I’m Not So Great

One day last year I was killing myself on the rowing machine (I have realized that I hate HATE HATE running), watching Netflix. I clicked on a show called Addiction. It’s a really good, graphic non-fiction show about–surprise!–addicts and alcoholics. The woman on the show was talking about how low she had fallen because of her heroin addiction and how she simply couldn’t stop using even though she was ruining her life and the lives of everyone around her. When she was describing what is was like with the heroin having so much power over her and not being able to stop, I burst into tears. I sat there and sobbed because I felt exactly the same way. But my drug of choice is not illegal. It is sugar.

If you scroll through my recipe tab you will notice that pretty much every recipe I list is chock full of carbs and sugar. These things are my very favorites in life. I grew up baking, teaching myself how to bake at an early age because I simply couldn’t get enough suweets (this is what I did whenever you left the house, Mom! You told me not to use the stove or oven but I just had to). Luckily I was blessed with a decent metabolism that tidily sorted through the sugar and pop I existed on for most of my life. Once I hit 40, though, my metabolism waved goodbye. Practically overnight it came to a screeching halt. I did what I had done in the past: went to Weight Watchers, tried to be reasonable about portion sizes and switched my full-sugar Mt. Dew habit to Coke Zero (sorry, but I find Diet Coke to be utterly vile.)  Nothing happened. I couldn’t lose a pound if my life depended on it.

Then I was called to be the Relief Society President. This means I was put in charge of all the women in my church congregation. Not only am I in charge of planning activities and lessons, but I’m the one on the front lines when the women have major setbacks due to illness, depression, death or unemployment. All sorts of fun things. All this new stress and responsibility left me exhausted and depleted at the beginning. So I did what every red-blooded American would do; I turned to food. Now I wasn’t stress-eating just for my own problems, I was stress-eating for everyone’s problems! The results were not pretty. I didn’t even know you could gain weight that fast!

I cut down on calories and took up running (I had to try it before I realized I hated it so), and rowing and exercise videos. Unfortunately my weight stayed exactly the same. The scale would not budge. I cut out most white flour and ate nothing but whole grains (hey, whole wheat chocolate chip cookies are really fantastic, by the way! Super chewy!). And there were no more calories from soda since I was drinking diet. I couldn’t figure out what was going on or how to change it.

I knew exercise must be important but so far I hadn’t found the thing that rocked my world. And I knew I needed a partner to help me find some accountability. I’d been hearing about crossfit a lot so I found a place near us that had fantastic reviews on Yelp and got my friend Anna to go with me. It was hard. Really hard. But I really liked it. And hated it. If you know crossfit, you know what I mean. I’ll talk more about it another time. But the foundation of crossfit is good nutrition. That’s a really big deal. In particular, crossfit people are totally into paleo.

My crossfit coach suggested I try Paleo but once I found out that sugar and grains are forbidden I was like, “HELL NO!” Like, no way would I ever, ever eat that way in a million years. My coach just smiled, “after about a month of crossfit I bet you’ll try it.” I snort-laughed because there was not even a shred of possibility that that might happen. Obviously he didn’t know who he was talking to; I have won blue ribbons for my baked goods! That stuff is in my blood! Sugar and flour are my soul!

But this voice in my head kept nagging at me to think about it. Even doing crossfit several times a week was not helping my weight. The numbers refused to get lower. I began to face the fact that flour and sugar were like a dysfunctional relationship: they were doing me nothing but harm although I still loved them desperately. It was time for us to break up.

I read several books about eating Paleo* and here’s what turned me onto it: it’s all about getting over sugar and carb cravings. It’s about teaching your body to have a healthy relationship with food. It’s about healing your body from the damage you’ve done over your lifetime, and becoming as healthy as possible through clean eating. And most importantly to me it means eating foods that provide a healthy psychological response.

In other words, not eating because of sadness or boredom. You don’t think of food as a reward (that’s a big deal for me. I think of food as the ultimate reward). You can find all sorts of “heathy sweets” that have honey or agave. Or sugar-free chocolate. But those aren’t going to do you an favors if you’re a sugar addict. I needed to teach my body how to not crave things like that anymore. And the only way to kill a craving is to starve it to death. (Not starve as in “no calories”, starve as in “no more sweet things whether they are ‘healthful’ or not”.)

Paleo pyramid

Not eating carbs and sugar is pretty much the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. Without a doubt. I face a temptation every hour of every day. Unlike heroin addicts, though, sugar is not only served everywhere, it is encouraged!  (Who’ll bring refreshments? Who wants some birthday  cake? It’s free slurpees today!) I’ve had to stop bringing people cookies because I can’t bake them and not eat them. I have to buy snacks for my kids that I wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole so I won’t be tempted (It would have to be the end of the zombie apocalypse before I would put a baked Cheeto in my mouth.) I psyche myself up and do a pep-talk before I go to any church function (Refreshments are so hard to say no to!). And I practically wear blinders when I go to the grocery store .

It’s getting easier, though. I pray a lot (seriously. “Please Heavenly Father, do not let me think about peanut butter M&Ms”. I know it sounds pathetic and cheesy but it really works). This morning I took my kids to our favorite donut shop  (I love donuts with a grand passion) and I sat and watched them eat their donuts without even having a bite. I abstained from ordering a donut for myself even when I saw them carry out a fresh, hot tray of chocolate glazed with peanuts–my favorite! I haven’t had soda or caffeinated anything since New Year’s Eve and I’ve stopped staring at the soda fountains longingly. I no longer think about how great a Big Gulp would taste right now. When it gets really hot out, though, I’m probably going to die without pop. Gotta stay strong!

The good news? The weight is coming off. Slowly. But it is coming off. And unlike Weight Watchers** or starving myself, I have plenty to eat. I’m never hungry. Thank goodness bacon and cashews are paleo or I would probably kill myself. The best thing, though, is that I feel strong and healthy. Not just physically healthy but mentally and emotionally healthy. I don’t reach for food when I’m bored. Although I have discovered that I am not a bored or sad eater. When I’m depressed I don’t want food. I’m an angry eater! When I’m frustrated and angry I want to “show everyone” by pigging out. I know, it doesn’t make any sense. But that’s what I’ve discovered about myself.

Will I stay paleo forever? I don’t think so. I really do think that whole grains need to be part of the human diet. I’ve been doing a lot of research and really feel like whole grains are important. But I need to be in a healthy state of mind before I can make that happen. I need to exist without thinking/wishing/pigging out on sugar day after day. I need to get cravings out of my system so one cookie doesn’t turn into fifteen cookies (which is what happens now, no lie). I need to be able to say, “that’s enough” and so far that’s not part of my lexicon.  But I’m hoping that I will be able to change that soon. And permanently. Until then, bring on the pea pods!

 

*If you’re interested in Paleo (which is a stupid, stupid name), I would HIGHLY recommend getting the book The Paleo Coach by Jason Seib. It’s fantastic.

**Weight Watchers has worked really well for me in the past but recently it just hasn’t done the trick. Plus it doesn’t really help with my sugar addiction. Instead I end up eating all my points by lunchtime and then I’m left with ten more hours of starvation. You’d think I would learn my lesson but I never did. Then there is the whole issue of weight being the ultimate gold standard. Weight is just a number. It doesn’t mean you’re healthy or that you look good. And who hasn’t felt great going into a meeting because you’ve tried so hard only to have all the feelings negated because of what the scale says. It’s not right!

I have a real love-hate relationship with cleaning ladies. On one hand I love them because who wants to clean their own house? (Hint: not me.)  On the other hand, it’s expensive and what kind of lazy bones can’t clean her own house? What am I so busy doing that I can’t scrub it myself? Or make my minions do it? (Oh yes, I’m being a mom to six kids and a Relief Society President). Sometimes we’re too broke to have a cleaning lady. Sometimes we’re desperate enough to pony up the money. Lately it’s been the latter.  Also, I’m the only person in my neighborhood who cleans her own house. Seriously!  But then I watch Downton Abbey and they don’t even do their own hair, let alone scrub their own toilets. So then I feel totally cool with it.

Mister is not a big fan of my lackadaisical housekeeping skills. I’ll scrub toilets til the cows come home–there is nothing grosser to me than a stinky, dirty toilet. Even if I’m about to throw up I’ll be madly scrubbing the toilet first. But my floor mopping schedule is a little more–how shall I put it–elastic. So Mister finally insisted that I find someone to come in every week or two to do the dirty work.

In the past we’ve always managed to have really sexy cleaning ladies. They always come in sweats, though, not in French Maid outfits. Although one time our Russian maid, Tanya, came dressed in teeny tiny hot pants and high heels. It looked like she was going to go dancing afterwards, but those Russians–they can dress oddly at times.  On that particular day I walked into the bathroom while Tanya was bent over scrubbing the tub and wow! Did I ever get an eyeful.  I can now say with absolute assurity that that woman did not have an ounce of cellulite anywhere. It’s probably a good thing that Mister wasn’t working from home.

We had Flavia after that. She was a Brazilian girl with a rocking bod. She’d wear skin tight cropped tank tops and sweatpants rolled down to just under her pelvic bone. Flavia always wore her thick wavy hair cascading down her golden brown shoulders. It was almost waist-length and she never wore it in a ponytail. I can’t imagine that it was very convenient but it looked really pretty while she was wiping off my appliances.  She was a real butter-face, though. You know, everything is fantastic but her face. She was as sweet as sugar and loved babies which I had about a million of at the time.

This week I finally got around to finding a new cleaning lady. Carmen came highly recommended by one of my friends. And she also sounded pretty cheap. Definitely a bonus. Carmen speaks Spanish and that’s all. She didn’t even know the English word for broom or mop–definitely a handicap in her profession, I would think.

The way our cleaning ladies have always worked is that they charge by the house, not by the hour. So cleaning my house is always X dollars, whether it takes them two hours or five hours. Their first visit always lasts a little bit longer since they have to do everything. They won’t be dusting the blinds and cleaning the baseboards every time, but they start out the first visit by getting everything done.

So Carmen (who is not even slightly sexy) came over on Wednesday morning right after my kids left for school. After pantomiming a list of what supplies she needed I scurried off to fill her order. It took three tries of bringing back the wrong item before I figured out she needed a step ladder.  All those years of French have really come in handy. Not.

I let Carmen get to business while I spent most of the day planning my trip to Europe in a couple of months. Hmmm, I guess I’m more of a spoiled American than I thought.  After three hours Carmen was still in my room. Slightly humiliating, I guess. My room was apparently dirtier than I thought.

It got worse. I told Carmen only to vacuum the kids’ rooms. Their dressers are piled with all sorts of random kid crap and some of their beds weren’t made. But of course she made everyone’s beds, straightened everything up, dusted and vacuumed. I half expected her to leave their towels folded into origami animals like when you go on a cruise.  The lady didn’t even take a break and was still at it when Mister got home from work.

All in all Carmen was there for eight hours. Eight hours. She did a great job but compared to our regular cleaning lady (me and/or my slovenly children), it didn’t matter much. I’m not that picky. As long as I’m not the one doing the cleaning, I’m happy. I got over my shame of hiring a cleaning lady right quick.  Now I just need to figure out how to say “mildew” in Spanish.

Screen shot maid

I’ll be buying this outfit for Carmen, of course.

 

According to all the stores. January is the time to organize stuff. And you know what? I agree. After the mayhem of the holidays, it feels good to clean and organize everything. Mister has been getting very put out with the state of clenliness lately. Let’s just call it “laissez-faire housekeeping”. It all came to a head a few days ago when I came home from . . . . I’ve already forgotten. But Mister was having a meeting with his Boy Scout committee and as the house was in disarray, he had cleaned it nicely. Or so it seemed.

This is the main difference between men and women, I think. Most men (mine included) think cleaning up generally means shoving stuff in baskets and boxes and putting it somewhere less visible. I walked into our bedroom while Mister’s meeting was happening and what do you know? There are three laundry baskets piled with everything from shoes to my glue gun to actual clean clothes.

Meanwhile I had several boxes of Christmas decorations sitting in the mudroom because I couldn’t put them away. The attic was a complete mess due to kids looking for winter clothes. Every person woman knows that you can’t put stuff away when everything is already disorganized. First you have to organize, then you clean. And if you don’t have time to organize everything? Well, that means the cleaning kind of grinds to a halt.

Don’t get me wrong; I’ve done my share of stash-and-dashes when we’ve had company coming over. Having a master bedroom on the main floor means that there is always a place to put things in a hurry and feel fairly safe that nobody will see anything. But if I’m going to clean–like, really honestly clean, I’m going to do it right.

Or course there are superwomen out there who always have things organized and clean. These women perplex and slightly frighten me.

But I’ve been working hard on organizing and especially throwing things away/giving things away (been to Goodwill a whole lot lately). You cannot fathom the huge amount of receipts that I have been storing in every nook and cranny. But you can’t organize clutter, so I’m jumping on the January bandwagon and cleaning out the hidden spots in my house first. The attic is done. My closet is in progress.

Two weeks ago Mister chided me for having two grocery bags full of canned goods sitting in the garage (they’d been there for oh, a week or so). “Put these away already!” he said before he left for work. They were all meant for storage, not the pantry. But the food storage room/closet was thoroughly disorganized and stuff was all over the floor. So I spent the day dragging everything out, cleaning the weevils out of the carpet (thanks to a ripped bag of flour. It’s as gross as it sounds), and reorganizing all the food. Of course this took a million hours longer than I had hoped. Half an hour before Mister got home from work, the grocery bags still hadn’t been unloaded. But I made it just as he pulled into the driveway.

Deep cleaning and organizing is partly satisfying (yay properly organized stuff!) but nobody ever appreciates it like they ought to. (Would it be too much to have one of my kids say, “Wow, Mom, you did a great job placing all the spice jars in alphabetical order, and in order from oldest to newest ensuring we rotate through our supplies wisely.”? That’s all I ask!)

I still have to unload my new shoe shelves from the car, but once I get that closet cleaned the world is going to look a lot shinier.

I was at the library last week and thought I would be nice and check out a movie for the kids. I know they are fans of the entire Spy Kids oeuvre so I rented Spy Kids II (or was it Spy Kids III or IV? As if there is any difference). When I got home they informed me that the Spy Kids movie I’d checked out is already on Netflix and they have already watched it nigh unto a hundred times.

So I put somewhere and completely forgot about it. Until it was several days overdue. I ended up paying $3 to rent a movie nobody watched which was on Netflix anyway.

And I wonder why I have no money.

PC240599Whew! What a Christmas! It’s taken me a whole week just to recover from our vacation. We went to The Motherland (Utah), where several relatives on both sides met us. We spent the entire time going from family to family with tiny interludes of seeing old friends. Relaxing, it was not. Not even close. But it was still a good vacation because we got to spend so much time with the people we love the most. I always have this crazy notion that vacations are meant for relaxation and if that doesn’t happen then I feel gypped and angry. And of course when I feel angry I like to take it out on Mister and vice versa, so there were a lot of fun moments where we sent daggers from our eyes to each other.

I may or may not have also taken my lack of sleep and stress about the holidays out on my mother-in-law.  We had a little “incident” over a lemon pie (formerly Lemon Truffle Pie but hereafter known as The Pie That Ruined Christmas) that ended with me being unpleasant and my mother-in-law sobbing at the kitchen table. If you want to know how to make my husband madder than he’s ever been, try being mean to his mom. On second thought, don’t.

But, like I said, it was a good trip because we got to spend time with our relatives; all of whom we adore. These are all the cousins who were in Utah from Mister’s side. A whole bunch are missing but hopefully we’ll see them soon.

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The kids also got to go skiing. It was the first time Ada and Jasper had seen snow since they were babies. Nothing beats that Utah snow. I, of course, did not go skiing because I don’t go outside when it’s that cold unless the house is on fire. There’s not enough hot chocolate in the world to make outdoor sports worth it.

On the second day of skiing Arabella and India ended up stranded at the top of a “terrifying ski run” (from the way they made it sound it was a black diamond, but turned out to only be a green. But they’re newbies, OK?). The Ski Patrol tried to lead them down but they preferred to sit at the top of the mountain and cry for over an hour. Finally one of their grown-up cousins tracked them down and coaxed them down the hill, reassuring them the entire time that they weren’t about to die.

Skiing at Park City

We flew to/from Utah on Southwest Airlines. This was necessary because of the two free bags that are allowed for each person. When Christmas presents and winter clothes are involved, you need all the baggage you can get. The trip north was fine (only nine suitcases!) but the trip home was a little iffier. We ended up with two additional suitcases and a box of beautiful wreaths that I bought the day after Christmas (yay for sales! And yay for Tai Pan Trading!).*

We required our own shuttle out to the airport parking lot when we got back to Austin, we had so much stuff and people. Mister had actually come to Utah on a later flight than the rest of us so he brought the near-empty minivan to the airport when he left. He had the brilliant idea to throw the rooftop luggage rack in the car at the last minute since he knew we’d be short on space.

Only it turns out the luggage rack doesn’t fit our car. It was for our old minivan. He swore up and down that we’ve used it on Betsy, my current minivan. But evidence proved otherwise and there we were with not only a million bags but a giant roof rack that didn’t come close to fitting on the top of my car. Where there’s a will, there’s a way and with the help of a luggage strap and some yarn from a knitting project, we strapped that roof rack on the top of my car. It jiggled and rocked precariously the whole way home and I expected it to go flying off onto the car behind us at any moment. But we drove 45 mph on the freeway the whole way home. It took us an extra 15 minutes but nobody behind us was decapitated. Success!

We did manage to get all the bags in the car but everyone had to sit Indian style so we could put bags under the kids’ feet. And then we all had to pile suitcases in our laps.  You should probably know that by this point I was screaming, “shut up!” anytime someone tried to speak. Never has anyone been so glad to pull into their driveway. I made a quick dinner, took a sleeping pill and was in bed with earplugs by 8:30. And I slept until 8:00 the next morning.  The perfect way to end any vacation.

I’m quite sure we won’t be taking our show on the road for Christmas again. Although it was lovely to spend the holidays with our relatives, the stress and trouble are simply too much. Unless our relatives want to spend Christmas in Hawaii. I’m pretty sure we could make that work.

*I’m going to overdo it on decorating next year. I have to make up for this year; Although I decorated my house, I didn’t put up the Christmas tree. We wouldn’t be home for Christmas! Can you blame me?  The sad thing is that I bought a new star and a new tree skirt and didn’t even try them out. I’m so lame sometimes that I shock myself.

Here’s the latest update on my stupid arm. I got my cast off a week after my injury. My arm felt so feeble and defenseless. It was nice to be able to wash my arm though. Since I’d gone to the hospital straight from crossfit where I’d been doing pushups and burpees, my hand was still filthy when they wrapped it up. Hence it looked like this a week later:

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In order to keep my elbow from popping out of place again I was sent over to Enrique. He fitted me with an incredibly uncomfortable brace.

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I had to wear it all the time. Even sleeping. Normally I sleep like a dead person but this made it totally impossible.

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The worst part was having to wear it outside. It’s still in the high 90′s here and all the plastic made my arm drip with sweat. I had a few cotton sleeves that Enrique gave me but by the end of the day they’d all be soaked. Gross. So I ordered 25 yards of the sleeve material on Amazon and was much happier.

On the positive side, though, I got a lot of sympathy and people offered to do everything for me. I’d just wave my arm pathetically and people would carry things, pump my gas or whatever else I wanted. You have to make the most of a bad situation, you guys! Also, I looked pretty bionic which was cool.

I got the OK from my doctor to get rid of the brace and I have to say that I’m thrilled. My arm feels way better. It doesn’t really ever hurt. it’s just incredibly weak and my range of motion is pitiful. I can’t make a ponytail, fasten a necklace or hook up my bra. And forget touching my arm to my shoulder. It will be a while. I’m supposed to start physical therapy one of these days and I’m sure that will help loads.

Sadly I can’t lift weights for another six weeks which means no crossfit til then. My doctor is an avid crossfitter so I don’t think I’ll blow off his advice. He did tell me that I’m okay to do box jumps, though. I was like, “Box jumps? That’s what got me here! Forget it!”

But best of all I can type again! So yay for being able to blog more!

Last Friday I went to work out with my friend, Anna. We’ve been going to Crossfit for about four months and we totally love it. Friday’s workout included box jumps which consist of–get ready for this–jumping onto a wooden box. With both feet at the same time. The boxes look like this:

wooden box

Mine wasn’t very tall but on the very last jump I managed to get my food caught in the handle and I came crashing down onto my left elbow. To say it hurt may have been the biggest understatement of my life. I immediately demanded that Anna take me to the hospital. Turns out my elbow hadn’t broken (yay!). It was just dislocated about three inches out of place. No wonder the dang thing hurt so badly!!!

The only amusing part of my little foray to the hospital was when the doctor came in and sat down beside me. She looked right at my chest and said, “two big breasts!” All I could think was, “well, I guess so but what does that have to do with my elbow?”  And then I noticed she was holding a stethoscope. Ooooh, two big breaths. That makes a lot more sense.

The doctor, who did not seem obsessed with my boobies after all, completely knocked me out when it was time to pop my elbow back into place, and I woke up with a partial cast from my knuckles to my armpit.

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It’s mostly just sore and achy now. I’m going to the orthopedist tomorrow to see what my long term verdict will be. I can hardly wait to see under all these bandages; I’ll bet I’ve got a horrifying bruise. But in the mean time I’m a little peeved at all of the things I can’t do one-handed such as drive (York has his permit, though, so that makes us a good team), blow my nose (think about it. Blowing your nose with one hand is just all wrong), and licking yummy food off of my left fingers. Can’t get them near my mouth, darn it! Also, it took a while to type this post. If I angle my arm just right I can reach the shift key, and letters a, s & w with my left pointy finger. You won’t be getting any detailed blog posts for a while. But I will be sure to include all disgusting photos.

P.S. Kudos to Anna, who not only took me to the hospital but also accompanied me to my colonoscopy a couple of months ago. True friendship, right there. And I didn’t even take her to get her mole removed last month! Shame on me!

You guys! Last weekend was one of those times when everything stacks up and crushes me near to death. It’s all I could do to keep breathing til last night.

First of all, it was my anniversary. Nice, pretty mellow. But still it’s a whole evening when I had lots of other things to do. What other things, you might ask? Well, at church the men are given a little gift on father’s day. A lot of times the teenage girls are in charge of it (actually, the leaders are in charge. The girls just hand them out). But this year the women were in charge. I was thinking of something store-bought but I realized how much I hate to receive store-bought stuff so I decided to make some monster cookies. In case you have lived a sheltered, pitiful life and don’t know what they are: kind of a half-peanut butter, half-oatmeal cookie with M&Ms and chocolate chips. Only I don’t have a good recipe. So I had to search the interwebs to find something worthy. Which required me making a whole ton of Monster Cookies to try out. The grand winner was this recipe by Sally’s Baking Addiction. It’s a keeper because it’s not too heavy on the oatmeal; too much oatmeal makes a cookie taste blah. So my anniversary cut into my baking time.

On my way home from working out on Friday I stopped to buy all the M&Ms and chocolate chips. Nothing like being absolutely soaked with sweat holding 15 bags of candy. I’m sure people suspected bulimia. And the stores here don’t provide grocery bags (of course I had forgotten mine in the car, as always) so I was dropping bags of M&Ms left and right. Those suckers are slippery! But I made it home with all my chocolate and began to bake.

I spent some of Friday and most of Saturday making 90 giant Monster Cookies. I have a gigantic mixer that does three or four batches at a time, so it really wasn’t as much trouble as it sounds. My counselors did all the wrapping and labelling and i think the cookies were a big hit.

But you know that wasn’t all I had to do, right? Mister dragged me to a movie on Friday night. I can’t remember what it was called but it was Danish and I liked it very much. It put me behind schedule. As did the wedding we had to go to in San Antonio on Saturday morning. Two hours each way for a 40-minute ceremony. Oy. But we discovered a new (and delicious!) BBQ place halfway between San Antonio and Austin and that made everything all better (the brisket melted in my mouth. Divine!)

Also this weekend: Arabella had to give a talk in church. Mormons don’t have a clergyman that speaks in church every week. Instead, members of the congregation are asked to speak about a given topic. Everybody gets a turn, aren’t we so lucky? Once kids turn twelve they’re fair game for speaking, too. This was Arabella’s first talk and it was about fathers so that meant that I had to help her with it instead of pawning it off on Mister. Much encouragement and proofreading ensued.

This wasn’t our only “first” at church either. India got asked to play the prelude music in church for the first time (piano not organ). Meaning I had to nag her to practice several times (“Mom, nobody even listens to the prelude music!”). She did a really good job and I’m guessing she’ll get asked again. Our house was filled with hymns all weekend, which seems nice in theory but really just put me on edge.

Then there were the teenagers nagging me to sign up for summer church camps right this second, requiring me to decide exactly what our itinerary is going to be as camp is four states away and will require travel of 10-12 days total. There is nothing that I despise as much as planning things in advance and I’ve been avoiding the details of our big summer trip. But there I was trying to get the kids all signed up for camps, knowing that there were only four slots left at the session they wanted to go to (“what do you mean you can’t remember your camp password from last year? Well, then they can email it to you. You forgot your email password too???” ) It took over an hour but we finally got it squared away.

There were Father’s Day presents to wrap, cards to nag the kids to make, and the Father’s Day meals to prepare. And a whole bunch of church busywork that takes a million years and is no fun at all but had to be done for Sunday.

It’s really a wonder that I only burned one tray of cookies. As much multi-tasking as I was doing, there should have been a few dozen burned.

And then there was Jasper. Poor, poor Jasper. It was his birthday on Sunday too. But I felt sorry for him having to share his day with Mister, and that it was on a Sunday (no eating out or having much fun being the Sabbath Day and all), so we lied and told him that we hadn’t looked at the calendar properly and that his birthday was actually Monday. Thank goodness he bought it! Having his birthday yesterday instead of Sunday was so much better. We went swimming with friends and he didn’t have to share his special day with his dad. It ended up being a great idea. I’ll have to remember to lie to my kids a lot more often.

OK, this is officially the most boring blog post I’ve ever written. But I just wanted you to know what I’ve been up to. I’ve had good reasons to slack on blogging and I’ve got the dark circles under my eyes to to prove it.

 

This subject comes up again and again every time I’m together with a bunch of moms; do you force your child to keep taking piano lessons even when he starts to hate it and complains endlessly?  Most parents were allowed to quit and always bemoan the fact that their parents didn’t make them keep with it. I come from the opposite side: my mother wouldn’t allow me to quit. “You’ll thank me one day!” she loved to say.

I never liked playing the piano. Never. It was not the instrument that spoke to me. I wanted to play the harp. “That’s much too expensive!” my mother informed me on more than one occasion; expensive unlike, say . . . a piano? Because pianos are dirt cheap, don’t you know.  Anyway, playing the piano–and eventually the organ–was my mother’s dream. The woman loves an audience and the thought of playing in front of the church congregation every week was her fondest wish. But she had nine siblings and her mom let her quit when she complained, blahblahblah. We all know where she was coming from. So my mother decided that she would force her children to play the piano until they graduated from high school no matter what. They would praise her name for it one day!

When I started piano lessons at age 8 it wasn’t too bad, but within a year I grew to hate it. I hated the lessons, I hated the piano in general and I especially hated my mother for forcing me to play. By the time I was ten I would get terrible stress headaches every lesson day and I would cry most of the way to my teacher’s house. My mother refused to budge. “Just think how wonderful it will be when you can play the organ in front of everyone,” she would sigh. Not being the kind of person who likes to perform at all, this was the most horrible scenario I could imagine. “You’ll thank me one day,” she would shout from the car as I dragged myself to the piano teacher’s sliding glass door. One day I snapped. I narrowed my eyes and said in a very even, cold tone, “once I turn eighteen I will never touch the piano again.”

I don’t think it ever occurred to my mother that her daughter would be more stubborn than she was. Even after a go at organ lessons, which my mother thought would be “exhilarating” (“wait, now I have to play with not only my hands but my feet too? Forget it!”), I continued to hate all of it.

Fate smiled on me when I was sixteen. I was in a car accident and my arm was badly broken. Not only did I have a cast but because my arm had broken backwards (The bruising was horrifying), the muscles and tendons were a complete mess and I needed physical therapy for months.

I finally got to quit piano lessons.

Once my arm recovered and I probably could have resumed playing, I never did. I was as good as my word; I never played the piano again. And as a side benefit I grew to hate my mother for disregarding my feelings by forcing me to do something I so clearly hated.  Now if I sit down at the piano I can kind of pick out a tune with one hand; I barely remember anything.  Am I sad about this? Not at all. I hated playing the piano. It was my mother’s dream, not mine. There is no regret at all.

So now I have children of my own. And the idea of music lessons eventually came up when they were little. I do believe that learning music is very important; I believe that learning to play an instrument can teach discipline and responsibility. But so can lots of other things. In the Mormon culture especially, learning an instrument is very important. So this is what I have done with my children: they have all had to take music lessons, usually on the piano.  The minimum for lessons is one year; that is non-negotiable. Every human being should learn how to read music; even if it’s just to sing an unfamiliar hymn in church. It’s just a life skill like learning to make your bed.

After one year we reassess. If the child wants to continue to play the piano, that’s great. If they want to go on to another instrument that’s fine too. Finn went on to play the trumpet, York quit completely (he is just not the kind of person who is drawn to playing an instrument. It is not where his talents lie and even at the age of eight I realized that about him and I was OK with that.) India continued playing the piano for a few years and then we had a couple of years off because we could not find a teacher that she gelled with. She continued to play on her own nearly every day and finally we found her a great piano teacher last year. She’s doing well and still enjoys it.  Arabella has finished her second year of lessons (we got a late start with her), rarely needs to be reminded to practice and has never mentioned quitting. Maybe she’ll stick with the piano, maybe she won’t. She’s shown some interest in the hammered dulcimer than I have sitting around and if she wants to take lesson in that instead I have no problem with that.

My musical story has a happy ending (besides the fact that I don’t hate my mother anymore). When I was about 32 I decided to finally take harp lessons. I had loved the harp all these years and realized that it wasn’t too late to learn something new (why have we decided that childhood is the only time you can learn anything new???). I found a wonderful teacher and rented a harp. Let me tell you something, it is a million times easier to learn an instrument as an adult! All that music theory my piano teachers tried to explain over and over and over? It finally made perfect sense. I loved the harp and was mature enough to practice every day. I progressed a jillion times faster than I had as a child. When we moved to Texas I turned my harp back in and with six kids under age 11, I just didn’t have the time to start it up again down here.

I have missed playing the harp. Mister knows that. So my sweet husband tried to buy me a harp for my birthday. But it’s rather hard buying an instrument when you know nothing about it. So he had to spoil his surprise and tell me his plan. I was more than thrilled to help him find the perfect harp. We picked it up yesterday and I am over the moon.

I am too crazy busy with end-of-school stuff and a huge church party tonight and a Blog Her conference tomorrow and Friday to spend more than a few minutes here and there playing. But come Sunday, I’ll dust off my old harp books and go to town.

To answer my original question: should you make your kids keep taking music lessons when they complain about hating it? Please don’t make a blanket statement, yes or no. Think about your child; think about her personality. Ask if there’s another instrument she would rather play. My cousin really wanted to play the saxophone but her dad said no because saxophones aren’t in an orchestra which means it’s not a “real instrument”. She had to settle for the trumpet which she didn’t like much at all. Would your child be better suited for some other pursuit? York has the brain of an engineer that likes to invent and solve problems; playing music felt very dull and stifling to him. We accepted that facet of his personality and moved on. Not everyone in the world is suited to music.

Also ask yourself why you want your child to play so badly. What does it say about your hopes and desires? If you always dreamed of playing on the stage, don’t try to live out your fantasies through your kids; it’s going to backfire at some point. Why don’t you take lessons? You may be too old to become the next Van Cliburn, but you can still get pretty good and you’ll feel much so much prouder of yourself than you would of your child. It really isn’t too late to start your own musical training!

Believe it or not, your job as a parent isn’t to gild your child with hobbies and talents and trophies. Your job is to help your child find her interests (not to decide what they are for her), learn discipline and love herself. If music is a part of that, great. If not, that’s OK too. Be prepared to let it go. If your child is a prodigy, you’ll know early on. Be sensitive to what your child really needs. Not everyone wants to play in the high school marching band or accompany the church choir. Every child does need to be listened to and validated.

I have always been a deep, sound sleeper. It’s pretty much one of my talents, to be able to fall asleep anytime I’m horizontal. And I don’t wake up until the next morning. Normally.

Once when I was a teenager I fell fast asleep as usual. I woke up in the middle of the night, though, when I rolled over and felt someone’s arm under my pillow. I gingerly touched the arm; yes, there were fingers and everything.  There is no scenario in which anyone I knew would have gotten in bed with me. Why would a stranger be in my bed??? I had no idea but it certainly was not good. Not good at all. My heart started to beat faster and I tried to think of various ways of escape without completely panicking. Due to the fact that I have enormous teeth, I have always resorted to biting as a means of self defense. This would be my tactic: bite the person’s arm and run like crazy.

I calmed myself down enough to chomp on the arm as hard as I could. Only the person didn’t flinch. He didn’t even stir. He certainly should have at least shouted out with that big of a bite. What was going on?

I threw back the pillow only to find that there certainly was an arm there. Only . . . . it was my arm. Completely fallen asleep. I stood up and my limp arm came along, pins and needles shooting through it. I shook my arm until I got the blood flowing again, the bite mark turning bright red.

I don’t know whether it was the adrenaline or humiliation that kept me awake for the rest of the night. But here are some lessons that you should learn from my experience:

1. Things always seem very alarming in the middle of the night. Never trust any judgement made at 3 am.

2. Never bite an intruder without seeing the whites of his eyes.

3. Don’t ever sneak into my bed. You will most certainly regret it.