Thursday, March 31, 2011


I love spring. I love putting up the coats and humidifiers, I love watching little plants poking up through the mulch around our house, and I love appreciating the sunshine in a way I no longer will in August.

I also love getting our tax return.

Who DOESN'T love getting a big hunk of money, really? For me, though, there is something much more satisfying about making a number of home improvements or large purchases all at once instead of spacing them out throughout the year. As I go through the fall and winter I contemplate, "What will it be this year?!"

For 2011 we decided to make a couple of very satisfying improvements, like replacing our garage door. When we moved into the house 8 years ago, the thing was falling apart. It's always had a chunk out of the bottom, and when you stand in our garage on a windy day you can feel the breeze coming through the many cracks. Our new one is so heavily insulated that it should deflect gale-force winds, and it has fancy features like an actual sweep at the bottom that seals it up tight. Considering our family room sits above our garage, I'm hoping this will significantly decrease the cold-floor problem in our house next winter.

The other wonderful thing was that we finally found someone to identify and fix the weird brake noise in our SUV. It started about 2 1/2 years ago, only a few months after we bought it, and seriously, it sounded like something was winding down every time we stopped in the thing. The first few weeks Faisal lived with us he expressed concern that we might all die in a fiery car wreck due to brake failure. By that point, though, I was so used to it I didn't even hear it anymore. My dad had examined it, to no avail, and the (brake specialty) shop in town told us they couldn't find any reason for the sound and that it was probably fine. So we've been turning up the radio and living with it.

Last week, though, our express oil change place found a minor repair that needed done, and we took the car to a dealership in order to have the repair and the brakes checked. I wasn't expecting a solution, but apparently they easily identified and fixed the problem. Driving home felt so strange and quiet, I almost couldn't believe it. I read an article recently about how minor irritations all add up to increase our stress, and I have to admit that FINALLY having that fixed feels really good.

Just as I was feeling satisfied over resolving all these things, Faisal told us at dinner Tuesday night that he was planning to move out. In half an hour. Apparently he had rented an apartment, purchased furniture, and arranged people to help him move his things out, all without telling us. I wouldn't have thought it would be possible for him to leave us more abruptly than he came to us, but that he did. We barely got the kids through their baths in time to say goodbye before he left.

Kyle is not taking this personally at all. He says that it's been 7 months, and we've had enough misunderstandings between us in that time that Faisal probably just felt ready to leave. He'd been spending most of his free time with his friends, his cousin, or his cousin's host family lately. His English is better, and he knows his way around town now. He's always been a little impulsive with this kind of thing, and he tends to seriously avoid confrontation, so maybe we shouldn't be surprised.

I can't help feeling a little rejected, though. I'm sad that he didn't let us know about his plans, even if he didn't want to share his reasons for going. He had his cousin's host family look at apartments with him, move him out, and is staying with them for a few days until his place is ready. All of which makes me think, "Are we so horrible to live with that he couldn't stand a few more nights?" I think not getting to be a part of the process makes me feel like he doesn't see us as people who can even be counted on for help, like we ended all these months on a sour note with no chance to make it better.

To complicate things, there is another Saudi student in the same language program that desperately wants a host family right away for only 1 or 2 months. They've asked us to consider taking him on, and I feel torn. On the one hand, our budget and our family's plans included hosting a student for the next few months. We know now what kinds of things we'd need to hash out in the beginning of our relationship, and there's the potential to have a more satisfying ending to this whole experience in the near future. Kyle feels up to it. On the other hand, I'm not sure we need the stress of adjusting to another stranger in our home, especially at the end of the semester when I'm sick and burned out from work and feeling rejected.

Either way, we need to make a decision in the next day or two. The session has started and this student needs to move from a hotel to a house or apartment ASAP. What will we decide? Promise we won't leave you hanging...

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Funny Things Are Everywhere

From there to here and here to there,
Funny things are everywhere.
-One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish

My friend Karen has a recurring post on her blog called "10 Bits of Magic," wherein she makes an easy, quick list of beautiful or positive things that are going on in her house that day. I think I'd like to copy her idea, only I am not nearly as talented at being brief in my writing, and really spend more of my time thinking about funny things that happen during my days that I feel like noting on my blog. And I'm not sure I want to be constrained by the number 10... Okay, so this is really nothing like Karen's recurring list, but she was still definitely the inspiration.

So, in honor of Dr. Seuss (a big favorite in this house), I'm going to try starting a recurring "Funny Things Are Everywhere" post of my own. Here are some things from the last couple of days around here:

-Eva insists on dressing herself these days, but tries to pull her shirt on by putting her face through the neck hole first, pulling the shirt over her head and under her chin instead of straight down over the crown. This works okay for shirts with loose neck holes, but does NOT work for tighter-fitting crewnecks. Tonight, as I reset her shirt for her four times, only to have her get stuck a fifth time, I stopped to notice that she looked like a tiny jester, with just her face sticking out and the arms of her pajamas like the long points on the sides of the headpiece.

-This evening Daniel recounted a long, rambling story he claims his teacher at Wednesday night children's church told him about courage. I'll spare you the details, but lets just say it involved a dog who avoided a snakebite by just offering that snake a bite of his sandwich.

-Monday on the carpool ride home from preschool, Daniel learned that his friend Gus's father doesn't like chocolate. He immediately said, "Wait! I'm sending your dad a message... Dear Gus's Dad, Welcome! I am very sorry you don't like chocolate. It is very good. Thank you, Daniel." Like he has some kind of dictating telepathic email system.

-A student just sent me a detailed (unsigned) email explaining why they will be missing my class tomorrow, and how they hope I have a great spring break next week and think I'm just a super teacher, not knowing that the email system at the college doesn't tell me the sender's name, just a 7-digit ID number.
All that sucking up- wasted!

-Monday I roasted a whole chicken for dinner, and Daniel (per usual) wanted to help me with dinner preparations. I allowed him to brush the olive oil onto the chicken, and as he did so, he had a jaunty little conversation with the bird.
"How does that feel, Chicky?"
"Oh, let's get a little more oil back here. That looks nice."
"Chicken!! Heh, heh, I'm putting oil on your BUTT now!"

-Also, I spent most of my run yesterday chuckling at the signs for someone running for school board (city council?) named Judy Duden. I'm sure she's a fine candidate, but I just keep alternating back and forth between a mental picture of The Dude from the Big Lebowski, and a soundtrack of myself thinking, "Heh heh. DUDE-en." What am I, 12 years old?

Okay, okay, so we'll see if I actually keep this up in any way. I'll work on my material for next time (and maybe will work on getting better prepared for the upcoming local election).

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Home Alone

This past week, the public schools around here have been on spring break, which meant that my teacher husband was able to take the kids for a long weekend to visit his mother in Nebraska. The school where I work, however, doesn't have break for a few more weeks, so I couldn't go along. Which meant, of course, that...

I was alone in my house for four days with no children.

And it was glorious.

It turns out that miraculous things happen when I am home alone. Things that I cleaned on Saturday were still clean on Tuesday. I read a whole novel. I ate entire meals without getting up to get anyone more milk, different salad dressing, or a towel to wipe up that now-spilled milk. In fact, I ate most of my meals on the coffee table in the family room, in front of some girl-movie, with a beer, because there was nobody to be a good example for. Instead of running through the store like a maniac, trying to finish shopping before Eva pees her pants or I'm late for Daniel's preschool pickup, I strolled leisurely through the aisles, browsing. Browsing!

The other interesting thing is that I was able to devote several uninterrupted hours to grading, reviewing this week's lectures, and revising a midterm exam for one of my classes. In order to do this, I did not have to ignore anyone, stay up late, or otherwise stress myself out. This, then, was the real value of the week: having no obligation to my family, I had time to do all the things that need done for our house and my job without sacrificing my own mental health.

See, in the past few years I have developed a theory that goes something like this:
-I have three main jobs.
1. giving attention and care to my husband and our kids
2. overseeing the cooking, cleaning, and budget for our household
3. teaching psychology
-At any time I am only reasonably able to juggle two of those jobs well. The third one must be neglected. I can try to alternate which of the three is the neglected area, so as to make it look like I am actually attending to three things at once, but the truth is that I am always either ignoring my kids, ignoring the laundry, or trying not to think about all the grading I need to do.
-If, at any time, I attempt to sneak in something crazy like exercise, having friendships, volunteering, or just taking a break, the number of areas being neglected that day will probably jump from one to two.

When I quit counseling full-time in order to stay home with the kids, I thought part-time teaching would be the perfect mommy-job. The number of hours spent away from home is small compared to the time spent preparing and grading, and I thought being able to do the majority of my work from home would be the perfect solution. The thing is, though, that working from home is not what it's cracked up to be. A friend recently introduced me to the blog Rage Against the Minivan, where there is a post that perfectly sums up the way I feel about the whole thing:
Working from home means that I am constantly distracted.   My job requires focus and attention (as most jobs do), and just when I start getting into my groove, a fight needs breaking up or a sippy cup needs refilling.  I feel grumpy and irritated with my kids when I have work to do.  I feel resentful towards my husband because he gets to go to an office and do his job in peace, without four small children at his feet.  I feel overwhelmed by my deadlines, because I never know when I will be able to catch a quiet and uninterrupted moment to write.  Every day I assume I will be able to complete a few tasks, and every day life with four children takes precedence.  I end up doing the bulk of my work at night after the kids have gone to sleep, which means I have no “downtime” for myself, and also means I stay up way too late.
In all honesty, I often think my kids would be better off at a daycare setting than at home with a mom who is sitting at the computer, distracted and annoyed by their needs.  I think I would be a better mom if I was free to do my job uninterrupted, and then pick them up and have meaningful time with them.  In the struggle for quality over quantity, being a work-at-home mom has meant a lot of time with my kids, but very little quality time.   It has also meant that my job is done in small, distracted bursts, and I live with the constant feeling that I am letting everyone around me down.   In this scenario, my work suffers and my kids suffer.

Additionally, I think there is this sense where I (and maybe other people as well?) expect myself to be able to accomplish all the things that stay-at-home-moms do AND all the things that working mothers do as well. But the fact is that teaching conflicts with both of the women's Bible studies I'd like to attend, the 2-year-old story time at the library for Eva, and some prime morning slots that would be great for playdates or trips to the park. On the mornings I'm not working Eva and I do housework and grocery shopping. At work, I am not able to attend faculty development workshops or to spend any time before or after class getting to know my colleagues, because it's too difficult to arrange extra babysitting for the kids. In the end I feel like I'm failing as a mother and as a teacher, all at the same time.

All semester I've been reminding myself that Eva will go to morning preschool in the fall (and Daniel to full-day kindergarten), and that I need to pick up another class or two, or maybe see a few clients in private practice, to fill those "empty" few hours on Monday and Wednesday mornings. The few days I spent home alone this week showed me that maybe it wouldn't be so horrible if nothing opens up, and I decide to use that time to do all three of my current jobs better. Maybe I could drive the speed limit, show up on time for things, do one task at a time, and just generally be less of a cranky-pants all day. Now THAT would be something!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Why I'm Glad My Children Still Cannot Read

Today for lunch I fed them veggie burgers, and they didn't know the difference. They even selected the box from the frozen food section at the supermarket.

Daniel has been bugging me for weeks to take him to Burger King for lunch. I have been using, "We don't have the money for that today" as my excuse, but what he doesn't know is that Kyle and I are considering an all-out ban on fast food altogether.

I almost caved today.

I have a cold and am tired from getting up for Eva potty-breaks every night, we had a kind-of crazy morning, and our tax return was just deposited. Luckily there was a good sale at our local grocery store this morning, and I decided at the last minute to suggest buying frozen "burgers and fries" (actually Morningstar Farms veggie grillers and Alexia sweet potato fries) while we were shopping instead of going to the drive-thru on the way home.

Nobody was the wiser. They even thanked me sweetly for making them "a yummy lunch."

Mwaaah Haaa Haaa Haaa!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Book of Daniel

I've posted before about our son Daniel's attempts to get more junk food by claiming some of it is going to Jesus, who he believes literally "lives in his heart" (and gets hungry, apparently). It seems that's just the beginning, though, as he's really been on a roll lately.

A good deal of the funny theology that happens in our house centers around the kids' mealtime prayers. We seem to go through phases where both kids insist on contributing to the dinner prayer, then for a few weeks neither of them do, and then they both do again, and get bent out of shape if you don't remember to ask and to let them go first. One night before dinner, as we all joined hands, Kyle asked who wanted to pray (to Jesus).
"Not me!" said Daniel.
"Not me!" said Eva.
"Not me!" said (the Muslim international student who lives with us) Faisal.
I see it as a good sign that Faisal can make a joke in English, especially about our different religions.

Other times, like recently, the kids are really into praying before dinner, but they have each come up with this set script that they go through every night. Daniel's goes something like:
"Dear Jesus, Thank you for this beautiful morning, and for letting us go to _____________ (insert school, church, a friend's house here). Thank you for this food that we have, and we pray that you will give us all a good night's sleep."

This, of course, is a combination of some kind of example he's heard Kyle or I say either in the morning or in the evening, but to him the time of day doesn't matter; he's just going to discuss the morning and the evening all together now at once. In addition, he sometimes continues on chronologically for another 12-24 hours by adding:
"And we pray that when we wake up, it will be another beautiful morning, and that we can go to ______________ (church, school, a friend's house)..."

Sometimes, the prayer continues to include things he wants to do or have, like:
"We pray that we wake up, it will be another beautiful morning, and that we can go to Chuck-E-Cheese, or maybe next week..."
"We pray that when we wake up, it will be another beautiful morning, and that we can have blueberry muffins for breakfast, maybe..."
"We pray that when we wake up, it will be another beautiful morning, and that we can have breakfast together... Maybe I could make you some toast with butter."
And really, it's at times like these when I open one eye and look up to see Kyle peeking at me and Faisal laughing silently, and we're all looking at each other like, "Did he just offer to make Jesus some toast?"

Last week, after Sunday school, Daniel was showing me a picture he colored depicting Mary, Martha, and Jesus. I asked him to tell me what he learned about, and he told me that they learned about when Jesus came to Mary and Martha's house for dinner one time, and how Mary just sat around talking with Jesus while Martha did all the work. He said that Martha was complaining, because she was worried she couldn't get all the food ready for all the people, and I asked Daniel, "So what did Jesus say about that?" Daniel replied, "Jesus told her, 'Don't worry, you can DO IT Martha!'"
So I guess that was a Bible lesson almost learned.

In the end, it's hard to know how to respond to all these little things. On the one hand, I feel like I have a responsibility to try to teach him the correct conclusion to Bible stories and the like. But on the other hand I respect the fact that preschoolers are incapable of abstract thinking, and that him having a sense that God will hear his prayers or that Jesus was a great encourager is enough for now.

I do pray, though, that our kids will grow up to work out their own faith, and to not believe just because that's what they feel like we want from them. I hope that they will spend their whole lives searching and learning and growing.

I've been helping facilitate the Wednesday evening kids' programming at our church recently, despite the fact that teaching large groups of small children is NOT my kind of thing. It does help me appreciate all the work people at our church do to care for and to teach our kids, though. It has also been good for me to do something I wouldn't normally volunteer for, just because it needed to be done.

I think I'm growing from it, in small ways. Last night was a fun night, where kids traded in points they've earned in participation, behavior, and verse memorization for prizes. There is one kid in my class who has repeatedly talked back to me, ignored me, and otherwise been generally defiant or difficult. Many weeks I have not looked forward to seeing him. He hasn't earned a lot of points, and so last night he didn't get very many prizes. One of the few things he got, though, was a pack of gum, and toward the end of the night he shyly hugged me and offered me a piece. I guess grace IS all around.

Lucky for me.