Keeping My Head Above Water

March 10, 2012

Confessions of a Couch Potato

Filed under: Humor,Life — by cdebaker @ 2:01 am

Last night I actually watched a TV show that I didn’t want to see because I was too lazy to get up and walk the 10 feet to pick up the out-of –reach remote.  Seriously…

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August 17, 2011

Beat it, don’t Tweet it

Filed under: Family & Work Balance,Humor,Mothering — by cdebaker @ 4:57 pm

In these high tech days of tweeting, texting, and instant messaging, my family has discovered a more primitive form of communication.  My husband has spent many
frustrating moments at the bottom of the stairs yelling for someone upstairs to
answer.  Each time no one answers, his voice grows louder and angrier.  Now even if by chance the person could hear him yelling over the closed door, the running air filter, the constant noise of television, or even a singing teenager listening to his iPod, there is no way the person being called is able to communicate by yelling back.   By the time contact is initiated, everyone is upset.

So one night my husband began tapping on the stair rail with ring hand.  Lo, and behold, the door opened up and a head peered out asking “Did you call me?”  So now, instead of calling out into the abyss that it’s dinner time,  I simply tap on the rail, the faster the tap,the more urgent the situation.  It reminds me of the old black & white Tarzan movies where the natives are drumming in the background to warn the other villages.

I’ve been wondering if we should maybe start developing a code system:   4 quick taps means “get down here and clean the kitchen now!”, 2 long taps followed by 1 quick means “if you’re not down here in one minute for dinner, I’m eating your share of theFrench fries”, 2 short taps and 3 long mean “let us know your still alive up there”.  We could make a different tap signal for each one of us so we would know who was being called.  Think of it…we could create a whole new language!   Or  maybe, we could just climb up the steps
and talk face-to-face…nah!

July 4, 2011

Run For Your Life

Filed under: Life,Reflection — by cdebaker @ 1:07 am

When I hear the expression “Run for your life…” I picture someone being chased by a bull in a narrow street, or climbing a tree to avoid being swept up by a flash flood, or maybe even someone being held up by gunpoint. It has now taken on a different meaning for me. A few months back, I registered for a class called “Intro to Women’s running”. Running for me, was always one of those things, I never thought I could do. I told myself that I didn’t have the right body type; it was not physically possible for me to do. I didn’t even possess much athletic ability. After all, isn’t walking supposed to be just as beneficial without putting stress on the joints?
Erma Bombeck wrote “The only reason I would take up jogging is so that I could hear heavy breathing again.” And yet, the word “intro” pulled me into the unknown. That one little word. The assumption will be that I know nothing about it. It doesn’t matter that I’ve never run before, or that I’m overweight and out of shape, or even that I’m 45. The description said that by the end of the 8 weekly sessions, I would be able to run in a 5K. I wasn’t sure if I believed it, but was inspired to try it.
Breathe in… breathe out…breathe in…breathe out. This is my mantra while I’m running. It’s a Friday night. After work, I haul my heavy tote bag into my workplace bathroom. I change into black exercise capris, pull on a V-neck T-shirt with “Duo-Dry” technology, and stuff myself into a running bra. I strap on my new digital watch so I can track how long I’ve run in the assigned weekly segment. Tonight I will run 9 minutes, walk for 1, and repeat 3 more times. I put on a baseball cap in case it rains. It’s a cool 61 degrees, down drastically from the record-breaking 103 degree heat 2 days ago. When I get out of my car at the park, I try to inconspicuously tuck my car key and remote into the small hidden pocket on the inside of my capris. I warm-up by walking to the trail around the wooded pond. I set the “Chrono” feature on my watch. 3 seconds, 2, 1… and go. The rocky gravel crunches under my feet. Breathe in… breathe out…breathe in…breathe out.
The class is not about the mechanics of running. It is about providing structure to help build up your endurance, encouragement and having some accountability. Learning how about how to keep yourself motivated by adopting the phrase “but it just doesn’t matter” whenever excuses come up. I’m too tired after work…but it just doesn’t matter. Insert any other excuse in here such as: It’s raining, but…, It’s too hot, but…I don’t have time, but…My back is hurting, but..and on and on. For me, it somehow released me and reshaped how I think about myself and what I could accomplish when I allowed myself to try.
In one of the later classes, we also learned about running races. We discussed how to place yourself in the pack, how to pin on your race number and secure a running chip to your shoe, even how to grab a cup of water, pinch it, and guzzle it down. Little nuggets of wisdom to make the whole process less intimidating.
The first night the class ran together, we ran for 2 minutes, walked for 2, and repeated 5 times. I had never felt my lungs burn like that before I did survive. I could either let that stop me or I could make the decision to trust the process: gradually increasing the amount of time running and decreasing the time spent walking as well running regularly 3-4 times a week. I wanted to see what was possible if I followed the structure.
In our 7th week, we ran a practice timed 5K as if in a real race. I hadn’t even run 3 full miles yet so I was a little nervous. Deciding my strategy would be to run for eight minutes and walk for two, helped me feel in more control. We walked for 10 minutes, did our warm-up exercises, and the clock started. Speed is not my strength, but determination and a steady pace keep moving. The sweepers (they stay with the last runner) ran alongside me the whole time. Around mile 1, there was a water table set up-didn’t expect it to be on the left side which is a little trickier when you’re right-handed. Gosh, how am I going to make it the rest of the way without water? The sweepers talked. I listened and ran. We fell into a good pace. The weather was cool and comfortable. I felt a cramp in my side but ran through it. I figured the next check point would be around mile 2, but surprisingly there was only .8 miles left. I can do that! I thought to myself.
42 minutes and counting. Coming into the park on the final trek, I felt good. I came around the bend to see everyone cheering me on. Inspired, I felt a boost of energy blasting me forward. I raised my arms in victory, feeling as if I had actually won the race. More cheers and high fives. A medal on a ribbon put around my neck. Sweat dripping down my back. Pink face full of sheer exhaustion and pride. I even had my picture taken.
And so now running for my life has come to mean so much more than I ever thought. It’s no longer about escaping peril but rather it’s about facing my doubts. And so now the question has become What else haven’t I tried because I thought I couldn’t do it? Maybe I shouldn’t just automatically discount myself because of my own perception. Challenging whether my perception of self is true or not somehow opens up a world of possibilities.

May 11, 2011

The Curse of the Mommy

Filed under: Family & Work Balance,Life,Mothering,Reflection — by cdebaker @ 4:04 am

The Curse of the Mommy

Just last week, my 15 year-old son had an all-day field trip for his Geology class. They got on a school bus at 5:50 in the morning and rode north to some state parks to look at different types of rocks. When I came home the night before and he was packing up his stuff, I noticed that my camera battery charging. I felt apprehensive. “Why do you need the camera?” I asked. He explained to me that his teacher required that each photo of the rocks they found from their list had to have at least one person from the group in each photo to prevent cheating. “Ok…”, I said hesitantly “but be careful with it because we won’t be able to afford to replace it if something happens!” So the curse of the Mommy was set in motion.
So what do you think happened? He had been especially careful with the camera all day long as they shot photos and when he returned back that night he set down his bag on the sidewalk after getting off the bus. A can of Mountain Dew was in the bag and for some reason it exploded and totally saturated everything, including the camera and his IPod, in the bag. He was so remorseful, I couldn’t be mad at him, although I wanted to be. We tried putting it in an air-tight container of rice for 24 hrs. The digital camera turned on but the screen wouldn’t. Was this accident foreseeable? Probably not.
It reminded me of a time when I was in 4th grade and I wanted to wear my new olive-colored corduroy pantsuit to school. My Mom said I couldn’t because I would fall down and skin my knee and my pants would be ruined. “No, I won’t Mom…I promise!” The Curse of the Mommy strikes. And so what do suppose happened? Yep, I fulfilled my mother’s prophecy and had to go home with a big hole in the knee of the pants, only confirming that she had been right to be overly cautious. My pants were patched up. I don’t even remember if she got angry. To this day, I wonder if my mom hadn’t said that, if it still would’ve happened. I can’t help feeling that a part of my esteem got a little scratched up that day as well. Too bad you can’t put an iron patch on that.
It might be a stretch to feel that my words have that much power, creating an irony that by stating what I don’t want to occur actually caused it to transpire. Then again, maybe not. Sometimes an accident is just an accident.

March 6, 2011

Ms. Cathryn’s Bad, Awful Day

Filed under: Family & Work Balance,Humor,Life,Reflection — by cdebaker @ 11:04 pm

There’s a story I read again and again to my Preschool class called “Grover’s Bad, Awful Day”.   Nothing traumatic happens.  It’s just all the little things that went wrong that particular day. It started from stubbing his toe on a toy, to dropping the toothpaste cap down the drain, to spilling the milk he was pouring on his Monsterberry Crunch.  It gets worse.  He felt embarrassed having to walk in late past all of his friends in circle time, his nose wouldn’t honk in music like the other monsters, and he forgot the R comes after Q. It finally culminates into a dropped scoop of ice cream falling off his just bitten cone and his yellow rubber boot getting stuck in some bubble gum while running home in the rain. He finally loses it and starts screaming “Mommieeeeee….!” and then breaks down into tears.

Last week was one of those bad, awful days for me. It started off by waking up late because I had set my alarm for p.m. instead of a.m. I had rushed around so much that when I got to work, I realized I hadn’t put any make-up on.  Then I had a little spat with a co-worker who got me riled up. My blood was boiling, rushing up to my face and my heart pounding madly. Instead of them admitting that they had been jerky and apologizing, they said “ I was just kidding”.  A little later, we were in the middle of lunch when I realized I had forgotten about a doctor’s appointment starting in 30 minutes. This meant cleaning up all of the lunch mess, and getting 20 kids pottied and on their cots. I made it there on time, but on the way back, another car honked at me and pointed toward my flat tire. So I called my husband only to be informed that he had never changed a flat tire before. He called a tow truck service for me and they came and put on a spare so I was late getting back.  On top of it all, the classroom was filled with loud, wild-crazed children who wanted nothing to do with sitting for a quiet story. I’m sure that if you had looked at me right that moment, you would have seen a little vein pulsating and ready to pop right out the middle of my forehead.  I ended up working late, so I didn’t get home until almost 6 p.m. I immediately changed into my pajamas which signals “I’m done!”  Fortunately, dinner was already made and we sat down as a family to eat.

Around 6:30, I sat up straight with a jolt and realized that my monthly writing group had started 15 minutes ago. My husband suggested I stay home but we only meet once a month and I didn’t want to miss it. So I made a resolution to pull myself together and go anyway. I grabbed my stuff and headed out the door and was immediately smacked in the face with the smell of natural gas. Knowing that a small spark could set off an explosion, I dared not start my car. Defeat finally crushed my “can do” spirit. Resigned I called the gas company. It turned out that there was no leak but the service tech said the wind could have blown the smell in and said it was better to be safe than sorry.  So my house didn’t blow up…at least one thing went right that day!  Was the universe trying to tell me to stay put or what?

At the end of “Grover’s Bad, Awful Day”,  his Mommy scooped him up into her lap and said “Never let a bad, awful day make you feel bad and awful”.  I don’t think that advice would have worked on me but she did take him out for a grape ice cream soda. Forget about deep, philosophical messages from the universe…ice cream works for me!

February 3, 2011

It’s Not You…It’s Me

Filed under: Family & Work Balance,Humor,Life,Reflection — by cdebaker @ 1:26 am

Dear Blog:

If you were my friend, you probably wouldn’t be speaking to me right now. I have been avoiding you lately. Yes, it’s true. Stop looking at me that way…I feel guilty enough already. I’m not really sure how we grew apart. I just haven’t felt connected to you lately. I have to say, I do enjoy spending time with you, but let’s face it, sometimes you can be emotionally draining. I pour my heart out to you, time and time again.

At first, I was really enjoying our Saturday mornings together, but after a snowstorm knocked out our power for a few hours one morning, I missed our sacred window of time to write. Then it was driving the kids around, and Thanksgiving and before I knew it, packing for our trip to Arizona around Christmas, blah, blah, blah. Believe me, it’s not easy to sneak around with you, I have a family you know. What do you expect? Should I just drop everything to have a few precious moments for personal reflection? I know, it doesn’t sound like a lot to ask of me, but carving out time to be with you takes a great amount of effort…as any close friendship should. Not that you’re not worth it…you TOTALLY are!

So I do apologize. It’s been so long since we’ve communicated, I feel awkward, like I don’t know what to say. It’s not you, it’s me. I have taken you for granted, as if you would always be there for me when I ready to talk. So if it’s okay with you, I like to take this relationship to the next level. How about a weekly commitment…a date night, perhaps? How about Tuesday nights, does that work with your schedule? I’ve penciled you in from 7 to 9 pm between the carpool drop off and pick up. I even found a spot for us to rendezvous in the college library while I’m waiting. You’re the best, I appreciate your flexibility. Exercise and meditation seem to demand I meet with at least one of them a day…or they make me certain that I’m really stressed out. If it makes you feel any better, I’ve been putting off Reading as well. The bottom line is that you’re important to me and I really want to make this work! Thanks for understanding. See you next week. Love ya!

November 6, 2010

It’s All In The Hips

Filed under: Humor,Life,Reflection — by cdebaker @ 7:23 pm

Try this at home, preferably in front of a mirror. Think of a bouncy beat so lively that you cannot resist the urge to move your hips from side to side. 1 and, 2 and, 3 and 4…Now follow The Rooster Song directions: Put your hands on your hips, cock-a-doodle-doodle-doo. Put the other on your ear, cock-a-doodle-doodle-doo. Stick out your lips, cock-a-doodle-doodle-doo. Now do like this (bobble your head back and forth), cock-a-doodle-doodle-doo. Strut around…

This is what I was doing a few days ago in my preschool classroom. Right at that moment, my center director was peeking in the window before walking in. As soon as I saw him, my arms dropped to my side and I was hoping he hadn’t noticed. He came into the room with a stunned expression on his face and said “What’s this?” while he struck the rooster pose. When I saw it reflected back at me, I felt like I had been caught out in public naked. Seeing something like that out of context, might seem a little provocative. Words of explanation (um, er, I was just…) could not shake off my embarrassment. Just to make sure my deep level of mortification was justified, I repeated the sequence in front of the bathroom mirror. It was. Totally. I won’t be struttin’ around like that again anytime soon. Cock-a-doodle-doodle-doo!

October 30, 2010

Or What?

Filed under: Family & Work Balance,Humor,Life,Mothering,Reflection — by cdebaker @ 8:12 pm

Saturday morning, I had an endless list of things I thought I had to do.  Picking up and dropping off my kids, returning library books that were due yesterday, and a trip to Target to pick up a prescription and a white dress shirt for a school choir concert next week.  And of course, the laundry needed to done, I wanted to write while the computer was not in demand, and also thought I should squeeze some exercise for good measure. After dropping off one of my kids, on the way home I hijacked myself and went to the neighborhood park for a walk.  The park has woodsy surroundings, encircled around a pond with a 1.32 mile walking trail. Without taking up to much time, it’s a little piece of nature that invigorates me in a way that a treadmill or Wii can’t do.  It was a self-imposed time-out.

When I pulled in the parking lot however, I got an uneasy feeling when I saw only one other car parked.  There was a heavy feeling in the pit of my stomach, like a boulder had landed there.  In high school, I had a hilarious psychology teacher, who in a Groucho Marx kind of voice would say “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean nobody is following you.”  Am I being paranoid?  I sat in my car a few minutes trying to assess the risks.  One car means not a lot of people are around.  I wondered if I was putting myself in a vulnerable situation.  If I were attacked, what would I do?  Intellectually, I knew the chances of that were not likely, but I couldn’t ignore the physical symptoms putting my “Spidey Sense” on high alert.

Still sitting in the car, a male jogger smiled while running past me.  A white SUV also pulled in the parking lot and a woman in a dark nylon running suit got out and headed for the trail.  I put my cell phone in my pocket, grabbed my water bottle, and stashed my purse in the trunk under a blanket. I slammed the hatch door and listened for the beep that confirmed my car was locked. The fall air was chilly, but the sunshine fooled me into thinking my fleece pull-over would keep me warm enough.  I started my walk and when I reached the unpaved trail, another jogger passed from behind. From the woods, a woman called out to her unleashed her dog to come back to her.  As I was walked, my attention went to my swinging hand carrying the aluminum water bottle.  My middle finger was hooked under the cap loop on the top of the bottle.  I laughed a little to myself and thought, if nothing else I could hit a perpetrator with it.  WHAM!

Immediately I was transported back to third grade.  My younger sister and I were taking a ballet class at our elementary school.  It was over around 5 p.m., but the winter sun was already beginning to set during the mile-or-so walk home.  My grandma, who lived with us, constantly reminded us not to dilly-dally on the way home.  It was cold and white with snow.  We took the short cut through the woods to avoid walking up the curvy steep hill.  We awkwardly made our way through the upward sloped woods which then rejoined the sidewalk.  When we got to the top, a slightly older and taller boy started teasing and following us. I had never seen him before.  I tried to ignore him and kept walking.  When he continued, I stopped and angrily whipped my body around to face him.  I shouted “Leave us alone!”  He leaned in a little.  His sneering eyes were scrunched up at me and he snidely said “Or what?”  Without thinking about it and without using words, I wound up my arm behind me and walloped his torso as hard as I could with my metal lunchbox.  WHAM!  I don’t really remember his reaction, but I do know he left without further incidence.

As I settled into my pace back on the trail, I began to soak up the sun shining through the thick tress and noticed the diamond sparkles on the water casting back it’s reflection.  The fall leaves were thick and covered the dirt path.  A Blue Jay flitted by me and landed on the branch of a white Birch tree.  If I have given in to the feeling, I would have missed all this. And so, maybe the next time I have an intuition, I might be reminded that the feeling might not have been real danger so much as a trigger back to another experience when I felt afraid.  I will never ignore my intuition, but there are times when I will at least challenge, if not override it.  WHAM!

October 23, 2010

Bitch on Wheels

Filed under: Family & Work Balance,Humor,Life,Mothering,Reflection — by cdebaker @ 4:44 pm
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I’ll admit that I wish I had a cleaner house. My weekday excuse is that I’m too tired after working all day and my weekend excuse is that I’ve worked hard all week and want to relax.   It can be avoided for a while.  But when it reaches a certain point and I can no longer stand it, I sic my teeth into it and attack it like a junkyard dog. It starts with the piles of papers cluttering the countertop.  Bills, coupons, homework, receipts are filed away until I can get to them later.  Paper clips and rubber bands get thrown into the junk drawer.  Junk mail is tossed.

Then I’ll notice the dust behind the wall-mounted telephone and the crumbs by the toaster and greasy butter dish.  While wiping off the counter, I won’t be able to rub off the red Kool-Aid stain and will have to reach for a can of powdered cleanser.  Sprinkle, rub, wipe…ahhh, much better. Ending up by the sink area, I’ll find some cooked noodles hardened on the bottom of the metal drain catcher and green stems tops from strawberries waiting for a push down the disposal.  More cleanser added to shine up the sink…scrub, scrub…sniff, sniff.  My nose curls up at the sour smell of the dishrag I’m using. It gets placed on the stairway to take upstairs to be laundered at a later point.  I’ll wet a new one and notice some splattered chocolate cake batter on my once pristine white dishwasher.  Squatting down to wipe it off puts me in a perfect position to see food crumbs mixed in with a little sand and dead grass underneath the cupboards’ corner.

Reaching for my O’Cedar angled broom, I’ll sweep the linoleum (cleverly designed to hide dirt).  Disgusted, I’ll brush off the gritty mixture from the bottom of my bare feet over the pile before capturing it all into the dustpan.  But before I can do all that, I have to fold up the grocery bags my husband deposited on the floor after going to the store and pick up the kicked off shoes left carelessly on the heating grate by the back door.

The dishwasher’s almost full, so the remaining dirty dishes the kids left on the coffee table by the remote will be grudgingly be loaded up.  The newspapers lying around will be put into the recycling bin.  It’s getting late.  Taking a look around at my work, seeing the clean counter gives me a sense of satisfaction.  I like a clean counter.  Starting up the stairs, almost forgetting, I return back to the kitchen, turn off the lights and lock the back door.  In the semi-darkness, I’ll grab the sour rag as well some dirty socks, and with my glass of water and novel, will announce “I’m going to bed!”.  But it’s not over yet.  Before I can flop into bed, there’s a pile of clean laundry on my bed waiting to be folded.  So when it comes to cleaning, my philosophy is either “Lead, Follow, of Get Out of the Way” – Bitch on wheels coming through!

October 22, 2010

Just the tip of the iceberg

Filed under: Life,Reflection — by cdebaker @ 6:17 pm

I’ve always described myself as a “What you see, is what you get” kind of person.  So what do people see?  Perhaps you would categorize me as a middle-aged married woman, living in the suburbs with two teen boys.  Maybe you see a busy Mom trying to balance work and family, making sure everyone gets where they need to be at the right time.  You might recognize me as the friendly volunteer helping you find what you need. You might notice I don’t wear fancy clothing or drive a luxury car.  My idea of wearing make-up is putting on moisturizer and mascara.   If this is how you see me, you wouldn’t be wrong.  But you’d only be seeing the tip of the iceberg.

If you brought your kids to daycare, I might be your child’s teacher.  And while you’re paying almost $1,000 monthly tuition, you wouldn’t realize that my $1400 take-home pay is barely supporting a family of four.  You wouldn’t know that if I don’t make the next 3 consecutive car payments on time, my compact SUV will be repossessed. 

You might not realize that your son’s  football coach throwing a water bottle down on the sidelines in frustration is my unemployed husband.  You might not understand how it feels to constantly being asked “Why doesn’t he just get any job?” when you don’t the answer to that question yourself.  You don’t know how low you’ll feel when you file for bankruptcy and still have to apply for food stamp benefits and free lunch for your kids.  You might not expect to make me get teary-eyed when you give my family a $50 gift card for groceries.  You might not understand what it feels like when your child can’t drink as much milk as he might like.  Or wishing that he won’t grow out of  shoes too fast  because you can’t afford another pair.  Try explaining to your child that you don’t have the money to buy new school supplies the week before school.

And yet, even if this is not your situation, you might be able to relate on some level.  Everyone is struggling to survive.  No one is really seen underneath unless they choose to reveal the structure floating below.  Swirling waters, like life circumstances, shape and carve out their influence mostly undetected.  It’s there whether we see it or not.  How do people see you?

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