7-year-old prayer

It was at about this time seven years ago that they told me to start pushing. My mother went out into the hallway to tell the rest of the family that the doctor had given the go ahead for me to start pushing.

"You mean like in the movies?" my sweet brother-in-law asked. "She's pushing just like in the movies?"

Yes, I was pushing just like in the movies except thanks to a nice epidural, I wasn't sweating, screaming or calling my husband bad names.

I pushed for about 2 hours--no baby. Long story short, I ended up with a c-section and a baby with "issues." He was have trouble breathing, they thought they heard a heart murmur, etc., etc. Lucky for us everything was fine, but MAN he gave us quite a scare.

Well, I shouldn't say us because I was out of it, high on a post-delivery cocktail of morphine and I don't know what else. I am so grateful that I had passed out because I was blissfully unaware that anything bad was going on. Every once in a while I would wake up and ask when they were going to bring my baby to me. My family just kept telling me, "any second now" and since I had absolutely no concept of time, that answer worked just fine.

But by that night, the drugs had worn off and I was very aware that my baby was in the nursery being monitored instead of being with me. I quickly woke up the Golfer, asking him to go and check on the baby. When he got back, I did something that I rarely do. I told my husband that I wanted us to pray for our baby.

I pray...privately. I'm not a good "group" prayer person. My relationship with my Heavenly Father is just that, my relationship. I don't have a problem with other people praying out loud, just don't ask me to do it. There's somebody who can do a better job than I could. Put me in a room alone and I can pray all day, but make me pray aloud and I start stuttering and sounding like someone who has no idea what she is talking about.

I wish that the Golfer and I prayed more together, especially when it comes to things with our kids, and it's something that we should really make an effort to do together. Funny thing, I have no problem praying with my kids when putting them to bed. Guess I know that they don't have high expectations for my prayers and are a-okay with whatever happens to fall out of my mouth.

But the night our first son was born, I felt totally differently. I had absolutely no control over the situation and even though I knew that our baby was with very capable doctors and loving nurses, the only thing that we could do as his parents was pray for healing. And that's just what we did. Within a few hours, the doctor came in to tell us that everything was looking really good, that the tests showed that he did not have a murmur and that if he kept on improving he could leave the nursery and join us in our room by that afternoon. That's what I call an answered prayer.

So when my baby walked into my bedroom this morning, asking for a Pop Tart and a present, for some reason I couldn't help but think about that prayer. Our prayer had been a simple one: for our baby to be healthy and for God to protect him. And seven years later, my prayer is still the same.

Weekly Column: I don't know much...

©Stephenie Freeman

It’s time for me to go back to school.

Almost every job requires you to continue your professional education.  There are conferences for accountants, seminars for bankers, and classes for teachers.  If you want to keep your job, if you want to see that annual bump in your paycheck, then mostly likely you’ll find yourself working to improve your craft.

Parents need to continue their education too.  But instead of a boss telling you that you need to fly to San Diego for a 3-day conference, there’s a 4-year-old sitting in your lap informing you that your attitude toward your job could use a little adjusting.

“Why you have those red lines in your eyes?  Are those what make you so cranky?”

When your small children start using words and phrases like “cranky” and “frustrated” and “driving me nuts,” you know that it’s time to stop and refresh your skills.

Like any job, in parenting there are moments when nothing seems to be going right.  Parents have it even worse since the people that you are working for are constantly finding new ways to make your job more challenging.  Just like any professional, we parents need a moment to stop, regroup, and discover new and creative solutions to our daily dilemmas so we can walk back into our workplace on Monday morning with a renewed energy and excitement for the job.

However, unlike other professions, continuing education for parenting isn’t something that is readily available.  Personally, I’d like to refresh my batteries at the local wine bar on the weekends, but it’s hard to learn many new parenting techniques when you’re knee deep in a good Cabernet.  Most of the time, you have to really get creative when it comes to refining your parenting know-how.        

Play groups are a good way to enhance your parenting expertise.  At one of the first play groups that I ever attended, I watched as all of the other mommies whipped out Sippy cups filled with juice and baggies full of Cheerios for snack time.  My son toddled over to me expecting me to produce the same yummy snacks as all of the other mommies had. 

I stared at my hungry little son and tried to ignore the stares from the other mommies.  Truthfully, I had no idea that we were supposed to have snacks.  In all of the parenting books that I’d ever read, I had never read anything describing the do’s and don’ts of playgroup snack time.  Apparently, handing your child a box of Tic Tacs to eat is a definite “don’t.”

Of course books are always a constant source of parental wisdom.  I’ve bought every parenting book known to man just in case there’s something that I might be missing, as if I’d finally find the answer that I’ve always been looking for deep inside the pages of “Parenting for Dummies.”

In desperation once, I bought a book that encouraged spanking.  Sparing the rod, spoiling the child—that whole deal.  The book kept it all simple and straight forward: never spank in anger, never spank with your bare hand, etc.  So at the grocery store, I picked up a fly swatter to use as our family spanker and strategically placed it in our kitchen for all eyes to see. 

I have to admit, that fly swatter has been getting a lot of use at our house.  Apparently, it makes a perfect sword when fighting the bad guys.

Afterschool practices are another great way to continue to educate yourself or at least find out the latest parenting scoop while hanging out with all of the other parents.  I’ve learned about who the best teachers are at our school.  I’ve learned about piano lessons that don’t cost a fortune and swimming lessons with some woman that everyone calls “The Swim Nazi.”  I’ve learned about when I should buy my child a cell phone and how much I should savor these years when my kids still ask to sit in my lap.

And through all of my continuing parental education, there’s one thing that I’ve learned over and over again.  I’ve still got a lot to learn.

Why is it so hard?

The Biggest Loser is filling me with unrealistic expectations.

I watch that darn show every week. They get on the scale to find that they've lost 5...11...even 15 pounds in just one week! And then I get on my scale and see that I've lost one pound and I think, "What the hell!!!"

I get that they are working out all day, every day in a very controlled environment. But I think that I assumed that once I made up my mind to change--to work out hard and eat less--that the weight would start falling off in big clumps.

It just doesn't work that way, people.

I refuse to make some drastic change to my eating because I know that once I got off the diet, I couldn't keep it up. So, the only major change that I've really made is the no sugar. Well, that and nothing white--no potatoes, no white rice, no "white" pasta (only whole wheat). It's getting easy to avoid the sugar. It's funny to me how the longer you go without it, the cravings simply go away. But this week I've been on my...um...period (sorry if that's too much information) and the cravings are back with avengence! Especially for chocolate! Lord help me I want some chocolate!

So because of "that", I haven't weighed this week. But even if I did, I would probably be only one pound lighter. That's been my average--one pound a week. And I know that that is a healthy weight loss. Heck, even the Jenny Craig commercials have a small print disclaimer on the bottom about 1-2 pounds being the normal weight loss average. But come on...just once couldn't I have a Biggest Loser moment and get on the scale to find it 10 pounds lighter?

You want to know what's really hard? It isn't avoiding the birthday cake or the chocolate fondue on Valentine's Day. It's avoiding that last bite of waffle drenched in syrup on your child's plate or the last few French fries from their Happy Meal. That's what really hard. And you know what? Those bites can add up to a lot of pounds over time.

So I'm off to another hard workout. She worked my ass off on Wednesday, so I gotta tell you I'm not really looking forward to today. The only thing that keeps me going?

3 months to bathing suit season and counting!

Writing 101

There's nothing worse than a blank page.

It's just sitting there...staring you in the face...the cursor blinking...mocking you...daring you to hit a key...type a word...make something out of nothing.

But that's when I tend to work best. When there's nothing on the page. No ideas. Nothing upstairs cooking, waiting to pour out onto the page.

Nope. I actually work best (and usually end up writing the best stuff) when I have absolutely no idea what to write about. Then, before I know it, I get a small idea that grows into something worth reading...hopefully.

But sometimes, you sit and stare and stare and stare and stare...and NOTHING comes. No ideas. Nothing. Nada.

And the cursor just keeps on blinking...the clock keeps on ticking...the deadline continues looming.

So you start searching, surfing, browsing for something, ANYTHING, that might create a spark. Before long, it's been two hours and all you've done is look at pictures of Tiger Woods' new baby and found a fabulous new blog called "We Love Domino."

But ideas for a new column. Yeah, nothing.

One of the first things that you learn when you start "professionally" (and I do use that term loosely) writing is that you should write every day. It doesn't matter what it is, what you write about, as long as you are writing. Like anything, the more you do it, the better you will get at it.

So here I am. I should be writing a column, but instead I'm writing just to write. Nothing worth using ink for. Nothing that I'd actually want printed in the Sunday paper. Just writing in hopes that somehow the idea will come.

So I write...and I wait...and waiting makes me think of eating and how right about now I could really go for something sweet, which makes me think about how I need to write a blog about how my Weighty Issues are going because heaven knows, all of my loyal followers are just DYING to know how it's going. And then I remember that writing in all caps is like yelling and can't help but wonder who was the computer nerd that decided on that because, really WHO CARES! And then thinking about yelling makes me think about how I've done good not to yell at my kids in the last 3 days because I've been reading the book "Power of a Positive Mom" and feel like the simple ideas in the book are serving as a good refresher course in parenting.

And suddenly...there it is! The idea that I've been waiting for! The idea that has been hiding back in the dusty corner of my aging brain!

Continuing Education for Parenting--look for it next week!

Monkey time

The Monkey crawled up into my lap to give me lots of hugs and kisses.  Afterwards, he stared into my eyes.

"Why you have those red lines on your eyes?  Are those 'cuz you're cranky?"

Through the mouth of babes...

Thank goodness we have two capes.  Poor Woof Woof needs his cape altered slightly.  However, it didn't seem to slow him down while flying from our loft into the living room.

Later that night, after lots of cape crusading, the Monkey crashed on top of his bed with Woof Woof (the white blob closest to his heart), Fluffy (my Woof Woof while I was growing up that the Monkey recently adopted), and of course one of his super hero capes, just in case he needed it in the middle of the night because, well, you just never know.

Weekly Column: What's your story?

©Stephenie Freeman

There’s an old man that walks around my neighborhood. This isn’t anything too unusual. There is plenty of activity up and down our main drag: runners, parents with strollers, and people walking their dogs. But this old man is by far my favorite.

Every day, without fail, he walks the neighborhood with an unlit cigarette hanging out of his mouth. For some reason, he always seems to be muttering to himself. I only know this because you can see the cigarette moving up and down with his sharp lip movements. There’s no ash, just a long, white cigarette that seems to be the only thing keeping him company on his walk.

He keeps a pretty good pace, but doesn’t seem to be enjoying himself. Perhaps that’s what the muttering is all about. I can’t help but imagine his wife at home, pushing him to go outside and get some exercise. He leaves to get away from the nagging. Since the heart attack, she’s been on his case to start exercising and stop smoking, hence the reason for the unlit cigarette.

But I’ve never actually had the pleasure of meeting this man. I have no idea the status of his health or whether there really is a nagging wife at home. The writer in me just can’t help but make up stories for people I’ve never met.

I learned this trick from my girlfriends in college. During a girl’s trip to New Orleans, we sat up on our hotel balcony on Bourbon Street making up stories for the people enjoying themselves on the street below.

There was LeRoy sporting a rather large afro who had lost his hair pick in a karaoke bar. He walked up and down the street, desperately trying to find it even though it was only hiding in the back of his fro.

There was Josiah who we decided was a young, fair-hearted missionary from Arkansas whose Spring Break goal was to keep as many people as possible from entering Big Daddy’s Topless/Bottomless. Of course, Josiah’s story wasn’t difficult to come up with. The sign that he was wearing that told everyone that “New Orleans is Satan’s playground” sort of gave it away.

Of course, the more wine we drank, the funnier the stories became. But even without the wine or the help of my friends, the story game that we had created was so much fun that I continued with my own at-home version. This has included my buddy Earl, the chain-smoking heart attack surviving walker who always wears two favorite sweatshirts, one with the word “Yosemite” in big green letters and the other, a burnt orange nightmare with a Texas longhorn logo.

Then randomly last week in the doctor’s office, it dawned on me that perhaps people are out there making up stories about me.

After a babysitter fell through, I was forced to take my two young sons with me to my annual checkup. It wasn’t ideal, but like any mother in a pinch, I was hoping beyond hope for the best.

The Monkey carried with him an empty toilet paper roll he had found in the trash and had subsequently used all day as a telescope and the Cheese wore a shirt covered in paint and glitter after a Valentine’s project at school. They both burst into the waiting room like they were entering the game room at Chuck E. Cheese and became immediately enthralled with trying to get the baby out of a plastic model of a pregnant uterus. There was no doubt that we made good material for a story.

I smiled as people stared at us in the waiting room and tried not to cringe as I thought about the stories that were being created about me and my wild urchin children. To top it off, the Monkey gave everyone in the room their final punch line as my name was called and we walked out of the room.

“Bye! We gotta go look at Mommy’s girl parts now.”

What a story.

The End.

Weekly Column: Where has all the good fun gone?

©Stephenie Freeman

I still holding out hope that the older I get, the more fun I will have.

When I was younger, pre-mommyhood, my life was filled with fun.  I had more fun than I knew what to do with, so much fun that I squandered it away frivolously on silly things like myself. 

I’m starting to see that this current stage in my life—motherhood—isn’t about fun; it’s about surviving.  I’m just trying to make it through the next twenty years with everyone’s limbs intact and no one calling me from jail. 

Motherhood is a lot of things, but I wouldn’t classify it as being “fun.”  Sure, there are lots of aspects of it that are enjoyable: your child’s first piano recital, a homemade Valentine’s card from preschool, the occasional praise report from a teacher telling you how delightful your little one is in class.  Motherhood is love.  Motherhood is warmth and caring.  But fun?  Not so much.  It’s hard to categorize motherhood as being fun when your 3-year-old is throwing up purple popsicle all over the carpet at two o’clock in the morning. 

Motherhood is more about the “have to” than the “get to.”  I have to do the laundry, cook dinner, and help with homework.  I don’t get to have a quiet moment to myself.  I don’t get to take a shower without someone interrupting me.  I don’t get to leave the kids at school because I don’t feel like driving carpool.  Motherhood just doesn’t work that way. 

Motherhood is filled with the never ending task of cleaning up messes that you didn’t make and repeating yourself 450 times for your child to pick up his socks.  And even if you are lucky enough to discover some long-forgotten fun lurking in a dusty corner, it’s usually short lived and comes to an abrupt halt as soon as someone screams, “Mom!”

Yes, I am deep in the midst of the motherhood muck.  I’m right in the middle where sending the kids off to college is still over a decade away and there seems to be no end in sight to the cluttered mess that includes LEGOS and dirty underwear. 

But I have faith that fun will reenter my life again like a long-lost friend that you find on Facebook.  Fun will have changed and you both will have gotten older, but you’ll be thrilled and anxious to catch up, to rediscover the closeness that you once shared.

My mother and her friends give me hope that the silly, girly fun that used to fill my life will once again return. 

The first Wednesday of every month, my mother and her friends all meet for dinner.  There’s always lots of cackling, lots of wine, and most importantly, lots of fun.  Nearly all of the ladies are mothers whose children are now grown.  Yes, these women have survived and have lived to tell about it.   

One particular Wednesday, when the crackling was a little louder than usual, there came complaints from the waiter that they were being too loud.  They looked around to see if they could figure out who had been doing the complaining.  Sitting next to them sat an older woman with her daughter.

“Are we bothering you?” they asked the woman.

“Hell no!” the woman replied.  “This is my 80th birthday party!”

It was about at this time that they noticed what the woman, Dorothy, had ordered: a Scotch and water and a rib-eye.  It was in that moment that they knew that Dorothy was the kind of fun-loving woman that they wanted to get to know. 

They invited Dorothy to join them and from that moment on, Dorothy and her daughter were a part of the group.  Dorothy has only missed First Wednesday once, when she had to have open heart surgery.  Within a few weeks, she was back, better than ever, drinking her Scotch and water and sporting a new portable oxygen tank. 

When these women meet on the first Wednesday of every month, no one has more fun than Dorothy. 

And when I grow up, I want to be just like her.

Gotta love a husband with all the answers

The Cheese likes announce every commercial that comes on the television.

"Mom! Hotel for Dogs!"

"Mom! LEGO Mars Mission!"

"Mom! McDonald's!"

I'm not sure what he's trying to accomplish with this. I usually just glance in his direction and say, "Yeah, uh-huh." That seems to satisfy him.

Now his brother has gotten into the act, repeating everything his older brother says. So now, every commercial is announced twice.

"Mom! Blendy Pens! Mom! Blendy Pens!"

"Mom! Madagascar DVD! Mom! Madagascar DVD!"

It makes me want to absolutely lose my freakin' mind. And what makes it worse? Have you ever noticed how on the kid's channels they show the same commercials over and over and over again? It's enough to make me want to unplug the television for the whole weekend.


In truth, my kids television watching is really ridiculous. We have a 2 hour rule that includes video games, television and computer. Once that time is up, they're done. But I'll admit, I'm not always the best about keeping track of their time.

So it's time to take action.

The Golfer had the idea. Each boy is going to have a chart with boxes for things like "T.V. time" and "time outside" and "time reading." Each box will have a time limit (except reading and time outside, of course) so once they have done it, they have to check it off. Once it's checked off, they're done. No more asking. No more begging. Done.

I thought it was a great idea. And my hubby came up with it all on his own. I gotta admit, this was quite irritating considering he has never read a single parenting book EVER. I've read and read and read and still came to him saying, "I just don't know what to do with them. They're driving me nuts." And within minutes, he had come up with his chart idea, giving me a new idea to try without even breaking a sweat.

If it works, he'll never let me hear the end of it.

"That there's an RV..." and other crazy things in my life.

You might have noticed that I haven't been posting much lately. It hasn't been from lack of want, just a lack of anything to say.

There are times when every writer finds it hard to form the words. The formation of the words is what makes the story. The formation of the funny words is what makes people want to read it. My words just haven't felt all that funny lately.

I'm not saying that I'm humorous. I'm not. I just like putting words together to make it seem like I'm cleaver and smart, because ultimately that's what comedians are: cleaver and smart. I'm not either of those things, so how I'm able to pull off writing a "humor" column each week is beyond me.

But my words are in some sort of winter funk. Maybe it's because I've been focused on other things (see: "weighty issues") but writing has certainly taken a back seat lately. There have been a few adoring fans (and by few I literally mean two or three) that have asked when my next book is coming out. And maybe if a publisher showed up at my door one day and offered me a boat load of money to do it, I'd consider it. But so far the only knocking happening on my door is this yard man that comes around once a month to see if I want any mulch for my flower beds. I'm not sure if my flower beds look that bad or if he's just really desperate to sell some mulch.

Of course, I could also blame my kids for my lack of writing. They've gotten really needy lately and it's driving me to seek solace in the back of my closet. I've also been pretty busy working out, which is going really well by the way. I have to admit, avoiding sugar seems to be getting easier, although occupying myself with other things to do other than eat sugar tends to take up most of my day.

I've also been in the mood to do a lot of other things. Decorating my house is something that I love to do. Trying to keep to my "stop buying so much crap" promise that I made to myself and my dear husband, I've been tempted to do some rearranging. I decorated my dining room table for Valentine's Day the other day. Valentine's Day is like New Year's Eve--armature night. I really don't care about it all that much.

But it dawned on me that I hadn't decorated for Valentine's since we had moved to California. For the past 3 years, it was always about this time that I had to start thinking about moving (2006--moving to CA, 2007--moving to a new townhouse in CA, 2008--finally buying a new house in CA.) Yes, this will be the first spring in 3 years that I haven't had to think about moving. I'm just not sure what to do with myself. Maybe that's why I feel the urge to redecorate. I've gotten used to the change.

I'm also preoccupied with making vacation plans for this summer. We want to take a different family trip this year. Somewhere still in the state--somewhere that we could drive to. So we've been looking at going to Sequoia National park. I want to see the giant trees and the stalagmites in the Crystal Cave. I want black bears to come up and steal our picnic basket--like Yogi Bear and Boo Boo--and hike through the beautiful meadows. I want to get my boys out in the dirt--make them go scavenge around for nuts and berries for their lunch. I want to get back to nature for 4 days and 3 nights.

Then last night, the Golfer says, "I think that we should rent an RV to go up to Sequoia."

"I'm sorry, WHAT?!?!? This isn't Christmas Vacation. You're not Cousin Eddie. What business do we have renting an RV?"

"I think it would be fun," he replied. "We have to drive up there anyway. The boys would love it."

"Yeah, um, having to cook and shower in an RV really isn't my idea of a relaxing vacation," I told him. "I want to go on a long hike, come back to a nice lodge with a roaring fire, drink a large glass of wine, and soak in a big jacuzzi tub. That's the kind of 'camping' that I had in mind."

He nodded like he understood and I felt like I had been heard and had made my point.

So why the hell have I been looking up RV rentals all day? I think my husband pulled some kind of Jedi mind trick on me while I wasn't looking. That's the only reasonable explanation that I can come up with.

Weekly Column: 10,000 hours to perfection

©Stephenie Freeman

My husband’s not a big reader. It can take him months to finish a book. Being a heavy reader myself, his lack of reading commitment is one of his many endearing quirks that drives me nuts.

I’m considering putting him on the same reading incentive program as our 6-year old. If he fills up his sticker chart, maybe I’ll take him out for an ice cream.

Part of the problem is that he is a late night reader. Late at night, when we snuggle up in bed with our books on our nightstands, he only last a few minutes before falling asleep. I can always tell when he is done. Several minutes pass without the sound of a page turning from his side of the bed.

But occasionally he reads something that excites him that he unexpectedly feels the need to share.

“Did you know that Coach John Wooden won ten national championships in twelve years?”

“Did you know that at the champions’ dinner at the Masters, the defending champ selects the menu and picks up the tab?”

“Did you know that by the time that J. Paul Getty was 24, he had made his first million?”

These tasty tidbits never produced much more than a muffled, “Uh-huh” or a blasé, “Oh really?” from my side of the bed until recently.

“Did you know that it takes 10,000 hours to be really great at something?”

In the book “Outliers”, the author Malcolm Gladwell states that research has proven that practicing something for 10,000 hours produces true mastery at anything. Basically, the old saying has been proven true—practice really does make perfect.

People like Wolfgang Mozart, Bobby Fischer, and Tiger Woods all started practicing when they were small children. It didn’t take them long to collect their 10,000 hours. It only stood to reason that they would become masters of their crafts at a relatively young age.

If this is the case, my children will most certainly become masters of video game playing and television watching in no time.

As my husband stayed awake long enough to finish a few more pages of his book, I tried to go back to return to reading my chick-lit novel, but I couldn’t. 10,000 hours. 10,000 hours to be perfect at something. If that’s what it took to become a master of precision and flawlessness, what did that mean for me exactly? What had I spent 10,000 hours on? What was I perfect at?
It took a while, but I came up with a few.

Eating. I have definitely spent 10,000 hours eating. Unfortunately, I have not spent 10,000 hours exercising. The last few years I have been desperately trying to reverse the two. But every day, as I search for the bag of Oreos hidden deep within my pantry, I am reminded how futile my attempts are and go back to doing what I do best. It’s like singers and athletes that retire in their prime. It doesn’t make any sense. Why should I stop doing something that I am obviously so good at?

Cleaning house. I have my family to thank for this one. I continue to clean and they continue to mess it up. I can vacuum blindfolded, mindlessly fold laundry, and clean a toilet in less than a minute. If there was a professional league for cleaning, I’d be ranked near the top. Mr. Clean and Mrs. Meyers have nothing on me.

Procrastinating. I proficient at wasting time and have perfected the art of waiting until the last second. The more time I waste, the better procrastinator I become. The only thing I never procrastinate about is eating.

I’m sure I could have gone on and on with things that I have spent over 10,000 hours doing. Shopping, worrying, and talking would all make the list. I’d ask my husband what he thought should be on the list, but his answers probably wouldn’t be suitable to actually write about in a column.

Unfortunately for me, none of my perfectly mastered skills will give me fame and fortune like my buddies Wolfgang and Tiger. I’m okay with that. Like many things in life, the joy of being perfect at something doesn’t come from the money or the praise, but from the satisfaction of being the best.

And let me tell you, eating a whole bag of Oreos can be very satisfying.