The Land of Nod needs to pay to redecorate Zoë’s room and/or therapy

When I was a little girl, I had a doll in my room that my mother kept there for decoration. She was a stuffed country doll with curly gray-brown yarn hair under a puffy red hat. She had a matching country lace trimmed red gingham dress. Her round hands and flat face were creamy white with just a touch of rose on the cheeks. I don’t remember if she had a mouth, but I think if she did, it was an embroidered line in light brown. For eyes, she had simple round dots of clear sky blue.

And I was terrified of her.

Her name was Bessie, and she sat on my toy box, scaring the ever loving shit out of me. By day, she was to be approached with caution. As long as sunlight streamed into my room, all she could do was sit motionless, her murdery hands waiting. Her empty eyes were actually full of whispers that said, I’m watching you. I used to turn her around so she couldn’t look at me, but she was always turned back around, because decorating. But at night, she would come alive in my dreams. I learned to sleep under the covers so she couldn’t leap off the toy box and bounce over to my bed in the dark. But man, did she mind fuck me. I would know she had come alive because I would hear a noise that sounded like a cross between reverb, speaker feedback, and the sound of the asteroids blowing up in the Jengo Fett/Obi-Wan Kenobi chase scene in Attack of the Clones hitting a wormhole. I had nightmares of her chasing me down the hall. I would run, floating through the air, but always woke before she caught me.
I told my parents I was terrified of this down-home, country succubus, but they believed me to be silly. It wasn’t until the summer between 7th and 8th grade when we were packing to move that my mom fully realized how terrified of Bessie I had been. She had been put away at some point, but she had found her way back to me. As she lay there in her packing box, she had all the nonchalance of Sup?, but to me she said with her obscured chin mouth, I’m going to eat your brain!

So now it’s my turn. Now I get to deal with my girl’s irrational fears which seem completely legitimate to them. I get to discern between fears I should indulge, (like a fear of the open closet) and fears I need to help them conquer, (like a fear of the dark.) Zoë is terrified of her pink floor lamp.
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Normal, unassuming, overpriced lamp.

It is beyond aggravating, because it means we don’t currently have light in her room. But I get it. Her nightlight would shine up through the bottom of the shade and would create a shadow of the lightbulb with the wire crosspieces behind it, making it look like a skull and crossbones on her wall. For awhile, she accepted the fact that it was just a shadow; we would put on shadow puppet shows to reinforce this concept. But now, if we try to have the lamp in her room, especially at night, (even though we’ll move the location of the lamp) she screams that it’s “skehrwee” and wails like a banshee until we remove it from her room. As frustrating as it is, I really don’t blame her. Even the most developed of minds can be startled by an odd shadow in the middle of the night. As least I know her imagination isn’t broken. Also, one minute it’s a shadow. But if you’re not careful, the next minute you’re Linda fucking Blair and doing the crab walk down the stairs and in desperate need of a barf bag. So really, Zoë’s a natural survivalist.
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Not today, motherfuckers!

And as far as

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ARRRRR NOM NOM NOM NOM NOM

See? And you thought fearing the lamp was just silly.

Admission

I feel like my first few weeks of blogging were easy. I had so many things stored up to write about. Once I had gone through those, I had things which presented themselves for the written word. Lately, though, I haven’t had any strokes of culinary “genius”. I haven’t felt the need to write anything down. Nothing terribly inspiring or funny has happened. Days have been filled with play dates, grocery shopping, choosing between peeing and household chores, and repainting our front door.

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Ancient Druid symbol for “We’re coming for your young!”

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Rather than peeling and cracking paint, we now have peeling coating on the lock and handle from the tape we covered them with to protect them. Because, of course we do.

But the truth is, I have had something to write about, I just haven’t been ready to share. I feel certain it will cost me or hurt others, but I don’t feel like I’m being entirely honest about myself until I do share. To put it simply, I’m agnostic.

Okay…and?
To some, what I’ve just revealed is a giant anti-climactic ball of “so what?”. To others, like my family, it’s a heart breaking admission. To me, it’s freeing.
I’ve wrestled with this for the past several years. It began with doubt, as these things tend to do. I started taking a harder look at my faith and things slowly stopped making sense. So much of what I had “known” when I was younger was wrong. The more I read and studied the Bible, the more I realized that the “faith” I had was not my own. It was as if I had borrowed a coat many years ago and still had it. It may be hanging in my closet, but it doesn’t belong to me. So I tried to build a faith, convinced that it was something I needed. I immersed myself in Bible study, prayer, going to church, and surrounding myself with others who called themselves Christians. But as time went on and I put myself through the motions, I found myself gripped by anger, fear, and guilt, rather than released by peace. Every time I came to gather for worship, I felt out of place and heavy hearted. Easter was particularly depressing for me. Rather than responding with, He is Risen, indeed! every time someone proclaimed He is Risen!, I wanted to dully quip, Yeah…maybe.

Breaking Up is Hard to Do
I can’t say that finally letting go was like a death, because that would imply there was something worth mourning forever. No, it was more like a breakup. Like a toxic relationship with your college boyfriend, I realized that trying to stick with it was doing more harm than good. I needed to let it go. It wasn’t easy at first. Old habits die hard. I would remind myself as I cried for help during those desperate nights as Zoë screamed that I didn’t believe that anymore. (Incidentally, I felt a lot better once I stopped waiting for the cavalry to arrive.) I did go through the classic stages of grief: “fear, denial, horniness, wisdom, sleepiness, and now, depression.” (You always learn something from 30 Rock!) Now that I’ve let go, I feel so much better. The angst is gone. I finally have the peace I’d been craving.
I kept it from Mike for awhile because I didn’t want to hurt him. Fortunately, given our conversations and his knowledge of my struggle, I think he knew it was coming and has handled it well. At least, I think he has. I usually find out he hasn’t handled something well a couple of months later because of a meltdown over something completely unrelated.

How You’ll React
I tend to have conversations in my head with other people when the subject is stressful. I imagine how they’ll react based on what I say and what I know of them. So, here we go.

1) Agnosticism is just a poor man’s atheism.

Maybe.

No, seriously, swinging from one faith extreme to the other doesn’t make sense to me. Just as I am not confident in declaring there is a God, I am not confident in declaring that there is no God. I’m open to either path, so long as it’s one I choose. For right now, I’m settled and content in the “I don’t know”.

2) I’ll pray for you.

If you would like to do that, that’s fine. Maybe yours will work out better than mine ever did. But if you do, please don’t tell me, I’ll pray for you. Even if you mean well, it usually comes across as condescending. And the times it doesn’t come across as condescending, it comes across as dickish. It’s the Christianese version of Bless her heart. Ooooh, and then there’s the mash up of, Bless your heart, I’ll pray for you.

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I was kinda sad when they canceled this show.

3) You’ll go to hell and be separated from God forever!

Fear had always been a motivator for me when it came to being a Christian. While I certainly drank the Kool Aid for awhile, (Oh, yeah!) the main reason I held on for so long was a fear of hell. Growing up evangelical, the fear of hell and Satan was drilled into you. I used to be tortured at night by the fear of demons engaging in spiritual warfare for my very soul as I prayed to God to help me fall asleep and keep me safe. So you can imagine my relief when I came to learn that the devil didn’t enter into Judaism until their captivity in Babylon. The devil was an aspect of Zoroastrianism that they took into their faith and lore. Gone was my fear of hell, demons, a devil, and eternal torture. So you can say I’ll go to hell, but my reaction will be shrugged shoulders, an Mmkay, and something about Pascal’s Wager.

4) Scripture! Arguments! Reasons!

I’m not trying to convince anyone to believe there isn’t a God. So I’m not going to argue with you about it.
Ah ha! You don’t want to argue because you know you’re wrong!
Nooo….. That’s kind of the point of agnosticism. I don’t know. I’ve just argued it with myself for so long that I’m kind of done. I’m not about to waste breath (typing power?) in a war of attrition.

5) But the children!

I was raised in the church. For the first several years of my life, my father was a pastor. So we see how well that turned out. I have no intention of discouraging faith for the girls. I still let Rachael say a prayer at bedtime, but I let it be her choice. I will do my best to answer and encourage questions. If they come to faith, great! I feel one of the best things I can do for them is, if they come to faith, to let them have a faith that is authentically theirs.

6) But more scripture and arguments!

Dude, apologetics with clobber verses make you sound like a dick. Seriously, let it go.

Fighting my stage mom wannabe

At the risk of sounding braggy, Rachael was kind of a Gerber baby. Several people mentioned that to me, and I even heard it whispered as I walked with her through the lobby of an Olive Garden once. Some people asked if I was going to get her into child modeling. I was like, Nooooooooooooo. It’s not that I didn’t believe her to be cute, (although I try not to believe the sun shines out of my children’s asses. That way lies the path of Honey Boo Boo.) It wasn’t that I couldn’t take off work to take her for auditions, (even though, I couldn’t have.) It wasn’t just that I wanted nothing to do with that superficial world. It’s because I know something very fundamental about myself: I hate a lack of control. I knew full well that not having any control over what would happen on auditions or any jobs she might have gotten would have driven me mad. I would have become a stage mom.
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I can has contract?

I think, to some extent, it’s an impulse that most parents fight. They so desperately want to see their children succeed. It’s unbelievably frustrating or, at least it is for me, to see your child not do something when you know full well that they are capable of doing it.
It drove me insane when Rachael took dance class. She really loved it and did well at first. But after three semesters of basically doing the same thing, (even though they were supposed to be different classes) she got bored and started acting up. Rachael acting up looks like her not possibly being able to do what she’s been asked to do. Rather than sitting and doing a butterfly stretch, she does a butterfly stretch and “loses her balance” and falls over….from a sitting position. Sitting on the sidelines and not really being able to correct her was rough. (As was sitting on a hardwood floor with fibro butt and back for an hour while trying to keep Zoë entertained.) I did it every once in awhile when she started getting really disruptive, especially since her teacher wasn’t at all a disciplinarian. But beyond the behavior, it was exasperating that Rachael wasn’t excelling or trying too hard, and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it. I praised her good performance. I fussed about her needing to pay attention and try harder, because I knew she could do it. We had to have a sticker chart with reward books to get her through recital practice. And then I finally accepted it; no matter how much I wanted her to love dance and do well, she didn’t love it in the way that she needed to in order to do well.

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She looked really stinkin’ cute in a tutu, though.

Now Rachael is trying gymnastics. She’s teeny tiny, wiry, and she likes being on her head.
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Watching TV
She really enjoyed class. I really enjoyed watching her…right up until they started doing real things beyond stretching. Every time she she got silly, I cringed. Every time she majorly messed up, (because she should totally do it perfectly on the first try, right?) I wanted to go in there and help make it right. I’m not going to lie, I motioned to her a few times to calm the fuck down while she got impatient waiting in line for the trampoline and balance beam. It’s probably helpful for me that we’re not in the room with them while they practice. Anti-anxiety meds don’t hurt either.
I don’t have any real big epiphany here. I just know that I have to keep the crazy momster in check while Rachael learns and becomes who she’s supposed to be. Also, she looks really cute in a leotard.
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Finding contentedness in a Pottery Barn world

Whenever I go to a new house, I always imagine what it will look like. I imagine the layout. I imagine what sort of furniture they’ll have. I envision the decor based on what I know of the person. I wonder if their kitchen will be one that I covet with all its space and granite countertops. This is something I’ve done ever since I was little. (Although the coveting counter space is more recent.)
I took Zoë over to her little friend’s house yesterday for a play date. We met the family over the summer in Rachael’s rising kindergarten play group, and yesterday was the first time we had been to their house. Guys, let me tell you, it was that house. You know the kind. The lawn and garden are well manicured, but in an effortless, non-stuffy way. The front porch looked like a place where you could just relax with a drink and look at the stars. Inside looked like it was in the last issue of Pottery Barn magazine. Earthy tile ushered us in. Adjoining dark, wide plank wood floors looked virtually untouched. In the living room, a large shag area rug covered the floor. It was not scary shag, but modern, chic shag that invited you to press your toes into it. The dining room had modern vintage furniture which was gently lit by the bay window. The girls’ rooms upstairs looked like after reveals on Dear Genevieve, age appropriate, but not little kid-ish. The walls were covered with gorgeous professionally-taken family pictures, wainscoting that makes you want to run your fingers along it, and Pinterest projects that has turned out well. And the kitchen? Oh the kitchen! Granite countertops and new cabinets. Enough counter space to actually cook comfortably. An island that says Please gather ’round me and fellowship.

Can you tell I soaked in every inch of that house? I tend to do that. It’s like being inside the design magazine/website; it allows me to collect ideas for my own home. What works? What’s awkward? What do I like? What do I not like? As I mentioned before, we bought our home as a foreclosure, so it came as is. There are so many things to be done: fixing the deck; repairing and cleaning the fence; changing light fixtures; gutting the kitchen and dining room. But it’s more than just gathering ideas. If I’m honest, it tends toward coveting. I crave having a finished house, one that doesn’t require any fixing up or adding to. I look forward to the day I am no longer embarrassed by my kitchen; I don’t want to feel like I have to explain that the builder grade oak cabinets that are falling apart, white laminate countertops, and blonde fake wood flooring that doesn’t match the living room are my idea what looks awesome and is what I want.

In the DC/Metro area, some people do judge you based on what your house looks like. But this really goes deeper than that external cue and pressure. This is about me needing to focus on being grateful for what I have. And, actually, I don’t really even like the word grateful. To me, if feels like a word you use when you’re not happy about something, but you recognize the good in it and push back the unhappiness in deference to the gratefulness. Saying something like, I should be grateful I have a kitchen. Some people don’t even have running water with which to cook, is valid. But not really having a connection to what that actually means can only guilt you into gratefulness for so long before you hope your company doesn’t notice the giant holes the prior occupants drilled into the cabinet.
What I really need is to become content with what I do have. I need to focus on what my greed for more things really does:
1) It makes me restless and anxious, neither of which are good for my mental and physical health
2) It can stress Mike out when I look around and say, What’s next?
3) It can put a strain on our bank account when I insist that something that’s a want is really a need
4) It makes me less of a good friend when I’m in a me versus them mentality because I’m comparing or worried that they are comparing and judging
5) It teaches the girls that things and appearances are more important than relationships and contentedness

So that’s my new goal. I’ve been working on being myself, and now I need to allow my house to be as it is. I need to separate my house from myself; I am not my house, and my house is not me. It’s simply a place where my family lives. It’s where we have shelter from weather. It’s where we gather for meals and celebrations. It’s where my children have taken their first steps and said their first words. It’s not just a house, it’s a home. That is way more important than the paint peeling on the front door.

But seriously, y’all, that kitchen is getting redone because it is not functional, it’s falling apart, and is just generally gross. *nod*

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The aforementioned offensive holes, non-glory edition

Roasted banana pudding s’mores trifle

One of my favorite things in the world is a s’more. I love how the chocolate melts into the gooey marshmallow, swirling together between a crunchy graham cracker sandwich. And if there is a crispy, smoky campfire char on the marshmallow? I’m in heaven.
I tend to eat these periodically throughout the year, although I make them with the use of my microwave. A couple of weeks ago I was eating one as a snack while Zoë ate a banana. She’s always likes to share her food. And by share I mean insistently shoving whatever she’s eating in your face while saying, Bite?, until you take a bite of what she has. So I took a bite, along with a bite of s’more, and it was really delicious!

So the wheels in my head started turning. What if I made some kind of s’more bar topped with one of my other favorite things, banana pudding? I got even more excited when my friend, Rashmi, suggested brûléeing the marshmallow creme I was thinking about putting on top. So I gathered my recipes and made a plan. I had made cupcakes before which had a graham cracker crust on the bottom, so I figured I could do the same thing here and it would serve as the graham cracker component of a s’more. Next, I would bake a brownie layer on top to serve as the chocolate component. I decided on a roasted banana pudding recipe to go next. Finally, I would try to concoct some type of marshmallow whipped cream that I could char under the boiler. Once they were all put together and refrigerated, they would meld into an epic campfire meets potluck treat!

You know how I promised I would blog about my culinary failures? This is one of them. Now, when I say failure, I don’t mean that it didn’t taste good. (Ahem, Mike’s co-workers who will be eating this tomorrow, ahem.) It just didn’t turn out at all how I imagined it would. The roasted banana pudding turned out well. Although, I must say, given the amount of gelatinous liquid that came out when I opened the skins, I feel like I know what it’s like to give a banana a C section now.

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The graham cracker crust didn’t come together. At all. I thought it had. I crushed the graham crackers, added some sugar, and then kept adding melted butter until the mixture would stick to itself and press down into the bottom of the pan. But once I baked it off, it just became a crumbly mess. The brownies came together just fine; I had’t realized until after I started making the recipe that it was for an 8×8 pan. No problem, I thought. I’ll just spread the batter out and bake it for less time. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t really spread out over the graham crackers without taking the crumbs with it.

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At this point, I decided to see if the pudding and brownie mess even tasted okay together before I bothered going further. They were alright together, but didn’t give me the s’more taste I was hoping for. So I decided to pack away the treats separately and go back to the drawing board.

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Then I thought, Wait a minute! I can just do what the British do. I’ll just throw it all together and call it trifle! So I placed brownie squares on the bottom, followed by the banana pudding, and then the graham cracker crumbs that didn’t stick to the brownies. After repeating two more layers, I placed a layer of mini marshmallows on top that had been broiled for a minute.

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So, it kind of works and it kind of doesn’t. All the components taste fine, but they don’t entirely meld together as a trifle. It definitely didn’t make me feel like I was eating a s’more with a banana. Mike wasn’t a huge fan, but that’s because he doesn’t like banana pudding. I have no idea how I married someone with such a tragic flaw!

ETA: Letting it sit overnight did wonders. It was so much better today. Still not s’more like, but pretty damn tasty.

Gardening

I witnessed an attempted murder in my front yard this morning. I noticed the struggle while I was in my garden, trimming my holly bush. So stunned was I by the scene, I stood motionless with my hedge clippers in hand, unable to look away. Fortunately for the victim, it was able to escape the clenches of death. It was so excited, it high fived me in the face as it flew away. Oh, yeah. It was a little moth which had escaped a spider web. I’m pretty sure I saw the spider shake a few angry fists at the moth as it flew away.

I witnessed all this while I was outside doing my semi-annual gardening. I really hate gardening, but it really needed to be done. My azalea and holly bushes were losing their uniform shape and encroaching on our front steps. It looked like fucking Mirkwood in there with all the spider webs that have taken over.
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Bright side: Free Halloween decor.

Weeds had crawled in and spread out, much like the ants that live under them. And the tree bush on the side of the house was becoming taller and more expansive than ever, despite the diseased places and my efforts to keep it contained. It’s not that I hate nature. I just prefer to enjoy planet Earth the way God intended: in HD, narrated by Sigourney Weaver. It’s really the bonus features I don’t care for, like the bee that stung me on my back while I pulled weeds. Or the gnats who thanked me for freeing them from their spider webby prisons by nuzzling me gently in my eyes and nose.

I really hate that tree bush, though. Every time we have a storm, rain or snow, I hope beyond hope that it will get knocked down. It toyed with me one winter. We had just had one of our snowpocalypses, and the weight of the ice and snow brought it down to the ground. I danced with joy! I was so happy that tree was going to have to come out without having to pay a tree company to take it out after I had gotten the approval of our homeowners association. (Side note: I really need to try and get the HOA to approve Zen gardens. It’s believable that they would promote both peace and property values, right?) But no; it was not to be. Once the snow began to melt, it sprang back up like it had taken tree Viagra. Birds really seem to love it, which is great until they wake your children up with their chirping super early in the morning, and decide that your front porch is the best place to take a shit. I decided that some of the large branches really needed to come down in order to contain this thing, so I got our little tree saw and went all Fern Gully on its ass.
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“Can’t you feel its pain?”

As I sawed away at those limbs and yanked down those dry branches, I thought about how strong this tree was. You can tell in the leaves where it has been afflicted by disease. No matter what happens to it, it still flourishes. I thought about how it could apply to me; I thought about how I can be strong despite my fibro. I can flourish no matter what life throws at me. And the more I thought about it while I sawed that tree, do you know what I realized?

I really fucking hate gardening.

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Raising two girls and the topic of sexuality

An open letter has been circulating and flame warring this week on the interwebs. It’s from a mom who is upset with some selfies, (I kind of hate myself for writing that “word”) in her son’s social media feeds which were posted by some real hussies. In a classic passive-aggressive dick move, she writes to these girls in a open forum because these pictures are clearly sexually themed, they are going to ruin her boys, and she is on to you. Such selfies, (god, I had that word) are going to cause her boys to think about these girls in a sexual manner forever because they’re boys and have no control over their thoughts and how they direct them. After dressing down these teenage harlots, (dressing up? I don’t want my terminology to be slutty) and shaming them, reducing them to just their bodies, she then tells these girls that they’re more than the breasts and vagina they have just burned into the minds of her pure sons. She wants her sons to marry the best of the best, (although her sons are never going to marry skanks like you.)

I haven’t seen the scandalous selfies in question, (although I did see plenty of teenage boys in swim trunks posing on the beach, before she changed the post, with all the masculinity a kid can muster) but it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that the slut shaming and reducing girls and women to their bodies and what they do with them is so common in our culture, and especially in the evangelical subculture. Having grown up in this subculture, I have memories of comparing losing one’s virginity before marriage to driving a used car. (I was so immersed for a long time that I may have even repeated such euphemisms.) Girls had guidelines for what we could wear on trips, from the length of our shorts to how much skin our swimsuits showed. God forbid we bare our sexy belly buttons, lest we cause one of our brothers in Christ to stumble. (I really apologize to any guy in youth group who got a raging boner from my chubby thighs and obnoxious personality!) We role played what we girls would say to any guy who wanted to sleep with us because clearly that guy couldn’t care about us and only wanted one thing if they wanted to sleep with us before marriage. (It was really helpful for me, what with all the guys beating down my door in high school. Phew! Dodged that bullet!) Honestly, my biggest take away from it all was: 1) Don’t go to hell. 2) Don’t have sex before marriage. 3) Don’t be gay, (because everyone knows that’s a choice.) My eternal vagina was just as important as my eternal soul.

So, with all of this chasing around in my mind the past couple of days, I started thinking about what I would say to my girls when the time inevitably came. Rachael already knows some biology.

Me: So the egg travels from the ovary through the Fallopian tube to the ute…

Rachael: Don’t forget about the birth canal!

I’ve always been open and frank about things, when age-appropriate. They’re called breasts and vaginas and penises. They are natural and private, but not dirty or something about which to be ashamed. But what will I actually tell Rachael and Zoë about sexuality beyond basic biology?

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Dear Rachael and Zoë,
Your daddy and I love you so much! You are smart. You are kind. You are funny. And you are beautiful. Words cannot express how precious you are to us, and how much we want the best for you. We can only take you so far, and then you will have to decide what is best for you. I hope that we are able to equip you with the tools you need to make those decisions. We want you to know that whatever decisions you make along the way, we will love you unconditionally because we love you for you, not for the decisions you make.

You are sexual beings. As you get older and start having relationships, people will tell you all sorts of things about men and women. People may try to reduce you to nothing more than your reproductive organs. But there is something I want you to never forget. You are MORE than your lady parts and what you choose to do with them. Anyone who says or treats you differently doesn’t respect you as a person. They simply have an agenda, whether that is to get in your pants or shame you for daring to think about getting out of them. Everyone is responsible for their choices and behavior. You are never responsible or to blame for someone acting out on you. People may say “boys will be boys” or “men are pigs”. WRONG! Men can be pigs, but there is a clear distinction to realize. The distinction is that there is a choice to be made, and HE is the one who makes it.

If you can and want to wait until marriage to have sex, good for you! That is your decision to make. But don’t wait simply because you think you’ll be “damaged goods” if you don’t. You are Rachael and Zoë, beautiful and wonderful persons and my daughters, not commodities to be preserved or damaged.

You are Rachael and Zoë. You are loved, and that is enough.
Love, Mom