Thursday, July 28, 2011


I am a firm believer that no matter what is happening around you, you always have a choice in what you do, feel, say, or think. Sometimes it is hard to see the options or even that there is a choice to be made. But it's there, if you look hard enough.

Adopting this frame of mind has given me, over the years, a much greater sense of inner peace and calm than I otherwise would have ever managed. Not that I don't completely spaz out sometimes- 'cuz, yeah, I do!- but overall, I am a "roll-with-the-punches" kinda girl. It serves me well in the very complicated life in which I find myself.

It's a strength, built of a skill-set carefully honed through 37 years of experience.

I am doing my best to convey that strength to Le Monk. She is (dare I say so) a brilliant little girl, whose ability to reason and communicate far surpasses the norm for her just-shy-of-three years.

But, oh yes, yessiree, make no mistake folks: she IS a toddler.

As you may well know, toddlers can be moody, irrational, disgruntled-postal-worker-kinda-flipping-out, with no notice, bunch. My formerly rational little Monkey is a card-carrying member.

Annnnnd, on top of that, we are in growth spurt mode.
Which means hormone shifts, bottomless pits of hunger and needing (but refusing to partake of) more sleep.

I've had to think on my feet a lot more lately than I had been. Like, this morning.

She's sort of getting the hang of potty training, and now it's becoming more the norm for her to wake up early --with a DRY diaper-- and announce she has to go potty. And then, she actually GOES, which is friggin sweet. (happily anticipating the influx of cash that not buying diapers may bring!)

Did I mention she wakes up EARLY?
Even during this growth spurt, when she really needs EXTRA sleep?

So, uh... yeah. She goes potty and that's great... then realizes how tired she is and her brain misfires all over and there are meltdowns and drama and all before 7 AM on a workday. Yowza.

This morning, the drama was that she was told by Daddy to pick up her books from all over the floor of her room. It was hazardous to walk in there because she did a "book purge" off the shelf, apparently before announcing her urgent need to potty.

The latest development in being told to do something is a knee-jerk reaction to WAIL LIKE A BANSHEE that she "neeeEEEEEeeds someone to HELLLLLlLllllllp meeeEEEEEEEeeeeee!!"

Which isn't true. She has been doing these things quite well, without help.
She just doesn't WANNA.

So there was drama, and the ever-present "No, you know how to do this, so you can do it yourself."
And then, of course the screaming. And the snot, and the foot-stomping and may I repeat, it was not yet 7 AM. Momma has had no coffee, and the brain cells are slow to respond.

Daddy was getting irritated with the whining and just kept repeating that she needs to do it-- just pick up one book at a time, stack it in a pile on top of the others, and keep going.

Monkey was NOT a fan.

On autopilot, I cruised into her room. She is mid-tantrum, with crazy bedhead now cemented to her face by tears and snot and there are seriously about 5,931,442 books scattered on the floor.

I asked her to breathe in and out (we're trying that to help with her anger) and listen. Then I told her:

"Look... you have two choices here. You can choose to do what Daddy told you-- stack your books in a pile-- or, you can go back to bed. Either way, you need to be quiet now. Your choice. Pick one."

...and I left the room.

She thought about it for a minute or so. I could tell, because there was excessive sucking back of snot and wiping of the hair from her face. She remained entrenched in the book carnage, watching out the doorway for my return.

She called me back into her room: "Momma, I haffa tell you someping."

Daddy came back in first, as he was closer.
...This was NOT met warmly.

"NO!!! MOMMA! I need to tell MOMMA my choice!!!"

Dad (somewhat miffed, and rightfully so) left the room, and I returned.
I asked if she had made her choice.

She said YES, with an emphatic nod, and then informed me she would pick up the books.

I said OK, and that it seemed like a good choice to me. Then, I left the room so there would be no repeat demand that she have help.

She absolutely BEAMED... and quietly stacked the books in a pile.

It took me a few minutes to realize that this approach had not only worked-- but given her that same sense of self-efficacy and CHOICE that made what seemed overwhelming, much less so.

I totally felt like Super-Mom.

Even more so when I realized I *STILL* had not had any coffee yet.

To me, everything involves making a choice. I looooooooooooove the concept of free will.
To quote Rush: "You can choose not to decide... you still have made a choice."

There are infinite choices facing us in every aspect of our days. Some are big, others minute.

If you can learn to see where the options lie, and choose for yourself the path you wish to take, life takes on a whole different flavor. The world can be far less scary when you know you can control what you DO, how you react, and what you think about it.

You can't always choose the sea in which you're floating, or the current beneath you, but you CAN choose which way you row.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

I've been away from the computer for a while, as we were on vacation this past week. We went to visit Monkey's grandparents, who live near the Wisconsin Dells.

It's a little hard to believe we are back. The time spent away weirdly feels both short and long. I was just taking a tally of all we did on our trip, and all I can say is: Holy schmoley, did we cram a LOT into one week:

Several barbecues, some lunches and dinners on the patio, lots of Grandma's homemade salads, bubble blowing, lawn darts and horseshoes, garage sales, fireworks, Grandpa's trains, Tommy Bartlett's science place, Circus World (which gets its own listing, below), arts and crafts, the zoo, two parks, Grandpa's homemade chocolate-chip waffles, s'mores via grill, some shopping, new tastes of calamari and linguini with clam sauce for my part-Italian daughter, making the world's coolest sand castle/rock island/most-cleverly-designed-fully-functioning waterway at Devil's Lake State Park, picture drawing on the original Spirograph set, a blues concert on the town square, staying up WAY past bedtime (All. Week. LONG!), a plethora of delicious ice cream treats, and even a tour of the Dells via the Original Wisconsin Ducks.

I've left something out, I'm sure.

Mommy and Daddy even got to have one whole dinner where we didn't have to cut anyone's food or deal with anyone else's potty issues, because Grandma and Grandpa took over Kid Duty for the evening.

We ate in a place that serves alcohol and did NOT have high chairs. ...annnnnnd, talked about the kids the whole time. Of course!

I have to say, Circus World is one of the coolest places to take kids. Evah! We go at least once per summer, and the shows are just amazing. This year, we saw a super-cute dog act (complete with a rebellious terrier), which had Monkey full-on HOOTING with laughter. (She's clearly a dog person. BOOyah!)

There were also dancing horses, jaw-dropping balancing and acrobatics performances, some really great magic tricks, and of course, clowns. (Not even the LEAST bit scary clowns, which I think is pretty hard to accomplish.) And, what's a circus without cotton candy, popcorn, and pretty girls in sequined costumes riding an elephant?!? Somethings just work perfectly together.

One of my favorite things about Circus World is the twice-daily interactive children's circus. It's in the old animal quarters (read: NO air conditioning!) and is basically an improv-style pretend circus, where the children volunteer to be all the different elements. One gets to be the ringmaster, another the magician, and then there are the animals, with each animal act having its own "trick" to perform in their cute little costumes. The fact that they're all KIDS--and therefore subject to their own impromptu fun-- makes every show unique.

This time around, Monkey was a tiger.

Oh. Mah. GAWWWWSH (edited so her dad doesn't yell at me)!!

I have raised a total scene-stealer!

The kids have on these stuffed-animal-looking tiger heads, orange t-shirts, and pinned-on tiger tails, and cross the ring to line up. They then get down on their bellies, growl at the audience, and are SUPPOSED to log-roll to their right.

My child, of course, doesn't understand what to do, so the others all crash into/roll OVER her. Her tiger hat falls off, so she must put it back on... crookedly. By this point, I'm crying with laughter.

So of course she stops to WAVE AT US.

They're then supposed to crawl/run back to stage right and, one by one, jump through a "ring of fire" (orange hula hoop, with a crash mat below it). The first few kids manage to do this fairly well.

Then, it was Monkey's turn.

She MUST go on all fours, of course, because that is how tigers walk, people! However, the t-shirt is big enough that she gets her knee stuck in it with nearly every single step.

Crossing eight feet of floor took her, I dunno, like, an HOUR? And, her hat kept falling off, so she'd stop to pick it up.

And then, of course, WAVE at us.

She finally made it to the hula hoop, mustered up just a teensy bit of momentum...

And FACE-PLANTED. With a tiger head flopping on top of her.

It was freaking *AWESOME*.

Probably one of my all-time favorite pictures, even though it is all blurry because I was laughing too hard to hold the camera still.

After her glorious debut as the world's least graceful circus tiger, we headed to the animal ride area. I got to take my 2 1/2 year old on her very first elephant ride...on, quite possibly, the world's CALMEST elephant. No wonder she didn't mind having girls climbing all over her. I think her name must be Prozac.

It was actually a tug at the ol' heartstrings for me, because one of my favorite pictures from my family involves this same thing: my mom and my brother, riding an elephant at the circus.

I have always had a love/hate relationship with that picture, because my brother was about 5 or so, which meant I was a baby and therefore unable to ride. That part = the hate portion. (My mom never DID take meeeeee!! Ok I will quit whining...)

But the LOVE portion of that picture??  My mother, holding her 5-year-old son, on an elephant... is wearing a FUR coat.

I could not make that up. It. Is. AWESOME.

I mean, you do know elephants blow DIRT up onto themselves, right? I love my family.

Two years ago, I got to sort of recreate that scene: I took Monkey's big sister for HER first elephant ride, while my infant daughter snored in the stroller because she was, ya know, an INFANT. I skipped the fur coat though, because summer in Wisconsin is not really fur-coat-ish weather. Plus, I don't own one. But anyway...

THIS year, I got to take *Monkey* on the elephant.

Of course, I almost didn't because we'd spent all our cash on snacks and lunch and the animal people only take cash, so we were scrambling to get enough singles together for us both to ride. Oops.

We handed over the most ragtag clump of dollars you ever saw, and got to ride up front so the elephant kept bopping our feet with her ears (and nearly knocked off my right shoe in the process). Monkey LOVED it and so did I. It felt surreal to be having such an update of my own family history with her. Pretty stinkin' cool, I must say.

Thanks to a donation from Grandma and Grandpa to offset our minor cash hiccup, Monkey's big sis (whose first elephant ride was with me, on the same creature) opted for the pony ride.

Apparently, elephants are soooooo two years ago. Who knew?

We dragged ourselves home just about at bedtime last night. While Daddy and I were unloading the van, the girls were running around the back yard, chasing lightning bugs and each other, and (probably pissing off our neighbors) filling the night with their shrieking, little-girl laughs.

We are now in "recovery mode" from the trip. There are suitcases all over the place, and there's no real food in the fridge yet. Pizza will be delivered tonight. The week's laundry is staring me down with the evil eye.

But right now, everyone is napping, except me.

We have a few bug bites, some mystery bruises, new freckles, and sunny highlights in our hair.

We still smell just the teensiest bit like that unique combination of sunscreen, bug spray, and melted ice cream cone.

That kinda sums up summer, to me. :)