29 January 2008

"You call this a happy family?"

"Why do we have to have all these kids?"

Of course, this quote comes from the movie It's A Wonderful Life, a favorite of mine for many years, since growing up. I can recite most, if not all, of this movie by heart. This particular line is one that has risen to my mind many times over the past several years. This past Christmas, we introduced the kids to George Bailey and Mary Hatch, and Pete, Janey, ZuZu, and Tommy, and they LOVED it.

But I digress. Really, this post isn't about that terrific movie, but about how impossible it is to have a happy family when you have kids.

Take tonight for example. Today, when I picked up the kids from school, Samuel handed me a note. Here's the gist of what it said:

"Dear mom and dad,

Tonight I would like to have some family time, like playing Apples to Apples, building a fire in the fireplace, and having some hot chocolate. I love you.

Love, Samuel"

(The spelling was MUCH more creative in his version -- he's such a poet -- but I went with boring in the interest of helping my readers...)

It was one of those moments. When you get a note like that, and you don't have a handy excuse like "Oh, sorry sweetie, but you have a dentist appointment this evening" or "Gee, I'd love to, but the tax guy is coming over tonight," then you must have a Game Night with your children. So we did. And it went the way Game Nights usually go at our house. The boys get more and more hyper, until they are practically coming UNGLUED with excitement, hilarity, and volume.

We played Apples to Apples, a gift from my Aunt Carol this past Christmas. It's a really fun game, based on language and playing with words. Each player gets five red cards with words or phrases on them. Players take turns as "The Judge." The Judge turns over a green card with a word on it, and the other players select the card from their hand that best matches that word. Then the Judge gets to pick the best match from those selections. The winner keeps the green card, and the first person to get four green cards wins. It's a quick game, and can get very silly, such as when the green card word is "GOOFY" and someone throws out a red card with the word "UNDERWEAR" on it. Sure fire way to get schoolboys to laugh: say the word UNDERWEAR.

The fun part of this game -- or I should say, the potentially fun part of this game -- is when players try to convince the judge to select their red card as the winner. Sometimes, you have to get very creative about what you pick, when there is no clear match in your hand. I selected "Jelly Beans" when the green card word was "Awful" tonight, because I really had no other options and was hoping to convince the judge that it's just awful when you get jelly beans stuck in your teeth. I forgot that a nine-year old boy doesn't care where his jelly beans are, as long as he can taste them; I did not win that round.

Anyway, there we are, trying to play this family game, and the boys are just ratcheting up the noise and energy level. At one point, Samuel actually threw his body over the dining room table to challenge Vincenzo's decision. As the game wore on, they became incapable of talking without screaming. When something was funny, they fell to the floor laughing and carrying on, and delaying the game with their jocularity. Their extreme, high-octane jocularity. Meanwhile, Elizabeth, being too young to play, but mollified with a handful of green and red cards anyway, is sitting just to my right and yelling as loud as she can about whatever is on her mind.

I took her sweet little face in mine and IMPLORED her to lower her voice, whereupon, the sweet little face crumpled and she said, "But everyone else gets to be loud: why can't I?" Because I can't control them one whit and I'm trying to salvage one small little corner of control from this craziness and because you are within arm's reach, baby!

Then there are the hurt feelings to deal with. Hopefully, as we play more games together, the kids will learn how to lose without disintegrating, but presently, we are not quite there. Better than the first time we played, but we still have lots of miles left on that road.

So we have: two screaming boys...lots of maniacal laughter...arguments over whose word is a better match...bodies hurtling around like we are in a wrestling match...cards falling on the floor...mom and dad trying to ensure that beverages don't get knocked over...a three-year-old just trying to match her siblings decible for decible...

It all adds up to misery. We were so spent by the end that I came up with a new rule on the spot: When we play Family Games at night, no storytime folks: straight to bed! I have learned that Rules are the product of what I call spontaneous almost-combustion, as in "My head is going to explode if I don't institute this rule RIGHT NOW and I don't care if it makes no sense whatsoever it will get me through the next 5 minutes, thank you very much!"

I hope I don't get any love notes from Samuel tomorrow. But the next time he asks for Game Night, new rule: must have enough alcohol on hand to dull my senses before the first card is dealt.

27 January 2008

Fun Monday: I Can't Show You What Isn't There

For today's Fun Monday, AOJ and the Lurchers gave us this assignment: Continuing in the spirit of "being interested in people," I would like to know, or see, what's on, in or under your bedside table!

Well, I can't show you what isn't there. I have no bedside table. Yes, I know, weep for me now, it's quite sad.

We've tried a few different configurations of our bedroom, and the only one that allows for the two dressers we need, plus a bookshelf, without having our bed right up against a window -- because we live in California and Californians don't put their beds near windows if they can help it because we do not want shards of glass to fall upon us during an earthquake -- is also a configuration that does not leave enough room on the sides of the bed for tables. My husband has the bookshelf within arm's reach, so he can put his books, his glasses, his bottle of water there.

So what do I have on my side of the bed? About 1 foot of space between me and the bedroom door. In other words, I'm easy access for nighttime wanderers, of which we have many. I don't blame my husband for this; we picked sides of the bed so long before we had kids that I just got the luck of the draw on this one. But being where I am, I hear EVERYTHING coming from the kids' rooms and I'm the first parent they reach when they somnambulate around at 2AM. Big fun.

So IF I had a bedside table, I would keep on and in it the things that end up tucked underneath my bed when I am too tired to get up and put them on the dresser. They are:

• at least two issues of the New Yorker, with all of the cartoons read and at least two articles having been started. Rarely finished.
• the book What to Eat, by Marion Nestle, because I really want to read it but never do.
• whatever book I really am reading, which currently is So Long, See You Tomorrow.
• the socks I took off right before I got into bed last night. And the night before that, and the night before that.
• usually one children's shoe. The one I spend way too long looking for before I remember that the foot in question unshod itself in my bedroom and somehow managed to leave just one shoe behind.
• a soccer ball. But then, you'll find soccer balls in almost every conceivable nook, cranny and corner of this house.

Someday, I'll have a bedside table. Either when I find one I like that will fit in a one-foot space, or when we hit the big time and move to a house that really does fit a family of seven. Maybe when I do get one, I will finally feel like a grown up. Probably not, though: the minivan didn't do it...the mortgage didn't do it...back-to-school night didn't do it...not even labor and delivery have done it.

So you'll have to tell me: Does a bedside table confer adulthood?

25 January 2008

Time for a Story?

I listened to an interview today with William Maxwell, the writer and one-time editor for the New Yorker magazine, who was born in 1908 and died in 2000. The interview was aired on the NPR program Fresh Air, hosted by Terry Gross. I have read Maxwell’s book So Long, See You Tomorrow, and after listening to him speak today, I will be reading it again.

Terry Gross asked him what he thought about living through so many changes in the world, having been born in the time of horse and buggy, and seeing things like moon landings, cell phones, and instant messaging come into being. His answer stopped me in my tracks and held me captive for a few moments. He talked about how his “condition,” his place in the world still existed some 40 or 50 years ago. Here is my best attempt at memorizing what he said while driving down I-80 in a fierce rain storm, because I wanted to hold onto the words for as long as I could:

“I like the world I came into as a child. It was a beautiful world..unhurried...it left time for brooding and for thought. It left time for being nice to other people. It left time for making presents instead of buying them. It left time for telling stories.”

What struck me about these words is how much we all still want those things in our lives, and how certain he was that this world leaves no time for them. We still regard careful thought and kindness as important, and we strive to teach our children to practice both. We all like it when our children hand make gifts, when we receive them ourselves, or when we make them for others...they seem – no, they are – more meaningful. And telling stories...well that seems to be what life is about. How sad, then, that from his perspective, we just don’t have time for them anymore.

Last night, as Elizabeth was settling into bed, she asked me to tell her the story about when she was born. “You know mom, that one!” I had no idea what she meant, but her big sister reminded me: “She wants to hear about how Sam forgot her name.”

So I told her:

When you were born, Elizabeth, Samuel was the happiest big brother imaginable. He went around telling everyone about you, and wore a smile bigger than his face. Your birth also coincided with his first few months of Kindergarten. A few days after you arrived, he was at school, and his class was in the Church, practicing for some Mass or other special event. He was standing at the alter with his classmates, when his teacher noticed that he was just sobbing away. She went to him, knelt down next to him, and asked him why he was crying. Between breathless bursts of tears, he managed to tell her: “I...can’t...remember...my...baby...sister’s...name!”

Thankfully, she knew it, first and middle, and was able to help him out. “ELIZABETH ROSE!” He felt better immediately! He was so happy to remember the name of this little person he had just met and about whom he could not stop thinking.

Who cares if the past three and half years have changed their relationship a little bit...to the point where I had to ask him four times this morning to leave her alone, and I have to keep an eye on her so that she doesn’t wreck his stuff just to be sneaky and spiteful?

Point being, I hope I always have time to tell the kids the stories that make up their lives, and I hope they will tell me stories when I am old and gray. I hope that Mr. Maxwell is wrong about the world we live in. And yet, I know that he is at least partly right, and that the world can indeed keep us from the things that really matter if we do not fight the good fight to keep those things alive.

The language of warfare, while violent, is apt. We must fight with everything we have to keep the world from running over us, to know that the world’s values are not the ones that will nourish our hearts and replenish our spirits, to keep this knowledge foremost in our minds, and to make time for thought, kindness, homemade gifts, and stories. What more do we need?

24 January 2008

Little Messes

Here are a couple of things I never really thought I would have to explain:

• Why it's not a good idea to put glue in the bathtub while your three little sisters are taking a bath.

• Why it's not a good idea to store your bedtime story in the bathroom sink...while you are brushing your teeth.


And how about this for a question from a nine-year old?

"Mom, do you know what 'She had a son for her cradle ere she had a husband for her bed' means?"

That crazy Shakespeare again!

18 January 2008

It's 5 O'Clock Somewhere, Right?


This one pulls her socks off before I have a chance to find her shoes. Three times.
This one gets fussy if the socks are “too thick.”
This one pulled “clean” socks out of his drawer, except they weren’t. Discovered approximately 5 seconds before we need to leave for school.
This one won’t take off her dirty socks, which she slept in, to put the clean ones on. Why do I care? Because she’s not going to be with me today; she’ll be with her daycare providers.
This one…no drama. Smooth sock transaction.


This one wants it plain, no nothin’ on it.
This one wants it with butter only.
This one wants it with butter and parmesan cheese.
This one wants it with red sauce. And parmesan. No, wait, just parmesan. No, red sauce only. No, both. I’m not hungry anymore.
This one will eat and eat and eat and eat and eat, with whatever I put on it, for as long as I let her, until she falls asleep, head nodding over her highchair tray and finally coming to rest on a little pile of elbows.

School/Daycare Lunches

This one likes string cheese every other day; wish I could remember which day we are on.
This one likes apples…if they are cut in slices.
This one wants whatever he has.
This one wants me to deliver In-n-Out to him. As if.
This one eats and eats and eats…

* * *

This one needs a drink.

15 January 2008

Dressed For Work

I just love a girly-girl who knows how to hammer nails. This one in particular.

She and her brother have been making wood and nail contraptions for the past week or so. I've been waiting for the first smashed finger, and like death and taxes, it finally did arrive tonight. She survived: she was more mad and offended than anything else. "What? How can you possibly hurt a princess, you dastardly hammer?!?"

You should see what she wears for working in the garden...

14 January 2008

Fun Monday: A Way Out of Chaos

I knew what I would be writing about as soon as I read this week’s topic. Ann at For the Long Run was clear: "For today's Fun Monday, I want to hear about a web site that's changed your life." There really is only one website that fits that description for me. I also knew I would be slightly embarrassed to write about it, because there’s a part of me that thinks this site is completely nuts. Like loony-bin, over-the-top, OCD nuts. For the record, I'm pretty sure I could live without this site, and I wouldn't nominate it for a McArthur Genius grant. BUT – it did change my life, so here goes:

The website that changed my life is Flylady.net. For those of you unfamiliar, this site is for folks who find themselves living in a household of clutter and chaos, with no apparent way out. That, unfortunately, was me a year and a half ago. Flylady has a whole system to help housekeeping-challenged people like myself from becoming headlines that read: “Woman Buried Under Laundry Pile: Lost for Three Weeks.”

When you sign up with flylady, you start receiving emails that basically teach you how to organize your home and the rest of your life. Her mantra, or one of them, is “You can do anything for 15 minutes.” Which, I have found, is true. Not only is it true, but it is also true that you would be surprised by how much you can get done in 15 minutes. Here’s how that has changed my life.

My small, crowded house is usually a big mess. With five small kids all getting into toys, books, art supplies, dress-up clothes, games, etc., by the time dinner rolls around, we don’t let anyone in the house who doesn’t have extra insurance. How does this usually make me feel? Like a big, total, complete loser who cannot control a damn thing. Or at least, that’s how it used to make me feel, BF (Before Flylady). Now, I know that I can set my timer for 15 minutes and blast around my house putting things away, and that at the end of that 15 minutes, things usually look very, very different, and I feel like a person who can make things better. On a good day, I do this 15 minute blitz three times: once right after breakfast and the kids have gone to school, once right before or after lunch, and once sometime between 4 and 7pm, depending on our schedule. On a less than good day, I do it once, in the evening. My kids also do 15 minutes of cleaning up on most days. 51% is most, right?

There is much more to the Flylady “thing” than just the 15 minute deal. In fact, there’s TONS of stuff…some might say a ridiculous and overwhelming amount of stuff. I get emails reminding me to put my shoes on in the morning, asking me what I am having for dinner that night, telling me to go to bed, and on and on and on. But the flylady people are good about reminding their members that if the emails don’t work for you, just delete them, or set your membership preferences to fit better into your life.

One of the biggest ways I have benefited from Flylady was by following her suggestion to have a morning routine and an evening routine. These help me enormously. I have spent most of the past nine years being woefully sleep deprived, and my normally scatterbrained personality has become positively swiss-cheese like…my memory, my thought-processes, my brain itself is full of holes. Here is some of what I am juggling:

1. Well, let’s start with the five kids. Mind-boggling amount of work right there. Between feeding and dressing them each day (read: endless grocery store runs and endless laundry), making sure their homework is done, getting them to practices, games, and playdates, . . . all while hoping they won’t hate me when they are adults . . . it’s a very full life.

2. Keep up with the house. Seven people, 1245 sq ft. Way too many shoes, books, coats, backpacks, and towels. And mail: way too much mail.

3. Help Rick run our garden design business. I do the scheduling, some shopping for plants and such, invoicing, returning calls to clients…a real mish-mash of stuff, whatever is needed.

4. Work as a freelance graphic designer/editor/project do-er. I have three main clients, and a smattering of other small projects at any given time. I am overly familiar with what’s on TV at 2 am, since when I finish working I am usually too keyed up to go to sleep and end up watching all kinds of strange things late, late at night. This isn’t always a bad thing: I finally got to see The 40 Year Old Virgin this way, and I haven’t laughed that hard, that late at night, since college.

With all of that, plus bills to pay, friends to stay in touch with, and God knows what else in any given week, I was at a point where I NEEDED someone to say: “OK, now put your shoes on. OK, now make your bed. OK, now drink some water.”

Flylady threw me a lifeline. Gave me some simple things to do to make a difference in my house and my life. Oh, and it’s all free: free to join and free to participate. They do have a shop on the site that sells products to help you organize yourself, but I’ve never bought anything there, and have always found other ways to do the things they suggest. The site is not primarily about selling stuff; they don’t push their products too much at all.

The funny thing is, if you looked at my house right this minute, you’d never be able to tell that I’ve had any help at all. It’s 10pm and the sink is full of dishes, there are piles of laundry in the kitchen – some clean and waiting to go upstairs, some dirty and waiting to go out to the garage, from where I type I can see a wide area of the living room floor covered with what looks like cheerios, bits of toast, and other food-related crumbs, Christmas detritus is still piled in a couple spots un-touched since December 25th (although most of my decorations are at least down, in their boxes, and in close proximity to where they belong). EVEN STILL, even with the chaos that surrounds me right now, I’m way better off than I was a year or so ago, because I know that I can get this place whipped into shape fairly easily, in 15 minute chunks of time if need be, and that a little bit of effort really does make a big difference. So I can sit here writing, sipping the wine my lovely husband brought me, and waxing eloquent about this nutty site called flylady.net, knowing that it’s a damn good thing, for me and for my family, that I found this site when I really, really needed it.

Go view the other Fun Monday blogs for today; the list is at Ann's!

12 January 2008

Knock, Knock

The boys are getting ready for Spring baseball this week; "player evaluations" are tomorrow. Samuel's division is required to wear a cup, which is a new development for him. Father and son went to the store tonight to pick one up, and came home with these nifty baseball underwear, with a pocket in the front that the cup slips right into. Very cool.

Samuel went upstairs a few minutes ago to get ready for bed, but I guess the new equipment was just too exciting because he tried on the whole contraption, came downstairs in his new underwear, and proudly said to me: "Mom, knock on my peni*s!"

I've been asked to do many things as a mother, but this is a new one. Poor kid could not figure out why I was laughing uncontrollably.

And yes, I did knock. How could I not?

Bring on baseball season!

10 January 2008


Today I was thinking about the unlikely bra comment I made to Elizabeth the other day, and I realized it's just one of the gems that have been overheard around here lately. Here are a few more. Some are from the kids, some from the adults.

  • “Who put the lollipop in the toilet?”
  • “Stop licking your brother.”
  • “Yes, you can bring your horse to the store.”
  • “Put the world down and go to sleep.”
  • “I love you too, but stop coming out of your room to tell me that.”
  • Elizabeth, to Lola’s Kindergarten teacher: “You’re annoying me.”
  • Samuel, in response to mom asking him if he washed his hands: He sniffs them and says: “Smells of mortality.”
  • "Please, God, let them go to sleep..." (OK,that one was me, about 10 minutes ago...)

  • There are so many times we find ourselves saying words we never thought would string together into a coherent sentence...

    * * *

    And we have a budding Picasso on our hands. Check out the proud art-eest:

    * * *

    And thank you Nicole, for sharing a fun little time waster with me on your blog. I did indeed have fun wasting time at this site and here is the result:

    Check it out yourself. And Nicole, how do you find these things??

    08 January 2008

    It's All About You

    I have had the chance to talk about a few of my amazing family members on this blog: recall my award-winning quilt-maker Aunt Carol...my published author mom Rose...and today, I am pleased to announce the accomplishment of another relation. My brother Tony Murphy is a cartoonist. He has done cartooning since he was a kid, and he's incredibly talented, both as a drawer and a humorist. And he has worked hard at his craft over these many years.

    Recently, his strip, It's All About You, was picked up by a syndicate, which means that this syndicate will sell his strip to newspapers across the country. In a very short period of time, he has started appearing in about 5 or so papers; more are sure to follow. As part of the syndication effort, his strip will be featured daily on the internet. I am very excited about this, because now I get to have a daily laugh delivered to me straight from my brother, who lives 3,000 miles away from me. I wish I could post a cartoon right here on my blog, but I'm pretty sure the syndicate would have "issues" with that; if I find out differently, I'll post one soon.

    Please visit the link above and check out It's All About You for yourself. You can even tell your local paper that you want to see it in print in their publication.

    Let's see...I've told you to vote for Carol's quilt, buy Rose's book, and now to request Tony's cartoon strip in your local paper. Rather shameless of me, perhaps. But I figure that the creative endeavors of my talented family will enrich your own life, too, so you get something out of the deal as well!

    Tony, congratulations on the strip, and on the internet presence. We look forward to seeing Michael and Gina on mugs, t-shirts, and calendars!

    07 January 2008

    The First Step Towards Wearing a Bra

    I am potty training my most stubborn child. So it's not going very quickly. We have had lots of conversations about it, about the process, what to do, how to do it, when to do it, yadda yadda yadda. And we've had lots of conversations about what big girls do, as opposed to little girls.

    I thought we were really getting somewhere when she said to me out of the blue the other evening: "Tallulah can learn how to use a sippy cup now!" Seemed kind of random, until she explained that she herself would be using a big girl cup now and could give her sippy cups to her little sister. She decided, she told me, to get big like her sister Lola, and do big girls things. "Like what else, besides the big girl cups?" I asked, as nonchalant as possible. And lo and behold, she volunteered that she would be using underwear and the potty now, and not diapers.

    Halleluia, right?? Wrong. She was messin' with me. Told me the next day she changed her mind. Little stinker.

    So this morning, she was in the bathroom with me, watching me get dressed. She has always been interested in my bra -- maybe because since I stopped nursing it seems rather pointless -- and today was no exception. She said, "I really want one of those, mom."

    And it came to me. And I spoke: "Well, Elizabeth, the first step towards wearing a bra is learning how to use the potty." She was speechless, which in itself is a thing of beauty.

    We'll see if it works. And we'll see if I'm the first mom in history to buy her three year old a bra...

    04 January 2008

    An Irish Mystic in the Family!

    Well, maybe not actually IN the family, although my mother probably feels related to her: My mom, Rose Murphy, has published a book about the Irish mystic writer Ella Young, a contemporary of Lady Gregory and William Butler Yeats.

    So we are all very proud of her, and excited about her accomplishment, born of many, many hours of writing, revising, studying, and researching. She even sacrificed herself to the point of actually traveling to Ireland for research...imagine how tough that must have been. All those charming people, cozy little pubs, cute little B&B's...she's been through so much to bring this book to the public. Our hats go off to you, Rose!

    You can order this wonderful book from Powell's Books.  Please go do so forthwith.

    My kids were very impressed, especially with the author's photo in the book. This makes the book "official" in their eyes.

    Please join me in congratulating my mom on this great achievement!

    02 January 2008

    The Miracle of Fresh Air

    Fresh air made my children kind to each other.

    Yesterday we went for a small walk in the woods together. This was yesterday's installment of the 12 Days of Christmas; for each of the 12 days between December 25th and January 6th, we are doing some kind of fun or family thing. One day we made snow globes, one day we watched It's A Wonderful Life together...yesterday's activity was Go For A Walk Somewhere Beautiful.

    We went to the Little Farm in Tilden Park, and then walked up above the farm. There are trails up there that are great for young kids. So we walked a short distance, until we found a nice open area great for exploring and drinking the hot chocolate I had lugged up the hill in two thermoses. And lo and behold, my kids climbed together, helped each other up steep embankments, played hide and seek without erupting into fights, shared hot chocolate, and held hands down the hill. If I could live up there, I would. They were amazing...

    It really was a great little break for everyone. We walked through the woods, which I had imagined as a peaceful time, forgetting that my kids would be with me. They chattered about everything they saw, delighted in the echoes they could make with their voices, and generally were as loud as they usually are. But out there in the open, noise dissipates quite a lot and is actually not that unpleasant to the ear. Look at this picture of Vincenzo and Elizabeth, two kids who are usually about as excited to see each other as I am to face my laundry pile:

    Today is Rick's birthday, so our 12 Days of Christmas activity will be having a party for him. And I have a new goal for 2008: Find a way to bottle fresh air and give my kids regular infusions of it. Or, I guess we could go for more walks.