Monday, January 31, 2011


So, finally. I might be getting it. After years of therapy & battling depression on and off, I feel like I might finally be getting a sense of how to take care of myself and be the person I need to be so that I'm not constantly struggling to maintain a grasp on happiness. The past two and a half years have been tumultuous, driven by major changes, major losses, major existential angst. When I look back over it all, I can kind of see why I've been a whirling dervish of anxiety and mood swings and weepiness. Even taking away the six months of hormonal manipulation via fertility drugs that we threw into the mix o' Crazy, its no surprise that I found myself once again dialing the numbers of potential therapists and standing in line at the pharmacy for another prescription of Zoloft.

Last Monday afternoon, I sat in my therapist's office & described our weekend. How Ethan was a whining, demanding, crying beast, and how I, in turn, cried the whole way home from Santa Cruz on Saturday afternoon, after a failed attempt of Fun! Family! Bonding! at Natural Bridges park and the fall/winter migration stop of thousands of monarch butterflies. Aside from the fact that it was too late in the season and instead of the vibrating throngs of butterfly wings perching in the trees, we saw only a few fluttering loners, Ethan complained of being tired, hungry, tired, bored, wanting a play date, hungry, wanting a play date, tired, and hungry from pretty much the moment we took the key out of the ignition in the parking lot to the time we pulled back into our driveway 3 hours later. All legitimate and age-appropriate complaints and demands, I know. But the consistency with which Ethan expresses his displeasure at all things, all the time, had finally frayed my nerves to the point of no return and behaving like a child myself (not proud of it, people; just being honest), I stomped off up the monarch trail, muttering, "fine. We'll go home. So much for fucking fun family bonding. Whatever." (I like a kicky alliteration when I'm being melodramatic), and proceeded to have a pint-sized nervous breakdown on the way home, where I cried to Husband that I feel like all I ever do is try to make the kid happy & its never enough & I'm tired of my life consisting of getting through one of his melt-downs just to wait for the next one.

And then Husband said something that kind of blew my mind & hammered out clearly for me the difference between us. "Well, when Ethan wasn't melting down, we had a nice time." To which I replied, "But he was melting down every. five. minutes!" Then Yoda Husband said, "Yes, but the five minutes in between each melt down were really nice, weren't they?"

Of course, just like my child, when I'm mid-melt down myself, I can't see the forest for the trees, so instead of considering Husband's point, I simply cried, "No, it was all miserable because I just kept anticipating the next fit of tears from him."

Husband was kind enough to let that sentiment lie where it fell and we were silent the rest of the way home. He was kind enough not to point out to me what I figured out as we drove the rest of the winding way home through the Santa Cruz mountains. My reaction to the situation was my own responsibility. My perspective. My expectations. I have joked in the past that I have a bit of a Clark Griswald complex--I build up all events in my mind to such an extent that no reality can live up to the fabulousness I conjure up in my mind; vacations, family visits, outings like this one--I have this vision in my mind of ideal family bonding and when the situation falls short, I feel personally affronted and let down. It's charming, really.

Or not.

Anyway, after I explained the whole situation to my therapist and we explored why I felt the need to respond like a 4 year old to my own 4 year old's tantrums (that is a whole can of worms you just do not want to hear about), she said to me, "You know what I might do if I were you? I might take some time & head back to Santa Cruz on my own. To reclaim that experience and create a more positive memory for yourself."

And the thing is--I had already done that. On Monday morning, after dropping Ethan off at preschool, camera bag perched on my passenger seat, I headed back up and over the Santa Cruz mountains, back to Natural Bridges. The whole way, a little part of me was chastising myself for the frivolousness of spending an entire morning meandering the cliff walk, taking pictures, watching pelicans and surfers when I could have been at home doing laundry, cleaning the litter box, doing the grocery shopping. But an even bigger part of me kept telling me it was okay to take that time for myself. That its okay to take a break from the housewife/mom routine every once in awhile and remember who I am. Or, at this point, re-discover who I am might be more fitting.

After a couple hours at the shore, I drove inland a bit to walk around the downtown area. I finally bought actual 35mm film for my mini-Diana camera & had lunch outside at a little cafe. And then I drove back to reality, feeling like a totally new person, at least for the time being.

From the Natural Bridges state park down to the lighthouse park:

Pictures from shops downtown:

Dear Urban Outfitters: I know I should be too old to be enchanted by your kitchy novelty items like orange elephant piggy banks and brightly colored baby buddhas, but I can't help myself. I promise not to wear your clothes and try to be a trendy hipster, but I am going to keep loving your amusing array of tchotchkes, okay?

I *may* have purchased one of these preshus blue owl piggy banks. And I *might* let Ethan look at it, but not touch it. Because sometimes Mama needs her own preshus blue owl piggy bank....

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Ferocious Fours...

My kid's got a serious case of them. At first I just thought it was the result of an accumulation of late bedtimes that transformed my lovable, hilarious cherubic child into a swirling-headed, snake-haired, fire-breathing, pea-soup spitting demon o' doom. But I am starting to fear it is yet another "phase" in the seemingly never-ending parade of "phases" that have marched their way through our lives and trampled all over my ability to, well, stay sane.

You'd never know it by looking at him----

Look how joyful! Look at how genuinely happy and effervescent!

But underneath Mr. Happy Face lies a beast just waiting to have his any demand responded to with so much as a whisper of "no." Then, my friends, The Ferocious Fours come alive and wreak havoc on the eardrums of anyone in a two block radius and the psyches of two parents just trying to find a balance between our child having some sense of ownership over his life and our need to set limits and boundaries for him so that he knows he will not, in fact, always get his way in life--either in his time with us, or out there in the great big world.

When Ethan doesn't get what he wants, there is the whining of the word "please" in ever elongated and increasingly high-pitched peals of despair, accompanied by what what might seem, to the untrained eye, to be a pee-pee dance (definition: the hopping jig of a preschooler who has to relieve him/herself, while at the same time refusing to stop whatever it is they are doing in order to take care of business. Usually ends in a puddle on the floor). It is not a pee-pee dance, however; it is a dance-of-emphasis, an attempt to convey the urgency of the "please" which has turned into a "plllleeeeeeaaaaaassssssse," that, thank the universe for small mercies, eventually only dogs can hear.

After the "please" at varying decibel levels and superfluous long-e sounds phase of the tantrum, comes the "I will repeat over and over again what it is I want until I drive you over the edge of sanity & what I'm asking for ends up being the external monologue of your life as you push that shopping cart around town in your matted terry cloth bathrobe and scuffing slippers, twitching and muttering, "I want a play date. I want a play date. I want a play date."

Husband and I try all methods of reasonable and calm explanation. "We aren't having a play date right now honey, because you just got out of school 5 minutes ago, where you played with your friends for 5 hours," or "We don't have a play date right now because everyone Mommy called today is busy," or "No, we can't have a play date right now because it's 8pm and time for bed." We commiserate, "Yes, I know you're upset that we don't have a play date right now. I understand that's so frustrating for you," and "I'm sorry its so upsetting to you, honey, why don't we play (fill in fabulously fun game you can play with your mom, even though she's a sucky excuse for a play date)?" We talk about the next play date we have planned, tomorrow, or the day after, with any one of Ethan's many wonderfully fun friends.

This usually results in more wailing, screaming, running from the room crying, more "pleeeeeeeeeaaaase" appeals, etc, and no one gets what they want (Ethan: a play date & us: a child who can hold his shit together when he doesn't get his way every. single. time.) Lest you think that we are evil parents who keep our child locked up indoors and away from any social interaction, starving him of friendship and play time, please note that this display of temper might all occur, as it did today, after a FIVE hour-long play date with two of his favorite friends. A play date complete with running through yards, swinging on tire swings, building forts, riding bikes, playing guitar (which, as an aside, I just had to retype b/c I first spelled it "guiltar"----Freudian much?), lunch out at a super fun restaurant where they had the whole place to themselves to make noise and play, followed by TWO hours of running rampant all over a local park.

There was much disgruntled futzing about ending that play date, but as soon as the crying subsided on the ride home from our friends' house, the first full thought Ethan articulated was during the lull was, "Can we have a play date with C when we get home?"

Sigh. C is our next door neighbor and Ethan's constant when-we're-at-home companion. It's lovely 95% of the time, to have a friend living right next door, who is almost always available for impromptu play dates. The problem is that the other 5% of the time, my child is pitching a hellacious tantrum because for whatever reason, a play date will not materialize at that given point in time. Today it was because C's family was cleaning out & organizing their garage (which sounds very spring-cleaning-y & it is, because it was 70 degrees today, for the 4th-or 5th day in a row). We said that "maybe when C is finished working with his family...." which turned into C and his family working until sundown and dinner time on their Sunday afternoon project (and more power to them--our garage is a compelling argument for our nomination to the show Hoarders), and meant that there would be no playing.

When Ethan realized there would be no play date (until school tomorrow morning which is essentially a 5-hour long play date with 12 of his nearest and dearest), the ruckus that followed was epic. And exhausting. Ethan retreated to his play room to alternate between whimpering and screaming and I found myself what point did my 4.5 year old boy turn into a 14 year old girl (and I can say that, alluding the The Crazy of the adolescent teenage girl because I was one.)? How long before he starts in with the "I hate you! I hate you! You don't understand!" as he stomps off to his room, slamming his door behind him, shaking the whole house for effect. Not that I ever did that.....

At one point, after the screaming and crying stopped, while Husband and I were in the living room, one of Ethan's over-sized, inflatable Spiderman boxing gloves came flying into the living room, apparently hurled by Ethan, from his play room, in an expression of civil disobedience and protest. Fair enough, little man. Fair enough. But you're still not getting a play date.

This has pretty much been the way things are around here for the past week or two. I've been wracking my brain trying to figure out what has changed in his routine or habits that might have triggered The Crazy, but I am at a loss. So I chalk it up to "Phase." "Its just a phase." "This too shall pass." "Don't take it personally." And I take a lot of deep breaths. I give time outs when his tone towards me or Husband is disrespectful. I talk a lot about how we don't always get what we want (but if we try, sometimes we get what we need---thank you, Mick Jagger, for writing that catchy tune, and thank you Glee for such a kicky version of it that I can play for Ethan, and sometimes manage to turn chaotic tantrum into Living Room Dance Party). And I arrange for a lot of play dates.

But he has his blissfully happy moments, this morning when we snuck out into the just-barely warming up morning of our backyard, still in our mis-matched jammies, and took a little joy ride on our scooter....

when I first got those jammies for him, I thought they said, "I *heart* chickens," which I thought was way cuter than "I *heart* chicks," (and clearly less gender-y and borderline sexist), but whatever...

Morning Face Mama brought to you by Ethan. Apparently I slept really hard on that eyebrow...

Goofy faces, raging tantrums. He is my sunshine.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Let's Just Say It...

I am in a major blog funk right now, people. I want to write, I like to write, I have no valid reason not to write. And yet....

I'm not sure if NaNoWriMo just sucked the writing life right out of me, or if I have some entitled sense of "I don't have to write anything else now that I've written 50k words" (which? Is a feat, sure, but it's not like I cured cancer here, let's be real--no sense of entitlement warranted, obviously). But every day when I look at "MamaSarahndipity" up on my bookmarks bar, I sigh and then hit refresh on my Twitter or Facebook pages.

It's not that I don't have stories to tell, advice to ask for or rants to rant. Believe me, I do. Like, how to deal with Ethan's obsession over "bad guys" and "good guys" or the "Kindergarten awareness" presentation I attended earlier this week (guys, are you aware of kindergarten? Because it's out there), where the expert-in-all-things-kindergarten-awareness speaker talked about how her kids only watch 30 minutes of TV....PER WEEK, and about how only 53% of kids entering kindergarten are actually prepared for it (which makes one wonder why they are teaching what they're teaching in kindergarten if almost HALF the kids attending aren't ready for it---but that is another rant, erm, topic, for another post).

I could write about Ethan's budding scientific inquisitiveness, like how he grilled me on the topic of electricity yesterday--specifically asking me, if electricity runs through the power lines in our neighborhood, and if lightening is electricity, why don't we hear thunder coming from the power lines? Take that, "why is the sky blue?" We've moved on to bigger and better questions that Mama can't answer without a trip to Professor Google....

I could share pictures with you, like these from our walk in yet another fantabulous, awe-inspiring redwood forest:

Neat, huh? Some of those trees are 2000 years old. TWO THOUSAND, people. Like, "Hi, I'm a giant redwood tree & when Jesus was busy being born 2000 years ago? I was a tiny redwood tree," two thousand. It kind of boggles the mind.

But for some reason, I just haven't been sharing. And because I haven't been sharing, I haven't been reading your blogs that much, either, and I"m sorry for that. Its not that I don't care what you're up to---I do, and I miss reading about your lives, and being entertained by your stories and amazed by your photography. But I end up feeling guilty that I'm not blogging when I read your blogs, so I've been neglecting them. No es bueno.

I'm hoping that the funk subsides soon and that I'll be giving you a reason to check in here more often. And I'm going to spend the rest of the morning heading back to a few of my favorite blogs to see what you all are up to--thanks in advance for your inspiration.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Jungle Gym...

So it's come to this, people. I have embraced the cliche. Last week, 5 days into the new year, I joined the gym. Although honestly, it's got less to do with the fact that it's a new year and more to do with the fact that it is my FORTIETH year. 40, people. 4-0. True, I won't celebrate the actual date of my birth for several more months, but I was born in 1971, which makes 2011 my 40th year. And going into my 4th decade with the body I'm carting around now simply isn't an option. Its got less to do with appearance (which is one of the perks of approaching 40--not that how I look has stopped mattering to me, but it is not one of the primary ways in which I identify my worth any more) and more to do with health and longevity. I don't think 40 is "old" by any stretch (although my 20-year old self is on some alternate plane of existence right now breathing into a paper bag at the thought), but its hard to argue with the facts of aging and the physical changes that come along with it--muscle turning to fat more readily, risks for cancer and heart disease increasing, blah blah blah.

I know, I can hear the "wauh-wauh-wauuuuuh" of the SNL Debbie Downer skit, too. But what can you do?

So I joined the gym down the street from me and if nothing else, I am getting a good look at the throngs of resolution-driven masses flocking to Zumba and crowding the elliptical machines. I have always preferred gyms where the people working out are never going to win a beauty contest, and are there because they need to be there, not so that they can be seen in all their chiseled-abdominal and perfectly coifed glory.

And let me tell you, this gym delivers. We are a motley crew; I'm sure the woman in the row behind me, channeling a combination of Ally Sheedy a la Breakfast Club and South Park's Kenny, would agree. I was on the elliptical machine for an hour this morning and could see her, hooded sweatshirt zipped up almost over her mouth and hood pulled up & tightened around her face until just her eyes and nose were showing, the entire time. I'm not sure if she is on some sort of extreme sweating weight-loss regiment or if she thinks she's invisible. A little weird. But perhaps no more so than the woman on the bike in front of me who was wearing a shirt one (clearly not her, but one) might wear to work or out to dinner. I'm no athletic gear snob--when I work out, I wear a pair of old yoga pants and one of Husband's old t-shirts. But I don't think I'd ever go the gym in a V-neck, three-quarter sleeved, animal print, synthetic fiber blend...maybe that's just me?

And then there's always the guy on the bike or the treadmill or the elliptical or doing crunches on the floor who has to announce to the room that he is working at full-exertion capacity by grunting repeatedly throughout his entire work out. He's fun, isn't he?

Last week I joined my friend Rachel at a Body Pump class--which is a weight-lifting class set to techno music. The music makes you feel like you're having fun. The music is a dirty, dirty liar.
That being said, I completed the class (and didn't even pass out once!) and I promised to participate with my friend each week, and yes, after one class and a bit of time on the elliptical, I am already seeing definition in my legs. So that's good. Painful, but good.

On Wednesday, I am meeting with a personal trainer for my one complimentary training session. When I first saw the trainer last week, he was plodding across the weight room floor with a rope tied around his waist, hauling about 200lbs in weight plates. So yeah, I'm really looking forward to that. And by "looking forward to" I mean "am dreading with every fiber of my being." Just so we're clear.

I've done this so many times before--joined the gym, committed to getting in shape & healthy--and I've generally always fallen short and stayed the same shape & size as before. This time, though, I'm drawing on my NaNoWriMo experience from November--I set a goal and I stuck to it; something I am, sadly, rarely successful with. But I did it with the writing. And I if I spend the same amount of time exercising and being aware of my eating habits as I did with my writing, and make it a non-negotiable in my life, as I did with the novel in November, I am hopeful that this time will be different, and when I celebrate the actual day that signifies my 40th year, I will do so with a body I am happy to be living in, and a lifestyle that is a good model for my child and for my next 40 years....

wish me luck!

Friday, January 07, 2011

Just Call Him L. Ron....

The other day, Ethan's preschool teacher stopped me in the hallway after pick-up. Last year she *may* have stopped me a couple of times after school to let me know about some, erm, episodes of, shall we say "challenging" behavior on Ethan's part. There might have been a phase of blowing spitty raspberries in his friends' face, at point-blank range. And once or twice it's possible I had to cancel play dates later on in the day as a consequence for being a little pushy or shove-y during outside play time. So, you understand, I was a little nervous when she called me aside.

Turns out, this little impromptu progress report had nothing to do with spitty tongues or flailing hands in the sandbox. His teacher was chuckling; that was my first hint.

"I have to tell you about something Ethan said today," she told me, through a laugh.

Apparently, during circle time the class was talking about what they want to be when they grow up. Ethan declared that he was going to be a scientist. His teacher explained to him that there are lots of different types of scientist and asked what type he might like to be.

Thanks to the fabulous glowing box in our living room, Ethan's become quite a fan of the Nick, Jr. show, Dino Dan--a show about some Canandian kid who sees dinosaurs lurking around in his daily life and who fancies himself a pint-sized expert on all dinosaurs, great and small. Everyone around him seems to humor him, from his teachers and his mom to his classmates, but seriously, the kid is so into his pretend play with the dinos that if I were his mom I *might* be a little concerned that he was delusional and hallucinating prehistoric creatures every second of the day. But Ethan loves the show & has become quite the little expert himself on meat-eaters and leaf-eaters. So I wasn't at all surprised when his teacher said that given the choice of what type of scientist he wanted to be, Ethan told her that he wanted to study dinosaurs.

She informed him that a person who studies dinosaurs is called a paleontologist and apparently it was decided--Ethan wants to be a paleontologist when he grows up.

I couldn't quite figure out what was chuckle-worthy about that (except of course all the Ross Geller jokes), so I sort of nodded and smiled. And then the teacher continued...

At the end of circle time, she was writing down on the big board what everyone wanted to be as adults and when she got back to Ethan, she asked,

"What did you want to be again, Ethan?"

I guess based on their earlier conversation and the teacher's clarification that a "scientist" and a "paleontologist" were sort of the same thing, Ethan decided to combine the two words (how efficient of him), and he informed the class that when he grew up (and at this point, the teacher was almost crying she was laughing so hard) he was going to be....

A Scientologist.

Yup. A Scientologist. Super.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Christmas in January...

I guess that's what happens when you don't blog in have to recap the holidays after everyone has put their Elves on the Shelves & mistletoe away, packed their ornaments in newspaper and sawed their beloved Douglas firs into smithereens to fit in the "yard waste" trash can for next week's pick-up. Seriously, I know Christmas is so last month, but there were some highlights....

Like the holiday light show we went to, complete with a basketball playing Santa and the ever-Christmas-y T-Rex chase:

And of course, the historically traditional Christmas mascot, the Santa-hat wearing tooth:

Perhaps this is a nod to Hermey, the little blond elf in Rudolph who really wants to be a dentist, but I kind of doubt it. More likely some local dentist forked over some cash to have a tooth displayed in the festival to remind parents that all those candy canes are rotting their kids' teeth. Point taken, Mr. DDS.

Then, of course, there was Christmas Eve and The Big Day, where Ethan gorged his toy-loving soul on presents! presents! and more presents! On Christmas Eve, we baked cookies for Santa and even wrote a little card for him:

notice how my child has hung his art work all over our living room (and by "art work" I mean 15 sheets of paper out of the printer with one line of pen scribbled on each). The museum of E.

those cookies were Santa told me....

And on Christmas day, the gluttony of plastic, lead-painted, right off the boat from China toy binge began. Although I will assuage your fears that my child is a toy-hungry greedy spoiled brat; he randomly told me one day last month, as he was climbing into his carseat, "Mommy, did you know that the true meaning of Christmas is to be nice to our friends and let them know how much we love them? It's not just about toys." Ahhhhh, my little parrot. I don't know who he heard it from, but it was a very Linus-y moment and it made me happy. Of course, I'm sure he couldn't have recited that Golden-Rule-esque sentiment when he was neck deep in holly-jolly wrapping paper and a small mountain of presents, but still...



Hot Wheels!

Oh My!

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Winter in Northern California...

Growing up in New England, it wasn't uncommon for the winter to strike from out of the blue somewhere around early November, cutting the autumn short by weeks....

exhibit A...the back porch of my childhood home. sigh....

Out here in California, however, autumn takes its time, meandering through the months generally inhabited by hats, mittens and puffy coats and snow angels in my memory. Snow isn't going to happen at all, I've made peace with that (unless we get in our car and trek 4 hours to the Sierras, which we will. Some day.) But even the changing of the trees from their lush green to the crispy reds, oranges and yellows--their own little fiery tree sunsets---lingers through to December.

This picture was taken during the 2nd week of December...

Not exactly a winter wonderland. But, I have to say, the change in the leaves provides us wiht hours of entertainment, even if we have to wait until two weeks before the Winter Solstice to partake in our autumnal activities... raking (or, let's be honest--pretending to rake while actually spreading the leaves around even more haphazardly and poking at them with the wrong end of the rake....)

wrong way, kid....

theeeeere you go....keep up the good work. Mama's going to go sit on the porch and supervise...

We also went on the super fun & fabulous preschool-mandatory leaf collecting walk. Outfitted with a random Starbucks bag, once home to perhaps a delectable baked goodie, we headed out to collect decaying refuse from our neighborhood trees. (SO PRETTTTTTY!) and gathered up the brightest leaves we could find to take home with us.....for no purpose whatsoever....

But who cares?!!! Carpe Diem! Or, Carpe A Bunch of Dying Leaves!

When we returned from our leaf collecting journey around the block, I deflected the fact that those lovingly selected leaves were basically going to be chucked into "yard waste" trash bin on the side of our house within minutes, by suggesting we rake for a few more minutes before the sun went down....

I'm not sure if he's raking here, or practicing being a majorette...

not getting a lot of raking done here....
Pretty sure he is playing guitar here instead of pulling his own weight in household chores. Seriously---four year olds, who do they think they are?

So, dear reader, help me out.

1.) What the hell can I do with a bunch of fallen leaves that is artsy/craftsy funsy/learny with a 4 year old? and...

2.) At what age do you think chores, with or without an allowance, are reasonable for kids? Raking was definitely not Ethan's chore--he thought it was great fun and did it pretty much on his own (and with, let's be honest, very little actual leaf-raking success--but he totally nailed it on the "being cute" part, so it's all good). But as Ethan gets older & more able to help out around the house and be in charge of his own things, I'm curious about the concept of chores & allowance and what other people do with their kids. Thanks!