Tuesday, April 19, 2011

So this is it...

When I was in 5th grade I won a writing contest sponsored by McDonald's called "When I Grow Up." We were to write an essay discussing what we would like to be when we grew up, and list the subjects in school that would help us get to that point. I went home the night that my teacher announced the contest, holding the flyer with Ronald McDonald on it, excited to write my amazing essay.

Why was I so excited?

Well that summer Jurasic Park came out, and after seeing it on the big screen I knew exactly what I wanted to be, a Paleontologist. What 5th grader understands that occupation, let alone can say it, is beyond me, but it is what I decided to do and I wanted to write to the people at McDonald's and tell them all about it.

I sat down at our kitchen table armed with a note pad and plenty of sharp pencils. I went through several rough drafts before I was satisfied and knew I held the award winning essay. My dad read it over, gave me suggestions, and we sat at our ancient computer (well now it seems ancient, then it was pretty cool we even owned one) and typed out the greatest work ever written by a 5th grader.

I submitted my work the next day at school. I even had it in a pink folder and included a title page, complete with dinosaur stickers. I wanted to win, and I wasn't below trying to out "cute" everyone else.

I am not sure how much time went by until we found out the winner, but on that fateful day, while I sat in math class doing long division or something, Ronald McDonald himself waltzed into my 5th grade classroom. I couldn't believe he had time in his busy schedule to visit my school, let alone come to my classroom. This was big.

We all sat in anticipation as we waited to hear what he had to say. "Boys and girl, I am here to award a special little girl with the award for the best 'When I Grow Up' essay." We were on the edges of our seats. Who was it??

Then.... he announced my name!

I felt like Sally Field when she went up to receive that Oscar... "YOU LOVE ME!" I wanted to shout!

I got a plaque, McDonald's gift certificates, and my photo in the local paper with Ronald. I was on top of the world.

I kept this up for a few years, loving science and wanting to dig for dinosaur bones for a living. When that appeared to be out of reach, and my hatred for math really shone through each report card, I needed to rethink this career path. In 8th grade I had a really amazing English teacher and she made me see that my strengths weren't in digging through the dirt, but in writing. From that point on, I wanted to be a writer.

I even went to college for this. I studied English and Art History and minored in Writing. I was going to write and no one would stop me, I mean heck, I had Ronald on my side!

And then I graduated.

Everyone jokes about it while in college, but the fact that my English courses were always so full, I never believed it, but English is such a joke of a major. Aside from being a teacher or actually being able to work for the Times, you're screwed. I was one of the few who thought I could live in a log cabin somewhere and just write. And people would love my books. I'd be a loner who frequented coffee shops and everyone would be like, "oh Erika sits on that couch in the back. She wrote her first New York Times best seller there." Sadly... none of this ever happened. Sure I frequent the drive-thru at Dunkin Donuts daily, but I'm sure they only know me as "iced caramel latte lady" and not the hip, cool writer who is between novels.

I was leaving work the other day when all of this came rushing back to me. I am so defined by being a mommy, it has consumed my life for the past 2 years, that I completely forgot about all of this other stuff. My job is being a mom, and working retail is what I do because I enjoy it, it pays some bills, and it works around my husband's schedule.

I wonder if I would have won if I wrote about that?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

and now, someone else's words

To continue my "non-wordless wednesday" theme I wanted to share some words that aren't mine, but someone who is much better at putting together a sentence than me.

We have, Anna Quindlen....

The old arsenic hours were when the homework was done and the squabbling began and there was still an hour until baths and bed. (Once, I remember, I lied and said it was 8 p.m. at 6:45 just to get them out of my hair. Note to the mothers of young kids: don’t buy digital clocks.) The new arsenic hours are when I’ve knocked off work for the day in an empty house and have a cup of herbal tea and an hour of whatever’s on the DVR before my husband shows up for dinner. Occasionally, if the universe is feeling merciful, I will hear the dogs bark as the door downstairs opens, and a voice will call, “Mom?” And my heart sings.

I hope, like her, I never forget the days where I swear up and down to God that I will start going to church more often and volunteer at the fish fry if he/she gets me through the day. The days where Kirsten is teething, doesn't want to eat, refuses to take a bath, hates getting her diaper changed, pulls the dogs ears, and pushes me away when I try to hug her. I go to bed on those days feeling defeated. The toddler has taken over once again, and all I accomplished that day was running behind her as she tore apart the kitchen and living room. I hope when this is all over, and I am sitting here years from now watching horrible reality television (yes the future still has bad reality tv, and I still haven't broken my habit of watching it), I can just smile because in the end, it was all worth it.

My non-Wordless Wednesday post

In response to this article and news story... Follow the link

I have probably written this post 1000 times. As well as other bloggers. It is just an issue that keeps rearing its ugly head, and we are constantly forced to defend ourselves.

Recently J.Crew came under fire for putting an ad on their site that showed a mother playing with her 5 year-old son. They looked happy and sharing a great mommy/son moment. The issue people had with it though was that the mother was painting her sons toe nails pink.

The horror!

J.Crew thankfully declined to respond to this backlash, stating that they feel it is a "non-issue." And I have to 100% agree with J.Crew, what is the issue here?

I am trying to figure out what the story is, what's the big deal, why did I spend 10 minutes of my day reading articles of this today?

Stories like these make me sad. It makes me sad because I feel like, as a parent, we are constantly asked to defend our parenting styles. Why did you choose to not breastfeed? Why don't you cloth diaper? Why did you use meds while giving birth? Why don't you sleep train your kid so she sleeps at night? How much tv does your kid watch in a day?

We are constantly trying to make issues out of things that are non-issues.

I went through so much anxiety and stress after having Kirsten because I felt like everything I did was wrong, and I only had her for a few weeks. I felt like a huge failure and she had yet to turn one month old. I failed at breastfeeding and I felt really ashamed about it. I couldn't go to my favorite online sites because I feared judgement. When I did confess on a few sites that I had to give up breastfeeding because it was just way too stressful, I got a lot of flack for it. I cried for days. I even lied to a lot of people and said that I had an easy time with it and everything was going well, all because I wanted to feel like I was doing a good job at being a mom, when it reality it was just the opposite. It took me a long time to come to terms with the type of mother I was, the type of mother I naturally had to be because that is who I am, and just because someone tells me something is "better" doesn't make it right for me and my daughter.

So why do we do this to people? I can only imagine the amount of stress on a parent of a child who chooses to dress differently. All because WE put that stress on the person. People want these news stories so they can sit around and discuss how if it was their child they wouldn't allow it. We need to validate ourselves and our decisions, so picking on those who are different is the easiest way to get our fix. WHY??

I love the response from a parent to this article stating that we should raise our children so that they grow up to be loving parents. We all want our kids to be happy and following a good path, but I really never thought that I really just want my kid to treat her kids with as much love and kindness as I treat her... and as my parents treated me.

So is this an issue? Non-issue? Or is the only issue here that people just need to mind their own damn business??

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Wordless Wednesday

We all need a morning "pick-me-up"

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Surprises at the Zoo

We woke up Sunday morning unsure of what to do for the day. The weather in Pittsburgh has been really strange lately, so on any given day we could have snow, rain, sun, tornados... you name it, we have had it these past two weeks. Saturday ended up being a fairly nice day. Some sunshine, mild weather, perfect for a walk. We tossed around the idea of going to a park, but decided to take advantage of this nice weather break and go to the zoo!

We have a zoo pass, this has worked out great for us. I love knowing that I can go whenever I want. It is the perfect place to go for a walk, spend an entire afternoon, or go for a short visit. Plus, it is only 10 mins from our house! Score!

Bundled up we all headed to the zoo. I was excited just to be outside, a nice change from heading to an indoor area to play.

We walked along the path, slowly taking in all of the animals and just enjoying the day. We got to see baby tigers playing with their mom, and were surprised by the peacocks who freely roam around the zoo. A few kids even chased them around!

We made out way to the aquarium, my favorite part. I love the penguins, and love to watch them swim around under the water. They always stand so proudly and seem so social, as if I could stand next to them and be apart of their conversations. I also love the little pool where you can reach in and pet a sting ray.

Something new at the zoo has been the polar bear exhibit. This huge new construction attached to the aquarium that allows you to see the bears through a window on ground level, as well as in a tunnel under the water. We have been going to the zoo for a year, and have only seen the bears in the water once, and it was a short period of time.

Sunday was a different story. Since the zoo was less crowded the under water tunnel wasn't full of screaming kids trying to lure the bear into the water. We stood for a few minutes, discussing how we NEVER see the bear in the water. I was about to take a photo of my husband sitting with Kirsten under the water when suddenly, it happened, the bear jumped into the water! It was amazing to see. There is no sound, so no large splash, just a giant white bear landing in the water.

He swam around for a while, playing with a ball. He even stood on top of the glass that we were under. Kirsten pointed up and squealed at the bear. I was so excited that she got to see this, and sort of understand it. Previous visits I often wondered if she understood that she was seeing animals in real life. She mostly just sits in her stroller or baby carrier and stares. This time, she was super interactive.

After the delightful bear show, we moved down the tunnel to see the sharks. We got a great view of them in the very clear water. They stared at us as they slowly swam by showing their huge teeth. Kirsten loved pounding on the glass, mocking them.

We moved on to the slide and play area. I always say that I cannot wait for her to really appreciate everything the zoo has to offer. We have her a taste of the amazing tree top slides by going down with her. The smile on her face was priceless.

I love the zoo, but especially love it when we can go as a family on a spontaneous visit. A very successful spontaneous visit!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Remembering What Its Like To Be A Kid

Sometimes I have to step back and remember what its like to be a kid. I get so lost in my own life, and problems, and responsibilities, that I forget what its like to be young, carefree, and with a great imagination. Kirsten will never gets these years back, she will only be this age once, and I want her to enjoy every second. I enjoyed every second of my childhood, and I hope she looks back on it as fondly as I do on mine.

One of my dad's favorite stories to tell about me (I was about 4 at the time) is the time he took me to Hills. It was a local department store that I loved to visit. The minute you walked in, it was a wonderland for children. Right in the doorway were counters that had a huge popcorn maker, hot dogs, cotton candy, and all of the treats you could possibly want as a kid. I loved the smell, and remember it well.

On that particular day my dad let me have a bag of popcorn. I walked into the big store with my popcorn in both hands and took in the scene. The place was huge. My dad leaned down and said to me, "You can pick anything. Anything you want in the whole store, and I'll buy it for you." My eyes got huge! This was a child's dream! Not only did he get me popcorn, but anything I want??? I was in heaven.

I slowly walked down every aisle and took it all in. Anything. I could have a bike... Barbie dream house... anything my little heart desired. We walked around for about an hour. My dad was so patient with me and let me enjoy my moment.

Eventually I decided what I wanted. Not a bike. Not a new playhouse. I chose a Barbie bath tub. It had a shower, little shower curtain, jacuzzi tub, and bubble bath for Barbie. It was perfect.

My dad looked a little perplexed. He asked, "Is this really what you want? A toy bath tub? You can get anything!" I simply nodded my head and walked happily to the register with my new purchase.

I played with that Barbie bath tub until I grew out of my Barbie phase. It was one of my favorite toys. I think I loved it so much because it meant something. Out of everything in that store, I wanted that. And I got to spend a great afternoon with dad, eating popcorn, and walking around a department store.

We laugh about it now. But I like to think the reason I didn't choose something big or expensive was because I knew I didn't need it. I knew I just wanted something simple.

I remind myself of this story when I find myself getting lost in my own adult world, and I need to come back to life and remember what it's like to eat popcorn and just enjoy the afternoon. I hope I can give this spirit to Kirsten, and she picks out her own Barbie bath tub on a shopping trip.

Friday, April 1, 2011

We all have dreams

When I was in third grade my favorite show was the Mickey Mouse Club. You know, the one with Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, Christina Aquilera, and Ryan Gosling? I could not wait for the free weekends of Disney Channel so I could watch it. I begged my mom to order Disney Channel, but she insisted we couldn't get it full time. But none of my friends had the channel, so we all looked forward to the few weekends a year that we got it for free. I would glue myself to the tv, not wanting to miss a second of it.

Anyway, I remember after one episode there being an advertisement for kids who want to be apart of the show. They were looking for new talent, and this small town girl finally saw her opportunity to be in the spotlight, exactly where I belonged.

We had a computer at the time. Mostly I used it to play Oregon Trail (damn Typhoid Fever!!!) but I knew how to write up a paper (I used to make flyers to my "events" I held in my basement, but more on those later). I sat at my computer and began to compose a letter, a letter to the Disney Channel. Basically I knew I had to take it upon myself if I wanted to be on the Mickey Mouse Club dancing alongside JC and Justin.

Well obviously I never got the part. But years later, I would find a copy of that letter. I kept a copy for myself, a memento for when I was famous and wanted to remember what it was like before I was rich and famous.

So behold... my letter to the Mickey Mouse Club......

Dear Mickey Mouse Club,

My name is Erika Hicks and I am 9 years old. I love watching the Mickey Mouse Club and would love to be on the show.

I have been dancing since I was 5 years old. I take ballet, jazz, and tap lessons. I love dancing and think I am good enough to be on your show. I try to practice the dances they do on the show, so I can learn all of them quickly when I am on the show.

Sometimes I hold dance shows in my basement for my family. I dance to Disney music and make up my own dances. I like to make up dances and am good at it. My mom and dad think I am really good and if I keep practicing can be famous some day.

When I am in 4th grade next year I will take chorus so I can be really good at singing. I like to sing now, but do not take lessons yet. I love to sing Disney songs. My favorite Disney movie is The Little Mermaid.

I can also play piano. I have been taking lessons since 2nd grade.

I would like to be on your show and will move to Disney World so I can be on it. My mom and dad would like to live there. And so would my brother.

I put a picture of myself inside with this letter.

I hope you write back.

Thank you,
Erika Hicks

I hope Kirsten has dreams like these. Dreams of dancing with future pop stars and moving to Disney World. Sometimes I wish I still dreamed like this, and just knew someone would hire me just because I said I was good at something. I believed in myself.... maybe I needed to send a video?