Monthly Archives: March 2014

My ode to the everyday mundane

Let’s see. What did I do on Thursday?
6:15AM. Meditated for about 20 minutes before getting up and going to the bathroom.
7-7:45AM. Spent some time writing. My first novel is nearly complete, but it has been harder to see real progress writing in 30-45 minute spurts per day. Still, I’ll take it!
7:45AM. Made and ate my delicious breakfast.

Fresh lemon juice being squeezed in my water. Maple syrup, vanilla, and cinnamon in my oatmeal as it cooks. Puerto Rican coffee brewing. These are the comfort smells I bask in every weekday morning. And the sun coming through the windows this morning was glorious, too.

8:30AM. Walked into my 4-year-old son’s room with a huge smile on my face, telling him how delighted I was to see him, how much I love him, how precious he is to me.
8:33AM. Walked out of son’s room and closed the door while he threw a bit of a hissy fit, refusing to get out of bed, demanding cocoa rice crisps for breakfast. I had made oatmeal. Not happening, buddy.
Went back in his room a short while later, struck a deal with him, and got him to calm down.
8:40AM. Helped him get dressed, came downstairs.
8:45AM. Started a load of laundry.
8:50AM. Served my son his oatmeal with berries for breakfast. Sat and played with him with his globe and world map. While he happily devoured his oatmeal.

The button for Spain on the globe isn’t working well. Should I read anything into this? I can’t help laughing every time he complains, “Spain isn’t working!”

9:30AM. Baked a batch of oatmeal chocolate chip cookie bars, with the help of my sweet boy. These guys I live with have an incredible sweet tooth. As much as possible, I try to have something homemade every week to satisfy that. Just because they have a sweet tooth doesn’t mean they should eat crap. Wait. Did I just sound a little bit like Gwyneth Paltrow? Poor woman’s had a rough week. Yet I still like her.

One bowl. No sifting. No electric mixers. And you should have smelled it baking–holy mother of G. See that little hand in the upper right hand corner, stealing a few chocolate chips? Two minutes later came the question, “Now can I have cocoa crisps?” For about the 20th time. At 9:30 in the morning.

10AM. Washed all the dishes from breakfast and baking.
Absently answered yes when boy asked if he could use his scissors to practice cutting up a piece of paper. Realized later that the piece of paper was a to-do list that my husband and I started back in February. We had gotten through most of the things, but there were a few items left to check off.

Who needs checklists anyway.

10:30AM. Began to make dinner. Tex Mex pasta salad with corn and roasted shrimp. Allowed little man to watch Finding Nemo in Spanish. Kept mum when he declared repeatedly that Dory is Nemo’s mom. He has not watched the opening scene of the movie. We’ve tried telling him Dory is a friend. He insists she’s his mother. That’s okay for now.

Wish I’d had lime and black beans. Still though …! And it was dinner for two nights.

11:30AM. Washed dishes from dinner prep.
12PM. Heated up rice for boy’s lunch. Heated up a veggie “chicken” patty for me. Ate lunch together while playing some more with the globe, and trying to talk on the phone with my parents.
12:45PM. Washed lunch dishes, while, again, trying to talk to my mother on the phone.
1PM. Folded laundry.
1:25PM. Sat down with my after-lunch cup of green tea. Played with my son a little more. Talked to him about weekdays vs. weekend days, and who’s who in our family. (“La mamá de Mamá se llama Abuela Norma,” etc.) This week he can’t get enough of maps, calendar days, and family trees. It’s an improvement over last week, after his trip to the hospital (documented in previous blog post HERE), when he wanted to have entire conversations about vomiting.
2PM Took the boy upstairs for his “naptime/quiet time.” Sometimes he sleeps. Those are the only times he is quiet. Spent some time singing and cuddling with him, practicing more words and spelling. Thought about how I will miss our afternoon cuddles once he starts school full time.
2:45PM Laid down in my own bed for my own bit of quiet time. Half-meditated. Half-napped. Half-tried not to be mad at my boy for being so loud while he played in his room. Hang on, I’m up to thirds now, not halves. Oh whatever. At least he was staying in his room!
3:20PM The little man actually fell asleep. Wow, that means I have a bit more time! Came downstairs. Began blog post. Downloaded and sorted all the photos I took for it. Treated myself to this.

The secret is to use a lot more chocolate chips than the recipe calls for. That way it looks like very little dough with a gooey, dense chocolate filling running all through the center. I think I nailed it.
Worked on photos and blog post for about an hour, while in the background (on the TiVo), Oprah interviewed Eckhart Tolle.
4:55PM. Got boy up from nap. Watched Dora the Explorer.

5:30PM. Awesome husband came home. I decided to forgo the day’s workout.
6PM. Washed and dried my hair. Good thing I had saved up my energy for that.

You think this hair happens naturally? Actually, it looked nicer before I got rained on. Ah well.

6:50PM. Ate delicious pasta salad with a glass of white wine.
Loved watching my guys enjoying the oatmeal chocolate chip bars.
7:30PM. Continued work on blog post while husband washed dishes.
7:55PM Placed Amazon order for robot-themed thank-you notes, for the gifts my son received at his birthday party last weekend.
8PM. Went upstairs. Put away clean laundry and laid out clothes for son and me for preschool Friday morning, while husband gave boy his bath.
8:15PM. Sat with husband and boy while they read Nemo together. Laughed with them every time Dory speaks whale. Nemo is popular in our house this week.
Said bedtime prayers.
8:55PM. Felt like winding down after boy went to bed, so I watched some TV. Celebrity Ghost Stories. Oh yeah baby.
10:30PM. Teeth brushed. In bed. Wrote in my journal. Read from the novel I am currently reading, Orphan Train, by Christina Baker Kline. Realized how much I am enjoying the book, wished briefly I felt a little more awake at that hour. But hey, I was the one who chose watching Celebrity Ghost Stories over reading Orphan Train, thus reasserting that balance where low-brow just beats out high-brow stimulation at the end of most days for me.
Tried saying a more few prayers/having a few more thoughts of goodness before falling asleep around 11 o’clock.

Somewhere along the way, I also wrote several emails and texts. I also wondered how my living room got to be such a mess, when it was tidy just one week ago. I never left the house. Had little contact with people outside my family. I had very few adult conversations, and the few that I had did not have any particular depth or sophistication. I wore sweats all day, until I “upgraded” to jeans for dinner, after my shower.

Why am I sharing this? I don’t think an average day of mine is any more interesting or busy than yours. Taking a note from Eckhart Tolle, I think that trying to be interesting is kind of like trying to be good, or witty or sophisticated or PC and tolerant. There better be something there to back it up, or people eventually notice. So I try to not try. And I know you’ve probably been subjected to the occasional Aren’t-I-fahscinating Facebook post by someone you know. I have, too! Nor do I think myself superior for choosing to be at home full time; let’s please not go there.

March hasn’t exactly been an uneventful month in our family, with a series of health crises and scares. I’ve talked about some of them, and some I haven’t. My day was nothing more than an average, routine, busy day at home. It was gloriously uneventful, and for that I am grateful. That’s all!

Oh. Of course I caved and let him have cocoa rice crisps. It was his mid-morning snack. After baking, before Finding Nemo, seated at the table. Take heed, boys and girls. If you change your tactic from whining to asking for what you want ever so politely and sweetly, over, and over, and over again, you’re likely to have much better luck getting it!

But wait! It’s Saturday afternoon, and I am writing these lines two days after I started the blog post. So. This happened yesterday.

Remember how my boy and his globe with the malfunctioning Spain button have been inseparable? Well, he accidentally dropped the damn thing on his foot. Noooo! Ugh, man.

So far, no urgent medical intervention has been required. Not that it won’t be; I plan to take him on Monday if it still looks and hurts this bad. Hey, at least we avoided the ER this time! And until Monday, we are keeping the kiddo off his feet, and keeping the toenail clean, with plenty of ice on. It’s a rainy weekend in DC. Good for staying at home on the couch. Guess what movie is playing downstairs–first in Spanish, now in English–at the close of this blog post … ? We are now a household with varying degrees of proficiency in English, Spanish, and Whale.

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On the occasion of my beloved little boy’s 4th birthday last week, I’ve spent some time these days thinking of what a wild ride parenthood has been so far. The better part of the past four years has been filled with laughter, wonder, silliness, lots of cuddling, and so many lessons that I now ask my husband with some regularity, “how do non-parents learn all this stuff?” Then there’s the truest cliché of all, that the heart swells with the most transcendent, indescribable love. This is why we thank our children for making us their parents. We thank them for a love we never thought possible, and which is now a daily occurrence. If my boy could see what I see when I look at him, he would never, ever, waste a minute of his life questioning whether he is good, worthy, lovable enough, exactly the way he is. Sure, the stresses are magnified when you are a parent. Naturally, this is because everything is magnified, including the joys too.

Birthday cupcakes

Another true cliché is that if I could take away any form of hurt and pain in order to spare my boy, I would gladly take it on myself. And don’t go thinking I am one of those parents who’s scared to say no, to spare my child any disappointment. Ha. No, trust me. I am not talking about pissed-off-ness over not getting that extra cookie or TV show, or over relinquishing a toy because another kid had it first, or being reminded that he’s not actually the boss-man of our house. I’m talking about real physical pain. Fear. The injustice, confusion, heartbreak of rejection. Oh I so wish I could spare him! But I know I can’t. I know it, okay? But I will still wish, not even secretly, that I could. Always. And it will break my heart into a million pieces when I can’t.

A couple of weekends ago, I came down with a bad stomach episode. All I could think was, “Thank goodness it struck me rather than the little man.” Fast forward two weeks, and my husband and I are rushing the little man–two days after his birthday–to the hospital, to treat him for dehydration after several jarring hours of sickness.

Here are some of the lessons and observations from last Friday night.
1. The hardest one, that I can’t keep my kid from getting sick. Period. Ugh. But also that when it does happen, it’s not my fault. Oof, this is at least as hard for me to embrace as the fact that illness happens.
2. I still need my Mama. One of the first things I did Friday night was to get my mother on the phone, and my sister on text. What a difference it made. They had advice and comfort to offer (more comfort than advice), and wanted to stay informed every step of the way. The anchoring, soothing effect of having the women I love there with me when I need them, even if they are physically hundreds of miles away, is a blessing in my life.
3. The temptation to become a germophobe is a very real fact for me right now. I prided myself, once we were home again, in getting the surfaces of our house to a hospital-operating room-quality of sterilization. I’m not kidding, I should buy stock in Lysol. Check out my shopping basket below. And my knuckles were bleeding for days from so much hand-washing.

There was already plenty of disinfectant at home. And this additional supply has been used up–and replenished–since this photo was taken.

4. When you have made it four years without having to take your child to a hospital emergency room, you have a lot to be thankful for. Here’s to (at least) four more years! And may I never go a single day without thinking of, and praying for, parents who are in a hospital this minute with a child who is unwell.
5. You lose weight. It just happens. Before I knew it, I was in a state of panic thinking I had caught the stomach virus too (or again?), because I was queasy and dizzy. Turns out I was just hungry, lightheaded, gassy. Because I had barely eaten for days! But hey, I woke up this morning and discovered a bit of hipbone that I hadn’t seen or heard from since at least 2005. Just like the sun is always there, even behind the darkest clouds, so hipbones are still there underneath the extra padding. I will remind myself of this when the padding comes back. And that will be just fine, too. Besides, this is not a method of weight loss that I would recommend.

6. Kindness is real. When Monday morning dawned, we were under a few new inches of snow, and my husband was in bed after catching what our son had. So, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to go out and shovel the snow. Who was going to watch our recovering son, take care of my sick husband, cook soup, and keep up with laundry and the Lysoling of the house? I thought of asking the neighbors. But I was embarrassed. I’d asked for Pedialyte Friday night, I wasn’t about to ask for someone to shovel our snow come Monday morning, too. Next thing I knew, someone had already done it, without me ever having to ask. I nearly cried when I saw it! Kindness moves me like that. And I received two emails from neighbors, each about a different issue, but each wishing us well, each a kind gesture of concern.

The view from our front door Monday morning. Next time I looked out, all the snow was gone from the front of our house.
7. I married a man who is wholly, selflessly devoted to his wife and kid. Wow.

8. Everything passes. It was, after all, just a 24-hour virus and nothing worse. And now everyone’s fine. And the fear of the next time it happens–a recurring problem of my anxious personality type–is tempered by seeing just how well we all are now. By knowing that just because illness happens sometimes, that doesn’t mean we haven’t been blessed with good health. By the trust that we’ll get through it again just as we did this time. By the absurdity of me smiling when I found my long-lost hipbone this morning, and the kind of perspective that gives me.

I wish you health. And just in case, ask for help. We’ve got plenty of Pedialyte to share! And I am happy to report that I already used a lot less Lysol yesterday, and even less today. A recovering chronic worrier-germophobe, one day at a time.
What are you grateful for today?

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Networking lunch

“Do they really need to call it networking lunch? Can’t they just call it lunch, and take some of the pressure off?”
This was me, whining. I was going to a writers conference, which in itself was very exciting. I’d heard about it from my fabulous writing teacher, Kathryn Johnson (see this blog post for details of my writing journey, and my class with her). But the networking element in reference to the lunch session had me in a tizzy. A true fact about me is that I was not born with the gift of schmooze. And the notion of professional networking strikes me, in my weak moments, as nothing more than a popularity contest for grown-ups.

I don’t even have business cards to my name since my last teaching job ended. Which leaves me with the question, what do I include on a business card? “Sandra Falcón, Stay-at-home mother and writer?” “Pretty decent cook and baker?” “Once and future professor and linguist?” Do I include PhD even though my current writing has virtually nothing to do with my academic background? My mother’s response to this last one is an unequivocal YES. Why? “Sweetheart, because you can.” Hard to argue with that. Still, I was worried. What if I came on too strong? (People sometimes do.) What if I felt invisible? (I suppose people do this, too, sometimes.)

The morning portion of the conference did not disappoint. I met a lot of friendly people, the setting was excellent, the conference was running like a well-oiled machine, and the incidences of “networking” conversations that typically make me want to plug my fingers into my ears and go, “Laaaa la la la laaaaa,” were minimal. The day was off to a very good start.

Lunchtime came, and I quickly noticed in the buffet line that I was the only person who had put two wrap/sandwich halves on my plate. Then the woman behind me did the same, and I almost felt relieved, until she said, “I’m taking two, but that’s okay, because I’m not having any potato chips.” Precisely as I was piling the potato chips on my plate. Sh!t. What was I supposed to do, put something back? My seconds’ worth of hesitation was already holding up the line, and I was certain that others had noticed. Finally, I said an internal “Screw it,” and moved on, head held high … and resolved to eating very fast in order to cover up my blunder.

I entered the dining area, my loaded plate of food weighing me down a little–for what it’s worth, I had not taken any cookies or brownies for dessert, and I did eat all of my food. Looking at the tables filling up before me, I had brief visions of every teen angst movie that features a lunchroom scene involving some form (or various) of rejection.

Then I spotted a table that was half-empty except for a young African-American man … with his very appropriate single wrap half, and few potato chips. I made timid eye contact, took a deep breath, and made a beeline for a seat directly across from him. We first talked about the sessions that we had each attended in the morning. I’d been to the one on self-publishing a book; it was excellent, and my head was still spinning. He had been to a session on poetry.

He told me he’s a college student at a nearby University of Maryland campus. I went to ask him whether he raps, then quickly chided myself for stereotyping. Black college student who writes poetry, must be a rapper? So what if I was nervous–I knew I could do better. So instead, I asked him, “Have you always been a poet?” I could tell he liked the question. We each admired what the other was doing. I find poetry daunting, he said that writing a whole book sounded scary. He told me some of the things he knows about poetry. I shared how it had always been my dream to write stories. I was having a great time with my new poet friend.

Halfway into the lunch hour, we were joined by one of his professors. She had two long braids, and wore a large feather on one side of her head–she later confirmed her Native-American heritage. Had it not been for the Bluetooth device on the other side of her head, I could have sworn I had traveled back in time and was in the presence of a beautiful, regal tribe elder. The beautiful and regal part were nevertheless very real. To give you a bit more sense of her, she also told me that she has African, as well as four different European countries (“not by choice,” her words) in her ethnic background. And she has two children who are around my age. Before long, the professor and I were bonding. We covered the joys and exhaustions of raising a four-year-old, being home full-time in the early years of motherhood, teaching and experiences with students, writing practices that work for us given the various obligations of our respective schedules, and writing because it nourishes our souls and we can’t imagine not doing it.

Here are some highlights of the things she said. I am paraphrasing, but not a lot:
“I’ve trained myself to work on my writing at the end of the day, until I simply fall asleep. I’ve trained myself to do a lot of different things to accommodate my writing over the years.”
“My parents were undertakers. I saw a lot of carnage. So many Trayvon Martin’s before anyone ever cared about Trayvon Martin. My parents understood when my brother and I decided we didn’t want to go into the family business.”
“My first book was published in 2001.”
“I’ve decided to focus on the writing part for now, and not worry so constantly about getting it published. It’s too distracting right now.”
“This young man here is one of the best students in our Honors Program. He is an excellent poet. And a gifted rapper.”
“You have an author’s name! I can see it on the covers of books already.”

“You seem like a very devoted mother. Enjoying these early years at home with a child is a great privilege. I can tell you know.”

Eventually, we were of course joined on our side of the table by other conference attendees, and in hindsight I hope they didn’t feel ignored …  Can you imagine the irony? And before we knew it, the hour was over, and it was time to move on to our afternoon sessions. Lest you conclude that our networking lunch was just a touchy-feely exercise in mutual flattery with very little potential for business advancement (and if you do, hey that’s fine), I will tell you that our entire discussion did basically revolve around writing. I just really liked that it was also deeply grounded in kindness, and life. Stephen King says, “Life isn’t a support system for art; it’s the other way around.” By staying grounded in our lives, we had the kind of talk that transcended the perfunctory business/art stuff that can seem so tedious to me some folks. This was my kind of networking lunch!

I even learned, in a later conversation with a much larger group, that one of the characters in the professor’s new book is a Puerto Rican who is “really messed up.” What?! I know a lot about that! I could be her expert consultant on the subject of a Puerto Rican who’s ” really messed up!” Wait, could I put that on a business card … ?

The most basic definitions of network in the Oxford Online Dictionary are perfectly appropriate.
1 An arrangement of intersecting horizontal and vertical lines
2 A group or system of interconnected people or things
2 (no object) Interact with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts

It’s when I think of it as a scenario where I am essentially competing to “sell a product” that the term becomes intimidating. Instead, I think that from now on I’m going to define networking as the simple quote below.

I mean, right? For all my whining, I think this was ultimately the approach I took going into this event. It did not lead me astray. Among the many, many highpoints throughout the conference, the networking lunch I had so dreaded turned out to be one of the great highlights. On my way out, I stopped by the buffet table and treated myself to a brownie. And when I’m done posting this, I will get to work on those business cards!

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