2018 Manifesto

1. I will CALM DOWN about October. The arrival of fall fleece weather causes such a frenzy of excitement that I over-schedule every corner of October to take maximum advantage of no longer sweating the instant I open my front door. October then becomes this giant blur. It begins with a couple of mums on the front porch, a giant scarf around my neck and the first hot beverage of the season but it always seems to end in a frantic fit of exhaustion and shame when my kids find me shoving one more snack size Kit Kat in my mouth before I set fire to all of their Halloween candy whilst yelling, “WE FORGOT TO GO TO AN APPLE ORCHARD!” October is crafty in that it promotes itself as this super chill month full of deep breaths and crisp fall air but in actuality, you never stop moving the entire time before tumbling into November and then Thanksgiving which bleeds into the December holidays and then you wake up sometime in January five pounds heavier with wrapping paper stuck to your pajamas. It all begins innocuous enough. I’m on to you, October and I will not fall prey this year.

2. I will step away from the news at regular intervals so as not to fall into a pit of depression and despair, believing that the destruction of mankind is imminent and all hope has been lost.

3. I will invest in me.

*insert tremendous eyeroll here*

But, lo, I am firmly in my forties now and no longer as physically resilient as I once was. Basically, stuff on my person hurts. So, this year, I’m striving to fix what’s broken. That means, I’m going to wear the stupid brace at night to help alleviate the carpal tunnel syndrome I developed while growing three children with my body. I’m also going to do the stretching I’m supposed to do to help alleviate the plantar fasciitis I developed from excessive hiking to get some alone time away from the three children I grew with my body. I’m going to make the appointments and take the supplements and drink the water and get that weird bump behind my ear looked at so I can be as healthy as I can be for me and for the three children that wrecked everything when I grew them with my body.

4. I will finally figure out how to make the theme song from “Parks and Recreation” be my phone’s ringtone because it is delightful. I should probably ask Henry how to do this, better preparing him for the years and years he’ll spend down the road exasperatingly troubleshooting technology for his parents.

5. I will make a HUGE punch list of the home improvement items around this house that need to get accomplished so we can actually accomplish them. Bob and I talk all the time about our to-do list, casually mentioning over breakfast that the laundry room needs painting or the basement curtains are still waiting to be hung or the crack in the hallway needs patching. Frankly, someone needs to write all of this stuff down because we are easily distracted and inevitably one of us gets busy with something else or decides to take a nap or retreats with a book or goes shopping instead, forgetting all about the laundry room, the basement and the hallway. Then, the next weekend, we LITERALLY have the very same discussion about the things that need to get done around the house. It’s all very counter-productive. Bob asked for some sort of a master list some months ago so we can go room by room as time permits to complete the work and I love a good checklist so I’m going to make this happen. I’ll probably laminate it, to be honest.

6. I will show my kids new places and new things. As much as I love to lament parenthood, I think my kids are pretty much the coolest people on the planet. They’re so interesting and they love to learn and are so curious and they’re getting easier and more fun to take out in public. Bob set a goal of traveling into the city frequently this year to show them a new museum or exhibit and I’ve set a goal of two vacations with them to places that none of us have traveled before. This year, I really want to focus on more experiences and less stuff.

(I’m also in that post-Christmas deep regret stage as I try to organize and find space for the hoard of presents I brought into our home so, we’ll see how this one pans out is all.)

7. I will be generous with my time, resources and talent. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to better the lives of those around me. Not just for my husband and my children, but looking beyond that. I’d like to figure out how to extend generosity – in whatever form that takes – farther out in the circle. I have a certain set of talents and expertise and I have friends that are extremely talented and super smart in other things and sometimes, I feel like if we could just pool our gifts, combine our resources, we could make lives better. Easier. Lovelier. Kinder. For ourselves and for others. I’m going to figure out how to build that community of generosity this year. I feel like the world could use a lot more of it.

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Roadblocks

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There’s a boy in Millie’s kindergarten class that pinches her bottom. The pinching began in August, shortly after the school year started. They’re six. Not nearly old enough for the action to be considered perverse. Still, Millie was bothered by it enough to mention it to me. I promptly contacted her teacher and they took all appropriate and necessary action. They were responsive and apologetic. I met the boy at a classroom party not too long after and as I helped him make a puppet from a paper lunch bag, he leaned over and embraced me at least ten times. He is a hugger. A toucher. A pincher.

While Millie was home sick last week, she brought up this boy again. He was back at it. Pinching her bottom. She still didn’t want him to. “But don’t worry, mom. As long as I remember not to sit next to him, he can’t pinch me.”

Her words stopped me short. I paused from my work and looked with a weary resignation at my daughter.

How we learn. Learn at such an early age to navigate the unwanted attention and behavior of others. We make accommodations. We change seats or classes or sides of the street or busses or phone numbers or ourselves. Sometimes, we change ourselves. We gently and strategically and sophisticatedly and expertly maneuver around a problem. Like a boulder blocking our path, we learn how to carefully make our way around the problem instead of jackhammering right through it.

We had the entire family at a big social function recently. We had a fantastic time and made some lovely new friends. At the end of the evening, as we made our way to leave, one of them stooped down and asked Millie for a hug goodbye after shaking hands with Henry and Charlie. He was kind and jovial and he meant absolutely no harm but I wasn’t surprised when Millie quietly and respectfully declined his offer.

While I fumbled with my coat, I heard him reply, “Well, I’ll just have to take it then,” as he swooped down and embraced my daughter in a bear hug she had not wanted to receive.

My God, those words. Why did he say those words?

We learn early on to pleasantly decline. To demurely defer. To softly and deftly say no thank you. To carefully choose our words and actions and emotions when our path is blocked. We accept and tolerate and withstand when instead we should be screaming and kicking and fighting.

And, sometimes, we learn early on that saying no doesn’t even matter.

Every woman has a story. Every single one can tell you tales of unwanted attention or harassment or mistreatment or inexcusable advances or unconscionable behavior. I am so amazed at the women brave enough to finally tell their stories. I’m not at all surprised there are so many.

I had wished a future for my daughter that was different. That didn’t include any of these stories. I am dismayed that, in fact, she already has some.

Lady of Leisure

As of this morning, I am officially unemployed.

For the past year and a half, I have been working. Working for people and places that I truly enjoyed. And, for a variety of reasons,

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I’ve made the decision to not do that anymore. Some of those reasons are exciting (I’m going to write more!), some of those reasons are mundane (someone should really dust this house more often), some of those reasons are more complex and intricate, which often happens when motherhood and employment intersect.

Cumulatively, all of those reasons kept bringing me back here; to it being the right time to be at home.

When I explained to a friend all of the complicated thinking that led up to me bowing out of the workforce for a bit, she helpfully pointed out, “Oh! So, it’s like you’re taking a gap year.”

“YES,” I exclaimed. “A gap year! Exactly!”

So, sort of like Cheryl Strayed in wild. If Cheryl Strayed regularly meal planned for her family of five while hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.

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When the kids found out that I would no longer be leaving the house for work each morning, the first thing they asked was if I could please, pretty please, drive them to and from school every day, a prospect that I find infinitely wearisome.

After I explained to everyone that they needed to suck it up and would continue taking the school bus like the rest of the kids whose mothers don’t love them enough to personally transport them to and from school each day, Millie looked at me and asked rather accusatorially, “So, like, what are you going to DO all day?”

Bob, understanding the deep value in our union, stepped in to wisely answer, “Whatever she wants.”

Which is absolutely accurate. With all of my kids in school full-time, this fall marks the first time since 2009 that I have not served as the primary caregiver for my three children. I have mothered them tenderly and lovingly for the past eight years, meeting their every need with infinite grace, wisdom, and patience. (That is all true. Just ask my kids.)

So, yes, Millie, I’m definitely going to do whatever I want. Which, if today is any indication, appears to be some rather sloth-like behavior.

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But, I mean, I do have goals and stuff for my gap year. Outside of the writing and the excellent parenting, there are certainly things I’d like to accomplish.

First and foremost, I’d like to really, finally, for once use my Crock-Pot. Every year, as soon as it gets cold outside, I think to myself, I should find some good recipes for the Crock-pot! Throw everything in in the morning, dinner is DONE. But, every year, my Crock-Pot just languishes, completely forgotten, in the cabinet. No more! I declare this coming winter, The Winter of the Crock-Pot. (As such, please forward applicable recipes. Must appeal to the pickiest husband and children on the planet. Also, cannot contain red meat, fish, or pork. In addition, cream-based sauces are out, as are red sauces, so is an abundance of cheese, or really any dairy at all. So, none of that. But, should taste good. Thanks in advance!)

Second, I am going to continue to read. I fulfilled my reading goal of three (3) books this past summer and, with a recent raid on the local used book store combined with the library’s sale, I have a stack about ten-high on my nightstand. I’ve really missed reading so I hope my friends are all prepared to enthusiastically discuss books with me at great length that they read five to ten years ago!

Also, I’m for sure going to clean my house with greater frequency. Well, try to. I’m definitely going to put forth effort. Sort of. Probably. I’m aiming for making my bed AT LEAST twice a week.

(As an aside, Bob and I are purchasing a new range for the kitchen and I want one that has the two ovens – the smaller convenience oven on top and the larger turkey-cooking oven on bottom. I think this would be SO HANDY when I’m trying to prepare both chicken nuggets AND tator tots for my kids at the same time. When Bob and I were looking at these types of models online, I said, “You know, that bottom oven looks really low to the ground. That’s probably going to be hard to clean.” Bob looked at me, squinting in a patronizing and patient way and said, “Is that really a concern?”)

Also, I’m going to organize the crap out of every corner of this house. When we moved in, three and a half years ago, I just… put things in closets. There it all has stayed, in disarray, chipping away at my psyche. No more! I’m going to KonMari my way through every closet and dresser and cabinet in this joint. It’s going to be amazing! No one is going to be able to find ANYTHING because it will be so ORGANIZED!

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I’m also going to paint the last three rooms in our house that need to be painted. Definitely, for sure going to get that done. I might even actually hang pictures on the walls. Finally! Maybe they’ll even be FAMILY pictures – of us! That I have printed out from the computer and everything! (This is getting awfully ambitious though.)

Okay. I’m off to throw out all of my kids’ favorite things in the name of organization! (Just kidding! I’m going to go binge-watch The Good Place. I really think pacing myself is the right approach here.)

Also, don’t forget about those Crock-Pot recipes!