Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Complicated as Pie

Nathan and I made these lemon meringue pies a couple of days ago. It was a boring day in the middle of a boring week, in the middle of a boring month. Nathan wanted to make lemon meringue pies because Amelia Bedelia made lemon meringue pies in his library book.

The pies were, if I do say so myself, delicious. I made 3 total, but by the time I took this picture I had already given one away to my friend, whose blog (side note) I want to plug right now. If you like scrapbooking, click on that link.

Anyway, in typical Shannon fashion, a pie cannot just be a pie. A pie had me thinking about a couple of my latest issues.

Issue 1: Why am I eating pie?
Remember how I said I was doing Weight Watchers? Yeah, umm. I fell off the wagon and I can't quite climb back on. At this point, I'm just figuring I'll restart some form of healthy eating/exercising after Labor Day, when we're back in a routine. Right now there's no structure in our lives in the form of school or activities for Nathan, and the gym has drained the pool/closed the group exercise studio for its annual "spiff up" week. So I just feel like there is no routine, and I'm just stringing together a bunch of days, and I think the point of this paragraph was Weight Watchers, but now I'm off on a tangent. The point is, no schedule, no dieting, no routine. Which brings me to Issue 2 ...

Issue 2: Why don't I have better things to do with my time than make 3 pies in the middle of a random Monday?
Now, let me just state that the pie-making was a great bonding time with Nathan. (If you can call me standing over a hot stove while yelling at Nathan to stop sticking his hands in flour "bonding time.") If I was one of those braggy moms, I might even go so far as to say that baking provides a sort of rudimentary math lesson. And at the very least, he learned how to crack an egg (well, toddler-style), so maybe he won't grow up to be as clueless in the kitchen as his, cough, father. I know my mother-in-law tried with Bill. Just the other day we came across a photo of little Bill in the kitchen making cookies. And all the other men in his family cook. It's just that young Bill developed an interest in other things, like reading and board games. Because those are really useful when we're starving. How come for a man, cooking can just be an "interest"? What if I wasn't interested in cooking? Who would make dinner for our family? Ooh, feminist tangent.

Anyway, what was I saying before I painted myself as a martyr and implied that we have no take-out restaurants in the area?

Ahh, yes, why don't I have anything better to do than make pies in the middle of the day on a Monday?

Now, let me say that pie-making is actually very important. Aside from the afore-mentioned benefit of mother-son bonding, I think pie makes people very happy. I gave the pies away to two friends, and we kept one for ourselves. Now, assuming a pie can be cut into 8 slices, that means a total of 24 people could potentially get some enjoyment out of my pies. (See, there goes that math lesson again.) I suspect it was more like 6 people, but that just means those people get 4 doses of happiness, right? So, see, pies are very useful, because the pursuit of happiness is one of the most important pursuits there is. Just ask Will Smith. Or, you know, the Declaration of Independence.

But, in our society, you are not useful if you make people happy. You are not useful if you keep a child alive for another day. You are useful if you make money.

I have had this sense lately that I need to make money. I have not been paid anything, not one cent, since October of 2008. I wasn't even on jury duty, for crying out loud.

But, what to do? I know I don't want to go back to full-time work downtown. That was one end of an extreme on a continuum, the other extreme being what I'm doing now for work, which is nothing. How much would I love to cobble together one of those new hybrid flexible careers that can be defined by acronyms, like WAHM or PT WOHM?

But, what to do? I could try my hand at freelance editing, but I'm finding the breaking-in process daunting. (I'm not so much a "strike out on my own" type. If there's not a clear-cut application process, I tend to give up.) And is that what I want to do?

Short answer: no. I want to be a flower-arranger. And if attempting to find freelance work in a field where you have experience is daunting, imagine doing it in a field where you have no experience. Like, "Here's my resume. As you can see I have been an elementary teacher and a textbook editor. I'm very qualified to arrange flowers."

And anyway, the economy is bad, and there aren't any flower-arranging jobs. Though let me say that I'm thankful that this minor setback to my career-of-fancy is the worst problem I have in this economy.

I also like to write ... but. You know, you can't just go and put in your application at the writing factory. It takes years and years of rejection and tenacity before you even eke out an inkling of a living as a writer.

And then I just get overwhelmed with all the possibilities. I decided to simplify this decision and ask my kid:

Nathan, you know how Daddy's job is to teach law school? What should Mommy do for a job?

But then, who will watch me? I don't think you should have a job.

Somehow this irrational 3-year-old seemed to hit the nail right on the head. Or at least, one of the nails. How will we handle childcare if I work?

I'm very pro-daycare, but I'm anti- putting Nathan back in full-time daycare because it gutted me emotionally. On the other hand, it makes no sense for me to have basically removed myself from productive society for the sake of one human being. But somebody has to watch him. I can't just leave him to fend for himself because I'm being unproductive.

I realize I'm putting the cart before the horse here. I should maybe secure employment before I figure out childcare. It's just that, at this point, daycare is something to consider, and that just adds a whole other wrinkle to the already daunting question about what to do in the future. And it's not really so much a question of who would watch him, as it is a question of whether or not it's worth it for somebody to watch him. The question of whether it's worth it financially is the most
concrete manifestation of this issue, but there's also sort of a more nebulous question of "Is it worth my time and energy to juggle all this stuff, just in the name of being a productive member of society who has it all?"

Now, of course I'm not the only mother who asks these questions. I can practically hear every mother in America asking these questions, right this very minute. I'm aware that, by virtue of socio-economic status and the freedoms offered to modern women, I am lucky enough to have the luxury of choice in these matters.

But the uncertainty of it all is so daunting. And so instead I make pies.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Whoa, lighten up

In case you didn't see, I wrote a nice, heavy blog post below this one. Heavy, heavy, heavy. So heavy. You might need a dolly to move it.

So, it's time for some lighter, update-y miscellany.

First off, a book update. I joined the adult summer reading club at the library. It lasted from June 10 to July 30, which was about 7 weeks. I read 8 books, which I consider a success. Unfortunately, not a single one of those books translated into winning raffle ticket for the summer reading club.

After the club was over, I continued on with my attempt to read 52 books in 2010. I figured out that I have to have completed 34 books by the end of August if I want to keep up the pace to finish 52 by the end of the year. I have fallen behind. But the thing is, do I want to treat every book like it's just something to be marked off on a chart? Shouldn't I focus more on enjoying the books? I mean, the days of required reading for me are over.

Anyway, these are the books I read this summer:

1. Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok: I got this for free as part of the one-and-only book club I participated in for the now-defunct Chicago Moms Blog. It was really good. It's the story of a girl who emigrates from Hong Kong with her mom, and they work in a sweatshop.

2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson: I read this because it's the "it" book everyone's reading. While I appreciated the author's story-crafting skills, this is just not my genre.

3. Family Ties by Danielle Steel: This was my first-ever Danielle Steel novel, and I figured as an American woman I had to read at least one. Let me say, I was so pleasantly surprised. The writing wasn't fabulous--I mean, she does have to churn out approximately 17 books a year--but I liked the story.

4. Commencement by J. Courtney Sullivan: Another pleasant surprise. The story is light: four girls meet their freshman year at a women's college, and then remain friends through the struggles of early adulthood. What I liked about this story was that the characters could easily have been sort of stereotypical stock characters, but the author made them much more multi-dimensional.

5. My Name is Memory by Ann Brasheres: This book by the author of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series seemed like a fun summer read along the lines of Twilight and other sort of fantasy-grounded-in-reality books. But, somehow, it didn't work for me.

6. Noah's Compass by Anne Tyler: Anne is always good for a light-but-not-too-light read with interesting characters. I liked this story and read it quickly, although I must say that those interesting characters were, for the most part, also very annoying characters. And the book is more of a "slice of life" than an actual story with a climax and resolution.

7. A Soft Place to Land by Susan Rebecca White: Stupid, stupid story about the relationship between two sisters after their parents die in a plane crash. (Oh and BTW, ratio of parents dying in plane crashes in books to ratio of parents dying in plane crashes in real life: 100 to 1. The Danielle Steel book also featured parents dying in a plane crash.)

8. The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton: This is the story of some moms in the 60s who form a writing group. I liked learning about the life of mothers in the 60s (so hot right now! Mad Men! The Help!) as well as the sort of roots of mom blogs.

9. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford: A great historical fiction book centered around the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII.

10. The Icing on the Cupcake by Jennifer Ross: OMG bad. So bad. I thought it would be a light read that would allow me to live vicariously through the main character, who experiences a personal setback and then goes on to realize her dream of opening her own cupcake store. But the story was so ridiculous. Stupid, contrived stuff like the kind of thing you see in soap operas, like pathetic revenge plots and and a woman who gets pregnant during an extra-marital affair and can't pass it off as her husband's because everyone knows he was rendered sterile in an auto accident years ago. Yeah.

11. Sh*t My Dad Says by Justin Halpern: What can I say? Hilarious.

12. This Must Be the Place by Kate Racculia: I wanted to like this book more. The writing was good and the characters were interesting. But, there was only one major, suspenseful Super Big Reveal that they kept stringing you along with, and it was so easy to figure out so early on. Plus this book suffered from Too Much Description. I hate TMD.

13. Joy in the Morning by Betty Smith: This book, by the author of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, was an interesting look into the everyday lives of people in the 1920s.

Okay, that's it. I'm on Book #14, but I'm not going to count it because I have 100 pages left. Anyway, 13 books in approximately 10 weeks. That's good, right? That just goes to show you what you can accomplish when you have one occasionally independent child and zero jobs.

In the interests of accuracy, I must say that I also started 4 books that I didn't like enough to finish. I like to keep track of these things.

Now, movie-wise, I was a lot less accomplished. I was too busy trying to keep up with stupid book-reading goals. Anyway, I saw two movies in the theater: Toy Story 3 (cute) and The Kids are Alright (thought-provoking). I saw Valentine's Day (predictable), The Hangover (hilarious), and Shutter Island (creepy as hell) on DVD.

Not, let's not suggest I was so high-brow that all I did was read. I watched a lot of TV. Like, crap TV such as I Didn't Know I was Pregnant. And good TV, like Mad Men. And approximately 3 viewings of each episode of Seinfeld ever aired. Because as fun as new TV can be (I thought I had to take a giant crap, but it was really a baby!), nothing will ever top Seinfeld.

Other bits of news:
  • I got a new iPod. It's this one.
  • Damn, I can't think of a second one.
And yesterday we went to two birthday parties. I didn't take pictures. But the second one was at the splash pad. My kid always refuses to get in the splash pad. Here's a picture from two years ago of him hating the splash pad when he was 18 months old:

He doesn't hate all splash pads. Just, you know, the one that is closest to us and free.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Into each life a little rain must fall

Well, it has been rather rainy this summer, but I'm actually talking about rain in the figurative sense, as our good friend Henry Wadsworth Longfellow meant it in the above quote.

Now, obviously, this quote means that there will be sad times in everyone's life. (I know you knew that. I wasn't trying to underestimate your intelligence. That explanation was just a lead-in to this paragraph.) So, yes, there is sadness in everyone's life. There are rainy days. But there are, of course, sunny days as well.

But what I didn't realize until now is that there are days when you can be happy and sad simultaneously. What I mean is, it's okay to have a little bit of sadness that is always present in your life.

Let me explain. It's not as though I'm saying I go through life with some persistent depressive funk following me around, like those personal rain clouds they used to have in some old antidepressant commercial. I'm actually more-or-less happy most of the time. What I'm saying is, there can be problems in life that make you sad, but you don't have to fix them so you'll be happy. You have to become comfortable with the presence of some things in your life that make you sad.

Perhaps I should give a specific example. My great sadness in life is that I know it would be bad for me to have another kid. I always pictured myself having two kids, and so to say that a second child might never be created is to say that the second child I always imagined having has, effectively, died. I know it makes no sense. But apparently that's what happens. And I thought I'd have a daughter. She's dead, too. And yeah, I would NEVER trade Nathan for any daughter in the whole world, but still, she's dead.

Sad yet?

Anyway, I think as humans we have this tendency to want to banish anything that makes us feel the least bit sad. I think this is especially true for people with depression issues, because every little sad situation that happens, it's all ohmygosh am I depressed again? Must. Get. Rid. Of. All. Sadness. There is sad and there is happy, and the only way you can be happy is to erase all the sad.

Except, the options for erasing my sad situation RE: not having another kid are (1) to have another kid, or (2) to just get over it. As previously mentioned, Item (1) is a bad idea. Babies and my general body chemistry do not mesh well. But Item (2) is also not possible. You can't just get over it. We're talking about creating people here. It's the most basic, primal, biological drive we have, even though of course the whole "perpetuation of the species" campaign is totally unnecessary these days. (I mean, yeah, somebody has to do it. But other people have kind of taken over that task for me. For crying out loud, the Duggars alone give at least 20 of us a free pass to stop procreating.)

So, if there are no logical ways to erase the sadness, I must learn to live with it.

Learn to live with it. With sadness.

And I think it's only natural to wonder, when will it all be okay?

But of course, it's okay now. It's okay if I have this sad little issue in my life. It's okay if it makes me uncomfortable when I think about it, every single day of my life. It does not mean I have to find a way to banish it. It's an issue, for sure. It's my issue. And it's something I will live with.

So, I think, happiness does not mean the total absence of sadness. Happiness means the acceptance of sadness. Italic

Monday, August 16, 2010


Nathan on a raft of noodles, July 2010

Last week Nathan watched a library DVD of Wow, Wow Wubzy approximately 75 times. While I don't entirely understand the appeal of an ambiguous animal and his/her friends repeatedly saying "wow, wow," something good did come out of this particular DVD. On one episode, Wubzy and friends went to the beach, which led Nathan to repeatedly beg me to go to the beach every single day.

Well, twist my arm.

We went last Friday. We only had about two hours to go before Nathan had to get back for his toddler enrichment activity du jour, and I almost think the limited time contributed to making this one of the most magical days at the beach we have ever had.

We got there at 10, which at California beaches would mean that the beach would already be crowded and the parking lots would have filled up hours earlier. But that's with the overly-ambitious, wheatgrass shake-drinking Californians. Here in the Midwest, people apparently approach beach trips at a more leisurely pace, which means that when we got there at 10, we got parking in the front row of the lot and only had to share the beach with a couple of other groups. It was so peaceful. By the time we left around noon, the beach had filled and boats had arrived, making the beach quite festive, which was actually fun too.

Anyway, we brought along a raft I purchased at the grocery store about a month ago. I just love to float on a raft, I tell you. Now, let me say that when you're alone with a toddler, there is not a lot of leisurely floating time, so you have to appreciate what little you get.

But no matter how much time you get, there is always that moment when you're floating and you can just feel all the energy draining out of you. You realize you are no longer in control. The water is in control. You have to just go with the flow, as it were.

You might as well just check all that pointless, nervous energy at the door (shore?) , because it doesn't do you any good while you're on a raft. Your only job is to just stare up at the gorgeous blue sky with the puffy white clouds and try to think of ways that you can hold onto this moment when you're shoveling four inches of snow off your driveway in January.

I'm hesitant to go all "this is a metaphor for life" on you, but I have been trying to think of ways that I can be a little more floaty in my everyday life. You know, like ways I can just let it go and give trying to control everything? And to accept that worrying about everything isn't going to do any good?

I think people with strong religious faiths have an easier time giving up control. My brother, the priest, talks about being a sheep in Christ's flock, and how the sheep don't need to be in control, because the shepherd is in control. I am not a good sheep.

I worry about everything. Nathan's preschool. My weight. Will we ever have another baby? Do I have a good marriage? Do I spoil my child? Is he being raised with an appropriate amount of stimulation, but not so much that he can't entertain himself? Do I do enough crafts with him? What about music? Is that other kid better than Nathan at talking/sleeping/behaving/swimming/identifying letters? Why is my basement so disorganized, and why does my yard have so many weeds? Why don't I go to the gym more? Why do I spend so much money? What if Nathan gets hit by a car/kidnapped/[insert horrible fate here]?

And so, when I get bogged down in my own thoughts, which usually happens about 2 minutes after I become conscious each day, I remind myself to just float. Point my raft in the right direction, then put my hands up and give up a little control. If I'm heading into a speedboat, I'll put my arms in the water and paddle. Because, in the immortal words of P!nk:

I'm not dead, just floating.