Tuesday, December 29, 2009

They say it's your birthday

It's my birthday too, yeah!

Really! It is! I am 30sh. And get ready to be wowed because this picture is great:


That's me and my mama 30sh years ago.

Birthdays should really be all about the moms. (After today, of course. Today it's all about me.) After all, they are the ones who did all of the hard work what with the puking and the getting fat and the stretch marks and the labor pains and the squeezing of something the size of an extra large squash out of their you know what.

Moms should be the ones patted on the back and toasted. We should make them a cake and get them a gift and say, hey, thank you! Thank you for enduring what you did... sore nipples and late night feedings, potty training and bed wetting, temper tantrums and lego messes, the brushing of snarly hair and the reading of the same story over and over again, the constant ridicule of their cooking and the scrubbing of barf out of the carpet, the payment of all that money for braces and retainers, the sitting through awful band concerts, the showing up for piano recitals, and so much more.

(Thank you, mom, especially for not disowning me when I dropped baby Joshua. On the head. I think he turned out okay despite that incident. I was seriously only trying to help.)

This morning, my mom brought us bagels and juice and gave me gifts and then proceeded to wash all my dishes and clean my kitchen while I sat like a lump on my new furniture. Then she came back later in the day to watch my kids while John and I went over to a friend's house.

I'm a lucky duck.

This is kind of a lame thank you, but thanks mom. And congratulations on the whole being a mom thing for 30sh years. Here's to 30sh more, together.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Now With Better Resolution...

I think one of John’s great disappointments in life is that he married a woman who cannot tell the difference between high definition television and standard television.

John received a blue-ray player for Christmas from his parents and has been downstairs popping various movies in the thing to demonstrate its extraordinary capacity for enabling the ultimate cinematic experience.

“Look! Honey, come see!”

I go look.

“The Star Wars dvds look so amazing with the blue-ray’s up-convert technology!”

“Pardon me there?”

“Up-convert technology. The blue-ray takes our dvds and makes the resolution better than in our old dvd player. It’s not as good as if they were blue-rays, but the picture is much better than before.”

“Okay then. I’m going to finish this here pumpkin pie now.”

“You don’t notice the difference, do you?” The disappointment in his voice is palpable.

“Not so much,” I say.

He proceeds to pop in the new Star Trek blue-ray he bought, and then Cars, which causes a frenzy among the younger crowd dwelling within the confines of these walls.

It’s so amazing,” John whispers.

Right.

This week, he somehow conned my father out of his old speakers- behemoth monstrosities that now loom over us in the living room.

The sound is so amazing,” he whispers.

Right.

I can’t complain, however, because my ever-loving other half bought me the yuletide gift of furniture. I now have a micro-fiber loveseat and couch and a bountiful assortment of cushions.

He moved the recliner from the living room into the already crowded library/ dining-room/ piano room. I am opposed to this. Really opposed to this. But I can’t say anything because HE BOUGHT ME FURNITURE! I am in such a state of bliss that I am letting this go. (Until a couple of weeks from now when he starts traveling for work. Then, I will simply move the recliner back to its rightful spot in the great room and he will inevitably become annoyed and move it back next to the piano and then I’ll move it back where I want it and this will go on until he gives up because I am more stubborn than he is. And more right than he is, too.)

Ahhh, the holidays. No better time to have meaningless, trivial battles of will with one’s spouse. No better way to end the year, either.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas Songs that Make Me Happy & Crabby


There are two types of people in this world: people who hate Neil Diamond and people who love him. I am not ashamed to admit that I am in the latter category; however, even I will admit that Neil’s version of "Oh Holy Night" is an unholy travesty.

I happened upon this version while listening to the radio in the car on the way back from a rather mobbed Target store. Does anyone else still listen to the radio? I’m an avid fan, at least in the car. I haven’t yet quite glommed onto the whole MP3 player thing. I only listen to mine at the gym (on the rare occasion I go the gym and the stupid thing is actually charged.)

I like the radio because it’s a journey into the unknown. What will they play next? Will it be some relic of my youth? A song I’ve never heard before? Or some crap by Kings of Leon again? 90% of the time it’s the third, but I am eternally optimistic. (They played Cake a couple of months ago: I like a girl in a short skirt and a looong jacket! I was happy for like a week.)

Every year, I devise a mental list of my very favorite Christmas carols and songs. Unfortunately, one can have a favorite Christmas carol, say "O Holy Night," and have it butchered by the likes of Neil Diamond or Jessica Simpson.

But here are this year’s personal top five faves anyway:

5. "I Wonder As I Wander": Sort of a haunting melody. My favorite verse: If Jesus had wanted for any small thing/A star in the sky or a bird on the wing/ Or all of God's Angels in heaven to sing/ He surely could have it, 'cause he was the King! (I’ve been enjoying Harry Connick’s version this year.)

4. "O Holy Night": A song you can imagine the angels singing in the skies. Angels who sound nothing like Neil Diamond.

3. "What Child is This": Gorgeous lyrics put to the melody of Greensleeves. What’s not to like?

2. "Hark the Herald Angels Sing": Because it’s just a great hymn. Because they sing it at the end of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Because there’s an old sheet music ornament with its lyrics on it on my mother's Christmas tree. Just because.

1. "Silent Night": This is the first year my son can sing the first verse all the way through. And that’s the main reason it’s my very favorite carol this year.

Okay. Let’s discuss worst Christmas songs now, as there are some songs that surely would have made baby Jesus cry.

5. "The Little Drummer Boy": I just don’t like this song. It’s always struck me as annoying and ridiculous. “Me and my drum!” Blah.

4. "Wonderful Christmas Time": Paul McCartney’s famous Christmas song is overplayed on the radio. It is so awful in so many ways. The lyrics make you dumber for having listened to them. The synthesized music and horrific tune grates on my nerves.

3. "Santa Claus is Coming to Town": This song is creepy. It makes Santa sound like a weird stalker. He sees you when you’re sleeping?

2. "The Christmas Shoes": They made this song into a Hallmark film. That should tell you something right there. I just don’t buy this kid’s story. His mother is dying and he wants to buy her shoes? She probably can’t even walk.

1. "The Chipmunk Song": I don’t really think I have to explain why.

What’s your favorite/ least favorite Christmas song and why?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

But Caleb, I AM YOUR FATHER!

video

I'm very seriously considering adding a "Star Wars" sidebar category. The Star Wars theme is now the soundtrack of my life. If the kids aren't singing it, it's playing in an Xbox game or on the stereo.

I found my "Spacetaculars" cd. What cd is this? Why, it's a compilation of "space" music I purchased a long time ago through BMG. Because I am a geek. This cd has music from John Williams's soundtracks, including E.T., StarTrek, 2001 Space Odyssey, and of course, Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and The Return of the Jedi.

No Superman, though. If E.T. is a space movie, Superman should be considered a space movie, too. They are both aliens. Christopher Reeve was just a much BETTER looking alien.

But I digress.

Caleb came home from school yesterday and made me turn off my Linda Eder Christmas album for some Spacetaculars. He then proceeded to listen to the Star Wars main theme, count it, 9 times. (Someone was quoting from Ferris Bueller the other day... Niiiiiine Tiiimes.)

Other Star Wars activities include: the drawing and cutting out of Star Wars figures and going ballistic when they inevitably rip, an interminable discussion about the dual personality of Anakin Skywalker/ Darth Vader, and of course, the time-honored art of Jedi Light-saber fighting. And Caleb has been practicing. He even has an impressive spin move.

We're going to hold off on showing him the Princess Bride, I think.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Zombified


John called me about twenty minutes ago.

"I have incredible news," he said.

YESSSSS! I thought. He got his bonus and it's, like, really, really HUGE! Snuggies for EVERYONE!

"Natalie Portman has agreed to star in the film version of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies," he said, almost gleefully, I thought.

Well, I had guessed Jennifer Garner for the film version, but Natalie Portman is pretty darn close.

Christmas sure came early this year. (Sarcasm intended.)

Monday, December 14, 2009

And the Award for the Worst Mom of the Weekend Goes To....

Friday morning

8:40 am

Caleb is dressed and ready for the snowy tundra that is our driveway. He had been jumping around the house with his backpack wide open, and one of his shoes fell out somewhere. I send him outside to wait for the bus as I frantically search the wild terrain that is our floor. After all, one can’t participate in gym if one is wearing winter boots. It’s just not done. I find it as Caleb is getting on the bus. I run with superhero speed, in my bare feet and pajamas through two feet of drifted snow, waving my arms and shouting like a looney-bird. The driver stops and everyone stares with wide eyes as I march to the door and hand Caleb his shoe.

“Oh. Thanks, mom,” he says nonchalantly. I go back inside and stand on the radiator for a good five minutes.

One Hour Later

I am sitting in the back of a church sanctuary with all of other moms whose husbands and parents can’t get out of work to go to their child or grandchild’s Christmas program. My camera is primed; I am ready to shoot video of Ben singing “Rudolph,” “Jingle Bells,” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” My friend sitting next to me bites her lip through “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” Her son has admitted to swinging his arms a little too vigorously during the song, previously injuring the little girl who sits next to him. I peer over at them and, indeed, the little girl looks a bit anxious.

Daniel sits and plays with his gowack but Ella thinks Ben’s Christmas program is a wild party and she dances in the aisle. No one seems to care.

In the crowd later, Santa arrives. I coral the twins and Ella is picked up by Mrs. Claus. She stares in awe. Santa asks her what she wants for Christmas and she shakes her head.

“No,” she says.

We go home after slipping and sliding through the parking lot.

11:00 am

I spend a good two hours at my favorite lunch bistro, McDonald’s, with Janet. Ella climbs the elaborate jungle gym and won’t come down. I stand below bribing her with a candy cane.

1:30pm

I drop the kids off at my mom's so I can go to the dentist.

2:00 pm

No cavities! The dentist wants to know how I chipped my front tooth. I can’t remember. He seems to think that is odd.

3:00

I run to the mall to find a pretty dress to wear to a Christmas gala that evening. I find one at Sears. It is brown. I don’t try it on.

3:45

Back at my mom's, bundling the kids. I look at the clock and am astonished to remember that Caleb is getting off of the bus in five minutes, and I’m twenty minutes away. I get hysterical. My mother slaps me across the face and says,

“Pull yourself together woman!”

I pull myself together and call my wonderful friends and neighbors who live around the corner. Chris literally races the bus to my house and grabs Caleb. Thankfully, the bus driver doesn’t call the cops when Caleb gets into a strange car with a man who is not his father.

4:00- 5:00 pm

I sob at what an idiot I am. I vow it will never happen again. I don’t vow it to Caleb, because he has no idea what almost happened. I vow it to Ella, who nods, solemnly.

5:30 pm

I squeeze myself into my new dress. John, who is a bit cool toward me, probably because of incidences that occurred earlier that afternoon, zips me up but doesn’t tell me I look pretty. I totally deserve that. Plus, my eyes are bloodshot and the dress is a bit tight and I really don’t look pretty at all.

6:00-10:00 pm

At the Lakeside Hospital Christmas gala, a woman at the bathroom says:

“Has anyone told you you look just like Renee Zellwegger?”

Actually, yes! When “Jerry Maguire” came out, another woman in a bathroom told me I looked just like Renee Zellwegger. It was one of the happiest moments of my small life.

The woman in the convention center bathroom turns to her friend behind her and says:

“Renee Zellwegger. You know. Bridget Jones.”

It’s come to this. I used to look like “Jerry Maguire” Renee Zellwegger. Now I look like “Bridget Jones” Renee Zellwegger. If someone ever compares me to “Cold Mountain” Renee Zellwegger, I may do something hostile.

Laura Bush is the keynote speaker. She comes out and places a bobble-head of herself on her podium.

“It has come to this,” she says. She explains that the bobble-head was purchased by a friend at a gift store in Washington D.C. It was on the clearance rack.

How utterly sad.

I lose the silent auction I was bidding on, but win the table’s gorgeous centerpiece. John forgives me for my past transgression and we go home kind of tired.

Saturday

6:00 am

John leaves for Buffalo to speak about constitutional freedoms at a men’s breakfast.

7:00 am

Everyone is up and eating oatmeal.

11:30 am

John comes home and Ben and I rush off to swim lessons. Ben now jumps into the pool, doggie-paddles in the deep end, floats on his back, and practices blowing bubbles in the water. He has vastly improved in just a few weeks.

12:30 pm

Back home… I leave John to spend the day Christmas shopping with one of my best friends. I eat a St. John panini at Cibon and later a slice of lemon raspberry cheesecake at the Cheesecake Factory.

5:30 pm

Back home. John leaves with boys to get a Christmas tree. I tell them to get a BIG one. They come home with not such a big one. Ben and Caleb are pleased with their tree.

“It was the best one!!!!” says Ben.

“They had to have this one,” says John.

It occurs to me that the tree does look huge to the boys.

7:00 pm

John leaves to hang out with friends. I curl up with a book I bought for somebody else for Christmas. I intend to read all of the books I have purchased for others before Christmas. Is that wrong?

Sunday

8:30 am

I’m off to sing in the church choir. I come back in between services to grab Caleb. Ben sounds croupy so John decides to stay home with him.

1:00 am

Caleb and I grab lunch at Wegmans after church: white cream-filled donuts, and head over to Supercuts so Caleb looks less like mountain child and more like a nice little boy. It grosses me out that the hair hasn’t been swept off the floor by Caleb’s salon chair. I am standing on someone else’s hair.

1:40 pm

Back home. Ben and Ella are napping. The Bills are winning. I intend to take a winter’s nap. Ben comes down from his nap wheezing. He can hardly talk and seems to be struggling to breathe. Since I am leaving later to go with Caleb to his Christmas piano recital, John decides to take Ben to Urgent Care.

4:00 pm

Urgent Care takes one look at Ben and calls an ambulance. John and Ben ride over to Strong. I start cleaning the house because what else can one do when one feels like throwing up because her small child is away from her, in an ambulance, fighting to breathe?

5:00 pm

The doctors at the hospital are alarmed by a constriction in Ben’s throat. At first, they think he might have actually swallowed something that got lodged there. It turns out his throat is just very swollen. He has severe croup. They give him albuterol and steroids and wait.

6:00 pm

My dad comes and picks up Caleb for his recital. They are going to play “Jingle Bells” as a duet together. Caleb is okay that I’m not coming.

7:00 pm

Ben is released. The twins and I bundle up and ride to Strong to pick them up. We then grab John’s car at Urgent Care, stopping to pick up some popsicles for Ben. Ben is spry, but is milking his illness for all it’s worth.

“Mom,” he says, “I am still very, very sick.” He gives Renee Zellwegger in “Cold Mountain” performances, sometimes. Oscar-worthy, I mean.

11:30 pm

I am so tired but I can’t sleep. I read more of the book I am giving to someone else, being very careful not to bend one single page. I am thankful that everyone is safe and under one roof. I have apocalyptic dreams, where all of the banks in the world crash and utter chaos is the new normal.

Monday

I am glad it’s Monday. Caleb, who was incredibly neglected this weekend, doesn’t want to go to school. He’d rather stay home with, of all people, me. We watch his performance at the recital again and again.

I’m sorry, buddy.

I’ll do better next weekend.



video

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Why We Do the Santa Claus Thing


Most men and women, before they embark on the glorious journey that is marriage, have necessary and important conversations. The most important, possibly, is the “are we gonna have kids?” conversation. Such a talk might go something like this:

“So, how many kids do you want?” she asks.

“Two is good,” he replies.

“I want five,” she says.

“Three it is,” he compromises.

“Fine,” she says. “So are we gonna do the Santa Claus thing or what?”

“I really could care less.”

“All right, then! Let’s do this thing!”

At least, that was pretty much the conversation John and I had. And then, ha ha to him, we had twins.

I don’t ever remember ever believing in Santa Claus, although my younger brother and sister did, and I do recall delightly in the consumption of the cookies they left out for Santa after they went to bed. After they grew up, I couldn't wait to do the Santa Claus thing with my own kids, and now I delight in eating the cookies they leave out for Santa. It is good, clean fun. A little fattening.

As I got older, it seemed every parent or parent-to-be had opinions about the jolly old white-bearded man with the wicked cool red winter suit. Some believed he distracted from “the true meaning of Christmas.” Others didn’t like lying to their kids. We all know I have no quandaries about lying to my kids, so that brings us to “the true meaning of Christmas.”

As fellow blogger Michelle recently pointed out, Christmas did not begin as a religious holiday and nowhere in the bible does it indicate Christ’s birth should be celebrated. (Let’s put Christ back into Christmas really doesn’t make sense- he was never there in the first place.) Christmas was initially a holiday that celebrated winter solstice; Christmas as we know it today is simply Christianity’s reaction to a popular pagan holiday. (Jesus was actually born in the fall.)

Santa Claus, on the other hand, is based on a bishop lauded and subsequently sainted for his extravagant gifts to the poor. (This was before the Reformation.) The idea of Santa Claus actually has roots in Christianity. Christmas, um, doesn’t really so much.

I love Christmas. I love the carols, I love the story of Jesus’ birth, I love nativity scenes and lights on the houses and the smell of Christmas trees and decking the halls and all that stuff. I applaud Christians for turning Christmas into their own celebration of the greatest event in the history of the world.

I also love to spur my children’s imagination. Is there a greater gift than a really good, really primed, imagination?

One of my favorite books is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. The main character is a poor little girl who lives in the Bronx. No, I’m kidding. She lives in Brooklyn.

See? I have a compulsion.

Anyways, she is a “storyteller” and these two paragraphs illustrate her parent’s differing opinions about spurring on their daughter’s fledgling imagination:

Lately, she (Francie) had been given to exaggerating things. She did not report happenings truthfully, but gave them color, excitement and dramatic twists. Katie (her mother) was annoyed at this tendency and kept warning Francie to tell the plain truth and to stop romancing. But Francie just couldn’t tell the plain undecorated truth. She had to put something to it.

Although Katie had this same flair for coloring an incident and Johnny (her father) himself lived in a half-dream world, yet they tried to squelch these things in their child. Maybe they had a good reason. Maybe they knew their own gift of imagination colored too rosily the poverty and brutality of their lives and made them able to endure it. Perhaps Katie thought that if they did not have this faculty, they would be clearer-minded; see things as they really were, and seeing them loathe them and somehow find a way to make them better.

The next chapter, noticeably, begins with: Christmas was a charmed time in Brooklyn.

Caleb is slowly putting two and two together. He was pretty sure the Santa Claus we saw on the street last week isn’t the same one that made an appearance at his school. He asks me strange questions, like:

“When Santa sees a reindeer in the woods, does he grab it so he’ll have even more reindeer on his sleigh?”

“No. I think he’s happy with the eight he has.”

“But wouldn’t more reindeer make him go even faster?” Caleb asked.

“I really couldn’t say.”

“Nine, anyway.”

“Pardon?”

“Nine. There are nine reindeer. You forgot Rudolph.”

“Yes. I guess I did. Nine, then.”

I’m so prepared for the day Caleb no longer believes. I'm prepared for the inevitable accusation that I, ahem, lied. I have a great book to recuse myself of any responsibility: it is called, Santa? Are you for real? The answer is happily non-committal.

In the meantime, I’m truly enjoying watching Caleb work it out for himself.

The Possible's slow fuse is lit
By the Imagination
~
Emily Dickinson

How do YOU feel about the jolly old white-bearded man with the wicked cool red winter suit? I won't be offended if you think I am totally off my rocker... it's been known to happen before.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Three Funny though Mildly Disturbing Thoughts from this Weekend

The Entrepreneurs

My husband and I are fledgling entrepreneurs. We spent a good part of the weekend brainstorming a novel idea for a brand new game for the Nintendo Wii.

Here’s the premise: it’s kind of like PGA golf, only not really at all.

First, you choose an avatar: any one of a variety of gorgeous blonde models, or if you would prefer, a feminine looking man. Next, you start the game. You are in a posh mansion. Your first quest is to run about the mansion in search of a five-iron golf club. Once you find it, your next quest is to find Tiger Woods within the mansion and begin chasing him while screaming like a looney-bird. If you can catch Tiger and smash his face with the five-iron BEFORE he escapes down the street in his SUV, you advance to the next level which is called “staving off the paparazzi.” (You can use that five-iron in this level, too.) You can employ a variety of different means to stop the SUV Tiger may try to escape in. However, if you accidentally kill Tiger, you lose.

We call the game “Tiger Woods Golf Re-imagined.” It’s a working title.

We think we are brilliant. We are meeting with the Nintendo people early next week.

No Seat for You

We went to church yesterday. We are cautiously becoming involved, but still don’t know the majority of people who worship there. Yesterday morning, I found a comfy pew to sit in while John went off to “powder his nose” before the service began.

As I sat down, the woman on the total opposite end of the pew said:

“These seats are all being saved!” There was nary a purse or a coat that indicated this was the case, and there was a good five feet between my tuckus and hers. Nevertheless, I stood up and said:

“O-kaaay.”

As I walked away she said,

“Sorry, sweetie.”

Just to make things clear: I am not her sweetie.

And who does that? Who tells a complete stranger IN A CHURCH not to sit in a pew because seats are being saved? WHAT IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE?

Later that evening, I told my story of woe to my friend, Mary. The name of our new church is “Open Door.” Mary rolled her eyes and said,

“Open Door. Where the doors are always open, but the pews? Not so much.”

Like a Virgin

Caleb is singing “Silent Night” with his class for the school Christmas performance.

Friday, after school, he asked me what a virgin was, which brings me to believe that perhaps “Silent Night” is not a children’s song, per se. “Away in the Manger” would be more appropriate. “We Three Kings?” Good. “Silent Night” just opens the door to a world I don’t want to go into yet.

I told Caleb a virgin meant someone who is pure of heart and body.


“What does pure mean?”

“Very, very clean and good,” I said.

A contemplative pause from Caleb.

“Are you a virgin?”

“No, Caleb. No. Mommy is definitely not a virgin.”

Fa la la la la. La la… la… la.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Letter to Mister Waste Management Recycling Man



Dear Mister Waste Management Recycling Man,

I am writing to you to discuss the event that occurred last Thursday, which is the garbage day on my street. Iwould also like to discuss the event that occurred the first Thursday you ever came to my house, you know, after we first moved in.

It was a sunny September day and my husband was out of town. You may be wondering, what does that have to do with anything? Well, we had just moved in and my kids were starting new schools and there was crap strewn all over my house and I was exhausted. And teary. I was very teary because the move was a very stressful experience and because my husband had abandoned that week me to go on a business trip with his cantankerous boss.

The buyers of our previous house? Not nice people. They demanded extra stuff at the closing, you know, when they’re about to make everything legal and binding? BOOM! They wanted a hot water heater or they were going to walk. This was after they demanded a new furnace. When I drove by my old house later, I saw that they had also gotten an air conditioner. Probably one of those two-for deals places have going every once in a while.

We could’ve done that to our sellers. They were especially desperate because they had no choice but to move out of town were therefore stuck with two mortgages. We could have taken total advantage of their desperation. But we didn’t. We like to take the high road.

Anyway, the whole process was emotionally, and more importantly, financially draining.

That particular Tuesday, right after we had moved in, I hauled a ton of garbage and boxes to the curb. Usually this is the husband’s job. His ONE household task-taking out the garbage. But sometimes he goes out of town and then I have to do it.

Later that same morning, I drove my son to preschool and when I came back, you were there, putting my milk cartons into your truck. Which is really loud, by the way. This will be relevant later.

I got out of the car and waved to you, because I am friendly. I wave to everyone. I wave to my neighbors. I wave to little kids at the supermarket. I wave to all the parents I pass in the school parking lot. I am a nice person.

You did not wave back, but you did motion for me to come over. Honestly, in my hopeful naivety, I thought you were going to welcome me to the neighborhood- to say a friendly thanks for choosing Waste Management and not Suburban Disposal or Boon and Sons.

You gave me a three-minute lecture on bundling the cardboard boxes.

You did not take the high road.

Okay. Perhaps I didn’t read all of the Waste Management literature. It may have been that I didn’t receive the literature in the mail yet, as we had just made arrangements for you to come two days before.

You may not realize this about yourself, but you are an intimidating presence. You are large and burly and have long, crazy hair. Not that there’s anything wrong with that… that’s your style and I respect that… but your appearance and your tone made me feel one-foot tall.

I guess I’m the kind of person people can tell right away that they can push around. I’m pretty meek. My body language gives me away. You start talking about how it makes your life ten times more difficult when I don’t bundle the boxes and I bite my lip like a guilty child. The fear radiates from my body. And people like you smell the fear.

You didn’t even acknowledge that my own children were crying for me to let them out of the car.

I bet you would not have lectured me if I were a large, scary looking man. You probably would have left one of those obnoxious notes on my garbage can instead.

You yelled and I nodded and then you told me you were giving me ONE warning but that I’d better bundle from now on.

You made me cry. Okay, lots of things make me cry, but you made me feel like an idiot. Couldn’t you have let it go, seeing as I had just moved in? I have avoided you since then. Honest to God. If I get ready to leave the house and I see your monstrous truck heading down the street, I hightail it back inside.

Except last Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. The husband has gotten into this horrible habit of only occasionally taking the recyclables out. I realized this had occurred last Friday and hurried to remove some, ahem, cardboard boxes out of the garage so I could park my van in there. There were four of them (cardboard boxes, not vans) and I dragged them all out to the curb just as you pulled up. I let my guard down. Probably full of the holiday spirit. I cautiously waved to you and turned toward my house.

“Hey!” you said.

I should have pretended I didn’t hear you.

I slowly turned and you immediately started lecturing me again. On bundling. And then you insinuated I had not rinsed my soda bottles.

You went on and on and I couldn’t hear half of what you were saying because of your horrifically loud truck. I didn’t say a word. Finally you vacated my premises. I shouted “Happy Thanksgiving” to the back of your truck. And then I just stood there, befuddled and livid that I had allowed this to happen to me twice.

Let me tell you something. I hauled those stinking boxes down to the curb all at once. You are twice as big as I am. I don’t think bundling would have made a difference as to the successful transferal of said cardboard boxes to large monstrous truck.

I am writing this letter to inform you that tomorrow will be the last day you pick up my recyclables because I am switching garbage taker-awayers.

And I’m going to tell them, the powers that be, why. And ALSO, I’ve come up with lots of forthright comebacks since we last met. They’re really quite clever. And I’ve been practicing “look tough” faces in the mirror. I almost hope we meet again.

Sincerely,

Holly

p.p.s. I always rinse my soda bottles, you cretin.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Raising the Male Child

This blog post was inspired by my first successful transformation of a Transformer from a robot into a car.

The following courses are for those who are expecting or who have recently given birth to a male child. Completion of all courses results in an associates degree in Raising the Male Child.

Basics in Engineering: This ten week course teaches parents basics in engineering. Learn to decipher a duplo from a lego from a mega-blok. Learn to build a basic cabin complete with chimney from Lincoln Logs. Construct a volcano from wooden blocks. Build a train track with bridges, tunnels, and multiple routes for Thomas the train and his many friends. Final project for course is to design and build a marble run with four different paths.

Advanced Engineering: Requirement: completion of Basics in Engineering. Building upon lessons learned in Basics in Engineering, students will soon be able to master quick transformations of a variety of Transformers, be proficient in creating K’Nex simple and complicated machines, and be able to build a robot from an Erector Set. Final project for course (required for certificate) is completion of the Lego Star Wars Millennium Falcon.

De-sensitivity Training: Parents must come to class prepared for brutal mental exercises. This class prepares students for the many inappropriate jokes and comments that only come from the mouths of young boys. For instance, parents may be given a tootsie roll, be told it looks like a piece of poop, and be required to eat it without gagging. Requirement for successful completion of course requires the student to sit through an entire three-course meal while bombarded with diarrhea and fart jokes without succumbing to loss of temper.

The Criticism Seminar: Parents will work together to come up with constructive ways to deal with criticism from family members, friends, and people they meet on the street. This class is specifically geared toward parents with sons. Parents will learn how to effectively respond to people who call them the devil for getting their son circumcised. Parents who choose not to get their son circumcised will learn how to respond to strangers who ogle their child’s uncircumcised penis during diaper changes. Parents will role-play scenarios where they are criticized for putting their son in dance class, letting their son’s hair grow out long, and for allowing their son to climb on their furniture (to the furniture’s detriment.)

Sports Camp: Originally created for mothers, we have found fathers also benefit from Sports Camp. Learn what the major American sports are and who the major players are. Learn basic terms like “shortstop” and “first down” and “penalty shot.” By the end of the course, students should know which sports have periods, which have halves, and which have quarters. Students should be able to name one major league player from each sport and should be able to recognize Peyton Manning in any one of his commercials. Parents should know who John Madden is and be able to sing all of the words to “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Final project is to sit through an entire soccer game in the pouring rain while paying attention to who scored what when and who assisted.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Leftovers

video

Perhaps even more amusing than Daniel catapulting his peas across the kitchen is the conversation between John and Caleb. They are discussing whether or not all scientists are nerds. How much studying of science DOES make one a "nerd?" These are perplexing questions. I'm so proud my son has thought to ask them.

Caleb is the only child, by the way, who will eat turkey. Ella won't even eat apple pie, which is making me wonder if perhaps she was conceived when we were in Canada, because she doesn't seem American.

I really hate dinner time.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Four Moments To Be Thankful For

Caleb

This past Saturday was Caleb’s first karate class. My friend Kim recommended karate for Caleb after I told her about the bully on his bus. My six-year-old boy is the shortest kid in his first-grade class and he often asks me why that is. I point my finger directly at his father. Karate would give him confidence, Kim said. Plus, once elementary school kids learn someone knows karate, they tend to treat that person with a certain kind of reverence.

Caleb’s first hour of learning stances and kicks proved to be more than just a confidence builder. He took to the structure and disciplinary aspects of martial arts. He was one of the smaller boys there, but he said “Yes Sir!” the very loudest. At home, he practiced methodically, teaching his younger brother what he had learned.

I asked him if he had had fun in his class. He contemplated a bit before answering.

“Kind of fun. It was really hard, though.”

“Do you want to go again?” I asked. He nodded vigorously.

“Yes. I want to get good. Maybe I can be a karate guy when I grow up. Can I be a karate guy AND a baseball player?”

Caleb is already a harder worker than I ever was. I look at him and I think, they don’t make diamonds as big as bricks.

Ben

“Who do you love, Ben?”

“I love everyone in the whole world! I love you, I love daddy, I love Grandma, I love Caleb, I love Nini, I love my bunky, I love my teachers!”

“Do you love Daniel?”

“Yes!”

“How about Ella?”

“I do! I love Ella!”

“So you really DO love everyone!”

“Everyone in the whole world!” (Pause.) “Except bad guys. I don’t love bad guys.”


Daniel

Daniel thought he was done with nap time. I thought differently. I now bring him into my bed with me after lunch. The first day, he curled up next to me and patted my cheek until he drifted off. The second day, he wanted to play. He put my covers over his head and popped out over and over again, laughing hysterically each time. I pretended to sleep. The last time he put the covers over his head, he didn’t come back out. Small snores emanated from underneath my duvet.

Yesterday, I accidentally fell asleep too, and we dreamed next to one another for a good two hours. When I woke up, he was staring at me, chubby fists under his own cheek, eyes wide and unblinking. He stayed that way until I suggested he get up and go downstairs to play. He popped up and said, “YEAH!” and scurried off the bed. He paused at the door and turned and looked at me, waiting. I followed him and he held my hand as we walked downstairs.

Ella

Last year, Ella and I stayed overnight at the hospital after she underwent a cardiac catheterization. Since her time in the womb, there has been talk of heart surgery. We used to make monthly trips to the cardiologist, where they would administer EKGs. One electrode used to cover half of her tiny chest. Her cries when they tore them off were like kitten’s mews. She eventually got used to them, and amazingly, she grew and the electrodes no longer overwhelmed her small body.

The results from the heart cath were positive. Her heart was healing itself. We no longer had to come in for regular check-ups. Once a year would suffice.

She often puts the play stethoscope around her neck and pretends to listen to my heart. I could never hear the murmurs when the doctors let me listen to hers. I couldn’t see the narrowed aorta in the x-rays. They drew a diagram of her heart on a slip of paper to show me what was wrong. To this day, I carry that slip of paper in my wallet. Ella’s heart comes with me wherever I go.

One day I will tell her how she healed her own broken heart. I will tell her about how remarkable she is.


Today was good. Today was fun. Tomorrow is another one. (Dr. Seuss)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Why I No Longer Write for Examiner.com

There aren’t many careers for mothers of four who want to stay home. (Especially laziesh mothers who have degrees in English.) I decided to give freelance writing a whirl because, unlike other home-based businesses, it requires almost no overhead cost. I had a computer, half a brain, and basic tech skills. My start-up fees entailed the purchase of two books on freelance writing and a subscription to Writer’s Digest.

I found Examiner.com on some job-search site. Examiner.com is basically an online newspaper that focuses on local information from area natives. I needed a spot where I could create content to send to potential employers. Examiner.com provided a place to do just that.

I wrote some articles for the website. When I applied for short-term freelance writing gigs, I would include a link to my Examiner.com page. I think the site did help me land some jobs, though they were low-paying jobs. Really low-paying. Like, insultingly low. But I had no “experience,” so I took the jobs to build a sort of portfolio.

I was the first “Examiner” in the Rochester-area. (If this is my one-time claim to fame, oh please shoot me now.) I applied for a job and also lobbied for my fair city to be deemed important enough to be included on the site. It worked and I was soon dubbed the “Rochester Parenting Examiner.” There are now over 50 Rochester Examiners who write about various subjects like cosmetics, paranormal activities, and the Rochester Red Wings.

Some facts about Examiner.com:

-They pretty much hire anyone.

-They pay pittance. (It is a pay per click site… you get paid according to how many people visit your site.)

-Employers that pay well do not regard Examiner.com as a serious venue for freelance writers.

Examiner.com has some really good writers. However, it takes time to troll through the garbage to find them. A lot of articles are simply regurgitated material from other websites. This is what the internet is turning into: the same information over and over again presented in different ways. (I get a ton of solicitations from employers asking me to “rewrite” articles. It’s not plagiarism if it passes Copyscape!)

Examiner.com started getting pushy. They have $50.00 incentives for any Examiner who gets someone else to become an Examiner. I started getting tons of e-mails encouraging me to recruit friends and family members to write for the site. Did you know that you can write about anything? Rochester has an Egypt Traveler Examiner! Really! There’s an Orleans County Firehouse Examiner! There are now several Examiners who write about mothering and parenting issues. There is a Rochester Health and Happiness Examiner, a Rochester Golf Course Examiner, and a Rochester Makeup Examiner. There are three Rochester Movie Examiners. (The Rochester Makeup Examiner is a teenage girl who resides in a suburb of Rochester. One of her sidebar topics is “red lips.”) If you have an interest in an obscure niche, say the Catahoula Leopard Dog, you can have your very own blog about it on a national website.

Examiner.com is a legitimate site. It is not a scam. However, it definitely takes advantage of aspiring writers who are searching for legitimacy. While it offers an outlet for creativity, Examiner.com is not concerned about stellar content. There are no editors. No one gets reprimanded for misspellings or syntactical errors. Here’s an example of an interesting sentence that could have benefited from a little editing:

Landscape lighting for Christmas comes in so many more forms than ever before. (From the National Backyard Living Examiner.)

(I do not pretend to be some great writing talent. I have an unhealthy love affair with the comma and am a big fan of the sentence fragment.)

My major beef with Examiner.com is that someone out there is making oodles of money on someone else’s pithy little article about cooking turkey testicles for Thanksgiving. Some bigwig is gaining profits off of freelancers who spend hours writing articles for .20 a pop. People are making an actual living by exploiting someone else’s dreams of publication.

Oh well. Such is life. I’m jumping off that boat. Having said that, if you’re interested in becoming an Examiner, let me know. I’ll jump back on the boat and pocket that $50 no problem.

Some of the Rochester Examiners I DO read:

Rochester Atheism Examiner Viktor writes well and is controversial. His posts make me sooo angry, but that’s why I read them. I love a good debate. He even had an interview with the smoking man from the X-Files.

Rochester Crime History Examiner Michael Keene is by far my favorite Rochester Examiner. I can’t help but get drawn in to his tales of crimes of the past. I would totally buy his book if he ever publishes one.

Rochester Unemployment Examiner Michael Thornton is an expert on his topic and writes timely articles about an important, current issue.

Postscript: Those looking for other ways to make money writing should check out my incredibly informative post: Make Money Writing 101, which is immensely popular and was recently nominated for a Pulitzer.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Tips for Combatting Seasonal Affective Disorder


The husband and I went out to a movie last night. My favorite part of any movie-going experience is definitely the previews. I get so excited about previews. By the end of the previews, I generally have forgotten what I paid 9.00 to see.

Anyway, last night they showed a preview for the film “The Road,” a post-apocalyptic tale based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy, a man whose novels I avoid on principle. (I feel like I’ve said that before.)

John just finished the book and has spent the last couple of days in a bit of a funk. The story is about a man and his son trying to survive in a nuclear winter. There is cannibalism in this novel. Nothing like a story about nuclear holocaust and cannibalism.

The previews for the film are dark and bleak. There is no sun in a nuclear winter. Just grey skies, dead wildlife, a dreary cold earth. Kind of like Rochester six months out of the year.

This is the hardest time of year for me. December isn’t so bad… the Christmas lights that come out after dark help to quell the feeling of emptiness caused by cloudy, grey days. By the time mid-January hits, I am ready to call it quits and move to California. I don’t even care that Arnold Schwarzenegger is the governor there.

I totally suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as (how clever is this?) S.A.D. I also suffer from clinical depression. The depression is definitely exacerbated by the S.A.D. If during the darker months you get the gloomy gloomies, it is possible you aren’t getting enough sunlight.

Here is my winter list of things to do to try and combat S.A.D.:

Take Vitamin D in horse-pill form. Also Vitamin C. Go outside even though it hurts my ears and my nose and makes my feet cold all day. Think happy thoughts about things like waterfalls, rainbows, and how fun it would be to host a HSN show. Smell my babies’ heads. Exercise. Snuggle. Enjoy the woodstove. Read things that are unintentionally funny, like Sarah Palin’s autobiography. Smash up my Zoloft and put it in brownies. Read the bible, but not Job, Ecclesiastes, or Lamentations. Barter sex for vague promises of trips to the Caribbean. Enjoy the fluorescent lights of Target. Buy clothes to wear on vague future trip to the Caribbean. Take naps with Daniel. Post picture Caleb draws of the sun on the wall and pretend it is real. Avoid films about the holocaust, the apocalypse, or space. (Because space is dark.)

Curl up in a ball and say buh buh buh buh buh until May.

What to you do to combat S.A.D.?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

NaNoWriMo Update

About NaNoWriMo.

NaNoWriMo is dead to me.

I’m so over it. This novel cannot be written in a month. There’s just way too much raw material to be dissected and put back together in a short amount of time. (This is me being facetious.) Projected finish date: December. Of 2020.

My protagonist is still in the basement, though the chapter is now filled with various flashbacks and back-story. Inevitably, I’ll have to return to the basement and finish that whole bit.

This writing business is very tricky. You have to be consistent. You can’t introduce someone by one name, for instance, and then refer to them by another name later on in the story. It gives readers a lack of confidence in their storyteller.

Also, you can’t switch tenses and points of view all of the time. If you start writing in the past tense, i.e. she walked down the street or she kicked the dog or she drank the fizzy, vile tasting liquid (I know… you’re intrigued now!) you have to KEEP WRITING in the past tense. You can’t, for instance, do this:

She walked down the street and kicked the dog. She wished she hadn’t consumed that vile, fizzy liquid. She moves toward the house. She is quick on her toes, now. She sees the dirty cop.

Which is why I have decided that in order to make sure I am consistent, I am going to write my entire novel in the Present Perfect Progressive tense:

Throughout the entire year, she has desired to walk into the basement. Since her youth, basements have held special significance to her. In fact, since 1992, she has known that walking into that basement would be… significant.

It’s going to blow your socks off.

I’m taking a short break from the “novel” to work on a short story that has been in progress for over a year. I’d like to finish it.

My problem invariably goes back to my short attention span, which might be attributed to my inability to follow through with anything. This probably has something to do with my childhood or someone yelling at me about some project I actually completed or maybe it has something to do with my fear of going over Niagara Falls. It could be anything, really.

I’ll keep you updated. Maybe.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Scenes from the YMCA


On Saturday, I took Benjamin to his first swimming lesson. It was a complete disaster.

I signed Ben up for swimming lessons so he could learn how to swim, or more accurately, so he could learn how not to be totally and completely terrified of getting water on his head. This is a huge concern of his, having water on his head. It makes bath time… interesting.

Ben is the only child signed up for the 11:40 class time. He had not one, but two swim teachers to attend to him. They were teenagers. I’m just stating a fact. Perhaps a more experienced swim teacher would have done better with Ben… perhaps not. The teenage swim teachers seemed completely flummoxed by the fact that my child would NOT pass the third step and descend into the deeper parts of the water. These were the most inflexible swim teachers I have ever encountered. They stared at Ben with perplexed looks upon their faces for the majority of the time.

If I had been the teacher, I would have gone with it and practiced some floating or breathing techniques right there on the steps, but these teachers were “go by the book” kinds of teachers and were completely thrown by Ben’s adamant refusal of the floating dumbbell.

I was fully clothed, but removed my shoes and socks to get as close to the pool as I could to try and cajole Ben into the water.

“What’s wrong with your foot???” asked teacher #1.

I hurt my foot this past Thursday. I have taken juvenile pleasure in showing it to anyone I come in contact with. It was and is a gangrenous green color, bruised and still swollen. It looks hideous.

“It’s… gangrenous. I have a circulation problem. I’m hoping to at least hang onto it ‘til the end of the week.” They were unfazed by my response.

After twenty minutes of Ben splashing and the teachers staring, I dismissed them, promising to work with Ben this week so that next Saturday would not bring a similar scenario. They paddled off, seemingly relieved.

***

Tuesday, I take Ben back to the pool. He makes great strides, allowing me to carry him about the deeper waters. He even allows me to hold onto his hands while he bobs like a buoy in the water. He wears his bright red Spiderman life jacket. I wear my “make my tummy appear thin” bathing suit from Lands End. At the beginning of the summer, I was able to wear my “hot mommy” one-piece bathing suit. (I recently lost a lot of weight. Even more recently, I gained most of it back.) Thankfully, most of the people in the pool at 10:00 am are seniors and I am happy to say that I still look better in a bathing suit than most seventy-year old men. Most.

***

We enjoy the YMCA Adventure Center. I enjoy sitting on the bench reading The City newspaper or whatever garbage is lying around while the kids climb and play. Today, the room is empty for a while so Ben and the twins have full-run of the place.

Then Miss Perfect comes in. We all know a Miss Perfect. Miss Perfect is skinny and beautiful and only wears two-piece hot mommy bathing suits because she does not have stretch marks. She never falls during aerobics class. She only needs five hours of sleep to function, she makes dinner every night, she only buys organic, and you can bet if you don’t have a tissue on hand, she will have some neatly contained in her purse.

Miss Perfect and I are friendly with one another. Her daughter is Ella’s and Daniel’s age.

I make small talk with Miss Perfect by asking what her daughter, “Jane,” is up to.

Jane is great! Jane is fully potty-trained! Miss Perfect and her husband are going to move soon, and they are looking into school districts with gifted and talented programs because… you guessed it… looks like Jane is gifted. And talented. She has the verbal skills of a five-year-old and the coordination of an acrobat. She takes gymnastics and can sing God Bless America. In Spanish.

“How are the twins doing?” Miss Perfect asks as her daughter deftly climbs the large rope net. The twins are spinning in circles next to one another. After a while, they collide and collapse on the floor, becoming the living definition of the term “dazed and confused.”

The twins are not potty trained. They can’t talk. Ella has the coordination of a three-legged dog and Daniel has temper issues. They sing some variation of the song “Twinkle Twinkle.” They have attention spans of gnats. They will be entering the school district’s special-ed program when they turn three in February.

***

A lesson for Miss Perfect:

I was potty-trained by the time I was two. During my formative years, I was in all of the advanced reading and math groups. I was a frequent “Hallway Hero” and recipient of the prestigious “Ribbet Reader” award. Teachers chose me to take the attendance to the office. In the eighth grade, when everyone else handed in their Halloween short story, I handed in a novella.

It all went to pot when I got to high school. My grades languished. Teachers held “conferences” about my “apathy.” My SAT scores were sub-par. I actually failed a semester of gym.

Miss Perfect should be careful who she brags to. I’m just saying. You never know.

***

We all hold hands as we walk through the parking lot to the minivan. I look like a mama duck with three baby ducklings. An elderly woman offers to help me. She takes my bags while I put Ella in her car seat. She has come to the YMCA to go swimming. She says she learned to swim five years ago, when she was 60 years of age.

There is hope for Ben.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

NaNoWriMo


I am participating in National Novel Writing Month. I'm vying to complete an entire novel in the month of November.

I am already set to fail at this, but it was really fun for the first few days when I was meeting my daily word goal.

A novel is at least 50,000 words. Right now I have… a lot fewer words than that. If you want to be a serious contender in NaNoWriMo, you have to be writing during every spare second that you have. Lately, my spare seconds have been few and my husband, God love him, doesn’t like it when I disappear for hours in the evening to write. Something about “spending time” together or some such silliness.

I finished the first chapter of my “novel” and sent it to my dad, which was very very brave of me, to critique. He certainly didn’t pretend it was the next Anne Tyler or anything but he did encourage me to continue.

I’ve gotten stuck.

Perhaps you’ve seen the Frank Capra film “You Can’t Take it With You.” If you haven’t, go and rent it right now.

Penny Sycamore, mother of James Stewarts’ paramour in the film, sits day after day in the middle of her living room writing her endless novel. She finds she has gone and written her protagonist into a monastery. Every character in the film who traipses through the living room (and there are quite a few who do so) is questioned as to whether or not they have ever been in a monastery. Penny never has, and doesn’t quite know how to get her protagonist out of the setting. Here are some lines from the movie:

Penny Sycamore: Were you ever in a monastery, Mr. Poppins?

Poppins: In a monastery?

Grandpa Martin Vanderhoff: What's the matter, Penny, stuck?

Penny Sycamore: Yes, I've sort of got myself in the monastery and I can't get out.

Grandpa Martin Vanderhoff: It'll come to you. Remember how you got out of that jail.

I have written my protagonist into a basement with a bunch of giggly teenage girls and I can’t seem to get her out. The novel isn’t even about giggly teenage girls and I don’t know how I wrote her into this mess.

Sigh.

I could scrap the whole scene and be out a couple of thousand words. I could just skip and go on to the next chapter and come back to it later. I could admit utter and total defeat already and move on to something else, which would be just like me. I have a rather short attention span. Or, I could go with it and see what these giggly teenage girls do next. I have a feeling they are up to no good.

She could be stuck in this basement forever.

To my writer friends… what do you do when you get “stuck?”

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Grace, Amazing

I have done something horrifically awful to my left foot, which is my laziest foot, so I’m really not surprised it was the one that got injured.

The noodles were in the pot, boiling away, the children scattered about playing amicably, and I was multi-tasking: preparing dinner and changing loads of laundry. I took a load out of the dryer and brought it across the kitchen toward my sunken living room. Sunken is important. If it wasn’t a sunken living room, if a year and a half ago we had gone with the house that had the living room on the same plane as the kitchen, I would not be in this mess right now.

Two steps lead into our living room. The first step I took was without incident. It was the second step that killed me, that and the matchbox car on the floor. I crumpled like a soda can that’s been stepped upon. I screamed as it was happening because in that instant, I saw the days stretched out before me, days where I would be hopping about the house on one foot, hopping after my kids, crawling up stairs, unable to put pressure on my foot.

The reason I think it might be broken is because after the initial pain, which was severe and endless and nauseating, there was no short reprieve. The pain lessened, but was consistent. Generally, when I twist my ankle or foot, the pain eventually subsides and gives me the illusion that everything is going to be okay. I fall for this trick EVERY TIME. I lope around, further injuring myself, when what I should be doing is resting and icing my foot. A day later I wake up all swollen with a great excuse for avoiding housework.

My foot swelled right away, and continues to do so. After the fall, I sat on the floor waiting for the throbbing to cease and desist. It never quite did. The timer went off and I just sat there, knowing I was overcooking the noodles. The kids stared at me contemplatively. They were probably thinking Mama has lost it… again.

John was and is still out with a client. I fed the kids and then I put on the television, my faithful and loyal babysitter in emergency situations. I crawled into the other room and sat on the window seat, my leg laid out before me, and I slowly removed my sock and stared at the purple jumbo-sized egg that seemed to be growing beneath my skin. Then, I put a bag of frozen peas on it. And then I cried. Because it hurt. Because I was alone. Because I felt really really sorry for myself and I wanted my mom.

The kids were watching Dora the Explorer. Dora is always “engaging” her young audience, asking them questions… is this kind of television superior to the kind that completely ignores its audience? Anyway, Dora was talking about thankfulness. She asked her television audience: What are YOU thankful for?

I heard Caleb’s soft voice answer, “My mommy.”

I’m the mom now. Not that I can’t call on my own mom, and believe me I do, but I am now the one who needs to provide a sense of security and unconditional love. And there are evenings like this one, where I’m taking turns gazing out the window at the cold, dark November night and then at my cold, purple foot, that I feel so inadequate for the job. I wonder, how can I do this right? How can I be a parent who won't feel the need to apologize to her adult children for all of the ways she failed? And I fail in so many different ways every day.

But he’s still thankful for me. I’m the person he thought of when Dora asked the question. And I don’t think he would lie to Dora. She’s intimidating for a cartoon. Plus, she has a crazy monkey sidekick I wouldn’t mess with, either.

Listening to that voice from across the hall, I felt a sadness settle on me. It was quiet and lovely, but sad… and it was one of the few times that I’ve thought to myself… this is what grace feels like.

Amazing.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

An Account of Our Trip to Maryland, the Land of Mary



Let me start off by staying that I am not personally happy about how long it takes a minivan to trek on over to Maryland, the land of my sister, Mary. It takes eight hours.

I am, however, generally happy that at least the ride is visually interesting. The majority of the drive is along route 15, which goes through the heart of Pennsylvania, land of gems such as the Little League Hall of Fame, Reptileland, the Taco Bell all you can eat buffet, and at least ten porn shops in trashy, dilapidated buildings. About a mile away from a Show World, I saw a life-sized cutout of Jesus with his thumb out. The sign said, “Going my way?”

The drive down and back went surprisingly without incident, if you disregard John’s complete indifference to my very cold feet. Things also would have gone better if he would just acknowledge the fact that I am The Very Best Driver in the Entire World and would stop telling me when to change lanes and when to “stop.” The Very Best Driver in the Entire World will stop whenever she feels like stopping, stop sign or no stop sign. It’s one of the perks of being The Very Best Driver in the Entire World.

We went to Lusby, Maryland to visit my sister and her brood, which includes my brother-in-law Nathan and their two children, Adam and Margot. (They are… Lusbians.) They live right by the Chesapeake Bay, about an hour from both Washington D.C. and Baltimore.



We did not take the twins. We are not masochists. We left them with my long-suffering mother for the majority of our stay. I missed them.

We stayed for three days, just the right amount of time, I think. As John says, visitors are like fish: keep them for more than three days, and they start to stink. We left just as we were starting to stink.

Margot and Caleb are only five months apart in age. Adam and Ben are less than a week apart. Margot and Caleb have a special bond. We arrived in Lusby right before Margot got off the school bus in the afternoon. Caleb walked to meet her at the bus stop and they literally ran into each other’s arms. It was like the final scene in “The Bodyguard.” We just needed a Whitney Houston soundtrack to evoke the sort of emotion that draws spectators to wipe their eyes.

On Saturday, we took the children into Washington D.C. We drove into the city, parked the minivan, and took the Metro to the mall, where we would walk to the Museum of Natural History and the Air and Space Museum.
Waiting for the train.

The trip into D.C. was informative. We now know that our children are epic failures in an urban environment. Simple life-saving techniques that one needs to abide by to survive in the city were ultimately dismissed by our dingbat children.

Walking quickly across the crosswalk: FAIL
Walking in a straight line: FAIL
Keeping an appropriate distance from the Metro rails: FAIL
Basic escalator skills: FAIL
Basic water fountain skills: FAIL
Not touching the pigeons: FAIL


I’m not sure how many children a year are sucked into escalators, but I’m going to bet that the statistics are alarmingly high. It almost happened to Ben. He tripped and fell and was about to be sucked in when a large, brawny black man swooped in, picked up my puny, lily-white son like he weighed nothing, and placed him safely in my arms at the top of the escalator. The man then vanished into the late-afternoon air.

I think he was a superhero.

The day was perfect. It was sunny and just cool enough and the mall wasn’t as crowded as I expected it to be on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. We took the kids to visit the dinosaurs first. We saw ancient fossils, giant squid, a movie about plate tectonics, and lots of parents who were yelling the same thing we were yelling, which was basically, “You will stop complaining and you will ENJOY THIS or we will never do ANYTHING fun EVER EVER again.”

The Air and Space Museum was so cool. The space exhibits seemed to be the most popular among our four and everyone liked touring the spaceship and seeing interesting stuff like where astronauts ate their food, exercised, and of course, where they went to the potty.

Caleb is obsessed with black holes. He draws them incessantly, asks questions about them that I can’t possibly answer, and stares for long periods of time at pictures of them in his space book. There was a half hour movie about black holes playing at the Air and Space Museum. It was 8.75 a ticket. We did not go. Should we have gone? I repeat, it was 8.75 a ticket.

One of the great mysteries of the young child is how he or she can run in circles for hours around the house but is seemingly exhausted by but a half mile ramble outdoors or in a museum. Needless to say, the “worn out” children were quickly ready for their Metro ride home.

Nathan, like me, is a liar. He told the children to be sure and look out the windows of the train for the “cave people,” those primitive peoples who live within the subway tunnels and stare at the trains as they thunder by.

This is an excellent story. It accomplishes two things. 1) It keeps the imagination alive and 2) It keeps the children occupied while looking out the window and therefore, quiet. Silence, as we all know, is golden. Especially after spending several hours in museums.

On Sunday, we went to church where Nate and Mary lead the worship team. I don’t think I gushed enough about how awesome they were when we were there. They were so awesome. My sister has a voice that puts Celine Dion to shame. Really. And Nathan is exceptionally talented. It was the most professional sounding worship team I have ever had the pleasure of listening to.


After church, Mary and I took the kids to the park while Nathan and John went on a particular “shopping excursion” to purchase stuff to help John become even more “prepared” should he ever come face to face with “bad guys.”

We drove back early yesterday morning. We left a sobbing Margot, who actually really, really likes us, behind. It just about broke my heart.

In the car, Caleb annoyingly peppered us with all sorts of questions. Why are there mountains in Pennsylvania? Why does New York look the same as Pennsylvania? If you went in a black hole, would you be dead right away? Are mummies real?

“Yes there are really mummies,” I told him.

We had allowed the children to watch “Night at the Museum” after our excursion to D.C. I saw concern in Caleb’s eyes.

“But mummies don’t come to life like they did in that movie,” I added. He looked poised to ask another question. I beat him to the punch and continued, “Well, mostly they don’t.” He shut up for a little while and let that “fact” percolate in his brain for a bit.

On our way, we stopped at the massive Bass Pro Shop in Pennsylvania where John bought me the gift of pepper spray. Rapists beware! I am armed. Probably not ready, but armed.

I puked in the bathroom of the Bass Pro Shop because I was carsick. Below is a map that pinpoints all of the parts of the world I have puked in thus far. It’s good to keep records of things, I think.



We were reunited with the twins who seemed happy to see us. I smelled their heads because that’s what I do when I’ve been separated from my children for any length of time. Smelling their heads soothes me.

We are home for the long-run, now. I don’t see any more trips in our future for a while. Just weekends of Sabres games and Bills games and Holly going slowly maaaad. The usual late fall routine.

Additional pics from the trip:



Nate took this cool pic in the sculpture garden. In fact, most of the good pics in this post were taken by Nate.


We watched the movie on plate tectonics here. A woman came out, dressed in simple robes, and announced that several men had died to bring us the information presented. It was quite sad.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Break-In

We left yesterday afternoon at 4pm to visit friends. We returned home at approximately 8:30pm to an unusual scene. Through the windows of our garage, I saw that the door from our house to our garage was open and that a fake pumpkin that was not ours sat in the doorway, seemingly glowering at us.

After deciding it was probable that someone had broken into our home, possibly as a Halloween prank, John resolved to go all vigilante on them.

I should probably tell you now that John has been waiting for an opportunity to go all vigilante since he was born. I won’t get into details, but should anyone break into our house in the night, let’s just say he’s “prepared.” Well, mostly prepared. If he doesn’t actually HEAR said prowler break into the house, then I guess all of his preparations are in vain.

Let me hearken back to Halloween morning, early, 3am, circa 2004. We were residing in our village home, a creaky 1918 colonial. I was slumbering peaceably when I was awakened by the sound of someone or something slowly slinking up our wooden staircase. I immediately tried to rouse my “prepared” husband. He did not actually open his eyes until the skulking figure was sitting in the hallway front of our bedroom door staring at us, eyes glowing in the dark.

It was a black cat. On Halloween morning. It had sneaked through a slightly ajar basement window.

John totally went all vigilante on it. (Don’t worry… I’m quite sure the black cat is still around, terrorizing our neighbors every Halloween.)

So last night. We decided the sensible move would be to call the police, who came quickly and entered our darkened house. The kids were understandably confused and frightened. Here were Ella’s feelings about the whole matter:

I don’t understand. We were in our driveway, and then you didn’t let me out of the car. I wanted to get out of the car. I don’t like the car. I want to go inside. I WANT MY BLANKIE! What kind of a mother are you, anyway, who would keep a sweet little girl from her blankie? Dear God, why are we just sitting HERE? In the dark, in front of our house? I SEE MY HOUSE! I WANT TO GO IN MY HOUSE! LET ME OUT! LET ME OUT LET ME OUT LET ME OUT LET ME OUT!

Only she didn’t say all of those words. She said “WAHHHHH! WAHHHHH! WAHHHHH!” at decibels dogs felt compelled to respond to. She did this for twenty minutes straight.

I sat in the van with the kids, annoyed at their impatience and slightly exhilarated by the whole experience because, I will admit, this is the most exciting thing that’s happened to me in a really long time.

The police shined their flashlights through every room in our house and reported back to John. We were given the all clear. Then, they said this:

“We’re not sure if your house has been vandalized or not.”

And this is why you should always straighten up before you leave the house. It is within the realm of possibility that someone might decide to break into your house to vandalize it only to be utterly disappointed because it has already been vandalized. By two-year old twins. And that is embarrassing.

Our kitchen table still had dishes on it, there were mounds of laundry ready to be folded in heaps in the dining room, toys were strewn all over the place, and the upstairs looked like we were recovering from a tornado. That went directly through the upstairs.

Now don’t get me wrong. My house is very clean, just messy. I KNOW it is clean because I pay a very fastidious and competent individual to come and make it sparkle once a week. This costs me about half of what I make freelancing and is totally worth every penny.

Still, when a cop tells you he’s NOT SURE whether your house has been vandalized or not, things are probably out of control.

Nothing appears to have been taken or “vandalized.” The cops were friendly and very kind to my kids. Caleb, I think, was star-struck when talking to an actual policeman in uniform, the same way he is about Spikes the Red Wings mascot and President Obama.

We were a little shaken up but quite relieved.

In the confusion, I left the lights on in my van. I was exasperated when the car would not start this morning. We were very late for preschool. Again.

So I called John and informed him he should no longer leave the house in the morning without checking to make sure the minivan starts.

Surprisingly, he agreed to do this. But only after nights when we’ve called the police because of a break-in.

Fair enough.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

So We Went Out Last Night

Last night, on the eve of Halloween, my husband and I met our friends The Editor and Toaster for dinner and a smashing concert at Boulder Coffee in the city.

(The Editor and Toaster actually have lovely, normal names, but I have chosen to use their google pseudonyms. The Editor is my hero because he quit his job as a litigator at THE FIRM to become a full-time writer. The Toaster is my hero because she let him, and more importantly, because she is the #2 reviewer on Amazon, and even more importantly than that, my one and only Amazon.com friend. And I know other Amazon.com reviewers are very jealous of our relationship. Ha ha!)

Toaster and The Editor’s brother-in-laws have a band called Extended Family. If you enjoy the dulcet tones of late sixties and seventies blues rock, you would dig this band. They have bongos. And a small child who plays the guitar for at least the first half of their show. An ADORABLE small child. Need I say more? (I can’t even venture off to rock concerts without falling completely in love with some small child I see. My purpose on this earth seems to be to gush over infants and toddlers and tiny rock stars.)

The band members, all male, were dressed up for Halloween as “dead rockers.” Buddy Holly was easy to spot, and Toaster correctly guessed the bongo player was Roy Orbison. I’m not sure who the lead singer was supposed to be… maybe Janis Joplin.

Boulder Coffee Co. Music and CafĂ© sells booze. The man behind the bar was, and there is no polite way to say this, a line Nazi. John noted that it was not a “belly up to the bar” kind of place. The bartender/barista was adamant that the line started on the right. If you happened to venture up to the left, god help you. John had bellied up before anyone else formed a line, but was told tersely that he was standing in the wrong spot. Whenever someone starts a sentence with the words “Just to let you know…” you can pretty much guarantee he or she is kind of an ass.

Later in the evening, a large, surly looking dude was told to move his tuckus from where he was standing and to GET IN LINE.

“I’m just checking out what drinks you have,” said large, surly dude.

Apparently, you can check out what drinks they have IN LINE on the right side of the bar.

This sort of attitude will not garner him tips.

The Editor’s brother-in-laws, who play in the band, are the husbands of his twin sisters.

Twins amaze me. I often forget I have twins when I encounter an adult set of twins. I always want to ask them questions… do you feel sad when the other feels sad? Did you like having a twin when you were young? If your husband and your twin were dangling from a cliff and you could only save one, who would you choose?

Twins are awesome. These sisters actually live in houses right next to each other. They each have kids, and the whole environment is sort of like a compound, only not a weird fundamentalist Mormon type of compound, but a cool twin compound.

Twins are so awesome.

I’ll tell you what is not awesome, and that is deer. While driving the babysitter home last night, I spotted three deer in my neighbor’s yard at the edge of my development. They were ghostly in the moonlight. Or rather, ghostly in the headlights as it was quite cloudy. Anyway, they were ghostly.

When I returned to my development, they were still there in the exact same positions, their eyes glowing an abnormal shade of green. And I think they had sharp, glistening teeth. And pointed hooves. It was all quite frightening. I honked at them and they didn’t budge.

These deer are very brave to hang out in my neighborhood. As you turn into one of the streets that leads into my development, you will spot a sign that says “Shotguns for Sale.” The sign then states the house number where said shotguns can be bought. You wouldn’t see signs like this in the city.

Except for the creepy deer, it was a fabulous evening, even though I did not win an Extended Family t-shirt, which I would have worn to bed proudly every night. I’ve been told one might be “gotten” for me… we’ll see how that turns out.

In other news… I’m thrilled the Adirondack Almanack has chosen my post “Why I Hate the Adirondack Northway” as a Weekly Adirondack Web Highlight. I’ve been complaining about the Northway for years. This just goes to show that posting your complaints in a public forum can be rewarding. Yay for free speech! I feel compelled to write further North Country tales about my ornery grandmother and her beautiful habitat.

Friday, October 30, 2009