Monday, July 18, 2005

Just Enjoy It

My husband, Topher, has been out of town for a while and the kids and I have been "hanging out." By "hanging out" I mean doing fun, physically exhausting things during the day, and then putting them to bed early. We go swimming, go to the park, ride bikes, go to the library (okay, maybe they're not ALL physically exhausting, but have you ever taken 4 kids to the library? 1. it isn't quiet 2. sometimes things get ugly) I think I handle it pretty well; I scream and yell rarely, but only when necessary--for dramatic effect. I'm not Mary Poppins, although I do break into song throughout the day, but I'm no Sherry Bobbins (Simpson's anyone? anyone?)

So on Sunday, as I took all four children to church solo, I had realistic expectations. I brought crayons and books and gave the children a sit-down lecture and warning before church. All in all they were "good" (about a 7.3 on a 10 point scale). It was hard carrying in the diaperbag, activity bag, and infant, all the while trying to grab Phoebe's hand as she ran up the aisle, missing our stopping point, and whisper loudly trying to get Owen off the floor after one of his dramatic "opps I fell on accident--or. . . did. .. I. . .?" performances. Miles was no help, he gets his gaze fixed on someone or something, ideas start swarming around in his head and he forgets where he is or what he's doing and bumps into one of the pews. As we get settled Hugh starts screaming and I have to make a break for it. I motion to one of my friends to sit with my kids (all her's are grown and gone) and I go feed Hugh. It's a great set-up: that mother's lounge. I sit back and nurse in a soft recliner, listen to the speakers uninterrupted and can even close my eyes with no fear of offending anyone. It's a great deal and I only feel a little guilty about sticking my friend with my kids. She's the Relief Society President so it's like her job, right? Besides, Hugh is the only baby under a year in our ward--so he's got that great novelty factor. Anyway, I come back a few blissful, quiet minutes later and sit with my kids. I even think I was smiling. No, I'm sure I was. This fact will become more important as this THRILLING story continues.

Sacrament Meeting is over and I'm gathering shredded pieces of the program, broken crayons, and various items from Owen's pocket off the floor, grabbing my bags with Hugh over my shoulder. As I'm writing this, I'm even a little impressed with the feat, when this well-groomed woman with grey-white mom hair, a conservative red dress that buttons in the front, comes up to me and says, "I just wanted to tell you that I had EIGHT children." She paused with a smirk on her face that suggested that it was now the appropriate time for me to compliment her with something like, "Oh WOW! That's a lot!" or "Oh, how DID you DO it?" or "Oh I am just in AWE!" but I was too busy for that and I hate telling people what they want to hear. I just raised my eyebrows which could be interpreted as, "OH. . . " or "And. . . " without sounding as rude as it would if I had said anything. As Topher can attest, I'm not so good at hiding the sarcasm in my voice. Cause where I come from, when you meet someone for the first time, you usually open with a. a greeting or b. an introduction. I thought that she was just really proud of herself and her birthing eight children that she just couldn't keep it in any longer, and that would be that. I was wrong. She was very earnest and leaned in and told me, "I was watching you during Sacrament Meeting, (interpret: CREEPY) and I just wanted to tell you, JUST ENJOY IT." and she walked away with satisfaction oozing out of her--as if she were going to run home and write in her journal about how she had helped this poor, young mother.

Here's why I hate her:

Okay, not her as a person, but as an idea/stereotype/situation, whatever--or like my mother taught me, "I don't hate her, just what she does." Here's why I loathe said thingy;

First of all, it's really, really presumptuous. She's assuming that I was really stressed out and hating motherhood. Like I was having one of those "what does it all mean" moments. Which I wasn't. She obviously doesn't know me, but worse than that she assumes that everyone is like her, or is like she was. But can I go up to her and say, "Just enjoy home without your kids. You didn't really appreciate it when you had it, but it's too late." Can you imagine if I said that? I will tell you I can.

Second of all, she really thought it was appropriate to serve me a hot plate of unsolicited advice with a generous dollop of judgement on top. Not only did I not ask for her advice, I don't even KNOW her, and she's assuming I'm a stressed out mom. Well if I wasn't feeling crappy, thanks for nudging me in that direction.

Third, I know all about enjoying every moment. I'm an extremely emotional person who cries on the first day of anything and everything and I constantly worry about capturing every moment and all of that so the last thing I need is a helpful, neighborly reminder. I'm out of control when it comes to all of that, and I do the double-guessing yourself, guilt thing really, really well.

Fourth (I'll stop after this one, I promise), I hate the idea by these women like Ms. Enjoy that doesn't suggest, but INSISTS that the more kids you have, the better mother you are. Cause, really? It was her first, and only, point of command: I have eight children so listen to my words of enlightenment. Obviously birthing does not equal raising. I've seen plenty of really good mothers and they don't have a number in common, but I won't go on because this is a blog about a crazy woman, not how to be a good mom.

This incident reminds me of a conversation that I had with a woman in my ward a few months ago when I was 8 months pregnant. I was bloated, fat, had a sharp pain in my back, I was tired,-- the whole glowing miracle that was me. This woman came up to me and said,

"I loved EVERY MINUTE of being pregnant. I never felt better or more beautiful."

"EVERY minute?" I replied.

"Oh yes! It was the best time of my life. I never felt better."

"Then you've forgotten." I don't hide my scepticism. The hormones have taken over and there's no filter.

"OH NO!" she insists.

"Then you're lying. I don't believe you for one minute."

(she shakes her head.)

"You're lying. You're a liar or you don't remember." I just called her a liar and I don't care. Topher runs out of the room.

"Oh, no, I felt so alive and grea. . ."

I cut her off. I have no time for this. I tell her: "You see, this information is no good to me now. I have pretty good pregnancies--I really do--I've heard horror stories and I'm grateful I have good pregnancies, but lets not turn it into something it's not. It's really, really hard and I'm really, really uncomfortable." I hope my honesty has touched her.

"Well. . ." I imagine she's considering my plea to tell the truth--to free me from the guilt that somehow I"m not graceful enough to enjoy every moment of the miracle of life, but instead I hear a deafening, ". . .no, it's not hard."

My friend, Katie, who is pregnant with her fifth, said I should really take her advice and "just enjoy it" : Your washing machine broke? Just enjoy washing your clothes by hand! Oh, you have cancer? just enjoy the chemo! Your husband's leaving you? Just enjoy the time you have for yourself now! You can see how this game can get a little out of control, can't you? (Katie and I did) It dawns on my that this "I love being pregnant" woman ALSO had eight children. (Katie promised me to have 7 OR 9) Coincidence? I'm chewing on the possibilities.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

My sister

One of my sisters commented that she had read my blog, that it was "alright. . . kinda funny," and with a glance that is both glaring and sinister--like she's dying to say something she KNOWS I won't like, but she wants me to ask for it first-- said, very nonchallantly and calmly, "But I didn't want to post a comment or say anything. . . " I waited, suspecting the inevitable, stared back, knowing she had something to say, but making a point not to ask for it, so I wait for it. . . wait. . . for . . . it. . . "but I'm SO GLAD you FINALLY got all that out and written down about Debra Norville because I'm SICK of hearing about it!" She exploded, her voice getting louder and her face getting increasingly animated, "You guys go on and on about her (when?) and how she's a man or something (did I say that?) and you talk about it all the time and now we can be DONE WITH IT! Cause you've got it WRITTEN DOWN. . ." she trails off, her wide eyes return to their suspicious slits and she quietly says, "What? I don't mean to be rude. . . " and she smiles her pearly whitestrips smile. The smile I've seen her practice in the mirror a hundred times for family photos.

I have a younger sister named "Tina" (names have been changed to protect identities) who is both my closest friend as well as my personal nemesis. When I told her I was going to write a blog about her just so she would post something, she was both flattered and suspicious.

It's not easy being Tina. As the literal middle child of 5 kids, Tina fought for her own identity, and has come out the stronger for it. She is by far the most confident, self-assured, physically strong member of our family. While the rest of us wear jeans and t-shirts and talk about concerts we've been to, Tina wears twin sets and trains for marathons. She self-admittedly started dressing like a 40 year-old mom by the time she was 12, and lettered in football in high school (she was the manager, but still. . .). She majored in Athletic Training in college, and in a family of all nonathletes, she is the true revolutionary. She also decided to get married at the tender age of 19. I know that's no big deal for a lot of Mormon families, but for our family this was a really big deal. Our parents had taught us to finish college first. We had grown up on lessons about how our parents had been engaged for years so that our mother could finish college first--this was part of our legacy. Then Tina goes and announces her engagement, sans talking to the parents about it first. Well, Tina says she did talk to them, but they wanted her to wait, but she didn't see that it was their decision. Are you catching the flavor of the situation? Tina does what Tina wants and when we, to this day, talk about her being the "teenage bride," she reminds us all that she did indeed finish college like she said she would AND cost my parents the least amount of money to raise than any of the other kids (I come in at a close second). That earns her big points in the Valentine household because we're all a bunch of cheap-os.

And lets talk about the announcement: Tina decided to announce her engagement at MY wedding reception. She and her boyfriend were to welcome the guests into MY reception, and instead Tina and her FIANCE welcomed everyone in with the flash of her ring. My dad egged me on and kept whispering to me with his sly smile, "Are you going to let her get away with that?" So on her wedding day when I ACCIDENTALLY pulled off her veil as we were taking a family picture outside the temple, everyone assumed I had been planning it for months. My dad yelled, "I knew you'd do something to get her back!" laughing as if he had orchestrated the entire plot. I stand by my original story: it was an accident. A fortunate, funny, accident.

Tina's great when you need to know the truth. DO my thighs really look big in these pants? SHOULD we really refinance our home? These are great questions to ask TIna. She will give you the truth on a platter. No frills, no dressing it up to look pretty. Just consise honesty. Everyone needs a close friend like Tina.

Nemesis: the Greek goddess of retributive justice. Tina doesn't forget anything. And while that's handy when you lose your car keys or can't remember when your Aunt's birthday is, it's inconvienient when you embarrass yourself. I have about 7 really, really good "Tina Stories" I like to retell to my 2 brothers and sister on holidays, and close friends who have grown up with Tina whenever the conversation gets dull. They involve names and lifting really heavy things. I won't publish these stories because Tina's got some really good stuff on me too and girlfriend, I don't wanna go there.

Tina's nothing if not resourceful. One day Tina decided to make a quilt. She didn't know how to. Nobody taught her. She just taught herself how to do it. And you should see these quilts. She makes one for each one of my babies--they are incredible. When people ask me if they could pay her to make her one she says, "No. I don't want to do that." None of the usual guilt or peer-pressure to do a favor for a friend, she just won't allow herself to play that game. On the third of July, while the rest of us are watching tv, Tina whipped up two incredible store-bought worthy skirts for her two little girls out of scraps of fabric she had lying around. "It's no big deal," she tells me, "it didn't take very long." This, she says, as she hands me a decorative fourth of july headband she's made for my daughter. She's always trying to get me to can applesauce. My family doesn't like applesause, I tell her. "So what! It's really good and you can save a lot of money. Well, not a lot of money once you figure everything in, but you can still get the apples for almost free." Who can argue with logic like that?

Tina loves Dr. Laura, running, quilting, eating ice cream and treats in enormous quantities, picking at stuff, shopping for a bargain, and reading. Sometimes I worry that Tina will loose her incredible independence and individuality living in a planned community with Stepfordian-like qualities, but she assures me that she'll never name her kid McKenzie, but a boat just 'cause, or get fake boobs. "They'd get in my way" she says nonchallantly. And I believe her, I mean, she DID finish college.

But the most interesting thing about Tina is that she's always wanted to be famous. "I don't care what for--quilting, a talk show, singing, whatever, I just want my 15 minutes! I would use if for good, too." And so I'm trying to make that dream come true for Tina, in my small way. Lets hear it for TINA!