Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Gift of Messiness

Today is Thursday, the second-most messy day of the week in my house. I have a migraine, so instead of trying to work on cleaning up, I’m sitting down wondering how the place can go from really clean to something off a tv show about a family in crisis over the course of five short days. It was clean last Saturday, and even Sunday, I swear!

There are toys on the floor. I understand that. There’s a wooden zebra, an overturned dollhouse sink, two stuffed animals, a play school bus, a karaoke machine, a roller skate, and an unrealistically busty plastic eleven and a half inch blonde in a wedding dress. Ok. Kids have toys.

What I don’t understand are the two empty paper towel rolls, the box of cereal (empty, too, thankfully), the gallon-size Ziploc bag, the four empty bins, the disassembled guinea pig carrier and the disassembled vacuum. Or the bin that’s supposed to hold toys, but now holds a half gallon of water and a capsized rubber duck. Or the empty picture frame. Or the twenty-one pieces of toilet paper that are scattered across the floor.

Who are these people? What in the world do these children, who are five and seven, for crying out loud, not two and four, do?

Of course, I know the answer. When I stop worrying about how the house looks, and think about what they do, I know. They play. Sometimes they play with toys, but they’re just as likely to play with two empty paper towel rolls as they are with two baby dolls.

Right now, they’re in my bedroom playing Harry Potter Goes to the Hairdresser.

Every day, they create a whole world for themselves that has nothing to do with toys or parents or big sisters or anyone else’s expectations.  The paper towel rolls are telephones and swords and people. The toilet paper squares are islands. The bin of water is a lake and a bath and a baptismal.

I love this about them. They see so many possibilities.  All kids, I like to think, can create their own space, as long as we don’t fill it up for them. We’re all such conscientious parents these days; we try our best to supply our kids with the toys and materials we think they need to learn and grow. I do it, too. But instead, sometimes, I wonder if it is a better gift to relax, let the house get messy, and let them create those materials for themselves.

They still have to clean this crap up, mind you. But, it can wait until Harry and Ron are done at the hairdresser.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Six Little Things that Make a Big Difference

I have fibromyalgia, but you’ll probably never hear me talk about it again.

 I’m only talking about it today because it is National Fibromyalgia Awareness Day and I feel a responsibility to all the folks I know with this syndrome who could really use more support, but don’t get it.

 I think one of the reasons why too many fibro sufferers don't get enough support is because it is so hard for people to understand an illness that doesn’t show symptoms laypeople can see. There are no bruises, no scars, there might be some hair loss, but not enough for anyone to notice (thank God).

There’s a lot of misinformation out there, too. Some people still believe fibro is a hypochondriac’s diagnosis, one doctors give to crazy women who go to the doctor so often with mystery symptoms. I thought that myself for a long time. Even those who’ve caught up with the medical community often still have a big gap in what they know vs. what they think they know. After I got diagnosed, two of the earliest people I told said “oh, so really, what that means is the doctor doesn’t know what’s wrong with you.” No.

 So here’s what I wish people knew about fibro:

    1. It’s a real diagnosis. I got my diagnosis from the most respected rheumatologist in my big, big city. There are diagnostic criteria. If someone tells you she (or sometimes he) has fibro, she does.

    2. We fake it all the time. Not the disease, heavens no. We fake being well. For example, I stagger from the house to my car to go pick up my kids from school, then once I get there, I take a deep breath and bound from the car to pick up my kids. I take care to change my walk, so no one can tell that I limp these days. I plaster a smile on my face. I make sure I walk upright, and I take care not to grimace when anyone could see. Then we go home, and the kids often have to help me get out of the car and into the house.

    3. We can’t predict for sure when we’ll hurt. Maybe people who’ve lived with fibro for a long time can. I don’t know. I just know I probably won’t commit to a meeting two weeks in advance, or a big project, because all I can promise you is how I feel today.

    4. We are fighters. I’ve never met or heard of a single person with fibro who wants to lie in bed, or sit on the couch, or not do stuff with their kids. Fibro is a problem of missing out, not of extra ease.

    5. It’s not a death sentence. Nobody dies from fibro. Not only that, a whole lot of us live healthy, active lives full of the things we love. We have to adjust our expectations, and live through a lot of trial and error, but really, isn’t all of life like that?

    6. We don’t want to talk to you about it, but we want you to be informed. Talking about why you feel bad or how you feel bad sucks. Look, support us when we need it. Learn what fibro is about (yes, I know I just said we don’t want to talk to you about it, but we’ll happily answer earnest questions to help you understand better). If you love someone who has it, take your cues from her about when she needs help and when she needs to talk about it. She’ll let you know what she needs, if you just demonstrate you’ll listen without judgment.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Mommy Wars 201.2

My husband calls it a pissing contest.

That’s what seems to be going on in the media and on social networking sites, as mothers (and some politicians) weigh in on Really Important Stuff, like who works harder, stay-at-home moms or moms who work outside the home.


Moms like to get in pissing contests, truthfully. We like to compare everything from our kids’ sleep patterns, what school we send them to, to what diapers we use (“I can’t believe anyone still uses Luvs.” “Oh my God, I don’t understand how anyone could use disposable diapers.” “Well my diaper material is completely organic, sewn with cotton fibers from a small local farmer.” “Can you believe those hippies who use cloth diapers?!”)

All of us do it. I know I do, even when I try to say I abhor it.

My biggest downfall is comparing the workload of being a mom based on the number of kids the mom has. Sometimes I catch myself looking down my nose at any mom with less than three kids, and looking with head-shaking reverential awe at moms with more than three kids. There’s nothing special about the number three, other than that’s the number of kids I happen to have. Moms with fewer have no idea how easy they have it (Oh my gosh, they still have an arm per kid!) and moms with more have some sort of superhuman capacity for sacrifice (I honestly think I would go insane if one more freaking kid came into my house permanently!), or so my thinking goes.

It’s not my better nature, that’s for sure.

The reality is that there are lots of factors that determine how hard it is to be a mom, and none of us (or almost none of us, if you prefer) has it easy. We do an often gross and mundane-seeming job, without any slaps on the back or performance reviews or promotions. It’s no wonder, when we live in a society that likes to rank everything from salaries to the top 100 episodes of our favorite TV show, we develop our own internal mommy ratings system to keep score.

It’s just that we don’t really need to.

The bigger picture is that most of us (all of us, if you prefer) want the same basic things when we think about our kids. We want them to be safe. We want them to have adequate food and water and clothes. We want them to go to safe, good schools where they learn to be whatever they want. We want them to get well when they’re sick. We want them to have a life at least as good as the one we do. And most of us want these things for all kids, not just our own.

Life is hard right now for a lot of us, especially women and children. We need to stick together and remember what’s most important, because united, the voice of mothers is strong, and wields power. Divided over petty and arbitrary rankings, we lose a lot of our strength.

Enough with the pissing contests.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

An Open Letter to Ms. Hilary Rosen

Ms. Rosen,

Thank you for your service to the DNC and, by extension, to hard-working Americans nationwide. I appreciate that you must be interviewed in a way that promotes our candidate, hits on your talking points, and captures the interest of viewers while at the same time being concise. That can’t be a terribly easy job. You make very valid arguments about the how issues important to women are often misunderstood by Mr. Romney and the larger Republican party.

I am writing to urge you to stop defending your comments made on Anderson Cooper 360 regarding Ms. Romney. Ms. Romney is not the presumptive nominee. Pointing out her lack of suitability as an advisor on women’s issues is beside the point. Mr. Romney remains out of touch with issues affecting most women because he lives a life of privilege far removed from the struggles of ordinary Americans and has demonstrated thus far an inability to place himself in the shoes of working and middle class people. His remoteness has nothing to do with whether or how much he listens to his wife.

Your point that Ms. Romney is out of touch because she “has not worked a day in her life” was flawed, as was your further clarification via your CNN opinion article published today that “It is a wonderful luxury to have the choice (to stay home). But let's stipulate that it is NOT a choice that most women have in America today.”

Many women who choose to stay home do so at great personal sacrifice. I go without a savings account, haircuts, vacations, fresh razor blades, and other niceties in order to stay home with my kids. I don’t stay home because I have the “luxury” of staying home, I do it because I make tremendous sacrifices to do what I believe is best for my kids.

That’s just my story. All mothers make choices regarding what’s best for their families. There are many working moms who must choose between government help and work. There are non-working moms who do not have terrible financial burdens. And there are working moms who choose to work, not because they “have to” but because they understandably like their jobs or the financial security and/or financial freedom. And there are stay-at-home moms like me who choose the often scary world of living paycheck to plate. All of our choices are valid, and none of them makes a woman less qualified to speak about what issues, economic or otherwise, are important to women.

Please stop doing the women of America, and President Obama, a disservice by continuing to claim otherwise.

Best wishes from a fellow Democrat,

Lolly Walter

Link to Ms. Rosen’s CNN opinion piece:

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Small Victories

I have a clean floor. It isn't my whole house, or even one room. Not even one floor. But I do have a five by five foot patch of pristine carpet in my living room. And I'm claiming it as a victory.

The week's been rough - I've been sick, my husband has been away even more than usual, and the girls are, well, just the same as always. Every inch of the house looks like I've given up on ever cleaning, except this spot.

Sure, getting it clean means I neglected the huge stack of laundry, and every person in this house will probably tell me they have no clean undies in the morning. And it means I let my seven and five year old play unattended in the front yard with a water hose in fifty degree weather for the last hour and a half (pneumonia is treatable these days, you know). But my patch of carpet is clean.

Being a mom is chaotic under the best of conditions. When you are a mom living with less-than-ideal conditions, well, sometimes it feels like you're sinking under a mountain of things you should be doing better.

But not today. Not for me. I'm giving myself a break and honoring my need for sanity; finding something that makes me feel happy and accomplished. Today, the biggest thing I could do was clean that square of carpet, and that's okay.

Everything else will still be there waiting for me tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Why Everyone Should Have Kids

Immersion therapy. You become immune to poop and vomit and blood. So if you ever have to take a job as a fish gutter or a janitor at an amusement park, you’re all set.

Not really crazy, see? You can talk to yourself all you want and people just think you’re talking to your kids.

Bobby is sick. You never have to stay the full time at a boring party ever again. One of your kids is almost always sick anyway, and you don’t even have to blame the fake illness on your spouse!

The dog is off the hook. You’ve got someone new to blame your farts on.

Lice, nature's gift. Know someone who doesn't respect your personal space? Watch how fast they back away when you utter the L-word. Also works when friends want to come over but you're feeling too lazy to clean your house or put on a bra.

You can have a legacy. Share all those fart jokes you learned in grade school – with an audience that actually finds them funny.

There's also a bunch of crap about deep and abiding love and junk, but really, the resurrection of your fart jokes is all the reason you need.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The "New" Me

My oldest daughter turns ten today. It occurred to me that, while this is a milestone for her, it’s one for me, too, and thus an appropriate time for some reflection.

I’m one of those moms who really focuses on her kids and I make no apology for it. I buy second-hand everything and skip vacations and restaurants and comforts so I can stay home. I breastfed for more than eight years. I play. I let my kids make crazy messes then make them clean it up, so they practice both creativity and responsibility. I drive for every field trip, go to every school party. I hang art done in crayon on my walls.

The funny thing is, none of that is what I intended to be.

I was a workaholic. My goal was to be an award-winning educator and to rack up multiple advanced degrees. When trying to get pregnant, I decided I needed a little less stress and work in my life, so I took a different full-time job, got a part-time job, and started grad school. When pregnant, I thought breastfeeding sounded nice, and hoped I’d be successful, but I knew there was no way I could commit to more than a year – I wanted my body back. I remember throwing the baby book across the room in frustration at the idea of being a stay-at-home mom. It sounded great, but we couldn’t afford it. Perhaps most telling of all, I once begged my husband to promise that he would never love any children we had more than he loved me.

And then she was born. Perfect. Beautiful. She had deep brown eyes with a blue ring around the iris and those eyes told me she was ageless and wise and mine. She had monkey fur on her shoulders and ears and dark hair and dark skin and she was a she and she cried and it was the most beautiful sound I’d ever heard.

The nurses took her from me to clean her and suction her and assign her an Apgar, while other nurses attended to me and the part of birth no one cares about. And I said to my husband, “Go with her!” He went, and so did my heart. Nothing has been the same since, and I am so glad.

I love you, Eleanor.