Friday, March 21, 2014

Roasting Marshmallows Instead of Being Beaten

In recent years, the blogging world has exploded. Thanks in large part to social media, posts are written, shared, copied, pasted, tweeted, liked and sometimes the really lucky ones end up on news sites. They may even get their very own meme.

One of the most common types of blog posts that I have come across, are the “What Not to Say” posts. There must be hundreds because I feel like I see one every day. They are virtually the same layout, “What Not to Say to (fill in the blank with random sub-category of the human family)”. The post then contains a list of five to twenty things you should NE-VER say to the aforementioned sub-category.

I’ve learned from these posts. Thanks to these incredibly insightful articles, I now know all the things I shouldn’t say to people who own dogs, people who hate dogs, people who are gay, people who are pregnant, people without kids, people with lots of kids, people who adopted kids, people who gave birth to kids, people with depression, people who’ve lost loved ones and people who eat shrimp…to name a few.
Because of the knowledge I’ve gained, I feel much more capable of interacting with my fellow man. I have learned that:

1.       1. If you should happen to meet someone with depression, please don’t tell them it will be okay. Also don’t tell them to get over it. Don’t talk to them at all actually, but be there for them. They just want to know you care, just don’t express it vocally. But call them sometimes, just to talk.

2.       2. If a mother with a lot of kids is walking in the grocery store, you should acknowledge her but don’t ask any questions, compliment her children, give “disapproving looks” (make sure you don’t get anything in your contact lens when you’re around a mother with multiple children), smile at her, frown at her or tell her that her hands are full. I mean really, what kind of animal are you?

3.       3. If you encounter a pregnant woman, don’t speak. At all. Period. And for the love of Pete, don’t notice that she’s pregnant.
This is a short sampling of the knowledge I’ve gained. Anyone else noticing the issue here?

Here’s the thing. We all want to be accepted. We all want to be shown respect. That’s not unreasonable. I won’t lie, I’ve had to bite the inside of my cheek more than once when people have made comments about how many kids I have or how young I am, or my crazy religion. I get it. I really do. We all have feelings, young Mormon moms included.

But what if we’ve got this whole thing backwards? Is it possible that we are being a teeeeeeeensy bit too sensitive here? Do you think that maybe, just maybe, we need to chill out a little?

Maybe that woman her turned her face away from you and your two small children, looking disgusted, has been struggling with infertility. Maybe she just lost her child. Maybe it’s not that she is disgusted by your children, maybe it just hurts.

That friend who told you to “get over” your depression? Maybe she just doesn’t know what to say anymore. Maybe she loves you so much that it hurts her to see you unhappy and she’s angry with herself for not being able to help you. Maybe she is trying as hard as you are. Maybe harder.

That person who asked you if your religion worships a magical lizard (yes, I have been asked this question) is desperately wanting to find God. Maybe they just want to feel something, anything, and they just don’t know how to ask.

The grocery store worker who asked you if you’re having twins or “about to pop”, maybe she remembers those days and is thinking of her grandbaby who lives on the other side of the country, the one she is so desperate to see that she is working forty hours a week ringing up groceries just so she can afford the plane ticket.

The bully at school who mocked you for being gay, maybe his parents wouldn’t understand his secret. Maybe he wakes up every day wishing he could make it just go away. Maybe he is jealous because your friends still love you, a love that he fears no one will ever feel for him.

What about the homeless man on the street? I wonder if he would be grateful if someone would just speak to him at all, just acknowledge that he’s a living soul, a person, someone’s child. God’s child.

People are going to say things. Sometimes those things will hurt. Sometimes they will irritate. But is it possible that instead of worrying about what they’ve said, how they looked at us, or didn’t look at us, we could just simply choose to not worry about it? I’m not saying it won’t hurt a little. It might hurt. Words can hurt. Looks can hurt. But by dwelling on it, fussing about it on facebook or twitter, blogging about it, etc. aren’t we just keeping our finger in the piranha tank?

Maybe we could all try a little harder to assume the best, hope for the best and choose to let it go when we get offended. Chances are, we’ve been on the other end of things at one time or another. Come one, tell me you've never put your foot in your mouth before.

Speak softly and use that big stick for something productive, like roasting a big fat marshmallow.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

My Friday Night Letter

After battling a week of sleepless nights, upper respiratory purgatory, trips to the emergency room, trips to the doctor and did I mention the sleepless nights? I did. Well, they are worth mentioning twice. After all of that, I thought that nothing else could evoke much thought or emotion from me this morning. And then my husband told me about "Friday Night Tykes". 

This show, part of the Esquire Network lineup, is supposed to be a glimpse into the "reality" of youth football in Texas. After listening to my husband describe some of the scenes in the show, I could feel my blood pressure rising. Those of you who know my husband know that he is a very athletic, very competitive person. He loves sports and has spent many years coaching our kids various teams. He's also not what you'd call the "emotional, sensitive" type. He had to turn the show off because it was too upsetting. He said that his first thought was, "it's a good thing Jen isn't watching this." And I believe he was right. I can only imagine how I would feel if I had witnessed these things myself rather than hearing about them second-hand.

Still, I haven't been able to stop thinking about this. I haven't been able to peel my mind and heart away from the feelings that this show, this concept, is invoking in me. But what I have to say isn't for the producers or the coaches, or even the parents (though trust me when I say, I have plenty of ideas for conversation topics should I ever encounter them in person). My words are for the kids. The eight and nine year old children who find themselves involved in this. 

Dear Friday Night Tykes,

 I'm sorry that the adults in your life have failed you. I'm sorry that, as a society, we have forgotten that raising children is more than feeding and clothing and teaching you to keep up in a competitive society, it's also teaching you to accept your imperfections and realize that they don't make you less worthy of love and respect. I'm sorry that there were no adults there to stand at your side and defend you. I'm sorry that the same people who speak out about the anti-bullying movement are the ones who are humiliating you and bullying you and sending you the message that it's okay to be cruel because "it builds character". We, the adults, have failed you. That includes me. I wasn't there. I didn't step in and stand between you and the abuse. I'm sorry.

I'm sorry that your humiliation was recorded and displayed for entertainment, that our society is more concerned with ratings and publicity than with humanity. I'm sorry that the world sat back and watched on while you were forced to run until you vomited and then forced to run some more. I'm sorry that we sat on our couches and watched as the grown ups who should be setting the example for you, got in your face and spoke to you as if you weren't a human being, as if you don't matter. You do matter. You are important. You are loved.

I'm sorry that our culture is full of flawed philosophies and that some people believe that whether or not everyone on your football team gets a trophy will have a substantial impact on who you are and what you can do. It's not true ya know. Those things don't really matter. That trophy doesn't define you. It doesn't define your teammates. Recognizing your efforts doesn't make you entitled. In fact, nothing that YOU do will do that. 

I'm sorry that our society is raising you to think that you have to know all your shapes by the time you're two and read when you're three and that education is all about competing in the job market and not about experiencing this life that you've been given. I'm sorry that you've been taught that what you have is more important than what you give and that what you have is never enough because someone else always has more. Because that's not true either. You have enough and you are enough and you can accomplish greatness because you are great.

I want you to know that these experiences are not going to be your life story. This time is going to pass and you can choose to let these experiences stay in the past. You can move forward and embrace the unique and beautiful qualities that make you who you are. You can treat others with respect. You can help those who need help. You can be a light. You are light.

Please don't let these experiences tear you down. You are stronger than that. You deserve better than what you have been given but you can create happiness and fulfillment. It's like a superpower. 

Please forgive us, all the adults who have failed you. We aren't perfect and many of us have forgotten about that superpower. We think that happiness and fulfillment come from societal acceptance, material possessions and public recognition. We don't remember what is really important. 

Will you remind us? Will you show us how to be better? Will you teach your children and never let them forget how powerful and amazing they are? 

I hope that you will. I also hope that the next time your coach gets in your face and yells at you, or the next time your parent tells you to quit crying and get back out there...that you kick them right in the knee. 


A Stupid Grown-Up

Sunday, December 1, 2013

How to Talk to Parents: A Toddler's Guide to Communication

Ten Laws of Parent Communication:

1. What you have to say is infinitely more important than whatever is happening. Period.

2. The BEST time to express your deepest fears, hopes, desires and views on life, is when your mother is on the phone.

3. When you are asked to talk, e.g. for a family video, a program at church/pre-school, or to demonstrate your vocabulary for a doctor, you MUST remain silent for a period of time. Only respond to their requests once they have offered you sufficient rewards for your efforts. Remember your worth. Do not settle for a sticker when you can get ice cream.

4. The middle of the night provides the perfect opportunity for one-on-one communication with your parents. Please note that results may vary. If your mental faculties are not entirely present, simply crying or whining will usually get results. Remember, above all, you must be consistent in order to see the best results.

5. Find new and interesting ways to pronounce words. You may get exciting results. For example, if you want a strawberry, make you sure you alter the pronunciation enough to elicit guesses. At some point they may ask you if you want, say, a cookie. If you just came out and asked for a cookie, they would likely say, "no". But if they have to guess for long enough, they will be so excited to have (supposedly) discovered the answer, they will more often than not, give you the cookie. This is known as up-selling.

6. When words fail you, throw yourself on the ground, thrash and scream.

7. Change your mind rapidly and without warning and expect your parents to keep up. If they incorrectly assume that you still want what you said you wanted ten seconds prior, please implement the method discussed in number six.

8. It might seem difficult, at times, to get your point across. They are only adults after all. But you will have greater success when you utilize these tried and tested methods: volume and repetition. If you feel your point is not getting across, try repeating yourself while increasing volume until you elicit the desired response. For example, if you want your mother's attention and she is on the phone, you would start by saying, "mama" in your normal voice. She will probably ignore you. Try not to lose your patience. Remember, she is still learning. So use a little more volume and repeat, "mama". If she still does not respond, then you need to implement the aforementioned technique, ie. "MAMA! MAMA! MAMA! MAAAAAAMAAAAA!"

** This method does not have conclusive results with dads. They have a highly-developed ability to block out the sound of your voice. The louder you get, the less they hear. For best results with dads, turn off the television or simply hit them with a hard object. We recommend the remote control for added emphasis, though be warned, your point will likely be lost on them.

9. If they express frustration with your communication techniques, carefully project the lower lip and shed two to three small tears (do not over-do it). Make as little noise as possible. This will guarantee you snuggles and kisses.

10. If you are still struggling to communicate effectively with your parents, try writing your feelings down. We suggest a wall, an important document or high-quality bedding. Permanent markers are the preferred medium but work with what is accessible. Don't feel limited. Crayons, pens and makeup are all perfectly acceptable substitutes.

Friday, September 27, 2013

What Just Happened?

I remember back when I was on the horse scene. We used to all talk about the cushy life that a racehorse lives. Seriously. Have you met a racehorse? Spoiled bunch of punks. They eat better than I do. They have servants, people who come in and brush their hair, clean up after them, clip their toenails, bring them snacks. They work really hard for about one to two years, usually leading up to one big huge event and then, after that event, they retire. They get to keep the servants. Like I said...punks.

But something happened today, something that makes me think I may have been a little too judgmental about the racehorses. Today, I sold my baby clothes...all of them. I've sold baby clothes before but it was different, it wasn't the last of my baby clothes. I kept my favorites, ya  know, for the next baby. I never really thought about what would happen when there was no next baby. When I was done. When life, as I knew it, packed up in a big Rubbermaid container and high-tailed it into the back of some stranger's crossover and drove away. But I've thought about it now. And now I want to apologize to the racehorses. Because I wonder if this is how they felt when their last race was over.

Did they go back to their stall and think, "what do I do now?" I mean, they knew it would come eventually. You can't race forever. There has to be a last race and that race has to come to an end inevitably. But still, did they really know that?

I didn't. I mean, I knew but I didn't know, ya know?

No one can have babies for forever. I knew that. I may not have set a certain number that I wanted to have or not have, but I knew that, at some point in my life, I would have to stop getting pregnant and having children. What I didn't know what how I would feel about that. That, I was completely unprepared for.

I used to laugh a little at the moms who used to say that "lost themselves" when they had children. They forgot about their spouses, their interests, their careers and ambitions. They were so silly. They obviously didn't have a good grip on who they were. They clearly just weren't good at keeping it all in check. So silly.

Today, when I came home and deleted my craigslist post for that last batch of baby clothes, it hit me. I have no idea who I am. Okay, that's not totally true. I know who I am right this moment. I know who I've been for the last ten years. What I don't know is who to be going forward. I don't know how to prepare myself for never buying another pregnancy test, never going to another ultrasound, never packing that hospital bag, never listening to my husband's voice counting during a contraction, never have that first smell of newborn baby skin, never experience that first kiss between those sweet eyes. I don't know how to not be having babies. Because for my entire adult life, I have been in the business of having babies. That's been everything. My planning for the future was centered on when we'd have the next baby. My day-to-day living was focused on how to raise my children while simultaneously nursing or lugging around thirty extra pounds of belly. I know how to do that. It's what I've been doing every day. I've trained. This was my race.

And now the race is over. And it's good. I get that it's good. I know that I've run my best. I know that the time has come for me to focus on other things, like raising this pack of crazies and teaching them to be productive human beings. There are good things ahead. And I'm excited about them. But still, I feel a little like a racehorse who has been stuck in the stall. No more races. No more roses. And where in the heck are my servants?

So yeah, today was an emotional day. The baby clothes are gone. I did what any reasonable woman would do in my situation...I ate four chocolate chip cookies and went to Sweet Frog. When the crib goes, I'm going to the Bahamas.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

So Long, Farewell...

I remember almost a year ago, I was sitting on my bed crying (when I say crying, I really mean sobbing huge snot-sorting sobs) because I was scared to move to Florida.

"What if the people there don't like me?" I wailed.

My sweet, ever-patient husband sat next to me, rubbing my back.

"They will. You can't help but make friends wherever you go."

I think I probably wiped my face on his shirt sleeve and cried a little more and then convinced him to go get me some ice cream to make me feel better. But my fears remained in tact. What if I couldn't make friends in Florida?

We have been in Florida for seven months and I can say that my fears were totally unfounded. The people here have been so welcoming and amazing. As soon as we got here, we had phone calls, visits, people bringing us dinners, helping with our children and inviting us to birthday parties.

In the short time that we have lived here, I've been blessed to make some wonderful friends. Friends who have impacted my life in amazing ways.

Which is why moving again is really hard.

Yes. The Ramsey Clan is moving...again. We are heading back to Richmond in a couple of weeks.

Part of me is elated. I am a Virginia girl. I am so excited to go home. I am excited to be back with my friends and family, back to familiar doctors and schools and the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.

Then there is the other part of me, the part that didn't exist until seven months ago, that is so terribly sad to leave Florida. More specifically, I am sad to leave our friends here.

I truly do believe that Heavenly Father has a plan for my family, one that I don't always understand (okay, I rarely understand it) and important work for us to do in this world. I don't know when or where He will want us, but I can only pray that, wherever we go, we will be blessed with friends like the ones we have found here in Florida.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

From the Mom With All Those Kids

Dear Person Asking Me Why I Have So Many Children,

The truth is, I don't know. I didn't sit down with my husband when we first got married and set a number goal. I mean, we talked about it. We would fantasize about having two girls and two boys and oh how perfect that would be, etc. We talked about names we liked. We talked about names we didn't like. But we also talked about the giant heated, stone, in-ground bathtub we were going to build in our dream home in Ireland.

Likewise, we didn't sit down before each child and make a detailed budget sheet. We didn't examine our finances. We didn't look at assets and the stock market. We didn't calculate the cost of college tuition and dance lessons or how inflation would factor into Friday night pizza delivery charges. I guess that's irresponsible. But the bottom line is, it wouldn't change anything.

I still think it's a little funny when people comment on how many children I have. I don't feel like I have a big family...except when we have to take potty breaks on road trips, and then? Oh boy do I feel it. But just the every day thrills and spills? It just doesn't feel like a huge number of people. Okay, maybe that's not totally true. Sometimes it feels like a huge number. When everyone is crying and the laundry is up to the sky and dishes are overflowing and I haven't slept in four months, then yes, it feels overwhelming. But right now? In this moment? It doesn't. And actually, there are probably more of these moments than I even acknowledge.

As for how we afford it, well, I don't really know. We just kind of do. We buy what we can afford and we don't buy what we can't. There's a lot of stuff that falls into the can't category. There are a lot of gadgets we don't have, a lot of trips we can't take, a lot of things my children have to do without. I'm not sure if that's fair. I was an only child and I had pretty much whatever I wanted. It was great. I had a good childhood. But that nice car I drove my senior year? It got totaled. And that JCrew sweater that I just had to have doesn't sit next to me at the Thanksgiving table and tell funny stories about the time we got into trouble sneaking out of the house. Those things were wonderful and I am thankful that my parents worked hard to give me the things I wanted. But they are just things. I know there will probably be times when my kids feel the sting of having less money than their friends. Maybe they'll resent me. Maybe they won't. I hope, though, that one day they will sit with their siblings and tell stories about the time they painted the walls with finger paints the night before an open-house. Or the summer they spent running through the sprinkler and catching frogs and eating popsicles for lunch. In those moments, I hope they'll realize that some things are better than money.

I don't have a magic answer for "how I do it". We get up in the morning. We go to bed at night. Most everything else just sort of happens in between. It's not always fun and it's not always tidy. We can't afford it. We can't organize it. It's tiring and it pushes me to my limits. Honestly, I have no clue what I'm doing. The more kids I have, the less I know about parenting, and life in general.

But ya know what? It's pretty amazing. I see miracles every day. I am challenged every day. I am humbled every day. I'm the villain, the hero and the bystander every day. I say things I never thought I'd say. I feel things I never thought I'd feel. It's not perfect but it's good, really good.

Your Friend,

The Crazy Mom With All Those Kids

Friday, June 14, 2013

Mom Tired

When you're pregnant, everyone tells you that their best advice is to sleep when your baby sleeps. When you have a new baby, the first thing they ask is how he or she is sleeping at night. With babies, it's just assumed that you're going to be tired. What no one tells you is that it's actually not about babies. It's about motherhood. Yes, it begins with pregnancy and no, it never ends. Moms are tired. All the time. Forever.

I've decided there are levels of tired. There's "dog tired", which I imagine is just a step above plain tired. Then comes "bone tired", meaning you've yawned more than once in an hour. After "bone tired" comes "exhausted". This is somewhere around the vicinity of a car that is getting low on gas and starting to sputter. Then there's "dead tired". At "dead tired" the average human being requires sleep or, ya know, they die. But it keeps going. Below "dead tired" you have the "walking zombie tired". This is where I spend a majority of my life. I'm alive, I'm moving, but there is very little reasoning going on in my brain. And unlike normal zombies, sleep zombies don't crave brains...they crave pillows. And just a tiiiiiiny bit below "walking zombie tired" is "mom tired". "Mom tired" is when you have been "walking zombie tired" for so long that you don't care if the world itself stops turning, you have GOT to have a nap.

Today, I was "mom tired". I wanted that nap. I needed that nap. I knew, in my heart of hearts, that it wasn't going to happen but sometimes you just can't help but dream...oh wait, dreaming requires sleep.

But then, miraculously, it looked like a nap might be in the realm of possibility. Child 5 was napping. Children 2, 3 and 4 were outside playing (in the back yard that is fully enclosed by a six foot privacy fence and pad locked on the outside), Child 1 was playing the Wii and Child 6 was ready to snuggle up and nap with Mama on the couch. This is going to happen! I'm going to do it! I'm going to NAP!

I get comfy on the couch. Child 6 falls asleep. It's peaceful and pretty quiet. Life is good. Until...

The alarm goes off. Not the fire alarm. The child alarm, the one they all have inside of them that goes off when their mother is trying to rest (or pee alone).

All of the sudden, the children who were outside come running inside (loudly) demanding a container for a frog. "What? No! Put the frog back where you found it!" Discontented sighs, a few "but mom"s, heavy footsteps.

It's quiet again...for about twenty seconds.

Then the children come back in and run up the stairs, loudly. This wakes Child 5. Child 5 then comes down and demands everything. A snack, a binky, a rag, a spatula, a walrus, a private jet...oh, and his Mickey Mouse cup. This cup is like a stray dog. It turns up everywhere. It follows us on walks and then waits at our front door. I think I've tried to throw it away like thirteen times but it just keeps finding it's way into my cupboard. And the thing is, Child 5 isn't even attached to this cup. He doesn't even use a sippy cup, we have to take the lid off. But today? Today, right now in fact, he wants the "Mee Mows" cup. JUST the "Mee Mows" cup. And where is the "Mee Mows" cup? Your guess is as good as mine. Under normal circumstances, Child 5 would just accept another cup. But his alarm has gone off. He knows that mom wants a nap. This must.not.happen.

After placating him with a green cup and a popsicle, every other child needs a snack, a drink, and answers to every question that they've ever had in their entire lives. I think they keep a list stored in a compartment in their brains reserved for when I'm "mom tired".

After meeting their requests, Child 4 starts doing the potty dance and completely forgets that he actually knows how to walk the whole five steps to the bathroom alone.

I manage to close my eyes again, just long enough for Child 5 to rip a pancake to shreds on the living room carpet and Child 4 to feed part of a banana chocolate chip bar to the dog because "him love it". Great, now I can plan how to console them tomorrow.

At this point everyone was loud and playing this game where they stack themselves on each other and roll down the stairs or something like that. I was actually afraid to go look.

I finally gave up. I'd say I'll try again tomorrow but I'll probably be busy burying the dog.

This is how we started out. This is how things should look.

This is how things actually looked. See that nice Jenny-shaped spot on the couch? That's where I should be.