Wednesday, March 23, 2011

"How Do You Do It?"

I'm on the verge of telling it like it is...

     One of the best and worst things about having a family this large is the questions you get over and over and over. Questions that are often nosy and even more often borderline offensive. Luckily, I generally have a good sense of humor about this and take the questions with stride. The other thing that people don't "get" is how much more self sufficient a child in a large family is than, say, and only child. I thought it might be kinda fun to explore a few of these questions and situations so you get a better idea of just how this whole thing works. I will give you the most popular questions I get first along with my favorite answers (most of which are me just being a bitch; tired of answering the same things for well over a decade:)

1) Are you Catholic or Mormon? Simple. "No."

2) Are they all from the same man? "We aren't sure." (This is my favorite one.. the look on people's faces is priceless. I also like "No. there are 8 different fathers, I'm trying to create the perfect human being.")

3) Do you know what's causing this? I get this all the time, but someone asked me this once at exactly the wrong time. I was 3 weeks overdue with baby #4 and desperate to go into labor. I was aching, tired, fat and irritable. All I wanted was some goddamn deli meat from the grocery store. The woman in front of me asked "When are you due?" I said "3 weeks" (she didn't need me to add the "ago"). Is this your first baby?" Please call her number so she can get her provolone... "No, it's my 4th." "Your 4th! You don't even look old enough to have one!" I giggled. It was fake. And finally.. "Don't you know what's causing this?" I took a long breath. "Yes. I do. My husband and I had sexual intercourse and he ejaculated in me at the same time an egg was being released from my ovary into my falopian tube. The sperm from his ejaculate met the egg, thus creating a zygote, which embedded itself into my uterine wall; growing over the course of 38 weeks into the fetus you see in my belly right now." My Mom was with me. I thought she might need a Poise pad after that one. Lesson? Don't fuck with an overdue woman.

4) And this brings on number 4. How old are you? My answer is always the same, the truth of course, but the reaction to my answer has changed over the years. Now I get "I thought you were in your 20s" which isn't so bad. Back in the day when my answer was, say, 25 and I had 3 kids already, the reaction was more like this:
"Wow. You started early." To which I would reply "Well, my body told me I was fertile at 12, so actually I waited quite a while.'

5) How do you do it? I'm going crazy with just ____ (insert number less than 8) This is another simple answer. "You just do." there's no secret recipe to having 8 vs having 2, except that you're 4 times busier and 4 times broker (my computer is not a fan of the word "broker" in this sentence:)

     This is a really nice place to interject with some scenarios and take a break from the q&a. There is one thing about having a bigger family that people really should understand. We aren't like smaller families in that we simply cannot do everything for our kids. It's just not possible. So our kids have an element of self sufficiency that seems somewhat off putting to many bystanders. In addition, Mark and I are probably a lot more relaxed than most parents. One common answer I give when asked how I do it is that "I don't sweat the petty stuff like I used to." So let's give some specific examples of the above.

     A friend of mine once brought it to my attention that I wasn't worried letting 2 of my kids go to the bathroom on their own in a restaurant even though they are 4 and 6. This is true. Think about this folks. If I have, lets say, the bottom 5 (if I have all 8 then I have helpers to take kids to the restroom) and Declan and Shaylon need to use the bathroom, it is ridiculous to attempt to pack up my whole table and go to the bathroom all together. In addition, this will likely not be the last time during that meal in which I would have to do this. So you are talking about packing up diaper bags, car seats, anything of value brought to entertain them while the food cooks, etc. If you are nursing, you are talking about unlatching a baby and taking said baby along with the toddler who is perfectly happy to poop his pants to the bathroom so the 6 year old can pee. So my kids know how to get to a bathroom, go pee, wash hands and return. There are, of course, exceptions to this. If the restaurant were big or full of shady customers or if the bathroom was very far from the table, I would consider packing everyone up, but more likely would opt to pee them all before we sat down and unloaded camp. (Even then, they will likely need to go during dinner. Shay has a thing for peeing 5 times during a restaurant trip.) But if we're at a decent restaurant in a nice area and especially if there are customers in the place, I am fine. Let me say here, that I am not worried about kidnapping under those circumstances. I was a latch key kid at age 5. I literally had a key to my house, walked home from school and let myself in. I made a snack and did my homework. I knew what a stranger was and to avoid them. I was always walking in a group and locked my door when I got home. I also grew up in a safe neighborhood in Southern California. Kidnapping is very rare, folks. And when was the last time you heard about a kidnapping at a busy restaurant with 2 kids in a buddy system? But for some reason, this really bothers people.

Case in point:

     I took the 5 youngest kids to a burger place here on the island a few months back. It is located in a nice outdoor mall in an area with many restaurants. The layout was quite small and open; a rectangle with many tables and chairs and a soda machine on one side. Evey seat was visible from every other seat in the house. The only table large enough for my family was immediately on the left when you entered the building. It was the kind of place where you order at the counter, take a number then pick up at a window when you're number is called, so I got all the kids situated, strapped Camber into the high chair (Avion was still strapped into my gigantic beast of a stroller next to my seat) and walked about 2 feet to my right to place an order. I was given our drink cups immediately and allowed my 3 bigger kids (Taren, Declan and Shaylon) to go one at a time to get their soda, approximately 35 to 40 feet from our table in full view. Once the three of them were finished I sat them down and told them I was getting drinks for myself and Camber. I could see them the whole time and hurriedly filled our cups. I may have been away from the table for a total of 2 minutes, but in clear sight the whole time. When I returned, Taren informed me that the man 2 tables away from us who was with his wife and older daughter chastised me loudly enough for Taren to hear him. He said it was "awful that she leaves those kids alone." Now, I'm used to this, but when my child hears it I will admit, my blood boils. So I asked him politely "Did you say something regarding my parenting loudly enough for my daughter to hear you?' He got defensive, and a little embarrassed even, telling me that if it were him he would worry about leaving them there like that. To which I said "Worried about what?" He got really flustered, thought for a moment finally settling on "Well the unknown, I guess." Cop out, I thought. Let me also add here that the soda machine, though in full view of the restaurant, was tucked in a tiny corner of the building. I wish I could give you a visual on what this man wanted me to do. Walk 4 kids and navigate a gigantic stroller though other patrons in a fairly small building. Most if this would need to be done single file. Then, he wanted me to fill my soda cups while ensuring my kids are not picking food off of other people's plates, fighting, running around or scratching their balls in someone's chili cheese fries. I'm then to take my full soda cups and somehow get back without spilling on anyone all the while ensuring said balls remain chili-cheese-fry-free. My children know to sit tight at a table for a moment while I get things for them. When our food arrived, I got up to go to the window (closer than the soda machine) and looked directly and the man and said "I'm just getting their food. Let me know if they get kidnapped". I think what I hate about this more than anything is that A) it's really none of your business unless I'm doing something blatantly illegal. And B) You honestly ruin my fucking lunch when you do it. I'm just trying to take my family out for a meal.. not an easy task. Could you possibly keep your opinions to yourself so I can just enjoy it? The lesson here is think twice about what your judgments are. Ask yourself if my children are really in danger or if maybe you just aren't used to seeing children behave so well under those circumstances. The family must have felt bad because they complimented me on the kids' behavior as they left. Gee. Thanks.
And on with the questions.

6) Do you own a television? This is a very age specific group that asks this, namely 70 and up. If I were to try and pinpoint the origin I would say it must have something to do with a time when not every family owned a television set. I never say anything smart-ass to this one. Old people are cute :)

7) How many siblings did you have? 1. This seems to strike an "a-ha" in people as if my lack of multiple siblings made me want a large family of my own. But I think that if the answer were anything other than 1 or 2 they would also say that it's due to my large-ish family that I wanted a bigger one. The truth is, I don't know why I wanted this many kids. It has nothing to do with my own family or my brother. Mark and I never really gave it much thought. It all just happened and here we are. Sometimes things come to us we never really planned for and it turns out the fit is exactly right.

8) When are you getting your own reality show? HA! I just laugh at this one. Soon, I hope! I think we'd make for interesting TV, but I may be a little biased :)

9) Are you going to have any more? As much as my mother might not like to hear this, I can see us having more. I mean really. The odds some of them turn out ok get better the more I have, right? ;)

     So there you have it. The answers to perhaps just a few of your questions. If you have more, feel free to comment them and I will get back to you. As for now, the sun is shining for the first time in days so I'm going to go play a little baseball with the boys :)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Falling in love with Life.. the final chapter.

I'm on the verge of embracing this sleepless place I call night...

     I've tried to come here and write often lately, but there are just too many things to say. This unfortunately translates to my saying nothing at all. I had 5 separate drafts going when I came here tonight, all of which were just senseless ramblings that waxed and waned between narcissistic and self deprecating. I'm hoping I have something of value this time around.
    It's so fantastically quiet in my house right now. My eyelids are heavy, but no matter how hard I try, sleep eludes me. My mind won't shut off tonight, so I thought that since it's been a while since I shared, I would just come here and lay it all out. My thoughts are everywhere; I have a feeling this post will reflect that. I will make every effort to organize things. Here goes!

Let's call this first part "Awake"

     Waking up in my own skin is starting to really feel good again; comfortable and yet so completely foreign all at once. I think I've finally pinpointed why this is. I am learning to be the person I want to be; the one I imagined actually being rather than the one I was. I was never meant to live in Barrington. This becomes increasingly more obvious as time in the Bay Area passes by. I lived in a place I loved... it just didn't love me back and in that I got lost. For 11 years I just kinda went with the flow. I had a lot of kids, I cooked and cleaned and baked. I sang karaoke. I kept up with the Jones'. And with every passing year, the young girl who wanted to be an actress, and the headstrong young woman who fell in love with a drummer that opened her eyes to live music and the Sunset Strip just kinda went dormant. Barrington is a wonderful town if you can fit in. Money is important, being liberal is frowned upon, cultural diversity in non-existent. But it's safe, the schools are wonderful, and for 11 years I watched people form friendships and a sense of community that I would have loved to have been a part of. When Mark left, that desire only magnified and so the last 2 years of being alone found me craving the southern California climate, both the physical and social, so much that I was hell bent on not moving up here to San Francisco at all. This decision of mine was tearing us apart. Mark wanted his family back. I wanted my life back. How would we ever find both?

This part is called "Alameda"

     The plan for a while was to move back to southern California, Redondo Beach specifically, and to rent a small and affordable apartment so that Mark had money for his own life and airfare every weekend. I know this sounds insane, but after seeing each other every couple of months for a weekend here and there for two fucking years, every weekend sounded pretty damn good. Mark is also a bit of a work-a-holic, so this felt like it could make sense. All I knew was that at 38 I didn't want to restart my life again. I just wanted to go home to my friends, to my sick mother, to something that could make me happy, something that felt familiar. Of course Mark and I argued about this often. Looking back, I was being incredibly selfish, but I will give myself this one. Remember folks, I told you I was feeling sorry for myself, an innately selfish place to be. It became quite obvious after a while that to make Mark live without his kids one day longer than he was required to would be the most evil thing I could have ever done to a man who gives me everything he has. And so, as we women do, I let go of the dream to go home and tried to wrap my joy around the fact that I was going to be in California at all. In April of last year I came to NorCal for the first time to visit as well as to finish my childbirth education training... and I fell in love. Mark and I had a little vacation. This was all paid for by the good graces of his company for the purposes of our finding a home and was included in his relocation package. Hotel, car, spending money, all paid for. A friend of mine offered to babysit (can you imagine? Talk about brave) and my mother graciously paid for her to do so as well as paying for my childbirth education classes. I think everyone close to me in my life started to rally around Mark and I finally putting our family back together. It was an amazing weekend. 

Our hotel in Los Gatos

The beautiful drive from the South Bay to SF

A dramatic change in scenery as people become packed in like lemmings

The streets of SF

The White Swan hotel in SF- lovely

Pregnant me :)

     San Francisco was a beautiful city with so much to do. It actually overwhelmed me the first time I got here and I sat on the edge of our hotel room bed and cried. Not because I loved it, but because it terrified me. I felt so small. How would I ever find home? How would I ever be a part of a community in a place so large?

     It was on the plane ride home when I met a woman who would change the course of everything in my life. She was very nice, articulate, had a few kids and a husband who worked in the financial district. She was beautiful and said "fuck" a few times during our conversation; I liked her. She was going to Chicago on for business and when I asked her where she lived she said "Alameda." I probed her for more. It sounded great. 

     As you all know by now, Alameda is an island just on the other side of the bay. This meant a very short commute for Mark. It is also home to the largest same sex family community in the country. This meant it was liberal. It also had its own school district with many achievement awards. This meant a good education for my kids. Could such a place exist? That evening, I found our home on craigslist. Mark was out to see it the following weekend and the gears that were already in motion for our move sped up by about 1000 times. I would be leaving Barrington in less than 3 weeks. But was Alameda going to be all that I hoped it would?

     This last weekend I went to a birthday party for a child at our local park. As soon as I arrived I was handed a glass of red wine and immediately welcomed into many conversations, being introduced by the people I already know as "The Smiths, you know, with the 8 kids." No one blinked, scoffed or said an ill word. I am growing into my community. I am involved in a halau (hula school) girl scouts, cub scouts and now baseball, and though I don't have tight friendships yet, I have a lot of acquaintances who all seem to genuinely like me. They are democrats in their 30's and 40's who drink a little, swear a little and raise awesome kids. I also have a community of nite-lifers to sing karaoke with, shop at the farmer's market and occasionally grab dinner out somewhere with. At the party on Saturday I met a man whose son plays baseball with Declan and as we got to talking, I said something I never thought I would: "It is an absolute privilege to live here." I haven't felt that way in a very long time. Am I really finding me again and could it be that I'm actually finding a better version?
     My therapist asked me this week after another hour of me basically telling her stories about my life "Why are you here, Dia? What do you get out of this?" I know what she means. She sees me as this really exuberant and happy person with an immensely chaotic yet captivating life. She went on to tell me that she hopes I'm not there solely to entertain her. Well, I can tell you that I am not. But I think I have decided why I love going there so much. She opens my eyes to who I am at my core; how uniquely special and individual I am; how completely plain and normal I am. It's like when Simba looks down in that pool of water and Mufasa tells him from the giant lion cloud in the sky "Remember who you are. You are my son and the one true king. You must take your place in the circle of life." Ok- I'm fairly certain you could Google that shit right there and find out that I did that from memory.. verbatim. This I am not proud of. So my therapist is my Mufasa and she's reminding me to take my place in the circle of life. Best. Analogy. Ever. So what does that mean?

We'll call this part "The Circle of Life"

     I'm going to start with music. I love music. And I'm quite certain that a lot of you will say "me too", but for me it seems a little more intense than for others; like a gateway to my soul or a direct line to God's office phone. Maybe you all feel that too. I'm not gonna get all Charlie Sheen here and act like I'm better than the rest of you. How rad is that breakdown by the way? Of all the things I like watching celebrities do, career suicide is my favorite. But I digress. Back to the music. I think I mentioned this a while back. Music, songs, even U2 seemed to disappear the day Mark moved to California; as if he packed it all in his suitcase with him and took it on the plane. But United must have fucked up and lost his bag somewhere because I know that music disappeared during those two years for him as well. Hm. I just thought of this. Maybe Mark and I sort of are the music in each other's lives. Maybe that's why it's now back? That's actually a lovely and inspiring thought to me. So if we're still in my completely insane Lion King analogy then the circle of life, for me, is finding myself; the authentic self that resides in us all. If I could match the woman I am to the girl I wanted to be but forgot along the way, the circle would feel complete. Ok this is going to sound arrogant, but I'm not holding back here because I have always been honest with you all. The reason why people find me either interesting or exhausting (sometimes both) is because I have a lot of things that make up my authentic core: actress, mother, writer, philosopher, wife, friend, cook, baseball fan, childbirth educator, soccer mom, comedian, liberal, cougar (oh yes- latest victim is Nick Jonas and I have absolutely no pride whatsoever in revealing this to you. It's borderline Mary Kay Laterno.) And I will go with you all right here that many people are multi-faceted. I just think a lot of my facets are somewhat at odds with each other so seeing the juxtaposition is often what makes you either love me or hate me. So for a long while I have only been a handful of the things that really make up my core, and part of that, I think, is because I just didn't know how to be all of them at once anymore. Do you know why I don't have a career yet? Ok, aside from the fact that only neurosurgery could possibly take care of my day care bill.. it's because I want to do so many things that I end up doing nothing at all. I have started 2 novels, I am certified in childbirth education, doula work and as a lactation specialist. I've wanted to try stand up, and for most of my life I wanted to be an actress. I've also entertained a number of other ideas from going into medicine to pursuing an astronomy doctorate and working for JPL. It's like there's just so much of the world to explore that I get overwhelmed and hide. But Dutch, my therapist, is teaching me how to remember who I am. How? By letting me see myself through her eyes. When I talk to her I can see the me she is seeing and even though I'm still a little bit stuck in the mental place that had me feeling like shit for 2 solid years, the more I talk to her and the more I see what she sees, the further out of it and into my new self I become. So 3 really small things happened simultaneously.

We'll call this part "3 really small things that happened simultaneously"

     I found the actress again. And not in the traditional sense. I didn't audition for a play or make a Youtube video. I started seeing films again. Not just any old films, either. I literally saw every one of the Oscar nominations as well as some extra documentaries and other indie projects in between. Berkeley is a pretty damn fantastic part of the world for a wanna-be avant-garde hippie such as myself. It's funny. There was a small piece of me feeling a bit out of place as we began doing this, but the more I have reconnected with that artist/actress inside, the more I remember her. But she is different now; grown up. No longer in need of starring in her own T.V. show, she is content to watch thoughtful, awe inspiring films and to discuss them over Thai food afterward with her beautiful husband. The second small thing that happened actually happened on my way to one of these outings with Mark. As I was driving to the Shattuck Cinemas to see a screening of some new film being offered up to Sundance this year, a song I'd never heard by the Fleet Foxes came on the radio. And 2 separate lines really caught my attention. The first was this:

I was raised up believin'
I was somehow unique
like a snowflake, distinct among snowflakes
unique in each way you can see.

And now after some thinkin'
I'd say I'd rather be
a functioning cog in some great machinery
servin' some thing beyond me

     Then the third thing happened: I found the philosopher again. I think I have always wanted so much to be unique and different that the thought never once occurred to me to absolutely love the idea of being part of the greater picture. This may shock some of you, but I happen to really feel strongly about God and the Universe; energy and metaphysics. Being a part of the greater picture actually suits me just fine. I think this reminded me that God is there; here on this journey with me. It was awesome. The second line that moved me, to the point of tears, was this:

If I know only one thing
It's that everything that I see
of the world outside is so inconceivable
often, I barely can speak

Yeah, I'm tongue tied and dizzy
and I can't keep it to myself
what good is it to sing Helplessness Blues?
Why should I wait for anyone else?

     How easily we forget.

     So I think I may be ready to stop singing the Helplessness Blues. Because life fucking rocks. I have something to offer, and the Universe is equally giving to me. There is a long way to go in this process of reconnecting with my authentic self, but that's all part of the journey, isn't it? One that should only end the moment we actually become part of the greater picture... and maybe it doesn't even stop then.

    There is much more to talk about including a post I have been planning for a while answering my favorite (and least favorite) questions about raising a large family, but for now I think this is a fitting end to the "Falling in love with life" posts. Because I'm finally really here.

Let's just call this last part "Sleep"


And in case you want to hear it-