Sunday, August 26, 2012

Not So Nice Racks

It's like I actually have amnesia.

Every single weekend, when my mom comes home from her job in Oakland and we get a day together, we decide shopping sounds fun.
We'll just take 'em!
They'll be fine!
We'll bring snacks.

And every weekend this conversation means that we have completely wiped the previous weekend from memory.

We drive to the store happy.
The Mary Poppins soundtrack playing cheerfully in the background.
We find a great parking spot and give the kids a talk about how we behave in stores and promise that if they behave maybe, just maybe, we'll stop at the park afterwards.

We tell the girls to remember what we've said.

But WE forget.

We forget that Tessa will try on everything she sees that is remotely inappropriate and then parade it around while people stare and whisper. Giant underwear, Reading glasses, Orthopedic shoes. She isn't biased.

A couple of weeks ago it was a neon yellow sports bra over her clothes with the hanger still attached.
The hanger which then got tangled in her hair and practically took the Jaws of Life to remove.
I bet the guys in the security office rewound that tape over and over again.

Today it was a pair of size 9 rainbow leopard pattern G-strings at Target that she held up to her chest and asked if she could get "for swimming."

We forget that if Chloe is made to walk for more than 15 minutes she'll be crying that her legs hurt REAL BAD and begging for ibuprofen and a heat pack and to be carried and screaming out for someone to alert Child Protective Services because THIS IS ABUSE!

For Christmas that kid is getting a Hover-round.

We forget to bring wipes EVERY time and EVERY time Paige poops.
You can guarantee it's the kind that comes up the back of her clothes and we're left wetting down paper towels in some dirty ghetto bathroom while people look at us with pity because they are almost positive we must be homeless.

This bathroom will also almost surely be without a changing table, so this diaper change will take place on the sink or in the stroller or on one of our laps while one of us does a floating chair stance against the bathroom wall.
We won't have a change of clothes either.
You can almost bet on it.

All we'll have is a towel in the car and I am embarrassed to say how many times we've used it in the place of a blanket.

We once went to the country club for lunch that way.

We forget which diaper bag pocket we put the pacifier in, then the baby is crying because she's cold and half naked and were dumping out everything we own on the store floor to find it.

Holy cow!
THERE'S my lip gloss!

We forget that it is impossible to try on clothes when you're busy dragging kids from under someone else's dressing room stall and lecturing them on privacy, and stopping them from removing tags, and dragging them out by their ankles from underneath clothing racks as we remove straight pins from their mouths.

Is it HOT in here?!
Why am I SWEATING so much?!

"No, Tessa.

Put that back.

You can't take that out.

You have to buy it first.

Don't chew it! No! Take that out of your mouth! You don't know where that's been!"

Now an alarm is going off.

Is that US?
Did WE cause that?

And while we're spinning in circles and dumping stuff again and trying to figure out why the alarm is sounding, the girls have gotten into a slap fight over who gets to hold the empty hanger they found laying on the floor of the dressing room.

A drink spills.
We have to tell Customer Service.
The guy's bringing a mop.
From the look in his eyes, he doesn't get paid enough to deal with the likes of us.

Now I make them sit.
You here, and you HERE.

Don't smile,
don't talk,
don't breathe.

I realized today that I literally ALWAYS feel dizzy in a dressing room.
I thought it was claustrophobia,
but now I think it may be a form of
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

I try things on and then I later realize - I don't ever think I looked in the mirror.....

Was it cute?
Probably not.

Probably I just looked like a stray dog in a dress.

Wild, blood-shot eyes.
Hair all astray.
Odd smudges on my cheek.
Mysterious wet spot on my leg.

Probably I should just get yet ANOTHER pair of stretchy pants and yet ANOTHER solid tank.
Those are tried and true.

It's sad.

I know it might be shocking, but I actually DO have style.
But, alas, it takes two hands to put on a structured jacket and then how would I free Chloe's arm which is now stuck in the sunglass display?

Oh great. Now the baby's crying.
Maybe I'll mix her a bottle.
Can you hand me the formula?

So now, before I've even BOUGHT them they look like they're already mine.
Covered in crap.
Slightly damp.
Maybe I should really just break them in and gnaw a few holes in the front for good measure.

I'm pretty sure that with the look in my eyes and the fluffy white powder that is now all over the clothes, the department store workers are sure I've been doing lines of cocaine in the dressing room.

By now I'm probably feeding the baby a bottle in the dressing room in just my bra as I sit on the bench staring into the mirror at my own pleading expression.
UNDER this bench, Chloe and Tessa are playing house.
A house that, by the sound of it, is about to be visited by the police because of a domestic disturbance.

Now they're hungry and everyone is crying - INCLUDING me and my mom.
"What are we having for dinner?"
"When are we leaving?"
"I have to pee."
"She wiped a booger on me!"

She's done.
You can wait a minute to pee.
I just have a few more things to try on.

But it's really hard to try on clothes with two pair of critic eyes watching.
Eyes that see outfits and make comments like
"That looks like Alladin!"
"I like that clown shirt."

Of course, I don't know what I'M worried about.
These are the same kids that wear THESE outfits:

Who are THEY to judge?

Every week,
My mom and I spend an entire day like this.
Start off with good intentions, smiling, sipping coffee, plotting our route -
End up musing out loud about laying face down on the living room rug and just moaning for hours while someone rubs our necks and feet.

Every week.

And we usually never end up buying even ONE thing.

Maybe next week we should shop at GNC.
For Ginko.
Maybe that would help us remember.

I guess we're just optimists.
We think, "Maybe this week will be different."

Maybe this week Tessa won't eat the lotion.
Maybe this week Chloe won't cry so hard in the shoe store that her jaw almost dislocates.

Maybe we'll remember the stupid wipes.

If you're looking for me next weekend, I can almost guarantee I'll be shopping with my mom and the kids.

I'll be the one in the handicapped dressing room with three kids feeding a baby a bottle in just a bra.
If the door is locked, just listen for the sounds of hyperventilation.
That'll be me.

YOU, hopefully, will be the one with the Vallium.

And I won't care what you're wearing.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Few Words of Advice



I went to a baby shower today for one of my dearest friends.
She's getting ready to have her first baby.
She looked radiant and innocent as she sat in her round-back chair eating her brunchie foods and looking around the room.
There were a few times I felt that her look went from,
"This is so fun" to "Dear God, is this really happening?!" - but maybe that was just me projecting.

The party was lovely.
It was held at San Francisco's Metropolitan building.
There were no duckies or bunnies in sight.
This was city stuff.
Just the hike a quarter of a mile straight uphill from the car to the party told me it would be different.

Country Mouse goes to City Mouse's Shower.
A book by Kerri Green.

Everything was pretty standard shower affair, from the finger foods to the cupcake stand.

But then it happened.

The girl throwing the shower handed out cards for us to write down our sage words of advice.

The lady next to me casually asked if I had kids.

You know that moment in a super hero movie where the main character turns from average Joe into their alter ego, and you can watch the transformation start to take place just from the look in their eyes?
My eyes did that.
Like when a shark smells blood.

Oh, Lady.

I started writing so much on those index cards I probably should have left some cash for replacement pens.
I think I started to smell smoke.
I hope no tree huggers were witness to the amount of index cards I ended up taking for all the "advice" I ended up giving.

And I wanted to give more.

I pulled it together when I heard my friends gasp,
"Oh my gosh. She's starting another one."

I just couldn't help it.
I felt burdened to warn her.
To take her by the shoulders and look deep into her eyes and really EXPLAIN.

Run quickly.
Grab as much as you can in three minutes and RUN.

I'm just kidding.


I did tell her about Mylicon.
Arguably the most brilliant pharmaceutical invention of our century.
That stuff is magic.
It really didn't matter when or why my kids were screaming, Or if it had anything even to DO with gas.
.03 mls of that stuff and they were smiling and sleeping and my hair magically stopped falling out and my jugular veins stopped pulsing as tiny song birds toyed with my hair ribbons.

I told her to remember to be a parent first and friend second.
I mostly told her this so I'd be able to tolerate being around her and bouncing baby boy later on.
I see some kids that rule their roosts and I really have strong, non-Christian urges that involve duct tape and deep trenches.

If you point that caterpillar sized finger in my face and scream "No" at me one more time I will most likely snap it off like a Cheeto and put it in my pocket to later turn into a charm.
TOTALLY the Boss of You.

There was so much I wanted to say.....

*Think about what you name him.*

My brother and sister in law,
had they ever had a girl,
Were planning on naming her Kaya.
Beautiful name.
If your last name is not King.
I pointed out that she would be "Kayaking" and they both said,
"Oh...I don't think people will really pick up on that."

Clearly they have never met any eighth graders.

*Please. PLEASE bring tissues with you places.*

No one wants to see a kid with snot down to their lip.
You will wonder where all your friends went and your child will grow up to be one of those weird people that talk to puppets if you don't.

*Stop the insanity of the orthopedic looking character Velcro shoes.*

My kids love them, too.
I still will never buy them.
My kids would love cans of frosting and marshmallows for breakfast, but that's just wrong so I say no.


Dora light up shoes from Payless?
Jab me in the eyes.

*Stop pushing them in a stroller by the time they are three.*
Seriously now.
And we wonder why so many twenty-something's are so slow to leave the nest now a days.
They're being strolled until seven and breast fed till five.

In some countries seven is old enough to get a job.
It's DEFINITELY old enough to walk.
Uncover them from their fuzzy Looney Toons blanket you bought at the fair and let them walk.
Their muscles are atrophying.
And while you're at it, bottles are not for juice. Unless you just don't like teeth.

*Learn to get ready and eat breakfast all in under 10 minutes.*

If you have to eat soggy toast in the shower, so be it.
You have places to be and you still have to pack the diaper bag.
It may even be best to swallow food whole. Not unlike a python.

*Always bring a change of clothes.*
For you AND the baby.
The amount of things that can come out of those little creatures is astounding.
It's amazing how they can actually throw up more than they've even eaten.
It's like a baby version of the loaves and fish story from the Bible.

*Tell any crunchy granola mom trying to make you feel guilty for X,Y, or Z to BUZZ OFF.*
How's that for a bee themed shower?
There will be times you will not care if an item is made STRICTLY of BPAs and lead paint as long as you can shove it in their mouth and make them be quiet for
Five. Freaking. Seconds.

*Never attempt calling a voice-activated phone system if your children are anywhere in a half mile radius.*
They know.
They sense it.
By the time you're saying your first, "SPEAK WITH A REPRESENTATIVE" they will be there with their tiny mouths a half inch from the mouth piece asking for snacks or crayons or help wiping.
From there on out you can kiss your phone bill paying life goodbye as you pull out your own eyelashes more and more with every,
"Sorry, I could not understand your request. Did you say you'd like to pay triple your bill?"
I am almost completely positive that my current blood pressure issues stem vastly from this very scenario.

I could go on for days.
Had I not shown great restraint, I could have burned through 20 of those puppies.

But the best advice I did give was to
laugh and play and blow raspberries because it goes by SO FAST.
And to just relax.

For real.

You don't have to be perfect.
Just look at me.
I was entrusted with FOUR of them and I hardly ever step out of my yoga pants these days.
Who cares if they don't read Chinese by three?
Sure. They'll go far,
but when they get to where they're going, the only thing there to greet them will be the sound of crickets chirping.
Frankly, those kids are kind of scary anyway, and probably won't have a ton of friends.

It's OK to turn on a DVD for them sometimes.
You're not draining their brain cells.
Sometimes you're taking a moment to replenish your own supply.
Read, TOO, but a little Elmo never killed anyone.
Caillou might have, but that's another blog.

Some parents put too much pressure on themselves.

I met a mom of twins this weekend who practically Lept into my arms and tongue kissed me when I told her I was all for getting your kids on YOUR schedule and not at all interested on letting them "Be free to experience their own PERSONAL boundaries."
You're the parent.
They're the kid.

The end.

Maybe the best advice, though, is to
toss all advice and just dive in blind.

They will teach you everything you need to know.
This isn't cookie cutter life.

Be who you are,
Give yourself a break and maybe a pedicure,
And sleep now because you won't get to ever ever again.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Asante Means 'Thank You'

It seems like yesterday that the announcement was made that the Asante Children's Choir from Burundi would be coming to our church and they were in need of host families for the children.

We had seen them before.
Beautiful, smiling faces hailing from various places in Africa.

They were coming to seek sponsors for children back home.
Sponsors to help feed, clothe and supply education and health care for their families.

"Can we do it, Mama? Can we host them" Alena asked.

I took a deep breath. It seemed kind of overwhelming.
Their schedule was intense.
Did I really want to stretch myself?
Did I really want to take care of MORE kids? My own four were just a hair away from eating popcorn for dinner some nights I was so exhausted and frazzled.

But something in me said to do it.
So I signed my name to the sheet and offered to house two.

By the time I was in the parking lot, I was already re-thinking my choice.
Life was so busy. I had things I needed to do. It would be a lot of money to feed two more people. I hate packing lunches.

By the time the day came to pick the kids up, though, I was excited.
It was going to be an adventure.
I thought of all the things that I could show them. How fun it would be to introduce this amazing Western life to them.

I had no idea that the things they would show ME would far outnumber the things I'd teach them.

I wanted to feed them. All the time.
All the images of starving, half naked African children I'd ever seen came flooding in and I just couldn't stand that thought.
I wanted to fix it.

But the looks on their faces as I opened my pantry and my kids rushed in to request any old thing they wanted to eat struck me.
What an overly priveledged life we lead.
We stand looking in an open fridge and whine that there's nothing to eat.
6 kinds of cereal. 5 kinds of crackers. What do you want for breakfast? Eggs? Toast? Cereal? Oatmeal? Waffles?

How indulgent.

Instead of feeling proud to give it to them, I was feeling different than I expected.
I felt embarassed.
I thought of the money that was sitting stale in that pantry alone.
Probably more than their families see in two months.

I asked if they had any laundry that needed washing.
They brought to me armfuls; each item with their names written on the tags.
Some with other kids' names written on the tags. Handed down and down again.
Then I wanted to clothe them.

I started pulling things out of Alena's closet that she'd outgrown. I pulled more out than they'd probably ever owned. Beautiful dresses and skirts.
I laid them on the bed and told them to pick one.
Their eyes danced and they tried to hold back smiles, but instead of diving in like I'd thought they would, or fighting over the prettiest one like MY children probably would have, they just stood there.

"But do you have some for the others?"
"The other girls?"
"Yes. Can you give them dresses, too?"

Not until I assured them that I could give dresses to everyone would they even try the dresses on.
I had to help them zip and button.
They had them backwards and completely twisted.
By the end of it, they had skirts under dresses under shirts.
Like they just couldn't choose.

The moment they saw their own reflections will live in my mind forever.
They saw themselves as beautiful.
Two of the most beautiful girls in the world.

Over the days we had them, we painted and sang, we danced and they taught us to balance bowls on our heads while we danced. Well.....They TRIED to.
We did manicures and pedicures. We swam. We took them on their first fair rides.

And as we did that for them, they did things for us.
They did our dishes, they cleared their plates, they made their beds, they stacked their shoes.
They completely stole our hearts.
Every small thing we did earned a hug and a "Thank you."

I checked to see if my own children were listening and watching.

By the time we reached the end of the time we'd signed up for, an email was sent out that they were in need of people to volunteer to have them for longer, if possible. There wasn't even a question.

In just a few short days they had become daughters to us.
I found myself staring at them often.
Studying their beautiful skin. Watching their mouths form words in their beautiful language.
Wishing I could just smile and laugh and spill out joy no matter what my life brought my way.

We had been told not to ask them about their pasts.
Many of the children had survived genocide and civil wars.
Many were orphaned or had just been turned out onto the streets because their familes were unable to care for them.
Capi told me she didn't know how long she'd been with the choir.
She didn't know how old she is.
She didn't know her own birthday.

When they found a set of birthday candles in the drawer and asked what they were, I struggled to even explain birthday parties to them.
Making a wish?
Forget it.

In this week
Capi and Divine showed me how connected we are as humans.
At least how connected we SHOULD be.

These are children.

They love dressing up.
They love ice cream and being tickled.
They don't want to go to bed at night and they're scared of the dark.

And yet these children load onto a bus day after day with the hope that someone, somewhere will see them and be moved to help ANOTHER child across the ocean.
They dance until their feet are sore and they do it for someone ELSE.
They perform multiple shows a day and yet never asked to eat.
Only if it was offered would they light up and say, "Yes, Please."

Meanwhile, Tessa cried that Chloe had more Cheese-Its than her.

The very best times, though, were at night as we sat around talking and laughing.
They tried explaining movies they'd seen to us and we'd take turns guessing what on EARTH they were talking about.
Like the hardest game of charades EVER.
They would laugh and the beauty of their teeth alone would draw me into a daze.

It's been amazing how they've touched my family.
I have never seen Justin like this.
He's been changed by them.

Last night before bed, he ran them up the stairs by piggy-back and I sat on the couch and took pictures with my mind.

In just one week.....How could you fall in love so deeply?

They didn't know last night was their last night with us until about 9:00.
I had thought they'd know, so I never spoke of it.
When we told them, they looked sad for the first time.

Capi told us she hoped tomorrow never came.

Today we dropped them off at their bus.
The whole drive there, they sang songs with the girls in the car as Justin and I cried.

Our daughters singing together.

They didn't jump out of the car. They walked slowly and held on long.

I handed them their lunches with their names written on them as the tears dripped off my chin.
I'd drawn hearts above the "i"s.
They loaded their bags and came back off the bus to say their final goodbyes.

I could hardly even look at Justin as he knelt to the ground and told them he loved them, sobs shaking his body.
I could hear Chloe crying behind me.

"Ndagukunda" I choked out.
"Ndagukunda" they replied.

They have taught us "I love you" in the most real way it could ever be said.

In a way that transcends oceans and jungles and color.

When we returned home we found this note on our bed:

This week has been life changing.
It has divided my heart and now part of me will live forever in Burundi.
Capi and Divine will never be forgotten.

So to them I say "Asante", which means "Thank you."

Asante for changing my life.

Thursday, August 9, 2012


For Capi and Divine:

I dreampt you were dolphins.

Someone had brought you to me and left you in a shallow pool just outside my door.

I stood there looking, at first, thinking how lucky I was.
That I'd always wanted to be close to dolphins,
but that I never knew I'd be close enough to touch them
and care for them.

I held my breath as I stepped into the water.
Fully clothed,
scared and excited at the same time.

I was worried you'd swim away, but you stayed there and looked at me with eyes that felt wise about things I couldn't even understand.
Your world was under water and mine was here on land.

It seemed like you were smiling.

I waded between you and watched as the water and sun met your skin and created beams so bright I shielded my eyes from the glare.
You were shining like a treasure in the water.
I was surprised at how calm you were.

How still.

I thought about every dolphin I'd ever seen and how they lept and waved and dove.
Trained to perform.

But there you floated -

So still.

You were so beautiful there on the sides of me and I remember worrying that the parts of your skin that touched the air would dry out, so I slowly scooped up water in my palms and spread it onto your backs over and over again.

You closed your eyes and slept as I kept smoothing the water.

I smoothed until the sun set.

I felt unworthy and unqualified to care for dolphins, but something about the gentle lapping of the water and the way you slept put me at peace.

Before I awoke, it had gotten dark and we had been joined in the water by the reflection of the moon, which couldn't compare to your splendor.

I dreamt you were dolphins.