31 December 2009

Is That Too Much to Ask?

or How You Know When You Are Laying It on a Bit Thick

Obsessed. Supremely focused. Singularly occupied. Wholly devoted.

All phrases that describe my 11-year old's love affair with the Wii. He has wanted one thing, and one thing only this week: playing time. When not playing the Wii, he has been looking up new games on the internet (scary) and making endless lists of the games he wants to buy when he comes into some money. It's all he talks about. It's all he thinks about. It is his crack.

(We have always been an anti-game system family. We somehow convinced ourselves that a Wii would be different, and got one for the kids for Christmas. We may well regret this decision; the verdict is still very much out.)

It's been a little bumpy for us, but not surprising. This is how he gets: he's been this way about the World Cup and about Shakespeare, so it's par for the course for him. He comes by it honestly -- his own father can have a similarly tenacious hold on a subject of interest, to the obliteration of all else.

But then, we are the parents, and it's our job to teach him how to handle new things, like the Wii, and to understand where a video game fits into the overall experience of life. This may prove harder than we think.

Last night, he was obsessing about games: which ones he wants, and when and where we can get them. (Can we go to Blockbuster now and rent one? Can we join a game site now to have them delivered to our door? Can I borrow some money now and buy one tonight from Amazon?) Phew!

We were in the kitchen making dinner (Rick was making another paella), and our beautiful boy was pushing hard for games, games, games, and playing, playing, playing time. He already had friends over for an entire afternoon of Wii-playing, so it was "screens off" for everyone at this point in our evening. He was lobbying for more time. It was pretty intense, and a little disturbing. We tried to talk to him. About how it's OK to do something different, to read, for example. "I just read for 15 whole minutes!"

The poor kid was going crazy with desire. Eventually, he was so exasperated he blurted out: "I just want more stuff to play with!"

Rick came up with this: "Do you know what Jesus says about people who have too much stuff? That 'it's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.'" (Big eye roll here) "He also says to give up all your possessions and follow him."

Panicked kid: "I'm not going to give up my possessions!"

Us: "Well, the point is that material possessions are not what's most important in life." At some point, Rick said something about eternal life, and so brought on the conversation ender from our kid:

"I don't want eternal life! I just want some video games!"

Touché, kid.

* * *

30 December 2009

Health Care Reform

It was the strangest thing, but I was just walking along, minding my own business, when I fell off the edge of the internet! Thus explains my extended hiatus from blogging: it's taken me awhile to claw my way back up to my keyboard. I'm still a little tired from the effort, so my first foray back into blogging is borrowed.

Yesterday, the San Francisco Chronicle printed a letter to the editor written by my father, a wise man indeed. I am reprinting it here. Without further ado...

* * *

Health Care Reform
How history will judge us

Soon Congress will pass a watered-down version of a health care bill that falls far short of what most governments see as routine and responsible.

Historians of the future will look back on this time and wonder why Uncle Sam could not manage to provide easily accessible health care to his citizens. They will wonder at our unwillingness, unlike every other industrialized nation of the 2000s, to offer government-provided medicine to those unable to afford private plans. "What were they thinking?" historians will ask.

Here's the answer: We are thinking that profit margins for health care and pharmaceutical corporations are more important than treating and preventing disease and treating injuries for our citizens. Perhaps someday the priorities of this nation will improve, but for the present, our intentions are clear.


* * *

20 December 2009

Creative Christmas Carols

We've been singing lots of Christmas songs around here. My kids sometimes hear the words a little creatively. OR...

I've got a little capitalist on my hands:

"Go, sell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere; Go, sell it on the mountain: Jesus Christ is born."

And apparently, we've got a little work to do regarding the Reason for the Season:

"Glory to the new born thing!"

Can't wait to hear what they do with Silent Night.

* * *

17 December 2009

Reflections on a Christmas Program

Is my kid the only kindergartner with a big smudge of green ink on her face?

Is my 2nd grader the only one with a huge clump of hair hanging down in her face? It appears that all those other girls are perfectly coiffed.

Why does my 4th grader look like he is being choked by his tie, which is pulling strangely up and to the left?

Is my 5th grader really that bored by the proceedings, or is his arm injured in a such a way that he physically cannot hold his sparkly star any higher than his elbow, rendering it at least 6 inches lower than the stars of all of his classmates?

Are we the only parents who yelled at their kids in the 15 minutes prior to the festivities?

Are we the only family to arrive at this Celebration of the Season with more than 50% of us grumpy?

Is my three-year old really going to throw herself around like a rag doll and shriek like the monkey she wishes she were for the entire program, causing lots of people to toss sympathetic smiles and delighted giggles my way, people who don't have to attempt to keep her from launching off one of the pews, falling off of a kneeler, or crashing into the banister, and can therefore think she is just adorable? Am I the only one who thinks she is a pain in the ass?

You call this a happy family? Why do we have to have all these kids?*

* * *

Am I really that neurotic of a mother to notice all of these imperfections? Don't answer that one.

* * *

Can there be anything more touching than seeing an emerging young man in his Christmas finery, walking with dignity down the street, hands in pocket, keeping distance from the younger ones, establishing his fledgling maturity?

Can anything be cuter than a cadre of kindergartners singing and signing "Mary had a baby, oh Lord; Mary had a baby, oh my Lord; Mary had a baby, oh Lord; the people keep a-comin' and the train done gone!"

Can she look any more heartbreakingly lovely in her brand new glasses, my little Miss 20-20?

Is anything more important than trying, however imperfectly, to show up for your kids, and battle the stress, and rage against the commercial machine, and offer them the gift of Christmas, the gift of Christ, the gift of loving each other, however imperfectly, so that at the end of the evening, when one of them comes downstairs in tears, unable to describe the sadness, just overwhelmed and confused by the intensity of emotion he is feeling, you can set aside your own exhaustion and your own irritation at the stresses and curveballs that came your way today, and you can hold him and tell him that you know how he feels and that you've felt that way too, and it's because he has such a big, good heart that he feels that way and because the excitement of the holiday season can be just plain overwhelming? Because if you can do that, and then offer him his first taste of egg nog, you'll be able to send him to bed peacefully, and he will thank you and tell you he loves you, and in an instant, you will call this a happy family.

* * *
*with gratitude to George Bailey of Bedford Falls, NY

16 December 2009

"Just Give Me A Big Push!" and other things I am trying to ignore

Rainy afternoons are...interesting. The kids a gettin' a little stir crazy around here, and with soccer practice canceled, and screen time maxed out, and not much homework to do in these waning days before vacation, I'm hearing the words "I'm bored" a little more than I care to.

Not tonight though! They've discovered a new activity: they are sledding down the stairway. I am trying my level best to ignore the things I am hearing, such as "Cenzo, I just need you to give me one really big push!" and "Hey, are you laughing or crying?" and "We need more padding!" and "If we could just get this to be more slippery!"

There is total chaos in my stairwell. They've got the Brian Setzer band blasting from the boys' room and they are taking turns seeing who can catapault themselves down the stairs the fastest.

If they can manage to leave me out of it, they might get away with it for another 20 minutes.

One thing for sure: they better be damn glad their dad is not home, because there's no way in hell he'd be going for this activity. I, on the other hand, am worn down and weakened by the call of the internet: if they're staying away from me, and letting me blog, check email, facebook, and obsessively check my stats, then I pronounce it good.

All I can say is if I have to break away from this computer to take someone to the hospital, mama will NOT be happy. And if mama's not happy, ain't NOBODY gonna be happy. They better say a prayer as they careen down the stairs.

* * *

14 December 2009

Oh, They Crack Me Up

Kids do.

Today, the kids got their class pictures. These are different from when I was a kid. Gone are the days of lining up 30 squirmy kids on makeshift bleachers and trying to keep the kid third from the end from picking his nose during the shoot. Now the photographer takes the individual shots of each kid and the class picture consists of an 8.5 x 11 sheet with the individual pictures of each student, the teachers, and the principal. The children are arranged alphabetically, except that the one your child comes home with features your child larger than all the rest, front and center.

My daughter was showing another mom the class picture and said: "I'm the huge one." Yup, she thought all of her classmates got a HUGE picture of her, surrounded by little ones of everyone else. That child has zilch-o self-esteem issues. She's got self-esteem to spare. She's got loads of extra self-esteem just laying around in her bedroom, going to waste in a world filled with people who could surely use some. She thinks so highly of herself that even at knee high to a grasshopper, she seems to gaze down at the rest of us.

* * *

And today starts the Santa Sale at school, which has provided me with a blog post in the past and it appears I'll get at least one more this year. Today, Lola came out of school with a $1 bill, the change from the $5 bill she went to school with. A few minutes later, there she is with TWO $1 bills.

Me: "Lola, why do you have another dollar?"
Lola: "'Dave' gave it to me!"
Me: "Why did 'Dave' give you a dollar?"
Lola: "Because he didn't want it anymore."

I spied 'Dave' with his aunt across the yard, took the dollar from Lola and returned it to its rightful owner, who, upon being asked why he gave away his dollar, replied: "Because it was all wrinkly."

I told him he can give me all the wrinkly money he wants in the future. I told Lola to stay friends with him.

Oh, kids just crack me up.

* * *

10 December 2009

It's the Most Discombobulating Time of the Year

Things that seem impossible today: getting my daughter dressed...brushing my hair...finding socks...being peaceful...organizing my desk...finishing one damn cup of coffee...interacting with others without channeling my inner bitch...putting the laundry away...locating the mute button on my three year old...and preparing for Christmas.

Questions I am pondering today:

Is a muzzle an appropriate Christmas gift for a toddler? How about a straightjacket?

Can Santa bring me a martini? Can he come NOW?

Do I really need to get new tires and brakes right now, in December of all times of the year? If so, do you think the kids will be happy to find some Michelins and brake pads wrapped up under the tree on Christmas morn?

Where are my keys, my blue tooth, my cell phone, my nerves, and my tylenol?

If I abscond with the box of Trader Joe's Candy Cane Joe-Joe's, which will the children miss more: their mother or the cookies?

In the absence of matching socks, can I dress her in mis-matched socks, and in the absence of those, how about dirty socks, and in the absence of those, can I leave her here whilst I run errands in the freezing cold?

If I start driving right now, how far will I get by the Witching Hour?

* * *

08 December 2009

My Foodie

What do you want to serve your friends at your birthday party, Lola?

Lola: "STEAK!"!

* * *

The family reminisces: "Remember when we all went to the Exploratorium? Remember the shadow room? Remember the human brain?"

Lola: "Remember the steak?"

* * *

The Buddy Club performer: "So what are your favorite foods, kids?"
Kid #1: "Pesto pasta!"
Kid #2: "Pizza"

Lola: "Steak!" (with slightly maniacal look in her eye and big crazy grin)

* * *

She also loves: brussels sprouts...garlic, as in she snacks on whole cloves...broccoli stalks...salmon...cayenne pepper...spicy guacamole...spicy salsa...spicy ribs...paella. Her palette is truly amazing. She is headed for an exciting and varied eating life.

Just think: someday, she might be cooking all those wonderful foods for me! Now that's what I would call a great return on an investment -- here's hoping it pays off, preferably before I have no teeth and all she can do is wipe the dribble from my chin.

* * *

You know you have a big family when...

...you split the family into two cars for the ride home and both vehicles qualify for the car pool lane.

* * *

07 December 2009

Because I Can

I served brussel sprouts tonight.

This was received with a level of resistance that would impress most revolutionaries. I, however, am the Supreme Dictator, and the sprouts went down. Not before I uttered some interesting sentences, including:

"You cannot stand there with your mouth full of food! That's not how we roll! You have to swallow!"

"This is so good for you: learning to eat stuff you don't like! I'm so proud of you!"

"Not fair that she has two and you have three? You're right. I'll give her three."

They hate me. This gives me the glowing feeling of being sure I am doing something right.

* * *

And the new normal is...

On the way home from school today, the girls asked me if we could go to a local bakery. I said no, we weren't going to stop anywhere, we were going to go home and have a nice normal evening.

A few minutes later, I told them what we were going to have for dinner and I mentioned that maybe we would even sit down and eat at the table for once. (Our dining room table is rarely empty enough for all of us to sit together at the same time...too much laundry, books, school papers, etc.) Lola piped up: "I thought you said tonight was going to be normal."

Snide little thing.

* * *

Oh, and one kid threw up her brussel sprouts, so maybe that Supreme Dictator thing was a little premature. I'll have to refine my technique.

* * *

05 December 2009

I've Been To Hell, and There's a Big Mouse There

I just spent three hours at Chuck E. Cheese. I can't even quite describe the horror show I witnessed. It was hell. And it was just a normal day for the Mouse and his friends.

I can't help thinking that there is something deeply, deeply wrong about a culture that can produce such a place.

I need a quiet, dark room with carrots, water, and Judy's Breadsticks.

When -- or IF -- I recover, I might try exorcising the demons I brought home with me by writing about it. Or maybe I'll just let the whole day die away and never let its memory touch the light of day.

* * *

04 December 2009

For My Father

Tonight, we are engaging in the holiday family tradition of decorating our Christmas tree. This is such a nostalgic activity...it reminds me of when I was a kid, decorating the family tree surrounded by my mom, dad, sister and brother.

And tonight, dad, I just want you to know, I am not using hooks.


your daughter

* * *

03 December 2009

Christmas Lists...Morons...and Pee

Three vignettes from my day:

"Dear Santa, I want new siblings for Christmas. Ones that will not be mean to me. Love, Elizabeth."

I asked her what we will do with the old ones, and she replied, "We'll just have a whole bunch more kids!"

* * *

"Dear Dad, I'm sorry I was such a moron this morning. I love you.
Love, {name withheld to protect the guilty}"

* * *

As for the pee: all you parents of boys, let's talk about taking aim, shall we? Who among us has a boy-child that hits the target? I confront so much bodily fluid on a daily basis that I often feel like I'm in training for some high-level hazardous waste assignment. Between the daytime carelessness and the nighttime groggy-ness, my bathroom (of which I have ONE for a family of 7) tends to be a sea of pee. I go through many, many bottles of Simple Green in my Epic Pee Battles, and there is no end in sight.

We get our boys up at night to go to the bathroom. Let me just say that standing in the hallway in the dark (because standing in the bathroom doesn't give them enough privacy), trying to get a kid to wake up enough to relieve himself, and saying the nightly "please let him hit the water" prayer is taking its toll on me. The utter despair I feel upon hearing the pee hit the tile pretty much encapsulates my worst fears about being an ineffectual parent. Because once that stream starts, there's not a damn thing I can do to control its trajectory.

I had a nice chat with a friend today -- a true soldier, she is, raising FOUR BOYS between the ages of 12 and 5. We talked about pee. That's what we moms are reduced to, you know: talking about, and being interested in, strategies for handling bodily waste. (Actually, we talked about all kinds of strange and interesting things about family life, pee being just one of the scintillating topics...) She had a gem of a solution for boys with wayward aim: Upon entering a bathroom that young boys had used, upon observing that not only had they peed, but that apparently raising the toilet seat was too much effort, upon seeing the seat reserved for the peeing female doused in urine, she decreed: "If I see this again, you will sit on it so that you experience what I have to experience when you don't lift the seat."

Problem solved.

But here's the thing that gets me: I don't know of a single family with little boys that doesn't have unseemly amounts of urine on their bathroom floor, can't think of any boy-parents who don't spend inordinate amounts of time cleaning pee off of floors, tiles and toilets. And I've done a super scientific poll of a couple of my friends with boys and we all experience the same disgusting thing: boys pee many places, but rarely in the pot.

Which leads me to one of the great lessons of parenting. We absolutely HAVE TO talk to other parents so that we know that our own kids are not freakish mutants with no hope of ever becoming civilized. If we don't talk to our friends who have kids, we'll never know that most boys pee on the floor, most girls at some point shake their booties in peculiar ways, and most kids act like they've been offended beyond measure when asked to clean up.

So I have come to believe that the most essential bit of parenting advice is this: Do not parent in isolation. Talk to other parents and tell your stories. You'll feel so much better because you are bound to discover that your kid is not an anomaly and that what you are experiencing is being repeated behind the closed doors of most families in America, regardless of how together they might look when they are out in public.

So trust your instincts, do what you believe is right, and talk to other parents. That will get you through.

All of that from a conversation about pee!

* * *

02 December 2009

Something Not So Beautiful

The paella is beautiful.

So is the roaring fire in the fireplace, also made by my spouse.

What kind of woman yells at a man like that? My kind, unfortunately. Me? Not so beautiful today.

Good thing we all get second chances. And thirds, fourths, fifths, and seven times seventies.

* * *

Something Beautiful

This paella is beautiful, as is my spouse who made it.

* * *

01 December 2009


For your entertainment, here is a list of things I discovered around my house yesterday:

  • One milk-sogged kitchen towel, left in a drippy heap on my kitchen floor, after a child "cleaned up" the milk he spilled in the living room.

  • Two strawberries mashed into my nice black jacket.

  • Approximately 35 dead crickets, in their cricket house, which is a plastic case that sits on a shelf in my kitchen. Just purchased to feed our fire-bellied toads, but attacked and eliminated by hundreds of ants. Oh yeah, and I also discovered the ants.

  • An unidentifiable hard-but-still-sticky substance encrusted in my three year old's hair.

  • After getting the three year old out of the bathtub and getting her into her pajamas, I further discovered that in the time between rinsing the shampoo out of her hair and going to check dinner on the stove, the seven year old had dumped a large amount of shampoo on the three-year old's head.

  • Two sippy cups full of three-day old milk, under the toddler's bed.

  • Broccoli gone bad. "Sca-wee," according to the three-year old.

  • Parmesan cheese, in places parmesan cheese should not be.

  • That a clean room is like an engraved and hand delivered invitation to children to wreck havoc far and wide.

  • That just when I think I cannot take any more messes, I am proven wrong by the next mess that I must "take" with grace, patience, and a sense of humor.

Discoveries are overrated. I want a day in which I learn nothing, find nothing, discover nothing.

* * *