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It was a few days before Easter when we first spotted them: two wolves, crouching on the church lawn, faces snarling, poised to leap.

Have I told you before that I have A Thing about wolves? They might count as what one might call a “familiar” – I think there’s some sort of demons/witches involvement in that term, but what I always think of is something akin to a symbolic animal or even a muse. Something that shows up in various forms and fashions throughout your life, possibly at Important Times, and takes on some sort of personal significance. It was hard not to read something meaningful into their appearance, is what I’m telling you.

The church lawn wolves were plastic or plaster or some other inanimate material, but they were startling nonetheless.

It’s a Catholic church, I think; I know nothing of Catholicism, and not much about religion in general. My mom would know, I thought. She attends church regularly and reads books about religion and religious texts and has deep discussions with her pastor.

Alas. She didn’t know! We speculated for a few minutes about their theological significance. Maybe the wolves were somehow related to the Easter season. Maybe they were supposed to signify the wolves that are trying to attack Jesus’s “flock.” Maybe they were the church mascot. Maybe there was some little-known Bible story we were forgetting/hadn’t attended to very well.

We decided that I would call the church. I was a little reluctant to do this; I don’t like making phone calls, and I was unsure who to ask. But my mom was confident that WHOEVER answered the phone would be delighted to answer my question, and would probably go into great detail with his/her answer.

Over the Easter weekend, I pondered the wolves. I combed through my memory of Bible stories. I examined the Easter season from multiple angles. I dressed the wolves in various metaphorical costumes. Nothing seemed right.

My first call was fruitless. The recorded voice – someone who had been coached to speak clearly and to enunciate and to speak much more slowly than he might normally do – gave a long list of options from which I could choose. None of them sounded right. Did I need to be connected to the priest? Probably not? The parish? I… have no idea. The school? No, that one’s definitely a no. The accounting office? Nope. The final option was to stay on the line, but no one ever answered.

I called back later, went through the list once more, and stayed on the line. This time my call was answered, and so was my question:

The wolves are there to scare the geese.

No theological significance at all.

Church lawn wolf

 

Sometimes when I most regret posting something, I am most grateful to have done so later. I felt super whiny and lame and, not to mention, you know, like a crap parent, the other day. And yet you were so kind and empathetic and I appreciate it SO MUCH. Thank you.

 

Moving on, and also trying to avoid panicking thinking too hard about the state of the world, my husband and I are contemplating what to do with the backyard. And one of the options is to add a playset. About which we are dithering wildly.

So I am here to ask your advice.

We have a smallish-backyard. The back edge is occupied by what we call The Weed Patch. It’s sectioned off from the lawn by long strips of wood. I’m sure they have some sort of technical name, like 4 x 4s or something. But to me they are just wood. The wood strips make a long rectangle of approximately 25 x 50 feet. Inside the rectangle is… dirt and weeds.

The prior owners had a playset and a trampoline in the rectangle, which, at that point, was filled in nicely with dirt. They had a weed barrier between the dirt and the actual ground, so it was a nice uniform brown. But they took their playset and trampoline with them (when we bought the house we made SURE they would take both monstrosities; surely WE would never need them, seeing as we planned to remain Forever Childless), and over time the weed barrier has been breached by weather and weeds. Today, it is a wasteland of pinecones and acorn shells and dirt clods and deer excrement.

I got a quote from a landscaping company. To add a new weed barrier and fill it in with playground mulch would cost $X. To eliminate The Weed Patch and make it a seamless part of our lawn would cost $X times 3.5. After I scraped myself off the floor from shock, it was obvious, right there, that the first option is better from a purely cost perspective.

But if we were to go to the trouble (and still considerable expense) of filling it in with playground mulch, it seems like it would be worthwhile to actually add a playset.

 

Playset

Photo from costco.com                                                                                                                                               This is the Gorilla PlayMaker playset, which is the one I like the most. But is the slide tall enough? What would I do with the sandbox part (NOT use sand, that’s for clam sure)? Would this really appeal to Carla for the next… five years? Flags, really? Why is the spacing of my caption so worked up?

BUT. Playsets are ridiculously expensive. And I would want one that is a) safe and b) durable and c) small enough to fit our yard.

Our concerns are two-fold:

  1. Would Carla actually use it, and for a significant number of years that would properly amortize the cost of the thing?
  2. Would the thing need regular, irritating, and/or expensive upkeep that would make us rue the day I ever got the Playset Wild Hare?

I am also a bit worried about the cost of installation, because there is no way my husband and I are going to put it together ourselves. A quick internet search sounds like it would be at least a third if not half again as much as the playset itself.

So we’re getting pretty close to the $X times 3.5 of getting rid of The Weed Patch altogether.

I have already bothered several people I know, to gather data and thoughts. (Some of them are super lucky to have spouses who can build their own playsets OMG I am so jealous.) But I need MORE DATA.

So I put it to you, Internet.

But do you have a playset? Did your kids use it? And, if so, how long and how much? My husband and I already said that if she’s out there swinging once a month, that’s not worth the price. But to me, I am envisioning throwing her out in the yard DAILY while I make dinner (where I can watch her from the window) or while my husband and I sip wine on the porch or while I lounge on the porch and read. Is this a playset pipe dream? The other benefit, of course, would be in inviting friends over. We don’t really have a good play area in the house, so it would be nice to have a usable space for the kiddos to go.

Also, what AGES were/are your kids when they enjoyed the playset the most? When did they outgrow it? Many of the reviews for various playsets imply that we should have gotten the damn thing two years ago, why have we waited so long? Yet the playset manufacturers throw out things like, “Great for ages 3 to 11!”

Did you install your playset yourself? If not, how much did it cost (if you don’t mind my asking)?

Which playset did you choose? Has it held up to the elements? What kind of upkeep does it require? We are in an area of the country that sees rain, snow, humidity, and wind, so the thing better be tough. I am more drawn to the wood playsets than to the metal/plastic ones; they just seem sturdier, and also seem more aesthetically pleasing (if you can call a playset of any sort “aesthetically pleasing”).  But I have no idea if wood is a better choice or not.

One of the friends I asked about the playset said she’d gotten hers from Craig’s List. It makes me nervous, for some reason, to do that. Not simply because of my inherent concerns about murderers. But I don’t know, I guess I am thinking that a playset is like a carseat, in that it really shouldn’t be re-used? That sounds ridiculous, now that I type it out. And I’m not actually certain of my facts, vis a vis the carseat re-usability. Yet my face still squinches up into a curl of suspicion and doubt when I contemplate the Craig’s List option. (I have never purchased anything from Craig’s List; see above re: murderers.) Do you have experience with that? Is there a better, less-murdery place to find playsets online?

It’s SO MUCH money — even if we were to say that THIS is Carla’s gift for her birthday AND Christmas — that I really really want to get our money’s worth, you know? Especially since we just have the one kid. But it almost seems like one of those decisions you just have to MAKE.  In which case, I might dither until the weeds overtake the house and pull me down into the damp crumbly wormy-scented depths of the soil.

Not yet 10:00 a.m. and this is already one of those days where I am feeling like I am not a good parent and, in fact, never will be a good parent because I just don’t have What It Takes. Blah.

It was an early day today and we had a service person in our house which automatically makes things Extra Difficult. So right off the bat, we had two things working against us.

Carla’s ability to listen had completely vacated not only her body but the tri-state area and I was trying Very Hard to keep my voice upbeat and cheerful while also having to bodily remove her from the exact five inches that the service person needed to occupy. AND get her out the door to school.

So I lost my patience. Which is code for yelling at her. Which results in copious tears and the pervasive feeling that I Am Not Cut Out for This.

Listen, I fully believe that The Upper Arm Grab and The Mean Mommy Voice have their place in parenting. I mean, maybe they aren’t technically THE BEST EVER parenting, but they certainly aren’t BAD parenting. I recall my own mother using both on occasion (hmmm… perhaps I have to rethink my core belief that I’ve ALWAYS been a Rule Follower…) and I get it, that they are necessary and important tools to have in one’s parenting tool kit. Your child won’t stop kicking the back of someone’s seat in an airplane? Fine. Your child hits/spits on/kicks another person/creature/piece of non-sporting equipment? Yep. Your child wrenches away from you and starts running across a parking lot? DEFINITELY.

But this morning, I just don’t think they were the right tools for the job. Like using a hammer when what is really called for is a screwdriver. The sad fact is, I tend to reach for the hammer more often than I should. (We are all clear this is a metaphorical hammer, yes? Yes.) I don’t know if I even OWN a screwdriver. (Metaphorically.) I think I have a hammer and some needle nose pliers and okay I am abandoning this line of comparison now.

What I’m saying is, I certainly don’t enjoy using The Upper Arm Grab and The Mean Mommy Voice before eight in the morning. But, at least today, I don’t feel EQUIPPED to handle things otherwise.

I have a whole shelf of parenting books that I turn to on occasion, and some of them have legitimately good advice. But I usually end up crying my way through them, because they all seem to be saying, loudly and clearly and cheerfully, that I am doing it all wrong.

I struggle so much with how to get my particular wonderful child to acquiesce to my own needs. How to get her to listen and follow directions and get out the door on time and stop bothering the service people and get dressed when I ask you the first time and just eat your dinner already… without squelching all of the things that make her her – the independent spirit, the creativity, the effervescent joy, the desire to help, the capability to notice and take delight in everything from a line of ants in a crack on the sidewalk to the enormous tractor trailer on the road to the sliver of moon sailing along with us on our bike ride down the street.

And while I think I need to be less rigid about my needs, I also worry about the needs of others: her teachers, her classmates, her future employers, society at large. For her to be effective and un-intrusive and, let’s face it, safe in the world today and for her whole life, she has to learn how and when to suppress that urge to Do It Her Way. That’s part of my job – a big, huge, important part: teaching her how to be a constructive, productive, functioning member of society.

It just doesn’t feel like I’m doing any of it well.

 

 

One of the books I’ve found most useful is called Positive Parenting. It’s got some specific techniques and suggestions. And when I model those techniques, I see a real difference. But it is SO HARD. Being upbeat and using positive language and redirecting and offering choices – it’s exhausting. Sometimes I just need to get out the freaking door.

Of course, I recognize that this is MY failing. We don’t actually have a hard and fast time we need to be at school. She goes to preschool for Pete’s sake; if she’s 10 minutes late, no big. If I start writing 15 minutes later than I wanted to, the world won’t end. If Carla doesn’t put her own clothes on and I have to do it for her, the stars won’t drop out of the sky. If she wants to pick up 35 worms on the way into school and move them into the grass and then choose one special worm to use as a visual aid during the worm-saving lecture she issues to every single person who passes us, Earth won’t be sucked into a black hole and destroy us all.

It’s my stubbornness, my desire to be done with it already, my inner impatience to keep moving smoothly from one task to another that builds up inside me like a clogged pipe until Carla’s perfectly reasonable and even admirable insistence on buttoning her own coat somehow bursts the entire pipe and there’s filthy water everywhere.

And then tears.

 

 

 

I hope this doesn’t come across like I think poorly of Carla. I don’t. I am sure every mom thinks this, but my child is wonderful. She is a joy and a delight and I feel grateful every day that she’s here, that she’s my daughter, that I have the privilege of knowing her and snuggling her and watching her learn and grow. She is loving and bright and fun and energetic and inquisitive and all sorts of wonderful things.

She’s also three and a half, behaving as a three-and-a-half-year-old does. I mean, I am all for having high expectations of your child, but sometimes I wonder if the problem is that I expect too much.

 

 

 

What I am going to say next, well. Let me start by saying that I get it. Yelling happens. If you told me that you yell at your kid/s on occasion, I would hug you and buy you some coffee so we could discuss just what led to the yelling and how deeply I empathize it.

But I HATE yelling. Hate it. It makes me feel out of control and mean and unsuited for being in charge of a small human.

It’s one of those paradoxes, I guess, wherein I would never think those things of YOU, if you yelled at your child occasionally. But I know how angry I feel, when I get to that point of yelling. And it scares me. And it… makes me feel out of control and mean and unsuited for being in charge of a small human.

When I do actually yell – which, as I noted, I hate hate hate, but which I nonetheless do, much more frequently than I want to – I apologize. I let her know yelling isn’t okay. That it’s something I have to work on – that I am working on it. That even though she isn’t behaving in a way that she should, she doesn’t deserve to be yelled at. She and I talk through things I could have done differently, to express my feelings in a more productive way.

I hope this sort of conversational break-down of the yelling helps. Helps her deal with the shock of being yelled at. Helps her learn how to prevent her own outbursts.

But I also know that my actions are way more important than my words.

Today, after the tears had dried, I told her I was sorry. I told her I lost my temper. It wasn’t okay. I told her I was frustrated, because I like to be on time. I told her that it was okay to be frustrated, but that yelling about it wasn’t.

Then – and probably this isn’t the right way to handle things, but I did it – I told her that even though she is a big girl and wants to be able to make her own choices and do things her way, she still has to listen. She still has to follow directions. When mommy and daddy and her teachers need her to do something, she has to do it. She is only three and a half, and that’s just part of being three and a half. And, in fact, she will have to listen to mommy and daddy and her teachers for a long time. Probably until she is eighteen.

Carla has no concept of what that means – being eighteen.

But oh Internet. More than fourteen more years of this? Will I ever get the hang of it? Am I just temperamentally unsuited to being a parent? How oh how can I work around my personality flaws so that I don’t scar Carla for life? Or, worse, so that I don’t turn her into me?

 

 

I don’t know if I can handle any more parenting book recommendations, although I suppose I should do MORE reading of parenting books rather than avoiding them. But if you have any techniques or ideas or… anything. Well, I would welcome it all.

Reminders

Everything seems worse/harder without sleep. On those no-rest days, the world is likely not more on the verge of tipping into the abyss than usual, so try to be kind to yourself and go to bed to early.

While 250 words may not feel like a worthwhile number of words, it’s still better than 0 words.

You may feel a persistent urgency to buy more cumin, but you probably have more cumin than any human needs stocked away in the pantry. Same goes for OxiClean. And 409. And ketchup.

The bad thing didn’t happen. You can stop worrying about it.

Folding laundry is much easier if you do it immediately after the dryer beeps rather than letting the clean loads pile up in insurmountable mountains.

Library books, once checked out, need to be returned.

For Pete’s sake, check the fridge before you leave for the store so you don’t wind up with no onions (or 8).

Black Mirror may be riveting TV, but it will make you feel like scooping up your family and moving immediately to a remote lean-to in the Northwest Territories. So perhaps watch Fresh Off the Boat instead.

Your child is infinitely more cooperative when you use a cheerful, friendly voice than when you use a growly, frustrated, put-upon voice.

Make the elaborate dish on your meal plan early in the week, or you will lose motivation and wind up scrounging through the freezer for easy alternatives and wasting the rosemary.

It’s just a movie/book/TV show. The horrors that lie within are not happening to you.

Coupons are only worth clipping if you take them with you to Target.

Go to sleep at a decent time. Watching another episode of Naked and Afraid is not worth a blurry, stumbly morning.

 

 

What do you keep forgetting?

Apparently I am new to this WordPress thing, because I wrote a post last Friday and thought then to post it for you today, which would have been, at that point, the future, but instead it somehow posted in the past, as in, on the 18th of April. If you were unable to follow that mess of commas, I don’t blame you.

If you want to read about and/or roll your eyes at my complete inability to function in a situation involving other people, mosey on back to the 18th and take a look:

It’s Just Ham

But if you would prefer a new story, I have one. Unless I have already shared it here. I don’t think I have; it happened Pre Blog. But I’m not going to look it up because lazy.

In any event, the story begins like so:

I eat a lot of jalapenos. They go well with nachos, burritos, stir fries, chili, guacamole. Yum. So I would call myself an experienced jalapenan. Jalapenian. Jalapeno buyer. Procurer of jalapenos. Why won’t my computer do the fancy ~ above the Ns?

Jalapeno 3

My cutting board looks a little worse for wear, this close. I suppose one could say the same about my face, though. 

All this is to say that I know better than to purchase a jalapeno with a hole in it. I carefully inspect my jalapenos before I buy them, to ensure they are Hole Free.

Caterpillar 1

Caterpillar 2

Instructional manual about how to choose caterpillar free foods.

So when I pulled a jalapeno out of my crisper yesterday, I was surprised and a little perturbed to find what looked like a hole in the skin of the pepper. Maybe it was a little weakness or bruise that was causing the skin to sink in on itself. Not well defined. But I was suspicious anyway.

Because many years ago, before I knew to check for holes, I brought home a large beautiful jalapeno and cut the top off and a CREATURE crawled out.

It looked something like this:

butterfliesandmoths.org

Photo from butterfliesandmoths.org                                                                                         Please believe me when I say I looked at so many photos of caterpillars that I now have a permanent Being Crawled On feeling about the head and neck.

 

 

 

Listen, I am well aware that fruits and vegetables do not magically come into being in a sterile refrigerated room. No. They grow outdoors with critters and crawly things. So I am not fazed by a fruit fly corpse in my red leaf lettuce. Nor am I squicked out (too much) by the occasional spider web on a grape stem. This is why you WASH YOUR PRODUCE.

Furthermore, I am not normally creeped out much by caterpillars, just in general. But to have one fling itself – okay, perhaps the verb is closer to “ooze” than “fling” – out of something I was about to EAT, onto my clean kitchen counter… Well, that resulted in some shrieking. I think my then-boyfriend was home at the time, and rushed to my rescue, i.e., disposed of the thing. Either that or I entered some sort of caterpillar-induced fugue state, because I have no recollection of the events post caterpillar emergence.

Back to yesterday. Somehow, I convinced myself that the maybe-hole was not a real hole, but a dent… I mean, I am cautious, but I am also not going to throw away a perfectly good jalapeno without at least giving it a go. So I cut the top off the jalapeno.

Alas! I didn’t cut far enough into the cavity of the jalapeno. There was still a semi-transparent layer of jalapeno flesh blocking my vision. But one half of the veiled cavity was empty but for seeds, while the other half was very dark and full of… something.

Listen, I don’t need to see another caterpillar emerge from a jalapeno. Nor do I have any desire to cut into a DEAD ONE. So I dropped the entire pepper into the disposal and… disposed.

I got a new jalapeno and moved on.

Jalapeno 2

New trend in photography: off center, worn-out cutting board, old knife.

Although… I am still bracing myself for a zombiepillar to crawl out of the sink drain.

Call Week

Despite the title of this blog, I rarely talk about the specifics of being a doctor’s wife anymore. But I thought this might be interesting not only for doctors’ spouses but for the spouses of others who have not-a-regular-9-to-5-career, too. 

One of the most common questions I get is whether being a doctor’s wife is lonely. Sure. Being the spouse of a physician can be lonely at times. It really can. No different from being the spouse of a fire fighter or an accountant during tax season or many other professions. It’s less lonely, I imagine, than being the spouse of someone who’s gone for many days at a time – like a pilot or a member of the armed forces or a long-haul trucker or a consultant or many other professions.

It has its ups and downs, like being married to anybody with any job. And it has times where you will be alone, and/or in charge of the bulk of the housework/child-rearing, just like being married to anybody with a not-strictly-9-to-5 job.

Now that my husband is a practicing physician, the loneliest times are call weeks. So I thought I would tell you, today, what it’s like when my husband is on call. I’d be fascinated to know what YOU do when your spouse is gone.

 

We’re going into a call week this Saturday, which means that I may not see much of my husband for the next seven days. He goes into the hospital early. Depending on the patient load, he may come home really late. Or he may come home and then have to go back to the hospital, or come home and then have to spend several hours in his office, on the phone with the hospital staff or returning patient calls. There’s no guarantee he’ll see our daughter on any given day. There’s no guarantee he’ll be free to help with washing the dishes or the child, that he’ll be home to eat meals, that he’ll be free to talk through our separate days, that he’ll be next to me as I fall asleep.

To deal with call weeks, I do several things:

  1. I prep Carla by talking enthusiastically about our special Girls’ Week. I use lots of exclamation points. Sometimes we’ll go out for a special lunch date together. We’ll paint our toenails. We’ll eat snacky dinners. We’ll watch movies. We’ll be a little loosey goosey with the “no screens on school days” rules. If Carla feels sad about not seeing her father, we’ll make him a special art project. We may not bathe as frequently as normal.
  1. I go easy on myself with meal planning. Instead of focusing on healthy food, which I try to do most days, I make easy and comforting food the priority (note: “healthy” and “easy and comforting” are not necessarily mutually exclusive). For me, that’s things like tacos and chicken paprikas and pizza and grilled shrimp from the prepared foods counter at the grocery store. Bonus points for things that are easy to prepare and leave abundant leftovers. I may buy a special treat for myself, and possibly for Carla. I don’t limit myself to one piece of leftover Easter candy. I make sure I have a bottle of wine chilling in the fridge.
  1. I try to schedule fun things for myself during the week. Usually, my writing time is sacred. I try to treat my day like a real work day – albeit shorter than the typical 9-to-5. So I reserve coffees and lunch dates for call weeks. This week, I have a coffee, a lunch date, and a play date for me and Carla. At night, after Carla’s in bed, I curl up on the sofa with a glass of wine and/or some ice cream/rapidly dwindling Easter candy and watch Candy TV: Real Housewives, sitcoms my husband isn’t interested in, reruns of Seinfeld or Gilmore Girls or Friends or Family Feud.
  1. I try to maintain a (barf) Positive Attitude. I say cheerleadery things to myself and to Carla: We are so proud of Daddy. He is making people feel better. He works so hard, to take care of other people and to take care of us. We’ll be back to normal in just X days! We can do it! And anyway, missing Daddy helps us to appreciate him more when he’s here! I try to think cheering thoughts: I get to watch only what I want to watch this week! I can go to bed whenever I want! I am so glad I’m not a doctor! Hey, I didn’t say they were cheering to anyone but ME.

One of the things that’s most difficult for me during call weeks is to not unload on my husband when he’s around. Call is extremely stressful for him. He’s seeing super sick patients. He may have 11 patients to see or he may have 25. He may have really difficult procedures. He may be extra tired from being paged or getting called into the hospital overnight.

It’s not unstressful for me: suddenly, I’m solely responsible for house and child and self. Which can be easy breezy or exhausting on any given day. But I try really really hard to remember that I shouldn’t just throw the toddler and the dishes at my husband when he manages to show up at a reasonable hour.  And I shouldn’t complain too loudly or vigorously about how stressful my day was.

The best part about call weeks is that they END. For us, call takes place roughly every seven weeks. This differs from practice to practice, and we’re very lucky. So even though they are lonely weeks, they aren’t very frequent. And they don’t last terribly long.

I’m sure life can be lonely for MANY spouses out there, for all kinds of professions. And, in fact, I would be really interested in what it’s like for you, when your spouse isn’t there. How often is s/he gone? What’s the schedule like then, and how does it deviate from normal? How do you deal with the loneliness, and with the stress of being In Charge By Yourself?

I keep feeling the weight of all the accumulated CRAP we have in our house. It lives mainly in the basement, and it’s pulling at me. It’s very heavy.

Some days, I think about donating it all… and probably I will end up going that route because I am lazy efficient and charitable.

But other days, I think about throwing a garage sale. Making a few cents off all the much-loved stuff that’s no longer useful for anything except jamming up our basement.

We have books, artwork, stereo speakers, shoes, clothing… and tons and tons of baby stuff. (Will I actually be able to give it away? UNKNOWN.)

The thing is, I have virtually no experience with garage sales. So I have no idea if it’s worthwhile. I am aware that garage sales are a lot of work. Even perusing a couple of sites with tips for a successful garage/yard sale are making me weary.

But it also maybe sounds a little fun?

If memory serves, I think one of our neighbors has a garage sale every couple of years… I wonder if I could team up with her? That would be good for multiple reasons, not the least of which she could just tell me how she does things. But I wouldn’t even know how to broach the subject… do I call her? Go knock on her door? (We see each other maybe three times a year in the wild.)

Do you think my husband would be up for it? (My guess is no.)

How do I know if I have enough stuff? Or the right kind of stuff? We have a lot of random stuff: like an unopened box of Brita water filters, some old sippy cups that Carla no longer uses, some ancient roller skates, my husband’s childhood collection of Ghostbusters action figures. That’s just a sampling.

And how do I make sure that I’m Well Prepared – with tables and labels and signage and stuff – without spending more on Preparations than I’d make from the sale?

And what in the WORLD am I going to do with Carla during this thing? I can envision her a) disappearing down the street after someone’s dog or b) crying about some old toy she hasn’t played with in years that she doesn’t want me to sell or c) going on a mad tear and knocking things over.

I wonder if any of my friends would be interested in joining forces.

I also wonder if I’m crazy to even contemplate this nonsense.

Help…?