Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Dear Ten

Dear Ten,

Whether you are the number of digits on our hands and feet, the representation in years of a decade, or the scale by which numerous things are scored, you are indeed the mark of a milestone.  Dear Daughter turned ten-years-old this past weekend, which means that I have had the honor to be her mama for exactly a decade.  I don't even have words to describe the feelings that went through my head as I typed out that last sentence, so... yeah.

And if this post achieves nothing except to commemorate this momentous occasion, so be it.

Operation Birthday Party began when DD decided that she wanted to invite only a few girls from her school for a small, intimate party.  At this age, boys have been honorably excluded, as well as close friends who are not from school because of the awkwardness of conversation between social groups.  (Sorry, boys and close friends!)  A few months back, we played bocce ball for the first time, and DD chose that for her birthday party event.  Easy enough.  She did not have a theme this time (a sure sign of outgrowing childhood staples), so she asked for cupcakes in her favorite color with ten mini marshmallows each for turning ten-years-old.  Fair enough.  The evites were sent out, the spirits began rising, and we were all ready for the party.

Except we weren't really.  We were nowhere near ready as of the day before.

While the kiddos were at school, I started on the birthday banner.  In the past, I used to always hand-make the banners, cutting each letter by hand.  I got tired of that, so then I would Sharpie large block letters on a long strip of paper and let the kiddos color/decorate/go-to-town with it.  This time, I had an even better idea.  I knew I had some scrapbook paper my SIL had left from years ago, so I used those as background and printed out letters for the words, and stapled each one to a string of yarn.  This was the easiest banner I've made to date: it took the least amount of time to complete, and looked really nice.  Birthday banner, check.

Next, we had some shopping to do.  We gave all our friends and family ideas for gifts, and we were left to be last minute peeps ourselves.  We rushed to the mall after Dear Son came home from kindergarten, bought a few presents, and headed for Target to get goody bag items.  Did I mention we were not ready?  

After dinner, DD and DS had the opportunity to assemble the goody bags.  If you can actually see them doing this, you'd think they prefer this job over having the party itself.  Goody bags, check.  The kiddos went to bed, and I began baking cupcakes at 10 PM.  Yep, you read that correctly.  But no, we're still nowhere near ready.  You see, Dear Husband had a brilliant idea for a Birthday Morning Surprise.

We picked up a bag of balloons (72-count, to be exact) and some streamers because DH wanted to decorate DD's room to surprise her upon waking on her birthday.  So at 11:00 PM, we were doing this:

I gave up about a third of the way in (DH wanted to blow up all of them) and went to hang streamers in her room.  (I made sure to tell DH to take breaks so he wouldn't pass out on me, but man, did he rock some lungs!)  Thank goodness DD is a heavy sleeper.  Her gentle snores assured me that she wasn't disturbed by the floor creaks or the loud crepe paper sounds as I dragged long pieces across her room.  Except, of course, when I accidentally caught the stool I was using to hang the streamers on a doorstopper (you know, one of those springy things that make noises louder than a toy drum).  Doin-oin-oin-oin-oin-oin!!!!!  <Insert silent profanities here>.  I ducked down in fear, only to hear DD turn over--and groan.  Whew.  Mama almost ruined it, but it's true--my kids can sleep through practically anything.  Lightheaded-but-still-conscious DH, check.  Birthday Morning Surprise, check. 

It was a success!  We weren't there to capture her surprised look when she woke up, because we foolish parents were up late, uh, blowing up some silly balloons.  But she was indeed surprised.  And very happy.

Morning of the party, I had to finish the cupcakes.  I whipped up (literally and figuratively) buttercream frosting in DD's chosen color, and she finished decorating them with mini marshmallows.  They were fabulous!  Cupcakes, check.

The party went without a hitch.  She and her friends sat separately at another table, looking all grownup and proper, chatting and eating away.  Everyone played bocce, sang "Happy Birthday," and had cupcakes.  At home, DD opened her presents with fierce excitement.  The day ended beautifully.  And I have a ten-year-old.  A ten-year-old who goes from asking, "What time is it?" everyday to making unsolicited announcements of the time of day all.day.long. because her parents decided to buy her a watch for her tenth birthday.  That girl.  

Birthday party success, check. 

Looking back at some of DD's baby pictures, I see that her cheeks are no longer the chubby ones that I used to smooch all the time; her cheekbones are beginning to frame the features of her face that she now lets me smooch some of the time.  Her fingers and toes are no longer cute and nubby; they are now long and slender, like miniature grownup ones.  And her belly is no longer a round, poochy one of a toddler or young child; you can actually see the markings of a waistline on a flat, elongated abdomen.  My little girl has grown from an infant to a child to a bona-fide tween.  Hold me.

Motherhood has been one exciting ride with this super special girl.  She has taught me more than she'll ever realize.  I've learned the meaning of perseverance as well as the heartaches and wonders of being a parent.  I've gained wisdom from making mistakes and reaping successes.  I've been humbled by the sort of love that parents unconditionally shower their kids.  You don't know that you have it in you until you're willing to give it your all.  It's also comforting to know that DD understands that we as parents are not perfect, that we don't know it all, and that we're learning as we go, too.  

Cuz goodness knows that I don't have a clue as to what I'm doing.  I just know I'm doing my best and I'm following my heart.

So, Dear Ten, as we welcomed DD into her double-digit years, I also realized that there won't be another ten years before she will be out into the world on her own.  As daunting of a thought as that is, I am and will still chug along at this thing called Parenting.  And I look forward to many more tens of years of it.

A tween in the house, check.


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Dear Daughter Heartache

Dear Daughter Heartache,

You are the moment that I have been waiting for--or rather, have not wanted to ever occur--for the last five years.  And so the story begins, from the heartache of a grief-stricken mama...

I have often joked about going to Dear Daughter's violin performances with extra antiperspirant and anti-anxiety med.  Except I wasn't joking.  DD has a personality that can be an enemy to herself.  Dear Husband and I never wanted her to perform well so that we can feel proud of her--we already are.  We wanted her to meet her own high standards so that she wouldn't have a breakdown because she didn't do well.  Stumbling on notes or forgetting parts of a piece would be catastrophic to her ambitious self, and we knew that well.  Inevitably, that time was due. 

It's times like this that I wish my kiddos could make mistakes on stage, but then bow and smile and carry on with the day. 

On Sunday, DD went up on stage to perform her 10th solo violin recital.  (She has been playing violin for five years, since she was five-years-old, and her music school does two group concerts and two solo recitals a year, each in the fall and in the spring.)  What the audience saw that day was a good performance of a rather short piece.  What they didn't know was that DD's nerves made her stumble on a few notes, and she accidentally skipped a large portion of the piece.  The piano accompanist made that transition seamlessly, but I saw the panic in her eyes.  She finished the piece, took her bow, came down the stage, sat next to me, and started to cry.

Dear Son went up next, and stumbled on a few notes on his piece as well, but he kept going, and finished his piece.  You see, that's what we had been telling the kiddos: if you mess up, just keep going; the accompanist will follow you and everything will be fine.  Somehow, I never saw that coming: I never saw that the two similar parts of the piece would be a reason for DD to accidentally join the parts out of order.  So in a panic, she did what she was told: keep going and finish the piece.

However, what she skipped over was the most brilliant part of the piece that she worked really, really hard to master.  Four weeks ago, we weren't even sure if she was actually ready to play this piece for the solo concert.  But because she wanted to play this particular Vivaldi piece, she put in extra effort to get ready.  She played this piece every single day for over five weeks.  She got ready, and knew the music really well.  I was right there with her for the practices, going over notes, bowings, dynamics, rhythms, the works.  We even got an app to slow down the music to listen and play along at a more reasonable speed.  She knew her piece well. 

Her silent sobbing next to me broke my heart.  Because I knew exactly how she felt.  We skidaddled out of the church as soon as the concert was over for her sake, and she didn't even make it into the car before she started full-body crying.  She was heartbroken.  We tried to tell her comforting words, such as the fact that most people in the audience probably didn't even know about the mistake, but the more we talked, the more she cried.  So we gave her some time to calm down.  When she got out of the car, I stood there waiting to envelope her in a huge Mama Hug.  The kind that says I love you more than life itself no matter what.  The kind that I hoped would relieve her of some of her disappointment, frustration, and sadness.  The kind that this Mama really needed herself, too.  If I could, I would have stood there to squeeze out every ounce of her pain so that she would feel better instantly.

But of course, these things take time.  We talked a little more--mama-to-daughter talk--after we went home.  We hugged a little more on the couch, and I wiped her tears that kept falling because her tiny heart was soaked with disappointment.  I tried to do the right thing, all the while her violin music kept overflowing in my head and I couldn't shut it out (well, I had been hearing it everyday for the last umpteen days).  I couldn't stop thinking about how it could have been different, how it could have been salvaged, or how it could have been prevented.  But it couldn't have been.  No matter how hard I thought about it.

DH said that this was inevitable, as it's likely that every musician has had at least one such moment in life--this just happened to be the first for DD.  Given the time she has been doing these performances to the genes that we've passed down to her, it was bound to happen.  This is where Parent Guilt becomes overwhelming--because I always ask myself what I could have done differently.  Could it be that I didn't tell her enough that I'm so proud of her for going on that stage to play for an entire audience?  Could it be that I needed to tell her more reassuring words just before the concert?  Could it be that my own nerves made her crumble?

Finally, it occurred to me that this could one day be viewed as a good thing, sometime down the line, years from now.  If we could use this Fall--however giant it seems now, but one that will diminish in time--as an experience to build upon, it could serve as a foundation for DD to learn how to recover from such accidents, shocks, or disappointment.  Goodness knows that there will be more of these Falls in life, much to the chagrin of my fragile Mama Heart.

We eventually went out to have a quick dinner.  DD was a little better by then.  Before we left the restaurant, she suddenly and out of nowhere blurted to me, "I love you, mama."  Oh, my heart was so surprised and bursting that I fumbled some nonsense words like "I love you a billionth infinity" in order to discreetly blink away the mist in my eyes.  Of course, I had to say the exact same thing to DS, too, lest I want to hear some high-pitched screeching in public. 

Later at night, DD was able to communicate to me that she was upset because she thought she didn't do a good job, and that she had practiced so much for this piece.  I hear you, baby, I hear you.  I told her that she did do a good job, because I heard it every single day in her practices.  Her teacher, the piano accompanist, and we all know that she is capable of playing this piece well.  I told her that next time we would have strategies to combat easy mistakes such as this, and that if anything, she could just play it over from any one spot and the accompanist would follow her.  She went to bed smiling, and that's all I really needed to see by nightfall.

Kids are resilient.  DD is mostly over this shock to her system.  Mamas?  Not so much.  I still have a little ways to go to feel better about all this, but writing this down has helped tremendously.  But I did find a silver lining in this difficult event: DD was sure that she did not wish to stop playing violin or wish to cease performing on stage because of this experience.  So I think she will be okay.

One has to fall in order to learn the strength it takes to get back up.  DD has gotten back up, and I need to find her courage to follow suit.  Twenty-four hours after the "tragedy," DD was humming the tune to her piece cuz she was in a good mood.  That girl. 

So, Dear Daughter Heartache, you've abruptly made your presence, but I hope that we've dealt with you in the best way possible for DD.  I know you'll visit again later, but hopefully we'll know better how to rebound.  You're no fun, but an inevitable part of life.  See ya later, alligator.

Oh, and have I mentioned how *incredibly proud* I am of DD and her musical accomplishments?  


Friday, May 17, 2013

Dear Better with Age

Dear Better with Age,

How timely it is to have you as the topic of my next post!  Could it be that I just want to make myself feel better about being in my brand new Club?  Having turned 40 along with an everlasting cold that knocked me off my feet is reason enough for finding euphemism in the inevitable process of aging.   Here is my #TopTen list of Things That Get Better with Age:

10. Wine/scotch: the number one no-brainer answer.  I found several bottles of French and Californian reds on our wine rack that are older than Dear Daughter.  I'm not sure when Dear Husband is planning on consuming them, but they had better be some good wine.  #SeeTheDustOnThatBottle?

9. Shoes/jeans: I much prefer a pair of worn shoes and jeans to brand new ones.  There's nothing like wearing things that seem to have memory of your body shape, accommodating your every curve and arch.  #BreakEmInWearEmDown

8. Sex: no longer constrained by the pressures of fertility or infertility and having settled into being in the post-reproductive phase of life, it is, well, like aged wine: full-bodied, complex, and satisfying.  It is a new chapter in emotional and physical intimacy, rewarded by bidding farewell to child-rearing sleep deprivation and getting our bedroom back to ourselves.  #BestSurpriseOfAging

7. Recipes: with time comes experience, and with experience comes improvement.  The elements of perfecting a dish lie in the tiny changes one makes over the years--kind of like evolution.  And of course, mutations occur, just like when I ran out of ham and substituted bacon for making fried rice for the first time and made Killer Bacon Fried Rice.  #WhatWasForDinnerLastNight #BestCookingMutationEver

6. Les Mis: the change in my perception of this musical over the years is profound.  I watched Les Miserables for the first time, live, back in college about 20 years ago.  While I liked it, I didn't have enough life experience to fully internalize the epic beauty of the work.  Watching it on the big screen last year was inexplicably different.  I was deeply touched by the characters, emotions, songs, and music of the movie.  I've had the honor to hear the music for about half my life now, and it still gets better each time.  The complexity of human relationships and the emotion of love portrayed by this musical is to be enjoyed for a lifetime.  #LayersDimensionsScope

5. Sense of humor: I am so glad that I am no longer my younger self in this aspect.  Have you ever met someone so tease-able because she took things so literally and seriously?  I was that person.  The one who never had a good comeback for a joke or some silly mischief?  That would be I.  The person who was too self-conscious to ever try to say something funny or off-the-wall?  Um, me.  Thanks to the workings of DH and his dorky sense of humor, I've come a long way in that department.  I've learned to let go, be less self-conscious, and more fun--especially with the kiddos.  Laughing is such a wonderful part of life.  It's even better when you're laughing at your own dorky self.  #SelfDeprecationHumorRocks

4. Photos/videos: perhaps the most treasured "old" possession in my opinion.  The older, the better.  The joy that comes from seeing times of old is priceless.  Evoking memories of once and had been are great for a laugh--just look at the hair and fashion faux-pas of yesteryear!  #ChortlingDownMemoryLane

3. Awareness of the world: as the brain matures, focus shifts from self to outside of self, and that's where learning about everything around us becomes more engaging.  I remember not being interested in the news, current events, and educational media such as documentaries and classical music.  Thankfully, I grew out of my self-absorbed self and became fascinated by new knowledge and the fine arts.  Now, documentaries are no longer boring, and instrumental music is highly inspiration to me.  #SureSignOfAging

2. Empathy: clearly associated with life experience, we gain appreciation for others' emotions through mutual understanding and compassion. With age, we relate to other people better, we're more apt to put ourselves in others' shoes, and we are less inhibited to try to understand others and take the leap to make connections.  In fact, we model the importance of empathy so that our children can learn to be kind and do good in the world.  It is Sunshine on a cloudy day, Colors among shades of gray, and Warmth on an overdue Spring.  #PowerOfEmpathy

1. Sense of Self.  So I've trekked through the formative years where I learned about the world around me; I've survived the chaos of the transitional teenage years; I've tread past the bright, anything-is-possible young adult years; and I've just completed my first decade of motherhood.  I'm at a place where I'm much more comfortable with mySelf than ever before.  At times where I may have felt very self-conscious at a younger age, I now think--I've earned the right to trust what I believe in to mind what others think of me.  I now get that people don't have to like me.  I just have to like myself.  And in order to do that, I have to believe in myself.  I have to know that my values and beliefs are valid and therefore good enough--not for anyone else--but for me.  #FindingComfortInMyOwnSkin

All this sounds wonderful, doesn't it?  Well, all of these things that get better with age all come at the cost of my fading memory, my disappearing mental and physical agility, and the unforgiving additions of wrinkles and gray hairs.  I have proof.  Yesterday, I went to do an emergency load of laundry (zero kiddos underwear count) only to find a load of unwashed sheets and towels in the washer and a load of undried now dried-to-a-crisp load of dishtowels in the dryer, that have been sitting there for I-don't-know-how-many-days.  To add salt to the wound, for two days in a row now, I did not have the brain capacity to set the timer on the rice cooker because I cannot reconcile a twenty-four hour clock/timer in my inflexible AM/PM brain.  There's nothing like opening the rice cooker to be greeted with a pile of uncooked rice under an inch of water.  Total dinner fail. Two days in a row.

If this is a sign of things to come, be scared.  Be very, very scared for me.

So, Dear Better with Age, I needed this list to know that there will be grander things to represent this stage in life than forgetting what I got up off my bottom to actually do.  Or conditioning my hair twice because I can't remember if I already did it or not.  But I'll be sure to let you know how that bottle of wine is when we open it.  Unless, of course, if I forget by then.


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Dear 40s Club

Dear 40s Club,

I became an official member yesterday, joining most of my friends who have been eagerly waiting for me to be a part of you.  I had planned on walking through your welcoming front doors with my head held high, but who knew that my entrance was going to be as inglorious and dishonorable as walking into school detention. 

A few days before the Big Day, I felt a tickle in my throat.  But since all the celebration was going to be on the weekend, I told my immune system to kick into high gear and "deal" with it.  I subbed on Friday, and was more tired than usual at the end of the day.  On Saturday, Dear Husband had planned a big day for us.  We had a Date Afternoon (another five kiddos-free hours!) going downtown to see the highly acclaimed and Tony Award-winning musical, The Book of Mormon.  Then we had dinner with family and BFF's family at a lovely little French bistro.  The day ended (very late) with a few hours of prepping for my Chinese class.  I got through Sunday with my leukocytes and phagocytes working overtime.  Come Monday, they retired and handed their job to my T cells and lymphocytes.  And I spent the bulk of my 40th birthday on the couch, like so. 

Sort of anti-climatic, wouldn't you say?  Good thing we got the celebratin' in before the birthday gal fell apart!

On the way downtown, DH asked me if I felt like I'm 40.  Well, yes and no.  I used to think--back when I was still in single digits in age--that people in their forties were old as dirt.  I thought that once the thirties were over, one is practically a senior citizen.  Thankfully, I don't feel that old yet.  They keeping saying that 40 is the new 30, and anyone who's 40 will take that--no questions asked. 

But the yes part?  My body and my brain would like to offer their answers.  In just the last year or two, I've noticed slight declines in both areas.  Let's start with my 40-year-young body.  For one, I've decided that sitting down to shave my legs is, well, er, more comfy.  The stiff, achy back that greets me as I wake in the morning has been more and more unforgiving.  My eyes inevitably cause a reverse-whiplash when the kiddos shove something in my face and say look, Mommy!  And let's just say that painting my toenails is not as easy as it used to be anymore.  

Now onto the brain.  It is definitely slowing down.  I've always been very good with faces and names, numbers and dates.  That is no longer a truth since it might take me more than a day to remember a name or a face, and I may or may not miss a digit or five in a telephone number these days.  When I am writing and I need that perfect word but cannot think of it to save my own life?  I text DH and he tells me so my day can go on again instead of freezing mid-sentence like I have word constipation. 

On Saturday, I wanted to wear my new Toms wedges to the musical, as I had just received them as a birthday gift.  I remember pining over a classmate's espadrilles when I was in second grade.  Well, 32 years later, I got my own first pair.  They fit perfectly.  They were so comfy out of the box.  They made me look tall, dressed up but not too glammy, and I was in love.  Until I had to walk around the streets of downtown before the musical.  Oh. My. Goodness.  My 40-year-young legs were so out of heels-shape.  I discovered muscles I didn't know I had because they were in so much pain.  But a gal's gotta do what a gal's gotta do: suck it up cuz it looks good.  

During the musical, which was indeed hysterical in an over-the-top way, I found myself "getting" what was funny, oh, about 20 seconds after the audience stopped laughing.  No one saw my deer-in-headlights look except for DH who had to lean over and explain what had just happened.  A couple of times.  And by then I had missed out on the [allotted] time to laugh.  And when I did "get it" and laugh at the appropriate times?  Wow, that was SO FUNNY! 

Which brings me to my agenda as a part of my new club.  In my last one, The 30s Club, I built a foundation to be a Mother.  I'm not sure what I'll get out of this current one, but I am going in ready to combat those few signs of aging.  I am going to bring out-of-shape back into, er, shape.  I need to exercise my body and my brain.  

People make New Year resolutions to get into shape and exercise.  Well, this is not a New Year resolution for me, but a New Decade resolution.  Sounds way more momentous, right?  I'm putting regular exercise of the body and brain back into my life.  Cue downloading exercise/fitness and brain training games apps onto my phone.  (Don't judge--unless you're already in my new club.)  Because when I look around me and see the peeps that are making my life happy, I know that I want to be there with them for as long as I can, in top brain shape. 

Other than this horrible cold that decided to join my birthday party, turning 40 hasn't been bad at all.  It probably helps that I'm the last one of my bunch to do so, but I've "turned," no less.  And all joking aside, being 40 is just another day in this good life of mine.  If I judge admittance into The 40s Club by what I've accomplished in life so far, then I am definitely feeling pretty grateful and blessed. 

Maybe even proud and deliriously content. 

So, Dear 40s Club, I am glad to finally be here with all my friends as well as DH.  I look forward to what you will have in store for me.  Yesterday, a friend wished me "wisdom, security, and healing" in the next decade.  I'd like nothing more. 

(Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go blow my nose.)