Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Preparations For a Balloon Fight

**I wrote this post 6 months ago, but never got around to posting it. Truth is, my days here at OC 'Burbs are winding down and before I blog off for good I'm going to go through some old, unpublished posts and put them up. As always, thanks for reading**

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Yesterday we filled 100 water balloons, assembly line style, on our front lawn. The sun was sitting low in the sky -- so low that all we saw was its fading glow behind a neighbor's house -- and we promised we'd keep going until the last light was gone.

And we did.

I was the filler. This was quite complicated, as the hose attachment that came with my $1 bag of balloons didn't properly fit any of my three hoses. So I was tasked with holding the loose attachment in place while also trying to slip a tiny balloon over a gushing stream of water.

What can I say? I'm a badass.

Eva was the pincher. This entailed her pinching the balloon after I was done filling it, and then handing it off to the next person in line.

At this juncture I'd just like to point out that I was firmly convinced my 3-year-old would not be able to handle being the pincher. I thought for sure she'd drop half the balloons, or let go too early, or get tired and wander off to watch Dora.

But you know what? Eva was a MASTER PINCHER. The best pincher in all the balloon-pinching land.

Which is all to say she's a genius.

Moving on...

Noah was the disposer of damaged balloons. What this basically meant was that if I started to fill up a balloon, only to discover that there was a tiny hole in it that quickly became a stream of shooting water, we'd all start shouting "Bad Balloon!!!" and Noah would run over to me, pinch the defunct balloon off the hose, and throw it as far away as he could before it could splatter all over us.

This was a complete failure.

Because
A) 9 times out of 10 we still got splattered.

and
B) by the the time it got dark, there were tiny shreds of colorful latex all over our front lawn which were hard to see, and thus hard to retrieve. I started to think of all the crows that would be perusing our front lawn come morning, looking for bugs and bits. I imagined them choking on a shard of pink balloon, and then keeling over right there on our front lawn. I pictured our unsuspecting kids walking out the front door on their way to school and finding a bird massacre on our front lawn. And then I began to weigh the costs of the years of therapy it would take before either of my kids could go on another nature hike. I considered, also, all of the un-thought of consequences that would ripple out from this one seemingly harmless and lighthearted activity.

So I made them pick up every. last. piece.

And now I'm their least favorite parent.

Erik was the tie-er ..... the ty-er .... the ... screw it -- he tied the balloons. He did this because he was the only person available over the age of 8 who knew how to tie a balloon knot.

And let me just tell you, watching your children attempt to tie a water balloon is one of the funniest things you will ever see. Because they try, they really do -- they stick their little tongues out in concentration, and start to twist and twist... but inevitably it all falls apart and they get a face-full of water.

And if you're REALLY lucky, they get mad, and stomp their feet, and shout "I can't do ANYTHING!" and in all the huff and puff they don't notice that you're laughing at them.

But that's only if you're really lucky.

Anyway, yesterday we made 100 water balloons in our front yard. It took us approximately 1 hour and 10 minutes, and when it was done we were proud. And soaked.

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Friday, September 27, 2013

We Belong to Each Other

So I'm thirty now.

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A few months ago I thought that maybe I'd be melting down right about now. Preferably poolside with a margarita in one hand.

But, truthfully ... I made peace with 30 awhile ago.

In fact, 30 feels pretty freakin' good. Waayyyyy better than 21, or 25, or 28. I spent so much of my twenties in a state of turmoil that I almost don't know what to do with this new peaceful Andrea. I'm almost a little afraid of looking at my peace too closely, for fear that maybe it'll get spooked and go away. And then I'll be right back where I used to be -- fighting with everyone, searching for validation, feeling inadequate.

Yeah. That's what the past decade mostly felt like.

I've been trying to wrap my head around the change that's been happening in the past year, and I think I have an explanation, best summed up by a quote by Mother Teresa.

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Amen you guys. AMEN.

I spent my entire life not understanding this simple concept. I spent my entire life drawing a line in the sand -- on one side was me and my of-course-I'm-right-beliefs. And on the other was everyone else.

The other side was pretty crowded.

I used to take pride in the fact that I stood up for what I believed in. I truly thought that I was some sort of champion for truth, and honesty, and decency. And even though I've never really lacked empathy, there was a whole lot of opinion-speaking and judgement-passing happening on my end.

Looking back on that girl makes me cringe a little.

I didn't understand back then that we belong to each other. I mean, I understood enough to know that we should try to help one another. But I didn't understand that every time I placed someone on the other side of that line in the sand, I was separating them from myself. I was giving them away. I was forgetting that we belong to each other and that means you aren't supposed to be drawing lines.

The point is -- I've made an honest effort in the past year to stop judging and start understanding. I'm still an opinionated person, don't get me wrong. But I mostly share my opinions with my husband privately, and I'm trying my best to listen more. Understand more. When someone I love makes what I consider to be a bad choice, instead of telling them "you screwed up" I ask "why did you decide to do this?" Because understanding is the first step to acceptance. And acceptance is the key to peace.

See how that works?

We belong to each other.

My friends, my family -- they belong to me. And, you know, I've struggled sometimes to accept this. I've struggled with feelings of rejection and a sense of disconnect. I drew lines. I got frustrated when the people I love wouldn't join me on my side of the line. I stomped my foot and called them out, and the more I did that the more resolute they became to just stay on their side.

It was a shit show.

About a year ago, someone I love pointed this out, in a manner of speaking. She inspired me to erase the lines and to just see what happened. And what happened was peace.

PEACE.

What happened was better, deeper, more meaningful relationships. Happiness. Fulfillment.

This happened to coincide with turning 30, and I'm glad it did. I'm ready to close the door on that tumultuous, ulcer-inducing chapter of my life. I'm ready to embrace my 30s because damn -- they never looked so good.

Once in awhile I come across someone who is a lot like me, but 5 years ago. I listen to them talk, and inside I'm shaking my head a little. I approach them with my peace-Kool-Aid cautiously -- because I understand not everyone likes this flavor. I tell them about how much happier I've been since I learned that we belong to each other. I tell them that sometimes the best thing to do when someone is being an asshole is to love them HARDER.

I really believe that.

It doesn't usually work, and then I think "Meh. Maybe in 5 more years, they'll get it. Or maybe they won't. Either way, this person belongs to me so I will hug them and do my best to understand."

I don't mean to get all preachy on you guys, but this is where I am right now and I thought I'd share.

So peace.
And kumbayah.
And try this Kool-Aid -- it's delicious.

***

I promised some crafty visual eye candy last week, but that was before my house decided to break for the 1,765,489th time. What we thought was a slab leak turned into a busted toilet, turned into us re-plumbing the entire right side of our house.

So happy birthday to me -- this year I got a new toilet and a lesson in patching drywall.

Don't feel bad for me though, because my new toilet includes two different buttons for different ... ummm... flushing power. And that, my friends, is pretty awesome, dontcha think? It's the little things in life.

***

A few months ago, I mentioned to my girlfriends and sister that my prom was a less-than-fulfilling experience. So for my birthday this year, they've decided to throw me the prom I didn't have.

It's my prom birthday party.

I have a feeling it's going to be amazing, so stay tuned for pics.

Hugs,
Happy Friday!
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Monday, September 16, 2013

Sink or Swim

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An hour before my daughter's first swim class, I took her to the store to pick up a new bathing suit.
After rifling through my choices, I optimistically picked out my favorite in a size 3T, and held it up to her.

"Nope," she said, staring down at her body. "That's too big."

My daughter will be 4 years old in three months, and I find myself watching, and waiting. I'm waiting for her to outgrow her size 24 month clothes. I'm watching to see if her hair will thicken, and transform from the soft, fuzzy, feathery hair that she's had since she was a couple months old.

***

My husband will read this in the next few days, and say that I'm being a little ridiculous. Our daughter is totally normal. Our daughter is perfect in every way. Our sweet girl will grow in her own time. And he's right on all counts, but I still catch myself watching and waiting. The truth is, she's a tiny little thing, who's been in the same carseat for the past two and a half years. The truth is, she doesn't even make it onto any kind of size chart at the doctor's office -- there's no chart for negative percentile.

It's easy to equate her smallness with an inability to do big-kid things. It's easy to pick her up and carry her around, instead of letting her walk on her own two feet.

***

My son has been in swim for the past few months, and we've all really enjoyed the experience. When I recently went to sign him up for the fall season, I noticed there was a class for kids age 3 and up.

Eva is 3. And up.

So I registered her as well, and yesterday was the first day. I walked her to the teacher in the water, and slowly lowered her into the pool, without any floaties. "She's never done this before," I told the teacher, who smiled and nodded nonchalantly.

As Eva clung to the side of the pool (a tiled ledge, I might add, that was full of crying kids screaming for their parents) I felt myself panicking a little -- if she let go, she'd sink. I waved down the teacher again, and repeated myself -- "She's NEVER done this before. Never had a lesson. She can't swim at all."

The teacher looked at me, confused. Then Eva started whining for me to pick her up, which I was sorely tempted to do.

But these are the moments (in this case, the literal moment) when I knew that it was a choice between sinking and swimming. This is when I have to make the choice to either "save" my child from a scary, unknown situation, or let them figure it out. My own parents always left me to figure it out, and most of the time I did. There were no safe and protective arms in my childhood, no quitting, no "she's just not ready for this yet" excuses.

Sink or swim, baby.

I walked away from the side of the pool, and sat down about 40 feet away in the shade with my husband, who was having his own small panic attack. "Are you worried??" he asked. "Yes," I replied. "Should we do something?!!?" he asked. "I don't know," I replied.

Eva stared at us while still clinging to the side of the pool, and every now and again she'd bleat out "Hey Mommmy! C'mere for a minute!" in a tone that suggested she was doing her best to remain calm.

I waved, and smiled encouragingly ... and pretended I couldn't hear her.

Soon, she became more distressed and started calling out more often "Hey mommy! Mommy! Moooommmm.... Over here Mommy! You! Mommy. Here please!"

Let me tell you something: seeing your kid reach out for your help, and not giving it, is HARD. It is hard, people, under any circumstance. But seeing your itty bitty baby-sized kid do it, with her itty bitty baby-sized voice -- well, that is an exercise in determination my friends.

But then it was her turn with the teacher, her turn to let go of the wall, her turn to swim. And she did. She SWAM, like a champ. She smiled, kicked, and splashed. Our tiny girl proved, yet again, that small does not equal too small.

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My husband and I stared at her going back and forth, and I murmured "I know she's little but... do you ever get the feeling that there's nothing she can't do?"

"All the time," he said.


Happy Monday my friends. Hoping to be back later this week with a crafty project!

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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Home

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I once told my husband that driving away from Long Beach after visiting my parents is kind of hard, in that heart-tugging way -- it feels like I'm driving away from home.

I was thinking about that conversation last night, as I hopped on the freeway for yet another trek back to South Orange County, my daughter asleep in the backseat. I wasn't paying close attention as I navigated the familiar roads and freeway on ramps; I fiddled with the radio, looked around for a water bottle. The truth is I could probably drive these streets with my eyes closed if I really had to. I've been driving around that one curve, and over that one bump, and under that one bridge, and through that one stoplight since I was 15 years old and stealing my parents' car at night to go meet friends.

The wistfulness tugs a little harder on those days when I find myself turning north, to go to my sister's house. I pass that one Rite Aid in front of which I once fell asleep in my car and woke up to find Sunday-morning shoppers peering at me through the windows. Or the Sears where I worked my first job and pretended I couldn't speak Spanish when non-English-speaking shoppers asked me a question (no comprendo). Or the Burger King that was built when I was in the 7th grade and instantly became the pre-teen haven for a bunch of Catholic school kids who rebelled by untucking their shirts -- getting to walk there after school was pretty much the highlight of my life.

Is it normal to miss a city this much?

We moved to Long Beach when I was 9, directly following my mother's marriage to my step-dad. To say that I was pissed off beyond belief would be a gross understatement -- we left behind my friends, my childhood home, and a group of tight-knit neighbors with whom I spent almost every non-school hour.

We left behind Charles the school bus driver, who helped me with my homework before the bell rang and always bought me birthday cards.

My mother only gave us about a week's notice that we were leaving (up until then, her answers to what happens next? were vague, because telling your daughters that you are moving them 100 miles away from the place they love is probably only slightly less appealing than selling your blood) which left me just enough time to call my best friend, Kristen, and Charles.

Kristen sat on the curb in front of my house and we cried a little, mostly because it seemed like something we should do. Charles was harder to track down -- after multiple unanswered phone calls to my school, someone finally answered. I explained my situation, and could she please give me the bus driver's home phone number? "We don't normally give out that information..." she said, and I fell apart. I unleashed every ounce of emotional turmoil, and sadness, and anger that I had on this poor school secretary, who probably could not understand much of what I was saying between the excessive snot that was pouring out of my nose and the lips that had somehow swelled to three times their normal size.

She gave me Charles' phone number.

I dialed the number and Charles' wife (the likely buyer of the birthday cards) answered. I asked for Charles and she asked who was calling and I said Andrea, his friend from the bus and she said Oh, hello dear! Okay just a minute, and then she put him on.

He said HELLO? really loudly because Charles was probably pushing 80 back then, and his hearing was shot. So I spoke very loudly and slowly, which, I'm sorry, can only be properly conveyed in all caps.

CHARLES! THIS IS ANDREA! I'M MOVING AWAY! I WON'T BE ON THE BUS NEXT WEEK! I DIDN'T WANT YOU TO WORRY AND WONDER WHERE I WENT! I WILL TRY TO COME BACK AND VISIT!

He said OH.... OKAY! THANKS FOR CALLING and I said GOODBYE! and he said BYE, NOW.

And a few days later I was in the car, leaving home, staring out the window and thinking murderous thoughts mostly aimed at my mom. When we rolled into Long Beach I stared at the freeway signs, and stoplights, and the bumpy road built over a swamp that needs to be redone every 10 years or so, and I thought I will NEVER like it here. Ever, ever, EVER.

A few days after that I was in a uniform for the first time in my life, standing on the blacktop of my new school -- a private Catholic school full of strangers. My mom saw me standing there alone, looking miserable, and decided to take matters into her own hands by marching up to what was clearly the most popular girl in my grade and demanding that she be my friend.

That was the moment when running away became a viable course of action in my mind. I would somehow find a way back to my old street, and I would beg my neighbors to take me in. And when my mom finally found me, I'd wrap my arms around a light pole and refuse to leave, and she would be forced to let me live there with friends until I was 18.

This all seemed completely doable in my 9-year-old brain. I was convinced that the hardest part would be finding a bus station.

In the meantime, I had to get through that first day of school. I was cool with silently plotting my escape because I'm nothing if not patient when it comes to underhanded planning.

I found my name on a desk up front, close to the chalkboard, next to a boy named Brian, who happened to be gigantic. When I say gigantic, I mean that he was easily three times my size, which at that time was 50 lbs. dripping wet.

I decided that it couldn't hurt to be friendly, even though it wouldn't be long before I never had to see these people again, so I turned to Brian and said Hi, I'm Andrea. I'm new here and he turned to me and hissed SHUT UP, I'm trying to pay attention. If you keep talking I'M GOING TO PUNCH YOU IN THE FACE.

So I did -- I shut my mouth and I stared at my desk and I thought to myself I will NEVER like this school or these horrible people. Ever, ever, EVER.

The days went really slowly. I spent my recesses in one of the bathrooms, which had a small step stool covered in old, ratty carpeting. I sat there -- and plotted my escape -- for weeks.

Eventually, though, another girl from my class found me sitting there in the bathroom, and she stayed and hung out with me. And then another. Two months in, the teacher rearranged our seats, and put me in the back row, next to a boy named Kevin who turned to me and said Hi, I'm Kevin and I turned to him and hissed I HATE THIS SCHOOL and he said Yeah, me too and we've been friends ever since.

Eventually, it got better and I stopped wishing for Long Beach to be swallowed by a giant tidal wave (I would, of course, miraculously survive) so that I could move home.

Eventually Long Beach became my home.

And even when I tried to move away for college -- when I told my parents I was "done" with this city ( and with them ) -- I eventually came back. In my third year of college I took up residence less than a mile from my parents' house, in a one-bedroom apartment. My downstairs neighbor spent her daytime hours smoking cigarettes on her front porch and shooting the shit with anyone who happened to walk by on the sidewalk. There was a cafe on the corner that sold a cheap eggs-and-bacon plate (which tasted like freedom). The house next door was occupied by a lesbian couple that had the best-looking garden in all of Long Beach.

This was when I really fell in love with the city.

I was a tiny bit lonely, and afraid of coming home to a dark and empty apartment (even though my downstairs neighbor assured me that she was watching my door 24/7) so I adopted a cat that hid behind the stove in my kitchen for two weeks straight; after that, she never left me alone.

I worked and went to school in South Orange County, but I vowed that this city, with its dirty street bums, and its open-all-night restaurants, and its vintage clothing shops that smelled overwhelmingly like incense, was my HOME. And I was never leaving.

Shortly after moving into my place, I met my now-husband in a college English class. He lived in nearby Costa Mesa, which I've found is kind of like a slightly-less-cool-but-still-charming little brother to Long Beach. I assumed that, given his location, my husband was on board with cities that had a gritty edge to them.

What I'm really saying here is we never talked about where we wanted to live someday.

We were too busy making out.

It didn't come up in conversation until four years and one kid later, when we began looking for a home to buy. I scoured MLS listings for homes in Long Beach that fell in our price range -- these included a house wedged between a laundromat and a liquor store, and a house that had been foreclosed on, had holes in the roof, and was missing all its toilets (among other things).

I genuinely tried to convince my husband that these were small setbacks that we could work around. A liquor store could be nice to have next door in the middle of the night when we needed.... liquor.

And what's a roof going for these days, anyway? Oh, snap, 10K? {gulp}

In the end, I could not convince that man. And, I have to be honest -- he was right. We had the option of raising our son in a family-friendly neighborhood filled with good schools, and I was trying to convince him that the winos on the corner were charming.

(Allow me to stress this point to all of my Long Beach buddies: there are plenty of neighborhoods in LB that my husband thought were great. But we could not, at THAT time, afford the houses there.)

So we moved to South Orange County, into a nice big house that had just enough problems to satisfy my desire to NOT live in a "cookie cutter" home. Even so, I can't deny that sometimes I feel like a big ol' sellout.

We moved to the damn 'burbs. Everyone in my yoga class is perky, and blonde, and Christian.

At first, I found myself driving home to Long Beach as often as possible. I even found myself calling it "home" -- as in I'd tell my husband I'd be driving home that upcoming Saturday and he would say Ummm... Long Beach isn't your home, crazy wife o' mine.

Except it still felt like it was.

And -- confession time -- I still scoured the MLS listings for homes there in our price range for years. A couple years after buying our house, the homes in husband-approved neighborhoods in Long Beach started to crop up in our price range.

I broached the subject carefully, but once he understood what I was saying my husband looked at me like I'd just sprouted a second head.

You mean that you want to sell our house, take our son out of school, say goodbye to all the neighbors that we've come to love, and move to a house half the size of ours that costs the exact same amount?

Yes, dear, that's EXACTLY what I'm asking.

He said no.
Because sometimes it's his job to save me from myself.

So here we are, five years later. I've come to love this place, even though the parks are entirely too clean and the people are entirely too good looking. Because THIS city, with its massive Christmas light display and its residents-only lake complete with snack shop that sells soft serve ice cream ... well, it kinda grew on me.

Anyway this is what I was thinking when I drove home last night from my mom's house. It's what I was thinking as I turned left at the freeway off ramp into my city. I was kind of staring off into space, wondering if the heart-tugging will ever end, and I wasn't really paying attention as I turned right at the corner next to the local high school, and then right again at the stop sign and looped around to my street.

Because the truth is, I could probably drive these streets with my eyes closed if I had to.
Because somewhere along the way, this became home, too.

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