Tuesday, April 27, 2010

From The "Duh" Files: Chocolate and Depression Linked! Who Woulda Thunk It?

Shocking, shocking news on CNN's website today: a study has shown that depressed people eat chocolate! Who knew?

Most of us who reach for the Hersheys, I would guess.

You can read the startling news for yourself here.

According to the study, researchers are beginning to wonder whether chocoholics eat chocolate because they're depressed or whether chocolate consumption and the crash that follows can actually cause depression. It's a chicken-or-the-egg debate, and I, for one, don't really care for this to be investigated further.

Because depression and I are frenemies who go way back, and because I simply MUST have a piece or two or seven of chocolate every day or become a cranky/crankier beyotch, I don't really want to know if it has maybe caused my depression all these years. Besides, I am pretty sure I can look at the gene pool I'm swimming in and know where my serotonin issues come from.

Even if it were revealed that chocolate consumption causes depression, I refuse to stop. I would dare say that if it were someday revealed that daily chocolate consumption knocks five years off your lifespan, I still think I would risk it. What good would five extra years be if I couldn't enjoy them with Lindor truffles or my new fave, Ruth Hunt Blue Monday bars?

Why would I stop consuming something that causes me so much joy? (Asked the daughter of two nearly-lifelong smokers.) And how can something that causes me so much joy make me depressed? Just because I got inexplicably blue today an hour or so after eating a Kit-Kat doesn't mean that daily crash attributes to my mental state; I totally blame that on the prednisone I'm on to treat what appears to be a recurring viral infection causing inflammation of the inner ear and vestibular nerve. (That's what the ENT thinks is causing my vertigo; fingers crossed he's right and I can walk a straight line again someday.)

So, bring on the Snickers, the Special Darks, the Ghiradelli. The M & Ms, the Reese's Cups, and the occasional Frisch's hot fudge cake. It can't be wrong when it feels so right.

Are you with me? Are you perhaps a chocoholic? What adverse health effect would chocolate have to have before you would willingly give it up?

Monday, April 26, 2010

If I Were a Boy

One of my favorite pop songs of the last few years is Beyonce's ballad "If I Were a Boy." I even like the version on Ainsley's Kidz Bop CD. So sue me.

It has me from the first line:

If I were a boy
Even just for a day
I'd get out of bed in the morning
And throw on what I wanted
And go...

Ain't that the truth.

Before you boys out there get your boxer briefs in a bunch, I'm not saying you all always have it easier. But think about just this one thing: I bet every one of you readers of the male persuasion hates shaving in the morning. You wish you didn't have to do it, that society and white-collar jobs didn't demand clean-shaven men. That's just your faces, though. We have to do our legs. Which covers, for some of us, a considerable surface area. And our underarms. And...other places during swimsuit season. And let's just be honest here: some of us have to do something about our beards and mustaches, too. I'm just sayin'.

And that's just for starters. That's just the basic grooming.

The idea of the Beyonce song is that, compared to what we women have to deal with in maintaing our appearance and maintaining our relationships, you menfolk have it made in the shade. (I could go on and on about other ways I'm bitter about how it's tough to be a girl, but that's another post for another time.) The whole keeping-up-appearances thing was made abundantly clear to me last week when I took Ainsley shopping for a first communion dress and related paraphanalia.

I'm not really a girly-girl. My wedding dress was the second one I tried on and I didn't make a big production of dragging 20 of my closest friends to a bridal shop to sip champagne while I shopped for 3 hours. But my daughter is a girly-girl, so there was something fun about going to our local Catholic uniform store and spending some bonding time in a rack of white, frilly dresses.

For those of you who are un-Catholic, first communion dresses look like bridal gowns because, like a bridal gown, they represent purity and the entering of a young lady into a sacred union. Just instead of a husband it's, you know, The Church. I wasn't raised Catholic, so it strikes me as kinda weird, too.

There was something tear-inducing about taking Ainsley's three favorite white gowns into a dressing room and watching her twirl around in front of a mirror in a sea of satin and tulle. It won't be long before we are at David's Bridal doing the same thing.

And probably not spending that much more money.

Even using a 40% off coupon and choosing a mid-range-priced dress, I gulped a little at the total. Because you can't get out of there just buying a dress. You also have to buy a veil, and dainty white dress socks, and white shoes. Optional are a purse and gloves.

I put my foot down at the purse and gloves.

On our way out, with my arms full of dress and veil, we passed one small rack close to the girls' communion wear section. There was one row of tan ties with a little cross emblem embroidered on them, one row of navy ties with the same embroidery, and a few rows of brown and black and navy socks.

"What's that stuff for?" Ainsley asked.

"That's the section for the boys going through first communion."

"All they have to do is pick out a tie and some socks?"

"Pretty much."

We both sighed.

If I were a boy, indeed.

I'm a little envious of the moms who, on the day of their son's first communion, just have to iron a shirt and some pants and make sure their little darling scrubs the dirt from under his fingernails and puts on his black atheltic shoes instead of the white ones. In the meantime, I will be unwrapping Ainsley's hair from the foam rollers we'll wrap it up in the night before, probably only to have all the curl disappear right under my fingertips. I'll be taking whatever coils are left and trying to do arrange them in some girly way that will hold the veil in place, and Ainsley will be squirming and offering "helpful" suggestions the whole time. Then I'll put that expensive solid-white dress on her and pray that she doesn't brush up against a dirty car on our way out to our car or into church. I'll be readjusting the veil every time she looks down or up and listening to complaints about how those pretty white patent-leather shoes are rubbing blisters through the pretty white socks with the crosses on them. The dress she loved so much will start itching her about 15 minutes in, and she will remind us of this every minute on the drive to church.

And when it's all over, she won't be able to get out of that dress fast enough and it will hang in the closet never to be worn again unless someone decides to ask her to be a flower girl sometime in the next 6 months before she outgrows it.

It's all part of the girl experience.

I think back to proms, and wedding party participation, and our own wedding day, when I have painstakingly prettied myself up in formal wear, enough makeup to spackle the accent wall in our living room, and an abundance of various hair products. I've had fake nails put on and used self-tanner to try to cover up the white spots that show up in sleeveless, backless dresses. I have spent a lot of money on fancy gowns I've only been able to wear once and spent hours in dressing rooms and at seamstress' homes getting these dresses fitted and altered. It takes a village to get a woman ready for a formal event, it really does.

Yet in every one of these instances, all Jason has had to do is pick up a tux, shave, put the tux on, and then go take it back the next day. That's it. And he looks fantastic in two simples steps: shave, get dressed. Because that's all you boys need, really. A clean-shaven face and a tux does it for you almost every time. And for some men, the clean-shaven face isn't even a must. Scruffy Jon Hamm, anyone?

In the meantime, we lose a couple of hours of our lives to "get dressed."

It's not fair, but it's just how it is.

Ask me about this later, though, when I see Ainsley walk up the aisle of the church to receive the body and blood for the first time, looking like an angel. I won't be thinking about how hard it was to curl her hair, or to find a dress, or convince her that her Crocs, while comfortable, wouldn't be appropriate. I will be thinking, "What a beautiful little girl I have," just like all the other parents of the little girls joining Ainsley in that sacrament.

Being a girl may be difficult. But it has its rewards.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

5 Years

The night that I celebrated five years in remission felt so long in the making. It seemed like so long since diagnosis; being able to take that sigh of relief on our deck while smoking a celebratory cigar gifted from a dear friend was something I had dreamed about for what seemed like the longest 5 years of my life.

Which makes it seem so odd that today marks the passage of another five years that seems so short: 5 years ago today, I lost my dad to cancer.

It didn't occur to me until I signed in at work this morning and saw the date: April 20. It even took a split second for the date to register in my brain. April 20. That date seems familiar...oh. Right. And then I did the math and realized that five years have passed, though some days it feels he was just with us yesterday.

Maybe the time seems to have passed so quickly because in some ways he's still here. My mother hasn't done much to his old room; the bed is gone, but some of his clothes are still in drawers and closets. I see a little of him every morning in my own face and in my hands, which are becoming more and more like his as I age.

I miss him, but I miss him for my daughter more. Ainsley doesn't really remember him, and she doesn't know how his face lit up whenever he saw her and how she made him mellow out and become downright child-like and giddy when she came to visit. He would be so proud of the little lady she has become.

I show her pictures and tell her how much he adored her, and she asks questions about him. I've told her a lot of stories about the man she called "Pap-oo": about the sports he played, and how he didn't live in a house with electricity until he was the age she is now, about how he worked long hours in a factory to provide for his family, about how he always had to have a cat around the house even when he was a little boy, about how he served in the army and learned to pilot a tugboat in Korea and Vietnam. Some day I'll tell her how, when she's standing in the sunlight, her hazel eyes become an olive color that reminds me so much of her Papaw's eyes.

He wasn't a perfect man, and in the past year or so my mom and I have become more comfortable talking about his flaws and dealing with getting past some of the painful memories. When someone first passes, they're sainted in your mind; as time goes on and you start to heal, you're able to see that person's life as it really was. I suppose that's also a stage of grief; not only dealing with how much you miss that person but dealing with the times that they didn't exactly light up your life.

No matter what, though, he was my dad and Ainsley's doting grandfather. And even though five fast years have passed and time has made me a different, more grown-up person than I was when I said goodbye, I will think of him every day and feel his absence in my life.

Dad, if you're somewhere looking over us... we miss you.

Monday, April 19, 2010

"Spring Cleaning. Does Anybody Do That Anymore?"

I need a break from my break.

Because I am pretty hard on myself, and maybe a little OCD, I didn't let myself rest much during my spring break. I had a list of tasks I wanted to accomplish, and by golly, I accomplished (most of) them.

And I have the sore upper back to prove it.

That shower stall that hasn't been properly scrubbed since (and I wish I were exaggerating here) the fall of 2002 looks brand new thanks to 2 hours of scrubbing, a scraper, enough chemicals to turn any future children I might have into X-Men, and several Magic Erasers. Seriously, Mr. Clean, these things might be my favorite invention of the past decade, and I could live without my iPod before I could live without my Magic Erasers. For reals.

I cleaned the living room furniture, and I took down curtains and washed and ironed them. I even took the cleaning outside and did the most thorough landscape weeding and deck-furnture scrubbing I think I've ever done at our house. I replaced my first window screen and it looked so good after I was finished that I bought more screening so I can replace all the screens in the front of the house.

I surprised myself. I always give myself a lot to do over my breaks and I don't get to half of it. Napping always seems more important. But this time, at the end of each day, I stood in the main living area of our house, took a look around, wiped the sweat off my brow, and thought, "Damn. I am good." And then after Ains was in bed I did a shot of tequila to reward myself, but that's really neither here nor there.

Friday when it was all over and I popped that new window screen into a freshly-washed window, I started wondering why it was different this year. Why I actually got things done. And why had I almost enjoyed these tasks that I usually hate?

And that's when I heard the voice inside my head say, "Spring cleaning. Does anybody do that anymore?"

Which is the last thing my mother-in-law posted to her status update on Facebook before she went into the hospital the final time.

I'm not saying I heard my mother-in-law or anything. This is not a ghost story. But those words of hers popped into my head, and I realized why I had been pushing myself so hard to do a bunch of things I'd been putting off for, in some cases, years.

I do all this because I can. And because she can't, and never will be able to again, and really was not physically able to do everything she wanted to do in those last years. She took simple joy last year in the fact that she was doing some things in her home to make it a little cleaner, a little brighter. There's something to learn in that.

We've been through a lot, and I think I spent most of the winter consumed by a grief and loneliness I tried really hard to hide. The snow we were buried under didn't help. But something feels different now; the sun on my face feels a little warmer, my hands feel a little stronger and a little more capable. It felt good to scrub, to weed, to repair. I saw the results when I was finished. I left my world everyday a little better than I found it. It felt healing. There's something to be said for the kind of tiredness that comes from an honest day's work on your land or in your house, using your hands and your back and your legs and taking something that was wrong and making it right. It beats the heck out of the kind of tired I usually am after a day's work, a tired that's more in my mind than my body and makes my sinews tense and restless.

Spring cleaning. Does anybody do that anymore?

Yes, Kathie. Yes, they do.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


Spring break starts tomorrow for me. Oh, glory! I do not know that I have ever needed to be away from my job so badly as I need to be away now. This is the latest I can ever remember having spring break, and the kids are as squirrely as a herd of cats.

This may be my last post for a few days as I plan on indulging myself in a mix of hard-core R & R and knocking tasks off of my extensive around-the-house to-do list. So here are some tidbits I've been thinking about and wanting to discuss. Chime in below if you are so inclined.

1. I hate Duke.
No, really. We shouldn't hate. Unless it's Duke. I totally take the fall for their NCAA tourney win; I did not make the Anti-Duke chili. I didn't think it was really necessary as I felt they were overrated, and now that UK seems to have risen from the ashes I was a little afraid to weaken the mojo in the event we meet Duke next year. But given the texts and emails I've gotten from friends after Monday night's game saying, "Why didn't you make the chili? How could you let them win like that?", I feel I need to issue a mea culpa.

If you are a fellow Duke-hater, please say bad things about them below. It will make you feel better, I swear.

2. Vertigo sucks.

Yes, it's back. You may remember that two years ago around this time I blogged about a bout with positional vertigo that came on suddenly and lasted over a month. When it came on after a run, I really thought I was having a stroke. Well, it's back, this time brining its close friends "muffled hearing" and "crackling noises."

I have an appointment with an ENT tomorrow; my regular doctor thinks that there may be something chronic going on that I need checked out and diagnosed. Until then, my whole world slopes downhill and to the left. The upside: I feel like I'm always on an amusement park ride without ever leaving my house! Sweet!

3. If I rent a tiller over break to re-work a a piece of our landscaping that is no longer scaped, how long will it take before I go to the emergency room?

Jason says I can't do this by myself; I don't know whether to believe him or to have my girl power all offended. Has anyone ever used one before? Am I capable? Or are you taking bets right now as to whether or not I end up coming back to work on the 19th with either a noticeable limp or a displaced limb?

4. Lost is new next week, and since I won't have to work the next day, I'll get to do one of my favorite things in the world: drink a Cosmopolitan while getting my brain fried from Lost mythology. Life is good, friends. Life is good.

Have a good spring week, if not a good spring break week. Wish me luck in dealing with ENTs (not Ents, like in The Two Towers, though that would be so much cooler) and tillers. I'll catch up with y'all sometime soon.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Oh, For Crying Out Loud, Just Let My Kid Hold a Bunny!

When a kid cries, I want to cry, too.

I have a bit of a tender heart and anyone shedding tears, for any reason, makes my own waterworks start to turn on. But if the person doing the crying is under the age of 12, and is crying because his or her heart has been broken, I become a blubbery mess because my heart aches for them.

Shh. Don't tell anyone. It will totally blow my cover as a cold, heartless, cranky librarian.

The day before Easter we took Ainsley to a little party held at the "family recreation center" (basically, a fitness club that tries really hard to keep the kiddos entertained and healthy as well as the adults) we belong to. Among the other attractions for the little ones was a very small petting zoo where kids could pet and hold chicks, baby ducks, and bunnies.

Ainsley plopped down in a circle of kids all passing a little white bunny around. New kids kept joining the circle and without an adult clearly in charge, the rules of passing this poor animal around grew uncertain; kids were just passing the rabbit to whoever just sat down, or to whoever reached their arms out, or whoever hollered the loudest.

I watched from the outside. I noticed a pattern. Ainsley kept getting bypassed with the bunny.

She gave up and went to another circle passing around a different furry rabbit. Same thing kept happening.

Have any of you seen Office Space? You know the scene where everyone is passing around pieces of birthday cake and Milton keeps getting passed by until finally all the cake is gone and he's the only person without a piece? And he just stands around, wide-eyed, muttering in discontent while no one hears him? That was so what was happening with Ainsley.

I made this analogy to Jason, and at first we laughed. Five minutes later, when she got red in the face and stomped out of the circle and over to us, we stopped seeing the humor.

"No one will let me hold the bunny!" She said. And instead of pouting, which is what she tends to do now that she's seven, she burst into tears. The tears that a child cries when its feelings have been hurt beyond all hope and repair. Not fake tears to get sympathy or attention, but tears of insecurity.


I'm immune to most of Ainsley's bouts of crying. Probably because, as a mom, I am responsible for most of them. When she doesn't get her way at home, or she gets grounded, or she just in general thinks her mean mom isn't being nice, she cries. And I tune it out. It's par for that course. But this one got me. It wasn't just that she didn't get to hold a bunny; it's that she felt ignored and overlooked. She had asked several of the kids to pass the rabbit to her, told them it was her turn, held out her hands. They looked right through her. When you're a kid, is there really anything worse than not fitting it and being a part of the group?

We hugged her; we got her some of the free ice cream; we told her she needed to be more assertive next time and stick up for herself. The thing with Ainsley is that sometimes she's too nice. It's one of her best qualities, except for times like these where it isn't. While the tears did stop there at the center, I caught her about an hour later with big ol' silent tears rolling down her cheeks when she thought she was all alone watching TV. It stung her pretty deeply.

I, too, had to go have a quiet moment. And a good little cry. Here's one of the things you'll never read in a mommy manual: your child is so much a part of you that you feel what she feels. Ainsley might as well be an extra limb. When she hurts, I hurt. I feel it as strongly as if it has happened to me.

Probably because, in a way, it has. What you do to my kid, you do to me.

It's tough to be a kid. We all remember the good, carefree moments of childhood, especially in the spring when the weather is getting warm and the children in our neighborhoods start getting outside to bike, run, and play hide-and-seek. We don't always remember how mean kids can be and how tough you have to be to survive in a kid's world. Most of us will talk about how hard it was to fit in in middle- and high-school; we seem to forget that sometimes it's hard to fit in even when you're seven.

Ainsley has friends and fits in with her buddies at school. But she's a quiet kid who mostly doesn't draw attention to herself and that can make it hard for her in a crowd of kids she doesn't know. She wants to be liked, and as an only child, looks for a friend--or at the least, a friendly face--in every crowd.

Sometimes, she won't be able to find one. And she will have to deal with that.

We've talked about it. I told her it's up to her, not her mom and dad, to make her voice heard. That she has to stick up for herself and for what she wants while at the same time being fair to other kids.

But I'll be honest: it was everything I could do in the moment to not march over to the bunny pit and say to other people's children, "For the love of God, quit overlooking my kid and pass her a freaking bunny!" I can't do that, though. It's a tough world and Ains has to get tough with it. Mommy won't always be there to knock some heads together for her; she needs to learn to do that herself.

When she hurts, though, when the world tramples on her bunny-lovin' heart, I will give her a hug, buy her some ice cream, and share her tears with her. I can't fight her battles, but I can slap a band-aid on the war wounds.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Joy Of Napping

More so than usual, I am counting down the minutes until 3:00 today.

That's because at 3 today I get to go home to a quiet, empty house and take as long a nap as I want. You have no idea how long it's been since I've been able to do that after work.

Now that I think about it, it's been something like, oh...7 1/2 years.

Ainsley is on spring break today through next week. Alas, I am not; the Catholic school and the public school spring break schedules do not align yet again. I have over a week before I get my break from the 18-and-under yahoos who fill my workdays and who I generally love, but who I so need some time away from.

But because my mother is playing nanny to Ainsley today and tomorrow (Jason takes his vacation next week) and is having Ains spend the night with her tonight, I get to go home and have a quiet afternoon nap like I used to before Ains was born.

Not to say I've never napped since the kid was born. She used to be an excellent napper before kindergarten or so. But when you're a mom, and you're napping while your kid naps, it's a restless sort of sleep with one eye and ear open. When they're babies, you're sleeping with the monitor on; when they're older, you're listening for a thud and a squeal that means your little daredevil has tried to climb out of the crib for the first time.

When Ainsley got older and was starting to nap for lesser amounts of time in her big-girl bed, I would often be startled awake by her standing over me on the couch, silently, awake from her nap but being supernaturally quiet in trying to wake me from mine. It always took a minute or two to scrape my heart off the ceiling and put it back into my chest cavity.

Eventually even my "mommy naps" with the kid became limited to just those weekend days when she happened to wake up really early and wore down by afternoon, and then one day they stopped altogether. I mourned them when they were gone.

I took for granted all those years when I could cope from a really exhausting day at work with a few minutes (or, let's be honest, hours) of quiet back in my dark, cool bedroom. Or in the recliner we used to have, with Oprah on in the background. A bad night's sleep, a disagreement with a co-worker, a bad chicken nugget from the cafeteria--all these ills could be cured by coming home to an empty house and powering down.

Those were the days.

In so many ways, being a parent is about adjusting. And putting your child's needs ahead of your own. Even though napping and needing an above-average amount of sleep is in my DNA, I've gotten used to running full-throttle from morning until night. I cope with the exhaustion and stress through other ways, including but not limited to going to bed some nights at 8 o'clock like a 70-year-old. Most days I don't even crave a nap.

Most days.

When my mom offered the have Ainsley room in with her overnight since her services were needed both Thursday and Friday, I ran through a few possible options on how to spend this precious bit of time when I could have the house to myself after a long day at school. I could sit on the back deck and read (though I would want to clean the winter dirt off first.) I could paint the inside of the front door to match the living room trim we had re-painted two years ago, a task I've been vowing to finish since then. I could engage in a little retail therapy and get myself a new Easter dress. I could pull weeds from the almost-hopeless mess the wet weather has made of our landscaping and get everything outside lookin new and refreshed. All those are valid things to want to do without having to monitor the whereabouts and safety of a young child.

As the week wore on (and wore on me), my decision became clear:

I am going home today and taking the best nap of all, the after-work nap. The phone will be turned off, the windows will be opened, and Cranky will get her groove back. Do not disturb. Just like the credit card ads say: Priceless.

Let's talk about naps, shall we? Are you a napper? If so, what's your favorite kind of nap?