Thursday, November 8, 2018

Five on Friday: Recent Discoveries and Realizations

It may be "No School November" here in New Jersey* but the learning never ends! Well, maybe my kids' Halloween Sugar-adled brains are on vacation but their Mother has been making all sorts of discoveries and realizations lately! 

For example:

1. Apparently little brother has grown quite  bit since February! No wonder he couldn't get his khakis from last winter on! Thank goodness his favorite sweatshirt still fits him.

February 7, 2018
November 4, 2018. Didn't even realize the sweatshirt thing until later.

2. Pretzel pancakes aren't as bad as they sound. I wouldn't go so far as to recommend them but in the Halloween-goodies-into-pancake frenzy of last weekend, they surpassed my expectations and were 1,000 times better than the Jolly Rancher, M&M and Skittle combo a certain youngest child created.

Note the red left in the pan. Skittle? M&M? It's a mystery nobody wants to solve.

3. I recently read Catcher in the Rye for the first time since I was a teenager. I realized that I still could relate to Holden as that young kid trying to figure it all out but at the same time I found myself repeatedly thinking, "Oh honey, no." One part that I know I chuckled at then and again now:

Funny because it's true.

4. My youngest son is an athlete and a musician, not much of an artist. Whenever he sits down to make a card for someone he relies on his go-to . . . a cookie truck. This is adorably cute and I will rue the day he abandons it. Recently I was cleaning  and found this drawing . .  . the MYSTERY COOKIE truck!! Best discovery ever!

Is it a good cookie or is it a bad cookie? Do you like a mystery? Try our mystery cookies!

5. Last weekend  I got to remember just how fucking long it takes to put yarn extensions in my daughter's hair. But I also got to rediscover just how cute she looks with them and how happy they make her. She even remembered to say "thank you" without being nudged.

I stopped counting the cumulative hours when I got to three and a half.
Can't pose, Ma, gotta run, dance and swish my long, long hair now

* They do have school but there are a slew of half days for conferences, two days off for the teachers' conference, half days and days off for Thanksgiving. I also refer to the conference week as "New Jersey Goes to Florida" week.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Five on Friday: Sappier than an After-School Special

When I sit down to write my weekly Five on Friday list, I first try to come up with ideas by thinking about current events. Lately, every week there seems to be only more violence, vitriol, lies and lack of leadership. I get so frustrated and upset. I wonder how many "coping with the terrible state of the country" lists can one blogger can write? How many vigils can I attend or passionate speeches can I share just to have another horrifying hate crime happen? What can I possibly do that actually impacts the world? That promotes peace?

So then I usually turn to the smaller picture, my own community and my family, to find inspiration and hopefully some signs of hope or joy. This time when I did that, I realized that our recent act of hosting a British Exchange Student definitely provided lots of joy I could share. Then, like in a sappy after-school special, I remembered an important lesson. I've decided to share the laughter and lesson re-learning for this week's list:

1. Through a shared sense of humor and the magic of the Internet, we got to know our Exchange Student's parents, too.  It's a long story, but let's just say it concludes with us taking a picture of the six kids standing on a sidewalk lovingly giving the middle finger to  her Dad. CULTURAL EXCHANGE AT ITS FINEST.

(There are three things I want you to know about this picture, two in my defense and one because it's funny:
a. Her Dad started it
b. At the end of his daughter's visit, he admitted we were "okay, for Yanks"
c. After putting both middle fingers up, my 8-year-old said, "This feels sort of normal" )

2. I didn't mention that our guest has two prosthetic legs since losing her legs to an infection as an infant.  I am thankful for her willingness to answer my family's questions about how her life has been impacted by this and basic facts about how prosthetic legs  work. A highlight in this regard was when we invited a local family over to visit. Their 5-year-old daughter also has a prosthetic leg. I wish I was filming when she saw our Exchange Student's legs: her little face absolutely lit up with joy.

3. All the fun that comes along with learning each other's vocabulary (Jumper? That's a sweatshirt!), pronunciation (HOW do you say garage??) and expressions. My favorite was when the someone brought up the song "Uptown Girl" and my teenage son said he didn't know it. Our guest admonished, "Sort that out!" and it continues to make me laugh.

4. Yes, as predicted, we did have fun taking advantage of things to do locally but even better was all the playing we did at home. She renewed my family's interest in Wii Sports and we had some pretty serious competitions going on. Also, the kids together invented a new activity of wearing the Speak Out mouthpieces while singing karaoke songs at the top of their lungs. It was hysterical . . . highly recommended.

UK vs US  10-day Wii Sports Showdown

5. Here comes the After-School Special proselytizing: I remembered that happiness shared with a new friend, from a different country and perspective, is the kind of joy that brings along with it the hope and inspiration I long for. It reminds me the actions we take, the friendships we make, do help change the world. I can continue to feel helpless in combating hate or I can defeat it in small steps every chance I get.

I choose the latter.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Five on Friday: Things My Kids Know I'm a Sucker For

Any kid worth their salt intrinsically knows what their parents are suckers for. And if there's one thing all five of my kids are, it's salty.

They know, without doubt, that:

1. I will always say yes to taking free books (the same cannot be said about free stuffed animals. Even though I really like things that are free, I maintain that stuffed animals breed in captivity.)

2.  I will always allow a banana at bedtime (usually I'm pretty mean and say no to last minute attempts at stalling bedtime by asking for a snack but if it's a banana? Okay.)

3. I will let them watch anything on PBS at pretty much any time of the day (Though my 8-year-old recently told me that she's too old for PBS)

4. Likewise, they know their chances for getting me to say yes to additional screentime are pretty damn high if it's to play educational games (Can you spell SUCKER? S-U-C-K-E-R)

5. Lastly, these kids know their mother pretty well and they rest assured knowing that if they use a curse word correctly in a sentence around me, they'll never get in trouble. (And that I'll probably laugh)

Friday, October 19, 2018

Five on Friday: Perks of Being a Host Family

Tonight our British exchange student will be arriving and we are all really excited about meeting her! We did this same exchange program two years ago and had such a good time . . . I'm not sure how I dropped the ball on signing up last year, but we're back this year, baby!

You might be wondering why we are willingly taking another child into this house where the grown-ups are already so outnumbered--so I should mention that this is just a ten-day visit. And you know how people always say that after having two kids, adding a third isn't really that big of a deal? I can attest to that and add to that by saying after having five kids, any number of additional children aren't that big of a deal either.

One of the great things about it being a short visit is that we don't have time to put anything off. Everything that we want to share with her we must do right away, so we've scheduled it and will get it all done.

Of course the best things about being a host family are getting to make a new friend, having fun laughing at little cultural differences together, having UK vs. US candy showdowns (ever try British Skittles? Not nearly as sweet as ours and a bit more flavorful.) Not to mention getting to listen to my youngest imitate a British accent . . . but having done this before, I've realized there are other perks that I hadn't counted on, like:

1. Being provided the opportunity to take advantage of lots of local places, restaurants and things to do: it's like a mini-staycation with a new foreign friend who has never seen any of it before.

2. Likewise, we also get the chance to take advantage of places that are local-ish but we don't manage to get around to enough. Frequently realtors use "close to both New York City and Philadelphia!" as a selling point to living in this area, but how often do we get into either city? We will be in the next ten days!

3. We also get to go to places that we don't normally go to, like the ginormous Mall about half an hour away. Our children have been there so infrequently that it is just as much a magical display of dazzling American excess to them as it is to our guests.

We took this picture last time we visited the big Mall with exchange students. I'm telling you, we are like tourists there ourselves.

4.  While we like to think we prioritize family fun and togetherness, sometimes the hectic life of a family of seven means we end up doing things like frantically carving pumpkins on October 30th. Not this year! We have all sorts of family fun on the itinerary, including carving pumpkins weeks before Halloween!

5. The food, oh the food.  I love hosting and cooking and making special foods so I have plans to do a lot of that in the next ten days. By the time she goes home we'll all be 5 pounds   0.35 stones heavier!

Friday, October 12, 2018

Five on Friday: Five Ways I Love Waze

(The last two weeks were a little heavy. How about a fun Five on Friday this week?)

When I need directions in the car, I usually just ask Nigel* to pull up the driving directions for me. But I've been trying to use Waze more often because listening to it makes me so damn happy.

I know that sounds weird. But did you know that you can record your own voice directions on Waze? (It's true! Learn how to here!) When my husband and I first learned that, our initial thought was . . . why would you want to hear yourself? But then we were stuck in traffic with all five kids in the car so we thought it might be entertaining for them to try it.

We were right: they had a blast. Now every time I use Waze for directions I smile so much, because:

1. Even though it wasn't that long ago, some of their voices sound so much younger, tinier and more adorable.

2.  My older son's various random accents, like saying, "Turn left" in his best Arnold Schwarzenegger.

3. Hearing the background voices on certain directions. They only come up once in awhile but they capture a moment of us all in the car, all talking . . . it's a weird little thing to treasure but I do.

4. Liberties taken with some of the voice prompts . . . like instead of just saying"rerouting," my daughter made a cute sing-songy  "boop-de-boop" noise. "Hazard reported ahead" is "Dukes of Hazzard ahead."

5. I have heard all of the above things many times and love them each and every time. I thought I had heard them all, but on a recent trip using Waze, my 12-year-old son's voice imitating Brain--of "Pinky and the"--told me to "Take the third left . . . you imbecile!"

*I have switched my Siri's voice to be a British man's voice and I call him Nigel. When I ask him what my name is, he says Darling. It's the little things.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Five on Friday: Here We Go Again

Didn't I just have to do a little survivor self care last week for Five on Friday? Another week under this Administration means, unsurprisingly, another week of new lows.

Plenty of other things the past two years have upset me, but the mimicking of Dr. Ford by our supposed leader struck a different sort of nerve. I didn't even turn the volume up, the headline and comments were enough to make me feel completely nauseated and defeated. I knew I'd bounce back, I'm resilient, but sometimes I need a minute.

The next morning inspiration popped up on the Motherwell Magazine Instagram page:

This, apparently, was just what I needed

I remembered who the fuck I am. I am a fighter and an activist that refuses to let the bad guys win. I'm the woman that people ask to speak at last-minute vigils for sexual assault survivors and I'm the woman who fucking slays it. I had several people approach me afterwards to tell me how inspiring I was but I don't think any of them realize how inspiring it is for ME to have done it.

Here are five ways how:

1. Being asked to speak inspired me to write, and I know that writing is cathartic for me. In just over 24 hours I was able to write something I felt really good about and then didn't even need my cheat sheet when I had the mike.

2.  A little girl whom I've met a few times was there; I know her parents. She was unsure about holding a votive candle of her own. Ultimately she declined but when other candles were lit she looked like she may have had some regrets. When it was almost my turn to speak, I asked her if she'd like to hold my candle for me. She said yes so I handed it to her and then walked up to the microphone. I was surprised when I realized she had followed me. She stood next to me the entire time. Mini-activists inspire me.

3. Last week I realized that soon it would be the 20th anniversary of Matthew Shephard's death. I wanted to try to organize something but . . . just hadn't. This experience reminded me how easy it is to organize a vigil and connected me to a fellow activist that was willing to collaborate with me. Within 24 hours we secured a location, arranged for speakers, created flyers and an event page. Within 4 hours of the event being made public, the school librarian let me know that an 8th grade girl is doing a National History Day project on Matthew Shepard and would like to be involved. Interestingly, her first name is the same one that my little candle holding friend has. Young activists inspire me.

4. My parents, who have inspired and supported me my entire life, were there.

5. Most of the crowd, though, were strangers whose reactions, comments, and willingness to repeat my refrain at the end of my speech inspired me. 

We can become the person that others feel safe to confide in 
by practicing saying this simple phrase: I believe you.

 Say it with me: I believe you.
If we’ve never met before: I believe you.
If I’ve known you for my whole life but never knew this: I believe you.
If I’ve love and trusted and never been harmed by your abuser: I believe you.
If it was one time or multiple times, if you were a child or an adult: I believe you.
If you were sober or dry or drunk or high: I believe you.
If you were walking alone or wearing revealing clothing: I believe you.
If you said yes but then changed your mind: I believe you.
If you’ve never told anyone else before: I believe you.
If you’ve told other people and they said you were lying: I believe you.
If it happened days or decades ago: I believe you. 

Everyone here, I want you to know that I believe you.

And I’ll see you at the polls on November 6th

Ultimately, I feel like the Supreme Court nomination we're all fighting against, honestly, is going to happen anyway. We can't expect change over (2018 - 1776 x 365 = ) 88,3330 nights, right? (*sarcasm)

But I've seen so many videos of individuals and crowds protesting since Wednesday, so much vocal resistance. I'm completely re-energized by it. Change is happening and we're living through it. It's difficult and at times certainly feels demoralizing, debilitating, defeating . . . but we just need to collectively take a deep breath and remember who the fuck we are.

We're fighters.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Five on Friday: Survivor Self-Care this Week

Hey survivors, I feel you this week. I feel your trauma and rage and depression. I feel your readiness to mobilize to action with me.

I feel the need for community and for self care. For me, this means that I am going to do my best to:

1. Get good food, exercise, sleep.

2. Not engage with hateful strangers on the Internet.

3. Take media breaks.

4. Look for ways to laugh.

5. Remember that I can't fix the overwhelming problems of the world and count the work I can do, whether it be a conversation about patriarchy/white supremacy, a performance with Meta Theatre Company or educating myself as much as possible. I can do these things and remember that they make a difference and I can feel proud for my own small impact on my corner of the world.

What are you doing for you?

Friday, September 21, 2018

Five on Friday: Rhetorical Questions in the Bathroom

Ah, the bathroom. Not just a small room for fulfilling basic bodily functions but also a tiny sanctuary. Where do we run and shut the door to make a phone call (or to be interviewed on the radio, if you're me)? Where do we sometimes pretend we're still pooping just so we can read in silence?

Of course sometimes they follow us there, but that's what locks are for.

I'm beyond those days of having a young visitor, but based on these five rhetorical questions I frequently find myself asking while I'm in the bathroom, my kids are always with me while I'm in the there. Like:

1. When oh when will they all be old enough that I'll no longer find pee on the seat or the floor?

2. Does this roll of toilet paper feel . . . damp????


4. Really little dog? The kids don't follow me in here anymore but you love me so much you willingly enter the room of your seasonal water torture?

5. Oh sweet Jesus what fresh hell is this?