Monday, October 12, 2015

What I Did On My Fall Break

I have one day.  Not even one day. I have five hours of child-free time.  Having all children in school, while my school is closed is like a blood moon phase in this house. They are rare and I pine for them like a wild animal.

How on earth did I spend my time?

I did two YouTube guided meditations.  I ran four miles. I passed not one, but two baby joggers and took note that I am not in that group anymore.  (Phew.) I did three quarters of a load of laundry. Ate an almond butter sandwich.  Made two phone calls.  Scheduled three well-visit appointments. Drank three cups of coffee. Took a shower. Shaved both legs; above the knee even. And  I had numerous complete thoughts. It was so quiet I could hear the dog breathing.

And it is now 12:32.  My four year old has to be picked up in 28 minutes.

The panic is setting in. You have 27 minutes left of your Fall Break.  That’s it. Did you do everything you needed to do? Did you do too much? Not enough? You won’t have these five hours again until early December. What were you thinking with the laundry?!  You should’ve finished it.  It’s never going to get folded. It will sit on that chair in the living room for days. Shaving, Andrea? Really? Two meditations? Who do you think you are, Buddha? You could've cleaned Stella’s room.  Her room…how does a seven year old girl play that hard to make her room that crazily cluttered? There’s no floor in there anymore. You were going to write today, and this manic chatter does not count. But no…you sat on the back porch with that third of coffee. Dear God, those papers are never going to grade themselves.  You just keep moving them around the house.  You could’ve graded while you drank the coffee on the porch.  It’s 12:42! You have to get in the carpool line soon or they will charge one dollar for every minute you’re late.  And you can't be late, because you haven't done anything. Tomorrow two kids will be gone, but HE will be home with you.  Your dear, sweet four year old who can melt your heart with his I Wuv Yous, but you know. You know whatever you got cleaned will never survive the afternoon.  And there’s no more break for you. 

It is OVER.

That second YouTube meditation was totally worth it.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Back to School

I can’t remember my blog password.  That has been my excuse for not writing for quite some time.  Never mind the fact that ideas and subjects and thoughts have been racing through my head, dying to come out.  I can’t remember my blog password. Oh well.
And when it’s been so long since the last entry, I have struggled with how on earth can I pack all that in to a unified paragraph or two.  I can’t. So I’ll just do what the professionals suggest.  Just start.  Somewhere.  Anywhere. Just go.

I’ve been teaching a class at a university. It’s my first time at a giant four-year public school.  The campus is constantly buzzing with activity. (Unless it’s raining.) Fraternity pledging. Sorority bake sales. Weekend by The Hills blaring from some microscopic iPod (boom boxes are long gone). Existentialism –Paris in the Spring sign-ups. Skaters. Cyclists. I even saw a kid on a unicycle. And this probably goes without mentioning, but everyone, everyone is looking at their phone.

I suppose it should be exciting to be in an objective place of observation.  After all, I am not a student.  I am not a full of wonder Freshman.  I am not a twenty year old who has settled into life on a college campus. I am a 42 year old mother of three who has a couple of decades between herself and her own four-year university experience.  

But it’s a strange phenomenon that is happening this semester, every time I walk across campus to my classroom. At first, I even dared to consider that what I was flooded with was a James Taylor-esque sweet nostalgia for my collegiate days of yore.  But I know.  Even when I was at my own giant four-year public school I was never any of those things.  Not really. Sweet, I do not recollect. It’s a sensation I have never been able to name. Certainly couldn’t name it as a twenty year old.  Lonely would imply that it was almost fixable; that I just needed friends around me.  Melancholy is far too The Smiths and nearly romantic.  Empty makes it sound I felt nothing at all during those days.  But I felt a lot.  I was not numb.

I still can’t name it.  

I’ve even tried to ignore the feeling over the last month or so.  Blamed it on being busy.  Pegged it for being overwhelmed by teaching, and three kids, and a new dog, and wanting to sleep, and wanting to breathe for just a second before I get asked one more question, or get slammed by one more demand outside of myself.  Those discomforts are very real, but that’s not it.  That’s not the cloud that is hovering over me; haunting me. 

It’s an ache.  It’s an ache that I feel for that girl.  That twenty year old girl who hurt so much from something that had no name.  

And it comes in flashes.  

Winter.  Junior year. It was exam week and you’re sick.  Not with the flu or strep or even a bad, bad cold.  It’s the kind of sick that happens when you haven’t slept in a while.  Like really slept.  Skunk beer comatose doesn’t count. It’s the kind of sick that happens when you’ve smoked too much and it’s been cold and raining and you refuse to take the bus that stops outside your apartment and dumps you off at campus.  You can’t get on that bus because you’re afraid. Of what? The bus might move before you sit down and you’ll fall down.  You might forget where to get off the bus and you will be on the bus for the rest of your life, not knowing when or how to get off. You don’t ever take that bus.  So you walk. Two miles to campus.  And now you’re there.  And it’s raining.  And it’s cold.  And you’re sick.  And you have one more exam.  For which class? Not really sure.  But you can’t muster the energy to walk that two miles back home. In the rain and the cold.  And you do not take that bus.  So you walk to the Student Rec Center and you find the energy to climb onto the Stairmaster beside the other girls that are there every day.  Just like you.  But you figure they are not at all like you.  They probably go to class.  They probably laugh.  They probably don’t smoke a pack a day. And they definitely don’t drink a case of beer that they purchased from the gas station beside their apartment complex. They probably eat.  And like it. You feel better while you’re on the Stairmaster. The mix tape your brother made is perfect for the Holidays and exam time.  Snoop Dogg’s Gin and Juice blends into Steely Dan’s Don’t Take Me Alive giving way to Run-D.M.C.’s Christmas in Hollis is the perfect precursor to Sting’s Gabriel’s Message. You get off the Stairmaster and you feel sick again.  It’s raining harder and the two mile walk back home seems beyond dreadful.  And you’re pretty sure you have a fever now.  You find yourself in a coffee shop.  But not really a coffee shop.  Not like a Starbucks because there wasn’t a Starbucks then.  You don’t remember the name of the place, but you do know it’s beside the record store.  You’re in the coffee shop by yourself and acutely aware that you are by yourself.  You get a hot cranberry juice and try to do the calorie math.  Stairmaster calories burned minus cranberry juice. But you have a fever and you are sick and you almost don’t care. You think you study for a while, but really you fell asleep. It’s safe to assume that you walked back home. In the cold and rain. 

Your grades were really good that semester.  For the last time.

I have been feeling, and I have been beating it off.  Those flashes.  Those aches.  

Back on campus. I have felt like her again.

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?

****ing horrible.

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?

Perfectly normal.

How am I with transitions?

****ing horrible. My baby is going to Kindergarten.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Spring Break

This time of year has always done something to me.

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
Spring Break.

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.

I am a stay at home mom and I could really use a break right about now.

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.

How Does Your Garden Grow?

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

Alston and Bird Corporate Cup Half Marathon, March 10, 2012: Race Report

With over 2300 runners participating in the Alston and Bird Corporate Cup 5K and Half Marathon, the first race of the Spring running season, early morning in downtown Charlotte was buzzing with pre-race energy. Bright a.m. sun with only the slightest chill to the air provided excellent race conditions. The large crowd was herded like cattle across the start line, then the zig and zag of maneuvering my way to a comfortable place in the race began. At an 8:48 per mile pace, I ran the fastest 5K I’ve ever run in my life.

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.

Mile 8

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.

Mile 10

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.

Mile 11

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.

Mile 12

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

A Week In the Life

My motherhood rhythm has been off this week. I’ve had to break it down into smaller victories so as to not completely lose what is left of my mind. No one starved. No one remained dirty.

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.

Where have the last six months gone? I wondered aloud, taking a long, deep breath, relishing the tender moment between mom and baby. It’s going too, too fast, I sighed.

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.


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