.

So stop sweating it. If you care enough to try to glean something from lists like these, if you earnestly want you children to be happy and loved above all else, you're probably doing as best you can when it comes to the rearing. There will always be factors out of our control. One day, your child may bring shame on your family via a cameo on the 125th version of Girls Gone Wild or get arrested for bouncing a $13 check at the local drugstore (it happens) (oh the shame), and it won't be because you didn't force them to listen to Mozart in the womb. It will be because people are stupid sometimes, and apparently, these children we're raising are people, too. 

Pro Tip: Your holiday newsletter will be much more interesting for everyone if you include all the dumb things everybody did all year. "Well, the Smiths have had an interesting year, from Granpda's DUI to John's stint with the Inmate Highway Clean Up Crew to that time we let the dog eat an entire head of cabbage because it seemed funny at the time. Wowee - the stench still lingers here at the Smith domicile. Merry Cabbage, we say!" and so on.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Maggie Waggie: Whose idea was this?

Taken by my friend Jo, AKA Maggie's beloved second mother.

"Let's get a dog!" I said. "A dog will complete this stereotypical picture of American living!" I said, like it was a good thing.

I pledged to walk, feed, groom, and love our future furry beast.

Eventually, the powers that be agreed, and we drove out to Hillsboro (where Pride Rings True, apparently) one frigid Sunday in January a few years ago to retrieve our undoubtedly adorable Golden Retriever.

See? Undoubtedly adorable:

Maggie's first car ride.
I loved her immediately. We had a friendly family argument all the way home about what to call this adorable mass of reddish brown fur, and eventually agreed on Maggie, though Anderson insisted her full name would be Aggie Maggie. This was an omen, as it turns out, because soon this creature would devour every small child on the block.

OK, that's probably just a lie.

But it wasn't long before I was battling serious regret over this whole hair-brained (HA) idea of mine. I had read all the warnings. I had ignored all the advice from wise friends about puppy chewing, house training, the vet bills, and the massive amounts of hair that would clog every drain, vent, and slightly open bag of anything in my house. Surely, all that stuff was exaggeration. Surely nobody would have a dog if it was really that much work.

Oh, but no. It was not lies, lies, lies. Soon enough, I hated the entire puppy situation. I wondered why on Earth I had decided it would be a good idea to go straight back into the stuff we'd just moved past when our youngest left behind his early baby stage.

I was up at 3 a.m. coaxing a furry beast off my frozen porch out into the snow to please, for the love of god, just pee already. I was going through 10 jumbo rolls of paper towels a month and damaging hardwood floors with harsh cleaners when the coaxing didn't work. I was retrieving the eyeballs from beloved stuffed animals from organic matter that I won't mention in polite company. I was treating this horrible beast for worms. WORMS. Worms were in my house. Worms from inside my dog. When I wasn't doing these things, I was forcing Kurt to do these things. A fairly annoyed Kurt, who had required much convincing about this dog scenario.

On the other hand, the kids were in mad, undeniable love.

Exhibit A of the undeniable love.

Anderson dubbed her the best dog that had ever existed, and found her antics hilarious. He especially loved the trick where she peed everywhere when meeting new people, or people she'd met 10 times before, or when the mailman brought a box to the porch, or when someone talked to her with slight excitement.

He loved that she was still climbing into our laps when she had somehow grown from 15 to 45 pounds in the course of 3 months.

He loved her "funny doggie smell" when she'd apparently rolled in something dead in the brushy part of the backyard.

He loved her when she was bad, even when she chewed up his favorite books, because he could still read the best words.

But mostly, he loved how much she loved him and David. She was immediately their constant shepherd, their relentless companion. At night, she wouldn't lay down until she'd checked to make sure they were both asleep, and then she'd settle in right on top of Anderson, at first fitting on top of his chest, and later, stretching out longer than him.

Then one day, it happened. I heard it in my own voice first, which had evolved over time from borderline annoyance at her mere presence (especially after one of those long, cold nights of potty training), to the soft, babying tones I'd generally reserved for, you know, actual babies.

 "Oh, there's my Maggie Waggie. You are a sweet doggie woggie, aren't you?" Was this coming out of my mouth? I looked around to make sure no one had heard, lest I get pegged a "dog person," but yes, somewhere along the line, I had fallen for her smelly, furry charms.

It turns out it's hard not to love an animal who has nothing but unconditional love for you, and as a mother, for an animal who treats your children with such unbridled affection and care. Maggie + the boys = joy and love. These days, I understand why people take on this job.

These days, she is truly one of the kids, and I can't imagine a better companion in a four-legged family member.

These days, she is loyal, sweet, and not as likely to pee on the floor when the guy comes to read the electric meter.

These days, Maggie is ours, and we are hers. That's a good doggie woggie, indeed.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Walking Up Dry Run Road

My Grandma Bricker, who loved to wear red, in the 1980s.

My Grandma Bricker was born 99 years ago today -- June 13, 1913. A Friday, even. I've never felt particularly suspicious about Friday the 13th, but my grandma would have certainly called that entire concept stupid (though probably in a more measured way).

Growing up, my grandparents were integral. My parents were very young, and I spent lots of time with both sets. When my Poppy Bricker died I was 6, my first little brother was a newborn, and I started spending even more time with her.

She taught me to play gin rummy and Scrabble (and never let me slide with any suspect spelling). She taught me how to make gravy and what a Bob White sounds like. She waged an endless battle with the moles that would leave a fortress of dirty mounds all over the yard, a battle that would eventually culminate in her shooting at the little jerks with the shotgun she kept in the pantry. She was pretty much bad ass.

Women born in 1913 didn't typically have career aspirations, but my grandma graduated high school from the same building I would later attend primary school, and then she became a nurse. She was the head nurse at Our Lady of Mercy in Mariemont when I was born there in 1975, in fact, and one of the first people to ever lay eyes on my newborn wrinkles.

She lived through the 1937 flood of the Ohio River, and wound up stuck on the Kentucky side for a few days while working at St. Elizabeth Hospital. She lived through the Depression, two World Wars, Vietnam, and maybe most important, several incarnations of the Reds teams she would yell at while listening on her AM radio. We did so many things together, but mostly we walked. Up and down Dry Run Road in rural Clermont County, Ohio, up to Galley Hill Rd and all the way down to the bridge my great grandpa built.

And I loved her.

Her presence in my early life, especially, still guides me. She was not one for sentimentality, but we spent an important time together, when I was adjusting from life as an only child to that of a big sister, and she was grieving the loss of my grandpa. She always sang "You Are My Sunshine" to me as we sat on her front porch, and I would lean against her tall, strong body, pretending not to notice the tears when we got to the "the other night dear, as I lay dreaming, I dreamt I held you in my arms" verse.

At her funeral, people came from everywhere to talk about what an amazing woman, friend, example of kindness she had been for them, especially nurses. And the thing is, with my grandma, it was more deed than word. She was unlikely to express a lot of sentimental phooey, but when it came to being non-judgmental and accepting, she simply was. When it came to encouragement, she just expected you to suck it up and live your life right, to not waste your gifts. She was softer with us grandkids than anyone, I think, but even we did not get a free pass in the Suck It Up department. She grew up poor, no doubt, but we never heard about it. She canned the vegetables and fruits from her yard and sewed clothes and quilts from every scrap (we all have at least one Grandma Bricker Blanket), but it was never a big production. It simply didn't occur to her to waste stuff, but it wasn't in her nature to guilt us into following along. You just didn't do that at her house.

I did manage to get what I think is the only Grandma Bricker spanking on record. I really did not take her seriously about leaning way, way, way over that second story railing. I don't think I went within 10 feet of that thing from then on, and it wasn't because I was fearful of another spanking. It hurt so much to realize I'd disrespected and disappointed her, a weight I carry to this day whenever I have a moment of self-reflection after doing something stupid. She forgave me almost instantly for the railing incident, as she did with many other mistakes I managed to make as a teenager and young adult, especially. I shook when I had to tell her I was getting a divorce at age 22, but she didn't flinch. She said "well, things happen" and we went on from there, the breathing on my end much easier.

I don't think I ever heard her express self-pity, which made it that much harder when she lost her sight toward the end. No longer could she spend hours making quilts, playing cards, or working crossword puzzles. It seemed like a cruel joke from the universe to me at the time. This woman had given so much to so many, and her wants were so small. She was angry about it, and I was, too. There's no point or moral lesson I've learned here. It still pisses me off.

As she approached 90, I was approaching 30. I'd been married and divorced, had lived in Chicago and Michigan, and had been remarried 2 years when she died. She made sure she was able to attend the wedding shower my family held for me in town, and before she left she made sure someone found me so she could tell me she loved me. I hugged her harder than you are probably supposed to hug an elderly person, but I think she hugged me back even harder. I'm so glad Kurt got to meet her, though I wish he'd experienced a real Grandma Bricker meal in the house my Poppy built on Dry Run Road.

She died in 2004, just weeks before Kurt and I left for the UK for 6 months to study abroad. It made the trip both harder and easier, and I felt guilty for feeling a little peace about not having to worry about her while we were over there. It was bad timing for my grieving process, in a way, but in another, it was her memory I conjured up while riding ferries off the coast of Scotland and hiking up the hillsides outside Urquhart Castle looking down on Loch Ness. She wasn't there, but we walked together. I knew she would have been proud that I was out in the world, walking beside someone I loved and who I allowed to love me fully.

I'm the sentimental fool she never was, but I've finally forgiven myself for it. I know she'd be proud of that, too. I realize now that my affinity for my grandparents and my emotional attachment to memories of childhood spent with them has much to do with the state of things in my family today. I don't harbor resentment for the way things have turned out, but I would be lying if I said I didn't miss having an intact family without the sadness that seems to touch so many interactions these days. It hurts my heart. But I'm so lucky to still have so much living family, even if they are scattered to the four corners of the country. As dysfunctional as things can get, my heart still bleeds Bricker, and always will.

Miss you so much, grandma.

Me and both grandmas, 1978.

Monday, June 4, 2012

A sad cupcake is still a cupcake

And I thought I wouldn't be able to find a Sad Cupcake picture. On etsy.
I'd like to be able to say that my absence lately is due to something awesome. I was riding down the Amazon on a crocodile named Steve, or finally embarking on that hot air balloon tour of the Northwest Territory. But, no.

In truth, I have just been sad, and when I'm feeling sad, I find it hard to write anything I want to share with anybody.

I won't bore you or publicize family stuff in this space. It's the kind of stuff that happens in life sometimes, just lots of it all at once. My immediate family is actually in a very good place right now, which should make me feel better, but because I'm me, tends to add a thick, fuzzy layer of frosted guilt on my Sad Cupcake. I'm having trouble enjoying the things that make my life good because of the stress and sadness going on in the lives of various other people I love. And in typical WASP-like fashion, 79% of what's happening isn't even being discussed. I'm about to round all these people up and hold a Fight Club in my basement.

Anyway. Enough cryptic stuff. I'm pretty sure the Internet will topple over on its side soon if the continuous influx of emo bullshit doesn't slow down at some point. More cigar-smoking kittens! Less whiny suburbanites!

I'm working very hard to morph from Sad Sarah to Somewhat Morose Sarah, and part of that is breaking through my writer's block of gloom and doom. So expect some weird shit here in the coming days. It's my coping mechanism and I'm dragging you along for the ride. Thank you for sitting shotgun and not berating me about all those stop signs I'm blowing past. Yes, we can put the top down, but I draw the line at travel bingo. We all know travel bingo sucks.

I will leave you with a happy picture from the past few weeks. My oldest son is officially on the cusp of being a "big kid," having turned SIX over the weekend. He is pure love and his smile gives me perspective on a daily basis. It's pretty funny - when he was a baby, we'd have to actually "chomp"* on his side to get so much as a smile out of this kid, and now his entire face lights up with complete joy when he is moved by happiness. Happy birthday, little one.

The freshly minted 6-year-old who kept assuring me his birthday party was the best day EVER.

How did this little guy become a KID?
*In this case, the quotes indicate that we did not actually chew on our child. Yes, I know it's not even funny to joke about things like this, what with all the zombie crimes happening lately. Also, braaaaains.