Guilty Rewards

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It seems like so many of our greatest accomplishments in life go unnoticed.  Since becoming a mother I sometimes feel bitter about this, secretly wishing my family would paint me a homemade merit badge for all it takes to keep our little unit happy.  It’s not easy to simultaneously keep our children alive (I mean nurtured) and the countertops free of cereal crumbs (I mean sterilized).  And don’t even get me started on the laundry…

Being a working mom can be complicated, especially when you have Catholic guilt.  Not that I’m Catholic… but my dad was raised in the faith, so maybe I inherited it somehow?  I think I got the extreme version.  Case in point:  one time I was stopped at a red light, and the car behind me was flashing its blinker to turn right.  Even though I needed to go straight, I felt so bad about blocking that driver’s “right on red opportunity” that I turned anyway.  As I was circumnavigating myself back on course, I realized I might have a serious problem.

When I was a middle school language arts teacher, I used to be one of those people who gave 150% to my job.  I could burn the midnight oil with the best of them, and I definitely knew the night crew at my school.  Heck, I even knew their pets’ names!  Even my weekend camping trips were spent working, as I’d haul along student journals to peruse in the car or grade around the campfire.  I had about 130 kids and never enough time to read all their papers in a timely manner.  Guilt.

Enter library school.  It took a few long years, but I earned my Master’s in Library Science along with a position in a middle school library.  My job is an absolute dream:  I still get to work in a school and with kids, but I no longer haul home canvas bags full of student writing.  But guess what?  Still guilt!  Guilt that I had left the classroom, where to this day I believe the teachers are in the trenches of our education system.

And then enter motherhood.  This catapulted my guilt to an astronomical level.  Suddenly I was one of those school employees who actually (gasp!) left on time.  I felt horrible leaving the parking lot early, as if I was a comrade of those slacker teachers who entered the profession for June, July, and August.  But that mentality quickly shifted as I’d race to rescue my babies from the giant cesspool of germs we commonly refer to as daycare, and suddenly my guilt was about parenthood instead of work.  I just couldn’t win!  I felt like a pariah in both worlds!

Now that my “babies” are in elementary school, the day care guilt has alleviated itself.  (Although as they get older I fall further behind on their photo albums, which makes me feel… well, you get the idea…)

So the point?  (I feel terrible it has taken so long to get here… my apologies.)  This past weekend I won this ridiculous award.  I have been crowned Alaska’s “School Librarian of the Year.”  It was a shock and honor, but I can’t help but feel guilty about it!  There are so many amazing librarians in this state, some who read nearly every book before it hits their shelves.  Some who have waiting lists of classes to get into their libraries.  Many who serve on committees, speak in front of school boards, and participate in our local organizations.  They are all so deserving.  Guilt.

This award has me reflecting on this whole “guilt” thing.

At my recent 40th birthday celebration, one of my best friends (who is also an amazing librarian) wished me a “decade with less guilt.”  I’m not sure that is possible, but I still think there is hope.

If I am prone to guilt, maybe I should just get more selective.  Honestly, no one even noticed the day Sam wore jeans that were confiscated from the dirty clothes hamper.  But he would have noticed if we’d skipped reading Harry Potter so I could fold laundry.  Maggie wants nothing more than to sit down and color together.  Is scrubbing the toilet really that much more important?  And once they go to bed, I’m always tempted to log into Facebook.  But isn’t talking to my husband more vital?

Speaking of my husband… he comes home from work every day, and without regret wrestles with the kids.  He doesn’t rush in the door to file the mail, empty the dishwasher, or fret about dinner.  He rushes in to spend time with his children, and show his preoccupied wife a little affection.  All too often I’m cold and annoyed, wishing for help with the task of the moment instead of embracing the blessing of our togetherness.  Noted.

So my goal and mantra for the next decade of my life is not so much less guilt, but better guilt.  To focus more on what really matters.  To let the guilt in when my priorities are out of whack, but let it go for trivial things that just don’t matter.

Thankfully there is no award for “Mother of the Year” or “Wife of the Century.”  Those of us in those roles know we vacillate between Award Winner and Hall of Shame on a regular basis, whether or not we deserve either.  I guess it’s the same with the librarian award.

So here’s to a decade of focusing on the awards that truly matter.  If I succeed, I just might earn a few of those homemade merit badges after all.

Ebb and Flow

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Consider this post an open apology to anyone who attended the 11:40 showing of Big Miracle at the Century 16 theater on February 20, 2012, because I am certain you missed half the movie due to our daughter’s sobbing.  I was crying too, but I’m older and have learned to stifle my cries when in public.  Clark was tearing up, but silent.  And Sam… he remained stoic, but did spend the majority of the movie on the edge of his seat.

Damn that movie was a tearjerker.

It’s based on a true story about three whales who were trapped in the sea ice near Barrow, Alaska in 1988.  It had a somewhat happy ending, which probably comes as no surprise since the word “miracle” is in the title.  But when the credits rolled, Maggie was still so devastated that Clark had to carry her out of the theater.  She was crying so hard that she was physically incapable of walking… and I’m not even kidding.

That’s our girl.  Feelings flow in and out and through her as randomly as the ocean’s rhythms… one minute we are running from a tumultuous tsunami, and the next we are joyously jumping the waves.  One minute we are licking salt water from our lips, and the next it is stinging our wounds.  Sometimes the whales are jumping, and next thing you know that poor baby has to die.  Ebb and flow.

Maggie’s emotions are raw… and I love it.  I must admit, it can be a challenge when the “feeling” is just a paper cut and the “emotion” is a 20-minute wail fest.  Once she got a wooden splinter when Clark was out of town.  I like to think of myself as a pretty capable human, but that was a scenario worthy of the national guard.

On the other side of the tide, the girl is overflowing with so much love that she just can’t contain it inside her little body.  She has to let it out by coloring pictures for everyone she has ever met and stuffing them into envelopes the post office cannot legally deliver (even though she frequently puts real stamps on the them anyway).  Or by creeping down the steps at least three times after she is in bed for “one more hug and kiss.”  Or by kicking and screaming with glee when her dad comes home and clears a tickle zone on the living room floor.  My favorite happens every weekend, when she crawls into bed with us and asks for a “little morning snuggle.”  She always folds in so enthusiastically that I find myself wishing there was a pause button for the universe.

That whale movie was sad, but thinking ahead to the days when my girl will be too old for those morning snuggles is just too much to bear right now.  This is my reminder – savor every moment with her – the ebb and the flow!


It’s not always good to be green…

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This afternoon I found myself on a lunch date with my son.  It was just the two of us, and he was begging to dine at Sicily’s Buffet.  Personally, I loathe buffets.  But there we were, standing at the paint counter at Home Depot with hungry bellies, his eyes twinkling as described the drink station at this Sicily’s place.  (Now that he’s tall enough to clank out ice cubes and pour his own lemonade he really likes that sort of thing.)  I was hoping he’d pick a restaurant where I could partake from a different sort of drink station… but what kind of mother would that make me?

So off to the buffet we went.  I had just finished paying our $15 plate fee and was pondering how much I’d have to eat before I felt it was worth it (hence my hatred of buffets) when a familiar voice called my name.  I recognized her accent before I turned to see her face:  it was Lissete.

She had called out my name, but we were both looking down at my seven-year-old son and remembering the time when he was a baby.  When we shared him.

Lissete was our child care provider.  She was wonderful… an absolute Godsend during a difficult time in my life.  She is one of those people who has a natural instinct to nurture and love.  Nothing seems to phase her:  screaming infants, solid-food-soiled diapers, or tantruming toddlers.  She has a sense of calm that makes her worthy of her own Baby Whisperer TLC show.

I used to calculate the waking hours of the day that Sam spent with Lissete vs. me.  Lissete won, hands down.  He’d usually wake to nurse around 5:00, but neither of us was really awake for that feeding.  I’d later spend my breakfast simultaneously pumping milk and eating Honey Nut Cheerios, so Baby Sam could get some precious sleep time.  That meant Lissete got to feed him a pumped breakfast a few hours later, when I dropped him off around 7:30.  Not to mention lunch and snacks.  I’d rush to pick him up by 4:00, often to find he had just awakened from a nap and eaten, which meant I had to go home and pump again rather than nursing him myself.

All that time she got with him, and Sam didn’t remember her.  Not at all.

I don’t think Lissete really expected him to.  That’s what she said, anyway.  It’s been years since they’ve seen each other, but I could tell she felt nostalgic when she saw him.  We glossed over it, and I walked to their table and said hello to her family, who I never had the joy of knowing quite so well.

When we first met Lissete, we only had three-month old Sam.  She worked for a conservative Baptist church daycare, where she was a devout follower and we were (and remain to be) devout doubters.  We were simply fixated on the baby room and its strong reputation:  it was open, stimulating, safe, and nurturing.  The babies were allowed to dictate their own schedules, the parents could drop in whenever we wanted, and the location was ideal.  Some lady – her name starts with an “S” but that is all I can remember – was in charge and our tour guide when we went to check out the place.  (In hindsight, I would never give my money to that organization again.  But that’s a post for a different day…)

On Sam’s first day of day care, we were nervous as all get-out.  We’d never left him with anyone, and now we were dropping him off with total strangers.  Mrs. “S” was nowhere to be found…. just Lissete, a new face with few words.  We precariously placed our son, obliviously sleeping in his car seat, on the waist high counter that divided us.  Lissete didn’t speak English well, but I know that the anxiety in my eyes transcended our language barrier.  She may or may not have understood my fumbled expectations about when he would sleep, how his milk should be heated, what comforted him most, or when I would return.  She simply saw my tears and knew what it felt like to be a mother.

During my lunch break on that first day, I rushed back to check on our son.  I would not have time to feed him, but I just needed to see him.  To know that he was okay.  When I arrived at the church, Lissete was giving Sam a custom stroller tour of the property.  That’s how she decided to spend her lunch hour.  She didn’t see me at first, but I could hear her talking to him tenderly in Spanish, and although I didn’t understand her words, I knew that she had already fallen in love with Sam.

I knew then that I had two choices:  I could either be jealous of this woman, who may or may not be the first person to see my child’s first steps.  To hear his first words.  To feed him my milk.  Or I could celebrate the fact that I had found someone with such culture… who had a gift with babies… and who above all loved my child.  Almost as instantly as I did.

So here we were, all these years later.  And despite all that Lissete gave to Sam, he didn’t remember her.  And I realized… that’s not what I wanted.

So Sam and I spent our lunch date talking about Lissete.  I told him how hard it was to drop him off in those first weeks, but how loved he was while his dad and I were at work.  How Lissete quit the church daycare after she had a second child, but agreed to still care for he and later Maggie at home.  How she refused to feed them jarred baby food, and made all their meals from scratch.  How she only talked to them in Spanish.  How she kept their pictures on her refrigerator.

Eventually we moved on to new childcare situations.  When Sam started kindergarten, Maggie was 3 and definitely ready for preschool.  (We chose a synagogue this time… our last venture with religious childcare and also worthy of a few blog posts!!)  But these milestones also meant a goodbye to Lissete.

I’m glad I chose not to be jealous.  Of course I would have preferred the opportunity to savor every moment with my children.  Some people are blessed with that option.  But there is no one right way to raise a child, and hopefully our children benefited from the path we chose.  I saw it today, in Lissete’s excitement over a casual encounter with Sam, and I am reassured that my children were loved, celebrated, and safe.  And even at that young age, I believe they were enriched.

Thank you, Lissete!


Coming Out of the Closet

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So the other night I was clanking away on my keyboard, documenting the details of the kids’ school dances.  My husband was sitting next to me on the couch, watching Pawn Stas at a volume that was driving me insane, when he suddenly paused the show and said, “Who exactly is the audience for this blog thing, anyway?”

I wasn’t sure how to respond.  I guess my answer lies somewhere between, “Oh it’s just to document memories for us, honey” and “However many people it takes to become a lucrative career that will enable me to quite my day job.”  Hmph.

I did sheepishly tell some of my friends about this venture, and I emailed the link to a few far-away family members.  (Hi Grandma!)  Maybe someday I’ll even come way out and do something radical like link this to my Facebook account… but it’s doubtful.

This poster from Despair, Inc. kind of sums up the whole concept of blogging for me:

There’s a lot of people on this planet, but I’m not presumptuous enough to think that many of them really care to read my ramblings.  We humans are busy creatures, you know.  But I do have a lot to say, or at least plenty to preserve, and I am going to keep this up because I believe my primary audience won’t read this for a good 20 years.  That’s when my two favorite little readers will log onto some yet-to-be-invented device and scroll through the stories of their childhood.  Sam-Bam and Magpie, this is for you.

Something tells me that, in all those stories, I’ll still have my day job.  Bummer.


Do-Si-Do’in with Justin Beaver

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It’s a long story and far from ideal, but our children (grades K and 2) attend different elementary schools.  Hopefully it’s a short term scenario, but for the most part it’s going okay.  That is, until today.  Both schools were hosting dances tonight: a square dance at Maggie’s school, and a pre-prepubescent Valentine’s dance complete with a DJ at Sam’s.  What to do?

The kids had it all worked out:  Mommy and Maggie would go to the square dance, and Daddy and Sam would head to the rockin’ jam fest.  I flashed back to junior high PE class, which is probably the last time I have even thought about a square dance, let alone participated in one, and quickly realized I was drawing the short end of the cowboy hat in this deal.  Luckily the kids were agreeable to our compromise:  we’d stick together as a family tonight, spending one hour at each child’s event.

The square dance was in a multipurpose room, with hard tile flooring and bright fluorescent lights beaming down on the joyous eyes of the professional caller.  He had a passion for teaching us all to do-si-do and circle to the left! then circle to the right!  There was a real live violinist, a bass player, and a guitarist.  I’ve gotta admit… the kids loved it!  They giggled and shimmied, picked up the moves quickly, and were actually pretty darn adorable.

That’s not saying they protested when we announced the hour was up, and it was time to waltz (or shall I say shimmy?) off to event number two.

The crowd was much larger at the Valentine’s Dance.  Parking was at a premium, there was a cover charge of $5 per family (it was a fundraiser, after all) and there were ecstatic children scampering around every corner of the school.  The library was holding a book fair, the PTA was all over the gym selling cookies and Valentine Grams, and the lunch room was the place to be with the DJ and dancing.

We first entered the gym, where the PE teacher was frantically mopping the floor because none of the guests were considerate enough to wear shoes with  “non marking soles.”  Oops.

The gender gap was quickly and obviously apparent.  The girls – regardless of age – were all wearing miniature prom dresses.  They were dressed to the sixes (their highest grade), some already wearing makeup, and fluttering about in giggling little packs.  There was even a professional photographer onsite who had no shortage of customers thanks to these little princesses.

I quickly glanced to my son, who was wearing his snowboots, a plain white t-shirt, and a ghostly mustache of his spaghetti dinner.  But honestly, he didn’t stand out as any sort of anomaly when I looked at the other the boys.  Phew.

We proceeded to the multipurpose room, where our non-marking soles were more welcome, and entered a dark world of glow bracelets, strobe lights, and exorbitantly loud teeny bop music.  Culture shock in South Anchorage: who knew it was possible?!

I was secretly giddy to come to this little shindig.  Primary school-aged children trying to boogie should be entertaining, right?  My first dance was in junior high, and by then we were all saddled with the crutch of self-consciousness.  But our kids are still pretty uninhibited, and I was dying to see them bust a move.  At first they were quite reserved, with Maggie clinging to us and Sam scanning the crowd for some buddies.  He quickly spotted one and took off running… not dancing, but running… as apparently it’s extra fun to play tag as you zig zag amongst people who are trying to do the Electric Slide.  Maggie was a little overwhelmed by the noise, but after a few dances with her dad she was in full-on party mode and begging for a spot on the stage.  (We are in for it with that girl…)

Fast forward an entire 10 minutes.  That’s how long it took for Sam to start begging to go to the book fair instead.  My little librarian heart just glowed, but I think Clark was a bit crushed.  Not surprised, just crushed.  I didn’t know Clark in his younger days, but anyone who did will vouch that he would have been the one leading the locomotion before ditching the DJ for the book fair.  We told Sam to go dance some more, because the book fair would be open all week.  But the kid wouldn’t give up – he was determined to browse the books!  So off we went to the library, where a Scholastic Mecca awaited, and let each of the kids pick out a title.

And then… back to the dance!  I sat on a sideline bench holding their literary treasures while Sam disappeared amongst the darkness.  Clark was twisting and turning Maggie nearby, and at one point he leaned over and said, “She actually knows who is singing this song!”

Huh?  How?  Who?

Which brings me to a point.  Or dilemma.  We don’t really listen to “popular” music with our kids.  They mostly still enjoy Raffi… which I realize isn’t going to earn either of them slow dances anytime soon.  (Good!)  When they are cruising around in Clark’s truck, he exposes them to air drumming and 80’s heavy metal brutalness.  In my car it’s a bit more old school, as we like to jam out to Peter, Paul, and Mary (they know every word to Marvelous Toy – it’s a great song that brings tears to my eyes every time we sing it).  They also love the Beatles, and I often catch them singing Obladi, Oblada together while they are coloring, building legos creations, or any other mindless activity that doesn’t typically involve sparring.

So how did Maggie know the singer of this song?  I tried to talk to Clark discreetly about it on the drive home.  It went something like this:

Staci, whispering to Clark:  “So who was singing that song you said she recognized?”
Clark, whispering back:  “She said it was Justin Bieber.”
Staci, still whispering: “No, it was a girl singing the song you were talking about.”
Clark, chuckling: “No, I think that WAS Justin Bieber.”
Maggie, yelling emphatically:  “IT WAS JUSTIN BIEBER.  IT WAS!!”

(What is with kids and their supersonic hearing, by the way?  But back to the dialogue….)

Sam:  “I can’t stand Justin Beaver.”
Rest of car:  “BieBER!”
Sam:  “Huh?”
Staci:  “It’s BieBER, not BeaVER.  He’s not some animal who chews down trees with his teeth.”
Sam:  “Ohhhh.  Well… I still don’t like him.  One night he came on the radio and I climbed all the way out of my top bunk to just shut him off.”

So there you have it. :)


What’s the Point?

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For some reason I have the urge to start a blog of my own.  Part of me thinks, “What is the point?”  Really… I could just journal away in some neverending Google Doc that I refuse to share with another soul on the planet (because Google is so secure) and acknowledge that I have absolutely no audience for this thing.  When I think of people who I know and love reading this I feel self-conscious, yet when I think of strangers reading this I figure that… well… they won’t.

Blogging will be a tough venue for my perfectionistic personality, but I shall try to let it go. (Since “perfectionistic” isn’t even a word, I figure I’m off to a good start.) I’ll just keep reminding myself that hitting the “publish” button is not synonymous with sending a manuscript to Random House, and we’ll see what happens from there.

To be honest, the entire culture of blogging is a little odd to me. I’m choosing a public venue for my private reflections… but the primary purpose is to get writing again, and this makes it so gosh darn easy. There was a time when I’d fall asleep, pen in hand and cheek pressed into a simple spiral-bound notebook, on a nightly basis. But those days are over 10 years, 2000 miles, and another lifetime away.

The fact is, writing has always been my way to vent, agonize, grieve, celebrate, and laugh. So here goes… my quest write more, even if it’s only about my profoundly ordinary existence!