Tag Archives: Parenting

Is Feel-Like-A-Princess-Pink A Gender-Neutral Color?

No room in my house will ever look like this. I promise.

No room in my house will ever look like this. I promise.

When I was six months pregnant with my daughter, we painted the nursery blue. People who inquired about the color scheme almost always accused me of keeping a secret—or just lying. “You must know you are having a boy or at least have some sort of hunch. Otherwise, you would be painting the room a more gender neutral color, like green or yellow.”

The truth is, I knew nothing of my baby’s sex even though I had undergone numerous ultrasounds at that point. We didn’t want to know. My husband and I were enjoying the suspense—and loving the fact that not knowing made our less patient friends and family a little crazy. When you can contribute to someone else’s insanity in this way, I say, “Do it!”

We were painting the nursery blue simply because we liked the color. Even if we had known we were having a girl, we wouldn’t have painted the room pink. I’ve never been fond of pink for décor. Pink dress? Sure. Pink flowers? Lovely.  Pink lipstick? I have several shades. Pink walls? Never.

So, our daughter spent the first two years of her life in a blue bedroom with green sheets and lot of other pastel accent pieces. When we moved her to her big girl room, we choose yellow walls, dark blue curtains, and a purple bedspread that were later tied together with a white, blue, purple, pink, and brown floral rug. Eventually, I replaced the ill-fitting navy blue curtains with pink ones. She was delighted with that change.

When her brother was born, we moved him into the blue nursery and used the same green bedding. It was the perfect color scheme for a boy baby—just as it had been the perfect color scheme for a girl.

So, you see, I don’t like to buy into this silly idea of “Pink is for girls and blue is for boys.” Colors are colors. Go with what you like. They are all gender-neutral in my book or so I like to believe.

Recently, however, I found myself conflicted and wrestling with a double standard. Yes, you can give a girl blue anything, but is pink really appropriate for a boy? I mean, I know little girls and grown women who will tell you that blue is their favorite color. I’ve never met a man who is wild about pink. I have a closet full of blue dresses, blue blouses, blue t-shirts and blue shoes, but my husband owns only one pink shirt. When he wears it, he is ribbed about how it takes a very macho guy to pull off such a feminine hue. I’m sure that none of what I have written here is unusual.

So, back to my conflicted mental-wrestling over the gender of colors…

At six and a half, my daughter has finally out-grown her car seat—or more accurately, she now weighed enough to graduate to a booster. The car seat itself is capable of seating a 90-pound person. My daughter probably won’t weigh 90 pounds until she is ready to apply for a beginner’s permit. She’s built like a young me—all leg, very skinny.

So, now that she is, at last, 40 lbs., I bought her a booster seat—the kind her friends have been using for a couple of years now, and decided that we would give her old seat to her brother because it’s bigger and more comfortable-looking than the one he has been using since he was 18-months-old. Besides, it has cup-holders—a feature he has long coveted.

I am well aware of the injustice that occurs in every family with more than one child: The firstborn gets everything new and the subsequent children get hand-me-downs. At $329.99, plus tax and shipping, however, I wasn’t going to buy a new car seat for my son when his sister’s old seat was still in good condition. I would buy him a new car seat cover to make it feel new.

So, I did some on-line shopping and quickly discovered that my daughter’s old car seat—the Britax Frontier 85—has been “retired” and replaced by the Frontier 90. The only cover available for the Frontier 85 is in a color called “Livia” by the designers. I would have called it something more descriptive—like “bright pink.” The marketing blurb describing the cover’s many attributes even started with “Your little one will feel like a princess when she rides in this…” Um, okay, my son has never once expressed the desire to “feel like a princess.” For that matter, neither has my daughter—thankfully.

Of course, the website featured car seat covers in every color for the Frontier 90. Perhaps the Frontier 90 and the Frontier 85 were close enough in shape that I could use a 90 on my 85. And so I called Britax customer service to find out.

“Britax customer service. How may I help you?”

“Hi. I own a Frontier 85, and I was wondering if a cover for a Frontier 90 would fit it.”

“No, ma’am. Only the Frontier 85 cover will fit your Frontier 85 car seat.”

“Okay. Well, I was on your website early, and I noticed that the only Frontier 85 covers you are currently selling are bright pink. Do you have any other colors available that weren’t listed on the website?”

“No, ma’am. That seat cover now comes in the Livia only.”

“That’s too bad. I am buying a seat cover for my son and since he doesn’t want to feel like a princess, I was hoping to find it in another color.”

“I recommend you try Amazon or eBay. You might find someone selling discontinued Britax covers.”

“I’ve already been to those sites, and the only covers I saw were ones people had made at home. They weren’t the Britax products.”

“Oh, don’t buy one of those! We can’t guarantee that they will fit properly. They might present a safety hazard!”

“Yes. I know. That’s why I called you hoping to find an authentic Britax cover that isn’t bright pink.”

“I’m sorry. I can’t help you.”

And the call ended without me going into how asinine I think it is for Britax to only stock bright pink car seat covers for the Frontier 85. I mean, if you are only going to stock one color, why wouldn’t you go with something gender-neutral, such as green or blue? Everyone loves blue. And certainly, I couldn’t be the only person calling them with this concern. Our Frontier 85 doesn’t expire for another four years! A newer one could be around a lot longer. How could I possibly be the only person on the planet with this dilemma?  If you’ve never dealt with car seats, you might not know this: they expire. They have expiration dates printed on them, just like a gallon of milk.

In the end, I muttered, “Screw it,” and I cleaned the existing car seat cover—in a very neutral cow print—the best I could. I removed my son’s old Roundabout from the backseat and replaced it with his sister’s old Frontier 85. I thought, “Poor kid. It’s either 100% hand-me-down or Feel-Like-A-Princess-Pink.”

When he saw it, he yelled, “Mom! You gave me Sissy’s cow seat!”

“What do you think?” I asked holding my breath, expecting him to say something about how he only gets hand-me-downs.

“Cool! It has cup-holders! I’ve  always wanted cup-holders!”

Now, I wonder. Had I bought the feel-like-a-princess-pink car seat cover just so that he would have something new, would he have cared about the color or were the cup-holders all that really mattered? I’m not going to dwell on that for too long. By not buying a new cover, I saved a little money, and to some degree, I feel like I owe my son a brand-new something. Perhaps when he starts riding a two-wheeler, I will buy him one of his own instead of just spray-painting his sister’s old bike.

Free. Free Movie. Free Lunch. Free Childcare. Free Air-Conditioning.

My children proudly sporting the haircuts that depleted our fun funds.

My children proudly sporting the haircuts that depleted our fun funds.

Haircuts. That’s what broke the bank—and inspired me to go in search of free stuff.

You see, we are on a cash budget this summer. This means that every two weeks, I withdraw a large sum of money and divide it into envelopes. Each envelope is labeled with its intended use. One such envelope is marked “Kids” and it is from this envelope that I buy stuff for my children—not big things like camp registrations, bicycles, or back-to-school clothes—but little expenses that pop up, fun stuff. Lunches out, matinee tickets, a round of miniature golf—these are the types of expenses that are paid for with the cash from their envelope. And so far, it’s proven to be a great teaching tool for managing money and thinking about purchasing choices.

Haircuts? Should haircut money come from this envelope of what I like to use as mad-money, fun-money, make-our-summer-great-money? Well, technically, yes. When my husband and I first discussed our cash-only summer, we decided that the money we allocated for our children would be used for maintenance, too. Not unlike the money we have allotted for gas—we envisioned an overage that would accumulate and be used for maintenance. In the case of our car, the overage in the gas envelope could be used for oil changes, and in the case of children, overage in the kid envelope could be used for haircuts.

The problem? So far, we’ve never had an overage in the Kids envelope. In fact, I usually end up taking a little cash from the Childcare envelope or the Grocery envelope or my envelope to supplement the Kids’ cash. Clearly, we need to rethink the allotment amount for certain areas of our spending or we need to work harder at coming in under-budget.

So, there we were in the grocery store parking lot when my daughter yelled, “I want a haircut!” while pointing to the Hair Cuttery on the other side of the strip mall.

“Me, too!” my son responded.

Really? For a couple of weeks, I had been casually mentioning haircuts to them and generating no interest. Within reason, haircuts aren’t the battle I’m going to choose. I’ll let my kids get a little shaggy.

But they were open to it in that moment and so, of course, I said, “Let’s do it!”

Thirty minutes later, we left the Hair Cuttery with two fresh, new summer-dos, two lolly-pops, and a balance of $1 in the envelope marked “Kids.” It was worth it.

The next day, however, I decided that I needed to come up with some ideas on how we might spend our time without spending money. I told myself that the world is full of such opportunities if you simply look. Free outdoor fun, free indoor fun, free admission, free lunch…I just have to look for it.

That’s when I came up with a plan for Tuesday. Temperatures would be in the 90s and the pool would be closed for cleaning. Kids were out of cash for another week and a half.

We would start with a free movie. The local theater has free movies for kids every Tuesday morning. They aren’t first run. They are flicks you’ve seen a gazillion times, but so what? Admission is free, and you get that big-screen experience that is just missing when you view a movie at home.

We attend the free movie almost every week in the summer, and I’m always surprised that it isn’t the mob-scene one expects with free anything. I credit the management with using good crowd-control techniques and keeping the theater well-staffed, and I think that some people do shy away from anything advertised as free for fear that there will be some gimmick—like being required to sit through a time-share presentation. Or perhaps they think it will be too crowded and noisy because all of us free-loaders will be there. Perhaps they don’t mingle with our sort.

It’s not teeming with toddlers, moms, babysitters, and daycare groups like one might imagine. The only long, unpleasant lines of crying children and flustered care-givers are in the ladies’ restroom after the movie. If you don’t desperately need to pee immediately after the movie, you won’t feel like it is too crowded. I promise.

Then, I figured we would head to the shopping mall for free air-conditioning, free lunch, and free child-care. Free. Free. Free.

When they signed up for the library’s summer reading program, my kids were given a bag of worksheets, flyers, and coupons. One of the coupons was for a free meal at Chick-Fila. So, that’s the free meal. The mall provides a Kid-Care service. It’s supposed to give the parents a break so they will relax and spend more money, but really, it’s an activity for the kids, too—different toys, games, and friends than what they have at home. A win-win.

“And there you go! A free day. Free movie. Free lunch. Free child-care. Free air-conditioning,” I told myself and we headed out the door.

To be fair, I live in an area with an abundance of free fun for those who make an effort. With a little planning, an early start, and motivation, we could make the mountains or the beach a day-trip. We could go into the city—DC or Baltimore—and spend the day there. We’ve done all those things and we will do them again. Today, however, we would stay relatively close to home.

So, how did my day of free fun go?

The movie was great. Epic was showing. It’s one of those kid-movies that our family has seen, but since we don’t own it, we haven’t seen it repeatedly.

Was it truly free, however? No. For me, it never is. I bought the kids popcorn and soft-drinks—or “soda” as my half-Yankee children call it. The snacks aren’t a requirement for attending the free movies, but I always buy them because as I see it, these free movies are a public service that the theater doesn’t have to provide. It costs them money to be open at a time when they would otherwise be closed. The purchase of popcorn and the kiddie-size drinks is my way of saying “thank you.” This is the only place I ever buy them sodas, and I made it my treat—truly. I paid for the snacks out of my envelope.

Lunch was, um, less great. We went to the food court in the mall where they used their Chick-Fila coupons for the 4-piece nugget meals. I bought a salad for myself because I needed to eat, too. Restaurants count on that—an adult WILL accompany the children with the coupons and buy something for herself.

Oh, but what can I say about the mall food court dining experience? It IS crowded and noisy. My son covered his ears and said he couldn’t eat because it was too noisy. Is he really my child? Noise never keeps me from food. I don’t even see a connection, but apparently, for him, the noise was killing the ambiance.

And the food court Chick-Fila lacks certain things that I took for granted at its free-standing counterpart. Sure, I wasn’t expecting an in-door playground, but no trays? No helpful old lady handing out placemats and extra ketchup packets? No employees carrying my tray for me? We go to the mall so seldom that I apparently forgot these things—or maybe I never knew them. When I asked the Chick-Fila guy for a tray, he went into a long-winded explanation of why the mall was having a tray shortage. Not now, buddy. Not now. I’ve got to get drinks, kids, and food across the crowded food court IMMEDIATELY because I spy an empty table that looks almost-clean, and someone else will snatch it up if I don’t hurry!

My luck with the free childcare wasn’t any better. In the time since I last used the Kid Care service, it has gone from being free to charging $7 per child, but since I had said we were going to do this, I figured I would use the cash in the envelope marked “Childcare.” As we approached the Kid Care playroom, however, my son came to a dead stop. “I don’t want to do this,” he said.

“What?”

“I don’t want to go to Kid Care.”

We talked. He really didn’t have a good reason for not wanting to go, and I didn’t have a good reason for making him. His sister seemed indifferent to the entire situation. So, we left the mall and went to an open-air farmer’s market where we bought okra, tomatoes, corn, bell peppers, squash and a watermelon using money from the Grocery envelope.

Then, we went home and made ice cream.

So, my day of free movie, free food, free childcare, and free air-conditioning didn’t turn out as I planned. I spent money, but none of it was from the Kids envelope, and no, it wasn’t a carefree, unadulterated day of out-of-the-house fun.

However, it wasn’t a failure either. I learned certain things—like the movie theater handles large groups of people much better than the mall food court, and Kid Care is no longer free. My house stayed relatively clean because we weren’t home to make a mess. I wasn’t tempted to surf the Internet while letting kids watch back-to-back Scooby-Doo episodes. We had great conversations during our car-time. So, by my low standards, it was a success.

I should write about what happens when we stay home without a plan.

 

 

 

How A Screen-Free Week Became A Limited-Screen Summer

Remember when televisions looked like this? We got plenty of exercise back then. We had to get up and walk across the room to change the channel.

Remember when televisions looked like this? We got plenty of exercise back then. We had to get up and walk across the room to change the channel.

“No TV,” I said. “No computer. No videos. No LeapPad. We are going to have a screen-free week.”

“Hooray!” my daughter shouted. “I love that idea! Can we start today?”

And no, she wasn’t being sarcastic. She was genuinely excited about having a screen-free week—so much so that enthusiastically shared this news with anyone who would listen and suggested that we make it two weeks, not just one.

Her reaction surprised me. A lot. You see, she was one of the main reasons I decided we needed a little break from the screen. She is the kid who always wants to watch something or play video games. Recently, we went to a nature fair, and at every tent, we stopped to learn more about animals and their habitats. At every tent, my daughter engaged the naturalist in conversation by spouting off what she had learned from Wild Kratts and Animal Planet.

I felt a little embarrassed. I was certain the naturalists were all looking at me and thinking, “Lady, your kid watches way too much TV.” Their judgment was probably all in my head, but I always feel a little judged when in the presence of people who are crunchier than I am. I wanted to defend myself against the imagined accusations. I wanted to yell, “But at least it’s not junk TV! My kid isn’t watching all the usual kid-crap! She watches educational stuff! PBS!” And I wanted to tell them that I read that the average child spends about eight hours in front of a television every day. Mine don’t. My kids watch far less than the average—and it’s still too much.

I admit that the imaginary judgment I feel come from my own convictions and persnicketiness. I believe the most boring people in the world are those who talk about what they have seen on TV. I don’t want my daughter to be a boring person.

You know who else is boring? People who write about television—like I am doing right now. And that brings me to the second person in our household who really needed a screen-free week—ME.

I don’t watch much TV. I watch Downton Abbey for the eight short weeks that it is on, and I occasionally tune into Sister Wives or My Five Wives. So, it’s high-brow British, period drama or low-brow American reality shows for me. Nothin’ inbetween! And I never see these shows when they air. I watch them late at night on-demand while I am folding clothes. In fact, my cable carrier dropped Sister Wives from their on-demand selection, and now, I am behind by several episodes. And I don’t care. That’s how little the boob-tube means to me.

No, my vice isn’t television. It’s Internet. And yes, I see the irony in every on-line, anti-Internet opinion piece I read, and yet, what am I doing? Using the Internet to post my own rant. I get it.

Unless I make a conscientious effort to stay away from the Internet, I will get sucked in. I’ll post a status on Facebook–or perhaps a picture. Then, I have to return to it a dozen times to see if anyone has “liked” my one-liner or photograph. Did they comment on it? Should I comment back to the commenter or just “like” the comment? And while I’m here, let me “like” this picture of a grumpy cat, a new recipe for salsa, and all these vacation photos my friends are posting. Bible verses, inspirational quotes, and memes that make fun of people who are as addicted to Facebook as I am. Oh, what’s this? Let me click on this blog about archaeology. Maybe I will share it.

I’ll purposefully avoid anything political or otherwise controversial because if Facebook has taught me anything, it’s that Americans believe in Freedom of Speech—provided they agree with the speaker. No one posts anything with the intention of stimulating meaningful conversation. We all just want the calming reassurance of being “liked.” I think that’s called “agreement” in face-to-face interactions.

The point here is that I get sucked in, and Facebook isn’t my only on-line time vacuum. I’ll read celebrity “news” and poorly edited articles about horrific crimes. If I comment on these, I then will return to the comments to see if my comment generated any comments. The desire to read the comments about my comment is an ego-thing. I really don’t like that about myself. And I am painfully aware that I’ve used the word “comment” a lot. That’s what too much Internet will do for you–reduce your vocabulary.

I’ll go to the Community Board of Baby Center and chat with a group of women I befriended on-line when my daughter was a newborn. We’ve “talked” almost daily for almost seven years, and I love these gals. I don’t consider my interaction with them to be a waste of time since we are scattered all around the country and don’t have the opportunity to get together in person. However, once I’ve posted on our forum, I tend to log in again and again to see if anyone else has posted. Doing that—the checking of one website 16 times in one day—is a waste of time.

Recently, I discovered blogs about Sister Wives and a couple of forums on reality shows. No, I’m not watching Sister Wives this season because I can’t get it on-demand, but that hasn’t stopped me from reading about their antics. Yeah, that’s an excellent little time-waster. As my on-line friends might say, “Klassy.”

Yep, I’m wasting time, getting fat, and setting a lousy example for my children. When I spend hours staring at a screen, I am not living my own convictions. I feel guilty about that. And so, it’s got to change. I’ve got to change.

And so, I announced our family’s week-long no-screen commitment. My daughter was on-board 100%. My son isn’t much of a screen-addict and if his sister isn’t staring at a television or a computer, then, neither is he. My husband only watches old movies in the wee-hours when he can’t sleep. So, it should have been easy, right?

When I shared my intentions with my friends, I told them that I was going to have to unearth a phone book. I don’t know when I last flipped through yellow pages of advertisements and small print to find a number or an address. And directions? When is the last time I had to look at a map? Still, I know how to use a phonebook and I know how to read a map. And it’s only for one week. One week.

The real complication comes from the need to communicate with others who aren’t having a screen-free week. Sure, I can put an out-going message on my email telling people to call me because I’m not answering email, and I can do something similar on other message boards, but will anyone listen?

And I have agreed to host some club events. Those events have to be posted on a website.

Girl Scout registration? On-line.

Library book reservations? On-line.

Vacation-planning? On-line.

Blood-test results? On-line.

Summer camp-information? On-line.

Clearly, for me to be truly screen-free for an entire week, it’s going to take a little more planning than what I had first considered. And it’s not going to happen this week because I’m ill-prepared. And now, instead of a screen-free week, I think I might prefer a limited-screen summer. Monitoring the time I have in front of a computer and keeping my children too busy to watch much television may be more productive than going cold-turkey for just one week. I’m not ruling out the cold-turkey approach. I’m just saying it won’t happen right now, and in the meantime, we will be prudent with our limited screen-time.

My first challenge will be to post this blog entry and NOT come back to see how many hits I received. Yeah, who am I kidding? If you leave a comment, I WILL be back to read it.

 

The Highly Experimental Nature of Life: Polygamy, Yoga Pants & Money

Brady Williams and his Five Wives. If you are Mormon, please forgive me for watching this show. Or better yet, feel free to mention Southern Charm to me. It has that same cringe-worthy quality AND it takes place in my hometown.

Brady Williams and his Five Wives. If you are Mormon, please forgive me for watching this show. Or better yet, feel free to mention Southern Charm to me. It has that same cringe-worthy quality AND it takes place in my hometown.

So, have you seen this show My Five Wives? No? Let me fill you in. They were Fundamentalist Mormons, but then, they left their church, and so, now, they are just polygamists with no religious affiliation. One man. Five women. And their 24 children. One big happy household—only they don’t seem all that happy to me, but that’s beside the point.

I watched an entire season hoping they—the Williams Family–would reveal the reason they left their church. I wanted the dirt, but even in that end-of-season tell-all, they only touched on it—by their account, they are socially more progressive than their former church. That’s it. I find that a little anti-climactic—and pretty normal, don’t you?

People frequently leave the churches they grew up in because they discover the church is either too liberal or too conservative for their taste. It happens all the time. What’s interesting to me about this particular family is that they changed their collective mind—or collectively changed their minds—about their church, but now what? Where do they go from here? Can they end a 20 year marriage just because they are no longer a part of a church that condones and encourages polygamy? And what about all those kids? “Sorry, kids. You are only here because we used to believe that polygamy leads to Salvation and birth control leads to Hell. We’ve decided that ain’t true after all.” Actually, I’m sure they don’t feel that way. I’m sure they love all their children, and that’s what makes everything about their situation even harder.

The dilemma of the Williams family has me thinking a lot about the highly experimental nature of life. You try something, and if it works for you, you keep it. If not, you move on. Of course, this works better with experiments that require less of a commitment than five marriage and 24 children. I was thinking more along the lines of buying a different brand of dish soap because it is on sale. You try it and if you like it, it replaces your old brand. If you don’t like it, you just don’t buy it again.

I am currently engaged in some experiments that lie somewhere between polygamy and dish soap. Okay, everything—EVERYTHING—I might try is closer to dish soap than polygamy. Everything.

And I am sure the Williames didn’t think of polygamy as an experiment when they committed to it. Still, jumping from their situation to my own is simply how my mind works. I don’t really consider anyone’s religious beliefs to be an experiment—even if they are subject to change.

The first of my experiments involves work-out clothes and a theory. Recently, I’ve noticed a lot of women wearing what I consider gym-clothes while running errands. Target. Grocery stores. Gas stations. Doctors’ offices. And maybe—just maybe—they are on their way to or from the gym, but I have a theory based on the appearance of these women. They all seem to have great posture—like they are standing up a little straighter and are more conscious of their movements. And they all seem a little more energetic than the general population. I think that wearing gym-clothes makes people feel healthier and so they behave healthier. I have no scientific proof to back that up—it’s just a general observation.

And it’s an interesting observation coming from me because it’s well documented that I hate exercise: Here. And here. And I have a tendency to compartmentalize my wardrobe. My going-out clothes are reserved for going out. My church clothes go to church only. And that black dress I wore to my mother-in-law’s funeral? It’s hanging in my closet and will likely remain there until I go to another funeral.

If you see me wearing sneakers, yoga pants, and a sports bra, I am exercising. Expect me to start running laps or break into an aerobics routine. I know. I’m not very creative when it comes to fashion, but that’s just me. Since forming this theory, however, I’ve spent entire days in my gym clothes, and I was right. I stood taller, moved faster, and ate less.

At one point, I thought I might want to wear nothing but gym clothes for an entire month, but vanity and fear of complacency got the best of me. I don’t have a lot of cute, trendy workout clothes. I have old cross-trainers that need replacing; faded, black yoga capris; and sports bras that I wear under t-shirts. I look a little sloppy in this outfit. Sure, I really did feel healthier and more athletic when wearing it—until I passed a mirror. Even if I had a lot of cute, new exercise clothes, I’m not sure that I will ever be the woman who can pull it off.

As for the fear of complacency, I know myself well enough to realize that the novelty would wear off and eventually, I wouldn’t get that bounce from the clothes if I wore them every day. I’d do better to make a smaller commitment—maybe twice a week. Around the house.

My next experiment is all about money. My husband and I have gone to an all-cash budget for the summer, but we used May as a test. Basically, I get a lump sum every two weeks and I divide it into envelopes—Groceries, Gas, Kids, Household Misc., Childcare, and Me. If I run out of cash in any one envelope, that’s just too bad. There’s no whipping out a credit card or going to an ATM. We just have to wait until the next payday.

I am surprised that I like this system, but I really, really do. Why?

  • We are talking about money for the first time. Here’s the thing I have noticed about couples—they either talk about money OR they don’t. They either fight about money OR they don’t. We were a don’t-talk-about-it and don’t-fight-about-it couple for the first eight years of our marriage. I think we both feared that talking about it would lead to fighting. Since starting our all-cash budget, we are talking AND keeping those conversations about money up-beat. It feels like we are a team and we are tackling the same problem, and since we are being pro-active, the general mood of the money-talks is hopeful and optimistic, not combative.

  • I have Me money. Since becoming a stay-at-home-mom, I’ve felt self-conscious about spending money on myself. I know that not every stay-at-home-mom feels that way and spouses are entitled to each other’s paychecks, but put yourself in my shoes. I was 40-years-old when my first child was born. I spent a lot of time in the work-force and I was used to having my own paycheck. I’m allowed to feel a little awkward about spending the money that doesn’t have my name on it.With the all-cash budget, I have an envelope with my name on it. So, if I want something for me, I go into the envelope and get the cash without thinking, “Oh, gee, I can’t spend money on myself.”

  • The all-cash system is a very visual way to teach kids about money. The other day, my daughter asked me to take her to get her hair cut because if she could get 1/32 of an inch trimmed from her hair weekly, she would. I pulled out the envelope marked Kids, showed her the contents, and said, “Okay, this is ALL the money you have until next month. If I take you to get your hair cut today, it will cost this much,” and I removed a $20 from the stack. “Do you still want a haircut?” And ta-da! The lightbulb went on! She understood that money is a finite resource.

  • This budget is experimental. We’ve committed to it through the summer. At the end of August, we will revise it as needed or move onto something else.And there will be revisions! I’ve already discovered some flaws in the plan. For example, I don’t have an envelope for gifts. We were invited to a birthday party, and I had this big internal debate about which envelope to use for purchasing a water-bazooka for the birthday boy. I made an unconventional choice—Groceries. Why? Because I had plenty of overage in that envelope and they would be feeding us at the party. So, we were exchanging a toy for food? No, not really, but the Kids envelope was getting kind of thin.

The third experiment is something I am still contemplating: A screen-less week. That’s right. No computer, no Internet, no television, no LeapPad for a full seven days. Will our family of four survive such a week?

I don’t watch much TV—only Downton Abbey and reality shows about polygamy—and so I would not go into television withdrawal. I’m not so sure that the rest of the family would fare so well. If I can get my husband to go along with this plan, he will likely do more reading. The children will likely do more home-demolition—‘cuz I don’t watch TV, but I do use it as a babysitter. Just ask me about the PBS morning line-up.

The Internet? Ew. That’s trickier.

I post on Facebook almost daily, and I have a group of friends from Baby Center.com. I chat more with them than I do with people I see in person. Still, I’m sure I could go a week or longer without that interaction. After all, I have given up social networks for Lent successfully.

No Internet at all, however? Geez. When is the last time I used a phone book to find a number or an address? Do I even know where my phonebook is? And e-mail! Mostly, my email in-box is filled with ads—everything from preservation organization memberships to Viagra—but sometimes, occasionally, someone sends me something worth reading or seeing, and just sometimes, those messages warrant a response. I guess the thing to do is to tell everyone I know that if they need to get in touch with me, they should pick up a phone and call. An out-going email message stating that I’m taking a little break from the screen is probably a good idea, too.

So, it’s do-able and it might be interesting to see what I learn about myself and my family. And really that’s what all this experimentation is about for me—learning.

Hmmm…it has nothing to do with polygamy after all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Mother’s Day, I Ran Away.

You know she's thinking, "I really need to get to the mall. I think Macy's has sandals on sale."

You know she’s thinking, “I really need to get to the mall. I think Macy’s has sandals on sale.”

“Mom! Mom! Mom! MOM!” my son yelled from the top of the stairs. I had just poured myself a cup of coffee and sat down to write in my journal. I only have two desires in the morning—coffee and journaling. If I don’t get both before kids wake, I don’t get them at all. Plus, I haven’t been sleeping well. Typically, I wake feeling over-heated and dehydrated at least twice a night. I’m sure it is hormonal.

“Yes?” I answered.

“Come here, please!”

“What do you need from me?”

“I need YOU! I NEED you!”

And up the stairs I went. When I got to the top of the stairs, I asked again, “What do you need from me?”

“Nothing. I just want you to carry me downstairs.”

And thus began my Mother’s Day. No flowers. I’m fine with that. I’d rather get them on a non-holiday for no reason at all. No breakfast in bed. I’m cool with that, too. Eating in bed is very unappealing to me. But damn, how I had wanted a morning in which I would be a little less needed.

When I was growing up, Mother’s Day was always celebrated the same. We went to church where the sermon always had something to do with motherhood. Maybe it was about how the Virgin Mary experienced all the usual joys and frustrations of motherhood. Maybe it was about how mothers (and fathers) are charged with the responsibility of living their faith. Mothers and grandmothers all wore corsages to church on Mother’s Day. White flowers—especially white orchids—were worn by women whose own mothers were dead. Then, after church, we ate at the country club. I don’t remember the food. I do remember drinking Shirley Temples.

We could have had an up-dated version of the Mother’s Day of my childhood. My nephew graduated from college on Saturday. We went to the ceremony and to the party that followed. My sister-in-law had invited us to spend the night. We could have gone to church with her family. We could have gone to brunch with them—at their country club. I could have even ordered a Shirley Temple—or a Bloody Mary.

We opted not to take her up on her generous offer. Why? College kids party into the wee-hours, don’t they? At least, that’s what I remember from my own college days. I wanted to be in bed before 4 am.

Besides, I knew that my husband had big Mother’s Day plans for me. I knew he had purchased two vintage plant-holders that he and our children were painting. Several times during the week, I had been warned by my daughter not to go into the basement, and when I had to venture down there, she said, “If you see anything old and wooden, just ignore them. They aren’t for you.” Yeah, that’s not the least bit suspicious.

I also knew my guy was planning to cook dinner for me. On Friday, he had gone fishing and returned with a 35 lb. striped bass. Let’s put this into perspective—that fish weighed more than our son. I’m not a huge fan of bass, but I am a fan of someone else doing the cooking, and so, I was looking forward to that—a nice, low-key Mother’s Day with just the four of us.

That delusion didn’t last long. My son needed me to carry him down the stairs. Then, he needed me to cook him breakfast. Then, my daughter woke. She needed me to help her find her hair brush. I kept trying to hand over some of the parenting to my husband, but my children wanted mom and only mom. I guess I should have been flattered, but I wasn’t. And please spare me the lecture on how I will one day miss being needed. I’m sure that you are right, but for now, I don’t want to hear about it.

And please understand, my husband is an awesome father. He’s very involved, and our children do go to him with their needs. They see him as a problem-solver, a teacher, a confidant, a disciplinarian, a comforter, a champion, and all those other things parents are called to be—provided I am not around. I suspect this is a dynamic you find in most households with children. If Mom is available, why settle for Dad?

So, after kids were dressed and fed, they followed my guy outside to work on that mysterious Mother’s Day surprise, and I went up-stairs to my bedroom thinking, “NOW, I will write!”

And within a few minutes of making that announcement, my paint-splattered children ran back into the house carrying a toad they had caught. Hmmm…children + paint + toad + running through the house? How does this equation ever not end in a mess?

Now, if you know me in real life, or even if you just follow my blog, you know that I am the type of parent who encourages outdoor play, paint-splattering, and toad-catching—provided the toad doesn’t get hurt. I hate messes, but I’m not afraid of them. I see a mess as a byproduct of life. However, cleaning up a kid-paint-toad mess is NOT how I wanted to spend Mother’s Day—especially since I was operating on very little sleep and no journal-writing time.

That’s when I made the decision to leave. To run away. On Mother’s Day. I showered, dressed, and informed my family that I would be back in time for dinner. Then, I left.

Sadly, without a plan, I ended up at the mall. I’m pretty sure Hell is a 24-hour mall with no exits. I’m just not a shopper, and I really don’t know why I would go to a mall other than I was struck by the urge to spend money on myself. Having recently changed over my wardrobe to make the warm-weather wear more accessible, I knew I wanted to replace certain items, such as sandals. I really wanted new sandals.

And I had been promising myself a cookbook—Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything: The Basics—since first seeing it in December when I bought it for my cousin. A cookbook is a great Mother’s Day gift—to myself.

So, that is what I did on Mother’s Day. I abandoned my family and went shopping for sandals and a book. I feel no guilt over this.

When I returned home, that fabulous Mother’s Day surprise still wasn’t finished, but my husband was cooking the bass. I kissed him. I thanked him. I showed him my new sandals and cookbook, and I felt very celebrated. More than anything else, I felt good that I had not stayed home feeling frustrated by the lack of writing time. Had I done so, I might be calling this blog entry “The Worst Mother’s Day Ever.”

 

 

My Life as a Cruise Director

When I was a kid, these people made working for a cruise ship look fun. As an adult, I think, "Cruise ship? Aren't people always getting sick on cruises?"

When I was a kid, these people made working for a cruise ship look fun. As an adult, I think, “Cruise ship? Aren’t people always getting sick on cruises?”

“Spring Break is my practice summer,” I told my husband, my friends, and anyone else who would listen. I said this with the giddiness of a college student headed to Daytona Beach with her daddy’s credit card–and with the sincere trepidation of that same college student who upon graduation realizes she needs to find a job.

You see, “Spring Break” was to be the first week in two years in which I had both of my children home with me all day, every day–and no need to even consider granny-care. Two years. I certainly don’t want to come across as insensitive about this, and I’m not saying that I am glad my mother-in-law has finally died, but the truth is, just being a mom is so much easier now that I don’t have to take her care into account. I’m not in a rush to leave in the morning. I’m not in a rush to return in the afternoon. I’m not dealing with two different bathroom-related emergencies at the same time every day. I don’t feel pulled in a gazillion different directions for the first time in two years.

And my children have really grown up in those two years. They were babies the last time I had this kind of freedom to just be a mom–and not a care-giver. Sure, they weren’t newborns two years ago, but my son was still young enough that I had to always pack diapers and be aware of nap times.

I’m excited about how much they have grown. In my pre-child mommy-fantasies, I wasn’t daydreaming about infants and toddlers. I dreamt of kids—the kind who climb on the monkey-bars, ride bicycles, and read really cool books, like From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler and I Capture The Castle. I wanted to take them fun places and have deep conversations about life and love and literature.

See? That’s the giddiness! A full week to spend time with two of my favorite people! Every day of Spring Break would be an adventure! I likened myself to being a cruise director with a whistle, a clip board, and a daily itinerary of fun, fun, fun! Just think of me as the Julie McCoy of the M.V. Spring Break.

And now, for the trepidation. I don’t have much experience as a cruise director, and my children are…active. Very active. Super active. It’s like living with two of the three Chipmunks—on caffeine. They get into everything. They are impulsive. They are noisy. They are messy, and their attention span is short. Very short. Super short. Life at our house is Alvin and the Chipmunks meet Love Boat.

Oh, wait, they’ve already made that movie and in it, they ended up marooned on an island. That sounds about right.

So, how was Spring Break? My practice summer? Obviously, I survived it since I’m writing about it today.

On Monday, we had plans! We met friends at the library for a play-date and then, we went to a playground with those friends. That part was good. The grocery shopping after the playground? Well, that was like taking Chipmunks to a grocery store. Clean-up on aisle nine.

The remainder of Monday is a bit of a blur. I’m sure that I have blocked it out of my mind for a reason. I do remember being aware that Tuesday’s weather was going to be icky—rain, colder temperatures, wind.

Here I am with my children and one of their friends. We recorded several albums and had our own show back in the 1960s.

Here I am with my children and one of their friends. We recorded several albums and had our own show back in the 1960s.

Having spent my career working in museums, I cannot tell you how many times I have been involved in this discussion: How does weather impact visitation?—Or as it relates to me now, will I take my kids somewhere in the rain? And here’s the answer: Museums experience slightly increased visitation on days in which the weather is iffy because people want to go somewhere and they’ve ruled out all outdoor venues such as playgrounds. However, if the weather is just plain bad—stormy, for example—they stay home and the museums experience a decrease in visitation.

Tuesday’s weather was bad enough that we stayed home all day watching movies. I made popcorn for lunch and told myself that a movie counts as an activity. It snowed Tuesday night. Enough said. Okay, it wasn’t the kind of snow that accumulates, but still, it snowed—in mid-April. Frankly, I think that is plenty of justification for sitting around in our pajamas eating popcorn and watching movies.

On Wednesday, however, I was determined to go somewhere, anywhere. I chose the Patuxent Wildlife Refuge. Why? Because it is free and we hadn’t been there in a couple of years. In fact, when we pulled into the parking lot, both of my children claimed this was all new territory. “We’ve never been here before!” they squealed in their little Chipmunk voices. In fact, whenever I quote my children in this blog, you should just assume they sound like the Chipmunks–and I sound like David Seville. That’s right—I look like Julie McCoy in her little nautical uniform, but I sound like a cartoon song-writer/animal trainer.

The Wildlife Refuge was a hit. I took their picture in front of the taxidermied polar bear and they played a video game that uses bird calls to create rap music. I tried to encourage a little hiking, but alas, they were hungry and so we headed to their favorite restaurant—Ikea.

Yep, I know. Ikea is known for its inexpensive, easy-to-assemble furniture, but my children think of it as their favorite place to eat, and with good reason—kids’ meals are free on Tuesdays! Hooray! But it was Wednesday. We ate there anyway.

My children had wanted to go to the free in-house childcare center at Ikea, too, but it was closed for remodeling?!?! During Spring Break!?!? Oh, Ikea, you disappoint.

We made the most of our Ikea adventure, however. It really is a kid-friendly store and so I didn’t mind shopping with the Chipmunks there. Besides, they really like the Ikea free-bees– the paper tape measures, golf pencils, and brochures that feature the store floor plan. “Look, free treasure maps!” Alvin squealed as she handed Theodore a brochure!

On Thursday, I was once again determined to go somewhere and I had considered quite a few options—including a two-hour ride to St. Mary’s City, an outdoor history museum that had daily Spring Break activities scheduled. Excellent choice. Fun and educational and since I love archaeology, this seemed a logical pick.

The phone rang. I answered. Blah, blah, blah. We got a late start.

I decided we would try to make it to St. Mary’s City anyway, even if we would obviously miss the 11 a.m. Spring Break program on colonial rope-making. Oh, rats. As for lunch, I had no time to make sandwiches. I threw pretzels, bananas, and juice boxes in a bag, and I figured we would stop somewhere along the way for a burger.

No one was hungry when we passed what would be our last fast food option for many miles, but on that long stretch of highway and little else, my children began whining, “We are hungry. We are hungry. We have to go to the bathroom.” I tried to give them pretzels and bananas, but no, they were hungry for lunch. “We are starving for real food,” they squeaked.

Real food? Yeah, me, too. Here’s a mistake I periodically make: I let myself get hungry and once that happens, my ability to make wise decisions is just gone—along with my patience and desire for road-trips.

We pulled into the one lone shopping center we found. Our lunch choices? Chinese or Mexican—so, basically, we were choosing between high sodium and high sodium. I picked the Mexican restaurant because I figured they would bring us chips and salsa as soon as we sat down.

My daughter ordered off the kids’ menu—a quesadilla with rice and a lemonade—for $8. That was waaaaay more than I had planned to spend on a child’s meal. I decided my son and I would split an entrée. Shrimp tacos? He likes shrimp and tomatoes and lettuce and everything else that goes on a taco, so that seemed like a good choice.

Our lunch arrived. He refused to eat it. “I don’t like shrimp,” he squealed. Then, he, the child who was starving for real food, not just snacks, filled up on chips and salsa.

I paid the bill–$25 when I included the tip. Wow. I had planned to spend only half as much on lunch and now, I didn’t have enough cash to get into St. Mary’s City. Sure, I could have used a credit card or even hunted for an ATM, but at the start of Spring Break, one of the things I promised myself was that I would use only the cash I had on hand. I had started the week with $75, and now, I was down to less than $20. And okay, I will admit I bought a bottle of wine with some of that cash on Monday night and so, yeah, that along with the Mexican lunch…St. Mary’s City would just have to wait until summer.

“What do you know about Flags Pond?” I asked our waiter. I had seen signs for it a couple of miles back, and I had heard that it was a good place to hunt for fossils. Fossil hunting? That could be fun.

“I know nothing, senora.”

“Okay, so we will just take our chances. We will go to Flags Pond because it is a state park, and therefore, probably within my depleted budget,” I thought as I loaded my children back into the car.

We drove north and followed the signs to Flags Pond. It was closed.

And so, we continued to drive north towards home. “Well, today has been a bit of a failure,” I told myself, and then, I saw the sign for the Cypress Swamp Nature Center. Like the Patuxent Wildlife Refuge, it met those qualifications of free admission and we had not been there for a really long time. Jack pot.

So, we hiked the cypress swamp trail—twice—and visited with an albino snapping turtle that lives at the interpretative center. My daughter declared it, “the best day ever,” and I realized that I may have driven too far and spent more money on lunch than I had planned, but the day was not a failure.

On Friday, we went to the annual PMAH Spring Fling where the kids hunted for eggs, rode a pony, and played with all their little Chipmunk friends—is it just me or do all children sound a little bit like the Chipmunks? It, too, was praised as being “the best day ever.” I love that about my daughter—for her, most days are “the best day ever.”

So, was Spring Break my “practice summer?” And if so, how did I do? What did I learn?

  1. Not every day on the M.V. Summertime will be an adventure. If bad weather or illness or other unforeseen events put us in dry-dock for a day, it’s okay to watch movies. And as much as I loathe crafts, it’s not a bad idea to go through our craft supplies and have them ready and available for those days when we are stuck in-doors and at home.
  2. Lunchtime is important. Buy good lunch food—not just peanut butter and jelly—and pack good lunches. Eating out as the result of desperation is a lot like desperation shopping. You will pay too much and you probably won’t get what you want.
  3. Include time for friends. What made Monday and Friday special? Friends. One of the things I have neglected in recent years is friendships because I didn’t feel as though I could follow through with anything planned. I couldn’t guarantee we would make it to playdates and so I stopped going to them all together. Things are different now. We’ve re-entered the land of the living.
  4. Be flexible. I’m glad I was open to hiking the cypress swamp trail even though it was not what I had planned. According to my daughter, this was “the best day ever” and I owe that to being open to an ever-changing plan.

Of course, the real difference between Spring Break and summer is that summer is longer and the M.V. Summertime will have more ports-of-call. Well, that and it’s not likely to snow in July. God, it better not snow in July. I won’t be able to handle that.

Still, I am aware that summer always goes quicker than we expect. I assume I will have more time in the summer—I suspect most people fall into that trap—and then, we all blink and it is over.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Longest Day of My Life. So Far.

My house. It's really a lovely place to live--or die.

My house. It’s really a lovely place to live–or die.

Yes. She finally passed.

Last Tuesday, I was home alone with my mother-in-law. Deborah had the day off. My husband was at work and both children were in school. My mother-in-law was difficult to wake and once awake, she was difficult to feed. She fell asleep between swallows of soup at lunch. Nothing about any of this was terribly unusual. In the past eighteen months, she has had several bouts in which she slept a lot and ate very little, and yet, I had that feeling that something was different.

That night, I gave her tomato-carrot-sausage soup for supper—it was one of her favorites– and followed it with a bowl of ice cream. Chocolate. I spoon-fed her, and she continued to nod off between swallows. Once she was done with the ice cream, I wheeled her back into her bathroom where I washed her hands and face, brushed her teeth and changed her into her best pajamas.

Pajamas hardly seem worth mentioning, but these pajamas! Oh, these pajamas were the softest, most luxurious pajamas ever made and they were relatively new—a Christmas gift from my sister-in-law, her daughter.

Looking back, I’m happy I gave her ice cream and dressed her in her best pajamas—I take a certain comfort in these details–even though pudding is good desserts, too, and all of her pajamas are really pretty nice.

I believe the choices made on Tuesday reflect that change that I wrote about in my last blog entry. “Something has changed, something has turned,” I wrote. I didn’t know what to call it at the time, but now, I know—it was peace. Her soul was peaceful. There was an absence of anger and fear, and I believe I was responding to that.

So, I put her in bed, said a quick prayer, and turned out the light.

On Wednesday morning, Deborah arrived and got her meds and breakfast ready and then went into her bedroom to wake her. A moment later, Deborah called out to me. I came downstairs and she discreetly and calmly said, “She’s passed.” We hugged and I went into my mother-in-law’s room. It looked like she was sleeping in the same position I had left her in the night before.

I called my husband. He had already left for work. I said, “You need to come home now.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Um, your mom has gone to join your dad.” I couldn’t say, “She died” over the phone.

Then, I had to decide what to tell my children. I figured I had to say something to them right away because I didn’t want to send my daughter to school and then have her come home to discover that Grandma was just gone. Although they are only six and four, my children are two of the most grounded, caring individuals I know. They can handle this, I told myself and then, I took them both into my son’s bedroom and said, “Grandma died last night. She went to sleep and didn’t wake up. Her body is still in her bed, but her soul is in Heaven.”

“Just like Hutch,” my son said referencing a very old rabbit that went to sleep and didn’t wake up.

“Yes,” I said. “Like Hutch.”

I also asked them if they remembered attending their grandfather’s viewing. It was less than two years ago, and they had seen his body in the casket. They had knelt next to it and said a prayer of thanksgiving. “Thank you, God, for all the happy times we had with Grandpa and all the happy memories that will live in our hearts.”

“I don’t think we will have the same kind of opportunity to say good-bye to Grandma,” I told them knowing that my mother-in-law didn’t want an open-casket viewing. “Would you like to go into her room now? It just looks like she is sleeping, and you could see her one last time.”

They nodded. The three of us went into her bedroom and stood by her bed holding hands.

“Good-bye, Grandma. I love you,” my daughter said.

“Good-bye, Grandma. I love you,” my son echoed.

“Dear God,” I prayed, “We thank you for Grandma and all of our happy memories of her. She will live in our hearts forever. Amen.”

Then, I asked my daughter if she wanted to go to school. Yes, she did. “Please understand that if you want to talk about this while at school, you are to go to your teacher or another adult. You are not to discuss Grandma dying with your classmates.” Cuz’ there’s no sense in upsetting kids whose grandmothers may only be a year or two older than Mama.

“The second rule,” I continued, “is that if you want to come home at any point during the day, you are to tell your teacher and I will come get you right away. Do you understand?”

“Yes.”

And then, I took her to school. I called the school, too—just to give them a heads-up.

This is the part where I brag about how awesome my children are–again. Honestly, even if they weren’t related to me, I would still want to know them. They are caring, smart, and grounded. Not much rattles them. I love these qualities. I can’t say that I’ve done anything to make them this way. It’s not due to my influence or my parenting skills. I’m just lucky. I won the kid-lottery. I suspect most parents feel that way.

My husband came home. We hugged. We exchanged those meaningful glances—the kind that takes the place of words when there are no words to accurately describe the thoughts and feelings. He went into her room, stayed there a few minutes, and once he came out, I said, “We need to call someone to come get her. Do you want to use the same funeral home we used for your dad?”

He nodded.

I called the funeral home because I thought I remembered being told that you call a funeral home directly when someone dies in your home. As it turns out, however, you must first call the police so that they can issue a case number giving the funeral home permission to move the body. “Use the non-emergency number,” the funeral home employee advised me.

And so I did. I looked up the non-emergency police number and called. I explained the situation to the person who answered that phone, and she put me through to the dispatcher—the emergency services dispatcher. Yes, this is the same person you get when you dial 9-1-1, but I didn’t know that.

“Fire, police, EMS?”

“Excuse me?” I said because this really caught me off-guard. This was not an emergency as far as I was concerned.

“What emergency service do you require? Fire, police, EMS?” he repeated.

“Um, medical examiner?” I answered. “My mother-in-law died in her sleep last night.”

“Have you tried to revive her with CPR?”

“No. I suspect she has been dead for several hours. She died in her sleep.”

“Okay, I am dispatching.”

Within minutes, three police cruisers AND a fire-truck AND an EMS arrived at my house. I had already told my son that some people would be coming to get Grandma, and he had excused himself up-stairs to play quietly in his room. Again, this is how I know I won the kid-lottery. Now, however, there was a fire-truck in front of our house. What 4-year-old boy isn’t going to be excited about this? And what adult isn’t going to think, “Really?!?! Is this the best use of our tax money?”

The fire-fighters and the EMTs carried their equipment into the house, took one look at my mother-in-law, and carried equipment back out. They were very nice about it. Very respectful. They left because there really wasn’t anything for them to do here. It wasn’t an emergency.

The police, however, took a report. Who was the last person to see her alive? What time did she go to sleep? Was she on any medication? How old is she? What did she eat the day before? How long has she lived with us? How was her overall health? Who found her this morning?

The officers taking the report were young. One might have been 30, and the other was maybe 23 or 24. One had just become a father, and the other was engaged to be married. One had been born in Anne Arundel County and had rarely left the state of Maryland, and the other was trying to convince him to travel “before it’s too late.” They were pleasant and patient with us as we answered their questions with more information than they needed. I told them that my mother-in-law was from Ecuador and had visited Europe, Asia, and northern Africa. I told them that she had worked for the Ecuadorian Embassy and the Organization of the American States and had volunteered at the White House. It was like having a small wake in my kitchen over coffee.

Then, they called the medical examiner who, to my knowledge, listened to the details of the police report and decided to “sign off” on the phone versus launching an investigation. Phone calls, emails, faxes, whatever were exchanged between the medical examiner and my mother-in-law’s doctor, and eventually, the younger, un-travelled police officer handed my husband a card with a case number on it. At last, we could call the funeral home.

This time a different person answered the phone at the funeral home and for the sixth time, I had to tell someone that my mother-in-law had died in her sleep. The funeral home person asked me questions about the arrangements and for the first time, I began to feel the stress of the day, the magnitude of what had happened.

“We aren’t ready to make arrangements. You handled my father-in-law’s funeral a year and a half ago and so I am asking you to handle hers. Other than that, I’m not in a position to make decisions. Just come get her body. Now.” I was a bit curt, but damn it, I had a dead body in my house and I desperately wanted this day to be over.

The funeral home sent two middle-aged men in suits. They, like everyone else who had been in and out of my house that day, were very nice, very sensitive to the fact that the situation is rare and awkward. They counseled us briefly and advised my husband to have her embalmed because we didn’t know how long it would take us to get in touch with other family members who may want to see her before she was cremated.

Then, they lifted her onto the gurney and zipped the body bag before rolling her out the door to their van.

From the moment Deborah discovered her lifeless body to the time when the van pulled out of our drive way was only five hours, and yet, to me, it felt like fifty. “This has been the longest day of my life,” I said to my husband.

He disagreed. “Really? It’s like a blur to me. It’s all happened so fast.” We had had a similar discussion in the hospital after his heart attack.

Now, I would describe that afternoon, evening and the next few days as a blur. I can’t tell you what we ate that night, but I’m sure I served the children something for dinner. I don’t remember meeting my daughter at the bus stop after school, but I’m sure I did. A mind-numbing blur. I can’t say that I felt sad or even relieved for the first few days.

I think I was just in a state of shock, and yet, there is nothing shocking about an old person in ill health dying in her sleep. The words “So, this is it,” kept coming into my mind just as they had at every other big moment of my life. My first kiss, my high school graduation, going into labor with my first child…yes, at every big moment in my life, my thoughts have been the same. “So, this is it,” and “It happened. I knew it would happen, and yet, I am surprised it happened. I can’t believe it happened.” No doubt, this is what I will be thinking as I am dying.

Now, some time has passed and it’s been a flood of emotions. I’m over the shock. Yes. It finally happened.