29 September 2010

A Sure Fire Way to Annoy Your Kids, Courtesy of My Father

When I was a kid, whenever I or my sister or brother had the hiccups, we would kvetch* vehemently, as if someone could actually do something about them. "I have the hiccups!" I would exclaim. And my dad would say: "Well, don't tell anybody, or everyone one will want some."


Try this with your kids. I have found that it works quite well for many things. Just this morning, I employed this strategy twice:

Mom! I have a snotty nose!
Well, don't tell anybody, or everyone will want a snotty nose.

Mom! Bird poop on my window!
Well, don't tell anybody, or everyone will want some bird poop.

Every time I do this, the kids growl in disgust and hurl vitriole at my dad: "Thanks a lot, Poppa!"

I get a little giggle each time, the kids give up on me in indignation, and I don't have to respond to every little complaint. Like I said: magic.

Thanks Poppa!

* * *

*Spelling has been corrected from original post. See comments. Thanks HM.

28 September 2010


Today for homeschooling, after playing wii and watching Family Matters, I took my kids to a toy store.

That's how we roll here at Alatorre Academy.

* * *

An explanation. We've had some brilliant moments of homeschooling, many of them in fact. I have been encouraged and heartened by unexpected sparks and the space to see them grow. But it has not been easy. Some of my kids are exhibiting high levels of resistance, which has made things extremely difficult. I've been trying to take to heart advice I've received from veteran homeschoolers and from various articles on the internet. All of them talk about how important it is to "de-school," which I have decided basically means giving kids and parents time and space to learn how to think differently about school and learning, to break free of our notions of what school looks like. I have been trying to mimic many aspects of the school setting. Not surprisingly, some of my kids -- my younger ones -- enjoy this; the older ones most decidedly do not.

So after a few frustrating days in a row of me feeling like I was asking them to do very, very little in the way of "school" and them putting up a front that would impress Che Guevara, I decided it was time to give this deschooling thing a try. One central tenet of deschooling: spend time with your kids, doing things they enjoy, without betraying whatever scorn or disgust you might feel for the things they enjoy. Insert Family Matters here. My kids keep resetting our cable box to record Family Matters; Rick keeps deleting the saved episodes. It's kind of fun to sit back and watch the Erkel pendulum swing back and forth.

Anyway, I let them pretty much do whatever they wanted this morning. This was not easy. It's not easy to know that they are surrounded books and games and puzzles and tools and music and each other, and still they chose inane television. It's not easy to hide my disappointment in how they chose to spend the morning. But I took a deep breath and sat down for a little of the program.

It wasn't awful. Not my brand of entertainment by a long shot, but not too painful, and I can understand the appeal for the kids. But the payoff was definitely in the time I spent with them. They were delighted that I was watching with them, instead of using their screen time to clean something. Later, I played Wii Sport Resort, much to their amusement, and kicked some ass on the bowling game. Again, the payoff was in the time spent together, although the bowling was fun for me too.

And after watching an hour of stupid TV I wouldn't pick for myself, I took them to the toy store. The boys are experiencing a Match Box Car Renaissance, and the local previously owned toy shop sells them for .75. Following deschooling advice, I nurtured the impulse with a $4.50 investment. We came home with a variety of items: match box cars, a Zorro, two knights, a large dragon, three books, a bag of cool marbles, a small paint palate, a deck of cards, and a Magic Garden crystal growing set. All used, so not too expensive.

* * *

The afternoon was magic. My 5 year old, who selected the bag of marbles, told me she wanted to write. She disappeared for awhile, and when she returned shared the following:
Sum Day I want to go arond the world. Sum day I hope Im going to lrin aubot morbols. If my dad disze bea for my mom dos Im going to be sad but I hope wee get a cat.
Some day, I want to go around the world. Some day, I hope I'm going to learn about marbles. If my dad dies before my mom does, I'm going to be sad, but I hope we get a cat [after my dad dies].
(Lest you feel wistful over Lady E's concern for her daddy, just know that she really wants a cat and daddy is allergic.) A few minutes later, I walked by her bedroom and saw her reading a book to her little sister. A few minutes later, she asked me to look up what's in a marble on the internet, so we did that for a while.

My 8 year old, who had selected the Magic Garden, put her new kit together. A few hours later, we had a lovely model of Mount Fuji, complete with Cherry Blossom trees. We learned about sodium chloride, and how it can be in liquid form until it's poured over cardboard, at which point, the cardboard soaks up the water and the sodium chloride forms big puffy crystals. One of the coolest science projects ever and again, I had no idea it would be part of our day. Afterwards, she skittered off to her Theatre Workshop.

My 10 year old has spent most of the afternoon sawing and sanding a sword out of a plank of wood, and then painting the tip red. And playing with Zorro, the knights and the dragon. And playing soccer. And experimenting with salt. And sanding more stuff. He just came inside at 9:30pm from his latest sanding session.

My 12 year old...spent the day with a fever of 103. So he's a tad exempt. He watched The Blind Side again. And we had a conversation about a minor character in the movie, a neighborhood friend of Michael's, who had tried to get out of the projects but was unable to stay with his community college courses. He ended up back in the projects, working for the local dealer, and ultimately died of gunshot wounds on his 21st birthday. We talked about what that kid must have thought and felt when Michael came back looking for his mom, and we talked about the tragedy of dying young and in poverty.

I'm exhausted. But hey, this deschooling thing just might be the best thing that ever happened to me. Who knew letting them do what they want could lead to such wonderfulness?

My kids are amazing.

* * *

26 September 2010


One of the other parents on my son's soccer team is a bridge engineer. He is working on the re-design of the Bay Bridge, which connects San Francisco to Oakland and the rest of the East Bay. At a stiflingly hot soccer tournament this past weekend, I had a chance to talk with him about the rebuilding of this important local bridge, one I and all of the other parents there are used to traveling over. Among other things, we talked about how there is not enough steel produced in the United States to build the Bay Bridge, necessitating that we contract out to China to build it. But China buys all of our scrap metal from our junk yards and refuse centers, right down to our discarded man hole covers, which they melt down and use on things like...bridges they build for other countries.

Over the course of the conversation, he told us about another engineer he knows who worked on retrofitting the Bay Bridge following the 1989 earthquake. During that quake, an entire section of the upper deck of the bridge fell down on to the lower deck.

It turns out that the pillars of the bridge were reinforced in only one direction. They were not built to withstand the kind of torque produced by the Loma Prieta quake. They needed to be redesigned so that they could withstand movements north, south, east, and west, as well as up and down. This one particular engineer, the colleague of the soccer dad I know, is one of maybe 5 or 10 in the country that have the knowledge and expertise to solve that problem, which he did, making the bridge safer for the rest of us.

That got me thinking about confidence. Can you imagine working in a profession where the success of your job performance impacted the safety of hundreds of thousands of flesh and blood human beings?

I, for one, cannot. I cannot fathom doing anything with stakes that high. I also have a hard time fathoming the confidence it takes to say Yup. That's it. This design will protect the daily commuters. I'm sure of it; go ahead and build it this way.

But I want to. I want that much confidence in my abilities and in the words that come out of my mouth. I want my children to grow up with enough confidence to build bridges for thousands of other people, in whatever field or subject they want. Bridges through art, or soccer, or dog-walking, or cheerleading. Truthfully, I have trouble picturing how a cheerleader might build the kind of bridge I'm thinking of, but the examples I picked in that last phrase come directly from the mouths of my kids, when asked what they want to be when they grow up.

* * *

We cannot give our children what we do not possess ourselves. Or can we? Isn't that part and parcel of the American Dream, to raise children who will have more than we grew up with? Is that limited to material wealth, or educational achievement? What about the intangibles that make up a happy life: confidence, hope, joy. How do we raise children to have more of those things than we do?

So much of a person's success in life comes down to confidence. If you believe in yourself, if you understand with every fiber of your being that your own hard work and best efforts will bring you farther than you can imagine, if you trust that you can go out into the world and conquer whatever comes your way, how can you be stopped?

And is it too late, at 40+ years old, to acquire that kind of confidence?

* * *

23 September 2010

What Have You Done For Me Lately?

Mom: "I really need some tea, but I'm too tired to move, so I guess tea is not happening for me."

Dad: "That's what you have kids for."

Mom: "Right! Cenzo, will you put the heat on underneath the tea pot for me?"

Son: "Is that really why you had kids?"

Dad: "Well, if it is, then we are absolute failures, because you never help us do anything."

Word, daddy-o.

* * *

It's been a red letter week at Lake Alatorre. I couldn't even write it if I tried. Actually, I wouldn't want to. This is a week I hope to leave behind, and one that had better result in a reduction in my overall Purgatory time. Good-bye week. May your ugly head never rear again, may your claws unclench forever, may you scurry away into the hole from whence you came. And may that hole be a black one, a swirling vortex that will swallow you whole and for all time.

OK, maybe it wasn't that bad, but still and anyway, I'm damn glad it's almost over.

How was yours?

* * *

22 September 2010

You know you have a big family when...

...your four year-old, upon seeing a teacher leading a class of 12 kids down the street, remarks: "Wow! He has a bigger family even than us!"

* * *

21 September 2010

The Eye of a Needle Would Be Easier Than This

I have so much to do this morning, in a very short space of time. But I always have to time vent, it seems.

Today, I feel like my children are ungrateful and spoiled. Entitled and inflexible. Lazy and negative. Nay-sayers and buzz-kills. Nasty, brutish and short.

I'll be honest: when I am working hard to provide them with opportunities, relaxation and inspiration, and I am met with sour faces, complaints and resistance, I get extremely pissed off.

But what's the right response here? Yelling is definitely a fall back position; I'm pretty good at the indignant, guilt-inducing tirade. Unfortunately, I am the adult in this situation, and it's my job to guide them through the day, hopefully feeling good about themselves and having learned a thing or two.

I do want them to feel good about themselves; I want those positive feelings to come from having played and worked hard, helped their family, cooperated with mum, and experienced what it's like to engage the world positively.

It's all I can do to keep myself from screaming at them. Well-placed yelling is just that: well-placed and deserving. But I'm teetering back and forth between patience and righteous indignation.

We are off to a homeschooling science class this morning, after I (with their extremely reluctant help) finish cleaning up our Sonoma home-away-from-home so my folks come home from their trip to Ireland and find their house nearly as they left it. They will fight me on nearly everything I will ask them to do in the next two hours.

How will I respond?

* * *

You know you have a big family when...

...it is too common of an occurrence for you to discover, upon your family's arrival somewhere, that someone has neglected to wear shoes.

Nothing makes a mama feel less in control or more ridiculous than hauling around a barefoot kid in environs where shoes are tacitly required. And by ridiculous, I really mean Beverly Hillbillies-ish.

Sometimes, I think my children's sole mission in life is to make me face my ineptitude.

* * *

17 September 2010

Preserve Your Memories

Post title nod to Simon and Garfunkel

My camera is broken. That beautiful photo above? Public domain, not mine. I've watched many priceless moments come and go this week, moments I definitely would have captured for posterity or my FB status updates. Sadly, those moments will now have to rely on my swiss-cheese brain to stay alive, which pretty much means most of them are doomed.

There is something kind of poignant about relying on memory alone, making a day that much more special because nothing remains to prove that it ever was. Hopefully, I will remember at least a few of the uncaptured yet captivating things we saw today: the wonderful old graveyard we visited...the ornately carved tombstones from the 1800's with entire life stories contained in birth dates and death dates...the lizards and the frog the kids caught (and released)...the grave rubbings we made of flowers, crosses, and birds...my friend Miriam giving Lady E a piggy-back ride, their faces bright with the setting sun as they looked out over the oak covered hills. Oh, and my four year old asleep on a raised grave. That was a sight. My little sweetie, curled up like...well...an angel, snoring away on top of some long gone Italian person's lichen-covered final resting place. It was a shade creepy.

I'm pretty sure that last image will stay with me for a very long time. The others I will try to hold on to, but I fear they will flit away. Thank God for photographs and the worlds they preserve for us. Thank God for blogs, so we can write about those worlds when our cameras are broken.

* * *

16 September 2010


Today's recommended reading is a post from Not a Virgin, But Occasionally a Martyr.

I've been sitting here, hands poised above my keyboard, trying to think of what else to say, to convey how much I agree with what the writer, Kelly, has to say on the topic of poor people and government safety nets.  But she says it best, so best just to read it.

Thank you, Kelly.  The world needs this post.  And I can't imagine a table I'd rather be at.

* * *

15 September 2010

Exhausted? Or Enlightened?

Teetering on the edge of the pond, pink Hello Kitty tutu fluttering, my daughter just might fall into that duck-poop laden scum. That would be unfortunate. I’m sitting on a bench about 20 feet away, watching her, and wondering if I am 20 feet away because I am that relaxed as a parent, able to let my kids explore the world and figure out how not to fall in ponds or if I’m simply too tired to stand within arm’s reach of her. Because I am quite tired, really, not so much from needing sleep as from being sick to death of monitoring the movements of tots.

She dashes to and fro, finding sticks to dip in the water and chattering to the weird looking ducks. I would have taken a picture of the weird ducks, but she broke my camera yesterday. But these ducks have strange pompadour hairdos and she finds them charming.

Another mother is there too. She hovers. Her son, although the same size as my daughter, looks a bit younger, maybe less sure of himself on his feet. In her fashionable, vaguely-Indian print maternity tank top, she is waiting, for her boy to get tired enough for his nap and for her second child to arrive. She is more supervisory than I, standing close, speaking to him often, advising caution and care, pulling him back from time to time. He complies. She is clearly in charge.

Little T? Jumps from rock to rock with heart-leaping abandon, and makes me weary from desperately wishing she would listen to one damn thing I say. I could tell her to stop. To be careful. To come away from the edge. But she wouldn’t listen anyway. There would be a fight, she would get ornery and probably embarrass me. She would say something like “No, damnit.” I’ve tried teaching her not to say damnit, and for awhile she was happy to substitute fiddlesticks in its place. But recently, after she once more said “damnit,” and I cheerfully reminded her about fiddlesticks, she flatly pronounced: “Nope. Damnit.” I’m not really up for seeing my four year old do a truck driver impression in front of a clearly more competent mother, so I eyeball the pond and figure that if she did fall in, she could probably stand up, and knowing her, she’d be so spitting mad that she’d probably fly out of that water looking for something to bite. Hard.

And anyway, a bathtub is only a few blocks away.

The whole scene makes me think about how much I’ve changed as a mother over the past twelve years. I was far more vigilant with my older kids when they were tiny, but the numbers are against me now. There’s one of me and five of them*, and I cannot muster the energy to pilot the Mommy Helicopter, and my kids may be running a bit to the wild because of it.

I wonder. Am I less worried because I am more experienced? Or because I’m too exhausted to bother?

*Technically, it's 1 to 5 when my dear husband is out toiling away in the world instead of helping me fight the good fight against our offspring. But then, even when he's around, the odds are against us. It's us against them. War isn't pretty.

* * *

13 September 2010

Kids Spoil Everything

Driving down the freeway on a recent warm day, Little T asked me to turn on the cool air. I wasn't sure I heard her correctly, given her creative use of the English language. Her brother confirmed: "You heard her right, mom. That's how she says it. She says cool-ition-air when she wants the air conditioner on."

I thought that was fantastic. I only got to enjoy it for a day, because her siblings repeated it so many times, with such extreme hilarity, that by the next day she was saying air conditioner.

During the same car trip, she was telling us a story with multiple parts. Each part started with "First of all..." Again, it was hilarious. I wish I could have let her go with that until she figured it out for herself.

"First of all, I yiked my preschoo day.
And first of all, we had gwoup time.
And first of all, we sang songs.
And first of all, we had snack."

Alas, it was not to be. Four crazed siblings, repeating first of all as if it were a line from a Robin Williams movie, pretty much put her off of that habit right quick. She has already moved on to first of all, second of all, third of all...


My oldest got to say heck-top when he'd see a helicopter.

My next one got to say resev-water every time we passed the local reservoir.

They both said fucky-pot for hockey puck.

No one corrected them.

I might have to have another kid. You know, because it's more fun to turn on the coolitionair, instead of the air conditioner, when it gets too hot.

* * *

11 September 2010

Repost: Together

To mark the 9th anniversary of 9/11/2001, I am re-posting the reflection I wrote last year. It still holds true for me. We still need this story.

* * *

Talk of the Nation today was about the 8th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The question put forth was this, paraphrased from my memory: "What emotion still lingers for you from the experience of 9/11? What feelings will not let you go?"

People answered as you would expect: fear, sadness, anger, the desire for revenge. Those feelings and emotions have stayed, for so many of us. For me too. I, like all of you, remember so distinctly that morning. I was giving my boys a bath; Rick had already left for work. He called mid-morning and told me to turn on the TV. That's how I heard what was happening, and that scene stays with me.

I got the boys out of the tub, dried them off, my beautiful 3 and 1 year olds, and smelled their clean, soft hair and skin. I held them, cuddled with them, and watched them roll around with each other in their towels. All the while, I cried in disbelief as I watched the terrible pictures. I did not keep the TV off; maybe I should have to shield them from the pictures. But I couldn't NOT watch.

And each year, I feel the same way. I can't NOT remember. I can't NOT honor the anniversary by listening to stories of what happened to people that day. I think we all should mark the day this way, so that we always remember, never forget. What will we do if someday there are "9/11 deniers," just as there are Holocaust deniers today? It sounds ridiculous, but I likely will not be surprised if it happens in 60 or 70 years.

One of the guests (or callers, I can't remember) on TOTN today described the two things that stay with him from that day. The first was shock. He still feels the palpable shock of disbelief that the things that happened actually did happen. The second was profound: the thing that stays with him is the way strangers began to reach out to one another. He described being in Union Station in D.C. shortly after the attacks, talking with strangers, both American and visitors from abroad, and experiencing a connection with them that was borne of shared tragedy.

This struck me. It is true: we all heard the amazing stories of how New Yorkers came together to help and support each other. We forged those same connections in our various cities and towns across the country. The horror of those events stripped bare any pretense, any separation, any petty differences that on an ordinary day would have kept us in our own worlds, apart from strangers, intent on doing the day's tasks and taking care of our own. That day, we all became our own. We all became the shoulders we needed; we carried each others' hearts. Those of us who were not victims that day -- our loved ones did not die -- still wept and prayed and hurt along with those who were.

That unimaginable tragedy showed us how to live that way, to live straight from the raw, troubled heart and to simply be present to anyone who was suffering.

Out of such chaos, this thread of care and love began to weave across the country. It became the blanket that has brought about any healing that has been possible for the people who lost so much. And each year on the Anniversary, if we listen to the stories and let those awful feelings descend upon us again, we have the chance to keep that thread alive.

We all have such busy lives. We do not live that raw, stripped bare life every day: no one could, or should. But the memory of 9/11 does offer us the chance to live that way at least for a little while, to see the people around us, strangers and friends alike, as people with whom we share a common history and common feelings of grief, fear, and need.

To have this be something that stays with us from 9/11 is a great gift. Let us never stop telling the story of the planes flying into buildings and into a Pennsylvania field. Let us never stop telling the stories of the heroes who helped us that day, of the families who lost someone that day, of the struggle to rebuild cities, lives, countries. Those stories will keep us together, and together is exactly where we should be.

* * *

10 September 2010

History Lesson

Yesterday, I took the kids up to Sonoma. On the way there, the subject of 9/11 came up, and the kids wanted me to tell them again what happened that day. Thus began Thursday's Social Studies/History lesson.

I told them the story as best I could, fielding questions about what the boys were doing that day, why daddy called me from work to tell me to turn on the TV, and whether or not the field in Pennsylvania was dry or wet. That question came from my 10 year old, who figured if it was wet, maybe the plane wouldn't burn up as badly.

We talked about the Muslim faith. About Osama Bin Laden. About the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that followed 9/11, and how those wars are different from each other. About the people who suffered and died that day. About why we went to war in the first place, or at least how the war was justified by our leaders. Was George Bush a good president? What was he doing that day when the attacks happened? Why do Saudi Arabians hate us? Is it true that we won't ever surrender and the wars won't be over until we win? My daughter asked "What are the names of the people who died?"

Later in the day, at my mom and dad's house, I went looking for an empty box for the kids to stash their creek-found treasures in. Up in the storage closet, I noticed a stack of newspapers. Leafing through the top five or so, I realized that my parents, probably my dad, has been laying important newspapers on top of that stack, in dated order, each time a significant event -- historical or personal -- takes place. Right on top was the local newspaper from the day our town's beloved Fire Chief, a good friend of my parents', was buried earlier this summer. Down through the dates, there were papers with headlines about Obama's Inauguration and his election, Barry Bonds' record breaking homerun, JFK Jr.'s death, etc. I rifled down nine years, and found a slew of papers from September 12 2001, and brought them out to show the kids. We looked at the pictures and talked about them. There were the towers, on fire but not yet collapsed. There were the people running through Manhattan, covered in ash. There was the field in Pennsylvania. There was George Bush, children's book in hand, 2nd grade class sitting in front of him, with an advisor whispering something in his ear.

Some of the photos were really hard to see, and I questioned if I should be letting the kids see them; I certainly haven't ever wanted to before. My oldest son found some video on YouTube, shot by a regular citizen who was visiting the city with family and who captured the smoking towers from a hotel room not far away. We watched that for a little while, until I decided I wasn't ready to talk about people leaping from 110-story buildings.

On the way home, we talked even more about that terrible day and the complicated mess of events that have followed, including the idiot Pastor Terry Jones and the proposed Community Center that everyone insists on describing as a Ground Zero mosque.

It was quite a History Lesson, and we stumbled into it. I had school plans for the day, plans I followed, but which didn't actually go all that well. It was difficult to get them to listen to me and to do the very simple 2 or 3 things they were "assigned." But it still ended up being one of the best school days we've had so far.

The ability to swerve into a topic and talk about it in depth, to read more about it in newspapers, to watch video of events unfolding, to listen to NPR discussions: none of this would have been possible last year, when my time with my kids consisted of rushing them to practice, and then rushing them through homework, dinner, baths, showers, teeth-brushing and bedtime. When my responses to their questions were 90% frazzled and 10% thoughtful. When I never would have had the chance to happen upon those newspapers in my mom and dad's storage closet. When keeping up with our life was getting in the way of living it.

So: Yesterday, we had a History lesson that will stay with them, I think, and one that is far from over I am sure. This is the model of homeschooling that I had hoped for. It's too bad I cannot plan for days like that, but I will happily welcome them whenever they arrive.

* * *

09 September 2010

Starting Off With a Bang. Or a Bite.

At the cute little preschool Open House yesterday, we were enjoying a little milk and banana bread, and mingling politely with all the other parents and tots. My own little tot was dashing around checking out the toys, staking claim to the playhouse and generally having a fabulous time.

My 10 year old son and I were sitting at a table with two other moms, neither of whom I have met. To my son, I said: "Well, what do you think? You think she's going to like it here?"

Of his little sister, my son remarked, loud enough to share his observation with those at our table as well as a few more: "I think she's going to get kicked out for biting."

Great. She's got a rep and she hasn't even started her first day yet.

I guess I should be prepared for mothers to protectively guide their young ones away from that curly-haired, wild-eyed little sprite with the funny name.

* * *

Today is the day. Her first five hours of school. Yee-haw!

* * *

07 September 2010

Where I Try To Pick a Course of Action

See that house, Mom? The people who live in that house have a flat screen TV. I can tell.

We, in case you can't tell, do not. We were in a very beautiful neighborhood, where people like us go when we are providing a service to people who live in very beautiful neighborhoods.

Really? I said. You can tell that just by looking?

Yup. All of these houses have flat screen TVs.

This might sound unbelievable to you, kid, but there are people in the world who are wealthy enough to live in a house like that who are not interested in television, and wouldn't spend money on a flat screen TV no matter what it cost.

Not these people in these houses. They definitely have flat screen TVs.

Well, tell me this. Can you tell by looking at the houses if the people who live in them are happy?

Yup. See that blue one? They have a flat screen TV, and they are happy. And that one on the corner? They have a flat screen and they are really happy, because they also have those cool big soccer goals there.

He had me there. OK, the people who live in that house on the corner might very well be happy.

Most people have flat screen TVs, you know Mom.

That's not true, Sam.

Yes it is: almost everyone has a flat screen TV. Except us.

Do you mean everyone in the world? Or in the United States?

OK, well, just the United States. Most people in the United States have flat screen TVs.

At this point, I am impressed that he can insert the phrase flat screen TV into almost every sentence he utters. A pronoun isn't good enough for a flat screen, apparently.

Well, there are over 300 million people in the United States, and I'm willing to bet that fewer than half of them own one.

I bet you're wrong.

Oy, this kid is tenacious! So now I'm furiously googling census and household data, searching for factual, credible data to back up my completely baseless claim.

My pre-teen talks about many things these days: cell phones, flat screen TVs, the wii and wii games, his PS2, and cars. Mercedes, for some reason. I feel sorry for him, that he has a mother who is so utterly uninterested in cool technology or in anything that smacks of having social status implications. He told me today that some people have "these things" that allow you to plug your TV, your wii, your DVD player, your PS13, and your personal assistant all in to the same device and then control all of them with one remote.

He said this like he was letting me in on a big secret that he felt obliged to share with me, to better my life and help me see the light. I didn't have the heart to tell him I was aware of this fabulously convenient option but just didn't care enough about my TV watching/gaming experience to take any steps in that direction.

* * *

A little background. A long, long time ago, in what feels like a different life, I served as a volunteer with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. Think Catholic Peace Corps. Sort of. Social justice action with a spiritual component. For a very short period of time, two years, I worked in homeless shelters in Washington DC and Boston. I chose to join JVC because I thought I could learn something from spending time with people afflicted by poverty and, as it turns out, by addiction and mental illness. The women and children I met during those two years gave me a glimpse into how poor people live in America, and it's not pretty. It's also not all terrible, as these people had children they loved, things they enjoyed doing, interesting things to say, and full, if difficult, lives.

When I left California to begin that work, my friends gave me a knickname. Or actually, they appended my full name with the initials O.S.J.M. If you are familiar with Catholic religious orders, then you'll likely know that initials like that after a person's name indicate to which religious order the person belongs. I was not actually in an order, but my friends, who liked to tease me that I was going off to be a do-gooder for a while -- slumming it, as they say -- created an order just for me: the Order of Social Justice Mamas.

ANYWAY (is this getting boring? I feel like this might be getting boring.), OSJM came to be a sort of joke-y way for my husband to refer to my interest in Things Social Justice and my lack of interest in Things Material. He marvels at what I do not want or need, and claims it is difficult to buy me gifts (although he always does a beautiful job). I don't think about things, and do not shop for myself much. When I do, it is usually because he has been badgering me to do so.

So. I have this kid, with a temperament vastly different from my own. And sometimes, when I listen to him talking about all of the material possessions he salivates over and believes will make his life complete, I feel like I have two choices: Either I bore him to tears with admonishments about what really matters in life and how a LG Neon will not make him a happier person OR I rip my ears off of my head so that I don't have to listen to what surely must be normal pre-teen behavior but which makes me feel like my kid must have been switched at birth or like I have failed to inculcate my values into his young mind and heart. The lecture option is not appealing, to him or to me. So I'm stocking up on gauze bandages.

Where is that middle ground? And why do I always seem to be searching for it?

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06 September 2010

Grab Bag

And summer comes to a close.

Ours ended well, with the arrival of Tule, a six year old beautiful black lab who needed a new home as much as we needed a doggie. We started Labor Day weekend with no inkling that by its close we would have a truly great dog. But she's here! And it has been an amazingly effortless transition so far. We haven't had a dog for six years, but it seems to be much like riding a bicycle; you never forget how. She fits in around here like a long missing puzzle piece. As I type, she is curled up on Sam's bed, cozy and happy after a day of chasing a tennis ball to the delight of some happy children.

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Two funnies from my second son today.

Funny #1: While we were at the park trying unsuccessfully to tire out our new dog, he needed to use the bathroom but I had forgotten the key. (Our local park system sells a key, for a nominal fee, that opens all the public park restrooms; funny thing about them though...they don't work if you leave them at home.) So he headed up to the wild area of the park to answer the call of nature. A few paces away, he turned and announced: "I will be back, when nature stops yelling at me." I guess he really had to go badly.

Funny #2: After complaining bitterly that he had to wash the dishes tonight, he shifted into overdrive and began what can only be described as aggressive dish washing. I walked back through the kitchen and he shouted at me: "Mom! I am ROCKIN' these dishes!" Whatever works for you, son.

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Sustainability. I've been thinking about sustainability today. Not in a green, eco-friendly, love the earth way, but in a domestic sense. I cannot seem to sustain any of the systems I come up with for handling laundry, housecleaning, grocery shopping and meal planning, chores, or anything else. Sustainability is breathtakingly hard. It seems to me that establishing systems and routines for smoothly running a household is a great gift for children, a gift I wish I were giving my own. Maybe homeschooling will be my opportunity to do this, as I hope it might be. But I have to admit, I am skeptical about my ability to really sustain a well-run home.

What strategies have you used for any part of running your home that works well for you? Please share. Please. Share. I have lots of ideas, but am always looking for more. And then, how do you turn it into routine, habit? That's the toughest part for me.

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I have also been thinking about the balance between selflessness and self-care. I am terrible at taking good care of myself, and I wish I were better at this. I am also a somewhat socially challenged person who experiences anxiety and worry on a regular basis, which I attribute to an inability to "lose myself" and an overemphasis on my insecurities. So...where is the balance between taking care of yourself and not worrying about yourself? I'm not sure where that is, but I'd sure like to live there.

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So that's my Grab Bag to mark the close of Labor Day weekend and Summer 2010. Don't let me catch any of you wearing white from this point forward. (You're exempt, Nurse Laura: sorry.)

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04 September 2010

The View From Here

Things I've watched my kids do this week:

My 10 year old hopping on his one clean foot from the living room, into the dining room, through the kitchen, into the hall, up the stairs and into the bathroom to rinse sand off his other foot.

My 5 year old picking her nose.

My 8 year old, flying down a swimming pool slide over and over and over and over.

My 3 year old sticking her tongue out at me. Over and over and over and over.

All five of them staring up at the huge aquarium tank at the California Academy of Sciences.

My 3 year old picking her nose.

My 11 year old wrestling with several 8 year old girls from his sister's soccer team. There were piggy back rides. There was hand holding. There was lots of jumping around. Wow.

My four school-age kids reading their books or doing their writing "assignment" on a stone bridge at a park on a beautiful sunny school day.

My 8 year old, sleeping soundly, arms wrapped around her 3 year old sister, also sleeping soundly.

My 11 year old tickling my 3 year old. Over and over and over and over.

My 10 and 11 year olds nearly coming to blows. It was the first time I physically stepped in between almost thrown, seriously pissed off punches.

My 8 year old, helping daddy make paella.

My 5 year old, throwing a full-on kicking and thrashing tantrum and screaming "no one loves me!" repeatedly, because her sister got to the bathroom first. I think she was a little over tired.

My 8 year old, applying pressure to her profusely bleeding gums, after she destroyed the gum tissue over her two front not-yet-descended adult teeth and knocked one of her baby teeth clean out. She had been dancing on the couch until her foot hit a magazine (not the story I originally got from the kids), bringing her down in a crash to meet the back of the couch. The next day, I watched the dentist examine her mouth and determine she had not done any permanent damage. Whoo-hoo!

My 10 year old, waking up on his 10th birthday with a smile on his face...and then going to bed at the end of the day with an even bigger one.

My 11 year old white kid, trying to wear his sweats in saggy style, with his soccer shorts underneath, looking like a complete gansta-fool. In public. The cringe factor was sky-high.

All of them ripping through a box of Trix fruity swirls like deprived crack heads getting a fix. (Birthdays = sugar cereal at my house). Later, I got to watch the ants swarming over the colorful puff balls that had been abandoned on the living room floor.

My 10 and 5 year olds, knee deep in the magazine bin at the local recycling center, digging for good collage-making magazines. My son found a bunch of surf magazines. One of which apparently had a picture of a European beach in it. Which prompted my son to ask me if we were ever to go to Europe as a family, and if we went to a beach while we were there, would I, too, go topless? There was a definite degree of horror in his question.

My 5 year old, finally joining the ranks of her older siblings, and walking in the Opening Day parade with her soccer team, The Hummingbirds.

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My eyes are full.

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03 September 2010

7 Quick Takes Friday: Volume 12

Ah, blessed Friday, with its built-in blog post format. I needed you today to jump start AIRY5.

Please visit Jen at Conversion Diary. She started the whole thing 95 Fridays ago (give or take), and you'll find links to everyone else who is playing along. And happy Friday to you all!

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1. It's safe to say my world is rocked. Homeschooling, like most of my life, is not for the feint of heart. We've had some great moments, some lovely, brilliant, affirming moments, and we've had some "run for the hills" moments. Homeschooling has temporarily impeded my ability to blog, that's for sure. I want to write more about how it has gone for us, but I'm overwhelmed. I am thinking of starting a second blog, one devoted to our little academy here, and one my kids can post to. That's a whole lesson right there! Anyway, at this point, I have hundreds of ideas and very few clues about how to implement them. Good thing life is a journey, that's all I have to say at this point.

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2. My son knows a kid who frequently uses racist language with other kids. "Johnny" has, according to my son, referred to an Asian boy as "yellow" and has called an African-American kid his "slave." He also pretended to beat the African-American boy, and he announced that a black women these kids know of smoked during her pregnancy because she is black, implying that she is stupid because of the color of her skin.

We do not know this kid or his family well. My son asked the two recipients of Johnny's hateful speech if this bothers them; they both said that it does. He also told Johnny he shouldn't say those things, and got the famous "What? I'm not trying to insult them!" response.

Yesterday, Sam asked me why racism exists and if Johnny is a racist. I told him that racism comes from ignorance and fear, and that Johnny is using racist language and expressing racist, despicable ideas. I told him that I hesitate to call an 11 year old kid a racist, because he is probably repeating things he has heard from adults and because he might not be old enough yet to really consider what he is saying. I also told him that if Johnny continues to behave that way, then pretty soon, he will in fact be racist, but that I was unwilling to simple resign him to that category at his young age.

So tell me, why does racism exist? Can an 11 year old be racist? And what else would you have told your child if he or she asked you these questions?

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3. I heart Craigslist. We gave our son an ipod touch for his birthday, which was a "touch" extravagant for us, which actually means that I think we are crazy for doing so. BUT! We found one, brand new and still in its box, for 40% less than we would have paid retail. The sky opened up, the angels smiled down on us, and we were able to give him something he's wanted for over a year. I know there are some crazy stories about weirdos and whatnot on Craigslist, but I've always had great experiences buying and selling this way, and this time, some guy named Carlos in San Francisco really came through for us.

Now, if I could just find another Carlos whose got two sets of nice solid bunk beds, a couch, and some great storage options, all for $50 (or so: I'm not unreasonable!), I might actually reverse my early ruling that our culture is in decline.

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4. We had an earthquake here yesterday, a 3.3 jolt. That's not much, in the grand scheme of earthquakes, but it was centered in my city. We were sitting at the dining room table, doing math (Seriously, we really were!) when it felt like someone picked our house up off the ground just a scooch and then dropped it. It's an unnerving sensation, to say the least.

For those of you unfamiliar, there are different kinds of earthquakes. There's the rolling kind, that sort of makes you feel like your internal navigation system is all messed up. This one seems to last a little while, as in more than a few seconds. Then there's the jolt. Quicker than its rolling cousin, the jolt feels like the earth collided with some other very large object and makes you wish that life came with air bags.

While I was explaining what an earthquake is to my five year old, I made a connection I had not made before. I told her that quaking means shaking, and realized that there are both Quakers and Shakers in the rolling hills of Pennsylvania. I thought that was interesting. Maybe you do not.

My older kids were all "Earthquake? Whatever. Big deal. Who cares. Do I really have to do my chores today?" Such is the life of a California kid.

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5. The countdown to preschool has begun. In 6 days, for 15 blessed hours per week, Tallulah will be someone else's problem responsibility. Her fearlessness, her tenacity, her disregard for limits, her headstrong ways will, I am sure, serve her extremely well in her life. She will go far, probably while running -- with scissors -- and she will be unstoppable in any pursuit of her choosing. Being her mama is a singular challenge, and I'm not afraid to admit that I mother her better when we have a little distance from each other. So preschool, welcome to my village. I saw her future teachers the other day and gave them one piece of advice: Rest up while you can.

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6. My house has been invaded by ants. Homeschooling assignments notwithstanding, I hate them. I hate them. I hate them.

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7. Here's an entertaining YouTube video about St. Ignatius of Loyola. You know what I love about YouTube? It provides constant evidence that people do funny, amazing, creative, interesting things and put them out there for the rest of us. I love that. Hmmmm...further proof that we might not be headed for a cultural crash and burn?

I hope you watch and enjoy!

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