A Whole Lot of Nothing

Vincenzo brought home a paper he had done in school that asked what his parents do.

Dad: A  software engineer for cloud storage at Google
Mom: Nothing

Spork to the heart!

Nothing? Nothing? Couldn’t he have come up with something? Anything? Even “takes a shower and eats lunch?” That, at least, is something.

Not to mention WRITES BOOKS.

Is it because I don’t get paid for all the things I do? Are you only worth the amount of money you make? (If so, then he should have written “jury duty,” because I have made some money from that over the years. The expression “lightning never strikes twice” does not apply to jury duty. Jury duty has struck like 7 or 8 times.)

Here’s what NOTHING looked like on Friday:

Got up at 6:20 to make French toast for everyone. Brought Leo to speech therapy at 7:40. Brought him and Rocco to school at 8:30. Came home and cleaned up the morning mess, wrote for an hour, read a writing craft book and took notes. Trimmed the wisteria and old-fashioned rose. Treated resulting wounds. Cleaned up all the summer toys from our yard and covered all the outdoor furniture. Made homemade bread so the boys would come home to the smell of fresh baked bread. Threw in a batch of peanut butter cookies too. Folded laundry. Prepped some scrapbook pages. Read a bit of a middle grade novel. Went to the grocery store to buy things for dinner. Picked up books at the library. Answered a ton of e-mails about soccer games, curriculum nights, PTSA stuff, and birthday parties. And that’s all before the boys came home and things got crazy.

At the end of the day I can’t always remember what I did but I do remember eating lunch standing up because I was too busy to sit down.

I could have paid someone to trim that wisteria (or left it to completely consume our house and then the entire world). I could have just bought cookies that someone else got paid to make and someone else got paid to sell. I could have bought bread, too, and when the boys came home the kitchen would smell like the crusty breakfast dishes that I also could have left piled up on the counter. I could have skipped the grocery store and served cereal for dinner (don’t tell my kids because if they knew that was an option I’d never cook again). I could have skipped the hour spent answering e-mails and forego all the parental involvement and birthday parties, let the soccer games go unscheduled and forgotten.

But now I’m doing it too—trying to evaluate my worth, not with the money I make but with the amount of busy I am. If I crawl into bed and read for an afternoon, does it mean I have less value than if I spend half a day volunteering in school or substitute teaching? Is my value restored if I consider that reading time an essential part of being a writer, does it have more value?

I could hire myself out to cook for someone else’s family and that would “count,” but if I cook for my own family, I do “nothing.”

Oh man, I’m really getting riled up now.

For the past couple years I have evaluated my day exclusively on how much time I spent writing, how good my writing was, and how much progress I made. Every single day I came up short of my expectations. I constantly had a cloud over my head and a sense of failure. Each night I’d cry to Kevin about how I didn’t get anything done. I didn’t have anything to show for the day. Kevin told me again and again that my writing is absolutely good enough—it’s just my attitude and crippling self doubt that need work. He also told me I have to count all the other things I do too.

So this year I am trying to count it all, not just the writing. I’m trying not to feel guilty about the crawling into bed and reading part. (I still feel guilty. But not as much.) When I have a day where I was too busy or too fried to write much, I am trying to look not at what I didn’t do but what I did do, and if that includes a long bath or walking with a friend, these are not things to feel guilty about. These things count too. The errands I run are just as important as the words I write. Even more so, Kevin tells me.

My family is #1. My mental health is #2. There are a whole ton of #3s, and writing is one of them. Writing has been #3 on my list since I started writing and I have given it a #3 amount of time/attention in my day, but I have expected a #1 amount of output.

I’m still figuring things out. I still feel a little guilty about my normal day being like someone else’s day off. But I am also reminding myself that  it’s not just what I do that gives me value, it’s who I am. I am a wife, a mother, a friend, a reader, a writer, a listener, an inviter, an errand runner, a gardener, a dish washer, a bath taker, a vacation planner, a TV watcher, a scrapbooker, a storyteller, a good deed doer, and a darn good cookie baker.

Basically, I’m a whole lot of nothing.

And that’s an awful lot.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Rotisserie chicken
Butternut squash risotto
Broccolini in browned butter

Whidbey Weekend

Summer turned to fall quick as lightning this weekend. A whole night of lightning, actually, and thunder and coldness and rain rain RAIN. As I wasn’t quite ready for the 40 days and 40 nights to start up, I am going to relive our last summer weekend here today.

We spent it at Whidbey, where a piece of my heart lives year-round, leaving me with only most of a heart the rest of the year.

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It’s just pretty.

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And funny.

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Important conversations happen at Whidbey when we’re all sitting around the cabin—like this one:

Mom: Which one of you girls had that weird thing on the back of her leg?
Me: That would be me.
Michelle: Oh! I noticed that when you pulled your pants down at the beach earlier today.

Because yes. That happened. Earlier at the beach, Michelle had said, “There’s a spider on your back!” She tried to brush it off and the next thing she said was, “Oh no, it just went down your pants!” I frantically whipped off my pants and did the de-spider stomping dance and then Michelle said, “I don’t see it—maybe it went in your underwear!” which is something my husband would totally say to get me naked, so I knew enough to stop right there. I left my underwear on. I will live the rest of my life not knowing if that spider ever got off of me.

(As for the thing on the back of my leg, it seems like a much smaller deal after the possibility that there may be a spider permanently living in my pants.)

We play a lot of games at Whidbey. The boys holed up in a corner of the attic to play of Dungeons and Dragons for hours. They clearly don’t get the game if they are playing in an attic instead of a basement, but whatever.

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Now, remember back at Christmas when we played Pictionary and my brother drew this picture of a polar bear?

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I guess it’s a genetic thing because we played a similar game at Whidbey and my sister drew the polar bear card:

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I know, right??! Notice how she drew the polar bear in the middle and realized there was a problem with it so she drew it from another angle in the upper right, just to clarify that wow, this really looks nothing at all like a polar bear.

From now on I am going to use the expression “drew the polar bear card” to mean something has gone horribly and hilariously wrong. Like say someone ends up with a spider in her underwear at the beach, you might say she has drawn the polar bear card.

When the boys weren’t nerding out in the attic, they could be found doing the kind of hard labor usually reserved for prisoners of war.

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I bring them to the ocean, I throw wide my arms and tell them to explore the world, to run free, to dream as big as they sky! And what do they do? They build themselves a jail and sit inside it.

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What a bunch of weirdos.

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WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Ginger soy salmon burgers
Corn on the cob
Edamame
Huckleberry pie a la mode

(The dinner menu reflects my desperation to hold onto summer a little bit longer…)

September Blargh

Oh man, here we are again, the first day of school. My boys woke up acting like it was Christmas morning, importantly packing their lunches into stiff backpacks and taking their new shoes out of the boxes. Well, two of my boys were excited, anyway. The third is a bit older and a significantly less in love with this whole school thing, but he was fine once we got him unzipped from his Beddy.

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I wish I felt as confident as they look, but for me, it’s been a tough day. I went to Costco only to find out Kevin never ordered the photos that Rocco needs tomorrow; I went to the post office to make a return only to realize I didn’t have my shipping label; I got in the wrong line at the store and had to wait FOREVER; I bit my tongue at lunch; and anytime I talk to someone I start crying.

It’s partly because I wasn’t ready for summer to be over. We still had things on our list!

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We still had afternoons to spend reading, days to spend at museums, hikes to hike, barbecues to host, board games to play, water balloons to throw. Even though we did so much this summer, there was still so much more to do.

But mostly it’s a hard day because I’m scared of September. Last year I had a huge meltdown when the kids went to school and I had all the time in the world to do whatever I wanted. Having unlimited time is kind of my worst nightmare.  I start expecting so much out of myself and at the end of each day I always give myself a failing grade. I could have done more. I could have done differently. I could have done better.

This chair pretty well sums up how I feel about September.

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I have different things in place this year, so maybe it won’t be so bad. I have a team of therapists, a rhythm to my writing days,and  an ever-growing support group of other writers. I plan to substitute teach at my boys’ school one day a week so writing won’t be the only thing I measure myself with. I am adding the phrase “and that’s okay” to the end of my worries. “I don’t know what I’m going to write about—and that’s okay!” “This chapter doesn’t have a point—and that’s okay!” “I’m just not feeling it today—and that’s okay!” It’s helping. A little.

So anyway, here I am at my computer, blogging and editing photos and feeling already like a bit of a failure. I could be editing a picture book or writing a poem or going to the gym or learning to draw or studying a favorite author or writing my novel, but I’m not. Because it’s been a hard day.

And that, I guess, is okay.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Filet mignon
Hasselhoff Potatoes
Thai cucumber salad
Chocolate peanut butter pie

Summer randoms

I tried drafting a few blog posts but they were all gloom and doom, with the school year looming ahead. (Wow, there were a lot of oo’s in that sentence!) I will save you the wallowing for now and instead post some random pictures from the summer. It has, as always, been a good one. Too good to be true, and so with no further ado…

A child with a box on his head:

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A moment of silence for a deceased goldfish:

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A deceased goldfish:

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A good sport:

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A fashion statement:

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Another one:

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A one-hour operation to rescue a random frisbee we found on top of a pergola:

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Another one-hour operation to rescue the same random frisbee after tossing it back and forth exactly 3 times:

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An optical illusion:

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A scary bear fishing for a carrot:

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A scarier bear:

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A wacky shack:

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A lie:

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A miracle:

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A quiet moment:

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A picture Leo was too mad to be in:

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A depressing harvest:

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A picture that is blurry because my phone fell in the toilet moments before:

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The end of another perfect summer day:

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WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Minestrone soup
Fresh baked bread
Brownies and ice cream

Dear Vincenzo and Rocco

Today’s letter is inspired by previous years’ reports of, “I went the whole week without taking a shower!”

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Hey boys! Today’s letter is a series of poems I wrote. See if you can fill in the blanks and also if you can guess the theme.

When haven’t washed in hours
And you smell like rotten flowers
Don’t just stand there waiting;
Get thee to a ___________!

When your counselor says P-U
And he’s looking right at you
Don’t just stand there stinking
Hurry to the __________!

When you’re feeling super grubby
And you need a little scrubby
Grab your bar of soap, love,
And hop into the ______!

When your teeth are cov’rd in moss
And red spaghetti sauce
Don’t just stand there smiling;
It’s time to brush and _______!

When your chin is wet with drool
And you look a messy fool
Here’s a fun idea:
Jump into in the __________!

When your friends all say, “Whoo-ee!”
And the fleas begin to flee
The only thing for you
Is to soap up in the _____________!

(The last one’s tricky. I’ll spell it backwards here in case you didn’t get it. A-E-S)

Did you guess the theme? Hint: it rhymes with “mersonal mygiene.”

Love you!

Mom

To Rocco from Halfway Cat

Dear Rocco,

Hey, Rocco. Remember me? The latch hook cat you left half-finished at home? You did a beautiful job on me so far but I’m afraid you stopped before you made my ears, so I can’t hear anything. What? Did you say something? I wouldn’t know. I don’t have any ears. I feel so half baked. I’m like the kitty without the cat. The me without the ow. The purr without the rrrrrrrr.

Being left this way is not half bad, I guess. But it’s not half good either. I do have both my eyes and I can see that I am not the only half-finished thing on your desk. There are some half-written thank you cards, a half-solved Rubik’s cube, a half-read book, and a half-eaten bag of hot sour gummy worms. When you come back, I’ll half to ask you if you always finish things only halfway or if you ever finish things all the way. Of course, I won’t be able to hear your answer unless you finish making my ears, in which case I’ll have the answer.

Even though I’m only halfway done, I love you all the way. Come home soon! (All the way home, please—not just halfway.)

WHAT’S COOKIN’ NI2TE:
Breakfast for dinner