Monday, November 24, 2014

road trip

Nearly a decade ago, my friend hopped a flight to Seattle and I picked her up at the airport, my Saturn loaded down with everything I owned. We drove to Omaha, stopping to sleep in Montana. Now in our thirties instead of twenties, when she told me she was going to be moving halfway across the country, of course I was going to make the road trip with her. 

Ten years later really complicates matters. Adult responsibilities certainly shirk spontaneity. The planning involved was much more than one purchased plane ticket. There were multiple plane tickets bought, a house sold, a U-Haul booked, lodging procured, daycare secured. And of course, when a mother leaves, a week of preparation is required. I cleaned the entire house, did eight loads of laundry, wrote a detailed schedule. 
I spent Thursday morning giving the boys baths, packing the diaper bag, then my carry-on. I ate lunch with Brandon then I drove myself to the airport. I marveled at exactly how easy air travel is without kids (seriously - what was I bitching about before?) In Phoenix, Marie picked me up at the airport and we grabbed dinner and some much needed coffee, then made it to Las Vegas by 2 a.m. The hotel's happy hour went from midnight to six a.m. That boggled my mind. Don't these people sleep?

 As you can tell, I was unlucky in Vegas.
 I think it's hilarious that when you exit Vegas, there is a billboard telling you who to call to get sober.
 We drove up US 93 which doesn't have a whole lot going on. A gas station that was turned into a picnic gazebo on the outskirts of a trailer park.
 A church. Electrical lines, trash.
 I love wind turbines.
 We went from cacti and not seeing a tree for too many miles to snow and mountains.
 I like the beauty of ugly things.
 Usually a window reflection ruins a picture, but this captured our road trip - the map on the knees.
 I began getting giddy as soon as we entered Pacific Northwesterness. Every time I run outside, I've noticed I run either north or west. It's as if I'm always subconsciously running home.
 My up-for-anything younger brother came and met us for a delicious sushi dinner. We had joked we just wanted dinner on a plate after foraging a small town grocery store for dinner the night before (seriously - pickles, an apple, triscuits, beef sticks, V-8 juice).

I got home at 1:30 this morning and went to check on Holden and immediately started crying. This morning, he actually hugged me. And he is by no means a hugger. He usually just flails around, but this time, our hearts beat against each other and I could feel what he can't say - that he missed me. Although spontaneity evaporates with our youth, I remembered all the things I love about my anchored adult life. We can still do things we did back then, we just have to battle logistics. And us adults have learned how to do that in those years when youth was escaping.                                               

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

keeping warm, gnawing, and playing

It has happened. Last week was our first snowfall. Maybe it will melt soon. Maybe what little we have will be here until March. It's hard to tell. But it certainly got cold fast. One week I was running with the boys in the jogging stroller to the park, the next it was 0 degrees. 
We've got to keep warm around here!
If you asked me what my perfect date was, this would be it. So no, it's not a date. But it is perfect. I am a loner; a married loner.
My little pal.
He hasn't been sleeping as well and is always gnawing on something. It looks like that other front top tooth popped through today. Holden and I have been spending a lot of time together in the mornings, so he is forced to hang out while mommy reads or brushes her teeth. He doesn't seem to mind much, as long as he something to chew. 
Every time I take a picture of Holden with the flash, he makes the cheesiest face. 
 At dinner the other night, Brandon said, "Hold my hand, daddy."
 I love to watch my boys play. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

i'm an outlaw

You know how people are always saying crazy phrases that don't make any sense at all? Like "I froze my ass off"? Well I literally ran my tits off. My working out has made sense of a non sequitur idiom. I'm not bragging about my breasts previously known as large - trust me, I don't find that to be an asset. I was banished to department store basements looking for my grotesquely large cup size. I mean, Heidi Montag and I were only one letter apart at my largest. I don't know why she did it - I would get mine reduced, but why enlarged? I guess she can afford custom-made bras. I guess she doesn't run and doesn't care about her posture or her back or have kids to lift. I guess she actually welcomes the attention of creepy men who look just at your breasts without ever looking at you. Me?  I am happy to be able to now go to a regular store and buy a bra. There's a Meghan Trainor song that says something like, "we all want to be different, that's what makes us all the same." Well, in the case of my bra size, I just wanted to be the same.

So of course, this meant I needed to go bra shopping. I've read that 80% of women wear the wrong bra size and I knowingly have been up until this shopping trip. I know what measurements said would be my size, but you really can't buy a bra and expect it to fit without trying it on. And no way in hell was I doing this with my two little boys in tow. I can picture it now: them crawling underneath dressing room partitions, knocking over clothing racks (yes, my siblings and I did those things as children).

Since I was out on a rare shopping excursion sans kids, I decided to do a return. I have some jeans that are a double digit size from the time between Brandon's birth and Holden's pregnancy. There was a time when I determined not to wear maternity jeans anymore. Obviously I never stuck to it because they have the tags still attached. I knew if anyone could get store credit out of them, it would be me. These jeans are years old, but I'll manage it. I believe exchanges and returns are a bit of an art form. It's a gift that I have; I just have a knack for it. I get an odd thrill from getting something back from a store when I shouldn't per their return policy. I'm an outlaw, really. Just a white-collar outlaw.

I have never met anyone who shares my love of exchanging and returning. It makes people jittery, nervous. They end up hanging onto new things they'll never use just to avoid the whole rigamarole. Well just return the shit already! You have money sitting in your house. Money you spent. It's time to reclaim it! So here's how to do it. First thing is to scope out the cashier options. Just casually walk by and look for the right kind of person. I used to go for older cashiers, thinking they can't see very well. This was a strategy I employed when returning slightly used items. I thought their older eyesight would neglect to find shrunken pant legs, tags taped back on oh so carefully, but also obviously if you take a good look. That was my first mistake. The older cashiers take their sweet ass time. And glasses correct vision problems, for Chrissakes (yes, she has glasses! They were just hanging on a chain when you walked by originally). I don't know what I was thinking. They are usually too hardened from years of bitchy shoppers returning things the wrong way that they don't want to help you. They will find a way to deny your return.

So what you want to find is a cashier with hustle. Someone who is relatively new to the retail world and still cares about customer service (but not brand new! They will call over a manager! You don't want that) but also takes pride in never needing to ask for help. Once you're at the register, be polite and relatable. This is the mistake most people make. They are frantic and pissed from doing the return in the first place and it transfers over to the cashier quickly. Just remember: you get what you give. Yesterday I found a bossy young man with Ray Ban glasses who wriggled his way into a situation to offer his expertise. I wouldn't have normally even tried this, but since I observed his behavior, I asked (very sweetly and naively of course) if this coupon would apply to my purchase (I totally knew it shouldn't - my item was clearanced). He scanned the bar code, frowned that it didn't work, then just punched in some manual discount code. When I asked him about them being busy (find something they can talk to you about! It will distract them and make them like you - everyone likes someone who allows them to talk about their interests), he told me how much their store did in sales that week. It seemed like proprietary information that a mere customer shouldn't have, but for that moment, I was his confidant, his friend.

Then I got to the store with the return. Keep in mind, these jeans are years old without an original receipt. I found another young man, this time training a new cashier (jackpot! That means not a manager, but a good worker that definitely isn't going to ask a manager for help with someone watching him). He asked if there was anything wrong with them (the dreaded question most shoppers blurt out something stupid at). I smiled at him and told him, "no, nothing wrong with them, they've never been worn, I just lost so much weight that they won't fit anymore."
"Good for you!" he congratulated. For a second, I was a Biggest Loser contestant and he was a fan of the show, proud of my hard work. We bonded instantly. He gave me much more than I originally paid as store credit with which I bought a black blazer and still have a gift card left over.

I came home and relayed my retail successes to Steve, who listened with mild interest (oh, you also got the $10 gift card with our Target receipt from earlier today when you forgot the coupon? Nice!)
I might take even more pride in my returning abilities, now that it is my only method of making money. Not long ago I returned a broken bubble maker toy (never buy those! They never work!) without any bubbles left in the canister, the whole assemblage barely held together with too much packing tape. "I can't believe it worked!" I exclaimed. Like I said earlier, I'm an outlaw, really. Just not in the bad ass Jesse James kind of way.

Thursday, November 13, 2014


In the months that I've been making an effort to not be grossly unhealthy, I've noticed that a lot of times when I reach for something unhealthy, it's not really because I'm craving it, but because I'm used to it. It's a habit. We have coupled unhealthy choices with another one - handcuffing one to another one.

Once you choose something unhealthy, you usually pair it with its partner. Like:

Hamburgers with french fries
Pasta with wine
Pizza with beer
Nachos with margaritas
And my personal favorite - donuts with coffee

Even our entertainment is paired with unhealthy consumption:

Movies with popcorn...and then popcorn with gigantic soda
Shopping with an Auntie Anne's pretzel. And with an Orange Julius
Dancing with drinking
Karaoke with cocktails
Sand volleyball with beer in plastic cups
Video games with Doritos
Gambling with drinking, then drinking with smoking

So to curb this, I have created my own duos:

Running outside to girl power songs
Salads with water (yeah, this craze hasn't caught on)
Running on the treadmill with Bravo TV
A bath with a book
Puzzle races with more singalong songs

If I sit on the couch and watch TV, I will probably snack on junk food, because it's what I'm used to. So now, if I'm going to watch TV, I do so from the treadmill. Instead of letting my mind's autopilot take over and me remembering what goes with what I'm doing or eating, I am recreating my life into healthier duos. Reading never went with anything unhealthy anyway, and that's one of my favorite ways to spend my free time.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Pure joy

It was great having my sister stay with us last week. She was so great to have around with the kids. In fact, when Brandon saw this picture, he went up to our guest room to look for her. "Where's Aunt Amber, mama?" he asked. 
My neighbor asked about her, too. "How'd your pictures turn out on Halloween?" she asked. "I only ask because you were the only trick-or-treaters with paparazzi following you." 
You wouldn't even recognize the me that existed when my sister was around. I was like Suzy Homemaker along with her help. One morning we made homemade donuts; the next: breakfast bombs (which is sausage, eggs, and cheese baked into a biscuit. Yes, it is bomb). I even finally inaugurated my CrockPot.
Holden and Brandon already have a special brother bond. Holden looks up to Brandon already, and laughs at his jokes and always wants to be near him. 
Brandon already knows Holden better than I do. Once I fed Holden prunes and he scarfed them down (probably because he was famished) so I thought he loved prunes. I have tried repeatedly since then to get him to eat them. He gives me all the signs that he hates them: he spits it out, shakes his head. The other day, he even dumped the entire container out when I was turned away. This morning, Brandon just looked at me as if I was an idiot while I was cajoling Holden into eating prunes. "He doesn't like them," he explained rationally. Duh. Who needs baby books and parenting advice when you've got a two-year-old to crack the infant code for you?
 This little guy's top right tooth popped through those gums yesterday. He is one drooly boy. And a bit whiny, understandably, but still not nearly as crabby as I would be in his situation.
I caught Brandon reading while I straightened my hair. He looked guilty of something, as if reading is only for bedtime, not to be involved in morning routines. He doesn't know that I read a chapter of a book each morning before coming into his room.
Holden's last time in our favorite pajamas. I switched his clothes out into 12-18 month size today. Which, speaking of, we have 19 (yes, 19!) pairs of shorts in this size. What baby needs that many shorts? I'm sure Steve and I don't have ninteen pairs of shorts between the two of us in all our sizes combined.
Brandon fell in love with the mini bananas at HyVee. He insisted on carrying them around. People marveled when he walked by. At the bananas it turns out, but I imagined it was at his adorableness. One little girl said, "Look mom, how cute!" and when I turned to smile at her and nod in acknowledgment and pride, she added, "those bananas are so small!"
I've known Brandon likes coffee for some time now. But it was only the other day that I discovered he is an addict. I smelled coffee on his breath and knowing there was no brewed coffee around, I demanded he tell me where he found coffee. He sheepishly led me to the pantry where I discovered he punctured K-cups with the Keurig machine and ate the grounds. Had to get his caffeine fix, I see.
Today we went to the bookstore to pick up If you Give a Pig a Pancake. This is the second time we have returned a book to the library that Brandon loved so much that I just had to go get him his own copy (the other one was Oliver by Syd Hoff in case anyone cares).
Brandon is the best little buddy there ever was. He insisted on exchanging hats the other day and I must say, he wears my hat better than I do (and his, too).
When I take pictures of Brandon, I get a lot of scowls, quick turnaways, and "no cheese!" protests. My sister, however, managed to capture a moment of pure joy.  Pure joy. That's what these boys are. I never knew it before them.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

A little nutsy

I have talked a lot about having a third child. But I really haven't thought that much about it. I have thought about the two children we already have and about money and about babies, but not actually about a third child. I have thought around it without thinking about it.

So for the past few days, I resolved to actually think about the reality of having a third child in this house. I thought first about logistics. About losing our guest room or forcing Brandon and Holden to share a room. I thought about how to transport them all and actually Googled if it is possible to fit three car seats in a standard backseat (sometimes, barely, rarely: you should probably instead invest in a minivan). I thought about money getting tighter and cringed at the thought of becoming one of those people who bitched about money but kept having kids (I know you know those people too - we all do. They're everywhere).

Then I thought about how at HyVee today, Brandon shoved the whole sample cookie into his mouth at once and I had to retrieve it with his sweatshirt. I fucking unzipped his hoodie and covered my hand with it, grabbed into his mouth, took out the pieces of half-masticated cookie, then wiped around Brandon's mouth with the sweatshirt. I thought about how last week I discovered Holden chewing on one of Tucker's rawhides. Sometimes I can barely keep the two I have alive, I thought. What do I think I'm trying to prove by having three? That I am SuperMom? None of us are believing that.

A third child is not going to force me back into my unlazy parenting of one where I carried around a diaper bag, watched him every second, and never even considered the idea of "me time." No, I will still be traipsing around town without any baby essentials, existing on my basic parenting philosophy of hope. I hope no one has a blowout because I didn't bring any wipes. Hope doesn't always prevail. We're never so far from home anyway.

The jump from two to three seems like a big fucking deal. I mean, two is standard. Three is a little nutsy. Four and beyond, people start asking if you're a Catholic or Mormon and have to bring religion into it as if there is no reason other than God's divine will for that many children to belong to one couple.

But when I stop thinking about logistics and money and my own selfishness and shortcomings - when I think about a baby itself - I realize that if it happened, we would figure it out. I could have twenty kids (someone resuscitate Steve - this is hyperbole) and I would love each one and treat each one like he or she is the most special person in the world. But I am a responsible person. Logistics and money and my own selfishness and shortcomings are to be considered here. If I acted on every whim that traipsed in and out of this la-de-da little head of mine, I'd be in some serious shit. Like, quite possibly, literally swimming in shit. It's hard to tell. It would be nutsy, that's for sure.

So like the last time I blogged about this, I agree that I'm not ready to say "no" to having other children. But this time, I am sure as hell that I'm not ready to say "yes" either.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

lots of hugs and sticky kisses

The way children love is pretty fucking unbelievable. It could be what I love most about being a mom. I love getting to experience that love: to feel it - to be wrapped in the big hugs and covered in the sticky kisses that are its currency. Here is what I've noticed so far about how children surpass adults in the love department:

  • Kids don't hold grudges. In fact, it seems the last thing they want to do is rehash an unpleasantry. They understand how to say or accept "sorry" and to jump to the next thing. They forgive, and they forget. Or if they do remember, they don't keep bringing up old shit.
  • Kids accept your emotions. They don't avoid them or tell you not to have them. They aren't trying to change you or tell you not to feel a certain way.  The few times Brandon has seen me cry, he has come up and given me a hug, and patted me on the back. He isn't a coach, rallying me to get my head in the game. He knows I'm sad and that there is no better remedy for that than love.
  • Kids aren't self-conscious. Which means they dance when they hear music, they shout when they're excited, and they cry when they're sad. I admire their transparency. When people say having kids makes them young again, I think what they mean is that they realize there is a better way to live than the adult way. Seeing the world the way a child does makes the world a much better place. 
  • Kids want to spend time with you. They haven't learned to be cynical and look for faults in people yet. They haven't edited friends to a specific type. They haven't learned disdain and superiority. Instead, they want everyone to be a friend: they play with you and find something to enjoy alongside you. It's pretty awesome, not feeling judged for what you say or do. Not having to apologize for mispronouncing a common word or rewearing yoga pants too many days in a row.
  • Kids will say what they feel. In my whole life I haven't heard, "I love you," as much as I have in the little time Brandon has known how to wield it. And he tells me he missed me every morning when he wakes up. I swear this really happens without my prodding. Because kids are sweet and loving by default. It's us adults that fuck them up and take that away from them.
  • Lots of hugs and sticky kisses. This exact phrase is from a Five Little Monkeys book (I can quote plenty of children's books). But I couldn't say it better myself. The physical manifestation of an emotional feeling. I don't know why adults feel so ashamed to be seen kissing and hugging each other. It's beautiful to see love in the world. 
There is, I'm sure, so much I'm missing in this list. These were just the first to spring to mind.  Being loved by a kid is a pretty fantastic feeling. Even if I'm a lousy person, a child's love will make me feel like I'm the most special person alive. I wish we could all love and be loved that way.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

kinda like cymbals

 Please forgive my overwhelming amount of weekly photos.
 With my sister in town, I have double the resources for capturing moments. 
Sometimes I think about what my kids' opinions of me will be when they are older. 
For example, will they remember me as always having my camera, taking pictures of them? Or reading books or writing or exercising? It's hard to say what it is kids remember about their parents, but chances are, they will pin one activity as what their parent was "always doing."
That makes me sad, this generation where phones can be used for so much. That most kids will remember their parents "always being on their phones." I hope I'm not one of those parents.
 Brandon had fun helping with leaves this week.
We got another instrument at a consignment store. I go to consignment stores not for the clothes, but for the books and toys.
I think Holden is about ready to sit up. He does it pretty well now. But then, just when you think he's got the hang of it, he falls over. So it's hard to tell.
 Tucker's water bowl became the pool for the Little People this week.
We were playing outside every afternoon, until Friday when it got cold. I found Brandon just chilling, posing with no one around. 
Holden sleeps just once a day most days now. I take any cuddles I can get.
 Brandon loved the leaf grabbers. "They're kinda like cymbals," he said, then proceeded to clap them together and make music. This kid is bound to be a musician or artist or poet.
Halloween candy. He forces me to eat it with him. Of course, I don't complain.