Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Things I learned this week: I'm a captain and Batman's a parrot

So as mentioned in my previous post, Lily is on a bit of a "Jump" kick. But she doesn't limit herself to one obsession at a time. 

This morning I asked her to remove Jovie's baby doll from the dog's crate (I don't know where she's getting these parenting techniques from). 

"Aye Aye Captain Mom!" she said.

The other day, while lying on my bed she stretched her hands toward the ceiling.

"Oh no mom! I can't reach it!" she whimpered.

 "Can't reach what honey?" 

"Up there. I need pixie dust!" 

And every time we drive past the nearby putt-putt course, which features a mini-castle she gets excited.

"Mom! Look! It's a castle!" she says. "That's where the Pirate Princess lives." 

I think, perhaps, she's watching a little too much "Jake and the Neverland Pirates" -- a show that ranks only slightly ahead of "Mickey Mouse Club House" in terms of adult watchability after 500 or so episodes. But -- save for the Pirate Rock ...

... it's still pretty insufferable. (And the fact that Pirate Rock is what makes the show more watchable is just a testament to the irritating state of the children's television that Lily likes.)

Brad made an interesting observation about the problem with "Jake" -- there are no real character flaws or defining traits in the three main protagonists. They're all incessant do-gooders who like to skip around collecting gold doubloons while teaching kids about manners and doing the right thing. 

"They never struggle with anything and they just pixie dust their asses out of there," Brad said. (Pixie dust  is only to be used in emergency situations and, as Brad pointed out, their definition of "emergency" is a little more lenient than the average person -- in one episode they use pixie dust to put a hat on Captain Hook's head.)

And it's true. Captain Hook is perpetually trying to steal their treasure and, in general, be kind of a pain and the ass, and they never get angry or frustrated. 

While I suppose it's a good thing that Lily is learning to be kind to others and* persevere in spite of creepy, scheming old men who should probably have something better to do than stalk three little kids, it's bad storytelling. The foundation of a good story is conflict and how can there be conflict when your characters are perfect and armed with magical glitter that allows them to fly away at the first sign of trouble? 

Maybe I'm over-thinking a show intended for preschoolers. I don't know. But I think Lily can handle a little high-stakes problem solving. I mean the girl did figure out how to score an extra bag of fruit snacks yesterday (as it turns out, Lily's pixie dust is just asking me over and over again at increasing volume). 

What the show lacks in character flaws it makes up in celebrity voices. 

It seems as if the Disney Channel is a veritable smorgasbord of has-been, quasi-famous and totally legit famous people. Here's the skinny:

Yesterday, while watching "Raising Hope" I told Brad I thought the guy playing Ricardo sounded a lot like Handy Manny. He disagreed, and as is always the case when he disagrees, I turned to Google, where I discovered that the guy playing Ricardo was Wilmer Valderrama, who, according to Wikipedia, has been the voice of Handy Manny since 2006.

This reminded me that I wanted to find out who did the voice of the Wise Old Parrot on "Jake," so I looked that up to (It's Adam West of "Batman" and "The Family Guy" fame ... kind of a strange resume). 

But it goes way deeper than that. 

David Arquette is Scully the parrot, Tori Spelling is the Pirate Princess, Lisa Loeb is Winger the parrot (she's also shows up on "Doc McStuffins" as Millie the Microphone), Sharon Osbourne is Mama Hook, Jane Kaczmaerk is Red Jessica, Josh Duhamel is Captain Flynn, Tiffani "I dropped the Amber" Thiessen ("Saved by the Bell" and "90210") is Misty the Mystical Witch, Jerry O'Connell is Pip the Pirate Genie, Rhys Darby is Percy the Penguin and Catherine O'Hara is Miss Jacques. Ariel Winter (who plays Alex on "Modern Family" is the voice of Marina the Mermaid and she plays Princess Sofia on the new show "Sofia the First." 

Also on "Sofia" is Tim Gunn of "Project Runway" fame (the voice of Baileywick -- who appropriately, offers etiquette and fashion advice) and Wayne Brady is Clover the rabbit.

The Disney Channel is apparently where actors looking to start or resuscitate their careers go to torture innocent parents.

This is Captain Mom, signing off.

* Full disclosure, it was at this point in writing this post that I stopped typing, sighed heavily and said to Brad, "I don't know what I'm writing. This is a dumb post." Sigh. The blogging gods are not pleased with me tonight.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

This post will make you jump jump

Lily likes to "hop" around the house.

I put the word "hop" in quotes because Lily's version of hopping doesn't involve her feet ever leaving the ground. She'll squat down low on the floor and then thrust her body up while yelling "hop!" She looks more like a turkey than a frog. It's pretty cute. 

But I've been getting the sense that she knows her hopping isn't quite right, so last week when she was "hopping" around the kitchen, I decided what she needed was some entertaining demonstrations.

So I introduced her to Jump Music.*

First, we watched kid-friendly Kriss Kross:

And what do you know, those Krazy Kids and their backwards clothes worked! She was mesmerized by the people jumping (and the random car with hydraulics) and even got her own feet off the ground (each time she jumped successfully, she looked at me in shock, a huge smile on her face). She wanted to watch more jump music so I found the lovely Pointer Sisters:

Again, she was transfixed. Every time the guy does the long jump she shouted out "look mama, he's jumping!" But that still wasn't enough Jump Music. 

So I found House of Pain ...

 ... which she refused to watch all the way through. I'm not sure what about "Jump Around" Lily dislikes ... maybe the creepy funeral scene at the beginning of the video, maybe the bagpipes, maybe all the Celtics fans. Who knows? When this song started, she said "No mama, I want another Jump Music?" So it was back to Kriss Kross and Pointer Sisters. 
Now, every day, several times a day, Lily asks for Jump Music. Although she doesn't really jump while watching Jump Music, there's a noticeable improvement in her jumping. She's more sure of herself, less surprised when both feet leave the floor. 

She has strong opinions about Jump Music, too. LIke I mentioned earlier, House of Pain didn't go over well, nor did "Jump On It" (Fresh Prince version, of course). She likes to sing along with the Pointer Sisters and imitate some of their dance moves. And she's made it very clear to me that I'm not to dance or sing during Jump Music, something that is very difficult for me because Jump Music, by nature, is very catchy. 

"Mommy, please stop dancing," she'll say, every time I start busting moves Hugh Grant-style to "Jump (For My Love)." When I attempted to rap along with Mac Daddy (or was it Daddy Mac?) she told me to stop singing, too. 

And then I introduced some new Jump Music, just to preserve my rapidly depleting sanity:

I wasn't sure she'd go for it at first, since it was outside of the usual lineup and she's nothing if not a creature of habit. But she watched it without complaint -- maybe she was impressed by David Lee Roth's amazing scissor kicks (I didn't even know legs could do that!) or Eddie's yellow zebra print coat or maybe it was that everyone's gigantic, frizzy hair reminded her of me -- suffice to say it's now officially in the rotation. What's not in the rotation, at least at Lily's request, is me donning a side ponytail and bopping my head along with the song (technically, not dancing!)

"Mom. Don't do that."

The whole thing has left me a little depressed. I mean, she's 2 and already I'm embarrassing her -- and in the privacy of our own home at that. This doesn't bode well for the future.

Now I'm having flashbacks of all the times I teased my mom for singing -- which totally explains the day I found her sitting in the car in the driveway in front of our house, speakers blaring "My Heart Will Go On" by Celine Dion, and belting out the chorus ... "You always make fun of me when I sing in the house," she told me when I asked why she was in the car. 

I guess what goes around comes around. Sorry mom.

*No, this post was not at all a ploy to put all of Lily's Jump Music on one easy-to-navigate-to page. Not at all.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

NBC, please don't cancel "Parenthood"

Growing up, we didn't have cable. We had, like, five channels. Not that it mattered how many channels we had because we were only allowed to watch TV on the weekends anyway. TGIF was epic.

I'm not complaining. Not having cable meant for 18 years I didn't waste hours and hours of my life on cable TV shows. 

But I've been corrupted. Now we have satellite. There's a gazillion channels worth of bad TV that I can waste my life on. And I do (Thankyouverymuch "Real Housewives of ..." and "American Pickers" and whatever happens to be on Food Network.)

I'm so ashamed.

But I'm not just all about fake eyelashes, old crap and recipes for semi-homemade peanut butter pie*. 

There are a lot of great characters on TV right now. Ron Swanson and Leslie Knope on "Parks and Recreation"  and Jess and Schmidt on "New Girl,"  for instance. Oh and Sue Heck on "The Middle" who I feel a deep kinship with and is how I imagine the rest of the world sees me:

These characters are all beyond quirky, and the great thing about the actors playing them is that they just embrace the weird and let themselves go in the roles (because there's nothing that ruins a good bit like a self-conscious actor.)

But I digress. 

My favorite show right now is "Parenthood" on NBC which just had it's season finale on Tuesday. The show hasn't technically been renewed for it's fifth season yet so the season finale felt a bit like a series finale ... and if that's the case, I'll be totally bummed out.** 

The show is blessed with great writing, casting and chemistry. There's just enough melodrama to offer an escape from your own parenthood, but not so much that the show veers off into Lifetime/Hallmark territory. It's a delicate balance. 

Week after week, I feel like the show does a wonderful job of capturing both the loud, life-changing moments and the quiet, sweet moments that come with family.

One of my favorite moments in Tuesday's finale was a scene between Amber and Ryan.

The backstory to this scene was that Ryan, an Afghanistan vet who suffers from PTSD, and Amber had been dating. Amber broke off the relationship when Ryan got drunk after a guy he served with committed suicide and wrecked her car. Amber's father is alcoholic and she'd watched her mother clean up after him over the years and had promised herself she wouldn't end up in the same situation. Earlier in this episode, Ryan had visited Amber with flowers and told her he was doing well, was clean and on his medication and that he still loved her, but Amber hadn't taken him back. 

This is the scene of their reunion:

"I need to know that you're going to try to be strong and accept the fact that I love you and try to be responsible for that."

I love this line and this sentiment. 

Over the years, I've had family members who've dealt with emotional trauma and substance abuse. It's frustrating and heartbreaking to see someone you love be self destructive. You constantly walk a line between anger at what you perceive as selfishness and desperation over wanting them to just get healthy and find their old self, or at least their better self, buried somewhere in all the darkness.

That's the hard thing about love. It's not easy. And the times that it is the hardest to love a person are also usually the times when that person is most in need of your love -- even as they're throwing it back in your face. 

Amber doesn't say all of that and she doesn't have to. The beauty of concise, crisp writing is that it's load-bearing. 

And it's tough to find on TV these days.

*Sometimes I just like to see what lengths Sandra Lee has gone to to match her wardrobe with her kitchen decor. 

**I guess NBC Universal would rather pay for quality programming like "Sharktopus"  and "Abominable Snowman" on SyFy or "Gallery Girls" and "The Real Housewives of Miami" on Bravo (the latter of which find my budding feminist rearing her angry head). Please don't cancel "Parenthood" NBC. 

***A definite area of growth for me.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

We'll always have (the thought of) Tahiti

Periodically, my sister, Laura, and I send each other pictures of Tahiti.

We've decided that we're going to vacation there together and even set a tentative date for the trip: 2052.

We want to stay in one of those overwater bungalows* complete with a sun-soaked deck and a grass roof like we're on a honeymoon.

We talk about how we're going to wear bathing suits with skirts and rubber bathing caps covered in flowers -- a nod to our grandmother and a celebration of the fact that by the time we're in our 70s, hopefully we'll have stopped caring what the rest of the world thinks about how we look. 

We'll spend our days napping and giggling and reminiscing about our shared childhood and our mutual hatred of annoying body hair. We'll likely have a running commentary about the actual honeymooners and I'll probably have to stop Laura from pulling aside freshly minted wives to share her thoughts on marriage. 

But mostly we'll just sit, listening to the sea and rejoice in our reunion.

I'm writing about this today for a couple of reasons.

Some pants would
be nice right now.
First, it's the middle of January and the high temperature is expected to hover around the mid-20s for most of the week. Even the squirrels are braced for the Arctic. I figure we could all use a picture of a tropical paradise.

And second, Laura e-mailed me a picture of Tahiti this week. When she mentions our trip, it makes me speculate about why she mentioned it at that particular moment. (Laura is the mother of six -- including two teenagers and one almost teenager).

Was she having the sort of week where you pick up the baby to put her in the bath and you notice a puddle on the floor and a piece of poo falls on the edge of the tub? 

Or, maybe she, too, had discovered a cold pile of dog puke hidden behind the TV and asked herself the question, "how long was the baby crawling around the living room in the vicinity of the cold pile of dog puke?" 

Had she had a 2/5 life crisis and, feeling like a boring, dowdy housewife, dyed her hair chocolate-caramel at home only to realize the next day that she wasn't in 8th grade anymore and that perhaps experimental hair dying was not the best path toward self-fulfillment?

Who knows? What I do know is Tahiti is rarely invoked when life is all lemonade (or, at this time of year some delicious-but-overpriced-whipped-cream-topped-coffee-based beverage). 

It's reserved for those silly, desperate moments when you need a reminder to keep on, keeping on because somewhere out there your sister is dreaming of Tahiti, too.

*Note to Laura: I just did a little research on overwater bungalows in Tahiti. They start at $1,200 a night ... I'm not sure how much they'll be in 40 years, adjusted for inflation and all that crap, but we should probably start saving now. Especially because I think in order to have optimal relaxation, we'll need the bungalow for at least two weeks ... and then there's airfare, food, and bathing cap allowances...

Tahiti photo courtesy of Tiarescott on Flickr

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Art: The gift that keeps on giving

So at this juncture in my life I haven't found the time, mindset or discipline to devote to my big project, which disappoints me daily. 

And you know how when you're trying to get into a new fitness routine or stick to a diet how it's always better if you have a partner?

Well, in the realm of pursuing self-fulfillment and satisfaction through creativity, I think I've found a role model and potential motivator:

My big sister Sarah.

It seems like over the past six months or so, Sarah has made a commitment (maybe unconsciously) to make her life better. 

She's strengthening relationships -- working on being a better wife, mother, sister and daughter. She's headed back to the gym for regular workouts and is trying to eat better. 

And she's indulging her creative side. Actually, maybe indulging is the wrong word choice -- that makes it seem like what she's doing should be done in moderation ... like eating the obnoxious, fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies that are wafting come-hither smells into my undefended nostrils* -- but we should feel free to gorge on creativity. It makes us better people.

Last fall, Sarah started drawing at night after laying her adorable 2-year-old Penelope down for the night. Her doodles started off simple:

And over time have become more intricate:  

And inspired:

Growing up, we had a tire swing in our front yard.
She's challenged herself:

Sarah said drawing faces was tough.
And even drawn on herself:

She posts most of her stuff on Instagram (she has a bit of an Instagram problem) and it's been really cool watching the evolution of her work. 

I can actually see her improving and taking risks and growing as an artist. And it's funny to talk with her about it, because as much as she enjoys it, it's work. One time we were talking on the phone as she was starting a piece she knew would be more elaborate piece -- she sighed and said she knew it was going to take a long time to finish, but that she knew it would be worth it.

Which reminded me of the comment one of my former colleagues made a while back. 

Nobody forces an artist to draw or a writer to write. We do it because there's a voice inside of us wanting to be heard -- and sometimes that voice demands more of our time. And, of course, when you do take the time to give your voice the audience it demands, he payoff is worth the effort:

I'm not sure what came first for Sarah, the art or the self-improvement -- maybe they've gone hand-in-hand. 

Because she's giving herself the gift of art, maybe she feels like she has more of herself to give to others. 

P.S. More inspiration: Congratulations to former co-worker and fellow SAHM, Megan Erickson, who just self-published her first novel "Anchor Me" and bravely released it into the wild for all to read. I can't even imagine the stomach dropping anxiety and excitement that must go hand in hand with handing your baby over to the public at large, but it looks like Megan has gotten great feedback so far. (And it's certainly on my list to read!)

*Final score of the evening: Cookies 2, Me 0 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

If I only had a desk (also, free cats!)

(Photo courtesy of 
jfl1066 on Flickr)
For our first anniversary Brad and I went to Key West -- a magical land where the average temperature is in the 70s, sunsets are celebrated nightly and cats come with six toes.

While there, we visited the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum and checked out the pool house where Papa wrote "To Have and Have Not," "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" and "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber"* a bright, beautiful space lined with books and whimsical tchotchkes and warm breezes. 

The studio was once connected to his bedroom with a walkway, so he could just roll out of bed when the muses were speaking. It was a magical land where writing happened despite a strict drinking regimen. 

Alack, I live in no such magical land. 

Behold, my studio:

That's right Hemingway. Eat your heart out.
You'll notice a newspaper that more than likely will never be read, a stack of thank you notes that need to be written, manuals for toys that need to be filed. Behind the computer is a copy of "The Country Mouse and The City Mouse" with a cover that needs to be reattached and a princess wand with gems that need to be re-glued. The computer sits on top of a table cloth covered in specks of pureed carrots and bananas that needs to be cleaned. The table sits on top of a floor that notoriously needs to be scrubbed

Oh and the computer contains a novel that needs to be written.

Welcome to my kitchen.

My little black hole of incomplete tasks.

I do have an alternate studio to retreat to, should the dirty dishes in my sink speak louder than the voices in my head. 

Pay no attention to the atrocity occurring on the TV screen.
OK, so a lapdesk in the living room isn't an ideal location either. 

While I am accumulating enough cats** to rival Hemingway's accommodations, my writing situation leaves a lot to be desired. 

When Sarah and I were visiting the Sugarloaf Craft Festival in November, I came across the most gorgeous desk. I don't remember what it looked like exactly, but I do remember telling Sarah that if I had a desk like that, my novel would be finished by now.

And then the other day, while I was handling some social media updating for the used office furniture site I subcontract for, I came across this: 

Sigh again.
It's called a Roost. I call it the solution to all my writing problems. 

It's bright, portable and crust-free and if I had one in my backyard, my novel and the one after that would be finished by now.

I'm pretty certain that every mom I know would also lust after a Roost -- a quiet, four-season spot reserved solely for them to do whatever it was their weary old hearts wanted (write! yoga! paint! sleep! not yell at the 2-year-old for the 30th time to stop lying on top of the cat!). 

It's a magical land.

And now we've reached the point of my post where I try to make lemonade. 

So here's what I'm thinking: While my kitchen table and the lapdesk in my living room aren't ideal conditions for novel writing, they are, the conditions that the characters in my novel would most relate to. 

if I were writing in an immaculate garden pod on the world's most beautiful desk, well, it'd be a different sort of novel, for a different sort of person. 

Enough excuses already.

*Lest you think I'm some uber-literary person, I told Wikipedia-ed the crap out of these titles.

**In fact, if anyone is interested in adopting a cat, we have plenty to spare. You can have your pick or any of our fine specimens.

Monday, January 7, 2013

A Winter Walk Revelation (also, RIP 'Parkly Deer)

Evidently, the squirrels had
a more eventful New Year's than I did.
It'd been a while since I'd ventured out for an afternoon walk. Why? Cuz it's January and it's friggin' cold outside. Well. At least it's friggin' cold in my imagination.

Alack, the dog seems to be adding a layer of flab that is sure to earn disapproving looks from the vet (what? It's not my fault he decided to jump on the counter and eat half a bagel today. Or that he scarfed down a plate of macaroni and cheese last week) if you ask me, a little personal responsibility is in order. 

As for me -- well, something has to be done to halt my asses'* new-found insistence that it rendezvous with my ankles.

So when the sun winked at me as the girls woke up from their afternoon nap and my phone told me the temperature outside was 40 degrees I decided today was a great day for a Winter Walk**.

Of course, prepare for said Winter Walk was not nearly as whimsical or poetic. First, I had to broach the topic with Lily, who despite the fact that she enjoys going for walks once we're on the move, erupts like Vesuvius at the mere mention of one. 

True to form, when I told her we were going on a walk, she immediately began crying and begged me to read "Clifford's Birthday Party"*** instead. I calmed her down with the promise of chocolate milk and the chance to wear her beloved princess boots

Then came the next hurdle: Dressing the girls for the Winter Walk, which involved additional layers, mittens, hats, and coats designed to render arms useless (unless, of course, their use is to stick straight out to the side like a scarecrow). 

With both girls crying in discomfort at their lack of peripheral vision and inability to move in any direction except straight ahead, I put on my coat, grabbed some doggie do bags, mixed the chocolate milk, put the leash on Snacks and wrassled the girls into the stroller -- which bears a remarkable resemblance to the Oldsmobile station wagon we had growing up, especially when it comes to speed, heft and maneuverability. 

As you can see, Lily was still not sold on the walk:

This is bullshit!****
Once we made it out of the driveway she calmed down and starting chattering about the airplanes she could hear flying overhead (it was remarkable she could hear anything over the dogs incessant barking ... at nothing).

By now you might be wondering why I'm writing about this little adventure -- and you're definitely wondering why you're reading about it. 

Here's where the walks and the writing intersect. It was on walks years ago minus the stroller and two kids, but with the same obnoxious canine, that I started thinking about my novel. And it was especially walks during in late fall and winter -- where the sun is low and the air splashes your face like cold water -- that really helped frame the mood for the story. 

It's on a cold November day that Eleanor finds the dead man -- no accident as a plot point -- and inspired by the many early morning walks I used to take with Snacks (well, Snacks and I never found any dead guys).

Today, as the sun played peek-a-boo behind dusty, gray clouds and the last leaves clinging to naked branches fluttered in the near-stillness, I thought about the novel again and about the role seasons played in our lives. And I came up with a solution for a problem that's been bugging me about the story: How much time passes from beginning to end? 

I'd had a series of scenes in my head that were to play out over a period of time -- I guess I thought maybe a year -- but part of my hangup about writing it was how to fill that year. I mean, I know I don't need to account for every day, but I do need to make use of the year, right? Like, if you say you're going to need a year to finish a project, you mean that whatever it is you're undertaking will take a significant number of days and hours of your life such that a week, or a month or six months isn't enough time to complete it. 

I've never written a novel before and I'm attacking this from the viewpoint of a journalist who generally knows what happens in the story before they sit down to write it. But I don't know what's going to happen. I have an idea of some scenes and an ending, but I'm not certain how to get from one to the other. And I think what's holding me back is this idea that I was dealing with a few days worth of plot stretched out over a year's worth of digression (I know. Me digress? Impossible!). 

I suppose a lot of this would work itself out if I actually just wrote the damn thing already (but then what would the point of me blogging about writing about it be?!). But one thing that did work itself out during the walk today was how much time I was dealing with -- and I think what needs to happen can happen in a season: three months. And that one season will be useful thematically as well. 

And all the sudden what has seemed impossible for so many months -- actually finishing the novel -- seems possible.

Thank you Winter Walk.


Some other notes from today's jaunt:

The squirrels are excited about playoffs (or bowl games?)

I had such high hopes for 'Parkly Deer since he'd been righted after more than a year of lying on his side. But it looks as if he's down for the count again.

Like a scene out of "Bambi."

* Sorry mom.
** As you have no doubt noted, a Winter Walk is really no different than any other walk, and not at all deserving of being capitalized. 
*** Frickin' "Clifford's Birthday Party" in which Clifford invites his friends to his birthday party and they don't show up because they're worried their presents aren't good enough for such a special friend. As it turns out, they're right, as Clifford inadvertently destroys most of their presents within minutes of receiving them. All except for the tiny yellow sweater Jenny and her dog Flip gives him -- which in my opinion is about the dumbest present you could give a dog. I mean seriously, you're shopping for a birthday present for a dog and you decide a cardigan is your best bet? And then you don't even attempt to find one that will actually fit his much-advertised larger-than-average stature? He's called Clifford the Big Red Dog for crying out loud!!!! Then Clifford is forced to be gracious about your lame-ass***** gift act like the sweater will be just perfect for keeping his nose warm. Because, you know, dogs hate the fact that their noses are cold. 
**** Sorry again mom.
***** And again, mom.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Thinking before I speak (well, attempting to)

(A word of warning before I get started -- I started this post more than two weeks ago and wrote various sections in five minute increments. It's been like short-burst training, minus the gasping for breath, achy muscles and awesome booty. I blame the holidays for the fact that I haven't had a linear thought in weeks -- instead they resemble Billy's circuitous routes home. That was a Family Circus reference. I'm sorry. It's looking bleak for my brain. Short story long, this is gonna be a choppy one.)

Onward ... 

Those who know me (especially those who've had the unlucky experience of sitting next to me at work) would probably say I'm a bit of a pill, who's prone to speaking exactly what's on her mind no matter how inappropriate the moment is.

The managing editor at the paper I worked at routinely described me as a mean girl (a designation that was well deserved because I took cheap shots at him at every opportunity). 

But for all my sarcasm and at-times prickly exterior I'm a big 'ol ball of mush inside. In fact, after taking said cheap shots at my boss, I would often send a contrite e-mail letting him know I didn't actually mean what I said.
See what I mean? No respect.

The almost two years I've spent as a work-from-home mom have really dulled my barbs, though. It's funny how having "co-workers" who are only 8 months old and 2 years old really tones down the swearing and scathing insults. The worst I can do now is blow raspberries at the kids. (They do it right back. No respect).

While there are days I miss honing my professional wit, I know the girls are molding me into a better, kinder person.

Like I mentioned the other day, I think the biggest gift children give us parents is empathy. They slow our quickness to judge others. They allow us to experience the world as a more joyful, wonderous place. They force us to be touched again, as Lincoln so eloquently put, by the better angels of our nature.*

This week I've felt desperate to find those better angels. It's been difficult to find hope. A friend -- probably sensing I was in a dark place -- shared this thought with me the other day: 

"As much as there is evil and horror in the world, there is also a great deal of love and goodness. It's quieter than the violence, but it's just as powerful, if not more so."
Of course he's right. 

Case in point, another friend recently invited me to join Do One Kind Thing, a Facebook group started by a woman from York in response to the Sandy Hook tragedy. 
"We can not change the past, I personally can not change gun laws or politics of God in school, but personally, everyday, I can show LOVE to others and teach my children to do the same. I am starting this group in hopes that it will be like a pebble in a pond and create a ripple effect. If I do one kind thing each day, it will start another, and another, and another. We must do something to change our world," she writes. 
The group has 6,865 members. That's 6,865 people who, if they aren't trying to be the pebble, are at least interested in watching the pond. (Learn more about the group in this article)

Group members are encouraged to post kind things they've done for others: Paying for the person behind them at the Dunkin Donuts, giving a Walmart greeter hot chocolate, leaving big tips, giving people their spot in line. Scrolling through it's hard not to be inspired to do your own kind thing. The positive energy is palpable. 

And I've tried to do some pebbley things myself, too.

Between the stress of the holiday rush, mourning along with the rest of the country, exhaustion from Jovie's insistence on 3 a.m. wakeup calls, and every night this week, and deadlines tapping their feet impatiently, my cup has been empty**. 

I don't like being Crankenstein's Momster, but lately not a day goes by when I haven't thrown a tantrum (if not out loud, than mentally) about something or other. Yanking myself out of my internal drama by just acknowledging the rest of humanity -- saying hi to strangers, making eye contact with cashiers, getting down on the floor with the girls and being a part of the melee -- helps refill my cup and makes me feel empowered to be the change I want to see in the world.***

The list of things that I can't control in life stretches to frightening lengths. The list of things I can control is much shorter. I can control my actions and reactions. And so, if I want the world to be less ugly for my girls, then I have to be accountable for my actions and reactions. I have to show them how to be the pebbles. 

I've been thinking about all this the past couple weeks and then I read this wonderful column by my old editor (who frequently told me to think before I spoke) that echoed everything you just read -- but much more eloquently and with fewer Family Circus references. I probably should've just stuck that link at the beginning of the post ... but then maybe you wouldn't have gotten to my various astericks. 

*My high school AP history teacher Mrs. Gray read our class Lincoln's first inaugural address. It's a testament to how wonderful a teacher she was that 13 years later, I remember the day she read it to us, and that I've found comfort in Lincoln's words many times over the years. History can be both reassuring and terrifying.

** I'm borrowing this metaphor from my sister Laura -- mother of six. After a particularly trying week, she says going to church refill the cup that daily life emptied out. I love the imagery (obviously).

*** That bumpersticker-ready quote is most often attributed to Gandhi -- but according to this story, that's not what he really said. What he really said is actually more nuanced.: 

“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. ... We need not wait to see what others do.”