Wednesday, December 28, 2005

A great in-law revelation

A post in another blog about the bloggette's in-laws got me to thinking about my own crazy family that I inherited from my husband.
When we first were married and had holidays together, I was a bit blown over by the intense emotions that ran high whenever we were together. Someone always (and although I do have a tendency to exaggerate, in this case I do mean ALWAYS) ended up sobbing in a back bedroom at some point during the weekend and usually my mother-in-law would be back there trying to console said sobber. (In my family, you'd cry for one of two reasons. #1: A loved one or close friend is mortally wounded or #2: We'd read Grandma Carlson's account of moving to eastern Montana from Minnesota.) Certainly you wouldn't cry because you (at 25 or 30 years of age) were hurt by something a sibling or a parent (at 30 or 60 years of age) said. I was further blown away by my mother-in-law's attempts to right the situation. My mother, wonderful and loving though she is, would likely have said something to the effect of, "LCS, you are 30 years old. Get over it." Perhaps our family is a bit more matter-of-fact than some.
I can't say that marriage into this family hasn't come with some relatively significant (and at times uncomfortable) adjustments. However, as I've grown up and come to love them more and more, I realize how much my in-laws have opened their hearts to me and my biological family. As a former social worker, I personally despise the phrase "open their/your/his/her heart(s)", but there's no other way to put it. They really have shown me nothing by kindness and love and have been so gracious to my family.
My mother-in-law would probably like nothing more than to have us move to within earshot of them, but she respects my space and is always contientious of how much time they've spent with us. Even though she is probably as opinionated as me, she's very careful to only share her opinion when I've asked for it, and many times I'd probably benefit greatly from hearing from her. And it is so sweet to see her with my son, loving him and enjoying him boundlessly.
My father-in-law accepts me with all of my opinions and sarcasm, which is often comes out when I'm feeling impatient or under pressure. He laughs it off when I should be scolded for saying things that aren't kind and treats me like a person who really does know a thing or two about some things. Although he and I are polar-opposites when it comes to political or social stances, he doesn't discount what I say, he just respectfully disagrees.
My sisters-in-law have always welcomed me into their homes, and although we aren't so close that we talk everyday, they are always there when I need them... they call on important days and remember birthdays, and recognize times in life that might be stressful. They also know their brother isn't always easy to live with, even though he doesn't chase me around the house like he chased them.
Another long blog getting longer. But really, I know I've griped about idiocyncrasies that get under my skin. But I'm so lucky to have married into a family that, although different than my own family, they love me completely and have been nothing but kind, generous and thoughtful to me. Sometimes I think it's those idiocyncrasies that are exactly what I need to see myself for who I am (not to get too deep or anything). It's not just that it could be so much worse. It's that I don't know if it could be better.

gift giving

So I went to the mall yesterday, and remind me again why people (I mean grown-ups) buy each other things for Xmas and then spend the next few days returning/exchanging them?

Gifts for kids makes some kind of sense. With adults, either give each other tokens--"I thought of you" kinds of gifts, "I didn't want you to not have something to open" gifts--or give each other really meaningful things, but not just because it's some certain time of the year. One woman in front of me said, "I don't know why he got me the green sweater; I had the pink cashmere Audrey cut size medium sweater on my list!" Well, hmm. You're, what, 40 years old; I'd bet you have access to your own money; buy your own sweater!

Anyway, this kind of gift giving (among adults, spending lots of money, getting specific things that the person could buy anyway) seems kinda silly to me...

Friday, December 23, 2005

Holiday non-madness

Our kids have Nov birthdays, so it feels like a regular candy-and-present blitz from about Halloween on. We had lots of family come out this fall, and we have *tons* of books and toys and general clutter seeping out from every corner of our house. (And yes, of course: our kids spend most of their time doing other things like
a) getting lots and lots of grocery bags and filling them with junk and carrying them around;
b) wiping surfaces with wipes;
c) cutting up small pieces of paper;
d) dragging the kitchen chairs into various configurations in the living room.
We've tried to buy useful/long-lasting toys (ie, a big dollhouse, wooden train sets) but somehow even still we're overrun with clutter.

Xmas was a wonderful, warm, fun time that I remember fondly as a kid. We had certain things we *always* did that seem funny and insignificant now (ie, loading up the car with presents to go to my grandma's house so that we could unwrap them by her tree--we didn't have a tree; watching "Frosty the Snowman" at her place). So far, we've not established any holiday 'tradition' since family is so far away--sometimes some of our family is with us, sometimes not.

This year, because of the toy creepage and the sense that our kids have *more than* enough 'stuff,' we're going on a little mini-vacation instead--just us. This is a huge breakthrough, as we usually save up our time off for when family is here (because unfortunately we really like our family!). We're going to go stay in a cabin, play in the snow, snowtube, maybe try snowshoeing, go on a horseback ride...but mostly we'll hang out together and eat a lot. We're taking a few presents that the g-parents sent out, but that's it.

This has meant *no* stress for me right now (except for hunting down all the addresses for the holiday letter!) which is perfectly, wonderfully lovely. It's usually a hectic time anyway (finals just ended; grades needed to be posted this week), but I haven't had to rush and spend money on presents that the under 3-foot set in this house doesn't need. Ahhhh....

Here's to a restful holiday season to all.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

don't do it!!

Never, never rent an apartment under two exquisitely well-fed people who proceed to the checkout counter with a treadmill in hand. Beginning at 5.30 each morning the rhythmic sounds of the treadmill being used directly over my head pounds into my skull. Oh, and did I mention that the big-screen TV is generally blaring loud enough so that the sound can be heard OVER the treadmill?

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

the dumb brothers

Partner PT SAHD just asked me if he and Left Coast Sister's husband should start a blog called Dumb Brothers. Ummm...maybe not.

Calling each other 'partner' has a long history that isn't very interesting to anyone outside our marriage, so let me just say that PT is *great* at latching on to things and weaving tidbits of long-past experiences into his conversations, over and over and over again.

So, the actual argument (no, discussion) that started us calling each other "my partner" instead of "my husband/my wife" is long, long forgotten <>, but the idea that I was the one who thought we should do this--and that it'd be the perfect opportunity for a laugh--was never dropped by PT. So, he loves to say to me, "heyyyy pardner. Put 'er there."

But wait a minute: this began as a post about how cool (and totally not dumb) both of our husbands are. Guess I'll have to save that one for later...

Things That Drive me Bananas

1. When your eye doctor tells you to expect your new contacts in 2-3 days when really, in eye doctorspeak, he means 2 weeks.
2. When someone doesn't use their blinkers and you end up waiting a hundred years for them to go straight when really they were turning left all along.
3. People who drive 55 mph in the left hand lane on Hwy 99. Argh!! Can they not see that another lane has been constructed to meet their needs and it is conveniently located to their RIGHT?!!
4. When people tell me to nap when my two year old is napping. Have they ever tried to balance the checkbook when their two year old is awake?!
5. People who think paying rent is optional.
6. People who make sarcastic remarks about other people in groups and then cover it with insincere flattery.
7. Hypochondriacs.
8. When my 2-year old arches his back when I'm trying to put on his carseat buckles.
9. Days when I feel like I get NOTHING done and had all day to do it!
10. Days when my husband is home and EVERYTHING gets done which only reinforces in my mind that I can't always do this stay-at-home thing!
11. Disorganization.
12. WalMart. Although I recently acquired a list of things to do there...
13. When you try to call a florist in California and get an answering service in Laredo Texas who wants to pretend like they are the florist you thought you called but they clearly don't have any idea how to pretend too good because they constantly say "I'll have to see what my computer shows" instead of "OH, let me look around the store and see if we have any day lillies."
14. Family living too far away. I guess that's under the Makes Me Sad list rather than this one.
15. How I'm not a laid-back, easygoing personality that never gets riled up.
16. Hormones. Need I say more?

Monday, December 19, 2005

A worthy cause

So to add to the social-commentary front of this erudite blog....
If any of you dear readers are ending the calendar year wondering what to do with all your left over money since you never seem to know how to spend it all, go to and check out the best charity on the left coast. (I would say further than that, but with all due respect I haven't researched charities beyond my location.) Over 95% of our contributions go DIRECTLY to the families (and that is because we are 100% volunteer-based). This is a very cool and easy way to support families who are going through tough times who need an extra affirmation that there are those out there who are concerned about them. We've done our deliveries for this year, but we start fundraising for next year right now! (: Tell 'em you heard about it on Smart Sisters!

Friday, December 16, 2005

girl stuff

Some one who happens to actually read this blog might be interested in this site: . I know the person who makes these purses; I think they're really cool-looking and sooo reasonably priced! Makes me wish I could sew.

(So there, Jay Are, is a post about purses! :) )

A long blog in which I digress a lot

Maybe I'm turning into my father after all. I distinctly remember a conversation we had when I was getting my Bachelor's deg. at a relatively left leaning university. "Some day, you'll see the world is not how you think it is," my wise father told me. "There are people who don't work hard and don't give back to society and have bad intentions, etc etc"-and on and on, ad nauseum ad infinitum. I would answer with my opinions for a while (I'm pretty full of them) but if I'm opinionated, my dad takes the cake.
After a few years in medical social work, I came to the conclusion that there are people who have bad intentions and who don't give back to society. There's an explanation for everything, I would have said, prior to my working experiences. But I wouldn't have yet worked with Mr. Q, an immigrant from South East Asia with a long and chequered history.
When he crossed my path, my initial reaction was horror. Not because I knew his story but because I didn't know it. He was 76 years old, living on the street. A small, well-groomed Asian gentleman on the streets of a major US city. Yikes. This is a walking example of how a wealthy country like ours doesn't take care of its own, I thought in anger. Why is there no place for him to go?
His daughter would not return our calls. When I finally got her to talk to me, she explained why he had been cut off from the rest of his family. He had raped and molested at least two women in their family, one of them her, and was a brutal wife abuser. Mr Q's daughter told me the family had hidden his wife's current whereabouts from him, because his previous attempts to kill her had only been twarted by luck. Knowing that, it all made sense. But... how? And what to do when a 76 year old man has, quite literally, nowhere to go.
Someone could certainly theorize that he has a mental illness. I know there are loads of behavior theories behind domestic violence and there is a need to (attempt to) work with the abuser, even though the rate of recidivism is around 90%. But social work is a task-oriented job. Studies and theories are fine, but explaining problem behaviors did not always direct me to what to do. Knowing that this man himself was likely the victim of all kinds of abuse didn't solve the dilemna of where to house him. Oh, and the deadline for his release from the hospital would be about... 5 minutes after admission. The hospital staff wanted me to find him a home since he was medically compromised. They were incensed that this "poor man" was all on his own with no one to guide him.
I had nowhere to put him. There aren't many homes for elderly sex offenders (yes, he was supposed to be registered, but he had neglected to do that for years). Compounding the problem was the fact that Mr.Q was quite selective about what would be an acceptable abode for him. He wanted a home where he would have his own room, be able to pay just a few hundred dollars in rent and have ethnically appropriate foods for every meal. He was the classic abuser. And this is where I realized that I had pieces of racism entrenched in my brain.
Initially, I had looked at Mr. Q and seen a sweet little man. He was an immigrant who had probably put in hard years of manual labor, raised a family and was now just trying to make it in the world, for all I knew. He was 5'2", 76 years old and dealing with complications from congestive heart failure. Rapists aren't. Abusers certainly aren't. He would approach me first thing after his hospital shower and say, "Have a house for me?" with a strong Asian accent and a sweet smile. Sexual predators don't do that.
This rapist, abuser and predator did.
And he did because he was walking around with a criminal mind in his skull. The rest of the hospital staff never believed that until he tried to attack a nurses aide with a butter knife when she interrupted his lunch. The head doctor didn't believe that until he left the hospital against medical advice because his dinner wasn't hot enough and he didn't like his roommate. But I had tried to work with this man with all the assumptions of who he was from my perspective and not from reality.
Was he living "off the system"? He wouldn't claim his social security check because he had to have an address and he didn't want to register. He wouldn't claim his Medicare benefits for the same reason. He had no patience with any system that wouldn't just give him what he wanted outright, so he was involved in no housing programs, senior meal programs or any number of the wealth of programs that would be available to him. Why? Because in the end, even though he didn't look like a "bad guy", he was. Was he rotten to the core with no reason? We'll never know. But he was unwilling or unable to make any personal changes or take any personal responsibility for poor choices he had made entirely on his own.
So you were right, Dad. There was a time in my life when I wouldn't have believed it. There was a time in my life when I would have made the assumption that this man had been done wrong and therefore should be treated as the victim that he was. But at what point does he have to take responsibility and stop creating other victims? At what point do I hold him responsible as a human being who can hurt others?
I have no idea where this man is living now, and I don't know if his wife is still taking care of herself and not allowing him to victimize her any longer. I guess my point is that I need to stop shutting my brain off to the concept that dangerous doesn't always look dangerous. Assumptions are always dangerous.

Snow is fun, when you don't live in it.

I should stop there.

Snow's fun to look at. When it's on one side of the window and you're on the other. When it's in distant mountains, upon faraway trees, on top of shrubs.

But not when it's on the sidewalks and roads you walk on, piled up and up and up...sigh.

It'd be beautiful if you didn't have to do mundane things (like run 5 errands with two small children).

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

my little white lie

What makes me laugh about myself is how *differently* I'll try to capture what my life is really like, depending on whom I'm talking to. Example: if I'm talking to some dear older friend, or a woman who's working in the home with her children (! how's that, left coast sister? :)), I'll say that #1 "goes to preschool twice a week"--sometimes I'll even stretch it and say that she goes "two half-days." What I *don't* say is that, really, if I'm honest, this is daycare--and that she's there pretty full days. Of course, it's not hard to take her; this is the child that bounds in to our room in the morning, whispering, "is it a school day today?" in a voice full of hope.
When I talk to my colleagues, though, or others, I apologize for not being readily available on Fridays (my one full day home with the kids.) Why do I do that? Why do I feel compelled to stretch the truth, rather than being mostly honest about how I spend my days? It's pretty complicated to explain in a nutshell--certainly, I'm not a stay-at-home-mom, but I'm not a "work 50+ hours away from the kids" mom either.

I wish there were better ways to represent the millions of options that there are for parenting--seems like another aspect of life where we get so stuck into binaries (ie, either you're a SAHM or you're not. Either you're a working, daycare-using mom or you're not). This is *not* to make light of Left Coast Sister's situation (or others like her), not at all. We've cobbled together an arrangement that (mostly, usually, except for certain crisis moments that I always hit in the semester) works for us: I'm home larger and smaller parts of all days, as is my husband; a next-door neighbor and part-time daycare fill in the gaps. Yes, we're incredibly fortunate; but yes, we chose this and worked really hard for it. No, it's not perfect. But still, I always feel the need to justify it. Just as SAHMs feel obligated to justify their family decisions.

No easy matter, these things.

Occupation please

Good afternoon to me!
After a morning at the zoo (OK, it was PetSmart, but trust me, to a 2-year old it's a zoo), an ear piercing discussion about the lack of need for a nap (followed in 5 minutes by snoring in the carseat), paying bills for the month of December and missing lunch since I have limited time to complete my to-dos until my sleeping angel awakens, I'm feeling exhausted.
This is exactly why I resent being called a "non-working spouse" when we sign up for insurance or fill out paperwork for some corporate round file. Yesterday at the eye doctor, the forms requested the name of my supervisor (what are they going to do, verify I use my eyes at work??). I wrote "a 2-yr old boy".
Not ever sure how I'm supposed to answer when it comes to "occupation"... It ain't 1955 anymore, and "home maker" doesn't fit me. Not to mention, I wouldn't have the first idea as to how to make a home. There's the "stay at home mom" which is a little too wordy, especially when they've left enough room for "attorney", "banker" or "chef". I guess I could just write down all the things I do during the day, but again, that's a bit cumbersome. Not to mention the fact that I'm generally filling out said form with a 2-year old in my lap or standing on my feet. Knowing how much work it is to be a stay at home mom, I won't write "unemployed". It's not like I sit around eating bon-bons and getting massages, so I guess I can't justify stating "kept woman" either, although it's tempting just to raise some eyebrows. ("Who is keeping HER?", thinks the owner of the raised eyebrows.)
In the end, it's ME who takes issue with my occupation. There isn't a word in the English language that sums up all I do for my family at home, regardless of my lack of a paycheck. I just resent feeling like I must not be doing enough if I can't even express how I spend my time. It was much easier to simply write "medical social worker" back in the pre-baby days. But it's also a lot easier to work with insurances and grieving families than it is to deal with runny noses, loud tantrums and the untimely diaper change. I was lucky to have a paying career that was very emotionally rewarding, exhausting though it was. Now, I am lucky to be the mom of a sweet, healthy little boy who has taught me that it is possible to love unconditionally. Now I know that crunching leaves in the fall is mandatory, that dancing is required, no matter how many times you've heard the song and that we don't always have to move as fast as we think we do. The next time I'm asked about my "occupation", I won't be boring the asker with the darling details in an All-I-Needed-To-Learn-I-Learned-From-My-Toddler kind of way. I'll probably write "stay at home mom" and leave it at that.
If someone sitting in an office all day feels smug because they are gainfully employed while I have snot on my shirt, that's fine. I won't be going to any glamorous office parties this year (which I did so very often when I was employed) and I can't errands "after work" since after work doesn't exist in my latest career. But I'll still have the satisfaction of knowing that even though it might not be the most exciting job (if you want to call it that), and it might not be what I thought I would be doing had you asked me 5 years ago, I have made a choice that is right for me. Do I have bad days? Of course. But as a social worker, life wasn't exactly one great day after another. Despite social pressures to be a mom who does it all, I haven't given in. That isn't the right choice for me and I'm learning to be OK with that.
3:01 PM

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The First Post

Here we are: let the fun begin!