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I took the kidlets to the park today. We are lucky here in the Fort Collins/Loveland area, because there are some really nice, well-kept parks. Our favorite is the Veteran’s Park by Lake Loveland. The weather was nice (and lately it’s been pretty volatile), the sun was shining and it wasn’t too hot or chilly – Perfect park weather.

I learned a lesson today, too…never, ever judge a situation by what it appears to be. A few weeks ago, we went to the same park and I was looking for a picnic table. I work on my art and writing while the kids play, and a table really helps. This particular weekend, both shelters were booked. “Ohh-kay,” I thought..there was a group using one shelter and they had dragged over the two “public” tables as well – and weren’t using them. So I asked politely if they would mind if I used one of the tables. The lady who had rented the space coldly told me that, “We paid $100 for this and we’ll use what we want.” I was taken aback and told her that the fee didn’t include the public tables and she argued that it did. Long story, short was that she pretty snidely informed that it was “first come, first serve” and too bad for me. To say it left a bad taste in my mouth is an understatement – I was PO’d. Anyway, we stayed at the park that day for a little bit anyway – the kids wanted to play, and I sat on the grass and the edge of the playground and watched.

Which brings me to today. We went again to this same park, and there was a group setting up a birthday party in one of the shelters – they had taken two tables. I TRIPLE-checked the reservation list, and they weren’t on it, so I sat down at one of the tables where I could both work and watch the kids. There were some murmured comments, which I assumed were “What’s she doing? Doesn’t she see that we have these tables?” Me being me, I stubbornly refused to move, just waiting for a confrontation like the last one. This time I was working on reading and planning for my business, so it was easy to concentrate on the other stuff.

My munchkins had brought sidewalk chalk with them, and I encouraged them to share it with everyone – not just themselves. They did and we got quite a gallery going on the sidewalk of kid’s drawings in the summer – it was great. A few of the girls from the birthday party even joined in. So, after a bit everyone kind of scattered. Aidan and Becca came over to drink their water, and it was at this time that the party gathered to sing “Happy Birthday” and open presents. My kidlets watched and I told them, “It’s not ours guys…but you can wish the little girl happy birthday if you want.” They didn’t, and so I went back to work.

About 5 minutes later, someone touched me on the arm. It was the mother of the birthday girl. Uh-oh, I thought…here it comes. I’m sure my face reflected this, because she immediately said, “Oh, nothing’s wrong. I was just wondering if your kids would like a piece of cake?”

And yes…there was the lesson I’ve written about, wearing a kind smile and an offer of friendship. Be the change you want to see in the world, indeed. My munchkins gratefully accepted, and we decided to do something in return. We got the sidewalk chalk, drew some balloons and wrote, “Happy Birthday Arianna! From Aidan and Rebecca”

I was humbled today. I thought I was above being judgmental and arrogant, and I was taught a lesson. Thank God for people who teach us – and I’m glad I was open enough to hear the lesson. And so…I pick myself up, dust myself off and begin again to try to practice what I preach. It pays to look at the other side of the mirror.

So, happy birthday Arianna – you and your family gave ME the gift today. I wish you the best, and am glad there are people like you and your family in the world. You give me hope.

Saga of the energy vampire…AKA, the H-bomb in a kid suit
Current mood: Beyond pooped

Have you ever noticed that, when you are at your most exhausted, your kids are at their most hyper-active? Honestly…

Let me preface this by saying that I love my kids with all my heart and would give my life for them in a heartbeat. That said, *ay carumba*!!! Aidan was a small H-bomb in a kid suit today! He likes to start his day by waking up his little sister, usually by bouncing on her bed (and her, if he can get away with it) until she wakes up – today was no exception.

The difference today was that Becky-buns seems to be coming down with the crud that’s going around and was sleeping with Mama. So, I became the trampoline. Now, if you have trouble waking up in the morning (like I do), there is nothing like having 40 lbs. of jumping preschooler land right on your soft belly to wake you up out a peaceful dream. And I was dreaming that I had won a shopping spree! Sigh…

His next adventure was to climb over the baby gate blocking the main floor bathroom – I’m feeding the baby (who is busily spitting carrots on her hands and then running them through her hair in an attempt to look like a miniature Lucille Ball) when I hear a suspicious splash-flush-splash… “Aidan, get your cup out of the toilet – NOW!” (Followed by more splash-flush-splashes)…Sigh…Fish screaming preschooler out of bathroom, clean him up and cover his hands with sanitizing gel, put on gloves and fish floating sippy cup out of toilet, immerse sippy in pot of boiling water before deciding to throw it away, haul wailing and now VERY WET preschooler out of the bathroom AGAIN, put gate 6 inches higher, and turn off water in sink.  Return to find more carrots ON baby than IN baby, note that baby managed to untie bib and cover clothes. Bathtime…

Okay, so I wipe off as much of the carrots off as possible, strip the baby and cover the NEW dress in Shout, Clorox-2, and detergent…  I turn around to hear a mysterious banging…”Aidan, don’t climb in the dryer – you could get hurt and that would make Mama really sad…” (Long pause as impatient and wiggly baby kicks Mama in stomach – put baby in crib to check on preschooler – yell to be heard over baby’s LOUD protests) “Aidan – out of the dryer NOW!”  

So now I’m getting the bath started…get the baby in, wash out the carrots, start soaping…” What the HE**?!? Aidan, turn off that shower now! That water’s cold!!”  Aidan has just discovered that he can pull down the showerhead (a Waterpik with a nice long bendable cord), turn on the water and spray his unsuspecting mother…with ice cold water, of course. 

Next up – find clean changes of clothes for everyone and hope there is something clean for me outside of Laundry Mountain (which is beginning to resemble a whole mountain range…Sigh…) 

Other quotes of the day: “Aidan, get off of the oven!” (climbing on the opened oven door trying reach the cabinet above the stove where the treats are stored –  is this kid half monkey?? Sigh…run out to store, find and intall oven lock – on oven AND refrigerator). I’ve TRIED to kid-proof the house – honestly. We’ve got cabinet locks, outlet plugs, baby gates, door-knob covers, you name it, we’ve got it. And it looks like we’ll have to get more. This kid is ingenious when it comes to climbing – he’s tried things I’ve never even thought of. Now if he can just channel that ingenuity and energy…”

Becca, you need a bath again?” (after a diaper blowout of truly epic proportions), “Aidan, we do NOT hit sister on the head with toys.” “Aidan, sister is NOT target practice.” And so on and on and on…

The most important moments were not like these, though. They went more like, “Aidan, I love you so much. I’m so glad you come to cuddle with me. Big hug!” (during sister’s nap – we both sit and cuddle on the recliner and watch a Sesame Street video). “Aidan, thank you for getting Becca’s binky. You are such a good helper!”

There are times when I look at him, and just want to squeeze the stuffing out of that kid – he can be so darn cute!! And Becca – watching her learn walking, talking, everything about her world: “Wow – you went across the room all by yourself! What a strong girl!! I’m so proud of you!” followed by Aidan’s “Sister good job? Aidan good job!” and a big hug with both of them. And now, he’s next to me in bed, snoring away and looking for all the world like a little angel (of course, as I type this, he lets loose with a sound from his nether regions that would rival a Harley “Hog” in heat…) Man, I love this little kid…

And the big kid has his own dramas, too – Captain Obvious has a date for prom! (Am I really old enough to have a kid old enough for prom? YIKES!  Where did the time go – I remember changing HIS diapers.) I remember him as a toddler – the classic moment being in the grocery store. He loved to have me blow raspberries on his belly – so we’re in line at the grocery store, he lifts his shirt and yells at the top of his little lungs, “Blow me, Mommy!” Every head around me turns and stares at me – I wanted to sink through the floor, but tried to explain – “Raspberries on his tummy – see? (Picture me in line, demonstrating blowing raspberries on his tummy and managing to look like a COMPLETE idiot…) Ah, those were the days…

Will I look back on these days with Aidan and Becca with as much, uh…”mirth”? Actually, I know I will. I’ll smile and miss their little smiles, hugs, and boundless energy.

Yikes…ever notice how busy-ness can creep up on you? I’ve just finished two weeks of having *something* going on every night, and I’m exhausted. I mean, tired to the bone, walking-and-waking-dead pooped. And the fatigue is not just physical – it’s emotional and cognitive. Busy-ness, although marginally productive in the traditional sense, sucks the life out of me. I’ve figured out that I’m the kind of person who needs “me time” – alone, with no kids, no husband, no friends. It’s not that I don’t want to be around these people – they are the most important people in my life, and I love and care for them. However, after data collection/research, peer counseling training, nursery work, meetings, running kids everywhere, there’s just not much left to give. So…

Tonight I’m on strike. I’ve been invited to a scrapbooking event, which I’d normally enjoy for the social contact and the creativity boost, even though I don’t “scrapbook” in a traditional sense – too cutesy for me. I said “no.” It was hard for me to do, as I’m not the most assertive person in the world, especially when it comes to taking care of me. In our last peer counseling class, we covered assertiveness, and I kept thinking, “I need to do more of this – with everyone.” So, I told my friends that I appreciated the invite, but that I was very tired and would not be able to make it. I feel kind of bad, because I missed the last one, too – my in-laws came into town that night – but I need to care for me.

So, why is it that I feel bad/selfish for doing so? Well…”selfish” was the label of choice my mother slung at me whenver I insisted on caring for myself. If I didn’t do what she wanted when she wanted and how she wanted it, I was “selfish” and “bad.” Unfortunately, I’ve internalized that and now think it every time I insist on caring for myself. I figure that I at least recognize it now and can counter the message with some positive thinking. (Thank you, cognitive-behavioral therapy!) So now, I tell myself, “You are human, too. You have needs and desires, just like any other human being, and it’s NOT wrong to consider yourself. It’s not wrong to value yourself, or think that you’re worthy of care.”

Women in general seem to suffer from the burden of busy-ness in our society. If we’re not huge successes in business, we feel pressured to be the perfect stay-at-home mother, with immaculate houses, perfectly clean and dressed children, with several clever crafts on hand to keep them busy while we make dinner, bake bread, sew their adorable, fashionable, little clothes, and plan the PTA bake sale. All this while managing the local girl/boy scout troop, carpooling the little darlings to soccer/baseball/gymnastics/cheerleading, and reading up on developmental milestones and how to help your children be better than anyone else’s. BLECH!  All this emphasis on being the perfect professional woman, perfect employee, perfect mother, perfect wife/partner…it’s busy-ness in another form and is life-draining, not life-sustaining. Sustainable living should take into account, in my not-so-humble-opinion, emotional and mental elements as well as physical.

I confess – my house is a mess. In fact, I’m lucky it hasn’t been condemned. Laundry Mountain continues to grow, even while I excavate small loads. I’ll have to strip-mine it soon. Iron? That’s a vitamin, right? (Oh yeah…there is that appliance-thingy gathering dust in the closet.) Dinners come from the microwave (except when the in-laws visit – that’s when I really feel the pressure to be perfect and actually cook.) My kids sometimes wear the same clothes two days in a row…and yeah, they come from Wal-mart. (No, not Children’s Place, Baby Gap, or Macy’s.) So do mine – I don’t make money staying with the little kidlets. There is no homemade baked bread (at least not on a regular basis – I make it when I have time, feel like it and want it.) Developmentally-geared and cutesy crafts? Forget it…more like a coloring book and crayons (at least those that haven’t  been eaten or stomped to smithereens…) 

But you know what? Perfection is no longer any of my “busy-ness.” I’m not perfect, and I never will be. Yet, somehow my children are happy – and they are generally clean (at least as clean as a toddler and pre-schooler can be.) Aidan and I played “Balloon Catch” today – he was all smiles and giggles. Rebecca got in on it, and we played “Monkey in the Middle.” They are growing, they get fed (even if it isn’t homemade,organic, and fresh-grown/picked/juiced) and they seem happy. They come up to cuddle with me, they ask for Mama and they give me hugs and kisses. And, I’m happy – generally. When I let busy-ness take over, that’s when I’m not happy. And including “me-time” is not just respectful to myself, it’s necessary for my to function.

So, what’s the point of yet another rant? Ladies, we don’t have to be perfect. In the business world…we do our best, but we can’t do our best if we’re killing ourselves in the process. At home…we do our best, and somehow our families survive. I’d much rather have a happy, well-adjusted me and a happy, well-adjusted family than a perfect house, etc.  Taking time for ourselves is not only good, it’s necessary. Even if we veg out watching “Desperate Housewives” or “Lost” while eating Ben & Jerry’s (or, my favorite: a bowl of ice-cold melon, mandarin oranges and grapes – YUM), taking time to decompress is necessary to maintain our sanity. We are so good at helping others, at succeeding, at living up to everyone else’s expectations – isn’t time we develop our own?

For what it’s worth, I’m not talking about the hundreds of self-help/self-improvement “programs” or books – read/use them if they nurture and help you. But if you find yourself feeling a load of shoulds descending on you, ask yourself, “Is this really helping me? Is this really going to help me BE me?”  (Think of Albert Ellis’s comment, “Don’t ‘should’ on yourself.” ) Someone else’s idea of what is good may or may not fit – use your sense of what you need to help you out here. In therapy with my clients, I tell them to listen to their inner therapists – the part of you inside that wants you to be happy, fulfilled, and has your best interests at heart. Even that part of you has been called bad, selfish, unworthy, or anything else negative – it’s part of who you are. Now if I can just take my own advice…

Some of my favorite website resources: (These may or may not inspire you; I don’t leave these sites feeling like I’ve got a case of the “shoulds.”)

Jennifer Louden’s “Comfort Queen” material (http://www.comfortqueen.com/),

SARK’s material (http://www.planetsark.com/) – she has an excellent piece this month on treasuring girls

Small Steps to Health – the source of those commercials where people find “lost” body parts, such as double chins, “love handles,” “spare tires,” etc: (http://www.smallstep.gov/index.html)

The Foundation for a Better Life – inspiring source of billboards, posters, and other public messages that are life-affirming: (http://www.forbetterlife.org/)

For the Little Ones Inside – an affirming site: (http://www.forthelittleonesinside.com/)

The Spiral Muse – for women’s well-being: (http://www.spiralmuse.org/)

Creativity for Life – to help get you inspired, fired-up, and ready to live life: (http://www.creativityforlife.com/index.php)

Another Girl At Play – Women artists’ biographies and links: (http://another.girlatplay.com/)

So…play, enjoy, let go of perfection, just be. It’s okay – it really is. (or so I keep telling myself. )

Letters from the “Desperate Tubbywives”…

Does anyone know how little kids seem to KNOW when their parents are the most exhausted? They pick THAT time to stay up late, get hyperactive and into everything… What I would give for a good, long, restful night’s sleep. And a day without those frakkin’ Teletubbies! I think I need a vacation; I’m imagining all sorts of weird/naughty Teletubby movies/shows: Teletubbies do Dallas, or Nightmare on Tubby Street, or even Law & Order: Tubbyland. How about Tubbystar Galactica? Or Cops: Live in Tubbyland? I wish…And honestly…how may times can one person watch “Tinkerbell” and NOT explode??? At least with the Baby Einstein DVDs the music is good.

Early summer has come to Colorado. We are officially out of the drought now, and we’ve had temperatures in the 60’s for the last week, and the air smells fresh, new, and full of sunshine. (At least when it’s not raining and thundering and smelling of the dairy farm down the road!) It’s so nice to see grass, new green leaves, and even some brave lilies birthing their way through the heavy, wet soil and blossoming in the sun. The sun is hot already, foreshadowing a broiling summer, but for now, it feels wonderful. The little people have been itching to get outside and play, and I think they feel the change in their blood and bones. Aidan in particular seems to know that spring is here. “Mama, I want to go outside NOW!” He lives for being in the sunshine, and loves the world outside our walls. Becca sees how excited her brother gets – and, in her mind, if he wants it or has it, she should too. And she wants to be out in the sunshine playing too.

I was looking back over old pictures and found some from when Becca took her first steps; it’s funny how quickly you forget how tenuous and shaky those first steps into the unknown are. May your steps always be sure, and the ground firm under your feet, little princess. She runs and climbs now, and has such a look of triumph and pride on her little face, as well as sheer joy every time she tries and does something new. I feel so privileged to share in these moments.

Matthew (Capt. Obvious) is done with school for the summer…boy, is he in for a shock coming up. He thinks that he and his girlfriend and another couple they know are all going to move out to Greeley and live together. Problem is, he has no job, no car, no driver’s license, no money, etc. He says he going to transfer from CSU to UNC, but has not done anything to start that process. He sits and watches TV shows and movies on his computer all day…I think he’s in for a pretty big surprise when his friends expect him to pay rent, contribute to the housekeeping, and pay his way in other areas. As much as I hate to say this, I think (given his attitude and level of stubborness on this) that this is a time when I have to exercise “tough love” and let him sink or swim. And, of course, be able to come back to dry land (home) if it doesn’t work.

I’m itching to be outside and moving, too…I want to take my sketchbook and watercolors and try to catch a little of the world as it explodes into and Becca, and I love to see them express themselves creatively. They both are such incredible inspirations – full of life and love, likes and dislikes, piss and vinegar, too…I want to go play with them! I want to swing and slide and run and jump like I used to when I was a little girl. I want that little girl inside to finally feel safe and protected enough to let loose and just…well, play.

On that note, is there anything more fun that brand-new art supplies? I’m sure there are lots of things that are, but opening and using new watercolors, brushes, pastels, etc. is one of the most enjoyable things I can do. A while ago, while Aidan and Becca played in our small courtyard, I sat on the porch and drew/painted one of my neighbor’s townhouses. I’m still figuring out the color mixes in this new set of watercolors, but that was one of the most satisfying afternoons I’ve spent in a while. My drawing isn’t wonderful, but I was happy. If I can get my scanner working with the new computer, I may upload it to my page…we’ll see if my ego can take it.

Last spring and summer, I spent some time going around our neighborhood photographing the flowers and parks. I’m hoping to draw and paint from my photos and get some time in the sun, sketching and painting from life as well. At some time, I’d like to take some art classes too…just for the fun of it. It’s kinda like being a kid again, with a little more freedom. I’d love to take Aidan and Becca out with their crayons and paper too, and see if they’d spend some time drawing with me. (Matthew’s “too cool” to do this kind of stuff anymore with his mom…)

Another thing I’d to get into is digital art, especially combined with collage and book art. I spent a year and a half in book arts class while at my undergrad college, and I really miss it. Space is a consideration, as are materials, though these are obstacles that can be overcome. I dream of having real studio space…

My big dream would be to open a wellness center that includes massage therapy, traditional psychotherapy, art classes (especially but not necessarily tied in with art therapy), dance and music. I’d love to have an emphasis on growth and enjoying life and relationships. I’d love to have meditation groups, women’s groups, spirituality groups, as well as more traditional therapy groups such as DBT skills training, process groups, and stress management/coping. In this era of managed care, though, it’s hard to get funding for these type of endeavors, and there aren’t too many people willing to pay out of pocket for services like these. Still, it’s fun to dream…

I honestly don’t remember being able to simply play freely all that often when I was kid. The best times I remember were when I could escape my family and go off on my own…I would sit under this huge old oak tree in our back yard, and pretend that there were elves that lived in the tree…there was a door in the trunk with a spiral staircase that led up to the top and down to the underground home below, and if I looked hard enough, I would find it. I never did, but I also never stopped trying. There was also a willow tree further back, that had a perfect spread of branches for sitting, hiding, and reading. It was one of my favorite, most peaceful spots in the world.

When my sisters and I went back to Ohio when my father was dying, we went by our old house, and asked the current owners if we could look around. They had cut down the oak, saying that it was waving in the heavy winds (which it did) and they were afraid it would fall on the house. I think I grieved the loss of that tree almost as much as the loss of my father…it was 200 years old, and at least 150 feet high. I remember listening to the branches creaking and swaying in the wind, and though it was a comforting sound. I guess we each interpret our worlds in different ways, based on our experiences and lives to that point. I wish I could find a spot/tree/place like that out here. Colorado is beautiful, but has never felt like home. Walla Walla, WA did, but I doubt I’ll ever get back there.

It’s funny…of all the places I’ve lived, very few have felt like “home,” and none of them were places where I could stay permanently. The places where I’ve ended up settling (Boise, ID and Loveland, CO) don’t feel like home to me. I think that probably says more about me, than it does about the places I’ve lived. If I could live anywhere, it would be near the ocean. Barring that, someplace with history, and trees. Places where you can lose yourself in the beauty, wildness, and growth. Maybe someday…

Reflections of Reflections…

Other Facets of the Mirror