Wednesday, May 31, 2006

America the Dutiful?

See this flag? It's kind of blurry, I know. But can you read that blue text on the part between the flag and the stick?

I took this picture on Memorial Day when my family and I went to a baseball game for the heck of it. Free tickets. Why not? The kids were given mini flags upon entrance. They waved them happily; not out of patriotism, of course. They just love new toys. We were escorted to our seats and we watched the action around us as we waited for the game to start. Then Husband noticed something. He laughed. "The American flag is Made in China." I looked closer at Son's little national symbol and indeed there it was, bold and proud: NOT made in the U.S.A.

So what is that about, I wondered. It made me think of my business. My business partner and I make puzzles. Cost is a huge concern of ours. The cheaper we can make something, the better for all. Or is it? We're concerned about quality and not being able to control it over the vast oceans so we don't want to go there, as so many of our business counterparts have. What exactly ever happened to that Made in the U.S.A. campaign, anyway? I, for one, am tired of having to call India and decipher the accent when my computer or some other feat of technology breaks down.

And patriotism? Well, I tell you. As African-Americans, loyalty to this nation is a double-edged sword. After all, we're the only people who were brought here against our collective will. So for us it was, is and will probably always be a touchy subject. Just know that, dear reader, and save yourself the argument. Slight tangent. Back to the issue at hand.

Overall, we are Americans, are we not? Are we really so commerce-driven that we can't even make a simple plastic flag within our own borders for fear of not getting back triple what we paid for it? Sigh. I just wanted to show you this picture and let you conjure up your own thoughts.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Accidents Happen

I felt it coming. I don't know why but I've been feeling for about 2 weeks that I was going to be in an accident. Maybe it's all the talk about buying a house and the financial commitment of it and hoping - praying - we can maintain our financial staus quo until then.

So today, this hot Menorial Day, I took the kids out early so we could go driving around looking at potential houses. About 17 of them. Looking and driving and driving and looking, saying no to all but one I came across while looking for something else. Eventually I was ready to go back home. So we headed back the way we came and came upon the blinking red light (blinking red on both sides) we had passed through once before.

I saw the green truck at the intersection and thought he was stopped because he seemed to be looking both ways, although at the time he was looking the other way. I went on, watching him and the traffic and saying out loud to myself, "He doesn't see me. He doesn't see me!" And quickly thinking, if I stop suddenly we're going to hit head on or I'm going to hit him on the side he's sitting on and he might get hurt. No matter what, it was unavoidable at that point. Just had to try to make it as painless as possible and crunch! We collide. I'm on the other side of the road so I get us out of the way and the other guy pulls up behind me.

At first, I thought the driver hit my passenger doors. It sure looked like it as his front end came hurtling at my side. Then it occurs to me that Son is sitting on that side. I jerk my head around to survey the possible damage. No broken glass. No tears. Relief.

"Son, are you OK?"
"Uh huh."
"Daughter, are you OK?"

Everyone is calm. I breathe, I get out and see the woman from the car approaching.
"Are you alright?" she asks.
"We're fine. The kids are a little shaken but we're good."
"There are kids in the car? Are they OK?" She's concerned. That's good. She cares.
"They're fine. They're good. Are you OK?"
"We're fine. I just really hate that light."

I know he didn't see me. I thought he would and we could somehow avoid each other since we were already in each other's way but it didn't happen. Still, I've been in one other accident in my life a number of years ago when Husband was Boyfriend and someone cut us off early on a Sunday morning. THAT one stunned us. THAT one we got somewhat hurt; needed an ambulance, chiropractor and all. I know how it can be but this one, everyone walked away unhurt.

I looked at their car and it wasn't as horrible as it sounded either. Cell phone still in hand, I asked if they had already called the cops. A man working in his yard at the time had already done it for us. Good. I got back in my car at that point to call Husband and tell him to come immediately. Didn't know if I'd be able to think clearly and I wanted him to be my mouth. In no time, a cop showed up and he was at my window.

"Everyone OK?
"Yes, we're fine."
"How about the little ones? Are they OK?" He peered in the back and I was relieved to see concern and not judgment on his face.
"Yes, they're shaken but OK."
"Good, good. License, registration and insurance card please."
Now, why didn't I think of that? I could have been searching while I waited because I put them in the glove compartment but not at my fingertips, so I kick myself mentally for not taking the time to look. I give him the license easily and start rummaging.
"Oh! Hold on one minute. Oh!"
"It's OK. Take your time. Are you looking for your registration because I can get that off the plate."
"Oh, great!"
I find the insurance information and hand it to him while I glance down the street looking for the familiar black Acura that signaled Husband's arrival. A chorus of "Where's Daddy?" wafts from the back seat. "Chill, guys. Just give me a moment. Daddy will be here."

The officer asks if everyone had on their seat belts and I am so so so glad I I had bought the booster seat for Son back in October when the law changed to require children of a certain age and/or under a certain weight be in booster seats. I was happy to say yes, we ALL had them on. In the accident from ages ago, Boyfriend wasn't wearing his and it cost him money. Not out of pocket but the settlement from the suit that was eventually filed netted him a little money and would have been a little more if he had been wearing his seatbelt. I had been sure to wear mine since that time and even more aware of setting an example since we had kids. Plus, I just think, what if we get into an accident? I don't want my kids to be orphans or motherless or fatherless just because of the lack of a seatbelt. It wouldn't be fair to them and it brings tears to my eyes to imagine them without us at a young age.

But that was not to be the case today. It was a blessing overall. You see, the cops in my fair town have a reputation for racial profiling. But my officer was as sweet and gentle as could be. He put me at ease and it was a pleasure dealing with him. (Aside: You know. I have to tell him that. I've dealt with condescending, egotistic cops before. I really should tell him he was a joy.) And my crash companions? No finger pointing, no anger to make things tense. Cool, calm and collected they were and I'm certain if they had come at me in any way, I would have gone off, so it's to their credit they kept their cool because I'm sure it helped me keep mine.

Intuition is a funny thing. You don't want to believe it sometimes. You want to dismiss it, ignore it. You call it pessimistic sometimes and think you're just setting yourself up for failure. But when I turned 35 last year, I finally accepted what I already knew: Listen to that still, small voice. Call it God's voice or the Holy Spirit or just your own sixth sense if you don't believe in a Higher Power such as God. But we all have that voice and you must trust it. You must heed it. I knew there was no way I could stop an accident. The very definition of the word tells me that. But I had been driving a little more cautiously than usual and looking all over the place when I started feeling that feeling weeks ago and I'm really grateful to finally be in a place of self-acceptance where I listen to me. If you don't already do it, I highly recommend it.

All in all, as accidents go. This was painless. We have 3 cars so I can still do what I need to do. More car repair is in my future after shelling out about $1,300 this year so far for other repairs but at least this one will be paid for by insurance and I won't have to tap house savings again. This worked out for the good. And the people? All the players were masters of their craft. It was the epitome of civility. And on a hot day like today, it was good to see that people still have the ability to be kind and simply respect each other. I really hope we can find a house of our own in my fair town. Who wouldn't want neighbors like these?

On Having Children

This is Daughter. She is 2. This is me catching her in the act of stealing my remote control. She does that. Takes the object and runs. It's scary. Hope it doesn't mean anything. Daughter, apparently, is grown. Yes, she was born that way. I wish I was technologically savvy enough to get her ultrasound photo up on here but I'm not so just use your imaginations.

Picture if you will a slick, black sheet, approximately 3 inches x 3 inches. In the middle is a ghostly image of a face with a pefectly round head faced straight on. The eyes are closed as if in meditation. The nose is a little wide, a little puffy looking. Move down to the mouth and you will see it forms an almost straight line. That, my friends, is the face of determination. Remember that song from the 80's: "It's written all over your face. You don't have to say a word." Let's see. Who sang that, again? Oh, I can't recall now. Husband can figure it out for me later.

Anyway, I told everyone while I was pregnant with her, "THIS is the face of determination. This one is going to be stubborn. Mark my words." Now you could say I was speaking that into existence, as it were, but I think I was just bracing myself for a coming storm. Better to admit it and prepare for it than close my eyes to the truth later as I laugh off the possibly embarrassing behavior she'll likely display in public.

God knew what He was doing. He gave me my sweet son first to throw me off the scent and get me to relax and accept being a parent again. This is him. This is Son. Son loves me despite me and it's the most humbling thing. He keeps telling me what a great mommy I am and I keep saying, "Are we living in the same house?" Son is 6.

Now his ultrasound? Well, did you ever see that part of The Twilight Zone Movie (I LOVE Twilight Zone, new and old) where the crazy little boy brought his new adult friend to his cartoon world where all the adults of his family were afraid of him and what he could do to them and his sister was upstairs with no mouth? Well, Son's ultrasound could make HER smile. (You didn't see that coming, did you? Thought I was going somewhere else with that? Yeah, these are the connections I make in my brain. You should try seeing in there sometime.) Son's ultrasound was similar to Daughter's in the position of his face - dead on - or should I say, "live" on - though slighted tilted. But his eyes were open, though eerily vacant looking, but it is an ultrasound after all. And the boy was smiling. He was, and you can't convince me otherwise. I saw him and shared his pictures, "See this face? THIS is a happy child who will make people smile."

So what do I have today? A headache.

They are running around the living room right now chasing each other. It's not 8:30 in the morning yet and they've been up an hour. I've had to referee 2 fights already.

Daughter: "Mommy! (Son's name here.) (something incomprehensible) my toys!"
Son: "She won't help me clean them up! I want to dance!"
Mommy: "Daughter, go clean up your toys. Son wants to dance."
Daughter: "I don't want to. I'm busy."
Aside: Yes, Daughter does speak like this. My children can carry on conversations. Son could do it at that age too. It's easy. Talk to your children like people and not like they came from the planet Baby and only speak Baby-ease, and they will learn to talk.

Mommy: Daughter, go pick up your toys! They're YOUR toys!"
Aside: No matter how hard I try, somehow I can't get heard unless I yell it. It's like I'm a TV and they've got the remote on mute and suddenly something I say looks interesting so they push the mute button and I'm as loud as a commerical at midnight.

Daughter sits determinedly on the floor and looks up at me. I say pick them up so she runs to the chair and sits there determinedly. I take some steps toward her and suddenly she feels a need to clean.

Sigh. The playing just turned to yelling. Son says something about "hate" but it sounds like he's repeating something she said. She screams more and tells him to get out, I guess she wants him to leave the living room. He runs in to tell me she fell off the chair but it's the usual antics. Nothing for me to write home about - just to blog about.

Separately, they are sweet lambs. Together, they rival a Caribbean-born hurricane. Son? Yes, Son does make you laugh. He loves to be silly, though it's not really funny stuff. Just silly 6-year-old stuff that makes me roll my eyes but he's an entertainer, dramatic. I wonder if he'll be something creative one day. Daughter is strong-willed. She's a mini-me. She will tell you no in a heartbeat. She wants to, "Do it myself!"
"Daughter, you aren't big enough yet."
"Yes me is!"
Tell her to put something on the kitchen table and she'll take it to the dining room table out of spite. Tell her to walk, she runs. Tell her to run, she insists you carry her. I wonder if she'll be a business tycoon, buying and selling companies and taking no prisoners.

I wanted my kids close in age but not too close. My only brother and I are 9 years apart, which was cool most times, but I wanted my kids to experience growing up with another child around. Who knew I'd sometimes have two 2-year-olds and sometimes I'd have two 6-year-olds.

Got children, dear reader? No? They are loud and messy and apparently need to fuel up every hour, on the hour. They are more expensive than you can plan for. They write on walls and pee the bed at 2 in the morning. They hurt each other on purpose. They rival for your attention and you find you must do everything as equally as possible (hard to do and very tiring) while trying to teach they can't always have what the other has. Sometimes they hurt your feelings and step on your bare foot with hard sneakers. Don't leave lotion sitting around because it will be in their hair if you turn your back. I assure you you will grow to loathe hearing them scream your name in an obvious complaint. They whine. They cry. They scream in church.

Yep, I think we'll have another one.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Marital Diss

One thing I intend to do here is be honest about my marriage and my relationship with my children. Anyone who says it's always wonderful is a liar. Don't you believe them. The truth is marriage is frustrating, emotional, confusing. It seems simple, doesn't it? You live together, you share yourselves and everything that is you. But it's not that simple.

My pastor, when counseling us before we married, reminded us that we were two separate people who lived separate lives for X number of years before we came together. In our case, we met when I was 24, dating in an up-and-down roller-coaster ride of a relationship, but we married when I was 30 and he was 32. So basically that's 30 years and 32 years before Us. That's a lot of baggage. Part of what I personally had to do was share some issues I had with my mother so that he could understand some things about me that he didn't. It was enlightening for him. Did he share as much? Does a dog share a bone?

This is what I hate. I feel like it's pulling teeth with him to tell me important things like how much he makes. That's right. I know what I know because we do joint tax returns but he STILL hasn't sat down with me to tell me the deal - this is what I make, this is what I owe, etc. If YOU are not married, dear reader, and want to be, you need to know this kind of thing. Demand it and if he/she continues to be secretive about it, suspect it. Determine whether or not you can live with it because marriage is truly compromise. Not just in deciding what color to paint the walls but you may have to decide to let him or her be or do things that bother you simply because there is nothing you can do about it until they decide to change. But you have to decide before you marry them if that person never, ever changes, can you live with that? People do hopefully grow and change but not at your whim.

In my case, Husband is a good man. I shared some of this so-called negative stuff in the past with people I thought could handle it and it was a mistake. Don't get me wrong, you can share it and I think you should have at least one "counselor" but you MUST be selective. People I talk to are people I trust to be honest and not bash my Husband just because he is a man. My confidants are people who will say, "Well, Monica, he should be able to do such and such." Those are the people I suggest you talk to - not parents or family members if you can help it and not stupid girlfriends who you KNOW will try to move in when times get bad. But then again, I'm not CLOSE friends with any women like that. I'd stake my life on it.

My Husband is a confusing mix of secrecy and dedication. Do I trust him when it comes to other women? Yes. It's money that's the issue for me. But I know what I married and I knew I'd be mad sometimes until this worked out. It would have to work out or else. But some of what captured my heart is Husband listens to me. He hears me though he says nothing. He simply shows up one day with the kind of car that he knows I like. He works overtime to pay for a cruise I told him I wanted next year but again he said nothing to it. He tries to do for me what I say I want. You don't throw away a person like that. And for those of you who say, "I couldn't live with that," well, congratulations. You don't have to. But I assure you every relationship has something some other person couldn't live with. That's why it's YOURS and not theirs. Besides, what would you suggest I do, divorce him? Don't be silly. Frankly I believe that you need to think BEFORE you marry and short of an abusive situation, you should not run away from trouble so easily. If he or she leaves you and you don't know why, then even the Bible tells you to let them. That's not your fault. But that brings up all kinds of other things and that's not what this rant is about exactly.

So I called Husband and told him, "I need to know what's going on. It is not fair to ask me what I can contribute to OUR mortgage and you not tell me what's going on with you financially. Are you EVER going to sit down and write out YOUR numbers and tell me what YOU owe and make a plan with me on how WE will proceed from here on out?" He said yes in there somewhere but unfortunately the proof is in the pudding. We need a house and he's wanted one since before we married. So we shall see. The possibility of what we could do together is astounding. But I know that in the big picture, we are still in the kindergarten stage of our life together.

I think I'll go color in my corner until he decides to come share his toys.

Time for church.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Holy House Hunting, Batman!

So something else I disdain is house hunting. Not that I'm very experienced in this. We've only been looking for about 2 months and not very hard at that. We look, we laugh, we drive on. I've been telling people that house hunting is like dating - you see something you like, you get butterflies and you think, "Maybe." Then you go see it and see it's surroundings yet you still say, "Maybe." You get inside and oh boy, so not what you were expecting. You leave, dejected, looking back hoping something will transform before your eyes, wondering what you can do to change it but you talk sense into your own head and go off to see the next prospect.

Maybe Husband and I are still in the unrealistic stage as far as what we're going to be able to get. We're not rich, that's for sure. Not monetarily. But Husband and I are blessed. We have great jobs that we love and that love us back. He can do overtime and, even though I can't, I believe my bosses know how to show that they value people. So, we can't complain. But we live in Connecticut - Fairfield County, CT. Know anything about this place? Well, let's just say that if you can make it here, you can make it in New York and California. In other words, it costs beaucoup bucks to live here, whether you make good money or not. But if you do want to accumulate wealth, you need to have a home. It's as simple as that. And after you get your first one, ideally it will get easier to get what you really want the 2nd time around because you'll have something of real value to sell. Plus, I want to own at least 2 more homes later, one for each child so we can rent them out and sell them when they get ready to go to college or do whatever they plan to do after high school. But we have to get the first one first.

After years of not being homeowners, it is simply time. We live with my MIL. This situation is only truly comfortable for the child of the parents in whose home you reside, and that's not me. It's a blessing as well, don't get me wrong. But I moved out of my parents' house in 1994, approximately 2 years after I graduated college, and I haven't looked back. I've had my own place for years (as a renter) but to save money, get rid of bills and take the next step, my MIL said, "I told Husband when you two got married to come live with me so you could save money." Husband didn't tell me that because he didn't think I'd want to do it. MIL had to tell me three years later. He was right AND wrong, but we won't talk about that right now. We've been here 1 1/2 years now and it is beyond time to go. But thanks to my MIL and some other Godsends, I've got manageable debt, some savings and can finally enjoy my marriage today, look toward tomorrow and not be overshadowed by yesterday - also another topic for another time.

So we look. There's too many Capes out there for my taste. Must be a New England thing but why one or two bedrooms on the main floor and two upstairs? Either both of my children will be on a floor separate from us or one will. And what first-floor bedroom occupant will have his/her sleep constantly interrupted by the noisy people in the kitchen (we love the thought of entertaining, at last)? Nope. Bad idea all the way around. We do, however, know what we want. It will probably look something like that one up there. ^ They are cookie cutter houses, after all:

New construction, Colonial
Minimum 3 bedrooms, 1 1/2 baths
2-car garage
Full basement (preferably completed)
Sizeable back yard (must have room for swing set)
In the town we already live in
On a tertiary street (Don't like that word? It means not primary, i.e. busy, and not secondary, i.e. likely to have people cutting through to avoid the primary street, yet not so deeply buried that we'd have to send guides and dogs with extra food stored around their necks to show you to our house.)
With room to grow (another kid in the future? We shall see.)

The reality is we may have to squeeze ourselves into something just so we can get our start. We are not a starter-home sized family but that may not matter. Why? Let me show you the numbers:

Cost of house: $359,000
1% Deposit: $3,590
5% Downpayment: $17,950
Balance to lawyer in 9 days: $14,360
Mortgage needed: $341,050
Mortgage rate: 7 3/8% = $2,920
Possible Taxes: $300
Some other expenses not included: Homeowner's insurance, PMI, Closing, Lawyer's fees
Having a home we can finally call our own: Definitely NOT priceless!

So you see? These are the scary numbers. I hate looking around but I hate not knowing what's going on even more so I let my MIL - our real estate agent - look things up. Husband finds new constructions all the time and we wait and we look and we save and we pray and we hope and we wait and we look some more. I don't know how long this will take but if you're keeping up with me then you already know I am impatient. But Husband is my complement. He knows how to wait for the right thing (hmm, sounds like a compliment to me!) and he knows how to look for a bargain (hmm, again) and when he says we're going to get what we want, I believe him. He's a challenging man for impatient old me but he hasn't let me down yet.
Today is Sunday and I believe we have a few open houses to hit after church. There is one down the street from the $359,000. It's only 10 grand less but every penny counts. I marked a few off that we could at least pass by. It would be great if one of these turned out to be The One but maybe it's too soon. Maybe we should date a while before committing ourselves. Or maybe we should just be friends. It's not you, it's us. We just want different things. You want an occupant but we want to be able to have a life after paying the mortgage. Let's just see what happens, OK?

I Hate Juiceboxes!

This isn't meant to be deep and meaningful. Just a short rant about juiceboxes and how much I hate them. B.C. (before children) I thought, "What a convenience!" Now, 6 years later, I am so sick of them I can't even describe it.

They litter my living room floor (better known as my MIL's living room) and Son and Daughter (usually Daughter) don't even finish them so it's a waste! Those silly cellophane straw wrappers drive me nuts because you can't see them lying there on the floor. You step on them and hear that mind-numbing rattle that just makes me want to shake the manufacturers of these evil rabbit-like little boxes. No matter how hard I try there is always a straw somewhere, a wrapper somewhere, a half-empty box in some room.

When Daughter is 3, I'll begin to really wean them off these things. You don't see these things sneaking into your life and before long it seems like you can't live without them. When I was their age, I walked to school 20 miles, in the snow up hill, both ways! And there were no juiceboxes! I managed to get through life without them so surely they can too.

Let us try.

Welcome to Kindergarten!

Another wonderful 3-day weekend and my husband is working overtime - again. So what am I doing? Looking at email and Googling "Find out how much of a mortgage I can afford". I look, I discuss with my MIL (mother-in-law) who is a real estate agent, we agree on how it SHOULD be done and then I'm back to my email where I see my favorite coach's newsletter, Valorie Burton, and she has this site which has an AUDIO blog. I love it! I look, I read and I decide. Yes, I will finally start a blog of my own. Now what to call it? And I come across this site where Christopher from Colorado had a perfect description of my life that leant itself to a perfect acronymn. So I had to go with it. It think was just meant to be.

What I am juggling is marriage, my kids, my job (which I love), my business (which I equally love), my writing, my temper (Yeah, I confess. I'm impatient and easily angered.), my Christian beliefs and my desire for more. Sounds like enough to keep me busy writing, right? Hopefully it will be interesting for others to read because this isn't meant to be private, and because it isn't I will be protecting the innocent wherever possible.

Who am I? That's me up there contemplating the veracities - as a high school friend used to say - and looking off into a pretend distance because you guys needed to see a photo. Over here are my reasons for all I do - Son and Daughter. You thought I'd post their names? Don't be silly! And yes, this means husband's name will be - Husband.

Some questions I shall explore:
Why do I have a better "marriage" with my business partner?
Can I do it all and I'm just procrastinating, or am I delusional?
When the heck are we going to buy a house? When? WHEN?

Now, this is my intro. Are you still awake? I will do another post today to kind of catch you up on things. Knowing myself and my non-stop train of thought, I'm likely to post twice a day for awhile but for now, I've got to see this baby in action! I've already been in and out of here at least 5 times, publishing and republishing because I am a writer after all and a professional copy editor and how would it look if I had silly misspellings and weird spacings.

Oh and by the way, welcome to the Kindergarten class of my life! I hope you love color as much as I do because I intend to have lots of it - literally and figuratively, but not off color. No. I don't do that. I am a Christian, after all, and a mommy. But there's nothing like a new box of crayons - the aroma, the bright hues, the possibilities, the attempt to not break that perfect blunt point - and this pretty pink (no choice) blog is my new box of crayons. Pass the purple please!