Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Why you should keep up with the Jenningses

I found myself inwardly giggling this morning while I swept the sunroom floor that's perpetually blackening the bottoms of my family's feet. 

The pile of sand, fur, Play-Doh bits and dead spiders seemed to be a metaphor for my imperfect life and I had this thought that maybe I could serve as an emissary of lowered expectations on behalf of all stay-at-home-momkind. 

Instead of shooting for lofty goals like keeping up with the Joneses and suffering the resulting stress and anxiety, everyone could just dramatically lower their standards and just keep up with the Jenningses. 

This thought led me to a series of highly amusing scenarios (well, amusing to me at least) whereby relatives, friends and neighbors would find themselves striving to make it through the day while encouraging each other to "try to keep up with the Jenningses!"

For instance, a husband comes home from work to find his wife -- all barefoot, frizzy-haired, makeup-less and still sporting that morning's gym ensemble -- frantically addressing an overflowing pot of spaghetti as the saucepan filled with high-fructose-corn-syrup-laden, store-bought tomato sauce and frozen meatballs spits all over the already crusty stove. The kids are screaming at her feet for sustenance, the affects of the nutrient-free cheese crackers she'd thrown in a bowl for them just 20 minutes prior long having worn off. The dog is casually licking cream cheese remnants off the kitchen table. 

As the wife looks to her husband all exhaustion and desparation, her husband lightly kisses her on the forehead and says, "Oh honey, don't worry, at least you're keeping up with the Jenningses."

The wife takes a sip from a glass of wine she frantically poured out of a screw-top bottle of bottom shelf Pinot Grigio, breathes a sigh of relief and says, "Thanks honey, I feel much better."

And there are nearly limitless opportunities for living the passable life. 

Other signs that someone is trying to keep up with the Jenningses: 

One sure sign you're keeping up with the Jenningses:
Two words: Great body.
  • All of the sudden, modestly priced pre-owned vehicles in nondescript colors show up on their driveway.
  • They own fur-covered sofas that smell vaguely of feet with just a hint of canine flatulence.
  • You notice the missus has started showing up to gatherings sporting the latest in cotton, solid-colored T-shirts she nabbed off the clearance rack at Target. You're pretty sure she's a nail biter and that she shows her stylist photos of Poison circa 1985 for inspiration. 
  • Their children are perpetually disheveled and appear to be wearing the same chocolate-milk-stained "Frozen" T-shirt for the third day in a row.
  • The baked goods they serve at parties and casual get-togethers make Pinterest fails look as if they've been prepared by Martha Stewart. 
  • You noticed they recently invested some time landscaping. And by landscaping I mean they spent 2 minutes frantically weeding the crab grass that's overtaking their wilting flower beds which haven't been properly introduced to a mysterious substance known as "mulch" in several years.
  • Every time you visit they seem to have a new cat lounging on their countertops licking the coffee creamer they offer you with your cup of coffee.
  • They spend a lot of time boasting about the five minutes their kitchen floor isn't covered with sand, fur, Play-Doh and unidentifiable sticky foodstuffs. 

All self-depreciation aside, I am living the life of dreams that iPhone commercial talks about … even if I don't have the fancy iPhone to document it on. 

Sure, the pets could be better behaved (and less smelly), the kids a bit less scruffy (this would be a more attainable goal if Lily didn't insist on using markers to draw mustaches on her face) and the floors a little (OK a lot) cleaner. And some days the pets are better behaved and the kids are less scruffy and the floors are a little cleaner. 

But most days it's just more amusing to just live the life I have than worry about the one I don't. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Sandy squirrels and minor literary wins

So I had a little news that I'm excited about and wanted to share

But first, a bit of Inside Voices business. It seems like it's been awhile since I've posted about my (our?) favorite stone (concrete?) squirrel statuary. I haven't been going on as many afternoon walks of late -- the fact that Lily throws herself on the floor and writhes around like an upended june bug every time I mention the word "walk" might have something to do with this -- so I haven't happened by the squirrels too often. 

And then the times I have been by they've been wearing outfits I've already shared. I suppose there is only so much you can do to dress up squirrel statuary -- not that the squirrel ladies haven't an amassed an impressive array of ensembles. I got really excited earlier this week when I happened by and found the squirrels as such:

"Look at that!" I said to myself. "New outfits!"

And I yelled at the dog to stop dragging my arm out of its socket long enough to snap pictures and went on my merry way, excited to end our bushy-tailed rodent drought.

But alack, the sun hats, sunglasses and sand buckets replete with shovels, aren't knew. They rocked this look just last year, in fact. And I wrote about it and everything.

It's disappointing to say the least. But the whole deja-squirrel experience has me thinking it might be time to change up my walk route. Who knows what other neighbors have in store for me? So stay tuned.

Now on to the other news. 

A while back, in a moment of foolish "why the hell not" blind optimism, I submitted a short story I wrote about one horny, two-faced young Scotsman named Donovan MacWallace (you might remember him from this post) to a local literary competition.

It was the first time since high school that I'd submitted any sort of fiction/poetry/creative writing for review by literary sorts. The $5 entry fee seemed a cheap enough risk to take.

Anyway, I got a phone call on Friday that I'd won third place for the story.

Before you say it, yes, I know. I'm a pretty big deal. 

In the future, you'll have to have your people call my people to hear stories about how my 3-year-old stuffed Play-Doh up her nose and had to blow it out in an explosive puff of snot and day-glo yellow goo. 

(Shortly after reveling in my little win, I actually started conceiving of a "Waiting for Guffman"-style short story about a weary housewife whose ego becomes overinflated after she's recognized for some minor life victory.)

The contest coordinator tells me there were "a bunch of entries," so I'm just going to go ahead and assume the staff waded through thousands of top-notch literary submissions before deciding that mine deserved a tip of the hat. 

She also told me they would be having a reception and reading of the winning entries.

"Please let me know if you are available to read your piece," she says.

Aside from the fact that I feel calling a story that features the phrase "Nessie stirred under his kilt" in reference too … well you know what it's in reference to … "a piece" might be giving it a little too much artistic merit -- I'm terrified at the prospect of reading my "piece" in front of a room full of literary sorts. 

For one, I will have to actually read out loud the phrase "Nessie stirred under his kilt" (among other ridiculous excerpts) but given the fact that my main character is a grown American man passing himself off as Scottish by channeling Groundskeeper Willie from "The Simpsons," I imagine I'll have to attempt some sort semblance of an accent, too.

Ach noh.

Stay tuned.

On top of that, my britches got extra inflated today when the super-sweet blogger behind Budget Blonde and newly minted mother of twins sent me an encouraging note/kick in the pants that I could and should be doing more to building the audience for this site. 

She'd posted last week about attempting to find balance in her crazy-busy life (did I mention she just had twins? Cuz she does. Oh yeah and she just relocated. Oh, and she works from home). I related to so much of what she wrote that I sent her a note reminding her that things will get better (and sometimes worse) and that life will be OK (even when sometimes it's not). Perhaps it wasn't the most uplifting email. Either way, she didn't seem to mind the unsolicited ramblings of a complete stranger … and she was kind enough to suggest that more people might not mind the unsolicited ramblings of a complete stranger. Perhaps I should change the name of my site …

Anyway, stay tuned for that, too. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

It won't be like this forever

More on this later.
It won't be like this forever. 

I've been saying that a lot lately.

During trips to the grocery store when, as we're heading toward the dairy aisle, both girls claim they need to go potty, which involves a hasty cart ride to the opposite end of the store and often a false alarm from the younger one. 

At home as they kick, pull hair, bite and otherwise maim each other over infractions including, but not limited to, pony, doll and book theft; claiming ownership of a parent ("That's my mommy!" "No!! It's my mommy!!" "NO!!!! MY MOMMY!" etc., etc., etc.); and sitting on an already occupied piece of furniture.

After the playdate when I heard my friend exclaim, "Jovie, what's that all over your leg?" and found that my 2-year-old, who was going commando in an attempt to potty train, was covered in poo (as was a throw rug, various stuffed animals and a "Frozen" puzzle). This, just after I'd cleaned up a puddle of pee on the floor. 

And especially night after night when, after putting the kids to bed at 8 or so, I flip open my laptop and work until past 11 then get up by 6 or 7 the next morning to repeat the cycle -- make food, referee, play, read, clean, more food, clean, play, work, food … I don't even know.

It won't be like this forever.

Last week we went to the beach with my family. Twenty of us total, 10 kids. I worked one afternoon and then decided not to use my laptop for anything work-related for the rest of the week. Instead, I immersed myself in family (well, except for the day or two I immersed myself in bed with a stomach bug). I went on bike rides and raced down water slides with my nephews, spent an afternoon window shopping with my niece, chatted and laughed with my sisters, soaked in all the magical moments of the girls giggling amidst a pack of cousins. 

On the last day, after a frustrating morning with my vacationed-out kids, I ran into the ocean, diving into the rising waves that previewed Hurricane Arthur. I swam and floated and meditated and then headed back to the beach, grabbed one of my sisters and brought her into the water so that we both could enjoy being cradled by the cool waves. 

In that moment, I thought I could've stayed in the water forever. It felt like it would've been easier to swim and swim and swim -- to cross the Atlantic even -- then it would be to go back to the routine. 

But I got tired eventually and went back to shore. 

Of course, I went back.

Returning home was tough. I missed my nieces and nephews and the endless bustle of the beach house. The camaraderie of sharing motherhood with my sisters. 

And I really dreaded going back to nights doing work that isn't always gratifying and that seems to perpetually be keeping me from the work I actually want to do. And we all know what that is by now.

I think some days my expectations for the 24 hours in a day are just too high.

And I feel guilty and kind of lame for whining or complaining. This is the adventure of every mom in the history of mothers, right? We love our babies and relish the time we have with them while simultaneously mourning the life before or the life more balanced. 

Some days I wish I didn't want so much to finish my book. If I wanted it less, then maybe it wouldn't be so infuriating when there's no room for it. But it's this inexplicable force in my life. 

Actually, it's not inexplicable. I recently finished reading "The Dog Stars" by Peter Heller (so beautifully written). The book takes place in Colorado almost a decade after a plague has wiped out most of humanity and what's left seems to roam around as savages. The narrator is a pilot/poet who, despite the fact that he has nobody to share it with, still feels driven to tell the story of what happened -- the loss and the horror: 

"There is no one to tell this to and yet it seems very important to get this right. The reality and what it is like to escape it. That even now it is sometimes too beautiful to bear."

and later he writes:

"The satisfaction of composing. Remembered that Dylan Thomas sometimes would set down one word of a new poem then walk down to the pub and get shitfaced in celebration. For breaking the void of silence."

So tonight I thought I'd break the void of silence. I'm tired and frustrated and defeated. But there's satisfaction in writing about it. 

I think I've decided I'm going to try to say "no" more. Each time I say "yes" to taking on a new project or extra work, I'm saying "no" to completing something that might be fulfilling to me. 

It's easier to say "yes" to everyone else. There's no guilt associated with it, for one. And of course, it's nice to contribute to the family. But if I'm being honest, it also gives me an excuse not to face the right side of my brain and the terror involved with finishing what I started and showing it to someone. Anyone.

I think saying "yes" is the Achilles Heel of most stay-at-home moms -- or moms in general. You start feeling like there shouldn't be space carved into your life for just you. Even acknowledging that you want that tiny corner for you feels very un-momlike. 

But I don't feel very mom like lately anyway. I'm a better mom when I feel like I have time to do something that's just mine and no on else's. 

It puts my life in perspective. 

It allows me to smile more at all the sweet, silly moments.

The extra hugs and kisses at bedtime. The way Jovie holds her little pointer finger beside her face when she asks a question. How Lily requests to wear a "dressing gown" like Fancy Nancy for bed every night.

How now when we drive by a field of tall, green stalks Lily shouts out, "Mo-om! Corn poppin' up!"

How Jovie is perpetually singing, off key, "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" and quoting the goose in "Charlottes Web," when she tries to spell "Terrific." ("I think it's T, double E, double R, double I, double F, double I, double C, C, C.")

Or, when the girls sit on the rocking horse in the living room together, hide behind the curtain and play with their princess ponies on the window sill -- chattering away and inventing whole plots and subplots.

I remind myself, it won't be like this forever.