Friday, July 30, 2010

Camping Weekend

We're heading out to the west side of town this afternoon, for our first camping trip of the year. Eleanor has already gone camping once; her wonderful paternal grandparents took her off our hands for 2 days before the birthday party. She enjoyed camping, they enjoyed having her, and Keith and I enjoyed going on a date and actually getting some things done. It was a winning situation, all around!

But I am sorry that it's taken us until the end of July to get out. At least we're going, though! We're going camping with my family (my parents, sisters, brother-in-law, nephew, and dogs) to a local place. I can't wait to be settled by the fire, roasting marshmallows and relaxing with my family.

This is a picture of Eleanor from camping last year. She was a wonderful camper then, and I think she's going to enjoy it even more this year.

Have a great weekend!

2nd Birthday Success

Eleanor's 2nd birthday part was a lot of fun. There's so much prep work, and then the actual event flies by so quickly. I love that she has a mid-summer birthday. As an April birthday, I've always been jealous of the friends with fair weather birthdays. But at least it works in my favor now, as a mother, that my daughter's birthday is at the end of July. Last year and this year, we had gorgeous weather and stayed outside the entire time.

The only downside to that is that no one eats the food. Pretty much, everyone came straight out to the backyard. We had some chips and watermelon and drinks on the deck, so that was consumed. But all of the other delicious food that was in the dining room went unconsumed and unnoticed until birthday cake time. And at the point, there's cake and ice cream! Who wants a quesadilla when there's cake and ice cream?!? So maybe next year we should funnel everyone through the house? Or bring all the food outside? I'm not really sure.

I think the cake turned out okay this year, although I wouldn't call it "fabulous." At least it's all spelled correctly!

A quick comparison to last year's:
Keep in mind that I had only half as much space as I had last year. For her first birthday, we made one large double cake. This year, I made a chocolate cake with chocolate icing, and also a jello cake—white cake with raspberry jello and Cool Whip frosting. They were both a big hit. The jello cake is just so deliciously cool on a hot summer day.

Eleanor got so many toys that Keith and I have only given her a few of the ones that we bought. The big toys were a wagon from Keith's parents, and a tricycle from my parents. Eleanor and Gavin both enjoyed the tricycle (especially the horn).
Thanks to everyone who came and celebrated her birthday! We had a great time! Now we're breaking the news to her that your birthday only comes once a year, and she's going to have to wait a long time until she gets a birthday cake and party and presents again. One of the first many sad facts she'll be learning about life. ;)

Escape Goat

In class the other day, we were discussing Frankenstein. This is my first time teaching it, and I really wasn't sure how it was going to go. First, I had never read it when I assigned it to my class. It's just something I've always meant to read, so I picked it.

After committing to it, I got/made the time to read it. The language from 1818 (the original publication date) is a lot harder to wade through than today's. The style of a Romantic author like Mary Shelley involved long, complicated sentences, verbose descriptions, and long-winded conversations. You notice the emphasis on "long?" I wanted to read the book, and I still thought it got off to a slow start. Plus it's not at all what you expect from our modern film-inspired view of Frankenstein.

I didn't start teaching the novel until halfway through the class, and was nervous. Would they read it? Would they discuss it, or would I ask questions and just get a class full of blank stares?

Of course, in a class of more than 20 students, there's was a bit of everything. After 2 weeks of the novel, I had students who still didn't know that Frankenstein was the creator's name—NOT the "monster's." And discussion, particularly at 8:00am on Monday morning, could be a bit slow.

But I've also been pleasantly surprised. A few times, the class discussion get very involved. People had strong opinions about the characters and their actions, and it was really refreshing to take a step back and let the students take over and take over the class.

During one such discussion, a student remarked that the monster was being used as an "escape-goat," and I tried to keep my grin to myself. It made me wonder: how is an escape-goat different from a scapegoat? Does an escape-goat get blamed, but then run away from the situation?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Allergic to .. parties?

These lovely flowers were the centerpiece for Eleanor's birthday party.

Unfortunately, Keith made me put them outside the very next day, because he was sneezing constantly. He didn't know for sure if the flowers were the culprit, but it was worth a shot.

Actually, he walked into the living room, vase in hand, and said, "Can I get rid of these?"

So the move to the back porch was a compromise. I missed having them in the house, but they still looked nice in the sunshine!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Summer School

Right, so I had three partially written posts for last week. But I never got to finish any of them.

So for this week, I think the most important post to do first is the one that explains how summer school is kicking my butt.

I was looking forward to it: I'm only teaching one 3 credit-hour class and working a few hours as a tutor. This is less than I've worked ever since I've started teaching. Plus, I'm teaching ENG-101, which I've already taught once, and I thought that summer was going to be a relaxing semester. Almost like I'm still on break.

WRONG. So very, very wrong. Smooshing a 16-week course into 10 weeks sucks. I'm constantly grading, planning, creating assignments, reading ahead ... there's NO downtime in the summer. Plus, 7 weeks into the 10-week term, another professor became ill. So I got one of his ENG-101 classes, complete with different syllabus, different reading and writing assignments .....

I've had a lot of night lately where I've only slept 4 or 5 hours, because I just don't have the time to do all the planning and grading that needs to be done. I've hired some extra childcare, I've once again become a complete slacker on the house cleaning front (which is a luxury in itself, since we're not worried about lead paint anymore), and I'm still feeling overwhelmed.

So yes, sorry about the sporadic posting. The good news is that the summer semester ends next week. The bad news is that, between now and next Friday, I will have about 300 pages of student writing to read and respond to.

If I make it through all that, my posting habits should become a bit more predictable. Fingers crossed!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

I'll Hold You Close, My Tiny Dancer

Amy's enjoyment of the other recent Eleanor sunglasses pic reminded me of when and why we got those sunglasses.

I wanted to make sure that Eleanor had sunglasses before our trip to Costa Rica. I stopped by Target to pick up a pair for her. There was a pretty good selection of kids' sunglasses, but as I flipped through all of the options, I realized that the majority of them were branded. They were affiliated with movies or TV characters or those ubiquitous Disney princesses ..... I immediately rejected all of those pairs. She doesn't even watch TV yet! I thought. There's no need to get her hooked on these brands/characters before she even realizes what's going on!

My theory is that we'll have PLENTY of opportunities to fight over that $100 pair of sunglasses that she just HAS to have later. But I'll save myself the cost and the trouble while I can.

Once I ignored all of the branded pairs of sunglasses, there was only one pair of sunglasses left. They were completely girlie; well, to be fair, Keith and several others have commented on her resemblance to Elton John in them. So even though toddlers' over-gendered items are another pet peeve of mine, they were cute and marketing-free and I bought them.

(And determinedly bought them again a second time, after I lost them ... only to rediscover the first pair. Whoops!)

At first she wasn't convinced, but now Eleanor loves those glasses. She looks for opportunities to wear them. I'm sure it's because she loves all of the oohs and aahs she gets from friends and strangers alike. We've gotten so many compliments on those glasses, and it makes me smile every time. For now at least, Eleanor can be adorable AND I can buy products that aren't covered in trademarked images. Everyone wins!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

2nd Birthday Party

Today is Eleanor's 2nd birthday party. (She actually turns 2 next Wednesday.)

It's so hard to believe that we're here already! I'm writing this on Friday morning: the calm before the storm. If you're actually reading this on Saturday, I'm guessing I'm running around like a mad woman, simultaneously trying to cook, clean, talk to family, and play with Eleanor. It's a crazy day, and it flies by. But I'm excited!

Here's a few pictures from her birthday party last year. Hard to believe that we thought she looked so big! And of course, we'll say the same thing next year about this birthday .....

One thing I did learn from last year's party: BUY ICING TIPS. I had never really decorated a cake before, so I didn't realize the decorative tips needed to be bought separately from the tube of icing. Ergo, the sloppy, barely legible cake.

Hopefully I'll post pictures of this year's party soon, and the cake will be much more respectable!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Independence Day, Independent Girl

Here's a few pictures from 4th of July weekend. I've been holding onto them, mulling over a more in-depth post about patriotism. Do I consider myself patriotic? Why do I shy away from flag bumper stickers and telling people that I'm proud to be an American? Am I proud to be an American? And if I'm glad to live in the United States, why do overly patriotic people freak me out?

There was an excellent, thoughtful blog post in there somewhere. I'm sure of it. BUT, it's been two weeks and I haven't even started it. So you're spared my patriotic musings, and can just enjoy Eleanor. These are from the small neighborhood parade on Saturday morning; we were in Northern Kentucky, visiting Keith's family. So Eleanor participated in the same parade that Keith and his friends and siblings were in when they were kids. Eleanor shared Ben's wagon—Ben is the 1 1/2-yr-old son of Keith's best friend, Michael, and his wife, Angie. Eleanor and Ben won the prize for best wagon/scooter/other category.

Yay, adorable kids!

No Fun But Very Rewarding

So I realized in my last post that I got so wrapped up in my own thoughts that I forgot to really respond to the original New York magazine article that started it all. Later on in the article, author Jennifer Senior is discussing the research that has been proving that, although parents say they have children because it will make them happier, parents are actually less happy than non-parental adults.

However, Senior makes a distinction between "happy" and "rewarding." She points out that, in one of the unhappy parent surveys, it was "measuring moment-to-moment happiness. It was a feeling, a mood, a state."And likewise, another study in England was looking at "happiness" in terms of mood; Senior deadpans, "As a matter of mood, there does seem to be little question that kids make our lives more stressful."

Senior argues the trials of parenting may take away from immediate happiness, but "when studies take into consideration how rewarding parenting is, the outcomes tend to be different." It seems to me that she's suggesting, although everyone wants to be happy AND rewarded, that may not always be possible. At least for parents, we're forsaking our short-term happiness for the long-term goal of a rewarded, fulfilled life.

That makes sense to me. Not that I'm never happy right now ..... it's just that I don't have much say in the matter. With little ones, not only is their autonomy not existent yet, but our autonomy as parents is a thing of the past. No more deciding when to get out of bed, what to do for the day, choosing fun or work activities and sticking to it. The child is completely reliant on us, and completely rules our world.

I'm going to keep working on doing a better job of being in the moment. Choosing to be happy that my chaotic life is ruled by a toddler I fondly refer to as "The Little Dictator." (Which was apparently a term used on a Gilligan's Island episode; who knew?)

I understand that parenting can mean choosing life-long rewarding over immediate happiness. But I want a bit of both, and I think I can have it, too!

Thursday, July 08, 2010

All Joy and No Fun

"All Joy and No Fun" is the title of a recent article on New York magazine's website, which is subtitled, "Why Parents Hate Parenting."

I really enjoyed the article. It put into words a vague feeling that I've been having lately about parenting—about life in general, in a lot of ways.

When I was living in England, it was a really tough transition from being at my safe, familiar college campus surrounded by friends, or at home with my family. The first two months, in particular, were absolutely miserable. I and the other American volunteer with me at our placement were so unhappy; the place we were volunteering was not being run well, so no matter how hard we tried, we would never make any headway. Added to that, our 3rd housemate was a passive-aggressive psycho. It was not a good place.

BUT, we talked to the program director and told her either we needed to be placed somewhere else, or we would quit the program. That's when I got sent to Liverpool, and my friend got sent to Glasgow. (The crazy roommate quit the program.) And when I got to Liverpool, it was immediately apparent that this was a much better situation. I was working in a school that was well-run. My position and duties were very clear. And my new housemates all got along, which is essential when you have one budget for food and household expenses.

And yet, I was still missing home like crazy. Even though I wasn't totally miserable anymore, I still found myself counting off the days until I could see a familiar face. This was supposed to be an amazing, life-changing experience, and all I could think about was how much I wanted to be back home. I'd picture myself at my parents' house, lying on the couch and reading a book on a warm summer afternoon. It seemed like heaven. My new, exciting reality had nothing on the comforts of home.

And yet, at the same time, I knew that I was emotionally sabotaging myself. I could clearly see, from the beginning, how it was all going to play out. For the first few months, I was going to be incredibly homesick and completely focused on what I was missing. Then I would start getting to know people better, settle into a routine; slowly all the routine tasks of life would start actually feeling more routine, and less daunting. I would start thinking that maybe this wasn't such a terrible idea after all. I would realize that I was thinking about home less, and enjoying my days more.

Once there was only a short time left in my stay, I would really start to appreciate it. When I had only a few weeks left at the school, or one last volunteer retreat .... that's when I would become really sad about how quickly the year had passed. And I would regret all the time at the beginning that I wasted, pining for home instead of fully engaging in this unique opportunity.

I knew this, from the beginning. And it did all come to pass. But I couldn't rush things along. I couldn't get myself out of my homesickness funk any earlier. It drove me crazy that I was making myself miserable, but it couldn't be stopped.

And that's what (FINALLY) brings me back around to my thoughts on parenting, and this article. I've been thinking a lot about how much I'm going to miss Eleanor's toddler days. I'll look back at these pictures, and wonder how she was ever that small. What did she do? What did she say? How did it feel when she snuggled into my arms? Instead of being part of the fabric of my daily life, these things will be a distant memory.

Knowing this, knowing how toddlerhood is so fleeting, I feel like I should be able to use that knowledge to stop myself from getting frustrated all the time. Constantly wanting more time to myself: to read, or to finish that one last task, or just to sit. Every day I tell myself to be more patient. To appreciate just being with her, at this incredibly special time in her life. To focus on forging our bond, and helping her learn about her world. To be in the moment and see it as a gift.

And yet .... I can't do it. I spend the majority of my time yearning for more time, for autonomy and freedom and EASY. Just to not have to be thinking and doing all day long.

Do I accept this as inevitable? Spend my time now saying, "Hold on! Just let me finish this first and I'll be right there!," knowing full well that in 5 years, or 10 years, or 30 years, I will be regretting all of these precious, fleeting moments slip right past me.

Is there another way to do it, and not lose your mind?