Sunday, January 24, 2010

Newspaper column: Trip to Haiti as a teenager filled with life lessons

My first impression of Haiti was how in­credibly poor it was.

I was only in Port-au-Prince briefly as part of a beach day cruise stop with my parents when I was in junior high, but the visit left a lasting impression on me. I had never seen so many people in the streets working so hard to sell their wares for so little.

Women shoved straw hats and decorative clay bowls in my hands as we passed, small children sitting on blankets at their feet. I remember the women held up their hands, refusing to take their items back when I tried to politely decline a purchase. It broke my heart to set the items down. I just wanted to hand them what little money I had in my bag.

Getting a head full of braids and beads suddenly didn’t seem all that important.

At the time, the country was in a civil war. We had been given strict instructions by the cruise line not to stray too far — otherwise they couldn’t guarantee our safety.

That part didn’t matter to me. Although I was curious, I was more than content sitting on a gorgeous beach with the bluest water I had ever seen.

The area was breathtakingly beautiful, but it fell in sharp contrast to the broken benches and crumbling concrete homes we passed.

I left feeling incredibly greatful for everything I have.

So when news of the earthquake broke a little more than a week ago, I immediately thought of those small homes I had seen. I knew they wouldn’t withstand much. 

I waited to see how the story would develop. After reading the ongoing up­dates, a coworker turned to me and said, “A calamity of this magnitude is going to hit home. Local people will be affected.”

Boy was she right.

As much as gripping photos of children crying over lost loved ones and detailed accounts of suffering in makeshift hospitals equip­ped only with aspirin connect us to the plight of those an ocean away, it’s easy to forget.

We have our own daily battles, although nowhere near as dire, to distract us. And, let’s face it, getting swept up in their reality is heartbreaking. Sometimes we need the luxury of being able to turn our attention to something else and laugh.

Like me, I’m sure most people felt the urge to help. Sure, dropping change into a collection can at a restaurant, donating at the grocery store checkout or joining a Facebook group that promises to give $1 for each member feels like we’re at least doing something. But there’s still a disconnect.

That’s why stories of survivors with local ties are so important. It places the disaster at our doorstep. It makes us realize that despite an earthquake being more than a thousand miles away, the aftershocks were felt around the world — including here.

We can find hope in the story of the former Tyrone-area woman who managed to escape after a four-story apartment building crumbled around her. Her fortitude to crawl through a crack a little more than a foot wide de­spite a broken back is nothing short of astounding.

We can find solace in the story about the Huntingdon church pastor who de­scribed helping other survivors remove the concrete from their hair on his annual outreach trip to his twin parish.

We can find courage in the face of adversity in the stories of three doctors with local ties who volunteered their time and skills to help retrieve orphans or take part in a medical relief mission.
It also helps to remember that in the midst of all the pain and suffering, there are tens of thousands of stories of strength, tenacity and compassion emerging from the rubble every day.

And because the odds are slim that I’ll ever return, I’m glad I ended up going back to buy that clay bowl.

Friday, January 22, 2010

2 years, 2 months

Dear Alli,

I was just about to give up writing this month’s letter. Let’s face it: I’m already a week late.

I have been so busy getting ready for two major bridal expos in the next two weeks that if I had a moment to actually stop and catch my breath, I think I might just start sobbing.

It’s not easy trying to make a killer first impression for your business, particularly when you work another full-time job, overbooked yourself with portrait sessions this month and have an amazing little girl you desperately want to snuggle with on the couch.

I knew building a business would be a major commitment for me, but I didn’t realize how much it would affect everyone else in the house. I want you to know that your dad has picked up a ton of the slack at home without so much as a peep. Last weekend, he did six loads of laundry in one afternoon, and tonight he made an amazing chicken dinner while I was corresponding with clients and designing my brochure.

It’s been a monster team effort.

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But yesterday I think you and I just needed a break. We needed to get out of the house, leave the photos and e-mails and phone calls behind and spend a little time together.

It was our inaugural Mother Daughter Day.

When you got up, I asked, “Hey, do you want to go have some fun today?”

Your eyes got wide, then you screamed, “YEAH! TOYS!”

After I got done laughing, I asked where you’d like to go. Even though I had a specific destination in mind, I wanted to see what you’d come up with. You ticked through a predictable list of relative’s and friend’s houses, then asked to go to the bank. It’s those damn free lollipops.

Instead, I took you to Slinky Action Zone — a crazy kid activity area filled with tubes, slides, punching bags, a ball crawl and ramps. Actually, it reminds me of a gigantic hamster cage. For kids.

Knowing how crazy you are at home jumping and climbing and running and otherwise constantly going at full speed, I expected to feel a rush of air as you passed me yelling, “BE BACK MAMA!”

Instead, you looked at me, held out your hand and asked, “Eee comin’ Mama?”

I spent the next two hours 20 feet in the air in plastic tubes as other impatient toddlers tried to squeeze past my butt. And, you know what? I loved every second.

So what if all of the other moms were sitting at tables in the eating area? So what if I hit my head every single time you wanted to go down the twisty slide in my lap? So what if it took us 20 minutes to crawl across the rope mesh? We did it all together.

We didn't go out to lunch afterward like I had planned because you were conked out before we even made it out of the parking lot, but the afternoon rejuvenated me in more ways than you’ll ever know.

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As always, I had been thinking for days about all the things I wanted to document this month. That was two weeks ago. Now I don’t remember any of it. There’s nothing left in my brain space besides what I need to do tomorrow. If I allow anything else in, I’ll make a major gaffe that I can’t afford to.

Instead I'll write what comes to mind. This does, however, come with a disclaimer. I worked all afternoon on the business, then I went to the paper for 9 hours and dealt with a late-breaking hostage situation that required me to rip up and resend a page minutes before deadline, and it's now 1 a.m. and counting, so it could very well end up all over the place. But this feels important. I promised myself I would do this for you. And after two years, I'm not about to stop now.

I knew I was going to write about our day. The rest? Well, here goes.

Santa brought you a gigantic princess tent for Christmas. When we got back from spending the holiday in Rochester, I wasn't exactly sure where it was going to fit in our house. First we had it in the office upstairs, but it severely restricted, oh, breathing in that room. So once the Christmas tree came down, we parked it in the living room.

You love that tent. Right this very second it is filled to the brim with shit. Your kitchen is in there, your doodle pad, blocks, plastic food, your kitchen, a wooden train and probably at least four miniature Kai Lan figurines in various outfits and hairstyles.

We sit in that tent together every afternoon reading books or doing just about anything. You love it in there.

Surprisingly enough, I don't hate it. In fact, one of my most cherished memories of that tent will be New Year's Eve 2010. All three of us were really sick this year, so instead of going to a friend's party like we had planned, we stayed home.

After a very bland dinner and passing around some medicine, you, me, Dad and Toby spent hours hanging out in your tent. Dad hooked up his iPod dock, and we listened to music while playing with your new toys. It was so hot, there were tissues everywhere, and the only thing flowing freely was snot instead of champagne, but it was wonderful.

There wasn't anywhere in the world I would've rather been.

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This afternoon while we were eating lunch, you turned to Dad and asked, "Daddy, eee sing the spider song?"

You phrase all your questions that way: Mommy, eee do it? Daddy, eee comin'? Mommy, eee get BunnyBear? Daddy, eee havin' a drink?

I know someday you're going to speak clearly and I'll struggle to remember all of your cute attempts at learning a language. In fact, just a few days ago you said "lemon" correctly. I knew it was the first time you had gotten in right, but then I couldn't remember how you've been saying it up until now and it broke my heart. I think it was "menen" or something like that, but I hate that I'm not sure.

Anyway, so you asked Dad to sing Itsy Bitsy Spider. You know almost all of the verses now, you just have a hard time remembering which one comes next. Sometimes the sun dries up all the rain and then the spider washes down the spout, but whatever. We love it.

This time, when Dad got through the first verse, he made this weird noise with his mouth and you went into absolute hysterics. You laughed so hard and long, your eyes were just so alive. I didn't have my camera, so I hope the mental picture I took lasts a lifetime.

It continued like that after each verse. Dad would bust out that weird noise and you would freak out, looking at me like, "Hey, isn't this the greatest thing you've ever seen in your ENTIRE LIFE?"

When I looked at Dad quizzically, he just said, "I screwed up the song last night and made that sound before starting over. She laughed like crazy, so I did it again."

We spent the rest of our lunch making blubbery noises in between bites while you laughed and laughed and laughed.

I don't remember what we did to entertain ourselves before you came into our lives, but surely it wasn't half as fun.

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You are still at a very difficult stage as far as tantrums and needing instant gratification. You specify which color cup you want your drink in and expect things to be a certain way.

But there are other times that I remember how far we've come with you. How much you've grown.

Last Saturday morning, Dad's radio station sponsored a free showing of Loony Toons at a historic theater downtown. He had been planning on taking you himself, allowing me time to work on photos, but then he said something in passing that instantly changed my mind.

"I can't wait to see her face when she sees a movie screen for the first time."

That's all it took. I threw on clothes so fast that I think I broke a personal record. I went from pajamas to ready to walk out the door in less than 10 minutes.

And I couldn't have been more glad. Not only did you sit on my lap the entire time, you helped Dad introduce the show. You've gotten so familiar with microphones from hanging out at his radio station a few times that when the theater manager handed Dad the equipment, you begged and pleaded to hold the "mike.ro.phone." You pronounce all three syllables like they're separate words that are each worthy of their own distinct attention.

When the two of you walked on stage, I felt my heart expand. Once you saw the crowd, you covered your eyes. Then Dad explained that it was your first time in front of a group and asked them to say hello. As the whole auditorium yelled, "Hi, Allison!" you put your hands down and beamed. And just like we had practiced in the car on the way there, you leaned into the mic and said, "HI KIDS!"

And then my heart expanded again.

You finished by attempting to pronounce the names of the business sponsors when Dad prompted you to, then you waved on your way back to your seat.

Needless to say, you guys got the biggest cheer from me.

As for your first glimpse at a movie screen? It earned a long "Oooooh" in between bites of popcorn. And, impressively, we made it through the entire series of shows.

There were lots of little moments like this that are eluding me at the moment. But mostly because I'm exhausted. Not because I've forgotten them.

I guess I just want you to know how incredible you are. When I'm stressed to the max and feel I can't hold one more thing on my plate, you are my antidote. Your perfectly simple world where utter joy comes in the form of a funny sound. And the biggest hurdle to overcome is figuring out where Bunny disappeared to.

Remember how I said starting this business was a team effort?

You're a big part of it, too.

Love,
Mama

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Smooth operator Jerryism

"You look great."

"Really? I feel like I was run over by a truck."

"A truck full of beauty products!"

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Like talking to a tape recorder

Conversation I had with Allison when she woke up this morning:

"Mom, I want to go downstairs."

"Okay, but I need to change your pants first."

"I want to go downstairs."

"I know. But we can't do that until you have a new diaper."

"I want to go downstairs."

"We have to change your pants."

"I want to go downstairs."

"Allison, I have to change your pants."

"I want to go downstairs."

"I want to go to Europe."

(Pause)

"I want to go downstairs."

"Well, feel free to go by yourself. It's dark down there, though."

(Stomps feet)

"I'll go with you after we change your pants."

"I want to go downstairs."

"Okay, well, I'm going back to bed. Wake me up when you're ready to get your pants changed."

"Mom, I want to change pants."

Friday, January 8, 2010

Wanted: One blowtorch

There are about a million great reasons to have children, but one of the changes I've had trouble dealing with lately is wondering where my beautiful, organized home went.

Jerry and I spent almost a year getting our house to look the way we wanted it. We removed drop ceilings, horrid wallpaper, bought upwards of 20 gallons of paint, and I scoured every store and website for the perfect decorative touches. After all our hard work, it was a great source of pride.

But now it's filled with kid clutter that just doesn't seem to dissipate no matter how much I keep after it or how many baskets and bins I dedicate to containing it. At any given time, there is guaranteed to be something underfoot and out of place -- blocks, train track parts, books, tiny plastic characters and the random scenes they came with, board game pieces and the always-AWOL stuffed animals.

To top it off, Allison is in that awesome destructive stage. She wants to write on walls, purposely spill her drink to see where the liquid will go and throw things just to hear them hit the floor. In the past few weeks, I've sadly discovered that the Magic Eraser does have its limits. Mr. Clean can't remove pen from the back of a white door -- no matter how hard you scrub. It can, however, remove pen from placemats. And chalk from wood floor.

Every time I think I've found a somewhat acceptable place to contain her kid crap, it multiplies. I swear her things come alive at night just to procreate and take over the house. I just hope the 911 operator who answers my inevitable call about being suffocated by stuffed animals has kids so she'll understand that it's a genuine emergency.

The sad thing is, we used to have empty rooms. I remember when we first moved in, I put the desk at an angle in the office because it was the only piece of furniture in there. Now everything is crammed against a wall, not an inch of space between the bed, end table, rocking chair, bookshelf, toybox and desk.

And the center of the room is always filled with stuff that should be in the toybox.

It feels like we're bursting at the seams.

I'll know it's time to move to a bigger house when I come home to find a white flag out waiving out of the chimney.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Acknowledging what I've refused to

A close friend of mine once said I was "one of those annoying people who is good at everything."

Lovingly, of course.

I wouldn't say I even touch the hem of Martha Stewart's apron, but I do like to consider myself multi-talented when it comes to using the right side of my brain. The only problem is that it has become painfully clear that my creative juices only flow in one direction at a time. I can't portion it off, even when I want to.

A few nights ago when I didn't have any photos to edit, orders to place or sessions to book, I sat down and started reading through some of my old blog posts. I don't do it often, but when I do, it's everything I had intended it to be when I started on this venture five years ago.

It can make me laugh and cry. It can make my heart dance and break all in a few little clicks. I hadn't ever been successful at keeping a journal in my lifetime, but the daily pressure of providing something for other people to read inspired me and kept me at it. And I couldn't be more grateful.

So it probably goes without saying that I'm angry at myself for failing to document the past few months as well since starting my business. This has been one of the most interesting and demanding times of my life, and I have very little to show for it personally. I do, of course, have an incredible portfolio of images that can't be overlooked and met some really fantastic people along the way.

But lost in the mix is my writing. I thought having a baby was demanding on my personal time. Try raising a business. It requires about the same lack of sleep.

I do miss it. And I know I'm going to miss reading about Allison's daily adventures when I'm older and desperate to remember her little nuances at this age. Like how she has to say goodnight to the entire house before laying down to bed. And still hasn't completely mastered the pronunciation of certain words, so she says things like "packpack" instead of backpack and calls anything in a container that is designed to sprinkle it's contents onto food "sparkers."

As in, "I want MORE SPARKERS!" while I was topping my pasta with parmesan last night.

Then, when I added some to her bowl of noodles, she just dipped her finger repeatedly into the sparkers and licked it clean, eventually leading to the declaration, "Mmm. Cheese."

I'm not going to say I'm resolving to write more this year, because those kinds of statements are made to be broken, but I can say that the desire is there.

I have some big goals for 2010, personally and professionally, and this seems like a good start.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Newspaper column

I think most parents like to believe that their children are smart, talented and advanced for their age.

When, really, it’s probably a genetic predisposition to ensure the preservation of our species. Otherwise, we might not keep them around on days filled with temper tantrums, hitting and pen marks on the couch.

Despite all that, I’m guilty of raving about my daughter’s advancements just like all moms. I have Allison’s most adorable pictures displayed on my desk at work and can’t wait to talk about her latest antics if the opportunity presents itself.

But a recent parenting adventure had me lamenting her smarts, not celebrating them.

Ever since we brought her home from the hospital, Allison has loved the water. Now, as a 2-year-old, she would spend all day in the tub if we and her skin would allow it.

It’s partially my fault.

Once, probably out of habit, I accidentally turned on the shower while getting her bath ready. It was a huge hit. I transformed an otherwise enjoyable activity into an addiction.

She suddenly thought our bathroom was a waterpark.

From then on, we’ve had a hard time explaining that she doesn’t need six showers a day. Oc­cassion­ally I would give in just to stop the incessant begging, but that came to a screeching halt when our monthly water bill resembled a car payment.

After that, she started going to great lengths to convince us she needed a shower. Some­times she throws her hands into the air announcing, “YAY! SHOWER TIME!” hoping we forget that it’s actually time for her nap.

Other times she declares that her toys are dirty, tosses them in the tub and says they need a shower. And, oh, by the way? You might as well toss me in there, too, Mom.

But my favorite tactic so far is one I wasn’t even around to witness.

Apparently she was begging and pleading with my husband for a shower, but when the answer was always no, she decided to change her approach.

“Juice, Daddy?”

Whether he felt badly for making her wait for her nightly bath or he really thought she wanted something to drink, I’m not sure.

All I know is that in the time it took him to put the cap back on the juice container and return it to the the fridge, she was getting the best of him.

He turned around to see her dumping the juice out of her sippy cup all over her head.

When he took it away from her and demanded an explanation, she simply put her hands down and looked at him sweetly.

“Shower, Daddy?”

If that’s what she’s doing at 2, I shudder to think about what she’ll be capable of at 14.

To me, that’s an extraordinary cognative connection for a 25-month-old, but unknowingly being outsmarted by a toddler is certainly nothing we’re bragging about.

One thing’s for sure: Parents really do need eyes in the back of their heads. Maybe that would ensure the preservation of our species even better.