Saturday, July 19, 2008

Tension on the home front

So I go and shoot off my mouth on someone else's blog the other day about how I get along so well with my family and end up in a shouting match with my mom this morning. Just to state this upfront- I do get irritated with my mother quite often but I really try to use it as a learning experience. I know that we are more alike than I care to admit and where we are different, its still more because of her (and my dad) than despite them. So it gives me lots to think about, and ultimately, spending time thinking about it makes me a better parent, I think.

But still. This woman is pushing my buttons.

My mom likes to be in control. Of everyone. And everything. No matter how little she is actually involved in the business at hand, if it involves one of her children, she wants to organize it. Always at the last minute, of course, throwing everyone into a tizzy, but its never too late to get involved. This means, for example, that when my 32 year-old cousin was flying into the airport and either myself or my 45 year-old uncle were available to pick him up, she got on the phone (2000 miles away, while on vacation) with my aunt to sort it out rather than let us do it ourselves. As if we three were somehow incapable of speech. Or rational thought. Or the gumption to pick up a phone. Its infuriating.

So its really no surprise that she did it again this week. My sister who has three children was leaving for 4 days to spend time with a girlfriend. Her husband just got a new job last week so she suddenly had to sort out babysitting for her kids. Naturally, my mother immediately began to make noises about just taking on all three kids for the entire time. Luckily, my sister nixed that idea since my mom is supposed to be resting up for some major surgery in two weeks. Instead, she organized to have our cousin's daughter come over for two days to cover for the time her husband was busy. She asked me if I could watch her middle boy, Mac, for a few hours in the afternoon to give the sitter a break and let Ella have a bit of a playdate, which I readily agreed to. And my mom busily offered to run over, do dinner, put them to bed, have
Mac for a sleepover, and I don't know what all. To be honest, I decided not to listen. I'm so used to her meddling, that I know there is no point in trying to tell her to back off. Besides, at the end of the day, it might be bad for her health but she has to decide if she has the energy for all these extra projects. What was I going to do- tell her not to spend time with her grandkids?

Last night, while stopping by my mom's house on her way out of town, my sister told me that there would be two kids coming to babysit the boys so I didn't need to worry about having Mac over to play with Ella for hours and hours. It would be better for him to be at the house since she would be paying two sitters anyway. Fine with me. It sounded like everything was organized.

Well, this morning, my mom starts packing her bag to go to my grandfather's house, and she tells me that she thinks she will spend the night. I was kind of bummed to have to stay home since it was a gorgeous day, and Ella was begging to go up to the lake, but I had promised to watch Mac for a few hours so it would have to be another day. Then just before walking out the door, she picks up the phone and she asks me if I want Mac to come over right away or if I would be going to play with them at my sister's house. Well, Ella and I weren't even dressed yet (it wasn't 10 yet and we are on vacay, let me remind you), so I was kind of surprised at the rush. I said he could come over. Would I need to feed him lunch then? I thought the babysitters were coming later in the day, but I hadn't listened to closely to my sister the day before. Well, mom says, yeah. Give him lunch but maybe he should stay for dinner as well to help the sitters out. Okay, now I was confused. Was my brother-in-law at home right now? Yes, was the answer. In that case, I asked, since he'll be at work tonight, weren't you going to have Mac spend the night here? Yes, was the answer again. Let me get this straight, I said. You want me to have Mac over now. Feed him lunch. Entertain him all afternoon, although Ella will be in bed and I need a nap today. Feed him dinner. Drag my tired ass through the torturous bedtime routine all by myself with an extra child to take care of. And send him home the next day, after 24 hours of babysitting that no one asked me if I was willing to do and which apparently is not even helping out my sis?

"Its not going to be any extra work for you at all. And anyways, you knew about this plan all along. We talked about it in front of you yesterday. " was my mom's response.

First of all, I heard my mom volunteering to do all sorts of things for the kids over the course of the weekend. From what my sister told me, it was unnecessary, but if my mom wanted to do it, it was her business. But I think she really stepped over the line, volunteering me for a job that was actually a big commitment. I am an adult and my sister is an adult and if she needed this kind of help she needed to speak to me directly. I told my mom that if she volunteered to watch the kids, she was free to do that. But she couldn't volunteer to do a job, decide to leave town instead, and then just pass it off to me without even asking if I was up to it.

She said I was the most selfish person she had ever met.

I told her that she was out of control. I didn't promise anyone I would do that, I wasn't willing to do it, and I wouldn't do it. And she should stop thinking that she had any right to make plans or commitments on my part without speaking to me about it first. I was an adult and perfectly capable of managing my own time and commitments, thank you very much.

Honestly, I am so fed up with her doing this kind of thing. We'll have stuff totally sorted out and then my mom has to get in the middle and start 'improving' our plans. There is always an underdog that she thinks hasn't been able to defend his interests well enough and so she is there to referee and make sure that there is some overly complicated plan in place that she has masterminded that rights all the world's wrongs.


She was mad as hell when she left the house but I don't care. I was mad as hell as well. I think she stepped way over the line. I think that she needs to be told very very clearly that her 'helpfulness' is often turning into 'meddling' and 'interfering.' I'm not very optimistic about her actually having heard what I said but still. It needed to be said and a few days of tension are well worth it if she starts to realize that she needs to treat her adult children like adults. Even when she is certain that she can handle things a million times better than us.

On top of it all, she was diagnosed with cancer recently and instead of making her stop and take a good look at how she is taking care of herself (which is badly), she is storming ahead, business as usual, taking care of everyone else's stuff. She can't realize that the best way to take care of other people is to make sure that she stays healthy. I think a really a big part of the fight this morning is that I am so angry with her for putting so little emphasis on her own health. She's being totally cavaliere about this diagnosis and acting like its no big deal and nothing we say to her seems to make her realize she is going to end up dead if she doesn't take this seriously. I'm glad that she is optimistic and I don't want to change that. But isn't there some healthy middle ground?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Summer memories

Finally, Slip n' Slide duty wasn't so bad. The wind picked up so after forcing the kids to do atleast two slides apiece, we let them climb in the hot tub, which was probably more like a warm tub, but it kept them busy for an hour or so. It was funny because there were so many kids squeezed in there, all that they could do was bob up and down, but that was apparently hilarious fun. In the end, all I had to do was sit in a chair, counting heads to make sure no one went under, while I snacked on Chedder Goldfish stolen from my cousin's baby.

It was a nice party, once all the adults arrived. I grew up going to these relaxed summer dinners where around 25-30 people wander in, carrying pasta salads and coolers of drinks. The kitchen is full of women and the yard is full of kids. There is generally somebody in a dusty baseball uniform and the only people guaranteed a chair are over 80. Its not always incredibly well organized (in fact, lack of organization is probably a key ingredient) but it always turns out perfectly, with plenty of food, drinks, and fun. The biggest problem generally involves trying to get your car out of the driveway when you are on your way home but my family solved this problem long ago by developing the understanding that everyone always leaves their keys on dash.

The next day, I was spoiled again with Northern Wisconsin fun by getting dragged out to a little country village, population about 36, for the Sportmen's Club Pancake Breakfast- all you can eat breakfast on picnic tables in the middle of the cornfields followed by a baseball game between two local teams. An afternoon of popcorn and beer in the sun left us all sunburned and exhausted. Ella is finally a real baseball diamond kid- she spent the entire afternoon running around barefoot with a pack of little kids, begging soda and candy off anyone who was sucker enough to fall for her cute little pout. She took off her shoes and lost them, not caring one little bit that she was dusty and sticky from head to toe. Its another one of those times when I looked at her and suddenly had a flashback to my own childhood that nearly knocked me over.

Remembering the feeling of soft, hot dust on my toes, running around in the sun with an ice pop melting in my hands. Its so funny because it feels so close sometimes, like it was only yesterday that I was eight years old and piling in my mom's red station wagon for the ride to the baseball field to watch my dad play ball and hang out with my cousins in the weeds, chasing foul balls. squeezing a warm sticky quarter in my hand, trying to decide what treat I want to get from the concession stand. I don't know if its because we live so far away and I forgot so much stuff that when I am here, it hits me like a bulldozer. Memories from when I was little, things that haven't crossed my mind for years, just flood in. Maybe its because of Ella and seeing her is like falling into some weird wormhole to my past. What I like best is that the momories are not about something big that happened but more of an overwhelming feeling about what it was like to be a little kid playing, a really nice happy, carefree feeling that you honestly don't get to touch very often when you are an adult. There is always something lingering on the sidelines of your mind, some mental 'To do' list. Sunday was a good day.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

So now I know that we are definitely in Wisconsin as we had our first Tornodo 'drill' last night and are off to our first baseball game of the summer. Last night, there was a major storm passing through the area and when we heard the sirens go off in town, we decided to finish off our television viewing in the basement rather than strain our ears listening for the sound of a freight train bearing down on the house before grabbing our candles and blankets. The scary thing is when the tornado comes at night and you can't see it- or worse, you're asleep. Its at moments like these that I am grateful for the Weather Channel and those doppler radar images where you can watch the red zone move over your house and off to the East so you know exactly when its alright to head off to bed. All in all, it was kind of a non-event. I suppose the scariest part was moving Ella and praying that she didn't wake up when I took her out of bed.

Today, I said that I would go to a baseball game with my Grandma but I've not lived around these parts for so long that my sense of geography is a bit off. I thought that I had agreed to a 45 minute car ride to see the game when in fact, I've just been told, its more like an hour and a half each way. Yikes. I really don't like baseball enough to justify that much time in the car but its too late to back out now. Anyways, there's a big family party to look forward to afterwards. My dad and his twin brother turned 60 this week so the two families will get together tonight with my Grandma for a big dinner cooked on the grill enjoyed outside in my aunt's beautiful garden. It should be fairly chaotic with the 9 adult children between them + spouses + 9 grandchildren. My mom asked my sister to pick up a bottle or two of wine to bring along, which makes me wonder if she is suffering from a head injury. Two bottles of wine will hardly get us through the first course. My sister and I were on the phone this morning and agreed that she should pick up two cases- just to be on the safe side. Bear in mind, there are going to be 9 children under the age of 10. This is clearly an occasion that calls for large amounts of alcohol.

But then thats what I love best about summer here.

What I like least:
Since I am solo parenting, I am forced to do the bedtime routine myself every night. That wouldn't be too bad, although its difficult at the end of a long day to find the energy to move serenely through the bedtime tantrums. What's really killing me is that Ella has developed an unnatural attachment to one story book, specifically 'Diego's Springtime Fiesta'. I have had to read that stupid book about 5 stupid baby bunnies that run away from their nest atleast once a day for the last week and a half. Its super long, as well. I know that it might be more annoying to read a rhyming baby book but this is already bad enough. I don't think I can handle doing this for another 5 weeks. But Ella is showing no signs of letting up on me, so I am going to need to dig deep into my reserves of parental patience. Seriously, B is going to owe me big time. He's off in Paris, swanning around the silent apartment like a happy batchelor while I tear my hair out from dawn til well after dusk chasing after a crazed three-year-old.

I think I will start researching spa retreats right now. That way, when Ella pulls out that damn book, I can just put my mouth on autopilot and go to my 'happy place'.

Update: I've been placed on Slip 'n Slide duty for the afternoon and therefore won't be trekking to the baseball game. The glee with which the other mothers jumped in the car makes me think that I made the wrong choice...

Friday, July 11, 2008

Summer in Wisconsin

I really thought I had posted a message since we arrived- I guess I dreamed it? Weird. In that message I said that we had a good flight and were given seats together as we checked in at the gate. The plane left an hour and half late but we were off the plane and out of customs a half hour before my ride arrived at the airport (but then, in my 17 years of flying home I've learned to appreciate the baggage claim coffee bar...) Jetlag was once again a non-issue for Ella, which i never stop being grateful for. While waiting at immigration, I saw a woman who reminded me how lucky I am to have Ella who is an excellent traveller and also, how wise I am to have mastered the basics of international travel. This poor woman had 2 kids, one of whom was in a full scale meltdown and rolling around on the floor, but she was blinded by dry contacts and buried under a mountain of carry-on luggage. Clearly, she was not savvy to the Number One Rule of Travel:

1. Never travel with more luggage than you can carry yourself.

And that means counting children when the case warrants. Seriously, who in their right mind would travel with 4 small open tote bags, ie luggage that is impossible to set down without spilling out all over the floor? Here is some unsollicited advice- if you are travelling with children, a backpack is your friend. With any luck, you have a device to strap your non-walking child to your front. Your gear is all on your back. Then you have two free hands and the ability to manage two large wheely bags (checked prior to departure to verify that all wheels are fully functional). Voila- disaster averted, even if you have a screaming child and no luggage carts. Or you are suddenly required during a transfer to check your luggage in a distant terminal accessible only by slow moving walkway (true story). Sure, you can tell yourself that surely some kindly stranger will come along to help but in my experience a nervous breakdown normally finds you first. I will repack my bags three, four times to get to a point where I have reduced my luggage to a manageable amount. If its one thing that parenthood has taught me, its survival techniques. Only the fast and the strong survive.

So, it seemed like as soon as we arrived we were thrown into the thick of things, with all the 4th of July festivities. We got to enjoy my absolute fav bit of Americana- the Winter, WI 4th of July parade. Its the high school marching band, in their ridiculously hot woolen uniforms playing 'Play that Funky Music White Boy'; its the Little League team showing off their league champions trophy; its the Festival Queen in a neon pink polyester dress sitting on a hay wagon doing that silly pageant wave, its little kids dashing into the street to pick up candy thrown from the fire truck and nearly dying of fright when the Chief turns on the horns. I love every bit of it. And, of course, its twice as nice to bump into people I know and didn't expect to see- because its a small town so of course you see a million people you know. I love that I sit down, expecting to eat my sauerkraut covered brat alone at a picnic table, and end up sharing a plate of cheese curds with three of my aunts (and some strange, quiet man that plunked himself down right in the middle of us and we all thought was related to someone else). I love that the band playing Oldies Rock music all afternoon is a bunch of middle-schoolers, one of whom is a Chinese girl who is definitely shorter than her bass guitar is long.

Sadly, after a dinner of taco salade for about three times as many people as there were chairs in the house (another thing that I get weirdly sentimental about), I only managed to stay awake for the little fireworks at the house. The whole extended family, loaded down with bug spray and wool blankets, piled into cars to go see the town fireworks and 'oooh' and 'ahhh' while laying on the baseball field. I volunteered to stay home with the babies who were already asleep. When our neighbors decided to start setting off some major fireworks at 10:30, I jumped out of bed to close the window but, in my haste, failed to notice that there was a painting balanced on the top of the window, holding down a blanket to make it extra dark in the room. The picture came silently shooting down the blanket ramp while I tried to jiggle the window closed, hitting me smack on the bridge of my nose. So there I am in the dark, stiffling my screams so as to not wake the two sleeping children in the room, trying to get myself out from under the blanket while keeping the blood gushing out of my nose from getting all over everything- a bit of trick in the pitch black in a room set up like a obstacle course. I don't think I have ever had a bloody nose so this was quite an introduction. The blood stopped quickly enough but I swear I think that I really broke something. Its a week later and when I wash my face, I get a weird pressure down near my lip and my nose is super cracky if I wiggle the end. Thats not good, right?

So anyways, we have had beautiful gorgeous summer weather every single day. I am even counting the rainy weather because when it did finally rain, it was the most spectacular high-wind lightening storm that woke me in the middle of the night with the all the howling through the trees that was going on. We get woken up every morning by the flocks of birds peep-peep-peeping outside our windows (which is a nice change from being awoken in Paris by the garbage truck, but seriously, birds, can we take it down a notch or two?) When we drove into the driveway to our country house last week, I think Ella thought she had stumbled into a scene from a Disney film. First we had to stop so that a momma deer and her twin spotted bambis could get across the road. Then as we stepped out of the car, two squirrels jumped out of a tree and had some chattery little argument over a pine cone. And as we walked up to the door, a robin sitting on a post, sang us a little song before lazily flying away. Seriously, if a couple of dwarfs came whistling around the corner, I wouldn't have batted an eyelash.

All in all, I am so happy that we bailed out of Paris when we did. This is what summer holidays are supposed to be like. Ella has completely adapted to all the freedom she has to run around, in and out of the house with minimal supervision. I have seen my stress-level drop due the fact that I feel like a have a bit of space to breathe. It feels so nice to be out of that little rabbit cage we call an apartment! I'm already wondering how B is going to manage to drag us onto the airplane in the fall...

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

T- 2 hours

We leave for the airport in less than 2 hours. I started packing our bags at 8:30 last night and still have not started doing the bathroom stuff. Must wash my hair. Don't forget to pack snacks for Ella. I totally forgot yesterday morning to do a shop for airplane entertainment- and I am desperately, I mean DESPERATELY , in need of a stress free flight.

Naturally, leaving so early in the summer meant that we have had a million and one things to do before leaving and friends are in town so Ella and I have been out doing our social rounds non-stop and I only just managed to schedule in all the pre-flight preps that I needed to accomplish, things like haircuts and stuff. All these carefully laid plans were destroyed by an emergency visit to the hospital on Friday morning and strict doctor's orders to stay in bed resting for two days. I generally am all for laying on the sofa watching downloaded American TV for days on end, but this couldn't have come at a worse time. And of course with the sales, my dear husband has been working 7 days a week, so poor Ella has really bore the brunt of things.

Speaking of poor Ella, do you know that I was thwarted at every attempt I made to get seats for Ella and I together? I booked two window seats, 19J and 26J, but the NWA telephone agents refused to give me the aisle seat in either of these rows because you need to be an Elite Air Miles member for those seats. The fact that Ella is 3 had no influence. The fact that I fly NWA three times a year back to the States had no influence (my miles accumulate on Air France). Are these people completely retarded or just plain evil? Clearly, at some point, they are going to have to arrange for Ella and I to sit together so why wait until I am standing in the aisle of the airplane juggling bags and coats and blocking a hundred irritated travellers? Sigh.

I'm sure we will be fine. Ella is a star traveller and we doing our maiden voyage on the direct flight Paris/MSP so that will improve our travel experience by the simple fact that we will cut about 5 hours off our travel time. But its this last little stretch that is making me sweat. Oops- one more hour. I should think about getting in the shower, I guess...