Sisterly Love (and Hate)

Growing up with my younger sister by two years, we were the best of friends. We loved to play together. We did everything together without a bitter word ever passing between us. We were the epitome of sisterly love.

And if you believe that, I have a private island in the South Pacific I’d like the sell you. In reality, sure there were times we got along well together, but mostly, we argued a lot. Back then, we really couldn’t agree on much of anything. Of course I was always right and she always started it! I can remember hearing my mother and grandmother saying, “Stop your bickering!” or “enough girls.”  But, we both had to have the last word and the argument would continue. At the time, I never really thought about how our arguing and constant picking at each other effected the ‘grown-ups’ around me until now.

I know God must be laughing at me now (along with my mother and grandmother) as I get my just rewards. I know have two argument-prone daughters of my own. At almost five years apart, you wouldn’t think they’d have anything to fight about. That they would actually get along with each other, but no. I think they live to antagonize each other and me. The youngest wakes up in the morning, reaches up and pulls her sister’s hair for no reason. And it begins:

“Mom, she pulled my hair!” the oldest one tattles.

“Well, she hit me first,” the little one defends herself.

“No I didn’t,” the older one retorts.

“Yes, you did!” she asserts back.

“No, I didn’t”

“Mom, I just lightly tapped her to get her to move off my shirt. Ouch! Mom she did it again!”

After a few moments, the words “That’s enough girls! Stop your bickering now!” spew out of my mouth. The constant picking at each other is like fingernails on a chalkboard to my nerves. They continue on with their argument, though, as if I hadn’t just told them to stop. It wouldn’t be half as bad if they didn’t keep dragging me into it. As the arguing escalates through the morning routine, I start to count to three. If I get to three, no TV in the evening. They hate that! It works way better than timeouts for me, plus I don’t have to watch the same episode of Shake it Up for the twentieth time.

One Saturday morning on our way back from running errands, their need to be right lost the television privileges for the rest of that day all the way to Tuesday. By the time they lost Tuesday, they were done fighting and were pleading with me for away to get their “Wizards of Waverly Place” fix back.

“What if we be good for the rest of the day?” they both begged.

“Well, I told them. You can’t earn back today, it’s gone. But, if you are good for the rest of the day and you help with the chores around the house, you can earn back your TV privileges.”

They were all over it! They were best friends for the rest of the day. In addition, they cleaned the bathroom sinks, the toilets and helped wipe down the tub. They picked up their stuff in the living room and cleaned up their room. It was AMAZING. We turned up the music and sang and danced as we powered through the chores. In the end, they earned back the three days of TV they lost, I didn’t have to listen to them argue and I got my bathrooms cleaned.

Hmmm…. Maybe their arguing isn’t so bad after all. They argue, I take away the TV and they earn it back by doing chores without complaining… I like it!!!

Back to my sister and me though, we are quite good friends now. We talk on the phone once or twice a week, we go on girls’ weekends when we can, and we rarely, if ever, argue. So, there is hope for my girls yet, that someday they will love their sister and value her, just as I do mine.

Quest To Be a Morning Person

As I reflected on my need for more me-time to focus on achieving my goals and making my dreams come true, I determined I needed to carve out that time and take it back for myself. As I looked over my busy schedule, the answer became clear to me. As I know Santa won’t be bringing me any extra hours in my day nor will he be bringing the magic hand that automatically puts everything in its place that my youngest daughter imagined, the next best thing would for me to become a morning person.

I reflect on how wonderful it would be to wake up at 5:00 AM refreshed and ready to start my day. I would have two peaceful, wonderful hours all to myself to do whatever I wanted — no children, no husband, no phone calls or chores (that might wake someone up). In the early morning hours when everyone else was a sleep, I could work on my writing, edit my photos, do a little Wii Fit… The possibilities are endless. I could get so much accomplished with no interruptions.

The only problem? I am the snooze queen. I typically set my alarm 20 minutes earlier than I actually need to get up, just so I can push it at least twice. I am not going to let that little fact deter me though. I did a search on “becoming a morning person.” Believe or not I found hundreds of hits and quite a few good tips. Of all the articles I read there were three tips most sleep experts agreed on. 1. Go to bed at the same time every night by no later than 10, if possible. Even on weekends. That didn’t seem too hard.  I could do that. 2. Get up at the same time every morning. Even on weekends. I can do that too. Although, sleep-in Saturdays would be a thing of the past, it wouldn’t matter because I would love the morning anyway, right?  3. No snooze bars. None. You have to get up as soon as the alarm rings. Move the alarm across the room if you have too. Hmm. #3 is not so easy. I have been known to walk across the room to push the snooze and then get back in bed. But, this time however, I am determined. I am going to do this; I can do this. I won’t be long before I will be enjoying beautiful sunrises as I sip a hot cocoa and work on the latest revision of my book. Yes.

So, last night, I set my iPod touch for 5:00 AM. I was tucked into bed by 10:30 and asleep by 11:00 PM. I was only an hour off my goal, not bad. It seemed like my eyes had just closed and I’d nodded off to dreamland, when my alarm started to go off. I stumbled out of bed and went to turn it off, when I glanced at the other clock on my dresser. It read 2:00 AM. How could that be? What time is it anyway?  I checked the setting on my iPod. The timezone was set to auto-locate. For some odd reason, it thought I was in San Paulo where it was in fact 5:00 AM. I still had three more hours to sleep. Hurray I thought to myself. I turn autolocate off and selected the correct time zone. I went to the bathroom and then snuggled back under the covers and laid awake another 30 minutes until I finally feel back asleep.

Another five hours and fifteen minutes later I heard the keys in the door. My husband is on night shift this month and was just getting home. “Crap” I think to myself, what time is it? I glance at the clock and it reads 7:15! Great now I overslept. I check the alarm settings, somehow in my grogginess at 2:00 AM, I turned the alarm off. Sigh. The mad morning rush is off again (while my husband is home from work, he is busy doing well I’m not sure what. I try not to get angry at my perceived unfairness in life (as in why do I always have to get three people ready in the morning and he only has to get one ready?) as life isn’t fair you know. So, I wake the girls up. Shower, dress, hair, make up, brush teeth pack lunches, help the little one get dressed, sign the older one’s school planner, find the missing shoes and library books…I manage to get it all done and no one missed the bus and I’m on time for work. Success. Everything is good.

Tomorrow is another day and my alarm is set for 5 AM and the time zone is set to Eastern. I’ll be a morning person yet. Zip-pity Doo-dah…

Santa’s Watching?

OK, so I admit it. I used the whole Santa ploy the other day to try to stop my four-year-old from having a full-blown tantrum in the grocery store. You may be familiar with the kind where the child starts screaming about how mean you are and how she hates you as she lies in the middle of the aisle and won’t move. When you try to get her to stand up, she goes limp. The half-blown tantrums are bad enough…

It’s just me and her at our local grocery store. The kind of grocery store where you always run into two or three people you know. Lucky for me, I saw no familiar faces that night. I needed to pick up a few things after work so I could make supper. I’m feeling pretty confident as I’ve already successfully steered her away from the huge, unmaneuverable car carts (who ever invented those things never had to push a cart full of groceries and a whining kid around in it.) We have the regular cart and life is good. She is very helpful and not too greedy. She decides to get the “Cookie Crisp” cereal instead of the “Brownie Bites” and doesn’t throw a fit about not getting both. I even throw in the Cheezit’s she wants as she is being so good. We head to the check-out. Hurray, I think to myself. We made it! A pleasant uneventful trip to the store without too many extra’s thrown into the cart. I don’t even have a headache (yet). Those shopping tips don’t happen too often in my life.

Unfortunately, I silently “hurrayed” prematurely. We get to the check out line, the one with candy lining both sides. Her eyes get big. “Mommy,” she asks ever so sweetly, “Since I was so good, can I have a candy?” Now, here’s where I should have just said “yes,” but I decided to try to be a good mother and not spoil her dinner for once.

“No, sweetie,” I replied, “I won’t by you candy…we’ll be having supper soon. But, you can pick out a pack of gum.” Now isn’t that a great compromise, I thought.

The boy at the check out starts scanning my groceries as she looks me straight in the eye and says rather loudly, “I don’t want gum! I want candy!”

I try to remain calm. Deep breaths. “I’m sorry. I said no candy, but you can have some gum.”

“What about this?” she asks picking up one of those baby-bottle shaped suckers.

“No, I said gum.”

“What about this she asks picking up another candy bar?”

“Gum,” I say pointing to the rack of gum.

I start to write the check as all the other groceries have been scanned. Now she’s lying on the ground mumbling about how mean I am. Suddenly she stands up. She has one of those plastic packs of pink bubble gum tape in her hands and whips it toward the conveyor belt. It bounces once just missing the checkout boy and lands on the floor as she yells “I don’t want gum.”

I could have crawled under the counter at that moment. I am proud of myself though and stayed composed and calmly told the boy that if the gum was not broken that we would not be purchasing it. He found it by his feet – it was still intact – and set it aside.  Thinking back I am sure I apologized to him for her behavior – but I can’t remember if I did or not. I need to remember that the next time I’m in there (if I don’t chicken out and head for a different line.) I do know I didn’t think to make her apologize to him. That would have been really good. Maybe I’ll make her apologize next time we see him. Anyway, I was focused on getting out of there without causing a bigger scene.

We head out the door and now she is even angrier and I am the worst mother ever because I didn’t buy her the candy or the gum. And that’s when it happened. I caved. “Hmmm. I say to her looking around. I hope Santa isn’t watching you now.”

She gets uncharacteristically quiet. “Do you think he would think little girls that throw gum at the check out are good and deserve presents?”

Her little voice quietly, says “no.”

On the drive home she apparently forgot about Santa again and begins to whine about the candy/gum again. So I lay a bigger whammy on her, “If you don’t stop by the time the light turns green, we won’t put up the Christmas Tree tonight.”

That stopped her in her tantrum tracks. I finally figured out that time-outs don’t work with her, but taking away the things she likes or wants certainly does.

Later that night after the tree is up and decorated. She looks up at me and tells me she loves me and that she’s sorry for being so bad at the store. She didn’t mean for the gum to fly off the conveyor belt and hit the checkout man.

I take her in my arms and kiss her head and tell her I forgive her and that I love her too.

Forgetful Friday

Humiliation follows me like a hungry, lost puppy. It’s Friday afternoon on the day after Thanksgiving. Yes, black Friday. I am NOT a black Friday shopper. The crowds and lines make my head hurt just thinking about it. I am more of a Cyber Monday kind of gal. Let them deliver the goods to me. But, I digress…Where was I? Oh yes, black Friday.
My husband works swing shift and worked from 7 PM to 7 AM Thanksgiving Day. So I made the rounds with the girls to the various family Thanksgiving feasts by myself. I really didn’t mind. It’s not his fault he had to work and in fact I know he would have rathered made the rounds with us, but still…I’m tired and I just want to veg a little. Which takes me back to black Friday. #1. My husband is sleeping upstairs. #2 He is a light sleeper. #3 He gets angry when people (i.e. two children) make noise and wake him up. #4 He blames me if #3 happens. #5 The kids are getting antsy and getting harder to keep quiet.
So I am forced to take the girls out and about on this most horrible of horrible retail days. I vow not to go into a store and most certainly not into Walmart. We’ll just grab a bite to eat and hang out a bit. Unfortunately one daughter wants McDonald’s and the other Subway. I am really not in the mood. So we compromise. We’ll go through the drive through at McDonald’s and then go to Subway where my oldest daughter and I can get something slightly healthier and all eat together. A brilliant plan.

Now comes the humiliating part…I am in the drive though lane. I’ve ordered the happy meal -a hamburger, no pickles, fries and chocolate milk. But no, they are out of chocolate milk and she has to have root beer instead. The kids are still arguing about something and I try to block them out as I inch ahead in line.

I am finally at the food window. I hand the girl my debit card. She looks at me a little strangely. And asks me, “Did you already pay back there? At the first window?”

I have no recollection. “No, I don’t think so,” I reply. At least I’m honest I think.

“Are you sure?” she asks. “It’s coming up paid. ”

‘That’s weird, I don’t remember stopping at the first window. I’m sorry if I messed up” I tell her.

“No problem,” she continues. She hands my card over to her manager and she runs back to the first window to see what happened. The first girl gives me our order and I pass it on back to the girls and wait to get my card back. I glance back in my rear view mirror. I feel bad I’m holding up the line. As I wait, I notice a piece of white paper lying on top of my open purse sitting between the two front seats. Can guess what it was? You got it, it was a receipt for my happy meal. I knock on the window to get the girl’s attention.

She opens the window. I smile brightly. “I actually did already pay,” I tell her and show her my receipt. She is very gracious. The other woman has just returned and gives me back my card. I am mortified!

And yet I am sharing this story for all the world to read if they so chose. Why? I don’t know. It is kind of funny. And no, I’m not going senile. (At least I hope not). However, when I can’t remember what I did two minutes before, I may need to slow down a little and take time to pay attention to the little things. Now, I just need to put the “slow down,” plan into action, which I will promptly do once, I have some extra time to figure out what that “slow down” plan is.

Do you think Santa would bring a couple of extra hours a day for Christmas?

Dressed For…Me

Confidence and happiness radiate from the faces of my two beautiful (yes I am biased, but it is still true) daughters. I can’t help but smile and laugh when I am with them. We are getting ready for the day. First things first – deciding what to wear. My four-year-old can finally get herself dressed all by herself (when she wants to). She also likes to pick out her own outfits as well.  She comes into the kitchen as I am packing lunches. She is wearing a pair of  pastel rainbow striped pants, her hot pink and orange “Hello Kitty” t-shirt and the new brown suede boots I just bought her.”Don’t I like pretty?” she asks me as she twirls around to show me the complete outfit. It is quite an ensemble.”You look beautiful! I tell her. I could force her to back upstairs and put on something that remotely matches. In fact, if my husband were awake and saw what she had on, he would probably do just that, but I don’t.  She is so happy and proud of what she is wearing. She has a smile a mile wide! She feels good about herself. Who am I to wreck her happiness and force her to follow typical societal fashion norms. Maybe she will be the eccentric artist some day.

My nine-year-old is already a little more cautious about what she wears. She wants to fit in with her friends. I did too at that age. Part of fitting in is wearing the “right” clothes. She has on a black and teal glittery long-sleeved t-shirt that says “Dance, Dance, Dance” on it paired with a denim mini skirt and black leggings. She is wearing black suede boots and her hair pulled back in a pony tail. As she is putting her books and folders into her back pack and can’t help notice how grown up she looks these days. My little girl is gone. She catches me watching her.

‘What’s wrong Mommy?” she asks me. She looks down at what she is wearing. “Is something wrong with my outfit? Does this go together?” she immediately questions.

“Yes, yes. Nothing is wrong with your outfit,” I reassure her. At this age, her mother’s opinion of how she dresses and looks is still important to her. “You look great! I was just thinking how grown up you look.”
She beams.  I guess that was the right answer.

I look down at my own attire. I am still in my PJs. Appearances are something, but not everything I think to myself. I am always turning thoughts over and over in my head.  I want to be loved and respected for who I am on the inside. At 41 I am not going to look like the woman I did at 20. In fact, I really don’t want to be that woman again. I continue to think about appearances. My appearance – how I wear my hair, the clothes I put on each morning, the makeup I put on (or not) are all things I can control in a world of things were there is not much that I can control. I can’t control what happens as I drive to work or after I drop my children off at school. I can’t control how people treat me or what they think of my. But, I can control how I react to these uncontrollables. I can focus on what I can control and leave the rest to God.

And so out all that, I choose to wear the clothes that make me happy, that make me feel good and confident. If I think I look good in them, then I do. I am going to choose clothes like a four-year old – if don’t like an outfit or feel my best in an outfit I am not going to wear it anymore. I am going on a closet, clean out rampage and giving away all those clothes that make me feel less than beautiful. No longer will I buy something ho-hum, simply because it is on sale. So even if I have only three outfits left, at least I will feel good about wearing them (and I’ll have less laundry). I am going to dress  for me.

The Dream

A Dream Deferred

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore– And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over– like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

-Langston Hughes

For some reason this poem has stuck with me from the first time I read it back in high school English. A Dream Deferred.  At the time, I didn’t think that would ever be me. My high school self was not going to put off my dreams. I was going to be a creative writer and photographer. Those have always been my two passions and creative outlets. As a small child I was constantly writing stories and poems or taking pictures. I wasn’t shy or afraid about my creativity back then. I was all about reading my work to others or giving it to them to read. I had confidence in my art. The idea that someone might criticize my work  did not cross my mind. The fear that someone might not like what I wrote or the picture I took, did not stop my from doing what I loved to do. I had confidence. I felt I was good at what I did, and I felt others would naturally see that I was good too.
However, somewhere along the lines between college, marriage, making the mortgage payment and two ki my confidence waned, the fear that I might actually not be as good of a writer or photographer than I thought I was took root and grew. I wrote creatively less and less. My photos focused on my family. My dreams were back burnered, put on hold, side-tracked and stagnated – they however, did not “dry up.”
And so now at 41 years old – I am middle-aged. I never imagined being that old back in high school. I look back on my life and ahead to what’s to come. I ask myself to I want to continue to let fear hold me back from my passions in life? The answer was a resounding No! And so I took it as a sign from God that I should pursue my dream to be a published author when I saw a contest offered by one of my favorite authors. The contest was for a 20,000 to 25,000 word novella in the romance genre! Perfect, I thought. I have always been a romance novel junkie and knew the genre well. I had toyed with writing a romance novel off and on for years, but never got around to it – this was just a “short story,” according to the contest rules.
I was proud of myself, I pushed through and wrote the story in a little over a week. I stayed up late and got up early and pushed through the burn. 20,000 words is more than you might think. However, the words seemed to flow, the characters played in my mind even when I wasn’t writing and the story came together.Writing was exhilarating and even better than reading a romance. With the help of my mom, my sister and my best friend, the story was proofed and submitted to the contest with a few hours to spare. It felt really good. I really liked the story and secretly hoped I might win -even though it was a long shot. My editors and the handful of others I let read the story all liked it and told me they thought my chances were good.
Which brings me to today. Alas, I did not win the contest. I didn’t really expect to win and yet I found myself disappointed. Now what? Do I give up? Do I persevere? Does it even matter if I am a published author, if I like my stories? These questions and more haunt me. I finally let my husband read it. He is not a fan of romance novels and in fact has often scorned me for reading them. I was not eager for him to read it or offer his criticism and deflate my ego. However, he was upset at not being given the opportunity to give his feedback to me. He felt he could be professional enough to put his disdain for the romance genre aside and give me some honest feedback (whether I wanted it or not). He told me at dinner he finally made it through the story. He was most concerned that I had modeled one of the negative characters after him. I assured him it was purely fictional. He proceeded to tell me I needed to be more descriptive and make some of the side characters less negative.  I agree with the description part, but given my word limitations I was not able to. Now that I am free to have as many words as needed I can fill in the lacking description.
The question is though, is it worth it? Is there even a point to it? Self-doubt has started to creep back in. Maybe I am kidding myself and fooling myself into thinking I could be a published author and yet does it even matter if I am or not, Can I be content writing for myself?
Will my dream be deferred again? I don’t know. It’s getting late. I will think about it some more tomorrow…

The Morning’s Musings About Heaven

My youngest daughter is four – actually four and a half. The way she thinks and makes connections amazes me. This morning as we were driving along on our way to pre-school, she starts naming the various people in her life and asking me if they will still be alive when she is grown up.

“Will Daddy still be alive when I’m grown up?” “Will my sister?”

I confirm, “yes,” hopefully these people will all still be a live when she is grown up.

“Will you still be alive?” she asks.

Again, I tell her that “yes” that I hope to be still alive when she is grown up. I don’t want to mislead her as of course, you never know. I remember hearing stories that once I asked my Grandma when I was about her age if she were going to die. My Grandma reassured me that she wasn’t. Yet, that was a promise she couldn’t keep forever as 23 years later she said goodbye to me and went to meet our Father in Heaven.

My daughter is quiet a few minutes and then she asked, “You mean you’ll still be alive unless God calls you to heaven.”

“That’s true,” I reply.

She continues on, her mind always coming up with new questions. “How will he call you to heaven?” she asks.

I wish I knew I think.  I tell her “Nobody knows how or when sweetie.”

“Will He tell you?” she asks.

“Maybe. I’m not sure,” I reply. “You don’t need to worry about being called to heaven right now though,” I say.

“OK” she responds.

She seems too young to be contemplating such heavy topics. It makes me uneasy. I’m not sure why this topic makes me uncomfortable, but it does. Mortality. We all know we are going to die someday, but no one, or at least I don’t, likes to talk about it too much. How do I answer her questions without making her worry? I continue to mull it over in my mind as we continue our drive.

“Bingo! Slug bug, yellow, no tap-backs,” she calls out to me from the backseat. I smile. Sure enough a yellow VW Beetle is parked along the side of the road.

She has already moved on to other things. I guess I will too.