Monday, August 31, 2009

I Want a Do Over on my Life

I had expected to be writing quite a different blog at this point in time. Last year I turned 49 and realized I was heading straight for the big Five-Oh, and I decided I wasn't going to use it to moan and groan about how old I was getting. Instead I decided I was going to remake myself for my fiftieth birthday. I would lose one hundred pounds, get a new hairdo, take up an exciting hobby, get rich and become an entirely new person all in the space of a year. However, as often happens, life intervened, so now I am about to start my birthday month and am once again taking stock. The sad thing is, I'm nowhere near where I thought I would be when I turned 50. I'm not rich, I'm not a famous writer, I'm not beautiful, I'm not thin and I'm not an incredibly successful doctor/research biologist/marine biologist/professor (or whatever my career of the moment was at any particular point in time).

When I look back at my adult life and how I got to where I am now, I see a road littered with lost opportunities and poor decisions. Part of the reason my husband and I are having financial troubles now is because of a decision I made to quit a job that I loved to try something that ended up not working out very well. I then compounded that by trying to start a business that was pretty much guaranteed to not make money. Part of the reason I'm not a famous writer is because I've put other things ahead of writing- such as sleeping, earning a living and raising children-- but also reading other people's books and goofing around on the internet. Part of the reason I am overweight is because of poor choices I've made about what to eat and because I have chosen to be a couch potato instead of getting my butt out of the house and being active.

It's easy to sink into depression in the face of all this self-blame, and for much of the year I've let feelings of guilt overwhelm me. To my husband's credit, when I talk to him about this, he points out that there was a lot more involved in everything than just my making poor decisions, and he's absolutely right. (Incidentally, marrying him was one of the best decisions I ever made.)

Unfortunately there are no do-overs in life. I can't go back and change the decisions I've made. Truth is, most of them I would make again if I had the opportunity to do so. So I have to move forward with where I am at this point in time and try to make the best decisions I can from this point on. I've got to take small steps-- steps that I've already started to make as a matter of fact. I didn't reinvent myself for my fiftieth birthday, but I've made a few changes that might, if I keep things up, mean I'm at an entirely different place when I turn fifty-five.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

“Everyone Talks About the Weather

But nobody does anything about it,” a quote attributed to Charles D. Warner or Mark Twain. A truism, no matter which man said it first. As I swelter in the first heat wave after a long stretch of rainy days, this weather quote spins in my mind. I’m sure someone vocalized similar sentiments long before these words were set in print. It’s a simple fact that when you don’t know what to say, you talk about the weather – a topic of interest for everyone.

Whenever strangers meet and one or the other starts a simple courtesy exchange, the weather is usually covered, especially if unusual conditions part the social gulf: “Fine weather,” said with a smile. “Have you ever seen so much snow?” said looking out the window at work as more white stuff falls, or worse, in an airport where monitors flicker ‘cancelled’ on your flight. “Wow, what a cloud burst,” said standing on the corner with an umbrella scrunched over your head amid a crowd waiting for the light to turn green. “Lord, I hope this heat wave breaks soon,” said waiting for the train home, wilting with perspiration and fanning yourself with a piece of paper.

Even when well-known acquaintances meet, there is usually a brief exchange about the weather and how it is effecting them personally: “This rain makes traffic move at a snail’s pace!” or “This drought has killed my new plants,” or “the trails held so many puddles and mire I came home covered in mud.

Plus, the weather provides complaints about and excuses to avoid certain tasks: “It’s too hot to exercise,” or “It’s too cold to paint,” or “It’s too wet to mow.” And offers cheers such as: “No school today!” or warnings of those dangerous events: “We have to seek shelter -- right now.

Our preoccupation with the weather seems logical. We dwell in it. Without an atmosphere, there is no life, not for us, so our obsession with the condition of our envelope seems valid. Weather affects how we live and travel, our style of home, what we wear, and even what we eat. We want to know the temperature, the humidity and if is raining or snowing. If it’s too hot we turn on the air-conditioner, too cold, the furnace. Weather defines so much of our daily lives. So laugh over the small talk about weather, but think about the topic beneath the words, the one that bridges all our differences – our common world. Maybe that’s the reason the weather, relegated to short quips and exchanges, is our most popular topic.

And the second phrase of that ‘Everyone talks about the weather,’ quote? The decades to come may or may not prove its truth. Let’s hope we can.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Children Adapt to their Surroundings

Do you ever wonder how we actually survive being parents without ever reading the nonexistent Parents Manual? I know it hasn’t been an easy road for me with five kids but we’ve all managed to survive the years of learning to get along and believing in one other.

When my first child was born, it took me about an hour to put on her little undershirt. I was afraid of hurting her so I took my time moving her little body while I dressed her.

When my second child came along, it took me about half an hour to put on his undershirt.

With my third pregnancy (twin girls) it took me about fifteen minutes to put on their undershirts, combined, not each.

By the time my last child came around, I simply flipped her in the air, and let her ease into her undershirt as she tumbled back down.

Okay, so this last part didn’t happen but what I’m trying to tell you is this: as new parents we’re faced with new situations with our first child for us to adapt and get to know. By the time the next child is born, we’re already experienced and our job is now a bit easier, like me flipping my last kid into her undershirt. We also need to understand that children are like little sponges, absorbing our actions, our words, our mannerisms…that is why it’s important for us to be on our guard at all times. Can you imagine the embarrassment at a family function and our child suddenly decides to show off a new word he heard mommy or daddy say out loud?

But just to backtrack for a second, when my oldest daughter was born, there were complications during labor and she was born via a cesarean. While in the prenatal ward, the nurse had a small radio by her crib with classical music playing all day. To this day, my daughter relaxes before an exam or a stressful day at work by listening to classical music. Coincidence? I don’t think so. She was exposed to this soothing music from a tender age and it blended within her being.

Nowadays, parents understand that our little sponges are capable of learning at a younger age than what our parents may have believed. I’m not saying to stress the kids out by constantly teaching them things. Remember when we were young, when our games included wooden blocks, shapes to place in their right slots…these are fun ways to sit and play with your child and in the process they are learning hand and eye coordination.

As they grow older parents are ecstatic to place their children in piano/sports/gymnastics and any other activity. Just remember this is where the overload may happen. Registering them for too many activities and not enough time to be with their friends or to simply ‘not’ do anything may stress them out.

I mentioned above about my oldest and the little radio playing classical music while she was in pre-natal care; children adapt to what they are exposed to at an early stage in life. In her case, it was music, which has helped her in some areas in her life as she aged. Now imagine a child who is reared in nothing more than yelling, screaming, and name-calling, what type of an adult would he/she become? How would this child be capable of being a ‘teacher’ to his/her own children if all he/she knew was the atmosphere they grew up in?

The bottom line is this: once we commit to marriage and to rearing children, we have a responsibility we need to be aware of…mentoring. Far too many young couples out there believe it will be ‘fun’ to have a kid. Yes, it is fun if the meaning behind ‘parent’ is understood. A big constraint on all parents is time with their children. Both parents in this century need to work to support a family and this, at times, sees them exhausted to the point there is no time for ‘quality’ play with their youngsters.

Many believe that buying material items will satisfy their children. In some respect it does, but not in the sense of raising a responsible child who appreciates these gifts. These gifts become meaningless to them, just items to pass their time.

Children need parents who are not afraid to say no when needed, parents who won’t turn around the next minute and change their minds. This confuses a child but also begins to build in them the notion that ‘yeah, sure, you’ll change your mind once we get home.’ They won’t feel the discipline nor respect your guidelines in the end since you are easily manipulated.

Friends can easily sway children as they become teenagers if they haven’t had the opportunity to bond with their parents and feel they can turn to them when they are emotionally cornered at some point. That is why it is important to begin your bonding once the doctor places your baby in your arms, and you cradle them for the very first time. This is when the magic begins.

Lea Schizas

Monday, April 13, 2009

When did Jesse's Girl Become an Oldie?

"I wish that I had Jesse's Girl!" I heard the song playing on the radio the other day and gave a start when I realized that I was listening to the oldies station. When did Jesse's Girl become an Oldie? When I was growing up, oldies were those songs from the fifties. Bill Haley and the Comets, Buddy Holly, Fats Domino. Then when I was in my teens, the Beatles and the Monkees became oldies groups, along with the Turtles and the Grass Roots and the Lovin' Spoonful.

I was halfway prepared for the Eagles, Billy Joel and Elton John to show up on oldies stations-- after all, they started on the radio when I was in high school, but when Jesse's Girl showed up on the oldies dial it rocked my world. My daughters listened to Jesse's Girl. Well, okay, maybe Jesse's Girl was early 80's, and the girls are in their twenties now, but I started thinking about other groups we listened to while the girls were growing up. Matchbox Twenty, Bare-Naked Ladies, Sister Hazel, Chumba-wumba.

I'm to the age now when I can really see the telescope of time. Movies that we loved watching together as a family-- Independence Day, Star Trek the Next Generation movies, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. I remember how much fun it was taking them to the theater to see the re-release of the Star Wars movies (the original ones.) The girls were big fans of the books and were so excited about seeing the movies in the theater. My husband and I had to continuously remind them that OUR generation had seen them first, that if it wasn't for us, there would be no Star Wars because we created fandom-- first for Star Trek, then for Star Wars.

The movies, TV shows and music all run together so now it's hard for me to realize that it was sixteen years ago that we all enjoyed watching Johnny Depp in Benny and Joon, fourteen years ago that we fell in love with Sandra Bullock in While You Were Sleeping, and it was 15 years ago that Star Trek the Next Generation ended its run.

But there are still some ties to the past-- with the new Dr. Who with David tennant, our family has once again found the joy we used to experience when watching Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy battle everything from Daleks to Cybermen. Johnny Depp is planning to make yet another Pirates of the Carribbean Movie and a somewhat geriatric Harrison Ford brought Indiana Jones back for one more adventure last year.

But if I turn on my oldies station and hear Green Day belting out, "Don't Wanna Be an American Idiot!" I'll know the world has gone mad. Some songs are just not meant to ever be oldies.

Monday, March 16, 2009

What Happens When Octomom's Kids Boomerang?

When I was growing up, I wanted to have a lot of kids when I grew up. I loved reading books Like Cheaper by the Dozen and Yours, Mine and Ours, as well as fictional books with large families. When I met my husband-to-be, he only wanted to have two kids, and he paled just a little when I told him I wanted 5. We compromised at 3 and then, after the difficult pregnancy and childbirth that came along with our younger daughter, we compromised again at 2. At times I have thought wistfully of the large family of my dreams, but instead of nurturing lots of human babies to adulthood, I've adopted stray animals instead and nurtured them.

Still, part of me can sympathize with Nadya Suleiman's desire to have lots of children. I loved having children, loved being a mom, loved raising infants, toddlers,preschoolers and even teenagers. I wasn't real thrilled about toilet training and getting up for the 2 AM feedings, but it did come along with the territory.

I fully expected to suffer the pangs associated with the empty nest syndrome when my girls moved away from home. Our family had always been very close and it was hard to imagine life without them. However, my husband and I quickly discovered the joys of being on our own again and having time just for us. We enjoyed it for about two and a half years before a daughter boomeranged home. It may be several years before she is ready to move back out again.

In the meantime we are juggling bathrooms and parking spots, and determining where the boundaries are. After being out on her own for two and a half years, she doesn't want to have to account to us for her whereabouts. After being without kids in the house for two and a half years, we don't always want to account to her for ours.

There are other issues as well. For various reasons, she is unable to work right now, which means we are supporting her. Right now she's recovering from a severe illness, during which my husband and I both took lots of time off from our day jobs to take her to various doctor appointments and to tend to her needs at home. We both also spent a great deal of time on the phone talking with various doctors and medical providers about her condition, medical tests and treatment.

We had to do the same thing for another daughter a few years ago when she, too, had an acute illness that required a significant amount of our time in terms of medical visits, hospital stays and dealing with the insurance company.

We do all of this willingly because we love our daughters, and we want to help them as much as we can. Our parents have helped us many times when we have needed help. It's what parents do. Still I can't help but wonder about Nadya Suleiman and what she will do when her 14 children start boomeranging on her.

It may not seem like such a big deal now to have 14 young children, including octuplets. Suleiman has said she will have volunteers to help care for the babies. I wonder if these volunteers will still be around when the kids start getting involved in after school activities. Will she have volunteers to play chauffeur when 2 kids have soccer practice (at different fields) another has piano lessons and another three go for t-ball-- all at the same time? Will the volunteers be able to help her make the rounds of the various teachers during School Open House? It may not seem hard to hit all the teachers when the kids are in elementary school, but when they get into high school, unless all of the kids have the exact same teachers, she'll never be able to hit all the classrooms in one night.

What about when they get into band and orchestra and choir? Will the volunteers be available to attend the football games of Kids 1,2, and 3 so Nadya can go to Kids 4,5 & 6's violin concert on the same night, while Grandpa helps Kids 7,8 & 9 with their science project and Grandma drills Kids 10, 11 & 12 on their spelling lists. Oops-- I hope there's a volunteer somewhere who can take Kids 13 & 14 to Band Practice since all the other adults are tied up.

Will those volunteers till be around when the kids hit their teens? As any parent of an 11-15 year-old knows, 90% of Nadya's waking hours will be spent driving the kids to all their various activities. Will those volunteers still be there to help play chauffeur? Heck, they'll need one person just to direct the traffic of all those kids in and out of the 4 bathrooms in that house!

Does Nadya realize that even after she gets the kids to age 18, that doesn't mean she's home free? What if they don't all go away to college? What if they have trouble getting jobs? What if they leave home and then come back? If even a few of her kids boomerang, will that army of volunteers still be there to help out? What if her kids follow her example and expect her to help them raise THEIR children? What if some of her kids have the same mindset she does about having babies? Will those volunteers still be there when Nadya's children start having multiple births of their own?

As I look at what Nadya's parents are dealing with, I realize that having my own two children boomerang really isn't so bad at all. At least with adult children moving back home, I don't have to worry about the 2 AM feedings or toilet training. The worst thing that may happen is I have might have to park my car on the street because there's no room for my car in the driveway. At least i know that with three adults and two bathrooms, I have a pretty good chance of being able to get to the facilities when i need to.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Magic, Mensa and Mayhem by Karina Fabian

We have the cover art, so May I present to you....


…."Wisdom of the Ages, Knowledge of Eternity, and I end up a babysitter at the Smart Humans' Convention."--Vern

Here's what some folks have said already. (Vern is preening.)

Magic, Mensa & Mayhem
, made me laugh, everything from quiet chuckles to outright snorts. MM&M brought to mind Craig Shaw Gardnerʼs humorous Tales of Wuntvor, with its phraselong Elvish names and clash of magical races, each with its own culture and quirks that would make a UN official tear out his or her hair... There are enough puns to elicit groans from even the sternest critic. A quick read and an enjoyable one.
Jody Lynn Nye, author of An Unexpected Apprentice and co-author of the Myth-Adventures series.

Religion and humor suffuse this well-imagined and densely plotted comedic mystery, based on a short story of the same title. Cursed by St. George to serve the Faerie Catholic Church, dragon detective Vern now sleuths in the mundane world. His latest (unpaid) assignment is to babysit a group of faeries attending a Mensa meeting. Vern quickly has his claws full juggling crises, from invisible brownies to two elves whose rivalry threatens to become interdimensional war. Distinctly memorable and occasionally silly supporting characters, from Brunhilde the Valkyrie to Native American trickster Coyote, steer the action. While the conclusion sticks perilously close to genre formula and the narrative is jumpy throughout, most readers will forgive the clichés (and Vern’s groan-worthy puns) and chuckle all the way through. Publisher's Weekly

Order it at Swimming Kangaroo!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Worrying about Mom

Many times over the years, my mother has told me that one never stops worrying about one's kids. My girls are in their mid-twenties now, but I still worry about them all the time. Now that one of them is married, I worry about her husband too. There's a lovely little saying that I have seen lately, "Being a mother is like having a part of your heart live outside your body." I can certainly relate to that as my children move out into the world.

But what nobody ever told me, however, was how much I would worry about my parents as they grew older. Perhaps because most of my grandparents died before I was born, my parents didn't have to worry about taking care of their parents when they grew older. However my parents and my in-laws are all in their 80's. My mother had a stroke several years ago, and although she made a good recovery,her health is still affected by it. My in-laws are both rather frail- more so, especially, after a severe auto accident about 18 months ago.

My mother broke her hand before Christmas. She slipped while coming into the house from the garage and broke her hand when she put it out to try to catch herself. Then, a few weeks ago, she fell off of a stool and injured her back. When she fell off the stool, she was standing on it and reaching for something in a cupboard. Now why an 80+ year-old woman with a broken hand was standing on a stool to begin with, I don't know. but that's typical of my mother.

My aunt and my sister talked about how to keep Mom off of stools. I said there's no way to do it. If she doesn't have a stool to climb on, she'll climb on something else. Heck, she'll stack books on top of each other and climb on them. My mother is not only very independent, but she is absolutely incapable of NOT doing something. She has to be busy all the time.

I suppose I should be happy that even in her early 80's my mother is still able to climb on stools. She drives herself to the library every week where she volunteers in the periodicals department, and she drives herself to Curves every morning where she does the Curves thing. My sister and I worry about her driving herself in the car. We joke that one of these days, we're going to see her description on one of those signs by the highway: "Missing! 82 years old. Last seen driving a blue sedan." We joke about it, but we don't really think it's funny.

So, I worry about my mom. And I would have to change little saying a mentioned earlier: "Being a daughter means you carry a piece of your parents' heart wherever you go."