Friday, July 17, 2009

A Little Support Please!

I know this is getting boring - the whole "me repeatedly mentioning how hot it is in every blog post" - but seriously - it is HOT! If you think you're getting bored with it imagine how I feel! I wish it would freaking cool down to 98 or something. GOSH. But it makes me feel better to know it is only a Natural Warming Trend that is leading my back yard to full-fledged desert status. Knowing it is "natural" means that there is nothing I can do about it and then I can go back to watching TV or whatever. If I thought that my huge gas-guzzling van, or my AC, or the mercury-belching coal plant a little north of here, was contributing to this sizzling problem then I might have to do yeah. Major relief. It is just a Natural Warming Trend. How convenient. We wouldn't want anything inconvenient because that would be political.

Anyway - what to do during a Natural Warming Trend Of Which I Have Nothing To Do With? Go to one of our favorite cool places, of course! With my BCF (Best Conservative Friend) also known as 9 (+)Texans, and her kids, of course! In our big, gigantic gas-guzzling busses, of course!

We headed to Landa Park which is in the nearby town of New Braunfels, Texas. I went to this park when I was a little kid and am thrilled to be able to take my own kids there. When I was a kid, by the way? No Natural Warming Trend. It was hot during the summer - but our school was un-airconditioned and nobody died. Now? Someone would die. Anyway, enough of that. Here is a pic of the Landa Park Spring-fed Pool.
Yeah, that big slide-thing is way fun. And the water is cold! Yay! You don't know how rare a cold pool is during the Natural Warming Trend. The local pool we usually visit feels like a warm bathtub. So the cold spring-fed pool at Landa feels great! There's lots of shade and a shallow area for the little guys to go down a slide, hop on the lilly pads, and chase fishies. And speaking of chasing.....9 (+) Texans has her hands full with Little Lu Lu who is 3 and just runs all over the dang place. 9 (+) Texans should do something about that. Little Lu Lu was EVERYWHERE. And she moves considerably faster than 9 (+) Texans, who also has a 1-year-old, who I call The Snail because he always leaves behind a slimy trail. (At our 4th of July party he left a lovely trail throughout my home that included a toilet bowl brush in my bedroom - I followed the puddles to find it - and a liter bottle of soda that had been mouthed by someone who had recently eaten a chocolate brownie....fairly disgusting). Anyway, she also has a 5-year-old and a whole slew of medium-to-big-sized kids who play with my medium-to-big-sized kids.

That's right. Starting today. In fact, I might be losing weight right now. Yesterday, while at the spring-fed pool I stuck with the local custom of wearing a swimsuit. Bleh.
Here I have this brand new awesomely sexy tattoo on my foot and the part of me from the knees up does not match the awesomely sexy rest of me. And I kept seeing women my age running around in little skirt suits (and not the cute skirt suits, either - because there are some cute skirt suits) with their tattooed shoulders or whatever and I just don't want to end up in a skirt suit with a tattoo. Now then, don't get me wrong. I probably NEED a skirt suit. But it doesn't match my tattoo, ya know? It just doesn't.
I was wearing a really pretty dark brown suit with shirring on the sides (supposed to be flattering but all the shirring in the world can't move eyes away from my thighs). The suit came with little inserts for the breast area. If I keep gaining weight I am going to be forced to refer to my breasts as my "bosom" and so that is another reason to trim down...anyway - so I promptly lost the little inserts because I lose everything and they weren't sewn in. No matter. They're just little inserts, right? Wrong. They helped give some much need firmness and a little bit-o-lift. I need a lot of lift, but every little bit helps.

I wore the suit anyway. Screw the inserts.

So I disrobed. I stood at the pool in my lovely brown shirred suit. And Ellie (16) says, "So can you adjust those straps?" She says this with her little smirk. She stares at my bosom. God did I say bosom? I meant breasts. "I lost the inserts!" I say. "So what?" I say.

"Let me adjust your straps," says Ellie. And she does. My bosom (dang!) is lifted a millimeter.
"There!" she says with her smirk. "That's better."

"Yeah, you just wait," I said. "When I was your age I didn't need inserts."

"Well, Mom, I will not need inserts because I have willpower."

WHAT? Seriously, what the eff is this about?

"Karen," I say to my friend. "Did you know Ellie plans to hold up her breasts with will power?"

"Oh," says Karen. "I don't have will power."

Well, that was obvious but I wasn't going to say anything because she is my friend.

So what is it that this kid thinks causes the downward migration of breasts? Here I was thinking it was because I had breastfed her and her four siblings (YOU'RE WELCOME) and gravity and age and the loss of elasticity due to age and how many times have I said age? God. Seriously. God. Give me the strength not to kill her and her unsupported breasts. THAT is going to take some freakin' will power.

Hah! I did it! 9 (+) Texans challenged me to blog about will power AND the toilet bowl brush incident in one post. I did it.

I am the master. Now if I could only will my breasts to perk up.

Signing Off as as the under-supported (in so many ways) Sardine Mama

Saturday, July 11, 2009

My Summer Schedule? Ha!

"So, Carol, what is your summer schedule right now?"

This was a question posed to me by Michismusings at our homeschool co-op yesterday. And it is also the subject of today's post. Because I needed one.

I didn't know how to answer Michi because I wasn't even sure what day it was. Because it is summer. And summer is a blur. A hot blur.

Yes, folks, it is VERY hot here. Extremely hot. Unbelievably, uncomfortably, unmistakably HOT. It is reaching 105 pretty much every day. As a matter of fact, Jeff just returned home from the tractor parts store where he heard the official tractor parts store weather forecast from tractor parts store guys and they said it is the hottest it has ever been in July for this many consecutive days. As in Ever In The History of Texas. Now, granted, this news came from the tractor parts store but I'm bettin' these fellas are right. It is crazy hot. And this is making me crazy because it is making my kids crazy that they cannot play outside for several hours a day like they're used to doing and like they absolutely NEED to do. Jasper is actually showing signs of clinical insanity. Truly, you should see him. Or hear him. The kid is going whacko. He is getting some outdoor time, though. When he gets really awful he is placed on the front porch. He immediately steps off of the front porch and walks around to the back porch and comes back in the house. This ritual only provides us with about 40 seconds of silence but if you do it enough times throughout the day it adds up.

Anyway, back to my schedule. I don't have one.

The closest thing I have to a schedule is our Friday co-op which is meeting on the Fridays that nobody is on vacation or at camp or work. And even then, when we do meet (like yesterday) we kind of all sit around chatting and sipping and taking turns putting Jasper on the porch.

During the school year (and I use that term lightly) we are more structured with our co-op. But this is summer, right? Yesterday the small-sized students took off (probably running from Jasper) to play, the medium-sized boys immediately plugged themselves in to some mind-altering game, and the big-sized kids (all being of the somewhat serious firstborn variety) began checking their biology homework. This gave the teachers time to begin a conversation about sexuality. I don't remember how it came about, who brought it up first, etc....but it was a great discussion. It might have started because one of our friends has been talking a lot about spirituality in sexuality....her church is going to be conversing about this topic. There are apparently a lot of books written that connect religion/spirituality/Christianity to sex.....most of which I find fairly icky but some of which are quite lovely.

Anyway, after that I did a little science with the small ones - talking about molecules and atoms. And let me just say that the book series I'm using with this group is simply fantastic. I love Little Scientists Hands-On Activities! The lessons are short and the experiments are simple and THEY WORK! Those of you who homeschool know how exciting (and rare) this is. We finished the book on physics and have just started chemistry.

Then I unplugged the medium-sized boys and we moved on into the Viking age. Boys love Vikings. Vikings are cool. Sorta like pirates only colder. We use The Story of the World series. They don't delve into much detail, so Joel usually learns quite a bit more from other resources (history is one of his thangs), but they are really good at getting the main point across in an engaging way. These books are written for little guys - but I have found it is more effective to use them with older kids (utilizing the Internet and other books for more detail). The activities in the activities book are way beneath I wish I hadn't bought the activity books, except that the maps are pretty good - and we do use those. We mostly use the globe and I am continually amazed at how this group of kids can just spin that ball and find exactly what they're looking for in a matter of a couple of seconds. I didn't know my way around a globe until I was an adult. Yes, I know enough to be embarrassed by this fact. But this group of mostly unschooled kids seems to know so much about geography and history and I honestly don't know why.

Anyway, with the high schoolers I usually do the Great Books discussions but we adults had spent too much time talking about sex for me to get to that. Which was fine. Because it is summer and all that.

We have been having and attending lots of parties. We postponed Father's Day and had it last weekend, immediately following our 4th of July party - and we also did my sister's birthday that weekend. It was kind of like Festivus (Seinfeld reference, there). Jeff was happy to get a Pearl Jam CD and to cook his own Father's Day dinner because he likes to cook and that is what he does on all holidays - he grilled some of our grass-fed beef and baked some potatoes and buttered up some corn from our now crunchy brown garden. Our annual 4th of July party the night before had been fun - but hot. Most of the crowd stayed inside our house instead of relaxing under the shade trees like they usually do - so it was different than it has been in years past. But we did, of course, sacrifice a Lego Man. This is a tradition begun by Joel and Friends.

We do not know why we sacrifice a Lego-Man on the 4th of July. We do not know why we throw pumpkins over the side of a bridge into the San Antonio River on Thanksgiving. These are just things we do that have no meaning whatsoever but are very important to us and therefore must have some sort of meaning that we have not yet identified. Here is Lego-Man, bravely taped to some kind of a rocket to boldly go where several Lego-Men have gone, before.

Well, that's about it for me and my lack of a summer schedule. I might go to the grocery store today - but only if I plan on cooking dinner. Otherwise, maybe it will be a trip to The Cove for some great food that is all locally produced and some great music by our friends, Lewis and Clark. Well, I think I just talked myself into that one.

Happy Blistering Summer/ Natural Warming Trend!

Signing off as Your Highly Unstructured and Under-Scheduled Sardine Mama

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Commit Me Already

On Sunday mornings Jeff is usually the first one out of bed. Well, actually, the first one out of bed is Camille. And Camille is hungry when she wakes up. And since waking up Mom results in a less than thrilling bowl of cold cereal, while waking up Dad results in pancakes, waffles, omelets and often, homemade biscuits…I am lucky in that I am mostly left undisturbed on Sunday mornings.

Last Sunday was no exception. Jeff had prepared some ridiculously involved and delicious breakfast for Camille using approximately every single pot, pan, spatula, skillet and spoon in our house and had then settled down to read the news on the Internet while sipping his coffee. He happened across Sandra Singh Loh’s article, entitled Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.

It struck him on several levels. First of all, we have lots of friends getting divorces. Also, I think he saw a lot of me in the author. Did this cause him to panic? Not quite. But did he did fix me a cup of coffee exactly the way I like it and bring it into the bedroom? You betcha. Gone are the days when he might have plopped down on the bed to share an article from the newspaper; instead he popped open my laptop and said, “Here. Read this. Man, are you going to divorce me or what?”

I do, indeed, have several things in common with the author. We’re about the same age, we’ve been married for about the same time, we both have kids who we attachment-parent, we’re both writers working from home, we both have traveling husbands….we both are often overwhelmed by the many tasks involved in quasi-single-parenting. Parenting with a traveling husband is HARD. I can attest to that. And most of the issues that arise in our marriage are related to this specific situation. I often don’t feel that Jeff has the slightest clue as to how much I do in his absence.

However, are we headed for a break-up? No way. But do I think the institution of marriage is outdated, as the author suggests?

Well, I must admit that since I tend to run a little counter-cultural, I was hoping to come to the conclusion that yes, it is. But I don’t really believe that. I DO believe that people have unrealistic expectations of marriage. I also believe that many people get married for the wrong reasons. And I believe that there is too much cultural and societal pressure to get married, when many people are quite happy being single. And I believe that the expectations that we will all marry are rooted in restricted sexual expression and the fact that, as a culture, even though very few people remain chaste until marriage – we still feel that sex outside of marriage is immoral. Therefore, since very few of us will take vows of celibacy – we get married.

I also believe that the institution of marriage, per say, has no bearing on my personal relationship with my partner. It is not the piece of paper or the ceremony that holds us together. And the fact that a certain percentage of the population is denied the right to marry has also affected my opinion of the institution of marriage. But really, that is a separate issue. Most of you know how I feel about it.

Statistics seem to support the author’s conclusion that marriage, as an institution, is not thriving in America.

Yet most Americans support marriage. Let me re-phrase that: They support marriage between one man and one woman. Even if the marriage is in shambles and riddled with infidelity and deception….or patriarchal abuse of power…it is still better than no marriage at all. Because marriage, or the institution of marriage, has connotations of being pure, of being a blessed and sacred union…even if it isn’t. On the other hand, just living happily in a committed relationship without the piece of paper or blessing of a representative of the church? Sinful.

Half of American marriages end in divorce. Half! If you were told you had a 50% chance of being happy with the expensive car you were looking at, or the cosmetic surgery you were contemplating…you would say, “No way!” Yet in the case of marriage, we look at the same odds and proceed in rapturous joy down the aisle in order to set up house and produce babies, both of which have a 50% chance of ending up being battled over in divorce court. And there seems to be a certain amount of mass hypocrisy involved.

The author expresses it well when she writes:
"I sense you picking up the first stone to hurl, even if you yourself may be twice or even three times divorced. Such a contradiction turns out to be uniquely American. Just because marriage didn’t work for us doesn’t mean we don’t believe in the institution. Just because our own marital track records are mixed doesn’t mean our hearts don’t lift at the sight of our daughters’ Tiffany-blue wedding invitations. After all, we can easily arrange to sit far from our exes, across the flower-bedecked aisle, so as not to roil the festive day.”

What is wrong with our expectations of marriage?

Obviously, it is a multi-faceted problem with no clear answer. Marriage is a paradox. It is the only thing I know of that is treated so seriously and so lightly at the same time.

I think that for the institution of marriage to survive it has to modernize. The old-fashioned concept of husband and wife happily taking up gender-appropriate roles is not really applicable. The old idea of marriage is a patriarchal arrangement that simply doesn’t fit, anymore. Yet, it is still the ideal that many people have in mind when they get married. And then there is the whole romantic and religious notion that a marriage is truly the physical and spiritual joining of two people. I personally do not think it is physically or spiritually possible for two people to become one.

I think the single entity thing is part of what messes up some marriages. Around mid-life, a lot of couples are quite surprised to discover that they are not, in fact, one person. And instead of accepting and embracing their individuality, they think, “Why aren’t we closer? Why don’t we have the same views and opinions on everything? Where have we failed?” They are surprised to discover that their partners have secret thoughts, hopes, ambitions…and occasionally secret lives, because they’ve been forced to hold back parts of themselves that did not fit into the mold of their perfect union.

The truth of the human state is that we often don’t know who we currently are, much less, who we’re going to be years from now. Yet, change is a scary thing. We hear over and over again, “He’s not the same person he was when I married him!” To that I say, “Thank God!” Jeff was a 22-year-old boy when I married him! If he was the same person I’d be in a lot of trouble.

We are allowed to change. Yet, our idea of the Institution of Marriage is that it is rock-solid (again, even though statistics show that this is far from the truth). It is unchanging, always and forever, unconditional love that is conditioned upon stagnation, or the appearance of stagnation.

Obviously, as we progress down the somewhat imaginary journey of unity, half of us choose to stay with our partners. But what does it mean to remain in a marriage? Is your marriage intact when you’re sleeping in separate beds? Is your marriage intact when you’re living in different homes? Is your marriage intact if you’re having an affair, or don’t speak to each other, or no longer love each other? Are there statistics on how many marriages exist in this sort of limbo? Possibly. But I can look around at my own circle of family, friends, and acquaintances to know that a significant portion of the 50% of successful marriages, are not really all that successful. So happily ever after as bride and groom? Not really even a 50% chance.

That doesn’t sound so great. Yet as we all sit here, we anticipate that our children will end up happily married. The statistics on marriage, as it stands, do not support our projections. Yet, what if we changed our view and understanding of what marriage is? Could long-term happiness result then?

What if we, as a society, scaled down the Break the Bank Weddings? What if we, as a society, strove to create meaningful rites of passage – where the destination is the goal, and not the party? This might seem like a small, frivolous detail – but I do truly believe that many marriages form around the wedding, itself. Eliminate the wedding; eliminate a certain percentage of divorces.

Next, what if we stopped expecting everyone to get married? What if we gave value and validation to the single lifestyle? What if staying single became a respectable option for women, even those who want to be mothers? Of course, this would involve us dealing with our sexual hang-ups. Why does divorce have to happen for so many people before they say they’re happy being single?

Finally, what if we view marriage as the friendship that it really needs to be? What if we forgave our spouses in the same way we forgive our friends? I think that one of the reasons we find it so hard to forgive spouses is because our spouse is supposed to be “ours”. My Husband. My Wife. How can something that belongs to me, hurt me? Or, even better, we’re one, right? Holy union and all that stuff? And here one of us went and did something that indicates we are not one entity!

Entering into a marriage does not transform us. It doesn’t even join us. It commits us to another person. A separate person. A person who we must acknowledge will go through ups and downs and changes that do not necessarily involve us. Entering into a marriage with a clear understanding of what it means to be an individual is what will help the survival rate; not entering into it with a dreamy idea of spiritual or holy union.

And what happens when the changes we undergo drag us too far apart? Can that happen? Sure, it can happen. It does happen. But I think it is less likely to happen if a partnership is created that respects individuality and is based on common core values, which don't tend to change all that much over time. If core values are shared, a lot of the other differences and changes and crises that occur are more likely to be tolerated well.

Of course, if I were to awaken to discover that Jeff had somehow morphed into Rush Limbaugh overnight? I would want some options.

Well, this was a long ramble. I fell in love with Jeff when I was 14. I married him when I was 21. Statistics say that, contrary to popular belief, young marriages have slightly higher success rates. Maybe because there’s less of a “blending of two lives” process? We brought nothing to the marriage but dorm room milk crates. But I also think we’re happy because Jeff is simply an easy guy to get along with. Everyone likes him and I’m no exception. The guy cannot be freaked out by anything I do. He isn’t threatened by my self-expression. He is somewhat of a loner and that gives him the natural ability to give me my space. Sometimes it is too much space, and I have to work to enclose a circle around the two of us.

We neither one feel that we need a marriage license to be the family that we are. And in fact, we have both decided that if we were to do it all over, we would poo-poo the wedding and the license and the whole bit. We would just quietly make our family without the interference of outside influences.

In 2011 it will be 25 years for us. We’ll have a big party. Jeff has suggested that we disavow our vows (which we didn’t write and which I’m sure were taken from scripture or something – the fact that we don’t even know what it is that we vowed to each other indicates the ridiculousness of it). Then we will dance to the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Hard to Concentrate while our 5 kids roll their eyes. And we'll commit, again, to hanging out with each other until one of us dies or morphs into Rush Limbaugh, whichever comes first.

You’re all invited!
Signing off as a Totally Committed Sardine Mama