Struggling to See Beyond the Smoke and Mirrors

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I have a bit of a rant for you all today so get ready or close your tab out if you don’t want to read it. But I need to get these thoughts out of my head and into a few others’.

We live in some insane times if you stop and think about it. I am not going to get on a soapbox about the trashy behavior of Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus as of late, but rather why on earth do we pay so much attention to these celebrities? They are so inconsequential to our lives (or at least they should be) and yet, we can’t look away! The Kardashians, Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, go back a few years to Paris Hilton or Lindsey Lohan; my God, the list is endless with this shocking behavior from wayward celebrities plastered all over our news! But why?

Currently, the U.S. is inches away from a third world war and no one is buzzing about that! Honestly, as a “tuned-in facebook-er” and “clueless stay-at-home Mom,” I have heard almost NOTHING about the potential for a third world war and the U.S. fighting alongside al Qaeda?!?!? If you said that to someone back in 2001, you’d have been smacked in the face!

But here we are in a truly mind-boggling state of affairs and I, for one, am scratching my head wondering how could this ever happen and what will this mean for the world we are passing on to our children? And why aren’t people talking about this instead of a two pop-stars, an irresponsible camera crew and an entire T.V. network throwing up some smoke and mirrors in our stupid, easily-distracted faces?

I am being completely serious when I say that I don’t doubt there is some government incentivized program that pays these celebrities and t.v. networks handsomely to draw our attention away from the news stories that we should be hearing about.

It speaks volumes to me that we are creating memes of the likeness of Miley Cyrus’s behind compared to an uncooked chicken carcass and not paying better attention to what is going on in the world beyond our borders where men and women are fighting for our freedom. Yes, even our freedom to act like morons on national television, thus provoking religious extremists to believe our country is filled with evil immoral people. I guess it’s no wonder people in other countries have such a low opinion of Americans. That is the stuff we consider to be entertainment gold and peddle to the masses. And the rest readily consume it all.

Here’s an idea: what if we actually glorified the humility and dignity of the work done by mothers and fathers in strong, moral families; the people who do thankless work day in and day out all for the sake of raising their children to be a part of a generation who will hopefully add something to the world rather than create mire and filth?

I do forget sometimes when I am folding mountains of laundry, making play-dates for my kids, or spending hours in the kitchen how important these tasks are beyond the microcosm of my world. Because while doing these things ultimately, I hope that I am raising empathetic, intelligent, honest human beings who will become a greater force in the world, capable of positively changing our world from how badly my generation is fighting to destroy it.

I don’t care what your religious beliefs are or if you don’t have any at all. I don’t care what color your skin is or what part of the world you come from. People are people. We are all imperfect but all have a chance to do something bigger than each of us. We can all become better than who we are. Margaret Mead said it best when she said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

End rant.

(My reasons for wanting a better world are pictured below.)

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Preschool Update

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Luke did awesomely well! I feel like he is a different kid from last year, he bounced to his classroom with his Spiderman back-pack, as big as he is and said, “Hi, Mrs. L. I had a peanut butter cup at Pops and Lulu’s yesterday.” Then he hung his back-pack on his hook, and began playing trains with big brother Noah. Why, oh why, do I worry?

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Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes…

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Oh, my little boys are beginning preschool tomorrow. Noah is beginning his second year of preschool and Luke is embarking on his first; my noodly, sensitive Lukey. The good part is that they are both going half days and the two days that Luke will be there, Noah will be in the same classroom as him. Then Noah will go an additional half-day.

Still, the worries are flying! For instance, I KNOW Luke is totally clueless about what we are throwing him into. His experience with school has been the 10 minute wait outside of Noah’s classroom while we picked him up. I also KNOW Luke is going to pee his pants at least once. I have a change of clothes packed for both boys. I KNOW Luke is going to pick up all kinds of new germs and with two boys in school, it is inevitable that we will all be very sick this school year.

Then there are the “what-ifs.” What if Luke stresses Noah out being in the same room and Noah becomes very anxious? What if Noah ignores Luke and leaves him high and dry? I’ve already had a talk with him about looking out for his brother and being kind to him. Sigh. What if Luke has a traumatic experience and hates school and gives me a hard time about going every day?

My head is spinning. It has been for weeks. In my moments of prayer, I have been able to quiet my mind enough to hear partial answers. They are more contradictions that out-weigh my worries.

I KNOW this is a tremendous opportunity for growth and independence for Luke. It may take some time, but he will benefit from this. I KNOW there will be an adjustment period and in the long run, it will prove to Luke that we (Scott and I) really do have his best interest at heart and we won’t send him to a place that is scary. I KNOW that Luke will probably not be the only one to pee his pants. Maybe he’ll make a friend out of it (like the kid from Billy Madison). I KNOW that even if Luke does pick up germs, he’s building anti-bodies that he will need.

I also have taken into account how life really does change without me noticing. I have been very surprised at how these kids grow and become more independent right before my eyes. Take, for example, the fact a few months ago I thought I would be wiping Noah’s butt for the rest of his life. He has been so incapable of wiping his own rear end, I was sure I’d be going to high school with him to take care of it- disturbing thought. But suddenly, he has started doing it with no assistance. I also remember a time when I thought Noah would never learn the sounds of his letters. I worked with him so much before school started last year, I actually warned his teacher. She must have been laughing so hard when I walked away. Because, by the end of the year, he was actually starting to sound out words. He’s so smart! Why did I ever doubt him? And here’s Luke: he refused to go in our pool at the beginning of the summer. I thought, “He is going to be Siggy from ‘What about Bob?’ and I will likely be Bob, holding him by his shirt on the dock.” Then just last week, Luke asked for a life jacket and jumped right in submerging himself into the water and came up smiling. I thought I was dreaming.

When do we figure it out as parents? Our kids really don’t need us forever. It’s kind of selfish and egotistical to think that they will. Our children are all brilliant in their own way. We undermine them when we don’t let them grow or figure things out on their own. I know I am guilty of doing this all the time.

And as for the “what-ifs,” that’s all they are. There is no guarantee. As always, I can usually imagine far worse things than what will actually happen. When you live each day in fear worrying about the things that could go wrong, you miss out on all of the things that go right. So, with all of this positivity springing forth, I am going to head to bed. And tomorrow, I am going to put a lot of faith in God and pray like crazy. And I am going to hold Gracie and take in every single moment alone with her that I can. Because I swear, it’s only been a week since both of these boys were born. I have no idea how time is escaping without my noticing.

Good luck to all the moms and dads who are sending their kids back to school or off to school for the first time this week or next. We will all get through this together!

The Magic of Letting Go

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I am taking a break from my usual musings to share a bit of prose with you. I wrote this last month for an assignment for a writing group that I am a part of. It isn’t structured like a normal article. The same technicalities don’t really apply. It’s much more free form.

Anyway, I am proud of it because it was about a day where I just let God take over and tried to enjoy every moment as it happened to me. I wish I were better at living every minute of my life this way, but that’s my struggle. I hope one day that living this way becomes second nature. But I digress. Here it is: The birth-day of Gracie.

Are You Ready?

“Wowowowow…” The monitor behind my head scrawls out an endless green double zig- zag; my heartbeat and another.
Only another thirty minutes before I can meet this little invader who had grazed her elbows and knees under the surface of my belly for the past few months. I rub her back pressed out against my middle and feel her wiggle. One of the last times I’ll ever have that feeling.

A heady blend of emotions sweeps over me as I look at my husband whose clammy hand is still squeezing mine. His anxiety is thick and his eyes turn up to meet mine with a hint of emotion making them glossy, “Are you ready?”
I feel my insides quiver and it resonates to my teeth making them chatter.
“Cold?” he asks.
“No… Excited.” I wrestle a smile which wins and victoriously turns up the corners of my lips. He lets one slip through as well and squeezes my hand again then stoically redirects his attention to the now-nameless program on our triage television.

Deep breath in. Stay calm…stay calm. I close my eyes and say a quiet prayer to myself. Really I think of no words. Just a picture of what I am hoping: Ten fingers. Ten toes. A healthy pair of lungs. Maybe some fat cheeks and big, round eyes like her brothers would be nice.

“Screeeatch!” The shower curtain partition folds back and slender, scrubs, sea green Janine focuses on me and pulls her mask down to ask what seems to be everyone’s favorite question today, “Are you ready?”
I smile a wide grin again and feel my belly and throat tighten again. “Yes!” I could burst with anticipation.
My husband squeezes my hand one last time and lets it drop to my side. He stands in his own pale soapy blue scrubs and I am unhooked from the monitor. “Wowowow-” ceases abrubtly like a needle pulled from a record player mid-song. “Soon,” I think, “I will only see that pulse in my baby’s neck as she naps on my chest.”

Scott is taken to another room so that I can be given my spinal anesthetic.

Down the hallway, I walk with sea green Janine to the operating room. The air is about ten degrees cooler and my body is swallowed into the chill as the doors swing shut behind me.
Everything is deafeningly white. I climb awkwardly onto the gurney. There’s no pretty way to do it with my entire back side fully exposed. Mercifully, no one says a word about it.

Nancy, a yoga instructor/anesthesiologist is doing the injection. “Beautiful spine.” she remarks running her hands down the bumps. “I can see everything!” I look around the room. All women. The entire surgical staff is smiling, positive, confident women. “So fitting for the occasion,” I marvel to myself. A wave of sweet, soothing warmth washes over me as the numbness takes over. Scott is led into the room and seated next to my head, behind the black curtain that is now lifted in front of my face.

“We’ve started.” A gentle woman’s voice announces. I shiver again.

“Cold?” Nancy asks.

“No. Excited.” I say beaming.

I hear quiet snips and clips. I know it is my skin and muscle. But I don’t mind. Scott stares at my face with nothing but admiration and love. “Thank you,” I mouth.
“For what?” His eyebrows turn up.
“For this.” I feel so calm, I could be floating. For “this” is our third baby; a little girl to complete our family of five. I picture our two boys at home now and tears blur my vision.
He squeezes my hand and looks away.

I hear my O.B.’s familiar laugh as she works with the team behind the curtain, to bring our baby into this white room; a fresh start, a clean canvas…

Finally, I hear Dr. Matoian, “Come on out, baby! Come on… Oh, she’s stubborn!” I feel my body being pulled off the table slightly…

Then a strong, tiny (oh so tiny!) angry cry. I immediately think, “And though she be but little, she is fierce.”

Dr. Matoian holds a purple face over the curtain and tears sting my eyes. Her cheeks are so chubby! “Hi, Grace! Gracie!” I stammer. I am overcome. She is perfect and beautiful. In that mad, little face I see that a life has begun again. Though whose, I’m not sure.

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Scott, Grace and me at Grace’s Baptism

They pull her away and I hear her protests escalate as they suction out her nose and clean the placenta off of her body. I can’t help but laugh as I hear her yell at everyone touching her.

Scott kisses my forehead and announces quietly. “She’s here!”
And for him she finally is. But she’s always been with me. Only now I can finally see her and love her outside of me.

Our Dinner at the Persian Palace

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My mom has been asking me to write this story for a few weeks now. So Mom, here goes:

My brother Nick is dating a very sweet Persian girl named Nasim. She epitomizes poise and manners. Obviously, it goes without saying my brother loves her and the rest of us do, too. Her wonderful personality is the result of a strict upbringing and a strong sense of family, as is common in her culture. It was only a matter of time before Nick wanted to introduce us to her family. So Nasim invited my entire family- my parents and siblings as well as their spouses- to dinner at her family’s home about an hour away from where we live. I was thrilled; a beautiful dinner at Nasim’s family’s gorgeous home. It sounded lovely.

And from what I understood, her family makes a big deal out of meals. They own several restaurants. The food is always amazing. She has told me that even in their home, special dinners are served on huge platters with all the fancy silverware and china. Each place setting has a charger under the plate and the dishwashing is an hours-long task after the meal has been eaten. Oh and the typical Persian fare includes lots of meat, decadent sauces and stewed vegetables. She let me know that her parents would make a vegetarian version of whatever the meal was and would also order a plain cheese pizza for my picky eaters. Good lord! Was there anything they hadn’t thought of?
One glitch was evident to me right away, however. When I received Nasim’s invitation, I quickly remembered the significance of the date. Scott was hosting a golf outing that day and would not be able to attend the dinner because he was having dinner at the clubhouse with his friends after his event. So, this whole dinner at the Persian palace would be on my shoulders. No pressure…

My anxiety grew as the day got closer. I started obsessing. What would the kids wear? I felt like they should be wearing “nicer play clothes” for such an upscale evening. I put a dress on Gracie just before we left so there would be less of a chance on an accident happening on it. And I threw two other dresses in the diaper bag as a back up. Then the boys…their typical threads were a mess from everyday wear and tear. So I got out their church clothes. They fought me on it for a second, but then I summoned the scary-mom-demon-voice and we had very few problems after that.
I packed up the car with what felt like was a long weekend’s worth of extra clothes. I loaded pb&js, sippy cups, yogurt and goldfish into a discreet cooler. Nasim had cautioned me that in her culture, her parents would be offended by people bringing other food. But I couldn’t have my children starving if they wouldn’t eat the food they were serving! So I decided this would be only for an emergency.
I double checked my list: Diapers, wipes, toys, a gift for her family as a thank you for hosting, the address; all accounted for. We were ready to go!
I turned on a movie for the kids to watch during the drive. The GPS indicated it would take about fifty minutes to get there. We were on the road only three minutes past my goal of 3:00. We needed to arrive by 4:00. And I did it all without any help from my husband. Go me!

3:10 Gracie woke up screaming to be fed. Pulled over to nurse her.
3:25 Construction caused a detour getting to the expressway.
3:55 Missed my exit getting off I-75.
4:10 Found out that the original address I had punched in was incorrect and my     actual destination was twenty minutes away.
4:30 Sweating and shaking, I arrived at the massive Shushtari estate.

Nasim and my mom came out to help me unload all of our luggage. I apologized to the point I was annoying myself. Noah and Luke went running full speed up to the house. I waddled behind with Gracie snoozing like a lead weight in her car seat.
We were greeted by not only Nasim’s parents, but her brother, sister, grandma, aunt and cousin. Brass and glass gleamed from every surface of the giant vaulted room before me. Noah and Luke suddenly looked like a tornado in a museum. Thankfully, a little yappy dog scared them and they cowered into a corner before they could destroy anything. But then Noah realized he was bigger than the dog and everyone laughed as he closed it into a room.
Nasim’s parents were so kind. They took Grace’s car seat and helped me get settled in offering me food and lemonade. My nerves began to settle. For a minute. Then I realized the kids were running like uncaged animals around the grand piano with a statue of a horse on top of it. Oh God!

I grabbed one of each of their arms and pulled them aside, “You two need to RELAX or NO special treat after dinner!” I hissed through gritted teeth. I think my face was seriously frightening because Luke went into one of his famous frowns and Noah looked at the floor as if I had scarred him for life.

I released their arms and they walked with their heads down over to a tray of cookies that had been set out on a side table and proceeded to eat their “dinner.” At that point, I didn’t even care. They were being calm. I struggled to make small talk as I watched Gracie being passed from person to person knowing from her squirming and grunting that she either had to poop or was getting hungry again. And Noah and Luke were darting around the house trying to get into just a little bit of trouble, whether they were crawling under the glass coffee table or diving onto the very kid un-friendly furniture.

Of course they wanted nothing to do with the cheese pizza Nasim’s parents offered them because it wasn’t a brand they were used to. Embarrassed, I ate both pieces. Then I smuggled the boys up to Nasim’s bedroom to which I’d been assigned when I had to feed Grace. I made them sit next to me to eat their sandwiches. Luke rested his head on my shoulder and said, “Thanks, Mom. I was hungry,” when he bit into his. I kissed the top of his sweaty head.
Back downstairs, everyone was sitting down to eat the formal dinner. I had gotten Grace to sleep. I put her back in her car seat and Nasim’s dad put it on the kitchen table which he explained was so the dog wouldn’t bother her. “Oh,” I said imagining the boys knocking it off the table. He even turned on a cartoon for the boys to keep them occupied while we ate in the dining room.

The dinner was just as I had expected; extravagantly presented salmon, stewed beef topped with a baby okra and eggplant, curried chicken shish kabobs, cherry rice, a dark green leafy salad. Everything looked and smelled wonderful. The dining room was completely silent as we all began eating…until, “MOM! MOMMMM! MAMA!”
I politely, excused myself hurrying into the great room. “Yeees?” I snapped when I saw both boys sitting there calmly.
“Mom, it’s a commercial,” Noah said pointing to the TV. Ah, yes! My children do not understand how commercials work because usually they watch DVDs or Nick Jr. where the commercials are all advertisements for the next cartoon. I explained that they just need to be patient and their show would come back on. I walked calmly back to the dining room. Within five minutes, they were in the dining room too.
“The movie is over,” Noah explained and he and Luke then crawled under the table poking and kicking everyone’s legs. I took them back out to the couch and found another show. I got back to the table and almost everyone was done eating. My plate was cold. Nasim’s mom and aunt began to clear the table. I ate quickly and I heard Grace crying again. I finished eating and fed her again back upstairs. My parents watched the boys.

As I came back downstairs, I saw Noah running head first into an over-sized chair in a corner. Directly behind it was a statue of hand-blown glass birds. I heard them clink against the wall behind them. That was it. We had to leave.
I dashed up the stairs and grabbed our bags, I collected the plates of food that Nasim’s sweet

This is how they like to roll.

Here comes trouble. This is how they like to roll!

mother had packed for us to go, I shoved the boys’ feet into their shoes, said a hasty, but polite good-bye. Meanwhile my brothers loaded up our car to expedite the process and as quickly as we could, vacated the premises.

I sat behind the steering wheel, sweat covered my forehead. My shirt was soaked through. I stared at my reflection in the rear-view mirror and saw my mascara was even slightly smudged. Then I saw Noah looking at me through in the mirror and I focused on him. He started laughing hysterically at my disheveled, shell-shocked appearance. I could only laugh along then. We’d made it. No Persian antiques were harmed. The dog hadn’t been trampled. We had survived our dinner at the Palace. Time to go home.

Mama Juice

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As I had mentioned before, my sweet little Frick and Frack (a.k.a Noah and Luke) are probably the most particular children on the planet when it comes to food. Their daily diet usually goes like this:

Morning: Both boys will usually have what they call a “super smoothie” (mini Stoneyfield

Luke eating one of his healthier meals; eggs and toast

Luke eating one of his healthier meals; eggs and toast

smoothies in a small plastic container). Sometimes Luke will surprise me and throw in a handful of Cheerios or some toast. Noah eats next to nothing in the morning which is highly stressful to me during the school year when I want him to eat a good meal before his mornings packed full of activity. He is usually starving by snack time.

Mid-morning Snack: Both boys like crackers or fruit.

Lunch: This is when I get to play the role of short-order cook. Their “usuals” include PB&J, Grilled Cheese, Yummy brand Chicken nuggets with ranch or ketchup, occasionally, Luke will eat a scrambled egg, and as sides they both like yogurt and more fruit. Both boys will rarely eat the same thing as one another. Annoying.

There is always room for cake! (Easter, 2013)

There is always room for cake! (Easter, 2013)

Mid-Afternoon Snack: They like fruit snacks or crackers.

Dinner: (See lunch.) We do succeed in getting them to eat spaghetti with meatless crumbles about once a month.

Oh and for beverages, water is sort of a four-letter word. Noah will drink plain or chocolate milk. Luke hates all milk. They both would like it if I hooked up an IV of juice to their arms. But I am very adamant that they can only have juice twice a day at the most.

So there you have it, my little boys’ horrid diet. It stresses me beyond belief. As a vegetarian who loves veggies and fruits of all sorts, I get ulcers when I think of how malnourished they probably are. I literally pray every night that they will have some sort of epiphany and want to try different, healthy foods; just something that doesn’t come out of a plastic bag or package. How good can it be to eat the same things every, single day? And believe me I have tried many tricks to sneak healthy foods into their bodies.

Smoothies weren’t even successful because of the texture. My mother-in-law and I were talking one day about it and she said she liked her juicer for that reason. It eliminated a lot of the pulp. She had the Breville juicer. I told her I’d give it a shot. She warned me it was a pain to clean but I told her if It worked, I’d clean it with a toothbrush every day to sneak the kids some healthy food.

She brought it over and immediately. Noah was fascinated with the big box it came in. I started pulling carrots, apples, spinach, peaches, pineapple, celery, pears, and strawberries out of the fridge and he asked if I was going to put it all into the machine. I told him yes, that I was making special juice that would make me super strong. He went to get the stool to help me. I still wasn’t convinced this would work because he likes to help me in the kitchen all the time but usually won’t try what we make together. I chopped the vegetables and fruits into smaller pieces and plugged in the blender. I let him flip the switch to start it up.

He looked up at me and smiled a big grin. Then he asked, “Can I put the apples in, Mom?” I nodded nervously envisioning his fingers getting sucked in, but I told myself, “Just be careful and don’t discourage his interest.”

He dropped the apple in with a thud and I quickly pulled his hand back and put in the insert to press the fruit to the spinning blades. A gush of juice poured out into the pitcher. “COOL!” Noah exclaimed. “Can I try some?”  I felt my shoulders relax. This just might work!

I was skeptical when we dropped in the carrots and spinach and the juice took on an ugly color. But Noah was still excited to try what he was now calling “Mama juice.” When we had a fairly significant amount of juice in the pitcher, I poured him a small glass. He stared into my eyes as he took a sip. I was ready with a bowl in case he gagged it back out. He smacked his lips a few times and his eyebrows narrowed. I was sure he was going to say he didn’t like it. Then true to form, always going for the surprise he set the glass down and flexed both arms “Mom, I am super strong! I tried it, and I like it! Can I have some more?”

It took everything in me not to start dancing around the kitchen. He hates it when I praise him too excessively. I think in his four-year-old mind he finds it patronizing. My hands were shaking with excitement, so I carefully poured him a bigger glass and he happily gulped it down. I was giddy! Luke had been watching from the other room. I asked him if he wanted to try some. He is far more stubborn about food and said, “No.” I decided not to push it thrilled with my success of just one kid trying it.

So I have used the juicer about three or four days a week since we got it. Noah and Luke like picking out the produce for it at the grocery store. We try to find as many colors  to put into it as we can. Luke has helped make it a few times but I think he’s scared to try it. I have slipped it into his sippy cup a few times when he wasn’t looking, but he figures it out pretty quickly and won’t drink any more. I keep trying just in case.

My little Gracie is only two-and-a-half months old but I am going to try things a little differently with her and use baby led weaning to introduce her to different flavors and textures when she is ready for solid foods. In the mean time, I eat tons of healthy food so at least she’s getting it through Mommy’s milk.

Now, I am psyching myself up to do the extra work and make Mama juice in the mornings before the boys go to school this fall- it’s only three weeks away! But I am glad that we’ve figured out one way to give them a healthier start to the day.