South Brooklyn is Having a Moment

We didn’t choose to live in South Brooklyn because it is trendy, but South Brooklyn is definitely having a moment right now. Just last week I saw this headline: “EXCLUSIVE: $15.5M Cobble Hill townhouse sets the record for the most expensive home ever sold in Brooklyn.” (In the NY Daily News.) Recent real estate articles now claim that in some neighborhoods of Brooklyn (particularly Dumbo and Vinegar Hill), home prices and rents equal or surpass those in many sections of Manhattan, but Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill (they are adjacent to and sit just south of Brooklyn Heights) are also considered “hot” neighborhoods. Of course, Brooklyn is just generally “hip” currently. Last fall, Brooklyn was voted the hippest part of NYC, even by Manhattanites. And in the latest Avengers movie, Captain America admits that he still hadn’t found an apartment in Brooklyn, although he is looking.

As I understand it, our corner of Brooklyn was a pretty scary place twenty years ago. Old mafia neighborhood, so women were safer than some other areas (or, so I’ve heard), but Brooklyn was generally pretty rough then. Lots of crime, lots of social problems. You see little evidence of that now. It isn’t zero, of course, as we *do* live in NYC, but generally if you are sensible and smart, the local streets are reasonably safe. There are still some areas to avoid, but I’ve heard that they are not nearly as problematic as they used to be.

We chose our location for the local school, which happens to have a French Dual-Language Program (DLP) through 5th grade. I had researched schools in NYC and I learned that there were only three schools in the NYC public school system that had the French DLP through 5th grade (there were three other programs, but they were more recently started, so only went up to 1st or 3rd grade). Our other two options were Upper West Side and Harlem, and Brooklyn seemed to have the most promise for finding a larger apartment (for six people) with a yard. Of course, there are plenty of private schools in NYC that offer French, but the cost of tuition ($30-40K per child) isn’t doable with four kids unless you are seriously rich.

One thing that I really like about our neighborhood is the *scale*. The buildings are not the towering apartment buildings of Manhattan, but mostly old brownstones between 3 and 4 stories high. It is a much more “human” scale than much of Manhattan. Don’t get me wrong– I really enjoy Manhattan– but if we had moved there, we would only have been able to afford a place in one of the soulless high-rises, a nondescript elevator building standing next to a bunch of similar nondescript elevator buildings. In NYC, particularly in Manhattan, charm is expensive. We have plenty of charm in our area of Brooklyn, and Manly Guy has a very easy commute to lower Manhattan for work (only six subway stops). We can easily enjoy the cultural attractions in Manhattan and still have a more livable lifestyle.

I’m grateful to be here. Living in NYC is pretty awesome, particularly in South Brooklyn.

New Year, New Life

I realized this week that I haven’t written a blog post for half a year. Wow! Time has flown. 2014 was a big year of change for us, particularly in the last quarter. It hasn’t been because I have had nothing to write about, but because I’ve had no time to write my blog. Now Manly Guy is working on Wall Street, we are living in New York City, and I’m writing my first Young Adult novel.

Last summer we were living in Northern California wine country and had been in the same house for nearly five years. In the spring I had encouraged Manly Guy to look at making a change with his career– I could tell that he had lost his enthusiasm for his work. I actively lobbied for the Northeast; I believe that it is good for children to experience both coasts, and I felt that there would likely be more opportunity for him if we were willing to head East. When he started poking around, he got very lucky with timing and a perfect position surfaced in NYC. He started working in Manhattan at the end of September. The kids and I followed in early November.

Now our life feels so different from the life we had six months ago. We used to be in a house with two garages and a yard– now we are in an apartment in Brooklyn. I used to drive every day– now I walk everywhere. (Last week my mileage was 42 miles. I ran 14 miles and walked 28.) We used to live in the Land of Perfect Weather– now we definitely have four seasons! The kids are different, too. We were already at the threshold, but we’ve now made the jump from young kids to older kids. T will be thirteen in less than two weeks; he now takes the subway on his own into Manhattan for his fencing classes. All three girls are less interested in toys and dolls and more into games, activities and pop culture.

Living in New York feels like living in a different country, and I’m not sure that I will ever feel like a real New Yorker. New York is terribly unforgiving, but if you are willing to work hard, there seems to be lots of opportunity (and tons of interesting people) here. I am so impressed with the immigrants who come to NYC, work hard and kick ass. People from all over the world come to The City in the hope of doing well.

Our neighborhood is great, with very much a village feel. T described it well when he said, “Like Disneyland, but edgier.” The brownstones are generally 2-3 stories (a much more human scale than Manhattan neighborhoods), with the two main retail streets running parallel a block apart, and it is very walkable. It has a colorful history, as well. At the beginning of the twentieth century, it was very much an Irish working class neighborhood. The park monument to the local boys who lost their lives in the Great War is filled with Irish names. Then the Italians came, and it was a big mafia spot for decades. The church where Al Capone got married is two blocks from our building. There is still one men’s social club on the main strip, but I’ve been told that there used to be one on every block. Now that Brooklyn has become trendy, there are many transplanted Manhattanites and Europeans living here, and the long-time locals bemoan the fact (never mind that their property values have gone through the roof).

Little by little, NYC has altered us all, if only a bit. T knows the subway system better than I do. I noticed yesterday that S said “Awesome!” like a kid from Brooklyn. V is even less shy than she was in CA (if that is even possible). Of the girls, J misses CA the most, but she has matured so much since we arrived five months ago. They are all quickly becoming City Kids. Manly Guy fit in immediately upon arrival (in CA people often asked him if he was from NY; he was born here but left as a baby). Even I have changed, the third generation native California Girl. Five days ago I was crossing the street when a driver blew through the light a few feet from me. Before I knew it, my hands flew in the air and I screamed at the top of my lungs, “Yo! Idiot!” I was shocked to hear it come out of my mouth. I heard a little kid a few paces behind me repeat what I said, which made me chuckle.

I’m grateful to be on this big adventure. The next few years should be interesting!

Ode to Spike

On Sunday, our dog Spike bolted down the street, around the corner, up the highway offramp and across four lanes of traffic where he met his death before he got to the other side. (He had never taken off like this before; very unusual behavior for him.) This morning I felt compelled to write about our loss:

I was the last holdout in the family against having a dog. My stance was that I had four kids and a husband—already too much to do and I wasn’t willing to take on any more work. Manly Guy stood with me until December 2012, when he sent me a video of children getting dogs for Christmas. “Really?! One puppy video and you go to their (the kids’) side on this?” I was annoyed, as I suspected that the care and feeding of any family pet would fall squarely on my shoulders.

I had never bonded with a dog. Sure, we had pets when I was growing up, but they were never “mine”. My experience was that dogs barked, they made messes, they were a lot of work, they never listened. I was definitely not a Dog Person. In fact, I really wasn’t a Pet Person. While I enjoy cats, I never made room in my life to have one of my own.

Spike changed all that.

Our nanny P called Manly Guy one evening in late November 2013, asking him to meet her at her car. Inside the car, her friend T held an adorable puppy. P had taken on a project, finding homes for ten puppies living with a woman and her grown disabled son. This woman had six stray dogs and before long she had two litters of puppies. She was overwhelmed. P found donors to pay to have the woman’s stray dogs spayed and found homes for all of the puppies. One of those puppies was Spike.

I knew I was in a losing battle on the puppy front. I made a calculation that if I took one of these puppies, I’d have P’s buy-in and support. After she agreed to care for the puppy when we traveled at Christmas and agreed to help us find someone to care for Spike when we traveled the following summer, I told Manly Guy that we could get a puppy.

During the first week in December, Manly Guy went to pick out a puppy. P had showed him one that she thought we might like, but Manly Guy found himself drawn to another. He agreed to pick him up on Saturday, December 7, 2013. While I took the kids to San Francisco for a symphony concert, Manly Guy picked up the puppy, took him to the vet, got his shots, gave him a bath and brought him into our home. Manly Guy put him in a big box right before we arrived and set it in the middle of the living room.

S was the one who had pestered us the most as far as wanting a dog, so she was the one who got to open the box. She was so shocked when she opened the box—I had done such a good job convincing the kids that they were never getting a dog—that she was stunned and hardly said anything. It took a few minutes for the kids to realize that this dog was ours.

Manly Guy decided on the name Spike. The kids showered him with love immediately. Within a few days he was housebroken and he was surprisingly easy to manage. He was quickly part of our daily routine. Spike was the first thing that the kids wanted to see in the morning and the last thing they wanted to see at night.

Spike became Manly Guy’s constant companion. It was a beautiful relationship to witness. Spike loved to lie at Manly Guy’s side, and we accumulated six beds in two houses so that he could be comfortable wherever he wanted to be. First thing in the morning, I would carry Spike downstairs in his bed so that Manly Guy could get a little extra sleep. Sometimes I would take him outside to do his business, but more often one of the kids would go outside with him. The agreement was that Mommy was not responsible for the dog, but Daddy and the kids had to take care of Spike. Generally that agreement was upheld, and the only care that I gave to Spike was because I chose to jump in.

Spike let us love him in the way that each of us wanted to. S wanted to play-fight with him, so they learned to do tug-of-war with a rope toy together. J wanted to calmly hold him, and he loved her for it. T played with him, held him, would lie on the floor next to him, and he always responded with love. V wanted to lie on top of him (I had to remind her regularly not to squish him) and kiss his head. He was so patient and loving with each of them.

Spike gave me the space to learn to love him. I initially wasn’t that interested in having much of a relationship with him, but he wormed his way into my heart. Eventually, he spent part of the day with me in the kitchen, his bed in a corner. He loved being with us, dozing and then looking up with his beautiful eyes and worried expression. I would often stop what I was doing (cooking or cleaning), bend down and rub his ears. He would always just be grateful for the attention. He didn’t beg for it, but he was always appreciative of the love that we gave him.

Spike let me love him the way I would love a cat. He would curl up on my lap while I was at the computer, either on one of his beds (which he preferred) or just on my legs. Sometimes I picked him up and had him sit straight on my lap and gave him a back scratch with my nails and he seemed to really enjoy it. He never licked my face (he knew I didn’t like that), but he would give me licks from a distance.

There are so many little things that I will miss about Spike:

The sound of his dog tags jingling together, a quiet reminder of his presence.

The little throaty sound that he made as I carried him downstairs in his bed first thing in the morning.

The very occasional middle-of-the-night wakeup (by licking my hand), asking me to put his blanket over him as he hopped back into his bed.

Rubbing his soft ears. I loved his ears.

Looking into his beautiful eyes. He was so patient with me taking photos of that lovely face of his.

The way he curled up tightly, quietly asking to stay in bed, not wanting to go outside yet.

The way he popped up his head when I walked into the guest house, as if to say, “What have you brought for Daddy and me?”

His quiet acknowledgement that I had entered the room: a wagging tail and a look.

His calm demeanor. He was never nervous. He only barked when someone approached the door, but otherwise he was so quiet and calm.

His interactions with Manly Guy were wonderful to watch. Keeping Manly Guy company as he worked in the guest house, nipping at his shoelaces to get Manly Guy to play with him, following him around in the yard. Spike loved all of us, but Manly Guy was his favorite. There is no doubt that he was Manly Guy’s Dog.

His little prancing steps when he was playful.

The delicate way he took a bone or treat from my hand.

The way he jumped up on his hind legs.

The way he wiggled all over when we returned to the house, even if we had been gone only a few minutes. He was always so happy to see us.

RIP, Spike. I never knew that I could love a dog so much.

Motherhood is STILL the Toughest Job I’ve Ever Had

Manly Guy left Friday morning at 5 AM for 2.5 days to watch some of his CrossFit buddies compete in the CrossFit Regionals in San Jose over the weekend.  I encouraged him to go, and was glad that he was able to watch and support his friends.  As an added bonus, he crashed at his best friend’s house in the South Bay, so he got some valuable Bromance time, too.

Of course, this meant that I was on kid duty by myself for nearly three days.  And while it has gotten easier than it used to be (when I had multiple toddlers in the house), it is still challenging.  The kids are great, they didn’t act up, it wasn’t that it was that BAD; it is just the relentlessness of caring for children that can make it hard.  By the time Manly Guy got home on Sunday afternoon, I was *really* needing a break.  It gets to the point that every request/question/interruption while doing a task (like cleaning the kitchen) gets to be Too Much.  While I have yet to snap at my kids with “Can you please just leave me the f*&k alone?”, I have certainly thought it in my head.

When I think of the many mothers who deal with situations not nearly as wonderful as mine, it is a chilling thought.  I have a wonderful, supportive husband and four great kids.  While we are not rich, we are comfortable, and I don’t have to worry if we will have enough to eat or a roof over our head.  Everyone is healthy and generally happy.  We our extremely blessed and I try to remind myself often to be grateful.  It is amazing to me that even under really wonderful circumstances, child rearing can feel very hard, particularly when I know that it could be so much harder.

Of course we hear in the news every so often about mothers who totally lose it, kill their kids, and often try to kill themselves.  In mid-May there was the case of Carol Coronado in Southern California who stabbed her three daughters to death and then slashed her wrists.  Such a horrible story!  The daughters were 2 1/2 years old, 16 months old and 2 months old.  The husband was across the street working on the car.  Now this mother is facing jail for life and possibly the death penalty. The whole situation seems such a senseless loss of life, a terrible end for everyone involved, including the husband, who will be emotionally scarred for life.

The other recent news story that made me pause was the accidental heroin overdose of Peaches Geldof in April.  She was twenty-five, mother of two young sons (2 years old and 11 months old), married to Thomas Cohen, the lead singer of a band called S.C.U.M.  On the surface she had it all– she was the daughter of a rock star living the privileged life of a model, married to a rock star.  Looking over her biography, it seems that she was working in TV and fashion up until 2011, when she got engaged to Thomas Cohen.  In April 2012 she gave birth to their first son, then she and Thomas married in September 2012, and she had their second son in April 2013.

What struck me about both of these tragedies was my lack of surprise.  As soon as I heard the ages of the children in both cases, I could see why it could happen.  When V turned five last year, I did a little dance to celebrate no longer having a baby or toddler in the house.  To some, this may sound really calloused, but after ten years of baby and toddler years (with the four kids), it was a relief to *not* be pregnant/breastfeeding/changing diapers/trying to negotiate with a toddler.  Motherhood is more demanding than I could have ever imagined, and it was particularly so when the kids were under age five.   While I still have challenging days, I remind myself that it is a lot easier than it used to be.  When I think back to those early days, especially in the first six months, I can see how some mothers can literally go crazy.

It is easy to imagine a woman with three children under three (including a new infant) wondering how her life became so miserable and feeling terribly desperate.  It is not a stretch to envision a young, beautiful celebrity with two little boys wanting to escape the drudgery that motherhood can be.  I don’t know if there is a fix for this.  Raising kids is a hard job and I’m not sure that society really *can* make it easier, or that it would be appropriate to do so.  But it would be nice if the hard work was at least acknowledged by more people.  Many of us don’t realize (I certainly didn’t before I had children) that motherhood is one of the toughest jobs ever, even when the parameters are close to perfect.

Canceling a Long-Awaited Trip is Painful

Sometimes the universe says “No.”  And we must listen, even when we don’t want to.

On Monday morning I called British Airways and canceled our five-week, big summer vacation that I had planned for nearly a year.  It was with a heavy heart that I made the call.  This was supposed to be the trip that the kids talked about for years, visiting five destinations in three countries (centered around France, since they are in French school).  I told our children that morning at breakfast that we were not going to visit Europe at the end of the month.  Of course, they are disappointed, but I’m a big believer that kids are resilient and that you shouldn’t shelter them completely from life’s disappointments.  Part of growing up is learning to deal with not always getting what you want.

For the past several weeks it had become apparent to me (and to Manly Guy, but he wasn’t saying anything) that the timing of the trip just wasn’t going to work.  There are cycles in all businesses, and it can be difficult to predict months in advance if a vacation is scheduled at the right time.  Thankfully, Manly Guy can do much of his work remotely, so we have more flexibility than most.  But working limited hours from a distant vacation destination is never ideal, and sometimes it is just a bad idea.

Over the weekend I had scrambled to make changes, seeing if there was a way that we could shorten the trip by two weeks and send Manly Guy home after twelve days.  I was able to find suitable return flights (after discovering that another West Coast city had a lot of availability) but our accommodations ended up being the bigger issue.  Since we don’t fit in a normal hotel room, I had booked vacation rentals for the majority of the places we were going to visit.  There are many wonderful things about vacation rentals (access to a kitchen, larger space, feels more like home), but the biggest downside is that you are required to put down a deposit and you often forfeit most or all of it if for some reason you need to change your plans.  For example, the flat in London where we were planning to stay was not available for the new dates that I tried to book.  We lost nearly $900 on the deposit, and if we still wanted to visit London two weeks earlier we’d be starting over with accommodations there.

Time to move on.  My next task is to totally revamp our summer: we will join a local pool, book various camps for all the kids, and our calendar just opened up significantly for guests.  Sometimes life serves up a little disappointment, but all we can do is try to be grateful for all that we have and get on with it.

Culinary Camp Provider Doesn’t Understand Parents

Okay, lady– after you talked to me like a child and made me pinky-swear that I wouldn’t be late dropping off our son tomorrow morning, I was absolutely seething in the car.  I hate you.

In our little “talk” at pick-up today, you admitted that you are not a parent.    Even if you hadn’t told me, it would have been very evident.  I am in fact wondering why you are teaching a spring break camp for kids when you clearly don’t “get” parents and their needs.  Perhaps you don’t realize that it is the parents who are the real customers, not the kids?   We are the ones who foot the bill for activities, and fit them into our busy schedules.   And while I would not have minded you jokingly reminding me that the class starts at 10 AM, talking down to me (in small words, always my favorite)  and then asking me to pinky-swear was beyond the pale.

You have no idea that this month has been a crazy one for us.  You don’t know that I had a kid home sick yesterday, and another one who had two days of camp canceled this week because there weren’t enough kids registered for it.  That I spent all day Monday cooking (starting before 6 AM) for a St. Patty’s Day celebration.  That we had friends arrive that night who stayed with us and I made a big dinner for them last night.  That I’m still recovering from hosting a French intern for two weeks; having a stranger in your home for that long (even when they are nice and polite) can be tough, particularly when communication is challenging (she spoke limited English and I speak almost no French).

I try to always respect a service provider’s time.  I make sure that I pick up our kids promptly, as I know it is unfair to expect someone to stay late.   But this week the kids are on vacation, and we’ve had visitors, and I cannot make it a priority to get my kids at the exact start time of camp.   If one of the kids arrives 10-15 minutes late to a holiday activity, I figure it is no big deal.  I have three different drop-off times and three different pick-up times this week, and if we spend a few extra minutes at breakfast, I don’t feel like I need to apologize for it.  We have so many “real” deadlines and time commitments that I need to keep that I am not willing to add your drop-off time to that list.

I’m looking forward to that feedback form that is always distributed at the end of the class.  I think you need to hear a parent’s view on start times and how you need to be more flexible.  And Manly Guy offered gleefully to drop T off tomorrow; he can’t wait to make a snarky remark about a pinky-swear.

My Last Trip to Loehmann’s

This week I paid my respects to a dying friend.  I had to go and at least say goodbye.  I’ve enjoyed regular visits to this 93-year-old entity for at least a decade-and-a-half (probably longer) and I will miss her.

Ahhhhh, yes, I’m talking about Loehmann’s.  They are closing for good and I’m bummed.  It certainly isn’t the best shopping experience out there– it isn’t nearly as pleasant a place to shop as your local Macy’s– but it is a place to find bargains, particularly on designer apparel.  I discovered Loehmann’s while I was a single, a career girl who loved nice clothes but couldn’t afford to buy the labels that I really wanted at full retail.  I was not born into a wealthy family.  In fact, as my brother has put it, “the Herron gene” drives us to get as much value as possible out of our money.  My dad is great at finding deals, and my grandmother was downright thrifty.  Since I majored in Fashion Design in college, I have a real appreciation of quality fabrics and garment construction (or lack thereof), and Loehmann’s has enabled me to buy higher quality than I would be able to afford otherwise.

After I married, I continued to shop there, not just for myself, but for Manly Guy as well.  Although Loehmann’s stopped carrying children’s clothing last year, at one point I was able to get a smattering of fashion-forward items for the whole family.  I’ve had friends who tried to shop there but didn’t like it.  It isn’t the kind of store that you can go in with a list of things that you are looking for.  They get some pieces from good labels, but they usually don’t get the cream of the crop, the best-selling pieces, because those sell at full-price generally.  The store has always been a jumble of stuff, and there have been plenty of trips there where I found nothing that I wanted to buy.  But I’ve also had shopping trips where I’ve come home with two big bags of stuff, and everything was 60-90% off retail.  (This week, despite the fact that the store closing was announced more than a week before I got down there and the store was pretty picked-over, I found a dozen items, including a cool BCBG blouse for $18 that was originally $240 and a Ben Sherman shirt for Manly Guy for $15.)

Since I have plenty of clothes and don’t really need anything, the rule for myself has been to only shop the clearance racks and I could only buy an item if it was at least 75% off.  I made out like a bandit on more than one occasion, and I have several Moschino cocktail dresses in my closet, all because of Loehmann’s.  It would be hard to justify spending $1000 or more on a dress these days; with four kids I’m always needing to get stuff for them.  Loehmann’s gave me an easy way to buy lovely things for myself without too much guilt about the cost.  Now I don’t know where I’m going to get my next Moschino cocktail dress . . .



Here is my new BCBG blouse that I picked up this week for $18.

One Early Guest Can Throw You Off Your Game

Two Sundays ago we hosted a costume birthday party for our twins, a Monster Tea.  For the past several years we haven’t hosted the kids’ parties at our home because it is so much work and there are so many other options available that kids enjoy (Pump It Up, skating, gymnastics, fencing, climbing, Scandia, et al). However, after hosting and/or attending lots of kids’ parties at these venues, eventually the kids (not to mention the adults) grow tired of all of them.  It was time to do something different, and since our kids have reached the age when scary costumes are desirable, a Monster tea party seemed perfect.  The kids were able to use their costumes again (Halloween costumes are barely used when they are outgrown), they got to enjoy a tea party (which is a current favorite), and we could invite the whole class plus siblings (since we were less concerned with keeping below a certain number of attendees).

If there is one thing that I can be accused of, it is that I try to do too much.  I can’t keep it simple.  I wanted to make most of the food myself.  I wanted to put out a nice spread for adults so that they could enjoy some visiting time with other parents if they were inclined to stick around.  I wanted to have plenty of activities so that the kids would not be bored (the kiss of death for any party). I’ve thrown quite a few dinner parties, cocktail parties, and birthday parties, both for kids and for adults.  I tend to pride myself in knowing what to do to ensure that guests enjoy the food and company.  Throwing a really good party is a bit of an art; if it is not well-planned, people have to go looking for beverages and food, and if the event is too buttoned-up it is not usually memorable.

That morning I felt that I was pretty prepared.  I did most of my baking the day before (brownies, blondies, and two types of cupcakes), I had done all my shopping, I had organized a menu for each station (kids’ snacks outside, kids’ food for the sit-down tea, kid beverage station, adults’ food table, adult beverage station).  We had a few games pulled together (Who Am I?- with 30 people/places/things to identify; a skeleton scavenger hunt; a memory game called “At My Birthday I Want”).  We figured that some kids might want to play the dance game on the XBox upstairs, and we always have the soft swords to fight with outside.  If the party slowed down toward the end, we would make a bonfire (I bought makings for s’mores and several boxes of hot chocolate mix, just in case).

Manly Guy and I joked that *someone* would forget to change their clocks and arrive an hour early.

My family has the sense to know to avoid me in the last hour before an event.  My husband always reminds the kids to “leave Mommy alone” right before a party.  I am a raving b!&@h.  There is always a lot left to do (no matter how well-planned I think it has been), and I am very focused, not taking the time or energy for niceties.  In the last hour before the Monster Tea, I needed to finish making the tea cakes, make tea sandwiches, set up both beverage stations, put out the games and set up the bubble station.  Yes, it was going to be a busy hour, but I felt that I could get everything done as long as I stayed on task.  Then, a few minutes before 3 PM, the doorbell rings.  Really?!  More than an hour before our start time of 4 PM?  We opened the door, and there was a classmate of the twins’ with his mom.  We looked at the mom, very surprised, and said something about not changing her clocks.  She looked back at us, also very surprised.  She showed us the Evite on her phone that somehow shows a start time of 3 PM.  I run upstairs and check my computer, which definitely shows a start-time of 4.  We panic a bit, hoping that we only have one early arrival.  (Thankfully, she was the only one.)

The Mom offered to help at least, so I gave her the task of making tea sandwiches while I finished making the tea cakes.  I knew that she was trying to be helpful, but having a guest early really messed up my mindset.  I couldn’t focus on what I needed to do, as I needed to be friendly and keep her busy with stuff so that she felt useful.  I lost my momentum, forgot to set up the beverage stations, and felt utterly behind as guests started to arrive in earnest at 4.  To top off my feeling of not having my act together, we were totally swamped with kids.  Our Evite gave an estimate of 17 guests, including adults.  I knew that not everyone had responded, and assumed that we would have between 20 and 25 kids, along with a handful of adults.  In the first half-hour of the party it was clear that the 24 gift bags that I had assembled was not going to be enough (thank goodness I had additional stuff upstairs to make more).  I struggled to greet everyone, get the drink stations set-up, let go of the idea of having games, and just try to ride the wave of chaos that took over the house and the yard.   In the end, I served a sit-down tea in the backyard for about 30 kids (not all would fit at the tables), hosted at least ten adults for a wine and cheese gathering in the living room, tried to keep the kids from doing anything too crazy in the yard (much sword-fighting went on), ensured that the kids upstairs were taking turns with the XBox dance game, and gave away 34 gift bags to kids that weren’t mine.

From the feedback that I got as people were leaving, everyone had a great time.  The twins loved their birthday party.  Clean-up the next day went faster than I expected, and within twenty-four hours the house was good as new.  But I still chuckle when I think of The Mom (who arrived early) when she was leaving: “Good thing I arrived early, isn’t it?”

Can Children Be Taught to Appreciate the Mundane?

So much of adult life is boring.  A successful day is often (or usually) one that goes according to plan, and the plan is similar (or nearly exactly the same) as other weeks.  Work, activities, even our social life doesn’t tend to vary a lot from week to week.  In fact, we have learned through life experiences that “exciting” can often mean “bad” excitement (such as illness, accident, or other unexpected event), so we appreciate the days that go smoothly.  I’ve learned to enjoy simple pleasures such as setting a pretty table for breakfast, reading a chapter aloud to the kids before bed (we are currently working on the Harry Potter series), baking cookies, or picking vegetables in the garden.

Before I met Manly Guy and “settled down”, I definitely pursued more excitement in my life than I do now.  I dabbled in a variety of outdoor sports, planned international trips (as much as my jobs would allow) and enjoyed the party scene.  But even though I sought out a certain amount of thrills, I was always responsible, never allowing extra-curricular activities to impact my productivity on the job or distracting me too much.  As a dear friend once pointed out, “you cannot live on spice.”

As a parent, I have to wonder if an individual (child or adult) can be taught to appreciate the mundane parts of life, or if it only comes with maturity.  I suspect that experience is the best teacher in this case, that we learn to enjoy the boring parts mainly because of the lack of “bad” excitement.

Every weekday, our youngest asks me when I am picking the kids up from school: “Where are we going, Mommy?”  She is hoping that I am going to tell her that we are going to do something fun, like getting frozen yogurt or to an after-school activity such as soccer.  When I tell V that “We are heading home”, she always gives a long “Aaaawwwwwww” in response,  a sound of disappointment.  She longs to do “something fun” and hates to have a boring afternoon.  She would happily plan a monthly trip to Disneyland, and host birthday parties every week.

But, as I have pointed out many times to T, our oldest– anyone can have fun.  Experiencing fun doesn’t demonstrate our character.  It is what we do day-in and day-out that shows who we are.  It is the willingness to work hard, to slog through boring tasks, to overcome challenges that we encounter– these really give us the opportunity to shine.  One of my goals is to help my kids to accept that.

Related to the mundane parts of life is our daily attitude and how we can work to keep it positive.  Am I the last person ever to hear about David Foster Wallace?  He gave a commencement speech in 2005 called “This is Water”.  His suicide in 2008 preserved him forever as a middle-aged, soul-searching author who had brilliant insights in the delicate art of being conscious and alive.  Last week I viewed a video (posted by a friend on Facebook, of course)  which was nine minutes of excerpts from the speech, and it was fantastic.  I don’t know if it is still up, but I know that the original version (which is 22 minutes long) is still on YouTube.  If you don’t feel like viewing the video, you can read the speech here:

If you haven’t seen, heard or read this speech, I highly recommend it!

I’m Juggling as Fast as I Can

I cannot believe it is already mid-October.  Since school started (in late August), I have been “under” (that terrific food server term describing the state in which one is behind in everything).  Just before school started we had our second poison oak exposure, followed by impetigo, a contagious skin condition (from all the scratching).  We had never dealt with poison oak or impetigo before, so it was difficult to identify either until we were well into the throes of each.  All together it was six weeks of extra laundry in hot water, cleaning (everything), doctor appointments and a feeling that we would never get out of that vicious cycle.  We had to postpone a big birthday celebration for Manly Guy in September by a week because of the impetigo, which pushed the big party to the same weekend that I ran a half-marathon and my brother visited.  A day later we were off to attend a twenties-themed wedding in Carmel (which was a truly wonderful event), followed by several weeks of an overbooked social calendar (symphony and opera performances, a musical, two Date Nights at night clubs, a visit from my sister and her husband) and ending with a six-day family trip to Seattle.  (We got back on Tuesday.)  I wouldn’t want to remove anything, but all together it has been Too Much.  And I have no one to blame but myself for such a ridiculously-packed month (or two).

During this same time period I realized that the perfect part-time interesting job that I have been looking/waiting for was sitting in front of me.  As of October 1, I am officially working for my husband’s company in client development, but it has been a struggle to try to extract two hours every weekday to dedicate to research/outreach to potential clients.  For my first official week in my new position the kids had half-days, due to parent/teacher conferences.  I’m sure there are moms out there who look forward to the extra kid time they get from parent/teacher conference week, but the timing on this particular week was terrible. On half-days it feels like I get *nothing* done.  By the time you run to the store and fit in a few errands or tasks, it is time to pick up the kids from school.  I end up hating short days, and then I feel guilty because I resent the extra time that our lovely children are at home.   Throw in a family trip the week after and I’ve ended up not feeling very accomplished in my first few weeks in my new job.

Layer on top of all this the other things that I try to do, such as writing on my blog, canning, volunteering at the school, getting quality time with my husband, and it feels like I’m a bit of a failure.  Okay, that is overstating it, but right now it feels like I’m not shining in *any* area of my life, but barely doing enough to get by in every aspect.  Then I remind myself that the only reason why I am behind is because I am pushing myself to do more than is really reasonable.  When I feel frustrated and discouraged, I try to remember to take a deep breath and let that frustration go.  I am doing as much as I can, as well as I can.