And Then She Was 7

October 16, 2013 at 8:13 am | Posted in Lollipop | 21 Comments
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She’s been 7 for three days.

This girl, the one missing her front top teeth. The one who loves sequins almost as much as she loves rabbits. The one who graduated to chapter books when I wasn’t looking.

She roller skates. She backstrokes. She rides her bike, the one with the sparkly purple streamers, without training wheels.

She pirouettes.

She’s wise to this blog thing and suggested I write about “that funny growl Bun makes when he’s cranky, which is a lot, Mommy.”

She has a slight addiction to funny cat videos on YouTube.

She digs in the dirt. She makes her own mud. Her fingernails are a mess. She doesn’t care.

She does this thing now where she rolls her eyes and sighs when she’s exasperated. There’s usually an “aye yai yai” to go with it and, occasionally, a sassy hand-on-the-hip gesture.

She read a book on global warming this summer and decided to start an environmental club. There are 15 members and counting. So far, they’ve planted bean seeds, cleaned up the neighborhood park, and made nature collages. For the next meeting, she’s planning an autumn-focused sing-a-long and maybe some choreography.

She leaves me purple sticky notes on the kitchen counter with reminders like, “Please fix my bird’s wobbly beek” and “I prefer grape jelly for my luntch.”

When she grows up, she wants to run a store called Love Bunnies. She’s got a business plan partially drafted, complete with a social media component. She’ll sell real bunnies, stuffed bunnies, bunny clothes, bunny food, bunny snacks, bunny toys, and bunny bling. There may be a line of bunny ballet slippers. She will oversee things, and Giggles will be her minion. They are both okay with this arrangement.

Last week, she researched bats on the computer and wrote a nonfiction book about them because she had a little time before swim lessons. There may have been a glossary.

Last month, she got an award at school for, among other things, “general awesomeness.”

She’s 7. She’s amazing. And she’s mine.

I think I’ll celebrate with some choreography.

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V is for she’s growing up so very fast, it’s giving me vertigo. See more V’s at Jenny’s.

Jenny Matlock

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Here and There

July 7, 2013 at 10:03 am | Posted in Transylvania | 7 Comments
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Exactly 377 days ago, we flew over an ocean, over highways and skyscrapers, over cookie-cutter subdivisions with manicured lawns and pH-balanced pools, and landed on American soil. We put our driver’s licenses back in the slightly-too-small front slots of our wallets and relegated our Romanian identity cards to a souvenir box in the closet.

We were home. No longer expats. No longer foreigners in a foreign land.

Red, White, and Blue.

But, strangely, we found ourselves on unfamiliar ground: wide swaths of glorious, sole-burning asphalt offering up more parking spots than could ever be filled, except on the Biggest One-Day Shopping Event of the Year! Places (plural) to buy milk or batteries or pipe cleaners or whatever else we might need at 1:30 in the morning. Air conditioning. Clothes dryers. Cheetos.

Welcome home indeed.

Now, just over a year later, we’re repatriated. Completely.

I haven’t eaten cabbage in a year. Or smelled it. I lie awake at night willing dusty synapses to re-engage so that I can remember the Romanian words for “snow” and “strawberry” and “cable package.” I bake without rationing my chocolate chips. And it no longer feels right to kiss a friend’s cheek when I see her in the grocery store.

But I also keep a 10-bani coin in my wallet. I automatically say “Opa!” when Bun trips over his shoe and face-plants on the sidewalk. I prefer fizzy water, slightly warm with no ice, to the ice-cold still variety. And I tuck my children into bed with a whispered noapte bună.

Red, Yellow, and Blue.

All of it — the memories that have long since been deleted from my mental hard-drive alongside the ones indelibly imprinted there — makes my heart seize up as if I were navigating the roundabout in Mănăştur on my way to Cora.

Did we really live abroad for a year? In Romania? Did we really call taxis, order pizza (with corn and ketchup), and get used to frozen hair? Did we really break two bones, have two surgeries, and navigate health-care systems in four different languages? Did we really pick cherries and apples and blackberries and eat them, right then and there? And when did we stop noticing our perpetually vermilion thumbs?

If we really, truly did all of that — and I know we did; I’m still sorting through the 6,000 photos that document it — why has it been so easy to come home? To fall back into this land of the free public bathrooms and home of the brave parents who trudge to Walmart in the middle of the night for baby Tylenol, animal crackers, and a Red Bull?

A year there, a year back here. I wanted it to be hard. I needed it to be. Because if it wasn’t, how could our year abroad have meant anything?

I’m secretly and desperately afraid all I really have to show for it is some lovely handcrafted pottery. And an immense appreciation for Mark Zuckerberg, who makes it possible for me to stay in touch with friends from places like Sibiu and Alba Iulia.

But shouldn’t there be more?

Does home ever feel too “easy”? Where is your farthest-away Facebook friend? And do you know that smell I’m talking about, that cooked-cabbage-or-possibly-a-child-with-gas smell??

Marking Time

April 4, 2013 at 12:09 am | Posted in Bun, Giggles, Lollipop, Photo Tuesday | 16 Comments
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“Why not just live in the moment, especially if it has a good beat?” — Goldie Hawn

How do you stop, or at least slow, the march of time? What symbolizes time for you? And don’t you wish you could pull off pink ruffles? (I know I do!)

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“T” is for time … See more Ts at Jenny’s.

Jenny Matlock

A Love Letter: 26 Years Later

February 5, 2013 at 1:29 am | Posted in Me | 18 Comments
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Valentine’s Day — it’s a glittering light on the horizon during those dull, murky post-Christmas days of January when snowman wrapping paper that’s 70 80 90! percent off is finally replaced with boxes and boxes of chalky candy hearts.

And doilies. Nothing says Valentine’s Day like a hand-written “Be mine” and a few Snoopy stickers on a pink paper doily. Am I right?

When I was 8, I sat at my kitchen table with a stack of those doilies and a 64-pack of crayons. I wrote a different message for each kid in my third-grade class: UR 2 sweet, Love ya!, Friends 4-ever. It took me 7 episodes of Kids Incorporated to finish.

 

I brought them to school and carefully placed them in 16 decorated shoeboxes with holes cut in the top. I remember because this was also the year I found a love letter in my own foil-covered shoebox. From a secret admirer. Scrawled in freshly sharpened pencil on wide-ruled notebook paper was a poem I can’t remember and this: “With Love, K.S.”

With love! From K.S.! I glanced at the boys in my class with a nonchalance that belied my mere 8 years.

And then I saw him. A cutie named Kyle Scott. He had light brown hair and dimples. All of his permanent teeth had come in. His skin was bronze from soccer season. And? He. Liked. Me. I knew it.

But it wasn’t Kyle Smith. My teacher Mrs. Laughlin confirmed it. Something oozed out of my heart like the saccharin filling of a chocolate-covered cherry.

And then I really knew: Kniles. Kniles Smith.

He looked like you’d imagine a kid named Kniles to look. Short and mousey. Big beaver teeth. A brown bowl cut. He wore thick black glasses and made jokes about meteorology and BASIC. My heart oozed more goopy stuff.

When Mrs. Laughlin nodded her Barbie-blonde mane, I slid into my orange plastic chair. Stunned. Disappointed. Kniles.

I had enough manners to know I shouldn’t show how upset I was. But I just couldn’t help it. I felt like one of those overfilled heart-shaped balloons, the ones that never really look like hearts at all. Pop!

Even the Sixlets taped to the Care Bear and She-Ra valentines I dug from my shoebox didn’t cheer me up.

K.S. Kniles Smith. Pop!

But somewhere between the red-velvet cupcakes and the donning of my safety-patrol badge, I had an epiphany that third-grade Valentine’s Day — perhaps the first of my young Smurf-and-sticker-book-filled life. What a risk Kniles had taken writing me that poem. He had given me his heart, disguised as crooked mixed-case graphite couplets. He didn’t know how I would react. He hadn’t asked for anything in return. He just felt so strongly that the words had to come out, had to be shared, had to be folded into a pull-flap rectangle and dropped in a shoebox, my shoebox.

I saw Kniles Smith that day. Really saw him. Beyond the scrawny, awkward boy who knew more about fractions and food webs than anyone else in third grade, I saw someone with a brawny heart just as big as his brain. A Casanova, a Lord Byron, a Lloyd Dobler — on the inside, where it matters most.

For K.S, wherever you are.

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This post is part of Momalom’s 2013 Love Fest. See more love letters at Jen and Sarah’s.

On the Rocks

January 23, 2013 at 8:42 pm | Posted in Photo Tuesday, The Pups | 22 Comments
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“Happiness is a warm puppy.” — Charles M. Schulz

Just yesterday, he was a fluffy, wiggly furball with ears as big as his whole body. Today, he’s 9. There’s gray in his muzzle. He doesn’t chase a tennis ball with quite the tenacity he once did. But he still loves a good snooze, preferably in a soft lap. He still sits patiently, waiting for clumsy (or clever?) little fingers to drop goldfish or sandwich crusts or carrot sticks. He comes running at the sound of a snack bowl of Cheerios scattering across the kitchen tile. And he needs to be near us, wherever we are. The feeling is mutual. Happy Birthday, Rocky!

Do you have a 100-pound lap dog in your life? How do animals brighten your day? And do yours snarf up crumbs better than a vacuum cleaner?

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“J” is for just yesterday … See more Js at Jenny’s.

Jenny Matlock

My Half-Life

January 22, 2013 at 4:50 am | Posted in Family, Me | 14 Comments
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In exactly two months, I’ll be 35.

If I’m lucky, I still have half of my life to live. And if I’m not so lucky … well, I have less.

Contemplating that has led to a few heart palpitations in the shower, a few nightmares involving wildcats and curvy roads and getting lost in the grocery store.

What have I done with the time that’s gone? What haven’t I done? What do I want from the time that remains?

I have no idea. And no time to contemplate it between the loads of laundry, the sticky breakfast dishes, the cat puke, the potty training, the freelance work, the sleep I’m not getting, the calories I’m not burning, the endless piles of toys, and the downloaded movie queue I’ll never, ever make it through.

Or maybe I should put it this way. We have clothes to wear, meals to eat, and dishes to eat them on. We have healthy pets and healthy kids. We have work that pays the bills. We have more fun ways to spend our free time than we have actual free time. We have each other, and we are lucky. I am lucky.

But I still can’t ignore this emotional tug to take stock and re-prioritize, to dig around in my mental sandbox and see what’s buried in there. Won’t that ultimately make me better? A better woman, a better mother, a better partner, a better person?

Too many days, I feel myself bracing for the chaos and noise and dirty socks I know are coming. I wish for something to be different, but I’m not sure what. Or how. Or even why I want something to change.

Because I am lucky. I am. I know this.

Like the plastic gold coins my boys just unearthed in the playroom, my own treasures are already within reach.

How do you make time for a little honest-to-goodness soul-searching? What helps remind you that you’re lucky? And what’s been recently rediscovered in your family’s playroom?

Sweetness and Light

January 7, 2013 at 10:26 pm | Posted in Family, The Pups | 29 Comments
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When our behemoth black Lab was a wee pup, just barely one year old, he ate our remote control. (I’m not kidding.) We didn’t have children yet. We both worked. And one ordinary Tuesday, he got bored while we were out bringing home the Bark’n Bac’n.

Shortly thereafter, we decided to get him a canine friend. Someone older, wiser, more mature. Someone who could teach him more manners than we’d been able to. (Because he had eaten the dog-training book, too.)

Yin and Yang.

My husband chose Polly from a local dog-rescue website. With her shaggy, blonde face smiling up at him, her brown eyes glittering with that Disney-dog aura of hers, I’m pretty sure he was a goner from the first click. And a few days later, she came to live with us.

Actually, she came for a weekend trial. It lasted for seven years.

Because she was the perfect foil for our Lab. She was calm and quiet and gentle. She allowed him to push past her, beat her to the top of the stairs, and bowl her over when he needed to be the alpha dog of someone, anyone, in this ever-more-chaotic house filled with pint-sized ear-pullers. And she never ate things she shouldn’t, save a few crayons, the occasional litter-box cookie, and, once, a bag of lollipops.

She also never barked, except in her sleep when the terrier in her subconscious romped with abandon after squirrels and rabbits. She snuffled when we trimmed her Gandalfian eyebrows. She smelled like fresh tortillas and charmed all the neighborhood postmen.

Sweetness and Light.

We lost her this weekend.

She settled down for the night on her worn green-and-brown bed and never woke up.

She was old. She had arthritis that made it terribly painful to stand up and lie down. She was mostly blind and mostly deaf.

So it was a blessing that she passed peacefully, at home, in her favorite spot.

I know that. I do. Still, I miss her. I wasn’t ready for her to go.

But she was ready.

I have to take comfort in that. Somehow, I have to.

Care to share a funny or sweet story about your pets? About the strangest thing they ever ate? About how your heart manages, somehow, to heal once they’re gone?

Framed

September 11, 2012 at 10:29 pm | Posted in Family, Me | 10 Comments
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I haven’t been here lately. I’m not sure where I’ve been.

Why …

There’s no doubt my body has been busy: Cleaning up smooshed graham crackers. Refilling milk and juice (or “goose” as Bun calls it). Walking geriatric dogs. Washing laundry. Drying laundry. Folding laundry. Cursing laundry. Signing my kindergartner’s (!) take-home folder. Hosing off rambunctious brothers after a morning in the sandbox. Steering giant shopping carts up and down aisles. Blocking tiny hands from lobbing sacks of flour and bags of oranges onto the grocery-store floor. Sweating. Doctoring mosquito bites and scraped toes.

But my mind, well, I’m not sure where it’s been. I still feel lost, somewhere between here and there, as if my thoughts are still on the plane waiting to clear customs. For the first time since I started this blog, I can’t think of anything to write. Nothing seems worthy enough. Interesting enough. Happy enough.

I …

And the very reason I write here is to help myself re-frame the boredom and frustration — which is as much a part of motherhood as the snuggles and sandwich crusts — into something meaningful and rejuvenating.

I just can’t seem to do it lately.

But today — today of all days — I want to be here. I want to continue chronicling my life and my family’s. I want to talk about the noses I wipe and the diapers I change and the lunches I pack and the socks I meticulously match, fold, and put away. Because while the little details may not mean much, the bigger picture is important. It’s worthy. Interesting. Happy. It’s my life.

Write.

And in the end, at the end, it’s all that matters.

How are you reflecting on today’s anniversary? How do you motivate yourself to keep going on an important project? And how many noses are you in charge of wiping?

The Long Goodbye

June 15, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Posted in Haiku Friday, Transylvania | 20 Comments
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Haiku Friday: The Long Goodbye

 

La revedere,
Cluj-Napoca. What a year.
And now it’s over.

Our bags are at the
Limit, but our memories
Are weightless, endless.

We watched the cherry
Tree next door bloom, wither, then
Bud and fruit again.

Greece broke the Euro.
The crooked mayor went to jail.
The snow fell. (And fell.)

We learned about praf
De copt and how to get through
Double roundabouts.

We learned your heart and
Your history and how to
Toast to good, good friends.

We’ve said goodbye, not
Knowing, just hoping, we’ll be
Back. We will. We will.

The adventure is over. We’re headed home. Home. How can I be so sad?

How I Met My Mother

May 11, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Posted in Family, Guest Posts, Me, Transylvania | 14 Comments
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Mother’s Day is Sunday. Only I forgot. Because they don’t celebrate it in Romania, and I didn’t have the Target card aisle to remind me.

So instead of cute little potted plant and a box of her favorite tea, I gave my mom 10 questions. And this space to answer them in.

Mom and me

Because every time I practically beg my children to find their other shoe fortheloveofPetenow, I wonder: What the heck am I doing wrong? My mom never yelled at me. My mom never made me eat my peas. My mom never frowned. How did she do it??

She’s about to tell us. And really?

It’s not so much a gift for her as it is a gift for me. And you.

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You left the onions and olives and other icky things out of casseroles when I was younger because I didn’t like the consistency. How did you have the patience?
I do not see it as having extra patience. When I was young, I never really liked onions or olives either … so I could empathize. Also, you never disliked anything I loved. For example, if you had not liked cheese, we would have had a problem! Besides, in the big picture, battling over onions was something I chose not to do.

PS: You can chop up onions really, really fine … and no one knows they are there. 🙂

You never made me clean my plate … or my room. And I turned out okay. How did that happen?
Do you remember our old neighbors? The father would make his son sit at the table for HOURS if that is what it took to clean his plate. I just thought that was cruel and unusual. And wrong. Because of that, I might have been more lenient than normal, but I had faith that you would eat when you were hungry. There was always the next meal.

As for cleaning your room, I have a very odd theory on that one. When I was growing up, my mother never made us clean our rooms. She always did it for us. Having a clean, orderly room was an expected standard of living. When I grew up and moved out on my own, I still wanted everything to be orderly, so I did it myself.

I feel like I raise my voice or sigh in exasperation at my kiddos at least 23 times a day. I don’t recall you ever doing this. How did you manage it?
OH, NO … you just don’t remember! I felt like I often raised my voice. Well, maybe not raised my voice exactly, but I distinctly remember often using the “evil eye” and snapping my fingers. Being exasperated is part of being a mother. And is perfectly normal. Only mothers on TV never lose their cool! I just always tried to minimize letting off steam and tried to remember you were learning and growing and I needed to learn and grow along with you.

Mom and Bun

How is it different being a grandparent? How is it easier? Harder?
Being a grandparent is FUN because there is no responsibility! I get to be a little kid again and just enjoying playing with the grandwidgets. Blowing bubbles, coloring, watching cartoons … you name it; a grandparent gets to do it all and feel absolutely no guilt. You have the heavy job of installing values, setting goals and expectations, and all that important parental stuff.

In my book, there is nothing hard about being a grandparent! Well, other than living a long distance away … That is the hard part.

How is it watching your child play the role of parent? How often do you bite your tongue when you have a wise nugget to offer?
You and Josh are great parents, so it is very rewarding watching you. As for biting my tongue … First, I hate being told how to do something, so I would never, ever do that to you. These are your children to raise as you see fit, not as I see fit. Second, I know I can always express my opinion and you would be willing to listen. But at the end of the day, you are the parent.

I once spilled a jar of rubber cement all over the carpet. It never came out, yet I was not sent to kid jail. Explain.
Ha! This is truly one of those memories that will last forever! You did not go to kid jail because it was an accident, and accidents happen. Also, what good would it have done to browbeat you with the memory repeatedly? Or made you never touch a bottle of glue again? How productive would that have been? We all learned a valuable lesson that day: Rubber cement is to be used at the table … and not sitting on the floor.

I never had a curfew. Explain.
This one is easy. You never wanted to do anything that went beyond what I thought was acceptable, so there was never the need to set a curfew. Perhaps if you had wanted to stay out all hours of the night with people I did not like, it would have been different. But all your friends were very responsible so I was never anxious about when or where you went. Also, more often than not, you would have people over to the house rather than going anywhere, so other parents had to worry about curfews. I didn’t!

Mom and the Gang

When my high-school boyfriend moved two hours away, you let me drive there on weekends. And I didn’t notice any gray hairs. How did you not worry yourself sick?
Did you ever notice I always highlighted my hair during this time!!? Actually, I did worry myself sick during the drive time. Until you got there and called to say you had made it safely, I was a nervous wreck!

But I believe one of a parent’s main goals is to instill a sense of confidence in her child that any and all goals are achievable. That meant I had to keep a lid on my fear, provide you with the skills to accomplish your goal, and then step back and let you use them. I think I did pretty good in this department.

I do admit to total failure when it came to insects, though. I instilled my fear in you. I wish I could get a do-over on that one! Bugs can be your friends. 🙂

What’s your proudest parenting moment? Your craziest?
A parent’s real pride is not only in her child’s accomplishments but also in seeing the choices her child makes. And I am proud of you every single day.

My craziest parenting moment? Hmmm, must have something to do with volunteering at band camp, being a band chaperone, or working the concession stands at football games. Crazy, but loads of fun!

Describe what went through your mind when I told you we were moving to Romania. (Tell the truth.) How has this year been for you?
Having talked about keeping a lid on fear … this was a very big lid to keep on. It was not that I was afraid of you moving to Romania, just that I could not jump in the car and get there if there was an emergency. That is one of the biggest fears a parent can have — not being able to get to her child when she is needed.

Even though I was scared, I knew it was going to be a wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime experience for you all. So I just started counting down the time till you came home!

Thanks, Mom. Happy Mother’s Day! And I’ll see you in less than two months!

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What questions would you like to ask your mom (or mine)? Do you remember things you were allowed to do as a child that freak you out as a parent? And what’s the worst thing you ever spilled on the carpet?

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