Friday, May 24, 2013

Game Boy

My three-year-old son is a total video game junky. Ahhh…every mother’s dream. Whenever I force him to turn off the game console and come back to join me in the real world, he recruits me to play his second favorite game: He pretends that he is Mario and I am Happy Nap and we act out various races and competitions from the game all throughout the house.

During one rousing bout of “Flag Fracas,” Happy Nap decided to take a quit intermission to remake the bed after it had been destroyed by our leaping efforts to capture the imaginary flag in the bed sand. Mario was not pleased. I believe his exact words were “Stop messing around, Happy Nap, and get back to the game!”

At that point, Happy Nap promptly turned back into Mommy and told Mario he needed to watch his attitude. (Then I stifled a laugh, because “Mario’s" seriousness was adorable.) Eventually Happy Nap returned to the game, pausing only briefly to reset the rock pillows and river blankets that we scattered across the floor during our races. He never snapped at me again, but the look on his face told me he was tired of all my “messing around.”

The first week playing our new pretend game was entertaining. Look at how creative he is! The second week it was tolerable. At least we are spending quality time together. The third week has driven me bonkers. It’s like when a baby first discovers that you will pick up an object if he drops it, and so he drops it again…and again…and again…and again. Only with this game, I am lying flat on my stomach waiting for the “signal” so I can dart up and dash down the hallway 25 times in a row. It’s almost enough to make me want to turn on the game console again just so I can make a bed in peace.

But I don’t. Mostly because I don’t want to foster my son’s gaming addiction, but also because I know that this playful phase of motherhood is going to pass by way too quickly.

I laugh at the irony of Mario’s instruction to “stop messing around.” I wasn’t messing around. I was cleaning up a mess. To me, that was the “serious business” and all the rest was play. But the more I think about it, the more I have to ask myself who was right. In this match-up of Mario vs. Happy Nap, it would appear that Mario has won yet again.

I literally run around my house ALL DAY picking up the odds and ends of our games and putting them back where I think they should go. I don’t know if I would be considered a clean-freak, but I am definitely a clutter-hater. I like having a neat, presentable house at all times so that if I am “surprised” by a guest, I can feel comfortable letting them into my home (and perhaps earn one of those gold stars I have mentioned before.) The thing is, though, I am never surprised by guests. I have made very few friends here, and certainly not to the point where they would just drop by unexpectedly. So I clean my house to appear perfect for my pretend friends. It’s like this nutty game that I am playing against myself. (And I have to say, I am not sure that I’m winning!)

I love a tidy home. I always will. It’s what brings me peace and allows me to let go and do things like lay stomach-down on the hallway carpet without grossing out. But maybe, just maybe, Mario’s words will resonate with me the next time I choose to interrupt our game to do a quick pick up. Maybe instead of focusing on the house and breaking to play with the kids, I can focus on my kids and break to play with my house.

Because truth be told, I will miss messing around with the mess-makers when they’re gone.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Super Star

This past week I checked a resolution off my to-do list and ran my very first half-marathon. It was thrilling and terrifying at the same time. Thrilling, because I was finally completing something that I had been working on for months. Terrifying, because I knew that when I finished the race I would be left with this big void. My months of training had consumed me for a while. Running became a large part of my day, what I studied, how I ate, what I wore, and what I planned things around. But all that time and energy earned me was a sub2 finish time, a medal, and a t-shirt. Once the big day was over, I got back in the car and returned to the land of “Well, Now What?” You see, the problem with making resolutions is that you will eventually achieve them and have to come up with new ones.

Maybe it was because I was coming back down from months of physical exhaustion. Maybe it was because my hormones were leveling themselves out once I cut back my training time. Maybe it was because I needed to eat some chocolate. But whatever the reason, I had myself a little breakdown. Suddenly, I felt worthless because I wasn’t training for anything anymore. More so, I felt silly for thinking that the race training would suddenly make me worthwhile. Or for that matter, that blogging or guitar playing would. Suddenly, I felt very much like a frivolous stay-at-home-mom and housewife.

Growing up, I had always been an overachiever. I always made the good grades. I always earned the gold stars. I always got the trophies. I guess I assumed that this kind of success would follow me into adulthood. I would work a big fancy job. I would make a big fat paycheck. And I would find myself an unnecessarily big house to fit all of my trophies and gold stars in. That isn’t exactly how things worked out for me, though. Somewhere down the line of mediocre jobs, interview rejections, and babies I decided that I didn’t need or even want the big fancy job anymore. Being a mom was my new big fancy job. And I was going to be the overachievingest, biggest gold star mom and trophy wife that anyone had ever seen.

I didn’t realize that this grand plan of mine was doomed to failure. (The fact that overachievingest isn’t even a word should have tipped me off. But, alas, it did not.)

I think the reason that running the race was so gratifying for me was because it had an immediate sense of accomplishment tacked to it. I could track my progress. I knew when I had achieved my goal. And I got a medal for completion. Blogging is a lot like that too. I write a blog. I can track the number of people that read it and compliment me. And I pat myself on the back for being witty and insightful.

Motherhood is so not like that. There is no immediate sense of accomplishment because your job is never done. You give them a bath and they spill milk all over themselves five minutes later. You get your kid to finally eat something other than macaroni at lunch and then your realize you are going to have to fight them again at dinner time. The second you think you are done potty-training, your kid has an accident. You get through the terrible two’s just in time to find that three-year-olds are the ones with the real attitudes…and I am sure mothers of teenagers are laughing at me now because I have no idea what awaits me there! Being a housewife is the same way. The laundry, dishes, dog hair, and dust bunnies spread upon my house every day like the plague. If by some miracle I am able to get a chore completed, a pair of little hands is right behind me to undo it, usually sheer moments before Daddy comes in the door. And perhaps I am just putting extra pressure on myself here, but I am fairly certain that the sweatpants and ponytail I regularly don make me more of an old maid than a trophy wife.

I know that all of this whining makes me sound ungrateful for the life I have, and I will be the first to admit that I sometimes I take it all for granted. I love being at home. I love my kids. And I especially love my husband and all he does for us so we can live this wonderful life. But is it too much to ask for a girl to get a gold star around here?!?!

I had a very happy revelation this week. (Either that or the chocolate finally kicked in.) The thing is moms do get gold stars. You just have to look harder for them because they are a bit more subtle. Like when your kid makes a mistake and tells you. Gold star. Or when your child genuinely laughs at you; a big belly laugh like they used to do when they were babies. Gold star. Or when you see your kids give each other a hug even though they thought no one was watching them. Gold star. True, those are a bit obvious. But even on a rough day, they are there. Like if your daughter thinks that only Hawaiian princesses are allowed to let their midriffs show. Gold star. Or when your son tells you that socks don’t go with sandals. Gold star. Or when you get him to put the lid back down after he uses the restroom. That’s a double gold star, my friend!!

The housewife scorekeeping is a little harder—mostly because I can’t decide if I am earning gold stars or if I just picked a really wonderful husband. Either way, I have decided to at least change into a pair of blue jeans for the day. Gold star.

Needless to say I am feeling a bit better now about my place in the world—and in my home. Thank you, Chocolate.
And I have decided to sign up for another race in a couple of months, which is good because with all of these gold stars I’m earning I am sure I will feel like I am about due for another medal by then!