Saturday, May 12, 2012
When it was time to consider whether or not to send my oldest child to preschool I had what I would consider a mild case of Holy moly, his entire emotional, physical, spiritual, and intellectual development and self-confidence hinges on my making the right decision, and if I make the wrong choice, I have forever ruined him anxiety. I remember talking to the school Director on the phone, trying to get her to decide for me whether or not my two year old was ready for preschool. Two days a week. Three hours at a time.
How is he with transitions? she asked.
This question left me sobbing, unable to finish our phone call. I think I may have even hung up on her. I was stunned by her question. It wasn’t unreasonable. And the answer was not too terrible to utter. As a matter of fact, the trouble was I had no idea how to respond, because I didn’t know what she was asking. Once again, I was stumped by parenting.
It’s been awhile since I’ve been asked this question, but I am happy to report that I am quite clear on the answer.
How is he with transitions?
And I’m not just talking about the big ones. One caregiver to the next. Going from the 4s class to the 4/5s class. The end of a playdate. These are, of course, troublesome, but I am also referring to the space between drying off after a bath and putting on pajamas. It’s a nightly habit, with zero surprises, yet the amount of tomfoolery that can take place between the two non-event events can leave me heavy-breathed and clenched-jawed.
Fortunately, I have picked up a few tricks of the trade. Consistent schedules. Time warnings. Stating expectations. Velcroed pictures of activities to be yanked off after completion to keep us on task. This one was very effective. Until it wasn’t. Tweaking our system is our only constant.
So I wasn’t at all surprised when I was met with some resistance on Kindergarten Beginner’s Day at our neighborhood elementary school. He refused to get dressed. He refused to put on shoes. He refused to ever go to Kindergarten. He refused to have a summer break that would end with him going to Kindergarten.
With every shriek and scream of dismay, I chose the don’t respond and get hooked in the chaos approach. With few words on my part, he somehow managed to get in the car, fully dressed. He was saying no with his mouth, but his actions said, maybe, just maybe, I’ll go see what Kindergarten is all about.
On the ride to school, I thought I would take the moment of quiet to share my personal experience with Kindergarten anxiety. As I started to regale him with shared feelings of jitters, he cut me short with a simple request.
Can you stop talking, mom?
I complied and drove in silence the next couple of blocks. As we turned into the school parking lot, he spied a neighborhood friend getting out of her mom’s car.
I changed my mind, I’ll go in, he announced as I parked the car. A little familiarity was all it took.
All the rising Kindergarteners were shuffled off for an hour or so of what I assumed was a sneak peek at the exciting world of elementary education, while the parents gathered together for classroom/curriculum/extracurricular activities details. Mum was pretty much the word when Heath rejoined me in the school library. It was a slow leak of minimal information over the next week as to exactly what went down while we were apart. There was a snack. That’s all I know, and it took three days before he parted with that nugget.
Despite his withholding information, he requested a calendar to cross off the days until his first real day of Kindergarten. So far I’ve only had one anxiety attack regarding the school choice, which resulted in me searching online at 4am for other alternatives, including unschooling. Visions of the Ropko 5 happily travelling the country in a silver bullet air stream for an entire year, visiting every National Park from coast to coast, danced in my sleep-deprived noggin.
In the light of the morning, post-apocalyptic you have to brush your teeth before you go to school episode, a happy Heath was dropped off for a morning of whole child growth with his pals. I drove out of the school parking lot feeling quite certain he will be more than okay at his new school in the Fall.
How is he with transitions?
How am I with transitions?
****ing horrible. My baby is going to Kindergarten.
Wednesday, April 11, 2012
In college I would sit in steely cold seats, giving professors blank stares in between longing glances out the window, dogwoods and cherry blossoms in full bloom pulling me to come outside. That is if I made it to class. I frequently opted to drink giant blue cups of skunky beer under the clear Carolina blue skies to broaden my educational horizon, counting the days until
When I was teaching college-aged students I would resent their blank stares in between longing glances out the windows. I would have carpal tunnel from grading giant stacks of English papers and found their lackadaisical attitudes toward their assignments particularly egregious; everyone (myself included) in desperate need of a break.
Today, I am not twenty-one.
I am not a teacher.
How do you get a vacation when you are in the trenches of the 24-7 deal?
The kid’s preschool has been closed this week. Yep. It’s Spring Break. From Preschool.
My parents offered to take Heath and Stella to the park, and Forest offered to take a long, luxurious morning nap. I took the opportunity to clean up the pit that has become Heath’s room and put away winter clothes. Doing this type of activity without interruption has become a luxury; a Spring Cleaning Break, if you will.
There was enough sand on his floor to make a sandbox. Odds and ends of Transformers, Legos, and Matchbox cars were tucked in every nook and cranny of the floor. Pictures of Dinosaurs, planets, and aliens crammed under the mattress. Pieces of his United States puzzle were tossed in a drawer full of mismatched and too small socks. Acorns marked important pages of books. At least I hope they were acorns.
I’m embarrassed to say how long it took me to put that puzzle back together. Let’s just say no
matter how hard I tried to jam North Dakota UNDER South Dakota the pieces wouldn’t fit. Just when I was ready to call Melissa and Doug and give them a piece of my mind, I realized what I was doing. Apparently I don’t have a piece of my mind left to give anyone.
Looks like I should’ve skipped those beers instead of classes. Good thing Heath is going to Kindergarten next year. I have a lot to learn.
My five year old would make an excellent son of a farmer. Most days he beats the sunrise
and before he can rub the sleep out of his eyes he is spouting out various heavy-lifting plans for the twenty-four hours ahead of him.
Can I build a canal around the house?
I think the front yard needs a mote.
Can we go to Africa after school and dig for stegosaurus bones?
I have an ice skating rink on my mind. How big does my hole need to be?
I’m ready to make that teepee.
Let’s go get some chickens for the backyard and have eggs for breakfast.
We can use goats for milk and for eating the grass. Where do we buy one?
I’ve got my fishing pole. Let’s get going.
I’m going out to cut all the bark off that tree stump. Sound like a plan? I’ll be back with a knife.
I am truly grateful to have a child with incredible imagination and energy to back it up, but at 6 o’ clock in the morning, post-middle of the night baby brother waking, I am quite certain there isn’t a large enough cup of coffee I could guzzle to match Heath’s project ingenuity.
Thank goodness for four hours of preschool. He’s able to engage in transcontinental
dinosaur excavations with his pals, and I’m able to tank up on whatever I need to meet his creative interests when he’s home.
Several weeks ago he woke up with the desire to plant a garden. The original 5:45am plan
was to start digging in the yard immediately and plant rows upon rows of sunflowers, but I was able to talk him down from having to head out into the moonlight and at least wait until we could get the proper equipment to build some durable garden boxes and take some time to investigate what plants could be planted without the unnecessary angst of one last freakish freeze.
So Heath sat at the kitchen table and wrote out his list of plants, while I tried to inject coffee directly into my eyeballs to wake up. Tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers,
squash, watermelon, and red peppers made the cut. He worked hard on convincing me that he
shouldn’t go to school that day so he could complete the garden, but I reasoned
that it the next day was Saturday and he could go with Daddy to the hardware
store to get the materials for building the garden boxes. Reason actually won this time, and it worked in all our favor. I happened to catch a few minutes of NPR’s Science Friday while en route to a birthday party that very afternoon and was given a reliable thumb’s up on going ahead with the planting. Bees and mosquitoes are already in the midst. The time to sow our seed had come.
The following Saturday morning both Heath and Stella joined Daddy at a local hardware store.
They purchased 8 pieces of pine wood for two boxes (1x12x4), and 12 bags of potting soil. When they returned home Heath mightily hammered the pieces of wood together for the garden squares, while Stella happily hammered nails into the potting soil bags. After the boxes were complete, we dumped in the potting soil. Fortunately our fall and winter was consumed by taking care of one newborn and two preschoolers, so our ever-growing pile of backyard leaves had become some of the wormiest, mushroom-filled compost ever. We added
that to complete the boxes.
After school on Monday I took the kids to the hardware store and let them pick out plants.
At the time the store’s supply was low; they had yet to set out some of the heartier late-spring, early summer plants, but I figured a slow start was best. We got three tomato plants,
including one Golden Jubilee variety. Heath picked a red bell pepper. Stella wanted strawberries and broccoli. I chose romaine lettuce to round off our spring garden menu. We each picked out a new pair of gardening gloves, some organic plant food, and a small can of ruby red paint to brighten up our wood boxes.
The kids could hardly wait to get planting, but I was able to pacify them with some juice and animal crackers, while Forest nursed. I put him down for his nap then set out for an afternoon of gardening and painting. The kids wore their gloves for a total of two minutes, preferring the opportunity to squish the soil between their fingers, taking extra care to not squish the plentiful worms doing their fertilizing job.
I kept my expectations low with the garden box painting, but was surprised that there were no arguments about who gets to paint which side, and minimal leaves and grass blades were painted red. We do have a small patch of pinkish brick on our house when Heath thought it would look better red.
Every day we take time to survey the growth of our plants while we water them. This morning
I had a delightful sighting: flowers on the tomato and broccoli plants. And last night, just three weeks after we began our garden, we ate a salad that had our homegrown romaine lettuce in
it. It really was delicious.
I think Mark and I were more impressed than the kids, though. Stella really could care less about eating a non-cookie vegetable, and Heath has a new obsession: climbing the enormous
magnolia tree in our front yard. That’s fine, as long as it occurs after the rooster crows.
Saturday, March 17, 2012
But I wasn’t running the 5K. I had ten more miles to go.
So, I’ll back up my report just a bit here and cover some additionally important full-picture details. Baby Forest woke up two times the night before. The details are sketchy. I know for sure that I woke up at 5:15 with a baby in my armpit. He nursed, and then I put him back in his crib and went back to my own bed for 13 more minutes of sleep.
It was a quick 13 minutes. Next thing I knew, it was time to get up, have my trusty pre-race breakfast of Grape-Nuts, too much coffee, and not enough water. My neighbor/running partner picked me up at 6:45, and with jittery bellies and full bladders, we headed downtown to find a place to park and pick up our timing chips.
We bantered about my favorite race topics: are we going to need these gloves and hat? Will I survive with just water station stops or should I bring this cumbersome water bottle? Did you bring your Gu Chomps? Where is my race bib?! Oh my word, I left it at the, oh wait, there it is. If I put my Gu Chomps in my rump pocket, will it make my behind look that much bigger since I seem to have some additionally stubborn baby-having flesh about my bottom half? If we go to the potty twice before the race begins, will that keep me from peeing on myself around mile 10? Is a 2:15 a wacky goal?
We found our free parking, picked up our timing chips, used the potty, used the potty again, then we were off, ready to run 13.1 miles.
Now, let’s pick up the story at the 5K mark.
The 5Kers broke off and I kept wondering if my Garmin was playing tricks on me, because it had me at a steady 8:48 mile pace. I don’t run 8:48s. Or do I?
Around the 6th mile I thought, wow, this feels good. Maybe it’s time for a Gu Chomp.
The directional short version for taking such energy performance supplements is Gu early and Gu often. I have always disliked such products. Eating as I run has always felt counterintuitive and flat-out awkward, so I have always waited until I am already exhausted and way past the point of being helped by an energy aid, then I clumsily fiddle with the packaging and completely lose my rhythm. But I thought, why not try to follow the directions this time and see what happens. I even went so far as to have the package already opened so I wouldn’t have to go through the angst of trying to open it mid-run. Forward thinking, I know.
I chomped and grabbed some water at the 6th mile. It was only mildly graceful as I spilled half the water all over myself; the tossed Dixie cup missing the trash can by a long shot. I shook off the littering worry and braced myself for the monster road hill that I knew was coming, even averting my eyes from the mass of black pavement ahead.
Yet the hill came and went, and I was pleased that I didn’t expend a lot of negative physical and mental energy on the spot. And it was a good thing, because the 8th mile was rapidly upon me.
There’s a funny phenomenon around the 8th mile that happens to me. It never occurs during a leisurely, for-pleasure long run; it only happens at races. At mile 8 I am suddenly bombarded with emotions of thrill and gratitude and delight that for some reason are so overwhelming, I start to feel like I’m going to cry. And I’ve noticed that the more I try to fight them off (because who wants to be the chick who cries as she runs?), the more I choke on the feelings. I think about my kids. I think about my husband. I know they are waiting somewhere on the course for me and I decide it’s better to have this gasping, spluttering outpour of psychophysical reactions now than when I actually see them, otherwise I might collapse in a heap of tears at their little sure-to-be perplexed feet and DNF the race.
All the while I am glancing at my Garmin noticing that I have yet to cross over the 10 minute mile pace. As a matter of fact, I continue to stay well below. And I feel, dare I say, better than decent.
We wound our way through a zone of subtle hills, and just as I am readied to round the corner and head into the tenth mile, I saw the loveliest sight I’ve ever known. There was a man holding a baby, wildly waving and woot-wooting. A goldilocked little girl happily ringing what I later found out was a borrowed cow bell from a neighboring race enthusiast. And a big boy so delighted by my long-awaited presence he couldn’t help but run out to me and grab my hand. I instinctively slowed down, and tossed the unnecessary hat and gloves I’d been clutching for the last 9 and a half miles. The man with the baby in his arms yelled, keep going! Go, mama, go!
So I kept going with only a small inkling of why doesn’t Forest have a hat on his head? preoccupation. After all, loading up three kiddies to watch mommy run is its own marathon. He’s a good man.
That’s when it happened. It wasn’t a complete system breakdown, but I was overtly aware that my fluid flight was beginning to border on laborious. My knees were still rising and falling in a cyclical motion, so I had not entered the just shuffle ‘til it’s over zone, but I was starting to feel my body.
The last two and half miles were nothing more than a steady up-road incline. Just as I was reminding myself that I have felt bodily actions more intense than this, for much longer than this (giving birth, for example), I caught my running partner’s gaze.
What are you smiling about? she asked, sporting a grin of her own.
Oh good, I thought. I’m still smiling. I didn’t want to Negative Nancy the experience, but I hoped if I went ahead and said it out loud, the power of the impending hip nag would lighten.
My hips hurt, I admitted, imagining the relief they would feel if I could stop and do one giant high school cheerleader sized herkie, they would then crack and give way to a swift leg turnover. I vowed to incorporate a stretching regimen into my daily life.
My soreness admission didn’t seem to drag anyone down. I had another Gu Chomp at the last water station, in complete disbelief that we were nearly finished. I kept glancing at my Garmin, certain I was running in the 12 minute mile zone. But I wasn’t. At my slowest moment, I hovered at 10.
The finish line was in view, and according to my watch I was not only going to come in under my 2:15 goal, I was going to finish with a PR. I still had a little steam left in me, so I charged forward. A vague sense of nausea came over me, but I kept chugging along.
Then I saw my cheerleaders. Mark had managed to reload the troops into the car at 9.5 miles, drive over to the end of the race, and meet me at the finish. Just the last second boost I needed to propel me happily over the finish line.
A very shivery Stella admired my medal that had been placed around my neck.
You winned the race! she boasted.
Baby Forest gave me his best I Heart My Mommy grin. And Heath gave me a hearty high five.
Nice race, mom, he complimented, while looking past me to the baby pool loaded with blue and red and purple energy drinks. Now can I have a Powerade?
It is good to be back.
Sunday, March 11, 2012
Big needs were met, but the little things felt weighty. Tiny little gnats slapping me upside the head. Multiple emails sat in the Draft Box. Never-ending loads of laundry half-folded, the other half staring at me from the sofa, and another load already lining up in front of the washer. Grocery bags on the floor that seemed to take an extraordinarily long time to unload because someone had a need more pressing than getting the Kale in the fridge in a timely manner, like Heath running into the house to inform me that Stella was pooping in the backyard. For the second time this week. Apparently she is too busy to stop doing whatever she is doing to come inside and take care of such business.
And after at least six weeks of solid sleeping through the night, Baby Forest decided to shake things up a bit and wake up at two. And four. And six. Just when I was starting to think I might be catching up from months of bleary-eyed, zombie-like living, here we are again.
By Thursday, just when I was quite certain I would not be able to take another sleep deprived day, I discovered the ACC basketball tournament was on. It’s March? How the heck did this happen? Where have I been? Where am I? Who are all these kids?!
That same night, Heath and Stella were in the bath tub, not at all minding my pleas to keep the water in the tub. They kept reassuring me that it was all part of their pirate boat crashing game. I kept reassuring them that they would be taking separate baths for the rest of their childhood if they continued.
Baby Forest kicked about in his baby bath tub, making just as big of a water fall mess as his older siblings. I took the opportunity to ask him if he remembered that I had a race to run on Saturday and would it be too terribly inconvenient to not get up all night long for the next night or two. He gave me a bright-eyed wide, gummy grin, completely evading my question.
But that’s when I saw it. The swollen spot on his bottom gum, surrounding the slightest hint of white tooth ridges. Baby Forest’s first tooth had broken through!
That’s why you’ve been so wakeful, I said, reaching a finger into his mouth. He latched on with his right hand just as I rubbed the edgy enamel. He held onto my finger and gave it gentle nibbles, while furiously kicking his feet in the water.
And then I got smacked in the back of the head by a wayward Pirate rubber ducky.
I wonder what this next week will bring.
Thursday, March 1, 2012
I never quit running entirely while I was pregnant. Of course, I wasn’t Amber Miller the woman who ran the Chicago Marathon at 39 weeks pregnant, then gave birth to her second child several hours later, but I exercised with great regularity. I ran the morning Forest was born. On a treadmill. For thirty minutes. And calling it running may be a stretch. Trotting is a more accurate description, and I don’t know that I actually made it a mile in that thirty minutes. My point is (before I start to feel ridiculously sorry for myself) I exercised my entire pregnancy and that helped tremendously when it came to hitting the road after the baby was born. But let’s face it, there’s a distinct period of transition that occurs from trotting with an 8 pounder in your belly to not having that baby in your belly anymore.
Two weeks after Forest was born, I was managing a two mile run at an almost non-wincing, lumbering twenty minute mile pace, quite certain I was never going to be able to run again without peeing all over myself. At four weeks I was able to push a baby and one preschooler in a jogging stroller with minimal need to borrow one of Forest’s diapers, but mid-hill I would question whether or not I needed to go back and pick up my uterus. I was reminded at my 6 week OB visit to do those Kegels, Lady! (I’m doing some right now as I type.) At eight weeks I was clipping along at my original twelve minute mile zone and breezily taking care of 4 miles. Twelve weeks rushed by and I found myself in the ten-minute mile pace territory I had rarely dared to cross. And at 16 weeks I realized that running a half marathon in March didn’t seem too terribly lofty.
But many days the fatigue of parenting three small children, breastfeeding a baby, laundry, grocery shopping, cooking, taking kids to preschool/dance/flag football/playdates, volunteering at their school, writing, checking in with friends and family, brushing my teeth, blah, blah, blah, blah…well, my running can feel like I’m pushing all three kids in a rickshaw-sized triple jogger, legs spinning furiously in place, getting nowhere, slowly, and I think I must be out of my mind for even considering a half marathon.
After I dropped Heath off at preschool today, I headed home with Stella and Forest, already semi-dressed for a run, double jogger sitting out in front of the house accepting no excuses for not being used, and feeling unenthusiastic about putting my body into motion. I quickly found some excuses. Forest fell asleep in the car and I didn’t want to wake him. Stella wanted to watch Miss Sunny’s Spider Patch Friends and I didn’t want to wake the whining beast inside her. Emails needed to be answered. Calls needed to be made. Laundry needed to be started. Guilt hovered above me. And then it was ten and despite having had breakfast and six snacks, Stella was asking for lunch. Forest was awake and in need of a scenery-change as well. So we loaded up the jogging stroller and headed out with a mild case of running depression that I hoped would be cured by a 4-miler.
Five houses deep into the run, I glanced to the left at the house of my running partner/neighbor, hoping she would be outside with her son. You know, to stop and chat and never start this run back up again and maybe try again tomorrow. But she wasn’t there, so I plodded along, handing cracker bowls to Stella and listening to Forest sing to the trees overhead.
Just before I rounded the corner out of our neighborhood, two lady runners crossed the street in front of me. I stopped the jogger to let them by, certain my slow pace and buggy pushing was not going to match their steady clip. They looked back at us and said, actually, you may be faster than we are, then their ponytails bounced off. At that very moment I found myself wrestling the jogger through an overgrown bush and was acutely aware that I was not donning cantaloupe colored tech tees and azure arm warmers. No. I was wearing a Gym Teacher Gray Sweatshirt and my husband’s running shorts. I was not a running fashion speed demon force to be reckoned with.
It’s not that I detected the slightest bit of sarcasm in their voice. I didn’t. As a matter of fact, I kind of got the impression they were being courteous and aware of the fact that we were on a major road with little to no room for passing, and the mom with a terrible case of bedhead, two kids, and a dismal running attitude might need to be up front. But when they started to pull away from me, and I was finally able to dislodge the stroller’s front wheel from an unruly shrub, I took the opportunity and drive to do a little speed work.
I’ve always heard the best way to improve your pace is to run with faster people. So that’s what I set out to do. I was going to catch those faster-than-me ladies. My legs propelled themselves as if independent from my body. Then I had to slow down for another street curb hedge, instructing Stella to keep her limbs inside the jogger, mommy doesn’t have time to stop. I tried to hold my body erect, as opposed to lying down on the stroller’s handlebars to take a running nap like I usually do. Stella’s motivational chants ranged from you gotta catch those lady runners to you’re never gonna catch those lady runners. I attempted to remove the burdensome thick cotton top layer without actually stopping. The stroller veered left, while I extracted my right arm.
Lady runners are getting away, Stella warned.
I stopped undressing, grabbed the steering wheel with both hands, and plowed forward, one arm of my sweatshirt wrapped around my neck, flapping in the breeze behind me. And then I heard the chimey ding-a-ling of my mile marker Garmin. 9:02 mile pace; a personal best.
At some point I lost sight of my lady running partners. Maybe I passed them while I was yanking my sweatshirt over my head. But I think Stella was right. I was never gonna catch those lady runners. I settled back into a luxurious 10 minute mile, then 11, then back to 10, all the while shaking off those runner’s blues.
It worked. I might even go so far as to say that I’m getting excited about my upcoming 13.1. And now I have a race plan: find a couple of ladies who run faster than I do and chase them like a maniac.
Tuesday, February 21, 2012
It’s President’s Day.
According to Heath, my five year old, President’s Day is his favorite holiday. He hates (his word, not mine) Valentine’s Day, because it’s for the girls. Stella, my three old, hates Boweltimes’ Day (her word, but I think I’m going to make this one mine), because, well, Heath hates it. New Year’s Eve is a little scary due to the late-night fireworks. Christmas Day is an anticipatory, sensory overload destined to leave a five year old in a puddle of tears and snowman wrapping paper wreckage loudly requesting that we not have Christmas next year. And Heath took issue with the pilgrims when he dared to wonder, where did all the Indians go?
Apparently President’s Day is benign enough to celebrate. When I told the kids they would not have school on Monday, Heath suggested they spend the night at my parent’s house Sunday night and have a President’s Day party on Monday. I wasn’t sure what a President’s Day party was going to look like. Do you decorate with balloons? Eat marble cake shaped like the Oval Office? Take turns discussing your favorite and least favorite President and why? Play a game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey (and Elephant, Whig, Boston Tea…)? Then it occurred to me that what we were really talking about was a nearly kid-free night for my husband and me. I could leave the party details in the capable and more than willing hands of the grandparents.
So what on earth did we do with our President’s Eve? We ate take-out Thai in an oh, so quiet house. Baby Forest sat in his high chair and enjoyed rice cereal and uninterrupted cooing and oohing and ahhing from both mom and dad. Baby was asleep by 7:30. Ice cream was consumed in bed while we watched something on TV, but I can’t remember what it was, and I was asleep by 9:05.
It’s 8:12 on President’s Day morning. Baby Forest is beside me on the bed kicking his feet around and making baby dinosaur noises. I should probably start baking 44 cupcakes, iced to look like each President. Washington will be easy, but I’m struggling to recall what #13 Millard Fillmore looks like.