In Memoriam

Last year I wrote the following post about Memorial Day. Dealing with my own red, white, and blue childhood baggage while parenting small people pops the emotional seal on some long-packaged MREs.  

Regardless of how I feel about war (especially those for oil, cough), my memories of that life aren’t diluted by third party accounts, or made-for-tv movies.   My family lived this holiday, even if 2/3rd of us did so from the (secured) perimeter. 

Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day– all of these armed service holidays end up with my emotions balanced between dock and rickety canoe.

A child of the eighties, I grew up in military towns, with a career Army father and his career Army wife.

Being fully conscious of my emotional response *waves hand in big circle* to All Things Patriotic and Military should– but doesn’t–  make dealing with it easier.

Once a child, it never occurred to me to wonder about various patriotic chanting;  my child questioned saying the Pledge of Allegiance on the first day of school. 

Once a child, I didn’t know anything different from green uniforms and long separations; those few civilian families with dads that came home every night were the oddities.

Once a teenager, I simply didn’t care.  Too busy reminding my parents that  I had not enlisted.    Too busy being the selfish little bitch that still causes a wince when I think of it, twenty-ish odd years later.

Once a barely-adult, finally old enough to be told, and I cared, but only in the romantic my-dad-got-shot-in-war-once-and-could-have-died-and-then-I-wouldn’t-be-here way.

Self absorbed are the young.

Once a young adult, I Cared.  With a focused riotous anger that smoldered during my mom and I’s battle with the Veteran’s Administration.  Idealistic and unprepared,  I waded  directly into the jungles of my father’s memories thanks to the internet and stories of other combat veterans.   To see these men, their wives, and their children rip open those scars in search of healing altered my reality in a way that nothing would again until the birth of my first child.

Learning that many scars become a symbol of pride, a (insert expletive) at fate’s attempt to take you out.   Realizing that the scar on my father’s shoulder went far deeper than skin and muscle.

Understanding that even the scars worn with pride are often tainted with grief and guilt.

Now a parent, a full-on adult, I can appreciate how arduous full disclosure can be with children not emotionally capable of understanding that right and wrong occur on a sliding scale.  How carefully stepping around blades of sharp reality leaves a parent with bloody feet and confused kids.

As a mother,  it’s my fervent hope that neither of my children ever wear a military uniform.

Not because of a lacking pride, but rather because I know exactly how much that pride costs and I’m too selfish to pay up.

A Reflection in the Vietnam Wall

Some of the men KIA during the July 1970 attack on Firebase Ripcord.

But for those of you left with a tattered receipt and rough memories– I spend this weekend with you in memoriam.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a METAPHOR!

A debate with my husband Sunday morning:

JB: I don’t like this new system of folding laundry on the living room couch.

Me: I DON’T CARE– HENCEFORTH IT SHALL ALWAYS BE THIS WAY.

JB: Now we just have clean laundry all over the living room.  I’m putting it back on the bed.

Me:  You agreed! Four times you’ve expressed your dislike for my new system; four times I’ve offered counter-arguments; four times you’ve ended the discussion with the word “okay”. That’s a contract, baby!

JB:  I always thought it was sort of silly, but I didn’t want to argue about it those times.

Me: What you are saying right now it that you were NEVER okay with it, you lying-liar-pants!  If you agree to something then you have to agree IN YOUR HEART.  When a person feels strongly about the way something should be, they shouldn’t just cave to somebody else’s opinion because you don’t “feel like dealing”. 

Note: both of our children hovered nearby**, their little sonar ears listening intently.

JB: I don’t think you are listening to me at all…

Me: Oh, I HEAR you.  What I’m trying to explain is that THIS WAS NEVER ABOUT THE DAMN LAUNDRY.  To be so attached to where a laundry basket rests is borderline insane.  Everything about laundry, the piles of dirty clothes, the sorting, the washing/drying, the hauling up and down the basement stairs, the folding and sorting AGAIN.  The dumping of it onto the bed, and then putting it back into the basket because no one feels like putting it away at midnight.

It’s a FEMINIST METAPHOR, dammit, for my lost identity.  For the mundane, repetitive thankless tasks that WASTE minutes/hours/days/years of what remains of MY LIFE.

JB:  Hey, I do laundry sometimes, too…

Me:  THIS IS NOT ABOUT YOU!  THIS IS NOT even about LAUNDRY!  A METAPHOR.    It’s A SYMBOLIC reminder of the slow LEACHING OF MY VERY SOUL from the over-large pores in my almost middle-aged skin.  Each sock represents a lost dream, a forgotten goal, a missed opportunity.

JB:  I’m just saying that I don’t like the laundry in the living room…

Me:  IT’SAMETAPHORANDHASNOTHINGTODOATALLWITHTHEACTUALLAUNDRY.

In the end, I agreed to move the laundry folding station back to our bed.  I warned him that placing this symbolic representation of the death of my Self on our marriage bed might have consequences he hadn’t considered.  That I wouldn’t be “getting back at him” for losing the basket placement argument, because I agree IN MY HEART for it to be there. But that I wanted to be certain he understood that a very unhealthy relationship had formed between the the laundry and my grip on sanity.

I’m just saying– warned.

The Importance of Symbols

Symbolic interactions create, and separate, our cultural identities. Symbols–not the ability to accessorize– separate human from beast. Consider the reactive moral outrage arising from the flames of burnt flags/bras/books/religious texts.  Consider the passionate feeling that would prompt someone to that degree of vehement symbolic death.  For example, I understand that the fabric of the American flag is only that, but I’d never set fire to one in protest, no matter how disgusted I am with my country. Why? Because I spent most of my formative years living on, or near, a military base.

Symbology.

Comprehending an individual’s culture attachment to, or rejection of, an object or idea does not require that I attribute the same degree of meaning. It only requires that I choose to accept another person’s perspective.

I accept that JB considers my rabid attitude about things like laundry to be tangible examples of my batshit crazy.  Maybe it’s my too-many years of being surrounded by small people and their irrational attachments to objects and ideas.  Maybe it’s a piece of my soul, trying to escape the lost sock drawer. I don’t know.

I’m not alone on this island where laundry, dirty dishes, and full trashcans become the desperate bat-symbol of a marriage overwhelmed by the tedium of living, of the repetitive arguments that never address the true problem.

One spouse screams as the chain of unmatched socks slowly chokes them to death, while the other one rolls eyes at another night of melodramatic nagging.

The malcontent has very little to do with the laundry/trash/dishes/toilet seat.  It’s a METAPHOR, dammit.

Definition of Metaphor

**On children and hearing parents argue.  I feel very strongly that my children should hear us argue (about things like laundry, use common sense, friends), and that we have an unmatched opportunity to demonstrate the appropriate methods of expressing anger and frustration.

My use of caps in this post is for effect– I wasn’t yelling. my voice sounds exactly like the squeaky teen that works at Krusty Burgers.  We get angry, we argue. We don’t throw things, or curse each other (dammit does not count as cursing in my little world). No one is hitting, or threatening bodily harm.

That we are expressing intense frustration with each other without becoming violent is a very important life skill in America these days.  Something the country certainly does not model very effectively.

Anger is a normal, human emotion.  It happens occasionally, even between those that love each other very much.  Pretending to never BE angry feels like something we do to “protect the children”.  They aren’t fooled by stony silence, and all it teaches them is how to be passive aggressive.  Ain’t nobody got time for that!

In fact, I hypothesize that when adults pretend to never get angry that it teaches the little preciouses how to swallow small bites of anger chunks until their tiny bellies are just over-stuffed, resulting, naturally, in you being sprayed in a surprise rage vomit.

No one enjoys a surprise rage vomit.  No one.

 

 

 

 

Perfection. FOUND IT.

Perfection/imperfection– it’s trendy to participate in the denial and/or acceptance of either phenomena.   Headlines like “Perfect Abs in 30 days”;  “How to hang the perfect curtains”; “Top 10 tips for Perfect blogs posts/SEO”; “How to write the perfect book.”

Or the B-side, “How to embrace your imperfect, messy, unconstrained, uncontrolled life.”

Be Perfect

Is it any wonder so many of us struggle against our own neurotic insecurities?

I’ve been smothered under that quest for perfection– still struggle with it, but only with my writing– those damn commas. I am ever-wary of the grammar gurus reading through the internet, waving red styluses in moral outrage.

The quest for perfection doesn’t afflict me in any other way.  Perfect body, house, children, and marriage?  Ain’t nobody got time for all that.

My concern is for everyone trying to maintain a unicorn-rainbow-fart-esque life. What must it be like for those trying to hit that top rung called perfection?

Loaded up with my explorer gear, I began to gather data around my house.  Could camouflaged perfection exist in my own home?

This is what I found.

The dishwasher broke last month…so these have no hope for the return to cleanliness without an intervention by someone with thumbs.

Dirty Dishes in a Sink

On the counter sits the tea party set from last week.  At least it’s clean!

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A dining room table, painted with a sticky finish immune to all scrubbing methods, covered in the detritus of my life.

Clutter on a dining room table

A few weeks ago, after the third iteration of moving the same pile of laundry from the bed to the basket, basket to the bed I made a new rule: unfolded laundry would live on the living room couch.  Brilliant, really. Now instead of reading on the couch (because it’s covered in clean laundry) I read in bed.

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The other seat option in the living room– a chair full of books.  Yes, we have several bookshelves.

Chair covered in books

The lego display table, an uncreative use of an antique vanity that has no other purpose.  On this, only the best of the best lego creations.  Or a grouping of legless minifigs.

Lego minifigs

My TARDIS office, intended as a creativity cave from which my ideas and plans enter for protection from the chaos.  Then this happened as I prepared for the Listen To Your Mother Show.  Have I ever owned so many bobby pins?  Yes.  Did I ever know the proper usage methods?  No.  I love youtube.

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Perfection, however, remained stubbornly elusive.  As far as the camera lens could see there existed something that needed to be cleaned, completed, or contained.

Then I found my perfection.

In the dictionary, where it had been all along.

Perfection

I wake up in an, we’ll call it unpleasant mood– so most mornings sees my husband doing the breakfast/lunch making thing without me.  An all day meeting meant he had to leave early today and I was a pleasant part of this morning’s meal.  Pleasant being the important detail in that sentence.

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My niece, a few month’s younger than Elliot came over Friday morning, the day after the last LTYM show.   My brain was in a funky place as I dragged the dirty laundry downstairs, because one might as well jump feet first into ennui.  I noticed a shoebox labeled tea set, forgot the laundry, and hosted a tea party instead.  I pulled out my photo album from a long-ago “weekend trip” to London, and showed them both pictures of the Queen from a parade we happened to see.  Then? Showing them the real London Bridge.  Good times.

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On that sticky table, a kindle fire– not mine, my 7 year old saved his extra cash for over a year to buy “something cool”.  Remnants of this morning’s homework battle that turned into a series of amusing sentences about the habits of dragons.  Two almost-empty cereal boxes from which I created “Cereal Medley”.  A quill, because doesn’t everyone have a quill?

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Clean laundry.  Because it’s clean and in a few days of inattention will be worn and dirty again.  Perhaps the lesson is that drawers, and the sorting of objects into them, is a waste of life.

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The brown chair full of easy reader books.  Every morning I poke and tickle Elliot into that chair after we drop Zach at school, because he HATES learning to read.  Loves books– adores being read to– but has, with a stubborn insistence, refused all efforts to be taught. Now I didn’t teach Zach– he figured it out on his own.  But he also didn’t have an older sibling reading “hard books”, and messing with his self-confidence.

An ugly brown chair, with creaky springs, that I slept in more nights than I can remember while nursing/soothing two infants.

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The Lego table, affectionately referred to as the “Later Table” because it was once a surface to put items to be “dealt with later”.  On it sits a Harry Potter set that my husband’s boss gave to the boys.  And bits of the Lego Movie set… recreated and modified by my self-proclaimed Master Builders.

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Bits of hair things and makeup things that sit in a spot, reminders of how I redecorated myself for a few evenings and that it could, technically, happen again.

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I may have failed to find my unicorn, but in the meantime I discovered that I was content [kuhn-tent] with the contents [kon-tents] of my life.

Content

Microphone

A microphone stands alone in front of 300 empty seats.

The microphone waits to amplify your voice, shaky or strong, it doesn’t care. The empty seats don’t connect to your story, or laugh at your jokes.

Judgmental things, empty seats.

Microphone in front of empty seats

Jess Rotenberg Photography

Writers write because their emotional health demands it.  Writing isn’t necessarily the hard part; sending those stories unprotected out into the world of dangling participle bullies?  Harder.

Performers give voice to another’s words; talented performers give such good voice that the audience can hear the author.

That empty microphone, those empty seats– I’m not a performer, is this even a performance?  I’m not reading someone else’s fictional story; this is MY story, a piece of my nonfiction life.

The strength didn’t come from performing, but from the ripping off a piece of myself and leaving it flopping on a stage for a group of strangers.  I owned the words they formed into sentences, but I can’t force a reader to invoke my emotional attachment to them.

The power in participating in Listen To Your Mother didn’t exist alone in the writing, or even in the telling, but rather from the attention of strangers, listening and feeling.

It’s the importance of being heard, amplified.

 

Listen To Your Mother RDU

Over-caffeinated and nervous, dangerously close to being late, I hesitated at the bottom of the steps to this gorgeous historical home that I had admired many times in the past. I stood there, gathering myself up for the first group rehearsal for the Listen To Your Mother RDU. Could I do this?  What would the others be like?  The moment my inner dialogue started to fade, I noticed the children’s artwork decorating the antique leaded glass in the front door, and felt myself calm.

For about 10 minutes.

Introductions and label dropping– Executive/Program/Public Affairs/Interim directors, CEOs, Assistant Professors, Program Directors, Published-in-New-York-Times-Washington-Post writers, lawyers, and me- SAHM, sandwich crust remover.

Truth? Not since September 2002, in my first meeting in a room with Neonatologists and PhD Biostatisticians, have I felt so completely unnerved by others’ bona fides.  I read, listened to each of them read; laughed, and cried– all the time thinking, “how did I make it in here?”

I went home and I doubted; then I brushed off my inner Stuart Smalley.   You see, choosing to be a genuine part of this group of women with whom I would share a stage required that I see myself– and my story– as equally important. What I Learned, Take

1: Every personal story contains a sentence that will mean something to someone.  Someone will hear a line you’ve written about your own life, and assign a meaning based on their own story.  Personal stories are powerful–why do you think politicians enjoy them so much?

People talk, and write, a lot about life-altering experiences– total cliché’ right?  I can get lost in my head for days thinking about how individual, seemingly meaningless, choices created events of Great Meaning.

Those lone-moment-social-DNA-molecules stranding together to form my long-term memory helices.  It’s the momentum of a specific moment that goes forward to create– and recreate– my perspective on life.

What I Learned, Take 1:  I practiced my essay while washing dishes, folding laundry, vacuuming, showering;  whispered it to myself while grocery shopping.   I researched the clothing and shoe styles that best suited my body type and bought those items a full two weeks before the show.  In other words, my preparation for this experience came from the exact opposite of my normal. On the Sunday before the show my husband asked if I was nervous about sharing my story in front of a crowd of people.

“No,” I replied.  “I’m not nervous about that part at all.  I do worry about knocking over the podium.”

“Oh. When’s the last time you performed on stage?”

“Well, it was the 2nd grade, so 1983?  But it was a solo.”

The tech rehearsal?  Standing in front a room full of empty chairs, trying to deliver your words in a meaningful way?  Hard!  Standing in front of a room full of people in those chairs– people interacting with your story?  AMAZING.

I can’t tell you the first night’s show when I started to feel as if the 14 of us had stopped being individual stories, and had instead become a book of chapters.   Perhaps it was the copious amounts of lipstick and eyeliner, or a side effect of the lavender oil overdose, or the moon passing through the end of a comet– I don’t know.

What I do know, with an unflappable certainty, is that my participation on that stage at Peace University with those women and that audience forever altered my path– and I know, I KNOW, that has made all the difference. Post show group photo- Listen To Your Mother RDU

Fear, Knowledge, Perception

I don’t know how much time most of you spend thinking about fear, but the topic pokes around my brain enough to warrant a conversation.

I used to fear snakes– all snakes, pretty equally distributed across the entire reptilian species.  Then I gave birth to a boy whose love of the reptile would eventual make him lizard king.

While the other children read The Kissing Hand, Elliot read Field Guides.  When the other children went to Marbles to play, Elliot went to catch anoles. Boy holding a reptile field guide bookAnole on a boy's elbow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When the other moms complained about reading the same 20 page book every night, I was trying to hide the 400 page Guide to All Dinosaurs in Existence.

I mention all of this not to impress you all with my child’s lizard savantry– but rather as the back story for how this new person rose from the ashes of a woman who used to kill first, question later.

See, I needed to mow our naturalized urban landscape (why shouldn’t weeds get a fancy new name?), and since I’ve planted my foot firmly in hippie-dom, I was out there with the manual mower, casually answering Elliot’s 345,678 questions.

I moved a landscape timber and there it was, a baby snake.  No yellow tip tail– so not a copperhead.  Nice round head, so not venomous.  

And sort of before I could really think about when my life changed so abruptly, I was standing there with a snake on a stick waiting for Elliot to get back with a small trash can.

Yeah, you read that correctly.

There he (she?) was, a perfectly harmless brown snake, now named “Scales”.   Soon thereafter I answered “no” to the 34th iteration of “can we keep her as a pet” and off to the leaf pile she went.

For the next 10-15 minutes, there the child sat, watching a snake watch him back.  Elliot and Scales Share a moment

Fear is an interesting, tangled up thing.  It’s important, being afraid– just ask Mr Bunny Rabbit how “zenlike calm” works out in the face of a descending hawk.  Fear drives flight from danger.

But when the danger isn’t really dangerous?  What then, is fear?

By definition, fear:

is a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined; 

How do people stop being afraid?  Assuming the fears aren’t clinical, then moving past fear has to involve hours, days, years, of telling yourself you aren’t afraid.   Which then led me to…

We Find Our Courage Through Practiced Self Delusion

There you have it.  Go forth and self-delude and you’ll eventually find yourself holding your fear on the end of a stick for a close examination before shrugging and releasing it out into the wild.

Except for the palmetto bugs– they don’t count, because, really, snakes don’t FLY.

 

 

 

The Importance of Being Heard

I’ve been writing this post in my head for over a month, so sit back and enjoy the ride.

The importance of being heard?  What, hunh? It’s simple; once you strip away all of the nuance, the line-in-the-sand- advice, the pleas, the heartfelt and/or open letters to the media masses, the temper tantrums, the stubborn adherence to strict doctrine, the foundation mortared together with noise, what’s left is a grinding need to be heard.

I was chosen recently as part of the cast of this year’s Listen To Your Mother Show– and no, this post isn’t just a commercial,  though I do hope that you find yourself scrolling back up to click on this link for show information and to purchase tickets.  Or clicking it right now.  Okay, that was a tiny commercial.  Carry on.

I listened to the stories during our first read through and spent the rest of the evening completely overwhelmed at the depth of my emotional attachment to the stories of these women.

Imagine meeting your favorite viral post in person– it was like that.

In the weeks that followed I just couldn’t get the thought out of my head.  That from the first drawing on a cave wall, the first wail of a baby’s cry, the last breath before death, every moment in between centers around wanting to be heard.

Elliot and http://paperhand.org/

Elliot wearing one of the Paperhand Puppets

The newborn baby cries for all of the reasons babies cry– hungry, wet, tired, scared, bored. Prior to identifying anything else about its surroundings, baby, barely more than an un-uterused fetus, already instinctively knows the vital importance of being heard.

The toddler crashes full-body to the ground, face purple with rage, arms and legs jabbing at you like a prison shank.  Screaming with all of the twisted, powerful emotions coursing through his little body.   Indignant, righteous fury at this injustice– neither relevance, nor rationality need apply– toddler asserts loudly, publicly about the importance of being heard.

See where I’m going here?

The elementary-aged children, beginning to learn in earnest the adult method of self-containment.  My first grader reminds me of a can of biscuits– life rolls along, pleasant and calm and then BOOM.  I’m surprised even when I know the can’s about to explode; more so when it occurs spontaneously from the backseat.   It’s tricky, navigating this age. They struggle to balance the importance of them being heard, with the natural need for autonomy.

For two months I listened to my kid mumble grumpily about not having lots of stuff, about how haaarrrddd my husband and I are on him.  For two months, any moment of consumerism requiring his participation filled me with irritation beginning at the first click of the fastening seatbelt.  Until, finally, he confessed to being jealous of a classmate who had bragged about a 600 dollar a week allowance, and a 5-story house– neither of which containing a speck of truth.

Now from memory– mine– the middle- and high school children.   Struggling through the importance of being heard by the right people, at the right time.  At an age where being overheard by the wrong people, at the wrong time very much feels like the end of the world as you know it.  My parents offered the well-intentioned advice on a how a future me would be completely unaffected by these humiliating horrors in contrast to my pre-teen/teenaged insistence that the only solution involved leaving the state.   Their (true of most parents deep in battle with hormonal overlords) inability to hear me created a world where the importance of being heard transformed into the importance of remaining silent.

Nothing– none of this– goes away (or gets easier) as we grow older; as we settle into a young adult’s life of facebook, and twitter, and tumblr, and reddit.  We being to navigate interpersonal relationships, boundaries within our own control.  Sorta.  Little things become Huge Things; simple tasks, like proper towel folding become a metaphor for demonstrative emotion.

Becoming parents– or not–  we find ourselves banging against our drum of individuality, trying to reinforce the importance of being heard over a wall of background noise. The Pinteresting  vs The Pinhating; The Elf Elite vs The Shelf Scorners; The Safety Rotors vs The Abduction Riskers; The Indignant Attendants vs The Indifferent Iphoners;  The Village Dwellers vs The Validation Seekers.

When a gazillion people share a post about stopping holiday madness, and another gazillion people get self-righteous in their justification of house-destroying leprechauns, the original message of being overwhelmed gets swallowed by the static.

It’s not about everyone drinking a homogenized Hippie Peace and Patouchili smoothie, either.  I can be comfortable in my paint-covered shorts while another mom is comfortable in her designer white pants.  We can both wonder at how the other manages without the addition of scorn.

For me, the importance in being heard  has nothing to do with anyone else’s priority list at all.  It’s about strengthening my own voice, comfortably tucking into my own confidence, seeking my own council, and accepting that everyone just wants to be heard.

Now the challenge for me is not in the hearing, but in the listening.  Double bonus points if I could learn to listen without offering solutions or advice.

What? Nobody’s perfect.

Toxic Hot Seat

Y’all know how I feel about the chemicals… the **unregulated TOXIC chemicals that the chemical industry slides into infant pajamas because babies are oh-so-flammable**.

Any-who, Toxic Hot Seat happens to be playing tomorrow night at the Carmike 15 in Raleigh (5501 Atlantic Springs Rd., Raleigh, NC, 27616).   I plan to attend, even after spending the day at the zoo with 126 of my favorite first graders, and one Elliot.

I understand that it is overwhelming to consider the long-term side effects of the slow poison seeping from each speck of flame-retardant-contaminated dust bunny (me = bringer of joy and happiness this evening, yes?).  I am fully aware of how little consumer choice any of us gets– all thanks to the super, duper effective chemical company lobbyists.

I also understand that millions of dollars and scientific research hours were wasted on testing the safety of vaccines when a nation became horrified by the thought of injecting their small children with teeny tiny bits of chemicals.  What I struggle with accepting is that this is the same nation of people that overspend for their BPA-free water bottles, because SAFETY, without ever realizing that these plastics are all now BPS-full.

You know what? I refuse to accept that I have to just sit back and take my spoonful of toxic sludge with my petroleum-laden food dyed sugar.  Just. No.

At no other time in history have we the consumer had the opportunity to immediately point the finger at the corporations that are trying to dupe us in favor of their profit margin.

Here’s a funny– The American Chemistry Council works with PETA to make sure any legislation passed doesn’t needlessly harm innocent animals with unnecessary safety tests.   Why pay for lab rats when they get our children for free?

How to Repurpose a Crib into a Mid-Century Modern Sofa

Small Sofa? Settee?  Large Chair?  I’m going with sofa.  This post will show you how to repurpose a crib into a mid-century inspired sofa.  Taking trash to treasure ranks in my Top 10 of all favorite things.

How to Repurpose a Crib into a Mid-Century Modern Sofa

Not even an expensive, convertible crib.  Nope, nothing but the least-expensive-but-still-safe sleep prison for my precious darlings.

Wait, maybe not safe since it was one of the drop-side cribs of death, so it had be repurposed or get tossed in the garbage.   The crib spent some time repurposed as a lego table– but the boys prefer the floor.  How else does one plant lego brick landmines to maim the parents?  JB suggested we just throw the thing away as he watched me haul it back down to the basement.

One does not simply throw things away.

When I realized that my basement fort couldn’t be a permanent office and moved myself back upstairs, I justified the expense of my time with a low $50 materials budget.   Our basement overflows with items waiting for new life, and I’m trying really hard to live the life of an anti-over-consumer.

I ended up spending $80 total– for a gallon of paint, two new brushes, and $30 bucks a yard upholstery fabric (then 50% off!) and some extra foam.  To date, I’ve spent a max of $7 a yard, it took me several days to work up the nerve to even cut the fabric!

Here’s the crib in the so-clean, pre-Zach nursery.  Those hand-painted sea creatures would eventually cause night terrors in my babies– MOM WIN!  I still miss my giant goldfish (which you can see if you click the link).

Sea Creatures

My office needed a chair, but not an overflowing monstrosity like the one above. Something comfy, but practical.   Something, um, free.

I’ve seen many crib-into-bench ideas and since the mattress also sat in my basement, I decked it out at a little couch.

It looked like a crib and crib mattresses aren’t particularly comfortable to sit on when one weighs more than a baby.

I poked around the internet, looking at couches, choosing a few mid-century modern couch designs as inspiration.  Nice clean lines– furniture whose footprint matches its function, nary a superfluous poofy cushion in sight.

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Inspiration Couch

I’m going to tell you the truth- if you’ve ever cut a piece of wood with a power tool; sewn a semi-straight line; and used a stapler– this project is doable.

Step 1:  Shape the arms of your sofa.

Our crib had those high, arched sides.  No good.  I used a jig saw and cut down at an angle.  I like easy, so the highest point of my incline meets the back of the sofa.

Step 1  Cut the round sides

Step 2:  Let’s Get Stable!

You weigh more than a baby; is the crib sturdy enough?  You can see the original bottom of the crib under the cedar bunkie boards (yup, had those in the basement; I got them for $5 at a thrift store 3 years ago).  If you don’t have random bunkie boards, cut 2 x 4s to length, and screw them into the frame.

2 Step 2 Bunkie boards

Glue and nail a thin piece of wood to stabilize the wobbly spikes to stabilize your arms.   This also gives the flat, mid-century modern form when you start to shape with the foam.

2 Step 2 Assemble

Step 3: Foam strip, a lot of glue, and even more tape.

3 Step 3 Lots of Glue and Tape and Foam

Sidebar:  Some 13ish years ago, adventurous friends helped me take a reciprocating saw to an over-stuffed couch, which is when we all learned that even pre-made furniture is largely shaped with cardboard.

Step 4: Cardboard for shape. Cardboard for stability. Cardboard 4 life.

Your goal here is to give a solid foundation to shape the cushions.  I had a few heavy duty shipping boxes (see above about not throwing things away).

4 Step 4 Add Cardboard for Stability

Step 5:  Padding

Turtles? What the what?  So. My mom made custom crib bumpers for the still-gestating first grandbaby.  I tied them so tight– no choking!– that they had to be sliced off with a very sharp knife, rendering them useless as crib bumpers. For years they’ve hung out in my scrap fabric project box just waiting…  to be put back together with the crib.  I used the bumpers to fill in the padding on the sofas arms.  Reunited, and it feels so good.

5 Step 5 Building up the cushions for the sides

Step 6:  Assemble the first layer of padding. 

Padding inserted, everything’s nailed or glued down.  Incidentally, this is about when I headed downstairs to look for a heavy-duty stapler.  That stapler is my new BFF.  Get a good stapler.  Tack nails and tape cannot replace a good stapler.   If they take my stapler then I’ll set the building on fire*…

6 Step 6 Building up the Arms and Back

*Dude! Officespace!

Step 7:  Estimate your fabric needs by making a pattern.

Large sheets make great slipcover/upholstery pattern pieces.  Unless, like me, you choose a fitted sheet. You can’t fold fitted sheets into neat squares because they are the devil’s work. Therefore, if you can’t fold it into a square, they will not make nice rectangles. But it did help me estimate my yardage (a king sized sheet is about 3 yards; I bought 4).

I ended up asking my first grader* about vertices and then drew out the geometry.  At the most basic, most furniture is nothing more than a simple quadrilateral.

*I’m only sort of kidding.

7 Step 7 Estimate Fabric Yardage and Measure your Shapes

Step 8:  A little more cushion, please.

Cardboard and thin foam isn’t very snuggly.  I intended to make a padded cushion with extra lower back support using scrap “mom, that’s too babyish for us” fabric and some of the 5 pound box of fiberfill I got on sale– 2 years ago.  THIS WOULD HAVE BEEN EASIER HAD I JUST BOUGHT FOAM*. Unless you are trying to prove something to yourself, just buy the foam.

*That deserved a yell.  I overstuffed the back cushion only to really notice the lopsidedness when I dry-fitted the upholstery fabric.  I’m not a perfectionist, but it was bad even by my standards and I had to rip out some of my precious staples to adjust the cushion stuffing because sofa Spanx doesn’t exist.  Lumpy is neither mid-century modern, nor comfy. When I reupholster other furniture, I will just buy the foam.

8 Step 8 Create a Back Cushion from Scrap Fabric

Step 9:  Embrace flexibility.

Remember how fitted sheets can’t become rectangles?  This is when old patterns come in handy.  Speaking of– have I mentioned that I can’t sew by following a pattern?  I can take stuff apart and make new things from it; I can look at an object and determine how to make the fabric piece together, but patterns– with their darts and seam allowances– make me all sorts of weepy.

9 Step 9 Old Patterns and Present Wrapping

Step 10: Foam on top

Take coupon and buy 2 yards of foam to smooth out the pillow.  Hey– they DO make soda Spanx! I stapled this stuff on top of my scrap-fabric cushion.

10 Step 10 Add Foam

Step 11:   Attachment

Staples– too many is not enough; so many 3/8 inch staples in this bad boy.  The fabric on the arms took the longest.  It’s in two pieces– the inner trapezium* meets the flat top of the outer trapezium.

*Seriously, that one I did learn from 1st grade common core math.

11 Step 11 Add Upholstry Fabric

Step 12:  Remember

You’ll say to yourself, naw– I’ve pulled the fabric too tight (you didn’t), and I’ve got enough staples (you don’t).

As for the edges? I found it helpful to think about neatly wrapping a present (not something I do much of– the neat part).  It’s the same sort of concept when wrapping a sofa.

12 Step 12 Wrapping the upholstery fabric

Step 13:  Details

I found button making thingys (that is the scientific name for them– my brain is spent after trapezium) on clearance for 97 cents.  I find absurd joy in making buttons.  I could make buttons ALL DAY LONG.

13 Clearance make your own buttons

Step 14:  Get a mascot and “borrow” your oldest child’s sonic screwdriver.

I haven’t put the knob back on the TARDIS door yet, which means you can’t get in without a flat-edged tool.  It’s funny until you actually lock yourself in there without a screwdriver one evening.

A few weeks ago I locked myself in on purpose as the boys left for karate.

Elliot: “Daaa–aaaddd! Mom locked herself in her TARDIS again!”

Zach: “Mom’s just gone to another dimension. She’ll be back by breakfast.”

Which would be hilarious enough, right?  Until several hours later, when this happened:

Elliot on his way to bed whispers through the door: “Breakfast is at 7, Mom. Don’t be late.”

Pure childhood memory gold, right?  Yes– except Elliot, at 5, has a grasp on reality somewhere in between  loosey and goosey.  A few days after my dimension field trip, Grumpy Cat (aka Tartar Sauce, aka TARDIS Sauce) showed up on my sewing table. Why?  BECAUSE I NEEDED A COMPANION.  Hard not to love that kid; he thinks JUST LIKE ME.

14 Repurposed Crib into mid-century inspired sofa

 

I even went and linked up at other DIY places this time.  Like My Repurposed Life and DIY Showoff

 

 

Would Mr Rogers ride in TARDIS?

Maybe you saw my new Intergalactic Planetary TARDIS office?   And wondered to yourself… um? Why?

Perhaps you, as one of my 15 loyal readers, remember that I spent spring break last year creating a fort of my own in the basement?  My quiet spot to write that book I’ve been working on (define “work”) for a year?

Living in the South + a basement + trees =  bugs.  And despite my bad-assery black widow hunting skills, palmetto bugs make me scream.  Elliot kills them for me now– under protest, because; “Mom, they are CLEANER bugs”.

I asked JB–all casual and theoretical– if he’d be willing to move his home office down to the basement.   I had his stuff downstairs before he stopped nodding yes.

Which left me back upstairs.  With a desk that I didn’t like (it’s now a hutch in the dining room– that’s for another day).   I wanted a standing desk– salvaged from an old table leaf and some other spare parts.  I needed a chair, but I didn’t want to buy a new one.   Oh look–I never did get rid of the crib I repurposed into a lego table that, once I admitted to the failure of my elaborately sorted lego storage system, sat in the basement waiting for death.

And if I ever get around to removing that paper pile off of my once-clean standing desk and sewing the grown up pillows for my new MTV crib (get it?  Because I’m a DIY rockstar and it’s a crib? I crack myself up) I’ll post pictures.  The DIY process isn’t what this post is about though.  Gotcha!

So why DID I need TARDIS?

Have you ever wondered why Mr. Roger’s put on a sweater and changed his shoes at the beginning of every show?   A symbolic nod to a shift of persona, of turning into himself into…well, himself.  These types of actions are a part of asserting situational control.   Notice next time you go to a big meeting– does the speaker lower (or raise) the blinds? Adjust the lights?  They are asserting their control over the room.

need to write.  My youngest enters kindergarten in 6 short months and the husband has started dropping hints about all of the ways I might start to earn an income.  I like employment;  I’ve really enjoyed opportunities that challenge my brain.  Being paid for my brain seems like the next logical step.

But I really don’t want to sit in a cube and write TPS reports.  Not again.

I’ve written many things that I consider  significant, thoughtful efforts– informative op eds on chemical safety; an investigative op ed on dirty NC politics;  an entry to the Listen To Your Mother competition (ack! Audition’s this Thursday!); a unique perspective on the Affordable Care Act and a Women’s Healthcare post, both for momsrising;

I’ve, of course, talked about my kids.  About why I involve my children in politics;  about How to Explain Martin Luther King for Carolina Parent; why I hang my kids’ art up–even in the living room; what it’s like to balance my own issues with raising critically thinking children.

I’ve always found the anti-mothering feminist represents a special brand of ass itchery; an attitude that reached out to attack Michelle Obama recently.  I find the constant plague of mothering self-doubt and continual need for reassurance, exhausting.  Especially when we get together to talk about how much easier women used to have it– you know, before birth control and legal rights.

One of my personal favorites included the leagues of people who want me to throw away my smart phone and devote 100% of my undivided attention to my small children.

Because. No.

I read those posts after I read my fiction.  Fiction?  Hard.

Last year I won an editing auction.  Meaning that Chuck Wendig would read, and then rip apart, 5000 of my words.   All I had (have) to do is write them.   I have my fingers crossed that there isn’t an expiration date because… cough.

You see, Chuck blogs a lot about how to write.  The first book of his I read was an amazon purchase– 250 Things You Should Know About Writing.   Then I read his Miriam Black series, Blackbirds, Mockingbird, and the latest– The Cormorant.

Over the course of a year, I wrote an outline and several really rough draft chapters of a novel that I can objectively declare as a 1st class passenger boarding the Sucking the Suck Suckage Train.

It is disappointing to realize your great contribution to literature promises to read as a formulaic, stereotypical, poorly written romance triangle.  And in between my pity party and my resulting rally, my state imploded with legislated stupidity demanding both my time and attention.

Do you remember Melvin’s line– “You make me want to be a better man”  from As Good As It Gets? Reading the terribleminds posts over the summer made me want to be a better writer.

I had characters, but no content;  personalities without prose.  Things in my head don’t like to shut up– even fictional things– and I eventually started scribbling lines again.  A story formed.  One that, if I sit my ass down and write it, bombs the fuck out of the Sucking the Suck Suckage Train.

Internal self-discipline– a huge problem of mine.  But it’s one that I can control.

Now I walk through my personal TARDIS to go write. I can symbolically shed the trappings that like to poop on my creativity.  Like having to clear the table before forcing children to eat food that I didn’t want to cook and that they don’t want to eat. Or feeding the bearded dragon that literally likes to poop on my things.

And see?  1000 words.