Monday, August 13, 2012

Meeting My Mother Again

Twenty or so years ago, I ran into my mother outside a small newsstand in downtown San Rafael.  It was a pleasant surprise, and we had a short, happy conversation then went our separate ways.  I think it’s that fond memory that brings me back to that particular place when I dream of meeting my mother again.
I’m not a superstitious or credulous sort of person – I know that who I see in that recurring dream is not actually my mother, or her spirit.  I know it’s all just a construct of my sleeping mind.  Nevertheless, my heart leaps each time when I see her, and for a short time we talk excitedly - as if our years apart had been some sort of mistake, now happily rectified.  Then inevitably, the key bit of reality fights its way in.  As I begin to tell my mother that she’s dead, she runs away before the “D” word has been spoken, seemingly fearful of some harm the cold truth could do her.  Afterward, I feel strangely guilty - as if I had blithely mentioned a friend’s divorce only to watch him break down in tears.
That dream is rare now, fifteen years after my mother’s death from cancer.  The desire behind the dream – to see my mother again, to tell her about her wonderful grandchildren – that doesn’t fade.  If only she could meet them once!  Just once!  To meet Joey, the boy I named after her beloved brother, in her honor.  To watch Tommy yell “Cannon-Ball!” as he jumps into the pool off a rock, grinning the way only a two-year-old can.  One kiss.  One hug.  One bedtime story.  One anything!
No. I sprinkled my mother’s ashes in Tomales Bay in 1997.  No kisses.  No hugs.  Wake up now, Anthony.
One is the number closest to zero, but zero and only zero is the number that my Mother and I get - I suppose I'm working that out, a dream at a time.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Cranky Christmas

I get way too wound up about Christmas.  Even before Tricia and I had kids, I really got into it, buying too many presents and investing way too much time and money in something that is best enjoyed when simple.  When we had kids, it became an excuse to go a little nuts.  Each Christmas (and birthday) since the kids came along, I've had trouble resisting all of the cool toys I see on store shelves.  When combined with all of the toys that friends and relatives give, the number of toys has definitely gotten out of control.
This year the problem really came to a head.  Tommy is only 14 months old and doesn't really have a concept of Christmas presents, but 3 year-old Joey sure does, but he doesn't really have much of a concept of sharing or gratitude, and his bratty side was on full display.  Between his tantrums and shouts of "Mine!" and making his brother cry again and again by taking even the least significant toys from him, Mom and Dad were left feeling like the last thing in the world Joey needed was a new slew of toys on Christmas Day.'s so fun, right?
The day came, and Joey was in rare form.  Each time we would begin to think about opening presents, he would do something so selfish and rude, we would go back to waiting.  At one point, I was considering donating all of the toys to charity and just calling it a day.  I've heard of parents doing that, and I always figured they were just overly-strict, mean and spiteful people but there I was considering exactly the same thing - not because I was angry or wanted to punish anyone - just because it seemed like the right thing to do.  At that moment, giving a present to Joey seemed equivalent to donating money to Paris Hilton.
In the end, the boys opened their presents, but afterward I was left with the feeling that giving the toys away was probably the right idea, and it was my own selfish desire to "have a Christmas" that prevented it.  Anyone who knows me knows I love Christmas, so you have to imagine the amount of bad behavior that I saw in order to come to that conclusion.
Now, like so many others out there I'm just grateful that it's OVER.  The kids can go back to their normal routine, and I can try to regain some of my composure before my wife has me comitted once and for all.

Saying you didn't have a Merry Christmas almost seems like sacriledge, doesn't it?  The worst part is, I know I only have myself to blame.  I keep thinking of a scene in "Babe" (yes, the pig movie) - the farmer spends weeks meticulously building a beautiful, elaborate dollhouse for his Granddaughter, but on Christmas she opens it up and lets out a wail "It's the wrong one!  I want the one I saw on the television!!!"  The smile never leaves the farmer's face, and it's clear that he's just too damn mature to allow something like that to bother him.  I need to be more like him.  Then again, the guy entered a pig in a sheepdog contest, so he's gotta be nuts, right?
"That'll do" for now, I guess...
Have a Happy New Year,

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Need to find time for girl friends- and to take a drink!

Ok- so for a rare moment- I'm going to go all girly here. In the Sex and the City 2 movie (which overall was kind of terrible, too commercial and waayyy too unrealistic and over the top as the show often was . . . (and yet I still own the complete set of DVDs and both movies))- there's a scene where Miranda and Charlotte are alone in the bar in their silly huge penthouse suite and Charlotte is afraid to admit that being a mom is hard. I have to admit that they nailed their target audience on this one so now I'll always have an affinity for this darned movie. Essentially it boiled down to Miranda and Charlotte sharing some of the awful things that have happened plus the thoughts that they've been afraid to share out loud. I cried with them and I laughed too- and I totally related. Sometimes a girl just needs a friend there to tell her to take a big sip of her drink to find the courage to talk about the hard things. I miss my girlfriends.

I want to embrace my friends for their honesty about the challenges in their lives with parenting and struggling to find balance. Sometimes I feel like we're on our own little Johnstone island and I'm afraid of talking about some of the harder things as it's almost admitting failure as a woman and as a mom. And if you do ever have time to see a friend in person (cause Lord knows you can't hold a conversation over the phone unless it's after 9pm or before 6am), and at this face-to-face meeting you try to hold an adult conversation where one of your kids isn't interrupting every few minutes or requiring intervention- you hope that you can talk about some of these harder things in a light way- with a little bit of laughing but without sounding desperate or hysterical. Sometimes you want the freedom to vent without having someone feel compelled to offer solutions. You hope that they can share an equally challenging experience so you know you're not alone . . . so I hope that sometimes I can be there for my friends- to tell them to take a big swig of their cosmo and speak the things that should not be said out loud.

Reflecting on Christmas this year

So it dawned on me that a year ago today as I was making those last minute preparations for Christmas I was also working up my courage to return to work the first Monday after new year's day. With my 2nd son Tommy I had the fortune of being on leave from work during Q4-2009. I think it might have been the first time in my adult life that I haven't had to manage a frenzy of end of year work hand-in-hand with holiday prep. I was actually really enjoying it and was really feeling like a "mom" as I was toting around my near 3 month old, Christmas cards mailed, presents all wrapped and scrapbooking Joey's year 1 and 2 albums in my spare time. I knew then that it was never likely to occur that way again, at least until the kids are older and I'm closer to retirement!

In contrast, this year- we're just barely finishing the shopping, the Christmas cards I picked up last weekend are still sitting on the counter- no mailing labels printed and likely no hope of being done today either. Packages nowhere near being ready to mail to my sister or my dad. I guess THIS is the holiday frenzy that I'm accustomed to. We're actually more behind than usual- maybe a couple of "substantial infants" (thanks Rachel!) have something to do with it. However maybe because of them I have some new perspective about limits and trying harder to achieve some balance and truly be a happy person and good wife and mom. Maybe taking a break at Thanksgiving and running away to Yosemite helped so we wouldn't feel like the turkey day frenzy would just carry over for another month. Maybe it's because this is the first year that Joey is getting excited about Christmas and is itching to play with the train and start opening presents- and we can have some fun with the story telling and trying to create some mystery for him. Maybe it's because we're starting a new tradition of staying home on Christmas day to leisurely open presents and stay in our pjs for as long as possible- followed by Christmas dinner with mom and grandma- and mom's doing most of the cooking. I need to know what the formula was/is to I can be sure to repeat it again in the future- coasting into Christmas and not caring if the cards don't make it out before New Years Day. Cheers!

Speaking of lists . . .

So going off on a tangent- one of my all time favorite books, movies and soundtracks was High Fidelity. I love Rob's top 5/ top 10 lists upon lists, I love how he reorganizes his record collection in obscure ways when he's upset and I love his semi-nerdy but slightly cool and collected manner. The guy makes bad decisions, sometimes acts like a jerk, but he's introspective and knows when he has screwed up- which is very human. Admittedly I also think that "Walking on Sunshine" by Katrina and the Waves is actually a great Monday morning song when you need to get the blood flowing to the head and body (if you don't know the reference- watch the movie!)

Tricia's going to attempt to blog . . .

So I've been wondering what I could say on a blog that would be of interest to any one but me . . . seems like a 'Dear Diary' type thing but public. As I'm not a "writer" it's certainly not to exercise my art- so maybe it's just to exercise my ego. The web social media thing is still a weird voyeuristic experience for me- getting peeks into the lives of others, sometimes with a little interaction with a comment here and there, or joining into a flurry of comments with others, or not sometimes not participating at all- just observing. I shouldn't question the "why" as it's probably the same primal human instinct that compels us to rubberneck on the highway when someone has been pulled over by the CHP or why we take the time to vote for our favorite couples on Dancing with the Stars or why we watch any reality TV at all. Have Americans evolved into a culture of rubberneckers? We spend our lives craning our necks to get a peek into the lives of others? I don't change my Facebook status very often, or post a lot of pictures and videos on the web, and I don't spend a ton of time looking at those posted by others. But I do like Facebook as it provides the ability to occasionally see pics from life events and vacations, or keep track of who's kids are doing what, as well as even what people are planning to cook for dinner. It helps me feel connected in a world that's growing very small and yet very desensitized and impersonal.

I do follow a few bloggers- if you can call "following" checking in once a month or so. The top 5 topics that interest me:
  1. Friends that have blogs (Lisa T- paper cup poet, Tiffany C- sharp mother tongue, Wayne- poet and chemist, and Shannon- strong mama)
  2. parenting/ motherhood
  3. weight loss
  4. cooking and baking (ah and there's the rub on #3)
  5. crafty-creativeness (that I can envy but don't have time for)
And my dirty secret- an Honorable Mention goes to boring business topics that I love, but few others that I know would care about- like business architecture, process improvement, data analysis and visualization.

So back to the original question- why would I want to hang out my thoughts on the laundry line . . . what do I want to get out of my experience as a blogger?
  1. I'd like to memorialize some of the great things that happen and some of our triumphs and moments of creative genius- so I have something to make me smile when the times are tough. I can also hope that someday my kids will read them and it will help them smile too. Maybe they won't do it until they have kids of their own- but that would be ok too.
  2. I feel compelled to create some sort of record- maybe just for my own ego- but what if I were hit by a bus (or in the suburbs more likely a bicycle or wayward car) I want my kids to have some insight as to the person that I was. Not just the mom that told them 'no' and ruined their good times.
  3. I want a place that I feel free to create lists but not waste paper and post-its (I'm a Taurus born in the year of the Ram and an ISTJ- which maybe is all related or maybe it means nothing. I'm clearly a planner and a list creator any my purse is forever full of scraps of paper reminders.)
  4. I want a place to record the steps of any creative genius in progress in our household . . . so others who have limited time and terrible work-life balance know that it is possible to squeak out a good project periodically.
  5. I want a place to feel free to record some of the bad and challenging things too. And maybe occassionally a friend will comment to share their own challenges . . .

Thursday, September 9, 2010

A Day with Joey

I spent Sunday with Joey at Discovery Kingdom (a.k.a. Marine World if you're an old coot like me), and I think it had just been too long since I had spent time with just him. When Joey has to compete for attention with Tommy, his attitude changes, and not for the better.  Too many of our outings lately have been dominated by acting out on Joey's part, and frustration all around.  Every once in a while I try to have a day out with Joey so we can kind of reconnect, and I'm convinced now that it doesn't happen often enough.

When I was a kid, being the youngest of four, I remember that solo outings with my parents were a rare and prized commodity.  Of course, I never remembered a time when I didn't have competition for their attention.  Joey's first two years were spent as the only focus of our attention.  Now he knows he has competition, and it can get ugly. I can sympathize - when I was about 10, my mother gave me a peice of a model for the Death Star that she had liberated from a pile of would-be trash at Industrial Light and Magic (she worked nearby).  Being a huge Star Wars fan I was ecstatic, but beyond that, I was happy to get something from her that was just for me. 

A few days later, she told me that she had meant to cut it into peices and give equal parts to my brother, sister and I.  I remembered being angry and very disappointed.  I initially refused to give up the peices, but I ended up giving them to my brother and sister after the furor had died down and I was able to think a little more clearly.  That happened when I was 10 and I remember it clearly - I can only imagine how a 3 year-old processes feelings like those.  Every time I  split a cookie between them, every time I say "I love you guys" instead of just "I love you, Joey" or, my pre-Tommy standard "You're my favorite little boy in the whole world," I have to wonder how it affects him. 

Things kind of got off to a rough start as Thomas Town (a section of the park dedicated to Thomas the Tank Engine) turned out to be kind of a bust - it was all about rides, and Joey is kind of anti-ride right now.  He was glad to see my sister Carol when she joined us, but our next few activities seemed to involve a lot of walking in noisy areas of the park and a big crowd at the Dolphin Show, neither of which went over well with the Joe-man.

Joey was starting to ask to go home after the Dolphin show, and I told him we could talk about it more after lunch.  Luckily, we found a nice quiet spot to eat lunch, and Joey was able to kind of "reset."  He started joking around with Carol and I and his mood lifted.  I think a little break from all of the people and noise was just what he needed. 

After our ridiculously over-priced lunch, we headed for the butterfly exhibit, where you walk through a greenhouse with hundreds of butterflies.  This was more Joey's speed and I think he really started to enjoy himself - he even wanted to go back through the exhibit a second time.

Eventually we ended up at a giant three-story play structure where dozens of kids were playing, and Joey ran right in.  Carol and I sat down, realizing we were going to be there for a while.  It was good to just watch Joey play - he really seemed caught up in it - you can always tell when he's really having fun because his tongue always seems to be hanging out of his mouth (e.g.: and  Soon, Joey was running in circles around the play structure, and eventually he ended up playing in the nearby fountain (that's what extra pairs of pants are for, after all).

We had a lot of fun, and definitely wore Joey out, but I think I learned a couple of things: 1) Each boy needs frequent outings with a parent where he doesn't need to share attention and 2) you can't impose your idea of fun on a 3-year-old.  After dropping more than $200 to see Discovery Kingdom, my first impluse was to drag Joey to every show and every exhibit to try to maximize our value, but sometimes I think you just have to listen to your kid and go with the flow.

I'm wondering if I should dedicate a separate posting to the subject of what of an overpriced, poorly-planned experience Discovery Kingdom was.   For now, I'd just say this - if you're planning on going, look for discounted tickets ($50 for adult, $32 each for kids), carpool (parking is $15 per car), and sneak in as many drinks and snacks as possible (cheeseburger = $12; Diet Coke = $4), and bring a Discover Card if possible (there's a 5% discount on just about everything, and a separate, faster entrance to the park for Discover Card holders).  Be ready for long lines, filthy bathrooms and the most confusing park layout and worst signage ever.  Discovery Kingdom will make you respect Disney that much more, that's for sure...