Friday, January 31, 2014

Deep Discussions, Courtesy of a Video Game

I have learned a valuable lesson this week, and have to share. Lately, our whole household has been pretty much obsessed with playing Lego Harry Potter (Years 5-7) on the XBox. Monkey picked that to give her daddy for Christmas.

That was actually really cute...we were cruising the video game section because she wanted to get Daddy something. She spotted this one, and just LIT UP. 

"MAMA!! LOOK! It's XBox. AND Lego. AND HARRY POTTER-- that's like, three of Daddy's favorite things in ONE GAME!" 

I thoroughly agreed, so we rang the service request button to get someone to come unlock it from the rack. And waited...and waited... and rang again, and went looking for anyone who worked there...and waited.... Monkey started freaking out, because there was only ONE copy in the rack and she was petrified someone was going to swoop in and buy it first. 

I explained that seemed unlikely, since even WE could not seem to get to that copy...but she was not convinced. Thus, she parked her cute little self on the floor in front of the display case at Target, blocking sight of that last copy with her body, and with the sweetest face, asked me to PLEASE go ring the buzzer thing again. Which I did. Of course. How could I not? 

Obviously, our patience was rewarded and we got that last copy. MDD was very touched by her determination to find him the PERFECT gift.  

Anyway, we have all dived into this game wholeheartedly. I like that it's cooperative in two-player mode. Monkey likes that when your character gets killed, you come right back a few seconds later. *More on that, below.

 MDD and Big Sis like that it follows the stories in the books (which MDD finished, and Big Sis is still reading).

What we didn't pay attention to:

The game is rated E-10, as in "everyone, age10 and up."

Monkey is only five, and Big Sis is nine. So uh, not quite there... But there's no blood in the battles, and there's a lot of funny stuff, and it does take teamwork and dexterity and perseverance so... we kinda let it go. Besides, MDD and I are just as obsessed with playing it. And, we have been playing it seemed like no big deal.

Further Confession: 
We MAYBE have some history in letting some things like this slide...i.e., Monkey's been watching Star Wars movies since she was not yet two years old. There are some scary parts, but she knows it's not real. We are more careful about other movies and TV shows, and certain radio stations do not get airplay if she's around.

But -- video games? New territory.

I got the Marvel Avengers game this Christmas too, and that one has been designated just for MDD and me...also because I find it really hard and don't want anyone (else) swearing at it. Other than that, we've only ever gotten E-rated games. It's never been an issue before.

There have been a BUNCH of snow days this month, courtesy of the freakish Chicago winter and polar vortex attacking us every other week. There have also been a couple rounds of norovirus and other unpleasantness which have kept us close to home... which means a lot of time for games.

Maybe too much time for games...

Why?  Well, in the past week or so, Monkey has repeatedly spouted off about killing people. Obviously, we're NOT OK with that, and have told her exaggerating like that is not OK.

SO, then... A couple of days ago, we were finishing up dinner and I had to excuse myself to the restroom. Apparently that was bad timing, because approximately two minutes later, I hear Monkey sobbing and MDD speaking very firmly, and I was stuck in the bathroom going, WTH?!!? Can a person not use the facilities without all hell breaking loose?

Upon my return, I found my little one totally bawling and red-faced.
MDD, I could tell, had been pretty upset with her.
I raised my eyebrows and asked what THAT was all about.

MDD told me Monkey had made some superbly flippant comment about how killing people is not all that bad and it isn't a big deal. He had had enough of that line of talk from her, and told her so.

It didn't sink in, so he told her that killing someone means they die and go in a box in the ground, and never, ever come back, and their families miss them horribly. (Gulp... uh....gulp)

She still didn't relate to that, until he pointed out that everyone-- anyone-- is part of someone's family, and if it was, say, Mommy that was killed, she would feel differently.


So when I heard her bawling, "Don't say that about Mommy!" -- that was my child, suddenly struck not just by the fact that people do die (as we've never hidden from her, and had to be honest about, when our beloved pastor died last year)-- but that EVERYONE will die, someday.

And that everyone really means EVERYONE... including Mommy and Daddy.

Admittedly, I was pretty upset with MDD for not at least waiting until I was no longer indisposed to have such a deep conversation, with potentially major implications. He feels he reacted accordingly, based on her flippancy and the failure to grasp the value of a human life... I countered that she is FIVE... But, whatever... that bell has been rung. 

She sobbed for a long time as she realized someday there may come a time when Mommy and Daddy may, in fact, pass away. Her sorrow and fierce love made me pretty much lose my schmidt.

I held her and hugged her and smoothed her hair back from her little red face.

We reassured her as best we could, that day is far, far, FAR in the future and she doesn't need to worry about that. Eventually she calmed a bit and we did get her to bed with a little extra snuggling and reassurances that we would be right in the next room, as always.

The next morning (yesterday), as we were driving to school, she was pretty quiet in the back seat. She said she wished she was back at her prior preschool (where she hasn't been in two years). I asked why, and she wouldn't really say. She "just wished that."

Then she started saying things like: she doesn't want to move up to kindergarten next year, or first grade or beyond. I pointed out she wouldn't get to drive, then (one of her life's greatest goals). She said she didn't care.

OK. That was NOT GOOD. I figured the previous evening's discussion was still on her mind.

Concerned, I pressed gently for details and got this WHAMMY:

She said she doesn't want to grow up, because that will just bring her closer to the time when she will lose her parents. 

I did not know what to do with that.  Especially before having my morning coffee. 

She started sobbing, full out, like...going-to-choke-and-barf-sobbing.

We were stuck in the car. I couldn't get to her.

So I used my Bluetooth to call MDD on the speakerphone in the car. (I figured...he went there, so he needs to help me now...)

We assured her we are fine, in (reasonably) good health and have doctors looking out for us and we are NOT GOING ANYWHERE for many, many years.

But I felt dishonest, telling her that. 

I mean-- I know we HAD to, in that moment, to calm her fear and reassure her. But really... how do we know? If I step off the curb tomorrow and get hit by an ice cream truck, what would she think of what we told her? Would she feel misled? I think she would-- and she'd be right to.

As she tends to be wise beyond her years, it is such a balancing act to figure out how to handle certain issues. She is empathetic and loving, and deeply, truly values her family. In that, we have done a good job as parents to give her the love and support and safety she needs to thrive.

And now she recognizes that, and fears losing us.

In a sense, maybe that is kind of good... but I do not know how to deal with the consuming fear in my five-year-old's sweet little face that someday she won't be with me, because I will die. I was NOT a young mom. I know that means our time together won't be as long as if I'd had her ten years earlier...but it is what it is. And she is too young for me to really tell her that, IMHO.

I think the topic came up before she really was prepped to process it.
MDD thinks it had to come up how it did, because her cavalier attitude was growing into something we needed to nip in the bud.

At any rate-- we are DONE with the kids playing video games where characters die and revive in a matter of seconds. That label said 10+ for a reason, and ignoring it was a mistake.

We are rectifying that this weekend, and I am 100% certain that will be a very unpopular decision. I don't know how much of a difference it would make, but at least we won't be continuing to make things worse.

I hope...??

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

House Hunting, 2014 Version

We are once again on the hunt for a place to call OURS. Since the previous residence was sold in 2010, we have been renting a house in a community I shall call InBetween. As in-- it is InBetween MDD's work and mine, with our church as the third dot of the triangle. 

InBetween Land is nice...but it means we spend a LOT of time in the car. Like, to go...ANYWHERE... is about 20 minutes or so. It was convenient when we had to find somewhere fast, as the house sale was a lot of hurry-up-and-wait and then, oh by the way, you have 30 days to now find somewhere else to be. 

The original plan was to rent somewhere for a year, while we figured out what else we wanted to do with ourselves. 

That was uh... yeah. Almost four years ago. 

The following year, 2011, we were going to start looking, but things with my job became a bit iffy. I was not feeling good about jumping into such a huge financial commitment without reasonable hope for a paycheck, so we delayed a year. 

Then we got engaged (YAY!) and so 2012 became the Year of the Wedding and trying to do anything else would have made smoke come out my ears. And our bank account. So...resigned the lease, and stayed put for another year. 

Also, MDD changed jobs and we had enough major life events floating around that the concept of also packing and moving and then UNpacking just uh...yeah. No. 

So in 2013, we had enough things settled down to seriously look for a place. We were torn, looking both in the town where my stepdaughter lives with her mother, and also in the town where our church is (about half an hour away). Many discussions and considerations and Saturdays spent touring places brought us to a few conclusions and a much stronger sense of reality. 

We had finally found a viable location last spring, and went through the arduous task of various inspections and lots of other things that all seemed to cost either $150 or $300... There is some kind of consensus around house stuff that must mandate it be one of those two prices. Kinda like how adding the word "wedding" to any item instantly makes it 150% more expensive?!?

Anyway...the viable option last spring turned less viable when we discovered the home both needed a new roof AND was insulated with asbestos. Along with about 35 other semi-major issues. 

We were willing to do one of those Big Two, but simply could not afford to do both. The sellers opted to stick their fingers in their ears and yell "LA LA LA LALA" and not do ANYTHING, so we wound up very tearfully walking away from that option. With time effectively run out, we re-signed the lease one more time. 

It pretty much sucked. But I also know we made the right decision. Tackling two major projects, plus the initial down payment and moving expenses, would have left us in a financial situation that would have been ulcer-inducing. Sometimes being a grownup really bites. 

But now, it's a new year... and we are NOT WANTING to re-sign this lease again!

Thus, we are off and running on House Search 2014. We've seen a few and are vigilantly watching the listing sites for options in our price range and desired school district for Monkey. 

I am also hoping to spot a flying unicorn, but that's for another day...

I have discovered that Monkey is becoming quite the pro at house viewings. We let her use the tape measure to measure stuff and have given her the official job of Finding the Furnace at whichever location we view. One time already, she managed to find it when even our realtor couldn't... it was accessible in this one house by removing a panel under the small staircase. 

Monkey was like, "There's a ROOM down there!" And we were telling her to get out of there, because it did not look like a good place for a five-year-old to wander. Lo and behold, she was right-- the darn furnace was UNDER THE STAIRCASE. 

Needless to say...NOT BUYING that place! WTH, people??

The other thing Monkey is very good at on our house hunting missions is measuring the bedrooms. To make sure she "picks" the one that is bigger. 

Even if it is half a foot, she is not going to miss out. 

Of course, it is still up to the hubs and I to decide which girl will get which bedroom. Monkey's argument, which I find to have some merit, is she's in the house seven days a week, while her sister is only there one or two days. In the house we almost bought last year, that time difference was reflected in their bedroom sizes (and was also intended to try to keep Monkey's ever-growing mess of STUFF somewhat confined to her own room). 

Our hope is to get this show on the road soon and get us somewhere we can set down roots, FINALLY. I lived like a nomad for so much of my adult life that I am absolutely DROOLING at the concept of moving somewhere permanently. 

My parents sold the house I grew up in (20 years there!) when I was going into my senior year of college. With all the regular college moving, plus being involved at the time with someone who worked in the media, I then moved nine times in the next thirteen years. Ugh. 

We've been living InBetween for nearly four years...and that's the longest I have stayed in one place since my childhood home. Not bad for a place that was supposed to be a quick get-us-through stop on the way.

But I am DONE with constantly singing "Temporary Home."

I am DONE having U-Haul on speed dial. 

I am DONE keeping all those boxes "for next time" because you have to-- those things are EXPENSIVE. 

I will be very happy being done buying packing tape and packing paper by the box. 

Gotta admit though, bubble wrap is still pretty awesome. 

With a little divine guidance, I hope to write the next chapter in our lives from a calm, serenely settled home where I can paint or hang pictures or plant stuff or WHATEVER...and know that it's still going to be OURS and I don't have to box it all up and leave again in a year or two. 

The clock is ticking. Our lease is up, again, at the end of spring, and Monkey will start kindergarten (a.k.a., "real school") this fall. 

I hate not knowing yet where that's going to be, and we are on a pretty concentrated mission right now to answer exactly that question...


Thursday, January 16, 2014

Things I Learned this Thanksgiving

Once again, technical issues have delayed my posting. However, I have conquered that (I think!) and am back in business. So, a little tardy, but here ya go...

Hi all! Hope you enjoyed your Thanksgiving and at least two decent turkey sandwiches. I know I sure did. This year, as most years, we migrated three hours northward to spend some time with MDDaddy's parents, known to us as Grandma and Grandpa.

Every time I get to interact with my in-laws, I am reminded of just how blessed I really am. I know a lot of people (women, especially) who have the most wretched, horrific, Jerry-Springer-ish issues with the parents of their beloved. I have seen that crap destroy more than one marriage. It ain't pretty.

Thus, I KNOW how blessed and thankful I am to have the in-laws I do. They are kind to the core, lovingly supportive, and have wicked senses of humor. They raised two amazing men, and it's easy to see how their sons turned out the way they did.

This year, in particular, I learned how PATIENT my in-laws are. Folks, we invaded their home late on Wednesday nigh-- VERY late (stupid van had oil issues ON THE WAY OUT OF TOWN). We are not light packers and brought an estimated 12.9 metric tons of crap.

New this trip was our aquatic passenger, Donald (Monkey's betta fish). She got him for her birthday and we realized this living creature might not remain among the living if no one fed it for five days in a house where the heat has been turned down to just-above-pipe-freezing level. Having not dealt with the situation before, we failed to make a plan for his care in our absence.

I figured, hey- tank is the size of a lunchbox... Let's just bring him!

MDD did it in style. Rather than bring the whole lunchbox tank, he improvised a traveling tank from an old pickle jar. 

He left the label on it. So yeah, we hit the highway with a MacGyver'ed fish tank. I was afraid it would freeze in the car when we stopped for dinner, so I brought Pickle Fish in with us. He totally dug Wendy's and seemed to enjoy his highway adventures, even though I was afraid he might have a heart attack from all the sloshing and I almost dropped him trying to open the door. That would have ended badly.

We also bestowed upon Grandma & Grandpa's normally quiet existence our ENDLESSLY BICKERING children, who seemed to take this trip as a challenge to see who could piss off more people. I am not certain who won, but it most definitely was not Grandma and Grandpa.

Adding to the joy: MDD and I both were suffering through this stupid creeping crud of a cold that had been passed around our household about five times since mid-September. It has been termed the crud that will not die. Not sick enough to stay home (though that might have been more merciful for G & G), but just enough germ infestation to ensure we were both A) not going to sleep much, and B) going to have little to no fuse for dealing with the children, who CLEARLY smelled blood in the water and decided to have themselves a little frenzy at our expense.

All in all, it was a doozy. We put on no airs and are aware that as visitors, we're a handful even on our GOOD days. But this was certainly not us at our best, and just...yeah. Love and gratitude abounds when you know you are a raging hot mess, whirlwinding your way through a holiday....and are loved, all the same.

I mentioned it (for about the tenth time) at our send-off dinner, the last evening of the visit. MDD had the girls up at the buffet (as no holiday weekend is complete without a visit to a Chinese buffet), so I had a chance to talk to my in-laws in (relative) peace and quiet.

I thanked them for putting up with our insanity and apologized for being such a hot mess. They were gracious, as always.

Then my father-in-law cracked his trademark grin and added, "We just keep have to deal with this ALL THE TIME."

I laughed. I had to.

Because, yeah.

Here are some other things I learned this Thanksgiving:

  • No matter how late she goes to bed at Grandma and Grandpa's, Monkey will be up before 6:30 AM and READY TO ROLL.

  • A five-year-old's piano stylings at 6:43 AM are louder than you would think possible. Especially when she sings along.

  • Everything can be turned into a contest. Every. Flipping. Thing. Apparently, the best one is "Let's Whine and Complain and Whoever Makes MDM Have a Stroke, WINS!"

  • Betta fish dig Wendy's, but don't give them fries. It gets messy.

  • You actually CAN play horseshoes when it's 17 degrees out. You can... It is just REALLY COLD and makes for a very short game.

  • The neighbor's dogs don't want you to sing to them. Or look at them. Pretty much just stay away from the fence so Cujos I and II don't decide to eat you.

  • It is really hard to pull a combined weight of 150 pounds of two kids on a toboggan when there are a whopping seven snowflakes on the ground.

  • MDD knows how to fix toboggan strings. Good to know.

  • Monkey gets carsick.

  • A child's half-dose of Dramamine does NOTHING to stop that.

  • A child's regular dose? Knocks her happy ass right out. I spent the whole drive home checking her to make sure she was still breathing. Perhaps a 3/4 dose next time will give me fewer heart palpitations.

  • Those funky 80's school pics we all had? You know-- the double exposure, where one pic is the SERIOUS PROFILE and the other is superimposed? Yeah...REALLY hard to explain to a five year old. She asked me, "Why did they put those pictures in Daddy's brain?" And I had to leave the room. Awesomeness.

  • I am a much better bowler with the bumper rails. And yet I still lost. Twice. Yes, it is just as sad as it sounds.

  • It is really difficult to play Battleship with a child who keeps mixing up the words "hit" and "miss" and has to trace her fingers across the letter line and dowwwwn the number to figure out if your guess is a hit or a miss. And then tells you the wrong one anyway. Here's a tip, if you ever play Battleship with Monkey: don't put any ships in the A line. She will guess A 1, 2, 3,...all the way across that line, because it is the easiest to trace with her finger.

  • Grandpa's wooden train whistle is NOT lost. And it makes a very good alarm clock.

  • Do not let the small child hold the nozzle of the shower sprayer unless you are SURE the shower door is all the way closed. ALL. THE. WAY. CLOSED. Even then, plan to get sprayed. In the face. 

Most importantly: 

Family sees past the inconvenience and germs and crankiness (and that was just us grownups) and shows you unconditional love. 

But I am still betting they were happy to have their house return to its normal level of peace and quiet. 

With hopes of posting more often now that the Technology Gods have smiled upon my computer once again,