29 December 2010

You know you are a blogger with a big family when...

...you load five kids, two dogs, the mother in law, two skateboards, one scooter, one tricycle, one soccer ball and a bag of snacks into the car on a chilly wind-swept day to go to the park, where you negotiate rambunctious children, under-exercised dogs who keep wrapping their leashes around your legs and little ones who keep going momentarily missing, where you respond to "Look Mommy!" 13 times in a row in the space of 60 seconds, where you hold your breath while watching newly minted skateboarders try out their new skilz, where you brave the wind and the threatening rain to infuse cabin-feverish kids with fresh air, where you deftly handle the one kid who wants to call a taxi to take him home because it's too cold, where you carry cast away sweaters and hats and wheeled-conveyances, and where, when it's finally time to leave, you load everyone and everything back in the car EXCEPT the four year old and her tricycle because she stubbornly remains smack in the middle of the great big lawn refusing to budge while you close up the car and actually begin to drive away rather than let her call the shots -- which works and she finally comes on her own -- and where your mother-in-law suggests that you should write a blog post about the whole experience, to which you respond:

"But this is such an ordinary outing; how would I make it interesting?"

* * *

24 December 2010


Two things unequivocally confirm for me that all will be well this Christmas.

First, my husband put a lock on our bathroom door.

And second, my neighbor brought me a gift awhile back that has been hiding in my cupboard for just such an occasion as Christmas Eve, the day before I host 18 people on a rainy day in my small house:

Peace on Earth.

21 December 2010

An Unexamined Life is Not Worth Facebooking

We've all got that Facebook friend who makes us wonder: "Does he do anything all day long except post status updates? How does he have that much time to be online? And does he really think we care that much?"

Is he simply oversharing? Suffering from a little narcissism? Afflicted with an inflated notion of how much his friends care about his morning hot yoga class or the fact that he loves thunderstorms?

Maybe. But now that I've been using Facebook for awhile–and I was an extremely reluctant joiner–I understand the impulse. I am guilty of posting some pretty silly stuff, which is no great crime, but definitely a waste of time, mine and my fb friends'. We're all guilty of that, probably. I think Facebook is getting under our skin. It's getting into our psyches and starting to be something like second nature. It's changing the way we think: we now think in the structure of The Status Update.

Instead of enjoying a gorgeous sunset alone or with people we can actually touch, we rush to a screen interface and wax eloquent about how blessed we are to live where colors this beautiful grace our evenings.

Instead of thinking (and keeping) to ourselves that we're not sure what the heck we're feeding the family for dinner tonight, we think in pithy little phrases meant to amuse others: "Will have to feed natives again tonight, hope they like gruel."

Then, we wait. We wait for someone to tell us what they're making for dinner, or for an "LOL!", or at the very least for a 'like' or two. And then we feel validated. If we get no response, we fight the urge to delete the update, wiping away any evidence that our social network is ignoring us.

A life worth living makes a status update with a long and lively post thread.

But today, rather than risk being ignored by my social network, I decided to fight the urge to overshare on FB. Instead, I'm just going to channel all my would be status updates into today's blog post. Should be fascinating.

8:21 Remote controlled Christmas lights + unsuspecting children = hours of entertainment.

9:15 Is it impossible for a kid to open a box of cereal without shredding the top and annihilating the interior bag?

9:29 It only took until 9:28am for me to hear the first "OH MY GOD YOU ARE SO MEAN!" of the day.

10:07 My daughter just wrote the cutest note to "the elf" who is responsible for the Christmas lights going on and off: "To Elf, Please let us have more time to do magic." I am dying of cuteness.

11:46 ...is swearing at a rented rug doctor upholstery cleaning contraption.

11:47 ...is holding on to dwindling hopes of making biscotti today.

11:48 ...is eating chocolate. Still swearing.

12:29 ...is now swearing at the person who rented her this $@&#*!# machine.

12:36 It's official. I am physically, mentally and emotionally unable to remain or appear calm and neutral in the face of picky eaters.

2:05 ...thinks she could leap tall buildings in a single bound if she only had two children.

3:10 ...is returning the piece of $*#&! machine after discovering a crack in the hose.

3:12 ...needs a drink. Will have to wait.

3:14 ...yells too much. Is it a bad sign if your kid offers you a drink?

5:43 ...just got back from dropping a kid off at soccer, going to Costco for gas, making a bank deposit, returning the stupid machine, and appeasing the young ones with hot chocolate from Starbuck's. Whew! Just enough energy left for some hot yoga!

5:56 ...ok, for realz, I gotta feed the natives. Mac-n-cheese ready at our house in 45 minutes -- come on over! This ain't comin' out of a kraft box...

5:57 ...first: a beer.

6:45 Earlier today, my 6 year old said: "All I want for Christmas is a playdate!" So we're having her friend over this evening. Can I write DONE next to her name on the Christmas list?

6:47 ...another beer.

7:47 ...every hour on the 47th minute! Beer me!

8:03 What a day! Food, family, and fun! And lots of suds all over the living room from the broken rug doctor. Oh well: Christmas Day guests don't really need a clean place to sit, do they?

9:45 Time for bed! Nighty-night everyone!

When I started this post, I planned on only posting real stuff. I came close, except for the fact that I've never done hot yoga in my life and I didn't drink that many beers tonight. Oh, and the last time I when to bed before 11:30 was...I can't actually remember going to bed before 11:30. But it's all mostly true. And anyway, how can I be sure that that dude I went to high school with really did just return from a 10 mile run in the snow and is now sitting down with the twins for a game of Boogle while his perky wife serves him a protein shake?

There's a reason it's called virtual, people.

Now, before I actually do go to bed, I think I'll go share with the flesh and blood folks who live here. Maybe I'll even make them LOL.

* * *

15 December 2010

Tomato Soup for the Tortured Soul

There is a bright side to one's minivan being ankle deep in discarded jackets and sweaters. When your daughter up ends her bowl of tomato rice soup on to the floor, very little car clean-up is required. All you gotta do is scoop up the clothes and drop them in the wash.

So I did recover from today's tomato soup spill. But not before I blew a gasket upon hearing the bowl clatter to the floor.

Let me set the scene for you: I had failed to feed the children in a timely manner, and had just spent the last 10 minutes trying to rush everyone through a late lunch in order to herd them all into the car and get Cenzo to his soccer practice. Everyone, more or less, finished, but Tallulah did not and she was having a love affair with this soup. She couldn't bear the thought of leaving it behind. I could have put my foot down, but I was in one of those situations where you have to choose your battles. I chose unwisely. I let her bring the bowl of soup.

Before we had been in the car for even one minute, I heard the clatter and roared: "DID THAT SOUP JUST SPILL?" Meek little voice from the back seat: "ye-es..." Here, I let fly my trademark mother-growl: "ARRRRRRRRRRRGHHHHHHHHHHH!" I've actually passed this growl on to my kids, and I cringe whenever I hear them do it. I don't cringe when I do it; usually I'm too busy throwing something. And then, I swore. "SHIT!" (I did not yet know that the jackets caught most of the soup at this point. I was imagining ropes of creamy soup and globs of reddish rice sliding down the back of the seat in front of her.)

Lola immediately reacted to my shenanigans: "Mom! Don't do that! Please, Mom!"

I told her: "Lola, when you have kids one day, and you are in a hurry, and it's freezing cold and raining, and you have to shuffle everyone into your van to get somewhere on time, and your daughter fights with you over bringing her soup, and you give in and let her, and then the soup spills, creating a much bigger problem for you to take care of and you are still running late, if you manage NOT to lose your temper and say something you should not say, call me at that moment and tell me all about it, and I will give you $100."

Cenzo warned me that I should not make that bet, that I was sure to lose it one day.

"In that case, I consider it an investment in the happiness of my grandchildren."

I hope I lose that bet.

* * *

14 December 2010

Family Time

We put up our Christmas tree last night. Simultaneously, we were finishing up a bit of painting in our dining room, installing some shelving on a dining room wall, and re-hanging doors on my kitchen cupboards.

I think it's safe to say we were attempting to do a few too many things all at once. That's how we roll.

So that could be the reason. The reason our Christmas Tree Decorating Family Time was a bit wonky. Family time around here is always a layered, complicated affair. We've got the children happily diving into ornament boxes, emerging with old favorites and happy memories. We've got the dizzying range of Christmas music filling the house, from the Messiah to Bob Dylan. We've got kids coming up with lovely ways to decorate their own rooms with left over tree branches and lights. We've got children dancing around the tree with sheer, unadulterated glee.

We've also got the bickering, the hurt feelings, the jockeying for prominent position for favored ornaments. We've got: "Her ornament is so ugly -- if we put it in front of the window, people will be able to see it! Can't we hide it?" We've got tears of disappointment when it turns out to be too late to start watching It's a Wonderful Life. We've got grumpy parents and ungrateful offspring.

It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.

And I think that's the point: to shed any notion of what perfect family time is supposed to look like and take each other where we are. The oldest and the 4th born? They feel animosity towards each other for the other 11 months of the year, so they aren't going to miraculously be good to each other just because it's Advent. The youngest? She has no design sense. Her contributions to the tree are sort of an anti-Martha anthem. The middle one? The one over there weeping in the corner? Maybe she's over tired, or her head hurts, or she's pissed that there's no hot chocolate. And the one who can't quite believe that even though we brought a tree home tonight, I still made him do his evening chore of washing the dinner dishes, well, I have to believe he will get over it.

In the end, a tree imperfectly purchased, lugged home, put up, lit and decorated is still a Christmas tree. The messy house still smells like pine needles. The ornaments still invite us to reminisce about Christmases past. In the end, before they trundle off to bed, some grumpy, some not, they still got to stand in front of the house oo-ing and ah-ing over the pretty white lights.

Family time, like my house, is messy. As are love, Christmas, children, marriage and life. In other words, everything good.

* * *

10 December 2010

7 Quick Takes: Volume 22

Friday, Friday...so good to me,
Friday, Friday...will you be all I hope you can be?

Welcome to 7 Quick Takes at And I'll Raise You 5. Please visit our lovely host at Conversion Diary for the original 7 Quick Takes. Take a moment to congratulate her on expecting Baby #5! And check out the links to other Quick Takers playing along this week.

~ 1 ~

Today's recommended reading: The Epic of Gilgamesh. One of the oldest stories in the world, Gilgamesh tells the story of a cruel king and the friendship that teaches him to be kind. Rick used to teach this story in his English classes, and it has always been a favorite of his. The kids and I are listening to The Story of the World these days, and this week we heard a retelling of this ancient story that comes to us from 3000 (ish) BC Mesopotamia.

Before Gilgamesh meets Enkidu, he is a cruel and tyrannical king, enslaving his people and taking anything he wants for himself. Everyone fears him. Enkidu is the first to stand up to him by fighting him ferociously when Gilgamesh attempts to steal a bride right from her wedding banquet. They fight almost to the death, but just before they annihilate each other, Gilgamesh realizes that he has met his match. He recognizes that this half man/half animal has saved him from his own viciousness and decides they should be friends. Power and weakness, justice and cruelty, life and death: Gilgamesh has it all. Go forth and read.

~ 2 ~

Today's evidence that I am a bad mother: On this cold, dreary, wet morning, I made everyone a piping hot oatmeal breakfast, generously mixed with applesauce and amply smothered with cinnamon sugar. It's like eating warm apple pie in a bowl, and it was received with animosity.

~ 3 ~

Hmmm, what to do for homeschooling today...that's right, I have no plan. I do believe Netflix's "Watch Instantly" feature was created just for me! Today's educative activity will be to watch George C. Scott in A Christmas Carol. Thank you, Netflix! (Note: I am not paid to promote Netflix.)

~ 4 ~

Today's real evidence that I am a bad mother: I'm trying to force my 4 year old to watch TV instead of saying yes to her repeated requests that I read to her. Too much to do!

Think I'll regret this in 10 years when I get a call from the police department, telling me that my distraught 14 year old girl has just set off a bomb in her school library, screaming about how her mommy won't read any books to her and all books suck and her mommy sucks and WORDS ARE EVIL?

~ 5 ~

I am being defeated by the paper piles in my home. Any suggestions for getting the upper hand in this area will be greatly appreciated. Probably ultimately ignored, but appreciated in the short term at least.

~ 6 ~

Today's confession: Just like Jen at Conversion Diary, I have not purchased one, single, solitary Christmas gift yet. Nothing. Nada. Nilch. The next two weeks are going to be a bumpy ride.

~ 7 ~

Instead of getting out there and shopping, I've been doing a whole lot of Advent-ish waiting* and getting ready. We are using Christmas dinner as our excuse to fix things up around here, painting some rooms, conquering paper piles, and re-purposing our mish-mash of shelves in more efficient and aesthetically pleasing ways. The house doesn't look incredibly Christmas-y yet, but in our own way, we are celebrating Advent by preparing our home for Christmas guests, the ones we will feed and the One who will feed us. And I'm thinking about how to be a sign of hope in the world. Because that's what this season is truly about, HOPE.

"Advent is the spiritual season of hope par excellence, and in this season the whole Church is called to be hope, for itself and for the world. The whole spiritual organism of the mystical body assumes, as it were, the 'color' of hope."

~ Pope Benedict XVI, in his homily at the celebration of first vespers in St. Peter's Basilica, on Saturday, November 28, 2008

So you're not Christian or Catholic? No matter! Perhaps you can still agree that the world could use "hope par excellence" today. For us, we are trying to infuse our home with the color of hope, and perhaps we can take that color out into the world and fling it around a little bit. I've never seen hope on a retail shop shelf, so regardless of the shopping I have not done, I'm happy with how we are getting ready for Christmas this year.

*thank you, KP, for this phrase, which I stole from your FB status. :)

* * *

09 December 2010

You know you have a big family when...

...the cashier who rings up your weekly grocery haul asks you if you are having a great big party.

* * *

08 December 2010

30 or So Tales To Tell

There is just something about sitting in Peet's Coffee on a rainy afternoon. Lovely classical notes waft through the thick, confident smell of coffee, every seat is crowded with people talking or working or reading, rain falls through the plentiful North Berkeley trees outside the corner window. Right now, this place is the center of the world, buzzing with life, people, relationships, ideas, and caffeine.

And there is so much more here than meets the eye.

A young guy at the next table, knit cap pulled down over his ears, skinny jeans half holding him on the wooden chair, clicks earnestly away at his iPhone thingamajiggy, looking for all the world like a dude connected, to people, movements, important events. He is intent, focused, thumbs working purposefully.

I spy his screen. He is playing solitaire.

The older gent sitting across the way is reading a thick paperback with a Moe's bookmark clutched in one hand. I strain to catch the title (I am forever trying to spy on what people are reading) but cannot see it. Head bowed, he reads and reads and reads. Strange, but he does not turn any pages.

He is sound asleep, chin to chest, book rising and falling on his protruding belly. It doesn't much matter what he's reading, apparently.

Another man, looking dapper, or Berkeley's version thereof, holds court on one of the benches, chatting with the other regulars. He would appear to be the picture of community, the keeper of a good story for a rainy day. I catch snippets of his conversation, and realize he is a few bolts shy of stable.

Actually, he's homeless, and discussing at length the best places to stay dry in rainy weather. I look closer and see the tell tale signs of someone who has been on the streets for a long, long time. Leathery skin, slack mouth, unfocused eyes. But he's here, in this little space, sipping the best coffee known to man and sharing conversation with people who are clearly friends of his.

An older man sits down next to me and takes out two notebooks filled with copious, pencil written notes. He hoists a large hard bound book out of his satchel and thunks it on the table; the phrase Homeric Translation is in the title. Even the Greeks are alive and well here at Vine and Walnut.

Everywhere I look, things are so much more interesting than they might seem at first glance, so much more complex. A warm cafe on a cold day, with 30 or so patrons, with 30 or so tales to tell.

Life is a mystery. I sip my own best coffee known to man and make up little stories in my mind about the patrons. That couple over there is in the middle of a huge, silent, chip on their shoulders fight and they are trying desperately to ignore each other. That young mother is in a sleep-deprived haze, waiting in line for what will surely be the highlight of her long, caring-for-others day: a medium, non-fat latte. She is hoping the elixir will stave off the afternoon blues. The server behind the counter, the cheerful one who helps people with their whole bean orders, has recently fallen head over heels in love and is riding a wave of exhilaration through his work day until he can get to her again.

I feel a tug and hear a small gasp of joy. I turn and at my sleeve, I see my very own tale to tell. My four year old has arrived with her daddy, singing Matchmaker Matchmaker from Fiddler on the Roof and telling me her good news: Rozie (from preschool, whence she has just come) is her friend.

Friends are indeed good news, little one. Look around you: there is good news everywhere.

* * *

05 December 2010

In Which I Start to Think I May Be Worrying About the Wrong Things

My kids have those chocolate Advent calendars from Trader Joe's, thanks to my generous friend Laura. We also have a cloth one, where we add one item per day to the manger scene, the last one, of course, being Jesus. This one is sweet and fun. But the chocolate ones stress me out.

First of all, there are FIVE of them. They take up too much space in my already too small house.

Second, my kids go rabid at the mere mention of chocolate. That's a lot of froth on a daily basis.

And third, the kids trash them with overzealous window ripping.

Last year, instead of having nice Advent calendars sitting neatly on the kitchen shelf, we had beaten up and bent cardboard shells, with the little cardboard windows ripped out and strewn all over the house. The kids were so rough with them that the chocolates ended up popping out of their holes and sliding around inside the cardboard, inducing panic and indignation in the opener. It was not a peaceful, pleasant part of the holiday season.

So this year, every time the kids go for their chocolates, I can be heard shouting things like: "BE GENTLE WITH THOSE! DON'T LEAVE THE CARDBOARD WINDOWS ALL OVER THE FLOOR! DON'T SHAKE THEM! KEEP THEM NICE!"

I told them I might stop saying that by December 15th, if they're lucky.

But really, what the heck is my problem? Why do I care if they destroy their candy calendars? I'll get them to clean up the little cardboard windows, but why am I obsessing about all the rest of it?

There are so many more worthy ways to spend my time during this season. I could use that energy wondering if I'll get Christmas cards out this year, or trying to glue back together all the broken tree ornaments, or figuring out where to stow all of the books and toys and crap we have piling up around here and that we want to get rid of or hide to make room for the guests we are hosting for Christmas dinner. I could be getting ready to pretend we have a pleasant, comfortable, organized, efficient home and instead, I'm wasting time trying to keep cardboard calendars in tip top shape. Ridiculous.

So henceforth, the Advent calendars are on their own. I'll be turning my attention to some other neurosis of mine.

* * *

03 December 2010

Daybook, 3 December 2010

Outside my window...it is grey, damp and cold.

I am thinking...about how to keep myself motivated and heartened for the things I find most daunting.

I am thankful for...carmel popcorn at timely moments.

From the kitchen...eggs in baskets for lunch, fried in real butter. Deelishous.

I am wearing...black sweats, grey T, red polartec jacket.

I am creating...clean walls.

I am going...to enjoy an evening out with friends.

I am reading...Half Broke Horses, by Jeanette Walls

I am hoping...for courage.

I am hearing...my dryer running...Toy Story 3 from the living room...children munching on carmel popcorn.

Around the house...messes, messes everywhere.

One of my favorite things...paella.

A few plans for the rest of the week: finish prepping the living room walls for a new paint job.

Here is picture for thought I am sharing...

Thanks Nicole for the Daybook idea; play along at the simple woman's daybook.

* * *

7 Quick Takes: Volume 21, The What Was I Thinking Edition

Gimme a F, gimme a R, gimme a I and a DAY! As long as it comes with a glass of wine, I'll take it.

Please visit Jen at Conversion Diary for the original 7 Quick Takes and links to other people playing along.

~ 1 ~


~ 2 ~


~ 3 ~


~ 4 ~


~ 5 ~


~ 6 ~


~ 7 ~


* * *

30 November 2010

I'm A Bad Mother. Here's How I Know

Today's Five Reasons:

I made you do your chore before you could eat your breakfast, even though you were starving. I did this because you managed to goof around for 45 minutes despite your starving state, and I figured another 10 minutes wasn't going to kill you. You told me that I am so mean. Hence, Reason #1.

I let your sister whack you. Told her to, in fact. I told her to whack you because you have harassed her for the kajillionth time and no other strategy has worked. You told me that I did it because I love her more than I love you. Hence, Reason #2.

I am not letting you have a "free day" today. We will actually be learning something in a structured, semi-organized fashion. We will combine our learning with Tuesday Hot Dog day's pilgrimage to Top Dog and a trip to Codornices Park to hurtle down the cement slide of death. Clearly, I am a dictator. Hence, Reason #3.

I cannot stop what I am doing to help you find your bouncy ball, review your ridiculously long Christmas list with you for the fifth time, get out the hot glue gun for you, or heat up the breakfast you have left sitting so long it's turned stone cold and given you yet another opportunity to avoid eating it. I'm plain selfish. Hence, Reason #4.

I let you all sleep in until 9:30 today. Yes, that does cut down on the amount of death sliding we can do later on. What a bitch! Hence, Reason #5.

I'm sure I'll create five fresh reasons tomorrow. And I'm sure my kids will let me know exactly what they are.

* * *

29 November 2010

A Little Bit of Random for a Monday Morning

Clasico day today! So, who do you like, Barca or Real Madrid? We're Blaugrana all the way here, and not just because Carlos Puyol's alter ego lives here. My husband is all a-twitter with excitement. My 12-year old's obsession is at a fever pitch. The TV is all Barca, all day, with 90 beautiful minutes of glory in store. Will you be watching? If so, you'll be joining 400 million people all over the world doing the same.

* * *

With the Thanksgiving holiday, Little T has not had a preschool day since last Wednesday. When I dropped her off this morning, I had this to say to her teachers: "She has not stopped talking since last Wednesday at 2pm. Take her. Keep her. She's all yours. Good bye."

There are few things more exhausting than a four year old who needs to talk, especially when the standard "uh-huh" response is not enough for her. The level of engagement she requires is mind-boggling. I now have 5 hours of sweet relief from her unique brand of torture. I'm sure I'll be thrilled to see her by then. Sort of.

* * *

The Holidays are here. So far, I am successfully ignoring them. I'm going with that strategy for as long as possible.

* * *

A story about my friend Pat, who passed away earlier this month. At the school my kids went to until last year, the Kindergarten class celebrates the Feast of the Epiphany with an Epiphany cake, complete with a hidden baby Jesus in one of the servings. When my oldest child was in Kindergarten, he found the baby Jesus in his piece of cake. As my kids cycled through Kindergarten, at each Epiphany, my second found the baby Jesus....my third found the baby Jesus...and finally Lady E, just this past January, emerged from her slice of cake with a sticky plastic baby Jesus. I was amazed at my childrens' good fortune. I commented to Pat, one of the Kindergarten teachers, "Wow! I can't believe it! Elizabeth got the baby Jesus! All of my kids have; isn't that strange?"

She whacked me in the arm, grabbed my head, pulled my ear to her mouth and growled: "You jackass, who do you think serves the cake?"

I'm a little slow on the uptake.

* * *

26 November 2010

10 Quick Takes from Lady E

Instead of doing 7 Quick Takes today, I'm sharing this little gem from my 6 year old, Lady E, who is, apparently, asam (her spelling of "awesome").

And the translation is:

Things About Me Being Awesome

  1. I rock and roll in bed.
  2. I rock and roll in PJs.
  3. I am awesome in PJs.
  4. I rock in Santa hats.
  5. It is awesome when I am in Santa hats.
  6. Santa hats are funny on me.
  7. I rock and roll whenever I am in PJs and being funny.
  8. And whenever I’m rocking and rolling then I am being funny.
  9. When I’m in a Santa hat, I’m funny.
  10. When I’m goofing around, I rock.

So on this Thanksgiving weekend, I am thankful for little girls whose cups runneth over with confidence. I am hoping that her first reason for being awesome will change drastically before she gets to college, but for now I'm fine with it.

And I wish I had nothing better to do than to sit around chronicling my own awesomeness.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

23 November 2010

S. O. S.




* * *

19 November 2010

7 Quick Takes: Volume 20

And this week's Friday is going...going...GONE! Sold to the lady with five kids who clearly didn't make it to the shower today!

Please go visit our lovely host at Conversion Diary for the original 7 Quick Takes; visit the links of other people playing along this week.

~ 1 ~

I had to spend $845 on my car today. This brings the grand total of car maintenance bills in the past two weeks to something around $2K. Right before Christmas. As usual. We have all kinds of bad luck with car repairs during the Holiday season. Last year, we bought the kids a new transmission. Hope the kids like the new brakes I got them this year! I'll just wrap the receipt in a big box and stick it under the tree for Christmas morn. And Jen (aka Minivan MacGyver), I'll be sure to videotape their reactions.

~ 2 ~

My kids have some annoying habits. One of those is that they think it's funny to exaggerate some behavior that I have just asked them to stop doing. So if they are all yelling too much, and I ask them to be quiet, they think it's hilarious if they all scream at me: "OK MOM, WE'LL BE QUIET NOW!" Or if one of them is flicking the door lock in the van up and down and up and down in rapid succession, and I ask him to stop, he thinks it's a scream to speed up the intensity of the flickety-flicking. There are endless variations to this little game. So. A. Noy. Ing. Why, oh why, do they do this?

~ 3 ~

My son wanted to help me make a fire this afternoon. So he handed me some logs, which I arranged in the fireplace. I added kindling and crumpled up newspaper.

He lit a match. And lit the newspaper. And then sat back and played Wii.

I spent the next 45 minutes wrestling and wrangling with the flames, cajoling, cursing and coaxing them into permanent life. I brought that thing back from the dead 3 or 4 times. For the past three hours, the fire has been roaring nicely.

And my son has been telling anyone who will listen that he made the fire tonight.

~ 4 ~

My 8 year-old daughter has four soccer games scheduled this weekend; her team is in a tournament. It is going to be raining. I believe it is testimony to my complete transformation to Soccer Mom that I am going to be seriously bummed out if the games are canceled. Who wants to stand in the freezing cold rain watching 8 year old girls run around and supervising younger girls at the same time?

Uh, me, apparently.

~ 5 ~

I recently instituted a new chore chart. Because of the stepped up responsibility we are asking the kids to develop, we have also finally instituted weekly allowances. This week, a few of my kids have shirked their chore responsibilities, despite the fact that I have reminded them several times.

Imagine their surprise when the kids in question learn tomorrow morning that they will not get their allowance this week! I kind of can't wait for the horror to sink in.

Is it wrong of me to take such delight in teaching them a lesson?

~ 6 ~

Here's a question: If someone (a child) spills a healthy amount of clear glue all over your dining room table, one of your dining room chairs and the hard wood floor beneath the table, would you attempt to clean it up while it is still wet? Or would you let it dry so that you could just peel it off later? And would you keep the t-shirt that also got doused, or would you just toss it? Keep in mind the shirt is absolutely not a special, favorite shirt and actually is pretty stained and in bad shape. Just hypothetically speaking, of course.

~ 7 ~

I heart Old Fashioneds, with a crazy, desperate, all-encompassing, back seat of the wood-paneled station wagon kind of love.

* * *

16 November 2010

Morning Limericks

There was once a mess on the floor
That kept me from opening your door.
The mess is now clean;
It's a quite different scene,
But the stink'll keep it shut evermore.

* * *

As a mother, my duty is dinner.
If I fail, you all will get thinner.
But as sure as you're mine,
I'd rather have wine.
I bet my choice will not be the winner.

* * *

I'm trying to raise you well and right,
I'm trying to guide you day and night,
Do you mind if I just took
A glance at my Facebook
Checked my email, stats and website?

I hear you! Your brother just smacked your face.
And your sister is throwing your stuff every place
But wait a sec, honey,
This blog is so funny!
Can you go see who just broke that vase?

I'm sure I'll come out from behind my screen
In time to save you from your brother the tween.
But until I do,
Jump over that goo,
And step back: don't crowd my scene.

What's that you say? You want to play Wii?
You want as much screen time as me?
I'm sorry you cannot,
I won't let your brain rot.
It's not fair, but who said it would be?

* * *

You are toddler, and cute as a bug.
Upon heartstrings you certainly tug.
But defy me once more
In the midst of a store
And I'll sell you as quick as a hug.

* * *

15 November 2010

Nothing To Say

I really have nothing to report today.

Life has been so boring lately, nothing to do, nothing to think about, nothing to worry over. I hardly know what to do with myself! I've organized my sock drawer, color-coded my tupperware lids, and turned my kids' rooms into Pottery Barn slices of heaven. Their behavior, accordingly, has been epically wonderful. This is pretty much me these days:

Because I certainly have not
  • been unable to move from the couch in the evenings in order to restore some semblance of order to my barn-like environs;
  • worried unceasingly about my children's apparent non-relationship with hard work;
  • succumbed to overwhelm at the shambles my life is in;
  • bickered with my spouse over such important matters as why the back door is always wide open;
  • yelled at anyone, for any reason whatsoever;
  • compared myself to every other mother, hell woman, in the world and come out on the losing side;

  • OR

  • eaten way too many carbs, eschewed all vegetables, ignored my need to exercise, had wine when I should have had water, and in all other ways failed to take decent care of myself.

  • I'm so glad I'm evolved enough to be past all of that.

    * * *

    12 November 2010

    7 Quick Takes: Volume 19, The Reader Participation Edition

    ...and then I woke up and lo, it was a Friday, and I said: "It is good."

    Please visit Jen at Conversion Diary for the original 7 Quick Takes and links to others playing along.

    ~ 1 ~

    Recommended reading for today: Well, I haven’t read this yet, I just heard about it today. But it sure sounds interesting! Our local public radio station produces a daily show called Forum. Today’s guest was Richard Muller, talking about his new book called The Instant Physicist: An Illustrated Guide.

    The above image and the publisher’s synopsis below are taken from Powell’s Books website:

    Richard A. Muller demonstrated in his recent bestseller, Physics for Future Presidents, that he has a unique talent for delivering the aha moment—making difficult topics accessible. In The Instant Physicist he shows his ability to entertain, too, by presenting the best of the scientific curiosities he has assembled over his distinguished career. Assisted by award-winning cartoonist Joey Manfre, who has created an original color cartoon for each physics bite, Muller will have readers chuckling while they’re absorbing more science than they ever thought possible. From the surprising (chocolate has more energy in it than TNT) to the scary (even kids can make a bomb), this book contains a revelation on every page. Once finished with this page-turner, readers will be the stars of their next cocktail party. The book consists of a color cartoon on each right-hand page and explanatory text on the left.

    Sounds awesome, no? I hope to pick up this book sometime this weekend, in between our 6 soccer games and two end-of-season soccer parties. Let me know if you get it too!

    What are you reading right now?

    ~ 2 ~

    On Wednesday morning, I was chatting with one of Little T’s preschool teachers, who sweetly called my daughter “delightful,” and I told her that Little T is very proud of herself that she has never gotten in trouble at school. Well, that was the kiss of death. Five short hours later, she can no longer claim that distinction. Right before lunch, she locked herself in the bathroom, preventing several short people—short people in urgent need, no less—from coming in. She proceeded to bang on the walls for no apparent reason, and she stayed in there, despite the teacher’s repeated demands that she open the door.

    When she finally came out, she was given a stern talking to and placed in a five minute time out. These were the longest, hardest five minutes of the day for all of the boys at the school, who rely on Little T to chase them around while pretending to be a vampire. They were at a loss without her.

    The teacher was laughing about the whole thing by the time I picked up my little Fang Girl at 2pm, but thus endeth any good behavior bragging rights for her.

    Those of you with preschoolers who have no such bragging rights, what’d your kid do to get in trouble?

    ~ 3 ~

    Chalk up another trip to the ER for the AIRY-5 Family! Why do things always happen to us on weekends and holidays? This time, Veteran’s Day, so our peds office was closed. Anyway, this trip was for severe poison oak. You might think that a seasoned mom like me wouldn’t make a trip to the ER for something like poison oak. I thought so too, until yesterday.

    My 10 year old gets poison oak really badly, and has had it more times than I can count. We’ve always just soldiered through it, with various over the counter remedies. We’ve ended up relying mostly on Benadryl and ice packs for relief, and just gritting our teeth until it clears up. (Yes, “our” teeth. While suffering from poison oak is a terrible, miserable experience, being the mother of a kid with poison oak is almost equally miserable.) We also recently learned about Sticky Monkeyflower as a prophylactic, and since we have tons of this native plant in our garden, we’ve tried it a few times. I think last time he got it, the monkeyflower helped it go away faster than it ever had before. Unfortunately, he didn’t eat any this past Monday before he went hiking for 5.5 hours.

    And this time, he got it on his face so badly that both of his eyes and his mouth were swollen and there wasn’t a single unaffected spot anywhere on his face or neck. It was worse than I have ever seen it. On Wednesday, I finally decided to go the steroid route, which I had heretofore opposed. One day in to the dose, he was still going mad with itching. His pediatrician, who I reached by phone even though the office was closed, thought it should have been helping by now and suggested we give him a shot to get him faster relief.

    So, off to the ER for us. As it turns out, the doc on duty was a poison oak expert, and she talked me out of the shot. She suggested Zyrtec, A&D ointment, and patience. And to keep taking the steroid prescription we started on Wednesday. The A&D gave him immediate, lasting relief, and finally the steroid seems to be working, as his face is clearer today than it has been since Tuesday.

    Poor guy.

    What was your last ER trip for? And does anyone out there have a unique poison oak remedy?

    ~ 4 ~

    Never say never. I’ve been thinking about things I let my kids do that I’m sure I thought I never would. Maybe we could start a little “True Confessions” segment, where we admit to one tiny (or not so tiny) parenting choice that we are both surprised we’ve made and maybe a little less than proud of. I’ll go first.

    I let my kids – all of my kids – stay up on Monday and Tuesday nights to watch Dancing with the Stars. I am not a big TV fan. I am even less of a reality TV fan. I’m naturally suspicious of popular culture, on aesthetic more than moral grounds. And yet, I let them. Never thought I’d do that, but there ya’ go. What? You think that’s no big deal? Did you think I was going to start off with the big guns? Um, no.

    How about you? What will you admit to?

    ~ 5 ~

    What is UP with American Girl Dolls? Why are they so expensive? We have a girl lobbying for one for Christmas. (I curse the catalog that found its way to my mailbox unbidden.) She is also lobbying for a skateboard. She has varied interests.

    Someone tell me why I should shell out an insane amount of money for one of those dolls? Are they lined in gold? Do they clean a girl’s bedroom? Do they pay the bills? Do they possess the answer to the meaning of Life Itself? What is UP?

    ~ 6 ~

    A friend of mine posted a question on her Facebook wall recently: What would you attempt to do if you knew you wouldn’t fail? I answered professional competitive dirt biking.

    When I was in college, I submitted something to the literary magazine. The editor asked me for a little blurb bio for the contributors’ pages. I told him I couldn’t think of anything and he could put something in for me. Shortly after the magazine came out, people started coming up to me on campus and asking how my dirt biking career was going. Funny guy, that editor.

    I’m not serious about the dirt biking, but I have been thinking about what fear of failure might be keeping me from. Writing ranks up there, for sure.

    How about you? What would you attempt, if failure were not an issue?

    ~ 7 ~

    Do you spend too much time on the Internet? I do. What’s that all about?

    * * *

    09 November 2010

    Is He Messing With Me?

    Yesterday evening, my task was to serve everyone dinner, make sure chores got done, and get myself ready to go to my friend Pat's Rosary. Rick was working so I was flying solo. He would be arriving home mere moments before I had to leave, so things needed to happen smoothly.

    Over the course of the late afternoon, I found myself getting increasingly frustrated with the kids; they weren't listening to me at all. Chores were...a chore to get done. I was reminding and cajoling and threatening. They were giggling, screaming, and avoiding me.

    By the time I served them dinner, I was also dishing out quite a rampage of disapproval over their behavior. I huffed off to the shower after pretty much reading them the riot act and making it clear that my grumpiness was entirely their fault.

    After my shower, after I was dressed in "church clothes" and nearly ready to walk out the door, I was standing at the bathroom mirror, doing my hair and issuing final orders for everyone's good behavior while I was gone.

    My ten year old son stood in the hallway looking at me for a minute and said: "You look too pretty to be grumpy."

    Maybe it really is better to look good than to feel good.

    * * *

    07 November 2010

    Things That Make Me Feel Like My Head is Going to Pop Off

    This morning, I had to keep reaching up to touch my head, to make sure it was still there. There are just too many things happening on a daily basis that make me think my head is going to explode. Lucky for me, I have a blog, where I can rant like a crazy person, thus releasing that awful pressure-cooker feeling and saving my children from my unloading on them instead. Here we go, with my first installment of Things That Make Me Feel Like My Head is Going to Pop Off.

    Thing #1: Feeding ingrates. The other evening, I found myself in the rare position of grocery shopping by myself. It was awesome. I did not realize that solo grocery shopping has a palliative effect. It made me feel tender toward my family. It made me consider their tastes and desires. It made me want to buy them yummy things to eat. I walked leisurely through the aisles, imagining their joy at Honey Nut Joe's O's for breakfast and Z-bars for soccer game day. Remembering my own love for all things fried potato, I gleefully tossed some Trader Joe's hash browns in my cart.

    This morning, those hash browns were met with suspicion and disgust. Raised eye-brows, half-curled lips, and resistance do not a happy mother make. So first of all, what the hell is wrong with me that I've been a mother for 12 years and I've never served hash browns? And second, what the hell is wrong with them, those ingrates who snarl and snub their mother's efforts to be kind? Do they not know that food = love, and if they turn down the food I offer they are, in effect, saying they do not love me? And what gives them the right to decline perfectly good food, food that starving children around the world would gladly accept and would probably say thank you for? How can they say no to something they have not tried? Who is raising these savages, anyway?

    Thing #2: Outfitting my daughters.

    I adore these pants. Daughter #1 would not wear them. I kept them for the next two. Daughter #2 would not wear them. I kept them for the third one. Daughter #3 used to wear them, but the other two recently got to her and convinced her that they are "dumb." She will not wear them anymore, and actually told me to put them in the give away pile. This is significant, since for my girls the give away pile represents their mother's attempt to ruin their lives by getting rid of clothes they say the love but which they haven't worn in ages.

    Do they hate me? Do they purposely think of ways to disappoint me? Do they dream up new strategies for ensuring that I don't get my way? Does a word of approval from me doom an article of clothing to the give away pile?

    Thing #3: Sniffling. I have a kid who sniffles so loud and so hard I think he might turn his whole head inside out. He and his horrific sucking noises wake us up at night. And then he refuses to get up and blow his nose. WTF is up with that? How is it possible that repeatedly forcing snot and boogers to pack up into your naval cavaties is preferable to getting rid of them? How is it possible that he doesn't find that beyond annoying?

    Thing #4: Following up on a chore. If I tell you to bring the garbage cans in from the curb, is it really necessary for me to clarify that I intended for them to actually go back where they belong instead of for them to be left right in the garden path, blocking everyone's way?

    And since we're taking about garbage, if I tell you to sweep up that pile and throw it in the kitchen garbage can, is it really necessary for me to specify that you might have to make sure there is enough room at the top of the bag so that when you dump the contents of the dust pan, said contents land in the can and not all over the floor around the can? And do I really have to call you back to the task, so that you will clean up the mess you created?

    If I ask you to put the folded towels away, do I really need to spell out that I expect them to stay folded between the dining room table and the linen closet, so that I do not find them wadded up and stuffed randomly in the closet after I've spent time neatly and crisply folding them?

    How many times, exactly, will I need to tell you that when you clear the table after dinner the dirty dishes go on the LEFT side of the sink, and the clean dishes go on the right?

    When I tell you to clean your room, will I really have to explain that shoving everything in the closet is not, in fact, what I have in mind?

    When you help your father bring the firewood inside, why is that we have to bang our shins painfully on the firewood that has been left right by the door? True enough, the wood is inside, but I'm curious how many times we will have to add "and put it where we keep the firewood, next to the fireplace" before you'll just do that automatically.

    In other words, when are you going to do what I want?

    * * *

    The torture that this past baseball season visited upon the San Francisco Giants came to thundering, glorious end on November 1st. Unfortunately, there is no World Series of parenting; my torture is here to stay.

    * * *

    05 November 2010

    7 Quick Takes: Volume 18

    Can I get a Friday, please? Why thank you!

    Please visit Jen at Conversion Diary for the original 7 Quick Takes, and for links to the other folks who are playing along.

    ~ 1 ~

    As posted earlier, we lost a frog this week. This is a mystery. The cover of the terrarium did have a rip in it, but we put a book over the ripped part for a temporary fix, and later some duct tape over the same rip, also temporary. The cover itself was not moved from the position it was left in the night before. Nothing else seemed amiss. But Bella was gone.

    Fire-bellied toads are not expensive. After several hours of looking for her, and then facing the fact that she could not have survived so long without water, we hit the local Vivarium and brought home another one. My son christened him "Rice." (The other frog he has is named "Beans," a tribute to the beloved frog pet in Cheaper by the Dozen.)

    The sun set on a half-happy, half-mourning 10 year old. Rice proved to be just the ticket to mend a broken heart.

    ~ 2 ~

    Fast forward to the next day. Rice is missing. I kid you not, we have now lost two frogs in two days. We discovered the loss when Dad took the cover off the terrarium to re-cover it in new wire mesh. He placed the 10 year old on guard over the terrarium while he had the cover in the garage. While keeping a watchful eye on the inside of the tank, the boy cried out: "RICE IS GONE!" More searching. More panic. More sadness.

    Needless to say, I feel like a most irresponsible pet owner: TWO animals in TWO days? Lost! Neglected! Abandoned!

    So. Do we go ahead and get another one? Do we deserve it? Am I sending the right message to my son, that little lives are easily replaced at $7.50 a pop?

    The cover is all kinds of secure now, but still...

    ~ 3 ~

    So to recap, somewhere in this house are the sad little remains of TWO fire-bellied toads. Add to that tableaux the following: in the past week, my daughter spilled an entire bag of tortilla chips in my entryway. My other daughter dropped a glass mason jar of homemade applesauce on our front walk. Both of my sons stepped in dog poop in their bare feet (on different days). Yesterday, my four year-old poured orange juice all over the counter while aiming for a cup. Many sheets have been peed upon. While traveling my hardwood floors, I've stepped on legos and sand and pools of water; at least I hope it was water. It was probably water, since we left shallow bowls of water in every room of the house in a vain attempt to catch wayward frogs. We have dog hair in our new modeling clay. There are ants...everywhere. I just discovered a lake of Irish breakfast tea, with milk and sugar, filling up the reservoirs on my old wooden cutting board. Life is messy.

    Wanna come over?

    ~ 4 ~

    Delightful homeschooling activity: Reading aloud. When I finish this post, I'm off to read to the kids from Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, by Roald Dahl. We've done some reading aloud in the past, but much more now that we are homeschooling. One of the best things reading aloud does for me is to make me slow down. There is no way to read out loud quickly. Well, I suppose you can, but you ruin the story if you do that.

    Time slows down, children grow magically quiet as they listen, good stories fill the air. So today's recommended reading is: Anything read aloud.

    ~ 5 ~

    My son just told me: "Man, parents these days worry way too much about the things their kids do."

    I'll be adding that to my list of Things To Remind My Kids About When They Become Parents.

    ~ 6 ~

    It's that time of year again, when I vow to do the Holidays right, avoid stress, celebrate Advent, keep things in perspective, spend wisely, and resist the prevailing consumerist culture.

    Without fail, I fail.

    I always get overwhelmed and stressed out.

    I take it as a sign of hope that I stand here before you, on the brink of the Holiday season, and vow once more to Fight the Good Fight.

    How do you maintain sanity during the holidays?

    ~ 7 ~

    Halloween has come and gone, and I didn't even manage to get pictures of everyone in their costumes. As usual, we've had a candy-filled week, some of it acquired legitimately, much of it pilfered behind my back. Halloween always reminds me of the greatest candy-sneaker of them all, Lady E. So for my 7th Quick Take, I am posting two links from Halloween 2007; these stories make us laugh every time we tell them. Enjoy!

    * * *

    03 November 2010

    Full Heart

    I have lived a lifetime since my last post.

    Halloween in all its glory.

    The San Francisco Giants won the World Series, which, in this house, was attended by mayhem, chaos, joy, and madness: the full range of crazy, beautiful baseball emotion. And baseball is nothing if not emotional.

    The loss of a pet. A small, jumpy fire-bellied toad named Bella, who escaped her terrarium and upended my entire afternoon. The last hour of my day, between 11 and midnight, was spent soothing the young man who fed and cared for dear Bella. He was distraught over her loss, and his young heart was breaking with grief right there on my couch.

    And then.

    Today. A greater loss. Today, the world lost a wonderful woman to cancer. She taught my four older kids in their Kindergarten year, retired this past June, and discovered two and half short weeks ago that she had cancer. Her family was probably still getting used to the diagnosis, just starting to figure out how she (and they) would fight the disease. Instead, she passed away in her sleep last night or in the wee hours of this morning. Gone before we could all get used to the idea that she was sick.

    She was dear to me. She always made me laugh and smile, and she, having raised 10 children, always had the right perspective on my modern version of a large family. She hugged me and told me she loved me every single time she saw me. She also swore like a truck-driver, not a common characteristic in a woman over 70.

    She did more than make me laugh and smile. She made me relax; she was proof to me that love is strong and powerful and greater than any suffering. She told me I was doing a good job as a mother, and she is perhaps the one person on earth who could make me believe it.

    I am fairly overcome with sadness at the prospect of a world without her in it. It is not right. It is not fair. It does not make sense.

    Last night, while I was soothing my son over the loss of his beloved pet, I tried to answer his repeated question: "Why did this have to happen to me?" Feeling the weakness of the only answer I could provide, I told him:

    Sometimes, things happen that are so very hard, and so painful, and they don't make sense. There is no good answer to why this happened. It didn't happen because of anything you did, or didn't do, or could have done differently. It was just an accident, a plain old bad luck thing that no one wanted and everyone is upset about. And it really, really hurts right now, but someday, you will think about Bella and you won't think of how you lost her. Instead, you will think about what good care you took of her, the joy she gave you, how wonderful you felt when you got her for your birthday, how proud you were to show her to friends, and how special she made you feel. Right now, just let yourself be sad and mad and upset, and don't talk yourself out of any of that. It will get easier, I promise.

    Little did I know I would need those words myself today. Like my son last night, I feel this crazy incoherent, unacceptable scream inside, a righteous objection to events that take away the ones we love. It's a terrible place to be.

    Bad things do happen, and they hurt like hell. I love you, Pat, and will miss you. You better keep watching out for me from Heaven, because even though you are gone, I still need you every bit as much as ever.

    * * *