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.