Weekly Column: Turn out the lights, the season's over...

©Stephenie Freeman

Another flag football season has come to a close. Thank goodness. The junior flag football league that the Cheese plays for is a “learning league.” Basically, this is code for “We don’t keep score.” No one officially keeps score, but everyone is fully aware of who wins and who loses which is why we know that our team had a losing season.

There were a lot of tears this season, lots of running to the sidelines so Mama could fix his boo-boo with a kiss and reassure him that football really was fun. After one particularly physical play the Cheese ran over to the sideline with cleat marks up and down his arm. I checked for broken bones and then against my better Mama judgment told him to get back out there, after all, there’s no crying in football. At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

I think the season was harder on the parents than it was on the kids. We watched as our team lost yardage on every, single play. We asked for birth certificates for some 8-year olds on an opposing team who looked a little too large for their age. We cheered like crazy people when our boys finally got a first down. And we brought plenty of chocolate-covered donuts and juice boxes to heal the wounds after each game.

For most of the season my scrawny, underweight child played defense and inevitably was put up against the biggest, bulkiest kid on the opposing team. I never asked the coach why the smallest kid on the team was playing defense; instead spent the whole season quietly biting my tongue. I’m still having trouble tasting certain salty foods.

Our little Rudy Ruettiger played with lots of heart. He wasn’t afraid to fight back, a skill that he has perfected by having a younger brother. When the Cheese got pushed down he’d get up and push right back, usually to the shock and amazement of his larger opponent. Our kid might be small, but he doesn’t take crap from anybody, which I have a feeling will come in very handy in junior high.

The Cheese only touched the ball once this season. I knew it was coming when I saw the coach whispering in the Cheese’s ear right before he moved him into the running back position.

“Oh, no.” I told the Golfer. “Your son’s about to run the ball.”

What our son lacks in size, he more than makes up for in speed. He’s a fast little sucker, so we knew that if he was ever given the chance to run the ball, there was a possibility that he might be able to make something happen.

Something happened all right. Before the Cheese could even get around the line of scrimmage, his flag was pulled.

But what was this? He was still running! And you know what? He still had a set of flags on!

That’s right. Our son was wearing two sets of flags, sort of his own little insurance policy I guess. Most people would call that cheating, but in our “learning league” it was just plain funny. Later I downloaded the pictures of the Cheese’s big run. It looks like he was wearing a bright yellow hula skirt.

At the team party last night, the kids received their trophies and the parents cheered. We cheered that the season was over. We cheered that our kids seemed oblivious to the fact that they hadn’t won a single game. We cheered out of pride because it isn’t whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.

Well...I've been busy!

Where have I been? Well, I'll tell you. I was gone for 10 days. 10 days!! That's like, totally unheard of in the World According to Mama. I was on a business trip with the Golfer for about 5 days and then we went home to Oklahoma (yes, I still call it "home" even though I am a Californian now.) I'll write more about the second leg of the trip later. For now, let's just focus on the "business trip."

Yes, here we are eating a fabulous dinner and drinking wine with my sweet brother- and sister-in-law. You've gotta love a business trip that involves drinking lots and lots of red wine by the fire. That's right, after we left this table we moved outside to the fire pit where they set us up with blankets and large jars filled with marshmellows, chocolate and graham crackers. I'm getting a little excited just thinking about it. And to quote my brother-in-law, "I'll have another Bud Light."

And when I wasn't busy eating and drinking, I was out shopping with these lovely ladies, fellow Golfer wives, Kim, Tina and Ashley. We hit Nordstrom's Half-Yearly sale, proudly coming home with bags filled with stuff that was, like, practically free! (If not free, then pretty darn near close.)

And when we weren't shopping, we were at the spa...a lot...enjoying manicures and pedicures and massages and things that mamas like us never, ever get to enjoy. And we took naps and read books and sat in hot tubs and prayed to God that we would never, ever have to leave this magnificent place.

And, oh yeah, we watched some really good golf too when we weren't, ya know, doing other things. Because after all, it was the reason that we were all there in the first place.

Weekly Column: A Vacation Epiphany

©Stephenie Freeman

The Golfer and I are currently on vacation. Granted it’s a working vacation for the Golfer, but when it’s your only opportunity to get away without your children you take whatever you can get.

The best part of any vacation, as far as I’m concerned, is the hot tub. It just so happens that this vacation we are blessed with our own private hot tub right outside of our room. To sit and relax uninterrupted is a rare treat, and in the three days that we’ve been here we’ve gotten into the hot tub a total of 4,236 times.

One of the many times that I was in the hot tub, relaxing with my head resting on the curved cement edge, I saw several black ants. I was so incredibly relaxed that seeing these ants didn’t startle me and they certainly weren’t about to ruin my hot tubing experience. Instead I just sat and watched the little guys like they were my special hot tub half-time show.

Did you know that ants will carry other dead ants back home? I sat there long after the bubbles had stopped, watching this ant try to carry his buddy back to the colony. The poor guy was having a heck of a time navigating all of the bumpy crevices of the cement, having to stop and readjust his dead friend more than once. To make matters worse, there were all of these other ants zipping by, as if there was a party at the colony that they were in a hurry to get to. But the ant carrying his friends continued his slow death march, at times coming a little too close to joining me in the hot tub more than once.

This poor ant was having such a hard time that I found myself thinking, “Just leave him. Carrying around all of that dead weight is too hard on you. You’re going to end up dead too if you aren’t careful.” As hard as this poor ant was trying, he seemed to only be making his life more difficult. Even though he was trying to do the right thing, he was taking the long way around and missing out on the party.

I’m pretty sure that it was from being overexposed to bubbles and heat for too long, but in that moment I experienced a Vacation Epiphany. A Vacation Epiphany is something that you have when you are away from home long enough for your life to start to make sense again. All of the chaos and carpooling and LEGOS are no longer clouding your vision and things become clear once again.

Just like that ant, I have been carrying around a lot of my own dead weight. I carry around the same dead weight that most mothers do: the dead weight of worry, the dead weight of frustration, and the dead weight of exhaustion. All of these things weigh me down and keep me from enjoying the good things in life. Like that poor ant, I was at risk of drowning if I wasn’t careful.

Vacations are a good place to get rid of all of your dead weight; to leave it all behind in the hotel room returning home with a renewed sense of purpose. Unfortunately, the minute you walk in your front door the chaos of your real life hits you in the face like a blast of cold air and it’s almost as if you were never on a vacation in the first place.

But not this time. No, this time I’ve learned my lesson. I am unloading the dead weight of worry, frustration, and exhaustion and dumping it in the hot tub to drown.

I’m just hoping my little ant friend doesn’t decide to pick it up and carry it back to the colony.

Weekly Column: Circling Christmas Catalogs

©Stephenie Freeman

The toy catalogs have started arriving in the mail. Time to get out the ballpoint pen and start circling.

I know from experience that you must use a ballpoint pen when catalog circling. A pencil can rip the delicate pages and felt tip pens tend to bleed through to the other side which can lead to toy purchasing misunderstandings if you aren’t careful.

Yes, there is a fine art to catalog circling that my boys were unaware of until recently. The Cheese looked at me like I had just shared with him the secrets of the universe, which in a way I kind of had.

Besides, I had to do something. If I heard him say, “Mom, look! This is what I want” one more time I was going to stick my whole head into the gigantic bag of Halloween candy hiding in the back of the pantry just to drown out the noise.

And ever since letting them in on the catalog circling secret my boys have sat quietly for hours at a time, combing through each page with quiet intensity, pen in hand. I can only hope that my children will study their calculus and history books in high school with as much interest and concentration as they are the Toys ‘R’ Us Big Book.

Unfortunately, calculus books don’t have LEGO Cave Crushers and history books don’t contain pictures of Spider-Man action figures, so I doubt they’ll have any interest in them whatsoever.

So far we’ve received at least four different toy catalogs in the mail and have put most of our ballpoint pens to good use. Another one just arrived in the mail today. The Monkey responded, “Oh, man. Not another one!” Guess they’re in toy catalog overload. God help us when the Christmas toy television commercials start.

The only catalogs that I ever remember looking at were from Sears and JCPenny’s. They were thick and heavy and seemed to be filled with more underwear models than toys.

Speaking of which, the Golfer, who remembers close to nothing about his childhood, can remember wanting some NFL bedding that he saw in the JCPenny’s catalog. Or was it Sears? Either way, after staring at the lovely underwear models (these were the days before Victoria’s Secret), in his excitement he circled every pillow case, fitted sheet, and sham that he could find.

One day the Cheese looked up at me thoughtfully and asked, “Mom, can Santa make anything?”

Without thinking I replied, “Anything? Of course he can. Did you find something in those catalogs that you want from Santa?”

“No. That’s why I asked. I want him to make me something that’s not in a catalog. I want him to make me something that doesn’t exist.”

What he was requesting made perfect sense. Santa has a toy shop filled with elves that are there to do nothing but make toys. It was completely understandable to think that Santa could make something, like a LEGO Spider-Man video game, that didn’t exist. He had all of the tools, man power, and magic to make it happen.

“You know all of those catalogs you’ve been getting? Well, those come from Santa. Those are all of the toys that come from his workshop,” I told him. “And, well, Santa’s been hit hard by the recession and has to cut back on his magic this year, so he doesn’t have enough left over for making toys that don’t exist. Okay?”

“Nope. I think Santa can do it,” he replied as he grabbed another toy catalog off of the coffee table and walked away to steal yet another ballpoint pen out of my purse.

Weekly Column: A Day in the Life

©Stephenie Freeman

Did catch the episode on Oprah last week where "Cutie Pie Nate", Oprah's interior decorator extraordinaire, played daddy for a day? Nate was summoned to help out a stay-at-home mom who was in need of a break. Nate stepped in, took over, and sent this mommy off for a day of shopping and lunching with friends. She made him a list of everything that she was planning on doing that day, grabbed her purse, and was out the door within minutes leaving her kids with a virtual stranger.

I can't say that I blame her.

When I first saw the previews for the episode, I thought that it sounded like a nice idea. I was looking forward to the show, having DVR'd it so I could watch it in peace with a glass of wine, which is exactly what I did.

Yes, I watched with anticipation, waiting for Nate to fall flat on his face. I wanted his day to be a disaster. I wanted Nate to complain about how hard everything was; for him to beg for mercy. I wanted visual vindication that my job is absolutely one of the hardest in the world.

Instead, after running a handful of errands and emptying the dishwasher, Nate looks at the camera and simply says, "This isn't so bad."

I laughed out loud. Spoken like a true dad, even if he was only pretending for the day. Three hours into the day and all he can think to say is, "I don't know what this woman was complaining about. I think this job's pretty easy."

The day goes on and things start to catch up with him a little. Nate starts looking a little tired and even admits that he feels like a train ran over him. By dinner time he's lost all of his enthusiasm and instead of cooking a healthy dinner chooses take-out instead.

Not so fun anymore is it Nate?

I’ll admit that I was happy to see Nate admit defeat and finally sing the praises of stay-at-home moms everywhere. I couldn’t help but think about how at the end of the day Nate went home to total peace and quiet to sleep soundly, without a child waking him up in the middle of the night. He probably even got to sleep in the next day. He didn't have to wake up and do the whole damn thing all over again.

Newsflash Nate: Mothers don’t get worn out because of one busy day. We get worn out because we are constantly repeating that busy day over and over and over again in mind numbing fashion. Here’s what a typical day looks like at my house. Take last Tuesday for example:

Hit the snooze button three times.
Took a shower. Actually put on makeup.
Made breakfast.
Packed Cheese's lunch.
Dressed the boys.
Brushed their teeth.
Bushed my own teeth.
Fed the dogs.
Dropped off the kids at school.
Headed to the Cheese's classroom to volunteer.
Returned emails, played around on Facebook, and worked on volunteers for the Fall Festival.
Picked up the Monkey from preschool.
Made lunch.
Started a load of laundry.
Made the beds.
Took out the trash.
Scooped poop in the yard.
Washed my hands before getting the Monkey a snack.
Burned the microwave popcorn.
Wished I hadn’t already taken out the trash.
Picked up the Cheese from school.
Etcetera, etcetera.

At this point in the day it was only three o’clock in the afternoon and I still had miles to go. May I also point out that I refrained from listing the 457 times that I had to tell a child to hurry up, stop bothering his brother, drink his milk, or put on his shoes. I also did not include how many times I got in and out of my car, picked up a toy, put something away, cleaned up a mess, or flushed a dirty toilet.

Hey, Nate. You want some wine? I do.

"Halloween's over. Is Christmas tomorrow?"

I'm really in too much of a sugar-induced coma to be writing this right now. Yes, that's right. I've already been raiding the kids' candy. But honestly, they really don't need those Milk Duds anyway. Bad for the teeth.

We were afraid for a minute there that Halloween wouldn't be happening at our house. The Cheese was running a fever, had a sore throat, and a headache. I took him into the doctor on Friday, just to be on the safe side, and of course the doctor just shrugged his shoulders and said that he wasn't sure what was wrong, but probably just a mild case of the flu.

I know that he's a licensed medical professional and all, but I wasn't buying it. I know the flu--seen it up close and personal--and this wasn't the flu. He acted fine, a little crabby, but he's 7 so that's fairly normal behavior. So I just smiled, paid my $15, and headed out grumbling something about the whole visit being a waste of time.

So by Saturday things were better. No fever, less crabbiness. So we got busy carving pumpkins. I told the Golfer that was his job--totally his responsibility. And it was too until I started trying to direct what he was doing and I was told, "Just take pictures. That's all. Just take pictures." Apparently, I can be bossy when it comes to things like carving pumpkins. Who knew.

{look at the Monkey's face. priceless.}

To continue the festivities I decided to make some cupcakes because really, it isn't a holiday without cupcakes. Is it?

The best thing about Halloween this year was our house guest, David. David came all the way from Wales to spend Halloween with the Freemans. He told me that they didn't do Halloween in Europe the way that we do here. When we told him that we'd probably have a couple hundred trick-or-treaters come by, he about fell out of his chair. He got such a kick out of the whole thing, and I got such a kick out of him. (Not to mention that I could sit and listen to him talk for hours and that he is absolutely one of the nicest people on the planet.) I've decided that "Brilliant!" is going to be my new catch phrase/word of choice.

As usual, the boys brought in quite a haul. We have very generous neighbors to say the least. I have to admit that I'm happy that Halloween is over because that means that it's officially the Holiday Season.

We head to Oklahoma for a quick visit next week. We'll be going to our first OU football game in 3 YEARS!!! There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that I will cry when I walk into the stadium, and cry again after the National Anthem when everyone says, "and the home of the....SOONERS!!" I'll have to fill my pockets with Kleenex just to make it through the game.