Past and Future Memories

If you are like me (and we know you are, you crazy things) you often think, what of the things we do with our kids will they really remember? Alex has a great memory, he claims to remember things from when he was three. I remember things…but I think it is because I have seen them in photos for so long.

But one thing I know that I remember are our family dinners. We would eat together every night after the last person got home. I don’t know how early they started (and like to give myself a grace period of thinking it was not until elementary at least) but they continued through high school and anytime we were home from college.

 Grandpa Harvey at the table

My sister wrote a kick-ass essay about those dinners, focusing on the family table where we sat. She is a much better writer than me and really should have her own blog. Since she doesn’t, I decided to steal her material for mine, which she expected. She is wonderful – enjoy!

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My parents’ round kitchen table was stained a yellowing color, one probably chosen initially for its conventional beauty but long past the prime of fashionable. A few blemishes marred the yellow stain, carefully mended with a wood filler that could never quite match that original hue. Heavy and obtuse, the table stood squarely to the left of the small, yet functional kitchen, remodeled over time, bit by bit at the hands of my mother. The table commanded the den area of my parents’ small, oddly-laid out home, and was the center of our life.

My dad’s 38th birthday

My mother loved to read parenting books to verify her expertise in raising two daughters. One such volume of wisdom imparted to her the importance of The Family Dinner. Nightly, we were to sit at that round table and share a meal together.

The rules:

  • All must be present to eat
  • You must ask to be excused
  • No singing 
  • You must wear a shirt

We always giggled at the last one, a worn out rule from my mother’s childhood, a much maligned middle sister in a family of three boys with a baby sister ten years her junior officially taking away her “only girl” status. Those brothers of her youth always had to be reminded to dress for dinner, but in our household with two girls and a quiet Dad, that was never an issue.

For as long as I remember, family dinners were sacred. To miss a family dinner required a special request and allowance, best made while practicing your most formal persuasive voice. Whining and begging would not be tolerated in our house; however, a carefully phrased request was appreciated and accepted. To bring a friend to family dinner also required a formal request, though these were always allowed as more people at family dinners were readily welcomed.

As a child, I remember the milk pouring across that yellow stain as I tipped the glass clumsily again. I remember waiting for hours, my stomach grumbling, for my sister to get home from dance class at nine pm. Then when I also joined that dance class, everyone was waiting on me. Whenever everyone arrived home from work and activities, we all sat around that table, the 4 of us, my mom, my dad, my sister Kinsey, and me, nightly. My family isn’t one of those “lovey-dovey” types as my mom would say, but family dinners forced us to sit down and remember that we love each other. No matter what was going on in the family, happy, sad, angry, indifferent, we gathered to eat and reflect. Even when we started the meal with a teenagerly grouch, eventually something about our day came out.

I learned to tell stories at those family dinners. My mother, the best story teller of them all, would laugh heartily as she shared a story about her day teaching college students. My sister, animated and sarcastic, would share stories of her high school teachers and their quirky personalities. I often wonder if any of my students sit around dinner tables and laugh about my classroom. My father, the quiet only child, married into a loud boisterous family, who had two girls, would listen carefully and wisely. He never said much, still doesn’t, but when he speaks, everyone listens.

The yellow kitchen table stood sturdy and strong, and watched my sister and I grow up, move on to college and our adult lives. The table housed our art projects, then our drill team sequins, and finally our yearbooks and wedding gowns. My grandmother sat at the table not long before she died and helped us stuff my sister’s wedding invitations. Additional blemishes came, glitter was firmly wedged in all the nooks and crannies, but the table stood strong like a wise old priest keeping shared secrets firmly to itself.

Prom, 1996

A few years ago, the family dinner table found itself being replaced for a smaller table more sensible for a couple of empty nesters. And while I still visit that small house that sits quietly back from Woodland street, just a block from a now bustling Loop 288, the yellowing table is gone. Even without its stolid presence, we still find ourselves, now with husbands and children in tow, sitting around the smaller and unblemished kitchen table to share stories and laugh together. And on those most special of nights when children are fast asleep and husbands left to their own devices, we might end up with just the four of us again, sitting around the table, laughing and teasing each other, and sharing stories of our lives.

In my own kitchen, a small rectangular table sits quietly in the breakfast nook. I so proudly purchased the table for a very reasonable amount, like the responsible new teacher I was. I brought it home in a huge box far too large for my small frame to handle. Painstakingly, I put it together following every instruction carefully. In my head, I dreamed of one day my own family sitting around this wood table, not quite as sturdy as the one I remembered, but still a solid place to house my dreams. The years passed, and I uncertainly moved that small table from apartment to apartment never sure where it would end up. Finally, I secured its spot snugly in my first home purchased with my husband, and now sit my own two cherub faced girls at that table. They are firmly strapped into booster seats, but I smile at the future. Sticky with juice and leftover dinners, I relish the day when I will sit with my girls and their quiet dad, just the four of us at that table telling stories of our days.

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Isn’t she amazing? I mean, I know I am biased, but she is just the best. I hope my boys have as many fond memories of each other growing up as I do of my sister. 

Safety Notice

No, this is not more about your need of an in-case-you-go-missing photo, though I truly don’t think that can be overstated. No, this post is about a song everyone needs to teach their four/five year old’s in case they go missing. I know you are like me and can’t even entertain the thought of our children going missing. It sends a chill through every parent, every time. And while we take all the precautions we can, we can’t predict the future and what crazy people do or how the best of kids dart away from us.

So, my friend Maria taught me a song to teach Zach so if gets lost in a store, at the zoo, etc. he will have my phone number. And it works. He was resistant at first, but I just kept making him sing it with me until one day he called me on my cell. We were in New York and he was the last voice I expected to hear on the other end. But there he was, super proud he had called me.

All you do is insert your phone number into Oh my darling Clementine

713,555,1234
That’s my mommy’s cell phone number
and I learned it ’cause I’m four

Maria mentioned this in passing last year on our girl’s trip (I am sure there was a funny story associated that I immediately forgot) and I was fascinated and came home immediately to make Zach learn it. He is very good with song lyrics, usually picking them up after just hearing them a few times. I figured this would actually be a beneficial song versus knowing all the lyrics to Thrift Store, the clean version.

He recently asked Liv if Alex knew her cell phone number when he was five and she had to explain that they didn’t have cell phones. He was very perplexed.

6 months retired

That is what I say when Zach asks why I don’t go to work anymore, I say I retired. I also put that recently on a form requesting my “employment status”. Unemployed just seems so harsh.

It was six months, December 14th, that I have been staying home full time and five months since the boys started in their true 9-2 school schedules. People ask me regularly how it is going, do I like it, and do I miss working? The quick answer is good, yes, and absolutely not.

At Trader Joe’s this morning I overheard a woman about my age with about a two year old little boy in her basket, talking about how she didn’t understand why she wasn’t as happy as other working mothers. That comment stopped me in my tracks, and forced me to linger behind her to eavesdrop, pretending I was very interested in the chopped vs. whole Brussels sprouts options. She went on to say that she just didn’t get it and what was she missing? I had said that exact comment to Sonia in one of my many should I, should I not quit, should I go part time conversations. That is completely how I felt; that other mothers had somehow figured out how to make it all work and I just could not. They had these great careers, husbands who were supportive, kids that didn’t miss them and they were above all happy. So why couldn’t I be happy? I had all those things, but I was miserable.

So six months later, am I happy? Yes. So, so much more happy. Now, am I happy every bit of every day? Of course not. But I will take the stress over summer camps (It is JANUARY, why do I have to worry about this now?) over the anxiety I was feeling about failing as a working woman and a mother any day.

The thought of going back to work gives me anxiety. The other night I had a dream that I did, in fact, go back to work. I was sitting at Zach’s swim lessons when my boss, Regina, calls me to ask if I am coming to the meeting. I had totally forgotten I was supposed to be at work. The me in the dream just shrugged her shoulders and said, “Well, I can’t because I am at swim lessons, but I will be there tomorrow.” The me, in real life, woke up in a panic and had to calm down once I realized it was only a dream. But it haunts me…

On the flip side, the thought of not going back to work also gives me anxiety. I am clearly becoming dumber by the day. Seriously, did you notice I spelled pole wrong? Now, I know plenty of very smart SAHM’s but I don’t think I am one of them. I think the stress of summer camps (Zoo or Legos, their school or soccer, seriously, what??) is not enough stress on my brain after having to be on top of so many things at one time for the past 5-10 years. I clearly need to start reading more and maybe doing crosswords. Alex says he is going to give me math problems to do, but I had some choice words regarding that suggestion that are not blog worthy. Aka, not helpful Alex, not helpful.

So I am still struggling to figure out who I am without my career and what can I do, besides the laundry, that gives me a sense of fulfillment. But, spending so much time with them has helped me to really know who my kids are and what makes them tick. I can see the fights before they happen, I can negate the missing/stolen snack issues, etc. And the happy part of each day is when I have the time to stare into the boys faces and really see them. See that fat baby for the toddler he is, and little boy he is turning into. Appreciate that he kisses me willingly and runs into my arms when he sees me. How his little lisp is slowly going away and how athletic he is – even with a big baby belly.

I see my five year old for the self-sufficient kid he is, but still see the sweet little boy inside. I try to remember what it was like to be the older sibling and to not want your little sibling to be with you all the time nor destroy your block towers. I love our little jokes, his full, smart negotiations and how he still wants me to lay with him at the end of every day, even just to have me turn back into Kinsey vs. Mommy (that happens at 8pm) when I have even less patience for potty words.

 This is a super rambly post and I am sorry about that. But, that basically sums up my life right now. I am happy to be where I am, I don’t regret leaving for one second, but, I do look forward to the next chapter when I can fully become Kinsey for more than just 12 hours, during which most of that time I am sleeping.

Here is what you missed

I have been MIA for four weeks and not one of you submitted my photo to the news and started a search party. I am insulted. I thought I was more to you than words on the Internet. My #1 reader (my dad) did finally email me to ask if the blog had moved.

Wait, am I being overly dramatic again? You know you missed that.

Well, instead of rehashing the entire month you missed, I will give you the highlights to bring you up to speed.

1. I now have a five year old. Zach had a super fun ninja party at a local gym, complete with nun-chucks and ninja belts. So far, I am really enjoying five vs. four year olds. Less whining; more getting fully dressed on his own and smidge more patience with his brother.

2. I got totally busted, by Alex, for my James is not impressed series on Facebook and Instagram. Alex’s friends kept telling him how funny it was (thank you) and how serious James is. Since Alex does not understand social media and cringes at that phrase, it caught him totally off guard. I know I have read him those posts in the past, but he didn’t understand the full magnitude. Image explaining a meme to your granddad. That is Alex’s level of understanding on anything technical and/or Internet-wise. Anyway, he was not pleased with me, to say the least. He felt I talking negatively about our kids. You guys know he doesn’t read this blog. And while I wanted to roll my eyes, he is, technically, James’ father and, I suppose I should, technically, respect his opinion. Plus, James is getting more impressed and is now overly animated, so my materially was being ruined anyway. I have retired the James is not impressed tagline. Though I will be doing one full rundown here on the blog for posterity’s sake.

I mean, look at this photo.

I can’t possibly make this stuff up.

3. I am now 36. No further comment.

4. Alex and I spent New Year’s Eve in New York City, even getting to see the ball drop.

The boys stayed with the Walls and got to stay up late, eat ice cream and swim, inside, almost every day. Alex and I got to spend time together, not eat dinner at 5:30 and pretend we were young again. However, New Year’s Day after drinking and dancing into the wee hours it was very apparent we are not. Please refer to #3 above. My Aunt Vickie, Uncle Rick and cousins Stephanie, Brett and Matthew were there, making NYE even more fun.

Why I am molesting my darling cousin, I don’t know. And why do I look so old? Don’t answer that.
5. I got to spend time with my darling nieces over Zach’s birthday weekend and got to hair braid and pony tail make to my hearts content. That is what is great about having a sister who shares (the same can’t be said for Lauren; I am not a sharer), she just steps aside and let’s me dress the girls and fix their hair. My boy-only-having self needs that. A lot.  The weekend was a mess of screaming, shouting, running and eating. Someone was always pushing a shopping cart into the wall and “reading” books at the top of their lungs. My house is like that without any additional children, so it was just a bonus that the girls were running right along with my boys.
6. Christmas happened. Jack the Elf left (after becoming a ninja for Zach’s birthday), Santa came and everyone got everything they wanted. I am soooooo glad it is over, I don’t even want to re-hash it. 

Aren’t my children charming on Christmas morning?
7. I watched a lot of House of Lies and now have a total potty mouth, mainly in my head. They say the F word constantly and I don’t know why the moms I hang out with don’t. It seems so normal after watching 13 episodes. Please be warned if you are having a play date with me.
That is about it. You are caught up. But next time, please make more of an effort to let me know you missed me and your life is not complete without me. I can’t just guess that you are feeling this way.