Friday, September 30, 2005

Heard at the Movie Theater

To answer a few recent questions ("What do you do for me-time?" and "They have zebras at your fair?"), let me just say this. I go to movies alone, probably too often, considering the price of of a movie ticket, but I do. I like the communal experience of watching a movie with strangers. What I do not like is the presence of small children in a movie theater when the movie is not animated and rated G. Tonight's small child (at the 7:30 p.m. show) was loud and then cried and had to be carried from the back row of the theater all the way to the front and out the door. Uh, can you say "distraction"? PLEASE PEOPLE, I AM BEGGING YOU, HIRE A BABYSITTER WHEN YOU GO MOVIES WHICH ARE INAPPROPRIATE FOR YOUR PRESCHOOLER!

A-hem. Okay. Where was I? Oh. So, during the movie In Her Shoes, a character tries on an outfit. Another character says, "Jackie Kennedy?" "No," the character responds, "Jackie Onassis." At which point, a girl to the right of me leans over to her friend and says loudly, "Who's that?"

Well, maybe you had to be there. I found that amusing.

I have to say, this movie pleasantly surprised me. I laughed. I cried. I wished I had more than one tissue stuffed in my pocket.

It did not, however, make me nostalgic for my own sister, the one who hasn't spoken to me in more than three years.

Finally, yes, we did have zebras at our fair. An entire barn held exotic animals, African cattle and pygmy goats and other furry, fuzzy creatures not seen at your local farm.

And now back to me. What do I do for myself? Well, I read blogs and I write. I read books and I write. I leave my house in the evening as often as I can, sometimes to grocery shop in peace, sometimes to see a movie, sometimes to prowl the aisles at Marshall's for bargains. I occasionally enjoy a decent break in the middle of the day when the babies and toddlers all nap simultaneously and then I eat lunch and read the newspaper. Whenever I have a break in the action, I give myself permission to sit and read or rest rather than clean.

It's not much, but it's enough for now.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Books I Hated

I'm one of those people who reads "The Reader's Digest" in the bathroom. Once, for fun, I decided to read a novel, but only in the bathroom, when nature called. I read the newspaper almost every day. I scan cereal boxes, junk mail and the fine print. My two bedroom bookshelves hold hundreds of books, but that doesn't stop me from browsing the bookshelves at thrift stores, hoping to score more books for less money. My policy is to read the book before I see the movie, but if that strategy fails, I read the book after I see the movie. (Sometimes the changes in plot are jarring.)

I just love books. I like the papery smell, the weight of a volume in my hands, the promise of pages unread. The first job I really desperately wanted was at the public library. (My brother got the job and I went on to work at Taco Time. I'm not bitter. Much.)

I have hated a few books in my day, though. Without further ado, I present a short list of books I have hated.

Waiting to Exhale. I threw this book away when I finished reading it. The movie was entertaining, but I recall despising the writing in this book.

Bridges of Madison County. Someone told me that someone she knew considered this the worst book ever written. So I had to read it. Again, the movie was beautiful--the plot itself is fine, but the writing . . . horrible. And laughable.

Four Blondes. A truly awful book. I'm just glad I only paid a quarter for it at a garage sale.

The Beans of Egypt, Maine. I bought this book while living in Connecticut when my husband was in graduate school. I attempted to read it three separate times and carted it across the country to the Pacific Northwest, then over to Michigan, then back to the Pacific Northwest. I tried again and again to like this book, to plow through it. Finally, I stuffed it into a box of books destined for Goodwill.

Boy, do I feel better now that I've confessed. I'm a hater.

On the other hand, I am against banning books. Did you know it's "Banned Books Week"?

(Update: I should clarify. I am against the general banning of books in our society. That doesn't mean I think every book should be in every school library across America. And I also believe in family book banning--that is, in my family, I reserve the right to monitor, censor and ban certain books, just as I do movies and music.)

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

You Want Narcissistic?

I realized today with a sort of shock that I am a Working Mother. And by that, I don't just mean that I handle the bulk of the housework and the childcare. I mean that I work. I get a paycheck every week. I work for money.

But I work at home and I do work that is considered not to be work by most everyone. I wipe noses and change diapers and referee disagreements between three-year olds. I balance this work with my household duties, which means that I never dust and hardly ever get down on my hands and knees to scrub my kitchen floor. So, the balance is more like a wobbly seesaw with a chubby kid sitting on one end. A lot of see, but no saw. A lot of teeter, but no totter. Very little housework, but a lot of childcare.

Beyond my imperfect housekeeping, what's bugging me today is the clear-eyed fact that I have no connections with local women around me. Because I'm neither (or both?) a full-time stay-at-home mom or a full-time working mom, I lack the benefits of each job title. I don't schmooze with other stay-at-home moms, getting together over coffee while the kids play in the other room or lingering at a park bench chatting or joining playgroups or volunteering at the schools or anything. I can't run errands during the day or enroll my little girl in classes at the YMCA. My work day begins at 7:30 a.m. and ends at 5:30 p.m.

On the other hand, I don't share a camaraderie with working moms, either. No laments over childcare and gossip about co-workers. No working lunches, no shared laughter in the office, no professional satisfaction of teamwork. No contribution to the workforce whatsoever. An entire career world exists outside of my neighborhood and I'm excluded because I'm working, but I'm not a career woman. Besides that, I get no sick days, no 401k, no vacation time, no raises. I can't afford cruises or vacation houses like many of the two-income families in my town. My work ranks just above folding soft tacos at Taco Time.

Today was a lonely day. I tried to remember the last time I laughed really hard at something besides my kids. Nothing came to mind. I thought, I'm so depressed, but I'm not really. I would like to sit with an old friend and just ramble and talk long enough to get jittery from the caffeine. Maybe I just wish I were still in college, free of the snot and crumbs and tiny bits of cut paper that my kids keep creating and leaving like snow on the family room floor.

Probably, though, it's all the wishful thinking of a true introvert. What I really wish is that I were a blustery, outgoing, cheerful, happy-go-lucky kind of woman, the kind that everyone invites to parties. While I was talking with my husband tonight, I said to him suddenly, "It must be nice to go through life being an optimist." He truly is optimistic, deep down to his core.

And let's just say I'm not. I specialize in pinpointing the flaws, the errors, the many ways things can go wrong. There's a place for people like me, and apparently, it's the laundry room.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

True Confession

I confess that I started drinking early today. It's true. I popped open a can and stacked an iceberg's worth of ice into a large purple cup. Normally, I try not to drink before noon. But today? Today, I needed a drink.

You would, too, if you were here, surrounded by the scattered toys that the 3-year olds dump and toss and inundated by the twins who either can't or won't stop talking. At one point, one 12-year old boy traipsed into the living room to bug the other 12-year old boy. A great ruckus ensued and one boy came racing into the family room, hollering and giggling, until he was tackled by his brother.

I sat here at the computer, clicking my way through the K12 website, ignoring the attack.

Sometimes, pain is a good teacher. The troublemaker ended up on the floor, wailing for awhile until he realized he had no audience. Then he went and got his vocabulary book.

As for me, my cup is almost drained of the Diet Dr. Pepper. The kitchen table is a mess of old newspapers, schoolbooks and dirty bowls. My daughter hides behind the patio curtains wearing only her tights with the puppy on the back because her dress just dragged into the toilet. The 4-month baby girl ought to arrive any second. Good thing she is immobile, still, because my floor is definitely not baby-safe.

I do, however, have enough caffeine coursing through my veins to keep me going until naptime. And that's A Good Thing.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Tangible Proof

I spent my evening sorting and organizing forty-eight packets of photographs. Two boxes now contain the tangible proof of our lives in the years 2004 and 2005.

Now, if I can just figure out where I put the pictures from 2003 and 2002, I'll be all set to resume scrapbooking.

Meanwhile, I came across this photograph.

Today, the twins had P.E. at the YMCA. After my husband dropped them off, he came home and picked up my daughter and the 3-year old boy we watch and took them to the park, leaving me home alone.

And how did I spend my precious quiet hour?

I cleaned out my refrigerator, including the freezer. Then I sorted through the ever-present pile of papers and magazines on the counter and relocated everything. I picked up the scattered Legos so they wouldn't become even more scattered. I took the recycling out to the bin.

And then everyone was home. What does it say about me that I spend a rare hour home alone cleaning out my freezer? What would you do if you were home alone for an hour?

Sunday, September 25, 2005

The Fair

Immediately following Sunday School, I took my two youngest children with me to The Fair. The shuttle bus ride was the highlight for my three-year old girl. My seven-year old begged to ride a few rides and I let him, despite my saying, "We are just going to see the animals. No rides."

My daughter rode her first kid-sized roller coaster and she did not enjoy it. I cradled her as we whipped around and around, six times, I counted. Each time we passed the carnival worker, I'd beg silently, Please, please, stop this thing! Out loud, into my daughter's ear, I'd say, "You're doing great! We're almost done!" She didn't cry, but she wasn't thrilled, either. I wasn't thrilled to see the carnival worker pressing a flannel cloth to his nose. What sort of contagious disease did that guy have, anyway?

My son rode three or four rides and confessed afterward that he didn't actually like "The Kamikaze," a contraption that swings two boat-like cars back and forth and finally, completely around, upside down. He's such a trooper--he rode the rides by himself because I couldn't leave his sister.

But before the rides, we passed through the livestock barns. My three-year old hopped and clapped at the sight of one cow behind after another. She greeted the goats, sheep, turkeys, zebras, and horses with equal enthusiasm.

All told, we were at The Fair for two and a half hours.

I spent the remainder of the afternoon cleaning up my twin boys' room. I took a Sharpie marker and labeled their dresser drawers so they can more easily find and put away their clothes. Both dressers were garage sale finds, so I wrote directly on the drawers. My daughter watched me do that and I just hope she doesn't think my actions give her license to write on the furniture, too.

While I was cleaning the boys' room, my kids were busy wreaking havoc in other rooms.

Yesterday, I took my daughter to the grocery store, which she completely adores. She picked out a small pumpkin to take home, a "sugar" pumpkin meant to be baked and used in cooking. She cradled that pumpkin all the way home and after a few blocks said, "I want some treats in my pumpkin."

The child remembers last year's trick-or-treating, apparently. I find it so strange that small children can remember things from the distant past. She still remembers the cat we had when she was a baby. It was a black cat named Shadow and he ran away (we figure) when she was about eighteen months old. One day, months later, we were walking on a bright sunny day and I said, "Look at your shadow!" She looked around and wanted to know where the cat was. It took me a few minutes to realize what she was talking about.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Away from Home--Alone

I spent a glorious seven hours away from my home--alone--frittering away time. I drove, I shopped, I ate, I saw a movie, I mentally scolded the parent who ushered her small child into a movie rated PG-13, then I shopped some more. I only brought home pants for my 7-year old and a pair of white canvas Bass sneakers for myself ($15 on sale from $49.99).

Now, I am procrastinating. I can choose from the following options:

1) Wash dishes in kitchen sink;
2) Straight up family room, including moving dishes to kitchen sink and straightening up couch cushions and putting markers away;
3) Prepare my preschool Sunday School lesson;
4) Check children's progress in stack of student books perched precariously on my desk.

I don't want to wash dishes. I am ignoring the family room. I really need to figure out some alternative plans for Sunday School because I loathe the curriculum I am forced to use (David C. Cook). (One activity reads: "Give each child a paper heart. Encourage the children to use the crayons and straws to make their family members on the hearts." Huh? Straws?) The children's school books can wait until tomorrow.

So, I thought I'd respond to a friend's blog in which she ponders the reasons mothers choose to send their little ones to preschool. Or not.

She says this of her twin 3-year old boys: "They seem to be strong, outgoing, independent kids, all three of them. That has to be one of the things I am most proud of, that they are not and have never been, clingy children. So, I wonder still, do mothers who refuse to leave their kids with anyone else, ever, do so because they need to feel like they are the be-all, end-all for those kids? Are they so over-protective because it gives them a purpose in life? Or what? What's the deal? Or perhaps I am just a reckless, irresponsible mother because I do not hover over the children and I do not dote on them constantly. Maybe that's it?"

I have never sent any of my children to preschool. Why not? When my twins were three, I began a home daycare, so our days were structured like a preschool, including craft-time, snacks, playing outside, and other activities. Plus, I lived in an very rural area. I am not sure there were preschool programs available. But mostly, I couldn't figure out a reason I'd want to send my kids to preschool. What would they get from preschool that they didn't get from being home with me? They were already interacting with other children their age because of the daycare children in our home.

When my next son was two, I began to fantasize about sending him to preschool. Mostly, these dreams were born out of my frustration. He was an active boy who quit napping early. He'd throw the most amazing tantrums in his overtired state. Yet, when he turned three and was eligible for preschool, I couldn't imagine sending him away. He was great company, a cheerful, extroverted, smart little kid. We spent our days going to the YMCA, running errands, picking up his brothers from school and playing. I started a little playgroup and a group of moms came over every other week to visit us.

I couldn't imagine any reason to send him to preschool. He's now in second grade and consistently earns high grades and praise from his teachers for his cooperative, cheerful attitude.

My daughter is a clingy child, the opposite of Smoov's "strong, outgoing, independent" kids. When my little girl was only three months old, she began to display her personality. I took her to my mother's house for Thanksgiving dinner and soon after we arrived, my baby started to scream. She cried hysterically and I was unable to calm her down. Finally, I excused myself and brought her home, where she immediately quieted and went to sleep.

She's a child who is slow to warm up to new situations. She's shy. When she was a baby in my arms at church, people would always crowd us, eager to say hello to her. Without fail, she'd cry at the approach of people. I never was able to pass her to anyone else as I had done with my boys. My 7-year old was so friendly as a baby that once I handed him over to an admiring stranger in Walgreens. Once, when he was about two, he insisted on sitting with a young couple we didn't know at Burger King. He has always been the kind of confident, strong, independent kid Smoov admires.

But that's not because of preschool.

And my daughter is not clingy and shy because of a lack of preschool. She was simply born with this personality and my response to her is not overprotectiveness, though I suppose it might appear that way to Smoov. I attempt to ensure that she feels safe and secure in her home. Gradually, she's become less worried about people approaching her. She talks to people at church sometimes. She chats quite a bit with adults she knows, like the mom of the baby was watch every day. She adores babies and displays an instinct for nurturing them. But she is a quiet, anxious soul.

But she is good with scissors and recites the alphabet. She dances and sings along with her CDs and cassettes. She recognizes about half of her ABCs and can tell me what they say. She talks, talks, talks all day long in the safety of our home. She has a sharp memory and shows a great deal of empathy towards other people and their emotions. She loves to help me do chores.

I can't figure out why I would want to send her to preschool. What would she get at preschool that she is not getting at home?

Smoov wonders about mothers like me. "So, I wonder still, do mothers who refuse to leave their kids with anyone else, ever, do so because they need to feel like they are the be-all, end-all for those kids?"

I don't leave my daughter with anyone else (other than my husband and occasionally, my mother) because of my daughter's personality. It really has nothing at all to do with my needs or wants. Sure, I'd adore twelve hours a week without children (mine and everyone else's!). But sending my girl to preschool so that I can be alone would be terribly difficult for her. Sure, if she had to go, she'd adjust eventually. But I can't imagine that she'd gain anything at all by going to preschool.

I don't think preschool is a bad thing. I think of it as a fun place, a safe haven for children, sometimes a safer haven for children than their own homes. Kids learn to play with other children, have opportunities to create and explore, experience the structure of a routine and all that good stuff. It's a great break for mothers, too, and really, who are we kidding? That's why most kids go to preschool.

And that's not a bad thing, either.

But lack of preschool does not necessarily make a kid clingy.

Preschool is not the only path to strong, independent, outgoing kids.

Mothers (like me) who do not send their kids away to preschool don't do so for one particular reason. Each of my kids has missed out on preschool for different reasons. Each of them have different personalities, which were not caused or formed by preschool or the lack thereof.

Most children go to preschool these days for various reasons. Some moms seem desperate to ensure that their children will not lag behind other children. Some moms are eager to reclaim a portion of their day for themselves. Working moms graduate their little ones from plain old daycare to preschool. I have no quibble with any of those reasons.

But I would rather keep my kids close to home during the short years before kindergarten. I see no compelling reason to send my kids to preschool.

Even though I would like to be home alone sometimes. I admit that.

(By the way, I think Smoov is one of the most amazing mothers I've ever known. She's energetic, involved, passionate, patient, creative and brilliant. If you aren't regularly reading her blog, you might want to ask yourself "why?")

Friday, September 23, 2005

A Recitation of My Day in Increments of Time

6:10 a.m.: Roll over and realize husband is in the shower. But alarm did not ring. Realize through groggy haze that I set alarm for 5:45 p.m. rather than a.m.

7:10 a.m.: Wake to the sound of daughter repeatedly yelling "Mommy!"

7:13 a.m.: Crawl back under covers for "ten more minutes."

7:47 a.m.: Shower.

8:15 a.m.: Insist that 7-year old quit playing Nintendo and get dressed.

8:30 a.m.: Feed 7-year old.

8:35 a.m.: Ten-month old baby arrives, sleeping. Put him upstairs for nap.

8:45 a.m.: Son leaves for school.

9:00 a.m.: Begin cleaning kitchen. Urge boys to begin school work. Put laundry from washer to dryer and from dryer to basket. Clean litter box, feed cats.

10:00 a.m.: Finish cleaning kitchen. Three-year old boy arrives. Put potatoes and steak into crockpot and call it "stew."

10:03 a.m.: Fake telephone call to school district office to inquire about enrolling extremely reluctant student in middle school.

10:15 a.m.: Firmly direct extremely reluctant student in method of following directions in writing memoir.

10:20 a.m.: Listen to extremely reluctant student shout, stomp and break pencil. Ignore unwanted behavior.

10:30 a.m.: Baby awakes. Tend to his needs.

10:35 a.m.: Continue to monitor progress of extremely reluctant student. Realize the validity of the viewpoint of those who believe "nature" takes precedence over "nurture."

11:45 a.m.: Mom of 10-month old arrives to spend lunch break with baby. Boys make their own lunch. Prepare lunch for 3-year olds.

Noon: Extra kids arrive for the day. Sisters, age 3 and 1.

12:30 p.m.: Four-month old arrives with stuffy nose. Warm bottle and feed her. Son returns from half-day at school.

12:45 p.m.: Ten-month old returns. Mom points out that he apparently has a cold, which explains his lack of napping. Put one-year old down for nap in playpen. She cries.

1:00 p.m.: Put 3-year old boy to nap on the couch. Put 3-year old girls upstairs to watch PBS before naptime. Put 4-month old down for nap. Rock 10-month old until asleep. Lay him down, pretend he actually continues to sleep. Neighbor boys knock at door. Refuse to let them enter.

1:30 p.m.: Escort 3-year olds to potty. Lay down for naptime. Sternly warn visiting 3-year old that it's naptime. Refuse her demands of "mommydaddy!" "Drink!" "Door open!" "Watch t.v.!"

2:00 p.m.: Wake from light sleep and realize 3-year olds are asleep. Hear baby.

2:01 p.m.: Rock 10-month old and wipe his runny nose.

2:20 p.m.: Hear screaming. Return dozing 10-month old to crib. Rush screaming 3-year old from room to prevent her from waking up others. Leave her downstairs with toys.

2:21 p.m.: Rock 10-month old again. Hear crying. Realize no one intends to sleep. Pick up 1-year old and take both babies downstairs. Warm bottle. Feed 1-year old. Eat entire stack of Ritz crackers and tall glass of Diet Vanilla Pepsi for lunch. Notice crockpot is not even warm. Jiggle plug.

3:00 p.m.: Daughter wakes up. Is crabby. Wants to be held. Neighbor boys return.

3:30 p.m.: Three-year old boy's mom arrives. Ten-month old baby's mom arrives. Wave bye-bye!

4:15 p.m.: Four-month old baby wakes. Feed her bottle. Watch her spit up on jeans. And shirt. And hand. And arm. And chair. And herself.

5:15 p.m.: Mom of extra 1-year old and 3-year old arrives. Visit for ten minutes.

5:35 p.m.: Babysitter of 4-month old picks her up. Due to crockpot malfunction, take kids to McDonald's for dinner.

No wonder I'm exhausted. I had nine--no, eleven children--here today. I dream of solitude. And tomorrow, I get it! I'm leaving at about 1:00 p.m. and don't have to return until 8:00 p.m.

* * *

My son's school is having a coin drive for Katrina hurricane victims. He gave his seventy-five cents of popcorn money to the cause today. I think I might be doing something right!

My husband helped some friends move today. A young stud was also helping move boxes. My husband tells me that he could hardly contain his mirth when the young man picked up a box marked, "China," and said to the homeowner, "When did you guys go to China?"

My daughter and her friend sing the "Hokey-Pokey" song, but they have alternative lyrics. One sings, "Oh, do the okey-dokey!" and the other sings, "Oh, do the huppy-puppy!" I can't stop singing that song . . . much like when I wake in the nighttime and find the Elmo's World theme song running through my head like an uninvited guest.

Introducing . . .

Here's a new blogger with not only a beautiful voice (listen to her Free Friday song), but also a beautiful style of writing. Run over and browse awhile at "Sing for Your Supper."

Thursday, September 22, 2005

"You Just Don't Fit In"

Almost all my husband's family lives in the path of Hurricane Rita. Most of them are staying put, which my husband (aka Mr. Safety) finds incredulous. If he were in the path of a hurricane, he would leave a good week prior to landfall. Mr. Safety prefers to opt on the side of caution, always. Mr. Safety would always rather be safe than sorry. Always.

Rather than worry, we are distracting ourselves with reality television. Last night, we watched the Martha Stewart version of "The Apprentice." I have always liked Martha Stewart and what she stands for: Absolute Perfection. Perfect paint colors, perfect lilac bushes, perfect creme brulee'. And now that she has this little blemish--being a convicted felon and all--I like her even more. And I like to watch people fray at the edges and sometimes implode or explode, so I like "The Apprentice," too. The melding of Martha and "The Apprentice" is a dream come true for me.

And when the scene came where she had to release one apprentice and she said, "You just don't fit in. Good-bye," my husband and I repeated the phrase over and over with glee. I would rather be fired than be told I just don't fit in, but then again, perhaps I'm still a junior-high student at heart, desperate for the cool girls to take notice of me.

Naptime's over. Time to get back to work.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Last Day of Summer

I was halfway through the day when I realized that today is the sixteenth anniversary of my dad's untimely death. He was forty-seven. He died on the last day of summer.

I remember odd things. The neighbors across the street brought over a homemade version of Dairy Queen's Peanut Buster Parfait. I can still taste the rich chocolate. I have the recipe, but I've never made it myself.

My sister (the one who doesn't speak to my anymore) arrived at the house too late. My dad had already died. I've never heard a human being wail as she did when she heard the news.

I wore a black wool sweater dress to the funeral, which I planned myself. My uncle conducted the service. Dad died on Thursday and the funeral was on Saturday morning. I was completely composed and dry-eyed until the moment when I realized I would be escorted down the center aisle of the church to sit in the front rows reserved for family. I wept as I walked up the aisle because my mind flashed back to my dad walking me up the aisle in my wedding dress only two years earlier.

I could not stop crying.

When the funeral ended and the church emptied out, I turned and saw a vaguely familiar face. Near the back of the church, a man sat alone. That man was my uncle, the brother from Wisconsin my dad hadn't spoken to in years and years. They were estranged. Days later, I found a typed copy of the letter my dad had sent to his brother years earlier--that letter said, "We never liked each other anyway. Just tell your children you used to have a brother and now he's dead." It was a long letter, full of hurt and anger.

I ripped up that letter, determined to end that feud forever. Now, I kind of wish I'd kept it.

So it was bittersweet seeing my uncle at my dad's funeral.

My brother wasn't there at all. He'd been estranged from my dad, too, and didn't reach news of my father's illness until after his death.

After the funeral, I changed into a cotton dress with kelly green stripes. The weather had warmed up and I just couldn't stand the wool anymore. So, all the post-funeral, quasi-famiy reunion pictures show everyone in solemn clothing and me in a very 1980s cotton green striped frock. I regret that.

My dad hated his last job. He worked for a newspaper as a technician. He despised the union he was required to join. That union sent a gorgeous plant to the house when my dad died. That beautiful plant dropped its leaves, one by one, died little by little. I watered more. I watered less. I fussed and coddled that plant. And then I saw it had bugs. And then it died.

When I had a garage sale after my dad died, someone stole his pool cue right out of my driveway. I'm still bitter about that, even though it only cost about $125.00. Who steals a dead man's pool cue from a garage sale? I hope that person was impaled on that pool cue. (Okay. Not really.)

My dad was a ham radio operator, a computer geek before there were computer geeks, a fan of Paul Harvey and Johnny Carson. He dabbled in photography, community theater and painting. He rode a motorcycle across the country. He drove a compact car back and forth to Ohio to visit his father, sometimes in the snowy winter. He stood in his bare feet in the snow at Mount Rainier just for the sake of a funny photograph. I always laughed at him prancing through the house singing, "I feel pretty! Oh so pretty!" and "Tip-toe through the tulips . . .!"

He hardly ever cooked, but when he did it usually involved buying a complete set of aluminum mixing bowls or a new set of knives. He loved kitchen gadgets. The only thing I recall him cooking, though, involved warm cantaloupe, which turned my stomach. He loved chocolate chip cookies and warm pudding with a splash of milk. He was the strong, silent type, a crusty guy who hid his gooey soft heart with a gruff exterior.

And the seasons continue to change, dragging us along by the hand, even as we look backwards for one last glimpse.

Introducing . . .

Perhaps you are already laughing your head off while you are reading The Quinn Report, but just in case you haven't read her blog yet, I suggest you hurry over. You could tell her I sent you, but since she doesn't know me, she might think you are insane.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Swimming With the Current

Some days, I feel adrift. I bob along, tread water, scan the horizon for a boat to rescue me. I don't feel like picking up, cleaning, interacting, washing, drying, folding and putting away. The thought of producing yet another dinner crashes over my head like a rogue wave.

I don't sleep enough. I'm bleary in the mornings, yet night arrives and I'm bright-eyed with all the gears in my brain whirring at full speed. Before I know it, midnight arrives and I pull the covers up and calculate how little sleep I'll get. The weariness drags me under.

My house is full of children every day. My 7-year old invited two friends over to play today, and just when those children went home (at 6:00 p.m.), the two neighbor boys arrived. Ten children were in my house at various times today. Granted, that's fewer than Barbara parents (she has twelve children), but still. Some days these children are like an anchor--and I mean that in a good way and a bad way. I dream of freedom, of grabbing my car keys and driving somewhere. Alone.

The experts say you should remain calm. Don't fight a current. And so, today, when I felt myself being dragged away from shore, I did what any reasonable housewife would do. I swam with the current, just paddled along, kept moving.

I tidied up the living room so at least one room looked presentable. Then, I made a pot-pie from scratch, including pie crust. My 3-year old daughter "helped" me make the crust--she dumped in the flour, mixed it a little with the pastry blender, used the rolling pin and then generously sprinkled the extra pie crust with cinnamon sugar. She grinned at me each time I showed her how to help. She gleefully proclaimed, "I am a good girl!"

And I'm kept afloat by the power of her crooked smile.

Introducing . . .

Occasionally--and not as often as I ought--I like to introduce you to a blogger you probably aren't reading yet. Go check out Ellipsis. She has a poignant post today about the memories invoked by the distant drums of the high school marching band.

Monday, September 19, 2005

The Pastor's Day Off

A particular church woman only calls our house with very bad news. She called tonight at 8:54 p.m., but my husband was still at a meeting. He's on a board for an organization that provides housing and treatment for homeless people and once a month, they have long meetings.

When he returned home a bit later, I met him at the door with the news that a man from our church died tonight. He immediately headed back out to assist the new widow. In the past year, this particular woman's adult daughter died unexpectedly, too, so she's had a rough year.

My husband returned home at about 10:00 p.m. He said the funeral will be Saturday and, "Don't make any plans," and I said (please slap me), "Well, that's the story of my life." And it is, but I don't mind.

Truly, I do take these things in stride. I am concerned for the woman who lost her husband tonight. I understand that her loss trumps my weekend plans. Perhaps if my dad hadn't died almost exactly 16 years ago, I'd resent my husband's job constantly intruding on our lives.

But when my dad died, the pastor I called said, "Well, I'm not sure we can get the church set up for a funeral. The janitor's been out of town." He didn't come over to sit with us. He didn't offer condolences. His cold-heartedness still stuns me.

So even though I am so far behind the scenes, I am almost invisible, I support my husband as he heads out into the night to sit with someone in their loss and grief. It's what I do and it helps him do what he needs to do.

Unwilling Participant

Here is the girl who prefers not to be photographed, thank you very much.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

A Few Notes

Once, in college, I knew a girl who liked a boy who liked me. Then, that girl hated me. One night, as I quietly prepared for bed in my dorm room (my roommate always went to bed so early) I heard voices in the bathroom that linked my room to the next suite.

They were talking about me. More specifically, they were mocking me. I stood in silence and eavesdropped in horror until my roommate bolted from her bed and whacked that bathroom door, bringing that mortifying incident to an end.

I still think about how it felt, though, to hear people making fun of me. It's odd and even today, on occasion, I stumble into the same strange land.

* * *

With regards to the outrage I hear expressed over occasional mis-spending of the $2,000 FEMA debit cards . . . it sure seems to me that once you give someone something, it's theirs to do with as they please. So, if people displaced by the hurricane wish to buy something outrageous and expensive, they have that right. Why are people so outraged? Haven't they ever been behind someone in the grocery store who was buying something with food stamps that seemed to them to be inappropriate? Don't they know people who spend good money on cigarettes and beer while their children receive free lunches? This is just more of the same thing. People who get "free" money seem to spend it a little carelessly, if you ask me.

* * *

Twenty years ago, I met my husband. My summer roommate pointed him out to me and I pulled aside the curtains just in time to see him spit on the ground. He'd been running in the North Carolina summer heat and he was sweaty. He looked nothing like the Man of My Dreams. A few days later, we met after I made a smart aleck remark during a Bible study. Imagine. Me, being sarcastic.

Well, that wasn't a big stretch, was it?

And twenty years later, here I am, living happily ever after with a man who has ugly feet and a heart of beauty.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Saturday Night Live

The past two nights, I've slept all night without waking to cough up a lung. And yet, I'm still so tired.

That doesn't matter, though. No rest for the weary. This morning, my husband took our 7-year old to play soccer while I took my daughter and her 12-year old brothers to the photographer's studio at 9:30 a.m. Every year, I make sure the kids get a professional picture taken and every year, my daughter has cried. She is incredibly shy and has a 10 foot circle of personal space which people continually violate.

This year was no different. The photographer took only seven photographs and did manage to capture one fleeting smile. By the end, though, she was curled on my lap (my daughter, not the photographer), crying. (I'll post a picture tomorrow when I'm not so weary.)

I realized when we pulled into the parking lot that my daughter thought she would be photographed with Piglet--and not the stuffed Piglet that I brought along, but the Piglet from Disney World. I realized this when she said, "I want to see Winnie-the-Pooh." I said, "There's no Winnie-the-Pooh," and then I thought, oh, oh, wait a second. She thinks when I said Piglet, I meant BIG Piglet.

How disappointing that must have been for her.

I spent a couple of hours at the church this afternoon setting up my classroom where I'll be teaching preschoolers during Sunday School. My daughter was oh-so-helpful during this effort.

She had a birthday party to attend this afternoon, so we were gone until 5:30 p.m. When she went to bed at 7:30 p.m., I went back to the church to finish up. By the time I returned home, it was 10:00 p.m. and I didn't sit down because I knew I would not get up again. I washed dishes, then peeled potatoes and set up the bread machine so we'll have fresh bread for lunch. We'll have roast (in the crockpot) and mashed potatoes for lunch after church tomorrow.

Too often, I run the kids through McDonald's drive-in after church on Sundays because it's very difficult to cook when you are not in your kitchen.

I love to sleep. And yet, I stay up too late. I'll be sorry in the morning.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Personal Legends

When I was six years old, my dad asked me as we passed in the hallway of our tiny rambler, "What do you want for Christmas?" And I said, "A puppy." He snorted and said, "Fat chance." (Or maybe it was something more gentle, but it recorded itself as "fat chance" in my brain.)

At Christmas, a wiggly box was placed upon my lap and I lifted the green-wrapping papered lid to find a black poodle. I named her "Midnight" and she was the star of many of my crayon drawings.

The following October (1972), my mother gave birth to my sister (at home, with no midwife--now, that is quite a story which has nothing to do with this post). Shortly thereafter, I returned home from second grade to find every trace of my puppy gone. No water bowl. No food bowl. No puppy. My parents thought a sudden disappearance would be best.

Recently, I mentioned Midnight to my mother and she has no recollection of that dog whatsoever. None. I began to wonder if I made up that story in my head, if I created some kind of personal myth that became more real the more times I told it.

I know a picture exists of me and that puppy. I know it.

The other day, I passed a television showing coverage of Hurricane Ophelia. The caption said, "Nag's Head," and I remembered the time I slept through a hurricane in Nag's Head, North Carolina in 1986.

Then I started to wonder if this were another legend I made up in my head. So, I stayed up way too late, googling around, searching for evidence that Nag's Head, North Carolina, was, indeed, hit by a hurricane in 1986.

And it was. Hurricane Charley hit in August 1986, but the winds of 90 miles per hour did little damage.

It's true, then. I slept through that hurricane. Evacuations were not mandatory, so our drama troupe of college kids hunkered down at the church where we were staying. It was shaped like an ark, that church. I crawled into a bed and collapsed and later discovered I was sharing it with a curly-haired bass-player who was suffering from jock-itch. His name was Dana. Probably still is.

I slept while the storm raged because I had an undiagnosed case of mononucleosis. When the storm passed, my then-boyfriend (now-husband) drove me to a clinic where a doctor asked me to remove my shirt so he could diagnose my sore throat. I still remember the nurse's raised eyebrows, but I was too sick to object.

When my dad married my stepmother in 1977, she brought into our family her own cache of personal legends. I heard over and over about her handsome, tall, English boyfriend named John and about her job working at Orcas Island during the summers. She'd talk about college and her degree in political science and about orchestras and symphonies and marching bands and how she lost twenty pounds in college by shunning potatoes and bread.

And eventually, all the stories started to repeat, as if they were on a loop. I suppose that happens to all of us. At some point, we run out of stories and pretty soon, we start to accessorieze the stories we tell. How much is truth and how much is embellishment? Will people we love stop us if we tell the same story too many times? Or will they politely listen, much as I listen to the stories my mother and my stepmother tell?

And can I find a picture of the black puppy I am sure I had when I was 6? If I do (when I do), you'll be the first to know.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Second Day of School-at-Home: A Memoir

I had to resist the urge to stab myself in the temple with my red pen this morning. No, really. I wanted to jab my pen into that soft part that pulses in and out during chewing. The cause of my anguish? Introducing my children to the art of writing a memoir.

They each declared that they couldn't think of anything to write about. They can't remember a single, solitary event from the past. I strung together half a dozen ideas out of thin area. None of those suggestions would work for them. Our three-week trip to Houston and Orlando? The night their baby sister was born at home while they swam at the pool? Having fun at the fair the other day with their dad? First day of school? Getting a new pet? Christmas?

No. Nothing would do. But the first step in their instructional book said to come up with three to five topics. Then they were to pick one. The final step for today was to brainstorm ideas. I was to limit their time to ten minutes, allowing more time if necessary.

I did appreciate that little joke. "Limit" their time. As if.

I looked at the clock. The 10-month old would be awake any second. My daughter stood at my elbow demanding sticky tape and scissors. The blue-eyed twin dropped his pencil and banged his head onto the table. The brown-eyed twin wiggled his legs until the floor shook and I shouted, "STOP SHAKING YOUR LEG!" He wailed that he couldn't think because he was starving.

At those times, I do not get sweet and sympathetic. My voice grows in fury. I begin to beg. I cajole. I threaten. I say unhelpful things like, "Hurry up! Just pick an idea! This is not rocket science! Do not make this harder than it is! Come on! Come on! Come on! Pick one!"

My teeth start to hurt because I had to clench them together to keep bad words from slipping out.

Finally, my blue-eyed twin retreated to a couch where he sat huddled under a blanket, pouting. His brother sat at the table with all ten of his scrawled ideas crossed out. He finally decided to write about the train trip to Texas he took with his dad and his brother seven years ago. But once he started brainstorming, he scribbled down two sentences and then declared, "That's all I could think of. I'm done."

I pointed out that perhaps he could write about something he could actually remember, like OUR TRIP LAST SUMMER. I fumed internally. Not only can my children not write, they can't even think. This is the more disturbing fact.

Half an hour later, my blue-eyed twin said, "Mom, I'm sorry. I just needed some time to recollect." He had completed his assignment and filled his brainstorming page. His brother stole his idea and decided that he, too, would write about the fair. Although the handwriting was messy, they seemed to have put some thought into their work.

So, I abandoned the whole red-pen-stabbing idea. But just to be safe, hide the stapler.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005


Cough, cough, cough, cough, cough, cough, gag, hack, cough!

I hate being sick.

I also hate doing science projects.

And I hate whiners, so I'm sending myself to my room right now.

Monday, September 12, 2005

A Few Notes About My Girl

My daughter has to coil herself into my lap now, she's so long. She curls her legs up and scrunches her head down to fit.

She has discovered the joy of the small chair. I bought a little kid-sized table for my kitchen and she carries the little chair around so she can reach stuff. Today, while I showered, she brought her orange chair from her room to the bathroom, so she could stand on the counter and brush her teeth. She likes to make faces at herself while she brushes. And she handles the toothpaste tube by herself, proclaiming, "I can do it all . . . by . . . my . . . self!"

She woke up last night at 1:00 a.m. and when I told her it was nighttime, still, she agreed to be rocked. I picked her up and then turned off the bright light. Alarmed that I was going to put her back in her crib, she shouted, "I rock you!" I love how she still says things like, "I hold you" instead of "You hold me."

She sounds emphatic most of the time because she puts the "not" right in front of the action. For instance, "Today I am going to NOT hit my friend." Or "I am going to NOT cry when you put me to bed." "I am going to NOT pee my pants!"

At night, she arranges a collection of seven dollies in her crib on the foot end. She covers the dollies carefully with a crocheted blanket. Then, she settles back on her own little pillow, pulling a tiny napkin-sized crocheted blanket over herself. This miniature blanket is meant for a doll and covers only her belly. She insists on following this routine each night.

I just turned into "Mommy." For a long time I've been "Mom" and "Mama," but now suddenly and without official notification, she calls me "Mommy."

She passed gas the other day. She feigned surprise, looked at me and said, "Did you hear that? What was that?" Then she grinned. I wonder where she learned that? (The correct answer to her question is what my dad taught me to say when faced with such a question: "Spiders barking!")

Sunday, September 11, 2005

On Being Cool. Or Not.

I'm reading Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. One of the chapters is called, "Church: How I Go Without Getting Angry," and in that chapter, he talks about the church he attends in Portland called Imago Dei. He mentions "this friend from Seattle named Mark who was the pastor of a pretty cool church near the University of Washington, in the village."

And I realized that my church is not cool. I kind of felt the littlest bit wistful, realizing how uncool our church is, too. If churches had flavor, that cool church would be mocha (and more) and our church would be vanilla.

I was cleaning up the kitchen table after dinner (which my long-suffering husband rustled up since I am still trying to not die from coughing). For some reason, I was thinking about what "kids these days" (I always feel like an old-fogey when I use that phrase and it makes me laugh) are wearing. Specifically, which fashions are cool.

And I realized that I couldn't pick cool clothes out of a well-lit store. I notice what girls wear, but I can't really tell you what cool boys wear. This would be problematic for my kids, if only they actually cared about their appearances.

I've never been trendy, really, except for a time in the eighties when big hair was the rage. My hair just happened to be long, blond and frizzy. I looked like a member of a hair-band. The fashions of the time, leggings and big shirts, worked well for me. There was a time when I could at least recognize the hippest songs on the radio and even hum along.

But my life's intesections with "cool" have been mostly accidental, I'm afraid. I'm terrifically, overwhelmingly not cool.

I don't have an iPod, nor any digital music device. And I don't want one.

I couldn't care less about enormous, expensive leather bags, nor small cupcake-sized dogs to carry around in them.

I can't hum even a line of "Hollaback Girl".

I don't "get" rap and I can't stand how everything is misspelled and mispronounced in modern music.

I don't drink anything stronger that Diet Coke.

I never watched "Sex in the City" and we don't have HBO. Or TiVo.

I still use Blogger for my blog and I use a plain, old, prefab template. I have no polls, no clocks, no "100 Things About Me."

I drive a 1993 Mercury Sable.

I live in the land of Starbucks, yet I don't drink coffee, fancy or plain.

I used to want to be cool, but that was back in 1978. My parents never bought me cool clothes, nor did we go on any cool vacations. I had no cool friends and my hair never feathered in the cool fashion of the day. (Natural curls do not "feather," especially in a rainy climate.) Of course, when you are thirteen, you want to be cool because you don't realize how much more to life there is than blending in like a chameleon.

And when you're forty, you realize it's hopeless and that you never will be cool and that furthermore, who cares? Now I know why my dad wore those hideous shoes and flannel shirts with holes in the elbows. He'd given up on being cool, too.

Cool, shmool. Who needs it?

Saturday, September 10, 2005

A Summary of the Boring Post I Deleted

I wrote a long post, but pretty soon, it sounded like this to me, "and so I . . . and then I . . . and I felt . . . . and blah blah blah blah blah." I bored even myself.

So, I'm going to just summarize.

All week, I've been suffering from a virus which is trying to kill me. My head aches even worse when I cough. I've been hot, then cold, feverish, then shivering. Each day seems worse. My daughter has it, too, and really, the only thing worse than being sick is being sick and having a sick whiny 3-year old begging you to hold her when you already are holding her.

What I hate is that when you are a mother and you are sick, the only part that matters is that you are a mother. You have no sick days, no one to stroke your forehead and bring you gingerale and tell you to just stay in bed all day.

I hate that.

Friday, September 09, 2005

I Contradicted Myself and Then I Wrote This

Not even a month ago, I proclaimed
Jennifer Hyatte was stupid. And by "stupid," I meant "a person who is not very bright."

Because how bright can you be if your idea of living happily ever after involves helping a felon escape and murdering a prison guard?

Then, a few days ago, I wrote with some sympathy about criminals who look a lot like us. And by "us," I meant me, of course.

Some time today, in the midst of my illness-induced stupor, I remembered my proclamation about Jennifer Hyatte a few weeks back. I stopped cold. My glaring inconsistencies flashed to neon light and I broke into a cold sweat (although, admittedly, that could have just been the fever). Why, when I read about Jennifer Hyatte shooting a prison guard to free her husband, the prisoner, did I roll my eyes and shake my head at her actions? I easily sorted her into the Stupid Category. And yet, when I read about Judy Brown, who taught at the college I attended, I sat with my mouth agape, stunned. I didn't think, how stupid is she? in suburban judgment. I felt pity, sorrow that she essentially drove her life off a cliff for love.

I know for a fact that Judy Brown is not stupid. I could not easily slide her into the Stupid Category, which presented a problem for me. Why would someone do something so stupid if one was not stupid? It was so simple to stamp "Stupid" on the forehead of Jennifer Hyatte and move along. That could never be me, I thought, because I am so bright and all.

I didn't feel any pity whatsover for Jennifer Hyatte and the thing she did for love. I figured if you are stupid and you do stupid things, you ought to pay for it. And none of that has much to do with me.

The truth is that if you do bad things, hoping that good things will result, you are mistaken. Never in the history of the world has it been possible to plant pumpkin seeds and have tomato plants sprout. You get what you plant. (I know all about this, being smarter than the average bear.)

Jennifer Hyatte wanted to live happily ever after with the man of her dreams. So, she did a series of bad things and ended up with . . . bad things.

Sabine Bieber wanted babies in her care to nap peacefully. So, she did a bad thing and ended up with . . . bad things.

Judy Brown wanted someone else's spouse for herself. So, she did a bad thing and ended up with . . . bad things.

The small bad things ended up sprouting and growing into giant bad things, it seems. And did all the bad stuff start with self-absorption? Some people call self-absorption sin. (Just tonight, I came across that idea in Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. I can't think of a better description of what sin is, really. I've always been told that sin is "missing the mark," as in missing a target, but why? What's the motivation? Self-absorption.)

If I line up the pieces of these stories, I find self-absorption central in each one. I find self-absorption in my own life, too, even though the very nature of my life forces me to put other people before me. Isn't that what Jesus asked us to do? To love our neighbor as ourselves? To serve one another? The farther we get from following His instructions, the more myopic we become, until at some point, we can't see beyond our grabbing hands.

The more we do bad, hoping for good.

Just like Jennifer, Sabine and Judy. Just like me.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Ben Stein Guest-Blogs

I'm suffering from an illness that makes my head explode every time I cough. So, I asked Ben Stein to write my blog post today.

Okay. Just kidding. He wrote this for The American Spectator.

I especially liked point number twelve. Yesterday, I wondered aloud to my husband if liberal Democrats who wish to increase federal government involvement in our lives (healthcare, schools, social programs) are having second thoughts?

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

School-at-home versus Homeschool

Way back when I was a new bride, I read Mary Pride's The Way Home. Her ideas prompted me to consider homeschooling my children, even though my children didn't exist yet.

My husband I turned out to be infertile and by the time we adopted twins, I had a head jammed full of ideas. I listened to Dr. Dobson (before he got all political) and really knew that I knew The Right Way to parent. I would homeschool them and they would be eager students and obedient children and I would manage to look cute throughout their childhoods. Oh, and I'd have lots of girlfriends to call who would meet us for playdates and educational field trips. My children would study museum paintings, sketchbooks in hand.

My kids were supposed to learn to read early and spend hours coloring with unbroken crayons. They were supposed to be naturally tidy and easy-going. They were supposed to always wear double-knotted shoes when they went outside.

But my boys surprised me. They wore socks outside while they dug holes in the dirt. They threw sand at each other. They didn't want to listen to books and they never met a crayon they didn't want to break and then throw. My blue-eyed twin challenged my leadership every day, every hour, nearly every minute. My brown-eyed twin whined and threw his apple-juice cup every single time he finished. Every time. Sometimes it would hit me and I would cry.

We lived in a very rural, poor area of Michigan with terrible schools and I decided that I would homeschool them. Before that arrived though, several events occurred which jumbled up our plans. First, I became pregnant (not an easy task for an infertile woman), and then we moved.

We moved the September the twins were old enough to go to kindergarten. My baby was seven months old and I'd been babysitting for two years. I was eager to spend time alone with my baby. The school district in our new home enjoyed an excellent reputation. So, off they went, much to my joy.

I admit it. By then, I really needed a break from them. These boys that God gave me were nothing like the embroidering-stitching girls I'd expected. I wasn't so sure of my ability to teach them and to juggle a baby and schooling.

Besides that, my husband is a pastor. That makes my kids Pastor's Kids (PKs). PKs have a decidely different life than your average child. They face higher expectations from their church community, for starters. Their peers can ostracize them based on their dad's job alone. We did not want our kids to be seen as the weird pastor's kids who wore pants too short and eyeglasses too thick, the kids who were isolated from life. Is that a stereotype? Sure, it is. But there's a bit of truth to it and we were seeking a balance.

Their first years at school were okay. My brown-eyed twin struggled with writing and reading. The teachers sort of shrugged their shoulders. His second-grade teacher said, "Well, it's only second grade. It's not college," when I raised my concerns. He struggled more than his twin brother and I suspected more than most children. He constantly lagged behind in math and writing and reading.

My blue-eyed twin excelled in everything but handwriting. But he'd come home so crabby, so irritable. As the years progressed, his foul moods increased. I didn't know until much later that starting in fourth grade, the other kids had begun to target him for teasing and bullying. He has a strong personality (remember how he challenged me constantly as a toddler and preschooler?) and odd mannerisms. He wanted nothing more than to be a cool kid and yet, coolness eluded him. He tried too hard.

During fifth grade, my brown-eyed twin struggled for passing grades. His teacher noted that if a leaf fell from a tree outside the window, my son would lose his focus. He never caused trouble, though. He just sat quietly and didn't do his work. Homework every night was torture--and he didn't like it much, either.

We decided then that we needed to intervene, to save our boy. Sixth grade would involve a confusing change of classes and less supervision by teachers. More homework, more responsibility, more demands. I did not want him to end up being the kid smoking illicit cigarettes in the parking lot while skipping class, so we brought him home for school. Our blue-eyed twin asked to school at home, too.

Initially, I planned to homeschool in the traditional sense. That is, I intended to piece together curriculum and teach them myself. I dreaded this because my daughter was two years old then and extremely clingy. At the same time, our school district decided to offer an at-home program using an online curriculum. The program falls under the category of "alternative education," and the curriculum was provided at no cost to us because our children are still enrolled in the public school district. Therefore, the public school district gets tax dollars for our children. We get curriculum at no cost. We do have to follow school requirements. I log attendance and we meet with a teacher weekly who is "mentoring" the boys. (This year, I think we'll be able to do the meetings by email and phone, which is a relief to me.)

I do not mind the school district having a hand in educating my children. My 7-year old is a very successful and happy public school student. He's confident and smart and doing great. I am the product of a public school system and so is my husband. We have many friends who are teachers. But I found that these particular children, my boys, did not fare well in the public schools. They need more attention and protection.

Some homeschoolers hate the idea of a public school system offering school-at-home. Some of them believe it's a scheme to eventually erode the rights of homeschoolers or a way to trick people back into the public school system. They do not want anyone to tell them how and when to educate their children. They are called "independent homeschoolers." Some independent homeschoolers are quite antagonistic towards school-at-homers and believe that we are not "real" homeschoolers.

And while I completely respect their position, that's not me. I have no qualms about accepting free curriculum, even though there are strings attached. What I do is pretty much the same as what they do. I just do it with the oversight of professional educators (though not much oversight, truthfully).

We attempt to find the middle ground as we parent our children. Not too strict and not too lenient. We shield them from inappropriate material, yet they play video games and watch television (they are currently hooked on the old episodes of "Full House").

What I've discovered the longer I am a mother is that my children never read those books I did about their behavior and how I would be able to curb and control it. They are individuals. Does the fact that they share no genetic material with me make a difference? Is it that they are boys? Or the simple fact of being adopted and the pre-verbal losses they suffered? Are their personalities just foreign to me?

I don't know, but I know this. I am doing the best I can. At this moment, at this stage in my own "full house," I gratefully accept curriculum and the ties to the public school. The minute it stops working, we'll reassess. Meanwhile, we impatiently await our curriculum and they are busy reading upstairs, safe and sound.

And my blue-eyed twin is no longer irritable and my brown-eyed twin isn't lost in the shuffle.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Criminals Who Look Like Us

Mothers of small children will tell you that just because you are a stay-at-home mother doesn't mean that you get to watch daytime television, unless of course, you're talking about Nick Jr. or Disney Playhouse. However, mothers of small babies will tell you that television keeps them company because you can only gaze into the eyes of your drooling infant for so long.

Last week, the little kids were all napping, but the baby wasn't and I happened surf past CourtTV and caught part of the trial of Sabine Bieber. Mrs. Bieber cared for children in a daycare. She apparently valued naptime even more than I do (how can that be possible?) because she gave the little ones Diphenhydramine, aka generic Benadryl, to make them drowsy at naptime.

One-year old Dane died from her negligence. Now, Mrs. Bieber faces forty years in prison.

I used to think that a giant gulf existed between criminals and me. I judged them harshly when I considered their crimes. And yet, consider this case. You might shake your head in disbelief and wave her fingers around your temple in the universal sign for "ca-razy!"

But really, how porous are the boundaries that separate us from these women? One bad decision leads to a worse decision. A lapse in judgment shakes the foundation until you see the world crookedly and the thoughts in your own head don't seem nuts at all. The horizon is hidden by the fog of choice after choice that soon leads you backwards, far from your original goal. Disorientation rules.

It's all speculation, of course. Who really knows what led these women--women very much like you or your neighbor or even me--to take the steps they did? Nothing is as simple as it first appears and human behavior is more mysterious than anyone can explain.

A couple of Christmases ago, when my daughter was only three months old, my husband received a phone call from a pastor in New York. The New York pastor asked my husband to visit a girl in a nearby jail. He went several times and pieced together bits of her story. When she was released (after six weeks, as I recall), he brought her to our house so she could prepare to go home to New York. (She needed the court's permission before she could even leave the state.)

I was worried until she walked through the door and then I saw that she was much like my own sister, a lost and wandering soul with flushed cheeks and a ponytail.

She stayed with us a week. I will never be the same again. She held my baby, helped me in the kitchen, ran errands with me and kept me company. After a week, we bought her an airline ticket, gave her cash for the bus which would shuttle her home and sent her on her way. She's living happily ever after at the moment and I like to think that we served as a sturdy stepping stone along the way. I hope her life continues to unfold with serenity and strength.

Meanwhile, I consider the sad cases of Sabine Bieber and Judy Brown. And while my compassion used to be heaped solely upon the victims of crimes, I can't do that anymore. I am too much like the ones sitting alone in a barred cell.

And you are, too, I suspect.

Monday, September 05, 2005


Tomorrow is the Big Day.

My 7-year old starts second grade.

My husband's sabbatical comes to an end.

My 12-year old twins begin their second year of school-at-home (not to be confused with homeschool). Only problem is that the curriculum hasn't arrived yet and won't arrive until Friday, they tell me. So, we'll head to the YMCA, I think, and sign up for homeschool P.E. and get our identification cards. This plan works only because my usual daycare baby won't be coming tomorrow morning. Instead, I'll have DaycareKid and his cousin, a 4-year old girl I'm watching two days this week as a favor to her mother. Working mothers have such an issue with finding appropriate childcare. It's the headache that does not respond to ibuprofen.


Summer's over, no matter what the calendar says. Farewell, my friend! See you in nine months!

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Four Thousand Words' Worth of Pictures

And now, photos.

Here is my 7-year old son posing with my 99-year old grandmother, taken on the day we visited a few weeks ago..

Here is the beach ball birthday cake . . .(notice the fingerprints in the "sand") . . .

. . . and the blue-jello cups.

And finally, here is the Birthday Girl, who is now suffering from the headache-coughing virus my boys have so graciously passed along.

(And one more thing. The previous post was written using Microsoft Word with the new Blogger feature which allows you to compose with your word processor and then post directly to your blog. I like the Comic Sans font . . . what about you? Do you prefer this font?)

The Church Lady and Miss Manners Go To a Wedding

As we approached the park, several almost-empty large beer bottles caught my eye. I could feel the Church Lady in me rising up in judgment. A fine way to start a wedding, she said. Isn't that special?

And then, I saw the groomsmen and the bridesmaids in their formalwear. "Kids these days!" I said as I poked my husband. He laughed and so did I. I recognize this weird phenomenon happening more frequently. I'm channeling adults or at least that adult voice I used to hear outside of me. Now she's lurking somewhere inside.

Miss Manners pushed aside the Church Lady and pointed out (inside my head) that when bridesmaids wear sequins on strapless gowns, they ought to wear shoes. She also noted with dismay that strapless gowns smoosh most women, even those with lovely figures. She wrinkled her nose at the sight of men's hairy toes exposed for the world to see.

She counted the bridesmaids (nine) and the groomsmen (6)--what about symmetry?!--and shook her head at the white gown on the flowergirl and the off-white gown on the Junior Bridemaid. Very disconcerting, indeed.

And then I couldn't listen to either the Church Lady or Miss Manners anymore because the processional began. Pretty soon, I felt a little dizzy from the hypnotic and endless repetition of Pachelbel's Canon in D Major . . . played by a steel drum. I really have nothing against steel drums, but this song played by this instrument reminded me of when my children leave the electric keyboard stuck on the demo song, which happens to be Billy Joel's "Just the Way You Are."

The entire wedding party disdained footwear, including the pastor. The only one who would have been quite adorable barefoot would have been the flowergirl, who was wearing ballet flats.

During the wedding, I listened to the vows and thought that brides and grooms seldom really understand what they are agreeing to. Even though the pastor says "in poverty and riches, in sickness and health" in a loud, clear voice, those words are more like the fine print that anyone hardly ever reads because they don't think it really applies to them.

The ceremony took place at a park overlooking water. Fluffy clouds--made to order by the bride, no doubt--floated across the sky, offering brief respite from the sun. The blue of the water and sky contrasted with the wine-colored dresses and the vivid yellow of the bouquets.

And then, the bride and groom boogied their way down the aisle to the recorded sounds of Barry White crooning, "You're My First, My Last, My Everything." What joy! What optimism!

At the reception, we waited two and a half hours to eat and during that time, the microphone was passed among the wedding party. At one point, the groom pledged that his sole purpose would be to make his bride happy. She squealed and jumped into his arms and I thought, Happy? For there will be days when he makes her anything but happy and I hope she is prepared for those days. Will she think he broke his word when he's no longer making her happy? Or will she realize that being happy is not what life is about?

But last night was the time for being happy. Which explains why I stripped off my pantyhose and left them in the bathroom trash. Then I proceeded to sit with bare feet while I waited for dinner.

If you can't beat them, join them.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Written for an Audience of Helium Balloons

I sit at my desk with an array of six helium balloons looking over my shoulder. They look quite festive and I feel the pressure of their airy expectations, but I have nothing.

I mean, I thought about talking about my near-paralysis in picking out the next book I'll read. Or about my determination to scrapbook my neglected pictures--which fades by the time the kids go to bed.

We're going to a wedding tomorrow, which seemed like a lot of fun when I RSVP'd, but now . . . now I am worrying about what to wear and about how my daughter will fare under my mother's care. My daughter is shy and a mama's girl. She'll do fine. But what will I wear? And will my feet hurt?

My daughter's party was fun. She said, "I am so happy!" when we put her beach ball cake in front of her and lit the candles. She insisted that everyone wear party hats. And then today, she was ready to do it all over again. I'm just happy that we won't do it all over again for a year. Today I spent most of the day attending to all the things I neglected yesterday while I was baking cakes and whipping up frosting.

Someone pointed out to me in the comments how amazing it is that my daughter was born almost exactly sixty years after my father was born. I never noticed that before, which is odd because I did notice that my mother was 37 when I was born and I was 37 when my daughter was born. I noticed that my mother was 59 was my daughter was born and my grandmother was 59 when I was born. Sometimes, I listen to my mother talk about her mother and about the heavy burden she bears caring for my grandmother who lives alone, still, at 99. And I think, will that be me in thirty years, complaining about taking care of my mother? Will my mother live until she's 99? And then my thoughts begin to wander far into the future and I rein them back in. Live here. Live now. Let the future unfold without my constant fretting.

Well. See? I really have nothing worth saying tonight.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Happy Birthday

I stood at my kitchen sink, washing the bowls from the cake--and cupcakes--and thought, today, I should be making this cake for someone else. I would have made chocolate frosting, as fudgy as possible, and worried about what to get someone who doesn't care about cologne or neckties. Today, my dad would have been sixty-three years old. He was born in 1942 and died in 1989.

I reminisced about him while I beat the butter and sugar into frosting and I tried to remember celebrating his last birthday, his forty-seventh. But I couldn't. Did I bake a cake? I don't know. Did we go out to eat dinner? I can't remember. The last few weeks of his life, he slept up to twenty hours a day.

I hate that I can't remember. I probably have something written in a spiral bound journal somewhere, but my stack of journals in my bedroom closet doesn't have a search feature like google, unfortunately. All I can really remember are the last eleven days, starting with that day after work when I returned home. He stood waiting, told me he needed to go to the hospital immediately. His shoulder pain (due to steroid treatments) was unbearable. He needed better medication.

He insisted I drive his car to the hospital and I made uneasy smalltalk on the way. We waited in the waiting room for a long time and he grew more and more aggravated. Finally, an intake nurse asked him a bunch of questions and when he admitted to chest pain, he was whisked back to a room.

A different nurse walked in, focused on a clipboard. She said, "Mrs. M_____? What seems to be the problem?"

And he said wryly, "I haven't had my period."

Then she looked at his face and said, "Oh. Mr. _____. Sorry."

I kissed him goodbye right before he was admitted. We were not a touchy-feely family and that is one of the only times I remember kissing him goodbye. Now I wish I'd stayed longer, held his hand, asked him about his life and and been some comfort. How difficult it is to shift roles, though. He was still my father, that impenetrable fortress of a man who didn't cry or shake with fear or loneliness. I figured I'd pick him up the next day. No big deal.

The next day, when I called from work, I was transferred to critical care. What? Critical care? The nurse said, "Oh, we are so glad you called. We've been trying to reach you." My dad had a seizure during his MRI and they'd injected him with morphine to stop the seizing. He'd been sedated ever since.

But the news was worse. We knew about his brain tumor, but now they knew that cancer had obliterated his liver. He had only a short time to live. The doctors couldn't offer any further treatment. That night, I still didn't go to the hospital. He was unconscious. He wouldn't even know if I were there or not. I stayed home and made phone calls, rallying support.

His best friend drove two hours to sit by his bedside. The entire eleven days he was in the hospital, I'd find my grandmother sitting vigil, or an uncle standing solemnly in his room. Sometimes we'd have odd makeshift sort of parties, a group of us laughing and joking and him, eyes mere slits, either asleep or awake, who could tell? One day, they moved him to a chair. His hands were like giant starfish clinging to the arms of the chair. My mother (yes, divorced from him for thirteen years, the same length of time she'd been married to him)looked at him and joked, "I bet I could beat you in Pictionary now!"

(My dad and I were unbeatable. He was talented, could draw like a cartoonist. I am an imaginative, intuitive guesser and a pretty good drawer. My mother was a liability in that game, a horrible guesser and a worse drawer. We showed no mercy.)

My dad sat slouched in that chair, trapped in his dying body and shook his head no. And we all roared with laughter.

I remember the details of those somber days and the rare moments of laughter. But I can't remember his birthday.

A hole gapes in my heart where he should be. And so I celebrate my bright sunshiny daughter's third birthday--she is a miracle, the unexpected baby girl the doctors said it was unlikely I'd ever conceive--and I cry for the grandfather she never knew. Joy and sorrow, side by side, hand in hand.

Happy birthday, Daddy. Happy birthday, Babygirl.
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